Diana, Princess of Wales

A poem by Grover B. Proctor, Jr.,
written on the occasion of her funeral,
September 6, 1997


A Briton's Gift
Why was I there?

Why was it not possible for me
To be anywhere else that early Saturday morning--
Asleep, at breakfast, anything of my normal existence
But immersed in the televisionary gothic splendor
Of the final pavane for a dead princess?

Nothing about my life, my station, my expectations
Gave me permission to be there, I felt--
Gawking at the private splendor of royal funereal pageants,
Absorbing vicarious emotions and gauche pleasure
From the spectacle of death and grief and loss.

I had no place with the stars and celebrities,
Presidents' wives, opera singers, or pop balladeers;
I was not invited to sit with the assembled crowned heads
Nor even with those covered only in kerchiefs, dreadlocks, and grief
Gathered in the streets by the thousands.

And yet, there I was--
Unable to tear myself away.

My eyes were dazzled by the awe-inspiring venue--
A mausoleum in sculptured stone for poets and kings, 
   For empire builders and for the empire itself--
Filled with Baroque organ pipes and ancient stained glass,
With Medieval arches towering and vaulting to infinity
   As if heaven itself rested at their apex.

My ears gloried in the ever-exquisite Lynne Dawson
   As she plaintively pleaded, "Libera me, Domine";
They were soothed by a boychoir with centuries of tradition
   Singing words of mysteries they didn't understand;
They were even unexpectedly pleased by Bernie Taupin's new words
   Which erased a sex goddess from a popular song, substituting
   The daughter of an earl, Britain's newest sainted figure.

My mind wrestled with the conflicting messages of a
   Prime Minister extruding Paul's poem on godlike forgiving love,
And a titled brother, chewed up with sadness,
   Who wrung the last vestiges of anger and recrimination
   From 500 years of in-bred reserve and good form.

It was all too large to be comprehended--
The Abbey and its unfathomable cubic footage;
The height of ascendency on social and superstar scales
   Of those few hundred allowed to the inner sanctum;
The surrounding multitudes in the park and streets and mall,
   So terribly in love with someone they had never met,
      (Whatever "in love" means)
   That their mass pilgrimage brought a city and nation
   To a tear-washed, flower-clothed halt.

All of these faces and motives and artifacts blurred before me
In my private cathode-ray temple of Diana,
   And I sat there numb, mute, uneasy,
   Until in a brief moment, one man made it all clear.

The choir had just begun its chant, a modern setting
Of an immortal saint's prayer of pathos and pity:

      Make me a channel of your peace

He was there for only six seconds,
The camera finding him among the crowds,
Filling the screen with him alone,
And in that unforgettable moment my heart literally broke.

      Where there is hatred let me bring your love

Not handsome nor plain, there was nothing about this Briton
That would have made him stand out in other times;
With his tousled wavy hair cut neatly full,
His forehead creased by unforgiving time,
His unbearded sculpted face, and 
His muscled torso plainly, stolidly clothed,
He seemed no different from his myriad and honorable ancestors
Who conquered with William or defended at Hastings,
Who ploughed fields and built ships exquisite in silent duty,
And who left behind families fearful in bomb shelters
   To fight wherever Churchill sent them.

      Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord
      And where there's doubt, true faith in you

Yet when I see him, this strong proud Saxon's eyes
Are puffed with sorrow, tell-tale signs that the tears
He is fighting have very recently overcome him.
He blinks and forces the corners of his closed thin-lipped mouth
Abjectly down as one lost in pain and sorrow.
When he blinks back the tears again,
A sob that he does not expect and cannot stifle
Flies up from some deep place inside.
Forcing his lips apart, he gasps in air to stanch the pain,
And his eyebrows rise, deepening the wrinkles in his forehead.
Almost totally overcome with a grief that implodes inside,
He lifts first his eyes, then his face, to the heavens
As a look of total emptiness and despair slides over them.
He is turning away as the weeping camera fades from him,
And I hear a gasp and a sob.
                             They are mine.

      O Master grant that I may never seek
      So much to be consoled as to console

In that instant his grief, at once universal and intimate,
Invaded me and freed at last the corralled heartache I had denied,
And a galloping wave of emotion swept through me.
Did I weep for a young beautiful princess,
(The aristocratic girl, made then unmade royal, who found
Redemption from fairytales in a world of love and charity)
Inexcusably and tragically extinguished by a drunken driver,
And by a boyfriend and his bodyguard who did not prevent it?
Did my heart grieve for the motherless royal sons she bore,
Who must now face a life without her guiding hand and heart,
Moving inexorably as heirs to a destiny they cannot foreswear?
Was my sorrow for the lost and angry brother,
Whose rage at others' perfidy and his own impotence to change it
Seemed so pathetic and righteous and terrible?

      To be understood as to understand
      To be loved, as to love with all my soul

         But I think it far likelier
That my soul cried out more for that one man's struggle--
His strong silent battle to tame the demons that bled his eyes--
   Than all the ceremony in the pomp-strewn abbey
   Or all the tears from the adoring assembled masses.
What were his thoughts? Who were those who walked in his soul?
Why did he feel impelled to be there on that day,
   And moisten the soil of that fairest isle with his tears?
What mighty emotions warred and wreaked such havoc
   Inside this strong, safe, sensitive man?
In the end, all that mattered to me was that
He sat in command of my conscience,
Opened up the well of his own despair and fears,
Became vulnerable in the void of an incomprehensible grief,
And honestly, truthfully, deeply, and profoundly
Gave me permission to feel and cry.


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