Chatting to a school friend last night we got on to this new and unwelcome vocabulary that we are learning. Furlough, co-morbidities, herd immunity, lockdown, social distancing and so on. I went looking for the word ‘furlough’ in “Men Who March Away”, an anthology of poetry from World War One that they got us to read at school: Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen and many others. I couldn’t find the word. Simon tells me that the OED lists the first use of ‘furlough’ as by Ben Jonson in 1625. Those poems are not easy to read - I last consulted that anthology in the 1980s when the AIDS epidemic was taking all those good friends and playmates from us.
Doing my gym at home this morning, a funeral cortege draws up at the church opposite; it happens but seeing one at this moment makes you take stock just as the clouds seem to be gathering yet again. John Donne’s words still ring clear, written amidst the plagues of the 17th century; he even mentions Europe!
Happily, the present deceased got a fine day and a good crowd for it.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.