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The Incoherence of the Imagery

Swift as a weaver’s shuttle fleet our years: 

Man goeth to the grave, and where is he?                50

Did I say basalt for my slab, sons? Black— 

‘Twas ever antique-black I meant! How else 

Shall ye contrast my frieze to come beneath? 

The bas-relief in bronze ye promised me, 

Those Pans and Nymphs ye wot of, and perchance  55

Some tripod, thyrsus, with a vase or so, 

The Saviour at his sermon on the mount, 

Saint Praxed in a glory, and one Pan 

Ready to twitch the Nymph’s last garment off, 

And Moses with the tables .

Botticelli, Life of Moses

There are three events in this section. First, the standard pieties:

Swift as a weaver’s shuttle fleet our years: 

Man goeth to the grave, and where is he?                50

The quotes half-quotes a passage from Job:

          My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle,

And are spent without hope.

          O remember that my life is wind:

Mine eye shall no more see good.

          The eye of him that hath seen me shall see me no more:

Thine eyes are upon me, and I am not.

          As the cloud is consumed and vanisheth away:

So he that goeth down to the grave shall come up no more.

Job 7:6–9. The idea is readily apparent: Our life is brief and then is gone.  Time moves as quickly as a weaver uses his shuttle. Note then the following images: Our life is like a wind, like a cloud. Notice also the “no more” repeatedly in this section. To die is to be gone and unobserved. If you go down to the grave, you will not come back. The bishop breaks off the “goeth down to the grave” with a question, “Where is he?”

That alteration of the Biblical text is key to the Bishop’s thinking. Where will I be when I die? I will be right here, gazing over at Gandolf – and Gandolf in envy seeing that I have outdone him death.

Thus, while playing off of the Biblical text, he explicitly rejects the conclusion. His tomb is a fight for an immortality of earth-bound memory.

Where does a man go? Without answering the question, the Bishop returns to the stone of his tomb:

Did I say basalt for my slab, sons? Black— 

‘Twas ever antique-black I meant! How else 

Shall ye contrast my frieze to come beneath? 

He has a plan for a marble frieze which will be topped with black (and apparently a globe of lapis lazuli above all).

Here then we come to the incoherence of the Bishop’s ideas as a series of images. He is seeking a series of images which are directly contradictory. On one hand, he seeks images appropriate for a church: Christ at the Sermon on the Mount, Moses receiving the Commandments. To this is coupled profane and lurid pagan images. That he brings these together without any hint of confusion is striking. But this demonstrates who this Bishop is. The Christian veneer of his office, is only a veneer. At heart he is an antique (note the use of the word to describe the black) pagan.