The One remains, the many change and pass; Heaven’s light forever shines, Earth’s shadows fly; Life, like a dome of many-colour’d glass, Stains the white radiance of Eternity. (Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats by Percy Bysshe Shelley)
“Back to happier subjects, we do throw good parties here.” Orpheus beams at me, radiating goodwill. “Lavish banquets, fountains of wine, dancing choreographed by the Graces. Even my father occasionally honours us with his presence, and everyone sings paeans to him. Then we play duets together, him on his lyre, me on my lute.”
“Yes, I am also a Son of God,” he looks down modestly. “There are quite a few of us actually, though we’ve kept a low profile since the Downfall. My father is Apollo, the only One of us who kept His name under the new regime.” His chest swells visibly as he looks up. “Everyone knows Sun Gods are the greatest, even though now and again they get usurped by the Old Thunderers … sorry, Brethren of the Skies.”
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare; Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss, Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve; She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair! (John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn)
“We’re almost out of our time together. Do you have any more questions?” asks Orpheus, my charming guide to Paradise.
“Not for the moment, thank you, you’ve given me such a wealth of information to reflect on and absorb. You’re a star!”
“Alas not I, only my instrument,” he raises an ironic eyebrow. “And you’re most welcome. I enjoy coming here, especially as it gives me a chance to spend time with my wife.”
“Your wife?” My face must have fallen a little, for Orpheus gives me one of his most radiant smiles and pats my hand gently.
As the boat glides gently down the river I sink once more into a light trance in which time seems to be suspended. It is too dark to make out anything beyond the banks, though occasionally vague shapes seem to flit past.
Suddenly I am aware that the boat has stopped and is moored to the riverbank. The Boatman raises his hand and indicates that I should disembark. The sky is lightening, colour returning to the scenery, and I step out carefully.
The riverbank is covered with beautiful, tall, lily-white flowers, which emit a subtle fragrance as I brush through them and emerge into a lush meadow. Meanwhile my ear is caught by the sweetest sounds of music.
One midsummer day in midlife, I found myself in a dark wood. It is a yew forest, nestled into a vale amid the rolling hills of the South Downs in Sussex. Cultivated yew trees are usually clipped and trimmed, but in this ancient wildwood the trees spread their branches wide, intertwining with each other and canopying the forest into an arboreal cathedral. Their green shade is cooling and soothing on a warm summer day, while their resinous aroma is gently soporific.