Jane Austen and Canute

via Wikimedia Commons

Canute, from Liber Vitae, 1031

He was a king on a watery throne.
She was a writer who wrote alone.
He was wed to a powerful wife,
And she was solitary all her life.

A thousand years lay between their days;
Yet both of them came to the church to praise.
The language changed, and the country’s foes;
But the same church held them at their life’s close.

A thousand years had the king been dust;
His bones were crumbling, his sword was rust
Before she was laid in her grave to rot,
Her books remembered, her face forgot.

The most of the ghosts in the church were pale,
Knights and bishops and maidens frail,
Filling the aisles in a whispering throng
Round two among them whose names were strong.

The king looked down from his carven chest
And sought the spot she was laid to rest
Where fifty paces across the nave
She sat ramrod straight in her stony grave.

He had Danish armour and Saxon crown
The best he owned when they laid him down,
A sword to guard and a cross to bless.
She wore a bonnet and last year’s dress.

By Cassandra Austen (1773-1845), digitally restored and remastered by Amano1

Jane Austen, sketched by her sister Cassandra, 1810

He walked towards her and took her hand
With gentle strength that had ruled the land;
Her eyes grew wide and her lips pressed thin,
Then she put out her arms and drew him in.

Their conversation was passing strange
In subject matter, but also range,
No stitch too petty, no sweep too vast,
Each word precise, they agreed at last.

The pale ghosts smiled when from high above
The ghost of a bell tolled the time for love;
The bishops vied to perform the rite
And they walked up the aisle through the vaulted night.

She was a writer who set hearts straight.
He was a king who knew how to wait.
A man of good fortune must need a bride,
And into each life there must come a tide.

August 1999, Winchester. Jane Austen and Canute are both buried in Winchester Cathedral.