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In Memory of Bill Hamilton

Poems for Bill Hamilton

Poems Chosen in Bill's Memory by Janet Hamilton, his younger sister. Well Lane House, Lower Froyle Alton , Hampshire, UK.

Walter de la Mare, When I lie where shades of darkness

This poem was read by Bill at the memorial tribute to our mother who died in 1996. Mother was a very shy person who had a fearless love of nature. Although brought up in New Zealand, she lived among, and loved the woods and fields of Kent where Bill developed a keen eye for our minute neighbours amid the anthills, old logs and chalk scrub land of the North Downs. I remember Bill bringing home an adder in his butterfly net in his saddle-bag when our girls' high school headmistress was having tea with our parents in the garden, and mother trying to suppress her curiosity in her new guest until Miss Leale had left. We lived in a crowded house. Mother gave us no sense that nature was hopeless, heartless or helpless; it was just there, all around us, to be explored and admired for its intense beauty and precision engineering.

When I lie where shades of darkness
Shall no more assail mine eyes,
Nor the rain make lamentation When the wind sighs;
How will fare the world whose wonder
Was the very proof of me?
Memory fades, must the remembered
Perishing be ?
Oh, when this my dust surrenders
Hand, foot, lip, to dust again,
May these loved and loving faces
Please other men!
May the rusting harvest hedgerow
Still the Traveller's Joy entwine,
And as happy children gather
Posies once mine.
Look thy last on all things lovely,
Every hour. Let no night
Seal thy sense in deathly slumber
Till to delight
Thou have paid thy utmost blessing;
Since that all things thou wouldst praise
Beauty took from those who loved them
In other days.

I remember Bill bought a record of this poem, and the following one, read by Walter de la Mare himself. I heard it for the first time on our old gramophone in the study with the sunlight on Bill's face when he came home on leave from National Service in the Royal Engineers

VERY old are the woods;
And the buds that break
Out of the brier's boughs,
When March winds wake,
So old with their beauty are?

Oh, no man knows
Through what wild centuries
Roves back the rose.
Very old are the brooks;
And the rills that rise
Where snow sleeps cold beneath
The azure skies
Sing such a history
Of come and gone,
Their every drop is as wise
As Solomon.
Very old are we men
Our dreams are tales
Told in dim Eden
By Eve's nightingales;
We wake and whisper a while,
But the day gone by
Silence and sleep like fields
Of amaranth lie.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, In Memoriam, verses LIII-LVI

These verses were written nine years before the Origin of Species. Bill often alluded to them and he and I knew them by heart. I read them to him while he was semi-conscious in the Middlesex Hospital in February and I thought I could just detect his face lighting up beneath all the tubes and sticking plaster.

Oh yet we trust that somehow good
Will be the final goal of ill,
To pangs of nature, sins of will,

Defects of doubt, and taints of blood;
That nothing walks with aimless feet;
That not one life shall be destroyed,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete;
That not a worm is cloven in vain;
That not a moth with vain desire
Is shriveled in a fruitless fire,
Or but subserves another's gain.
Behold, we know not anything;
I can but trust that good shall fall
At last--far off--at last, to all,
And every winter change to spring.
So runs my dream: but what am I!
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.
The wish, that of the living whole
No life may fail beyond the grave,
Derives it not from what we have
The likest God within the soul
Are God and Nature then at strife,
That Nature lends such evil dreams
So careful of the type she seems,
So careless of the single life;
That I, considering everywhere
Her secret meaning in her deeds,
And finding that of fifty seeds
She often brings but one to bear,
I falter where I firmly trod,
And falling with my weight of cares
Upon the great world's altar-stairs
That slope thro' darkness up to God,
I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
And gather dust and chaff, and call
To what I feel is Lord of all,
And faintly trust the larger hope.
"So careful of the type?" but no.
From scarped cliff and quarried stone
She cries ' A thousand types are gone:
I care for nothing, all shall go.
Thou makest thine appeal to me
I bring to life, I bring to death:
The spirit does but mean the breath:
I know no more" And he, shall he,
Man, her last work, who seemed so fair,
Such splendid purpose in his eyes,
Who rolled the psalm to wintry skies,
Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,
Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation's final law
Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shrieked against his creed?
Who loved, who suffered countless ills,
Who battled for the True, the Just,
Be blown about the desert dust,
Or sealed within the iron hills ?
No more? A monster then, a dream,
A discord. Dragons of the prime,
That tare each other in their slime,
Were mellow music matched with him
O life as futile, then, as frail!
O for thy voice to soothe and bless t
What hope of answer, or redress!
Behind the veil, behind the veil.

William Shakespeare, Fear no more the heat of the sun

Bill never feared anyone or any force of nature but he had a great sense of nature's leveling of all people. After all, we may think that we are greatly superior to lots of other people. But, by hook or by crook, they have made it to this same point in time, too, so their pedigree was just as good as ours. At least, that is how I see it in medicine when confronted by people who seem to have no sense at all. We are all part of a blind experiment with resources.

Fear no more the heat of the sun
Nor the furious winter's rages;
Thou thy worldly work hast done,
Home art gone and ta'en thy wages;
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney sweepers come to dust.
Fear no more the frown of the great,
Thou art past the tyrant's stroke;
Care no more to clothe and eat;
To thee the reed is like the oak:
The sceptre, learning, physic, must,
As chimney sweepers come to dust.
Fear no more the lightening flash
Nor the all-dreaded thunder stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
Thou hast finish'd joy and moan:
All lovers young , all lovers must
Consign to death and come to dust.

Tennyson, The sound of a voice that is still

Bill was the second in the family of seven children; four boys and three girls. Alexander, the youngest, died aged 19 years, cliff-climbing at Longhaven on the coast of Perthshire in Scotland, and the loss of his company is still felt as keenly as of Bill's.

Break, break break,
On thy cold grey stones , O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.
O well for the fisherman's boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O well for the sailor's lad
That he sings in his boat on the bay!
And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanished hand
And the sound of a voce that is still.

90% of Bill died when he first collapsed with his massive haemorrhage. The following five and a half weeks were agonizing for us when he lay semiconscious on full life support, cared for supremely well by the nurses, and visited by relatives from afar and friends from across the world. But we knew that he would not want to live without the full driving force of his brain.

The following verse is by Thomas Campion.

Never weather beaten sail more willingly put to shore,
Never tired pilgrim's limbs affected slumber more
Than my weary spirit now longs to fly out of my weary breast.
O come quickly, sweetest death, and take my soul to rest.

A.E. Houseman

But to end with, this most Billish poem by A.E.Houseman. Nature, heartless, witless nature, presses on, regardless that Bill has stamped about, and been, and gone.

Tell me not here, it needs not saying,
What tune the enchantress plays
In aftermaths of soft September
Or under blanching mays,
For she and I were long acquainted
And I knew all her ways.

On russet floors, by waters idle,
The pine lets fall it's cone;
The cuckoo shouts all day at nothing
In leafy dells alone;
And traveller's joy beguiles in autumn
Hearts that have lost their own.

On acres of the seeded grasses
The changing burnish heaves;
Or marshaled under moons of harvest
Stand still all night the sheaves
Or beeches strip in storms for winter
And stain the wind with leaves.

Possess as I possessed a season,
The countries I resign,
Where over elmy plains the highway
Would mount the hills and shine,
And full of shade the pillared forest
Would murmur and be mine.

For nature, heartless, witless nature,
Will neither care nor know
What stranger's feet will find the meadow
And trespass there and go,
Nor ask amid the dews of morning
If they were mine or no.

Bill's sister, Janet Hamilton, sent these poems to Richard Dawkins, to read out at Bill's Memorial Service, in New College, on July 1st. 2000. As there will be no time to read more than two poems, Richard suggested to place the poems on this web-page to make them available for everybody. Bill loved these poems.