Sunday, March 07, 2010

Michael Goulder Memorial

I returned briefly to England last week to attend and take part in a celebration of the life of Michael Goulder, who died in January. The event itself was on Thursday 25 February, at St Francis Hall at the University of Birmingham.  Birmingham was, of course, the only place for it to take place since it was Michael's home for 44 years, from 1966 onwards, where he was staff tutor in the Extramural Department, and later Professor of Biblical Studies.  (Read The Times obituary here).

The room was packed with people, with standing room only.  People had travelled from far and wide.  I think I had come the furthest, but there were family, friends, and scholars from all over the country, and many Birmingham folk too.  It was a wonderful occasion, with some laughter at the memory of Michael's humorous stories and sayings, and some quiet tears.  Apparently the planning had been done by Michael himself, in discussion with the family, before his death. The occasion was led by friend of the family Anne Waugh, who began by reflecting on Michael's life with Krister Stendahl's tribute to Michael as a "baroque pearl".   She pointed out that Michael had been keen that there would be no fudge about his non-belief, and noted that on his death bed, when asked about his religion, he took off his oxygen mask and stated "None".

Michael's son Nicholas then read from the introduction to Michael's book, The Prayers of David, which situates Michael at Eton in his youth.  The congregation then said Psalm 15, "Domine, quis habitat", and Sir Christopher Slade, who had known Michael since he was a boy, read Michael's poem, "The Rowan Tree":
Rowans are finest when their year is ended,
October reddens them to richest rust:
So be our autumn days our time most splendid
Rich with contentment, love and trust
Before we go to dust
For so we must.

Do we deceive ourselves and spite our reason
Sensing a future that we cannot know?
Trees make their growth not for a single season:
Shall our great endeavour here to grow
Be in an hour laid low?
Have we not too a spring beyond the snow?
Michael's daughter Cathy then read from Horace's Ode 4.7, in Latin, and then we had the hymn "Fight the good fight", which had been sung at Michael's father's funeral; he died in the Second World War.  Michael's grandson Alex ably accompanied on the piano.  Michael's daughter Lizzie than read from Milton, Paradise Lost Book 3.

Michael's son  Philip had been asked to offer "a few words about The Old Man" and he spoke movingly for ten minutes or so, offering a warm and affectionate picture of his dad and how he spun dramatic tales from the classics to his children at bed time, or told them the goriest stories from the Bible, with full midrashic expansions, just like the evangelists.  There followed a reading by Cathy, from Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and music from Brahms' German Requiem, part IV, "How lovely are they dwellings".  I then gave an address which offered my reflections on Michael Goulder's academic career.  I have recorded this here should you wish to listen to it:

Michael Goulder Memorial Address (mp3)

It is also available to read here (PDF).

Anne Waugh then read Arthur Hugh Clough's poem Say not the struggle nought availeth.  Music from Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutti, "Soave sia il vento" played as the ceremony concluded.

The celebration of Michael's life offered a most fitting tribute to the life of a great man.  We will miss him.

Donations in memory of Michael are made to Sight Savers.


AKMA said...

Thank you, Mark, for conveying to us the richness of your friendship with a great man, and the magnitude of our loss in not knowing him as well as you. Thank you for speaking on our behalf, and perpetuating Michael’s memory in your own work.

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, AKMA. Greatly appreciated.