I wake up thinking of Wilfrid Scawen Blunt.
Perhaps I had been dreaming of him. My dreams on Saturdays tend to be more vivid, more borrowed from elsewhere.
Images dance across the ceiling above me.
Wilfrid and his wife, Anne, travelling through the desert, arriving at the Euphrates, arriving in Damascus, arriving in Ha’il. Lady Anne playing a violin made by Stradivari, Jane Morris in a royal blue dress, Lady Gregory crying into a poem, and Dorothy Carleton writing of her “rather aimless existence”.
It all comes back to me now.
A man in search of a moment where the noise stops, and something takes over — something that can be found in the triumph of the oppressed, the Irish, the Egyptians, the Sudanese, something that can be found in the arrival of a woman at his doorstep carrying a question only he could answer, something about faith, a faith strong enough to take over everything in him that was suspicious of and hostile to faith.
And so, hours later, I find myself wondering the English countryside in search of a tomb. I have tried to do this before. Seven years ago, perhaps because of a similar dream, I travelled to Sussex, determined to stand in the presence of this man who haunts my dreams. But my mission had been aborted by hostile builders and the warnings of CCTV capturing trespassers.
This Sunday is different. I had a feeling it would be. I am invited in, taken to the tomb by Blunt’s very own great grandson: John Peter Michael Scawen Lytton, 5th Earl of Lytton and 18th Baron Wentworth, the son of Noel Lytton, the son of Judith Blunt-Lytton, the only surviving child of Wilfrid Scawen Blunt.
It is not common for wakedness to compete with my dreams. But the moment I arrive at the tomb far surpasses anything I could have dreamed of.
We approach. Lord Lytton is speaking of how Blunt had asked to be buried in his travel rug, carried by the estate’s staff, with no formal ceremony of any kind. The trees either side of us whisper. The inscription on the tomb speaks:
DEAR CHECKER WORK OF WOODS, THE SUSSEX WEALD! IF A NAME THRILLS ME YET OF THINGS OF EARTH, THAT NAME IS THINE. HOW OFTEN I HAVE FLED TO THY DEEP HEDGEROWS AND EMBRACED EACH FIELD, EACH LAG, EACH PASTURE, FIELDS WHICH GAVE ME BIRTH AND SAW MY YOUTH, AND WHICH MUST HOLD ME DEAD.
I pause. The moment both too real and surreal. I walk to the other side of the tomb.
WILFRID SCAWEN BLUNT SON OF FRANCIS SCAWEN AND MARY BLUNT OF CRABBET PARK SUSSEX
BORN AT PETWORTH HOUSE 17 AUG 1840
MARRIED IN 1869 ANNE ISABELLA KING NOEL ONLY DAUGHTER OF WILLIAM FIRST EARL OF LOVELACE AND GRANDDAUGHTER OF GEORGE GORDON LORD BYRON
DIED AT NEWBUILDINGS 10 SEPT 1922
In my mind, I am penning yet another inscription:
Here lies a man, larger than life, smaller than death. A Christian, a Muslim, a believer in everything, a believer in nothing. A seeker of freedom, and a friend of the oppressed. A lover of love, and a shelter for beauty. Here lies the man I once wanted to be.
Lord Lytton now is walking away. I follow, reluctantly, acutely aware that a part of me is still there, conversing over coffee drenched with cardamom, and staring at the trees.