Of Cemeteries and Samurai

Two things in life are certain, a proverb relates: taxes: and death.

Daniel Defoe and Benjamin Franklin, amongst others, made free with the saying. But I prefer the chick version: Margaret Mitchell tells us, in that page-turning runaway horsecart of a novel Gone with the Wind: “Death, taxes and childbirth! There’s never any convenient time for any of them.”

There can rarely have been a less convenient time than the first half of the nineteenth century in London. Population numbers were incendiary, and more than doubled from one million to 2.3 million.

The shady picturesque parish churchyards which had served the city for so long struggled manfully: but they simply couldn’t contain the influx. Soon London’s water became infected: epidemics were rife, and Death waited inscrutably in the wings to claim more than his fair share.

Something must be done. And fast.

Parliament acted. In 1832 an act was passed allowing for the opening of seven great private cemeteries in a ring around the capital. Kensal Green, West Norwood, Highgate, Abney Park, Nunhead, Brompton and Tower Hamlets opened and the city breathed once again.

The Seven became part of London’s lungs. Bizarrely, the Victorian reverence for all things funeralistic meant that a Sunday walk would be taken in the leafy glades between the headstones.

These days – as I have waxed lyrical before – the cemeteries, dubbed sardonically by Londoners ‘The Magnificent Seven’ – are grand old institutions, containing a plethora of lavish monuments to London’s great and good for the past 180 years. Each one deserves a visit to marvel and ruminate.

Rarely have seven come to the rescue of so many with such theatre and aplomb.

It has happened, though. Maybe you can hear the sound track as Yul Brynner sits breathtakingly upright on a horse, riding into town, the battle-worn leader on an inexplicably unpaid mission to rescue a Mexican village.  The Magnificent Seven is an irresistible iconic crescendo which starts with one- Chris –  and builds up .

It’s an unforgettable lesson in how altruism changes men.

It can never, however, be accused of being a subtle piece of work. A box-office smash, yes: but for fine nuances and exquisite tension we need to look deeper, to the film which gave the Magnificent Seven its plot: The 1954 classic,’ The Seven Samurai’.

What a poignant joy this film is: a study of the shades of light and dark in all of us, set way back in the 16th century when the states of Japan were at each other’s throats.

It’s the same plot. But it twists and turns under the masterly hand of Akira Kurosawa. There is a heart stopping moment when it is revealed the villagers who profess themselves so helpless have actually killed passing Samurai in the past. The indecision and deliberation which follow are beautifully handled.

There is no happy ending. The farmers are saved, but at the cost of four  out of the seven warriors.

There’s a lovely, if original, analysis of the differences between the two on the Wikipedia entry on The Magnificent Seven. Its author has observed that the reason for choosing seven is different in each film. In the American version it’s simply arbitrary luck: in Seven Samurai, it is a matter of tactics.

Two things are certain in life: luck and tactics.

Swinging up onto a horse and moseying out into the blogosphere, I can find those who use the second to make the first. I am acting on a misreading of a blog challenge from Nancy: I thought we had to link to other bloggers, but my friend Tilly Bud points out Nancy was asking for links to our own work. However, the bit is now firmly between my teeth, so I’m doing the former, and I’l try the later later.

For beautiful posts, go no further than my friend Meli at Northern LIghts. She’s a poet with a gorgeous son called Felix, and some of the most  beautiful photography one could imagine: and she’s just moved from Halden, a small Norwegian town, to Idaho for a six month stint.

Popular: look no further than my friend Cindy, one of the reasons I am still writing. She’s an artist of breathtaking proportions, a culinary creator, and the warmth and hospitality at her site is palpable.

It is always good to have a resident medic and The Doc,  Sana Johnson-Quijada MD, has to be the most helpful blogger on the block.  Her tips for self-care are simply unmissable.

For controversy, I love Nancy.  Honest, true to herself and her inimitable Spirit, unflinching, welcoming all comers whether they be sympathetic or confrontational.

A successful post: that would have to be Tilly Bud.  She’s where slapstic and wit collide to universal hoots of laughter.

A post which should have got more attention must be from my Texan friend Kathy.  When she tells a story, everyone listens spellbound.

Favourite posts are myriad. I hate to choose. But there is a place I go for calm fellowship, and peaceful joie de vivre: it’s a little place just outside Chicago called The Cutoff.

Sometimes someone’s spirit shows through. Penny  introduced me to Walden Pond, and the world of the gentle American intellectual who seems to know the key to happiness. Profound without pretence, every one of Penny’s posts is a daily essential for me.

It rankles to stop at seven. There are so many about whom you should know.

But these are my first, magnificent, seven.

27 thoughts on “Of Cemeteries and Samurai

  1. A wonderful post, as always, Kate. I didn’t know about the cemeteries. I love how you link them with two classic movies and seven bloggers. You really are a master forger!

    Thanks for the mention; I appreciate it. One thing, though: did you realise your seven posts are supposed to be your own, not blogs belonging to others? Can we see another post with your particular seven? There are so many I missed before becoming a fan.

    1. 😀 No, that flew straight over my head. Much more fun doing other peoples, but then, I wrote all mine so I know what’s in them. OK Tilly, thanks – I’ll try one with seven of mine in the near future…

      1. I’m just avoiding this challenge completely, like a horse with blinkers. Thanks for saying such nice things, Kate, I am always impressed my the way you meander through your story to make a good point.

  2. Here I sit, my heart going pitty-pat remembering the first time, as a young girl, that I saw the Magnificent Seven, oblivious to the plot, smitten by those handsome men on horses, then learning about the seven cemeteries, seven samurai, and then I come to the end of your post. I’m so touched and appreciative of your kind words, Kate. Thank you.

  3. Kate ~ I love your take on the challenge. And thanks for the link up.

    I love to tackle controversial subject matter . . . it’s so much more interesting that talking about the weather or sports or what’s on TV. 😛

    I join in TillyB’s request . . .

    If you don’t want to highlight 7 of your posts, how about your favorite and one that you wish had received just a bit more attention? 😉

    Last . . . your 2nd paragraph contains a rare typo: But I prefer the I prefer the chick version.

    1. Blast…at the moment my name seems to be Kate ‘Typo’ Shrewsday. Thanks, Nancy. I love that you love to talk about controversial subject matter. It puts me in mind of those fearless pictish forebears of yours. I never saw a Scot shy away from calling a spade a spade 😀

  4. Outstanding post, Kate! Thanks for all the links and great quote from that “page-turning runaway horsecart of a novel” 😀 I’m making a note to watch The Seven Samurai, especially since I loved The Last Samurai – which resonates with my long ago karate training.

  5. Hi Kate, being one who likes to investigate things, you know I’ll be looking at those recommendations, don’t you?! Although I have still to check out the name site from the other day, my reading schedule is starting to fill up quite quickly.

    1. That happens to me all the time, Tom…It’s one of the sweetest perils of visiting other bloggers that ones world becomes almost impossibly broad.My reading, and watching, list is huge. These days I wait for the stuff that really jumps out at me. Sort of cultural triage 😀

  6. Wonderful! How lovely to have a review worth following…you very creatively link a story to supporting other poets, artists and reflective individuals. To me that’s at the heart of the best we can ask for in social media. It is a real pleasure to read your posts. Debra

    1. Thanks Debra 🙂 It’s he first time I’ve ever tried such comprehensive linking. Fun to do 🙂 and lovely to pass on some of the relationships which have made blogging such an enduring pleasure.

  7. another wonderful post

    it’s interesting how the Americans take good Japanese stories & films and have to re-do them in local context. I sometimes wonder if they realise how their movie industry insulates them more and more from the rest of the world

    1. It seems like a strange idea to remake one of the closest films to perfection that has ever been made: and yet look at the Magnificent Seven. What an iconic picture: not one I would ever like to do without….

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