Business mogul, Mike Adenuga, may not have spared deep thought on Thomas Hardy’s epic poem, The Choirmaster’s Burial, which underscores modesty and simplicity in immortality. Perhaps if he did, he might have held back his recent purchase of a whooping N200 million dysney vault at the upscale Vaults and Gardens, Ikoyi.
The salient lesson of Hardy’s memorable lines which form part of the collection in the Twentieth Century Narrative Poems, a book thrust in my tender arms from my formative years has long stuck. The summary of the narration by this celebrated English novelist and poet of the Victorian era, anchored on the futility of ordaining the path of one’s requiem, was the simple request by a fabled choirmaster to his congregation to render Mount Ephraim around his graveside when he eventually kicked the bucket. No one thought he should be denied his wish.
Unfortunately the curtain was lowered for this accomplished choirmaster, who had played scores to their death, in the dead of winter, making it impossible for his wish to be carried through and had to be hurriedly buried without any tune. Were he less fixated, the congregation may perhaps have opted for a more auspicious requiem not conditioned to the vagaries of winter.
The moving story of renowned play wright, William Shakespeare who died on April 23, 1616 and was survived by his wife and two daughters is similar. Susanna had married a physician, John Hall, in 1607, and Judith also married Thomas Quiney, a vintner, two months before Shakespeare’s death.
Shakespeare’s will left the bulk of his large estate to his elder daughter Susanna. The terms instructed that she pass it down intact to “the first son of her body”. Fate had other ideas. The Quineys had three children, all of whom died without marrying. The Halls had one child, Elizabeth, who married twice but died without children in 1670, ending Shakespeare’s direct line
I’m cock sure Adenuga relishes some brilliant pieces of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the most prolific and influential composers of the classical era like The Magic Flute, Marriage of Figaro, the Little Masonic Cantata and so on. But this renowned musical idol regarded by Joseph Haydn as one of the world’s greatest composers was virtually in debt and too poor to afford a vault when he died in December 1791.
Unlike Hardy, Charles Dickens and other renowned writers who were buried at the Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey in London, Mozart had to be interred in a pauper’s grave at St Marx Cemetery on the outskirts of Vienna, Austria.
But at the young age of 35 when he finally kissed the dust, Mozart who at 5 was already playing violin and keyboard at the king’s court, had stunned the world with his brilliance in symphonies, concertos and operas that even startled his senior colleagues like Haydn and Johann Sebastian Bach. The early works of Ludwig van Beethoven was also largely influenced by Mozart. Little wonder that his bicentenary in 1991 was heralded with a big carnival around the world.
Preparing for immortality may not be as simplistic as merely converting Saul to Paul on the way to Damascus. Nor casting out witches and sorceries, in the mould of King Saul, only to disguise to consult the witch of Endor, in a desperate attempt to seek Samuel’s intercession when he was greatly troubled.
And wishing for transfiguration in the life hereafter in a dysney vault may be a mirage bothering on vanity. Were it possible to purchase the space in heaven, I doubt whether the poor in Nigeria, a country where compassion and what is left of our moral ethos is in recess, will be given any place.
After his unnerving business travails and tortuous adventure, Adenuga should be commended for confronting the reality of the inevitability of death. He may have been inspired by the path thread by one of America’s most accomplished presidents, Thomas Jefferson, principal author of the Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom who not only designed his tombstone but wrote his epitaph.
Although Jefferson, acclaimed as one of America’s founding fathers ensured that his hour of death on July 4 1826 at the age of 83 coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, he gave strict orders that his burial must be simple. There was to be no parade and no invitations. His appreciative countrymen would hardly have complained if America was shut down for the burial of this icon who was the US first Secretary of State and also founded the University of Virginia.
Jefferson’s funeral held on July 5 1826 and officiated by Reverend Charles Clay, was a simple and quiet affair, by his own request. No invitations were sent, but some friends and visitors came to the ceremony and burial. His remains were carried by servants, family and friends to the family grave site at Monticello
But comparing Adenuga to Jefferson, US third president in a country replete with midnight billionaires may be farfetched. That is not denying Adenuga’s right to edify his past like the Rockefellers, Ford and Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite who either have foundations or the highly revered Nobel Prize. Away from the strings and trappings of inanities, Adenuga should think of leaving enduring legacies to immortalise his name.
He may need to borrow the Spartan lifestyle of Warren Buffet, acclaimed as one of the world’s richest men but lives modestly. Buffet who has donated a large chunk of his wealth to charity administered by Bill Gates Foundation, still lives in the three-bedroom home where he got married more than 50 years ago. Unlike our yuppy pastors who cruise in PJs while their congregation grow long necks, Buffet does not ride in any private jets in spite of owning the largest private jet company in the world.
It is important that while we seek for penance and restitution and prepare for immortality, we should allow those left behind to determine how to take care of our demise. In death when we give account before our creator, modesty should be our watchword. We need to take a cue from the enviable path of others.
Although his funeral is one of the most attended by world leaders, Sir Winston Churchill, renowned wartime British prime minister preferred to be buried quietly as a writer in St Martin’s Church in Bladon near Woodstock, not far from his birthplace at Blenheim Palace. Even as a Nobel Prize winner for Literature who may have shared the frontline of British politics only with Harold McMillan, Churchill, two time prime minister and accomplished War correspondent was never enamoured about being buried in Westminster Abbey.
Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery who vanquished the Axis forces in the battle of Normandy was buried at Holy Cross Churchyard in Binsted. Only his statue which can be found outside the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall, alongside those of Field Marshal Lord Slim and Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke evinces his eminence.
Just like Jefferson, France’s Fifth Republic President, Charles De Gaulle gave clear instructions and insisted that his funeral would be held at Colombey, and that no presidents or ministers attend his funeral – only his Compagnons de la Libération.
Despite his wish, the number of foreign dignitaries who wanted to honour de Gaulle who died two weeks to his 80th birthday in 1970 was so much that President Georges Pompidou had to arrange a separate memorial service at the Notre-Dame Cathedral, to be held at the same time as his actual funeral.
De Gaulle, also a general was conveyed to the church on an armoured reconnaissance vehicle and carried to his grave, next to his daughter Anne, by eight young men of Colombey. As he was lowered into the ground, the bells of all the churches in France tolled, starting from Notre Dame and spreading out from there.
Madame de Gaulle asked the undertaker to provide the same type of simple oak casket that he used for everyone else, but because of the general’s extreme height, the coffin cost $9 more than usual. He specified that his tombstone bear the simple inscription of his name and his years of birth and death. Therefore, it simply says: “Charles de Gaulle, 1890–1970”.
Dickens, author of the famous work Oliver Twist wanted to be buried quietly in Rochester where this greatest novelist of the Victorian era, wrote most of his works. But when he died on June 9, 1870 at 57, his countrymen felt otherwise. Contrary to his wish to be buried at Rochester Cathedral “in an inexpensive, unostentatious, and strictly private manner,” he was laid to rest in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey, the final resting place for the nobility and other renowned personages in England.
Same for William Wordsworth, master of the romantic era and Britain’s poet laureate who died by re-aggravating a case of pleurisy on April 23, 1850 and was buried at St. Oswald’s Church in Grasmere.
Even the family of apartheid era president of South Africa, Pieter Botha spurned the offer of a state burial when he gave up the ghost in 2006 and interred him quietly in Wilderness, his hometown. We may loathe the evils of the apartheid era but for presiding over a government that bequeathed a sustainable infrastructure on South Africa, making it the largest economy in Africa, Botha was offered a platform to be celebrated in death. But he opted for quietude.
The mother of former Zambian president, Levy Patrick Manawasa died in a public bus in what would be regarded as heresy here. His alibi was that the mum was not entitled to any official vehicle and since he couldn’t raise the money to buy her any vehicle, the only option was for her to ride in a public bus. Even as a serving president, Manawasa made it clear that the burial of his mother was a private affair while banning his aides from attending in any official vehicles.
If anything the burial of Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election should be sobering. In spite of his immense wealth, he was wrapped in a white cloth and laid on a mat before he was interred in front of his Ikeja home in a simple ceremony that was over in the twinkle of an eye. But 20 years on, Abiola’s political exploits still lives in the hearts and minds of many of his countrymen.
As we approach our sunset, we need to be more sober. For those who have made big bucks from a country where a predominant number of its population groan from hand to mouth, it is in their interest to ensure that they are part of the strategy to bring smiles to the growing army of restive youth.
In a country still riled apart by poverty and the threat of Boko Haram insurgency with a potential to elicit same among several thousands of youth roaming the streets wearing grimaced faces, Adenuga’s N200 million vaults in a vain desire to be ensconced in a Dysney Island cemetery, may just be stoking their sensibilities.Iyare, an international journalist is a public affairs commentator