Thursday, 25 March 2010

The Obituarists

I came across a poem bu UA Fanthorpe called "The Obituarist" recently, written to show how much is missed by a single point of view. 

The obituarist/genealogist is so concerned with facts and evidence that he misses the spiritual side of the life he is attempting to define.  The playwright jumps straight into the action.  Storytellers focus their attention on the shape of the whole, full of detailed characters, with side tracks and diversions all beautifully woven. The visionary, the idealist, is full of abstract images where facts play no part. But the essence of the man is in his small, quiet voice, always in danger of being overlooked.

The genealogist is meticulous.
He harries his subject back to Adam
(Forty-two generations – if you can believe that).

Scene 1: The playwright’s way in,
Smack in the middle of a river.
Enter a man wearing camel’s hair,
Chewing insects.

The novelist deploys more characters
Than Cecil B. de Mille: shepherds, angels,
Emperors, wizards, mother (a mute).
He keeps the hero up his sleeve till later.

Babies, bit players, aren’t part
Of the mystic’s agenda. He starts with aplomb
And a metaphor.

The subject himself: a man not much given
To writing things down. Once
He scraped a message on the ground with a finger.
No one seems to have noticed.
If they did, it was soon scuffed out.

The Obituarists ~U. A. FANTHORPE (2000)

The poem was written because UA Fanthorpe worked in a hospital, dealing with neuropsychiatric patients whose still, low voices were often not heard by the doctors in their pursuit of symptoms.  There are undoubted truths there, in the medical world, but there must be a wider truth.  We're often guilty of defining people by our own standards, from our own point of view.  We must take the time to listen to the quiet voice, to read the message before it is scuffed out.

While I was looking for an image to use, I came across a seven step guide to writing an obituary using a word processor.  On looking further the internet is full of these guides, all reducing a life to a check-list.


  1. In this technology intensive age where time is crucial, people tend to be quick to judge. With more people hiding behind a computer and not interacting with others physically, it's going to get worse with the world becoming a colder place.

  2. Unfortunately that is so true. Interactions between keyboards has become the norm.


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