The Arbury Coffin, was an inspiration to the poetess, Sylvia Plath. Since that posting, I have received a picture post card which depicts the fourteenth-century table tomb, known as The Arundal Tomb, in Chichester cathedral. On top of the tomb lie the effigies of Richard Fitzalan Earl of Arundel, and his second wife, Eleanor (Plantagenet) of Lancaster, Countess of Arundel (1318 – 1372), holding hands. This is the tomb which inspired the poet Philip Larkin to write his poem, ‘An Arundel Tomb‘.
An Arundel Tomb by Philip Larkin
Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd –
The little dogs under their feet.
Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.
They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.
They would no guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they
Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the grass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-littered ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,
Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:
Time has transfigures them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.
A plaque in the cathedral reads:
An Arundel Tomb
The figures represent Richard Fitzalan III, 13th Earl of Arundel (ca 1307-1376) and his second wife Eleanor, who by his will of 1375 were to be buried together “without pomp” in the chapter house of Lewes Priory.
The armour and dress suggest a date near 1375; the knight’s attitude is typical of that time, but the lady’s crossed legs, giving the effect of a turn towards her husband, are rare. The joined hands have been thought due to “restoration” by Edward Richardson (1812-69), but recent research has shown the feature to be original. If so, the monument must be one of the earliest showing the concession to affection where the husband was a knight rather than a civilian.
In his will Richard requested that he be buried “near to the tomb of Eleanor de Lancaster, my wife; and I desire that my tomb be no higher than hers, that no men at arms, horses, hearse, or other pomp, be used at my funeral, but only five torches…as was about the corpse of my wife, be allowed.”