ST. ALBANS, Feb 27 – Strictly speaking, when some wag deploys the term ‘as p—-d as a newt’ to describe someone in their cups, they should actually say, ‘as p—-d as a mute’.
The mutes in question were professional mourners, especially favoured in Victorian times, when they knew far more about the dramatic potential of Death than we do, inclined as we are to do our utmost to ruin a good Death by turning it into a ‘celebration’.
Bedecked from head to toe in fifty shades of black, mutes were hired to attend funerals as the silent friends of the deceased, to stand outside the departed’s house, or the portals of church or cemetery, there to usher the spirit on its way with a touch of visual solemnity.
All that standing around embodying sepulchral melancholy must have taken its toll. And so it was customary to ply said mutes with copious quantities of drink after the internment. Not surprisingly the mutes did not hold back and, it seems, were often the worse for wear.
Not a bad job, all things considered. Perhaps we could revive the role. Anyway, here is a short homage to the lost art of the Victorian newt, apologies, mute – been at the gin.
MY MUTES AND I
Come, silent sentinels of Death!
Let your hats be steam-punk stovepipes,
Tall, black, out-blacking black, jet, noir ..
Shall be your crepe, a-swaddling heads,
Beards dyed Death adumbral, black inked,
My ink shall die in every eye,
Indelible not – my life’s run.
And you, mute sirs, black-capped, silk-gloved:
Stand, without my door, standards raised,
Black-wrapped and dripping doom, stand you!
Mute. Shud’ring as you feel Death .. pass ..
Your glass! Hand me your glass, mute swan!
Let’s to the bar, let life be loud!
Sepulchral mutes, you’ve stood me proud.
by R J Askew