Thursday, December 15, 2005

Stop all the clocks

Read Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking two days ago and am still trying to recover (the fact that my preferred recovery mode involves reading Plath and Kawabata probably isn't helping). So decided to make a list of top 10 mourning poems (in no particular order)

1. W. H. Auden 'In Memory of W.B. Yeats'

For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.

2. Milton 'Lycidas'

Bitter constraint and sad occasion dear
Compels me to disturb your season due;
For Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime,
Young Lycidas, and hath not left his peer.

3. Shelley, 'Adonais'

Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep—
He hath awakened from the dream of life—
’Tis we, who lost in stormy visions, keep
With phantoms an unprofitable strife,

And in mad trance, strike with our spirit’s knife
Invulnerable nothings.—We decay
Like corpses in a charnel; fear and grief
Convulse us and consume us day by day,
And cold hopes swarm like worms within our living clay.

He has outsoared the shadow of our night;
Envy and calumny and hate and pain,
And that unrest which men miscall delight,
Can touch him not and torture not again;
From the contagion of the world’s slow stain

He is secure, and now can never mourn
A heart grown cold, a head grown gray in vain;
Nor, when the spirit’s self has ceased to burn,
With sparkless ashes load an unlamented urn.

4. Allen Ginsberg 'Kaddish'

Nothing beyond what we have--what you had--that so pitiful--yet Tri-
umph,to have been here, and changed, like a tree, broken, or flower--fed to the
ground--but made, with its petals, colored, thinking Great Universe,
shaken, cut in the head, leaf stript, hid in an egg crate hospital, cloth
wrapped, sore--freaked in the moon brain, Naughtless.

No flower like that flower, which knew itself in the garden, and fought the

5. Rilke 'The Duino Elegies'

For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.

Every angel is terrifying.

6. Tennyson, 'In Memoriam'

I sometimes hold it half a sin
To put in words the grief I feel;
For words, like Nature, half reveal
And half conceal the Soul within.

But, for the unquiet heart and brain,
A use in measured language lies;
The sad mechanic exercise,
Like dull narcotics, numbing pain.

7. Sappho, 'Fragment 62'

Delicate Adonis is dying, Cytherea, what shall we do?
Beat your breasts, maidens, and rend your tunics [1]

8. Shakespeare 'Full Fathom Five'

Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

9. Whitman 'When Lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd'

Then with the knowledge of death as walking one side of me,
And the thought of death close-walking the other side of me,
And I in the middle, as with companions, and as holding the hands of companions,
I fled forth to the hiding receiving night, that talks not,
Down to the shores of the water, the path by the swamp in the dimness,
To the solemn shadowy cedars, and ghostly pines so still.[2]

10. Dylan Thomas 'A refusal to mourn the death, by fire, of a child in London'

After the first death, there is no other.


[1] See also Franny's letter in Salinger's Franny and Zooey.

I think I'm beginning to look down on all poets except Sappho. I've been reading her like mad, and no vulgar remarks, please. I may even do my term thing on her if I decide to go out for honors and if I can get the moron they assigned me as an advisor to let me. "Delicate Adonis is dying, Cytherea, what shall we do? Beat your breasts, maidens, and rend your tunics." Isn't that marvellous? She keeps doing that, too.

[2] Clearly, I'm channelling The Waste Land - first the Shakespeare, which always makes me think of Death by Water; and then this, which the whole "Who is the third who walks always beside you?" stanza in What the Thunder Said so eerily echoes.


Neela said...

personally, i prefer a mournful clarinet version of "abide with me" or a single fading violin doing the "nearer my god to thee".


Cheshire Cat said...

"But now go the bells, and we are ready,//
In one house we are sternly stopped,//
To say we are vexed at her brown study,//
Lying so primly propped."

-Bells for John Whiteside's Daughter

"Then he sat upon a hill and bowed his head//
As under a riddle, and in deep surmise//
So still that he likened himself unto those dead//
Whom the kites of heaven solicited with sweet cries."


"Dear love, these fingers that had known your touch,//
And tied our separate forces first together,//
Were ten poor idiot fingers not worth much,//
Ten frozen parsnips hanging in the weather."

- Winter Remembered

One of black moods, no, John Crowe Ransom?

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Was it Harold Bloom who persevered with the "Lilacs last in the dooryard" thesis about The Waste Land?

Incidentally (but you have probably read this), Awld Tom left out a whole heap of stuff from TWL, including a rip-off of "Full fathom five". You're in good company.

Thank you for the micro-anthology. I love anthologies. Even good ones.


Falstaff said...

neela: aargghh! don't get me started on pieces I want played at my funeral. On the whole I think I'll settle for Schubert's 'Der Lindenbaum'. Or the Tuba Mirum from Mozart's requiem.

Cat: I'm not a big Ransom fan - he's one of those poets who I feel were ruined by the tyranny of rhyme. It's like he has some really good ideas, but then he goes ahead and rhymes them - how can you feel true emotion from a poem that rhymes sternly stopped with primly propped? Shudder. Even Tennyson has this problem - some of my favourite poems of his are the ones he's not trying to rhyme.

JAP: Yes, it was Bloom. And you're welcome. On TWL, am assuming you've read Wendy Cope's glorious limerick version:

The Thames runs, bones rattle, rats creep;
Tiresias fancies a peep--
A typist is laid,
A record is played--
Wei la la. After this it gets deep

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