For me, this is the elegy season.
When Judy was dying, I distracted myself by doing algebra, solving equations, but now she’s gone, I’ve been reading elegies, reminding my selfish self that losing a loved one is what happens here and all the time, as this link to a Facebook page abundantly demonstrates.
The old famous elegies don’t do it for me, not “Lycidas” nor “Adonais” nor “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” nor even Tennyson’s heartbreaking but morbid “In Memoriam.”
Old Yew, which graspest at the stones
That name the under-lying dead,
Thy fibres net the dreamless head,
Thy roots are wrapt about the bones.
The seasons bring the flower again,
And bring the firstling to the flock;
And in the dusk of thee, the clock
Beats out the little lives of men.
O, not for thee the glow, the bloom,
Who changest not in any gale,
Nor branding summer suns avail
To touch thy thousand years of gloom:
And gazing on thee, sullen tree,
Sick for thy stubborn hardihood,
I seem to fail from out my blood
And grow incorporate into thee.
Auden, on the other hand, is closer to my taste, not his hokey “Funeral Blues” elegy quoted in Three Weddings and a Funeral, but this one called “The Cave of Making” for his friend and fellow poet Louis MacNeice:
Seeing you know our mystery
from the inside and therefore
how much, in our lonely dens, we need the companionship
of our good dead, to give us
comfort on dowly days when the self is a nonentity
dumped on a mound of nothing,
to break the spell of our self-enchantment when lip-smacking
imps of mawk and hooey
write with us what they will, you won’t think me imposing if
I ask you to stay at my elbow
until cocktail time: dear Shade, for your elegy
I should have been able to manage
something more like you than this egocentric monologue,
but accept it for friendship’s sake.
But the elegy that has – forgive the phrase – slain me is Donald Hall’s “Without,” which captures so beautifully – an awful word to use here – captures the horrors of dying of blood cancer and the empty feeling for who’s left over.
vincristine ara-c cytoxan vp-16
loss of memory loss of language losses
pneumocystis carinii pneumonia bactrim
foamless unmitigated sea without sea
delirium whipmarks of petechiae
multiple blisters of herpes zoster
and how are you doing today I am doing
one afternoon say the sun came out
moss took on a greenishness leaves fell
the market opened a loaf of bread a sparrow
a bony dog wandered back sniffing a lath
it might be possible to take up a pencil
unwritten stanzas taken up and touched
beautiful terrible sentences unuttered
the sea unrelenting wave gray the sea
flotsam without islands broken crates
block after block the same house the mall
no cathedral no hobo jungle the same women
and men they longed to drink hayfields no
without dog or semicolon or village square
without monkey or lily or garlic
You can read the entire poem here.