Tagore: Those who are near me do not know

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Those who are near me do not know that you are nearer to me than they are
Those who speak to me do not know that my heart is full with your unspoken words
Those who crowd in my path do not know that I am walking alone with you
They who love me do not know that their love brings you to my heart.

    --Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941).
If you know the original Bengali source of this quotation, could you please send it to me?


Erich Maria Remarque: on the horror of endless war

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"Germany ought to be empty soon," says Kat.

We have given up hope that some day an end may come. We never think so far...

In one attack our Company Commander, Bertinck, falls. He was one of those superb front-line officers who are foremost in every hot place. He was with us for two years without being wounded, so that something had to happen in the end....

Bertinck has a chest wound. After a while a fragment smashes away his chin, and the same fragment has sufficient force to tear open Leer's hip. Leer groans as he supports himself on his arm, he bleeds quickly, no one can help him. Like an emptying tube, after a couple of minutes he collapses.

What use is it to him now that he was such a good mathematician at school.

Erich Maria Remarque (1898–1970), All Quiet on the Western Front, ch. 11, translated here by A.W. Wheen. Both men were soldiers in World War I. 

"Deutschland muß bald leer sein" sagt Kat.

Wir sind ohne Hoffnung, daß einmal ein Ende sein könnte. Wir denken überhaupt nicht so weit....

Bei einem Angriff fällt unser Kompanieführer Bertinck. Er war einer dieser prachtvollen Frontoffiziere, die in jeder brenzligen Situation vorne sind. Seit zwei Jahren war er bei uns, ohne daß er verwundet wurde, da mußte ja endlich etwas passieren....

Bertinck hat einen Brustschuß. Nach einer Weile schmettert ihm ein Splitter das Kinn weg. Der gleiche Splitter hat noch die Kraft, Leer die Hüfte aufzureißen. Leer stöhnt und stemmt sich auf die Arme, er verblutet rasch, niemand kann ihm helfen. Wie ein leerlaufender Schlauch sackt er nach ein paar Minuten zusammen. Was nützt es ihm nun, daß er in der Schule ein so guter Mathematiker war.

 


Michelle Leatherby: Please endorse me on LinkedIn for "Good at Grieving"

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During my time at your company, I have grown tremendously. Recently, I developed perhaps my greatest professional strength: grieving in a way that isn’t super inconvenient to others. When I returned to work after The Event (see how I used “The Event” so I didn’t force you to think about my trauma in detail?), my new skillset blossomed. It is with the utmost humility that I request your endorsement of the followings skills:

Got dressed.

Returned after just 3 bereavement and 2 personal days despite everyone in my family taking more time and feeling like a big giant meanie mean.

Endured a pre-meeting sympathy hug.

Only cried at work twice, and when no one was looking.

Brought back The Event leftovers, but referred to them as “desserts from home” so others didn’t have to think about my misfortune.

Stopped drinking office coffee due to a constant heightened state of anxiety following The Event.

Responded “good!” when a coworker asked me how I’m doing.

Responded “good!” when a different coworker asked me how I’m doing, and then when they clarified “no, but how are you really doing?” gave them enough information to make them feel important but not enough to actually give insight into the deep, emotionally shattering anguish I experience on a daily basis.

Wore a color!

Only listened to one Bon Iver album too loud.

Ate more than a handful of almonds and less than an entire cake for lunch.

Channeled personal stress into work stress, creating the most perfect and organized Excel spreadsheet of all time.

Said “totally” in response to a coworker deeming the loss of an email attachment as “traumatic.”

Showed up.

Thanked a coworker for the flowers placed on my desk the day of The Event that were dead by the time I arrived back at work, reminding me of The Event.

Smiled and sang happy birthday to a work acquaintance despite the more-present-than-ever feeling that life is fleeting and should be spent with those whom you love most.

Bathed.

Did not throw every stapler, computer, and office chair when a coworker asked via g-chat “So, things getting back to normal now?”

Dissociated at the water cooler less than 10 times.

Pretended to relate to a manager’s bad day, which was caused by a soggy sandwich.

Refrained from divulging sad weekend plans that included wine consumed alone and The Event-related paperwork.

Breathed.

When coworkers said “I can’t imagine,” resisted responding “Well, then let me paint you a picture” and then launching into an overwrought description of my trauma.

Breathed.

Abstained from screaming in the face of every person older than the one I lost in The Event, asking why they deserve to live longer.

Breathed.

Avoided confiscating the computer of anyone who sent sympathy via email and insinuated that The Event was God’s Plan™.

Breathed.

Did not get in my car during my lunch break, turn on the ignition, crank the radio as loud as possible, scream with as much lung power as an entire high school band wind section, and drive straight into the nearest body of water.

Breathed.

Kept going.

Michelle Leatherby
on Twitter @MichelleLoserby

Thanks to McSweeney's, which published this piece on 5 October 2018


Photo credit: Canon EOS 70d at MaxPixel


Mohammed Assaf, age 12, on his mother

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Aleppo, Syria in December 2016
 

The Word Ummī— My Mother

My beloved mother.
When I go to my house, the pain of missing her
Arrives before me.

Mohammed Assaf of Syria, age 12 when he wrote this.
Mohammed lives in England now and his poem is in
England: Poems from a School (2018), edited by Kate Clanchy


Lulu von Strauss und Torney: Once

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And when I myself have long been dead,
my earth will be blossoming again,
and seeds and sickles, snow and the glory of summer
and white day and blue midnight
will pass over my beloved soil.

And there will be days just like today–
the gardens full of the scent of lilacs,
and white clouds gliding into the blue,
and young fields of silken grass-tips
and above it all an endless song of larks!

And children will be laughing at the gate
and breaking green twigs off the hedges,
and girls will be roaming arm in arm
and through the warm, still summer evening
speak of love with their soft lips!

And like today, the young day of earth
will know nothing of any yesterday,
and like today still, every summer breeze
will carry secret sweetness on its wings
from thousands of days that are forgotten!

      –Lulu von Strauß und Torney (1873-1956)

Einst

Und wenn ich selber längst gestorben bin,
wird meine Erde wieder blühen stehen,
und Saat und Sichel, Schnee und Sommerpracht
und weißer Tag und blaue Mitternacht
wird über die geliebte Scholle gehen.

Und werden Tage ganz wie heute sein:
die Gärten voll vom Dufte der Syringen,
und weiße Wolken, die im Blauen ziehn,
und junger Felder seidnes Ährengrün,
und drüberhin ein endlos Lerchensingen!

Und werden Kinder lachen vor dem Tor
und an den Hecken grüne Zweige brechen,
und werden Mädchen wandern Arm in Arm
und durch den Sommerabend still und warm
mit leisen Lippen von der Liebe sprechen!

Und wird wie heut der junge Erdentag
von keinem Gestern wissen mehr noch sagen,
und wird wie heut doch jeder Sommerwind
aus tausend Tagen, die vergessen sind,
geheime Süße auf den Flügeln tragen!


Georg Heym: The last watch

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How dark your sleeps are
and your hands so cold.
Are you already so far away
you don't hear me any more?

Under the flickering lights
you are so sad and old,
and your lips are gruesome
clenched stiffly forever.

In the morning the silence will already be here
and maybe in the air
still the rustling of wreaths
and a decaying smell.

But the nights will become
emptier now, year after year,
here where your head lay and your breathing
was always so soft.

    –Georg Heym (1887-1912)

Letzte Wache

Wie dunkel sind deine Schläfen
und deine Hände so schwer,
bist du schon weit von dannen und hörst mich nicht mehr?

Unter dem flackenden Lichte
bist du so traurig und alt,
und deine Lippe sind grausam
in ewiger Starre gekrallt.

Morgen schon ist hier das Schweigen
und vieilleicht in der Luft
noch das Rascheln der Kränze
und ein verwesender Duft.

Aber die Nächte werden
leerer nun, Jahr um Jahr,
hier, wo dein Haupt lag und leise
immer dein Atem war.


Von Eichendorff: In a foreign country

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In a Foreign Place

From my homeland beyond the red lightning
the clouds are coming here,
but my father and mother are long dead,
no one there knows me now.

How soon, how soon the silent time will come
when I too will be at rest, and the silent
forest loneliness will rustle over me
and no one will know me here either.

      –Joseph von Eichendorff (1788-1857)

In der Fremde

Aus der Heimat hinter der Blitzen rot
da kommen die Wolken her,
aber Vater und Mutter sind lange tot, es kennt mich dort keiner mehr.

Wie bald, wie bald kommt die stille Zeit,
da ruhe ich auch, und über mir
rauschet de stille Waldeinsamkeit
und keiner mehr kennt mich auch hier.


The Michauds say goodbye to their home

BombardementTours1940The city of Tours, France, summer 1940. Paris was not to suffer much physically from the war, but the civilians who fled could not know that. Many refugees from Paris unluckily found themselves in Tours when the Germans bombed it

[June 1940. The Michauds are a middle-aged couple who like tens of thousands of other Parisians are about to flee Paris on foot as the city is attacked by the Nazis.]

The Michauds had gotten up at five o'clock in the morning to have time to clean the apartment thoroughly before they left. Of course it was strange to take so much care over worthless things that would almost certainly vanish as soon as the first bombs fell on Paris. But, thought Mme Michaud, we do dress the dead who are going to rot in the ground, and make them look good. It's a last homage, an ultimate proof of love for what was dear to us. And this apartment was very dear to them. They had been living there for sixteen years. They could not take all their memories and keepsakes with them. Try as they might, the best would stay here within these poor walls.

Irène Némirovsky (1903-1942), Suite française. This is my own translation but there is an excellent English translation by Sandra Smith 

Les Michaud s'étaient levés à cinq heures du matin pour avoir le temps de faire l'appartement à fond avant de le quitter. Il était évidemment étrange de prendre tant de soin de choses sans valeur et condamnées, selon toutes probabilités, à disparaître dès que les premières bombes tomberaient sur Paris. Mais, pensait Mme Michaud, on habille et on pare bien les morts qui sont destinés à pourrir dans la terre. C'est un dernier hommage, une preuve suprême d'amour à ce qui fut cher. Or ce petit appartement leur était bien cher. Ils y vivaient depuis seize ans. Ils ne pourraient pas emmener avec eux tous leurs souvenirs. Ils auraient beau faire, les meilleurs resteraient ici, entre ces pauvres mur.


King Xerxes grieves that all his men will be dead in a hundred years

Crossing_the_Hellespont_by_Xerxes_with_his_huge_armyXerxes watches his army cross the Hellespont

When Xerxes [Cyrus] had come into the midst of Abydos, he had a desire to see all the army; and there had been made purposely for him beforehand upon a hill in this place a raised seat of white stone, which the people of Abydos had built at the command of the king given beforehand. There he took his seat, and looking down upon the shore he gazed both upon the land-army and the ships; and gazing upon them he had a longing to see a contest take place between the ships; and when it had taken place and the Phenicians of Sidon were victorious, he was delighted both with the contest and with the whole armament.

And seeing all the Hellespont covered over with the ships, and all the shores and the plains of Abydos full of men, then Xerxes pronounced himself a happy man, and after that he fell to weeping.

Artabanos his uncle therefore perceiving him,–the same who at first boldly declared his opinion advising Xerxes not to march against Hellas [Greece],– this man, I say, having observed that Xerxes wept, asked as follows: "O king, how far different from one another are the things which thou hast done now and a short while before now! for having pronounced thyself a happy man, thou art now shedding tears." He said: "Yea, for after I had reckoned up, it came into my mind to feel pity at the thought how brief was the whole life of man, seeing that of these multitudes not one will be alive when a hundred years have gone by."

Herodotus (ca 484 BCE-425 BCE) in his Histories, Ch. VII, 44-46

ἐπεὶ δ᾽ ἐγένετο ἐν Ἀβύδῳ μέσῃ, ἠθέλησε Ξέρξης ἰδέσθαι πάντα τὸν στρατόν· καὶ προεπεποίητο γὰρ ἐπὶ κολωνοῦ ἐπίτηδες αὐτῷ ταύτῃ προεξέδρη λίθου λευκοῦ, ἐποίησαν δὲ Ἀβυδηνοὶ ἐντειλαμένου πρότερον βασιλέος, ἐνθαῦτα ὡς ἵζετο, κατορῶν ἐπὶ τῆς ἠιόνος ἐθηεῖτο καὶ τὸν πεζὸν καὶ τὰς νέας, θηεύμενος δὲ ἱμέρθη τῶν νεῶν ἅμιλλαν γινομένην ἰδέσθαι. ἐπεὶ δὲ ἐγένετό τε καὶ ἐνίκων Φοίνικες Σιδώνιοι, ἥσθη τε τῇ ἁμίλλῃ καὶ τῇ στρατιῇ.

ὡς δὲ ὥρα πάντα μὲν τὸν Ἑλλήσποντον ὑπὸ τῶν νεῶν ἀποκεκρυμμένον, πάσας δὲ τὰς ἀκτὰς καὶ τὰ Ἀβυδηνῶν πεδία ἐπίπλεα ἀνθρώπων, ἐνθαῦτα ὁ Ξέρξης ἑωυτὸν ἐμακάρισε, μετὰ δὲ τοῦτο ἐδάκρυσε.

μαθὼν δέ μιν Ἀρτάβανος ὁ πάτρως, ὃς τὸ πρῶτον γνώμην ἀπεδέξατο ἐλευθέρως οὐ συμβουλεύων Ξέρξῃ στρατεύεσθαι ἐπὶ τὴν Ἑλλάδα, οὗτος ὡνὴρ φρασθεὶς Ξέρξην δακρύσαντα εἴρετο τάδε. «ὦ βασιλεῦ, ὡς πολλὸν ἀλλήλων κεχωρισμένα ἐργάσαο νῦν τε καὶ ὀλίγῳ πρότερον· μακαρίσας γὰρ σεωυτὸν δακρύεις.» ὁ δὲ εἶπε «ἐσῆλθε γάρ με λογισάμενον κατοικτεῖραι ὡς βραχὺς εἴη ὁ πᾶς ἀνθρώπινος βίος, εἰ τούτων γε ἐόντων τοσούτων οὐδεὶς ἐς ἑκατοστὸν ἔτος περιέσται.»