Kirghiz lament: You were alive just yesterday!

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My noble, dear brother,
let me begin my song saying
(in the name of God)
you were alive just yesterday!
How can I send you away without singing a lament? ...
Oh, my noble, dear brother,
you left your daughters in sorrow.
Oh, dear world,
now, is there anybody in my village
who will be equal to you,
who will listen to my words
my dear brother?
Oh, my dear brother,
human beings are weak before
God’s power....

  --A Kirghiz lament, as translated on CD notes "Music of the World," Paris. If you know the source, could you please send it? Thanks to Thomas E. Jenkins of Trinity University.


Lee Brice: Mama asked me this morning if I'd been by your grave

 

Eighty-nine cents in the ashtray 
Half empty bottle of Gatorade 
Rollin' on the floorboard 

That dirty Braves cap on the dash 
Dogtags hangin' from the rear view 
Old Skoal can and cowboy boots 
And a "Go Army" shirt folded in the back 

This thing burns gas like crazy 
But that's all right 
People got their ways of copin' 
Oh, and I've got mine 

I drive your truck 
I roll every window down 
And I burn up 
Every back road in this town 
I find a field, I tear it up 
Till all the pain is a cloud of dust 
Yes, sometimes, I drive your truck 

I leave that radio playin' 
The same ole country station 
Where you left it 

Yeah, man, I crank it up 
You'd probably punch my arm right now 
If you saw this tear rollin' down my face 
Hey, man, I'm tryin' to be tough 

And Mama asked me this mornin' 
If I'd been by your grave 
But that flag of stone 
Ain't where I feel you, anyway 

I drive your truck 
I roll every window down 
And I burn up 
Every back road in this town 
I find a field, I tear it up 
Till all the pain is a cloud of dust 
Yes, sometimes, I drive your truck 

I've cussed, I've prayed, I've said goodbye 
I've shook my fist and asked God why 
These days, when I'm missin' you this much 

I drive your truck 
I roll every window down 
And I burn up 
Every back road in this town 
I find a field, and I tear it up 
Till all the pain is a cloud of dust 
Yes, sometimes, 
Brother, sometimes, I drive your truck 

I drive your truck 
I hope you don't mind 
I hope you don't mind 
I drive your truck

The story behind the song


Callimachus: The house beheld a two-fold woe

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At morn we buried Melanippus; as the sun set the maiden Basilo died by her own hand, as she could not endure to lay her brother on the pyre and live; and the house beheld a two-fold woe, and all Cyrene bowed her head, to see the home of happy children made desolate.

   --Callimachus and Lycophron CXLII. From The Greek Anthology (1852), George Burges. A 1917 translation is here.

If you have the original Greek, could you send it in?

Thank you to Ande and the Perseus Project for the Greek.

Ἠῶιοι Μελάνιππον ἐθάπτομεν, ἠελίου δέ
     δυομένου Βασιλὼ κάτθανε παρθενική
αὐτοχερί: ζώειν γὰρ ἀδελφεὸν ἐν πυρὶ θεῖσα
     οὐκ ἔτλη. δίδυμον δ᾽ οἶκος ἐπεῖδε κακόν
5πατρὸς Ἀριστίπποιο, κατήφησεν δὲ Κυρήνη
     πᾶσα τὸν εὔτεκνον χῆρον ἰδοῦσα δόμον.


Ron Tranmer: Our family chain is broken

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Our family chain is broken, and nothing seems the same;
but as God calls us one by one the chain will link again.

              --Ron Tranmer 

The poem is copyrighted. Please see the author's website (name is linked).

 

The author of the poem writes: 

I am the author of the above, "Our Family Chain Is Broken." Here is the full poem: 

We little knew the day that God
was going to call your name.
In life we loved you dearly,
in death we do the same.


It broke our hearts to lose you.
You did not go alone,

For part of us went with you
The day God called you home.


You left us peaceful memories.
Your love is still our guide,
And though we cannot see you
You are always at our side.


Our family chain is broken
and nothing seems the same,
but as God calls us one by one
the chain will link again.

 

 

 

I wrote it for a young woman in our family several years ago. Copies were passed out among the family. I hope it can bring comfort to others who grieve.

--Ron Tranmer


Marguerite d'Angoulême: I think of nothing but my grief

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Alas! I am so unhappy
that I cannot speak my misery
except to say that it's hopeless:
despair is already at the door
to throw me to the bottom of the well
where it seems there is no escape.

My eyes are throwing out so many tears
that they don't see the earth or the sky,
there is such an abundance of weeping.
My mouth is lamenting everywhere,
from my heart nothing better comes out
than sighs with no relief.

Sadness with its great efforts
has made my body so weak
that it has no energy or power.
It is like one of the dead,
so that seeing it from the outside,
one loses all recognition.

I have nothing left but the sad voice
that I hear myself crying with,
lamenting the terrible absence.
Alas! I have lost the happy presence
of the one I lived for
and saw with such good heart!

I am sure that his spirit
reigns with his ruler Jesus Christ
contemplating the divine essence.
How much will his body be ordered
the promises of the Holy Writ
will make it live in heaven without doubt.

While he was healthy and strong,
faith was his comfort.
His God he possessed by belief.
In this lively faith he died,
which has brought him to the very sure port
where he has the knowledge of God.

But alas! my body is banished
from him with whom it was united
since the time of our childhood!
My hope also is punished,
when it finds itself stripped
of his, full of all knowledge.

Mind and body are full of mourning,
so much that they are changed to laments;
only weeping is my face.
I cry in the woods and in the plains,
to heaven and earth I complain,
I think of nothing but my grief.

Death, who has played me such an evil trick
to beat down my force and my tower,
all my refuge and my defense,
has not known how to ruin my love
which I feel growing night and day,
which my sorrow makes grow and advance.

My pain cannot be revealed
and it is so hard for me to swallow it
that I lose all patience about it.
I must not talk about it any more,
but think about going soon
to where God has put him through his mercy.

O Death, who vanquished the brother,
come then by your great goodness
to pierce the sister with your lance.
My grief will be beaten by you;
for when I have added up everything
I want to fight you to the death.

Come then, don't delay,
but hurry with very big steps to get here,
I send you my challenge,
since my brother is in your nets.
Take me so that a single solace
gives gladness to both.

     --Marguerite d'Angoulême (also known as Marguerite de Navarre) after the death of her beloved brother, French king François Ier , whom she had once rescued from captivity in Spain.

Las ! tant malheureuse je suis,
Que mon malheur dire ne puis,
Sinon qu'il est sans espérance :
Désespoir est déjà à l'huis
Pour me jeter au fond du puits
Où n'a d'en saillir apparence.

Tant de larmes jettent mes yeux
Qu'ils ne voient terre ni cieux,
Telle est de leur pleur abondance.
Ma bouche se plaint en tous lieux,
De mon coeur ne peut saillir mieux
Que soupirs sans nulle allégeance.

Tristesse par ses grands efforts
A rendu si faible mon corps
Qu'il n'a ni vertu ni puissance.
Il est semblable à l'un des morts,
Tant que le voyant par dehors,
L'on perd de lui la connaissance.

Je n'ai plus que la triste voix
De laquelle crier m'en vois,
En lamentant la dure absence.
Las ! de celui pour qui vivais
Que de si bon coeur je voyais,
J'ai perdu l'heureuse présence !

Sûre je suis que son esprit
Règne avec son chef Jésus-Christ,
Contemplant la divine essence.
Combien que son corps soit prescrit,
Les promesses du saint Écrit
Le font vivre au ciel sans doutance.

Tandis qu'il était sain et fort,
La foi était son réconfort,
Son Dieu possédait par créance.
En cette foi vive il est mort,
Qui l'a conduit au très sûr port,
Où il a de Dieu jouissance.

Mais, hélas ! mon corps est banni
Du sien auquel il fut uni
Depuis le temps de notre enfance !
Mon espoir aussi est puni,
Quand il se trouve dégarni
Du sien plein de toute science.

Esprit et corps de deuil sont pleins,
Tant qu'ils sont convertis en plains ;
Seul pleurer est ma contenance.
Je crie par bois et par plains,
Au ciel et terre me complains,
A rien fors à mon deuil ne pense.

Mort, qui m'a fait si mauvais tour
D'abattre ma force et ma tour,
Tout mon refuge et ma défense,
N'as su ruiner mon amour
Que je sens croître nuit et jour,
Qui ma douleur croît et avance.

Mon mal ne se peut révéler,
Et m'est si dur à l'avaler,
Que j'en perds toute patience.
Il ne m'en faut donc plus parler,
Mais penser de bientôt aller,
Où Dieu l'a mis par sa clémence.

Ô Mort, qui le frère a dompté,
Viens donc par ta grande bonté
Transpercer la soeur de ta lance.
Mon deuil par toi soit surmonté ;
Car quand j'ai bien le tout compté,
Combattre te veux à outrance.

Viens doncques, ne retarde pas,
Mais cours la poste à bien grands pas,
Je t'envoie ma défiance.
Puisque mon frère est en tes lacs,
Prends-moi, afin qu'un seul soulas
Donne à tous deux éjouissance.


Jill Ker Conway: Watching the world from the other side of some transparent but impenetrable window

[Jill Ker Conway was raised on Coorain, an Australian ranch. In a time of terrible drought, her father drowned under circumstances that made her suspect he had killed himself. Her family later moved to Sydney. She is now 15. A policeman comes in the middle of the night to tell that her adored older brother Bob, 21, has been killed in a car crash.]

After he left, I was overcome by the need to do my grieving privately for a while. Drowning_in_sorrow_by_chocolate_sheep_fl I wanted to sit alone and take it in. I also knew it would be a long time before my mother slept peacefully again, and thought she would need her rest for what was awaiting her tomorrow. I sat in the dark in the living room, thinking very clearly. This time I knew no effort at committing a loved face or voice to memory could arrest the passage of time. There would be a time when I couldn't recall his voice and his laugh at will. I might live on a large part of my life without the laughter and the joy he brought into it. As I took in the facts and imagined the battered thatch of golden hair, I felt a sharp physical loss, as though my own body were mutilated. I was literally glad to have time to take in his death alone. It meant that in my incestuous way I could hold on a little longer to something about him which for the moment was mine alone. He had been like the sun in my universe, and most of my aspirations at school and in my daily life had centered on winning his approval. Now there were not just my father's wishes to be carried out in his absence, but Bob's too. I realized I would always be trying to live out his life for him.

[She wakes her other brother, Barry, and tells him.]

Downstairs, we sat together again, waiting out the night, just as we had waited out the day of our father's death together. As the first light came, it struck me like a blow that the sun would soon rise on a world without Bob....While Barry went to make his phone call, I crept about the kitchen to make us hot tea. When he returned we drank it, our lips chattering against the cups from cold and shock. After he left I settled in to wait, watcing the sun rise, staring at the new day in frozen sorrow. We had thought there could be no greater grief than the loss of our father, but there was and it was upon us. I knew with foreboding how it would affect our mother.

...my mother...looked like a character in a fairy story on whom a sudden spell has been cast. She said in an incredulous voice to no one in particular, "But he was my first baby." We nodded and then they set out.

[Chapter 6]

After my brother Bob's death, it seemed as though I had lost the capacity for emotional responses. Daily life was in black and white, like a badly made film. My trancelike state excluded music, feeling, color, desire. Although on the surface I was doing well, I was actually going through each day like an automaton....I gave up athletic competition because during the practice hours after school I was haunted by the knowledge of my mother, alone at home. I often came in to find her just sitting gazing into space.

Minhoquita_window_from_flickr I never touched the keys of a piano again, nor could I listen to music. When I heard something Bob had played or that we had listened to together I could not manage the feelings of grief that swept over me. Just as with our departure from Coorain, my consciousness had retreated to a great distance. It was hard to bring it back to earth unless I was concentrating every energy on some difficult intellectual effort. I came to love my hours of homework because when I finally sat down alone in my room with my books, I could get my mind and body together again, and escape the discomfort of watching the world from the other side of some transparent but impenetrable window. At school I laughed when people told jokes...but I could not really participate. When we went to the theater, I sat physically in the stalls but was emotionally somewhere up with the lighting tracks and girders of the building....

If we were sad, [our mother] was distraught. I often wondered if it would be better to rend one's garments and tear one's hair to express grief. My mother was quiet, but frozen....

We never spoke about Bob, or about our mother's worrisome state. We enjoyed the quiet, unspoken communication of two inarticulate but devoted people.

   --Jill Ker Conway (1934-), The Road From Coorain


Desbordes-Valmore: Who will give me back those days

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Who will give me back those days when life has wings
and flies, flies like a lark up to heaven,
when so much brightness passes before her eyes
that she falls down blinded in the middle of the flowers
that perfume her nest, her soul, her sleep,
and glow in her feathers burned by the sun!

Heaven! One of those golden threads to weave into my days,
the debris of that prism of brilliant colors!
At the heart of those beautiful days and those lovely flowers,
a dream where I'm free, a child, just born!

When my mother's love was my future;
when no one in my family had died;
when everything lived for me, vain little girl,
when living was heaven, or remembering it!

When I loved without knowing what I loved,
when the soul throbbed happily inside me-- why? I don't know;
when nature was perfume and flame,
when my two arms opened before those days--    gone.

    --Marceline Desbordes-Valmore (1786-1859) had a poverty-stricken life and lost many members of her family, including her two young daughters.

L'Impossible

Qui me rendra ces jours où la vie a des ailes
Et vole, vole ainsi que l'alouette aux cieux,
Lorsque tant de clarté passe devant ses yeux,
Qu'elle tombe éblouie au fond des fleurs, de celles
Qui parfument son nid, son âme, son sommeil,
Et lustrent son plumage ardé par le soleil !

Ciel ! un de ces fils d'or pour ourdir ma journée,
Un débris de ce prisme aux brillantes couleurs !
Au fond de ces beaux jours et de ces belles fleurs,
Un rêve ! où je sois libre, enfant, à peine née,

Quand l'amour de ma mère était mon avenir,
Quand on ne mourait pas encor dans ma famille,
Quand tout vivait pour moi, vaine petite fille !
Quand vivre était le ciel, ou s'en ressouvenir,

Quand j'aimais sans savoir ce que j'aimais, quand l'âme
Me palpitait heureuse, et de quoi ? Je ne sais ;
Quand toute la nature était parfum et flamme,
Quand mes deux bras s'ouvraient devant ces jours... passés.


Catullus: Hail and Farewell

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By ways remote and distant waters sped,
Brother, to thy sad grave-side am I come,
That I may give the last gifts to the dead,
And vainly parley with thine ashes dumb:
Since she who now bestows and now denies
Hath taken thee, hapless brother, from mine eyes.
But lo! these gifts, the heirlooms of past years,
Are made sad things to grace thy coffin shell,
Take them, all drenchèd with a brother’s tears,
And, brother, for all time, hail and farewell!

--Gaius Valerius Catullus (ca 85-ca 54 B.C.),  translated by Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898)

Borne through many nations and over many seas,
I have come, my brother, to the sad funeral,
to give you at the last the offering to the dead
and make a speech in vain to your silent ashes,
since fate has stolen you yourself away.
O unhappy brother, unfairly snatched away!
Still meanwhile, by the old custom of our ancestors,
accept now the sad brotherly offering, wet with tears,
and forever and ever, my brother, hail and farewell.

--tr. by Sedulia


Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus
advenio has miseras, frater, ad inferias,
ut te postremo donarem munere mortis
et mutam nequiquam adloquerer cinerem,
quandoquidem fortuna mihi tete abstulit ipsum,
heu miser indigne frater adempte mihi.
nunc tamen interea haec, prisco quae more parentum
tradita sunt tristi munere ad inferias,
accipe fraterno multum manantia fletu
atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale.


The Dalai Lama on loss

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An audience member, clearly in pain, asked the Dalai Lama, "Do you have any suggestions about how to handle a great personal loss, such as the loss of a child?"

With a gentle tone of compassion, he answered, "To some degree, that depends on people's personal belief. If people believe in rebirth, then accordingly, I think there is some way to reduce sorrow or worry. They can take consolation in the fact that their loved one will be reborn.

"For those people who do not believe in rebirth, then I think there are still some simple ways to help deal with the loss. First, they could reflect that if they worried too much, allowing themselves to be too overwhelmed by the sense of loss and sorrow, and if they carried on with that feeling of being overwhelmed, not only would it be very destructive and harming to themselves, ruining their health, but also it would not have any benefit to the person who has passed away.Dalai_lama_w_family

"For example, in my own case, I have lost my most respected tutor, my mother, and also one of my brothers. When they passed away, of course, I felt very, very sad. Then I constantly kept thinking that it's no use to worry too much, and if I really loved these people, then I must try to fulfill their wishes with a calm mind. So I try my best to do that. So I think if you've lost someone who is very dear to you, that's the proper way to approach it. You see, the best way to keep a memory of that person, the best remembrance, is to see if you can carry on the wishes of that person.

"Initially, of course, feelings of grief and anxiety are a natural human response to a loss. But if you allow these feelings of loss and worry to persist, there's a danger; if these feelings are left unchecked, they can lead to a kind of self-absorption. Peaceful_reflection_by_mike_nl_at_f A situation where the focus becomes your own self. And when that happens you become overwhelmed by the sense of loss, and you get a feeling that it's only you who is going through this. Depression sets in. But in reality, there are others who will be going through the same kind of experience. So, if you find yourself worrying too much, it may help to think of the other people who have similar or even worse tragedies. Once you realize that, then you no longer feel isolated, as if you have been singlepointedly picked out. That can offer you some kind of condolence."

      --The Dalai Lama (1935-), in The Art of Happiness (pub. 1998, Hodder and Stoughton), by the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler


Victor Hugo: Great grief is a divine and terrible radiance

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Great grief is a divine and terrible radiance which transfigures the wretched.

       --Victor Hugo (1802-1885), Les Misérables (1862), Book V, ch 13; translated by Charles Wilbour

La grande douleur est un rayon divin et terrible qui transfigure les misérables.