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), Gitanjali. He translated the poems into English himself.

The original Bengali poem (1901) and other Tagore poems can be found here. Thanks to Sourav Guha for the source.

   যারা কাছে আছে তারা কাছে থাক্‌, তারা তো পারে না জানিতে--
     তাহাদের চেয়ে তুমি কাছে আছ আমার হৃদয়খানিতে ॥
যারা কথা বলে তাহারা বলুক,   আমি করিব না কারেও বিমুখ--
     তারা নাহি জানে ভরা আছে প্রাণ তব অকথিত বাণীতে।
     নীরবে নিয়ত রয়েছে আমার নীরব হৃদয়খানিতে ॥
তোমার লাগিয়া কারেও, হে প্রভু,   পথ ছেড়ে দিতে বলিব না, কভু,
     যত প্রেম আছে সব প্রেম মোরে তোমা-পানে রবে টানিতে--
     সকলের প্রেমে রবে তব প্রেম আমার হৃদয়খানিতে।
সবার সহিতে তোমার বাঁধন   হেরি যেন সদা এ মোর সাধন--
     সবার সঙ্গ পারে যেন মনে তব আরাধনা আনিতে।
          সবার মিলনে তোমার মিলন
                   জাগিবে হৃদয়খানিতে ॥

 

Photo used by kind permission of Daniel Schwabe.


Millay: I am not resigned

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I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.

...A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone.  They are gone to feed the roses.

...More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know.  But I do not approve.  And I am not resigned.

Edna Saint Vincent Millay (1892–1950), "Dirge without music" (1928), from Collected Poems (1928)

Photo by monikasmigielska on Pixabay


Lü Buwei: The dead regard a myriad of years as the blink of an eye

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The dead regard a myriad of years as the blink of an eye. A man of the greatest longevity does not live more than a hundred; one of average longevity not more than sixty. If one employs the point of view of those who live a hundred or sixty years to make plans for those whose time is limitless, the feelings inevitably do not coincide.
 
The Annals of Lü Buwei (compiled about 240 BCE), "Record of the Beginning of Winter. Dying peacefully." Translated by John Knoblock and Jeffrey Riegel.  Lü Buwei (291–235 BCE) was the prime minister and regent for the king who became the First Emperor of China (the ancient historian Sima Qian said he was the king's real father, but modern historians doubt this). Lü was a great patron of scholars and ordered these annals compiled as a compendium of all of their knowledge.

This chapter inveighs against the construction of massive, costly tombs, which the writers argue benefit the living, not the dead they are supposed to honor. Lü fell afoul of the emperor at about the time of the publication of the
Annals and he was forced to commit suicide. The First Emperor's tomb may be the grandest ever built.
 
世之為丘壟也,其高大若山,其樹之若林,其設闕庭、為宮 、造賓阼也若都邑,以此觀世示富則可矣,以此為死則不可也。夫死,其視萬歲猶一瞚也。人之壽,久之不過百,中壽不過六十。以百與六十為無窮者之慮,其情必不相當矣。
呂氏春秋,孟冬記,安死
 
Photo by JMHullot, Wikimedia Commons. This army of the First Emperor's lifesize terracotta warriors, originally colorfully painted, was discovered 3.5 kilometers away from the main tomb, which has yet to be excavated.
 

Michael Rosen: I broke the rule that said I had to stay in the Land of the Dead

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...I'm a traveller
who reached
the Land of the Dead.
I broke the rule that said I had to stay.
I crossed back over the water.
I dodged the guard dog,
I came out.
I've returned.
 
I wander about.
 
I left some things down there....
 
Michael Rosen (1946–), beloved British children's book writer and illustrator, who survived being on a ventilator with COVID in April and May 2020. In the Guardian, 13 March 2021. The poem is from his book Many Different Kinds of Love: A story of life, death and the NHS
 

Elizabeth Jane Howard: They never die for the people who love them

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The tragedy of somebody dying is that they only die for themselves; never for the people who love them. To those who love them they remain, poised on the last moments before the last farewell. They leave a room or a house, shut a door or a gate, and disappear; but they do not die.

Elizabeth Jane Howard (1923–2014), The Beautiful Visit 



Photo: Vivian Dawson Graham, an Australian soldier who died of pneumonia at age 18 in France, 1916. From Maurice S on Flickr. His parents put this in the newspaper:

A handsome happy Australian boy, His soldier spurs yet hardly won,
A father's pride, his mother's joy,
Our only son.
He answered to the nation's call,
We ill could spare our one and all,
And prayed God would not let him fall—
Our only one.
But fortune failed him in the strife,
Our pride was in a moment gone;
We start again, just man and wife,
Without a son.


Wen Tianxiang: Since ancient times, who has not died?

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Since ancient times, who has not died?
Let me keep a loyal heart to shine from the pages of history.
 
Wen Tianxiang (1236–1282) 文天祥, "Crossing the sea of Lingding" 過零丁洋. Wen is still known as a patriotic hero for his resistance to the Mongol invasion of China.
 
人生自古誰無死 
留取丹心昭汗青
 
 

Adélia Prado: Our verbs are not eternal

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Dear God,
don't punish me for saying
my life was so lovely!
We're human,
our verbs have tenses,
they're not like Yours,
eternal.


Adélia Prado (1935—, Brazilian poet), "Woman at Nightfall" (2013), translated by Ellen Doré Watson

Ó Deus,
não me castigue se falo
minha vida foi tão bonita!
Somos humanos,
nossos verbos têm tempos,
não são como o Vosso,
eterno.

"Mulher ao cair da tarde"

 

 

Photo by Barbara Jackson on Pixabay


Lin Yutang: It was a good show

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One can learn such a lot and enjoy such a lot in seventy years, and three generations is a long, long time to see human follies and acquire human wisdom. Anyone who is wise and has lived long enough to witness the changes of fashion and morals and politics through the rise and fall of three generations should be perfectly satisfied to rise from his seat and go away saying, 'It was a good show,' when the curtain falls.

Lin Yutang (1895–1976), The Importance of Living (1937)

 

Photo by StockSnap on Pixabay