Riley: He is not dead. He is just away

Monkeyleader.flickr
I cannot say, and will not say
that he is dead. He is just away.

With a cheery smile, and a wave of the hand,
he has wandered into an unknown land

and left us dreaming how very fair
it needs must be, since he lingers there.

And you-- oh, you, who the wildest yearn
for an old-time step, and the glad return,

think of him faring on, as dear
in the love of there as the love of here.

Think of him still as the same. I say,
he is not dead-- he is just away.

With a cheery smile, and a wave of the hand
he has wandered into an unknown land,

and left us dreaming how very fair
it needs must be, since he lingers there.

And you-- O you, who the wildest yearn
for the old-time step and the glad return--,

think of him faring on, as dear
in the love of There as the love of Here;

....

Think of him still as the same, I say:
He is not dead-- he is just away.

         --James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916). You can read the whole poem here.

Old Irish: Cold is the wind

Ferran.Flickr

Cold is the wind
through the doorway of the soldiers' house;
beloved the soldiers
who stood between us and the wind.

    --Old Irish, recited by Rónán in the tragic tale "Fingal Rónáin." This and many other Old Irish translations are found on the website www.sengoídelc.com [=Old Irish]

Is úar gáeth
i ndorus tige na lláech;
batar inmaine laích
bítis etrainn ocus gaíth.

Robert Lowell: "When they first showed me the boy, I thought oh good, it's not him"

Killed_by_a_bomb

Identification in Belfast

IRA bombing

..."When they first showed me the boy, I thought oh good,
it's not him because he is a blonde--
I imagine his hair was singed dark by the bomb.
He had nothing on him to identify him
except this box of joke trick matches;
he liked to have them on him, even at mass.
The police were unhurried and wonderful,
they let me go on trying to strike a match...
I just wouldn't stop-- you cling to anything--
I couldn't believe I couldn't light one match--
only joke-matches...Then I knew he was Richard."

   --Robert Lowell (1917-1977)


David Grossman: It's like hell in slow motion, all the time

Fire_by_ssa61_at_flickr

It's a painful life, now. It's like hell in slow motion, all the time. I don't try to escape grief. I face grief in an intense way in my writing, but not only in my writing. If I have to suffer, I want to understand my situation thoroughly. It's not an easy place to be, but so be it. If I'm doomed to it, I want-- it's a human predicament, and I want to experience it....

Anything that is calm and safe seems to me like an illusion.

            --David Grossman (1954- ), Israeli novelist, in an interview with Jonathan Shainin in the Paris Review, Fall 2007. His youngest son, Uri, was killed in August 2006 during the Israeli offensive in Lebanon.


Gordon Wilson: I have lost my daughter.... I shall pray for those people every night.

Enniskillen_after_bombing

On the 8th of November 1987, twenty years ago today, a crowd gathered in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland at a monument for the war dead, for a memorial service on Remembrance Day. A bomb planted by the Provisional IRA, meant to kill soldiers and policemen at the service, went off ten minutes early. Eleven people, all but one civilians, died in the explosion and under the rubble, and one man left in a coma died 13 years later without recovering consciousness. Sixty-three people were injured. The Provisional IRA was forced by its own horrified supporters to apologize, and the incident has come to be seen as a turning point in the Troubles. The IRA lost support around the world because of video footage of the bombing and its aftermath. This led indirectly to more tranquility in the region, which is relatively peaceful today.

The most famous story to emerge from the massacre was that of Marie Wilson, a twenty-year-old girl who had been standing near the monument with her father, Gordon Wilson. They were buried under bricks.

We were both thrown forward, rubble and stones and whatever in and around and over us and under us. I was aware of a pain in my right shoulder. I shouted to Marie was she all right and she said yes, she found my hand and said, "Is that your hand, dad?" Now remember we were under six foot of rubble. I said "Are you all right?" and she said yes, but she was shouting in between. Three of four times I asked her, and she always said yes, she was all right. When I asked her the fifth time, "Are you all right, Marie?" she said, "Daddy, I love you very much." Those were the last words she spoke to me. She still held my hand quite firmly and I kept shouting at her, "Marie, are you all right?" but there wasn't a reply. We were there about five minutes. Someone came and pulled me out. I said, "I'm all right but for God's sake my daughter is lying right beside me and I don't think she is too well." She's dead. She didn't die there. She died later. The hospital was magnificent, truly impressive, and our friends have been great, but I miss my daughter, and we shall miss her but I bear no ill will, I bear no grudge. She was a great wee lassie, she loved her profession. She was a pet and she's dead. She's in heaven, and we'll meet again.

Don't ask me please for a purpose. I don't have a purpose. I don't have an answer, but I know there has to be a plan. If I didn't think that, I would commit suicide. It's part of a greater plan, and God is good. And we shall meet again.

I have lost my daughter, and we shall miss her. But I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge.
Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back to life.*

Marie's father told the BBC that he forgave her killers and added: "I shall pray for those people tonight and every night."

"Gordon Wilson's quiet dignity had a profound effect on many people in Northern Ireland. He was later involved with initiatives to improve community relations in Enniskillen and eventually was appointed to the Senate in the Republic of Ireland. Gordon Wilson died on 27 June 1995 aged 68." --From the website of CAIN [Conflict Archive on the INternet], Conflict and Politics in Northern Ireland (1968 to the present)

Conor Carson, a schoolboy at the time, wrote the poem below to commemorate Marie.   The red-paper poppy, an uncontroversial sign of respect for war dead in Britain (and Canada, Australia and New Zealand), is seen by some Catholic nationalists in Northern Ireland as a symbol of British identity. Marie and the other victims at Enniskillen were Protestant.

* You can hear Gordon Wilson's 1987 BBC interview here.

Lest_we_forget_by_jedistemo_flickr     

Marie Wilson

Enniskillen, 8 November 1987

Under the statue
    of the Unknown Soldier
a man prepares
    a bomb. He is
an unknown soldier.

The patron saint of warriors
    is Michael.
Between the unknown soldiers
    is a wall.
It is the gable
    of St Michael's Hall.

This was Remembrance Sunday.
    Poppy Day.
They came to hear
    the bugles in the square.
They did not count
    the unknown soldiers there.

Today there were no sermons.
    Unknown soldiers
said later it had not
    gone off as planned.
Under the bricks
    she held her father's hand.

Today there was no Last Post.
    Her last words
were "Daddy, I love you."
    He said he would trust
God. But her poppy
lay in the dust.

The protector of unknown soldiers
    is Michael.
The father is at the grave.
    A bell peals.
The name Michael
    means "God heals."

                    --From the anthology A Rage for Order: Poetry of the Northern Ireland Troubles, ed. Frank Ormsby (1947- ) (pub. 1992)






John Montague: Unmarked faces fierce with grief

Pat_mcbrides_funeral_slainte_at_f_2

Falls Funeral

Unmarked faces
fierce with grief

a line of children
led by a small coffin

the young
mourning the young

a sight beyond tears
beyond pious belief

David's brethren
in the Land of Goliath

      --John Montague (1929- ), in Contemporary Irish Poetry (1988). This poem refers to the Troubles, and Falls Road in West Belfast.


Andreas Gryphius: Tear, Earth! Tear in two!

Tornado_watch_canada_by_a_guy_with_

Psal. LXXI. v 20. Quantas ostendisti
mihi tribulationes multas & magnas,
& conversus vivificasti me!*

Tear, Earth! Tear in two! Your mountains break and cover
the wholly disheartened spirit!
The lightning and ache and need
and fear
and woe are frightening!
and harsh longing bites!
You ever-lit lights of the cities of heaven!
Oh make my legs stand! Oh do not help my legs!
Since the thunderous wedge of pain
cuts the power of fear!
God!
Good God! Only for me the strict Judge
what have I not seen of your fury!
What have I not heard of scorn and abuse!
Are my eyes lent to me
so that I should count nothing as harsh trouble
nothing as torture?
Every day my ears are yelled full
yes even my dim soul!
Can I, can I not escape?
Can the clear starry night, can the sun not refresh me?
Will every red dawn of every evening hour oppress me?

      --Andreas Gryphius (1616-1664)
    He lived his youth during the time of the Thirty Years War

Reiss Erde! reiss entzwey! Ihr Berge brecht und decket
Den gantz verzagten Geist!

Den Blitz und Ach und Noth
und Angst
und Weh’ erschrecket!
Und herbe Wehmut beist!
Ihr immerlichten staetter Himmel Lichter!
Ach bescheinet meine Glider! ach bescheint die Glider nicht!
Die der Donnerkeil der Schmertzen
die die Krafft der Angst zubricht!
Gott
guter Gott! Nur mir zu strenger Richter
Was laesset mich dein Grimm nicht sehen!
Was hoer ich nicht fuer Spott und Schmaehen?
Sind die Augen mir verlihen
Daß ich nichts als herbe Plagen
nichts als Marter schauen soll?
Taeglich rufft man mir die Ohren
ja die matte Seele voll!
Kan ich! kan ich nicht entflihen?
Kan die hell-besternte Nacht! kan mich nicht die Sonn erquicken?
Sol mich jede Morgenroett’ jeder’ Abendstunde druecken?

[*For you showed me many and great fears, and make me live again. In the King James version of the Bible, Psalm 71:20: "Thou, which hast shewed me great and sore troubles, shalt quicken me again, and shalt bring me up again from the depths of the earth."]


Christine McFadden: choosing not to step into hell

Path_through_geyser_field_by_mind_2   [Christine McFadden's four children were murdered by her ex-husband in 2002. Christine recently remarried and this year she gave birth to twin girls. She talked to Oprah Winfrey about her surviving to love again.]

Melanie, Stanley, Stuart, and Michelle were the best things that ever happened to me. Even in their short lives, they exceeded any hopes I could have had for them. Yes, I know I have to go forward now. By marrying and bringing these two girls into the world, that's what I'm choosing to do....

And even now I still feel like hell is only a step away. But I choose not to step into it.

    --from interview in Oprah magazine, April 2007


Henry Christopher Bradby: Learn the fellowship of suffering

April 1918

You, whose forebodings have been all fulfilled,
you who have heard the bell, seen the boy standCrop_western_union_boys_1
holding the flimsy message in his hand
while through your heart the fiery question thrilled
"Wounded or killed, which, which?"--and it was "Killed--"
and in a kind of trance have read it, numb
but conscious that the dreaded hour was come,
no dream this dream wherewith your blood was chilled--
oh brothers in calamity, unknown
companions in the order of black loss,
lift up your hearts, for you are not alone,
and let our sombre hosts together bring
their sorrows to the shadow of the Cross
and learn the fellowship of suffering.

        --Henry Christopher Bradby (1868-1947)