Jesse Andrews: It made me so angry that she was just going to be lost


So like an idiot, I hadn't understood until I was sitting there actually watching her physically die, when it was too late to say or do anything. I couldn't believe it had taken me so long to understand it even a little bit. This was a human being, dying. This was the only time there going to be someone with those eyes and those ears....this was the only time there was ever going to be that person, living in the world, and now that was almost over, and I couldn't deal with it.

I was thinking, also, that we had made a film about a thing, death, that we knew nothing about....

...I was realizing how to make the movie I should have made, that it had to be something that stored as much of Rachel as possible, that ideally we would have had a camera on her for her whole life, and one inside her head, and it made me so bitter and fucking angry that this was impossible, and she was just going to be lost. Just as if she had never been around to say things and laugh at people and have favorite words she like to use....All of it and everything else she had ever thought was just going to be lost.

    –Gregory Gaines in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews

Derek Walcott: Half my friends are dead


Sea Canes

Half my friends are dead.
I will make you new ones, said earth.
No, give me them back, as they were, instead,
with faults and all, I cried.

Tonight I can snatch their talk
from the faint surf's drone
through the canes, but I cannot walk

on the moonlit leaves of ocean
down that white road alone,
or float with the dreaming motion

of owls leaving earth's load.
O earth, the number of friends you keep
exceeds those left to be loved.

The sea canes by the cliff flash green and silver;
they were the seraph lances of my faith,
but out of what is lost grows something stronger

that has the rational radiance of stone,
enduring  moonlight, further than despair,
strong as the wind, that through dividing caves

brings those we love before us as they were,
with faults and all, not nobler, just there.

      --Derek Walcott (1930- ) in Derek Walcott: Collected Poems 1948-1984 (1986) originally published in Sea Grapes (1971)

Capercaillie: The stars I gaze upon seem different since that day


The stars I gaze upon seem different since that day,
While one shines brighter, another fades away,
You light up the winter sky, the moon at your command,
Convinced you didn't mean it, but your soul had different plans.

This is truth calling, makes its way to me,
And this is love falling, falling at our feet.

She was your sister, your neighbour, she was your daughter, your carer.
She was your mother, your sharer, she was your friend, your lover.

The bowing heads of many hold your image in their minds,
The endless search for answers occupy the time,
Gazing at the pictures, with eyes they fail to see
Why in a moment, robbed of reason, you embraced eternity.

   --A song by Capercaillie, the Scottish band. 

"(For Sheila, her family and friends)" 

Photo by Nedieth at flickr. 

Lattimore: I hate death. I hate all who speak well of it.

Witness to Death

Disconsolate I
from the thinning line
have seen friends drop and die.
All I called mine
has gone or will go
from its place in the sun.
This we know,
and nothing can be done.

Villon, Nashe, Dunbar,
to  your great testaments
I too assent from afar,
bestow my violence,
and throw my rhyme
and rage in the feeding face
of the great pig of time--
Beauty gone from her place,

wit wasted and lost,
promise killed with blight,
McCarter and George Frost.
Dilys who was delight,
Gilly suddenly gone,
Cartwright killed in the air,
Forrester, Conklin undone
in their prime. Where, where

is the rose, and the great
heart, and the shine of wit?
I hate death. I hate
all who speak well of it.
Dunbar, Nashe, Villon,
we sang as best we could
for the sake of those who are gone,
and it does no good.

  --Richmond Lattimore (1906-1984). Poem published in The Voice That Is Great Within Us, ed. Hayden Carruth (1970)

Jan de Hartog: If only I could believe the rhyme: "There is an old belief...."


If only I could believe the rhyme I had once found scribbled on the inside of a wardrobe in wartime England when I was billeted there during the war:

There is an old belief that on some distant shore,
far from despair and grief, old friends shall meet once more.

But I could not believe it. She was gone, forever.

      --Jan de Hartog (1914-2002) in A View of the Ocean (2007)  a memoir about the death of his mother

Gore Vidal: Envying tears

[Howard Auster, Vidal's partner of 53 years, was dying. Leto, a male nurse, was helping to care for him.]

...Leto shouted, "Mr Auster has stopped breathing!" I ran upstairs. He was still in the armchair, facing the window....I sat in the chair opposite....Nothing stirred....The eyes were open and very clear. I'd forgotten what a beautiful gray they were-- illness and medicine had regularly glazed them over;  now they were bright and attentive and he was watching me, consciously, through long lashes. Lungs, heart may have stopped but the optic nerves were still sending messages to a brain which, those who should know tell us, does not immediately shut down. So we stared at each other at the end...."Can you hear me?" I asked him. "I know you can see me." Although there was no breath for speech, he now had a sort of wry wiseguy from the Bronx expression on his face which said clearly to me who knew all his expressions, "So this is the big fucking deal everyone goes on about." In my general state of confusion I was oddly comforted that in death he was in perfect easy character much as he would have been that evening if he had lived....

Jim Carney who works for us at times kept me company....Then Jim and I were left with Howard on the floor between us covered by a sheet, black socks on his feet. Leto wept. I envied him-- the WASP glacier had closed over my head.

       --Gore Vidal (1925-) in his memoir Point to Point Navigation (2006)


Chingiz Aitmatov: Tanabai loses his friend

That very evening Tanabai returned to his camp in the mountains.

His wife met him in silence. She took the reins. She helped her husband dismount.

Tanabai turned to her, embraced her and buried his head on her shoulder. She embraced him and wept.


"We buried Choro. He's no more. I've lost my friend, Jaidar!" Tanabai said and once again gave vent to his tears.

Later he sat in silence on a large stone outside the tent.

He wanted to be alone, he wanted to watch the moon rising, appearing slowly from beyond the jagged crest of the white mountain range. His wife was putting the girls to bed inside. He could hear the fire cracking in the hearth. Then the humming string of her temir-komuz began its heart-rending song. It was as if the wind were howling anxiously, as if a man were running across a field weeping, singing his plaintive song, while all else was silence, waiting with bated breath, while all was soundless, and only the lonely voice of human sorrow and grief kept running on. It was as if it ran on, not knowing where to find shelter for its grief or how to find consolation in the silence and wilderness, and not a soul called out to him. And so it wept and harkened to its own grief. Tanabai knew his wife was playing "The Old Hunter's Song" for him.

        --Kirghiz writer Chingiz Aitmatov in "Farewell, Gyulsary!" (1959), translated by Fainna Glagoleva

Alfred Tennyson: Mourning his friend Arthur Hallam

From In Memoriam


I sometimes hold it half a sinCrop_angel_at_pere_lachaise
to put in words the grief I feel;
for words, like Nature, half reveal
and half conceal the Soul within...

In words, like weeds, I’ll wrap me o’er,
like coarsest clothes against the cold:
but that large grief which these enfold
is given in outline and no more.


One writes, that "Other friends remain,"
that "Loss is common to the race"--
and common is the commonplace,
and vacant chaff well meant for grain.

That loss is common would not make
my own less bitter, rather more:
too common! Never morning wore
to evening, but some heart did break...


Tears of the widower, when he sees
a late-lost form that sleep reveals,
and moves his doubtful arms, and feels Crop_bed_for_one_4
her place is empty, fall like these;

which weep a loss for ever new,
a void where heart on heart reposed;
and, where warm hands have pressed and closed,
silence, till I be silent too. awful thought, a life removed,
the human-hearted man I loved,
a Spirit, not a breathing voice.

Come Time, and teach me, many years,
I do not suffer in a dream;
for now so strange do these things seem...


The lesser griefs that may be said,
that breathe a thousand tender vows,
are but as servants in a house
where lies the master newly dead...

"It will be hard," they say, "to find
Another service such as this."

My lighter moods are like to these,
that out of words a comfort win;
but there are other griefs within,
and tears that at their fountain freeze;

for by the hearth the children sit
cold in that atmosphere of Death,
and scarce endure to draw the breath, see the vacant chair, and think,
"How good! how kind! and he is gone."


...And is it that the haze of grief
makes former gladness loom so great?
The lowness of the present state,
that sets the past in this relief?

Or that the past will always win
a glory from its being far...?


...I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
't is better to have loved and lost
than never to have loved at all.


With trembling fingers did we weaveChristmas_tree_1850_1
the holly round the Christmas hearth;
a rainy cloud possess’d the earth,
and sadly fell our Christmas-eve.

At our old pastimes in the hall
we gambol’d, making vain pretence
of gladness, with an awful sense
of one mute Shadow watching all...

Then echo-like our voices rang;
we sung, tho’ every eye was dim,
a merry song we sang with him
last year: impetuously we sang:

we ceased: a gentler feeling crept
upon us: surely rest is meet:
"They rest," we said, "their sleep is sweet,"
and silence follow’d, and we wept...


Be near me when my light is low,
when the blood creeps, and the nerves prick
and tingle; and the heart is sick,
and all the wheels of Being slow...

Be near me when my faith is dry...

be near me when I fade away,
to point the term of human strife,
and on the low dark verge of life
the twilight of eternal day.


Oh yet we trust that somehow good
will be the final goal of ill...

That nothing walks with aimless feet;
that not one life shall be destroy’d,
or cast as rubbish to the void,
when God hath made the pile complete...

So runs my dream: but what am I?
an infant crying in the night:
an infant crying for the light:
and with no language but a cry.


I cannot see the features right,
when on the gloom I strive to paint
the face I know; the hues are faint
and mix with hollow masks of night...


I leave thy praises unexpress’d
in verse that brings myself relief,
and by the measure of my grief
I leave thy greatness to be guess’d...

Thy leaf has perish’d in the green,
and, while we breathe beneath the sun,
the world which credits what is done
is cold to all that might have been....

        --Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892). Arthur Hallam was Tennyson's close friend, and the fiancé of his sister Emily. Hallam died young in Vienna in 1833. The 132 poems of In Memoriam were written over the next seventeen years. More of the poem can be found here. The full text can be found here.

Fulke Greville laments his best friend, Sir Philip Sidney, who died young in the wars

Silence augmenteth grief, writing increaseth rage,
staled are my thoughts, which loved and lost the wonder of our age:
yet quickened now with fire, though dead with frost ere now,
enraged I write I know not what; dead, quick, I know not how.Crop_text_sir_philip_sidney

Hard-hearted minds relent and rigour's tears abound,
and envy strangely rues his end, in whom no fault she found.
Knowledge her light hath lost; valour hath slain her knight.
Sidney is dead; dead is my friend; dead is the world's delight.

Place, pensive, wails his fall whose presence was her pride;
Time crieth out, "My ebb is come; his life was my spring tide."
Fame mourns in that she lost the ground of her reports;
each living wight laments his lack, and all in sundry sorts.

He was (woe worth that word!) to each well-thinking mind
a spotless friend, a matchless man, whose virtue ever shined,
declaring in his thoughts, his life, and that he write,
highest conceits, longest foresights, and deepest works of wit.

He, only like himself, was second unto none,
whose death (though life) we rue, and wrong, and all in vain do moan.
Their loss, not him, wail they, that fill the world with cries,
death slew not him, but he made death his ladder to the skies.

Now sink of sorrow I, who live, the more the wrong!
Who wishing death, whom death denies, whose thread is all too long;
who tied to wretched life, who looks for no relief,
must spend my ever dying days in never ending grief.

Heart's ease and only I, like parallels, run on,
whose equal length keep equal breadth, and never meet in one;
yet for not wronging him, my thoughts, my sorrow's cell,
shall not run out, though leak they will, for liking him so well.

Farewell to you, my hopes, my wonted waking dreams,
farewell, sometimes enjoyed joy; eclipsed are thy beams.
Farewell, self-pleasing thoughts, which quietness brings forth;
and farewell, friendship's sacred league, uniting minds of worth.

And farewell, merry heart, the gift of guileless minds,
and all sports which for life's restore variety assigns;
let all that sweet is void; in me no mirth may dwell.Crop_text_fulke_greville_1
Philip, the cause of all this woe, my life's content, farewell!

Now rhyme, the son of rage, which art no kin to skill,
and endless grief, which deads my life, yet knows not how to kill,
go, seek that hapless tomb, which if ye hap to find,
salute the stones, that keep the limbs, that held so good a mind.

      -- Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke (1554-1628), writing on the death from a war wound of his close friend since childhood, Sir Philip Sidney, the most admired man of his time

Another poem written after the death of Sydney was by Henry Constable (1562-1613):

On Sir Philip Sidney

Give pardon, blessed soul, to my bold cries,
if they, importune, interrupt thy song,
which now with joyful notes thou sing'st among
the angel-choristers of heavenly skies.
Give pardon eke, sweet soul, to my slow eyes,
that since I saw thee now it is so long,
and yet the tears that unto thee belong
to thee as yet they did not sacrifice.
I did not know that thou wert dead before;
I did not feel the grief I did sustain;
the greater stroke astonisheth the more;
astonishment takes from us sense of pain.
I stood amazed when others' tears begun,
and now begin to weep when they have done.