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.

John Milton: Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime


In this monody the author bewails a learned friend*, unfortunately drowned in his passage from Chester on the Irish Seas, 1637.

[The author invokes the Muses to lament his friend]Ocean_waves_in_sunlight

Bitter constraint, and sad occasion dear,
compels me to disturb your season due:
for Lycidas is dead, dead ere his prime,
young Lycidas, and hath not left his peer:
O the heavy change, now thou art gone,
now thou art gone, and never must return!
Where were ye nymphs when the remorseless deep
closed o'er the head of your loved Lycidas?
Ay me! Whilst thee the shores and sounding seas
wash far away, where'er thy bones are hurled,
whether beyond the stormy Hebrides,
where thou perhaps under the whelming tide
visit'st the bottom of the monstrous world;
look homeward Angel now, and melt with ruth.
And, O ye dolphins, waft the hapless youth.
Weep no more, woeful shepherds, weep no more,
for Lycidas your sorrow is not dead,
sunk though he be beneath the watry floor,
so sinks the day-star in the ocean bed,
and yet anon repairs his drooping head,
and tricks his beams, and with new-spangled ore,
flames in the forehead of the morning sky:

so Lycidas sunk low, but mounted high,
through the dear might of Him that walked the waves;
where other groves, and other streams along,
with nectar pure his oozy locks he laves,
and hears the unexpressive nuptial song,
in the blest kingdoms meek of joy and love.
There entertain him all the saints above,
in solemn troops, and sweet societies
that sing, and singing in their glory move,
and wipe the tears forever from his eyes.

Now Lycidas the shepherds weep no more;
henceforth thou art the genius of the shore,
in thy large recompense, and shalt be good
to all that wander in that perilous flood.

        --John Milton (1608-1674)

*Milton's friend and classmate Edward King died age 25 when his ship sank in the Irish Sea, 1637. You can find the whole text and commentary here.

John Betjeman: Those we miss the most are those we take for granted

The Hon. Sec.

The  flag that hung half-mast today5thteetrevose
seemed animate with being
as if it knew for whom it flew
and will no more be seeing.

He loved each corner of the links--
the stream at the eleventh,
the grey-green bents, the pale sea-pinks,
the prospect from the seventh;

to the ninth tee the uphill climb,
a grass and sandy stairway,
and at the top the scent of thyme
and long extent of fairway.

He knew how on a summer day
the sea's deep blue grew deeper,
how evening shadows over Bray
make that round hill look steeper.

He knew the ocean mists that rose
and seemed for ever staying,
when moaned the foghorn from Trevose
and nobody was playing;

the flip of cards on winter eves,
the whisky and the scoring,
as trees outside were stripped of leaves
and heavy seas were roaring.

He died when early April light
showed red his garden sally
and under pale green spears glowed white
his lilies of the valley:

that garden where he used to stand
and where the robin waited
to fly and perch upon his hand
and feed till it was sated.

The Times would never have the space
for Ned's discreet achievements;
the public prints are not the place
for intimate bereavements.

A gentle guest, a willing host,
affection deeply planted--
it's strange that those we miss the most
are those we take for granted.

        --John Betjeman (1906-1984)

Ford Madox Ford: Its space in the sky is darker

Sidera Cadentia

When one of the old, little stars doth fall from its place,
the eye,
glimpsing aloft must sadden to see that its space
in the sky
is darker, lacking a spot of its ancient, shimmering grace,
and sadder, a little, for loss of the glimmer on high.

Very remote, a glitter, a mote far away, is your star,
but its glint being gone from the place where it shone
the night's somewhat grimmer and something is gone
out of the comforting quiet of things as they are.

A shock,
a change in the beat of the clock,
and the ultimate change that we fear feels a little less far.

        --Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939)

Mererid Hopwood: Patience won't bring a moment back


Patience won't bring a moment back,
not one moment of his life so brief,
no more, I know, but to have that moment back
I'd give the whole world, and lose my grief....

   --Mererid Hopwood, in Welsh Women's Poetry 1460-2001: An Anthology

Amynedd ni ddaw â munud yn ôl,
nac eiliad o'i fywyd
mwy mi wn, ond am ennyd
a'r un bach, mi rown y byd....

Separation. Bai Juyi remembers his friends


Yesterday I heard that such-a-one was gone;
this morning they tell me that so-and-so is dead.
Of friends and acquaintance more than two-thirds
have suffered change and passed to the Land of Ghosts.
Those that are gone I shall not see again;
they, alas, are for ever finished and done.
Those that are left, -- where are they now?
They are all scattered, --a thousand miles away.
Those I have known and loved through all my life,
on the fingers of my hand-- how many do I count?
Only the prefects of T'ung, Kuo and Li
and Feng Province-- just those four.
Longing for each other we are all grown gray;
through the Fleeting World rolled like a wave in the stream.
Alas that the feasts and frolics of old days
have withered and vanished, bringing us to this!
When shall we meet and drink a cup of wine
and laughing gaze into each other's eyes?

    --Bai Juyi [白居易] (772-846), translated by Arthur Waley (1889-1966)




Voltaire: The universe has lost the sublime Emilie


Epitaph of Madame du Châtelet

The universe has lost the sublime Emilie!
She loved the pleasures, the arts, the truth.
The gods, in giving her their soul and their genius,
kept only immortality for themselves.

        --Voltaire (pen name of François-Marie Arouet de Voltaire,1694-1778)  Gabrielle Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, Marquise du Châtelet (1706–49), was a good friend of Voltaire's; a brilliant woman, she was a scientist, mathematician, translator of Newton and Virgil, and philosopher.

L’univers a perdu la sublime Émilie!
Elle aima les plaisirs, les arts, la vérité.
Les dieux, en lui donnant leur âme et leur génie,
N’avaient gardé pour eux que l’immortalité.

Ludwig Uhland: The Good Comrade


The Good Comrade

I had a buddy,
you could never find a better one.
The drum rolled for battle,
he walked by my side
at the same speed in step.

A bullet came flying--
for me or for you?
It tore him away,
he lay at my feet
like a piece of myself.

He stretched out his hand to me
while I was reloading.
I can't give you my hand--
stay there in eternal life,
my good buddy!

-1809, Ludwig Uhland (1787-1862). This melancholy song has been the traditional lament for German soldiers, played at thousands of military funerals, since soon after the music was written in 1825, through World War I and the Nazi period, up to the present. It has been called the secret German national anthem.


Der gute Kamerad

Ich hatt einen Kameraden,
Einen bessern findst du nit.
Die Trommel schlug zum Streite,
Er ging an meiner Seite
In gleichem Schritt und Tritt.

Eine Kugel kam geflogen,
Gilt's mir oder gilt es dir?
Ihn hat es weggerissen,
Er liegt mir vor den Füßen,
Als wär's ein Stück von mir.

Will mir die Hand noch reichen,
Derweil ich eben lad.
Kann dir die Hand nicht geben,
Bleib du im ewgen Leben

Mein guter Kamerad!