Georg Heym: The last watch


How dark your sleeps are
and your hands so cold.
Are you already so far away
you don't hear me any more?

Under the flickering lights
you are so sad and old,
and your lips are gruesome
clenched stiffly forever.

In the morning the silence will already be here
and maybe in the air
still the rustling of wreaths
and a decaying smell.

But the nights will become
emptier now, year after year,
here where your head lay and your breathing
was always so soft.

    –Georg Heym (1887-1912)

Letzte Wache

Wie dunkel sind deine Schläfen
und deine Hände so schwer,
bist du schon weit von dannen und hörst mich nicht mehr?

Unter dem flackenden Lichte
bist du so traurig und alt,
und deine Lippe sind grausam
in ewiger Starre gekrallt.

Morgen schon ist hier das Schweigen
und vieilleicht in der Luft
noch das Rascheln der Kränze
und ein verwesender Duft.

Aber die Nächte werden
leerer nun, Jahr um Jahr,
hier, wo dein Haupt lag und leise
immer dein Atem war.

Colette: You victoriously resist tears... and then....

How strange it is, you can resist tears victoriously, you can carry yourself very well at the most difficult moments. And then... you find a flower in bloom that was still closed the day before, -- a letter falls from a drawer, -- and everything falls apart.

  --French writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (1873-1954) in a letter sent to her friend Marguerite Moreno, who had just lost her husband. Colette was referring to her own mother's letter. Incident described in Colette et Sido: le dialogue par l'écriture (2009), by Graciela Conte-Stirling.

Que c'est curieux, on résiste victorieusement aux larmes, on se "tient" très bien aux minutes les plus dures. Et puis... on découvre, fleurie, une fleur encore fermée la veille, -- une lettre tombe d'un tiroir, -- et tout tombe.

Li Qingzhao: Seeking, seeking

Every sound is slow

Seeking and seeking, searching and searching,
cold, cold, clear, clear,
dismal, dismal, wretched, wretched, mourning, mourning.
Suddenly hot, then cold at times,
so hard to bear.
Two or three cups of watery wine--
how can that help me bear the rushing evening wind?
The wild geese are passing
my heart is breaking
we were so close since long ago.

All over the ground, heaps of yellow flowers
wan, withered, outworn
as they are now who will pick them?
Watching at the window
alone how was I born so unlucky?
The wutong trees shed even more fine rain
at twilight, drip drip drop drop
This time
how can there be only that one word-- "anguish"?

           --Li Qingzhao 李清照 (1084- about 1151), a Chinese poet. She wrote this famous poem when she lost her beloved husband. The "yellow flowers" are yellow chrysanthemums, used only at funerals. The Chinese bury the dead in mounds, so the heaps of flowers remind her of graves. The wutong tree is often evoked in autumn laments or songs about sad love. 

This is my own translation. I'm not sure it's completely correct.




Lament of the wife of Áed mac Ainmirech


Beloved to me-- three sides
I cannot hope to see again:
the side of Tailltiu, the side of Tara
and the side of Aedh son of Ainmire.

  --Lament written in 7th- or 8th-century Ireland, ascribed to the wife of the king of Ireland, Áed mac Ainmirech (reigned ca 571-600). From Annals of the Kingdom of Ireland (a compilation finished ca 1616). My translation owes a debt to Myles Dillon's in An Anthology of Irish Literature (1954), ed. David H. Greene. The Irish is from Chronicon Scotorum (p. 46), [Annals of the Irish], an electronic text published by University College, Cork, Ireland

Báttar inmuini tri toib
frisna freisciu aitherrech-- 
taeban Taillten, taebh Temra,
taeb Aedha meic Anmirech.

Gogol: What grief does not time bear away?

At that minute she was not thinking of the great moment awaiting her, nor of her soul, nor of her own future life: she was thinking only of her poor companion with whom she had spent her life and whom she was leaving helpless and forlorn. With extraordinary efficiency she arranged everything, so that Afanasy Ivanovitch should not notice her absence when she was gone.... At last after a long silence she seemed trying to say something, her lips stirred-- and her breathing ceased.

Afanasy Ivanovitch was absolutely overwhelmed. It seemed to him so uncanny that he did not even weep....

Numerous guests came to the funeral....The guests talked and wept, gazed at the dead woman, discussed her qualities and looked at him; but he himself looked queerly at it all....The coffin was lowered, the priest took the spade and first threw in a handful of earth; the deep rich voices of the deacon and the two sacristans sang "Eternal Memory" under the pure cloudless sky; the laborers took up their spades ad soon the earth covered the grave and made it level. At that moment he pressed forward, everyone stepped aside and made way for him, anxious to know what he meant to do. He raised his eyes, looked at them vacantly and said: "So you have buried her already! What for?" He broke off and said no more. 
But when he was home again, when he saw that his room was empty, that even the chair Pulherya Ivanovna used to sit on had been taken away-- he sobbed, sobbed violently, inconsolably, and tears flowed from his lusterless eyes like a river.
Five years have passed since then. What grief does not time bear away? What passion survives in the unequal combat with it?....

At the end of the five years after Pulherya Ivanovna's death I was in those parts and drove to Afanasy Ivanovitch's little farm to visit my old neighbor, in whose house I at one time used to spend the day pleasantly and always to overeat myself with the choicest masterpieces of its hospitable mistress.... [The house is run down, the table is set wrong, the food is not as good] ...I noticed a strange disorder in everything, an unmistakable absence of something. In fact I experienced the strange feelings which come upon us when for the first time we enter the house of a widower whom we have known in old days inseparable from the wife who shared his life. The feeling is the same when we see a man crippled whom we have always known in health. In everything the absence of careful Pulherya Ivanovna was visible....
"This is the dish," said Afanasy Ivanovitch...."This is the dish," he went on, and I noticed that his voice began quivering and a tear was ready to drop from his leaden eyes, but he did his utmost to restrain it: "This is the dish which my ... my... dear... my dear..." And all at once he burst into tears....Tears like a stream, like a ceaselessly flowing fountain, flowed and flowed on the napkin that covered him....

"My God!" I thought, looking at him: "five years of all-destroying time... and such long, such bitter grief!..."
Several times he struggled to utter his wife's name, but, halfway through the word, his quiet and ordinary face worked convulsively and his childish weeping cut me to the very heart.

            --Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852), "Old World Landowners" (1835), translated by Constance Garnett (1861-1946)

Conrad Aiken: Music I heard with you was more than music


Music I heard with you was more than music,
and bread I broke with you was more than bread.
Now that I am without you, all is desolate,
all that was once so beautiful is dead.

Your hands once touched this table and this silver,
and I have seen your fingers hold this glass.
These things do not remember you, beloved:
and yet your touch upon them will not pass.

For it was in my heart you moved among them,
and blessed them with your hands and with your eyes.
And in my heart they will remember always:
they knew you once, O beautiful and wise!

    --Conrad Aiken (1889-1973), in The New Poetry Anthology (1917), ed. Harriet Monroe (1860–1936).  

Carrie Fisher: Life can be just as demanding as death


After Greg died I stopped talking. It was as if my personality followed him down the dark passage of death and left someone who looked a lot like me....The thing about someone dying, though, is that life goes on. While your loved one is busy relaxing in their cozy coffin, you still have appointments, a job, friends, children —-a whole parcel of  living things pulling on you to get on with it. I mean, life can be just as demanding as death, in its own way.

Helen Fisher: The love of King Hasaw Chan K'awil of the Maya


Perhaps the most poignant example of eternal love is a temple that still stands among the breadnut, palm, acacia, mahogany, and chicle trees in today's lowland Guatemala.

Here, on what was once a gracious boulevard now swallowed by grass and vines, King Hasaw Chan K'awil of the Maya was buried sometime between 688 and 720. He had stood more than six feet tall, is believed to have lived into his 80s, and was the grandest king of the grandest civilization of the Americas-- Tikal. He had loved his wife, who died young. So he built a temple for her. It stands in the jungle, facing his. And twice annually-- precisely on the spring and autumn equinox-- the sun rises behind his temple to cast its shadow directly across hers. Then as the sun sets on these special days, it casts the shadow of her temple across his tomb. These lovers still kiss with their shadows some 1,300 years later, from the grave.

       --Helen Fisher (1945- ) in the Chronicle Review of the Chronicle of Higher Education, 6 June 2008.