Agius/ Waddell: Thou hast come safe to port, I still at sea


Thou hast come safe to port,
I still at sea,
The light is on thy head,
darkness in me.

Pluck thou in heaven's field
violet and rose,
while I strew flowers that will thy vigil keep
where thou dost sleep,
love, in thy last repose.

--Translation by Helen Waddell (1889-1965) of a lament for Hathimoda (840-874), Abbess of Gandesheim. The Latin original is in a manuscript called Vita et obitus Hathumodae primae abbatissae Gandersheimensis, composed by a monk and poet called Agius. It is considered one of the most beautiful and simple lives of the Dark Ages. The translation is a loose one.

Te iam portus habet; nos adhuc iactat abyssus.
Te lux vera tenet; nos tenebrae retinent.
Te cum virginibus comitans, quocumque it, agnum,
lilia cum violis colligis atque rosis;
nos cum coancillis nostris tumulo ecce tuopte
flores spargentes, ducimus excubias.

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. 

Matthew Arnold: The vasty hall of Death



Strew on her roses, roses,
and never a spray of yew.
In quiet she reposes:
Ah! would that I did too.

Her mirth the world required:
she bathed it in smiles of  glee.
But her heart was tired, tired,
and now they let her be.

Her life was turning, turning,
in mazes of heat and sound.
But for peace her soul was yearning,
and now peace laps her round.

Her cabined, ample Spirit,
it fluttered and failed for breath.
Tonight it doth inherit
the vasty hall of Death.

     --Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), in The Poems of Matthew Arnold, 1840-1866, published 1908.

Marguerite d'Angoulême: I think of nothing but my grief


Alas! I am so unhappy
that I cannot speak my misery
except to say that it's hopeless:
despair is already at the door
to throw me to the bottom of the well
where it seems there is no escape.

My eyes are throwing out so many tears
that they don't see the earth or the sky,
there is such an abundance of weeping.
My mouth is lamenting everywhere,
from my heart nothing better comes out
than sighs with no relief.

Sadness with its great efforts
has made my body so weak
that it has no energy or power.
It is like one of the dead,
so that seeing it from the outside,
one loses all recognition.

I have nothing left but the sad voice
that I hear myself crying with,
lamenting the terrible absence.
Alas! I have lost the happy presence
of the one I lived for
and saw with such good heart!

I am sure that his spirit
reigns with his ruler Jesus Christ
contemplating the divine essence.
How much will his body be ordered
the promises of the Holy Writ
will make it live in heaven without doubt.

While he was healthy and strong,
faith was his comfort.
His God he possessed by belief.
In this lively faith he died,
which has brought him to the very sure port
where he has the knowledge of God.

But alas! my body is banished
from him with whom it was united
since the time of our childhood!
My hope also is punished,
when it finds itself stripped
of his, full of all knowledge.

Mind and body are full of mourning,
so much that they are changed to laments;
only weeping is my face.
I cry in the woods and in the plains,
to heaven and earth I complain,
I think of nothing but my grief.

Death, who has played me such an evil trick
to beat down my force and my tower,
all my refuge and my defense,
has not known how to ruin my love
which I feel growing night and day,
which my sorrow makes grow and advance.

My pain cannot be revealed
and it is so hard for me to swallow it
that I lose all patience about it.
I must not talk about it any more,
but think about going soon
to where God has put him through his mercy.

O Death, who vanquished the brother,
come then by your great goodness
to pierce the sister with your lance.
My grief will be beaten by you;
for when I have added up everything
I want to fight you to the death.

Come then, don't delay,
but hurry with very big steps to get here,
I send you my challenge,
since my brother is in your nets.
Take me so that a single solace
gives gladness to both.

     --Marguerite d'Angoulême (also known as Marguerite de Navarre) after the death of her beloved brother, French king François Ier , whom she had once rescued from captivity in Spain.

Las ! tant malheureuse je suis,
Que mon malheur dire ne puis,
Sinon qu'il est sans espérance :
Désespoir est déjà à l'huis
Pour me jeter au fond du puits
Où n'a d'en saillir apparence.

Tant de larmes jettent mes yeux
Qu'ils ne voient terre ni cieux,
Telle est de leur pleur abondance.
Ma bouche se plaint en tous lieux,
De mon coeur ne peut saillir mieux
Que soupirs sans nulle allégeance.

Tristesse par ses grands efforts
A rendu si faible mon corps
Qu'il n'a ni vertu ni puissance.
Il est semblable à l'un des morts,
Tant que le voyant par dehors,
L'on perd de lui la connaissance.

Je n'ai plus que la triste voix
De laquelle crier m'en vois,
En lamentant la dure absence.
Las ! de celui pour qui vivais
Que de si bon coeur je voyais,
J'ai perdu l'heureuse présence !

Sûre je suis que son esprit
Règne avec son chef Jésus-Christ,
Contemplant la divine essence.
Combien que son corps soit prescrit,
Les promesses du saint Écrit
Le font vivre au ciel sans doutance.

Tandis qu'il était sain et fort,
La foi était son réconfort,
Son Dieu possédait par créance.
En cette foi vive il est mort,
Qui l'a conduit au très sûr port,
Où il a de Dieu jouissance.

Mais, hélas ! mon corps est banni
Du sien auquel il fut uni
Depuis le temps de notre enfance !
Mon espoir aussi est puni,
Quand il se trouve dégarni
Du sien plein de toute science.

Esprit et corps de deuil sont pleins,
Tant qu'ils sont convertis en plains ;
Seul pleurer est ma contenance.
Je crie par bois et par plains,
Au ciel et terre me complains,
A rien fors à mon deuil ne pense.

Mort, qui m'a fait si mauvais tour
D'abattre ma force et ma tour,
Tout mon refuge et ma défense,
N'as su ruiner mon amour
Que je sens croître nuit et jour,
Qui ma douleur croît et avance.

Mon mal ne se peut révéler,
Et m'est si dur à l'avaler,
Que j'en perds toute patience.
Il ne m'en faut donc plus parler,
Mais penser de bientôt aller,
Où Dieu l'a mis par sa clémence.

Ô Mort, qui le frère a dompté,
Viens donc par ta grande bonté
Transpercer la soeur de ta lance.
Mon deuil par toi soit surmonté ;
Car quand j'ai bien le tout compté,
Combattre te veux à outrance.

Viens doncques, ne retarde pas,
Mais cours la poste à bien grands pas,
Je t'envoie ma défiance.
Puisque mon frère est en tes lacs,
Prends-moi, afin qu'un seul soulas
Donne à tous deux éjouissance.

Thomas Hoccleve: Lament for Chaucer


Alas! My worthy honorable master,
this land's true treasure and wealth!
Death has done irreparable harm
to us by your death: her vengeful harshness
has despoiled this land of the sweetness
of speech; for there was never a man among us
so like Cicero.

Also who was heir to Aristotle in philosophy
in our language, except for you?
You followed Virgil's steps in poetry too,
as people know well enough.
That world's burden that killed my master--
I wish I were killed!-- Death, was too quick
to run at you and steal your life...

She might have held off her vengeance a while
till someone was equal to you;
no, forget that! She well knew that this island
may never bring forth another man like you,
and she had to do her job:
God told her to, I trust for the best;
O master, master, God rest your soul!

    --Thomas Hoccleve (ca 1368-1450), lamenting the poet Geoffrey Chaucer (ca 1343-1400). The original poem is below; I have translated it into modern English.

Allas! my worthi maister honorable,
this landes verray tresor and richesse!
Deth by thy deth hath harme irreparable
unto us doon: hir vengeable duresse
despoiled hath this land of the swetnesse
of rethorik; for unto Tullius
was never man so lyk amonges us.

Also who was hier in philosophie
to Aristotle in our tonge but thou?
The steppes of Virgile in poesie
thou folwedist eeke, men wot wel ynow.
Thou combre-worlde that the my maister slow--
wolde I slayn were!--Deth, was to hastyf
to renne on thee and reve the thi lyf...

She myghte han taried hir vengeance a while
til that sum man had egal to the be;
nay, lat be that! sche knew wel that this yle
may never man forth brynge lyk to the,
and hir office needes do mot she:
God bad hir so, I truste as for the beste;
O maister, maister, God thi soule reste!

Derick Thomson: When I stood at his grave, I merely wanted home



A tall thin man
with a short beard,
and a plane in his hand:
whenever I pass
a joiner's shop in the city,
and the scent of sawdust comes to my mind,
memories return of that place,
with the coffins,
the hammers and nails,
saws and chisels,
and my grandfather, bent,
planing shavings
from a thin, bare plank.

Before I knew what death was;
or had any notion, a glimmering
of the darkness, a whisper of the stillness.
And when I stood at his grave,
on a cold Spring day, not a thought
came to me of the coffins
he made for others:
I merely wanted home
where there would be talk, and tea, and warmth.


And in the other school also,
where the joiners of the mind were planing,
I never noticed the coffins,
though they were sitting all round me;
I did not recognise the English braid,
the Lowland varnish being applied to the wood,
I did not read the words on the brass,
I did not understand that my race was dying.
Until the cold wind of this Spring came
to plane the heart;
until I felt the nails piercing me,
and neither tea nor talk will heal the pain.

    --Derick Thomson (Ruaraidh MacThòmais) (1921- ), Scottish Gaelic poet. Translated by the poet; in Modern Scottish Gaelic Poems [Nua-Bhardachd Glaidhlic]. He is lamenting not only his grandfather but the Gaelic language and Highlands culture of his childhood in the Outer Hebrides, which is vanishing under the overwhelming cultural pressure of English. The death of their ancient culture is a major theme among modern writers in Irish and Scottish Gaelic.

When a language dies, a world dies.


Duin' àrd, tana
's fiasag bheag air,
's locair 'na làimh:
gach uair theid mi seachad
air bùth-shaoirsneachd sa' bhaile,
's a thig gu mo chuimhne faileadh na min-sàibh,
thig gu mo chuimhne cuimhne an àit ud,
le na cisteachan-laighe,
na h- ùird 's na tairgean,
na saibh 's na sgeilbean,
is mo sheanair crom,
is sliseag bho shliseag ga locradh
bho'n bhòrd thana lom.

Mus robh fhios agam dè bh' arm bàs;
beachd, bloigh fios, boillsgeadh
de'n dorchadas, fathann de'n t-sàmhchair.
'S nuair a sheas mi aig uaigh,
là fuar Earraich, cha dainig smuain
thugam air na cisteachan-laighe
a rinn esan do chàch:
'sann a bha mi 'g iarraidh dhachaidh,
far am biodh còmhradh, is tea, is blàths.

Is anns an sgoil eile cuideachd,
san robh saoir na h-inntinn a' locradh,
cha tug mi 'n aire do na cisteachan-laighe,
ged a bha iad 'nan suidhe mun cuairt orm;
cha do dh' aithnich mi 'm brèid Beurla,
an liomh Gallda bha dol air an fhiodh,
cha do leugh mi na facail air a' phràis,
cha do thuig mi gu robh mo chinneadh a' dol bàs.
Gus an dainig gaoth fhuar an Earraich-sa
a locradh a' chridhe;
gus na dh' fhairich mi na tairgean a' dol tromham,
's cha shlànaich tea no còmhradh an cràdh.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: The dead more present and more powerful than the living


The dead, if one venerates their memory, are more present and more powerful than the living.

        --Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1900-1944), Citadelle, translated into English as Wisdom of the Sands

Le disparu si l'on vénère sa mémoire est plus présent et plus puissant que le vivant.   

Walt Whitman on Lincoln: O Captain! my Captain!


O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;    
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;    
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,    
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:    
       But O heart! heart! heart!         
       O the bleeding drops of red,    
       Where on the deck my Captain lies,
              Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;    
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;    
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;    
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;     Lincoln_lying_in_state
        Here Captain! dear father!    
        This arm beneath your head;    
        It is some dream that on the deck,   
             You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;    
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;    
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;    
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
        Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!   
        But I, with mournful tread,    
        Walk the deck my Captain lies,    
              Fallen cold and dead.

    --Walt Whitman (1819-1892) wrote this lament after President Abraham Lincoln was killed just before the end of the Civil War.

Heinrich Heine: The rabbi of Bacharach: Old and young are weeping


The Rabbi of Bacharach

Break out in loud wails,
you gloomy martyr's song,
that I bore so long
in my mind still as flames!

It drills into every ear,
and through ears to the heart;
I complained mightily
of the thousand-year-old pain.

Old and young are weeping,
even the cold men,
the women and flowers are weeping,
and the stars in heaven!

And all the tears are flowing
to the south, in silent union,
they all flow and pour  out
into the Jordan.

       --Heinrich Heine (1797-1856)

Brich aus in lauten Klagen,
Du düstres Martyrerlied,
Das ich so lang getragen
Im flammenstillen Gemüt!

Es dringt in alle Ohren,
Und durch die Ohren ins Herz;
Ich habe gewaltig beschworen
Den tausendjährigen Schmerz.

Es weinen die Großen und Kleinen,
Sogar die kalten Herrn,
Die Frauen und Blumen weinen,
Es weinen am Himmel die Stern!

Und alle die Tränen fließen
Nach Süden, im stillen Verein,
Sie fließen und ergießen
Sich all in den Jordan hinein.