Elizabeth Jane Howard: They never die for the people who love them


The tragedy of somebody dying is that they only die for themselves; never for the people who love them. To those who love them they remain, poised on the last moments before the last farewell. They leave a room or a house, shut a door or a gate, and disappear; but they do not die.

Elizabeth Jane Howard (1923–2014), The Beautiful Visit 

Photo: Vivian Dawson Graham, an Australian soldier who died of pneumonia at age 18 in France, 1916. From Maurice S on Flickr. His parents put this in the newspaper:

A handsome happy Australian boy, His soldier spurs yet hardly won,
A father's pride, his mother's joy,
Our only son.
He answered to the nation's call,
We ill could spare our one and all,
And prayed God would not let him fall—
Our only one.
But fortune failed him in the strife,
Our pride was in a moment gone;
We start again, just man and wife,
Without a son.

Martial: Let no hard turf cover her tender bones


To you, my father, Fronto, and my mother Flaccilla,
I commend Erotion, my little darling girl,
so that she won't be frightened of the dark shadows
or of the jaws of the great hound of Hell.
It would have been six cold winters
if she had lived six more days.
Let her play happily among these old protectors,
prattling and lisping my name.
Let the turf not lie rough on her tender bones,
nor you, Earth, weigh her down;
she was not so to you.

Martial (ca 38–ca 104), Roman poet. Erotion was a little slave girl, possibly his daughter by a slave.

Hanc tibi, Fronto pater, genetrix Flaccilla, puellam
oscula commendo deliciasque meas,
parvola ne nigras horrescat Erotion umbras
oraque Tartarei prodigiosa canis.
Inpletura fuit sextæ modo frigora brumæ,
vixisset totidem ni minus illa dies.
Inter tam veteres ludat lasciva patronos
et nomen blæso garriat ore meum.
Mollia non rigidus cæspes tegat ossa; nec illi,
Terra, gravis fueris:non fuit illa tibi.


Photo by Sheila Brown.

Arcos: The dead are all on the same side

Dead German soldier WWI natlib-govt-nz:records:22791416

They float in the wind
on the same side,
the widows' veils—

and the mingled sobs
of a thousand sorrows
all flow into
the same river.
Crowded against each other,
the dead with no hate, with no flags,
their hair matted with blood—
the dead are all on the same side.

In the same clay, where the world that is dying
endlessly melds with the world that begins,
the brotherly dead, their foreheads together,
now atone for the same defeat.

Pummel each other, divided children!
Tear Humanity apart
into pointless shreds of territory—
the dead are all on the same side.

For under the earth there is only one country
and only one hope
just as there is, for the Universe,
only one war and one victory.

René Arcos (1880–1959), "Les Morts"

Le vent fait flotter
Du même côté
Les voiles des veuves

Et les pleurs mêlés
Des mille douleurs
Vont au même fleuve.
Serrés les uns contre les autres
Les morts sans haine et sans drapeau,
Cheveux plaqués de sang caillé,
Les morts sont tous d’un seul côté.

Dans l’argile unique où s’allie sans fin
Au monde qui meurt celui qui commence
Les morts fraternels tempe contre tempe
Expient aujourd’hui la même défaite.

Heurtez-vous, ô fils divisés !
Et déchirez l’Humanité
En vains lambeaux de territoires,
Les morts sont tous d’un seul côté.

Car sous la terre il n’y a plus
Qu’une patrie et qu’un espoir
Comme il n’y a pour l’Univers
Qu’un combat et qu’une victoire.

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

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.

She died, like a sweet dream when the sleeper is sad that it has gone

She died, like the ruddy clouds in the east at the break of day, which are envied by the sun for their beauty as it rises in its glory to darken them.

She died, like a glimpse of sunlight when the shadow races in pursuit; she died, like a rainbow when the shower has fallen and its glory is past.

She died, like snow which lies on the shore by the sea, when the pitiless tide flows over it-- oh whiteness! and it did not enjoy it for long.

She died, like the voice of the harp when it is sweetest and most solemn; she died, like a lovely tale when the telling has barely begun.

She died, like the gleam of the moon when the sailor is afraid in the dark; she died, like a sweet dream when the sleeper is sad that it has gone.

She died, at the beginning of her beauty; Heaven could not dispense with her; she died, oh Màiri died, like the sun quenched at its rising.

  --Evan Maccoll (1808-1898), from A Celtic Miscellany: Translations From the Celtic Literatures (1951), ed. [and translated by] Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson (1909-1991)

 If you have the original Gaelic, could you please send it in?


Riley: He is not dead. He is just away

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.

Callimachus: The house beheld a two-fold woe

At morn we buried Melanippus; as the sun set the maiden Basilo died by her own hand, as she could not endure to lay her brother on the pyre and live; and the house beheld a two-fold woe, and all Cyrene bowed her head, to see the home of happy children made desolate.

   --Callimachus and Lycophron CXLII. From The Greek Anthology (1852), George Burges. A 1917 translation is here.

If you have the original Greek, could you send it in?

Thank you to Ande and the Perseus Project for the Greek.

Ἠῶιοι Μελάνιππον ἐθάπτομεν, ἠελίου δέ
     δυομένου Βασιλὼ κάτθανε παρθενική
αὐτοχερί: ζώειν γὰρ ἀδελφεὸν ἐν πυρὶ θεῖσα
     οὐκ ἔτλη. δίδυμον δ᾽ οἶκος ἐπεῖδε κακόν
5πατρὸς Ἀριστίπποιο, κατήφησεν δὲ Κυρήνη
     πᾶσα τὸν εὔτεκνον χῆρον ἰδοῦσα δόμον.