Most days I can't wait to see what frugal thoughts cross my mind. I have so much fun with this blog. But today I want to write on a melancholy topic: grief, memory, mortality. I had intended to write a few posts on my frugal Dad, who died about four months ago. I think I wrote only two.
The other day I recited for my class Emily Dickinson's great poem "After great pain." I had had my students memorize a few lines of poetry, so I did my poem to be fair. I hadn't actually prepared this, I told them; rather, I had read the poem a lot in my college days (more than 30 years ago), probably because of a minor heartbreak. I recited the poem with only a few mistakes. I prefaced the amazing last stanza by saying that Dickinson had an incredible understanding of human suffering. When I had finished (to great acclaim!), several students came up to me to tell me about personal things: one had a baby die at four months, another had a friend die from a heroin overdose, and so on. Usually, teachers extol the virtues of literary study by saying that literature helps us understand the world. But it occurs to me that literary works perhaps simply show us that someone else understands us.
Here is Dickinson's last stanza:
This is the hour of lead
Remembered if outlived,
As freezing persons recollect the snow--
First chill, then stupor, then the letting go.
Here are other passages that have flooded my mind of late:
From Thomas Browne's Hydriotaphia or Urne Buriall:
Oblivion is not to be hired: The greater part must be content to be as though they had not been, to be found in the Register of God, not in the register of man. Twenty-seven Names make up the first story before the flood, and the recorded names ever since contain not one living Century. The number of the dead long exceedeth all that shall live. The night of time far surpasseth the day, and who knows when was the Æquinox? Every hour adds unto that current Arithmetique which scarce stands one moment. And since death must be the Lucina of life, and even Pagans could doubt, whether thus to live, were to dye. Since our longest sunne sets at right descensions, and makes but winter arches, and therefore it cannot belong before we lie down in darknesse, and have our light in ashes.
From Milton's Paradise Lost (note: this is spoken by a devil--Belial--in Hell. He is not a good guy!):
To be no more. Sad cure! for who would lose,
Though full of pain, this intellectual being,
Those thoughts that wander through eternity,
To perish rather, swallowed up and lost
In the wide womb of uncreated Night,
Devoid of sense and motion?
And, of course, the words of the Ghost of Hamlet's father to Hamlet: "Remember me."
But to all that have made it this far, it is a beautiful day here. Let us listen to Wordsworth:
OH there is blessing in this gentle breeze,
A visitant that while it fans my cheek
Doth seem half-conscious of the joy it brings
From the green fields, and from yon azure sky.
Whate'er its mission, the soft breeze can come
To none more grateful than to me