Friday, August 12, 2011

52 Poems (week 22)

The brother of someone I know (but not well) committed suicide last week and his funeral is today. He was just 16. She was put in charge of music and asked all of us which song we thought was best. The first choice ('Hallelujah', Jeff Buckley version) was popular but there are lyrics in it that seems quite off message to me ('tied you to a kitchen chair, broke your throne and cut your hair'?). The second option, which ended up being the most popular (Green Day's 'Time of You Life') just seemed so inherently wrong to me, playing a song like that at the funeral of a boy who so obviously wasn't enjoying his life.

All of this got me thinking of funeral poems and the various things people have read or requested. The WH Auden funeral poem reading in Four Weddings and a Funeral always made me a little weepy.

One site suggests the final lines of Walt Whitman's 'Song of Myself', a long and lingering beast with 52 stanzas. With the sounding of the barbaric yaws over the roofs of the world, I am thrown back into the The Dead Poets Society.
...The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab
and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yaws over the roofs of the world.
The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadow'd
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.
I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags. 
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

The other poem, more commonly read, is Christina Rossetti's 'Remember':

Remember me when I am gone away,

Gone far away into the silent land;

When you can no more hold me by the hand,

Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.

Remember me when no more day by day

You tell me of our future that you plann'd:

Only remember me; you understand

It will be late to counsel then or pray.

Yet if you should forget me for a while

And afterwards remember, do not grieve:

For if the darkness and corruption leave

A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,

Better by far you should forget and smile

Than that you should remember and be sad.

I don't think either works for a 16-year old boy. But then, really, nothing does. How could one poem sum up the sadness and grief, the lack of understanding, the rage, that situation that brings?

Photo source: Whitman; Rossetti

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