Poems of Mourning

Poems of Mourning [1998] by Peter Washington (ed.) – ★★★★1/2

This is an impressive collection of poems that concern loss and mourning from the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets series. I found most of them absolutely beautiful, coming from such poets as Emily Dickinson, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Alfred Tennyson, Robert Frost, Thomas Hardy, and Christina Rossetti. Some of them are fairly well-known, such as Bishop’s One Art, Dickinson’s Because I Could Not Stop for Death, Hopkins’s Spring and Fall, and Auden’s Funeral Blues, while others are more obscure, including those that commemorate animals. The other great thing about this collection is that it makes an effort to present poets from around the world, so there are poems from François Villon, Abu Al-Ala Al-Ma’arri, Fyodor Tyutchev, Czeclaw Milosz, and Primo Levi. For similar books, see also my post The Poetry of Thomas Hardy, as well as my mini-review of Japanese Death Poems.

"When I have fears that I may cease to be" by John Keats (1795-1821)

"When I have fears that I may cease to be 
  Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain, 
Before high piled books, in charact’ry, 
  Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain; 
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face, 
  Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance, 
And think that I may never live to trace 
  Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance; 
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour! 
  That I shall never look upon thee more, 
Never have relish in the faery power 
  Of unreflecting love!—then on the shore 
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think 
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink."
"Elegy for Himself" by Chidiock Tichborne (1562-1586), a poem written just prior to his execution for treason 

"My prime of youth is but a frost of cares;
My feast of joy is but a dish of pain,
My crop of corn is but a field of tares,
And all my good is but vain hope of gain:
The day is past, and yet I saw no sun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

My tale was heard, and yet it was not told,
My fruit is fallen, and yet my leaves are green,
My youth is spent, and yet I am not old,
I saw the world, and yet I was not seen:
My thread is cut, and yet it is not spun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

I sought my death, and found it in my womb,
I looked for life, and saw it was a shade,
I trod the earth, and knew it was my tomb,
And now I die, and now I was but made;
The glass is full, and now the glass is run,
And now I live, and now my life is done."

8 thoughts on “Poems of Mourning

  1. An appropriate list for me to read right now, as I have to attend two funerals this week. I was pleased to see you have read Japanese Death Poems, it is a book I have and find interesting, because of the culture and insightful for the very nature of the verse.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I loved your selection of two poems. This collections sounds really interesting though maybe it is not the most joyful one. I really like that they inserted poets from all around the world – does this mean that the poems have been translated? Did you find some reoccurring themes according to the different cultures/nationalities?

    Liked by 1 person

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