Dirge Without Music
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, – but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love, –
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
—Edna St. Vincent Millay
I came across this poem last month, about a week after Jeff’s passing. Heather Lende quotes from it in the last chapter of her first memoir, If You Lived Here, I’d Know Your Name.
Lende writes obituaries for her small-town Alaska newspaper, and I write obituaries for the alumni magazine of my West Texas alma mater. A couple of days after Jeff died, I sent what details I had (name, age, birthdate) to my editor (who is also my former boss, and a friend).
It isn’t much, these few lines in a college magazine, especially in light of such a loss. But it is what I can do to mark the passing of someone I loved.
I am in charge of the honoree list for the Easter lilies at church. Every year, we fill the altar with flowers, and publish a list in the bulletin of those we would like to remember and honor. The list is long this year, for some reason; we have twice as many names as last year. It isn’t much, but I understand why we do it. This, too, is a small but important way of remembering our dead.
Earlier this week, I heard about the passing of Susan, a family friend whom I hadn’t seen for many years. She fought the cancer longer than anyone expected she would, but she is gone now, and I know her children – including her three eldest daughters, whom I used to baby-sit in the summers – are grieving.
Like Millay, I do not approve, and I am not resigned. But her eloquent words have helped sustain me as I think about death and loss and grief. I share them, on this Good Friday, hoping that perhaps, when you are faced with a loss, they might do the same for you.
April is National Poetry Month, and I will be sharing more poetry here on Fridays this month.