Tag Archives: grave

“A Dream of Death” by William Butler Yeats

Cypresses: Vincent van Gogh

Cypresses: Vincent van Gogh

I dreamed that one had died in a strange place
Near no accustomed hand,
And they had nailed the boards above her face,
The peasants of that land,
Wondering to lay her in that solitude,
And raised above her mound
A cross they had made out of two bits of wood,
And planted cypress round;
And left her to the indifferent stars above
Until I carved these words:
She was more beautiful than thy first love,
But now lies under boards.

I read this poem twice this morning and had a good sense of the meaning, but felt that I might be missing some historical context. So I did a little research (the internet is an amazing resource) and learned that Yeats composed this poem for Maude Gonne, who had taken a trip to France for health reasons. Clearly, he was expressing concern about her being so far away from home while ill and afraid of what might happen to her in the unfortunate event that she passed away.

What struck me about this poem was the big-picture theme about death and remembrance. Most people who have lived and died are completely forgotten, and this is a sobering thought. We all like to think of our lives as being meaningful, and I do believe that everyone’s life has purpose in the grand scheme, but that does not mean that individual lives are remembered long past death. And I think this is what Yeats was getting at in this poem. His words in this poem ensure that the memory of Gonne would continue after her death, that she would not become just a nameless marker somewhere.

Another thing that is worth mentioning is the symbolism of the cypress trees. In Yeats’ vision, he sees cypress trees planted around Maude’s burial mound. The tree is an ancient symbol of mourning and possesses mystical properties, particularly in regard to ushering the soul from this world to the next realm.

The poet Ovid, who wrote during the reign of Augustus, records the best-known myth that explains the association of the cypress with grief. The handsome boy Cyparissus, a favorite of Apollo, accidentally killed a beloved tame stag. His grief and remorse were so inconsolable that he asked to weep forever. He was transformed into cupressus sempervirens, with the tree’s sap as his tears. In another version of the story, it was the woodland god Silvanus who was the divine companion of Cyparissus and who accidentally killed the stag. When the boy was consumed by grief, Silvanus turned him into a tree, and thereafter carried a branch of cypress as a symbol of mourning.

In Greek mythology, besides Cyparissus, the cypress is also associated with Artemis and Hecate, a goddess of magic, crossroads and the underworld. Ancient Roman funerary rites used it extensively.

(Source: Wikipedia)

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“Spirits of the Dead” by Edgar Allan Poe

Source:Wikipedia

Source:Wikipedia

This is a poem that Poe wrote in his youth. Although he was young when he wrote it (the poem was composed in 1827, which means he would have been 18 at the time), it still demonstrates his maturity as a poet.

Thy soul shall find itself alone
‘Mid dark thoughts of the grey tombstone;
Not one, of all the crowd, to pry
Into thine hour of secrecy.

Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness- for then
The spirits of the dead, who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee, and their will
Shall overshadow thee; be still.

The night, though clear, shall frown,
And the stars shall not look down
From their high thrones in the Heaven
With light like hope to mortals given,
But their red orbs, without beam,
To thy weariness shall seem
As a burning and a fever
Which would cling to thee for ever.

Now are thoughts thou shalt not banish,
Now are visions ne’er to vanish;
From thy spirit shall they pass
No more, like dew-drop from the grass.

The breeze, the breath of God, is still,
And the mist upon the hill
Shadowy, shadowy, yet unbroken,
Is a symbol and a token.
How it hangs upon the trees,
A mystery of mysteries!

Immediately, in the first stanza, we find ourselves alone in a cemetery. I see two interpretations for the soul mentioned here. Obviously, it could be taken literally as the spirit of one recently deceased, in that transitional period between worlds, awaiting the moment when the soul will pierce the veil and enter the next realm. But the phrase “dark thoughts” also implies that the soul is symbolic of a person’s psyche, one who is obsessed with his own mortality or the death of someone close.

In the second stanza, we see the spirits of the dead joining the lonely soul. This also has two interpretations, each associated with how you choose to interpret the soul. When taken literally, the soul of the newly departed is greeted by the spirits of those who have previously died. It appears that the spirits will serve as guides, ushering the soul to the next dimension. The second possibility, of the soul as psyche, implies that in his quiet hour, his mind is filled with memories of friends and family who have died and that those memories will overshadow his sanity.

The third stanza I find very interesting. Hope is described as something terrible, the cause of an eternal “burning and a fever.” Hope is one of those double-edged swords. While a life filled with hopelessness is certainly not desirable, we must concede that hope is also the reason people cling to their sorrows, in the hope that they may see their loved ones again in the afterlife. Hope also makes people sacrifice their happiness in this life, all because of the hope that there may be some reward in the next life. But of course, none of this is guaranteed.

In the fourth stanza, we see thoughts and visions that will never leave. For the literal soul of the departed, it has become pure consciousness. Nothing remains but thoughts and visions of the past life. For the soul as psyche, it is the mind giving way to madness and despair, unable to free itself from painful memories.

In the final stanza, the mist is presented as a symbol for the veil between life and death, that which separates us from the ultimate mystery. But the mist is also a symbol for the veil between the two realms of consciousness: waking consciousness and the subconscious. In the shadowy realm of the subconscious lie our hidden memories, which bubble to the surface as symbols in our dreams and fantasies. As hard as we try to explore our subconscious minds, we can never know all that exists in that part of the psyche.

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Hellboy: 20th Anniversary Sampler

Hellboy20AnivSampler

I picked this comic up on Free Comic Book Day a couple months ago and have just now gotten around to reading it. I have to say that I really liked it. If I didn’t have so much to read and was not invested in following several comics, I would start reading Hellboy on a regular basis.

The issue is comprised of three vignettes and also includes a section of “funny pages,” which are a tribute to the short comic strips published in newspapers. The short strips are adaptations of classic newspaper comics such as Popeye, Dilbert, Peanuts, and so forth. But the characters are morphed to represent those from Hellboy. I loved them! They are very creative and witty, and they brought back memories of reading the comics in the newspaper when I was a kid.

The three vignettes are short and well-written. The first one, “The Coffin Man,” is about a brujo who digs up fresh cadavers to use for dark magical purposes. The second, “The Ghoul,” was my favorite of the three. It was about a ghoul who feasts on the flesh of the deceased. What I loved about this is that the text and dialog is all constructed from the 18th-century poems “The Pleasures of Melancholy” by Thomas Warton and “The Grave” by Robert Blair, as well as from Hamlet. It works magnificently. The third vignette, “Another Day at the Office,” is about a resurrected tyrant who raises an army of zombies. They are all very good and definitely worth the read.

I usually say how each time I read something, my list of things to read increases exponentially. Certainly, I now feel I must read the poems referenced in “The Ghoul.” If I had the time, I would start reading deeper into Hellboy also, but that may have to wait until I retire.

Cheers, and enjoy your reading!!

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