Search results for "death "

Widows and ghosts

Author: joe

Thursday, 11 November, 2010 - 22:28

- on the haunting of the dead.

In the grey tumult of these after years
Oft silence falls; the incessant wranglers part;
And less-than-echoes of remembered tears
Hush all the loud confusion of the heart;
And a shade, through the toss'd ranks of mirth and crying
Hungers, and pains, and each dull passionate mood, --
Quite lost, and all but all forgot, undying,
Comes back the ecstasy of your quietude.
So a poor ghost, beside his misty streams,
Is haunted by strange doubts, evasive dreams,
Hints of a pre-Lethean life, of men,
Stars, rocks, and flesh, things unintelligible,
And light on waving grass, he knows not when,
And feet that ran, but where, he cannot tell.
Hauntings by Rupert Brooke

It being armistice day I pulled Rubert Brooke off the shelf again. In previous years I've been drawn to his poetry; it is adolescent at times, pining, twee, yearning. But there's something else to it, beyond the famous stuff - The Soldier and The Old Vicarage, Grantchester. His poem, The Life Beyond reminds me of an embryonic John Donne writing The Apparition, while The Hill hinges precariously, half-loose, on a last line that jack-knifes the heady, laughing breathlessness of what went before. Some of the appeal has changed now - The Way That Lovers Use is a voice of solidarity for the lovelorn: I'm not the envious one any longer. But I still love his spontaneous rhythm and natural ease - "Hear the calling of the moon, / And the whispering scents that stray / About the idle warm lagoon. / Hasten, hand in human hand, / Down the dark, the flowered way, / Along the whiteness of the sand, / And in the water's soft caress, / Wash the mind of foolishness, / Mamua, until the day." - from Tiare Tahiti

Brooke's life, cut short as we know, also adds a pathos to the poems. The patriotism and apparent valour in the sonnets belie his doubts and fears; his commission to join the expeditionary force for the campaign at Gallipoli, which he never saw, dying from an infected mosquito bite on the way there. There seems something even crueller about a death in service but which doesn't grant the victim any claim to heroism. My own great-grandfather survived the Great War, but died on the return journey, disqualifying my great-grandmother Annie, his widow (who survived him without dreaming of remarrying for another 74 years), from receiving a war widow's pension.

In one of his surviving unfinished pieces, Fragment, he lingers on the deck of a ship, looking in the window at his friends, "heedless" of the battle that awaits them.

"fainter than the wave's faint light,
That broke to phosphorus out in the night,
Perishing things"

- He seems a ghost himself, dwelling on their imminent "pashing" and "scattering", torn between pity and pride. And there on the sea in 1914 where he wrote the lines from Hauntings, he conjures an image of the ghost's own ghosts - the spirit of the dead haunted by vanishing intimations of a long-gone life. I imagine Brooke himself, kneeling by the misty river separating the afterlife from this world, with evasive dreams of his loves, his heart-breaks and his confusions... his feet on the grass, a clock set forever at ten to three, images that seem familiar and yet are always receding into shadowy forgetting. I also think of William, my great-grandfather, waiting by that river for 74 years, not knowing why, not comprehending the time, not even recognising any memory of a left-behind wife, a tiny daughter, and a son he never met. I like to think that Annie finally joined him, full of unknown joy to find him still there. And I hope Rupert, too, found someone to dispel his ghosts.

Categories: poetry, armistice day, Rupert Brooke, William and Annie, poetry, ghosts, haunting, love, death, Lethe,
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Kills Titus

Author: joe

Thursday, 04 November, 2010 - 23:10

- on the passion of exile.

Lastly, myself unkindly banished,
The gates shut on me, and turn'd weeping out,
To beg relief among Rome's enemies;
Who drown'd their enmity in my true tears,
And op'd their arms to embrace me as a friend.
I am the turned-forth, be it known to you,
That have preserv'd her welfare in my blood
And from her bosom took the enemy's point,
Sheathing the steel in my advent'rous body.
Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare

Titus Andronicus is a bloody story: Saturninus' sons rape and mutilate Lavinia, Titus' daughter - she haunts the play with a mute horror. In turn the felons are murdered and served up to their parents, baked in a pie. Even as the grisly knowledge that they have consumed their own children penetrates them, Titus, who has just stabbed his daughter Lavinia in the heart in order to dispel the shame brought on them by the rape, then kills Tamora, the wife of Saturninus, who in turn kills Titus, whereupon Lucius kills Saturninus, the final act of regicide. This is not to mention the hand-loppings, the son-killings, the bone-grindings, the child-dealings - even the black and bloody fly-swattings.

Perhaps in this wild and thirsty Rome, Lucius' exile among the Goths was a welcome relief. The banished self is turned out and weeps, divided from its place of belonging; he fears the wrath of the hostile outside; and yet the enemy that is the world does not single out a vulnerable soul with malice or hatred; nor is the lonely wanderer met with a cold hand of indifference; rather the face of the stranger softens with mutual tears, the antagonist's arms open in an embrace, friendship is proffered. The former home is now seditious, the agent of displacement, expulsion, estrangement; and yet the outcast carries his origins' welfare in his blood, his hearth in his heart. The fugitive wins over the exterior wilderness for the territory of his motherland - with empathy rather than might. The threat of the foreign, against the quick of the familiar, is tranformed by the refugee's bond with his new host. The separation from the homestead is not a disastrous splitting of a weak stem from the root, but the start of a turning-forth, safeguarding the source, incorporating the weapons the world turns towards home, blunting the blade: the adventures of a body between its horizon and its source.

Categories: William Shakespeare, Titus Andronicus, exile, empathy, vengeance, enemy, death, body, horizon, home, origin, gap,
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Author: joe

Monday, 25 December, 2006 - 14:27

So it was 5 years ago, 2.30pm on Christmas day. Andrew's breaths had slowed down - there were 45 seconds between the last, I don't know why I was counting. I waited a little, and there were no more. I didn't say anything to anyone else in the room, I just went outside for a cigarette. When I came back, everyone was standing outside the door. A nurse had been in to check him, and had suddenly asked everyone to step outside. Now there was a doctor in there. He came out a few minutes later, and told us he was very sorry. I was glad I hadn't been there to be told to leave.

I can't describe what happened when we went back in the room. Maybe in another 5 years? I remember afterwards that Kathryn called the smell the death-spray - something they spray in the room, that just smells of death, masking malodour with malodour. Different worlds, either side of the door.

What is strange is how you know when you leave finally that that is the end. You can't go back to the body. Once you leave, you have left forever. The body lies for days, and I suppose if you demanded it, you could go to the mortuary, wherever it is - the basement? - and be with it again. But really after you leave the room, 'it' is now an 'it', not 'him'. I held his hand, and of course it was still warm. They had closed his mouth, as well as sprayed him with death, but it had fallen slightly ajar. Ajar, like a door. I don't actually remember leaving the room - just being outside again - the sun had gone in, and the day was grey from then on.

Categories: xmas, dad, death, door,
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Death on a cold day

Author: joe

Friday, 22 December, 2006 - 00:50

On very cold days, when your breath buffets away visibly, I still think of a car-park, outside a hospital, five years ago. Frost on the wind-screen first thing still takes me back to mornings five years ago, over christmas, going from hospital to house to house, brother, ward, step-mother, brother. Cold winter, hospitals, houses, disconnection, cancer, death, ward, breath. Dad. Never cried like I cried on christmas day, 2001.

I still can't write about it. Winter mornings, cold breath, disconnected hardness, death. Man aloneness. I remember most clearly getting out of a car, looking up at the hospital building, christmas morning, breath tossed away, little brother, silent, sun shining, carrying PG Wodehouse to read to a man in a white starched bed, wanting to be made of granite.

If I'm miserable and nasty to you at christmas, I'm sorry, I can't help it.

Categories: xmas, death, dad,
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