When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.
I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.
~Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830-1894)
Goblin Market and other Poems (Cambridge: Macmillan, 1862).
Today's text is a poem that resonated with me from the first time I read it. Its topic is a painful one, but one that must be dealt with, nevertheless. Read it again, and pay close attention to the sentiments conveyed. Now do you see it? Rather than a bereaved person lamenting the loss of someone dear, the words are from the point-of-view of the deceased. It is an offering of comfort to those left behind. This was a wise choice on the part of Miss Rossetti; and no doubt helps explain the enduring nature of this piece. We the living instantly identify with what this dead speaker is trying to say: 'live on, for I am no longer a part of this earthly world'. It is a hard lesson, and why a belief in the afterlife was so vital to many people then...and now.
Mourning customs varied, but typically a widow would mourn for up to two years; a widower for one year; for an Aunt, Uncle or Sibling was six months; and one year for a dead parent. Those who could afford black mourning clothes wore them. Cuffs and handkerchiefs were lined in black along with stationery, etc. Periwinkle (light purple) would gradually be added to black mourning dresses as the end of the mourning period drew nearer. Even special types of mourning jewelry became fashionable, sometimes made of jet or vulcanized rubber, and even from the hair of the departed.
Another macabre custom that developed was to photograph the dead, either in their caskets or in lifelike poses. This may sound absolutely ghastly to some of you. But that is only to be exptected; our modern way of thinking is not used to such things. Suffice to say it offered comfort to them. Think of it: no digital video cameras, no webcams, no instant photos from a cellphone. An image of someone who is gone or a lock of hair would be the only tangible source of comfort. And even for someone with a strong faith, objects like these could mean the world. It gives us a whole new persective on the bond between us all.
Your Humble Servant,
- Current Location:At the writing desk
- Current Mood: contemplative
- Current Music:'Cymbeline', by Loreena McKennitt