1. Alison Kraus: I’ll Fly Away
2. Warren Zevon: Roland the Headless Thomson Gunner
3. Bob Dylan: The Times They Are a’Changin (graphic imagery in video)
4. Leonard Cohen: Who By Fire (with Sonny Rollins)
5. Mavis Staples: Eyes on the Prize (graphic imagery)
6. Bruce Springsteen: Born in the USA
7. U2: One
8. Blind Willie Johnson: Dark Was The Night
9. Johnny Cash: Ain’t No Grave Can Hold My Body Down
(Optional # 10: A Child of our Time by Michael Tippett)
1. September 1, 1939 by W.H. Auden
I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.
Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.
Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
And the international wrong.
Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.
The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.
From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
'I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,'
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the dead,
Who can speak for the dumb?
All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.
Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
2. Sonnet 30: by William Shakespeare
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,
And weep afresh love's long since cancell'd woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish'd sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.
3. Requiem: by Anna Akhmatova
Not under foreign skies
Nor under foreign wings protected -
I shared all this with my own people
There, where misfortune had abandoned us.
INSTEAD OF A PREFACE
During the frightening years of the Yezhov terror, I
spent seventeen months waiting in prison queues in
Leningrad. One day, somehow, someone 'picked me out'.
On that occasion there was a woman standing behind me,
her lips blue with cold, who, of course, had never in
her life heard my name. Jolted out of the torpor
characteristic of all of us, she said into my ear
(everyone whispered there) - 'Could one ever describe
this?' And I answered - 'I can.' It was then that
something like a smile slid across what had previously
been just a face.
[The 1st of April in the year 1957. Leningrad]
Mountains fall before this grief,
A mighty river stops its flow,
But prison doors stay firmly bolted
Shutting off the convict burrows
And an anguish close to death.
Fresh winds softly blow for someone,
Gentle sunsets warm them through; we don't know this,
We are everywhere the same, listening
To the scrape and turn of hateful keys
And the heavy tread of marching soldiers.
Waking early, as if for early mass,
Walking through the capital run wild, gone to seed,
We'd meet - the dead, lifeless; the sun,
Lower every day; the Neva, mistier:
But hope still sings forever in the distance.
The verdict. Immediately a flood of tears,
Followed by a total isolation,
As if a beating heart is painfully ripped out, or,
Thumped, she lies there brutally laid out,
But she still manages to walk, hesitantly, alone.
Where are you, my unwilling friends,
Captives of my two satanic years?
What miracle do you see in a Siberian blizzard?
What shimmering mirage around the circle of the moon?
I send each one of you my salutation, and farewell.
It happened like this when only the dead
Were smiling, glad of their release,
That Leningrad hung around its prisons
Like a worthless emblem, flapping its piece.
Shrill and sharp, the steam-whistles sang
Short songs of farewell
To the ranks of convicted, demented by suffering,
As they, in regiments, walked along -
Stars of death stood over us
As innocent Russia squirmed
Under the blood-spattered boots and tyres
Of the black marias.
You were taken away at dawn. I followed you
As one does when a corpse is being removed.
Children were crying in the darkened house.
A candle flared, illuminating the Mother of God. . .
The cold of an icon was on your lips, a death-cold
On your brow - I will never forget this; I will gather
To wail with the wives of the murdered streltsy (1)
Inconsolably, beneath the Kremlin towers.
[1935. Autumn. Moscow]
Silent flows the river Don
A yellow moon looks quietly on
Swanking about, with cap askew
It sees through the window a shadow of you
Gravely ill, all alone
The moon sees a woman lying at home
Her son is in jail, her husband is dead
Say a prayer for her instead.
It isn't me, someone else is suffering. I couldn't.
Not like this. Everything that has happened,
Cover it with a black cloth,
Then let the torches be removed. . .
Giggling, poking fun, everyone's darling,
The carefree sinner of Tsarskoye Selo (2)
If only you could have foreseen
What life would do with you -
That you would stand, parcel in hand,
Beneath the Crosses (3), three hundredth in
Burning the new year's ice
With your hot tears.
Back and forth the prison poplar sways
With not a sound - how many innocent
Blameless lives are being taken away. . .
For seventeen months I have been screaming,
Calling you home.
I've thrown myself at the feet of butchers
For you, my son and my horror.
Everything has become muddled forever -
I can no longer distinguish
Who is an animal, who a person, and how long
The wait can be for an execution.
There are now only dusty flowers,
The chinking of the thurible,
Tracks from somewhere into nowhere
And, staring me in the face
And threatening me with swift annihilation,
An enormous star.
Weeks fly lightly by. Even so,
I cannot understand what has arisen,
How, my son, into your prison
White nights stare so brilliantly.
Now once more they burn,
Eyes that focus like a hawk,
And, upon your cross, the talk
Is again of death.
The word landed with a stony thud
Onto my still-beating breast.
Nevermind, I was prepared,
I will manage with the rest.
I have a lot of work to do today;
I need to slaughter memory,
Turn my living soul to stone
Then teach myself to live again. . .
But how. The hot summer rustles
Like a carnival outside my window;
I have long had this premonition
Of a bright day and a deserted house.
[22 June 1939. Summer. Fontannyi Dom (4)]
You will come anyway - so why not now?
I wait for you; things have become too hard.
I have turned out the lights and opened the door
For you, so simple and so wonderful.
Assume whatever shape you wish. Burst in
Like a shell of noxious gas. Creep up on me
Like a practised bandit with a heavy weapon.
Poison me, if you want, with a typhoid exhalation,
Or, with a simple tale prepared by you
(And known by all to the point of nausea), take me
Before the commander of the blue caps and let me
The house administrator's terrified white face.
I don't care anymore. The river Yenisey
Swirls on. The Pole star blazes.
The blue sparks of those much-loved eyes
Close over and cover the final horror.
[19 August 1939. Fontannyi Dom]
Madness with its wings
Has covered half my soul
It feeds me fiery wine
And lures me into the abyss.
That's when I understood
While listening to my alien delirium
That I must hand the victory
However much I nag
However much I beg
It will not let me take
One single thing away:
Not my son's frightening eyes -
A suffering set in stone,
Or prison visiting hours
Or days that end in storms
Nor the sweet coolness of a hand
The anxious shade of lime trees
Nor the light distant sound
Of final comforting words.
[14 May 1940. Fontannyi Dom]
Weep not for me, mother.
I am alive in my grave.
A choir of angels glorified the greatest hour,
The heavens melted into flames.
To his father he said, 'Why hast thou forsaken me!'
But to his mother, 'Weep not for me. . .'
[1940. Fontannyi Dom]
Magdalena smote herself and wept,
The favourite disciple turned to stone,
But there, where the mother stood silent,
Not one person dared to look.
I have learned how faces fall,
How terror can escape from lowered eyes,
How suffering can etch cruel pages
Of cuneiform-like marks upon the cheeks.
I know how dark or ash-blond strands of hair
Can suddenly turn white. I've learned to recognise
The fading smiles upon submissive lips,
The trembling fear inside a hollow laugh.
That's why I pray not for myself
But all of you who stood there with me
Through fiercest cold and scorching July heat
Under a towering, completely blind red wall.
The hour has come to remember the dead.
I see you, I hear you, I feel you:
The one who resisted the long drag to the open window;
The one who could no longer feel the kick of familiar
soil beneath her feet;
The one who, with a sudden flick of her head, replied,
'I arrive here as if I've come home!'
I'd like to name you all by name, but the list
Has been removed and there is nowhere else to look.
I have woven you this wide shroud out of the humble
I overheard you use. Everywhere, forever and always,
I will never forget one single thing. Even in new
Even if they clamp shut my tormented mouth
Through which one hundred million people scream;
That's how I wish them to remember me when I am dead
On the eve of my remembrance day.
If someone someday in this country
Decides to raise a memorial to me,
I give my consent to this festivity
But only on this condition - do not build it
By the sea where I was born,
I have severed my last ties with the sea;
Nor in the Tsar's Park by the hallowed stump
Where an inconsolable shadow looks for me;
Build it here where I stood for three hundred hours
And no-one slid open the bolt.
Listen, even in blissful death I fear
That I will forget the Black Marias,
Forget how hatefully the door slammed and an old woman
Howled like a wounded beast.
Let the thawing ice flow like tears
From my immovable bronze eyelids
And let the prison dove coo in the distance
While ships sail quietly along the river.
[March 1940. Fontannyi Dom
4. Holy Sonnet X by John Donne
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more, death, thou shalt die.
5. Death Fugue: by Paul Celan
Black milk of daybreak we drink it at evening
we drink it at midday and morning we drink it at night
we drink and we drink
we shovel a grave in the air there you won't lie too cramped
A man lives in the house he plays with his vipers he writes
he writes when it grows dark to Deutschland your golden hair Marguerite
he writes it and steps out of doors and the stars are all sparkling
he whistles his hounds to come close
he whistles his Jews into rows has them shovel a grave in the ground
he orders us strike up and play for the dance
Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at morning and midday we drink you at evening
we drink and we drink
A man lives in the house he plays with his vipers he writes
he writes when it grows dark to Deutschland your golden hair Margeurite
your ashen hair Shulamith we shovel a grave in the air there you won't lie too cramped
He shouts jab this earth deeper you lot there you others sing up and play
he grabs for the rod in his belt he swings it his eyes are blue
jab your spades deeper you lot there you others play on for the dancing
Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at midday and morning we drink you at evening
we drink and we drink
a man lives in the house your goldenes Haar Margeurite
your aschenes Haar Shulamith he plays with his vipers
He shouts play death more sweetly Death is a master from Deutschland
he shouts scrape your strings darker you'll rise then in smoke to the sky
you'll have a grave then in the clouds there you won't lie too cramped
Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at midday Death is a master aus Deutschland
we drink you at evening and morning we drink and we drink
this Death is ein Meister aus Deutschland his eye it is blue
he shoots you with shot made of lead shoots you level and true
a man lives in the house your goldenes Haar Margarete
he looses his hounds on us grants us a grave in the air
he plays with his vipers and daydreams
der Tod is ein Meister aus Deutschland
dein goldenes Haar Margarete
dein aschenes Haar Shulamith
6. Ecclesiastes 8
Who is as the wise man? and who knoweth the interpretation of a thing? a man's wisdom maketh his face to shine, and the boldness of his face shall be changed.
I counsel thee to keep the king's commandment, and that in regard of the oath of God.
Be not hasty to go out of his sight: stand not in an evil thing; for he doeth whatsoever pleaseth him.
Where the word of a king is, there is power: and who may say unto him, What doest thou?
Whoso keepeth the commandment shall feel no evil thing: and a wise man's heart discerneth both time and judgment.
Because to every purpose there is time and judgment, therefore the misery of man is great upon him.
For he knoweth not that which shall be: for who can tell him when it shall be?
There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death: and there is no discharge in that war; neither shall wickedness deliver those that are given to it.
All this have I seen, and applied my heart unto every work that is done under the sun: there is a time wherein one man ruleth over another to his own hurt.
And so I saw the wicked buried, who had come and gone from the place of the holy, and they were forgotten in the city where they had so done: this is also vanity.
Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.
Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God, which fear before him:
But it shall not be well with the wicked, neither shall he prolong his days, which are as a shadow; because he feareth not before God.
There is a vanity which is done upon the earth; that there be just men, unto whom it happeneth according to the work of the wicked; again, there be wicked men, to whom it happeneth according to the work of the righteous: I said that this also is vanity.
Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labour the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun.
When I applied mine heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done upon the earth: (for also there is that neither day nor night seeth sleep with his eyes:)
Then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun: because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it; yea farther; though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it.
7. The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats (a cliched contribution)
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
8. Dance of the Dead: by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
HE warder he gazes o' the night
On the graveyards under him lying,
The moon into clearness throws all by her light,
The night with the daylight is vying.
There's a stir in the graves, and forth from their tombs
The form of a man, then a woman next looms
In garments long trailing and snowy.
They stretch themselves out, and with eager delight
Join the bones for the revel and dancing --
Young and old, rich and poor, the lady and the knight,
Their trains are a hindrance to dancing.
And since here by shame they no longer are bound,
They shuffle them off, and lo, strewn lie around
Their garments on each little hillock.
Here rises a shank, and a leg wobbles there
With lewd diabolical gesture;
And clatter and rattle of bones you might hear,
As of one beating sticks to a measure.
This seems to the warder a laughable game:
Then the tempter, low whispering, up to him came:
"In one of their shrouds go and wrap thee."
'Twas done soon as said; then he gained in wild flight
Concealment behind the church portal,
The moon all the while throws her bright beams of light
On the dance where they revel and sport all.
First one, then another, dispersed all are they,
And donning their shrouds steal the spectres away,
And under the graves all is quiet.
But one of them stumbles and fumbles along,
'Midst the tombstones groping intently;
But none of his comrades have done him this wrong,
His shroud in the breeze 'gins to scent he.
He rattles the door of the tower, but can find
No entrance -- good luck to the warder behind! --
'Tis barred with blest crosses of metal.
His shroud must he have, or rest can he ne'er;
And so, without further preambles,
The old Gothic carving he grips then and there,
From turret to pinnacle scrambles.
Alas for the warder! all's over, I fear;
From buttress to buttress in dev'lish career
He climbs like a long-legged spider.
The warder he trembles, and pale doth he look,
That shroud he would gladly be giving,
When piercing transfixed it a sharp-pointed hook!
He thought his last hour he was living.
Clouds cover already the vanishing moon,
With thunderous clang beats the clock a loud One --
Below lies the skeleton, shattered.
9. I Want To Die In My Own Bed: by Yehuda Amichai
All night the army came up from Gilgal
To get to the killing field, and that's all.
In the ground, warf and woof, lay the dead.
I want to die in My own bed.
Like slits in a tank, their eyes were uncanny,
I'm always the few and they are the many.
I must answer. They can interrogate My head.
But I want to die in My own bed.
The sun stood still in Gibeon. Forever so, it's willing
to illuminate those waging battle and killing.
I may not see My wife when her blood is shed,
But I want to die in My own bed.
Samson, his strength in his long black hair,
My hair they sheared when they made me a hero
Perforce, and taught me to charge ahead.
I want to die in My own bed.
I saw you could live and furnish with grace
Even a lion's den, if you've no other place.
I don't even mind to die alone, to be dead,
But I want to die in My own bed.
10. Dante’s Inferno: Canto XXVI
Rejoice, Florence, for you are so great that you fan
Your wings over sea and land, and your fame
Spreads through Hell's depth and span!
4 Among the thieves—to my great shame –
I found five of your citizens, who do
Eternal damage to the honor of your name.
7 But if dreams near dawn are true,
Then before much longer you'll surely
Feel what Prato and others crave for you.
10 And if this happened now, it wouldn't be too early;
Indeed, since it must come, let it come today,
For as I age, it will just grieve me more severely.
13 We now struggled back on our solitary way,
Up the same stone stairs we'd used on our recent
Climb down; the sharp, jagged rock which lay
16 Along our path forced our hands to supplement
Our feet, and my guide, dragging me behind,
Set a steady pace upward. Now must I curb my talent
19 More than usual, while I direct my mind
Toward those sad things I saw which grieve me still;
Otherwise my genius might run a course not designed
22 Or ruled by virtue; for if my gift be the will
Of some lucky star, or even of something
Higher, I must take care never to use it for ill.
25 Imagine a peasant who is resting
On a hillside, in the season when he
Who lights the world is most revealing
28 Of his face, at the hour when one can barely see
The firefly but the mosquito is on the rise.
Picture how many fireflies there might be
31 Glimmering in that valley beneath his eyes,
Where perhaps he gathers grapes, or tills the land.
The eighth chasm had just as many flames as these flies,
34 As I perceived once I could command
A view of its gleaming depths. Just as he who
Was avenged by bears witnessed Elijah's chariot and
37 Its rearing horses on their departure to
Heaven, yet saw only a flame—like a cloud afloat –
Once they were too far off to get a clear view,
40 So each flame streaked through that ditch's throat,
None revealing its theft, but each surreptitiously
Carrying off a sinner under its fiery coat.
43 I stood on the bridge and leaned out cautiously,
Observing, and if my grip hadn't been so tight
About a rock I would have fallen disastrously.
46 My guide, seeing how taken I was with the sight,
Informed me: "A soul resides within each fire,
Swathed in the scorching punishment that's right
49 For it." "Master," I replied, "your words inspire
Confidence in me, for I'd already suspected
This was the case and meant to inquire:
52 Who inhabits that flame whose top is so bisected
That it might well rise from the pyre containing
Eteocles and his brother?" "Eternally connected
55 In punishment, as once in wrath," he began explaining,
"Ulysses and Diomed are together tortured.
Within their flame, groaning and complaining,
58 They lament the ambush of the horse which punctured
The wall so that the noble Roman seed fled;
Within their flame they mourn the guile which procured
61 Deidama's grief for Achilles, even when she's dead;
And within it, for the Palladium, they're made to pay."
"If they can speak inside those flames," I said,
64 "Then let me pray you, master, and then repray –
So that the value of my single prayer is the same
As a thousand—that you don't forbid me to stay
67 Here until the approach of the two–horned flame;
For you see how I lean toward it with desire."
"Your request," he replied, "has a worthy aim,
70 And deserves much praise; we'll wait for the fire,
Just as you wish, but be sure to restrain
Your tongue—that's the only thing I require.
73 Let me do the talking, for I know the train
Of your thought; since in life this pair
Was Greek, they might treat your words with disdain."
76 When the time was right, and the flame was where
My guide felt sufficiently near it,
He addressed the sinners with particular care:
79 "Oh you who mix more than one spirit
In a single flame, if I had merit for you when
I was alive, if on earth I had any merit,
82 Great or small, when there flowed from my pen
The noble verses, don't leave now, stay a moment.
Let one of you describe how he went astray and then
85 Met his death." The larger horn of that ancient
Flame began to quiver, murmuring like a fire
Battling the wind; then, as if generated by the movement
88 Of the tip to and fro—so that the entire
Horn seemed like one great tongue—a voice said:
"Circe held me near Gaëta, against my desire,
91 Beguiling me for more than a year until I fled,
(Before Aeneas called the place by this name).
Neither reverence for my father, then nearly dead,
94 Nor fondness for my son, nor the well–earned claim
Which Penelope had upon my love and affection,
(With which I might have made her happy), could tame
97 My ardor for experience and exploration,
That burning need to touch and feel and see
The world of human virtue and human degradation.
100 Thus I set out on the deep and open sea
With a single ship and that small core
Of companions who'd never deserted me.
103 I saw as far as Spain on the northern shore
And Morocco on the southern, having passed by
Sardinia and other sea–bathed isles long before.
106 When we reached the straits my companions and I
Were old and slow; towering on either
Side were the pillars Hercules had placed on high *
109 To warn men against venturing any farther;
We sailed by Seville on the right hand,
While Ceuta we'd already passed on the other.
112 'Brothers,' I said, 'you who through a hundred thousand
Perils have reached the west, do not deny
To the brief vigil of your senses this final errand:
115 Before the time remaining to you goes by,
Seek out the uninhabited world beyond the sun;
Make it your last experience before you die.
118 Think of your origins: you're not just anyone –
You weren't born to live like brutes;
To pursue knowledge and virtue is your mission!'
121 Reminding my companions of their Greek roots,
This brief speech made them as keen to begin
The journey as young, fired up recruits,
124 So that I couldn't possibly have reined them in.
Turning our stern to morning, we made of each oar
A wing for our mad flight; the slow spin
127 Of southern stars filled the night sky as we bore
Down more heavily on the left and submerged
Our own pole deep beneath the ocean floor.
130 Five times the light of the moon had surged
And then diminished since we'd entered by
That narrow pass; before us there emerged
133 A great mountain, dim in the distance, and so high
That among all those I'd seen it seemed the tallest.
My companions and I were elated, but as if to deny
136 Our joy there rose a violent, swirling tempest
From the new land, battering the bow
Of our boat while in despair we witnessed
139 Our doom at Another's pleasure. Three times now *
Our vessel was whirled around in a watery spin;
And the fourth time the stern lurched up, the prow
142 Plunged down, and above us the sea closed in."
11. Home Burial: by Robert Frost
He saw her from the bottom of the stairs
Before she saw him. She was starting down,
Looking back over her shoulder at some fear.
She took a doubtful step and then undid it
To raise herself and look again. He spoke
Advancing toward her: 'What is it you see
From up there always--for I want to know.'
She turned and sank upon her skirts at that,
And her face changed from terrified to dull.
He said to gain time: 'What is it you see,'
Mounting until she cowered under him.
'I will find out now--you must tell me, dear.'
She, in her place, refused him any help
With the least stiffening of her neck and silence.
She let him look, sure that he wouldn't see,
Blind creature; and awhile he didn't see.
But at last he murmured, 'Oh,' and again, 'Oh.'
'What is it--what?' she said.
'Just that I see.'
'You don't,' she challenged. 'Tell me what it is.'
'The wonder is I didn't see at once.
I never noticed it from here before.
I must be wonted to it--that's the reason.
The little graveyard where my people are!
So small the window frames the whole of it.
Not so much larger than a bedroom, is it?
There are three stones of slate and one of marble,
Broad-shouldered little slabs there in the sunlight
On the sidehill. We haven't to mind those.
But I understand: it is not the stones,
But the child's mound--'
'Don't, don't, don't, don't,' she cried.
She withdrew shrinking from beneath his arm
That rested on the bannister, and slid downstairs;
And turned on him with such a daunting look,
He said twice over before he knew himself:
'Can't a man speak of his own child he's lost?'
'Not you! Oh, where's my hat? Oh, I don't need it!
I must get out of here. I must get air.
I don't know rightly whether any man can.'
'Amy! Don't go to someone else this time.
Listen to me. I won't come down the stairs.'
He sat and fixed his chin between his fists.
'There's something I should like to ask you, dear.'
'You don't know how to ask it.'
'Help me, then.'
Her fingers moved the latch for all reply.
'My words are nearly always an offense.
I don't know how to speak of anything
So as to please you. But I might be taught
I should suppose. I can't say I see how.
A man must partly give up being a man
With women-folk. We could have some arrangement
By which I'd bind myself to keep hands off
Anything special you're a-mind to name.
Though I don't like such things 'twixt those that love.
Two that don't love can't live together without them.
But two that do can't live together with them.'
She moved the latch a little. 'Don't--don't go.
Don't carry it to someone else this time.
Tell me about it if it's something human.
Let me into your grief. I'm not so much
Unlike other folks as your standing there
Apart would make me out. Give me my chance.
I do think, though, you overdo it a little.
What was it brought you up to think it the thing
To take your mother--loss of a first child
So inconsolably--in the face of love.
You'd think his memory might be satisfied--'
'There you go sneering now!'
'I'm not, I'm not!
You make me angry. I'll come down to you.
God, what a woman! And it's come to this,
A man can't speak of his own child that's dead.'
'You can't because you don't know how to speak.
If you had any feelings, you that dug
With your own hand--how could you?--his little grave;
I saw you from that very window there,
Making the gravel leap and leap in air,
Leap up, like that, like that, and land so lightly
And roll back down the mound beside the hole.
I thought, Who is that man? I didn't know you.
And I crept down the stairs and up the stairs
To look again, and still your spade kept lifting.
Then you came in. I heard your rumbling voice
Out in the kitchen, and I don't know why,
But I went near to see with my own eyes.
You could sit there with the stains on your shoes
Of the fresh earth from your own baby's grave
And talk about your everyday concerns.
You had stood the spade up against the wall
Outside there in the entry, for I saw it.'
'I shall laugh the worst laugh I ever laughed.
I'm cursed. God, if I don't believe I'm cursed.'
'I can repeat the very words you were saying.
"Three foggy mornings and one rainy day
Will rot the best birch fence a man can build."
Think of it, talk like that at such a time!
What had how long it takes a birch to rot
To do with what was in the darkened parlor.
You couldn't care! The nearest friends can go
With anyone to death, comes so far short
They might as well not try to go at all.
No, from the time when one is sick to death,
One is alone, and he dies more alone.
Friends make pretense of following to the grave,
But before one is in it, their minds are turned
And making the best of their way back to life
And living people, and things they understand.
But the world's evil. I won't have grief so
If I can change it. Oh, I won't, I won't!'
'There, you have said it all and you feel better.
You won't go now. You're crying. Close the door.
The heart's gone out of it: why keep it up.
Amy! There's someone coming down the road!'
'You--oh, you think the talk is all. I must go--
Somewhere out of this house. How can I make you--'
'If--you--do!' She was opening the door wider.
'Where do you mean to go? First tell me that.
I'll follow and bring you back by force. I will!--'