Grief and Wisdom’s Fruit
by Edward Greenwood (July 2018)
Velvet Chair, Bill Sharp, 2017
What did your untimely going give?
It gave a measure
By which I may weigh
That by which we live.
In grief lies secret joy,
Finding in sorrow a strange pleasure.
I felt it even as a boy:
My brother’s death in war brought dangerous pride,
As if I had been singled out to share
A treasure that I should not hide.
Death is life’s measure,
And though to bear the death of others
Can be too horribly a thing of ease,
Yet, make your loss to hard to bear,
You’ll do as Heine’s tribe of Asra do
And feel you must die too.
Contagious grief for one they never knew
Can sometimes seize a crowd,
But that is much unlike an individual grief,
The grief that’s deeply true,
For in it what is mere contagion spreads,
And it’s not long before grief’s had its due.
Real grief’s a lifetime’s sorrow
Our memories perpetually renew,
For, though one is not grieving all the time,
True grief is always latent there,
So, intermittently, as days unfold,
Dark meditation, like recurring rhyme,
Will suddenly take hold
With sorrow’s piercing unrest,
And speak what is life’s shibboleth,
The grave expression: ‘Death’.
It is as though Death has bestowed a crown,
A wreath to decorate the mourner’s head
Woven from wisdom that can weigh the dead
Against the living
Death makes the mourner the assayer,
Whose touchstone tests the good and bad,
The piercing surveyor
Of all the meanness and the vanity
In this our world where worthlessness is praised,
Wisdom discovered in inanity
And music in the musicless
Study of A Man Talking, Francis Bacon, 1981
The old man, heavy as a tree
With wisdom’s fruit,
Is often baffled what to say
Meeting coevals on the way,
And, for a while, stands mute.
But then begins the usual talk
Of common themes,
The various vicissitudes
On which the human spirit broods,
Lost powers and thwarted dreams.
And still embarrassingly there,
That strange not yet,
Which all the aging are inclined
To cover over in the mind,
But somehow can’t forget.
The last vicissitude of all
That ends all fear,
The one we do not like to name,
As though we have a sense of blame
We are somehow still here.
Edward Greenwood was educated at Kirkham Grammar School and at Hertford College, Oxford. He obtained a B.Litt for work on Matthew Arnold. He is an now an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Kent. In 1975 he published Tolstoy: The Comprehensive Vision and in 1978 a British Council pamphlet on F. R. Leavis. He has also published privately a collection of poems Unfrozen Leaves which can be obtained if you e-mail [email protected]
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