Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Poetry Challenge #8: Elegy

Before we get started, please be sure to read the wonderful examples of ekphrasis from over the past week, including Alicia's submission from today, here.

I don't know why, but I'm feeling rather gloomy this evening, so I chose Elegy for this week's challenge. As I've shared before, my father died when I was 16 years old. While that is awhile away now, it's still hard. He missed my high school and college graduations. He never saw me sing. He never met my husband or my son. Yet sometimes I still feel him near me or think I glimpse him in a crowd. I don't talk about him much, but I think about him often. Maybe this is why I felt like writing an elegy today. Anyway.

Elegy came from an ancient Greek metrical form and was traditionally written to mourn for the death of a person or group. A traditional elegy mirrors three stages of grief: it has a lament in which the speaker expresses grief and sorrow, then praise and admiration of the idealized dead, then finally consolation and solace. 

A famous example I will provide here is Walt Whitman's tribute to Abraham Lincoln. 

O Captain! My Captain!


by Walt Whitman

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done, The ship has weather'd every rack,

      the prize we sought is won, The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

      While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring; But O heart! heart! heart!

      O the bleeding drops of red, Where on the deck my Captain lies, Fallen cold and dead.

      O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells; Rise up- for you the flag is flung- for

      you the bugle trills, 


         For you bouquets and ribbon'd wreaths- for you the shores


          For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

             Here Captain! dear father!

               This arm beneath your head!

                 It is some dream that on the deck,

                   You've fallen cold and dead.

          My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,

          My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,

          The ship is anchor'd safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,

          From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;

               Exult O shores, and ring O bells!

                 But I with mournful tread,

                   Walk the deck my Captain lies,

                     Fallen cold and dead.

Here is my own example. I will attempt the "three stages," but may not stick to anything else so faithfully. Believe it or not, I've been wrestling with this thing for at least an hour and can't figure out how to improve it just now. I will likely mess with it more later.

For Daddy


I never got to say goodbye,

I don’t know why you’re gone.

I wish that I could see your face

and tell you what’s gone on.

It was tempting to be angry

and bitter that you left,

but I realized you’d want me to

focus on better things.

I miss you more each passing year,

it’s incredible

that nearly half my life has passed

since I saw you last.


You were the kindest man I knew,

music flowed from your soul--

two of the things that I made sure

you shared with my husband.

Your laugh (and hugs) were notable,

they spoke of all your zeal

for life and love and laughter,

and how family was first.

No matter how things were at work,

you always found the time

to come to horse shows that I loved

and cheer me on with pride.


When you died, I cried me dry.

I had no sorrow left.

I thought I’d never see or feel

the love you gave again.

But I was wrong! You’re everywhere

a joyful heart takes wing

by expressing love of life

through music or a smile.

Sometimes I see you smiling from

the corner of my eye.

Though when I look, you disappear,

your spirit lingers there.

The best has been since giving birth

in gazing at my son,

I realize you live in him

and with him you will run.

You can find a fuller explanation of the genre along with many more examples here

Hopefully this will not depress you all too much. Having experienced rather a lot of grief for one under 50, I can say while it sucks, it also puts things in perspective. I realized early that life is not something you can take for granted, and family is to be cherished. I was lucky to have a great relationship with my dad so I have no regrets for things I should have said, etc. I just wish I'd been able to have him in my life longer. Sigh. 


Anonymous said...

I'm going to have to decline this challege. Depression is looming a little too close just now for me to poke at it with a stick. Sorry.


paige said...

i promise to try... if you promise an easier challenge next week... Remember that i've never been to university?

Rachel said...

I just wanted to say I love your elegy. I am actually sitting here crying, but in a good way.

Minerva said...

Cicely--I completely understand, don't worry about it.

Paige--just write what you feel, there's no form requirement or anything! :) I will try to find something easier next time.

Rachel--thank you, that really means a lot. I struggled a lot in writing it so it feels good that someone was touched by it even if I think it's rough. :)

Alicia said...

I'm not sure how I feel about this one. It was definitely hard to write...very depressing poetry this week.

Tears fall like rain,
My once excited voice now breaks.
I can't even say the words.
I can't begin to describe the pain.

Such a strong little one,
A sweet angel now.
You taught me so much,
Before your time was done.

My smile comes back slow,
With the help of some good friends.
Comfort finds me in His arms.
I have faith in what He knows.

paige said...

k, this is a hymn in elegy form (i hope - i always think you're gonna say, 'um, that's totally wrong, paige'...)- i realize i've taken some freedom here with the challenge...

Jesus left His heavenly home.
For i stand convinced of this -
To bleed and die, He left great bliss.
Jesus left His heavenly home.

He who took my burden's shame
Gave my feet a place to stand,
He walks with me, He holds my hand.
He who took my burden's shame.

When at last i see His face,
He will give my babe to me.
i'll worship Him on bended knee -
When at last i see His face.

paige said...

Alicia - we crossed posts - ((hugs))
is it not a little unbelievable how yours flows into mine?

Alicia said...

Paige, I was just looking at that. We couldn't have timed those posts more perfect.

Minerva said...

Alicia and Paige--I couldn't agree more. I'm so glad you both felt comfortable sharing your poems here with me (and each other!). 1,000 points to each of you for your courage in sharing your pain with us. I hope the exercise brought a little bit of comfort.