Saturday, January 25, 2014

How to Mourn like Jane Austen Part Two: Write a Poem

The hardest part of grief is that it never goes away. With time, it might become less acute, but then something happens to remind you of the person lost - a joke, a song, a scent - and the pain comes crashing down upon you as intensely as when they first died.

The following is a poem composed by Jane Austen in honor of Mrs. Lefroy, a dear friend and mistress of nearby Ashe Rectory, who died on December 16, 1804. The date is Austen's birthday, and three days ago, when our cousin dies, it was my father-in-law's birthday. Many things will remind him of the departed in the years to come, but I imagine there thought must be most acute and melancholy on his birthday, which now must always feel somewhat tainted, just like Jane's. The poem was completed four years after the death, and we can see how intense the loss remained. In someways, mourning can become harder with time, I suppose: when death first strikes we cry and lament, but only with time cane we truly appreciate the impact of living without someone important to us. I think Jane conveys the nature of grief exceedingly well in this poem, one of my favorite she wrote.

To the Memory of Mrs. Lefroy who died Dec:r 16 -- my Birthday.

The day returns again, my natal day; 
What mix'd emotions with the Thought arise! 
Beloved friend, four years have pass'd away 
Since thou wert snatch'd forever from our eyes.-- 
The day, commemorative of my birth 
Bestowing Life and Light and Hope on me, 
Brings back the hour which was thy last on Earth. 
Oh! bitter pang of torturing Memory!-- 

Angelic Woman! past my power to praise 
In Language meet, thy Talents, Temper, mind. 
Thy solid Worth, they captivating Grace!-- 
Thou friend and ornament of Humankind!-- 

At Johnson's death by Hamilton t'was said, 
'Seek we a substitute--Ah! vain the plan, 
No second best remains to Johnson dead-- 
None can remind us even of the Man.' 

So we of thee--unequall'd in thy race 
Unequall'd thou, as he the first of Men. 
Vainly we wearch around the vacant place, 
We ne'er may look upon thy like again. 

Come then fond Fancy, thou indulgant Power,-- 
--Hope is desponding, chill, severe to thee!-- 
Bless thou, this little portion of an hour, 
Let me behold her as she used to be. 

I see her here, with all her smiles benign, 
Her looks of eager Love, her accents sweet. 
That voice and Countenance almost divine!-- 
Expression, Harmony, alike complete.-- 

I listen--'tis not sound alone--'tis sense, 
'Tis Genius, Taste and Tenderness of Soul. 
'Tis genuine warmth of heart without pretence 
And purity of Mind that crowns the whole. 

She speaks; 'tis Eloquence--that grace of Tongue 
So rare, so lovely!--Never misapplied 
By her to palliate Vice, or deck a Wrong, 
She speaks and reasons but on Virtue's side. 

Her's is the Engergy of Soul sincere. 
Her Christian Spirit ignorant to feign, 
Seeks but to comfort, heal, enlighten, chear, 
Confer a pleasure, or prevent a pain.-- 

Can ought enhance such Goodness?--Yes, to me, 
Her partial favour from my earliest years 
Consummates all.--Ah! Give me yet to see 
Her smile of Love.--the Vision diappears. 

'Tis past and gone--We meet no more below. 
Short is the Cheat of Fancy o'er the Tomb. 
Oh! might I hope to equal Bliss to go! 
To meet thee Angel! in thy future home!-- 

Fain would I feel an union in thy fate, 
Fain would I seek to draw an Omen fair 
From this connection in our Earthly date. 
Indulge the harmless weakness--Reason, spare.--

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