Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Weekly Workshop: Elegy Eulogy

It seems appropriate to focus on the poetic form of elegy this week. According to the Academy of American Poets, the elegy is comprised of three stages: a song of grief, an appreciation of the dead, and a turning towards solace. Famous elegies include Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd" and Auden's "In Memory of W.B. Yeats." Not as famous, but certainly just as wonderful, is Paul Guest's poem "Eulogy," first published in 42opus. In this poem, Guest reverses the trajectory of each stage in order to comment on society's fascination with death, and criticize our need for euphamism.


So that this will seem like words between

old friends, I'll say it was painless.

And quick. I'll say it was mercy

and behind my face where I put

things like The Truth and dreams about

supernovae, I'll try to mean it.

But it was his time, we should all admit.

Shouldn't we, who loved him

the way we love traffic

and cell phones during spectacular sex

and the degradations of puberty,

shouldn't we all feel

as though light were swelling within us,

inflaming us? Tell me where

you were when you heard

but tell me later, much later,

the kind of later mathematicians get excited about.

By then memory will have torn

away from my body like a scab

I'll no longer have to pick at

and I'll listen to you like a stethoscope.

It will be good for my heart.

It will be good for your heart.

In the air of that deferred spring

we'll be healthy, speaking

of an ancient wound neither of us

really remember, except

that by starlight we promised

to honor this question mark

in the periodic sentence of our lives.

Whatever you say, remember

that we cried. The dead love that we weep,

that we stain ourselves with

salt, that we become for a moment

indistinguishable from the sea,

that our shining faces rock with grief.

The choice is yours whether to honor someone who has passed, or have fun with death itself.

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