Death, Dying, Grief and Mourning

            "Death is always the same,
                               but each man dies in his own way."

Carson McCullers, Clock Without Hands, 1960


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in Western Literature

An Anthology by  Adrienne Nater

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Death, Dying, Grief, and Mourning

in Western Literature


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Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient, 1992


Death of English Patient

 Death of English Patient:

He was a burned man and I was a nurse and I could have nursed him. Do you understand the sadness of geography? I could have saved him or at least been with him till the end. I know a lot about burning. How long was he alone with doves and rats? With the last stages of blood and life in him? Doves over him. The flutter when they thrashed around him. Unable to sleep in the darkness. He always hated darkness. And he was alone, without lover or kin…..


.        .        .        .        .        .        .        .        .        .        .

The villa drifts in darkness. In the hallway by the English patient’s bedroom the last candle burns, still alive in the night.

Whenever he opens his eyes out of sleep, he sees the old wavering yellow light.

For him now the world is without sound, and even light seems an unneeded thing. He will tell the girl in the morning he wants no candle flame to accompany him while he sleeps.

Around three a.m. he feels a presence in the room. He sees, for a pulse of a moment, a figure at the foot of his bed, against the wall or painted onto it perhaps, not quite discernible in the darkness of foliage beyond the candlelight. He mutters something, something he wanted to say, but there is silence and the slight brown figure, which could be just a night shadow, does not move. A poplar. A man with plumes. A swimming figure. And he would not be so lucky, he thinks, to speak to the young sapper again.

He stays awake in any case this night, to see if the figure moves towards him. Ignoring the tablet that brings painlessness, he will remain awake till the light dies out and the smell of candle smoke drifts into his room and into the girl’s room farther down the hall. If the figure turns around there will be paint on his back, where he slammed in grief against the mural of trees. When the candle dies out he will be able to see this.

His hand reaches out slowly and touches his book and returns to his dark chest. Nothing else moves in the room.













Adrienne Nater, 2008

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