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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Beowulf, 1000, Modern Text:


Death of Beowulf


Then fashioned for him the fold of Geats

firm on the earth a funeral-pile,

and hung it with helmets and harness of war

and breastplates bright, as the boon he asked;

and they laid amid it the mighty chieftain,

heroes mourning their master dear.

then on the hill that hugest of balefires

the warriors wakened. Wood-smoke rose

black over blaze, and blent was the roar

of flame with weeping (the wind was still),

till the fire had broken the frame of bones.

hot at the heart. In heavy mood

their misery moaned they, their master’s death.

wailing her woe, the widow old,

her hair upbound, for Beowulf’s death

sung in her sorrow, and said full oft

she dreaded the doleful days to come,

deaths enow, and doom of battle,

and shame. — The smoke by the sky was devoured

The fold of the Weders fashioned there

on the headland a barrow broad and high,

by ocean-farers far descried:

in ten days’ time their toil had raised it,

the battle-brave’s beacon. Round brands of the pyre

a wall they built, the worthiest ever

that wit could prompt in their wisest men.

They placed in the barrow that precious booty,

the rounds and the rings they had reft erewhile,

hardy heroes, from hoard in cave, —

trusting the ground with treasure of earls,

gold in the earth, where ever it lies

useless to men as of yore it was.

Then about that barrow the battle-keen rode,

atheling-born, a band of twelve.

lament to make, to mourn their king,

chant their dirge, and their chieftain honor.

They praised his earlship, his acts of prowess

worthily witnessed: and well it is

that men their master-friend mightily laud,

heartily love, when hence he goes

from life in the body away.

Thus made their mourning the men of Greatland,

for their hero’s passing his hearth-companions:

quoth that of all the kings on earth,

of men he was the mildest and most beloved,

to his kin the kindest, keenest for praise.


Adrienne Nater, 2008

©© 2008 Adrienne Nater. All rights reserved.