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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Death, Dying, Grief, and Mourning

in Western Literature


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Alighieri, Dante, La Vita Nuova, 1292

Rossetti Translation

Death of Beatrice

Death of Beatrice:

The eyes that weep for pity of the heart

Have wept so long that their grief languisheth,

And they have no more tears to weep withal:

And now, if I would ease me of a part

Of what, little by little, leads to death,

It must be done by speech, or not at all.

And because often, thinking, I recall

How it was pleasant, ere she went afar,

To talk of her with you, kind damozels!

I talk with no one else,

But only with such hearts as women’s are.

And I will say, — still sobbing as speech fails, —

That she hath gone to Heaven suddenly,

And hath left love below to mourn with me.


Beatrice hath gone up into high Heaven,

The kingdom where the angels are at peace,

And lives with them, and to her friends is dead.

Not by the frost of winter was she ‘driven

Away, like others; nor summer heats;


But through a perfect gentleness instead.

For from the lamp of her meek lowlihead

Such an exceeding glory went up hence

That it woke wonder in the Eternal Sire,

Until a sweet desire

Entered him for that lovely excellence, —

So that He bade her to Himself aspire:

Counting this evil and most weary place

Unworthy of a thing so full of grace.


Wonderfully out of the beautiful form

Soared her clear spirit, waxing glad the while;

And is in its first home, there where it is.

Who speaks thereof, and feels not the tears warm

Upon his face, must have become so vile

As to be dead to all sweet sympathies.

Out upon him! An abject wretch like this

May not imagine anything of her, —

He needs no bitter tears for his relief.

But sighing comes, and grief,

And the desire to find o comforter

(Save only Death, who makes all sorrow brief),

To him who for a while turns in his thought

How she hath been amongst us, and is not.

With sighs my bosom always laboreth

In thinking, as I do continually,

Of her for whom my heart now breaks apace;

And very often, when I think of death,

Such a great inward longing comes to me

That it will change the color of my face;

And, if the idea settles in its place,

All my limbs shake as with an ague fit;

Till, starting up in wild bewilderment,

I do become so silent

That I go forth, lest folk misdoubt of it.

Afterward, calling with a sore lament

On Beatrice, I ask, — "Canst thou be dead?"

And calling on her I am comforted.


Grief with its tears, and anguish with its sighs,

Come to me now whene’er I am alone;

So that I think the sight of me gives pain.

And what my life hath been, that living dies,

Since for my Lady the New Birth begun,

I have not any language to explain.

And so, dear ladies! Though my heart were fain,

I scarce could tell indeed how I am thus.

All joy is with my bitter life at war;

Yea! I am fallen so far

That all men seem to say — "Go out from us!"

Eying my cold white lips, how dead they are.

But she, though I be bowed unto the dust,

Watches me, and will guerdon me, I trust.


Weep, pitiful Song of mine! Upon thy way,

To thi’ dames going and the damozels

For whom, and for none else,

They sisters have made music many a day.

Thou! That art very sad and not as they,

Go dwell thou with them as a mourner dwells!



Adrienne Nater, 2008

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