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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An Anthology by  Adrienne Nater

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Death, Dying, Grief, and Mourning

in Western Literature


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Honoré De Balzac, Lost Illusions, 1843

 Translation: Ellen Marriage

Lucien contemplates Suicide

Lucien contemplates Suicide:

Little, considering the gravity of the question, has been written on the subject of suicide; it has not been studied. Perhaps it is a disease that cannot be observed. Suicide is one effect of a sentiment which we will call self-esteem, if you will, to prevent confusion by using the word ‘honour.’ When a man despises himself, and sees that others despise him, when real life fails to fulfill his hopes, then comes the moment when he takes his life, and thereby does homage to society — shorn of his virtues or his splendour, he does not care to face his fellows. Among atheists — Christians being without the question of suicide among atheists, whatever may be said to the contrary, none but a base coward can take up a dishonoured life.

There are three kinds of suicide — the first is only the last and acute stage of a long illness, and this kind belongs distinctly to pathology; the second is the suicide of despair; and the third the suicide based on logical argument. Despair and deductive reasoning had brought Lucien to this pass, but both varieties are curable; it is only the pathological suicide that is inevitable. Not unfrequently you find all three causes combined, as in the case of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Lucien having made up his mind, fell into considering methods. The poet would fain die as became a poet. At first he thought of throwing himself into the Charente and making an end then and there; but as he came down the steps from Beaulieu for the last time, he heard the whole town talking of his suicide; he saw the horrid sight of a drowned dead body, and thought of the recognition and the inquest; and, like some other suicides, felt the vanity reached beyond death.

He remembered the day spent at Courtois’s mill, and his thoughts returned to the round pool among the willows that he saw as he came along by the little river, such a pool as you often find on small streams, with a still, smooth surface that conceals great depths beneath. The water is neither green or blue nor white nor tawny; it is like a polished steel mirror. No sword-grass grows about the margin; there are no blue water forget-me-nots, nor broad lily leaves; the grass at the brim is short and thick, and the weeping willows that droop over the edge grow picturesquely enough. It is easy to imagine a sheer precipice fill with water to the brim. Any man who should have the courage to fill his pockets with pebbles would not fail to find death, and never be seen thereafter.

At the time he admired the lovely miniature of a landscape, the poet had thought to himself, ‘Tis a spot to make your mouth water for a noyade.’

He thought of it now as he went down into L’Houmeau; and when he took his way towards Marsac, with the last somber thoughts gnawing at his heart, it was with the firm resolve to hide his death. There should be no inquest held over him; he would not be laid in earth; no one should see him in the hideous condition of the corpse that floats on the surface of the water. Before long he reached one of the slopes, common enough on all French high roads, and commonest of all between Angouleme and Poitiers. He saw the coach from Bordeaux to Paris coming up at full speed behind him, and knew that the passengers would probably alight to walk up the hill. He did not care to be seen just then. Turning off sharply into a beaten track, he began to pick the flowers in a vineyard hard by.



Adrienne Nater, 2008

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