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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Joseph Conrad, An Outcast of the Islands, 1895


Willems Thinks about Death

Part V, Chapter II:

…He had a terrible vision of shadowless horizons where blue sky and the blue sea met; of a circular and blazing emptiness where a dead tree and a dead man drifted together, endlessly, up and down, upon the brilliant undulations of the straits. No ships there. Only death. And the river led to it.

He sat up with a profound groan.

Yes, death. Why should he die? No! Better solitude, better hopeless waiting, alone. Alone. No! He was not alone, he saw death looking at him from everywhere; from the bushes, from the clouds — he heard her speaking to him in a murmur of the river, filling the space, touching his heart, his brain with a cold hand. He could see and think of nothing else. He saw it — the sure death — everywhere. He saw it so close that he was always on the point of throwing out his arms to keep it off. It poisoned all he saw, all he did; the miserable food he ate, the muddy waters he drank; it gave a frightful aspect to sunrises and sunsets, to the brightness of hot noon, to the cooling shadows of the evenings. He saw the horrible form among the big trees, in the network of creepers, in the fantastic outlines of leaves, of the great indented leaves that seemed to be so many enormous hands with big broad palms, with stiff fingers outspread to lay hold of him; hands gentle stirring, or hands arrested in a frightful immobility, with a stillness attentive and watching for the opportunity to take him, to enlace him, to strangle him, to hold him until he died; hands that would hold him dead, that would never let go, that would cling to his body forever till it perished — disappeared in their frantic and tenacious grasp.

And yet the world was full of life. All the things, all the men he knew, existed, moved, breathed; and he saw them in a long perspective, far off, diminished, distinct, desirable, unattainable, precious … lost forever. Round him, ceaselessly, there went on without a sound the mad turmoil of tropical life. After he had died all this would remain! He wanted to clasp, to embrace solid things; he had an immense craving for sensations; for touching, pressing, seeing, handling, holding on to all these things. All this would remain — remain for years, for ages, forever. After he had miserably died there, all this would remain, would live, would exist in joyous sunlight, would breathe in the coolness of serene nights.

What for, then? He would be dead. He would be stretched upon the warm moisture of the ground, feeling nothing, seeing nothing, knowing nothing; he would lie still, passive, rotting slowly; while over him, under him, through him — unopposed, busy, hurried — the endless and minute throngs of insects, little shining monsters of repulsive shapes, with horns, with claws, with pincers, would swarm in streams, in rushes, in eager struggle for his body; would swarm countless, persistent, ferocious and greedy — till there would remain nothing but the white gleam of bleaching bones in the long grass; in the long grass that would shoot its feathery heads between the bare and polished ribs. There would be that only left of him; nobody would miss him; no one would remember him.

Nonsense! It could not be….

Willem’s Death:

Part V, Chapter IV

"… Go helpless and lie to the forests, to the sea … to the death that awaits you…"

She ceased as if strangled. She saw in the horror of the passing second the half-naked, wild-looking man before her; she heard the faint shrillness of Joanna’s insane shrieks for help somewhere down by the riverside. The sunlight streamed on her, on him, on the mute land, on the murmuring river — the gentle brilliance of a serene morning that, to her, seemed traversed by ghastly flashes of uncertain darkness. Hate filled the world, filled the space between them — the hate of race, the hate of hopeless diversity, the hate of blood; the hate against the man born in the land of lies and of evil from which nothing but misfortune comes to those who are not white. And as she stood, maddened, she heard a whisper near her, the whisper of the dead Omar’s voice saying in her ear: "Kill! Kill!"

She cried, seeing him move —

"Do not come near me …or you die now! Go while I remember yet…remember…."

Willems pulled himself together for a struggle. He dared not go unarmed. He made a long stride, and saw her raise the revolver. He noticed that she had not cocked it, and said to himself that, even if she did fire, she would surely miss. Go too high; it was a stiff trigger. He made a step nearer — saw the long barrel moving unsteadily at the end of her extended arm. He thought: This is my time …He bent his knees slightly, throwing his body forward, and took off with a long bound for a tearing rush.

He saw a burst of red flame before his eyes, and was deafened by a report that seemed to him louder than a clap of thunder. Something stopped him short, and he stood aspiring in his nostrils the acrid smell of the blue smoke that drifted from before his eyes like an immense cloud…. Missed, by Heaven! Thought so!… And he saw her very far off, throwing her arms up, while the revolver, very small, lay on the ground between them…. Missed!… He would go and pick it up now. Never before did he understand, as in that second, the joy, the triumphant delight of sunshine and of life. His mouth was full of something salty and warm. He tried to cough; spat out….Who shrieks: In the name of God, he dies! — he dies! — Who dies? — Must pick up — Night! What?… Night already….



Adrienne Nater, 2008

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