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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Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, 1912

Translation by David Luke

Death of Gustav Aschenbach

Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain, 1924

Translation by John E. Woods

A Good Soldier:
The Death of Cousin Joachim Ziemssen

Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, 1912
Translation by David Luke

Death of Gustav Aschenbach:

At the edge of the sea he (Tadzio) lingered, head bowed, drawing figures in the wet sand with the point of one foot, then walked into the shallow high water, which at its deepest point did not even wet his knees; he waded through it, advancing easily, and reached the sandbar. There he stood for a moment looking out into the distance and then, moving left, began slowly to pace the length of this narrow strip of unsubmerged land. Divided from the shore by a width of water, divided from his companions by proud caprice, he walked, a quite isolated and unrelated apparition, walked with floating hair out there in the sea, in the wind, in front of the nebulous vastness. Once more he stopped to survey the scene. And suddenly, as if prompted by a memory, by an impulse, he turned at the waist, one hand on his hip, with an enchanting twist of the body, and looked back over his shoulder at the beach. There the watcher sat, as he had sat once before when those twilight-gray eyes, looking back at him then from that other threshold, had for the first time met his. Resting his head on the back of his chair, he has slowly turned it to follow the movements of the walking figure in the distance; now he lifted it toward this last look; then it sank down on his breast so that his eyes stared up from below, while before his face wore the inert, deep-sunken expression of profound slumber. But to him it was as if the pale and lovely soul-summoner out there were smiling to him, beckoning to him; as if he loosed his hand from his hip and pointed outward, hovering ahead and onward, into an immensity rich with unutterable expectation. And as so often, he set out to follow him.

Minutes passed, after he had collapsed sideways in his chair, before anyone hurried to his assistance. He was carried to his room. And later that same day the world was respectfully shocked to receive the news of his death.

Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain, 1924
Translation by John E. Woods

A Good Soldier: The Death of Cousin Joachim Ziemssen:

What he meant by "everything would be fine" was not exactly clear — it became quite evident that his condition tended to create ambiguities, and he expressed himself equivocally more than once, seemed both to know and not to know, and at one point, apparently overcome by a wave of approaching devastation, he shook his head almost in remorse and declared that he had never felt this bad, never in all his life.

Then his mood turned intransigent, sternly diffident, even boorish; he would not listen to any more fibs or pretty stories, refused to answer them, and stared strangely straight ahead. Especially after the young pastor — whom Luise Ziemssen had summoned and who, to Hans Castrop’s regret, had not worn a starched ruff but only Geneva bands — arrived to pray with him, his attitude grew more officially military and his wishes were only blunt commands.

Around six in the evening he began to do something curious. He repeatedly stretched out his right arm, the one with the gold bracelet around the wrist, until it was about his hip, then raised his hand slightly and pulled it back again along the blanket with a raking or scraping motion, as if he were collecting or gathering something.

At seven o’clock he died — Alfreda Schildknecher was out in the hall, only his mother and cousin were present. He had slipped down too far in his bed and curtly demanded to be propped back up again. As Frau Ziemssen attempted to follow his instruction and was slipping an arm around his shoulders, he remarked rather hastily that he would have to draft and send a letter requesting that his leave be extended, and no sooner had he said it than his "swift passing" took place — which Hans Castrop watched reverently by the light of the red-shaded table lamp. The gaze faltered, the unconscious strain left the features, the painful swelling vanished rapidly from the lips, a more handsome, youthful look spread across our Joachim’s silenced countenance, it was over.

Luise Ziemssen turned away sobbing, and so it was Hans Castro who reached out with his ring finger to close the eyelids of the motionless form that no longer breathed, then carefully laid the hands together on the blanket. Then he stood there, too, and wept, let the tears flow down on his cheeks, like those that had stung the cheeks of the English naval officer — the colorless liquid that flows at every hour everywhere in the world, so richly and bitterly that earth’s vale has poetically been named after it: an alkaline, salty liquid that our body secrets from glands when our nerves are subject to the shock of pain, whether physical or psychological. He knew that it also contains traces of mucin and protein.


Adrienne Nater, 2008

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