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 Roth, The Radetzky March, 1932

Translated by Eva Tucker Bases
 on an Earlier Translation by Geoffry Dunlop

Death of Emperor Francis Joseph
 & Herr von Trotta

Joseph Roth, The Tale of the 1002nd Night, 1939

Translated by Michael Hofmann

Death of Captain of the Horse, Baron Alois Franz von Taittinger

Joseph Roth, The Radetzky March, 1932

Translated by Eva Tucker Bases on an Earlier Translation by Geoffry Dunlop

Death of Emperor Francis Joseph & Herr von Trotta

"Now he is dying," said the forester.

Just then, a priest with the Blessed Sacrament was going into the Emperorís bedroom.

They had just taken Francis Josephís temperature. It was 102.7. "I see, I see," the Emperor said to the chaplain, "so this is what it is like to die." He sat upright against the pillows. He could hear the unceasing rain through the windows and the crunch of peopleís feet on the gravel. It seemed to him that these sounds were alternately far and away and near, and sometimes he was aware that it was the rain which caused the soft gentle trickle outside the window. But soon he had forgotten that it was the rain. He asked the doctor a few times, "Why is it murmuring so?" For he could not manage the word "trickling," although it was on the tip of his tongue. But after he had inquired for the cause of the murmuring, he believed that he was in fact hearing a murmuring sound. The rain murmured, peopleís feet outside on the gravel murmured. Both the word and the sounds it signified pleased Francis Joseph more and more. And besides, it did not matter what he asked them, for they could no longer hear him. He was only moving his lips, but to him it felt as if he were speaking quite audibly, a little softly perhaps, but as distinctly as for the past few days. At times, he was surprised they did not answer him. But soon he forgot both what he had asked for and his surprise. So he gave himself up to the curious faint murmur of the world which went on living all around him while he died, and he was like a child which gives up its struggle against sleep, compelled by a cradle song and wrapped in it. He shut his eyes, After a while he opened them again and looked at the plain silver crucifix and the dazzling candles on the table waiting for the priest. Then he knew that the priest would be there soon. And he moved his lips and began, as he had been taught as a boy, "In contrition and humility I confess my sins. . ." But they did not hear this either. He saw at once that the chaplain was there. "Youíve kept me waiting a long time," he said. "Iíve always been arrogant," he said. He went through his sins, one by one, as listed in the catechism. Iíve been Emperor too long, he thought. But it felt just as if heíd said it aloud. "All men must die; the Emperor dies." And at the same time, it seemed to him that part of him which had been imperial was dying. "The war is a sin, too," he said aloud. But the priest did not hear him. And Francis Joseph felt surprised again. Every day the casualty list came, it had gone on since 1914. "Finish it!" said Francis Joseph.

They did not hear, "I wish Iíd been killed at Solferino," he said. They did not hear. Perhaps, he thought, I am dead already and am speaking as a dead man. Thatís why they canít hear me. And he fell asleep.

Outside, among the crowd, Herr von Trotta waited, the son of the hero of Solferino, hat in hand, in the steadily pouring rain. The trees in Schonbruun Park rustled, profusely indefatigably, Dusk gathered. Inquisitive people came. The park filled. The rain never stopped. The waiting people came and went. Herr von Trotta stayed. Night fell, the steps were deserted, people had gone home to bed. Herr von Trotta stood close to the door. He could hear the sounds of carriages arriving and, sometimes, above his head, a window was opened. Voices called. The door opened and shut. Nobody noticed him. The rain streamed down steadily; gently the trees rustled and sighed.

At last, bells began to toll. The District Commissioner departed. He went down the shallow steps and back along the avenue to the iron gate, which was open tonight. He walked the whole long way back to the city, bareheaded, hat in hand. He met nobody. He walked very slowly, like a mourner. The sky was gray by the time he got to his hotel.

He went back home. It was raining in the district town of W. Herr von Trotta summoned Fraulein Herschwitz and said, "Iím going to bed, dear lady, I feel tired." And so, for the first time in his life, he went to bed during the day.

He could not go to sleep. He sent for Dr Skowronnek.

"Dear Dr Skowronnek," he said, "will you please tell them to bring the canary." They brought the canary across from Jacques cottage. "Give it a bit of sugar, "said the District Commissioner. So the canary got its bit of sugar. "A pretty pet," said Herr von Trotta.

Then the District Commissioner said, "Will you send for the priest, please? But come back, wonít you."

So the doctor waited for the priest to come. Then he went back. Old Herr Trotta was lying quite still among his pillows. His eyes were half-closed. He said, "Take my hand, dear friend. Will you bring the portrait?"

Dr Skowronnek found the study, climbed a chair, and unhooked the portrait of the hero of Solferino. When he came back, bearing the portrait in both hands, Herr von Trotta was no longer capable of looking at it. Rain drummed gently against the panes.

Dr Skowronnek waited, the portrait of Solferino on his knees. After a few minutes, he got up and went to take Her von Trotta hand. He bent over the District Commissionerís chest, drew a deep breath, and closed the dead manís eyes.

It was the day on which they buried the Emperor in the Capuchin Vault. Three days later they lowered the District Commissionerís corpse into the earth. The burgomaster of W. made a speech. It began with the war, as all speeches did in those days. The burgomaster went on to relate how Herr von Trotta had given his only son to the Emperor and had nevertheless gone on living and serving his country. Meanwhile, it drizzled steadily on the bare head of all those gathered round the grave and there was a rustling, trickling of leaves. Off sodden wreathes and dripping flowers.

Dr. Skowronnek, in the, to him, unfamiliar uniform of a territorial medical officer, was doing his best to stand smartly to attention, though he did not feel it in the least an appropriate attitude, or expressive of grief for the dead, civilian that he was. After all, death isnít a staff surgeon, thought the doctor. He was one of the first to approach the grave. He declined the spade which a gravedigger offered him but bent his back to take a wet clod of earth, broke it up in his left hand, and, with his right, strewed handful on the coffin. Then he stepped back. It occurred to him that it was afternoon and nearly time for a game of chess. But now there was no on to play with. All the same, he decided to go to the cafť.

As they were walking out of the cemetery, the burgomaster offered him a lift in his carriage. Dr Skowronnek climbed into it. "It should like to have mentioned" said the burgomaster, "that Herr von Trotta couldnít have survived the Emperor. Donít you agree, Doctor?"

"I donít know," replied Dr Skowronnek, "I think perhaps neither of them could survive Austria!"

He asked to be dropped outside the cafť. He went to his usual table, as every day. There stood the chessboard, just as the District Commissioner had not died. The waiter came to take it away, but Skowronnek said, "Leave it, please," and played himself at chess, smiling from time to time when he happened to look across at the empty chair, listening to the quiet autumn rain rustling, hissing, streaming outside the windows, trickling incessantly down the windowpanes.

Joseph Roth, The Tale of the 1002nd Night, 1939
Translated by Michael Hofmann

Death of Captain of the Horse, Baron Alois Franz von Taittinger

At that time, the Taittinger file was in the hands of Councilor Sackenfeld at the War Ministry. He was in the process of selecting the commission and naming the date for the Captainís hearing, when he received their report, marked: "Highly Confidential, ref. Taittinger." He took the file and the report to Colonel Kalergi in the left wing of the building, Both men understood immediately that now was not the moment to think of reactivating Taittingerís career.

The Baron had to be told. Lieutenant Colonel Kalergi buckled on his saber and went. He met Taittinger in his hotel: A much changed, embittered, and, as it struck Kalergi, a suddenly aged Taittinger. The small round coffee table at which he was seated in the hotel lobby was covered by an enormous rectangular poster, which the Baron was perusing with some consternation. He got to his feet creakily. Taittinger looked as though he were using a stick, though he wasnít. Kalergi sat down. Taittinger dispensed with the usual formalities, the inquiry after his health and that of his wife and so forth.

"You know all about me, Kalergi," he began right away. "You know that stupid business with that Schinagl girl and then that histoire.And Iíve told you about my son as well. Well, two weeks ago, I settled everything. I bought the panopticum, you know, the new World Bioscope Theater. Her son, or my son, Xandl Ė this wonít be new to you either Ė has been arrested for attempted murder. I think it was, and robbery Ė"

"Ah, that business!" said Kalergi. "I read about that!"

"Well, then!" Taittinger went on. "Now, before getting back into the army, I wanted to have put all that silly stuff behind me, of course. But just a quarter of an hour ago, Trummer, I canít tell you who that is now Ė but anyway, heís a friend of Mizziís Ė brings me this placard. And tomorrow morning itís going to be in the newspaper and plastered on the wall all over the city." Taittinger pushed the placard across to Lieutenant Colonel Kalergi, who read:

"On the occasion of the return visit of His Majesty the Shah of Persia to the city of Vienna, the new World Bioscope Theater proudly presents, in lifelike verisimilitude, representations of the following scenes:

"1. The arrival of the great Shah with his aides at the Franz-Joseph Station (Royal train not to scale).

"2. The Harem and Chief Eunuch of Tehran.

"3. The Viennese concubine, a child of the people from Sievering, conducted to the Shah by important public figures and subsequently ruler of the Harem in Persia.

"4. The remaining retinue of Persia.

Lieutenant Colonel Kalergi carefully folded up the big poster, very slowly, without looking up. He was afraid of the despair he would see in Taittingerís eyes. But he had come to tell him the truth. He wanted to make a start. He patted down the folded poster, and wondered how to begin.

"Iím impatient," said Taittinger. "Can you understand that? All my life Iíve behaved like a fool. I can see that now, but itís too late. Listen to this Ė I looked at myself in the mirror today, and I saw Iím an old man. Looking at the poster just now, I realized Iíve always been an idiot. Maybe I should have gotten married to Helene. Now the armyís the only place for me. Ė Whatís the latest on my petition?"

"Thatís what Iíve come to see you about," said the Lieutenant Colonel.


"Well, my dear chap! That old business, your histoire as you call it! I just had a word with Sackenfeld about it. Youíre going to have to wait: that dolt from Tehran has come at the wrong time. The police are digging out the old files on you, and youíre in the news again. All I can advise is: be patient!"

"So I wonít be able to rejoin?"

"No," said Kalergi. Your wretched story is back. Best keep a low profile."

Taittinger merely said, "I see" and "Thank you!" Then he was silent for a time. The evening was getting on: the lights in the lobby were being lit. "Iíve had it, havenít I," said Taittinger. He was silent again, and then, shrilly, in a voice that seemed not to have come out of him at all.

"So my appeal hasnít got a chance?"

"Not for the moment!" replied Kalergi. "Letís sit tight till the Persian business has gone away again." Ė And, to lead his friend back into ordinary life, Kalergi added: "Why donít we go and have a bit to eat at the Anchor?" Ė And he looked at his watch.

"Fine, Iíll just go and clean up!" said Taittinger. "Wonít be a moment. Iím just going upstairs." He got up.

Five minutes later, Kalergi heard a shot. Its echo rolled around on the staircases and down the corridors.

The Baron was found beside his desk, dead. Evidently, he had been trying to write something, The revolver was still in his right hand. His skull was shattered. His eyes bulged out. Lieutenant Colonel Kalergi had difficulty closing them.

Taittinger was buried with customary military honors. A platoon fired a salvo over the grave. Among the mourners were the manager of the Prinz Eugen Hotel, Mizzi Schinagl, Magdalene Kreutzer and Ignaz Trummer, Lieutenant Colonel Kalergi, and Ministerial Councilor Sackenfeld.

Afterward, the Ministerial Councilor asked: "Why do you think he killed himself?" You were there, so to speak!"

"God knows!" replied Kalergi, "I think he lost his way in life. It happens. A man can lose his way!"

That was the only obituary for the ex-Captain of the Horse, Baron Alois Franz von Taittinger.


Adrienne Nater, 2008

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