Can storied urn or animated bust Back to its mansion call the fleeting breath? No farther seek his merits to disclose, Or draw his frailties from their dread abode, There they alike in trembling hope repose The bosom of his Father and his God. But like the best of Dickinson, the language here is telling and the images uncannily powerful.
For those reasons it is high on my list.
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In this sonnet the poet imagines his own death and its effect on a loved one left behind. No longer mourn for me when I am dead Then you shall hear the surly sullen bell Give warning to the world that I am fled From this vile world, with vilest worms to dwell: Nay, if you read this line, remember not The hand that writ it; for I love you so That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot If thinking on me then should make you woe. O, if, I say, you look upon this verse When I perhaps compounded am with clay, Do not so much as my poor name rehearse.
But let your love even with my life decay, Lest the wise world should look into your moan And mock you with me after I am gone.
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I boldly put this above Shakespeare because it is a special favorite of mine. And the proposition that dying young is better than growing old brings a modern voice to an idea as old as the Iliad. The time you won your town the race We chaired you through the market-place; Man and boy stood cheering by, And home we brought you shoulder-high. Today, the road all runners come, Shoulder-high we bring you home, And set you at your threshold down, Townsman of a stiller town.
Smart lad, to slip betimes away From fields where glory does not stay, And early though the laurel grows It withers quicker than the rose. Eyes the shady night has shut Cannot see the record cut, And silence sounds no worse than cheers After earth has stopped the ears. Now you will not swell the rout Of lads that wore their honours out, Runners whom renown outran And the name died before the man. So set, before its echoes fade, The fleet foot on the sill of shade, And hold to the low lintel up The still-defended challenge-cup.
One short sleep past, we wake eternally And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die. So there it is, my Dismal Ten. It is quite possible, Dear Reader, that I have left out one of your favorites, and more likely still that my ordering has not been to your liking. Make up your own list and post it in the comment section below. Conrad Geller is an old, mostly formalist poet, a Bostonian now living in Northern Virginia.
His work has appeared widely in print and electronically. Thank you, Conrad, for the great list. You selected well and especially appreciated the inclusion of Emily Dickinson! I would like to share receiving a postcard today from the local funeral home to hear choices on burial while enjoying free hot pizza.
I applaud your choices; I think your selections are very astute. True, I may have ordered them somewhat differently, bu rather than post my own list here, I will just laud you on the fact that you have brought many of the darkest works of the masters into the light for fresh eyes to appraise.
I myself, while fairly well versed in many classics, had never read the works of Gerard Manley Hopkins, nor A.
Housman — and so now have what I anticipate to be many hours of pleasure getting to know them through their legacies. Thank you. Death is a journey That goes across waters Sailing in transparent vehicle Taking fire from pyre in wrath To lighten the darkness of the path.
Always paths of the departure In the night sleep, in body the end Undefined dreams, dreams of adventure A tale in the mystery, all laws in the censure. As for other additions or deletions, as I said, everyone is free to write his or her own list.
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Such a perfect time of year for this list! It has long been one of my favorites. The goddess of memory is the mother of the Muses. It follows then that death, and what happens to those we wish to remember, would be a topic of poetry. Thank you for this list. Yet did I love thee to the last As fervently as thou, Who didst not change through all the past, And canst not alter now. The love where Death has set his seal, Nor age can chill, nor rival steal, Nor falsehood disavow: And, what were worse, thou canst not see Or wrong, or change, or fault in me.
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The better days of life were ours; The worst can be but mine: The sun that cheers, the storm that lowers, Shall never more be thine. Yet how much less it were to gain, Though thou hast left me free, The loveliest things that still remain, Than thus remember thee!
The all of thine that cannot die Through dark and dread Eternity Returns again to me, And more thy buried love endears Than aught except its living years. Once we have been inmates of a Gothic abbey, life in a Swiss chateau, however idyllic, is apt to seem monotonous. In time Mrs. Radcliffe administers justice. Although the Romance of the Forest is considerably shorter than the later novels, the plot, which is full of ingenious complications, is unfolded in the most leisurely fashion.
Radcliffe's tantalising delays quicken our curiosity as effectively as the deliberate calm of a raconteur, who, with a view to heightening his artistic effect, pauses to light a pipe at the very climax of his story. Suspense is the key-note of the romance. The characters are still subordinate to incident, but La Motte and his wife claim our interest because they are exhibited in varying moods. La Motte has his struggles and, like Macbeth, is haunted by compunctious visi tings of nature.
Unlike the thorough-paced villain, who glories in his misdeeds, he is worried and harassed, and takes no pleasure in his crimes. Madame La Motte is not a jealous woman from beginning to end like the marchioness in the Sicilian Romance. Her character is moulded to some extent by environment. She changes distinctly in her attitude to Adeline after she has reason to suspect her husband.
Radcliffe's psychology is neither subtle nor profound, but the fact that psychology is there in the most rudimentary form is a sign of her progress in the art of fiction. Theodore is as insipid as the rest of Mrs. Radcliffe's heroes, who are distinguishable from one another only by their names, and Adeline is perhaps a shade more emotional and passionless than Emily and Ellena in The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian. The lachrymose maiden in The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne, who can assume at need " an air of offended dignity," is a preliminary sketch of Julia, Emily and Ellena in the later novels.
Radcliffe's heroines resemble nothing more than a com- posite photograph in which all distinctive traits are merged into an expressionless " type. Their lady-like accomplishments vary slightly.
In reflective mood one may lightly throw off a sonnet to the sunset or to the nocturnal gale, while another may seek refuge in her water-colours or her lute. They are all dignified and resolute in the most distressing situations, yet they weep and faint with wearisome frequency. Their health and spirits are as precarious as their easily extinguished candles. Yet these exquisitely sensitive, well-bred heroines alienate our sympathy by their impregnable self-esteem, a disconcerting trait which would certainly have exasperated heroes less perfect and more human than Mrs.
Radcliffe's Theodores and Valancourts. In describing Adeline, Mrs. Radcliffe attempts an unusually acute analysis : " For many hours she busied herself upon a piece of work which she had undertaken for Madame La Motte, but this she did without the least intention of conciliating her favour, but because she felt there was something in thus repaying unkindness, which was suited to her own temper, her sentiments and her pride.
Self-love may be the centre around which human affections move, for whatever motive conduces to self-gratification may be resolved into self-love, yet, some of these affections are in their nature so refined that, though we cannot deny their origin, they almost deserve the name of virtue : of this species was that of Adeline. Emily, in The Mysteries of Udolpho, possesses the same protective armour as Adeline. When she is abused by Montoni, " Her heart swelled with the consciousness of having deserved praise instead of censure, and was proudly silent " ; or again, in The Italian, " Ellena was the more satisfied with herself because she had never for an instant forgotten her dignity so far as to degenerate into the vehemence of passion or to falter with the weakness of fear.
Aubert, on his deathbed, bids Emily beware of " priding herself on the gracefulness of sensibility. The change of title is sig- nificant. The two previous works have been romances, but it is now Mrs. Radcliffe's intention to let herself go further in the direction of wonder and suspense than she had hitherto ventured. She is like Scythrop in Night- mare Abbey, of whom it was said : "He had a strong tendency to love of mystery for its own sake ; that is to say, he would employ mystery to serve a purpose, but would first choose his purpose by its capability of mystery.
Radcliffe, at the opening of her story, is sparing in her use of supernatural elements. We live by faith, and are drawn forward by the hope of future mystifications. The second volume plunges us in medias res.