The Wake

This has not been a good summer for anyone, it seems like. Today we lost a family friend (my brother’s godfather), who had been struggling with illness for a long time. It’s unsettling when there just seems to be nothing but death and misfortune in your life and the lives of others that you know, but I suppose we must reach the bottom of things before they can improve, sometimes. Anyway, DVerse asked for a sonnet, so this was on my mind today. I think that really, no one is good at funerals, but some people are just better at faking it than me. A happier one tomorrow, I hope…

The Wake

I don’t know what to say at funerals;
I have no words of remedy, no cures.
(The ancients wrote them somewhere, to be sure,
in sea-drowned tomes or black incunables.)
I know the minute’s worth in numerals,
how necessary that each hour endures.
I know the things to say to sound mature;
but nothing easy, nothing beautiful.
So silence is the haven where I go:
dealt out with hands, drawn in with memory.
I know my observations: husbands, wives,
this dim grey peace, this timeless undertow.
I know enough to know this treasury,
these things that fill our dreamless afterlives.

15 thoughts on “The Wake

  1. I’m in much the same place as you this week. It’s very discouraging, to say the least.

  2. Ina says:

    Good poem. I hope thngs will get better for you.

  3. beckykilsby says:

    A quiet pulse.. finely tuned and clearly felt… nicely done.

  4. It has a wonderful texture where the sounds and image match the mood and the form is the frame and not the window

  5. vivinfrance says:

    The only way is wordless hugs. Your sonnet is beautiful, May I keep it to read again?

    PS I was thinking that incunables. is a brilliant way of shaving a beat from incunabula while keeping the meaning! Then I looked it up and found it was a standard plural!

  6. PoetJanstie says:

    That’s a very special poem. Poems always find a place at funerals; this one would not perhaps be read at the event, rather after it, in a reflective mood. But whenever, it is a well crafted piece of poetic literature. My congratulations.

  7. Marian Veverka says:

    Yes, not wild grief, but resignation. A gray acceptance that tells it like it is.

  8. brian miller says:

    nice…you make the sonnet seem effortless…really its beautiful and carries the mood well…life is def hard and some times all the harder….i am sorry for your loss….

  9. barbara_ says:

    You have been having quite a year. I’m sure you know that even the good things–moving, new job, new love– are stressors right along with deadlines and loss. Small wonder you’ve been sick. (occurs to me that it might be interesting to come up with a way to plot those, and then use the meter)

  10. margo roby says:

    I agree with Barbara. These things do hit the young more strongly, too. Take care of yourself.

    I had forgotten how much I love the rhythm of a sonnet. Yours sings a grace on what happened.

  11. On a personal level, you have my heartfelt condolences. The grief has made you introspective and you have so eloquently deconstructed grief to artfully construct this perfect sonnet.

    The Italian form seems so well suited to your subject, and this is heightened majestically by your word choice. The volta is inspired in line 9 yet so subtly introduced: “So silence is the haven where I go;/ dealt out with hands, drawn in with memory.” This is layered with meaning and feeling and moves the poem to a universal understanding of how death of another feels culminating in the powerful last line: “these things that fill our dreamless afterlives.” The loss is palpable. This is superb writing. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  12. Annette: I didn’t see your comment until I had left a similar one on yours. Stay strong. *hug*
    Karin: thank you!
    Ina: they will. Part of what helps is knowing they will.
    Becky: glad it spoke to you…
    John: I kept forgetting it was a sonnet and getting all out of rhythm. It would have been rather different if I’d let it go, I think.
    Viv: please do! And I actually only knew the Latin until recently, when I found out that “incunable” was an appropriate term as well. One of my favorite words.
    PJ: I think it’s the one that I’d recite to myself in my head, over and over, like a rosary.
    Marian: it must be different for different people; but I think this is how I see things, more often than not, and luckily grey is one of my favorite colors.
    Brian: I’ve had a lot of practice with the form. In my old poetry group, we used to do six-minute sonnets. (Not that they were very good, but I can roll them out like a champ.)
    Barbara: it’s the little moments of relaxation that I live for. Few and far between, though.
    Margo: thanks! And yes, I do try. As much as I complain when I don’t have things to fill my time, I’m secretly grateful for those scraps of peace.
    Gay: I do prefer the Petrarchan (slightly modified; I usually go abba cddc efgefg) to the Shakespearean, because that last couplet seems so jarring. And also, I agree with something Viv said on her blog: I don’t see the form as restrictive, but as a way to truly draw out the crucial bits of beauty from the subject.

  13. Beautifully written.

    Anna :o]

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