The poetry of grief

Grief, like the love that underlies it, is so often the inspiration for poems.

Poetry is art in words. Just a few words can say so very much.

Poetry may come from our own soul, or we might find someone else’s poem expresses our thoughts and feelings better than we can.

I wrote a lot after Catherine died, but now it is rare for me that the words of a poem take shape in my mind. But along the way, I have read a lot that have spoken to my heart. Sometimes it doesn’t matter who is the author – it is an expression of the soul – whether we are the ones who put the words on the page or not.

This leads me to a poem by William Wordsworth that is a favourite of mine.

When you are a bereaved parent, as I am, how do you answer the casual questions “do you have children” or “how many children?” Those relationships we have had may be interrupted by the breach between life and death, but those relationships of love continue. Yes, I have two children. They are no longer in this life but they live on in me, in my memories, in my stories, in my poetry, and as a Christian I also believe they live on in the next life, although that is far beyond my feeble understanding.

It is similar for those widows and widowers I meet in my work. Some of them continue to wear their wedding rings with pride. Their wife or husband shared their life for many years. They may be absent now, but they are still a part of who they are.

The child in this poem “gets” it. Her family of brothers and sisters is still in a sense complete, even if some are passed beyond the veil.

See what you think.

WE ARE SEVEN

A simple Child,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?

I met a little cottage Girl:
She was eight years old, she said;
Her hair was thick with many a curl
That clustered round her head.

She had a rustic, woodland air,
And she was wildly clad:
Her eyes were fair, and very fair;
—Her beauty made me glad.

“Sisters and brothers, little Maid,
How many may you be?”
“How many? Seven in all,” she said,
And wondering looked at me.

“And where are they? I pray you tell.”
She answered, “Seven are we;
And two of us at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea.

“Two of us in the church-yard lie,
My sister and my brother;
And, in the church-yard cottage, I
Dwell near them with my mother.”

“You say that two at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea,
Yet ye are seven! I pray you tell,
Sweet Maid, how this may be.”

Then did the little Maid reply,
“Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the church-yard lie,
Beneath the church-yard tree.”

“You run about, my little Maid,
Your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the church-yard laid,
Then ye are only five.”

“Their graves are green, they may be seen,”
The little Maid replied,
“Twelve steps or more from my mother’s door,
And they are side by side.

“My stockings there I often knit,
My kerchief there I hem;
And there upon the ground I sit,
And sing a song to them.

“And often after sun-set, Sir,
When it is light and fair,
I take my little porringer,
And eat my supper there.

“The first that died was sister Jane;
In bed she moaning lay,
Till God released her of her pain;
And then she went away.

“So in the church-yard she was laid;
And, when the grass was dry,
Together round her grave we played,
My brother John and I.

“And when the ground was white with snow,
And I could run and slide,
My brother John was forced to go,
And he lies by her side.”

“How many are you, then,” said I,
“If they two are in heaven?”
Quick was the little Maid’s reply,
“O Master! we are seven.”

“But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!”
’Twas throwing words away; for still
The little Maid would have her will,
And said, “Nay, we are seven!”


Poems welcome!

If you have a poem to share or recommend, you are welcome to post it here, or send it to me.  Let what has touched your heart encourage another’s.

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The grave in the Lake District that is thought to be the inspiration for William Wordsworth’s poem.

(Photo by Frank Green, thank you)

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