Final line of C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed

“In the last chapter of A Grief Observed, Lewis admits that grief is, ‘like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.’ If you’ve grieved over someone’s death, you know the image Lewis is casting. Happiness almost feels a little haunted, but time evaporates the wetness from some of the tears, albeit gradual, ‘like the warming of a room or the coming of daylight,’ says Lewis.

[. . .]

The end is akin to the beginning of A Grief Observed, if only in the questions it doesn’t answer and the doubts that are still raised as a result of the horrible occurrences of this world. In the end, Lewis knows that God is more mystery than reason, and his reliance on Him, and the hope in the resurrection of the dead, is wrapped in a faith in a God who can be found.

‘Poi si torno all’ eternal fontana,’ ends the book. It is from Dante. Beatrice turns to the eternal fountain and keeps walking. Lewis doesn’t dismiss his grief, but he is more at peace with God at the end of his notes, and, like Joy’s last words to the chaplain, Lewis is at peace with God.”    –Zach Kincaid, cslewis.com, February 29, 2012

Contributed by Daniel Christian

Ariel Dorfman on Literature and the Pandemic (WaPo, June 2020)

“We would do well to learn from writers who were banished from their birth lands or who abandoned them to search abroad for opportunities and perspectives unavailable back home. Just to name a select few, take the achievements of Dante, Voltaire, Vladimir Nabokov, Joseph Conrad, Marguerite Yourcenar, Ernest Hemingway, Mahmoud Darwish, Doris Lessing, Thomas Mann, Gertrude Stein and Marina Tsvetaeva; or contemporaries Wole Soyinka, Salman Rushdie, Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Assia Djebar and Gao Xingjian, to which I must add an array from my native Latin America, a continent that has known itself through the looking-glass that wandering artists such as Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda, Julio Cortázar, Elena Poniatowska, Gabriel García Márquez and Mario Vargas Llosa have held up to its readers.

“What joins all these dissimilar figures, from unrelated nations and epochs, is how they transformed the curse of distance into a blessing, the need to see the world afresh. It is a lesson to be celebrated by those who wish to express what the pandemic has wrought as they sift through a landscape turned ferociously upside-down and inside-out. [. . .] Men and women from across the globe who at this very moment are thinking of how to wield the written word as an answer to the frightening uncertainty of events inflicted upon them and their fellow humans, might therefore be encouraged and reassured by the knowledge that the paths ahead of them have already been walked by their exiled brothers and sisters from the past.”   –Ariel Dorfman, “Writers of the past turned suffering into literary masterpieces. They might help us understand how to meet the challenges of our day,” Washington Post (June 3, 2020)

Jayson Greene, Once More We Saw Stars (2019)

Once-More-We-Saw-Stars-2019Once More We Saw Stars (Knopf, 2019) is a memoir by Jayson Greene, about the tragic loss of his 2-year-old daughter Greta and his path through grief to healing.

A review in the Washington Post notes, “The book’s title, from Dante’s Inferno, tips us off that Greta’s bereft parents will, in the poet’s words, ‘get back up to the shining world.’ But Once More We Saw Stars, an outgrowth of a journal Greene began shortly after the accident, is a chronological account, which means there’s unthinkable pain before the arduous ‘path toward healing.’

“Like Virgil, Greene makes for a good guide on this journey to hell and back. He’s a Brooklyn-based journalist and editor who met his wife, Stacy, a cellist by training, at the classical-music nonprofit where they both worked. After Greta’s birth, Stacy switched tracks to become a lactation consultant and nutritionist. Their story is not just of loss, but of their remarkable love, which helps them through this tragedy.” [. . .] — Review by Heller McAlpin in the Washington Post (May 8, 2019)

A Masterpiece of Sorrow: Edward Hirsch’s Elegy for His Son

Poet Edward Hirsch has written an elegaic poem in honor of his late son Gabriel, to be published in September of 2014.

According to The New Yorker‘s article, “Finding the Words” by Alec Wilkinson, Edward HirschHirsch “began it as a means of writing down everything he could remember of Gabriel, who died, at twenty-two, on August 27, 2011.”

The poet and his work bear similarities to Dante and his poetry: “Hirsch sometimes describes himself as a personal poet, by which he means that nearly everyone important to him has appeared in one of his poems.”

Hirsch’s latest work in memory of his son seems particularly Dantesque.

“After eight months, Hirsch had finished a narrative poem that is seventy-five pages long. It is called ‘Gabriel,’ and it will be published in September as a book by Knopf. The poet Eavan Boland described ‘Gabriel’ to me as ‘a masterpiece of sorrow.’ Hirsch’s writing characteristically involves ‘material that is psychically dangerous,’ the poet and critic Richard Howard told me. ‘His detractors would say that he feels he is someone who must reveal the truth, as opposed to being ironic, and he’s contending here with these forces.’ Hirsch felt that for the poem to succeed it could not include any traces of sentimentality, otherwise he would be an unreliable witness. [. . .]

“Writing ‘Gabriel’ required Hirsch, for the first time, to sort through a huge body of material for which he had to find a shape and a form. He found an organizing principle in the model of three-line stanzas. He liked that each stanza had a beginning, a middle, and an end. Usually, the three-line stanza is ‘a dialect of the underworld,’ Eavan Boland pointed out to me. ‘A signal that the poem is about grief.’ This is mainly because it invokes terza rima, the three-line rhyming scheme of The Divine Comedy. Dante’s lines rhyme aba, bcb, cdc, and so on, but Hirsch’s lines are unrhymed. Hirsch’s stanzas are also unpunctuated, which allows them to move adroitly and to bear what the poet C. K. Williams described to me as ‘both trivial things and grandly non-trivial things’—Gabriel’s antics, his humor and presence, but also the weight of Hirsch’s own desolate feelings. Charles Simic told me that the stanzas’ pace and fluidity reminded him of ‘the way memories pour out of us.'” [. . .]    —The New Yorker