Sunday, 23 January 2011

Christian poem of mourning

The works of Mary Sidney, poetess, are rarely perused today. Although she was writing just before 1600, oddly, her works are rarely reproduced with modern English spelling - as I have just redered this poem below : here.

"The Doleful Lay of Clorinda" is about her deep mourning over the untimely death of her beloved brother in war, Philip, a reformed love poet, diplomat and soldier (Sir Philip Sidney). It is a poem about loss and comfort, with a clear concept of Eternity. It is pious, a Christian poem about fallen war dead and considers real questions: to whom do you turn in deep grief? who is there to really trust, since death, and its toils, is ordained by a good God? It is about balancing loss and pain in the temporal sphere with remembrance that life with God is without agony, death or the heart breaking loss of loneliness expressed in the poem.

Mary Sidney's Heaven is not without a longing for its offerings but owes as much or more to folklore like Piers Ploughman's dreams, than to Scriptural texts. There are echoes of this poem in Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night". In it, a sister languishes almost unnaturally over the supposed 'death' of her brother. "Cypress", as in Mary Sidney's poem, is the sign of death. To explain the symbolism: cypress is the normal tree used in Western Christian funeral grounds. Here is Shakespeare's poem which is a lyric of unrequited love, set to music:

Come away, come away, death,
And in sad cypress let me be laid;
Fly away, fly away, breath;
I am slain by a fair cruel maid.
My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
O prepare it!
My part of death, no one so true
Did share it.

Not a flower, not a flower sweet,
On my black coffin let there be strown;
Not a friend, not a friend greet
My poor corpse, when my bones shall be thrown:
A thousand sighs to save,
Lay me, O where
Sad true lover never find my grave,
To weep there!

William Shakespeare "Twelfth Night"

No comments:

Post a Comment