Tomorrow, Sunday the 11th of September, will mark the ten year anniversary of a horrific event in The United States of America. I know that dVerse Poets is an international community, but I also know that many of us will be thinking about this event, indeed will find it hard to think very deeply about anything else. I remember the exact moment I heard about it, and the first thoughts and feelings that flooded my being. I felt personally wounded, the earth itself seemed unstable beneath my feet and in a single instant fear and love wound in a spiral up and down my soul. I was very afraid of the possible repercussions (some of them came true, some of them didn’t), and I was keenly aware of the need for love and comfort. I needed it, and I knew that others would need it from me.

America hardly holds a monopoly on tragedies. They happen, in many different forms, the world over. Today’s prompt is not an American one, but a human one. It’s not about crime and victims or geopolitics. It’s about the universal experience of being mortally wounded, of suffering a terrible loss; it’s about losing someone you love, forever, on this earth. How does one go on? How does one memorialize the loss? How does faith work under these circumstances? How does love survive when it is hit by waves of fear?

As poets, we have shining examples of how to handle such things, and one beacon is the poem In Memoriam by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. When Tennyson was twenty-four years old, his good friend and fellow poet, Arthur Henry Hallam, who was set to marry Tennyson’s sister, died suddenly. He was only twenty-two. The loss shook Tennyson to the core and soon he began wrestling with his doubts and feelings in a series of verses which, many years later, he assembled into the long poem known as In Memoriam. In an essay on the poem, Robert H. Ross wrote:

Perhaps only Tennyson could have succeeded in laying before the public a long poem exploring every nuance of his personal, private sorrow while in the selfsame poem conducting an extended debate with himself over the propriety of his doing so.

Indeed, for me, it is that tussle of doubt—with God and with poetic form—that is so moving about the poem. Here is an excerpt:

I sometimes hold it half a sin
To put in words the grief I feel;
For words, like Nature, half reveal
And half conceal the Soul within.

But, for the unquiet heart and brain,
A use in measured language lies;
The sad mechanic exercise,
Like dull narcotics, numbing pain.

In words, like weeds, I’ll wrap me o’er,
Like coarsest clothes against the cold:
But that large grief which these enfold
Is given in outline and no more.

Read the entire poem here

We are diverse and each of us holds a pain that only we can give words to, whether those words are measured in a regular beat or follow a free form. Let us share these songs of mourning and survival.
Mark Kerstetter

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