A collection of poetic responses to loss—both consolation and inspiration to any reader. Death has always served as one of the most powerful catalysts for poetry. Whether with Dylan Thomas, counseling readers to "Rage, rage against the dying of the light," or with Walt Whitman, taking comfort in the serene arrival "sooner or later" of "delicate death," poets throughout history have faced the mortal losses that all of us inevitably encounter.Inventions of Farewell collects English language poems of mourning from the late Middle Ages to the present. Aesthetic assumptions and poetic styles have altered over the centuries, yet the great and often terrifying themes of time, change, age, and death are timeless. The poems here—from Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, and Edna St. Vincent Millay to Sharon Olds, Stanley Kunitz, and W. S. Merwin—trace the trajectory of grief, but they also illustrate how the deepest sorrow has produced countless poignant and resonant works of art—words that can aid us as we struggle with our own farewells.
Co-author of The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the 19th-Century Literary Imagination and author of the recent Kissing the Bread: New and Selected Poems 1969-1999, Sandra M. Gilbert has here assembled Inventions of Farewell: A Collection of Elegies. She divides the poems among sections entitled "Watching: Visions of the Dying and the Dead," "`In the Chill of the Body': Viewing the Dead," "`How To Perform Funeral': Ceremonies of Separation" and "Grieving: Lamentation for the Dead," among others, and includes a section of "`Laments for the Makers': Poets Mourning Other Poets": Johnson on Shakespeare, Bishop on Lowell, Sexton on Plath, Hayden on Dunbar, Crane on Melville, and others. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
The ways of grief are varied and scary, asserts editor Gilbert (English/Univ. of California), particularly in today's climate of "mounting theological and social confusion." To prove her point, she offers a healthy selection of elegies from the English language. The poems here range from classic 16th-century sentiments (John Donne's "Death, be not proud") to little-known contemporary American renderings of loss (Ruth Stone's bittersweet "Curtains"), from A.E. Housman's distanced, public lament for a fallen hero ("To an Athlete Dying Young") to Donald Hall's beautiful and wrenchingly intimate tribute to Jane Kenyon ("Last Days"). Read in proximity, they offer a fascinating overview of styles of mourning changing with the passage of time. The sheer volume of what one might call the "Demerol dirges" of 20th-century poets (in which they honor their beloveds' entreaties to die at home) speaks volumes to the progress and fallout of the past century's biotechnological advances. Gilbert attempts to enhance the reader's formation of a socio-historical view of dealings with death by arranging the elegies chronologically within thematic groups, but this breakdown often proves more circuitous than revealing. A telling collection of poets at their best in the face of life's worst moments.
Sandra M. Gilbert has published numerous volumes of criticismas well as collections of poetry and a memoir. She is coeditor (with Susan Gubar) of The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women and a recipient of the National Book Critics Circle’s Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award. A Distinguished Professor of English emerita at the University of California, Davis, she lives in Berkeley, California.
Arguably America’s greatest poet, Emily Dickinson (1830–1886) published fewer than a dozen of her eighteen hundred poems during her lifetime.
Wallace Stevens was an American poet and lawyer.
Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1892-1950, was an American lyrical poet and playwright. She is the author of Renascence and Other Poems. She is known by the pseudonym Nancy Boyd.
Stanley Kunitz, much-honored poet, was cofounder of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and of Poets House in New York City. He died in 2006.