Do not stand at my grave and weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep is a poem written in 1932 by Mary Elizabeth Frye. Although the origin of the poem was disputed until later in her life, Mary Frye's authorship was confirmed in 1998 after research by Abigail Van Buren, a newspaper columnist.[1]

Contents

Full text

The "definitive version," as published by The Times and The Sunday Times in Frye's obituary, 5 November 2004:[2]

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.

Origins

Mary Frye, who was living in Baltimore at the time, wrote the poem in 1932. She had never written any poetry, but the plight of a young German Jewish woman, Margaret Schwarzkopf, who was staying with her and her husband, inspired the poem. She wrote it down on a brown paper shopping bag. Margaret Schwarzkopf had been concerned about her mother, who was ill in Germany, but she had been warned not to return home because of increasing anti-Semitic unrest. When her mother died, the heartbroken young woman told Frye that she never had the chance to “stand by my mother’s grave and shed a tear”. Frye found herself composing a piece of verse on a brown paper shopping bag. Later she said that the words “just came to her” and expressed what she felt about life and death.[1] Mary Frye circulated the poem privately. Because she never published or copyrighted it, there is no definitive version. She wrote other poems, but this, her first, endured. Her obituary in The Times made it clear that she was the author of the famous poem, which has been recited at funerals and on other appropriate occasions around the world for seventy years.[3]

The poem was introduced to many in Britain when it was read by the father of a soldier killed by a bomb in Northern Ireland. The soldier's father read the poem on BBC radio in 1995 in remembrance of his son, having been left it in an envelope addressed 'To all my loved ones' in his personal effects. The authorship of the poem was established a few years later after an investigation by journalist Abigail Van Buren. There is a short illustrated book of the poem sometimes to be found in small-town bookshops with ink drawings for each line that includes this story in the inside dustjacket, written before the authorship was confirmed and therefore stating that the authorship is unknown.

Analysis

The poem is made up of six (or, sometimes eight) rhyming couplets. Various versions exist but, with the bulk of the work being made up of a selection of images preceded by "I am...", the sense is largely the same. The poem addresses the reader/audience with the voice of a deceased person, invoking spiritual — but not specifically religious — imagery. According to the most widely promoted theory it was originally addressed to a German Jewish girl, a friend of the author. The girl's mother had died back in her homeland, but returning to pay her respects was not possible and Frye wrote the poem as part of her condolences. The source of this theory is unknown. The text soothes the addressee, reassuring of the deceased's presence everywhere in nature in both its message and its voice, and as such has become a very popular poem and a common reading for funerals.

BBC poll

To coincide with National Poetry Day 1995, the British favourite book programme, The Bookworm, conducted a poll to discover the nation's favourite poems.[4] In some respects this poem became the nation's favourite. This was all the more remarkable, since the name and nationality of the American poet did not become known until several years later. In 2004 The Times wrote: "The verse demonstrated a remarkable power to soothe loss. It became popular, crossing national boundaries for use on bereavement cards and at funerals regardless of race, religion or social status".[1]

Derivative works

Rhodesia SAS C Squadron

On 2-11-1997, Col. C E Welch CBE MC OC 'C' Squadron SAS, N. Rhodesia 1960-63, read a version of the poem at the memorial service for fallen SAS soldiers.[5]

"Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep", Wilbur Skeels

In 1996 Wilbur Skeels recast Frye's poem as a song, which began with the same two opening sentences and ended with the same sequence, but with an altered middle section. Mary Frye's original lyrics are public domain but those by Wilbur Skeels are protected by copyright.

"Prayer", Lizzie West

Songwriter Lizzie West recorded a modified version of the poem in her 2003 album Holy Road: Freedom Songs. [6]

"Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep", Libera

Robert Prizeman, musical director of the choirband, Libera, set this poem to music. The song used the same title as the poem and was first published in 2004 in Libera's album Free.[7]

A Thousand Winds, Man Arai

Japanese Singer-songwriter Man Arai translated this poem into Japanese and composed the song "千の風になって" (translation: "Become A Thousand Winds"), originally sung by Man Arai himself. Although the album received little success, singers began to cover the song, among them, Japanese tenor Masafumi Akikawa The tenor made the song popular after performing it during the 57th NHK Kōhaku Uta Gassen on December 31, 2006. In January 2007, it became the first classical music piece to top the Oricon weekly singles chart and became the first classical music piece to top the Oricon yearly singles chart of 2007. Another version is of Hayley Westenra in her album Hayley sings Japanese Songs in the year 2008 (with the title Sen No Kaze Ni Natte.)

Sir William, Destroid

German electronic act Destroid included the first and last rhyming couplets in their song "Sir William" on the album "Future Prophecies".

"Alicia's Poem"

A paraphrased version titled "Alicia's Poem" is available as a quest item in the MMORPG World of Warcraft, memorializing a 28-year-old player named Dak "Caylee" Krause who died of leukemia on August 22, 2007.[8]

"You Will Make It"

This Poem appears at the end of the Song "You Will Make It" by the song artist Jem. This song is a duet with South African singer/songwriter and poet-activist Vusi Mahlasela. According to the album's publicity materials, this moving collaboration recalls 9/11, and deals with the suffering of loss.

Desperate Housewives

Another paraphrased version was read by Karen McCluskey (Kathryn Joosten) for Ida Greenberg (Pat Crawford Brown) in Season 4 Episode 10 of the TV Series where Ida died following a tornado that hit Wisteria Lane and she was told for her ashes to be spread on the baseball field.

Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles

Another paraphrased version is read at the graveside memorial in "Desert Cantos", Season 2, Episode 15 of the TV Series.

Tom Medlin

The band Crumble Lane turned the poem into a song on their first album "Operation Overlord" (2002). The song is called "Tom Medlin"."Tom Medlin by Crumble Lane". http://matthieumaurel.bandcamp.com/track/tom-medlin. 

"Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep" by Harry Manx & Kevin Breit

A song of this title, with lyrics adapted from the poem, appears on the album "Strictly Whatever" by the duo Harry Manx & Kevin Breit. The album was released in May 2011.

Eternal Light - A Requiem by Howard Goodall & Stephen Darlington

This recording with song and music was made in 2008 with the Christ Church Cathedral Choir (Oxford). "Do not stand" is in the very last part of the 45 minute recording.

Non-English versions

This poem has been translated into several languages, such as Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Swedish and Tagalog. Several Swedish versions exist. One version starts as follows: Gråt ej vid min grav....(Translating back into English)...Do not weep at my grave - I am not there / I am in the sun's reflection in the sea / I am in the wind's play above the grain fields / I am in the autumn's gentle rain / I am in the Milky Way's string of stars / And when on an early morning you are awaked by bird's song / it is my voice that you are hearing / So do not weep at my grave - we shall meet again. (Instead of these last four words there is also this version: I am not dead. I only left).

Every so often this and several other similar versions (all unsigned) appear in death and funeral announcements in Swedish morning papers (such as Svenska Dagbladet August 14, 2010). Particularly when someone young has died unexpectedly, this poem seems to bring some degree of comfort to the bereaved family paying for the ad. Sometimes the full original English version is used instead (and then duly signed Mary Frye).

On August 29, 2010 Dagens Nyheter carried the following short English version: I am thousand winds that blow / I am the diamond glints on snow / I am the sunlight, I am the rain / Do not stand on my grave and cry / I am not there / I did not die.

References

  1. ^ a b c "Mary E. Frye". The Times (London, England). 5 November 2004. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/obituaries/article1076614.ece. Retrieved May 8, 2011. 
  2. ^ "Mary E. Frye" obituary, The Times and The Sunday Times, 5 November 2004, accessed 28 August 2011.
  3. ^ London Magazine. December/January 2005. 
  4. ^ The Nation's Favourite Poems. BBC Books. 1996. ISBN 978-0-563-38782-4. 
  5. ^ "Roll of Honour Post 1980". Rhodesian Special Air Service, C Squadron. http://www.therhodesiansas.com/rohpost1980.php. Retrieved May 8, 2011. 
  6. ^ "Spirituals". Lizzie and Baba. Section "Prayer: Lizzie West". http://www.lizzieandbaba.com/spirituals.php. Retrieved May 8, 2011. 
  7. ^ "Free by Ben Crawley". Boy Choir and Soloist Directory. http://www.boysoloist.com/album.asp?AlbumID=100. Retrieved May 8, 2011. 
  8. ^ "Alicia's Poem". Wowpedia. http://www.wowpedia.org/Alicia%27s_Poem. Retrieved May 8, 2011. 

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