Shakespeare's sonnet 71
No longer mourn for me when I am dead
Then you shall hear the surly sullen bell
Give warning to the world that I am fled
From this vile world, with vilest worms to dwell:
Nay, if you read this line, remember not
The hand that writ it; for I love you so
That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot
If thinking on me then should make you woe.
O, if, I say, you look upon this verse
When I perhaps compounded am with clay,
Do not so much as my poor name rehearse.
But let your love even with my life decay,
Lest the wise world should look into your moan
And mock you with me after I am gone.
cf. this from Keats:
This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calm'd—see here it is—
I hold it towards you.
To which I am tempted to add this from Gillian Rose (if you need a gmail invite, please don't hesitate to ask):
By insisting on the right and rites of mourning, Antigone and the wife of Phocion carry out that intense work of the soul, that gradual rearangement of its boundaries, which must occur when a loved one is lost - so as to let go, to allow the other fully to depart, and hence fully to be regained beyond sorrow. To acknowledge and to re-experience the justice and the injustice of the partner's life and death is to accept the law, it is not to transgress it––mourning becomes the law.
The first, a sort of wry letter to a friend. The maxim that Shakespeare was a cynic and not a romantic, though useful as a starting place, does not quite do the poem justice. ("Kynic" may not be quite the right word either, but perhaps this letter may still be read as anything but sardonic, merely. It is most certainly something more or less than nihilistic.)
Note the delightfully transfigured, or at least playfully ambiguous status of the "me" in the final line: having proclaimed that, in a certain uncompromising and brutal sense, absolutely nothing of him will persist after he is dead, the narrator warns his friend not to cling to mere fantasm (to refuse, in other words perhaps, the work of mourning, with all that this implies).
For he would be clinging to a ghost, occasioning warranted mockery. And yet the author isn't dead just yet, so he still feels slighted, even if only in anticipation (and because the addressee––or the literary reader generally, even, if one were to go down the path of positing such a (beyond)law––is a friend). And so he references this future hollow "me." And at once the "me" is dead on the page and looking back at him, and yet in a deeper sense saying something indeed quite serious. Above all do not sacralize, and so trivialize the past, the poem/letter seems to say. And herein lies the haunting power - for lack of a better phrase - of the titanic clichés (I love you so much that you must forget me, love's sweet sorrow, ad nauseam) upon which the poem plays.
When I perhaps compounded am with clay, / Do not so much as my poor name rehearse
The irony, of course, is that one's name is nothing if not forever marked by death, destined as it is to endure, and as only hollow'd husk, incapable of decision and response - beyond. Sometimes even in life, one's name sounds strange–uncanny–to one's ears (in such moments is there something like a glimpse of death?)
For what does it mean for true love (or friendship, they are perhaps the same), to be that which demands nothing less than for one to "let" one's "love decay," along with the corpse, if not to signal the performance of the genuine (though im-possible) work of mourning?
The second, even moreso than the first, demands a stage. An old man holds out a hand to his beloved, perhaps to carress her cheek, and then, he pauses. He says, in utter seriousness, "now imagine this––my hand––were but that of a corpse."
Got it? Good. Now, here it is, again––my hand...
(A performance, then, to clear a space in order to begin again, to feel some-thing as if for the first, or––what amounts to much the same––last time. As Derrida once said, "Thy life's a miracle. Speak yet again.")
Needless to say, both poems are also very funny.