Monday, October 10, 2011

There Are No Words

On a single-digit winter day I had a bloody experience. I had a thing on my arm lanced by a doctor filling in for my doctor. No numbing, no pain killer, no warning, just splattered blood and a scream. (Needless to say, I never saw that guy again.) Shaken, I made it downstairs to the pharmacy, turned in my prescription and waited. My mind was empty as I watched my hand reach out and pick up a cookie from the counter. I unwrapped the cellophane, held the cookie in both hands and ate it as a five year old child would. My mind was disengaged as my body took over and found comfort. I have long forgotten the pain of that day, but not the texture nor taste of that cookie. This was a small moment in my life, insignificant except that it brought home to me how much the body has a life of its own.

Later in life, I fully experienced this when grieving the death of someone very dear to me. I had not known, could not have known, how much grief takes place in the body. When words cannot express grief, the body does. One such expression is numbness; a dazed state where one can sit, staring with no purpose and no understanding.

"The Woodspurge" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti is a spare picture of isolation and sadness. With no destination, the poet walks wherever the wind takes him, until the wind stops. He sits, his head down between his knees, and stares at a patch of weeds and a woodspurge, a yellow flower with three petals. For me, this poem comes as close as possible to expressing the trumatic moments of intense, numbing grief.

The Woodspurge

The wind flapp'd loose, the wind was still,
Shaken out dead from tree and hill:
I had walk'd on at the wind's will__
I sat now, for the wind was still.

Between my knees my forehead was,--
My lips, drawn in, said not Alas!
My hair was over in the grass,
My naked ears heard the day pass.

My eyes, wide open, had the run
Of some ten weeds to fix upon;
Among those few, out of the sun,
The woodspurge flower'd, three cups in one.

From perfect grief there need not be
Wisdom or even memory:
One thing then learnt remains to me,--
The woodspurge has a cup of three.

                                Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882)


sharon said...

I can relate to this. I always heard people say "I feel fragile or fractured when someone dear
to them dies. I never knew what that meant until it happened to me.
So, Bridget , you put it very well.
The poem captures grief very well.

Aileen said...

I love this.

Aileen said...

For me, what is so wonderful about your writing in this piece Bridget is that your images are as sharp and clear as the woodspurge in the poem. The cookie in two hands. The splattered blood and scream. Those are sharp in my mind today, as are the yellow petals, and Rossetti's hair in the grass.

Cheryl said...

Wonderful poem, clear message. I enjoyed this post.

Anonymous said...

I think that the numbness and daze that comes with the death of a loved one is a way of protecting the mind. It is a sort of curtain that raises slowly as time passes so as to allow memories in gradually. Otherwise the pain would be unbearable.

Bridget said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I think what you say is true for some people. Grief, like all other emotions, has varying, individual expressions.