Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep

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"Do not stand at my grave and weep" is the first line and popular title of a bereavement poem of disputed authorship. The poem was popularized during the late 1970s thanks to a reading by actor John Wayne that inspired further readings on television. During the late 1990s, Mary Elizabeth Frye suddenly claimed to have authored the poem back in 1932, which was purportedly confirmed in 1998 research conducted by the newspaper column "Dear Abby" (Pauline Phillips).[1] However, the Oxford journal "Notes and Queries" published a 2018 article claiming the poem, originally titled "Immortality", was in fact written by Clare Harner Lyon (1909-1977) and first published under her maiden name (Harner) in the December 1934 issue of The Gypsy poetry magazine.[2]

Original version[edit]

Below is the version published in The Gypsy of December 1934 (page 16), under the title "Immortality" and followed by the author's name and location: "CLARE HARNER, Topeka, Kan."[2] The indentation and line breaks are as given there.

Do not stand
By my grave, and weep.
I am not there,
I do not sleep—
I am the thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glints in snow
I am the sunlight on ripened grain,
I am the gentle, autumn rain.
As you awake with morning’s hush,
I am the swift, up-flinging rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight,
I am the day transcending night.
Do not stand
By my grave, and cry—
I am not there,
I did not die.

Other versions[edit]

Other versions of the poem appeared later, usually without attribution, such as the one below.[3] Differing words are shown in it by italics.

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 the snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain;
I am the gentle autumn's rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush,
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft star that shines at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there; I did not die.

The poem is twelve lines long, rhyming in couplets. Each line is in iambic tetrameter, except for lines five and seven, the fifth having an extra syllable, the seventh, two extra.[4][5][6]

Origins[edit]

Kansas native Clare Harner's original poem "Immortality" was reprinted from The Gypsy in the Kansas City Times on 8 February 1935.[7] Interest surged after the poem was read as a graveside eulogy by actor Harold Gould in the 1979 NBC TV movie Better Late Than Never.[8] In 1981, newspaper columnist Bettelou Peterson identified the author for enquiring readers as "the late Clara Harner Lyon, of California."[9] Later many other claimants to the poem's authorship emerged, including attributions to traditional and Native American origins. TV critic Richard K. Shull first publicized the claim for Mary Elizabeth Frye's authorship in a newspaper column for the Indianapolis News on 9 June 1983.[10] According to the London Times obituary for the "Baltimore housewife Mary E. Frye," Dear Abby author "Abigail Van Buren" researched the poem's history and concluded in 1998 that Ohio native Mary Elizabeth Frye (November 13, 1905 – September 15, 2004), a self-employed florist and amateur poet, who was living in Baltimore at the time, had written the poem in 1932. In print, however, Dear Abby columns by Pauline Phillips and her daughter Jeanne consistently treated authorship of the poem as an unsolved mystery. As late as 2004, Jeanne Phillips acknowledged, "I regret that I have never been able to confirm the author."[11] Supposedly Frye had never written any poetry, but the plight of a German Jewish woman, Margaret Schwarzkopf, who was staying with her and her husband, had inspired the poem. Margaret Schwarzkopf was concerned about her mother, who was ill in Germany, but she had been warned not to return home because of increasing 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, according to Van Buren's supposed research, 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]

According to her account, Frye circulated the poem privately, never publishing it. Her obituary in The Times asserted her claim to authorship of the famous poem, which has been recited at funerals and on other appropriate occasions around the world for 60 years.[12]

In popular culture[edit]

John Wayne read the poem "from an unspecified source" on December 29, 1977 at the memorial service for film director Howard Hawks.[13] After hearing John Wayne's reading, script writer John Carpenter featured the poem in the 1979 television film Better Late Than Never. A common reading at funerals and remembrance ceremonies, the poem was introduced to many in the United Kingdom 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, who had left the poem among his personal effects in an envelope addressed 'To all my loved ones'.

The poem's first four lines are engraved on one of the stones of the Everest Memorial, Chukpi Lhara, in Dhugla Valley, near Everest. Reference to the wind and snow and the general theme of the poem, the absence of the departed, particularly resonate with the loved ones of those who "disappeared" in the mountain range to whom the memorial is dedicated.

This poem is also used as the lyrics in the song "Still Alive" by D.E.Q.

The poem was also adapted for use in the popular online game World of Warcraft

BBC poll[edit]

To coincide with National Poetry Day 1995, the British television programme The Bookworm conducted a poll to discover the nation's favourite poems, and subsequently published the winning poems in book form.[14] The book's preface stated that "Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep" was "the unexpected poetry success of the year from Bookworm's point of view"; the poem had "provoked an extraordinary response... the requests started coming in almost immediately and over the following weeks the demand rose to a total of some thirty thousand. In some respects it became the nation's favourite poem by proxy... despite it being outside the competition."[15] 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]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "Mary E. Frye". The Times. London, United Kingdom. 5 November 2004. Retrieved 8 May 2011.
  2. ^ a b Norsworthy, Scott (1 September 2018). "Clare Harner's 'Immortality' (1934)". Notes and Queries. 65 (3): 423–428. doi:10.1093/notesj/gjy084. ISSN 0029-3970.
  3. ^ Van Buren, Abigail. "Dear Abby column of June 21, 1996". UExpress. Retrieved 29 April 2021.
  4. ^ "Poem: "Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep" (Mary Elizabeth Frye)". www.bulbapp.com.
  5. ^ https://www.ipl.org/essay/Analysis-Of-Do-Not-Stand-At-My-PKFEPJB74AJPR
  6. ^ Joslin, Katie (22 November 2017). "Katie Joslin TV Blog: FICTION ADAPTATION: Research into Do Not Stand at my Grave and Weep & Mary Elizabeth Frye".
  7. ^ "8 Feb 1935, 18 - The Kansas City Times at Newspapers.com". Newspapers.com. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  8. ^ Anderson, Charles R. (1997). "The Permanence of Print". Reference & User Services Quarterly. 37 (1): 15–16. ISSN 1094-9054. JSTOR 20863206.
  9. ^ "15 Nov 1981, Page 158 - Detroit Free Press at Newspapers.com". Newspapers.com. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  10. ^ "9 Jun 1983, 17 - The Indianapolis News at Newspapers.com". Newspapers.com. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  11. ^ "29 Feb 2004, Page 63 - The Cincinnati Enquirer at Newspapers.com". Newspapers.com. Retrieved 19 December 2020.
  12. ^ "Obituary". London Magazine. December 2005.
  13. ^ McBride, Joseph (1978). "HAWKS". Film Comment. 14 (2): 36–71. ISSN 0015-119X. JSTOR 43450937.
  14. ^ The Nation's Favourite Poems. BBC Books. 1996. ISBN 978-0-563-38782-4.
  15. ^ Geoff Stephens. "Who DID Write the Nation's Favourite Poem?" October 2002. Retrieved 25 November 2012.

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