They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead,
They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed.
I wept, as I remembered, how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.
And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,
Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;
For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take
William Johnson Cory, Ionica (1891).
I believe this is one of the most beautiful poems I have ever read…the first line has been resounding in my head for weeks now…it is the only poem W.J.Cory ever wrote and it is marvellous in it’s brevity and telling emotion…
What a cry for a friend long gone, and the mourning of long evenings of talk and companionship…but all is not lost, his voice might be stilled but his poems “The Nightingales” will live on forever…
How can we not identify with this moving tribute to a dead friend!
The poem is a translation of a third century epigram and although there are other translations, this one is by far the best…the cry “they told me, they told me” resounds in the air with it’s agony…
On a personal note… a friend popped by recently and enquiring about a mutual friend was told by me that she had died months before…“Oh no” she cried, her long wail again bringing the death of Heraclitus to mind…centuries later, we still mourn in the same way..
I mulled over these incredible phrases for many days..how best to interpret these words in a winter painting?
I decided not to attempt it right now…I have something else in mind, but I could not resist adding the verse to this painting, because all the way through creating it, I heard “they told me, they told me” ringing in my ears.
Actually it’s not too far a stretch…the painting depicts a country cottage at sundown on a blustery winter evening…could not the two friends have sat by that very same fireside?
Watercolour on Arches Not Paper…best viewed large..