Who would I show it to
I began this book with W. S. Merwin’s haunting elegy, a challenge
to elegists and ethicists alike. With the beloved gone forever, and
a world hell- bent on destroying itself, why bother to respond, act,
write, or comfort? Consolation, it appears, has melted away in the
conflagration of modernity, and ethics—the fundamental call to
response—has died along with it. Or so we have come to believe.
But is this all there is to the story of dying modern? My medi-
tation on elegy has sought to draw attention to surviving forms
of elegy that refuse to fall entirely silent in the presence of mod-
ern death but instead persist in at least tentatively offering forms
of emotional, political, or cultural response, even in the face of
the most unimaginable of losses. It is the final claim of this book
that it may be too soon to foreclose on consolation. Far from con-
stituting an unethical response to mourning, poems that seek to
acknowledge or redress loss continue to perform a vital function,
reconstructing, repairing, and reinventing sundered lines of con-
tact and communication.
The modern poetry of dying, reviving, and surviving all resusci-
tate the lost art of consolation, which in truth never really dis-
appeared. Consolatory fictions live on, not despite modernity’s
melancholic rejection of aesthetic compensation but because of
it. Deathbed poems, corpse poems, and aubades all demonstrate
that the call to use language to maintain a meaningful if tenuous
relation to those no longer present continues to speak to us. Con-
solation, in all three cases, resides in voice itself. Even the literary
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