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Indeed, the literature of the world often maintains a steady current of death concern, though this is not always on the theme of conquest but of that deep seriousness of re ection that language enables us to formulate Here three quite different examples must suf ce in cases that some might nd incongruous The rst is from Shakespeare s Sonnets, the second from J K Rowling s Harry Potter stories and the third from Ewan McColl s folk-songs Shakespeare, a brief generation before Milton, addresses death in many of its modes, though here I identify only his thoughts on the loss of love In Sonnet sixty-six he re ects on life as lled with thwarted ideals and, tired of false shows, would gladly anticipate the rest that comes through death were it not for the fact that one must leave one s loved one behind:
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Tired with all these, from these would I be gone, Save that to die, I leave my love alone
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And he would wish no enduring grief for the surviving lover, rather the deceased should be forgotten as quickly as the ringing of the parish church s death-knell ceases He loves so much that he wishes no pain to be occasioned by his memory, as Sonnet seventy-seven advises: 96 Art, Literature and Music
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No longer mourn for me when I am dead Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell Give warning to the world that I am ed From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell 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
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This desired forgetfulness is summarized in Sonnet seventytwo, After my death, dear love, forget me quite Many of these sentiments nd echoes in contemporary experience, when individuals come to a point at which they do not fear death itself, especially if life and its demands have become too pressing, but they do care about those they will leave behind Poetic expressions of love and loss have become increasingly important in contemporary life, especially when families and friends wish to see a funeral as a re ection upon, and even a celebration of, the life of the dead Whether or not in compensation for widespread decrease of knowledge of the Bible and empathy with its formulation of the human condition, many nd poetry a valuable way of expressing grief, love, hope or hopelessness In prose, too, not least in children s literature, the treatment of death nds its place, as in J K Rowling s Harry Potter, now read worldwide by millions of children and indeed adults with translations including Welsh and Latin The portrayal of the experience of grief in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, for example, presents a particularly insightful set of adventures At one perilous point the teenage Harry thinks he has seen his dead father for whom he longs He discloses this to his deeply respected headmaster, Dumbledore, saying he knows it was stupid thinking it was him I mean, I knew he was dead The headmaster replies both rhetorically and with advice: You think the dead we have loved ever truly leave us You think that we don t recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble Art, Literature and Music 97
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Your father is alive in you, Harry, and shows himself most plainly when you have need of him (Rowling 1999: 460) This same adventure features a category of evil beings called Dementors who glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope and happiness out of the air around them , and render their prey soulless left with nothing but the worst experiences of life (Rowling 1999: 204) These Dementors highlight the importance of hope in all re ections upon death, and to have such a name and a creative description of these negative experiences is highly valuable indeed; we will return to hope at the close of this chapter
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Away from written texts, one of the strangest of all human responses to death is to be found in paintings of the dead Death masks, too, shaped from the corpse s face, have held occasional interest The very existence of an art of death is of fundamental cultural importance, not simply because it depicts both the public and the deeply private expression of grief, but because it is painted at all One of the distinctive features of human self-re ection lies in the fact that we paint things that we can also see for ourselves Why paint what can be seen directly Why own a painting of a place, for example, if one sees the actual location every day One obvious reason lies in the process of creative representation it is because we think about and ponder things and do not simply observe them And in thinking of them we add to their signi cance in creating multi-layered meanings So it is that statues, paintings and, later still, photographs of the dead have played a signi cant part in the history of human re ection This has been especially important for Christian re ection upon the death of Christ Spreading from Italy from the mid-thirteenth century, for example, religious art increasingly depicted the passion and death of Jesus in increasingly realistic 98 Art, Literature and Music
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ways This was largely under the in uential patronage of the Franciscan Order whose founder, Francis of Assisi (1181 1226), had manifested the stigmata the signs of Christ s cruci xion and fostered a new emphasis of spirituality that dwelt upon Christ s suffering and death (Derbes 1996: 18) In a more secular context, from the fourteenth century onwards, we nd increasing numbers of European ef gies of in uential people, monarchs, soldiers and bishops depicted, often in the chapels of great churches, wearing their insignia of of ce Sometimes those symbols of earthly in uence are set against the fact of death, as when the clothed ef gies have placed at a lower level, beneath them, skeletal ef gies life above and death below symbolizing the marks of status and the realities of mortality Even when no such skeleton appears, some symbol of mortality, especially skulls, is regularly incorporated in the art and memorials of the dead There is, of course, no certainty that as twenty- rst-century readers we know how people of other times and places feel about life and death; the most we can do is acknowledge their concern In a most insightful and fully illustrated study Michael Camille explored the late medieval images of death by Pierre Remiet, a little-known artist and illustrator, to suggest that death was a general frame for embodied life and not some philosophical end-point that provides the foundation of human identity and selfhood as some contemporary philosophers postulate (Camille 1996: 245) But, as Camille noted, there are inevitable differences in the way death is viewed when life is seen as a pilgrimage ending in an afterlife than when this life is all As the western world changed from medieval to Renaissance moods and perspectives, pictorial art followed In sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Netherlands, for example, individuals used their wealth to depict their dead relatives, not least their children Sometimes these children are shown, fairly realistically, as dead babies, but sometimes they are given the form and setting of angelic beings Less domestically and much more scienti cally, art also comes to depict the scienti c role of medicine as a Art, Literature and Music 99
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practice involved with the dead body, as in Rembrandt s famous anatomy class of 1632 in which the medical instructor dissects part of body surrounded by some seven pupils In the foreground stands an open book, adding an authoritative validity to their work; similarly, van der Maes s painting of joined Siamese twins is set against the background of an anatomy theatre (Sliggers 1998: 25, 211) This form of death art can be seen as expressing an early form of the medicalization of death, the sense that the developing medical profession possesses a right to engage with dead bodies and not leave them to the strict control of the Church From the later part of the nineteenth century the emergence of photography added the possibility of direct representation of the dead, in which earlier artistic embellishments of skeletal realism or angelic idealism in portraying babies, for example, gave way to an immediacy of death These give the living a concrete focus for their changing memories and take us into the domain of private grief, one example of which, that of Picasso, grants some limited insight into this twentieth-century artistic genius s deep private grief as it intersected with the public world of art While his character paves the way for our consideration of the fear of death in chapter 7, it shows here how his creativity combined with a charismatic personality, giving the world an uncompromising, con ict-ridden individual who needed to pour out his personal grief whilst also seeking to insulate his innerself from prying eyes The death of his eight-year-old sister when he was but fourteen deeply affected Picasso When she was dying of diphtheria he sought to bargain with God, offering to sacri ce his life s ambition as an artist if her life was saved A few years later, the death of two of his closest friends led to a series of paintings through which he sought to exorcise the pain and guilt of loss (Stassinopoulos Huf ngton 1988: 30, 55) Titles such as The Kiss of Death, The Cry of Death and the Presence of Death all re ect what has been called his black period, his time of being haunted by death 100 Art, Literature and Music
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