A Requiem by Elizabeth Jennings

When you read Elizabeth’s poetry, you never know what kind of theme you are going to read in her poetry. Every time you find something new. Though I can’t say what others feel while reading her poems, I always come across one such theme in her poems that makes me think if what she is trying to tell through her poem is exactly what people like me too feel.

The poem, A Requiem, is one such poem, which will make you think if we really feel as the poet does. This short poem is about a very common experience, which is neither easy to acknowledge or understand It is sure that its title will hardly let you guess what the poet is going to talk about.

In fact, through this poem, the poet has tried to describe one such situation that’s truly uncalled for. Yes, here, the poet talks about the situation of a funeral ceremony wherein a lot of people gather and express their grief over the death of a person.

The poet says that funeral ceremony of a dead person is so that it brings tears in the eyes of even those who don’t have any connection with the dead person. The poet says that it is the funeral rites and rituals that makes the surrounding emotional, and makes the gathered people cry.

The poet herself is the speaker of this poem, and she says that though she doesn’t have any love for the dead person, the grief and mourning automatically outbursts seeing the funeral rituals and last rites. She says it was only the ritual of burial ceremony of the dead body that caused her heart to mourn and grieve over the death of that person.

Thus, this poem, A Requiem, by Elizabeth Jennings describes about the grief and mourning that is aroused by the rituals and last rites of burying a dead body, no matter whether you love it or not.

 

A Requiem Analysis

It is the ritual not the fact

(…)

And all the stirrings underneath.

Elizabeth Jennings, in the poem, A Requiem, recounts her experience of attending a funeral ceremony. While attending the ceremony, the poet says that while she had no love for the dead person, the rituals and last rites being performed for him caused her to burst out her sorrowful emotions. This uncalled for outburst of emotion is caused by the nature of rituals, instead of any love.

And this is best and very clearly depicted by the very first verse of the first stanza, when the poet says: “It is the ritual not the fact/That brings a held emotion to/Its breaking-point.”

Through this first stanza of the poem, the poet makes us realize that it is not necessary we must have love or any relation with the dead person, the funeral rites and rituals are enough to make us feel sad. In the same stanza, the remorse of the poet also becomes visible when she says: “This man I knew/Only a little, by his death/Shows me a love I thought I lacked/And all the stirrings underneath.”

It is the calm, the solemn thing,

(…)

Are they from sorrow or from shame?

This second stanza of the poem is in fact a sarcastic or ironical remark over those who pretend to grieve over the death of someone who they neither ever attended, nor loved, but after his/her death they pretend to cry too loud to show that they love or loved him/her (the dead person) when he/she was alive. And you will often find yourself surrounded by such types of people. This affectation of the showy people is best depicted by the very first verse of the second stanza, when the poet says: “It is the calm, the solemn thing,/Not the distracted mourner’s cry.”

The poet, thus, says it is just the solemnity or seriousness of the rituals and last rites that arouse the emotion of grief in the attending people; instead of the loud crying “Or cold place where dead things lie”. Here the poet is indicating towards the “grave”, which always remains as cold as the dead body of a dead person.

Indicating towards her tears, and sarcastically pointing at those who pretend to show their more and more grief, and cry laud to grab the attention of others, the poet, in the last three verses of the poem, says that whether her tears are truly owing to the sorrow caused by the death of the person, or they are just the feeling of being ashamed because of not having the real feeling when he was alive. The poet asks this question to herself in the last line of the second stanza when she says: “These tears which sting –/Are they from sorrow or from shame?”

The poet, in fact, addresses this question to no one in the poem, but it becomes evident that she is not only questioning to herself, but also to those who pretend to show their grief over the death of someone, but in actuality, they never loved the dead one when he/she was alive.

 

Language and Imagery

The poem, A Requiem, by Elizabeth Jennings is composed in two stanzas, each consisting of six lines. Its title is not only appropriate, as per its theme, but it also speaks what the poet wants to convey, that is; talking about funeral rituals of a dead person. The term ‘requiem’ means a song, sung at the funeral ceremony of a dead person.

It is to be noted that not all verses of the poem consist of rhyming, except the endings of the fourth and the sixth line. Moreover, the poet has used several terms that contrast with each other, and differ in connotation, as well.

For example; there are the use of terms like ‘held’, ‘breaking point’, ‘calm’, ‘distracted’, ‘cold place’ and ‘tears’. The poet has, in fact, aligned all these words to the poem’s theme, which is paradoxical in itself, for it is not love, but solemnity and seriousness of the last rites and rituals that induce emotions of sorrow and mourning.

So, in order to best depict the theme of the poem, the poet has employed appropriate diction, which not only justifies the theme of the poem, but its title, as well.

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