March 16, 2007

For My Sister: The Farewell

There's an essay that might go here, but probably not for at least several days. My sister, Virginia -- "Gina" to all those who knew her -- died early this morning. The end came much more quickly than anyone expected.

Gina's death prompts a great many emotions and thoughts. Most importantly to me in certain ways, especially in light of world events at present, Gina was exceptionally gentle and loving. I never knew her to cause harm or pain to any living being. More than anything else, she wished for peace, and for an end to senseless suffering and killing. If a critical number of people shared Gina's perspective, the world would be a vastly different place, and an infinitely better one.

Her own suffering has ended now. I wish I could believe that her spirit continues in some form, blissfully unencumbered by the cares that afflict the rest of us. I think I will choose to believe that, at least for a few days. It makes the sudden loss easier to bear.

I've been thinking about and listening to Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde ("The Song of the Earth") for much of the last week. It has been one of my very favorite works of art for several decades now. If you don't know this masterpiece, I suggest you listen to either the classic Klemperer recording, or the Bernstein version (and many thanks, D.C., for sending that to me). I especially love the final section, "The Farewell," which is -- to employ the cliche in a way that is perfectly and wonderfully accurate -- so exquisitely beautiful that it hurts in the most sublime way imaginable. Simply reading the English translation of the poem for the conclusion of this work does not come close to providing you with the full experience of this musical miracle, but I'm afraid the poem itself will have to do here:
The sun departs behind the mountains.
In all the valleys, evening descends
with its cooling shadows.
O look! Like a silver boat,
the moon floats on the blue sky-lake above.
I feel the fine wind wafting
behind the dark spruce.

The brook sings loudly through the darkness.
The flowers stand out palely in the twilight.
The earth breathes, full of peace and sleep,
and all yearning wishes to dream now.
Weary men go home,
to learn in sleep
forgotten happiness and youth.
The birds crouch silently in their branches.
The world is asleep!

It blows coolly in the shadows of my spruce.
I stand here and wait for my friend;
I wait to bid him a last farewell.
I yearn, my friend, at your side
to enjoy the beauty of this evening.
Where do you tarry? You leave me alone for so long!
I wander up and down with my lute,
on paths swelling with soft grass.
O beauty! O eternal love - eternal, love-intoxicated world!

He dismounted and handed him the drink
of parting. He asked him where
he would go, and also why it must be.
He spoke, his voice was choked: My friend,
on this earth, fortune has not been kind to me!
Where do I go? I will go, wander in the mountains.
I seek peace for my lonely heart.
I wander to find my homeland, my home.
I will never stray to foreign lands.
Quiet is my heart, waiting for its hour!

The dear earth everywhere
blooms in spring and grows green
afresh! Everywhere and eternally,
distant places have blue skies!
Eternally... eternally...
For you, my dear sister. Now you reside where spring is the only season, and where peace prevails uninterrupted -- and eternally.

Bless you, always.