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Friday, July 11, 2014

Do Not Weep At My Grave

Do Not Stand By My Grave And Weep

By Mary Elizabeth Frye
Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.

Mary Elizabeth Frye was born in Dayton, Ohio, and was orphaned at the age of three. She moved to Baltimore, Maryland when she was twelve. Frye was living in Baltimore at the time she wrote the poem in 1932. She had never written any poetry, but the plight of a young German Jewish woman, Margaret Schwarzkopf, who was staying with her and her husband, inspired the poem.

Margaret Schwarzkopf had been concerned about her mother, who was ill in Germany, but she had been warned not to return home because of increasing anti-Semitic unrest. When her mother died, the heartbroken young woman told Frye that she never had the chance to “stand by my mother’s grave and shed a tear."

Frye found herself composing a piece of verse on a brown paper shopping bag. Later she said that the words “just came to her” and expressed what she felt about life and death.

Frye circulated the poem privately, never publishing or copyrighting it. She wrote other poems, but this, her first, endured. The verse has demonstrated a remarkable power to soothe loss. It became popular, crossing national boundaries for use on bereavement cards and at funerals regardless of race, religion or social status.

The identity of the author of the poem was unknown until the late 1990s, when Frye revealed that she had written it. Her claim was confirmed in 1998 after research by American advice columnist ("Dear Abby") and radio show host Abigail Van Buren.

Her obituary in The London Times made it clear that she was the author of the famous poem, which has been recited at funerals and on other appropriate occasions around the world for 60 years.

 ("Mary E. Frye." The London Times. November 5, 2004)


My Understanding

As we lose good friends and precious loved ones to death, we grieve and lose the ability to deal with our painful emotions. Although death is the ultimate natural end for all human beings, we tend to harbor great fear with our deep regrets as if something horrible, even tragically unspeakable has occurred. For many, the pain becomes unbearable.

In our honest grief, we often distrust fate as something unjust and wicked. Our unsettled emotions cloud reasoning and bring us to the point of simply asking, "Why? Why should someone so good and true depart from this earth so soon?"

The poem "Do Not Stand By My Grave and Weep" offers a healing balm for the deep wounds of loss while reminding us that the soul lives on and migrates to a higher plane. 

The simple diction and beautiful, expressive analogies in "Do Not Stand" create a rustic mood that softens the subject of grief. The "I am" metaphors employ the symbols of wind, snow, grain, rain and other natural elements effectively to set a peaceful comfort in their description.

The final imagery of "quiet birds in flight" and "soft stars that shine in the night" shift the reader's focus skyward, away from the earth of the grave. The speaker confidently establishes the reason that others should feel no sorrow at the parting from the physical body: "I am not there; I did not die."

If as Joni Mitchell sang, we are "stardust," the theme of Frye's poem not only affirms that our bodies are elements such as the billion-year-old star "stuff" of carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, etc. but also attests that our souls are the ever-present energies of nature. To me, natural grandeur is the best proof of God's promise of eternal life. As a humble human being, I marvel at the awesome beauty, complexity, and mystery of creation.

I believer our level of earthly consciousness and intelligence can make us doubt our spirits seek to rise above the entanglements of life and death. But, they do. Spirituality is a necessary part of natural existence -- without spiritual belief, we deny the reality that the incorporeal occupant of our being is set to take this eternal voyage. The soul can not be destroyed by any disease, natural process, or even death. Upon exit from the body, the soul finds harbor in another natural kingdom. We understand this through our faith, and we constantly witness that proof in nature.

One beloved, elementary verse promises that our loved ones, once freed from the binds of earth, do not die or sleep in deep rest. The poem would have us look to nature for their familiar faces and understand that they are alive as a part of a beautiful plan understood only by the Great Maker. The departed have merely taken a step of graduation of the soul. And, crying as a sentiment may be something appropriate at a graduation, but weeping in grief represents a misinterpretation of responding to a glorious, supernatural animation of the human spirit.

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