I find myself very fascinated with the different ways in which mankind approaches its own mortality. Reflections on death and transience are at the core of some of the most beautiful expressions of human culture, either in art, in writing, or in music. In the present blogpost I wish to present three items that share a common engagement with death, and which have caught my attention lately.
The first item belongs to music, namely Chopin's piano sonata no. 2 in B minor, opus 35, which is most commonly known as Marcha Fúnebre, Funeral March. This is a deeply iconic piece which I myself remember to have associated with death from a very early age, since it has been used in many forms of popular culture to denote death and mortality, to such a degree that merely to hum its theme has become a non-verbal shorthand for death and funerals.
Marcha Fúnebre, by Frédéric Chopin
The second item is from literature, and it is one I encountered for the first time only a few days ago. This is a brief poem by the Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy (1863-1933), one of the major figures of modern Greek poetry. He lived most of his life in his native Alexandria, Egypt, with shorter residences abroad. The following poem is translated into English by Evangelos Sachperoglou and published in The Collected Poems, Oxford World Classics, 2007: 3-5.
The days to come are standing right before us,
like a row of little lighted candles -
golden, warm, and lively little candles.
The bygone days are left behind,
a dismal row of burned-out candles;
those that are nearest smoking still,
cold candles, melted and bent.
I don't want to see them; their sight saddens me,
and it saddens me to recall their former glow.
I look ahead at my still lighted candles.
I don't want to turn around, lest I see and shudder
how fast the darksome line grows longer,
how fast the burned-out candles multiply.
And with these last two heavy lines still echoing in the mind, I present the third and final item, this one from art, namely the death-mask of Cavafy himself, made in 1933 by an unknown artist and currently placed in the house-museum of Cavafy in Alexandria.
For similar blogposts, see:
Et in Arcadia ego
Vanity of vanities