Looking for poems, quotes relevant to the death of a heroic dissident
May 14, 2016 11:06 PM   Subscribe

I'm doing PR for a heroic dissident who is on hunger strike to protest the actions of a dictator. He's in grave danger and I have little hope. I think he will be gone soon. Can anyone suggest poems or quotes relevant to this situation? I want them for my own comfort, but it would be especially useful if there was something that wasn't too long that I could use for PR.

It doesn't have to be about this specific situation; things that are thematically resonant would be good. Courage, sacrifice, loss, wickedness, resolve, the struggle between good and evil, the loss of a great man, and so on.

I can't use songs in my PR, but I would like them for my own comfort also.
posted by Surprised By Bees to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I am deeply, deeply sorry. I don't have the words of my own to offer any kind of comfort, but here are some that I have loved from others.

Edna St. Vincent Millay - Dirge Without Music
Major Jackson - On Disappearing
David Whyte - The Shell
Adrienne Rich - November 1968
Edward Carpenter - The sun shines as of old

Alan Shapiro - Scatter

my ashes on a night like this,
in a place like this, in the half dark
up high among the swallows.
And let the swallows feeding
as they slash and swerve
mistake the cloud of me
dispersing for an unresisting
richness, a lucky find,
so I can drift a while
in the wings’ calligraphic
nonsense no less
jubilant for being so.
And the first fireflies
below me, let them each
come out of hiding.
Let them flash for once
in safety in the open air,
in praise or not, aware or not
but flashing freely through the dark
that I alone could draw
the fear from for a brief time,
fooling the swallows as I fell.
posted by diamondsky at 12:23 AM on May 15, 2016

"They will not criminalise us, rob us of our true identity, steal our individualism, depoliticise us, churn us out as systemised, institutionalised, decent law-abiding robots. Never will they label our liberation struggle as criminal."

"Our revenge will be the laughter of our children."

Bobby Sands, also a hunger striker
posted by DarlingBri at 2:47 AM on May 15, 2016

I'm very sorry.

Easter 1916 by William Butler Yeats is about those who were executed by the British after the Irish uprising.
Lapis Lazuli, also by Yeats, is my favorite poem for dark times. My favorite line is, "All things fall and are built again, and those that build them again are gay."

"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
This gets misattributed to Martin Luther King, but it's a variation of the words of a preacher named Theodore Parker, who was preaching against slavery in 1853. (King included it in an article, but he put it in quotation marks, so he wasn't claiming to originate it.)

Joe Hill sung by Joan Baez at Woodstock
Abraham, Martin, and John sung by Dion
Ohio by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Youg
posted by FencingGal at 8:05 AM on May 15, 2016

Oh - since it is popularly attributed to King, if you want to use the "arc of the universe" quotation in written material, you can see a careful study of its origins here.
posted by FencingGal at 8:08 AM on May 15, 2016

Thank you, everyone. He's still alive as of today. More welcome.
posted by Surprised By Bees at 8:34 AM on May 15, 2016

I like Countee Cullen's From the Dark Tower ("We shall not always plant while others reap...We were not made eternally to weep"). Cullen is one of the lesser-known poets of the Harlem Renaissance.
posted by praemunire at 8:35 AM on May 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm very fond of "The Battle of Maldon". There's a passage that comes to mind:

Byrhtwold spoke, raised his shield –
he was an old retainer – shook his ash-spear;
full boldly he taught warriors:
“Thought must be the harder, heart be the keener,
mind must be the greater, while our strength lessens.
Here lies our prince all hewn,
good one on grit. He may always mourn
who from this war-play thinks now to turn...

(http://lightspill.com/poetry/oe/maldon.html )

There's a certain amount of irony in the context, but the sentiment is entirely sincere.
posted by golwengaud at 4:46 PM on May 15, 2016

I studied Latino activist poets, and their work will probably hold some solace (though I can't think of specific poems right now): Martín Espada, Jack Agueros, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Julia De Burgos. And, of course, Pablo Neruda, who died fleeing Pinochet, and who wrote poems for what seems like every possible moment of life, including some beautiful meditative poems about death.
posted by gusandrews at 6:54 PM on May 15, 2016

Another two by Millay:

My earnestness, which might at first offend,
Forgive me, for the duty it implies:
I am the convoy to the cloudy end
Of a most bright and regal enterprise;
Which under angry constellations, ill-
Mounted and under-rationed and unspurred,
Set forth to find if any country still
Might do obeisance to an honest word.
Duped and delivered up to rascals; bound
And bleeding, and his mouth stuffed; on his knees;
Robbed and imprisoned; and adjudged unsound;
I have beheld my master, if you please.
Forgive my earnestness, who at his side
Received his swift instructions, till he died.


And, written for Inez Milholland and her mourners:

Upon this marble bust that is not I
Lay the round, formal wreath that is not fame;
But in the forum of my silenced cry
Root ye the living tree whose sap is flame.
I, that was proud and valiant, am no more; ---
Save as a dream that wanders wide and late,
Save as a wind that rattles the stout door,
Troubling the ashes in the sheltered grate.
The stone will perish; I shall be twice dust.
Only my standard on a taken hill
Can cheat the mildew and the red-brown rust
And make immortal my adventurous will.
Even now the silk is tugging at the staff:
Take up the song; forget the epitaph.
posted by clew at 10:52 PM on May 15, 2016



thank you everyone for all of these wonderful poems which, through a miracle, will not be needed.
posted by Surprised By Bees at 9:33 AM on May 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

I will come back and read them on a less joyful day. Thank you all.
posted by Surprised By Bees at 9:34 AM on May 16, 2016

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