What are your favourite laments?
May 22, 2019 5:41 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for laments, in any format. Musical laments, of course, like those in the Celtic music tradition are the obvious answer. But I'd like them in any and every genre - poetry, quotation, art. Short, long, anything that breaks your heart. A good lament is stirring and gives you hope while also delineating the long-term futility of anything but acceptance. Have you got anything for me?

Musical examples of what I mean include the Chieftans' and Sting's Mo Ghile Mear but perhaps also the version by Choral Scholars, University of Dublin. Flowers of the Forest? Song of the Shield Wall? Lament for Limerick? Do you know any that aren't in the Celtic traditions? What version makes you throb? You can't go wrong with drums. Can you make my heart explode with bagpipes? Any piece that starts with a chamade and grows and grows - that's what I want.

Do you know of any photographs of grief that are a visual lament? Paintings?

Quotations like, "Lament is a cry of belief in a good God," would fit my request if there is one that is meaningful to you. Are there any books you adore that convey lamentation as their central theme?

I'd love to hear suggestions that I might have missed or that are way out of my experience.
posted by Jane the Brown to Media & Arts (60 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Psalm 22 - "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" is the first thing that springs to mind.
posted by eleslie at 5:51 AM on May 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

This is what currently springs to mind:

Dowland's Flow My Tears

Dvorak's Stabat Mater
posted by bunderful at 5:58 AM on May 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The Sacred Harp (shape note) song David’s Lamentation is a favorite of mine. Here is a YouTube link.

They sing the shapes (fa so la, you will hear), then the words, which are:

David the king was grieved and moved,
He went to his chamber and wept.
And as he went, he wept and said,
O my son
Would to god I had died for thee,
Absalom, my son, my son.
posted by Orlop at 6:07 AM on May 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Tori Amos song Bells for Her has always struck me as being that kind of lament — for a friend the singer was ambiguously infatuated with who's gone away and married someone else.

I don't think it has any real link to Celtic trad music (except maybe that Tori Amos owes a lot to Sinead O'Connor). But it's got that tone of absolute, helpless, worshipful love and absolute unrecoverable loss.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:23 AM on May 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

posted by pompomtom at 6:26 AM on May 22, 2019

Robbie Burns - Here's a Bottle and an Honest Friend. I like this musical version.
posted by exogenous at 6:27 AM on May 22, 2019

Sanvean by Lisa Gerrard, lamenting separation from loved ones,
posted by crush at 6:31 AM on May 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

Dido's Lament - Purcell
posted by stinker at 6:34 AM on May 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've always been moved by the song "Dracula's Lament" from the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I haven't seen the movie, but something about the way Jason Segel performs the song in this 2009 YouTube clip from The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson really does something for me. I've probably watched this clip dozens of times.
posted by fileeditview at 6:39 AM on May 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

The Lamentation of Ur is one of the most ancient texts we have, concerning the devastation of the city of Ur by a storm and its subsequent sacking by invaders.

I'd never read the whole thing before this AskMe but I found it quite evocative and worthwhile. It starts off a bit repetitively before picking up, and you might want to grab some of the context by skimming through the Wikipedia article.
posted by XMLicious at 6:51 AM on May 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Photograph: AIDS activist David Kirby on his deathbed with his grieving father.

Poem: To an Athlete Dying Young by A.E. Housman.
posted by FencingGal at 6:52 AM on May 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

Lament for the Makaris.
posted by LizardBreath at 6:58 AM on May 22, 2019

Donal Og.
posted by misteraitch at 7:30 AM on May 22, 2019

Who By Fire, Leonard Cohen
posted by Lawn Beaver at 7:43 AM on May 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

Plorate filii Israel, Carissimi. Harmonies to die for.
posted by huimangm at 7:45 AM on May 22, 2019

"Stars" and "On My Own" in Les Misérables.

Lots of Gilbert and Sullivan, especially "When You're Lying Awake" and "Sorry her lot who loves too well."

Abba's "The Winner Takes it All."
posted by Melismata at 7:45 AM on May 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: When I saw your question about the visual lament, my mind immediately went here.

This painting, "The Cycle of Terror and Tragedy" by Grayson Parrish, lives at the New Britain Museum of American Art in my state. I've always been stunned by it. It has benches in front of it because most people who see it need to spend a little time with it.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:53 AM on May 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I agree with fileeditview on Dracula's Lament. It is one of my favorite love songs. But how strange it must have been for her to stumble on this ballad on late night TV without the context from the movie! I am grinning just thinking about it. Jason Segel is singing and working a vampire muppet? What is that? And in the movie you don't actually get the whole song, just a small excerpt. Having the full version available somewhere else after the movie released is a special treat, and adds a sweet bonus narrative closure that the two main characters are going to be OK. I learned how to download audio from Youtube so I could have this song on my phone.
posted by seasparrow at 8:03 AM on May 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'm agnostic but because of being badly chronically ill still feel Lamentations 3.
posted by jocelmeow at 8:04 AM on May 22, 2019

Iris DeMent's Our Town.
posted by jamjam at 8:22 AM on May 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

Barb'ry Ellen from this stellar album is on heavy rotation in the Tants household. Be warned: bleak af.

Also check out David Lang's modern classical choral work Little Match Girl Passion. Same caveat applies.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 8:27 AM on May 22, 2019

The book of Psalms is packed full of laments. Psalm 13 is a particular favorite of mine. Not too long. Could be easily memorized if you were so inclined. Ends with a sense of hopefulness.
posted by Gino on the Meta at 8:35 AM on May 22, 2019

In Jewish tradition, the book of Lamentations (Eicha in Hebrew) is read on the memorial holiday Tisha B'Av (the 9th of Av) to its own very specific cantillation - you can hear it here. A year after 9/11 on Yom Kippur, a rabbi set some of the voicemails people left on that day to the same melody - it's pretty gut-wrenching.

The other two main lamentations in Judaism are also read on the high holidays - the Eleh Ezkereh (These things I remember) about the martyrdom of Jewish leaders during the Roman Empire, read in the afternoon on Yom Kippur, and Jeremiah 31:2-20 which is read on the second day of Rosh Hashanah -- while this doesn't have a distinct tune (it follows the standard cantillation of the Prophetical books), it's not uncommon for the person reading it for the community to cry during the cantation.

Also I know this is not what you're looking for because comedy, but I can't not include Ian Frazer's Lamentations of the Father.
posted by Mchelly at 8:35 AM on May 22, 2019

The Lay of the Last Survivor in Beowulf.
posted by orrnyereg at 8:42 AM on May 22, 2019

Tomkins, When David Heard (the version by Stile Antico is especially good)

Don McLean, of all people, did a recording of Psalm 137, By the Waters of Babylon (used memorably in Mad Men).
posted by praemunire at 8:42 AM on May 22, 2019

The poem One Art by Elizabeth Bishop. That last line's a kicker.
posted by DSime at 8:47 AM on May 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Little Birdy by Pete Seeger
In the Wee Small Hours by Frank Sinatra
But Not for Me by Chet Baker

And of course Sonya's last monologue in Uncle Vanya by Chekhov

What can we do? We must live out our lives. [A pause] Yes, we shall live, Uncle Vanya. We shall live all through the endless procession of days ahead of us, and through the long evenings. We shall bear patiently the burdens that fate imposes on us. We shall work without rest for others, both now and when we are old. And when our final hour comes, we shall meet it humbly, and there beyond the grave, we shall say that we have known suffering and tears, that our life was bitter. And God will pity us. Ah, then, dear, dear Uncle, we shall enter on a bright and beautiful life. We shall rejoice and look back upon our grief here. A tender smile -- and -- we shall rest. I have faith, Uncle, fervent, passionate faith. We shall rest. We shall rest. We shall hear the angels. We shall see heaven shining like a jewel. We shall see evil and all our pain disappear in the great pity that shall enfold the world. Our life will be as peaceful and gentle and sweet as a caress. I have faith; I have faith. [Wiping away her tears] My poor, poor Uncle Vanya, you are crying! [Weeping] You have never known what it is to be happy, but wait, Uncle Vanya, wait! We shall rest. We shall rest. We shall rest.
posted by brookeb at 8:51 AM on May 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

And the tomorrow monologue from Macbeth
posted by brookeb at 8:52 AM on May 22, 2019

Best answer: I'm sure I've recommended it before, but if we're doing general expressions of grief, my eternal favorite is a one-line poem by Merwin

Who would I show it to
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:55 AM on May 22, 2019 [5 favorites]

I remember once in college when I sang Arianna's lament, Dido's lament, and Orfeo's lament on the same program, and my teacher asked if we could do some happier songs next time.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:01 AM on May 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

nebulawindphone, OUCH.

My favorite laments, OP, are "Hurricane" and "Burn" from Hamilton.
posted by MiraK at 9:01 AM on May 22, 2019

There was another question about this last fall. So good.
posted by limeonaire at 9:04 AM on May 22, 2019

Oh, forgot "No More" from Into the Woods.
posted by dlugoczaj at 9:08 AM on May 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Sound the Pibroch - Makem & Clancy
Isn't It Grand, Boys? - The Clancy Brothers
Beat the Retreat - Richard Thompson (Track 14 in this video.)
Whip-Poor-Will - Magnolia Electric Company
posted by Redstart at 9:15 AM on May 22, 2019

Early American composer William Billings also did a setting of David's Lamentation that I really like.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:16 AM on May 22, 2019

Best answer: Peter Gabriel's musical score for Martin Scorsese's Passion. Title track is a musical crucifixion. I'd link but my dns won't allow it. The source music is also really nice.
posted by effluvia at 9:25 AM on May 22, 2019

I guess technically it's a pastoral elegy, but Milton's "Lycidas" is my immediate instinct for powerful heartbreak that tries to shield itself in baroque, bro-y bravado before collapsing into gorgeous, simple, quiet grief.

If that gets you feeling especially Milton-y, the last lines of Paradise Lost are almost unbearable in their comingling of sorrow and hope.

Since I'm already being "that person," might as well throw out Donne's Holy Sonnet on the death of his wife and his poetic setting of the "Lamentations of Jeremy"
posted by Dorinda at 9:28 AM on May 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Nick Cave has a number of things relevant to this, but this one in particular- a lament for a lover lost to insanity:
Where do we go now but nowhere?
posted by twoplussix at 10:23 AM on May 22, 2019

Hank Wiliams, “I’m so lonesome I could cry.”
posted by spitbull at 11:13 AM on May 22, 2019 [3 favorites]

Preisner's Requiem For My Friend might be of interest.
posted by eotvos at 12:28 PM on May 22, 2019

Lucy by The Divine Comedy was the first thing that came to mind. The lament in this verse comes to me sometimes and makes me sad (I have my own lamentation connected to the song):

She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave and, oh
The difference to me

(It’s based on the Lucy poems by William Wordsworth just as a fyi)
posted by billiebee at 2:26 PM on May 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I’m currently doing a Ten Day Album Challenge on Facebook (and this is just scratching the surface with these artists). I added some, subtracted some, kept some in that are not sad, but do speak to a longing for the past.

Niamh Parsons – In My Prime
Bonny Woodhall – In My Prime – Annan Waters – An Palstin Fionn – Lakes of Coolfin

Bonus Tracks from other albums: Flower of Finae (Blackbirds and Thrushes) – Sally Sits Weeping (Blackbirds and Thrushes) – The Water Is Wide (Blackbirds and Thrushes) – My Lagan Love (Heart’s Desire) – Done With Bonaparte (Heart’s Desire) – 1917 / The French Prostitute (The Old Simplicity) – No Half Measures / The Song of the Drinking Man’s Wife (The Old Simplicity) – John Condon (The Old Simplicity) – Blue Murder (The Old Simplicity) – He Fades Away (The Old Simplicity) – The Men that God Made Mad / L’Entrada de L’Angustura (The Old Simplicity) – Clohinne Winds (Loosen Up) – The Briar and the Rose (Loosen Up) – Tinkerman’s Daughter (Loosely Connected)

Emmylou Harris – Wrecking Ball
Every Grain of Sand – Sweet Old World – Orphan Girl – Blackhawk – Where Will I Be? – Goodbye – All My Tears –Goin’ Back to Harlan – Deeper Well

Bonus Album: Red Dirt Girl
The Pearl – Michelangelo – Red Dirt Girl – My Baby Needs a Shepherd – Band the Drum Slowly – My Antonia

Patty Loveless – Mountain Soul
Someone I Used to Know – Out of Control Raging Fire – I Know You’re Married – Sorrowful Angels – Soul of Constant Sorrow – You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive – Sounds of Loneliness

Bonus Tracks from other albums: Over My Shoulder (When Fallen Angels Fly) – Nothin’ But the Wheel (Only What I Feel) – What’s a Broken Heart (Only What I Feel) – How Can I Help You Say Goodbye (Only What I Feel)

Loreena McKennitt – Elemental
Blacksmith – She Moved Through the Fair – Stolen Child – Carrighfergus – Kellswater – Come By the Hills

Bonus Tracks from other albums: Annachie Gordon (Parallel Dreams) – Dickens' Dublin / The Palace (Parallel Dreams) – The Lady of Shalott (The Visit) -- The Highwayman (The Book of Secrets) – Dante’s Prayer (The Book of Secrets) – Ce He Mise Le Ulaingt? / The Two Trees (The Mask and Mirror) – The Dark Night of the Soul (The Mask and Mirror)

Adele – 21
Turning Tables – Don’t You Remember – Take It All

Bonus Album: Adele: Live at the Royal Albert Hall
Make You Feel My Love – Someone Like You (live version)

Mary Chapin Carpenter – Party Doll
Quittin’ Time (Live – Ryman Auditorium) – This Shirt – Grow Old With Me – 10,000 Miles (Album Version) – Stones in the Road – Party Doll

Roy Orbison – Black & White Night (go for the DVD)
Only the Lonely – Blue Bayou – Leah – Running Scared – In Dreams – Crying – It’s Over

John Denver – Back Home Again
On the Road – Matthew – Sweet Surrender – This Old Guitar

Bonus Album: John Denver’s Greatest Hits
Take Me Home, Country Roads – Leaving, on a Jet Plane – Sunshine on My Shoulders – Goodbye Again – Rocky Mountain High

The Mavericks – What a Crying Shame
There Goes My Heart – What a Crying Shame – Pretend – I Should Have Been True – All That Heaven Will Allow – Neon Blue

Simon and Garfunkel – Greatest Hits
The Boxer – The Sounds of Silence – I Am a Rock – Scarborough Fair / Canticle – Homeward Bound – Bridge Over Troubled Water – Kathy’s Song – El Condor Pasa – Bookends

And one more…
Enya, If I Could Be Where You Are
posted by TrishaU at 3:40 PM on May 22, 2019

Lament by Ultravox (1984)
posted by Rash at 3:57 PM on May 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Requiem is an poem by Anna Akhmatova about the suffering of people under the Great Purge of the Soviet era. It was begun during the Purge but not formally published until decades later. From Wikipedia, a small translated fragment:
Seventeen months I've pleaded
for you to come home.
Flung myself at the hangman’s feet.
My terror, oh my son.
And I can’t understand.
Now all’s eternal confusion.
Who’s beast, and who’s man?
How long till execution?
posted by XMLicious at 4:27 PM on May 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: There are some gorgeous suggestions here, but I'm really not looking for sad songs or dirges. I was specifically looking for laments that are cathartic and powerful, the kind of song that goes with keening, and military funerals. A lot of these suggestions seem to be either pessimism or post break-up songs and a lot of them are personal griefs - which are meaningful but don't carry the power of a lament the way I understand it.
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:06 PM on May 22, 2019

Best answer: This is way out in left field, but since you asked for all genres: A Mathematician's Lament (about what math education is and what it could be).
posted by aws17576 at 11:37 PM on May 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

Hamilton Camp: Pride of Man.
posted by jamjam at 12:03 AM on May 23, 2019

This painting maybe?

Maori Hakas are very powerful.

Shelley's Adonais starts as a lament and ends in a kind of ecstatic state.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 3:26 AM on May 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Another gorgeous lament that I've had the privilege of performing in is Brahms's Nänie, for choir and orchestra. (German lyrics with English translation and the backstory of its composition are in the link.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:38 AM on May 23, 2019

Here's a performance of the Brahms on YouTube, showing the score. God, I had forgotten how much text and tone painting there was, and that heartbreaking oboe solo!
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:45 AM on May 23, 2019

Best answer: Turn of the last century singer Zabelle Panossian knocks me down every time with Groung . Not a lot is known about her, but this article gives some context. Also, bandcamp.
posted by bendybendy at 1:18 PM on May 23, 2019 [3 favorites]

The Trojan Women
posted by 100kb at 6:20 PM on May 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

War and its costs: "Mrs. McGrath" (from Bruce Springsteen)

"My, Teddy boy, " the widow cried
"Yer two fine legs were yer mother's pride
Stumps of a tree wouldn't do at all
Why didn't ye run from the cannon ball?"
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:28 PM on May 26, 2019

Depends on your Roger Waters tolerance, but Amused to Death is mostly songs about horrible societal tragedies and our apathy towards them. More relevant today than when it was released, especially the Middle East bombing sections. None are about breakups, although one is a lament directed to an unknown Tienamen Square protestor. I suppose some could be characterized as keening.
posted by benzenedream at 12:59 AM on June 1, 2019

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