Just now I read a newsletter from a Touchstone Magazine editor, on the subject of marriage. He included this quite old poem which conveys the feelings that a person might have, after the death of one’s spouse. Having lived that way of existence, the state of being one flesh with one’s spouse, as the Bible describes it, and then losing it… The poet graphically describes, in the most evocative metaphors, what the loss means, from his crown to his feet. He’s lost his grip on his own body.
ELEGY ON MAEL MHEDHA, HIS WIFE
My soul parted from me last night.
In the grave, a pure dear body.
A kind, refined soul was taken
from me, a linen shroud about her….
Mael Mhedha of the dark brows,
my cask of mead at my side;
my heart, my shadow split from me,
flowers’ crown, planted, now bowed down.
My body’s gone from my grip
and has fallen to her share,
my body’s splintered in two,
since she’s gone, soft, fine and fair.
One of my feet she was, one side—
like the whitethorn was her face—
our goods were never ‘hers’ and ‘mine’—
one of my hands, one of my eyes.
Half my body, that young candle—
it’s harsh, what I’ve been dealt, Lord.
I’m weary speaking of it:
she was half my very soul.
My first love, her great soft eye,
ivory-white and curved her breast,
neither her fair flesh nor her side
lay near another man but me.
We were twenty years together.
Our speech grew sweeter each year.
She bore me eleven children,
the tall young long-fingered tree.
Though I am, I do not thrive
since my proud hazel-nut fell,
Since my great love parted from me,
the dark world’s empty and bare.
Dear the soft hand which was here,
King of the churches and bells.
Och! that hand never swore false oath.
Sore, that it’s not under my head.
—Muireadhach Albanach O Dalaigh, c. 1224
Translated from Gaelic in The Triumph Tree