The pathos of death is this, that when the days of one’s life are ended, those days that were so crowded with business and felt so heavy in their passing, what remains of one in memory should usually be so slight a thing. The phantom of an attitude, the echo of a certain mode of thought, a few pages of print, some invention, or some victory we gained in a brief critical hour, are all that can survive the best of us. It is as if the whole of a man’s significance had now shrunk into the phantom of an attitude, into a mere musical note or phrase suggestive of his singularity — happy are those whose singularity gives a note so clear as to be victorious over the inevitable pity of such a diminution and abridgement.
William James, Address at the Emerson Centenary in Concord (1903)
That there is a need for this effect is a feeling which each of us would grasp intuitively, if he were ever to feel himself translated, even just in dream, back into the life of an ancient Hellene. As he wandered beneath rows of high, Ionic columns, gazing upwards to a horizon cut off by pure and noble lines, seeing beside him reflections of his own, transfigured form in luminous marble, surrounded by human beings who walk solemnly or move delicately, with harmonious sounds and a rhythmic language of gestures – would such a person, with all this beauty streaming in on him from all sides, not be bound to call out, as he raised a hand to Apollo: ’Blessed people of Hellas! How great must Dionysos be amongst you, if the God of Delos considers such acts of magic are needed to heal your dithyrambic madness!’ It is likely, however, that an aged Athenian would reply to a visitor in this mood, looking up at him with the sublime eye of Aeschylus: ‘But say this, curious stranger: how much did this people have to suffer in order that it might become so beautiful! But now follow me to the tragedy and sacrifice along with me in the temple of both deities!’
Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy
Oh you who appeared to me in this desert of a world,
Inhabitant of the sky, passenger in these parts!
O you who made this dark night shine
A ray of love in my eyes.
To my astonished eyes, show yourself all whole,
Tell me your name, your country, your destiny.
Were you cradled here on earth?
Or are you but a divine breath?
Will you see the eternal light again tomorrow?
Or in this place of exile, of mourning, of misery,
Must you still follow your troublesome path?
Ah! Whatever be your name, your destiny, your land,
Daughter of the earth, or of divine dwelling,
Ah! Let me, all my life,
Offer you my devotion or my love.
If you must, like us, complete your course,
Be my support, my guide, and suffer that in all places,
I kiss the dust of your worshipped feet,
But if you take your flight, and if, far from our eyes,
Sister of the angels, soon you will rise back up to them.
Having loved me some time upon the earth,
Remember me in heaven.
Alphonse De Lamartine
Since I have set my lips to your full cup, my sweet,
Since I my pallid face between your hands have laid,
Since I have known your soul, and all the bloom of it,
And all the perfume rare, now buried in the shade;
Since it was given to me to hear one happy while,
The words wherein your heart spoke all its mysteries,
Since I have seen you weep, and since I have seen you smile,
Your lips upon my lips, and your eyes upon my eyes;
Since I have known above my forehead glance and gleam,
A ray, a single ray, of your star, veiled always,
Since I have felt the fall, upon my lifetime’s stream,
Of one rose petal plucked from the roses of your days;
I now am bold to say to the swift changing hours,
Pass, pass upon your way, for I grow never old,
Fleet to the dark abysm with all your fading flowers,
One rose that none may pluck, within my heart I hold.
Your flying wings may smite, but they can never spill
The cup fulfilled of love, from which my lips are wet;
My heart has far more fire than you have frost to chill,
My soul more love than you can make my soul forget.