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American philosopher Charles M. Schulz once wrote, “Happiness is a sad song.” Even as a child, I thought I understood what that meant. To me, the most moving works of art, music, and literature are those that remind me of mortality, of the fragility of life and its foundations.

My post yesterday about poems as gifts led me to some online resources about types of poetry. One that caught my eye is the elegy, a mournful poem about life and death. An example you’ll probably recognize, by an American treasure, Walt Whitman:

O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:

But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

I wrote the other day about Art’s tribute poem following President Kennedy’s assassination. I’m not certain it falls into the elegy category; more likely, it’d be considered an ode. It’s more celebratory of life than “O Captain! My Captain!” Maybe there are some English teachers in the audience who will correct me.

In any case, I did find an example in the ArthurMapes.com poetry archive of a poem I’d consider elegiac. It’s been on my short list of favorites as long as I can remember, probably because, as I mentioned, I’ve always thought happiness is a sad song — and I’m an unapologetic tree-hugger. Grandpa may have never written a poem just for me, but if he had, it’d be this one. I hope you’ll enjoy “To A Dead Elm” as much as I always have:

You will not heed the fervent kiss of Spring,
Or know the searing pain of lightning thrust;
Nor feel the close embrace of vines that cling,
That yet to you would place their lasting trust.

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