Homer did no injustice to his grief


Achilles mourning the death of Patroclus, Corinthian Chytra

Robert Frost in the words of TobiasĀ  Wolff, from Old School.

Don’t tell me about war. I lost my nearest friend in the one they call the Great War. So did Achilles lose his friend in the war, and Homer did no injustice to his grief by writing about it in dactylic hexameters. There’ve always been wars, and they’ve always been as foul as we could make them. It is very fine and pleasant to think ourselves the most put-upon folk in history – but then everyone has thought that from the beginning. It makes a grand excuse for all manner of laziness. But about my friend. I wrote a poem for him. I still write poems for him. Would you honor your friend by putting words down anyhow, just as they come to you – with no thought for the sound they make, the meaning of their sound, the sound of their meaning? Would that give a true account of the loss?


I am thinking of Achilles’ grief. That famous, terrible grief. Let me tell you boys something. Such grief can only be told in form. Maybe it only really exists in form. Form is everything. Without it you’ve got nothing but a stubbed-toe cry – sincere, maybe, for what that’s worth, but with no depth or carry. No echo. You may have a grievance but you do not have grief, and grievances are for petitions, not poetry.

Form and echo.

You put together two things that have not been put together before. And the world isĀ changed.

Julian Barnes, Levels of Life

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