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Home arrow History arrow A Global History of Child Death: Mortality, Burial, and Parental Attitudes

Poetry

Medieval Islam

Lamentation poems, often included in the medieval Muslim treatises, illustrated the psychological torment experiences by grieving parents. Frequently, the poetry spoke to the personal attributes of the child; intelligence and good character, for example. One such poem by Ibn Nubata states “‘The child was small’, they say, ‘not so the grief for him,’ say I”.15 Again, this statement echoes the common belief that young child, particularly under the age of three, should not be mourned.

Jan of Poland's Laments

Jan Kochanowski, a great Polish poet, wrote Laments when his two and a half year old daughter, Ursula, died in 1579. These nineteen poems begin as eulogy to her death, followed by lamentations expressing the depth of Jan’s grief. The excerpt from Lament 1, below, exemplifies his denial of steadfastness. Like the other Laments that follow, it is an expression of unbearable grief.

Help me to mourn my small girl, my dear daughter, Whom cruel Death tore up with such wild force Out of my life, it left me no recourse.

So the snake, when he finds a hidden nest Of fledgling nightingales, rears and strikes fast Repeatedly, while the poor mother bird Tries to distract him with a fierce, absurd

Fluttering—but in vain! the venomous tongue Darts, and she must retreat on ruffled wing.

“You weep in vain,” my friends will say. But then,

What is not in vain, by God, in lives of men?

All is in vain! We play at blindman’s buff Until hard edges break into our path.

Man’s life is error. Where, then, is relief?

In shedding tears or wrestling down my grief?16

Jan’s series of poems conclude with a consolation and description of a dream in which he sees his daughter in the arms of his deceased mother. In the following Lament, the last, he is comforted by the knowledge that his daughter has eternal life and is protected from a potentially difficult adult life. This aggrieved father acknowledges the healing nature of time.

She ran her given course and did depart;

And if that course was brief, yet who can say That she would have been happier to stay?

The ways of God are past our finding out,

Yet what He holds as good shall we misdoubt?

And when the spirit leaves us, it is vain To weep so long; it will not come again...

That we should not lament when she hath done A bitter turn, but thank her in that she Hath held her hand from greater injury.. .Now, master, heal thyself: time is the cure For all.17

 
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