Quare tristis es, anima mea

Posted: December 28, 2000

In World War I, the British army suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties.  As Cay Van Ash notes in Master of Villainy, "There were many sorrowing hearts in England" (103).  T. P. O'Connor was an Irish journalist and a prominent member of the House of Commons who decided to publish the Journal of the Great War. He was also an old friend of the Rohmer family and at his request, Rohmer wrote a "poem of consolation" for the grieving families. For a title he chose "Quare tristis es anima mea?"  from Psalm 42,  "Why art thou sad, O my soul?" 

In Master of Villainy, Van Ash noted that by contemporary standards, the poem may seem to be "mere sentimentality," but he also noted that "there is a time when the sentimental rings true." In the midst of the devastating losses of WWI, the poem touched many people. Van Ash also related the story of a women who, years after it was published, showed Rohmer where she kept the verse in her prayer book. Rohmer, himself, provided a more detailed account in the "Author's Note" he added in 1942 when he  re-titled the poem "From the Dead to the Living" and tried to sell it for re-publication. In less "sentimental" times, however, it failed to sell and it has never been published under this title. 

The Note and poem presented below were transcribed by Cay Van Ash from Rohmer's files while Van Ash was working on Master of Villainy with Mrs. Rohmer.


Author's Note

   The history of the following piece is so curious that although I claim no poetic merit for the work I think its reproduction may possibly serve a good purpose. 
   It was originally sent in 1914 to the late T. P. O'Connor for publication in his "Journal of the Great War", where it appeared anonymously under the title "Quare tristis es, anima mea". It was reprinted in a number of provincial and colonial newspapers at the time.
   I had forgotten all about it, when a deeply religious lady of  my acquaintance produced it from the leaves of her prayer-book, telling me that it had afforded her a strange consolation in hours of sorrow. She had no idea that I was the author of the verses, and I thought it better not to tell her.
   Finally, I received a letter from Mrs. McLean of Spreydon, Christchurch, New Zealand, asking me if I had any knowledge of the authorship of certain verses, which she quoted, and which she had heard many years ago, read from a pulpit. The clergyman concerned had given her a copy which, however, she had lost. As a result of the correspondence which followed (I admitted the authorship but added that I had no copy in my possession) Mrs. McLean searched further, discovered the missing verses and sent them to me.
   She writes, "After a tremendous hunt through years of papers, I have found it and hasten to send you a copy, as at the moment I am sure others would derive much happiness from these verses."
   I reproduce the verses below.

                                                        Sax Rohmer


From the Dead to the Living

(Wherefore art thou sad, my soul?)

Dear one, I stand beside thee!
Dost thou not mark me here?
Love, I am bending o'er thee --
Counting each falling tear!
Mother, whose son hath left thee --
Wife, with the heart of stone --
Woman of many sorrows --
Peace, thou art not alone!

Lo, all my days I quested,
Deeming the wit of man
Fashioned for comprehending
The First, the Final, Plan.
Dear one! the blow that fell'd me,
Marking this earth-life's close,
Quicken'd true Life within me:
Lo, I, the Dead, arose!

Open, it lay before me --
God-written, fateful page.
Christ, now I comprehend Thee!
Buddha! thou wast a sage.
Men of the East, all hear me:
Men of the West, I give
Guaranty, that ye sought for;
Lo, I have died: I live.

Comrades, who fell around me,
Bear ye the message home;
Unto those waiting dear ones
Whisper "The Light is come!"
Stand ye before them radiant;
Bid them no more to mourn,
Into their stricken darkness,
Pour ye the Holy Dawn.

Comrade of distant Indus --
Seek ye thy dark-ey'd wife;
Greet her, unmaim'd, unshatter'd;
Tell her that Death is Life.
Comrade of France, God speed thee!
Comrade in weal, in woe --
Comrade, dear English comrade,
Thou, too, hast lov'd once -- go!

Space doth no more enmesh me;
Gone is my grosser part.
Love! I am speeding, speeding
Home to thee, faithful heart!
God, how I questioned, doubted,
Witting not that the way
Up to this new, this true life
Was barr'd by the gates of clay.

Mother, whose son hath left thee --
Wife, with the heart of stone --
Woman of many sorrows --
Peace, thou art not alone!
Christ, and the Buddha taught it
(Blind have I been, and worse!)
How there are lives unending
Cycling the Universe.

Dear one, 'tis true, Behold me!
Dost thou not mark me here?
Love, I am bending o'er thee
Counting each falling tear!
God! she doth not behold me!
Heeds not my seeking hand --
Death is the only passport?
Master! ... I understand.


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Copyright 2000 Lawrence Knapp and R. E. Briney. All rights reserved.

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