Born 13 November 1905, Mary Elizabeth Frye was an American housewife and florist, best known as the author of the poem Do not stand at my grave and weep. She was born in Dayton, Ohio, and was orphaned at the age of three She never published or copyrighted the poem. The identity of the author of the poem was unknown until the late 1990s, when Frye revealed that she had written it. Her claim was confirmed in 1998 after research by Abigail Van Buren.
She died on 15 September 2004.
Written in 1932, this poem was written from the perspective of a person beyond the grave, someone who was well aware of what it felt like to die. From Goodreads, ‘The poem for which she became famous was originally composed on a brown paper shopping bag, and was reportedly inspired by the story of a young Jewish girl, Margaret Schwarzkopf, who had been staying with the Frye household and had been unable to visit her dying mother in Germany because of anti-Semitic unrest.’
Often noted for the authoritative tone evident in the first few lines, this poem starts with the speaker dictating the reader to not weep at his/her grave for they are not there in the grave. Widely read at funerals, this poem is aimed at soothing those who are mourning the loss of a loved one, with the dead person assuring them that they are not confined to their graves.
In the subsequent lines, the dead person is comforting the mourner, assuring them that rather than being dead, and in a grave, they are very much alive and present in every bit of nature. The descriptive phrases here, especially ‘diamond glint‘ and ‘ripened grain‘ add a rich element of imagery and structure to the poem.
The speaker further continues to soothe the reader letting them know that they’ll be there every morning, the mourner greets a new day, alive in ‘the swift uprush of quiet birds‘. Apart from being there in the morning, the speaker says he/she will also be present at night in the form of the ‘soft stars‘. These lines imply that a dead person never truly leaves us and is ever present in the soothing elements of nature.
The poem ends on a firm note, with the reader being told to not weep, for the speaker has not died. These lines would imply death being a new beginning, rather than an end, as is popularly believed. The clear and empathetic claim that he/she is not there in the ground, but is alive is aimed at setting the mourner at peace.
Poetic devices used include, hyperbole, imagery, rhyme and metaphor. The inclusion of nature to capture such profound notions is also a widely loved feature of this poem.
This was a beautiful poem and one that seems highly relevant in the present scenario, as death tolls from around the world rise in a staggering manner. Hope you liked this poem. Thank you for reading!