Grief in a Time of Plague

“His Lyre is now Attuned only to Woe”

The eyes, the face, the limbs of heavenly mold,
So long the theme of my impassioned lay,
Charms which so stole me from myself away,
That strange to other men the course I hold;
The crisped locks of pure and lucid gold,
The lightning of the angelic smile, whose ray
To earth could all of paradise convey,
A little dust are now — to feeling cold.
And yet I live — but that I live bewail,
Sunk the loved light that through the tempest led
My shattered bark, bereft of mast and sail:
Hushed be for aye the song that breathed love’s fire!
Lost is the theme on which my fancy fed,
And turned to mourning my once tuneful lyre.

- Francesco Petrarcha, Sonnet 24

I quoted this sonnet, and parts of the following text, in my Star-Cross’d short story “On All Our Houses.” I penned this story nearly two years ago for the Black Death anthology We All Fall Down. In the story, Dante’s son grapples with his daughter’s immanent death to the plague.

To be honest, even though it was published just over a month ago, I haven’t been able to bring myself to revisit this story. It was raw grief when I wrote it, and it feels all the more raw now.

But today a friend reached out to me after reading it, and she reminded me of the power of Petrarch’s words as he wrote a letter mourning the death of his brother to the plague. Reading that letter now, it feels less a piece of history and more a living voice, speaking to us all, for us all. I present it here, without adornment. Grief speaks for itself.

Francesco Petrarca
“Ad Seipsum” (“To Himself”)

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Actor. Author. Father. Husband. In reverse order. Latest novel: WHAT GIRLS ARE GOOD FOR.

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