When comes the last long silence to this lute,
And by its plea no more the calm is broken,
In charity, O world, let it be spoken:
No human sorrow found this player mute!
I came across this small poem by accident. I had been reading a James Joyce poem, "She Weeps Over Rahoon" which was published in the November 1917 issue of Poetry Magazine. Since I was reading a scan of that page, I saw the poem that accompanied it, a short ABBA quatrain epitaph by John Black. It caught my eye, and its straightforward earnestness caught me off guard. I have been unable to find any biographical info on the poet John Black, and would welcome any readers who know anything more.
What stands out most to me about this short poem is its interpretation of what poetry is. The narrator, presumably Black himself, as this is "A Poet's Epitaph," wishes to be remembered for a refusal to be silent in the face of human sorrow. It's a brave role, and aspirational. Black isn't dead yet, but "When comes the last long silence to this lute" he wishes to be remembered for never being "mute." The publishing date also stands out to me. In 1917, the western world was in the midst of World War I, then known as The Great War. There were countless poet-soldiers, many of whose work I've looked at here. Is this a war poem? I'm having difficulty finding concrete info on this poem apart from the actual page on which it was published. Still, I feel like this epitaph is a reminder of what a poet can be. Poetry can be an enduring testament to the human spirit and righteousness in the face of evil, and indeed, oftentimes it is. While Black's lute may be silent, as I can find almost no info about him, his epitaph endures as a reminder of our highest hopes, aspirations, and anxieties about how the world will remember us (if indeed it does) after we're gone.