This article first appeared in the June 2018 issue of our parish magazine.
This well-known poem was written in 1932 by Mary Elizabeth Frye in response to a conversation with a Jewish friend. The friend had fled Germany for America, and for obvious reasons was unable to be with her terminally ill mother when she died. She told Frye that she had not even been able to “stand at her graveside and shed a tear”. Commonly read at funerals, the text is:
- Do not stand at my grave and weep
- I am not there; I do not sleep.
- I am a thousand winds that blow,
- I am the diamond glints on snow,
- I am the sun on ripened grain,
- I am the gentle autumn rain.
- When you awaken in the morning’s hush
- I am the swift uplifting rush
- Of quiet birds in circled flight.
- I am the soft stars that shine at night.
- Do not stand at my grave and cry,
- I am not there; I did not die.
At time of writing the Easter season is still going strong. We have yet to celebrate Ascension Day and Pentecost – although I know that these will be behind us when this is published. This timing is relevant because whilst rehearsing a setting of this poem with the Manchester Chorale recently I was reminded of being in Jerusalem last November. I had the incredible good fortune to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a group from Manchester diocese. We had walked the Via Dolorosa on our “Good Friday”, and I had three attempts at going in the empty tomb. On my last opportunity I queued for over 90 minutes with a few fellow pilgrims – with no guarantee that we would get in before it closed. I kept telling myself “he’s not there, the tomb is empty”, which was of course the whole point. Our Lord did not die. He rose, and lives. We experience his presence in so many ways – in the winds, the snow, the rain, the stillness of dawn, in birds circling in the vastness if the sky, in the myriad stars of night.
He is nowhere. He is everywhere. He did not die.
A few years ago I bought the Katherine Jenkins version of this song for my mother. My grandmother died on March 30 ten years ago, and on the 30th of every month my Dad takes Mum to the cemetery to lay flowers. She isn’t there.
You can listen to that version of this song here https://youtu.be/BM8TQH-zDbQ