Reversal at Arlington

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Reversal at Arlington

Oh you are men of stones
now. You have cracked
heaven’s vault,
one way or another.
Having tongues and eyes, you have also,
at some point,
howled,
whether silently or aloud, being of
this earth,
this hallowed, hollowed earth.

Though you’re now reduced
to roles–names, dates, ranks, wars–
‘father, husband, grandfather, Purple
Heart” – you were not players strutting
in a play, not king
for a day, nor me neither, a daughter,
who lives,
a daughter who was allowed, always,
to heave her heart
into her mouth,
a daughter who
looks there, as Lear says, seeking breath
in the stillness.

**************************************
I’m sorry. Another Arlington Cemetery poem. And very much a draft–I’ve edited it extensively since first posting. (I’ve probably not made it better either, as this last edit is being done at 4:30 in the morning. But I woke up with a change of heart.)

My father is buried at Arlington. This is a rather odd poem, based upon the last few lines of King Lear in “King Lear” uttered after his daughter, Cordelia, has been killed. A Purple Heart is a U.S. medal awarded to a military service person wounded or killed in service person wounded in combat.

At the suggestion of the wonderful Hedgewitch, I am posting the main quote that I was thinking of in writing this poem. It is Act V, Scene 3, when Lear carries in his daughter, Cordelia, who has been hanged. Cordelia had earlier been estranged from Lear because of her refusal/inability to “heave her heart into her mouth” and declare the specific measure of her love for her father in a who-loves-dad-most competition with her two older sisters, Goneril and Reagan.

Howl, howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stones:
Had I your tongues and eyes, I’d use them so
That heaven’s vault should crack. She’s gone for ever!
I know when one is dead, and when one lives;
She’s dead as earth. Lend me a looking-glass;
If that her breath will mist or stain the stone,
Why, then she lives.

Throughout the scene, Lear tries to see if Cordelia is breathing (which would mean that he is mistaken and that she lives.) He repeats as his last words, “look there,” seeming to find her breath.

The line about the players strutting is (kind of) from Macbeth.

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10 Comments on “Reversal at Arlington”


  1. ‘men of stones’ – I love the way this conjures everything it is to be a soldier as well as the strange totemism we take towards gravestones after death.

  2. claudia Says:

    men of stones… i like this as well… and each carries a story… made me think of the book thief again… too many people died in wars…

  3. grapeling Says:

    ah, it is Lear. you’ve caught the echoes among the tombstones. ~

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thank you, Michael–it is a super odd poem–and now I’ve just woken up in the middle of the night, and changed it, as another idea floated into my sleep brain. I don’t know. I really did like thinking about the first line – it seemed so fitting somehow, but I’m not sure I’ve carried it out yet. k.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      ps==back to sleep.

  4. brian miller Says:

    men of stones, reduced to roles…is there anything else left of us at that point? what will people remember us by beyond our attachment to central roles in their life and ours? a few may remember more if we are lucky


  5. No apologies necessary.

  6. hedgewitch Says:

    I wish you’d included the quote, k–I know I’ve heard it and it haunted me throughout the poem but of course I can’t remember it exactly, I just know you have picked it up like an echo in what you are saying–and I think it’s very very good, not drafty feeling at all now, though I have come to it late,and not the kind of poem that you drink in one gulp, but one that quenches thirst sip by sip.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks. You know i didn’t even think about including the quote. I will do that, though I kind of used lines from a few different places–the main speech when Lear comes in, and the very end, and then a line from Cordelia early on, and one from Macbeth. (Ha!) Just whatever I kind of know by heart. I really do love the end of King Lear–it is so human and so powerful. I will put in the quotes though–thanks. k.

      >

      • hedgewitch Says:

        Thanks, k. What great lines they are too–i do know the basic plot structure of the play, but it’s been years since I read it, and I could those lines in there but not exactly pinpoint them, though you echo them really skillfully. Much appreciated.


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