On Grief: Edition 01
Exploring poetry and Gen Z TV.
Welcome to the first edition of On Grief: a recurring journal feature that highlights how grief shows up in pop culture, literature, music, visual arts, and film.
I was watching the penultimate episode of season two of HBO’s hit show euphoria (spoilers ahead), and was struck by a scene between two of the main characters, Lexi and Rue. It’s a flashback scene, going back to Rue’s dad’s wake. The two girls are in Rue’s bedroom and, at this time, they’re fourteen years old. You can tell it’s a flashback because Lexi is donning a pair of braces and Rue has two child-like braids. It’s the braids that weigh extra heavy on my heart as I watch her snort a line of crushed opioids. The dichotomy of her innocence and her addiction is sharply exaggerated in this scene—but this isn’t surprising; Euphoria knows how to dramatise. Lexi, unsure of how to console her friend in her grief, approaches her with a quote by C.S Lewis: “Grief is like a long valley”, she starts. Rue interrupts her, “Yeah, that’s what every hospice nurse will tell you.” “You didn’t let me finish”, Lexi insists. She continues: “A winding valley, where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape.”
With the subject of grief on my mind, I had to pause at this. “Grief is like a long valley”—this feels true. What I’ve experienced of grief is that it does feel long and that it runs deep, like a valley. It is winding—you don’t necessarily know where you’re going next. It’s also meandering, slow, and nonlinear. So yes, I can understand why Rue scoffs at this a bit; we get it, grief is hard. Rue’s living it; she doesn’t need Lexi or a nurse, or anyone for that matter, to tell her that. However, the second half of this quote is what makes it worth quoting. The introduction of hope, of turning a corner, opens the door to meaning. You might be familiar with the six stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance, and meaning. I think the new landscapes are where there’s meaning to be found. I’m not an “everything happens for a reason” person, but I do believe we can derive meaning from what happens to us in our lives. So, I am curious, for anyone reading this: what new landscapes have been revealed to you through your grief? Have you come across meaning?
Returning to the scene from Euphoria, Lexi tries yet again to console her friend with literature. This time, she reads Rue a poem by Rainier Maria Rilke, “Let This Darkness be a Bell Tower.” Here’s the poem:
Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,
what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.
In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.
And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am.
I find this poem so rich. The image of the bell, swinging itself back and forth in the tower; quiet and alone, smashing against the sides with a fervent intensity. Each clang is like a outcry—and yet, it can sound so faint to another ear. Can anyone be in the bell tower with you? The durability and strength of this imagery contrasts in my mind with the notion that grief is delicate and fragile. The line: If the drink is bitter, turn yourself into wine makes me think of agency. It reminds me that choice exists, no matter our situation.
There are so many powerful ways we communicate and express the human experience to one another. I don’t know much about poetry, but I thought it was pretty special that a wildly popular show about Gen Z kids and addiction could give this piece of literature such a massive stage.
Written by Alex Falconer