Literary Wisdom · Poetry

The Burial of Ophelia: A Poem

With the completion of this Shakespearean sonnet, I sought to speculate at the symbolism of Ophelia’s death in Hamlet. Previously I had rewritten a song of death and published it as a poem concerning Ophelia’s burial, but only through the eyes of Hamlet’s grief. Contrarily, through the shrouded eyes of Ophelia, I think we can gain more inspiration than we could ever dream possible, though I do perhaps exaggerate her role here (my rationalization of this exaggeration one can find in the quote below). Note also the idea of stillness in joy, or, rather, as I’ve written before in my fiction, “quiet joy”. This is one of my favorite concepts to shake and turn upside down and otherwise tinker with in my writing, for though it seems a logical fallacy to most, I tend to think of it as a sweet oxymoron, one that describes perfectly the attitude of a true and faithful witness of Christ’s salvation.

“When Ophelia lived, Hamlet repudiated her. Now that she is dead, he regains his love for Ophelia: ‘I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers / Could not with all their quantity of love / Make up my sum’ (lines 259-61). As Hamlet now accepts a relationship that in his distraught state he had cruelly destroyed, he rises in our estimation. Maynard Mack writes regarding act 5, ‘Hamlet accepts his world and we discover a different man….[Shakespeare] leads us to expect an altered Hamlet, and then…provides him.’ According to Mack, this change is ‘a matter of Hamlet’s whole deportment, in which…we may legitimately see the deportment of a man who has been “illuminated’ in the tragic sense.'” ~Leland Ryken, Christian’s Guide to the Classics: Hamlet, page 67

The Burial of Ophelia

The water drown’d, the helpless grave I found,
And now I shall be buried. Fury, grief,
Corruption, too, doth linger and resound
Around my insane flesh—and yet—relief.
In earthly life I’d lived for one—a prince,
Whose frightful sadness only I could cure,
Yet when I went my senseless way to rinse,
Believed I not that man could be secure.
But soft!—what mystic difference do I see?
A full-grown man, avoiding not the skull,
Yet now quite still in joy so heavenly.
Could this my baptiz’d body, deathly dull,
So usher Christ’s own glory? Now I know
My lady purpose fill’d: Elysium’s show.


~Sarah Merly

January 20, 2019

Isaiah 53