Our Beloved Kin: Remapping A New History of King Philip's War

Eleazar's elegy

Eleazar's Elegy for Thomas Thacher

In death of a man to be truly honored, D. Thomas Thacher, who to the lord from this life passed, 18.8.1678.

I will try to remember and retell, with sad grief,
him, whom with tears the times reclaim, our bright man.
Thus the mother mourned Memnon, mourned Achilles,
with just tears, and with heavy grief
the mind is struck senseless, the lips are silent,
now the palm refuses funeral rites:
Duty: what? Does sad Apollo deny help?
But I will try to speak your praises, Thacher,
praises of your virtue, which flies above the stars.
To masters consulted about important affairs, and to men of the cloth
your virtue was known, and sacred was your faith.
You live after death; you are happy after your fate; do you lie at ease?
but surely among the stars in glory you rest.
Your mind now returns to the sky; victory has been shared:
now Christ is yours, and what he has earned yours.
This will be the end of the cross; the end of great evil;
beyond which it will not step further.
you, cross, remain in vain; the bones lie silent in the grave;
death is ended; lovely life returns to life.
To whom the final trumpet will give sound through the dense clouds,
when, returning to the lord, you bear the iron scepters.
Then you will ascend the skies, where the fatherland of the pious truly is;
now Jesus approaches you before this fatherland
there you truly will rest; there bounty without end;
joys and music not borne back to humans.
The dust holds your body, but upon the earth your name will not end,
renowned in the days and times that will be,
your soul having flown from your limbs, it walks the steep heavenly vault,
deathless, intertwined with immortal winds.[1]

Eleazar's elegy models itself after the classical form, drawing on language from Ovid, among other authors.

From Ovid’s Amores, Book III Elegy IX: Elegy for the Dead Tibullus

If his mother grieved for Memnon: his mother for Achilles,
and sad fate thus can touch the great goddesses,
weep, Elegy, and loose your tight-bound hair!
ah, only too truly from this was your name taken! –
Tibullus, your own poet, your own glory,
burns, a worthless corpse, on the tall pyre.
Look, Venus’s boy carries an upturned quiver,
his bow is broken, his torch without its flame:
see, how he goes sadly with drooping wings,
and how he beats his naked breast with fierce hand!
His tears are caught in the hair scattered about his neck,
and break in resounding sobs from his mouth.
So he looked, they say, at his brother Aeneas’s funeral,
when it left your palace, glorious Iulus:
and Venus is no less grieved by Tibullus’s death,
than when the wild boar gashed Adonis’s thigh.
And poets are called sacred, and beloved of the gods:
there are also those who grant us divine inspiration.
Yet greedy death profanes all sacred things:
of all things his shadowy hands take possession!
What help were his divine parents to Thracian Orpheus,
or his songs that overcame the astonished creatures?
And Apollo, father of Linus also, in the deep woods,
cried ‘aelinon!’ they say, as he struck the reluctant lyre.
And Homer, by whom poet’s mouths are moistened
as if by an eternal stream from the Muse’s fountains –
he also at day’s end sank down to dark Avernus.
Poetry alone escapes the greedy pyre:
The poets works survive, the tale of Troy’s sufferings
and the nocturnal guile that un-wove the tardy web.
So Nemesis, and Delia, will have a name forever,
the last your recent worship, the other your former love.
What use are your rituals? What use the Egyptian
sistrum? What use those nights sleeping in an empty bed?
When evil fate drags down the good – forgive my words! –
it incites me to believe there are no gods.
Live piously – you die: obey the rites piously, obeying
death drags you from the temple’s echo to the hollow tomb:
Place your faith in poetry’s truth – look, there, Tibullus lies:
of all there hardly remains what might fill a little urn!
Did the funeral fires consume you, sacred poet,
that had no fear of feeding on your heart?
Flames that could commit such wickedness
would burn the golden shrines of the sacred gods!
Venus, who holds the heights of Eryx turned away her face:
some say she could not hold back her tears.
But still it is better so, than that Corfu’s earth
had covered you, unknown, with common soil.
Here, your mother closed your wet eyes in death
and paid the last rites to your ashes:
Here your sister, with torn and unkempt hair,
came to share her sorrowing mother’s grief,
Your Delia said: ‘I am lucky, to have been loved by you,’
stepping from the pyre: ‘you lived when I was your flame.’
while Nemesis said: ‘Why is my hurt your grief?
His failing hand held me as he died.’
Yet if anything is left of us but a shadow and a name
Tibullus lives in some valley of Elysium.
You come to meet him, ivy wreathing your young brows,
learned Catullus, with your Calvus:
and you, also, Gallus, too free with your blood and life,
if that charge is false of violating Caesar’s friendship.
Your spirit will accompany them: if the body ends as spirit,
gracious Tibullus, added to the numbers of the blessed.
I pray that your bones rest, at peace, in their protecting urn,
and that the earth lies lightly on your grave!

[1] The elegy for minister Thomas Thatcher was originally published by Eleazar’s classmate, Cotton Mather in Magnalia Christi Americana (1702). The original translation of Eleazar’s poem appearing here was contributed by Cassandra Hradil, based on earlier translations by Sally Livingston and Vanessa Dube, all done in consultation with Lisa Brooks. This work was informed by the translation in Wolfgang Hochbruck and Beatrix Dudensing Reichel, “'Honoratissimi Benefactores': Native American Students and Two Seventeenth-century Texts in the University Tradition,” in Early Native American Writing: New Critical Essays, ed. Helen Jaskoski (Cambridge University Press, 1996). 

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