Classics · My Poetry · Shakespeare

Two Answers

I didn’t realize until I’d already written both of these poems how well they mirror each other, and believe it or not, it wasn’t intentional. But it makes sense, in a way, because they both relate to Hamlet’s infamous question and tell the stories of two characters who represent very different answers. Anyway, I decided they work better together than apart. The first one is written from Ophelia’s point of view in Act IV of Hamlet, and the second from Horatio’s viewpoint at the end of Act V.


Not to Be

Remember me with rosemary
And daisies in my hair
Their petals wilted, innocence
Now lost beyond repair

Remember me with rosemary
I’ll give you columbines
And fennel, too, some rue for you
But this one must be mine

Remember me with rosemary
And let me slip away
I’ll live on in your memory
Remember, love, I pray

Remember me with rosemary
And keep me in your thoughts
My violets all have shriveled up
And in the earth they’ll rot

Remember me with rosemary
I’m choosing not to be
Let others ask the questions now
Remind them, love, of me


To Be

You asked a question
A question I will answer
Your last command still echoes in my mind
In life I served you faithfully
In death – your death – I do the same
My prince
Among the bodies buried here today
Why was it I who lived?
No, that’s not the question

You asked a question
In the depths of grief
When reason fled and left you craving some release
My prince, goodnight
After the war you waged within your soul
In sleep of death may you at last find peace

You asked a question
I think you found the answer in the end
When words like yours came spilling from my lips
You stayed my hand and took the poisoned cup
My friend, I shall obey thy final wish
I’ll live
While yet I breathe, thy memory I keep
Thy story shall I carry far and wide
And unto all who lend their hearts and ears
I’ll tell thy fate

You asked a question
I’m living out the answer day by day
I choose to be, I choose to carry on
Let life’s outrageous whims do what they may
And words preserve forever what I say
So we may be remembered when we’re gone

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