On Lines from Plutarch’s Consolation to His Wife

Philip Belcher Click to


Philip Belcher lives in Asheville, North Carolina. A graduate of Furman University, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the Duke University School of Law, he also has an MFA in Poetry from Converse College and is the recipient of the Porter Fleming Prize in Poetry. Belcher’s poems and critical prose have appeared in numerous journals.

. . . if I find your grief exceeds due measure I shall be more greatly distressed than by the misfortune itself.    — Plutarch

Upon learning of Timoxena’s death,
unable to write her name until late
in his letter, he asked his wife this favor:

Do not let your grief exceed due measure.
Death is no more than one’s state before birth.
There was no grief before our daughter came.
Why should we grieve now that she is gone?
All that has passed is a two-year life,
eight seasons of small delights.
Should such a gift be mourned?
And a life so brief the soul lacked time
to stiffen into a mold she would find
difficult to shed. You ask me how
one measures pain, how one bottles
tides. Dear wife, this is virtue’s test.
Let us grieve quietly, together, alone.