Autumn Rain offers consolation
Thanks to the internet, what was once a little-known poem has consoled
countless mourners around the English-speaking world. Unpublished when it was
first written in 1932, it touched the hearts of many people. It was originally
circulated among a small group of friends, who showed it to others, and it has
snowballed ever since.
The South Bank Centre (London) Poetry Library website says: "Written at least 50 years ago, this poem has been attributed at different times to J.T. Wiggins (an English émigré to America), two Americans: Mary E. Fry and Marianne Reinhardt, and more recently to Stephen Cummins, a British soldier killed in Northern Ireland who left a copy for his relatives. Others claim it is a Navajo burial prayer."
Over the years, the original words have been adapted many times. Here is a version recited at a funeral service in Sydney last month:
No-one seems to know exactly the original words of the poem, which Mary Elizabeth Frye, a Baltimore, Maryland, housewife composed in 1932, following the death in Germany of the mother of a friend staying with her in the United States..
Her friend, Margaret Schwarzkopf, was brokenhearted that being so far from home, she was unable to "stand by my mother's grave and shed a tear."
To console her, Mary quickly composed her famous verse, writing it down on a paper bag. She didn't even give it a title. Friends of the Schwarzkopf family later gave printed copies of the poem to their friends, many of whom were so touched by it that they in turn passed it on to others.
Born Mary Elizabeth Clark in Dayton, Ohio, on November 13, 1905, the future
Mrs Frye was orphaned when she was three years old. She moved to Baltimore nine
years later and died on September 15, 2004, two months before her 99th birthday.
"It is likely that the mystery and magical appeal of Mary Frye's verse will continue," says British motivator Alan Chapman.*
"Probably the mystery has contributed to the poem's appeal. It is likely also that the poem will forever touch people, in the way that people are touched and inspired by Max Ehrmann's Desiderata, and by Rudyard Kipling's If...
"Mary Frye's 'Do not stand at my grave' and its timeless appeal provide a wonderful illustration of the power of language, and the power of ideas and concepts to spread far and wide, quite organically.
"Beautiful words transcend all else; they inspire, console and strengthen the human spirit."
* Alan Chapman, who lives in Leicester, England is a speaker, coach and advisor, specialising in the ethical and innovative development of people and organizations. He runs the Businessballs website.