Sunday, February 20, 2011

On the Life and Death of Louis Papillon

Have you ever visited a cemetery and wondered about the people who lie beneath the ground? They are just meaningless names to us and yet behind these names were lives, loves, strife and, ultimately death.

I didn't look too closely one sunlit evening in Vezelay, France, at the moss encrusted grave of Louis Papillon in the beautiful silence of an overgrown graveyard behind the cathedral.

Only later when I viewed the photograph did I realize Papillion had only lived from 1884 to 1885, and Augustin, who appears to have been his twin, only lived to be six-years-old.

Such tragedy hidden in this overgrown verdant paradise of gently chiming bells, wild flowers, candle lit restaurants and bottles of Burgundy, is almost too hard to bear if you think too hard about it, as is the weight of history.

In the year Papillon flew away like his butterfly namesake, France donated the Staute of Liberty to the United States. Still I will never know the full details of the tragedy that engulfed Louis and Augustin Papillon. Countless seasons have eroded their memory as steadily as the grass has grown around their tomb.

As my family deals with the loss of my father-in-law, this obscure tragedy makes it all slightly easier to bear. Jack may have been taken too soon, but at least he had the chance to live.

Which is more than you can say for the poor infant buried in a fragrant French cemetery.

Finding a poem to commemorate death is an almost impossible task because there are so many. But one of my favorites is this poem by Mary Frye because there is definance and there is hope.

Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep by Mary Frye

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you wake in the morning hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.

Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die!


  1. Excellent selection, David. At times like these, hope and faith are really all we have left to hold onto. I especially like the details in this poem chosen by Frye to represent that hope. She really captures the feeling with the two middle stanzas.

  2. That is a very lovely and uplifting poem. I am sorry to hear about your father-in-law.

  3. Thanks Daisy - glad you liked it. Too kind MP, thanks for the re-visit.