One group of victims shown in the Long Night’s Journey into Day film are a group of mothers who all have shared in the pain of losing their child to violence of South Africa’s police. Not only was the story of these mothers heart wrenching in its own right but in the larger context of the sheer number of similar stories all taking place around the same time is unfathomable and deeply distressing. The day-in-day-out, for lack of a better term, hell of life takes it toll. There is one thing that these mothers have though; the truth. Above all else they were able to get the truth and know that their boys were not really the “terrorists” the media portrayed them as. This reminded me of the importance of the truth – no matter how bitter, hard to swallow, or fresh the wound is the the truth set these mothers on a path to freedom. Immediately following their reaction to the videotape of their children one mother was seen being much chipper and happier. When asked if she was feeling okay she replied “[o]h, yes, very much better, because now I know so much more.” In this instance knowing more does help even if it is of this traumatic magnitude.
Hearing the stories of these mothers reminded me of a Romanticism poet by the name of Felicia Hemans. Hemans’ poem “The Graves of a Household” speaks volumes to the inverse scenario that these mothers could have faced had they never known the truth. A life of misery and want and wait for the children they raised to come home — never to know where or if they are alive. These five stanzas stand to highlight what I am writing about:
The same fond mother bent at night
O’er each fair sleeping brow;
She had each folded flower in sight,–
Where are those dreamers now?
One, midst the forests of the west,
By a dark stream is laid,–
The Indian knows his place of rest,
Far in the cedar shade.
The sea, the blue lone sea, hath one,
He lies where pearls lie deep;
He was the lov’d of all, yet none
O’er his low bed may weep.
One sleeps where southern vines are drest
Above the noble slain:
He wrapt his colours round his breast,
On a blood-red field of Spain.
And one–o’er her the myrtle showers
Its leaves, by soft winds fann’d;
She faded midst Italian flowers,–
The last of that bright band.
The truth these mother found was sharp, jagged, and painful. But it was a truth that most others do not ever have the opportunity to find. The TRC helped bring this truth to light, to set the record straight on who these mothers children were, and to bring the mothers some closure. It is not a good outcome, there cannot be a good outcome to something as violent and brutal as Apartheid. But it was a better outcome for these mothers than the mother in Hemans’ poem — a life of wanting, waiting, and wondering that never frees the mind.
One thought on “The Graves of a Household”
What a cool parallel you draw here with this poem. I am going to be very eager to hear what you make of Krog and the way she turns to poetry at various points in Country of My Skull. It does strike me as important, in terms of how we analyze the film, to note that the story of the mother who is emotionally distraught during the hearing and then bounces back by the end of the day is a story that is *narrated* to us by Mary Burton but not actually presented first hand in the film. I wonder how it might matters that the mothers we do see don’t quite do that for us on screen.