Tag Archives: poetry

Lament for the Living – Gahiji’s Poetry Book

In ‘Lament for the Living’ there’s a scene where the character Gahiji is trying to make sense of all the violence and killing, not just from the Outbreak, but also from his own past experiences in Rwanda.

It’s a flashback scene where he finds a small book of poetry by Robert Burns, and in it he reads the poem “Man was made to mourn; a Dirge”.

Excerpt from Chapter 13: Second Watch

During their travels they stopped overnight in a house at the end of a dirt track.  The place was a mess, it smelled of death, but the dead were long gone.  It looked like the house was in a time warp, untouched for sixty years.  The only things that gave away that it had been lived in were a DAB radio and flat screen television.  Gahiji had found a small book, no more than three inches by four inches.  A padded cover in orange and green tartan gave no clue as to the content.  He opened it to a random page and read the following:

Man was made to mourn: A Dirge
Many and sharp the num’rous ills
Inwoven with our frame!
More pointed still we make ourselves
Regret, remorse, and shame!
And man, whose heav’n-erected face
The smiles of love adorn, –
Man’s inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!

There it was, “Man’s inhumanity to man”, in black in white.  Gahiji had seen it many times since in various guises.  The Outbreak had broken the thread that bound humanity together.  People were animals, and animals were treated inhumanely as a matter of course.  He had found the legend in the book about the author, Robert Burns who had been dead for three hundred years.  His words echoing across the centuries, as true now as they were then.  Gahiji still had the small book.  He carried it with him to remind him of the true nature of Man.  Other poems in the book rejoiced in life, and spoke of hope, like Pandora’s box.  Despite everything he had seen, Gahiji also clung onto hope.

Some of you readers out there already know that many of the places in my stories are based on real areas, well that passage was based on a real book that’s been in my family for nearly forty years:

This small book was the inspiration for the section in Lament for the Living where Gahiji makes sense of the world.
This small book was the inspiration for the section in Lament for the Living where Gahiji makes sense of the world.
Poems by Robert Burns
The book has been in my family for years, a gift from my uncle to my father.
Even a Nicol made it in the book.
Although ‘Man was made to mourn: A Dirge’ (1784) isn’t actually in the book, another Nicol is.


Poems by Robert Burns – a “Midget” Classic is the book.  And interestingly, although the book made it into my book, the poem that did, didn’t make it into that book.

Anyhoo, thought that was a nice bit of trivia for you all.