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From "In Memory of Stephen Spender," by Joseph Brodsky (May 24, 1940--Jan. 28, 1996)

February 04, 1996

People are what we remember about them. What we call life is in the end a patchwork of someone else's recollections. With death, it gets unstitched, and one ends up with random, disjointed fragments. With shards or, if you will, with snapshots. Filled with their unbearable laughter are equally unbearable smiles. Which are unbearable because they are one-dimensional. I should know; after all, I am a photographer's son. And I may even go as far as suggesting a link between picture taking and verse writing--well, insofar as the fragments are black-and-white. Or insofar as writing means retention. Yet one can't pretend that what one beholds goes beyond its blank reverse side. Also, once one realizes how much somebody's life is a hostage of one's own memory, one balks at the jaws of the past-tense. Apart from anything, it's too much like talking behind somebody's back, or like belonging to some virtuous, triumphant majority. One's heart should try to be more honest--if it can't be smarter--than one's grammar.

From "On Grief and Reason: Essays" by Joseph Brodsky (Farrar, Straus & Giroux: $24; 484 pp.). This essay also appeared in the New Yorker. Brodsky died last Sunday in his apartment in Brooklyn Heights. The cause was believed to be a heart attack. Copyright 1996 Reprinted by permission.

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