Ode on a Lycian Tomb

Mitchell, S. (Silas) Weir

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Oct-17-1996
  • Last revised: Sep-05-2006


The poet stands before an ancient Lycian tomb, upon which is carved the sorrowful face of a woman: "One woman garbed in sorrow’s every mood." He reflects on the constancy of loss in human life. He asks the woman to weep for him, also, because [I] "Share thy stilled sadness, which must ever be / Too changeless, and unending like my own . . . . "

Though the Lycian woman’s grief is old, the poet’s is young. He has lost a child: "With that too human wail in pain expressed, / The parent cry above the empty nest." He is skeptical about dreams of a better life. He rejects "The first confusing, mad bewilderment, / Life’s unbelief in death . . . . " Death is real and final. He concludes with full understanding that "life is but a tender instrument / Whereon the master hand of grief doth fall."


This is one of the finest of Mitchell’s poems, an elegantly crafted ode in 19 six-line iambic pentameter stanzas. The poem is a rather well-sustained reflection on loss and mourning, occasioned by the death of Mitchell’s daughter from diphtheria in 1898. Unlike most of Mitchell’s poetry, much of this ode hits home in a very visceral way. It seems to speak honestly to the reader, rather than being artificial and pretentious.


Written in 1899; first published in book form in 1914.

Primary Source

Complete Poems



Place Published

New York