We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
–T. S. Eliot
Many of us spend our whole lives running from feeling with the mistaken belief that you can not bear the pain. But you have already borne the pain.
What you have not done is feel you are beyond that pain.
The people of my time are passing away: my
Wife is baking for a funeral, a 60-year old who
Died suddenly, when the phone rings, and it's
Ruth we care so much about in intensive care:
It was once weddings that came so thick and
Fast, and then, first babies, such a hullabaloo:
Now, it's this and that and the other and somebody
Else gone or on the brink: well, we never
Thought we would live forever (although we did)
And now it looks like we won't: some of us
Are losing a leg to diabetes, some don't know
What they went downstairs for, some know that
A hired watchful person is around, some like
To touch the cane tip into something steady,
So nice: we have already lost so many,
Brushed the loss of ourselves ourselves: our
Address books for so long a slow scramble now
Are palimpsests, scribbles and scratches: our
Index cards for Christmases, birthdays,
Halloweens drop clean away into sympathies:
At the same time we are getting used to so
Many leaving, we are hanging on with a grip
To the ones left: we are not giving up on the
Congestive heart failures or brain tumors, on
The nice old men left in empty houses or on
The widows who decided to travel a lot: we
Think the sun may shine someday when we'll
Drink wine together and think of what used to
Be: until we die we will remember every
Single thing, recall every word, love every
Loss: then we will, as we must, leave it to
Others to love, love that can grow brighter
And deeper till the very end, gaining strength
And getting more precious all the way.
–A. R. Ammons
into the strenuous briefness
hand organs and April
i charge laughing.
Into the hair-thin tints
of yellow dawn,
into the women-colored twilight
i smilingly glide. I
into the big vermilion departure
(Do you think?) the
i do, world
is probably made
of roses &; hello:
(of solongs and, ashes)
–E. E. Cummings
Around midnight he took the oxycodone
and listened to Arvo Pärt’s “I Am the True Vine”
over and over, the snow falling harder now.
He switched off the light and sat without dread
of the coming hours, quietly singing along;
he smoked any number of cigarettes without thinking
once about the horrifying consequence;
he was legibly told what to say and he wrote
with mounting excitement and pleasure,
and sent friendly e-mails to everyone, Lord
I had such a good time and I don't regret anything —
What happened to the prayer that goes like that?
stand with your lover on the ending earth-and while a(huge which by which huger than
huge)whoing sea leaps to greenly hurl snow
suppose we could not love,dear;imagine
ourselves like living neither nor dead these
(or many thousand hearts which don't and dream
or many million minds which sleep and move)
blind sands,at pitiless the mercy of
time time time time time
-how fortunate are you and i,whose home
is timelessness:we who have wandered down
from fragrant mountains of eternal now
to frolic in such mysteries as birth
and death a day(or maybe even less)
–E. E. Cummings
I'm working on the world,
revised, improved edition,
featuring fun for fools,
blues for brooders,
combs for bald pates,
tricks for old dogs.
Here's one chapter: The Speech
of Animals and Plants.
Each species comes, of course,
with its own dictionary.
Even a simple "Hi there,"
when traded with a fish,
make both the fish and you
feel quite extraordinary.
The long-suspected meanings
of rustlings, chirps, and growls!
Soliloquies of forests!
The epic hoot of owls!
Those crafty hedgehogs drafting
aphorisms after dark,
while we blindly believe
they are sleeping in the park!
Time (Chapter Two) retains
its sacred right to meddle
in each earthly affair.
Still, time's unbounded power
that makes a mountain crumble,
moves seas, rotates a star,
won't be enough to tear
lovers apart: they are
too naked, too embraced,
too much like timid sparrows.
Old age is, in my book,
the price that felons pay,
so don't whine that it's steep:
you'll stay young if you're good.
Suffering (Chapter Three)
doesn't insult the body.
Death? It comes in your sleep,
exactly as it should.
When it comes, you'll be dreaming
that you don't need to breathe;
that breathless silence is
the music of the dark
and it's part of the rhythm
to vanish like a spark.
Only a death like that. A rose
could prick you harder, I suppose;
you'd feel more terror at the sound
of petals falling to the ground.
Only a world like that. To die
just that much. And to live just so.
And all the rest is Bach's fugue, played
for the time being
on a saw.
Listen to things more often than beings.
Hear the voice of the fire, hear the voice of the water,
Listen in the wind to the sighing of the bush:
This is the ancestors breathing.
Those who are dead are never gone;
The dead are not down in the earth:
They are in the trembling of the trees,
In the groaning of the woods,
In the water that runs, in the water that sleeps,
They are in the hut, they are in the crowd.
Those who are dead are not ever gone;
They are in the woman's breast, they are in the wailing of a child,
They are in the burning log and in the moaning rock.
They are in the weeping grasses, in the forest and the home.
Listen to things more often than beings.
Hear the voice of fire, hear the voice of water.
Listen in the wind to the sighing of the bush.
This is the ancestors breathing.
Praise the world to the angel: leave the unsayable aside.
Your exalted feelings do not move him.
In the universe, where he feels feelings, you are a beginner.
Therefore show him what is ordinary, what has been
shaped from generation to generation, shaped by hand and eye.
Tell him of things. He will stand still in astonishment,
the way you stood by the ropemaker in Rome
or beside the potter on the Nile.
Show him how happy a thing can be, how innocent and ours,
how even a lament takes pure form,
serves as a thing, dies as a thing,
while the violin, blessing it, fades.
And the things, even as they pass,understand that we praise them. Transient, they are trusting usto save them - us, the most transient of all.As if they wanted in our invisible heartsto be transformedinto - oh, endlessly - into us.
Earth, isn't this what you want? To arise in us, invisible?
Is it not your dream, to enter us so wholly
there's nothing left outside us to see?
What, if not transformation,
is your deepest purpose? Earth, my love,
I want that too. Believe me,
no more of your springtimes are needed
to win me over - even one flower
is more than enough. Before I was named
I belonged to you. I seek no other law
but yours, and know I can trust
the death you will bring.
–Rainer Maria Rilke
Ninth Duino Elegy
Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy translation
To be born and to die are common to all animals, but there are specifically diverse ways in which these phenomena occur; of destruction there are different types, though yet something is common to them all.
There is violent death and again natural death, and the former occurs when the cause of death is external, the latter when it is internal, and involved from the beginning in the constitution of the organ, and not an affection derived from a foreign source. In the case of plants the name given to this is withering, in animals senility.
Death and decay pertain to all things that are not imperfectly developed; to the imperfect also they may be ascribed in nearly the same but not an identical sense. Under the imperfect I class eggs and seeds of plants as they are before the root appears.
It is always to some lack of heat that death is due, and in perfect creatures the cause is its failure in the organ containing the source of the creature’s essential nature. This member is situate, as has been said, at the junction of the upper and lower parts; in plants it is intermediate between the root and the stem, in sanguineous animals it is the heart, and in those that are bloodless the corresponding part of their body.
But some of these animals have potentially many sources of life, though in actuality they possess only one. This is why some insects live when divided, and why, even among sanguineous animals, all whose vitality is not intense live for a long time after the heart has been removed. Tortoises, for example, do so and make movements with their feet, so long as the shell is left, a fact to be explained by the natural inferiority of their constitution, as it is in insects also.
The source of life is lost to its possessors when the heat with which it is bound up is no longer tempered by cooling, for, as I have often remarked, it is consumed by itself. Hence when, owing to lapse of time, the lung in the one class and the gills in the other get dried up, these organs become hard and earthy and incapable of movement, and cannot be expanded or contracted.
Finally things come to a climax, and the fire goes out from exhaustion.
Hence a small disturbance will speedily cause death in old age. Little heat remains, for the most of it has been breathed away in the long period of life preceding, and hence any increase of strain on the organ quickly causes extinction.
It is just as though the heart contained a tiny feeble flame which the slightest movement puts out. Hence in old age death is painless, for no violent disturbance is required to cause death, and there is an entire absence of feeling when the soul’s connexion is severed.
All diseases which harden the lung by forming tumours or waste residues, or by excess of morbid heat, as happens in fevers, accelerate the breathing owing to the inability of the lung to move far either upwards or downwards.
Finally, when motion is no longer possible, the breath is given out and death ensues.
G. R. T. Ross translation
To enrich the earth I have sowed clover and grass
to grow and die. I have plowed in the seeds
of winter grains and various legumes,
their growth to be plowed in to enrich the earth.
I have stirred into the ground the offal
and the decay of the growth of past seasons
and so mended the earth and made its yield increase.
All this serves the dark. Against the shadow
of veiled possibility my workdays stand
in a most asking light. I am slowly falling
into the fund of things.
And yet to serve the earth,
not knowing what I serve, gives a wideness
and a delight to the air, and my days
do not wholly pass. It is the mind's service,
for when the will fails so do the hands
and one lives at the expense of life.
After death, willing or not, the body serves,
entering the earth. And so what was heaviest
and most mute is at last raised up into song.
(Collected Poems 1957 - 1982)
Coming down out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel, or a Buddha with wings,
it was beautiful, and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings — five feet apart —
and the grabbing thrust of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys of the snow —
and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes
to lurk there, like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows —
so I thought:
maybe death isn't darkness, after all,
but so much light wrapping itself around us —as soft as feathers —
that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes, not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow,
that is nothing but light — scalding, aortal light —
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.
It appears that it was all a misunderstanding.What was only a trial run was taken seriously.The rivers will return to their beginningsThe wind will cease in its turning about.Trees instead of budding will tend to their rootsOld men will chase a ball, a glance in the mirror—They are children again.The dead will wake up, not comprehending.Till everything that happened has unhappened.What a relief!Breathe freely, you who suffered so much.—Czesław MiłoszNew and Collected Poems (1931-2001)translated by Robert Hass
From the shadow of domes in the city of domes,
A snowflake, a blizzard of one, weightless, entered your room
And made its way to the arm of the chair where you, looking up
From your book, saw it the moment it landed.
That's all There was to it.
No more than a solemn waking
To brevity, to the lifting and falling away of attention, swiftly,
A time between times, a flowerless funeral.
No more than that Except for the feeling that this piece of the storm,
Which turned into nothing before your eyes, would come back,
That someone years hence, sitting as you are now, might say:
"It's time. The air is ready. The sky has an opening."
For Sharon Horvath
And what was “I”
is only a word
in December’s dark mouth.
from Winter’s Formulae
Windows and Stones: Selected Poems
'Tomas Tranströmer, one of our mindfulness poets and 2011 winner of the Nobel Prize, died on March 26, 2015, at the age of 83. Here are a couple of quotes to remember him by:
"We always feel younger than we are. I carry inside myself my earlier faces, as a tree contains its rings. The sum of them is me. The mirror sees only my latest face, while I know all my previous ones."
And this: "I am still the place where creation does some work on itself."'