Sunday, July 17, 2005
WHY POETS WRITE ABOUT DEATH SO MUCH
I wanted to write the Sunday Optimist Report yesterday, but I worked a lot this weekend, slept little, and when I searched my poetry books for inspiration, the poem that spoke to me in the clearest voice was this one by Jorge Luis Borges. Is it optimistic? You be the judge:
TO WHOEVER IS READING ME
You are invulnerable. Have they not granted you
the powers that preordain your destiny,
the certainty of dust? Is not your time
as irreversible as that same river
where Heraclitus, mirrored, saw the symbol
of fleeting life? A marble slab awaits you
which you will not read--on it, already written,
the date, the city, and the epitaph.
Other men too are ony dreams of time,
not indestructible bronze or burnished gold;
the universe is, like you, a Proteus.
Dark, you will enter the darkness that awaits you,
doomed to the limits of your traveled time.
Know that in some sense you are already dead.
I know I wrote about a death in my last post, and perhaps it is the demise of a woman I didn't quite like, but whose life meant something to me and perhaps even something to the universe, which is still affecting me.
Or maybe death really is the great subject for poets. The monumental news we're sent here to proclaim over and over to our disbelieving readers. To our disbelieving selves. We die! Look, it happened to my sister, we say when we pen an elegy. Or to my lover. Even to the one I considered worthy of hate, but who turned out to be nothing but a poor human, governed by the same cruel laws that I am. It will happen to me and you. No matter how infinitely real and important our lives feel to us, they will be extinguished suddenly or with torturous leisure. We know not why or when or what follows. Even if we say we know or think we know, we don't know.
And it is precisely this dark wind at our backs that makes our days so thrilling. Anyone who thinks they have time for boredom or envy or antipathy is only half awake. It is up to the poets, the musicians, the artists to shake them up and spin them around and jolt them toward wakefulness. We are here in this amazing time. This amazing place. See it. Listen to it. Drink it up to the final drop.
Meanwhile, I have a new poem up on Sigla if anyone is interested. It's not even about death...or then again, maybe it is.