It is frequently remarked that “the only things certain in life are death and taxes”. While this old adage contains much truth, one may, perhaps rephrase it to read thus, “the only thing certain in life is that poets will write about death”.
One of the finest poems concerning mortality is, in my opinion Ernest Dowson’s “Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam”:
“They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.
They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream”.
Life’s pleasures are brief (as is Dowson’s poem). Wine and roses (the pleasures of food and love) pass and our existence ends “as in a dream”. (https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/vitae-summa-brevis-spem-nos-vetat-incohare-longam).
In Dowson’s poem, there is no explicit mention of death. Although he is represented by “the gate” which, once passed puts an end to love and hate, the poet nowhere refers to him by name. In contrast, in his poem “Upon the Image of Death” the poet, Robert Southwell personifies Death as a picture:
“Before my face the picture hangs
That daily should put me in mind
Of those cold names and bitter pangs
That shortly I am like to find ;
But yet, alas, full little I
Do think hereon that I must die”.
Southwell’s poem is replete with images of death, for example:
“Continually at my bed’s head
A hearse doth hang, which doth me tell
That I ere morning may be dead,
Though now I feel myself full well …”.
In my own poem, “What Is A Double Bed?”, I focus on that age-old relationship between death and bed:
“What is a double bed?
A place where the dread
Of what comes after this brief life
Is momentarily lost
In the arms of mistress or wife.
What is a double bed?
A place where the lone head
And sometimes weeps.
What is a double bed?
A place of joy and pain,
Where we return again and again
Until we are slain
By the final sleep”.
Sex can (and often is) an expression of deep love and, of course of the desire to perpetuate ourselves by bringing children into the world. Is it, I wonder too fanciful to suggest (as I do in the above poem), that sex, the making of love (call it what you will) can, on occasions be a means of forgetting, for a brief moment our own mortality? Conversely, in the moment of pure joy we are one with the other and do, in a sense momentarily die.
I will, if I may end with my poem, “Graveyard”. Opposite to my home is a church in the grounds of which lie the sleeping dead. On an almost daily basis I pass through the churchyard on my way to and from the shops, work etc:
“Often do I have cause
For thought, yet seldom pause
Here for long.
Perhaps it is a strong
Desire to forget my fate
Which leads me, (be it early or late),
Without a backward glance
Lest by some mischance
I see my own ghost,
To post-haste, exit the graveyard gate
And enter again
This temporary realm of men”.
Kevin’s collection of poetry, “My Old Clock I Wind And Other Poems” will be published, by Moyhill Publishing, in June 2017).
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About the author
Kevin Morris was born in Liverpool. Having lost most of his vision in early childhood, his love of literature began as he listened to the tales read to him by his grandfather. In later years, Braille opened the world of independent reading. Only a tiny proportion of books are available in braille, but Kevin found it amazing to be able to sit with a book on his knee reading for himself. Besides braille he was also a huge consumer of spoken word cassettes, everything from Treasure Island to Wuthering Heights. Modern text-to-speech technology has now opened a wider world of literature to him.
Kevin read history and politics at university and eventually graduated with an MA in political theory.
He began to write seriously in mid 2012, using software that converts speech into text and Braille. He now lives and works in Crystal Palace, London and enjoys walking in green places with his guide dog Trigger, listening to a wide variety of music and socialising with friends.
In this collection of poetry and prose the intimate connections between the natural world and humanity are explored, while a number of pieces are of a humorous nature.
I loved the sheer variety of the pieces in this book – and the lyrical nature of the writing. Most beautiful. Two, in particular, stood out for me: ‘Dark Angel’ and ‘The Great Cycle’. Both evoked the connection we have with the world – though in very different ways, one being a physical bond with the natural world, the other a more inanimate ‘friend’! I thoroughly recommend this exquisite little collection.
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