Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Reflections on Dying: A Brief Anthology


Note to family and friends:
This collection is not occasioned by any change in my life's circumstances.
I feel in robust health.
Albert



Comet Hale-Bopp



I am like a slip of comet,
Scarce worth discovery, in some corner seen
Bridging the slender difference of two stars,
Come out of space, or suddenly engender'd
By heady elements, for no man knows:
But when she sights the sun she grows and sizes
And spins her skirts out, while her central star
Shakes its cocooning mists; and so she comes
To fields of light; millions of traveling rays
Pierce her; she hangs upon the flame-cased sun,
And sucks the light as full as Gideon's fleece:
But then her tether calls her; she falls off,
And as she dwindles shreds her smock of gold
Amidst the sistering planets, till she comes
To single Saturn, last and solitary;
And then goes out into the cavernous dark.
So I go out: my little sweet is done:
I have drawn heat from this contagious sun;
To not ungentle death now forth I run.
          (Gerard Manley Hopkins, I Am Like a Slip of Comet)

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Nothing is here for tears, nothing to wail
Or knock the breast; no weakness, no contempt,
Dispraise, or blame; nothing but well and fair,
And what may quiet us....
          (John Milton, from Samson Agonistes)

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Death is completion, fulfillment, returning.
          (Anonymous)

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The mere cessation of existence is no evil to any one: the idea is only formidable through the illusion of imagination which makes one conceive oneself as if one were alive and feeling oneself dead. What is odious in death is not death itself, but the act of dying, and its lugubrious accompaniments: all of which must be equally undergone by the believer in immortality. Nor can I perceive that the skeptic loses by his skepticism any real and valuable consolation except one: the hope of reunion with those dear to him who have ended their earthly life before him. That loss, indeed, is neither to be denied nor extenuated. In many cases it is beyond the reach of comparison or estimate, and will always suffice to keep alive, in the more sensitive natures, the imaginative hope of a futurity which, if there is nothing to prove, there is as little in our knowledge and experience to contradict.
          (John Stuart Mill, The Utility of Religion)

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O God, you are my God,
   I seek you,
   my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
   as in a dry and weary land
   where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
   beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life
   my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
   I will lift up my hands and call on your name.
My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
   and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
when I think of you on my bed,
   and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
   and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
   your right hand upholds me.
          (Psalm 63:1–7)

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I am quite clear that the time had come when it was better for me to die and be released from my distractions.
          (Plato, Apology, quoting Socrates)

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Pass to thy Rendevous of Light,
Pangless except for us —
Who slowly ford the Mystery
Which thou hast leaped across!
          (Emily Dickinson)

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The earth was warm under me, and warm as I crumbled it through my fingers.... I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.

          (Willa Cather, My Antonia)

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Death gathers us and sows us anew.
          (George Eliot, Daniel Deronda)

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Feel free to miss me; I hope you do.
But none need grieve for my dying.
          (Anonymous)

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Well, really, Crito, it would strike an odd chord for a man of my age to resent having to face death.... The really important thing is not to live, but to live well.... And is it still agreed or not that to live well amounts to the same thing as to live honorably and justly?
         (Plato, Crito, quoting Socrates)

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The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
   and no torment will ever touch them.
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
   and their going forth from us to be their destruction;
but they are at peace.
          (The Wisdom of Solomon 3:1–3)

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Lord, teach me so to number my days,
   that I may apply my heart to wisdom.
          (Psalm 39:4, translated by Thomas Ken)

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Those who are worthy of Life are of Miracle, for life is Miracle, and Death as harmless as a Bee except to those who run.
          (Emily Dickinson, letter to Susan Dickinson)

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I conclude my letter with a prayer for my dearest Father's benediction and preservation..., reverencing his virtues, admiring his attainments, and ardently desiring that health, peace of mind, and fulness of merited honors may crown his length of days, and prolong them to the utmost verge of enjoyable mortality.
          (Frances Burney, The Wanderer, dedication "To Dr. Burney")

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I suppose it is not unreasonable to say that we must not put an end to ourselves until God sends some necessary circumstance like the one which we are facing now.... Those who really apply themselves in the right way to philosophy are directly and of their own accord preparing themselves for dying and death.... I should only make myself ridiculous in my own eyes if I clung to life and hugged it when it has no more to offer.
          (Plato, Phaedo, quoting Socrates)

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when god lets my body be

From each brave eye shall sprout a tree
fruit that dangles therefrom

the purpled world will dance upon
Between my lips which did sing

a rose shall beget the spring
that maidens whom passion wastes

will lay between their little breasts
My strong fingers beneath the snow

into strenuous birds shall go
my love walking in the grass

their wings will touch with her face
and all the while shall my heart be

With the bulge and nuzzle of the sea

          (E. E. Cummings)

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Looks as if I'm going to make it all the way from dust to dust.
          (Anonymous)

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Quiet consummation have;
And renown├Ęd be thy grave!
          (Shakespeare)

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I'm thinking that I may be ready for a little requiem aeternum.
          (Anonymous)

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Since Nature's works be good, and death doth serve
As Nature's work, why should we fear to die?
Since fear is vain but when it may preserve,
Why should we fear that which we cannot fly?
Fear is more pain than is the pain it fears,
Disarming human minds of native might;
While each conceit an ugly figure bears
Which were not evil, well viewed in reason's light.
Our owly eyes, which dimmed with passions be,
And scarce discern the dawn of coming day,
Let them be cleared, and begin to see
Our life is but a step in dusty way.
Then let us hold the bliss of peaceful mind;
Since this we feel, great loss we cannot find.
          (Philip Sidney, Since Nature's Works Be Good)

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A train went through a burial gate,
A bird broke forth and sang,
And trilled, and quivered, and shook his throat
Till all the churchyard rang;

And then adjusted his little notes,
And bowed and sang again.
Doubtless, he thought it meet of him
To say good-by to men.
          (Emily Dickinson)

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I love living,
   and dying is part of living.
          (Anonymous)

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Where death is, I am not.
Where I am, death is not.
Therefore death does not concern us.
          (Attributed to Epictetus)

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To die will be an awfully big adventure.
          (Peter, in J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan)

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I want death to find me planting my cabbages, but careless of death, and still more of my unfinished garden.... Go out of this world as you entered it. The same passage that you made from death to life, without feeling or fright, make it again from life to death. Your death is part of the order of the universe; it is part of the life of the world.
          (Michel de Montaigne, Essays)

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With death our past becomes our life,
   and our life becomes eternal.
          (Anonymous)

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Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.
          (Oliver Sacks, My Own Life)

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Dear Cousins,
     Called back.
     Emily
          (Emily Dickinson's final letter)

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To set as sets the morning star, which goes
Not down behind the darken'd west, nor hides
Obscured among the tempests of the sky,
But melts away into the light of heaven.
          (Thomas Hardy, A Pair of Blue Eyes)

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So, fellows, we shall reach the gusty gate,
Early or late,
And part without remorse,
A cadence dying down unto its source
In music's course....

Always the flawless beauty, always the chord
Of the Overword,
Dominant, pleading, sure,
No truth too small to save and make endure.
No good too poor!

And since no mortal can at last disdain
That sweet refrain,
But lets go strife and care,
Borne like a strain of bird notes on the air,
The wind knows where;

Some quiet April evening soft and strange,
When comes the change
No spirit can deplore,
I shall be one with all I was before,
In death once more.
          (Bliss Carman, from Behind the Arras)




Nebula HH-222


*****