all the things man fears, death
seems to be the worst. Therefore,
when someone dies comes fear and
pain. But this is not always so
in the natural world. Wild things
often die accompanied by paradoxical
the dying of a day. Doesn't the
splendor of many a dying sun far
out-strip the blandness of noon's
glaring, prying eye? Might it
not be well for many of us to
die at such a time–robed
in splendor and lulled by the
bell-like flutings of the hermit
have never seen a mute swan up
close, but legend has it this
bird sings only at the moment
of its death. What hidden expection
does his wild heart know to make
him celebrate the end with joy?
der Bergerac, at his moment of
death, took inspiration and hope
from what he observed in the falling
of the autumn leaves:
at the leaves. Look at them fall.
Ah, they know how to die.
A little way from the branch
to the earth, A little fear of
mingling with the common dust,
And yet they go down gracefully,
A fall that seems like flying."
how the leaves are dressed for
that last flight! Not draped in
somber black, but bravely clad
in capes of brilliant hue, they
strain and jostle–eager
for the air.
certain weeds, withered and frail,
white-haired and waiting for the
end, scorn death, and in their
final hour, toss in his face arms-full
of winged seeds that soar up on
the lifting winds toward heaven.
perhaps the rose best knows the
way to die. A few summers ago
I made a first attempt at growing
roses. One, a climber not supposed
to bloom the first year, put forth
a beautiful crimson bud.
examined it proudly; eager for
it to open. But that night a storm
rumbled through, and in the morning
I found my rose on the ground
beneath the arbor. It was dead.
But it had finally opened, and
the scent of it seemed to me,
poised on the margin between sorrow
and delight, more beautiful then
the scent of any flower I had
ever smelled. The experience moved
me to write the following lines:
Rose, sweet crimson miracle
even in death still breathes,
So fragrant is your passing soul
That my sad heart believes–
Though surely as the severing
Shall clip my blossom from the
My soul shall pass from me—sweetly
As yours flows now to me.
death is awesome, but it is not
always ugly. The poet Wallace
Stevens in his poem 'Sunday Morning',
calls it 'the mother of beauty,'
and John Keats, faced with terminal
T.B. but enchanted by the passionate
loveliness of a nightingale's
flood of melody on a summer's
more than ever seems it rich to
die, To cease upon the midnight
with no pain; Whilst thou art
pouring forth thy soul abroad,
In such an ecstasy."
the grim specter of death prompts
forth such beautiful expression
by so many facing it, is a perplexing
question. I believe that many
passing into the next dimension
have a joyful sense of a better
world awaiting them. Or perhaps
they feel a tragic catharsis in
the realization that the loveliness
ushering them out of this life
may indeed be the last encounter
with the fleeting and transitory
beauty that has evaded us so persistently
while we lived–a thing as
elusive and rare as the truth
itself. Why not say it:
is truth; truth Beauty. That is
all we know on earth, and all
we need to know."
Keats: 'Ode to a Grecian Urn.'
written in 1978 for the
column, “Where the
Wild Thyme Blows,”
the last few remarks were
added in Feb of 07. (Gene