Popular Posts

Sunday 12 February 2012

I wanted to know why we die

Take a philosophy, however broadly defined, and write a poem on it. This is one of this week's invitations from dVerse Poets. It is the one I have chosen.

I wanted to know why we die

I wanted to know why we die
and if it was true
what I'd heard,
that over the bones
the wisdom of ages
is written on pages of stone.

So burial grounds were me,
from cemeteries to tumuli.
I'd visit frequently,
though not like most,
to meet the dear departed -
I'd not collected any then -
and not to meet my maker. More
to see if there was not a way
to dodge the kindly chap -
as He had been described to me
by Gran, the family
philosopher. Her homespun saws
on free will
and predestination
were soon outclassed, however
Veiled truths of ancient learning
that you call epitaphs,
a music
teacher said, were carved
by Masons - sages - who have trod
the years from Bethlehem.
If you have eyes to see
it's written very plain
So I went out to look.
Repeatedly. But no,
they were not clear.
Were contradictory.

Though most were positive
celebrating that the loved one
was with Him,
others seemed regretful,
feared the Judgement -
or thought it was a doddle!
Some gloried that the loved one
stood before the judge,
that the Terrible Day
would come for us all.

But they never did stack up.
They would not bolt together
like pieces of Meccano.*
I couldn't make them stand
as one philosophy
and so I looked on them
as tips, or made them into poems...
cringe-making poems,
poems that kind of showed me why we die.
* A construction toy.


Claudia said...

smiles...hey..but some poems are to die for...smiles
i like how you describe the process of searching and trying to fit it all together...love the image of the meccano toy.. will stick with me for a bit...enjoy your sunday david

Elephant's Child said...

The only answer to that one which has made sense to me is Why not?

Rachel Cotterill said...

I like the idea of trying to construct a philosophy from epitaphs. A challenge, for sure! It's hard enough to form a consistent model from the whole of religious doctrine (and many theologians have dedicated their lives to working on it) :)

Tommaso Gervasutti said...

Dear Dave, your poem reminds me definitely to what is echoing in my mind most in these days, as you have seen with Phlebas,...your poem converses perfectly, with a nonchalance of its own with the solemnity of this: "...Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images..."

Jenny Woolf said...

A wonderful sideways look at an experience I have had myself, most of my life. As usual, you stop all the thoughts flying around randomly and put them into a poetic form which I can grasp

Brian Miller said...

since time began we have been trying to describe and prescribe that which we dont or cant understand...that is the essence of philosophy isnt it...there are many things we will never fully grasp this side of tomorrow...

Scarlet said...

I love these thoughts Dave. Indeed it is challenge to figure out why we live and die, and your metaphor on the construction toy is perfect ~

Thanks for sharing ~

Manicddaily said...

I especially like the lines about not yet having collected any dearly departed.

This is a thoughtful interesting (funny) poem. It reminds me of visiting Recoleta (sp?) in Buenos Aires--a huge area of mauselea and crypts--such a variety of views of the dead in the statuary as well as words--you've constructed your own statuary here.

Thanks for this and thanks also for your kind comments on my blog. K.

Mary said...

I have found that some things have no answers.

The flip side of your question is: Why do we live?

There is no answer to that either.

Here's my poem for dVers:


Anonymous said...

"So I went out to look.
Repeatedly. But no,
they were not clear.
Were contradictory."

Wow, isn't that the truth ... about so many spoken words as well.

Love this:

"over the bones
the wisdom of ages
is written on pages of stone"


hedgewitch said...

Love the irony in this one, David, and the attempts to find an answer to the unanswerable that really sort of defines the whole concept of philosophy, from Grandmother's saws to teachers words of wisdom. In answer to your question--I see dying as an exercise in pragmatism--so other things can live, mostly. It satisfies my childlike idea of fairness. ;_) Enjoyed this very much.

Unknown said...

I like to read tombstones too, and there is no one common factor. Death is the final arbiter of who we are, and seeing and defining ourselves from its perspective can make us more human. The ending to your poem is quite right to point out how they do not stack up as one statement of agreement. They're many times individual, as death defines each as each one. Though, often one sees the role that social identity plays in statements of death, often stereotypical that are belied by the reality. I like the ironic ending, or so it seems to me, since it appears to suggest that there's more a death in life that the sayings reflect rather than anything about death itself.

Hannah Stephenson said...

It's the mystery behind all mysteries...or what happens after we die, I guess.

We wonder and wander. Nothing would ever satisfy us, probably...which isn't a bad thing.

Daydreamertoo said...

There is no answer to this really, is there?
I always used to say: 'Until such time as someone has died, been 'there' and seen what happens, then, comes back to tell us, I don't want anyone who hasn't done it telling me what I ought to believe in, because it's all just a matter of faith and not control through fear.'
What a lovely, philosophical write. Why does anything exist, really? Because, it is what it is.
An old scientist said to me: We humans are mistaken, we are are not at the beginning of time, we are at the end of it and, our Earth is the last post. Maybe that's why we have milllions and millions of species on one populated planet and nothing on any of the others.
Who knows, it's a good argument though.
Lovely piece Dave.

Mark Kerstetter said...

Religion does not answer this question for me. But Borges' story 'The Immortals' taught me a lot.

Laurie Kolp said...

Deep, retrospective piece Dave... questions we all have. I like how you personalized this.

ds said...

Definitely not a "cringe-making poem" sir. These are questions that have no concrete answers, even though we want them to be as neatly interlocking as that child's toy (love that image!), or Grandma's maxims. Thank you.

Windsmoke. said...

Does anybody really understand death?, that's the question :-).

Martin Meyers said...

Hello! I'm a new blogger/writer and I just added myself to your followers for support! Maybe you could come follow me too?
Thanks so much!

Dave King said...

Thanks for the kind words. And yes, there are poems to die for, I agree.

The Elephant's Child
The perfect riposte.

Yes, I didn't persist with it for too long. I turned to Plato at the age of 11. Didn't get me much further, actually.

How everything brings me back to The Waste Land - which actually inspired one of today's poems.

That's a really nice thought of yours. Thank you for it.

Yes, I agree. Traditionally, to be sure, it was the business of philosophy. I'm not sure hoow much that still applies.

It underlies much art - and maybe all of religion?

Very many thanks for this. Your remarks re. Recoleta put me in mind of walk Doreen and I took before we were married through Highgate Cemetery where we came upon the tombstone of Carl Marx. It was an eerie sort of place to be on an eerie sort of day. I really appreciate your comments.

The two questions are one, as I now believe. death is not the end of life, but just as much a part of life as birth.

Thank you for a really interesting and helpful response.

I like the idea of dying as an exercise in pragmatism and fairness. I had never seen it quite in that light, but I shall give it some consideration from now on. Thanks for this.

You are quite right about the irony of the ending to my poem. Intended because I see death as an ultimate irony. I do see it as an intrinsic element of life itself, but still somehow as an ironic one.
Thank you for a fascinating comment.

You are surely right. The answer is unknowable - and if it could be known, would not satisfy. Much thanks.

I do agree essentially with your remarks. I set out to write a piece from the confusions that presented themselves to me as a boy. But in all truth, they don't seem much resolved now! I would express them differently and look for answers in different contexts from then - but I wouldn't call it an advance.

I agree re religion. As a former altar boy I have to say that for me now religion doesn't do what it says on the tin.
I think I must go back to The Immortals. I did read it long ago - probably before I was ready for it. Thanks.

Thanks Laurie. I found it surprisingly liberating to write. Not sure why.

Ah, dear old Gran's maxims. It all goes back to them! Thank you.

Nope! Or... alternatively: What is there to understand?

Hi, and thrice welcome! To blogging, to the blog and to following. I shall be along anon. All power to your keyboard!