Category Archives: poetry

reflections on death #1

I have been continuing to reflect on the idea that people have a fear of death, and that this fear is translated into some sort of idol worship, with the object of trying to minimise or distract from this fear. That observation gels with someone thing I read somewhere once, that whatever worldview you end up adopting, it needs to offer some sort of explanation for the 2 big realities of death and suffering.

I found a book in my local library today: Poems and Readings for Funerals, edited by Julia Watson (London: Penguin, 2004). It consists of just that – classic poems and items, all dealing in one way or another with death. It is fascinating to see the broad spectrum of responses to the unescapable reality of death. I thought I might share them here over the next few weeks or so.

The first reflection: denial.

‘Death is nothing at all.’

Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped away
into the next room. I am I, and you are you. Whatever we were to each other,
that we still are. Call me by my old familiar name, speak to me in the easy way
that you always used. Put no difference in your tone, wear no forced air of
solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was, let it be spoken without effect, without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same that it ever was; there is unbroken continuity. Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner.

All is well.

Henry Scott Holland (1847-1928) [page 7]

But this doesn’t explain the sense of loss that gives rise to grief at all, does it?

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christmas is really for the children

Christmas is really for the children.
Especially for children
who like animals, stables,
stars and babies wrapped
in swaddling clothes.
Then there are wise men,
kings in fine robes,
humble shepherds and a
hint of rich perfume.

Easter is not really
for the children
unless accompanied by
a cream filled egg.
It has whips, blood, nails,
a spear and allegations
of body snatching.
It involves politics, God
and the sins of the world.
It is not good for people
of a nervous disposition.
They would do better to
think on rabbits, chickens
and the first snowdrop
of spring.

Or they’d do better to
wait for a re-run of
Christmas without asking
too many questions about
what Jesus did when he grew up
or whether there’s any connection.

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the way, the truth, the life

I am the way to God: I did not come
To light a path, to blaze a trail, that you
May follow simply in my tracks, pursue
My shadow like a prize that’s cheaply won.
My life reveals the life of God, the sum
Of all he is and does. So how can you,
The sons of night, look on me and construe
My way as just the road for you to run?
My path takes in Gethsemanae, the Cross,
And stark rejection draped in agony.
My way to God embraces utmost loss:
Your way to God is not my, but me.
Each other path is dismal swamp, or fraud.
I stand alone: I am the way to God.

I am the truth of God: I do not claim
I merely speak the truth, as though I were
A prophet (but no more), a channel, stirred
By Spirit power, of purely human frame.
Nor do I say that when I take his name
Upon my lips, my teaching cannot err
(Though that is true). A mere interpreter
I’m not, some prophet-voice of special fame.
In timeless reaches of eternity
The Triune God decided that the Word,
The self-expression of the Deity,
Would put on flesh and blood – and thus be heard.
The claim to speak truth good men applaud.
I claim much more: I am the truth of God.

I am the resurrection life. It’s not
As though I merely bear life-giving drink,
A magic elixir which (men might think)
Is cheap because though lavish it’s not bought.
The price of life was fully paid: I fought
With death and black despair; for I’m the drink
Of life. The resurrection morn’s the link
Between my death and endless life sought.
I am the firstborn from the dead; and by
My triumph, I deal death to lusts and hates.
My life I no extend to men, and ply
Them with the draught that ever satiates.
Religion’s page with empty boasts is rife:
But I’m the resurrection and the life.

D.A.Carson, The Gospel According to John. Leicester: IVP, 1991: 492-3.

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