I am Not Resigned

rosesI just found out that a dear friend lost her Mother yesterday. This poem came to my mind and I wanted to share it. Interestingly (given that the last two posts were about doubt) I found this poem by reading Martin Gardner, the famous skeptic for Scientific American. Skeptic, though he was, he made a choice to believe in God. This poem became the basis for explaining his theistic worldview to others: He was not resigned.

Dirge without Music

by Edna St. Vincet Millay
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, — but the best is lost.

The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

4 thoughts on “I am Not Resigned

  1. I lost a friend to cancer earlier this month. The viewing was a celebration of her life, and the time we had had with her on earth. Though her time with us on earth was ended, there was no sense that anyone felt she was gone forever, but that she had gone ahead, as her husband and father had gone before her.

  2. “Go not Gentle Into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas ends with the phrase “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” It reflects a similar if more vigorous attitude toward death to the quoted poem.
    Last year I was dying of severe anemia caused by a cancerous tumor that occluded my intestine until I was a scant centimeter away from death. As I lay on the pre-op gurney contemplating the risks of anaethesia and surgery I resigned myself to waking up beyond the veil and contemplated joining my third child who died as an infant nearly fifty years ago. I was prepared to ‘go gentle’.
    On the other hand my mother, twenty years older than I am when she died, clung to life with furious intensity, her eyes pleading with me as she fought for breath. I could not give her what she wanted. Someone else had made the choice to deprive her of her last few hours or days of life.
    Following the birth of a daughter after my infant Katie died, I kept her in an infant carrier next to my bed, both for ease of nursing and to check up on her. In the cold air of a November night I woke and reached out my hand to touch her face. Her cheek was cold and gleamed as pale as death in the moonlight. I screamed and clutched at her. She woke and joined her wails to mine.
    Later I wrote a poem:
    When you’ve held a child too pale,
    And sought to find the answer to the mystery of death,
    A sleeping child sometimes rouses fear.
    You lean to hear the precious sound of breath.
    The forgoing is a long winded way to say that the attitude toward death and dying varies widely and depends not only on a hope of heaven, but on other circumstances. I have been on the receiving end of both weeping grief and jolly reassurance from relative strangers when my heart was threatening to break. It taught me to say as little as possible to those who have lost a loved one. I touch their hand, exchange glances, and wait for them to tell me how they feel.

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