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Conversations with Death

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

–John Donne

That poem came back to my mind this morning, caught up in the trail of my thoughts and dredged to the surface. Perhaps it wouldn’t have stuck again so forcefully if my afternoon hadn’t taken the course that it did. But in the afternoon I came upon a link to this article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/national/2015/10/05/four-stories-of-the-heart/ For me it was an emotionally moving, wrenching, picture into profound loss–both literally in the pictures, and metaphorically in the writing. The sparse line drawing of the mother curled up on the hospital bed with her sick baby really gets to me. It is a picture which says a thousand things, a million things, a grief deep beyond words. The essay is sparse and matter-of-fact in words which makes it all the more powerful in outlining in unstated terms what Donne addressed more directly in his poem.

The only hope we can have in the face of such profound loss is the hope, the answer, Donne gives. “Death, thou shalt die.” That can be the only fulfilling and satisfying answer to the hurt of this life.

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