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Thread: Death's Echo

  1. #1
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    Default Death's Echo

    Death's Echo
    W.H. Auden



    "O who can ever gaze his fill,"
    Farmer and fisherman say,
    "On native shore and local hill,
    Grudge aching limb or callus on the hand?
    Father, grandfather stood upon this land,
    And here the pilgrims from our loins will stand."
    So farmer and fisherman say
    in their fortunate hey-day:
    But Death's low answer drifts across
    Empty catch or harvest loss
    Or an unlucky May.
    The earth is an oyster with nothing inside it,
    Not to be born is the best for man;
    The end of toil is a bailiff's order,
    Throw down the mattock and dance while you can.


    "O life's too short for friends who share,"
    travellers think in their hearts,
    "The city's common bed, the air
    The mountain bivouac and the bathing beach,
    Where incidents draw every day from each
    Memorable gesture and witty speech."
    So travellers think in their hearts,
    Till malice or circumstance parts
    them from their constant humour:
    And slyly Death's coercive rumour
    In that moment starts.
    A friend is the old tale of Narcissus,
    Not to be born is the best for man;
    An active partner in something disgraceful,
    Change your partner, dance while you can.


    "O stretch your hands across the sea."
    The impassioned lover cries,
    "Stretch them towards your harm and me.
    Our grass is green, and sensual our brief bed,
    The stream sings at its foot, and at its head
    The mild and vegetarian beasts are fed."
    So the impassioned lover cries
    Till the storm of pleasure dies:
    From the bedposts and the rocks
    Death's enticing echo mocks,
    And his voice replies.
    The greater the love, the more false to its object,
    Not to be born is the best for man;
    After the kiss comes the impulse to throttle,
    Break the embraces, dance while you can.


    "I see the guilty world forgiven,"
    Dreamer and drunkard sing,
    "The ladders let down out of heaven,
    The laurel springing from the martyr's blood,
    The children skipping where the weeper stood,
    The lovers natural and beasts all good."
    So dreamer and drunkard sing,
    Till day their sobriety bring:
    Parrotwise with Death's reply
    From whelping fear and nesting lie,
    Woods and their echoes ring.
    The desires of the heart are as crooked as corkscrews,
    Not to be born is the best for man;
    The second-best is a formal order,
    Dance, dance, for the figure is easy,
    The tune is catching and will not stop;
    Dance till the stars come down from the rafters;
    Dance, dance, dance till you drop.


    Discuss.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Death's Echo

    ...and it's the Old Dance (and the crooked dance, too)--
    Step outside the Law
    Play the tune on your damned old fiddle,
    It'll burn you up like straw...

    What are you doing about it?




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    Default Re: Death's Echo

    Quote Originally Posted by Captain Blight View Post
    Discuss.
    I refuse.

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    Default Re: Death's Echo

    I refuse as well.

    Why do individuals post a topic and say 'discuss' without putting their point of view?

    Too shy or something?
    The beach beckons.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Death's Echo

    Never give in.
    In View of the Fact
    by A. R. Ammons

    The people of my time are passing away: my
    wife is baking for a funeral, a 60-year-old who

    died suddenly, when the phone rings, and it's
    Ruth we care so much about in intensive care:

    it was once weddings that came so thick and
    fast, and then, first babies, such a hullabaloo:

    now, it's this that and the other and somebody
    else gone or on the brink: well, we never

    thought we would live forever (although we did)
    and now it looks like we won't: some of us

    are losing a leg to diabetes, some don't know
    what they went downstairs for, some know that

    a hired watchful person is around, some like
    to touch the cane tip into something steady,

    so nice: we have already lost so many,
    brushed the loss of ourselves ourselves: our

    address books for so long a slow scramble now
    are palimpsests, scribbles and scratches: our

    index cards for Christmases, birthdays,
    Halloweens drop clean away into sympathies:

    at the same time we are getting used to so
    many leaving, we are hanging on with a grip

    to the ones left: we are not giving up on the
    congestive heart failure or brain tumors, on

    the nice old men left in empty houses or on
    the widows who decide to travel a lot: we

    think the sun may shine someday when we'll
    drink wine together and think of what used to

    be: until we die we will remember every
    single thing, recall every word, love every

    loss: then we will, as we must, leave it to
    others to love, love that can grow brighter

    and deeper till the very end, gaining strength
    and getting more precious all the way. . . .

    "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations,
    for nature cannot be fooled."

    Richard Feynman

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    Default Re: Death's Echo

    but there is joy in it , brief ,bright but worth the tears .
    Try to work out what the marketing guy wants you to do then do precisely the opposite.

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    Default Re: Death's Echo

    Death had an Elco?

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    Default Re: Death's Echo

    No need to discuss, in the presence of Beauty, Blight, our duty is to stand in silent awe and drink in and retain some of the Truth that is all there is that is free from death's echo.

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    Default Re: Death's Echo

    If you do want to discuss, I will say that in point of view and rythm and structure, its the most Yeats-like Poem I ever read thats not by Yeats.

    I would compare it to this short one:

    Toil and grow rich
    Whats that but to lie
    with a foul witch
    and after
    having been drained dry
    to be brought to the chamber
    where lies one long sought with despair
    Last edited by PatCox; 06-21-2009 at 10:29 PM.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Death's Echo

    Danny Deever

    "What are the bugles blowin' for?" said Files-on-Parade."
    To turn you out, to turn you out", the Colour-Sergeant said.
    "What makes you look so white, so white?" said Files-on-Parade.
    "I'm dreadin' what I've got to watch", the Colour-Sergeant said.
    For they're hangin' Danny Deever, you can hear the Dead March play,
    The Regiment's in 'ollow square -- they're hangin' him to-day; They've taken of his buttons off an' cut his stripes away, An' they're hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'.
    "What makes the rear-rank breathe so 'ard?" said Files-on-Parade.
    "It's bitter cold, it's bitter cold", the Colour-Sergeant said.
    "What makes that front-rank man fall down?" said Files-on-Parade.
    "A touch o' sun, a touch o' sun", the Colour-Sergeant said.
    They are hangin' Danny Deever, they are marchin' of 'im round, They 'ave 'alted Danny Deever by 'is coffin on the ground;
    An' 'e'll swing in 'arf a minute for a sneakin' shootin' hound -- O they're hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'! "
    'Is cot was right-'and cot to mine", said Files-on-Parade."
    'E's sleepin' out an' far to-night", the Colour-Sergeant said.
    "I've drunk 'is beer a score o' times", said Files-on-Parade."'E's drinkin' bitter beer alone", the Colour-Sergeant said.
    They are hangin' Danny Deever, you must mark 'im to 'is place, For 'e shot a comrade sleepin' -- you must look 'im in the face;
    Nine 'undred of 'is county an' the Regiment's disgrace, While they're hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'.
    "What's that so black agin' the sun?" said Files-on-Parade.
    "It's Danny fightin' 'ard for life", the Colour-Sergeant said."What's that that whimpers over'ead?" said Files-on-Parade.
    "It's Danny's soul that's passin' now", the Colour-Sergeant said.
    For they're done with Danny Deever, you can 'ear the quickstep play, The Regiment's in column, an' they're marchin' us away;
    Ho! the young recruits are shakin', an' they'll want their beer to-day, After hangin' Danny Deever in the mornin'.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: Death's Echo

    Yeats? I'll give you Yeats . . .
    The Two Trees

    Beloved, gaze in thine own heart,
    The holy tree is growing there;
    From joy the holy branches start,
    And all the trembling flowers they bear.
    The changing colours of its fruit
    Have dowered the stars with merry light;
    The surety of its hidden root
    Has planted quiet in the night;
    The shaking of its leafy head
    Has given the waves their melody,
    And made my lips and music wed,
    Murmuring a wizard song for thee.
    There the Loves a circle go,
    The flaming circle of our days,
    Gyring, spiring to and fro
    In those great ignorant leafy ways;
    Remembering all that shaken hair
    And how the wingèd sandals dart,
    Thine eyes grow full of tender care:
    Beloved, gaze in thine own heart.

    Gaze no more in the bitter glass
    The demons, with their subtle guile,
    Lift up before us when they pass,
    Or only gaze a little while;
    For there a fatal image grows
    That the stormy night receives,
    Roots half hidden under snows,
    Broken boughs and blackened leaves.
    For all things turn to barrenness
    In the dim glass the demons hold,
    The glass of outer weariness,
    Made when God slept in times of old.
    There, through the broken branches, go
    The ravens of unresting thought;
    Flying, crying, to and fro,
    Cruel claw and hungry throat,
    Or else they stand and sniff the wind,
    And shake their ragged wings; alas!
    Thy tender eyes grow all unkind:
    Gaze no more in the bitter glass.
    Loreena McKennitt did a pretty good job turning it into a song.

    "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations,
    for nature cannot be fooled."

    Richard Feynman

  12. #12
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    Default Re: Death's Echo

    For some reason I did a book report on W.H. Auden in Jr. High. A short attention span saves me a lot of angst but I suppose deaths echo is having the awareness to think of death. "Not to be born is the best for man".

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    Default Re: Death's Echo

    Quote Originally Posted by LeeG View Post
    For some reason I did a book report on W.H. Auden in Jr. High. A short attention span saves me a lot of angst but I suppose deaths echo is having the awareness to think of death. "Not to be born is the best for man".
    I'd say its more than just "memento mori," its downright Dpression, hopelessness, worse than Houseman-ian depression, which is its the tone of the movement now called Goth.

    Its one thing to say "eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die," Ecclesiastes says this, its not really gloomy, the awareness of death adds to the appreciation of the joy of life. This Auden poem, this is more like depression, to say it would be best never to have been born, thats deep depresssion, thats when you can't even enjoy life while you have it. I guess Houseman is somewhere in between, with his celebration of Mithridates and belief that you can inure yourself to the depression by dwelling on it, I would describe his tone as that of taking pleasure in morbid self-pity; in other words, Goth.

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    Default Re: Death's Echo

    You know, I don't think it's an unmitigated beat of gloom, gloom, gloom. "Dance while you can..." Sure, be aware you--we-- are mortal. But dance while you can. You've only got a couple turns around the dance floor, so enjoy the heck out of it whenever possible.

    In any event, Auden was homosexual, in the best Oxford-Don sense of the world. He knew that some things really are universal. Death; loss; joy; love. Take the bad with the good, and keep on dancing.

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    Default Re: Death's Echo

    Pat, Auden is describing a deep and intense feeling where what you create means nothing from the materials you start with. The words evaporate and come into ones head, the trees don't care about what you make with them. He creates beautiful meaning knowing it will pass, falling in love knowing it will pass. Belonging to place and family knowing it will pass. I don't take it as goth as much as a desire for love and the suffering that goes with it. He takes them both. It's a lot to take.

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    Default Re: Death's Echo

    Lee, I can follow him right up to "it would be better never to have been born." Thats not an acceptance of life and death, thats a rejection of life. I was saying its worse than Goth or Houseman, because there's a a cheerful embracing of death. Even that is not a denial or rejection of life.

    To me life's rarity, unlikelihood, fragility, shortness, its evanescence, in the face of a cold eternalk universe, makes it even more precious, not something that one would be better off never to have had.

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    Default Re: Death's Echo

    I agree, that line is a stopper except it's "not to be born is the best for man".

    It's a contradiction of meaning more than a statement of rejection of life.

    There is no man if he's not born, it's not the same as saying it would be better never to have been born. I don't take that line literally.

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    Default Re: Death's Echo

    Quote Originally Posted by LeeG View Post
    I agree, that line is a stopper except it's "not to be born is the best for man".

    It's a contradiction of meaning more than a statement of rejection of life.

    There is no man if he's not born, it's not the same as saying it would be better never to have been born. I don't take that line literally.
    I disagree. There is much suffering among the human race. Given the migraines I suffered most of my life, not being born in the first place seems like a plausible choice.

    This election vote for the party that believes in Evolution, Climate Change, a woman's right to maker her health decisions, raising the minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, more people having health insurance is a good thing, and thinks voting should be made easier to do.

  19. #19
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    Default Re: Death's Echo

    Kind of maudlin, guys.

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    Default Re: Death's Echo

    You want maudlin, try discussing poetry with drunk Russians. Now that's maudlin.

    What are you doing about it?




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    Default Re: Death's Echo

    I am trying here, I am trying, this poem raises so many interesting topics of discussion. Where is it, where does this poem lie, in the long varying tradition of "morbid" poetry, and please understand, I use the word "morbid" as a very loose descriptor. There is Poe, there is Houseman, there is Rimbaud, and I even include ecclesiastes and the stoics in the general theme of, memento mori, and all have subtle and unsubtle differences in how they juxtapose the force of life and the inevitability of death and the futility of life, or the apparent futility, which must be overcome, or the acceptance of the futility, or what ever is the different outcome of the contemplation and juxtaposition of the joy of life and the eternity of death.

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    Default Re: Death's Echo

    I am not one to ruminate on the subject of death, I am not a believer and I'm too busy living. But one evening, sitting on the old foot-worn basalt steps in Canterbury Cathedral I did contemplate what brought so many to such a place, and whether, possibly, their hopes had been realised and their faith rewarded.

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    Default Re: Death's Echo

    Time to post Housman. The captain and I were quoting big chunks of it to each other on Chris's boat last Saturday, to the amazement and wonder of all. "And malt does more than Milton can, to justify God's ways to man."


    "Terence, this is stupid stuff:
    You eat your victuals fast enough;
    There can't be much amiss, 'tis clear,
    To see the rate you drink your beer.
    But oh, good Lord, the verse you make,
    It gives a chap the belly-ache.
    The cow, the old cow, she is dead;
    It sleeps well, the horned head:
    We poor lads, 'tis our turn now
    To hear such tunes as killed the cow.
    Pretty friendship 'tis to rhyme
    Your friends to death before their time
    Moping melancholy mad:
    Come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad."

    Why, if 'tis dancing you would be
    There's brisker pipes than poetry.
    Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
    Or why was Burton built on Trent?
    Oh, many a peer of England brews
    Livelier liquor than the Muse,
    And malt does more than Milton can
    To justify God's ways to man.
    Ale, man, ale's the stuff to drink
    For fellows whom it hurts to think:
    Look into the pewter pot
    To see the world as the world's not.
    And faith, 'tis pleasant till 'tis past:
    The mischief is that 'twill not last.
    Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
    And left my necktie god knows where,
    And carried half-way home, or near,
    Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
    Then the world seemed none so bad,
    And I myself a sterling lad;
    And down in lovely muck I've lain,
    Happy till I woke again.
    Then I saw the morning sky:
    Heigho, the tale was all a lie;
    The world, it was the old world yet,
    I was I, my things were wet,
    And nothing now remained to do
    But begin the game anew.

    Therefore, since the world has still
    Much good, but much less good than ill,
    And while the sun and moon endure
    Luck's a chance, but trouble's sure,
    I'd face it as a wise man would,
    And train for ill and not for good.
    'Tis true, the stuff I bring for sale
    Is not so brisk a brew as ale:
    Out of a stem that scored the hand
    I wrung it in a weary land.
    But take it: if the smack is sour,
    The better for the embittered hour;
    It should do good to heart and head
    When your soul is in my soul's stead;
    And I will friend you, if I may,
    In the dark and cloudy day.

    There was a king reigned in the East:
    There, when kings will sit to feast,
    They get their fill before they think
    With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
    He gathered all that springs to birth
    From the many-venomed earth;
    First a little, thence to more,
    He sampled all her killing store;
    And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
    Sate the king when healths went round.
    They put arsenic in his meat
    And stared aghast to watch him eat;
    They poured strychnine in his cup
    And shook to see him drink it up:
    They shook, they stared as white's their shirt:
    Them it was their poison hurt
    - I tell the tale that I heard told.
    Mithridates, he died old.

    "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations,
    for nature cannot be fooled."

    Richard Feynman

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    Default Re: Death's Echo

    Do not weep; do not wax indignant. Understand.

    ~ Spinoza



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    Default Re: Death's Echo

    Quote Originally Posted by Flying Orca View Post
    You want maudlin, try discussing poetry with drunk Russians. Now that's maudlin.
    I did a recital once, where all of the songs delt with Death one way or the other. Death's seen very differently, depending on who's doing the seeing.

    The figure of Death in Auden's poem shares something with the nasty Russian conceptions that Mussorgsky set to music. The last song in his "Songs and Dances of Death" has Death as a field marshall, stalking the battlefield at night and reviewing the day's crop of bodies with satisfaction. The last lines (translated) go:
    Dancing I'll tread down the earth overhead
    So that you never can rise from the dead!
    In contrast, Death in much of German art song is a companion ... even a welcome release. "Komm, susser Tod (Come, sweet Death)." Not always though ... the Erlking is about Death wheedling with a delerious child ... and there's little that's more wrenching than Mahler's "Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the death of Children)"

    Art has to deal with the inevitability of death - and the fact that death will present a different character depending on where we are, when we face it. Was different for my Dad in late Alzheimer's than for friends who had a toddler die.

    What I find fascinating is that as a society, despite what I wrote a moment ago, we've managed to distance ourselves from death. Humans have a 100% mortality rate, but few of us see death occur - Death's a stranger. And as a result, our modern literature etc. seems more monolithic in our approach to death ... because we've not the experience to view it through a variety of lenses.

    I wonder if that has something to do with our resurgent interest in vampires, zombies, and the macabre.
    "It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it." - Oscar Wilde

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