Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Contemplating Death (and a Poem)

[Note: This post may be upsetting for some of you. I don't mean it to be. I am perfectly fine, and do not plan to do away with myself today or ever. These are some very personal thoughts I wanted to write down and did. Since I don't want to discuss them, I am switching comments off.]


Since I am, to myself, too old to stormily contemplate suicide (when the rainbow is enuf) -- well, actually, I am old and experienced enough to be unable to dismiss the effect this would have on the people I affect, I sometimes wish it were simpler. That I could just lie down and die, swiftly, painlessly, by choice. I fear I shall live till I'm in my eighties (and hopefully no longer) but even then, I would ask for a peaceful end in my own bed, alone. I have thought this, and wished it, even knowing that my family and personal medical history make this a most unlikely possibility.

For all the rage and grief I have felt at the deaths of those who mattered to me, I have always thought I would welcome my own death, whenever it came. Perhaps, in my eighties, I shall long have begged to have been released from my pain. I cannot imagine dying by violence; nor have I ever wished for my family around my deathbed. Death seems so intensely personal, somehow. My faith, such as it is, gives me no answers as to what to expect after I'm gone, and perhaps there is indeed nothing to expect. But if it really will all be the same in a hundred years, as I often tell myself it will, then I wish I could retire from this stage. Maybe not today, I have a child to bring up, but I do not wish to live on and grow old. Were it not for Rahul, I would be selfish enough to wish I could retire today.

The other day, I was taking a short break from my work and came across this piece with its translation of Rabindranath Tagore's Maran-milan. I don't read a great deal of poetry these days but I read this one through because I found it both beautiful and very sad.

Maran-milan (‘Death-wedding’, 1902)
 
Why do you speak so softly, Death, Death,
Creep upon me, watch me so stealthily?
This is not how a lover should behave.
When evening flowers droop upon their tired
Stems, when cattle are brought in from the fields
After a whole day’s grazing, you, Death,
Death, approach me with such gentle steps,
Settle yourself immovably by my side.
I cannot understand the things you say
Alas, will this be how you will take me, Death,
Death? Like a thief, laying heavy sleep
On my eyes as you descend to my heart?
Will you thus let your tread be a slow beat
In my sleep-numbed blood, your jingling ankle-bells
A drowsy rumble in my ear? Will you, Death,
Death, wrap me, finally, in your cold
Arms and carry me away while I dream?
I do not know why you thus come and go.
Tell me, is this the way you wed, Death,
Death? Unceremonially, with no
Weight of sacrament or blessing or prayer?
Will you come with your massy tawny hair
Unkempt, unbound into a bright coil-crown?
Will no one bear your victory-flag before
Or after, will no torches glow like red
Eyes along the river, Death, Death?
Will earth not quake in terror at your step?
When fierce-eyed Siva came to take his bride,
Remember all the pomp and trappings, Death,
Death: the flapping tiger-skins he wore;
His roaring bull; the serpents hissing round
His hair; the bom-bom sound as he slapped his cheeks;
The necklace of skulls swinging round his neck;
The sudden raucous music as he blew
His horn to announce his coming - was this not
A better way of wedding, Death, Death?
And as that deathly wedding-party’s din
Grew nearer, Death, Death, tears of joy
Filled Gauri’s eyes and the garments at her breast
Quivered; her left eye fluttered and her heart
Pounded; her body quailed with thrilled delight
And her mind ran away with itself, Death, Death;
Her mother wailed and smote her head at the thought
Of receiving so wild a groom; and in his mind
Her father agreed calamity had struck.
Why must you always come like a thief, Death,
Death, always silently, at night’s end,
Leaving only tears? Come to me festively,
Make the whole night ring with your triumph, blow
Your victory-conch, dress me in blood-red robes,
Grasp me by the hand and sweep me away!
Pay no heed to what others may think, Death,
Death, for I shall of my own free will
Resort to you if you but take me gloriously.
If I am immersed in work in my room
When you arrive, Death, Death, then break
My work, thrust my unreadiness aside.
If I am sleeping, sinking all desires
In the dreamy pleasure of my bed, or I lie
With apathy gripping my heart and my eyes
Flickering between sleep and waking, fill
Your conch with your destructive breath and blow,
Death, Death, and I shall run to you.
I shall go to where your boat is moored,
Death, Death, to the sea where the wind rolls
Darkness towards me from infinity.
I may see black clouds massing in the far
North-east corner of the sky; fiery snakes
Of lightning may rear up with their hoods raised,
But I shall not flinch in unfounded fear -
I shall pass silently, unswervingly
Across that red storm-sea, Death, Death.