“To die, to sleep – to sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub, for in this sleep of death what dreams may come…” In these immortal lines, Shakespeare’s Hamlet gives voice to one of the greatest of all human questions. What happens when we die? Should we be excited by the mystery? Or afraid? How do we puny humans endure the knowledge that we are not immortal? In this episode, Jacke and Mike take a look at writers on the verge of death. What did they see? And what did they say?
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When times are tough, what does literature have for us? Jacke takes a break from the history of literature to reflect on a death in his family, the loss of Sir George Martin, and some thoughts on the meaning of life from Umberto Eco and Jorge Luis Borges.
My mother appeared in the doorway and my stomach fell. What was she doing at my algebra class? In my high school, in the middle of the day? This was exciting—it was my mother, she was here to see me—but it also felt dangerous.
Years earlier, my best friend’s mother had shown up one day wearing the same expression. We had been in gym class then, playing bombardment. From across the gym, I watched my friend jog toward his mother and disappear around the corner of the stage. Where was he headed? Somewhere cool?
No. He missed school for the next four days. Our teacher mentioned that Bobby, sadly, was attending his grandfather’s funeral.
And now this: I was in the ninth grade, my mother was here, it was me who walked out of the normal world and into the unknown. In the hallway she confirmed my worst fear. My grandfather had had a heart attack. She and my father were on their way to the hospital. I should go home by myself and wait there until they got back.
Some thoughts on the Terrible Poem Breakdown series, which continues to be one of our more popular sets of posts here on the blog.
Even though I try to make it clear that the poets have expressly consented, it seems I risk being viewed as too negative. Readers, I get it: poets deserve our empathy, not our scorn. I’m not here trying to tear anyone down! I believe the impulse to write poems – even terrible ones – is a praiseworthy endeavour.
In our last installment, which was a poem about fatherhood, I had some special empathy. I’m a father myself and know whereof the poet speaks. I spoke of sentiment. I may have used the word “goopiness.” I stand by my critique.
And for anyone who objects that either a) I was too harsh on poets for writing about Death, and b) I was not sufficiently sensitive to the idea of a father’s epiphany about parenting, let me just point out that this was essentially a poem in which a father celebrates as a sign of growth his child’s realization that we will all die.