This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars
and one of the smallest,
a gilded mote on blue velvet—
I mean this, our great earth.
This earth will grow cold one day,
not like a block of ice
or a dead cloud even
but like an empty walnut it will roll along
in pitch-black space …
You must grieve for this right now
—you have to feel this sorrow now—
for the world must be loved this much
if you’re going to say “I lived”…
—Nazim Hikmet, from “On Living" translated by Mutlu Konuk and Randy Blasing
Just as we affect others merely by being alive, those who are already gone continue to affect the living. A person lives on, even after returning to dust and ashes, as long as someone still clearly remembers the things he did, the things he said, his ways, his sensitivities, the thoughts that were his alone. As those who knew him pass on in their turn, the posterity in which he survives then shrinks until the last of them is gone, and he dies a second, final death. Thereafter he appears no more among the living.
However, this extended life, depending entirely on the memory of the living, is always in peril. So the living must continually renew their memory of the dead and share their life with them. They must accept as their natural duty not only to mourn the dead, but also to try to call back the life that the dead have lost. They must be like Orpheus, the musician, who followed his wife Eurydice, dead of snakebite, all the way down to the realm of death.
—Takehiko Fukunaga, Flowers of Grass (translated by Royall Tyler)
I read poems. I write. That is my destiny. Standing on the edge of the cliff about to fall into the abyss, I remember who I am. I am a young poet, a writer. I am here to make words. I have the power to pull myself back from death—to keep myself alive.
—bell hooks, Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood
Concerning the death of Gertrude Stein: she came out of a deep coma to ask her companion Alice Toklas, “Alice, Alice, what is the answer?” Her companion replied, “There is no answer.” Gertrude Stein continued, “Well, then, what is the question?” and fell back dead.
—Susan Sontag, from Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947-1963
"There was always the hunger,
The death of small things
Somewhere in your body"
— Thomas James, from “Two Aunts”
"Flaubert wrote in a letter to Louise Colet that he could never see a cradle without thinking of a grave."
— Elizabeth Hardwick, Sleepless Nights
"Her life – that was the only chance she had – the short season between two silences."
— Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out (via vwvw)
"When the pain blazed in his chest,
I want to believe he saw
only light as he melted into it.
You know where your father’s
life is now? my friend asked
and gave me without a pause
these words, It’s in you."
— Margaret Gibson, from “Elegy For My Father”
I know why we try to keep the dead alive: we try to keep them alive in order to keep them with us.
I also know that if we are to live ourselves there comes a point at which we must relinquish the dead, let them go, keep them dead."
— Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking
"We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day not be at all."
— Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking
"Death is a country of which nothing is known; no one has returned to describe it."
— Edouard Levé, Suicide (translated by Jan Steyn)
"As my father’s breathing fails,
the transparency of the windowpane
reminds me that outside there is the world.
I contemplate the brightly lit city,
the cars going by,
the teenager who meets
his girlfriend on a corner,
the passing bicyclist,
the athlete running across the park meadow.
Pondering the fragility of time
I contemplate the world,
the window again,
the reunited family,
and I am thinking that my father no longer speaks
or sees or hears,
that his dead senses
are beginning to perceive the theater of the world
that the only memory of his life
is what lies in the fragments of our memory:
an immense puzzle with missing pieces.
what must he be thinking about as he leaves himself behind?
My mother’s skin?
Newsreels from the Second World War?
First communion and the commandments?
The tumors spreading through his body?
My father, stammering,
says he has a stone in his throat,
it won’t fall,
he’s going to fall with it,
To where? In what place?"
— Manuel Ulacia, from “The Stone at the Bottom” (translated by Reginald Gibbons)
"We are against forgetting the dead. We are against recovery and healing. To ‘heal’ is to entomb, forever, the sickness. To that end we are bringing the dead back, not to haunt, but to remind us that we are always in the presence of their absence."
— Heidi Julavits, The Vanishers