The Sure Extinction that We Travel to

There’s a poem I’ve read over and over.  I’m thinking I will include it in the book.  The book I may never write.  The book that will include recipes for Carrot Cake, Sticky Toffee Pudding, Tiramisu, Banoffee Pie and Chocolate Torte, his favourite puddings.  Alongside my favourite poems – that is if I ever write the book; the book I may never write.  

The poem I’ve read over and over is one of Philip Larkin’s and it is a poem about death. A year ago today.  He died.

And I wake at four to soundless dark. And I think of Rich and how horrifying the dread of dying and being dead was to him…. the anaesthetic from which none come round.  And I worry that I couldn’t halt unresting death.

Most things will never happen, this one will.   Death is no different whined at than withstood. 

The words echo in my head, in my heart, Aubade – dawn serenade.  And last night I dreamt of him.

Aubade by Philip Larkin

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
—The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.
And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.
Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

And last night I dreamt of him. Such a vivid dream.  So bright.  So bizarre. I have never seen him so clearly or had such a lucid conversation with him in a dream. He looked his old self, not the emaciated shadow of a year ago.  He was in his pink fleece, his Timberland boots, his faded denim jeans.  He was grinning from ear to ear, on the doorstep, rosy cheeks glowing in the morning light and he said – “I’m back, I’m here again”. It was as if to say you can leave the torture of this year behind now and feel my presence with you as you move forward. I asked him where he’d been, he said – “I didn’t die, I just had to go away to get better, and now I’m back, I’m here again”.  My response was – what shall I tell the others; your Dad, your kids, your colleagues  – those 700+ people who came to your memorial service….but he just grinned that cheeky, mischievous, contagious, loving grin of his and all of a sudden everything was alright. 

It will be alright.  The light will strengthen, the room will take shape and work will be done.  There must surely be more to life, more to death than

….total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,   
Not to be anywhere….
Musn’t there?
He is here, isn’t he?
I will greet the dawn in the morning.  I will serenade the dawn at the window of my beloved. And he will be there.

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