After returning from our initial trip to Austin, I shared one of my favorite "death" poems by John Donne. It is an odd thing to have "favorite" death poems, though it does make sense. Death is notoriously difficult to name or speak in any kind of honest language that actually stands up to the task of neither sentimentalizing it nor offering cheap comfort; death is that thing which all know, or will know, through others and themselves, yet we simply do not know what to say when we encounter it. So it is fitting that we turn to our poets.
C.S. Lewis wrote a number of my "favorite" death poems. The devastating reason he wrote so many, and so many of worth, is that after marrying his beloved Joy in his 50s, she died just three short years later. His account in A Grief Observed is one of the most poignant, heartbreaking, and meaningful things ever written on the experience of losing a loved one. His Poems similarly witness to his deep, ever-present grief from Joy's death. Although the poem below is for his wife, it felt right in thinking about Granji, and even connects to Donne in the first line. In my own poem afterward I attempt to sketch out the kind of rest possible even in times like these.
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Joys That Sting
By C.S. Lewis
Oh doe not die, says Donne, for I shall hate
All women so. How false the sentence rings.
Women? But in a life made desolate
It is the joys once shared that have the stings.
To take the old walks alone, or not at all,
To order one pint where I ordered two,
To think of, and then not to make, the small
Time-honoured joke (senseless to all but you);
To laugh (oh, one'll laugh), to talk upon
Themes that we talked upon when you were there,
To make some poor pretence of going on,
Be kind to one's old friends, and seem to care,
While no one (O God) through the years will say
The simplest, common word in just your way.
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Crawl Beneath Covers
When I am coldest and
deeply alone, I turn
off dead machinery
and come back home to bed.
I crawl beneath covers,
baptized again into
the smells and heat that I
Renewal strikes against
the dross of soulless screens
like a coiled snake, and woos
by heat and darkness’ smile.
Your body is light and
heat and I return a
little boy happy to
be in safety’s embrace.
But your fire does not burn
out—or me. My own scars
find salve in your bright flames,
and my eyes, heavy, close.
This rest is a known rest:
your body, redeemed and
given in healing trust,
is daily seventh day.