Reflections on Life & Death

Tis a Fearful Thing

by Yehuda HaLevi (1075 – 1141)

‘Tis a fearful thing

to love what death can touch.

A fearful thing

to love, to hope, to dream, to be –

to be,

And oh, to lose.

A thing for fools, this,

And a holy thing,

a holy thing

to love.

For your life has lived in me,

your laugh once lifted me,

your word was gift to me.

To remember this brings painful joy.

‘Tis a human thing, love,

a holy thing, to love

what death has touched.


From Blossoms
From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the joy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.
From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.
O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.
There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
~ Li-Young Lee ~


The Fire

Listen, I’ve light
in my eyes
and on my skin
the warmth of a star, so strange
is this
that I
can barely comprehend it:
I think
I’ll lift my face to it, and then
I lift my face,
and don’t even know how
this is done.  And
everything alive
(and everything’s
alive) is turning
into something else
as at the heart
of some annihilating
or is it creating
that’s burning, unseeably, always
burning at such speeds
as eyes cannot
detect, just try
to observe your own face
growing old
in the mirror, or
is it beginning
to be born?
~ Franz Wright ~
 (God’s Silence)

Sonnets to Orpheus, Part One, IV

You who let yourselves feel: enter the breathing

that is more than your own.

Let it brush your cheeks

as it divides and rejoins beside you.

Blessed ones, whole ones,

you where the heart begins:

You are the bow that shoots the arrows

and you are the target.

Fear not the pain.  Let its weight fall back

into the earth;

for heavy are the mountains, heavy the seas.

The trees you planted in childhood have grown

too heavy.  You cannot bring them along.

Give yourselves to the air, to what you cannot hold.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke ~

(In Praise of Mortality, translated and edited by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy)



Nothing sings in our bodies

like breath in a flute.

It dwells in the drum.

I hear it now

that slow beat

like when a voice said to the dark,

let there be light,

let there be ocean

and blue fish

born of nothing

and they were there.

I turn back to bed.

The man there is breathing.

I touch him

with hands already owned by another world

Look, they are desert,

they are rust. They have washed the dead.

They have washed the just born.

They are open.

They offer nothing.

Take it.

Take nothing from me.

There is still a little life

left inside this body,

a little wildness here

and mercy

and it is the emptiness

we love, touch, enter in one another

and try to fill.

~ Linda Hogan ~


Thinking About Death

How often do you think about Death?

Death thinks about you all the time

Death is fatally in love with you and me

and his lust is known to be relentless

Life is an equally persistent lover

He was desiring each of us before we were born

I try to remain faithful to him    but I know

the relationship can’t go on forever

Life relishes my body heat    my heart beating

my blood    my semen    even my steamy notions

Death cherishes what is cool and mysterious in me

all that is shadowy and perverse like him.

I like to think of Death awaiting our rendezvous

in a candlelit corner of an intimate café

where he will regale me with scandalous tales

of misbehavior in other worlds

Yet in the it is Life that wears us out

At that cross walk what will the traffic bear?

Shouldn’t we think about Death more often?

Death thinks about you all the time.

~ James Broughton ~ (Special Deliveries)

The Wish to Be Generous

All that I serve will die, all my delights,

the flesh kindled from my flesh, garden and field,

the silent lilies standing in the woods,

the woods, the hill, the whole earth, all

will burn in man’s evil, or dwindle

in its own age. Let the world bring on me

the sleep of darkness without stars, so I may know

my little light taken from me into the seed

of the beginning and the end, so I may bow

to mystery, and take my stand on the earth

like a tree in a field, passing without haste

or regret toward what will be, my life

a patient willing descent into the grass.

~ Wendell Berry ~

(The Collected Poems, 1957-1982)



This evening, the sturdy Levi’s

I wore every day for over a year

& which seemed to the end

in perfect condition,

suddenly tore.

How or why I don’t know,

but there it was: a big rip at the crotch.

A month ago my friend Nick

walked off a racquetball court,


got into his street clothes,

& halfway home collapsed & died.

Take heed, you who read this,

& drop to your knees now & again

like the poet Christopher Smart,

& kiss the earth & be joyful,

& make much of your time,

& be kindly to everyone,

even to those who do not deserve it.

For although you may not believe

it will happen,

you too will one day be gone,

I, whose Levi’s ripped at the crotch

for no reason,

assure you that such is the case.

Pass it on.

~ Steve Kowit ~


When Great Trees Fall

And when great souls die,

after a period peace blooms,

slowly and always


Spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration.

Our senses, restored, never to be the same, whisper to us.

They existed. They existed.

We can be. Be and be better. For they existed.”

-Maya Angelou



by Wendell Berry

The longer we are together
the larger death grows around us.
How many we know by now
who are dead! We, who were young,
now count the cost of having been.
And yet as we know the dead
we grow familiar with the world.
We, who were young and loved each other
ignorantly, now come to know
each other in love, married
by what we have done, as much
as by what we intend. Our hair
turns white with our ripening
as though to fly away in some
coming wind, bearing the seed
of what we know. It was bitter to learn
that we come to death as we come
to love, bitter to face
the just and solving welcome
that death prepares. But that is bitter
only to the ignorant, who pray
it will not happen. Having come
the bitter way to better prayer, we have
the sweetness of ripening. How sweet
to know you by the signs of this world!


But perhaps God needs the longing, wherever else shall it dwell,

Which with kisses and tears and sighs fills mysterious spaces of air –

And perhaps is invisible soil from which roots of stars grow and swell –

And the radiant voice across fields of parting which calls to reunion there?

O my beloved, perhaps in the sky of longing worlds have been born of our love –

Just as our breathing, in and out, builds a cradle for life and death?

We are grains of sand, dark with farewell, lost in births’ secret treasure trove,

Around us already perhaps future moons, suns, and stars blaze in a fiery wreath.

~ Nelly Sachs ~

(Translated by Ruth and Matthew Mead, in A Book of Women Poets from Antiquity to Now, by Aliki and Willis Barnstone)


Psalm 121

I look deep into my heart,

to the core where wisdom arises.

Wisdom comes from the Unnamable

and unifies heaven and earth.

The Unnamable is always with you,

shining from the depths of your heart.

His peace will keep you untroubled

even in the greatest pain.

When you find him present within you,

you find truth at every moment.

He will guard you from all wrongdoing;

he will guide your feet on his path.

He will temper your youth with patience;

he will crown your old age with fulfillment.

And dying, you will leave your body

as effortlessly as a sigh.j

(A Book of Psalms, trans. and adapted by Stephen Mitchell)


There is no going back

No, no, there is no going back.

Less and less you are

that possibility you were.

More and more you have become

those lives and deaths

that have belonged to you.

You have become a sort of grave

containing much that was

and is no more in time, beloved

then, now, and always.

And so you have become a sort of tree

standing over a grave.

Now more than ever you can be

generous toward each day

that comes, young, to disappear

forever, and yet remain

unaging in the mind.

Every day you have less reason

not to give yourself away.

~ Wendell Berry ~

(Collected Poems)


“…it dawns on me, yet again, that all spiritual practice is a rehearsal—at its best, an enactment—of death. As the mystics put it, ‘If you die before you die, then when you die you won’t die.’ In other words, if right now you die to the separate self sense, and discover instead your real Self which is the entire Kosmos at large, then the death of this particular body mind is but a leaf falling from the eternal tree that you are.

“Meditation is to practice that death right now, and right now, and right now, by resting in the timeless Witness and dis-identifying with the finite, objective, mortal self that can be seen as an object. In the empty Witness, in the great Unborn, there is no death—not because you live forever in time—you will not—but because you discover the timelessness of this eternal moment, which never enters the stream of time in the first place. When you are resting in the great Unborn, standing free as the empty Witness, death changes nothing essential.

“Still, every death is very sad in its own way.”

One Taste, Ken Wilbur, Shambhala, 2000, p. 233


Forwarded by Ziji, 4 October 2016:


I don’t want your answers, your good advice. I don’t want your theories about ‘why’ or ‘how’. I don’t need your pity. Your attempts to make me feel better only make me feel worse. I am human, just like you, and crave realness.

Just be present with me. Listen. Give me space. Hold my trembling hand, sometimes. Your attention is so precious to me. Your being speaks volumes.

If you feel uncomfortable, don’t be ashamed. If you don’t know what to say to me, that’s okay; I feel that way too, sometimes. If you feel disgusted, angry, uncertain, fearful, that’s okay, I love you for it. You are human, too.

Put your textbook learning to one side now. Don’t try to have ‘unconditional positive regard’; it feels so false to me. Forget ’empathy’ – I want you to come closer than that.

See, I am you, in disguise. These are your broken bones, your shallow breaths, your twisted limbs. I am your mirror; you are seeing yourself.

Don’t try to be strong for me. I am not a victim. Fall apart, if you must. Weep, if you need to weep. Mourn those shattered dreams, those lost futures. Let the past slip away too. Meet me here, now, in the fire of presence, with the fullness of your being.

I speak in an ancient language now.

I want you to be a witness.

– Jeff Foster


Forever Oneness,

who sings to us in silence,

who teaches us through each other.

Guide my steps with strength and wisdom.

May I see the lessons as I walk,

honor the Purpose of all things.

Help me touch with respect,

always speak from behind my eyes.

Let me observe, not judge.

May I cause no harm,

and leave music and beauty after my visit.

When I return to forever

may the circle be closed

and the spiral be broader.

~ Bee Lake ~
(an Aboriginal poet)

White Owl Flies Into and Out of the Field

Coming down out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel, or a Buddha with wings,
it was beautiful, and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings — five feet apart —
and the grabbing thrust of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys of the snow —
and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes
to lurk there, like a little lighthouse,
in the blue shadows —
so I thought:
maybe death isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light wrapping itself around us —
as soft as feathers —
that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes, not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow,
that is nothing but light — scalding, aortal light —
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.
~ Mary Oliver ~
(House of Light)

Epitaph – By Merrit Malloy

When I die
Give what’s left of me away
To children
And old men that wait to die.

And if you need to cry,
Cry for your brother
Walking the street beside you.
And when you need me,
Put your arms
Around anyone
And give them
What you need to give to me.

I want to leave you something,
Something better
Than words
Or sounds.

Look for me
In the people I’ve known
Or loved,
And if you cannot give me away,
At least let me live on in your eyes
And not your mind.

You can love me most
By letting
Hands touch hands,
By letting bodies touch bodies,
And by letting go
Of children
That need to be free.

Love doesn’t die,
People do.
So, when all that’s left of me
Is love,
Give me away.