Saturday, 5 March 2011

Mortal Engines

"What destructive desire of life is so great / that it forces us to shake anxiously in times of doubt and danger? / Assuredly there is an unalterable limit of life for mortals, / and it is impossible for us to avoid death and not pass away." (Lucretius)

"Do you want to be free despite your body? Live in it as if you were ready to move. Keep in mind that you will one day lose your quarters, and you will have greater fortitude for the necessary departure." (Seneca)

However much we try to enfold our personal world in a kind of existential stasis, time and death keep breaking in; the theme of this poem. The Greek word for this was "krisis", and while that lent it self to our modern word "crisis", it also meant judgement.

Christianity, in its earliest forms, as we find in the letters of Paul, does not avoid the "krisis" of mortality, but sees it as a necessary stage before the "new life" of the new creation: "What you sow does not come to life unless it dies."

This poem, however, is a more akin to the thinking of the Roman Stoics such as Seneca and Lucretius, whose philosophy resolute embraced death as part of human existence which must not be ignored. They would not have seen that as a pessimistic attitude, but a realistic one. They would have argued that only with an acceptance of mortality do the values of real importance come to be seen, rather than the ephemeral illusions which dominate otherwise...

Mortal Engines

Into every life comes a turning of the tide
The darkness deepens; nowhere left to hide
When frail body fails, and bell tolls for thee
There is no escape, and nowhere to flee

The veil of ignorance is rent upon that day
The mind grows dim, sensations die away
Change and decay, the felling of the tree
Seeds may survive, but death has come for me

The reaper comes, his blade as sharp as sword
Harp's strings are cut; I play a final chord
And darkness comes, comes to set me free
Twilight of days, now abide with me

Where is the raging, every passing hour?
At the dying light, and the fading power
As mortal engines fail slowly by degree
And eyes see at last what we should foresee

Time brings to ending false dreams of progress
And lays bare and empty, trappings of success
This is death's sting; this time's victory
Though entropy triumphant, universal key

Precious is each moment, as lilies of the field
Enough is enough, let not to greed yield
When mortal engine breaks, and vanity does flee
Night will fall and bless, and abide with me

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