… in gardens, beauty is a by-product.
The main business is sex and death …
–Sam Llewelyn, The Sea Garden
I was trying to remember a quote about the subject of poetry. I thought poems are about beauty, you know, like Keats’ “Ode to a Grecian Urn”. Yet in an ode to beauty or art, death is never far away from consciousness.
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
Key subjects of poetry are Love, God, Sex, Death. But if you think about it for a few seconds, it’s Death that frames every subject, isn’t it?
So this week, let’s think about writing a memento mori poem. Memento mori (Latin ‘remember (that you have) to die’). An archetypal memento mori poem is Wallace Stevens’ “The Emperor of Ice Cream”.
Here’re the haunting final lines, Stevens writing about a dead woman:
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
So in a terminal life, we ought to enjoy our desserts while we can. Is that it?
Another example is Hamlet’s soliloquy to the dead clown, Yorick:
Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how
abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rises at
it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know
not how oft. Where be your gibes now? your
gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment,
that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one
now, to mock your own grinning?
In your poem you need to use these words. The list comprises one word each cherry-picked from the poems submitted to Barbara’s prompt last Thursday.
Write on, poets. I’m waiting to see what you come up with.