“Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind”

for Eric

I don’t have anything new or insightful to say about death.

In the last five years, I’ve dealt with death by reading poetry. First I read poems to choose the ones other people would read at the funeral. Then I kept reading. I’ve read elegies and sonnets. I’ve read poems about the dead who died too young, about dead poets, about dead lovers, dead friends. And I’ve read poems that aren’t, ostensibly, about death, but that speak to me about the dead anyway.

Sometimes it helps, sometimes not.  Two poems that have meant something particular to me are “To an Athlete Dying Young” by A. E. Housman, and “Lycidas,” by Milton, of course (despite his egotism, the last twenty lines are amazing). I’ll be re-reading them tomorrow.

And I read “Dirge Without Words” by Edna St. Vincent Millay last week. I love Millay’s work, but I’d never read this poem before, and in its rage and futility and acknowledgment of all the customary tropes, it’s perfect.

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