The Dying Man
in memoriam W.B. Yeats
1. His words
I heard a dying man
Say to his gathered kin,
“My soul’s hung out to dry,
Like a fresh salted skin;
I doubt I’ll use it again.
“What’s done is yet to come;
The flesh deserts the bone,
But a kiss widens the rose
I know, as the dying know
Eternity is Now.
“A man sees, as he dies,
My heart sways with the world.
I am that final thing,
A man learning to sing.
2. What Now?
Caught in the dying light,
I thought myself reborn.
My hand turn into hooves.
I wear the leaden weight
Of what I did not do.
Places great with their dead,
The mire, the sodden wood,
Remind me to stay alive.
I am the clumsy man
The instant ages on.
I burned the flesh away,
In love, in lively May.
I turn my look upon
Another shape than hers
Now, as the casement blurs.
In the worst night of my will,
I dared to question all,
And would the same again.
What’s beating at the gate?
Who’s come can wait.
3. The Wall
A ghost comes out of the unconscious mind
To grope my sill: It moans to be reborn!
The figure at my back is not my friend;
The hand upon my shoulder turns to horn.
I found my father when I did my work,
Only to lose myself in this small dark.
Though it reject dry borders of the seen,
What sensual eye can keep and image pure,
Leaning across a sill to greet the dawn?
A slow growth is a hard thing to endure.
When figures our of obscure shadow rave,
All sensual love’s but dancing on a grave.
The wall has entered: I must love the wall,
A madman staring at perpetual night,
A spirit raging at the visible.
I breathe alone until my dark is bright.
Dawn’s where the white is. Who would know the dawn
When there’s a dazzling dark behind the sun.
4. The Exulting
Once I delighted in a single tree;
The loose air sent me running like a child–
I love the world; I want more than the world,
Or after image of the inner eye.
Flesh cries to flesh, and bone cries out to bone;
I die into this life, alone yet not alone.
Was it a god his suffering renewed?–
I saw my father shrinking in his skin;
He turned his face: there was another man,
Walking the edge, loquacious, unafraid.
He quivered like a bird in birdless air,
Yet dared to fix his vision anywhere.
Fish feed on fish, according to their need:
My enemies renew me, and my blood
Beats slower in my careless solitude.
I bare a wound, and dare myself to bleed.
I think a bird, and it begins to fly.
By dying daily, I have come to be.
All exultation is a dangerous thing.
I see you, love, I see you in a dream;
I hear a noise of bees, a trellis hum,
And that slow humming rises into song.
A breath is but a breath: I have the earth;
I shall undo all dying with my death.
5. They Sing, They Sing
All women loved dance in a dying light–
The moon’s my mother: how I love the moon!
Out of her place she comes, a dolphin one,
Then settles back to shade and the long night.
A beast cries out as if its flesh were torn,
And that cry takes me back where I was born.
Who thought love but a motion in the mind?
Am I but nothing, leaning towards a thing?
I scare myself with sighing, or I’ll sing;
Descend O gentlest light, descend, descend.
I sweet field far ahead, I hear your birds,
They sing, they sing, but still in minor thirds.
I’ve the lark’s word for it, who sings alone:
What’s seen recededs; Forever’s what we know!–
Eternity defined, and strewn with straw,
The fury of the slug beneath the stone.
The vision moves, and yet remains the same.
In heaven’s praise, I dread the thing I am.
The edges of the summit still appall
When we brood on the dead or the beloved;
Nor can imagination do it all
In this last place of light: he dares to live
Who stops being a bird, yet beats his wings
Against the immense immeasurable emptiness of things.
- Theodore Roethke