Happy Birthday Stevie Smith

Stevie

Sylvia Plath described herself as a “desperate Smith addict” and wrote a letter expressing an interest in meeting Stevie, but first committed suicide.  Smith herself struggled with depression all her life and was a fatalist from a young age.  Abandoned by her father as a small child she grew up in a house of independent feminists, particularly her Aunt Madge who she called “The Lion Aunt”.

At age five she was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was sent to a sanatorium.  She resolved herself to death at age seven.  At age eight she was discharged.  Her mother, never in the best of health, passed away when Smith was 16.

Smith was born on this day in 1902 and passed away aged 68 in 1971.

 

I do not speak; by Stevie Smith

I do not ask for mercy for understanding for peace
And in these heavy days I do not ask for release
I do not ask that suffering shall cease.

I do not pray to God to let me die
To give an ear attentive to my cry
To pause in his marching and not hurry by.

I do not ask for anything I do not speak
I do not question and I do not seek
I used to in the day when I was weak.

Now I am strong and lapped in sorrow
As in a coat of magic mail and borrow
From Time today and care not for tomorrow.

 

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JFK, Dallas, 1963, Nov 22.

John F. Kennedy Jr. Saluting His Father at Funeral

I Have a Rendezvous with Death;  by Alan Seeger
I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows ‘twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear…
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

 

 

Another Year

death

Another year slides away.  If my life is the Samuel Beckett play, “Breath” I am on the exhale.  I intend to squeeze every drop of juice out of what is left.  If fatalism teaches you anything it teaches you to treasure the moment.  Just treasuring Dublin retaining the Sam Maguire at the moment.  Full time for Dublin, and I am (hopefully) still in the third quarter.

 

For a Birthday: by Thom Gunn

 

I have reached a time when words no longer

help:

Instead of guiding me across the moors

Strong landmarks in the uncertain out-of-doors,

Or like dependable friars on the Alp

Saving with wisdom and with brandy kegs,

They are gravel-stones, or tiny dogs which yelp

Biting my trousers, running round my legs.

Description and analysis degrade,

Limit, delay, slipped land from what has been;

And when we groan My Darling what we mean

Looked at more closely would too soon evade

The intellectual habit of our eyes;

And either the experience would fade

Or our approximations would be lies.

The snarling dogs are weight upon my haste,

Tons which I am detaching ounce by ounce.

All my agnostic irony I renounce

So I may climb to regions where I rest

In springs of speech, the dark before of truth:

The sweet moist wafer of your tongue I taste,

And find right meanings in your silent mouth.

How to live your life

Mont Blanc

Jim Hourihane, my late father in law, liked to talk about life being like a bar of chocolate.  When you are a kid and someone gives you a whole bar of chocolate to yourself you gobble down the first half without thinking.  Then you realise you only have half left.  You begin to take your time.  You start to appreciate the remaining chocolate more.  When you come to the last square you take a long time to savour it.  You let it sit on your tongue until it melts.  You eek out every last ounce of pleasure from it.

The poem below is on the same theme.  Where do you live your life today?  Are you in the mindset at the start of the poem?  Are you focused on the negatives of the daily grind?  Do you bemoan Monday mornings and wish the week away to Friday?  Do you look at the clock at 10:00 and pray for 17:30?

How better to live every day the way he lives the last 3 minutes.  Enjoy the journey, it doesn’t last long.

 

25 minutes to go: by Shel Silverstein

They’re buildin’ the gallows outside my cell.
I got 25 minutes to go.

And in 25 minutes I’ll be in Hell.
I got 24 minutes to go.

Well, they give me some beans for my last meal.
23 minutes to go.

And you know… nobody asked me how I feel.
I got 22 minutes to go.

So, I wrote to the Gov’nor… the whole damned bunch.
Ahhh… 21 minutes to go.

And I call up the Mayor, and he’s out to lunch.

I got 20 more minutes to go.

Well, the Sheriff says, ‘Boy, I wanna watch you die’.
19 minutes to go.

I laugh in his face… and I spit in his eye.
I got 18 minutes to go.

Well…I call out to the Warden to hear my plea.
17 minute to go.

He says, ‘Call me back in a week or three.
You’ve got 16 minutes to go.’

Well, my lawyer says he’s sorry he missed my case.
Mmmm….15 minutes to go.

Yeah, well if you’re so sorry, come up and take my place.
I got 14 minutes to go.

Well, now here comes the padre to save my soul
With 13 minutes to go.

And he’s talkin’ about burnin’, but I’m so damned cold.
I got 12 more minutes to go.

Now they’re testin’ the trap. It chills my spine.
I got 11 minutes to go.

‘Cuz the goddamned thing it works just fine.
I got 10 more minutes to go.

I’m waitin’ for the pardon… gonna set me free
With 9 more minutes to go.

But this ain’t the movies, so to hell with me.
I got 8 more minutes to go.

And now I’m climbin up the ladder with a scaffold peg
With 7 more minutes to go.

I’ve betta’ watch my step or else I’ll break my leg.
I got 6 more minutes to go.

Yeah… with my feet on the trap and my head in the noose…
5 more minutes to go.

Well, c’mon somethin’ and cut me loose.
I got 4 more minutes to go.

I can see the mountains. I see the sky.
3 more minutes to go.

And it’s too damned pretty for a man to die.
i got 2 more minutes to go

I can hear the buzzards… hear the crows.
1 more minute to go.

And now I’m swingin’ and here I gooooooooo….

Pioneer Irish Women

The Great Telescope at Birr Castle

The Great Telescope at Birr Castle

Birr in County Offaly is famous the world over for having at one stage the largest telescope in the world.  The 3rd Earl of Rosse was a science pioneer and set an example that has been carried on by his family to this day.

In August 1869, in a sad accident, one of the cousins in the family, Mary Ward, became the first confirmed person in the world to die in an automobile accident.  The Earl’s sons built a steam car and Mary was racing around County Offaly with them when she was thrown from the car on a bend and fell beneath the wheels.

Then, in August 1896, another Irish woman became the first pedestrian to die in a car accident.  Bridget Driscoll was run down by a petrol engined car in the grounds of Crystal Palace.  She also became the first person in the UK to die in an automobile accident.

At the inquest into her death the coroner said that he hoped “such a thing would never happen again”.

I ran over a guy in my car once.  He was on a bike, in the rain.  I pulled out from a side road in front of him.  He crashed into my bonnet and went over the top.  I got out and asked if he was all right.  He got up and said he was fine.  Then he apologized for crashing into my car.  I got off lightly with that one!

Joyride 2; by Aram Stefanian

As she wrapped her car around a tree
A weird thought ran through her mind:
‘If I’m feeling no pain, then my soul is free
I’ll have to part with the daily grind”

She tried desperately to get out of the car
But the door was smashed and didn’t obey
Seeing on her arm an ugly bloody scar
She fainted, wishing she was melted away

When the cops were towing her car out
They were amazed to find no driver inside
Though one of them had a gnawing doubt
That he heard a woman crying over a joyride

Self-inflicted death

waiting

Warning:  if you have suffered a bereavement by train, or a suicide in your family, don’t read any further.

So, last Friday I left work to get home for the weekend and ended up sitting for hours on the train.  I was about 4 hours late getting home.  And all because of a “fatality” on the line.  It got me thinking about how we choose to die.

Suicide is always an option for most of us.  But it can’t be an easy option.  How hard must it be to make that final push to meet the end: To leap off the cliff, to jump in front of the train, to pull the trigger, or kick over the stool?

People who suffer from depression would probably commit suicide if it just came along while you were sitting there moping around.  But suicide is an active act.  You have to decide to do something about it, make plans, and actually carry them out.  What are the impacts of this very final act?

There is the grief we leave behind.  Family and friends deprived of our presence, and always wondering if there was something they could have done or said to have made a difference in our lives, to have made us want to live on.  Parents, spouses, siblings and children left with a gaping hole in their lives, in their hearts.  Do suicides take their lives for purely personal reasons, or are there some who are making a statement?  “Look what you made me do!”  Those are pretty dreadful last words to close an argument.

Then there is the train driver involved in the collision, or the poor person who finds the body at the foot of the cliff, or dangling from the rafters.  Do those who take their lives also take account of the trauma they leave in the lives of others?

Are there those who want to go out with a bang, get on the front page, maybe take along some innocent bystanders?  What is the motivation of the “school shooter” who wants company on their journey into the great unknown?

Is a self-inflicted death a cowards way to escape from life, or a final act of bravery?

Send your answers to these questions on a postcard to “Great Philosophical Questions of Life, PO Box 42, The Great Beyond, Hereafter.”   The winner will receive a copy of both of our ever popular publications  “101 ways to kill yourself” and “Killing yourself better:  Second time around”.

If you find any of this material upsetting, and you would like to talk to someone try http://www.samaritans.org/

Finally, if after all of this you still find the need to throw yourself in front of a train, can I ask you to consider the East Coast line?  And if it simply MUST be the Dublin-Cork line, how about midday on a Wednesday?

Let me die a youngman’s death; by Roger McGough

Let me die a youngman’s death
not a clean and inbetween
the sheets holywater death
not a famous-last-words
peaceful out of breath death

When I’m 73
and in constant good tumour
may I be mown down at dawn
by a bright red sports car
on my way home
from an allnight party

Or when I’m 91
with silver hair
and sitting in a barber’s chair
may rival gangsters
with hamfisted tommyguns burst in
and give me a short back and insides

Or when I’m 104
and banned from the Cavern
may my mistress
catching me in bed with her daughter
and fearing for her son
cut me up into little pieces
and throw away every piece but one

Let me die a youngman’s death
not a free from sin tiptoe in
candle wax and waning death
not a curtains drawn by angels borne
‘what a nice way to go’ death

To live forever – die young

The young are forgiven their flaws and their faults.  They are not so set in their ways that their little foibles become annoying.  Those who die young are enveloped in a halo of perfect innocence, good intention and idealism.  And young is a relative term, it applies to John F Kennedy, Gaius Julius Caesar and John Lennon.  You can have a fairly illustrious career and still manage to die young.

Achilles, Kurt Cobain, Kevin Barry, Che Guevara, Micheal Collins all died still wearing their halo. We wonder what Martin Luther King Jr and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart might have achieved had they only lived longer.   Agamemnon, Paul McCartney, Fidel Castro, Adolf Hitler and Eamon DeValera hung on too long and lost that shine of wonder.  We feel we heard all the words that Dickens had to write, and all the songs that Sinatra had to sing, but Elvis, maybe he had another few left!  You have to know when to bow out.

Even a withdrawal from public life can serve in the place of an early death.  Harper Lee, JD Salinger and Marcel Proust all did a “Greta Garbo” and sealed their youthful fame in the mystery of recluse.

To be really famous you have to be scarce!

To an Athlete Dying Young: by A E Housman

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears.

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.