There is a Place: Mourning with Poets

David Marcus –  Lieutenant Saavik was right: You never have faced death.
Kirk –  No. Not like this. I haven’t faced death. I’ve cheated death. I’ve tricked my way out of death and patted myself on the back for my ingenuity. I know nothing.
Marcus –  You knew enough to tell Saavik that how we face death is at least as important as how we face life.
Kirk –  Just words.

We now are having to face death. I don’t want to inflate a persona I never actually knew, but I feel a strange sense of loss after hearing of Leonard Nimoy’s passing. I’m reminded of when I first heard of Joey Ramone’s cancer. Or watching John Paul II slowly decrease and die. Foundational figures from my childhood are disappearing. I did not expect Spock to die again.

When my godmother passed, I was researching Tennyson’s great elegy, In Memoriam. That day I decided to put aside my research and take up the poem the same way Victoria did, as a tool for mourning. I only had a few cantos on hand at the time and was taken in by the last lines of Canto 121, Sad Hesper o’er the buried sun:

Sweet Hesper-Phosphor, double name
For what is one, the first, the last,
Thou, like my present and my past,
Thy place is changed; thou art the same.

Phosphor and Hesper are the respective names for the morning and evening star. We know that there is only one celestial body, the planet Venus, but they appear different in the sky as the day passes. I was comforted to think that her place has changed but she is the same.

But that change in place is still drastic. The loss is still real. What can we know about this place? Maybe we can know that Hesper is still Phosphor, but that doesn’t stop the sun from setting. Hopkins tells us more in his poem, “The Golden Echo:”

There ís one, yes I have one (Hush there!);
Only not within seeing of the sun,
Not within the singeing of the strong sun,
Tall sun’s tingeing, or treacherous the tainting of the earth’s air,
Somewhere elsewhere there is ah well where! one,
Oné. Yes I can tell such a key, I do know such a place,
Where whatever’s prized and passes of us […]

Never fleets móre, fastened with the tenderest truth
To its own best being and its loveliness of youth: it is an everlastingness of, O it is an all youth!

Reading can be a constant reminder of death and loss. It can be a hard truth sometimes that these writers and artists we love died before we discovered them. It can remind us of the people we have lost. But there is a place.

hopkins memorialIn St. Aloysius Church in Oxford, there is a place, a holy water font dedicated to the memory of a Father Gerard. It can be heartbreaking to see such familiarity in the name. He was just Father Gerard, and the Paravicini family loved him enough to make a memorial for him. With its veined marble, it feels so symbolic of his poems because he was “of reality the rarest veined unraveller” as he wrote of Scotus. At the same time, it is beautiful and yet ultimately exists to welcome us with the refreshing wisp of blessed water hidden inside. It’s his well that echoes back to us “Spare” as it gives beauty back.

It’s all more than just words. It is how we face death.

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