In the midst of life we are in death


In the midst of life we are in death 
of whom may we seek for succour,
but of thee, O Lord,
who for our sins
art justly displeased?

Yet, O Lord God most holy,
O Lord most mighty,
O holy and most merciful Saviour,
deliver us not into the bitter pains of eternal death.

An anonymous Latin poem from Gregorian chant, later in The Book of Common Prayer. The English version seems to be by Thomas Cranmer (1489–1556)

Media vita in morte sumus
quem quaerimus adjutorem
nisi te, Domine,
qui pro peccatis nostris
juste irasceris?

Sancte Deus,
sancte fortis,
sancte et misericors Salvator:
amarae morti ne tradas nos.

Photo by David Berry on Flickr

Alasdair MacLean: "I like to picture them meeting again"

Sanna today

[The poet Alasdair Maclean's parents were the last crofters in Sanna, a seacoast hamlet in the west highlands. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth, but it was a hard place to make a living from farming. After many hardships, their life got a bit easier in 1970 when they began to receive an old-age pension from the British government. They died a few months apart, in March and August, 1973.]

"Don't grieve for me," Father had said when he was carried from the house on a stretcher, after his first coronary and before his last one. "I'll be with your mother."

My younger brother had been greatly struck by this anecdote almost in spite of himself. "Do you think there's an after-life?" he asked me now.

I gave the question the serious consideration it deserved. "Who knows?" I said eventually.

"I don't believe it," my brother continued. "Never have done. It's a fairy-story. Yet I like to picture them meeting again. Up there, you know. They've earned that if anybody ever earned it. I like to think of flower-strewn meadows, all that stuff. Father a young man once more, running across the grass. Mother waiting for him. What do you think they would say? How would they greet one another?"

I thought of Mother, her exclamation "My!" when anything impressed her and how much had impressed her despite her unimpressive surroundings. I could not at first get words past the sob in my throat. "O that's easy," I replied when at last I could contort my voice into something resembling normality. "He wouldn't say anything at all. She'd just say, "My! Ian! You weren't long!"

  --Alasdair Maclean (1926-1994) in his reminiscence of his parents and the life of a crofter in Sanna, Night Falls on Ardnamurchan (1984). Sanna is now a tourist destination.

Virginia Woolf: ...when the lights of health go down


Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul …it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love, battle, and jealousy among the prime themes of literature… literature does its best to maintain that its concern is with the mind; that the body is a sheet of plain glass through which the soul looks straight and clear.

  --Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) in her essay On Being Ill (1926)

Wordsworth: We find strength in what remains behind


What though the radiance which was once so bright 
be now for ever taken from my sight,
though nothing can bring back the hour
of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower;
we will grieve not, rather find
strength in what remains behind.

    --William Wordsworth (1770-1850) in "Intimations of Immortality Through Recollections of Early Childhood." The whole poem is here.

Francis Quarles: Nature's bills


The world's an inn;
and I her guest.
I eat; I drink; I take my rest.
My hostess, nature, does deny me
nothing, wherewith she can supply me;
where, having stayed a while, I pay
her lavish bills, and go my way.

    --Francis Quarles (1592-1644). One of his many descendants (he had 18 children) was the American poet, Langston Hughes.

George Herbert: My grief hath need of all the watery things


Who will give me tears ? Come, all ye springs,
dwell in my head and eyes; come, clouds and rain;
my grief hath need of all the watery things
that nature hath produced: let every vein
suck up a river to supply mine eyes,
my weary weeping eyes, too dry for me,
unless they get new conduits, new supplies,
to bear them out, and with my state agree.
What are two shallow fords, two little spouts
of a less world ? the greater is but small,
a narrow cupboard for my griefs and doubts,
which want provision in the midst of all.
Verses, ye are too fine a thing, too wise
for my rough sorrows; cease, be dumb and mute;
give up your feet and running to mine eyes;
and keep your measures for some lover's lute;
Whose grief allows him music and a rhyme;
for mine excludes both measure, tune, and time.
Alas, my God!

     --George Herbert (1593-1633), "Grief," in The Poems of George Herbert (publ. 1886, Ernest Rhys, London: Walter Scott, p. 170).