The secret of life is suffering. It is what is hidden behind everything.
—Oscar Wilde (1854–1900), De Profundis
Photo of a farmer in despair over the Depression, 1932, at Wikimedia Commons
What a lot of time there has been when I didn't exist yet! What a lot there will be when I won't exist any more! What a tiny place I occupy in this vast abyss of years!
—Jacques Bénigne Bossuet (1627-1704), French bishop and court preacher to Louis XIV at Versailles
Qu'il y a eu de temps où je n'étais pas! Qu'il y en a où je ne serai point! Et que j'occupe peu de place dans ce grand abîme des ans!
Strange, is it not? that of the myriads who
before us passed the door of darkness through
not one returns to tell us of the Road
which to discover we must travel too.
—Edward Fitzgerald (1809–1883), translation of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam(Omar Khayyam was a Persian mathematician, and astronomer, and possibly poet, 1048–1131. His authorship of the poems attributed to him is not certain). The translation is considered a work of excellent poetry itself; not all the verses are to be found in the original Persian.
Photo by slworking2 on Flickr
People expect old men to die,
They do not really mourn old men.
Old men are different. People look
At them with eyes that wonder when…
People watch with unshocked eyes;
But the old men know when an old man dies.
—Ogden Nash (1902–1971)
Image by Bijay Chaurasia at Wikimedia Commons
What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell.
—Raymond Chandler (1888–1959), The Big Sleep
"To live" means to pick up particles of death
as a child picks up crumbs from beneath the table.
"To exist" means to drop the bread behind you on the path
hoping the birds will find the crumbs and eat them.
"To live" is to rush forward eating up your own death,
like a locomotive with its catcher on, hurrying into the night.
—Robert Bly (1926–), "To live or not"
Photo of wild turkey and her chicks at Cumberland Island National Seashore from PxHere
The grand scribe wrote, “Cui Zhu assassinated his ruler.” Cui Zhu put him to death. The scribe’s younger brothers succeeded him and wrote the same thing, and so two more persons were killed. Another younger brother again wrote it, whereupon Cui Zhu desisted. The scribe of the south, having heard that the grand scribes had all died, clutched the bamboo strips* and set out. When he heard that the record had already been made, he turned back.
—25th year of Lord Xiang of Lu, Zuo Zhuan (3rd century BC or older, ancient China)
大史書曰： ”崔杼弒其君。“ 崔杼殺之。 其弟嗣書，而死者二人。其弟又書。乃舍之。南史氏問大史盡死，執簡以往 問既書矣，乃還。
*Books were then written on bamboo strips.
It is one of the lessons of fairy-stories (if we can speak of the lessons of things that do not lecture) that on callow, lumpish, and selfish youth peril, sorrow, and the shadow of death can bestow dignity, and even sometimes wisdom.
–J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973), from lecture On Fairy Stories
Photo of a young Afghan refugee by Franz, fsHH on Pixabay
I remember reading somewhere that the living are just a rare species of the dead. I don't believe this. The living, I think, are larvae of the dead—dead bodies at an early stage of development.
Photo by Zdeněk Kratochvíl on Wikimedia Commons
…I was young and the dead were in other Ages
As the grass has its own language
Now I forget where the difference falls
One thing about the living sometimes a piece of us
Can stop dying for a moment
But you the dead.
Once you go into those names you go on you never
You go on
—W.S. Merwin (1927–2019), "The Hydra." Originally published in Poetry magazine, May 1967
Photo by Chris Beckett on Flickr