Since April is National Poetry Month, I have been trying to determine all month long which poems relating to death and dying would be ripe for blogging. Fortunately, the poems worthy of discussion presented themselves to me when I went to an exhibition recently at the Rubin Museum of Art in Chelsea. They appeared in the concluding gallery of the exhibition called Remember That You Will Die: Death Across Cultures, which for one second seemed like the right title for this blog, but then I thought better of it.
The exhibition itself looked at symbols of death in Christian European and Tibetan Buddhist traditions and how these objects may look quite similar but have completely different meanings. Looking at rituals of death in different cultures is endlessly fascinating to me because I feel the more I can learn, the more comfort I can provide to a larger universe of patients and their families.
It was especially interesting to me to learn about two cultures with which I am not so familiar. While I felt comfortable examining “memento mori,” literally physical reminders of the necessity to live a righteous life while contemplating the horrors of eternal damnation, I was more intrigued by the Tibetan Buddhist “Wheel of Existence,” where heaven and hell are transient rebirth possibilities in a continuing cycle of birth and death. To be honest, my head was spinning when I found the room at the end of the gallery called Explore Remembrance. The walls were a salmon red and silk-screened on them were verses of poems, some well known, and others not so well known to me. The two that spoke to me were these:
Do not go gentle into that good night
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
But I shall not flinch in unfounded fear –
I shall pass silently, unswervingly
Across that red storm sea, Death, Death.
Somehow the juxtaposition of these two poems was awe-inspiring, and the fact that these poems could articulate so beautifully what I had a little trouble grasping in the physical exhibition put me at ease.
There are those who will fight to the last moment before shuffling off this mortal coil, and others who will succumb, who will go gently into that good night to be reborn anew. When I went onto the museum’s website for links to share on the blog, I saw that they had a special section that allowed users to compose their own remembrance poems. Says the site: “Your poem can share your memories of a person who has passed away, explore the nature of dying or mourning, or consider how you would like to be remembered.”
I read through a few of them and ran across an anonymous poem entitled “Hospice Haiku.”
And that’s how I new it was time to write this blog. April 29 is officially “Poem in Your Pocket Day,” where folks are asked to put a poem in their pocket and share it – with loved ones, with strangers, with anyone. The poems I discovered, and re-discovered, will allow me to share a great gift tomorrow. I hope you will learn more about the day and share in the beauty of the day yourself.