A Perennialist Meditation

Dying Before You Die


Dying 1

        I heard a fly buzz when I died;
        The stillness round my form
        Was like the stillness in the air
        Between the heaves of storm.

        The eyes beside had wrung them dry,

        And breaths were gathering sure
        For that last onset, when the king
        Be witnessed in his power.

        I willed my keepsakes, signed away
        What portion of me I
        Could make assignable--and then
        There interposed a fly.

        With blue, uncertain, stumbling buzz,          
        Between the light and me;

        And then the windows failed, and then

        I could not see to see.


"Everyone should practice in many ways to gain release from this element (the body), so that one might not wander aimlessly but rather might recover one's former state of being." 2

            Because I could not stop for Death,
            He kindly stopped for me;
            The carriage held but just ourselves
            And Immortality.

            We slowly drove, he knew no haste,
            And I had put away
            My labour, and my leisure too,
            For his civility.

            We passed the school where children played,
            Their lessons scarcely done;
            We passed the fields of gazing grain,
            We passed the setting sun.

            We paused before a house that seemed
            A swelling on the ground;
            The roof was scarcely visible,
            The cornice but a mound.

            Since then 'tis centuries; but each
            Feels shorter than the day
            I first surmised the horses' heads
            Were toward eternity. 3

Moving Out of Thought to Higher Consciousness

            Thought is false happiness: the idea
            That merely by thinking one can,
            Or may, penetrate, not may,
            But can, that one is sure to be able--

            That there lies at the end of thought
            A foyer of the spirit in a landscape
            Of the mind, in which we sit
            And wear humanity's bleak crown;

            In which we read the critique of paradise
            And say it is the work
            Of a comedian, this critique;
            In which we sit and breathe

            An innocence of an absolute,
            False happiness, since we know that we use
            Only the eye as faculty, that the mind
            Is the eye, and that this landscape of the mind

            Is a landscape only of the eye; and that
            We are ignorant men incapable
            Of the least, minor, vital metaphor, content,
            At last, there, when it turns out to be here. 4

            I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
            And Mourners to and fro
            Kept treading -- treading -- till it seemed
            That Sense was breaking through --

            And when they all were seated,
            A Service, like a Drum --
            Kept beating -- beating -- till I thought
            My Mind was going numb --

            And then I heard them lift a Box
            And creak across my Soul
            With those same Boots of Lead, again,
            Then Space -- began to toll,

            As all the Heavens were a Bell,
            And Being, but an Ear,
            And I, and Silence, some strange Race
            Wrecked, solitary, here --

            And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
            And I dropped down, and down --
            And hit a World, at every plunge,
            And Finished knowing -- then -- 5


    Funerals are unbecoming.

    Don't you agree?

    Grotty, soggy, grieving,

    Petulant, public posturing

    Diminish the living.

          Colette's mother, asked to donate blossoms,

          Demanded why a neighbor's death

          Condemned her blooms to die as well. 6


    1 Emily Dickinson, "Dying"

    2 Epistle to Rheginus, a third or fourth century, C.E., letter from a Perennialist teacher to a student

    3 Emily Dickinson, "The Chariot"

    4 Wallace Stevens, "Crude Foyer"

    5 Emily Dickinson, "I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain"

    6 Michelle Mairesse, "Funerals"