Death comes to all of us, religious and rational. As an atheist, I do not have the same rich collection of songs, poems, and readings to draw from that my religious counterparts do. I know this is something others struggle with as well. Which is why when this poem was shared with me, I knew I had to share it with others.
The poem is from one of my wife’s favorite poets: Edna St Vincent Millay. It is not a sweet song about some beautiful afterlife. Nor does it try and diminish the strength of grief. It is raw and powerful. As such, it perfectly aligns with my thoughts about death and grief. I am adding this to my list of funeral requires (along with Johnny Cash’s rendition of Hurt). While I am not the public reader in my family (Matt is far better than I), here is my reading of the poem. The words are found below.
Dirge without music
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and laurel they go: but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains – but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love –
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind:
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.