Monday Poem: “To Death” by Ian Wedde

The Monday Poem

This week’s poem is a little less light-hearted than its predecessors. I chose it largely because of the literary references and the imagery, both of which make what would otherwise be just another depressing poem one of great interest:

To Death by Ian Wedde

Death takes them all, that’s why
We never see it. Death’s never in
The picture. But everything we see, we see
Because death has. Death took the pictures.
Death looked at Chloe whom the poet

Begged not to run to her mother. Chloe
Ran into the oblivious arms of death.
Quintilius lies in the sleep that goes on
Without ever ending, and the music has faded away
That could have restored blood to the veins of the shade

Death saw. Lydia no longer
Wakes up to hear the sound of gravel thrown
Against her shuttered windows in the night.
Death pictured what lay behind the shutters
And Lydia grew old on the journey between

Her chamber and the dark street where death waited.
O passerby, do not refuse a few
Handfuls of sand to cover up the corpse
Of Archytas. It may be you who needs these rites
Some day, when death has viewed you as he did Archytas,

Who counted all the uncountable grains of sand
On the lonely beach. Death pictured my mother
And my father on the Picton foreshore, cheek by cheek
Under Gemini, twin sons unborn, tinkle
Of jazz from the ferryboat. And death looked at their sons.

courtesy of Best New Zealand Poems.

Chilling, isn’t it? What I love about it is the concept of Death taking photographs. In part, this is because I always picture Terry Pratchett’s DEATH when reading it, which is pretty entertaining, but also because it is such a unique way of capturing that sense of loss one feels when looking at photos of the departed (or even those still living, several years ago); that feeling of time passing and distance. It’s a lament about mortality and grief without needing to state as much. And the references to mythological characters gave it that much more scope, so that at the end the poet could be specific (about his parents deaths) without being maudlin. Definitely a poem worthy of respect.

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