Chairots of Fire

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
“Hope… is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.”


by Alfred Edward Housman (1859–1936)

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before the echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's.

Jerusalem (English Hymn)

(Music and Movie Titles Taken from 12th Line)

And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?

And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark Satanic mills?

Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariots of Fire!

I will not cease from metal fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.

Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.
But if I should live for another day,
I pray the Lord to guide my way.

Notes: Talking about death to our children is almost like talking about sex to our children.   I have found many variations of the above childhood poem on the Internet that avoid the mention of death.   Some parents offer the explanation for their avoidancee that they don't want their children to think about death just before going to sleep.   I don't recall anyone growing up without an understanding of death.   Almost everyone is confronted with the death of a dog, cat, bird, fish, pet or relative at sometime or another before reaching adulthood.

Regarding the death of children: The Greeks had a saying that: "The greatest tragedy for a Mother or Father is to lose a child."   Moreover, I learned that the Greeks had another saying, "When people say they can stand no more, the fact that they are still standing means that they can stand more."   Regarding suffering in the old and disabled: Death is a blessed relief to eternal pain and suffering.   Also, people commit suicide for many reasons other than pain.   And Shakespeare took a step further regarding all human complaints when he said, "Perhaps he doth protest too much."

A number of centuries after the Greeks, Alexander Pope wrote that people are composed of reason and emotion.   A person who is ruled by reason is like a ship with a man at the wheel and no wind in the sails.   A person who is ruled by emotion is like a ship with a full wind in the sails and no rudder.   People must be a balance of reason and emotion to live life or just survive.

Add a few more centuries after Pope to when I was 12 years old.   I rode the streetcar almost every day past a cemetery where the epitaph in three lines on a certain tombstone always seemed to speak to me.   "To Know, To Understand, To Love."   I always took it to mean that a person must first gain knowledge to reach understanding in order to love others and the life around us.

While going to school, I worked in nursing homes and hospitals.   I learned that there are two types of death.   The first type is the upset individual who swears at the nurses trying to help them and always seems miserable.   They usually wanted another chance to relive their misspent lives.   They went kicking and moaning to their deaths.   The second type is exemplified by a wonderful old lady that could quote Charles Dickens and another old lady that could quote Robert Burns and Charles Dickens.   Both of these beautiful souls laid back on their pillows and waited for God to take them peacefully because they had lived their lives the best they could and didn't want a second chance to live again.

As a last note to my education about death, I learned that the body on the autopsy table was just a lump of matter.   The most important part, the personality, the soul, or the spirit was gone.   I knew then that I would marry someone based on their personality not their looks.   And the best thing that ever happened to me is that my wife, Lois, said yes over 41 years ago.