The Last Fires Will Wave To Me

robert-browning
Robert Browning (1812 – 1889)

“No, when the fight begins within himself, a man is worth something.”

Robert Browning

For The Anniversary of my Death

by W. S. Merwin

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveller
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what


In as much as spring is a season of renewal, it can be equally a season of death.  Whether you are a Christian or not, the Lenten season brings reminders of loss in sudden and subtle ways. I was reminded of this the past couple weeks watching a friend process again for the millionth time her connection to the landscape of her childhood home that is wrapped in more than memories. It is land that is spiritual and sacred in all seasons, particularly spring as returning swans and sand hill cranes bring with them connections to springs past. It is a place where both the life and death of loved ones still reside and in that sense of place that is home, they remain very much with her.

Lent has many different meanings to different people, but ultimately each of us are wise to find some measure of hope in reckoning our losses. A retired Catholic priest recently gave good advice to a different friend of mine who tragically lost a loved one much, much to prematurely.  He said after months of sadness, “Be careful you don’t fall in love with your grief.”  Everyone deals with grief in a different way and there is no right or wrong way or length of time, everyone has to work through it at their own speed.

In processing the death of my Mother’s sudden passing, I came to recognize that for myself, releasing grief was not an act of releasing the very physical presence of my Mother who still resides in my heart.  For me it was a process of making sure my grief doesn’t cast a long shadow on the living who still bask in my light that shines among them and in that way, honor my Mother who lit that candle in my soul.

If you are grieving  the loss of a loved one this spring, I hope you can find a suitable resting spot that is part of the place you call home to bury a slice of the intensity of that grief, so that you’ll always know where it is, and so that you can safely move on in ways that give you grace and bring renewal.


A Sequence of Sonnets on the Death of Robert Browning

by Algernon Charles Swinburne

V
Among the wondrous ways of men and time
       He went as one that ever found and sought
       And bore in hand the lamp-like spirit of thought
To illume with instance of its fire sublime
The dusk of many a cloudlike age and clime.
       No spirit in shape of light and darkness wrought,
       No faith, no fear, no dream, no rapture, nought
That blooms in wisdom, nought that burns in crime,
No virtue girt and armed and helmed with light,
No love more lovely than the snows are white,
       No serpent sleeping in some dead soul’s tomb,
No song-bird singing from some live soul’s height,
       But he might hear, interpret, or illume
       With sense invasive as the dawn of doom.

Losses Restored And Sorrows End

DSC04543
Lester Loam – Minnesota’s State Soil

Sonnet 30

by William Shakespeare

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste.
Then can I drown an eye unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancelled woe,
And moan th’ expense of many a vanished sight.
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoanèd moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored, and sorrows end.


Loss is the unflinching gift and mantle of time, unforgiving, unstoppable and inevitable.  I have been surrounded by loss the past few weeks.  It can feel overwhelming and strangely rejuvenating at the same time.

Loess soils are some of the most productive soils in North America.  Loess soils are  found in the corn belt from Nebraska to Ohio and Missouri to Minnesota.  These soils were formed over millions of years by deposition of small particles from the wind.  These particles originated from erosion caused by wind, rain, freeze/thaw, glaciers, the grinding and wearing down that our environment imposes on even the stoutest of mountains.  Loess is a sedimentary deposit of mineral particles which are finer than sand but coarser than dust or clay, it slowly accumulates to as much as 6 feet of depth and loess is formed. Loess often develops into extremely fertile agricultural soil. It is full of minerals, has good internal structure and drains water well, all the things plants require to prosper.

Loss and Loess are phonetically identical.  Do you find it interesting that soil scientists  have categorized the soils of the most productive farmland in the world as the accumlation of the unpredictable and random deposition of the debris of the surrounding environment?  Is there a metaphor there for the human condition?  Is our loss less the wearing down of our beings, but rather the creation of fertile soil from which we will sprout new life…

A Sequence of Sonnets on the Death of Robert Browning

By Algernon Charles Swinburne

VI
What secret thing of splendour or of shade
Surmised in all those wandering ways wherein
Man, led of love and life and death and sin,
Strays, climbs, or cowers, allured, absorbed, afraid,
Might not the strong and sunlike sense invade
Of that full soul that had for aim to win
Light, silent over time’s dark toil and din,
Life, at whose touch death fades as dead things fade?
O spirit of man, what mystery moves in thee
That he might know not of in spirit, and see
The heart within the heart that seems to strive,
The life within the life that seems to be,
And hear, through all thy storms that whirl and drive,
The living sound of all men’s souls alive?