I was flipping through a recent back-issue of the New Yorker last night and came across “Endpoint”, a sequence of poems by John Updike. The conversational tone and gentle, regular rhythm of the sequence gave it a beguiling warmth and humanity.
I’m a poorly read man at the best of times, so it wasn’t until I started digging around this morning that I discovered Mr. Updike had passed away in January of this year.
Reading so much intense, but not despairing, meditation on death without realising that the author was dead – I mean I could tell from the poems that he was dying, but I just assumed he was dying, not dead – makes one particular poem (“Hospital”) about the way we can never admit that death will actually ever happen, even when it’s right in front of us, even more poignant.
The sequence is available online on the New Yorker‘s website (registration is required, but it’s free as far as I can tell, and come on, it’s the New Yorker fachrissake), but if you don’t feel like adding to your cookie cache, here’s an extract from “Hospital” to get by on:
Benign big blond machine beyond all price,
it swallows us up and slowly spits us out
half-deafened and our blood still dyed: all this
to mask the simple dismal fact that we
decay and find our term of life is fixed.
This giant governance, a mammoth toy,
distracts us for the daytime, but the night
brings back the quiet, and the solemn dark.