Today I stood by a graveside and listened to a priest speaking over his heavy book, watched the people carefully place their cut roses and carnations atop the casket, and wondered. Why do the words we say when someone dies seem so slight, so irrelevant to the task at hand. Why is there so little inspiration, usually, in the ceremonies of death? The one who dies, whatever happens to their body, wherever their soul flies, surely deserves more poetry.
To me these lines of Neruda’s, from the poem “Too Many Names,” would fit the bill, somehow, perfectly. It doesn’t precisely talk about death, but I think the awareness of our finite lives informs it.
This means that we have barely
disembarked into life,
that we’ve only just now been born,
let’s not fill our mouths with so many uncertain names,
with so many sad labels,
with so many pompous letters,
with so much yours and mine,
with so much signing of papers.
I intend to confuse things,
to unite them, make them new-born
intermingle them, undress them,
until the light of the world
has the unity of the ocean,
a generous wholeness,
a fragrance alive and crackling.