being a Farewell Letter in Verse
to Relatives, Friends, and Acquaintances
One should not be surprised, as Ludwig1 observed,
when those who possess not the key
to a lock of one’s own creation fail to accede
to whatever, by its means, one would preserve
from indiscreet and inopportune attention.
Prosody can either entice or dissuade:
those whom it fails to persuade
cannot delve into the verses in question.
The privacy formal constraints thus afford,
the cover they provide against ill-disposed scrutiny,
is both a privilege and an opportunity
by which a poem’s point may be scored.
Take, for example, the present composition:
thanks to rhymes and rhythms of uncertain distinction
it is sure to turn off both die-hard esthetes
and inveterate prose-mongers after but a few feet.
What there may still be of value in it
will depend entirely on its potential effect,
not upon those contingents of stiff necks,
but on that exiguous minority who thinks
there are always important new things to be learned
that can only be stumbled into as it were,
since our thoughts are rambling by nature;
and that a poem that rambles on from beginning to end
may in fact be where best to first learn them.
I have become sick and will soon meet my maker.
Confident, thanks to their lackadaisical meter,
that I can proceed to speak frankly and freely
without fear of being overheard by anyone really
not in tune with the spirit of these lines,
I shall try to commit to paper considerations
hopefully of interest and use to at least some
of those who do lend an ear and their time –
“… and I’ll try not to sing out of key.”
“Dear relatives, friends, and acquaintances,”
that is how I’ll begin what I now know must be
a letter of farewell to all whom I recall
and who may remember me: a poem that bares
my thoughts and feelings about departure;
one which, though of unproven lyrical quality,
might still gratify a natural curiosity.
“I write to you from a new, standing position
I’ve adopted because less painful to me than sitting.
I won’t go into the etiology of my specific condition:
suffice it to say it is skeletal, terminal, and befitting
a poet who began his inquiry long ago,
intrigued by pain’s forms from the word go.
“Apart from a bout with acute encephalitis
(among the most excruciating of nature’s devices,
rather like a screw applied to your skull),
luckily by doctors promptly cured,
back when I was a kid, I’ve no woe to mull
over for having been by my body endured
in all of sixty-two years of a bountiful life.
Most of the agony encountered until
only five months ago has been spiritual.
More or less all that I’ve gathered from mental strife,
I’ve also managed to keep record of,
so it is meet that I should finish my treatment
of dolorous lessons with what recent events
have taught me of pain’s push come to shove.
“Very sharp physical suffering has a way
of sweeping aside the entire spectrum of worries
that normally occupy a man’s day;
without them to distract him, it hurries
his thoughts straight toward a paramount goal:
to either obtain relief or die as soon as possible.
Ways of killing oneself that once appeared
impracticable suddenly seem feasible
after all; technical hurdles are cleared,
or all too easily dismissed with a shrug.
If it weren’t for stopgap palliative drugs
I would not be here now, still standing tall,
writing a long parting letter to you all.
“With the aid of those medicines one can
again aspire to virtue, to the ideal of a mens sana
in corpore moribundo, to putting to best use
the time one has left. But the truce
with death cannot, as we know, last forever:
what such best practice will consist in
remains an exquisitely personal matter
of style, taste, and the values they underpin.
If adding a few last points to an already long segment
is one’s cup of tea, fine. I would rather
have mine be a bit shorter at the end and bent
to form a circle, take things into my own hands.
Of course, I live alone and don’t have any children.
“I apologize in advance for any surprise
my suicide may cause: I’ve tried to explain why
it is d’oblige. More interesting to my mind
is the way I am going about it – not
all on my own, but with the help of others.
I enjoy the challenge advocacy
poses to poetry, and to do justice
to the team in question is not easy;
but, it goes without saying, I’ll do the best I can.
“By helping me to die by my own hand,
they are most probably saving my life
from the disparagement of overtime
spent at the mercy of unidentified others –
not least were I instead to use a knife
on myself and botch it up miserably!
That is where they draw their line for dignity
in death, and it is difficult not to agree
if one knows what they are talking about.
One doesn’t have to be on one’s way out
to learn why, where, and how they operate,
to support their pro-health-to-the-last,
humanitarian association: just go straight
to their website, www.dignitas.ch,
and think of your own future, what it might reserve.
The patient’s instructions and protection service
they offer is well worth subscribing to
when death seems still far from the corner.
“But enough talk of death! Lest the relatives
disown, the friends disavow, the acquaintances
sneer if ever they chance to think of me.
It is what I am departing from, not how
or where I am departing to – by my very heart
and mind – that is the real crux of this letter.
I don’t mean the larger world outside, that hootenanny,
but all whom I cherish and cannot write to
one at a time because they are too many
and there would be too much for me to say.
The personal exchanges that once made our day,
what we have already shared, will have to do.
“May this so-long epistle with occasional rhymes
also in some manner serve to make up
for the fact that, being quite rushed,
I shall fail to rendezvous one last time
even with those of you within easy reach.
But here I trust that all will believe
I do indeed regret not feasting my eyes
again upon them, not giving in to a sob or a sigh
while trying to remain as composed as I can;
but, most of all, not gently shaking their hand
as in those kindred scenes once portrayed
in bas-relief on ancient Greek funerary stelae.
“I started by telling I was in a standing
position as I wrote you, which indeed
remains more congenial than others to me
even as I near the end of these ramblings.
All my previous poetry, I wrote recumbent:
it has even been suggested by an Austrian lady
that if ever a statue were to be made of me
it would be most true to its subject
if it showed him to be lying in bed.
She said it – bless her kind soul! – sarcastically,
but the idea is a good one and, quite frankly,
were it to be done by a humorous sculptor,
I would not object to being so honored.
“My dears, the time has come to finally part.
In valediction, take this token of a rambler’s art.”
Ludwig Wittgenstein ↩