The Fear of Dying

ALL men know it, the young when the enemy in them,
Or an enemy armed, reveals a little its real wrath.
Older men speak of it to men of their age only after
They search the pain secretly, the shortened breath.
It comes as a cough in winter rudely, or it waits
Behind dawn, at the edge of the sleep it illuminates.
All men suffer pangs not to be slept away, soreness
Some for the lame world, but more for this new hurt
Indifferently durable and cruel, so dull, so patient
At kidneys, or head, or the heart the heart the heart.
Every day men die. Not every day a man a man knows.
But they die. The vague ache returns after it goes.
Or seems a veil, each voice possibly the last speaking.
Or superstition seems as good a rule as any rule.
At forty-five I think how my thin father at eighty
Died without any of this wordiness about his soul,
His bowels, his world-sorrow. But it is my own death
I count kisses toward. Or is it mine? Or my breath?
Where is there consolation? I’ll imagine my funeral —
No, not mine, but yours, my father’s, the ceremonials
Of the sad unwinding of the world, the fading. This
All attend, honorably dressed in good dark clothes,
This end of Ming and Elizabethan effort, this stop
To colonial Roman and American history. All this goes
Down with me if I must go down, and I say No to death,
No death. Let them stand, the walls of my house. I’ll
Be angry I cannot sit there angry at such time’s waste,
The music, bad poetry, then friends busy in daylight,
And my light out, and a slowness to my furious haste.
It is enough to make a man think twice before dying.
I’ll send myself a green wreath, I’ll send a wreath
All green, deserved, but not be there for that death.
JOHN HOLMES