Epitaph on a Friend – Robert Burns

Epitaph on a Friend
An honest man here lies at rest, 
As e’er God with His image blest:
The friend of man, the friend of truth;
The friend of age, and guide of youth:
Few hearts like his, with virtue warm’d,
Few heads with knowledge so inform’d:
If there’s another world, he lives in bliss;
If there is none, he made the best of this.
Robert Burns (1759 – 1796) 

A friend of mine died recently. This poem was on his service sheet at his funeral. All his life he questioned whether there was any afterlife.

The last line is testimony to a well lived life in support of humanity. This was all that mattered to him.

A thought: do we, and Church people in general, spend too much time worrying and pontificating on the nature of any afterlife? Seeking the truth internally and living accordingly is more appropriate without any needless heaven-salvation talk.

Robert Burns on Wikipedia – Robert Burns – Wikipedia

Living – Denise Levertov – Analysis


The fire in leaf and grass
so green it seems
each summer the last summer.

The wind blowing, the leaves
shivering in the sun,
each day the last day.

A red salamander
so cold and so
easy to catch, dreamily

moves his delicate feet
and long tail. I hold
my hand open for him to go.

Each minute the last minute.

Denise Levertov (1923 – 1997)

S1 … Summer is a time of growth and there is poetic fire in such happenings. And in Australia summer and fire is synonymous. The green to the eye should be appreciated. We don’t know whether it will be our last summer and summers don’t come round every day.

S2 … The leaves on some trees do appear to shiver in the wind. And with the extremes in climate being experienced in Australia there have been many trees toppled by the wind in recent months. So in this stanza we go from making the most of a season to making the most of each day in that season.

S3/S4 … This is a very detailed look at a red salamander who is just living. A precarious living because of the cold and it is held in the hand of the poet. Life is precarious and precious and so easy to falter. But in this case, it is a hand of help to let the salamander move away albeit very slowly. Life is fragile and can end so easily. (I hope there is a hand of help in your living.)

And the last line considers making the most of each minute. Wherever you are. The clear emphasis is on the now. And no procrastination allowed! It is a carpe diem poem on seizing the day.

Denise Levertov was born in Ilford UK but when she married an American she moved to the United States. The red salamander is found in eastern USA.

Denise Levertov on Wikipedia

And the poem The Orange Tree by John Shaw Neilson comes to mind

The Waking – Theodore Roethke – Analysis

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

Theodore Roethke (1908 – 1963)

This iambic pentameter villanelle was written in 1953. The poem suggests the nature of life and an approach to living through experience.

In a villanelle the repetitive lines appear together in the last two lines –
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go

These are the key lines that emphasise the main thought concept.

How can you wake to sleep … it seems a contradiction … perhaps what he is saying is that even when awake he is never fully aware … never fully appreciative, so in away asleep of all that is around him as he leads his life … so life is a process of awareness and enlightenment? To take my waking slow … this might be a plea to enjoy life as you live!

Another view to the phrase I wake to sleep … indicating a reluctance to face life for whatever reason?

We learn by going … by life-experience … and hopefully we go where we have to go … do we have an ordained path? … a path specific for us to follow? … how do we work out where we have to go? … only by going and following our heart.

In the third stanza there is a humbleness and respect for others when they are involved – I shall walk softly there.

We think by feeling … I think in a way this is true in that our thinking and feeling go hand in hand and as we think we know and experience a ‘yes this is right’ response within. And life throws many situations at us that cause emotional reaction needing thoughtful response. Whether we are fated is another matter.

In the fifth stanza Great Nature is a beautiful guiding force in growth … but we do not know how, how the tree takes light or light takes the tree.

And in the last stanza – What falls away is always. And is near … experience continually falls away fixed … we cannot change the past … but it may be near to us in how we continue to live especially when we have made a few regrettable decisions.

Theodore Roethke on Wikipedia