Week 509: A Prospect of Death, by Andrew Young

This week an uncharacteristically self-revealing piece by the Scots poet Andrew Young (1885-1971), who is best known for his keen-eyed and idiosyncratic celebrations of the natural world – see, for example, week 19’s ‘The Sheaf’. But here he opens up emotionally in a way that may remind one of the later Hardy, except that the wife being ruefully addressed is still alive. It appears from Young’s biography (written jointly by his daughter and his son–in-law, the poet Edward Lowbury) that he was a complex man, subject to depressions, who could be warm and witty but could also be domineering and capable of unkindness. Well, maybe we all approach the end of our lives knowing that there have been times when we have failed of our charity, and hearing that ‘voice from the green-grained sticks of the fire’ that Hardy speaks of in his poem ‘Surview’:

You taught not that which you set about,’
Said my own voice talking to me;
‘That the greatest of things is Charity…’

And while a poem like this may not be much of an amends, one likes to think that it is something.

A Prospect of Death

If it should come to this
You cannot wake me with a kiss,
Think I but sleep too late
Or once again keep a cold angry state.

So now you have been told; —
I or my breakfast may grow cold,
But you must only say
‘Why does he miss the best part of the day?’

Even then you may be wrong;
Through woods torn by a blackbird’s song
My thoughts may often roam
While graver business make me stay at home.

There will be time enough
To go back to the earth I love
Some other day that week,
Perhaps to find what all my life I seek.

So do not dream of danger;
Forgive my lateness or my anger;
You have so much forgiven,
Forgive me this or that, or Hell or Heaven.

Andrew Young


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