Week 462: The Burial of the Old, by Wendell Berry

Wendell Berry (1934-) is an American poet, novelist, short-story writer, essayist and environmental activist. I admire this poem for its terse unsentimental serenity, even if it does appear to take a rather brisk attitude towards the dying of the aged. I sat with my father in his last hours, wanting to say to him those things it is so difficult to utter in normal times, but he never came round from the operation, so all went unsaid, and whether the light became again the sky for him I cannot say. But the third verse certainly rings true: when I left the hospital it seemed an extraordinary thing to walk in sunlight and for days afterwards I felt charged with an almost lacerating sensitivity to my own aliveness.

The Burial of the Old

The old, whose bodies encrust their lives,
Die, and that is well.
They unhinder what has struggled in them,

The light, painfully loved, that narrowed
And darkened in their minds
Becomes again the sky.

The young, who have looked on dying,
Turn back to the world, grown strangely
Alert to each other’s bodies.

Wendell Berry