So Many Different Lengths of Time

Here is a poem by Brian Patten that moved me when I heard him read it aloud some years ago.  It came back to me in 2000 when someone close to me died suddenly.  It captures the stage many of us reach when grieving.  Death, especially an unexpected death, attacks our certainties.  The search for equilibrium involves more questions than answers.   But, we do reach an accommodation with life without the person we loved.  This poem explores that sense we make of this new reality.  Yet, it is also a poem of hope as it reminds us of the impact humans have on one another and the ways that one life touches so many others.

So Many Different Lengths of Time

How long does a man live after all?
A thousand days or only one?
One week or a few centuries?
How long does a man spend living or dying
and what do we mean when we say gone forever?

Adrift in such preoccupations, we seek clarification.
We can go to the philosophers
but they will weary of our questions.
We can go to the priests and rabbis
but they might be busy with administrations.

So, how long does a man live after all?
And how much does he live while he lives?
We fret and ask so many questions –
then when it comes to us
the answer is so simple after all.

A man lives for as long as we carry him inside us,
for as long as we carry the harvest of his dreams,
for as long as we ourselves live,
holding memories in common, a man lives.

His lover will carry his man’s scent, his touch:
his children will carry the weight of his love.
One friend will carry his arguments,
another will hum his favourite tunes,
another will still share his terrors.

And the days will pass with baffled faces,
then the weeks, then the months,
then there will be a day when no question is asked,
and the knots of grief will loosen in the stomach
and the puffed faces will calm.
And on that day he will not have ceased
but will have ceased to be separated by death.

How long does a man live after all?

A man lives so many different lengths of time.

Brian Patten

Brian Patten’s poetry is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?

BlogPatten

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