A few years ago this poem came to me. It began started out as a response to the rather more famous creation by Dylan Thomas that starts “Do not go gently into that good night…”. It’s not uncommon for people to choose that as something to read at a funeral, but for me, the poem rather suggests that death is personal extinction. My creation was published in ‘Oak Leaves’ (the ADF members’ magazine).
You may well spot that I have shamelessly plundered ideas and images from old, and also of more recent writers such as Charlene Spretnak and Ursula le Guin, both of whom I much admire.
Wasn’t sure how to finish – wanted a little rhyming bob, and ended up using something archaic – the Anglo-Saxon ‘hight’ which means ‘be known as’. William Morris used it a lot in his stories – not sure if this works or not!
If you come to this page first, you might also be interested in the related blog Practical Katabasis
Go gently into that good night
Growing old is indignity enough
Howsoever disgraceful you spent your years
Death is a time for grace, rage not.
Once there was one who so feared to die
He cursed the Great Queen who would have loved him
Withered to will o the wisp
No breath, no blood no wit, world wandering always.
On Samhain night we light the lantern
In Circle, wise ancestors gathering, guiding lost souls home
Jump that sad queue, who feared of life no less than death
All that lives must die, it holds no shame.
It’s true that it’s dark at first.
Dark as to dive a sump in cavern deep
No need to hold your breath this time
And soon you’ll surface, and find the light hasn’t died.
Waiting there you’ll find your guide
Mother maybe, or lover’s hand again
Perhaps a child so grieved,
Grown now strong and beautiful as you always knew
For some, the shining ones will come
In the old days you knew who’d you’d get
Now they deploy in flexible schedules worldwide
But at least the management work their share
So you might meet shining Hecate,
Radiant maiden, saffron robed
Holds high the torch, though she knows the way
No crossroads choice challenges Her.
Once Anubis howled the moon in desert dry
Black dog will lead you now from Welsh wetness
To a new land, no less green, but more glowing
His nose knows the track.
As a pure white doe Artemis arrives with no warning
Except one’s whiskers whitened
Follow her fearless, she will not wait
Hares dance around, her drum resounds.
Glorious Sigdrifa favours the fearless, yet fosters the fear-filled
Falcon-feathered cloak she lends, straight the flightpath
Valhall or Folkvangr await, your battle need not have been in blood
Healing hands soothe all mortal pains
Some say the way is long:
Nine days Hermodr passed on Helroad;
Aback the Faerie horse True Thomas waded blood red to the knee;
Peerless Psyche fed her honeyed cakes to the ravening
But those stories may be askew
For it is easy enough for the living to come to death’s door
The hard road is to return to this same life
Heartblood pounding still, wits wondering.
It is but the tiniest step to take.
A wall of stone but less than ankle-high
Crowning the cap of rounded hill
Leap it and laugh
Then downhill all the way, easy, run it like a child
Come soon to the willow-shaded well,
where most drink deeply of forgetfulness
You can choose, you are a child of Earth and of the Starry Heaven
Drink instead of the Well of Memory
Persephone heard the call, long time past…
Mother, she said, to golden-haired Demeter,
the dead need me, I must go to them.
She made her promise, she will perform,
As She returns
She will do no less for you.
So do go gently into that good night
Greet Sons of Stars and Daughters of Light
Be it of chocolate, or of mead, drink with delight
Dance then with the spirits, Blessed Hight.