Saturday, February 18, 2012

Perspective, Part One: "O Little Waking Hour Of Life Out Of Sleep!"

"Eternity is not length of life but depth of life" -- the epitaph discovered by Charlotte Mew on a child's gravestone in a rural churchyard -- got me to thinking about all of those dreamy, death-haunted poems written by the poets of the 1890s.  I recently posted Ernest Dowson's "Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam," which contains the quintessential Decadent statement on the matter:  "Out of a misty dream/Our path emerges for a while, then closes/Within a dream."

The following poem by Arthur Symons is reminiscent of Dowson's poem. But, in addition, it -- like the epitaph found by Mew -- helps to put things into perspective.

              Tristram Hillier, "Snails" (from Shell Nature Studies) (1957)


O little waking hour of life out of sleep!
When I consider the many million years
I was not yet, and the many million years
I shall not be, it is easy to think of the sleep
I shall sleep for the second time without hopes or fears.
Surely my sleep for the million years was deep?
I remember no dreams from the million years, and it seems
I may sleep for as many million years without dreams.

Arthur Symons, Images of Good and Evil (1899).

Of course, one might be prompted to respond:  "That is all very well and good, assuming you have a soul!"

              Tristram Hillier, "Fossils" (from Shell Nature Studies) (1957)

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