We duly note observations such as these and then continue on. "Death is no different whined at than withstood." (Philip Larkin, "Aubade.") Or something along those lines.
I am reminded of a haiku that I try to revisit each year around this time (and which appeared here a year ago).
Never to grow old, --
But the temple bell sounds.
Jokun (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 4: Autumn-Winter (Hokuseido Press 1952), page 202.
Blyth suggests that Jokun is referring to the Japanese tradition in which, commencing at midnight on New Year's Day, the bells in Buddhist temples are sounded 108 times: once for each of the unhealthy desires that we should strive to rid ourselves of. This makes perfect sense. Despite "implacable fate, and panic at night, and the strumble/Of the hungry river of death," there is always room for improvement while time -- ever tolling, of course -- remains.
We have no choice in the matter, do we? Hence, no whining is allowed. But we ought to remain mindful.
Ian MacInnes (1922-2003), "Stromness Harbour"
The particulars of day-to-day life in the Orkney Islands provide the basis for the poems and prose of George Mackay Brown. But there is nothing parochial about the Orcadian world of which he writes. It stretches from the present back to the arrival of the Vikings, and then disappears into a mysterious (apparently Celtic) pre-history.
It is a time-bound, yet timeless, world. Although most of us have never been there, it is our World.
I lay on Gray's pier, a boy
And I caught a score of sillocks one morning
I laboured there, all one summer
And we built the Swan
A June day I brought to my door
Jessie-Ann, she in white
I sang the Barleycorn ballad
Between a Hogmanay star and New Year snow
The Swan haddock-heavy from the west --
Women, cats, gulls!
I saw from the sea window
The March fires on Orphir
I followed, me in black
Jessie-Ann to the kirkyard
I smoke my pipe on Gray's pier now
And listen to the Atlantic
George Mackay Brown, Following a Lark (John Murray 1996).
Gray's Pier is located in Stromness on Mainland, in the Orkney Islands. "Sillocks" are young coalfish. "Hogmanay" is the Scots word for New Year's Eve. Orphir is a parish on Mainland.
Donald Morrison, "Stromness Pier" (1993)
The following poem provides the other half of the Orcadian world. (Although the phrase "the other half" is perhaps too reductive and too simplistic: the "halves" are interwoven and inseparable. Earth and stone and sea and sky.)
Come soon. Break from the pure ring of silence,
A swaddled wail
With jotter and book and pencil to school
An ox man, you turn
Black pages on the hill
Make your vow
To the long white sweetness under blessing and bell
A full harvest,
Utterings of gold at the mill
Old yarns, old malt, near the hearthstone,
A breaking of ice at the well
Be silent, story, soon.
You did not take long to tell
George Mackay Brown, Voyages (Chatto & Windus 1983).
In another poem, Brown writes of "Crossings of net and ploughshare,/Fishbone and crust." ("Black Furrow, Gray Furrow," in Fishermen with Ploughs: A Poem Cycle (Hogarth Press 1971).)
Ian MacInnes, "Harvest, Innertoon" (1959)
Truth and beauty reside in the particulars of everyday life. "Gray's Pier" and "Countryman" are emblematic of the wondrous way in which George Mackay Brown gives us his Orkney world exactly as it is, in its lovely (and sometimes harsh) particulars, while transforming it into the World in which we all live. And die.
"A mystery abides. We move from silence into silence, and there is a brief stir between, every person's attempt to make a meaning of life and time. Death is certain; it may be that the dust of good men and women lies more richly in the earth than that of the unjust; between the silences they may be touched, however briefly, with the music of the spheres."
George Mackay Brown, For the Islands I Sing: An Autobiography (John Murray 1997), page 181.
Suddenly a stone chirped
Of Bella's beginning and end.
It sang like a harp, the stone!
James-William of Ness
Put a shilling
In the dusty palm of the carver,
Fifty years since.
Wind, snow, sun grainings.
The stone's a whisper now.
The stone will be silence.
George Mackay Brown, from the sequence "Seal Island Anthology, 1875," Voyages.
Stanley Cursiter, "Orkney Landscape" (1952)