“Strange is our life here on earth,
Here birth is death, death is birth.”
In Sacred Poetry death and dying are recurring themes, but often they appear to us in an unexpected way. The human mind fears death and seeks to avoid it. However the great mystics and seer poets often write of ‘death’ as being their goal.
‘Kill me, my faithful friends,
For in my being killed is my life.
Love is that you remain standing
In front of your Beloved
When you are stripped of all your attributes;
Then His attributes become your qualities.
Between me and You, there is only me.
Take away the me, so only You remain.’
To those unfamiliar with the language of the mystics the first 2 lines appear nonsense. How can we ask our friends to kill us. But in this poem, the Sufi mystic Al Hallaj, he is talking of the death of his false attributes, his false ego, his false self.
Our ego makes us feel we are bound up in our concept of ‘I ness’. From a human perspective to lose our body and ego would mean death, because this is what we feel we are.
However the mystics say that when our ego melts into the divine. This is not death, this is liberation. It is not physical death that gives immortal life, but our conscious decision to remember who we actually are.
Also those mystics who have had a glimpse of the Divine Self feel pained when they cannot regain that sublime experience. After the ecstasy of communion with the Divine, the ordinary world feels insipid and empty.
In this poem by St John of the Cross he passionately explains how life without God is torment and pain. He has tasted the divine and all else seems lifeless in comparison.
I live Yet do not Live in Me.
No longer do I live in me,
and without God I cannot live;
to him or me I cannot give
my self, so what can living be?
A thousand deaths my agony
waiting as my life goes by,
dying because I do not die.
This life I live alone I view
as robbery of life, and so
it is a constant death — with no
way out until I live with you.
God, hear me, what I say is true:
I do not want this life of mine,
and die because I do not die.
Being so removed from you I say
what kind of life can I have here
but death so ugly and severe
and worse than any form of pain?
I pity me — and yet my fate
is that I must keep up this lie,
and die because I do not die.
Excerpt from: St John of the Cross
For those of us dipping our toes into the field of spirituality such bold and moving sentiments still seem a little beyond our grasp. We are inspired by their lofty visions but human nature alas resists, we are content with just a little peace a little joy. This is why Al Hallaj is calling on his ‘faithful friends’ to help make the transition to the life divine. By this he is inferring our transformation, our death, comes only through Grace.
Sri Aurobindo’s epic poem Savitri is based around the theme of death and Immortality. Savitri travels to the world beyond death to seek the redemption of her husband Satyavan. In Book Nine: ‘The Book of Eternal Night’ Canto Two: The Journey in Eternal Night There is an epic confrontation between Savitri and the Lord of Death.
‘I am a timeless Nothingness carrying all,
I am the Illimitable, the mute Alone.
I, Death, am He; there is no other God.
All from my depths are born, they live by death;
All to my depths return and are no more.’
But Savitri replied for man to Death:
“When I have loved for ever, I shall know.
Love in me knows the truth all changings mask.
I know that knowledge is a vast embrace:
I know that every being is myself,
In every heart is hidden the myriad One.
I know the calm Transcendent bears the world,
The veiled Inhabitant, the silent Lord:
I feel his secret act, his intimate fire;
I hear the murmur of the cosmic Voice.
I know my coming was a wave from God.
For all his suns were conscient in my birth,
And one who loves in us came veiled by death.
Then was man born among the monstrous stars
I fear I have rather gone off at a tangent but reading spiritual poetry can have the effect of taking us beyond the words on the page; it makes us think of spiritual ideas, even encourage us to live the truths they offer.
Of course its always best to hear the poets own commentaries on their poems.