Here are the specific poems which Dr. Bradford S. Weeks, M.D. referenced in his lecture WHY WE DIE presented to esteemed colleagues in at the CLUB of FANO on October 6th 2016.
Please savor these poems – allow them to roll over your tongue like a fine Italian wine and inhale the spirit between the inspired words.
Upon this age that never speaks its mind,
This furtive age, this age endowed with power
To wake the moon with footsteps, fit an oar
Into the rowlocks of the wind, and find
What swims before his prow, what swirls behind—
Upon this gifted age in its dark hour,
Rains from the sky a meteoric shower
Of facts . . . they lie unquestioned, uncombined.
Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill
Is daily spun; but there exists no loom
To weave it into fabric. . .
From Huntsman, What Quarry? by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Trial by Existence
by Robert Frost
|EVEN the bravest that are slain
|Shall not dissemble their surprise
|On waking to find valor reign,
|Even as on earth, in paradise;
|And where they sought without the sword
|Wide fields of asphodel fore’er,
|To find that the utmost reward
|Of daring should be still to dare.
|The light of heaven falls whole and white
|And is not shattered into dyes,
|The light for ever is morning light;
|The hills are verdured pasture-wise;
|The angel hosts with freshness go,
|And seek with laughter what to brave;””
|And binding all is the hushed snow
|Of the far-distant breaking wave.
|And from a cliff-top is proclaimed
|The gathering of the souls for birth,
|The trial by existence named,
|The obscuration upon earth.
|And the slant spirits trooping by
|In streams and cross- and counter-streams
|Can but give ear to that sweet cry
|For its suggestion of what dreams!
|And the more loitering are turned
|To view once more the sacrifice
|Of those who for some good discerned
|Will gladly give up paradise.
|And a white shimmering concourse rolls
|Toward the throne to witness there
|The speeding of devoted souls
|Which God makes his especial care.
|And none are taken but who will,
|Having first heard the life read out
|That opens earthward, good and ill,
|Beyond the shadow of a doubt;
|And very beautifully God limns,
|And tenderly, life’s little dream,
|But naught extenuates or dims,
|Setting the thing that is supreme.
|Nor is there wanting in the press
|Some spirit to stand simply forth,
|Heroic in its nakedness,
|Against the uttermost of earth.
|The tale of earth’s unhonored things
|Sounds nobler there than ‘neath the sun;
|And the mind whirls and the heart sings,
|And a shout greets the daring one.
|But always God speaks at the end:
|‘One thought in agony of strife
|The bravest would have by for friend,
|The memory that he chose the life;
|But the pure fate to which you go
|Admits no memory of choice,
|Or the woe were not earthly woe
|To which you give the assenting voice.’
|And so the choice must be again,
|But the last choice is still the same;
|And the awe passes wonder then,
|And a hush falls for all acclaim.
|And God has taken a flower of gold
|And broken it, and used therefrom
|The mystic link to bind and hold
|Spirit to matter till death come.
|”˜Tis of the essence of life here,
|Though we choose greatly, still to lack
|The lasting memory at all clear,
|That life has for us on the wrack
|Nothing but what we somehow chose;
|Thus are we wholly stripped of pride
|In the pain that has but one close,
|Bearing it crushed and mystified.
by Robert Frost
When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy’s been swinging them.
But swinging doesn’t bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun’s warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust–
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You’d think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
(Now am I free to be poetical?)
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows–
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father’s trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.
The Night House
By Billy Collins
Every day the body works in the fields of the world
mending a stone wall
or swinging a sickle through the tall grass ””
the grass of civics, the grass of money ””
and every night the body curls around itself
and listens for the soft bells of sleep.
But the heart is restless and rises
from the body in the middle of the night,
and leaves the trapezoidal bedroom
with its thick, pictureless walls
to sit by herself at the kitchen table
and heat some milk in a pan.
And the mind gets up too, puts on a robe
and goes downstairs, lights a cigarette,
and opens a book on engineering.
Even the conscience awakens
and roams from room to room in the dark,
darting away from every mirror like a strange fish.
And the soul is up on the roof
in her nightdress, straddling the ridge,
singing a song about the wildness of the sea
until the first rip of pink appears in the sky.
Then, they all will return to the sleeping body
the way a flock of birds settles back into a tree,
resuming their daily colloquy,
talking to each other or themselves
even through the heat of the long afternoons.
Which is why the body ”” that house of voices ””
sometimes puts down its metal tongs, its needle, or its pen
to stare into the distance,
to listen to all its names being called
before bending again to its labor.