Friday, 22 April 2011

How long is a man's life, finally?

I first found this wonderful poem through a friend, and as a result bought the book by the extraordinary Brian Patten. I am often nervous about sharing published poetry through the internet, but as the poet regularly publishes his own poems on his Poem of the Month blog I figured it was probably OK. [It can be found in his book Armada.]

Either way, it has been of help and solace at many times of bereavement among family, friends and colleagues. It's brought back to mind today by this post by the extraordinary Tania Kindersley in celebration of her father. RIP Gay Kindersley, 1930-2011.

Cuanto vive el hombre por fin? Vive mil dias o uno solo?
Una semana o varios siglos? Por cuanto tiempo muere el hombre?
Que quiere decir 'para siempre'?
Preocupado per este asunto me dedique a aclarar las cosas.

- Pablo Neruda

How long is a man's life, finally?
Is it a thousand days, or only one?
One week, or a few centuries?
How long does a man's death last?
And what do we mean when we say, "gone forever'?
Adrift in such preoccupations, we seek clarification.

We can go to the philosophers,
but they will grow tired of our questions.
We can go to the priests and the rabbis
but they might be too busy with administrations.

So, how long does a man live, finally?
And how much does he live while he lives?
We fret, and ask so many questions -
then when it comes to us
the answer is so simple.
A man lives for as long as we carry him inside us,
for as long as we carry the harvest of his dreams,
for as long as we ourselves live,
holding memories in common, a man lives.

His lover will carry his man's scent, his touch;
his children will carry the weight of his love.
One friend will carry his arguments.
another will hum his favourite tunes,
another will still share his terrors.
And the days will pass with baffled faces,
then the weeks, then the months,
then there will be a day when no question is asked,
and the knots of grief will loosen in the stomach.
and the puffed faces will calm.
And on that day he will not have ceased,
but will have ceased to be separated by death.
How long does a man live, finally?

A man lives so many different lengths of time.

[The photograph, by the way, is this time one of mine, taken one clear and breathless night in the Norfolk countryside last month.]


Tania Kindersley said...

Just re-read this and love it even more the second time around. And the picture of the moon is magnificent. Thank you.

Tim Reilly said...

There's a memorial to a man lost at sea on the dockside at Leith in Edinburgh that quotes this poem as well.