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When the Time Comes

January 11, 2014

By Louis de Bernières

Every now and again a novelist, not primarily known for his poetry, delivers a corker. Michael Ondaatje did it with  The Cinnamon Peeler.  John Updike did it more than once.  De Bernières has done it with this one. It ends his 2013 collection in memory of CP Cavafy, Imagining Alexandria.

When the Time Comes

When the time comes, it is better that death be welcome,
As an old friend who embraces and forgives.
Sieze advantage of what little time is left,
And if imagination serves, if strength endures, if memory lives,
Ponder on those vanished loves, those jesting faces.
Take once more their hands and press them to your cheek,
Think of you and them as young again, and running in the fields,
As drinking wine and laughing.
And if you wish, let there be Spanish music, Greek seas
And French sun, the hills of Ireland if you loved them,
Some other place if that should please, some other music
More suited to your taste.
Consider, if you can, that
Soon you’ll shed this weariness, this pain,
The heaped-upon indignities, and afterwards — who knows? —
Perhaps you’ll walk with angels, should angels be ,
By fresher meadows, unfamiliar streams.
You may find that those who did not love you do so now,
That those who loved you did so more than you believed.
You may go on to better lives and other worlds.
You may meet God, directly or disguised.
You may, on the other hand — who knows? — just wander off
To sleep that seamless, darkest, dreamless, unimaginable sleep.
Do not be bitter, no world lasts forever.
You who travelled like Odysseus,
This is Ithaca, this is your destination.
This is your last adventure. Here is my hand,
The living to the dying;
Yours will grow cold in mine, when the time comes.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Marilyn Milos permalink
    January 11, 2014 1:06 pm

    Thanks for this, Jim. I always appreciate your offerings but, as I grow old, I find this one especially important. My first husband used to say, “Death is the orgasm of life.” And, as the body grows weary with aches and pains and the world moves faster than one can keep up, I can understand the joy in reaching that place… Leonard Cohen’s album “Old Ideas” in which it appears, now that he’s in his 80s, he is dealing with his own demise. The first song on the album is called “Going Home” and the chorus goes like this:

    Going home sometime tomorrow Going home without my sorrow Going home to where it’s better than before.

    Going home behind the curtain Going home without my burden Going home without the costume that I wore.

    And, in one of the verses, he gives the most delightful description of a human I’ve ever heard, when he says, in talking about himself, “…he knows he’s nothing more than a brief elaboration of a tube.”

    So from one elaboration to another, thanks and love, Marilyn

    • January 11, 2014 4:55 pm

      Going Home’s a wonderful song. My favourite lines are these:

      “He wants to write a love song
      An anthem of forgiving
      A manual for living with defeat [..]”

      Undercut so elegantly with:
      “But that isn’t what I need him
      To complete”

      This is the best You Tube version.

  2. pureform 2000 permalink
    January 11, 2014 3:18 pm

    “When I die, I want to go peacefully like my Grandfather did, in his sleep – not screaming, like the passengers in his car.” – Jack Handy

    Date: Sat, 11 Jan 2014 08:24:04 +0000 To:

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