Monday, 7 July 2008

Thiakian king on death, and my response.

Today I give no argument, no news.

An ancient tale inspired a train of thought.
I'll share the thought in pent-iambic verse,
the English form Fitzgerald used to scribe
the ancient epic Odyssey from Greek.

He renders Homer's tale in vivid lines,
a saga of a man who seeks his home.

Odysseus speaks the lines that woke my muse;
recounts to his Phaiakian hosts his woes.
He's sailed from Troy; he's sacked an isle, and left.
Before he left a few of his men were slain.

Odysseus tells what happened then, at sea:

No ship made sail next day until some shipmate
had raised a cry, three times, for each poor ghost
unfleshed by the Kikonês on that field.

That word, unfleshed, is what has stirred my mind.
Belief and hope and fear in that term dwell.
Unfleshed: the self evicted from its corpse,
to travel down the dark Hadean paths.

A multitude expects such fate on death:
the unfleshed ghost, the soul, will carry on
to heaven, hell, or maybe back to Earth.

The word "unfleshed" befits these cherished thoughts,
expresses what so many hope from death.

But what of folk like me, who don't expect
to live on past our physical demise?
What word have we expressing what befalls?

The snowflake melts: its shape, unique, is lost.
Just so the mind, which body must sustain,
when body fails, is gone, has ceased, that's it.
How fleeting, fright'ning, this idea of self:
ephemeral and fragile. Here, then not.

The snowflake's stuff, of course, will still remain,
will rise, form clouds, and then will fall again.
Just so, my starstuff matter carries on.
In plants, in rocks, in future human flesh
it feeds the life of Gaia, though I'm gone.

I do not know a cure for fear of death:
I dread the tolling bells that speak my end.
But facts are not beholden to my wish.
Instead, to truth's stark beauty do I bend.

Does all this pose a word that I can use?
A word that speaks of loss and beauty cold?
Odysseus says the soul becomes unfleshed.
For me, the flesh, the life, becomes unsouled.

(Please let me know if verse-based blogging works.
These lines, did they enlighten or confuse?
Plain prose is still the medium I prefer.
Should ever I again invoke the Muse?)


  1. Pretty impressive Tim!

    The snowflake analogy is a beautiful one for the physical aspects of our persons :-)

    You seem to be suggesting that the soul is real, but has no existence in isolation from the body? that "life" should be identified with the body or flesh - so that if i'm reading you right, death isn't so much the separation of soul and body but the end of the body and so by definition the end of the soul.

    I would love to explore this further but I'm conscious that being on holiday makes me underestimate how much time other people need to devote to actual work so please don't let me distract you :-)

  2. Thanks for the comment, Cath!

    Yes, if I take my soul to be my "me-ness" - an idea to capture the unique subjective experience that is me, then of course that is real. And, I think it is dependent on the body - is, in a sense, part of what the body does. And, just like respiration and blood circulation, it ceases when the body dies.

    Please, explore away. I may still be busy with dissertation stuff, but I've managed to shoehorn some spare time into my schedule to keep myself sane.


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