I was walking in the cemetery the other day and as I read the tombstones, I thought of how we used to put up “away messages” in AOL’s Instant Messenger. (It was basically a proto-Twitter, come to think of it.) You’d walk away from your computer, the one that weighed fifty pounds and stayed on your desk, and everyone could see how funny and clever you were while you were gone.
Is not a tombstone an away message?
Whenever an old poet — an old poet — dies, I can’t get too upset.
This is what they’ve been training for! I think. It’s go time!
The great poets and artists spend so much time checking in on death.
Is not every great poem an away message?
Here is a stanza from James’ “Season To Season”:
The trick, I’m learning, is to stay in doubt,
Season to season, of what time might bring,
And patiently await how things turn out.
Eventually time tells you everything.
If it takes time to do so, no surprise
In that. You fold your arms, you scan the skies,
And tell yourself that life has made you wise…
And here’s one from “Japanese Maple”:
My daughter’s choice, the maple tree is new.
Come autumn and its leaves will turn to flame.
What I must do
Is live to see that. That will end the game
For me, though life continues all the same…
When Mary Beard interviewed James last year, she asked how the Japanese Maple was doing.
“It died!” James said.
Oh well. The poem lives.
The poets go, but they leave us so many away messages.