‘Some find me a sword; some
|The flange and the rail; flame,|
|Fang, or flood’ goes Death on drum,|
|And storms bugle his fame.|
|But wé dream we are rooted in earth—Dust!||85|
|Flesh falls within sight of us, we, though our flower the same,|
|Wave with the meadow, forget that there must|
|The sour scythe cringe, and the blear share come.|
Our parish has had a number of deaths recently. One of our local funeral directors mentioned that his funeral home had thirteen calls on Christmas Day! I am writing this entry between two funerals that I will have celebrated by day's end. The ages of the past month's deceased range from 22 to 99. Most were expected as the eventual end of illness or of a long life, though some were rather unexpected and unfortunate.
Hopkins is speaking here of several ways a person may die: in battle, by train derailment (separation of "the flange and the rail"), from fire or smoke inhalation, animal attack, drowning. Hurricane Sandy was the latest "act of God" in this region, although natural and manufactured disasters occur everywhere.
Adults view young people with mixed pity, contempt, and perhaps envy. Daredevils, they call kids--"they think they're untouchable." Nothing will ever happen to them, in their minds, until... We must note, however, that insouciance is not the property of youth. It's the same spirit that motivates the demotivated to stay in bed, the gluttonous to reach for another, the lustful to...reach for another. The risks of risky behavior are not evident, or not important. The risk involved may only be that necessary work is left incomplete and a system's efficiency suffers. Is anyone hurt by it? we might ask. Only if they don't accept mediocrity, half-measures, as a way of life. It is the old distinction between a machete slash or a pinhole, both of which will flatten a tire.
As a parish priest who deals with dying, death, funerals, and bereavement, this stanza occurs to me quite often. "Flesh falls within sight of us"--we can't help but notice death. The priesthood is no place for a wuss, nor for a pollyanna who'd rather not think or talk of death. At the same time, we must avoid the temptation to trivialize death--others' or our own. With these realities ever before us, we can grow in appreciation for life, fostering respect and reasonable care for our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. Our daily choices will mean more to us.
A person's death becomes a prime opportunity to reflect (and, yes, sermonize) about the inevitability of our own death. "We, though our flower the same," cannot forget "that there must / the sour scythe cringe, and the blear share come." The sickle and the plowshare will clip us and gather us into the great granary. We're gonna die, too.