DEATH QUOTATIONS   ©winnie caw 2002
Includes poems by Christina Rossetti
(follow the arrows below for more of winnie caw's whimsy, or click on a link)

 

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***

Where there's a will, there are relations.

~ Michael Gill

***

Death is nature's way of telling you to slow down.

~ Anon

***

Eternity is a terrible thought. I mean, where is it going to end?

~ Tom Stoppard, 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead', 1967

***

In the city a funeral is just an interruption of traffic; in the country it is a form of popular entertainment.

~ George Ade

***

The only thing I regret about my life is the length of it. If I had to live my life again, I'd make all the same mistakes - only sooner.

~ Tallulah Bankhead

***

Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen.

~ Mark Twain

***

Life is just one damned thing after another.

~Elbert Hubbard

***

I don't want to achieve immortality through my work

...I want to achieve it through not dying.

~ Woody Allen

***

Either this man is dead or my watch has stopped.

~ Groucho Marx, 'A Day at the Races', 1937

***

Death is the most inconvenient time to tax rich people.

~ David Lloyd George

***

Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough.

~ Groucho Marx

***

I refused to attend his funeral. But I wrote a very nice letter explaining that I approved of it.

~ Mark Twain

***

Heaven, as conventionally conceived, is a place so inane, so dull, so useless, so miserable, that nobody has ever ventured to describe a whole day in heaven, though plenty of people have described a day at the seaside.

~ George Bernard Shaw

***

Get my "Swan" costume ready!

~ Anna Pavlova (on her deathbed)

***

Hovering between wife and death.

~ James Montgomery

***

Most people would die sooner than think; in fact, they do.

~ Bertrand Russell

***

I'm prepared to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the ordeal of meeting me is another matter.

~ Winston Churchill (in 1949)

***

If you take epitaphs seriously, we ought to bury the living and resurrect the dead.

~ Mark Twain

***

It's a funny old world - a man's lucky if he gets out of it alive.

~ W C Fields, 'You're Telling Me', 1934

***

The meaning of life is that it stops.

~ Franz Kafka

***

There is no cure for birth or death save to enjoy the interval.

~ George Santayana

***

Plan for this world as if you expect to live forever; but plan for the hereafter as if you expect to die tomorrow.

~ Ibn Gabirol

***

Life is something to do when you can't get to sleep.

~ Fran Lebowitz

***

The longer I live the more keenly I feel that whatever was good enough for our fathers is not good enough for us.

~ Oscar Wilde, 'The Picture of Dorian Gray', 1891

***

Early to rise and early to bed

Makes a man healthy, wealthy and dead.

~ James Thurber

***

My doctor is wonderful. Once, when I couldn't afford an operation, he touched up the X-rays.

~ Joey Bishop

***

After two days in hospital, I took a turn for the nurse.

~ W C Fields

***

TB or not TB, that is the congestion.

~ Woody Allen, 'Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex', 1972

***

Hungry Joe collected lists of fatal diseases and arranged them in alphabetical order so that he could put his finger without delay on any one he wanted to worry about.

~ Joseph Heller, 'Catch-22', 1961

***

Once you accept your own death, all of a sudden you are free to live. You no longer care about your reputation...You no longer care; except so far as your life can be used tactically - to promote a cause you believe in.

~ Saul Alinsby

***

It is not that I do not want to die; I just do not want to be there when it happens.

~ Woody Allen

***

On the plus side, death is one of the few things that can be done just as easily lying down.

~ Woody Allen

***

He died of cirrhosis of the liver. It costs money to die of cirrhosis of the liver.

~ P G Wodehouse

***

Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.

~ Norman Cousins

***

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover

And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

~ John Masefield

***

A dying man needs to die, as a sleepy man needs to sleep, and there comes a time when it is wrong, as well as useless, to resist.

~ Steward Alsop

***

To himself everyone is immortal; he may know that he is going to die, but he can never know that he is dead.

~ Samuel Butler

***

For three days after death, hair and fingernails continue to grow but phone calls taper off.

~ Johnny Carson

***

If even dying is to be made a social function, then grant me the favor of sneaking out on tiptoe without disturbing the party.

~ Dag Hammarskjold

***

One murder makes a villain, millions a hero.

~ Beilby Portus

***

Kill one man and you are a murderer.
Kill millions and you are a conqueror.
Kill everyone and you are God.

~ Jean Rostand

***

A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.

~ Joseph Stalin.

***

Boy, when you are dead they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you are dead? Nobody.

~ J D Salinger

***

Some people are so afraid to die that they never begin to live.

~ Henry van Dyke

***

How fascinating is death, the extinction of life. One moment here and the next gone. The light put out and only the empty bag of the body left.

*****

IN MEMORIAM

Spreadeagled on the ground
His fine-limbed body
Lay like a limp Cross
Turned imploringly towards the skies
The mouth was twisted
In a savage determination
To deny himself
The right to live
For life offered him
Doubts, a sense of futility
Elements
Which convulsed his being
In perpetual darkness

Relatives came
With sympathy
A few with helpless wonder
At this inexplicable destruction
Of youth
Others sang bhajans
To cover the gash
With euphemisms of Divine Will

At the cremation
The blaze rose high
Flesh turned to ashes
And the bones
We took to the Jamuna
The remains of his body
Were offered to the brown river
With red oleanders
The gift was accepted silently
By the waves
Which carried the ashes
Mingled with flowers
Gently at first
Then swiftly on their crest
The red and the grey
Became part of the sweeping brown

A Cabinet Minister died that day
Millions came to mourn
My brother died unknown
Quietly he went to his grave
God had claimed two victims
One he had showered with blessings
The other twenty years -
Which to my brother seemed to have been
Twenty too many

~ Gautam Vohra 'Poems' 1972

*****


5th August 1997


STEVE GAVIN

1st July 1969 - 14th July 1997


I first saw Steven at the church
- his christening.
His blue eyes and angelic gaze,
framed in the buttercup yellow
of my sister's top.
A new life and a new beginning
to sweeten our recent loss.
One door closes and another opens,
the old makes way for the new.
A celebration of life, and so
I try a sherry, hate it,
forswear all alcohol on first tasting it
(a resolution easier made than kept -
the spirit intoxicating the weak flesh).
The early years. I saw all three
- Peter, Steven, Heidi - now and then;
"The Three Musketeers";
as Uncle Bob had dubbed them
at another family wedding,
on another day, in another place
and still another time.


At last, I find someone who is all mine.
I ring my sister for approval
(though she hasn't met my bloke)
and Steven answers, with a question;
"Hello, Aunty Winnie. Do you love me?"
Always I have remembered that line,
fresh from Steve, when only nine.
Passing strangers, before and since, said
"You don't love me." and "I do love you.";
Insignificant, compared to
"Do you love me, Aunty Winnie?"

Steven, yes. I do.

* * *

Many years on,
At my party,
In my kitchen;
Steve was twenty, grown,
still serious;
Wanting grown-up, serious stuff.
What he wanted? Just a family, house,
job "to pay the mortgage" and
"My dream? To drive an HGV, long-distance,
abroad, and earn good money."
By now, he had already stretched his boundaries
far from Ashford friends and kin;
Made new friends in neighbouring counties;
Gained attention through his 'karma';
Someone safe and strong and sane;
Girls would trust in Steve Gavin.
 

Despite vicissitudes of life,
Steve knew what to aim for;
Like an arrow to its mark,
Sought the beacon in the dark;
Kept on going, straight and true;
Found his destination, too;
Set his boundaries; one, two, three -
mortgage, home, security.

But his path ran off the land
into space and time unplanned;
Now his star alone will guide
us poor travellers left behind.

* * *

A Wednesday, black, in late July,
In the midsummer of what should have been
Steve's life.
We take a taxi from the station.
"St Mary's, Willesbrough. Please."
"Which church is that?"
I have a wish that Brian were the driver,
this one time.

"The Parish church." I answer;
The blind leading the blind.
At the church
A host of people;
Some known to many, some to few;
All known only to Steve.
All wishing not to be here;
All in black, on this day,
At this place, this time.
All wishing, rather -
Another place. Another time. Another wedding.
Just not here and now.
Too late for regrets.
The circle of life is sealed

before the cycle is revealed, complete.

***

"Shush! Is that a nightingale?
A blackbird? A thrush?
By the east door of the church?
Listen!"

For an instant, all is quiet,
and I am alone with the bird's song.

"It's only me.
Just to say
it's now midday
I can't stay
even to play.
Be brave, for all tomorrows
now are yours, today."

Winnie Caw    

Bus Stops

                                        *****

CHRISTINA ROSSETTI

December 1847 Song

 

When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant no sad roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.

 

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.

***

Passing away

Passing away, saith the world, passing away:
Chances, beauty, and youth, sapped day by day:
Thy life never continueth in one stay.
Is the eye waxen dim, is the dark hair changing to grey
That have won neither laurel nor bay?
I shall clothe myself in Spring and bud in May:
Thou, root-stricken, shalt not rebuild thy decay
On my bosom for aye.
Then I answered "Yea".

 
Passing away, saith my Soul, passing away:
With its burden of fear and hope, of labour and play,
Hearken what the past doth witness and say:
Rust in thy gold, a moth is in thine array,
A canker is in thy bud, thy leaf must decay.
At midnight, at cockcrow, at morning, one certain day.
Lo the Bridegroom shall come and shall not delay;
Watch then and pray.
Then I answered: "Yea".

 
Passing away, saith my God, passing away:
Winter passeth after the long delay:
New grapes on the vine, new figs on the tender spray,
Turtle calleth turtle in Heaven's May.
Though I tarry, wait for Me, trust Me, watch and pray:
Arise, come away, night is past and lo it is day,
My love, My sister, My spouse, thou shalt hear Me say.
Then I answered: "Yea".

***

Too late for love, too late for joy,
Too late, too late!
You loitered on the road too long,
You trifled at the gate:
The enchanted dove upon her branch
Died without a mate;
The enchanted princess in her tower
Slept, died, behind the grate;
Her heart was starving all this while
You made it wait.

 
Ten years ago, five years ago,
One year ago,
Even then you had arrived in time,
Though somewhat slow;
Then had you known her living face
Which now you cannot know;
The frozen fountain would have leaped,<
The buds gone on to blow,
The warm south wind would have awaked
To melt the snow.

***

Monna Inominata

I wish I could remember that first day,
First hour, first moment of your meeting me,
If bright or dim the season, it might be
Summer or Winter for ought I can say;
So unrecorded did it slip away,
So blind was I to see and to foresee,
So dull to mark the budding of my tree
That would not blossom yet for many a May.
If only I could recollect it, such
A day of days! I let it come and go
As traceless as a thaw of bygone snow;
It seemed to mean so little, meant so much;
If only I could recall that touch,
First touch of hand in hand - Did one but know!

***

29 June 1858 'At Home'

When I was dead, my spirit turned
To seek the much-frequented house.
I passed the door, and saw my friends
Feasting beneath green orange-boughs,
From hand to hand they pushed the wine
They sucked the pulp of plum and peach;
They sang, they jested, and they laughed
For each was loved of each.

 

"Tomorrow," said they, strong with hope
And dwelt upon the pleasant way;
"Tomorrow," cried they one and all
While no one spoke of yesterday.
Their life stood full at blessed noon
I, only I, had passed away.
"Tomorrow and today," they cried
I was of yesterday.

 
I shivered comfortless, but cast
No chill across the tablecloth;
I all-forgotten shivered, sad
To stay and yet to part how loth:
I passed from the familiar room
I who from love had passed away,
Like the remembrance of a guest
That tarrieth but a day.

***

Today and Tomorrow

All the world is making love:
Bird to bird in bushes,
Beast to beast in glades, and frog
To frog among the rushes:
Wake, O south wind sweet with spice,
Wake the rose to blushes.

***

"A Pause"

They made the chamber sweet with flowers and leaves,
And the bed sweet with flowers on which I lay;
While my soul, love-bound, loitered on its way.
I did not hear the birds about the eaves,
Nor hear the reapers talk among the sheaves:
Only my soul kept watch from day to day,
My thirsty soul kept watch for one away:-
Perhaps he loves, I thought, remembers, grieves.
At length there came the step upon the stair,
Upon the lock the old familiar hand:
Then first my spirit seemed to scent the air
Of Paradise: Then first the tardy sand
Of time ran golden; and I felt my hair
Put on a glory, and my soul expand.

***

"The World"

By day she woos me, soft, exceeding fair:
But all night as the moon so changeth she;
Loathsome and foul with hideous leprosy
And subtle serpents gliding in her hair.
By day she woos me to the outer air,
Ripe fruits, sweet flowers, and full satiety:
But thro' the night, a beast she grins at me,
A very monster void of love and prayer. By day she stands a lie: by night she stands
In all the naked horror of the truth
With pushing horns and clawed and clutching hands.
Is this a friend indeed; that I should sell
My soul to her; give her my life and youth,
Till my feet, cloven too, take hold in hell?

***

"In an Artist's Studio"

One face looks out from all his canvasses,
One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:
We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or a ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens,
A saint, an angel - every canvas means
The same one meaning, neither more nor less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true kind eyes, looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.

***

December 1852

"The Heart Knoweth its own Bitterness"

Weep, sick and lonely,
Bow thy heart to tears,
For none shall guess the secret
Of thy griefs and fears.
Weep, till the day dawn,
Refreshing dew:
Weep till the spring:
Bring up the flowers,
And thou shalt sing
In summertime of blossoming.

 
Then love rejoicing
Shall forget to weep:
Shall hope or fear no more,
Or watch, or sleep,
But only love and cease not,
Deep beyond deep.
Now we sow love in tears,
But then shall reap.
Have patience as the Lord's own flock of sheep:
Have patience with His love
Who died below, who lives for thee above.

***

October 1854

"Two Choices"

He chose what I had feared to choose
(Ah, which was wiser, I or he?)
He chose a love-warm priceless heart
And I a cold bare dignity.

 
He chose a garden of delights
Where still refreshing waters flow;
I chose a barren wilderness
Whose buds died years ago.

***

"Memory"

I nursed it in my bosom while it lived,
I hid it in my heart when it was dead;
In joy I sat alone, even so I grieved
Alone, and nothing said.

 
I shut the door to face the naked truth,
I stood alone - I faced the truth alone,
Stripped bare of self-regard or forms or ruth
Till first and last were shown.

 
I took the perfect balances and weighed;
No shaking of my hand disturbed the poise;
Weighed, found it wanting: not a word I said,
But silent made my choice.

 
None know the choice I made, I make it still.
None know the choice I made and broke my heart,
Breaking mine idol: I have braced my will
Once, chosen for once my part.

 
I broke it at a blow, I laid it cold,
Crushed in my deep heart where it used to live.
My heart dies inch by inch; the time grows old,
Grows old in which I grieve.

***

"Seeking Rest"

How should I share my pain, who kept
My pleasure all my own?
My Spring will never come again;
My pretty flowers have blown
For the last time: I can but sit
And think and weep alone.

***

"A Pause for Thought" - 1854

I thought to deal the death-stroke at a blow
To give all, once for all, but never more:-

 
I said so in my heart: and so I thought
My life would lapse, a tedious monotone:
I thought to shut myself and dwell alone
Unseeking and unsought.

 
Alas, I cannot build myself a nest,
I cannot crown my head

 
With royal purple blossoms for the feast,
Nor flush with laughter, nor exult with song:-
These joys may drift, as time now drifts along;
And cease, as once they ceased.

 
I may pursue, and yet may not attain;
Athirst and panting all the days I live:
Or seem the hold, yet nerve myself to give
What once I gave, again.

***

"From House to Home" - 1858

We sang our songs together by the way,
Calls and recalls and echoes of delight;
So communed we together all the day,
and so in dreams by night.

 
I have no words to tell what way we walked.
What unforgotten path now closed and sealed;
I have no words to tell all things we talked,
All things that he revealed:

 
This only can I tell: that hour by hour
I waxed more feastful, lifted up and glad;
I felt no thorn-prick when I plucked a flower,
Felt not my friend was sad.

 
"Tomorrow," once I said to him with smiles,
"Tonight," he answered gravely; and was dumb,
But pointed out the stones that numbered miles
And miles to come.

 
"Not so," I said: "tomorrow shall be sweet:
Tonight is not so sweet as coming days.
Then first I saw that he had turned his feet,
Had turned from me his face.

***

 

...ends

I wish I were dead, my foe,
My friend, I wish I were dead,
With a stone at my tired feet
And a stone at my tired head.
In the pleasant April days
Half the world will stir and sing,
But half the world will slug and rot
For all the sap of Spring.

***

"Echo"

My blissful dream that never comes with day,
A vision dear, though false, for well my mind
Knows what a bitter waking waits behind.

***

Come to me in the silence of the night;
Come in the speaking silence of a dream;
Come with soft rounded cheeks and eyes as bright
As sunlight on a stream;
Come back with tears,
O memory, hope, love of finished years.

 
O dream how sweet, too sweet, too bitter sweet,
Whose wakening should have been in Paradise,
Where souls brimfull of love abide and meet;
Where thirsting longing eyes
Watch the slow door
That opening, letting in, lets out no more.
Yet come to me in dreams, that I may live
My very life again though cold in death:
Come back to me in dreams, that I may give
Pulse for pulse, breath for breath:
Speak low, lean low,
As long ago, my love, how long ago.

***

"L.E.L."

Downstairs I laugh, I sport and jest with all;
But in my solitary room above
I turn my face in silence to the wall;
My heart is breaking for a little love.
Though Winter frosts are done,
And birds pair every one,
And leaves peep out, for springtime is begun.

 
I feel no spring, while spring is well-nigh blown,
I find no nest, while nests are in the grove:
Woe's me for mine own heart that dwells alone,
My heart that breaketh for a little love. While golden in the sun
Rivulets rise and run,
While lilies bud, for springtime is begun.

 
All love, are loved, save only I; their hearts
Beat warm with love and joy, beat full thereof:
They cannot guess, who play the pleasant parts,
My heart is breaking for a little love.
While bee-hives wake and whirr,
And rabbit thins his fur,
In living spring that sets the world astir.

***

1862

I loved you first: but afterwards your love,
Outsoaring mine, sang such a loftier song
As drowned the friendly cooings of my dove.
Which owes the most? My love was long,
And yours one moment seemed to wax more strong;
I loved and guessed at you, you construed me
And loved me for what might or might not be -
Nay, weights and measures do us both a wrong.
For verily love knows not 'mine' or 'thine';
With separate 'I' and 'thou' free love has done,
For one is both and both are one in love:
Rich love knows nought of 'thine that is not mine';
Both have the strength and both the length thereof,
Both of us, of the love which makes us one.

***

Come back to me, who wait and watch for you:-
Or come not yet, for it is over then,
And long it is before you come again,
So far between my pleasures are and few.
While, when you come not, what I do I do
Thinking 'Now when he comes', my sweetest 'when':
For one man is my world of all the men
This wide world holds; O love, my world is you.
Howbeit, to meet you grows almost a pang
Because the pang of parting comes so soon;
My hope hangs waning, waxing, like the moon
Between the heavenly days on which we meet:
Ah me, but where are now the songs I sang
When life was sweet because you called them sweet?

***

1865 "An Immurata Sister"

Men work and think, but women feel;
And so (for I'm a woman, I)
And so I should be glad to die,
And cease from impotence of zeal,
And cease from hope, and cease from dread,
And cease from yearnings without gain,
And cease from all this world of pain,
And be at peace among the dead.

 
Why should I seek and never find
That something which I have not had?
Fair and unutterably sad
The world hath sought time out of mind;
The world have sought and I have sought,-
Ah empty world and empty I!
For we have spent our strength for nought,
And soon it will be time to die.

***

Many in aftertimes will say of you
'He loved her' - while of me what will they say?
Not that I loved you more than just in play,
For fashion's sake as idle women do.
Even let them prate; who know not what we knew
of love and parting in exceeding pain,
Of parting hopeless here to meet again,
Hopeless on earth, and heaven is out of view.
But by my heart of love laid bare to you,
My love that you can make not void nor vain,
Love that forgoes you but to claim anew
Beyond this passage of the gate of death,
I charge you at the Judgement make it plain
My love of you was life and not a breath.

***

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