Few things will make you cut to the chase faster than a death sentence, something that informs Chidiock Tichborne's poem "Elegy"; confronting the fact that everything he has seen, said, done and felt in his life is soon to be brutally ended, Tichborne takes stock of his own life. The poem is a rapid succession of self-appraisals, an accounting of a life that is in the middle of all things, projects unfinished, personal affairs in flux, an existence of mind and body absorbing experience that hasn't lived long enough to achieve accumulated wisdom. Where age and the sheer volume of life's deeds can bring one to a maturity one could call a defining wisdom--when the large personality of youth becomes right sized and the large propositions a youthful enthusiasm have been tested against a world that was, in large part, indifferent to youthful spirit-- Tichborne abandons fancification, elaboration, grandiose rhetoric and chooses the monosyllabic tone that quickly admits his vanities, his unfinished condition. A dedicated Catholic, one imagines he wanted to meet his God after committing a final confession to the paper he wrote upon, his only witness.
The spring is past, and yet it hath not sprung,The fruit is dead, and yet the leaves are green,My youth is gone, and yet I am but young,I saw the world, and yet I was not seen,My thread is cut, and yet it was not spun,And now I live, and now my life is done.
The effect is breathtaking, the succession of assertion and counter-assertion, of thesis and antithesis, a vision of a man who is finally seeing the grain of the brick and realizes the smell of the meals he will no longer see nor taste; this is the mind of someone who's life is cleared of the material things that typically get counted as aa successful life and who realizes that he will no longer have the luxury of taking things for granted. He prefers direct address of his situation and impending demise--the larger words, the crackling syllables, with their river-run rhythms and swashbuckling cadences, are significations that are hollow. The future has been brought to him, not he venturing into it. Those consequences of his actions have caught up with him. The poem is chilling, magnificent in its blunt clarity. It brings on the feeling of a weight being placed on your shoulders, increasing by noticeable degrees as you walk, it removes the passion one had which made life a pleasure, hobbies and crafts and philosophies that dissolve as the corridor that comprises one's life narrows and becomes darker.
The remarkable thing about the time is how beautifully if tragically, the piece demonstrates how a man can summarize his life in spare metaphors when coming against a literal and non-negotiable deadline. In a strange way, it reminded me of those times when I had t move very, very suddenly and I had the task of what to take and what to discard; sentimentality took a back seat more often than not while going through boxes of stuff. Once, even my record collection had to go, all 900 something discs--I simply had no way to transport them, no place to store them, no one to leave them with, no time to sell them. I gave them away to the first associate who would take them. It was, though, liberating, having all that vinyl gone in one quick flush, as I had no reason to resist CDs and CD players. I have a thousand of them by now, deep into jazz and blues, my music of choice from my mid-forties forward. Perhaps Tichborne wanted to arrive at Heaven's gate without the bulging pride that besets a life of enduring disease and bad weather; he perhaps sought to be liberated so as to be as pure as Heaven is described. Tichborne's poem makes you feel as if someone had just walked over your
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