Never, or: Now

A poem, based upon ‘Time to Come’ by Walt Whitman

O, Life! a rough, billowy cloak
    Hangs round thee, and the present state;
The eye may see, the hand may touch
    Only one's revealed fate.

This mind, which now parallel flows
    With frantic hope and rising fear;
This heart of flesh with chambers four,    
    That mortal passions bear—

This opaque, murky reality,
    Where nothing's known until it's come,
This mind and heart; their confusion—
    In unison three thrum.

The pounding blood surges with stress;
    The deep anxiety; the dread
Consumes, and insecurities
    Fill the poor, baffled head.

The minutes mock me; air feels dense
    as I suck it down to my lungs;
How, I wonder, might one discern
    Life's melody unsung?

Doth its tune sooth? Though confusion
    Awaits me behind every door;
Doth not human spirit yearn for
    Days brighter than before?

O, powerless is this anxious mind
    To grasp men's circumstances' scope;
In desperate, blind doubt it clings
    To a fast-fading hope.

‘Time to Come’ by Walt Whitman

O, Death! a black and pierceless pall
    Hangs round thee, and the future state;
No eye may see, no mind may grasp
    That mystery of fate.

This brain, which now alternate throbs
    With swelling hope and gloomy fear;
This heart, with all the changing hues,   
    That mortal passions bear—

This curious frame of human mould,
    Where unrequited cravings play,
This brain, and heart, and wondrous form
    Must all alike decay.

The leaping blood will stop its flow;
    The hoarse death-struggle pass; the cheek
Lay bloomless, and the liquid tongue
    Will then forget to speak.

The grave will take me; earth will close
    O’er cold dull limbs and ashy face;
But where, O, Nature, where shall be
    The soul’s abiding place?

Will it e’en live? For though its light
    Must shine till from the body torn;
Then, when the oil of life is spent,   
    Still shall the taper burn?

O, powerless is this struggling brain
    To rend the mighty mystery;
In dark, uncertain awe it waits
    The common doom, to die.

‘Poets of Babel’ poetry reading

Tomorrow evening, I will be reading this poem (mine, not Whitman’s) at a poetry reading in downtown Jerusalem. Poets have been instructed to share personal pieces inspired by Whitman… I would not have taken such a project upon myself otherwise. Grafting my ideas and images atop Whitman’s stanzas was quite the challenge.


Let’s write poetry together!

When it comes to partnership, some humans can make their lives alone – it’s possible. But creatively, it’s more like painting: you can’t just use the same colours in every painting. It’s just not an option. You can’t take the same photograph every time and live with art forms with no differences.

Ben Harper (b. 1969)

Would you like to create poetry with me and have a completed poem of yours featured here at the Skeptic’s Kaddish? I am very excited to have launched the ‘Poetry Partners’ initiative and am looking forward to meeting and creating with you… Check it out!

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