The Sensual Strut and the Riddled Jar

Next week is my birthday, a day commemorated less and less as time passes. For years I made it a practice to write a poem on my birthday. None of them were any good. Most were unoriginal variations of memento mori. A few were just snarky and self-lacerating: "There's nothing particuliarly new/About this particuliar new year/Unless you count what mattered once,/The thinning hair, the flatulence... "

I don't seem to have it in me this year to write a birthday poem, but who knows? Maybe something will crop up before the day arrives. I did recently happen across an old poem by Dylan Thomas that seemed appropriate to the occasion (and not because I am anywhere close to the age of twenty-four).

Twenty-four years remind the tears of my eyes.
(Bury the dead for fear that they walk to the grave in labour.)
In the groin of the natural doorway I crouch like a tailor
Sewing a shroud for a journey
By the light of the meat-eating sun.
Dressed to die, the sensual strut begun,
With my red veins full of money,
In the final direction of the elementary town
I advance for as long as forever is.

I like its cleverness, the double meanings of words like labour, groin, shroud, dressed, the Book of Common Prayer reference to the Burial of the Dead, the spending of blood like money. I also like the last line, a bit of youthful bravura in the face of the inevitable. On the other hand, as with most of Thomas' poetry, it's not very deep with meaning once you defuse its pyrotechnics. Here's the Roman poet Lucretius with a slightly different take on a similar theme:

Listen! The Universe is
Scolding us:
What ails you, little man,
Why this excess of self-indulgent grief,
This sickliness? Why weep and groan at death?
If you had any sense of gratitude
For a good life, if you can’t claim her gifts
Were dealt you in some kind of riddled jar
So full of cracks and holes they leaked away
Before you touched them, then why not take your leave
As men go from a banquet, fed to the full
On life’s good feast, and come home to lie at ease,
Free from anxiety?

Life as a leaking, hole-riddled jar? That's a good image bacause I do feel leakier and leakier as the years roll by.


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