Ephemeral–now that’s a mouthful for a word infrequently used, and meaning short-lived. Still, it’s one of the most vitalizing words in the English language. That is, if we can grasp its implications–that ending hovers over everything, over what and whom we love.
Mortality lies at the groundswell of poetry, that time erodes and even memory dulls, that it brings with it alteration. Its waves, often unperceived in the languorous satiety of life, nonetheless sweep in and out, cast up, then take away. Life has its rhythms. There is a time to be born and a time to die, as Ecclesiastes tells us.
I contemplate not upon human mortality only, but upon best friendships, happy events, kind deeds, promises made, hopes gathered of good health, material comfort, my children’s happiness. I know now that even the mountains grow and die.
As a college student, I once wrote a poem about a tree outside my class window–its pregnant fullness, its long life with more to come, the irony that a tree like some Galapagos sea turtle should outlive humans, evolution’s crowning achievement. Several months later, the bulldozers moved in.
Again, I think of so many poems I have loved, poignant in their melancholy of demise and ending: Shakespeare’s “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?”; Yeats’s “The Wild Swans Of Coole”; Dylan Thomas’s “Fern Hill”; Houseman’s “Loveliest of Trees, the Cherry Now”; my favorite, Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale”.
At times I have felt like the Psalmist who wrote of weeping by the waters of Babylon in recall of Zion’s pre-Captivity halcyon past. Like him, I know that even nations rise and fall.
I know, too, that time fades the sensory past and often bequeaths a future not granting great expectations.
Yet I do not mourn life’s ephemerality, for I have learned to revere what I cannot keep, to indulge each new day, to love more fully.
With much that’s taken, much is given.
We have only the Now in which to seek and find the Grail.