I read the poem below yesterday, and its simple theme resonated strongly with me. The poet, the great James Weldon Johnson (perhaps best known for penning the lyrics to “Lift Every Voice and Sing”, the hymn that has come to be known as “the Black national anthem”), is expressing the awful fact that death means that we will never get to see and hear the things we love again. Death doesn’t just rob others of us, it also robs us.
When I come down to sleep death’s endless night,
The threshold of the unknown dark to cross,
What to me then will be the keenest loss,
When this bright world blurs on my fading sight?
Will it be that no more I shall see the trees
Or smell the flowers or hear the singing birds
Or watch the flashing streams or patient herds?
No. I am sure it will be none of these.
But, ah! Manhattan’s sights and sounds, her smells,
Her crowds, her throbbing force, the thrill that comes
From being of her a part, her subtle spells,
Her shining towers, her avenues, her slums–
O God! the stark, unutterable pity,
To be dead, and never again behold my city.
That poem speaks, to me, a real and very sad truth. I sometimes wonder if there will come a time when I know that I’ll not hear Rachmaninoff or Berlioz again….