Death and the Woodcutter
Death’s lad, a full-blown nude, heels clad in cloud
dives with his little axe to free an honest woodsman
collapsed in low opinion of himself, weighed down
by woes and consternation, slow, clumsy mitts
drawn to his face: itself a cup of tears.
The Prince of Danes revered such pictures of
unhappiness: who else would fardels bear
to grunt and sweat under a weary life
but that the dread of something after death,
the undiscovered country from whose bourn
no traveller returns… puzzles the will
and makes us rather bear those ills we have
than fly to others that we know not of… how like
the Dane himself of Death to come with helmet
haloed, winged, a sailor from the heaven boat
once snagged in Clonmacnoise – the boy who dived
to save his ship and found its anchor fixed
in the altar stone and impossible to shift
without some earthbound intervention.
A man may labour til he knows his highest hopes
are vain and on that day will be consumed,
the object of his misery, beckoning his end
under a darkling sky and the enormity
of a question he may put and answer
of his own accord, the one choice of his own.
Between the heavens’ deluge, silver rings of night
the sterile rainbow ends in pots of gold or chalky light;
Death’s messenger rides in: sent off at first sight
when the woodcutter takes his bundle up
and resumes the journey home. Such, he says, is life.
Dominic James lives in SW England and has a collection, Pilgrim Station, available through SPM Publications. There’s a lively poetic community in the UK and he should get more involved, and he will, when he has found the right word. It’s around here somewhere.
The Ekphrastic Review
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