This boy, of course, was dead, whatever that
might mean. And nobly dead. I think we should feel
he was nobly dead. He fell in battle, perhaps,
and this carved stone remembers him
not as he may have looked, but as if to define
the naked virtue the stone describes as his.
One foot is forward, the eyes look out, the arms
drop downward past the narrow waist to hands
hanging in burdenless fullness by the heavy flanks.
The boy was dead, and the stone smiles in his death
lightening the lips with the pleasure of something achieved:
an end. To come to an end. To come to death
as an end. And coming, bring there intact, the full
weight of his strength and virtue, the prize with which
his empty hands are full. None of it lost,
safe home, and smile at the end achieved.
Now death, of which nothing as yet – or ever – is known,
leaves us alone to think as we want of it,
and accepts our choice, shaping the life to the death.
Do we want an end? It gives us; and takes what we give
and keeps it; and has, this way, in life itself,
a kind of treasure house of comely form
achieved and left with death to stay and be
forever beautiful and whole, as if
to want too much the perfect, unbroken form
were the same as wanting death, as choosing death
for an end. There are other ways; we know the way
to make the other choice for death: unformed
or broken, less than whole, puzzled, we live
in a formless world. Endless, we hope for no end.
I tell you death, expect no smile of pride
from me. I bring you nothing in my empty hands.