Death: A Boundless End
If See No End In Is
By Frank Bidart
What none knows is when, not if.
Now that your life nears its end
when you turn back what you see
is ruin. You think, It is a prison. No,
it is a vast resonating chamber in
which each thing you say or do is
new, but the same. What none knows is
how to change. Each plateau you reach, if
single, limited, only itself, in-
cludes traces of all the others, so that in the end
limitation frees you, there is no
end, if you once see what is there to see.
You cannot see what is there to see —
not when she whose love you failed is
standing next to you. Then, as if refusing the know-
ledge that life unseparated from her is death, as if
again scorning your refusals, she turns away. The end
achieved by the unappeased is burial within.
Familiar spirit, within whose care I grew, within
whose disappointment I twist, may we at last see
by what necessity the double-bind is in the end
the figure for human life, why what we love is
precluded always by something else we love, as if
each no we speak is yes, each yes no.
The prospect is mixed but elsewhere the forecast is no
better. The eyrie where you perch in
exhaustion has food and is out of the wind, if
cold. You feel old, young, old, young: you scan the sea
for movement, though the promise of sex or food is
the prospect that bewildered you to this end.
Something in you believes that it is not the end.
When you wake, sixth grade will start. The finite you know
you fear is infinite: even at eleven, what you love is
what you should not love, which endless bullies in-
tuit unerringly. The future will be different: you cannot see
the end. What none knows is when, not if.
Reading this poem felt uncanny. Its complexity almost drove me away but the simplicity of the words themselves kept me close. I read the poem through and then re-read slowly, trying to understand what we know, from what “no one knows.” Bidart unpacks death and life, as composites of things; no idea or concept ever original or unoriginal because all are from the same. He questions what we actually know and how we know it.
Thinking about death is a common experience, as is the thing itself. So, it seems Bidart was trying to replicate the experience of thinking about death through this poem.
What also attracts me to this poem is the theme of time and Bidart’s reflection on his childhood in his adulthood. I enjoyed the italicized stanza, which reads like a personal reflection, as well as the final stanza. In the final stanza he combines multiple themes including death, life, dreaming, night, young, and old age. I find myself thinking most about death at night, which seems most fitting. It is the time when my mind both gives way to darkness and in darkness finds clouds upon clouds of thoughts. Bidart takes this familiar experience one step further by comparing it to dreaming and memory. By thinking about death at night, one draws from their life and relives their younger years. What comforts us about our memories, our childhood, is that which we know; however, the future, the boundless, is unknown and that is which we fear.
I find Bidart’s words courageous and am glad to have discovered him. The topic for this poem really resonated with me as I often have trouble conceptualizing and not wanting to think about the thing I fear. He was just nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in poetry, for Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016, rightfully so. While this poem is deep and sombre, his others poems range from free-form stanzas with playful language to memoir-like letter writing. I will definitely be reading his other works because when poetry can capture a feeling and then rearrange it, that I find to be the most successful kind of poetry.