I do not object to the choice of ‘vaccine’ as the word of the year, as a hope of defeating the pandemic. But it is competed with by another, forgotten in the so-called first world, since in the second and third it continues to wreak havoc. I am referring to ‘death’, which from our Olympic haughtiness we believed, if not defeated, domesticated, but it is still there, like our shadow. And it will continue.
Of the one hundred and odd kids who, at the age of ten, started high school at the Lugo Institute in 1940, only a dozen remain. The ‘course meal’ that we celebrated on the last Saturday of July, which was attended by colleagues from other cities and countries, together with the remaining teachers, had to be suspended in 2015 for reasons of displacement.
Now, we speak from time to time on the phone, mostly to report the death of another classmate. And it is that we have all exceeded ninety tacos. Many more we will not comply. We already live in discount time.
I have spent much of the last time reading and meditating on it, finding myself with a series of paradoxes. The first, that dying is the only certainty of this life, the rest is random. The second, that no two deaths are the same, just as there are no two lives. The third, that those who have come closest to its mystery are the poets, perhaps because they speak with their hearts rather than with their brains.
At the head of his exegetes, he would place Jorge Manrique with the ‘Coplas a la muerte de su padre’, «Our lives are the rivers that are going to give into the sea/ that is dying», which are surprising for their brilliance, accuracy, depth and elegance, like Nefertiti or the Lady of Elche. He even answers his own question “say, death, where do you hide and put them?” by offering us beyond death a more lasting life in this world: fame. Apart from the fact that if stars and galaxies disappear through black holes without knowing where they go, what’s so strange about men and women disappearing?
From then on, poetry forks into two great avenues: the hymn to life that death mercilessly mows down with its scythe and resignation to the inevitable fact, which the mystics unite with the reunion with God and loved ones in Paradise. . An example of the first is Agustín de Foxá’s ‘Melancolía de disappearing’, of which I offer you the first and last lines: «And to think that after I die/ there will still be bright mornings/ that under a blue sky, spring / indifferent to my last mansion/ will incarnate in the silk of roses./ And to think that, naked, blue, lewd/ on my bones life will dance./ And to think that I cannot in my selfishness/ take the sun or the sky with me. my shroud / that I have to march, already alone towards the abyss / and that the moon will shine the same / and I will no longer see it from my box». Is there a better tribute to life from death?
An example of the second attitude is José Alcalá Zamora y Queipo de Llano’s farewell to his family and friends, in his book ‘Musical Variations’. I pass on the two triplets of the sonnet, in which I was a specialist: «I put my foot in the stirrup of that trip/ from which there is no return and there are no mirrors,/ with little I pay for your lodging:/ my poems and studies (books old)/ a something that I have taught and the courage/ that I put into going faster and further». That portray him in his distant chivalry and vital pessimism.
I could add splendid examples of all kinds of poems to the dead beloved, beginning with Lope’s: “Resolved in dust now, but always beautiful,” in which he proves to be as lofty a poet as he is a playwright, but I would turn this Third into a page of appointments, so I prefer to make a few reflections of my own. The first, that the slogan of existentialism ‘we are made to die’ is the typical pose of Gallic intelligence when faced with a mystery that it cannot understand, let alone unravel. No, we are not made to die, we are made to live. What happens is that death is part of life. Or, more accurately, it is the end of a vital process that began a long, long time ago, from the first amoebas, and matured in different phases until our parents decided to create us.
A cycle that is repeated in all the confines of the universe and in all the states of nature, of which we are beginning to know something, but whose operation is still a mystery to us, has just been shown to us by Covid-19, which has been installed on Earth as a ‘squatter’, with no way to kick him out. Fortunately, vaccines have been found because without them, it would be as dire as the 1918 flu. Or more so.
The only positive thing about death is its equalizing character: without making any distinctions, it reaches us all. Although there are as many ways to die as there are to live, and the best could be the one that King Sebastian recommended to his followers fighting in Alcazarquivir: “Portuguese gentlemen, die without haste!” Or is time life, as the hour clocks warned: They all wound, the last one kills?
Although, are our time and universe the only ones that exist?
It only remains for me to apologize for so many unanswered questions.
José María Carrascal is a journalist