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Prayer before Death

After MacNeice

I’m due to depart: so hear me.
My funeral ship on the slipway is set
   and I shall be carried
      wherever the winds and the tides of unknowing will steer me.

I’m due to depart: surround me.
I have need of the presence of friends
   lest the nearness of death and the breath of its mouth
      on my forehead confound me.

I’m due to depart: behind me
Are the years I inhabited joyfully, I
   who might never have happened at all,
      but I happened, I was, I was glad
         of the gift of the years, O remind me.

I’m due to depart: please read me
Lines from the poets I loved, who could
   sing in a fashion which brought me to tears,
      who got to the point of the thing,
         who would always, I knew and accepted, exceed me.

I’m due to depart: forgive me —
Some token I want that my work was not wasted,
   that words I have spoken or written have lasted,
      that actions I’ve taken for good will outlive me.

I’m due to depart: believe me
When I say that my heartbeat, though faltering now,
   till nearly this moment has quickened with anger
      when greed and stupidity, cruelty, violence swaggered unchallenged.
         That girl on the ground in her blood will not leave me.

I’m due to depart: replay me
One moonrise at midnight, one mew of a buzzard who circles at noon,
   one start of a hare in the wood. All that beauty!
      The places we visited, times we have had:
         one evening, with laughter and wine, is enough.
            The goodness of friendship, the greatness of love:
               life promised me plenty, and didn’t betray me.

Don’t foolishly tell me that out there you’ll meet me.
Launch me and my ship down the slipway. Complete me.

Audio file

Listen to this poem — read by the author