Postponement?

I’m not a poet, and hardly a translator, but would like to share the poem “Utsettelse?” (Postponement?) by the now aging and sick Norwegian poet Stein Mehren:

As life is being taken from us, we
want it all the more, with prayers
resembling less our raptures
than they resemble our moans of pain
It’s like being drawn
screaming and backwards into
the realm of death, conscious of
not yet having quite finished being born

In spite of its naked fear of impending death, it seems to me a very life-confirming poem, expressing the almost greedy desire to come just a little closer to whoever you are at the bottom of your soul, or whatever you were meant to be, before you finally take your leave. Is this what meditation is about too?

Stein Mehren

Stein Mehren at Oslo Poesifestival in 2008, where he popped up without advance notice. Photo: Ssspooky (Mariann Enge)

4 Comments

  1. Kaif

    Thank you for sharing this. Very nice and evocative.

    Reminds me of an old couplet in Urdu. Roughly translated, it goes –

    You ask me for the signs of a man of faith?
    When death comes, with a smile on his lips he goes

    I think that meditation certainly actualises several possibilities – pleasant and unpleasant – that may have remained otherwise dormant, and at the end of our years in this world, we would cling to them strongly, making for a lot of unhappiness and struggle at the time of death. The expression of those possibilities makes us a bit detached form them. Not that those who meditate necessarily die with a smile on their lips, but perhaps with less clinging.

  2. Halvor

    Well, this poet also sometimes has a smile on his lips, as when talking of the rattling sound of his new false teeth, to which he can’t get used, or of the rats waiting to gnaw our bones if we don’t look out. But the smile is not without bitterness and irony. I know we’re supposed to end up being able to accept it all, but isn’t meditation about honesty and reality orientation too?

  3. Kaif

    We are supposed to end up being able to accept it all, but I agree, very few can do that – perhaps 1 in a million? I would certainly not be smiling if it were my turn tomorrow.

    It is interesting to see the different ways in which civilisations understand death, or ignore it. All religions allot great significance to the state in which one dies, and often base their value systems on their understanding of death. For the Quran, it is “the one thing certain” about life – that it will end.

    This video comes to mind. Perhaps a bit idealistic again, but interesting nonetheless. The psychologist Carl Jung talks about how the ‘collective unconscious’ responds to death and his experiences of doing therapy with aged clients.

  4. carinah

    I really like Stein Mehren´s poems, but hadn´t read this one before. I think you translated it well!
    If meditation helps us to accept things as they are, that also means that it helps us accept that one day we will die, and perhaps make that easier.

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