As I've mentioned many times before, I grew up loving the work of Robinson Jeffers. My boyhood home is a half mile from his famous Tor House. I've had a few of his poems up, but this is one I love deeply -- and it is also one about which I am conflicted.
I come from a large family. We have deeply religious people within the clan, but most of my relatives are thoroughly agnostic. I was raised by secular humanists (the best and kindest sort), the kind of folks for whom the Unitarian Universalists are the closest they'll come to making a serious religious commitment. When it comes to the great questions of life and death and life AFTER death, my family is fairly clear that there isn't anything to look forward to. We're cremated, we are released into the ephemera, and that's that. I no longer believe as they did, but for years, I shared that conviction.
When I was a young humanist, worried about what happened after death to those of us who didn't believe in heaven or hell or reincarnation, my mother shared this Jeffers poem with me. I've always loved it, even after I came to believe that I will someday begin a new life, an everlasting one, in another country. We read this poem at my grandmother's memorial service, and if I were ever to lose my faith, I would want it read at mine. Maybe it still should be.
Inscription for a Gravestone
I am not dead, I have only become inhuman:
That is to say,
Undressed myself of laughable prides and infirmities,
But not as a man
Undresses to creep into bed, but like an athlete
Stripping for the race.
The delicate ravel of nerves that made me a measurer
Of certain fictions
Called good and evil; that made me contract with pain
And expand with pleasure;
Fussily adjusted like a little electroscope:
That's gone, it is true;
(I never miss it; if the universe does,
How easily replaced!)
But all the rest is heightened, widened, set free.
I admired the beauty
While I was human, now I am part of the beauty.
I wander in the air,
Being mostly gas and water, and flow in the ocean;
Touch you and Asia
At the same moment; have a hand in the sunrises
And the glow of this grass.
I left the light precipitate of ashes to earth
For a love-token.