I understand the old people that went before me who, when they bought a new jacket, or a pair of shoes, would often say “This should see me out”. The same thought occurs to me now, although I manage not to say it out loud.
I don't wish this to sound mournful, I don't think of it that way, it's just that a poet should not dodge unpleasant facts of life. Everything must be included, nothing left out. It gets harder to dodge these things as you get older anyway. Friends you have known most of your life start to disappear.
I think of three relatively recently, who all knew they were about to die, but in their own different ways faced it resolutely, with grace and courage, and without any last minute belief in a life ever after . They did not expect to be caught as Rilke put it, by “One whose gently-holding hands this universal falling can't fall through.”
I only hope I can face it as well as they did. It's a moment in our lives we can't avoid, and as Larkin said “Death is no different whined at than withstood” but he was carefully not recommending one course over the other, perhaps hedging his bets, unsure as to which camp he might end up in.
It is a severe test of whatever it is in our private minds represents civilization to us. But civilization, whatever depth it might aspire to, only sits on top of a world beyond its ministrations, and can never eradicate the arbitrary force beneath it.
We invent gods and call them merciful, but there is little mercy in reality, unless, like the religious, you chose to accept good things as emanating from god, but call bad things something else, as Rowan Williams did when asked about Stephen Fry's recent remarks about the deaths of children. Williams called it “mysterious”. It is sad to hear an intelligent, decent man and poet, reduced to uttering such tosh.
So, from my point of view at least, the vast world that exists just beyond our minimal civilization, has no concern for rules or morals, and when push comes to shove as it often does in our affairs, we are at the mercy of circumstances that don't care.
On the face of it this is not ideal. We will die and be no more, and our living is potentially at risk from circumstances we have no control over. What's good about that? The answer of course is not much. Although, if we had a more certain existence would life feel as precious as it does? If we had all the time we could ever need, would we feel as pressed to do something with it? If there was endless something, and no nothing, would the something we have be quite as extraordinary, or would we get too used to it? Perhaps there would be no light and shade without the nihilism of life beyond civilization.
All we can do is the best we possibly can, and be engaged as we can with being alive, and expressing it. As Mary Oliver put it in the last line of her poem When Death Comes “I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.”