Saturday, 15 September 2012

Are undertakers "huge fornicators?"

I am doing my bit to polish up the image of funeral directors after recent revelations and controversies.

The connection with the lovely creature in the photo above may or may not become relevant.

Here is a translation of the original poem, by the Chilean Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda, which Brian Patten adapted for his poem  "How Long Does A Man Live?" often used at funerals. It's chatty and irreverent, but perhaps actually rather profound. FD rebuttals of their new image in this poem are welcomed, but enthusiastic agreement with it are applauded!

And How Long?

How long does a man live, after all?

Does he live a thousand days, or only one?

A week, or several centuries?

How long does a man spend dying?

What does it mean to say "for ever?"

Lost in these preoccupations,
I set myself to clear things up.

I sought out knowledgeable priests,
I waited for them after their rituals,
I watched them went they went their ways
to visit God and the Devil.

They wearied of my questions.
They on their part knew very little;
they were no more than administrators.

Medical men received me
in between consultations,
a scalpel in each hand,
saturated in aureomycin,
busier each day.
As far as I could tell from their talk,
the problem was as follows:
it was not so much the death of a microbe - 
they went down by the ton -
but the few which survived
showed signs of perversity.

They left me so startled
that I sought out the grave-diggers.
I went to the rivers where they burn
enormous painted corpses,
tiny bodies,
emperors with an aura
of terrible curses,
women snuffed out at a stroke
by a wave of cholera.
There were whole beaches of dead
and ashy specialists.

When I got the chance
I asked them a slew of questions.
They offered to burn me;
it wass the only thing they knew.

In my own country the undertakers
answered me, in between drinks:
"Get yourself a good woman
and give up this nonsense."

I never saw people so happy.

Raising their glasses they sang,
toasting health and death.
They were huge fornicators.

I returned home, much older
after crossing the world.

Now I question nobody.

But I know less every day.

                    Pablo Neruda

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