Autumn Poetry Competition 2019
Peter Aitken Schirmer for 'The Final Truth?'
Is Death a sudden, lonely emptiness
or, as some claim, a chasm twixt Heaven and Hell?
It seems that only Death alone can tell
while I, still living, view such loneliness
with deep and drawn-out fear - my mind a mess.
Or is Death merely an eternal dream,
pleasant for those whose consciences are clear
and an unending nightmare for the rest -
for those like me, who, in our later years,
regret, with sadness, the past hurts and pain
so often thrust on those we love? No tears
can wash away the rue, erase the stain
that marks the guilt I've carried every day
till now ... when Death will have the final say.
Judge Charlie Durante's Comments:
"This poem is a sober meditation on the awesome reality of death. The English language has two great elegies, a word more commonly used for death poems than threnody: Gray’s Elegy written in a country churchyard and Tennyson’s In Memoriam. Unlike our poem, these are focussed on individuals who have passed away and left behind loved ones grieving and desolate. Our poem has a more universal application: it is death as our final dissolution that is the subject of the poem. The emphasis is on the loneliness of the experience, the vacuity of death. The word ‘lonely’ in the opening line is echoed in ‘only Death alone’ in the third and ‘loneliness’ in the fourth. The writer rehearses the well-known topos of death suspending us between the joys of paradise and the grim reality of an inferno. Or is death just an undisturbed sleep for those with an unblemished record? The personal element enters the poem now, making it more interesting when the speaker contemplates the ‘nightmare’ that may be awaiting him. Repentance seems the only remedy but the sense of guilt is too deeply embedded for that. The poem, which has a subtle, unobtrusive rhyme scheme (emptiness/loneliness; years/tears; pain/stain) comes to a close with a final rhyming couplet ‘that marks the guilt I’ve carried every day/till now...when Death will have the final say’ at the same time as it reflects the ‘final’ in the title. Medical knowledge can postpone death almost indefinitely, but it still has to be faced. This poem helps in this endeavour."