“It’s on its way” that thing “which in some vain strive many to avoid.” Right now Henry is still kind of getting used to the idea I guess. Since I know that a Lazarus rebirth moment is looming, still over a week away, I wonder what the point is, overall? The poet is just trying on death for awhile, and I’m thinking as a way artistically around it, since it has been such a burdensome presence so far. Not as much is going on in death with Henry as I might have expected. A longing for the body already, this repeated awareness that it is being stripped away part by part.
Emily Dickinson wrote in a letter, “Does not Eternity appear dreadful to you. I often get to thinking of it and it seems so dark to me that I almost wish there was no Eternity. To think that we must forever live and never cease to be. It seems as if Death would be a relief to so endless a state of existence.” The death of death, in other words, is what offers relief. Henry seems bored with it already, and Dickinson was afraid of the same thing. The dreadfulness of eternity, the endless, painless, pleasureless boredom. But this all assumes that a consciousness goes forward pretty much unchanged from what it was in life. I suspect that won’t be possible, because consciousness arises out of brain, which is body, which dissolves into Earth upon dying. But who can ever escape the consciousness of his body? Even Emily Dickinson, who was free to imagine her way into death free of constraint because she kept her poems private. If you believe in ghosts—I’m agnostic on this—then spirit and body separate. One dissolves and reintegrates into the physical substance of Earth, the other progresses unaffected by death; it haunts, or maybe it comes around for another go, or merges into the spiritual substance of the cosmos, of which we know almost nothing.
Here’s Captain Ahab, darkly, on this problem: “He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him an outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him.” All the entertaining, obsessive hatred of it aside, whatever the white whale turns out to be, even Ahab doesn’t know if it’s “agent” or “principal.” Is the brain—seat of consciousness and one with the Earth animal—agent or principal? There’s the rub.
For Henry, the body and brain is agent all the way. For Dickinson, agent. For Pat Robertson, Joel Osteen, Jim Baker, Oral Roberts, Billy Graham, and every other electronically overpuffed televangelist preacher to ever grace our screens and call for money—assuming they’re sincere, which obviously not all are—their fortunes are made on an understanding of brain/body as agent. These guys know where their bread is buttered. We can’t admit a spiritual dissolution, even a spiritual merging, because the ego won’t stand for it. At best we join the crowd in the heavenly bleachers. But—are we not of the Earth? Do we not love the Earth? The answer, for far too many, and for the aggregate consciousness arising from humanity: Nope. Not that much.
But, we’ll let Henry—ghost for now—have his disembodied consciousness for awhile, and screw the Earth and his/its disintegrating body, falling off around him in pieces and chunks. We don’t really ever die, right?