Fortunately it comes at the end of life

Death by Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for Death,

He kindly stopped for me;

The carriage held but just ourselves

And Immortality.

We slowly drove, he knew no haste,

And I had put away

My labor, and my leisure too,

For his civility.

We passed the school, where children strove

At recess, in the ring;

We passed the fields of gazing grain,

We passed the setting sun.

Or rather, he passed us;

The dews grew quivering and chill,

For only gossamer my gown,

My tippet only tulle.

We paused before a house that seemed

A swelling of the ground;

The roof was scarcely visible,

The cornice but a mound.

Since then ’tis centuries, and yet each

Feels shorter than the day

I first surmised the horses’ heads

Were toward eternity.


Not all truths about emotions can be put into words. Nor need they be stamped as legitimate by some academic journal. Poems, novels, films and other cultural forms tell us that some truths are just felt.

Given the recent news from MIT regarding ‘How human language could have evolved from birdsong‘, let’s focus here on human-song.

No hidden or implied meaning here, this woman’s voice in this song just feels right:

Arms & Flowers



Many arm themselves for war.
It is necessary.
Others arm themselves for the world.
It is called for.
Some arm themselves for death.
It is natural.
You arm yourself for love
and you are so defenseless
against war,
against the world,
against death.

This poem was written by Luz Helena Cordero, who is Colombian. Most of the flowers given in North America this Valentine’s Day as expressions of love were grown in Colombia.

There’s not a lot of love, however, between the women who grow the flowers and their employers. For more information see Fairness in Flowers.

So keep these words of their compatriot in mind and take care lest these flowers, which arm you for love, render you defenceless ‘against war, against the world, against death’.

Heartstring A + Heartstring B = Knots

(c) 2009 Rhiannon Evans, in Wales; Norwich Film Festival Best Student Film 2011. She can sing too. Here are some more short films by Rhiannon Evans.

Heartstrings → Knots

JILL I’m upset you are upset

JACK I’m not upset

JILL I’m upset that you’re not upset that I’m upset that you’re upset.

JACK I’m upset that you’re upset that I’m not upset that you’re upset that I’m upset, when I’m not.

JILL You put me in the wrong

JACK I am not putting you in the wrong
JILL You put me in the wrong for thinking you put me in the wrong.

JACK Forgive me


JACK I’ll never forgive you for not forgiving me

It hurts Jack
to think
that Jill thinks he is hurting her
by (him) being hurt
to think
that she thinks he is hurting her
by making her feel guilty
at hurting him
by (her) thinking
that he is hurting her
by (his) being hurt
to think that she thinks he is hurting her
by the fact that
da capo sine fine

I don’t feel good
therefore I am bad
therefore no one loves me.
I feel good
therefore I am good
therefore everyone loves me.
I am good
You do not love me
therefore you are bad. So I do not love you.
I am good
You love me
therefore you are good. So I love you.
I am bad
You love me
therefore you are bad.

Can Jack and Jill
terrified that each and the other are not terrified
terrified that each and other are terrified, and
not terrified that each and other not be terrified?

I don’t respect myself
I can’t respect anyone who respects me.
I can only respect someone who does not respect me.
I respect Jack
because he does not respect me
I despise Tom
because he does not despise me
Only a despicable person
can respect someone as despicable as me
I cannot love someone I despise
Since I love Jack
I cannot believe he loves me
What proof can he give?

Ad infinitem.

Does this sort of thing sound at all familiar to you?

The above poetic nuggets are from R.D. Laing’s brilliant little book Knots (1970). Laing was a well known anti-psychiatrist psychiatrist who was active during the 1960s and 1970s.

The title is inspired by a Sufi sutra that Laing came upon. For the curious, try Idries Shah’s Tales of the Dervishes: Teaching-stories of the Sufi Masters over the past thousand years (1969). Most tales are short, only a few pages.

Here is a 3 minute video of Laing himself:

Contrasting poems on the balance between living and dying

Here are two contrasting poems that weigh the balance between living and dying, one with light wit, the other with dark passion.    

The first is from the 1920s, Dorothy Parker’s Résumé:

Razors pain you,
Rivers are damp,
Acids stain you,
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful,
Nooses give,
Gas smells awful.
You might as well live.

The second is from the 1960s, Sylvia Plath’s Lady Lazarus. This poem is best listened tohere. I don’t think you’ll forget it. It was recorded just before she killed herself.  

One more from Dorothy Parker, Coincidences:

By the time you swear you’re his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying –
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying. 

Poems such as these teach us much about emotions.