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Death and Transfiguration is neither poem nor soliloquy. The hour of midnight had long struck when my thoughts asked the question, what is it like to die? I was alone, the background to my whimsical notions was Richard Strauss’s musical-poem, “Death and Transfiguration”.
First remember, a musical-story, known as a tone poem, is music that by using your imagination tells its story. Strauss’s “Death and Transfiguration” is the musical story of a poet who is close to death. As the afflicted bard fights for his life, recollections of his past invade his fevered mind. As you listen to Death and Transfiguration the music will sometimes be raucous and then will drift to a soothing melody that is spiritually uplifting. These changes relate to the life-changing dramas of the dying poet’s life. The quieter more dream-like interludes of the poem-music conjure up periods of his life when life was tranquil.
About 18.42 minutes into the Karajan recording you may hear the subdued gentle reverberation of the timpani drum but unfortunately, von Karajan decided the soul’s departure be almost silent as the airs of the violins transport the poet’s soul to the higher realms. The final minutes of sweeping violin music symbolise the passage the spirit takes as it soars through the galaxies to the afterlife.
This then was the backdrop to my reveries when sat alone in what was known as ‘the blue room’, I wordlessly asked the question; “What is it like to die?”
What then happened was what I can only describe as a visitation. Words from another world entered my consciousness. Realising their importance, much as a stenographer might, I began to scribble these unearthly words down on my pad. I believe the message explains what actually happens as death approaches and the human spirit leaves mortality behind.
DEATH AND TRANSFIGURATION From earth to birth, from birth to earth, From womb to tomb – thereafter, Through tears and grief beyond relief, Yet I recall the laughter. Darkness swirled as death unfurled, As curtain folds it fell, Whilst far away beyond the veil, I heard the tolling bell. Now time to go I seemed to know, A bright star bid the way. A lonely light in darkest night, Come home it seemed to say. Companion angel drew her cloak, To guard against the cold, She turned her face to Paradise, Then life released its hold. She brushed my fingers blithely, A touch no more, not seen, So light it might have been a thought, Or dream that might have been? The pious apparition, Wedded wisdom to her youth, Such purity of innocence That knew no more than truth. With patience infinitum, With love that knew no bound, The angel raised me from the earth, My life was now uncrowned. A shadow as a night-dream, So vague defies recall, It promised sweet fulfillment, Respite from mortal thrall; Half-forgotten dreams that tease, In slumber’s dark beyond, A golden thread twixt life and death, So easy slips the bond. To gaze beyond the edge of time, My span was almost passed, As mortal life slipped by to know, The death die now was cast. To see the wraith, behold the eye; Be warmer by her breath, A mist unraveled to reveal, Supreme, the State called Death. A fellow for the higher road, Our journey bold and new, Where all is what you wish to be, Is all you ever knew; Where truth is water, love is breath, The words you dream are said, A higher place of love and light, When all that passed is dead. It’s time to go, she whispered, Yet I never heard her voice. Her love was neither carnal, Nor was of this mortal place. Still sleeps the comprehension, When time runs past as sand, Then shakes the mortal fetters free To greet the better land. I drifted midst the past now gone, To life that lay ahead, The place I knew as living To the place we know as dead. Beheld the phantom travellers, Their past lives as they go, They wander silent to their goal, Each one I seemed to know, That we had shared those stepping stones, And there had been a few, Our pathways on our endless trek, The wanderers must do. And then I see in you and this, A link I can define, I know I shared my life with thee, Our lives were yours and mine. I searched through life and death again, To see your missing face, Companion of a former life, Who may have missed a pace? Oh, spirit though of fleeting thought, That knows no time or place, You drift through ages past and fore, Yet keep a steady pace. To weigh my heart with sadness, On the paths that will unwind, The stepping stones that bear the souls, Of those who fall behind. The light was not of morning, And of shadows there were none, All the heavens shimmered, There’s never setting sun. Eternal youth she promised, Though I heard not of her tongue, Death to life, it beckons, You’ll be forever young. Come, the spirit whispered, Like a mother to her child. Hers was the sun that never set, Whose love was undefiled? Let go, let go, she whispered, Let go my precious son ~ Step out on to the stepping stones, Your life on earth is done. 1995 Michael Walsh Poetry, Whispering Hope
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