Tuesday, September 25, 2012

O May I Join The Choir Invisible by George Eliot

{Poem of the Day}

After a recent discussion with some religious friends of ours about what happens after death, I got to thinking: if we could have things John Lennon's way, with no religion, would people value their lives more knowing there is nothing after death? I think all we have is this one life. So I cherish it very much. And I want others to make the most of their lives too. Would there be more peace if there was no misconception of an after-life? "And no religion too."

That is why I choose this semi-morbid topic to be the theme of the poem of the day. Eliot's poem below, to me, says there is no after-life. In her words, "So to live is heaven."

And I completely agree.

Portrait of George Eliot by Eliana Trenam, from here

"O May I Join The Choir Invisible"
By George Eliot (1819 - 1880)

O may I join the choir invisible
Of those immortal dead who live again
In minds made better by their presence: live
In pulses stirred to generosity,
In deeds of daring rectitude, in scorn
For miserable aims that end with self,
In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars,
And with their mild persistence urge man's search
To vaster issues.

    So to live is heaven:
To make undying music in the world,
Breathing as beauteous order that controls
With growing sway the growing life of man.
So we inherit that sweet purity
For which we struggled, failed, and agonised
With widening retrospect that bred despair.
Rebellious flesh that would not be subdued,
A vicious parent shaming still its child
Poor anxious penitence, is quick dissolved;
Its discords, quenched by meeting harmonies,
Die in the large and charitable air.
And all our rarer, better, truer self,
That sobbed religiously in yearning song,
That watched to ease the burthen of the world,
Laboriously tracing what must be,
And what may yet be better— saw within
A worthier image for the sanctuary,
And shaped it forth before the multitude
Divinely human, raising worship so
To higher reference more mixed with love—
That better self shall live till human Time
Shall fold its eyelids, and the human sky
Be gathered like a scroll within the tomb
Unread for ever.

    This is life to come,
Which martyred men have made more glorious
For us who strive to follow. May I reach
That purest heaven, be to other souls
The cup of strength in some great agony,
Enkindle generous ardour, feed pure love,
Beget the smiles that have no cruelty—
Be the sweet presence of a good diffused,
And in diffusion ever more intense.
So shall I join the choir invisible
Whose music is the gladness of the world.

To learn more about George Eliot (real name was Mary Ann Evans) go here.

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