Death Stalks the Library ... Poetically

by Bill Peak

At the beginning of his poem The Waste Land, T. S. Eliot declares, “April is the cruelest month,” and this year I would have to agree. April is National Poetry Month-which the library has always celebrated with readings and poetry book displays and bulletin boards full of our patrons' favorite verses—but it now looks as if April will also be the month we finally get to move back into our beautiful, new Easton library. Which means that, at least so far as the Easton branch is concerned, this year we must forgo nearly all the joyful razzmatazz of Poetry Month. Indeed, except for the Friends' Annual Poetry Contest (which is in full swing), the only part of our customary National Poetry Month celebrations we've managed to salvage is our annual night of poetry discussion-and I could do this only by squeezing it in on the very last day of Poetry Month: April 30.

Then, as if to add insult to injury, the subject chosen long ago for this year's discussion now seems, with hindsight, less than promising. Last year we talked about poems devoted to love, so this year (having no idea National Poetry Month would coincide with the opening of our new branch) what topic did Bill in all his wisdom select for the focus of our poetry? Well, none other than the big kahuna itself: death.

All right, I know, but trust me, it's not as unreasonable a choice as, at first blush, it may seem. Love and death have long been two of poetry's mainstays. Indeed, the subjects are often joined, as in Robert Herrick's famous 17th Century advice “To the Virgins...”

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

Besides, death gets a bad press. Gene Roddenberry's assertions to the contrary notwithstanding, death really and truly is the final frontier. Without its admittedly rather florid punctuation mark, many of our greatest stories would trail off into meaningless chatter. Death is the immortal adversary, the end that makes everyone's life—however small and inconsequential—heroic. As Jack Gilbert's poem A Brief for the Defense proclaims, “If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down, / we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.”

So, if you're not afraid to have a bit of a laugh at death's expense, and maybe a bit of a shudder as well, go to and read the poems we'll be discussing, then call the library and sign up for our evening's solemnities. I look forward to hearing what you have to say. Hooo-hah-hah-hah-hah-hah!

(As this column went to press, I learned the Easton library will be closed on the 30th for our move back to 100 West Dover Street, so our April 30 poetry discussion will take place instead at the Brookletts Place Senior Center, 400 Brookletts Ave., Easton. All of which means the final Hooo-hah-hah is on me!)