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May wasn't eternal: A story and a poem

I am going to tell you a story.

Early June 2022 it was my dad’s funeral. In Mexico, where I am from, you are meant to have a funeral the same or next day after the person has died. This normally lasts 2 days.

The first day is ‘the vigil’, where loved ones tend to stay with the body, accompanying the dead person. The second day, due to Catholic traditions, a mass is conducted by a priest. On this day, the body is either cremated or buried.

During the second day of my dad’s funeral, the ‘funeral’ home read a beautiful poem before taking his body for cremation. I found this poem very moving, I don’t remember exactly what it said, but the message was clear:

I will live in your heart, so don’t use the past tense when you talk about me, it is a sad moment but the last thing I want to cause you is pain. I will always love you.

I found it moving because I thought those were the words my dad wanted us to hear.

So the reading finished and I followed the funeral director and I asked:

-‘Excuse me, has my dad chosen this poem?’

To what he replied:

- ‘I am sorry, no, we read this poem in every funeral’

So there was me, slightly disappointed that I did not get to hear some final words of wisdom from my dad. I don’t blame him, but I keep thinking that it would have been so comforting to read something he chose for us whenever I miss him.

Sad Head GIF by Buick

Me after talking to the funeral director lol

Fortunately had a reflective mind, he liked his philosophy books and always had good quotes to share with me.

Then I remembered a poem he used to know by heart and would, every so often, recite it to me in its entirety or share specific verses, depending on the occasion or the message he wanted to convey.

Today, I want to share this poem with you. It was written in 1915 by Amado Nervo, a Mexican poet. He wrote this poem a few years after his wife’s death and 4 years before his own. As its original version is in Spanish, the English translation doesn’t fully replicate Nervo’s rhyming and linguistic nuances, but it still captures the essence.

Nonetheless, here it is:

At Peace

Very near my sunset, I bless you, life
because you never gave me neither unfilled hope
nor unfair work, nor undeserved sorrow.

Because I see at the end of my rough way
that I was the architect of my own destiny
and if I extracted the sweetness or the bitterness of things
it was because I put the sweetness or the bitterness in them
when I planted rose bushes I always harvested roses

Certainly, winter is going to follow my youth
but you didn’t tell me that May was eternal
I found without a doubt long my nights of pain
but you didn’t promise me only good nights
and in exchange I had some peaceful ones

I loved, I was loved, the sun caressed my face

Life, you owe me nothing, life, we are at peace!

I know if my dad would have chosen a poem to reflect about his life, it would have been this one.

I know he found solace within these paragraphs and now, we share this feeling. Funnily enough, the last day my dad was conscious was 31st May (and the last time we spoke) and one of the verses says ‘but you didn’t tell me that May was eternal’. So yea, I have decided this is his poem.

Even when poetry is used at school to help improve our memory, if read with intent, it encourages self-reflection. In fact, MRI scanning tells us that our brains react to it in a deep emotional way.

Poetry unlocks our emotions, it can help express difficult or complex feelings and allows us to process them.

For example, with this poem we could infer that Amado Nervo, the author, was at peace with himself and the paths he chose, whether right or wrong. The fact that my dad liked this poem so much meant he identified with it, it felt it was for him.

But, do I know what he would have wanted me to hear after his death? No, I can only imagine.

What would you do?


and finally, here is the original version of the poem for those of you who speak Spanish 😊

En Paz

Muy cerca de mi ocaso, yo te bendigo, vida,
porque nunca me diste ni esperanza fallida,
ni trabajos injustos, ni pena inmerecida;

porque veo al final de mi rudo camino
que yo fui el arquitecto de mi propio destino;

que si extraje las mieles o la hiel de las cosas,
fue porque en ellas puse hiel o mieles sabrosas:
cuando planté rosales, coseché siempre rosas.

…Cierto, a mis lozanías va a seguir el invierno:
¡mas tú no me dijiste que mayo fuese eterno!

Hallé sin duda largas las noches de mis penas;
mas no me prometiste tan sólo noches buenas;
y en cambio tuve algunas santamente serenas…

Amé, fui amado, el sol acarició mi faz.
¡Vida, nada me debes! ¡Vida, estamos en paz!

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