Death stands above me, whispering low
I know not what into my ear:
Of his strange language all I know
Is, there is not a word of fear.
By Walter Savage Landor, who died this day, 1864, in Florence.
Landor maintains his refusal to be cowed by the prospect of death. This stone is carved as a Celtic cross with the Jesus (IHS) monogram in the centre and the passion flower climbing to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus and of humanity.
We are unlikely to be asked to die for the sake of our earth, more to live so as to let her flourish; there are many little steps we can take, in our diet, our use of electricity, our purchasing of more stuff than we need or can use. Many little steps do make a difference. If we choose to live with more respect and love for Mother Earth, we will discern what to do next.
Leaf after leaf drops off, flower after flower,
Some in the chill, some in the warmer hour:
Alike they flourish and alike they fall,
And Earth who nourished them receives them all.
Should we, her wiser sons, be less content
To sink into her lap when life is spent?
Walter Savage Landor.
Landor was born in 1775, the year that Johnson sailed and preached on death. Landor’s take is rather different, but does not quite address Johnson’s point. Why, rather, should we be content simply to sink into earth’s lap? Is our existence then ultimately meaningless, vanity? Is there any point in repairing some of the damage that’s been done to our Mother Earth?
Christ intervened to restore meaning to human life, to answer such questions as these. He lived and died a perfect life but still cried out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ The stoical acceptance Landor espouses here is another matter altogether and ultimately nihilist. True wisdom is more than intellectual; there is wisdom in love, in care for others, in care for creation: we have reason not to be content to sink into Mother Earth’s lap when we consider how much of our life has done her harm.
When we pray things like “O God whom I praise, do not be silent, for the mouths of deceit and wickedness are opened against me” (108:1), or “When I think I have lost my foothold, your mercy Lord, holds me up” (93:18), or “I am beset with evils…” (39:13) and so on, the “I” in any given psalm can become our “I” when we’re praying, no matter what our mood might be at that particular time.