In memoriam Tennyson said
Nine years of things about his friend
Who’d died. He brought him back by slow
Degrees, from sunsets, wind in the trees,
Gathering pieces painstakingly.
Tennyson, in his purity,
He never lied, never missed his line.
Grief became him metrically.
It made him blind. All he could see
Was Hallam’s absence: the whole world
A cancelled cheque, crumpled and furled,
Unspent inside his pocketbook.
There its yellowing edges curled
Until his friend crept out, imbued
Everything and made it new.
At second look, he saw it through
Lost eyes, and it was dearer far
Than it had been before. A borrowed
Death does that for you. Your own cannot.
We each will miss the lesson that
We’ve taught. Compassion is what we learn
From those who die and don’t return.
Grief gives us that hitch in the eye,
Catching on things as they pass by.
The Art of Dying by Sarah Tolmie is nominated for the 2019 Griffin Poetry Prize, which will be announced on June 6, 2019. This poem is republished with permission.
Sarah Tolmie is associate professor of English at the University of Waterloo. Her poetry collection Trio was shortlisted for the 2016 Pat Lowther Memorial Award.