Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Art of Death

A few years ago I started collecting suicide notes. I thought it was interesting, the last thing a person chose to write, just before they ended their lives. Those sad, powerful, touching words, blasting you away with their intensity. This particular obsession was sparked off by The Hours. Much of the plot seemed to be centered around Virginia Woolf's suicide note, and as I listened to it, I thought, tears in my eyes: "How beautiful, how unutterably beautiful."

Of course, I had a lot of material to work with. Or so I thought. I mean how many artists, writers, singers out there have committed suicide? A bushel and then some. But surprisingly, even the most eloquent, articulate writers on death didn't seem to have left a note. Like Ernest Hemmingway. Or Sylvia Plath. So for the Sylvia Plath entry into my album of suicide notes, I used Lady Lazarus.

Is an art, like everything else,
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.

With Anne Sexton, I was spoilt for choice. Of course, there was the only Suicide Note she left, where she declared:

But surely you know that everyone has a death,
his own death,
waiting for him.
So I will go now
without old age or disease.

And her obituary for Sylvia Plath which swung wildly from sadness:

Sylvia, Sylvia
where did you go
after you wrote me
from Devonshire
about raising potatoes and keeping bees?

to envious anger:

Thief! how did you crawl into...
the death I wanted so badly and for so long.

to a tired resignation:

and I see now we store him up
year after year,
old suicides.

And she invokes the fraternity of self obliteration in the poem Waiting to Die:

Suicides have a special language
Like carpenters they want to know
which tools.
They never ask why build.

And then of course, there was Virginia Woolf's own suicide note to her husband Leonard, which I dug up from the Internet:

If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can't go on spoiling your life any longer. I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been.

And Kurt Cobain's:

Thank you all from the pit of my burning nauseous stomach for your letters and concern during the last years. I'm
pretty much of an erratic moody person and I don't have the passion anymore.

Surprisingly, one of my favourite suicide notes was fictitious. It was the one Marcus's mother writes to him in About a Boy. I remember sitting in MPH and surreptitiously copying it into a notebook. As I don't have my suicide album with me now, I can't give you an excerpt from that.

But of course, it was not enough to read other people's suicide notes. I had to write my own. So one dark winter's day, in the holidays, when I felt lonely, isolated and suitably depressed, I penned the following. I am happy to say it freaked my poetry lecturer out:

Maybe I would start with
I am sorry,
(but am I?
if I was,
I wouldn't)

Then I would say
but I can't go on.
Life is not worth living.
It's not that I feel too much,
(although sometimes I do)
It's that more and more
I feel nothing
Nothing at all.
Like there is a scar,
where my heart used to be.

Even pain can't hurt me anymore.
Isn't that terrible?
Even love can't make me feel.
But what am I talking about?
There is no love.
Only lovers,
And sooner or later
they all merge into one.
The one I don't want to be with.

And maybe I would say:
I am sorry to do this to you,
to leave you with this grief,
these questions.

But who am I kidding anyway?
Let's make a deal,
I won't pretend to be sorry,
and you don't pretend to cry.

What I am sorry for is the embarrassment.
Suicides are always embarrassing,
If I knew how to do this quietly,
so there would be no body,
I would.

But as it is...

Don't bother with a funeral
No open casket with the curious
breathing into my skin.

Burn me instantly.
And scatter my ashes anywhere.
I'm not particular,
Maybe on a vegetable patch
So I could fertilise tomatoes
or broccoli.

I could end by telling you I loved you,
in spite of it all,
And that I would miss you,
but let's keep it simple, shall we?

Good luck with your life,
Hope it turns out better
than mine.
And if it doesn't
you can spend your time
perfecting your own suicide note.


And that's all I have to say about that.


m said...

oh, I love that one from About a Boy as well.

I always wonder about those who leave no note at all..

Jenn said...

Yeah, it is etiquette to leave a note, to save people the trouble of investigating your murder. Also your last words are of serious interest.


Shhhh, I hear comments tumbling down from the peanut gallery ...

Read "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers" by Mary Roach if you have not already. Suprisingly, it's really funny. Also, if I'm not mistaken, William Cullen Bryant’s poem Thanatopsis is one of the world's oldest poems. Roughly translated from Greek (thanatos = death and opsis = seeing), Thanatopsis is "an interpretation of death."

Jenn said...

Sure thing Stolie. Thanks for the reco. I'll get to it when I finish the two nasty exams ahead of me.

stretch td said...

a morbid fascination ...

Jenn said...

As opposed to say, sex? Was it Freud who linked death and sex? Primal urges and all that?

Anonymous said...

Found your blog by accident and had to say, I like your suicide note poem. Very spare and unsentimental. My favorite suicide note was penned by Langston Hughes:

Suicide's Note:
The Calm
Cool face of the river
Asked me for a kiss.

Try and wrap your mind around that one!

Jenn said...

Anon: Loved the poem. As you knew I would. Why dontcha identify yourself? The people I love the most share my brand of personal dementia.

Actually, scrap that, cos the people I love the most, think I need serious therapy.