Bioethics Discussion Blog: What is Death? (1)

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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

What is Death? (1)

Defining death should be simple. It used to be simple but now it is very complex and controversial. To start out this thread and “get into the mood”, I would like to post a poem by Walt Whitman “Song of Myself” Part VI where he talks about the grass of the graveyard to help him understand what is happening to those buried there and what they are now representing. The discussion of what is death also deals with the issue of what is personhood. And this is one of the elements of the complexity. ..Maurice.


A child said What is the grass? fetching it to me with full
hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any
more than he.
I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful
green stuff woven.

Or I guess if is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner's name someway in the corners, that we
may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of
the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow
zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the
same, I receive then the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be you are from old people, or from offspring taken,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them,
soon out of their mother's laps,
And here you are the mothers' laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old
mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues,
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths
for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men
and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring
taken soon out of their laps.
What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and
children?

They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait
at the end to arrest it,
And ceas'd the moment life appear'd.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and
luckier.

1 Comments:

At Thursday, March 10, 2005 12:40:00 PM, Blogger Bioethics Dude said...

Dang! That is a crushing way to start out a dialogue on defining death! A poem! Wow. The Dude was ready to get head long into the definition as explored the Harvard Ad Hoc Committee and concepts of death as expounded upon by several philosophers that the Dude just finished reading, and then…wait, let’s read the poem. I’m looking forward to this. Thank you.

 

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