Death, The Opaque, The Creation and A Meaningful Life

To take the void in one’s hand/ – To be stripped of everything,/ To sweat one’s own heart/ Rejected in the desert…
Henri Michaux

On the Road to Death

On the street of Death,
my mother met a great ice field;
She wanted to speak,
it was already late,
A great cotton ice field.

She looked at us my brother and I,
And then she cried,

We told her – a truly absurd lie –
that we understood.
And then she smiled the very gracious smile,
of a young girl,
that was truly herself,
Such a lovely smile, almost bashful;
And was taken into the Opaque.

Henri Michaux

Is this poem about the death of a mother? Or reaction on mother’s death in a form of night dream? – Or is it about the perception of death? People try to disregard mortality in order to help themselves to live – optimal optimism can help “survival”. They invent and re-invent life after death, as if transition from life to death is a belch between two pieces of the meal. Or/and they invent signifiers of eternity inside life, kind of absolutes with metaphysical status and pathos – money, political ideologies, jingoistic euphoria, hobbies like amorous affairs, sex, drugs, pop-music, obsessions like guns, wars, hate, rivalry, or phobias like racism, machoism, xeno- and homophobia, misogynism, anti-feminism, etc. By clinging to these fetishes (which as if saving us from non-being as sucking the mother’s nipple/breast – the baby) humans unconsciously feel that they already, in life, belong to eternity. And then they feel “confident enough” to fight for their right to live, as if, forever.

Michaux’s poem “On the Road to Death” addresses the poetic but not the sentimental, existentially courageous, but without (homicidal or suicidal) bravado, encounter with death.

In cultures armed with high-tech medical technology and desperately trying to overcome mortality, to mention death as Michaux does in this poem means to show the absence of any psychological defensiveness against death and by this the psychological maturity to be on the level of Creation (if to add this capitalized word to two mentioned in the poem – Death and Opaque – if Death is the Opaque seen in human perspective, the Opaque, it seems, is how Michaux comprehends the essence of Death).

May be, the desire “to speak” that Michaux focuses on in the third line of the poem, is always on the bottom of the desire to talk/to complain about our mortality, to share this ultimate truth of our life which our consciousness tries to keep outside the walls and doors, as if, it is a thief or a murderer. We always mix mortality and violent death. For us, recruits of history and slaves of social circumstances this differentiation between the two is too much. But it’s not so for the protagonists of Michaux’ poem.

“She looked at us my brother and I/And then she cried”. There is no shame in crying – the awareness of the nearing death is more courageous than to meet it with a psychological armor, with a stiffened body and hardened nerves and soul – crying is an abode of understanding that death is a part of our destiny, that it is wise to have a limit of our existential achievements – this test of the degree of creative understanding of a life we achieved.

“We told her – a truly absurd lie/ – that we understood.” Her sons’ lie is not only as natural as their mother’s crying, but it’s the best that human beings can do in a situation when the dear person’s mortality is coming to finalize itself. But it’s the mother’s reaction on her sons’ lie seems to be the semantic culmination of the poem.

“And then she smiled the very gracious smile,/of a young girl,/that was truly herself,/Such a lovely smile, almost bashful;”. It is the sons’ lie that they understood what mother is going through, what made her to become truly herself, with her gracious coy smile “of a young girl”. It is this lie of solidarity in front of her Death that gave her the chance to feel that natural death is not violence against life but the final, may be, the most important part of it, the conclusion of life as its apotheosis. It is the sons’ lie gave chance to the mother to meet death while being “truly herself” – the most adequate way, according to the poem, to complete one’s life.

Michaux’s “On the Road to death” teaches us that it’s not belligerency towards scapegoats fabricated by our leaders obsessed with despotic power over our planet, is our destiny but the ability for a shy smile in front of death – the ability not to be afraid of mortality and, therefore, not to be absurdly militant during our life of permanent and desperate fighting with “agents of our death” – our “enemies” whom we in our senile condition perceive as enemies of our immortality.

Henri Michaux, 1899 – 1984
Henri Michaux, (1899 – 1984)