Jon pointed me years ago to this nearly perfect poem by A.E. Houseman:

Here dead lie we because we did not choose
To live and shame the land from which we sprung.

Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
But young men think it is, and we were young.

I have been reflecting on this very deep poem and, last night, composed an essay of sorts:

Life is nothing much to lose. Who says this? Who could say such a thing? The voice of the poem couldn’t be the young man who was the living first person referred to in the first line. The one who lies and the one who did not choose to live. That man believes that life is something much to lose. The voice speaking the lines must be very old. Either old in the old familiar way of years– old enough to be ready to let life go without going to pieces – or old as the universe, so that the extinguishing of life really seems like nothing.

Can one learn to not hate death? Can one come to say that life is nothing much to lose since ‘life’ is what is left of life, not what has been lived? A young man sees the worth of living in the potential of living. Who will I marry? What will my kids be like? What shape will my career take? How will I gain notoriety? What will I learn? What experiences will I live through? What hills will I climb? The life left for a man entering his prime is surely something indeed to lose – from his own perspective at least. Can one live enough to change this perspective?

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