In “The Final Wait,” I express the progression of feelings and afterlife imaginings that beset my heart and mind when I ponder the fateful bell-strikes that sound throughout the poignantly joyful alto aria, BWV 53.
When Balint asked me to base my poem on this aria, he suggested a ritornello form. This form lends itself naturally to the speaker’s vacillation between impressions of her present state – on a sickbed, perhaps – and visions of what death might bring. But the speaker does not stagnate in her ruminations. She journeys through territories of memory and imagination, beholding alternately fearsome and beautiful inventions of her mind, or perhaps premonitions of a life to come. Through the poem, she moves from anxious waiting, into a mysterious light, then back to her lonely, deadening surroundings. Then, more vividly, she sees angels, demons, friends, and heaven’s landscapes. By the end of the aria, she is “ready”. Perhaps her diverse musings have satisfied her curious mind, perhaps she is simply exhausted; or maybe she has glimpsed truth in places as yet uncharted by us, and there found comfort.
Clock ticking, unforgiving. What will come with the striking bell?
My heart-beats come faster, wishing time would come slower
Closer and closer I’m coming to the unknown hour
What is this illuminating light, in my ruminating mind—
Is it from the sun that warmed my childhood walks?
Is it of the Son, that humble holy one?
Sun or Son, Lux aeterna, will my shortening candle’s flame became you?
Angels, I can see you! Will you lift this heavy body?
Share your feathered wings with me,
Lift me flying to a perpetual place
Of growing life, where strong hearts beat
My heart-beats hasten. I fear.
Evil spirits! Dead spirits!
Wailing in my frightened ears, biting at my skin.
Night grows darker, my mind is dim.
Yet – I see a table, set with delights,
And people whose hearts have struggled and laughed with mine
My beloved ones gather to sing and feast, faces lit with life.
Is it Heaven I’m seeing, or only Earth?
Heaven! In heaven are there pastures? I see verdant pastures,
They are irrigated with waters from rivers of life, flowing from tears of love.
Lavender and jades, grains and bushes, forests!
And beyond them, flocks of creatures, strange and kind
I wait, I wait for my end to come, an answer to my questions:
I cannot resist the pulse of time, the final beat and bell
My heart hopes, heavy and hoping.
I’m ready for the rest