To silver glass
A light on the water
Grey ships pass
Into the West
For some reason, the song Into the West, from The Lord of the Rings movie, has been the soundtrack in my mind these past few days. It's an interesting song, blending themes of death and farewell, rest and reunion. Annie Lennox's voice is ethereal, it haunts and comforts at the same time.
The song draws from Gandalf's description of what happens after death as he and Pippin fear the defeat of Minas Tirith. "Fear not," Gandalf says. "Death is only the doorway to the next realm. The dawn will come; all will turn to silver glass, and beyond is a golden shore." It also references Frodo's departure from Middle Earth as he takes the last elven ship from Gray Havens into the western sea, leaving Sam, Merry and Pippin behind to live out their lives in the shire.
But with its invocation of sleep it also speaks to me of the end of a period of life which is extremely difficult. In the movie, we hear strains of this melody while the eagles come to rescue Frodo and Sam from certain death after they've cast the ring into the fires of Mount Doom. Safe in the "arms" of the giant birds they are carried back to places of rest and recovery.
The cycle of death and resurrection, while physically real, is also spiritually/psychically symbolic. As our soul moves toward maturity we journey through difficult phases which wear us down to our last breath. Like the caterpillar dissolving in the coccoon, we may feel that we will never return to who we were. And although this is correct, it is also not the end. There is life on the other side.
Die while you're alive
and be absolutely dead.
Then do whatever you want:
it's all good.
says Bunan, a Zen poet from the 17th century. Or, as Rilke tells us in the following poem, we will become free, through all we have given up, to enjoy mastery.
Dove that ventured outside, flying far from the dovecote;
housed and protected again, one with the day, the night,
knows what serenity is, for she has felt her wings
pass through all distance and fear in the course of her wanderings.
The doves that remained at home, never exposed to loss,
innocent and seure, cannot know tenderness;
only the won-back heart can ever be satisfied: free,
through all it has given up, to rejoice in its mastery.
Being arches itself over the vast abyss,
Ah the ball that we dared, that we hurled into infinite space,
doesn't it fill our hands differently with its return:
heavier by the weight of where it has been.
Perhaps what I love the most about Lennox's song is the soaring phrase that begins each chorus: What do you see on the horizon? Who can know? it has not yet come into focus. But it will be more real, I think. We will be more real. Heavier, and yet somehow lighter, too. Having passed through all distance and fear, we will know what serenity is and call all things good.