Sunsets bid farewell to death, welcome life

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, May 31, 2018

P.E.I. sunsets inspire Joan MacRae to recall John Donne’s sonnet “Death, Be Not Proud.” Photos by Joan MacRae

Whenever Joan MacRae views a sunset from her deck on P.E.I., she recalls a poem that sees beyond the fading glow to the hope beyond. I was originally intending to run her story last week, but Jack Tennant’s death delayed her story till this week. As a result, Joan has requested that her sunset photos and story be her personal tribute to the legendary journalist and community builder.

At the turn of the century, Joan was very much part of the live-theatre scene in Cochrane – for example, the Vision Theatre Players Guild production of On Golden Pond. In 2002 she and her husband moved to Malpeque, P.E.I., and added to her artistic achievements some exceptional sunset photography. From her deck she often experiences sunsets to die for, she says – and to inspire thoughts beyond the grave.

Recently she sent me a photo and said, “This was a sunset that made me feel that I was going to pass away that night.”

That opened a discussion around her favourite poem that often comes to mind at such sunset moments: the early 17th century poet John Donne’s sonnet Death, Be Not Proud:

Death, be not proud,
    though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st
    thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death,
    nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep,
    which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure;
    then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men
    with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance,
    kings, and desperate me,
And dost with poison, war,
    and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms
    can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke;
    why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more;
    Death, thou shalt die.

Yes, beyond the sunset there is a blissful morning – the dawn of a day that has no sunset. For if sunsets, like Death, emphasize the mortality of our temporal days, there comes a time when “one short sleep past, we wake eternally” to die no more.

Thanks, Joan, for this tribute to Jack.


© 2018 Warren Harbeck

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