Sunday, February 01, 2009

Requiem for John Updike

John Updike's Proleptic Demise
(Image from Slate, by Elliott Erwitt)

John Updike died the other day at 76, and I've been wondering what to say, but as I see from Wednesday's New York Times, he put the words best in a recent poem soon to be officially published in Endpoint and Other Poems:
It came to me the other day:
Were I to die, no one would say,
"Oh, what a shame! So young, so full
Of promise -- depths unplumbable!"

Instead, a shrug and tearless eyes
Will greet my overdue demise;
The wide response will be, I know,
"I thought he died a while ago."

For life's a shabby subterfuge,
And death is real, and dark, and huge.
The shock of it will register
Nowhere but where it will occur.
Perhaps thinking of this posthumously appearing poem, Verlyn Klinkenborg, writing for the Times but whose column I first read in this Friday's Seoul edition of the International Herald Tribune, remarked:
"If you had to choose a writer to report from the afterlife, could you do better than John Updike?"
Maybe, but maybe not, as the photo above suggests. Perhaps he'd have few definite answers to report on from the world to come, and new doubts would doubtless arise in the mind of a man such as he, who stands like a perplexed Kierkegaard before a church door through which he never quite fully enters in.

Or rather, he gazes still like Robert Frost into that mysterious winter forest, watching the snow fall with easy wind on downy flake, reminding us that the woods are lovely, dark, and deep but also real, and dark, and huge, and God's last promise we should keep, to end our shabby subterfuge.

Rest in peace, Mr. Updike.

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At 3:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I will tip a glass to Mr. Updike. I found his work enjoyable and easy to read.


At 4:05 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Tim, I've read less of Updike than I should have, I guess, for I really like this "Requiem" poem, which reminds me of Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" -- and was perhaps intended to allude to it.

Jeffery Hodges

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