My plans for after I die include coming back to the living and confirming or disconfirming their ideas. In my literature courses, I often go into comedic mode for and during a writer who treats the afterlife or the meaning of death in whatever tradition. Blake or Dario. For Neruda, for some reason, Death had the color of “wet violets.” There are serious implications to this in terms of logic and musing.
I ask the students: why not just come back and inform the audience? Why bother with all this guessing.
Sometimes the response is: because you can’t.
Sometimes I respond: I guess so, as many have died and don’t return.
But then we have to head to the rules and this is where things get interesting.
I see, when alone at times,
coffins under sail
setting out with the pale dead, women in their dead braids,
bakers as white as angels,
thoughtful girls married to notaries,
coffins ascending the vertical river of the dead,
the wine-dark river to its source,
with their sails swollen with the sound of death,
filled with the silent noise of death.
Death, In terms of boundary lines, is an image and not much more. It’s not a science or subject to experiment. In the above poem, the key has to do with the size and extend of the phenomenon and, in a reading, how close and far it is, how nearby and distant.
We continue the conversation: How was the rule made that death would involve a conspiracy to withhold information? One way of getting around this is to go into Christian theology and assert that in the Christian universe governed by an Augustinian sense of time we do already know but don’t have access to the knowledge in the present mode. In this universe we are already long gone, soon to be created, and created always in the grand sum of things. There are analogies for this: someone, somewhere is playing in the key of C in the present moment, even though you might soon be doing the same but not in that present moment.
Many of my students are believers in the range of religions. But they aren’t quite sure of the arguments for or against, not quite sure of the contexts.
One of the meanings that Milton explores is the notion of rules and that there will always be an entity willing to break or test them. This is one method of creating drama. A person will test the boundaries.