Death is the mother of beauty

Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,

Alone, shall come fulfilment to our dreams

And our desires.

From Sunday Morning, by Wallace Stevens Sunday Morning by Wallace Stevens | Poetry Magazine (

This is our conversation so far, begun in a previous thread:

Paul: Suppose we have the most marvellous relationship, full of vibrancy and joy. Yet one day it will all come to an end. Death will intervene. Can we therefore include death in our relationship, not push it away as though it doesn’t matter?

Rick: Yes, death should be included. It demands to be included, though we might ignore or repress that demand. Impermanence, sorrow, fear, loss, ending, these are all part of the relationship package.

Paul: There is no doubt that we are connected in some way, is there? We have our shared history, if nothing else. Does our connection define our relationship? Or is relationship about something entirely different from connection?

Rick: If time were removed from the equation, if there were no past, no future, just whatever is happening between us now, would there be a relationship? A connection, perhaps, by virtue of sharing the present moment. But relationship seems to imply/require history.

Paul: Yet death is also the total absence of history. Death and dying is about something other than time. And life without dying is no life at all.

Rick: Let’s explore!

Probably the first logical thing to do with this topic is to turn the supposition at the head of the conversation - that we have a marvellous relationship full of vibrancy and joy - into a fact. Then we are no longer dealing with a dead idea which we can comfortably and conceptually kick around; but instead we have to meet each other in the midst of a living phenomenon with all the fragility and uncertainty that comes with it. Otherwise, this will all be theoretical, won’t it?

Full of life and mystery, yes.

Is the desire for this kind of relationship any different from the actuality of it? I am talking specifically about the desire for mystery.

When you desire mystery, you are probably desiring some form of mystique, glamour, power.

When you see mystery, the actuality of it, you are basically saying: I don’t know.

I wonder if there is really any difference between the desire and the actuality. What is desire for mystery? Isn’t it a desire for the unknown and the new?

What makes us desire the unknown, the new? Isn’t it sometimes (often?) the hunger for mystique, glamour, power? Meaning? If I say “Life is a mystery” I invest it with psychological richness, right?

Mystique, glamour and power all have images attached. Is there any image of the new or the unknown? Can there be?

Yes, definitely. But the question is: Are these really images of the new and unknown or are they images of our images of the new and unknown? Do you understand what I mean?

Are we confusing the new with the better or the good? There are plenty of images of a better life or a good life, aren’t there? But any image of the new is quite impossible.

When I think of ‘the new,’ when I image-ine it, it has a feeling, a look, a texture. It’s sparkly and fresh and pure. As enjoyable as this image is, if I mistake it for the actual new, I’m nurturing incoherence and delusion.

The actual new, like the actual unknown is, by definition, unknowable. It can only be imagined.

Is death unknowable?

So there is no actual new or unknown at all, is there? From this side of the fence, all we have are our ideas and images of what lies beyond the fence. And none of those images and ideas have anything to do with the new and unknown - they are merely reactions from the known, they are products of the past. It is only the death of the old that reveals whether or not there is even a fence, never mind what lies beyond it. So when is death? When actually do we die? Or, in operating from the old and the unknown, are we already dead? And have we got the whole thing quite the wrong way round? In other words, death is very knowable: it is here in our thoughts and ideas.

1 Like

Yes. Even the idea of a fence at the farthest reach of the known is just that: an idea.

It is only the death of the old that reveals whether or not there is even a fence, never mind what lies beyond it.

It seems the known/old doesn’t reveal the unknown/new, rather hides it.

So when is death? When actually do we die?

Are we sharing the same understanding of ‘death?’ If not, ahoy Tower of Babel! So let’s agree.

Death, what is it?

An ending?
A transition?
An idea?

An ending which is also a beginning? - freedom from the known.

Isn’t all psychological thought a form of death? That is, any thought of mine about you or any thought of yours about me - these thoughts may change, the images may modify themselves, but the thought and the image is never alive. The thought and the image is a dead representation of a moving, changing phenomenon. Thought is a movement from one dead thing to another. Because it is moving, it has the appearance of being something alive while yet dead. When this movement stops, which is the ending of thought, then living and dying are not separate from one another. Therefore, any relationship that negates thought is already outside the field of death. But there is another field altogether where living and dying run together.

As I see things: Thoughts and images are alive, it’s what they represent that are not. When I remember the 22 year old Rick who had just moved to Heidelberg, the memories-feelings that arise are alive, filled with energy and movement, while the 22 year old Rick is long gone. So the issue is not that the images are dead, rather the actuality they represent is, and the brain is all too easily fooled into believing that the images are the actuality.

Thought is a movement from one dead thing to another.

Now this sounds right to me, the things thought recalls are dead und gone.

Because it is moving, it has the appearance of being something alive while yet dead.

This is where our understandings part: For me thought is very alive. Or at least it can be.

What might begin with death?

A vacation for the mind… Freedom.

Are you thinking of physical death, psychological death, both, neither?

Yet thought has no direct contact with actuality. Therefore, is it living? There is a difference between being alive and living, just as there is a difference between being dead and dying. One cannot be alive and dead at the same time; whereas living and dying cannot exist one without the other. Although thought may feel alive, it is only being resurrected with the aid of memory. What happens when thought and memory stay dead by remaining completely quiet and inactive? What happens then in our relationship with each other?