Compline - A Song for the Dying




The following is the Compline Prayer from a full length piece I've been working on since 2014. The full piece is called "Breviary: A Poem of Some Reverence." The Compline Office is a reflection of what a peaceful death might look like, and is structured along the lines of the traditional Monastic Office. It is one of my favorite segments, that contains the fullness of faith, doubt, and hope of a life one hopes was lived fully. - Br. K



Compline - A Song for the Dying

Opening Verse
Night, sweet rest, abide with us,
as these eyes close against the longest dark,
      let peace blessedly remain.

And so, at last we come to the inevitable tale:

A Brief Lesson
AMBLE through these gates, we’ll wash our hands of transient things. There is a singularity that echoes here against the ground that gently heaves beneath us, while the emptiness above is undisturbed, untroubled by the time that passes swiftly by. The breath-rattle of the turning clock-hand, the keening of the drying river bed; each step toward the future is a moment soon reduced to just one limitless yet barest of essentials. Our winter stretches yawning wide against us, while these unequalled hearts unbind from all the knowing they once thought they knew. Death is no beginning nor an end, when all that was comes back to us again.

What will help us face the death of light now faded
      whose dancing day, rejoicing, sooner ends.
And so, we say our prayers, proclaim our fate:

Our Father in heaven…
REVEALED, you forging light, refiner
      of the rawness of our being, purge and claim.
Within these perfect flames of love,
      you fire-song, you dancing tongues
of majesty, consume me.
You descender of the depths, you setting star,
      you gliding all-illuminator here beneath,
our hope in dark, or chariot seat of endless
      and unnumbered days; what farewell suffices
to attend the one who bears away
      our sorrow, burned to embers that these
hearts now swiftly dance with death.

I speak the truth aloud so you may know me!

I AM a wandering soul
      from the beginning of the world,
untamed spirit here beneath my
      tattered clothes, and this fraught skin.
Wild and unruly thing and wayward
      among the countless and unnumbered
choices I have made, yet am I
      now unknown, unknowable?
How shall I confess that I have now
      only discovered what I am, my truth,
      as these eyes now grow dim in death?
While this heart remembers — deeply
      reckons — that I am merely ground
on which your playful spirit dances,
      let our feet entangle out upon
this fertile plain, among the untamed
      ghosts of my own mothers and
my fathers— from whose unforgotten
      dust now springs the swaying grass.

That these bonds be truly broken,
      tethered as we are to this unbounded earth,
this fleeting momentary story we inhabit;
      and so be free to drink the cup of mercy
now poured out before us.

Upon these lips, the murmur of a truth, unspeakable,
      which will be heard before
            the homing flight of hearts.

Glory not our own but dimly inward, upon the face of one borne homeward, eager. Glory in this quiet fire, calling. As it was upon the Sun’s face. As it is. Ever glorious circling round again.

The Psalms
ANT: Language, our silence wants enough.

That these waiting graves may speak,
      give us a final word, a comforter,
Even as we ready to descend
      into the welcome of their dreadful walls.

The final song we cannot sing
      but is sung on our behalf by wailing
      women and the weeping earth.
Yet, you are there in that chill end;
      in the song, impermanent, which runs

Into the mouth of this ground sooner filled,
      by the river that, eternal, runs beneath.
It is enough, then, to be finished?
      Our glorious end is so like our
      beginning but more hushed.
It is enough, then, to be so received,
      whose ordinary faith is now remembered
      no more remarkably than whom had none.

Let us continue with a psalm of rest:

Gentle guardian, in this endless deep
      no bitterness or need within me find.
Green fields call where flesh is truly eased,
      a reverie, a quiet river, resting.

Whose spirit quickens, and the path of life
      before me opens true and right.
Death waits, a patient specter, in the shadow
      while quietly I leave behind
      the evil that we do, that I have done.

Your gentle lead, is purposeful,
      unfolds in light, a truer peace proclaimed.
Fix these tired eyes on the abundant earth,
      among the fretful raging and the fearful.

Anoint this head with soothing rain upon me,
      your waves of presence, gentle, fill me full.
While what I am, and what I still remain
quietly departs these fragile bones,
      I trust the long resounding echoes speaking:

Of mercy, truth, the life, the good that beckons
      as my heart finds anchorage in blazing light.

And so a final psalm at last to praise you:

You are not these stars,
      this deep and unassailable dark;
Nor the ground that waits beneath
      the soles of these long-traveled feet.

You are not this frail flesh;
      these brittle bones that rest.
You are not this ceaseless round
      that spins and spins and turns;

Nor the light that’s finally departed,
      not heaven’s mighty waters deep above,
      nor these waters here below.
Beyond these realms of life, of death,
      these varied things, these words;

Beyond this kin, this violent strain
      or this life-given flesh that dissipates;
Receive this breath as I did once.
      receive it in your mouth with
      one last kiss. Goodnight.

Glory not our own but dimly inward, upon the face of one borne homeward, eager. Glory in this quiet fire, calling. As it was upon the Sun’s face. As it is. Ever glorious circling round again.

ANT: Language...our silence.

What song shall I now long to leave behind?

A Hymn
FORGIVE that I’ve been ill equipped to love.
A ceaseless gong, a clanging, selfish thing.
But in these days, the ways that I have learned
I’ve tried to love as near as I’ve been found.

I’ve bathed in beauty, washed my senses clean,
Sought nothing but the joy that life can spare.
Was it enough? Who knows what hope has fixed?
Yet, here, all fails when I confront your name.

Upon this bank, beneath these trees, I sing.
In this still stranger land your song I find,
Even as these waters rise to claim me,
Remembering your word is love returned.

What worthy tale do we now leave to those who wait?

A Brief Lesson
YOU redeeming flood, wash over me; until I am submerged and I am drowned. Until I am consumed. I am in the belly of a fish. I am in the belly of a man. I am in the green stalk of the ground. In these grazing pastures. Beside the shepherd’s tent. In the belly of a woman whose left hand beneath her head now rests. Until some part of me is soon reborn in these low hills. In this village that we gather in. In this place where flocks and herds, grazing, are not harried. Over and again may I rise up. Until the hungry poor are satisfied and I am scattered by the wind.

Still our reaching hands below the arc of this mad sky.

Among the swaying lanterns
      in the orchard we now dance,
gathering spent arrowheads in baskets
      from the softened ground.
Beneath the wings of these red flickering tents,
      these rueful spirits into hands are offered,
as the scent of apples gently kisses
            these our singing lips.

Nunc Dimittis

ANT: That I may softly sing away
      the last of these, our dying;
even as the light departs
      from my once watchful eyes.

TO WHOM do we now quietly belong?
      Whose hearts, whose song, or eyes
around which the curtains now are drawn?
      We are not…I am not truly mine.

This heritage of stars, this salted earth,
      our en-fleshed dignity - a mere mote that dances
      in the shaft of one entrancing Sun; whose then?

You radiant light come down,
      you whispered word in this abyss,
a beating breathless welcome in the breach;
      what use, when all is yours, to then surrender.

As these veils from these eyes now are lifted,
      we depart together this vast island;
let us raise in peace these last white flags
      that you may find us as we are, victorious—
      in joyful sweet defeat.

ANT: O, that I may softly sing away
      the last of these, our dying;
even as the light departs
      from my once watchful eyes.

What mercy may be found is truly found.
      What has not was never really ours.
Close these eyes, that we may see
      that light revealed alone in darkness.
There is no sorrow-song
      along this winding path.
Well done, you faithful one,
      whose eternity now swiftly comes.
The ghosts of every one outcast receive
      the coming home of this our wayward son.

A Collect
O HUSH that blankets us before the stream; ease us gently down into these waters, that we, who drink from these last restful moments, may be refreshed by one who passes swiftly by the shore of this eternal hour, who bears us through the gentle hills until the golden city comes to pass.

Be with me, you dazzling light, a comfort
      to guide these homebound hands that reach.

And so we ask for blessing:
Beneath the dome of endless night; bless.
Beneath the stone, this heavy rumbling earth,
      within the womb of death, of life; bless.
Blessed. Be. One. Waiting.

MOTHER, in whose arms we rest, whose cords of life entangle in the soft loam of this ground; free us as we tumble toward those blazing suns.

So, now end our prayers
      ending, as we must, from where we once began:

Our Father in heaven…
REVEALED, beholder of our depths,
      in-breaker of these hearts— receive
this life-torn body in the grave. Drink
      our story deeply, eat the bitter tale of us,
alone and not alone, among these
      beautiful and weary bones now feast.
You banquet table in the ground
      of souls, you offering of flesh
or wine-spring pouring out from
      the above; what of your
truth which dares to brush
      the lips like bread; the truth which
hums, recalling, you whose gentle
      mercy is discovered re-creating
in the low-laid earth; speak your
      word into these open mouths.

Hail Mary, full of grace…

MY LOVE is in between these words, is
      in the pause, the silence of an empty
house, a story — left behind for those
      who in these haunted waters wade.
Behold, you pleasingly beloved.
      The skies will soon burst open.

What do I believe?
      To what will I lay claim in this last hour?

A Creed
I BELIEVE that love is just the end of self,
That there’s always one more threshold,
That resting in you feels like ending, and it is.
That no matter where I am, I am,
      that you are also there.
That death is just as good a myth
      as I think I’ve ever heard,
That I will never have the final word.

That surrender is a love’s truest companion,
That the void is never empty, but is filled
      with particles of sweet unending grace.
That we always re-create those things
      we think we’ve tossed away.
That there is always one more thing
      that we’ve forgotten to consider.
That the light always abides with us
      in the dark - somewhere.
That to change one’s mind is all it takes,
      the heart will follow swiftly.
That this life is enough. It is enough.

That love and justice will outlive us all,
That we are wrong more often than we’re not.
That an apology is a such small thing to be owed.
That the arc of justice bends toward now,
      and that truth doesn’t belong only to us.
That you are a doorframe in the dark.
That you are a book, a page, a word.
That you are a bell jar.
That you are a spoken thing.
That you are an endless gasp.
That you are a round face, laughing.
That you are all this foolishness and more.
That you have found me.
In this dark.
In this light.

(c) 2016, Karekin M Yarian, BSG