Shadowing the GroundBook - 1991
The character of a person, and the worth of a poet, may be judged by how he or she comes to terms with death. David Ignatow, not in his late 70s, faces the prospect of death squarely and speaks with quiet authority of his puzzlement, anger, grief, and ultimate acceptance. In 66 short poems, that together form one monumental work, Ignatow describes what it is to grow old--the isolation, loss of loved ones, idle hours, long walks --and ponders the elemental conundrum of ceasing to exist: "Why was I born if I have to die,/ buzzed the fly, and buzzed and buzzed." He demonstrates his greatness as a poet when he moves beyond somberness to turn the awe of death into a heightened awareness of life and a force that clarifies how we should spend our brief time on this earth.
Divided into three sections, Ignatow's conversational meditations are at first ironic and humorous as he addresses "you fool of a cosmos." He then becomes more personal, considering what his dead parents would think of him as a white-haired old man, recalling the "silent company" of the last years with his aging wife, realizing that "it is death to be alone." Ultimately, he finds solace in the natural world--the sound of rain, smell of grass, warmth of sunshine. Without becoming sentimental or mystical, he sees that death is much the glory and handiwork of god (if there be one) as are the mountains and the flowers, which will also die. The poet turns from self-absorption, sadness and regret to see death's power as a reflection of life's wonder: "I look/ out upon the dark, knowing/ death as one form/ of transcendence, but/ so is life."