Life insurance

O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’–that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

–“Ode on a Grecian Urn,” final stanza

I’ve learned and forgotten dozens of poems, but I always ensure that this one never slips my mind: “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats. I intend for it to become so ingrained in my memory that, even when I am 70 or 80 or 90 years old and have lost my my memories, my relationships, or even my identity, this poem will still be there, deep down and unforgettable. If I have to forget everything, then I want this to be the last thing I remember; you could call it my life insurance.

Photo: manuscript of the Ode from here.


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