Death: Ivan Ilyich


It was at this very same moment that Ivan Ilyich had fallen through the hole and caught sight of the light, and it was revealed to him that his life had not been what it ought to have been but that it was still possible to put it right. He asked himself: ‘But what is the right thing?’ and grew still, listening. Then he felt that someone was kissing his hand. He opened his eyes and looked at his son. He felt sorry for him. His wife came up to him. He looked at her. She was gazing at him with open mouth, the tears wet on her nose and cheeks, and an expression of despair on her face. He felt sorry for her.

‘Yes, I am a misery to them,’ he thought. They are sorry but it will be better for them when I die.’ He wanted to say this but had not strength to speak. ‘Besides, why speak, I must act,’ he thought. With a look he indicated his son to his wife and said:

‘Take him away … sorry for him … sorry for you too …’ He tried to add ‘Forgive me’ but said ‘Forego’ and, too weak to correct himself, waved his hand, knowing that whoever was concerned would understand.

And all at once it became clear to him that what had been oppressing him and would not go away was suddenly dropping away on one side, on two sides, on ten sides, on all sides. He felt full of pity for them, he must do something to make it less painful for them: release them and release himself from this suffering. ‘How right and how simple,’ he thought. ‘And the pain?’ he asked himself. ‘What has become of it? Where are you, pain?’

He began to watch for it.

‘Yes, here it is. Well, what of it? Let the pain be.

‘And death? Where is it?’

He searched for his former habitual fear of death and did not find it. ‘Where is it? What death?’ There was no fear because there was no fear either.

In place of death there was light.

‘So that’s what it is!’ he suddenly exclaimed aloud. ‘What joy!’

To him all this happened in a single instant, and the meaning of that instant suffered no change thereafter. For those present his agony lasted another two hours. There was a rattle in his throat, a twitching of his wasted body. Then the gasping and the rattle came at longer and longer intervals.

‘It is all over!’ said someone near him.

He caught the words and repeated them in his soul. ‘Death is over,’ he said to himself. ‘It is no more.’

He drew in a breath, stopped in the midst of a sigh, stretched out and died.

Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich

Published in: | on March 27th, 2012 | No Comments »

Death: Addie Bundren

Pa stands beside the bed. From behind his leg Vardaman peers, with his round head and his eyes round and his mouth beginning to open. She looks at Pa; all her failing life appears to drain into her eyes, urgent, irremediable. “It’s Jewel she wants,” Dewey Dell says.

“Why, Addie,” pa says, “him and Darl went to make one more load. They thought there was time. That you would wait for them, and that three dollars and all …” He stoops, laying his hand on hers. For a while yet she looks at him, without reproach, without anything at all, as if her eyes alone are listening to the irrevocable cessation of his voice. Then she raises herself, who has not moved in ten days. Dewey Dell leans down, trying to press her back.

“Ma,” she says; “ma.”

She is looking out the window, at Cash stooping steadily at the board in the failing light, labouring on toward darkness and into it as though the stroking of the saw illuminated its own motion, board and saw engendered.

“You, Cash,” she shouts, her voice harsh, strong, and unimpaired. “You, Cash!”

He looks up at the gaunt face framed by the window in the twilight. It is a composite picture of all time since he was a child. He drops the saw and lifts the board for her to see, watching the window in which the face has not moved. He drags a second plank into position and slants the two of them into their final juxtaposition, gesturing toward the ones yet on the ground, shaping with empty hand in pantomime the finished box. For a while still she looks down at him from the composite picture, neither with censure nor approbation. Then the face disappears.

She lies back and turns her head without so much as glancing at pa. She looks at Vardaman; her eyes, the life in them, rushing suddenly upon them; the two flames glare up for a steady instant. Then they go out as if someone had leaned down and blown upon them.

William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying 

Published in: | on March 27th, 2012 | No Comments »