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A Pain Poem--Stuntz

Recently, I stumbled across this wonderful and sad poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay. It’s the best description I’ve ever read or heard of living with chronic pain:

And must I then, indeed, Pain, live with you
All through my life? Sharing my fire, my bed,
Sharing — oh, worst of all things! — the same head? —
And, when I feed myself, feeding you, too?
So be it, then, if what seems true, is true:
Let us to dinner, comrade, and be fed:
I cannot die till you yourself are dead,
And, with you living, I can live life through.
Yet have you done me harm, ungracious guest,
Spying upon my ardent offices
With frosty look; robbing my nights of rest;
And making harder things I did with ease.
You will die with me: but I shall, at best,
Forgive you with restraint, for deeds like these.
Pain and disease are like the walls of a prison cell; life in their midst is about breaking free, “liv[ing] life through” those walls. And yet pain is no mere physical boundary; it seems to have intelligence and personality: a “comrade” who (not that) spies on my activities “with frosty look.” It goes where I go and stays when I stay.
David and I work in an analytic business. Our professional bias is to see truth as a matter of logic and measurable empirics. But life is not all prose, and truth is not so readily found in philosophy texts and law books. Some things are deeper and richer than our analytic categories.


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Comments ( 3 )

Thank you for this. It is a good tool in the pastor's belt.

I wonder if you've read The Body in Pain, by Elaine Scarry. It gives extended consideration to the experience of pain and is beautifully written. The first chapter, as I remember, collects a lot of good literary writing on pain.

As I was finishing the radiation treatment for my cancer a few years ago, I was given a little card that contained the following:

What Cancer Cannot Do

Cancer is so limited...
It cannot cripple love,
It cannot shatter hope,
It cannot erode faith,
It cannot eat away peace,
It cannot destroy confidence,
It cannot kill friendship,
It cannot shut out memories,
It cannot silence courage,
It cannot invade the soul,
It cannot reduce eternal life,
It cannot quench the Spirit,
It cannot lessen the power of resurrection.

My heart goes out to you...