Alan Rickman Recites “If Death Is Not the End,” a Moving Poem by Robyn Hitchcock

Odd­ball singer-song­writer Robyn Hitch­cock is a man who knows how to mark mile­stones. Back in 2003, he staged a con­cert at London’s Queen Eliz­a­beth Hall in hon­or of his own 50th birth­day, and in so doing, cre­at­ed a time release mile­stone of sorts for his friend, actor Alan Rick­man.

Mark­ing a half-cen­tu­ry with pas­sive aggres­sive-gag gifts and cards may suf­fice for the rab­ble, but a lyri­cist as gift­ed as Hitch­cock deserves bet­ter. No one can deny Rick­man of fail­ing to deliv­er, when he regaled the crowd in Queen Eliz­a­beth Hall with a recita­tion of Hitchcock’s own poem, “If Death Is Not the End,” above.

It’s an inim­itable per­for­mance that becomes all the more poignant when one lis­tens to it again, fol­low­ing Rickman’s recent death at the age of 69:

Life is what hap­pened to the dead.

For­ev­er we do not exist

Except for now.

Birth­day Boy Hitch­cock cap­tured Rickman’s appeal in a trib­ute post­ed to his Face­book page:

His morose erot­ic drawl and glo­ri­ous­ly dis­dain­ful demeanor shel­tered a pas­sion­ate artist and made for a charis­mat­ic per­former whom I was proud to have as a friend. I just can’t believe I’ll nev­er see him again.

As the poem says, he was made of life.

If Death Is Not the End

If death is not the end, I’d like to know what is.

For all eter­ni­ty we don’t exist,

except for now.

In my gumshoe mac, I shuf­fled to the clifftop,

Stood well back,

and struck a match to light my life;

And as it flared it fell in dark­ness

Light­ing noth­ing but itself.

I saw my life fall and thought:

Well, kiss my physics!

Time is over, or it’s not,

But this I know:

Life pass­es through us like the blade

Of bam­boo grow­ing through the pris­on­er pegged down in the glade

It pierces your blood, your scream­ing head -

Life is what hap­pened to the dead.

For­ev­er we do not exist

Except for now.

Life pass­es through us like a beam

Of char­coal green — a gold­en gleam,

The oppo­site of how it seems:

It’s not you that goes through life

- life is the knife that cuts your dream

Around the seam

And leaves you turned on in the stream, laugh­ing with your mouth


Until the stream is gone,

Leav­ing you cracked mud,

Not even there to be absent,

From the heart­beat of a dying fish.

In bed, upstairs, I feel your pulse run with the clock

And reach your hand

And lock us with our fin­gers

As if we were bump­ing above the Pole.

Yet I know by dawn

Your hand will be dry bone

I’ll have slept through your good­bye, no mat­ter how long I wake.

Life winds on,

Through Cheri and Karl who can no longer smell choco­late,

Or see with won­der wind inflate the sail,

Or answer mail

Life flies on

Through Katy who was Cather­ine but is bound for Kate

Who looks over her shoul­der at the demon Azmodeus,

And sees the Dai­ly Mail

(I clutch my purse. I had it just now.)

Life slices through

The frozen but­ter in the Alpine wreck.

(I found your pho­to upside down

I nev­er kissed a girl so long,

So long, so love­ly or so wrong)

Life is what kills you in the end

And I can cry

But you won’t be there to be sor­ry

You were made of life

For ever we did not exist

We woke and for a sec­ond kissed.

via Audi­boom

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Late, Great Alan Rick­man Reads Shake­speare, Proust & Thomas Hardy

Samuel Beck­ett Play Brought to Life in an Eerie Short Film Star­ring Alan Rick­man & Kristin Scott Thomas

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Her play, Fawn­book, opens in New York City lat­er this fall. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.