When I first started working on a book about the seasons, I talked to people about their impressions of the seasons. As a youngster I was heavily influenced by a bulletin board in my first grade classroom, which showed the seasons spinning by throughout the year in a big circle, divided by the 12 months. The image of the year as a circle, and the seasons as a kind of merry-go-round spinning through the months has always stayed with me, so much so that I was surprised to find that other people didn’t see them that way. Some people don’t carry with them any sort of graphic representation. The seasons just happen abstractly, and there is no abiding image that can represent their flow.
One friend I spoke with said that he sees the seasons as a series of doors that he passes through as the months go by. I think this is a striking image, especially, as I wrote at the time, the thought of approaching that final door. Would it refuse to yield? Would one knock in vain, asking to pass through? As I reread this passage in the introduction to The Varied God this morning, it occurred to me that I have never wondered what season I would die in.
Some people think about death a lot, but most never do. We are all going to die, but few of us spend time pondering it. And when we do we tend to think about the age when we’ll die, or what will kill us—disease, infirmity, our own hand? I have never had a conversation with anyone, and as far as I can recall never had a conscious thought about the season in which I’ll draw my last breath.
Does it matter?
Is this something that horoscopes, with all their prognostications, ever deal with? Scorpios tend to die in autumn, Sagittarians in winter? I don’t think I’ve heard any such thing, and I have known some people who take these things seriously.
In art since time immemorial, autumn and winter represent decline and death. Indeed, more old people die in winter than in other seasons, largely due to illnesses like cold and influenza that have their own seasons in the colder months. But nature also dies back, goes into hiding, awaiting the sun and the warmth of spring. But you can die in spring, and you can die in summer. People do it all the time, and for a huge variety of reasons.
I just don’t know. Would I prefer to die when flowers are blooming, when I can hear one last bird singing? Would it be better for those around me (I can only hope there will be ‘those around me’) if they can see me close my eyes and then look to a sunny window and think, Life goes on? Or would it be better in the dead of winter, when it’s easier to accept that everything dies?
The 12th century Japanese poet Saigyō once wrote:
Let me die in spring under the blossoming trees, let it be around that full moon of Kisaragi month. (Kisaragi is February)
But past that it’s hard to find notable citations from art and literature about what season is best to die in. I wonder if anyone else has given this any thought?