The high ones die, die. They die. You look up and who's there?
--John Berryman, Dream Song 36
Berryman wrote that sometime in the late 1950s or early '60s. Well, come to think of it, it must have been no earlier than 1962, when Faulkner died, as the poem seems to have been written after that. Berryman is lamenting the departure of his literary heroes. That's the way the deaths of Ray Bradbury, Doc Watson, and Earl Scruggs--and a few years ago, Johnny Cash--have affected me. It's not that I feel a personal grief, but that they were features of the landscape. They had always been here, already famous when I first heard of them, not mortals but part of the world that was there when I first became aware of things outside my immediate sphere. When they go, a part of the world goes with them. It's as if mountains had disappeared.
It just don't seem right. The passing of my parents' friends affects me much the same way. With my relatives it's more complex, because personal loss is added to the sense of something that I had thought was permanent having disappeared. The former one expects and understands; the latter is strange.