Rest in Peace, Sir

I had the honor of meeting Edwin a few years ago, and though not quite the kind of meeting I would have liked, I was profoundly effected by his presence.

October 21, 2008

He’s old, now, closer than ever to infinite eternity. His mind is gone, the brilliant thoughts that once sprang to life as written words confused and meaningless, just syllables uttered to a stranger who came into his life too late to appreciate him, and possibly learn from him. I sat across from in the back of Rescue 1, mesmerized, his eyes still burning with intensity as he uttered strange words, some in Spanish, some English. The words had a cadence when he spoke them, a rhythm and maybe some kind of message. His eyes bored into mine as he said over and over, “stink, stank stunk.” He would change into a foreign language and utter more words in the same way, earnest, almost desperate.

At first I was amused, things like this don’t happen every day. As the ride progressed, sadness crept in. Sadness for the man, and what was lost, sadness for myself as I envisioned a similar fate and sadness for those close to him, who had experienced his intellect before Alzheimer’s Disease invaded his mind.

This is a strange existence.

Edwin Honig, poet and translator, has published ten books of poetry, eight books of translation, five books of criticism and fiction, three books of plays. He has taught at Harvard and Brown, where he started the Graduate Writing Program, and has received numerous awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, Mishkenot ShaAnanim, The National Endowment for the Arts, and the Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1986 he was knighted by the President of Portugal for his work in literary translation; and in 1996 by the King of Spain. He is Emeritus Professor at Brown University.

An inclusive volume of Edwin Honig’s poetry, titled Time and Again: Poems 1940-1997, is available at:

To Infinite Eternity

Death is closer
to infinite eternity
than life is

and each life closer
to each least breath
than the blankness of
infinite eternity itself


To think blankness
rouses certain terror
and in the feeling
the sudden sense

of self responding
down to the smallest
unaided particle

of its existence
as answer to
the blankness of
sure nonexistence


Then infinite eternity
may be the opposite
of felt existence

durable as any
felt time


I say hello
to myself

and to break
the terror

of nonexistence
I restore my self

to existence whatever
the consequence

by Edwin Honig

Edwin is a great, powerful man who will leave this earth soon. He leaves us not only with the gifts of his own writings and translations, but also the planted seeds of thought and inspiration in the minds of countless students and others who enjoy his work.

Alzheimer’s Disease and other manifestations of dementia are cruel, devious companions for those unfortunate enough to be saddled with the affliction. It is far worse for those left caring for the victims.

I do not know Edwin, other than a brief moment where I was responsible for his well being. I hope that in some way he knows and finds comfort knowing I found his work, and that he leaves an indelible impression on me that will last a lifetime.

I think that on some level Edwin understands and approves of my writing about him here. Writers have a need to be read and understood. I understand, Edwin. I understand.


  • Pat Blackman/Grandma Muggle says:

    Tears, sadness, strangely joy.  I believe he knows somewhere in the confused map of his mind that his work lives in the minds and hearts of others.  Writers never truly die whether in mind or body.  They live forever in their words which interest and inspire their readers.
    I'll be checking out his work now Michael.  Thanks for sharing.
    Be well and stay safe.  Love, Pat.

  • Jean says:

    Thank you for including a sample of his work. It's marvelous. I've made a note to find that book.
    To touch a heart with words, as he has done and as you continue to do, is a beautiful gift that outlasts the giver.

  • Susan Brown says:

    Please check out the various  youtube videos of Alan Berliner talking about his recent  film, "First Cousin Once Removed" , a brillant documentary on Edwin Honig's life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *