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September 2012

Nomination: Aubade [29 November 1977. First published in The Times Literary Supplement 23 December 1977

I was terrified of death from a very young age. My parents used to put me to bed and I would often lie awake wide-eyed with fear at the fact that one day we would all be gone; me, my parents, everyone in the world, and none of our thoughts or memories would survive. I must’ve only been about four years old the first time it happened. I remember I used to run downstairs in fits of tears and have to be hugged and calmed down by my parents, but even then I would be thinking ‘why aren’t you freaking out too – don’t you realise how bad this is?’ I couldn’t believe everyone wasn’t running around scared out of their minds. These days I am better at controlling those moments of sheer panic, but they still creep up on me at night sometimes.

The first time I read ‘Aubade’ I think I was quite old; about nineteen, and I just read and re-read it so many times because I couldn’t believe how accurately it described my terror. In particular it manages to capture the weird juxtaposition between the safe normality of your surroundings and the screaming inside your head; the curtains, wardrobe, telephone and postmen should comfort you, but instead you end up reeling at their insignificance, at the uselessness of all of it. Many times I’ve had to get up out of my bed and try and channel my thoughts in a different direction; pulling the duvet over my head does nothing. People say you shouldn’t be scared of something you won’t be aware of when it happens, but as Larkin says:

    this is what we fear – no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

I feel that as a rational person I shouldn’t be scared of something that I will be unconscious of, but it’s the fact that I will be unconscious, permanently, that scares me.

Kyla La Grange

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