James McConkey in The American Scholar:
In this exploration of my past for whatever understanding it can give me of my present self—probably my final attempt, though I’ve believed that before—I’ve touched upon questions beyond my competence to answer. But the issues of chance, genetic inheritance, the relation between fathers and sons, and the debate between determinism and free will, important to human meaning as they are, fade into insignificance before the most encompassing paradox that I know: death, that great opponent of life and ultimate victor over it, is also responsible for all the values of life that we struggle to rescue from it. Without mortality—that is, if we lived forever, uncaring of the ticking of clocks—would we have need of religion, of families with children for a new generation, of dreams for a better future? Wouldn’t scientists lose their urgency to discover, artists to create? Without my ever-keener awareness of Jean’s and my mortality, I certainly wouldn’t be writing this account in my 87th year. And what about love? As lyrical expressions, sonnets typically represent the poet’s personal emotions. One sonnet in particular, by Shakespeare, moves both Jean and me; I liked it as a graduate student, but not in the way I do today. The first-person narrator acknowledges that life, like a fire, is consumed by the source nourishing it, and tells his beloved in the concluding couplet, “This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong, / To love that well which thou must leave ere long.”
That’s the best summation I’m capable of making.