Revenant

A new word should excite us, fresh verbal landscapes opening, the dictionary Virgil to our Dante. I mean new words, of course, not ones we once knew but forgot, gloomy signs of senescence.

But this one was creepy. Revenant: "One who returns from the dead."

Just a synonym for "ghost," you say. No, it's different. It's serious. "Ghost" comes festooned in frills of fantasy. But nobody on Halloween says to the sheeted figure on the doorstep, "And what might you be tonight, dearie...a revenant?"

In a lucid moment Hamlet spoke of "the undiscovered country, from which no traveler returns," then babbled idiotically with his father's shade. But we know exactly where Shakespeare located this spectre, squarely in his hero's "nutshell."

"Revenant," however, has no such fantasy baggage. There it stands, starkly denotative. Whoever used it first meant it, or thought he did. What exactly did he have in view?

I ransacked my vocabulary for beings who make a wrong way journey from beyond. "God?" No, the Father remains permanently outside time's envelope. "Jesus?" Metaphorically "sent down" perhaps, but the Judean carpenter's origins were quite geographic, quite like yours and mine.

Doubting Thomas was said to have put his finger rudely in the nail holes of the Galilean revenant. He has not, however, come down to us as "Persuaded Thomas" or "Convinced Thomas," but Doubting Thomas still.

Myths and legends present whole elvish pantheons of sprites that flit back and forth across the forbidden bourne like Latinos at a Laredo bon voyage, but they are mindworks all.

Nor do near-death experiences count, quasi-revenants at best, however vivid. But were a true revenant to ring the doorbell hat in hand, well...'twould be a thing indeed. Like Macbeth's dagger of the mind, however, "There's no such thing."

Yet there's the word, objectively naming a nothing like it was a potato peeler or the village idiot, a word too latinate for poetry, useless really, but staring at you from the page in black and white like a well-groomed ghoul in formal wear. What could possibly have been the original referent? The original revenant?

I came across it in the title of a poem by Billy Collins, a silly piece about a dog that dies and returns to ridicule his master. But ironic usages don't count either; Mr. Collins usually does better. If, as some say, death is an awakening into superconsciousness (full life) from what we suffer here (a living death), then perhaps we are all about to be reverse revenants.

Buddhist reincarnation is close, I suppose. Reincarnation is punishment for not achieving the spiritual plain first time round. Buddhists think you're supposed cross over only once, while you're here. They may have something. Early Christian Gnostics also thought God's inner-Light should lead us to resurrection here before we die, more superconsciousness. But that can't be the original meaning. Anyway, Buddhist punishment suits the pejorative I sensed from the start. Revenancy is something to avoid, I think, and I intend to try. One-way movement on the ethereal causeway, I say, time's arrow and all that. A Lazarus snarling traffic at every crossroad just won't do. Avoid celestial road rage; that's my advice. Oh, and buckle up.