Fenton's poem is almost deceptively traditional; I had to read it twice before realizing it was in a simple "ABAB" scheme. The following enjambed sentence speaks volumes as it runs its course across a stanza break:
...Some seemed honour-bound
to take the lonely, peerless track
conceiving danger as a testing ground
to which they must go back
till the tongue fell silent and they crossed
beyond the realm of time and fear.
I discovered the poem via the New Yorker's recently-launched and frequently-updated Book Bench blog, which also excerpted much of that achingly wrought line. I think it must be the idea of the tongue falling silent that so begs to set to music, almost as a musical act of defiance against death.
At a baccalaureate service for a college graduation last month, I heard a setting of the poem "Do Not Stand By My Grave and Weep," believed to have been originally written by Mary E. Frye. The piece came from a version of the Requiem by composer Eleanor Daley, and the choir dedicated its performance to two members of the graduating class who passed away during their first year at the college. Though I'm told the poem is a popular funeral oration, the choral performance was the first time I'd encountered it. Fenton's poem, with its regular scheme and elegant build to a spare but powerful ending, reminded me of Frye's. I was stunned by both, but nearly brought to tears by the latter. Properly set, I believe the Fenton poem might have a similar effect, and not merely on myself.