O'Brien is eulogizing Peter Porter who has passed (see the title, "Leavetaking"), but writing as if Porter were still with him. O'Brien notes the setting: a place where O'Brien have both visited on separate occasions (Chateau Ventenac). "Une pression" is beer (in French). He recalls Porter would have preferred a Minervois (red) wine. O'Brien uses the phrase,
Bad news prefers its poison cold and long...
saying that good wine should not be wasted over bad news (death), but saved until a more appropriate time, after an "acceptable" interval (space of time) of mourning has passed. O'Brien writes that the wine might be enjoyed at midnight—when everyone sleeps—in a spot where a Nazi colonel once sat, waiting...a tidbit of information that Porter would have tucked away to think on later; but gone, "there is no later..."
The author notes that everyone must die, including flute-playing psychopaths. (This may refer to the Hitler Youth, who were heavily involved in music.) But O'Brien refuses to be "reconciled" to the idea that death comes to all: though it may happen—why must it include Porter?
O'Brien describes the scene around him: the boats come into their slips. Last fall's leaves gather around them, and on the deck chairs that speak of "former merriment." Someone starts a fire, and the flames are like poetry. O'Brien stops to ask Porter if O'Brien has included enough details yet, admitting that Porter would have been quicker than he to know when such a mundane gathering would be transformed and become poetry: a piece of art.
The owner of the place (la patronne) enters the scene, critical of the fire. The bartender arrives on his bike to take in the bickering that has erupted, viewing it with quiet humor—it makes him smile. O'Brien compares it all to an artistic event: a poem or play, but a dark one ("black-edged pastoral").
His friend's philosophy was:
Not to be understood
But to demand conviction.
O'Brien agrees, but does that matter? The "dancers" have arrived: party-goers?— accompanied by men looking like George Chakiris (leader of Jets in the film West Side Story).
O'Brien lays out the scene before him: a slice of life—not Shakespearean until he and Porter would study the tableau before them over a beer—when Porter would turn the scene...
...into a poem in the high nine hundreds...
(The Dewey Decimal System assigns 999 to "extraterrestrial," so perhaps the poem would be "out of this world...", especially in that Porter has died...)
O'Brien has not yet learned Porter's lesson. "Work is good...like love and company." However, the "courteous deaths" (those who pass quietly?) do not agree. An obscure reference to Dionysus* and his band of sea women going to war makes me wonder if O'Brien is saying that death uses such women (or Harpies—snatchers—or the Fates?) to collect the dying:
Sent from a place less beautiful than this...
Perhaps these "deaths" cannot understand this world. Maybe O'Brien believes Heaven could not be as glorious as where he now sits.
This place the death or women come from may be in the shade, out of sight, where evening and songs end—for no one is left to sing...perhaps because in the darkness lies the end of all things.
*Addtnl. Source: http://www.theoi.com/Georgikos/Ariadne.html