DEATH


I am not sure but the last enclosing sublimation of human race or poem is what it thinks of death.
After the rest has been comprehended and said, even the grandest, and the pervading fact of visible existence is rounded and apparently completed, it still remains to be really completed by suffusing through the whole that other pervading invisible fact.
After chanting the songs of the body and existence, composed in the flush of my health and strength—for reminder, in moods of towering pride and joy—I keep my special chants of death and immortality, for terminus and temperer to all, to stamp the coloring-finish of all, present and past.

To exhibit the problem and paradox of the same ardent and fully appointed personality with cheerful face estimating death, I end with thoughts, or radiations from thoughts, on death, immortality, and a free entrance into the spiritual world, from the point of view necessitated by my foregoing poems, written in former days of perfect health.
Little did I think the pieces had the purport that now opens to me, suggesting death in the form of a beautiful and perfect young man, emblem of rest and aspiration after action, of crown and point which all lives and poems should steadily have reference to.
What invigorates life invigorates death.

To any one dying, thither I speed and twist the knob of the door,
Turn the bed-clothes toward the foot of the bed,
Let the physician and the priest go home.
I seize the descending man and raise him with resistless will,
O despairer, here is my neck,
By God, you shall not go down! hang your whole weight upon me.
I dilate you with tremendous breath, I buoy you up,
Every room of the house do I fill with an arm’d force,
Lovers of me, bafflers of graves.
Sleep—I and they keep guard all night,
And when you rise in the morning you will find what I tell you is so.

I sing of life, yet mind me well of death.
Not life alone—death, many deaths, I’ll sing,
To place on record faith in you, O death.
Life is the whole law and incessant effort of the visible universe, and death only the other or invisible side of the same—
The living sleep for their time, the dead sleep for their time,
Sure as life holds all parts together, death holds all parts together.
Great is death—I do not understand the realities of death, but I know they are great—
O mystery of death, I pant for the time when I shall solve you!

Let us twain walk aside from the rest,
Let us talk of death—joys of the thought of death—unbosom all freely.
Think of the times you stood at the side of the dying,
Think of the time when your own body will be dying,
Have you supposed it beautiful to be born? I tell you it is just as beautiful to die;
Do you enjoy what life confers? you shall enjoy what death confers;
Has life much purport? Ah, death has the greatest purport.

To think the thought of death merged in the thought of materials,
Life’s ever-modern rapids soon, soon to blend with the old streams of death.

The all-engrossing thought and fact of death is admitted not for itself so much as a powerful factor in the adjustments of life,

And portals: what are those of life but for death?
Lives and works, what are they all at last, except the roads to faith and death?

Slow-moving and black lines creep over the whole earth—they never cease—they are the burial lines,
Sooner or later inevitably wending to the exit door—vanishing to sight and ear—and never materializing on this earth’s stage again!
I do not doubt that the passionately-wept deaths of young men are provided for, and that the deaths of young women and the deaths of little children are provided for,
And the dead advance as much as the living advance,
(Did you think life was so well provided for, and death, the purport of all life, is not well provided for?)

Yea, death, we bow our faces, veil our eyes to thee.
We mourn the young untimely drawn to thee,
The fair, the strong, the good, the capable,
The gather’d thousands to their funeral mounds, and thousands never found or gather’d.
We mourn the old—
The blank in life and heart left by the death of my mother will never to me be filled,
It is the great cloud to temper the rest of my life;
The death of Mrs. Gilchrist is indeed a gloomy fact,
Seems to me mortality never enclosed a more beautiful spirit,
Nothing now remains but a sweet and rich memory,
None more beautiful, all time, all life, all the earth.

Give me your tone therefore, O death, that I may accord with it,
Give me yourself, for I see that you belong to me now above all,
For now it is convey’d to me that you are the purports essential,
That behind the mask of materials you patiently wait, no matter how long,
That you hide in these shifting forms of life, for reasons, and that they are mainly for you,
That you will perhaps dissipate this entire show of appearance,
That maybe you are what it is all for, but it does not last so very long,
But you will last very long.

While I sat in the day and look’d forth,
The infinite separate houses, how they all went on, each with its meals and minutia of daily usages,
And the streets how their throbbings throbb’d, and the voices of children and women,
And the cities pent—lo, then and there,
Falling upon them all and among them all, enveloping me with the rest,
Appear’d the cloud, appear’d the long black trail,
And I knew death, its thought, and the sacred knowledge of death.

With the knowledge of death as walking one side of me,
And the thought of death close-walking the other side of me,
And I in the middle as with companions, and as holding the hands of companions,
I dream’d I wander’d searching among burial-places,
And
I found that every place was a burial-place;
The houses full of life were equally full of death, (this house is now,)
The streets, the shipping, the places of amusement, were fuller, O vastly fuller of the dead than of the living.
And now I am willing to disregard burial-places and dispense with them,
And if the memorials of the dead were put up indifferently everywhere, even in the room where I eat or sleep, I should be satisfied.

NEXT: THE PROCESS OF DEATH AND BURIAL