Praise of Death


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.

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.

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,
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?
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,
Sure as life holds all parts together, death holds all parts together,
Sure as the stars return again after they merge in the light, death is great as life.

A voice from death, solemn and strange, in all his sweep and power:
Although I come and unannounc’d, in horror and in pang, in pouring flood and fire,
I too a minister of Deity.
Dark mother always gliding near with soft feet,
Footsteps gently ascending, mystical breezes wafted soft and low,
Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome?
Then I chant it for thee, I glorify thee above all.

Whispers of heavenly death murmur’d I hear,
Labial gossip of night, sibilant chorals,
Mournful voices of the dirges, thy sullen notes send darkness through me,
Sadly sinking and fainting, as warning and warning—
And yet again bursting with joy;
Tho dirge I started first, to joyful shout reverse,
Victorious song, death’s outlet song, yet varying ever-altering song.
I beat triumphal drums for the dead, I blow through my loudest embouchures,
The loudest and gayest music to them,
Low and wailing, yet clear the notes, rising and falling, flooding the night,
Covering the earth and filling the spread of the heaven.

Not life’s joys alone I sing, repeating—
I sing the endless finalés of things,
I joyously sing the dead, the joy of death, joys of the thought of death,
Accepting, exulting in death in its turn the same as life;
What invigorates life invigorates death.

Fresh as the morning, thus would I chant a song for you O sane and sacred death,
Over the tree-tops I float thee a song,

I float this carol with joy, with joy to thee O death,
Over the myriad fields and the prairies wide,

Over the dense-pack’d cities all,
From me to thee glad serenades,
I bring thee a song that when thou must indeed come, come unfalteringly—
Only the person has really learned, who in his spirit in any emergency whatever neither hurries or avoids death.

Come, lovely and soothing death,
The word of the sweetest song and all songs,
The word stronger and more delicious than any,
Dances for thee I propose saluting thee, adornments and feastings for thee.
Approach strong deliveress,
Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving,
In the day, in the night, to all, to each, sooner or later, delicate death,
Lost in the loving floating ocean of thee,
Laved in the flood of thy bliss O death.

Who can say that those were least lucky who died the earliest?
Or that those were luckiest who lived the longest?
Has any one supposed it lucky to be born?
I hasten to inform him or her it is just as lucky to die, and I know it.

To die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

Nothing can happen more beautiful than death,
The beautiful touch of death, soothing and benumbing a few moments, for reasons—
Soon or late the certain grace,
To set thee free and bear thee home,
The heavenly pardoner death shall come.
Like an invisible breeze after a long sultry day, death sometimes sets in at last, soothingly and refreshingly, almost vitally;
Of the many hundreds I myself saw die, the cases of mark’d suffering or agony in extremis were very rare. In not a few cases the termination even appears to be a sort of ecstasy.

All over bouquets of roses,
O death, I cover you over with blood-red roses and early lilies,
But mostly and now the lilac that blooms the first,
With loaded arms I come, pouring for you,
For you and the coffins all of you O death.
Lo! out of death, and out of ooze and slime,
The blossoms rapidly blooming, sympathy, help, love.

Prais’d be the fathomless universe,
For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious,
And for love, sweet love—but praise! praise! praise!
For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding death,
The soul turning to thee and the body gratefully nestling close to thee,
O vast and well-veil’d death,
Envoy, usherer, guide at last of all,
Rich, florid, loosener of the stricture-knot called life,
Sweet, peaceful, welcome death.

NEXT: IMMORTALITY