I am still here, no very mark’d change, fairly buoyant spirits—better spirits and comfort than I deserve, but surely, slowly ebbing. I suppose I am, in a sense, dying.
I am convinced that I can feint off the end for a long time to come. But my strength can’t stand the pull forever, and must sooner or later give out. I know that death has struck me, and it is only a matter of time. I seem sentenced to death; everything but the date is fixed.
I may linger along yet some time,
Maybe quite a time yet—but may fall back.
I shall rally or partially rally, only every time lets me down a peg,
The pegs coming gradually out;
Every month or so I notice another peg dropped.
It don’t take an expert weather prophet to see some storms coming,
“Keep good heart—the worst is to come,” was one of the sayings of my dear old father.
My disease is now call’d progressive paralysis, with a more or less rapid tendency (or eligibility) to the heart. Formidable isn’t it? The worst is there may be something in it. The doctors put four chances out of five against me—gave me quite up more than once.
The worst thing with an old man when he is sick is that he sees nothing ahead—that for him is nothing but reverse, downhill. A young fellow, when he is sick—when he is poor—when he is troubled—has everything before him, but a man old, quite old, who has been badly whacked, as I have, has but to wait and expect an end. I am always waiting now.
I am wide awake to the fact of my gathering physical disabilities,
Gradually though surely losing strength.
It is a beginning of the end—disabilities multiplying—
Life becoming every way more difficult;
I am eager for feet again! But my feet are eternally gone.
Deadly weak, my sufferings much of the time are fearful,
I have no relief, no escape—it is monotony, monotony—in pain.
My brain will not solidify—more and more palpably neglects or refuses even slight tasks. I seem to have lost the power of consecutive thought and work—mental volition, I might say—as if the ground had been swept from under my feet, as if I had nothing whereon to stand.
My memory is very bad and becoming worse! The most tantalizing habit it has is of remembering just enough of a thing to remind me of how much is forgotten.
I seem to be washed out, to go forth with the tide—the never-returning tide;
I feel almost as if emptied of the last fill of life.
What does the ship come to—the useless, clinging old hulk,
Its last voyage over, its tasks all done?
An old, well-knit, strong-timbered keel takes a long time to break up.
We must not deceive ourselves—no, there is no gain in that,
We are at the last twist of the road, the very last.
I sit here, let the elements play about me,
Wait, let things happen, see what they will bring about;
But that is as much as the rock does to fulfill its part—
Growing best in keeping to its place!
Your dog here is too old to learn any new tricks,
To stop at the door of the tomb and study a new a b c.
As the time draws nigh glooming, a cloud, a dread beyond of I know not what darkens me,
Shadows of nightfall deepening, soon to be lost for aye in the darkness.
Shadowy death dogs my steps,
Draws sometimes close to me, as face to face,
Perhaps soon some day or night while I am singing,
My voice will suddenly cease.
One day to all of us there comes the closing of the doors—the entrances, the exits,
So that one may pass no more out or in.
My only hope, to keep comfortable as I can and do what I may as long as I may,
Going down at last without disgrace.
They say I am better, but still at death’s door,
Deadly weak, but the spark seems to glimmer yet.
If there’s something to do, it is well for a fellow to do it, without pause.
There’s the book—the dear book—forever waiting,
And I seem to be more feeble than ever.
But there’s no use dying now when there’s still a job of work to do.
Some night it will be a last kiss, a last good night—but I hope not just yet,
I don’t want to sink—drown—before the book is out.
There has come to me a notion, amounting to a certainty, that I am dying!
I have gone down and down,
As if resistlessly, hopelessly, inexorably, pressed,
Oh! it is the feeling of death.
Friends to whom I have mentioned this fear endeavor to chase it away by saying that it is the result of my brooding thoughts, and that such vagaries often come into the minds of people under a great dread.
They all give me good advice, which I can’t follow; I must be left to die in my own way. I do not answer them, but I feel none the less the certainty of my death.
Nor is it painful to me—the experiences going with this do not disturb me. I have made up my mind not to worry—not to let even the worst upset me—not to look with dread upon anything—I do not seem to have any scare in me.
I myself for long, O death, have breath’d my every breath,
Amid the nearness and the silent thought of thee—
I do not fear thee.
So I do not kick—I am willing to take what comes,
It is all right whichever way—death or life—half life, half death—everything.
We must not be afraid of the worst—indeed, we must invite the worst,
Must bear all, brave all, and, coming to the test, throw or be thrown by it,
We must stick, eternally stick, until sticking itself will stick no more.
How tired, how good, I feel,
Very tired, O very—but not sick.
I keep cheerful—was born with it,
The sweet sun has got into all my old bones,
The fact that I am consciously staring death in the face doesn’t make me less cheerful,
I am sure I’ve got stock enough of it to last to the finish.
I pride myself on being a real humorist underneath everything else. We can’t cut out our fun even at the edge of the grave; I think fun is entitled to its innings even with death—
Hundreds write; they all beg autographs. One of the autograph fellows intimated that I might die soon, which made his request a very urgent one. I was so tickled with his cheek and honesty that I signed and sent him the card.
I am a lame though not yet quite dead duck. Some time before long I’ll get one of these bad days and that’ll be the end of me. Then you fellows will have a funeral on your hands—have you got a funeral ready?
Death has its advantages—death is like being invited out to a good dinner.
Our time, our term has come,
The pomp and hurried contest-glare and rush are done,
Now for my last—ineffable grace of dying days,
Old age flowing free with the delicious near-by freedom of death,
Only desirous of quietly waiting the final change,
Exit, nightfall, and soon the heart-thud stopping,
The soothing sanity and blitheness of completion.
Nor yield we mournfully, we who have grandly fill’d our time.
My favorite couplet:
Over the past not God himself has power,
For what has been has been, and I have had my hour!
We welcome what we wrought for through the past,
And leave the field for them, they too to grandly fill their time,
For them we abdicate, to be in them absorb’d, assimilated.
I am here, very low, very low—but holding the fort, after a way,
Not yet surrendered, yet very near surrender-point.
For a while I may fight off the end,
But the enemy is strong and valiant—is sure of victory.
O Death! O you striding there! O I cannot yet! a battle-contest yet!
Our joys of strife and derring-do to the last!
Something to eke out a minute additional—
A poem expressing the thoughts, pictures, aspirations fit to be perused during the days of the approach of death,
The most triumphant, jubilant poem.
This ought to express the sentiment of great jubilant glee for great deaths—in battle, in martyrdom—for great renunciations—for love, for friendship —especially for the close of life (the close of a great true life)—
I have prepared myself for that purpose.
Let me look back a moment,
An old man gathering youthful memories and blooms that youth itself cannot,
I and my book, casting backward glances over our travel’d road.
How sweet the silent backward tracings!
The wanderings as in dreams—the meditation of old times resumed—their loves, joys, persons, voyages,
Precious ever-lingering memories,
(Of you, my father—what is yours is mine—of you my mother dear—you, brothers, sisters, friends,)
How the soul loves to float amid such reminiscences!
Thanks in old age—thanks ere I go,
For beings, groups, love, deeds, words, books—or colors, forms,
For shelter, wine and meat—for sweet appreciation,
For health, the midday sun, the impalpable air—for life, mere life,
For all my days—not those of peace alone—the days of war the same,
(A special laurel ere I go, to life’s war’s chosen ones,
The cannoneers of song and thought.)
As soldier from an ended war return’d,
As traveler out of myriads, to the long procession retrospective,
My work is done,
Nothing remains now but to ring the curtain down,
What is there more, that I lag and pause?
Shunning, postponing severance—seeking to ward off the last word ever so little,
Loth, O so loth to depart!
As a friend from friends his final withdrawal prolonging,
So hard for his hand to release those hands—no more will they meet,
No more for communion of sorrow and joy, of old and young,
A far-stretching journey awaits him, to return no more.
E’en at the exit-door turning, crouch extended with unshut mouth,
An old man’s garrulous lips among the rest,
Garrulous to the very last.
Hasten throat and sound your last,
Dull, parrot-like and old, with crack’d voice harping, screeching chirps—lingering-dying ones—
Good-bye and good-bye with emotional lips repeating.
Is there a single final farewell?
Behind a good-bye there lurks much of the salutation of another beginning.