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Poems About Mortality

Table of Contents

  1. Mortality by William Knox
  2. Not any higher stands the grave by Emily Dickinson
  3. That such have died enables us by Emily Dickinson
  4. Emblems by Richard Coe
  5. Fear no more the heat o’ the sun by William Shakespeare
  6. A toad can die of light! by Emily Dickinson
  7. Retrospect by Emily Dickinson
  8. The distance that the dead have gone by Emily Dickinson
  9. The Empty Bier by Hannah Flagg Gould
  10. I reason, earth is short by Emily Dickinson
  11. Along the Potomac by Emily Dickinson
  12. Thanatopsis by William Cullen Bryant
  13. An Exhortation to Patience by Eliza Wolcott
  14. To venerate the simple days by Emily Dickinson

  1. Mortality

    by William Knox

    Oh why should the spirit of mortal be proud!
    Like a fast flitting meteor, a fast-flying cloud,
    A flash of the lightning, a break of the wave—
    He passeth from life to his rest in the grave.

    The leaves of the oak and the willow shall fade,
    Be scattered around, and together be laid;
    And the young and the old, and the low and the high,
    Shall moulder to dust, and together shall lie.

    The infant a mother attended and loved,
    The mother that infant's affection that proved,
    The husband that mother and infant that blest,
    Each—all are away to their dwellings of rest.

    The maid on whose cheek, on whose brow, in whose eye,
    Shone beauty and pleasure,—her triumphs are by:
    And the memory of those who loved her and praised,
    Are alike from the minds of the living erased.

    The hand of the king that the sceptre hath borne,
    The brow of the priest that the mitre hath worn,
    The eye of the sage, and the heart of the brave,
    Are hidden and lost in the depths of the grave.

    The peasant whose lot was to sow and to reap,
    The herdsman who climbed with his goats up the steep,
    The beggar that wandered in search of his bread,
    Have faded away like the grass that we tread.

    The saint that enjoyed the communion of Heaven,
    The sinner that dared to remain unforgiven,
    The wise and the foolish, the guilty and just,
    Have quietly mingled their bones in the dust.

    So the multitude goes—like the flower or the weed
    That withers away to let others succeed;
    So the multitude comes—even those we behold,
    To repeat every tale that has often been told.

    For we are the same things that our fathers have been,
    We see the same sights our fathers have seen,
    We drink the same stream, we view the same sun,
    And we run the same course that our fathers have run.

    The thoughts we are thinking our fathers would think,
    From the death we are shrinking from they too would shrink,
    To the life we are clinging to they too would cling—
    But it speeds from the earth like a bird on the wing.

    They loved—but their story we cannot unfold;
    They scorned—but the heart of the haughty is cold;
    They grieved—but no wail from their slumbers may come;
    They joyed—but the voice of their gladness is dumb.

    They died—ay, they died! and we, things that are now,
    Who walk on the turf that lies over their brow,
    Who make in their dwellings a transient abode,
    Meet the things that they met on their pilgrimage road.

    Yea, hope and despondence, and pleasure and pain,
    Are mingled together in sunshine and rain;
    And the smile and the tear, the song and the dirge,
    Still follow each other like surge upon surge.

    'Tis the twink of an eye, 'tis the draught of a breath,
    From the blossom of health to the paleness of death,
    From the gilded saloon to the bier and the shroud—
    O why should the spirit of mortal be proud!

  2. Not any higher stands the grave

    by Emily Dickinson

    Not any higher stands the grave
    For heroes than for men;
    Not any nearer for the child
    Than numb three-score and ten.

    This latest leisure equal lulls
    The beggar and his queen;
    Propitiate this democrat
    By summer's gracious mien.

  3. That such have died enables us

    by Emily Dickinson

    That such have died enables us
    The tranquiller to die;
    That such have lived, certificate
    For immortality.

  4. Emblems

    by Richard Coe

    Falleth now from off a tree,
    A wither'd leaf;
    This the lesson taught to me,
    Life is brief!
    Hear it say,
    "Mortal, soon thou'lt follow me
    To decay!"

    Droppeth now from off my head,
    A silver hair;
    Plainer preacher never said,
    "For death prepare!"
    Fill'd with gloom,
    We follow Time with solemn tread,
    To the tomb!

    Mounteth now on wings of air,
    To the sky,
    A little dew-drop, pure and clear;
    Far up on high,
    Hear it say,
    "All above the Earth is fair,
    Watch and pray;
    Night or sorrow come not here,
    'Tis perfect day!"

  5. Fear no more the heat o’ the sun

    by William Shakespeare

    Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,
    Nor the furious winter’s rages;
    Thou thy worldly task hast done,
    Home art gone and ta’en thy wages:
    Golden lads and girls all must,
    As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

    Fear no more the frown o’ the great;
    Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke;
    Care no more to clothe and eat;
    To thee the reed is as the oak;
    The sceptre, learning, physic, must
    All follow this and come to dust.

    Fear no more the lightning-flash,
    Nor the all-dreaded thunder-stone;
    Fear not slander, censure rash;
    Thou hast finish’d joy and moan;
    All lovers young, all lovers must
    Consign to thee and come to dust.

  6. A toad can die of light!

    by Emily Dickinson

    A toad can die of light!
    Death is the common right
    Of toads and men, —
    Of earl and midge
    The privilege.
    Why swagger then?
    The gnat's supremacy
    Is large as thine.

  7. Retrospect

    by Emily Dickinson

    'T was just this time last year I died.
    I know I heard the corn,
    When I was carried by the farms, —
    It had the tassels on.

    I thought how yellow it would look
    When Richard went to mill;
    And then I wanted to get out,
    But something held my will.

    I thought just how red apples wedged
    The stubble's joints between;
    And carts went stooping round the fields
    To take the pumpkins in.

    I wondered which would miss me least,
    And when Thanksgiving came,
    If father'd multiply the plates
    To make an even sum.

    And if my stocking hung too high,
    Would it blur the Christmas glee,
    That not a Santa Claus could reach
    The altitude of me?

    But this sort grieved myself, and so
    I thought how it would be
    When just this time, some perfect year,
    Themselves should come to me.

  8. The distance that the dead have gone

    by Emily Dickinson

    The distance that the dead have gone
    Does not at first appear;
    Their coming back seems possible
    For many an ardent year.

    And then, that we have followed them
    We more than half suspect,
    So intimate have we become
    With their dear retrospect.

  9. The Empty Bier

    by Hannah Flagg Gould

    Thou empty bier, that standest here
    Alone, by the church-yard gate,
    Say, whose the door thou 'lt pause before
    Thy burden next to wait?

    The bier replied—" My range is wide,
    And my hours of rest but few;
    Yet, to One alone can the ways be known
    That I must hence pursue.

    "I first may seek her form, whose cheek
    Is fresh in its maiden bloom,
    On me to lie, with a rayless eye,
    At the threshold of the tomb.

    "The youth, who last sped by so fast,
    With the nerve and the glow of health—
    He next may find, that close behind
    Death followed him by stealth.

    "Or she, who smiled, when the lovely child
    She was lately leading near,
    With wonder stopped, and his lilies dropped,
    To gaze at the sable bier—

    "That mother may be called to lay
    That beauteous boy on me,
    In his morning hour, like the dewy flower
    He lost, and as suddenly.

    "Her own pale clay to bear away,
    It next may be my lot;
    She may close her eyes on her infant ties,
    And her prattler be forgot.

    "As I must call, in time, for all,
    From the babe to the silver-haired,
    Thy glance at me, perchance may be,
    A hint to be prepared!"

  10. I reason, earth is short

    by Emily Dickinson

    I reason, earth is short,
    And anguish absolute,
    And many hurt;
    But what of that?

    I reason, we could die:
    The best vitality
    Cannot excel decay;
    But what of that?

    I reason that in heaven
    Somehow, it will be even,
    Some new equation given;
    But what of that?

  11. Along the Potomac

    by Emily Dickinson

    When I was small, a woman died.
    To-day her only boy
    Went up from the Potomac,
    His face all victory,

    To look at her; how slowly
    The seasons must have turned
    Till bullets clipt an angle,
    And he passed quickly round!

    If pride shall be in Paradise
    I never can decide;
    Of their imperial conduct,
    No person testified.

    But proud in apparition,
    That woman and her boy
    Pass back and forth before my brain,
    As ever in the sky.

  12. Thanatopsis

    by William Cullen Bryant

    To him who in the love of nature holds
    Communion with her visible forms, she speaks
    A various language; for his gayer hours
    She has a voice of gladness, and a smile
    And eloquence of beauty, and she glides
    Into his darker musings, with a mild
    And healing sympathy, that steals away
    Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts
    Of the last bitter hour come like a blight
    Over thy spirit, and sad images

    Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,
    And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,
    Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;—
    Go forth, under the open sky, and list
    To Nature's teachings, while from all around—
    Earth and her waters, and the depths of air,—
    Comes a still voice—Yet a few days, and thee
    The all-beholding sun shall see no more
    In all his course; nor yet in the cold ground,
    Where thy pale form was laid, with many tears,
    Nor in the embrace of ocean, shall exist
    Thy image. Earth, that nourished thee,shall claim
    Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again,
    And, lost each human trace, surrendering up
    Thine individual being, shalt thou go
    To mix for ever with the elements,
    To be a brother to the insensible rock
    And to the sluggish clod, which the rude swain
    Turns with his share, and treads upon. The oak
    Shall send his roots abroad, and pierce thy mould.
    Yet not to thine eternal resting-place
    Shalt thou retire alone—nor couldst thou wish
    Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down
    With patriarchs of the infant world—with kings,
    The powerful of the earth—the wise, the good,
    Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,
    All in one mighty sepulchre.—The hills
    Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun,—the vales
    Sketching in pensive quietness between;
    The venerable woods—rivers that move
    In majesty, and the complaining brooks
    That make the meadows green; and, poured round all,
    Old ocean's gray and melancholy waste,—
    Are but the solemn decorations all
    Of the great tomb of man. The golden sun,
    The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,
    Are shining on the sad abodes of death,
    Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread
    The globe are but a handful to the tribes
    That slumber in its bosom.—Take the wings
    Of morning—and the Barcan desert pierce,
    Or lose thyself in the continuous woods
    Where rolls the Oregan, and hears no sound,
    Save his own dashings—yet—the dead are there:
    And millions in those solitudes, since first
    The flight of years began, have laid them down
    In their last sleep—the dead reign there alone.
    So shalt thou rest—and what if thou withdraw
    Unheeded by the living—and no friend
    Take note of thy departure? All that breathe
    Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh
    When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care
    Plod on, and each one as before will chase
    His favourite phantom; yet all these shall leave
    Their mirth and their employments, and shall come,
    And make their bed with thee. As the long train
    Of ages glide away, the sons of men,
    The youth in life's green spring, and he who goes
    In the full strength of years, matron, and maid,
    And the sweet babe, and the gray-headed man,—
    Shall one by one be gathered to thy side,
    By those, who in their turn shall follow them.

    So live, that when thy summons comes to join
    The innumerable caravan, that moves
    To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
    His chamber in the silent halls of death,
    Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,
    Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
    By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
    Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
    About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

  13. An Exhortation to Patience

    by Eliza Wolcott

    It is a thorny path we tread,
    Where disappointments come;
    Then we are mingled with the dead,
    And cover'd in the tomb.

    Our fondest hopes are blighted here,
    For earth is not our home;
    Then o'er frail life we drop a tear,
    And welcome then the tomb.

    To-day the sun is bright and clear,
    To morrow clouds may come;
    Yet though no change to us appear,
    We are hastening to the tomb.

    Look then on life as lent awhile,
    To gain a heavenly home,
    Where Jesus meets us with a smile,
    Who once perfum'd the tomb.

    For us a crown of thorns He wore,
    His soul was fill'd with gloom,
    Then led believers evermore,
    To triumph o'er the tomb.

    When to the cross His hands were nail'd,
    And the dread hour was come,
    His glorious mission never fail'd,
    He conquer'd then the tomb.

    Then let us wait with patience here,
    Our Conqueror soon will come;
    The trump shall sound, the dead shall hear,
    And live beyond the tomb.

  14. To venerate the simple days

    by Emily Dickinson

    To venerate the simple days
    Which lead the seasons by,
    Needs but to remember
    That from you or me
    They may take the trifle
    Termed mortality!

    To invest existence with a stately air,
    Needs but to remember
    That the acorn there
    Is the egg of forests
    For the upper air!

    Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
    And our hearts, though stout and brave,
    Still, like muffled drums, are beating
    Funeral marches to the grave.

    – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
    A Psalm of Life

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