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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Disenchantment of Death

By Madison Cawein (1865–1914)

[Born in Louisville, Ky., 1865. Died there, 1914. Accolon of Gaul, with Other Poems. 1889.]

HUSH! She is dead! Tread gently as the light

Foots dim the weary room. Thou shalt behold.

Look:—In death’s ermine pomp of awful white,

Pale passion of pulseless slumber virgin cold:

Bold, beautiful youth proud as heroic Might—

Death! and how death hath made it vastly old.

Old earth she is now: energy of birth

Glad wings hath fledged and tried them suddenly;

The eyes that held have freed their narrow mirth;

Their sparks of spirit, which made this to be,

Shine fixed in rarer jewels not of earth,

Far Fairylands beyond some silent sea.

A sod is this whence what were once those eyes

Will grow blue wild-flowers in what happy air;

Some weed with flossy blossoms will surprise,

Haply, what summer with her affluent hair;

Blush-roses bask those cheeks; and the wise skies

Will know her dryad to what young oak fair.

The chastity of death hath touched her so,

No dreams of life can reach her in such rest;—

No dreams the mind exhausted here below,

Sleep built within the romance of her breast.

How she will sleep! like music quickening slow

Dark the dead germs, to golden life caressed.

Low music, thin as winds that lyre the grass,

Smiting through red roots harpings; and the sound

Of elfin revels when the wild dews glass

Globes of concentric beauty on the ground;

For showery clouds o’er tepid nights that pass

The prayer in harebells and faint foxgloves crowned.

So, if she’s dead, thou know’st she is not dead.

Disturb her not; she lies so lost in sleep:

The too-contracted soul its shell hath fled:

Her presence drifts about us and the deep

Is yet unvoyaged and she smiles o’erhead:—

Weep not nor sigh—thou wouldst not have her weep?

To principles of passion and of pride,

To trophied circumstance and specious law,

Stale saws of life, with scorn now flung aside,

From Mercy’s throne and Justice would’st thou draw

Her, Hope in Hope, and Chastity’s pale bride,

In holiest love of holy, without flaw?

The anguish of the living merciless,—

Mad, bitter cruelty unto the grave,—

Wrings the dear dead with tenfold heart’s distress,

Earth chaining love, bound by the lips that rave.

If thou hast sorrow let thy sorrow bless

That power of death, of death our selfless slave.

“Unjust?”—He is not! for hast thou not all,

All that thou ever hadst when this dull clay

So heartless, blasted now, flushed spiritual,

A restless vassal of Earth’s night and day?

This hath been thine and is; the cosmic call

Hath disenchanted that which might not stay.

Thou unjust!—bar not from its high estate,—

Won with what toil through devastating cares,

What bootless battling with the violent Fate,

What mailed endeavor with resistless years,—

That soul:—whole-hearted granted once thy mate,

Heaven only loaned, return it not with tears!