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Edgar Lee Masters (1868–1950). Spoon River Anthology. 1916.

226. The Village Atheist

YE young debaters over the doctrine

Of the soul’s immortality,

I who lie here was the village atheist,

Talkative, contentious, versed in the arguments

Of the infidels.

But through a long sickness

Coughing myself to death

I read the Upanishads and the poetry of Jesus.

And they lighted a torch of hope and intuition

And desire which the Shadow,

Leading me swiftly through the caverns of darkness,

Could not extinguish.

Listen to me, ye who live in the senses

And think through the senses only:

Immortality is not a gift,

Immortality is an achievement;

And only those who strive mightily

Shall possess it.