Said Life to Death: "Methinks, if I were you,
     I would not carry such an awesome face
   To terrify the helpless human race;
And if indeed those wondrous tales be true
Of happiness beyond, and if I knew
   About the boasted blessings of that place,
   I would not hide so miserly all trace
Of my vast knowledge, Death, if I were you:
But, like a glorious angel, I would lean
   Above the pathway of each sorrowing soul,
     Hope in my eyes, and comfort in my breath,
And strong conviction in my radiant mien,
   The while I whispered of that beauteous goal.
     This would I do if I were you, O Death."


Said Death to Life: "If I were you, my friend,
   I would not lure confiding souls each day
   With fair false smiles to enter on a way
So filled with pain and trouble to the end;
I would not tempt those whom I should defend,
   Nor stand unmoved and see them go astray;
   Nor would I force unwilling souls to stay
Who longed for freedom, were I you, my friend:
But, like a tender mother, I would take
   The weary world upon my sheltering breast,
     And wipe away its tears, and soothe its strife;
I would fulfil my promises, and make
   My children bless me as they sank to rest
     Where now they curse--if I were you, O Life."


Life made no answer, and Death spoke again:
   "I would not woo from God's sweet nothingness
   A soul to being, if I could not bless
And crown it with all joy. If unto men
My face seems awesome, tell me, Life, why then
   Do they pursue me, mad for my caress,
   Believing in my silence lies redress
For your loud falsehoods?" (So Death spoke again).
"Oh, it is well for you I am not fair--
   Well that I hide behind a voiceless tomb
     The mighty secrets of that other place:
Else would you stand in impotent despair,
   While unfledged souls straight from the mother's womb
     Rushed to my arms and spat upon your face!"

By Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Century Magazine
Volume 57, Issue 6 (April 1899): 914.

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