Non Sine Dolore


WHAT, then, is Life, — what Death?
Thus the Answerer saith:
O faithless mortal, bend thy head and listen:
Down o’er the vibrant strings
That thrill, and moan, and mourn, and glisten,
The Master draws his bow.
A voiceless pause; then upward, see, it springs,
Free as a bird with unimprisoned wings !
In twain the chord was cloven,
While, shaken with woe,
With breaks of instant joy all interwoven,
Piercing the heart with lyric knife,—
On, on the ceaseless music sings,
Restless, — intense, — serene :
Life is the downward stroke; the upward, Life;
Death but the pause between.


Then spake the Questioner: If ’t were only this,
Ah, who could face the abyss
That plunges down athwart each human breath ?
If the new birth of Death
Meant only more of Life as mortals know it,
What priestly balm, what song of highest poet,
Could heal one sentient soul’s immitigable pain?
All, all were vain!
If, having soared pure spirit at the last,
Free from the impertinence and warp of flesh,
We find half joy, half pain, on every blast, —
Are caught again in closer-woven mesh,—
Ah, who would care to die
From out these fields and hills, and this familiar sky,
These firm, sure hands that compass us, this dear humanity?


Again the Answerer saith:
O ye of little faith,
Shall, then, the spirit prove craven,
And Death’s divine deliverance but give
A summer rest and haven ?
By all most noble in us, by the light that streams
Into our waking dreams,
Ah, we who know what Life is, let us live !
Clearer and freer, who shall doubt?
Something of dust and darkness cast forever out;
But Life, still Life, that leads to higher Life, —
Even though the highest be not free from the immortal strife.


The highest! Soul of man, oh, be thou bold,
And to the brink of things create draw near, behold!
Where, on the earth’s green sod, —
Where, where in all the universe of God, —
Hath strife forever ceased ?
When hath not some great orb flashed into space
The terror of its doom ? When hath no human face
Turned earthward in despair,
For that some horrid sin had stamped its image there ?
If at our passing Life be Life increased,
And we ourselves flame pure unfettered soul,
Like the Eternal Power that made the whole
And lives in all He made
From shore of matter to the unknown spirit shore;
If, sire to son, and tree to limb,
Cycle by countless cycle more and more
We grow to be like Him;
If He lives on, serene and unafraid
Through all His light, His love, His living thought, —
One with the sufferer, be it soul or star;
If He escape not pain, what beings that are
Can e’er escape while Life leads on and up the unseen way and far ?
If He escape not, by whom all was wrought,
Then shall not we, —
Whate’er of Godlike solace still may be, —
For in all worlds there is no Life without a pang, and can be naught.
B. W. Gilder.