Life and Death

I

LIFE or death. Death or life. Take or refuse.
What do they offer me? How shall I choose?

II

Said Life, ‘ I can offer you pain and distress
And trial and failure and hope to the end,
The wealth of experience, joy of success,
The love of a woman, the trust of a friend.
‘Then turn not away, is’t not fair in the sunshine,
To have the pure freedom of drawing the breath?’
And I marveled and turned, thinking, ‘Can these be mine,
These wonderful gifts? But what sayeth Death?’
And Death said, ‘Relief and a bound to Life’s pleasure,
An infinite peace and an infinite rest.’
In silence I pondered it measure for measure.
Which shall I cleave unto? Which is the best?

III

Life will I take with its joy and its sorrow,
Its love and its loss and its battles with men,
Fair Life for a time thy fair gifts would I borrow,
Till Death gives them back to thy keeping again.
Good Death may thou never be far from my sight,
Stand thou by the wheel as I sail o’er the deep,
Guard me surely by day and approach me by night,
Mantling me o’er with thy shadow, deep sleep.
Attend all my pleasures, bend low o’er my pen,
Join my wild gallops wherever I ride;
In feasting, in travels, in toil among men,
Let me ever be conscious of thee at my side.
Yet shall I not call thee, nor plead for thine aid,
I shall not complain and I shall not implore.
The good game with life shall be royally played,
So Death the kind seneschal stand at the door.

IV

Said Life, ‘For a space here is all will avail thee,
Beyond, the course changes, I cannot see where.’
And I said in a whisper, ‘Death, thou wilt not fail me.’
And Death at my shoulder said, ‘I will be there.’