by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Last was the wealth I carried in life's pack-
Youth, health, ambition, hope and trust but Time
And Fate, those robbers fit for any crime
Stole all, and left me but the empty sack.
Before me lay a long and lonely track
Of darkling hills and barren steeps to climb;
Behind me lay in shadows the sublime
Lost lands of Love's delight. Alack! Alack!
Unwearied, and with springing steps elate,
I had conveyed my wealth along the road.
The empty sack proved now a heavier load:
I was borne down beneath its worthless weight.
I stumbled on, and knocked at Death's dark gate.
There was no answer. Stung by sorrow's goad
I forced my way into that grim abode,
And laughed, and flung Life's empty sack to Fate
Unknown and uninvited I passed in
To that strange land that hangs between two goals,
Round which a dark and solemn river rolls-
More dread its silence than the loud earth's din.
And now, where was the peace I hoped to win?
Black-masted ships slid past me in great shoals,
Their bloody decks thronged with mistaken souls.
(God punishes mistakes sometimes like sin.)
Not rest and not oblivion I found.
My suffering self dwelt with me just the same;
But here no sleep was, and no sweet dreams came
To give me respite. Tyrant Death, uncrowned
By my own hand, still King of Terrors, frowned
Upon my shuddering soul, that shrank in shame
Before those eyes where sorrow blent with blame,
And those accusing lips that made no sound.
What gruesome shapes dawned on my startled sight!
What awful sighs broke on my listening ear!
The anguish of the earth, augmented here
A thousand-fold, made one continuous night.
The sack I flung away in impious spite
Hung yet upon me, filled. I saw in fear,
With tears that rained from earth's adjacent sphere,
And turned to stones in falling from that height.
And close about me pressed a grieving throng,
Each with his heavy sack, which bowed him so
His face was hidden. One of these mourned: "Know
Who enters here but finds the way more long
To those fair realms where sounds the angels' song
There is no man-made exit out of woe;
Ye cannot dash the locked door down and go
To claim thy rightful joy through paths of wrong."
He passed into the shadows dim and gray,
And left me to pursue my path alone.
With terror greater than I yet had known.
Hard on my soul the awful knowledge lay,
Death had not ended life nor found God's way;
But, with my same sad sorrows still my own,
Where by-roads led to by-roads, thistle-sown,
I had but wandered off and gone astray.
With earth still near enough to hear its sighs,
With heaven afar and hell but just below,
Still on and on my lonely soul must go
Until I earn the right to Paradise.
We cannot force our way into God's skies,
Nor rush into the rest we long to know;
But patiently, with bleeding steps and slow,
Toil on to where selfhood in Godhood dies.
Last updated January 14, 2019