by Robert Herrick
The best man has gone for a game of billiards with the host. The maid
of honor is inditing an epistle to one who must fall. The bridesmaids
have withdrawn themselves, each with some endurable usher, to an
appropriate retreat upon the other coasts of the veranda. The night is
full of starlight in May. The lovers discover themselves at last alone.
He. What was that flame-colored book Maud was reading to young Bishop?
She. The Dolly Dialogues; you remember we read them in London when
they came out.
He. What irreverent literature we tolerate nowadays! I suppose it's
the aftermath of agnosticism.
She. It didn't occur to me that it was irreligious.
He. Irreverent, I said—the tone of our world.
She. But how I love that world of ours—even the Dolly Dialogues!
He. Because you love it, this world you feel, you are reverent toward
it. I have hated it so many years; it carried so much pain with it that
I thought every expression of life was pain, and now, now, if it were
not for Maud and the Dolly Dialogues, these last days would seem to
launch us afresh upon quite another world.
She. Yes, another world, where there is a new terror, a strange,
inhuman terror that I never thought of before, the terror of death.
He. Why, what a perversity! You think of immortality as so real, so
sure! Relief from that terror of death is the proper fruit of your firm
She. But I never cared before about the shape, the form, the kind of
that other life. I was content to believe it quite different from this,
for I knew this so well, enjoyed it so much. When the jam-pot should be
empty, I did not want another one just like it. But now….
He. I know. And I lived so much a stranger to the experiences I could
have about me that I was indifferent to what came after. Now, what I
am, what I have, is so precious that I cannot believe in any change
which should let me know of this life as past and impossible. That
would be "the supreme grief of remembering in misery the happy days
that have been."
She. It makes me shiver; it is so blasphemous to hate the state of
being of a spirit. That would seem to degrade love, if through love we
dread to lose our bodies.
He. Strange! You have come to this confession out of a trusting
religion and I from doubt—at the best indifference. You are ashamed to
confess what seems to you wholly blasphemous against that noble faith
and prayer of a Christian; and I find an invigorating pleasure in your
blasphemy. There is no conceivable life of a spirit to compare with the
pain, even, of the human body; it is better to suffer than to know no
She. But "the resurrection of the body": perhaps the creed, word for
word without interpretation, would not mean that empty life which we
moderns have grown to consider the supreme and liberal conception of
He. Resurrection in a purified form fit for the bliss, whatever one
of all the many shapes men have dreamed it may vision itself in!
She. But this love of life, this excessive joy, must fade away. The
record of the world is not that we keep that. Think of the old people
who dream peacefully of death, after knowing all the fulness of this
life. Think of the wretches who pray for it. That vision of the life of
spirits which is so dreadful to us has been the comfort of the ages.
There must be some inner necessity for it. Perhaps with our bodies our
wills become worn out.
He. That, I think, is the mystery—the wearing out, which is death.
For death occurs oftener in life than we think; I know so many dead
people who are walking about. As for sick people, physicians say that
in a long illness they never have to warn a patient of the coming end.
He knows it, subtly, from some dim, underground intimation. Without
acknowledging it, he arranges himself, so to speak, for the grave, and
comforts himself with those visions that religion holds out. Or does he
But apart from the dying, there are so many out of whose bodies and
spirits life is ebbing. It may have been a little flood-tide, but they
know it is going. You see it on their faces. They become dull. That
leprosy of death attacks their life, joint by joint. They lay aside one
pleasure, one function, one employment of their minds after another.
The machine may run on, but the soul is dying. That is what I call
death in life.