Bioethics Discussion Blog: The Spurning of Death by the Love of Life

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Spurning of Death by the Love of Life

Here are two poems by Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1855-1919) in which the second poem seems to answer the question set by the first. There is much to think about in both poems. Do these poems bring to mind the issues we face in medical ethics about suicide, euthanasia, need for palliative care and the reasons why patients and families may want to continue on with futile treatment? ..Maurice.

DEATH'S PROTEST
Why dost thou shrink from my approach, O Man?
Why dost thou ever flee in fear, and cling
To my false rival, Life? I do but bring
Thee rest and calm. Then wherefore dost thou ban
And curse me? Since the forming of God's plan
I have not hurt or harmed a mortal thing,
I have bestowed sweet balm for every sting,
And peace eternal for earth's stormy span.

The wild mad prayers for comfort sent in vain
To knock at the indifferent heart of Life,
I, Death, have answered. Knowest thou not 'tis he,
My cruel rival, who sends all thy pain
And wears the soul out in unending strife?
Why dost thou hold to him, then, spurning me?

COULEUR DE ROSE
I want more lives in which to love
This world so full of beauty,
I want more days to use the ways
I know of doing duty;
I ask no greater joy than this
(So much I am life's lover),
When I reach age to turn the page
And read the story over.
(O love, stay near!)

O rapturous promise of the Spring!
O June fulfilling after!
If Autumns sigh, when Summers die,
'Tis drowned in Winter's laughter.
O maiden dawns, O wifely noons,
O siren sweet, sweet nights,
I'd want no heaven could earth be given
Again with its delights
(If love stayed near).

There are such glories for the eye,
Such pleasures for the ear,
The senses reel with all they feel
And see and taste and hear;
There are such ways of doing good,
Such ways of being kind,
And bread that's cast on waters fast
Comes home again, I find.
(O love, stay near.)

There are such royal souls to know,
There is so much to learn,
While secrets rest in Nature's breast
And unnamed stars still burn.
God toiled six days to make this earth,
I think the good folks say -
Six lives we need to give full meed
Of praise--one for each day
(If love stay near).

But oh! if love fled far away,
Or veiled his face from me,
One life too much, why then were such
A life as this would be.
With sullen May and blighted June,
Blurred dawn and haggard night,
This dear old world in space were hurled
If love lent not his light.
(O love, stay near!)


Note: The poems by Ella Wilcox Wheeler are from the Gutenberg Project And more of her poems are available on the link as a GNU,General Public License.

3 Comments:

At Thursday, February 21, 2008 7:33:00 AM, Anonymous bob koepp said...

One wonders whether beauty would be so ravishing, or love so sweet, if we did not know in our heart of hearts that these are fleeting things.

Nothing focuses the mind like an awareness of one's own mortality.

 
At Thursday, February 21, 2008 9:28:00 AM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

Touche, Bob, Touche. ..Maurice.

 
At Thursday, February 21, 2008 10:07:00 AM, Anonymous TT said...

Or the uncertainty in what lies ahead - fear of the unknown..

As the old bard wrote:
"To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,"

 

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