February 27, 2013

Death of Sill: can't be worse than Ohio

In his 46 years, Edward Rowland Sill had lived in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, California, but he died in Cleveland, Ohio on February 27, 1887. Much of his career was spent in education as a teacher, a principal, and college professor, but he also published several books of poetry and prose. In his last few years, he was frequently ill. Nearly two months before his death, he wrote in a letter:

To live is more than to read, and one might know all things and miss of everything. And so, if life is endlessly manifold, we may hope for good and great things, here or hereafter.

Sill was planning to travel with his wife to Colorado Springs for the Spring. Suffering with gastritis, the inability to digest, aches all over his body, and a "fathomless depression of spirits," he wrote to a friend, "Knowest anything about Colorado in spring? I don't; but it can't be worse than Ohio." Instead, he traveled to New York to meet with doctors (and hear the symphony) before a stop in Cleveland for surgery, still hoping Colorado was next. After what was deemed a successful surgery, however, Sill relapsed and died three days later. Critics and friends alike lamented that he had not yet been recognized for his poetic talents.

His poem, "A Morning Thought":

What if some morning, when the stars were paling,
  And the dawn whitened, and the East was clear,
Strange peace and rest fell on me from the presence
  Of a benignant Spirit standing near:

And I should tell him, as he stood beside me,
  "This is our Earth — most friendly Earth, and fair;
Daily its sea and shore through sun and shadow
  Faithful it turns, robed in its azure air:

"There is blest living here, loving and serving,
  And quest of truth, and serene friendships dear;
But stay not, Spirit! Earth has one destroyer —
  His name is Death: flee, lest he find thee here!"

And what if then, while the still morning brightened,
  And freshened in the elm the Summer's breath,
Should gravely smile on me the gentle angel
  And take my hand and say, "My name is Death."

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