March 18, 2014

Pride stoops, e'en valor yields to death

New Hampshire minister Uriah Wilcox had lived a long, exciting life during the early years of the United States. In 1775-1776, he sided with the "United Colonies" against the "Hostile Proceedings of the British Fleets," and helped organize a local militia company for the cause of independence. He gave input on the writing of the first State Constitution for New Hampshire and served on the town of Newport's general assembly before, towards the end of his life, being elected a member of the state House of Representatives. He was 72 when he died on March 18, 1822.

The death of such an important local hero could not go unnoticed by another person from Newport, New Hampshire: Sarah Josepha Hale. Hale was only then about to embark on a career in journalism and magazine publishing that would make her one of the most influential women of the century. Ten days after Wilcox's death, she wrote her poem "To the Memory of Rev. Uriah Wilcox":

Death reigns o'er all—the ghastly king,
On his pale courser traversing,
Aims well his arrow, and the blow
Is sure to lay his victim low.

Life weeps, hearts bleed; but fruitless all;
Youth, beauty, healthy and virtue fall
An easy prey his power beneath;
Pride stoops, e'en valor yields to death.

The poem is a far cry from her less negative poem about Mary's lamb. Still, Hale praises Wilcox in his death after having lived a life that earned "worth long known, and long belov'd." A life like that, she argues poetically, can not be all sad. It would be selfish, she says, to want to keep one like that on Earth when their spirit was merely on loan from heaven: "The saint survives in yon bright skies, / From earth's low cares the spirit free." She predicts what will happen at the final day of judgment:

When the last trump shall echo—"live!"
And graves their mouldering tenants give;
To that loud summons, whilst the sun,
In sackcloth, mourns his empire done:

The moon is blood, the globe is fire;
Stars fall, the shrinking heavens retire;
And ruin only reigns, where man
Had boasted o'er his little span:

Then, whilst before the judgment seat
The assembled universe shall meet;
Christians, like thee, will hear the word,
"Come, dwell forever with the Lord."

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