June 24, 2014

Death of Saltus: when men perish, I rejoice

Francis Saltus Saltus died in Tarrytown, New York on June 24, 1889, at the age of 39. "His trouble was a gastric one," the New York Times reported, and for several days he was unable to eat. Despite his death at an early age, Saltus was quite accomplished: He could reportedly speak in 10 languages, had written four comic operas, had poetry published (in multiple languages) in periodicals throughout the country and the world, and edited his own humorous magazine. He left several thousand poems unpublished as well. Most of Saltus's poems were comical in nature and, as such, perhaps it is fitting he was buried in the famous Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, also the final resting place of another writer known for his humor, Washington Irving. His poem "The Delights of Doom":

I love to visit unknown graves
     When snow the woodland buries,
And hear the wild wind when it raves
     Over grim cemeteries.

I glory in the sight of tombs,
     O'er slabs I love to ponder;
And I am glad when in the glooms
     Of humid crypts I wander.

I love to hear the dolorous voice
     Of anguish and of mourning,
And when men perish, I rejoice
     At death's untimely warning.

I fain would have the poet's fire,
     To glorify in verses
Death, doom, and all disaster dire,
     Shrouds, monument, and hearses.

I see the morgue with eager eyes,
     The pastime never varies;
And I reap pleasure and surprise
     Reading obituaries.

Death in all forms to me is sweet,
     And I am a believer
In awful plagues and pests effete
     Polluting towns with fever.

War pleases me when thousands lie
     Mangled in woods and closes;
And of all flowers beneath the sky
     I worship tuberoses.

Do not misjudge and say I'm mad,
     And cry against my maker,
But the truth is, my biz is bad,
     And I'm an undertaker.

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