October 30, 2011

Death of Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Ella Wheeler Wilcox died of cancer on October 30, 1919. She was just a few days shy of her 69th birthday. Born in Wisconsin, she is today recognized for one poem (and its quotable first line or two), but wrote much more. Her interest in writing was sparked, in part, by a need to support her family; she was first published in her teen years.

Towards the end of her life, particularly after the death of her husband, Wilcox had become particularly interested in spiritualism and communicating with her dead husband. Throughout her life, however, she wrote poems which frequently delved into questions of death. This one, "Sleep and Death," was published in 1900:

When Sleep drops down beside my Love and me,
Although she wears the countenance of a friend,
A jealous foe we prove her in the end.
In separate barques far out on dreamland's sea,
She lures our wedded souls. Wild winds blow free,
And drift us wide apart by tides that tend
Tow'rd unknown worlds. Not once our strange ways blend
Through the long night, while Sleep looks on in glee.

O Death! be kinder than thy sister seems,
When at thy call we journey forth some day,
Through that mysterious and unatlased strait,
To lands more distant than the land of dreams;
Close, close together let our spirits stay,
Or else, with one swift stroke annihilate!

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