"The Village Atheist"
Ye young debaters over the doctrine
Of the soul’s immortality,
I who lie here was the village atheist,
Talkative, contentious, versed in the arguments
Of the infidels.
But through a long sickness
Coughing myself to death
I read the Upanishads and the poetry of Jesus,
And they lighted a torch of hope and intuition
And desire which the Shadow,
Leading me swiftly through the caverns of darkness,
Could not extinguish.
Listen to me, ye who live in the senses
And think through the senses only:
Immortality is not a gift,
Immortality is an achievement;
And only those who strive mightily
Shall possess it.
Excerpted from the Text:
Spoon River Anthology
Edgar Lee Masters
Illinois lawyer, poet, novelist, essayist, biographer. This poem comes from Masters’ most famous book of poetry Spoon River Anthology (1915), a collection of brief, first-person poems spoken from the grave. Masters goes in and out of fashion in American literature. Praised as a people’s poet when he first began publishing—Ezra Pound wrote “at last America has discovered a poet”—and admired by millions of readers internationally, perhaps since Masters wrote so much he has sometimes been discounted by those in the academy. However, because of its genuinely enjoyable poems, as well as its status as a transitional piece between Whitman and Modernism, the Spoon River Anthology at least will continue to be read.
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