Edgar Lee Masters: 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 Upanishadsand 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.

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This poem was included in the original 1915 edition of Spoon River Anthology.

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