In the middle of the room in its white coffin lay the dead child, the nephew of the poet. Near it, in a great chair, sat Walt Whitman, surrounded by little ones, and holding a beautiful little girl in his lap. She looked wonderingly at the spectacle of death, and then enquiringly into the old man's face. "You don't know what it is, do you my dear?" Said he, and added, "We don't, either."
We know not what it is, Dear, this sleep so deep and still; The folded hands, the awful calm, the cheek so pale and chill, The lids that will not lift again, though we may call and call; The strange white solitude of peace that settles over all.
We know not what it means, dear, this desolate heart-pain, This dread to take our daily way and walk in it again; We know not to what other sphere the loved who leave us go, Nor why we're left to wonder still, nor why we do not know.
But this we know, our loved and dead, if they should come this day, Should come and ask us, "What is life?" Not one of us could say. Life is a mystery, as deep as ever death can be; Yet, oh, how dear it is to us, this life we live and see!
Then might they say —those vanished ones,— and blessed is the thought, "So death is sweet to us, beloved! Though we may show you nought; We may not to the quick reveal the mystery of death-- Ye cannot tell us if ye would the mystery of breath."
The child who enters life comes not with knowledge or intent, So those who enter death must go as little children went. Nothing is known. But I believe that God is overhead, And as life is to the living, so death is to the dead.
—Mary Mapes Dodge What Can A Woman Do? 1883. p. 366—367.