Poem #7: Imploring To Be Resigned At Death by George Moses Horton

Estimated Reading Time:  3.5 minutes
Book cover to African American Poetry - An Anthology, 1773-1927, Dover Edition.

TitleImploring To Be Resigned At Death

Author: Joshua McCarter Simpson

Source:  African-American Poetry: An Anthology, 1773-1927. Dover Thrift Editions. Ed. Joan R. Sherman. 1997. ISBN:  978-0-486-29604-3.

Link: You can find this poem on this website.


Let me die and not tremble at death,
But smile at the close of my day,
And then, at the flight of my breath,
Like a bird of the morning in May,
Go chanting away.

Let me die without fear of the dead,
No horrors my soul shall dismay,
And with faith's pillow under my head,
With defiance to mortal decay,
Go chanting away.

Let me die like a son of the brave,
And martial distinction display,
Nor shrink from a thought of the grave,
No, but with a smile from the clay,
Go chanting away.

Let me die glad, regardless of pain,
No pang to this world to betray;
And the spirit cut loose from its chain,
So loath in the flesh to delay,
Go chanting away.

Let me die, and my worst foe forgive,
When death veils the last vital ray;
Since I have but a moment to live,
Let me, when the last debt I pay,
Go chanting away.


As a contemplation on dying, I rather like this poem but also how the poem sounds.  It's worth reading aloud to hear the various repetition, alliteration, assonance, rhyming, and flow of the poem.  The poet wishes to not just face death but be at peace with it and in how he frames death, it's hard not to see why.  In the first stanza, framing his end with a smile and his soul ("flight of my breath") being released from his body.  This sense of serenity about his passing seems rooted in the second stanza where he asserts his faith and therefore, believes he shall find an afterlife waiting for him.  The third stanza emphasizes his relinquishing of the physical realm and not fearing the end of his life but embracing it with a (another) smile.  The reference to clay seems like a biblical reference to Adam who was made from clay (or at least one version of the Bible frames it this way).  The fourth stanza makes it sound almost as if he's impatient to die and cares little of the circumstances, believing what is next is more important. Finally, in the last stanza, the poet hopes for his sins or trespasses to be forgiven by those who survive him.  

Yet, it's worth considering some of the language and wondering if there is something more there to Horton's work. Some of the language such as "flight", "no horrors my soul shall dismay", "son of the brave", "cut loose from its chain", "worst foe forgive", and "last debt I pay" stick out to me as possibly hinting or serving for deeper elements that reference the relationship between slave-owners and the people enslaved. I'm not quite sure what I'm speaking to here--it's fuzzy but there seems a stronger aspect of the poem here when I see those words spread throughout the poem and how easily they connect in a slave society. 

Those are my thoughts.  How do you interpret the poem?

About the reflections
This poem is part of a 365 day challenge project that focuses on a poem a day.  Similar projects have included short shorties and photo reflections. Part of the intention of this year's project is to develop a better appreciation and means of reflecting on poetry, something that has never been a strong suit for me.  These reflections therefore do not represent a definitive assessment of the work by me. They are merely an opportunity for me to have a public conversation about what they mean in order to help myself better understand them and mayhaps have a conversation with readers for further insight.  

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