The Female Prose Writers of America: With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of their Writings/Sara J. Clarke/A Dream of Death
How appropriate, and sadly truthful, is the expression, “The night of the grave!” How the deep shadows of impenetrable mystery hang about the dread portals of eternity; how, in approaching them, even in thought, we lose ourselves in clouds, and grope in thick darkness!
In the near and solemn contemplation of the awful change which awaits us all, how eagerly does the soul receive everything, in religion, philosophy, or personal experience, which lifts, or seems to lift, even a little way, a corner of the vast curtain which hides from our mortal view the spirit-realm to which we go; letting in gleams of its immortal joy and glory, to light and cheer our painful path through the dark valley.
During a late illness, there came a dream to me as I slept, which left a solemn and ineffaceable impress upon my mind, but to which I may seem, by relating, to attach undue importance; for, after all, it was but a dream; and I hardly know how it is, that I have so laid it away in my heart, as a treasure of exceeding worth, almost as a heavenly revelation. It was no wild, mystic, and fanciful dream, but strangely distinct and beautifully consistent throughout; and it is with the most faithful truthfulness that I now venture to relate it, hoping that to some hearts it may have, or seem to have, a meaning and a purpose.
In my vision, it seemed that my last hour of the life of earth was swiftly passing from me. The dread presence of Death filled my chamber with mourning and gloom, and awe unspeakable. My heart, like a caged bird, now struggled and fluttered wildly in my breast, now seemed sinking, faint, and panting with weariness and fear. The last mist was creeping slowly over my eyes, and I heard but imperfectly the words of prayer, sorrow, and tenderness, breathed around me. Dear forms were at my side, clasping my cold hands, and weeping upon my neck. The bosom of the best beloved pillowed my poor head; her hand wiped the death-dew from my brow; she spoke to me strong words of comfort, crushing down the great anguish of her heart the while.
It was no hour of joy or triumph; my spirit was not buoyed up by exulting faith, nor did waiting angels minister to it the peace and consolation of Heaven; but storm, and darkness, and fear, encompassed it, filling it with wild regrets, an awful expectation, a sore dismay. Its feet were already set in the river of death; but, like a timid child, it shrank from the chill, midnight waves, and clung convulsively to its earthly loves,—vain, alas! to protect, powerless to detain!
Soul and body parted, as they part who have lived and suffered, and toiled together, in bondage, but who love one another, and who, at last, are torn asunder by the inexorable will of a remorseless master.
But joy for one of these! for whom the weariness of mortal bondage was to give place to the freedom of eternity; the pain, the struggle, the fear, the sorrow of its earthly lot, to peace, rest, assurance, and joy unspeakable! for, at last, at last, that soul, breaking from this poor life, with one glad bound, leaped into immortality! Oh! the sudden comprehension of the height and depth of the fulness of being! How every thought, and aspiration, and affection, and power, seemed springing up into everlasting life!
But methought that the first feeling or sentiment, of which I was conscious, was freedom,—freedom, which brought with it a sense of joy, and power, and glorious exultation, utterly indescribable in words. Ah! it was beautiful, that this crowning gift of God to His creatures, which had ever been so dear to my human heart; this principle, which here I had so adored, was the first pure and perfect portion of the Divine life, whose presence I hailed with the great and voiceless rapture of a disenthralled spirit.
Methought that I witnessed no immediate visible manifestation of Deity, heard no audible revelation of the Divine existence; but that I received fullness of faith, and greatness of knowledge, in loneliness and stillness, yet instantaneously, and more like recollections than revelations. Cloud after cloud rolled swiftly away from the dread mysteries of eternity, till all was meridian brightness and surpassing glory. The presence of Deity was round about me everywhere—felt, methought, not beheld; it flowed to me in the air, “every undulation filled with soul;” floated about me in the rapt silence, like an all-pervading essence, diffusing itself abroad over the great immensity of being.
There was no sudden unveiling of my eyes to behold the burning splendours of the dread abode of the Sovereign of the Universe, “the city of our God,” girdled about with suns, over whose “crystal battlements” float banners of light, within whose courts bow the redeemed in ceaseless adoration; there was no sudden unsealing of my ear to the triumphal psalms of the blessed, to the grand resounding march of the stars. And, methought, no fair creatures of light came to me at once, to bear me upward, nor was my soul eager to depart, on swift, impatient wing, from the dear, though darkened scenes of earth, and the strong, though transient, associations of time; but still lingered, hovering over that chamber of death, from which now arose a passionate burst of grief, the deep sobbing, and wild swell of the first storm of sorrow. Then, methought, my soul looked down upon its perishing companion in toil and suffering—the worn and resigned body; marked the rigid limbs, the parted lips, the pale and sunken cheek, the shadowed eye, and all the mortality settled on the brow; looked upon these, and felt no sorrow. But ah! the tears and groans of those dear bereaved ones, had power to grieve it still, to “disturb that soul with pity,” yet not such mournful pity as it had known on earth. A serene and comprehending faith in the wisdom and loving care of the Father, reconciled it to all things; the years of this life, to the vision of its new existence, seemed shortened to brief days, and thus the time of release, for all who suffer and toil, near at hand. Yet with great yearnings it lingered there, its earthly love not destroyed, not weakened, but made stronger far, and purer, more like to the love of Heaven.
Then, methought, a form of ineffable beauty, with a countenance of peace, wherein was human love breaking through celestial glory, came to me, and said, “Oh, daughter of earth, it is now thine to go forth, with the freedom of an immortal, among the infinite worlds; to range at will through the vast domains of the wide and wondrous creation; to track the shining paths of beneficent power, leading on from beauty to beauty, and glory to glory, through the grand and measureless universe of God. Shall we visit those fair worlds, those radiant stars, thou seest shining afar in the clear depths of air?—they, who have known no fall, and on whom the Father’s approving smile rests with a perpetual warmth and serenity; whose inhabitants dwell in love, and worship, and content; where there is neither death nor oppression, suffering nor sin; no spoiler, and none ‘to make afraid;’ none who slay; none who starve; none who flee from their brothers, and call on God in secret places.
“There also the laws of power and harmony subdue and rule the elements, so that there are no harsh frosts, nor fierce heat, neither earthquake nor whelming flood; no storms, to vex the heavens, nor to desolate the earth; whose bloom is glad in the morning sun, and beautiful in the starlight. There, over hill and plain, angels have written holy music in flowers; there, summer streams chime down the mountain side, and winds play among the trees with the sound of anthems.
“Over those worlds divine beings oft walk, as once they walked in the Eden of thy earth, ere man sinned, and, covering his face, went out from the presence of God. Wilt thou go thither? Or wouldst thou ascend the steps of morning light, to the Divine courts, thence to go forth on some errand of good, or enter on some office of love, thy portion of that labour which is worship?”
Then it seemed that I made no answer, save to point downward to those beloved ones, who still sat in darkness, and would not be comforted. Then the angel smiled, and said,—“It is well; remain thou with these through their day of time; be near them, and console them always; go before them, leading their way down the dark valley; welcome them through the immortal gates, for to the holy ministration thou hast chosen wert thou appointed.”
When the cold light of dawn broke the sleep which brought this heavenly vision, it was as the coming of night, and not of morning.