The Trial by Existence

By Robert Frost

Even the bravest that are slain

Shall not dissemble their surprise

On waking to find valor reign,

Even as on earth, in paradise;

And where they sought without sword

Wide fields of asphodel fore'er,

To find that the utmost reward

Of daring should be still to dare.

 

 

The light of heaven falls whole and white

And is not shattered into dyes,

The light for ever is morning light;

The hills are verdured pasture-wise;

The angel hosts with freshness go,

And seek with laughter what to brave;—

And binding all is the hushed snow

Of the far-distant breaking wave.

 

And from a cliff-top is proclaimed

The gathering of the souls for birth,

The trial by existence named,

The obscuration upon earth.

And the slant spirits trooping by

In streams and cross- and counter-streams

Can but give ear to that sweet cry

For its suggestion of what dreams!

 

And the more loitering are turned

To view once more the sacrifice

Of those who for some good discerned

Will gladly give up paradise.

And a white shimmering concourse rolls

Toward the throne to witness there

The speeding of devoted souls

Which God makes his especial care.

 

And none are taken but who will,

Having first heard the life read out

That opens earthward, good and ill,

Beyond the shadow of a doubt;

And very beautifully God limns,

And tenderly, life’s little dream,

But naught extenuates or dims,

Setting the thing that is supreme.

 

Nor is there wanting in the press

Some spirit to stand simply forth,

Heroic in its nakedness,

Against the uttermost of earth.

The tale of earth’s unhonored things

Sounds nobler there than ’neath the sun;

And the mind whirls and the heart sings,

And a shout greets the daring one.

 

But always God speaks at the end:

"One thought in agony of strife

The bravest would have by for friend,

The memory that he chose the life;

But the pure fate to which you go

Admits no memory of choice,

Or the woe were not earthly woe

To which you gave the assenting voice."

 

And so the choice must be again,

But the last choice is still the same;

And the awe passes wonder then,

And the hush falls for all acclaim.

And God has taken a flower of gold

And broken it, and used therefrom

The mystic link to find and hold

Spirit to matter till death come.

 

'Tis of the essence of life here,

Though we choose greatly, still to lack

The lasting memory at all clear,

That life has for us on the wrack

Nothing but what we somehow chose;

Thus are we wholly stripped of pride

In the pain that has but one close,

Bearing it crushed and mystified.

 

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