There is No Death

“THERE IS NO DEATH”

By J.L. McCREERY.

There is no death! the stars go down
To rise upon some other shore,
And bright in Heaven’s jeweled crown,
They shine forevermore.

There is no death! the dust we tread,
Shall change, beneath the summer showers,
To golden grain, or mellow fruit,
Or rainbow-tinted flowers.

The granite rocks disorganize
To feed the hungry moss they bear;
The forest leaves drink daily life
From out the viewless air.

There is no death! the leaves may fall,
The flowers may fade and pass away;
They only wait, through wintry hours,
The coming of the May.

There is no death! an angel form
Walks o’er the earth with silent tread;
He bears our best-loved things away,
And then we call them dead.

He leaves our hearts all desolate,
He plucks our fairest, sweetest flowers,
Transplanted into bliss, they now
Adorn immortal bowers.

The birdlike voice, whose joyous tones
Made glad the scene of sin and strife,
Sings now its everlasting song
Amid the trees of life.

Where’er he sees a smile too bright
Or soul too pure for taint or vice,
He bears it to that world of light
To dwell in Paradise.

Born into that undying life,
They leave us but to come again;
With joy we welcome them the same
Except in sin and pain.

And ever near us, though unseen,
The dear, immortal spirits tread —
For all the boundless universe
Is Life — there are no dead!

Colorado Springs Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colorado) Dec 11, 1910

“THERE IS NO DEATH.”

AUTHOR OF THE POEM IS FINALLY IDENTIFIED.

He Is J.L. McCreery, of Iowa — He Is a Clerk in the Office of the Assistant Attorney General — He Has Also Written a Book of Poems.

MEL R. COLQUITT writes to the Atlanta Constitution as follows: A few months ago I saw in the Constitution in answers to correspondents the reply as to who wrote the poem, “There Is No Death.” The answer attributed the poem to Bulwer, as usual — I say as usual, for it is surprising in view of the publicity given to the real authorship that the mistake still be made. As I am personally acquainted with the writer of those noble lines, I propose to set the matter at rest for all time. As grown people are as susceptible to the logic and object lessons of pictures as children are, I send with this a photograph of the author. Mr. J.L. McCreery, of Iowa, the poet, author of hte verses in question, and of a volume of poems entitled “Songs of Toil and Triumph,” has been for years a clerk in the office of the assistant attorney-general for the department of the interior.

His own story of the poem and the many controversies that have arisen concerning it is told in a delightfully clear and entertaining manner in “Annals of Iowa,” a historical quarterly, published by the historical department of Iowa in October, 1893. His story is extremely candid and told with winning frankness, as he goes most carefully into his own criticism of his poem and shows in verse after verse how revision and improvement finally let to its perfect thought and form. It was written in the early spring of 1863, when Mr. McCreery was living in Delaware county, Iowa. It was sent to Arthur’s Home Magazine, Philadelphia, and appeared in that monthly in the number for July, 1863 — Vol. 22, page 41.

The poem was shortly reprinted in The Delaware County Journal (Mr. McCreery’s own paper) and credited to Arthur Home Magazine. A writer for the Farmer’s Advocate, then published in Chicago, contributed to that paper an article on “Immorality,” concluding his prose article with Mr. McCreery’s lines. The name of the writer of the essay was Eugene Bulmer, and it was signed at the end, or after the quoted poem, with no credit given to the poet, no quotation marks used.

A friend of Mr. McCreery’s wrote at once to the editor of the Farmer’s Advocate, claiming the poem for the rightful owner, but it was too late. A Wisconsin paper had cut off the poetry from the article and printed it with the name of E. Bulmer attached, then another Wisconsin editor desired to reprint it, and supposing that he had discovered an error in the types, changed the “m” to a “w” and so the mischief was done, and to Lord Edward Bulwer Lytton, of England, who had never seen or heard of the matter, the fine poem was accredited. A few years ago Lippincott’s Magazine in its department of One Hundred Questions, asked the authorship of the much disputed verses and the magazine decided, June, 1889, page 918, that Mr. McCreery wrote them.

Lima News (Lima, Ohio) May 14, 1898

[Excerpt – omitted parts repeating same information from above article]

…..
And thus it was that the world came into the possession of a poem by Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton through carelessness and unbeknown to the English Litterateur. The name of Bulwer attached gave to the poem an immediate notoriety, and in a very short time it was being copied all over the country, and from American journals was recopied in England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Australia, and probably every other country where the English language is known.

Its merit was recognized, and it began to appear in school books and in various collections of poetry, and all this time the author stood silently by and saw his words credited to Lord Lytton. Whenever an opportunity offered, however, he asserted his title to the poem, and although the public received his statements incredulously, yet his claims called for an investigation.

In the year 1870 Harper  & Brothers included the poem in one of their school readers, accrediting it to Bulwer-Lytton. When the author discovered it, he called the attention of the publishers to the mistake, and in order to thoroughly satisfy themselves of the error, they addressed a letter to Owen Meredith, the son of Lord Lytton, asking whether or not his father had written the poem. In reply he stated that his father had not written it, and moreover neither he nor any of his family had ever heard of it.

Upon the receipt of this letter, Harper & Brothers wrote to Mr. McCreery as follows:

“An order was sent today to change the plates of our school reader by announcing you as the author of “There Is No Death.” I am glad that I have secured you your just dues.” This letter was dated October 10, 1874. From this time on the poem was properly credited in established publications, but it went wandering about for many years afterwards with the name of E. Bulwer attached.

As to the writing of the poem, Mr. McCreery says that one winter’s night, early in the year 1863, as he was riding home in the clear starlight, the theme of the poem suggested itself to him, and before he had finished his journey the first stanza had been evolved in his mind. With this as an inspiration, he worked on the poem at odd moments during the next succeeding weeks until it was completed. The lines printed above are those of the poem as originally written. In 1883, Mr. McCreery published a new volume of his poems, among which was “There Is No Death,” which he had revised in the meantime making so many changes that it might well be regarded as a different poem. In the revised poem there are 16 verses instead of 10, as in the original.

John L. McCreery was born in Monroe county, New York, on the last day of the year 1835. His father was a poor Methodist minister, whose meager income was barely sufficient for the support of his family, and the early life of the poet was consequently one of many hardships and privations. The greater part of his education was gained from borrowed books, which he would study by the light of a pine knot while lying on his back before the fireplace, or at intervals during the working hours of the day.

In his seventeenth year, McCreery removed to Illinois, where his continued feebleness of health and growing literary tastes impelled him before long to forsake the plow for the pen. He began at the foot of the ladder by learning the printer’s trade, but through his efforts and abilities he rapidly rose to more important callings, and was soon filling the position of assistant editor of a country newspaper. When he was 21 years of age he went to Iowa, and finally became local editor of the Dubuque Times. Here he remained for a number of years, and finally removed to Washington in 1878.

Colorado Spring Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colorado) Dec 11, 1910

Another article that accompanies the above picture can be read at the link below:

Title: National magazine …, Volume 36
Authors: Arthur Wellington Brayley, Arthur Wilson Tarbell, Joe Mitchell Chapple
Publisher: Chapple Publishing Company, Ltd., 1912 — [Pg 838 google book link]

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