Ambrose Gwinett Bierce Quotes on Death & Dying (11 Quotes)


    TORTOISE, n. A creature thoughtfully created to supply occasion for the following lines by the illustrious Ambat Delaso: TO MY PET TORTOISE. My friend, you are not graceful --not at all Your gait's between a stagger and a sprawl. Nor are you beautiful your head's a snake's To look at, and I do not doubt it aches. As to your feet, they'd make an angel weep.'Tis true you take them in whene'er you sleep. No, you're not pretty, but you have, I own, A certain firmness --mostly you're sic backbone. Firmness and strength (you have a giant's thews) Are virtues that the great know how to use --I wish that they did not yet, on the whole, You lack --excuse my mentioning it --Soul. So, to be candid, unreserved and true, I'd rather you were I than I were you. Perhaps, however, in a time to be, When Man's extinct, a better world may see Your progeny in power and control, Due to the genesis and growth of Soul. So I salute you as a reptile grand Predestined to regenerate the land. Father of Possibilities, O deign To accept the homage of a dying reign; In the far region of the unforeknown I dream a tortoise upon every throne. I see an Emperor his head withdraw Into his carapace for fear of Law; A King who carries something else than fat, Howe'er acceptably he carries thatA President not strenuously bent On punishment of audible dissent --Who never shot (it were a vain attack) An armed or unarmed tortoise in the backSubject and citizens that feel no need To make the March of Mind a wild stampedeAll progress slow, contemplative, sedate, And Take your time the word, in Church and State. O Tortoise, 'tis a happy, happy dream, My glorious testudinous regimeI wish in Eden you'd brought this about By slouching in and chasing Adam out.

    HADES, n. The lower world the residence of departed spirits the place where the dead live. Among the ancients the idea of Hades was not synonymous with our Hell, many of the most respectable men of antiquity residing there in a very comfortable kind of way. Indeed, the Elysian Fields themselves were a part of Hades, though they have since been removed to Paris. When the Jacobean version of the New Testament was in process of evolution the pious and learned men engaged in the work insisted by a majority vote on translating the Greek word Aides as Hell but a conscientious minority member secretly possessed himself of the record and struck out the objectional word wherever he could find it. At the next meeting, the Bishop of Salisbury, looking over the work, suddenly sprang to his feet and said with considerable excitement Gentlemen, somebody has been razing 'Hell' here Years afterward the good prelate's death was made sweet by the reflection that he had been the means (under Providence) of making an important, serviceable and immortal addition to the phraseology of the English tongue.


    FAIRY, n. A creature, variously fashioned and endowed, that formerly inhabited the meadows and forests. It was nocturnal in its habits, and somewhat addicted to dancing and the theft of children. The fairies are now believed by naturalist to be extinct, though a clergyman of the Church of England saw three near Colchester as lately as 1855, while passing through a park after dining with the lord of the manor. The sight greatly staggered him, and he was so affected that his account of it was incoherent. In the year 1807 a troop of fairies visited a wood near Aix and carried off the daughter of a peasant, who had been seen to enter it with a bundle of clothing. The son of a wealthy bourgeois disappeared about the same time, but afterward returned. He had seen the abduction been in pursuit of the fairies. Justinian Gaux, a writer of the fourteenth century, avers that so great is the fairies' power of transformation that he saw one change itself into two opposing armies and fight a battle with great slaughter, and that the next day, after it had resumed its original shape and gone away, there were seven hundred bodies of the slain which the villagers had to bury. He does not say if any of the wounded recovered. In the time of Henry III, of England, a law was made which prescribed the death penalty for Kyllynge, wowndynge, or mamynge a fairy, and it was universally respected.

    FORK, n. An instrument used chiefly for the purpose of putting dead animals into the mouth. Formerly the knife was employed for this purpose, and by many worthy persons is still thought to have many advantages over the other tool, which, however, they do not altogether reject, but use to assist in charging the knife. The immunity of these persons from swift and awful death is one of the most striking proofs of God's mercy to those that hate Him.


    CARMELITE, n. A mendicant friar of the order of Mount Carmel.As Death was a-rising out one day, Across Mount Camel he took his way, Where he met a mendicant monk, Some three or four quarters drunk, With a holy leer and a pious grin, Ragged and fat and as saucy as sin, Who held out his hands and criedGive, give in Charity's name, I pray. Give in the name of the Church. O give, Give that her holy sons may live And Death replied, Smiling long and wideI'll give, holy father, I'll give thee --a ride.With a rattle and bang Of his bones, he sprang From his famous Pale Horse, with his spear By the neck and the foot Seized the fellow, and put Him astride with his face to the rear.The Monarch laughed loud with a sound that fell Like clods on the coffin's sounding shellHo, ho A beggar on horseback, they say, Will ride to the devil --and thump Fell the flat of his dart on the rump Of the charger, which galloped away.Faster and faster and faster it flew, Till the rocks and the flocks and the trees that grew By the road were dim and blended and blue To the wild, wild eyes Of the rider --in size Resembling a couple of blackberry pies. Death laughed again, as a tomb might laugh At a burial service spoiled, And the mourners' intentions foiled By the body erecting Its head and objecting To further proceedings in its behalf.Many a year and many a day Have passed since these events away. The monk has long been a dusty corse, And Death has never recovered his horse. For the friar got hold of its tail, And steered it within the pale Of the monastery gray, Where the beast was stabled and fed With barley and oil and bread Till fatter it grew than the fattest friar, And so in due course was appointed Prior. --G.J.

    KEEP, v.t.He willed away his whole estate, And then in death he fell asleep, Murmuring Well, at any rate, My name unblemished I shall keep. But when upon the tomb 'twas wrought Whose was it --for the dead keep naught. --Durang Gophel Arn

    COMMONWEALTH, n. An administrative entity operated by an incalculable multitude of political parasites, logically active but fortuitously efficient. This commonwealth's capitol's corridors view, So thronged with a hungry and indolent crew Of clerks, pages, porters and all attaches Whom rascals appoint and the populace pays That a cat cannot slip through the thicket of shins Nor hear its own shriek for the noise of their chins. On clerks and on pages, and porters, and all, Misfortune attend and disaster befall May life be to them a succession of hurts May fleas by the bushel inhabit their shirts May aches and diseases encamp in their bones, Their lungs full of tubercles, bladders of stones May microbes, bacilli, their tissues infest, And tapeworms securely their bowels digest May corn-cobs be snared without hope in their hair, And frequent impalement their pleasure impair. Disturbed be their dreams by the awful discourse Of audible sofas sepulchrally hoarse, By chairs acrobatic and wavering floors -- The mattress that kicks and the pillow that snores Sons of cupidity, cradled in sin Your criminal ranks may the death angel thin, Avenging the friend whom I couldn't work in. --K. Q.

    TECHNICALITY, n. In an English court a man named Home was tried for slander in having accused his neighbor of murder. His exact words were Sir Thomas Holt hath taken a cleaver and stricken his cook upon the head, so that one side of the head fell upon one shoulder and the other side upon the other shoulder. The defendant was acquitted by instruction of the court, the learned judges holding that the words did not charge murder, for they did not affirm the death of the cook, that being only an inference.

    EPAULET, n. An ornamented badge, serving to distinguish a military officer from the enemy --that is to say, from the officer of lower rank to whom his death would give promotion.

    UNCTION, n. An oiling, or greasing. The rite of extreme unction consists in touching with oil consecrated by a bishop several parts of the body of one engaged in dying. Marbury relates that after the rite had been administered to a certain wicked English nobleman it was discovered that the oil had not been properly consecrated and no other could be obtained. When informed of this the sick man said in anger Then I'll be damned if I die; My son, said the priest, this is what we fear.


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