Robert Kirkland Kernighan
The Fittest Only Shall Survive - Poem by Robert Kirkland Kernighan
I stood alone, when all at once the scales
Fell from mine eyes, and lo, I saw the vales
And mountain sides, as far as eye could see,
Filled with a shining host of goodly company,
And on a ladder stretched to heaven afar,
One end on earth, one fixed against a star ;
Ascending and descending angels fair,
Whose feet made music on the golden stair,
And all the while from heaven's melodious throat
This wondrous song kept dropping note by note :
' The useful man shall save his soul alive
The fittest only shall the grave survive.'
And near me stood an angel for awhile
He watched me sadly with a pitying smile ;
' Fear not,' he said, ' and do not troubled be
By things that you may hear or things you see.
The Lord himself hath placed me by thy side
To teach thee certain truths and be thy guide.'
' Why am I here? ' I cried, ' from earth beguiled !'
' You have n't 4 got religion,' ' and he smiled ;
' You felt that God was libeled when they said
That He a place on earth called hell had made.
Thou shalt return to earth this thing to tell :
God made the heavens only man made hell !'
' But where,' I asked, 'do all the sinners go?'
I wondered when I saw him smiling so,
And when he spake I reverent held my breath :
' Dost thou not know the wage of sin is death ?
Surely thou hast not studied as you ought
The holy book wherein that truth is taught :
On every page that lesson meets the eye
The soul that sins, that soul will surely die !
And death means DEATH ! the dead man's hand no
Shall have a chance to knock upon the door.
Good men alone shall save their souls alive
The fittest only shall the tomb survive.
So, search the scriptures ; all your soul engage :
The world beneath you is one fruitful page :
The birds, the beasts, the fishes in the sea,
The corn and grasses brushing 'gainst thy knee,
The buzzing insects, yea, the very worms
That bide within the earth, the unseen germs
All teach this law that rules the heavens and earth.
Yea, rules each little being from his birth ;
And they will teach you by their endless strife
The victor's crown is everlasting life.
They teach it daily in their little lives
He only that is fit the strife survives.
And knowing this, then let thy soul be brave ;
Destroying hell is harnessed to the grave ;
There fixed for aye by an unyielding bond
Rejoice to think it hath no grip beyond.
God made the universe, and made it well
Dost think His holy fingers fashioned hell?
The earth of agony, the skies of gloom,
The fields of vice, are bounded by the tomb.
This law is merciful, tho' mayhap stern :
Man made of dust shall to the dust return.
' Why should the God-Head seek the dust to save?
The living only shall survive the grave.
In God's wide universe of earth and air
There 's no abiding place for dead men there ;
And in the other world beyond man's view
That constant law, unbreakable, holds true.
Go back to earth and mock their foolish strife ;
Tell every man to eat the Bread of Life.
Our Lord on earth, in troubles dark and dim,
Performed good deeds let all men copy Him.
Tell them they must, to save their souls alive,
Be numbered with the fittest to survive.'
' God made the heavens only then the earth ?'
' Is part of heaven ! ' the angel said, with mirth ;
' Know that the heavens are many, and the first
And lowest heaven is that earth accursed
Cursed not of God, as pulpit men have said ;
But cursed by hells, by human malice made.
That lower heaven is their first and last ;
Their fatal feet the grave have never passed ;
Thus far and then no farther shall they go,
To turn another heaven into woe.
Such people cannot save their souls alive
None but the fittest shall the grave survive.
' And thus you see the Lord to thee doth give
A fighting chance to either die or live :
You have your chance to turn to dust and clay,
Or be a cord of wood, or bale of hay.
Thus will you gain the angels' just contempt
To pass the tomb you never made attempt ;
And they will judge you by that awful rule :
He must have been a scoundrel or a fool.
Shall you, O Khan, then let your chances pass ;
To go on record angel or an ass?
Know that thou must, to save thy soul alive,
Be numbered with the fittest to survive.'
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