When I come down to sleep death’s endless night,
The threshold of the unknown dark to cross,
What to me then will be the keenest loss,
When this bright world blurs on my fading sight?
Will it be that no more I shall see the trees
Or smell the flowers or hear the singing birds
Or watch the flashing streams or patient herds?
No. I am sure it will be none of these.
But, ah! Manhattan’s sights and sounds, her smells,
Her crowds, her throbbing force, the thrill that comes
From being of her part, her subtle spells,
Her shining towers, her avenues, her slums—
Oh God! the stark, unutterable pity,
To be dead, and never again behold my city.
James Weldon Johnson, Saint Peter Relates an Incident (New York, London, Victoria, Toronto, Auckland: Penguin Books, 1993), 37.