Unlike Isabella herself, who always attributes authorship to the poems she collects, this particular poem has gone unattributed by the author. This poem is written by an E.M.M and dated December 2nd, without a year. Despite not being an original poem, E.M.M. has not provided us with the author’s name.
Regardless, the poem If I Should Die Tonight was written by Arabella Eugenia Smith, about whom relatively little is known. She was born in Ohio in 1844 and published this poem in The Christian Union on June 18, 1873. The poem had a meteoric rise to success and was published and republished across America, including in Thompson’s The humbler poets.
Despite the fame of If I Should Die Tonight, very little is known about Arabella. There does not appear to be any other poems, or collections of poems to her name, and the only other detail we have is the date of her death in 1916. There is a parody of her poem, written by Ben King, but other than that there are sparse details about Arabella.
This relative anonymity extends beyond details of her life, as unfortunately, If I Should Die Tonight was not always attributed to her, and was occassionally reported as being from an anonymous author. Thus, perhaps we cannot blame E.M.M. too much for having not cited her, as they may not have known themselves.
Indeed, as before, this poem appears to have been written from memory, and not from another printed copy. In the third stanza, the fourth line we have the word ‘gaze’ where the original poem has ‘glance.’ This muddles the metrics somewhat, as ‘glance’ is the better rhyme: “The eyes that chill me with averted glance/Would look upon me as of yore, perchance.”
Neverthless, aside from this mild slip, the poem is reproduced faithfully and accurately, and most impressively, without any indications of mistakes or corrections. As quite a lengthy poem, E.M.M must have known it quite well in order to report it so easily!
If I Should Die Tonight
If I should die tonight
My friends would look upon my quiet face
Before they laid it in its resting place
And deem that death had left it almost fair;
And laying snow white flowers against my hair,
Would smooth it down with tearful tenderness
And fold my hands with lingering care
Poor hands, so empty and so cold tonight!
If I should die tonight,
My friends would call to mind, with loving thought
Some kindly deed the icy hands had wrought;
Some gentle word the frozen lips had said;
Errands on which the willing feet had sped;
The memory of selfishness and pride,
My hasty words, would all be put aside.
And so I should be loved and mourned tonight.
If I should die to-night
Even hearts estranged would turn once more to me,
Recalling other days remorsefully.
The eyes that chill me with averted gaze,
Would look upon me as of yore, perchance,
And soften in the old, familiar way,
For who could war with dumb unconscious clay?
So I might rest, forgiven of all, tonight.
O. friends! I pray to-night,
Keep not your kisses for my dead, cold brow.
The way is lonely, let me feel them now.
Think gently of me; I am travel worn;
My faltering feet are pierced with many a thorn.
Forgive, O hearts estranged! Forgive, I plead!
When dreamless rest is mine I shall not need
The tenderness for which I long to-night.