By the Dead

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By the Dead  (1858) 
Anonymous
1858 publication in The Atlantic Monthly. Author not attributed

By the Dead

 Pride that sat on the beautiful brow,
    Scorn that lay in the arching lips,
  Will of the oak-grain, where are ye now?
    I may dare to touch her finger-tips!
  Deep, flaming eyes, ye are shallow enough;
    The steadiest fire burns out at last.
  Throw back the shutters,--the sky is rough,
    And the winds are high,--but the night is past.

  Mother, I speak with the voice of a man;
    Death is between us,--I stoop no more;
  And yet so dim is each new-born plan,
    I am feebler than ever I was before,--
  Feebler than when the western hill
    Faded away with its sunset gold.
  Mother, your voice seemed dark and chill,
    And your words made my young heart very cold.

  You talked of fame,--but my thoughts would stray
    To the brook that laughed across the lane;
  And of hopes for me,--but your hand's light play
    On my brow was ice to my shrinking brain;
  And you called me your son, your only son,--
    But I felt your eye on my tortured heart
  To and fro, like a spider, run,
    On a quivering web;--'twas a cruel art!

  But crueller, crueller far, the art
    Of the low, quick laugh that Memory hears!
  Mother, I lay my head on your heart;
    Has it throbbed even once these fifty years?
  Throbbed even once, by some strange heat thawed?
    It would then have warmed to her, poor thing,
  Who echoed your laugh with a cry!--O God,
    When in my soul will it cease to ring?

  Starlike her eyes were,--but yours were blind;
    Sweet her red lips,--but yours were curled;
  Pure her young heart,--but yours,--ah, you find
    This, mother, is not the only world!
  She came,--bright gleam of the dawning day;
    She went,--pale dream of the winding-sheet.
  Mother, they come to me and say
    Your headstone will almost touch her feet!

  You are walking now in a strange, dim land:
    Tell me, has pride gone with you there?
  Does a frail white form before you stand,
    And tremble to earth, beneath your stare?
  No, no!--she is strong in her pureness now,
    And Love to Power no more defers.
  I fear the roses will never grow
    On your lonely grave as they do on hers!

  But now from those lips one last, sad touch,--
    Kiss it is not, and has never been;
  In my boyhood's sleep I dreamed of such,
    And shuddered,--they were so cold and thin!
  There,--now cover the cold, white face,
    Whiter and colder than statue stone!
  Mother, you have a resting-place;
    But I am weary, and all alone!

This work was published before January 1, 1923 and it is anonymous or pseudonymous due to unknown authorship. It is in the public domain in the United States as well as countries and areas where the copyright terms of anonymous or pseudonymous works are 155 years or less since publication.