The Dead House

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The Dead House
by James Russell Lowell
Featured in Vol 2., No.5 of The Atlantic Monthly.

The Dead House

 Here once my step was quickened,
    Here beckoned the opening door,
  And welcome thrilled from the threshold
    To the foot it had felt before.

  A glow came forth to meet me
    From the flame that laughed in the grate,
  And shadows a-dance on the ceiling
    Danced blither with mine for a mate.

  "I claim you, old friend," yawned the arm-chair,—
    "This corner, you know, is your seat."
  "Rest your slippers on me," beamed the fender,—
    "I brighten at touch of your feet."

  "We know the practised finger,"
    Said the books, "that seems like brain";
  And the shy page rustled the secret
    It had kept till I came again.

  Sang the pillow, "My down once quivered
    On nightingales' throats that flew
  Through moonlit gardens of Hafiz
    To gather quaint dreams for you."

  Ah, me, where the Past sowed heart's-ease,
    The Present plucks rue for us men!
  I come back: that scar unhealing
    Was not in the churchyard then.

  But, I think, the house is unaltered;
    I will go and beg to look
  At the rooms that were once familiar
    To my life as its bed to a brook.

  Unaltered! Alas for the sameness
    That makes the change but more!
  'Tis a dead man I see in the mirrors,
    'Tis his tread that chills the floor!

  To learn such a simple lesson
    Need I go to Paris and Rome,—
  That the many make a household,
    But only one the home?

  'Twas just a womanly presence,
    An influence unexprest,—
  But a rose she had worn on my grave-sod
    Were more than long life with the rest!

  'Twas a smile, 'twas a garment's rustle,
    'Twas nothing that I can phrase,—
  But the whole dumb dwelling grew conscious,
    And put on her looks and ways.

  Were it mine, I would close the shutters,
    Like lids when the life is fled,
  And the funeral fire should wind it,
    This corpse of a home that is dead.

  For it died that autumn morning
    When she, its soul, was borne
  To lie all dark on the hillside
    That looks over woodland and corn.

This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.