The poems of Edmund Clarence Stedman/Shadow-Land
"DARKNESS AND THE SHADOW
Waking, I have been nigh to Death,—
Have felt the chillness of his breath
Whiten my cheek and numb my heart,
And wondered why he stayed his dart,—
Yet quailed not, but could meet him so,
As any lesser friend or foe.
But sleeping, in the dreams of night,
His phantom stifles me with fright!
O God! what frozen horrors fall
Upon me with his visioned pall:
The movelessness, the unknown dread,
Fair life to pulseless silence wed!
And is the grave so darkly deep,
So hopeless, as it seems in sleep?
Can our sweet selves the coffin hold
So dumb within its crumbling mould?
And is the shroud so dank and drear
A garb,—the noisome worm so near?
Where then is Heaven's mercy fled,—
To quite forget the voiceless dead?
THE ASSAULT BY NIGHT
All night we hear the rattling flaw,
The casements shiver with each breath;
And still more near the foemen draw,
The pioneers of Death
Their grisly chieftain comes:
He steals upon us in the night;
Call up the guards! light every light!
Beat the alarum drums!
His tramp is at the outer door;
He bears against the shuddering walls;
Lo! what a dismal frost and hoar
Upon the window falls!
Outbar him while ye may!
Feed, feed the watch-fires everywhere,—
Even yet their cheery warmth will scare
This thing of night away.
Ye cannot! something chokes the grate
And clogs the air within its flues,
And runners from the entrance-gate
Come chill with evil news:
The bars are broken ope!
Ha! he has scaled the inner wall!
But fight him still, from hall to hall;
While life remains, there's hope.
Too late! the very frame is dust,
The locks and trammels fall apart;
He reaches, scornful of their trust,
The portals of the heart.
Ay, take the citadel!
But where, grim Conqueror, is thy prey?
In vain thou 'lt search each secret way,
Its flight is hidden well.
We yield thee, for thy paltry spoils,
This shell, this ruin thou hast made;
Its tenant has escaped thy toils,
Though they were darkly laid.
Even now, immortal, pure,
It gains a house not made with hands,
A refuge in serener lands,
A heritage secure.
THE SAD BRIDAL
What would you do, my dear one said,—
What would you do, if I were dead?
If Death should mumble, as he list,
These red lips which now you kist?
What would my love do, were I wed
To that ghastly groom instead;
If o'er me, in the chancel, Death
Should cast his amaranthine wreath,—
Before my eyes, with fingers pale,
Draw down the mouldy bridal veil?
—Ah no! no! it cannot be!
Death would spare their light, and flee,
And leave my love to Life and me!
I have a little kinsman
Whose earthly summers are but three,
And yet a voyager is he
Greater than Drake or Frobisher,
Than all their peers together!
He is a brave discoverer,
And, far beyond the tether
Of them who seek the frozen Pole,
Has sailed where the noiseless surges roll.
Ay, he has travelled whither
A winged pilot steered his bark
Through the portals of the dark,
Past hoary Mimir's well and tree,
Across the unknown sea.
Suddenly, in his fair young hour,
Came one who bore a flower,
And laid it in his dimpled hand
With this command:
"Henceforth thou art a rover!
Thou must make a voyage far,
Sail beneath the evening star,
And a wondrous land discover."
—With his sweet smile innocent
Our little kinsman went.
Since that time no word
From the absent has been heard.
Who can tell
How he fares, or answer well
What the little one has found
Since he left us, outward bound?
Would that he might return!
Then should we learn
From the pricking of his chart
How the skyey roadways part.
Hush! does not the baby this way bring,
To lay beside this severed curl,
Some starry offering
Of chrysolite or pearl?
Ah, no! not so!
We may follow on his track,
But he comes not back.
And yet I dare aver
He is a brave discoverer
Of climes his elders do not know.
He has more learning than appears
On the scroll of twice three thousand years,
More than in the groves is taught,
Or from furthest Indies brought;
He knows, perchance, how spirits fare,—
What shapes the angels wear,
What is their guise and speech
In those lands beyond our reach,—
And his eyes behold
Things that shall never, never be to mortal hearers told.
Give me to die unwitting of the day,
And stricken in Life's brave heat, with senses clear:
Not swathed and couched until the lines appear
Of Death's wan mask upon this withering clay,
But as that old man eloquent made way
From Earth, a nation's conclave hushed anear;
Or as the chief whose fates, that he may hear
The victory, one glorious moment stay.
Or, if not thus, then with no cry in vain,
No ministrant beside to ward and weep,
Hand upon helm I would my quittance gain
In some wild turmoil of the waters deep,
And sink content into a dreamless sleep
(Spared grave and shroud) below the ancient main.
"THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY."
Could we but know
The land that ends our dark, uncertain travel,
Where lie those happier hills and meadows low,—
Ah, if beyond the spirit's inmost cavil,
Aught of that country could we surely know,
Who would not go?
Might we but hear
The hovering angels' high imagined chorus,
Or catch, betimes, with wakeful eyes and clear,
One radiant vista of the realm before us,—
With one rapt moment given to see and hear,
Ah, who would fear?
Were we quite sure
To find the peerless friend who left us lonely,
Or there, by some celestial stream as pure,
To gaze in eyes that here were lovelit only,—
This weary mortal coil, were we quite sure,
Who would endure?