A Rich Man’s Reverie by Marietta Holley

The years go by, but they little seem
Like those within our dream;
The years that stood in such luring guise,
Beckoning us into Paradise,
To jailers turn as time goes by
Guarding that fair land, By-and-By,
Where we thought to blissfully rest,
The sound of whose forests’ balmy leaves
Swaying to dream winds strangely sweet,
We heard in our bed ‘neath the cottage eaves,
Whose towers we saw in the western skies
When with eager eyes and tremulous lip,
We watched the silent, silver ship
Of the crescent moon, sailing out and away
O’er the land we would reach some day, some day.

But years have flown, and our weary feet
Have never reached that Isle of the Blest;
But care we have felt, and an aching breast,
A lifelong struggle, grief, unrest,
That had no part in our boyish plans;
And yet I have gold, and houses, and lands,
And ladened vessels a white-winged fleet,
That fly at my bidding across the sea;
And hats are doffed by willing hands
As I tread the village street;
But wealth and fame are not to me
What I thought that they would be.

I turn from it all to wander back
With Memory down the dusty track
Of the years that lie between,
To the farm-house old and brown,
Shaded with poplars dusky green,
I pause at its gate, not a bearded man,
But a boy with earnest eyes.

I stand at the gate and look around
At the fresh, fair world that before me lies.
The misty mountain-top aglow
With love of the sun, and the pleasant ground
Asleep at its feet, with sunny dreams
Of milk-white flowers in its heart, and clear
The tall church-spire in the distance gleams
Pointing up to the tranquil sky’s
Blue roof that seems so near.

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And up from the woods the morning breeze
Comes freighted with all the rich perfume
That from myriad spicy cups distils,
Loitering along o’er the locust-trees.
Scattering down the plum-trees’ bloom
In flakes of crimson snow–
Down on the gold of the daffodils
That border the path below.

And the silver thread of the rivulet
Tangled and knotted with fern and sedge.
And the mill-pond like a diamond set
In the streamlet’s emerald edge;
And over the stream on the gradual hill,
Its headstones glimmering palely white,
Is the graveyard quiet and still.
I wade through its grasses rank and deep,
Past slanting marbles mossy and dim,
Carven with lines from some old hymn,
To one where my mother used to lean
On Sunday noons and weep.
That tall white shape I looked upon
With a mysterious dread,
Linking unto the senseless stone
The image of the dead–
The father I never had seen;
I remember on dark nights of storm,
When our parlor was bright and warm,
I would turn away from its glowing light,
And look far out in the churchyard dim,
And with infinite pity think of him
Shut out alone in the dismal night.

And the ruined mill by the waterfall,
I see again its crumbling wall,
And I hear the water’s song.
It all comes back to me–
Its song comes back to me,
Floating out like a spirit’s call
The drowsy air along;
Blending forever with my name
Wonderful prophecies, dreamy talk,
Of future paths when I should walk
Crowned with manhood, and honor, and fame.

I shut my eyes and the rich perfume
Of the tropical lily fills the room
From its censer of frosted snow;
But it seems to float to me through the night
From those apple-blossoms red and white
That starred the orchard’s fragrant gloom;
Those old boughs hanging low,
Where my sister’s swing swayed to and fro
Through the scented aisles of the air;
While her merry voice and her laugh rung out
Like a bird’s, to answer my brother’s shout,
As he shook the boughs o’er her curly head,
Till the blossoms fell in a rosy rain
On her neck and her shining hair.
Oh, little Belle!
Oh, little sister, I loved so well;
It seems to me almost as if she died
In that lost time so gay and fair,
And was buried in childhood’s sunny plain;
And she who walks the street to-day,
Or in gilded carriage sweeps through the town
Staring her humbler sisters down,
With her jewels gleaming like lucent flame,
Proud of her grandeur and fine array,
Is only a stranger, who bears her name.

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And the little boy who played with me,
Hunting birds’-nests in sheltered nooks,
Trudging at nightfall after the cows,
Exploring the barn-loft, fording the brooks,
Ending, in school-time, puzzled brows
Over the same small lesson books;
Who knelt by my side in the twilight dim,
Praying “the Lord our souls to keep,”
Then on the same pillow fell asleep,
Hushed by our mother’s evening hymn;
Whose heart and mine kept such perfect time,
Such loving cadence, such tender rhyme,
Blent in child grief, and perfected in glee–
We meet on the street and we clasp the hand,
And our names on charitable papers stand
Side by side, and we go and bow
Our two gray heads with prayer and vow,
In the same grand church, and hasty word
Of anger, has never our bosoms stirred.
Yet a whole wide world is between us now;
How broad and deep does the gulf appear
Between the hearts that were so near!

I have pleasure grounds and mansions grand,
Low-voiced servants come at my call,
From Senate my name sounds over the land
In “ayes” and “nays” so solemnly read;
They call me “Honorable,” “General,” and all,
But to-night I am only Charley again,
I am Charley, and want to lay my head
On my mother’s heart and rest,
With her soft hand pressed upon my brow
Curing its weary pain.
But never, nevermore will it be,
For mould and marble rises now
Between my head and that loving breast;
And death has a cruel power to part–
Forever gone and lost to me
That true and tender heart.

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Oh, mother, I’ve never found love like thine,
Never have eyes looked into mine
With such proud love, such perfect trust.
Never have hands been so true and kind,
To lead me into the path of right–
Hands so gentle, and soft, and white,
That on my head like a blessing lay,
And led me a child and guided my youth;
To-night ’tis a dreary thought, in truth,
That those gentle hands are dust.
That I may be blamed, and you not be sad,
That I may be praised, and you not be glad;
‘Tis a dreary thought to your boy to-night,
That over your sweet smile, over your brow,
The clay-cold turf is pressing now,
That never again as the twilight falls
You will welcome your boy to the old brown walls
Of the homestead far away.

The homestead is ruined–gone to decay,
But we read of a house not made with hands,
Whose firm foundation forever stands;
And there is a twilight soft and sweet.
Will she not stand with outstretched hands
My homesick eyes to meet–
To welcome her boy as in days before,
To home, and to rest, forevermore?

But the years come and the years go,
And they lay on her grave as they silently pass,
Red summer buds and wreaths of snow,
And springing and fading grass.
And far away in an English town,
In the secluded, tranquil shade
Of an old Cathedral quaint and brown,
Another grave is made–
A small grave, yet so high
It shadowed all the world to me,
And darkened earth and sky.
But only for a time; it passed,
The unreasoning agony,
Like a cloud that drops its rain;
And light shone into our hearts at last.
And patience born of pain.
And now like a breath of healing balm
The sweet thought comes to me,
That my child has reached the Isle of Calm,
Over the silent sea–
That my pure little Blanche is safe in truth,
Safe in immortal beauty and youth.

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When she left us in the twilight gloom,
When she left her empty nest,
And the aching hearts below;
Full well, full well I know,
What tender-eyed angel bent
Down for my brown-eyed little bird,
From the shining battlement.
I know with what fond caressing,
And loving smile and word,
And look of tender blessing,
She took her to her breast,
And led her into some quiet room,
In the mansions of the blest.
Oh, mother, beloved, oh, child so dear,
Not by a wish, would I lure you here.

My son is a bright, brave boy, with a grace
Of beauty caught from his mother’s face,
And his mother and he in truth are dear,
Full tenderly, and fond, and near
My heart is bound to my wife and child;
But the summer of life is not its May,
And dreams and hopes that our youth beguiled,
Are but pallid forms of clay.

There’s the boy’s first love and passionate dream,
A face like a morning star, a gleam
Of hair the hue of a robin’s wing–
Brown hair aglow with a golden sheen,
And eyes the sweetest that ever were seen.

Mary, we have been parted long,
You were proud, and we both were wrong,
But ’tis over and past, no living gleam
Can come again to the dear, dead dream.
It is dead, so let it lie,
But nothing, nothing can ever be
Like that old dream to you or to me.

I think we shall know, shall know at last,
All that was strange in all the past,
Shall one day know, and shall haply see
That the sorrows and ills, that with tears and sighs,
We vainly endeavored to flee,
Were angels who, veiled in sorrow’s guise
Came to us only to bless.
Maybe we shall kneel and kiss their feet,
With grateful tears, when we shall meet
Their unveiled faces, pure and sweet,
Their eyes’ deep tenderness.
We shall know, perchance, had these angels come
Like mendicants unto a kingly gate
When we sat in joy’s royal state,
We had barred them from our home.
But when in our doorway one appears
Clothed in the purple of sorrow’s power,
He will enter in, no prayers or tears
Avail us in that hour.
So what we call our pains and losses
We may not always count aright,
The rough bars of our heavy crosses
May change to living light.

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