The days of a man are threescore years and ten.
The days of his life were half a man’s, whom we
Lament, and would yet not bid him back, to be
Partaker of all the woes and ways of men.
Life sent him enough of sorrow: not again
Would anguish of love, beholding him set free,
Bring back the beloved to suffer life and see
No light but the fire of grief that scathed him then.
We know not at all: we hope, and do not fear.
We shall not again behold him, late so near,
Who now from afar above, with eyes alight
And spirit enkindled, haply toward us here
Looks down unforgetful yet of days like night
And love that has yet his sightless face in sight.
February 15, 1887.
But half a man’s days–and his days were nights.
What hearts were ours who loved him, should we pray
That night would yield him back to darkling day,
Sweet death that soothes, to life that spoils and smites?
For now, perchance, life lovelier than the light’s
That shed no comfort on his weary way
Shows him what none may dream to see or say
Ere yet the soul may scale those topless heights
Where death lies dead, and triumph. Haply there
Already may his kindling eyesight find
Faces of friends–no face than his more fair–
And first among them found of all his kind
Milton, with crowns from Eden on his hair,
And eyes that meet a brother’s now not blind.
O Death, fair Death, sole comforter and sweet,
Nor Love nor Hope can give such gifts as thine.
Sleep hardly shows us round thy shadowy shrine
What roses hang, what music floats, what feet
Pass and what wings of angels. We repeat
Wild words or mild, disastrous or divine,
Blind prayer, blind imprecation, seeing no sign
Nor hearing aught of thee not faint and fleet
As words of men or snowflakes on the wind.
But if we chide thee, saying “Thou hast sinned, thou hast sinned,
Dark Death, to take so sweet a light away
As shone but late, though shadowed, in our skies,”
We hear thine answer–“Night has given what day
Denied him: darkness hath unsealed his eyes.”
Could love give strength to thank thee! Love can give
Strong sorrow heart to suffer: what we bear
We would not put away, albeit this were
A burden love might cast aside and live.
Love chooses rather pain than palliative,
Sharp thought than soft oblivion. May we dare
So trample down our passion and our prayer
That fain would cling round feet now fugitive
And stay them–so remember, so forget,
What joy we had who had his presence yet,
What griefs were his while joy in him was ours
And grief made weary music of his breath,
As even to hail his best and last of hours
With love grown strong enough to thank thee, Death?
Sister of sleep, healer of life, divine
As rest and strong as very love may be,
To set the soul that love could set not free,
To bid the skies that day could bid not shine,
To give the gift that life withheld was thine.
With all my heart I loved one borne from me:
And all my heart bows down and praises thee,
Death, that hast now made grief not his but mine.
O Changer of men’s hearts, we would not bid thee
Turn back our hearts from sorrow: this alone
We bid, we pray thee, from thy sovereign throne
And sanctuary sublime where heaven has hid thee,
Give: grace to know of those for whom we weep
That if they wake their life is sweet as sleep.
THE ORDER OF RELEASE
Thou canst not give it. Grace enough is ours
To know that pain for him has fallen on rest.
The worst we know was his on earth: the best,
We fain would think,–a thought no fear deflowers–
Is his, released from bonds of rayless hours.
Ah, turn our hearts from longing; bid our quest
Cease, as content with failure. This thy guest
Sleeps, vexed no more of time’s imperious powers,
The spirit of hope, the spirit of change and loss,
The spirit of love bowed down beneath his cross,
Nor now needs comfort from the strength of song.
Love, should he wake, bears now no cross for him:
Dead hope, whose living eyes like his were dim,
Has brought forth better comfort, strength more strong.
As Greece of old acclaimed thee God and man,
So, Death, our tongue acclaims thee: yet wast thou
Hailed of old Rome as Romans hail thee now,
Goddess and woman. Since the sands first ran
That told when first man’s life and death began,
The shadows round thy blind ambiguous brow
Have mocked the votive plea, the pleading vow
That sought thee sorrowing, fain to bless or ban.
But stronger than a father’s love is thine,
And gentler than a mother’s. Lord and God,
Thy staff is surer than the wizard rod
That Hermes bare as priest before thy shrine
And herald of thy mercies. We could give
Nought, when we would have given: thou bidst him live.
THE LAST WORD
So many a dream and hope that went and came,
So many and sweet, that love thought like to be,
Of hours as bright and soft as those for me
That made our hearts for song’s sweet love the same,
Lie now struck dead, that hope seems one with shame.
O Death, thy name is Love: we know it, and see
The witness: yet for very love’s sake we
Can hardly bear to mix with thine his name.
Philip, how hard it is to bid thee part
Thou knowest, if aught thou knowest where now thou art
Of us that loved and love thee. None may tell
What none but knows–how hard it is to say
The word that seals up sorrow, darkens day,
And bids fare forth the soul it bids farewell.