William Cosmo Monkhouse

(1840 - 1901 / England)

A Dead March


PLAY me a march, low-ton’d and slow—a march for a silent tread,
Fit for the wandering feet of one who dreams of the silent dead,
Lonely, between the bones below and the souls that are overhead.

Here for a while they smil’d and sang, alive in the interspace,
Here with the grass beneath the foot, and the stars above the face,
Now are their feet beneath the grass, and whither has flown their grace?

Who shall assure us whence they come, or tell us the way they go?
Verily, life with them was joy, and, now they have left us, woe,
Once they were not, and now they are not, and this is the sum we know.

Orderly range the seasons due, and orderly roll the stars.
How shall we deem the soldier brave who frets of his wounds and scars?
Are we as senseless brutes that we should dash at the well-seen bars?

No, we are here, with feet unfix’d, but ever as if with lead
Drawn from the orbs which shine above to the orb on which we tread,
Down to the dust from which we came and with which we shall mingle dead.

No, we are here to wait, and work, and strain our banish’d eyes,
Weary and sick of soil and toil, and hungry and fain for skies
Far from the reach of wingless men, and not to be scal’d with cries.

No, we are here to bend our necks to the yoke of tyrant Time,
Welcoming all the gifts he gives us—glories of youth and prime,
Patiently watching them all depart as our heads grow white as rime.

Why do we mourn the days that go—for the same sun shines each day,
Ever a spring her primrose hath, and ever a May her may;
Sweet as the rose that died last year is the rose that is born to-day.

Do we not too return, we men, as ever the round earth whirls?
Never a head is dimm’d with gray but another is sunn’d with curls;
She was a girl and he was a boy, but yet there are boys and girls.

Ah, but alas for the smile of smiles that never but one face wore;
Ah, for the voice that has flown away like a bird to an unseen shore;
Ah, for the face—the flower of flowers—that blossoms on earth no more.

Submitted: Thursday, January 01, 2004

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