Sydney Thompson Dobell (1824-1874 / England)
A Hero's Grave
O'er our evening fire the smoke is like a pall,
And funeral banners hang about the arches of the hall,
In the gable end I see a catafalque aloof,
And night is drawn up like a curtain to the girders of the roof.
Thou knowest why we silent sit, and why our eyes are dim,
Sing us such proud sorrow as we may hear for him.
Reach me the old harp that hangs between the flags he won,
I will sing what once I heard beside the grave of such a son.
My son, my son,
A father's eyes are looking on thy grave,
Dry eyes that look on this green mound and see
The low weed blossom and the long grass wave,
Without a single tear to them or thee,
My son, my son.
Why should I weep? The grass is grass, the weeds
Are weeds. The emmet hath done thus ere now.
I tear a leaf; the green blood that it bleeds
Is cold. What have I here? Where, where, art thou,
My son, my son?
On which tall trembler shall the old man lean?
Which chill leaf shall lap o'er him when he lies
On that bed where in visions I have seen
Thy filial love? or, when thy father dies,
Tissue a fingered thorn to close his childless eyes?
Aye, where art thou? Men tell me of a fame
Walking the wondering nations; and they say,
When thro' the shouting people thy great name
Goes like a chief upon a battle-day,
They shake the heavens with glory. Well-away!
As some poor hound that thro' thronged street and square
Pursues his loved lost lord, and fond and fast
Seeks what he feels to be but feels not where,
Tracks the dear feet to some closed door at last,
And lies him down and lornest looks doth cast,
So I, thro' all the long tumultuous days,
Tracing thy footstep on the human sands,
O'er the signed deserts and the vocal ways
Pursue thee, faithful, thro' the echoing lands,
Wearing a wandering staff with trembling hands:
Thro' echoing lands that ring with victory,
And answer for the living with the dead,
And give me marble when I ask for bread,
And give me glory when I ask for thee-
It was not glory I nursed on my knee.
And now, one stride behind thee, and too late,
Yet true to all that reason cannot kill,
I stand before the inexorable gate
And see thy latest footstep on the sill,
And know thou canst not come, but watch and wait thee still.
'Old man!'-Ah, darest thou? yet thy look is kind,
Didst thou, too, love him? 'Thou grey-headed sire,
Seest thou this path which from that grave doth wind
Far thro' those western uplands higher and higher,
Till, like a thread, it burns in the great fire
'Of sunset? The wild sea and desert meet
Eastward by yon unnavigable strand,
Then wherefore hath the flow of human feet
Left this dry runnel of memorial sand
Meandering thro' the summer of the land?
'See where the long immeasurable snake,
Between dim hall and hamlet, tower and shed,
Mountain and mountain, precipice and lake,
Lies forth unfinished to this final head,
This green dead mound of the unfading dead!'
Do they then come to weep thee? Do they kiss
Thy relics? Art thou then as wholly gone
As some old buried saint? My son, my son,
Ah, could I mourn thee so! Such tears were bliss!
'Old man, they do not mourn who weep at graves like this.'
They do not mourn? What! hath the insolent foe
Found out my child's last bed? Who, who, are they
That come and go about him? I cry, 'Who?'
I am his father-I;-I cry 'Who?' 'Aye,
Gray trembler, I will tell thee who are they.
'The slave who, having grown up strong and stark
To the set season, feels at length he wears
Bonds that will break, and thro' the slavish dark
Shines with the light of liberated years,
And still in chains doth weep a freeman's tears.
'The patriot, while the unebbed force that hurled
His tyrant throbs within his bursting veins,
And, on the ruins of a hundred reigns,
That ancient heaven of brass, so long unfurled,
Falls with a crash of fame that fills the world,
And thro' the clangor lo the unwonted strains
Of peace, and, in the new sweet heavens upcurled,
The sudden incense of a thousand plains.
'Youth whom some mighty flash from heaven hath turned
In his dark highway, and who runs forth, shod
With flame, into the wilderness untrod,
And as he runs his heart of flint is burned,
And in that glass he sees the face of God,
And falls upon his knees-and morn is all abroad.
'Age who hath heard amid his cloistered ground
The cheer of youth, and steps from echoing aisles,
And at a sight the great blood with a bound
Melts his brow's winter, which the free sun smiles
To jewels, and he stands a young man crowned
With glittering years among a young world shouting round.
'Girls that do blush and tremble with delight
On the St. John's eve of their maidenhood;
When the unsummered woman in her blood
Glows through the Parian maid, and at the sight
The flushing virgin weeps and feels herself too bright.
'He who first feels the world-old destiny,
The shaft of gold that strikes the poet still,
And slowly in its victim melts away,
Who knows his wounds will heal but when they kill,
And drop by vital drop doth bleed his golden ill.
'All whom the everpassing mysteries
Have rapt above the region of our race,
And, blinded by the glory and the grace,
Break from the ecstatic sphere-as he who dies
In darkness, and in heaven's own light doth rise,
Dazed with the untried glory of the place
Looks up and sees some well-remembered face,
And thro' the invulnerable angels flies
To that dear human breast and hides his dazzled eyes.
'All who, like the sun-ripened seed that springs
And bourgeons in the sun, do hold profound
An antenatal stature, which the round
Of the dull continent flesh hath cribbed and wound
Into this kernelled man; but having found
Such soil as grew them, burst in blossomings
Not native here, or, from the hallowed ground,
Tower their slow height, and spread, like sheltering wings,
Those boughs wherein the bird of omen sings
High as the palms of heaven, while to the sound
Lo kingdoms jocund in the sacred bound
Till the world's summer fills her moon, and brings
The final fruit which is the feast and fate of kings.
'And darest thou mourn? Thy bones are left behind,
But where art thou, Anchises? Dost thou see
Him who once bare the slow paternity,
Foot-burnt o'er stony Troy? So, thou, reclined
Goest thro' the falling years. Here, here where we
Two stand, lies deep the flesh thou hast so pined
To clasp, and shalt clasp never. Verily,
Love and the worm are often of one mind!
God save them from election! Pity thee?
True he lifts not thy load, but he hath signed
And at his beck a nation rose up free;
Thy wounds his living love may never bind,
But at the dead man's touch posterity
Is healed. To thee, thou poor, and halt, and blind,
He is a staff no more: but times to be
Lean on his monumental memory
As the moon on a mountain. Thou shalt find
A silent home, a cheerless hearth: but he
Shall be a fire which the enkindling wind,
Blowing for ever from eternity,
Fans till its universal blaze hath shined
The yule of thankful ages. Pity thee?
A son is lost to thine infirmity;
Poor fool, what then? A son thou hast resigned
To give a father to the virtues of mankind.'
Comments about this poem (A Hero's Grave by Sydney Thompson Dobell )
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