Christopher Pearse Cranch

(1815-1892 / the USA)


O BOON and curse in one — this ceaseless need
Of looking still behind us and before!
Gift to the soul of eyes that cannot read
Life's open book of cabalistic lore; —
Eyes that discern a light and joy divine
Twinkling beyond the twilight clouds afar,
Yet know not if it be the countersign
Of moods and thoughts, or some eternal star.
What taunt of destiny still stimulates
Yet baffles all desire, or wise or fond,
To pierce the veil ne'er lifted by the fates
Between the life that ends and life beyond?
We sit before the doors of death, and dream
That when they ope to let our brothers in,
We catch, before they close, some flitting gleam
Of glory where their after-lives begin.
And with the light a transient burst of song
Comes from within the gates that shut again
Upon our dead. Then we, the proud, the strong,
Sit crushed and lonely in our wordless pain.
Weeping, we knock against the bars, and call,
'Speak — speak, O love, for we are left alone!'
We hear our voices echo against the wall,
And dream it is a spirit's answering tone.
'Come back, or answer us!'
In vain we cry.
Naught is so near as death, so far away
As life beyond. They only know who die:
And we who live can only guess and pray.
If 't were indeed a voice not born within —
Some sure authentic sign from unknown realms —
Some note that heart and reason both could win —
Some carol like yon oriole in the elms;
Though but a vague and broken music caught,
Heard in the darkness, and then heard no more —
Sinking in sudden silence — while in thought
We piece the strains outside the muffled door
That leads into the light and perfect joy
Of the full concert — then 't were bliss indeed
No present griefs could darken or destroy;
Somewhere life's mystery we should learn to read.
Somewhere we then might drop the ripened seed
Of life, to grow again beyond the sky —
Nor deem the human soul a withering weed
Born but to bloom a summer time and die.

Submitted: Friday, September 24, 2010

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