Richard Realf

(1834-1878 / the United States)

De Mortuis Nil Nisi Bonum. - Poem by Richard Realf

When for me this end has come and I am dead,
and the little voluble, chattering daws of men
peck at me curiously, let it then be said
by some one brave enough to speak the truth:
Here lies a great soul killed by cruel wrong.
Down all the balmy days of his fresh youth
to his bleak, desolate noon, with sword and song,
and speech that rushed up hotly from the heart,
he wrought for liberty, till his own wound
(he had been stabbed), concealed with painful art
through wasting years, mastered him, and he swooned,
and sank there where you see him lying now
with the word 'Failure' written on his brow.

But say that he succeeded. If he missed
world's honors, and world's plaudits, and the wage
of the world's deft lacqueys, still his lips were kissed
daily by those high angels who assuage
the thirstings of the poets- for he was
born unto singing- and a burthen lay
mightily on him, and he moaned because
he could not rightly utter to the day
what God taught in the night. Sometimes, nathless,
power fell upon him, and bright tongues of flame,
and blessings reached him from poor souls in stress;
and benedictions from black pits of shame,
and little children's love, and old men's prayers,
and a Great Hand that led him unawares.

So he died rich. And if his eyes were blurred
with big films- silence! he is in his grave.
Greatly he suffered, greatly, too, he erred;
yet broke his heart trying to be brave.
Nor did he wait till Freedom had become
the popular shibboleth of courtier's lips;
he smote for her when God Himself seemed dumb
and all His arching skies were in eclipse.
He was a-weary, but he fought his fight,
and stood for simple manhood; and was joyed
to see the august broadening of the light
and new earths heaving heavenward from the void.
He loved his fellows, and their love was sweet-
plant daisies at his head and at his feet.

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Poem Submitted: Friday, September 17, 2010

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