Frances Anne Kemble

(27 November 1809 - 15 January 1893 / London, England)

Lines To Mrs. St. Leger - Poem by Frances Anne Kemble

Many a league of salt sea rolls
Between us, yet I think our souls,
Dear friend, are still as closely tied
As when we wandered side by side,
Some seven years gone, in that fair land
Where I was born. As hand in hand
We lived the showery spring away,
And when the sunny earth was gay
With all its blossoms, still together
We passed the pleasant summer weather,
We little thought the time would come,
When, from a Transatlantic home,
My voice should greet you lovingly
Across the deep dividing sea.

O friend! my heart is sad: 'tis strange,
As I sit musing on the change
That has come o'er my fate, and cast
A longing look upon the past,
That pleasant time comes back again
So freshly to my heart and brain,

That I half think the things I see
Are but a dream, and I shall be
Lying beside you, when I wake,
Upon the lawn beneath the brake,
With the hazel copse behind my head,
And the new-mown fields before me spread.

It is just twilight : that sweet time
Is short-lived in this radiant clime,—
Where the bright day and night more bright,
Upon th' horizon's verge unite,
Nor leave those hours of ray serene,
In which we think of what has been:
And it is well; for here no eye
Turns to the distant days gone by:
They have no legendary lore
Of deeds of glory done of yore,—
No knightly marvel-haunted years,
The nursery tales of adult ears:
The busy present, bright to come,
Of all their thoughts make up the sum:
Little their little past they heed;
Therefore of twilight have no need.

Yet wherefore write I thus? In the short span
Of narrow life doled out to every man,
Though he but reach the threshold of the track,
Where, from youth's better path, strikes out the worse,
If he has breathed so long, nor once look'd back,
He has not borne life's load, nor known God's curse.

And yet, but for that glance that o'er and o'er
Goes tearfully, where we shall go no more;
Counting the sunny spots, where, for a day,
Our bark has found a harbour on its way;
Oh! but for this, this pow'r of conjuring
Hours, days, and years into the magic ring,
Bidding them yield the show of happiness,
To make our real misery seem less,
Life would be dreary. But these memories start,
Sometimes, unbidden on the mourner's heart;
Unwish'd, unwelcome, round his thoughts they cling,—
In vain flung off, still dimly gathering,
Like melancholy ghosts, upon the path
Where he goes sadly, seeking only death.

Then live again the forms of those who lie
Gather'd into the grave's dark mystery.
Vainly at reason's voice the phantom flies,—
It comes, it still comes back to the fond eyes,—
Still, still the yearning arms are spread to clasp
The blessing that escapes their baffled grasp:
Still the bewildering memory mutters 'Gone!'
Still, still the clinging, aching heart loves on.
Oh, bitter! that the lips on which we pour
Love's fondest kisses, feel the touch no more;
Oh, lonely! that the voice on which we call
In agony, breaks not its silent thrall;
Oh, fearful! that the eyes in which we gaze
With desperate hope through their thick filmy haze,

Return no living look to bless our sight!
O God! that it were granted that one might
But once behold the secret of the grave,—
That but one voice from the all-shrouding cave
Might speak,—that but one sleeper might emerge
From the deep death-sea's overwhelming surge!
Speak, speak from the gray coffins where ye lie
Fretting to dust your foul mortality!
Speak, from your homes of darkness and dismay,—
To what new being do ye pass away?—
Oh, do ye live, indeed?—speak, if on high
One atom springs whose doom is not to die!—
Where have I wandered?


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Poem Submitted: Monday, September 6, 2010



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