Edward Rowland Sill
The Dead President - Poem by Edward Rowland Sill
WERE there no crowns on earth,
No evergreen to weave a hero's wreath,
That he must pass beyond the gates of death,
Our hero, our slain hero, to be crowned?
Could there on our unworthy earth be found
Naught to befit his worth?
The noblest soul of all!
When was there ever, since our Washington,
A man so pure, so wise, so patient—one
Who walked with this high goal alone in sight,
To speak, to do, to sanction only Right,
Though very heaven should fall!
Ah, not for him we weep;
What honor more could be in store for him?
Who would have had him linger in our dim
And troublesome world, when his great work was done—
Who would not leave that worn and weary one
Gladly to go to sleep?
For us the stroke was just;
We were not worthy of that patient heart;
We might have helped him more, not stood apart,
And coldly criticised his works and ways—
Too late now, all too late—our little praise
Sounds hollow o'er his dust.
Be merciful, O our God!
Forgive the meanness of our human hearts,
That never, till a noble soul departs,
See half the worth, or hear the angel's wings
Till they go rustling heavenward as he springs
Up from the mounded sod.
Yet what a deathless crown
Of Northern pine and Southern orange-flower,
For victory, and the land's new bridal-hour,
Would we have wreathed for that beloved brow!
Sadly upon his sleeping forehead now
We lay our cypress down.
O martyred one, farewell!
Thou hast not left thy people quite alone,
Out of thy beautiful life there comes a tone
Of power, of love, of trust, a prophecy,
Whose fair fulfillment all the earth shall be,
And all the Future tell.
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