The Stone Poem by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson

The Stone

Rating: 3.5

"And will you cut a stone for him,
To set above his head?
And will you cut a stone for him--
A stone for him?" she said.

Three days before, a splintered rock
Had struck her lover dead--
Had struck him in the quarry dead,
Where, careless of a warning call,
He loitered, while the shot was fired--
A lively stripling, brave and tall,
And sure of all his heart desired . . .
A flash, a shock,
A rumbling fall . . .
And, broken 'neath the broken rock,
A lifeless heap, with face of clay,
And still as any stone he lay,
With eyes that saw the end of all.

I went to break the news to her:
And I could hear my own heart beat
With dread of what my lips might say;
But some poor fool had sped before;
And, flinging wide her father's door,
Had blurted out the news to her,
Had struck her lover dead for her,
Had struck the girl's heart dead in her,
Had struck life, lifeless, at a word,
And dropped it at her feet:
Then hurried on his witless way,
Scarce knowing she had heard.

And when I came, she stood alone--
A woman, turned to stone:
And, though no word at all she said,
I knew that all was known.

Because her heart was dead,
She did not sigh nor moan.
His mother wept:
She could not weep.
Her lover slept:
She could not sleep.
Three days, three nights,
She did not stir:
Three days, three nights,
Were one to her,
Who never closed her eyes
From sunset to sunrise,
From dawn to evenfall--
Her tearless, staring eyes,
That, seeing naught, saw all.

The fourth night when I came from work,
I found her at my door.
"And will you cut a stone for him?"
She said: and spoke no more:
But followed me, as I went in,
And sank upon a chair;
And fixed her grey eyes on my face,
With still, unseeing stare.
And, as she waited patiently,
I could not bear to feel
Those still, grey eyes that followed me,
Those eyes that plucked the heart from me,
Those eyes that sucked the breath from me
And curdled the warm blood in me,
Those eyes that cut me to the bone,
And cut my marrow like cold steel.

And so I rose and sought a stone;
And cut it smooth and square:
And, as I worked, she sat and watched,
Beside me, in her chair.
Night after night, by candlelight,
I cut her lover's name:
Night after night, so still and white,
And like a ghost she came;
And sat beside me, in her chair,
And watched with eyes aflame.

She eyed each stroke,
And hardly stirred:
she never spoke
A single word:
And not a sound or murmur broke
The quiet, save the mallet stroke.

With still eyes ever on my hands,
With eyes that seemed to burn my hands,
My wincing, overwearied hands,
She watched, with bloodless lips apart,
And silent, indrawn breath:
And every stroke my chisel cut,
Death cut still deeper in her heart:
The two of us were chiselling,
Together, I and Death.

And when at length my job was done,
And I had laid the mallet by,
As if, at last, her peace were won,
She breathed his name, and, with a sigh,
Passed slowly through the open door:
And never crossed my threshold more.

Next night I laboured late, alone,
To cut her name upon the stone.

Martin Killips 18 December 2007

You cannot imagine how moved I was to rediscover this poem today,37 years after first reading it. It was first given to me in 1970 by my English master, Hugh Hunter, to read as part of my entry in the school's annual Declamation competition we held at Oakham in those days. The hot favourite for the year was a boarder (Hayward I think his name was) from Peterborough House with his rendition of Albert And The Lion. The boy came from Yorkshire and could do an authentic Yorkshire accent and had indeed, won the competition the year before. I was a day boy and at Oakham in those days that meant second-class citizen. To make matters worse, the competition was held in the evening - so the audience was almost exclusively boarders. When my turn came to read my poem I felt the eyes of the boys (no girls at Oakham in those days!) burning into me...I could sense them saying 'How dare you try to beat our man Hayward? ! ' Fortunately for me, the judges were from the Nottingham Playhouse...professional actors with no loyalties or prejudice for boarders or dayboys. When they announced the winner and called my name out there was almost silence - apart from my English master, Hugh Hunter, who was ecstatic with joy. He told me later that as soon as I had finished reading the last line he knew I had won it. The copy I read was from a book in Hugh Hunter's own library. Many years later - when I was around 35 yrs old I tried to trace the poem with no luck, so I contacted the school. I was told that Hugh had left and gone to Oundle. I wrote to Hugh and heard nothing for a month and then received a letter from Oundle’s Head Master telling me that Hugh had died recently, and when they had cleared his desk they had found my letter. I thought my search for The Stone had died with him and so I am shocked to the point of tears to uncover it again in the files of Thank you for bringing me back to a poem – which has lost none of its power over the intervening years. And in a poignant way, it has brought me back to Hugh Hunter, one of the few masters during my time at Oakham who believed in me. I make my living these days by writing and illustrating poetry – and in no small way this is due to Hugh passing on his enthusiasm for literature.

9 5 Reply
William Howard 24 January 2010

This poem was read in the Virginia State poetry reading contest in 1950 by Anne Darden Acey, a senior at the Woodrow Wilson High School in Portsmouth, VA. The competition was held at the University of Virginia. She won the State competition that year. Anne died April 23,2008 at Westminster-Canterbury in Lynchburg, VA. I was in the competition, too, and won the Prose Reading competition by reading my story. Our mentor at the high school was Mrs. MaryJo Brady who was one of the most inspiring teachers we ever had.

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Linda Plott 25 August 2009

My mom died 10 years ago this year and I so remember her quoting this poem all the time. She could not remember all of it and one time I researched to try to find it and never could. I was so shocked the other night when I thought about this poem and tried to look it up on the computer and found it. I just wish my mom was here to get to re-read it. It must have been a very popular poem at that time. Linda Plott

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Loretta Earle 07 May 2007

I first read this poem over forty years ago in the library at school and was mesmerised by it. I still love its simplicity and the heart-wringing sadness of the story.

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Christine Pointer 04 February 2008

I've searched for this poem for years. It is so moving. I could only remember the last verse and did not know the author's name. Thankyou

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Sherree Funk 16 October 2019

I memorized this poem in seventh grade for an oral interpretation competition. Loved it then.

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Chris Agbiti 24 April 2019

The beauty of this poem is in its simplicity of style, the alluring metres and apt imageries. Never seen any other poem more emotionally appealing!

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Diane Carbone 05 August 2017

I had to go to summer school that year to graduate high school. The summer was hot and the school was a long trip. I dreaded it. BUT then, I was read this poem in my English class..... IT forever changed me and inspired me to continue writing my own poetry. I will never forget the moment it that it lit my passiom

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M Asim Nehal 05 December 2016

A shocking incidence reminding me the agony of lover in pain due to carelessness and greed by the coal miners.

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Poiette Bromell 11 December 2011

'The Stone' reminds me to treasure the precious gift of love and to acknowledge the fragility of life. Oh, how I pray my generation would appreciate the power of a well written poem to transform an atomsphere; to break open a callous heart. I am so moved by the comments submitted about this poem. I too had a wonderful 8th grade English teacher, the late Mrs. Tiny Campbell, of Marion, SC. A 4'11' firey red- head who drove a canary yellow Mustang and loved to clog with her darling husband, Paul. This little woman is (present tense) a perpetual source of inspiration for her students simply because she forced us to do what we most feared - reach our highest potential. I have been most blessed to have many teachers who pushed me in like manner; however, Tiny Cambell forcing me to recite Rudyard Kipling's, 'If' and Chaucer's prologue to The Canterbury Tales (in Old English) set me on a trajectory to expect more of myself, my children and my own English students. We must succeed because Tiny Campbells everywhere demand our excellence.

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