Frances Anne Kemble

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

The Vision Of Life - Poem by Frances Anne Kemble

Death and I,
On a hill so high,
Stood side by side:
And we saw below,
Running to and fro,
All things that be in the world so wide.
Ten thousand cries
From the gulf did rise,
With a wild discordant sound;
Laughter and wailing,
Prayer and railing,
As the ball spun round and round.
And over all
Hung a floating pall
Of dark and gory veils:
'Tis the blood of years,
And the sighs and tears,
Which this noisome marsh exhales.
All this did seem
Like a fearful dream,
Till Death cried with a joyful cry:
'Look down! look down!
It is all mine own,
Here comes life's pageant by!'

Like to a masque in ancient revelries,
With mingling sound of thousand harmonies,
Soft lute and viol, trumpet-blast and gong,
They came along, and still they came along!
Thousands, and tens of thousands, all that e'er
Peopled the earth, or ploughed th' unfathomed deep,
All that now breathe the universal air,
And all that in the womb of Time yet sleep.

Before this mighty host a woman came,
With hurried feet, and oft averted head;
With accursèd light
Her eyes were bright,
And with inviting hand them on she beckoned.
Her followed close, with wild acclaim,
Her servants three: Lust, with his eye of fire,
And burning lips, that tremble with desire,
Pale sunken cheek:—and as he staggered by,
The trumpet-blast was hushed, and there arose
A melting strain of such soft melody,
As breathed into the soul love's ecstasies and woes.
Loudly again the trumpet smote the air,
The double drum did roll, and to the sky
Bayed War's bloodhounds, the deep artillery;
And Glory,
With feet all gory,
And dazzling eyes, rushed by,
Waving a flashing sword and laurel wreath,
The pang, and the inheritance of death.

He passed like lightning—then ceased every sound
Of war triumphant, and of love's sweet song,
And all was silent.—Creeping slow along,
With eager eyes, that wandered round and round,
Wild, haggard mien, and meagre, wasted frame,
Bowed to the earth, pale, starving Av'rice came:
Clutching with palsied hands his golden god,
And tottering in the path the others trod.
These, one by one,
Came, and were gone:
And after them followed the ceaseless stream
Of worshippers, who, with mad shout and scream,
Unhallowed toil, and more unhallowed mirth,
Follow their mistress, Pleasure, through the earth.
Death's eyeless sockets glared upon them all,
And many in the train were seen to fall,
Livid and cold, beneath his empty gaze;
But not for this was stayed the mighty throng,
Nor ceased the warlike clang, or wanton lays,
But still they rushed—along—along—along!

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Poem Submitted: Monday, September 6, 2010

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