The Brothers

'Tis true, that we can sometimes speak of Death,
Even of the Deaths of those we love the best,
Without dismay or terror; we can sit
In serious calm beneath deciduous trees,
And count the leaves, scarce heavier than the air,
That leave the branch and tremble to the ground;
Or out at midnight in a gliding boat
Enjoy the waning moon and moralize,
And say that Death is but a Mediator
Between the lower and the loftier Life.
Thus it may be with those, who only know
The great Invader, as he sometimes comes
Dismantled of his full ferocity,
Taking almost a grace of gentleness
From the surrounding atmosphere of Love,
Seeming to pity what himself inflicts,
When with soft touch he draws away the chair
From the familiar circle, and lays down
The suffering burden on an easy bed,
More like a weary traveller seeking sleep
Than the weak victim of a Tyrant's will.
For then Affection has a thousand moods,
With which to soothe the black necessity,
And form his rigid features to a smile;--
There are the tender dues of every hour,
The pillows nightly smoothed by hands just kissed,
The active care that guards the wakening eye,
The cautious thoughtfulness of earnest love,
The sedulous record of each smallest word,
The looks whose pain is steeped in balmy tears,
The tones, that growing weaker day by day
Keep strong in love as ever, to the last,--
All after--treasures of consoling wealth,
For the heart's casket of departed things.
But when, like the Malay who, mad for blood,
And raving onward, deals on either side
Precipitate blows of unaccounted rage,
The Evil seems to meet us; when he strikes,
In some unwonted, strangely--cruel, way,
Which even in fiction would have foully jarred
Against the regular calm of daily thought,
And broken, like a crash of lawless war,
On our mind's peace; and when, to point the sting,
Some simplest instrument of common use
Conveys the poison, then the Demon wears
His native horror,--Death is Death indeed!
To read some twenty words in black and white,
And be made wretched for one's life to come!
To be laid senseless by a certain form
Of syllables pronounced in a low voice!
To see a cloud of gathering agony
Upon the forehead of a trusty friend,
And almost ere the name has passed his lips,
The name of some one that we both adore,
To know that One is dead, is gone, is dead,
When, how, we do not know, we do not ask,
Wrapped up in that immense idea of ``dead,''
And sensible to nothing else or more!
I know not which is worse,--this stunning shock,
This sudden transformation of our being
Into one whole of pain, or that thick coil
Of expectation, presages, and fears,
Which winds itself so close about our heart,
When first the barely--possible event
Of such a loss takes substance in the mind,
And then, as every languid--lingering day
Brings fear more nigh to desolate certainty,
Tighter and tighter draw the racking bonds,
Till anguish can no longer be contained,
But bursts into loud passion, to sink down
Into dumb stupor. Reader! the hard fates
Of those, who in these tributary lines
May find some shield from a forgetting world,
Tried with this double strain of Misery,
The souls of those who loved them; Reader! pray
That this exceeding sorrow may not fall
Back to its hell, barren of holy fruit,--
That through these two deep rents which woe has made
In their most sacred feelings, they may see
Into the peaceful Heaven that lies beyond.

There were two Brothers, of near kin to me,--
We've played together many a summer eve,
In that short maidenhood of Life when eve
Can find the heart no heavier than at morn,
And day and darkness are all one in joy;
They grew together from the self same stem,
Of little different heights, together drank
The dews of love and close domestic care,
Together sprouted out their vigorous green
As Nature's secret will devised the way.
And when the birthright Beauty, bold and free,
Of high--born English boys, was ripening fast
Upon them, home, its halls, and groves, and fields,
Were silent of those two accustomed voices,
Nearly at the same time,--how soon to be
Silent of them for ever! They went forth
Into the distances of land and sea,
One far away, then nearer, then more far,
The roving comrade of the roving waves,--
The other, by the duty of the sword,
Taken to pleasant places, where the arm
Of British power extends its guardian strength
O'er stranger lands too weak to stand alone.
Thus after various changes, wanderings,
And hard experiences of manly life,
In that delicious spot, whose central charms
Embrace the eastern and the western earth,
The fairest of the fair Ionian isles,
The Brothers met once more;--the other's face
Each looked upon, nor knew it was his brother's;--
For in our mortal spring the craftsman Time
Is active to destroy and recreate,
Both in the inner and the outer Man;
But joyous recognition soon came on,
First by degrees, then in a rapid flash,
And the old chain of kind fraternity
Was linked afresh, and, for some few short days,
The Nature of that island--paradise
Witnessed their love, witnessed their social sports,
And interchange of happiest memories.
Beneath the olive--grove's fine--fretted vault,
They spoke together of the beechen shades,
Spread in broad masses round their distant home;--
On that cliff--platform, where the large sea--bird
Floats level by, and the sail--studded strait
Lies like a lake within that crescent coast
And the full breast--work of Albanian hills,
They talked of that dear terrace whose smooth length
Is stretched before their childhood's lordly home,
Above the lawny green befringed with flowers,
And sleepy stream and swelling meads beyond.
Into the gulf of the absorbing past,
Those lightly--pinioned hours past one by one;
And then the Soldier and the Sailor stood,
For the last time, together on the deck,
While slow the sails expanded their white breasts
In the caresses of the lover breeze.

I am a student of the Heart of Man,
And thus 'tis not in curious wilfulness,
That I would know, whether some deeper sense
Than of mere pain at parting did not pass
Athwart their spirits, as they turned away?
Whether did not a stern presentiment
Of many--folded evil hanging round
The personality of their two lives
Cast a dense shade upon the paths that led
Over the Future's hope--illumined plain,
And make the words of sweet encouragement
Faint on their mutual lips, and string their hands
With a convulsive force in that last grasp,
And dim with sudden mist their tearless eyes?
To tell the sum of this sad tale, few words
Are best and all--sufficient;--to display
The forms of pain and death and misery,
With an elaborate anatomic skill,
And mould the stark realities of ill
Into fantastic shapes of speech and thought,
Is not the Poet's function, must not be:--
He knows the fineness of his music--strings,
The tender fibres of all--human love,
And will not strike them with a reckless hand,
As if he beat upon a savage drum.
Enough, that ere the earth its annual round
Had many times accomplished, those bright boys
Had met strange deaths, both strange tho' different:--
The one, from all his comrades singled out
By a mysterious hazard, the sure aim
Of an assassin's hand broke off the bough
Of his full fragrant promise,--he is laid
In that warm foreign dust,--rude soldier tears
Have dropped upon his decorated tomb.
The other, ere this wound unhealable
Had lost the first intenseness of its sore,
Perished without a trace, without a sign,
In the huge ocean--deserts of the North,
He, and his fellows, and their dwelling--place,
One doom for all,--one darkness undisturbed,--
One desolation for affection's shrine.
We all have read and loved the lovely plaint,
In which the Lyrist, whose most grateful blooms
Spring from the root of purest womanhood,
Has hymned the ``Household's'' widely scattered ``Graves;''
There's not a verse but has been wept upon;--
And I could wish this not dissimilar theme
Had found such skill to work it to such end;
But my faint strain expects no stranger tears,--
It is the homage of a kinsman's grief
Written for kindred, nor has other claim:
They will inform the vague imperfect frame
With inward--flowing music of their own,
The melodies of mournful recollections,
The supplement of personal interest,
The sympathies that come far out to meet you,
And other judgment I acknowledge none.

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