The Dead


I HEARD the bells clang out, that told
It was the Lord's Ascension Day.
Leisurely on the river roll'd,
Keeping its own eternal time;
And from the thorn and from the lime,
Sweet came the breeze of May.

Two wasted tapers flared and died,
Beside a little cradle bed,
Two sleeping babies lay inside;
No need for mother's lullaby,
A white cloth at their feet did lie,
A white cloth at their head.

Soft primrose flowers that first unfurl
Were strewn amidst the snowy bands,
As like they lay as pearl to pearl,
As still, save when the mother press'd,
With restless lip those lips at rest,
Or kiss'd the waxen hands.

Yea, Christian mother, fold them fast,
Thou dost not fear defilement given;
No need of sprinkling ashes cast
On garment soil'd and weeping face,
Polluted by that last embrace,
Until the seventh day's even.

Those pale twin brows were washen clean,
The shadow of the Cross is there;
Fair shrines where God Himself has been,
(And never Grecian rear'd a fane,
With marble of such delicate vein,
Or chisell'd work so rare.)

One fleshly form within the veil,
For sinner's sake has pass'd to-day,
And evermore the curse doth fail,
Because the glory that He set
On our man's nature lingers yet,
And we are hallow'd clay.

O blessed creed for joy or pain,
And soothing e'en our worst distress,
Teaching that these shall live again;
Love unrebuked may linger now,
O'er the closed lip, and kiss the brow,
And hoard the silken tress.

These bodies of our pain and woe,
Wherein the spark of life divine
Was born, and nursed, and struggled so,
Like costly odours that all day
Burn dimly in a lamp of clay,
Before some Indian shrine.

These bodies that weigh down the soul,
Shall live again in form and frame,
Though death have revell'd on the whole,
When the grave's victory is o'er,
And pain, and sin can hurt no more,
How changed, yet still the same!
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