The Grave at Spitzbergen

Above , the vast eternal snows,
The glaciers' rosy peaks,
Touch'd with pale tints of blue and rose
When the short sunbeam breaks.

Below, the land-lock'd quiet bay,
The black rocks stretching far,
And the great ice-floes out at sea
That beat against the bar.

No sound along the wide snow plains,
No echo in the deep,
But Nature evermore remains
Wrapp'd in a breathless sleep.

No blade of grass waves in the air
Along the ghastly hill —
Caught by the marvellous silence there
The very streams stand still.

Never to fall, each frozen river
Hangs on the sheer descent,
Like wishes unfulfill'd for ever,
Or words that find no vent.

Only at times, from some ice rock,
A glacier breaks away,
And startles, with a thunder-shock,
The mountain and the bay.

O frozen cliffs! O motionless snows!
We glide into the creek,
And question of your grim repose,
The lips that will not speak.

In your cold beauty, vast and drear,
Ye lie so still and grand;
But no heart-stirrings meet us here —
Unsympathizing strand!

No sound in all this sparkling waste,
No voice in Heaven above, —
To some strange region have we pass'd,
Beyond the reach of love?

Ah, no! some link there needs must be
Where Christian foot has trod,
Of the great chain of sympathy
'Twixt man and man, and God.

And, lo! there lie a dead man's bones,
Uncover'd, where we tread,
An open coffin 'mid the stones,
A rude cross at his head.

The wild white cliffs — the vast still main —
The patch of scant black moss;
But still the form to rise again,
And still the letter'd cross.

And he whom tender Christian hands
Laid on this barbarous coast,
Who knoweth from what happier lands,
Or by what fortune tost?

Whether 'mid Amsterdam's brown piles
His stone-prest grave should be,
Where washes round her many isles
The azure Zuyder Zee;

Or by some vast cathedral wall
His fathers laid them down,
Where chimes are rung and shadows fall,
In an old Flemish town;

Or whether, 'neath some village turf,
Where children come to weep,
And lighter treads the unletter'd serf,
He should have gone to sleep,

To drone of bees and summer gnats,
In some great linden-tree,
Where the old Rhine, through fertile flats,
Goes sobbing to the sea.

What matters — though these frozen stones
Their burden could not bear,
But gave again his coffin'd bones
Into the freezing air;

Though here, to snows and storms exposed,
They bleach'd a hundred years,
Never by human hand composed,
Nor wet with human tears;

Though only the shy rein-deer made
In the black moss a trace,
Or the white bears came out and play'd
In sunshine by the place;

Still, silent, from the blacken'd heath,
Rose that eternal sign,
Memorial of a human death,
And of a love divine.

Still, type of triumph and of woe,
Symbol of hope and shame,
It told the everlasting snow
That single Christian name.

Sleep on, poor wanderer of the main,
Who camest here to die,
No mother's hand to soothe thy pain,
No wife to close thine eye.

Sleep well in thy vast sepulchre,
Far from our cares and fears,
The great white hills that never stir
Have watch'd thee round for years.

The skies have lit thee with their sheen,
Or wrapp'd in leaden gloom;
The glaciers' splinter'd peaks have been
The pillars of thy tomb.

Green be their graves who came of old
From Holland o'er the main,
And left the simple cross that told
Where Christian dust has lain.

Green be their graves beyond the sea,
Who witness'd in this place
The resurrection mystery,
And our dear Saviour's grace;

Who taught us, at this solemn tryst
On the bleak North sea shore,
That the redeeming love of Christ
Is with us evermore.
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