The Obliterate Tomb

‘More than half my life long
Did they weigh me falsely, to my bitter wrong,
But they all have shrunk away into the silence
Like a lost song.

‘And the day has dawned and come
For forgiveness, when the past may hold it dumb
On the once reverberate words of hatred uttered
Half in delirium. . . .

‘With folded lips and hands
They lie and wait what next the Will commands,
And doubtless think, if think they can: “Let discord
Sink with Life's sands!”

‘By these late years their names,
Their virtues, their hereditary claims,
May be as near defacement at their grave-place
As are their fames.’

—Such thoughts bechanced to seize
A traveller's mind—a man of memories—
As he set foot within the western city
Where had died these

Who in their lifetime deemed
Him their chief enemy—one whose brain had schemed
To get their dingy greatness deeplier dingied
And disesteemed.

So, sojourning in their town,
He mused on them and on their once renown,
And said, ‘I'll seek their resting-place to-morrow
Ere I lie down,

‘And end, lest I forget,
Those ires of many years that I regret,
Renew their names, that men may see some liegeness
Is left them yet.’

Duly next night he went
And sought the church he had known them to frequent,
And wandered, lantern-bearing, in the precincts,
Where they lay pent,

Till by remembrance led
He stood at length beside their slighted bed,
Above which, truly, scarce a line or letter
Could now be read.

‘Thus years obliterate
Their graven worth, their chronicle, their date!
At once I'll garnish and revive the record
Of their past state,

‘That still the sage may say
In pensive progress here where they decay,
“This stone records a luminous line whose talents
Told in their day.”’

While dreaming thus he turned,
For a form shadowed where they lay inurned,
And he beheld a stranger in foreign vesture,
And tropic-burned.

‘Sir, I am right pleased to view
That ancestors of mine should interest you,
For I have fared of purpose here to find them. . . .
They are time-worn, true,

‘But that's a fault, at most,
Carvers can cure. On the Pacific coast
I have vowed for long that relics of my forbears
I'd trace ere lost,

‘And hitherward I come,
Before this same old Time shall strike me numb,
To carry it out.’—‘Strange, this is!’ said the other;
‘What mind shall plumb

‘Coincident design!
Though these my father's enemies were and mine,
I nourished a like purpose—to restore them
Each letter and line.’

‘Such magnanimity
Is now not needed, sir; for you will see
That since I am here, a thing like this is, plainly,
Best done by me.’

The other bowed, and left,
Crestfallen in sentiment, as one bereft
Of some fair object he had been moved to cherish,
By hands more deft.

And as he slept that night
The phantoms of the ensepulchred stood upright
Before him, trembling that he had set him seeking
Their charnel-site.

And, as unknowing his ruth,
Asked as with terrors founded not on truth
Why he should want them. ‘Ha,’ they hollowly hackered,
‘You come, forsooth,

‘By stealth to obliterate
Our graven worth, our chronicle, our date,
That our descendant may not gild the record
Of our past state,

‘And that no sage may say
In pensive progress near where we decay:
“This stone records a luminous line whose talents
Told in their day.”’

Upon the morrow he went,
And to that town and churchyard never bent
His ageing footsteps till, some twelvemonths onward,
An accident

Once more detained him there;
And, stirred by hauntings, he must needs repair
To where the tomb was. Lo, it stood still wasting
In no man's care.

And so the tomb remained
Untouched, untended, crumbling, weather-stained,
And though the one-time foe was fain to right it
He still refrained.

‘I'll set about it when
I am sure he'll come no more. Best wait till then.’
But so it was that never the kinsman entered
That city again.

Till doubts grew keen
If it had chanced not that the figure seen
Shaped but in dream on that dim doubtful midnight:
Such things had been. . . .

So, the well-meaner died
While waiting tremulously unsatisfied
That no return of the family's foreign scion
Would still betide.

And many years slid by,
And active church-restorers cast their eye
Upon the ancient garth and hoary building
The tomb stood nigh.

And when they had scraped each wall,
Pulled out the stately pews, and smartened all,
‘It will be well,’ declared the spruce church-warden,
‘To overhaul

‘And broaden this path where shown;
Nothing prevents it but an old tombstone
Pertaining to a family forgotten,
Of deeds unknown.

‘Their names can scarce be read;
Depend on't, all who care for them are dead.’
So went the tomb, whose shards were as path-paving

Over it and about
Men's footsteps beat, and wind and waterspout,
Until the names, aforetime gnawed by weathers,
Were quite worn out.

So that no sage can say
In pensive progress near where they decay,
‘This stone records a luminous line whose talents
Told in their day.’
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