The Sexton

" MINE is the fame most blazoned of all
Mine is the goodliest trade;
Never was banner so wide as the pall,
Nor sceptre so feared as the spade. "

This is the lay of the sexton gray —
King of the churchyard he —
While the mournful knell of the tolling bell
Chimes in with his burden of glee.

He dons a doublet of sober brown,
And a hat of slouching felt;
The mattock is over his shoulder thrown,
The heavy keys clank at his belt.

The dark damp vault now echoes his tread,
While his song rings merrily out;
With a cobweb canopy over his head,
And coffins falling about.

His foot may crush the full-fed worms,
His hand may grasp a shroud,
His gaze may rest on skeleton forms,
Yet his tones are light and loud.

He digs the grave, and his chant will break
As he gains a fathom deep —
" Whoever lies in the bed I make,
I warrant will soundly sleep. "

He piles the sod, he raises the stone,
He clips the cypress tree;
But whate'er his task, 'tis plied alone —
No fellowship holds he.

For the sexton gray is a scaring loon —
His name is linked with death.
The children at play, should he cross their way,
Will pause with fluttering breath.

They herd together, a frightened host,
And whisper with lips all white, —
" See, see, 'tis he, that sends the ghost
To walk the world at night. "

The old men mark him, with fear in their eye,
At his labor mid skulls and dust;
They hear him chant, " The young may die,
But we know the aged must . "

The rich will frown, as his ditty goes on —
" Though broad your lands may be,
Six narrow feet to the beggar I mete,
And the same shall serve for ye. "

The ear of the strong will turn from his song,
And Beauty's cheek will pale;
" Out, out, " cry they, " what creature would stay,
To list thy croaking tale! "

Oh! the sexton gray is a mortal of dread;
None like to see him come near;
The orphan thinks on a father dead,
The widow wipes a tear.

All shudder to hear his bright axe chink
Upturning the hollow bone;
No mate will share his toil or his fare,
He works, he carouses alone,

By night, or by day, this, this is his lay:
" Mine is the goodliest trade;
Never was banner so wide as the pall,
Nor sceptre so feared as the spade. "
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