Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > An American Anthology, 1787–1900
Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  An American Anthology, 1787–1900.  1900.
510. To an Autumn Leaf
By Albert Mathews
THE SCARLET tide of summer’s life
  Is ebbing toward a shoreless sea;
Late fell before the reaper’s knife
  The ripened grain—a type of thee.
How fresh and young the earth looked, when        5
  The sun first kissed thy silken head!
Now blazing grass and smouldering fen
  Burn incense for an empress dead.
With gorgeous robes she lies in state,
  Her trailing banners cloud the sky:        10
When Atropos no more will wait,
  ’T is joy so gloriously to die.
Whose loss is it, if thou and I
  Are dropped into the fecund earth?
A privilege it is to die        15
  When life is of no further worth.
Some newer lives will fill the place
  Of which we feel ourselves bereft;
Mayhap, though shadows for a space,
  Our vital essence will be left.        20
The spirit of each form that grows
  Survives the mould in which ’t is cast:
The universe will not repose,
  Though death and life each follow fast.
Whence comes, where goes the spark we see?        25
  Till time’s last ensign is unfurled,
This miracle of life will be,
  For aye, the problem of the world.
Who reads a page of Nature’s book,
  How clear soe’er the text may be,        30
Needs something of a wizard’s look,
  If he would probe her mystery.
Oh, for an art like palmistry,
  That I might scan thy mazy veins!
I long to know thy history,—        35
  Why blood thy transient record stains.
The symmetry of thy outline,
  The curious function of each part,
Betray the work of love divine:—
  Does it conceal a throbbing heart?        40
Dost know the mortal life of man,
  Its wants and wrongs and pangs and fears?
Does sorrow trouble thy brief span,
  Although denied relief of tears?
Hast thou a soul as well as I,        45
  To breathe and blush and live the same?
What matters if I make outcry,
  And call myself a prouder name?
One made us both by His high will,
  He gave alike and takes away:        50
We grind as small in His great mill,
  “Dust unto dust,” our roundelay.


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