Verse > Anthologies > Alfred H. Miles, ed. > Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century
Alfred H. Miles, ed.  Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century.  1907.
Lyrical and Other Poems.
II. Requiescat in Pace
By Jean Ingelow (1820–1897)
O MY heart is sick awishing and awaiting:
  The lad took up his knapsack, he went, he went his way;
And I looked on for his coming, as a prisoner through the grating
  Looks and longs and longs and wishes for its opening day.
On the wild purple mountains, all alone with no other,        5
  The strong terrible mountains, he longed, he longed to be;
And he stooped to kiss his father, and he stooped to kiss his mother,
  And till I said ‘Adieu, sweet Sir,’ he quite forgot me.
He wrote of their white raiment, the ghostly capes that screen them,
  Of the storm winds that beat them, their thunder-rents and scars,        10
And the paradise of purple, and the golden slopes atween them,
  And fields, where grow God’s gentian bells and His crocus stars.
He wrote of frail gauzy clouds, that drop on them like fleeces,
  And make green their fir forests, and feed their mosses hoar;
Or come sailing up the valleys, and get wrecked and go to pieces,        15
  Like sloops against their cruel strength: then he wrote no more.
O the silence that came next, the patience and long aching!
  They never said so much as ‘He was a dear-loved son;’
Not the father to the mother moaned, that dreary stillness breaking:
  ‘Ah! wherefore did he leave us so—this, our only one?’        20
From the tall white ruined lighthouse: ‘If it be the old man’s daughter
  That we wot of,’ ran the answer, ‘what then—who’s to blame?’
I looked up at the lighthouse all roofless and storm-broken:
  A great white bird sat on it, with neck stretched out to sea;
Unto somewhat which was sailing in a skiff the bird had spoken,        25
  And a trembling seized my spirit, for they talked of me.
I was the old man’s daughter, the bird went on to name him;
  ‘He loved to count the starlings as he sat in the sun;
Long ago he served with Nelson, and his story did not shame him;
  Ay, the old man was a good man—and his work was done.’        30
The skiff was like a crescent, ghost of some moon departed,
  Frail, white, she rocked and curtseyed as the red wave she crossed,
And the thing within sat paddling, and the crescent dipped and darted,
  Flying on, again was shouting, but the words were lost.
I said, ‘That thing is hooded; I could hear but that floweth        35
  The great hood below its mouth:’ then the bird made reply,
‘If they know not, more’s the pity, for the little shrew-mouse knoweth,
  And the kite knows, and the eagle, and the glead and pye.’
And he stooped to whet his beak on the stones of the coping;
  And when once more the shout came, in querulous tones he spake,        40
‘What I said was “more’s the pity;” if the heart be long past hoping,
  Let it say of death, “I know it,” or doubt on and break.
‘Men must die—one dies by day, and near him moans his mother;
  They dig his grave, tread it down, and go from it full loth:
And one dies about the midnight, and the wind moans, and no other,        45
  And the snows give him a burial—and God loves them both.
‘The first hath no advantage—it shall not soothe his slumber
  That a lock of his brown hair his father aye shall keep;
For the last, he nothing grudgeth, it shall nought his quiet cumber
  That in a golden mesh of his callow eaglets sleep.        50
‘Men must die when all is said, e’en the kite and glead know it,
  And the lad’s father knew it, and the lad, the lad too;
It was never kept a secret, waters bring it and winds blow it,
  And he met it on the mountain—why then make ado?’
With that he spread his white wings, and swept across the water,        55
  Lit upon the hooded head, and it and all went down;
And they laughed as they went under, and I woke ‘the old man’s daughter,’
  And looked across the slope of grass, and at Cromer town.
And I said, ‘Is that the sky, all grey and silver suited?’
  And I thought, ‘Is that the sea that lies so white and wan?        60
I have dreamed as I remember: give me time—I was reputed
  Once to have a steady courage—O, I fear ’tis gone!’
And I said, ‘Is this my heart?’ if it be, low ’tis beating,
  So he lies on the mountain, hard by the eagle’s brood;
I have had a dream this evening, while the white and gold were fleeting,        65
  But I need not, need not tell it—where would be the good?
‘Where would be the good to them, his father and his mother?
  For the ghost of their dead hope appeareth to them still.
While a lonely watchfire smoulders, who its dying red would smother,
  That gives what little light there is to a darksome hill?’        70
I rose up, I made no moan, I did not cry nor falter,
  But slowly in the twilight I came to Cromer town.
What can wringing of the hands do that which is ordained to alter?
  He had climbed, had climbed the mountain, he would ne’er come down.
But, O my first, O my best, I could not choose but love thee:        75
  O, to be a wild white bird, and seek thy rocky bed!
From my breast I’d give thee burial, pluck the down and spread above thee;
  I would sit and sing thy requiem on the mountain head.
Fare thee well, my love of loves! would I had died before thee;
  O, to be at least a cloud, that near thee I might flow,        80
Solemnly approach the mountain, weep away my being, o’er thee,
  And veil thy breast with icicles, and thy brow with snow!

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