Verse > Anthologies > Alfred H. Miles, ed. > Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century
Alfred H. Miles, ed.  Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century.  1907.
Songs, Ballads, and a Play (1888)
I. Etruscan Tombs
By A. Mary F. Robinson-Darmesteter (1857–1944)
TO think the face we love shall ever die,
  And be the indifferent earth, and know us not!
To think that one of us shall live to cry
  On one long buried in a distant spot!
O wise Etruscans, faded in the night        5
  Yourselves, with scarce a rose-leaf on your trace,
You kept the ashes of the dead in sight,
  And shaped the vase to seem the vanished face.
But, O my Love, my life is such an urn
  That tender memories mould with constant touch,        10
Until the dust and earth of it they turn
  To your dear image that I love so much:
A sacred urn, filled with the sacred past,
That shall recall you while the clay shall last.
These cinerary urns with human head
  And human arms that dangle at their sides,
The earliest potters made them for their dead,
  To keep the mother’s ashes or the bride’s.
O rude attempt of some long-spent despair—
  With symbol and with emblem discontent—        20
To keep the dead alive and as they were,
  The actual features and the glance that went!
The anguish of your art was not in vain,
  For lo, upon these alien shelves removed
The sad immortal images remain,        25
  And show that once they lived and once you loved.
But oh, when I am dead may none for me
Invoke so drear an immortality!
Beneath the branches of the olive yard
  Are roots where cyclamen and violet grow;        30
Beneath the roots the earth is deep and hard,
  And there a king was buried long ago.
The peasants digging deeply in the mould
  Cast up the autumn soil about the place,
And saw a gleam of unexpected gold,        35
  And underneath the earth a living face.
With sleeping lids and rosy lips he lay
  Among the wreaths and gems that mark the king
One moment; then a little dust and clay
  Fell shrivelled over wreath and urn and ring.        40
A carven slab recalls his name and deeds,
Writ in a language no man living reads.
Here lies the tablet graven in the past,
  Clear-charactered and firm and fresh of line.
See, not a word is gone; and yet how fast        45
  The secret no man living may divine!
What did he choose for witness in the grave?
  A record of his glory on the earth?
The wail of friends? The Pæans of the brave?
  The sacred promise of the second birth?        50
The tombs of ancient Greeks in Sicily
  Are sown with slender discs of graven gold
Filled with the praise of Death: “Thrice happy he
  Wrapt in the milk-soft sleep of dreams untold!”
They sleep their patient sleep in altered lands,        55
The golden promise in their fleshless hands.

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