Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Memoriæ Positum
By James Russell Lowell (1819–1891)
            BENEATH the trees,
      My lifelong friends in this dear spot,
      Sad now for eyes that see them not,
          I hear the autumnal breeze
    Wake the dry leaves to sigh for gladness gone,        5
    Whispering vague omens of oblivion;
          Hear, restless as the seas,
Time’s grim feet rustling through the withered grace
Of many a spreading realm and strong-stemmed race,
          Even as my own through these.        10
            Why make we moan
      For loss that doth enrich us yet
      With upward yearnings of regret?
          Bleaker than unmossed stone
    Our lives were but for this immortal gain        15
    Of unstilled longing and inspiring pain!
          As thrills of long-hushed tone
    Live in the viol, so our souls grow fine
    With keen vibrations from the touch divine
          Of noble natures gone.        20
              ’Twere indiscreet
      To vex the shy and sacred grief
      With harsh obtrusions of relief;
        Yet Verse, with noiseless feet,
Go whisper: “This death hath far choicer ends        25
Than slowly to impearl in hearts of friends;
        These obsequies ’tis meet
Not to seclude in closets of the heart,
But, church-like, with wide doorways, to impart
        Even to the heedless street.”        30
          Brave, good, and true,
    I see him stand before me now,
    And read again on that young brow,
        Where every hope was new,
How sweet were life! Yet, by the mouth firm-set,        35
And look made up for Duty’s utmost debt,
        I could divine he knew
That death within the sulphurous hostile lines,
In the mere wreck of nobly pitched designs,
        Plucks heart’s-ease, and not rue.        40
          Happy their end
    Who vanish down life’s evening stream
    Placid as swans that drift in dream
        Round the next river-bend!
Happy long life, with honor at the close,        45
Friends’ painless tears, the softened thought of foes!
        And yet, like him, to spend
All at a gush, keeping our first faith sure
From mid-life’s doubt and eld’s contentment poor,—
        What more could Fortune send?        50
          Right in the van,
    On the red rampart’s slippery swell,
    With heart that beat a charge, he fell
        Foeward, as fits a man;
But the high soul burns on to light men’s feet        55
Where death for noble ends makes dying sweet;
        His life her crescent’s span
Orbs full with share in their undarkening days
Who ever climbed the battailous steeps of praise
        Since valor’s praise began.        60
          His life’s expense
      Hath won him coeternal youth
      With the immaculate prime of Truth;
        While we, who make pretense
At living on, and wake and eat and sleep,        65
And life’s stale trick by repetition keep,—
        Our fickle permanence
(A poor leaf-shadow on a brook, whose play
Of busy idlesse ceases with our day)
        Is the mere cheat of sense.        70
          We bide our chance,
    Unhappy, and make terms with Fate
    A little more to let us wait;
        He leads for aye the advance,
Hope’s forlorn-hopes that plant the desperate good        75
For nobler earths and days of manlier mood;
        Our wall of circumstance
Cleared at a bound, he flashes o’er the fight,
A saintly shape of fame, to cheer the right
      And steel each wavering glance.        80
          I write of one,
    While with dim eyes I think of three;
Who weeps not others fair and brave as he?
        Ah, when the fight is won,
Dear Land, whom triflers now make bold to scorn        85
(Thee! from whose forehead earth awaits her morn),
        How nobler shall the sun
Flame in thy sky, how braver breathe thy air,
That thou bred’st children who for thee could dare
        And die as thine have done!        90

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