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Hymn To Death poem – Alfred Austin


I

What is it haunts the summer air?

A sense of something lately passed away;

Something pleasant, something fair,

That was with us yesterday,

And is no longer there.

Now from the pasture comes no baby bleat,

Nor the frisk of frolic feet

There is seen.

Blossom and bloom have spread their wings, and flown,

And the bosks and orchards green

The rosy flush of childhood have outgrown.

Lapwing and linnet and lark have fledged their brood;

Mavis and merle have gotten their desire;

The nightingale begins to tire;

Even the cuckoo’s note hath fitful grown;

And in the closing leafage of the wood

The ringdove now is left to coo alone.

II

Then revel in your roses, reckless June!

Revel and ripen swift to your decay.

But your turn will follow soon,

And the rounding harvest-moon

Avenge the too brief innocence of May.

Yet once again there scents the morning air

The soul of something passed away;

Something precious, something fair,

That was breathing yesterday,

And is no longer there.

It is Autumn, dying, dying,

With her leaves around her lying,

And Winter, beggared heir, unprofitably sighing.

Let her die.

Unto us as unto her

Earth is but a sepulchre,

And the over-arching sky

Neither asks nor wonders why

Those who here are left behind

Season sweet and spacious mind

Fain would save;

Yet with pale visages and streaming tears

Must watch the harvest of the ripened years

Locked in the bootless granary of the grave.

III

Why do you call me hence?

To purge what fault, to punish what offence?

Had I maligned my lot,

Or ever once the privilege forgot

Of being, though the spirit’s inward sense,

Mirror and measure of all things that are,

Then it were right, were just,

That, like a falling leaf or failing star,

The winds of Heaven should blow about my dust.

Or had I used the years as waifs and strays,

To build myself a comfortable nest,

Groped life for golden garbage, like the rest,

And, as a lacquey, on the public ways

For private profit hired out my tongue,

Then against death ’twere vain to plead,

Then, then ’twere meet indeed

I should grow silenced, like a bell unrung.

But bear me witness, every Spring that came

Since first with trembling furtive frame

Out of my little crib I crept

While others slept,

Because to me the rising moon

Was more than sleep, or toy, or boon,

That never yet the thrush resumed to sing,

But straight my heart did build, my voice was on the wing;

Found the first primrose gazing frank

From its cradle in the bank,

Harked for the cuckoo days before he called,

Then halted, at his note enthralled.

IV

Why do you beckon to another sphere?

Here was I born,

Am deeply rooted here,

And would not be uptorn.

I want no other fields than these,

No other skies,

No redder dawn to break on bluer seas,

No brighter stars to rise.

Neither do I crave to know

The origin of joy and woe.

I love the doubt, the dark, the fear,

That still surroundeth all things here.

I love the mystery, nor seek to solve;

Content to let the stars revolve,

Nor ask to have their meaning clear.

Enough for me, enough to feel;

To let the mystic shadows steal

Into a land whither I cannot follow;

To see the stealthy sunlight leave

Dewy dingle, dappled hollow;

To watch, when falls the hour of eve,

Quiet shadows on a quiet hill;

To watch, to wonder, and be still.

V

And can it be,

That there will break the day,

For me, for me,

When I no more shall hear the throstle flute;

Not because his voice is mute,

But that my soul sleeps stupefied in clay?

Never! what, never again!

Deep within some silent glen

To make a couch with peace, far from surmise of men?

Never, never more to stand,

Spell-bound in a leafy land,

Lie among the grasses tall,

Hear the yaffel call, and call,

And lazily watch the lazy clouds slow floating over all?

That time and life will be, but I shall ne’er

Find little feet upon the stair,

Feel little arms about my throat,

Hear little gleeful voices float

Upon the wavelets of the summer air.

That I again shall never share

The peace that lies upon an English lawn,

Watch the last lingering planet shining fair

Upon the unwrinkled forehead of the dawn?

Never, never, never more,

When fate or fancy bids me roam,

Lessen with loving thoughts the last long mile

That leads unto my home,

Descry the roses down the casement falling,

Hear the garden thrushes calling,

Behold my dear ones standing at the door,

Void of fear, void of guile,

And hail, as I so oft have hailed before,

The broadening salutation of their smile?

VI

Who will salute me There?

Who, who come forth to greet?

Will Virgil stand upon the golden stair?

Shall I see Spenser’s face, and sit at Shakespeare’s feet?

Will Galileo with unshrouded gaze

Guide me through the starry maze,

Upon wings that never tire,

Up to the Heaven of Heavens, and higher and ever higher?

If this be so,

Quick let me go!

But ah! pale spectre, paler still you grow.

You would but lure me to the other bank,

To find it blank!

Of all we loved, not one hath e’er come back

To beckon us along the track,

To point the way, to indicate the goal,

And stretch out steadying arms to help the tottering soul.

VII

But wilt thou make this compact with me, Death,

And keep thy bond?

That even if mine be but borrowed breath,

Lent here awhile, to be reclaimed beyond,

And its poor husk be dug into the ground;

Then, though the Future may not find my face,

Nor arms that love me round my neck be wound,

Fair lips that lisp not yet my name shall sound,

And hearts that beat not yet be my warm dwellingplace;

That under trees which have no rootlets now,

But will then be trunk and bough

And dome of sheltering leaves, sometimes

A tender tear shall fall upon my rhymes;

And hearts at secret war with life,

Or dreaming maid or disillusioned wife,

Shall my persuasive music bless,

Shall call me comforter in their distress,

And make me live again in sorrowing loveliness?

VIII

So unto Death I do commend my Spirit,

And Time which is in league with Death, that they

May hold in trust, and see my kin inherit,

All of me that is not clay;

Embalm my voice and keep it from decay.

Then I will not ask to stay;-

Nay, rather start at once upon the way:

Cheered by the faith that, at our mortal birth,

For some high reason beyond Reason’s ken,

We are put out to nurse on this strange earth,

Until Death comes to take us home again.


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