Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant
THE HUSBAND'S AND WIFE'S GRAVE.
HUSBAND and wife! No converse now ye hold,
As once ye did in your young days of love,
On its alarms, its anxious hours, delays,
Its silent meditations, its glad hopes,
Its fears, impatience, quiet sympathies;
Nor do ye speak of joy assured, and bliss
Full, certain, and possess'd. Domestic cares
Call you not now together. Earnest talk
On what your children may be, moves you not.
Ye lie in silence, and an awful silence;
'Tis not like that in which ye rested once
Most happy—silence eloquent, when heart
With heart held speech, and your mysterious frames,
Harmonious, sensitive, at every beat
Touch'd the soft notes of love.
Insensible, unheeding, folds you round;
And darkness, as a stone, has seal'd you in.
Away from all the living, here ye rest:
In all the nearness of the narrow tomb,
Yet feel ye not each other's presence now
Dread fellowship! together, yet alone.
Is this thy prison-house, thy grave, then, Love?
And doth death cancel the great bond that holds
Commingling spirits? Are thoughts that know no bounds,
But, self-inspired, rise upward, searching out
The eternal Mind—the Father of all thought—
Are they become mere tenants of a tomb?
Dwellers in darkness, who th' illuminate realms
Of uncreated light have visited and lived?
Lived in the dreadful splendour of that throne,
Which One, with gentle hand the veil of flesh
Lifting, that hung 'twixt man and it, reveal'd
In glory? throne, before which even now
Our souls, moved by prophetic power, bow down
Rejoicing, yet at their own natures awed?
Souls that Thee know by a mysterious sense,
Thou awful, unseen presence—are they quenched,
Or burn they on, hid from our mortal eyes
By that bright day which ends not, as the sun
His robe of light flings round the glittering stars?
And with our frames do perish all our loves?
Do those that took their root and put forth buds,
And their soft leaves unfolded in the warmth
Of mutual hearts, grow up and live in beauty,
Then fade and fall, like fair unconscious flowers?
Are thoughts and passions that to the tongue give speech,
And make it send forth winning harmonies,
That to the cheek do give its living glow,
And vision in the eye the soul intense
With that for which there is no utterance—
Are these the body's accidents? no more?
To live in it, and when that dies, go out
Like the burnt taper's flame?
Oh, listen, man!
A voice within us speaks that startling word,
"Man, thou shalt never die!" Celestial voices
Hymn it unto our souls: according harps,Page 83
By angel fingers touch'd when the mild stars
Of morning sang together, sound forth still
The song of our great immortality:
Thick clustering orbs, and this our fair domain,
The tall, dark mountains, and the deep-toned seas
Join in this solemn, universal song.
Oh, listen, ye, our spirits; drink it in
From all the air! 'Tis in the gentle moonlight;
'Tis floating midst day's setting glories; Night,
Wrapped in her sable robe, with silent step
Comes to our bed and breathes it in our ears:
Night, and the dawn, bright day, and thoughtful eve,
All time, all bounds, the limitless expanse,
As one vast mystic instrument, are touch'd
By an unseen, living Hand, and conscious chords
Quiver with joy in this great jubilee.
The dying hear it; and as sounds of earth
Grow dull and distant, wake their passing souls
To mingle in this heavenly harmony.
Why is it that I linger round this tomb?
What holds it? Dust that cumber'd those I mourn.
They shook it off, and laid aside earth's robes,
And put on those of light. They're gone to dwell
In love—their God's and angels'. Mutual love,
That bound them here, no longer needs a speech
For full communion; nor sensations strong,
Within the breast, their prison, strive in vain
To be set free, and meet their kind in joy.
Changed to celestials, thoughts that rise in each,
By natures new, impart themselves, though silent.
Each quick'ning sense, each throb of holy love.
Affections sanctified, and the full glow
Of being, which expand and gladden one,
By union all mysterious, thrill and live
In both immortal frames: Sensation all,
And thought, pervading, mingling sense and thought!
Ye pair'd, yet one! wrapped in a consciousness
Twofold, yet single—this is love, this life!
Why call we, then, the square-built monument,
The upright column, and the low-laid slab,
Tokens of death, memorials of decay?
Stand in this solemn, still assembly, man,
And learn thy proper nature; for thou see'st,
In these shaped stones and letter'd tables, figures
Of life: More are they to thy soul than those
Which he who talk'd on Sinai's mount with God
Brought to the old Judeans—types are these,
Of thine eternity.