Selections from the American poets
William Cullen Bryant
THE FEMALE MARTYR.
Mary G—, aged 18, a "SISTER OF CHARITY," died in one of our Atlantic cities, during the prevalence of the Indian Cholera, while in voluntary attendance upon the sick.
"BRING out your dead!" the midnight street
Heard and gave back the hoarse, low call;
Harsh fell the tread of hasty feet;
Glanced through the dark the coarse white sheet;
Her coffin and her pall.
"What! only one!" the brutal hackman said,
As, with an oath, he spurn'd away the dead.
How sunk the inmost hearts of all,
As roll'd that dead-cart slowly by,
With creaking wheel and harsh hoof-fall!
The dying turn'd him to the wall,
To hear it and to die!
Onward it roll'd; while oft its driver stay'd,
And hoarsely clamour'd, "Ho! bring out your dead
It paused beside the burial-place:
"Toss in your load!" and it was done.
With quick hand and averted face,
Hastily to the grave's embrace
They cast them, one by one—
Stranger and friend—the evil and the just,
Together trodden in the churchyard dust!
And thou, young martyr! thou wast there:
No white-robed sisters round thee trod,
Nor holy hymn, nor funeral prayer
Rose through the damp and noisome air,
Giving thee to thy God;
Nor flower, nor cross, nor hallow'd taper gave
Grace to the dead, and beauty to the grave!
Yet, gentle sufferer! there shall be,
In every heart of kindly feeling,
A rite as holy paid to thee
As if beneath the convent-tree
Thy sisterhood were kneeling,
At vesper hours, like sorrowing angels, keeping
Their tearful watch around thy place of sleeping.
For thou wast one in whom the light
Of Heaven's own love was kindled well,
Enduring with a martyr's might,
Through weary day and wakeful night,
Far more than words may tell:
Gentle, and meek, and lowly, and unknown,
Thy mercies measured by thy God alone!
Where manly hearts were failing—where
The throngful street grew foul with death,
Oh high soul'd martyr! thou wast there,
Inhaling from the loathsome air
Poison with every breath.
Yet shrinking not from offices of dread
For the wrung dying and the unconscious dead.
And, where the sickly taper shed
Its light through vapours, damp, confined,
Hush'd as a seraph's fell thy tread,
A new Electra by the bed
Of suffering human-kind!
Pointing the spirit, in its dark dismay,
To that pure hope which fadeth not away.
Innocent teacher of the high
And holy mysteries of Heaven!
How turn'd to thee each glazing eye,
In mute and awful sympathy,
As thy low prayers were given;
And the o'erhovering spoiler wore, the while,
An angel's features, a deliverer's smile!
A blessed task! and worthy one
Who, turning from the world, as thou,
Ere being's pathway had begun
To leave its spring-time flower and sun,
Had seal'd her early vow,
Giving to God her beauty and her youth,
Her pure affections and her guileless truth.
Earth may not claim thee. Nothing here
Could be for thee a meet reward;
Thine is a treasure far more dear:
Eye hath not seen it, nor the ear
Of living mortal heard,
The joys prepared, the promised bliss above,
The holy presence of Eternal Love!
Sleep on in peace. The earth has not
A nobler name than thine shall be.
The deeds by martial manhood wrought,
The lofty energies of thought,
The fire of poesy—
These have but frail and fading honours; thine
Shall Time unto Eternity consign.