Cordula's Web. NOAA. Igloo, South Pole Expedition.
NOAA Photo Library: corp1528. Igloo, South Pole Expedition. John C. Bortniak. HiRes. Gallery 8
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The Grave

Caroline Clive

I stood within the grave's o'ershadowing vault;
Gloomy and damp it stretch'd its vast domain;
Shades were its boundary; for my strained eye sought
For other limit to its width in vain.

Faint from the entrance came a daylight ray,
And distant sound of living men and things;
This, in th' encountering darkness pass'd away,
That, took the tone in which a mourner sings.

I lit a torch at a sepulchral lamp,
Which shot a thread of light amid the gloom;
And feebly burning 'gainst the rolling damp,
I bore it through the regions of the tomb.

Around me stretch'd the slumbers of the dead,
Whereof the silence ach'd upon mine ear;
More and more noiseless did I make my tread,
And yet its echoes chill'd my heart with fear.

The former men of every age and place,
From all their wand'rings gather'd, round me lay;
The dust of wither'd Empires did I trace,
And stood 'mid Generations pass'd away.

I saw whole cities, that in flood or fire,
Or famine or the plague, gave up their breath;
Whole armies whom a day beheld expire,
Swept by ten thousands to the arms of Death.

I saw the old world's white and wave-swept bones,
A giant heap of creatures that had been;
Far and confus'd the broken skeletons
Lay strewn beyond mine eye's remotest ken.

Death's various shrines: The Urn, the Stone, the Lamp...
Were scatter'd round, confus'd, amid the dead;
Symbols and Types were mould'ring in the damp,
Their shapes were waning and their meaning fled.

Unspoken tongues, perchance in praise or woe,
Were character'd on tablets Time had swept;
And deep were half their letters hid below
The thick small dust of those they once had wept.

No hand was here to wipe the dust away;
No reader of the writing trac'd beneath;
No spirit sitting by its form of clay;
No sigh nor sound from all the heaps of Death.

One place alone had ceas'd to hold its prey;
A form had press'd it and was there no more;
The garments of the Grave beside it lay,
Where once they wrapp'd him on the rocky floor.

He only with returning footsteps broke
Th' eternal calm wherewith the Tomb was bound;
Among the sleeping Dead alone He woke,
And bless'd with outstretch'd hands the host around.

Well is it that such blessing hovers here,
To soothe each sad survivor of the throng,
Who haunt the portals of the solemn sphere,
And pour their woe the loaded air along.

They to the verge have follow'd what they love,
And on th' insuperable threshold stand;
With cherish'd names its speechless calm reprove,
And stretch in the abyss their ungrasp'd hand.

But vainly there they seek their soul's relief,
And of th' obdurate Grave, its prey implore;
Till Death himself shall medicine their grief,
Closing their eyes by those they wept before.

All that have died, the Earth's whole race, repose,
Where Death collects his Treasures, heap on heap;
O'er each one's busy day, the nightshades close;
Its Actors, Sufferers, Schools, Kings, Armies... sleep.

Home :: Poetry :: Ghosts of Pain (5) :: The Grave

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