Frank Dempster Sherman


The Last Letter

by Frank Dempster Sherman

Long years within its sepulchre
Of faintly scented cedar
Has lain this letter dear to her
Who was its constant reader:
The postmark on the envelope
Sufficed the date to give her,
And told the birth of patient hope
That managed to outlive her.

How often to this treasure-box,
Tears in her eyes' soft fringes,
She came with key and turned the locks,
And on its brazen hinges
Swung back the quaintly figured lid,
And raised a sandal cover,
Disclosing, under trinkets hid,
This message from her lover.

Then lifting it as 't were a child,
Her hand awhile caressed it
Ere to the lips that sadly smiled
Time and again she pressed it:
Then drew the small inclosure out
And smoothed the wrinkled paper,
Lest any line should leave a doubt
Or any word escape her.

Still held the olden charm its place
Amid the tender phrases;
Time seemed unwilling to efface
The love-pervaded praises:
And though a thousand lovers might
Have matched them all for passion,
A poet were inspired to write
In their unstudied fashion.

From "Darling" slowly, word by word,
She read the tear-stained treasure:
The mists by which her eyes were blurred
Grew out of pain and pleasure;
But when she reached that cherished name,
And saw the last leave-taking,
The mist a storm of grief became, --
Her very heart was breaking!

I put it back, -- this old-time note,
Which seems like sorrow's leaven,
For she who read, and he who wrote,
Please God, are now in heaven.
If lovers of to-day could win
Such love as won this letter,
The world about us would begin
To gladden and grow better.


Lyrics For A Lute
Copyright 1890
Boston and New York, Houghton, Mifflin, and Company