Hugh Miller's Grave
by Gerald Massey
Before the grim Grave closes, let me drop
My few poor flowers upon his Coffin lid!
I loved the man: his taking roughness too
I liked; it was the Sword-hilt rough with gems,
I loved him living, not with that late love
Which asks for rootage in the dead man's grave,
And must be writ in Marble to endure.
To many he seemed stern, for he could guard
His tongue with his good teeth: to some he showed
Rough as the Holly's lower range of leaves,
His prickly humour all alive with spears:
But if you climbed to the serener height,
You found a life in smooth and shining leaf,
And crowned with calm, and lying nearer heaven
Low lies the grandest head in all Scotland.
We'll miss him when there's noble work to do!
We'll miss him coming thro' the crowded street,
Like plaided Shepherd from the Ross-shire Hills,
Stalwart and iron-gray and weather-worn;
His tall head holding up a lonely light
Of steadfast thought still burning in his eyes,
Like some masthead-light lonely thro' the night;
His eyes, that rather dreamed than saw, deep-set
In the brow's shadow, looking forward, fixed,
On something which we saw not, solemn, strange!
He was a Hero true as ever stept
In the Forlorn Hope of a warring world:
And from opposing circumstance his palm
Drew loftier stature, and a lustier strength.
From the far dreamland height of youthful years
He flung his gage out mid the trampling strife,
And fought his way to it with spirit that cut
Like a scythed Chariot, and took up his own.
Once more Childe Roland to the dark tower came,
Saw bright forms beckon on the battlements,
And stormed thro' fighting foes, true steel to steel;
Slow step by step he won his winding way,
And reached the top, and stood up Victor there;
And yet with most brave meekness it was done.
His life-tree fair of leaf, and rich in fruit!
We could not see it mouldering at the heart.
We knew not how in nights of pain he groped,
And groped with bleeding feel down the dark Crypts
Of consciousness, to find the buried sense;
When the faint flame of being flickering low,
Made fearful shadows spectral on the walls;
And beckoning terrors muttered in the dark;
Old misery-mongers moaned along the wind;
The lights burned blue as Death were breathing near,
And dead hands seemed to reach and drag him down.
The powers of Evil often have a hand
With human Lots in the dim urn of Fate.
The awful Dark flung over him a pall
Of pain, hot hands of hell were on his eyes,
And Devils drew him thro' the cold night-wind;
But while they held the helpless body bound,
The spirit broke away. That rent was death!
The iron will wherewith he cleft his path
From the stone-quarries to the heights of fame,
Still strove for freedom when the leap was death.
But, never doubt God's Children find their home
By dark as well as day. The life he lived,
And not the death he died, was first in judgment.
It is the writing on the folded scroll
Death sends, and not the seal, that God will judge.
I love to think the Spirit of Cowper caught
Hold of his poor weak wandering hands in help,
As at the dark door he in blindness groped.
How it would touch that tender soul to read
The earthly memories written in his face!
Such memories as ope the gates of heaven:
And he who soothed him with last words on earth
Might whisper his first welcome in the heavens,
And lead him thro' cool valleys green where grow
The leaves of healing by the river of life,
Where tears and travel-stains are wiped away,
All troubled thoughts laid in ambrosial rest,
And there is no more pain.
Then as they bowed
Before His throne who sitteth in the Heavens,
Perchance the pleading Poet prayed that he
Might sit beside him at th' eternal feast.
The fancy flower-like from his coffin grew
Even while I lookt. He lay as Death did seem
Only a dream he might have dreamed before;
All peaceful as the face of Sabbath morn:
The meekened witness of another world.
That stern, white stillness had a starry touch,
As his last look had caught the first of heaven.
The battle-armour of a soldier soul
Lay battered, but still bright from many blows,
Upon the field; and such as few could wear.
The ghosts of last year leaves, that last night rose
And rustled in their spectral dance of death,
Are laid and silent in a shroud of snow!
The day is dark above the long, dark host!
The sad husht heavens seem choked, but cannot weep!
Many pale faces, many tristful eyes,
With dumb looks pleading for the kindly rain
That comes not when the heart can only cry
With unshed tears, close round his wintry grave!
The lonely men whose lives are still a-light
And shining when the tired toilers sleep,
To whom Night brings the larger thoughts like Stars.
I marvel if among them there is one
Who shudders when men speak of such a death
As if they named His -- who has longed to pluck
Death's cool hand down upon the burning brain,
But chokes the secret in his heart as though
He crusht a hissing serpent in his hand,
Lest it scream out, and his white face be known!
Ah! come away, for sorrow is a child
That needs no nursing! And all seems so strange.
One last look, and then home to feel and feel
What we have lost; and when from the dark earth
A spring-tide dawn of leaf-light glistens green,
And Nature with her dewfall and her rain
Gives to our grief the last calm tender touch,
And makes the Heartsease grow from out his grave,
In those sweet days when hearts are tenderest
For those who never come back with the flowers,
Upon some balmy Eve so beautiful
We should not wonder if an Angel stood
Suddenly at our side; the silent march
Of all the beauty culminating thus!
Then let us come, dear friend, and spend an hour --
While Nature kneeleth in all places lowly,
God's blessing resting on a time so holy --
At the communion table of His tomb.
Boston: Ticknor And Fields