Helen Hunt Jackson

Helen Hunt Jackson



A Funeral March

by Helen Hunt Jackson


Yes, all is ready now; the door and gate
Have opened this last time for him, more wide
Than is their wont; no longer side by side
With us, he passes out; we follow, meek,
And weeping at his pomp, which is not pride,
And which he did not seek.
We cannot speak,
Because we loved him so; we hesitate,
And cling and linger and in vain belate
Their feet who bear him.
Slow, slow, slow,
With every fibre holding back, we go;
And cruel hands, while we are near,
And weep afresh to hear,
Have shut the door and shut the gate.


The air is full of shapes
We do not see, but feel;
Ghosts which no death escapes.
No sepulchre can seal;
Ghosts of forgotten things of joy and grief;
And ghosts of things which never were,
But promised him to be: they may defer
Their pledges now; his unbelief
Is justified, Oh, why did they abide
This time, these restless ghosts, which glide,
Accompanying him? Can they go in
Unquestioned, and confront him in the grave,
And answers win
From dead lips which the live lips never gave?
Will they return across the churchyard gate
With us, weeping with us Too late! too late!
Or are they dead, as he is dead?
And when the burial rites are said,
Will they lie down, the resurrection to await?


With dumb, pathetic look the poor beasts go
At unaccustomed pace to suit our woe;
Uncomprehending equally
Or what a grief or what a joy may be.
House after house where life makes glad
We bear him past, who all of life has had.
And men's and women's wistful eyes
Look out on us in sorrow and surprise,
For all men are of kin to one who dies.


Eager the light grass bends
To let us pass, but springs again and waves
To hide our footsteps; not a flower saves
Its blossoming, or sends
One odor less, as we go by;
And never seemed the shining sky
So full of birds and songs before.
Whole tribes of yellow butterflies
Dart mockingly and wheel and soar,
Making it only seem the more
Impossible, this human death which lies
Silent beneath their dance who live
One day and die. Noiseless and swift,
Winged seeds come through the air, and drift
Down on the dead man's breast.
They shall go with him into rest,
And in the resurrection of the Spring
To his low grave shall give
The beauty of some green and flowering thing.


The glittering sun moves slowly overhead,
It seems in rhythmic motion with our tread,
Confronting us with its relentless, hot,
Unswerving, blinding ray;
Then, sparing not
One subtle torture, it makes haste to lay
A ghastly shadow all along the way
Of formless, soundless wheel and lifeless plume,
All empty shapes in semblance of our gloom,
Creeping along at our slow pace,
Not for one moment nor in any place
Forsaking us, nor ceasing to repeat
In taunting lines the faltering of our feet;
Laying, lifting, in a mocking breath,
Mocking shadows of the shadow of Death.


But now comes silent joy, anointing
With sudden, firm, and tender hand
Our eyes; anointed with this clay
Of burial earth, we see how stand
Around us, marshalled under God's appointing,
Such shining ones as on no other day
Descend. We see, with a majestic face,
Of love ineffable, One walking in chief place
Beside the dead, -- High Priest
Of his salvation, King
Of his surrender, comrade till life ceased,
Saviour from suffering, --
O sweet, strong, loving Death!
With yearning, pitying breath,
He looks back from his dead to us, and saith,
O mine who love me not, what filled
Your hearts with this strange fear?
Could ye but hear
The new voice of this man whom I have willed
To set so free, to make
Him subject in my kingdom, for the sake
Of being greater king than I,
Reigning with Christ eternally!


Closer and closer press the shining ones;
Clearer and clearer grow the notes
Of music from the heavenly throats.
We see the gleaming of the precious stones
Which set the Gate of Life. King's sons
Throng out to meet the man we bring;
We hear his voice in entering:
Oh! see how all these weep
Who come with me!
Must they return?
Oh! send swift messenger to Christ, and see
If He will bid you keep
Them too!

Scarce we discern
From distant Heaven where Christ sits and hears,
The tender whispered voice, in which he saith,
My faithful servant, Death, is Lord of death:
My days must be a thousand years.


The Gate of Life swings close. All have gone in;
Majestic Death, his freedman following
And all those ghostly shapes, the next of kin,
Their deeds, which were and were not, rendering;
And tender Joy and Grief,
Bearing in one pale sheaf
Their harvest; and the shining ones who come
And go continually.
Alone and silently,
We take the road again that leads us home.
The mother has no more a son;
The wife no husband; and the child
No father. Yet around the woman's days
Immortal loverhood lights blaze
Of deathless fires; and never mother smiled
Like her who smiles forever, seeing one
Immortal child, for whom immortal fatherhood
Beseeches and receives eternal good.
And days that were not full are filled;
And with triumphant breath,
Mighty to cheer and save,
The voices ring which once were stilled,
The pulses beat which once were chilled,
Life is the victory of the grave,
Christ is Lord of the Lord of Death!


Copyright 1888
Roberts Brothers, Boston