Theodore Tilton



The Cloud Of Witnesses

by Theodore Tilton

Are they not all ministering spirits?


I leaned upon a burial urn,
And thought how life is but a day,
And how the nations, each in turn,
Have lived and passed away.


The earth is peopled with the dead,
Who live again in deathless hosts,
And come and go with noiseless tread --
A universe of ghosts.


They follow after flying ships,
They flicker through the city's marts,
They hear the cry of human lips --
The beat of human hearts.


They linger not around their tombs,
But far from churchyards keep aloof,
To dwell in old familiar rooms
Beneath the household roof.


They waken men at morning light,
They cheer them in their daily care,
They bring a weary world at night
To bend the knee in prayer.


Their errand is of God assigned
To comfort sorrow till it cease,
And in the dark and troubled mind
To light the lamp of peace.


There is a language, whispered low,
Whereby to mortal ears they speak,
To which we answer by a glow
That kindles in the cheek.


Dear shadows, fairer than the day,
With heavenly light they wrap us round,
Wherein we walk a gilded way,
And over holy ground.


O, what a wondrous life is theirs! --
To fling away the mortal frame,
Yet keep the human loves, and cares,
And yearnings still the same!


O, what a wondrous life is ours! --
To dwell within this earthly range,
Yet parley with the heavenly powers --
Two worlds in interchange!


O, balm of grief! -- to understand
That whom our eyes behold no more
Still clasp us with as true a hand
As in the flesh before!


No longer in a gloom profound
Let Memory, like a mourner craped,
Sit weeping by an empty mound
Whose captive hath escaped!


So, turning from the burial urn,
I thought how life has double worth,
If men be only wise to learn
That heaven is on the earth.


The Sexton's Tale, And Other Poems.
Copyright 1867
Sheldon And Company, New York.