A Dead Friend
IT hardly seems that he is dead,
So strange it is that we are here
Beneath this great blue shell of sky
With apple-bloom and pear:
It scarce seems true that we can note
The bursting rosebud’s edge of flame,
Or watch the blackbird’s swelling throat
While he is but a name.
No more the chaffinch at his step
Pipes suddenly her shrill surprise,
For in an ecstasy of sleep
Unconsciously he lies,
Not knowing that the sweet brown lark
From off her bosom’s feathery lace
Shakes down the dewdrop in her flight
To fall upon his face.
NATURE and he went ever hand in hand
Across the hills and down the lonely lane;
They captured starry shells upon the strand
And lay enchanted by the musing main.
So She, who loved him for his love of her,
Made him the heir to traceries and signs
On tiny children nigh too small to stir
In great green plains of hazel leaf or vines.
She taught the trouble of the nightingale;
Revealed the velvet secret of the rose;
She breathed divinity into his heart,
That rare divinity of watching those
Slow growths that make a nettle learn to dart
The puny poison of its little throes.
Her miracles motion, butterflies,
Rubies and sapphires skimming lily-crests,
Carved on a yellow petal with their eye
Tranced by the beauty of their powdered breasts,
Seen in the mirror of a drop of dew,
He loved as friends and as a friend he knew.
The dust of gold and scarlet underwings
More precious was to him than nuggets torn
From all invaded treasure-crypts of time,
And every floating, painted, silver beam
Drew him to roses where it stayed to dream,
Or down sweet avenues of scented lime.
And Nature trained him tenderly to know
The rain of melodies in coverts heard.
Let him but catch the cadences that flow
From hollybush or lilac, elm or sloe,
And he would mate the music with the bird.
The faintest song a redstart ever sang
Was redstart’s piping, and the whitethroat knew
No cunning trill, no mazy shake that rang
Doubtful on ears unaided by the view.
But in his glory, as a young pure priest
In that great temple, only roofed by stars,
An angel hastened from the sacred East
To reap the wisest and to leave the least.
And as he moaned upon the couch of death,
Breathing away his little share of breath,
All suddenly he sprang upright in bed!
Life, like a ray, poured fresh into his face,
Flooding the hollow cheeks with passing grace.
He listened long, then pointed up above;
Laughed a low laugh of boundless joy and love—
That was a plover called he softly said,
And on his wife’s breast fell, serenely dead!