My Lattice and Other Poems

by Frederick George Scott


 

IN VIA MORTIS


 

O YE great company of dead that sleep
    Under the world’s green rind, I come to you,
With warm, soft limbs, with eyes that laugh and weep,
    Heart strong to love, and brain pierced through and through
        With thoughts whose rapid lightnings make my day—
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        To you my life-stream courses on its way
Through margin-shallows of the eternal deep.

And naked shall I come among you, shorn
    Of all life’s vanities, its light and power,
Its earthly lusts, its petty hate and scorn,

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    The gifts and gold I treasured for an hour;
        And even from this house of flesh laid bare,—
        A soul transparent as heat-quivering air,
Into your fellowship I shall be born.

I know you not, great forms of giant kings,

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    Who held dominion in your iron hands,
Who toyed with battles and all valorous things,
    Counting yourselves as gods when on the sands
        Ye piled the earth’s rock fragments in an heap
        To mark and guard the grandeur of your sleep,
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And quaffed the cup which death, our mother, brings.

I know you not, great warriors, who have fought
    When blood flowed like a river at your feet,
And each death with your thunderous sword-strokes wrought,
    Than love’s wild rain of kisses was more sweet.

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        I know you not, great minds, who with the pen
        Have graven on the fiery hearts of men
Hopes that breed hope and thoughts that kindle thought.

But ye are there, ingathered in the realm
    Where tongueless spirits speak from heart to heart,

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And eyeless mariners without a helm
    Steer down the seas where ever close and part
        The windless clouds; and all ye know is this,
        Ye are not as ye were in pain or bliss,
But a strange numbness doth all thought o’erwhelm.
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And I shall meet you, O ye mighty dead,
    Come late into your kingdom through the gates
Of one fierce anguish witherto I tread,
    With heart that now forgets, not meditates
        Upon the wide fields stretching far away
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        Where the dead wander past the bounds of day,
Past life, past death, past every pain and dread.

Oft, when the winter sun slopes down to rest
    Across the long, crisp fields of gilded white,
And without sound upon earth’s level breast

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    The grey tide floods around of drowning night,
        A whisper, like a distant battle’s roll
        Heard over mountains, creeps into my soul,
And there I entertain it like a guest.

It is the echo of your former pains,

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    Great dead, who lie so still beneath the ground;
Its voice is as the night wind after rains,
    The flight of eagle wings which once were bound,
        And as I listen in the starlit air
        My spirit waxeth stronger than despair,
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Till in your might I break life’s prison chains.

Then mount I swiftly to your dark abodes,
    Invisible, beyond sight’s reach, where now ye dwell
In houses wrought of dreams on dusky roads
    Which lead in mazes whither none may tell,

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        For they who thread them faint beside the way,
        And ever as they pass through twilight grey
Doubt walks beside them and a terror goads.

And there the great dead welcome me and bring
    Their cups of tasteless pleasure to my mouth;

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Here am I little worth, there am I king,
    For pulsing life still slakes my spirit’s drouth,
        And he who yet doth hold the gift of life
         Is mightier than the heroes of past strife
Who have been mowed in death’s great harvesting.
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And here and there along the silent streets
    I see some face I knew, perchance I loved;
And as I call it each blank wall repeats
    The uttered name, and swift the form hath moved
        And heedless of me passes on and on,
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        Till lo, the vision from my sight hath gone
Softly as night at touch of dawn retreats.

Yet must life’s vision fade and I shall come,
    O mighty dead, into your hidden land,
When these eyes see not and these lips are dumb,

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    And all life’s flowers slip from this nerveless hand;
        Then will ye gather round me like a tide
        And with your faces the strange scenery hide,
While your weird music doth each sense benumb.

So would I live this life’s brief span, great dead,

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    As ye once lived it, with an iron will,
A heart of steel to conquer, a mind fed
    On richest hopes and purposes, until
        Well pleased ye set for me a royal throne,
        And welcome as confederate with your own
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The soul gone from me on my dying bed.