Poems: Old and New

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. [Page 39]

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 which 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, [Page 40]
      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 whitherto I tread,
   With heart that now forgets, now 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 mountain, 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, [Page 41]
      And as I listen in the starlit air
      My spirit waxeth stronger than despair,
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Till in your might I burst life’s prison chains.

Then mount I swiftly to your dark abodes,
   Beyond our mortal ken, 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 [Page 42]
      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. [Page 43]