Poem: On Visiting a Cemetery


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On Visiting a Cemetery

I walked one day through iron gates

Through which some came one way alone

My eyes roamed o’er the spread of land

The ordered names there set in stone.

I walked the rows, and read the names

My legs moved forth with even pace

Beneath each stone, now still and gone

What once had mind, and pulse, and face.

I stopped at one, now deep in thought

Another would have done as well

The name not in my memory now

But rather what the stone did tell.

Beneath this plaque, now matter lay

Once with lungs quick with breath, with eyes

Perceiving all that ‘round him stood

And at day's end, no longer would.

And though the time a different one

Still day like this, with air and sun

And on that day, his light did leave

From life, as soul from flesh did cleave.

And once did leave, could ne’er return

And nothing more his soul might learn

Existence done, no further fete

The journey played, his time complete.

Yet though now dead, and ne’er to live

Again, what if his mind might think?

Now knowing what would come to pass

Now firmly grasping that black brink?

Would he look back upon his days

And say “Alas! What have I done!

The sunlight that moved o’er my skin!

My eyes that o’er the earth might run!

“I did not know that which I owned!

This life that might have earned my love!

This tree, this earth, the thoughts of men!

Oh God, that I might live again!

“To live each day no less than I

And that sweet life should have deserved!

Rejecting fear, embracing pride

Treating that life as though a bride!

“And now, alas, my time is done!

My body cold, no honors won --

No pride of soul, no joy, no life!

I’ve lost it all, my breath, that wife!

“Throughout each day, she ever stood

Before an altar in white gown

Her body straight, her form ideal

And yet with ever deep’ning frown!

“For as time passed, and years moved by

I did not come to meet this love

I somehow fell into the depths!

I somehow lost the light above!

“And light as I think I once knew!

Once in the days of long past youth

But this -- somehow -- it fell away!

Oh God, to live again that day!

“The day on which the path began

That took me from that church of light

Into the graying world of doubt

And farther from the path of right!

“And by this ‘right’ I do not mean

A duty from a world above

But rather knowing life, with joy

And with each sight, sealing that love!

“And what is it that caused this loss!

This cleavage ‘tween my is and ought?

The thought that such life could not be!

By God, now I will find this key!

“I can recall, during my time

Some moments where my joy did surge

But only that -- a moment -- then

The joy lost strength, the gray did merge.

“What was the nature of this foe?

This thing that took from me my sight!

What is this beast that rose against

That glory which was mine by right?

“Alas, I know that which it was!

It was no beast that took my life!

It was the false that took my mind!

It was ideas that left me blind!

“The thing which said, ‘It cannot be!’

‘Men in this realm cannot be such!’

‘No blacks and whites, but only grays!’

This was the nature of that haze!

“And all it would have taken was

To call these to the court of light!

And from me fog would then have fled!

And that dear wife, I would have wed!

“And now I have lost my own worth!

Now without hands to take the earth!

Now without eyes to give me sight!

Without the joy that was my right!

“And fault for this was mine alone!

It’s to myself I owe this moan!

I did this fog myself condone!

My life lost, and the guilt -- my own!”

And now this pale, unhappy ghost

Returned to that from which he came

A void, where he does not exist

As all men someday will the same.

And then I asked, “What shall life be?”

And saw another, shining ghost

But one who did not give his days

To less than what might be the most.

“I heard his tale,” he said with smile

“That wife he left, I took with pride

And on that day, when her I took

I that foul fog with thought defied!”

O noble soul, O proper Man!

To drink of life thus deep and pure!

Who did not give his soul to loss!

Who with firm hand opened that door!

The door through which that bride was met!

Her bright eyes brimming with glad tears!

The one who you did never leave

Throughout the scope of all your years!

Heroic soul, golden in form!

It shall be yours I make my tone!

No minute lost, no day unsung!

No thought within but Reason’s own!

To think that one might lose one’s life

To that which does not have defense!

To thoughts which if identified

Would be released with laughing pride!

And then did I to myself speak

Upon the earth an oath I swore

To hold that dear wife by my side

To take her and with her abide!

“By all that is, I swear this now!

Upon my life a solemn vow!

Before such fog I will not bow!

Neither in days to come, nor now!”

And with that firm decision made

To take that wife while still she stayed

I grasped her with soul unafraid

And on that day our vows were made.

And evermore she walks with me

And so she will as I grow old

For as long as I choose to live

My soul is forged in shining gold.

And on that day, in days to come

When this fair earth at last I leave

With pride will I look on my life

And I will have no cause to grieve.

For that foul day, when I must go

And leave this dear, beloved world

My heart will carry no regret

No curse at this existence hurled.

For as long as I walk this earth

I shall not lose the joy I’ve won

For never shall my soul relent

To thought unthought, or deed undone.

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