In Memoriam

I PLUCKED a sheaf of poppies and wild grass,
And brought the handful to her as she leant
Against an ancient olive-trunk, storm-bent, On the Campagna side.
Clouds loitered on the blue, as loath to pass,
Suspending silvery curtains of cool gray
Above us on that May-day, as we lay
Outwearing the noontide.
In the near thicket hummed the happy bees ;
And ruddy, sweet-juiced flowers beneath broad eaves
Of matted vine-trails and acanthus-leaves
Hoarded their nectar bland.
Long grasses tossed and sank about our knees,
And undulating air-wafts coursing past,
Charged with contagion of the spring, filled last
The pulses of the land.
“Of twain one flesh,” — so pledged we troth that day,
The world being counter. Was our love not sound?
Dared saints and martyrs, fathoms underground,
Make void our bonded “ aye ” ?
Out spake our hearts, contemptuous of frail clay :
“ Though Death’s clutch choke the passage of the breath,
Yet Love’s rights rise colossal when poor Death
Has had his sorry way.”
“Man’s will discrowns usurping Death and Fate.”
Such to our hearts the revelation borne
By the Campagna’s record that May morn,
And Rome’s historic name.
The generations die : the years grow great,
Waxing to ripening under sun and wind,
Strong with the circling sap of humankind,
Heavy with fruit of fame.
If fissures lurked in scarred and time-worn towers,
Their rifts were masked beneath acacia-blooms :
E’en grass-grown tumuli and pagan tombs
Smiled shadowless that noon.
Loud sang the larks through all the happy hours,
White oxen lowed in pastures far away,
While, deep in joy, we recked not that the day
Wore to the west too soon.
In idless leaning by the olive-tree,
I watched the breezes —dallying in unrest —
Loosen stray poppies from her hand or vest
And drift them out to sea ;
Then, plucked new handfuls, to be sifted free
By each fresh surge of air,— she all the while
Holding my eyes in thrall with her sweet smile,
My ears with her light glee.
Sudden, a storm of color drove along,
Slanting in amber mist and crimson showers
Across the land ; and from Rome’s hundred towers
The Angelus leapt out.
Down sank the sun — more livid waned the strong
Warm after-flush— till, o’er the rolling plain
Of emerald pastures and gold fields of grain,
The moist night-winds crept out.
Stretch atter stretch drew on the violet gloom,
Rifted with lines of ashy, sea-bred mist,
And half a tremor smote us as we kissed
Once more — above the dead.
We looked to gaunt-limbed arch, to spectral tomb ;
Then rose, and from those gray wastes homeward trode,
Past the couched ghosts that guard the Appian Road, —
Dim starlight overhead.
That night we knew not that the end was nigh, —
The end of love and dreams ; that, far ahead,
The vista of a Via Crucis led
Up the bleak mount of doom; That not for us should roof-tree, arching high,
Give love a shelter from the rain and cold ;
Not hearth nor pillow lure us from fate’s wold,
Cloud-bound with grief and gloom. Ere the weird eyelids of the morrow closed,
A ghastly truth unmasked itself, that dimmed
Our noon to night, and all our future limned
In sinister outlines.
Ay, tragic fate betwixt us interposed
A shadowy Duty, barring fast our way ;
As to the Seer an angel barred one day
That road athwart the vines.
Bitter is duty; bitterer were the love
Bought with the gold of duty —thus it stood; —
Though costly were the price to flesh and blood,
We might not crave release.
“Right is omnipotent in Courts above:
Let it rule here ; God shall vouchsafe relief.”
Then silence set its seal upon our grief,—
Great sorrows hold their peace.
Long after, when Death signed her with his sign,
She sent, in memory of her troth to me
And those May hours beneath the olive-tree,
A faded poppy-sheaf.
I said, “Death’s touch is kind: now she is mine,—
Life’s walls being levelled,— and her voice is free
To come across the silences to me
And speak for my relief.”
To-day, I brought from the Campagna side
A sheaf of poppies to her quiet home, —
Her narrow home, beyond the walls of Rome,
Who might not be my wife.
I cannot count it sorrow that she died:
Hearts meet together when the grave can shield ;
They win at last, who falter not nor yield :
Death gives us more than Life.