The First Guest

When the house is finished, Death enters.

Eastern Proverb.

LIFE’S House being ready all,
Each chamber fair and dumb,
Ere Life, the Lord, is come
With pomp into his hall, —
Ere Toil has trod the floors,
Ere Love has lit the fires,
Or young great-eyed Desires
Have, timid, tried the doors ;
Or from east-window leaned
One Hope, to greet the sun,
Or one gray sorrow screened
Her sight against the west, —
Then enters the first guest,
The House of Life being done.
He waits there in the shade.
I deem he is Life’s twin,
For whom the House was made.
Whatever his true name,
Be sure, to enter in
He has both key and claim.
The daybeams, free of fear,
Creep drowsy toward his feet;
His heart were heard to beat,
Were any there to hear ;
Ah, not for ends malign,
Like wild thing crouched in lair,
Or watcher of a snare,
But with a friend’s design
He lurks in shadow there !
He goes not to the gates
To welcome any other,
Nay, not Lord Life his brother; But still his hour awaits Each several guest to find Alone, yea, quite alone ;
Pacing with pensive mind
The cloister’s echoing stone,
Or singing, unaware,
At the turning of the stair.
’T is truth, though we forget,
In Life’s House enters none
Who shall that seeker shun,
Who shall not so be met.
“ Is this mine hour ? ” each saith.
“So be it, gentle Death!”
Each has his way to end,
Encountering this friend.
Griefs die to memories mild ;
Hope turns a weanéd child;
Love shines a spirit white,
With eyes of deepened light.
When many a guest has passed,
Some day ’t is Life’s at last
To front the face of Death.
Then, casements closed, men say:
“ Lord Life is going away ;
He went, we trust and pray,
To God, who gave him breath.”
Beginning, End, he is:
Are not these sons both his ?
Lo, these with him are one!
To phrase it so were best:
God’s self is that first Guest,
The House of Life being done!
Helen Gray Cone.