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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

Memoriæ Positum

By James Russell Lowell (1819–1891)

BENEATH the trees,

My lifelong friends in this dear spot,

Sad now for eyes that see them not,

I hear the autumnal breeze

Wake the dry leaves to sigh for gladness gone,

Whispering vague omens of oblivion;

Hear, restless as the seas,

Time’s grim feet rustling through the withered grace

Of many a spreading realm and strong-stemmed race,

Even as my own through these.

Why make we moan

For loss that doth enrich us yet

With upward yearnings of regret?

Bleaker than unmossed stone

Our lives were but for this immortal gain

Of unstilled longing and inspiring pain!

As thrills of long-hushed tone

Live in the viol, so our souls grow fine

With keen vibrations from the touch divine

Of noble natures gone.

’Twere indiscreet

To vex the shy and sacred grief

With harsh obtrusions of relief;

Yet Verse, with noiseless feet,

Go whisper: “This death hath far choicer ends

Than slowly to impearl in hearts of friends;

These obsequies ’tis meet

Not to seclude in closets of the heart,

But, church-like, with wide doorways, to impart

Even to the heedless street.”

Brave, good, and true,

I see him stand before me now,

And read again on that young brow,

Where every hope was new,

How sweet were life! Yet, by the mouth firm-set,

And look made up for Duty’s utmost debt,

I could divine he knew

That death within the sulphurous hostile lines,

In the mere wreck of nobly pitched designs,

Plucks heart’s-ease, and not rue.

Happy their end

Who vanish down life’s evening stream

Placid as swans that drift in dream

Round the next river-bend!

Happy long life, with honor at the close,

Friends’ painless tears, the softened thought of foes!

And yet, like him, to spend

All at a gush, keeping our first faith sure

From mid-life’s doubt and eld’s contentment poor,—

What more could Fortune send?

Right in the van,

On the red rampart’s slippery swell,

With heart that beat a charge, he fell

Foeward, as fits a man;

But the high soul burns on to light men’s feet

Where death for noble ends makes dying sweet;

His life her crescent’s span

Orbs full with share in their undarkening days

Who ever climbed the battailous steeps of praise

Since valor’s praise began.

His life’s expense

Hath won him coeternal youth

With the immaculate prime of Truth;

While we, who make pretense

At living on, and wake and eat and sleep,

And life’s stale trick by repetition keep,—

Our fickle permanence

(A poor leaf-shadow on a brook, whose play

Of busy idlesse ceases with our day)

Is the mere cheat of sense.

We bide our chance,

Unhappy, and make terms with Fate

A little more to let us wait;

He leads for aye the advance,

Hope’s forlorn-hopes that plant the desperate good

For nobler earths and days of manlier mood;

Our wall of circumstance

Cleared at a bound, he flashes o’er the fight,

A saintly shape of fame, to cheer the right

And steel each wavering glance.

I write of one,

While with dim eyes I think of three;

Who weeps not others fair and brave as he?

Ah, when the fight is won,

Dear Land, whom triflers now make bold to scorn

(Thee! from whose forehead earth awaits her morn),

How nobler shall the sun

Flame in thy sky, how braver breathe thy air,

That thou bred’st children who for thee could dare

And die as thine have done!