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"A Dirge" by James Russell Lowell

The following is the complete text of James Russell Lowell's "A Dirge." The various books, short stories and poems we offer are presented free of charge with absolutely no advertising as a public service from Internet Accuracy Project.

Visit these other works by James Russell Lowell
"The Bobolink"
The Chief Mate
"The Courtin'"
"The Departed"
"A Glance Behind the Curtain"
"An Incident of the Fire at Hamburg"

"New Year's Eve, 1844"
"On the Death of a Friend's Child"
"The Pious Editor's Creed"
"The Present Crisis"
Lowell's Short Poems and Sonnets
"The Sirens"
"To The Future"

To see all available titles by other authors, drop by our index of free books alphabetized by author or arranged alphabetically by title.

Potential uses for the free books, stories and prose we offer
* Rediscovering an old favorite book, short story or poem.
* Bibliophiles expanding their collection of public domain ebooks at no cost.
* Teachers trying to locate a free online copy of a short story or poem for use in the classroom.

NOTE: We try to present these classic literary works as they originally appeared in print. As such, they sometimes contain adult themes, offensive language, typographical errors, and often utilize unconventional, older, obsolete or intentionally incorrect spelling and/or punctuation conventions.

"A Dirge" by James Russell Lowell


by James Russell Lowell

Poet! lonely is thy bed,
And the turf is overhead--
Cold earth is thy cover;
But thy heart hath found release,
And it slumbers full of peace
'Neath the rustle of green trees
And the warm hum of the bees,
'Mid the drowsy clover;
Through thy chamber, still as death,
A smooth gurgle wandereth,
As the blue stream murmureth
To the blue sky over.

Three paces from the silver strand,
Gently in the fine, white sand,
With a lily in thy hand,
Pale as snow, they laid thee;
In no coarse earth wast thou hid,
And no gloomy coffin-lid
Darkly overweighed thee.
Silently as snow-flakes drift,
The smooth sand did sift and sift
O'er the bed they made thee;
All sweet birds did come and sing
At thy sunny burying--
Choristers unbidden,
And, beloved of sun and dew.
Meek forget-me-nots upgrew
Where thine eyes so large and blue
'Neath the turf were hidden.

Where thy stainless clay doth lie,
Blue and open is the sky,
And the white clouds wander by,
Dreams of summer silently
Darkening the river;
Thou hearest the clear water run;
And the ripples every one,
Scattering the golden sun,
Through thy silence quiver;
Vines trail down upon the stream,
Into its smooth and glassy dream
A green stillness spreading,
And the shiner, perch, and bream
Through the shadowed waters gleam
'Gainst the current heading.

White as snow, thy winding sheet
Shelters thee from head to feet,
Save thy pale face only;
Thy face is turned toward the skies,
The lids lie meekly o'er thine eyes,
And the low-voiced pine-tree sighs
O'er thy bed so lonely.
All thy life thou lov'dst its shade:
Underneath it thou art laid,
In an endless shelter;
Thou hearest it forever sigh
As the wind's vague longings die
In its branches dim and high--
Thou hear'st the waters gliding by
Slumberously welter.

Thou wast full of love and truth,
Of forgivingness and ruth--
Thy great heart with hope and youth
Tided to o'erflowing.
Thou didst dwell in mysteries,
And there lingered on thine eyes
Shadows of serener skies,
Awfully wild memories,
That were like foreknowing;
Through the earth thou would'st have gone,
Lighted from within alone,
Seeds from flowers in Heaven grown
With a free hand sowing.

Thou didst remember well and long
Some fragments of thine angel-song,
And strive, through want and wo and wrong
To win the world unto it;
Thy sin it was to see and hear
Beyond To-day's dim hemisphere--
Beyond all mists of hope and fear,
Into a life more true and clear,
And dearly thou didst rue it;
Light of the new world thou hadst won,
O'erflooded by a purer sun--
Slowly Fate's ship came drifting on,
And through the dark, save thou, not one
Caught of the land a token.
Thou stood'st upon the farthest prow,
Something within thy soul said "Now!"
And leaping forth with eager brow,
Thou fell'st on shore heart-broken.

Long time thy brethren stood in fear;
Only the breakers far and near,
White with their anger, they could hear,
The sounds of land, which thy quick ear
Caught long ago, they heard not.
And, when at last they reached the strand,
They found thee lying on the sand
With some wild flowers in thy hand,
But thy cold bosom stirred not;
They listened, but they heard no sound
Save from the glad life all around
A low, contented murmur.
The long grass flowed adown the hill.
A hum rose from a hidden rill,
But thy glad heart, that knew no ill
But too much love, lay dead and still--
The only thing that sent a chill
Into the heart of summer.

Thou didst not seek the poet's wreath
But too soon didst win it;
Without 'twas green, but underneath
Were scorn and loneliness and death,
Gnawing the brain with burning teeth,
And making mock within it.
Thou, who wast full of nobleness,
Whose very life-blood 'twas to bless,
Whose soul's one law was giving,
Must bandy words with wickedness,
Haggle with hunger and distress,
To win that death which worldliness
Calls bitterly a living.

"Thou sow'st no gold, and shall not reap!"
Muttered earth, turning in her sleep;
"Come home to the Eternal Deep!"
Murmured a voice, and a wide sweep
Of wings through thy soul's hush did creep,
As of thy doom o'erflying;
It seem'd that thy strong heart would leap
Out of thy breast, and thou didst weep,
But not with fear of dying;
Men could not fathom thy deep fears.
They could not understand thy tears,
The hoarded agony of years
Of bitter self-denying.
So once, when high above the spheres
Thy spirit sought its starry peers,
It came not back to face the jeers
Of brothers who denied it;
Star-crowned, thou dost possess the deeps
Of God, and thy white body sleeps
Where the lone pine forever keeps
Patient watch beside it.

Poet! underneath the turf,
Soft thou sleepest, free from morrow,
Thou hast struggled through the surf
Of wild thoughts and want and sorrow.
Now, beneath the moaning pine,
Full of rest, thy body lieth,
While far up is clear sunshine,
Underneath a sky divine,
Her loosed wings thy spirit trieth;
Oft she strove to spread them here,
But they were too white and clear
For our dingy atmosphere.

Thy body findeth ample room
In its still and grassy tomb
By the silent river;
But thy spirit found the earth
Narrow for the mighty birth
Which it dreamed of ever;
Thou wast guilty of a rhyme
Learned in a benigner clime,
And of that more grievous crime,
An ideal too sublime
For the low-hung sky of Time.

The calm spot where thy body lies
Gladdens thy soul in Paradise,
It is so still and holy;
Thy body sleeps serenely there,
And well for it thy soul may care,
It was so beautiful and fair,
Lily white so wholly.

From so pure and sweet a frame
Thy spirit parted as it came,
Gentle as a maiden;
Now it lieth full of rest--
Sods are lighter on its breast
Than the great, prophetic guest
Wherewith it was laden.

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