A Dead Year

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I took a year out of my life and story--
  A dead year, and said, "I will hew thee a tomb!
  'All the kings of the nations lie in glory;'
Cased in cedar, and shut in a sacred gloom;
Swathed in linen, and precious unguents old;
Painted with cinnabar, and rich with gold.

  "Silent they rest, in solemn salvatory,
Sealed from the moth and the owl and the flitter-mouse--
  Each with his name on his brow.
  'All the kings of the nations lie in glory,
Every one in his own house:'
  Then why not thou?

  "Year," I said, "thou shalt not lack
  Bribes to bar thy coming back;
  Doth old Egypt wear her best
  In the chambers of her rest?
  Doth she take to her last bed
  Beaten gold, and glorious red?
  Envy not! for thou wilt wear
  In the dark a shroud as fair;
  Golden with the sunny ray
  Thou withdrawest from my day;
  Wrought upon with colors fine,
  Stolen from this life of mine;
  Like the dusty Lybian kings,
  Lie with two wide open wings
  On thy breast, as if to say,
  On these wings hope flew away;
  And so housed, and thus adorned,
  Not forgotten, but not scorned,
  Let the dark for evermore
  Close thee when I close the door;
  And the dust for ages fall
  In the creases of thy pall;
  And no voice nor visit rude
  Break thy sealed solitude."

  I took the year out of my life and story,
The dead year, and said, "I have hewed thee a tomb
  'All the kings of the nations lie in glory,'
Cased in cedar, and shut in a sacred gloom;
But for the sword, and the sceptre, and diadem,
Sure thou didst reign like them."
So I laid her with those tyrants old and hoary,
  According to my vow;
For I said, "The kings of the nations lie in glory,
  And so shalt thou!"

  "Rock," I said, "thy ribs are strong.
  That I bring thee guard it long;
  Hide the light from buried eyes--
  Hide it, lest the dead arise."
  "Year," I said, and turned away,
  "I am free of thee this day;
  All that we two only know,
  I forgive and I forego,
  So thy face no more I meet,
  In the field or in the street."

  Thus we parted, she and I;
  Life hid death, and put it by:
  Life hid death, and said, "Be free
  I have no more need of thee."
  No more need! O mad mistake,
  With repentance in its wake!
  Ignorant, and rash, and blind,
  Life had left the grave behind;
  But had locked within its hold
  With the spices and the gold,
  All she had to keep her warm
  In the raging of the storm.

  Scarce the sunset bloom was gone,
  And the little stars outshone,
  Ere the dead year, stiff and stark,
  Drew me to her in the dark;
  Death drew life to come to her,
  Beating at her sepulchre,
  Crying out, "How can I part
  With the best share of my heart?
  Lo, it lies upon the bier,
  Captive, with the buried year.
  O my heart!" And I fell prone,
  Weeping at the sealed stone;
  "Year among the shades," I said,
  "Since I live, and thou art dead,
  Let my captive heart be free,
  Like a bird to fly to me."
  And I stayed some voice to win,
  But none answered from within;
  And I kissed the door--and night
  Deepened till the stars waxed bright
  And I saw them set and wane,
  And the world turn green again.

  "So," I whispered, "open door,
  I must tread this palace floor--
  Sealed palace, rich and dim.
  Let a narrow sunbeam swim
  After me, and on me spread
  While I look upon my dead;
  Let a little warmth be free
  To come after; let me see
  Through the doorway, when I sit
  Looking out, the swallows flit,
  Settling not till daylight goes;
  Let me smell the wild white rose,
  Smell the woodbine and the may;
  Mark, upon a sunny day,
  Sated from their blossoms rise,
  Honey-bees and butterflies.
  Let me hear, O! let me hear,
  Sitting by my buried year,
  Finches chirping to their young,
  And the little noises flung
  Out of clefts where rabbits play,
  Or from falling water-spray;
  And the gracious echoes woke
  By man's work: the woodman's stroke,
  Shout of shepherd, whistlings blithe.
  And the whetting of the scythe;
  Let this be, lest shut and furled
  From the well-beloved world,
  I forget her yearnings old,
  And her troubles manifold,
  Strivings sore, submissions meet,
  And my pulse no longer beat,
  Keeping time and bearing part
  With the pulse of her great heart.

  "So; swing open door, and shade
  Take me; I am not afraid,
  For the time will not be long;
  Soon I shall have waxen strong--
  Strong enough my own to win
  From the grave it lies within."
  And I entered. On her bier
  Quiet lay the buried year;
  I sat down where I could see
  Life without and sunshine free,
  Death within. And I between,
  Waited my own heart to wean
  From the shroud that shaded her
  In the rock-hewn sepulchre--
  Waited till the dead should say,
  "Heart, be free of me this day"--
  Waited with a patient will--

  I take the year back to my life and story,
The dead year, and say, "I will share in thy tomb.
  'All the kings of the nations lie in glory;'
Cased in cedar, and shut in a sacred gloom!
They reigned in their lifetime with sceptre and diadem,
  But thou excellest them;
For life doth make thy grave her oratory,
  And the crown is still on thy brow;
'All the kings of the nations lie in glory,'
  And so dost thou."

© Jean Ingelow