The House below the Hill

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You ask me of the farthest star, Whither your thought can climb at will,Forever-questioning child of mine.I fear it is not half so far As is the house below the hill,Where one poor lamp begins to shine,The lamp that is of death the sign.

Has it indeed been there for years, In rain and snow, with ruined roofFor God to look through, day and night,At man's despair and woman's tears, While with myself I stood aloof,As one by some enchanted rightHeld high from any ghastly sight?

... One of my children lightly said, "Oh, nothing (Why must we be still?),Only the people have to cryBecause the woman's child is dead There in the house below the hill.I wish that we could see it fly.It has gold wings, and that is why!"

Gold wings it has? I only know What wasted little hands it had,That reached to me for pity, butBefore I thought to give it -- oh, On earth's last rose-bud faint and sad,Less cold than mine had been, they shut.Sharper than steel some things should cut!

... I thought the mother showed to me, With something of a subtle scorn(When morning mocked with bird and dew),That brief and bitter courtesy Which awes us in the lowliest born.Ah, soul, to thine own self be true;God's eyes, grown human, look thee through!

"We need no help -- we needed it. You have not come in time, and soThe women here did everything.You did not know? You did not know!" I surely saw the dark brows knit.To let the living die for bread,Then bring fair shrouds to hide the dead!

What time I cried with Rachel's cry, I wondered that I could not wring,While sitting at the grave, forlorn,Compassion from yon alien sky, That knows not death nor anythingThat troubles man of woman born,Save that he wounded Christ with thorn.

My sorrow had the right to find Immortal pity? I could sit,Not hearing at my very feetThe utter wailing of my kind, And dream my dream high over it!O human heart, what need to beat,If nothing save your own is sweet?

Ah me, that fluttering flower and leaf, That weird wan moon and pitiless sun,And my own shadow in the grass,Should hide from me this common grief! Was I not dust? What had I done?In that fixed face as in a glassI saw myself to judgment pass!

© Piatt Sarah Morgan Bryan