The Dream Of The World Without Death

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NOW, sitting by her side, worn out with weeping,  
Behold, I fell to sleep, and had a vision,  
Wherein I heard a wondrous Voice intoning:  

Crying aloud, “The Master on His throne  
Openeth now the seventh seal of wonder,
And beckoneth back the angel men name Death.  

“And at His feet the mighty Angel kneeleth,  
Breathing not; and the Lord doth look upon him,  
Saying, ‘Thy wanderings on earth are ended.’  

“And lo! the mighty Shadow sitteth idle
Even at the silver gates of heaven,  
Drowsily looking in on quiet waters,  
And puts his silence among men no longer.”  

The world was very quiet. Men in traffic  
Cast looks over their shoulders; pallid seamen
Shiver’d to walk upon the decks alone;  

And women barr’d their doors with bars of iron,  
In the silence of the night; and at the sunrise  
Trembled behind the husbandmen afield.  

I could not see a kirkyard near or far;
I thirsted for a green grave, and my vision  
Was weary for the white gleam of a tombstone.  

But harkening dumbly, ever and anon  
I heard a cry out of a human dwelling,  
And felt the cold wind of a lost one’s going.

One struck a brother fiercely, and he fell,  
And faded in a darkness; and that other  
Tore his hair, and was afraid, and could not perish.  

One struck his aged mother on the mouth,  
And she vanish’d with a gray grief from his hearthstone.  
One melted from her bairn, and on the ground  

With sweet unconscious eyes the bairn lay smiling.  
And many made a weeping among mountains,  
And hid themselves in caverns, and were drunken.  

I heard a voice from out the beauteous earth,
Whose side roll’d up from winter into summer,  
Crying, “I am grievous for my children.”  

I heard a voice from out the hoary ocean,  
Crying, “Burial in the breast of me were better,  
Yea, burial in the salt flags and green crystals.”

I heard a voice from out the hollow ether,  
Saying, “The thing ye curs’d hath been abolish’d—  
Corruption and decay, and dissolution!”  

And the world shriek’d, and the summertime was bitter,  
And men and women fear’d the air behind them;
And for lack of its green graves the world was hateful.  

Now at the bottom of a snowy mountain  
I came upon a woman thin with sorrow,  
Whose voice was like the crying of a seagull:  

Saying, “O Angel of the Lord, come hither,
And bring me him I seek for on thy bosom,  
That I may close his eyelids and embrace him.  

“I curse thee that I cannot look upon him!  
I curse thee that I know not he is sleeping!  
Yet know that he has vanish’d upon God!

“I laid my little girl upon a wood bier,  
And very sweet she seem’d, and near unto me;  
And slipping flowers into her shroud was comfort.  

“I put my silver mother in the darkness,  
And kiss’d her, and was solaced by her kisses,
And set a stone, to mark the place, above her.  

“And green, green were their sleeping places,  
So green that it was pleasant to remember  
That I and my tall man would sleep beside them.  

“The closing of dead eyelids is not dreadful,
For comfort comes upon us when we close them,  
And tears fall, and our sorrow grows familiar;  

“And we can sit above them where they slumber,  
And spin a dreamy pain into a sweetness,  
And know indeed that we are very near them.

“But to reach out empty arms is surely dreadful,  
And to feel the hollow empty world is awful,  
And bitter grows the silence and the distance.  

“There is no space for grieving or for weeping;  
No touch, no cold, no agony to strive with,
And nothing but a horror and a blankness!”  

Now behold I saw a woman in a mud hut  
Raking the white spent embers with her fingers,  
And fouling her bright hair with the white ashes.  

Her mouth was very bitter with the ashes;
Her eyes with dust were blinded; and her sorrow  
Sobb’d in the throat of her like gurgling water.  

And all around the voiceless hills were hoary,  
But red lights scorch’d their edges; and above her  
There was a soundless trouble of the vapors.

“Whither, and O whither,” said the woman,  
“O Spirit of the Lord, hast thou convey’d them,  
My little ones, my little son and daughter?  

“For, lo! we wander’d forth at early morning,  
And winds were blowing round us, and their mouths
Blew rosebuds to the rosebuds, and their eyes  

“Look’d violets at the violets, and their hair  
Made sunshine in the sunshine, and their passing  
Left a pleasure in the dewy leaves behind them;  

“And suddenly my little son look’d upward  
And his eyes were dried like dewdrops; and his going  
Was like a blow of fire upon my face;  

“And my little son was gone. My little daughter  
Look’d round me for him, clinging to my vesture;  
But the Lord had drawn him from me, and I knew it  

“By the sign He gives the stricken, that the lost one  
Lingers nowhere on the earth, on the hill or valley,  
Neither underneath the grasses nor the tree roots.  

“And my shriek was like the splitting of an ice-reef,  
And I sank among my hair, and all my palm
Was moist and warm where the little hand had fill’d it.  

“Then I fled and sought him wildly, hither and thither—  
Though I knew that he was stricken from me wholly  
By the token that the Spirit gives the stricken.  

“I sought him in the sunlight and the starlight,  
I sought him in great forests, and in waters  
Where I saw my own pale image looking at me.  

“And I forgot my little bright-hair’d daughter,  
Though her voice was like a wild-bird’s far behind me,  
Till the voice ceas’d, and the universe was silent.

“And stilly, in the starlight, came I backward  
To the forest where I miss’d him; and no voices  
Brake the stillness as I stoop’d down in the starlight,  

“And saw two little shoes filled up with dew,  
And no mark of little footsteps any farther,
And knew my little daughter had gone also.”  

But beasts died; yea, the cattle in the yoke,  
The milk-cow in the meadow, and the sheep,  
And the dog upon the doorstep: and men envied.  

And birds died; yea, the eagle at the sun gate,
The swan upon the waters, and the farm fowl,  
And the swallows on the housetops: and men envied.  

And reptiles; yea, the toad upon the road-side,  
The slimy, speckled snake among the grass,  
The lizard on the ruin: and men envied.

The dog in lonely places cried not over  
The body of his master; but it miss’d him,  
And whin’d into the air, and died, and rotted.  

The traveller’s horse lay swollen in the pathway,  
And the blue fly fed upon it; but no traveller
Was there; nay, not his footprint on the ground.  

The cat mew’d in the midnight, and the blind  
Gave a rustle, and the lamp burnt blue and faint,  
And the father’s bed was empty in the morning.  

The mother fell to sleep beside the cradle,
Rocking it, while she slumber’d, with her foot,  
And waken’d,—and the cradle there was empty.  

I saw a two-years’ child, and he was playing;  
And he found a dead white bird upon the doorway,  
And laugh’d, and ran to show it to his mother.  

The mother moan’d, and clutch’d him, and was bitter,  
And flung the dead white bird across the threshold;  
And another white bird flitted round and round it,  

And utter’d a sharp cry, and twitter’d and twitter’d,  
And lit beside its dead mate, and grew busy,
Strewing it over with green leaves and yellow.  
So far, so far to seek for were the limits  
Of affliction; and men’s terror grew a homeless  
Terror, yea, and a fatal sense of blankness.  

There was no little token of distraction,
There was no visible presence of bereavement,  
Such as the mourner easeth out his heart on.  

There was no comfort in the slow farewell,  
No gentle shutting of beloved eyes,  
Nor beautiful broodings over sleeping features.  

There were no kisses on familiar faces,  
No weaving of white grave-clothes, no last pondering  
Over the still wax cheeks and folded fingers.  

There was no putting tokens under pillows,  
There was no dreadful beauty slowly fading,
Fading like moonlight softly into darkness.  

There were no churchyard paths to walk on, thinking  
How near the well-beloved ones are lying.  
There were no sweet green graves to sit and muse on,  

Till grief should grow a summer meditation,
The shadow of the passing of an angel,  
And sleeping should seem easy, and not cruel.  

Nothing but wondrous parting and a blankness.  

But I woke, and, lo! the burthen was uplifted,  
And I pray’d within the chamber where she slumber’d,
And my tears flow’d fast and free, but were not bitter.  

I eas’d my heart three days by watching near her,  
And made her pillow sweet with scent and flowers,  
And could bear at last to put her in the darkness.  

And I heard the kirk-bells ringing very slowly,
And the priests were in their vestments, and the earth  
Dripp’d awful on the hard wood, yet I bore it.  

And I cried, “O unseen Sender of Corruption,  
I bless Thee for the wonder of Thy mercy,  
Which softeneth the mystery and the parting:  

“I bless thee for the change and for the comfort,  
The bloomless face, shut eyes, and waxen fingers,—  
For Sleeping, and for Silence, and Corruption.”

© William Cosmo Monkhouse