Death In A London Lodging

A poem by Richard Le Gallienne

'Yes, Sir, she's gone at last - 'twas only five minutes ago
We heard her sigh from her corner, - she sat in the kitchen, you know:
We were all just busy on breakfast, John cleaning the boots, and I
Had just gone into the larder - but you could have heard that sigh
Right up in the garret, sir, for it seemed to pass one by
Like a puff of wind - may be 'twas her soul, who knows -
And we all looked up and ran to her - just in time to see her head
Was sinking down on her bosom and "she's gone at last," I said.'

So Mrs. Pownceby, meeting on the stairs
Her second-floor lodger, me, bound citywards,
Told of her sister's death, doing her best
To match her face's colour with the news:
While I in listening made a running gloss
Beneath her speech of all she left unsaid.
As - 'in the kitchen,' rather in the way,
Poor thing; 'busy on breakfast,' awkward time,
Indeed, for one must live and lodgers' meals,
You know, must be attended to what comes -
(Or goes, I added for her) yes! indeed.
'"She's gone at last," I said,' and better perhaps,
For what had life for her but suffering?
And then, we're only poor, sir, John and I,
And she indeed was somewhat of a strain:
O! yes, it's for the best for all of us.
And still beneath all else methought I read
'What will the lodgers think, having the dead
Within the house! how inconvenient!'

What did the lodgers think? Well, I replied
In grief's set phrase, but 'the first floor,'
I fancy, frowned at first, as though indeed
Landladies' sisters had no right to die
And taint the air for nervous lodger folk;
Then smoothed his brow out into decency,
And said, 'how sad!' and presently inquired
The day of burial, ending with the hope
His lunch would not be late like yesterday.
The maiden-lady living near the roof
Quoted Isaiah may be, or perhaps Job -
How the Lord gives, and likewise takes away,
And how exceeding blessed is the Lord! -
For she has pious features; while downstairs
Two 'medicals' - both 'decent' lads enough -
Hearkened the story out like gentlemen,
And said the right thing - almost looked it too!
Though all the while within them laughed a sea
Of student mirth, which for full half an hour
They stifled well, but then could hold no more,
As soon their mad piano testified:
While in the kitchen dinner was toward
With hiss and bubble from the cooking stove,
And now a laugh from John ran up the stairs,
And a voice called aloud - of boiling pans.

'So soon,' reflected I, 'the waters of life
Close o'er the sunken head!' Reflected I,
Not that in truth I was more pitiful
To the poor dead than those about me were,
Nay, but a trick of thinking much on Life
And Death i' the piece giveth each little strand
More deep significance - love for the whole
Must make us tender for the parts, methinks,
As in some souls the equal law holds true,
Sorrow for one makes sorrow for the world.
A fallen leaf or a dead flower indeed
Has made me just as sad, or some poor bee
Dead in the early summer - what's the odds?
Death was at '48,' and yet what sign?
Who seemed to know? who could have known that called?
For not a blind was lower than its wont -
'The lodgers would not like them down,' you know -
And in all rooms, save one, the boisterous life
Blazed like the fires within the several grates -
Save one where lay the poor dead silent thing,
A closest chill as who hath sat at night
With love beside the ingle knows the ashes
In the morning.

Death was at '48,'
Yet Life and Love and Sunlight were there too.
I ate and slept, and morning came at length
And brought my Lady's letter to my bed:
Thrice read and thirty kisses, came a thought,
As the sweet morning laughed about the room
Of the poor face downstairs, the sunshine there
Playing about it like a wakeful child
Whose weary mother sleepeth in the dawn,
Pressing soft fingers round about the eyes
To make them open, then with laughing shout
Making a gambol all her body's length
Ah me! poor eyes that never open more!
And mine as blithe to meet the morning's glance
As thirsty lips to close on thirsty lips!
Poor limbs no sun could ever warm again!
And mine so eager for the coming day!

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