Burial-Song For Sumner.

A poem by George Parsons Lathrop

Now the last wreath of snow
That melts, in mist exhales
White aspiration, and our deep-voiced gales
In chorus chant the measured march of spring,
Whom griefs of life and death
Are burdening!
Slow, slow -
With half-held breath -
Tread slow, O mourners, that all men may know
What hero here lies low!

O music, sweep
From some deep cave, and bear
To us that gasp in this so meagre air
Sweet ministerings
And consolations of contorted sound,
With agonies profound
Of nobly warring and enduring chords
That lie, close-bound,
Unstirred as yet 'neath thy wide, wakening wings;
So that our hearts break not in broken words.
O music, that hast power
This darkness to devour
In vivid light; that from the dusk of grief
Canst cause to grow divergent flower and leaf,
And from death's darkest roots
Bring forth the fairest fruits; -
Come thou, to quicken this hour
Of loss, and keep
Thy spell on all, that none may dare to weep!

For he whom now we mourn,
As if from giants born,
Was strong in limb and strong in brain,
And nobly with a giant scorn
Withstood the direst pain

That healing science knows,
When, by the dastard blows
Of his brute enemy
Laid low, he sought to rise again
Through help of knife and fire, -
The awful enginery
Wherewith men dare aspire
To wrest from Death his victims. Yea,
Though he who healed him shrank and throbbed
With horror of the wound,
Brave Sumner gave no sound,
Nor flinched, nor sobbed,
But as though within the man
Instant premonition ran
Of his high fate,
Imperishable, sculptured state
Enthroned in death to hold,
He stood, a statued form
Of veiled and voiceless storm,
Inwardly quivering
Like the swift-smitten string
Of unheard music, yet
As massively and firmly set
As if he had been marble or wrought gold!

Built in so brave a shape,
How could he hope escape
The blundering people's wrath?
Who, seeing him strong,
Supposed it right to cast on him their wrong,
Since he could bear it all!
Lo, now, the sombre pall
Sweeps their dull errors from the path,
And leaves it free
For him, whose hushed heart no reproaches hath,
Unto his grave to fare,
In shrouded majesty!
His triumph fills the air:
Behold, the streets are bordered with vain breath
Of those who reverent watch the train of death;
But he has done with breathing!

Wise Death, still choosing near and far,
Thou couldst not strike a higher star
From out our heaven, and yet its light
In falling glorifies the night!

Leader in life, his lips, though dumb,
Still rule us by their restfulness, their smile
Of far-off meanings; and the people come
In tributary hosts for many a mile,
Drawn by an eloquence
More solemn and intense
Than that wherewith he shook
The Senate, while his look
Of sober lightning cleft the knotty growth
Of error, that within the riven root
Uplifted, lit with peace, truth's buds might shoot,
And blow sweet breath o'er all, however loth!

Unspeaking, though his eyes forget
The light that late forsook
Their chambers, there doth rise
Mysteriously yet
A radiance thence that glows
On brows of them, the great and wise,
Poets and men of prophecies,
Who, with looks of strange repose,
Calm, exalted, here have met
Him to follow to his grave.
Well they know he's crossed their bound,
Yet, with baffled longing brave,
Seek with him the depths to sound
That gulf our lonely life around.
Oh, on these mortal faces frail
What immortality
Falls from the death-light pale!

Ev'n thus the path unto thy tomb,
Sumner, all our brave and good
Still shall pace through time to come,
For in distant Auburn wood
Seeing the glimmer of thy stone,
They a shaft shall deem it, thrown
From a dawn beyond the deep,
And so haste with thee to keep
Angelic brotherhood!
O herald, gone before,
For these throw wide the door,
Make room, make room!

Now, music, cease,
And bitter brazen trumpets hold your peace!
Now, while the dumb, white air
Draws from our still despair
A purer prayer.
Then must the sod
Fulfill its humble share,
Meek-folded o'er his breast,
Here where he lies amongst the waiting trees:
They shall break bud when warm winds from the west
And southern breezes come to touch the place
Made precious by this grace
Of memory dear to God.

We leave him where the granite Lion lies
And gazes toward the East, with woman's eyes
That read the riddle of the undying sun,
Bearing within her breast the stony germ
Of continents, but - lasting no less firm -
The memory of those marvels done,
The battles fought, the words that wrought
To free a race, and chasten one.
We leave him where the river slowly winds,
A broken chain;
The river that so late its hero finds,
Without a stain,
Whose name so long expectantly it bore;
And, echoing now a people's thought,
The Charles shall murmur by this reedy shore
His fame forevermore.

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