The Dead House

A poem by James Russell Lowell

Here once my step was quickened,
Here beckoned the opening door,
And welcome thrilled from the threshold
To the foot it had known before.

A glow came forth to meet me
From the flame that laughed in the grate,
And shadows adance on the ceiling,
Danced blither with mine for a mate.

'I claim you, old friend,' yawned the arm-chair,
'This corner, you know, is your seat;'
'Best your slippers on me,' beamed the fender,
'I brighten at touch of your feet.'

'We know the practised finger,'
Said the books, 'that seems like brain;'
And the shy page rustled the secret
It had kept till I came again.

Sang the pillow, 'My down once quivered
On nightingales' throats that flew
Through moonlit gardens of Hafiz
To gather quaint dreams for you.'

Ah me, where the Past sowed heart's-ease.
The Present plucks rue for us men!
I come back: that scar unhealing
Was not in the churchyard then.

But, I think, the house is unaltered,
I will go and beg to look
At the rooms that were once familiar
To my life as its bed to a brook.

Unaltered! Alas for the sameness
That makes the change but more!
'Tis a dead man I see in the mirrors,
'Tis his tread that chills the floor!

To learn such a simple lesson,
Need I go to Paris and Rome,
That the many make the household,
But only one the home?

'Twas just a womanly presence,
An influence unexprest,
But a rose she had worn, on my gravesod
Were more than long life with the rest!

'Twas a smile, 'twas a garment's rustle,
'Twas nothing that I can phrase.
But the whole dumb dwelling grew conscious,
And put on her looks and ways.

Were it mine I would close the shutters,
Like lids when the life is fled,
And the funeral fire should wind it,
This corpse of a home that is dead.

For it died that autumn morning
When she, its soul, was borne
To lie all dark on the hillside
That looks over woodland and corn.

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