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Poem: On Visiting a Cemetery

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On Visiting a Cemetery

One day I walked through iron gates
Through which some came one way, alone –
My eyes roamed o’er the spread of land,
The ordered names there set in stone.

I walked the rows, and read the names
My legs moved forth with even pace –
Beneath each stone, now still and gone,
What once had mind, and pulse, and face.

I stopped at one, now deep in thought,
Another would have done as well
The name not in my memory now,
But rather what the stone did tell.

Beneath this plaque, now matter lay,
Once with lungs quick with breath, with eyes
Perceiving all that ‘round him stood,
And at day's end, no longer would.

And though the time a different one,
Still day like this, with air and sun
And on that day, his light did leave
From life, as soul from flesh did cleave.

And once did leave, could ne’er return,
And nothing more his soul might learn –
Existence done, no further fete,
The journey played, his time complete.

Yet now though dead, and ne’er to live
Again, what if his mind might think?
Now knowing what would come to pass,
Now firmly grasping that black brink?

Would he look back upon his days
And say, “Alas, what have I done!
“The sunlight that moved o’er my skin!
“My eyes that o’er the earth might run!

“I did not know that which I owned!
“This life, that should have earned my love!
“This tree, this earth, the thoughts of men!
“Oh God, that I might live again!

“To live each day no less than I
“And that sweet life should have deserved!
“Rejecting fear, embracing pride!
“Treating that life as though a bride!

“And now, alas, my time is done!
“My body cold, no honor won –
“No pride of soul, no joy, no life!
“I’ve lost it all, my breath, that wife!

“Throughout each day, she ever stood
“Before an altar in white gown –
“Her body straight, her form ideal,
“And yet with ever deep’ning frown!

“For as time passed, and years moved by,
“I did not come to meet this love!
“I somehow fell into the depths!
“I somehow lost the light above!

“And light as I think I once knew!
“Once in the days of long past youth –
“But this – somehow – it fell away!
“Alas, to live again that day!

“The day on which the path began
“That took me from that church of light
“Into a graying world of doubt
“And farther from the path of right!

“And by this ‘right’ I do not mean
“A duty from a world above,
“But rather knowing Life, with Joy!
“And with each sight, sealing that Love!

“And what is it that caused this loss!
“This cleavage ‘tween my is and ought?
“The thought that such life could not be!
“By God, now I will find this key!

“I can recall, during my time
“Some moments where my joy did surge
“But only that – a moment – then
“That joy lost strength, the gray did merge.

“What was the nature of this foe?
“This thing that took from me my sight?
What is that beast that rose against
“The glory which was mine by right?

“Alas, I know that which it was!
“It was no beast that took my life!
“It was the false that took my mind!
“It's wrong ideas that left me blind!

“The thing which said, ‘It cannot be!’
“‘Men in this realm cannot be such!’
“‘No blacks and whites, but only grays!’
This was the nature of that haze!

“And all it would have taken was
“To call these to the court of light!
“And from me fog would then have fled!
“And that dear wife, I would have wed!

“And now I have lost my own worth!
“Now without hands to take the earth!
“Now without eyes to give me sight!
“Without the joy that was my right!

“And fault for this was mine alone!
“It's to myself I owe this moan!
“I did this fog, myself condone!
“My life lost, and the guilt – my own!”

And now this pale, unhappy ghost
Returned to that from which he came –
A void, where he does not exist
As all men someday will the same.

And then I asked, “What shall life be?”
And saw another, shining ghost,
But one who did not give his days
To less than what might be the most.

“I heard his tale,” he said with smile,
“That wife he left, I took with pride
“And on that day, when her I took
“I that foul fog with thought defied!”

O noble soul, O proper Man!
To drink of life thus deep and pure!
Who did not give his soul to loss!
Who with firm hand opened that door!

The door through which that bride was met!
Her bright eyes brimming with glad tears!
The one who you did never leave
Throughout the length of all your years!

Heroic soul, golden in form!
It shall be yours I make my tone!
No minute lost, no day unsung!
No thought within but Reason's own!

To think that one might lose one’s life
To that which does not have defense!
To thoughts, that if identified
Would be released with laughing pride!

And then did I to myself speak
Upon the earth an oath I swore –
To hold that dear wife by my side!
To take her and with her abide!

“By all that is, I swear this now!
“Upon my life a solemn vow!
“Before such fog I will not bow!
“Neither in days to come, nor now!”

And with that firm decision made
To take that wife while still she stayed
I grasped her with soul unafraid
And on that day our vows were made.

And evermore she walks with me,
And so she will as I grow old –
For as long as I choose to live
My soul is forged in shining gold.

And on that day, in days to come,
When this fair earth at last I leave,
With pride will I look on my life,
And I will have no cause to grieve.

For that foul day, when I must go,
And leave this dear, beloved world,
My heart will carry no regret,
No curse at this existence hurled.

For as long as I walk this earth
I will not lose the joy I’ve won
For never shall my soul relent
To thought unthought, or deed undone.

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