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Thomas Bailey Aldrich

(November 11, 1836 – March 19, 1907 / Portsmouth, New Hampshire)

At the Funeral of a Minor Poet


[One of the Bearers Soliloquizes:]

. . . Room in your heart for him, O Mother Earth,
Who loved each flower and leaf that made you fair,
And sang your praises in verses manifold
And delicate, with here and there a line
From end to end in blossom like a bough
The May breathes on, so rich it was. Some thought
The workmanship more costly than the thing
Moulded or carved, as in those ornaments
Found at Mycæne. And yet Nature's self
Works in this wise; upon a blade of grass,
Or what small note she lends the woodland thrush,
Lavishing endless patience. He was born
Artist, not artisan, which some few saw
And many dreamed not. As he wrote no odes
When Croesus wedded or Mæcenas died,
And gave no breath to civic feasts and shows,
He missed the glare that gilds more facile men--
A twilight poet, groping quite alone,
Belated, in a sphere where every nest
Is emptied of its music and its wings.
Not great his gift; yet we can poorly spare
Even his slight perfection in an age
Of limping triolets and tame rondeaux.
He had at least ideals, though unreached,
And heard, far off, immortal harmonies,
Such as fall coldly on our ear to-day.
The mighty Zolastic Movement now
Engrosses us--a miasmatic breath
Blown from the slums. We paint life as it is,
The hideous side of it, with careful pains,
Making a god of the dull Commonplace.
For have we not the old gods overthrown
And set up strangest idols? We would clip
Imagination's wing and kill delight,
Our sole art being to leave nothing out
That renders art offensive. Not for us
Madonnas leaning from their starry thrones
Ineffable, nor any heaven-wrought dream
Of sculptor or of poet; we prefer
Such nightmare visions as in morbid brains
Take shape and substance, thoughts that taint the air
And make all life unlovely. Will it last?
Beauty alone endures from age to age,
From age to age endures, handmaid of God.
Poets who walk with her on earth go hence
Bearing a talisman. You bury one,
With his hushed music, in some Potter's Field;
The snows and rains blot out his very name,
As he from life seems blotted; through Time's glass
Slip the invisible and magic sands
That mark the century, then falls a day
The world is suddenly conscious of a flower,
Imperishable, ever to be prized,
Sprung from the mould of a forgotten grave.
'T is said the seeds wrapt up among the balms
And hieroglyphics of Egyptian kings
old strange vitality, and, planted, grow
After the lapse of thrice a thousand years.
Some day, perchance, some unregarded note
Of our poor friend here--some sweet minor chord
That failed to lure our more accustomed ear--
Way witch the fancy of an unborn age.
Who knows, since seeds have such tenacity?
Meanwhile he's dead, with scantiest laurel won
And little of our Ninteenth Century gold.
So, take him, Earth, and this his mortal part,
With that shrewd alchemy thou hast, transmute
To flower and leaf in thine unending springs!

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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