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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

After the Burial

By James Russell Lowell (1819–1891)

[From Poetical Works. Collective Edition. 1885.]

YES, faith is a goodly anchor;

When skies are sweet as a psalm,

At the bows it lolls so stalwart,

In bluff, broad-shouldered calm.

And when over breakers to leeward

The tattered surges are hurled,

It may keep our head to the tempest,

With its grip on the base of the world.

But, after the shipwreck, tell me

What help in its iron thews,

Still true to the broken hawser,

Deep down among sea-weed and ooze?

In the breaking gulfs of sorrow,

When the helpless feet stretch out

And find in the deeps of darkness

No footing so solid as doubt,

Then better one spar of Memory,

One broken plank of the Past,

That our human heart may cling to,

Though hopeless of shore at last!

To the spirit its splendid conjectures,

To the flesh its sweet despair,

Its tears o’er the thin-worn locket

With its anguish of deathless hair!

Immortal? I feel it and know it,

Who doubts it of such as she?

But that is the pang’s very secret,—

Immortal away from me.

There’s a narrow ridge in the grave-yard

Would scarce stay a child in his race,

But to me and my thought it is wider

Than the star-sown vague of Space.

Your logic, my friend, is perfect,

Your morals most drearily true;

But, since the earth clashed on her coffin,

I keep hearing that, and not you.

Console if you will, I can bear it;

’Tis a well-meant alms of breath;

But not all the preaching since Adam

Has made Death other than Death.

It is pagan; but wait till you feel it,

That jar of our earth, that dull shock

When the ploughshare of deeper passion

Tears down to our primitive rock.

Communion in spirit! Forgive me,

But I, who am earthy and weak,

Would give all my incomes from dreamland

For a touch of her hand on my cheek.

That little shoe in the corner,

So worn and wrinkled and brown,

With its emptiness confutes you,

And argues your wisdom down.