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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

Mors Triumphalis

By Richard Watson Gilder (1844–1909)

IN the hall of the king the loud mocking of many at one;

While lo! with his hand on his harp the old bard is undone!

One false note, then he stammers, he sobs like a child, he is failing,

And the song that so bravely began ends in discord and wailing.

Can it be it is they who make merry, ’tis they taunting him?

Shall the sun, then, be scorned by the planets, the tree by the limb!

These bardlings, these mimics, these echoes, these shadows at play,

While he only is real:—they shine but as motes in his day!

All that in them is best is from him; all they know he has taught;

But one secret he never could teach, and they never have caught,—

The soul of his songs, that goes sighing like wind through the reeds,

And thrills men, and moves them to terror, to prayer, and to deeds.

Has the old poet failed, then,—the singer forgotten his part?

Why, ’twas he who once startled the world with a cry from his heart;

And he held it entranced in a life-song, all music, all love;

If now it grow faint and grow still, they have called him above.

Ah, never again shall we hear such fierce music and sweet,—

Surely never from you, ye who mock,—for his footstool unmeet;

E’en his song left unsung had more power than the note ye prolong,

And one sweep of his harp-strings outpassioned the height of your song.

But a sound like the voice of the pine, like the roar of the sea

Arises. He breathes now; he sings; oh, again he is free.

He has flung from his flesh, from his spirit, their shackles accursed,

And he pours all his heart, all his life, in one passionate burst.

And now as he chants those who listen turn pale—are afraid;

For he sings of a God that made all, and is all that was made;

Who is maker of love, and of hate, and of peace, and of strife;

Smiles a world into life; frowns a hell, that yet thrills with his life.

And he sings of the time that shall be when the earth is grown old,

Of the day when the sun shall be withered, and shrunken, and cold;

When the stars, and the moon, and the sun,—all their glory o’erpast,—

Like apples that shrivel and rot, shall drop into the Vast.

And onward and out soars his song on its journey sublime,

Mid systems that vanish or live in the lilt of his rhyme;

And through making and marring of races, and worlds, still he sings

One theme, that o’er all and through all his wild music outrings;—

This one theme: that whate’er be the fate that has hurt us or joyed,

Whatever the face that is turned to us out of the void;

Be it cursing or blessing; or night, or the light of the sun;

Be it ill, be it good; be it life, be it death, it is ONE;

One thought, and one law, and one awful and infinite power;

In atom, and world; in the bursting of fruit and of flower;

The laughter of children, and roar of the lion untamed;

And the stars in their courses—one name that can never be named.

But sudden a silence has fallen, the music has fled;

Though he leans with his hand on his harp, now indeed he is dead!

But the swan-song he sang shall for ever and ever abide

In the heart of the world, with the winds and the murmuring tide.