Home  »  Poems of Places An Anthology in 31 Volumes  »  In Narragansett Churchyard

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
America: Vols. XXV–XXIX. 1876–79.

New England: Narragansett Bay, R. I.

In Narragansett Churchyard

By Esther Bernon Carpenter (1848–1893)

A LONELY slope of fairest green,

Furrowed with ancient, low-ridged graves;

Downward the forest-shadows lean,

And sunlight comes in fitful waves.

So sleeps the scene where, as of old,

Should grief and memory oft repair;

But love has faded and waxed cold,—

How silent broods the breathing air!

’Neath slanting stone or massive tomb

Each churchyard dweller stirless sleeps,

Nor recks of changing frost or bloom,

Or distant cry of ocean deeps.

On throbbing heart and eager brain

Well hath the stern one wrought his spell,

How poor are words, and signs how vain,

The story of one life to tell!

On that high, mossy, crumbling stone,

Washed by a century’s dripping showers,

Mid phrases to our fathers known,

The graven death’s-head dimly lowers.

And there, on many a weighty shaft,

The last faint glow of knightly fame

Survives in emblems that would waft

To latest days some honored name.

High on the right, with graven stone,

The ashes of the powerful lie;

Low on the left, ’neath turf alone,

Watched by the same eternal sky,

Repose at last the humble throng

Who toiled that those might leisure know;

To these no sculptured signs belong;

No imagery of death and woe

Mars the sweet sense of glad release,

The rest that time and nature yield;

The slave, the poor, the hireling, cease

From labor in this tranquil field.

Not all unheeded fled away

These shadows of the dusky past;

Here in some long-forgotten day

The mourner’s tears have fallen fast.

But ere the wanderer’s glance may pause

On each neglected, sunken mound,

His pious meed of pity draws

A low response of solemn sound:

“Come not to linger by our graves;

Plant not thy curious footstep here;

The past from thee no memory craves,

No idle tribute of a tear.

“Our names, our lives, why seek to know?

Avails it, then, that thou shouldst learn

Of aught but proud armorial show,

Or brazen pomp of funeral urn?

“See’st thou the glade in verdure drest?

Our strength subdued the stubborn soil:

In fields with golden promise blest

Behold the triumph of our toil!

“Nor we, the mothers of a race,

Less bravely strove, in evil days,

To cope with want, to win a space

For freer life, in broader ways.

“What though beneath no empty show

Of funeral state our relics rest?

Do they the sweeter slumber know

Who long the marble couch have pressed?

“To them their cherished pomp of place,

Their selfish pride of heartless powers;

Be ours the boast of loftier race,—

Manhood and womanhood were ours.”