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

New England: Melvin, the River, N. H.

The Grave by the Lake

By John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892)


WHERE the Great Lake’s sunny smiles

Dimple round its hundred isles,

And the mountain’s granite ledge

Cleaves the water like a wedge,

Ringed about with smooth, gray stones,

Rest the giant’s mighty bones.

Close beside, in shade and gleam,

Laughs and ripples Melvin stream;

Melvin water, mountain-born,

All fair flowers its banks adorn;

All the woodland’s voices meet,

Mingling with its murmurs sweet.

Over lowlands forest-grown,

Over waters island-strown,

Over silver-sanded beach,

Leaf-locked bay and misty reach,

Melvin stream and burial-heap,

Watch and ward the mountains keep.

Who that Titan cromlech fills?

Forest-kaiser, lord o’ the hills?

Knight who on the birchen tree

Carved his savage heraldry?

Priest o’ the pine-wood temples dim,

Prophet, sage, or wizard grim?


Part thy blue lips, Northern lake!

Moss-grown rocks, your silence break!

Tell the tale, thou ancient tree!

Thou, too, slide-worn Ossipee!

Speak, and tell us how and when

Lived and died this king of men!

Wordless moans the ancient pine;

Lake and mountain give no sign;

Vain to trace this ring of stones;

Vain the search of crumbling bones:

Deepest of all mysteries,

And the saddest, silence is.

Nameless, noteless, clay with clay

Mingles slowly day by day;

But somewhere, for good or ill,

That dark soul is living still;

Somewhere yet that atom’s force

Moves the light-poised universe.

Strange that on his burial-sod

Harebells bloom, and golden-rod,

While the soul’s dark horoscope

Holds no starry sign of hope!

Is the Unseen with sight at odds?

Nature’s pity more than God’s?

Thus I mused by Melvin’s side,

While the summer eventide

Made the woods and inland sea

And the mountains mystery;

And the hush of earth and air

Seemed the pause before a prayer,—

Prayer for him, for all who rest,

Mother Earth, upon thy breast,—

Lapped on Christian turf, or hid

In rock-cave or pyramid:

All who sleep, as all who live,

Well may need the prayer, “Forgive!”

Desert-smothered caravan,

Knee-deep dust that once was man,

Battle-trenches ghastly piled,

Ocean-floors with white bones tiled,

Crowded tomb and mounded sod,

Dumbly crave that prayer to God.

Oh the generations old

Over whom no church-bells tolled,

Christless, lifting up blind eyes

To the silence of the skies!

For the innumerable dead

Is my soul disquieted.

Where be now these silent hosts?

Where the camping-ground of ghosts?

Where the spectral conscripts led

To the white tents of the dead?

What strange shore or chartless sea

Holds the awful mystery?

Then the warm sky stooped to make

Double sunset in the lake;

While above I saw with it,

Range on range, the mountains lit;

And the calm and splendor stole

Like an answer to my soul.

Hear’st thou, O of little faith,

What to thee the mountain saith,

What is whispered by the trees?—

“Cast on God thy care for these;

Trust him, if thy sight be dim:

Doubt for them is doubt of Him.

“Blind must be their close-shut eyes

Where like night the sunshine lies,

Fiery-linked the self-forged chain

Binding ever sin to pain,

Strong their prison-house of will,

But without He waiteth still.

“Not with hatred’s undertow

Doth the Love Eternal flow;

Every chain that spirits wear

Crumbles in the breath of prayer;

And the penitent’s desire

Opens every gate of fire.

“Still Thy love, O Christ arisen,

Yearns to reach these souls in prison!

Through all depths of sin and loss

Drops the plummet of Thy cross!

Never yet abyss was found

Deeper than that cross could sound!”

Therefore well may Nature keep

Equal faith with all who sleep,

Set her watch of hills around

Christian grave and heathen mound,

And to cairn and kirkyard send

Summer’s flowery dividend.

Keep, O pleasant Melvin stream,

Thy sweet laugh in shade and gleam!

On the Indian’s grassy tomb

Swing, O flowers, your bells of bloom!

Deep below, as high above,

Sweeps the circle of God’s love.