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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
England: Vols. I–IV. 1876–79.


The Two Peacocks of Bedfont

By Thomas Hood (1799–1845)

ALAS! that breathing Vanity should go

Where Pride is buried,—like its very ghost,

Uprisen from the naked bones below,

In novel flesh, clad in the silent boast

Of gaudy silk that flutters to and fro,

Shedding its chilling superstition most

On young and ignorant natures, as it wont

To haunt the peaceful churchyard of Bedfont!

Each Sabbath morning, at the hour of prayer,

Behold two maidens, up the quiet green

Shining, far distant, in the summer air

That flaunts their dewy robes and breathes between

Their downy plumes,—sailing as if they were

Two far-off ships,—until they brush between

The churchyard’s humble walls, and watch and wait

On either side of the wide opened gate.

And there they stand—with haughty necks before

God’s holy house, that points towards the skies—

Frowning reluctant duty from the poor,

And tempting homage from unthoughtful eyes:

And Youth looks lingering from the temple door,

Breathing its wishes in unfruitful sighs,

With pouting lips,—forgetful of the grace,

Of health, and smiles, on the heart-conscious face;—

Because that Wealth, which has no bliss beside,

May wear the happiness of rich attire;

And those two sisters, in their silly pride,

May change the soul’s warm glances for the fire

Of lifeless diamonds;—and for health denied,—

With art, that blushes at itself, inspire

Their languid cheeks,—and flourish in a glory

That has no life in life, nor after-story.

The aged priest goes shaking his gray hair

In meekest censuring, and turns his eye

Earthward in grief, and heavenward in prayer,

And sighs, and clasps his hands, and passes by.

Good-hearted man! what sullen soul would wear

Thy sorrow for a garb, and constantly

Put on thy censure, that might win the praise

Of one so gray in goodness and in days?

Also the solemn clerk partakes the shame

Of this ungodly shine of human pride,

And sadly blends his reverence and blame

In one grave bow, and passes with a stride

Impatient:—many a red-hooded dame

Turns her pained head, but not her glance, aside

From wanton dress, and marvels o’er again,

That heaven hath no wet judgments for the vain.


The aged priest goes on each Sabbath morn,

But shakes not sorrow under his gray hair;

The solemn clerk goes lavendered and shorn,

Nor stoops his back to the ungodly pair;—

And ancient lips that puckered up in scorn,

Go smoothly breathing to the house of prayer;

And in the garden-plot, from day to day,

The lily blooms its long white life away.

And where two haughty maidens used to be,

In pride of plume, where plumy Death had trod,

Trailing their gorgeous velvets wantonly,

Most unmeet pall, over the holy sod;—

There, gentle stranger, thou may’st only see

Two sombre Peacocks.—Age, with sapient nod

Marking the spot, still tarries to declare

How they once lived, and wherefore they are there.