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

Southern States: Brandon, Va.

The Window-panes at Brandon

By John R. Thompson (1823–1873)

  • Upon the window-panes at Brandon, on James River, are inscribed the names, cut with a diamond, of many of those who have composed the Christmas and May parties of that hospitable mansion in years gone by.

  • AS within the old mansion the holiday throng reassembles in beauty and grace,

    And some eye looking out of the window, by chance, these memorial records may trace,—

    How the past, like a swift-coming haze from the sea, in an instant, surrounds us once more,

    While the shadowy figures of those we have loved, all distinctly are seen on the shore!

    Through the vista of years, stretching dimly away, we but look, and a vision behold,—

    Like some magical picture the sunset reveals with its colors of crimson and gold,—

    All suffused with the glow of the hearth’s ruddy blaze, from beneath the gay mistletoe bough,

    There are faces that break into smiles as divinely as any that beam on us now.

    While the Old Year departing strides ghost-like along o’er the hills that are dark with the storm,

    To the New the brave beaker is filled to the brim, and the play of affection is warm:

    Look once more,—as the garlanded Spring reappears, in her footsteps we welcome a train

    Of fair women, whose eyes are as bright as the gem that has cut their dear names on the pane.

    From the canvas of Vandyke and Kneller that hangs on the old-fashioned wainscoted wall,

    Stately ladies, the favored of poets, look down on the guests and the revel and all;

    But their beauty, though wedded to eloquent verse, and though rendered immortal by Art,

    Yet outshines not the beauty that breathing below, in a moment takes captive the heart.

    Many winters have since frosted over these panes with the tracery-work of the rime,

    Many Aprils have brought back the birds to the lawn from some far-away tropical clime,—

    But the guests of the season, alas! where are they? Some the shores of the stranger have trod,

    And some names have been long ago carved on the stone, where they sweetly rest under the sod.

    How uncertain the record! the hand of a child, in its innocent sport, unawares,

    May, at any time, lucklessly shatter the pane, and thus cancel the story it bears:

    Still a portion, at least, shall uninjured remain,—unto trustier tablets consigned,—

    The fond names that survive in the memory of friends who yet linger a season behind.

    Recollect, O young soul, with ambition inspired!—let the moral be read as we pass,—

    Recollect the illusory tablets of fame have been ever as brittle as glass:

    Oh, then, be not content with the name there inscribed,—for as well may you trace it in dust,—

    But resolve to record it where long it shall stand, in the hearts of the good and the just!