We all have heard, and marvelled as we heard,
Of seers, who have raised the Dead from out their tombs,
And made them parley. Nor would I gainsay
Such story. For who knows the invisible links,
Mysterious sympathies of life with life,
Or life, perchance, with death? Or guesses what
Thessalian spells, or what divining rod
The soul erewhile may have weird gift to use,
And, with strange power, interrogate the grave,
Yet leave the turf unbroke? Or even may reach
Up the blue regions, where freed spirits dwell,
With her far-finding telescope of love;
Or, may be, hate!
Nay, are our nightly dreams
But fancies of the brain? some straggling shreds
From memory? or, meaner still, mere jet
From stomach or nerve? Or, rather, do we not,
(So sometimes I have deemed) what time we sleep,
—If sleep it be, and not a wider waking—
Within the close-drawn curtains, face to face,
Hold actual commerce with the living Dead?
Who stand beside us; and do look upon us;
And well nigh touch us with their stony hands;
And see themselves in our fixed lineaments
Fit comradeship! dead life with living death!
And then, when morn hath come, with crow of cock,
Or early swallow, twittering by the lattice,
To summon them back to their lonely homes,
And us to all the over busy doings
Of this world's life; we, in our ignorance,
Because they have left no foot-prints on the night,
Do swear we have dreamed.
Nor doth it hap alone
Within the silent and the dim domain
Of sleep; that doubtful confine laid between
The Here and the Hereafter; nor where deed
Of guilt doth hold some troubled mind awake
At midnight; nor where mist, obscure as night,
Hath wrapt the Gaël upon his mountain moor,
And the pale wraith doth prophesy him woe;
Not in such moments only do the Dead
Revisit earth. Go thou and throw thyself
On some hill side, beneath the bluest sky
And cheeriest sun; or—better—when the touch
Of twilight eve hath sanctified the air,
And very earth thou liest on; and surrender
Thy spirit to old memories; and 'tis chance
If then thy half-closed eyes behold them not.
Uncalled they come; or led by threads of thought
Too fine to scan. Thy dearest objects once,
And now, behold! they come to thee again,
And hang around thee, sweetly visible,
And real as life itself. If life itself
Be a real thing; and not—as some have deemed—
A dream of shadows; sequel to a drama
Acted before; and we (its actors, then,
But, now, forgetful of the parts we played)
No creatures of fresh breath, but the stale ghosts
Of former Being; doomed to walk once more
This weary earth; and fret the appointed years,
In penance of some evil we have done;
But when—and what—and where—we must not know.
Uncalled they come. But we can call them too,
(I speak but what I know) and make them pass
Before us. If not alway, yet by fits,
When the strong will and planet hour have met
In apt conjunction. But why only then,
Or not to all accorded, who may find?
Then may be seen the newly-gifted seer,
With steadfast eye, yet outward nought beholding,
Like one in presence of some lofty thought
Or deed; absorbed in it, and it alone;
Or prophet so may have gazed in his strong hour.
For now he feels his spirit privileged
All strangely (how—he knows not, yet he knows it)
To hold communion with the parted life;
And from that very spot where now he stands,
To speed (as if along some chargëd wire,
That mocks at far and near, and rough and smooth)
His swift invisible message to the tomb.
I speak but what I know. Of late I found me
Where I had dwelt of yore; and stood to gaze
On the once well-known scene. Behind me rose
The quaint old town; its square cathedral tower
Lifted above; while all before and round
Lay spread the lovely landscape. Those smooth meads;
And the bright sparkling river, bright as ever,
Gliding amid; and bearing white-sailed bark
To the near sea. And green hills sloping up
On the other side; with woods and homes ancestral;
And many a cheery prospect-tower, that told
How man had loved the region; and the purple
Of heathy moors beyond them. And I thought me
Of all their little valleys, folded in;
Each with its vagrant brook. Sweet solitudes!
Which I had roamed with Her, who made them all
Sweeter than solitude; from whom I had dreamed
Never to part. But on that baffled vision
I dared to think no more.
Yet still I longed
To muse on some whom I had known—with Her—
In that spring-hour of life, (They were not all
Deceivers!) and who now, like Her, were gone!
And never on this earth to meet again,
Save only in such vision—memory-led.
So, all the less distrubedly to dream,
I stood and leaned, with closëd eyes, against
That lingering fragment of the old town-wall,
Where I had leaned of old—but not alone!
And memory came to aid me, the whole spot
Re-peopling; and I caught, or secmed to catch
Familiar looks; and heard, or seemed to hear,
Familiar tones; first—one's; and then—another's.
The best beloved came first. Relations dear,
Part of whose life I was, as they of mine;
And friends—as dear. And then acquaintances,
More or less strict. And foremost among these,
(For now—as then—the church had due precedence)
The well-bred dean; and jovial prebendary;
And wife prebendal, with her stately look
Dwarfing wife secular. And, next, town-member,
From his near seat, aye welcome; liberal ever
Of hare and pheasant; or with blandest smile
Winning constituent. And young barrister
From the great city; at provincial board
Predominant; with legal tale and jest
From Westminster or circuit. And the staid
Physician; and the brisk apothecary,
Rapping from door to door; with news from each
Regaling convalescent. Gossip rare!
Yet kindly ever by the poor man's bed.
There too the youthful curate, with white brow
And chiselled lip; and mild, yet fervent eye;
Full oft descanting with ingenuous warmth
On type or prophecy; while hectic cheek
All the sad time too plainly spoke its own.
Now wherefore was it? (for I sought it not)
That on a sudden stretched its length before me
The old town ball-room; lit as it was wont
At races or assize time. And behold!
Thro' the wide double doors came flitting in
Fair white-robed Misses; separate or in bevies;
Now, ones—and twos—and threes; then, thick together,
(Like gradual snow flakes) whitening the whole floor.
Or rather shall we say, for fitter type,
Like orange-blossoms, which some summer-breeze
Is fluttering from amid the glossy boughs
To blanch the beds beneath. So in they streamed,
A galaxy of muslin.
Those white robes
Had long been shrouds! and that gay dance—what since,
Let Holbein tell us!
Yea, I saw them all,
As I had seen of yore. Here the young heir,
Not quite unconscious. There, the matron-mother
Of those three youthful Graces; eagle eyed;
From the side benches, her tall eyrie, brooding
O'er park and manor. And flirtations thin,
Meant for the general eye; and deep-souled looks
Of silent love, the lookers fain would hide.
And wreathëd smiles—some, hollow; and the sneer
Forecast to wound; and petty rivalries,
And pettier leagues; and all the worthless doings
Of this our daily life—done by the Dead!
Them too I saw, those three deep-wrinkled hags,
Pink-rouged; dark-ringletted; and diamond-decked;
Yet hag-like still. Beneath whose baleful breath
The fairest fame would wither; whose dim hints,
And counsels shrewd, and worming confidences
Had art to melt the firmest plighted faith
Of youthful bride affianced. There they stood,
With snake-like eyes; sharp voices; finger up;
Those ball-room beldames! And I heard them gibber,
E'en as ghosts gibber; or as they themselves
Had gibbered here on earth. I heard, and scarce
Forbore to curse them.
Say, had wrath such power
To quicken memory? for it now seemed freshened
To a new strength. We all have read, when earthquake
Hath smote some ancient city's street of tombs,
Disrupting their foundations, how come forth
Graven sarcophagus, and pictured urn,
And the grey ashes of forgotten men
Five hundred lustres buried. Even so,
Stirred by some influence, be it what it might,
Did now the long-sealed chambers of the brain
Give up their Dead. And, lo! before me stood
All of the Parted I had known from when
I first began to know; (for of the Quick
None came to mingle). And not those alone
Whom I had sought to see, but all, yea all,
Or separate, or in clusters. Mother—nurse—
Preceptor. Next, school-comrades—college-friends—
(Ah! little had we dreamed to part so soon)
And then the yet more numerous host, 'mid whom
Our after-life hath thrust us. More and more,
Swifter and swifter. Till there grew a sense
Confused and ill at ease, as if it now
Were all too cramp for those who there would enter.
Hast thou not heard erewhile some gentle music?
(If thro' similitudes I speak (perchance,
Usque ad nauseam) 'tis that speech direct
Might fail to tell my story; nor boast I
Wide masterdom of words.) But as some music,
Slowly preluding with soft notes and few,
Swells by degrees; and other instruments
Join in; till finally the whole orchestra,
Like some freshed river, swollen with tributaries,
Hath gathered up the multitudinous minglings,
Then flings them all with unresolvable speed
In one broad crash upon the shrinking ear;
So shrank I at that moment, as all these,
Poured forth from East and West and North and South,
Were round and round me eddying, till the brain spun.
Nor was I any longer in the Present;
(For time itself seemed reeling with the brain)
My Present was the Past! Life's actual hour
Supplanted by the vanished! As they tell
Of drowning men, with whom all former memories;
All they have done or suffered; known or felt;
Childhood and manhood; loves and enmities;
Nay, things that were, or seemed to be, forgotten,
Are all whirred back upon the sharpened sense,
To be compressed within that struggling minute;
Thus suddenly, (I may not say unrolled,
But, somehow, flung before me) in that instant
Flashed a whole life.
How may words paint to thee
What thou hast never felt? Or how I stood
(There was no time for fear) but all-amazed,
Like one who hath oped a sluice he may not stop.
Till, in a moment of collected will,
Quivering the while, but stronger than I knew,
I bade them—and they went!
What went? mere visions?
Were these, so real, so distinct, but visions?
Or were they—could they be (I dare confess
Such thought was glancing by me) no—not shadows!
But they—the Dead—come back in body again?
'Yea, visions'—thou wilt tell me — 'shadows mere—'
'Such stuff as dreams are made of;' when the mind
Diseased, or else in sport, is peopling space
With shapes of matter. (If that mind and matter
In sooth be twain.) Or thou wilt tell how fancy
Is still most potent when the soul is stirred;
As mine was then. Or else wilt hold wise descant,
In metaphysic guise, of filmy links
Associative; and echoes—tho' unheard—
From thought to thought. And think'st thou then that I
Not thus philosophized? Yet 'twas not these
I speak but what I know—and 'twas not these.
Now listen to a tale incredible!
And yet most true. Nay, 'tis no jesting story;
Nor was I drugged with opium; nor was it
Some wild hallucination of a brain,
Thou'lt say—o'erwrought. But it was given me,
(I tell thee a true tale, believe or not)
But it was given me in that hour to know
Distinct, as e'er distinctest knowledge stood,
(Yet how or whence such knowledge came, I knew not;
Nor if to tempt or punish, that I know not
But it was given me in that hour to know
That they, the Parted—wheresoe'er they were—
That they should feel and hear me in their graves!
Not merely in yon church-yard, but wherever
Their bones did house them. And should leave awhile,
(No, not mere phantoms, but the very Dead)
Those graves all tenantless—to march before me!
'Twas a strange power. A ghastly dream to shrink from,
If it had been a dream; but, being a power,
I cared to use it; and with will perverse
(For power corrupteth will), did choose to see
Her, whom but now my heart had shrunk to think of.
And She did come! and I beheld her what
She was when last we parted. Was it love
Or anger made me call that vision up?
I might not stay to know; but this I know,
That all of wrath, long cherished—and revenge—
(For that thought too, all hideous as it was,
Had yet been there) did melt them fast away
Before that once loved presence; till (each wrong
Forgiven) the old affection ruled alone.
One other was there in that church-yard laid,
Whom I had loved the least (why did She love him?)
My foe; and him—the next—I willed to see.
And will was now compulsion; and I saw him;
Yea, with these very bodily eyes I saw him
Stir in his shroud, beneath the coffin-lid!
And staring upward with wide helpless eyes,
He moaned—I heard him—wherefore dost thou wake me?
Then too I saw—nay 'twas no fantasy—
Two other eyes—eyes unmistakeable—
Gazing reproachfully. And all at once,
With a most swift revulsion of the heart,
I started from my own unnatural power,
And knew that I had done a deed unholy.
Ay, started every limb; and so aroused me!
And, lifting with that start the closëd lids,
Beheld, oh blessed! just beneath me lying
That alway lovely landscape; lovelier now
Than ever; while, like ghost before the day,
The unholy power had vanished.
As some dreamer,
Amid the wanderings of his troubled dream,
All on a sudden finds himself in-coiled
In some strange guilt; tho' how it was he knows not;
Nor even if his; yet, nathless, shame and fear
Are all around him; if by chance, just then,
From forth the sweetly dawning East, some ray
Slant to his eye-lids, heavenly visitant!
He, leaping up with inexpressible joy,
Finds himself shrieved; or as some noble spirit,
Who, lured by pride, (oh! if such tale be true,
May heaven from us avert the dire temptation)
Hath plighted with the Demon, dreadful pact!
And sold his soul for power; and, having tested,
Succeeds; then shudders at his own success;
And flings him on his kness in agony
Of prayer; if that, with penitence, may melt
The seal from off the accursed bond; and lo!
His prayer is heard. Like him—like him so saved
In such a mortal hour, ev'n so felt I;
When, starting from that gift of horrible might,
(Or be it dream, if dream thou still wilt have it)
I did behold again the cheery sun
On that up-sparkling river. Mother Earth!
To me thou ne'er wert dearer. Rather say,
Never so dear. Oh! how I joyed to see
Those blue-eyed children, lightly gamboling
On the shorn turf anear. That loving dog,
Who seemed as if he ne'er could love enough,
Fond frolicking beside them; every bird,
How small soever, that with tiny rustle
Burst from the bushes. Ay, and those grave daws,
Now, musing on the old cathedral tower;
Now, wheeling round and round in the clear air.
Oh! what a calming bliss to be once more
(Escaped such fearful fact—or mocking vision)
Amid these mild realities of life!
Then first it was I comprehended how
Complacently might king resign his crown.
Nor marvelled any longer at the tale
Of potent wizards, who had burned their books.