Sunday, May 11, 2014

"Poem" by O. C. Bentley (1868)


        In the rural cemetery of Bath, opposite Albany, there is a grave which, from its appearance and position, seemed to be that of one who asked "a little earth for charity." It is among the oldest there, the inscription upon the simple headstone having become faint and mossed with age. In the centre of this grave nature planted a pine tree, which has now become quite large, and stands like the whispering guardian of the spot.

Oh, votive Pine! Oh, voluntary tree!

Self-planted mourner on this lowly grave!

What hands unseen have softly nurtured thee,

And taught thy sighing branches here to wave?

Beneath the soil, thy clasping rootlets twine

Around the form here laid fore'er to sleep;

He had, perchance, no other sigh but thine,

And nature gave thee, thus to grow and weep.

Perchance, a child of nature, too, was he,

And loved the genial mother like a son;

And asked of her this grassy grave, and thee

To grow above him when his life was done;

And, Oh! methinks 'tis sweeter far to rest

Beneath thy boughs with death, in careless ease,

And his by nature in her verdant breast,

Than stately lie in art's cold grasp to freeze.

An ever green, embodied thought art thou,

Of love and memory constant to the dead—

A thought like Daphne changed to lead and bough,

And rooted here, thy mourning murmurs spread.

How freshly green thy conscious branches rise,

Like life exulting from decay and death;

And upward shoot to woo the sunny skies,

Exhaling sweet thy wildly odorous breath.

What viewless form is blended with thin own,

And feels thy pulses through her bosom run,

Reveals her being in thy plaintive moan,

And shrinking, hears the slow approaching one?

Lives in thy life and trembles in thy leaves—

The timid presence of thy grieving tree—

Thou living Poem, nature pensive weaves,

For him who sleeps beneath, an elegy.

How many years have bid the here adieu,

Since o'er this sleeper's rest thy ward began?

How many times, as yonder city grew,

The passing bell hath toiled life's measured span?

And thou hast seen, full oft, across the wave,

The slow procession hither bend its way,

And marked amid these mansions low, a grave,

New-made, for one who here must dwell for aye.

Long thou hast stood, and unregarded waved,

And wore thy green through all the seasons full—

When Summer's glory bright thy form hath laved,

Or Winter's hands essayed to earthward pull;

And when his snows have hid these grassy mounds,

Still, green above them thou hast constant spread,

Unfading sign of life that hath no bounds,

And immortality for all the dead.

Thy swaying head may well to winds discourse

Of prospect fair as e'er was stretched to view—

The regal river pouring from his source,

The swelling mountains' dim and dusky blue;

The ancient city rising on her height,

And full confronting first the orient beam,

The distant sail just gliding from the sight,

Where gleams afar the ocean-seeking stream.

Beneath thy shade, in contemplative mood,

I oft would come, Oh, tree! and muse alone;

For here, methinks, the mind should garner food

For healthful thought, of most unworldly tone—

In silence, here contrast this hamlet still,

With yonder city's crowded streets and din,

Where pride, ambition, gain and envy fill

The hearts of men, and prompt to every sin.

Oft would I come, and own with humble soul

The graciousness of death; and lingering, muse,

Till hooded evening in the twilight stole

Along the hills, and veiled me with her hues;

Then, while the cricket's peaceful voice arose,

Reluctant seek the city's glare again,

To view once more its penury and woes,

Its idols gay of fortune, and of men.

But pleased with death, I thus could linger best

At tranquil close of lovely Autumn days,

When, mild the sun looks backward from the west

And gilds this quiet spot with parting rays;

That level stream among the faded grass,

Like heavenly whispers in the sleeper's ear,

Or golden words of some transcendent mass

For all the dead who wait in promise here.

Then, sweet, Oh, votive pine! and bless'd to die—

To leave this clay beneath thy shady care,

And softly mingle with the tender sky—

To melt at once into the radiant air,

And blend with all the beauty of the even—

To soar away to Him who is so fair,

And pass through sunset's glory into heaven.

                                O. C. BENTLEY.

Daily Albany Argus. September 12, 1868: 4 col 1.

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