Monday, May 21, 2007

Before I Sleep

An obscure yet moving piece from Rupert Brooke.

Lines Written in the Belief That the Ancient Roman Festival of the Dead Was Called Ambervalia
Swings the way still by hollow and hill,
And all the world's a song;
"She's far," it sings me, "but fair," it rings me,
"Quiet," it laughs, "and strong!"
Oh! spite of the miles and years between us,
Spite of your chosen part,
I do remember: and I go
With laughter in my heart.
So above the little folk that know not,
Out of the white hill-town,
High up I clamber; and I remember;
And watch the day go down.
Gold is my heart, and the world's golden,
And one peak tipped with light;
And the air lies still about the hill
With the first fear of night;
Till mystery down the soundless valley
Thunders, and dark is here;
And the wind blows, and the light goes,
And the night is full of fear,
And I know, one night, on some far height,
In the tongue I never knew,
I yet shall hear the tidings clear
From them that were friends of you.
They'll call the news from hill to hill,
Dark and uncomforted,
Earth and sky and the winds; and I
Shall know that you are dead.
I shall not hear your trentals,
Nor eat your arval bread;
For the kin of you shall surely do
Their duty by the dead.
Their little dull greasy eyes will water,
They'll paw you, and gulp afresh.
They'll sniff and weep, and their thoughts will creep
Like flies on the cold flesh.
They will put pence on your grey eyes,
Bind up your fallen chin,
And lay you straight, the fools that loved you
Because you were their kin.
They will praise all the bad about you,
And hush the good away.
And wonder how they'll do without you,
And then they'll go away.
But quieter than one sleeping,
And stranger than of old,
You will not stir for weeping,
You will not mind the cold;
But through the lips which laugh not,
The hands will be in place,
And at length the hair be lying still
About the quiet face.
With snuffle and sniff and handkerchief,
With dim and decorous mirth,
With ham and sherry, they'll meet to bury
The lordliest lass of earth.
The little dead hearts will tramp ungrieving
Beside lone-riding you,
The heart so high, the heart so living
Heart that they never knew.
I shall not hear your trentals,
Nor eat your arval bread,
Nor with smug breath tell lies of death
To the unanswering dead.
With snuffle and sniff and handkerchief,
The folk who loved you not
Will bury you, and go wondering
Back home. And you will rot.
But laughing and halfway up to heaven,
With wind, and hill and star,
I yet shall keep, before I sleep,
Your Ambervalia.

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