Over the fields a voice calls from the tomb, Pleading and pleading drearily, But all the slaves have fled And left her talking to her coffined dead, And whimpering eerily. The young birds die To see old hands thrust from the window-slit, Clutching the light in handfuls of despair; Stark fear has stroked the color from her hair, While from the window comes The babbled whisper of her prayer. Night is like spiders in her mouth; By day they spin a film across her eyes. Now night; now day— The birds come back; It is another year: The withering voice they fear Has nothing more to say.
But yet once more
Her kinsmen came
With nodding plume and pall
And music slow,
And, sobbing low,
They fluttered back the door, and lo!—
She leaned against the slit-window
Her web-like, bony hands against the wall,
And all about her, like a summer cloud
Rippled her leprous hair,
One bleached and shuddering shroud.
At early morning when the
earth grows cold,
When river mists creep up,
And those asleep are nearest death,
The feather would not flutter in her breath;
And those who long had watched her slipped away,
Too weary then to weep;
They could do that next day—
They left her lonely on the bed,
Under a long, glistening sheet, in feeble tallow-shine,
Rigid from muffled feet to swathed head.
This in old days before the
Had driven out the pox;
Next morning, while slave carpenters
Were hammering at the oblong box,
The sun revived her and she breathed again,
Like Lazarus, and in later years grew beautiful,
And was the mother of strong men.
These things her father, master
of an ancient place,
Pondered, and read of men in antique times
Who wakened in the charnel from a trance.
Often his eyes would rest on her askance,
And fear grew on him, and strange dreams he had a-bed,
Till waking and asleep he turned his head,
Front-back, front-back, from side to side,
Looking for Death. At last, one night
He heard crisp footfalls in his room,
And stared his soul out in the gloom,
Peering until he died.
But when they broke the seals
upon his will,
They found each codicil and long bequest
Was held in trust until
The heirs should carry out his last request—
To burn his body (naming witnesses);
And they, all eagerness to share,
Prepared to carry out this strange behest.