—Arthur Christoher Benson
They found it in her hollow marble bed,
There where the numberless dead cities sleep,
They found it lying where the spade struck deep
A broken mirror by a maiden dead.
These things—the beads she wore about her
Alternate blue and amber, all untied,
A lamp to light her way, and on one side
The toll men pay to that strange ferry-boat.
No trace today of what in her was fair!
Only the record of long years grown green
Upon the mirror’s lustreless dead sheen,
Grown dim at last, when all else withered there
Dead, broken, lustreless! It keeps for me
One picture of that immemorial land,
For oft as I have held thee in my hand
The chill bronze brightens, and I dream to see
A fair face gazing in thee wondering wise
And o’er one marble shoulder all the while
Strange lips that whisper till her own lips smile
And all the mirror laughs about her eyes.
It was well thought to set thee there, so she
Might smooth the windy ripples of her hair
And knot their tangled waywardness or ere
She stood before the queen Persephone.
And still it may be where the dead folk rest
She holds a shadowy mirror to her eyes,
And looks upon the changelessness, and sighs
And sets the dead land lilies in her hand.
When through the dolorous city of damned souls
The Florentine with Vergil took his way,
A dismal marsh they passed, whose fetid shoals
Held sinners by the myriad. Swollen and grey,
Like worms that fester in the foul decay
Of sweltering carrion, these bad spirits sank
Chin-deep in stagnant slime and ooze that stank.
Year after year forever—year by year,
Through billions of the centuries that lie
Like specks of dust upon the dateless sphere
Of heaven’s eternity, they cankering sigh
Between the black waves and the starless sky;
And daily dying have no hope to gain
By death or change or respite of their pain.
What was their crime, you ask? Nay, listen:
Were sullen—sad what time we drank the light,
And delicate air, that all day daintily
Is cheered by sunshine; for we bore black night
And murky smoke of sloth, in God’s despite,
Within our barren souls, by discontent
From joy of all fair things and wholesome pent:
Therefore in this low Hell from jocund sight
And sound He bans us; and as there we grew
Pallid with idleness, so here a blight
Perpetual rots with slow-corroding dew
Our poisonous carcase, and a livid hue
Corpse-like o’erspreads these sodden limbs that take
And yield corruption to the loathly lake.”