Oh, when the ghosts go by,
Under the empty trees,
Here in my house I sit and cry,
My head upon my knees!
Like mist they fill the square;
The bolt is drawn, the latch made tight,
The shutter barred there.
There walks one small and glad,
New to the churchyard clod;
My little lad, my little lad,
A single year with God!
I sit and hide my head
Until they all are past,
Under the empty trees the dead
That go full soft and fast.
Up to my chamber dim,
Back to my bed I plod;
Oh, would I were a ghost with him,
And faring back to God!
I heard the dogs howl in the moonlight night;
I went to the window to see the sight;
All the dead that ever I knew
Going one by one and two by two.
On they pass’d and on they pass’d;
Townsfellows all, from first to last;
Born in the moonlight of the lane,
Quench’d in the heavy shadow again.
Schoolmates, marching as when they play’d
At soldiers once—but now more staid;
Those were the strangest sight to me
Who were drown’d, I knew, in the open sea.
Straight and handsome folk, bent and weak, too;
Some that I loved, and gasp’d to speak to;
Some but a day in their churchyard bed;
Some that I had not known were dead.
A long long crowd—where each seem’d
Yet of them all there was one, one only,
Raised a head or looked my way;
She linger’d a moment—she might not stay.
How long since I saw that fair pale face!
Ah! Mother dear! might I only place
My head on thy breast, a moment to rest,
While thy hand on my tearful cheek were press’d!
On, on, a moving bridge they made
Across the moon-stream, from shade to shade,
Young and old, women and men;
Many long-forgot, but remember’d then,
And first there came a bitter laughter;
A sound of tears a moment after,
And then a music so lofty and gay,
That every morning, day by day,
I strive to recall it if I may.
At first cock-crow
The ghosts must go
Back to their quiet graves below.
Against the distant striking of the clock
I heard the crowing cock,
And I arose and threw the window wide;
Long, long before the setting of the moon,
And yet I knew they must be passing soon—
My neighbors who had died—
Back to their narrow green-roofed homes that wait
Beyond the churchyard gate.
I leaned far out and waited—all the world
Was like a thing impearled,
Mysterious and beautiful and still:
The crooked road seemed one the moon might lay,
Our little village slept in Quaker gray,
And gray and tall the poplars on the hill;
And then far off I heard the cock—and then
My neighbors passed again.