Verse > Anthologies > William Wilfred Campbell, ed. > The Oxford Book of Canadian Verse
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William Wilfred Campbell, comp.  The Oxford Book of Canadian Verse.  1913.
 
Lines on a Skeleton
By William Wilfred Campbell (1861–1918)
 
THIS was the mightiest house that God e’er made,
This roofless mansion of the incorruptible.
These joists and bastions once bore walls as fair
As Solomon’s palace of white ivory.
Here majesty and love and beauty dwelt,        5
Shakespeare’s wit from these lorn walls looked down.
Sadness like the autumn made it bare,
Passion like a tempest shook its base,
And joy filled all its halls with ecstasy.
 
This was the home wherein all dreams of earth        10
And air and ocean, all supreme delights,
Made mirth and madness: wisdom pored alone;
And power dominion held: and splendid hope:
And fancy like the delicate sunrise woke
To burgeoning thought and form and melody.        15
 
Beneath its dome the agony of the Jew,
The pride of Caesar or the hate of Cain,
The thought of Plato or the heart of Burns,
Once dwelt in some dim form of being’s light.
 
Within these walls of wondrous structure, dread,        20
A magic lute of elfin melody
Made music immortal, such as never came
From out those ancient halls of Orphean song.
 
Love dreamed of it, and like a joy it rose.
Power shaped its firm foundations like the base        25
Of mountain majesty: and o’er its towers
Truth from fair windows made his light look down.
 
But came a weird and evil demon host,
Besieged its walls, destroyed its marvellous front;
Shattered its casements, dismantled all its dream,        30
And hurled it down from out its sunward height;
And now it lies bereft of all its joy
And pride and power and godlike majesty;
The sport of elements and hideous mimes,
That blench its corridors, desecrate its rooms,        35
Where once dwelt love and beauty, joy and hope,
Now tenantless: save for the incurious wind,
And ghostlike rains that beat its bastions bare,
And evil things that creep its chambers through.
 
But whither thence is fled that tenant rare,        40
That weird indweller of this wasted house?
Back from the petalled bloom withdraws the dew,
The melody from the shell, the day from heaven,
To build afar earth’s resurrection morn.
And so, Love trusts, in some diviner air        45
The lord of this lorn mansion dwells in light
Of vaster beauty, vaster scope and dream;
Where weariness and gladness satiate not,
Where power and splendid being know no ruin,
And evil greeds and envyings work no wrong.        50
 
 
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