Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. III. Sorrow and Consolation
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume III. Sorrow and Consolation.  1904.
 
VI. Consolation
The Secret of Death
Sir Edwin Arnold (1832–1904)
 
“SHE is dead!” they said to him; “come away;
Kiss her and leave her,—thy love is clay!”
 
They smoothed her tresses of dark brown hair;
On her forehead of stone they laid it fair;
 
Over her eyes that gazed too much        5
They drew the lids with a gentle touch;
 
With a tender touch they closed up well
The sweet thin lips that had secrets to tell;
 
About her brows and beautiful face
They tied her veil and her marriage-lace,        10
 
And drew on her white feet her white silk shoes—
Which were the whitest no eye could choose!
 
And over her bosom they crossed her hands.
“Come away!” they said; “God understands!”
 
And there was silence, and nothing there        15
But silence, and scents of eglantere,
 
And jasmine, and roses, and rosemary;
And they said, “As a lady should lie, lies she.”
 
And they held their breath till they left the room,
With a shudder, to glance at its stillness and gloom.        20
 
But he who loved her too well to dread
The sweet, the stately, the beautiful dead,
 
He lit his lamp and took the key
And turned it. Alone again—he and she!
 
He and she; but she would not speak,        25
Though he kissed, in the old place, the quiet cheek.
 
He and she; yet she would not smile,
Though he called her the name she loved ere-while.
 
He and she; still she did not move
To any one passionate whisper of love.        30
 
Then he said: “Cold lips, and breasts without breath,
Is there no voice, no language of death,
 
“Dumb to the ear and still to the sense,
But to heart and to soul distinct, intense?
 
“See now; I will listen with soul, not ear;        35
What was the secret of dying, dear?
 
“Was it the infinite wonder of all
That you ever could let life’s flower fall?
 
“Or was it a greater marvel to feel
The perfect calm o’er the agony steal?        40
 
“Was the miracle greater to find how deep
Beyond all dreams sank downward that sleep?
 
“Did life roll back its records, dear,
And show, as they say it does, past things clear?
 
“And was it the innermost heart of the bliss        45
To find out, so, what a wisdom love is?
 
“O perfect dead! O dead most dear,
I hold the breath of my soul to hear!
 
“I listen as deep as to horrible hell,
As high as to heaven, and you do not tell.        50
 
“There must be pleasure in dying, sweet,
To make you so placid from head to feet!
 
“I would tell you, darling, if I were dead,
And ’t were your hot tears upon my brow shed,—
 
“I would say, though the angel of death had laid        55
His sword on my lips to keep it unsaid.
 
“You should not ask vainly, with streaming eyes,
Which of all death’s was the chiefest surprise,
 
“The very strangest and suddenest thing
Of all the surprises that dying must bring.”        60
 
Ah, foolish world! O, most kind dead!
Though he told me, who will believe it was said?
 
Who will believe that he heard her say,
With a sweet, soft voice, in the dear old way:
 
“The utmost wonder is this,—I hear,        65
And see you, and love you, and kiss you, dear;
 
“And am your angel, who was your bride,
And know that, though dead, I have never died.”
 
 
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