Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. IV. The Higher Life
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume IV. The Higher Life.  1904.
 
VII. Death: Immortality: Heaven
Passing Away
John Pierpont (1785–1866)
 
WAS it the chime of a tiny bell
  That came so sweet to my dreaming ear,
Like the silvery tones of a fairy’s shell
  That he winds, on the beach, so mellow and clear,
When the winds and the waves lie together asleep,        5
And the Moon and the Fairy are watching the deep,
She dispensing her silvery light,
And he his notes as silvery quite,
While the boatman listens and ships his oar,
To catch the music that comes from the shore?        10
Hark! the notes on my ear that play
Are set to words; as they float, they say,
    “Passing away! passing away!”
 
But no; it was not a fairy’s shell,
  Blown on the beach, so mellow and clear;        15
Nor was it the tongue of a silver bell,
  Striking the hour, that filled my ear,
As I lay in my dream; yet was it a chime
That told of the flow of the stream of time.
For a beautiful clock from the ceiling hung,        20
And a plump little girl, for a pendulum, swung
(As you’ve sometimes seen, in a little ring
That hangs in his cage, a canary-bird swing);
And she held to her bosom a budding bouquet,
And, as she enjoyed it, she seemed to say,        25
    “Passing away! passing away!”
 
Oh, how bright were the wheels, that told
  Of the lapse of time, as they moved round slow;
And the hands, as they swept o’er the dial of gold,
  Seemed to point to the girl below.        30
And lo! she had changed: in a few short hours
Her bouquet had become a garland of flowers,
That she held in her outstretched hands, and flung
This way and that, as she, dancing, swung
In the fulness of grace and of womanly pride,        35
That told me she soon was to be a bride;
Yet then, when expecting her happiest day,
In the same sweet voice I heard her say,
    “Passing away! passing away!”
 
While I gazed at that fair one’s cheek, a shade        40
  Of thought or care stole softly over,
Like that by a cloud in a summer’s day made,
  Looking down on a field of blossoming clover.
The rose yet lay on her cheek, but its flush
Had something lost of its brilliant blush;        45
And the light in her eye, and the light on the wheels,
  That marched so calmly round above her,
Was a little dimmed,—as when evening steals
  Upon noon’s hot face. Yet one could n’t but love her,
For she looked like a mother whose first babe lay        50
Rocked on her breast, as she swung all day;
And she seemed, in the same silver tone, to say,
    “Passing away! passing away!”
 
While yet I looked, what a change there came!
  Her eye was quenched, and her cheek was wan;        55
Stooping and staffed was her withered frame,
  Yet just as busily swung she on;
The garland beneath her had fallen to dust;
The wheels above her were eaten with rust:
The hands, that over the dial swept,        60
Grew crooked and tarnished, but on they kept
And still there came that silver tone
From the shrivelled lips of the toothless crone
(Let me never forget till my dying day
The tone or the burden of her lay),        65
    “Passing away! passing away!”
 
 
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