Verse > Anthologies > Andrew Macphail, ed. > The Book of Sorrow
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Andrew Macphail, comp.  The Book of Sorrow.  1916.
 
XX. The Burial
Laus Deo
By Sydney Dobell (1824–1874)
 
IN the hall the coffin waits, and the idle armourer stands.
At his belt the coffin nails, and the hammer in his hands.
The bed of state is hung with crape—the grand old bed where she was wed—
And like an upright corpse she sitteth gazing dumbly at the bed.
Hour by hour her serving-men enter by the curtain’d door,        5
And with steps of muffled woe pass breathless o’er the silent floor,
And marshal mutely round, and look from each to each with eyelids red;
‘Touch him not,’ she shriek’d and cried, ‘he is but newly dead!’
‘O my own dear mistress,’ the ancient Nurse did say,
‘Seven long days and seven long nights you have watch’d him where he lay.’        10
‘Seven long days and seven long nights’, the hoary Steward said;
‘Seven long days and seven long nights’, groan’d the Warrener grey;
‘Seven’, said the old Henchman, and bow’d his agèd head;
‘On your lives!’ she shriek’d and cried, ‘he is but newly dead!’
      Then a father Priest they sought,        15
      The Priest that taught her all she knew,
      And they told him of her loss.
      ‘For she is mild and sweet of will,
      She loved him, and his words are peace,
      And he shall heal her ill.’        20
      But her watch she did not cease.
      He bless’d her where she sat distraught,
      And show’d her holy cross,—
      The cross she kiss’d from year to year—
      But she neither saw nor heard;        25
      And said he in her deaf ear
      All he had been wont to teach,
      All she had been fond to hear,
      Missall’d prayer, and solemn speech,
      But she answer’d not a word.        30
Only when he turn’d to speak with those who wept about the bed,
‘On your lives!’ she shriek’d and cried, ‘he is but newly dead!’
Then how sadly he turn’d from her, it were wonderful to tell,
And he stood beside the death-bed as by one who slumbers well,
And he lean’d o’er him who lay there, and in cautious whisper low,        35
‘He is not dead, but sleepeth’, said the Priest, and smooth’d his brow.
‘Sleepeth?’ said she, looking up, and the sun rose in her face!
‘He must be better than I thought, for the sleep is very sound.’
‘He is better’, said the Priest, and call’d her maidens round.
With them came that ancient dame who nursed her when a child;        40
‘O Nurse!’ she sigh’d, ‘O Nurse!’ she cried, ‘O Nurse!’ and then she smiled,
      And then she wept; with that they drew
      About her, as of old;
      Her dying eyes were sweet and blue,
      Her trembling touch was cold;        45
      But she said, ‘My maidens true,
      No more weeping and well-away;
      Let them kill the feast.
      I would be happy in my soul.
      “He is better”, saith the Priest;        50
      He did but sleep the weary day,
      And will waken whole.
      Carry me to his dear side,
      And let the halls be trim;
      Whistly, whistly,’ said she,        55
      ‘I am wan with watching and wail,
      He must not wake to see me pale,
      Let me sleep with him.
      See you keep the tryst for me,
      I would rest till he awake        60
      And rise up like a bride.
      But whistly, whistly!’ said she.
      ‘Yet rejoice your Lord doth live;
      And for His dear sake
      Say Laus, Domine.’        65
      Silent they cast down their eyes,
      And every breast a sob did rive,
      She lifted her in wild surprise
      And they dared not disobey.
‘Laus Deo’, said the Steward, hoary when her days were new;        70
‘Laus Deo’, said the Warrener, whiter than the warren snows;
‘Laus Deo’, the bald Henchman, who had nursed her on his knee.
      The old Nurse moved her lips in vain,
      And she stood among the train
      Like a dead tree shaking dew.        75
      Then the Priest he softly stept
      Midway in the little band,
      And he took the Lady’s hand.
      ‘Laus Deo’, he said aloud,
      ‘Laus Deo’, they said again,        80
      Yet again, and yet again,
      Humbly cross’d and lowly bow’d,
      Till in wont and fear it rose
      To the Sabbath strain.
      But she neither turn’d her head        85
      Nor ‘Whistly, whistly,’ said she.
      Her hands were folded as in grace,
      We laid her with her ancient race
      And all the village wept.
 
 
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