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Memory Is Immortal

by Elizabeth Drew Stoddard, 1895

Time passed, as passes time with common souls,
Whose thoughts and wishes end with every day;
For whom no future is, whose present hours
Reveal no looming shade of that which was.

  But Memory is immortal, for she comes
To me, from heaven or hell, to me, once more!
As birds that migrate choose the ocean wind
That beats them helpless, while it steers them home,
So I was this way driven—I chose this way—
Of old my dwelling-place, where all my race
Are buried. At first I was enchanted here;
Impossible appeared the pall, the shroud;
And in my spell I trod the grassy streets,
Where in the summer days mild oxen drew
The bristling hay, and in the winter snows
The creaking masts and knees for mighty ships,
Whose hulls were parted on the coral reefs,
Or foundered in the depth of Arctic nights.
I wandered through the gardens rank and waste,
Wonderful once, when I was like the flowers;
Along the weedy paths grew roses still,
Surviving empire, but remaining queens.

  My mood established by the slumbrous town—
(Slumber with slumber, dream with dream should be)
I sought a mansion on the lonely shore,
From which, his feet made level with his head,
Its occupant was gone. I lived alone.
Whoso, beneath this roof, had played his part
In life's deep tragedy, not here again
Could be rehearsed its scenes of love or hate.
Upon the ancient walls my pictures hung,
Of men and women, strong and beautiful,
Whose shoulders pushed along the world's great wheel;
Landscapes, where cloud and mountain rose as one,
Where rivers crept in secret vales, or rolled
Past city walls, whose towers and palaces
By slaves were builded, and by princes fallen!
And books whose pages ever told one tale,
The tale of human love, in joy or pain,
The seed of our last hope—Eternity.
Days glided by, this mirage cheating all;
Morn came, eve went, and we were tranquil still.
If form, and sound, and color fail to show,
By poet's, painter's, sculptor's noble touch,
The subtle truth of Nature, can I tell
How Nature poised my mind in light and shade?

  But Memory is immortal, and to me
She advanced, silent, slow, a muffled shape.
One moonlight night I walked through long white lanes;
The sky and sea were like a frosted web;
The air was heavy with familiar scents,
Which travelled down the wind, I knew from where—
The fragrance of a grove of Northern pines.
My feet were hastening thither—and my heart!
At last I stood before a funeral mound,
From which I fled when vanished love and life—
Long years ago—fled from my father's house;
Banished myself, to banish him I loved—
His broken history and his early grave.
And in the moonlight Memory floated on,
Immortal, with my now immortal Love!

Published in Poems

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