They Closed her Eyes

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They Closed her Eyes
written by John Masefield
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(From the Spanish of Don Gustavo Adolfo Becquér)

They closed her eyes,
They were still open;
They hid her face
With a white linen,
And, some sobbing,
Others in silence,
From the sad bedroom
All came away.

The nightlight in a dish
Burned on the floor;
It flung on the wall
The bed’s shadow,
And in that shadow
One saw sometimes
Drawn in sharp line
The body’s shape.

The dawn appeared.
At its first whiteness,
With its thousand noises;
The town awoke.
Before that contrast
Of light and darkness,
Of life and strangeness,
I thought a moment -
My God, how lonely
The dead are!

Ob the shoulders of men
To church they bore her,
And in a chapel
They left her bier.
There they surrounded
Her pale body
With yellow candles
And black stuffs.

At the last stroke
Of the ringing for the souls
An old crone finished
Her last prayers.
She crossed the narrow nave,
The doors moaned,
And the holy place
Remained deserted.

From a clock one heard
The measured ticking,
And from a candle
The guttering.
All things there
Were so dark and mournful,
So cold and rigid,
That I thought a moment -
My God, how lonely
The dead are!

From the high belfry
The tongue of iron
Clanged, giving out
A last farewell.
Crape on their clothes,
Her friends and kindred
Passed by in line,
In homage to her.

In the last vault,
Dark and narrow,
The pickaxe opened
A niche at one end;
They laid her away there.
Soon they bricked the place up,
And with a gesture
Bade grief farewell.

Pickaxe on shoulder,
The gravedigger,
Singing between his teeth
Passed out of sight.
The night came down
It was all silent.
Alone in darkness
I thought a moment -
My God, how lonely
The dead are!

In the long nights
Of bitter winter,
When the wind makes
The rafters creak,
When the violent rain
Lashes the windows,
Lonely I remember
That poor girl.

There falls the rain
With its noise eternal
There the north wind
Fights with the rain.
Stretched in the hollow
Of the damp bricks,
Perhaps her bones
Freeze with the cold.

Does the dust return to dust?
Does the soul fly to heaven?
Is all vile matter,
Rottenness, filthiness?
I know not, but
There is something — something -
Something which gives me
Loathing, terror,
To leave the dead
So alone, so wretched.


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