To The Memory of Margaret Fuller Ossoli.

From: The Bird and the Bell with Other Poems (1875)
Author: Christopher Pearse Cranch
Published: Osgood and Company 1875 Boston



LIFE’S rearward vistas slowly close behind,
And evermore recede, the glare and shade
Blending in neutral tints far down the glade
Where youth stepped unconfined,
Or bounded upwards, light and undismayed,
Or struggled through the underbrush and thorns,
Baffled and mad to hear the winding horns
So far away triumphant on the heights
Where some found truth, some error’s foggy breath,
And some fame’s evanescent lights,
Or desolate old age, or crown of early death.

Dim in the distance fade
The sunshine and the shade;
And many a light that blazed and shone,
Into the horizon’s mist has gone.
One record rises from our past,
That shall forever last;
A name our age can never
From its remembrance sever.
We bear it in our hearts to-day,
Fresh as the perfume of the May.
It vibrates in the air, a rich, full-chorded strain
Touched with weird minor moods of pain,
The music of a life revealed to few,
Till to the age Death gave the fame long due,
And made the unfinished symphony a part
Of the great growing century’s mind and heart.

But when I strive the music to rehearse,
How feebly rings my verse!
And why intone this melody of rhyme
For one, the noblest woman of her time,
Whose soul, a pure and radiant chrysolite,
Dims the superfluous arts our social forms invite?

Yet she whose ear so well could understand
The singer’s meaning, though unskilled the hand
That swept the imperfect chords
Responsive to his words,
Would not disdain the slenderest song he brings,
Nor slight the impulse of the earnest strings.
So, while we gather here,
Fain would I bring some offering sincere
Though small,—a flower or two,
Pale amaranth, wild rose, or harebell blue,
Or throw at least a chaplet on her bier.

While others stood aloof and smiled in scorn
Of one to new and noble effort born;
Or from tame rounds of fashion and of wealth
Turned, glancing back by stealth,
And wondered, then but slowly, faintly praised
The exuberant soul that dared to flash and soar
Beyond the petty bounds
Of their trim garden grounds,—
She with wise intuition raised
Her image of ideal womanhood,
The incarnate True and Fair and Good,
Set in a light but seldom seen before.
While with the early watchers in the dawn
Of intellectual faith her hopeful eyes,
Patiently waiting, from the crowd withdrawn,
She saw a newer morning rise
And flame from cloud to cloud, and climb
Across the dreary tracts of time.
The garnered wisdom of the past she drew
Into her life, as flowers the sun and dew;
Yet valued all her varied lore
But as the avenue and door
That opened to the Primal Beam
And sense of Truth supreme.

And so beyond her earlier bounds she grew,—
All the quaint essences from study gained
Fused in a human fellowship anew;
While that too conscious life, in younger years o’erstrained,
Of long, deep, lonely introversion born,
Distilled like dews of morn,
And dropped on high and low the blessing it contained.
Her glowing pen through many a thoughtful page
Discoursed in subtle questions of the age,
Or glanced in lighter mood at themes less grave,
The brilliant glitter of a summer wave.
Her sweet persuasive voice we still can hear
Ruling her charmed circle like a queen;
While wit and fancy sparkled ever clear
Her graver moods between.
The pure perennial heat
Of youth’s ideal love forever glowed
Through all her thoughts and words, and overflowed
The listeners round her seat.

So, like some fine-strung golden harp,
Tuned by many a twist and warp
Of discipline and patient toil,
And oft disheartening recoil,—
Attuned to highest and to humblest use,—
All her large heroic nature
Grew to its harmonious stature.
Nor any allotted service did refuse,
While those around her but half understood
How wise she was, how good,
How nobly self-denying, as she tasked
Heart, mind, and strength for truth, nor nobler office asked.

Nor honor less, nor praise
To her whose later days
Were pledged to lift wronged Justice to her seat.
And though Rome’s new-lit torch
Blew backward, but to scorch
The hand that held it, dropping at her feet,
Quenched in the patriots’ blood, not incomplete
Her task, though all the heroic strains she sang
To chronicle a struggling nation’s pan—
The records of the strife
That agonized its life—
Were strewn upon the wind like withered flowers,
And gulfed in roaring floods,—Italia’s loss, and ours!

Alas! how could we with our lamp of hope
Read thy perplexed and darkened horoscope?
How could we know, when Destiny’s great loom
Thy life’s most precious threads inwove
Witl1 all love’s rich embroidery of love,
That its bright tissue held the shade
Of death across the golden braid,—
The inevitable woof of death and tragic doom!
When ties were sweetest, dearest;
When love, when hope, were nearest;
When eyes grew bright to greet thee;
When arms were stretched to meet thee;
When all thy life was flowering
As in a garden home,—
The storm beyond was lowering,
The end of all was come!

I seem to hear
The grand, sweet music of that earnest life,
Grander and sweeter in its later strife,
Stop, suddenly drowned amid the tempest drear.
I hear that harp whose strings,
Whose delicate, thoughtful strings should well have played
Some hopeful melody of woods and springs;
Some high heroic march
Beneath a Roman arch;
Some lofty strain that made
The soul flush to its sharing
The soldier’s toil and daring,—
Swept, like a wind-harp to wild agony
By bitter winds of destiny;
Then, musical no more,
Dead, mute, and shattered on the lonely shore!

Had fate accorded with love’s passionate prayer;
Had she lived on with us, with us grown old,
Through war, through peace, through present toil and care,
Through future progress; could she now behold
The triumph of the land,
Standing where now we stand,—
The nation saved from brute Rebellion’s strife,
And pledged to live a newer, healthier life;
Had she but seen our wider range,
The splendor of our coming lights,
Her vision and her strength grown with her change
From lonely days and nights,
To all that woman needs to make complete
In wifehood and maternal ties
The ripened mind and heart,—a union sweet,
Tender and strong and wise.

But ah! Fate suffered not,
Nor stayed her hasting feet.
No record but a blot,
A cherished leaf or two
Of tender love and true,—
No other relic sad and sweet
The cruel sea gave back
From out the storm and wrack,
From out the billows wild.
Only one little child
The weeping sailors bore
And buried on that shore,—
All that the ocean left of thine and thee,
O friend, whom we again shall never see!

Where now, where,
O spirit pure, where walk those shining feet?
Whitl1er, in groves beyond the treacherous seas,
Beyond our sense of time, divinely, dimly fair,
Brighter than gardens of Hesperides,—
Whither dost thou move on, complete
And beauteous, ringed around
In mystery profound,
By gracious companies who share
That strange, supernal air!
Or art thou sleeping dreamless, knowing naught
Of good or ill, of life or death?
Or art thou but a breeze of Heaven’s breath,
A portion of all life, inwrought
In the eternal essence?—All in vain,
Tangled in misty wells of time,
Out on the undiscovered clime
Our clouded eyes we strain.
We cannot pierce the veil.
As the proud eagles fail
Upon their upward track,
And flutter gasping back
From the thin empyrean, so with wing
Baffled and humbled, we but guess
All we shall gain, by all the soul’s distress,
All we shall be, by our poor worthiness.
And so we write and sing
Our dreams of time and space, and call them—heaven.
We only know that all is for the best;
To God we leave the rest.

So, reverent beneath the mystery
Of life and death, we yield
Back to the great Unknown the spirit given
A few brief years to blossom in our field.
Nor shall time’s all-devouring sea.
Despoil this brightest century
Of all thou hast been, and shalt ever be.
The age shall guard thy fame,
And reverence thy name.
There is no cloud on them. There is no death for thee!

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