The Frost Spirit and Others

The Old Burying-Ground


John Greenleaf Whittier

OUR VALES are sweet with fern and rose,
    Our hills are maple-crowned;
But not from them our fathers chose
    The village burying-ground.

The dreariest spot in all the land
    To Death they set apart;
With scanty grace from Nature’s hand,
And none from that of Art.

A winding wall of mossy stone,
    Frost-flung and broken, lines
A lonesome acre thinly grown
    With grass and wandering vines.

Without the wall a birch-tree shows
    Its drooped and tasselled head;
Within, a stag-horned sumach grows,
    Fern-leafed, with spikes of red.

There, sheep that graze the neighboring plain
    Like white ghosts come and go,
The farm-horse drags his fetlock chain,
    The cow-bell tinkles slow.

Low moans the river from its bed,
    The distant pines reply;
Like mourners shrinking from the dead,
    They stand apart and sigh.

Unshaded smites the summer sun,
    Unchecked the winter blast;
The school-girl learns the place to shun,
    With glances backward cast.

For thus our fathers testified,
    That he might read who ran,
The emptiness of human pride,
    The nothingness of man.

They dared not plant the grave with flowers,
    Nor dress the funeral sod,
Where, with a love as deep as ours,
    They left their dead with God.

The hard and thorny path they kept
    From beauty turned aside;
Nor missed they over those who slept
    The grace to life denied.

Yet still the wilding flowers would blow,
    The golden leaves would fall,
The seasons come, the seasons go,
    And God be good to all.

Above the graves the’ blackberry hung
    In bloom and green its wreath,
And harebells swung as if they rung
    The chimes of peace beneath.

The beauty Nature loves to share,
    The gifts she hath for all,
The common light, the common air,
    O’ercrept the graveyard’s wall.

It knew the glow of eventide,
    The sunrise and the noon,
And glorified and sanctified
    It slept beneath the moon.

With flowers or snow-flakes for its sod,
    Around the seasons ran,
And evermore the love of God
    Rebuked the fear of man.

We dwell with fears on either hand,
    Within a daily strife,
And spectral problems waiting stand
    Before the gates of life.

The doubts we vainly seek to solve,
    The truths we know, are one;
The known and nameless stars revolve
    Around the Central Sun.

And if we reap as we have sown,
    And take the dole we deal,
The law of pain is love alone,
    The wounding is to heal.

Unharmed from change to change we glide,
    We fall as in our dreams;
The far-off terror at our side
    A smiling angel seems.

Secure on God’s all-tender heart
    Alike rest great and small;
Why fear to lose our little part,
    When He is pledged for all?

O fearful heart and troubled brain
    Take hope and strength from this,—
That Nature never hints in vain,
    Nor prophesies amiss.

Her wild birds sing the same sweet stave,
    Her lights and airs are given
Alike to playground and the grave;
    And over both is Heaven.

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