Here beyond hope is all that death shall hold of me,
This brown Arkansas hillside, dreaming through depth of mid-winter, alone in the southland;
Under the dove-grey low-swung cloud come up from the Gulf to scatter
Its benediction of deep rain, endlessly flashing and pouring;
Here, in the drift of the years,
From the seas I have crossed, and the lands I have known, and the struggles
I have faced with the steady river of time marching on through my vitals,
I have come back to this point of repose, to these stones side by side in the grass,
Turning as the earth turns against far Orion’s fierce whirlwind of stars.
They greet me unseeing, these graves,
Mute symbols of life accomplished, made noiselessly perfect,
Quieted by the cold hands of death that suddenly seize on the body
In an hour unexpected, as a thief in the night, running free with the tale of man’s days;
Yet not to be loosed from the soil till the sphere splits its core and is shattered
Like a ripe seed pod crammed full with thick seed of expectancies, memories, and failures;
Their dumb thought trails on in the soil while I in the high world above them
Lift up thin eager hands to the sky and cry to the sun’s dying splendor.
Here beyond hope is all that death shall take of me,
The blood that is mine, and yet theirs, the tower, the base and the framework;
The building not reared by man’s hands, but shaped in the night and the silence,
The framework of the body fashioned as theirs, for the blood through the generations
Repeats the same tale of Eden lost and Paradise darkly forgotten:
When the stars hang low in the sky and two souls become as one body
Straining past hope and despair to a timeless consummation,
Which is as the wedding-song of God mating the stars without number.
Here does the last life wait,
Crouched in its stronghold of bone behind the slow-vanishing sinew,
A spark without issue, a last ache of lust, a slow tide merging and dying
Into the running of quick hidden sap and the thin dumb flame of the grass.
Out of what chasms of fire,
Out of what lavalike torrents life sprung at the outset neither I nor these graves can remember;
They have become turf-covered dumb mouths opening below to the waters under the earth,
Which burst forth but once in the flood, and since then have ever been silent.
Into what dark seas we flow
I know not at all—I remember
Only the sunlight that lays a soft pencil of shadow to sleep on the grass;
The tramp of the black-clad pallbearers, the words spoken or sung, the lowering of the coffin to earth.
Here beyond hope, beyond dreams,
Under this soft and lazy sky dreaming in depth of midwinter,
Where the sweetgum casts to the earth its brown prickly balls, where the holly
Flashes its scarlet clusters, where the feathery pine sways its thin needles,
Where the red haw blazes with berries threaded bright on long outspraying stems,
Where the conelike fount of the magnolia spreads downwards a billion of star-rayed leaves,
Where the acorn lies split on the stone, its yellow sustenance wasted:
Here was I fashioned and made
By those who now sleep in the earth at my feet, as they by others forgotten.
Their speech was my speech, their dream was my dream, it was given
Beyond the cloud’s arbitrament of rain to create, or the slow earth’s power to destroy.
And I pause ere I go,
And stretch out my hands to these worn stones, smoothing them over and over,
Repeating their names which no one but I now remembers,
Praying that they may somehow bless me;
These who have given me life and so many dreams
On this brown Arkansas hillside, quiet in depth of midwinter:
Out of this army of graves facing eastward I single out but these two stones,
I wailingly beseech them
With the tears of the spirit torn against life and its days,
In this place where so many tears have been shed and mortal lives brought to the awe
Of the open portals of death, beyond hope, beyond dreams;
I kneel and weep as a man weeps,
I cry out loud as a man cries,
Let that which is mine and yet yours, this memory transient, this passion,
Marked by the cross of Christ on those stones, marked in my heart by time’s ebbing,
Be with me now forever wherever I go.