Monday, 2 November 2015

Poetry Revisited: All Souls’ Day by Eugene Lee-Hamilton

All Souls’ Day

(from Sonnets of the Wingless Hours: 1894)

I

All Souls' Day's wintry light is on the wane;
The Tuscan furrows darken deeper brown;
And still the sower, ever up and down,
Is hard at work, broad-scattering his grain,

As, since dim times, again and yet again
(Beginning with old nations scarcely known,
Pelasgi and Etruscans) he has thrown
His seed upon this old Italic plain.

And what became of all those shadowy dead
Who sowed their wheat, built Cyclopean walls,
And left their lives unwritten on man's scrolls?

Just what became of what they sowed for bread –
Of grain that breeds fresh grain that falls and falls:
Earth had their bones; and who shall find their souls?

II

What heavens that grow, what hells that still expand,
Would hold the close-packed souls of all who found
Earth's bread or sweet or bitter, and were bound
In sheaves of shadow by the silent hand?

The close-packed souls of every time and land;
Millions of millions mingled with the ground;
Of all the mounded mummy-dust all round,
Who, back on earth, would fight for room to stand,

Nor find a square foot each? ... But dusk has grown;
The fields are empty; day is dying fast;
And, save one figure, all is grey and lone –

The figure of the sower who has cast
Wheat for the quick where countless dead have sown,
And passes ghost-like on his way at last.

Eugene Lee-Hamilton
(1845-1907)

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