Classic and Contemporary Poetry
THE SERMON OF THE ROSE, by JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY Poet's Biography
First Line: Wilful we are, in our infirmity
Last Line: The smoldering sweetness of a dead red rose!
Alternate Author Name(s): Johnson Of Boone, Benj. F.
Subject(s): Flowers; Life; Love; Roses; Sermons
WILFUL we are, in our infirmity
Of childish questioning and discontent.
Whate'er befalls us is divinely meant --
Thou Truth the clearer for thy mystery!
Make us to meet what is or is to be
With fervid welcome, knowing it is sent
To serve us in some way full excellent,
Though we discern it all belatedly.
The rose buds, and the rose blooms, and the rose
Bows in the dews, and in its fulness, lo,
Is in the lover's hand, -- then on the breast
Of her he loves, -- and there dies. -- And who knows
What fate of all a rose may undergo
Is fairest, dearest, sweetest, loveliest?
Nay, we are children: we will not mature.
A blessed gift must seem a theft; and tears
Must storm our eyes when but a joy appears
In drear disguise of sorrow; and how poor
We seem when we are richest, -- most secure
Against all poverty the lifelong years
We yet must waste in childish doubts and fears
That, in despite of reason, still endure!
Alas! the sermon of the rose we will
Not wisely ponder; nor the sobs of grief
Lulled into sighs of rapture, nor the cry
Of fierce defiance that again is still,
Be patient -- patient with our frail belief,
And stay it yet a little ere we die.
O opulent life of ours, though dispossessed
Of treasure after treasure! Youth most fair
Went first, but left its priceless coil of hair --
Moaned over, sleepless nights, kissed and caressed
Through drip and blur of tears the tenderest.
And next went Love -- the ripe rose glowing there,
Here very sister! . . . It is here, but where
Is she, of all the world the first and best?
And yet how sweet the sweet earth after rain --
How sweet the sunlight on the garden-wall
Across the roses -- and how sweetly flows
The limpid yodel of the brook again!
And yet -- and yet how sweeter, after all,
The smoldering sweetness of a dead red rose!
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