Classic and Contemporary Poetry
WHAT A DEAD MAN SAID, by JAMES WHITCOMB RILEY Poet's Biography
First Line: Hear what a dead man said to me
Last Line: That the voice of the dead man spoke to me.
Alternate Author Name(s): Johnson Of Boone, Benj. F.
Subject(s): Corpses; Flowers; Roses; Secrets; Cadavers
HEAR what a dead man said to me.
His lips moved not, and the eyelids lay
Shut as the leaves of a white rose may
Ere the wan bud blooms out perfectly;
And the lifeless hands they were stiffly crossed
As they always cross them over the breast
When the soul goes nude and the corpse is dressed;
And over the form, in its long sleep lost,
From forehead down to the pointed feet
That peaked the foot of the winding-sheet,
Pallid patience and perfect rest. --
It was the voice of a dream, may be,
But it seemed that the dead man said to me:
"I, indeed, am the man that died
Yesternight -- and you weep for this;
But, lo, I am with you, side by side,
As we have walked when the summer sun
Made the smiles of our faces one,
And touched our lips with the same warm kiss.
Do not doubt that I tell you true --
I am the man you once called friend,
And caught my hand when I came to you,
And loosed it only because the end
Of the path I walked of a sudden stopped --
And a dead man's hand must needs be dropped --
And I -- though it's strange to think so now --
I have wept, as you weep for me,
And pressed hot palms to my aching brow
And moaned through the long night ceaselessly.
Yet have I live to forget my pain,
As you will live to be glad again --
Though never so glad as this hour am I,
Tasting a rapture of delight
Vast as the heavens are infinite,
And dear as the hour I came to die.
Living and loving, I dreamed my cup
Brimmed sometimes, and with marvelings
I have lifted and tipped it up
And drunk to the dregs of all sweet things.
Living, 'twas but a dream of bliss --
Now I realize all it is;
And now my only shadow of grief
Is that I may not give relief
Unto those living and dreaming on,
And woo them graveward, as I have gone,
And show death's loveliness, -- for they
Shudder and shrink as they walk this way,
Never dreaming that all they dread
Is their purest delight when dead."
Thus it was, or it seemed to be,
That the voice of the dead man spoke to me.
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