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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

THE BURIAL OF BOSTON CORBETT (ONE WARDEN TO ANOTHER), by                 Poet's Biography
First Line: So this is what we bury? How his face
Last Line: Should he be raised?
Subject(s): Booth, John Wilkes (1838-1865); Funerals; Burials

So this is what we bury? How his face
Seems like a smear of yellow wax. This beard
Grown fine and curly. Something nasty here,
Hermaphroditic, feminine. Like a dog
That has run loose with rabies, yelps and snaps,
And makes a terror for a day, is slain,
And lies where passers-by can foot the corpse,
So he lies here: this steadfast paranoic!
How vanished from these sealed lids dreams of God!
Where are they now? For all this outer world
Of lunatics, care-takers, wardens, world
Of fields and villages, the state and states
Smiles at these lids so neatly sealed, the God
That had his altar in the spectral light
Of his mad eyes!

This is the man who slew
The slayer of the noble Lincoln. First
For the common good was Caesar slain by Brutus,
And Booth slew Lincoln in a dream of Brutus,
This Corbett slew the slayer in a faith
Of God. Catch up the corner of the sheet.
He gets a grave where many hundreds lie,
Each with his epitaph of "Rest in Peace";
Who had no peace in living, for the dreams
Of God, or Duty, Terror, Visions Vain.

Some say he came to Kansas, hither drawn
By hope of sympathy, since all are mad
In Kansas; otherwise the true God know,
And keep His ritual of reform. He found
God mocked in Kansas, or he had not tried
To shoot the state assembly to a man,
When he was keeper of the door. Perhaps
'Twas right enough to slay the actor Booth,
Obeying God; we might accept his word
God told him to kill Booth. But was it God
Commanded him to slay so many honorable
Members of the Kansas legislature
For legislating, or not legislating
As God would have them? Well, I have a doubt.
And many doubted his divine appointment
For massacre like that. And so we flung
The lasso round him, gathered him, and quick
We shut him in the pound, dishonored God,
As he conceived it, doing so.

I've heard
Brutus at last said, Miserable Virtue, Bawd,
Thou wert a world alone, a cheat at last!
This Boston Corbett never did recant
The faith, or God, the word.

So ends it here.
Mad unto death! This Corbett is the corneous
And upcurved withered calyx of a flower
Rich out of time. His madness is the lisping
Of that same stricken calyx in the wind
Of Infinite Mysteries.

Are you ready now?
Knot fast your corners of the sheet to hold.
All ready, to the field. There in corruption
We'll sow him, to be raised -- but why at all
Should he be raised?

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