Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE QUEEN'S BALL, by CAROLINE CLIVE

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THE QUEEN'S BALL, by            
First Line: How soon forgotten are the dead
Last Line: But stories more I will not tell.
Alternate Author Name(s): V; Meysey-wigley, Caroline
Subject(s): Death; Ghosts; Supernatural; Dead, The

HOW soon forgotten are the Dead!
A splendid throng the Palace calls
To meet and revel in its halls;
And of the names that thus are sped,
Seven score and ten of them are dead.

They had been living when the crowd
Last met within these portals proud;
They shared the Banquet with the rest,
They glitter'd brightly in their best,
The gliding dance they join'd, and smiled,
While Time was mark'd, and Care beguiled;
Since then on dying beds they lay,
And weeping friends, one mournful Day
To the dark vault their relics gave;
But when the Holiday once more
Came round which call'd them there before,
Their summons with the rest went out,
The Life was known, their Death forgot.
They heard it in their narrow grave,
Where cold, and dark, and silent, they
Beneath the sod or marble lay;
And Pluto grimly gave consent,
That to the feast their steps be bent.

Full many a one refused his ear
To sounds which once had been so dear;
He shut his eyes again, and said,
'Twas wrong to 'mind him of his woes;
And made a signal with his head,
That they should leave him to repose.
He would not lift the sealing stone,
Nor ope the coffin lid anew; --
To have the wide world for his own,
Again he would not jostle through.
But some came gliding from their den,
Glad to be thought of once again;
The royal words that call'd them there,
Forced through the door their forms of air.
Which with the living mix'd once more,
Pacing unseen the corridor;
Both heard the music swell and fall,
The flow'rs breathed perfume over all,
With robes of state, the shrouds were blent,
And, side by side, up stairs they went.

But little did those living men
The things that were among them ken;
The Spirits wore such ghostly hue,
That you might see men's faces through;
They cast no gloom upon the way,
Nor dimm'd a lady's bright array,
For shadows, shadowless, were they.
Where space was left, they glided on,
None knew the space held any one;
Where throng'd the crowd those chambers wide
Their airy forms pass'd through -- and e'en
When press'd the living side to side,
The risen dead were there between.

One phantom was a girl, who here
Had glitter'd in her eighteenth year,
So heav'nly fair in those bright hours,
With quaint device of dress and flow'rs,
That the eye dwelt on her surprised,
As on a fable realized:
One, spell-bound most of all, had burn'd
With love, which frankly she return'd;
But while their silken courtship sped,
Did sudden clouds a storm unroll;
And 'twixt them left a gulf so dread
As frighten'd from its place her soul.
The world, whose fragile ornament
She for a time so brief had been,
Heard, faintly, of some dark event,
That hid her from its festive scene;
Heard all that was, and what was not;
Inquired, conjectured, and forgot.
Meantime her Spirit's broken wing
Just bore her to the Grave's relief;
Too weak was Life's elastic Spring,
To brook the bending hand of Grief.
Her lover watch'd, with broken heart,
(Or what to him and her seem'd broken),
And the last words that she heard spoken,
Were, 'Not for long, my Life, we part.'
She heard, and smiled in death, to be
Love's victim, and its victory.

She came this night, and (unseen) moved,
Where she had glitter'd, triumph'd, loved;
And, 'mid new faces, sought for him
Who should lament that hers was dim.
She found him straight; but, ah! no dream
Of her, the dead, there seem'd for him;
He moved among the fair and gay,
His smile, and ready word had they;
He touch'd soft hands, and breathed a sigh,
And sought, and found an answ'ring eye;
And in the dance he mix'd with many,
As happy and as light as any.
Then on his breast the phantom rush'd,
Her phantom hair his bosom brush'd,
Her fond fantastic arms she wound,
Beseechingly, his form around;
Her airy lips his visage kiss'd:
In vain, in vain; no thought he cast
Back on the memory of the past,
And she must let it go at last,
The cherish'd hope that she was miss'd.

A ghost went gliding round, who'd been
The guest of guests, in such a scene;
Without his wit, the feast was cross'd,
Without his pen, the scene was lost:
He came to earth, to weep their lot,
Who wanted him, and found him not.
But, where were they? Did none recall
His presence, needful once to all?
New wits were ris'n -- new words were said, --
And his like him were of the dead.
Yet Genius is a deathless light,
That still burns on through thickest night;
It fires a steady lamp, whose rays
Descend through time, like stars through space;
Though twice a thousand years be fled,
We still repeat what AEsop said.
Thus he, sad ghost! slow circling there,
By many an all-unconscious ear,
Caught at the last, the dearest name,
His own, -- the hold he had on Fame.
'Poor ---- ,' the speaker said, 'his mot,
The witty soul! was -- so and so.'
He heard, -- he drank the praise they gave,
And went the easier to his grave.

A ghost was there, who died in age,
Not wearied yet with pilgrimage;
A soul, so kindly and so slight, --
So guileless in the world's despite,
So void of thought, yet rightly feeling,
It could have no descending weight, --
'Twould flutter up to heaven's gate,
Like down, on rising breezes, stealing.
And yet she sighed to see the ray
Of gem and gold, her own of late,
Which on a younger bosom lay,
The owner of her name and state.
Not all forgotten, she; for one
Whom the new Lady smiled upon,
Said, 'Is it true, then, that at last
The ancient Dame away has pass'd?'
She heard, and turned her to the Tomb,
And said 'Alas! your turn will come.'

A shade who had been once a Mother
Now came and mingled with the rest;
Among the crowd she sought no other
Than her she nursed upon her breast.
'Twas not so long since she had died --
Only six months since she was gone;
And when they filled those halls of Pride,
None recollected that the Maid
Ought to be summon'd now, alone.
There was she, slender, young, and fair,
White feathers in her auburn hair;
A robe of white, where threads of wool
Scarce made the web less slight and cool;
Silk lace, like cobwebs fine and slack,
And on her arm a bracelet black.
The bracelet t'was, that mourn'd her mother,
And sign of grief she had no other.
The phantom look'd into her face
If aught of memory she might trace;
And gazing, almost smiled to see
How glad and beautiful was she;
But when she mark'd that fairy thing
Unguided walk the Circe ring,
Who in her gay imprudence did
Things which a mother would forbid --
Oh, then the Phantom sank beneath
The real bitterness of Death.
'My girl, my darling!' (thus she cried
In words to which was sound denied)
'My treasure, pleasure, first-born, pride,
For thine own sake, oh, think upon
The doting mother who is gone!'
Fond words, vain words, that mix'd with air
Which floated musically there.

Another shade who'd been a Son
Came also there, and look'd for one --
Not friend or lover, for he thought
New friends, new loves, his place had got,
But one in whose dear heart, no other
Could fill his place, he sought his Mother.
She like the others there, display'd
Th' embroider'd robe, the jewell'd head;
On slender topics of the day
She had the proper phrase to say,
And did not shrink, when careless men
Touch'd on the subject of her pain;
For well she knew the saddest lot
Once pitied, and still pity needing,
Is soon by human kind forgot,
Save by the heart which yet is bleeding.
But though the smile was on her face,
And words were dropp'd with easy grace,
He saw that over all, was one
Habitual thought -- my son, my son!
When youth before her, gaily moved,
She praised the joyous face and limb,
But inly said, 'My own beloved,
My boy was, would have been, like him.'
And when around her, greetings kind
Went on in gay familiar tone,
She yearning felt how long a time
It was since she had seen her own.
She knew there was a wall'd-up spot
Where light and living air came not,
Wherein, a mildew'd coffin lay;
And that contain'd her fair, her brave;
Her sick soul turn'd from courts away,
And mourn'd within the unseen grave.
Mother and Son that night once more
United, and together were;
Where gleam'd the fete, and mirth ran o'er,
She thought of him, and he of her.

More ghosts! more ghosts! one spirit came
Answ'ring the summons to his name;
So long that name had been his lot,
That he forgot 'twas his no more;
But all, except himself, forgot
That ever it was he who bore.
He saw his heir, he heard him call
'Mine!' the broad lands, the hounds, the hall;
He saw the list'ners blandly smile
As smiled they for himself erewhile;
He felt, 'Could I again go home
In flesh and blood, as here I come,
What were the sorrow, the despair
Of those who wear my mourning there?'
More ghosts! before a lovely dame
One passionate and trembling came;
And mark'd her easy, pamper'd grace,
Her locks arrang'd, and flower-crown'd face
In one past hour those two had been
The actors in a fearful scene.
Oh, God! what Tragedies pass o'er
The great world's gilded Theatre!
What deeds may they have wrought before,
Who now so smooth and bland appear!
And when the fatal scene is o'er,
What different Fate for him and her;
She lightly skims the ball-room floor,
And he is in the sepulchre!
His shadowy hands catch hers, not now
Her pulses throb, her fingers glow;
He says a word, but wakes no flame,
Recalls no crime, renews no shame!
The circling world admires and woos,
The place with sights of joy is full,
And she her dainty path pursues,
Fastidious, courted, beautiful;
And yet across her heart there shot
A sudden, isolated thought;
A sudden sight her mind's eye caught,
Places and shapes which once had been;
Herself, and him, and all that lay
Behind in that eventful day,
And what was done and suffer'd then.
To-night what made it reappear?
None living knew of it, save her;
And there was nothing to recall
Such thoughts in that resplendent hall.
No; that bright lady knew not why;
Perchance the cause was -- He was nigh.

More Ghosts! I know their stories well,
But stories more I will not tell.

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