Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, WILLIE THE MINER, by GEORGE MURRAY (1830-1910)



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WILLIE THE MINER, by            
First Line: Ghastly and strange was the relic found
Last Line: Standing still with her lover dead!
Subject(s): Corpses; Death; Love - Loss Of; Mines And Miners; Youth; Cadavers; Dead, The


Beside you in the dawn,
And now we stand amazed to find
Your holy Tenant gone.
a
Surely never dwelt before
This still joy in a tomb,
This hunt of brushing wings, this scent
Of lillies come to bloom!
a
Nor does this sepulcher of His
Know door or fretted bars,
But through it blows the living wind,
And it is roofed with stars.
a
Its very silence cries aloud.
Shout, shout the news abroad
That from this empty tomb walked forth
The living Son of God!

Had sight so solemn been seen by man!

It lay alone in a dark recess;
How long it had lain there, none might guess.

They held above it a gleaming lamp,
But the air of the cavern was chill and damp,

So they carried it up to the blaze of day
And set the thing in the sun's bright ray.

'Twas the corpse of a miner in manhood's bloom,
An image, dismal in glare or gloom.

Awful it seemed in its stillness there,
With its calm wide eyes and its jet-black hair,

Cold as some effigy carved in stone
And clad in raiment that matched their own;

But none of the miners who looked could trace
Friend, son, or brother in that pale face.

What marvel? a century's half had rolled
Since that strong body grew stiff and cold,

In youth's blithe summer-time robbed of breath
By vapors winged with electric death.

Many, who felt that their mate was slain,
Probed earth's deep heart for his corpse, in vain,

And when naught was found, after years had fled,
Few still shed tears for the stripling dead,

Save one true maiden, who kept the vows
Pledged oft to Willie, her promised spouse.

Now cold he lieth, for whom she pined,
A soulless body, deaf, dumb, and blind,

But still untainted, with flesh all firm,
Untravelled o'er by the charnel-worm.

'Twas as though some treacherous element
Had strangled a life, and then, ill-content,

Had, pitying sorely the poor dead clay,
Embalmed the body to balk decay,

Striving to keep, when the breath was o'er,
A semblance of that which had been before.

So it came to pass, that there lay in the sun,
Stared at by many but claimed by none,

A corpse, unsullied and life-like still,
Though its heart, years fifty since, was chill.

But ho! ye miners, call forth your old,
Let men and matrons the corpse behold,

Before the hour cometh, as come it must,
When the flesh shall crumble and fall to dust;

Some dame or grey-beard may chance to know
This lad, who perished so long ago.

The summons sped like a wind-blown flame,
From cot and cabin each inmate came.

Veteran miners, a white-haired crew,
Limped, crawled, and tottered the dead to view,

(Some supporting companions sick,
Leaning themselves upon crutch or stick,)

With wrinkled groups of decrepit crones,
Wearily dragging their palsied bones.

'Twas a quaint, sad sight to see, that day,
A crowd so withered, and gaunt, and grey.

And now they are gathered in groups around
The dead man delved from the under-ground,

And each stoops downward in turn, and pries
Into its visage with purblind eyes;

Mind and memory from some are gone,
Aghast and silent, they all look on.

But lo! there cometh a dark-robed dame,
With careworn features and age-bowed frame,

Bearing dim traces of beauty yet,
As light still lingers when day has set.

She nears the corpse and the crowd give way,
For, "'Tis her lover," some old men say,

Her lover Willie, who, while his bride
Decked the white robe for her wedding, died—

Died at his work in the coal-seam, smit
By fumes that poisoned the baleful pit!

One piercing shriek! she has seen the face
And clings to the body with strict embrace.

'Tis he, to whose pleading in by-gone years
She yielded her heart, while she wept glad tears,

The same brave Willie, that once she knew,
To whom she was ever, and still is, true,

Unchanged each feature, undimmed each tress,
He is clasped, as of old, in a close caress.

Many an eye in that throng was wet,
The pitmen say, they can ne'er forget

The wild deep sorrow, and yearning love
Of her who lay moaning that corpse above.

She smoothed his hair and she stroked his cheek,
She half forgot that he could not speak;

And fondly whispered endearing words
In murmurs sweet as the song of birds;

"Willie, O Willie, my bonny lad,
Was ever meeting so strange and sad?

Four and fifty lone years have passed
Since i' the flesh I beheld thee last,

Thou art comely still, as i' days o' yore,
And the girl-love wells i' my heart once more

I thank thee, Lord, that thy tender ruth
Suffers mine arms to enfold this youth,

For I loved him much.... I am now on the brink
O' the cold, cold grave, and I didna think,

When the lad so long i' the pit had lain,
These lips would ever press his again!

Willie, strange thoughts i' my soul arise
While thus I caress thee wi' loving eyes;

We meet, one lifeless, one living yet,
As lovers ne'er i' this world have met,

We are both well-nigh of one age—but thou
Hast coal-black curls and a smooth fair brow,

While I—thy chosen—beside thee lie,
Greyhaired and wrinkled and fain to die!"

So sobbed the woman; and all the crowd
Lifted their voices and wept aloud,

Wept to behold her, as there she clung,
One so aged, to one so young.

And surely pathos more deep or keen
In earthly contrast was never seen.

Both had been youthful, long years ago,
When neither dreamed of the coming woe,

But time with the maiden had onward sped,
Standing still with her lover dead!

O empty tomb, we came to mourn




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