Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE LAST OF THE FAMILY, by ROBERT SOUTHEY



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THE LAST OF THE FAMILY, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: What, gregory! You are come, I see, to join us
Last Line: God make us ready, gregory, when it comes.
Subject(s): Aging; Faith; Family Life; Funerals; God; Belief; Creed; Relatives; Burials


JAMES.

WHAT, Gregory! you are come, I see, to join us
On this sad business.

GREGORY.

Ay, James, I am come,
But with a heavy heart, God knows it, man!
Where shall we meet the corpse?

JAMES.

Some hour from hence;
By noon, and near about the elms, I take it.
This is not as it should be, Gregory,
Old men to follow young ones to the grave!
This morning, when I heard the bell strike out,
I thought that I had never heard it toll
So dismally before.

GREGORY.

Well, well! my friend—
'Tis what we all must come to, soon or late.
But when a young man dies, in the prime of life,
One born so well, who might have blest us all
Many long years!—

JAMES.

And then the family,
Extinguish'd in him, and the good old name
Only to be remember'd on a tomb-stone!
A name that has gone down from sire to son
So many generations!—many a time
Poor Master Edward, who is now a corpse,
When but a child, would come to me and lead me
To the great family tree, and beg of me
To tell him stories of his ancestors;
Of Eustace, he that went to the Holy Land
With Richard Lion-heart, and that Sir Henry,
Who fought at Crecy, in King Edward's wars;
And then his little eyes would kindle so
To hear of their brave deeds! I used to think
The bravest of them all would not out-do
My darling boy.

GREGORY.

This comes of your great schools
And college breeding. Plague upon his guardians,
That would have made him wiser than his fathers!

JAMES.

If his poor father, Gregory! had but lived,
Things would not have been so. He, poor good man,
Had little of book-learning, but there lived not
A kinder, nobler-hearted gentleman,
One better to his tenants. When he died,
There was not a dry eye for miles around.
Gregory, I thought that I could never know
A sadder day than that: but what was that,
Compared with this day's sorrow?

GREGORY.

I remember,
Eight months ago, when the young Squire began
To alter the old mansion, they destroy'd
The martin's nests, that had stood undisturb'd
Under that roof,—ay! long before my memory.
I shook my head at seeing it, and thought
No good could follow.

JAMES.

Poor young man! I loved him
Like my own child. I loved the family!
Come Candlemas, and I have been their servant
For five and forty years. I lived with them,
When his good father brought my Lady home,
And when the young Squire was born, it did me good
To hear the bells so merrily announce
An heir. This is indeed a heavy blow—
I feel it Gregory, heavier than the weight
Of threescore years. He was a noble lad,
I loved him dearly.

GREGORY.

Everybody loved him
Such a fine, generous open-hearted youth!
When he came home from school at holydays,
How I rejoiced to see him! he was sure
To come and ask of me what birds there were
About my fields; and when I found a covey,
There's not a testy Squire preserves his game
More charily than I have kept them safe
For Master Edward. And he look'd so well
Upon a fine sharp morning after them,
His brown hair frosted, and his cheek so flush'd
With such a wholesome ruddiness!—Ah! James,
But he was sadly changed when he came down
To keep his birthday.

JAMES.

Changed! why Gregory,
'Twas like a palsy to me, when he stepp'd
Out of the carriage. He was grown so thin,
His cheeks so delicate sallow, and his eyes
Had such a dim and rakish hollowness;
And when he came to shake me by the hand,
And spoke as kindly to me as he used,
I hardly knew the voice.

GREGORY.

It struck a damp
On all our merriment. 'Twas a noble ox
That smok'd before us, and the old October
Went merrily in overflowing cans;
But 'twas a skin-deep merriment. My heart
Seem'd as it took no share. And when we drank
His health, the thought came over me what cause
We had for wishing that, and spoilt the draught.
Poor gentleman! to think ten months ago
He came of age—and now!

JAMES.

I fear'd it then,
He look'd to me as one that was not long
For this world's business.

GREGORY.

When the doctor sent him
Abroad to try the air, it made me certain
That all was over. There's but little hope
Methinks that foreign parts can help a man
When his own mother-country will not do.
The last time he came down, these bells rang so,
I thought they would have rock'd the old steeple down;
And now that dismal toll! I would have stayed
Beyond its reach, but this was a last duty;
I am an old tenant of the family,
Born on the estate, and now that I've out-lived it,—
Why 'tis but right to see it to the grave.
Have you heard aught of the new Squire?

JAMES.

But little,
And that not well. But be he what he may,
Matters not much to me. The love I bore
To the good family will not easily fix
Upon a stranger. What's on the opposite hill?
Is it not the funeral?

GREGORY.

'Tis, I think, some horsemen.
Ay! there are the black cloaks; and now I see
The white plumes on the hearse.

JAMES.

Between the trees;—
'Tis hid behind them now.

GREGORY.

Ay! now we see it,
And there's the coaches following, we shall meet
About the bridge. Would that this day were over!
I wonder whose turn's next!

JAMES.

God above knows!
When youth is summon'd, what must age expect!
God make us ready, Gregory, when it comes.





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