All Souls’ Day in a German Town

The leaves fall softly: a wind of sighs
Whispers the world’s infirmities,
Whispers the tale of the waning years,
While slow mists gather in shrouding tears
On All Souls’ Day; and the bells are slow
In steeple and tower. Sad folk go
Away from the township, past the mill,
And mount the slope of a grassy hill
Carved into terraces broad and steep,
To the inn where wearied travellers sleep,
Where the sleepers lie in ordered rows,
And no man stirs in his long repose.
They wend their way past the haunts of life,
Father and daughter, grandmother, wife,
To deck with candle and deathless cross,
The house which holds their dearest loss.
I, who stand on the crest of the hill,
Watch how beneath me, busied still,
The sad folk wreathe each grave with flowers.
Awhile the veil of the twilight hours
Falls softly, softly, over the hill,
Shadows the cross:—creeps on until
Swiftly upon us is flung the dark.
Then, as if lit by a sudden spark,
Each grave is vivid with points of light,
Earth is as Heaven’s mirror to-night;
The air is still as a spirit’s breath,
The lights burn bright in the realm of Death.
Then silent the mourners mourning go,
Wending their way to the church below;
While the bells toll out to bid them speed,
With eager Pater and prayerful bead,
The souls of the dead, whose bodies still
Lie in the churchyard under the hill;
While they wait and wonder in Paradise,
And gaze on the dawning mysteries,
Praying for us in our hours of need;
For us, who with Pater and prayerful bead
Have bidden those waiting spirits speed.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on July 30, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.