Lines Written in Belief That the Ancient Roman Festival of the Dead Was Called Ambarvalia

Swings the way still by hollow and hill,
    And all the world’s a song;
‘She’s far,’ it sings me, ‘but fair,’ it rings me.
    ‘Quiet,’ it laughs, ‘and strong!’

Oh! spite of the miles and years between us,
    Spite of your chosen part,
I do remember; and I go
    When laughter in my heart.

So above the little folk that know now,
    Out of the white hill-town,
High up I clamber; and I remember;
    And watch the day go down.

Gold is my heart, and the world’s golden,
    And one peak tipped with light;
And the air lies still about the hill
    With the first fear of night;

Till mystery down the soundless valley
    Thunders, and dark is here;
And the wind blows, and the light goes,
    And the night is full of fear.

And I know, one night, on some far height,
    In the tongue I never knew,
I yet shall hear the tidings clear
    From them that were friends of you.

They’ll call the news from hill to hill,
    Dark and uncomforted,
Earth and sky and the winds; and I
    Shall know that you are dead.

I shall not hear your trentals,
    Nor eat your arval bread;
For the kin of you will surely do
    their duty by the dead.

Their little dull greasy eyes will water;
    They’ll paw you, and gulp afresh.
They’ll sniffle and weep, and their thoughts will creep
    Like flies on the cold flesh.

They will put pence on your grey eyes,
    Bind up your fallen chin,
And lay you straight, the fools that loved you
    Because they were your kin.

They will praise all the bad about you,
    And hush the good away,
And wonder how they’ll do without you,
    And then they’ll go away.

But quieter than one sleeping,
    And stranger than of old,
You will not stir for weeping,
    You will not mind the cold;

But through the night the lips will laugh not,
    The hands will be in place,
And at length the hair be lying still
    About the quiet face. 

With sniffle and sniff and handkerchief,
    And dim and decorous mirth,
With ham and sherry, they’ll meet to bury
    The lordliest lass of earth. 

The little dead hearts will tramp ungrieving
    Behind lone-riding you,
The heart so high, the heart so living,
    Heart that they never knew.

I shall not hear your trentals,
    Nor eat your arval bread.
Nor with smug breath tell lies of death
    To the unanswering dead.

With snuffle and sniff and handkerchief,
    The folk who loved you now
Will bury you, and go wondering
    Back home. And you will rot.

But laughing and half-way up to heaven,
    With wind and hill and star,
I yet shall keep, before I sleep,
    Your Ambarvalia. 

This poem is in the public domain.