To the Dead in the Grave-Yard Under My Window
Written in a Moment of Exasperation How can you lie so still? All day I watch And never a blade of all the green sod moves To show where restlessly you toss and turn, And fling a desperate arm or draw up knees Stiffened and aching from their long disuse; I watch all night and not one ghost comes forth To take its freedom of the midnight hour. Oh, have you no rebellion in your bones? The very worms must scorn you where you lie, A pallid mouldering acquiescent folk, Meek habitants of unresented graves. Why are you there in your straight row on row Where I must ever see you from my bed That in your mere dumb presence iterate The text so weary in my ears: "Lie still And rest; be patient and lie still and rest." I'll not be patient! I will not lie still! There is a brown road runs between the pines, And further on the purple woodlands lie, And still beyond blue mountains lift and loom; And I would walk the road and I would be Deep in the wooded shade and I would reach The windy mountain tops that touch the clouds. My eyes may follow but my feet are held. Recumbent as you others must I too Submit? Be mimic of your movelessness With pillow and counterpane for stone and sod? And if the many sayings of the wise Teach of submission I will not submit But with a spirit all unreconciled Flash an unquenched defiance to the stars. Better it is to walk, to run, to dance, Better it is to laugh and leap and sing, To know the open skies of dawn and night, To move untrammel'd down the flaming noon, And I will clamour it through weary days Keeping the edge of deprivation sharp, Nor with the pliant speaking on my lips Of resignation, sister to defeat. I'll not be patient. I will not lie still. And in ironic quietude who is The despot of our days and lord of dust Needs but, scarce heeding, wait to drop Grim casual comment on rebellion's end: "Yes; yes . . . Wilful and petulant but now As dead and quiet as the other are." And this each body and ghost of you hath heard That in your graves do therefore lie so still.
November, 1913. This poem is in the public domain.
Adelaide Crapsey was born on September 9, 1878, in Brooklyn Heights, New York. She was the third child of the Reverend Algernon Sidney Crapsey and Adelaide Trowbridge Crapsey. Within the first year after Crapsey was born, her father became rector of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Parish in Rochester, New York, where the family then moved.
Crapsey went to public schools in Rochester before enrolling at Kemper Hall, an Episcopalian college preparatory school in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 1893. She graduated four years later as valedictorian of her class, then enrolled at Vassar College, where she became close friends with fellow writer Jean Webster, who later based many of her spirited and colorful female characters on Crapsey. While at Vassar, Crapsey also served as the class poet for three years.
After graduating from Vassar in 1901, Crapsey spent a year at home in Rochester, then moved back to Wisconsin, where she taught literature and history at Kemper Hall from 1902 to 1904. It was during this time that Crapsey started feeling the first symptoms of the illness that would eventually take her life. Suffering from chronic fatigue (an early sign of tuberculosis), Crapsey left Kemper Hall in 1904 and traveled to Italy to study at the School of Classical Studies of the American Academy in Rome. She returned to Rochester near the end of 1905 in time to attend her father’s heresy trial, after which he was deposed from the Episcopal Church—an event that no doubt affected Crapsey, who maintained a close relationship with her father.
In 1906, Crapsey accepted another teaching position, this time at a preparatory school in Stamford, Connecticut, but her health worsened, and she returned to Europe to recuperate in December of 1908. For the next three years, she lived in Italy, England, and France, during which time she underwent intensive study of meter and rhythm in English poems. In 1910 she continued her studies of prosody at the British Museum and began considering the possibility of publishing her work.
Despite her continued poor health, she returned to the United States in 1911 to take a post at Smith College as an instructor of poetics. That same year, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Hiding the news from her family, Crapsey continued teaching until she collapsed in July 1913. Crapsey was then sent to a private sanatorium in Saranac Lake, New York, where she remained until August 1914. It was here that she composed her best poems and invented a new poetic form, the cinquain: a twenty-two-syllable, five-line poem.
Crapsey soon returned to her family’s home in Rochester, but her health quickly worsened, and she died on October 8, 1914, at the age of thirty-six.
Her first book of poems, Verse (Manas Press, 1915), was published posthumously. Three years later, her work on prosody, A Study in English Metrics, was published as well.
Date Published: 1913-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/dead-grave-yard-under-my-window