Janet Hamilton

1795-1873 / Scotland

On Seeing A Dead Body Of A Man

'Twas night; I stood on yonder fir-crown'd height
And look'd on flaming furnace, forge, and mine;
The black-brow'd clouds with lurid fires were bright,
That flashed o'er road, canal, and railway line.
One hour to midnight-Sabbath morn drew near
Mid sights and sounds, 'might make even angels weep;'
No prayers, save those for liquor, reach'd my ear;
No sounds, save oaths profane and curses deep.
From chambers rank with vile and stifling fumes,
From tables full of vomit, staggering home
Comes one who still on past escapes presumes
To reach that home where he no more shall come.
Down the lone bank, blaspheming as he goes,
Along the margin of the sluggish wave
That bears the treasures of the mine, and flows
An ever-open, frequent, drunkard's grave.
Unseen, unheard, the plunge, the drowning strife,
The gasping agony, the gurgling cry
That o'er the waters rung the knell of life,
While echoes of the woods alone reply.
Fair dawn'd that April Sabbath morn; the voice
Of joyous birds awoke on every bough,
The woods, the shining waters, all rejoice-
But where? O lost inebriate! where art thou?
Lo! where the dancing ripples wave his hair,
Erect against the slope his body stands;
His wide fixed eyes and death-pale brow are bare,
And fill'd with grass and clay his clenched hands.
A thousand times his reeling steps had trode
The fatal path, and still escaped the doom
That sent him unprepared to meet his God,
And to a lone, unwept, unhonour'd tomb.
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