The Tryst

By George Sterling

Three are the headstones where I paused to-day
And read the letters that the lichen blurred.
The afternoon was still. The fallen leaves
Gave each its little whisper, trodden on,
And overhead, in maple, beech and oak,
The autumnal courts were very beautiful.

In that old graveyard, half a mile from sea,
I wandered pensive, scanning here and there
The crumbling, marble archives of the dead—
They that had built the fortunes of the port—
And read how good and great most men had been,
And how resigned—or so the tablets claimed—
Their wives had been to sleep the final sleep;
And some had had two wives, and one man four.

Then, as the sun was low, and smouldering clouds
Made an effulgent transept of the west,
I came to those three headstones. "John Devore,
Died August second, eighteen eighty-six,"
The first one read. The second: "Ruth Devore,
The wife of John Devore. Died April ninth,
In eighteen thirty-five." The third stone said:
"Allan Devore, the son of John Devore
And Ruth, his wife. Died June the twenty-first,
In eighteen thirty-seven, aged five."
And on the last two stones the moss was old.

I stood awhile and thought: "All! John Devore!
How long they must have seemed, those fifty years!
I do not know what rest or toil was yours,
What smiles or tears, for that half-century;
But surely on your silences they came,
And on your quiet hour, and in your dreams—
The wife and little son. So often thus
They must have stood, mute haunters of your life!
Oh! came they hand in hand, and did you weep?
And as the years crept onward, did they wait
Beside you at your tasks, and when the fire
Was on the hearth, were they not near at hand,
Drawing your gaze from sordid circumstance?—
The holy dead, august and beautiful!

"And days were years, and years were weariness,
And you grew old, and they were ever young,
Reminding you from many lovely things,
From rose and bird and cloud and pathless snow,
Of all the loveliness that once was theirs—
Ah! changeless still, and you so changed at last!
And the green earth swung on beneath the sun,
Noisy with life, and men fulfilled their ends,
As monarchs died, and fleets and thrones were lost,
And great wars shook the world. But peace was theirs,
Still warbled over by the mating thrush—
O refuge unprofaned! O quiet dust!

"Did hunger for another home and love
Gnaw at your heart? If so, you bore the pain.
Habit's erasure, and the secret moth
In memory's dim arras, all that fight
Against the silent tenure of our dead,
They wrought in vain. So now you slumber too
And are yourself a mystery. The year,
The month, the day, the hour, the minute came.
Ah! John Devore! was there a meeting then?"

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