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Ballads and Lyrics of Socialism 1883-1908 . Nesbit, E. (Edith), 1858–1924.
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The Dead to the Living

Work while it is day : the night cometh, when no man can work
  • IN the childhood of April, while purple woods
  • With the young year’s blood in them smiled,
  • I passed through the lanes and the wakened fields,
  • And stood by the grave of the child.
  • And the pain awoke that is never dead
  • Though it sometimes sleeps, and again
  • It set its teeth in this heart of mine,
  • And fastened its claws in my brain:
  • It was hard and hard that the little hands
  • And the little well‐loved head
  • Should be out of reach of our living lips,
  • And be side by side with the dead.
  • For with trees about where the brown birds build,
  • And with long green grass above,
  • She lies in the cold sweet breast of earth
  • Beyond the reach of our love;
  • Whatever befalls in the coarse loud world,
  • We know she will never wake.
  • When I thought of the sorrow she might have known,
  • I was almost glad for her sake. . . .
  • Tears might have tired those kiss‐closed eyes,
  • Grief hardened the mouth I kissed;
  • I was almost glad that my dear was dead
  • Because of the pain she had missed.
  • Oh, if I could but have died a child
  • With a white child‐soul like hers,
  • As pure as the wind‐flowers down in the copse,
  • Where the soul of the springtime stirs;
  • Or if I had only done with it all,
  • And might lie by her side unmoved!
  • I envied the very clods of earth
  • Their place near the child I loved.
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  • And my soul rose up in revolt at life,
  • As I stood dry‐eyed by her grave,
  • When sudden the grass of the churchyard sod
  • Rolled back like a green smooth wave;
  • The brown earth looked like the brown sea rocks,
  • The tombstones were white like spray,
  • And white like surf were the curling folds
  • Of the shrouds where the dead men lay;
  • For each in his place with his quiet face
  • I saw the dead lie low,
  • Who had worked and suffered and found life sad,
  • So many sad years ago.
  • Unchanged by time I saw them lie
  • As when first they were laid to rest,
  • The tired eyes closed, the sad lips still,
  • And the work‐worn hands on the breast.
  • There were some who had found the green world so grey,
  • They had left it before their time,
  • And some were little ones like my dear,
  • And some had died in their prime;
  • And some were old, they had had their fill
  • Of bitter unfruitful hours;
  • And I knew that none of them, none, had known
  • A flower of a hope like ours!
  • Through their shut eyelids the dead looked up,
  • And without a voice they said:
  • ‘We lived without hope, without hope we died,
  • And hopeless we lie here dead;
  • And death is better than life that draws
  • Pain in, as it draws in breath,
  • If life never dreams of a coming day
  • When life shall not envy death.
  • Through the dark of our hours and our times we lived,
  • Uncheered by a single ray
  • Of such hope as lightens the lives of you
  • Who are finding life hard to‐day;
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  • With our little lanterns of human love
  • We lighted our dark warm night—
  • But you in the chill of the dawn are set
  • With your face to the eastern light.
  • Freedom is waiting with hands held out
  • Till you tear the veil from her face—
  • And when once men have seen the light of her eyes,
  • And felt her divine embrace
  • The light of the world will be risen indeed,
  • And will shine in the eyes of men,
  • And those who come after will find life fair,
  • And their lives worth living then!
  • Will you strive to the light in your loud rough world,
  • That these things may come to pass,
  • Or lie in the shadow beside the child,
  • And strive to the sun through the grass?’
  • ‘My world while I may, ’I cried; ‘but you
  • Whose lives were as dark as your grave?’
  • ‘We too are a part of the coming light,’
  • They called through the smooth green wave.
  • Their white shrouds gleamed as the flood of green
  • Rolled over and hid them from me—
  • Hid all but the little hands and the hair,
  • And the eyes that I always see.