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  The Old Church Choir  

 

    I am slowly treading the mazy track
That leadeth, through sunshine and shadows, back--
Through freshest meads where the dews yet cling
As erst they did to each lowly thing,
Where flowers bloom and where streamlets flow
With the tender music of long ago--
To the far-off past that, through mists of tears,
In its spring time loveliness still appears,
And wooes me back to the gleaming shore
Of sunny years that return no more.

    And to night, all weary, and sad, and lone,
I return in thought to those bright years flown,
Whose lingering sweetness, e'en yet, I feel
Like the breath of flower-scents over me steal
I am treading o'er mounds where the dead repose,--
I am stirring the dust of life's perished rose,--
I am rustling the withered leaves that lie
Thick in the pathway of Memory,--
And calling out from each lonely hill
Echoes of voices forever still.

    And I pause again where I stood of yore
In the Sabbath light at an old church door,
And, ling'ring a moment, I turn to view
The green hills leaning against the blue
As erewhile they stood in the golden calm
Of morning's sunlight and breath of balm,
With clustering verdure, and blossoming trees,
And gush of bird song and hum of bees,
And glancing shadows that came and went
Of soft clouds high in the firmament,
Floating away in their robes of white
On snowy pinions through realms of light.

    And I see again through the azure sky
The same white cloudlets still floating by;
And a greener line through the meadow shows
Where a little streamlet still, singing, flows;
And out from a woodland there floats again
Of joyous warblers the old, sweet strain;
While still, with serious, reverent air,
Aged and young seek the house of prayer.

    And with them I enter the narrow door
That open stands as it stood of yore;
And look up again at the windows tall,--
At the narrow aisles and the naked wall,--
At the high, straight pulpit with cushion red,
And its worn, old Bible still open spread,--
At the pews where, unhindered, the slant rays fall,--
At the long, plain gallery over all
Where maid and matron, and son and sire,
Together sang in the old church-choir.

    And again, as I listen, I seem to hear
The strains of old, half-forgotten Mear,
And solemn China, and grave Dundee,
And stately Rockingham, calm and free,
And rare Old-Hundred's majestic swell,
And tender Hebron we loved so well,
And tuneful Stonefield's melodies sweet,
Bridgewater, Windham, and Silver-street,
And rich St. Martin, and yet again
Old Coronation's exultant strain,
And sweet Devizes' slow, warbled tone,
Resounding Lenox and Arlington,
And gentle Boyleston, and many more
Which Memory holds in her treasured store,
That rise and fall on the tranquil air,
As they did of old, in this house of prayer;
Where, Sabbath by Sabbath, for many a year,
Often and often we sang them here.

    For many a year--but they all are flown,
The band is broken, and hushed each tone,
And voices that mingled in tuneful breath,
Are silent now in the hush of death!
Scattered like Autumn-leaves far and near
Are those who clustered together here,--
Gone, like flowers in the swift stream cast,
Like wandering birds when the summer's past,
Like perfume shed in the tempest's track,
Never again to be gathered back!

    I am thinking now of a young, fair face,
A brow of beauty, a form of grace,
The tender tones of whose sweet voice long
Swelled richly forth in our Sabbath-song;
But she laid her own, in a loved one's hand,
And he led her forth to a distant land,
Where a home, all radiant with love's pure beam,
Fulfilled her girlhood's enraptured dream;--
Yet she only pined 'neath the stranger's sky,
And he brought her back to her own--to die!

    The breath of Spring-time was on the plain,
And flowers were bursting to life again,
And birds were carolling full and free
On the leafy boughs of the forest tree,
When the sweetest voice in our tuneful throng
Faltered and failed from our choral song,
And we laid her down at her pure life's close,
Peaceful and pale in her last repose.

    The silvery Thames, as it glides along,
Murmurs anear her its old, sweet song;--
The tuneful robin sings still, as when
He warbled for her in the woodland glen;--
The star she loved, through the long, still night
Keeps his old, calm watch 'mid the planets bright;--
Her favorite flowers are still as fair
As when twined 'mid the braids of her raven hair;--
But the voice we missed in that far-off Spring
Is only heard where the angels sing!

    And yet another,--I see him now,
With his manly bearing and noble brow--
Who turned away from our old church-choir,
To sing with the angels in worship higher
--As an alien bird 'neath inclement skies
Foldeth its pinions to earth and dies,
So he, o'erwearied with life's unrest,
Folded his mantle around his breast,
And, meekly bowing his weary head,
Went down to rest with the quiet dead,
And long were the hearts that had loved him lone
For the absent form and the missing tone!

    There was still another. I yet behold
That form as I saw it in days of old,
As we stood in the calm of those Sabbath days,
And mingled our voices in hymns of praise.
--Ah! little we dreamed as we saw him there
In his proud, young beauty, with brow so fair,
And eye so lustrous, and tones so clear,
That the cruel spoiler was then so near;--
We dreamed it not, till we saw the light
Of his clear eyes growing so strangely bright.
And the flush of health on his cheek give place
To the deadly hectic's burning trace!

    There's a tranquil isle amid Southern seas--
A fair isle, swept by no wintry breeze--
Where the wandering zephyr through long, bright hours
Gathers the perfume of orange bowers,
And roses droop in the fragrant bloom
Of their summer life o'er a nameless tomb,
--In that nameless tomb he is laid to rest,
And the dust of the stranger is on his breast,
And the breath of the South sweeps its viewless lyre
O'er another lost from our old church-choir

    One dreamt of wealth on a distant shore,
And he wandered far to return no more,
For the deadly pestilence swept his path,
And the strong man drooped 'neath its burning wrath,
And he sleeps alone in the shining dust
Whose golden promises mocked his trust!

    By a lonely lake in the boundless West,
Another reposes in dreamless rest,--
And yet another--her pure life done--
Slumbers far off toward the setting sun,
And the youngest voice in our old church-choir
Is to-day attuned to a seraph's lyre

    That old church choir--I am standing lone
Where we stood together in days by gone,
But the tranquil air by no voice is stirred
Save the lonely call of a distant bird.
The grey, old church is no longer seen,
But the rank grass over its site grows green,
And, 'mid the tomb-stones, with sighing breath,
The sad wind whispers of change and death

    Hush! is it fancy?--or do I hear
A far-off melody, faint yet clear,
Of gentle voices, sweet tones of yore,
Tenderly borne from an unseen shore?
--Ah! loved, long parted, ye're joined once more
In the Sabbath light of a changeless shore!
And there, with never a jarring note,
Your joyous anthems forever float
In sweet accord with the seraph strains
That sweep unchecked o'er celestial plains;
And I long to rejoin you in regions higher,

       - Mrs. J. C. Yule


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