A Lesson to My Ghost

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A Lesson to My Ghost
written by John Drinkwater
Seeds of Time, 1921 Link to further information




SHALL it be said that the wind's gone over
The hill this night, and no ghost there?
Not the shape of an old-time lover
Pacing the old road, the high road there?
By the peacock tree, the tree that spreads its branches
Like a proud peacock's tail (so my lady says).
Under a cloudy sky, while the moon launches
Scattered beams of light along the dark silences?
I will be a ghost there, though I yet am breathing,
A living presence still in tight cottage walls,
Sitting by the fire whose smoke goes wreathing
Over fields and farmyards and farmyard stalls.
As a player going to rehearse his faring,
I will send my ghost there before my bones are dust.
Bid it learn betimes the sock it shall be wearing
When it bids the clay good-bye as all ghosts must.
Hush, then; upstairs sleep my lady and her mother;
The cat curls the night away, and will not stir;
Beams of lamp and beech-log cross one another,
No wind walks in the garden there.

Go, my ghost, it calls you, the high road, the winding,
Written by the moonlight on the sleeping hill;
I will watch the ashes, you go finding
The way you shall walk for generations still.
The window-latch is firm, the curtain does not tremble.
The wet grass bends not under your tread,
Brushing you shake not the rain from the bramble,
They hear no gate who lie abed.
Nodding" I stare at the hearth, but I see you,
My half-wit travels with you the road;
There shall be your kingdom when death shall free you,
When body's wit is neither leash nor goad.
Past the peacock branches proudly gliding.
Your own ghost now, I know, I know,
You look to the moon on the hill-top riding,
The mares in the meadow sleep as you go.
Your eyes that are dark yet great for divining
Brood on the valleys of wood and plough,
And you stand where the silver flower is shining
Of cherry against the black holly bough.
Rehearse, O rehearse, as you pass by the hedgerows.
Remembrance of all that was my bright will,
That so my grave of whispers and echoes
May rest for the ghost that is yet on the hill.

The primroses burn and the cowslips cover
The starry meadows as heaven is clad;
Learn them all, O ghost, as a lover,
So shall your coming again be glad.
The inn-sign hangs in the windless watches,
You pass the shadowy piles of stone
Under the walls where the hawthorn catches
Shapes from the moon that are not its own.
Wander, wander down by the cresses,
Over the crest of the hill, between
The brown lych-gate and the cider-presses.
Past the well and across the green.
Heed me, my ghost, my heir. To-morrow
Or soon, my body to ash must fall.
Heed me, ghost, and I shall not sorrow —
Learn this beauty, O learn it all.
Night goes on, the beech-log's ended.
Half-wit's drowsy, and doctrine done, —
Ghost, come home from the road; befriended
My moon shall be when I leave the sun.

SemiPD-icon.png This work is in the public domain in countries where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less.