August 10, 2011

Moulton: dead and buried underground

Louise Chandler Moulton was 73 years old when she died on August 10, 1908. She had been a prolific poet, prose writer, and editor, contributing particularly to The True Flag in Boston (founded by her husband William U. Moulton, who died ten years before she did) and the New York Tribune. She was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery. About a month earlier, she had asked her friend Thomas Wentworth Higginson about death. "Your question touches depths," he responded. "I never in my life felt any fear of death, as such. I never think of my friends as buried."

Though she wrote many poems and stories for children, many of her works also focus on death, as in "When I Am Dead":

When I am dead and buried underground,
And your dear eyes still greet the shining day,
Will you remember — "Thus she used to say —
And thus, and thus, her low voice used to sound"?
Will memory wander like a ghost around
The well-known paths — tread the accustomed way;
Or will you pluck fresh blossoms of the May,
And waste no rose upon my burial mound?

I would not have your life to sorrow wed —
Your joyous youth grief-stricken for my sake;—
Though black-winged Care her home with you should make,
Yet vain would be the scalding tears you shed;
And though your heart for love of me should break,
How could I hear, or heed, if I were dead?

And then there's her poem "What She Said In Her Tomb," which concludes with a similar message:

Now, at last, I lie asleep
   Where no morrows break, —
Why take heed to tread so soft? —
   Fear you lest I wake?

Time there was when I was red
   As a rose in June
With the kisses of your lips, —
   Ah, they failed me soon.

Now they would not warm my mouth
   Though they fell like rain:
I am marble, dear; and they
   Marble cannot stain.

Ah, if you had loved me more,
   Been content to wait,
Some time you had found the key
   To Love's inmost gate.

Why, indeed, should any man
   Wait for Autumn days,
When the present Summer wooes
   To her rosy ways?

Only, — now I lie here dead;
   I shall not awake,
And you need not tread so soft
   For my deaf ears' sake.

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