In York

Cora Kennedy Aitken

ADRIFT in the sunlight the autumn wind mourns

Through the ripe orchards’ rosy, luxuriant bending;

Let us go past the hedges of blackberry-thorns

    With wild roses blending,—


Across the arched bridges where softly below

The pale river moves with a murmurous flowing

’Twixt shadowy banks where the long rushes grow

    And sweet winds are blowing;


Along the close streets of the city so quaint,

So divinely o’erbrimmed with the sound of the swinging

Of bells in brown towers, whose musical plaint

    Around us is ringing.

*        *        *        *        *

Then on to the square,—here erect in the shade

The solemn cathedral stands up like a warning,

And calls with its wonderful voice from the dead

    At evening and morning.


The broad, vaulted aisles are so still we can hear

The silences bend through the loneliness listening

To the eloquent brasses that burn at our feet

    With holy signs glistening.


The church is so dark that the sun looking in

Among the stained windows to list to the praying,

Seeing only the motionless worshippers lean

    To inaudible saying,


Falls tremblingly over each monument stone,

And moves like a dream o’er the meek, saintly faces,

With halos above them that softly look down

    From their sanctified places.


Here ranged side by side, disdaining the tomb,

Buckled spurs and girt armor so stern and so steady

Lies many a knight in the darkness and gloom,

    And many a lady.


O treacherous eyes, through their stony lids pressed

Perchance they can see where mutely we ’re wandering;

It may be they ’re weary of stillness and rest,

    Of their ages of pondering!


So close to each other, so white and so grand,

Who knows how they ’re musing, these grave, quiet lovers,

When the old city sleeps and they lie hand in hand

    And the night darkness covers!


I dream of their loves and their lives as I kneel

Alone on the steps leading up to the choir,—

Of their lives of sweet patience and turbulent zeal,

    Of their loves mounted higher.


I kneel with my face ’gainst the huge grated door

Behind which the pulpit leans carved with devices

Of devils that tempt, of saints that implore

    From the sin that entices.


I kneel with a prayer on my lips for the dead

Whose hands stretching upward are folded for praying,—

For the dead whose cold limbs are so heavily clad

    In colder arraying,—


For the dead who still cling to the beads and the Book,

To the crucifix pale, blessed sign of salvation!

For the dead who look into my heart, till the look

    Burns with life’s inspiration.


But hark, how the silence is drifting away!

And curious people impatient are coming

All alive from the sparkle and sunlight of day

    To death’s mystical gloaming.


O’er the exquisite voices of dreams each by each

They move through the church with a noisy delaying.

Let us go, nor disturb with vain, mortal speech

    What the dead have been saying.

Main Location:

York, UK