The Old Meeting House

Alfred Noyes

(New Jersey, 1918)

Its quiet graves were made for peace till Gabriel blows his horn.
  Those wise old elms could hear no cry
  Of all that distant agony--
Only the red-winged blackbird, and the rustle of thick ripe corn.

The blue jay, perched upon that bronze, with bright unweeting eyes,
  Could never read the names that signed
  The noblest charter of mankind;
But all of them were names we knew beneath our English skies.

And on the low gray headstones, with their crumbling weather-stains,
  --Though cardinal birds, like drops of blood,
  Flickered across the haunted wood,--
The names you'd see were names that woke like flowers in English lanes.

John Applegate was fast asleep; and Temperance Olden, too.
  And David Worth had quite forgot
  If Hannah's lips were red or not;
And Prudence veiled her eyes at last, as Prudence ought to do.

And when, across that patch of heaven, that small blue leaf-edged space
  At times, a droning airplane went,
  No flicker of astonishment
Could lift the heavy eyelids on one gossip's up-turned face.

For William Speakman could not tell--so thick the grasses grow--
  If that strange humming in the sky
  Meant that the Judgment Day were nigh,
Or if 'twas but the summer bees that blundered to and fro.

And then, across the breathless wood, a Bell began to sound,
  The only Bell that wakes the dead,
  And Stockton Signer raised his head,
And called to all the deacons in the ancient burial-ground.

"The Bell, the Bell is ringing! Give me back my rusty sword.
  Though I thought the wars were done,
  Though I thought our peace was won,
Yet I signed the Declaration, and the dead must keep their word.

"There's only one great ghost I know could make that 'larum ring.
  It's the captain that we knew
  In the ancient buff and blue,
It's our Englishman, George Washington, who fought the German king!"

So the sunset saw them mustering beneath their brooding boughs,
  Ancient shadows of our sires,
  Kindling with the ancient fires,
While the old cracked Bell to southward shook the ancient meeting house.

The Meeting House and cemetery near Red Valley, New Jersey were built in 1720.  The land was donated by Thomas and Rachel Salter. Thomas's sister Hannah married a man named Mordecai Lincoln - they were the great-great grandparents of President Abraham Lincoln.

The original church building burned down and the current Baptist church was built in 1737. It became known as the Old Yellow Meeting House. It is the oldest Baptist Meeting House in New Jersey and one of the oldest in the USA.

The oldest legible, dated grave in the burial ground is that of John Salter, son of Thomas and Rachel, who died in 1723. There are unmarked stones thought to be older, and it is believed that there are unmarked graves.

Amongst the dead in the cemetery are veterans of the American Revolution and of later United States wars buried here.

The Meeting House, its attached parsonage and the cemetery have recently been subject to a restoration programme by "The Friends of the Old Yellow Meeting House".