Poems and Essays

by Joseph Howe




  Room for the Dead! your living hands may pile
Treasures of Art and stately tents within;
Beauty may grace them with her richest smile,
And Genius there spontaneous plaudits win.
But yet, amidst the tumult and the din

  Of gathering thousands, let me audience crave:—
Place claim I for the Dead—’twere mortal sin
When banners o’er our Country’s treasures wave,
Unmark’d to leave the wealth safe garner’d in the Grave.
The Fields may furnish forth their lowing kine,
  The forests spoils in rich abundance lie,
The mellow fruitage of the cluster’d Vine
Mingle with flowers of every varied dye;
Swart Artizans their rival skill may try,
And, while the Rhetorician wins the ear,
  The pencil’s graceful shadows charm the eye,
But yet, do not withhold the grateful tear
For those, and for their works, who are not here.
Not here? Oh! yes, our hearts their presence feel,
Viewless, not voiceless, from the deepest shells
  On memory’s shore harmonious echoes steal,
And names, which, in the days gone by, were spells,
Are blent with that soft music. If there dwells
The spirit here our Country’s fame to spread, [Page 59]
While ev’ry breast with joy and triumph swells,
  And earth reverberates to our measured tread,
Banner and wreath will own our reverence for the Dead.
Look up, their walls enclose us. Look around,
Who won the verdant meadows from the sea?
Whose sturdy hands the noble highways wound
  Through forests dense, o’er mountain, moor and lea?
Who spanned the streams? Tell me whose works they be,
The busy marts where commerce ebbs and flows?
Who quell’d the savage? And who spared the tree
That pleasant shelter o’er the pathway throws?
Who made the land they loved to blossom as the rose?
Who, in frail barques, the ocean surge defied,
And trained the race that live upon the wave?
What shore so distant where they have not died?
In ev’ry sea they found a watery grave.
  Honor, forever, to the true and brave,
Who seaward led their sons with spirits high,
Bearing the red-cross flag their fathers gave;
Long as the billows flout the arching sky,
They’ll seaward bear it still—to venture, or to die.
The Roman gather’d in a stately urn
The dust he honor’d—while the sacred fire,
Nourish’d by vestal hands, was made to burn
From age to age. If fitly you’d aspire,
Honor the Dead; and let the sounding lyre [Page 60]

  Recount their virtues in your festal hours;
Gather their ashes—higher still, and higher
Nourish the patriot flame that history dowers,
And, o’er the old men’s graves, go strew your choicest flowers. [Page 61]

* This poem was read at the opening of the first Provincial Industrial Exhibition of Nova Scotia, October, 1854. [back]