My Last Dance

By Julia Ward Howe 1819–1910 Julia Ward Howe
The shell of objects inwardly consumed
Will stand, till some convulsive wind awakes;
Such sense hath Fire to waste the heart of things,
Nature, such love to hold the form she makes.

Thus, wasted joys will show their early bloom,
Yet crumble at the breath of a caress;
The golden fruitage hides the scathèd bough,
Snatch it, thou scatterest wide its emptiness.

For pleasure bidden, I went forth last night
To where, thick hung, the festal torches gleamed;
Here were the flowers, the music, as of old,
Almost the very olden time it seemed.

For one with cheek unfaded, (though he brings
My buried brothers to me, in his look,)
Said, Will you dance?' At the accustomed words
I gave my hand, the old position took.

Sound, gladsome measure! at whose bidding once
I felt the flush of pleasure to my brow,
While my soul shook the burthen of the flesh,
And in its young pride said, Lie lightly thou!'

Then, like a gallant swimmer, flinging high
My breast against the golden waves of sound,
I rode the madd'ning tumult of the dance,
Mocking fatigue, that never could be found.

Chide not,—it was not vanity, nor sense,
(The brutish scorn such vaporous delight,)
But Nature, cadencing her joy of strength
To the harmonious limits of her right.

She gave her impulse to the dancing Hours,
To winds that sweep, to stars that noiseless turn;
She marked the measure rapid hearts must keep
Devised each pace that glancing feet should learn.

And sure, that prodigal o'erflow of life,
Unvow'd as yet to family or state,
Sweet sounds, white garments, flowery coronals
Make holy, in the pageant of our fate.

Sound, measure! but to stir my heart no more—
For, as I moved to join the dizzy race,
My youth fell from me; all its blooms were gone,
And others showed them, smiling, in my face.

Faintly I met the shock of circling forms
Linked each to other, Fashion's galley-slaves,
Dream-wondering, like an unaccustomed ghost
That starts, surprised, to stumble over graves.

For graves were 'neath my feet, whose placid masks
Smiled out upon my folly mournfully,
While all the host of the departed said,
Tread lightly—thou art ashes, even as we.'

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Julia Ward Howe 1819–1910

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Theater & Dance, Death, Living, Arts & Sciences

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

 Julia  Ward Howe

Biography

Julia Ward Howe, a social reformer, is most remembered for her Civil War-era song "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." In many respects, Howe was a female pioneer, particularly in literature and women's rights. Howe wrote many books, including collections of poetry and travel volumes. She, along with women such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, was a cofounder of the women's suffrage movement. In addition to lobbying . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Theater & Dance, Death, Living, Arts & Sciences

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.