The Old Meeting House

By Alfred Noyes 1880–1958 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 eye
   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 upturned 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 ’twere 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 shadowy meeting house.


Source: Collected Poems (1947)

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Poet Alfred Noyes 1880–1958

POET’S REGION England

Subjects Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Mythology & Folklore, Ghosts & the Supernatural

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

 Alfred  Noyes

Biography

Alfred Noyes was born in England and attended Oxford, where he left before completing his degree. He published his first book of poems, The Loom of Years, at age 21, and published five more volumes of poetry in the next five years. In 1914, he began teaching at Princeton University, and became noted for his criticisms of such Modernist writers as James Joyce. Though his early work often evokes fantastic, dream-like, storybook . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Social Commentaries, History & Politics, Mythology & Folklore, Ghosts & the Supernatural

POET’S REGION England

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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