"Sermons in stones."

Who were you once? Could we but guess,
We might perchance more boldly
Define the patient weariness
That sets your lips so coldly;
You "lived," we know, for blame and fame;
But sure, to friend or foeman,
You bore some more distinctive name
Than mere "B. C.,"—and "Roman"?

Your pedestal should help us much.
Thereon your acts, your title,
(Secure from cold Oblivion's touch!)
Had doubtless due recital;
Vain hope!—not even deeds can last!
That stone, of which you're minus,
Maybe with all your virtues past
Endows ... a Tigellinus!

We seek it not; we should not find.
But still, it needs no magic
To tell you wore, like most mankind,
Your comic mask and tragic;
And held that things were false and true,
Felt angry or forgiving,
As step by step you stumbled through
This life-long task ... of living!

You tried the cul-de-sac of Thought;
The montagne Russe of Pleasure;
You found the best Ambition brought
Was strangely short of measure;
You watched, at last, the fleet days fly,
Till—drowsier and colder—
You felt Mercurius loitering by
To touch you on the shoulder.

'Twas then (why not?) the whim would come
That howso Time should garble
Those deeds of yours when you were dumb,
At least you'd live—in Marble;
You smiled to think that after days,
At least, in Bust or Statue,
(We all have sick-bed dreams!) would gaze,
Not quite incurious, at you.

gaze; we pity you, be sure!
In truth, Death's worst inaction
Must be less tedious to endure
Than nameless petrifaction;
Far better, in some nook unknown,
To sleep for once—and soundly,
Than still survive in wistful stone,
Forgotten more profoundly!

by Austin Dobson

Image from Wikimedia Commons.


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Background and graphics by Mary Stephens
updated 2019