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Short poem

Marjorie Pickthall (1883-1922)

A Saxon Epitaph

              1The earth builds on the earth
              2Castles and towers;
              3The earth saith of the earth:
              4All shall be ours.

              5        Yea, though they plan and reap
              6        The rye and the corn,
              7        Lo, they were bond to Sleep
              8        Ere they were born.

              9        Yea, though the blind earth sows
            10        For the fruit and the sheaf,
            11        They shall harvest the leaf of the rose
            12        And the dust of the leaf.

            13        Pride of the sword and power
            14        Are theirs at their need
            15        Who shall rule but the root of the flower
            16        The fall of the seed.

            17        They who follow the flesh
            18        In splendour and tears,
            19        They shall rest and clothe them afresh
            20        In the fulness of years.

            21        From the dream of the dust they came
            22        As the dawn set free.
            23        They shall pass as the flower of the flame
            24        Or the foam of the sea.

            25                The earth builds on the earth
            26                Castles and towers.
            27                The earth saith of the earth:
            28                All shall be ours.


1] "The third of Ecclesiastes forms the best key to the mysteries of `The Saxon Epitaph' that I can think of. The first verse is a genuine Saxon fragment; I was fascinated by the austere, almost classical, melody, and continued it -- with some degeneration. The `earth' that builds on the earth is of course man." (letter written from Victoria College, Oct. 12, 1912; quoted by Lorne Pierce, Marjorie Pickthall: A Book of Remembrance [Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1925]: 67).

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Marjorie L. C. Pickthall, The Lamp of Poor Souls and Other Poems (Toronto: S. B. Gundy, 1916): 139-40. PS 8531 I35L3 Robarts Library.
First publication date: October 1912
Publication date note: University Magazine (Oct. 1912).
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 2:2002/4/10

Rhyme: abab

Other poems by Marjorie Pickthall