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Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt (1836-1919)

The House below the Hill


              1You ask me of the farthest star,
              2    Whither your thought can climb at will,
              3Forever-questioning child of mine.
              4I fear it is not half so far
              5    As is the house below the hill,
              6Where one poor lamp begins to shine,
              7The lamp that is of death the sign.

              8Has it indeed been there for years,
              9    In rain and snow, with ruined roof
            10For God to look through, day and night,
            11At man's despair and woman's tears,
            12    While with myself I stood aloof,
            13As one by some enchanted right
            14Held high from any ghastly sight?

            15... One of my children lightly said,
            16    "Oh, nothing (Why must we be still?),
            17Only the people have to cry
            18Because the woman's child is dead
            19    There in the house below the hill.
            20I wish that we could see it fly.
            21It has gold wings, and that is why!"

            22Gold wings it has? I only know
            23    What wasted little hands it had,
            24That reached to me for pity, but
            25Before I thought to give it -- oh,
            26    On earth's last rose-bud faint and sad,
            27Less cold than mine had been, they shut.
            28Sharper than steel some things should cut!

            29... I thought the mother showed to me,
            30    With something of a subtle scorn
            31(When morning mocked with bird and dew),
            32That brief and bitter courtesy
            33    Which awes us in the lowliest born.
            34Ah, soul, to thine own self be true;
            35God's eyes, grown human, look thee through!

            36"We need no help -- we needed it.
            37    You have not come in time, and so
            38The women here did everything.
            39You did not know? You did not know!"
            40    I surely saw the dark brows knit.
            41To let the living die for bread,
            42Then bring fair shrouds to hide the dead!

            43What time I cried with Rachel's cry,
            44    I wondered that I could not wring,
            45While sitting at the grave, forlorn,
            46Compassion from yon alien sky,
            47    That knows not death nor anything
            48That troubles man of woman born,
            49Save that he wounded Christ with thorn.

            50My sorrow had the right to find
            51    Immortal pity? I could sit,
            52Not hearing at my very feet
            53The utter wailing of my kind,
            54    And dream my dream high over it!
            55O human heart, what need to beat,
            56If nothing save your own is sweet?

            57Ah me, that fluttering flower and leaf,
            58    That weird wan moon and pitiless sun,
            59And my own shadow in the grass,
            60Should hide from me this common grief!
            61    Was I not dust? What had I done?
            62In that fixed face as in a glass
            63I saw myself to judgment pass!

Notes

34] This was said by Polonius, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, during his instructions to departing son Laertes.

43] Genesis 29-30


Online text copyright © 2004, 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: Mrs. S. M. B. Piatt, "The House below the Hill," The Atlantic Monthly 39.232 (Feb. 1877): 223-25.
First publication date: 1877
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: 2004
Recent editing: 1:2004/4/15

Rhyme: mainly abcabcc


Other poems by Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt