What are these nameless mysteries,
These subtleties of life and death,
That bring before our spirit eyes
The loved and lost; or, like a breath
Of lightest air, will touch the cheek,
And yet a wordless language speak?
In every breeze that blows, to-day,
One voice seems speaking unto me;
And north or south, whichever way
I turn my gaze, one face I see,
And closely, closely at my side
A mystic shadow seems to glide.
A motley crowd we move among,
We surge on with the mighty mass,
And yet no one in all the throng
Looks strangely on us as we pass.
No eye but mine own seems to see
The nameless thing that walks by me.
I cannot touch a proffered hand
But this strange shadow glides between.
Why came he from the spirit land?
What brought him from the world unseen?
Why am I troubled and oppressed
By the vague presence of my guest?
He was my friend! I should rejoice!
I loved him once! Why do I fear?
And yet I shudder as his voice
Speaks in the wind. I feel him near,
This restless spirit of the dead,
And shiver with a nameless dread.
I loved him once; he was my friend;
He held the first place in my heart,
And might have held it to the end.
But our two ways spread wide apart:
I kept the path upon the hill,
And he went down and down, until
He reached the depths of sin and shame,
And died as sots and drunkards die.
I ceased to even speak his name.
God knows I never thought that I,
Who blamed his lack of moral strength,
Might answer for his fall, at length!
O restless dead, lost friend of mine!
I might have saved you, had I tried.
I saw you lift the glass of wine,
And, seeing, had I warned you, cried,
'Touch not, taste not the drink accursed!'
I might have saved you from the thirst
That swallowed up your brain and soul.
But nay! I scorned you when you fell,
And, looking upward to my goal,
Left you to stagger down to hell.
Accusing spirit of the dead,
Your presence fills my heart with dread!
Ella Wheeler Wilcox
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