’ Tis our last hour together! Oh my friends,
A very little while and we must part.
We would be cheerful, and yet sorrow blends
Even with our joy, and shadows o’er the heart.
’Tis our last hour together! How we start,
And backward trace the short eventful year!
Oft our thoughts pause, then onward swiftly dart;
How very much of joy, and hope, and fear,
Lie in the past; how many memories sanctiﬁed and dear!
My Teachers! Ever in this grateful heart,
Shall the remembrance of your kindness live;
Yours is a sacred and a noble part;
Well have ye ﬁlled it; unto each I give
Deep earnest thanks, and I should need reprieve
Of our brief time my gratitude to tell;
Weak words like these may not my heart relieve;
Your love and care have been a mighty spell,
To guide my wayward will: my Teachers, fare ye well!
What shall I say to you, old friends, whom I have met
Each day in study, or in pastime free?
Our lives have been bound up together; we have sat
Round the same board, mingled in woe or glee;
We who have shared one mutual home, Oh, we
So long together, must be severed now,
The dear familiar faces which I see
Around me, soon will vanish;—tell me how,
When will ye think of me? Will ye remember, or forgetful grow?
Remember me when I am gone afar,
Soon we shall rest, each in a quiet home;
But, Oh! let Memory be a shining star
To light our lives. When twilight shadows come,
And the light fades from Heaven’s azure dome,
Give me one thought—I ask it for the sake
Of our old friendship, and though I should roam
’ Mid brighter scenes, oft shall remembrance wake,
And of the past grateful survey take.
When shall we meet again? Shall we all meet?
Even as we part, our young hearts beating high;
With the same sparkling eyes and bounding feet,
Will Autumn ﬁnd us all, ’neath its calm sky?
The future lies before us unrevealed; yet why,
Why do I sadden you with doubts and fears?
Our Father knoweth best; then let us try
To cast upon him all our burdening cares,
Let us on hopefully, and check regretful tears.
Teachers and School-mates! For each one I breathe
Pure heart-warm wishes; may Heaven’s blessing fall
Upon each head; may sweet contentment wreath
Each face with smiles; may peace be with you all!
Farewell, dear friends; and whatso’er befall,
Oft shall remembrance of past hours dispel
Feelings of sadness; oft will I recall
Each face;—how swells my heart with thoughts I may not tell!
God’s grace be with ye,—once more, fare ye well! *
She lived nobly, suffered bravely, and died fearlessly.
Ah! she had such splendid eyes!
—Dusk-brown eyes akin to black—
Large and full, and deeply set,
Looking forward less than back—
Eyes, replete with self-possession;
Eyes, so grand in self-repression;
Earnest, questioning, sorrow full.
But all hope was wept out of them;
Only longings lit their ﬁres;
And the sad brow set above them
Spoke unsatisﬁed desires.
Cheeks like dying damask roses,
Washed out pale by Sorrow’s rain;
And a gracious mouth, grown rigid
In its set, from years of pain.
And her faultless woman’s head!
Grecian sculptors, ages dead,
Would have bowed them reverently
To the perfect revelation
Of the classic marble’s need—
Would have knelt in adoration
Of dear Nature’s darling deed!
I have seen no other foot
Thorough-bred and lithe as hers.
When before Canova’s Graces,
Its remembrance in me stirs:
Instep, so divinely curved!
Outline, faultlessly preserved!
Ah! thou wonder among women,
I am fretted to the heart,
Thinking how my words are few
To depict thee as thou wert:
What I will, I cannot do!
Neck so slender and so straight,
White and stately as a lily;
And a lovely shape, but illy
Fitted for her life’s hard lot.
Now it moulders all forgot—
Burgeons into violets—
And no painter’s hand has traced it
With the cunning of his craft;
All the subtile charms that graced it
Gone—like nectar, spilt or quaffed!
Let this be thy compensation:
That thou livest in my love;
Whose sweet soul was to thy body
What the hand is to the glove.
I shall never see another
Like to thee, my noble mother!
Mind of man and soul of woman—
All my heart out of me goes,
Spent in unavailing tears,
When I think upon thy woes,
Ponder on thy martyred years!
I locked my hand in hers, and said,
“Let me go with her through this dark;
For all the good and ill of life
Has touched us with the self-same mark.
Some bitter pains I comprehend,
But not the absence of her love,
Whose deep, unfailing tenderness
Would any lighter friend reprove.”
I called her, — but the mother-look
Was blotted out in Death’s eclipse;
And, vaguely desolate, I shrank
Before those altering eyes and lips.
O God! since ever I could speak
My voice had fallen on faithful ears;
’Twas “Mother!” in my triumph hour,
And “Mother!” in my time of tears.
I saw her going from my grasp
Beyond the boundaries of Time, —
Beyond the life her soul had made
Through love and suffering sublime.
I could not shield, nor share, nor save;
She drifted deathward all alone;
Her heart insensate to my pain,
Her ear unheeding of my moan.
Yet mother-love, rare mother-love,
Responsive in the throes of death!
The soul triumphant over clay,
Was victor of her latest breath.
Sudden into her darkened eyes
Flashed Love and Memory at the last;
And then the spirit’s radiance set,
And the dear face was overcast.
Only the shell which held the seed;
Only the casket of the gem;
But all the bitterness for us,
And all the victory for them!
For us, the deep, slow-closing wound;
For us, the haunting pain of years;
The dull, vague, aching sense of loss
Alternate with our passionate tears.
Not yet the creed of Faith can ﬁll
This bitter want, these empty arms:
It will not soothe me now to know
That she is locked from life’s alarms.
For when I see this pale, strange face,
So like; yet so unlike her own,
I only feel that she is gone,
And I must learn to live alone.
I know this is not Mother now;
And yet I cling about this clay,
And watch to see that look break out
Which met me but the other day.
So calm! A furrow on the brow
Still lingers. ’Twas the work of years;
A mother’s tears, a mother’s pangs, —
Mute token of a mother’s cares!
Somewhere, I know, she waits for me,
In some bright nook of ageless lands;
But O, I miss the ﬂeshly proofs
Which craving human love demands.
To see her dresses laid aside,
To take the books she used to read,
And ﬁnd the ﬂowers she placed within —
O mother! this is pain indeed. (1864)
To Mrs. S. M. and Prof. W. D. Kerr, on the 30th Anniversary of their Wedding Day*
What purer and more lovely sight
Can this whole world afford,
When Christian man and Christian maid
Plight faith before the Lord;
And vow, through all the rolling years, —
Abiding by His will—
To prompt each other and help each other
And love each other still?
What! Thirty years since these two made
Such vows before the Lord?
What! Thirty years of mutual life—
Of mutual deed and word?
The traces of those thirty years
Lie light upon each brow;
The spring-time bloom was beautiful,
But so is Winter’s snow.
Here are the ﬂowers her cheerful groom
Wore on that happy day;
It was his bride’s own careful hand
That laid them safe away.
Two delicate, frail things have stood
Through all these thirty years:
This knot of ﬂowers and that young love,
That grew through smiles and tears,
And took such root, that still it lives,
Long nurtured and well grown—
The sweet work of the fostering years—
The Rose of Love, full blown!
Ah Lord! let many more of such
Steal by, ere its ripe leaves
Are loosened by that wind that blight
The cheer ’neath cottage eaves.
On His Seventieth Birthday [December 17, 1877.]
Seventy years, my friend, hast thou
Calmly trod the kindly earth,
And their seal on breast and brow
Makes me love their ripened worth.
Dearer, dearer far to me
Thy thought-laden, silvered head;
Thou if I thy prime could see,
Bright dark locks and health’s sweet red.
“Ah, at seventy all is said!”
Nay, friend! Thou hast Youth of Soul!
Thou hast garnered well the bread
Of the heart—that keeps thee whole.
Only because winter loved thee,
Hides its snow within thy hair.
Ah, but summer too hath proved thee,
Round thee clings its genial air.
Seventy years! Be glad, my friend.
Their experience sets thee free.
Lightly ’neath them dost thou bend,
Beautiful they seem to me!
Let me put my hand in thine,
Stand with thee a moment here,
Just within the light divine
Shining ’round thy seventieth year.
If the way was long and hard,
Looking back, how short it seems.
Nothing now is missed or marred,
All is better than thy dreams!
The mandate, “Go where glory waits,”
Was less than naught to him:
He sought the souls whose day was dark,
Whose eyes, with tears, were dim.
As yet his glory rests secure
In many a grateful mind,
First blessed by him, with knowledge sweet,
And linked into its kind.
They lay in prison, speechless, poor,
Unhearing, thralls of Fate,
Until he came, and said, “Come out!
It is not yet too late!”
He came, and lifted up, and spoke;
He set them in the sun.
The great work goes on and on
That was by him begun.
And in this bronze he lives again,
But more within each heart.
To which he said, “Be of good cheer,
Let loneliness depart.”
We lift the veil, and see how Art
Has ﬁxed his likeness there,
And placed beside him one whose life
He lifted from despair.
She stands there as the type of those
To whom he gave his all;
Those sorrows touched him till his love
Went out beyond recall!
Ah, well it was, that little ﬁght
Was fostered by the Lord!
Ah, well it was, he loved the child
And felt her fate was hard!
Ah, well it was, he turned himself
Unto that speechless woe,
Which made the world a lonely road
One hundred years ago!
Rest here, thou semblance of our Friend,
The while the world goes by!
Rest here, upon our College green,
Beneath the bending sky!
Remain, and bless the chosen work
That found its source in thee—
’Tis through thy love that ye, thy sons,
Are happy, strong, and free.
Rest here, Father of us all!
And when we pass thee by,
’ Twill be with bared head and heart,
And mutely reverent eye.
Thank God, He gave thee unto us
To free us from our woe,
And put the key into thy hand
One hundred years ago.
September 5, 1897, presented at the dedication of the Admission Day Fountain. *
This delicate shaft, so slender, yet so strong
How proudly it upbears
Its graceful burden, perfect as a song,
The which it crown-like wears!
Meet are thou, O, fair ﬁgure, to hold up
With arms untired and young,
Th’ unwritten book; like to an unﬁlled cup,
Like a song unsung.
That splendid Future, toward which thy face
With such glad pride is turned,
Shall grasp and hold thee on a long embrace
Till all its fame is earned.
They chronicle, as yet unwrit, is all
That older hands have won;
And’t will be gladly more, whate’er befall
Beneath the onlooking sun.
For it shall be the joy of him who stands
All rugged at thy feet
To bear aloft the ﬂag within his hands
Each nook of earth to greet.
Ah, fountain! let they virginal waters gush
Freely; to ﬂow unstained;
And never may rude hand thy music hush
Till all our glory’s gained.
Thy inspirer and thy maker, worthy each,
The soil from which they sprung—
For brother-love and love of art they teach;
Pioneers though so young.
Oh, California, fair as any dream!
On thee, the world shall wait;
And steadily the nations all shall stream
Through the wide Golden Gate!
It was a sultry August day,
There was no wind to stir the corn;
The mowers had not forked the hay;
In long, brown scorched swathes it lay;
The heat was deadly since the morn,
And yet, at noon, I could not stay;
For I must measure many a mile
Along a shadeless, dusty road;
My feet were blistered all the while,
My head ached so I could not smile
As on my burning way I strode,
And nothing could my pain beguile.
I almost cursed the brassy sky,
I almost cursed the parched ﬁeld,
When in the road I saw anigh
A sight a strong man’s heart to try,
To burst the fount of tears long sealed;
And I grew gentle; this was why:
The tracks of two bare little feet
Ran just alongside of my own,
And I forgot the savage heat,
The cruel sun that on me beat—
These were too small to go alone,
And yet, the message was so meet!
For if upon a weary way
So bravely such small feet could go,
How could I have the heart to stay,
And loitering, almost answer “Nay!”—
How could I dare to murmur so
Upon that sultry August day?
My darling steals to my side as I write,
And I pause to smile on her winning ways.
“What is it?” I say, “my one delight!”
“Dear delight of my silent days!”
While her eyes give back the look in my own,
She gently puts her lips to my ear,
And I feel, though I cannot hear the tone,
In which she whispers, “I love you, dear!”
She learned it from hearing me croon it to her,
Through pain and pleasure, in year, out year;
Her cradle swung to the rhythmic stir
Of her mother singing, “I love you, dear !”
One life has grown up betwixt us two;
One thought re-echoes from each to each;
I read my heart in her eyes clear blue,
And hers lies ever within my reach!
And the heart of a mother can never mistake,
Though the ear of the ﬂesh be cold and dead,
The ear of the soul is ever awake;
“So you want me to guess what ’twas you said?”
Thus, when she had spoken she looks at me.
I keep down the sudden tears that rise—
“And now what was it I said?” says she,
Suddenly turning solemn and wise.
Then I bend and whisper, “I love you, dear!”
While my eyes smile into her smiling eyes;
Then the laugh of both of us rings out clear,
And she says with a child’s unfeigned surprise:
“I’m sure, Mamma, that you didn’t see.
So, how can you know, since you cannot hear?”
“Why, I love my sweet, and my sweet loves me;
And I think it is very clear!”
Though its outer courts no sound may shrill,
The listening spirit divines Love’s song;
While the heart waits still upon his sweet will,
If it guesses it never goes wrong.
“I’ve nothing of my own—my very own!”
Murmured my craving heart; and I was lying
Crouched down among my cushions, cowering there
Like some wild, wounded thing. And still the crying
Went on and on, as some starved child should make
Betwixt its dreams a little piteous moan
For bread; though well awake it would not dare,
Mindful of stripes on pinched ﬂesh, blur and bare:
“I’ve nothing of my own—my very own!”
And so I turned my face the wall’s way shut
The eyes that were dark-ringed and heavy-lidded,
While restless ﬁngers through my loosed locks thridded,
And tried to think that I was only tired.
Not always can we stand ﬁrm-braced, inspired
To smile in Fate’s face, saying: “Thanks! ‘Tis well,
Whether thou ring’st Lent knells or Easter bell.”
I twice feigned to sleep. My heart persisted:
“But I’ve nothing of my own—my very own!”
Just then the door fell open. Two small faces*
Peered in at me; and to the sunny eyes,
The wind-ﬂushed cheeks, and bright locks’ tangled graces
I said: “Come in.” A small impetuous rush
Of swift feet followed. In a happy gush
Of childish kindness four small hands were thrust
Out toward me, full of violets, dew-wet—
Not sweeter though than to my heart the trust
Of those who brought them. Sitting up, I put
An arm around each; the while from head to foot
My life new-freshened in me at the sign.
“Ah! foolish heart, but these and these are thine.
How couldst thou dare to make such selﬁsh moan?
Flowers, child-love, God’s love are thy very own!” (San Mateo, c. 1905)
* 1858 Missouri School for the Deaf commencement tribute.
* The Kerrs founded the Missouri School for the Deaf.
* Written for and delivered orally and in signs at the unveiling of the Gallaudet statue on the Kendall school grounds in Washington, D.C., June 26, 1889.
* The fountain, located in San Francisco, was sculpted by Douglas Tilden.
* The two small faces are those of her grandchildren, John and Laura McGinn.