Rest! by William H. C. Hosmer

Cemetery at Fort Niagara, in the midst of a gravestone cleaning project. Image courtesy of New York State Parks

A  few rods from the barrier-gate of Fort Niagara was the burying-ground. It was filled with memorials
of the mutability and brevity of human life, and over the portals of entrance was painted, in large and emphatic characters, the word ‘Rest’ — Judge De Veaux.

Earth, upon her ample face,
Boasts no sweeter burial-place
Than a small enclosure green,
Near an ancient fortress seen ;
Mossy head-stones here and there
Names of fallen warriors bear,
But no eulogistic phrase,
Cut on rock, that meets the gaze,
Can our reverence command,
Like that brief inscription grand,
On the portal arch impressed —

River wide, and mighty lake
For the dead an anthem wake,
And with old, forgotten graves
Well comports the wash of waves,
Motto of the hallowed ground
Murmuring with solemn sound ;
Birds that by like spirits pass,
Winds that murmur in the grass,
Seem repeating evermore
That one word the gateway o’er,
Word that haunts a troubled breast—

Pilgrim, for a moment wait
Near the narrow entrance gate,
And one word peruse — no more —
Boldly traced the portals o’er ;
Mortal heart was never stirred
By a more emphatic word ;
One with deeper meaning fraught,
Or the power to quicken thought ;
Sermon, hymn, and funeral lay,
Eloquence the soul to sway,
In four letters are compressed —

Source:  Hosmer, William H.C.  The Poetical Works of William H.C. Hosmer. New York: Redfield, 1854

See casual references to Niagara in other poems by Hosmer

Read about William Howe Cuyler Hosmer

Old Fort Niagara website

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