Rate this poem:(0.00 / 0 votes)

Three Dead Friends

James Whitcomb Riley 1849 (Greenfield) – 1916 (Indianapolis)



Always suddenly they are gone--
The friends we trusted and held secure--
Suddenly we are gazing on,
Not a _smiling_ face, but the marble-pure
Dead mask of a face that nevermore
To a smile of ours will make reply--
The lips close-locked as the eyelids are--
Gone--swift as the flash of the molten ore
A meteor pours through a midnight sky,
Leaving it blind of a single star.

Tell us, O Death, Remorseless Might!
What is this old, unescapable ire
You wreak on us?--from the birth of light
Till the world be charred to a core of fire!
We do no evil thing to you--
We seek to evade you--that is all--
That is your will--you will not be known
Of men. What, then, would you have us do?--
Cringe, and wait till your vengeance fall,
And your graves be fed, and the trumpet blown?

You desire no friends; but _we_--O we
Need them so, as we falter here,
Fumbling through each new vacancy,
As each is stricken that we hold dear.
One you struck but a year ago;
And one not a month ago; and one--
(God's vast pity!)--and one lies now
Where the widow wails, in her nameless woe,
And the soldiers pace, with the sword and gun,
Where the comrade sleeps, with the laureled brow.

And what did the first?--that wayward soul,
Clothed of sorrow, yet nude of sin,
And with all hearts bowed in the strange control
Of the heavenly voice of his violin.
Why, it was music the way he _stood_,
So grand was the poise of the head and so
Full was the figure of majesty!--
One heard with the eyes, as a deaf man would,
And with all sense brimmed to the overflow
With tears of anguish and ecstasy.

And what did the girl, with the great warm light
Of genius sunning her eyes of blue,
With her heart so pure, and her soul so white--
What, O Death, did she do to you?
Through field and wood as a child she strayed,
As Nature, the dear sweet mother led;
While from her canvas, mirrored back,
Glimmered the stream through the everglade
Where the grapevine trailed from the trees to wed
Its likeness of emerald, blue and black.

And what did he, who, the last of these,
Faced you, with never a fear, O Death?
Did you hate _him_ that he loved the breeze,
And the morning dews, and the rose's breath?
Did you hate him that he answered not
Your hate again--but turned, instead,
His only hate on his country's wrongs?
Well--you possess him, dead!--but what
Of the good he wrought? With laureled head
He bides with us in his deeds and songs.

Laureled, first, that he bravely fought,
And forged a way to our flag's release;
Laureled, next--for the harp he taught
To wake glad songs in the days of peace--
Songs of the woodland haunts he held
As close in his love as they held their bloom
In their inmost bosoms of leaf and vine--
Songs that echoed, and pulsed and welled
Through the town's pent streets, and the sick child's room,
Pure as a shower in soft sunshine.

Claim them, Death; yet their fame endures,
What friend next will you rend from us
In that cold, pitiless way of yours,
And leave us a grief more dolorous?
Speak to us!--tell us, O Dreadful Power!--
Are we to have not a lone friend left?--
Since, frozen, sodden, or green the sod,--
In every second of every hour,
_Some one_, Death, you have left thus bereft,
Half inaudibly shrieks to God.

Font size:
 

Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:05 min read
75 Views

James Whitcomb Riley

James Whitcomb Riley was an American writer, poet, and best-selling author. During his lifetime he was known as the "Hoosier Poet" and "Children's Poet" for his dialect works and his children's poetry respectively. more…

All James Whitcomb Riley poems | James Whitcomb Riley Books

FAVORITE (1 fan)

Discuss this James Whitcomb Riley poem with the community:

0 Comments

    Translation

    Find a translation for this poem in other languages:

    Select another language:

    • - Select -
    • 简体中文 (Chinese - Simplified)
    • 繁體中文 (Chinese - Traditional)
    • Español (Spanish)
    • Esperanto (Esperanto)
    • 日本語 (Japanese)
    • Português (Portuguese)
    • Deutsch (German)
    • العربية (Arabic)
    • Français (French)
    • Русский (Russian)
    • ಕನ್ನಡ (Kannada)
    • 한국어 (Korean)
    • עברית (Hebrew)
    • Gaeilge (Irish)
    • Українська (Ukrainian)
    • اردو (Urdu)
    • Magyar (Hungarian)
    • मानक हिन्दी (Hindi)
    • Indonesia (Indonesian)
    • Italiano (Italian)
    • தமிழ் (Tamil)
    • Türkçe (Turkish)
    • తెలుగు (Telugu)
    • ภาษาไทย (Thai)
    • Tiếng Việt (Vietnamese)
    • Čeština (Czech)
    • Polski (Polish)
    • Bahasa Indonesia (Indonesian)
    • Românește (Romanian)
    • Nederlands (Dutch)
    • Ελληνικά (Greek)
    • Latinum (Latin)
    • Svenska (Swedish)
    • Dansk (Danish)
    • Suomi (Finnish)
    • فارسی (Persian)
    • ייִדיש (Yiddish)
    • հայերեն (Armenian)
    • Norsk (Norwegian)
    • English (English)

    Citation

    Use the citation below to add this poem to your bibliography:

    Style:MLAChicagoAPA

    "Three Dead Friends" Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2022. Web. 29 Jan. 2022. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/21143/three-dead-friends>.

    Become a member!

    Join our community of poets and poetry lovers to share your work and offer feedback and encouragement to writers all over the world!

    January 2022

    Poetry Contest

    Enter our monthly contest for the chance to win cash prizes and gain recognition for your talent.
    2
    days
    16
    hours
    2
    minutes

    Browse Poetry.com

    Quiz

    Are you a poetry master?

    »
    "I celebrate myself, and sing myself."
    • A. William Wordsworth
    • B. Countee Cullen
    • C. Billy Collins
    • D. Walt Whitman