Mark Twain

In Memoriam - Olivia Susan Clemens

Short Story by Mark Twain

DIED AUGUST 18, 1896; AGED 24

In a fair valley--oh, how long ago, how long ago!--
Where all the broad expanse was clothed in vines,
And fruitful fields and meadows starred with flowers,
And clear streams wandered at their idle will;
And still lakes slept, their burnished surfaces
A dream of painted clouds, and soft airs
Went whispering with odorous breath,
And all was peace--in that fair vale,
Shut from the troubled world, a nameless hamlet drowsed.

Hard by, apart, a temple stood;
And strangers from the outer world
Passing, noted it with tired eyes,
And seeing, saw it not:
A glimpse of its fair form--an answering momentary thrill--
And they passed on, careless and unaware.

They could not know the cunning of its make;
They could not know the secret shut up in its heart;
Only the dwellers of the hamlet knew;
They knew that what seemed brass was gold;
What marble seemed, was ivory;
The glories that enriched the milky surfaces--
The trailing vines, and interwoven flowers,
And tropic birds a-wing, clothed all in tinted fires--
They knew for what they were, not what they seemed:
Encrustings all of gems, not perishable splendours of the brush.
They knew the secret spot where one must stand--
They knew the surest hour, the proper slant of sun--
To gather in, unmarred, undimmed,
The vision of the fane in all its fairy grace,
A fainting dream against the opal sky.

And more than this. They knew
That in the temple's inmost place a spirit dwelt,
Made all of light!
For glimpses of it they had caught
Beyond the curtains when the priests
That served the altar came and went.

All loved that light and held it dear
That had this partial grace;
But the adoring priests alone who lived
By day and night submerged in its immortal glow
Knew all its power and depth, and could appraise the loss
If it should fade and fail and come no more.

All this was long ago--so long ago!

The light burned on; and they that worshipped it,
And they that caught its flash at intervals and held it dear,
Contented lived in its secure possession. Ah,
How long ago it was!

And then when they
Were nothing fearing, and God's peace was in the air,
And none was prophesying harm,
The vast disaster fell:
Where stood the temple when the sun went down
Was vacant desert when it rose again!

Ah yes! 'Tis ages since it chanced!
So long ago it was,
That from the memory of the hamlet-folk the Light has passed--
They scarce believing, now, that once it was,
Or if believing, yet not missing it,
And reconciled to have it gone.

Not so the priests! Oh, not so
The stricken ones that served it day and night,
Adoring it, abiding in the healing of its peace:
They stand, yet, where erst they stood
Speechless in that dim morning long ago;
And still they gaze, as then they gazed,
And murmur, 'It will come again;
It knows our pain--it knows--it knows--
Ah surely it will come again.


LAKE LUCERNE, August 18, 1897.