07 August 2013

Midnight in the City of the Dead, Pt 2

...We could but listen. Thoughts, for which neither reason nor training are responsible, at times flash over the mind, and so we stood there with all this night tremulous with this strange rapture, there came a dream, that this weird melody, born out of the silence of death, was chastened grief turned to joy, and made immortal in melody. It came and passed, casting a fleeting shadow on Belief, as the shadow of a bird falls upon the upturned face of an infant that watches, and leaves its mark only upon the memory.

Just out of the line of these aisles our companion pointed to a group of pines, whose trunks and branches wove themselves into the semblance of a ruined cathedral. The columns were standing, and the rotten roof, across whose opening the white moon was swiftly gliding, seemed just ready to drop downward. A low, murmurous breeze shook the foliage, and like the far, faint chanting of a hymn, we heard its whispers. This low-voiced breeze, this only sound which reaches us from eternity (DeQuincy), heard through this temple of the pines above the graves of many thousand, spoke its message not in vain.

On we pass, up the river, turning once to look into the hollow aisle we have forsaken. The deep, transparent shadows, lie within. It is the back ground Correggio loved, the
shades Rembrandt learned so well. It only needed a fair face beside the scarred beech, to make the picture perfect, and who can doubt but there have been wanderers there, who, turning from a flower-decked tomb, have paused to look upon the perfect picture wrought by Memory's potent touch.

And so lingering no more, we continue the journey. White robed forms stand back among the trees pointing to heaven: a child sleeping upon a marble bed with upturned face at rest; a boy kneeling forever with hands clasped in prayer, and silent crosses keep watch. Into the light, into the shadow, we pass back and forth, as these slumberers had passed through joys and sorrows. The river is far away behind us, the broad entrance before. As we pass out we think if all the grief that has sobbed beneath that arch could return and find voice, the walls of heaven itself would tremble and the angels' song be hushed.

[Author of text unknown. Item published in the 7 October 1881 "Georgia Weekly Telegraph" (Macon, GA). Photos © 2009-2013 S. Lincecum.]

06 August 2013

Midnight in the City of the Dead, Pt. 1

It was late in the night when in company with a companion, like ourselves moved by curiosity, we arrived in front of Rose Hill Cemetery and passed in silence under the arch which, itself, stands like a monument across the pathway of the living. Not a sound from all that vast resting place of the dead arose to break upon the breathless air, save the monotonous crunching of the gravel as we strode along down the right, past the white monuments, to the lowly beds of the Confederate dead. What a sight! Line upon line, rank upon rank, column upon column, as though a regiment wearied and worn, had lain down beneath those trees to rest. We fancied once we heard in the distance the faint echo of a bugle call, but as we listened, the repeated hooting of an owl explained the sound. Never again will the ranks uprise, nor stir. Never again will those solemn lines be broken by death, sickness or furloughs. There in the sound of the river they rest. Empires may rise and fall, republics strengthen, break and die, and Liberty become immortal, but the changes will be rung no more in the hollow circles of their lives. Their labors are ended, and in the hearts of Southern people their name and their glory is preserved. We stop and read upon the nearest head-board, "Unknown." It seemed the very irony of fate.

Leading away toward the river was an avenue, above which the trees clasped hands and caught the gleaning dew-drops as they fell. Beneath we passed until the flashing light upon the river shone upward through the tangled brakes. Within this aisle which
followed the river course through the cemetery the shadows are away among the trees right and left, the ivy carpets the ground from view. In one place stood a giant tree entirely covered by it. The vine had climbed to the nearest bow, swayed back in streamers, and woven itself a banner that swung nearly to the ground. Through this dark robe the broken light found a passage. Scarcely hearing each other's footsteps, we were traversing the avenue, when there fell upon the ear, the low gurgling warble of a mocking bird just breaking into song. Away above us he had hid himself. The song, broken into snatches at first, grew in power as the singer became enthused. Wonderfully clear and musical it floated down. The narrow aisle was filled with a presence, as though the very incarnation of music had swept by upon trembling wings, and awoke a thousand fairy bells...

[Author of text unknown. Item published in the 7 October 1881 "Georgia Weekly Telegraph" (Macon, GA). Photos © 2009-2013 S. Lincecum.]
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