On that neglected turf and quiet stone,
With name no clearer than the names unknown,
Which lay unread around it; and I asked
The Gardener of that ground, why it might be
That for this plant strangers his memory tasked,
Through the thick deaths of half a century;10
And thus he answered—"Well, I do not know
Why frequent travellers turn to pilgrims so;
He died before my day of Sextonship,
And I had not the digging of this grave"
And is this all? I thought,—and do we rip
The veil of Immortality, and crave
I know not what of honour and of light
Through unborn ages, to endure this blight?
So soon, and so successless? As I said,
The Architect of all on which we tread,20
For Earth is but a tombstone, did essay
To extricate remembrance from the clay,
Whose minglings might confuse a Newton's thought,
"The under-earth inhabitants—are they
But mingled millions decomposed to clay?"
A Fragment, lines 23, 24, vide post, p. 52.
It is difficult to "extricate" the meaning of lines 19-25, but, perhaps, they are intended to convey a hope of immortality. "As I was speaking, the sexton (the architect) tried to answer my question by taxing his memory with regard to the occupants of the several tombs. He might well be puzzled, for 'Earth is but a tombstone,' covering an amalgam of dead bodies, and, unless in another life soul were separated from soul, as on earth body is distinct from body, Newton himself, who disclosed 'the turnpike-road through the unpaved stars' (Don Juan, Canto X. stanza ii. line 4), would fail to assign its proper personality to any given lump of clay."]