Open main menu

The Secret


THEY drew the blinds down, and the house was old
With shadows, and so cold,
Filled up with shuddery silence like held breath.
And when I grew quite bold
And asked them why, they said that this was death.

They walked tiptoe about the house that day
And turned their heads away
Each time I passed. I sat down in surprise
And quite forgot to play.
Seeing them pass with wonder in their eyes.

My mother came into my room that night
Holding a shaded light
Above my face till she was sure I slept;
But I lay still with fright,
Hearing her breath, and knowing that she wept.

And afterward, with not a one to see,
I got up quietly
And tried each step I made with my bare feet
Until it seemed to me
That all the air grew sorrowful and sweet.

So without breathing I went down the stair,
In the light chilly air,
Into the parlor, where the perfumes led.
I lit candle there
And held it a long time above my head.

There was an oblong box, and at its base
Grew lilies in a vase
As white as they. I thought them very tall
In such a listening place,
And they threw fearful shadows on the wall.

I tiptoed to the box, then, silently,
To look what death could be;
And then I smiled, for it was father who
Was sleeping quietly.
He dreamed, I think, for he was smiling, too.

And all at once I knew death is a thing
That stoops down, whispering
A dear, forgotten secret in your ear
Such as the winds can sing.
And then you sleep and dream and have no fear.

Perhaps the winds have told the dream to flowers
On nights of lonely hours;
Perhaps we, too, could learn if we could seek
The wind in his watch-towers;
Perhaps the lilies knew, but could not speak.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.

The author died in 1944, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 70 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.