My Last Dance

Original Text: 
[Julia Ward Howe] Passion-Flowers (Boston: Ticknor, Reed, and Fields, 1854), pp. 108-10. PS 2017 P3 Robarts Library.
1The shell of objects inwardly consumed
2Will stand, till some convulsive wind awakes;
3Such sense hath Fire to waste the heart of things,
4Nature, such love to hold the form she makes.
5Thus, wasted joys will show their early bloom,
6Yet crumble at the breath of a caress;
7The golden fruitage hides the scathèd bough,
8Snatch it, thou scatterest wide its emptiness.
9For pleasure bidden, I went forth last night
10To where, thick hung, the festal torches gleamed;
11Here were the flowers, the music, as of old,
12Almost the very olden time it seemed.
13For one with cheek unfaded, (though he brings
14My buried brothers to me, in his look,)
15Said, `Will you dance?' At the accustomed words
16I gave my hand, the old position took.
17Sound, gladsome measure! at whose bidding once
18I felt the flush of pleasure to my brow,
19While my soul shook the burthen of the flesh,
20And in its young pride said, `Lie lightly thou!'
21Then, like a gallant swimmer, flinging high
22My breast against the golden waves of sound,
23I rode the madd'ning tumult of the dance,
24Mocking fatigue, that never could be found.
25Chide not,--it was not vanity, nor sense,
26(The brutish scorn such vaporous delight,)
27But Nature, cadencing her joy of strength
28To the harmonious limits of her right.
29She gave her impulse to the dancing Hours,
30To winds that sweep, to stars that noiseless turn;
31She marked the measure rapid hearts must keep
32Devised each pace that glancing feet should learn.
33And sure, that prodigal o'erflow of life,
34Unvow'd as yet to family or state,
35Sweet sounds, white garments, flowery coronals
36Make holy, in the pageant of our fate.
37Sound, measure! but to stir my heart no more--
38For, as I moved to join the dizzy race,
39My youth fell from me; all its blooms were gone,
40And others showed them, smiling, in my face.
41Faintly I met the shock of circling forms
42Linked each to other, Fashion's galley-slaves,
43Dream-wondering, like an unaccustomed ghost
44That starts, surprised, to stumble over graves.
45For graves were 'neath my feet, whose placid masks
46Smiled out upon my folly mournfully,
47While all the host of the departed said,
48`Tread lightly--thou art ashes, even as we.'
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.