The Earth

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by Ella Wheeler Wilcox


   To build a house, with love for architect,
   Ranks first and foremost in the joys of life.
   And in a tiny cabin, shaped for two,
   The space for happiness is just as great
   As in a palace. What a world were this
   If each soul born received a plot of ground;
   A little plot, whereon a home might rise,
   And beauteous green things grow!
            We give the dead,
   The idle vagrant dead, the Potter’s Field;
   Yet to the living not one inch of soil.
   Nay, we take from them soil, and sun, and air,
   To fashion slums and hell-holes for the race.
   And to our poor we say, ‘Go starve and die
   As beggars die; so gain your heritage.’


   That was a most uncanny dream; I thought the wraiths of those
   Long buried in the Potter’s Field, in shredded shrouds arose;
      They said, ‘Against the will of God
      We have usurped the fertile sod,
      Now will we make it yield.’

   Oh! but it was a gruesome sight, to see those phantoms toil;
   Each to his own small garden bent; each spaded up the soil;
      (I never knew Ghosts laboured so.)
      Each scattered seed, and watched, till lo!
      The Graves were opulent.

   Then all among the fragrant greens, the silent, spectral train
   Walked, as if breathing in the breath of plant, and flower, and grain.
      (I never knew Ghosts loved such things;
      Perchance it brought back early springs
      Before they thought of death.)

   ‘The mothers’ milk for living babes; the earth for living hosts;
   The clean flame for the un-souled dead.’ (Oh, strange the words of
      ‘If we had owned this little spot
      In life, we need not lie and rot
      Here in a pauper’s bed.’

from An Englishman and Other Poems by Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1912)

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