ANNA JANE VARDILL
The first three stanzas of this poem have found their way into the Third Degree ritual of some Masonic lodges, often in a corrupt form. The version below is reproduced from the original source, The European Magazine, Vol. 70, November 1816, p. 457, in which the author is identified as "V." the initial used by Anna Jane Vardill (1781-1852). For an earlier version of this poem, and other examples of Vardill's prolific contributions to The European Magazine, see the online anthology of her work.
FRAGMENT FOUND IN A SKELETON-CASE
Behold this ruin! — ’twas a skull
Once of ethereal spirit full!
This narrow cell was life’s retreat,
This space was Thought’s mysterious seat!
What beauteous pictures filled this spot;
What dreams of pleasure, long forgot!
Nor Love, nor Joy, nor Hope, nor Fear,
Hath left one trace of record here!
Beneath this mould’ring canopy
Once shone the bright and busy eye —
But start not at the dismal void! —
If Social Love that eye employ’d,
If with no lawless fire it gleam’d
But through the dew of kindness beam’d,
That eye shall be for ever bright,
When sun and stars have lost their light!
Here, in this silent cavern, hung
The ready, swift and tuneful tongue:
If Falsehood’s honey it disdain’d
And, where it could not praise, was chain’d;
If bold in Virtue’s cause it spoke,
Yet gentle Concord never broke,
That tuneful tongue shall plead for thee
When Death unveils Eternity!
Say, did these fingers delve the mine,
Or with its envied rubies shine?
To hew the rock or wear the gem
Can nothing now avail to them:
But if the page of truth they sought,
Or comfort to the mourner brought,
These hands a richer meed shall claim
Than all that waits on wealth or fame!
Avails it whether bare or shod
These feet the path of Duty trod?
If from the bow’rs of Joy they fled
To soothe Affliction’s humble bed;
If Grandeur’s guilty bribe they spurn'd,
And home to Virtue's lap return’d,
These feet with angel’s wings shall vie,
And tread the palace of the sky!