Thinking I stood here in silence alone
In the churchyard I read the ancient stone.
I read it aloud to please my own ear.
I had no idea that you were so near.
So, now you’ve caught me and heard them read—
The runes and symbols all thought to be dead.
You can’t help but ask how I should know
A language that died so long, long ago.

Are there others, you ask, that I could translate,
That scholars have found, but found too late?
You wonder if it’s not from fancy’s air
That I dream up meaning for the writings there.
The history inscribed upon that gravestone,
Is it his who lies buried or all my own?
The story is there for all to see,
And yet the truth’s hidden from all but me.

As valiant a knight as ever drew breath—
As noble in life as honored in death—
His tale’s here set down so his glory would be
Remembered and fresh through eternity.
Sad irony it is that one so brave
Should have for his memory only this grave.
And his stone inscribed to keep honor young
Is only a relic of a long lost tongue.

Then how do I know it, if the meaning’s forgot?
I’m cursed. I recall things which others cannot.
Ages ago I was Apollo’s own page.
I laughed in Death’s face and scoffed at old age.
The Fates, thus offended, who seldom forgive,
Condemned me to youth—forever to live.
This knight, like others, sought never to die
But all them have perished and vanished but I.

Yes, I’ve learned every language that man has known—
Been as fluent in each as you are in your own.
You think “it's forever, all this must last.”
So thought those others who lived in the past.
I watched empires rise, prosper and fall.
You see how the dust has covered them all.

I’ve learned life’s a tapestry of infinite range.
With motifs repeated, only details that change.
My life runs through it an unbroken thread.
Those gods who chained—and could free me—are dead.
Their curse has outlived them and so I go on—
Immortal and weary and always alone.

Alison Lewis 1980
Chapel Hill, NC


I asked Alison if she had an on-line copy of the poem which she wrote back in college, that I had a couple of friends who I thought would enjoy it. She answered:

I actually wrote it in Parker after I had been in House Library listening for 6 hours, to LPs of Shakespeare plays. I was studying for a final in Dr. Armitage's class in April of 1980. It came to me mostly done with just a few places that I had to fiddle with. That was a very strange and wonderful experience that I have never had the privilege of repeating.

The grave is real though. It's in St, Mary's church in Gosforth, in the Lakes District in England where hogback stones mark the graves of Vikings from about 940 AD. I met the vicar's niece in Kent and was staying with the vicar and his wife for a night or two on my big trip of '79.

His story was wonderful too. He was parachuted into the Battle of the Bulge with only a Bible. He was a chaplain. He broke his foot on landing and was promptly captured by the Germans. They shuttled him between several POW camps and let him minister to the prisoners. Remember, I was over there studying WWII and found that nearly everyone had a story if I just asked.

I was probably also subliminally influenced by my solo visit on that trip to the British Museum in London. I was backing up to see the Elgin Marbles better and bruised my back on the corner of a wooden stand. I turned to see what I hit and found that it was the Rosetta Stone. I had a nasty bruise, but have been forever grateful that I did not knock the blame thing over!

I went to my folder on this computer to attach the file and found the folder deleted. I located my notebook from back then and retyped it. It's like visiting an old, nearly forgotten friend.

I hope your friends enjoy it. Dr. Armitage didn't seem all that impressed, but Mother likes it.

The public domain background image is of the actual churchyard showing the Gosforth Cross outside St. Mary's church in Gosforth, Cumbria, curtesy of Wikipedia user English_Lakes (no longer listed).