The River Crossing
The days grew dark and the air grew chill
For she who lived by the mountain rill
She was burnt with age, but with keen gray glance
Stern, unbowed by both time and chance.
In the town below, the old women sighed,
“She will soon come down from the mountainside.
Today, perhaps, or perhaps tomorrow,
She will come and cross, daughter, to your sorrow.
“For you cannot ford that mountain stream
With its waters cold as December’s dream.
Its banks are steep, slick with frozen snow.”
But I told the women, “I will go.
“I will follow her to the riverside
Be it cold as death, or what may betide.”
But they shook their heads: “It’s a foolish vow,
For she will come down, and not long now.
“Will you freeze your heart on that icy day
Just to wave your hand and see her away?
Best to say farewell, though it be with woe.”
But I told the women: “I will go.”
And for six cold nights she came riding down
On a big black horse through the silent town.
At the river’s edge the horse bowed to drink
And six nights turned back from the cold, dark brink.
On the seventh night, I stood cold as stone
On the river bank watching all alone
As the horse stepped into the icy flow
To bear her to where I could not go;
But I alone in the world that night
Saw her gray hair burning angel bright
And her aged face, once pale and drawn
Blossom fresh as the rose of dawn.
She did not look back, and she made no sign
That she saw me there at the cold shoreline,
And I said no word, but watched mute and blank
As she disappeared on the far, dark bank.
And the women said, as I walked through town,
“Ah! There goes one who saw death go down.
See her eyes, with their strange wild gleam!
Yes, she went indeed to that cold dark stream.”
This poem is dedicated to all the children who have nursed a dying parent.