Take Heart: A Conversation in Poetry: Lost Graveyards

Edited and introduced by Wesley McNair, Maine Poet Laureate

Marilyn Dunlap of Skowhegan selected this favorite poem from a previous column, writing that though it wasn’t easy to choose from her folders of poems from the Take Heart column, she picked this one because it reminded her, as a member of Maine’s Old Cemeteries Association, of “the many lost gravesites in Maine.”

Lost Graveyards by Elizabeth Coatsworth

In Maine the dead
melt into the forest
like Indians, or, rather,
in Maine the forests round the dead
until the dead are indistinguishably mingled
with trees; while underground,
roots and bones intertwine,
and above earth
the tilted gravestones, lichen-covered, too,
shine faintly out from among pines and birches,
burial stones and trunks
growing together
above the lattices of roots and bones.
Now is the battle over,
the harsh struggle
between man and the forest.
While they lived,
these men and women fought the encroaching trees,
hacked them with axes,
severed them with saws,
burned them in fires,
pushed them back and back
to their last lairs among the shaggy hills,
while the green fields lay tame about the houses.
Living they fought the wild,
but dead, they rested,
and the wild softly, silently, secretly,
returned. In Maine
the dead sooner or later feel the hug of rootlets,
and shadowy branches closing out the sun.

Take Heart: A Conversation in Poetry is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 1968 Elizabeth Coatsworth. Reprinted from Down Half the World, Macmillan, 1968, by permission of the Estate of Catherine Barnes. Please note that the column is no longer accepting submissions; comments about it may be directed to special consultant to the poet laureate, Gibson Fay-LeBlanc, at mainepoetlaureate@gmail.com or 207-228-8263. Take Heart: Poems from Maine, an anthology collecting the first two years of this column, is now available from Down East Books.