When the beautiful elder-flowers are drifting their summer snow
Over the warm, green meadows, there echoes a wail of woe
Through the breeze that stirs their clusters, and their bitter-scented breath
Comes to me ever ladened with a memory of death.
Fresh flowers were heaped in vase and urn on the festive board one day,
When some honored guests were bidden, when our home was bright and gay;
Roses and lilies marked the path of the golden summer hours.
Mother, why did you chance to call for those fatal elder-flowers?
"Bring me a cluster of elder;" it was spoken, and he was gone,
My fair young brother, gallant and gay, riding over the lawn,
Wearing the glory of youth and strength,--a panoply of light;
But, lo! by his side a phantom rode, in armor as black as night.
The mother's love, that down his path like a guardian angel flew,
Might cope in vain with that dark form, hid where the elder-blossoms grew.
A smothered cry from the meadow rose, with grief and horror rife,
That tore away youth's mask of bliss from the morn of my boyhood's life.
I can hear the shriek of anguish yet, that fiercely rent apart
The strength of my mother's love, and left a scar upon her heart,
Like the voice of the lightning when it rends some fair young forest oak,
And leaves a blighted branch to mark the fall of its deadly stroke.
The clusters were plucked--the horse had plunged, and laid his rider low
'Mid the elder-blooms, and warm young blood was flecking their scented snow.
The light had gone out of his beaming eye, and out of that sunny noon,
And this is why a wail comes up from the elder-flowers in June.
For when that beautiful summer day ran out its golden sands
He was still and white as the fatal flowers that laid in his folded hands.
I had never looked on death until that picture smote my brain,
And ever to me the elder-flower must wear a crimson stain.
And this is why, when their scented flakes through warm green meadows blow,
An echo of anguish drifts to me from out the "long ago."
And this is why the crimson blot that fell on that joyous noon
Still taints the breath and stains the white of the elder-flowers in June.