THE terrible night-watch is over,
I turn where I lie,
To eastward my dim eyes discover
Faint streaks in the sky;
Faint streaks on a faint light that dapples
And dawns like the ripening of apples,
Closes with darkness and grapples,
And darkness must die.
And the dawn finds us where the dusk found us—
The quick and the dead;
Thou dawn-slaying darkness around us,
Oh! slay me instead!
Thou pitiless earth that would sever
Twain souls, reuniting them never,
Oh, gape and engulf me for ever,
Oh, cover my head!
The toils that men strive with stout-hearted,
The fears that men fly,
I have known them, but they have departed,
And thou hast gone by.
Men toiling, and straining, and striving,
Are glad, peradventure, for living;
I render for life no thanksgiving,
Glad only to die.
Too alike to me now are all changes,
Naught gladdens, naught grieves.
Alike, now, pale snow on the ranges,
Pale gold on the sheaves.
Alike now the hum of glad bees on
Green boughs, and the sigh of sad trees on
Sere uplands, the fall of the season,
The fall of the leaves.
Alike now each wind blows the breezes
That kiss where they roam,
The breath of the March wind that freezes
In the rime of the loam;
The storm-blast that lashes and scourges,
And rends the white crests of the surges,
As it sweeps with the thunder of dirges
Across the sea foam.
Alike now all rainfall and down-fall,
Foul seasons and fair;
Let the rose on my patch or the thorn fall,
I heed not, nor care;
Nor for grey light of dawn, nor for dun light
Of dusk, nor for dazzle of sunlight
At noon; shall I seek light, or shun light?
Seek warmth or seek care?
Nor for breaking of fast neither grateful,
Nor for quenching of thirst,
In the dawn of the eventide hateful,
In the noontide accurst,
In the watch of the night sleep-forsaken
Till that sleep comes, no watch shall re-waken,
Be the best things of life never taken,
Never feared be the worst.
Skies laugh, and buds bloom, and birds warble
At breaking of day;
Without and within, on grey marble,
The light glimmers grey:
O pale, silent mouth, surely this is
The spot where death strikes and life misses:
Warm lips, pressing cold lips, waste kisses
Clay-cold as cold clay.
Through sunset, and twilight, and nightfall,
And night-watches bleak,
We have lain thus. Now broad rays of light fall,
And flicker, and streak;
The death-chamber glancing and shining,
Where death and dead life lie reclining,
My hand with her hand intertwining,
My cheek to her cheek.
I adjure thee by days spent together,
(So sad and so few),
By the seasons of fair and foul weather,
By the rose and the rue;
By the storms and the joys of past hours,
By the thorns of the earth and the flowers,
By the sun of the skies and the showers,
By the mist and the dew,
By the time that annihilates all things—
Our woes and our crimes;
By the gath’ring of great things and small things
At the end of all times,
Let thy soul answer mine through the portal
Of the grave, if the soul be immortal
(As the wise men of all climes have taught all
The fools of all climes).
If these men speak truth I come quickly—
My life does thee wrong:
Dost thou languish in shades peopled thickly
With phantoms that throng?
Have they known thee, my love? Hast thou known one
To welcome the stranger and lone one?
O loved one, O lost one, mine own one,
I tarry not long.
The flower that no more shall enwreath us
Turns sunward: the dove
Sails skyward: the grass is beneath us,
The birds are above.
Those skies, an illegible letter,
Seem fairer and farther, scarce better
Than earth to man, crushed by life’s fetter
When lifeless is love.
And none can love twice, says the heathen,
And none can twice die:
More hopeful than these are, are we then,
With hopes past the sky,
Yon judge—will He swerve from just sentence
For tardy, fear-stricken repentance?
Ask those who came hither and went hence,
But hope no reply.
And He who shall judge us in light:
How, then, shall I trust
In Him, having sinned in His sight?
. . . Is jealous and just;
So priests taught me once, in their learning
Perplexed, slower still in discerning:
Are ashes to ashes returning,
And dust seeking dust.
Can life thrive when life’s love expires?
Are life and love twain?
Men say so. Nay, all men are liars,
Or all lives are vain.
Let our dead loves and lives be forgotten
With the ripening of fruits that are rotten;
So we loving fools, dust-begotten,
Go dustward again.