I dreamt last night; and in that dream
My boyhood's heart was mine again;
These latter years did nothing seem
With all their mingled joy and pain,
Their thousand deeds of good and ill,
Their hopes which time did not fulfil,
Their glorious moments of success,
Their love that closed in bitterness,
Their hate that grew with growing strength,
Their darling projects -- dropped at length,
And higher aims that still prevail, --
For I must perish ere they fail, --
That crowning object of my life,
The end of all my toil and strife,
Source of my virtues and my crimes,
For which I've toiled and striven in vain, --
But, if I fail a thousand times,
Still I will toil and strive again: --
Yet even this was then forgot;
My present heart and soul were not:
All the rough lessons life has taught,
That are become a part of me,
A moment's sleep to nothing brought
And made me what I used to be.
And I was roaming, light and gay,
Upon a breezy, sunny day,
A bold and careless youth;
No guilty stain was on my mind;
And, if not over soft or kind,
My heart was full of truth.
It was a well-known mountain scene; --
Wild steeps, with rugged glens between
I should have thirsted to explore,
Had I not trod them oft before.
A younger boy was with me there.
His hand upon my shoulder leant;
His heart, like mine, was free from care,
His breath, with sportive toil, was spent;
For my rough pastimes he would share,
And equal dangers loved to dare,
(Though seldom I would care to vie
In learning's keen pursuit with him;
I loved free air and open sky
Better than books and tutors grim,)
And we had wandered far that day
O'er that forbidden ground away --
Ground, to our rebel feet how dear;
Danger and freedom both were there! --
Had climbed the steep and coursed the dale
Until his strength began to fail.
He bade me pause and breathe a while,
But spoke it with a happy smile.
His lips were parted to inhale
The breeze that swept the ferny dale,
And chased the clouds across the sky,
And waved his locks in passing by,
And fanned my cheek; (so real did seem
This strange, untrue, but truthlike dream;)
And, as we stood, I laughed to see
His fair young cheek so brightly glow.
He turned his sparkling eyes to me
With looks no painter's art could show,
Nor words portray; -- but earnest mirth,
And truthful love I there descried;
And, while I thought upon his worth,
My bosom glowed with joy and pride.
I could have kissed his forehead fair;
I could nave clasped him to my heart;
But tenderness with me was rare,
And I must take a rougher part:
I seized him in my boisterous mirth;
I bore him struggling to the earth
And grappling, strength for strength we strove --
He half in wrath, -- I all for love;
But I gave o'er the strife at length,
Ashamed of my superior strength, --
The rather that I marked his eye
Kindle as if a change were nigh.
We paused to breathe a little space,
Reclining on the heather brae;
But still I gazed upon his face
To watch the shadow pass away.
I grasped his hand, and it was fled; --
A smile -- a laugh -- and all was well: --
Upon my breast he leant his head,
And into graver talk we fell, --
More serious -- yet so blest did seem
That calm communion then,
That, when I found it but a dream,
I longed to sleep again.
At first, remembrance slowly woke.
Surprise, regret, successive rose,
That love's strong cords should thus be broke
And dearest friends turn deadliest foes.
Then, like a cold, o'erwhelming flood
Upon my soul it burst ------------
This heart had thirsted for his blood;
This hand allayed that thirst!
These eyes had watched, without a tear,
His dying agony;
These ears, unmoved, had heard his prayer;
This tongue had cursed him suffering there,
And mocked him bitterly!
Unwonted weakness o'er me crept;
I sighed -- nay, weaker still -- I wept!
Wept, like a woman o'er the deed
I had been proud to do: --
As I had made his bosom bleed;
My own was bleeding too.
Back foolish tears! -- the man I slew
Was not the boy I cherished so;
And that young arm that clasped the friend
Was not the same that stabbed the foe:
By time and adverse thoughts estranged,
And wrongs and vengeance, both were changed.
Repentance, now, were worse that vain:
Time's current cannot backward run;
And be the action wrong or right,
It is for ever done.
Then reap the fruits -- I've said his death
Should be my country's gain: --
If not -- then I have spent my breath,
And spilt his blood in vain:
And I have laboured hard and long,
But little good obtained;
My foes are many, yet, and strong,
Not half the battle's gained;
For, still, the greater deeds I've done,
The more I have to do.
The faster I can journey on,
The farther I must go.
If Fortune favoured for a while,
I could not rest beneath her smile,
Nor triumph in success:
When I have gained one river's shore
A wilder torrent, stretched before,
Defies me with its deafening roar;
And onward I must press.
And, much I doubt, this work of strife,
In blood and death begun,
Will call for many a victim more
Before the cause is won. --
Well! my own life, I'd freely give
Ere I would fail in my design; --
The cause must prosper if I live,
And I will die if it decline:
Advanced this far, I'll not recede; --
Whether to vanquish or to bleed,
Onward, unchecked, I must proceed.
Be Death, or Victory mine!