Eighteen Hundred And Sixty-Two - Poem by Kate Harrington
I'd a dream last night : in the dim twilight
I was thrilled by a strange emotion ;
For the Old Year came, with his withered frame,
And led me on by a torch of flame
To the verge of the p&hless ocean.
In our onward flight, by the lurid light
Beamed his eye with a spectral brightness;
And he shivered so in the drifting snow,
While his silvered hairs fluttered to and fro
O'er a forehead of ghostly whiteness.
Yet he made no moan as we hurried on,
While the stars bent, pitying, o'er him;
Though from rock and dell rose a parting knell,
And the weird trees whispered a low farewell
As their shadows knelt before him.
But he paused with me by the grand old Sea,
Where the Nighty in her glory slumbered ;
And he gathered sand from the golden strand,
And said, as it dropped from his palsied hand,
' 'Tis thus that my hours are numbered.
' Yet before I go to my couch of snow
I will sing, though my voice may quiver;
For my heart is brave as yon dauntless wave
That laughs ere it leaps to its ocean grave,
To be locked in its depths forever.
' But no thought of earth, with her joy and mirth,
Upon memory's page is beaming;
Not her sweet spring flowers, or her summer hours,
Or the whispered echoes from love-lit bowers,
Or her bright autumnal gleaming.
'For these strains are old, you have heard them told
By the years that have dawned and perished ;
And the witching ways of their smiling Mays,
And their golden, dreamy October days,
Are like those I once fondly cherished.
' So my voice shall sweep to the boundless deep,
Far down 'neath the wild waves hoary,
That madly tore from their glittering floor
The magic chain, lest the listening shore
Might learn of their viewless glory.
* * * *
' Then list to me, and I'll sing to thee
Of the mystic depths where I've wandered free;
Of the coral halls and the diamond bed
Where old Neptune sits with his pale-faced dead;
Of the fairy grottoes of gold and pearl,
That the sea-nymphs weave for each fair young girl
That the storm-king bears from the ocean's crest
And lays, in her beauty, down to rest.
' Oh, wonderful things have I seen below,
Where the bright fern clings and the sea-flowers blow;
Where the mermaids gather and slyly hide
Their red-lipped shells from the amorous tide;
Where shattered wrecks, with their gold-heaped spars,
On the pebbles gleam like a heaven of stars.
' 'There is one bright spot that I love to scan:
'Tis the emerald couch of a valiant man,
Whom the breakers' roar nor the flame-lit sky,
Nor the prayers of kindred, could urge to fly.
The ship's on fire !' like a funeral knell
On the hearts of that startled crew it fell;
And strong men shook, as the lurid glare
On the waters gleamed like a hideous stare;
And women shrieked, as with fiendish sound
The fiery serpents hemmed them round,
And hissed in glee as their fangs were pressed
Through the babes that slept on their mothers' breast.
But the brave commander, with dauntless mien,
At the helm of the sinking ship was seen
And when maddened flames through the crackling shrouds
And the hot air leaped till they licked the clouds,
When the whirlwind force of the tempest's breath
Swept the tottering wreck in the jaws of death,
With the firm, strong grasp of an iron will
He clung to the mast, and he clings there still.
' The beautiful maidens adown the main
Have tried to untwine his grasp in vain;
They made him a couch of the greenest moss
And the snow-white down of the albatross;
And they placed at the head, for a funeral stone,
The shell that could utter the softest moan ;
And they tried to melt in their gentle hold
The icy touch of those fingers cold.
But they found it vain ; so with tender care
They wove a pillow of sea-weeds there,
And, circling around it, these matchless girls
Knelt as they severed their own bright curls,
And tossed them down till their sheen was pressed
By the brave man's feet they had wooed to rest.
And 'tis thus he stands, like a warrior bold,
Chained to the wreck with his iron hold.
'And far away, where the billows moan
In a sadder strain and with softer tone,
I have seen, in its infant beauty, lay
A bright creation of human clay,
As pure its cheek and its brow as fair
As dews from heaven or the snow-flakes are;
And the dimpled hands round that cherub face
Were fondly clasped in a long embrace,
While the sleep that closed its unconscious eye
Grew deep 'neath the waves' soft lullaby.
A. lonesome thing seemed that babe to me,
Rocked in the arms of the great, broad sea;
A wee, small thing to have come so far
All by itself, without spot or scar;
A frail, weak thing, with no hand to guide
Such tender feet down the rugged tide.
Yet I know when they launched that unguided barge
The void in its mother's heart seemed large
As the ocean's self, and her grief as wild
As the breakers dashing above her child.
' But my strain must cease :—through the starlight clear
I have heard the steps of the coming Year;
My pulses flutter, my eye grows dim,
Yet once I was merry and strong like him.
Oh, my brighter days !—they are crowding back :
I am gazing now on Spring's rosy track,
Till the Summer comes with her broad, bright smile,
And the Autumn follows her steps the while.
But they vanish now,—yes, they all have flown,
And left me here, with the Night, alone.
I'm a frail old man,—all my bright dreams sped,
My fond hopes crushed, and my loved ones dead.
Well, my snow-couch waits me,—yon phantom bell
Is tolling slowly my parting knell.
I will rest me here where the wild waves sweep :—
Good-night, fair Earth, I—must—sink—to—sleep.'
So the Old Year slept, and the New Year leaped
From the clouds to the moaning billow;
And he bade it stand on the golden strand,
And guide his steps with its jeweled hand
To the aged champion's pillow.
And the New Year bowed, while the starry crowd
That had thronged the verge of even
Marked his earnest gaze, and in hymns of praise
They told the birth of this Prince of Days
To the countless hosts of heaven.
And the clouds drew up, from their magic cup,
The tears that each gentle flower
Had wept unseen when the earth was green,
And faithless zephyrs, with flattering mien,
Went wooing from bower to bower.
And this treasured dew, when the year was new,
They poured from their crystal chalice,
Till it touched his brow, though I scarce knew how,
Nor yet who had breathed the baptismal vow
That rang through his midnight palace.
Then I saw him fly through the sapphire sky,
Earth's spells and her fetters scorning,
Till he sat alone where his sire had flown,
A crowned king on his royal throne:—
And when I awoke—it was morning.
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