William Ernest Henley

(1849 - 1902 / Gloucester / England)

Vigil


Lived on one's back,
In the long hours of repose,
Life is a practical nightmare -
Hideous asleep or awake.

Shoulders and loins
Ache-- -!
Ache, and the mattress,
Run into boulders and hummocks,
Glows like a kiln, while the bedclothes -
Tumbling, importunate, daft -
Ramble and roll, and the gas,
Screwed to its lowermost,
An inevitable atom of light,
Haunts, and a stertorous sleeper
Snores me to hate and despair.

All the old time
Surges malignant before me;
Old voices, old kisses, old songs
Blossom derisive about me;
While the new days
Pass me in endless procession:
A pageant of shadows
Silently, leeringly wending
On . . . and still on . . . still on!

Far in the stillness a cat
Languishes loudly. A cinder
Falls, and the shadows
Lurch to the leap of the flame. The next man to me
Turns with a moan; and the snorer,
The drug like a rope at his throat,
Gasps, gurgles, snorts himself free, as the night-nurse,
Noiseless and strange,
Her bull's eye half-lanterned in apron,
(Whispering me, 'Are ye no sleepin' yet?'),
Passes, list-slippered and peering,
Round . . . and is gone.

Sleep comes at last -
Sleep full of dreams and misgivings -
Broken with brutal and sordid
Voices and sounds that impose on me,
Ere I can wake to it,
The unnatural, intolerable day.

Submitted: Monday, April 12, 2010

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