Henry Francis Lyte
Declining Days - Poem by Henry Francis Lyte
Why do I sigh to find
Life's evening shadows gathering round my way?
The keen eye dimming, and the buoyant mind
Unhinging day by day?
Is it the natural dread
Of that stern lot, which all who live must see?
The worm, the clay, the dark and narrow bed, --
Have these such awe for me?
Can I not summon pride
To fold, my decent mantle round my breast;
And lay me down at Nature's eventide,
Calm to my dreamless rest?
As nears my soul the verge
Of this dim continent of woe and crime,
Shrinks she to hear Eternity's long surge
Break o'er the shores of time?
Asks she, how shall she fare
When conscience stands before the judge's throne,
And gives her record in, and all shall there
Know, as they all are known?
A solemn scene and time --
And well may Nature quail to feel them near --
But grace in feeble breasts can work sublime,
And faith overmaster fear!
Hark I from that throne comes down
A voice which strength to sinking souls can give,
That voice all judgment's thunders cannot drown;
'Believe,' it cries, 'and live.'
Weak-sinful, as I am,
That still small voice forbids me to despond
Faith clings for refuge to thebleeding Lamb,
Nor dreads the gloom beyond. --
'Tis not, then, earth's delights
From which my spirit feels so loath to part;
Nor the dim future's solemn sounds or sights,
That press so on my heart.
No I 'tis the thought that I --
My lamp so low, my sun so nearly set,
Have lived so useless, so unmissed should lie
'Tis this, I now regret. --
I would not be the wave,
That swells and ripples up to yonder shore
That drives impulsive on, the wild wind's slave,
And breaks, and is no more! --
I would not be the breeze,
That murmers by me in its viewless play,
Bends the light grass, and flutters in the trees,
And sighs and flits away! --
No I not like wave or wind
Be my career across the earthly scene
To come and go, and leave no trace behind,
To say that I have been.
I want not vulgar fame --
I seek not to survive in brass or stone
Hearts may not kindle when they hear my name,
Nor tears my value own. --
But might I leave behind
Some blessing for my fellows, some fair trust
To guide, to cheer, to elevate my kind
When I am in the dust.
Within my narrow bed,
Might I not wholly mute or useless be;
But hope that they, who trampled o'er my head,
Drew still some good from me!
Might my poor lyre but give
Some simple strain, some spirit-moving lay;
Some sparklet of the soul, that still might live
When I have passed to clay! --
Might verse of mine inspire
One virtuous aim, one high resolve impart;
Light in one drooping soul a hallowed fire,
Or bind one broken heart. --
Death would be sweeter then,
More calm my slumber 'neath the silent sod;
Might I thus live to bless my fellow-men,
Or glorify my God.
Why do we ever lose,
As judgment ripens, our diviner powers
Why do we only learn our gifts to use,
When they no more are ours?
O Thou whose touch can lend
Life to the dead, Thy quick'ning grace supply,
And grant me, swanlike, my last breath to spend
In song that may not die!
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