Isabella Fyvie Mayo
The Midnight Lamp - Poem by Isabella Fyvie Mayo
From window, curtainless and high,
There gleamed a sickly, yellow light;
On other casements darkness fell,
But that shone all the dreary night.
And every morning, when the street
Woke to the carman's cheery shout,
Or the quick tread of hurrying feet,
The little yellow light went out.
Beside it sat a haggard man,
Yet 'twas not time had made him so;
Rather, each year that o'er him ran
Had left him a decade of woe.
He lived a month in every night
A month of anguish and despair;
Whilst something on his brow did write
A look that youth should never wear.
He often left the dismal house,
And walked away, with downcast eyes,
As though he feared to see a curse
Writ on the sunny summer skies.
Yet, stern and grave as he appeared,
The little children in the street
Smiled in his face, and never feared
To sport and gambol at his feet.
Yet when those cherub looks were raised,
Half shyly, flashing fun and play,
Scarcely upon their smiles he gazed,
But sighed, and turned his face away;
As though he feared lest childhood's eye
Should chance to penetrate the veil
Of a dark story, and descry
The dismal secret of his tale.
But on one gusty winter eve,
When wind was high, and snow was deep,
Just such a night as makes one grieve
For those who have no home to keep
I drew aside my curtain's fold,
Half shuddering in the frosty air,
The stars were shining, clear and cold,
But that dim lamp—it was not there;
And fears within my spirit stirred,
I felt my brow grow cold and white,
As though a ghostly voice I heard
Upon the silence of the night.
I sought my bed—sleep closed mine eyes
I woke in fear—my brow was damp
I know not what I dreamed, but I
Had dreamed about that little lamp!
I rose, and from my window saw
The house of that mysterious light,
Dull was the morning, dim and raw,
Soiling the snow so pure last night.
People were gathered in the street,
In hushed, mysterious tones they spoke;
Then watchmen came, with heavy feet,
And, passing swiftly mid the folk,
Entered the house, and in its gloom
They found they needs must have a light.
I saw them pass from room to room
To that which once was lit by night,
And long and long they lingered there
(But what they found I could not say):
Then out they came with looks of care,
And sent the people all away.
What had they found?—they found him dead,
That lonely watcher in the night,
Lying alone upon his bed,
And near him his extinguished light.
But though his face was dark and lean,
It wore no more its look of care,
A smile was o'er its sorrow seen,
The cold hand held a lock of hair
A single lock of golden hair
Long, silken, curled, as women's are;
Its owner—was she false as fair?
Or was she dead, or gone afar?
We can but guess that shining tress
Was some sweet relic of his past
A comfort or a bitterness
That soothed, or stung him to the last.
And that was all that man could learn,
But yet it gave me sudden pain
To know that lamp would never burn
On that high window-sill again;
And from my memory ne'er will go
The tarnished hearse, the rusty pall,
The gaping crowd, and all the woe
Of that unfollowed funeral.
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