Oh, is it Death that comes
To have a foretaste of the whole?
To-night the planets and the stars
Will glimmer through my window-bars,
But will not shine upon my soul.
For I shall lie as dead,
Though yet I am above the ground;
All passionless, with scarce a breath,
With hands of rest and eyes of death,
I shall be carried swiftly round.
Or if my life should break
The idle night with doubtful gleams
Through mossy arches will I go,
Through arches ruinous and low,
And chase the true and false in dreams.
Why should I fall asleep?
When I am still upon my bed,
The moon will shine, the winds will rise,
And all around and through the skies
The light clouds travel o'er my head.
O, busy, busy things!
Ye mock me with your ceaseless life;
For all the hidden springs will flow,
And all the blades of grass will grow,
When I have neither peace nor strife.
And all the long night through,
The restless streams will hurry by;
And round the lands, with endless roar,
The white waves fall upon the shore,
And bit by bit devour the dry.
Even thus, but silently,
Eternity, thy tide shall flow--
And side by side with every star
Thy long-drawn swell shall bear me far,
An idle boat with none to row.
My senses fail with sleep;
My heart beats thick; the night is noon;
And faintly through its misty folds
I hear a drowsy clock that holds
Its converse with the waning moon.
Oh, solemn mystery!
That I should be so closely bound
With neither terror nor constraint
Without a murmur of complaint,
And lose myself upon such ground!
'Rubbish!' said Ericson, as he threw down the sheets, disgusted with
his own work, which so often disappoints the writer, especially if
he is by any chance betrayed into reading it aloud.
'Dinna say that, Mr. Ericson,' returned Robert. 'Ye maunna say that.
Ye hae nae richt to lauch at honest wark, whether it be yer ain or
ony ither body's. The poem noo--'
'Don't call it a poem,' interrupted Ericson. 'It's not worthy of the
'I will ca' 't a poem,' persisted Robert; 'for it's a poem to me,
whatever it may be to you. An' hoo I ken 'at it's a poem is jist
this: it opens my een like music to something I never saw afore.'
'What is that?' asked Ericson, not sorry to be persuaded that there
might after all be some merit in the productions painfully despised
'Jist this: it's only whan ye dinna want to fa' asleep 'at it luiks
fearsome to ye. An' maybe the fear o' death comes i' the same way:
we're feared at it 'cause we're no a'thegither ready for 't; but
whan the richt time comes, it'll be as nat'ral as fa'in' asleep whan
we're doonricht sleepy. Gin there be a God to ca' oor Father in
heaven, I'm no thinkin' that he wad to sae mony bonny tunes pit a
scraich for the hinder end. I'm thinkin', gin there be onything in
't ava--ye ken I'm no sayin', for I dinna ken--we maun jist lippen
till him to dee dacent an' bonny, an' nae sic strange awfu' fash
aboot it as some fowk wad mak a religion o' expeckin'.'
Ericson looked at Robert with admiration mingled with something akin
'One would think it was your grandfather holding forth, Robert,' he
said. 'How came you to think of such things at your age?'
'I'm thinkin',' answered Robert, 'ye warna muckle aulder nor mysel'
whan ye took to sic things, Mr. Ericson. But, 'deed, maybe my
luckie-daddie (grandfather) pat them i' my heid, for I had a heap
ado wi' his fiddle for a while. She's deid noo.'
Not understanding him, Ericson began to question, and out came the
story of the violins. They talked on till the last of their coals
was burnt out, and then they went to bed.
Shargar had undertaken to rouse them early, that they might set out
on their long walk with a long day before them. But Robert was
awake before Shargar. The all but soulless light of the dreary
season awoke him, and he rose and looked out. Aurora, as aged now
as her loved Tithonus, peered, gray-haired and desolate, over the
edge of the tossing sea, with hardly enough of light in her dim eyes
to show the broken crests of the waves that rushed shorewards before
the wind of her rising. Such an east wind was the right breath to
issue from such a pale mouth of hopeless revelation as that which
opened with dead lips across the troubled sea on the far horizon.
While he gazed, the east darkened; a cloud of hail rushed against
the window; and Robert retreated to his bed. But ere he had fallen
asleep, Ericson was beside him; and before he was dressed, Ericson
appeared again, with his stick in his hand. They left Shargar still
asleep, and descended the stairs, thinking to leave the house
undisturbed. But Mrs. Fyvie was watching for them, and insisted on
their taking the breakfast she had prepared. They then set out on
their journey of forty miles, with half a loaf in their pockets, and
money enough to get bread and cheese, and a bottle of the poorest
ale, at the far-parted roadside inns.
When Shargar awoke, he wept in desolation, then crept into Robert's
bed, and fell fast asleep again.