by John Payne
BETWEEN the night-end and the break of day
An hour there is that from the thither shore
Of the dark river its enchantments frore
And fearful borrows, when each churchyard clay
Breathes out its chills, when life unto a stay
Seems come and pauses, shuddering, at Death's door,
That stands ajar; of all the twenty-four
Sternest and most of horror and affray.
Here, for arraignment, all its sour and sweet,
Its crimes, its wrongs, its errors, its tears shed,
(For sorrows here for sins imputed are)
The piteous Past unto Thought's judgment-bar
Brings up; and here, where night and morning meet,
The sea of memory gives up its dead.
Here, all alone, the soul before the ark
(That ark, whereto there is no mercy-seat)
Of conscience stands and to the iron beat
Of time, that all the wasted years doth mark
And all the days in vain bygone, must hark,
Mourning for done and undone, deeds unmeet
And words ill-spoken; whilst, with faltering feet,
The night slopes dawnward through the shallowing dark.
Set, awful hour, when, in the grave-cold air,
The moments fall like ages, when Life's breath
Halts and the world lies blank and stark and bare
Before Thought's eyes, when love and life and light
For ever sunken seem in seas of night
And the soul pauses in the ports of Death.
Who to this dread diurnal judgment-hour,
This everyday rehearsal-time of death,
When life stands still and cold is Nature's breath,
When all our sins bygone like mountains tower
Before the thought and with its salving power,
Afar the blessed daylight tarrieth-
Who is't can look with hope and cheer and faith?
Who but before its cold approach must cower?
Then for a God, with blind hand, round about
Casting, to succour it and finding none,
The soul into the darkness crieth out
For some twin soul, to share its hope and doubt,
And meeting but the void, till night be done,
Longeth and trembleth for the assaining sun.
Oft, in this darkling hour of doubt and dread,
The Past, with all its ghosts, revisits me,
Its wraiths of hope and joy and ecstacy:
I feel the windy presence of the dead
Stir in my hair and hear their spirit-tread,
As dry leaves falling, nothing though I see:
Again for my sad sense they live and be
And stir and rustle round my bed.
Oh spirits of my dead, that may not rest,
But needs must harbour where you loved of yore,
Still, by the fetters of the grave opprest,
Seeking to burst the bonds of nothingness,
How shall I do to ease you of your stress?
How shall I win to look on you once more?
Last updated January 11, 2018