The October Night.

A poem by Emma Lazarus

POET.
My haunting grief has vanished like a dream,
Its floating fading memory seems one
With those frail mists born of the dawn's first beam,
Dissolving as the dew melts in the sun.


MUSE.
What ailed thee then, O poet mine;
What secret misery was thine,
Which set a bar 'twixt thee and me?
Alas, I suffer from it still;
What was this grief, this unknown ill,
Which I have wept so bitterly?


POET.
'T was but a common grief, well known of men.
But, look you, when our heavy heart is sore,
Fond wretches that we are! we fancy then
That sorrow never has been felt before.


MUSE.
There cannot be a common grief,
Save that of common souls; my friend,
Speak out, and give thy heart relief,
Of this grim secret make an end.
Confide in me, and have no fear.
The God of silence, pale, austere,
Is younger brother unto death.
Even as we mourn we're comforted,
And oft a single word is said
Which from remorse delivereth.


POET.
If I were bound this day to tell my woe,
I know not by what name to call my pain,
Love, folly, pride, experience - neither know
If one in all the world might thereby gain.
Yet ne'ertheless I'll voice the tale to thee,
Alone here by the hearth. But do thou take
This lyre - come nearer - so; my memory
Shall gently with the harmonies awake.


MUSE.
But first, or ere thy grief thou say,
My poet, art thou healed thereof?
Bethink thee, thou must speak to-day,
As free from hatred as from love.
For man has given the holy name
Of consolation unto me.
Make me no partner of thy shame,
In passions that have ruined thee.


POET.
Of my old wounds I am so sound and whole,
Almost I doubt they were, nor find their trace;
And in the passes where I risked my soul,
In mine own stead I see a stranger's face.
Muse, have no fear, we both may yield awhile
To this first inspiration of regret.
Oh, it is good to weep, 't is good to smile,
Remembering sorrows we might else forget.


MUSE.
As the watchful mother stoops
O'er her infant's cradled rest,
So my trembling spirit droops
O'er this long-closed, silent breast.
Speak! I touch the lyre's sweet strings,
Feebly, plaintively it sings,
With thy voice set free at last.
While athwart a radiant beam,
Like a light, enchanted dream,
Float the shadows of the past.


POET.
My days of work! sole days whereon I lived!
O thrice-beloved solitude!
Now God be praised, once more I have arrived
In this old study bare and rude.
These oft-deserted walls, this shabby den,
My faithful lamp, my dusty chair,
My palace, my small world I greet again,
My Muse, immortal, young and fair.
Thank God! we twain may sing here side by side,
I will reveal to thee my thought.
Thou shalt know all, to thee I will confide
The evil by a woman wrought.
A woman, yes! (mayhap, poor friends, ye guess,
Or ever I have said the word!)
To such a one my soul was bound, no less
Than is the vassal to his lord.
Detested yoke! within me to destroy
The vigor and the bloom of youth!
Yet only through my love I caught, in sooth,
A fleeting glimpse of joy.
When by the brook, beneath the evening-star,
On silver sands we twain would stray,
The white wraith of the aspen tree afar
Pointed for us the dusky way.
Once more within the moonlight do I see
That fair form sink upon my breast;
No more of that! Alas, I never guessed
Whither my fate was leading me.
The angry gods some victim craved, I fear,
At that ill-omened time,
Since they have punished me as for a crime,
For trying to be happy here!


MUSE.
A vision of remembered joy
Reveals itself to thee once more;
Why fearest thou to live it o'er,
Retracing it without annoy?
Wouldst thou confide the truth to me,
And yet those golden days disprove?
If fate has been unkind to thee,
Do thou no less, my friend, than she,
And smile upon thine early love.


POET.
Rather I dare to smile upon my woe.
Muse, I have said it, I would fain review
My crosses, visions, frenzy, - calmly show
The hour, place, circumstance, in order due.
'T was an autumnal evening, I recall,
Chill, gloomy; this one brings it back again.
The murmuring wind's monotonous rise and fall
Lulled sombre care within my weary brain.
I waited at the casement for my love,
And listening in the darkness black as death,
Such melancholy did my spirit move
That all at once I doubted of her faith.
The street wherein I dwelt was lonely, poor,
Lantern in hand, at times, a shade passed by,
When the gale whistled through the half-oped door.
One seemed to hear afar a human sigh.
I know not to what omen, sooth to say,
My superstitious spirit fell a prey.
Vainly I summoned courage - coward-like
I shuddered when the clock began to strike.
She did not come! Alone, with downcast head,
I stared at street and walls like one possessed.
How may I tell the insensate passion bred
By that inconstant woman in my breast!
I loved but her in all the world. One day
Apart from her seemed worse than death to me.
Yet I remember how I did essay
That cruel night to snap my chain, go free.
I named her traitress, serpent, o'er and o'er,
Recalled the anguish suffered for her sake,
Alas! her fatal beauty rose once more,
What grief, what torture in my heart to wake!
At last morn broke; with waiting vain outworn,
I fell asleep against the casement there.
I oped my lids upon the day new born,
My dazzled glance swam in the radiant air.
Then on the outer staircase, suddenly,
I heard soft steps ascend the narrow flight.
Save me, Great God! I see her - it is she!
Whence com'st thou? speak, where hast thou been this night?
What dost thou seek? who brings thee here thus late?
Where has this lovely form reclined till day,
While I alone must watch and weep and wait?
Where, and on whom hast thou been smiling, say!
Out, insolent traitress! canst thou come accurst,
And offer to my kiss thy lips' ripe charms?
What cravest thou? By what unhallowed thirst
Darest thou allure me to thy jaded arms?
Avaunt, begone! ghost of my mistress dead,
Back to thy grave! avoid the morning's beam!
Be my lost youth no more remembered!
And when I think of thee, I'll know it was a dream!


MUSE.
Be calm! I beg thee, I implore!
I shudder, hearing of thy pain.
O dearest friend, thy wound once more
Is opening to bleed again.
Is it so very deep, alas!
How slowly do the traces pass
Of this world's troubles! Thou, my son,
Forget her! let thy memory shun
Even to this woman's very name,
My pitying lips refuse to frame.


POET.
Shame upon her, who first
Treason and falsehood taught!
With grief and wrath accurst,
Who set my brain distraught.
Shame, woman baleful-eyed,
Whose fatal love entombed
In shadows of thy pride
My April ere it bloomed.
It was thy voice, thy smile,
Thy poisoned glances bright,
Which taught me to revile
The semblance of delight.
Thy grace of girlish years
Murdered my peace, my sleep.
If I lose faith in tears,
'T is that I saw thee weep.
I yielded to thy power
A child's simplicity.
As to the dawn the flower,
So oped my heart to thee.
Doubtless this helpless heart
Was thine without defence.
Were 't not the better part
To spare its innocence?
Shame! thou who didst beget
My earliest, youngest woe.
The tears are streaming yet
Which first thou madest flow.
Quenchless this source is found
Which thou hast first unsealed.
It issues from a wound
That never may be healed.
But in the bitter wave
I shall be clean restored,
And from my soul shall lave
Thy memory abhorred!


MUSE.
Poet, enough! Though but one single day
Lasted thy dream of her who faithless proved,
That day insult not; whatsoe'er thou say,
Respect thy love, if thou would be beloved.
If human weakness find the task too great
Of pardoning the wrongs by others done,
At least the torture spare thyself of hate,
In place of pardon seek oblivion.
The dead lie peaceful in the earth asleep,
So our extinguished passions too, should rest.
Dust are those relics also; let us keep
Our hands from violence to their ashes blest.
Why, in this story of keen pain, my friend,
Wilt thou refuse naught but a dream to see?
Does Nature causeless act, to no wise end?
Think'st thou a heedless God afflicted thee?
Mayhap the blow thou weepest was to save.
Child, it has oped thy heart to seek relief;
Sorrow is lord to man, and man a slave,
None knows himself till he has walked with grief, -
A cruel law, but none the less supreme,
Old as the world, yea, old as destiny.
Sorrow baptizes us, a fatal scheme;
All things at this sad price we still must buy.
The harvest needs the dew to make it ripe,
And man to live, to feel, has need of tears.
Joy chooses a bruised plant to be her type,
That, drenched with rain, still many a blossom bears.
Didst thou not say this folly long had slept?
Art thou not happy, young, a welcome guest?
And those light pleasures that give life its zest,
How wouldst thou value if thou hadst not wept?
When, lying in the sunlight on the grass,
Freely thou drink'st with some old friend - confess,
Wouldst thou so cordially uplift thy glass,
Hadst thou not weighed the worth of cheerfulness?
Would flowers be so dear unto thy heart,
The verse of Petrarch, warblings of the bird,
Shakespeare and Nature, Angelo and Art,
But that thine ancient sobs therein thou heard?
Couldst thou conceive the ineffable peace of heaven,
Night's silence, murmurs of the wave that flows,
If sleeplessness and fever had not driven
Thy thought to yearn for infinite repose?
By a fair woman's love art thou not blest?
When thou dost hold and clasp her hand in thine,
Does not the thought of woes that once possessed,
Make all the sweeter now her smile divine?
Wander ye not together, thou and she,
Midst blooming woods, on sands like silver bright?
Does not the white wraith of the aspen-tree
In that green palace, mark the path at night?
And seest thou not, within the moon's pale ray,
Her lovely form sink on thy breast again?
If thou shouldst meet with Fortune on thy way,
Wouldst thou not follow singing, in her train?
What hast thou to regret? Immortal Hope
Is shaped anew in thee by Sorrow's hand.
Why hate experience that enlarged thy scope?
Why curse the pain that made thy soul expand?
Oh pity her! so false, so fair to see,
Who from thine eyes such bitter tears did press,
She was a woman. God revealed to thee,
Through her, the secret of all happiness.
Her task was hard; she loved thee, it may be,
Yet must she break thy heart, so fate decreed.
She knew the world, she taught it unto thee,
Another reaps the fruit of her misdeed.
Pity her! dreamlike did her love disperse,
She saw thy wound - nor could thy pain remove.
All was not falsehood in those tears of hers -
Pity her, though it were, - for thou canst love!


POET.
True! Hate is blasphemy.
With horror's thrill, I start,
This sleeping snake to see,
Uncoil within my heart.
Oh Goddess, hear my cries,
My vow to thee is given,
By my beloved's blue eyes,
And by the azure heaven,
By yonder spark of flame,
Yon trembling pearl, the star
That beareth Venus' name,
And glistens from afar,
By Nature's glorious scheme,
The infinite grace of God,
The planet's tranquil beam
That cheers the traveler's road,
The grass, the water-course,
Woods, fields with dew impearled,
The quenchless vital force,
The sap of all the world, -
I banish from my heart
This reckless passion's ghost,
Mysterious shade, depart!
In the dark past be lost!
And thou whom once I met
As friend, while thou didst live,
The hour when I forget,
I likewise should forgive.
Let me forgive! I break
The long-uniting spell.
With a last tear, oh take,
Take thou, a last farewell.
Now, gold-haired, pensive Muse,
On to our pleasures! Sing -
Some joyous carol choose,
As in the dear old Spring.
Mark, how the dew-drenched lawn
Scents the auroral hour.
Waken my love with dawn,
And pluck her garden's flower.
Immortal nature, see!
Casts slumber's veil away.
New born with her are we
In morning's earliest ray.

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