Haunted by unknown feet -
Ways of the midnight hour!
Strangely you murmur below me,
Strange is your half-silent power.
Places of life and of death,
Numbered and named as streets,
What, through your channels of stone,
Is the tide that unweariedly beats?
A whisper, a sigh-laden breath,
Is all that I hear of its flowing.
Footsteps of stranger and foe -
Footsteps of friends, could we meet -
Alike to me in my sorrow;
Alike to a life left alone.
Yet swift as my heart they throb,
They fall thick as tears on the stone:
My spirit perchance may borrow
New strength from their eager tone.
Still ever that slip and slide
Of the feet that shuffle or glide,
And linger or haste through the populous waste
Of the shadowy, dim-lit square!
And I know not, from the sound,
As I sit and ponder within,
The goal to which those steps are bound, -
On hest of mercy, or hest of sin,
Or joy's short-measured round;
Yet a meaning deep they bear
In their vaguely muffled din.
Roar of the multitude,
Chafe of the million-crowd,
To this you are all subdued
In the murmurous, sad night-air!
Yet whether you thunder aloud,
Or hush your tone to a prayer,
You chant amain through the modern maze
The only epic of our days.
Still as death are the places of life;
The city seems crumbled and gone,
Sunk 'mid invisible deeps -
The city so lately rife
With the stir of brain and brawn.
Haply it only sleeps;
But what if indeed it were dead,
And another earth should arise
To greet the gray of the dawn?
Faint then our epic would wail
To those who should come in our stead.
But what if that earth were ours?
What if, with holier eyes,
We should meet the new hope, and not fail?
Weary, the night grows pale:
With a blush as of opening flowers
Dimly the east shines red.
Can it be that the morn shall fulfil
My dream, and refashion our clay
As the poet may fashion his rhyme?
Hark to that mingled scream
Rising from workshop and mill -
Hailing some marvelous sight;
Mighty breath of the hours,
Poured through the trumpets of steam;
Awful tornado of time,
Blowing us whither it will!
God has breathed in the nostrils of night,
And behold, it is day!