Songs Of The Night Watches, - The First Watch.

A poem by Jean Ingelow



O, I would tell you more, but I am tired;
For I have longed, and I have had my will;
I pleaded in my spirit, I desired:
"Ah! let me only see him, and be still
All my days after."
Rock, and rock, and rock,
Over the falling, rising watery world,
Sail, beautiful ship, along the leaping main;
The chirping land-birds follow flock on flock
To light on a warmer plain.
White as weaned lambs the little wavelets curled,
Fall over in harmless play,
As these do far away;
Sail, bird of doom, along the shimmering sea,
All under thy broad wings that overshadow thee.


I am so tired,
If I would comfort me, I know not how,
For I have seen thee, lad, as I desired,
And I have nothing left to long for now.

Nothing at all. And did I wait for thee,
Often and often, while the light grew dim,
And through the lilac branches I could see,
Under a saffron sky, the purple rim
O' the heaving moorland? Ay. And then would float
Up from behind as it were a golden boat,
Freighted with fancies, all o' the wonder of life,
Love - such a slender moon, going up and up,
Waxing so fast from night to night,
And swelling like an orange flower-bud, bright,
Fated, methought, to round as to a golden cup,
And hold to my two lips life's best of wine.
Most beautiful crescent moon,
Ship of the sky!
Across the unfurrowed reaches sailing high.
Methought that it would come my way full soon,
Laden with blessings that were all, all mine, -
A golden ship, with balm and spiceries rife,
That ere its day was done should hear thee call me wife.


All over! the celestial sign hath failed;
The orange flower-bud shuts; the ship hath sailed,
And sunk behind the long low-lying hills.
The love that fed on daily kisses dieth;
The love kept warm by nearness, lieth
Wounded and wan;
The love hope nourished bitter tears distils,
And faints with naught to feed upon.
Only there stirreth very deep below
The hidden beating slow,
And the blind yearning, and the long-drawn breath
Of the love that conquers death.


Had we not loved full long, and lost all fear,
My ever, my only dear?
Yes; and I saw thee start upon thy way,
So sure that we should meet
Upon our trysting-day.
And even absence then to me was sweet,
Because it brought me time to brood
Upon thy dearness in the solitude.
But ah! to stay, and stay,
And let that moon of April wane itself away,
And let the lovely May
Make ready all her buds for June;
And let the glossy finch forego her tune
That she brought with her in the spring,
And never more, I think, to me can sing;
And then to lead thee home another bride,
In the sultry summer tide,
And all forget me save for shame full sore,
That made thee pray me, absent, "See my face no more."


O hard, most hard! But while my fretted heart
Shut out, shut down, and full of pain,
Sobbed to itself apart,
Ached to itself in vain,
One came who loveth me
As I love thee....
And let my God remember him for this,
As I do hope He will forget thy kiss,
Nor visit on thy stately head
Aught that thy mouth hath sworn, or thy two eyes have said....
He came, and it was dark. He came, and sighed
Because he knew the sorrow, - whispering low,
And fast, and thick, as one that speaks by rote:
"The vessel lieth in the river reach,
A mile above the beach,
And she will sail at the turning o' the tide."
He said, "I have a boat,
And were it good to go,
And unbeholden in the vessel's wake
Look on the man thou lovedst, and forgive,
As he embarks, a shamefaced fugitive.
Come, then, with me."


O, how he sighed! The little stars did wink,
And it was very dark. I gave my hand, -
He led me out across the pasture land,
And through the narrow croft,
Down to the river's brink.
When thou wast full in spring, thou little sleepy thing,
The yellow flags that broidered thee would stand
Up to their chins in water, and full oft
WE pulled them and the other shining flowers,
That all are gone to-day:
WE two, that had so many things to say,
So many hopes to render clear:
And they are all gone after thee, my dear, -
Gone after those sweet hours,
That tender light, that balmy rain;
Gone "as a wind that passeth away,
And cometh not again."


I only saw the stars, - I could not see
The river, - and they seemed to lie
As far below as the other stars were high.
I trembled like a thing about to die:
It was so awful 'neath the majesty
Of that great crystal height, that overhung
The blackness at our feet,
Unseen to fleet and fleet
The flocking stars among,
And only hear the dipping of the oar,
And the small wave's caressing of the darksome shore.


Less real it was than any dream.
Ah me! to hear the bending willows shiver,
As we shot quickly from the silent river,
And felt the swaying and the flow
That bore us down the deeper, wider stream,
Whereto its nameless waters go:
O! I shall always, when I shut mine eyes,
See that weird sight again;
The lights from anchored vessels hung;
The phantom moon, that sprung
Suddenly up in dim and angry wise,
From the rim o' the moaning main,
And touched with elfin light
The two long oars whereby we made our flight,
Along the reaches of the night;
Then furrowed up a lowering cloud,
Went in, and left us darker than before,
To feel our way as the midnight watches wore,
And lie in HER lee, with mournful faces bowed,
That should receive and bear with her away
The brightest portion of my sunniest day, -
The laughter of the land, the sweetness of the shore.


And I beheld thee: saw the lantern flash
Down on thy face, when thou didst climb the side.
And thou wert pale, pale as the patient bride
That followed; both a little sad,
Leaving of home and kin. Thy courage glad,
That once did bear thee on,
That brow of thine had lost; the fervor rash
Of unforeboding youth thou hadst foregone.
O, what a little moment, what a crumb
Of comfort for a heart to feed upon!
And that was all its sum;
A glimpse, and not a meeting, -
A drawing near by night,
To sigh to thee an unacknowledged greeting,
And all between the flashing of a light
And its retreating.


Then after, ere she spread her wafting wings,
The ship, - and weighed her anchor to depart,
We stole from her dark lee, like guilty things;
And there was silence in my heart,
And silence in the upper and the nether deep.
O sleep! O sleep!
Do not forget me. Sometimes come and sweep,
Now I have nothing left, thy healing hand
Over the lids that crave thy visits bland,
Thou kind, thou comforting one:
For I have seen his face, as I desired,
And all my story is done.
O, I am tired!

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