Songs Of The Night Watches, - The Middle Watch.

A poem by Jean Ingelow


I woke in the night, and the darkness was heavy and deep:
I had known it was dark in my sleep,
And I rose and looked out,
And the fathomless vault was all sparkling, set thick round about
With the ancient inhabiters silent, and wheeling too far
For man's heart, like a voyaging frigate, to sail, where remote
In the sheen of their glory they float,
Or man's soul, like a bird, to fly near, of their beams to partake,
And dazed in their wake,
Drink day that is born of a star.
I murmured, "Remoteness and greatness, how deep you are set,
How afar in the rim of the whole;
You know nothing of me, nor of man, nor of earth, O, nor yet
Of our light-bearer, - drawing the marvellous moons as they roll,
Of our regent, the sun."
I look on you trembling, and think, in the dark with my soul,
"How small is our place 'mid the kingdoms and nations of God:
These are greater than we, every one."
And there falls a great fear, and a dread cometh over, that cries,
"O my hope! Is there any mistake?
Did He speak? Did I hear? Did I listen aright, if He spake?
Did I answer Him duly? For surely I now am awake,
If never I woke until now."
And a light, baffling wind, that leads nowhither, plays on my brow.
As a sleep, I must think on my day, of my path as untrod,
Or trodden in dreams, in a dreamland whose coasts are a doubt;
Whose countries recede from my thoughts, as they grope round about,
And vanish, and tell me not how.
Be kind to our darkness, O Fashioner, dwelling in light,
And feeding the lamps of the sky;
Look down upon this one, and let it be sweet in Thy sight,
I pray Thee, to-night.
O watch whom Thou madest to dwell on its soil, Thou Most High!
For this is a world full of sorrow (there may be but one);
Keep watch o'er its dust, else Thy children for aye are undone,
For this is a world where we die.


With that, a still voice in my spirit that moved and that yearned,
(There fell a great calm while it spake,)
I had heard it erewhile, but the noises of life are so loud,
That sometimes it dies in the cry of the street and the crowd:
To the simple it cometh, - the child, or asleep, or awake,
And they know not from whence; of its nature the wise never learned
By his wisdom; its secret the worker ne'er earned
By his toil; and the rich among men never bought with his gold;
Nor the times of its visiting monarchs controlled,
Nor the jester put down with his jeers
(For it moves where it will), nor its season the aged discerned
By thought, in the ripeness of years.

O elder than reason, and stronger than will!
A voice, when the dark world is still:
Whence cometh it? Father Immortal, thou knowest! and we, -
We are sure of that witness, that sense which is sent us of Thee;
For it moves, and it yearns in its fellowship mighty and dread,
And let down to our hearts it is touched by the tears that we shed;
It is more than all meanings, and over all strife;
On its tongue are the laws of our life,
And it counts up the times of the dead.


I will fear you, O stars, never more.
I have felt it! Go on, while the world is asleep,
Golden islands, fast moored in God's infinite deep.
Hark, hark to the words of sweet fashion, the harpings of yore!
How they sang to Him, seer and saint, in the far away lands:
"The heavens are the work of Thy hands;
They shall perish, but Thou shalt endure;
Yea, they all shall wax old, -
But Thy throne is established, O God, and Thy years are made sure;
They shall perish, but Thou shalt endure, -
They shall pass like a tale that is told."

Doth He answer, the Ancient of Days?
Will He speak in the tongue and the fashion of men?
(Hist! hist! while the heaven-hung multitudes shine in His praise,
His language of old.) Nay, He spoke with them first; it was then
They lifted their eyes to His throne;
"They shall call on Me, 'Thou art our Father, our God, Thou alone!'
For I made them, I led them in deserts and desolate ways;
I have found them a Ransom Divine;
I have loved them with love everlasting, the children of men;
I swear by Myself, they are Mine."

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