The cut-throat darkness hemmed me 'round:
I waited, helpless in its grasp.
The forest gave no sign or sound:
The wind was dead: no insect's rasp
I heard, nor water's gulp and gasp
Fitting its strength against a stone.
The only sound that there was made
Was my wild heart's that sobbed alone,
Knowing itself to be afraid
Of that vast wood where it had strayed.
I dared not move. There was no star
To indicate where God might be.
Night and his henchmen, without bar,
Had there assumed their empery.
Nothing but prayer was left to me.
Around me seemed to loom the dead
Of ages past, gaunt in the gloom.
And when I heard a stealthy tread
As of one groping from the tomb,
I braced myself to meet my doom.
And then I heard a breathing low
As of a beast that seeks its prey;
And then the footstep, soft and slow,
Approached again from far away.
I held my breath lest it betray
Me to some Death in monstrous guise?
With fang or talon, or a blade
Grasped in a hand of giant size?
Or was't a fiend? And then I prayed,
Who never yet had prayed, for aid.
I closed my eyes. My heart was still.
I did not look. I knew it stood
Glaring upon me all its fill.
When would it strike? The ancient wood
Seemed waiting eager for my blood.
I prayed and prayed. The something there
Stood waiting still a fiend from Hell
Gloating upon my soul's despair?
This was the end, I knew too well;
It pealed within me like a bell.
And then I thought, "In spite of all,
It is but death. Earth can not go
Further than death, whate'er befall.
With open eyes I'll take the blow,
And face to face now meet my foe."
"My foe?" Perhaps it was a friend.
What whim put in my heart that thought?
I had no friends. This was the end,
And I would face it: I was caught
In the old gin that sin had wrought.
And then I looked I looked to see
How could it be? serene of eye,
A little Child beneath a tree.
A Child that glimmered starrily;
A Christ-like Child not born to die.
And overhead I saw the night'
Had doffed its cowl of, black, and stood
Revealed in azure and in white,
While all the staring solitude
Looked on the round moon o'er the wood.
I called the Child. It smiling came;
Undid the bonds of my despair,
And led me forth. I said, "Your name?"
I t smiled and, gazing, answered, "Prayer."
And with that word went into air.