The Glowworm

A poem by Madison Julius Cawein

How long had I sat there and had not beheld
The gleam of the glow-worm till something compelled!...

The heaven was starless, the forest was deep,
And the vistas of darkness stretched silent in sleep.

And late 'mid the trees had I lingered until
No thing was awake but the lone whippoorwill.

And haunted of thoughts for an hour I sat
On a lichen-gray rock where the moss was a mat.

And thinking of one whom my heart had held dear,
Like terrible waters, a gathering fear.

Came stealing upon me with all the distress
Of loss and of yearning and powerlessness:

Till the hopes and the doubts and the sleepless unrest
That, swallow-like, built in the home of my breast,

Now hither, now thither, now heavenward flew,
Wild-winged as the winds are: now suddenly drew

My soul to abysses of nothingness where
All light was a shadow, all hope, a despair:

Where truth, that religion had set upon high,
The darkness distorted and changed to a lie:

And dreams of the beauty ambition had fed
Like leaves of the autumn fell blighted and dead.

And I rose with my burden of anguish and doom,
And cried, "O my God, had I died in the womb!

"Than born into night, with no hope of the morn,
An heir unto shadows, to live so forlorn!

"All effort is vain; and the planet called Faith
Sinks down; and no power is real but death.

"Oh, light me a torch in the deepening dark
So my sick soul may follow, my sad heart may mark!"--

And then in the darkness the answer!--It came
From Earth not from Heaven--a glimmering flame,

Behold, at my feet! In the shadow it shone
Mysteriously lovely and dimly alone:

An ember; a sparkle of dew and of glower;
Like the lamp that a spirit hangs under a flower:

As goldenly green as the phosphorus star
A fairy may wear in her diadem's bar:

An element essence of moonlight and dawn
That, trodden and trampled, burns on and burns on.

And hushed was my soul with the lesson of light
That God had revealed to me there in the night:

Though mortal its structure, material its form,
The spiritual message of worm unto worm.

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