The leafless branches snap with cold;
The night is still, the winds are laid;
And you are sitting, as of old,
Beside my hearth-stone, heavenly maid!
What would have chanced me all these years,
As boy and man, had you not come
And brought me gifts of smiles and tears
From your Olympian home?
"The blackest cloud that ever lowers,"
You sang when I was most forlorn,
"If we but watch some patient hours,
Takes silver edges from the morn."
Thanks for the lesson; thanks for all,
Not only for ambrosia brought,
But for those drops which fell like gall
Into the cup of thought.
Dear Muse, 't is twenty years or more
Since that enchanted, fairy time
When you came tapping at my door,
Your reticule stuffed full of rhyme.
What strange things have befallen, indeed,
Since then! Who has the time to say
What bards have flowered (and gone to seed)—
Immortal for a day!
We've seen Pretense with cross and crown,
And Folly caught in self-spun toils;
Merit content to pass unknown,
And Honor scorning public spoils—
Seen Bottom wield the critic's pen
While Ariel sang in sun-lit cloud:
Sometimes we wept, and now and then
We could but laugh aloud.
And once we saw—ah, day of woe!—
The lurid fires of civil war,
The blue and gray frocks laid a-row,
And many a name rise like a star
To shine in splendor evermore.
The fiery flood swept hill and plain,
But clear above the battle's roar
Rang slavery's falling chain.
With pilgrim staff and sandal-shoon,
One time we sought the Old-World shrines:
Saw Venice lying in the moon,
The Jungfrau and the Apennines;
Beheld the Tiber rolling dark,
Rent temples, lanes, and gods austere;
In English meadows heard the lark
That charmed her Shakspeare's ear.
What dreams and visions we have had,
What tempests we have weathered through!
Been rich and poor, and gay and sad,
But never hopeless—thanks to you.
A draught of water from the brook,
Or alt hochheimer—it was one;
Whatever fortune fell we took,
Children of shade and sun.
Though lacking gold, we never stooped
To pick it up in all our days;
Though lacking praise we sometimes drooped,
We never asked a soul for praise.
The exquisite reward of song
Was song—the self-same thrill and glow
Which to unfolding flowers belong
And wrens and thrushes know!
I tried you once—the day I wed:
Dear Muse, do you remember how
You rose in haste, and turned and fled,
With sudden-knitted, scornful brow?
But you relented, smiled, at last
Returned, and, with your tears half dried,
"Ah well, she cannot take the Past,
Though she have all beside!"
What gilt-winged hopes have taken flight,
And dropped, like Icarus, in mid-sky!
What cloudy days have turned to bright!
What fateful years have glided by!
What lips we loved vain memory seeks!
What hands are cold that once pressed ours!
What lashes rest upon the cheeks
Beneath the snows and flowers!
We would not wish them back again;
The way is rude from here to there:
For us, the short-lived joy and pain,
For them, the endless rest from care,
The crown, the palm, the deathless youth:
We would not wish them back—ah, no!
And as for us, dear Muse, in truth,
We've but half way to go.
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