A Dream

Well may sleep present us fictions,
Since our waking moments teem
With such fanciful convictions
As make life itself a dream.
Half our daylight faith 's a fable;
Sleep disports with shadows too,
Seeming in their turn as stable
As the world we wake to view.
Ne'er by day did reason's mint
Give my thoughts a clearer print
Of assured reality
Than was left by phantasy,
Stamped and coloured on my sprite,
In a dream of yesternight.

In a bark, methought, lone steering,
I was cast on ocean's strife;
This, 'twas whispered in my hearing,
Meant the sea of life.
Sad regrets from past existence
Came, like gales of chilling breath;
Shadowed in the forward distance
Lay the land of death.
Now seeming more, now less remote,
On that dim-seen shore, methought,
I beheld two hands a space
Slow unshroud a spectre's face;
And my flesh's hair upstood, —
'Twas mine own similitude.

But my soul revived at seeing
Ocean, like an emerald spark,
Kindle, while an air-dropt being
Smiling steered my bark,
Heaven-like, yet he looked as human
As supernal beauty can,
More compassionate than woman,
Lordly more than man.
And, as some sweet clarion's breath
Stirs the soldier's scorn of death,
So his accents bade me brook
The spectre's eyes of icy look,
Till it shut them, turned its head
Like a beaten foe, and fled.

" Types not this," I said, " fair spirit!
That my death-hour is not come?
Say, what days shall I inherit?
Tell my soul their sum."
" No," he said, " yon phantom's aspect,
Trust me, would appal thee worse,
Held in clearly measured prospect:
Ask not for a curse!
Make not, for I overhear
Thine unspoken thoughts as clear
As thy mortal ear could catch
The close-brought tickings of a watch —
Make not the untold request
That 's now revolving in thy breast.

" 'Tis to live again, remeasuring
Youth's years like a scene rehearsed,
In thy second life-time treasuring
Knowledge from the first.
Hast thou felt, poor self-deceiver!
Life's career so void of pain
As to wish its fitful fever
New begun again?
Could experience; ten times thine,
Pain from being disentwine —
Threads by fate together spun?
Could thy flight heaven's lightning shun?
No, nor could thy foresight's glance
'Scape the myriad shafts of chance;

" Would'st thou bear again love's trouble?
Friendship's death-dissevered ties?
Toil to grasp or miss the bubble
Of ambition's prize?
Say thy life's new guided action
Flowed from virtue's fairest springs —
Still would envy and detraction
Double not their stings?
Worth itself is but a charter
To be mankind's distinguished martyr."
I caught the moral, and cried, " Hail!
Spirit! let us onward sail,
Envying, fearing, hating none —
Guardian Spirit, steer me on!"
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