The Light in the Window

Late or early home returning,
In the starlight or the rain,
I beheld that lonely candle
Shining from his window-pane.
Ever o'er his tattered curtain,
Nightly looking, I could scan,
Aye inditing,
Writing — writing,
The pale figure of a man;
Still discern behind him fall
The same shadow on the wall.

Far beyond the murky midnight,
By dim burning of my oil,
Filling aye his rapid leaflets,
I have watched him at his toil;
Watched his broad and seamy forehead,
Watched his white industrious hand,
Ever passing
And repassing;
Watched, and strove to understand
What impelled it — gold, or fame —
Bread, or bubble of a name.

Oft I've asked, debating vainly
In the silence of my mind,
What the services he rendered
To his country or his kind;
Whether tones of ancient music,
Or the sound of modern gong,
Wisdom holy,
Humors lowly,
Sermon, essay, novel, song,
Or philosophy sublime,
Filled the measure of his time.

Of the mighty world of London
He was portion unto me,
Portion of my life's experience,
Fused into my memory.
Twilight saw him at his folios,
Morning saw his fingers run.
Laboring ever,
Wearying never
Of the task he had begun;
Placid and content he seemed,
Like a man that toiled and dreamed.

No one sought him, no one knew him,
Undistinguished was his name;
Never had his praise been uttered
By the oracles of fame.
Scanty fare and decent raiment,
Humble lodging, and a fire —
These he sought for,
These he wrought for,
And he gained his meek desire;
Teaching men by written word —
Clinging to a hope deferred.

So he lived. At last I missed him;
Still might evening twilight fall,
But no taper lit his lattice —
Lay no shadow on his wall.
In the winter of his seasons,
In the midnight of his day,
'Mid his writing,
And inditing,
Death had beckoned him away,
Ere the sentence he had planned
Found completion at his hand.

But this man so old and nameless
Left behind him projects large,
Schemes of progress undeveloped,
Worthy of a nation's charge;
Noble fancies uncompleted,
Germs of beauty immatured,
Only needing
Kindly feeding
To have flourished and endured;
Meet reward in golden store
To have lived for evermore.

Who shall tell what schemes majestic
Perish in the active brain?
What humanity is robbed of,
Ne'er to be restored again?
What we lose because we honor
Overmuch the mighty dead,
And dispirit
Living merit,
Heaping scorn upon its head?
Or perchance, when kinder grown,
Leaving it to die — alone?
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