The Welcome Sleep

Day by day, when the clear wind blows,
Sad, by the door, the old man goes,
With his cautious step and his thin, white hair
Lightly tossed by the wanton air.
Slowly down the street he walks,
And sometimes low to himself he talks
Of the mother's voice and the childhood times,
The daisied fields and the Sabbath chimes,
And the wife and the baby gone to rest
Long ago, in the green earth's breast.
Then on his staff he leans, to mark
The ships come over the harbor bar,
And dimly dreams each wandering bark
Has sailed from the land where the loved ones are.
The blank sun stares in his faded eye;
He sees the fleet gulls seaward fly;
And the mists of the ocean melt in air,
Like the hopes that have vanished, fleet and fair.
“Rest, O Father!” I hear him say,—
“When will the evening end the day,
And the tired have blessed leave to creep
Under the cool and quiet sod,
Into the sleep so long and deep
That falls on the weary eyes from God?”

A maiden, by the old man's side,
Looks tenderly across the sea;
The wind, from off the waters wide,
Sweeps the gulls in snowy whirls,
And backward blows her chestnut curls,
As in a dream leans she,
Poised on her slender foot, to mark
The ships sail homeward o'er the bar.
And think how soon will rise the bark
That bears her love from isles afar.
And all the joy of bride and wife
Comes, timid, in her face to shine,
As low she cries, “How sweet is life!
O Wind! I drink your breath like wine;
For I know you waft, o'er the foaming sea,
In sun and in tempest, my love to me!”

Alas! This welcome, wooing breeze
That wings her thoughts as the white gulls soar,
Deep 'mid the reefs of the coral seas
Has whelmed that bark and the souls it bore.
Through the rosy morns and the twilights pale
She will sigh for the gleam of the vanished sail,
And the form that lies where the sea-flowers twine
Rocked by the swell of the heaving brine,—
Till hope is dead, and her white lips say,
“When will the evening end the day,
And the tired have blessed leave to creep
Under the cool and quiet sod,
Into the sleep so long and deep
That falls on the weary eyes from God?”

Ah! we are all like the maiden fair,
Or the faint old man with the silver hair!
We have seen the buds of the spring decay,
And the gold of the morning turn to gray;
Or, off some harbor, with eager eyes
We watch for a bark that will never rise,
Thrilled with joy at the flattering breath
That has borne our all to the gulfs of death!
And, early or late, we, too, shall say,
“When will the evening end the day,
And the tired have blessed leave to creep
Under the cool and quiet sod,
Into the sleep so long and deep
That falls on the weary eyes from God?”
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