The Whip-Poor-Will

Sad Minstrel of the Night's neglected hour;
Strange, unseen, devotee of Loneliness;
In sweet seclusion of some leafy tower
Pleading a witching note of haunted stress.
While other tribes confess
Their secrets at the listing ear of day,
Till night thou waitest thy confessional.
But Mercy died with one last golden ray,
And song of twilight bell.

Mercy is dead — yea fled is that warm sun;
And when thou dost confess, none shall reply.
Thine oft repeated prayer can never run
Down the lost steps of light, to lure that eye
Back to the gloomy sky.
So shalt thou call, and call once more, in vain,
O foolish Virgin of the feathered throng;
Too late to trim thy lamp on sunlit plain,
Or light a happy song.

Limned on a leaden sky, the huddled trees
Stand like the evil dregs in some black drink;
When Erebus invades with chilling breeze,
And stirs this blackness to the cup's high brink.
Where night doth interlink
The solitary children Chaos bore.
And on a hill, in pensive mood, I stand,
Listing thy song waves plash a velvet shore,
Enchanting all the land.

Thou hast one simple song alone to sing —
For never was the varied note thy part;
Never the trill the mocking bird doth fling
Like spray of fountain on the weary heart:
Yet would I count thine Art,
Though flowing through a story oft retold,
Not less than that which rides pretentious song.
For Truth doth ever to one message hold;
While Error chants a throng.

The droning singers of the drowsy eve
O'er their low waves of song hear thy notes swell,
As, o'er the murmur of the waters, grieve
The weary wailings of the mournful bell:
Nor they, nor I, can tell
Which silent copse shall next thy message woo;
More than, when gazing on the skies afar,
Can we tell where, upon the fading blue,
Shall gleam the next cold star.

Oft hath Selene, in the vale of sleep,
Fondling her fair Endymion, as he lay
Pillowed where tearful grasses nightly weep,
Pled with Tacita through thy bowers to stray,
And warn thee lest thy lay
Should rouse her lover from his dreamful bourne.
And angry, often hath she, knowing thou
Dost Phoebus fear, to trick thee it was morn,
Burnished her chariot's prow.

When Eurus drives the first reluctant light,
With all Apollo's pageantry behind —
A dew imbibing cortege — and the Night
Staggers to some black recess, stricken blind,
Full various are the kind
That tune a medley for the exiled king.
And so, doth man not woo his minstrelsy
At flush of power; doth every bard not sing
When Pomp and might pass by?

Greater, I deem, it that attempt to thrill
The hour of gloom with deliquescent call.
Wondrous is it to me, O Whip-poor-will,
That thy most wistful note should brave the pall
Of this Cerberian Hall.
Spirit hast thou of that flower oped at night,
That coral tinting on Atlanta's bed;
Soul of thy soul is Philomel's delight;
Her glory on thy head.

Like thine our noblest utterance hath been
Out-bugled through the hours with shadows fraught
When the warm, pleasant rays of love were lean
The quill of Browning marched through leagues of thought.
In woof of midnight caught
Did that blind prophet touch his epic chord.
And, by good Severn's lamp, Music's own child
Melted our language, and its liquid poured
For but one heart that smiled.

Fickle is fancy: first to me thy role
Was not unlike that Virgin when her doom,
Heard through the happy door, froze on her soul.
Next, thou the robe of courage did'st assume,
When through increasing gloom
I heard thy song at dusk — Defeat's own hour.
Fancy must play; did pierce thine ebon sphere
Some soldier, broken parcel of lost power,
I doubt not he would hear

Thee calling back to line the craven band
That hushed their songs before the cuirassed dark,
Like some more ardent lover of his land
Who hails back fleeting soldiers to their mark.
Like thine his cry: O hark!
Like is thy note, so fraught with dull Despair.
(Too full already is that gory bed.)
And thou dost call as vainly through night air
As he calls o'er his dead.

To-night again I lie on that green isle —
That magic isle amid the singing reed —
And watch the hills lift up a rugged pile,
Scarred oft with birch, whose silver leaf is freed
Most early: blown the seed
Of vagrant goldenrod across my brow,
Where falling spindrift tames its restless wing,
As life hath tamed my spirit, wherefore now
To nature's brow I cling.

If we, like thee, dear, gentle bird, could sing
Away our sorrow in the dark, alone,
How soon would every forest hallway ring
With harmonies that breathed autumnal tone;
And broken oft with moan.
But we must face the multitude and smile;
Though Anguish leaneth on the heart's strained chords;
And Longing crieth for some lone wood aisle,
And all its peace affords.

Thou were a witness of the sweetest night
That e'er lit Peri pathways for my feet;
Nor was there ever melody that quite
So nearly made a paradise complete,
As thy song, wildly sweet.
Sing on, to-night, dear whip-poor-will, sing on;
That hour returns, and all too swiftly goes
To pave the path which I shall walk at dawn
With dead leaves of the rose.

Sing on; thy singing keeps the Vestal fires
Of song aflame when all the hearths are cold;
When Robins leave their blossom-scented lyres
And mutely wait within the shadow's fold
Dawn riding aureoled.
And each head dipped in feathers sleeps secure,
Knowing the flame of song, through all the dark,
In thy sad throat burns bright and sweetly pure.
And from its star hued spark,

When morn comes quickly with her conquest tread,
Shall each light up the ashes of her tune;
Till flame shall leap to flame, and swiftly spread
O'er the lost Kingdom of a Spectral Moon.
Nor shall again thy rune
Be heard till dies the sun's last level ray.
And though I haunt the wood in noonday hours,
Not in the grove, nor on the sunlight way
Shall Music wake thy powers.
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