Stretch’d and still lies the clear midnight,
Midnight’s silent glowing northern lights unreachable.
Did you ever chance to hear the midnight flight of birds passing through the air and darkness overhead, in countless armies? It is something not to be forgotten.
You could hear the characteristic motion—once or twice the rush of mighty wings, but oftener a velvety rustle, long drawn out—sometimes quite near—with continual calls and chirps. I thought it rare music.
After an interval, reading, here in the midnight,
With the great stars looking on—and the duo looking of Saturn and ruddy Mars,
Pondering, reading my own songs, after a long interval, (sorrow and death familiar now,)
Ere closing the book, what pride! what joy! to find them,
Standing so well the test of death and night!
And the duo of Saturn and Mars!
My head on the pillow rests at home, and the vacant midnight passes,
While my wife at my side slumbering, and the wars are over long,
And through the stillness, through the dark, I hear, just hear, the breath of my infant.
In midnight sleep, of many a face of anguish,
Of the dead on their backs with arms extended wide,
Of the look of the mortally wounded, (of that indescribable look,)
Now, of their forms at night,
I dream, I dream, I dream.
Why this is indeed a show—it has called the dead out of the earth!
The slain elate and alive again, noiseless as mists and vapors,
From their graves in the trenches ascending, filling the midnight late.
The apparitions copiously tumbling, trooping tumultuous, parting the midnight,
In wafted clouds they come, entering my slumber-chamber,
And silently gather round me, bending me powerless.
Phantoms! phantoms countless by flank and rear!
A group of dim, weird forms, struggling, the night confronting,
Arms in slings—old men leaning on young men’s shoulders,
Cock’d hats of mothy mould—crutches made of mist!
O wild and dismal night storm, with wind,
O belching and desperate!
Waves, air, midnight, their savagest trinity lashing,
Along the midnight edge by those milk-white combs careering,
A pause—the armies wait,
That savage trinity warily watching,
A million flush’d embattled conquerors wait,
Then soft as breaking night and sure as dawn,
They melt, they disappear.
Imagination has thrown her glory around the midnight,
The orbs of heaven, the silence, the shadows are steeped in poetry—
It is I too, the sleepless widow looking out on the winter midnight,
In the midnight waking, weeping, longing with one deep longing,
I see the sparkles of starshine on the icy and pallid earth.
To soothe and spiritualize, and, as far as may be, solve the mysteries of death and genius, consider them under the stars at midnight.
Solitary at midnight in my back yard, my thoughts gone from me a long while,
This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou lovest best,
Night, sleep, death, and the stars.
Now I absorb immortality and peace,
The myth of heaven indicates peace and night.
Low hangs the moon that descends the steeps of the soughing twilight—
‘Tis the twilight of the dawn,
The hour of shining stars and dropping dews.
Emerging from the night, I saw the full moon in the west grow pale and disappear in the morning light;
I too pass from the night,
Pass the invigoration of the night and the chemistry of the night, and awake.
I love the rich running day,
But I do not desert her in whom I lay so long,
I stay a while away O night, but I return to you again and love you.
Why should I be afraid to trust myself to you?
I am not afraid, I have been well brought forward by you,
I know not how I came of you and I know not where I go with you,
But I know I came well and shall go well.
I will stop only a time with the night, and rise betimes,
I will duly pass the day O my mother, and duly return to you.
NEXT: SEASONS OF THE YEAR