At Dawn and Dusk



Victor James Daley

AH! that God once would touch my lips with song
To pierce, as prayer doth heaven, earth’s breast of iron,
    So that with sweet mouth I might sing to thee,
    O sweet dead singer buried by the sea,
A song, to woo thee, as a wooing siren,
Out of that silent sleep which seals too long
    Thy mouth of melody.

For, if live lips might speak awhile to dead,
Or any speech could reach the sad world under
    This world of ours, song surely should awake
    Thee who didst dwell in shadow for song’s sake!
Alas! thou canst not hear the voice of thunder,
Nor low dirge over thy low-lying head
    The winds of morning make.

Down through the clay there comes no sound of these;
Down in the grave there is no sign of Summer,
    Nor any knowledge of the soft-eyed Spring;
    But Death sits there, with outspread ebon wing,
Closing with dust the mouth of each new-comer
To that mute land, where never sound of seas
    Is heard, and no birds sing.

Now thou hast found the end of all thy days
Hast thou found any heart a vigil keeping
    For thee among the dead—some heart that heard
    Thy singing when thou wert a brown, sweet bird
Gray Æons gone, in some old forest sleeping
Beneath the seas long since? in Death’s dim ways
    Has thy heart any word?

For surely those in whom the deathless spark
Of song is kindled, sang from the beginning
    If life were always? But the old desires—
    Do they exist when sad-eyed Hope expires?
How live the dead? what crowns have they for winning?
Have they, to warm them in the dreamless dark,
    For sun earth’s central fires?

Are the dead dead indeed whom we call dead?
Has God no life but this of ours for giving?—
    When that they took thee by each well-known place,
    Stark in thy coffin with a cold white face,
What thought, O Brother, hadst thou of the living?
What of the sun that round thee glory shed?
    What of the fair day’s grace?

Is thy new life made up of memories
Or dreams that lull the dead, bright visions bringing
    Of Spring above! Are thy days short or long?
    Thou who wert master of our singing throng
Mayhap in death thou hast not lost thy singing,
But chauntst unheard, beside the moaning sea,
    A solitary song.

The chance spade turns up skulls. God help the dead
And thee whose singing days have all passed over—
    Thee, whom the gold-haired Spring shall seek in vain
    When at the glad year’s doors she stands again,
Remembering the song-garlands thou hast wove her
In years gone by: but all these years have fled
    With all their joy and pain.

.     .     .     .     .

My soul laughed out to hear my heart speak so,
And sprang forth skyward, as an eagle, hoping
    To look upon thy soul with living eyes,
    Until it came to where our dim life dies,
And dead suns darkly for a grave are groping
Through cycles of immeasurable woe,
    Stone-blind in the blind skies.

The stars walk shuddering on that awful verge
From which my soul, with swift and fearless motion,
    Clove the black depths, and sought for God and thee;
    But God dwells where nor stars nor suns there be—
No shore there is to His Eternal Ocean;
A thousand systems are a fringe of surge
    On that great starless sea.

And thou wert not. So that, with weary plumes,
My soul through the great void its way came winging
    To earth again. “What hope for him who sings
    Is there?” it sighed. “Death ends all sweetest things.”
When lo! there came a swell of mighty singing,
Flooding all space, and swift athwart the glooms
    A flash of sudden wings.

.     .     .     .     .

Dreamer of dreams, thy songs and dreams are done.
Down where thou sleepest in earth’s secret bosom
    There is no sorrow and no joy for thee,
    Who canst not see what stars at eve there be,
Nor evermore at morn the green dawn blossom
Into the golden king-flower of the sun
    Across the golden sea.

But haply there shall come in days to be
One who shall hear his own heart beating faster,
    Plucking a rose sprung from thy heart beneath,
    And from his soul, as sword from out its sheath,
Song shall leap forth where now, O silent master,
On thy lone grave beside the sounding sea,
    I lay this laurel-wreath.

At Dawn and Dusk - Contents

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