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The Atlantic Monthly/Volume 18/Number 109/Protoneiron

 

PROTONEIRON.

december 9, 1864.

"And in that sleep of death what dreams may come."


The unresting lines, where oceans end,
Are traced by shifting surf and sand;
As pallid, moonlit fingers blend
The dreamlight of the ghostly land.

No eye can tell where Love's last ray
Fades to the sky of colder light;
No ear, when sounds that vexed the day
Cease mingling with the holier night.

As bells, which long have failed to swing
In lonely towers of crumbling stone,
Through far eternal spaces ring,
With semblance of their ancient tone.

The lightning, quivering through the cloud,
Weaves warp and woof from sky to earth,
In mist that seems a mortal's shroud,
In light that hails an angel's birth.

Thought vainly strives, with life's dull load,
To mount through ether rare and thin;
Fond eyes pursue the spirit's road
To heaven, and dimly gaze therein.

In battle's travail-hour, a host
Writhes in the throes of deadly strife.
One flash! One groan! A startled ghost
Is born into the eternal life.

Dear wife and children! Now I fly
Forth from my soldier camp to you!
Blue ridge and river hurry by
My weary eyes, in quick review.

Long have I waited. How and when
My furlough came is mystery.
I dreamed of charging with my men,—
A dream of glorious history!

To you I fly on Love's strong wing;
My courser needs no armed heel:
And yet anew the bugles ring,
And wake me to the crash of steel.

In fiercer rush of hosts again
My dripping sabre seeks the front.
Spur your mad horses! Forward, men!
Meet with your hearts the battle's brunt.

Tricolor, flaunt! And trumpet-blare,
Scream louder than the bursting shell,
And thundering hoofs, that shake the air,
Trembling above that surging hell!

In carbine smoke and cannon flash,
Like avalanches twain, we meet;
One gasp! we spur; one stab! we crash
And trample with the iron feet.

I dream! My tiercepoint smote them through,
My sabre buried to my hand!
And yet unchecked those horsemen flew,
And still I grasp my phantom brand!

Our chargers, which like whirlwinds bore
Us onward, lie all stiff and stark!
Black Midnight's feet wait on the shore,
To bear me—where? Where all is dark.

And still I hear the faint recall!
My senses,—have they dropped asleep?
I see a soldier's funeral pall,
And there my wife and children weep!

Sobs break the air, below the cloud;
And one pure soul, of love and truth,
Is folding in a mortal shroud
Her quivering wings of Hope and Youth.

Ye of the sacred red right hand,
Who count, around our camp-fire light,
Dear names within the shadowy land,
Why do ye whisper mine to-night?

Where am I? Am I? Trumpet notes
Still mingle with a dreamy doubt
Of Where? and Whither? Music floats,
As when camp-lights are going out.

Like saintly eyes resigned to Death,
Like spirit whispers from afar,
The sighing bugle yields its breath,
As if it wooed a dying star.

Draped in dark shadows, widowed Night
Weeps, on new graves, with chilly tears;
Beyond strange mountain-tops, the light
Is breaking from the immortal years.

A rhythm, from the unfathomed deep
Of God's eternal stillness, sings
My wondering, trembling soul to sleep,
While angels lift it on their wings.

 

This work was published before January 1, 1924, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.