Three Sunsets and Other Poems/Three Sunsets

THREE SUNSETS.

He saw her once, and in the glance,
A moment's glance of meeting eyes,
His heart stood still in sudden trance:
He trembled with a sweet surprise—
All in the waning light she stood,
The star of perfect womanhood.

That summer-eve his heart was light:
With lighter step he trod the ground:
And life was fairer in his sight,
And music was in every sound;
He blessed the world where there could be
So beautiful a thing as she.

There once again, as evening fell
And stars were peering overhead,
Two lovers met to bid farewell:
The western sun gleamed faint and red,

Lost in a drift of purple cloud
That wrapped him like a funeral-shroud.
 
Long time the memory of that night—
The hand that clasped, the lips that kissed,
The form that faded from his sight
Slow sinking through the tearful mist—
In dreamy music seemed to roll
Through the dark chambers of his soul.

So after many years he came
A wanderer from a distant shore:
The street, the house, were still the same,
But those he sought were there no more:
His burning words, his hopes and fears,
Unheeded fell on alien ears.
 
Only the children from their play
Would pause the mournful tale to hear,
Shrinking in half-alarm away,
Or, step by step, would venture near
To touch with timid curious hands
That strange wild man from other lands.

He sat beside the busy street,
There, where he last had seen her face;
And thronging memories, bitter-sweet,
Seemed yet to haunt the ancient place:
Her footfall ever floated near:
Her voice was ever in his ear.
 
He sometimes, as the daylight waned
And evening mists began to roll,
In half-soliloquy complained
Of that black shadow on his soul,
And blindly fanned, with cruel care,
The ashes of a vain despair.

The summer fled: the lonely man
Still lingered out the lessening days;
Still, as the night drew on, would scan
Each passing face with closer gaze—
Till, sick at heart, he turned away,
And sighed "she will not come to-day."

So by degrees his spirit bent
To mock its own despairing cry,

In stern self-torture to invent
New luxuries of agony,
And people all the vacant space
With visions of her perfect face.

Then for a moment she was nigh,
He heard no step, but she was there;
As if an angel suddenly
Were bodied from the viewless air,
And all her fine ethereal frame
Should fade as swiftly as it came.

So, half in fancy's sunny trance,
And half in misery's aching void
With set and stony countenance
His bitter being he enjoyed,
And thrust for ever from his mind
The happiness he could not find.

As when the wretch, in lonely room,
To selfish death is madly hurled,
The glamour of that fatal fume
Shuts out the wholesome living world—

So all his manhood's strength and pride
One sickly dream had swept aside.

Yea, brother, and we passed him there,
But yesterday, in merry mood,
And marveled at the lordly air
That shamed his beggar's attitude,
Nor heeded that ourselves might be
Wretches as desperate as he;

Who let the thought of bliss denied
Make havoc of our life and powers,
And pine, in solitary pride,
For peace that never shall be ours,
Because we will not work and wait
In trustful patience for our fate.

And so it chanced once more that she
Came by the old familiar spot:
The face he would have died to see
Bent o'er him, and he knew it not;
Too rapt in selfish grief to hear,
Even when happiness was near.

And pity filled her gentle breast
For him that would not stir nor speak
The dying crimson of the west,
That faintly tinged his haggard cheek,
Fell on her as she stood, and shed
A glory round the patient head.
 
Ah, let him wake! The moments fly:
This awful tryst may be the last.
And see, the tear, that dimmed her eye,
Had fallen on him ere she passed—
She passed: the crimson paled to gray
And hope departed with the day.

The heavy hours of night went by,
And silence quickened into sound,
And light slid up the eastern sky,
And life began its daily round—
But light and life for him were fled:
His name was numbered with the dead.

Nov. 1861.

FAIRIES IN BOAT