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Poem by Caroline Norton
IT is the twilight hour, The daylight toil is done, And the last rays are departing Of the cold and wintry sun. It is the time when Friendship Holds converse fair and free, It is the time when children Dance round the mother's knee. But my soul is faint and heavy, With a yearning sad and deep, By the fireside lone and dreary I sit me down and weep! Where are ye, merry voices, Whose clear and bird-like tone, Some other ear now blesses, Less anxious than my own? Where are ye, steps of lightness, Which fell like blossom-showers? Where are ye, sounds of laughter, That cheer'd the pleasant hours? Thro' the dim light slow declining, Where my wistful glances fall, I can see your pictures hanging Against the silent wall;-- They gleam athwart the darkness, With their sweet and changeless eyes, But mute are ye, my children! No voice to mine replies. Where are ye? Are ye playing By the stranger's blazing hearth; Forgetting in your gladness, Your old home's former mirth? Are ye dancing? Are ye singing? Are ye full of childish glee? Or do your light hearts sadden With the memory of me? Round whom, oh! gentle darlings, Do your young arms fondly twine, Does she press you to her bosom Who hath taken you from mine? Oh! boys, the twilight hour Such a heavy time hath grown,-- It recalls with such deep anguish All I used to call my own,-- That the harshest word that ever Was spoken to me there, Would be trivial--would be welcome-- In the depth of my despair! Yet no! Despair shall sink not, While Life and Love remain,-- Tho' the weary struggle haunt me, And my prayer be made in vain: Tho' at times my spirit fail me, And the bitter tear-drops fall, Tho' my lot be hard and lonely, Yet I hope--I hope thro' all! When the mournful Jewish mother Laid her infant down to rest, In doubt, and fear, and sorrow, On the water's changeful breast; She knew not what the future Should bring the sorely-tried: That the High Priest of her nation, Was the babe she sought to hide. No! in terror wildly flying, She hurried on her path; Her swoln heart full to bursting Of woman's helpless wrath; Of that wrath so blent with anguish, When we seek to shield from ill Those feeble little creatures Who seem more helpless still! Ah! no doubt, in such an hour, Her thoughts were harsh and wild; The fiercer burned her spirit, The more she loved her child; No doubt, a frenzied anger Was mingled with her fear, When that prayer arose for justice Which God hath sworn to hear. He heard it! From His Heaven, In its blue and boundless scope, He saw that task of anguish, And that fragile ark of hope; When she turn'd from that lost infant, Her weeping eyes of love, And the cold reeds bent beneath it-- His angels watch'd above! She was spared the bitter sorrow Of her young child's early death, Or the doubt where he was carried To draw his distant breath; She was call'd his life to nourish From the well-springs of her heart, God's mercy re-uniting Those whom man had forced apart! Nor was thy woe forgotten, Whose worn and weary feet Were driven from thy homestead, Through the red sand's parching heat; Poor Hagar! scorn'd and banish'd, That another's son might be Sole claimant on that father, Who felt no more for thee. Ah! when thy dark eye wander'd, Forlorn Egyptian slave! Across that lurid desert, And saw no fountain wave,-- When thy southern heart, despairing, In the passion of its grief, Foresaw no ray of comfort, No shadow of relief; But to cast the young child from thee, That thou might'st not see him die, How sank thy broken spirit-- But the Lord of Hosts was nigh! He (He, too oft-forgotten, In sorrow as in joy) Had will'd they should not perish-- The outcast and her boy: The cool breeze swept across them From the angel's waving wing,-- The fresh tide gush'd in brightness From the fountain's living spring,-- And they stood--those two--forsaken By all earthly love or aid, Upheld by God's firm promise, Serene and undismay'd! And thou, Nain's grieving widow! Whose task of life seem'd done, When the pale corse lay before thee Of thy dear and only son; Though Death, that fearful shadow, Had veil'd his fair young eyes, There was mercy for thy weeping, There was pity for thy sighs! The gentle voice of Jesus, (Who the touch of sorrow knew) The grave's cold claim arrested E'er it hid him from thy view; And those loving orbs re-open'd And knew thy mournful face,-- And the stiff limbs warm'd and bent them With all life's moving grace,-- And his senses dawn'd and waken'd From the dark and frozen spell, Which death had cast around him Whom thou did'st love so well; Till, like one return'd from exile To his former home of rest, Who speaks not, while his mother Falls sobbing on his breast; But with strange bewilder'd glances Looks round on objects near, To recognise and welcome All that memory held dear,-- Thy young son stood before thee All living and restored, And they who saw the wonder Knelt down to praise the Lord! The twilight hour is over! In busier homes than mine I can see the shadows crossing Athwart the taper's shine; I hear the roll of chariots And the tread of homeward feet, And the lamps' long rows of splendor Gleam through the misty street. No more I mark the objects In my cold and cheerless room; The fire's unheeded embers Have sunk--and all is gloom; But I know where hang your pictures Against the silent wall, And my eyes turn sadly towards them, Tho' I hope--I hope thro' all. By the summons to that mother, Whose fondness fate beguiled, When the tyrant's gentle daughter Saved her river-floating child;-- By the sudden joy which bounded In the banish'd Hagar's heart, When she saw the gushing fountain From the sandy desert start;-- By the living smile which greeted The lonely one of Nain, When her long last watch was over And her hope seem'd wild and vain;-- By all the tender mercy God hath shown to human grief, When fate or man's perverseness Denied and barr'd relief,-- By the helpless woe which taught me To look to him alone, From the vain appeals for justice And wild efforts of my own,-- By thy light--thou unseen future, And thy tears--thou bitter past, I will hope--tho' all forsake me, In His mercy to the last!
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