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Poem by John Payne
The Foredawn Hour
I BETWEEN the night-end and the break of day An hour there is that from the thither shore Of the dark river its enchantments frore* [intensely cold] And fearful borrows, when each churchyard clay Breathes out its chills, when life unto a stay Seems come and pauses, shuddering, at Death's door, That stands ajar; of all the twenty-four Sternest and most of horror and affray*. [alarm; fright] Here, for arraignment, all its sour and sweet, Its crimes, its wrongs, its errors, its tears shed, (For sorrows here for sins imputed are) The piteous Past unto Thought's judgment-bar Brings up; and here, where night and morning meet, The sea of memory gives up its dead. II Here, all alone, the soul before the ark (That ark, whereto there is no mercy-seat) Of conscience stands and to the iron beat Of time, that all the wasted years doth mark And all the days in vain bygone, must hark, Mourning for done and undone, deeds unmeet And words ill-spoken; whilst, with faltering feet, The night slopes dawnward through the shallowing dark. Set, awful hour, when, in the grave-cold air, The moments fall like ages, when Life's breath Halts and the world lies blank and stark and bare Before Thought's eyes, when love and life and light For ever sunken seem in seas of night And the soul pauses in the ports of Death. III Who to this dread diurnal judgment-hour, This everyday rehearsal-time of death, When life stands still and cold is Nature's breath, When all our sins bygone like mountains tower Before the thought and with its salving power, Afar the blessed daylight tarrieth-- Who is't can look with hope and cheer and faith? Who but before its cold approach must cower? Then for a God, with blind hand, round about Casting, to succour it and finding none, The soul into the darkness crieth out For some twin soul, to share its hope and doubt, And meeting but the void, till night be done, Longeth and trembleth for the assaining* sun. [blessing; healing] IV Oft, in this darkling hour of doubt and dread, The Past, with all its ghosts, revisits me, Its wraiths of hope and joy and ecstacy: I feel the windy presence of the dead Stir in my hair and hear their spirit-tread, As dry leaves falling, nothing though I see: Again for my sad sense they live and be And stir and rustle round my bed. Oh spirits of my dead, that may not rest, But needs must harbour where you loved of yore, Still, by the fetters of the grave opprest, Seeking to burst the bonds of nothingness, How shall I do to ease you of your stress? How shall I win to look on you once more?
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