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55. Louisville Journal address. New Year, 1864.

Beside my quiet hearth to-night
     A Pilgrim sits, with locks of white,
With drooping head and folded hands,
     As one who dreams of far-off lands;
As one all conscious that the hour
     Is bearing from him wealth and power,
And looks to sunset shores attained,
     Where blessings lost may be regained.
Oh! weird and strange the old man seems,
     As though I saw him in my dreams--
His garments stained with moss and dust,
     His eyes like graves of buried trust,
His lips all trembling, pale, and still,
     A worker he, of good or ill.

“O Stranger! tell me whence thy flight,
     To rest beside my hearth to-night;
Tell me thy hope — thy eager quest,
     That I may honor thee, my Guest!”

He answers not, but turns to go,
     Over his worn staff bending low.

“O weary Pilgrim! go not forth,
     The wind is shrieking from the North;
And pallid Snow, a phantom, steals,
     Attendant on its chariot-wheels;
The freezing night broods o'er the street--
     'Tis dark and cold for aged feet.
Wait till the morn, when, from the towers,
     Deep-throated bells, with iron powers,
Shall usher in to lands of cheer
     And lands of gold, the brave New Year
Then, when the day new promise brings,
     When mirth and song the loudest rings--
When sunlight gilds the forest ways,
     And strikes the hoar frosts' troubled maze,
Thou canst go onward at thy will,
     Thy secret purpose to fulfil.”

“Maiden, most kind, I may not see
     The morn that brings such hope to thee;
But if thou canst, with pitying eye,
     Look on, and see an old man die,
I will not cross again thy door,
     But tarry till my work is o'er.”

His very tones, so soft and low,
     O'erran his lips with silvery flow,
And leave such echoes as we find
     Dropped from the flying April wind;
Or lingering after summer showers
     Midst swaying vines in forest bowers; [41]
Or the low sound that sometimes springs,
     Like murmurous clash of unseen wings,
Moaning from trees or vines, or both,
     In the swift struggle of their growth--
A strange commingling of all tones,
     Or sweet or sad, that Nature owns.
The old man rests again, and seems
     To gather up anew his dreams.
From 'neath his mantle, gray and torn,
     He draws a book, with pages worn,
And turning o'er its leaves so thin
     With frequent seconds entered in,
He strives all eagerly to find
     Some thought peculiar to his mind,
As one may take from dusty shelf
     Some precious tome, as dear as self,
And turning o'er, with lingering touch,
     The leaves full freighted, holding much
Of earnest thought, and won desire,
     That kindle passion into fire--
Read here and there some loving rhyme;
     Some echo of a far-off time;
Some thought entrapped in mystic words,
     (A fowler's mesh holds struggling birds;)
And note, with acquiescent smile,
     The working of the poet's wile:
So, here and there, the old man reads
     Of grand endeavor, toil, and deeds;
Of purposes of high surprise--
     Of visions granted to the wise--
Of struggles long, and victories won--
     Of wonders wrought, and labor done--
Of men who rule the age of gold,
     Possessing treasures manifold--
Of life and death — of war and peace--
     Loud bursts of song in many keys,
And mournful wails of low regret--
     Of graves that yawn uncovered yet--
Till we who list are fain to think
     That Memory gives him gall to drink.

He reads the wooing of the Spring,
     When, in the meadows wandering,
He met the maid, her work begun,
     And found her fair to look upon.
He reads the flitting of the May,
     That bore his maiden-bride away;
And sighs, in mem'ry of the hour
     When first he trod her vacant bower,
(Its slender pillars twined across
     With orange lichens and green moss,)
And found her buds, no more subdued,
     Decking with bloom their solitude.
He murmurs o'er the self-same tune
     Hie heard the south wind play in June,
And finds some lingering of the haze
     That tangled in its misty maze
The falling leaves and blossoms sweet,
     Beneath the Indian Summer's feet.

“Oh! sweet as Love, but dearer far,”
     The old man sighs, “these memories are;
But sadder still, with longing pain,
     For they may never come again!
But one short June my life may know--
     May see its roses blush and blow--
Its lilies whiten to the sky,
     And then in conscious splendor die;
But with no dream of smiling hope,
     That when, o'er yonder snowy slope,
The Summer flitteth down, that she
     Will bring those blossoms back to me!”

But now he reads a darker page--
     With records stained of hate and rage--
Of hosts drawn up in brave array
     To fight each other's lives away!
Of clash of sword and noise of gun--
     Of corpses stiffening in the sun--
Of hissing shot and booming shell,
     Confusion like to that of hell!
Of men, whom mothers once wept o'er,
     To devils turned — like men no more I
Of the dread silence afterward,
     That steals along the trodden sward,
And settles down o'er.faces white,
     That never more shall greet the light;
Of passions maddened to excess--
     Of blood that flowed in plenteousness--
Of all the hopes and treasures lost,
     To crown the dreadful holocaust!

“O shrine of Death!” the old man cries,
     “Whose greedy flames in triumph rise,
Fed by the dread Iconoclast,
     Who, heralded by trumpet blast,
Has drained our land of hopes and cheers,
     And sowed its fallow ground with tears,
The bleaching bones of dead desires,
     The ashes of Ambition's fires,
The royal wine of human life
     Spilled over in unholy strife--
The vilest passions 'neath the sun,
     Whose work of evil just begun
May never more on earth be done--
     A harvest dread of blood and groans,
These are thy temple's altar-stones!”

Again he reads — of lofty rooms
     Where warm airs tremble with perfumes;
Where music answers beauty's laugh,
     And red wine waits for all to quaff;
Where roses, blushing with delight,
     Press closer to the carpet white
In dumb, red passion, faint and sweet,
     Beneath the tread of dancing feet;
Where costly flowers, in blooming bands,
     Drop fragrance on the jasper stands;
Where pictures deck the broad, high walls,
     And curtains, in their silken falls,
Brush marble forms that hold, like saints,
     Life's semblance in their cold restraints--
So pure, so holy, that they seem
     The incarnation of a dream!

“What matters it,” the old man sighs,
     “If lamps flash radiance o'er young eyes;
What matters it, if fires be warm,
     And music drowns the shrieking storm,
That the cold winter night without
     Waves its white, frozen wings about,
And pallid in its icy wrath
     The swift snow hurries o'er the path,
And strives with eager haste to meet
     Some weary, faint, and haggard feet--
That it may drain some veins of life,
     And ease some aching heart of strife!”

Another page he turneth o'er,
     And reads, more sadly than before--
Within the shadows floating wide
     From yon high palaces of pride,
Are lowly cots, all bare and black,
     Gaping with many a wide-mouthed crack; [42]
Where Poverty, so gaunt and worn,
     Sits ever waiting and forlorn;
Where no strange perfumes fill the gloom;
     Where no buds tremble into bloom;
Where no songs ring, but tears and sighs;
     And little children's hungry cries
Make terrible the echoes there,
     Already burdened with despair;
Where mothers, mad with woes like these,
     Watch their young children starve and freeze,
And pray that Death would bear them far
     To realms beyond the morning star;
Where, in the heavenly courts above,
     Their voices, loud in songs of love,
By grief and woe no more controlled,
     Will say no longer, “I am cold!”

“O wonder strange!” the old man cries,
     “A riddle for the learned and wise,
That for the lack of bread and wine,
     God's image, likeness so divine,
Should find on this broad earth He gave,
     His only heritage — a grave!
The sick pray loud with fast-closed palms,
     For added wealth and soothing balms--
They drink rare wines from cups of gold,
     And yet their neighbor dies of cold!
Oh! when will Charity anointed be?
     Greatest of all the blessings three!”

The old man's words are faint and low--
     His failing voice is trembling so--
And mystic names and low sweet calls
     Drop from his lips at intervals,
As if some long-forgotten thought
     Stirred in its channels all unsought.
How pale he seems — oh! very pale;
     How suddenly his pulses fail!
But, more distinct these last words come
     From lips fast growing white and dumb:
“Though death and darkness o'er me fall,
     God's blessing shineth over all!”

What ho, without! bring in your shroud and pall,
     And cover up the glare of these dead eyes!
Fold closely o'er the breast the meek, still hands,
     And scatter incense where the pale corpse lies;
And as you carry out your precious dead,
     Soft let the censer o'er him swing and wave,
And lay him where the flowers will soonest bloom
     In fragrant beauty, o'er the Old Year's grave.

With joyful peals of melody and song,
     The blessed chimes ring out, with sudden start;
Alike on high and low their music falls,
     And some sweet promise bear to every heart;
Some precious hope they breathe of wrongs redressed,
     Of sunbeams that shall lighten sorrow's glooms;
Of violets that yet may blush and grow,
     In modest fragrance, o'er some barren tomb.

     O New Year! radiant One!
Come with the trembling of the morning light
     Through the vast portals, glittering and white,
That open to the Sun,
     And glorious in the promise of thy youth
Scatter the seeds of light and truth!

Oh! let thy coming prove
     A resurrection to our buried hopes,
That we may raise again on sun-barred slopes
     The altars of our love,
And the quenched fires revive, though spent and cold,
     With offerings manifold.

Oh! glide on, snowy ships,
     Down the broad rivers reaching to the sea;
And bear a message to the bond and free:
     That the long-mourned eclipse
Of peace shall with thy dawning pass away,
     Ne'er to resume its sway.

And as (foreshadowed fate!)
     The blessed Saviour came upon the earth
To bring the promise of a second birth
     To man regenerate;
So, like a bow of promise, wilt thou rise,
     Within our troubled skies!

O happy New Year! go
     From lands of shade to lands of sun
And count thy victory duly won
     If tears have ceased to flow,
And mourners shout from bloody graves that yawned:
     “A better day hath dawned!”

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