(1809-1894 / United States)

In The Twilight

NOT bed-time yet! The night-winds blow,
The stars are out,--full well we know
The nurse is on the stair,
With hand of ice and cheek of snow,
And frozen lips that whisper low,
'Come, children, it is time to go
My peaceful couch to share.'

No years a wakeful heart can tire;
Not bed-time yet! Come, stir the fire
And warm your dear old hands;
Kind Mother Earth we love so well
Has pleasant stories yet to tell
Before we hear the curfew bell;
Still glow the burning brands.

Not bed-time yet! We long to know
What wonders time has yet to show,
What unborn years shall bring;
What ship the Arctic pole shall reach,
What lessons Science waits to teach,
What sermons there are left to preach.
What poems yet to sing.

What next? we ask; and is it true
The sunshine falls on nothing new,
As Israel's king declared?
Was ocean ploughed with harnessed fire?
Were nations coupled with a wire?
Did Tarshish telegraph to Tyre?
How Hiram would have stared!

And what if Sheba's curious queen,
Who came to see,--and to be seen,--
Or something new to seek,
And swooned, as ladies sometimes do,
At sights that thrilled her through and through,
Had heard, as she was 'coming to,'
A locomotive's shriek,

And seen a rushing railway train
As she looked out along the plain
From David's lofty tower,--
A mile of smoke that blots the sky
And blinds the eagles as they fly
Behind the cars that thunder by
A score of leagues an hour!

See to my _fiat lux_ respond
This little slumbering fire-tipped wand,--
One touch,--it bursts in flame!
Steal me a portrait from the sun,--
One look,--and to! the picture done!
Are these old tricks, King Solomon,
We lying moderns claim?

Could you have spectroscoped a star?
If both those mothers at your bar,
The cruel and the mild,
The young and tender, old and tough,
Had said, 'Divide,--you're right, though rough,'--
Did old Judea know enough
To etherize the child?

These births of time our eyes have seen,
With but a few brief years between;
What wonder if the text,
For other ages doubtless true,
For coming years will never do,--
Whereof we all should like a few,
If but to see what next.

If such things have been, such may be;
Who would not like to live and see--
If Heaven may so ordain--
What waifs undreamed of, yet in store,
The waves that roll forevermore
On life's long beach may east ashore
From out the mist-clad main?

Will Earth to pagan dreams return
To find from misery's painted urn
That all save hope has flown,--
Of Book and Church and Priest bereft,
The Rock of Ages vainly cleft,
Life's compass gone, its anchor left,
Left,--lost,--in depths unknown?

Shall Faith the trodden path pursue
The _crux ansata_ wearers knew
Who sleep with folded hands,
Where, like a naked, lidless eye,
The staring Nile rolls wandering by
Those mountain slopes that climb the sky
Above the drifting sands?

Or shall a nobler Faith return,
Its fanes a purer gospel learn,
With holier anthems ring,
And teach us that our transient creeds
Were but the perishable seeds
Of harvests sown for larger needs,
That ripening years shall bring?

Well, let the present do its best,
We trust our Maker for the rest,
As on our way we plod;
Our souls, full dressed in fleshly suits,
Love air and sunshine, flowers and fruits,
The daisies better than their roots
Beneath the grassy sod.

Not bed-time yet! The full-blown flower
Of all the year--this evening hour--
With friendship's flame is bright;
Life still is sweet, the heavens are fair,
Though fields are brown and woods are bare,
And many a joy is left to share
Before we say Good-night!

And when, our cheerful evening past,
The nurse, long waiting, comes at last,
Ere on her lap we lie
In wearied nature's sweet repose,
At peace with all her waking foes,
Our lips shall murmur, ere they close,
Good-night! and not Good-by!

by Oliver Wendell Holmes

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