‘Tis a poor drizzly morning, dark and sad.
The cloud has fallen, and filled with fold on fold
The chimneyed city; and the smoke is caught,
And spreads diluted in the cloud, and sinks,
A black precipitate, on miry streets.
And faces gray glide through the darkened fog.
Slave engines utter again their ugly growl,
And soon the iron bands and blocks of stone
That prison them to their task, will strain and quiver
Until the city tremble. The clamour of bells,
Importunate, keeps calling pale-faced forms
To gather and feed those Samsons’ groaning strength
With labour; and among the many come
A man and woman–the woman with her gown
Drawn over her head, the man with bended neck
Submissive to the rain. Amid the jar,
And clash, and shudder of the awful force,
They enter and part–each to a different task,
But each a soul of knowledge to brute force,
Working a will through the organized whole
Of cranks and belts and levers, pinions and screws
Wherewith small man has eked his body out,
And made himself a mighty, weary giant.
In labour close they pass the murky day,
‘Mid floating dust of swift-revolving wheels,
And filmy spoil of quick contorted threads,
Which weave a sultry chaos all about;
Until, at length, old darkness, swelling slow
Up from the caves of night to make an end,
Chokes in its tide the clanking of the looms,
The monster-engines, and the flying gear.
‘Tis Earth that draws her curtains, and calls home
Her little ones, and sets her down to nurse
Her tired children–like a mother-ghost
With her neglected darlings in the dark.
So out they walk, with sense of glad release,
And home–to a dreary place! Unfinished walls,
Earth-heaps, and broken bricks, and muddy pools
Lie round it like a rampart against the spring,
The summer, and all sieges of the year.
But, Lo, the dark has opened an eye of fire!
The room reveals a temple, witnessed by signs
Seen in the ancient place! Lo, here is light,
Yea, burning fire, with darkness on its skirts;
Pure water, ready to baptize; and bread;
And in the twilight edges of the light,
A book; and, for the cunning-woven veil,
Their faces–hiding God’s own holiest place!
Even their bed figures the would-be grave
Where One arose triumphant, slept no more!
So at their altar-table they sit down
To eat their Eucharist; for, to the heart
That reads the live will in the dead command,
He is the bread, yea, all of every meal.
But as, in weary rest, they silent sit,
They gradually grow aware of light
That overcomes their lamp, and, through the blind,
Casts from the window-frame two shadow-glooms
That make a cross of darkness on the white.
The woman rises, eagerly looks out:
Lo, some fair wind has mown the earth-sprung fog,
And, far aloft, the white exultant moon,
From her blue window, curtained all with white,
Looks greeting them–God’s creatures they and she!
Smiling she turns; he understands the smile:
To-morrow will be fair–as holy, fair!
And lying down, in sleep they die till morn,
While through their night throb low aurora-gleams
Of resurrection and the coming dawn.
They wake: ’tis Sunday. Still the moon is there,
But thin and ghostly–clothed upon with light,
As if, while they were sleeping, she had died.
They dress themselves, like priests, in clean attire,
And, through their lowly door, enter God’s room.
The sun is up, the emblem on his shield.
One side the street, the windows all are moons
To light the other side that lies in shade.
See, down the sun-side, an old woman come
In a red cloak that makes the whole street glad!
A long-belated autumn-flower she seems,
Dazed by the rushing of the new-born life
Up hidden stairs to see the calling sun,
But in her cloak and smile they know the spring,
And haste to meet her through slow dissolving streets
Widening to larger glimmers of growing green.
Oh, far away the streets repel the spring!
Yet every stone in the dull pavement shares
The life that thrills anew the outworn earth,
A right Bethesda angel–for all, not some!