I have not any fearful tale to tell
Of fabled giant or of dragon-claw,
Or bloody deed to pilfer and to sell
To those who feed, with such, a gaping maw;
But what in yonder hamlet there befell,
Or rather what in it my fancy saw,
I will declare, albeit it may seem
Too simple and too common for a dream.
Two brothers were they, and they sat alone
Without a word, beside the winter’s glow;
For it was many years since they had known
The love that bindeth brothers, till the snow
Of age had frozen it, and it had grown
An icy-withered stream that would not flow;
And so they sat with warmth about their feet
And ice about their hearts that would not beat.
And yet it was a night for quiet hope:–
A night the very last of all the year
To many a youthful heart did seem to ope
An eye within the future, round and clear;
And age itself, that travels down the slope,
Sat glad and waiting as the hour drew near,
The dreamy hour that hath the heaviest chime,
Jerking our souls into the coming time.
But they!–alas for age when it is old!
The silly calendar they did not heed;
Alas for age when in its bosom cold
There is not warmth to nurse a bladed weed!
They thought not of the morrow, but did hold
A quiet sitting as their hearts did feed
Inwardly on themselves, as still and mute
As if they were a-cold from head to foot.
O solemn kindly night, she looketh still
With all her moon upon us now and then!
And though she dwelleth most in craggy hill,
She hath an eye unto the hearts of men!
So past a corner of the window-sill
She thrust a long bright finger just as ten
Had struck, and on the dial-plate it came,
Healing each hour’s raw edge with tender flame.
There is a something in the winds of heaven
That stirreth purposely and maketh men;
And unto every little wind is given
A thing to do ere it is still again;
So when the little clock had struck eleven,
The edging moon had drawn her silver pen
Across a mirror, making them aware
Of something ghostlier than their own grey hair.
Therefore they drew aside the window-blind
And looked upon the sleeping town below,
And on the little church which sat behind
As keeping watch upon the scanty row
Of steady tombstones–some of which inclined
And others upright, in the moon did show
Like to a village down below the waves–
It was so still and cool among the graves.
But not a word from either mouth did fall,
Except it were some very plain remark.
Ah! why should such as they be glad at all?
For years they had not listened to the lark!
The child was dead in them!–yet did there crawl
A wish about their hearts; and as the bark
Of distant sheep-dog came, they were aware
Of a strange longing for the open air.
Ah! many an earthy-weaving year had spun
A web of heavy cloud about their brain!
And many a sun and moon had come and gone
Since they walked arm in arm, these brothers twain!
But now with timed pace their feet did stun
The village echoes into quiet pain:
The street appeared very short and white,
And they like ghosts unquiet for the light.
“Right through the churchyard,” one of them did say
–I knew not which was elder of the two–
“Right through the churchyard is our better way.”
“Ay,” said the other, “past the scrubby yew.
I have not seen her grave for many a day;
And it is in me that with moonlight too
It might be pleasant thinking of old faces,
And yet I seldom go into such places.”