Coldly, sadly descends The autumn-evening. The field Strewn with its dank yellow drifts Of wither'd leaves, and the elms, Fade into dimness apace, Silent;--hardly a shout From a few boys late at their play! The lights come out in the street, In the school-room windows;--but cold, Solemn, unlighted, austere, Through the gathering darkness, arise The chapel-walls, in whose bound Thou, my father! art laid.
There thou dost lie, in the gloom Of the autumn evening. But ah! That word, gloom, to my mind Brings thee back, in the light Of thy radiant vigour, again; In the gloom of November we pass'd Days not dark at thy side; Seasons impair'd not the ray Of thy buoyant cheerfulness clear. Such thou wast! and I stand In the autumn evening, and think Of bygone autumns with thee.
Fifteen years have gone round Since thou arosest to tread, In the summer-morning, the road Of death, at a call unforeseen, Sudden. For fifteen years, We who till then in thy shade Rested as under the boughs Of a mighty oak, have endured Sunshine and rain as we might, Bare, unshaded, alone, Lacking the shelter of thee.
O strong soul, by what shore Tarriest thou now? For that force, Surely, has not been left vain! Somewhere, surely afar, In the sounding labour-house vast Of being, is practised that strength, Zealous, beneficent, firm!
Yes, in some far-shining sphere, Conscious or not of the past, Still thou performest the word Of the Spirit in whom thou dost live-- Prompt, unwearied, as here! Still thou upraisest with zeal The humble good from the ground, Sternly repressest the bad! Still, like a trumpet, dost rouse Those who with half-open eyes Tread the border-land dim 'Twixt vice and virtue; reviv'st, Succourest!--this was thy work, This was thy life upon earth.
What is the course of the life Of mortal men on the earth?-- Most men eddy about Here and there--eat and drink, Chatter and love and hate, Gather and squander, are raised Aloft, are hurl'd in the dust, Striving blindly, achieving Nothing; and then they die-- Perish;--and no one asks Who or what they have been, More than he asks what waves, In the moonlit solitudes mild Of the midmost Ocean, have swell'd, Foam'd for a moment, and gone.
And there are some, whom a thirst Ardent, unquenchable, fires, Not with the crowd to be spent, Not without aim to go round In an eddy of purposeless dust, Effort unmeaning and vain. Ah yes! some of us strive Not without action to die Fruitless, but something to snatch From dull oblivion, nor all Glut the devouring grave! We, we have chosen our path-- Path to a clear-purposed goal, Path of advance!--but it leads A long, steep journey, through sunk Gorges, o'er mountains in snow. Cheerful, with friends, we set forth-- Then on the height, comes the storm. Thunder crashes from rock To rock, the cataracts reply, Lightnings dazzle our eyes. Roaring torrents have breach'd The track, the stream-bed descends In the place where the wayfarer once Planted his footstep--the spray Boils o'er its borders! aloft The unseen snow-beds dislodge Their hanging ruin; alas, Havoc is made in our train! Friends, who set forth at our side, Falter, are lost in the storm. We, we only are left! With frowning foreheads, with lips Sternly compress'd, we strain on, On--and at nightfall at last Come to the end of our way, To the lonely inn 'mid the rocks; Where the gaunt and taciturn host Stands on the threshold, the wind Shaking his thin white hairs-- Holds his lantern to scan Our storm-beat figures, and asks: Whom in our party we bring? Whom we have left in the snow? Sadly we answer: We bring Only ourselves! we lost Sight of the rest in the storm. Hardly ourselves we fought through, Stripp'd, without friends, as we are. Friends, companions, and train, The avalanche swept from our side.
But thou woulds't not alone Be saved, my father! alone Conquer and come to thy goal, Leaving the rest in the wild. We were weary, and we Fearful, and we in our march Fain to drop down and to die. Still thou turnedst, and still Beckonedst the trembler, and still Gavest the weary thy hand.
If, in the paths of the world, Stones might have wounded thy feet, Toil or dejection have tried Thy spirit, of that we saw Nothing--to us thou wage still Cheerful, and helpful, and firm! Therefore to thee it was given Many to save with thyself; And, at the end of thy day, O faithful shepherd! to come, Bringing thy sheep in thy hand.
And through thee I believe In the noble and great who are gone; Pure souls honour'd and blest By former ages, who else-- Such, so soulless, so poor, Is the race of men whom I see-- Seem'd but a dream of the heart, Seem'd but a cry of desire. Yes! I believe that there lived Others like thee in the past, Not like the men of the crowd Who all round me to-day Bluster or cringe, and make life Hideous, and arid, and vile; But souls temper'd with fire, Fervent, heroic, and good, Helpers and friends of mankind. Servants of God!--or sons Shall I not call you? Because Not as servants ye knew Your Father's innermost mind, His, who unwillingly sees One of his little ones lost-- Yours is the praise, if mankind Hath not as yet in its march Fainted, and fallen, and died!
See! In the rocks of the world Marches the host of mankind, A feeble, wavering line. Where are they tending?--A God Marshall'd them, gave them their goal. Ah, but the way is so long! Years they have been in the wild! Sore thirst plagues them, the rocks Rising all round, overawe; Factions divide them, their host Threatens to break, to dissolve. --Ah, keep, keep them combined! Else, of the myriads who fill That army, not one shall arrive; Sole they shall stray; in the rocks Stagger for ever in vain, Die one by one in the waste.
Then, in such hour of need Of your fainting, dispirited race, Ye, like angels, appear, Radiant with ardour divine! Beacons of hope, ye appear! Languor is not in your heart, Weakness is not in your word, Weariness not on your brow. Ye alight in our van! at your voice, Panic, despair, flee away. Ye move through the ranks, recall The stragglers, refresh the outworn, Praise, re-inspire the brave! Order, courage, return. Eyes rekindling, and prayers, Follow your steps as ye go. Ye fill up the gaps in our files, Strengthen the wavering line, Stablish, continue our march, On, to the bound of the waste, On, to the City of God.