New Year’s Eve! and I am sitting
By the glowing ingle-side,
Watching, listlessly, the smoke-wreaths
Dancing up the chimney wide;
And the quaint, fantastic shadows,
Which the flickering fire-light flings
On the floor and walls and ceiling,
Flapping, phantom-like, their wings.
And the storm’s mysterious spirit,
Raging in the outer air,
Shrieking round the eaves and gables,
Hissing through the poplars bare;
And the drowsy hum of voices,
And the cricket’s carol clear,
And the clock’s monotonous ticking,
Are the only sounds I hear.
Though the crackling yule-log blazes
On the hearths of joyous homes;
Though the heartfelt laughter echoes
’Neath a thousand frosted domes;
And the New Year’s Trees are twinkling
With their myriad starry lights,
Loaded down with toys and trinkets,
Circled round with romping sprites.
And the ivy-green and holly,
Hang in festoons from the walls,
Decorate the lamps and vases,
And the statues in the halls.
And a myriad hearts are swelling,
Pulsing, panting with delight;
Sunny eyes are gushing, glowing,
With affection’s tender light;
Youthful hands are clasped in others,
Which for long have been astray,
All their toils and cares forgotten,
All their sorrows cast away;
Some are coining jests and riddles,
Some are whispering sweet and low,
Some are stealing, snatching kisses
’Neath the mystic mistletoe.
Swells the dreamy gush of music,
And the young, the fair, the brave
Dance in undulating circles
Round the Old Year’s yawning grave.
Though, in days gone bye I gambolled
With the laughter-gushing throng
Of the peerless and the fearless,
Of the joyous and the young;
Though I trod the dance’s mazes,
With the gayest of the gay;
Shod Old Time with silver slippers,
Banished gloom and care away;
Though I wooed the goddess Beauty,
Knelt at Pleasure’s gaudy shrine,
Looked in eyes whose timid lustre,
Thrilled their rapture back to mine;
Though I clasped fair hands, whose pressure
Gave the impulse to my own:
All have vanished! and I’m sitting,
Sadly dreaming, “all alone.”
Ah! ’twas in the days of sunshine,
When my heart was wild and free,
When the air was full of music,
And the world was fair to me;
Ere my soul had learned to sorrow,
Long before my heart had dreamed
That the forms revolving round me
Could be aught but what they seemed;
Ere affliction cast a shadow
O’er the glory of my youth;
Ere deceit and wrong and falsehood
Banished trusting love and truth;
Ere I proved that lips might flatter
While the heart was full of guile,
And the blackest thoughts lie hidden
’Neath a sunny face and smile;
Ere I’d found that grand proposals
Might be only gilded lies,
And the fiends of lust and passion
Slumber ’neath a fair disguise.
Ere the gaudy shams had withered;
Ere the paint had worn away;
Ere my gold had turned to tinsel,
And my idols, soulless clay.
Ah! ’twas then the sparkling current
Of my being danced along,
’Neath a sky of cloudless radiance,
To a constant gush of song.
Now, alas! those days have vanished,
And the friends of youth have flown,
And I’m sitting by the ingle,
Sadly dreaming, “all alone!”
Oh! what forms and faces haunt me
As I watch the dancing blaze!
Visions, fraught with painful meanings,
From the scenes of other days;
All the memories of my anguish,
Of my deep and bitter wrongs;
All the venomed shafts of slander,
All the spleen from double tongues.
Comes SHE, now, and stands before me,
(Like a phantom from the tomb,)
As when first my eyes beheld her,
In the glory of her bloom;
Stately as the fabled Juno,
As the young Aurora fair,
Dimpled cheeks of summer roses,
Shining cataracts of hair;
With her words of lofty meaning,
And her noble-souled pretence,
With her looks of sham affection,
And her gloss of innocence;
Acting up the rôle of virtue,
And the pure and lofty mind:
Only now the mask’s transparent,
And I see the fiend behind.
Then, my heart was pure and simple,
Full of hope and joy and truth,
Hovering ’twixt the pride of manhood,
And the innocence of youth;
Unsuspicious, fond, impulsive,
Dreaming of no meaner state;
With a passion-love of Beauty,
Of the noble, good, and great.
Then, my soul was softly waking,
To a new and joyous sense,
Softly quivering ’neath the breathings
Of a rapturous influence;
That which casts a dreamy lustre,
In the far-off, vacant eyes;
Sets the “Fairy Fancy” wandering
After fonder, holier ties.
That which thrills the human bosom
With an unimagined bliss;
Gives to youth a feeble foretaste,
Of “the Better World in this;”
Sets the giddy brain a-musing,
When the sun sinks in the west,
And the raptured thoughts a-dreaming,
When the body sleeps at rest.
In the bosom softly stealing,
Indistinct, as mellow whisper
Floating on the vesper wind.
As the flush precedes the coming
Of the glorious “God of Day;”
As the streamlet slowly gushes
Ere the torrent bursts its way;
As the flower first springs, then opens,
To the radiance from above;
So my soul was gently thrilling
’Neath the power of dawning love.
Then! my thoughts were mildly grieving
O’er my childhood’s broken toys,
O’er its sunshine calmly fading,
O’er its vanished hopes and joys.
I was stepping o’er the threshold
Of a new and sterner life,
Gently floating on the margin
Of the whirlpool of its strife;
Only tasting of the hardships,
Which the future had in store,
Looking out into the shadows,
Which its sorrows cast before;
Feeling strangely, sadly conscious
Of the transientness of things,
That the hopes most fondly cherished
Ever have the fleetest wings.
’Tis, alas! the spirit waking
From that blissful childhood’s dream,
When our life’s a barque of pleasure
Floating down a golden stream:
’Tis the first cold breath of sorrow
On the pulses fresh and warm;
’Tis the shade that damps the sunlight
At the coming of a storm.
Then! Ambition smiling whispered
Of a grand and lofty name;
Pointed out into the distance,
To the mountain-heights of Fame,
Hung a wreath of verdant laurels
On the highest of its towers;
Hid the pitfalls in the pathway
’Neath a screen of moss and flowers.
O’er me came at times a longing
For a loving, kindred soul,
Which, with sympathy, could urge me
Onward, upward to the goal;
For a gentle smile to cheer me,
For a pure and noble breast,
Where my thoughts might find an echo,
And my weary head might rest.
Then “She” came and thrilled my being
With her preference and her praise;
Twined herself so closely round me,
With her lofty winning ways;
Till she seemed to me an essence
Floating o’er me everywhere,
Every bitter cup to sweeten,
Every hope and aim to share
Thus I fell a blinded prisoner,
In the meshes of her toils;
Fascinated by her beauty,
And the glamour of her smiles.
Need I tell the “old, old story?”
How I listened and believed;
Told my tale of youthful passion,
Trusted, loved, and was deceived.
Oh! ’tis hard to have the heart-strings
Snapped asunder at a stroke:
Twining round a darling object,
As the ivy round the oak;
Hard to feel the spirit clinging,
Hoping, praying—all in vain!
Have the love, so blindly lavished,
Tossed unvalued back again;
Hard to don a gay appearance,
Wrapt around by wounded pride,
Whilst the heart is bleeding, breaking,
Evermore an empty void.
Harder still to have suspicion
Planted where affection throve;
Lose all faith in human nature,
Human virtue, truth, and love.
Have the flowery palm of honour
Turned to ashes in my grasp,
And the worm my bosom cherished
Rise and sting me like an asp.
Ah! but think not, haughty maiden,
That I envy thee thy power,
Or the grand and lofty beauty
Which was all thy virgin dower;
Think not, either, that I would be
Unconcerned and gay and free;
Doff a love, and don another,
In a twilight, like to thee.
No! I sooner far would suffer
All the agony of heart—
Ay, an age of desolation—
Than be fickle as thou art.
For it proves to me, my spirit
Has not lost the stamp divine;
That my nature is not shallow,
Is not mean and base as thine.
Neither think thou that my being
Yearns towards thee even yet;
That a smile of thine would banish
All I never may forget;
That a look of thine would make me
All I dreamed I once might be;
That one gleam of love would chain me
Once again a slave to thee.
Oft returns the tidal volume
Cloaking wile with amorous speech;
Bar’st his breast with kiss and welcome,
Evermore the grey old beach.
All in vain! the fickle Nereid,
Laughing, slips the fond embrace,
Mocks the moans, the tears that trickle
Down the sad, pain-wrinkled face.
Ah! I know thy fickle nature,
Thou art like that wily wave!
And should Hebe, doling, give thee
All that Tyche ever gave,
Should the richest of the carver,
And the fairest of the loom,
And the choice of art and nature
Lustre round thy beauties’ bloom;
Ah! should all the gifts and graces
Gather round thee, and conspire
In thy form to fix their essence,
Flush thy face with spirit-fire;
Nay! should’st thou in tears, forgetting
Beauty-love is calm and proud,
Should’st thou humble thee, and bow thee
Where I once so meekly bowed:
Having once deceived me, never,
Never more, whate’er thy mien,
Could’st thou be to me the being
That thou mightest once have been.
No, alas! thy tears might give me
Less of pride, and less of scorn,
Deeper pity, deeper shadow,
Make me sadder, more forlorn.
Oh! my proud and peerless Jenny,
Loved so madly long ago!
Why, oh! wherefore didst thou win me
Only to deceive me so?
Wherefore did’st thou trifle with me
For the sport it gave to thee?
Caring not that such diversion
Might be agony to me.
Had it been thy lot to suffer
With the bright and youthful band,
’Neath the scourge that slays the fairest,
And the noblest of the land;
Though ’twere sad to see thee wasting,
Slowly fading, day by day,
As the stars fade at the dawning,
As the shadows shrink away;
Sad to see grim death presumptuous
Seal the lips that spoke the vow,
Lay his finger on thy pulses,
Cast his shadow o’er thy brow;
Sad to see that form so queenly
Rifled of its summer bloom,
Laid by weeping friends to moulder,
In the dark, the lonely tomb.
Had I known thy spirit landed,
Far beyond this wintry blast;
Had I known thee pure and noble,
True and faithful to the last;
Oh! I could have borne the parting,—
Could have borne to let thee go;
Though my hopes were buried with thee,
Though I idolized thee so!
Then I might have toiled and suffered,
Suffered patiently my woes,
In the hope to meet thee, darling!
Where the weary find repose.
But to make me scorn the being
In my blindness throned so high;
See her proudly, gaily careless,
Dancing on, a living lie;
See the lips on others smiling,
On whose breath my spirit hung,
In whose vows my hopes were centred,
To whose truth my being clung—
Oh ! ’tis terrible to struggle,
With that old and bitter pain
Ever rankling in my bosom,
Ever throbbing in my brain.
But I will not curse thee, Jenny,
No! but bid thee flutter on,
Till thy summer day be ended,
And thy beauty faded, gone;
Till the Flatterer’s tongue is silenced,
And thy hopes are buried low;
Till reflection comes to taunt thee
With the deeds of long-ago.
Then, perchance, thou’lt weep in sorrow
O’er those broken vows of thine;
Then, perchance, thou’lt learn the value
Of a heart as true as mine.
Fare-ye-well: begone, ye phantoms!
Who have marred my summer prime;
Cast a blight o’er all my being,
Made me old before my time.
I will look among the lowly,
Till I find a bosom true,
Then I’ll plant my modest lily
Where the poisonous Upas grew.
* * * *
How the time has flown! ’tis midnight!
And another year has fled;
Hark! the bells ring out a requiem
O’er the faithless, lost, and dead.