“The Guests of Night” by Bayard Taylor

by Ann Neilson

The Guests of Night.
By Bayard Taylor
From the Atlantic Monthly, Volume 29, January, 1872, pp. 15-16.

I RIDE in a gloomy land,
I travel a ghostly shore,—
Shadows on either hand,
Darkness behind and before;
Veils of the summer night
Dusking the woods I know;
A whisper haunts the height,
And the rivulet croons below.

A waft from the roadside bank
Tells where the wild-rose nods;
The hollows are heavy and dank
With the steam of the golden-rods:
Incense of Night and Death,
Odors of Life and Day,
Meet and mix in a breath,
Drug me, and lapse away.

Is it the hand of the Past,
Stretched forth from its open tomb,
Or a spell from thy glamoury cast,
O mellow and mystic Gloom?
All, wherein I have part,
All that was loss or gain,
Slips from the clasping heart,
Breaks from the grasping brain.

Lo, what is left? I am bare
As a new-born soul,—I am naught;
My deeds are as dust in air,
My words are as ghosts of thought.
I ride through the night alone,
Detached from the life that seemed,
And the best I have felt or known
Is less than the least I dreamed.

But the Night, like Agrippa’s glass,
Now, as I question it, clears;
Over its vacancy pass
The shapes of the crowded years;
Meanest and most august,
Hated or loved, I see
The dead that have long been dust,
The living, so dead to me!

Place in the world’s applause?
Nay, there is nothing there!
Strength from unyielding laws?
A gleam, and the glass is bare.
The lines of a life in song?
Faint runes on the rocks of time?
I see but a formless throng
Of shadows that fall or climb.

What else? Am I then despoiled
Of the garments I wove and wore?
Have I so refrained and toiled,
To find there is naught in store?
I have loved,—I love! Behold,
How the steady pictures rise!
And the shadows are pierced with gold
From the stars of immortal eyes.

Nearest or most remote,
But dearest, hath none delayed;
And the spirits of kisses float
O’er the lips that never fade.
The night each guest denies
Of the band or haughty brain,
But the loves that were, arise,
And the loves that are, remain.