“The Dream of a Day”
From The Dream of a Day and Other Poems by James Gates Percival
In silent gloom the world before me lay—
In deepest night embosomed it reposed;
All genial hues of life had passed away—
In sleep profound the eye of day had closed;
Beamed through the voiceless calm no fitful ray—
Great Nature’s heart to stillness all composed;
Oblivious dreams alone were moving there,
Like soft wings fanning light the summer air.
Meseemed a rustling plume was hovering o’er me—
Unwonted yearnings thronged around my heart;
A spirit, half unseen, stood dim before me—
I caught the vision with unconscious start,
And suddenly a shadowy grasp upbore me,
Swift as the glancing of a feathered dart—
Gently as stream of air through darkness gliding,
Then softly as on pillowed down subsiding.
Silence was broken, as my flight descended—
A whispered tone of most Æolian sweetness,
Where many voices seemed accordant blended,
All to a dulcet swell of full completeness,
Breathing as if by golden harps attended,
Now lingering slow, now waked to magic fleetness,
Heaved now in solemn surge, now faintly falling,
Like voice of love in airy distance calling.
Again all laid in deeper calm, as when
The midnight storm, far o’er the hills departing,
Murmurs in echoes lightly first, and then
Whispers its soft farewell, the spirit starting
At the still hush that follows, or as when pain,
Like flashes through the frame intensely darting,
Yields to a soothing balm, how blest reposes
The heart, and slumber sweet the eye-lid closes.
All lay a void before me, when afar
Just gleamed, as moonlight through a rifted cloud,
A tremulous ray, fainter than smallest star
Quivering through haze, and dim as spectre shroud
Floating in night of caves, while round the air
Gathered intenser gloom: as ocean, plowed
By gliding keel, trembles in liquid light,
So dawned that ray forth from profoundest night.
Slowly it dawned, and images arose
From out the void, as worlds from chaos born,
Hovering like phantoms o’er a stream that flows
Deep under veil of mist in earliest morn:
As leafy boughs, when fresh the zephyr blows,
Shift in the wave, or on the dew-bright thorn
Quick rainbows dance, uncertain so they played,
And half unveiled, amid that world of shade.
Then from the abyss, as pillared flame ascending,
Upstreamed a fuller day, and widely rolled
Its kindling light, distincter being lending
To what seemed shadowy dreams; its iris fold
Turned slowly back the night, in vain contending
Before its fulgent arms: first silvery cold
They gleamed, then warm and golden glowed before me;
Earth smiled around, and heaven’s blue glittered o’er me.
A scene of orient pomp, where lay united
In loved embrace the vivid and the tender—
Temple and tower, by self-effulgence lighted,
Streaming through clustered palms their magic splendor—
Column, the fervent pilgrim hailed delighted,
Reared to his country’s saviour and defender—
Palance, whose thousand windows, ruby-flashing,
Tinted the fountain o’er its terrace dashing.
Again in classic beauty still reposing,
A soft Ionian sky above it swelling—
Long flowery vales in gentle vistas closing—
Peaks snowy pure, dark summits cloud-compelling—
Smooth marble hills, the wandering bee composing
To nectared sleep—rocks, the mysterious dwelling
Of prescient god—bright city, fitly moulded,
Round lofty fane and citadel enfolded.
Again wild nature—Alp on Alp uplifted,
Shooting into the heaven in pointed pride—
Rose-tinted snows, blue glassy torrents rifted
Deep to dark night—dim gorges yawning wide
Mid jetty crags, o’er which the cat’ract, drifted
In surging foam, heaved broad its thundering tide—
Far glimpses through rude glens to lake and stream
Reposing peacefully, as in a dream.
And then a pastoral scene of my own land—
Groves darkly green, white farms, and pastures gay
With golden flowers—brooks stealing over sand
Or smooth worn pebbles, murmuring light away—
Blue rye-fields, yielding to the gentle hand
Of the cool west wind—scented fields of hay,
Falling in purple bloom—free hearts that feel
Their being doubled in their country’s weal.
And there my heart reposed, as mother yearning
Over her cradled infant, sweetly smiling
In innocent dreams—its rose lip lightly turning
In slumbering joy, some shape of love beguiling
Its quiet soul to bliss; so I, discerning
Those scenes where erst my happy spirit, whiling
In sportful peace life’s dawn away, yet knew
No griefs that wring, felt life revived anew.
Beneath a broad crowned oak, on sloping hill
O’erlooking wide the lovely region round,
On soft thick turf I lay: the air was still—
Distinctly heard was each remotest sound,
The clacking wheel in cornfield, at the mill
The circling plash, and far the faint rebound
Of low and bleat from mountain side, the stir
Of insect swarms, the drone bee’s hum and swirr.
The sun rolled on to noon; through the light leaves
Scarce quiv’ring in the tremulous air, the blue
Of heaven looked gently, as when fondly weaves
Young love its tenderest smile, while trembling through
Checked tears—for even when blest it inly grieves
Unsconscious—darts its glance, as light through dew.
In the cool shade I lay, while o’er the ground
Waved the warm undulations wide around.
Half slumbering I lay—then as a veil
Fell the faint lid, and dim the scene afar
Floated in magic shade: the freshening gale,
Breathed from the rolling sea, then stirred the air,
And whispering softly, as the fond heart’s tale
Told in the twilight dusk, awoke me there
With its cool kisses; low the sun descending
With the blue mountain haze was richly blending.
Evening came on apace—in full orbed glory
The sun drew to his couch—through vista’d trees
He glided—flashing broad and full he wore a
Look of unwonted joy, for rest and ease
After his day of toil—far clouds hung hoary
Along the east, then kindled by degrees
As slow he sunk—fresh bloomed the aerial rose,
While he streamed the West, as gushing furnace glows.
Twilight ere long to solemn darkness faded—
The wide funereal flame grew amber clear,
And ever lower sinking, softly shaded
Its light with mellower tints—round the wide sphere
A belt of palest violet was braided,
Pale as the flower we scatter on the bier;
This died away, and one by one on high
The stars took up their night-watch in the sky.
I sat amid the darkness, and above
The oak looked spectrally, while every star
Hung o’er me like a messenger of love,
Herald of some fair world, if world more fair
Than this brave earth has being; as a dove
Hovering suspended in the summer air,
Peace brooded with light wings the voiceless sleep
Of tired hearts beating low in slumber deep.
A spirit stood before me half unseen,
Majestic and severe, yet o’er him played
A genial light—subdued though high his mien,
As by a strong collected spirit swayed—
In even balance justly poised between
Each wild extreme, proud strength by feeling stayed—
Dwelling in upper realms serenely bright,
Lifted above the shadowy sphere of night.
He stood before me, and I heard a tone,
Such as from mortal lips had never flowed,
Soft yet commanding, gentle yet alone
It bowed the listener’s heart—anon it glowed
Intensely fervent, then like wood notes thrown
On the chance winds, in airy lightness rode—
Now swelled like ocean surge, now pausing fell
Like the last murmur of a muffled bell.
“Lone pilgrim through life’s gloom,” thus spake the shade,
“Hold on with steady will along thy way:
Thou by a kindly favoring hand were made—
Hard though thy lot, yet thine what can repay
Long years of bitter toil—the holy aid
Of spirit aye is thine, be that thy stay:
Thine to behold the true, to feel the pure,
To know the good and lovely—these endure.
Hold on—thou hast in thee thy best reward;
Poor are the largest stores of sordid gain,
If from the heaven of thought the soul is barred,
If the high spirit’s bliss is sought in vain:
Think not thy lonely lot is cold or hard,
The world has never bound thee with its chain
Free as the birds of heaven thy heart can soar,
Thou canst create new worlds—what wouldst thou more?
The future age will know thee—yea, even now
Hearts beat and tremble at thy bidding, tears
Flow as thou moves thy wand, thy word can bow
Even ruder natures, the dull soul uprears
As thou thy trumpet blast attunest—thou
Speakest, and each remotest valley hears:
Thou hast the gift of song—a wealth is thine,
Richer than all the treasures of the mine.
Hold on, glad spirits company thy path—
They minister to thee, though all unseen:
Even when the tempest lifts its voice in wrath,
Thou joyest in its strength; the orient sheen
Gladdens thee with its beauty; winter hath
A holy charm that soothes thee, like the green
Of infant May—all nature is thy friend,
All seasons to thy life enchantment lend.
Man too thou know’st and feelest—all the springs
That wake his smile and tear, his joy and sorrow,
All that uplifts him on emotion’s wings,
Each longing for a fair and blest to-morrow,
Each tone that soothes or saddens, all that rings
Joyously to him, thou canst fitly borrow
From thy own breast, and blend it in a strain,
To which each human heart beats back again.
Thine the unfettered thought, alone controlled
By nature’s truth; thine the wide-seeing eye,
Catching the delicate shades, yet apt to hold
The whole in its embrace—before it lie
Pictured in fairest light, as chart unrolled,
Fields of the present and of destiny
The voice of truth amid the senseless throng
May now be lost; ’tis heard and felt ere long.
Hold on—live for the world—live for all the time—
Rise in thy conscious power, but gently bear
Thy form among thy fellows; sternly climb
The spirit’s alpine peaks; mid snow towers there
Nurse the pure thought, but yet accordant chime
With lowlier hearts in valleys green and fair.—
Sustain thyself—yield to no meaner hand,
Even though he rule awhile thy own dear land.
Brief is his power, oblivion waits the churl
Bound to his own poor self; his form decays,
But sooner fades his name. Thou shalt unfurl
Thy standard to the winds of future days—
Well mayest thou in thy soul defiance hurl
On such who would subdue thee; thou shalt raise
Thy name, when they are dust, and nothing more:
Hold on—in earnest hope still look before.
Nerved to a stern resolve, fulfill thy lot—
Reveal the secrets nature has unveiled thee;
All higher gifts by toil intense are bought—
Has thy firm will in action ever failed thee?
Only on distant summits fame is sought—
Sorrow and gloom thy nature has entailed thee,
But bright thy present joys, and brighter far
The hope that draws thee like a heavenly star.”
The voice was still—its tone in distance dying
Breathed in my ear, like harp faint heard at even,
Soft as the autumn wind through sere leaves sighing,
When flaky clouds athwart the moon are driven.
Far through the viewless gloom the spirit flying,
Winged his high passage to his native heaven,
But o’er me still he seemed in kindness bending,
Fresh hope and firmer purpose to me lending.