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- Bitter-Sweet - 2/22 -


PRELUDE.

Doubt takes to wings on such a night as this; And while the traveler hugs her fluttering cloak, And staggers o'er the weary waste alone, Beneath a pitiless heaven, they flap his face, And wheel above, or hunt his fainting soul, As, with relentless greed, a vulture throng, With their lank shadows mock the glazing eyes Of the last camel of the caravan. And Faith takes forms and wings on such a night. Where love burns brightly at the household hearth, And from the altar of each peaceful heart Ascends the fragrant incense of its thanks, And every pulse with sympathetic throb Tells the true rhythm of trustfulest content, They flutter in and out, and touch to smiles The sleeping lips of infancy; and fan The blush that lights the modest maiden's cheeks; And toss the locks of children at their play.

Silence is vocal if we listen well; And Life and Being sing in dullest ears From morn to night, from night to morn again, With fine articulations; but when God Disturbs the soul with terror, or inspires With a great joy, the words of Doubt and Faith Sound quick and sharp like drops on forest leaves; And we look up to where the pleasant sky Kisses the thunder-caps, and drink the song.

A SONG OF DOUBT.

The day is quenched, and the sun is fled; God has forgotten the world! The moon is gone, and the stars are dead; God has forgotten the world!

Evil has won in the horrid feud Of ages with The Throne; Evil stands on the neck of Good, And rules the world alone.

There is no good; there is no God; And Faith is a heartless cheat Who bares the back for the Devil's rod, And scatters thorns for the feet.

What are prayers in the lips of death, Filling and chilling with hail? What are prayers but wasted breath Beaten back by the gale?

The day is quenched, and the sun is fled; God has forgotten the world! The moon is gone and the stars are dead; God has forgotten the world!

A SONG OF FAITH.

Day will return with a fresher boon; God will remember the world! Night will come with a newer moon; God will remember the world!

Evil is only the slave of Good; Sorrow the servant of Joy; And the soul is mad that refuses food Of the meanest in God's employ.

The fountain of joy is fed by tears, And love is lit by the breath of sighs; The deepest griefs and the wildest fears Have holiest ministries.

Strong grows the oak in the sweeping storm; Safely the flower sleeps under the snow; And the farmer's hearth is never warm Till the cold wind starts to blow.

Day will return with a fresher boon; God will remember the world! Night will come with a newer moon; God will remember the world!

FIRST MOVEMENT.

LOCALITY--_The square room of a New England farmhouse_.

PRESENT--ISRAEL, _head of the family_; JOHN, PETER, DAVID, PATIENCE, PRUDENCE, GRACE, MARY, RUTH, _and_ CHILDREN.

THE QUESTION STATED AND ARGUED.

_Israel_.

Ruth, touch the cradle. Boys, you must be still! The baby cannot sleep in such a noise. Nay, Grace, stir not; she'll soothe him soon enough, And tell him more sweet stuff in half an hour Than you can dream, in dreaming half a year.

_Ruth_. [_Kneeling and rocking the cradle_.]

What is the little one thinking about? Very wonderful things, no doubt. Unwritten history! Unfathomed mystery! Yet he laughs and cries, and eats and drinks, And chuckles and crows, and nods and winks, As if his head were as full of kinks And curious riddles as any sphinx! Warped by colic, and wet by tears, Punctured by pins, and tortured by fears, Our little nephew will lose two years; And he'll never know Where the summers go;-- He need not laugh, for he'll find it so!

Who can tell what a baby thinks? Who can follow the gossamer links By which the manikin feels his way Out from the shore of the great unknown, Blind, and wailing, and alone, Into the light of day?-- Out from the shore of the unknown sea, Tossing in pitiful agony,-- Of the unknown sea that reels and rolls, Specked with the barks of little souls-- Barks that were launched on the other side, And slipped from Heaven on an ebbing tide! What does he think of his mother's eyes? What does he think of his mother's hair? What of the cradle-roof that flies Forward and backward through the air? What does he thinks of his mother's breast-- Bare and beautiful, smooth and white, Seeking it ever with fresh delight-- Cup of his life and couch of his rest? What does he think when her quick embrace Presses his hand and buries his face Deep where the heart-throbs sink and swell With a tenderness she can never tell, Though she murmur the words Of all the birds-- Words she has learned to murmur well? Now he thinks he'll go to sleep! I can see the shadow creep Over his eyes, in soft eclipse, Over his brow, and over his lips, Out to his little finger-tips! Softly sinking, down he goes! Down he goes! Down he goes!

[_Rising and carefully retreating to her seat_.]

See! He is hushed in sweet repose!

_David_. [_Yawning_.]

Behold a miracle! Music transformed To morphine, and the drowsy god invoked By the poor prattle of a maiden's tongue! A moment more, and we should all have gone Down into dreamland with the babe! Ah, well! There is no end of wonders.

_Ruth_. None, indeed! When lazy poets who have gorged themselves, And cannot keep awake, make the attempt To shift the burden of their drowsiness, And charge a girl with what they owe to greed.

_David_.

At your old tricks again! No sleep induced By song of yours, or any other bird's, Can linger long when you begin to talk. Grace, box your sister's ears for me, and save The trouble of my rising.


Bitter-Sweet - 2/22

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