I KNOW not, Time and Space so intervene,
Whether, still waiting with a trust serene,
Thou bearest up thy fourscore years and ten,
Or, called at last, art now Heaven’s citizen ;
But, here or there, a pleasant thought of thee,
Like an old friend, all day has been with me.
The shy, still boy, for whom thy kindly hand
Smoothed his hard pathway to the wonder-land
Of thought and fancy, in gray manhood yet
Keeps green the memory of his early debt.
To-day, when truth and falsehood speak their words
Through hot-lipped cannon and the teeth of swords,
Listening with quickened heart and ear intent
To each sharp clause of that stern argument,
I still can hear at times a softer note
Of the old pastoral music round me float,
While through the hot gleam of our civil strife
Looms the green mirage of a simpler life.
As, at his alien post, the sentinel
Drops the old bucket in the homestead well,
And hears old voices in the winds that toss
Above his head the live-oak’s beard of moss,
So, in our trial-time, and under skies
Shadowed by swords like Islam’s paradise,
I wait and watch, and let my fancy stray
To milder scenes and youth’s Arcadian day ;
And howsoe’er the pencil dipped in dreams
Shades the brown woods or tints the sunset streams,
The country doctor in the foreground seems,
Whose ancient sulky down the village lanes
Dragged, like a war-car, captive ills and pains.
I could not paint the scenery of my song,
Mindless of one who looked thereon so long;
Who, night and day, on duty’s lonely round,
Made friends o’ th’ woods and rocks, and knew the sound
Of each small brook, and what the hill-side trees
Said to the winds that touched their leafy keys ;
Who saw so keenly and so well could paint
The village-folk, with all their humors quaint, —
The parson ambling on his wall-eyed roan,
Grave and erect, with white hair backward blown, —
The tough old boatman, half amphibious grown, —
The muttering witch-wife of the gossip’s tale,
And the loud straggler levying his black mail, —
Old customs, habits, superstitions, fears,
All that lies buried under fifty years.
To thee, as is most fit, I bring my lay,
And, grateful, own the debt I cannot pay.