Twoscore and Ten

ACROSS the sleepy, sun-barred atmosphere
Of the pew-checkered, square old meeting-house,
Through the high window, I could see and hear
The far crows cawing in the forest boughs.
The earnest preacher talked of Youth and Age:
Life is a book,whose lines are flitting fast;
Each word a moment,every year a page,
Till, leaf by leaf, we quickly turn the last,”
Even while he spoke, the sunshine’s witness crept
By many a fair and many a grizzled head,
Some drooping heavily, as if they slept,
Over the unspelled minutes as they sped.
A boy of twelve, with fancies fresh and strong,
Who found the text no cushion of repose,
Who deemed the shortest sermon far too long,
My thoughts were in the tree-tops with the crows ;
Or farther still I soared, upon the back
Of white clouds sailing in the shoreless blue,
Till he recalled me from their dazzling track
To the old meeting-house and high-backed pew.
“ To eager childhood, as it turns the leaf,
How long and bright the unread page appears!
But to the aged, looking back, how brief, —
How brief the tale of half a hundred years !
Over the drowsy pews the preacher’s word
Resounded, as he paused to wipe his brows :
I seem to hear it now, as then I heard,
Reëchoing in the hollow meeting-house.
Our youth is gone, and thick and thicker come
The hoary years, like tempest-driven snows;
Flies fast, flies fast, life’s wasting pendulum,
And ever faster as it shorter grows.”
My mates sat wondering wearily the while
How long before his Lastly would come in,
Or glancing at the girls across the aisle,
Or in some distant corner playing pin.
But in that moment to my inward eyes
A sudden window opened, and I caught
Through dazzling rifts a glimpse of other skies,
The dizzy deeps, the blue abyss of thought.
Beside me sat my father, grave and gray,
And old, so old, at twoscore years and ten !
I said, “ I will remember him this day,
When I am fifty, if I live till then.
“ I will remember all I see and hear,
My very thoughts, and how life seems to me,
This Sunday morning in my thirteenth year; —
How will it seem when I am old as he ?
“ What is the work that I shall find to do ?
Shall I be worthy of his honored name ?
Poor and obscure? or will my dream come true,
My secret dream of happiness and fame ? ”
Ah me, the years betwixt that hour and this !
The ancient meeting-house has passed away,
And in its place a modern edifice
Invites the well-dressed worshiper to-day.
With it have passed the well-remembered faces :
The old are gone, the boys are gray-haired men ;
They too are scattered, strangers fill their places ;
And here am I at twoscore years and ten!
How strangely, wandering here beside the sea,
The voice of crows in yonder forest boughs,
A cloud, a Sabbath bell, bring back to me
That morning in the gaunt old meeting-house !
An oasis amid the desert years,
That golden Sunday smiles as then it smiled :
I see the venerated head; through tears
I see myself, that far-off wondering child!
The pews, the preacher, and the whitewashed wall,
An imaged book, with careless children turning
Its awful pages, — I remember all;
My very thoughts, the questioning and yearning;
The haunting faith, the shadowy superstition
That I was somehow chosen, the special care
Of Powers that led me through life’s changeful vision,
Spirits and Influences of earth and air.
In curious pity of myself grown wise,
I think what then I was and dared to hope,
And how my poor achievements satirize
The boy’s brave dream and happy horoscope.
To see the future flushed with morning fire,
Rosy with banners, bright with beckoning spears,
Fresh fields inviting courage and desire, —
This is the glory of our youthful years.
To feel the pettiness of prizes won,
With all our vast ambition ; to behold
So much attempted and so little done, —
This is the bitterness of growing old.
Yet why repine ? Though soon we care no more
For triumphs which, till won, appear so sweet,
They serve their use, as toys held out before
Beguiled our infancy to try its feet.
Not in rewards, but in the strength to strive,
The blessing lies, and new experience gained ;
In daily duties done, hope kept alive,
That Love and Thought are housed and entertained.
So not in vain the struggle, though the prize
Awaiting me was other than it seemed.
My feet have missed the paths of Paradise,
Yet life is even more blessed than I deemed.
Riches I never sought, and have not found,
And Fame has passed me with averted eye;
In creeks and bays my quiet voyage is bound,
While the great world without goes surging by.
No withering envy of another’s lot,
Nor nightmare of contention, plagues my rest :
For me alike what is and what is not,
Both what I have and what I lack are best.
A flower more sacred than far-seen success
Perfumes my solitary path ; I find
Sweet compensation in my humbleness,
And reap the harvest of a tranquil mind.
I keep some portion of my early dream :
Brokenly bright, like moonbeams on a river,
It lights my life, a far elusive gleam,
Moves as I move, and leads me on forever.
Our earliest longings prophesy the man,
Our fullest wisdom still enfolds the child ;
And in my life I trace that larger plan
Whereby at last all things are reconciled.
The storm-clad years, the years that howl and hasten,
The world, where simple faith soon grows estranged,
Toil, passion, loss, all things that mold and chasten,
Still leave the inmost part of us unchanged.
O boy of long ago, whose name I hear,
Small self, half-hidden by the antique pew,
Across the years I see you, sitting there,
Wondering and gazing out into the blue;
And marvel at this sober, gray-haired man
I am or seem. How changed my days, how tame
The wild, swift hopes with which my youth began !
Yet in my inmost self I am the same.
The dreamy soul, too sensitive and shy,
The brooding tenderness for bird and flower;
The old, old wonder at the earth and sky,
And sense of guidance by an Unseen Power, —
These keep perpetual childhood in my heart.
The peaks of age, that looked so bare and cold,
Those peaks and I are still as far apart
As in the years when fifty seemed so old.
Age, that appeared far off a bourn at rest,
Recedes as I advance ; the fount of joy
Rises perennial in my grateful breast;
And still at fifty I am but a boy.
J. T. Trowbridge.