Night on the Road

LET us go slow, for the horse is worn
And still there are miles to make.
It is an hour from midnight, now,
And only ourselves awake —
We and the stars, and they are pale,
Blinking across the blue,
As if for a little they’d shut their eyes
And fall a-napping too.
We and the stars, and a whip-poor-will
Making some strange complaint
Down in the hidden hold of a wood,
Dolorous, far, and faint.
The road is a ribbon of glimmering gray
Unwound along the dark.
Following far a misty way
Too dim for eye to mark.
Here it stretches a level mile
Belting a dusky field;
Here it narrows, a cloistered lane
That steadfast hedges shield;
Now it dips in an easy slope
Where a velvet gloom is shed
From shouldering branches that touch and clasp
Dark hands high overhead.
Down we follow, and down and down,
Slow on the dimming track,
And the shadow deepens from dun to brown,
From brown to limpid black,
Till we lose the stars and we lose the road,
And we hear on either hand
Only the muffled monotone
Of wheels in the yielding sand:
Then, splash and ripple and tinkling tune
Of water over rock —
Robin’s knee-deep in a running stream
With the buggy on the lock!
Loosen the rein and let him drink,
A long, steep pull’s ahead.
Hear how the water slips and croons
Along its fretted bed;
Hear how the current halts and swerves
Around us in its sweep, —
And listen, beyond, to the broken laugh
Where it takes a sudden leap.
The hour is still as a House of Sleep,
And heavy upon our eyes
With shadowy forms and folded wings
And tender mysteries:
The wordless talk of the wakeful brook,
The kiss of the cool-lipped gloom,
Soft on the senses the witchery
Of the wild grape’s faint perfume.
What has become of the one-time world
With all its questionings ?
Surely we nevermore need know,
Here at the foot of things, —
Here in the deep of the summer dark,
Hidden from hail and sight,
Hovered above by the brooding peace
Of the tranquil-minded night.
Out and onward, and up and up
To the crest of the looming hill,
Back to the ribbon of road again,
The dim trail waiting still;
On through the midst of the gentle fields,
Nodding a bit, at last, —
Lower and lower, with half a dream
For every milestone passed.
The plodding hoofs are a lullaby,
Sure as an old refrain,
Till we halt at last by a white-barred gate
At the end of a curving lane.
And lo, we have drawn to the heart of Home,
Weary and glad and blest; —
Ah, safe and sweet was the way to come,
But the journey’s end is best!