See, the fire is sinking low,
Dusky red the embers glow,
While above them still I cower,
While a moment more I linger,
Though the clock, with lifted finger,
Points beyond the midnight hour.
Sings the blackened log a tune
Learned in some forgotten June
From a school-boy at his play,
When they both were young together,
Heart of youth and summer weather
Making all their holiday.
And the night-wind rising, hark!
How above there in the dark,
In the midnight and the snow,
Ever wilder, fiercer, grander,
Like the trumpets of Iskander,
All the noisy chimneys blow!
Every quivering tongue of flame
Seems to murmur some great name,
Seems to say to me, ‘Aspire!’
But the night-wind answers, ‘Hollow
Are the visions that you follow,
Into darkness sinks your fire!’
Then the flicker of the blaze
Gleams on volumes of old days,
Written by masters of the art,
Loud through whose majestic pages
Rolls the melody of ages,
Throb the harp-strings of the heart.
And again the tongues of flame
Start exulting and exclaim:
‘These are prophets, bards, and seers;
In the horoscope of nations,
Like ascendant constellations,
They control the coming years.’
But the night-wind cries: ‘Despair!
Those who walk with feet of air
Leave no long-enduring marks;
At God’s forges incandescent
Mighty hammers beat incessant,
These are but the flying sparks.
‘Dust are all the hands that wrought;
Books are sepulchres of thought;
The dead laurels of the dead
Rustle for a moment only,
Like the withered leaves in lonely
Churchyards at some passing tread.’
Suddenly the flame sinks down;
Sink the rumors of renown;
And alone the night-wind drear
Clamors louder, wilder, vaguer,–
”Tis the brand of Meleager
Dying on the hearth-stone here!’
And I answer,–‘Though it be,
Why should that discomfort me?
No endeavor is in vain;
Its reward is in the doing,
And the rapture of pursuing
Is the prize the vanquished gain.’