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The Passing Of The Century poem – Alfred Austin


How shall we comfort the Dying Year?

Beg him to linger, or bid him go?

The light in his eyes burns dim and low,

His hands are clammy, his pulse beats slow,

He wanders and mumbles, but doth not hear.

The lanes are sodden, the leaf-drifts sere,

And the wrack is weaving his shroud of white.

Do you not see he is weary quite

Of the languor of living, and longs for night?

Lo! He is gone! Now lower him down

In the snug-warm earth, ‘neath the clods of brown

And the buds of the winter aconite.

How shall we part with the bygone Year?

Cover with cypress, or wreathe with bay?

He will not heed what you do or say,

He is deaf to to-morrow as yesterday.

Why do you linger about his bier?

He has gone to the Ghostland, he is not here.

We may go on our way, we may live and laugh,

Round the banqueting blaze can feast and quaff.

The purple catafalque, stately staff,

The dirges of sorrow, the songs of praise,

And the costliest monument man can raise,

Are but for the Spirit’s cenotaph.

Dust unto dust, He is dead, though he

Was the last of the centuried years that flow,

We know not wherefore, we never shall know,

With the tide unebbing of Time, and go

To the phantom shore of Eternity.

Shadows to shadows, they flit and flee

Across the face of the flaming sun,

The vague generations, one by one,

That never are ended, never begun.

Where is the dome or the vault so vast,

As to coffin the bones of the perished Past,

Save the limitless tomb of Oblivion?

What tale would he tell, could the dead but speak?

“I was born, as I died, amid wrath and smoke,

When the war-wains rolled, and the cannons spoke,

When the vulture’s cry and the raven’s croak

Flapped hungrily over the dying shriek,

And nothing was seen but a blood-red streak

Betwixt lowering sky and leaden main;

When slanted and slashed the rifles’ rain

Upon furrows whose harvest were sheaves of slain;

When the levin’s glare by the thunder’s crash

Was bellowed, and ever ‘twixt flash and flash

The howl of the unspent hurricane.”

Let the dead discourse with the dead. So ask

How best now to welcome the new-born Year.

She is coming, is coming, and, lo! is here,

With forehead and footstep that know not fear.

She will shrink from no pleasure, evade no task,

But there never was worn or veil or mask

Like her frank fair face and her candid soul.

Do you fathom her thoughts, can you guess her goal,

Her waywardness chasten, her fate control?

She will wend with her doom, and that doom be ours;

So greet her with carol and snow-white flowers,

And crown her with Hope’s own aureole.

Yet mind her dawn of the dark, for she,

She too must pass ‘neath the lych-gate porch;

And give to her keeping the vestal Torch,

That may ofttime smoulder, and sometimes scorch,

But rebrightens and burns eternally:

The beacon on land and the planet at sea,

When the night is murk, and the mist is dense,

To guide us Whither, remind us Whence,

The Soul’s sure lamp through the shades of sense.

She must tread the Unknown the dead years trod;

Though rugged the road, yet the goal is God,

And the will of all-wise Omnipotence.


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