Lines on his Twenty-Third Birthday

LAST evening's huge lax clouds of turbid white
  Grew dark and louring, burthened with the rain
Which that long wind monotonous all night
  Swept clashing loud through Dreamland's still domain,

Until my spirit in fatigue's despite
  Was driven to weary wakefulness again:
With such wild dirge and ceaseless streaming tears
Died out the last of all my ill-used years.

The morn his risen pure and fresh and keen;
  Its perfect vault of bright blue heaven spreads bare
Above the earth's wide laughter twinkling green.
  The sun, long climbing up with lurid glare
Athwart the storm-rack's rent and hurrying screen,
  Leapt forth at dawn to breathe this stainless air;
The strong west wind still streams on full and high,
Inspiring fresher life through earth and sky.

Yon hazeless river flashes silver signs
  Of where it flows; how delicate and clear
The distant hills curve far their grey-blue lines,
  Steadfast amidst the rushing atmosphere,
With every blade distinct the green grass shines,
  Untouched by frost; those old trees dark or sere,
Swaying and soughing in the lifeful dawn,
Have every leaf and twig distinctly drawn.

This day my own particular year has birth;
  The general year is very old to-day:
Yet, with what healthful life o'er heaven and earth
  The death-bound monarch holdeth steadfast sway!
Not too austere for much of hearty mirth
  And energetic pleasure, nor so grey
But that he still can deck himself with flowers;-
Would that like his could be my dying hours!

Still dew-pearled fuchsias shine like pendent gems,
  While some lie purely on the deep-dark mould
Beneath their glossy leaves and ruddy stems;
  The thick chrysanthemums range white and cold;
Of all its wealth of marvellous anadems,
  That gleamed amidst their fruits of orange gold
Glowing red-hearted in the Autumn sun,
The passion-flower has still for me kept one.
I pace the garden in this genial morn,
  And meditate the dirge of my dead year,-
With even less of grief than sharp self-scorn.
  The retrospect in truth brings little cheer;
As if of one long-tired, who stares forlorn
  Across flat marshland, barren, gloomy, drear;
Where fields, nor home, nor church, his vision greet
Which he has toiled through with unsteady feet.

 He turns; before him, as behind, all round
  The pathless waste outstretches flat and bare;
From sullen pools amidst the dark heath-ground
  Frogs jar their croakings through the murky air,
Which up that vault of solid sky stone-bound
  Heaves huge dense glooms to shut on his despair.
Let him crawl on as he has crawled all day,
Till Night comes down upon his homeless way.

My golden morning hours, which should have brought
  Strength, wisdom, faith and love, or hope of all,
Have sunk and dribbled while I heeded not
  Into the slush of sloth beyond recall.
O nerveless hands, 0 brain of aimless thought,
  O slow dim eyes that never marked their fall-
Absorbed in dreams both waking and asleep
Our golden hours for ever lost, now weep.

All lost for ever! and the hours to come,
  Poor refuse! but our sole remaining wealth,
So much the likelier thence to share doom!
  The brain unused to mark insidious stealth,
Short-sighted eyes long filled with mist and gloom,
  Lax hands uncustomed to the grasp of health,
That lost the fight in their best youth,-shall these
Victorious prove in languor and disease?

Oh, for the flushed excitement of keen strife!
  For mountains, gulfs and torrents in my way,
With peril, anguish, fear and strugglings rife!
  For friends and foes, for love and hate in fray,-
And not this lone base flat of torpid life!
  I fret 'neath gnat-stings, an ignoble prey,
While others with a sword-hilt in their grasp
Have warm rich blood to feed their latest gasp.
Wrathful and dangerous, restless, free, profound,
  With fair green islands shining o'er its verge,
The Sea of Life there heaves and roars around.
  To pierce its depths, to throb against its surge,
Breasting to gain the Happy Isles!- if drowned,
  The loser pays; he fought his game; no dirge!
But to be whelmed in torpor at the last,
As one with this dead crag which holds me fast!

Flushed grapes, full-charged with life's delirious wine,
  Brush my wan temples, hanging thick about:
Chained fast I cannot reach them, while I pine
  To press their very inmost rapture out,
Flooding with fire these dust-dry lips of mine;
  Better, wild drunkenness than hectic drought:
And torture breeds new tortures, in the dread
That ere they fall my power to
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James Thomson

James Thomson, who wrote under the pseudonym Bysshe Vanolis, was a Scottish Victorian-era poet famous primarily for the long poem The City of Dreadful Night, an expression of bleak pessimism in a dehumanized, uncaring urban environment. more…

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"Lines on his Twenty-Third Birthday" Poetry.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2020. Web. 1 Apr. 2020. <https://www.poetry.net/poem/20665/lines-on-his-twenty-third-birthday>.

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