The Watch At Midnight

Christopher John Brennan 1870 (Haymarket, New South Wales) – 1932 (Lewisham, New South Wales)

Dead stars, beneath the midnight's granite cope
and round your dungeon-gulf that blindly grope
and fall not, since no lower than any place
needs when the wing is dash'd and foil'd the face:
is this your shadow on the watcher's thought
imposed, or rather hath his anguish taught
the dumb and suffering dark to send you out,
reptile, the doubles of his lurking doubt,
in coasts of night that well might be supposed
the exiled hall of chaos late-deposed,
to haunt across this hour's desuetude,
immense, that whelms in monumental mood
the broad waste of his spirit, stonily
strewn with the wreck of his eternity?

The plumes of night, unfurl'd
and eyed with fire, are whirl'd
slowly above this watch, funereal:
the vast is wide, and yet
no way lies open; set
no bar, but the flat deep rises, a placid wall.
Some throne thou think'st to win
or pride of thy far kin;
this incomplete and dusty hour to achieve:
know that the hour is one,
eternally begun,
eternally deferr'd, thy grasp a Danaid sieve.
O weary realm, O height
the which exhausted flight
familiar finds, home of its prompting ill!
here, there, or there, or there,
even the same despair;
rest in thy place, O fool, the heart eludes thee still.
Rest — and a new abyss
suddenly yawns, of this
the moment sole, and yet the counterpart:
and thou must house it, thou,
within thy fleshy Now,
thyself the abyss that shrinks, the unbounded hermit-heart:
the mightier heart untold
whose paining depths enfold
all loneliness, all height, all vision'd shores;
and the abyss uncrown'd,
blank failure thro' each bound
from the consummate point thy broken hope implores.

The trees that thro' the tuneful morn had made
bride-dusk for beams that pierce the melting shade,
or thro' the opulent afternoon had stood
lordly, absorb'd in hieratic mood, —
now stricken with misgiving of the night
rise black and ominous, as who invite
some fearful coming whose foreblown wind shall bow,
convuls'd and shuddering, each dishevell'd brow:
the garden that had sparkled thro' its sheen
all day, a self-sufficing gem serene,
hiding in emerald depths the vision'd white
of limbs that follow their own clear delight,
exhales towards the inaccessible skies,
commencing, failing, broken, scents or sighs:

O mother, only,
where that thou hidest thee,
crown for the lonely brow,
bosom for the spent wanderer,
or balm for ache:
O mother,
nightly —
undiscoverable —
O heart too vast to find,
whelming our little desire:
we wander and fail —
But on the zenith, mass'd, a glittering throng,
the distant stars dropt a disdainful song:

They said, because their parcel-thought
might nor her shadowy vast embrace,
nor be refurl'd within that nought
which is the hid heart of all place,
they said: She is not anywhere!
have we not sought her and not seen?
nor is there found in earth or air
a sign to tell if she hath been!
— O fools and blind, not to have found!
is her desire not as your own?
stirs she not in the arms that round
a hopeless clasp, lone with the lone!
And the tense lips towards her bliss
in secret cells of anguish'd prayer
might know her in the broken kiss
she prompts nor, prompting, fails to share.
We drift from age to age nor waste
our strenuous song's exultant tone,
disdaining or to rest or haste:
because each place is still our throne.

The anguish'd doubt broods over Eden; night
hangs her rent banners thro' the viewless height;
trophies and glories whence a trouble streams
of lamentable valour in old dreams:
out of its blank the watcher's soul is stirr'd
to take unto itself some olden word:

O thou that achest, pulse o' the unwed vast,
now in the distant centre of my brain
dizzily narrow'd, now beyond the last
calm circle widening of the starry plain,
where, on the scatter'd edge of my surmise,
the twilit dreams fail off and rule is spent
vainly on vagrant bands the gulfs invite
to break away to the dark: they, backward sent,
tho' dumb, with dire infection in their eyes,
startle the central seat: — O pulse of night,
passing the hard throb of sun-smitten blood
when the noon-world is fused in fire and blent
with my then unattained hero-mood;
what will with me the imperious instinct
that hounds the gulfs together on that place
vanishing utterly out of mortal trace,
the citadel where I would seem distinct
if not thou ween's
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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Christopher John Brennan

Christopher John Brennan was an Australian poet, scholar and literary critic. more…

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"The Watch At Midnight" Poetry.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2020. Web. 10 Aug. 2020. <https://www.poetry.net/poem/6040/the-watch-at-midnight>.

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