My Sister's Sleep

She fell asleep on Christmas Eve:
  At length the long-ungranted shade
  Of weary eyelids overweigh'd
  The pain nought else might yet relieve.

  Our mother, who had lean'd all day
  Over the bed from chime to chime,
  Then rais'd herself for the first time,
  And as she sat her down, did pray.

  Her little work-table was spread
  With work to finish. For the glare
  Made by her candle, she had care
  To work some distance from the bed.

  Without, there was a cold moon up,
  Of winter radiance sheer and thin;
  The hollow halo it was in
  Was like an icy crystal cup.

  Through the small room, with subtle sound
  Of flame, by vents the fireshine drove
  And redden'd. In its dim alcove
  The mirror shed a clearness round.

  I had been sitting up some nights,
  And my tired mind felt weak and blank;
  Like a sharp strengthening wine it drank
  The stillness and the broken lights.

  Twelve struck. That sound, by dwindling years
  Heard in each hour, crept off; and then
  The ruffled silence spread again,
  Like water that a pebble stirs.

  Our mother rose from where she sat:
  Her needles, as she laid them down,
  Met lightly, and her silken gown
  Settled: no other noise than that.

  "Glory unto the Newly Born!"
  So, as said angels, she did say;
  Because we were in Christmas Day,
  Though it would still be long till morn.

  Just then in the room over us
  There was a pushing back of chairs,
  As some who had sat unawares
  So late, now heard the hour, and rose.

  With anxious softly-stepping haste
  Our mother went where Margaret lay,
  Fearing the sounds o'erhead--should they
  Have broken her long watch'd-for rest!

  She stoop'd an instant, calm, and turn'd;
  But suddenly turn'd back again;
  And all her features seem'd in pain
  With woe, and her eyes gaz'd and yearn'd.

  For my part, I but hid my face,
  And held my breath, and spoke no word:
  There was none spoken; but I heard
  The silence for a little space.

  Our mother bow'd herself and wept:
  And both my arms fell, and I said,
  "God knows I knew that she was dead."
  And there, all white, my sister slept.

  Then kneeling, upon Christmas morn
  A little after twelve o'clock
  We said, ere the first quarter struck,
  "Christ's blessing on the newly born!"

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Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was an English poet, illustrator, painter and translator. more…

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