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James Thomson 1700 (Port Glasgow) – 1748 (London)

Sleepless himself to give to others sleep.
He giveth His beloved sleep.

  I HEARD the sounding of the midnight hour;
  The others one by one had left the room,
  In calm assurance that the gracious power
  Of Sleep's fine alchemy would bless the gloom,
  Transmuting all its leaden weight to gold,
  To treasures of rich virtues manifold,
  New strength, new health, new life;
  Just weary enough to nestle softly, sweetly,
  Into divine unconsciousness, completely
Delivered from the world of toil and care and strife.

  Just weary enough to feel assured of rest,
  Of Sleep's divine oblivion and repose,
  Renewing heart and brain for richer zest
  Of waking life when golden morning glows
  As young and pure and glad as if the first
  That ever on the void of darkness burst
  With ravishing warmth and light;
  On dewy grass and flowers and blithe birds singing
  And shining waters, all enraptured springing,
Fragrance and shine and song, out of the womb of night.

  But I with infinite weariness outworn,
  Haggard with endless nights unblessed by sleep,
  Ravaged by thoughts unutterably forlorn,
  Plunged in despairs unfathomably deep,
  Went cold and pale and trembling with affright
  Into the desert vastitude of Night,
  Arid and wild and black;
  Foreboding no oasis of sweet slumber,
  Counting beforehand all the countless number
Of sands that are its minutes on my desolate track.

  And so I went, the last, to my drear bed,
  Aghast as one who should go down to lie
  Among the blissfully unconscious dead,
  Assured that as the endless years flowed by
  Over the dreadful silence and deep gloom
  And dense oppression of the stifling tomb,
  He only of them all,
  Nerveless and impotent to madness, never
  Could hope oblivion's perfect trance for ever:
An agony of life eternal in death's pall.

  But that would be for ever, without cure! —
  And yet the agony be not more great;
  Supreme fatigue and pain, while they endure,
  Into Eternity their time translate;
  Be it of hours and days or countless years,
  And boundless aeons, it alike appears
  To the crushed victim's soul;
  Utter despair foresees no termination,
  But feels itself of infinite duration;
The smallest fragment instant comprehends the whole.

  The absolute of torture as of bliss
  Is timeless, each transcending time and space;
  The one an infinite obscure abyss,
  The other an eternal Heaven of grace. —
  Keeping a little lamp of glimmering light
  Companion through the horror of the night,
  I laid me down aghast
  As he of all who pass death's quiet portal
  Malignantly reserved alone immortal,
In consciousness of bale that must for ever last.

  I laid me down, and closed my heavy eyes,
  As if sleep's mockery might win true sleep;
  And grew aware, with awe but not surprise,
  Blindly aware through all the silence deep,
  Of some dark Presence watching by my bed,
  The awful image of a nameless dread;
  But I lay still, fordone;
  And felt its Shadow on me dark and solemn
  And steadfast as a monumental column,
And thought drear thoughts of Doom, and heard the bells chime

  And then I raised my weary eyes and saw,
  By some slant moonlight on the ceiling thrown
  And faint lamp-gleam, that Image of my awe,
  Still as a pillar of basaltic stone,
  But all enveloped in a sombre shroud
  Except the wan face drooping heavy-browed,
  With sad eyes fixed on mine;
  Sad weary yearning eyes, but fixed remorseless
  Upon my eyes yet wearier, that were forceless
To bear the cruel pressure; cruel, unmalign.

  Wherefore I asked for what I knew too well:
  0 ominous midnight Presence, What art Thou?
  Whereto in tones that sounded like a knell:
  'I am the Second Hour, appointed now
  To watch beside thy slumberless unrest.'
  Then I: Thus both, unlike, alike unblest;
  For I should sleep, you fly:
  Are not those wings beneath thy mantle moulded?
  0 Hour! unfold those wings so straitly folded,
And urge thy natural flight beneath the moonlit sky.
  'My wings shall open when your eyes shall close
  In real slumber from this waking drear;
  Your wild unrest is my enforced repose;
  Ere I move hence you must not know me here.
  Could not your wings fan slumber through my brain,
  Soothing away i
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

3:33 min read

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…

All James Thomson poems | James Thomson Books

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