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In The Waste Hour

William Ernest Henley 1849 (Gloucester) – 1903 (Woking)



In the waste hour
Between to-day and yesterday
We watched, while on my arm -
Living flesh of her flesh, bone of her bone -
Dabbled in sweat the sacred head
Lay uncomplaining, still, contemptuous, strange:
Till the dear face turned dead,
And to a sound of lamentation
The good, heroic soul with all its wealth -
Its sixty years of love and sacrifice,
Suffering and passionate faith--was reabsorbed
In the inexorable Peace,
And life was changed to us for evermore.

Was nothing left of her but tears
Like blood-drops from the heart?
Nought save remorse
For duty unfulfilled, justice undone,
And charity ignored? Nothing but love,
Forgiveness, reconcilement, where in truth,
But for this passing
Into the unimaginable abyss
These things had never been?

Nay, there were we,
Her five strong sons!
To her Death came--the great Deliverer came! -
As equal comes to equal, throne to throne.
She was a mother of men.

The stars shine as of old. The unchanging River,
Bent on his errand of immortal law,
Works his appointed way
To the immemorial sea.
And the brave truth comes overwhelmingly home:-
That she in us yet works and shines,
Lives and fulfils herself,
Unending as the river and the stars.

Dearest, live on
In such an immortality
As we thy sons,
Born of thy body and nursed
At those wild, faithful breasts,
Can give--of generous thoughts,
And honourable words, and deeds
That make men half in love with fate!
Live on, O brave and true,
In us thy children, in ours whose life is thine -
Our best and theirs! What is that best but thee -
Thee, and thy gift to us, to pass
Like light along the infinite of space
To the immitigable end?

Between the river and the stars,
O royal and radiant soul,
Thou dost return, thine influences return
Upon thy children as in life, and death
Turns stingless! What is Death
But Life in act? How should the Unteeming Grave
Be victor over thee,
Mother, a mother of men?

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

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William Ernest Henley

William Ernest Henley was an English poet, critic and editor, best remembered for his 1875 poem "Invictus". more…

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