Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Kettell, ed. > Specimens of American Poetry
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Samuel Kettell, ed.  Specimens of American Poetry.  1829.
 
Night Watching
By James Gates Percival (1795–1856)
 
  SHE sat beside her lover, and her hand
Rested upon his clay-cold forehead. Death
Was calmly stealing o’er him, and his life
Went out by silent flickerings, when his eye
Woke up from its dim lethargy, and cast        5
Bright looks of fondness on her. He was weak,
Too weak to utter all his heart. His eye
Was now his only language, and it spake
How much he felt her kindness, and the love
That sat, when all had fled, beside him. Night        10
Was far upon its watches, and the voice
Of nature had no sound. The pure blue sky
Was fair and lovely, and the many stars
Look’d down in tranquil beauty on an earth
That smiled in sweetest summer. She look’d out        15
Through the raised window, and the sheeted bay
Lay in a quiet sleep below, and shone
With the pale beam of midnight—air was still,
And the white sail, that o’er the distant stream
Moved with so slow a pace, it seem’d at rest,        20
Fix’d in the glassy water, and with care
Shunn’d the dark den of pestilence, and stole
Fearfully from the tainted gale that breathed
Softly along the crisping wave—that sail
Hung loosely on its yard, and as it flapp’d,        25
Caught moving undulations from the light,
That silently came down, and gave the hills,
And spires, and walls, and roofs, a tint so pale,
Death seem’d on all the landscape—but so still,
Who would have thought that anything but peace        30
And beauty had a dwelling there! The world
Had gone, and life was not within those walls,
Only a few, who linger’d faintly on,
Waiting the moment of departure; or
Sat tending at their pillows, with a love        35
So strong it master’d fear—and they were few,
And she was one—and in a lonely house,
Far from all sight and sound of living thing,
She watched the couch of him she loved, and drew
Contagion from the lips that were to her        40
Still beautiful as roses, though so pale
They seem’d like a thin snow-curl. All was still,
And even so deeply hush’d, the low, faint breath
That trembling gasp’d away, came through the night
As a loud sound of awe. She pass’d her hand        45
Over those quivering lips, that ever grew
Paler and colder, as the only sign
To tell her life still linger’d—it went out!
And her heart sank within her, when the last
Weak sigh of life was over, and the room        50
Seem’d like a vaulted sepulchre, so lone
She dared not look around: and the light wind,
That play’d among the leaves and flowers that grew
Still freshly at her window, and waved back
The curtain with a rustling sound, to her,        55
In her intense abstraction, seem’d the voice
Of a departed spirit. Then she heard,
At least in fancy heard, a whisper breathe
Close at her ear, and tell her all was done,
And her fond loves were ended. She had watch’d        60
Until her love grew manly, and she check’d
The tears that came to flow, and nerved her heart
To the last solemn duty. With a hand
That trembled not, she closed the fallen lid,
And press’d the lips, and gave them one long kiss—        65
Then decently spread over all a shroud;
And sitting with a look of lingering love
Intense in tearless passion, rose at length,
And pressing both her hands upon her brow,
Gave loose to all her gushing grief in showers,        70
Which, as a fountain seal’d till it had swell’d
To its last fulness, now gave way and flow’d
In a deep stream of sorrow. She grew calm,
And parting back the curtains, look’d abroad
Upon the moonlight loveliness, all sunk        75
In one unbroken silence, save the moan
From the lone room of death, or the dull sound
Of the slow-moving hearse. The homes of men
Were now all desolate, and darkness there,
And solitude and silence took their seat        80
In the deserted streets, as if the wing
Of a destroying angel had gone by,
And blasted all existence, and had changed
The gay, the busy, and the crowded mart
To one cold, speechless city of the dead.        85
 
 
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