But now a tremor breaks the spell,
And stirs to life the languid air,—
It is the convent’s vesper-bell,—
The plaintive call to evening prayer;
That prayer which rises like a sigh
From every sorrow-laden breast,
When twilight dims the garish sky,
And day is dying in the west.
Ave Maria! we who miss
A mother’s love, a mother’s care,
Implore thee, bring us to that bliss
We fondly hope with thee to share!
How sweet and clear, how soft and low
Those vesper orisons are sung,
In Rome’s grand speech of long ago,
Forever old, forever young!
And those who chant,—that exiled band,
Expelled from France with scorn and hate,
How fare they in this foreign land?
Is life for them disconsolate?
Have they escaped the sight of pain,
Of social strife, of hopeless tears?
Does life’s dark problem grow more plain,
As pass in prayer the tranquil years?
I know not; dare not ask of them;
Their souls are read by God alone;
But he who would their lives condemn,
Should pause before he cast a stone.
So full is life of hate and greed,
So vain the world’s poor tinselled show,
What wonder that some souls have need
To flee from all its sin and woe?
I would not join them; yet, in truth,
I feel, in leaving them at prayer,
That something precious of my youth,
Long lost to me, is treasured there.
I chose me a lovely garden,
Beneath whose ivied wall
A lake’s blue wavelets murmur
As evening shadows fall,—
A garden, whose leafy windows
Frame visions of Alpine snow
On peaks that burn to crimson
In sunset’s afterglow.
And there, in its sweet seclusion,
I built me a mansion fair,
With many a classic statue
And Eastern relic rare,
And volumes, whose precious pages
Hold all that the wise have said,—
The latest among the living,
The greatest among the dead.
And I sat in those fragrant arbors
Of laurel and palm and pine,
And held in the tranquil twilight
My darling’s hand in mine;
And said “We will here be happy,
And let the mad world go;
Its gold no longer tempts us,
Still less do its pomp and show;
“No more shall its cares annoy us,
And under these stately trees
With Nature and Art and Letters
Our souls shall take their ease.”
But a brood of griefs pursued us,
Like evil birds of prey;
They lodged in the trees’ tall branches,
They shadowed the cloudless day;
They flew to the darkened casement,
And beat on the wind-swept shade,
And oft in the sleepless midnight
We listened and were afraid;
And daily came the tidings
Of folly and crime and woe,
And one by one kept dying
The friends of long ago.