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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

In the Twilight

By James Russell Lowell (1819–1891)

[From Poetical Works. Collective Edition. 1885.]

MEN say the sullen instrument,

That, from the Master’s bow,

With pangs of joy or woe,

Feels music’s soul through every fibre sent,

Whispers the ravished strings

More than he knew or meant;

Old summers in its memory glow;

The secrets of the wind it sings;

It hears the April-loosened springs;

And mixes with its mood

All it dreamed when it stood

In the murmurous pine-wood

Long ago!

The magical moonlight then

Steeped every bough and cone;

The roar of the brook in the glen

Came dim from the distance blown;

The wind through its glooms sang low,

And it swayed to and fro

With delight as it stood

In the wonderful wood,

Long ago!

O my life, have we not had seasons

That only said, Live and rejoice?

That asked not for causes and reasons,

But made us all feeling and voice?

When we went with the winds in their blowing,

When Nature and we were peers,

And we seemed to share in the flowing

Of the inexhaustible years?

Have we not from the earth drawn juices

Too fine for earth’s sordid uses?

Have I heard, have I seen

All I feel and I know?

Doth my heart overween?

Or could it have been

Long ago?

Sometimes a breath floats by me,

An odor from Dreamland sent,

That makes the ghost seem nigh me

Of a splendor that came and went,

Of a life lived somewhere, I know not

In what diviner sphere,

Of memories that stay not and go not,

Like music heard once by an ear

That cannot forget or reclaim it,

A something so shy, it would shame it

To make it a show,

A something too vague, could I name it,

For others to know,

As if I had lived it or dreamed it,

As if I had acted or schemed it,

Long ago!

And yet, could I live it over,

This life that stirs in my brain,

Could I be both maiden and lover,

Moon and tide, bee and clover,

As I seem to have been, once again,

Could I but speak and show it,

This pleasure more sharp than pain,

That baffles and lures me so,

The world should not lack a poet,

Such as it had

In the ages glad,

Long ago!