by: Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914)

      Libera me a terrore nocturno a negotio
      Perambulante in tenebris . . . custodi
      animam meam O Domine visitans me
      visitatione sanctorum revela mihi animum
      in visionibus noctis

      re yet I slept, the summer night
      Lay vague and mellow in the gloom
      Beyond the steady candlelight.
      The moth came tapping on the pane,
      Intent on doom.
      Then sank into the night again.

      Then, as I lie, the darkened walls
      Grow dim; the sheets are turned to air,
      As fold on fold the slumber falls.
      The ticking clock grows dumb with sleep
      And everywhere
      About the soul slow pauses creep.

      The sense contracts from form and space --
      Shrinks to a speck within the brain --
      Then opens on a wider place
      That knows no law, no harmony;
      Till once again
      A newer world is born for me.

      My spirit moves in dark dismay
      About a house of misty halls:
      I hear the shuddering branches sway
      At gable-corners; on the floor
      And on the walls
      The firelight glimmers through the door.

      I sit and talk beside the bed,
      Grasp hands, and meet the living eyes,
      Of one whom I had fancied dead
      Some ten years back "How strange," I say
      In glad surprise,
      "That we should meet again to-day!"

      He smiles for answer sudden then
      I understand the mystery
      Of dying, for the sons of men
      And wonder where the sadness lay
      To see him die
      Last year -- or was it yesterday?

      All passes; -- down long corridors,
      That lead about this wilderness,
      Fall footsteps tramping on the floors,
      That come from nowhere and are gone
      Yet none the less
      I run in panting terror on.

      Here is a lawn with beds and grass;
      The birds sing shrilly in the air,
      While multitudes pass and re-pass,
      Who fill me with unknown distress,
      That holds me there
      To mark their swift unweariedness.

      And so with eyes that ache to close,
      And feet that fly and flag in turn,
      About, about, my spirit goes.
      In wondrous wise from deep to deep,
      Before me burn
      The crumbling pageantries of sleep.

      O Lord of Light, who gav'st me breath,
      And set'st my spirit ill at ease
      Within the body of this death,
      What means this dreaming rush and rout --
      These phantasies
      Born from within and seen without?

      Since ghost and devil, foe and friend
      Throng -- shadows on this shadow-stage --
      Move from no source and seek no end --
      Since all the passions born of fear
      Terror and rage,
      As in a looking-glass appear;

      Why com'st Thou not Thyself, O Lord,
      To still the tossing of the brain,
      And calm with one imperious word
      This storm of fancy under Thee,
      And yet again
      Bid peace, as once in Galilee?

      Come, Lord; and if through toilsome days
      I pray in dumb perplexity,
      And strive to lift my wearied praise, --
      Yet let me rest when night is deep,
      And look on Thee
      The Lord of waking and of sleep.

"Visions of the Night" is reprinted from Poems. Robert Hugh Benson. New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1914.




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