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Even as the wise astronomer invents
Zones, colures, cycles, in the trackless sky-
Or as the mariner, whose daring art
Maps out the undistinguishable main
With curious lines, that, to the mind untaught,
Seem all mysterious as a wizard's scheme,
Or the fine traces in a lady's palm,
Interpreted by Egypt's wandering brood,-
So man delights in the wide waste of time,
The tide of moments ebbing as they flow,
To set his land-marks ; and recording names,
Pavilions of the pausing memory,
Historic pillars, quaintly sculptured o'er
With hieroglyphics of the heart.
In the memorial list of holy times,
Is that permitted epoch of pure mirth-
A good man's birth-day-when the very poor
Pour forth the savings of the stinted meal
To make one hour rejoice in wealth of joy :-
Then long of yore, when duty seem'd to frown,
And love parental wore a brow severe,
And children trembled in their father's eyes,
The sternest sires were not afraid to smile,
And doff’d their honest, sage hypocrisy,
Because the birth-day came but once a year.
And those whom fortune, choice, or chance have cast
On the wild billows of the changeful world,
Tho' haply wandering amid Afric sands,
Or wedg’d in thundering straits of “thick-ribb’d ice,”
Or lost in the dark city's wilderness,
Will find their hearts at home, when annual comes
The merry birth-day,--and recall the hours,
The vernal hours, when life itself was bliss,
And every birth-day a new argument
Of hope and pride.
Alas! too oft the day
Remains a hollow cenotaph of Hope,
When Hope is dead and gone. The worst-
The worst of hearts, that hath not ceased to feel,
Grows soft and childish, when the number'd hour
Records the moment of a mother's pain-
When the faint mother lifted first her eyes
To Heaven in thankfulness—then cast them down
Upon her babe in love. -Oh, gracious Heaven!
Thy mighty lawin spite of rebel will,
Spite of all theories of doubting man-
Still rules triumphant through the tribes of life,
Confutes the quirks of calculating pride,
And, o'er the feeblest of all feeble things,
Sheds the strong potency of love divine:
For God is stirring in the mother's heart-
The living God is in her milky breast-
And God's own image, fresh from paradise,
Hallows the helpless form of infancy.
Oh that the God, the same all bounteous Lord That aids the mother in her agony, Would save her from the feller pangs, that oft From love, the sweetest and the holiest love, Extract all sweetness and all self-esteem, Making the image of the child beloved Like a foul phantom, that pollutes the soul,A spell, a bondage, a continued fear, A slow consuming fever of the heart, In sorrow's gloomy creed, almost a sin. Fain would the shame-struck parent tear away The once glad epoch from the calendar, The birth-day of the graceless prodigal, Whose name, forbidden, leaves a blank deform'd In household records, and familiar feasts, Breeding sharp envy of that parent's lot Whose tear was dropp'd upon an infant's grave.
Or if the birth-day bring no thought of shame,
It rarely comes without a drop of woe,
That checks the gay laugh with a sudden sigh.
But these are gracious griefs.—For all ’tis good,
Whose taste of goodness is not lost—though sore
May be the thought—to measure back their course
Oft as the birth-day comes.
Launch'd on the perilous sea of human life,
Awhile we paddle by the sunny shores,
The native shores of homely infancy.
Young courage, buoyant on the venturous surge,
Taunting the prescience of maternal fear,
Swims light and joyous with the out-bound tide,
That evermore, at stated hour, comes home,
And brings a freight of crimson shells, and weeds,
That mock the things of earth with semblance quaint,
Imperial cradles of purpureal sheen,
And wreathed trumpets, curiously convolved,
Wherein the ocean's mighty harmonies
Serenely murmur in a humming slumber.
So childhood passes—but the whistling breeze
Of Time calls shrill, and forth the vessel flies :
The mother, wailing on the wave-kiss'd shore,
Trusts her last counsels to the impatient breeze
That will not hear them—strains her dewy eyes
Till the proud sails diminish to a speck-
That speck to nothing,-questions still the grey
Unfixt horizon, till the setting sun
Sinks sudden in the darkness of the waves,
Then homeward hastening, looks upon the stars,
And knows that he beholds them, who no more
Shall look with her upon their household flowers.
Where will he go? To lands of pearl and gold
In search of gain? or to the fields of Fame,
Where the coarse herb, with honourable blood
Manured and water'd-marld with bleaching bones-
Flags rank and noisome o'er promiscuous graves ?
Will he, with petty traffic, slow and sure,
From point to point, along the low flat coast,
Wakeful and cautious cruise ? or launching forth
On the vast main, spread every glittering sail
To catch the winds of chance, and bear away
For frozen continents, or empires dark
With howling woods, or girt with burning sand?
Or will he loiter by the enchanted isles
Of Love, where oft the languid air becalms
The willing bark? or doth he seek in vain
For that lost land, in elder time submerged
Beneath the Atlantic wave ?
But hold—no more.
Too long we dally with a quaint conceit,
While the swift birth-day wears to jocund night.
Thrice happy they, who rest, ere day declines,
Beneath the trees they planted in the morn :-
And thou, my friend, whom honourable toil
Hath timely raised to honourable wealth,
And power to diffuse that happiness
Which thou hast earned—may worthily rejoice,
Oft as thy annual natal feast arrives, to see
Thy sire, and hers, whom love to thee hath join'd
In holy bands, beside thy cheerful board,
Placidly smiling in their calm old age,
And blessing Heaven that they can bless the day
When thou wast born.