The White Wampum

by Emily Pauline Johnson


 

FASTING


 

’TIS morning now, yet silently I stand,
Uplift the curtain with a weary hand,
Look out while darkness overspreads the way,
  And long for day.

Calm peace is frighted with my mood to-night,
5
Nor visits my dull chamber with her light,
To guide my senses into her sweet rest
  And leave me blest.

Long hours since the city rocked and sung
Itself to slumber: only the stars swung
10
Aloft their torches in the midnight skies
  With watchful eyes.

No sound awakes; I, even, breathe no sigh,
Nor hear a single footstep passing by;
Yet I am not alone, for now I feel
15
  A presence steal [Page 59]

Within my chamber walls; I turn to see
The sweetest guest that courts humanity;
With subtle, slow enchantment draws she near,
  And Sleep is here.
20

What care I for the olive branch of Peace?
Kind Sleep will bring a thrice-distilled release,
Nepenthes, that alone her mystic hand
  Can understand.

And so she bends, this welcome sorceress,
25
To crown my fasting with her light caress.
Ah, sure my pain will vanish at the bliss
  Of her warm kiss.

But still my duty lies in self-denial;
I must refuse sweet Sleep, although the trial
30
Will reawaken all my depth of pain.
  So once again

I lift the curtain with a weary hand,
With more than sorrow, silently I stand,
Look out while darkness overspreads the way,
35
  And long for day.

“Go, Sleep,” I say, “before the darkness die,
To one who needs you even more than I,
For I can bear my part alone, but he
  Has need of thee. [Page 60]
40

“His poor tired eyes in vain have sought relief,
His heart more tired still, with all its grief;
His pain is deep, while mine is vague and dim,
  Go thou to him.

“When thou hast fanned him with thy drowsy wings,
45
And laid thy lips upon the pulsing strings
That in his soul with fret and fever burn,
  To me return.”

She goes. The air within the quiet street
Reverberates to the passing of her feet;
50
I watch her take her passage through the gloom
  To your dear home.

Belovéd, would you knew how sweet to me
Is this denial, and how fervently
I pray that Sleep may lift you to her breast,
55
  And give you rest—

A privilege that she alone can claim.
Would that my heart could comfort you the same,
But in the censer Sleep is swinging high,
  All sorrows die.
60

She comes not back, yet all my miseries
Wane at the thought of your calm sleeping eyes—
Wane, as I hear the early matin bell
  The dawn foretell. [Page 61]

And so, dear heart, still silently I stand,
65
Uplift the curtain with a weary hand,
The long, long night has bitter been and lone,
 
  But now ’tis gone.  

Dawn lights her candles in the East once more,
And darkness flees her chariot before;
70
The Lenten morning breaks with holy ray,  
  And it is day! [Page 62]