A Lay of London Streets.

The Autumn night is far advanced ;1
And as I pass, with hurrying feet,2
The blind black houses all seem tranced,3
And scarce a living thing I meet ;4
Only a beggar shuffling home,5
Or girl that leers and saunters by,6
Or, on a door-step, some poor child7
Sleeping beneath the open sky.8
The dreamy lamp-light on the stones9
Droops, and fades off by slow degrees ;10
From far night-cellars, mingled tones11
Come like faint sighings out of trees.12
Below, the earth is hush’d ; above,13
A waste of empty darkness spreads,14
Drowsing the heavens. Sleep has gorged15
London, the beast of million heads.16
But suddenly I hear a sound17
A buzzing murmur, low, yet clear18
Of many feet upon the ground,19
And many voices. Then appear20
Lights dancing to and fro, and soon21
A dark mass swells in sight, which, when22
The distance lessens, shakes apart,23
And scatters into throngs of men.24
Amidst them, four night-guardians bear25
A dismal hand-bier, upon which26
I see some locks of wandering hair,27
Like weeds in a neglected ditch ;28
And, lower down, some heaving rags29
(Strapp’d here and there, yet partly free),30
From which two lean and naked arms31
Toss up, like wrecks upon the sea.32
Time mars us. She whom now we call33
A raging tigress, wild for blood34
A danger to herself, and all35
Who cross her in her desperate mood36
Perhaps had once a fair, smooth face,37
A woman’s heart, a human soul ;38
Kept chime with Heaven’s eternal laws,39
And blent with music of the whole.40
But poverty was in her home,41
And loveless sights and sounds were there :42
Filth, hunger, cold, were free to roam43
Within those precincts stark and bare.44
She had one only way to ’scape45
The drear monotony of want,46
To lull the heart that ate itself47
And make the world less spectral-gaunt.48
Judge not too harshly of her fault,49
The bitter growth of bitter fate.50
The channel of her life was salt51
With crusted tearss and grief’s dull weight52
Found ease within those splendid dens,53
Whence flows the Lethe of the poor,54
And dawns of Eden seem to flush55
Behind the massive swinging door.56
She plunged into a fiery tide,57
Weltering on waves of stinging joy ;58
But now there comes the doleful side ;59
She tastes the terrible alloy :—60
A wasting fever in the brain,61
A desolation without bound,62
And marble aspects of despair,63
That live in silence, standing round.64