James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

September 19

The Bells at Midnight

By Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836–1907)

  • Tolling for the death of President Garfield.

  • In their dark House of Cloud

    The three weird sisters toil till time be sped;

    One unwinds life, one ever weaves the shroud,

    One waits to part the thread.

    How long, O sister, how long

    Ere the weary task is done?

    How long, O sister, how long

    Shall the fragile thread be spun?

    ’Tis mercy that stays her hand,

    Else she had cut the thread;

    She is a woman too,

    Like her who kneels by his bed!

    Patience! the end is come;

    He shall no more endure:

    See! with a single touch!—

    My hand is swift and sure!

    Two angels pausing in their flight.

    Listen! what was it fell

    An instant ago on my ear—

    A sound like the throb of a bell

    From yonder darkling sphere.

    The planet where mortals dwell!

    I hear it not … yes, I hear;

    How it deepens—a sound of dole!

    Listen! It is the knell

    Of a passing soul—

    The midnight lamentation

    Of some stricken nation

    For a chieftain’s soul!

    It is just begun,

    The many-throated moan …

    Now the clangor swells

    As if a million bells

    Had blent their tones in one!

    Accents of despair

    Are these to mortal ear;

    But all this wild funereal music blown

    And sifted through celestial air

    Turns to triumphal pæans here!

    Wave upon wave the silvery anthems flow;

    Wave upon wave the deep vibrations roll

    From that dim sphere below.

    Come, let us go—

    Surely, some chieftain’s soul!