by ROBERT WILLIAM SERVICE (1874-1958)
It’s cruel cold on the waterfront, silent and dark and drear;
Only the black tide weltering, only the hissing snow;
And I, alone, like a storm-tossed wreck, on this night of the glad New Year,
Shuffling along in the icy wind, ghastly and gaunt and slow.
They’re playing a tune in McGuffy’s saloon, and it’s cheery and bright in there
(God! but I’m weak—since the bitter dawn, and never a bite of food);
I’ll just go over and slip inside—I mustn’t give way to despair—
Perhaps I can bum a little booze if the boys are feeling good.
They’ll jeer at me, and they’ll sneer at me, and they’ll call me a whiskey soak;
(“Have a drink? Well, thankee kindly, sir, I don’t mind if I do.”)
A drivelling, dirty, gin-joint fiend, the butt of the bar-room joke;
Sunk and sodden and hopeless—”Another? Well, here’s to you!”
McGuffy is showing a bunch of the boys how Bob Fitzsimmons hit;
The barman is talking of Tammany Hall, and why the ward boss got fired.
I’ll just sneak into a corner and they’ll let me alone a bit;
The room is reeling round and round. . . O God! but I’m tired, I’m tired. . . .
Roses she wore on her breast that night. Oh, but their scent was sweet!
Alone we sat on the balcony, and the fan palms arched above;
The witching strain of a waltz by Strauss came up to our cool retreat,
And I prisoned her little hand in mine, and I whispered my plea of love.
Then sudden the laughter died on her lips, and lowly she bent her head;
And oh, there came in the deep, dark eyes a look that was heaven to see;
And the moments went, and I waited there, and never a word was said,
And she plucked from her bosom a rose of red and shyly gave it to me.
Then the music swelled to a crash of joy, and the lights blazed up like day,
And I held her fast to my throbbing heart, and I kissed her bonny brow.
“She is mine, she is mine for evermore!” the violins seemed to say,
And the bells were ringing the New Year in—O God! I can hear them now.
Don’t you remember that long, last waltz, with its sobbing, sad refrain?
Don’t you remember that last good-by, and the dear eyes dim with tears?
Don’t you remember that golden dream, with never a hint of pain,
Of lives that would blend like an angel-song in the bliss of the coming years?
Oh, what have I lost! What have I lost! Ethel, forgive, forgive!
The red, red rose is faded now, and it’s fifty years ago.
‘Twere better to die a thousand deaths than live each day as I live!
I have sinned, I have sunk to the lowest depths—but oh, I have suffered so!
Hark! Oh, hark! I can hear the bells!. . .Look! I can see her there,
Fair as a dream. . .but it fades. . .And now—I can hear the dreadful hum
Of the crowded court. . .See! the Judge looks down. . .
NOT GUILTY, my Lord, I swear. . .
The bells—I can hear the bells again!. . . Ethel, I come, I come!. . .
“Rouse up, old man, it’s twelve o’clock. You can’t sleep here, you know.
Say! ain’t you got no sentiment? Lift up your muddled head;
Have a drink to the glad New Year, a drop before you go—
You darned old dirty hobo. . .My God! Here, boys! He’s DEAD!”
Robert William Service Contemporaries
Lucy Maud Montgomery
Guy Wetmore Carryl