Tabb’s Poetry XLV



Low, I listen in my grave
   For the silence soon to be
When a slow-receding wave,
   Hushed, is memory.

Now the falling of a tear
   Or the breathing half-suppressed
Of a sigh, re-echoed here,
   Holds me from my rest.

O, ye breakers of the past
   From the never-resting deep,
On the coast of slumber cast,
   Cease, and let me sleep. 


   E’en this, Lord, didst thou bless—
   This pain of sleeplessness—
      The livelong night,
Urging God’s gentlest angel from thy side,
That anguish only might with thee abide
      Until the light.
   Yea, e’en the last and best,
   Thy victory and rest,
      Came thus to thee;
For ’twas while others calmly slept around,
That thou alone in sleeplessness wast found
      To comfort me. 


Sleep quiets all but me,
   A desert isle unsolaced by the sea—
   A Tantalus denied
The draught wherewith all thirst is satisfied.

   Thou sleepest sound, and I
      Anear thee lie,
      Yet worlds apart:
   Thou in the light of dreams;
   I, where the midnight seems—
      An ashen sea—
From this my world and that wherein thou art
   To blot out all but me. 


A flood of darkness overwhelms the land;
And all that God had planned,
Of loveliness beneath the noonday skies,
A dream o’ershadowed lies.

Amid the universal darkness deep,
Only the Isles of Sleep,
As did the dwellings of the Israelite
In Egypt, stem the night.

John B. Tabb

For a recitation, click the play button:

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Father Tabb was a chronic insomniac.

“Deprecation”: Later Poems, p. 40; Poetry, p. 165. April 1907. A deprecation is a prayer to ward off disaster.

“Insomnia”: Lyrics, p. 24; Poetry, p. 245. October 1891. The poem alludes repeatedly to the Gospel story of the Lord’s time – his Agony – in the Garden of Gethsemane; see Mark 14:32-42.

“Sleeplessness”: Later Lyrics, p. 16; Poetry, p. 355. June 1893. In Greek mythology, Tantalus was a miscreant whose punishment was to stand in a pool beneath branches laden with fruit: when reaching for the branches to satisfy his hunger, they pull away; when reaching for water to quench his thirst, it recedes. Thus, his story personifies temptation without satisfaction, and his name is the source of the English word tantalize.

“Sundered”: Father Tabb, p. 186; Poetry, p. 251. March 1908.

“Midnight”: Lyrics, p. 23; Poetry, p. 163. August 1894. The second stanza alludes to the Old Testament story of the Plagues of Egypt (Exodus 7-12); the ninth plague is darkness, Exodus 10:21-23.


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