New Year's Eve
It's cruel cold on the water-front, 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 Service: New Year's Eve