The night is dark, the stinging sleet,
Swept by the bitter gusts of air,
Drives whistling down the lonely street,
And glazes on the pavement bare.
The street-lamps flare and struggle dim
Through the gray sleet-clouds as they pass,
Or, governed by a boisterous whim,
Drop down and rustle on the glass.
One poor, heart-broken, outcast girl
Faces the east-wind's searching flaws,
And, as about her heart they whirl,
Her tattered cloak more tightly draws.
The flat brick walls look cold and bleak,
Her bare feet to the sidewalk freeze;
Yet dares she not a shelter seek,
Though faint with hunger and disease.
The sharp storm cuts her forehead bare,
And, piercing through her garments thin,
Beats on her shrunken breast, and there
Makes colder the cold heart within.
She lingers where a ruddy glow
Streams outward through an open shutter,
Adding more bitterness to woe,
More loneliness to desertion utter.
One half the cold she had not felt
Until she saw this gush of light
Spread warmly forth, and seem to melt
Its slow way through the deadening night.
She hears a woman's voice within,
Singing sweet words her childhood knew,
And years of misery and sin
Furl off, and leave her heaven blue.
Her freezing heart, like one who sinks
Outwearied in the drifting snow.
Drowses to deadly sleep and thinks
No longer of its hopeless woe;
Old fields, and clear blue summer days,
Old meadows, green with grass, and trees
That shimmer through the trembling haze
And whiten in the western breeze.
Old faces, all the friendly past
Rises within her heart again,
And sunshine from her childhood cast
Makes summer of the icy rain.
Enhaloed by a mild, warm glow,
From man's humanity apart,
She hears old footsteps wandering slow
Through the lone chambers of the heart.
Outside the porch before the door,
Her cheek upon the cold, hard stone,
She lies, no longer foul and poor,
No longer dreary and alone.
Next morning something heavily
Against the opening door did weigh,
And there, from sin and sorrow free,
A woman on the threshold lay.
A smile upon the wan lips told
That she had found a calm release,
And that, from out the want and cold,
The song had borne her soul in peace.
For, whom the heart of man shuts out,
Sometimes the heart of God takes in,
And fences them all round about
With silence mid the world's loud din;
And one of his great charities
Is Music, and it doth not scorn
To close the lids upon the eyes
Of the polluted and forlorn;
Far was she from her childhood's home,
Farther in guilt had wandered thence,
Yet thither it had bid her come
To die in maiden innocence.
The Forlorn by James Russell Lowell