The Hour Before Dawn
A cursing rogue with a merry face, A bundle of rags upon a crutch, Stumbled upon that windy place Called Cruachan, and it was as much As the one sturdy leg could do To keep him upright while he cursed. He had counted, where long years ago Queen Maeve's nine Maines had been nursed, A pair of lapwings, one old sheep, And not a house to the plain's edge, When close to his right hand a heap Of grey stones and a rocky ledge Reminded him that he could make. If he but shifted a few stones, A shelter till the daylight broke. But while he fumbled with the stones They toppled over; 'Were it not I have a lucky wooden shin I had been hurt'; and toppling brought Before his eyes, where stones had been, A dark deep hollow in the rock. He gave a gasp and thought to have fled, Being certain it was no right rock Because an ancient history said Hell Mouth lay open near that place, And yet stood still, because inside A great lad with a beery face Had tucked himself away beside A ladle and a tub of beer, And snored, no phantom by his look. So with a laugh at his own fear He crawled into that pleasant nook. 'Night grows uneasy near the dawn Till even I sleep light; but who Has tired of his own company? What one of Maeve's nine brawling sons Sick of his grave has wakened me? But let him keep his grave for once That I may find the sleep I have lost.' What care I if you sleep or wake? But I'Il have no man call me ghost.' Say what you please, but from daybreak I'll sleep another century.' And I will talk before I sleep And drink before I talk.' And he Had dipped the wooden ladle deep Into the sleeper's tub of beer Had not the sleeper started up. Before you have dipped it in the beer I dragged from Goban's mountain-top I'll have assurance that you are able To value beer; no half-legged fool Shall dip his nose into my ladle Merely for stumbling on this hole In the bad hour before the dawn.' 'Why beer is only beer.' 'But say 'I'll sleep until the winter's gone, Or maybe to Midsummer Day,' And drink and you will sleep that length.' 'I'd like to sleep till winter's gone Or till the sun is in his srrength. This blast has chilled me to the bone.' 'I had no better plan at first. I thought to wait for that or this; Maybe the weather was accursed Or I had no woman there to kiss; So slept for half a year or so; But year by year I found that less Gave me such pleasure I'd forgo Even a half-hour's nothingness, And when at one year's end I found I had not waked a single minute, I chosc this burrow under ground. I'll sleep away all time within it: My sleep were now nine centuries But for those mornings when I find The lapwing at their foolish dies And the sheep bleating at the wind As when I also played the fool.' The beggar in a rage began Upon his hunkers in the hole, 'It's plain that you are no right man To mock at everything I love As if it were not worth, the doing. I'd have a merry life enough If a good Easter wind were blowing, And though the winter wind is bad I should not be too down in the mouth For anything you did or said If but this wind were in the south.' 'You cry aloud, O would 'twere spring Or that the wind would shift a point, And do not know that you would bring, If time were suppler in the joint, Neither the spring nor the south wind But the hour when you shall pass away And leave no smoking wick behind, For all life longs for the Last Day And there's no man but cocks his ear To know when Michael's trumpet cries 'That flesh and bone may disappear, And souls as if they were but sighs, And there be nothing but God left; But, I aone being blessed keep Like some old rabbit to my cleft And wait Him in a drunken sleep.' He dipped his ladle in the tub And drank and yawned and stretched him out, The other shouted, 'You would rob My life of every pleasant thought And every comfortable thing, And so take that and that.' Thereon He gave him a great pummelling, But might have pummelled at a stone For all the sleeper knew or cared; And after heaped up stone on stone, And then, grown weary, prayed and cursed And heaped up stone on stone again, And prayed and cursed and cursed and bed From Maeve and all that juggling plain, Nor gave God thanks till overhead The clouds were brightening with the dawn.