The Night Before

I sneered when I heard the old priest complain 
That the doomed are voiceless, and dull of brain,
  For why should a felon be other than dumb 
  As he stands at the gate of the world to come?
          The tick-tock
          Of the great jail clock,
Is more to me than the holiest prayer 
That ever was mingled with dungeon air.

Will it never be dawn in the cold, grey skies? 
The great, red sun, will he never arise,
  Thrusting his rays in my iron-barred cell, 
  And lighting the city I know so well?
          Will the tick-tock
          Of the great jail clock,
Beat for ever through brain and heart
Till the tortured soul from the body part?

And now in the gloom of the grated cell 
Rises a figure I know full well.
  Gashed of throat, and broken of limb, 
  What do I want today with him?
          To the tick-tock
          Of the pitiless clock
His body is swaying, slowly and free, 
While his shadowy finger points at me.

Will it never be here—the dawn of day, 
With the summons to carry my life away?
  Nothing to scatter the terrible gloom, 
  Nothing to herald the hour of doom
          But the tick-tock
          Of the ceaseless clock,
And the tread of the tired policeman's feet 
As he steadily paces the echoing street.

At last the darkness is melting away
In the corpse-like light on the face of day, 
  I hear the carts in the street once more
  And the sheriffs step on the stony floor, 
And the tick-tock
Of the great jail clock,
The whispered words of the warder's round, 
And every whisper a thunder-sound!

A mockery! This is the formal demand
In the mighty name of the law of the land, 
  For the body of him who is doomed to die 
  In the face of men and beneath the sky.
I am safe in your thrall, yet bind me well, 
For I might be desperate—who can tell?
As I march to the sound of the clanging bell,
           And the tick-tock
          Of the great jail clock,
And the voice of the priest as he mumbles a prayer, 
And the hum of the crowd that awaits me there!

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