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The Hymns Of Prudentius by Aurelius Clemens Prudentius

VI. HYMN BEFORE SLEEP

Draw near, Almighty Father,
Ne'er seen by mortal eye;
Come, O Thou Word eternal,
O Spirit blest, be nigh.

One light of threefold Godhead,
One power that all transcends;
God is of God begotten,
And God from both descends.

The hour of rest approaches,
The toils of day are past,
And o'er our tired bodies
Sleep's gentle charm is cast.

The mind, by cares tormented
Amid life's storm and stress,
Drinks deep the wondrous potion
That brings forgetfulness.

O'er weary, toil-worn mortals
The spells of Lethe steal;
Sad hearts lose all their sorrow,
Nor pain nor anguish feel.

For to His frail creation
God gave this law to keep,
That labour should be lightened
By soft and healing sleep.

But while sweet languor wanders
Through all the pulsing veins,
And, wrapt in dewy slumber,
The heart at rest remains,

The soul, in wakeful vigour,
Aloft in freedom flies,
And sees in many a semblance
The hidden mysteries.

For, freed from care, the spirit
That came from out the sky,
Born of the stainless aether,
Can never idle lie.

A thousand changing phantoms
She fashions through the night,
And 'midst a world of fancy
Pursues her rapid flight.

But divers are the visions
That night to dreamers shows;
Rare gleams of straying splendour
The future may disclose;

More oft the truth is darkened,
And lying fantasy
Deceives the affrighted sleeper
With cunning treachery.

To him whose life is holy
The things that are concealed
Lie open to his spirit
In radiant light revealed;

But he whose heart is blackened,
With many a sin imbued,
Sees phantoms grim and ghastly
That beckon and delude.

So in the Egyptian dungeon
The patriarch of old
Unto the king's two servants
Their fateful visions told:

And one is brought from prison
The monarch's wine to pour,
One, on the gibbet hanging,
Foul birds of prey devour,

He warned the king, distracted
By riddles of the night,
To hoard the plenteous harvests
Against the years of blight.

Soon, lord of half a kingdom,
A mighty potentate,
He shares the royal sceptre
And dwells in princely state.

But ah! how deep the secrets
The holy sleeper sees
To whom Christ shows His highest,
Most sacred mysteries.

For God's most faithful servant
The clouds were rolled away,
And John beheld the wonders
That sealed from mortals lay.

The Lamb of God, encrimsoned
With sacrificial stains,
Alone the Book can open
That destiny contains.

By His strong hand is wielded
A keen, two-edged brand
That, flashing like the lightning,
Smites swift on either hand.

Before His bar of judgment
Both soul and body lie;
He whom that dread sword smiteth
The second death shall die.

Yet mercy tempers justice,
And few the Avenger sends
(Whose guilt is past all pardon)
To death that never ends.

To Him the Father yieldeth
The judgment-seat of Heaven;
To Him a Name excelling
All other names is given.

For by His strength transcendent
Shall Antichrist be slain,
And from that raging monster
Fair trophies shall He gain:

That all-devouring Dragon,
With blood of martyrs red,
On whose abhorred power
John's solemn curse is laid.

And thus the proud usurper
Of His high name is cast
By Him, the true Christ, vanquished
To deepest hell at last.

Upon the saint heroic
Such wondrous slumber falls
That, in the spirit roaming,
He treads heaven's highest halls.

We may not, in our weakness,
To dreams like these aspire,
Whose souls are steeped in error
And evil things desire.

Enough, if weary bodies
In peaceful sleep may rest;
Enough, if no dark powers
Our slumbering souls molest.

Christian! the font remember,
The sacramental vow,
The holy water sprinkled,
The oil that marked thy brow!

When at sleep's call thou seekest
To rest in slumber chaste,
Let first the sacred emblem
On breast and brow be traced.

The Cross dispels all darkness,
All sin before it flies,
And by that sign protected
The mind all fear defies.

Avaunt! ye fleeting phantoms
That mock our midnight hours;
Avaunt! thou great Deceiver
With all thy guileful powers.

Thou Serpent, old and crafty,
Who by a thousand arts
And manifold temptations
Dost vex our sleeping hearts,

Vanish! for Christ is with us;
Away! 'tis Christ the Lord:
The sign thou must acknowledge
Condemns thy hellish horde.

And, though the weary body
Relaxed in sleep may be,
Our hearts, Lord, e'en in slumber,
Shall meditate on Thee.

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