I finished No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger, Mark Twain’s last novel. The plot, such as it is, is ultimately consumed by bizarre and fragmented events, tumbling into an existential thesis (which I will not spoil). As the absurdity escalates, a character invokes poetry as a spell to reverse a time, incanting,
Backward, turn backward, O Time, in thy flight—Make me a child again, just for to-night
In fact, the incantation only rewinds clocks by several hours; nobody is restored to childhood, nor are they meant to be. Maybe there was more on the author’s mind. I found the poem in full, by Elizabeth Akers Allen in 1860. It is a sentimental death wish. Allen also wrote a response, entitled “Answer To Rock Me To Sleep.” It assures the supplicant, “Angels, my darling, will rock thee to sleep.” I doubt Twain was satisfied.
Here is the poem in full. > Backward, turn backward, O time, in your flight, Make me a child again just for tonight Mother, come back from the echoless shore, Take me again to your heart as of yore;
Kiss from my forehead the furrows of care Smooth the few silver threads out of my hair; Over my slumbers your loving watch keep; Rock me to sleep, Mother, rock me to sleep!
Backward, flow backward, oh, tide of the years I am so weary of toil and of tears; Toil without recompense, tears all in vain— Take them, and give me my childhood again!
I have grown weary of dust and decay— Weary of flinging my soul-wealth away, Weary of sowing for others to reap; Rock me to sleep, Mother, rock me to sleep!
Tired of the hollow, the base, the untrue, Mother, O Mother, my heart calls for you! Many a summer the grass has grown green, Blossomed and faded, our faces between.
Yet, with strong yearning and passionate pain, Long I tonight for your presence again. Come from the silence so long and so deep; Rock me to sleep, Mother, rock me to sleep!
Over my heart, in the days that are flown, No love like mother-love ever has shone; No other worship abides and endures— Faithful, unselfish, and patient like yours:
None like a mother can charm away pain From the sick soul and the world-weary brain. Slumber’s soft calms over my heavy lids creep; Rock me to sleep, Mother, rock me to sleep!
Come, let your brown hair, just lighted with gold, Fall on your shoulders again as of old; Let it drop over my forehead tonight, Shading my faint eyes away from the light;
For with it’s sunny-edged shadows once more Haply will throng the sweet vision of yore; Lovingly, softly, it’s bright billows sweep: Rock me to sleep, Mother, rock me to sleep!
Mother, dear Mother, the years been long Since I last listened to your lullaby song. Sing, then, and unto my soul it shall seem Womanhood’s years have been only a dream.
Clasped to your heart in a loving embrace, With your light lashes just sweeping my face, Never hereafter to wake or to weep; Rock me to sleep, Mother, rock me to sleep!