I was a king. Three moons we drove Across green gulfs, the crimson clove And cassia spiced, to claim her love. Packed was my barque with gums and gold; Rich fabrics; sandalwood, grown old With odor; gems; and pearls of Oman,— Than her white breasts less white and cold;— And myrrh, less fragrant than this woman.
From Bassora I came. We saw Her eagle castle on a claw Of soaring precipice, o'erawe The surge and thunder of the spray. Like some great opal, far away It shone, with battlement and spire, Wherefrom, with wild aroma, day Blew splintered lights of sapphirine fire.
Lamenting caverns dark, that keep Sonorous echoes of the deep, Led upward to her castle steep.... Fair as the moon, whose light is shed In Ramadan, was she, who led My love unto her island bowers, To find her.... lying young and dead Among her maidens and her flowers.
She was a queen. 'Midst mutes and slaves, A mameluke, he loved her.——Waves Dashed not more hopelessly the paves Of her high marble palace-stair Than lashed his love his heart's despair.— As souls in Hell dream Paradise, He suffered yet forgot it there Beneath Rommaneh's houri eyes.
With passion eating at his heart He served her beauty, but dared dart No amorous glance, nor word impart.— Taifi leather's perfumed tan Beneath her, on a low divan She lay 'mid cushions stuffed with down: A slave-girl with an ostrich fan Sat by her in a golden gown.
She bade him sing. Fair lutanist, She loved his voice. With one white wrist, Hooped with a blaze of amethyst, She raised her ruby-crusted lute: Gold-welted stuff, like some rich fruit, Her raiment, diamond-showered, rolled Folds pigeon-purple, whence one foot Drooped in an anklet-twist of gold.
He stood and sang with all the fire That boiled within his blood's desire, That made him all her slave yet higher: And at the end his passion durst Quench with one burning kiss its thirst.— O eunuchs, did her face show scorn When through his heart your daggers burst? And dare ye say he died forlorn?
He waited till within her tower Her taper signalled him the hour.
He was a prince both fair and brave.— What hope that he would love her slave!
He of the Persian dynasty; And she a Queen of Araby!—
No Peri singing to a star Upon the sea were lovelier....
I helped her drop the silken rope. He clomb, aflame with love and hope.
I drew the dagger from my gown And cut the ladder, leaning down.
Oh, wild his face, and wild the fall: Her cry was wilder than them all.
I heard her cry; I heard him moan; And stood as merciless as stone.
The eunuchs came: fierce scimitars Stirred in the torch-lit corridors.
She spoke like one who speaks in sleep, And bade me strike or she would leap.
I bade her leap: the time was short: And kept the dagger for my heart.
She leapt.... I put their blades aside, And smiling in their faces—died.
In some quaint Nurnberg maler-atelier Uprummaged. When and where was never clear Nor yet how he obtained it. When, by whom 'Twas painted—who shall say? itself a gloom Resisting inquisition. I opine It is a Duerer. Mark that touch, this line; Are they deniable?—Distinguished grace Of the pure oval of the noble face Tarnished in color badly. Half in light Extend it so. Incline. The exquisite Expression leaps abruptly: piercing scorn; Imperial beauty; each, an icy thorn Of light, disdainful eyes and ... well! no use! Effaced and but beheld! a sad abuse Of patience.—Often, vaguely visible, The portrait fills each feature, making swell The heart with hope: avoiding face and hair Start out in living hues; astonished, "There!— The picture lives!" your soul exults, when, lo! You hold a blur; an undetermined glow Dislimns a daub.—"Restore?"—Ah, I have tried Our best restorers, and it has defied.
Storied, mysterious, say, perhaps a ghost Lives in the canvas; hers, some artist lost; A duchess', haply. Her he worshiped; dared Not tell he worshiped. From his window stared Of Nuremberg one sunny morn when she Passed paged to court. Her cold nobility Loved, lived for like a purpose. Seized and plied A feverish brush—her face!—Despaired and died.
The narrow Judengasse: gables frown Around a humpbacked usurer's, where brown, Neglected in a corner, long it lay, Heaped in a pile of riff-raff, such as—say, Retables done in tempera and old Panels by Wohlgemuth; stiff paintings cold Of martyrs and apostles,—names forgot,— Holbeins and Duerers, say; a haloed lot Of praying saints, madonnas: these, perchance, 'Mid wine-stained purples, mothed; an old romance; A crucifix and rosary; inlaid Arms, Saracen-elaborate; a strayed Niello of Byzantium; rich work, In bronze, of Florence: here a murderous dirk, There holy patens. So.—My ancestor, The first De Herancour, esteemed by far This piece most precious, most desirable;
Purchased and brought to Paris. It looked well In the dark paneling above the old Hearth of the room. The head's religious gold, The soft severity of the nun face, Made of the room an apostolic place Revered and feared.— Like some lived scene I see That Gothic room: its Flemish tapestry; Embossed within the marble hearth a shield, Carved 'round with thistles; in its argent field Three sable mallets—arms of Herancour— Topped with the crest, a helm and hands that bore, Outstretched, two mallets. On a lectern laid,— Between two casements, lozenge-paned, embayed,— A vellum volume of black-lettered text. Near by a taper, winking as if vexed With silken gusts a nervous curtain sends, Behind which, haply, daggered Murder bends.
And then I seem to see again the hall; The stairway leading to that room.—Then all The terror of that night of blood and crime Passes before me.— It is Catherine's time: The house De Herancour's. On floors, splashed red, Torchlight of Medicean wrath is shed. Down carven corridors and rooms,—where couch And chairs lie shattered and black shadows crouch Torch-pierced with fear,—a sound of swords draws near— The stir of searching steel. What find they here, Torch-bearer, swordsman, and fierce halberdier, On St. Bartholomew's?—A Huguenot! Dead in his chair! Eyes, violently shot With horror, glaring at the portrait there: Coiling his neck a blood line, like a hair Of finest fire. The portrait, like a fiend,— Looking exalted visitation,—leaned From its black panel; in its eyes a hate Satanic; hair—a glowing auburn; late A dull, enduring golden. "Just one thread Of the fierce hair around his throat," they said, "Twisting a burning ray; he—staring dead."
THE BLACK KNIGHT
I had not found the road too short, As once I had in days of youth, In that old forest of long ruth, Where my young knighthood broke its heart, Ere love and it had come to part, And lies made mockery of truth. I had not found the road too short.
A blind man, by the nightmare way, Had set me right when I was wrong.— I had been blind my whole life long— What wonder then that on this day The blind should show me how astray My strength had gone, my heart once strong. A blind man pointed me the way.
The road had been a heartbreak one, Of roots and rocks and tortured trees, And pools, above my horse's knees, And wandering paths, where spiders spun 'Twixt boughs that never saw the sun, And silence of lost centuries. The road had been a heartbreak one.
It seemed long years since that black hour When she had fled, and I took horse To follow, and without remorse To slay her and her paramour In that old keep, that ruined tower, From whence was borne her father's corse. It seemed long years since that black hour.
And now my horse was starved and spent, My gallant destrier, old and spare; The vile road's mire in mane and hair, I felt him totter as he went:— Such hungry woods were never meant For pasture: hate had reaped them bare. Aye, my poor beast was old and spent.
I too had naught to stay me with; And like my horse was starved and lean; My armor gone; my raiment mean; Bare-haired I rode; uneasy sith The way I'd lost, and some dark myth Far in the woods had laughed obscene. I had had naught to stay me with.
Then I dismounted. Better so. And found that blind man at my rein. And there the path stretched straight and plain. I saw at once the way to go. The forest road I used to know In days when life had less of pain. Then I dismounted. Better so.
I had but little time to spare, Since evening now was drawing near; And then I thought I saw a sneer Enter into that blind man's stare: And suddenly a thought leapt bare,— What if the Fiend had set him here!— I still might smite him or might spare.
I braced my sword: then turned to look: For I had heard an evil laugh: The blind man, leaning on his staff, Still stood there where my leave I took: What! did he mock me? Would I brook A blind fool's scorn?—My sword was half Out of its sheath. I turned to look:
And he was gone. And to my side My horse came nickering as afraid. Did he too fear to be betrayed?— What use for him? I might not ride. So to a great bough there I tied, And left him in the forest glade: My spear and shield I left beside.
My sword was all I needed there. It would suffice to right my wrongs; To cut the knot of all those thongs With which she'd bound me to despair, That woman with her midnight hair, Her Circe snares and Siren songs. My sword was all I needed there.
And then that laugh again I heard, Evil as Hell and darkness are. It shook my heart behind its bar Of purpose, like some ghastly word. But then it may have been a bird, An owlet in the forest far, A raven, croaking, that I heard.
I loosed my sword within its sheath; My sword, disuse and dews of night Had fouled with rust and iron-blight. I seemed to hear the forest breathe A menace at me through its teeth Of thorns 'mid which the way lay white. I loosed my sword within its sheath.
I had not noticed until now The sun was gone, and gray the moon Hung staring; pale as marble hewn;— Like some old malice, bleak of brow, It glared at me through leaf and bough, With which the tattered way was strewn. I had not noticed until now.
And then, all unexpected, vast Above the tops of ragged pines I saw a ruin, dark with vines, Against the blood-red sunset massed: My perilous tower of the past, Round which the woods thrust giant spines. I never knew it was so vast.
Long while I stood considering.— This was the place and this the night. The blind man then had set me right. Here she had come for sheltering. That ruin held her: that dark wing Which flashed a momentary light. Some time I stood considering.
Deep darkness fell. The somber glare Of sunset, that made cavernous eyes Of those gaunt casements 'gainst the skies, Had burnt to ashes everywhere. Before my feet there rose a stair Of oozy stone, of giant size, On which the gray moon flung its glare.
Then I went forward, sword in hand, Until the slimy causeway loomed, And huge beyond it yawned and gloomed The gateway where one seemed to stand, In armor, like a burning brand, Sword-drawn; his visor barred and plumed. And I went toward him, sword in hand.
He should not stay revenge from me. Whatever lord or knight he were, He should not keep me long from her, That woman dyed in infamy. No matter. God or devil he, His sword should prove no barrier.— Fool! who would keep revenge from me!
And then I heard, harsh over all, That demon laughter, filled with scorn: It woke the echoes, wild, forlorn, Dark in the ivy of that wall, As when, within a mighty hall, One blows a giant battle-horn. Loud, loud that laugh rang over all.
And then I struck him where he towered: I struck him, struck with all my hate: Black-plumed he loomed before the gate: I struck, and found his sword that showered Fierce flame on mine while black he glowered Behind his visor's wolfish grate. I struck; and taller still he towered.
A year meseemed we battled there: A year; ten years; a century: My blade was snapped; his lay in three: His mail was hewn; and everywhere Was blood; it streaked my face and hair; And still he towered over me. A year meseemed we battled there.
"Unmask!" I cried. "Yea, doff thy casque! Put up thy visor! fight me fair! I have no mail; my head is bare! Take off thy helm, is all I ask! Why dost thou hide thy face?—Unmask!"— My eyes were blind with blood and hair, And still I cried, "Take off thy casque!"
And then once more that laugh rang out Like madness in the caves of Hell: It hooted like some monster well, The haunt of owls, or some mad rout Of witches. And with battle shout Once more upon that knight I fell, While wild again that laugh rang out.
Like Death's own eyes his glared in mine, As with the fragment of my blade I smote him helmwise; huge he swayed, Then crashed, like some cadaverous pine, Uncasqued, his face in full moonshine: And I—I saw; and shrank afraid. For, lo! behold! the face was mine.
What devil's work was here!—What jest For fiends to laugh at, demons hiss!— To slay myself? and so to miss My hate's reward?—revenge confessed!— Was this knight I?—My brain I pressed.— Then who was he who gazed on this?— What devil's work was here!——What jest!
It was myself on whom I gazed— My darker self!—With fear I rose.— I was right weak from those great blows.— I stood bewildered, stunned and dazed, And looked around with eyes amazed.— I could not slay her now, God knows!— Around me there a while I gazed.
Then turned and fled into the night, While overhead once more I heard That laughter, like some demon bird Wailing in darkness.—Then a light Made clear a woman by that knight. I saw 'twas she, but said no word, And silent fled into the night.
I remember, when a child, How within the April wild Once I walked with Mystery In the groves of Arcady.... Through the boughs, before, behind, Swept the mantle of the wind, Thunderous and unconfined.
Overhead the curving moon Pierced the twilight: a cocoon, Golden, big with unborn wings— Beauty, shaping spiritual things, Vague, impatient of the night, Eager for its heavenward flight Out of darkness into light.
Here and there the oaks assumed Satyr aspects; shadows gloomed, Hiding, of a dryad look; And the naiad-frantic brook, Crying, fled the solitude, Filled with terror of the wood, Or some faun-thing that pursued.
In the dead leaves on the ground Crept a movement; rose a sound: Everywhere the silence ticked As with hands of things that picked At the loam, or in the dew,— Elvish sounds that crept or flew,— Beak-like, pushing surely through.
Down the forest, overhead, Stammering a dead leaf fled, Filled with elemental fear Of some dark destruction near— One, whose glowworm eyes I saw Hag with flame the crooked haw, Which the moon clutched like a claw.
Gradually beneath the tree Grew a shape; a nudity: Lithe and slender; silent as Growth of tree or blade of grass; Brown and silken as the bloom Of the trillium in the gloom, Visible as strange perfume.
For an instant there it stood, Smiling on me in the wood: And I saw its hair was green As the leaf-sheath, gold of sheen: And its eyes an azure wet, From within which seemed to jet Sapphire lights and violet.
Swiftly by I saw it glide; And the dark was deified: Wild before it everywhere Gleamed the greenness of its hair; And around it danced a light, Soft, the sapphire of its sight, Making witchcraft of the night.
On the branch above, the bird Trilled to it a dreamy word: In its bud the wild bee droned Honeyed greeting, drowsy-toned: And the brook forgot the gloom, Hushed its heart, and, wrapped in bloom, Breathed a welcome of perfume.
To its beauty bush and tree Stretched sweet arms of ecstasy; And the soul within the rock Lichen-treasures did unlock As upon it fell its eye; And the earth, that felt it nigh, Into wildflowers seemed to sigh....
Was it dryad? was it faun? Wandered from the times long gone. Was it sylvan? was it fay?— Dim survivor of the day When Religion peopled streams, Woods and rocks with shapes like gleams,— That invaded then my dreams?
Was it shadow? was it shape? Or but fancy's wild escape?— Of my own child's world the charm That assumed material form?— Of my soul the mystery, That the spring revealed to me, There in long-lost Arcady?
Whether it be that we in letters trace The pure exactness of a wood bird's strain, And name it song; or with the brush attain The high perfection of a wildflower's face; Or mold in difficult marble all the grace We know as man; or from the wind and rain Catch elemental rapture of refrain And mark in music to due time and place: The aim of Art is Nature; to unfold Her truth and beauty to the souls of men In close suggestions; in whose forms is cast Nothing so new but 'tis long eons old; Nothing so old but 'tis as young as when The mind conceived it in the ages past.
This is the tomboy month of all the year, March, who comes shouting o'er the winter hills, Waking the world with laughter, as she wills, Or wild halloos, a windflower in her ear. She stops a moment by the half-thawed mere And whistles to the wind, and straightway shrills The hyla's song, and hoods of daffodils Crowd golden round her, leaning their heads to hear. Then through the woods, that drip with all their eaves, Her mad hair blown about her, loud she goes Singing and calling to the naked trees; And straight the oilets of the little leaves Open their eyes in wonder, rows on rows, And the first bluebird bugles to the breeze.
Corn-colored clouds upon a sky of gold, And 'mid their sheaves,—where, like a daisy-bloom Left by the reapers to the gathering gloom, The star of twilight glows,—as Ruth, 'tis told, Dreamed homesick 'mid the harvest fields of old, The Dusk goes gleaning color and perfume From Bible slopes of heaven, that illume Her pensive beauty deep in shadows stoled. Hushed is the forest; and blue vale and hill Are still, save for the brooklet, sleepily Stumbling the stone with one foam-fluttering foot: Save for the note of one far whippoorwill, And in my heart her name,—like some sweet bee Within a rose,—blowing a faery flute.
Those hewers of the clouds, the Winds,—that lair At the four compass-points,—are out to-night; I hear their sandals trample on the height, I hear their voices trumpet through the air: Builders of storm, God's workmen, now they bear, Up the steep stair of sky, on backs of might, Huge tempest bulks, while,—sweat that blinds heir sight,— The rain is shaken from tumultuous hair: Now, sweepers of the firmament, they broom, Like gathered dust, the rolling mists along Heaven's floors of sapphire; all the beautiful blue Of skyey corridor and celestial room Preparing, with large laughter and loud song, For the white moon and stars to wander through.
LIGHT AND WIND
Where, through the myriad leaves of forest trees, The daylight falls, beryl and chrysoprase, The glamour and the glimmer of its rays Seem visible music, tangible melodies: Light that is music; music that one sees— Wagnerian music—where forever sways The spirit of romance, and gods and fays Take form, clad on with dreams and mysteries. And now the wind's transmuting necromance Touches the light and makes it fall and rise, Vocal, a harp of multitudinous waves That speaks as ocean speaks—an utterance Of far-off whispers, mermaid-murmuring sighs— Pelagian, vast, deep down in coral caves.
The deep seclusion of this forest path,— O'er which the green boughs weave a canopy; Along which bluet and anemone Spread dim a carpet; where the Twilight hath Her cool abode; and, sweet as aftermath, Wood-fragrance roams,—has so enchanted me, That yonder blossoming bramble seems to be A Sylvan resting, rosy from her bath: Has so enspelled me with tradition's dreams, That every foam-white stream that, twinkling, flows, And every bird that flutters wings of tan, Or warbles hidden, to my fancy seems A Naiad dancing to a Faun who blows Wild woodland music on the pipes of Pan.
The hornets build in plaster-dropping rooms, And on its mossy porch the lizard lies; Around its chimneys slow the swallow flies, And on its roof the locusts snow their blooms. Like some sad thought that broods here, old perfumes Haunt its dim stairs; the cautious zephyr tries Each gusty door, like some dead hand, then sighs With ghostly lips among the attic glooms. And now a heron, now a kingfisher, Flits in the willows where the riffle seems At each faint fall to hesitate to leap, Fluttering the silence with a little stir. Here Summer seems a placid face asleep, And the near world a figment of her dreams.
AFTER LONG GRIEF
There is a place hung o'er of summer boughs And dreamy skies wherein the gray hawk sleeps; Where water flows, within whose lazy deeps, Like silvery prisms where the sunbeams drowse, The minnows twinkle; where the bells of cows Tinkle the stillness; and the bobwhite keeps Calling from meadows where the reaper reaps, And children's laughter haunts an oldtime house: A place where life wears ever an honest smell Of hay and honey, sun and elder-bloom,— Like some sweet, simple girl,—within her hair; Where, with our love for comrade, we may dwell Far from the city's strife, whose cares consume.— Oh, take my hand and let me lead you there.
Bleak, in dark rags of clouds, the day begins, That passed so splendidly but yesterday, Wrapped in magnificence of gold and gray, And poppy and rose. Now, burdened as with sins, Their wildness clad in fogs, like coats of skins, Tattered and streaked with rain; gaunt, clogged with clay, The mendicant Hours take their somber way Westward o'er Earth, to which no sunray wins. Their splashing sandals ooze; their foosteps drip, Puddle and brim with moisture; their sad hair Is tagged with haggard drops, that with their eyes' Slow streams are blent; each sullen fingertip Rivers; while round them, in the grief-drenched air Wearies the wind of their perpetual sighs.
THE END OF SUMMER
Pods the poppies, and slim spires of pods The hollyhocks; the balsam's pearly bredes Of rose-stained snow are little sacs of seeds Collapsing at a touch: the lote, that sods The pond with green, has changed its flowers to rods And discs of vesicles; and all the weeds, Around the sleepy water and its reeds, Are one white smoke of seeded silk that nods. Summer is dead, ay me! sweet Summer's dead! The sunset clouds have built her funeral pyre, Through which, e'en now, runs subterranean fire: While from the east, as from a garden bed, Mist-vined, the Dusk lifts her broad moon—like some Great golden melon—saying, "Fall has come."
The shivering wind sits in the oaks, whose limbs, Twisted and tortured, nevermore are still; Grief and decay sit with it; they, whose chill Autumnal touch makes hectic-red the rims Of all the oak leaves; desolating, dims The ageratum's blue that banks the rill; And splits the milkweed's pod upon the hill, And shakes it free of the last seed that swims. Down goes the day despondent to its close: And now the sunset's hands of copper build A tower of brass, behind whose burning bars The day, in fierce, barbarian repose, Like some imprisoned Inca sits, hate-filled, Crowned with the gold corymbus of the stars.
There is a booming in the forest boughs; Tremendous feet seem trampling through the trees: The storm is at his wildman revelries, And earth and heaven echo his carouse. Night reels with tumult; and, from out her house Of cloud, the moon looks,—like a face one sees In nightmare,—hurrying, with pale eyes that freeze Stooping above with white, malignant brows. The isolated oak upon the hill, That seemed, at sunset, in terrific lands A Titan head black in a sea of blood, Now seems a monster harp, whose wild strings thrill To the vast fingering of innumerable hands— Spirits of tempest and of solitude.
THE DEATH OF LOVE
So Love is dead, the Love we knew of old! And in the sorrow of our hearts' hushed halls A lute lies broken and a flower falls; Love's house stands empty and his hearth lies cold. Lone in dim places, where sweet vows were told, In walks grown desolate, by ruined walls Beauty decays; and on their pedestals Dreams crumble and th' immortal gods are mold. Music is slain or sleeps; one voice alone, One voice awakes, and like a wandering ghost Haunts all the echoing chambers of the Past— The voice of Memory, that stills to stone The soul that hears; the mind, that, utterly lost, Before its beautiful presence stands aghast.
How long ago it is since we went Maying! Since she and I went Maying long ago!— The years have left my forehead lined, I know, Have thinned my hair around the temples graying. Ah, time will change us: yea, I hear it saying— "She too grows old: the face of rose and snow Has lost its freshness: in the hair's brown glow Some strands of silver sadly, too, are straying. The form you knew, whose beauty so enspelled, Has lost the litheness of its loveliness: And all the gladness that her blue eyes held Tears and the world have hardened with distress."— "True! true!" I answer, "O ye years that part! These things are chaned—but is her heart, her heart?"
As one, who, journeying westward with the sun, Beholds at length from the up-towering hills, Far-off, a land unspeakable beauty fills, Circean peaks and vales of Avalon: And, sinking weary, watches, one by one, The big seas beat between; and knows it skills No more to try; that now, as Heaven wills, This is the helpless end, that all is done: So 'tis with him, whom long a vision led In quest of Beauty; and who finds at last She lies beyond his effort; all the waves Of all the world between them: while the dead, The myriad dead, who people all the past With failure, hail him from forgotten graves.