No, thou shalt not speak! I should be finding Something alter'd in thy courtly tone. Sit—sit by me! I will think, we've lived so In the green wood, all our lives, alone.
Alter'd, Tristram? Not in courts, believe me, Love like mine is alter'd in the breast; Courtly life is light and cannot reach it— Ah! it lives, because so deep-suppress'd!
What, thou think'st men speak in courtly chambers Words by which the wretched are consoled? What, thou think'st this aching brow was cooler, Circled, Tristram, by a band of gold?
Royal state with Marc, my deep-wrong'd husband— That was bliss to make my sorrows flee! Silken courtiers whispering honied nothings— Those were friends to make me false to thee!
Ah, on which, if both our lots were balanced, Was indeed the heaviest burden thrown— Thee, a pining exile in thy forest, Me, a smiling queen upon my throne?
Vain and strange debate, where both have suffer'd Both have pass'd a youth consumed and sad, Both have brought their anxious day to evening, And have now short space for being glad!
Join'd we are henceforth; nor will thy people, Nor thy younger Iseult take it ill, That a former rival shares her office, When she sees her humbled, pale, and still.
I, a faded watcher by thy pillow, I, a statue on thy chapel-floor, Pour'd in prayer before the Virgin-Mother, Rouse no anger, make no rivals more.
She will cry: "Is this the foe I dreaded? This his idol? this that royal bride? Ah, an hour of health would purge his eyesight! Stay, pale queen! for ever by my side."
Hush, no words! that smile, I see, forgives me. I am now thy nurse, I bid thee sleep. Close thine eyes—this flooding moonlight blinds them!— Nay, all's well again! thou must not weep.
I am happy! yet I feel, there's something Swells my heart, and takes my breath away. Through a mist I see thee; near—come nearer! Bend—bend down!—I yet have much to say.
Heaven! his head sinks back upon the pillow— Tristram! Tristram! let thy heart not fail! Call on God and on the holy angels! What, love, courage!—Christ! he is so pale.
Hush, 'tis vain, I feel my end approaching! This is what my mother said should be, When the fierce pains took her in the forest, The deep draughts of death, in bearing me.
"Son," she said, "thy name shall be of sorrow; Tristram art thou call'd for my death's sake." So she said, and died in the drear forest. Grief since then his home with me doth make.
I am dying.—Start not, nor look wildly! Me, thy living friend, thou canst not save. But, since living we were ununited, Go not far, O Iseult! from my grave.
Close mine eyes, then seek the princess Iseult; Speak her fair, she is of royal blood! Say, I will'd so, that thou stay beside me— She will grant it; she is kind and good.
Now to sail the seas of death I leave thee— One last kiss upon the living shore!
Tristram!—Tristram!—stay—receive me with thee! Iseult leaves thee, Tristram! never more.
* * * * *
You see them clear—the moon shines bright. Slow, slow and softly, where she stood, She sinks upon the ground;—her hood Had fallen back; her arms outspread Still hold her lover's hand; her head Is bow'd, half-buried, on the bed. O'er the blanch'd sheet her raven hair Lies in disorder'd streams; and there, Strung like white stars, the pearls still are, And the golden bracelets, heavy and rare, Flash on her white arms still. The very same which yesternight Flash'd in the silver sconces' light, When the feast was gay and the laughter loud In Tyntagel's palace proud. But then they deck'd a restless ghost With hot-flush'd cheeks and brilliant eyes, And quivering lips on which the tide Of courtly speech abruptly died, And a glance which over the crowded floor, The dancers, and the festive host, Flew ever to the door. That the knights eyed her in surprise, And the dames whispered scoffingly: "Her moods, good lack, they pass like showers! But yesternight and she would be As pale and still as wither'd flowers, And now to-night she laughs and speaks And has a colour in her cheeks; Christ keep us from such fantasy!"—
Yes, now the longing is o'erpast, Which, dogg'd by fear and fought by shame, Shook her weak bosom day and night, Consumed her beauty like a flame, And dimm'd it like the desert-blast. And though the bed-clothes hide her face, Yet were it lifted to the light, The sweet expression of her brow Would charm the gazer, till his thought Erased the ravages of time, Fill'd up the hollow cheek, and brought A freshness back as of her prime— So healing is her quiet now. So perfectly the lines express A tranquil, settled loveliness, Her younger rival's purest grace.
The air of the December-night Steals coldly around the chamber bright, Where those lifeless lovers be; Swinging with it, in the light Flaps the ghostlike tapestry. And on the arras wrought you see A stately Huntsman, clad in green, And round him a fresh forest-scene. On that clear forest-knoll he stays, With his pack round him, and delays. He stares and stares, with troubled face, At this huge, gleam-lit fireplace, At that bright, iron-figured door, And those blown rushes on the floor. He gazes down into the room With heated cheeks and flurried air, And to himself he seems to say: "What place is this, and who are they? Who is that kneeling Lady fair? And on his pillows that pale Knight Who seems of marble on a tomb? How comes it here, this chamber bright, Through whose mullion'd windows clear The castle-court all wet with rain, The drawbridge and the moat appear, And then the beach, and, mark'd with spray, The sunken reefs, and far away The unquiet bright Atlantic plain? —What, has some glamour made me sleep, And sent me with my dogs to sweep, By night, with boisterous bugle-peal, Through some old, sea-side, knightly hall, Not in the free green wood at all? That Knight's asleep, and at her prayer That Lady by the bed doth kneel— Then hush, thou boisterous bugle-peal!" —The wild boar rustles in his lair; The fierce hounds snuff the tainted air; But lord and hounds keep rooted there.
Cheer, cheer thy dogs into the brake, O Hunter! and without a fear Thy golden-tassell'd bugle blow, And through the glades thy pastime take— For thou wilt rouse no sleepers here! For these thou seest are unmoved; Cold, cold as those who lived and loved A thousand years ago.
Iseult of Brittany
A year had flown, and o'er the sea away, In Cornwall, Tristram and Queen Iseult lay; In King Marc's chapel, in Tyntagel old— There in a ship they bore those lovers cold.
The young surviving Iseult, one bright day, Had wander'd forth. Her children were at play In a green circular hollow in the heath Which borders the sea-shore—a country path Creeps over it from the till'd fields behind. The hollow's grassy banks are soft-inclined, And to one standing on them, far and near The lone unbroken view spreads bright and clear Over the waste. This cirque of open ground Is light and green; the heather, which all round Creeps thickly, grows not here; but the pale grass Is strewn with rocks, and many a shiver'd mass Of vein'd white-gleaming quartz, and here and there Dotted with holly-trees and juniper. In the smooth centre of the opening stood Three hollies side by side, and made a screen, Warm with the winter-sun, of burnish'd green With scarlet berries gemm'd, the fell-fare's food. Under the glittering hollies Iseult stands, Watching her children play; their little hands Are busy gathering spars of quartz, and streams Of stagshorn for their hats; anon, with screams Of mad delight they drop their spoils, and bound Among the holly-clumps and broken ground, Racing full speed, and startling in their rush The fell-fares and the speckled missel-thrush Out of their glossy coverts;—but when now Their cheeks were flush'd, and over each hot brow, Under the feather'd hats of the sweet pair, In blinding masses shower'd the golden hair— Then Iseult call'd them to her, and the three Cluster'd under the holly-screen, and she Told them an old-world Breton history.
Warm in their mantles wrapt the three stood there, Under the hollies, in the clear still air— Mantles with those rich furs deep glistering Which Venice ships do from swart Egypt bring. Long they stay'd still—then, pacing at their ease, Moved up and down under the glossy trees. But still, as they pursued their warm dry road, From Iseult's lips the unbroken story flow'd, And still the children listen'd, their blue eyes Fix'd on their mother's face in wide surprise; Nor did their looks stray once to the sea-side, Nor to the brown heaths round them, bright and wide, Nor to the snow, which, though 't was all away From the open heath, still by the hedgerows lay, Nor to the shining sea-fowl, that with screams Bore up from where the bright Atlantic gleams, Swooping to landward; nor to where, quite clear, The fell-fares settled on the thickets near. And they would still have listen'd, till dark night Came keen and chill down on the heather bright; But, when the red glow on the sea grew cold, And the grey turrets of the castle old Look'd sternly through the frosty evening-air, Then Iseult took by the hand those children fair, And brought her tale to an end, and found the path, And led them home over the darkening heath.
And is she happy? Does she see unmoved The days in which she might have lived and loved Slip without bringing bliss slowly away, One after one, to-morrow like to-day? Joy has not found her yet, nor ever will— Is it this thought which makes her mien so still, Her features so fatigued, her eyes, though sweet, So sunk, so rarely lifted save to meet Her children's? She moves slow; her voice alone Hath yet an infantine and silver tone, But even that comes languidly; in truth, She seems one dying in a mask of youth. And now she will go home, and softly lay Her laughing children in their beds, and play Awhile with them before they sleep; and then She'll light her silver lamp, which fishermen Dragging their nets through the rough waves, afar, Along this iron coast, know like a star, And take her broidery-frame, and there she'll sit Hour after hour, her gold curls sweeping it; Lifting her soft-bent head only to mind Her children, or to listen to the wind. And when the clock peals midnight, she will move Her work away, and let her fingers rove Across the shaggy brows of Tristram's hound Who lies, guarding her feet, along the ground; Or else she will fall musing, her blue eyes Fixt, her slight hands clasp'd on her lap; then rise, And at her prie-dieu kneel, until she have told Her rosary-beads of ebony tipp'd with gold, Then to her soft sleep—and to-morrow 'll be To-day's exact repeated effigy.
Yes, it is lonely for her in her hall. The children, and the grey-hair'd seneschal, Her women, and Sir Tristram's aged hound, Are there the sole companions to be found. But these she loves; and noisier life than this She would find ill to bear, weak as she is. She has her children, too, and night and day Is with them; and the wide heaths where they play, The hollies, and the cliff, and the sea-shore, The sand, the sea-birds, and the distant sails, These are to her dear as to them; the tales With which this day the children she beguiled She gleaned from Breton grandames, when a child, In every hut along this sea-coast wild. She herself loves them still, and, when they are told, Can forget all to hear them, as of old.
Dear saints, it is not sorrow, as I hear, Not suffering, which shuts up eye and ear To all that has delighted them before, And lets us be what we were once no more. No, we may suffer deeply, yet retain Power to be moved and soothed, for all our pain, By what of old pleased us, and will again. No, 'tis the gradual furnace of the world, In whose hot air our spirits are upcurl'd Until they crumble, or else grow like steel— Which kills in us the bloom, the youth, the spring— Which leaves the fierce necessity to feel, But takes away the power—this can avail, By drying up our joy in everything, To make our former pleasures all seem stale. This, or some tyrannous single thought, some fit Of passion, which subdues our souls to it, Till for its sake alone we live and move— Call it ambition, or remorse, or love— This too can change us wholly, and make seem All which we did before, shadow and dream.
And yet, I swear, it angers me to see How this fool passion gulls men potently; Being, in truth, but a diseased unrest, And an unnatural overheat at best. How they are full of languor and distress Not having it; which when they do possess, They straightway are burnt up with fume and care, And spend their lives in posting here and there Where this plague drives them; and have little ease, Are furious with themselves, and hard to please. Like that bold Caesar, the famed Roman wight, Who wept at reading of a Grecian knight Who made a name at younger years than he; Or that renown'd mirror of chivalry, Prince Alexander, Philip's peerless son, Who carried the great war from Macedon Into the Soudan's realm, and thundered on To die at thirty-five in Babylon.
What tale did Iseult to the children say, Under the hollies, that bright winter's day?
She told them of the fairy-haunted land Away the other side of Brittany, Beyond the heaths, edged by the lonely sea; Of the deep forest-glades of Broce-liande, Through whose green boughs the golden sunshine creeps, Where Merlin by the enchanted thorn-tree sleeps. For here he came with the fay Vivian, One April, when the warm days first began. He was on foot, and that false fay, his friend, On her white palfrey; here he met his end, In these lone sylvan glades, that April-day. This tale of Merlin and the lovely fay Was the one Iseult chose, and she brought clear Before the children's fancy him and her.
Blowing between the stems, the forest-air Had loosen'd the brown locks of Vivian's hair, Which play'd on her flush'd cheek, and her blue eyes Sparkled with mocking glee and exercise. Her palfrey's flanks were mired and bathed in sweat, For they had travell'd far and not stopp'd yet. A brier in that tangled wilderness Had scored her white right hand, which she allows To rest ungloved on her green riding-dress; The other warded off the drooping boughs. But still she chatted on, with her blue eyes Fix'd full on Merlin's face, her stately prize. Her 'haviour had the morning's fresh clear grace, The spirit of the woods was in her face. She look'd so witching fair, that learned wight Forgot his craft, and his best wits took flight; And he grew fond, and eager to obey His mistress, use her empire as she may.
They came to where the brushwood ceased, and day Peer'd 'twixt the stems; and the ground broke away, In a sloped sward down to a brawling brook; And up as high as where they stood to look On the brook's farther side was clear, but then The underwood and trees began again. This open glen was studded thick with thorns Then white with blossom; and you saw the horns, Through last year's fern, of the shy fallow-deer Who come at noon down to the water here. You saw the bright-eyed squirrels dart along Under the thorns on the green sward; and strong The blackbird whistled from the dingles near, And the weird chipping of the woodpecker Rang lonelily and sharp; the sky was fair, And a fresh breath of spring stirr'd everywhere. Merlin and Vivian stopp'd on the slope's brow, To gaze on the light sea of leaf and bough Which glistering plays all round them, lone and mild, As if to itself the quiet forest smiled. Upon the brow-top grew a thorn, and here The grass was dry and moss'd, and you saw clear Across the hollow; white anemonies Starr'd the cool turf, and clumps of primroses Ran out from the dark underwood behind. No fairer resting-place a man could find. "Here let us halt," said Merlin then; and she Nodded, and tied her palfrey to a tree.
They sate them down together, and a sleep Fell upon Merlin, more like death, so deep. Her finger on her lips, then Vivian rose, And from her brown-lock'd head the wimple throws, And takes it in her hand, and waves it over The blossom'd thorn-tree and her sleeping lover. Nine times she waved the fluttering wimple round, And made a little plot of magic ground. And in that daised circle, as men say, Is Merlin prisoner till the judgment-day; But she herself whither she will can rove— For she was passing weary of his love.
Saint Brandan sails the northern main; The brotherhoods of saints are glad. He greets them once, he sails again; So late!—such storms!—The Saint is mad!
He heard, across the howling seas, Chime convent-bells on wintry nights; He saw, on spray-swept Hebrides, Twinkle the monastery-lights.
But north, still north, Saint Brandan steer'd— And now no bells, no convents more! The hurtling Polar lights are near'd, The sea without a human shore.
At last—(it was the Christmas night; Stars shone after a day of storm)— He sees float past an iceberg white, And on it—Christ!—a living form.
That furtive mien, that scowling eye, Of hair that red and tufted fell—— It is—Oh, where shall Brandan fly?— The traitor Judas, out of hell!
Palsied with terror, Brandan sate; The moon was bright, the iceberg near. He hears a voice sigh humbly: "Wait! By high permission I am here.
"One moment wait, thou holy man! On earth my crime, my death, they knew; My name is under all men's ban— Ah, tell them of my respite too!
"Tell them, one blessed Christmas-night— (It was the first after I came, Breathing self-murder, frenzy, spite, To rue my guilt in endless flame)—
"I felt, as I in torment lay 'Mid the souls plagued by heavenly power, An angel touch mine arm, and say: Go hence and cool thyself an hour!
"'Ah, whence this mercy, Lord?' I said. The Leper recollect, said he, Who ask'd the passers-by for aid, In Joppa, and thy charity.
"Then I remember'd how I went, In Joppa, through the public street, One morn when the sirocco spent Its storms of dust with burning heat;
"And in the street a leper sate, Shivering with fever, naked, old; Sand raked his sores from heel to pate, The hot wind fever'd him five-fold.
"He gazed upon me as I pass'd, And murmur'd: Help me, or I die!— To the poor wretch my cloak I cast, Saw him look eased, and hurried by.
"Oh, Brandan, think what grace divine, What blessing must full goodness shower, When fragment of it small, like mine, Hath such inestimable power!
"Well-fed, well-clothed, well-friended, I Did that chance act of good, that one! Then went my way to kill and lie— Forgot my good as soon as done.
"That germ of kindness, in the womb Of mercy caught, did not expire; Outlives my guilt, outlives my doom, And friends me in the pit of fire.
"Once every year, when carols wake, On earth, the Christmas-night's repose, Arising from the sinners' lake, I journey to these healing snows.
"I stanch with ice my burning breast, With silence balm my whirling brain. O Brandan! to this hour of rest That Joppan leper's ease was pain."——
Tears started to Saint Brandan's eyes; He bow'd his head, he breathed a prayer— Then look'd, and lo, the frosty skies! The iceberg, and no Judas there!
In summer, on the headlands, The Baltic Sea along, Sits Neckan with his harp of gold, And sings his plaintive song.
Green rolls beneath the headlands, Green rolls the Baltic Sea; And there, below the Neckan's feet, His wife and children be.
He sings not of the ocean, Its shells and roses pale; Of earth, of earth the Neckan sings, He hath no other tale.
He sits upon the headlands, And sings a mournful stave Of all he saw and felt on earth Far from the kind sea-wave.
Sings how, a knight, he wander'd By castle, field, and town— But earthly knights have harder hearts Than the sea-children own.
Sings of his earthly bridal— Priest, knights, and ladies gay. "—And who art thou," the priest began, "Sir Knight, who wedd'st to-day?"—
"—I am no knight," he answered; "From the sea-waves I come."— The knights drew sword, the ladies scream'd, The surpliced priest stood dumb.
He sings how from the chapel He vanish'd with his bride, And bore her down to the sea-halls, Beneath the salt sea-tide.
He sings how she sits weeping 'Mid shells that round her lie. "—False Neckan shares my bed," she weeps; "No Christian mate have I."—
He sings how through the billows He rose to earth again, And sought a priest to sign the cross, That Neckan Heaven might gain.
He sings how, on an evening, Beneath the birch-trees cool, He sate and play'd his harp of gold, Beside the river-pool.
Beside the pool sate Neckan— Tears fill'd his mild blue eye. On his white mule, across the bridge, A cassock'd priest rode by.
"—Why sitt'st thou there, O Neckan, And play'st thy harp of gold? Sooner shall this my staff bear leaves, Than thou shalt Heaven behold."—
But, lo, the staff, it budded! It green'd, it branch'd, it waved. "—O ruth of God," the priest cried out, "This lost sea-creature saved!"
The cassock'd priest rode onwards, And vanished with his mule; But Neckan in the twilight grey Wept by the river-pool.
He wept: "The earth hath kindness, The sea, the starry poles; Earth, sea, and sky, and God above— But, ah, not human souls!"
In summer, on the headlands, The Baltic Sea along, Sits Neckan with his harp of gold, And sings this plaintive song.
THE FORSAKEN MERMAN
Come, dear children, let us away; Down and away below! Now my brothers call from the bay, Now the great winds shoreward blow, Now the salt tides seaward flow; Now the wild white horses play, Champ and chafe and toss in the spray. Children dear, let us away! This way, this way!
Call her once before you go— Call once yet! In a voice that she will know: "Margaret! Margaret!" Children's voices should be dear (Call once more) to a mother's ear; Children's voices, wild with pain— Surely she will come again! Call her once and come away; This way, this way! "Mother dear, we cannot stay! The wild white horses foam and fret." Margaret! Margaret!
Come, dear children, come away down; Call no more! One last look at the white-wall'd town, And the little grey church on the windy shore; Then come down! She will not come though you call all day; Come away, come away!
Children dear, was it yesterday We heard the sweet bells over the bay? In the caverns where we lay, Through the surf and through the swell, The far-off sound of a silver bell? Sand-strewn caverns, cool and deep, Where the winds are all asleep; Where the spent lights quiver and gleam, Where the salt weed sways in the stream, Where the sea-beasts, ranged all round, Feed in the ooze of their pasture-ground; Where the sea-snakes coil and twine, Dry their mail and bask in the brine; Where great whales come sailing by, Sail and sail, with unshut eye, Round the world for ever and aye? When did music come this way? Children dear, was it yesterday?
Children dear, was it yesterday (Call yet once) that she went away? Once she sate with you and me, On a red gold throne in the heart of the sea, And the youngest sate on her knee. She comb'd its bright hair, and she tended it well, When down swung the sound of a far-off bell. She sigh'd, she look'd up through the clear green sea; She said: "I must go, for my kinsfolk pray In the little grey church on the shore to-day. 'Twill be Easter-time in the world—ah me! And I lose my poor soul, Merman! here with thee." I said: "Go up, dear heart, through the waves; Say thy prayer, and come back to the kind sea-caves!" She smiled, she went up through the surf in the bay. Children dear, was it yesterday?
Children dear, were we long alone? "The sea grows stormy, the little ones moan; Long prayers," I said, "in the world they say; Come!" I said: and we rose through the surf in the bay. We went up the beach, by the sandy down Where the sea-stocks bloom, to the white-wall'd town; Through the narrow paved streets, where all was still, To the little grey church on the windy hill. From the church came a murmur of folk at their prayers, But we stood without in the cold blowing airs. We climb'd on the graves, on the stones worn with rains, And we gazed up the aisle through the small leaded panes. She sate by the pillar; we saw her clear: "Margaret, hist! come quick, we are here! Dear heart," I said, "we are long alone; The sea grows stormy, the little ones moan." But, ah, she gave me never a look, For her eyes were seal'd to the holy book! Loud prays the priest; shut stands the door. Come away, children, call no more! Come away, come down, call no more!
Down, down, down! Down to the depths of the sea! She sits at her wheel in the humming town, Singing most joyfully. Hark what she sings: "O joy, O joy, For the humming street, and the child with its toy! For the priest, and the bell, and the holy well; For the wheel where I spun, And the blessed light of the sun!" And so she sings her fill, Singing most joyfully, Till the spindle drops from her hand, And the whizzing wheel stands still. She steals to the window, and looks at the sand, And over the sand at the sea; And her eyes are set in a stare; And anon there breaks a sigh, And anon there drops a tear, From a sorrow-clouded eye, And a heart sorrow-laden, A long, long sigh; For the cold strange eyes of a little Mermaiden And the gleam of her golden hair.
Come away, away children; Come children, come down! The hoarse wind blows coldly; Lights shine in the town. She will start from her slumber When gusts shake the door; She will hear the winds howling, Will hear the waves roar. We shall see, while above us The waves roar and whirl, A ceiling of amber, A pavement of pearl. Singing: "Here came a mortal, But faithless was she! And alone dwell for ever The kings of the sea."
But, children, at midnight, When soft the winds blow, When clear falls the moonlight, When spring tides are low; When sweet airs come seaward From heaths starr'd with broom, And high rocks throw mildly On the blanch'd sands a gloom; Up the still, glistening beaches, Up the creeks we will hie, Over banks of bright seaweed The ebb-tide leaves dry. We will gaze, from the sand-hills, At the white, sleeping town; At the church on the hill-side— And then come back down. Singing: "There dwells a loved one, But cruel is she! She left lonely for ever The kings of the sea."
AUSTERITY OF POETRY
That son of Italy who tried to blow, Ere Dante came, the trump of sacred song, In his light youth amid a festal throng Sate with his bride to see a public show.
Fair was the bride, and on her front did glow Youth like a star; and what to youth belong— Gay raiment, sparkling gauds, elation strong. A prop gave way! crash fell a platform! lo,
'Mid struggling sufferers, hurt to death, she lay! Shuddering, they drew her garments off—and found A robe of sackcloth next the smooth, white skin.
Such, poets, is your bride, the Muse! young, gay, Radiant, adorn'd outside; a hidden ground Of thought and of austerity within.
A PICTURE AT NEWSTEAD
What made my heart, at Newstead, fullest swell?— 'Twas not the thought of Byron, of his cry Stormily sweet, his Titan-agony; It was the sight of that Lord Arundel
Who struck, in heat, his child he loved so well, And his child's reason flicker'd, and did die. Painted (he will'd it) in the gallery They hang; the picture doth the story tell.
Behold the stern, mail'd father, staff in hand! The little fair-hair'd son, with vacant gaze, Where no more lights of sense or knowledge are!
Methinks the woe, which made that father stand Baring his dumb remorse to future days, Was woe than Byron's woe more tragic far.
In Paris all look'd hot and like to fade. Sere, in the garden of the Tuileries, Sere with September, droop'd the chestnut-trees. 'Twas dawn; a brougham roll'd through the streets and made
Halt at the white and silent colonnade Of the French Theatre. Worn with disease, Rachel, with eyes no gazing can appease, Sate in the brougham and those blank walls survey'd.
She follows the gay world, whose swarms have fled To Switzerland, to Baden, to the Rhine; Why stops she by this empty play-house drear?
Ah, where the spirit its highest life hath led, All spots, match'd with that spot, are less divine; And Rachel's Switzerland, her Rhine, is here!
Unto a lonely villa, in a dell Above the fragrant warm Provencal shore, The dying Rachel in a chair they bore Up the steep pine-plumed paths of the Estrelle,
And laid her in a stately room, where fell The shadow of a marble Muse of yore, The rose-crown'd queen of legendary lore, Polymnia, full on her death-bed.—'Twas well!
The fret and misery of our northern towns, In this her life's last day, our poor, our pain, Our jangle of false wits, our climate's frowns,
Do for this radiant Greek-soul'd artist cease; Sole object of her dying eyes remain The beauty and the glorious art of Greece.
Sprung from the blood of Israel's scatter'd race, At a mean inn in German Aarau born, To forms from antique Greece and Rome uptorn, Trick'd out with a Parisian speech and face,
Imparting life renew'd, old classic grace; Then, soothing with thy Christian strain forlorn, A-Kempis! her departing soul outworn, While by her bedside Hebrew rites have place—
Ah, not the radiant spirit of Greece alone She had—one power, which made her breast its home! In her, like us, there clash'd, contending powers, Germany, France, Christ, Moses, Athens, Rome. The strife, the mixture in her soul, are ours; Her genius and her glory are her own.
Even in a palace, life may be led well! So spake the imperial sage, purest of men, Marcus Aurelius. But the stifling den Of common life, where, crowded up pell-mell,
Our freedom for a little bread we sell, And drudge under some foolish master's ken Who rates us if we peer outside our pen— Match'd with a palace, is not this a hell?
Even in a palace! On his truth sincere, Who spoke these words, no shadow ever came; And when my ill-school'd spirit is aflame
Some nobler, ampler stage of life to win, I'll stop, and say: "There were no succour here! The aids to noble life are all within."
'Twas August, and the fierce sun overhead Smote on the squalid streets of Bethnal Green, And the pale weaver, through his windows seen In Spitalfields, look'd thrice dispirited.
I met a preacher there I knew, and said: "Ill and o'erwork'd, how fare you in this scene?"— "Bravely!" said he; "for I of late have been Much cheer'd with thoughts of Christ, the living bread."
O human soul! as long as thou canst so Set up a mark of everlasting light, Above the howling senses' ebb and flow,
To cheer thee, and to right thee if thou roam— Not with lost toil thou labourest through the night! Thou mak'st the heaven thou hop'st indeed thy home.
Crouch'd on the pavement, close by Belgrave Square, A tramp I saw, ill, moody, and tongue-tied. A babe was in her arms, and at her side A girl; their clothes were rags, their feet were bare.
Some labouring men, whose work lay somewhere there, Pass'd opposite; she touch'd her girl, who hied Across, and begg'd, and came back satisfied. The rich she had let pass with frozen stare.
Thought I: "Above her state this spirit towers; She will not ask of aliens, but of friends, Of sharers in a common human fate.
"She turns from that cold succour, which attends The unknown little from the unknowing great, And points us to a better time than ours."
EAST AND WEST
In the bare midst of Anglesey they show Two springs which close by one another play; And, "Thirteen hundred years agone," they say, "Two saints met often where those waters flow.
"One came from Penmon westward, and a glow Whiten'd his face from the sun's fronting ray; Eastward the other, from the dying day, And he with unsunn'd face did always go."
Seiriol the Bright, Kybi the Dark! men said. The seer from the East was then in light, The seer from the West was then in shade.
Ah! now 'tis changed. In conquering sunshine bright The man of the bold West now comes array'd; He of the mystic East is touch'd with night.
THE BETTER PART
Long fed on boundless hopes, O race of man, How angrily thou spurn'st all simpler fare! "Christ," some one says, "was human as we are; No judge eyes us from Heaven, our sin to scan;
"We live no more, when we have done our span."— "Well, then, for Christ," thou answerest, "who can care? From sin, which Heaven records not, why forbear? Live we like brutes our life without a plan!"
So answerest thou; but why not rather say: "Hath man no second life?—Pitch this one high! Sits there no judge in Heaven, our sin to see?—
"More strictly, then, the inward judge obey! Was Christ a man like us? Ah! let us try If we then, too, can be such men as he!"
"Yes, write it in the rock," Saint Bernard said, "Grave it on brass with adamantine pen! 'Tis God himself becomes apparent, when God's wisdom and God's goodness are display'd,
"For God of these his attributes is made."— Well spake the impetuous Saint, and bore of men The suffrage captive; now, not one in ten Recalls the obscure opposer he outweigh'd.
God's wisdom and God's goodness!—Ay, but fools Mis-define these till God knows them no more. Wisdom and goodness, they are God!—what schools
Have yet so much as heard this simpler lore? This no Saint preaches, and this no Church rules; 'Tis in the desert, now and heretofore.
Foil'd by our fellow-men, depress'd, outworn, We leave the brutal world to take its way, And, Patience! in another life, we say, The world shall be thrust down, and we up-borne.
And will not, then, the immortal armies scorn The world's poor, routed leavings? or will they, Who fail'd under the heat of this life's day, Support the fervours of the heavenly morn?
No, no! the energy of life may be Kept on after the grave, but not begun; And he who flagg'd not in the earthly strife, From strength to strength advancing—only he, His soul well-knit, and all his battles won, Mounts, and that hardly, to eternal life.
THE GOOD SHEPHERD WITH THE KID
He saves the sheep, the goats he doth not save. So rang Tertullian's sentence, on the side Of that unpitying Phrygian sect which cried: "Him can no fount of fresh forgiveness lave,
"Who sins, once wash'd by the baptismal wave."— So spake the fierce Tertullian. But she sigh'd, The infant Church! of love she felt the tide Stream on her from her Lord's yet recent grave.
And then she smiled; and in the Catacombs, With eye suffused but heart inspired true, On those walls subterranean, where she hid
Her head 'mid ignominy, death, and tombs, She her Good Shepherd's hasty image drew— And on his shoulders, not a lamb, a kid.
MONICA'S LAST PRAYER
"Ah, could thy grave at home, at Carthage, be!" Care not for that, and lay me where I fall! Everywhere heard will be the judgment-call; But at God's altar, oh! remember me.
Thus Monica, and died in Italy. Yet fervent had her longing been, through all Her course, for home at last, and burial With her own husband, by the Libyan sea.
Had been! but at the end, to her pure soul All tie with all beside seem'd vain and cheap, And union before God the only care.
Creeds pass, rites change, no altar standeth whole. Yet we her memory, as she pray'd, will keep, Keep by this: Life in God, and union there!
Again I see my bliss at hand, The town, the lake are here; My Marguerite smiles upon the strand, Unalter'd with the year.
I know that graceful figure fair, That cheek of languid hue; I know that soft, enkerchief'd hair, And those sweet eyes of blue.
Again I spring to make my choice; Again in tones of ire I hear a God's tremendous voice: "Be counsell'd, and retire."
Ye guiding Powers who join and part, What would ye have with me? Ah, warn some more ambitious heart, And let the peaceful be!
Ye storm-winds of Autumn! Who rush by, who shake The window, and ruffle The gleam-lighted lake; Who cross to the hill-side Thin-sprinkled with farms, Where the high woods strip sadly Their yellowing arms— Ye are bound for the mountains! Ah! with you let me go Where your cold, distant barrier, The vast range of snow, Through the loose clouds lifts dimly Its white peaks in air— How deep is their stillness! Ah, would I were there!
But on the stairs what voice is this I hear, Buoyant as morning, and as morning clear? Say, has some wet bird-haunted English lawn Lent it the music of its trees at dawn? Or was it from some sun-fleck'd mountain-brook That the sweet voice its upland clearness took? Ah! it comes nearer— Sweet notes, this way!
Hark! fast by the window The rushing winds go, To the ice-cumber'd gorges, The vast seas of snow! There the torrents drive upward Their rock-strangled hum; There the avalanche thunders The hoarse torrent dumb. —I come, O ye mountains! Ye torrents, I come!
But who is this, by the half-open'd door, Whose figure casts a shadow on the floor? The sweet blue eyes—the soft, ash-colour'd hair— The cheeks that still their gentle paleness wear— The lovely lips, with their arch smile that tells The unconquer'd joy in which her spirit dwells— Ah! they bend nearer— Sweet lips, this way!
Hark! the wind rushes past us! Ah! with that let me go To the clear, waning hill-side, Unspotted by snow, There to watch, o'er the sunk vale, The frore mountain-wall, Where the niched snow-bed sprays down Its powdery fall. There its dusky blue clusters The aconite spreads; There the pines slope, the cloud-strips Hung soft in their heads. No life but, at moments, The mountain-bee's hum. —I come, O ye mountains! Ye pine-woods, I come!
Forgive me! forgive me! Ah, Marguerite, fain Would these arms reach to clasp thee! But see! 'tis in vain.
In the void air, towards thee, My stretch'd arms are cast; But a sea rolls between us— Our different past!
To the lips, ah! of others Those lips have been prest, And others, ere I was, Were strain'd to that breast;
Far, far from each other Our spirits have grown; And what heart knows another? Ah! who knows his own?
Blow, ye winds! lift me with you! I come to the wild. Fold closely, O Nature! Thine arms round thy child.
To thee only God granted A heart ever new— To all always open, To all always true.
Ah! calm me, restore me; And dry up my tears On thy high mountain-platforms, Where morn first appears;
Where the white mists, for ever, Are spread and upfurl'd— In the stir of the forces Whence issued the world.
3. A FAREWELL
My horse's feet beside the lake, Where sweet the unbroken moonbeams lay, Sent echoes through the night to wake Each glistening strand, each heath-fringed bay.
The poplar avenue was pass'd, And the roof'd bridge that spans the stream; Up the steep street I hurried fast, Led by thy taper's starlike beam.
I came! I saw thee rise!—the blood Pour'd flushing to thy languid cheek. Lock'd in each other's arms we stood, In tears, with hearts too full to speak.
Days flew;—ah, soon I could discern A trouble in thine alter'd air! Thy hand lay languidly in mine, Thy cheek was grave, thy speech grew rare.
I blame thee not!—this heart, I know, To be long loved was never framed; For something in its depths doth glow Too strange, too restless, too untamed.
And women—things that live and move Mined by the fever of the soul— They seek to find in those they love Stern strength, and promise of control.
They ask not kindness, gentle ways— These they themselves have tried and known; They ask a soul which never sways With the blind gusts that shake their own.
I too have felt the load I bore In a too strong emotion's sway; I too have wish'd, no woman more, This starting, feverish heart away.
I too have long'd for trenchant force, And will like a dividing spear; Have praised the keen, unscrupulous course, Which knows no doubt, which feels no fear.
But in the world I learnt, what there Thou too wilt surely one day prove, That will, that energy, though rare, Are yet far, far less rare than love.
Go, then!—till time and fate impress This truth on thee, be mine no more! They will!—for thou, I feel, not less Than I, wast destined to this lore.
We school our manners, act our parts— But He, who sees us through and through, Knows that the bent of both our hearts Was to be gentle, tranquil, true.
And though we wear out life, alas! Distracted as a homeless wind, In beating where we must not pass, In seeking what we shall not find;
Yet we shall one day gain, life past, Clear prospect o'er our being's whole; Shall see ourselves, and learn at last Our true affinities of soul.
We shall not then deny a course To every thought the mass ignore; We shall not then call hardness force, Nor lightness wisdom any more.
Then, in the eternal Father's smile, Our soothed, encouraged souls will dare To seem as free from pride and guile, As good, as generous, as they are.
Then we shall know our friends!—though much Will have been lost—the help in strife, The thousand sweet, still joys of such As hand in hand face earthly life—
Though these be lost, there will be yet A sympathy august and pure; Ennobled by a vast regret, And by contrition seal'd thrice sure.
And we, whose ways were unlike here, May then more neighbouring courses ply; May to each other be brought near, And greet across infinity.
How sweet, unreach'd by earthly jars, My sister! to maintain with thee The hush among the shining stars, The calm upon the moonlit sea!
How sweet to feel, on the boon air, All our unquiet pulses cease! To feel that nothing can impair The gentleness, the thirst for peace—
The gentleness too rudely hurl'd On this wild earth of hate and fear; The thirst for peace a raving world Would never let us satiate here.
4. ISOLATION. TO MARGUERITE
We were apart; yet, day by day, I bade my heart more constant be. I bade it keep the world away, And grow a home for only thee; Nor fear'd but thy love likewise grew, Like mine, each day, more tried, more true.
The fault was grave! I might have known, What far too soon, alas! I learn'd— The heart can bind itself alone, And faith may oft be unreturn'd. Self-sway'd our feelings ebb and swell— Thou lov'st no more;—Farewell! Farewell!
Farewell!—and thou, thou lonely heart, Which never yet without remorse Even for a moment didst depart From thy remote and sphered course To haunt the place where passions reign— Back to thy solitude again!
Back! with the conscious thrill of shame Which Luna felt, that summer-night, Flash through her pure immortal frame, When she forsook the starry height To hang over Endymion's sleep Upon the pine-grown Latmian steep.
Yet she, chaste queen, had never proved How vain a thing is mortal love, Wandering in Heaven, far removed. But thou hast long had place to prove This truth—to prove, and make thine own: "Thou hast been, shalt be, art, alone."
Or, if not quite alone, yet they Which touch thee are unmating things— Ocean and clouds and night and day; Lorn autumns and triumphant springs; And life, and others' joy and pain, And love, if love, of happier men.
Of happier men—for they, at least, Have dream'd two human hearts might blend In one, and were through faith released From isolation without end Prolong'd; nor knew, although not less Alone than thou, their loneliness.
5. TO MARGUERITE—CONTINUED
Yes! in the sea of life enisled, With echoing straits between us thrown, Dotting the shoreless watery wild, We mortal millions live alone. The islands feel the enclasping flow, And then their endless bounds they know.
But when the moon their hollows lights, And they are swept by balms of spring, And in their glens, on starry nights, The nightingales divinely sing; And lovely notes, from shore to shore, Across the sounds and channels pour—
Oh! then a longing like despair Is to their farthest caverns sent; For surely once, they feel, we were Parts of a single continent! Now round us spreads the watery plain— Oh might our marges meet again!
Who order'd, that their longing's fire Should be, as soon as kindled, cool'd? Who renders vain their deep desire?— God, a God their severance ruled! And bade betwixt their shores to be The unplumb'd, salt, estranging sea.
In this fair stranger's eyes of grey Thine eyes, my love! I see. I shiver; for the passing day Had borne me far from thee.
This is the curse of life! that not A nobler, calmer train Of wiser thoughts and feelings blot Our passions from our brain;
But each day brings its petty dust Our soon-choked souls to fill, And we forget because we must And not because we will.
I struggle towards the light; and ye, Once-long'd-for storms of love! If with the light ye cannot be, I bear that ye remove.
I struggle towards the light—but oh, While yet the night is chill, Upon time's barren, stormy flow, Stay with me, Marguerite, still!
7. THE TERRACE AT BERNE
(COMPOSED TEN YEARS AFTER THE PRECEDING)
Ten years!—and to my waking eye Once more the roofs of Berne appear; The rocky banks, the terrace high, The stream!—and do I linger here?
The clouds are on the Oberland, The Jungfrau snows look faint and far; But bright are those green fields at hand, And through those fields comes down the Aar,
And from the blue twin-lakes it comes, Flows by the town, the churchyard fair; And 'neath the garden-walk it hums, The house!—and is my Marguerite there?
Ah, shall I see thee, while a flush Of startled pleasure floods thy brow, Quick through the oleanders brush, And clap thy hands, and cry: 'Tis thou!
Or hast thou long since wander'd back, Daughter of France! to France, thy home; And flitted down the flowery track Where feet like thine too lightly come?
Doth riotous laughter now replace Thy smile; and rouge, with stony glare, Thy cheek's soft hue; and fluttering lace The kerchief that enwound thy hair?
Or is it over? art thou dead?— Dead!—and no warning shiver ran Across my heart, to say thy thread Of life was cut, and closed thy span!
Could from earth's ways that figure slight Be lost, and I not feel 'twas so? Of that fresh voice the gay delight Fail from earth's air, and I not know?
Or shall I find thee still, but changed, But not the Marguerite of thy prime? With all thy being re-arranged, Pass'd through the crucible of time;
With spirit vanish'd, beauty waned, And hardly yet a glance, a tone, A gesture—anything—retain'd Of all that was my Marguerite's own?
I will not know! For wherefore try, To things by mortal course that live, A shadowy durability, For which they were not meant, to give?
Like driftwood spars, which meet and pass Upon the boundless ocean-plain, So on the sea of life, alas! Man meets man—meets, and quits again.
I knew it when my life was young; I feel it still, now youth is o'er. —The mists are on the mountain hung, And Marguerite I shall see no more.
THE STRAYED REVELLER
THE PORTICO OF CIRCE'S PALACE. EVENING
A Youth. Circe
Faster, faster, O Circe, Goddess, Let the wild, thronging train, The bright procession Of eddying forms, Sweep through my soul!
Thou standest, smiling Down on me! thy right arm, Lean'd up against the column there, Props thy soft cheek; Thy left holds, hanging loosely, The deep cup, ivy-cinctured, I held but now.
Is it, then, evening So soon? I see, the night-dews, Cluster'd in thick beads, dim The agate brooch-stones On thy white shoulder; The cool night-wind, too, Blows through the portico, Stirs thy hair, Goddess, Waves thy white robe!
Whence art thou, sleeper?
When the white dawn first Through the rough fir-planks Of my hut, by the chestnuts, Up at the valley-head, Came breaking, Goddess! I sprang up, I threw round me My dappled fawn-skin; Passing out, from the wet turf, Where they lay, by the hut door, I snatch'd up my vine-crown, my fir-staff, All drench'd in dew— Came swift down to join The rout early gather'd In the town, round the temple, Iacchus' white fane On yonder hill.
Quick I pass'd, following The wood-cutters' cart-track Down the dark valley;—I saw On my left, through the beeches, Thy palace, Goddess, Smokeless, empty! Trembling, I enter'd; beheld The court all silent, The lions sleeping, On the altar this bowl. I drank, Goddess! And sank down here, sleeping, On the steps of thy portico.
Foolish boy! Why tremblest thou? Thou lovest it, then, my wine? Wouldst more of it? See, how glows, Through the delicate, flush'd marble, The red, creaming liquor, Strown with dark seeds! Drink, then! I chide thee not, Deny thee not my bowl. Come, stretch forth thy hand, then—so! Drink—drink again!
Thanks, gracious one! Ah, the sweet fumes again! More soft, ah me, More subtle-winding That Pan's flute-music! Faint—faint! Ah me, Again the sweet sleep!
Hist! Thou—within there! Come forth, Ulysses! Art tired with hunting? While we range the woodland, See what the day brings.
Ever new magic! Hast thou then lured hither, Wonderful Goddess, by thy art, The young, languid-eyed Ampelus, Iacchus' darling— Or some youth beloved of Pan, Of Pan and the Nymphs? That he sits, bending downward His white, delicate neck To the ivy-wreathed marge Of thy cup; the bright, glancing vine-leaves That crown his hair, Falling forward, mingling With the dark ivy-plants— His fawn-skin, half untied, Smear'd with red wine-stains? Who is he, That he sits, overweigh'd By fumes of wine and sleep, So late, in thy portico? What youth, Goddess,—what guest Of Gods or mortals?
Hist! he wakes! I lured him not hither, Ulysses. Nay, ask him!
Who speaks? Ah, who comes forth To thy side, Goddess, from within? How shall I name him? This spare, dark-featured, Quick-eyed stranger? Ah, and I see too His sailor's bonnet, His short coat, travel-tarnish'd, With one arm bare!— Art thou not he, whom fame This long time rumours The favour'd guest of Circe, brought by the waves? Art thou he, stranger? The wise Ulysses, Laertes' son?
I am Ulysses. And thou, too, sleeper? Thy voice is sweet. It may be thou hast follow'd Through the islands some divine bard, By age taught many things, Age and the Muses; And heard him delighting The chiefs and people In the banquet, and learn'd his songs, Of Gods and Heroes, Of war and arts, And peopled cities, Inland, or built By the grey sea.—If so, then hail! I honour and welcome thee.
The Gods are happy. They turn on all sides Their shining eyes, And see below them The earth and men.
They see Tiresias Sitting, staff in hand, On the warm, grassy Asopus bank, His robe drawn over His old, sightless head, Revolving inly The doom of Thebes.
They see the Centaurs In the upper glens Of Pelion, in the streams, Where red-berried ashes fringe The clear-brown shallow pools, With streaming flanks, and heads Rear'd proudly, snuffing The mountain wind.
They see the Indian Drifting, knife in hand, His frail boat moor'd to A floating isle thick-matted With large-leaved, low-creeping melon-plants, And the dark cucumber. He reaps, and stows them, Drifting—drifting;—round him, Round his green harvest-plot, Flow the cool lake-waves, The mountains ring them.
They see the Scythian On the wide stepp, unharnessing His wheel'd house at noon. He tethers his beast down, and makes his meal— Mares' milk, and bread Baked on the embers;—all around The boundless, waving grass-plains stretch, thick-starr'd With saffron and the yellow hollyhock And flag-leaved iris-flowers. Sitting in his cart He makes his meal; before him, for long miles, Alive with bright green lizards, And the springing bustard-fowl, The track, a straight black line, Furrows the rich soil; here and there Clusters of lonely mounds Topp'd with rough-hewn, Grey, rain-blear'd statues, overpeer The sunny waste.
They see the ferry On the broad, clay-laden Lone Chorasmian stream;—thereon, With snort and strain, Two horses, strongly swimming, tow The ferry-boat, with woven ropes To either bow Firm harness'd by the mane; a chief, With shout and shaken spear, Stands at the prow, and guides them; but astern The cowering merchants, in long robes, Sit pale beside their wealth Of silk-bales and of balsam-drops, Of gold and ivory, Of turquoise-earth and amethyst, Jasper and chalcedony, And milk-barr'd onyx-stones. The loaded boat swings groaning In the yellow eddies; The Gods behold them. They see the Heroes Sitting in the dark ship On the foamless, long-heaving Violet sea, At sunset nearing The Happy Islands.
These things, Ulysses, The wise bards also Behold and sing. But oh, what labour! O prince, what pain!
They too can see Tiresias;—but the Gods, Who give them vision, Added this law: That they should bear too His groping blindness, His dark foreboding, His scorn'd white hairs; Bear Hera's anger Through a life lengthen'd To seven ages.
They see the Centaurs On Pelion;—then they feel, They too, the maddening wine Swell their large veins to bursting; in wild pain They feel the biting spears Of the grim Lapithae, and Theseus, drive, Drive crashing through their bones; they feel High on a jutting rock in the red stream Alcmena's dreadful son Ply his bow;—such a price The Gods exact for song: To become what we sing.
They see the Indian On his mountain lake; but squalls Make their skiff reel, and worms In the unkind spring have gnawn Their melon-harvest to the heart.—They see The Scythian; but long frosts Parch them in winter-time on the bare stepp, Till they too fade like grass; they crawl Like shadows forth in spring.
They see the merchants On the Oxus stream;—but care Must visit first them too, and make them pale. Whether, through whirling sand, A cloud of desert robber-horse have burst Upon their caravan; or greedy kings, In the wall'd cities the way passes through, Crush'd them with tolls; or fever-airs, On some great river's marge, Mown them down, far from home.
They see the Heroes Near harbour;—but they share Their lives, and former violent toil in Thebes, Seven-gated Thebes, or Troy; Or where the echoing oars Of Argo first Startled the unknown sea.
The old Silenus Came, lolling in the sunshine, From the dewy forest-coverts, This way, at noon. Sitting by me, while his Fauns Down at the water-side Sprinkled and smoothed His drooping garland, He told me these things.
But I, Ulysses, Sitting on the warm steps, Looking over the valley, All day long, have seen, Without pain, without labour, Sometimes a wild-hair'd Maenad— Sometimes a Faun with torches— And sometimes, for a moment, Passing through the dark stems Flowing-robed, the beloved, The desired, the divine, Beloved Iacchus.
Ah, cool night-wind, tremulous stars! Ah, glimmering water, Fitful earth-murmur, Dreaming woods! Ah, golden-hair'd, strangely smiling Goddess, And thou, proved, much enduring, Wave-toss'd Wanderer! Who can stand still? Ye fade, ye swim, ye waver before me— The cup again!
Faster, faster, O Circe, Goddess, Let the wild, thronging train, The bright procession Of eddying forms, Sweep through my soul!
FRAGMENT OF AN "ANTIGONE"
Well hath he done who hath seized happiness! For little do the all-containing hours, Though opulent, freely give. Who, weighing that life well Fortune presents unpray'd, Declines her ministry, and carves his own; And, justice not infringed, Makes his own welfare his unswerved-from law.
He does well too, who keeps that clue the mild Birth-Goddess and the austere Fates first gave. For from the day when these Bring him, a weeping child, First to the light, and mark A country for him, kinsfolk, and a home, Unguided he remains, Till the Fates come again, this time with death.
In little companies, And, our own place once left, Ignorant where to stand, or whom to avoid, By city and household group'd, we live; and many shocks Our order heaven-ordain'd Must every day endure: Voyages, exiles, hates, dissensions, wars.
Besides what waste he makes, The all-hated, order-breaking, Without friend, city, or home, Death, who dissevers all.
Him then I praise, who dares To self-selected good Prefer obedience to the primal law, Which consecrates the ties of blood; for these, indeed, Are to the Gods a care; That touches but himself. For every day man may be link'd and loosed With strangers; but the bond Original, deep-inwound, Of blood, can he not bind, Nor, if Fate binds, not bear.
But hush! Haemon, whom Antigone, Robbing herself of life in burying, Against Creon's law, Polynices, Robs of a loved bride—pale, imploring, Waiting her passage, Forth from the palace hitherward comes.
No, no, old men, Creon, I curse not! I weep, Thebans, One than Creon crueller far! For he, he, at least, by slaying her, August laws doth mightily vindicate; But them, too-bold, headstrong, pitiless! Ah me!—honourest more than thy lover, O Antigone! A dead, ignorant, thankless corpse.
Nor was the love untrue Which the Dawn-Goddess bore To that fair youth she erst, Leaving the salt sea-beds And coming flush'd over the stormy frith Of loud Euripus, saw— Saw and snatch'd, wild with love, From the pine-dotted spurs Of Parnes, where thy waves, Asopus! gleam rock-hemm'd— The Hunter of the Tanagraean Field.
But him, in his sweet prime, By severance immature, By Artemis' soft shafts, She, though a Goddess born, Saw in the rocky isle of Delos die. Such end o'ertook that love. For she desired to make Immortal mortal man, And blend his happy life, Far from the Gods, with hers; To him postponing an eternal law.
But like me, she, wroth, complaining, Succumb'd to the envy of unkind Gods; And, her beautiful arms unclasping, Her fair youth unwillingly gave.
Nor, though enthroned too high To fear assault of envious Gods, His beloved Argive seer would Zeus retain From his appointed end
In this our Thebes; but when His flying steeds came near To cross the steep Ismenian glen, The broad earth open'd, and whelm'd them and him; And through the void air sang At large his enemy's spear.
And fain would Zeus have saved his tired son Beholding him where the Two Pillars stand O'er the sun-redden'd western straits, Or at his work in that dim lower world. Fain would he have recall'd The fraudulent oath which bound To a much feebler wight the heroic man.
But he preferr'd Fate to his strong desire. Nor did there need less than the burning pile Under the towering Trachis crags, And the Spercheios vale, shaken with groans, And the roused Maliac gulph, And scared OEtaean snows, To achieve his son's deliverance, O my child!
FRAGMENT OF CHORUS OF A "DEJANEIRA"
O frivolous mind of man, Light ignorance, and hurrying, unsure thoughts! Though man bewails you not, How I bewail you!
Little in your prosperity Do you seek counsel of the Gods. Proud, ignorant, self-adored, you live alone. In profound silence stern, Among their savage gorges and cold springs, Unvisited remain The great oracular shrines.
Thither in your adversity Do you betake yourselves for light, But strangely misinterpret all you hear. For you will not put on New hearts with the enquirer's holy robe, And purged, considerate minds.
And him on whom, at the end Of toil and dolour untold, The Gods have said that repose At last shall descend undisturb'd— Him you expect to behold In an easy old age, in a happy home; No end but this you praise.
But him, on whom, in the prime Of life, with vigour undimm'd, With unspent mind, and a soul Unworn, undebased, undecay'd, Mournfully grating, the gates Of the city of death have for ever closed— Him, I count him, well-starr'd.
EARLY DEATH AND FAME
For him who must see many years, I praise the life which slips away Out of the light and mutely; which avoids Fame, and her less fair followers, envy, strife, Stupid detraction, jealousy, cabal, Insincere praises; which descends The quiet mossy track to age.
But, when immature death Beckons too early the guest From the half-tried banquet of life, Young, in the bloom of his days; Leaves no leisure to press, Slow and surely, the sweets Of a tranquil life in the shade— Fuller for him be the hours! Give him emotion, though pain! Let him live, let him feel: I have lived. Heap up his moments with life! Triple his pulses with fame!
Hark! ah, the nightingale— The tawny-throated! Hark, from that moonlit cedar what a burst! What triumph! hark!—what pain!
O wanderer from a Grecian shore, Still, after many years, in distant lands, Still nourishing in thy bewilder'd brain That wild, unquench'd, deep-sunken, old-world pain— Say, will it never heal? And can this fragrant lawn With its cool trees, and night, And the sweet, tranquil Thames, And moonshine, and the dew, To thy rack'd heart and brain Afford no balm?
Dost thou to-night behold, Here, through the moonlight on this English grass, The unfriendly palace in the Thracian wild? Dost thou again peruse With hot cheeks and sear'd eyes The too clear web, and thy dumb sister's shame? Dost thou once more assay Thy flight, and feel come over thee, Poor fugitive, the feathery change Once more, and once more seem to make resound With love and hate, triumph and agony, Lone Daulis, and the high Cephissian vale? Listen, Eugenia— How thick the bursts come crowding through the leaves! Again—thou hearest? Eternal passion! Eternal pain!
I too have suffer'd; yet I know She is not cold, though she seems so. She is not cold, she is not light; But our ignoble souls lack might.
She smiles and smiles, and will not sigh, While we for hopeless passion die; Yet she could love, those eyes declare, Were but men nobler than they are.
Eagerly once her gracious ken Was turn'd upon the sons of men; But light the serious visage grew— She look'd, and smiled, and saw them through.
Our petty souls, our strutting wits, Our labour'd, puny passion-fits— Ah, may she scorn them still, till we Scorn them as bitterly as she!
Yet show her once, ye heavenly Powers, One of some worthier race than ours! One for whose sake she once might prove How deeply she who scorns can love.
His eyes be like the starry lights— His voice like sounds of summer nights— In all his lovely mien let pierce The magic of the universe!
And she to him will reach her hand, And gazing in his eyes will stand, And know her friend, and weep for glee, And cry: Long, long I've look'd for thee.
Then will she weep; with smiles, till then, Coldly she mocks the sons of men. Till then, her lovely eyes maintain Their pure, unwavering, deep disdain.
I must not say that thou wast true, Yet let me say that thou wast fair; And they, that lovely face who view, Why should they ask if truth be there?
Truth—what is truth? Two bleeding hearts, Wounded by men, by fortune tried, Outwearied with their lonely parts, Vow to beat henceforth side by side.
The world to them was stern and drear Their lot was but to weep and moan. Ah, let them keep their faith sincere, For neither could subsist alone!
But souls whom some benignant breath Hath charm'd at birth from gloom and care, These ask no love, these plight no faith, For they are happy as they are.
The world to them may homage make, And garlands for their forehead weave; And what the world can give, they take— But they bring more than they receive.
They shine upon the world! Their ears To one demand alone are coy; They will not give us love and tears, They bring us light and warmth and joy.
It was not love which heaved thy breast, Fair child!—it was the bliss within. Adieu! and say that one, at least, Was just to what he did not win.
A thousand knights have rein'd their steeds To watch this line of sand-hills run, Along the never-silent Strait, To Calais glittering in the sun; To look tow'rd Ardres' Golden Field Across this wide aerial plain, Which glows as if the Middle Age Were gorgeous upon earth again.
Oh, that to share this famous scene, I saw, upon the open sand, Thy lovely presence at my side, Thy shawl, thy look, thy smile, thy hand!
How exquisite thy voice would come, My darling, on this lonely air! How sweetly would the fresh sea-breeze Shake loose some band of soft brown hair!
Yet now my glance but once hath roved O'er Calais and its famous plain; To England's cliffs my gaze is turn'd, On the blue strait mine eyes I strain.
Thou comest! Yes! the vessel's cloud Hangs dark upon the rolling sea. Oh, that yon sea-bird's wings were mine, To win one instant's glimpse of thee!
I must not spring to grasp thy hand, To woo thy smile, to seek thine eye; But I may stand far off, and gaze, And watch thee pass unconscious by,
And spell thy looks, and guess thy thoughts, Mixt with the idlers on the pier.— Ah, might I always rest unseen, So I might have thee always near!
To-morrow hurry through the fields Of Flanders to the storied Rhine! To-night those soft-fringed eyes shall close Beneath one roof, my queen! with mine.
1. THE RIVER
Still glides the stream, slow drops the boat Under the rustling poplars' shade; Silent the swans beside us float— None speaks, none heeds; ah, turn thy head!
Let those arch eyes now softly shine, That mocking mouth grow sweetly bland; Ah, let them rest, those eyes, on mine! On mine let rest that lovely hand!
My pent-up tears oppress my brain, My heart is swoln with love unsaid. Ah, let me weep, and tell my pain, And on thy shoulder rest my head!
Before I die—before the soul, Which now is mine, must re-attain Immunity from my control, And wander round the world again;
Before this teased o'erlabour'd heart For ever leaves its vain employ, Dead to its deep habitual smart, And dead to hopes of future joy.
2. TOO LATE
Each on his own strict line we move, And some find death ere they find love; So far apart their lives are thrown From the twin soul which halves their own.
And sometimes, by still harder fate, The lovers meet, but meet too late. —Thy heart is mine!—True, true! ah, true! —Then, love, thy hand!—Ah no! adieu!
Stop!—not to me, at this bitter departing, Speak of the sure consolations of time! Fresh be the wound, still-renew'd be its smarting, So but thy image endure in its prime.
But, if the stedfast commandment of Nature Wills that remembrance should always decay— If the loved form and the deep-cherish'd feature Must, when unseen, from the soul fade away—
Me let no half-effaced memories cumber! Fled, fled at once, be all vestige of thee! Deep be the darkness and still be the slumber— Dead be the past and its phantoms to me!
Then, when we meet, and thy look strays toward me, Scanning my face and the changes wrought there: Who, let me say, is this stranger regards me, With the grey eyes, and the lovely brown hair?
4. ON THE RHINE
Vain is the effort to forget. Some day I shall be cold, I know, As is the eternal moonlit snow Of the high Alps, to which I go— But ah! not yet, not yet!
Vain is the agony of grief. 'Tis true, indeed, an iron knot Ties straitly up from mine thy lot, And were it snapt—thou lov'st me not! But is despair relief?
Awhile let me with thought have done. And as this brimm'd unwrinkled Rhine, And that far purple mountain-line, Lie sweetly in the look divine Of the slow-sinking sun;
So let me lie, and, calm as they, Let beam upon my inward view Those eyes of deep, soft, lucent hue— Eyes too expressive to be blue, Too lovely to be grey.
Ah, Quiet, all things feel thy balm! Those blue hills too, this river's flow, Were restless once, but long ago. Tamed is their turbulent youthful glow; Their joy is in their calm.
Come to me in my dreams, and then By day I shall be well again! For then the night will more than pay The hopeless longing of the day.
Come, as thou cam'st a thousand times, A messenger from radiant climes, And smile on thy new world, and be As kind to others as to me!
Or, as thou never cam'st in sooth, Come now, and let me dream it truth; And part my hair, and kiss my brow, And say: My love! why sufferest thou?
Come to me in my dreams, and then By day I shall be well again! For then the night will more than pay The hopeless longing of the day.
The thoughts that rain their steady glow Like stars on life's cold sea, Which others know, or say they know— They never shone for me.
Thoughts light, like gleams, my spirit's sky, But they will not remain. They light me once, they hurry by; And never come again.
Say, what blinds us, that we claim the glory Of possessing powers not our share? —Since man woke on earth, he knows his story, But, before we woke on earth, we were.
Long, long since, undower'd yet, our spirit Roam'd, ere birth, the treasuries of God; Saw the gifts, the powers it might inherit, Ask'd an outfit for its earthly road.
Then, as now, this tremulous, eager being Strain'd and long'd and grasp'd each gift it saw; Then, as now, a Power beyond our seeing Staved us back, and gave our choice the law.
Ah, whose hand that day through Heaven guided Man's new spirit, since it was not we? Ah, who sway'd our choice, and who decided What our gifts, and what our wants should be?
For, alas! he left us each retaining Shreds of gifts which he refused in full. Still these waste us with their hopeless straining, Still the attempt to use them proves them null.
And on earth we wander, groping, reeling; Powers stir in us, stir and disappear. Ah! and he, who placed our master-feeling, Fail'd to place that master-feeling clear.
We but dream we have our wish'd-for powers, Ends we seek we never shall attain. Ah! some power exists there, which is ours? Some end is there, we indeed may gain?
The sea is calm to-night. The tide is full, the moon lies fair Upon the straits;—on the French coast the light Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand, Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay. Come to the window, sweet is the night-air! Only, from the long line of spray Where the sea meets the moon-blanch'd land, Listen! you hear the grating roar Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling, At their return, up the high strand, Begin, and cease, and then again begin, With tremulous cadence slow, and bring The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago Heard it on the AEgaean, and it brought Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow Of human misery; we Find also in the sound a thought, Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
The Sea of Faith Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl'd. But now I only hear Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar, Retreating, to the breath Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true To one another! for the world, which seems To lie before us like a land of dreams, So various, so beautiful, so new, Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light, Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain; And we are here as on a darkling plain Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, Where ignorant armies clash by night.
What is it to grow old? Is it to lose the glory of the form, The lustre of the eye? Is it for beauty to forego her wreath? —Yes, but not this alone.
Is it to feel our strength— Not our bloom only, but our strength—decay? Is it to feel each limb Grow stiffer, every function less exact, Each nerve more loosely strung?
Yes, this, and more; but not Ah, 'tis not what in youth we dream'd 'twould be! 'Tis not to have our life Mellow'd and soften'd as with sunset-glow, A golden day's decline.
'Tis not to see the world As from a height, with rapt prophetic eyes, And heart profoundly stirr'd; And weep, and feel the fulness of the past, The years that are no more.
It is to spend long days And not once feel that we were ever young; It is to add, immured In the hot prison of the present, month To month with weary pain.
It is to suffer this, And feel but half, and feebly, what we feel. Deep in our hidden heart Festers the dull remembrance of a change, But no emotion—none.
It is—last stage of all— When we are frozen up within, and quite The phantom of ourselves, To hear the world applaud the hollow ghost Which blamed the living man.
THE PROGRESS OF POESY
Youth rambles on life's arid mount, And strikes the rock, and finds the vein, And brings the water from the fount, The fount which shall not flow again.
The man mature with labour chops For the bright stream a channel grand, And sees not that the sacred drops Ran off and vanish'd out of hand.
And then the old man totters nigh, And feebly rakes among the stones. The mount is mute, the channel dry; And down he lays his weary bones.
LINES WRITTEN FOR MISS STORY'S ALBUM
The armless Vatican Cupid Hangs down his beautiful head; For the priests have got him in prison, And Psyche long has been dead.
But see, his shaven oppressors Begin to quake and disband! And The Times, that bright Apollo, Proclaims salvation at hand.
"And what," cries Cupid, "will save us?" Says Apollo: "Modernise Rome! What inns! Your streets, too, how narrow! Too much of palace and dome!
"O learn of London, whose paupers Are not pushed out by the swells! Wide streets with fine double trottoirs; And then—the London hotels!"
The armless Vatican Cupid Hangs down his head as before. Through centuries past it has hung so, And will through centuries more.
"Man is blind because of sin, Revelation makes him sure; Without that, who looks within, Looks in vain, for all's obscure."
Nay, look closer into man! Tell me, can you find indeed Nothing sure, no moral plan Clear prescribed, without your creed?
"No, I nothing can perceive! Without that, all's dark for men. That, or nothing, I believe."— For God's sake, believe it then!
THE LAST WORD
Creep into thy narrow bed, Creep, and let no more be said! Vain thy onset! all stands fast. Thou thyself must break at last.
Let the long contention cease! Geese are swans, and swans are geese. Let them have it how they will! Thou art tired; best be still.
They out-talk'd thee, hiss'd thee, tore thee? Better men fared thus before thee; Fired their ringing shot and pass'd, Hotly charged—and sank at last.
Charge once more, then, and be dumb! Let the victors, when they come, When the forts of folly fall, Find thy body by the wall!
THE LORD'S MESSENGERS
Thus saith the Lord to his own:— "See ye the trouble below? Warfare of man from his birth! Too long let we them groan; Haste, arise ye, and go, Carry my peace upon earth!"
Gladly they rise at his call, Gladly obey his command, Gladly descend to the plain. —Ah! How few of them all, Those willing servants, shall stand In the Master's presence again!
Some in the tumult are lost; Baffled, bewilder'd, they stray. Some, as prisoners, draw breath. Some, unconquer'd, are cross'd (Not yet half through the day) By a pitiless arrow of Death.
Hardly, hardly shall one Come, with countenance bright, At the close of day, from the plain; His Master's errand well done, Safe through the smoke of the fight, Back to his Master again.
A NAMELESS EPITAPH
Ask not my name, O friend! That Being only, which hath known each man From the beginning, can Remember each unto the end.
THE NEW AGE
The evening comes, the fields are still. The tinkle of the thirsty rill, Unheard all day, ascends again; Deserted is the half-mown plain, Silent the swaths! the ringing wain, The mower's cry, the dog's alarms, All housed within the sleeping farms! The business of the day is done, The last-left haymaker is gone. And from the thyme upon the height, And from the elder-blossom white And pale dog-roses in the hedge, And from the mint-plant in the sedge, In puffs of balm the night-air blows The perfume which the day forgoes. And on the pure horizon far, See, pulsing with the first-born star, The liquid sky above the hill! The evening comes, the fields are still. Loitering and leaping, With saunter, with bounds— Flickering and circling In files and in rounds— Gaily their pine-staff green Tossing in air, Loose o'er their shoulders white Showering their hair— See! the wild Maenads Break from the wood, Youth and Iacchus Maddening their blood. See! through the quiet land Rioting they pass— Fling the fresh heaps about, Trample the grass. Tear from the rifled hedge Garlands, their prize; Fill with their sports the field, Fill with their cries.
Shepherd, what ails thee, then? Shepherd, why mute? Forth with thy joyous song! Forth with thy flute! Tempts not the revel blithe? Lure not their cries? Glow not their shoulders smooth? Melt not their eyes? Is not, on cheeks like those, Lovely the flush? —Ah, so the quiet was! So was the hush!
The epoch ends, the world is still, The age has talk'd and work'd its fill— The famous orators have shone, The famous poets sung and gone, The famous men of war have fought, The famous speculators thought, The famous players, sculptors, wrought, The famous painters fill'd their wall, The famous critics judged it all. The combatants are parted now— Uphung the spear, unbent the bow, The puissant crown'd, the weak laid low. And in the after-silence sweet, Now strifes are hush'd, our ears doth meet, Ascending pure, the bell-like fame Of this or that down-trodden name Delicate spirits, push'd away In the hot press of the noon-day. And o'er the plain, where the dead age Did its now silent warfare wage— O'er that wide plain, now wrapt in gloom, Where many a splendour finds its tomb, Many spent fames and fallen mights— The one or two immortal lights Rise slowly up into the sky To shine there everlastingly, Like stars over the bounding hill. The epoch ends, the world is still.
Thundering and bursting In torrents, in waves— Carolling and shouting Over tombs, amid graves— See! on the cumber'd plain Clearing a stage, Scattering the past about, Comes the new age. Bards make new poems, Thinkers new schools, Statesmen new systems, Critics new rules. All things begin again; Life is their prize; Earth with their deeds they fill, Fill with their cries.
Poet, what ails thee, then? Say, why so mute? Forth with thy praising voice! Forth with thy flute! Loiterer! why sittest thou Sunk in thy dream? Tempts not the bright new age? Shines not its stream? Look, ah, what genius, Art, science, wit! Soldiers like Caesar, Statesmen like Pitt! Sculptors like Phidias, Raphaels in shoals, Poets like Shakespeare— Beautiful souls! See, on their glowing cheeks Heavenly the flush! —Ah, so the silence was! So was the hush!
The world but feels the present's spell, The poet feels the past as well; Whatever men have done, might do, Whatever thought, might think it too.
TO LESSING'S LAOCOON
One morn as through Hyde Park we walk'd, My friend and I, by chance we talk'd Of Lessing's famed Laocooen; And after we awhile had gone In Lessing's track, and tried to see What painting is, what poetry— Diverging to another thought, "Ah," cries my friend, "but who hath taught Why music and the other arts Oftener perform aright their parts Than poetry? why she, than they, Fewer fine successes can display?
"For 'tis so, surely! Even in Greece, Where best the poet framed his piece, Even in that Phoebus-guarded ground Pausanias on his travels found Good poems, if he look'd, more rare (Though many) than good statues were— For these, in truth, were everywhere. Of bards full many a stroke divine In Dante's, Petrarch's, Tasso's line, The land of Ariosto show'd; And yet, e'en there, the canvas glow'd With triumphs, a yet ampler brood, Of Raphael and his brotherhood. And nobly perfect, in our day Of haste, half-work, and disarray, Profound yet touching, sweet yet strong, Hath risen Goethe's, Wordsworth's song; Yet even I (and none will bow Deeper to these) must needs allow, They yield us not, to soothe our pains, Such multitude of heavenly strains As from the kings of sound are blown, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn."
While thus my friend discoursed, we pass Out of the path, and take the grass. The grass had still the green of May, And still the unblacken'd elms were gay; The kine were resting in the shade, The flies a summer-murmur made. Bright was the morn and south the air; The soft-couch'd cattle were as fair As those which pastured by the sea, That old-world morn, in Sicily, When on the beach the Cyclops lay, And Galatea from the bay Mock'd her poor lovelorn giant's lay. "Behold," I said, "the painter's sphere! The limits of his art appear. The passing group, the summer-morn, The grass, the elms, that blossom'd thorn— Those cattle couch'd, or, as they rise, Their shining flanks, their liquid eyes— These, or much greater things, but caught Like these, and in one aspect brought! In outward semblance he must give A moment's life of things that live; Then let him choose his moment well, With power divine its story tell."
Still we walk'd on, in thoughtful mood, And now upon the bridge we stood. Full of sweet breathings was the air, Of sudden stirs and pauses fair. Down o'er the stately bridge the breeze Came rustling from the garden-trees And on the sparkling waters play'd; Light-plashing waves an answer made, And mimic boats their haven near'd. Beyond, the Abbey-towers appear'd, By mist and chimneys unconfined, Free to the sweep of light and wind; While through their earth-moor'd nave below Another breath of wind doth blow, Sound as of wandering breeze—but sound In laws by human artists bound. "The world of music!" I exclaim'd:— "This breeze that rustles by, that famed Abbey recall it! what a sphere Large and profound, hath genius here! The inspired musician what a range, What power of passion, wealth of change! Some source of feeling he must choose And its lock'd fount of beauty use, And through the stream of music tell Its else unutterable spell; To choose it rightly is his part, And press into its inmost heart.
"Miserere, Domine! The words are utter'd, and they flee. Deep is their penitential moan, Mighty their pathos, but 'tis gone. They have declared the spirit's sore Sore load, and words can do no more. Beethoven takes them then—those two Poor, bounded words—and makes them new; Infinite makes them, makes them young; Transplants them to another tongue, Where they can now, without constraint, Pour all the soul of their complaint, And roll adown a channel large The wealth divine they have in charge. Page after page of music turn, And still they live and still they burn, Eternal, passion-fraught, and free— Miserere, Domine!"
Onward we moved, and reach'd the Ride Where gaily flows the human tide. Afar, in rest the cattle lay; We heard, afar, faint music play; But agitated, brisk, and near, Men, with their stream of life, were here. Some hang upon the rails, and some On foot behind them go and come. This through the Ride upon his steed Goes slowly by, and this at speed. The young, the happy, and the fair, The old, the sad, the worn, were there; Some vacant, and some musing went, And some in talk and merriment. Nods, smiles, and greetings, and farewells! And now and then, perhaps, there swells A sigh, a tear—but in the throng All changes fast, and hies along. Hies, ah, from whence, what native ground? And to what goal, what ending, bound? "Behold, at last the poet's sphere! But who," I said, "suffices here?
"For, ah! so much he has to do; Be painter and musician too! The aspect of the moment show, The feeling of the moment know! The aspect not, I grant, express Clear as the painter's art can dress; The feeling not, I grant, explore So deep as the musician's lore— But clear as words can make revealing, And deep as words can follow feeling. But, ah! then comes his sorest spell Of toil—he must life's movement tell! The thread which binds it all in one, And not its separate parts alone. The movement he must tell of life, Its pain and pleasure, rest and strife; His eye must travel down, at full, The long, unpausing spectacle; With faithful unrelaxing force Attend it from its primal source, From change to change and year to year Attend it of its mid career, Attend it to the last repose And solemn silence of its close.
"The cattle rising from the grass His thought must follow where they pass; The penitent with anguish bow'd His thought must follow through the crowd. Yes! all this eddying, motley throng That sparkles in the sun along, Girl, statesman, merchant, soldier bold, Master and servant, young and old, Grave, gay, child, parent, husband, wife, He follows home, and lives their life.
"And many, many are the souls Life's movement fascinates, controls; It draws them on, they cannot save Their feet from its alluring wave; They cannot leave it, they must go With its unconquerable flow. But ah! how few, of all that try This mighty march, do aught but die! For ill-endow'd for such a way, Ill-stored in strength, in wits, are they. They faint, they stagger to and fro, And wandering from the stream they go; In pain, in terror, in distress, They see, all round, a wilderness. Sometimes a momentary gleam They catch of the mysterious stream; Sometimes, a second's space, their ear The murmur of its waves doth hear. That transient glimpse in song they say, But not as painter can pourtray— That transient sound in song they tell, But not, as the musician, well. And when at last their snatches cease, And they are silent and at peace, The stream of life's majestic whole Hath ne'er been mirror'd on their soul.
"Only a few the life-stream's shore With safe unwandering feet explore; Untired its movement bright attend, Follow its windings to the end. Then from its brimming waves their eye Drinks up delighted ecstasy, And its deep-toned, melodious voice For ever makes their ear rejoice. They speak! the happiness divine They feel, runs o'er in every line; Its spell is round them like a shower— It gives them pathos, gives them power. No painter yet hath such a way, Nor no musician made, as they, And gather'd on immortal knolls Such lovely flowers for cheering souls. Beethoven, Raphael, cannot reach The charm which Homer, Shakespeare, teach To these, to these, their thankful race Gives, then, the first, the fairest place; And brightest is their glory's sheen, For greatest hath their labour been."
PERSISTENCY OF POETRY
Though the Muse be gone away, Though she move not earth to-day, Souls, erewhile who caught her word, Ah! still harp on what they heard.
A CAUTION TO POETS
What poets feel not, when they make, A pleasure in creating, The world, in its turn, will not take Pleasure in contemplating.
THE YOUTH OF NATURE
Raised are the dripping oars, Silent the boat! the lake, Lovely and soft as a dream, Swims in the sheen of the moon. The mountains stand at its head Clear in the pure June-night, But the valleys are flooded with haze. Rydal and Fairfield are there; In the shadow Wordsworth lies dead. So it is, so it will be for aye. Nature is fresh as of old, Is lovely; a mortal is dead.
The spots which recall him survive, For he lent a new life to these hills. The Pillar still broods o'er the fields Which border Ennerdale Lake, And Egremont sleeps by the sea. The gleam of The Evening Star Twinkles on Grasmere no more, But ruin'd and solemn and grey The sheepfold of Michael survives; And, far to the south, the heath Still blows in the Quantock coombs, By the favourite waters of Ruth. These survive!—yet not without pain, Pain and dejection to-night, Can I feel that their poet is gone.
He grew old in an age he condemn'd. He look'd on the rushing decay Of the times which had shelter'd his youth Felt the dissolving throes Of a social order he loved; Outlived his brethren, his peers; And, like the Theban seer, Died in his enemies' day.
Cold bubbled the spring of Tilphusa, Copais lay bright in the moon, Helicon glass'd in the lake Its firs, and afar rose the peaks Of Parnassus, snowily clear; Thebes was behind him in flames, And the clang of arms in his ear, When his awe-struck captors led The Theban seer to the spring. Tiresias drank and died. Nor did reviving Thebes See such a prophet again.
Well may we mourn, when the head Of a sacred poet lies low In an age which can rear them no more! The complaining millions of men Darken in labour and pain; But he was a priest to us all Of the wonder and bloom of the world, Which we saw with his eyes, and were glad. He is dead, and the fruit-bearing day Of his race is past on the earth; And darkness returns to our eyes.
For, oh! is it you, is it you, Moonlight, and shadow, and lake, And mountains, that fill us with joy, Or the poet who sings you so well? Is it you, O beauty, O grace, O charm, O romance, that we feel, Or the voice which reveals what you are? Are ye, like daylight and sun, Shared and rejoiced in by all? Or are ye immersed in the mass Of matter, and hard to extract, Or sunk at the core of the world Too deep for the most to discern? Like stars in the deep of the sky, Which arise on the glass of the sage, But are lost when their watcher is gone.
"They are here"—I heard, as men heard In Mysian Ida the voice Of the Mighty Mother, or Crete, The murmur of Nature reply— "Loveliness, magic, and grace, They are here! they are set in the world, They abide; and the finest of souls Hath not been thrill'd by them all, Nor the dullest been dead to them quite. The poet who sings them may die, But they are immortal and live, For they are the life of the world. Will ye not learn it, and know, When ye mourn that a poet is dead, That the singer was less than his themes, Life, and emotion, and I?
"More than the singer are these. Weak is the tremor of pain That thrills in his mournfullest chord To that which once ran through his soul. Cold the elation of joy In his gladdest, airiest song, To that which of old in his youth Fill'd him and made him divine. Hardly his voice at its best Gives us a sense of the awe, The vastness, the grandeur, the gloom Of the unlit gulph of himself.
"Ye know not yourselves; and your bards— The clearest, the best, who have read Most in themselves—have beheld Less than they left unreveal'd. Ye express not yourselves;—can you make With marble, with colour, with word, What charm'd you in others re-live? Can thy pencil, O artist! restore The figure, the bloom of thy love, As she was in her morning of spring? Canst thou paint the ineffable smile Of her eyes as they rested on thine? Can the image of life have the glow, The motion of life itself?
"Yourselves and your fellows ye know not; and me, The mateless, the one, will ye know? Will ye scan me, and read me, and tell Of the thoughts that ferment in my breast, My longing, my sadness, my joy? Will ye claim for your great ones the gift To have render'd the gleam of my skies, To have echoed the moan of my seas, Utter'd the voice of my hills? When your great ones depart, will ye say: All things have suffer'd a loss, Nature is hid in their grave?
"Race after race, man after man, Have thought that my secret was theirs, Have dream'd that I lived but for them, That they were my glory and joy. —They are dust, they are changed, they are gone! I remain."
THE YOUTH OF MAN
We, O Nature, depart, Thou survivest us! this, This, I know, is the law. Yes! but more than this, Thou who seest us die Seest us change while we live; Seest our dreams, one by one, Seest our errors depart; Watchest us, Nature! throughout, Mild and inscrutably calm.
Well for us that we change! Well for us that the power Which in our morning-prime Saw the mistakes of our youth, Sweet, and forgiving, and good, Sees the contrition of age!
Behold, O Nature, this pair! See them to-night where they stand, Not with the halo of youth Crowning their brows with its light, Not with the sunshine of hope, Not with the rapture of spring, Which they had of old, when they stood Years ago at my side In this self-same garden, and said: "We are young, and the world is ours; Man, man is the king of the world! Fools that these mystics are Who prate of Nature! for she Hath neither beauty, nor warmth, Nor life, nor emotion, nor power. But man has a thousand gifts, And the generous dreamer invests The senseless world with them all. Nature is nothing; her charm Lives in our eyes which can paint, Lives in our hearts which can feel."
Thou, O Nature, wast mute, Mute as of old! days flew, Days and years; and Time With the ceaseless stroke of his wings Brush'd off the bloom from their soul. Clouded and dim grew their eye, Languid their heart—for youth Quicken'd its pulses no more. Slowly, within the walls Of an ever-narrowing world, They droop'd, they grew blind, they grew old. Thee and their youth in thee, Nature! they saw no more.
Murmur of living, Stir of existence, Soul of the world! Make, oh, make yourselves felt To the dying spirit of youth! Come, like the breath of the spring! Leave not a human soul To grow old in darkness and pain! Only the living can feel you, But leave us not while we live!
Here they stand to-night— Here, where this grey balustrade Crowns the still valley; behind Is the castled house, with its woods, Which shelter'd their childhood—the sun On its ivied windows; a scent From the grey-wall'd gardens, a breath Of the fragrant stock and the pink, Perfumes the evening air. Their children play on the lawns. They stand and listen; they hear The children's shouts, and at times, Faintly, the bark of a dog From a distant farm in the hills. Nothing besides! in front The wide, wide valley outspreads To the dim horizon, reposed In the twilight, and bathed in dew, Corn-field and hamlet and copse Darkening fast; but a light, Far off, a glory of day, Still plays on the city spires; And there in the dusk by the walls, With the grey mist marking its course Through the silent, flowery land, On, to the plains, to the sea, Floats the imperial stream.
Well I know what they feel! They gaze, and the evening wind Plays on their faces; they gaze— Airs from the Eden of youth Awake and stir in their soul; The past returns—they feel What they are, alas! what they were. They, not Nature, are changed. Well I know what they feel!
Hush, for tears Begin to steal to their eyes! Hush, for fruit Grows from such sorrow as theirs!
And they remember, With piercing, untold anguish, The proud boasting of their youth. And they feel how Nature was fair. And the mists of delusion, And the scales of habit, Fall away from their eyes; And they see, for a moment, Stretching out, like the desert In its weary, unprofitable length, Their faded, ignoble lives.
While the locks are yet brown on thy head, While the soul still looks through thine eyes, While the heart still pours The mantling blood to thy cheek, Sink, O youth, in thy soul! Yearn to the greatness of Nature; Rally the good in the depths of thyself!
Set where the upper streams of Simois flow Was the Palladium, high 'mid rock and wood; And Hector was in Ilium, far below, And fought, and saw it not—but there it stood!
It stood, and sun and moonshine rain'd their light On the pure columns of its glen-built hall. Backward and forward roll'd the waves of fight Round Troy—but while this stood, Troy could not fall.
So, in its lovely moonlight, lives the soul. Mountains surround it, and sweet virgin air; Cold plashing, past it, crystal waters roll; We visit it by moments, ah, too rare!
We shall renew the battle in the plain To-morrow;—red with blood will Xanthus be; Hector and Ajax will be there again, Helen will come upon the wall to see.
Then we shall rust in shade, or shine in strife, And fluctuate 'twixt blind hopes and blind despairs, And fancy that we put forth all our life, And never know how with the soul it fares.
Still doth the soul, from its lone fastness high, Upon our life a ruling effluence send. And when it fails, fight as we will, we die; And while it lasts, we cannot wholly end.
The Master stood upon the mount, and taught. He saw a fire in his disciples' eyes; "The old law," they cried, "is wholly come to nought, Behold the new world rise!"
"Was it," the Lord then said, "with scorn ye saw The old law observed by Scribes and Pharisees? I say unto you, see ye keep that law More faithfully than these!
"Too hasty heads for ordering worlds, alas! Think not that I to annul the law have will'd; No jot, no tittle from the law shall pass, Till all have been fulfill'd."
So Christ said eighteen hundred years ago. And what then shall be said to those to-day, Who cry aloud to lay the old world low To clear the new world's way?
"Religious fervours! ardour misapplied! Hence, hence," they cry, "ye do but keep man blind! But keep him self-immersed, preoccupied, And lame the active mind!"
Ah! from the old world let some one answer give: "Scorn ye this world, their tears, their inward cares? I say unto you, see that your souls live A deeper life than theirs!
"Say ye: 'The spirit of man has found new roads, And we must leave the old faiths, and walk therein'?— Leave then the Cross as ye have left carved gods, But guard the fire within!
"Bright else and fast the stream of life may roll, And no man may the other's hurt behold; Yet each will have one anguish—his own soul Which perishes of cold."
Here let that voice make end; then, let a strain, From a far lonelier distance, like the wind Be heard, floating through heaven, and fill again These men's profoundest mind:
"Children of men! the unseen Power, whose eye For ever doth accompany mankind, Hath look'd on no religion scornfully That men did ever find.
"Which has not taught weak wills how much they can? Which has not fall'n on the dry heart like rain? Which has not cried to sunk, self-weary man: Thou must be born again!
"Children of men! not that your age excel In pride of life the ages of your sires, But that ye think clear, feel deep, bear fruit well, The Friend of man desires."
Before man parted for this earthly strand, While yet upon the verge of heaven he stood, God put a heap of letters in his hand, And bade him make with them what word he could.
And man has turn'd them many times; made Greece, Rome, England, France;—yes, nor in vain essay'd Way after way, changes that never cease! The letters have combined, something was made.