* * * * *
Neath the bright sky cool grew the weary earth, And many a bud in that fair hour had birth Upon the garden bushes; in the west The sky got ready for the great sun's rest, And all was fresh and lovely; none the less Although those old men shared the happiness Of the bright eve, 'twas mixed with memories Of how they might in old times have been wise, Not casting by for very wilfulness What wealth might come their changing life to bless; Lulling their hearts to sleep, amid the cold Of bitter times, that so they might behold Some joy at last, e'en if it lingered long. That, wearing not their souls with grief and wrong, They still might watch the changing world go by, Content to live, content at last to die. Alas! if they had reached content at last It was perforce when all their strength was past; And after loss of many days once bright, With foolish hopes of unattained delight.
Across the gap made by our English hinds, Amidst the Roman's handiwork, behold Far off the long-roofed church; the shepherd binds The withy round the hurdles of his fold; Down in the foss the river fed of old, That through long lapse of time has grown to be The little grassy valley that you see.
Rest here awhile, not yet the eve is still, The bees are wandering yet, and you may hear The barley mowers on the trenched hill, The sheep-bells, and the restless changing weir, All little sounds made musical and clear Beneath the sky that burning August gives. While yet the thought of glorious Summer lives.
Ah, love! such happy days, such days as these, Must we still waste them, craving for the best, Like lovers o'er the painted images Of those who once their yearning hearts have blessed? Have we been happy on our day of rest? Thine eyes say "yes,"—but if it came again, Perchance its ending would not seem so vain.
* * * * *
Now came fulfilment of the year's desire, The tall wheat, coloured by the August fire Grew heavy-headed, dreading its decay, And blacker grew the elm-trees day by day. About the edges of the yellow corn, And o'er the gardens grown somewhat outworn The bees went hurrying to fill up their store; The apple-boughs bent over more and more; With peach and apricot the garden wall, Was odorous, and the pears began to fall From off the high tree with each freshening breeze. So in a house bordered about with trees, A little raised above the waving gold The Wanderers heard this marvellous story told, While 'twixt the gleaming flasks of ancient wine, They watched the reapers' slow advancing line.
PYGMALION AND THE IMAGE.
A man of Cyprus, a sculptor named Pygmalion, made an image of a woman, fairer than any that had yet been seen, and in the end came to love his own handiwork as though it had been alive: wherefore, praying to Venus for help, he obtained his end, for she made the image alive indeed, and a woman, and Pygmalion wedded her.
At Amathus, that from the southern side Of Cyprus, looks across the Syrian sea, There did in ancient time a man abide Known to the island-dwellers, for that he Had wrought most godlike works in imagery, And day by day still greater honour won, Which man our old books call Pygmalion.
Yet in the praise of men small joy he had, But walked abroad with downcast brooding face. Nor yet by any damsel was made glad; For, sooth to say, the women of that place Must seem to all men an accursed race, Who with the Turner of all Hearts once strove And now their hearts must carry lust for love.
Upon a day it chanced that he had been About the streets, and on the crowded quays, Rich with unopened wealth of bales, had seen The dark-eyed merchants of the southern seas In chaffer with the base Propoetides, And heavy-hearted gat him home again, His once-loved life grown idle, poor, and vain.
And there upon his images he cast His weary eyes, yet little noted them, As still from name to name his swift thought passed. For what to him was Juno's well-wrought hem, Diana's shaft, or Pallas' olive-stem? What help could Hermes' rod unto him give, Until with shadowy things he came to live?
Yet note, that though, while looking on the sun, The craftsman o'er his work some morn of spring May chide his useless labour never done, For all his murmurs, with no other thing He soothes his heart, and dulls thought's poisonous sting, And thus in thought's despite the world goes on; And so it was with this Pygmalion.
Unto the chisel must he set his hand, And slowly, still in troubled thought must pace, About a work begun, that there doth stand, And still returning to the self-same place, Unto the image now must set his face, And with a sigh his wonted toil begin, Half-loathed, half-loved, a little rest to win.
The lessening marble that he worked upon, A woman's form now imaged doubtfully, And in such guise the work had he begun, Because when he the untouched block did see In wandering veins that form there seemed to be, Whereon he cried out in a careless mood, "O lady Venus, make this presage good!
"And then this block of stone shall be thy maid, And, not without rich golden ornament, Shall bide within thy quivering myrtle-shade." So spoke he, but the goddess, well content, Unto his hand such godlike mastery sent, That like the first artificer he wrought, Who made the gift that woe to all men brought.
And yet, but such as he was wont to do, At first indeed that work divine he deemed, And as the white chips from the chisel flew Of other matters languidly he dreamed, For easy to his hand that labour seemed, And he was stirred with many a troubling thought, And many a doubt perplexed him as he wrought.
And yet, again, at last there came a day When smoother and more shapely grew the stone And he, grown eager, put all thought away But that which touched his craftsmanship alone, And he would gaze at what his hands had done, Until his heart with boundless joy would swell That all was wrought so wonderfully well.
Yet long it was ere he was satisfied, And with the pride that by his mastery This thing was done, whose equal far and wide In no town of the world a man could see, Came burning longing that the work should be E'en better still, and to his heart there came A strange and strong desire he could not name.
The night seemed long, and long the twilight seemed, A vain thing seemed his flowery garden fair; Though through the night still of his work he dreamed, And though his smooth-stemmed trees so nigh it were, That thence he could behold the marble hair; Nought was enough, until with steel in hand He came before the wondrous stone to stand.
No song could charm him, and no histories Of men's misdoings could avail him now, Nay, scarcely seaward had he turned his eyes, If men had said, "The fierce Tyrrhenians row Up through the bay, rise up and strike a blow For life and goods;" for nought to him seemed dear But to his well-loved work to be anear.
Then vexed he grew, and knowing not his heart, Unto himself he said, "Ah, what is this, That I who oft was happy to depart, And wander where the boughs each other kiss 'Neath the west wind, now have no other bliss But in vain smoothing of this marble maid, Whose chips this month a drachma had outweighed?
"Lo I will get me to the woods and try If I my woodcraft have forgotten quite, And then, returning, lay this folly by, And eat my fill, and sleep my sleep anight, And 'gin to carve a Hercules aright Upon the morrow, and perchance indeed The Theban will be good to me at need."
With that he took his quiver and his bow, And through the gates of Amathus he went, And toward the mountain slopes began to go, Within the woods to work out his intent. Fair was the day, the honied beanfield's scent The west wind bore unto him, o'er the way The glittering noisy poplar leaves did play.
All things were moving; as his hurried feet Passed by, within the flowery swathe he heard The sweeping of the scythe, the swallow fleet Rose over him, the sitting partridge stirred On the field's edge; the brown bee by him whirred, Or murmured in the clover flowers below. But he with bowed-down head failed not to go.
At last he stopped, and, looking round, he said, "Like one whose thirtieth year is well gone by, The day is getting ready to be dead; No rest, and on the border of the sky Already the great banks of dark haze lie; No rest—what do I midst this stir and noise? What part have I in these unthinking joys?"
With that he turned, and toward the city-gate Through the sweet fields went swifter than he came, And cast his heart into the hands of fate; Nor strove with it, when higher 'gan to flame That strange and strong desire without a name; Till panting, thinking of nought else, once more His hand was on the latch of his own door.
One moment there he lingered, as he said, "Alas! what should I do if she were gone?" But even with that word his brow waxed red To hear his own lips name a thing of stone, As though the gods some marvel there had done, And made his work alive; and therewithal In turn great pallor on his face did fall.
But with a sigh he passed into the house, Yet even then his chamber-door must hold, And listen there, half blind and timorous, Until his heart should wax a little bold; Then entering, motionless and white and cold, He saw the image stand amidst the floor All whitened now by labour done before.
Blinded with tears, his chisel up he caught, And, drawing near, and sighing, tenderly Upon the marvel of the face he wrought, E'en as he used to pass the long days by; But his sighs changed to sobbing presently, And on the floor the useless steel he flung, And, weeping loud, about the image clung.
"Alas!" he cried, "why have I made thee then, That thus thou mockest me? I know indeed That many such as thou are loved of men, Whose passionate eyes poor wretches still will lead Into their net, and smile to see them bleed; But these the god's made, and this hand made thee Who wilt not speak one little word to me."
Then from the image did he draw aback To gaze on it through tears: and you had said, Regarding it, that little did it lack To be a living and most lovely maid; Naked it was, its unbound locks were laid Over the lovely shoulders; with one hand Reached out, as to a lover, did it stand,
The other held a fair rose over-blown; No smile was on the parted lips, the eyes Seemed as if even now great love had shown Unto them, something of its sweet surprise, Yet saddened them with half-seen mysteries, And still midst passion maiden-like she seemed, As though of love unchanged for aye she dreamed.
Reproachfully beholding all her grace, Pygmalion stood, until he grew dry-eyed, And then at last he turned away his face As if from her cold eyes his grief to hide; And thus a weary while did he abide, With nothing in his heart but vain desire, The ever-burning, unconsuming fire.
But when again he turned his visage round His eyes were brighter and no more he wept, As if some little solace he had found, Although his folly none the more had slept, Rather some new-born god-sent madness kept His other madness from destroying him, And made the hope of death wax faint and dim;
For, trembling and ashamed, from out the street Strong men he called, and faint with jealousy He caused them bear the ponderous, moveless feet Unto the chamber where he used to lie, So in a fair niche to his bed anigh, Unwitting of his woe, they set it down, Then went their ways beneath his troubled frown.
Then to his treasury he went, and sought Fair gems for its adornment, but all there Seemed to his eager eyes but poor and nought, Not worthy e'en to touch her rippled hair. So he, departing, through the streets 'gan fare, And from the merchants at a mighty cost Bought gems that kings for no good deed had lost.
These then he hung her senseless neck around, Set on her fingers, and fair arms of stone, Then cast himself before her on the ground, Praying for grace for all that he had done In leaving her untended and alone; And still with every hour his madness grew Though all his folly in his heart he knew.
At last asleep before her feet he lay, Worn out with passion, yet this burning pain Returned on him, when with the light of day He woke and wept before her feet again; Then of the fresh and new-born morning fain, Into his garden passed, and therefrom bore New spoil of flowers his love to lay before.
A little altar, with fine gold o'erlaid, Was in his house, that he a while ago At some great man's command had deftly made, And this he now must take and set below Her well-wrought feet, and there must red flame glow About sweet wood, and he must send her thence The odour of Arabian frankincense.
Then as the smoke went up, he prayed and said, "Thou, image, hear'st me not, nor wilt thou speak, But I perchance shall know when I am dead, If this has been some goddess' sport, to seek A wretch, and in his heart infirm and weak To set her glorious image, so that he, Loving the form of immortality,
"May make much laughter for the gods above: Hear me, and if my love misliketh thee Then take my life away, for I will love Till death unfeared at last shall come to me, And give me rest, if he of might may be To slay the love of that which cannot die, The heavenly beauty that can ne'er pass by."
No word indeed the moveless image said, But with the sweet grave eyes his hands had wrought Still gazed down on his bowed imploring head, Yet his own words some solace to him brought, Gilding the net wherein his soul was caught With something like to hope, and all that day Some tender words he ever found to say;
And still he felt as something heard him speak; Sometimes he praised her beauty, and sometimes Reproached her in a feeble voice and weak, And at the last drew forth a book of rhymes, Wherein were writ the tales of many climes, And read aloud the sweetness hid therein Of lovers' sorrows and their tangled sin.
And when the sun went down, the frankincense Again upon the altar-flame he cast That through the open window floating thence O'er the fresh odours of the garden passed; And so another day was gone at last, And he no more his love-lorn watch could keep, But now for utter weariness must sleep.
But in the night he dreamed that she was gone, And knowing that he dreamed, tried hard to wake And could not, but forsaken and alone He seemed to weep as though his heart would break, And when the night her sleepy veil did take From off the world, waking, his tears he found Still wet upon the pillow all around.
Then at the first, bewildered by those tears, He fell a-wondering wherefore he had wept, But suddenly remembering all his fears, Panting with terror, from the bed he leapt, But still its wonted place the image kept, Nor moved for all the joyful ecstasy Wherewith he blessed the day that showed it nigh.
Then came the morning offering and the day, Midst flowers and words of love and kisses sweet From morn, through noon, to evening passed away, And scarce unhappy, crouching at her feet He saw the sun descend the sea to meet; And scarce unhappy through the darkness crept Unto his bed, and midst soft dreaming slept.
* * * * *
But the next morn, e'en while the incense-smoke At sun-rising curled round about her head, Sweet sound of songs the wonted quiet broke Down in the street, and he by something led, He knew not what, must leave his prayer unsaid, And through the freshness of the morn must see The folk who went with that sweet minstrelsy;
Damsels and youths in wonderful attire, And in their midst upon a car of gold An image of the Mother of Desire, Wrought by his hands in days that seemed grown old Though those sweet limbs a garment did enfold, Coloured like flame, enwrought with precious things, Most fit to be the prize of striving kings.
Then he remembered that the manner was That fair-clad priests the lovely Queen should take Thrice in the year, and through the city pass, And with sweet songs the dreaming folk awake; And through the clouds a light there seemed to break When he remembered all the tales well told About her glorious kindly deeds of old.
So his unfinished prayer he finished not, But, kneeling, once more kissed the marble feet, And, while his heart with many thoughts waxed hot, He clad himself with fresh attire and meet For that bright service, and with blossoms sweet Entwined with tender leaves he crowned his head, And followed after as the goddess led.
But long and vain unto him seemed the way Until they came unto her house again; Long years, the while they went about to lay The honey-hiding dwellers on the plain, The sweet companions of the yellowing grain Upon her golden altar; long and long Before, at end of their delicious song,
They stripped her of her weed with reverend hands And showed the ivory limbs his hand had wrought; Yea, and too long e'en then ere those fair bands, Dispersing here and there, the shadow sought Of Indian spice-trees o'er the warm sea brought And toward the splashing of the fountain turned, Mocked the noon sun that o'er the cloisters burned.
But when the crowd of worshippers was gone And through the golden dimness of the place The goddess' very servants paced alone, Or some lone damsel murmured of her case Apart from prying eyes, he turned his face Unto that image made with toil and care, In days when unto him it seemed most fair.
Dusky and dim, though rich with gems and gold, The house of Venus was; high in the dome The burning sun-light you could now behold, From nowhere else the light of day might come, To shame the Shame-faced Mother's lovely home; A long way off the shrine, the fresh sea-breeze, Now just arising, brushed the myrtle-trees.
The torches of the flower-crowned, singing band Erewhile, indeed, made more than daylight there, Lighting the painted tales of many a land, And carven heroes, with their unused glare; But now a few soft, glimmering lamps there were And on the altar a thin, flickering flame Just showed the golden letters of her name.
Blue in the dome yet hung the incense-cloud, And still its perfume lingered all around; And, trodden by the light-foot, fervent crowd, Thick lay the summer flowers upon the ground, And now from far-off halls uprose the sound Of Lydian music, and the dancer's cry, As though some door were opened suddenly.
So there he stood, some help from her to gain, Bewildered by that twilight midst of day; Downcast with listening to the joyous strain He had no part in, hopeless with delay Of all the fair things he had meant to say; Yet, as the incense on the flame he cast, From stammering lips and pale these words there passed,—
"O thou forgotten help, dost thou yet know What thing it is I need, when even I, Bent down before thee in this shame and woe, Can frame no set of words to tell thee why I needs must pray, O help me or I die! Or slay me, and in slaying take from me Even a dead man's feeble memory.
"Say not thine help I have been slow to seek; Here have I been from the first hour of morn, Who stand before thy presence faint and weak, Of my one poor delight left all forlorn; Trembling with many fears, the hope outworn I had when first I left my love, my shame, To call upon thine oft-sung glorious name."
He stopped to catch his breath, for as a sob Did each word leave his mouth; but suddenly, Like a live thing, the thin flame 'gan to throb And gather force, and then shot up on high A steady spike of light, that drew anigh The sunbeam in the dome, then sank once more Into a feeble flicker as before.
But at that sight the nameless hope he had That kept him living midst unhappiness, Stirred in his breast, and with changed face and glad Unto the image forward must he press With words of praise his first word to redress, But then it was as though a thick black cloud Altar, and fire, and ivory limbs did shroud.
He staggered back, amazed and full of awe, But when, with anxious eyes, he gazed around, About him still the worshippers he saw Sunk in their wonted works, with no surprise At what to him seemed awful mysteries; Therewith he sighed and said, "This, too, I dream, No better day upon my life shall beam."
And yet for long upon the place he gazed Where other folk beheld the lovely Queen; And while he looked the dusky veil seemed raised, And every thing was as it erst had been; And then he said, "Such marvels I have seen As some sick man may see from off his bed: Ah, I am sick, and would that I were dead!"
Therewith, not questioning his heart at all, He turned away and left the holy place, When now the wide sun reddened towards his fall, And a fresh west wind held the clouds in chase; But coming out, at first he hid his face Dazed with the light, and in the porch he stood, Nor wished to move, or change his dreary mood.
Yet in a while the freshness of the eve Pierced to his weary heart, and with a sigh He raised his head, and slowly 'gan to leave The high carved pillars; and so presently Had passed the grove of whispering myrtles by, And, mid the many noises of the street, Made himself brave the eyes of men to meet.
Thronged were the ways with folk in gay attire, Nursing the end of that festivity; Girls fit to move the moody man's desire Brushed past him, and soft dainty minstrelsy He heard amid the laughter, and might see, Through open doors, the garden's green delight, Where pensive lovers waited for the night;
Or resting dancers round the fountain drawn, With faces flushed unto the breeze turned round, Or wandering o'er the fragrant trodden lawn, Took up their fallen garlands from the ground, Or languidly their scattered tresses bound, Or let their gathered raiment fall adown, With eyes downcast beneath their lovers' frown.
What hope Pygmalion yet might have, when he First left the pillars of the dreamy place, Amid such sights had vanished utterly. He turned his weary eyes from face to face, Nor noted them, as at a lagging pace He gat towards home, and still was murmuring, "Ah life, sweet life! the only godlike thing!"
And as he went, though longing to be there Whereas his sole desire awaited him, Yet did he loath to see the image fair, White and unchanged of face, unmoved of limb, And to his heart came dreamy thoughts and dim That unto some strange region he might come, Nor ever reach again his loveless home.
Yet soon, indeed, before his door he stood, And, as a man awaking from a dream, Seemed waked from his old folly; nought seemed good In all the things that he before had deemed At least worth life, and on his heart there streamed Cold light of day—he found himself alone, Reft of desire, all love and madness gone.
And yet for that past folly must he weep, As one might mourn the parted happiness That, mixed with madness, made him smile in sleep; And still some lingering sweetness seemed to bless The hard life left of toil and loneliness, Like a past song too sweet, too short, and yet Emmeshed for ever in the memory's net.
Weeping he entered, murmuring, "O fair Queen, I thank thee that my prayer was not for nought, Truly a present helper hast thou been To those who faithfully thy throne have sought! Yet, since with pain deliverance I have bought, Hast thou not yet some gift in store for me, That I thine happy slave henceforth may be?"
* * * * *
Thus to his chamber at the last he came, And, pushing through the still half-opened door, He stood within; but there, for very shame Of all the things that he had done before, Still kept his eyes bent down upon the floor, Thinking of all that he had done and said Since he had wrought that luckless marble maid.
Yet soft his thoughts were, and the very place Seemed perfumed with some nameless heavenly air So gaining courage, did he raise his face Unto the work his hands had made so fair, And cried aloud to see the niche all bare Of that sweet form, while through his heart again There shot a pang of his old yearning pain.
Yet while he stood, and knew not what to do With yearning, a strange thrill of hope there came, A shaft of new desire now pierced him through, And therewithal a soft voice called his name, And when he turned, with eager eyes aflame, He saw betwixt him and the setting sun The lively image of his loved one.
He trembled at the sight, for though her eyes, Her very lips, were such as he had made, And though her tresses fell but in such guise As he had wrought them, now was she arrayed In that fair garment that the priests had laid Upon the goddess on that very morn, Dyed like the setting sun upon the corn.
Speechless he stood, but she now drew anear, Simple and sweet as she was wont to be, And all at once her silver voice rang clear, Filling his soul with great felicity, And thus she spoke, "Pygmalion, come to me, O dear companion of my new-found life, For I am called thy lover and thy wife.
"Listen, these words the Dread One bade me say That was with me e'en now, Pygmalion, My new-made soul I give to thee to-day, Come, feel the sweet breath that thy prayer has won, And lay thine hand this heaving breast upon! Come love, and walk with me between the trees, And feel the freshness of the evening breeze.
"Sweep mine hair round thy neck; behold my feet, The oft-kissed feet thou thoughtst should never move, Press down the daisies! draw me to thee, sweet, And feel the warm heart of thy living love Beat against thine, and bless the Seed of Jove Whose loving tender heart hath wrought all this, And wrapped us both in such a cloud of bliss.
"Ah, thou art wise to know what this may mean! Sweet seem the words to me, and needs must I Speak all the lesson of the lovely Queen: But this I know, I would we were more nigh, I have not heard thy voice but in the cry Thou utteredst then, when thou believedst gone The marvel of thine hands, the maid of stone."
She reached her hand to him, and with kind eyes Gazed into his; but he the fingers caught And drew her to him, and midst ecstasies Passing all words, yea, well-nigh passing thought, Felt that sweet breath that he so long had sought, Felt the warm life within her heaving breast As in his arms his living love he pressed.
But as his cheek touched hers he heard her say, "Wilt thou not speak, O love? why dost thou weep? Art thou then sorry for this long-wished day, Or dost thou think perchance thou wilt not keep This that thou holdest, but in dreamy sleep? Nay, let us do the bidding of the Queen, And hand in hand walk through thy garden green;
"Then shalt thou tell me, still beholding me, Full many things whereof I wish to know, And as we walk from whispering tree to tree Still more familiar to thee shall I grow, And such things shalt thou say unto me now As when thou deemedst thou wast quite alone, A madman, kneeling to a thing of stone."
But at that word a smile lit up his eyes And therewithal he spake some loving word, And she at first looked up in grave surprise When his deep voice and musical she heard, And clung to him as grown somewhat afeard; Then cried aloud and said, "O mighty one! What joy with thee to look upon the sun."
Then into that fair garden did they pass And all the story of his love he told, And as the twain went o'er the dewy grass, Beneath the risen moon could he behold The bright tears trickling down, then, waxen bold, He stopped and said, "Ah, love, what meaneth this? Seest thou how tears still follow earthly bliss?"
Then both her white arms round his neck she threw And sobbing said, "O love, what hurteth me? When first the sweetness of my life I knew, Not this I felt, but when I first saw thee A little pain and great felicity Rose up within me, and thy talk e'en now Made pain and pleasure ever greater grow?"
"O sweet," he said, "this thing is even love, Whereof I told thee; that all wise men fear, But yet escape not; nay, to gods above, Unless the old tales lie, it draweth near. But let my happy ears I pray thee hear Thy story too, and how thy blessed birth Has made a heaven of this once lonely earth."
"My sweet," she said, "as yet I am not wise, Or stored with words, aright the tale to tell, But listen: when I opened first mine eyes I stood within the niche thou knowest well, And from mine hand a heavy thing there fell Carved like these flowers, nor could I see things clear, And but a strange confused noise could hear.
"At last mine eyes could see a woman fair, But awful as this round white moon o'erhead. So that I trembled when I saw her there, For with my life was born some touch of dread, And therewithal I heard her voice that said, 'Come down, and learn to love and be alive, For thee, a well-prized gift, to-day I give.'
"Then on the floor I stepped, rejoicing much, Not knowing why, not knowing aught at all, Till she reached out her hand my breast to touch, And when her fingers thereupon did fall, Thought came unto my life, and therewithal I knew her for a goddess, and began To murmur in some tongue unknown to man.
"And then indeed not in this guise was I, No sandals had I, and no saffron gown, But naked as thou knowest utterly, E'en as my limbs beneath thine hand had grown, And this fair perfumed robe then fell adown Over the goddess' feet and swept the ground, And round her loins a glittering belt was bound.
"But when the stammering of my tongue she heard Upon my trembling lips her hand she laid, And spoke again, 'Nay, say not any word, All that thine heart would say I know unsaid, Who even now thine heart and voice have made; But listen rather, for thou knowest now What these words mean, and still wilt wiser grow.
"'Thy body, lifeless till I gave it life, A certain man, my servant, well hath wrought I give thee to him as his love and wife, With all thy dowry of desire and thought, Since this his yearning heart hath ever sought; Now from my temple is he on the way, Deeming to find thee e'en as yesterday;
"'Bide thou his coming by the bed-head there, And when thou seest him set his eyes upon Thine empty niche, and hear'st him cry for care, Then call him by his name, Pygmalion, And certainly thy lover hast thou won; But when he stands before thee silently, Say all these words that I shall teach to thee.'
"With that she said what first I told thee, love And then went on, 'Moreover thou shalt say That I, the daughter of almighty Jove, Have wrought for him this long-desired day; In sign whereof, these things that pass away, Wherein mine image men have well arrayed, I give thee for thy wedding gear, O maid.'
"Therewith her raiment she put off from her. And laid bare all her perfect loveliness, And, smiling on me, came yet more anear, And on my mortal lips her lips did press, And said, 'Now herewith shalt thou love no less Than Psyche loved my son in days of old; Farewell, of thee shall many a tale be told.'
"And even with that last word was she gone, How, I know not, and I my limbs arrayed In her fair gift, and waited thee alone— Ah, love, indeed the word is true she said, For now I love thee so, I grow afraid Of what the gods upon our heads may send— I love thee so, I think upon the end."
What words he said? How can I tell again What words they said beneath the glimmering light, Some tongue they used unknown to loveless men As each to each they told their great delight, Until for stillness of the growing night Their soft sweet murmuring words seemed growing loud And dim the moon grew, hid by fleecy cloud.
* * * * *
Such was the ending of his ancient rhyme, That seemed to fit that soft and golden time, When men were happy, they could scarce tell why, Although they felt the rich year slipping by. The sun went down, the harvest-moon arose, And 'twixt the slim trees of that fruitful close They saw the corn still falling 'neath its light, While through the soft air of the windless night The voices of the reapers' mates rang clear In measured song, as of the fruitful year They told, and its delights, and now and then The rougher voices of the toiling men Joined in the song, as one by one released From that hard toil, they sauntered towards the feast That waited them upon the strip of grass That through the golden-glimmering sea did pass. But those old men, glad to have lived so long, Sat listening through the twilight to the song, And when the night grew and all things were still Throughout the wide vale from green hill to hill Unto a happy harvesting they drank Till once more o'er the hills the white moon sank.
* * * * *
August had not gone by, though now was stored In the sweet-smelling granaries all the hoard Of golden corn; the land had made her gain, And winter should howl round her doors in vain. But o'er the same fields grey now and forlorn The old men sat and heard the swineherd's horn, Far off across the stubble, when the day At end of harvest-tide was sad and grey; And rain was in the wind's voice as it swept Along the hedges where the lone quail crept, Beneath the chattering of the restless pie. The fruit-hung branches moved, and suddenly The trembling apples smote the dewless grass, And all the year to autumn-tide did pass. E'en such a day it was as young men love When swiftly through the veins the blood doth move, And they, whose eyes can see not death at all, To thoughts of stirring deeds and pleasure fall, Because it seems to them to tell of life After the dreamy days devoid of strife, When every day with sunshine is begun, And cloudless skies receive the setting sun. On such a day the older folk were fain Of something new somewhat to dull the pain Of sad, importunate old memories That to their weary hearts must needs arise. Alas! what new things on that day could come From hearts that now so long had been the home Of such dull thoughts, nay, rather let them tell Some tale that fits their ancient longings well. Rolf was the speaker, who said, "Friends, behold This is e'en such a tale as those once told Unto my greedy ears by Nicholas, Before our quest for nothing came to pass."
OGIER THE DANE.
When Ogier was born, six fay ladies came to the cradle where he lay, and gave him various gifts, as to be brave and happy and the like; but the sixth gave him to be her love when he should have lived long in the world: so Ogier grew up and became the greatest of knights, and at last, after many years, fell into the hands of that fay, and with her, as the story tells, he lives now, though he returned once to the world, as is shown in the process of this tale.
Within some Danish city by the sea, Whose name, changed now, is all unknown to me, Great mourning was there one fair summer eve, Because the angels, bidden to receive The fair Queen's lovely soul in Paradise, Had done their bidding, and in royal guise Her helpless body, once the prize of love, Unable now for fear or hope to move, Lay underneath the golden canopy; And bowed down by unkingly misery The King sat by it, and not far away, Within the chamber a fair man-child lay, His mother's bane, the king that was to be, Not witting yet of any royalty, Harmless and loved, although so new to life.
Calm the June evening was, no sign of strife The clear sky showed, no storm grew round the sun, Unhappy that his day of bliss was done; Dumb was the sea, and if the beech-wood stirred, 'Twas with the nestling of the grey-winged bird Midst its thick leaves; and though the nightingale Her ancient, hapless sorrow must bewail, No more of woe there seemed within her song Than such as doth to lovers' words belong, Because their love is still unsatisfied. But to the King, on that sweet eventide, No earth there seemed, no heaven when earth was gone; No help, no God! but lonely pain alone; And he, midst unreal shadows, seemed to sit Himself the very heart and soul of it. But round the cradle of the new-born child The nurses now the weary time beguiled With stories of the just departed Queen; And how, amid the heathen folk first seen, She had been won to love and godliness; And as they spoke, e'en midst his dull distress, An eager whisper now and then did smite Upon the King's ear, of some past delight, Some once familiar name, and he would raise His weary head, and on the speaker gaze Like one about to speak, but soon again Would drop his head and be alone with pain, Nor think of these; who, silent in their turn, Would sit and watch the waxen tapers burn Amidst the dusk of the quick-gathering night, Until beneath the high stars' glimmering light, The fresh earth lay in colourless repose. So passed the night, and now and then one rose From out her place to do what might avail To still the new-born infant's fretful wail; Or through the softly-opened door there came Some nurse new waked, who, whispering low the name Of her whose turn was come, would take her place; Then toward the King would turn about her face And to her fellows whisper of the day, And tell again of her just past away.
So waned the hours, the moon arose and grew, From off the sea a little west-wind blew, Rustling the garden-leaves like sudden rain; And ere the moon began to fall again The wind grew cold, a change was in the sky, And in deep silence did the dawn draw nigh: Then from her place a nurse arose to light Fresh hallowed lights, for, dying with the night, The tapers round about the dead Queen were; But the King raised his head and 'gan to stare Upon her, as her sweeping gown did glide About the floor, that in the stillness cried Beneath her careful feet; and now as she Had lit the second candle carefully, And on its silver spike another one Was setting, through her body did there run A sudden tremor, and the hand was stayed That on the dainty painted wax was laid; Her eyelids fell down and she seemed to sleep, And o'er the staring King began to creep Sweet slumber too; the bitter lines of woe That drew his weary face did softer grow, His eyelids dropped, his arms fell to his side; And moveless in their places did abide The nursing women, held by some strong spell, E'en as they were, and utter silence fell Upon the mournful, glimmering chamber fair. But now light footsteps coming up the stair, Smote on the deadly stillness, and the sound Of silken dresses trailing o'er the ground; And heavenly odours through the chamber passed, Unlike the scents that rose and lily cast Upon the freshness of the dying night; Then nigher drew the sound of footsteps light Until the door swung open noiselessly— A mass of sunlit flowers there seemed to be Within the doorway, and but pale and wan The flame showed now that serveth mortal man, As one by one six seeming ladies passed Into the room, and o'er its sorrow cast That thoughtless sense of joy bewildering, That kisses youthful hearts amidst of spring; Crowned were they, in such glorious raiment clad, As yet no merchant of the world has had Within his coffers; yet those crowns seemed fair Only because they kissed their odorous hair, And all that flowery raiment was but blessed By those fair bodies that its splendour pressed. Now to the cradle from that glorious band, A woman passed, and laid a tender hand Upon the babe, and gently drew aside The swathings soft that did his body hide; And, seeing him so fair and great, she smiled, And stooped, and kissed him, saying, "O noble child, Have thou a gift from Gloriande this day; For to the time when life shall pass away From this dear heart, no fear of death or shame, No weariness of good shall foul thy name." So saying, to her sisters she returned; And one came forth, upon whose brow there burned A crown of rubies, and whose heaving breast With happy rings a golden hauberk pressed; She took the babe, and somewhat frowning said, "This gift I give, that till thy limbs are laid At rest for ever, to thine honoured life There never shall be lacking war and strife, That thou a long-enduring name mayst win, And by thy deeds, good pardon for thy sin." With that another, who, unseen, meanwhile Had drawn anigh, said with a joyous smile, "And this forgotten gift to thee I give, That while amidst the turmoil thou dost live, Still shalt thou win the game, and unto thee Defeat and shame but idle words shall be." Then back they turned, and therewithal, the fourth Said, "Take this gift for what it may be worth For that is mine to give; lo, thou shalt be Gentle of speech, and in all courtesy The first of men: a little gift this is, After these promises of fame and bliss." Then toward the babe the fifth fair woman went; Grey-eyed she was, and simple, with eyes bent Down on the floor, parted her red lips were, And o'er her sweet face marvellously fair Oft would the colour spread full suddenly; Clad in a dainty gown and thin was she, For some green summer of the fay-land dight, Tripping she went, and laid her fingers light Upon the child, and said, "O little one, As long as thou shalt look upon the sun Shall women long for thee; take heed to this And give them what thou canst of love and bliss." Then, blushing for her words, therefrom she past, And by the cradle stood the sixth and last, The fairest of them all; awhile she gazed Down on the child, and then her hand she raised, And made the one side of her bosom bare; "Ogier," she said, "if this be foul or fair Thou know'st not now, but when thine earthly life Is drunk out to the dregs, and war and strife Have yielded thee whatever joy they may, Thine head upon this bosom shalt thou lay; And then, despite of knowledge or of God, Will we be glad upon the flowery sod Within the happy country where I dwell: Ogier, my love that is to be, farewell!"
She turned, and even as they came they passed From out the place, and reached the gate at last That oped before their feet, and speedily They gained the edges of the murmuring sea, And as they stood in silence, gazing there Out to the west, they vanished into air, I know not how, nor whereto they returned.
But mixed with twilight in the chamber burned The flickering candles, and those dreary folk, Unlike to sleepers, from their trance awoke, But nought of what had happed meanwhile they knew Through the half-opened casements now there blew A sweet fresh air, that of the flowers and sea Mingled together, smelt deliciously, And from the unseen sun the spreading light Began to make the fair June blossoms bright, And midst their weary woe uprose the sun, And thus has Ogier's noble life begun.
* * * * *
Hope is our life, when first our life grows clear; Hope and delight, scarce crossed by lines of fear, Yet the day comes when fain we would not hope, But forasmuch as we with life must cope, Struggling with this and that, who knoweth why? Hope will not give us up to certainty, But still must bide with us: and with this man, Whose life amid such promises began Great things she wrought; but now the time has come When he no more on earth may have his home. Great things he suffered, great delights he had, Unto great kings he gave good deeds for bad; He ruled o'er kingdoms where his name no more Is had in memory, and on many a shore He left his sweat and blood to win a name Passing the bounds of earthly creatures' fame. A love he won and lost, a well-loved son Whose little day of promise soon was done: A tender wife he had, that he must leave Before his heart her love could well receive; Those promised gifts, that on his careless head In those first hours of his fair life were shed He took unwitting, and unwitting spent, Nor gave himself to grief and discontent Because he saw the end a-drawing nigh. Where is he now? in what land must he die, To leave an empty name to us on earth? A tale half true, to cast across our mirth Some pensive thoughts of life that might have been; Where is he now, that all this life has seen?
Behold, another eve upon the earth Than that calm evening of the warrior's birth; The sun is setting in the west, the sky Is bright and clear and hard, and no clouds lie About the golden circle of the sun; But East, aloof from him, heavy and dun Steel-grey they pack with edges red as blood, And underneath them is the weltering flood Of some huge sea, whose tumbling hills, as they Turn restless sides about, are black or grey, Or green, or glittering with the golden flame; The wind has fallen now, but still the same The mighty army moves, as if to drown This lone, bare rock, whose shear scarped sides of brown Cast off the weight of waves in clouds of spray. Alas! what ships upon an evil day Bent over to the wind in this ill sea? What navy, whose rent bones lie wretchedly Beneath these cliffs? a mighty one it was, A fearful storm to bring such things to pass.
This is the loadstone rock; no armament Of warring nations, in their madness bent Their course this way; no merchant wittingly Has steered his keel unto this luckless sea; Upon no shipman's card its name is writ, Though worn-out mariners will speak of it Within the ingle on the winter's night, When all within is warm and safe and bright, And the wind howls without: but 'gainst their will Are some folk driven here, and then all skill Against this evil rock is vain and nought, And unto death the shipmen soon are brought; For then the keel, as by a giant's hand, Is drawn unto that mockery of a land, And presently unto its sides doth cleave; When if they 'scape swift death, yet none may leave The narrow limits of that barren isle, And thus are slain by famine in a while Mocked, as they say, by night with images Of noble castles among groves of trees, By day with sounds of merry minstrelsy.
The sun sinks now below this hopeless sea, The clouds are gone, and all the sky is bright; The moon is rising o'er the growing night, And by its shine may ye behold the bones Of generations of these luckless ones Scattered about the rock; but nigh the sea Sits one alive, who uncomplainingly Awaits his death. White-haired is he and old, Arrayed in royal raiment, bright with gold, But tarnished with the waves and rough salt air; Huge is he, of a noble face and fair, As for an ancient man, though toil and eld Furrow the cheeks that ladies once beheld With melting hearts—Nay, listen, for he speaks! "God, Thou hast made me strong! nigh seven weeks Have passed since from the wreck we haled our store, And five long days well told, have now passed o'er Since my last fellow died, with my last bread Between his teeth, and yet I am not dead. Yea, but for this I had been strong enow In some last bloody field my sword to show. What matter? soon will all be past and done, Where'er I died I must have died alone: Yet, Caraheu, a good death had it been Dying, thy face above me to have seen, And heard my banner flapping in the wind, Then, though my memory had not left thy mind, Yet hope and fear would not have vexed thee more When thou hadst known that everything was o'er; But now thou waitest, still expecting me, Whose sail shall never speck thy bright blue sea. "And thou, Clarice, the merchants thou mayst call, To tell thee tales within thy pictured hall, But never shall they tell true tales of me: Whatever sails the Kentish hills may see Swept by the flood-tide toward thy well-walled town, No more on my sails shall they look adown. "Get thee another leader, Charlemaine, For thou shalt look to see my shield in vain, When in the fair fields of the Frankish land, Thick as the corn they tread, the heathen stand. "What matter? ye shall learn to live your lives; Husbands and children, other friends and wives, Shall wipe the tablets of your memory clean, And all shall be as I had never been.
"And now, O God, am I alone with Thee; A little thing indeed it seems to be To give this life up, since it needs must go Some time or other; now at last I know How foolishly men play upon the earth, When unto them a year of life seems worth Honour and friends, and these vague hopes and sweet That like real things my dying heart do greet, Unreal while living on the earth I trod, And but myself I knew no other god. Behold, I thank Thee that Thou sweet'nest thus This end, that I had thought most piteous, If of another I had heard it told."
What man is this, who weak and worn and old Gives up his life within that dreadful isle, And on the fearful coming death can smile? Alas! this man, so battered and outworn, Is none but he, who, on that summer morn, Received such promises of glorious life: Ogier the Dane this is, to whom all strife Was but as wine to stir awhile the blood, To whom all life, however hard, was good: This is the man, unmatched of heart and limb, Ogier the Dane, whose sight has waxed not dim For all the years that he on earth has dwelt; Ogier the Dane, that never fear has felt, Since he knew good from ill; Ogier the Dane, The heathen's dread, the evil-doer's bane.
* * * * *
Bright had the moon grown as his words were done, And no more was there memory of the sun Within the west, and he grew drowsy now. And somewhat smoother was his wrinkled brow As thought died out beneath the hand of sleep, And o'er his soul forgetfulness did creep, Hiding the image of swift-coming death; Until as peacefully he drew his breath As on that day, past for a hundred years, When, midst the nurse's quickly-falling tears, He fell asleep to his first lullaby. The night changed as he slept, white clouds and high Began about the lonely moon to close; And from the dark west a new wind arose, And with the sound of heavy-falling waves Mingled its pipe about the loadstone caves; But when the twinkling stars were hid away, And a faint light and broad, like dawn of day, The moon upon that dreary country shed, Ogier awoke, and lifting up his head And smiling, muttered, "Nay, no more again; Rather some pleasure new, some other pain, Unthought of both, some other form of strife;" For he had waked from dreams of his old life, And through St. Omer's archer-guarded gate Once more had seemed to pass, and saw the state Of that triumphant king; and still, though all Seemed changed, and folk by other names did call Faces he knew of old, yet none the less He seemed the same, and, midst that mightiness, Felt his own power, and grew the more athirst For coming glory, as of old, when first He stood before the face of Charlemaine, A helpless hostage with all life to gain. But now, awake, his worn face once more sank Between his hands, and, murmuring not, he drank The draught of death that must that thirst allay.
But while he sat and waited for the day A sudden light across the bare rock streamed, Which at the first he noted not, but deemed The moon her fleecy veil had broken through; But ruddier indeed this new light grew Than were the moon's grey beams, and, therewithal Soft far-off music on his ears did fall; Yet moved he not, but murmured, "This is death. An easy thing like this to yield my breath, Awake, yet dreaming, with no sounds of fear, No dreadful sights to tell me it is near; Yea, God, I thank Thee!" but with that last word It seemed to him that he his own name heard Whispered, as though the wind had borne it past; With that he gat unto his feet at last, But still awhile he stood, with sunken head, And in a low and trembling voice he said, "Lord, I am ready, whither shall I go? I pray Thee unto me some token show." And, as he said this, round about he turned, And in the east beheld a light that burned As bright as day; then, though his flesh might fear The coming change that he believed so near, Yet did his soul rejoice, for now he thought Unto the very heaven to be brought: And though he felt alive, deemed it might be That he in sleep had died full easily. Then toward that light did he begin to go, And still those strains he heard, far off and low, That grew no louder; still that bright light streamed Over the rocks, yet nothing brighter seemed, But like the light of some unseen bright flame Shone round about, until at last he came Unto the dreary islet's other shore, And then the minstrelsy he heard no more, And softer seemed the strange light unto him, But yet or ever it had grown quite dim, Beneath its waning light could he behold A mighty palace set about with gold, Above green meads and groves of summer trees Far-off across the welter of the seas; But, as he gazed, it faded from his sight, And the grey hidden moon's diffused soft light, Which soothly was but darkness to him now, His sea-girt island prison did but show. But o'er the sea he still gazed wistfully, And said, "Alas! and when will this go by And leave my soul in peace? must I still dream Of life that once so dear a thing did seem, That, when I wake, death may the bitterer be? Here will I sit until he come to me, And hide mine eyes and think upon my sin, That so a little calm I yet may win Before I stand within the awful place." Then down he sat and covered up his face. Yet therewithal his trouble could not hide, Nor waiting thus for death could he abide, For, though he knew it not, the yearning pain Of hope of life had touched his soul again— If he could live awhile, if he could live! The mighty being, who once was wont to give The gift of life to many a trembling man; Who did his own will since his life began; Who feared not aught, but strong and great and free Still cast aside the thought of what might be; Must all this then be lost, and with no will, Powerless and blind, must he some fate fulfil, Nor know what he is doing any more?
Soon he arose and paced along the shore, And gazed out seaward for the blessed light; But nought he saw except the old sad sight, The ceaseless tumbling of the billows grey, The white upspringing of the spurts of spray Amidst that mass of timbers, the rent bones Of the sea-houses of the hapless ones Once cast like him upon this deadly isle. He stopped his pacing in a little while, And clenched his mighty hands, and set his teeth, And gazing at the ruin underneath, He swung from off the bare cliff's jagged brow, And on some slippery ledge he wavered now, Without a hand-hold, and now stoutly clung With hands alone, and o'er the welter hung, Not caring aught if thus his life should end; But safely amidst all this did he descend The dreadful cliff, and since no beach was there, But from the depths the rock rose stark and bare, Nor crumbled aught beneath the hammering sea, Upon the wrecks he stood unsteadily.
But now, amid the clamour of the waves, And washing to-and-fro of beams and staves, Dizzy with hunger, dreamy with distress, And all those days of fear and loneliness, The ocean's tumult seemed the battle's roar, His heart grew hot, as when in days of yore He heard the cymbals clash amid the crowd Of dusky faces; now he shouted loud, And from crushed beam to beam began to leap, And yet his footing somehow did he keep Amidst their tossing, and indeed the sea Was somewhat sunk upon the island's lee. So quickly on from wreck to wreck he passed, And reached the outer line of wrecks at last, And there a moment stood unsteadily, Amid the drift of spray that hurried by, And drew Courtain his sword from out its sheath, And poised himself to meet the coming death, Still looking out to sea; but as he gazed, And once or twice his doubtful feet he raised To take the final plunge, that heavenly strain Over the washing waves he heard again, And from the dimness something bright he saw Across the waste of waters towards him draw; And hidden now, now raised aloft, at last Unto his very feet a boat was cast, Gilded inside and out, and well arrayed With cushions soft; far fitter to have weighed From some sweet garden on the shallow Seine, Or in a reach of green Thames to have lain, Than struggle with that huge confused sea; But Ogier gazed upon it doubtfully One moment, and then, sheathing Courtain, said, "What tales are these about the newly dead The heathen told? what matter, let all pass; This moment as one dead indeed I was, And this must be what I have got to do, I yet perchance may light on something new Before I die; though yet perchance this keel Unto the wondrous mass of charmed steel Is drawn as others." With that word he leapt Into the boat, and o'er the cushions crept From stem to stern, but found no rudder there, Nor any oars, nor were the cushions fair Made wet by any dashing of the sea. Now while he pondered how these things could be, The boat began to move therefrom at last, But over him a drowsiness was cast, And as o'er tumbling hills the skiff did pass, He clean forgot his death and where he was.
At last he woke up to a sunny day, And, looking round, saw that his shallop lay Moored at the edge of some fair tideless sea Unto an overhanging thick-leaved tree, Where in the green waves did the low bank dip Its fresh and green grass-covered daisied lip; But Ogier looking thence no more could see That sad abode of death and misery, Nor aught but wide and empty ocean, grey With gathering haze, for now it neared midday; Then from the golden cushions did he rise, And wondering still if this were Paradise He stepped ashore, but drew Courtain his sword And muttered therewithal a holy word. Fair was the place, as though amidst of May, Nor did the brown birds fear the sunny day, For with their quivering song the air was sweet; Thick grew the field-flowers underneath his feet, And on his head the blossoms down did rain, Yet mid these fair things slowly and with pain He 'gan to go, yea, even when his foot First touched the flowery sod, to his heart's root A coldness seemed to strike, and now each limb Was growing stiff, his eyes waxed bleared and dim, And all his stored-up memory 'gan to fail, Nor yet would his once mighty heart avail For lamentations o'er his changed lot; Yet urged by some desire, he knew not what, Along a little path 'twixt hedges sweet, Drawn sword in hand, he dragged his faltering feet, For what then seemed to him a weary way, Whereon his steps he needs must often stay And lean upon the mighty well-worn sword That in those hands, grown old, for king or lord Had small respect in glorious days long past.
But still he crept along, and at the last Came to a gilded wicket, and through this Entered a garden fit for utmost bliss, If that might last which needs must soon go by: There 'gainst a tree he leaned, and with a sigh He said, "O God, a sinner I have been, And good it is that I these things have seen Before I meet what Thou hast set apart To cleanse the earthly folly from my heart; But who within this garden now can dwell Wherein guilt first upon the world befell?" A little further yet he staggered on, Till to a fountain-side at last he won, O'er which two white-thorns their sweet blossoms shed. There he sank down, and laid his weary head Beside the mossy roots, and in a while He slept, and dreamed himself within the isle; That splashing fount the weary sea did seem, And in his dream the fair place but a dream; But when again to feebleness he woke Upon his ears that heavenly music broke, Not faint or far as in the isle it was, But e'en as though the minstrels now did pass Anigh his resting-place; then fallen in doubt, E'en as he might, he rose and gazed about, Leaning against the hawthorn stem with pain; And yet his straining gaze was but in vain, Death stole so fast upon him, and no more Could he behold the blossoms as before, No more the trees seemed rooted to the ground, A heavy mist seemed gathering all around, And in its heart some bright thing seemed to be, And round his head there breathed deliciously Sweet odours, and that music never ceased. But as the weight of Death's strong hand increased Again he sank adown, and Courtain's noise Within the scabbard seemed a farewell voice Sent from the world he loved so well of old, And all his life was as a story told, And as he thought thereof he 'gan to smile E'en as a child asleep, but in a while It was as though he slept, and sleeping dreamed, For in his half-closed eyes a glory gleamed, As though from some sweet face and golden hair, And on his breast were laid soft hands and fair, And a sweet voice was ringing in his ears, Broken as if with flow of joyous tears; "Ogier, sweet friend, hast thou not tarried long? Alas! thine hundred years of strife and wrong!" Then he found voice to say, "Alas! dear Lord, Too long, too long; and yet one little word Right many a year agone had brought me here." Then to his face that face was drawn anear, He felt his head raised up and gently laid On some kind knee, again the sweet voice said, "Nay, Ogier, nay, not yet, not yet, dear friend! Who knoweth when our linked life shall end, Since thou art come unto mine arms at last, And all the turmoil of the world is past? Why do I linger ere I see thy face As I desired it in that mourning place So many years ago—so many years, Thou knewest not thy love and all her fears?" "Alas!" he said, "what mockery then is this That thou wilt speak to me of earthly bliss? No longer can I think upon the earth, Have I not done with all its grief and mirth? Yes, I was Ogier once, but if my love Should come once more my dying heart to move, Then must she come from 'neath the milk-white walls Whereon to-day the hawthorn blossom falls Outside St. Omer's—art thou she? her name Which I remembered once mid death and fame Is clean forgotten now; but yesterday, Meseems, our son, upon her bosom lay: Baldwin the fair—what hast thou done with him Since Charlot slew him? All, mine eyes wax dim; Woman, forbear! wilt thou not let me die? Did I forget thee in the days gone by? Then let me die, that we may meet again!"
He tried to move from her, but all in vain, For life had well-nigh left him, but withal He felt a kiss upon his forehead fall, And could not speak; he felt slim fingers fair Move to his mighty sword-worn hand, and there Set on some ring, and still he could not speak, And once more sleep weighed down his eyelids weak.
* * * * *
But, ah! what land was this he woke unto? What joy was this that filled his heart anew? Had he then gained the very Paradise? Trembling, he durst not at the first arise, Although no more he felt the pain of eld, Nor durst he raise his eyes that now beheld Beside him the white flowers and blades of grass; He durst not speak, lest he some monster was. But while he lay and hoped, that gentle voice Once more he heard; "Yea, thou mayst well rejoice Thou livest still, my sweet, thou livest still, Apart from every earthly fear and ill; Wilt thou not love me, who have wrought thee this, That I like thee may live in double bliss?" Then Ogier rose up, nowise like to one Whose span of earthly life is nigh outrun, But as he might have risen in old days To see the spears cleave the fresh morning haze; But, looking round, he saw no change there was In the fair place wherethrough he first did pass, Though all, grown clear and joyous to his eyes, Now looked no worse than very Paradise; Behind him were the thorns, the fountain fair Still sent its glittering stream forth into air, And by its basin a fair woman stood, And as their eyes met his new-healed blood Rushed to his face; with unused thoughts and sweet And hurrying hopes, his heart began to beat. The fairest of all creatures did she seem; So fresh and delicate you well might deem That scarce for eighteen summers had she blessed The happy, longing world; yet, for the rest, Within her glorious eyes such wisdom dwelt A child before her had the wise man felt, And with the pleasure of a thousand years Her lips were fashioned to move joy or tears Among the longing folk where she might dwell, To give at last the kiss unspeakable. In such wise was she clad as folk may be, Who, for no shame of their humanity, For no sad changes of the imperfect year, Rather for added beauty, raiment wear; For, as the heat-foretelling grey-blue haze Veils the green flowery morn of late May-days, Her raiment veiled her; where the bands did meet That bound the sandals to her dainty feet, Gems gleamed; a fresh rose-wreath embraced her head, And on her breast there lay a ruby red. So with a supplicating look she turned To meet the flame that in his own eyes burned, And held out both her white arms lovingly, As though to greet him as he drew anigh. Stammering he said, "Who art thou? how am I So cured of all my evils suddenly, That certainly I felt no mightier, when, Amid the backward rush of beaten men, About me drooped the axe-torn Oriflamme? Alas! I fear that in some dream I am." "Ogier," she said, "draw near, perchance it is That such a name God gives unto our bliss; I know not, but if thou art such an one As I must deem, all days beneath the sun That thou hadst had, shall be but dreams indeed To those that I have given thee at thy need. For many years ago beside the sea When thou wert born, I plighted troth with thee: Come near then, and make mirrors of mine eyes, That thou mayst see what these my mysteries Have wrought in thee; surely but thirty years, Passed amidst joy, thy new born body bears, Nor while thou art with me, and on this shore Art still full-fed of love, shalt thou seem more. Nay, love, come nigher, and let me take thine hand, The hope and fear of many a warring land, And I will show thee wherein lies the spell, Whereby this happy change upon thee fell."
Like a shy youth before some royal love, Close up to that fair woman did he move, And their hands met; yet to his changed voice He dared not trust; nay, scarcely could rejoice E'en when her balmy breath he 'gan to feel, And felt strange sweetness o'er his spirit steal As her light raiment, driven by the wind, Swept round him, and, bewildered and half-blind His lips the treasure of her lips did press, And round him clung her perfect loveliness. For one sweet moment thus they stood, and then She drew herself from out his arms again, And panting, lovelier for her love, did stand Apart awhile, then took her lover's hand, And, in a trembling voice, made haste to say,— "O Ogier, when thou camest here to-day, I feared indeed, that in my play with fate, I might have seen thee e'en one day too late, Before this ring thy finger should embrace; Behold it, love, and thy keen eyes may trace Faint figures wrought upon the ruddy gold; My father dying gave it me, nor told The manner of its making, but I know That it can make thee e'en as thou art now Despite the laws of God—shrink not from me Because I give an impious gift to thee— Has not God made me also, who do this? But I, who longed to share with thee my bliss, Am of the fays, and live their changeless life, And, like the gods of old, I see the strife That moves the world, unmoved if so I will; For we the fruit, that teaches good and ill, Have never touched like you of Adam's race; And while thou dwellest with me in this place Thus shalt thou be—ah, and thou deem'st, indeed, That thou shalt gain thereby no happy meed Reft of the world's joys? nor canst understand How thou art come into a happy land?— Love, in thy world the priests of heaven still sing, And tell thee of it many a joyous thing; But think'st thou, bearing the world's joy and pain, Thou couldst live there? nay, nay, but born again Thou wouldst be happy with the angels' bliss; And so with us no otherwise it is, Nor hast thou cast thine old life quite away Even as yet, though that shall be to-day. "But for the love and country thou hast won, Know thou, that thou art come to Avallon, That is both thine and mine; and as for me, Morgan le Fay men call me commonly Within the world, but fairer names than this I have for thee and me, 'twixt kiss and kiss."
Ah, what was this? and was it all in vain, That she had brought him here this life to gain? For, ere her speech was done, like one turned blind He watched the kisses of the wandering wind Within her raiment, or as some one sees The very best of well-wrought images When he is blind with grief, did he behold The wandering tresses of her locks of gold Upon her shoulders; and no more he pressed The hand that in his own hand lay at rest: His eyes, grown dull with changing memories, Could make no answer to her glorious eyes: Cold waxed his heart, and weary and distraught, With many a cast-by, hateful, dreary thought, Unfinished in the old days; and withal He needs must think of what might chance to fall In this life new-begun; and good and bad Tormented him, because as yet he had A worldly heart within his frame made new, And to the deeds that he was wont to do Did his desires still turn. But she a while Stood gazing at him with a doubtful smile, And let his hand fall down; and suddenly Sounded sweet music from some close nearby, And then she spoke again: "Come, love, with me, That thou thy new life and delights mayst see." And gently with that word she led him thence, And though upon him now there fell a sense Of dreamy and unreal bewilderment, As hand in hand through that green place they went, Yet therewithal a strain of tender love A little yet his restless heart did move.
So through the whispering trees they came at last To where a wondrous house a shadow cast Across the flowers, and o'er the daisied grass Before it, crowds of lovely folk did pass, Playing about in carelessness and mirth, Unshadowed by the doubtful deeds of earth; And from the midst a band of fair girls came, With flowers and music, greeting him by name, And praising him; but ever like a dream He could not break, did all to Ogier seem. And he his old world did the more desire, For in his heart still burned unquenched the fire, That through the world of old so bright did burn: Yet was he fain that kindness to return, And from the depth of his full heart he sighed. Then toward the house the lovely Queen did guide His listless steps, and seemed to take no thought Of knitted brow or wandering eyes distraught, But still with kind love lighting up her face She led him through the door of that fair place, While round about them did the damsels press; And he was moved by all that loveliness As one might be, who, lying half asleep In the May morning, notes the light wind sweep Over the tulip-beds: no more to him Were gleaming eyes, red lips, and bodies slim, Amidst that dream, although the first surprise Of hurried love wherewith the Queen's sweet eyes Had smitten him, still in his heart did stir.
And so at last he came, led on by her Into a hall wherein a fair throne was, And hand in hand thereto the twain did pass; And there she bade him sit, and when alone He took his place upon the double throne, She cast herself before him on her knees, Embracing his, and greatly did increase The shame and love that vexed his troubled heart: But now a line of girls the crowd did part, Lovelier than all, and Ogier could behold One in their midst who bore a crown of gold Within her slender hands and delicate; She, drawing nigh, beside the throne did wait Until the Queen arose and took the crown, Who then to Ogier's lips did stoop adown And kissed him, and said, "Ogier, what were worth Thy miserable days of strife on earth, That on their ashes still thine eyes are turned?" Then, as she spoke these words, his changed heart burned With sudden memories, and thereto had he Made answer, but she raised up suddenly The crown she held and set it on his head, "Ogier," she cried, "those troublous days are dead; Thou wert dead with them also, but for me; Turn unto her who wrought these things for thee!" Then, as he felt her touch, a mighty wave Of love swept o'er his soul, as though the grave Did really hold his body; from his seat He rose to cast himself before her feet; But she clung round him, and in close embrace The twain were locked amidst that thronging place.
Thenceforth new life indeed has Ogier won, And in the happy land of Avallon Quick glide the years o'er his unchanging head; There saw he many men the world thought dead, Living like him in sweet forgetfulness Of all the troubles that did once oppress Their vainly-struggling lives—ah, how can I Tell of their joy as though I had been nigh? Suffice it that no fear of death they knew, That there no talk there was of false or true, Of right or wrong, for traitors came not there; That everything was bright and soft and fair, And yet they wearied not for any change, Nor unto them did constancy seem strange. Love knew they, but its pain they never had, But with each other's joy were they made glad; Nor were their lives wasted by hidden fire, Nor knew they of the unfulfilled desire That turns to ashes all the joys of earth, Nor knew they yearning love amidst the dearth Of kind and loving hearts to spend it on, Nor dreamed of discontent when all was won; Nor need they struggle after wealth and fame; Still was the calm flow of their lives the same, And yet, I say, they wearied not of it— So did the promised days by Ogier flit.
* * * * *
Think that a hundred years have now passed by, Since ye beheld Ogier lie down to die Beside the fountain; think that now ye are In France, made dangerous with wasting war; In Paris, where about each guarded gate, Gathered in knots, the anxious people wait, And press around each new-come man to learn If Harfleur now the pagan wasters burn, Or if the Rouen folk can keep their chain, Or Pont de l'Arche unburnt still guards the Seine? Or if 'tis true that Andelys succour wants? That Vernon's folk are fleeing east to Mantes? When will they come? or rather is it true That a great band the Constable o'erthrew Upon the marshes of the lower Seine, And that their long-ships, turning back again, Caught by the high-raised waters of the bore Were driven here and there and cast ashore? Such questions did they ask, and, as fresh men Came hurrying in, they asked them o'er again, And from scared folk, or fools, or ignorant, Still got new lies, or tidings very scant.
But now amidst these men at last came one, A little ere the setting of the sun, With two stout men behind him, armed right well, Who ever as they rode on, sooth to tell, With doubtful eyes upon their master stared, Or looked about like troubled men and scared. And he they served was noteworthy indeed; Of ancient fashion were his arms and weed, Rich past the wont of men in those sad times; His face was bronzed, as though by burning climes, But lovely as the image of a god Carved in the days before on earth Christ trod; But solemn were his eyes, and grey as glass, And like to ruddy gold his fine hair was: A mighty man he was, and taller far Than those who on that day must bear the war The pagans waged: he by the warders stayed Scarce looked on them, but straight their words obeyed And showed his pass; then, asked about his name And from what city of the world he came, Said, that men called him now the Ancient Knight, That he was come midst the king's men to fight From St. Omer's; and as he spoke, he gazed Down on the thronging street as one amazed, And answered no more to the questioning Of frightened folk of this or that sad thing; But, ere he passed on, turned about at last And on the wondering guard a strange look cast, And said, "St. Mary! do such men as ye Fight with the wasters from across the sea? Then, certes, are ye lost, however good Your hearts may be; not such were those who stood Beside the Hammer-bearer years agone." So said he, and as his fair armour shone With beauty of a time long passed away, So with the music of another day His deep voice thrilled the awe-struck, listening folk.
Yet from the crowd a mocking voice outbroke, That cried, "Be merry, masters, fear ye nought, Surely good succour to our side is brought; For here is Charlemaine come off his tomb To save his faithful city from its doom." "Yea," said another, "this is certain news, Surely ye know how all the carvers use To carve the dead man's image at the best, That guards the place where he may lie at rest; Wherefore this living image looks indeed, Spite of his ancient tongue and marvellous weed, To have but thirty summers." At the name Of Charlemaine, he turned to whence there came The mocking voice, and somewhat knit his brow, And seemed as he would speak, but scarce knew how; So with a half-sigh soon sank back again Into his dream, and shook his well-wrought rein, And silently went on upon his way.
And this was Ogier: on what evil day Has he then stumbled, that he needs must come, Midst war and ravage, to the ancient home Of his desires? did he grow weary then, And wish to strive once more with foolish men For worthless things? or is fair Avallon Sunk in the sea, and all that glory gone? Nay, thus it happed—One day she came to him And said, "Ogier, thy name is waxing dim Upon the world that thou rememberest not; The heathen men are thick on many a spot Thine eyes have seen, and which I love therefore; And God will give His wonted help no more. Wilt thou, then, help? canst thou have any mind To give thy banner once more to the wind? Since greater glory thou shalt win for this Than erst thou gatheredst ere thou cam'st to bliss: For men are dwindled both in heart and frame, Nor holds the fair land any such a name As thine, when thou wert living midst thy peers; The world is worser for these hundred years." From his calm eyes there gleamed a little fire, And in his voice was something of desire, To see the land where he was used to be, As now he answered: "Nay, choose thou for me, Thou art the wisest; it is more than well Within this peaceful place with thee to dwell: Nor ill perchance in that old land to die, If, dying, I keep not the memory Of this fair life of ours." "Nay, nay," said she, "As to thy dying, that shall never be, Whiles that thou keep'st my ring—and now, behold, I take from thee thy charmed crown of gold, And thou wilt be the Ogier that thou wast Ere on the loadstone rock thy ship was cast: Yet thou shalt have thy youthful body still, And I will guard thy life from every ill."
So was it done, and Ogier, armed right well, Sleeping, was borne away by some strong spell, And set upon the Flemish coast; and thence Turned to St. Omer's, with a doubtful sense Of being in some wild dream, the while he knew That great delight forgotten was his due, That all which there might hap was of small worth. So on he went, and sometimes unto mirth Did his attire move the country-folk, But oftener when strange speeches from him broke Concerning men and things for long years dead, He filled the listeners with great awe and dread; For in such wild times as these people were Are men soon moved to wonder and to fear.
Now through the streets of Paris did he ride, And at a certain hostel did abide Throughout that night, and ere he went next day He saw a book that on a table lay, And opening it 'gan read in lazy mood: But long before it in that place he stood, Noting nought else; for it did chronicle The deeds of men whom once he knew right well, When they were living in the flesh with him: Yea, his own deeds he saw, grown strange and dim Already, and true stories mixed with lies, Until, with many thronging memories Of those old days, his heart was so oppressed, He 'gan to wish that he might lie at rest, Forgetting all things: for indeed by this Little remembrance had he of the bliss That wrapped his soul in peaceful Avallon.
But his changed life he needs must carry on; For ye shall know the Queen was gathering men To send unto the good King, who as then In Rouen lay, beset by many a band Of those who carried terror through the land, And still by messengers for help he prayed: Therefore a mighty muster was being made, Of weak and strong, and brave and timorous, Before the Queen anigh her royal house. So thither on this morn did Ogier turn, Some certain news about the war to learn; And when he came at last into the square, And saw the ancient palace great and fair Rise up before him as in other days, And in the merry morn the bright sun's rays Glittering on gathered helms and moving spears, He 'gan to feel as in the long-past years, And his heart stirred within him. Now the Queen Came from within, right royally beseen, And took her seat beneath a canopy, With lords and captains of the war anigh; And as she came a mighty shout arose, And round about began the knights to close, Their oath of fealty to swear anew, And learn what service they had got to do. But so it was, that some their shouts must stay To gaze at Ogier as he took his way Through the thronged place; and quickly too he gat Unto the place whereas the Lady sat, For men gave place unto him, fearing him: For not alone was he most huge of limb, And dangerous, but something in his face, As his calm eyes looked o'er the crowded place, Struck men with awe; and in the ancient days, When men might hope alive on gods to gaze, They would have thought, "The gods yet love our town And from the heavens have sent a great one down." Withal unto the throne he came so near, That he the Queen's sweet measured voice could hear; And swiftly now within him wrought the change That first he felt amid those faces strange; And his heart burned to taste the hurrying life With such desires, such changing sweetness rife. And yet, indeed, how should he live alone, Who in the old past days such friends had known? Then he began to think of Caraheu, Of Bellicent the fair, and once more knew The bitter pain of rent and ended love. But while with hope and vain regret he strove, He found none 'twixt him and the Queen's high seat, And, stepping forth, he knelt before her feet And took her hand to swear, as was the way Of doing fealty in that ancient day, And raised his eyes to hers; as fair was she As any woman of the world might be Full-limbed and tall, dark-haired, from her deep eyes, The snare of fools, the ruin of the wise, Love looked unchecked; and now her dainty hand, The well-knit holder of the golden wand, Trembled in his, she cast her eyes adown, And her sweet brow was knitted to a frown, As he, the taker of such oaths of yore, Now unto her all due obedience swore, Yet gave himself no name; and now the Queen, Awed by his voice as other folk had been, Yet felt a trembling hope within her rise Too sweet to think of, and with love's surprise Her cheek grew pale; she said, "Thy style and name Thou tellest not, nor what land of thy fame Is glad; for, certes, some land must be glad, That in its bounds her house thy mother had." "Lady," he said, "from what far land I come I well might tell thee, but another home Have I long dwelt in, and its name have I Forgotten now, forgotten utterly Who were my fellows, and what deeds they did; Therefore, indeed, shall my first name be hid And my first country; call me on this day The Ancient Knight, and let me go my way." He rose withal, for she her fingers fair Had drawn aback, and on him 'gan to stare As one afeard; for something terrible Was in his speech, and that she knew right well, Who 'gan to love him, and to fear that she, Shut out by some strange deadly mystery, Should never gain from him an equal love; Yet, as from her high seat he 'gan to move, She said, "O Ancient Knight, come presently, When we have done this muster, unto me, And thou shalt have thy charge and due command For freeing from our foes this wretched land!" Then Ogier made his reverence and went, And somewhat could perceive of her intent; For in his heart life grew, and love with life Grew, and therewith, 'twixt love and fame, was strife. But, as he slowly gat him from the square, Gazing at all the people gathered there, A squire of the Queen's behind him came, And breathless, called him by his new-coined name, And bade him turn because the Queen now bade, Since by the muster long she might be stayed, That to the palace he should bring him straight, Midst sport and play her coming back to wait; Then Ogier turned, nought loath, and with him went, And to a postern-gate his steps he bent, That Ogier knew right well in days of old; Worn was it now, and the bright hues and gold Upon the shields above, with lapse of days, Were faded much: but now did Ogier gaze Upon the garden where he walked of yore, Holding the hands that he should see no more; For all was changed except the palace fair, That Charlemaine's own eyes had seen built there Ere Ogier knew him; there the squire did lead The Ancient Knight, who still took little heed Of all the things that by the way he said, For all his thoughts were on the days long dead. There in the painted hall he sat again, And 'neath the pictured eyes of Charlemaine He ate and drank, and felt it like a dream; And midst his growing longings yet might deem That he from sleep should wake up presently In some fair city on the Syrian sea, Or on the brown rocks of the loadstone isle. But fain to be alone, within a while He gat him to the garden, and there passed By wondering squires and damsels, till at last, Far from the merry folk who needs must play, If on the world were coming its last day, He sat him down, and through his mind there ran Faint thoughts of that day, when, outworn and wan, He lay down by the fountain-side to die. But when he strove to gain clear memory Of what had happed since on the isle he lay Waiting for death, a hopeless castaway, Thought, failing him, would rather bring again His life among the peers of Charlemaine, And vex his soul with hapless memories; Until at last, worn out by thought of these, And hopeless striving to find what was true, And pondering on the deeds he had to do Ere he returned, whereto he could not tell, Sweet sleep upon his wearied spirit fell. And on the afternoon of that fair day, Forgetting all, beneath the trees he lay.