WRITTEN IN KEATS' "ENDYMION."
I saw pale Dian, sitting by the brink Of silver falls, the overflow of fountains From cloudy steeps; and I grew sad to think Endymion's foot was silent on those mountains. And he but a hush'd name, that Silence keeps In dear remembrance,—lonely, and forlorn, Singing it to herself until she weeps Tears, that perchance still glisten in the morn:— And as I mused, in dull imaginings, There came a flash of garments, and I knew The awful Muse by her harmonious wings Charming the air to music as she flew— Anon there rose an echo through the vale Gave back Enydmion in a dreamlike tale.
TO AN ENTHUSIAST.
Young ardent soul, graced with fair Nature's truth, Spring warmth of heart, and fervency of mind, And still a large late love of all thy kind. Spite of the world's cold practice and Time's tooth,— For all these gifts, I know not, in fair sooth, Whether to give thee joy, or bid thee blind Thine eyes with tears,—that thou hast not resign'd The passionate fire and freshness of thy youth: For as the current of thy life shall flow, Gilded by shine of sun or shadow-stain'd, Through flow'ry valley or unwholesome fen, Thrice blessed in thy joy, or in thy woe Thrice cursed of thy race,—thou art ordain'd To share beyond the lot of common men.
TO A COLD BEAUTY.
Lady, wouldst thou heiress be To Winters cold and cruel part? When he sets the rivers free, Thou dost still lock up thy heart;— Thou that shouldst outlast the snow, But in the whiteness of thy brow?
Scorn and cold neglect are made For winter gloom and winter wind, But thou wilt wrong the summer air, Breathing it to words unkind,— Breath which only should belong To love, to sunlight, and to song!
When the little buds unclose. Red, and white, and pied, and blue, And that virgin flow'r, the rose, Opes her heart to hold the dew, Wilt thou lock thy bosom up With no jewel in its cup?
Let not cold December sit Thus in Love's peculiar throne: Brooklets are not prison'd now, But crystal frosts are all agone, And that which hangs upon the spray, It is no snow, but flow'r of May!
It is not death, that sometime in a sigh This eloquent breath shall take its speechless flight; That sometime these bright stars, that now reply In sunlight to the sun, shall set in night; That warm conscious flesh shall perish quite, And all life's ruddy springs forget to flow; That thoughts shall cease, and the immortal sprite Be lapp'd in alien clay and laid below; It is not death to know this,—but to know That pious thoughts, which visit at new graves In tender pilgrimage, will cease to go So duly and so oft,—and when grass waves Over the past-away, there may be then No resurrection in the minds of men.
Ah, sweet, thou little knowest how I wake and passionate watches keep; And yet while I address thee now, Methinks thou smilest in thy sleep. 'Tis sweet enough to make me weep, That tender thought of love and thee, That while the world is hush'd so deep, Thy soul's perhaps awake to me!
Sleep on, sleep on, sweet bride of sleep! With golden visions of thy dower, While I this midnight vigil keep, And bless thee in thy silent bower; To me 'tis sweeter than the power Of sleep, and fairy dreams unfurl'd, That I alone, at this still hour, In patient love outwatch the world.
VERSES IN AN ALBUM.
Far above the hollow Tempest, and its moan, Singeth bright Apollo In his golden zone,— Cloud doth never shade him, Nor a storm invade him, On his joyous throne.
So when I behold me In an orb as bright, How thy soul doth fold me In its throne of light! Sorrow never paineth, Nor a care attaineth To that blessed height.
The dead are in their silent graves, And the dew is cold above, And the living weep and sigh, Over dust that once was love.
Once I only wept the dead, But now the living cause my pain: How couldst thou steal me from my tears, To leave me to my tears again?
My Mother rests beneath the sod,— Her rest is calm and very deep: I wish'd that she could see our loves,— But now I gladden in her sleep.
Last night unbound my raven locks, The morning saw them turned to gray, Once they were black and well beloved, But thou art changed,—and so are they!
The useless lock I gave thee once, To gaze upon and think of me, Was ta'en with smiles,—but this was torn In sorrow that I send to thee!
The stars are with the voyager Wherever he may sail; The moon is constant to her time; The sun will never fail; But follow, follow round the world, The green earth and the sea, So love is with the lover's heart, Wherever he may be.
Wherever he may be, the stars Must daily lose their light; The moon will veil her in the shade; The sun will set at night. The sun may set, but constant love Will shine when he's away; So that dull night is never night, And day is brighter day.
O Lady, leave thy silken thread And flowery tapestrie: There's living roses on the bush, And blossoms on the tree; Stoop where thou wilt, thy careless hand Some random bud will meet; Thou canst not tread, but thou wilt find The daisy at thy feet.
'Tis like the birthday of the world, When earth was born in bloom; The light is made of many dyes, The air is all perfume; There's crimson buds, and white and blue— The very rainbow showers Have turn'd to blossoms where they fell, And sown the earth with flowers.
There's fairy tulips in the east, The garden of the sun; The very streams reflect the hues, And blossom as they run: While Morn opes like a crimson rose, Still wet with pearly showers; Then, lady, leave the silken thread Thou twinest into flowers!
Good morrow to the golden morning, Good morrow to the world's delight— I've come to bless thy life's beginning, Since it makes my own so bright!
I have brought no roses, sweetest, I could find no flowers, dear,— It was when all sweets were over Thou wert born to bless the year.
But I've brought thee jewels, dearest, In thy bonny locks to shine,— And if love shows in their glances, They have learn'd that look of mine!
I LOVE THEE.
I love thee—I love thee! 'Tis all that I can say;— It is my vision in the night, My dreaming in the day; The very echo of my heart, The blessing when I pray: I love thee—I love thee! Is all that I can say.
I love thee—I love thee! Is ever on my tongue; In all my proudest poesy That chorus still is sung; It is the verdict of my eyes, Amidst the gay and young: I love thee—I love thee! A thousand maids among.
I love thee—I love thee! Thy bright hazel glance, The mellow lute upon those lips, Whose tender tones entrance; But most, dear heart of hearts, thy proofs That still these words enhance, I love thee—I love thee! Whatever be thy chance.
Let us make a leap, my dear, In our love, of many a year, And date it very far away, On a bright clear summer day, When the heart was like a sun To itself, and falsehood none; And the rosy lips a part Of the very loving heart, And the shining of the eye But a sign to know it by;— When my faults were all forgiven, And my life deserved of Heaven. Dearest, let us reckon so, And love for all that long ago; Each absence count a year complete, And keep a birthday when we meet.
FALSE POETS AND TRUE.
Look how the lark soars upward and is gone, Turning a spirit as he nears the sky! His voice is heard, but body there is none To fix the vague excursions of the eye. So, poets' songs are with us, tho' they die Obscured, and hid by death's oblivious shroud, And Earth inherits the rich melody Like raining music from the morning cloud. Yet, few there be who pipe so sweet and loud Their voices reach us through the lapse of space: The noisy day is deafen'd by a crowd Of undistinguished birds, a twittering race; But only lark and nightingale forlorn Fill up the silences of night and morn.
THE TWO SWANS.
A FAIRY TALE.
Immortal Imogen, crown'd queen above The lilies of thy sex, vouchsafe to hear A fairy dream in honor of true love— True above ills, and frailty, and all fear,— Perchance a shadow of his own career Whose youth was darkly prison'd and long-twined By serpent-sorrow, till white Love drew near, And sweetly sang him free, and round his mind A bright horizon threw, wherein no grief may wind.
I saw a tower builded on a lake, Mock'd by its inverse shadow, dark and deep— That seem'd a still intenser night to make, Wherein the quiet waters sank to sleep,— And, whatso'er was prison'd in that keep, A monstrous Snake was warden:—round and round In sable ringlets I beheld him creep Blackest amid black shadows to the ground, Whilst his enormous head, the topmost turret crown'd.
From whence he shot fierce light against the stars, Making the pale moon paler with affright; And with his ruby eye out-threaten'd Mars— That blaz'd in the mid-heavens, hot and bright— Nor slept, nor wink'd, but with a steadfast spite Watch'd their wan looks and tremblings in the skies; And that he might not slumber in the night, The curtain-lids were pluck'd from his large eyes, So he might never drowse, but watch his secret prize.
Prince or princess in dismal durance pent, Victims of old Enchantment's love or hate, Their lives must all in painful sighs be spent, Watching the lonely waters soon and late, And clouds that pass and leave them to their fate, Or company their grief with heavy tears:— Meanwhile that Hope can spy no golden gate For sweet escapement, but in darksome fears They weep and pine away as if immortal years.
No gentle bird with gold upon its wing Will perch upon the grate—the gentle bird Is safe in leafy dell, and will not bring Freedom's sweet key-note and commission-word Learn'd of a fairy's lips, for pity stirr'd— Lest while he trembling sings, untimely guest! Watch'd by that cruel Snake and darkly heard, He leave a widow on her lonely nest, To press in silent grief the darlings of her breast.
No gallant knight, adventurous, in his bark, Will seek the fruitful perils of the place, To rouse with dipping oar the waters dark That bear that serpent image on their face. And Love, brave Love! though he attempt the base, Nerved to his loyal death, he may not win His captive lady from the strict embrace Of that foul Serpent, clasping her within His sable folds—like Eve enthrall'd by the old Sin.
But there is none—no knight in panoply, Nor Love, intrench'd in his strong steely coat: No little speck—no sail—no helper nigh, No sign—no whispering—no plash of boat:— The distant shores show dimly and remote, Made of a deeper mist,—serene and gray,— And slow and mute the cloudy shadows float Over the gloomy wave, and pass away, Chased by the silver beams that on their marges play.
And bright and silvery the willows sleep Over the shady verge—no mad winds tease Their hoary heads; but quietly they weep Their sprinkling leaves—half fountains and half trees: Their lilies be—and fairer than all these, A solitary Swan her breast of snow Launches against the wave that seems to freeze Into a chaste reflection, still below Twin shadow of herself wherever she may go.
And forth she paddles in the very noon Of solemn midnight like an elfin thing, Charm'd into being by the argent moon— Whose silver light for love of her fair wing Goes with her in the shade, still worshipping Her dainty plumage:—all around her grew A radiant circlet, like a fairy ring; And all behind, a tiny little clue Of light, to guide her back across the waters blue.
And sure she is no meaner than a fay, Redeem'd from sleepy death, for beauty's sake, By old ordainment:—silent as she lay, Touched by a moonlight wand I saw her wake, And cut her leafy slough, and so forsake The verdant prison of her lily peers, That slept amidst the stars upon the lake— A breathing shape—restored to human fears, And new-born love and grief—self-conscious of her tears.
And now she clasps her wings around her heart, And near that lonely isle begins to glide, Pale as her fears, and oft-times with a start Turns her impatient head from side to side In universal terrors—all too wide To watch; and often to that marble keep Upturns her pearly eyes, as if she spied Some foe, and crouches in the shadows steep That in the gloomy wave go diving fathoms deep.
And well she may, to spy that fearful thing All down the dusky walls in circlets wound; Alas! for what rare prize, with many a ring Girding the marble casket round and round? His folded tail, lost in the gloom profound, Terribly darkeneth the rocky base; But on the top his monstrous head is crown'd With prickly spears, and on his doubtful face Gleam his unwearied eyes, red watchers of the place.
Alas! of the hot fires that nightly fall, No one will scorch him in those orbs of spite, So he may never see beneath the wall That timid little creature, all too bright, That stretches her fair neck, slender and white, Invoking the pale moon, and vainly tries Her throbbing throat, as if to charm the night With song—but, hush—it perishes in sighs, And there will be no dirge sad-swelling, though she dies!
She droops—she sinks—she leans upon the lake, Fainting again into a lifeless flower; But soon the chilly springs anoint and wake Her spirit from its death, and with new power She sheds her stifled sorrows in a shower Of tender song, timed to her falling tears— That wins the shady summit of that tower, And, trembling all the sweeter for its fears, Fills with imploring moan that cruel monster's ears.
And, lo! the scaly beast is all deprest, Subdued like Argus by the might of sound— What time Apollo his sweet lute addrest To magic converse with the air, and bound The many monster eyes, all slumber-drown'd:— So on the turret-top that watchful Snake Pillows his giant head, and lists profound, As if his wrathful spite would never wake, Charm'd into sudden sleep for Love and Beauty's sake!
His prickly crest lies prone upon his crown, And thirsty lip from lip disparted flies, To drink that dainty flood of music down— His scaly throat is big with pent-up sighs— And whilst his hollow ear entranced lies, His looks for envy of the charmed sense Are fain to listen, till his steadfast eyes, Stung into pain by their own impotence, Distil enormous tears into the lake immense.
Oh, tuneful Swan! oh, melancholy bird! Sweet was that midnight miracle of song, Rich with ripe sorrow, needful of no word To tell of pain, and love, and love's deep wrong— Hinting a piteous tale—perchance how long Thy unknown tears were mingled with the lake, What time disguised thy leafy mates among— And no eye knew what human love and ache Dwelt in those dewy leaves, and heart so nigh to break.
Therefore no poet will ungently touch The water-lily, on whose eyelids dew Trembles like tears; but ever hold it such As human pain may wander through and through, Turning the pale leaf paler in its hue— Wherein life dwells, transfigured, not entomb'd, By magic spells. Alas! who ever knew Sorrow in all its shapes, leafy and plumed, Or in gross husks of brutes eternally inhumed?
And now the winged song has scaled the height Of that dark dwelling, builded for despair, And soon a little casement flashing bright Widens self-open'd into the cool air— That music like a bird may enter there And soothe the captive in his stony cage; For there is nought of grief, or painful care, But plaintive song may happily engage From sense of its own ill, and tenderly assuage.
And forth into the light, small and remote, A creature, like the fair son of a king, Draws to the lattice in his jewell'd coat Against the silver moonlight glistening, And leans upon his white hand listening To that sweet music that with tenderer tone Salutes him, wondering what kindly thing Is come to soothe him with so tuneful moan, Singing beneath the walls as if for him alone!
And while he listens, the mysterious song, Woven with timid particles of speech. Twines into passionate words that grieve along The melancholy notes, and softly teach The secrets of true love,—that trembling reach His earnest ear, and through the shadows dun He missions like replies, and each to each Their silver voices mingle into one, Like blended streams that make one music as they run.
"Ah! Love, my hope is swooning in my heart,—" "Ay, sweet, my cage is strong and hung full high—" "Alas! our lips are held so far apart, Thy words come faint,—they have so far to fly!—" "If I may only shun that serpent-eye,—" "Ah me! that serpent-eye doth never sleep;—" "Then, nearer thee, Love's martyr, I will die!—" "Alas, alas! that word has made me weep! For pity's sake remain safe in thy marble keep!"
"My marble keep! it is my marble tomb—" "Nay, sweet! but thou hast there thy living breath—" "Aye to expend in sighs for this hard doom;—" "But I will come to thee and sing beneath," "And nightly so beguile this serpent wreath;—" "Nay, I will find a path from these despairs." "Ah, needs then thou must tread the back of death, Making his stony ribs thy stony stairs.— Behold his ruby eye, how fearfully it glares!"
Full sudden at these words, the princely youth Leaps on the scaly back that slumbers, still Unconscious of his foot, yet not for ruth, But numb'd to dulness by the fairy skill Of that sweet music (all more wild and shrill For intense fear) that charm'd him as he lay— Meanwhile the lover nerves his desperate will, Held some short throbs by natural dismay, Then down the serpent-track begins his darksome way.
Now dimly seen—now toiling out of sight, Eclipsed and cover'd by the envious wall; Now fair and spangled in the sudden light, And clinging with wide arms for fear of fall; Now dark and shelter'd by a kindly pall Of dusky shadow from his wakeful foe; Slowly he winds adown—dimly and small, Watch'd by the gentle Swan that sings below, Her hope increasing, still, the larger he doth grow.
But nine times nine the serpent folds embrace The marble walls about—which he must tread Before his anxious foot may touch the base: Long in the dreary path, and must be sped! But Love, that holds the mastery of dread, Braces his spirit, and with constant toil He wins his way, and now, with arms outspread, Impatient plunges from the last long coil; So may all gentle Love ungentle Malice foil!
The song is hush'd, the charm is all complete, And two fair Swans are swimming on the lake: But scarce their tender bills have time to meet, When fiercely drops adown that cruel Snake— His steely scales a fearful rustling make, Like autumn leaves that tremble and foretell The sable storm;—the plumy lovers quake— And feel the troubled waters pant and swell, Heaved by the giant bulk of their pursuer fell.
His jaws, wide yawning like the gates of Death, Hiss horrible pursuit—his red eyes glare The waters into blood—his eager breath Grows hot upon their plumes:—now, minstrel fair! She drops her ring into the waves, and there It widens all around, a fairy ring Wrought of the silver light—the fearful pair Swim in the very midst, and pant and cling The closer for their fears, and tremble wing to wing.
Bending their course over the pale gray lake, Against the pallid East, wherein light play'd In tender flushes, still the baffled Snake Circled them round continually, and bay'd Hoarsely and loud, forbidden to invade The sanctuary ring—his sable mail Roll'd darkly through the flood, and writhed and made A shining track over the waters pale, Lash'd into boiling foam by his enormous tail.
And so they sail'd into the distance dim, Into the very distance—small and white, Like snowy blossoms of the spring that swim Over the brooklets—follow'd by the spite Of that huge Serpent, that with wild affright Worried them on their course, and sore annoy, Till on the grassy marge I saw them 'light, And change, anon, a gentle girl and boy, Lock'd in embrace of sweet unutterable joy!
Then came the Morn, and with her pearly showers Wept on them, like a mother, in whose eyes Tears are no grief; and from his rosy bowers The Oriental sun began to rise, Chasing the darksome shadows from the skies; Wherewith that sable Serpent far away Fled, like a part of night—delicious sighs From waking blossoms purified the day, And little birds were singing sweetly from each spray.
ODE ON A DISTANT PROSPECT OF CLAPHAM ACADEMY.
[Footnote 5: No connection with any other Ode.]
Ah me! those old familiar bounds! That classic house, those classic grounds My pensive thought recalls! What tender urchins now confine, What little captives now repine, Within yon irksome walls?
Ay, that's the very house! I know Its ugly windows, ten a-row! Its chimneys in the rear! And there's the iron rod so high, That drew the thunder from the sky And turn'd our table-beer!
There I was birch'd! there I was bred! There like a little Adam fed From Learning's woeful tree! The weary tasks I used to con!— The hopeless leaves I wept upon!— Most fruitless leaves to me!—
The summon'd class!—the awful bow!— I wonder who is master now And wholesome anguish sheds! How many ushers now employs, How many maids to see the boys Have nothing in their heads!
And Mrs. S——?—Doth she abet (Like Pallas in the parlor) yet Some favor'd two or three,— The little Crichtons of the hour, Her muffin-medals that devour, And swill her prize—bohea?
Ay, there's the playground! there's the lime, Beneath whose shade in summer's prime So wildly I have read!— Who sits there now, and skims the cream Of young Romance, and weaves a dream Of Love and Cottage-bread?
Who struts the Randall of the walk? Who models tiny heads in chalk? Who scoops the light canoe? What early genius buds apace? Where's Poynter? Harris? Bowers? Chase? Hal Baylis? blithe Carew?
Alack! they're gone—a thousand ways! And some are serving in "the Greys," And some have perish'd young!— Jack Harris weds his second wife; Hal Baylis drives the wane of life; And blithe Carew—is hung!
Grave Bowers teaches A B C To savages at Owhyee; Poor Chase is with the worms!— All, all are gone—the olden breed!— New crops of mushroon boys succeed, "And push us from our forms!"
Lo! where they scramble forth, and shout, And leap, and skip, and mob about, At play where we have play'd! Some hop, some run, (some fall,) some twine Their crony arms; some in the shine,— And some are in the shade!
Lo there what mix'd conditions run! The orphan lad; the widow's son; And Fortune's favor'd care— The wealthy-born, for whom she hath Mac-Adamised the future path— The Nabob's pamper'd heir!
Some brightly starr'd—some evil born,— For honor some, and some for scorn,— For fair or foul renown! Good, bad, indiff'rent—none may lack! Look, here's a White, and there's a Black And there's a Creole brown!
Some laugh and sing, some mope and weep, And wish their frugal sires would keep Their only sons at home;— Some tease their future tense, and plan The full-grown doings of the man, And plant for years to come!
A foolish wish! There's one at hoop; And four at fives! and five who stoop The marble taw to speed! And one that curvets in and out, Reining his fellow Cob about,— Would I were in his steed!
Yet he would glady halt and drop That boyish harness off, to swop With this world's heavy van— To toil, to tug. O little fool! While thou canst be a horse at school, To wish to be a man!
Perchance thou deem'st it were a thing To wear a crown,—to be a king! And sleep on regal down! Alas! thou know'st not kingly cares; For happier is thy head that wears That hat without a crown!
And dost thou think that years acquire New added joys? Dost think thy sire More happy than his son? That manhood's mirth?—Oh, go thy ways To Drury-lane when—plays, And see how forced our fun!
Thy taws are brave!—thy tops are rare!— Our tops are spun with coils of care, Our dumps are no delight!— The Elgin marbles are but tame, And 'tis at best a sorry game To fly the Muse's kite!
Our hearts are dough, our heels are lead, Our topmost joys fall dull and dead Like balls with no rebound! And often with a faded eye We look behind, and send a sigh Towards that merry ground!
Then be contented. Thou hast got The most of heaven in thy young lot; There's sky-blue in thy cup! Thou'lt find thy Manhood all too fast— Soon come, soon gone! and Age at last A sorry breaking-up!
There is dew for the flow'ret And honey for the bee, And bowers for the wild bird, And love for you and me.
There are tears for the many And pleasures for the few; But let the world pass on, dear, There's love for me and you.
There is care that will not leave us, And pain that will not flee; But on our hearth unalter'd Sits Love—'tween you and me.
Our love it ne'er was reckon'd, Yet good it is and true, It's half the world to me, dear, It's all the world to you.
[Footnote 6: The first two stanzas by Hood, the other two contributed by Barry Cornwall at the request of Mrs. Hood, with a view to the poem being set to music.]
THE WATER LADY.
[Footnote 7: Suggested, according to Hood's son, by a water-color drawing by Keats's friend Severn.]
Alas, the moon should ever beam To show what man should never see!— I saw a maiden on a stream, And fair was she!
I staid awhile, to see her throw Her tresses black, that all beset The fair horizon of her brow With clouds of jet.
I staid a little while to view Her cheek, that wore in place of red The bloom of water, tender blue, Daintily spread.
I staid to watch, a little space, Her parted lips if she would sing; The waters closed above her face With many a ring.
And still I staid a little more, Alas! she never comes again! I throw my flowers from the shore, And watch in vain.
I know my life will fade away, I know that I must vainly pine, For I am made of mortal clay, But she's divine!
The Autumn is old, The sere leaves are flying;— He hath gather'd up gold, And now he is dying;— Old Age, begin sighing!
The vintage is ripe, The harvest is heaping;— But some that have sow'd Have no riches for reaping;— Poor wretch, fall a-weeping!
The year's in the wane, There is nothing adorning, The night has no eve, And the day has no morning;— Cold winter gives warning.
The rivers run chill, The red sun is sinking, And I am grown old, And life is fast shrinking; Here's enow for sad thinking!
I REMEMBER, I REMEMBER.
I remember, I remember, The house where I was born, The little window where the sun Came peeping in at morn; He never came a wink too soon, Nor brought too long a day, But now, I often wish the night Had borne my breath away!
I remember, I remember, The roses, red and white, The violets, and the lily-cups, Those flowers made of light! The lilacs where the robin built, And where my brother set The laburnum on his birthday,— The tree is living yet!
I remember, I remember, Where I was used to swing, And thought the air must rush as fresh To swallows on the wing; My spirit flew in feathers then, That is so heavy now, And summer pools could hardly cool The fever on my brow!
I remember, I remember, The fir trees dark and high; I used to think their slender tops Were close against the sky: It was a childish ignorance, But now 'tis little joy To know I'm farther off from Heav'n Than when I was a boy.
THE POET'S PORTION.
What is a mine—a treasury—a dower— A magic talisman of mighty power? A poet's wide possession of the earth. He has th' enjoyment of a flower's birth Before its budding—ere the first red streaks,— And Winter cannot rob him of their cheeks.
Look—if his dawn be not as other men's! Twenty bright flushes—ere another kens The first of sunlight is abroad—he sees Its golden 'lection of the topmost trees, And opes the splendid fissures of the morn.
When do his fruits delay, when doth his corn Linger for harvesting? Before the leaf Is commonly abroad, in his piled sheaf The flagging poppies lose their ancient flame. No sweet there is, no pleasure I can name, But he will sip it first—before the lees. 'Tis his to taste rich honey,—ere the bees Are busy with the brooms. He may forestall June's rosy advent for his coronal; Before th' expectant buds upon the bough, Twining his thoughts to bloom upon his brow.
Oh! blest to see the flower in its seed, Before its leafy presence; for indeed Leaves are but wings on which the summer flies, And each thing perishable fades and dies, Escap'd in thought; but his rich thinkings be Like overflows of immortality: So that what there is steep'd shall perish never, But live and bloom, and be a joy forever.
ODE TO THE MOON.
Mother of light! how fairly dost thou go Over those hoary crests, divinely led!— Art thou that huntress of the silver bow, Fabled of old? Or rather dost thou tread Those cloudy summits thence to gaze below, Like the wild Chamois from her Alpine snow, Where hunter never climb'd,—secure from dread? How many antique fancies have I read Of that mild presence! and how many wrought! Wondrous and bright, Upon the silver light, Chasing fair figures with the artist, Thought!
What art thou like?—Sometimes I see thee ride A far-bound galley on its perilous way, Whilst breezy waves toss up their silvery spray;— Sometimes behold thee glide, Cluster'd by all thy family of stars, Like a lone widow, through the welkin wide, Whose pallid cheek the midnight sorrow mars;— Sometimes I watch thee on from steep to steep, Timidly lighted by thy vestal torch, Till in some Latmian cave I see thee creep, To catch the young Endymion asleep,— Leaving thy splendor at the jagged porch!—
Oh, thou art beautiful, howe'er it be! Huntress, or Dian, or whatever named; And he, the veriest Pagan, that first framed A silver idol, and ne'er worshipp'd thee!— It is too late—or thou should'st have my knee— Too late now for the old Ephesian vows, And not divine the crescent on thy brows!— Yet, call thee nothing but the mere mild Moon, Behind those chestnut boughs, Casting their dappled shadows at my feet; I will be grateful for that simple boon, In many a thoughtful verse and anthem sweet, And bless thy dainty face when'er we meet.
In nights far gone,—ay, far away and dead,— Before Care-fretted, with a lidless eye,— I was thy wooer on my little bed, Letting the early hours of rest go by, To see thee flood the heaven with milky light, And feed thy snow-white swans, before I slept; For thou wert then purveyor of my dreams,— Thou wert the fairies' armourer, that kept Their burnish'd helms, and crowns, and corslets bright, Their spears, and glittering mails; And ever thou didst spill in winding streams Sparkles and midnight gleams, For fishes to new gloss their ardent scales!—
Why sighs?—why creeping tears?—why clasped hands?— Is it to count the boy's expended dow'r? That fairies since have broke their gifted wands? That young Delight, like any o'erblown flower, Gave, one by one, its sweet leaves to the ground?— Why then, fair Moon, for all thou mark'st no hour, Thou art a sadder dial to old Time Than ever I have found On sunny garden-plot, or moss-grown tow'r, Motto'd with stern and melancholy rhyme.
Why should I grieve for this?—Oh I must yearn Whilst Time, conspirator with Memory, Keeps his cold ashes in an ancient urn, Richly emboss'd with childhood's revelry, With leaves and cluster'd fruits, and flow'rs eterne,— (Eternal to the world, though not to me), Aye there will those brave sports and blossoms be, The deathless wreath, and undecay'd festoon, When I am hearsed within,— Less than the pallid primrose to the Moon, That now she watches through a vapor thin.
So let it be:—Before I lived to sigh, Thou wert in Avon, and a thousand rills, Beautiful Orb! and so, whene'er I lie Trodden, thou wilt be gazing from thy hills. Blest be thy loving light, where'er it spills, And blessed thy fair face, O Mother mild! Still shine, the soul of rivers as they run, Still lend thy lonely lamp to lovers fond, And blend their plighted shadows into one:— Still smile at even on the bedded child, And close his eyelids with thy silver wand!
WRITTEN IN A VOLUME OF SHAKSPEARE.
How bravely Autumn paints upon the sky The gorgeous fame of Summer which is fled! Hues of all flow'rs, that in their ashes lie, Trophied in that fair light whereon they fed,— Tulip, and hyacinth, and sweet rose red,— Like exhalations from the leafy mould, Look here how honor glorifies the dead, And warms their scutcheons with a glance of gold!— Such is the memory of poets old, Who on Parnassus' hill have bloom'd elate; Now they are laid under their marbles cold, And turned to clay, whereof they were create; But god Apollo hath them all enroll'd, And blazon'd on the very clouds of Fate!
A RETROSPECTIVE REVIEW.
Oh, when I was a tiny boy, My days and nights were full of joy, My mates were blithe and kind!— No wonder that I sometimes sigh, And dash the tear-drop from my eye, To cast a look behind!
A hoop was an eternal round Of pleasure. In those days I found A top a joyous thing;— But now those past delights I drop, My head, alas! is all my top, And careful thoughts the string!
My marbles—once my bag was stored,— Now I must play with Elgin's lord, With Theseus for a taw! My playful horse has slipt his string, Forgotten all his capering, And harness'd to the law!
My kite—how fast and far it flew! Whilst I, a sort of Franklin, drew My pleasure from the sky! 'Twas paper'd o'er with studious themes, The tasks I wrote—my present dreams Will never soar so high!
My joys are wingless all and dead; My dumps are made of more than lead;— My flights soon find a fall; My fears prevail, my fancies droop, Joy never cometh with a hoop, And seldom with a call!
My football's laid upon the shelf; I am a shuttlecock myself The world knocks to and fro;— My archery is all unlearn'd, And grief against myself has turn'd My arrows and my bow!
No more in noontide sun I bask; My authorship's an endless task, My head's ne'er out of school: My heart is pain'd with scorn and slight, I have too many foes to fight, And friends grown strangely cool!
The very chum that shared my cake Holds out so cold a hand to shake, It makes me shrink and sigh:— On this I will not dwell and hang,— The changeling would not feel a pang Though these should meet his eye!
No skies so blue or so serene As then;—no leaves look half so green As clothed the playground tree! All things I loved are altered so, Nor does it ease my heart to know That change resides in me!
Oh for the garb that marked the boy, The trousers made of corduroy, Well ink'd with black and red; The crownless hat, ne'er deem'd an ill— It only let the sunshine still Repose upon my head!
Oh for the riband round the neck! The careless dogs-ears apt to deck My book and collar both! How can this formal man be styled Merely an Alexandrine child, A boy of larger growth?
Oh for that small, small beer anew! And (heaven's own type) that mild sky-blue That wash'd my sweet meals down; The master even!—and that small Turk That fagg'd me!—worse is now my work— A fag for all the town!
Oh for the lessons learned by heart! Ay, though the very birch's smart Should mark those hours again; I'd "kiss the rod," and be resign'd Beneath the stroke, and even find Some sugar in the cane!
The Arabian Nights rehearsed in bed! The Fairy Tales in school-time read, By stealth, 'twixt verb and noun! The angel form that always walk'd In all my dreams, and look'd and talk'd Exactly like Miss Brown!
The omne bene—Christmas come! The prize of merit, won for home— Merit had prizes then! But now I write for days and days, For fame—a deal of empty praise, Without the silver pen!
Then "home, sweet home!" the crowded coach— The joyous shout—the loud approach— The winding horns like rams'! The meeting sweet that made me thrill, The sweetmeats, almost sweeter still, No 'satis' to the 'jams'!—
When that I was a tiny boy My days and nights were full of joy, My mates were blithe and kind! No wonder that I sometimes sigh, And dash the tear-drop from my eye, To cast a look behind!
It was not in the Winter Our loving lot was cast; It was the Time of Roses,— We plucked them as we passed!
That churlish season never frown'd On early lovers yet:— Oh, no—the world was newly crown'd With flowers when first we met!
'Twas twilight, and I bade you go, But still you held me fast; It was the Time of Roses,— We pluck'd them as we pass'd.—
What else could peer thy glowing cheek, That tears began to stud? And when I ask'd the like of Love, You snatched a damask bud;
And oped it to the dainty core, Still glowing to the last.— It was the Time of Roses,— We plucked them as we pass'd!
TIME, HOPE, AND MEMORY.
I heard a gentle maiden, in the spring, Set her sweet sighs to music, and thus sing: "Fly through the world, and I will follow thee, Only for looks that may turn back on me;
"Only for roses that your chance may throw— Though withered—Twill wear them on my brow, To be a thoughtful fragrance to my brain,— Warm'd with such love, that they will bloom again."
"Thy love before thee, I must tread behind, Kissing thy foot-prints, though to me unkind; But trust not all her fondness, though it seem, Lest thy true love should rest on a false dream."
"Her face is smiling, and her voice is sweet; But smiles betray, and music sings deceit; And words speak false;—yet, if they welcome prove, I'll be their echo, and repeat their love."
"Only if waken'd to sad truth, at last, The bitterness to come, and sweetness past; When thou art vext, then turn again, and see Thou hast loved Hope, but Memory loved thee."
I will not have the mad Clytie, Whose head is turned by the sun; The tulip is a courtly queen, Whom, therefore, I will shun; The cowslip is a country wench, The violet is a nun;— But I will woo the dainty rose, The queen of every one.
The pea is but a wanton witch, In too much haste to wed, And clasps her rings on every hand; The wolfsbane I should dread; Nor will I dreary rosemarye, That always mourns the dead;— But I will woo the dainty rose, With her cheeks of tender red.
The lily is all in white, like a saint, And so is no mate for me— And the daisy's cheek is tipped with a blush, She is of such low degree; Jasmine is sweet, and has many loves, And the broom's betroth'd to the bee;— But I will plight with the dainty rose, For fairest of all is she.
She's up and gone, the graceless girl, And robb'd my failing years! My blood before was thin and cold But now 'tis turn'd to tears;— My shadow falls upon my grave, So near the brink I stand, She might have stay'd a little yet, And led me by the hand!
Aye, call her on the barren moor, And call her on the hill: 'Tis nothing but the heron's cry, And plover's answer shrill; My child is flown on wilder wings Than they have ever spread, And I may even walk a waste That widen'd when she fled.
Full many a thankless child has been, But never one like mine; Her meat was served on plates of gold, Her drink was rosy wine; But now she'll share the robin's food, And sup the common rill, Before her feet will turn again To meet her father's will!
She stood breast high amid the corn Clasp'd by the golden light of morn, Like the sweetheart of the sun, Who many a glowing kiss had won.
On her cheek an autumn flush, Deeply ripen'd;—such a blush In the midst of brown was born, Like red poppies grown with corn.
Round her eyes her tresses fell, Which were blackest none could tell, But long lashes veil'd a light, That had else been all too bright.
And her hat, with shady brim, Made her tressy forehead dim;— Thus she stood amid the stooks, Praising God with sweetest looks:—
Sure, I said, Heav'n did not mean, Where I reap thou shouldst but glean, Lay thy sheaf adown and come, Share my harvest and my home.
THE PLEA OF THE MIDSUMMER FAIRIES.
[Footnote 8: The opening Poem in the volume published by Hood in 1827, under the same title. The Poem was prefaced by the following letter to Charles Lamb:—
"My dear Friend, I thank my literary fortune that I am not reduced like many better wits to barter dedications, for the hope or promise of patronage, with some nominally great man; but that where true affection points, and honest respect, I am free to gratify my head and heart by a sincere inscription. An intimacy and dearness, worthy of a much earlier date than our acquaintance can refer to, direct me at once to your name; and with this acknowledgment of your ever kind feeling towards me, I desire to record a respect and admiration for you as a writer, which no one acquainted with our literature, save Elia himself, will think disproportionate or misplaced. If I had not these better reasons to govern me, I should be guided to the same selection by your intense yet critical relish for the works of the great Dramatist, and for that favorite play in particular which has furnished the subject of my verses.
It is my design in the following poem to celebrate by an allegory that immortality which Shakspeare has conferred on the fairy mythology by his Midsummer Night's Dream. But for him, those pretty children of our childhood would leave barely their names to our maturer years; they belong, as the mites upon the plumb, to the bloom of fancy, a thing generally too frail and beautiful to withstand the rude handling of time: but the Poet has made this most perishable part of the mind's creation equal to the most enduring; he has so intertwined the Elfins with human sympathies, and linked them by so many delightful associations with the productions of nature, that they are as real to the mind's eye, as their green magical circles to the outer sense. It would have been a pity for such a race to go extinct, even though they were but as the butterflies that hover about the leaves and blossoms of the visible world. I am, my dear friend, yours most truly, T. HOOD."]
'Twas in that mellow season of the year When the hot sun singes the yellow leaves Till they be gold,—and with a broader sphere The Moon looks down on Ceres and her sheaves; When more abundantly the spider weaves, And the cold wind breathes from a chillier clime;— That forth I fared, on one of those still eves, Touch'd with the dewy sadness of the time, To think how the bright months had spent their prime,
So that, wherever I address'd my way, I seem'd to track the melancholy feet Of him that is the Father of Decay, And spoils at once the sour weed and the sweet;— Wherefore regretfully I made retreat To some unwasted regions of my brain, Charm'd with the light of summer and the heat, And bade that bounteous season bloom again, And sprout fresh flowers in mine own domain.
It was a shady and sequester'd scene, Like those famed gardens of Boccaccio, Planted with his own laurels evergreen, And roses that for endless summer blow; And there were fountain springs to overflow Their marble basins,—and cool green arcades Of tall o'erarching sycamores, to throw Athwart the dappled path their dancing shades,— With timid coneys cropping the green blades.
And there were crystal pools, peopled with fish, Argent and gold; and some of Tyrian skin, Some crimson-barr'd;—and ever at a wish They rose obsequious till the wave grew thin As glass upon their backs, and then dived in, Quenching their ardent scales in watery gloom; Whilst others with fresh hues row'd forth to win My changeable regard,—for so we doom Things born of thought to vanish or to bloom.
And there were many birds of many dyes, From tree to tree still faring to and fro, And stately peacocks with their splendid eyes, And gorgeous pheasants with their golden glow, Like Iris just bedabbled in her bow, Beside some vocalists, without a name, That oft on fairy errands come and go, With accents magical;—and all were tame, And peckled at my hand where'er I came.
And for my sylvan company, in lieu Of Pampinea with her lively peers, Sate Queen Titania with her pretty crew, All in their liveries quaint, with elfin gears, For she was gracious to my childish years, And made me free of her enchanted round; Wherefore this dreamy scene she still endears, And plants her court upon a verdant mound, Fenced with umbrageous woods and groves profound.
"Ah me," she cries, "was ever moonlight seen So clear and tender for our midnight trips? Go some one forth, and with a trump convene My lieges all!"—Away the goblin skips A pace or two apart, and deftly strips The ruddy skin from a sweet rose's cheek, Then blows the shuddering leaf between his lips, Making it utter forth a shrill small shriek, Like a fray'd bird in the gray owlet's beak.
And lo! upon my fix'd delighted ken Appear'd the loyal Fays.—Some by degrees Crept from the primrose buds that open'd then, Ana some from bell-shaped blossoms like the bees, Some from the dewy meads, and rushy leas, Flew up like chafers when the rustics pass; Some from the rivers, others from tall trees Dropp'd, like shed blossoms, silent to the grass, Spirits and elfins small, of every class.
Peri and Pixy, and quaint Puck the Antic, Brought Robin Goodfellow, that merry swain; And stealthy Mab, queen of old realms romantic, Came too, from distance, in her tiny wain, Fresh dripping from a cloud—some bloomy rain, Then circling the bright Moon, had wash'd her car, And still bedew'd it with a various stain: Lastly came Ariel, shooting from a star, Who bears all fairy embassies afar.
But Oberon, that night elsewhere exiled, Was absent, whether some distemper'd spleen Kept him and his fair mate unreconciled, Or warfare with the Gnome (whose race had been Sometime obnoxious), kept him from his queen, And made her now peruse the starry skies Prophetical, with such an absent mien; Howbeit, the tears stole often to her eyes, And oft the Moon was incensed with her sighs—
Which made the elves sport drearily, and soon Their hushing dances languish'd to a stand, Like midnight leaves, when, as the Zephyrs swoon, All on their drooping stems they sink unfann'd,— So into silence droop'd the fairy band, To see their empress dear so pale and still, Crowding her softly round on either hand, As pale as frosty snowdrops, and as chill, To whom the sceptred dame reveals her ill.
"Alas," quoth she, "ye know our fairy lives Are leased upon the fickle faith of men; Not measured out against Fate's mortal knives, Like human gosamers,—we perish when We fade and are forgot in worldly kens— Though poesy has thus prolong'd our date, Thanks be to the sweet Bard's auspicious pen That rescued us so long!—howbeit of late I feel some dark misgivings of our fate."
"And this dull day my melancholy sleep Hath been so thronged with images of woe, That even now I cannot choose but weep To think this was some sad prophetic show Of future horror to befall us so, Of mortal wreck and uttermost distress, Yea, our poor empire's fall and overthrow, For this was my long vision's dreadful stress, And when I waked my trouble was not less."
"Whenever to the clouds I tried to seek, Such leaden weight dragg'd these Icarian wings, My faithless wand was wavering and weak, And slimy toads had trespass'd in our rings— The birds refused to sing for me—all things Disown'd their old allegiance to our spells; The rude bees prick'd me with their rebel stings; And, when I pass'd, the valley-lily's bells Rang out, methought, most melancholy knells."
"And ever on the faint and flagging air A doleful spirit with a dreary note Cried in my fearful ear, 'Prepare! prepare!' Which soon I knew came from a raven's throat, Perch'd on a cypress-bough not far remote,— A cursed bird, too crafty to be shot, That alway cometh with his soot-black coat To make hearts dreary:—for he is a blot Upon the book of life, as well ye wot!—"
"Wherefore some while I bribed him to be mute, With bitter acorns stuffing his foul maw, Which barely I appeased, when some fresh bruit Startled me all aheap!—and soon I saw The horridest shape that ever raised my awe,— A monstrous giant, very huge and tall, Such as in elder times, devoid of law, With wicked might grieved the primeval ball, And this was sure the deadliest of them all!"
"Gaunt was he as a wolf of Languedoc, With bloody jaws, and frost upon his crown So from his barren poll one hoary lock Over his wrinkled front fell far adown, Well nigh to where his frosty brows did frown Like jagged icicles at cottage eaves; And for his coronal he wore some brown And bristled ears gather'd from Ceres' sheaves, Entwined with certain sere and russet leaves."
"And lo! upon a mast rear'd far aloft, He bore a very bright and crescent blade, The which he waved so dreadfully, and oft, In meditative spite, that, sore dismay'd, I crept into an acorn-cup for shade; Meanwhile the horrid effigy went by: I trow his look was dreadful, for it made The trembling birds betake them to the sky, For every leaf was lifted by his sigh."
"And ever, as he sigh'd, his foggy breath Blurr'd out the landscape like a flight of smoke: Thence knew I this was either dreary Death Or Time, who leads all creatures to his stroke. Ah wretched me!"—Here, even as she spoke, The melancholy Shape came gliding in, And lean'd his back against an antique oak, Folding his wings, that were so fine and thin, They scarce were seen against the Dryad's skin.
Then what a fear seized all the little rout! Look how a flock of panick'd sheep will stare— And huddle close—and start—and wheel about, Watching the roaming mongrel here and there,— So did that sudden Apparition scare All close aheap those small affrighted things; Nor sought they now the safety of the air, As if some leaden spell withheld their wings; But who can fly that ancientest of Kings?
Whom now the Queen, with a forestalling tear And previous sigh, beginneth to entreat, Bidding him spare, for love, her lieges dear: "Alas!" quoth she, "is there no nodding wheat Ripe for thy crooked weapon, and more meet,— Or wither'd leaves to ravish from the tree,— Or crumbling battlements for thy defeat? Think but what vaunting monuments there be Builded in spite and mockery of thee."
"O fret away the fabric walls of Fame, And grind down marble Caesars with the dust: Make tombs inscriptionless—raze each high name, And waste old armors of renown with rust: Do all of this, and thy revenge is just: Make such decays the trophies of thy prime, And check Ambition's overweening lust, That dares exterminating war with Time,— But we are guiltless of that lofty crime."
"Frail feeble spirits!—the children of a dream! Leased on the sufferance of fickle men, Like motes dependent on the sunny beam, Living but in the sun's indulgent ken, And when that light withdraws, withdrawing then;— So do we flutter in the glance of youth And fervid fancy,—and so perish when The eye of faith grows aged;—in sad truth, Feeling thy sway, O Time! though not thy tooth!"
"Where be those old divinities forlorn, That dwelt in trees, or haunted in a stream? Alas! their memories are dimm'd and torn, Like the remainder tatters of a dream: So will it fare with our poor thrones, I deem;— For us the same dark trench Oblivion delves, That holds the wastes of every human scheme. O spare us then,—and these our pretty elves,— We soon, alas! shall perish of ourselves!"
Now as she ended, with a sigh, to name Those old Olympians, scatter'd by the whirl Of Fortune's giddy wheel and brought to shame, Methought a scornful and malignant curl Show'd on the lips of that malicious churl, To think what noble havocs he had made; So that I fear'd he all at once would hurl The harmless fairies into endless shade,— Howbeit he stopp'd awhile to whet his blade.
Pity it was to hear the elfins' wail Rise up in concert from their mingled dread, Pity it was to see them, all so pale, Gaze on the grass as for a dying bed;— But Puck was seated on a spider's thread, That hung between two branches of a briar, And 'gan to swing and gambol, heels o'er head, Like any Southwark tumbler on a wire, For him no present grief could long inspire.
Meanwhile the Queen with many piteous drops, Falling like tiny sparks full fast and free, Bedews a pathway from her throne;—and stops Before the foot of her arch enemy, And with her little arms enfolds his knee, That shows more grisly from that fair embrace; But she will ne'er depart. "Alas!" quoth she, "My painful fingers I will here enlace Till I have gain'd your pity for our race."
"What have we ever done to earn this grudge, And hate—(if not too humble for thy hating?)— Look o'er our labors and our lives, and judge If there be any ills of our creating; For we are very kindly creatures, dating With nature's charities still sweet and bland:— O think this murder worthy of debating!" Herewith she makes a signal with her hand, To beckon some one from the Fairy band.
Anon I saw one of those elfin things, Clad all in white like any chorister, Come fluttering forth on his melodious wings, That made soft music at each little stir, But something louder than a bee's demur Before he lights upon a bunch of broom, And thus 'gan he with Saturn to confer,— And O his voice was sweet, touch'd with the gloom Of that sad theme that argued of his doom!
Quoth he, "We make all melodies our care, That no false discords may offend the Sun, Music's great master—tuning everywhere All pastoral sounds and melodies, each one Duly to place and season, so that none May harshly interfere. We rouse at morn The shrill sweet lark; and when the day is done, Hush silent pauses for the bird forlorn, That singeth with her breast against a thorn."
"We gather in loud choirs the twittering race, That make a chorus with their single note; And tend on new-fledged birds in every place, That duly they may get their tunes by rote; And oft, like echoes, answering remote, We hide in thickets from the feather'd throng, And strain in rivalship each throbbing throat, Singing in shrill responses all day long, Whilst the glad truant listens to our song."
"Wherefore, great King of Years, as thou dost love The raining music from a morning cloud, When vanish'd larks are carolling above, To wake Apollo with their pipings loud;— If ever thou hast heard in leafy shroud The sweet and plaintive Sappho of the dell, Show thy sweet mercy on this little crowd, And we will muffle up the sheepfold bell Whene'er thou listenest to Philomel."
Then Saturn thus;—"Sweet is the merry lark, That carols in man's ear so clear and strong; And youth must love to listen in the dark That tuneful elegy of Tereus' wrong; But I have heard that ancient strain too long, For sweet is sweet but when a little strange, And I grow weary for some newer song; For wherefore had I wings, unless to range Through all things mutable, from change to change?"
"But would'st thou hear the melodies of Time, Listen when sleep and drowsy darkness roll Over hush'd cities, and the midnight chime Sounds from their hundred clocks, and deep bells toll Like a last knell over the dead world's soul, Saying, 'Time shall be final of all things, Whose late, last voice must elegize the whole,'— O then I clap aloft my brave broad wings, And make the wide air tremble while it rings!"
Then next a fair Eve-Fay made meek address, Saying, "We be the handmaids of the Spring; In sign whereof, May, the quaint broideress, Hath wrought her samplers on our gauzy wing. We tend upon buds birth and blossoming, And count the leafy tributes that they owe— As, so much to the earth—so much to fling In showers to the brook—so much to go In whirlwinds to the clouds that made them grow."
"The pastoral cowslips are our little pets, And daisy stars, whose firmament is green; Pansies, and those veil'd nuns, meek violets, Sighing to that warm world from which they screen; And golden daffodils, pluck'd for May's Queen; And lonely harebells, quaking on the heath; And Hyacinth, long since a fair youth seen, Whose tuneful voice, turn'd fragrance in his breath, Kiss'd by sad Zephyr, guilty of his death."
"The widow'd primrose weeping to the moon And saffron crocus in whose chalice bright A cool libation hoarded for the noon Is kept—and she that purifies the light, The virgin lily, faithful to her white, Whereon Eve wept in Eden for her shame; And the most dainty rose, Aurora's spright, Our every godchild, by whatever name— Spares us our lives, for we did nurse the same!"
Then that old Mower stamp'd his heel, and struck His hurtful scythe against the harmless ground, Saying, "Ye foolish imps, when am I stuck With gaudy buds, or like a wooer crown'd With flow'ry chaplets, save when they are found Withered?—Whenever have I pluck'd a rose, Except to scatter its vain leaves around? For so all gloss of beauty I oppose, And bring decay on every flow'r that blows."
"Or when am I so wroth as when I view The wanton pride of Summer;—how she decks The birthday world with blossoms ever-new, As if Time had not lived, and heap'd great wrecks Of years on years?—O then I bravely vex And catch the gay Months in their gaudy plight, And slay them with the wreaths about their necks, Like foolish heifers in the holy rite, And raise great trophies to my ancient might."
Then saith another, "We are kindly things, And like her offspring nestle with the dove,— Witness these hearts embroidered on our wings, To show our constant patronage of love:— We sit at even, in sweet bow'rs above Lovers, and shake rich odors on the air, To mingle with their sighs; and still remove The startling owl, and bid the bat forbear Their privacy, and haunt some other where."
"And we are near the mother when she sits Beside her infant in its wicker bed; And we are in the fairy scene that flits Across its tender brain: sweet dreams we shed, And whilst the tender little soul is fled, Away, to sport with our young elves, the while We touch the dimpled cheek with roses red, And tickle the soft lips until they smile, So that their careful parents they beguile."
"O then, if ever thou hast breathed a vow At Love's dear portal, or at pale moon-rise Crush'd the dear curl on a regardful brow, That did not frown thee from thy honey prize— If ever thy sweet son sat on thy thighs, And wooed thee from thy careful thoughts within To watch the harmless beauty of his eyes, Or glad thy fingers on his smooth soft skin, For Love's dear sake, let us thy pity win!"
Then Saturn fiercely thus:—"What joy have I In tender babes, that have devour'd mine own, Whenever to the light I heard them cry, Till foolish Rhea cheated me with stone? Whereon, till now, is my great hunger shown, In monstrous dint of my enormous tooth; And—but the peopled world is too full grown For hunger's edge—I would consume all youth At one great meal, without delay or ruth!"
"For I am well nigh crazed and wild to hear How boastful fathers taunt me with their breed, Saying, 'We shall not die nor disappear, But, in these other selves, ourselves succeed Ev'n as ripe flowers pass into their seed Only to be renew'd from prime to prime,' All of which boastings I am forced to read, Besides a thousand challenges to Time, Which bragging lovers have compiled in rhyme."
"Wherefore, when they are sweetly met o' nights, There will I steal and with my hurried hand Startle them suddenly from their delights Before the next encounter hath been plann'd, Ravishing hours in little minutes spann'd; But when they say farewell, and grieve apart, Then like a leaden statue I will stand, Meanwhile their many tears encrust my dart, And with a ragged edge cut heart from heart."
Then next a merry Woodsman, clad in green, Step vanward from his mates, that idly stood Each at his proper ease, as they had been Nursed in the liberty of old Sherwood, And wore the livery of Robin Hood, Who wont in forest shades to dine and sup,— So came this chief right frankly, and made good His haunch against his axe, and thus spoke up, Doffing his cap, which was an acorn's cup:—
"We be small foresters and gay, who tend On trees, and all their furniture of green, Training the young boughs airily to bend, And show blue snatches of the sky between;— Or knit more close intricacies, to screen Birds' crafty dwellings, as may hide them best, But most the timid blackbird's—she that, seen, Will bear black poisonous berries to her nest, Lest man should cage the darlings of her breast."
"We bend each tree in proper attitude, And founting willows train in silvery falls; We frame all shady roofs and arches rude, And verdant aisles leading to Dryads' halls, Or deep recesses where the Echo calls;— We shape all plumy trees against the sky, And carve tall elms' Corinthian capitals,— When sometimes, as our tiny hatchets ply, Men say, the tapping woodpecker is nigh."
"Sometimes we scoop the squirrel's hollow cell, And sometimes carve quaint letters on trees' rind, That haply some lone musing wight may spell Dainty Aminta,—Gentle Rosalind,— Or chastest Laura,—sweetly call'd to mind In sylvan solitudes, ere he lies down;— And sometimes we enrich gray stems with twined And vagrant ivy,—or rich moss, whose brown Burns into gold as the warm sun goes down."
"And, lastly, for mirth's sake and Christmas cheer, We bear the seedling berries, for increase, To graft the Druid oaks, from year to year, Careful that mistletoe may never cease;— Wherefore, if thou dost prize the shady peace Of sombre forests, or to see light break Through sylvan cloisters, and in spring release Thy spirit amongst leaves from careful ake, Spare us our lives for the Green Dryad's sake."
Then Saturn, with a frown:—"Go forth, and fell Oak for your coffins, and thenceforth lay by Your axes for the rust, and bid farewell To all sweet birds, and the blue peeps of sky Through tangled branches, for ye shall not spy The next green generation of the tree; But hence with the dead leaves, whene'e they fly,— Which in the bleak air I would rather see, Than flights of the most tuneful birds that be."
"For I dislike all prime, and verdant pets, Ivy except, that on the aged wall Prays with its worm-like roots, and daily frets The crumbled tower it seems to league withal, King-like, worn down by its own coronal:— Neither in forest haunts love I to won, Before the golden plumage 'gins to fall, And leaves the brown bleak limbs with few leaves on, Or bare—like Nature in her skeleton."
"For then sit I amongst the crooked boughs, Wooing dull Memory with kindred sighs; And there in rustling nuptials we espouse, Smit by the sadness in each other's eyes;— But Hope must have green bowers and blue skies, And must be courted with the gauds of Spring; Whilst Youth leans god-like on her lap, and cries, 'What shall we always do, but love and sing?'— And Time is reckon'd a discarded thing."
Here in my dream it made me fret to see How Puck, the antic, all this dreary while Had blithely jested with calamity, With mis-timed mirth mocking the doleful style Of his sad comrades, till it raised my bile To see him so reflect their grief aside, Turning their solemn looks to have a smile— Like a straight stick shown crooked in the tide;— But soon a novel advocate I spied.
Quoth he—"We teach all natures to fulfil Their fore-appointed crafts, and instincts meet,— The bee's sweet alchemy,—the spider's skill,— The pismire's care to garner up his wheat,— And rustic masonry to swallows fleet,— The lapwing's cunning to preserve her nest,— But most, that lesser pelican, the sweet And shrilly ruddock, with its bleeding breast, Its tender pity of poor babes distrest."
"Sometimes we cast our shapes, and in sleek skins Delve with the timid mole, that aptly delves From our example; so the spider spins, And eke the silk-worm, pattern'd by ourselves: Sometimes we travail on the summer shelves Of early bees, and busy toils commence, Watch'd of wise men, that know not we are elves, But gaze and marvel at our stretch of sense, And praise our human-like intelligence."
"Wherefore, by thy delight in that old tale, And plaintive dirges the late robins sing, What time the leaves are scatter'd by the gale, Mindful of that old forest burying;— As thou dost love to watch each tiny thing, For whom our craft most curiously contrives, If thou hast caught a bee upon the wing, To take his honey-bag,—spare us our lives, And we will pay the ransom in full hives."
"Now by my glass," quoth Time, "ye do offend In teaching the brown bees that careful lore, And frugal ants, whose millions would have end, But they lay up for need a timely store, And travail with the seasons evermore; Whereas Great Mammoth long hath pass'd away, And none but I can tell what hide he wore; Whilst purblind men, the creatures of a day, In riddling wonder his great bones survey."
Then came an elf, right beauteous to behold, Whose coat was like a brooklet that the sun Hath all embroider'd with its crooked gold, It was so quaintly wrought and overrun With spangled traceries,—most meet for one That was a warden of the pearly streams;— And as he stept out of the shadows dun, His jewels sparkled in the pale moon's gleams, And shot into the air their pointed beams.
Quoth he,—"We bear the gold and silver keys Of bubbling springs and fountains, that below Course thro' the veiny earth,—which when they freeze Into hard crysolites, we bid to flow, Creeping like subtle snakes, when, as they go, We guide their windings to melodious falls, At whose soft murmurings, so sweet and low, Poets have tuned their smoothest madrigals, To sing to ladies in their banquet-halls."
"And when the hot sun with his steadfast heat Parches the river god,—whose dusty urn Drips miserly, till soon his crystal feet Against his pebbly floor wax faint and burn And languid fish, unpoised, grow sick and yearn,— Then scoop we hollows in some sandy nook, And little channels dig, wherein we turn The thread-worn rivulet, that all forsook The Naiad-lily, pining for her brook."
"Wherefore, by thy delight in cool green meads, With living sapphires daintily inlaid,— In all soft songs of waters and their reeds,— And all reflections in a streamlet made, Haply of thy own love, that, disarray'd, Kills the fair lily with a livelier white,— By silver trouts upspringing from green shade, And winking stars reduplicate at night, Spare us, poor ministers to such delight."
Howbeit his pleading and his gentle looks Moved not the spiteful Shade:—Quoth he, "Your taste Shoots wide of mine, for I despise the brooks And slavish rivulets that run to waste In noontide sweats, or, like poor vassals, haste To swell the vast dominion of the sea, In whose great presence I am held disgraced, And neighbor'd with a king that rivals me In ancient might and hoary majesty."
"Whereas I ruled in Chaos, and still keep The awful secrets of that ancient dearth, Before the briny fountains of the deep Brimm'd up the hollow cavities of earth;— I saw each trickling Sea-God at his birth, Each pearly Naiad with her oozy locks, And infant Titans of enormous girth, Whose huge young feet yet stumbled on the rocks, Stunning the early world with frequent shocks."
"Where now is Titan, with his cumbrous brood, That scared the world?—By this sharp scythe they fell, And half the sky was curdled with their blood: So have all primal giants sigh'd farewell. No wardens now by sedgy fountains dwell, Nor pearly Naiads. All their days are done That strove with Time, untimely, to excel; Wherefore I razed their progenies, and none But my great shadow intercepts the sun!"
Then saith the timid Fay—"Oh, mighty Time! Well hast thou wrought the cruel Titans' fall, For they were stain'd with many a bloody crime: Great giants work great wrongs,—but we are small, For love goes lowly;—but Oppression's tall, And with surpassing strides goes foremost still Where love indeed can hardly reach at all; Like a poor dwarf o'erburthen'd with good will, That labors to efface the tracks of ill.—"
"Man even strives with Man, but we eschew The guilty feud, and all fierce strifes abhor; Nay, we are gentle as the sweet heaven's dew, Beside the red and horrid drops of war, Weeping the cruel hates men battle for, Which worldly bosoms nourish in our spite: For in the gentle breast we ne'er withdraw, But only when all love hath taken flight, And youth's warm gracious heart is hardened quite."
"So are our gentle natures intertwined With sweet humanities, and closely knit In kindly sympathy with human kind. Witness how we befriend, with elfin wit, All hopeless maids and lovers,—nor omit Magical succors unto hearts forlorn:— We charm man's life, and do not perish it;— So judge us by the helps we showed this morn, To one who held his wretched days in scorn."
"'Twas nigh sweet Amwell;—for the Queen had task'd Our skill to-day amidst the silver Lea, Whereon the noontide sun had not yet bask'd, Wherefore some patient man we thought to see, Planted in moss-grown rushes to the knee, Beside the cloudy margin cold and dim;— Howbeit no patient fisherman was he That cast his sudden shadow from the brim, Making us leave our toils to gaze on him."
"His face was ashy pale, and leaden care Had sunk the levell'd arches of his brow, Once bridges for his joyous thoughts to fare Over those melancholy springs and slow, That from his piteous eyes began to flow, And fell anon into the chilly stream; Which, as his mimick'd image show'd below, Wrinkled his face with many a needless seam, Making grief sadder in its own esteem."
"And lo! upon the air we saw him stretch His passionate arms; and, in a wayward strain, He 'gan to elegize that fellow wretch That with mute gestures answer'd him again, Saying, 'Poor slave, how long wilt thou remain Life's sad weak captive in a prison strong, Hoping with tears to rust away thy chain, In bitter servitude to worldly wrong?— Thou wear'st that mortal livery too long!'"
"This, with more spleenful speeches and some tears, When he had spent upon the imaged wave, Speedily I convened my elfin peers Under the lily-cups, that we might save This woeful mortal from a wilful grave By shrewd diversions of his mind's regret, Seeing he was mere Melancholy's slave, That sank wherever a dark cloud he met, And straight was tangled in her secret net."
"Therefore, as still he watch'd the water's flow, Daintily we transform'd, and with bright fins Came glancing through the gloom; some from below Rose like dim fancies when a dream begins, Snatching the light upon their purple skins; Then under the broad leaves made slow retire: One like a golden galley bravely wins Its radiant course,—another glows like fire,— Making that wayward man our pranks admire."
"And so he banish'd thought, and quite forgot All contemplation of that wretched face; And so we wiled him from that lonely spot Along the river's brink; till, by heaven's grace, He met a gentle haunter of the place, Full of sweet wisdom gather'd from the brooks, Who there discuss'd his melancholy case With wholesome texts learned from kind nature's books, Meanwhile he newly trimm'd his lines and hooks."
Herewith the Fairy ceased. Quoth Ariel now— "Let me remember how I saved a man, Whose fatal noose was fastened on a bough, Intended to abridge his sad life's span; For haply I was by when he began His stern soliloquy in life dispraise, And overheard his melancholy plan, How he had made a vow to end his days, And therefore follow'd him in all his ways."
"Through brake and tangled copse, for much he loathed All populous haunts, and roam'd in forests rude, To hide himself from man. But I had clothed My delicate limbs with plumes, and still pursued, Where only foxes and wild cats intrude, Till we were come beside an ancient tree Late blasted by a storm. Here he renew'd His loud complaints,—choosing that spot to be The scene of his last horrid tragedy."
"It was a wild and melancholy glen, Made gloomy by tall firs and cypress dark, Whose roots, like any bones of buried men, Push'd through the rotten sod for fear's remark; A hundred horrid stems, jagged and stark, Wrestled with crooked arms in hideous fray, Besides sleek ashes with their dappled bark, Like crafty serpents climbing for a prey, With many blasted oaks moss-grown and gray."
"But here upon his final desperate clause Suddenly I pronounced so sweet a strain, Like a pang'd nightingale, it made him pause, Till half the frenzy of his grief was slain, The sad remainder oozing from his brain In timely ecstasies of healing tears, Which through his ardent eyes began to drain;— Meanwhile the deadly Fates unclosed their shears:— So pity me and all my fated peers!"
Thus Ariel ended, and was some time hush'd: When with the hoary shape a fresh tongue pleads, And red as rose the gentle Fairy blush'd To read the records of her own good deeds:— "It chanced," quoth she, "in seeking through the meads For honied cowslips, sweetest in the morn, Whilst yet the buds were hung with dewy beads." And Echo answered to the huntsman's horn, We found a babe left in the swaths forlorn.
"A little, sorrowful, deserted thing, Begot of love, and yet no love begetting; Guiltless of shame, and yet for shame to wring; And too soon banish'd from a mother's petting, To churlish nurture and the wide world's fretting, For alien pity and unnatural care;— Alas! to see how the cold dew kept wetting His childish coats, and dabbled all his hair, Like gossamers across his forehead fair."
"His pretty pouting mouth, witless of speech, Lay half-way open like a rose-lipp'd shell; And his young cheek was softer than a peach, Whereon his tears, for roundness, could not dwell, But quickly roll'd themselves to pearls, and fell, Some on the grass, and some against his hand, Or haply wander'd to the dimpled well, Which love beside his mouth had sweetly plann'd, Yet not for tears, but mirth and smilings bland."
"Pity it was to see those frequent tears Falling regardless from his friendless eyes; There was such beauty in those twin blue spheres, As any mother's heart might leap to prize; Blue were they, like the zenith of the skies Softened betwixt two clouds, both clear and mild;— Just touched with thought, and yet not over wise, They show'd the gentle spirit of a child, Not yet by care or any craft defiled."
"Pity it was to see the ardent sun Scorching his helpless limbs—it shone so warm; For kindly shade or shelter he had none, Nor mother's gentle breast, come fair or storm. Meanwhile I bade my pitying mates transform Like grasshoppers, and then, with shrilly cries, All round the infant noisily we swarm, Haply some passing rustic to advise— Whilst providential Heaven our care espies."
"And sends full soon a tender-hearted hind, Who, wond'ring at our loud unusual note, Strays curiously aside, and so doth find The orphan child laid in the grass remote, And laps the foundling in his russet coat, Who thence was nurtured in his kindly cot:— But how he prosper'd let proud London quote, How wise, how rich, and how renown'd he got, And chief of all her citizens, I wot."
"Witness his goodly vessels on the Thames, Whose holds were fraught with costly merchandise,— Jewels from Ind, and pearls for courtly dames, And gorgeous silks that Samarcand supplies: Witness that Royal Bourse he bade arise, The mart of merchants from the East and West: Whose slender summit, pointing to the skies, Still bears, in token of his grateful breast, The tender grasshopper, his chosen crest—"
"The tender grasshopper, his chosen crest, That all the summer, with a tuneful wing, Makes merry chirpings in its grassy nest, Inspirited with dew to leap and sing:— So let us also live, eternal King! Partakers of the green and pleasant earth:— Pity it is to slay the meanest thing, That, like a mote, shines in the smile of mirth:— Enough there is of joy's decrease and dearth!"
"Enough of pleasure, and delight, and beauty, Perish'd and gone, and hasting to decay;— Enough to sadden even thee, whose duty Or spite it is to havoc and to slay: Too many a lovely race razed quite away, Hath left large gaps in life and human loving;— Here then begin thy cruel war to stay, And spare fresh sighs, and tears, and groans, reproving Thy desolating hand for our removing."
Now here I heard a shrill and sudden cry, And, looking up, I saw the antic Puck Grappling with Time, who clutch'd him like a fly, Victim of his own sport,—the jester's luck! He, whilst his fellows grieved, poor wight, had stuck His freakish gauds upon the Ancient's brow, And now his ear, and now his beard, would pluck; Whereas the angry churl had snatched him now, Crying, "Thou impish mischief, who art thou?"
"Alas!" quoth Puck, "a little random elf, Born in the sport of nature, like a weed, For simple sweet enjoyment of myself, But for no other purpose, worth, or need; And yet withal of a most happy breed; And there is Robin Goodfellow besides, My partner dear in many a prankish deed To make dame Laughter hold her jolly sides, Like merry mummers twain on holy tides."
"'Tis we that bob the angler's idle cork, Till e'en the patient man breathes half a curse; We steal the morsel from the gossip's fork, And curdling looks with secret straws disperse, Or stop the sneezing chanter at mid verse: And when an infant's beauty prospers ill, We change, some mothers say, the child at nurse: But any graver purpose to fulfil, We have not wit enough, and scarce the will."
"We never let the canker melancholy To gather on our faces like a rust, But glass our features with some change of folly, Taking life's fabled miseries on trust, But only sorrowing when sorrow must: We ruminate no sage's solemn cud, But own ourselves a pinch of lively dust To frisk upon a wind,—whereas the flood Of tears would turn us into heavy mud."
"Beshrew those sad interpreters of nature, Who gloze her lively universal law, As if she had not form'd our cheerful feature To be so tickled with the slightest straw! So let them vex their mumbling mouths, and draw The corners downward, like a wat'ry moon, And deal in gusty sighs and rainy flaw— We will not woo foul weather all too soon, Or nurse November on the lap of June."
"For ours are winging sprites, like any bird, That shun all stagnant settlements of grief; And even in our rest our hearts are stirr'd, Like insects settled on a dancing leaf:— This is our small philosophy in brief, Which thus to teach hath set me all agape: But dost thou relish it? O hoary chief! Unclasp thy crooked fingers from my nape, And I will show thee many a pleasant scrape."
Then Saturn thus:—shaking his crooked blade O'erhead, which made aloft a lightning flash In all the fairies' eyes, dismally fray'd! His ensuing voice came like the thunder crash— Meanwhile the bolt shatters some pine or ash— "Thou feeble, wanton, foolish, fickle thing! Whom nought can frighten, sadden, or abash,— To hope my solemn countenance to wring To idiot smiles!—but I will prune thy wing!"
"Lo! this most awful handle of my scythe Stood once a May-pole, with a flowery crown, Which rustics danced around, and maidens blithe, To wanton pipings;—but I pluck'd it down, And robed the May Queen in a churchyard gown, Turning her buds to rosemary and rue; And all their merry minstrelsy did drown, And laid each lusty leaper in the dew;— So thou shalt fare—and every jovial crew!"
Here he lets go the struggling imp, to clutch. His mortal engine with each grisly hand, Which frights the elfin progeny so much, They huddle in a heap, and trembling stand All round Titania, like the queen bee's band, With sighs and tears and very shrieks of woe!— Meanwhile, some moving argument I plann'd, To make the stern Shade merciful,—when lo! He drops his fatal scythe without a blow!
For, just at need, a timely Apparition Steps in between, to bear the awful brunt; Making him change his horrible position, To marvel at this comer, brave and blunt, That dares Time's irresistible affront, Whose strokes have scarr'd even the gods of old;— Whereas this seem'd a mortal, at mere hunt For coneys, lighted by the moonshine cold, Or stalker of stray deer, stealthy and bold.
Who, turning to the small assembled fays, Doffs to the lily queen his courteous cap, And holds her beauty for a while in gaze, With bright eyes kindling at this pleasant hap; And thence upon the fair moon's silver map, As if in question of this magic chance, Laid like a dream upon the green earth's lap; And then upon old Saturn turns askance, Exclaiming, with a glad and kindly glance:—
"Oh, these be Fancy's revelers by night! Stealthy companions of the downy moth— Diana's motes, that flit in her pale light, Shunners of sunbeams in diurnal sloth;— These be the feasters on night's silver cloth;— The gnat with shrilly trump is their convener, Forth from their flowery chambers, nothing loth, With lulling tunes to charm the air serener, Or dance upon the grass to make it greener."
"These be the pretty genii of the flow'rs, Daintily fed with honey and pure dew— Midsummer's phantoms in her dreaming hours, King Oberon, and all his merry crew, The darling puppets of romance's view; Fairies, and sprites, and goblin elves we call them, Famous for patronage of lovers true;— No harm they act, neither shall harm befall them, So do not thus with crabbed frowns appal them."
O what a cry was Saturn's then!—it made The fairies quake. "What care I for their pranks, However they may lovers choose to aid, Or dance their roundelays on flow'ry banks?— Long must they dance before they earn my thanks,— So step aside, to some far safer spot, Whilst with my hungry scythe I mow their ranks, And leave them in the sun, like weeds, to rot, And with the next day's sun to be forgot."
Anon, he raised afresh his weapon keen; But still the gracious Shade disarm'd his aim, Stepping with brave alacrity between, And made his sore arm powerless and tame. His be perpetual glory, for the shame Of hoary Saturn in that grand defeat!— But I must tell how here Titania, came With all her kneeling lieges, to entreat His kindly succor, in sad tones, but sweet.
Saying, "Thou seest a wretched queen before thee, The fading power of a failing land, Who for a kingdom kneeleth to implore thee, Now menaced by this tyrant's spoiling hand; No one but thee can hopefully withstand That crooked blade, he longeth so to lift. I pray thee blind him with his own vile sand, Which only times all ruins by its drift, Or prune his eagle wings that are so swift."
"Or take him by that sole and grizzled tuft, That hangs upon his bald and barren crown; And we will sing to see him so rebuff'd, And lend our little mights to pull him down, And make brave sport of his malicious frown, For all his boastful mockery o'er men. For thou wast born, I know, for this renown, By my most magical and inward ken, That readeth ev'n at Fate's forestalling pen."