O May I Join the Choir Invisible! - and Other Favorite Poems
by George Eliot
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Transcribed from the 1884 D. Lothrop and Company edition by David Price, email

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Copyright by D. LOTHROP AND COMPANY 1884

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O may I join the choir invisible Of those immortal dead who live again In minds made better by their presence; live In pulses stirred to generosity, In deeds of daring rectitude, in scorn Of miserable aims that end with self, In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars, And with their mild persistence urge men's minds To vaster issues.

So to live is heaven: To make undying music in the world, Breathing a beauteous order that controls With growing sway the growing life of man. So we inherit that sweet purity For which we struggled, failed and agonized With widening retrospect that bred despair. Rebellious flesh that would not be subdued, A vicious parent shaming still its child, Poor, anxious penitence is quick dissolved; Its discords, quenched by meeting harmonies, Die in the large and charitable air; And all our rarer, better, truer self, That sobbed religiously in yearning song, That watched to ease the burden of the world, Laboriously tracing what must be, And what may yet be better—saw rather A worthier image for the sanctuary And shaped it forth before the multitude, Divinely human, raising worship so To higher reverence more mixed with love— That better self shall live till human Time Shall fold its eyelids, and the human sky Be gathered like a scroll within the tomb Unread forever.

This is life to come, Which martyred men have made more glorious For us who strive to follow.

May I reach That purest heaven—be to other souls The cup of strength in some great agony, Enkindle generous ardor, feed pure love, Beget the smiles that have no cruelty, Be the sweet presence of a good diffused, And in diffusion ever more intense! So shall I join the choir invisible Whose music is the gladness of the world.


{At Aerschot up leaped of a sudden the Sun: p1.jpg}

I sprang to the stirrup, and Joris and he: I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three; "Good speed!" cried the watch as the gate-bolts undrew, "Speed!" echoed the wall to us galloping through. Behind shut the postern, the lights sank to rest, And into the midnight we galloped abreast.

Not a word to each other; we kept the great pace— Neck by neck, stride by stride, never changing our place; I turned in my saddle and made its girths tight, Then shortened each stirrup and set the pique right, Rebuckled the check-strap, chained slacker the bit, Nor galloped less steadily Roland a whit.

'Twas moonset at starting; but while we drew near Lokeren, the cocks crew and twilight dawned clear; At Boom a great yellow star came out to see; At Duffeld 'twas morning as plain as could be; And from Mecheln church-steeple we heard the half-chime— So Joris broke silence with "Yet there is time!"

At Aerschot up leaped of a sudden the sun, And against him the cattle stood black every one, To stare through the mist at us galloping past; And I saw my stout galloper Roland at last With resolute shoulders, each butting away The haze, as some bluff river headland its spray;

And his low head and crest, just one sharp ear bent back For my voice, and the other pricked out on his track, And one eye's black intelligence—ever that glance O'er its white edge at me, his own master, askance; And the thick heavy spume-flakes, which aye and anon His fierce lips shook upwards in galloping on.

By Hasselt, Dirck groaned; and cried Joris, "Stay spur! Your Roos galloped bravely, the fault's not in her; "We'll remember at Aix"—for one heard the quick wheeze Of her chest, saw the stretched neck and staggering knees, And sunk tail, and horrible heave of the flank, As down on her haunches she shuddered and sank.

So we were left galloping, Joris and I, Past Looz and past Tongres, no cloud in the sky; The broad sun above laughed a pitiless laugh; 'Neath our feet broke the brittle bright stubble like chaff; Till over by Delhem a dome spire sprung white, And "Gallop," gasped Joris, "for Aix is in sight!

"How they'll greet us!"—and all in a moment his roan Rolled neck and croup over, lay dead as a stone; And there was my Roland to bear the whole weight Of the news which alone could save Aix from her fate, With his nostrils like pits full of blood to the brim, And with circles of red for his eye-sockets' rim.

Then I cast loose my buff-coat, each holster let fall, Shook off both my jack-boots, let go belt and all, Stood up in the stirrup, leaned, patted his ear, Called my Roland his pet name, my horse without peer— Clapped my hands, laughed and sung, any noise, bad or good, Till at length into Aix Roland galloped and stood.

And all I remember is friends flocking around, As I sate with his head twixt my knees on the ground; And no voice but was praising this Roland of mine As I poured down his throat our last measure of wine, Which (the burgesses voted by common consent) Was no more than his due who brought good news from Ghent.


Dead! one of them shot by the sea in the east, And one of them shot in the west by the sea. Dead! both my boys! When you sit at the feast And are wanting a great song for Italy free, Let none look at me!

Yet I was a poetess only last year, And good at my art for a woman, men said, But this woman, this, who is agonized here, The east sea and west sea rhyme on in her head Forever instead.

What art can woman be good at? Oh, vain! What art is she good at, but hurting her breast With the milk-teeth of babes, and a smile at the pain? Ah, boys, how you hurt! you were strong as you pressed, And I proud by that test.

What's art for a woman? To hold on her knees Both darlings! to feel all their arms round her throat Cling, strangle a little! To sew by degrees, And 'broider the long clothes and neat little coat! To dream and to dote.

To teach them . . . It stings there. I made them indeed Speak plain the word 'country.' I taught them, no doubt, That a country's a thing men should die for at need. I prated of liberty, rights, and about The tyrant turned out.

And when their eyes flashed, oh, my beautiful eyes! I exulted! nay, let them go forth at the wheels Of the guns, and denied not. But then the surprise, When one sits quite alone! Then one weeps, then one kneels! —God! how the house feels.

At first happy news came, in gay letters moiled With my kisses, of camp-life and glory, and how They both loved me, and soon, coming home to be spoiled, In return would fan off every fly from my brow With their green laurel bough.

Then was triumph at Turin. 'Ancona was free!' And some one came out of the cheers in the street, With a face pale as stone to say something to me. My Guido was dead! I fell down at his feet While they cheered in the street.

I bore it—friends soothed me: my grief looked sublime As the ransom of Italy. One boy remained To be leant on and walked with, recalling the time When the first grew immortal, while both of us strained To the height he had gained.

And letters still came—shorter, sadder, more strong, Writ now but in one hand. I was not to faint, One loved me for two . . . would be with me ere long, And 'Viva Italia' he died for, our saint, Who forbids our complaint.

{ Dead! One of them shot by the sea in the east, And one of them shot in the West by the sea: p2.jpg}

My Nanni would add, 'he was safe and aware Of a presence that turned off the balls . . . was imprest It was Guido himself, who knew what I could bear, And how 'twas impossible, quite dispossessed, To live on for the rest.'

On which, without pause, up the telegraph line, Swept smoothly the next news from Gaeta—Shot. Tell his mother. Ah, ah! 'his,' 'their' mother: not 'mine.' No voice says 'my mother' again to me. What! You think Guido forgot?

Are souls straight so happy that, dizzy with Heaven, They drop earth's affection, conceive not of woe? I think not. Themselves were too lately forgiven Through that Love and Sorrow which reconciled so The Above and Below.

O Christ of the seven wounds, who look'dst through the dark To the face of thy mother! consider, I pray, How we common mothers stand desolate, mark, Whose sons, not being Christs, die with eyes turned away, And no last word to say!

Both boys dead! but that's out of nature. We all Have been patriots, yet each house must always keep one. 'Twere imbecile hewing out roads to a wall, And when Italy's made, for what end is it done If we have not a son?

Ah! ah! ah! when Gaeta's taken, what then? When the fair, wicked queen sits no more at her sport Of the fire-balls of death crashing souls out of men? When your guns of Cavalli, with final retort, Have cut the game short—

When Venice and Rome keep their new jubilee, When your flag takes all Heaven for its white, green, and red, When you have your country from mountain to sea, When King Victor has Italy's crown on his head, (And I have my dead)

What then? Do not mock me! Ah, ring your bells low! And burn your lights faintly. My country is there, Above the star pricked by the last peak of snow. My Italy's there—with my brave civic Pair, To disfranchise despair.

Forgive me. Some women bear children in strength, And bite back the cry of their pain in self-scorn, But the birth-pangs of nations will wring us at length Into wail such as this! and we sit on forlorn When the man-child is born.

Dead! one of them shot by the sea in the west! And one of them shot in the east by the sea! Both! both my boys! If, in keeping the feast, You want a great song for your Italy free, Let none look at me!


Three years she grew in sun and shower, Then Nature said, "A lovelier flower On earth was never sown; This child I to myself will take, She shall be mine, and I will make A lady of my own.

"Myself will to my darling be Both law and impulse: and with me The Girl, in rock and plain, In earth and heaven, in glade and bower, Shall feel an overseeing power To kindle or restrain.

"She shall be sportive as the fawn That wild with glee across the lawn Or up the mountain springs; And hers shall be the breathing balm, And hers the silence and the calm, Of mute insensate things.

{She shall be sportive as the fawn: p3.jpg}

"The floating clouds their state shall lend To her; for her the willows bend; Nor shall she fail to see Even in the motions of the storm Grace that shall mould the maiden's form By silent sympathy.

"The stars of midnight shall be dear To her; and she shall lean her ear In many a secret place Where rivulets dance their wayward round, And beauty born of murmuring sound Shall pass into her face."


Hail to thee, blithe spirit— Bird thou never wert— That from heaven or near it Pourest thy full heart In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.

Higher still and higher From the earth thou springest, Like a cloud of fire; The blue deep thou wingest, And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest.

In the golden lightning Of the sunken sun, O'er which clouds art bright'ning, Thou dost float and run, Like an unbodied joy whose race is just begun.

The pale purple even Melts around thy flight; Like a star of heaven, In the broad daylight Thou art unseen, but yet I hear thy shrill delight—

Keen as are the arrows Of that silver sphere Whose intense lamp narrows In the white dawn clear Until we hardly see, we feel, that it is there.

All the earth and air With thy voice is loud, As, when night is bare, From one lonely cloud The moon rains out her beams, and heaven is overflowed.

What thou art we know not; What is most like thee? From rainbow-clouds there flow not Drops so bright to see As from thy presence showers a rain of melody:—

Like a poet hidden In the light of thought, Singing hymns unbidden, Till the world is wrought To sympathy with hopes and fears it heeded not;

Like a high-born maiden In a palace tower, Soothing her love-laden Soul in secret hour With music sweet as love which overflows her bower;

Like a glow-worm golden In a dell of dew, Scattering unbeholden Its aerial hue Among the flowers and grass which screen it from the view;

Like a rose embowered In its own green leaves, By warm winds deflowered, Till the scent it gives Makes faint with too much heat these heavy-winged thieves;

{Thou art unseen, but yet I hear they shrill delight: p4.jpg}

Sound of vernal showers On the twinkling grass, Rain-awakened flowers— All that ever was Joyous and clear and fresh—thy music doth surpass.

Teach us, sprite or bird, What sweet thoughts are thine: I have never heard Praise of love or wine That panted forth a flood of rapture so divine.

Chorus hymeneal, Or triumphal chaunt, Matched with thine, would be all But an empty vaunt— A thing wherein we feel there is some hidden want.

What objects are the fountains Of the happy strain? What fields, or waves or mountains? What shapes of sky or plain? What love of thine own kind? what ignorance of pain?

With thy clear keen joyance Languor cannot be: Shadow of annoyance Never came near thee: Thou lovest, but ne'er knew love's sad satiety.

Waking or asleep, Thou of death must deem Things more true and deep Than we mortals dream, Or how could thy notes flow in such a crystal stream?

We look before and after, And pine for what is not; Our sincerest laughter With some pain is fraught; Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.

Yet, if we could scorn Hate and pride and fear, If we were things born Not to shed a tear, I know not how thy joy we ever should come near.

Better than all measures Of delightful sound, Better than all treasures That in books are found, Thy skill to poet were, thou scorner of the ground!

Teach me half the gladness That thy brain must know, Such harmonious madness From my lips would flow The world should listen then as I am listening now.


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