THE POEMS of EMMA LAZARUS
in Two Volumes
Narrative, Lyric, and dramatic
"Sunrise" is an elegy to James A. Garfield, 20th President of the United States, who died on September 19, 1881, from a gunshot wound received in an assassination attempt in July of that year.
"The New Colossus" is engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF EMMA LAZARUS.
I. Youth. II. Regret. III. Longing. IV. Storm. V. Surprise. VI. Grief. VII. Acceptance. VIII. Loneliness. IX. Sympathy. X. Patience. XI. Hope. XII. Compensation. XIII. Faith. XIV. Work. XV. Victory. XVI. Peace.
HOW LONG! HEROES. ADMETUS. TANNHAUSER. LINKS. MATINS. SAINT ROMUALDO. AFTERNOON.
I. Evening. II. Aspiration. III. Wherefore? IV. Fancies. V. In the Night. VI. Faerie. VII. Confused Dreams.
ON THE PROPOSAL TO ERECT A MONUMENT IN ENGLAND TO LORD BYRON. ARABESQUE. AGAMEMNON'S TOMB. SIC SEMPER LIBERATORIBUS. DON RAFAEL. OFF ROUGH POINT MATER AMABILIS. FOG. THE ELIXIR. SONG. SPRING LONGING. Spring Longing. THE SOUTH. SPRING STAR. A JUNE NIGHT. MAGNETISM AUGUST MOON. SUNRISE. A MASQUE OF VENICE. AUTUMN SADNESS.
Echoes. Success. The New Colossus. Chopin I., II., III., IV. Symphonic Studies Prelude, I., II., III., IV., V., VI., Epilogue. Long Island Sound. Destiny. 1879. From one Augur to Another. The Cranes of Ibycus. Critic and Poet. St. Michael's Chapel. Life and Art. Sympathy. Youth and Death. Age and Death. City Visions. Influence. Restlessness.
THE SPAGNOLETTO: A Play in Five Acts.
Publisher's note: Thanks are due to the Editors of "The Century," Lippincott's Magazine, and "The Critic," for their courtesy in allowing the poems published by them to be reprinted in these pages.
EMMA LAZARUS. (Written for "The Century Magazine")
Born July 22, 1849; Died November 19, 1887.
One hesitates to lift the veil and throw the light upon a life so hidden and a personality so withdrawn as that of Emma Lazarus; but while her memory is fresh, and the echo of her songs still lingers in these pages, we feel it a duty to call up her presence once more, and to note the traits that made it remarkable and worthy to shine out clearly before the world. Of dramatic episode or climax in her life there is none; outwardly all was placid and serene, like an untroubled stream whose depths alone hold the strong, quick tide. The story of her life is the story of a mind, of a spirit, ever seeking, ever striving, and pressing onward and upward to new truth and light. Her works are the mirror of this progress. In reviewing them, the first point that strikes us is the precocity, or rather the spontaneity, of her poetic gift. She was a born singer; poetry was her natural language, and to write was less effort than to speak, for she was a shy, sensitive child, with strange reserves and reticences, not easily putting herself "en rapport" with those around her. Books were her world from her earliest years; in them she literally lost and found herself. She was eleven years old when the War of Succession broke out, which inspired her first lyric outbursts. Her poems and translations written between the ages of fourteen and seventeen were collected, and constituted her first published volume. Crude and immature as these productions naturally were, and utterly condemned by the writer's later judgment, they are, nevertheless, highly interesting and characteristic, giving, as they do, the keynote of much that afterwards unfolded itself in her life. One cannot fail to be rather painfully impressed by the profound melancholy pervading the book. The opening poem is "In Memoriam,"—on the death of a school friend and companion; and the two following poems also have death for theme. "On a Lock of my Mother's Hair" gives us reflections on growing old. These are the four poems written at the age of fourteen. There is not a wholly glad and joyous strain in the volume, and we might smile at the recurrence of broken vows, broken hearts, and broken lives in the experience of this maiden just entered upon her teens, were it not that the innocent child herself is in such deadly earnest. The two long narrative poems, "Bertha" and "Elfrida," are tragic in the extreme. Both are dashed off apparently at white heat: "Elfrida," over fifteen hundred lines of blank verse, in two weeks; "Bertha," in three and a half. We have said that Emma Lazarus was a born singer, but she did not sing, like a bird, for joy of being alive; and of being young, alas! there is no hint in these youthful effusions, except inasmuch as this unrelieved gloom, this ignorance of "values," so to speak, is a sign of youth, common especially among gifted persons of acute and premature sensibilities, whose imagination, not yet focused by reality, overreached the mark. With Emma Lazarus, however, this sombre streak has a deeper root; something of birth and temperament is in it—the stamp and heritage of a race born to suffer. But dominant and fundamental though it was, Hebraism was only latent thus far. It was classic and romantic art that first attracted and inspired her. She pictures Aphrodite the beautiful, arising from the waves, and the beautiful Apollo and his loves,—Daphne, pursued by the god, changing into the laurel, and the enamored Clytie into the faithful sunflower. Beauty, for its own sake, supreme and unconditional, charmed her primarily and to the end. Her restless spirit found repose in the pagan idea,—the absolute unity and identity of man with nature, as symbolized in the Greek myths, where every natural force becomes a person, and where, in turn, persons pass with equal readiness and freedom back into nature again.
In this connection a name would suggest itself even if it did not appear,—Heine, the Greek, Heine the Jew, Heine the Romanticist, as Emma Lazarus herself has styled him; and already in this early volume of hers we have trace of the kinship and affinity that afterwards so plainly declared itself. Foremost among the translations are a number of his songs, rendered with a finesse and a literalness that are rarely combined. Four years later, at the age of twenty-one, she published her second volume, "Admetus and Other Poems," which at once took rank as literature both in America and England, and challenged comparison with the work of established writers. Of classic themes we have "Admetus" and "Orpheus," and of romantic the legend of Tannhauser and of the saintly Lohengrin. All are treated with an artistic finish that shows perfect mastery of her craft, without detracting from the freshness and flow of her inspiration. While sounding no absolutely new note in the world, she yet makes us aware of a talent of unusual distinction, and a highly endowed nature,—a sort of tact of sentiment and expression, an instinct of the true and beautiful, and that quick intuition which is like second-sight in its sensitiveness to apprehend and respond to external stimulus. But it is not the purely imaginative poems in this volume that most deeply interest us. We come upon experience of life in these pages; not in the ordinary sense, however, of outward activity and movement, but in the hidden undercurrent of being. "The epochs of our life are not in the visible facts, but in the silent thoughts by the wayside as we walk." This is the motto, drawn from Emerson, which she chooses for her poem of "Epochs," which marks a pivotal moment in her life. Difficult to analyze, difficult above all to convey, if we would not encroach upon the domain of private and personal experience, is the drift of this poem, or rather cycle of poems, that ring throughout with a deeper accent and a more direct appeal than has yet made itself felt. It is the drama of the human soul,—"the mystic winged and flickering butterfly," "flitting between earth and sky," in its passage from birth to death.
A golden morning of June! "Sweet empty sky without a stain." Sunlight and mist and "ripple of rain-fed rills." "A murmur and a singing manifold."
"What simple things be these the soul to raise To bounding joy, and make young pulses beat With nameless pleasure, finding life so sweet!"
Such is youth, a June day, fair and fresh and tender with dreams and longing and vague desire. The morn lingers and passes, but the noon has not reached its height before the clouds begin to rise, the sunshine dies, the air grows thick and heavy, the lightnings flash, the thunder breaks among the hills, rolls and gathers and grows, until
Behold, yon bolt struck home, And over ruined fields the storm hath come."
Now we have the phases of the soul,—the shock and surprise of grief in the face of the world made desolate. Loneliness and despair for a space, and then, like stars in the night, the new births of the spirit, the wonderful outcoming from sorrow: the mild light of patience at first; hope and faith kindled afresh in the very jaws of evil; the new meaning and worth of life beyond sorrow, beyond joy; and finally duty, the holiest word of all, that leads at last to victory and peace. The poem rounds and completes itself with the close of "the long, rich day," and the release of
"The mystic winged and flickering butterfly, A human soul, that drifts at liberty, Ah! who can tell to what strange paradise, To what undreamed-of fields and lofty skies!"
We have dwelt at some length upon this poem, which seems to us, in a certain sense, subjective and biographical; but upon closer analysis there is still another conclusion to arrive at. In "Epochs" we have, doubtless, the impress of a calamity brought very near to the writer, and profoundly working upon her sensibilities; not however by direct, but reflex action, as it were, and through sympathetic emotion—the emotion of the deeply-stirred spectator, of the artist, the poet who lives in the lives of others, and makes their joys and their sorrows his own.
Before dismissing this volume we may point out another clue as to the shaping of mind and character. The poem of "Admetus" is dedicated "to my friend Ralph Waldo Emerson." Emma Lazarus was between seventeen and eighteen years of age when the writings of Emerson fell into her hands, and it would be difficult to over-estimate the impression produced upon her. As she afterwards wrote: "To how many thousand youthful hearts has not his word been the beacon—nay, more, the guiding star—that led them safely through periods of mental storm and struggle!" Of no one is this more true than herself. Left, to a certain extent, without compass or guide, without any positive or effective religious training, this was the first great moral revelation of her life. We can easily realize the chaos and ferment of an over-stimulated brain, steeped in romantic literature, and given over to the wayward leadings of the imagination. Who can tell what is true, what is false, in a world where fantasy is as real as fact? Emerson's word fell like truth itself, "a shaft of light shot from the zenith," a golden rule of thought and action. His books were bread and wine to her, and she absorbed them into her very being. She felt herself invincibly drawn to the master, "that fount of wisdom and goodness," and it was her great privilege during these years to be brought into personal relations with him. From the first he showed her a marked interest and sympathy, which became for her one of the most valued possessions of her life. He criticised her work with the fine appreciation and discrimination that made him quick to discern the quality of her talent as well as of her personality, and he was no doubt attracted by her almost transparent sincerity and singleness of soul, as well as by the simplicity and modesty that would have been unusual even in a person not gifted. He constituted himself, in a way, her literary mentor, advised her as to the books she should read and the attitude of mind she should cultivate. For some years he corresponded with her very faithfully; his letters are full of noble and characteristic utterances, and give evidence of a warm regard that in itself was a stimulus and a high incentive. But encouragement even from so illustrious a source failed to elate the young poetess, or even to give her a due sense of the importance and value of her work, or the dignity of her vocation. We have already alluded to her modesty in her unwillingness to assert herself or claim any prerogative,—something even morbid and exaggerated, which we know not how to define, whether as over- sensitiveness or indifference. Once finished, the heat and glow of composition spent, her writings apparently ceased to interest her. She often resented any allusion to them on the part of intimate friends, and the public verdict as to their excellence could not reassure or satisfy her. The explanation is not far, perhaps, to seek. Was it not the "Ewig-Weibliche" that allows no prestige but its own? Emma Lazarus was a true woman, too distinctly feminine to wish to be exceptional, or to stand alone and apart, even by virtue of superiority.
A word now as to her life and surroundings. She was one of a family of seven, and her parents were both living. Her winters were passed in New York, and her summers by the sea. In both places her life was essentially quiet and retired. The success of her book had been mainly in the world of letters. In no wise tricked out to catch the public eye, her writings had not yet made her a conspicuous figure, but were destined slowly to take their proper place and give her the rank that she afterwards held.
For some years now almost everything that she wrote was published in "Lippincott's Magazine," then edited by John Foster Kirk, and we shall still find in her poems the method and movement of her life. Nature is still the fount and mirror, reflecting, and again reflected, in the soul. We have picture after picture, almost to satiety, until we grow conscious of a lack of substance and body and of vital play to the thought, as though the brain were spending itself in dreamings and reverie, the heart feeding upon itself, and the life choked by its own fullness without due outlet. Happily, however, the heavy cloud of sadness has lifted, and we feel the subsidence of waves after a storm. She sings "Matins:"—
"Does not the morn break thus, Swift, bright, victorious, With new skies cleared for us Over the soul storm-tost? Her night was long and deep, Strange visions vexed her sleep, Strange sorrows bade her weep, Her faith in dawn was lost.
"No halt, no rest for her, The immortal wanderer From sphere to higher sphere Toward the pure source of day. The new light shames her fears, Her faithlessness and tears, As the new sun appears To light her god-like way."
Nature is the perpetual resource and consolation. "'T is good to be alive!" she says, and why? Simply,
"To see the light That plays upon the grass, to feel (and sigh With perfect pleasure) the mild breeze stir Among the garden roses, red and white, With whiffs of fragrancy."
She gives us the breath of the pines and of the cool, salt seas, "illimitably sparkling." Her ears drink the ripple of the tide, and she stops
"To gaze as one who is not satisfied With gazing at the large, bright, breathing sea."
"Phantasies" (after Robert Schumann) is the most complete and perfect poem of this period. Like "Epochs," it is a cycle of poems, and the verse has caught the very trick of music,—alluring, baffling, and evasive. This time we have the landscape of the night, the glamour of moon and stars,—pictures half real and half unreal, mystic imaginings, fancies, dreams, and the enchantment of "faerie," and throughout the unanswered cry, the eternal "Wherefore" of destiny. Dawn ends the song with a fine clear note, the return of day, night's misty phantoms rolled away, and the world itself, again green, sparkling and breathing freshness.
In 1874 she published "Alide," a romance in prose drawn from Goethe's autobiography. It may be of interest to quote the letter she received from Tourgeneff on this occasion:—
"Although, generally speaking, I do not think it advisable to take celebrated men, especially poets and artists, as a subject for a novel, still I am truly glad to say that I have read your book with the liveliest interest. It is very sincere and very poetical at the same time; the life and spirit of Germany have no secrets for you, and your characters are drawn with a pencil as delicate as it is strong. I feel very proud of the approbation you give to my works, and of the influence you kindly attribute to them on your own talent; an author who write as you do is not a pupil in art any more; he is not far from being himself a master."
Charming and graceful words, of which the young writer was justly proud.
About this time occurred the death of her mother, the first break in the home and family circle. In August of 1876 she made a visit to Concord, at the Emersons', memorable enough for her to keep a journal and note down every incident and detail. Very touching to read now, in its almost childlike simplicity, is this record of "persons that pass and shadows that remain." Mr. Emerson himself meets her at the station, and drives with her in his little one-horse wagon to his home, the gray square house, with dark green blinds, set amidst noble trees. A glimpse of the family,—"the stately, white-haired Mrs. Emerson, and the beautiful, faithful Ellen, whose figure seems always to stand by the side of her august father." Then the picture of Concord itself, lovely and smiling, with its quiet meadows, quiet slopes, and quietest of rivers. She meets the little set of Concord people: Mr. Alcott, for whom she does not share Mr. Emerson's enthusiasm; and William Ellery Channing, whose figure stands out like a gnarled and twisted scrub-oak,—a pathetic, impossible creature, whose cranks and oddities were submitted to on account of an innate nobility of character. "Generally crabbed and reticent with strangers, he took a liking to me," says Emma Lazarus. "The bond of our sympathy was my admiration for Thoreau, whose memory he actually worships, having been his constant companion in his best days, and his daily attendant in the last years of illness and heroic suffering. I do not know whether I was most touched by the thought of the unique, lofty character that had inspired this depth and fervor of friendship, or by the pathetic constancy and pure affection of the poor, desolate old man before me, who tried to conceal his tenderness and sense of irremediable loss by a show of gruffness and philosophy. He never speaks of Thoreau's death," she says, "but always 'Thoreau's loss,' or 'when I lost Mr. Thoreau,' or 'when Mr. Thoreau went away from Concord;' nor would he confess that he missed him, for there was not a day, an hour, a moment, when he did not feel that his friend was still with him and had never left him. And yet a day or two after," she goes on to say, "when I sat with him in the sunlit wood, looking at the gorgeous blue and silver summer sky, he turned to me and said: 'Just half of the world died for me when I lost Mr. Thoreau. None of it looks the same as when I looked at it with him.'... He took me through the woods and pointed out to me every spot visited and described by his friend. Where the hut stood is a little pile of stones, and a sign, 'Site of Thoreau's Hut,' and a few steps beyond is the pond with thickly-wooded shore,—everything exquisitely peaceful and beautiful in the afternoon light, and not a sound to be heard except the crickets or the 'z-ing' of the locusts which Thoreau has described. Farther on he pointed out to me, in the distant landscape, a low roof, the only one visible, which was the roof of Thoreau's birthplace. He had been over there many times, he said, since he lost Mr. Thoreau, but had never gone in,—he was afraid it might look lonely! But he had often sat on a rock in front of the house and looked at it." On parting from his young friend, Mr. Channing gave her a package, which proved to be a copy of his own book on Thoreau, and the pocket compass which Thoreau carried to the Maine woods and on all his excursions. Before leaving the Emersons she received the proof-sheets of her drama of "The Spagnoletto," which was being printed for private circulation. She showed them to Mr. Emerson, who had expressed a wish to see them, and, after reading them, he gave them back to her with the comment that they were "good." She playfully asked him if he would not give her a bigger word to take home to the family. He laughed, and said he did not know of any; but he went on to tell her that he had taken it up, not expecting to read it through, and had not been able to put it down. Every word and line told of richness in the poetry, he said, and as far as he could judge the play had great dramatic opportunities. Early in the autumn "The Spagnoletto" appeared,—a tragedy in five acts, the scene laid in Italy, 1655.
Without a doubt, every one in these days will take up with misgiving, and like Mr. Emerson "not expecting to read it through," a five-act tragedy of the seventeenth century, so far removed apparently from the age and present actualities,—so opposed to the "Modernite," which has come to be the last word of art. Moreover, great names at once appear; great shades arise to rebuke the presumptuous new-comer in this highest realm of expression. "The Spagnoletto" has grave defects that would probably preclude its ever being represented on the stage. The denoument especially is unfortunate, and sins against our moral and aesthetic instinct. The wretched, tiger-like father stabs himself in the presence of his crushed and erring daughter, so that she may forever be haunted by the horror and the retribution of his death. We are left suspended, as it were, over an abyss, our moral judgment thwarted, our humanity outraged. But "The Spagnoletto" is, nevertheless, a remarkable production, and pitched in another key from anything the writer has yet given us. Heretofore we have only had quiet, reflective, passive emotion: now we have a storm and sweep of passion for which we were quite unprepared. Ribera's character is charged like a thunder-cloud with dramatic elements. Maria Rosa is the child of her father, fired at a flash, "deaf, dumb, and blind" at the touch of passion.
"Does love steal gently o'er our soul?"
"What if he come, A cloud, a fire, a whirlwind?"
and then the cry:
"O my God! This awful joy in mine own heart is love."
"While you are here the one thing real to me In all the universe is love."
Exquisitely tender and refined are the love scenes—at the ball and in the garden—between the dashing prince-lover in search of his pleasure and the devoted girl with her heart in her eyes, on her lips, in her hand. Behind them, always like a tragic fate, the somber figure of the Spagnoletto, and over all the glow and color and soul of Italy.
In 1881 appeared the translation of Heine's poems and ballads, which was generally accepted as the best version of that untranslatable poet. Very curious is the link between that bitter, mocking, cynic spirit and the refined, gentle spirit of Emma Lazarus. Charmed by the magic of his verse, the iridescent play of his fancy, and the sudden cry of the heart piercing through it all, she is as yet unaware or only vaguely conscious of the of the real bond between them: the sympathy in the blood, the deep, tragic, Judaic passion of eighteen hundred years that was smouldering in her own heart, soon to break out and change the whole current of thought and feeling.
Already, in 1879, the storm was gathering. In a distant province of Russia at first, then on the banks of the Volga, and finally in Moscow itself, the old cry was raised, the hideous mediaeval charge revived, and the standard of persecution unfurled against the Jews. Province after province took it up. In Bulgaria, Servia, and, above all, Roumania, where, we were told, the sword of the Czar had been drawn to protect the oppressed, Christian atrocities took the place of Moslem atrocities, and history turned a page backward into the dark annals of violence and crime. And not alone in despotic Russia, but in Germany, the seat of modern philosophic thought and culture, the rage of Anti-Semitism broke out and spread with fatal ease and potency. In Berlin itself tumults and riots were threatened. We in America could scarcely comprehend the situation or credit the reports, and for a while we shut our eyes and ears to the facts; but we were soon rudely awakened from our insensibility, and forced to face the truth. It was in England that the voice was first raised in behalf of justice and humanity. In January, 1881, there appeared in the "London Times" a series of articles, carefully compiled on the testimony of eye-witnesses, and confirmed by official documents, records, etc., giving an account of events that had been taking place in southern and western Russia during a period of nine months, between April and December of 1880. We do not need to recall the sickening details. The headings will suffice: outrage, murder, arson, and pillage, and the result,—100,000 Jewish families made homeless and destitute, and nearly $100,000,000 worth of property destroyed. Nor need we recall the generous outburst of sympathy and indignation from America. "It is not that it is the oppression of Jews by Russia," said Mr. Evarts in the meeting at Chickering Hall Wednesday evening, February 4; "it is that it is the oppression of men and women, and we are men and women." So spoke civilized Christendom, and for Judaism,—who can describe that thrill of brotherhood, quickened anew, the immortal pledge of the race, made one again through sorrow? For Emma Lazarus it was a trumpet call that awoke slumbering and unguessed echoes. All this time she had been seeking heroic ideals in alien stock, soulless and far removed; in pagan mythology and mystic, mediaeval Christianity, ignoring her very birthright,—the majestic vista of the past, down which, "high above flood and fire," had been conveyed the precious scroll of the Moral Law. Hitherto Judaism had been a dead letter to her. Of Portuguese descent, her family had always been members of the oldest and most orthodox congregation of New York, where strict adherence to custom and ceremonial was the watchword of faith; but it was only during her childhood and earliest years that she attended the synagogue, and conformed to the prescribed rites and usages which she had now long since abandoned as obsolete and having no bearing on modern life. Nor had she any great enthusiasm for her own people. As late as April, 1882, she published in "The Century Magazine" an article written probably some months before, entitled "Was the Earl of Beaconsfield a Representative Jew?" in which she is disposed to accept as the type of the modern Jew the brilliant, successful, but not over-scrupulous chevalier d'industrie. In view of subsequent, or rather contemporaneous events, the closing paragraph of the article in question is worthy of being cited:—
"Thus far their religion [the Jewish], whose mere preservation under such adverse conditions seems little short of a miracle, has been deprived of the natural means of development and progress, and has remained a stationary force. The next hundred years will, in our opinion be the test of their vitality as a people; the phase of toleration upon which they are only now entering will prove whether or not they are capable of growth."
By a curious, almost fateful juxtaposition, in the same number of the magazine appeared Madame Ragozin's defense of Russian barbarity, and in the following (May) number Emma Lazarus's impassioned appeal and reply, "Russian Christianity versus Modern Judaism." From this time dated the crusade that she undertook in behalf of her race, and the consequent expansion of all her faculties, the growth of spiritual power which always ensues when a great cause is espoused and a strong conviction enters the soul. Her verse rang out as it had never rung before,—a clarion note, calling a people to heroic action and unity, to the consciousness and fulfillment of a grand destiny. When has Judaism been so stirred as by "The Crowing of the Red Cock" and
THE BANNER OF THE JEW.
Wake, Israel, wake! Recall to-day The glorious Maccabean rage, The sire heroic, hoary-gray, His five-fold lion-lineage; The Wise, the Elect, the Help-of-God, The Burst-of-Spring, the Avenging Rod.
From Mizpeh's mountain ridge they saw Jerusalem's empty streets; her shrine Laid waste where Greeks profaned the Law With idol and with pagan sign. Mourners in tattered black were there With ashes sprinkled on their hair.
Then from the stony peak there rang A blast to ope the graves; down poured The Maccabean clan, who sang Their battle anthem to the Lord. Five heroes lead, and following, see Ten thousand rush to victory!
Oh for Jerusalem's trumpet now, To blow a blast of shattering power, To wake the sleeper high and low, And rouse them to the urgent hour! No hand for vengeance, but to save, A million naked swords should wave.
Oh, deem not dead that martial fire, Say not the mystic flame is spent! With Moses' law and David's lyre, Your ancient strength remains unbent. Let but an Ezra rise anew, To lift the BANNER OF THE JEW!
A rag, a mock at first,—erelong When men have bled and women wept, To guard its precious folds from wrong, Even they who shrunk, even they who slept, Shall leap to bless it and to save. Strike! for the brave revere the brave!
The dead forms burst their bonds and lived again. She sings "Rosh Hashanah" (the Jewish New Year) and "Hanuckah (the Feast of Lights):—
"Kindle the taper like the steadfast star Ablaze on Evening's forehead o'er the earth, And add each night a lustre till afar An eight-fold splendor shine above thy hearth. Clash, Israel, the cymbals, touch the lyre, Blow the brass trumpet and the harsh-tongued horn; Chant psalms of victory till the heart take fire, The Maccabean spirit leap new-born."
And "The New Ezekiel:"—
"What! can these dead bones live, whose sap is dried By twenty scorching centuries of wrong? Is this the House of Israel whose pride Is as a tale that's told, an ancient song? Are these ignoble relics all that live Of psalmist, priest, and prophet? Can the breath Of very heaven bid these bones revive, Open the graves, and clothe the ribs of death? Yea, Prophesy, the Lord hath said again: Say to the wind, come forth and breathe afresh, Even that they may live, upon these slain, And bone to bone shall leap, and flesh to flesh. The spirit is not dead, proclaim the word. Where lay dead bones a host of armed men stand! I ope your graves, my people, saith the Lord, And I shall place you living in your land."
Her whole being renewed and refreshed itself at its very source. She threw herself into the study of her race, its language, literature, and history.
Breaking the outward crust, she pierced to the heart of the faith and "the miracle" of its survival. What was it other than the ever-present, ever-vivifying spirit itself, which cannot die,—the religious and ethical zeal which fires the whole history of the people, and of which she herself felt the living glow within her own soul? She had come upon the secret and the genius of Judaism,—that absolute interpenetration and transfusion of spirit with body and substance which, taken literally, often reduces itself to a question of food and drink, a dietary regulation, and again, in proper splendor, incarnates itself and shines out before humanity in the prophets, teachers, and saviors of mankind.
Those were busy, fruitful years for Emma Lazarus, who worked, not with the pen alone, but in the field of practical and beneficent activity. For there was an immense task to accomplish. The tide of immigration had set in, and ship after ship came laden with hunted human beings flying from their fellow-men, while all the time, like a tocsin, rang the terrible story of cruelty and persecution,—horrors that the pen refuses to dwell upon. By the hundreds and thousands they flocked upon our shores,—helpless, innocent victims of injustice and oppression, panic-stricken in the midst of strange and utterly new surroundings.
Emma Lazarus came into personal contact with these people, and visited them in their refuge on Ward Island. While under the influence of all the emotions aroused by this great crisis in the history of her race, she wrote the "Dance of Death," a drama of persecution of the twelfth century, founded upon the authentic records,—unquestionably her finest work in grasp and scope, and, above all, in moral elevation and purport. The scene is laid in Nordhausen, a free city in Thuringia, where the Jews, living, as the deemed, in absolute security and peace, were caught up in the wave of persecution that swept over Europe at that time. Accused of poisoning the wells and causing the pestilence, or black death, as it was called, they were condemned to be burned.
We do not here intend to enter upon a critical or literary analysis of the play, or to point out dramatic merits or defects, but we should like to make its readers feel with us the holy ardor and impulse of the writer and the spiritual import of the work. The action is without surprise, the doom fixed from the first; but so glowing is the canvas with local and historic color, so vital and intense the movement, so resistless, the "internal evidence," if we may call it thus, penetrating its very substance and form, that we are swept along as by a wave of human sympathy and grief. In contrast with "The Spagnoletto," how large is the theme and how all-embracing the catastrophe! In place of the personal we have the drama of the universal. Love is only a flash now,—a dream caught sight of and at once renounced at a higher claim.
"Have you no smile to welcome love with, Liebhaid? Why should you tremble? Prince, I am afraid! Afraid of my own heart, my unfathomed joy, A blasphemy against my father's grief, My people's agony!
"What good shall come, forswearing kith and God, To follow the allurements of the heart?"
asks the distracted maiden, torn between her love for he princely wooer and her devotion to the people among whom her lot has been cast.
"O God! How shall I pray for strength to love him less Than mine own soul! No more of that, I am all Israel's now. Till this cloud pass, I have no thought, no passion, no desire, Save for my people."
Individuals perish, but great ideas survive,—fortitude and courage, and that exalted loyalty and devotion to principle which alone are worth living and dying for.
The Jews pass by in procession—men, women, and children—on their way to the flames, to the sound of music, and in festal array, carrying the gold and silver vessels, the roll of the law, the perpetual lamp and the seven branched silver candle-stick of the synagogue. The crowd hoot and jeer at them.
"The misers! they will take their gems and gold Down to the grave!"
"Let us rejoice"
sing the Jewish youths in chorus; and the maidens:—
"Our feet stand within thy gates, O Zion! Within thy portals, O Jerusalem!"
The flames rise and dart among them; their garments wave, their jewels flash, as they dance and sing in the crimson blaze. The music ceases, a sound of crashing boards is heard and a great cry,—"Hallelujah!" What a glory and consecration of the martyrdom! Where shall we find a more triumphant vindication and supreme victory of spirit over matter?
"I see, I see, How Israel's ever-crescent glory makes These flames that would eclipse it dark as blots Of candle-light against the blazing sun. We die a thousand deaths,—drown, bleed, and burn. Our ashes are dispersed unto the winds. Yet the wild winds cherish the sacred seed, The fire refuseth to consume.
. . . . . . . . .
Even as we die in honor, from our death Shall bloom a myriad heroic lives, Brave through our bright example, virtuous Lest our great memory fall in disrepute."
The "Dance to Death" was published, along with other poems and translations from the Hebrew poets of mediaeval Spain, in a small column entitled "Songs of a Semite." The tragedy was dedicated, "In profound veneration and respect to the memory of George Eliot, the illustrious writer who did most among the artists of our day towards elevating and ennobling the spirit of Jewish nationality."
For this was the idea that had caught the imagination of Emma Lazarus, —a restored and independent nationality and repatriation in Palestine. In her article in "The Century" of February, 1883, on the "Jewish Problem," she says:—
"I am fully persuaded that all suggested solutions other than this are but temporary palliatives.... The idea formulated by George Eliot has already sunk into the minds of many Jewish enthusiasts, and it germinates with miraculous rapidity. 'The idea that I am possessed with,' says Deronda, 'is that of restoring a political existence to my people; making them a nation again, giving them a national centre, such as the English have, though they, too, are scattered over the face of the globe. That task which presents itself to me as a duty.... I am resolved to devote my life to it. AT THE LEAST, I MAY AWAKEN A MOVEMENT IN OTHER MINDS SUCH HAS BEEN AWAKENED IN MY OWN.' Could the noble prophetess who wrote the above words have lived but till to-day to see the ever-increasing necessity of adopting her inspired counsel,... she would have been herself astonished at the flame enkindled by her seed of fire, and the practical shape which the movement projected by her poetic vision is beginning to assume."
In November of 1882 appeared her first "Epistle to the Hebrews,"—one of a series of articles written for the "American Hebrew," published weekly through several months. Addressing herself now to a Jewish audience, she sets forth without reserve her views and hopes for Judaism, now passionately holding up the mirror for the shortcomings and peculiarities of her race. She says:—
"Every student of the Hebrew language is aware that we have in the conjugation of our verbs a mode known as the 'intensive voice,' which, by means of an almost imperceptible modification of vowel-points, intensifies the meaning of the primitive root. A similar significance seems to attach to the Jews themselves in connection with the people among whom they dwell. They are the 'intensive form' of any nationality whose language and customs they adopt.... Influenced by the same causes, they represent the same results; but the deeper lights and shadows of the Oriental temperament throw their failings, as well as their virtues, into more prominent relief."
In drawing the epistles to a close, February 24, 1883, she thus summarizes the special objects she has had in view:—
"My chief aim has been to contribute my mite towards arousing that spirit of Jewish enthusiasm which might manifest itself: First, in a return to varied pursuits and broad system of physical and intellectual education adopted by our ancestors; Second, in a more fraternal and practical movement towards alleviating the sufferings of oppressed Jews in countries less favored than our own; Third, in a closer and wider study of Hebrew literature and history and finally, in a truer recognition of the large principals of religion, liberty, and law upon which Judaism is founded, and which should draw into harmonious unity Jews of every shade of opinion."
Her interest in Jewish affairs was at its height when she planned a visit abroad, which had been a long-cherished dream, and May 15, 1883, she sailed for England, accompanied by a younger sister. We have difficulty in recognizing the tragic priestess we have been portraying in the enthusiastic child of travel who seems new-born into a new world. From the very outset she is in a maze of wonder and delight. At sea she writes:—
"Our last day on board ship was a vision of beauty from morning till night,—the sea like a mirror and the sky dazzling with light. In the afternoon we passed a ship in full sail, near enough to exchange salutes and cheers. After tossing about for six days without seeing a human being, except those on our vessel, even this was a sensation. Then an hour or two before sunset came the great sensation of—land! At first, nothing but a shadow on the far horizon, like the ghost of a ship; two or three widely scattered rocks which were the promontories of Ireland, and sooner than we expected we were steaming along low-lying purple hills."
The journey to Chester gives her "the first glimpse of mellow England,"—a surprise which is yet no surprise, so well known and familiar does it appear. Then Chester, with its quaint, picturesque streets, "like the scene of a Walter Scott novel, the cathedral planted in greenness, and the clear, gray river where a boatful of scarlet dragoons goes gliding by." Everything is a picture for her special benefit. She "drinks in, at every sense, the sights, sounds, and smells, and the unimaginable beauty of it all." Then the bewilderment of London, and a whirl of people, sights, and impressions. She was received with great distinction by the Jews, and many of the leading men among them warmly advocated her views. But it was not alone from her own people that she met with exceptional consideration. She had the privilege of seeing many of the most eminent personages of the day, all of whom honored her with special and personal regard. There was, no doubt, something that strongly attracted people to her at this time,—the force of her intellect at once made itself felt, while at the same time the unaltered simplicity and modesty of her character, and her readiness and freshness of enthusiasm, kept her still almost like a child.
She makes a flying visit to Paris, where she happens to be on the 14th of July, the anniversary of the storming of the Bastile, and of the beginning of the republic; she drives to Versailles, "that gorgeous shell of royalty, where the crowd who celebrate the birth of the republic wander freely through the halls and avenues, and into the most sacred rooms of the king.... There are ruins on every side in Paris," she says; "ruins of the Commune, or the Siege, or the Revolution; it is terrible—it seems as if the city were seared with fire and blood."
Such was Paris to her then, and she hastens back to her beloved London, starting from there on the tour through England that has been mapped out for her. "A Day in Surrey with William Morris," published in "The Century Magazine," describes her visit to Merton Abbey, the old Norman monastery, converted into a model factory by the poet-humanitarian, who himself received her as his guest, conducted her all over the picturesque building and garden, and explained to her his views of art and his aims for the people.
She drives through Kent, "where the fields, valleys, and slopes are garlanded with hops and ablaze with scarlet poppies." Then Canterbury, Windsor, and Oxford, Stratford, Warwick, the valley of the Wye, Wells, Exeter, and Salisbury,—cathedral after cathedral. Back to London, and then north through York, Durham, and Edinburgh, and on the 15th of September she sails for home. We have merely named the names, for it is impossible to convey an idea of the delight and importance of this trip, "a crescendo of enjoyment," as she herself calls it. Long after, in strange, dark hours of suffering, these pictures of travel arose before her, vivid and tragic even in their hold and spell upon her.
The winter of 1883-84 was not especially productive. She wrote a few reminiscences of her journey and occasional poems on the Jewish themes, which appeared in the "American Hebrew;" but for the most part gave herself up to quiet retrospect and enjoyment with her friends of the life she had had a glimpse of, and the experience she had stored,—a restful, happy period. In August of the same year she was stricken with a severe and dangerous malady, from which she slowly recovered, only to go through a terrible ordeal and affliction. Her father's health, which had long been failing, now broke down completely, and the whole winter was one long strain of acute anxiety, which culminated in his death, in March, 1885. The blow was a crushing one for Emma. Truly, the silver cord was loosed, and the golden bowl broken. Life lost its meaning and charm. Her father's sympathy and pride in her work had been her chief incentive and ambition, and had spurred her on when her own confidence and spirit failed. Never afterwards did she find complete and spontaneous expression. She decided to go abroad as the best means of regaining composure and strength and sailed once more in May for England, where she was welcomed now by the friends she had made, almost as to another home. She spent the summer very quietly at Richmond,an ideally beautiful spot in Yorkshire, where she soon felt the beneficial influence of her peaceful surroundings. "The very air seems to rest one here," she writes; and inspired by the romantic loveliness of the place, she even composed the first few chapters of a novel, begun with a good deal of dash and vigor, but soon abandoned, for she was still struggling with depression and gloom.
"I have neither ability, energy, nor purpose," she writes. "It is impossible to do anything, so I am forced to set it aside for the present; whether to take it up again or not in the future remains to be seen."
In the autumn she goes on the Continent, visiting the Hague, which "completely fascinates" her, and where she feels "stronger and more cheerful" than she has "for many a day." Then Paris, which this time amazes her "with its splendor and magnificence. All the ghosts of the Revolution are somehow laid," she writes, and she spends six weeks here enjoying to the full the gorgeous autumn weather, the sights, the picture galleries, the bookshops, the whole brilliant panorama of the life; and early in December she starts for Italy.
And now once more we come upon that keen zest of enjoyment, that pure desire and delight of the eyes, which are the prerogative of the poet,—Emma Lazarus was a poet. The beauty of the world,—what a rapture and intoxication it is, and how it bursts upon her in the very land of beauty, "where Dante and Petrarch trod!" A magic glow colours it all; no mere blues and greens anymore, but a splendor of purple and scarlet and emerald; "each tower, castle, and village shining like a jewel; the olive, the fig, and at your feet the roses, growing in mid-December." A day in Pisa seems like a week, so crowded is it with sensations and unforgettable pictures. Then a month in Florence, which is still more entrancing with its inexhaustible treasures of beauty and art; and finally Rome, the climax of it all,—
"wiping out all other places and impressions, and opening a whole new world of sensations. I am wild with the excitement of this tremendous place. I have been here a week, and have seen the Vatican and the Capitoline Museums, and the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter's, besides the ruins on the streets and on the hills, and the graves of Shelley and Keats.
"It is all heart-breaking. I don't only mean those beautiful graves, overgrown with acanthus and violets, but the mutilated arches and columns and dumb appealing fragments looming up in the glowing sunshine under the Roman blue sky."
True to her old attractions, it is pagan Rome that appeals to her most strongly,—
"and the far-away past, that seems so sad and strange and near. I am even out of humor with pictures; a bit of broken stone or a fragment of a bas-relief, or a Corinthian column standing out against this lapis-lazuli sky, or a tremendous arch, are the only things I can look at for the moment,— except the Sistine Chapel, which is as gigantic as the rest, and forces itself upon you with equal might."
Already, in February, spring is in the air; "the almond-trees are in bloom, violets cover the grass, and oh! the divine, the celestial, the unheard-of beauty of it all!" It is almost a pang for her, "with its strange mixture of longing and regret and delight," and in the midst of it she says, "I have to exert all my strength not to lose myself in morbidness and depression."
Early in March she leaves Rome, consoled with the thought of returning the following winter. In June she was in England again, and spent the summer at Malvern. Disease was no doubt already beginning to prey upon her, for she was oppressed at times by a languor and heaviness amounting almost to lethargy. When she returned to London, however, in September, she felt quite well again, and started for another tour in Holland, which she enjoyed as much as before. She then settled in Paris, to await the time when she could return to Italy. But she was attacked at once with grave and alarming symptoms, that betokened a fatal end to her malady. Entirely ignorant, however, of the danger that threatened her, she kept up courage and hope, made plans for the journey, and looked forward to setting out at any moment. But the weeks passed and the months also; slowly and gradually the hope faded. The journey to Italy must be given up; she was not in condition to be brought home, and she reluctantly resigned herself to remain where she was and "convalesce," as she confidently believed, in the spring. Once again came the analogy, which she herself pointed out now, to Heine on his mattress-grave in Paris. She, too, the last time she went out, dragged herself to the Louvre, to the feet of the Venus, "the goddess without arms, who could not help." Only her indomitable will and intense desire to live seemed to keep her alive. She sunk to a very low ebb, but, as she herself expressed it, she "seemed to have always one little window looking out into life," and in the spring she rallied sufficiently to take a few drives and to sit on the balcony of her apartment. She came back to life with a feverish sort of thirst and avidity. "No such cure for pessimism," she says, "as a severe illness; the simplest pleasures are enough,—to breathe the air and see the sun."
Many plans were made for leaving Paris, but it was finally decided to risk the ocean voyage and bring her home, and accordingly she sailed July 23rd, arriving in New York on the last day of that month.
She did not rally after this; and now began her long agony, full of every kind of suffering, mental and physical. Only her intellect seemed kindled anew, and none but those who saw her during the last supreme ordeal can realize that wonderful flash and fire of the spirit before its extinction. Never did she appear so brilliant. Wasted to a shadow, and between acute attacks of pain, she talked about art, poetry, the scenes of travel, of which her brain was so full, and the phases of her own condition, with an eloquence for which even those who knew her best were quite unprepared. Every faculty seemed sharpened and every sense quickened as the "strong deliveress" approached, and the ardent soul was released from the frame that could no longer contain it.
We cannot restrain a feeling of suddenness and incompleteness and a natural pang of wonder and regret for a life so richly and so vitally endowed thus cut off in its prime. But for us it is not fitting to question or repine, but rather to rejoice in the rare possession that we hold. What is any life, even the most rounded and complete, but a fragment and a hint? What Emma Lazarus might have accomplished, had she been spared, it is idle and even ungrateful to speculate. What she did accomplish has real and peculiar significance. It is the privilege of a favored few that every fact and circumstance of their individuality shall add lustre and value to what they achieve. To be born a Jewess was a distinction for Emma Lazarus, and she in turn conferred distinction upon her race. To be born a woman also lends a grace and a subtle magnetism to her influence. Nowhere is there contradiction or incongruity. Her works bear the imprint of her character, and her character of her works; the same directness and honesty, the same limpid purity of tone, and the same atmosphere of things refined and beautiful. The vulgar, the false, and the ignoble,—she scarcely comprehended them, while on every side she was open and ready to take in and respond to whatever can adorn and enrich life. Literature was no mere "profession" for her, which shut out other possibilities; it was only a free, wide horizon and background for culture. She was passionately devoted to music, which inspired some of her best poems; and during the last years of her life, in hours of intense physical suffering, she found relief and consolation in listening to the strains of Bach and Beethoven. When she went abroad, painting was revealed to her, and she threw herself with the same ardor and enthusiasm into the study of the great masters; her last work (left unfinished) was a critical analysis of the genius and personality of Rembrandt.
And now, at the end, we ask, Has the grave really closed over all these gifts? Has that eager, passionate striving ceased, and "is the rest silence?"
Who knows? But would we break, if we could, that repose, that silence and mystery and peace everlasting?
"The epochs of our life are not in the facts, but in the silent thought by the wayside as we walk."—Emerson
Sweet empty sky of June without a stain, Faint, gray-blue dewy mists on far-off hills, Warm, yellow sunlight flooding mead and plain, That each dark copse and hollow overfills; The rippling laugh of unseen, rain-fed rills, Weeds delicate-flowered, white and pink and gold, A murmur and a singing manifold.
The gray, austere old earth renews her youth With dew-lines, sunshine, gossamer, and haze. How still she lies and dreams, and veils the truth, While all is fresh as in the early days! What simple things be these the soul to raise To bounding joy, and make young pulses beat, With nameless pleasure finding life so sweet.
On such a golden morning forth there floats, Between the soft earth and the softer sky, In the warm air adust with glistening motes, The mystic winged and flickering butterfly, A human soul, that hovers giddily Among the gardens of earth's paradise, Nor dreams of fairer fields or loftier skies.
Thin summer rain on grass and bush and hedge, Reddening the road and deepening the green On wide, blurred lawn, and in close-tangled sedge; Veiling in gray the landscape stretched between These low broad meadows and the pale hills seen But dimly on the far horizon's edge.
In these transparent-clouded, gentle skies, Wherethrough the moist beams of the soft June sun Might any moment break, no sorrow lies, No note of grief in swollen brooks that run, No hint of woe in this subdued, calm tone Of all the prospect unto dreamy eyes.
Only a tender, unnamed half-regret For the lost beauty of the gracious morn; A yearning aspiration, fainter yet, For brighter suns in joyous days unborn, Now while brief showers ruffle grass and corn, And all the earth lies shadowed, grave, and wet;
Space for the happy soul to pause again From pure content of all unbroken bliss, To dream the future void of grief and pain, And muse upon the past, in reveries More sweet for knowledge that the present is Not all complete, with mist and clouds and rain.
Look westward o'er the steaming rain-washed slopes, Now satisfied with sunshine, and behold Those lustrous clouds, as glorious as our hopes, Softened with feathery fleece of downy gold, In all fantastic, huddled shapes uprolled, Floating like dreams, and melting silently, In the blue upper regions of pure sky.
The eye is filled with beauty, and the heart Rejoiced with sense of life and peace renewed; And yet at such an hour as this, upstart Vague myriad longing, restless, unsubdued, And causeless tears from melancholy mood, Strange discontent with earth's and nature's best, Desires and yearnings that may find no rest.
Serene was morning with clear, winnowed air, But threatening soon the low, blue mass of cloud Rose in the west, with mutterings faint and rare At first, but waxing frequent and more loud. Thick sultry mists the distant hill-tops shroud; The sunshine dies; athwart black skies of lead Flash noiselessly thin threads of lightning red.
Breathless the earth seems waiting some wild blow, Dreaded, but far too close to ward or shun. Scared birds aloft fly aimless, and below Naught stirs in fields whence light and life are gone, Save floating leaves, with wisps of straw and down, Upon the heavy air; 'neath blue-black skies, Livid and yellow the green landscape lies.
And all the while the dreadful thunder breaks, Within the hollow circle of the hills, With gathering might, that angry echoes wakes, And earth and heaven with unused clamor fills. O'erhead still flame those strange electric thrills. A moment more,—behold! yon bolt struck home, And over ruined fields the storm hath come!
When the stunned soul can first lift tired eyes On her changed world of ruin, waste and wrack, Ah, what a pang of aching sharp surprise Brings all sweet memories of the lost past back, With wild self-pitying grief of one betrayed, Duped in a land of dreams where Truth is dead!
Are these the heavens that she deemed were kind? Is this the world that yesterday was fair? What painted images of folk half-blind Be these who pass her by, as vague as air? What go they seeking? there is naught to find. Let them come nigh and hearken her despair.
A mocking lie is all she once believed, And where her heart throbbed, is a cold dead stone. This is a doom we never preconceived, Yet now she cannot fancy it undone. Part of herself, part of the whole hard scheme, All else is but the shadow of a dream.
There is a hungry longing in the soul, A craving sense of emptiness and pain, She may not satisfy nor yet control, For all the teeming world looks void and vain. No compensation in eternal spheres, She knows the loneliness of all her years.
There is no comfort looking forth nor back, The present gives the lie to all her past. Will cruel time restore what she doth lack? Why was no shadow of this doom forecast? Ah! she hath played with many a keen-edged thing; Naught is too small and soft to turn and sting.
In the unnatural glory of the hour, Exalted over time, and death, and fate, No earthly task appears beyond her power, No possible endurance seemeth great. She knows her misery and her majesty, And recks not if she be to live or die.
Yea, she hath looked Truth grimly face to face, And drained unto the lees the proffered cup. This silence is not patience, nor the grace Of recognition, meekly offered up, But mere acceptance fraught with keenest pain, Seeing that all her struggles must be vain.
Her future clear and terrible outlies,— This burden to be borne through all her days, This crown of thorns pressed down above her eyes, This weight of trouble she may never raise. No reconcilement doth she ask nor wait; Knowing such things are, she endures her fate.
No brave endeavor of the broken will To cling to such poor stays as will abide (Although the waves be wild and angry still) After the lapsing of the swollen tide. No fear of further loss, no hope of gain, Naught but the apathy of weary pain.
All stupor of surprise hath passed away; She sees, with clearer vision than before, A world far off of light and laughter gay, Herself alone and lonely evermore. Folk come and go, and reach her in no wise, Mere flitting phantoms to her heavy eyes.
All outward things, that once seemed part of her, Fall from her, like the leaves in autumn shed. She feels as one embalmed in spice and myrrh, With the heart eaten out, a long time dead; Unchanged without, the features and the form; Within, devoured by the thin red worm.
By her own prowess she must stand or fall, This grief is to be conquered day by day. Who could befriend her? who could make this small, Or her strength great? she meets it as she may. A weary struggle and a constant pain, She dreams not they may ever cease nor wane.
It comes not in such wise as she had deemed, Else might she still have clung to her despair. More tender, grateful than she could have dreamed, Fond hands passed pitying over brows and hair, And gentle words borne softly through the air, Calming her weary sense and wildered mind, By welcome, dear communion with her kind.
Ah! she forswore all words as empty lies; What speech could help, encourage, or repair? Yet when she meets these grave, indulgent eyes, Fulfilled with pity, simplest words are fair, Caressing, meaningless, that do not dare To compensate or mend, but merely soothe With hopeful visions after bitter Truth.
One who through conquered trouble had grown wise, To read the grief unspoken, unexpressed, The misery of the blank and heavy eyes,— Or through youth's infinite compassion guessed The heavy burden,—such a one brought rest, And bade her lay aside her doubts and fears, While the hard pain dissolved in blessed tears.
The passion of despair is quelled at last; The cruel sense of undeserved wrong, The wild self-pity, these are also past; She knows not what may come, but she is strong; She feels she hath not aught to lose nor gain, Her patience is the essence of all pain.
As one who sits beside a lapsing stream, She sees the flow of changeless day by day, Too sick and tired to think, too sad to dream, Nor cares how soon the waters slip away, Nor where they lead; at the wise God's decree, She will depart or bide indifferently.
There is deeper pathos in the mild And settled sorrow of the quiet eyes, Than in the tumults of the anguish wild, That made her curse all things beneath the skies; No question, no reproaches, no complaint, Hers is the holy calm of some meek saint.
Her languid pulses thrill with sudden hope, That will not be forgot nor cast aside, And life in statelier vistas seems to ope, Illimitably lofty, long, and wide. What doth she know? She is subdued and mild, Quiet and docile "as a weaned child."
If grief came in such unimagined wise, How may joy dawn? In what undreamed-of hour, May the light break with splendor of surprise, Disclosing all the mercy and the power? A baseless hope, yet vivid, keen, and bright, As the wild lightning in the starless night.
She knows not whence it came, nor where it passed, But it revealed, in one brief flash of flame, A heaven so high, a world so rich and vast, That, full of meek contrition and mute shame, In patient silence hopefully withdrawn, She bows her head, and bides the certain dawn.
'T is not alone that black and yawning void That makes her heart ache with this hungry pain, But the glad sense of life hath been destroyed, The lost delight may never come again. Yet myriad serious blessings with grave grace Arise on every side to fill their place.
For much abides in her so lonely life,— The dear companionship of her own kind, Love where least looked for, quiet after strife, Whispers of promise upon every wind, A quickened insight, in awakened eyes, For the new meaning of the earth and skies.
The nameless charm about all things hath died, Subtle as aureole round a shadow's head, Cast on the dewy grass at morning-tide; Yet though the glory and the joy be fled, 'T is much her own endurance to have weighed, And wrestled with God's angels, unafraid.
She feels outwearied, as though o'er her head A storm of mighty billows broke and passed. Whose hand upheld her? Who her footsteps led To this green haven of sweet rest at last? What strength was hers, unreckoned and unknown? What love sustained when she was most alone?
Unutterably pathetic her desire, To reach, with groping arms outstretched in prayer, Something to cling to, to uplift her higher From this low world of coward fear and care, Above disaster, that her will may be At one with God's, accepting his decree.
Though by no reasons she be justified, Yet strangely brave in Evil's very face, She deems this want must needs be satisfied, Though here all slips from out her weak embrace. And in blind ecstasy of perfect faith, With her own dream her prayer she answereth.
Yet life is not a vision nor a prayer, But stubborn work; she may not shun her task. After the first compassion, none will spare Her portion and her work achieved, to ask. She pleads for respite,—she will come ere long When, resting by the roadside, she is strong.
Nay, for the hurrying throng of passers-by Will crush her with their onward-rolling stream. Much must be done before the brief light die; She may not loiter, rapt in the vain dream. With unused trembling hands, and faltering feet, She staggers forth, her lot assigned to meet.
But when she fills her days with duties done, Strange vigor comes, she is restored to health. New aims, new interests rise with each new sun, And life still holds for her unbounded wealth. All that seemed hard and toilsome now proves small, And naught may daunt her,—she hath strength for all.
How strange, in some brief interval of rest, Backward to look on her far-stretching past. To see how much is conquered and repressed, How much is gained in victory at last! The shadow is not lifted,—but her faith, Strong from life's miracles, now turns toward death.
Though much be dark where once rare splendor shone, Yet the new light has touched high peaks unguessed In her gold, mist-bathed dawn, and one by one New outlooks loom from many a mountain crest. She breathes a loftier, purer atmosphere, And life's entangled paths grow straight and clear.
Nor will Death prove an all-unwelcome guest; The struggle has been toilsome to this end, Sleep will be sweet, and after labor rest, And all will be atoned with him to friend. Much must be reconciled, much justified, And yet she feels she will be satisfied.
The calm outgoing of a long, rich day, Checkered with storm and sunshine, gloom and light, Now passing in pure, cloudless skies away, Withdrawing into silence of blank night. Thick shadows settle on the landscape bright, Like the weird cloud of death that falls apace On the still features of the passive face.
Soothing and gentle as a mother's kiss, The touch that stopped the beating of the heart. A look so blissfully serene as this, Not all the joy of living could impart. With dauntless faith and courage therewithal, The Master found her ready at his call.
On such a golden evening forth there floats, Between the grave earth and the glowing sky In the clear air, unvexed with hazy motes, The mystic-winged and flickering butterfly, A human soul, that drifts at liberty, Ah! who can tell to what strange paradise, To what undreamed-of fields and lofty skies!
How long, and yet how long, Our leaders will we hail from over seas, Master and kings from feudal monarchies, And mock their ancient song With echoes weak of foreign melodies?
That distant isle mist-wreathed, Mantled in unimaginable green, Too long hath been our mistress and our queen. Our fathers have bequeathed Too deep a love for her, our hearts within.
She made the whole world ring With the brave exploits of her children strong, And with the matchless music of her song. Too late, too late we cling To alien legends, and their strains prolong.
This fresh young world I see, With heroes, cities, legends of her own; With a new race of men, and overblown By winds from sea to sea, Decked with the majesty of every zone.
I see the glittering tops Of snow-peaked mounts, the wid'ning vale's expanse, Large prairies where free herds of horses prance, Exhaustless wealth of crops, In vast, magnificent extravagance.
These grand, exuberant plains, These stately rivers, each with many a mouth, The exquisite beauty of the soft-aired south, The boundless seas of grains, Luxuriant forests' lush and splendid growth.
The distant siren-song Of the green island in the eastern sea, Is not the lay for this new chivalry. It is not free and strong To chant on prairies 'neath this brilliant sky.
The echo faints and fails; It suiteth not, upon this western plain, Out voice or spirit; we should stir again The wilderness, and make the vales Resound unto a yet unheard-of strain.
In rich Virginian woods, The scarlet creeper reddens over graves, Among the solemn trees enlooped with vines; Heroic spirits haunt the solitudes,— The noble souls of half a million braves, Amid the murmurous pines.
Ah! who is left behind, Earnest and eloquent, sincere and strong, To consecrate their memories with words Not all unmeet? with fitting dirge and song To chant a requiem purer than the wind, And sweeter than the birds?
Here, though all seems at peace, The placid, measureless sky serenely fair, The laughter of the breeze among the leaves, The bars of sunlight slanting through the trees, The reckless wild-flowers blooming everywhere, The grasses' delicate sheaves,—
Nathless each breeze that blows, Each tree that trembles to its leafy head With nervous life, revives within our mind, Tender as flowers of May, the thoughts of those Who lie beneath the living beauty, dead,— Beneath the sunshine, blind.
For brave dead soldiers, these: Blessings and tears of aching thankfulness, Soft flowers for the graves in wreaths enwove, The odorous lilac of dear memories, The heroic blossoms of the wilderness, And the rich rose of love.
But who has sung their praise, Not less illustrious, who are living yet? Armies of heroes, satisfied to pass Calmly, serenely from the whole world's gaze, And cheerfully accept, without regret, Their old life as it was,
With all its petty pain, Its irritating littleness and care; They who have scaled the mountain, with content Sublime, descend to live upon the plain; Steadfast as though they breathed the mountain-air Still, wheresoe'er they went.
They who were brave to act, And rich enough their action to forget; Who, having filled their day with chivalry, Withdraw and keep their simpleness intact, And all unconscious add more lustre yet Unto their victory.
On the broad Western plains Their patriarchal life they live anew; Hunters as mighty as the men of old, Or harvesting the plenteous, yellow grains, Gathering ripe vintage of dusk bunches blue, Or working mines of gold;
Or toiling in the town, Armed against hindrance, weariness, defeat, With dauntless purpose not to serve or yield, And calm, defiant, they struggle on, As sturdy and as valiant in the street, As in the camp and field.
And those condemned to live, Maimed, helpless, lingering still through suffering years, May they not envy now the restful sleep Of the dear fellow-martyrs they survive? Not o'er the dead, but over these, your tears, O brothers, ye may weep!
New England fields I see, The lovely, cultured landscape, waving grain, Wide haughty rivers, and pale, English skies. And lo! a farmer ploughing busily, Who lifts a swart face, looks upon the plain,— I see, in his frank eyes,
The hero's soul appear. Thus in the common fields and streets they stand; The light that on the past and distant gleams, They cast upon the present and the near, With antique virtues from some mystic land, Of knightly deeds and dreams.
To my friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson.
He who could beard the lion in his lair, To bind him for a girl, and tame the boar, And drive these beasts before his chariot, Might wed Alcestis. For her low brows' sake, Her hairs' soft undulations of warm gold, Her eyes clear color and pure virgin mouth, Though many would draw bow or shiver spear, Yet none dared meet the intolerable eye, Or lipless tusk, of lion or boar. This heard Admetus, King of Thessaly, Whose broad, fat pastures spread their ample fields Down to the sheer edge of Amphrysus' stream, Who laughed, disdainful, at the father's pride, That set such value on one milk-faced child.
One morning, as he rode alone and passed Through the green twilight of Thessalian woods, Between two pendulous branches interlocked, As through an open casement, he descried A goddess, as he deemed,—in truth a maid. On a low bank she fondled tenderly A favorite hound, her floral face inclined above the glossy, graceful animal, That pressed his snout against her cheek and gazed Wistfully, with his keen, sagacious eyes. One arm with lax embrace the neck enwreathed, With polished roundness near the sleek, gray skin. Admetus, fixed with wonder, dare not pass, Intrusive on her holy innocence And sacred girlhood, but his fretful steed Snuffed the air, and champed and pawed the ground; And hearing this, the maiden raised her head. No let or hindrance then might stop the king, Once having looked upon those supreme eyes. The drooping boughs disparting, forth he sped, And then drew in his steed, to ask the path, Like a lost traveller in an alien land. Although each river-cloven vale, with streams Arrowy glancing to the blue Aegean, Each hallowed mountain, the abode of gods, Pelion and Ossa fringed with haunted groves, The height, spring-crowned, of dedicate Olympus, And pleasant sun-fed vineyards, were to him Familiar as his own face in the stream, Nathless he paused and asked the maid what path Might lead him from the forest. She replied, But still he tarried, and with sportsman's praise Admired the hound and stooped to stroke its head, And asked her if she hunted. Nay, not she: Her father Pelias hunted in these woods, Where there was royal game. He knew her now,— Alcestis,—and he left her with due thanks: No goddess, but a mortal, to be won By such a simple feat as driving boars And lions to his chariot. What was that To him who saw the boar of Calydon, The sacred boar of Artemis, at bay In the broad stagnant marsh, and sent his darts In its tough, quivering flank, and saw its death, Stung by sure arrows of Arcadian nymph?
To river-pastures of his flocks and herds Admetus rode, where sweet-breathed cattle grazed, Heifers and goats and kids, and foolish sheep Dotted cool, spacious meadows with bent heads, And necks' soft wool broken in yellow flakes, Nibbling sharp-toothed the rich, thick-growing blades. One herdsman kept the innumerable droves— A boy yet, young as immortality— In listless posture on a vine-grown rock. Around him huddled kids and sheep that left The mother's udder for his nighest grass, Which sprouted with fresh verdure where he sat. And yet dull neighboring rustics never guessed A god had been among them till he went, Although with him they acted as he willed, Renouncing shepherds' silly pranks and quips, Because his very presence made them grave. Amphryssius, after their translucent stream, They called him, but Admetus knew his name,— Hyperion, god of sun and song and silver speech, Condemned to serve a mortal for his sin To Zeus in sending violent darts of death, A raising hand irreverent, against The one-eyed forgers of the thunderbolt. For shepherd's crook he held the living rod Of twisted serpents, later Hermes' wand. Him sought the king, discovering soon hard by, Idle as one in nowise bound to time, Watching the restless grasses blow and wave, The sparkle of the sun upon the stream, Regretting nothing, living with the hour: For him, who had his light and song within, Was naught that did not shine, and all things sang. Admetus prayed for his celestial aid To win Alcestis, which the god vouchsafed, Granting with smiles, as grant all gods, who smite With stern hand, sparing not for piteousness, But give their gifts in gladness.
Thus the king Led with loose rein the beasts as tame as kine, And townsfolk thronged within the city streets, As round a god; and mothers showed their babes, And maidens loved the crowned intrepid youth, And men aloud worship, though the very god Who wrought the wonder dwelled unnoted nigh, Divinely scornful of neglect or praise. Then Pelias, seeing this would be his son, As he had vowed, called for his wife and child. With Anaxibia, Alcestis came, A warm flush spreading o'er her eager face In looking on the rider of the woods, And knowing him her suitor and the king.
Admetus won Alcestis thus to wife, And these with mated hearts and mutual love Lived a life blameless, beautiful: the king Ordaining justice in the gates; the queen, With grateful offerings to the household gods, Wise with the wisdom of the pure in heart. One child she bore,—Eumelus,—and he throve. Yet none the less because they sacrificed The firstlings of their flocks and fruits and flowers, Did trouble come; for sickness seized the king. Alcestis watched with many-handed love, But unavailing service, for he lay With languid limbs, despite his ancient strength Of sinew, and his skill with spear and sword. His mother came, Clymene, and with her His father, Pheres: his unconscious child They brought him, while forlorn Alcestis sat Discouraged, with the face of desolation. The jealous gods would bind his mouth from speech, And smite his vigorous frame with impotence; And ruin with bitter ashes, worms, and dust, The beauty of his crowned, exalted head. He knew her presence,—soon he would not know, Nor feel her hand in his lie warm and close, Nor care if she were near him any more. Exhausted with long vigils, thus the queen Held hard and grievous thoughts, till heavy sleep Possessed her weary sense, and she dreamed. And even in her dream her trouble lived, For she was praying in a barren field To all the gods for help, when came across The waste of air and land, from distant skies, A spiritual voice divinely clear, Whose unimaginable sweetness thrilled Her aching heart with tremor of strange joy: "Arise, Alcestis, cast away white fear. A god dwells with you: seek, and you shall find." Then quiet satisfaction filled her soul Almost akin to gladness, and she woke. Weak as the dead, Admetus lay there still; But she, superb with confidence, arose, And passed beyond the mourners' curious eyes, Seeking Amphryssius in the meadow-lands. She found him with the godlike mien of one Who, roused, awakens unto deeds divine: "I come, Hyperion, with incessant tears, To crave the life of my dear lord the king. Pity me, for I see the future years Widowed and laden with disastrous days. And ye, the gods, will miss him when the fires Upon your shrines, unfed, neglected die. Who will pour large libations in your names, And sacrifice with generous piety? Silence and apathy will greet you there Where once a splendid spirit offered praise. Grant me this boon divine, and I will beat With prayer at morning's gates, before they ope Unto thy silver-hoofed and flame-eyed steeds. Answer ere yet the irremeable stream Be crossed: answer, O god, and save!" She ceased, With full throat salt with tears, and looked on him, And with a sudden cry of awe fell prone, For, lo! he was transmuted to a god; The supreme aureole radiant round his brow, Divine refulgences on his face,—his eyes Awful with splendor, and his august head With blinding brilliance crowned by vivid flame. Then in a voice that charmed the listening air: "Woman, arise! I have no influence On Death, who is the servant of the Fates. Howbeit for thy passion and thy prayer, The grace of thy fair womanhood and youth, Thus godlike will I intercede for thee, And sue the insatiate sisters for this life. Yet hope not blindly: loth are these to change Their purpose; neither will they freely give, But haggling lend or sell: perchance the price Will counterveil the boon. Consider this. Now rise and look upon me." And she rose, But by her stood no godhead bathed in light, But young Amphryssius, herdsman to the king, Benignly smiling. Fleet as thought, the god Fled from the glittering earth to blackest depths Of Tartarus; and none might say he sped On wings ambrosial, or with feet as swift As scouring hail, or airy chariot Borne by the flame-breathing steeds ethereal; But with a motion inconceivable Departed and was there. Before the throne Of Ades, first he hailed the long-sought queen, Stolen with violent hands from grassy fields And delicate airs of sunlit Sicily, Pensive, gold-haired, but innocent-eyed no more As when she laughing plucked the daffodils, But grave as on fulfilling a strange doom. And low at Ades' feet, wrapped in grim murk And darkness thick, the three gray women sat, Loose-robed and chapleted with wool and flowers, Purple narcissi round their horrid hair. Intent upon her task, the first one held The tender thread that at a touch would snap; The second weaving it with warp and woof Into strange textures, some stained dark and foul, Some sanguine-colored, and some black as night, And rare ones white, or with a golden thread Running throughout the web: the farthest hag With glistening scissors cut her sisters' work. To these Hyperion, but they never ceased, Nor raised their eyes, till with soft, moderate tones, But by their powerful persuasiveness Commanding all to listen and obey, He spoke, and all hell heard, and these three looked And waited his request: I come, a god, At pure mortal queen's request, who sues For life renewed unto her dying lord, Admetus; and I also pray this prayer." "Then cease, for when hath Fate been moved by prayer?" "But strength and upright heart should serve with you." "I ask ye not forever to forbear, But spare a while,—a moment unto us, A lifetime unto men." "The Fates swerve not For supplications, like the pliant gods. Have they not willed a life's thread should be cut? With them the will is changeless as the deed. O men! ye have not learned in all the past, Desires are barren and tears yield no fruit. How long will ye besiege the thrones of gods With lamentations? When lagged Death for all Your timorous shirking? We work not like you, Delaying and relenting, purposeless, With unenduring issues; but our deeds, Forever interchained and interlocked, Complete each other and explain themselves." "Ye will a life: then why not any life?" "What care we for the king? He is not worth These many words; indeed, we love not speech. We care not if he live, or lose such life As men are greedy for,—filled full with hate, Sins beneath scorn, and only lit by dreams, Or one sane moment, or a useless hope,— Lasting how long?—the space between the green And fading yellow of the grass they tread." But he withdrawing not: "Will any life Suffice ye for Admetus?" "Yea," the crones Three times repeated. "We know no such names As king or queen or slave: we want but life. Begone, and vex us in our work no more."
With broken blessings, inarticulate joy And tears, Alcestis thanked Hyperion, And worshipped. Then he gently: "Who will die, So that the king may live?" And she: "You ask? Nay, who will live when life clasps hands with shame, And death with honor? Lo, you are a god; You cannot know the highest joy of life,— To leave it when 't is worthier to die. His parents, kinsmen, courtiers, subjects, slaves,— For love of him myself would die, were none Found ready; but what Greek would stand to see A woman glorified, and falter? Once, And only once, the gods will do this thing In all the ages: such a man themselves Delight to honor,—holy, temperate, chaste, With reverence for his daemon and his god." Thus she triumphant to they very door Of King Admetus' chamber. All there saw Her ill-timed gladness with much wonderment. But she: "No longer mourn! The king is saved: The Fates will spare him. Lift your voice in praise; Sing paeans to Apollo; crown your brows With laurel; offer thankful sacrifice!" "O Queen, what mean these foolish words misplaced? And what an hour is this to thank the Fates?" "Thrice blessed be the gods!—for God himself Has sued for me,—they are not stern and deaf. Cry, and they answer: commune with your soul, And they send counsel: weep with rainy grief, And these will sweeten you your bitterest tears. On one condition King Admetus lives, And ye, on hearing, will lament no more, Each emulous to save." Then—for she spake Assured, as having heard an oracle— They asked: "What deed of ours may serve the king?" "The Fates accept another life for his, And one of you may die." Smiling, she ceased. But silence answered her. "What! do ye thrust Your arrows in your hearts beneath your cloaks, Dying like Greeks, too proud to own the pang? This ask I not. In all the populous land But one need suffer for immortal praise. The generous Fates have sent no pestilence, Famine, nor war: it is as though they gave Freely, and only make the boon more rich By such slight payment. Now a people mourns, And ye may change the grief to jubilee, Filling the cities with a pleasant sound. But as for me, what faltering words can tell My joy, in extreme sharpness kin to pain? A monument you have within my heart, Wreathed with kind love and dear remembrances; And I will pray for you before I crave Pardon and pity for myself from God. Your name will be the highest in the land, Oftenest, fondest on my grateful lips, After the name of him you die to save. What! silent still? Since when has virtue grown Less beautiful than indolence and ease? Is death more terrible, more hateworthy, More bitter than dishonor? Will ye live On shame? Chew and find sweet its poisoned fruits? What sons will ye bring forth—mean-souled like you, Or, like your parents, brave—to blush like girls, And say,'Our fathers were afraid to die!' Ye will not dare to raise heroic eyes Unto the eyes of aliens. In the streets Will women and young children point at you Scornfully, and the sun will find you shamed, And night refuse to shield you. What a life Is this ye spin and fashion for yourselves! And what new tortures of suspense and doubt Will death invent for such as are afraid! Acastus, thou my brother, in the field Foremost, who greeted me with sanguine hands From ruddy battle with a conqueror's face,— These honors wilt thou blot with infamy? Nay, thou hast won no honors: a mere girl Would do as much as thou at such a time, In clamorous battle,'midst tumultuous sounds, Neighing of war-steeds, shouts of sharp command, Snapping of shivered spears; for all are brave When all men look to them expectantly; But he is truly brave who faces death Within his chamber, at a sudden call, At night, when no man sees,—content to die When life can serve no longer those he loves." Then thus Acastus: "Sister, I fear not Death, nor the empty darkness of the grave, And hold my life but as a little thing, Subject unto my people's call, and Fate. But if 't is little, no greater is the king's; And though my heart bleeds sorely, I recall Astydamia, who thus would mourn for me. We are not cowards, we youth of Thessaly, And Thessaly—yea, all Greece—knoweth it; Nor will we brook the name from even you, Albeit a queen, and uttering these wild words Through your umwonted sorrow." Then she knew That he stood firm, and turning from him, cried To the king's parents: "Are ye deaf with grief, Pheres, Clymene? Ye can save your son, Yet rather stand and weep with barren tears. O, shame! to think that such gray, reverend hairs Should cover such unvenerable heads! What would ye lose?—a remnant of mere life, A few slight raveled threads, and give him years To fill with glory. Who, when he is gone, Will call you gentlest names this side of heaven,— Father and mother? Knew ye not this man Ere he was royal,—a poor, helpless child, Crownless and kingdomless? One birth alone Sufficeth not, Clymene: once again You must give life with travail and strong pain. Has he not lived to outstrip your swift hopes? What mother can refuse a second birth To such a son? But ye denying him, What after-offering may appease the gods? What joy outweigh the grief of this one day? What clamor drown the hours' myriad tongues, Crying, 'Your son, your son? where is your son, Unnatural mother, timid foolish man?" Then Pheres gravely: "These are graceless words From you our daughter. Life is always life, And death comes soon enough to such as we. We twain are old and weak, have served our time, And made our sacrifices. Let the young Arise now in their turn and save the king." "O gods! look on your creatures! do ye see? And seeing, have ye patience? Smite them all, Unsparing, with dishonorable death. Vile slaves! a woman teaches you to die. Intrepid, with exalted steadfast soul, Scorn in my heart, and love unutterable, I yield the Fates my life, and like a god Command them to revere that sacred head. Thus kiss I thrice the dear, blind, holy eyes, And bid them see; and thrice I kiss this brow, And thus unfasten I the pale, proud lips With fruitful kissings, bringing love and life, And without fear or any pang, I breathe My soul in him." "Alcestis, I awake. I hear, I hear—unspeak thy reckless words! For, lo! thy life-blood tingles in my veins, And streameth through my body like new wine. Behold! thy spirit dedicate revives My pulse, and through thy sacrifice I breathe. Thy lips are bloodless: kiss me not again. Ashen thy cheeks, faded thy flower-like hands. O woman! perfect in thy womanhood And in thy wifehood, I adjure thee now As mother, by the love thou bearest our child, In this thy hour of passion and of love, Of sacrifice and sorrow, to unsay Thy words sublime!" "I die that thou mayest live." "And deemest thou that I accept the boon, Craven, like these my subjects? Lo, my queen, Is life itself a lovely thing,—bare life? And empty breath a thing desirable? Or is it rather happiness and love That make it precious to its inmost core? When these are lost, are there not swords in Greece, And flame and poison, deadly waves and plagues? No man has ever lacked these things and gone Unsatisfied. It is not these the gods refuse (Nay, never clutch my sleeve and raise thy lip),— Not these I seek; but I will stab myself, Poison my life and burn my flesh, with words, And save or follow thee. Lo! hearken now: I bid the gods take back their loathsome gifts: O spurn them, and I scorn them, and I hate. Will they prove deaf to this as to my prayers? With tongue reviling, blasphemous, I curse, With mouth polluted from deliberate heart. Dishonored be their names, scorned be their priests, Ruined their altars, mocked their oracles! It is Admetus, King of Thessaly, Defaming thus: annihilate him, gods! So that his queen, who worships you, may live." He paused as one expectant; but no bolt From the insulted heavens answered him, But awful silence followed. Then a hand, A boyish hand, upon his shoulder fell, And turning, he beheld his shepherd boy, Not wrathful, but divinely pitiful, Who spake in tender, thrilling tones: "The gods Cannot recall their gifts. Blaspheme them not: Bow down and worship rather. Shall he curse Who sees not, and who hears not,—neither knows Nor understands? Nay, thou shalt bless and pray,— Pray, for the pure heart purged by prayer, divines And seeth when the bolder eyes are blind. Worship and wonder,—these befit a man At every hour; and mayhap will the gods Yet work a miracle for knees that bend And hands that supplicate." Then all they knew A sudden sense of awe, and bowed their heads Beneath the stripling's gaze: Admetus fell, Crushed by that gentle touch, and cried aloud: "Pardon and pity! I am hard beset."
There waited at the doorway of the king One grim and ghastly, shadowy, horrible, Bearing the likeness of a king himself, Erect as one who serveth not,—upon His head a crown, within his fleshless hands A sceptre,—monstrous, winged, intolerable. To him a stranger coming 'neath the trees, Which slid down flakes of light, now on his hair, Close-curled, now on his bared and brawny chest, Now on his flexile, vine-like veined limbs, With iron network of strong muscle thewed, And godlike brows and proud mouth unrelaxed. Firm was his step; no superfluity Of indolent flesh impeded this man's strength. Slender and supple every perfect limb, Beautiful with the glory of a man. No weapons bare he, neither shield: his hands Folded upon his breast, his movements free Of all incumbrance. When his mighty strides Had brought him nigh the waiting one, he paused: "Whose palace this? and who art thou, grim shade?" "The palace of the King of Thessaly, And my name is not strange unto thine ears; For who hath told men that I wait for them, The one sure thing on earth? Yet all they know, Unasking and yet answered. I am Death, The only secret that the gods reveal. But who are thou who darest question me?" "Alcides; and that thing I dare not do Hath found no name. Whom here awaitest thou?" "Alcestis, Queen of Thessaly,—a queen Who wooed me as the bridegroom woos the bride, For her life sacrificed will save her lord Admetus, as the Fates decreed. I wait Impatient, eager; and I enter soon, With darkening wing, invisible, a god, And kiss her lips, and kiss her throbbing heart, And then the tenderest hands can do no more Than close her eyes and wipe her cold, white brow, Inurn her ashes and strew flowers above." "This woman is a god, a hero, Death. In this her sacrifice I see a soul Luminous, starry: earth can spare her not: It is not rich enough in purity To lose this paragon. Save her, O Death! Thou surely art more gentle than the Fates, Yet these have spared her lord, and never meant That she should suffer, and that this their grace, Beautiful, royal on one side, should turn Sudden and show a fearful, fatal face." "Nay, have they not? O fond and foolish man, Naught comes unlooked for, unforeseen by them. Doubt when they favor thee, though thou mayest laugh When they have scourged thee with an iron scourge. Behold, their smile is deadlier than their sting, And every boon of theirs is double-faced. Yea, I am gentler unto ye than these: I slay relentless, but when have I mocked With poisoned gifts, and generous hands that smite Under the flowers? for my name is Truth. Were this fair queen more fair, more pure, more chaste, I would not spare her for your wildest prayer Nor her best virtue. Is the earth's mouth full? Is the grave satisfied? Discrown me then, For life is lord, and men may mock the gods With immortality." "I sue no more, But I command thee spare this woman's life, Or wrestle with Alcides." "Wrestle with thee, Thou puny boy!" And Death laughed loud, and swelled To monstrous bulk, fierce-eyed, with outstretched wings, And lightnings round his brow; but grave and firm, Strong as a tower, Alcides waited him, And these began to wrestle, and a cloud Impenetrable fell, and all was dark.
"Farewell, Admetus and my little son, Eumelus,—O these clinging baby hands! Thy loss is bitter, for no chance, no fame, No wealth of love, can ever compensate for a dead mother. Thou, O king, fulfill The double duty: love him with my love, And make him bold to wrestle, shiver spears, Noble and manly, Grecian to the bone; And tell him that his mother spake with gods. Farewell, farewell! Mine eyes are growing blind: The darkness gathers. O my heart, my heart!" No sound made answer save the cries of grief From all the mourners, and the suppliance Of strick'n Admetus: "O have mercy, gods! O gods, have mercy, mercy upon us!" Then from the dying woman's couch again Her voice was heard, but with strange sudden tones: "Lo, I awake—the light comes back to me. What miracle is this?" And thunders shook The air, and clouds of mighty darkness fell, And the earth trembled, and weird, horrid sounds Were heard of rushing wings and fleeing feet, And groans; and all were silent, dumb with awe, Saving the king, who paused not in his prayer: "Have mercy, gods!" and then again, "O gods, Have mercy!"