The Collected poems of Rupert Brooke/1905—1908

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1905 — 1908

SECOND BEST

Here in the dark, O heart;
Alone with the enduring Earth, and Night,
And Silence, and the warm strange smell of clover;
Clear-visioned, though it break you; far apart
From the dead best, the dear and old delight;
Throw down your dreams of immortality,
O faithful, O foolish lover!
Here's peace for you, and surety; here the one
Wisdom—the truth!—"All day the good glad sun
Showers love and labour on you, wine and song;
The greenwood laughs, the wind blows, all day long
Till night." And night ends all things.
 Then shall be
No lamp relumed in heaven, no voices crying,
Or changing lights, or dreams and forms that hover!
(And, heart, for all your sighing,
That gladness and those tears are over, over. . . .)


And has the truth brought no new hope at all,
Heart, that you're weeping yet for Paradise?
Do they still whisper, the old weary cries?
"'Mid youth and song, feasting and carnival,
Through laughter, through the roses, as of old
Comes Death, on shadowy and relentless feet,
Death, unappeasable by prayer or gold;
Death is the end, the end!"
Proud, then, clear-eyed and laughing, go to greet
Death as a friend!


Exile of immortality, strongly wise,
Strain through the dark with undesirous eyes
To what may lie beyond it. Sets your star,
O heart, for ever! Yet, behind the night,
Waits for the great unborn, somewhere afar,
Some white tremendous daybreak. And the light,
Returning, shall give back the golden hours,
Ocean a windless level, Earth a lawn
Spacious and full of sunlit dancing-places,
And laughter, and music, and, among the flowers,
The gay child-hearts of men, and the child-faces
O heart, in the great dawn!


DAY THAT I HAVE LOVED

Tenderly, day that I have loved, I close your eyes,
 And smooth your quiet brow, and fold your thin dead hands.
The grey veils of the half-light deepen; colour dies.
 I bear you, a light burden, to the shrouded sands,


Where lies your waiting boat, by wreaths of the sea's making
 Mist-garlanded, with all grey weeds of the water crowned.
There you'll be laid, past fear of sleep or hope of waking;
 And over the unmoving sea, without a sound,


Faint hands will row you outward, out beyond our sight,
 Us with stretched arms and empty eyes on the far- gleaming
And marble sand. . . .
 Beyond the shifting cold twilight,
 Further than laughter goes, or tears, further than dreaming,


There'll be no port, no dawn-lit islands! But the drear
 Waste darkening, and, at length, flame ultimate on the deep.
Oh, the last fire—and you, unkissed, unfriended there!
 Oh, the lone way's red ending, and we not there to weep!


(We found you pale and quiet, and strangely crowned with flowers,
 Lovely and secret as a child. You came with us,
Came happily, hand in hand with the young dancing hours,
 High on the downs at dawn!) Void now and tenebrous,


The grey sands curve before me. . . .
 From the inland meadows,
 Fragrant of June and clover, floats the dark, and fills
The hollow sea's dead face with little creeping shadows,
 And the white silence brims the hollow of the hills.


Close in the nest is folded every weary wing,
 Hushed all the joyful voices; and we, who held you dear,
Eastward we turn and homeward, alone, remembering . . .
 Day that I loved, day that I loved, the Night is here!


SLEEPING OUT: FULL MOON

They sleep within. . . .
I cower to the earth, I waking, I only.
High and cold thou dreamest, O queen, high-dreaming and lonely.


We have slept too long, who can hardly win
The white one flame, and the night-long crying;
The viewless passers; the world's low sighing
With desire, with yearning,
To the fire unburning,
To the heatless fire, to the nameless ecstasy! . . .


Helpless I lie.
And around me the feet of thy watchers tread.
There is a rumour and a radiance of wings above my head,
An intolerable radiance of wings. . . .


All the earth grows fire,
White lips of desire
Brushing cool on the forehead, croon slumbrous things.
Earth fades; and the air is thrilled with ways,
Dewy paths full of comfort. And radiant bands,
The gracious presence of friendly hands,
Help the blind one, the glad one, who stumbles and strays,
Stretching wavering hands, up, up, through the praise
Of a myriad silver trumpets, through cries,
To all glory, to all gladness, to the infinite height,
To the gracious, the unmoving, the mother eyes,
And the laughter, and the lips, of light.


IN EXAMINATION

Lo! from quiet skies
In through the window my Lord the Sun!
And my eyes
Were dazzled and drunk with the misty gold,
The golden glory that drowned and crowned me
Eddied and swayed through the room . . .
 Around me,
To left and to right,
Hunched figures and old,
Dull blear-eyed scribbling fools, grew fair,
Ringed round and haloed with holy light.
Flame lit on their hair,
And their burning eyes grew young and wise,
Each as a God, or King of kings,
White-robed and bright
(Still scribbling all);
And a full tumultuous murmur of wings
Grew through the hall;
And I knew the white undying Fire,
And, through open portals,
Gyre on gyre,
Archangels and angels, adoring, bowing,
And a Face unshaded . . .
Till the light faded;
And they were but fools again, fools unknowing,
Still scribbling, blear-eyed and stolid immortals.


PINE-TREES AND THE SKY:
EVENING

I'd watched the sorrow of the evening sky,
And smelt the sea, and earth, and the warm clover,
And heard the waves, and the seagull's mocking cry.


And in them all was only the old cry,
That song they always sing—"The best is over!
You may remember now, and think, and sigh,
O silly lover!"
And I was tired and sick that all was over, And because I,
For all my thinking, never could recover
One moment of the good hours that were over.
And I was sorry and sick, and wished to die.


Then from the sad west turning wearily,
I saw the pines against the white north sky,
Very beautiful, and still, and bending over
Their sharp black heads against a quiet sky.
And there was peace in them; and I
Was happy, and forgot to play the lover,
And laughed, and did no longer wish to die;
Being glad of you, O pine-trees and the sky!


WAGNER

Creeps in half wanton, half asleep,
 One with a fat wide hairless face.
He likes love-music that is cheap;
 Likes women in a crowded place;
  And wants to hear the noise they're making.


His heavy eyelids droop half-over,
 Great pouches swing beneath his eyes.
He listens, thinks himself the lover,
 Heaves from his stomach wheezy sighs;
  He likes to feel his heart's a-breaking.


The music swells. His gross legs quiver.
 His little lips are bright with slime.
The music swells. The women shiver.
 And all the while, in perfect time,
  His pendulous stomach hangs a-shaking.


THE VISION OF THE ARCHANGELS

Slowly up silent peaks, the white edge of the world,
 Trod four archangels, clear against the unheeding sky,
Bearing, with quiet even steps, and great wings furled,
 A little dingy coffin; where a child must lie,
It was so tiny. (Yet, you had fancied, God could never
 Have bidden a child turn from the spring and the sunlight,
And shut him in that lonely shell, to drop for ever
 Into the emptiness and silence, into the night. . . .)


They then from the sheer summit cast, and watched it fall,
 Through unknown glooms, that frail black coffin—and therein
 God's little pitiful Body lying, worn and thin,
And curled up like some crumpled, lonely flower-petal—
Till it was no more visible; then turned again
With sorrowful quiet faces downward to the plain.


SEASIDE

Swiftly out from the friendly lilt of the band,
 The crowd's good laughter, the loved eyes of men,
 I am drawn nightward; I must turn again
Where, down beyond the low untrodden strand,
There curves and glimmers outward to the unknown
 The old unquiet ocean. All the shade
Is rife with magic and movement. I stray alone
 Here on the edge of silence, half afraid,


Waiting a sign. In the deep heart of me
The sullen waters swell towards the moon,
And all my tides set seaward.
 From inland
Leaps a gay fragment of some mocking tune,
That tinkles and laughs and fades along the sand,
And dies between the seawall and the sea.


ON THE DEATH OF SMET-SMET, THE HIPPOPOTAMUS-GODDESS

SONG OF A TRIBE OF THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS

(The Priests within the Temple)

She was wrinkled and huge and hideous? She was our Mother.
She was lustful and lewd?—but a God; we had none other.
In the day She was hidden and dumb, but at nightfall moaned in the shade;
We shuddered and gave Her Her will in the darkness; we were afraid.


{The People without)

 She sent us pain,
 And we bowed before Her;
 She smiled again
 And bade us adore Her.
 She solaced our woe
 And soothed our sighing;
 And what shall we do
 Now God is dying?


(The Priests within)

She was hungry and ate our children;—how should we stay Her?
She took our young men and our maidens;—ours to obey Her.
We were loathèd and mocked and reviled of all nations; that was our pride.
She fed us, protected us, loved us, and killed us; now She has died.


(The People without)

 She was so strong;
 But death is stronger.
 She ruled us long;
 But Time is longer.
 She solaced our woe
 And soothed our sighing;
 And what shall we do
 Now God is dying?


THE SONG OF THE PILGRIMS

(Halted around the fire by night, after moon-set, they sing this beneath the trees.)

What light of unremembered skies
Hast thou relumed within our eyes,
Thou whom we seek, whom we shall find? . . .
A certain odour on the wind,
Thy hidden face beyond the west,
These things have called us; on a quest
Older than any road we trod,
More endless than desire. . . .
 Far God,
Sigh with thy cruel voice, that fills
The soul with longing for dim hills
And faint horizons! For there come
Grey moments of the antient dumb
Sickness of travel, when no song
Can cheer us; but the way seems long;
And one remembers. . . .
 Ah! the beat
Of weary unreturning feet,
And songs of pilgrims unreturning! . . .
The fires we left are always burning
On the old shrines of home. Our kin
Have built them temples, and therein
Pray to the Gods we know; and dwell
In little houses lovable,
Being happy (we remember how!)
And peaceful even to death. . . .
 O Thou,
God of all long desirous roaming,
Our hearts are sick of fruitless homing,
And crying after lost desire.
Hearten us onward! as with fire
Consuming dreams of other bliss.
The best Thou givest, giving this
Sufficient thing—to travel still
Over the plain, beyond the hill,
Unhesitating through the shade,
Amid the silence unafraid,
Till, at some sudden turn, one sees
Against the black and muttering trees
Thine altar, wonderfully white,
Among the Forests of the Night.


THE SONG OF THE BEASTS

(Sung, on one night, in the cities, in the darkness.)

Come away! Come away!
Ye are sober and dull through the common day,
But now it is night!
It is shameful night, and God is asleep!
(Have you not felt the quick fires that creep
Through the hungry flesh, and the lust of delight,
And hot secrets of dreams that day cannot say?).
 The house is dumb;
The night calls out to you.  Come, ah, come!
Down the dim stairs, through the creaking door,
Naked, crawling on hands and feet
—It is meet! it is meet!
Ye are men no longer, but less and more,
Beast and God. . . . Down the lampless street,
By little black ways, and secret places,
In the darkness and mire,
Faint laughter around, and evil faces
By the star-glint seen—ah! follow with us!
For the darkness whispers a blind desire,
And the fingers of night are amorous.
Keep close as we speed,
Though mad whispers woo you, and hot hands cling,
And the touch and the smell of bare flesh sting,
Soft flank by your flank, and side brushing side—
To-night never heed!
Unswerving and silent follow with me,
Till the city ends sheer,
And the crook'd lanes open wide,
Out of the voices of night,
Beyond lust and fear,
To the level waters of moonlight,
To the level waters, quiet and clear,
To the black unresting plains of the calling sea.


FAILURE

Because God put His adamantine fate
 Between my sullen heart and its desire,
I swore that I would burst the Iron Gate,
 Rise up, and curse Him on His throne of fire.
Earth shuddered at my crown of blasphemy,
 But Love was as a flame about my feet;
 Proud up the Golden Stair I strode; and beat
Thrice on the Gate, and entered with a cry—


All the great courts were quiet in the sun,
 And full of vacant echoes: moss had grown
Over the glassy pavement, and begun
 To creep within the dusty council-halls.
An idle wind blew round an empty throne
 And stirred the heavy curtains on the walls.


ANTE ARAM

Before thy shrine I kneel, an unknown worshipper,
 Chanting strange hymns to thee and sorrowful litanies,
Incense of dirges, prayers that are as holy myrrh.


Ah, goddess, on thy throne of tears and faint low sighs,
 Weary at last to theeward come the feet that err,
And empty hearts grown tired of the world's vanities.


How fair this cool deep silence to a wanderer
 Deaf with the roar of winds along the open skies!
Sweet, after sting and bitter kiss of sea-water,


The pale Lethean wine within thy chalices!
 I come before thee, I, too tired wanderer,
To heed the horror of the shrine, the distant cries,


And evil whispers in the gloom, or the swift whirr
Of terrible wings—I, least of all thy votaries,
With a faint hope to see the scented darkness stir,


And, parting, frame within its quiet mysteries
 One face, with lips than autumn-lilies tenderer,
And voice more sweet than the far plaint of viols is,


 Or the soft moan of any grey-eyed lute-player.


DAWN

(From the train between Bologna and Milan, second class.)

Opposite me two Germans snore and sweat.
 Through sullen swirling gloom we jolt and roar.
We have been here for ever: even yet
 A dim watch tells two hours, two aeons, more.
The windows are tight-shut and slimy-wet
 With a night's fœtor. There are two hours more;
Two hours to dawn and Milan; two hours yet.
Opposite me two Germans sweat and snore. . . .


One of them wakes, and spits, and sleeps again.
 The darkness shivers. A wan light through the rain
Strikes on our faces, drawn and white. Somewhere
 A new day sprawls; and, inside, the foul air
Is chill, and damp, and fouler than before. . . .
Opposite me two Germans sweat and snore.


THE CALL

Out of the nothingness of sleep,
 The slow dreams of Eternity,
There was a thunder on the deep:
 I came, because you called to me.


I broke the Night's primeval bars,
 I dared the old abysmal curse,
And flashed through ranks of frightened stars
 Suddenly on the universe!


The eternal silences were broken;
 Hell became Heaven as I passed.—
What shall I give you as a token,
 A sign that we have met, at last?


I'll break and forge the stars anew,
 Shatter the heavens with a song;
Immortal in my love for you,
 Because I love you, very strong.


Your mouth shall mock the old and wise,
 Your laugh shall fill the world with flame,
I'll write upon the shrinking skies
 The scarlet splendour of your name,

Till Heaven cracks, and Hell thereunder
 Dies in her ultimate mad fire,
And darkness falls, with scornful thunder,
 On dreams of men and men's desire.


Then only in the empty spaces,
 Death, walking very silently,
Shall fear the glory of our faces
 Through all the dark infinity.


So, clothed about with perfect love,
 The eternal end shall find us one,
Alone above the Night, above
 The dust of the dead gods, alone.


THE WAYFARERS

Is it the hour? We leave this resting-place
 Made fair by one another for a while.
Now, for a god-speed, one last mad embrace;
 The long road then, unlit by your faint smile.
Ah! the long road! and you so far away!
Oh, I'll remember! but . . . each crawling day
Will pale a little your scarlet lips, each mile
 Dull the dear pain of your remembered face.


. . . Do you think there's a far border town,
   somewhere,
 The desert's edge, last of the lands we know,
  Some gaunt eventual limit of our light,
 In which I'll find you waiting; and we'll go
Together, hand in hand again, out there,
  Into the waste we know not, into the night?


THE BEGINNING

Some day I shall rise and leave my friends
And seek you again through the world's far ends,
You whom I found so fair
(Touch of your hands and smell of your hair!),
My only god in the days that were.
My eager feet shall find you again,
Though the sullen years and the mark of pain
Have changed you wholly; for I shall know
(How could I forget having loved you so?),
In the sad half-light of evening,
The face that was all my sunrising.
So then at the ends of the earth I'll stand
And hold you fiercely by either hand,
And seeing your age and ashen hair
I'll curse the thing that once you were,
Because it is changed and pale and old
(Lips that were scarlet, hair that was gold!),
And I loved you before you were old and wise,
When the flame of youth was strong in your eyes,
—And my heart is sick with memories.