The Garden of Years
I have shut fast the door, and am alone
With the sweet memory of this afternoon,
That saw my vague dreams on a sudden grown
Into fulfilment, as I oft have known
Stray notes upon a keyboard fall atune
When least persuaded. I besought no boon
Of Fate to-day; I that, since first Love came
Into my life, have been so importune.
To-day alone I did not press my claim,
And lo! all I have dreamed of is my own!
I have shut fast the door, for so I may
Relive that moment of the turn of tide—
That swift solution of the long delay
That clothed with silver splendor dying day;
And, with low-whispering memory for guide,
See once again your startled eyes confide
The secret of surrender; and your hand
Flutter toward mine, before you turn aside—
And the gold wings of young consent expand
Fresh from the cracking chrysalis of Nay!
I did not dare to speak at first. It seemed
A thing unreal, that with the air might blend—
That strange swift signal—and I feared I dreamed!
Ahead, the city’s lamps, converging, gleamed
To a thin angle at the street’s far bend,
And, as we neared, each from its column’s end
Stepped out, and past us, furtive, slipped away:
Nor could Love’s self a longer respite lend
The radiant moments of our shortening day,
That Time, the donor, one by one redeemed.
We spoke of eloquently empty things;
Of younger days that were before we met,
The trivial acts to which the memory clings,
And in familiar spots unbidden brings
To mind, when graver matters we forget.
The sacred secret lay unspoken, yet
Hovered, half-veiled, between our conscious eyes,
Touched with an indefinable regret
For that swift moment of our love’s surprise—
Like a waked bird, poised upon ready wings.
I cannot tell how first we came to dwell
In short, shy words upon this closer theme,
Or how it was each understood so well
There was no need in clearer speech to tell
The phases of our duplicated dream.
In that sweet intimacy, it would seem
Our endless love had never been begun:
Like the twin branches of a tranquil stream
Our two hearts ran together and were one,
With no trite word to mar the perfect spell!
Heart of my heart, I am no longer young:
Long have I waited for this day of days
When some small sign from you should loose my tongue—
When I should see that gate wide-open flung
That of Love’s garden screened the sunlit ways;
Long have I waited, till your hand should raise
The veil between our understanding eyes,
That you in mine, that I in yours might gaze,
While my heart shouted to the open skies
The song that long in silence it hath sung!
Dear eyes of earnest brown! How well I know
Their every sadness and their every smile;
How I have watched their laughter come and go,
Or some swift shadow cloud their bonny glow
Of stingless scoffing and of guiltless guile:
How jealous grew I in an instant, while
Some thought I knew not on the mirror blew!
Forgotten, from my heaven I stood exile,
And my rose dreamings dimmed upon my view,
As sunset’s fire grays on the Alpine snow.
But each doubt fled as swift as it appeared;
And, day by day, I grew to understand
The heart of him who long his death hath feared,
And, sudden, sees the stately palms upreared
Of some oasis in a desert land.
Yet, even as that far green across the sand
Cheered the dry way of my heart’s wandering,
I hardly looked at length to plunge my hand
And thirsty lips deep in the distant spring
That step by step my feet so slowly neared.
For often I had seen the broken pledge
Of far mirages, swung upon the air,
Touched with the tender green of palm and sedge,
And where a thin stream, sliding from a ledge,
Promised me hope and paid me in despair.
So, come at last, in spite of all, to where
The falling waters all the senses cool,
Is it so strange that I should hardly dare
Believe I stand in truth beside the pool
That shone so small upon the desert’s edge?
I have come far. If my lips cannot say
The words that younger lovers use to woo,
It is because the long and thirsty day,
The sun-baked stretches of my weary way,
Have dried their memory of the holy dew.
If I cannot at once my claim renew
To light, and perfume, music, and a smile,
It is because of discords, had in lieu
Of harmonies. Sweet, patience for a while!
I shall praise later. Grant me time to pray.
Heart of my heart, blame not the arid sand:—
It has but lent the turf a deeper green.
Blame not the copper skies that overspanned
The heartless reaches of that backward land:—
For them the water shows a smoother sheen.
And blame me not if at the brink I lean
Mutely, and seem uneloquent and cold:—
Viewing the verdure of this fair demesne.
I am so young, who yesterday was old!
It is enough to try to understand.
’T was in the garden, phantom-trod, of those
My younger years, when life before me lay,
That first I saw the flower of Love unclose
From fancy’s folded bud. Youth only knows
How tenderly I longed to pluck it! Nay,
I would not waken those dead hours to-day:
For Time’s consuming fire, with lambent lip,
Has kissed my fair frail flower, and so I may
Not touch with the most careful finger-tip
Its ashes, perfect as the unburnt rose.
From our Fate’s map of matters foreordained
Who of us all would rend the veil away—
See the sealed shrine of destiny profaned,
And all the awful ultima explained,
Arid so lose right to hope and need to pray?
Who is there of us all who would not say
That mystery is merciful? Too soon
Our roses droop, our limpid skies go gray,
And youth’s morn glooms to age’s afternoon:—
Let the lees lie until the wine be drained.
Yet are some hours by rapture made so bright
That the sense reels before the blinding blaze
Of an effulgent radiancy, that might,
Spread through a lifetime, shed the steady light
Of calm content on twice ten thousand days.
Ah, if the jealous future would but raise
These, like white beacons on a sad sea thrown,
How patient we should be of life’s delays
That seem denials! Ah, love, had I but known
All my life long the will of Fate to-night!
Close was your secret guarded, empty years!
No far horizon ever hid so well
The dreamt-of harbors of imagined spheres
From the strained eyes of ocean’s pioneers,
Until the appointed dawn from swell to swell
Leaped, and decreed discovery befel.
Had I but known, how different all had been!
To-day—to-day of which you would not tell—
Had lain upon my heart like the unseen
Familiar green of shores their native nears.
Ah, prescient day when I came down to thee,
Heart of the sea, rebellious as my own!
No other tongue could tell the tragedy
Of those boy-dreamings that were not to be;
Such eloquence was thine and thine alone.
So that fair western land, where they had grown,
Sank to a thin grey line, and so I turned
And pledged my troth unto the great unknown,
Cruel, kind world. How little had I learned
In all the years before I sought the sea!
For as a myriad bubbles on our stem
Flashed to swift life, and then as swiftly died,
My fancy saw, like them, my visions yearn
An instant on my eyes, and then return
Upon the eddies of the backward tide.
Dear hopes of youth, so youthfully allied
With one familiar comer of the world!
Dear foolish dreams, in mercy thus denied!
How little knew I what the East unfurled:—
I was so wise, and had so much to learn!
All my life long in memory I shall guard
That slow sea-swing that lullabied the heart,
While the thin, thoughtful mast, shrouded and sparred,
Moved in and out upon the silver-starred
Midnight, as if it traced upon a chart:
And the prow forced the fluttering waves apart,
As they had been the leaves of some wise tome,
Wherefrom it read Life’s story from the start,
Set to the music of the whirling foam,
Wind-rippled cordage, and slow-straining yard.
All my life long in memory I shall know
How the slow, careful fingers of the light
Sort and shift countless jewels to and fro
On liquid velvet, when the breezes blow
After the calm that lay upon the night.
All my life long shall linger on my sight
One flower-like cloud that watched the daylight die,
Until the west-wind, pausing in its flight,
Plucked it, and idly on a turquoise sky
Scattered its petals in a crimson snow.
And yet, had I but known what was to be,
The stillness sweet had been more sweetly still,
The laughter-laden singing of the sea,
That hallowed life and pledged eternity,
I should not then have understood so ill.
And, seeing how the west-wind worked its will
Upon the cloud, I should have known how you
Would one day in a myriad roses spill
My life, and give me faith and hope, in lieu
Of the black heart that you plucked out from me.
O my one love, so frail, so fair, so pure,
Had I but seen you faintly and afar,
My fluctuating faith had pointed sure
As swings the needle—slave, while worlds endure,
To the mute bidding of the northern star—
And many things had never been that are!
Had I but known what Life would bring to-day,
How had the years sung by, with naught to mar
That sweet crescendo, to our fairy-play
Hope’s eloquent, enchanted overture!
Now, from the goal of this, my heart’s fair fate,
I scan the backward way with wondering eyes,
And, in the silence of the night, debate
Upon each changing charm that lay in wait
Beneath the arch of ever stranger skies.
Like to a map the varied prospect lies
Of the long years since from your side I turned:
Fata Morgana-wise my pleasures rise,
Each in its turn sought after, squandered, spurned—
More trivial each, that treasured was of late!
How wide a world it was that met my sight,
Whose eyes were narrowed to but childish things!
Asia lay bathed in unimagined light,
With all the splendors of her past bedight.
Work of the ages’ full-forgotten kings:
And, rocking ’twixt her summers and her springs,
The blue-robed Indian Ocean slept and sighed,
Decked with her emerald islands, looped in strings
Upon the breathing bosom of her tide:—
Slept all bronze day, and all star-studded night.
Africa frowned across my breathless lee,
Mute, unforgetful, cursed, but unconquered still,
Sahara-hemmed in heart and destiny,
Unpardoned yet, and yet too proud for plea,
Pregnant with purpose of unaltered ill.
Distant, the swerved sirocco seemed to spill
From its black cup a plague upon the land,
And, crawling on past barren ridge and hill
Through hope-devouring endlessness of sand,
The swarthy Nile sulked northward to the sea.
Those earliest Americas of all
That, with half-lowered lids, dream on the day
Of the imperial Incas, seemed to call,
As, when their own long, languid evenings fall,
The sea calls landward from her curving bay.
Hearing, I answered, bent my aimless way
To the cool shade that nestled ’neath their palms,
And so, long nights on sloping shoreways lay,
While moons crept, silver-shod, across the calms,
And wrapped their radiance in the horizon’s pall.
Years melted into years as still I strayed,
And Life, still searching, from her pack withdrew
More novel baubles, offered me in trade
For those unvalued days, wherewith I paid
Because with them I knew not what to do:
Till at the end, I smiled to think of you
As but a memory. Fool! How swift I found,
Like the mechanic mole, I burrowed through
Oblivion, an inch below the ground!
One touch, and all my blindness lay displayed.
I know, should some one ask me which was best
Of all the lands wherewith our world is starred,
There could be but one answer to the test.
A rover heart had urged me on a quest
Wherein all gates of distance were unbarred,
Yet never was I able to discard
The thought of that young land that gave me birth:
Still in my memory’s holiest shrine I guard
That virgin daughter of the grim old earth,
The star-eyed White Republic of the West!
Yet, like some chapter of an old romance,
My heart holds one memorial morning dear,
When the gray hazes whirled, as in a dance,
Up from the rippled Channel’s wide expanse,
And sunlit shores stept, on a sudden, near.
On that chief day of that prophetic year
Some pledge I could but dimly understand,
Some subtle spell, lay on the calm and clear
Blue harbor of this mute majestic land,
And hope shone smiling in the eyes of France!
And France it was that crushed my callow creed,
That held me like a mother to her breast;
That staunched the wounds my ignorance made bleed,
And, in the hour of that, my direst need,
Showed where my star still hung against the West.
France was the judge that put my faith to test,
Little by little lent it sturdier strength,
And schooled the rover in the rules of rest;
And now, dear heart, that you are mine at length,
I see ’t was she that taught me love indeed.
Thus, in my deepest heart must I inshrine
Her stately cliffs, patrolled by guardian seas;
Her hollowed hillsides, where the slender vine,
Pregnant with promise of the autumn wine,
Leans on its staff against the battling breeze:
And all her silver streams, that seek the seas,
Threading the dappled fabric of her lawns—
Her crimson sunsets, snared among the trees,
And all the crescent glory of her dawns,—
For I am hers for aye, and she is mine!
The murmured secrets of her Norman firs,
Wherein at night the whisper of the air
To busy babble all the branches spurs,
Till every drowsy needle wakes and stirs,
And of the gossip speaks its little share:
Her shadowy mines, her southern gardens, where
The oval olives crowd the bending bough:
All these are mine:—but, most of all, O fair
Laughing and languid Paris, mine art thou,
Pinned like a pearl on that white brow of hers!
Waywardest wanton of the world to woo,
Blackest of heart, of face the most sublime,
O Cleopatran city, through and through
Blazing with sin and splendor, once I knew
No star upon the black night of thy crime;
Till on the stagnant bosom of thy slime
Bloomed a white lily with a heart of gold:—
Heart of my heart, what matters it if Time
Damned this fair city in the days of old?
She stands regenerate, as the home of you!
As the rank refuse of the city goes
Out to the sea, that maketh all things clean,
So past your doorway all her folly flows,
Rubbish purged pure by one redeeming rose:—
Paris and Hell, but your face in between!
Upon that ground where rose the guillotine
Your slender feet, like benedictions, fall.
With this redress the grim Fates intervene:—
The past is naught, dear love, and you are all!
Paris is pure since your pure eyes she knows.
And it was Paris fully roused me first
From that, my torpor. Flashing on the scene
With nimble feet, this dearest dancer burst
Upon my sight, within her eyes such thirst
As dares and damns, a rose her lips between.
Girdled with jewels, crowned as is a queen,
With Lethe’s poppies dozing in her hair,
Gowned in thin stuffs of silver-dotted sheen,
Humanly sinful, and divinely fair,
She tore the mask from off my best and worst!
I know not how it was she spun that spell
Which made me see, who had been blind so long,
Or with what kiss aroused; nor can I tell
How such a one as she contrived so well
To tempt my weakness and to leave me strong.
Some note there was in her compellant song
That made me man who had been boy till then,
And hurled the idler in among the throng,
Frontward to fight his way with other men,
Scale highest Heaven, and plumb profoundest Hell.
But this I know:—she flung the gauntlet true,
And at the challenge fear shrank back ashamed:
Hope, silver-armored, roused herself anew,
A blast upon the brazen trumpet blew,
And at the call my hand the gage reclaimed.
Wounded, mayhap, in earlier combats maimed,
Yet, as of old, with my escutcheon clean,
A space I sought, where red the pennants flamed,
To see the seat of Love and Beauty’s queen,—
And from the past leaned out the thought of you!
You stepped into my life once more, and lo!
The well-drilled steeds tore loose from every rein:
They whom the years had taught so meek to go
Felt the old breezes past their nostrils blow,
And whirled Love’s chariot to the fore again!
Afresh I knew the rapture and the pain
Of your dear voice, so kind, so unconcerned;
Despite my will, the incense, quenched in vain,
With sweeter perfume on your altars burned,
And gowned in gray the temple columns’ snow.
For siren Paris with her tenderest smile
Had failed to blot the old songs from the score.
The every glamor and the every wile
Of this most sovereign sorceress of guile
But left the tempted truer than before!
Loving I lost, regaining, loved the more:—
What ne’er I learned from sweet propinquity,
My exile taught. Blindness I begged her for:—
She touched my eyes, and showed them how to see,
And how that they had been but blind erewhile.
Upon that day hope turned one golden grain
Of purest promise from the loam of toil,
Significant of some yet hidden vein
Beneath, and by the signal bade me gain
What lay unmined below the stubborn soil.
As if by magic, cleared of ruck and roil,
The spring of Life grew undefiled and pure,
And, limpid lying, freed of all turmoil,
Mirrored your face, immutable and sure,
And then I knew that we should meet again.
Oh, clad in all a dream’s unstable guise,
And unsubstantial as the veriest air,
Thenceforward hung your presence on my eyes,
Worthy of all and any sacrifice,
Pale, but beyond my maddest memory fair!
Walked I by day, the phantom form was there;
Slept I, its radiance on my dreams was cast,
Teaching me mutely how I might prepare
To be, when we should meet again at last,
More pure, more humble, worthier,—and more wise.
No longer toy of each most idle whim,
But unto nobler aims apprentice made,
I filled my duty’s chalice to the brim,
And daily drank my portion, good or grim;—
So was Hope’s stirring summons well obeyed.
And, grew I ever of the end afraid,
Despaired I of my ultimate design,
In that dark hour, when most I needed aid,
As if my draught grew stimulant with wine,
Your promised lips hallowed the goblet’s rim.
Love, to all men that loathe their lives to-day
I fain would give of those rapt years a part;
Of all the words I dreamt I heard you say,
I could spare some to cheer the hapless way
Of every mortal who is sick at heart.
Of hope and honor all the cruel mart
I fain would have one rose relieve the gloom,
Appeasing the unutterable smart
With one sweet breath of that self-same perfume
That turned my own December into May.
And yet—and yet—let the great world go past!
God holds within the hollow of His hand
Each scourged pariah, down-trodden, and outclassed,
Who pauses at the steep abyss, aghast;—
His will we cannot hope to understand.
Only of all good things that He hath planned,
And all that in the future He may send,
There is no further boon that I demand,
Since I have this—that half I comprehend—
That I have held you to my heart at last!
I know that I am worthier to-day
Of your consent than in that long ago
When first I loved you. All the winding way
Was somehow shot with an enlightening ray
That taught me things that I had need to know.
At every step there lay some sign, to show
How best to win you, where I had but lost:
The years were stern and merciless, but oh,
With you the prize, how little seems the cost:—
’T were in my heart tenfold the price to pay!
I often wondered if you ever guessed
How over leagues of sea your influence sped,
How in my every mood of vague unrest
Completest calm crept close against my breast,
Night lightened, and the dawn was mine instead:
And if, perchance, when, woven thread by thread,
My rhyme-linked thoughts lay on some printed page,
They came unto your hand, and, as you read,
You knew them birds bred in your soul’s pure cage,
That I had kissed, and given again the West.
Rereading these, I mind me well what night
Saw each first flutter to my eager hand,
How to my heart I held the wanderer tight,
Smoothed its soft wings, all ruffled by the flight,
And strove each timid note to understand.
sweet unconscious breeder of the band,
Let others say my thoughts are all my own!
I know them nestlings of my native land,
Whose songs were taught by you and you alone:—
All I can do is note the strains aright.
I love them all so well that I would fain
Believe you held their songs as dear as I,
That on your memory may perchance have lain
Some one or two of all the rhythmic train
That you inspired, and I taught how to fly.
Could I but know that some so softly lie
In that most silken nest, I were content!
Ah, tell me some sang true in brushing by
The only ear for which their songs were meant,
And made the meaning of my message plain.
For this the curse of those that tempt the pen:—
Where thousands read, one eye may never see
The thoughts that are but lifeless creatures, when
Taken into the myriad hearts of men,
If one intended ear heed not the plea.
What though I knew that, in mine own degree,
I had made lips to laugh and eyes to weep?
Rather that one unworthy word from me
Within your heart should sleep, and wake, and sleep:—
All I have done were worth the labor then.
Heart of my heart, what all the world may do
To blot my name or keep its memory green
Is naught. I crave not to be of the few
Who, unforgotten, thread the ages through
And lordlier laurels with each cycle glean.
Grant me but this, whereon my life may lean:
As once I saw you in your bonny way
Your mirror kiss, that stood two flowers between,
Let these, my pages, the reflector play,
And kiss again what mirrors only you!
Dearest, to me come oftentimes at night
Pictures, wherein I find you fitly framed—
Shores of strange seas, incomparably bright,
And hill-girt landscapes, haloed with a light
Ethereal, that none hath ever named.
No ownership in these I could have claimed:
They are not of my making. Love alone
Could so blind Nature, utterly ashamed,
With beauty thus out-rivalling her own,
That seems transcendent to our mortal sight.
For I am not of those who, in their dreams,
Are wont to rank their love with simple things,
With humble flowers, babble of vapid streams,
Or that rare note of rapture that redeems
The idle gossip that the blackbird sings.
The grim old earth hath seen too many springs,
Lovers enough have trapped her charm in words:
To all her flowers the mould of usage clings,
And, to the music of her weary birds,
The burden of reiterated themes.
This love of ours doth wonderfully dwell
In new demesnes, born when it first arose;
Treads the young turf of some yet virgin dell,
Where novel buds miraculously swell
On trees not known before, and where unclose
Unprecedented vistas. Where it goes,
Strange birds invent unwonted melodies,
That in all earth no other lover knows
Save our two selves alone, for each of these
Sounds a fresh note, as of a new-wrought bell.
I cannot tell in words what lands these are
Through which I see you moving like a queen:
There is no earthly radiance like that star
That stands in silent majesty, afar,
The peaks of unfamiliar hills between.
Some unknown pigment turns the tender green
Of all that dreaming landscape to a hue
That never was, save in the lovely scene
That Love hath only planned for framing you,
And that no mortal hand could make or mar.
There is a sheen in those soft gowns you wear
Like water turned to opal by the moon;
A lustre in those jewels that you bear,
Twined in and out amid your dusky hair,
Like the still stars, and like the blaze of noon.
There is a perfume of some sweeter June
Than earth hath seen, that follows where you go;
And all the solemn silence is atune
With unvoiced songs, such as the angels know,
Born without breath upon the breathless air!
We may not hope to find each other thus
In waking hours. Our days are too beset
With the world’s voices, shrill and clamorous:
Life is too sharply strained, too strenuous—
We are but mortal, and we may forget!
The momentary pang of some regret
May lay its hand an instant on your eyes
And mine, dear heart, and cloud our vision—yet
Remember that with earthly fears and sighs
We two have naught to do, nor they with us.
What though unbidden tears may turn us blind?
Twilight still comes, and still brings sweet release:
Merciful night, in spite of all, shall find
Us waiting each for each, for sleep is kind,
And moulds from sorrow’s clay the cup of peace.
Heart of my heart, drink deep of that surcease
That at her goblet’s rim divinely gleams:
Whate’er may be deceptive day’s caprice,
I wait you on the borderland of dreams,
Where the world stumbles and is left behind!
And, through my visions as you thread your way,
Girt with that grace my eyes alone may see,
If I make bold your noiseless steps to stay,
It is because in sleep alone I may
Be half to you of all that I would be.
It is because my longing lips, set free,
Can compass then alone each subtle phrase,
And snare in speech that magic melody
Which, since your coming, sings adown my days.
Only in sleep my lips my heart obey.
And who shall say but what our dreams may tell
Some secret we were hardly meant to know,
As if a feather from a rapt lark fell,
To say that in high heaven all things are well,
However black the heart of man below?
If through my visions thus you nightly go,
Robed round with love, may not my dreaming mean
That some day we may wander to and fro
In unknown meadows gowned in such a green
As all the fields of earth cannot excel?
Ah, love, there is a pledge of keener bliss
In these unbidden dreams of sleeping hours,
That set all right that may have been amiss,
And lend us wings to clear whate’er abyss
Darkly across our waking pathway glowers.
There is some promise in these strange new flowers
Holier than we have dreamt of or have planned;
Some fairer fate eternally is ours:—
Only it is so hard to understand.
You love me! Are there greater things than this?
I think that in the past, unheard, unseen,
All influences of the earth and air,
The gleam of water, and the forest’s green,
Have spun some cobweb sympathy between
Our hearts, now one in finding them so fair:
That every sunset taught us to prepare
For the pure dawn when Love was sure to rise;
That every cloud but made us more aware
That soon or late his sun would greet our eyes,
And all our heaven be cloudless and serene!
Else, how should we have come to understand
The perfect meaning of this perfect day?
How could this hour, unbidden and unplanned,
Bring in its train such infinite command
Of all the things we do not need to say?
It is too soon, mayhap, to trace the way
By which we came, guided by birds and flowers,
To the full knowledge of the joys of May:—
We can retrace the path in later hours,
And all our haunts revisit, hand in hand.
To-night it is enough for us to know
That we are one; to know that, if we will,
We may a bridge across the darkness throw,
Whereon our tender thoughts may come and go,
In silent love that distance cannot kill.
I only seek the heart-begotten skill
To put in simple words this truth sublime:—
That I have loved you, dearest, love you still,
And so shall love you till the end of time!
It is enough that what is so is so.
Let me but tell you, lamely if I must,
Of how I love you; how, despite all wiles,
That tender flower, that in my boyhood thrust
Its star-eyed promise from the barren dust,
Still on my path with purest fragrance smiles;
Of how my heart returns, through weary miles,
To that song-spilling throng of birds unseen
Whose inter-rippling music so beguiles
All the long hours, the dawn and dark between.
Love, let me place the secret in your trust!
I loved you first, I know not how or where:—
The world began upon the day we met!
Truth’s self slept in your eyes; and in your hair
The sun lay trapped, as in a silken snare:
The tinkle of some crystal fountain’s jet
Sang in your voice; a hint of violet
Slept on your breath, and dawn’s divinest glow
Flushed your soft cheek—but ah, more tender yet
The ivory of your throat’s ascending snow!
I loved you first when first I found you fair.
Could you but guess how like the dawn you grew
Upon my east, slow as such dawnings will!
Spell-bound and breathless, diademed with dew.
My sunless world its sudden sovereign knew;
And all the fern-fringed forest waited, still.
Slow spread the glory on the distant hill,
From that faint early flush grown clear and strong,
And then, with one divinely daring thrill,
A single bird unleashed its soul in song,
And swung exultant upward in the blue!
I loved you first because, when first you stood
Upon the threshold of my world new-born,
That strange new note I dimly understood
Leapt laughing from the bosom of the wood
Straight to the arms of my supremest morn!
Because your clear eyes, innocent of scorn,
Swept infinite horizons into view;
And the gray hazes, from their moorings torn,
Revealed wide fields that thenceforth, knowing you,
It was for me to till for gain and good.
Yet was I blind to all the better part
Of morning’s mute miraculous intent.
That spell you wove about me at the start,
Conjured to life by simple beauty’s art,
Told but a tithe of all the truth it meant:
And all the higher purpose that you lent
Unto my life, went wrapped within a veil.
Uneloquent, the message that was sent,
Wan with desire of speech, stood, proud and pale,
Outside the holiest holy of my heart.
The chiefest lessons Life makes clear are those
She teaches most at leisure. Sure and slow
Successive leaves of her wise book unclose;
And, day by day, the vital story grows
To consummation, till we come to know
Its perfect purport. All that lay below
The rapture of my earliest glimpse of you
Only that stoic tutor Time could show:—
Long evenings of reiterated dew
Alone perfect the perfume of the rose!
The patient years polished with practised hand
Love’s crystal to a smooth symmetric swell,
Till the curved lens lay, accurately planned,
Flawlessly fitted to the brazen band
Within whose compass it was meant to dwell.
Then from my eyes the scales of blindness fell:
Undreamt-of planets swam into my ken.
And new-mapped heavens with stars made haste to spell
The meaning of the message that, till then,
It was not in my power to understand.
I love you now, not with the love alone
Of blind rebellious boyhood, as of old:
The blooms of mere enchantment, beauty-blown,
Lie withered, and the full fruit, slowlier grown,
Bends the slim bough beneath unmeasured gold.
The sun, of these new secrets, Time hath told—
The tempests of communicative tears—
The strong, blind winds of passion—and behold!—
The careful cultivation of the years
Hath made a harvest of what Love hath sown.
I love you now, because that I and you
Were complements before the birth of Time;
Because our souls have come, the ages through,
Down to the moment when God’s purpose drew
The twain together in one perfect rhyme;
Because that I have made Love’s aria climb
The scales that every subtler phrase involved,
Until I struck the seventh chord sublime.
And one low word upon your lips resolved
My melody, beyond all music new!
You are the magnet moon, and I the sea,
Cradling her face, climbing to catch more clear
The image of her pure tranquillity:
You are the west-wind, mistress of the lea,
And I the reed, that bows when she is near:
You are the spring, and I the obedient year
Whose soul awakens where her footfalls go:
You are the stream, and I a leaf, to veer
Where’er the singing current choose to flow:—
O light and breath, perfume and melody!
I love you for your lips the rose hath kissed—
Your cheeks, more tender than arbutus blooms;
For those half-hidden veins of amethyst
In your white throat, and for the tender mist
That clouds your eyes, as haze the autumn glooms:
For that faint subtle fragrance which perfumes
The soft bewitching tangle of your hair;
For your low laughter in the darkening rooms,
Where our instinctive hands lie linked, and where
Daylight and dark keep transitory tryst!
Life of my love, love of my life, in vain
I marshall every phrase that speech supplies:
The summits of my meaning yet remain
Cloud-capped, above the flat familiar plain
Of spoken thought, unsealed against the skies!
The mute interrogation of your eyes
My own must mutely meet. Ah, touch my hand,
And, like a child, instruct me in what wise
I may contrive to make you understand
The love that aught but silence must profane!