The poems of Edmund Clarence Stedman/Various Poems
THE DESCENT INTO THE CRATER
(From "The Sulphur Gatherers," an unpublished early poem.)
Then, shuddering an instant, with the fear
That chills the bravest glancing unawares
From dreadful heights, Montaña in his crate
Clung fast, and crouched, and bade them lower away;
And the frail car, descending slowly, swung
Far from the cliff,—as the aërial nest,
Which the red oriole has shrewdly built,
Swings pendulous from the extremest bough
Of some huge elm, sweeping in dizzy curves
This way and that, and eddying thundergusts
Whirl it with snap and twist, but still it clings
Through all the tempest, even so the knight,
Sheer in mid air, swung over all that depth,
Whirled with the cordage till his brain grew sick,
But clinging still; and still they lowered him
By shadowy lines of chasm, cave, and crag;
And cave and crag like shadows glided up,
Blurred as in dismal visions of the night,
When down some unknown pit the dreamer falls
Helpless and hopeless. Down, still down. Above,
His comrades' voices were no longer heard.
Down, like the birdsmen of the isle, who swing,
Hunting the eider's plumage, from the holms
Of sea-girt Orkney, or the perilous bluffs
Of Stromoe, black above the roaring main;
Down by the rended vents of ancient fires,
And where the genii of the mountain hide,
Darkling with all the secrets of the gnomes.
The lambent, ambient lava far below
Grew hot, and broadened like the mouth of hell
Yawning for prey; and poisonous, floating fumes
Steamed over him, till, at the last, a puff,
Noisome and dense, smothered his breath so long
The knight was stifled; round his heart he felt
The weight of death, and dropt within his crate
Fainting; but even then it struck firm earth.
The sulphurous vapor coiled, and fled away;
And sight and sound came to him where he stood,
There on the jagged ledges, half-way hung
Betwixt the furnace and the crater's rim.
And lo! beneath, and piled on either side,
A drift of brimstone, fallen like the snow
From those hot clouds; shining before his eyes,
Yellow and bright and crystal-flaked, it lay,
More worth than what it seemed like, powdered gold.
Then, without pause, he labored with the spade
Till the wide crate was full; while, far above,
The men-at-arms peered from the outmost cliff,
Watching the work, and, when the crate was full,
Drew up and emptied it and let it down;
So three times drew it up and lowered it;
But the third time Montaña stept within,
And signalled. So they lifted him again,
Past shadowy lines of chasm, cave, and crag,
Up, till the sky seemed nearer than the gulf
Where even to look was ruin; but the knight
Held to the summit, where they drew him in
To light and life. Thus was the brave deed done.
Poet, in thy sacred verse
Nothing light or mean rehearse,
Nor its woven text employ
With thy common grief and joy.
Thoughts the unanointed share
Need have not of raiment rare,
But in prose may range at will
And be fitly clothen still.
Keep the fabric of thine art
As a precious thing apart—
Such a robe as only may
Wrap one on a holy day;
If at all its folds be thrown
Round experience thine own,
Let it grace in argent white
Thy most rapturous delight,
Or in darkest sable show
Deeper woes than others know,
Lest the mantle, lightly worn,
Bring thy trifling soul to scorn.
Let thy skill no more invest
Listless fancy, mocking jest,
Fashion of the fleeting day,
Shallow love and idle play,
Nor the wisdom, poor and plain,
Of a dull, didactic brain.
Its adornment should enfold
Thought as rich and fine as gold.
That, which to the base of birth
Were a guise of little worth,
Shall, through thy regard intense,
Gain from all men reverence;
Honor it and thou shalt see
It will honor bring to thee.
Singer, though on wings of morn
Thou at will art swiftly borne,
Use them not for every quest;
Ruffle not their folded rest
That thy daily sport and toil
May be lifted from the soil.
Even the winged angels walk
Side by side in pleasant talk,
And with loitering footsteps move
Through the valleys fair with love;
But anon, commissioned far
Light to strew from star to star,
Spread their plumes and soar on high,
Bearing glory through the sky!
I walk in the morning twilight,
Along a garden slope,
To the shield of moss encircling
My beautiful Heliotrope.
O sweetest of all the flowerets
That bloom where angels tread!
But never such marvellous odor
From heliotrope was shed,
As the passionate exhalation,
The dew of celestial wine,
That floats in tremulous languor
Around this darling of mine.
For, only yester-even,
I saw the dearest scene!
I heard the delicate footfall,
The step of my love, my queen.
Along the walk she glided:
I made no sound nor sign,
But ever, at the turning
Of her star-white neck divine,
I shrunk in the shade of the cypress,
And crouched in the swooning grass,
Like some Arcadian shepherd
To see an Oread pass.
But when she came to the border
At the end of the garden-slope,
She bent, like a rose-tree, over
That beautiful Heliotrope.
The cloud of its subtile fragrance
Entwined her in its wreath,
And all the while commingled
With the incense of her breath.
And so she glistened onward,
Far down the long parterre,
Beside the statue of Hesper,
And a hundred times more fair.
But ah! her breath had added
The perfume that I find
In this, the sweetest of flowerets,
And the paragon of its kind.
I drink deep draughts of its nectar;
I faint with love and hope!
Oh, what did she whisper to you,
My beautiful Heliotrope?
Bring no more flowers and books and precious things!
O speak no more of our beloved Art,
Of summer haunts,—melodious wanderings
In leafy refuge from this weary mart!
Surely such thoughts were dear unto my heart;
Now every word a newer sadness brings!
Thus oft some forest-bird, caged far apart
From verdurous freedom, droops his careless wings,
Nor craves for more than food from day to day;
So long bereft of wildwood joy and song,
Hopeless of all he dared to hope so long,
The music born within him dies away;
Even the song he loved becomes a pain,
Full-freighted with a yearning all in vain.
A MOTHER'S PICTURE
She seemed an angel to our infant eyes!
Once, when the glorifying moon revealed
Her who at evening by our pillow kneeled,—
Soft-voiced and golden-haired, from holy skies
Flown to her loves on wings of Paradise,—
We looked to see the pinions half concealed.
The Tuscan vines and olives will not yield
Her back to me, who loved her in this wise,
And since have little known her, but have grown
To see another mother, tenderly
Watch over sleeping children of my own.
Perchance the years have changed her: yet alone
This picture lingers; still she seems to me
The fair young angel of my infancy.
I loved: and in the morning sky,
A magic castle upward grew!
Cloud-haunted turrets pointing high
Forever to the dreamy blue;
Bright fountains leaping through and through
The golden sunshine; on the air
Gay banners streaming;—never drew
Painter or poet scene more fair.
And in that castle I would live,
And in that castle I would die;
And there, in curtained bowers, would give
Heart-warm responses, sigh for sigh;
There, when but one sweet face was nigh,
The hours should lightly move along,
And ripple, as they glided by,
Like stanzas of an antique song.
O foolish heart! O young romance,
That faded with the noonday sun!
Alas, for gentle dalliance,
For life-long pleasures never won!
O for a season dead and gone!
A wizard time, which then did seem
Only a prelude, leading on
To sweeter portions of the dream.
She died,—nor wore my orange flowers:—
No longer, in the morning sky,
That magic castle lifts its towers
Which shone, awhile, so lustrously.
Torn are the bannerols, and dry
The silver fountains in its halls;
But the drear sea, with endless sigh,
Moans round and over the crumbled walls.
Let the winds blow! let the white surge
Ever among those ruins wail!
Its moaning is a welcome dirge
For wishes that could not avail.
Let the winds blow! a fiercer gale
Is wild within me! what may quell
That sullen tempest? I must sail
Whither, O whither, who can tell!
Seven women loved him. When the wrinkled pall
Enwrapt him from their unfulfilled desire
(Death, pale, triumphant rival, conquering all,)
They came, for that last look, around his pyre.
One strewed white roses, on whose leaves were hung
Her tears, like dew; and in discreet attire
Warbled her tuneful sorrow. Next among
The group, a fair-haired virgin moved serenely,
Whose saintly heart no vain repinings wrung,
Reached the calm dust, and there, composed and queenly,
Gazed, but the missal trembled in her hand:
"That's with the past," she said, "nor may I meanly
Give way to tears!" and passed into the land.
The third hung feebly on the portals, moaning,
With whitened lips, and feet that stood in sand,
So weak they seemed,—and all her passion owning.
The fourth, a ripe, luxurious maiden, came,
Half for such homage to the dead atoning
By smiles on one who fanned a later flame
In her slight soul, her fickle steps attended.
The fifth and sixth were sisters; at the same
Wild moment both above the image bended,
And with immortal hatred each on each
Glared, and therewith her exultation blended,
To know the dead had 'scaped the other's reach!
Meanwhile, through all the words of anguish spoken,
One lowly form had given no sound of speech,
Through all the signs of woe, no sign nor token;
But when they came to bear him to his rest,
They found her beauty paled,—her heart was broken:
And in the Silent Land his shade confest
That she, of all the seven, loved him best.
"How came he mad?"—Hamlet.
Of all the beautiful demons who fasten on human hearts
To fetter the bodies and souls of men with exquisite, mocking arts,
The cruellest, and subtlest, and fairest to mortal sight,
Is surely a woman called Estelle, who tortures me day and night.
The first time that I saw her she passed with sweet lips mute,
As if in scorn of the vacant praise of those who made her suit;
A hundred lustres flashed and shone as she rustled through the crowd,
And a passion seized me for her there,—so passionless and proud.
The second time that I saw her she met me face to face;
Her bending beauty answered my bow in a tremulous moment's space;
With an upward glance that instantly fell she read me through and through,
And found in me something worth her while to idle with and subdue;
Something, I know not what: perhaps the spirit of eager youth,
That named her a queen of queens at once, and loved her in very truth;
That threw its pearl of pearls at her feet, and offered her, in a breath,
The costliest gift a man can give from his cradle to his death.
The third time that I saw her—this woman called Estelle—
She passed her milk-white arm through mine and dazzled me with her spell;
A blissful fever thrilled my veins, and there, in the moonbeams white,
I yielded my soul to the fierce control of that maddening delight!
And at many a trysting afterwards she wove my heartstrings round
Her delicate fingers, twisting them, and chanting low as she wound;
The rune she sang rang sweet and clear like the chime of a witch's bell;
Its echo haunts me even now, with the word, Estelle! Estelle!
Ah, then, as a dozen before me had, I lay at last at her feet,
And she turned me off with a calm surprise when her triumph was all complete:
It made me wild, the stroke which smiled so pitiless out of her eyes,
Like lightning fallen, in clear noonday, from cloudless and bluest skies!
The whirlwind followed upon my brain and beat my thoughts to rack:
Who knows the many a month I lay ere memory floated back?
Even now, I tell you, I wonder whether this woman called Estelle
Is flesh and blood, or a beautiful lie, sent up from the depths of hell.
For at night she stands where the pallid moon streams into this grated cell,
And only gives me that mocking glance when I speak her name—Estelle!
With the old resistless longing often I strive to clasp her there,
But she vanishes from my open arms and hides I know not where.
And I hold that if she were human she could not fly like the wind,
But her heart would flutter against my own, in spite of her scornful mind:
Yet, oh! she is not a phantom, since devils are not so bad
As to haunt and torture a man long after their tricks have made him mad!
Well, Helen, quite two years have flown
Since that enchanted, dreamy night,
When you and I were left alone,
And wondered whether they were right
Who said that each the other loved;
And thus debating, yes and no,
And half in earnest, as it proved,
We bargained to pretend 't was so.
Two sceptic children of the world,
Each with a heart engraven o'er
With broken love-knots, quaintly curled,
Of hot flirtations held before;
Yet, somehow, either seemed to find,
This time, a something more akin
To that young, natural love,—the kind
Which comes but once, and breaks us in.
What sweetly stolen hours we knew,
And frolics perilous as gay!
Though lit in sport, Love's taper grew
More bright and burning day by day.
We knew each heart was only lent,
The other's ancient scars to heal:
The very thought a pathos blent
With all the mirth we tried to feel.
How bravely, when the time to part
Came with the wanton season's close,
Though nature with our mutual art
Had mingled more than either chose,
We smothered Love, upon the verge
Of folly, in one last embrace,
And buried him without a dirge,
And turned, and left his resting-place.
Yet often (tell me what it means!)
His spirit steals upon me here,
Far, far away from all the scenes
His little lifetime held so dear;
He comes: I hear a mystic strain
In which some tender memory lies;
I dally with your hair again;
I catch the gleam of violet eyes.
Ah, Helen! how have matters been
Since those rude obsequies, with you?
Say, is my partner in the sin
A sharer of the penance too?
Again the vision 's at my side:
I drop my head upon my breast,
And wonder if he really died,
And why his spirit will not rest.
If I had been a rich man's girl,
With my tawny hair, and this wanton art
Of lifting my eyes in the evening whirl
And looking into another's heart;
Had love been mine at birth, and friends
Caressing and guarding me night and day,
With doctors to watch my finger-ends,
And a parson to teach me how to pray;
If I had been reared as others have,—
With but a tithe of these looks, which came
From my reckless mother, now in her grave,
And the father who grudged me even his name,—
Why, I should have station and tender care,
Should ruin men in the high-bred way,
Passionless, smiling at their despair,
And marrying where my vantage lay.
As it is, I must have love and dress,
Jewelled trinkets, and costly food,
For I was born for plenteousness,
Music and flowers, and all things good.
To that same father I owe some thanks,
Seeing, at least, that blood will tell,
And keep me ever above the ranks
Of those who wallow where they fell.
True, there are weary, weary days
In the great hotel where I make my lair,
Where I meet the men with their brutal praise,
Or answer the women, stare for stare.
'T is an even fight, and I'll carry it through,—
Pit them against me, great and small:
I grant no quarter, nor would I sue
For grace to the softest of them all.
I cannot remember half the men
Whose sin has tangled them in my toils,—
All are alike before me then,
Part of my easily conquered spoils:
Tall or short, and dark or fair,
Rich or famous, haughty or fond,
There are few, I find, who will not forswear
The lover's oath and the wedding bond.
Fools! what is it that drives them on
With their perjured lips on poison fed;
Vain of themselves, and cruel as stone,
How should they be so cheaply led?
Surely they know me as I am,—
Only a cuckoo, at the best,
Watching, careless of hate and shame,
To crouch myself in another's nest.
But the women,—how they flutter and flout,
The stupid, terribly virtuous wives,
If I but chance to move about
Or enter within their bustling hives!
Buz! buz! in the scandalous gatherings,
When a strange queen lights amid their throng,
And their tongues have a thousand angry stings
To send her travelling, right or wrong.
Well, the earth is wide and open to all,
And money and men are everywhere,
And, as I roam, 't will ill befall
If I do not gain my lawful share:
One drops off, but another will come
With as light a head and heavy a purse;
So long as I have the world for a home,
I'll take my fortune, better or worse!
SPOKEN AT SEA
THE LOG-BOOK OF THE STEAMSHIP VIRGINIA
Twelve hundred miles and more
From the stormy English shore,
All aright, the seventh night,
On her course our vessel bore.
Her lantern shone ahead,
And the green lamp and the red
To starboard and to larboard
Shot their light.
Close on the midnight call
What a mist began to fall,
And to hide the ocean wide,
And to wrap us in a pall!
Beneath its folds we past:
Hidden were shroud and mast,
And faces, in near places
Side by side.
Sudden there also fell
A summons like a knell:
Every ear the words could hear,—
Whence spoken, who could tell?
"What ship is this? where bound?"
Gods, what a dismal sound!
A stranger, and in danger,
"The Virginia, on her route
From the Mersey, seven days out;
Fore and aft, our trusty craft
Carries a thousand souls, about."
"All these souls may travel still,
Westward bound, if so they will;
Bodies rather, I would gather!"
Loud he laughed.
"Who is 't that hails so rude,
And for what this idle mood?
Words like these, on midnight seas,
Bode no friend nor fortune good!"
"Care not to know my name,
But whence I lastly came,
At leisure, for my pleasure,
Ask the breeze.
"To the people of your port
Bear a message of this sort:
Say, I haste unto the West,
A sharer of their sport.
Let them sweep the houses clean:
Their fathers did, I ween,
When hearing of my nearing
As a guest!
"As by Halifax ye sail
And the steamship England hail,
Of me, then, bespeak her men;
She took my latest mail,—
'T was somewhere near this spot:
Doubtless they've not forgot.
Remind them (if you find them!)
"Yet that you all may know
Who is 't that hailed you so,
(Slow he saith, and under breath,)
I leave my sign below!"
Then from our crowded hold
A dreadful cry uprolled,
Unbroken, and the token,—
It was Death.
THE DUKE'S EXEQUY
Arras, A. D. 1404
Clothed in sable, crowned with gold,
All his wars and councils ended,
Philip lay, surnamed The Bold:
Passing-bell his quittance tolled,
And the chant of priests ascended.
Mailèd-knights and archers stand,
Thronging in the church of Arras;
Nevermore at his command
Shall they scour the Netherland,
Nevermore the outlaws harass;
Naught is left of his array
Save a barren territory;
Forty years of generous sway
Sped his princely hoards away,
Bartered all his gold for glory.
Forth steps Flemish Margaret then,
Striding toward the silent ashes;
And the eyes of armèd men
Fill with startled wonder, when
On the bier her girdle clashes!
Swift she drew it from her waist,
And the purse and keys it carried
On the ducal coffin placed;
Then with proud demeanor faced
Sword and shield of him she married.
"No encumbrance of the dead
Must the living clog forever;
From thy debts and dues," she said,
"From the liens of thy bed,
We this day our line dissever.
"From thy hand we gain release,
Know all present by this token!
Let the dead repose in peace,
Let the claims upon us cease
When the ties that bound are broken.
"Philip, we have loved thee long,
But, in years of future splendor,
Burgundy shall count among
Bravest deeds of tale and song
This, our widowhood's surrender."
Back the stately Duchess turned,
While the priests and friars chanted,
And the swinging incense burned:
Thus by feudal right was earned
Greatness for a race undaunted.
Is it naught? Is it naught
That the South-wind brings her wail to our shore,
That the spoilers compass our desolate sister?
Is it naught? Must we say to her, "Strive no more."
With the lips wherewith we loved her and kissed her?
With the mocking lips wherewith we said,
"Thou art the dearest and fairest to us
Of all the daughters the sea hath bred,
Of all green-girdled isles that woo us!"
Is it naught?
Must ye wait? Must ye wait,
Till they ravage her gardens of orange and palm,
Till her heart is dust, till her strength is water?
Must ye see them trample her, and be calm,
As priests when a virgin is led to slaughter?
Shall they smite the marvel of all lands,—
The nation's longing, the Earth's completeness,—
On her red mouth dropping myrrh, her hands
Filled with fruitage and spice and sweetness?
Must ye wait?
In the day, in the night,
In the burning day, in the dolorous night,
Her sun-browned cheeks are stained with weeping.
Her watch-fires beacon the misty height:—
Why are her friends and lovers sleeping?
"Ye, at whose ear the flatterer bends,
Who were my kindred before all others,—
Hath he set your hearts afar, my friends?
Hath he made ye alien, my brothers,
Day and night?"
Hear ye not? Hear ye not
From the hollow sea the sound of her voice;
The passionate, far-off tone, which sayeth:
"Alas, my brothers! alas, what choice,—
The lust that shameth, the sword that slayeth?
They bind me! they rend my delicate locks;
They shred the beautiful robes I won me!
My round limbs bleed on the mountain rocks:
Save me, ere they have quite undone me!"
Hear ye not?
Speak at last! Speak at last!
In the might of your strength, in the strength of your right,
Speak out at last to the treacherous spoiler!
Say: "Will ye harry her in our sight?
Ye shall not trample her down, nor soil her!
Loose her bonds! let her rise in her loveliness,—
Our virginal sister; or, if ye shame her,
Dark Amnon shall rue for her sore distress,
And her sure revenge shall be that of Tamar!"
Speak at last!
THE COMEDIAN'S LAST NIGHT
Not yet! No, no,—you would not quote
That meanest of the critic's gags?
'T was surely not of me they wrote
Those words, too late the veteran lags:
'T is not so very late with me;
I'm not so old as that, you know,
Though work and trouble—as you see—
(Not years) have brought me somewhat low.
I failed, you say? No, no, not yet!
Or, if I did,—with such a past,
Where is the man would have me quit
Without one triumph at the last?
But one night more,—a little thing
To you,—I swear 't is all I ask!
Once more to make the wide house ring,—
To tread the boards, to wear the mask,
To move the coldest as of yore,
To make them laugh, to make them cry,
To be—to be myself once more,
And then, if must be, let me die!
The prompter's bell! I'm here, you see:
By Heaven, friends, you'll break my heart!
Nat Gosling's called: let be, let be,—
None but myself shall act the part!
Yes, thank you, boy, I'll take your chair
One moment, while I catch my breath.
D' ye hear the noise they're making there?
'T would warm a player's heart in death.
How say you now? Whate'er they write,
We've put that bitter gibe to shame;
I knew, I knew there burned to-night
Within my soul the olden flame!
Stand off a bit: that final round,—
I'd hear it ere it dies away
The last, last time!—there's no more sound:
So end the player and the play.
The house is cleared. My senses swim;
I shall be better, though, anon,—
One stumbles when the lights are dim,—
'T is growing late: we must be gone.
Well, braver luck than mine, old friends!
A little work and fame are ours
While Heaven health and fortune lends,
And then—the coffin and the flowers!
These scattered garments? let them lie:
Some fresher actor (I'm not vain)
Will dress anew the part;—but I—
I shall not put them on again.
November 17, 1875.
LE JOUR DU ROSSIGNOL
'T was the season of feasts, when the blithe birds had met
In their easternmost arbor, an innocent throng,
And they made the glad birthday of each gladder yet,
With the daintiest cheer and the rarest of song.
What brave tirra-lirras! But clear amid all,
At each festival held in the favorite haunt,
The nightingale's music would quaver and fall,
And surest and sweetest of all was his chant.
At last came the nightingale's fête, and they sought
To make it the blithefullest tryst of the year,
Since this was the songster that oftenest caught
The moment's quick rapture, the joy that is near.
But, alas! half in vain the fine chorus they made;
Fresh-plumed and all fluttering, and uttering their best,
For silent among them, so etiquette bade,
To the notes of his praisers sat listening the guest.
Quel dommage! Must a failure, like theirs, be our feast?
Must our chorister's voice at his own fête be still?
While he thinks: "You are kind. May your tribe be increased;
But at this I can give you such odds if I will!"
What avail, fellow-minstrels, our crotchets and staves,
Though your tribute, like mine, rises straight from the heart,
Unless while the bough on his laurel-bush waves,
To his own sängerfest the one guest lends his art?
Whose swift wit like his, with which none dares to vie,
Whose carol so instant, so joyous and true?
Sound it cheerly, dear Holmes, for the sun is still high,
And we're glad, as he halts, to be out-sung by you.
CRABBED AGE AND YOUTH
Out, out, Old Age! aroint ye!
I fain would disappoint ye,
Nor wrinkled grow and learned
Before I am inurned.
Ruthless the Hours and hoary,
That scatter ills before ye!
Thy touch is pestilential,
Thy lays are penitential;
With stealthy steps thou stealest
And life's hot tide congealest;
Before thee vainly flying
We are already dying.
Why must the blood grow colder,
And men and maidens older?
Bring not thy maledictions,
Thy grewsome, grim afflictions,—
Thy bodings bring not hither
To make us blight and wither.
When this thy frost hath bound us,
All fairer things around us
Seem Youth's divine extortion
In which we have no portion.
"Fie, Senex!" saith a lass now,
"What need ye of a glass now?
Though flowers of May be springing
And I my songs are singing,
Thy blood no wit the faster
Doth flow, my ancient Master!"
Age is by Youth delighted,
Youth is by Age affrighted;
Blithe sunny May and joysome
Still finds December noisome.
Alack! a guest unbidden,
Howe'er our feast be hidden,
Doth enter with the feaster
And make a Lent of Easter!
I would thou wert not able
To seat thee at our table;
I would that altogether
From this thy wintry weather,
Since Youth and Love must leave us,
Death might at once retrieve us.
Old wizard, ill betide ye!
I cannot yet abide ye!
Ah, Youth, sweet Youth, I love ye!
There's naught on Earth above ye!
Thou purling bird uncaged
That never wilt grow aged,
To whom each day is giving
Increase of joyous living!
Soft words to thee are spoken,
For thee strong vows are broken,
All loves and lovers cluster,
To bask them in thy lustre.
Ah, girlhood, pout and dimple,
Half hid beneath the wimple!
Ah, boyhood, blithe and cruel,
Whose heat doth need no fuel,
No help of wine and spices
And frigid Eld's devices!
All pleasant things ye find you,
And to your sweet selves bind you.
For you alone the motion
Of brave ships on the ocean;
All stars for you are shining,
All wreaths your foreheads twining;
All joys, your joys decreeing,
Are portions of your being,—
All fairest sights your features,
Ye selfish, soulful creatures!
Sing me no more distiches
Of glory, wisdom, riches;
Tell me no beldame's story
Of wisdom, wealth, and glory!
To Youth these are a wonder,—
To Age a corpse-light under
The tomb with rusted portal
Of that which seemed immortal.
I, too, in Youth's dear fetter,
Will love my foeman better,—
Ay, though his ill I study,—
So he be young and ruddy,
Than comrade true and golden,
So he be waxen olden.
Ah, winsome Youth, stay by us!
I prithee, do not fly us!
Ah, Youth, sweet Youth, I love ye!
There's naught on Earth above ye!
'T is fifteen hundred years, you say,
Since that fair teacher died
In learnèd Alexandria
By the stone altar's side:—
The wild monks slew her, as she lay
At the feet of the Crucified.
Yet in a prairie-town, one night,
I found her lecture-hall,
Where bench and dais stood aright,
And statues graced the wall,
And pendent brazen lamps the light
Of classic days let fall.
A throng that watched the speaker's face,
And on her accents hung,
Was gathered there: the strength, the grace
Of lands where life is young
Ceased not, I saw, with that blithe race
From old Pelasgia sprung.
No civic crown the sibyl wore,
Nor academic tire,
But shining skirts, that trailed the floor
And made her stature higher;
A written scroll the lecturn bore,
And flowers bloomed anigh her.
The wealth her honeyed speech had won
Adorned her in our sight;
The silkworm for her sake had spun
His cincture, day and night;
With broider-work and Honiton
Her open sleeves were bright.
But still Hypatia's self I knew,
And saw, with dreamy wonder,
The form of her whom Cyril slew
(See Kingsley's novel, yonder)
Some fifteen centuries since, 't is true,
And half a world asunder.
Her hair was coifed Athenian-wise,
With one loose tress down-flowing;
Apollo's rapture lit her eyes,
His utterance bestowing,—
A silver flute's clear harmonies
On which a god was blowing.
Yet not of Plato's sounding spheres,
And universal Pan,
She spoke; but searched historic years,
The sisterhood to scan
Of women,—girt with ills and fears,—
Slaves to the tyrant, Man.
Their crosiered banner she unfurled,
And onward pushed her quest
Through golden ages of a world
By their deliverance blest:—
At all who stay their hands she hurled
Defiance from her breast.
I saw her burning words infuse
A warmth through many a heart,
As still, in bright successive views,
She drew her sex's part;
Discoursing, like the Lesbian Muse,
Of work, and song, and art.
Why vaunt, I thought, the past, or say
The later is the less?
Our Sappho sang but yesterday,
Of whom two climes confess
Heaven's flame within her wore away
Her earthly loveliness.
So let thy wild heart ripple on,
Brave girl, through vale and city!
Spare, of its listless moments, one
To this, thy poet's ditty;
Nor long forbear, when all is done,
Thine own sweet self to pity.
The priestess of the Sestian tower,
Whose knight the sea swam over,
Among her votaries' gifts no flower
Of heart's-ease could discover:
She died, but in no evil hour,
Who, dying, clasped her lover.
The rose-tree has its perfect life
When the full rose is blown;
Some height of womanhood the wife
Beyond thy dream has known;
Set not thy head and heart at strife
To keep thee from thine own.
Hypatia! thine essence rare
The rarer joy should merit:
Possess thee of that common share
Which lesser souls inherit:
All gods to thee their garlands bear,—
Take one from Love and wear it!
A Legend from the "Sermones Discipuli" of Jean Herolt, the Dominican, A. D. 1518
A cloister tale,—a strange and ancient thing
Long since on vellum writ in gules and or:
And why should Chance to me this trover bring
From the grim dust-heap of forgotten lore,
And not to that gray bard still measuring
His laurelled years by music's golden score,
Nor to some comrade who like him has caught
The charm of lands by me too long unsought?
Why not to one who, with a steadfast eye,
Ingathering her shadow and her sheen,
Saw Venice as she is, and, standing nigh,
Drew from the life that old, dismantled queen?
Or to the poet through whom I well descry
Castile, and the Campeador's demesne?
Or to that eager one whose quest has found
Each place of long renown, the world around;
Whose foot has rested firm on either hill,—
The sea-girt height where glows the midnight sun,
And wild Parnassus; whose melodious skill
Has left no song untried, no wreath unwon?
Why not to these? Yet, since by Fortune's will
This quaint task given me I must not shun,
My verse shall render, fitly as it may,
An old church legend, meet for Christmas Day.
Once on a time (so read the monkish pages),
Within a convent—that doth still abide
Even as it stood in those devouter ages,
Near a fair city, by the highway's side—
There dwelt a sisterhood of them whose wages
Are stored in heaven: each a virgin bride
Of Christ, and bounden meekly to endure
In faith, and works, and chastity most pure.
A convent, and within a summer-land,
Like that of Browning and Boccaccio!
Years since, my greener fancy would have planned
Its station thus: it should have had, I trow,
A square and flattened bell-tower, that might stand
Above deep-windowed buildings long and low,
Closed all securely by a vine-clung wall,
And shadowed on one side by cypress tall.
Within the gate, a garden set with care:
Box-bordered plots, where peach and almond trees
Rained blossoms on the maidens walking there,
Or rustled softly in the summer breeze;
Here were sweet jessamine and jonquil rare,
And arbors meet for pious talk at ease;
There must have been a dove-cote too, I know,
Where white-winged birds like spirits come and go.
Outside, the thrush and lark their music made
Beyond the olive-grove at dewy morn;
By noon, cicalas, shrilling in the shade
Of oak and ilex, woke the peasant's horn;
And, at the time when into darkness fade
The vineyards, from their purple depths were borne
The nightingale's responses to the prayer
Of those sweet saints at vespers, meek and fair.
Such is the place that, with the hand and eye
Which are the joy of youth, I should have painted.
Say not, who look thereon, that 't is awry—
Like nothing real, by rhymesters' use attainted.
Ah well! then put the faulty picture by,
And help me draw an abbess long since sainted.
Think of your love, each one, and thereby guess
The fashion of this lady's beauteousness.
For in this convent Sister Beatrice,
Of all her nuns the fairest and most young,
Became, through grace and special holiness,
Their sacred head, and moved, her brood among,
Dévote d'âme et fervente au service;
And thrice each day, their hymns and Aves sung,
At Mary's altar would before them kneel,
Keeping her vows with chaste and pious zeal.
Now in the Holy Church there was a clerk,
A godly-seeming man (as such there be
Whose selfish hearts with craft and guile are dark),
Young, gentle-phrased, of handsome mien and free.
His passion chose this maiden for its mark,
Begrudging heaven her white chastity,
And with most sacrilegious art the while
He sought her trustful nature to beguile.
Oft as they met, with subtle hardihood
He still more archly played the traitor's part,
And strove to wake that murmur in her blood
That times the pulses of a woman's heart;
And in her innocence she long withstood
The secret tempter, but at last his art
Changed all her tranquil thoughts to love's desire,
Her vestal flame to earth's unhallowed fire.
So the fair governess, o'ermastered, gave
Herself to the destroyer, yet as one
That slays, in pity, her sweet self, to save
Another from some wretched deed undone;
But when she found her heart was folly's slave,
She sought the altar which her steps must shun
Thenceforth, and yielded up her sacred trust,
Ere tasting that false fruit which turns to dust.
One eve the nuns beheld her entering
Alone, as if for prayer beneath the rood,
Their chapel-shrine, wherein the offering
And masterpiece of some great painter stood,—
The Virgin Mother, without plume or wing
Ascending, poised in rapt beatitude,
With hands crosswise, and intercession mild
For all who crave her mercy undefiled.
There Beatrice—poor, guilty, desperate maid—
Took from her belt the convent's blessed keys,
And with them on the altar humbly laid
Her missal, uttering such words as these
(Her eyes cast down, and all her soul afraid):
"O dearest mistress, hear me on my knees
Confess to thee, in helplessness and shame,
I am no longer fit to speak thy name.
"Take back the keys wherewith in constancy
Thy house and altar I have guarded well!
No more may Beatrice thy servant be,
For earthly love her steps must needs compel.
Forget me in this sore infirmity
When my successor here her beads shall tell."
This said, the girl withdrew her as she might,
And with her lover fled that selfsame night;
Fled out, and into the relentless world
Where Love abides, but Love that breedeth Sorrow,
Where Purity still weeps with pinions furled,
And Passion lies in wait her all to borrow.
From such a height to such abasement whirled
She fled that night, and many a day and morrow
Abode indeed with him for whose embrace
She bartered heaven and her hope of grace.
O fickle will and pitiless desire,
Twin wolves, that raven in a lustful heart
And spare not innocence, nor yield, nor tire,
But youth from joy and life from goodness part;
That drag an unstained victim to the mire,
Then cast it soiled and hopeless on the mart!
Even so the clerk, once having dulled his longing,
A worse thing did than that first bitter wronging.
The base hind left her, ruined and alone,
Unknowing by what craft to gain her bread
In the hard world that gives to Want a stone.
What marvel that she drifted whither led
The current, that with none to heed her moan
She reached the shore where life on husks is fed,
Sank down, and, in the strangeness of her fall,
Among her fellows was the worst of all!
Thus stranded, her fair body, consecrate
To holiness, was smutched by spoilers rude.
And entered all the seven fiends where late
Abode a seeming angel, pure and good.
What paths she followed in such woeful state,
By want, remorse, and the world's hate pursued,
Were known alone to them whose spacious ken
O'erlooks not even the poor Magdalen.
After black years their dismal change had wrought
Upon her beauty, and there was no stay
By which to hold, some chance or yearning brought
Her vagrant feet along the convent-way;
And half as in a dream there came a thought
(For years she had not dared to think or pray)
That moved her there to bow her in the dust
And bear no more, but perish as she must.
Crouched by the gate she waited, it is told,
Brooding the past and all of life forlorn,
Nor dared to lift her pallid face and old
Against the passer's pity or his scorn;
And there perhance had ere another morn
Died of her shame and sorrows manifold,
But that a portress bade her pass within
For solace of her wretchedness or sin.
To whom the lost one, drinking now her fill
Of woe that wakened memories made more drear,
Said, "Was there not one Beatrice, until
Some time now gone, that was an abbess here?"
"That was?" the other said. "Is she not still
The convent's head, and still our mistress dear?
Look! even now she comes with open hand,
The purest, saintliest lady in the land!"
And Beatrice, uplifting then her eyes,
Saw her own self (in womanhood divine,
It seemed) draw nigh, with holy look and wise,
The aged portress leaving at a sign.
Even while she marvelled at that strange disguise,
There stood before her, radiant, benign,
The blessed Mother of Mercy, all aflame
With light, as if from Paradise she came!
From her most sacred lips, upon the ears
Of Beatrice, these words of wonder fell:
"Daughter, thy sins are pardoned; dry thy tears,
And in this house again my mercies tell,
For, in thy stead, myself these woeful years
Have governed here and borne thine office well.
Take back the keys: save thee and me alone
No one thy fall and penance yet hath known!"
Even then, as faded out that loveliness,
The abbess, looking down, herself descried
Clean-robed and spotless, such as all confess
To be a saint and fit for Heaven's bride.
So ends the legend, and ye well may guess
(Who, being untempted, walk in thoughtless pride)
God of his grace can make the sinful pure,
And while earth lasts shall mercy still endure.
ALL IN A LIFETIME
Thou shalt have sun and shower from heaven above,
Thou shalt have flower and thorn from earth below,
Thine shall be foe to hate and friend to love,
Pleasures that others gain, the ills they know,—
And all in a lifetime.
Hast thou a golden day, a starlit night,
Mirth, and music, and love without alloy?
Leave no drop undrunken of thy delight:
Sorrow and shadow follow on thy joy.
'T is all in a lifetime.
What if the battle end and thou hast lost?
Others have lost the battles thou hast won;
Haste thee, bind thy wounds, nor count the cost:
Over the field will rise to-morrow's sun.
'T is all in a lifetime.
Laugh at the braggart sneer, the open scorn,—
'Ware of the secret stab, the slanderous lie:
For seventy years of turmoil thou wast born,
Bitter and sweet are thine till these go by.
'T is all in a lifetime.
Reckon thy voyage well, and spread the sail,—
Wind and calm and current shall warp thy way;
Compass shall set thee false, and chart shall fail;
Ever the waves will use thee for their play.
'T is all in a lifetime.
Thousands of years agone were chance and change,
Thousands of ages hence the same shall be;
Naught of thy joy and grief is new or strange:
Gather apace the good that falls to thee!
'T is all in a lifetime!
THE SKULL IN THE GOLD DRIFT
What ho! dumb jester, cease to grin and mask it!
Grim courier, thou hast stayed upon the road!
Yield up the secret of this battered casket,
This shard, where once a living soul abode!
What dost thou here? how long hast lain imbedded
In crystal sands, the drift of Time's despair;
Thine earth to earth with aureate dower wedded,
Thy parts all changed to something rich and rare?
Voiceless thou art, and yet a revelation
Of that most ancient world beneath the new;
But who shall guess thy race, thy name and station,
Æons and æons ere these bowlders grew?
What alchemy can make thy visage liker
Its untransmuted shape, thy flesh restore,
Resolve to blood again thy golden ichor,
Possess thee of the life thou hadst before?
Before! And when? What ages immemorial
Have passed since daylight fell where thou dost sleep!
What molten strata, ay, and flotsam boreal,
Have shielded well thy rest, and pressed thee deep!
Thou little wist what mighty floods descended,
How sprawled the armored monsters in their camp,
Nor heardest, when the watery cyle ended,
The mastodon and mammoth o'er thee tramp.
How seemed this globe of ours when thou didst scan it?
When, in its lusty youth, there sprang to birth
All that has life, unnurtured, and the planet
Was paradise, the true Saturnian Earth!
Far toward the poles was stretched the happy garden;
Earth kept it fair by warmth from her own breast;
Toil had not come to dwarf her sons and harden;
No crime (there was no want) perturbed their rest.
How lived thy kind? Was there no duty blended
With all their toilless joy,—no grand desire?
Perchance as shepherds on the meads they tended
Their flocks, and knew the pastoral pipe and lyre;
Until a hundred happy generations,
Whose birth and death had neither pain nor fear,
At last, in riper ages, brought the nations
To modes which we renew who greet thee here.
How stately then they built their royal cities,
With what strong engines speeded to and fro;
What music thrilled their souls; what poets' ditties
Made youth with love, and age with honor glow!
And had they then their Homer, Kepler, Bacon?
Did some Columbus find an unknown clime?
Was there an archetypal Christ, forsaken
Of those he died to save, in that far time?
When came the end? What terrible convulsion
Heaved from within the Earth's distended shell?
What pent-up demons, by their fierce repulsion,
Made of that sun-lit crust a sunless hell?
How, when the hour was ripe, those deathful forces
In one resistless doom o'erwhelmed ye all;
Ingulfed the seas and dried the river courses,
And made the forests and the cities fall!
Ah me! with what a sudden, dreadful thunder
The whole round world was split from pole to pole!
Down sank the continents, the waters under,
And fire burst forth where now the oceans roll;
Of those wan flames the dismal exhalations
Stifled, anon, each living creature's breath,
Dear life was driven from its utmost stations,
And seethed beneath the smoking pall of death!
Then brawling leapt full height yon helmèd giants;
The proud Sierras on the skies laid hold;
Their watch and ward have bidden time defiance,
Guarding thy grave amid the sands of gold.
Thy kind was then no more! What untold ages,
Ere Man, renewed from earth by slow degrees,
Woke to the strife he now with Nature wages
O'er ruder lands and more tempestuous seas.
How poor the gold, that made thy burial splendid,
Beside one single annal of thy race,
One implement, one fragment that attended
Thy life—which now has left not even a trace!
From the soul's realm awhile recall thy spirit,
See how the land is spread, how flows the main,
The tribes that in thy stead the globe inherit,
Their grand unrest, their eager joy and pain.
Beneath our feet a thousand ages moulder,
Grayer our skies than thine, the winds more chill;
Thine the young world, and ours the hoarier, colder,
But Man's unfaltering heart is dauntless still.
And yet—and yet like thine his solemn story;
Grope where he will, transition lies before;
We, too, must pass! our wisdom, works, and glory
In turn shall yield, and change, and be no more.
WITH A SPRIG OF HEATHER
TO THE LADY WHO SENT ME A JAR OF HYMETTIAN HONEY
Lady, had the lot been mine
That befell the sage divine,
Near Hymettus to be bred,
And in sleep on honey fed,
I would send to you, be sure,
Rhythmic verses—tuneful, pure,
Such as flowed when Greece was young
And the Attic songs were sung;
I would take your little jar,
Filled with sweetness from afar,—
Brown as amber, bright as gold,
Breathing odors manifold,—
And would thank you, sip by sip,
With the classic honeyed lip.
But the gods did not befriend
Me in childhood's sleep, nor send,
One by one, their laden bees,
That I now might sing at ease
With the winsome voice and word
In this age too seldom heard.
(Had they the Atlantic crost,
Half their treasure had been lost!)
Changed the time and gone the art
Of the glad Athenian heart.
Take you, then, in turn, I pray,
For your gift, this little spray,—
Heather from a breezy hill
That of Burns doth whisper still.
On the soil where this was bred
The rapt ploughman laid his head,
Sang, and looking to the sky
Saw the Muses hovering nigh.
From the air and from the gorse
Scotland's sweetness took its source;—
Precious still your jar, you see,
Though its honey stays with me.
MUSIC AT HOME
I sat beneath a fragrant tasselled tree,
Whose trunk encoiling vines had made to be
A glossy fount of leafage. Sweet the air,
Far-off the smoke-veiled city and its care,
Precious and near the book within my hand—
The deathless song of that immortal land
Wherefrom Keats took his young Endymion
And laurelled bards enow their wreaths have won;—
When from some topmost spray began to chant
And flute, and trill, a warbling visitant,
A catbird, riotous the world above,
Hasting to spend his heritage ere love
Should music change to madness in his throat,
Leaving him naught but one discordant note.
And as my home-bred chorister outvied
The nightingale, old England's lark beside,
I thought—What need to borrow? Lustier clime
Than ours Earth has not,—nor her scroll a time
Ampler of human glory and desire
To touch the plume, the brush, the lips, with fire;
No sunrise chant on ancient shore and sea,
Since sang the morning stars, more worth shall be
Than ours, once uttered from the very heart
Of the glad race that here shall act its part.
Blithe prodigal, the rhythm free and strong
Of thy brave voice forecasts our poet's song!
THE HAND OF LINCOLN
Look on this cast, and know the hand
That bore a nation in its hold:
From this mute witness understand
What Lincoln was,—how large of mould
The man who sped the woodman's team,
And deepest sunk the ploughman's share,
And pushed the laden raft astream,
Of fate before him unaware.
This was the hand that knew to swing
The axe—since thus would Freedom train
Her son—and made the forest ring,
And drove the wedge, and toiled amain.
Firm hand, that loftier office took,
A conscious leader's will obeyed,
And, when men sought his word and look,
With steadfast might the gathering swayed.
No courtier's, toying with a sword,
Nor minstrel's, laid across a lute;
A chief's, uplifted to the Lord
When all the kings of earth were mute!
The hand of Anak, sinewed strong,
The fingers that on greatness clutch;
Yet, lo! the marks their lines along
Of one who strove and suffered much.
For here in knotted cord and vein
I trace the varying chart of years;
I know the troubled heart, the strain,
The weight of Atlas—and the tears.
Again I see the patient brow
That palm erewhile was wont to press;
And now 't is furrowed deep, and now
Made smooth with hope and tenderness.
For something of a formless grace
This moulded outline plays about;
A pitying flame, beyond our trace,
Breathes like a spirit, in and out,—
The love that cast an aureole
Round one who, longer to endure,
Called mirth to ease his ceaseless dole,
Yet kept his nobler purpose sure.
Lo, as I gaze, the statured man,
Built up from yon large hand, appears:
A type that Nature wills to plan
But once in all a people's years.
What better than this voiceless cast
To tell of such a one as he,
Since through its living semblance passed
The thought that bade a race be free!
"YE TOMBE OF YE POET CHAUCER"
Abbot and monks of Westminster
Here placed his tomb, in all men's view.
"Our Chaucer dead?"—King Harry said,—
"A mass for him, and burial due!"
This very aisle his footsteps knew;
Here Gower's benediction fell,—
Brother thou were and minstral trewe,
Now slepe thou wel.
There died with that old century's death,
I wot, five hundred years ago,
One whose blithe heart, whose morning art,
Made England's Castaly to flow.
He in whose song that fount we know,
With every tale the skylarks tell,
Had right, Saint Bennet's wall below
To slumber well.
Eftsoons his master piously
In Surrey hied him to his rest;
The Thames, between their closes green,
Parted these warblers breast from breast,—
The gravest from the joyfulest
Whose notes the matin chorus swell:
A league divided, east and west,
They slumber well.
Is there no care in holy ground
The world's deep undertone to hear?
Can this strong sleep our Chaucer keep
When May-time buds and blossoms peer?
Less strange that many a sceptred year,
While the twin houses towered and fell,
Alike through England's pride and fear,
He slumbered well.
The envious Roses woefully
By turns a bleeding kingdom sway;
Thrones topple down,—to robe and crown
Who comes at last must hew his way.
No sound of all that piteous fray,
Nor of its ceasing, breaks the spell;
Still on, to great Eliza's day,
He slumbers well.
Methinks, had Shakespeare lightly walked
Anear him in the minster old,
He would have heard,—his sleep had stirred
With dreams of wonders manifold;
Even though no sad vibration told
His ear when sounded Mary's knell,—
Though, when the mask on Charles laid hold,
He slumbered well.
In climes beyond his calendar
The latest century's splendors grow;
London is great,—the Abbey's state
A young world's eager wanderers know;
New songs, new minstrels, come and go;
Naught as of old outside his cell,—
Just as of old, within it low,
He slumbers well.
And now, when hawthorn is in flower,
And throstles sing as once sang he,
In this last age, on pilgrimage
Like mine from lands that distant be,
Come youths and maidens, summer-free,
Where shades of bards and warriors dwell,
And say, "The sire of minstrelsy
Here slumbers well";
And say, "While London's Abbey stands
No less shall England's strength endure!"
Ay, though its old wall crumbling fall,
Shall last her song's sweet overture;
Some purling stream shall flow, be sure,
From out the ivied heap, to tell
That here the fount of English pure
Long slumbered well.
THE CONSTANT HEART
Sadde songe is out of season
When birdes and lovers mate,
When soule to soule must paye swete toll
And fate be joyned with fate;
Sadde songe and wofull thought controle
This constant heart of myne,
And make newe love a treason
Unto my Valentine.
How shall my wan lippes utter
Their summons to the dedde,—
Where nowe repeate the promise swete,
So farre my love hath fledd?
My only love! What musicke fleet
Shall crosse the walle that barres?
To earthe the burthen mutter,
Or singe it to the starrs?
Perchance she dwelles a spirite
In beautye undestroyed
Where brightest starrs are closely sett
Farre out beyonde the voyd;
If Margaret be risen yet
Her looke will hither turne,
I knowe that she will heare it,
And all my trewe heart learne.
But if no resurrection
Unseale her dwellinge low,
If one so fayre must bide her there
Until the trumpe shall blowe,
Nathlesse shall Love outvie Despaire,
(Whilst constant heart is myne)
And, robbed of her perfection,
Be faithfull to her shrine.
At this blythe season bending
Ile whisper to the clodde,
To the chill grasse where shadowes passe
And leaflesse branches nodde;
There keepe my watche, and crye—Alas
That Love may not forget,
That Joye must have swifte ending
And Life be laggard yet!
THE WORLD WELL LOST
That year? Yes, doubtless I remember still,—
Though why take count of every wind that blows!
'T was plain, men said, that Fortune used me ill
That year,—the self-same year I met with Rose.
Crops failed; wealth took a flight; house, treasure, land,
Slipped from my hold—thus plenty comes and goes.
One friend I had, but he too loosed his hand
(Or was it I?) the year I met with Rose.
There was a war, I think; some rumor, too,
Of famine, pestilence, fire, deluge, snows;
Things went awry. My rivals, straight in view,
Throve, spite of all; but I,—I met with Rose.
That year my white-faced Alma pined and died:
Some trouble vexed her quiet heart,—who knows?
Not I, who scarcely missed her from my side,
Or aught else gone, the year I met with Rose.
Was there no more? Yes, that year life began:
All life before a dream, false joys, light woes,—
All after-life compressed within the span
Of that one year,—the year I met with Rose!
See, what a beauty! Half-shut eyes,—
Hide all buff, and without a break
To the tail's brown tuft that mostly lies,
So quiet one thinks her scarce awake;
But pass too near, one step too free,
You find her slumber a devil's truce:
Up comes that paw,—all plush, you see,—
Out four claws, fit for Satan's use.
'Ware! Just a sleeve's breadth closer then,
And your last appearance on any stage!
Loll, if you like, by Daniel's Den,
But clear and away from Hebe's cage:—
That's Hebe! listen to that purr,
Rumbling as from the ground below:
Strange, when the ring begins to stir,
The fleshings always vex her so.
You think 't were a rougher task by far
To tame her mate with the sooty mane?
A splendid bronze for a showman's car,
And listless enough for bit and rein.
But Hebe is—just like all her sex—
Not good, then bad,—be sure of that:
In either case 't would a sage perplex
To make them out, both woman and cat.
A curious record, Hebe's. Reared
In Italy; age,—that's hard to fix;
Trained from a cub, until she feared
The lash, and learned her round of tricks;
Always a traveller,—one of two
A woman-tamer took in hand,
Whipped them, coaxed them,—and so they grew
To fawn or cower at her command.
None but Florina—that was her name
And this the story of Hebe here—
Entered their cage; the brutes were tame
As kittens, though, their mistress near.
A tall, proud wench as ever was seen,
Supple and handsome, full of grace:
The world would bow to a real queen
That had Florina's form and face.
Her lover—for one she had, of course—
Was Marco, acrobat, circus-star,
The lightest foot on a running horse,
The surest leap from a swinging bar;
And she,—so jealous he dared not touch
A woman's hand, and, truth to say,
He had no humor to tease her much
Till a girl in spangles crossed their way.
'T was at Marseilles, the final scene:
This pretty rider joined the ring,
Ma'am'selle Celeste or Victorine,
And captured him under Florina's wing.
They hid their meetings, but when, you see,
Doubt holds the candle, love will show,
And in love's division the one of three,
Whose share is lessened, needs must know.
One night, then, after the throng outpoured
From the show, and the lions my Lady's power
Had been made to feel, with lash that scored
And eye that cowed them, a snarling hour;—
(They were just in the mood for pleasantry
Of those holidays when saints were thrown
To beasts, and the Romans, entrance-free,
Clapped hands;)—that night, as she stood alone,
Florina, Queen of the Lions, called
Sir Marco toward her, while her hand
Still touched the spring of a door that walled
Her subjects safe within Lion-land.
He came there panting, hot from the ring,
So brave a figure that one might know
Among all his tribe he must be king,—
If in some wild tract you met him so.
"Do you love me still," she asked, "as when
You swore it first?" "Have never a doubt!"
"But I have a fancy—men are men,
And one whim drives another out,"—
"What fancy? Is this all? Have done:
You tire me." "Look you, Marco! oh,
I should die if another woman won
Your love,—but would kill you first, you know!"
"Kill me? and how,—with a jealous tongue?"
"Thus!" quoth Florina, and slipped the bolt
Of the cage's door, and headlong flung
Sir Marco, ere he could breathe, the dolt!
Plump on the lion he bounced, and fell
Beyond, and Hebe leapt for him there,—
No need for their lady's voice to tell
The work in hand for that ready pair.
They say one would n't have cared to see
The group commingled, man and beast,
Or to hear the shrieks and roars,—all three
One red, the feasters and the feast!
Guns, pistols, blazed, till the lion sprawled,
Shot dead, but Hebe held to her prey
And drank his blood, while keepers bawled
And their hot irons made yon scars that day.
But the woman? True, I had forgot:
She never flinched at the havoc made,
Nor gave one cry, but there on the spot
Drove to the heart her poniard-blade,
Straight, like a man, and fell, nor stirred
Again;—so that fine pair were dead;
One lied, and the other kept her word,—
And death pays debts, when all is said.
So they hustled Hebe out of France,
To Spain, or may be to England first,
Then hitherward over seas, by chance,
She came as you see her, always athirst,—
As if, like the tigresses that slink
In the village canes of Hindostan,
Of one rare draught she loves to think,
And ever to get it must plan and plan.
SOUVENIR DE JEUNESSE
When Sibyl kept her tryst with me, the harvest moon was rounded
In evening hush through pathways lush with fern we reached the glade;
The rippling river soft and low with fairy plashes sounded,
The silver poplar rustled as we sat within its shade.
"And why," she whispered, "evermore should lovers meet to sunder?
Where stars arise in other skies let other lips than mine
Their sorrows lisp, and other hearts at love's delaying wonder—
O stay!"—and soon her tearful eyes were each a pearly shrine.
I soothed her fears and stayed her tears, her hands in mine enfolding,
And then we cared no more for aught save this one hour we had;
Upwelled that dreamful selfish tide of young Love's rapture, holding
The fair round world itself in pledge to make us still more glad.
For us the night was musical, for us the meadows shining;
The summer air was odorous that we might breathe and love;
Sweet Nature throbbed for us alone—her mother-soul divining
No fonder pair that fleeting hour her zephyrs sighed above.
Amid the nodding rushes the heron drank his tipple,
The night-hawk's cry and whir anigh a deeper stillness made,
A thousand little starlights danced upon the river's ripple,
And the silver poplar rustled as we kissed within its shade.
I walk the lane's dim hollow,—
Past is the twilight hour,
But stealthy shadows follow
And Night withholds her power,
For somewhere in the eastern sky
The shrouded moon is high.
Dews from the wild rose drip unheard,—
Their unforgotten scent
With that of woods and grasses blent;
No muffled flight of bird,
No whispering voice, my footfall stops;
No breeze amid the poplar-tops
The smallest leaf has stirred.
Yet round me, here and there,
A little fluttering wind
Plays now,—these senses have divined
A breath across my hair,—
A touch,—that on my forehead lies,
And presses long
These lips so mute of song,
And now, with kisses cool, my half-shut eyes.
This night? O what is here!
What viewless aura clings
So fitfully, so near,
On this returning eventide
When Memory will not be denied
My arms reach out,—in vain,—
They fold the air:
And yet—that wandering breath again!
Too vague to make her phantom plain,
Too tender for despair.
THE STAR BEARER
There were seven angels erst that spanned
Heaven's roadway out through space,
Lighting with stars, by God's command,
The fringe of that high place
Whence plumèd beings in their joy,
The servitors His thoughts employ,
Fly ceaselessly. No goodlier band
Looked upward to His face.
There, on bright hovering wings that tire
Never, they rested mute,
Nor of far journeys had desire,
Nor of the deathless fruit;
For in and through each angel soul
All waves of life and knowledge roll,
Even as to nadir streamed the fire
Of their torches resolute.
They lighted Michael's outpost through
Where fly the armored brood,
And the wintry Earth their omens knew
Of Spring's beatitude;
Rude folk, ere yet the promise came,
Gave to their orbs a heathen name,
Saying how steadfast in men's view
The watchful Pleiads stood.
All in the solstice of the year,
When the sun apace must turn,
The seven bright angels 'gan to hear
Heaven's twin gates outward yearn:
Forth with its light and minstrelsy
A lordly troop came speeding by,
And joyed to see each cresset sphere
So gloriously burn.
Staying his fearless passage then
The Captain of that host
Spake with strong voice: "We bear to men
God's gift the uttermost,
Whereof the oracle and sign
Sibyl and sages may divine:
A star shall blazon in their ken,
Borne with us from your post.
"This night the Heir of Heaven's throne
A new-born mortal lies!
Since Earth's first morning hath not shone
Such joy in seraph eyes."
He spake. The least in honor there
Answered with longing like a prayer,—
"My star, albeit thenceforth unknown,
Shall light for you Earth's skies."
Onward the blessed legion swept,
That angel at the head;
(Where seven of old their station kept
There are six that shine instead.)
Straight hitherward came troop and star;
Like some celestial bird afar
Into Earth's night the cohort leapt
With beauteous wings outspread.
Dazzling the East beneath it there,
The Star gave out its rays:
Right through the still Judean air
The shepherds see it blaze,—
They see the plume-borne heavenly throng,
And hear a burst of that high song
Of which in Paradise aware
Saints count their years but days.
For they sang such music as, I deem,
In God's chief court of joys,
Had stayed the flow of the crystal stream
And made souls in mid-flight poise;
They sang of Glory to Him most High,
Of Peace on Earth abidingly,
And of all delights the which, men dream,
Nor sin nor grief alloys.
Breathless the kneeling shepherds heard,
Charmed from their first rude fear,
Nor while that music dwelt had stirred
Were it a month or year:
And Mary Mother drank its flow,
Couched with her Babe divine,—and, lo!
Ere falls the last ecstatic word
Three Holy Kings draw near.
Whenas the star-led shining train
Wheeled from their task complete,
Skyward from over Bethlehem's plain
They sped with rapture fleet;
And the angel of that orient star,
Thenceforth where Heaven's lordliest are,
Stands with a harp, while Christ doth reign,
A seraph near His feet.
The sunset fires old Portsmouth spires,
Out creeps the ebbing tide;
Beyond the battery-point I see
A glimmering schooner glide;
White flares the turning Whale-back light,
The silent ground-swell rolls;
Low and afar shines one red star
Above the Isles of Shoals.
Mute, sightless visitant,
From what uncharted world
Hast voyaged into Life's rude sea,
With guidance scant;
As if some bark mysteriously
Should hither glide, with spars aslant
And sails all furled?
In what perpetual dawn,
Child of the spotless brow,
Hast kept thy spirit far withdrawn—
Thy birthright undefiled?
What views to thy sealed eyes appear?
What voices mayst thou hear
Speak as we know not how?
Of grief and sin hast thou,
O radiant child,
Even thou, a share? Can mortal taint
Have power on thee unfearing
The woes our sight, our hearing,
Learn from Earth's crime and plaint?
Not as we see
Earth, sky, insensate forms, ourselves,
Thou seest,—but vision-free
Thy fancy soars and delves,
Albeit no sounds to us relate
The wondrous things
Thy brave imaginings
Within their starry night create.
Pity thy unconfined
Clear spirit, whose enfranchised eyes
Use not their grosser sense?
Ah, no! thy bright intelligence
Hath its own Paradise,
A realm wherein to hear and see
Things hidden from our kind.
Not thou, not thou—'t is we
Are deaf, are dumb, are blind!
PORTRAIT D'UNE DAME ESPAGNOLE
The hand that drew thee lies in Roman soil,
Whilst on the canvas thou hast deathless grown,
Endued by him who deemed it meaner toil
To give the world a portrait save thine own.
Yet had he found thy peer, and Rome forborne
Such envy of his conquest over Time,
Beauty had waked, and Art another morn
Had gained, and ceased to sorrow for her prime.
What spirit was it—where the masters are—
Brooding the gloom and glory that were Spain,
Through centuries waited in its orb afar
Until our age Fortuny's brush should gain?
What stroke but his who pictured in their state
Queen, beggar, noble, Philip's princely brood,
Could thus the boast of Seville recreate,
Even when one like thee before him stood?
Like thee, own child of Spain, whose beauteous pride,
Desire, disdain, all sins thy mien express,
Should need no absolution—hadst thou died
Unhouselled, in their imaged loveliness.
All this had Fate decreed,—the antique skill,
The halt, the poise, the long auspicious day,—
Yielding this once, thy triumph to fulfil,
Velasquez' sceptre to Fortuny's sway.
Shine from thy cloud of night, fair star, nor fear
Oblivion, though men thy dust inurn,
For who may bid thy counterpart appear
Until the hand that drew thee shall return!
"Grant him," I said, "a well-earned name,
The stage's knight, the keen assayer
Of parts whence all save greatness came,
But—not a player.
"Strange, as of fate's perverseness, this
Proud, eager soul, this fine-strung creature
Should seem forever just to miss
That touch of nature;
"The instinct she so lightly gives
Some fellow at his rivals snarling,
Some churl who gains the boards, and lives
"You think so?" he replied. "Well, I
Thought likewise, maugre Lanciotto,
And Yorick, though his Cassius nigh
Won Hamlet's motto.
"But would you learn, as I, his clew
To nature's heart, and judge him fairly—
Go see his rustic bard, go view
His Man o' Airlie.
"See that defenceless minstrel brought
From hope to wan despair, from laughter
To frenzy's moan: the image wrought
Will haunt you after.
"Then see him crowned at last! If such
A guerdon waits the stricken poet,
'T were well, you'll own, to bear as much—
Even die, to know it."
"Bravo!" cried I, "I too, the thrill
Must feel which thus your blood can waken."
And once I saw upon the bill
That part retaken;
But leagues of travel stretched between
Me and that idyl played so rarely:
And then—his death! nor had I seen
"The Man o' Airlie."
My failure; not the actor's, loved
By all to art and nature loyal;
Not his, whom Harebell's passion proved
Of the blood royal.
PROEM TO A VICTORIAN ANTHOLOGY
England! since Shakespeare died no loftier day
For thee than lights herewith a century's goal,—
Nor statelier exit of heroic soul
Conjoined with soul heroic,—nor a lay
Excelling theirs who made renowned thy sway
Even as they heard the billows which outroll
Thine ancient sea, and left their joy and dole
In song, and on the strand their mantles gray.
Star-rayed with fame thine Abbey windows loom
Above his dust, whom the Venetian barge
Bore to the main; who passed the twofold marge
To slumber in thy keeping,—yet make room
For the great Laurifer, whose chanting large
And sweet shall last until our tongue's far doom.
PROEM TO "POEMS NOW FIRST COLLECTED"
Thou,—whose endearing hand once laid in sooth
Upon thy follower, no want thenceforth,
Nor toil, nor joy and pain, nor waste of years
Filled with all cares that deaden and subdue,
Can make thee less to him—can make thee less
Than sovereign queen, his first liege, and his last
Remembered to the unconscious dying hour,—
Return and be thou kind, bright Spirit of song,
Thou whom I yet loved most, loved most of all
Even when I left thee—I, now so long strayed
From thy beholding! And renew, renew
Thy gift to me fain clinging to thy robe!
Still be thou kind, for still thou wast most dear.
TRINITY CHURCH, ST. LOUIS
Around his loins, when the last breath had gone
From the gaunt frame—and death's encroaching mist,
A veil betwixt earth left and heaven won,
Told naught of all it wist—
Close to the flesh, sore-lashed by waves of pain,
They found the iron girth that ate his side,
Its links worn bright: the cruel, secret chain,
They found it when he died.
Son of the Church, though worldlings spake her creed
And smiled askance, even in the altar fold,
This man, this piteous soul, believed indeed
With the stern faith of old.
Unquestioning aught, aye, in the eager West
Surcharged with life that mocks the vague unknown,
His ligature of anguish unconfest
He wore alone—alone.
Alone? but trebly welded links of fate
More lives than one are bidden to endure,
Forged in a chain's indissoluble weight
Of agonies more sure.
His torture was self-torture; to his soul
No jest of time irrevocably brought
A woe more grim than underneath the stole
His gnawing cincture wrought.
Belike my garments,—yes, or thine,—conceal
The sorer wound, the pitiabler throe,
Not even the traitor Death shall quite reveal
For his rough mutes to know.
What the heart hungered for and was denied,
Still foiled with guerdons for a world to see
And envy it,—this furrows deep and wide
Its grooves in thee—in me.
Borne, always borne—what martyrdoms assoil
The laden soul from hostile chance and blind?
Nor time can loose the adamantine coil,
Nor Azrael unbind.
Redemption for the priest! but naught their gain
Who forfeit still the one thing asked of Earth,
Knowing all penance light beside this pain—
All pleasure, nothing worth.
FIN DE SIÈCLE
Now making exit to the outer vast
Our century speeds, and shall retain no more
Its perihelion splendor, save to cast
A search-light on the chartless course before.
I hear the murmur of our kind, whose eyes
Follow the spread of that phantasmal ray;
Who see as infants see, nor can surmise
Aright of what is near—what far away.
I hear the jest, the threnody, the low
Recount of dreams which down the years have fled,—
Of fair romance now shattered with love's bow,
Of legend brought to test, and passion dead.
Dark Science broods in Fancy's hermitage,
The rainbow fades,—and hushed, they say, is Song
With those high bards who lingering charmed the age
Ere one by one they joined the statued throng.
I hear the dirge for beauty sped, and faith
Astray in space and time's far archways lost,
Till Life itself becomes a tenuous wraith,
A wandering shade whom wandering shades accost.
Their light sad plaint I hear who thus divine
The future, counselling that all is done,—
Naught left for art's sweet touch—but to refine,
For courage—but to face the setting sun.
I hear, yet have no will to falter so.
We seek out matter's alchemy, and tame
Force to our needs, but what shall make us know
Whether the twain are parted, or the same?
The same! then conscious substance, fetterless
The more when most subdued to Will's control,
Free though in bonds, foredestined to progress,—
Ever, and ever still—the soul, the soul:
The unvexed spirit, to whose sure intent
All else is relative. Or large or small,
The Afrit, cloud or being, free or pent,
Enshrouds, impenetrates, and masters all.
No grain of sand too narrow to enfold
The spirit's incarnation; no vast land
And sea, but, readjusted to their mould,
It deems Atlantis scarce a grain of sand.
Time's intervals are ages; planets sleep
In death, or blaze in living light afar;
Thought answers thought; deep calleth unto deep
Alike within the globule and the star.
Ay, even the rock-bound globe, which still doth feign
Itself inanimate, itself shall seem
From yonder void a bead upon the train
Of heaven's warder rayed with beam on beam.
Life, when the harper tunes his shrillest string,
As to low thunder lends a finer ear
Unseen. Niagara's slow vibrating
Is but the treble of the greater sphere,
Whose lightest orchestras such movements play
As mock the forest's moan, the bass profound
Of surges that against deep barriers stay
Their might, in throes which shake the ancient ground.
Will, consciousness, the tenant lord of all,
Self-tenanted, is still the wrinkled wave
Which climbs a wave upon the clambering wall
Beyond, or in the hollow seeks a grave.
We time the ray, we pulsate with the fling
Of ether—feel the sure magnetic thrill
Make answer to each sombre vortex ring
Whirled with the whirling sun that binds us still;
That binds us, bound itself from girth to pole
By some unconquerable deathless force
Akin to this which thinks, acts, feels,—the soul
Of man, forever eddying like its source.
Passion and jest, the laugh and wail of earth,
High thought and speech, the rare considerings
Of beauty that to fairer art gives birth,
The winnowing of poesy's swift wings,—
These—though the hoary century inurn
Our great—no gathering mould of time shall clod:
They bide their hour, they pass but to return
With men, as now, the progeny of God.