The poems of Richard Watson Gilder/In Helena's Garden

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1748404The poems of Richard Watson Gilder — In Helena's Garden1908Richard Watson Gilder






Through the garden sunset-window
Shines the sky of rose;
Deep the melting red, and deeper,
Lovelier it grows.

Musically falls the fountain;
Twilight voices chime;
Visibly upon the cloud-lands
Tread the feet of Time.

Evening winds from down the valley
Stir the waters cool;
Break the dark, empurpled shadows
In the marble pool.

Rich against the high-walled grayness
The crimson lily glows,
And near, O near, one well-loved presence
Dream-like comes and goes.


The gray walls of the garden
Hold many and many a bloom;
A flame of red against the gray
Is lightning in the gloom.

The gray walls of the garden
Hold grassy walks between
Bright beds of yellow blossoms,
Golden against the green.

And in the roof of the arbor
Leaves woven through and through,—
Great grape leaves, making shadows,—
Shine green against the blue.

And, O, in the August weather
What wonders new are seen!
Long beds of azure blossoms
Cool blue against the green.

The gray walls of the garden
Hold paths of pure delight,
And, in the emerald, blooms of pearl
Are white against the night.


The marble pool, like the great sea, hath moods—
Fierce angers, slumbers, deep beatitudes.

In sudden gusts the pool, in lengthened waves,—
As in a mimic tempest,—tosses and raves.

In the still, drowsy, dreaming midday hours
It sleeps and dreams among the dreaming flowers.

'Neath troubled skies the surface of its sleep
Is fretted; how the big drops rush and leap!

Now 't is a mirror where the sky of night
Sees its mysterious face of starry light;

Or where the tragic sunset is reborn,
Or the sweet, virginal mystery of morn.

One little pool holds ocean, brink to brink;
One little heart can hold the world, I think.



What think you of the Table Round
Which the garden's rustic arbor
In pride doth harbor?
And what its weight, how many a pound?
Or shall you reckon that in tons?
For this is of earth's mighty ones:
A mill-stone 't is, that turns no more,
But, on a pier sunk deep in ground,
Like a ship that s come to shore,
Content among its flowery neighbors
It rests forever from its labors.


Now no more 'mid grind and hammer
Are the toiling moments past,
But amid a milder clamor
Stays it fast.
For the Garden Lady here,
When the summer sky is clear,
With her bevy of bright daughters
(Each worth a sonnet)
To the tune of plashing waters
Serves the tea upon it.


And when Maria, and when Molly,
Frances, Alice, Grace, Cecilia,
Clara, Bess, and Pretty Polly,
Lolah and the dark Amelia,
Come with various other ladies,
Certain boys, and grown-ups graver—
Then, be sure, not one afraid is
To let his wit give forth its flavor,
With the fragrant odor blent
Of the Souchong, and the scent
Of the roses and sweet-peas
And other blossoms sweet as these.
Then, indeed, doth joy abound
About the granite table round,
And the stream of laughter flowing
Almost sets the old stone going.


On the sun-dial in the garden
The great sun keeps the time;
A faint, small moving shadow,
And we know the worlds are in rhyme;

And if once that shadow should falter
By the space of a child's eye-lash—
The seas would devour the mountains,
And the stars together crash.


Something missing from the garden?
But all's bright there;
Color in the daytime,
Perfume in the night there.

Something wanting in the garden?
Yet the blossoms
Bring the hum-birds to the sweetness
In their bosoms.

And by day the sunlight golden
On the granite
Glistens, and by night the silver starlight
From some near planet.

Something missing from the garden?
But the mountain
Ceaseless pours a secret streamlet
Filmy from the fountain;

And that streamlet winds blow, wave-like,
Down the flowers,
And, in the mist, faint, flickering rainbows
Flash through mimic showers.

Something wanting in the garden
When all's bright there?
Color in the daytime,
Perfume in the night there?

Then what missing from the garden
Spoils its pleasance?—
Just a breath of something human;
Just one presence.


Three blossoms in a happy garden grow—
Have care, for this one, lo, is white as any snow:
Its name is Peace.

Three flowers—and one, in hue, a delicate gold;
A harsh breath, then its golden leaves shall droop and fold
Its name is Joy.

Three flowers—and one is crimson, rich and strong;
This will, if well entreated, all others outlive long:
Its name is Love.


The garden still is green
And green the trees around—
But the winds are roaring overhead
And branches strew the ground.

And to-day on the garden pool
Floated an autumn leaf:
How rush the seasons, rush the years,
And, O, how life is brief!


One by one the flowers of the garden
To autumn yielded as waned the sun;
So prisoners, called by the cruel Terror,
To death went, one by one.

Roses, and many a delicate blossom,
Down fell their heads, in the breezes keen,
One by one; and the frost of autumn
Was the blade of their guillotine.

And at last an hour when the emerald pathways
Grew from green to a wintry white;
And a new, strange beauty came into the garden
In the full moon's flooding light.

For a radiance struck on the columned fountain
As it shot to the stars in a trembling stream,
And a rainbow, springing above the garden,
Was the dream of a dream in a dream.

And we who loved well that place of flowers
Looked with awe on the wondrous birth,
And knew that the last flower of the garden
Was something not of earth.



Midway the valley, fronting the flusht morn,
The huge beast stretches prone, as by the Nile
The enormous Sphinx; so nature mimics nature,
And man's own art—tho' never such vast shape
By man was fashioned. Thus through ages long
Hath he the tempest and the rain endured,
And the all-rending frost, and the great sun,
And the remorseless winters of the world.

What shall that immemorial rest disturb?
His monstrous head down prest betwixt huge paws
How well he sleeps! Not deeper slumber holds
The dead in the white city far below.
And shall he waken?—Shall the dead awake?



Of a dream I would sing and a river I saw in a dream—
Of souls that the river divided, so wide was the stream,
So wide and so deep that neither the other beheld.
And they gazed on the ocean near, by terror compelled—
On the infinite ocean whither their barks had been hurled
In a tempest that drove from the ultimate, unseen world.
By that ocean they stood in awe, and remembrance, and wonder;
Troubled their hearts with the ceaseless surge and the thunder—
Till in fear they turned, and they gazed on the inland hight,
And the mountains that called by day and beckoned by night,
And, each to the other unknown, by that call was shaken:
O, lost is the soul that the voice of the hight shall not waken,
Nor heavenward climb by the paths high hearts have taken.


Inland the new souls urged, by river and marsh,
Treading with stedfast feet the roadways harsh.
Inland and up through fields of flower or thorn,
Through forests rude, and through desert ways forlorn—
Upward and on by meadows blossoming bright
Or where, under pestilent breath, the earth was blight;
Onward and up—and still by the river's brink
Where, nigh unto death, they lived by the living drink.


And now, behold, they nearer and nearer drew
Till each pilgrim soul the other beheld and knew,
And climbing thus ever higher, they came more nigh,
Above the enfolding mists, 'neath the bending sky—
Till at last at the river's source, near the mountain's crest,
At the selfsame spring they drank, and the waters of rest;
For they followed the paths high hearts have climbed to the sun,
And the souls that the river divided became as one.


We have come nearer, friend!
The thought of each, to each
Shines clearer, dearer, friend!

All doubts have fled away;
Strange deeds and baffling speech
Now are clear as day.

Naught between us, naught
To hurt or separate;
No battles to be fought.

Friends now, in more than name;
Forever friends, our fate—
Tho' never again the same.

We have come nearer, friend!
Would it were not so late,
But all the dearer, friend!

What sorcery, new and strange,
What word, what mystic token,
Has worked the wondrous change?

No word of secret powers,
Nothing sung or spoken,
Only the near, dear hours

Under the starry sky;
Trust and peace unbroken;
Silence, and a sigh.


I dreamed a rose; it bloomed
Beyond compare;
Of all wild blossoms by the wayside
Most rich, most sweet, most rare.

So lovely was the rose
I could but love it,
As, drinking deep its fragrant soul,
I bent above it.

O tenderly its leaves
Outbreathed their beauty;
Humbly to worship at that shrine
Was my dear duty.

Once, when in the twilight hour,
Its spirit drew me—
O wonderful! I was aware
That wild rose knew me.

Knew me, my inmost heart—
And, O above
All joy imagined! lo! my rose
Gave love for love.


O, whither has she fled from out the dawning and the day?
Empty is the dark of her, and twilight silver gray,
For the world that she makes happy now is far and far away.

Strange, because a girl is gone the stars are not so bright,
The sunset sky not fair as once, nor morning after night,
While from the day has past away a dear and lovely light.

Come back, come back, my darling girl, and set the stars aglow;
And make the daylight dear again, and make the blossoms blow;
Come back, come back, my golden girl, never again to go.



When the girls come
To the old house, to the old, old home;
When the girls race through it,
How will they endue it
With light and warmth and fun,
Beyond the touch of the sun.


When the girls run through it,
How the old house will awaken!
Never fear! It will not rue it
When it feels its old bones shaken,
From ancient sill to centuried rafter,
With sweet girl laughter.


When the girls race through it,
How each old ghost in its own old nook,
That it never forsook,
How it will run
When the girls pursue it
With frolic and fun!


Old house! old home! Come, light
The fires again on the dear hearths of old.
All must be bright;
Not a room shall be cold;
And on the great hearth,—where, in the old days,
Beside the fierce blaze
There was room, and to spare, for each grown-up and child,—
High let the fire be piled!


Old house! Old home! You need no wine
To cheer you now, for the joyous ripple
Of girlish laughter is quite enough tipple!
O, what liquor
Like the innocent shine,
The sparkle and flicker,
In the eyes of youth!
And, of a truth,
'T is youth, old house! 't is youth that fills you;
Youth that calls to you; youth that thrills you.


Old house! Old home! O, do not dare
To be sad, tho' aware
Of the golden, and the raven, and the pretty, pretty curls,
Of the little dead girls—
Treasures put away in the old chest in the garret.
Be glad, old house! the new girls have come to share it:
The great, deep hearth, with room and to spare;
The dark garret, and the wide hall, and the quaint, old stair—
And to bring back to earth
The old, sweet mirth.



"When in the morning you wake,"
Said the Song;
"You shall remember me
All the day long,
As the bird remembers the tree,
As the swan remembers the lake.
And when the stars go, one by one,
Like bright souls banished,
Your heart shall echo the Song of the sad Stars vanished.


"When comes the day, with rush and run,
Over the roofs the shadow from the rising sun that falls,—
Over the roofs and down the walls,
Along the roofs and over the brink,—
This shall make you think
Of the Song that sang the Shadow, and sang the Sun.


"And the narrow street,
This have I sung so sweet
That you cannot, even if you would,
Lose the Song; and your feet
Its music shall repeat,
As a bird sings in a wood—
Cheerily, cheerily sings,
Remembering lovely things.


"And the vine on the house where you live,"
Said the Song,
'The vine that I sang in blossom, or wintry bare—
You shall sing to yourself the air
Of the Song of the Vine; it shall follow you everywhere;
Of the vine like a silent, purple cataract pouring down,
Here in the midst of the noise and the dust of the town.
Are you gay? Do you grieve?—
The Song will find you;
Whether you stay or go the Vine will remind you
Of the Song of the Vine, the Song of the House of the Vine—
The Song of Home, and Children, and Love Divine.


"And the Song of the Stars, and the Shadow, and Rising Sun,
And the Song of the Street,
Whose music is in your feet,
And the Song of the Vine, and the House of the Vine—
One poet has sung them all,
And they are but one,"
Said the Song.


Caught in the golden net of the poet's song,
And held there close and long,
How many a marvelous thing!
A humming-bird's invisible wing;
A rose that sent its luring fragrance through night air,
Taken all unaware;
The star of dawn that knew not human eyes
Dared its inviolate secrecies;
A tear shed by an archangel who looked down
On an unpitying town;
A maiden's dream wherefrom she woke
And into secret, silent tremors broke;
And (O, ye wandering, wan and wayward feet,
Beware that music piercing sweet—
That all too ravishing art!)
Caught in the golden net of the poet's song,
(Pray Heaven there come no wrong!)
One little, fluttering heart.


O purer far than ever I!
Be nobler than to choose me:
Flee from me, Sweet; I fain would die
If thou shouldst not refuse me.

And when I'm dead, and thou, too, Sweet,
Because I did refuse thee;
Perhaps our new-born souls may meet
And know, and I not lose thee.


I awoke in the morning not knowing
What it was that had set my heart glowing;
Something had come to me
That was the sum to me
Of all human happiness—crown of life's bliss.
Tho' drowsyhead sleep its image might blot,
I knew it was there, tho' its shape I forgot.
My mind was blue sky with nothing but joy in it;
Not even a dream of the night had employ in it;
No cloud dimmed the blue;
Then I said: "Shall I miss
My nameless, new bliss?"
When sudden it came
Like lightning, like flame;
And, ah, it was this—
It was you!


When the war fleet puts to sea,
And the great guns thunder,
Our hearts leap up in glee
And awe and wonder—
When the war fleet puts to sea.

Let it be peace, not war,
The strong ships carry;
Two coasts that stretch afar
Now meet and marry—
Let it be peace, not war.

And let no ill befall!
Be kind, ye fates!
Stern skies preserve them all
In the stormy straits—
O, let no ill befall.

And if dread war shall loom
In far-off days,
Let the shotted cannon boom
In prayer and praise—
If dreadful war shall loom.

Behind the bellowing guns
That do their part,
Let stand the nation's sons
All pure in heart—
Behind the bellowing guns.

Then not in pride or hate
Let one shot speed;
Be righteous souls elate
To do the deed—
O, not in pride or hate.

And thou, Eternal Power!
Bring swift the day
When Right shall rule the hour,
And Peace alone have sway—
O, high Eternal Power!



A little, loosened leaf of painted paper
Slow quivering down
From a stage Nagasaki cherry-tree
That screens a painted town.

And flitting back and forth in silken robes
A figure slight,
With orient gestures, and fixt orient smile,
And voice of pure delight.

And every note she sang and word she spoke
Was for her writ;
Not nature here, but art and artifice,
And cunning human wit.

Yet when that paper petal trembled down,
Spring thrilled the air;
And when she sang, I knew love's hight and depth
And passion and despair.


Myriads of souls from out the unknown vast
Flash forth and swift return. Tho' something stays,—
Remembered words and deeds,—the look they wore
Were lost forever save for the art we praise—
The art that holds the fleeting spirit fast:
Afield, in household ways, at rest, a-dance;
The sweet, companionable presence; the austere
Demeanor, hiding a rich heart; the glance,
Intense and penetrant, that says a soul is here.
A soul is here, even as in life it lived,
It wantoned, it impassioned, joyed and grieved;
So might an angel through life's doorway peer,
Half drawing back as if in mortal fear;
So might a lost soul linger, leaving here
Remembrance of the horror of its doom:
A living soul, defiant of the tomb.

Great were the masters of the art we praise,
In other lands, in past and splendid days.
What souls the chief Venetian in his art
Makes to the eye apparent, and the heart!
What warriors, princes, women all of grace:
Beauty of body, loveliness of face!
Master of color, he, well-nigh supreme,
Who nobly drew that which before was dream!
Glorious is Spain in the proud souls that breathe
In that most delicate and subtle touch,—
The art miraculous, the not too much,—
Of him whose brows the generations wreathe
With laurel on laurel, as the world grows old,
And all its annals one Velasquez hold.
And by the northern seas his art sublime
That trembles with the tragedies of time—
His art who knew all mysteries of light,
Not less the heart of man; for in his sight
No secret could endure, and on his page
The soul's dark pathos lives from age to age.
They live indeed, whom art has made to live—
How real from the canvas forth they look
And judgment seem on our own selves to give
As we judge them.
Miraculous art, that took
Through all the centuries the tongue of praise,
And worthy all honors, not for the old days
Alone, and painters gone before—no less
For those who dare discipleship confess
And in the footsteps of the mighty tread.
With modern skill the ancient mode they keep;
On the old altar burns the authentic fire;
Priests of the ancient faith, that never sleep;
They, with new masters of the sacred lyre,
And all the sons of genius, still aspire
Purely and greatly; rendering our late time,
Not less than that long gone, imperial, sublime!

Lady, shrink not that you, to-day, we name
In the same breath with the age-conquering fame
Of them most glorious in a mighty line.
Not for the living is it to assign
Rank to the living, in the long roll of art.
But blame us not if here we crown the intent
Not less than the sincere accomplishment.
We only know the art we see and love
Is beautiful, intense, most subtile, rare,
And tho' with something from our New World air
Athrill, yet is it masterful, above
All else, with the old mastery—not old
But fresh forever as the dawn's new gold.
And in your art, that follows down the line
Of the world's noblest,—the most high, divine
Kinship of them who painted the deep soul,—
Glows a clear, individual attribute;
Something whereof the praiser would be mute
Save that he needs must tell the very whole
And in his office utterly faithful be:
Something that means swift vision of the truth;
The flame of life; the flush of endless youth;
A trait compounded all of Poesy;
A tone most exquisite, illuminate
With the keen sense of Beauty which even art
Can lift above itself; a throbbing heart;
An element that sets the noonday beam
Vibrant with tints; that makes the little, great;
And while the artist would another render
Reveals his own bright spirit in radiant splendor.


'T was said: "When roll of drum and battle's roar
Shall cease upon the earth, O, then no more

"The deed, the race, of heroes in the land."
But scarce that word was breathed when one small hand

Lifted victorious o'er a giant wrong
That had its victims crushed through ages long;

Some woman set her pale and quivering face,
Firm as a rock, against a man's disgrace;

A little child suffered in silence lest
His savage pain should wound a mother's breast;

Some quiet scholar flung his gauntlet down
And risked, in Truth's great name, the synod's frown;

A civic hero, in the calm realm of laws,
Did that which suddenly drew a world's applause;

And one to the pest his lithe young body gave
That he a thousand thousand lives might save.



Patriot, and sage, and lover of his kind—
The love he gives a thousandfold returns:
His is the wealth of love a great heart earns
By giving all that heart and soul and mind.


The poets silent and the poets fled?
Not till these two that pluck the lyre are dead!
He of the patriot heart and Milton's line,
With soaring song and melody divine;
And he who makes the old days breathe again,
Yet sings the hour that is, and hearts of living men.


Sweetness and strength, high tragedy and mirth;
And but one Calvé on the singing earth!


Two streams of music beat upon my heart—
That which now is; that which was silent long:
Sacred this temple of a deathless art,
Whose very walls thrill with remembered song.


Lovelier, lovelier this place
Since here she brought her maiden grace;
Dearer far this lonesome wild
Since here she wandered, here she smiled.


How wonderful and sweet
New friends, as if forever known, to greet!
The warm, new, kindred touch; the dear surprise
To find an answer in new dawning eyes.
But when old friends draw nearer—
O dearer, dearer!


I looked from the window with hungry eyes
On the day long longed for, that must be bright:
(That day of days, of the long, long night!)
When, O dear Shadow! by thy divining
I knew that the morn was bright:
I knew by the shadow the sun was shining.


Here was as loyal soul as ever drew
The breath of battle, and the air of home:
He duty followed, lonely and far to roam;
To country, kindred, God, forever true.


Sweet dignity and tenderness and grace,
Devotion, and the power to draw the heart:
This her inheritance, her dower, her art;
All these are radiant in that mother face.


Too soon? But heroes always die too soon!
This, this it is that makes them dear and great.
Grant us, O kindly Heaven, the supreme boon
To give our lives too soon—not die too late!


What tragic loss! but, O, what gain sublime,
What golden memory, life-enduring pride.
What shall it matter, brief or long the time?
Love of a noble soul—a hero's bride.


Gay! as the hot crater's crust all lightning-lit—
But one tread more, and horror of the pit!
Gay! Yes, for a moment, and then weeping sorrow,
With wild remorse to meet the dawning morrow.


There are more poets than the rhyming race;
Souls beautiful of thought, and full of grace;
The spirit of poetry in them breathes and thrives;
They write not poems, but lead lyric lives.


A little longer still in summer suns,
On wintry nights, and where the wild brook runs,
To rest or wander;
A little longer left for human joy;
To win and lose,—man's masterful employ,—
To dream and ponder.

A little longer! But, O, sweeter this
Than any lesser grace or lowlier bliss
In earth's wide blindness:
A little longer left for lifting hearts,
Healing hurt souls, for earth's most heavenly arts—
For love and kindness.



I read the poet's verses by the stream
Where late with him I walked; the twilight gleam
Faded, the page darkened, and from the sky
The day, withdrawing gradual, came to die
Slowly, into a memory and a sigh.


There as I read, the poet's lyric dream
Mixt with the silvery clamor of the stream,
And, tho' the night fell, and I read no more,
Still on and on the mingled measures pour:
"Beauty is one," they murmur o'er and o'er.


When fell the first great sorrow of my life,—
He dying from whom my mortal frame was drawn,—
Into the night I fled, long ere the dawn,
Succor to bring for her, the stricken wife.
Then first I knew the solace of the skies,
And that mysterious mingling of the soul
With the still beauty of the infinite whole;
My heart was melted, and grew strangely wise.
I was a child then, having little lore
Taken from books, or the wide world of men,
But something suddenly through my soul did pour
Beyond all thought, all dream, all hope; since then
Nor Death, nor Life, has been the same to me:
Can grief the spirit kill, once touched by deity?


The winding path
Come let us follow
Along the lane
And down by the hollow;
For I would fain
The way it passes,—
Through the long grasses,
The meadows, the woods,—
Seek and learn it:
What the moods,
What true uses
Lead and turn it,
What abuses
Break it, cloak it,
Twist it, choke it.
Now 't is a span;
But onward still,
Over the hill
It wider grows,
It firmer flows.
The subtle path
Its own thought hath;
It is more wise
Than you or I;
As if with eyes
That peer and try,
It feels its way
Across the day.
What little feet
Hard have packed it!
What great hoofs
Gouged and wracked it!
Rude water-courses
Cut across it,
Rocks emboss it;
A lichened cliff
Its route enforces.
Yet on it goes,
And upward flows
Through the dark pines
In wayward lines;
Past the birches
Skyward it lurches:
One more flight—
And on the hight
At last we stand,
And catch the vision
Of sky and land.


What makes the garden grow
In beauty and delight—
A place to linger in by day or night,
But chiefly when the long and level light
Makes shadows that still glow
With burning blossoms—the heart's home
Wherefrom our charmèd feet reluctant roam.
Not pride, nor envy, nor crude wealth
Can bring the drooping roses health,
Nor lift the sanguine poppies, row on row,
Nor from their bed of green
Make every iris spread it like a queen;
While all along the wall
The jeweled colors call.
O, not from these can come the art
That touches the deep heart,
That makes the small blades shove
Through the soft earth into a pictured balm above;
Not sordid thoughts and low
Can make the garden grow
In beauty and delight,
A place to linger in by day or night—
Not these, not these, but love.


If, one great day, the God I see
Aflame in blade and bush and tree,
In the white dawn and passing sun—
Shall I not joy in that clear sight
And tell in song my strange delight,
Tho' come a day when mist and cloud
Shall the celestial presence shroud?
O, shall I not be bold,
And cry, "Behold!"
Tho' swift the vision darkens and is done?


Music beneath the Stars! remembering him
Who music loved, and who on such a night
Had, through white paths celestial, winged his flight,
Hearing the chanting of the cherubim—
Which even our ears seem now to apprehend,
Rising and falling in waves of splendid sound
That bear our grieving spirits from the ground
And with eternal things lift them and blend.
Now Bach's great Aria charms the starlit dark;
Now soars the Largo, high angelical,
Soothing all mortal sorrow on that breath;
And now, O sweet and sovereign strain! now hark
Of mighty Beethoven the rise and fall.
Such music 'neath the stars abolished death.



O birds of Westland, singing on
As blithely as of yore!
Do ye not know how deep he sleeps
Behind yon closèd door?

Do ye not know that he who hailed
Your music, dawn by dawn,
Hath, since he harkened yesterday,
From hearing been withdrawn?

O happy birds! I think ye know
He loved your joyful song,
And therefore in the growing light
Ye carol loud and long.

O birds! ye know he would not wish
To hush that singing sweet,
Tho' since he heard your music last
That great heart ceased to beat.


O veil of stars! O dread magnificence!
Not unto man, O, not to man is given
The power to grasp with human sight and sense
Him, clothed upon by all the stars of heaven
And thou, O infinite littleness! not more
Doth infinite distance and immensity
That Presence veil, whom fain we would adore,
If mortals might the immortal dimly see.
Atoms and stars alike the Eternal hide,
Nor know we if in light or darkness dwells
The Ever Living! No voice from out the wide
Intense of starlight the great secret tells;
No word or sign in earth or skies above,
Save one—the godhead in the eyes of love.

  1. Address, presenting Cecilia Beaux to the Provost of The University of Pennsylvania for the degree of LL. D., February 22, 1908.