Published November 1917
TO EDMUND GOSSE
THE POETRY BOOKSHOP 35 DEVONSHIRE ST. THEOBALDS RD. LONDON W.C.1
This third book of 'Georgian Poetry' carries to the end of a seventh year the presentation of chosen examples from the work of contemporary poets belonging to the younger generation. Of the eighteen writers included, nine appear in the series for the first time. The representation of the older inhabitants has in most cases been restricted in order to allow full space for the new-comers; and the alphabetical order of the names has been reversed, so as to bring more of these into prominence than would otherwise have been done.
My thanks for permission to print the poems are due to Messrs. Chatto & Windus, Constable, Fifield, Heinemann, Macmillan, Elkin Mathews, Martin Secker, and Sidgwick & Jackson, and to the Editors of the 'Nation', the 'New Statesman', and 'To-Day'.
Romance (from 'The Hunter') Ecstasy " " Magic " " The Hunter " " The Sky-sent Death " " The Caves of Auvergne
The Fifteen Acres (from 'The Adventures of Seumas Beg') Check " " " Westland Row " " " The Turn of the Road " " A Visit from Abroad " "
J. C. SQUIRE
A House (from 'The Lily of Malud ') To a Bull-dog " " " The Lily of Malud " " "
A Letter Home (from 'The Old Huntsman') The Kiss " " " The Dragon and the Undying " To Victory " 'They' " 'In the Pink' " Haunted " The Death-Bed "
'Ah, Koelue ...'
To—— (from 'Ardours and Endurances') The Assault " " " Fulfilment " " " The Philosopher's Oration " The Naiads' Music " " The Prophetic Bard's Oration " The Tower "
Two Poems (from 'Strange Meetings') Every Thing " " " Solitude " " " Week-end " " " The Bird at Dawn " "
Seven Poems (from 'Lollingdon Downs')
The Gipsy Girl (from 'Poems') The Bells of Heaven " Babylon "
It's a Queer Time (from 'Over the Brazier') David and Goliath (from 'Fairies and Fusiliers') A Pinch of Salt " " Star Talk (from 'Over the Brazier') In the Wilderness " " The Boy in Church (from 'Fairies and Fusiliers') The Lady Visitor " " " Not Dead " " "
WILFRID WILSON GIBSON
Rupert Brooke (from 'Friends') Tenants " " For G. " " Sea-Change " " Battle (from 'Battle'): I. The Return II. The Dancers III. Hit Lament (from 'Whin')
Music Comes (from 'Stone Trees') November Skies " " " Discovery " " " 'It was the Lovely Moon' " Stone Trees " The Pigeons (published in To-Day') Happy is England Now (from 'Stone Trees')
May Garden (from 'Tides') The Midlands " " The Cotswold Farmers " Reciprocity " Birthright (from 'Olton Pools') Olton Pools " " "
WALTER DE LA MARE
The Scribe (from 'Poems') The Remonstrance " The Ghost " The Fool rings his Bells "
WILLIAM H. DAVIES
The White Cascade (from 'Child Lovers') Easter Raptures Cowslips and Larks
Atlantis (from 'An Annual of New Poetry, 1917') New Year's Eve, 1913 " " In Memoriam, A. M. W. " "
In Memoriam, A. H.
* * * * *
When I was but thirteen or so I went into a golden land, Chimborazo, Cotopaxi Took me by the hand.
My father died, my brother too, They passed like fleeting dreams, I stood where Popocatapetl In the sunlight gleams.
I dimly heard the master's voice And boys far-off at play, Chimborazo, Cotopaxi Had stolen me away.
I walked in a great golden dream To and fro from school— Shining Popocatapetl The dusty streets did rule.
I walked home with a gold dark boy And never a word I'd say, Chimborazo, Cotopaxi Had taken my speech away:
I gazed entranced upon his face Fairer than any flower— O shining Popocatapetl It was thy magic hour:
The houses, people, traffic seemed Thin fading dreams by day, Chimborazo, Cotopaxi They had stolen my soul away!
I saw a frieze on whitest marble drawn Of boys who sought for shells along the shore, Their white feet shedding pallor in the sea, The shallow sea, the spring-time sea of green That faintly creamed against the cold, smooth pebbles.
The air was thin, their limbs were delicate, The wind had graven their small eager hands To feel the forests and the dark nights of Asia Behind the purple bloom of the horizon, Where sails would float and slowly melt away.
Their naked, pure, and grave, unbroken silence Filled the soft air as gleaming, limpid water Fills a spring sky those days when rain is lying In shattered bright pools on the wind-dried roads, And their sweet bodies were wind-purified.
One held a shell unto his shell-like ear And there was music carven in his face, His eyes half-closed, his lips just breaking open To catch the lulling, mazy, coralline roar Of numberless caverns filled with singing seas.
And all of them were hearkening as to singing Of far-off voices thin and delicate, Voices too fine for any mortal wind To blow into the whorls of mortal ears— And yet those sounds flowed from their grave, sweet faces.
And as I looked I heard that delicate music, And I became as grave, as calm, as still As those carved boys. I stood upon that shore, I felt the cool sea dream around my feet, My eyes were staring at the far horizon:
And the wind came and purified my limbs, And the stars came and set within my eyes, And snowy clouds rested upon my shoulders, And the blue sky shimmered deep within me, And I sang like a carven pipe of music.
I love a still conservatory That's full of giant, breathless palms, Azaleas, clematis and vines, Whose quietness great Trees becalms Filling the air with foliage, A curved and dreamy statuary.
I like to hear a cold, pure rill Of water trickling low, afar With sudden little jerks and purls Into a tank or stoneware jar, The song of a tiny sleeping bird Held like a shadow in its trill.
I love the mossy quietness That grows upon the great stone flags, The dark tree-ferns, the staghorn ferns, The prehistoric, antlered stags That carven stand and stare among The silent, ferny wilderness.
And are they birds or souls that flit Among the trees so silently, And are they fish or ghosts that haunt The still pools of the rockery!— For I am but a sculptured rock As in that magic place I sit.
Still as a great jewel is the air With boughs and leaves smooth-carved in it, And rocks and trees and giant ferns, And blooms with inner radiance lit, And naked water like a nymph That dances tireless slim and bare.
I watch a white Nyanza float Upon a green, untroubled pool, A fairyland Ophelia, she Has cast herself in water cool, And lies while fairy cymbals ring Drowned in her fairy castle moat.
The goldfish sing a winding song Below her pale and waxen face, The water-nymph is dancing by Lifting smooth arms with mournful grace, A stainless white dream she floats on While fairies beat a fairy gong.
Silent the Cattleyas blaze And thin red orchid shapes of Death Peer savagely with twisted lips Sucking an eerie, phantom breath With that bright, spotted, fever'd lust That watches lonely travellers craze.
Gigantic, mauve and hairy leaves Hang like obliterated faces Full of dim unattained expression Such as haunts virgin forest places When Silence leaps among the trees And the echoing heart deceives.
"But there was one land he dared not enter."
Beyond the blue, the purple seas, Beyond the thin horizon's line, Beyond Antilla, Hebrides, Jamaica, Cuba, Caribbees, There lies the land of Yucatan.
The land, the land of Yucatan, The low coast breaking into foam, The dim hills where my thoughts shall roam The forests of my boyhood's home, The splendid dream of Yucatan!
I met thee first long, long ago Turning a printed page, and I Stared at a world I did not know And felt my blood like fire flow At that strange name of Yucatan.
O those sweet, far-off Austral days When life had a diviner glow, When hot Suns whipped my blood to know Things all unseen, then I could go Into thy heart O Yucatan!
I have forgotten what I saw, I have forgotten what I knew, And many lands I've set sail for To find that marvellous spell of yore, Never to set foot on thy shore O haunting land of Yucatan!
But sailing I have passed thee by, And leaning on the white ship's rail Watched thy dim hills till mystery Wrapped thy far stillness close to me And I have breathed ''tis Yucatan!
''Tis Yucatan, 'tis Yucatan!' The ship is sailing far away, The coast recedes, the dim hills fade, A bubble-winding track we've made, And thou'rt a Dream O Yucatan!
THE SKY-SENT DEATH
"A German aeroplane flew over Greek territory dropping a bomb which killed a shepherd."
'Sitting on a stone a Shepherd, Stone and Shepherd sleeping, Under the high blue Attic sky; Along the green monotony Grey sheep creeping, creeping'.
Deep down on the hill and valley, At the bottom of the sunshine, Like great Ships in clearest water, Water holding anchored Shadows, Water without wave or ripple, Sunshine deep and clear and heavy, Sunshine like a booming bell Made of purest golden metal, White Ships heavy in the sky Sleep with anchored shadow.
Pipe a song in that still air And the song would be of crystal Snapped in silence, or a bronze vase Smooth and graceful, curved and shining. Tell an old tale or a history; It would seem a slow Procession Full of gestures; limbs and torso White and rounded in the sunlight.
'Sitting on a stone a Shepherd, Stone and Shepherd sleeping, Like a fragment of old marble Dug up from the hillside shadow'.
In the sunshine deep and soundless Came a faint metallic humming; In the sunshine clear and heavy Came a speck, a speck of shadow— Shepherd lift your head and listen, Listen to that humming Shadow!
'Sitting on a stone the Shepherd, Stone and Shepherd sleeping In a sleep dreamless as water, Water in a white glass beaker, Clear, pellucid, without shadow; Underneath a sky-blue crystal Sees his grey sheep creeping'.
In the sunshine clear and heavy Shadow-fled a dark hand downward: In the sunshine deep and soundless Burst a star-dropt thing of thunder— Smoked the burnt blue air's torn veiling Drooping softly round the hillside.
Boomed the silence in returning To the crater in the hillside, To the red earth fresh and bleeding, To the mangled heap remaining: Far away that humming Shadow Vanished in the azure distance.
'Sitting on a stone no Shepherd, Stone and Shepherd sleeping, But across the hill and valley Grey sheep creeping, creeping, Standing carven on the sky-line, Scattering in the open distance, Free, in no man's keeping'.
THE CAVES OF AUVERGNE
He carved the red deer and the bull Upon the smooth cave rock, Returned from war with belly full, And scarred with many a knock, He carved the red deer and the bull Upon the smooth cave rock.
The stars flew by the cave's wide door, The clouds wild trumpets blew, Trees rose in wild dreams from the floor, Flowers with dream faces grew Up to the sky, and softly hung Golden and white and blue.
The woman ground her heap of corn, Her heart a guarded fire; The wind played in his trembling soul Like a hand upon a lyre, The wind drew faintly on the stone Symbols of his desire:
The red deer of the forest dark, Whose antlers cut the sky, That vanishes into the mirk And like a dream flits by, And by an arrow slain at last Is but the wind's dark body.
The bull that stands in marshy lakes As motionless and still As a dark rock jutting from a plain Without a tree or hill, The bull that is the sign of life, Its sombre, phallic will.
And from the dead, white eyes of them The wind springs up anew, It blows upon the trembling heart, And bull and deer renew Their flitting life in the dim past When that dead Hunter drew.
I sit beside him in the night, And, fingering his red stone, I chase through endless forests dark Seeking that thing unknown, That which is not red deer or bull, But which by them was shown:
By those stiff shapes in which he drew His soul's exalted cry, When flying down the forest dark He slew and knew not why, When he was filled with song, and strength Flowed to him from the sky.
The wind blows from red deer and bull, The clouds wild trumpets blare, Trees rise in wild dreams from the earth, Flowers with dream faces stare, 'O Hunter, your own shadow stands Within your forest lair!'
* * * * *
THE FIFTEEN ACRES
I cling and swing On a branch, or sing Through the cool, clear hush of Morning, O: Or fling my wing On the air, and bring To sleepier birds a warning, O: That the night's in flight, And the sun's in sight, And the dew is the grass adorning, O: And the green leaves swing As I sing, sing, sing, Up by the river, Down the dell, To the little wee nest, Where the big tree fell, So early in the morning, O.
I flit and twit In the sun for a bit When his light so bright is shining, O: Or sit and fit My plumes, or knit Straw plaits for the nest's nice lining, O: And she with glee Shows unto me Underneath her wings reclining, O: And I sing that Peg Has an egg, egg, egg, Up by the oat-field, Round the mill, Past the meadow, Down the hill, So early in the morning, O.
I stoop and swoop On the air, or loop Through the trees, and then go soaring, O: To group with a troop On the gusty poop While the wind behind is roaring, O: I skim and swim By a cloud's red rim And up to the azure flooring, O: And my wide wings drip As I slip, slip, slip Down through the rain-drops, Back where Peg Broods in the nest On the little white egg, So early in the morning, O.
The night was creeping on the ground; She crept and did not make a sound Until she reached the tree, and then She covered it, and stole again Along the grass beside the wall.
I heard the rustle of her shawl As she threw blackness everywhere Upon the sky and ground and air, And in the room where I was hid: But no matter what she did To everything that was without, She could not put my candle out.
So I stared at the night, and she Stared back solemnly at me.
Every Sunday there's a throng Of pretty girls, who trot along In a pious, breathless state (They are nearly always late) To the Chapel, where they pray For the sins of Saturday.
They have frocks of white and blue, Yellow sashes they have too, And red ribbons show each head Tenderly is ringleted; And the bell rings loud, and the Railway whistles urgently.
After Chapel they will go, Walking delicately slow, Telling still how Father John Is so good to look upon, And such other grave affairs As they thought of during prayers.
THE TURN OF THE ROAD
I was playing with my hoop along the road Just where the bushes are, when, suddenly, There came a shout,—I ran away and stowed Myself beneath a bush, and watched to see What made the noise, and then, around the bend, I saw a woman running. She was old And wrinkle-faced, and had big teeth.—The end Of her red shawl caught on a bush and rolled Right off her, and her hair fell down.—Her face Was awful white, and both her eyes looked sick, And she was talking queer. 'O God of Grace!' Said she, 'where is the child?' and flew back quick The way she came, and screamed, and shook her hands; ... Maybe she was a witch from foreign lands.
A VISIT FROM ABROAD
A speck went blowing up against the sky As little as a leaf: then it drew near And broadened.—'It's a bird,' said I, And fetched my bow and arrows. It was queer! It grew from up a speck into a blot, And squattered past a cloud; then it flew down All crumply, and waggled such a lot I thought the thing would fall.—It was a brown Old carpet where a man was sitting snug Who, when he reached the ground, began to sew A big hole in the middle of the rug, And kept on peeping everywhere to know Who might be coming—then he gave a twist And flew away.... I fired at him but missed.
* * * * *
Now very quietly, and rather mournfully, In clouds of hyacinth the sun retires, And all the stubble-fields that were so warm to him Keep but in memory their borrowed fires.
And I, the traveller, break, still unsatisfied, From that faint exquisite celestial strand, And turn and see again the only dwelling-place In this wide wilderness of darkening land.
The house, that house, O now what change has come to it. Its crude red-brick facade, its roof of slate; What imperceptible swift hand has given it A new, a wonderful, a queenly state?
No hand has altered it, that parallelogram, So inharmonious, so ill-arranged; That hard blue roof in shape and colour's what it was; No, it is not that any line has changed.
Only that loneliness is now accentuate And, as the dusk unveils the heaven's deep cave, This small world's feebleness fills me with awe again, And all man's energies seem very brave.
And this mean edifice, which some dull architect Built for an ignorant earth-turning hind, Takes on the quality of that magnificent Unshakable dauntlessness of human kind.
Darkness and stars will come, and long the night will be, Yet imperturbable that house will rest, Avoiding gallantly the stars' chill scrutiny, Ignoring secrets in the midnight's breast.
Thunders may shudder it, and winds demoniac May howl their menaces, and hail descend; Yet it will bear with them, serenely, steadfastly, Not even scornfully, and wait the end.
And all a universe of nameless messengers From unknown distances may whisper fear, And it will imitate immortal permanence, And stare and stare ahead and scarcely hear.
It stood there yesterday; it will to-morrow, too, When there is none to watch, no alien eyes To watch its ugliness assume a majesty From this great solitude of evening skies.
So lone, so very small, with worlds and worlds around, While life remains to it prepared to outface Whatever awful unconjectured mysteries May hide and wait for it in time and space.
TO A BULL-DOG
(W. H. S., Capt. [Acting Major] R. F. A.; killed, April 12, 1917)
We shan't see Willy any more, Mamie, He won't be coming any more: He came back once and again and again, But he won't get leave any more.
We looked from the window and there was his cab, And we ran downstairs like a streak, And he said, 'Hullo, you bad dog,' and you crouched to the floor, Paralysed to hear him speak,
And then let fly at his face and his chest Till I had to hold you down, While he took off his cap and his gloves and his coat, And his bag and his thonged Sam Browne.
We went upstairs to the studio, The three of us, just as of old, And you lay down and I sat and talked to him As round the room he strolled.
Here in the room where, years ago Before the old life stopped, He worked all day with his slippers and his pipe, He would pick up the threads he'd dropped,
Fondling all the drawings he had left behind, Glad to find them all still the same, And opening the cupboards to look at his belongings ... Every time he came.
But now I know what a dog doesn't know, Though you'll thrust your head on my knee, And try to draw me from the absent-mindedness That you find so dull in me.
And all your life you will never know What I wouldn't tell you even if I could, That the last time we waved him away Willy went for good.
But sometimes as you lie on the hearthrug Sleeping in the warmth of the stove, Even through your muddled old canine brain Shapes from the past may rove.
You'll scarcely remember, even in a dream, How we brought home a silly little pup, With a big square head and little crooked legs That could scarcely bear him up,
But your tail will tap at the memory Of a man whose friend you were, Who was always kind though he called you a naughty dog When he found you on his chair;
Who'd make you face a reproving finger And solemnly lecture you Till your head hung downwards and you looked very sheepish: And you'll dream of your triumphs too,
Of summer evening chases in the garden When you dodged us all about with a bone: We were three boys, and you were the cleverest, But now we're two alone.
When summer comes again, And the long sunsets fade, We shall have to go on playing the feeble game for two That since the war we've played.
And though you run expectant as you always do To the uniforms we meet, You'll never find Willy among all the soldiers In even the longest street,
Nor in any crowd; yet, strange and bitter thought, Even now were the old words said, If I tried the old trick and said 'Where's Willy?' You would quiver and lift your head,
And your brown eyes would look to ask if I was serious, And wait for the word to spring. Sleep undisturbed: I shan't say 'that' again, You innocent old thing.
I must sit, not speaking, on the sofa, While you lie asleep on the floor; For he's suffered a thing that dogs couldn't dream of, And he won't be coming here any more.
THE LILY OF MALUD
The lily of Malud is born in secret mud. It is breathed like a word in a little dark ravine Where no bird was ever heard and no beast was ever seen, And the leaves are never stirred by the panther's velvet sheen.
It blooms once a year in summer moonlight, In a valley of dark fear full of pale moonlight: It blooms once a year, and dies in a night, And its petals disappear with the dawn's first light; And when that night has come, black small-breasted maids, With ecstatic terror dumb, steal fawn-like through the shades To watch, hour by hour, the unfolding of the flower.
When the world is full of night, and the moon reigns alone And drowns in silver light the known and the unknown, When each hut is a mound, half blue-silver and half black, And casts upon the ground the hard shadow of its back, When the winds are out of hearing and the tree-tops never shake, When the grass in the clearing is silent but awake 'Neath a moon-paven sky: all the village is asleep And the babes that nightly cry dream deep:
From the doors the maidens creep, Tiptoe over dreaming curs, soft, so soft, that not one stirs, And stand curved and a-quiver, like bathers by a river, Looking at the forest wall, groups of slender naked girls, Whose black bodies shine like pearls where the moonbeams fall.
They have waked, they knew not why, at a summons from the night, They have stolen fearfully from the dark to the light, Stepping over sleeping men, who have moved and slept again: And they know not why they go to the forest, but they know, As their moth-feet pass to the shore of the grass And the forest's dreadful brink, that their tender spirits shrink: They would flee, but cannot turn, for their eyelids burn With still frenzy, and each maid, ere she leaves the moonlit space, If she sees another's face is thrilled and afraid.
Now like little phantom fawns they thread the outer lawns Where the boles of giant trees stand about in twos and threes, Till the forest grows more dense and the darkness more intense, And they only sometimes see in a lone moon-ray A dead and spongy trunk in the earth half-sunk, Or the roots of a tree with fungus grey, Or a drift of muddy leaves, or a banded snake that heaves.
And the towering unseen roof grows more intricate, and soon It is featureless and proof to the lost forgotten moon. But they could not look above as with blind-drawn feet they move Onwards on the scarce-felt path, with quick and desperate breath, For their circling fingers dread to caress some slimy head, Or to touch the icy shape of a hunched and hairy ape, And at every step they fear in their very midst to hear A lion's rending roar or a tiger's snore.... And when things swish or fall, they shiver but dare not call.
O what is it leads the way that they do not stray? What unimagined arm keeps their bodies from harm? What presence concealed lifts their little feet that yield Over dry ground and wet till their straining eyes are met With a thinning of the darkness?
And the foremost faintly cries in awed surprise: And they one by one emerge from the gloom to the verge Of a small sunken vale full of moonlight pale. And they hang along the bank, clinging to the branches dank, A shadowy festoon out of sight of the moon; And they see in front of them, rising from the mud, A single straight stem and a single pallid bud In that little lake of light from the moon's calm height.
A stem, a ghostly bud, on the moon-swept mud That shimmers like a pond; and over there beyond The guardian forest high, menacing and strange, Invades the empty sky with its wild black range.
And they watch hour by hour that small lonely flower In that deep forest place that hunter never found.
It shines without sound, as a star in space.
And the silence all around that solitary place Is like silence in a dream; till a sudden flashing gleam Down their dark faces flies; and their lips fall apart And their glimmering great eyes with excitement dart And their fingers, clutching the branches they were touching, Shake and arouse hissing leaves on the boughs.
And they whisper aswoon: Did it move in the moon?
O it moved as it grew! It is moving, opening, with calm and gradual will And their bodies where they cling are shadowed and still, And with marvel they mark that the mud now is dark, For the unfolding flower, like a goddess in her power, Challenges the moon with a light of her own, That lovelily grows as the petals unclose, Wider, more wide with an awful inward pride Till the heart of it breaks, and stilled is their breath, For the radiance it makes is as wonderful as death.
The morning's crimson stain tinges their ashen brows As they part the last boughs and slowly step again On to the village grass, and chill and languid pass Into the huts to sleep. Brief slumber, yet so deep That, when they wake to day, darkness and splendour seem Broken and far-away, a faint miraculous dream; And when those maidens rise they are as they ever were Save only for a rare shade of trouble in their eyes. And the surly thick-lipped men, as they sit about their huts Making drums out of guts, grunting gruffly now and then, Carving sticks of ivory, stretching shields of wrinkled skin, Smoothing sinister and thin squatting gods of ebony, Chip and grunt and do not see. But each mother, silently, Longer than her wont stays shut in the dimness of her hut, For she feels a brooding cloud of memory in the air, A lingering thing there that makes her sit bowed With hollow shining eyes, as the night-fire dies, And stare softly at the ember, and try to remember, Something sorrowful and far, something sweet and vaguely seen Like an early evening star when the sky is pale green: A quiet silver tower that climbed in an hour, Or a ghost like a flower, or a flower like a queen: Something holy in the past that came and did not last.... But she knows not what it was.
* * * * *
A LETTER HOME
('To Robert Graves')
Here I'm sitting in the gloom Of my quiet attic room. France goes rolling all around, Fledged with forest May has crowned. And I puff my pipe, calm-hearted, Thinking how the fighting started, Wondering when we'll ever end it, Back to Hell with Kaiser send it, Gag the noise, pack up and go, Clockwork soldiers in a row. I've got better things to do Than to waste my time on you.
Robert, when I drowse to-night, Skirting lawns of sleep to chase Shifting dreams in mazy light, Somewhere then I'll see your face Turning back to bid me follow Where I wag my arms and hollo, Over hedges hasting after Crooked smile and baffling laughter, Running tireless, floating, leaping, Down your web-hung woods and valleys, Garden glooms and hornbeam alleys, Where the glowworm stars are peeping, Till I find you, quiet as stone On a hill-top all alone, Staring outward, gravely pondering Jumbled leagues of hillock-wandering.
You and I have walked together In the starving winter weather. We've been glad because we knew Time's too short and friends are few. We've been sad because we missed One whose yellow head was kissed By the gods, who thought about him Till they couldn't do without him. Now he's here again; I've seen Soldier David dressed in green, Standing in a wood that swings To the madrigal he sings. He's come back, all mirth and glory, Like the prince in a fairy story. Winter called him far away; Blossoms bring him home with May.
Well, I know you'll swear it's true That you found him decked in blue Striding up through morning-land With a cloud on either hand. Out in Wales, you'll say, he marches Arm-in-arm with oaks and larches; Hides all night in hilly nooks, Laughs at dawn in tumbling brooks. Yet, it's certain, here he teaches Outpost-schemes to groups of beeches. And I'm sure, as here I stand, That he shines through every land, That he sings in every place Where we're thinking of his face.
Robert, there's a war in France; Everywhere men bang and blunder, Sweat and swear and worship Chance, Creep and blink through cannon thunder. Rifles crack and bullets flick, Sing and hum like hornet-swarms. Bones are smashed and buried quick. Yet, through stunning battle storms, All the while I watch the spark Lit to guide me; for I know Dreams will triumph, though the dark Scowls above me where I go. You can hear me; you can mingle Radiant folly with my jingle. War's a joke for me and you While we know such dreams are true!
To these I turn, in these I trust; Brother Lead and Sister Steel. To his blind power I make appeal; I guard her beauty clean from rust.
He spins and burns and loves the air, And splits a skull to win my praise; But up the nobly marching days She glitters naked, cold and fair.
Sweet Sister, grant your soldier this; That in good fury he may feel The body where he sets his heel Quail from your downward darting kiss.
THE DRAGON AND THE UNDYING
All night the flares go up; the Dragon sings And beats upon the dark with furious wings; And, stung to rage by his own darting fires, Reaches with grappling coils from town to town; He lusts to break the loveliness of spires, And hurls their martyred music toppling down.
Yet, though the slain are homeless as the breeze, Vocal are they, like storm-bewilder'd seas. Their faces are the fair, unshrouded night, And planets are their eyes, their ageless dreams. Tenderly stooping earthward from their height, They wander in the dusk with chanting streams; And they are dawn-lit trees, with arms up-flung, To hail the burning heavens they left unsung.
Return to greet me, colours that were my joy, Not in the woeful crimson of men slain, But shining as a garden; come with the streaming Banners of dawn and sundown after rain.
I want to fill my gaze with blue and silver, Radiance through living roses, spires of green Rising in young-limbed copse and lovely wood, Where the hueless wind passes and cries unseen.
I am not sad; only I long for lustre,— Tired of the greys and browns and the leafless ash. I would have hours that move like a glitter of dancers Far from the angry guns that boom and flash.
Return, musical, gay with blossom and fleetness, Days when my sight shall be clear and my heart rejoice; Come from the sea with breadth of approaching brightness, When the blithe wind laughs on the hills with up-lifted voice.
The Bishop tells us: 'When the boys come back They will not be the same; for they'll have fought In a just cause: they lead the last attack On Anti-Christ; their comrades' blood has bought New right to breed an honourable race. They have challenged Death and dared him face to face.'
'We're none of us the same!' the boys reply. For George lost both his legs; and Bill's stone blind; Poor Jim's shot through the lungs and like to die; And Bert's gone syphilitic; you'll not find A chap who's served that hasn't found some change.' And the Bishop said: 'The ways of God are strange!'
'IN THE PINK'
So Davies wrote: 'This leaves me in the pink.' Then scrawled his name: 'Your loving sweet-heart, Willie' With crosses for a hug. He'd had a drink Of rum and tea; and, though the barn was chilly, For once his blood ran warm; he had pay to spend. Winter was passing; soon the year would mend.
He couldn't sleep that night. Stiff in the dark He groaned and thought of Sundays at the farm, When he'd go out as cheerful as a lark In his best suit to wander arm-in-arm With brown-eyed Gwen, and whisper in her ear The simple, silly things she liked to hear.
And then he thought: to-morrow night we trudge Up to the trenches, and my boots are rotten. Five miles of stodgy clay and freezing sludge, And everything but wretchedness forgotten. To-night he's in the pink; but soon he'll die. And still the war goes on; he don't know why.
Evening was in the wood, louring with storm. A time of drought had sucked the weedy pool And baked the channels; birds had done with song. Thirst was a dream of fountains in the moon, Or willow-music blown across the water Leisurely sliding on by weir and mill.
Uneasy was the man who wandered, brooding, His face a little whiter than the dusk. A drone of sultry wings flicker'd in his head.
The end of sunset burning thro' the boughs Died in a smear of red; exhausted hours Cumber'd, and ugly sorrows hemmed him in.
He thought: 'Somewhere there's thunder,' as he strove To shake off dread; he dared not look behind him, But stood, the sweat of horror on his face.
He blundered down a path, trampling on thistles, In sudden race to leave the ghostly trees. And: 'Soon I'll be in open fields,' he thought, And half remembered starlight on the meadows, Scent of mown grass and voices of tired men, Fading along the field-paths; home and sleep And cool-swept upland spaces, whispering leaves, And far off the long churring night-jar's note.
But something in the wood, trying to daunt him, Led him confused in circles through the brake. He was forgetting his old wretched folly, And freedom was his need; his throat was choking; Barbed brambles gripped and clawed him round his legs, And he floundered over snags and hidden stumps. Mumbling: 'I will get out! I must get out!' Butting and thrusting up the baffling gloom, Pausing to listen in a space 'twixt thorns, He peers around with boding, frantic eyes. An evil creature in the twilight looping Flapped blindly in his face. Beating it off, He screeched in terror, and straightway something clambered Heavily from an oak, and dropped, bent double, To shamble at him zigzag, squat and bestial.
Headlong he charges down the wood, and falls With roaring brain—agony—the snapt spark— And blots of green and purple in his eyes. Then the slow fingers groping on his neck, And at his heart the strangling clasp of death.
He drowsed and was aware of silence heaped Round him, unshaken as the steadfast walls; Aqueous like floating rays of amber light, Soaring and quivering in the wings of sleep,— Silence and safety; and his mortal shore Lipped by the inward, moonless waves of death.
Some one was holding water to his mouth. He swallowed, unresisting; moaned and dropped Through crimson gloom to darkness; and forgot The opiate throb and ache that was his wound. Water—calm, sliding green above the weir; Water—a sky-lit alley for his boat, Bird-voiced, and bordered with reflected flowers And shaken hues of summer: drifting down, He dipped contented oars, and sighed, and slept.
Night, with a gust of wind, was in the ward, Blowing the curtain to a glimmering curve. Night. He was blind; he could not see the stars Glinting among the wraiths of wandering cloud; Queer blots of colour, purple, scarlet, green, Flickered and faded in his drowning eyes.
Rain; he could hear it rustling through the dark; Fragrance and passionless music woven as one; Warm rain on drooping roses; pattering showers That soak the woods; not the harsh rain that sweeps Behind the thunder, but a trickling peace Gently and slowly washing life away.
* * * * *
He stirred, shifting his body; then the pain Leaped like a prowling beast, and gripped and tore His groping dreams with grinding claws and fangs. But some one was beside him; soon he lay Shuddering because that evil thing had passed. And Death, who'd stepped toward him, paused and stared.
Light many lamps and gather round his bed. Lend him your eyes, warm blood, and will to live. Speak to him; rouse him; you may save him yet. He's young; he hated war; how should he die When cruel old campaigners win safe through?
But Death replied: 'I choose him.' So he went, And there was silence in the summer night; Silence and safety; and the veils of sleep. Then, far away, the thudding of the guns.
* * * * *
'AH, KOELUE ...'
Ah, Koelue! Had you embalmed your beauty, so It could not backward go, Or change in any way, What were the use, if on my eyes The embalming spices were not laid To keep us fixed, Two amorous sculptures passioned endlessly? What were the use, if my sight grew, And its far branches were cloud-hung, You small at the roots, like grass, While the new lips my spirit would kiss Were not red lips of flesh, But the huge kiss of power? Where yesterday soft hair through my fingers fell, A shaggy mane would entwine, And no slim form work fire to my thighs, But human Life's inarticulate mass Throb the pulse of a thing Whose mountain flanks awry Beg my mastery—mine! Ah! I will ride the dizzy beast of the world My road—my way!
* * * * *
Asleep within the deadest hour of night And turning with the earth, I was aware How suddenly the eastern curve was bright, As when the sun arises from his lair. But not the sun arose: it was thy hair Shaken up heaven in tossing leagues of light.
Since then I know that neither night nor day May I escape thee, O my heavenly hell! Awake, in dreams, thou springest to waylay; And should I dare to die, I know full well Whose voice would mock me in the mourning bell, Whose face would greet me in hell's fiery way.
The beating of the guns grows louder. 'Not long, boys, now'. My heart burns whiter, fearfuller, prouder. Hurricanes grow As guns redouble their fire. Through the shaken periscope peeping, I glimpse their wire: Black earth, fountains of earth rise, leaping, Spouting like shocks of meeting waves, Death's fountains are playing, Shells like shrieking birds rush over; Crash and din rises higher. A stream of lead raves Over us from the left ... (we safe under cover!) Crash! Reverberation! Crash! Acrid smoke billowing. Flash upon flash. Black smoke drifting. The German line Vanishes in confusion, smoke. Cries, and cry Of our men, 'Gah, yer swine! Ye're for it', die In a hurricane of shell.
One cry: 'We're comin' soon! look out!' There is opened hell Over there; fragments fly, Rifles and bits of men whirled at the sky: Dust, smoke, thunder! A sudden bout Of machine guns chattering ... And redoubled battering, As if in fury at their daring!...
No good staring.
Time soon now ... home ... house on a sunny hill ... Gone like a flickered page: Time soon now ... zero ... will engage....
A sudden thrill— 'Fix bayonets!' Gods! we have our fill Of fear, hysteria, exultation, rage, Rage to kill.
My heart burns hot, whiter and whiter, Contracts tighter and tighter, Until I stifle with the will Long forged, now used (Though utterly strained)— O pounding heart, Baffled, confused, Heart panged, head singing, dizzily pained— To do my part.
Blindness a moment. Sick. There the men are! Bayonets ready: click! Time goes quick; A stumbled prayer ... somehow a blazing star In a blue night ... where? Again prayer. The tongue trips. Start: How's time? Soon now. Two minutes or less. The gun's fury mounting higher ... Their utmost. I lift a silent hand. Unseen I bless Those hearts will follow me. And beautifully, Now beautifully my will grips, Soul calm and round and filmed and white!
A shout: 'Men, no such order as retire!'
I nod. The whistle's 'twixt my lips ... I catch A wan, worn smile at me. Dear men! The pale wrist-watch ... The quiet hand ticks on amid the din. The guns again Rise to a last fury, to a rage, a lust: Kill! Pound! Kill! Pound! Pound! Now comes the thrust! My part ... dizziness ... will ... but trust These men. The great guns rise; Their fury seems to burst the earth and skies!
Gather, heart, all thoughts that drift; Be steel, soul, Compress thyself Into a round, bright whole. I cannot speak.
I hear my whistle shriek, Between teeth set; I fling an arm up, Scramble up the grime Over the parapet! I'm up. Go on. Something meets us. Head down into the storm that greets us.
A wail. Lights. Blurr. Gone. On, on. Lead. Lead. Hail. Spatter. Whirr! Whirr! 'Toward that patch of brown; Direction left'. Bullets a stream. Devouring thought crying in a dream. Men, crumpled, going down.... Go on. Go. Deafness. Numbness. The loudening tornado. Bullets. Mud. Stumbling and skating. My voice's strangled shout: 'Steady pace, boys!' The still light: gladness. 'Look, sir. Look out!' Ha! ha! Bunched figures waiting. Revolver levelled quick! Flick! Flick! Red as blood. Germans. Germans. Good! O good! Cool madness.
Was there love once? I have forgotten her. Was there grief once? grief yet is mine. Other loves I have, men rough, but men who stir More grief, more joy, than love of thee and thine.
Faces cheerful, full of whimsical mirth, Lined by the wind, burned by the sun; Bodies enraptured by the abounding earth, As whose children we are brethren: one.
And any moment may descend hot death To shatter limbs! pulp, tear, blast Beloved soldiers who love rough life and breath Not less for dying faithful to the last.
O the fading eyes, the grimed face turned bony, Oped mouth gushing, fallen head, Lessening pressure of a hand shrunk, clammed, and stony! O sudden spasm, release of the dead!
Was there love once? I have forgotten her. Was there grief once? grief yet is mine. O loved, living, dying, heroic soldier, All, all, my joy, my grief, my love, are thine!
THE PHILOSOPHER'S ORATION
(From 'A Faun's Holiday')
Meanwhile, though nations in distress Cower at a comet's loveliness Shaken across the midnight sky; Though the wind roars, and Victory, A virgin fierce, on vans of gold Stoops through the cloud's white smother rolled Over the armies' shock and flow Across the broad green hills below, Yet hovers and will not circle down To cast t'ward one the leafy crown; Though men drive galleys' golden beaks To isles beyond the sunset peaks, And cities on the sea behold Whose walls are glass, whose gates are gold, Whose turrets, risen in an hour, Dazzle between the sun and shower, Whose sole inhabitants are kings Six cubits high with gryphon's wings And beard and mien more glorious Than Midas or Assaracus; Though priests in many a hill-top fane Lift anguished hands—and lift in vain— Toward the sun's shaft dancing through The bright roof's square of wind-swept blue; Though 'cross the stars nightly arise The silver fumes of sacrifice; Though a new Helen bring new scars, Pyres piled upon wrecked golden cars, Stacked spears, rolled smoke, and spirits sped Like a streaked flame toward the dead: Though all these be, yet grows not old Delight of sunned and windy wold, Of soaking downs aglare, asteam, Of still tarns where the yellow gleam Of a far sunrise slowly breaks, Or sunset strews with golden flakes The deeps which soon the stars will throng.
For earth yet keeps her undersong Of comfort and of ultimate peace, That whoso seeks shall never cease To hear at dawn or noon or night. Joys hath she, too, joys thin and bright, Too thin, too bright, for those to hear Who listen with an eager ear, Or course about and seek to spy, Within an hour, eternity. First must the spirit cast aside This world's and next his own poor pride And learn the universe to scan More as a flower, less as a man. Then shall he hear the lonely dead Sing and the stars sing overhead, And every spray upon the heath, And larks above and ants beneath; The stream shall take him in her arms; Blue skies shall rest him in their calms; The wind shall be a lovely friend, And every leaf and bough shall bend Over him with a lover's grace. The hills shall bare a perfect face Full of a high solemnity; The heavenly clouds shall weep, and be Content as overhead they swim To be high brothers unto him.
No more shall he feel pitched and hurled Uncomprehended into this world; For every place shall be his place, And he shall recognize its face. At dawn he shall upon his path; No sword shall touch him, nor the wrath Of the ranked crowd of clamorous men. At even he shall home again, And lay him down to sleep at ease, One with the Night and the Night's peace. Ev'n Sorrow, to be escaped of none, But a more deep communion Shall be to him, and Death at last No more dreaded than the Past, Whose shadow in the brain of earth Informs him now and gave him birth.
THE NAIADS' MUSIC
(From 'A Faun's Holiday')
Come, ye sorrowful, and steep Your tired brows in a nectarous sleep: For our kisses lightlier run Than the traceries of the sun By the lolling water cast Up grey precipices vast, Lifting smooth and warm and steep Out of the palely shimmering deep.
Come, ye sorrowful, and take Kisses that are but half awake: For here are eyes O softer far Than the blossom of the star Upon the mothy twilit waters, And here are mouths whose gentle laughters Are but the echoes of the deep Laughing and murmuring in its sleep.
Come, ye sorrowful, and see The raindrops flaming goldenly On the stream's eddies overhead And dragonflies with drops of red In the crisp surface of each wing Threading slant rains that flash and sing, Or under the water-lily's cup, From darkling depths, roll slowly up The bronze flanks of an ancient bream Into the hot sun's shattered beam, Or over a sunk tree's bubbled hole The perch stream in a golden shoal: Come, ye sorrowful; our deep Holds dreams lovelier than sleep.
But if ye sons of Sorrow come Only wishing to be numb: Our eyes are sad as bluebell posies, Our breasts are soft as silken roses, And our hands are tenderer Than the breaths that scarce can stir The sunlit eglantine that is Murmurous with hidden bees. Come, ye sorrowful, and steep Your tired brows in a nectarous sleep.
Come, ye sorrowful, for here No voices sound but fond and clear Of mouths as lorn as is the rose That under water doth disclose, Amid her crimson petals torn, A heart as golden as the morn; And here are tresses languorous As the weeds wander over us, And brows as holy and as bland As the honey-coloured sand Lying sun-entranced below The lazy water's limpid flow: Come, ye sorrowful, and steep Your tired brows in a nectarous sleep.
THE PROPHETIC BARD'S ORATION
(From 'A Faun's Holiday')
'Be warned! I feel the world grow old, And off Olympus fades the gold Of the simple passionate sun; And the Gods wither one by one: Proud-eyed Apollo's bow is broken, And throned Zeus nods nor may be woken But by the song of spirits seven Quiring in the midnight heaven Of a new world no more forlorn, Sith unto it a Babe is born, That in a propped, thatched stable lies, While with darkling, reverent eyes Dusky Emperors, coifed in gold, Kneel mid the rushy mire, and hold Caskets of rubies, urns of myrrh, Whose fumes enwrap the thurifer And coil toward the high dim rafters Where, with lutes and warbling laughters, Clustered cherubs of rainbow feather, Fanning the fragrant air together, Flit in jubilant holy glee, And make heavenly minstrelsy To the Child their Sun, whose glow Bathes them His cloudlets from below.... Long shall this chimed accord be heard, Yet all earth hushed at His first word: Then shall be seen Apollo's car Blaze headlong like a banished star; And the Queen of heavenly Loves Dragged downward by her dying doves; Vulcan, spun on a wheel, shall track The circle of the zodiac; Silver Artemis be lost, To the polar blizzards tossed; Heaven shall curdle as with blood; The sun be swallowed in the flood; The universe be silent save For the low drone of winds that lave The shadowed great world's ashen sides As through the rustling void she glides. Then shall there be a whisper heard Of the Grave's Secret and its Word, Where in black silence none shall cry Save those who, dead-affrighted, spy How from the murmurous graveyards creep The figures of eternal sleep. Last: when 'tis light men shall behold, Beyond the crags, a flower of gold Blossoming in a golden haze, And, while they guess Zeus' halls now blaze, Shall in the blossom's heart descry The saints of a new hierarchy!'
He ceased ... and in the morning sky Zeus' anger threatened murmurously. I sped away. The lightning's sword Stabbed on the forest. But the word Abides with me. I feel its power Most darkly in the twilit hour, When Night's eternal shadow, cast Over earth hushed and pale and vast, Darkly foretells the soundless Night In which this orb, so green, so bright, Now spins, and which shall compass her When on her rondure nought shall stir But snow-whorls which the wind shall roll From the Equator to the Pole ...
For everlastingly there is Something Beyond, Behind: I wis All Gods are haunted, and there clings, As hound behind fled sheep, the things Beyond the Universe's ken: Gods haunt the Half-Gods, Half-Gods men, And Man the brute. Gods, born of Night, Feel a blacker appetite Gape to devour them; Half-Gods dread But jealous Gods; and mere men tread Warily lest a Half-God rise And loose on them from empty skies Amazement, thunder, stark affright, Famine and sudden War's thick night, In which loud Furies hunt the Pities Through smoke above wrecked, flaming cities.
For Pan, the Unknown God, rules all. He shall outlive the funeral, Change, and decay, of many Gods, Until he, too, lets fall his rods Of viewless power upon that minute When Universe cowers at Infinite!
It was deep night, and over Jerusalem's low roofs The moon floated, drifting through high vaporous woofs. The moonlight crept and glistened silent, solemn, sweet, Over dome and column, up empty, endless street; In the closed, scented gardens the rose loosed from the stem Her white showery petals; none regarded them; The starry thicket breathed odours to the sentinel palm; Silence possessed the city like a soul possessed by calm.
Not a spark in the warren under the giant night, Save where in a turret's lantern beamed a grave, still light: There in the topmost chamber a gold-eyed lamp was lit— Marvellous lamp in darkness, informing, redeeming it! For, set in that tiny chamber, Jesus, the blessed and doomed, Spoke to the lone apostles as light to men en-tombed; And spreading his hands in blessing, as one soon to be dead, He put soft enchantment into spare wine and bread.
The hearts of the disciples were broken and full of tears, Because their lord, the spearless, was hedged about with spears; And in his face the sickness of departure had spread a gloom, At leaving his young friends friendless. They could not forget the tomb. He smiled subduedly, telling, in tones soft as voice of the dove, The endlessness of sorrow, the eternal solace of love; And lifting the earthly tokens, wine and sorrowful bread, He bade them sup and remember one who lived and was dead. And they could not restrain their weeping. But one rose up to depart, Having weakness and hate of weakness raging within his heart, And bowed to the robed assembly whose eyes gleamed wet in the light. Judas arose and departed: night went out to the night.
Then Jesus lifted his voice like a fountain in an ocean of tears, And comforted his disciples and calmed and allayed their fears. But Judas wound down the turret, creeping from floor to floor, And would fly; but one leaning, weeping, barred him beside the door. And he knew her by her ruddy garment and two yet-watching men: Mary of Seven Evils, Mary Magdalen. And he was frighted at her. She sighed: 'I dreamed him dead. We sell the body for silver....' Then Judas cried out and fled Forth into the night!... The moon had begun to set: A drear, deft wind went sifting, setting the dust afret; Into the heart of the city Judas ran on and prayed To stern Jehovah lest his deed make him afraid.
But in the tiny lantern, hanging as if on air, The disciples sat unspeaking. Amaze and peace were there. For his voice, more lovely than song of all earthly birds, In accents humble and happy spoke slow, consoling words.
Thus Jesus discoursed, and was silent, sitting up-right, and soon Past the casement behind him slanted the sinking moon; And, rising for Olivet, all stared, between love and dread, Seeing the torrid moon a ruddy halo behind his head.
* * * * *
(Numbers I and X in 'Strange Meetings')
If suddenly a clod of earth should rise, And walk about, and breathe, and speak, and love, How one would tremble, and in what surprise Gasp: 'Can you move?'
I see men walking, and I always feel: 'Earth! How have you done this? What can you be?' I can't learn how to know men, or conceal How strange they are to me.
A flower is looking through the ground, Blinking at the April weather; Now a child has seen the flower: Now they go and play together.
Now it seems the flower will speak, And will call the child its brother— But, oh strange forgetfulness!— They don't recognize each other.
Since man has been articulate, Mechanical, improvidently wise, (Servant of Fate), He has not understood the little cries And foreign conversations of the small Delightful creatures that have followed him Not far behind; Has failed to hear the sympathetic call Of Crockery and Cutlery, those kind Reposeful Teraphim Of his domestic happiness; the Stool He sat on, or the Door he entered through: He has not thanked them, overbearing fool! What is he coming to?
But you should listen to the talk of these. Honest they are, and patient they have kept, Served him without his 'Thank you' or his 'Please'. I often heard The gentle Bed, a sigh between each word, Murmuring, before I slept. The Candle, as I blew it, cried aloud, Then bowed, And in a smoky argument Into the darkness went.
The Kettle puffed a tentacle of breath:— 'Pooh! I have boiled his water, I don't know Why; and he always says I boil too slow. He never calls me "Sukie, dear," and oh, I wonder why I squander my desire Sitting submissive on his kitchen fire.'
Now the old Copper Basin suddenly Rattled and tumbled from the shelf, Bumping and crying: 'I can fall by myself; Without a woman's hand To patronize and coax and flatter me, I understand The lean and poise of gravitable land.' It gave a raucous and tumultuous shout, Twisted itself convulsively about, Rested upon the floor, and, while I stare, It stares and grins at me.
The old impetuous Gas above my head Begins irascibly to flare and fret, Wheezing into its epileptic jet, Reminding me I ought to go to bed.
The Rafters creak; an Empty-Cupboard door Swings open; now a wild Plank of the floor Breaks from its joist, and leaps behind my foot. Down from the chimney half a pound of Soot Tumbles, and lies, and shakes itself again. The Putty cracks against the window-pane. A piece of Paper in the basket shoves Another piece, and toward the bottom moves. My independent Pencil, while I write, Breaks at the point: the ruminating Clock Stirs all its body and begins to rock, Warning the waiting presence of the Night, Strikes the dead hour, and tumbles to the plain Ticking of ordinary work again.
You do well to remind me, and I praise Your strangely individual foreign ways. You call me from myself to recognize Companionship in your unselfish eyes.
I want your dear acquaintances, although I pass you arrogantly over, throw Your lovely sounds, and squander them along My busy days. I'll do you no more wrong.
Purr for me, Sukie, like a faithful cat. You, my well trampled Boots, and you, my Hat, Remain my friends: I feel, though I don't speak, Your touch grow kindlier from week to week. It well becomes our mutual happiness To go toward the same end more or less. There is not much dissimilarity, Not much to choose, I know it well, in fine, Between the purposes of you and me, And your eventual Rubbish Heap, and mine.
When you have tidied all things for the night, And while your thoughts are fading to their sleep, You'll pause a moment in the late firelight, Too sorrowful to weep.
The large and gentle furniture has stood In sympathetic silence all the day With that old kindness of domestic wood; Nevertheless the haunted room will say: 'Some one must be away.'
The little dog rolls over half awake, Stretches his paws, yawns, looking up at you, Wags his tail very slightly for your sake, That you may feel he is unhappy too.
A distant engine whistles, or the floor Creaks, or the wandering night-wind bangs a door.
Silence is scattered like a broken glass. The minutes prick their ears and run about, Then one by one subside again and pass Sedately in, monotonously out.
You bend your head and wipe away a tear. Solitude walks one heavy step more near.
The train! The twelve o'clock for paradise. Hurry, or it will try to creep away. Out in the country every one is wise: We can be only wise on Saturday. There you are waiting, little friendly house: Those are your chimney-stacks with you between, Surrounded by old trees and strolling cows, Staring through all your windows at the green. Your homely floor is creaking for our tread; The smiling tea-pot with contented spout Thinks of the boiling water, and the bread Longs for the butter. All their hands are out To greet us, and the gentle blankets seem Purring and crooning: 'Lie in us, and dream.'
The key will stammer, and the door reply, The hall wake, yawn, and smile; the torpid stair Will grumble at our feet, the table cry: 'Fetch my belongings for me; I am bare.' A clatter! Something in the attic falls. A ghost has lifted up his robes and fled. The loitering shadows move along the walls; Then silence very slowly lifts his head. The starling with impatient screech has flown The chimney, and is watching from the tree. They thought us gone for ever: mouse alone Stops in the middle of the floor to see. Now all you idle things, resume your toil. Hearth, put your flames on. Sulky kettle, boil.
Contented evening; comfortable joys; The snoozing fire, and all the fields are still: Tranquil delight, no purpose, and no noise— Unless the slow wind flowing round the hill. 'Murry' (the kettle) dozes; little mouse Is rambling prudently about the floor. There's lovely conversation in this house: Words become princes that were slaves before. What a sweet atmosphere for you and me The people that have been here left behind.... Oh, but I fear it may turn out to be Built of a dream, erected in the mind: So if we speak too loud, we may awaken To find it vanished, and ourselves mistaken.
Lift up the curtain carefully. All the trees Stand in the dark like drowsy sentinels. The oak is talkative to-night; he tells The little bushes crowding at his knees That formidable, hard, voluminous History of growth from acorn into age. They titter like school-children; they arouse Their comrades, who exclaim: 'He is very sage.' Look how the moon is staring through that cloud, Laying and lifting idle streaks of light. O hark! was that the monstrous wind, so loud And sudden, prowling always through the night? Let down the shaking curtain. They are queer, Those foreigners. They and we live so near.
Come, come to bed. The shadows move about, And some one seems to overhear our talk. The fire is low; the candles flicker out; The ghosts of former tenants want to walk. Already they are shuffling through the gloom. I felt an old man touch my shoulder-blade; Once he was married here; they love this room, He and his woman and the child they made. Dead, dead, they are, yet some familiar sound, Creeping along the brink of happy life, Revives their memory from under ground— The farmer and his troublesome old wife. Let us be going: as we climb the stairs, They'll sit down in our warm half-empty chairs.
Morning! Wake up! Awaken! All the boughs Are rippling on the air across the green. The youngest birds are singing to the house. Blood of the world!—and is the country clean? Disturb the precinct. Cool it with a shout. Sing as you trundle down to light the fire. Turn the encumbering shadows tumbling out. And fill the chambers with a new desire. Life is no good, unless the morning brings White happiness and quick delight of day. These half-inanimate domestic things Must all be useful, or must go away. Coffee, be fragrant. Porridge in my plate, Increase the vigour to fulfil my fate.
The fresh air moves like water round a boat. The white clouds wander. Let us wander too. The whining, wavering plover flap and float. That crow is flying after that cuckoo. Look! Look!... They're gone. What are the great trees calling? Just come a little farther, by that edge Of green, to where the stormy ploughland, falling Wave upon wave, is lapping to the hedge. Oh, what a lovely bank! Give me your hand. Lie down and press your heart against the ground. Let us both listen till we understand, Each through the other, every natural sound.... I can't hear anything to-day, can you, But, far and near: 'Cuckoo! Cuckoo! Cuckoo!'?
The everlasting grass—how bright, how cool! The day has gone too suddenly, too soon. There's something white and shiny in that pool— Throw in a stone, and you will hit the moon. Listen, the church-bell ringing! Do not say We must go back to-morrow to our work. We'll tell them we are dead: we died to-day. We're lazy. We're too happy. We will shirk. We're cows. We're kettles. We'll be anything Except the manikins of time and fear. We'll start away to-morrow wandering, And nobody will notice in a year.... Now the great sun is slipping under ground. Grip firmly!—How the earth is whirling round!
Be staid; be careful; and be not too free. Temptation to enjoy your liberty May rise against you, break into a crime, And smash the habit of employing Time. It serves no purpose that the careful clock Mark the appointment, the officious train Hurry to keep it, if the minutes mock Loud in your ear: 'Late. Late. Late. Late again.' Week-end is very well on Saturday: On Monday it's a different affair— A little episode, a trivial stay In some oblivious spot somehow, somewhere. On Sunday night we hardly laugh or speak: Week-end begins to merge itself in Week.
Pack up the house, and close the creaking door. The fields are dull this morning in the rain. It's difficult to leave that homely floor. Wave a light hand; we will return again. (What was that bird?) Good-bye, ecstatic tree, Floating, bursting, and breathing on the air. The lonely farm is wondering that we Can leave. How every window seems to stare! That bag is heavy. Share it for a bit. You like that gentle swashing of the ground As we tread?... It is over. Now we sit Reading the morning paper in the sound Of the debilitating heavy train. London again, again. London again.
THE BIRD AT DAWN
What I saw was just one eye In the dawn as I was going: A bird can carry all the sky In that little button glowing.
Never in my life I went So deep into the firmament.
He was standing on a tree, All in blossom overflowing; And he purposely looked hard at me, At first, as if to question merrily: 'Where are you going?' But next some far more serious thing to say: I could not answer, could not look away.
Oh, that hard, round, and so distracting eye: Little mirror of all sky!— And then the after-song another tree Held, and sent radiating back on me.
If no man had invented human word, And a bird-song had been The only way to utter what we mean, What would we men have heard, What understood, what seen, Between the trills and pauses, in between The singing and the silence of a bird?
* * * * *
[POEM NO.] I
Here in the self is all that man can know Of Beauty, all the wonder, all the power, All the unearthly colour, all the glow, Here in the self which withers like a flower; Here in the self which fades as hours pass, And droops and dies and rots and is forgotten Sooner, by ages, than the mirroring glass In which it sees its glory still unrotten. Here in the flesh, within the flesh, behind, Swift in the blood and throbbing on the bone, Beauty herself, the universal mind, Eternal April wandering alone; The God, the holy Ghost, the atoning Lord, Here in the flesh, the never yet explored.
[POEM NO.] II
What am I, Life? A thing of watery salt Held in cohesion by unresting cells Which work they know not why, which never halt, Myself unwitting where their master dwells. I do not bid them, yet they toil, they spin; A world which uses me as I use them, Nor do I know which end or which begin, Nor which to praise, which pamper, which condemn. So, like a marvel in a marvel set, I answer to the vast, as wave by wave The sea of air goes over, dry or wet, Or the full moon comes swimming from her cave, Or the great sun comes north, this myriad I Tingles, not knowing how, yet wondering why.
[POEM NO.] III
If I could get within this changing I, This ever altering thing which yet persists, Keeping the features it is reckoned by, While each component atom breaks or twists; If, wandering past strange groups of shifting forms, Cells at their hidden marvels hard at work, Pale from much toil, or red from sudden storms, I might attain to where the Rulers lurk; If, pressing past the guards in those grey gates, The brain's most folded, intertwisted shell, I might attain to that which alters fates, The King, the supreme self, the Master Cell; Then, on Man's earthly peak, I might behold The unearthly self beyond, unguessed, untold.
[POEM NO.] IV
Ah, we are neither heaven nor earth, but men; Something that uses and despises both, That takes its earth's contentment in the pen, Then sees the world's injustice and is wroth, And flinging off youth's happy promise, flies Up to some breach, despising earthly things, And, in contempt of hell and heaven, dies Rather than bear some yoke of priests or kings. Our joys are not of heaven nor earth, but man's, A woman's beauty, or a child's delight, The trembling blood when the discoverer scans The sought-for world, the guessed-at satellite; The ringing scene, the stone at point to blush For unborn men to look at and say 'Hush.'
[POEM NO.] V
Roses are beauty, but I never see Those blood drops from the burning heart of June Glowing like thought upon the living tree Without a pity that they die so soon, Die into petals, like those roses old, Those women, who were summer in men's hearts Before the smile upon the Sphinx was cold Or sand had hid the Syrian and his arts. O myriad dust of beauty that lies thick Under our feet that not a single grain But stirred and moved in beauty and was quick For one brief moon and died nor lived again; But when the moon rose lay upon the grass Pasture to living beauty, life that was.
[POEM NO.] VI
I went into the fields, but you were there Waiting for me, so all the summer flowers Were only glimpses of your starry powers; Beautiful and inspired dust they were.
I went down by the waters, and a bird Sang with your voice in all the unknown tones Of all that self of you I have not heard, So that my being felt you to the bones.
I went into the house, and shut the door To be alone, but you were there with me; All beauty in a little room may be, Though the roof lean and muddy be the floor.
Then in my bed I bound my tired eyes To make a darkness for my weary brain; But like a presence you were there again, Being and real, beautiful and wise,
So that I could not sleep, and cried aloud, 'You strange grave thing, what is it you would say?' The redness of your dear lips dimmed to grey, The waters ebbed, the moon hid in a cloud.
[POEM NO.] VII
Death lies in wait for you, you wild thing in the wood, Shy-footed beauty dear, half-seen, half-understood, Glimpsed in the beech-wood dim and in the dropping fir, Shy like a fawn and sweet and beauty's minister. Glimpsed as in flying clouds by night the little moon, A wonder, a delight, a paleness passing soon.
Only a moment held, only an hour seen, Only an instant known in all that life has been, One instant in the sand to drink that gush of grace, The beauty of your way, the marvel of your face.
Death lies in wait for you, but few short hours he gives; I perish even as you by whom all spirit lives. Come to me, spirit, come, and fill my hour of breath With hours of life in life that pay no toll to death.
* * * * *
THE GIPSY GIRL
'Come, try your skill, kind gentlemen, A penny for three tries!' Some threw and lost, some threw and won A ten-a-penny prize.
She was a tawny gipsy girl, A girl of twenty years, I liked her for the lumps of gold That jingled from her ears;
I liked the flaring yellow scarf Bound loose about her throat, I liked her showy purple gown And flashy velvet coat.
A man came up, too loose of tongue, And said no good to her; She did not blush as Saxons do, Or turn upon the cur;
She fawned and whined 'Sweet gentleman, A penny for three tries!' —But oh, the den of wild things in The darkness of her eyes!
THE BELLS OF HEAVEN
'Twould ring the bells of Heaven The wildest peal for years, If Parson lost his senses And people came to theirs, And he and they together Knelt down with angry prayers For tamed and shabby tigers And dancing dogs and bears, And wretched, blind pit ponies, And little hunted hares.
If you could bring her glories back! You gentle sirs who sift the dust And burrow in the mould and must Of Babylon for bric-a-brac; Who catalogue and pigeon-hole The faded splendours of her soul And put her greatness under glass— If you could bring her past to pass!
If you could bring her dead to life! The soldier lad; the market wife; Madam buying fowls from her; Tip, the butcher's bandy cur; Workmen carting bricks and clay; Babel passing to and fro On the business of a day Gone three thousand years ago— That you cannot; then be done, Put the goblet down again, Let the broken arch remain, Leave the dead men's dust alone—
Is it nothing how she lies, This old mother of you all, You great cities proud and tall Towering to a hundred skies Round a world she never knew, Is it nothing, this, to you? Must the ghoulish work go on Till her very floors are gone? While there's still a brick to save Drive these people from her grave.
The Jewish seer when he cried Woe to Babel's lust and pride Saw the foxes at her gates; Once again the wild thing waits. Then leave her in her last decay A house of owls, a foxes' den; The desert that till yesterday Hid her from the eyes of men In its proper time and way Will take her to itself again.
* * * * *
IT'S A QUEER TIME
It's hard to know if you're alive or dead When steel and fire go roaring through your head.
One moment you'll be crouching at your gun Traversing, mowing heaps down half in fun: The next, you choke and clutch at your right breast— No time to think—leave all—and off you go ... To Treasure Island where the Spice winds blow, To lovely groves of mango, quince and lime— Breathe no good-bye, but ho, for the Red West! It's a queer time.
You're charging madly at them yelling 'Fag!' When somehow something gives and your feet drag. You fall and strike your head; yet feel no pain And find ... you're digging tunnels through the hay In the Big Barn, 'cause it's a rainy day. Oh springy hay, and lovely beams to climb! You're back in the old sailor suit again. It's a queer time.
Or you'll be dozing safe in your dug-out— Great roar—the trench shakes and falls about— You're struggling, gasping, struggling, then ... hullo! Elsie comes tripping gaily down the trench, Hanky to nose—that lyddite makes a stench— Getting her pinafore all over grime. Funny! because she died ten years ago! It's a queer time.
The trouble is, things happen much too quick; Up jump the Bosches, rifles thump and click, You stagger, and the whole scene fades away: Even good Christians don't like passing straight From Tipperary or their Hymn of Hate To Alleluiah-chanting, and the chime Of golden harps ... and ... I'm not well today ... It's a queer time.
GOLIATH AND DAVID
('For D. C. T., killed at Fricourt, March 1916')
Once an earlier David took Smooth pebbles from the brook: Out between the lines he went To that one-sided tournament, A shepherd boy who stood out fine And young to fight a Philistine Clad all in brazen mail. He swears That he's killed lions, he's killed bears, And those that scorn the God of Zion Shall perish so like bear or lion. But ... the historian of that fight Had not the heart to tell it right.
Striding within javelin range Goliath marvels at this strange Goodly-faced boy so proud of strength. David's clear eye measures the length; With hand thrust back, he cramps one knee, Poises a moment thoughtfully, And hurls with a long vengeful swing. The pebble, humming from the sling Like a wild bee, flies a sure line; For the forehead of the Philistine; Then ... but there comes a brazen clink And quicker than a man can think Goliath's shield parries each cast. Clang! clang! and clang! was David's last Scorn blazes in the Giant's eye, Towering unhurt six cubits high. Says foolish David, 'Damn your shield! And damn my sling! but I'll not yield.'
He takes his staff of Mamre oak, A knotted shepherd-staff that's broke The skull of many a wolf and fox Come filching lambs from Jesse's flocks. Loud laughs Goliath, and that laugh Can scatter chariots like blown chaff To rout: but David, calm and brave, Holds his ground, for God will save. Steel crosses wood, a flash, and oh! Shame for Beauty's overthrow! (God's eyes are dim, His ears are shut.) One cruel backhand sabre cut— 'I'm hit! I'm killed!' young David cries, Throws blindly forward, chokes ... and dies. And look, spike-helmeted, grey, grim, Goliath straddles over him.
A PINCH OF SALT
When a dream is born in you With a sudden clamorous pain, When you know the dream is true And lovely, with no flaw nor stain, O then, be careful, or with sudden clutch You'll hurt the delicate thing you prize so much.
Dreams are like a bird that mocks, Flirting the feathers of his tail. When you seize at the salt-box Over the hedge you'll see him sail. Old birds are neither caught with salt nor chaff: They watch you from the apple bough and laugh.
Poet, never chase the dream. Laugh yourself and turn away. Mask your hunger, let it seem Small matter if he come or stay; But when he nestles in your hand at last, Close up your fingers tight and hold him fast.
'Are you awake, Gemelli, This frosty night?' 'We'll be awake till reveille, Which is Sunrise,' say the Gemelli, 'It's no good trying to go to sleep: If there's wine to be got we'll drink it deep, But rest is hopeless tonight, But rest is hopeless tonight.'
'Are you cold too, poor Pleiads, This frosty night?' 'Yes, and so are the Hyads: See us cuddle and hug,' say the Pleiads, 'All six in a ring: it keeps us warm: We huddle together like birds in a storm: It's bitter weather tonight, It's bitter weather tonight.'
'What do you hunt, Orion, This starry night?' 'The Ram, the Bull and the Lion, And the Great Bear,' says Orion, 'With my starry quiver and beautiful belt I am trying to find a good thick pelt To warm my shoulders tonight, To warm my shoulders tonight.'
'Did you hear that, Great She-bear, This frosty night?' 'Yes, he's talking of stripping me bare Of my own big fur,' says the She-bear, I'm afraid of the man and his terrible arrow: The thought of it chills my bones to the marrow, And the frost so cruel tonight! And the frost so cruel tonight!
'How is your trade, Aquarius, This frosty night?' 'Complaints is many and various And my feet are cold,' says Aquarius, 'There's Venus objects to Dolphin-scales, And Mars to Crab-spawn found in my pails, And the pump has frozen tonight, And the pump has frozen tonight.'
IN THE WILDERNESS
Christ of his gentleness Thirsting and hungering, Walked in the wilderness; Soft words of grace he spoke Unto lost desert-folk That listened wondering. He heard the bitterns call From ruined palace-wall, Answered them brotherly. He held communion With the she-pelican Of lonely piety. Basilisk, cockatrice, Flocked to his homilies, With mail of dread device, With monstrous barbed stings, With eager dragon-eyes; Great rats on leather wings And poor blind broken things, Foul in their miseries. And ever with him went, Of all his wanderings Comrade, with ragged coat, Gaunt ribs—poor innocent— Bleeding foot, burning throat, The guileless old scape-goat; For forty nights and days Followed in Jesus' ways, Sure guard behind him kept, Tears like a lover wept.
THE BOY IN CHURCH
'Gabble-gabble ... brethren ... gabble-gabble!' My window glimpses larch and heather. I hardly hear the tuneful babble, Not knowing nor much caring whether The text is praise or exhortation, Prayer or thanksgiving or damnation.
Outside it blows wetter and wetter, The tossing trees never stay still; I shift my elbows to catch better The full round sweep of heathered hill. The tortured copse bends to and fro In silence like a shadow-show.
The parson's voice runs like a river Over smooth rocks. I like this church. The pews are staid, they never shiver, They never bend or sway or lurch. 'Prayer,' says the kind voice, 'is a chain That draws down Grace from Heaven again.'
I add the hymns up over and over Until there's not the least mistake. Seven-seventy-one. (Look! there's a plover! It's gone!) Who's that Saint by the Lake? The red light from his mantle passes Across the broad memorial brasses.
It's pleasant here for dreams and thinking, Lolling and letting reason nod, With ugly, serious people linking Prayer-chains for a forgiving God. But a dumb blast sets the trees swaying With furious zeal like madmen praying.
THE LADY VISITOR IN THE PAUPER WARD
Why do you break upon this old, cool peace, This painted peace of ours, With harsh dress hissing like a flock of geese, With garish flowers? Why do you churn smooth waters rough again, Selfish old Skin-and-bone? Leave us to quiet dreaming and slow pain, Leave us alone.
Walking through trees to cool my heat and pain, I know that David's with me here again. All that is simple, happy, strong, he is. Caressingly I stroke Rough bark of the friendly oak. A brook goes bubbling by: the voice is his. Turf burns with pleasant smoke: I laugh at chaffinch and at primroses. All that is simple, happy, strong, he is. Over the whole wood in a little while Breaks his slow smile.
* * * * *
WILFRID WILSON GIBSON
Your face was lifted to the golden sky Ablaze beyond the black roofs of the square, As flame on flame leapt, flourishing in air Its tumult of red stars exultantly, To the cold constellations dim and high; And as we neared, the roaring ruddy flare Kindled to gold your throat and brow and hair Until you burned, a flame of ecstasy.
The golden head goes down into the night Quenched in cold gloom—and yet again you stand Beside me now with lifted face alight, As, flame to flame, and fire to fire you burn ... Then, recollecting, laughingly you turn, And look into my eyes and take my hand.
Suddenly, out of dark and leafy ways, We came upon the little house asleep In cold blind stillness, shadowless and deep, In the white magic of the full moon-blaze. Strangers without the gate, we stood agaze, Fearful to break that quiet, and to creep Into the home that had been ours to keep Through a long year of happy nights and days.
So unfamiliar in the white moon-gleam, So old and ghostly like a house of dream It seemed, that over us there stole the dread That even as we watched it, side by side, The ghosts of lovers, who had lived and died Within its walls, were sleeping in our bed.
All night under the moon Plovers are flying Over the dreaming meadows of silvery light, Over the meadows of June, Flying and crying— Wandering voices of love in the hush of the night.
All night under the moon, Love, though we're lying Quietly under the thatch, in silvery light Over the meadows of June Together we're flying— Rapturous voices of love in the hush of the night?
Wind-flicked and ruddy her young body glowed In sunny shallows, splashing them to spray; But when on rippled, silver sand she lay, And over her the little green waves flowed, Coldly translucent and moon-coloured showed Her frail young beauty, as if rapt away From all the light and laughter of the day To some twilit, forlorn sea-god's abode.
Again into the sun with happy cry She leapt alive and sparkling from the sea, Sprinkling white spray against the hot blue sky, A laughing girl ... and yet, I see her lie Under a deeper tide eternally In cold moon-coloured immortality.
He went, and he was gay to go: And I smiled on him as he went. My boy! 'Twas well he couldn't know My darkest dread, or what it meant—
Just what it meant to smile and smile And let my son go cheerily— My son ... and wondering all the while What stranger would come back to me.
All day beneath the hurtling shells Before my burning eyes Hover the dainty demoiselles— The peacock dragon-flies.
Unceasingly they dart and glance Above the stagnant stream— And I am fighting here in France As in a senseless dream.
A dream of shattering black shells That hurtle overhead, And dainty dancing demoiselles Above the dreamless dead.
Out of the sparkling sea I drew my tingling body clear, and lay On a low ledge the livelong summer day, Basking, and watching lazily White sails in Falmouth Bay.
My body seemed to burn Salt in the sun that drenched it through and through Till every particle glowed clean and new And slowly seemed to turn To lucent amber in a world of blue....
I felt a sudden wrench— A trickle of warm blood— And found that I was sprawling in the mud Among the dead men in the trench.
We who are left, how shall we look again Happily on the sun or feel the rain Without remembering how they who went Ungrudgingly and spent Their lives for us loved, too, the sun and rain?
A bird among the rain-wet lilac sings— But we, how shall we turn to little things And listen to the birds and winds and streams Made holy by their dreams, Nor feel the heart-break in the heart of things?
* * * * *
Music comes Sweetly from the trembling string When wizard fingers sweep Dreamily, half asleep; When through remembering reeds Ancient airs and murmurs creep, Oboe oboe following, Flute answering clear high flute, Voices, voices—falling mute, And the jarring drums.
At night I heard First a waking bird Out of the quiet darkness sing ... Music comes Strangely to the brain asleep! And I heard Soft, wizard fingers sweep Music from the trembling string, And through remembering reeds Ancient airs and murmurs creep; Oboe oboe following, Flute calling clear high flute, Voices faint, falling mute, And low jarring drums; Then all those airs Sweetly jangled—newly strange, Rich with change ... Was it the wind in the reeds? Did the wind range Over the trembling string;
Into flute and oboe pouring Solemn music; sinking, soaring Low to high, Up and down the sky? Was it the wind jarring Drowsy far-off drums?
Strangely to the brain asleep Music comes.
Than these November skies Is no sky lovelier. The clouds are deep; Into their grey the subtle spies Of colour creep, Changing that high austerity to delight, Till ev'n the leaden interfolds are bright. And, where the cloud breaks, faint far azure peers Ere a thin flushing cloud again Shuts up that loveliness, or shares. The huge great clouds move slowly, gently, as Reluctant the quick sun should shine in vain, Holding in bright caprice their rain. And when of colours none, Not rose, nor amber, nor the scarce late green, Is truly seen,— In all the myriad grey, In silver height and dusky deep, remain The loveliest, Faint purple flushes of the unvanquished sun.
Beauty walked over the hills and made them bright. She in the long fresh grass scattered her rains Sparkling and glittering like a host of stars, But not like stars cold, severe, terrible. Hers was the laughter of the wind that leaped Arm-full of shadows, flinging them far and wide. Hers the bright light within the quick green Of every new leaf on the oldest tree. It was her swimming made the river run Shining as the sun; Her voice, escaped from winter's chill and dark, Singing in the incessant lark.... All this was hers—yet all this had not been Except 'twas seen. It was my eyes, Beauty, that made thee bright; My ears that heard, the blood leaping in my veins, The vehemence of transfiguring thought— Not lights and shadows, birds, grasses and rains— That made thy wonders wonderful. For it has been, Beauty, that I have seen thee, Tedious as a painted cloth at a bad play, Empty of meaning and so of all delight. Now thou hast blessed me with a great pure bliss, Shaking thy rainy light all over the earth, And I have paid thee with my thankfulness.
'IT WAS THE LOVELY MOON'
It was the lovely moon—she lifted Slowly her white brow among Bronze cloud-waves that ebbed and drifted Faintly, faintlier afar. Calm she looked, yet pale with wonder, Sweet in unwonted thoughtfulness, Watching the earth that dwindled under Faintly, faintlier afar. It was the lovely moon that lovelike Hovered over the wandering, tired Earth, her bosom grey and dovelike, Hovering beautiful as a dove.... The lovely moon:—her soft light falling Lightly on roof and poplar and pine— Tree to tree whispering and calling, Wonderful in the silvery shine Of the round, lovely, thoughtful moon.
Last night a sword-light in the sky Flashed a swift terror on the dark. In that sharp light the fields did lie Naked and stone-like; each tree stood Like a tranced woman, bound and stark. Far off the wood With darkness ridged the riven dark.
And cows astonied stared with fear, And sheep crept to the knees of cows, And conies to their burrows slid, And rooks were still in rigid boughs, And all things else were still or hid. From all the wood Came but the owl's hoot, ghostly, clear.
In that cold trance the earth was held It seemed an age, or time was nought. Sure never from that stone-like field Sprang golden corn, nor from those chill Grey granite trees was music wrought. In all the wood Even the tall poplar hung stone still.
It seemed an age, or time was none ... Slowly the earth heaved out of sleep And shivered, and the trees of stone Bent and sighed in the gusty wind, And rain swept as birds flocking sweep. Far off the wood Rolled the slow thunders on the wind.
From all the wood came no brave bird, No song broke through the close-fall'n night, Nor any sound from cowering herd: Only a dog's long lonely howl When from the window poured pale light. And from the wood The hoot came ghostly of the owl.
The pigeons, following the faint warm light, Stayed at last on the roof till warmth was gone, Then in the mist that's hastier than night Disappeared all behind the carved dark stone, Huddling from the black cruelty of the frost. With the new sparkling sun they swooped and came Like a cloud between the sun and street, and then Like a cloud blown from the blue north were lost, Vanishing and returning ever again, Small cloud following cloud across the flame That clear and meagre burned and burned away And left the ice unmelting day by day.
... Nor could the sun through the roof's purple slate (Though his gold magic played with shadow there And drew the pigeons from the streaming air) With any fiery magic penetrate. Under the roof the air and water froze, And no smoke from the gaping chimney rose. The silver frost upon the window pane Flowered and branched each starving night anew, And stranger, lovelier and crueller grew; Pouring her silver that cold silver through, The moon made all the dim flower bright again.
... Pouring her silver through that barren flower Of silver frost, until it filled and whitened A room where two small children waited, frightened At the pale ghost of light that hour by hour Stared at them till though fear slept not they slept. And when that white ghost from the window crept, And day came and they woke and saw all plain Though still the frost-flower blinded the window pane, And touched their mother and touched her hand in vain, And wondered why she woke not when they woke; And wondered what it was their sleep that broke When hand in hand they stared and stared, so frightened; They feared and waited, and waited all day long, While all the shadows went and the day brightened, All the ill shadows but one shadow strong.
Outside were busy feet and human speech And daily cries and horns. Maybe they heard, Painfully wondering still, and each to each Leaning, and listening if their mother stirred— Cold, cold, Hungering as the long slow hours grew old, Though food within the cupboard idle lay Beyond their thought, or but beyond their reach. The soft blue pigeons all the afternoon Sunned themselves on the roof or rose at play, Then with the shrinking light fluttered away; And once more came the icy-hearted moon, Staring down at the frightened children there That could but shiver and stare.
How many hours, how many days, who knows? Neighbours there were who thought they had gone away To return some luckier or luckless day. No sound came from the room: the cold air froze The very echo of the children's sighs. And what they saw within each other's eyes, Or heard each other's heart say as they peered At the dead mother lying there, and feared That she might wake, and then might never wake, Who knows, who knows? None heard a living sound their silence break.
In those cold days and nights how many birds, Flittering above the fields and streams all frozen, Watched hungrily the tended flocks and herds— Earth's chosen nourished by earth's wise self-chosen! How many birds suddenly stiffened and died With no plaint cried, The starved heart ceasing when the pale sun ceased! And when the new day stepped from the same cold East The dead birds lay in the light on the snow-flecked field, Their song and beautiful free winging stilled.
I walked under snow-sprinkled hills at night, And starry sprinkled skies deep blue and bright. The keen wind thrust with his knife against the thin Breast of the wood as I went tingling by, And heard a weak cheep-cheep,—no more—the cry Of a bird that crouched the smitten wood within ... But no one heeded that sharp spiritual cry Of the two children in their misery, When in the cold and famished night death's shade More terrible the moon's cold shadows made. How was it none could hear That bodiless crying, birdlike, sharp and clear?