"Ah, do not turn to me that face which is no longer of this world!... There are enough angels to serve the mass in Heaven! Have pity on me, who am only a man without wings, who rejoiced in this companion God had given me, and that I should hear her sigh with her head resting on my shoulder!... the bitterness like the bitterness of myrrh... And for you age is already come. But how hard it is to renounce when the heart is young!"
"THE TIDINGS BROUGHT TO MARY"
WILLIAM ROSE BENT
..that we may be able to arrive with pure minds at the festival of perpetual light. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen. —Oremus.
TO KATHLEEN AND MARGARET
Think of no verse when you read this, But think of her alone And her enduring benefice, Sunlight on stone.
For day is stone and night is stone Save she has made them bright, Now she knows all that may be known Of day and night.
Courage like hers we have from her, Strength to be straight and brave, And noble memories that recur And heal and save.
By her clear eyes, by her pure brows, We take the Sign, And kneel within her Father's house— And yours and mine.
The first eleven poems in the section entitled, "Before" originally appeared in my first volume, "Merchants from Cathay" published by the Century Company. This volume is now out of print and I hold the copyright. The three poems following these originally appeared in my second volume, "The Falconer of God and Other Poems." For permission to reprint a few of the remaining poems I have to thank the editors of Reedy's Mirror, The Bang, The Lyric, The Madrigal, The Sun Dial (New York Evening Sun), Everybody's Magazine, The Century Magazine, and "Books and the Book World" (New York Sunday Sun). For the group, "The Long Absence" in the section entitled, "After," I owe thanks to The Yale Review.
BEFORE The Snare of the Fowler Thwarted Utterance The Song of Her "Always I Know You Anew" The Rival Celestial The Tamer of Steeds Love in Armor Wardrobe of Remembrance The Second Covenant Dedication to a First Book The Shadowed Road Love in the Dawn "Had I a Claim to Fame?" The One Dream and Deed A Taper of Incense To Purity Atonement The Adoration Talisman Recognition The Silver Hind Aristeas Relates His Youth Man Possessed Miniature Death Will Make Clear Sunlight And a Long Way Off He Saw Fairyland In Time of Trouble Anomaly The Lover Judgment Unforgotten The Pale Dancer Premonition
AFTER Introductory Poem The Long Absence By the Counsel of Her Hands Strength Beyond Strength Que Sais-Je? Ebb-Tide Coward Aquilifer The Woman Pervigilium Time Was The Masters When Children The Retreat Sealed
TERESA FRANCES THOMPSON, who also bore my name by marriage, died on January 26, 1919. This verse is published to her memory, because I wish to keep together the poetry she occasioned and enable those who loved her—and they were a great many-to know definitely what she was to me.
I think that is the truth. This is the only means I have at present of acknowledging publicly the vast debt I owe to her.
As I turn these poems over—if they are even to be called poems—I realize that they can never begin to express what her personality was. The earliest ones were written by a boy who was in love, and the latest by a man who has suddenly stepped into the dark. Those between are fragments from the days when we were struggling along together at the everyday tasks and outside interests and dreams that possessed us. The war entered our lives to change them in September, 1917. The poem, "Man Possessed," was written within sound of her actual voice, the others all in absence from her at various times and in moods made strange by absence.
And yet this is all I have at present to give in her memory. But I hold by these because—though they are poor, freakish fragments as far as any real expression of her is concerned—they were made for her.
It is even harder to express in bald prose a personality that had so many sides, so many varying strengths, such inner sight and yet such a forthright splendid intelligence. I have tried once to round it into periods—and have destroyed the attempt. It is my hope that the sister to whom she was devoted with an attachment altogether unusual to most of us will write of her.
If I merely recount the outlines of her life, it loses her. To say that her girlhood was given up to an intense and whole-souled devotion to the life of Christ as taught by the Roman Catholic Church will not even trace the outlines of that great spiritual adventure. But there, in the word "adventure," is a dim ideograph of what she found in life. Every day was an adventure to her with the hope of accomplishing something over and above mere routine and the pursuit of pleasure. And she used to say to me that her life had simply been a series of experiments into which she had put her whole heart, and in which she had always failed. But, of course, she never failed.
She wrote me while I was stationed at Washington:
"I am so very glad of your Sunday experience. I wish that I might have shared it with you, but I almost did, since we were at Mass there and walked across that green together.... No one else might be impressed by it, but you know. When I first thought of a convent I was about sixteen, and I did not go until I was twenty-one. During that time I had the habit of pretending when I went to sleep that I was lying full-length in a convent chapel before a dark altar, with its tiny light. When I went to the Little Sisters, with all its strangeness and homesickness and wrench away from everything, I was sustained by the knowledge that our bedroom on the third floor was across a wide hall from a rose window that looked right down into the Chapel. The dormitory had windows out into the hall, French fashion, so that when I opened the one at the head of my bed I was doing just what I had so often planned. You cannot imagine how personal it seemed to me.
"Then years after when I was in the Carmelite convent in London, it began to snow. I stood at a window looking out at the snow upon the roofs, and began to think (as you would have in my place), "Deep on the convent roofs the snows are sparkling to the moon,"—and suddenly I realized that it was St. Agnes Eve, and that long ago, when I was perhaps fifteen or sixteen, I had prayed that I might be a Carmelite nun in England. It was a thrill. No one else knew it. No one else could possibly have brought either of those two things about but Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever."
And she wrote me later:
"We will make a go of it together—I have been just where you are several times in my life. There is no denying that it hurts like the mischief, but there is something carried away out of it that the people who don't go through with it do not have. When I came back from the Little Sisters, after affirming and reaffirming (to strengthen my own resolution) that I was never coming back, I had to face just the same old world, and the same streets and people. Then, after the earthquake, I left Paul Elder's to go out to the settlement in the Mission. I was full of faith in it, to work among the poor, without the fetters of a convent, to plan a new way in which Catholic girls could dedicate themselves to the service of God, using the best of the Protestant and Catholic ideas both—and in three months I... had handed in a report which criticized the whole place severely—and my resignation. I do not know now how much was personal spite on my part and how far I was right. And back to the same old circle at Paul Elder's, with another bright bubble broken. Then came the Carmelites, which cost, I think, more than any, and I remember I so dreaded coming back to New York and facing everyone that I tried hard to get a position in London where women get $5.00 a week as trained librarians. So back again. Well, education as the world hands it out to us is a mighty expensive thing. You give so much of your heart's blood and get so little back in any tangible form, but 'youth shows but half' and we have not yet come to the harvesting years. We might as well sow hopes and plans and ambitions generously 'and stretch through time a hand to reap the far-off interest of tears'."
And she said of the number 19 in her life, in the late fall of 1918:
"I was thinking a lot about life this morning, coming home from church. You know the 27th of November is Mother's anniversary.... Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, always a great Catholic Feast ... Father's birthday was the 23rd of December, he was buried on Christmas day—their wedding anniversary was December 3lst— my birthday is January first, J—'s the seventh, Mother's the fifth. So the whole season is full of memories, churches, masses, prayers, associations. And it struck me as strange that this New Year's finishes another half of my life. I was nineteen that winter. This year I shall be just twice that. Nineteen years were all childhood, dreaming, planning, hoping, aspiring, but with no practical care, no responsibilities of any sort, the most sheltered existence a girl could have. And now nineteen of as varied an experience as most people know, teaching, housekeeping, bringing up the younger children, seven years of Paul Elder's, the settlement house, travel, London, Rome, Paris, New York, the two convents in Chicago and London, extreme poverty, self-support, comfortable, moderate means, as you and I had, luxury such as this and the months with E—, six years a wife, five years a mother when J—'s birthday rounds it out,—the earthquake, which we thought transcended in size and importance anything that would ever happen to us, and then our little share of the tragedy of the war. Nineteen full years, n'est-ce pas? And now we start a new life, thank God, together."
She wrote me earlier, in 1917, while I was waiting to be called to a Southern training camp:
"I plan a home some day of the most Spartan simplicity, all our needs cut down to the lowest and plainest of possessions, and yet a spirit of hospitality, of contentment, of gaiety, of self-reliance and mutual helpfulness. Books and bookshelves..."
And of the Army:
"It so often makes me think of the religious orders. The combination of the most heroic impulses with the most commonplace drudgery. The extraordinary fluctuations of feeling, thinking at one time that it is the only thing in the world to do ... and then the feeling, what am I doing this for, anyway, other people do not find it necessary... As one nun said to me, 'You do not have to accept a Carmelite vocation— but, you have to either accept or refuse it.' The choice is laid before everyone, but once it is, all the coward has to do is to stand aside."
This last illustrates how she always saw the necessities of those she loved in terms of the spirit. Napoleon is reported to have said of Jesus Christ: "He speaks from the soul as never man spoke; the soul is sufficient for him, as he is sufficient for the soul."
So she thought. And her letters contain many quotations she formed her life by:
"God himself is Truth, Charity, and Purity, and the three things he hates most are deceit, cruelty, and impurity."
"God make us all saints!"
And the characteristic ending of a letter, with her full name always signed, such as:
"Lord, grant us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting.
But it is impossible to convey what her ways were with the children and in the several homes that she made so full of dreaming light. She had a keen appreciation of the humorousness and quaintness of children. She was always quoting to me their adventures, their sayings. She had countless plans and schemes for work in the world, and carried out many of them in relation to woman suffrage, baby clinics, camp-fire organization for the girls of our village, and, during the war, work with all the local organizations among women that it called into being where she was living at the time. She wanted to start a home in America for French widows and orphans, though this plan was not possible,—she was deeply interested in the work for the protection of young girls under Miss Katharine Bement Davis, and only circumstances prevented her taking this up during the fall of 1918. She had several interviews with Miss Davis and showed herself to be the very person who could have helped greatly. Self-denial, sacrifice, poverty, effort were the watchwords ever recurring to her. Her instant concentration upon any book or paper that came under her eyes became a family joke. She would be lost immediately, oblivious of all surroundings. She read and thought with a lively appreciation of the many futilities in life and a desire to make her life count. She wasted no time on what did not at once attract her spirit, except of necessity. And yet she genuinely delighted in the small events of a day such as please and awe children. And the reason they loved her so was because they knew she brought the same guileless point of view to solve their bewilderment from larger experience. And yet she would write:
"I wish I knew where I stood. I was much happier when I was a rigid Catholic. I wish I could fit back into that measure. Can I ever— any more than I can fit into the mental measure of a nun?"
And again her typewriting would exclaim to me:
"I don't like to write letters to you. I like to talk to you. I like still better to be silent with you!"
When she thought me in need of it she could be very self-forgetful:
"But I want to see the future big with Romance for you and I would rather feel you came home from voyages two weeks or two months long, with a trunkful of manuscripts; and that, three years from today, you had secured us special rates on a tramp steamer to Plymouth, than that you were going to dodge into subways the rest of your life."
"I would infinitely rather you shipped before the mast—to Bermuda, Borneo, or Buenos Aires. Don't think from this I don't want your face across the table from mine every night the rest of my life!"
Reading to the children, she would retail to me such incidents as:
"Then I read them the Gospel stories, ... and they were too funny—R— trying to show me how Herod looked, and J— suggesting charitably that perhaps his wife was good. 'No,' said R—,'the whole family was bad!'"
"In the spring I am going to take an old farmhouse, give the children one brown garment apiece, and plan a scheme of living that will leave something over for other children."
And this appealed to her:
"Well, if it is not in the Fall of 1918, it will be in 'one of those houses Our Lord is building' as J— remarks casually. Did I tell you of the little village in the North Carolina hills where H— and S. L— spent the summer, where the women raised enough sheep to cut the wool, card, and spin and weave the clothes the family wore?"
In the winter of 1914 she first visited Augusta, Georgia, where my father was stationed, and there the campaign against Child Labor, in which she was always vitally interested, became doubly real in necessity to her as she went through the cotton mills and saw conditions at close range. She always gave what sums she could to this cause. In 1915, perhaps the most famous year of the woman suffrage battle, she was campaigning, speaking, watching all day at the polls in her village of Port Washington, Long Island. I remember her speaking from the stage of the Republican Club against a clever anti- suffragist from New York. Her voice reached out for something in the hearts of her audience hid deeper than the appeal of a mere legislative reform. She knew her intellectual ground, but it was something deeper than intellectuality that went home.
In 1918 the Baby Welfare Movement was at its height. She became chairman of the Augusta committee and established clinics at the different schools and social centres.
So I grasp at her life, giving only a slight indication of how full it was. Her friends were of every type and kind, of every religious belief or lack of belief, of many different political opinions.
She hated war with her whole soul. It was directly opposed to the words of Christ. But she wrote me in a dark time:
"Italy is bad, Russia is bad, Cambrai is bad. But those things are only phases in the eternal struggle of right against wrong. And the only thing that matters is to personally throw your whole life into the balance for the things you believe to be right."
How far I failed her! It is given to every man to fight somehow through the bewilderment of life with the best intentions he can realize. And life seems to me like a fierce current on which we are borne rather than anything we can really master—except by forgetting it. She has left me with the feeling that I must know infinitely more and try to understand better, and that we are governed most truly only by the inexplicable. "Meanwhile, there is our life here—Well?"
The verse in this book is put as nearly as possible in the order of its writing. If there is any merit in any line of it, the merit is of her making. If there is none, the effort was, at least, to reach higher than my grasp—because of her. A writer is—and it is the ancient curse!—an egotist. But it is not my grief that I wish to display here. The human heart can fortunately never be put on paper. Only—reality assures of reality.
Poetry is unconscionable because it follows true conscience. I knew, in her, that conscience,—and know it in these fantastic shadows cast by her light. If you do also, be assured that the light still shines— forever.
New York City, March 25, 1919.
THE SNARE OF THE FOWLER
Love, the wild fowler, spreads his nets with care, And deep-toned warning both our hearts have heard, Even as the old-time low-bell held each bird Suddenly trembling, nestling pair by pair Dark in the covert, till a blinding glare Of torchlight and a clamorous shouted word Dazed their bright eyes, and terrified wings upwhirred To baffled blundering in the close-drawn snare.
So, dear, we cower at our warning bell. Creep close to me, where shadows gird us round. Fear we that wild revealment? Nay, not we! "Ah, perilous play, to cross Love's stalking-ground!" You whisper... yet our eyes, our eyes could tell Of hearts that leap to meet their certainty!
Why should my clumsy speech so fall astray, To uncouth jargon of the every-day Turn each fit word and phrase I treasured for your praise?
Discoveries I won to from afar, All the rare things you are—nor know you are,— In Orient offering I haste to you to bring.
I think to kneel and spread on cloths of dream The beautiful, the priceless things you seem; Perfume and precious stone, That you be shown your own.
Prince of my vision-palace, I would call Your name through trumpets down its central hall, And the rapt choral praise Before your dais raise;
And you should see, should hear, be glad and smile That I so love you. Ah, but all the while I may not show nor teach Save through my paupered speech!
Beggar in guise, who am so rich at heart Where you have set your pure white shrine apart And keep your cherished state Dear and immaculate,
How should you know or hear me, when my tongue Turns a dull rebel and doth ready wrong To thoughts my dreams repeat?— Perhaps too proud, too sweet!
THE SONG OF HER
Thou art my singing and my voice, Thy life the thing that I would sing, Perfect past words of perfect choice, A lovely and a lasting thing. In every deed of thine, sweetheart, The poetry of heaven has part Beyond the gamut of all art, Leaving me mute and marvelling.
Thy deeds like rhymes I have by heart, Thy happy deeds of heavenly choice, Deeds that rise rapt and shine apart As echoes of a perfect voice Rise and rejoice when voices sing, Linger and ring—linger and ring Till heaven is of their echoing And all the heights of heaven rejoice.
Thou art the song that I would sing, The purest song of purest art, Till men stand mute for marvelling, Aye, till the singing break Man's heart Where sorrows glory to rejoice In perfect notes of perfect choice And strains of One deep, tender voice Transfigured joys from sorrows start.
In all this world I have no choice. If I would sing a lasting thing, Thou art my singing and my voice. Poor rhymes that earn no welcoming, Rhymes that are nothing learned in art, From heaven, from her, such worlds apart,— Creep then unto her tender heart And from her living learn to sing!
"ALWAYS I KNOW YOU ANEW"
I press my hands on my eyes And will that you come to me. Your semblances shimmer and rise; Yet 'tis never your self I see, Never the exquisite grace And the bright, still flame of you. So, when I meet you face to face, Always I know you anew!
Faint visions I saw, instead Of your brows direct and wise, Of the little lilt of your head And your dark-lashed, sky-clear eyes, Of the soft brown braids demure, The poise as of quiet light, The perfect profile, sweet and pure,— Never I dream you aright!
And new in endless ways, By your blessed heart unplanned, It is mine to surprise each sweeter phase, Adore you, and understand; For through every delicious change in you Truth burns with a clear still flame; And, though always I know you anew, Always I find you the same!
THE RIVAL CELESTIAL
God, wilt Thou never leave my love alone? Thou comest when she first draws breath in sleep, Thy cloak blue night, glittering with stars of gold. Thou standest in her doorway to intone The promise of Thy troth that she must keep, The wonders of Thy heaven she shall behold.
Her little room is filled with blinding light, And past the darkness of her window-pane The faces of glad angels closely press, Gesturing for her to join their host this night, Mount with their cavalcade for Thy domain. Then darkness... but Thy work is done no less.
For she hath looked on Thee, and when on me Her blue eyes turn by day, they pass me by. All offerings—even my heart—slip from her hands. She moves in dreams of utter bliss to be, Longs for what nought of earth may satisfy. My heart breaks as I clutch love's breaking strands.
I clutch—they part—to the wide winds are blown. And she stands gazing on a cloud, a star,— Blind to earth's heart of love where heaven lies furled. God, wilt Thou never leave my love alone? Thou hast all powers, dominions, worlds that are; And she is all my world—is all my world!
THE TAMER OF STEEDS
Beyond this world where skies are free from stain, Where brilliant flowers blow in open meads, I heard the drumming hoofs of many steeds Raise maddening music from a grassy plain. They passed, with snorting nostril, flying mane, And fiery spirit; and the lad who breeds Their mettled herd, and pastures them, and feeds, Rode the black foremost, scorning spur or rein.
His eyes were like a seer's and like a child's. His body shone irradiating joy. He fought his furious mount with strength and art. And then my mind divined the glorious boy As Eros, tamer in the heavenly wilds Of all the passions of the human heart.
LOVE IN ARMOR
Love scorns that Love implore you To bind his hurts or heal; Prays only, arm around you, To draw on hours that hound you, To whirl his sword before you And fence your path with steel.
Not for the beauty of you, The peace of all your ways, He burns—but in your quarrel To hold the pass of peril, To stand at arms above you Against embattled days.
No comfort for his blundering He cries your heart to yield, But that his arm enfold you, His shield-arm shield and hold you Safe, when the foe charge thundering,— His sword against the field!
WARDROBE OF REMEMBRANCE
Guises your moods once wore are hung within The closet of my mind. I take access This moment to regard them and confess How spare for want of you they hang, and thin. Pity seems all their argument may win, That fine, frail rustling of each mood's meet dress. Yet starts a subtle incense from the press, Crushed perfumes of the flowers your thoughts have been.
Sweeter than ever spoken do they come Again with finer relish to my mind Starved on your absence. False surmise is numb, For now in these reliques of you I find The smile you meant when rebel lips were dumb, The kind words agitation made unkind.
THE SECOND COVENANT
I dreamt that we were lying On a high hill afar, Our deepest thoughts replying To one lone star. High from the vault of heaven Its silver rays were shed; And the deep peace between us Was the peace of the dead.
Our busy lives were over, Our day and night and day; Of you and me your lover, Nought more to say; And sorrows we had vanquished And blisses we had known And our cares and our kisses To the four winds were blown.
The handclasp of contrition, The eyesight of each Where each had recognition, Were passed, with our speech. Vast night declared above us, "Now sight and semblance fade, No heart's emotion bindeth A shadow to a shade."
Then within me, lying near you, A dark sadness grew That, to cherish or to cheer you, There was nought left to do. Of happy daily service Nought now remained to me— Of good news for you and comfort As once it used to be.
No beauty save the spirit's Abode wide heaven's scrolls; No charm the flesh inherits, No strength save the soul's; As breath upon a mirror All recognizing sign. Yet nearer far and dearer Your soul spoke to mine.
For viewed not of each other, Yet closer side by side Than child unto his mother, Than husband to bride, Thought unto thought you answered. One prayer we seemed—one breath; And the deep love between us Was the love after death.
DEDICATION TO A FIRST BOOK
Braver than sea-going ships with the dawn in their sails, Than the wind before dawn more healing and fragrant and free, Fairer than sight of a city all white from the mountain-top viewed in the vales, Or the silver-bright flakes of the moonlight in lakes, when the moon rides the clouds and the forest awakes, You are to me!
For you are to me what the bowstring is to the shaft, Speeding my purpose aloft and aflame and afar, Through the thick of the fight, in your eyes' steady light my soul hath seen splendor, and laughed. Now, however I tend betwixt foeman and friend through the riddle of Life to Death's light at the end, I ride for your star!
THE SHADOWED ROAD
Our shadows moved before us on the road. The trees that watched us brooded dark and still, Streaked by the frost with phosphorescent gray. Chill followed sharply on a gorgeous day Of winds, blown leaves, red bonfires. Faintly showed The mist-ringed moon above the pasture hill.
Our shadows moved before us. By our side New mystery, throbbing through the rhythm of life Echoed our footsteps; and its presence grew So real to me, I felt its power endue An archangelic shape, whose phantom stride Rhymed with our own who walked as man and wife.
Light fell upon us from the glimmering moon, And light upon his face whose name is Love. Ah, the rapt eyes, the tender, quickening gaze, The splendor on that wild immortal face! Then hurrying cloud possessed the heavens, and soon I saw his shadow darken from above.
Beyond our own it stretched along the way, The darkness of Death's cowl, more deep than night. Gulfing our own, it blotted out the road, The shadow of Love that brightest dreams forebode. Yet, in my soul I found a thing to say: "Though darkness go before, we walk in light.
"This is Love's answer!" For Death's night must move Onward before two hearts that cast out fear, Joined by the closest of immortal bonds. They shall speak truth when prayer to prayer responds, "Death but precedes us as the shadow of Love. Light falls about us from a surer sphere!"
LOVE IN THE DAWN
Dawn, with hallowed flame, seemed to sing your name Through our open window as the golden glory came. Ardor thrilled me through; Dawn again—with you! "Up and at the world again! The world is made anew!"
Newly on my sight flashed the lovely light, All the ringing roads of fame glittered broad and bright. On again! with new visions to pursue; And dawn again, dawn again, dawn again—with you!
Other dawns may keep joy as pure and deep? Dawns of greater splendor may awaken me from sleep? Nay! they never can bless a stubborn man Like the dawn, the wonder-dawn with which this day began!
Oh, my deeds must take triumph for its sake! Loud my heart shall sing it while the mind remains awake: Words I never knew could so thrill me through— Dawn again, dawn again, dawn again—with you!
"HAD I A CLAIM TO FAME?"
Had I a claim to fame? Little to honor; Save when I spoke her name, Gazing upon her. Then was I crowned of men, More than my seeming. Youth's glorious hope again Bannered my dreaming.
So, when our day is past; When we lie stilly Under the earth at last, Clod by white lily. Give me neither tear nor sigh; Breath but this in passing by, Where empearled with morning dew The high grass above her Waves, and above me too,— "He was her lover!"
You are that belovd thing Which, through all my seeking In silence or in speaking, I would find, and finding sing!
You are that belovd air Which, o'er all the chiming Of music or of rhyming, Reconciles my long despair.
You are that belovd sight Which, beyond life's fairest Or rich beauty's rarest, Fills my heart with true delight.
You are that belovd place Where, past all the portals To the pomp of mortals, Love perceives the courts of grace,
And what splendors more,—ah, well! Though I often fashion Songs of praise and passion, Now—I look—but cannot tell!
DREAM AND DEED
All day long I am fashioning crowns, Crowns of great price for you! What do I fashion them of? Opals and pearls of the dew, Diamonds of old renowns, Blazing rubies of love, And gold from the heart of the golden sun, brought down by a sunset djinn,— Brighter gold, purer gold than ever gleamed under Andvari's fin!
All day long I am tempering swords, Swords for my thought to wield! What is the steel I true, And how is their splendor annealed? High dreams, to slay evil hordes, And flaming thoughts of you That light my dark heart from their white-hot forge— a glory to take one's breath— Like the dove-gray, rose-faint veils of faith you wind round the skull of death!
But when was a sword or a crown For praise or for honor meet, When the truth transcends, and sees Knighthood kneeling at your feet? In the darkness they go down! There is better trust in these: Set teeth, and the furious will to strive through the dust of the world for you; The hardly builded house of deeds each day, that must prove me true!
A TAPER OF INCENSE
You are a bannered balcony Of God's heraldic house, Waving above the dinning throng of the days Pennants of purple and oriflammes of crimson And cloths of gold. Your varying device is on every shining shield Of the brilliant row that flames beneath the eaves Of that house whose street is cobbled with silver clouds.
The days go down that street, the troops of days Dark and bright, tramping to tread the earth. Ever, with trumpets and tumult, rigor or laughter, They pass saluting, to press upon the world, Regiment after regiment unnumbered.
Your beauty is a balcony hung with banners To wave them on. The foremost have sent your name Echoing rearward to hearten new battalions. Your beauty is the sunset's streaming flag, It is the vivid standard of the dawn Flapping over dazed dream-voyagers That kneel on new sun-pooled, mysterious strands. It wasted the moon to pallor, set the sun Pulsing with burning blood—it shattered the mind Of heaven into stars.
The beauty of your spirit has sent the winds Eternally sighing, and sharpened the cold ache Of the heart-broken, incessantly-sobbing sea. It has scattered its sparks in the hearts of silken flowers And has raised the frozen fury of glaciers against the North And has permeated the South with its elusive fragrance. Auroral over East and West it dances.
You are a crystal goblet of such wine Set in a niche of night That when Death quaffs you he must glow to life Flushed with eternity.
O proud Love, so humble and human, Yet beyond the gods to exalt— O quiet Love, couching with the curled might and majesty Of tawny leopards! O tamed tiger, Love, whose golden eyes Weep for the thrift of angels! Thou pinnacled pain of the midnight, Rose-strewer of daylit mire, Transfiguration of our futile lives, Dazzler into the secret courts of heaven— Thou whose passion is written in all men's blood and tears And in silver letters upon the books of God— Make me to stand erect, and walk with danger, And strive like a flame! For Thou and I are struck as cymbals of God's exultation In Life, His song!
God knows that you are beautiful as Death Chanced on in some hot, sunlit forest-clearing Where—burst from tangled thickets, with desperate breath— My outlawed heart might gasp at him appearing So sudden and dazzling upon my rage and fearing,— Such pale announcement, such quietude should endue Tall, proud, grave Death, with noble footsteps nearing! Immortal goddess, thus beautiful are you!
God knows that you are passionate as Life, On rhythmic curves of bosom and limb attending,— Sweet as clear water, and acid as a knife Thrust through fresh fruit wherewith the bough is bending,— Yet rule the riotous blood to Man's befriending,— Yea, hush his ghastly tears the midnight through, To flesh of flesh your ageless mystery lending. Ah, holy goddess, thus terrible are you!
God knows that you are hated as men hate Only the highest and the uttermost presence, For in your eyes is anger to break fate And life's too blissful sweet is all your essence. Your glory seethed the suns to incandescence, You are flame—flame! Our creeds your orb unto Are but thin shadowy demilunes and crescents,— Immortal goddess, so infinite are you!
Infinite in range of life, the worm you quicken From crashing suns.... "Let there be light!" you said. Light was, and life,—Man rose, and Man fell stricken By your relentless power that through him sped; And again Man rose, halt like the walking dead, Dragging these heavy laws you never knew Till you recoiled from him astonishd,— Ah, holy goddess, so wonderful were you!
So now Man hath smeared filth upon your altar, And, slant-eyed and slime-lipped, wrought sins apart. His tongue intones an abominable psalter Hoarsely, and on his brows cold sweat-drops start,— Nor through your oracles speaks he from his heart, Hearing you in the porches of his ears; His eyes are blind of you, where only smart The sick revulsions of his ignorant tears.
No! He intones by rote a coded praise, Unto a leering two-faced god falls prone, And smears with lust and fear his alternate days For monstrous imaginations to atone; For you, most instant, most ardent,—you are flown Like fumes to his clownish brain, and in his fear He dreams you a eunuch carved of pallid stone Warning, "Beware all ye who enter here!"
God knows you are as clean as the sea-gust Uproarious round those poppied headlands high Where huge green seas beneath, in billows upthrust, Scatter snow-amethysts to the bright sapphire sky,— Or music on which fusillade the hoof-beats by Of screaming valkyr-steeds, to exalted strife! You are love's seal and love's nobility, And the burning flame, the aching flame of Life!
Therefore, transfigurer of the flesh,—clear-shining Redeemer of the coinage passed for base,— Strong flawless column, round which all vipers twining Hiss out their venom and die on their disgrace,— Oh radiant form, oh rapt victorious face Of our dreams of love, toward whom all brave and true Strain upward, seeking out your holiest place,— This praise I raise, this praise I raise to you!
Through flamelit Hades To win a realm, I rode with my lady's Sleeve on my helm. With fiends around me And fiends before, I rode, and found me At an iron door.
My pulses hammered. I clubbed my spear And knocked. Fiends clamored. I felt Man's fear When mysteries awe him. The door, with din, Swung wide. I saw him Who sat therein.
Oh, amaranthine Are Love's estates, But Rhadamanthine The Judge awaits. My blazon and banner He stared them through And said, "What manner Of man are you?"
I stood stripped naked, Stark to atone. My body achd Through every bone. A blast blew through me. I drank black gall. I saw he knew me. I told him all.
"The heart I stare in Is black as night," He said, "but therein There burns a light. White hands encore it To guard its grace, And strangely o'er it Bends a still face.
"Small light—great wonder! Through all my hall You flash asunder The murky pall. Walls grow unreal— All Hell a wraith,— Oh white, ideal Flame of her faith!"
"Here I surrender, White flame of trust! Knave, strike some splendor From this your dust. Oh gross, weak, dumb thing, Rise—dare a part! For here—is something That breaks my heart!"
Now, like withdrawing music Where pillared aisles implore, You are a vanished choir, A soft-closed door.
Victorious voices blended Fade, and I kneel still-hearted. Sudden my life is ended. We have parted.
Lost in the vault's vast splendor My ghost goes rising, thinning. Can heartbreak be an end, or Some strange beginning?
Each cup shall be broken, Each tower shall fall, All drink be bitter, Bitter as gall, The dark heart go lonely— Save for one tower, One cyathus only, One wine of power!
My love's white beauty Is this tower, The wine of her beauty My wine of power, The cup of her spirit Mine to drain With awful knowledge And trembling pain.
She only, she only Stands on the stars. Her small hands grapple Heaven's black bars. Only her deep love Pays the price Of a sight of the vistas Of paradise.
Each goblet may shatter, Each tower may fall, Low livid sunset Darken on all— In her soul's high tower My love pours wine, And the glory and the power Of the stars are mine!
Like the twilight blowing over sunset water Under high holy hills purple-mirrored in a mere, Quietly and smiling, my dear love brought her Heart to my heart, and through the dusk drew near;
Drew to me near, drew my brows up to the tender Caress of her hands. And I lifted up my eyes To hers, and deep within them saw a silent splendor More still, more strange than the planets' in the skies.
Each gazed on each. O what is mortal seeing To the glory of that depth, to the glory of that height Through veils revealed, when all the gates of being Burst open to a torrent of such blinding light!
Yes, and here I stand warped by life's derision, A mountebank grimacing lest at last I weep. What man could tell that I had ever seen a vision More wonderful than any on the steeps of sleep?
Days come, days go, as the clock ticks hours. Years loom, years pass; the shadows rise.... Like the twilight breathing over holy flowers Once my love drew near. And I lifted up my eyes....
Remembering one woman I have seen And have known, Benignant eyes, nobility of mien, A scarf from off a perfect shoulder blown, Solicitude, white ardor in a face, Motions like water under the moon's grace,— I wonder much how men can be so base, So worse than stone.
Oh murmurings of music through the world, Ye women born To arduous things and angers, and upwhirled Like tongues of flame through smoke of the world's scorn, Crystalline lights, awful and fitful gleams Of reconciliation with our dreams, Through you alone the world's true spirit streams Sounding her silver horn.
All things I wish for you that height may hold, Who hold the race, Oh desperate runners on the track unrolled Over the highlands now, in the sun's face; O swift and free, hoverers on the verge Whence the impossible things we mocked emerge,— O wings—wings—sliding the starry surge And veering on the chase!
The satyr and the centaur race below Deriding wings above. Manful they meet and fight to overthrow All they are wearied of,— Manful they build, demolish, drive, are driven,— But you are free, who have more greatly striven, Yours is the light above their lightless heaven, For yours is Love!
THE SILVER HIND
Through the black forest You glance, you start,— Through the black forest That is my heart! Beautiful, silver-heeled, Swift as wind, Topping the brake Like a flying hind!
I have a bugle Of ivory The wizard of twilight Gave to me. I hear it winding in my heart, In the black forest, where you start.
And I know, Like huntsmen in gold and green, That my thoughts spur past Where you have been, And, like hounds that have slipped the leash, They race,— Bell-tongued brachets Upon your trace.
Through the black forest You reach, you run, Out of the shadow, Into the sun. And the hunt behind Is lyric and loud Where horses and hounds And huntsmen crowd....
But you are gone— Oh, you are gone Out to the blaze and glory of dawn! Leaving the print of blood-red anemones In the mould, and echoes of ancient glees Shaking like silver leaves on my sombre trees!
ARISTEAS RELATES HIS YOUTH
(Who, in his age, was reported a magician throughout all Greece, as it was said that his soul could leave his body at will.)
Early rose was the light As I sought the portico Whence her wings had fluttered in flight And with surge and flow Had risen to soar, and go Out, out over the sea, Dwindling white and soft and slow To a memory.
Oh, grief of all years to be! Most miserable of men! My throat ached with my tears, As a sword driven through my ears Was my anguish then.
Dark were the rooms where they lay Who loved in the flesh (Diana's disciples they said!) In that lupanar of the dead. Sweet was the flesh they loved, Graceful the limbs that moved, Wild the passion that they
Desired afresh In the night. Were they not of the world, Of lust and toil and war? And I—I too? Yea—till that music swirled About me, and I knew I was visited of a star!
A star it was grew and grew (As hot in the dark I lay, Panting, after the feast,) Glorious out of the east, And a face that made my soul A slowly uncrumpling scroll, It glimmered so near and fey!
Her voice rippled like water In the light gold-green Of some mid-noon ravine. She stooped, the moon's daughter, With her hand underneath my head And her lips on the lips of the dead. I arose from my rumpled bed.
A waterfall sliding green In a silver-mosaicked screen We two trod under; Then I turned where her light touch led, Trembling but unafraid. Across some Elysian sod, Winged of heel, I floated—a god!— Down and into a moon-filled glade, A glade of wonder....
But the east grew steadily bright, A glaring sea of light. I throbbed to drums of dread. And my eyes still held her flight When she broke that dream with one kiss Of agonizing bliss, Stood in streaming flame by my bed, Gestured, and fled.
Between the pillars I saw, Beyond the pillars I heard Wings of no mortal bird Flare and withdraw. And they who had feasted and passioned Slept, finding light no bar, Slept in their bodies' ease. But under those rustling seas That lapped at the water-stair I ached to plunge my despair And my heart, that some grim God fashioned To be visited of a star!
Shaken, a thousand times shaken, with the millions that grieve, Now at last I am overtaken. I will say I believe. I ran with the pennons of morning astream over me. On the precipice, scorning its warning, I ran to be free. Still I love high winds and the great running and the steep verge, But strength past my strength overtakes my cunning, and stars emerge High over me, eternal, deathless, deep over deep, And my head sways heavy as I run breathless, my eyelids droop with sleep.
Yet it is not this has shaken my soul in me, Not the bounds of life have overtaken my will to be free, But scent and sound past mete and bound, and a sign—a sign That no other eyes can recognize, that is only mine. I hardly know what I believe or what I mean Save there is sweetness round my heart and the world a screen Of interwoven mystery to a world unseen.
Can one drink the air, can one seize the sea, can one grasp the fire? Even so intangible to me the answer to my desire. The elements we feel and see shift and drift and suspire And we therein behind the screen, with glimmering brains that tire. That is all! Nor can I fall now in the race. As a second breath to a runner comes my soul takes up the pace— For I dreamed the world ran with me in a far and starry place.
Gray as sea-mist driven were the shapes that strove With the strength of greed and hate and the greater strength of love. I saw their eyes like phosphorus, blue fog about them wove. I saw the limbs glimmer and I heard the sighing come From this side and from that, as our host ran dumb Over a silver shining plain, to some strange end, to some— Was it goal or heaven or city?—some agonizing gleam That broke the heart for pity and made the eyes stream. Above the pallor of that race our spent breath rose like steam, Yet our red hearts pulsed within us, as we ran, in my dream.
A glow below the ghostly surf that swirled and surged and turned Came from human hearts visible that throbbed and beat and burned, And like sand of human ashes was the soil our feet spurned. All the stars above us thronged the dome of space, Poised like javeliniers, with glinting spear or mace, Watchful of our running and to spoil our race, And all the souls that ran, ran with drawn and lifted face.
This too was the real. I ran with dogged heart. I parched like a desert, tortured in every part. I knew not what city—nor why the race should start.
Then a singing touched me, and the scent of a flower, A child's laugh, and the crying of a woman in her hour, And a comrade's courage—and a subtle power Not of worldly schemes and ways crept along my veins, And my heart went ablaze and consumed its many stains, And my lips were touched with wine and my body felt no pains. Then it passed—and yet again it came and it passed— Yet again and yet again, till I toiled at last In the old ironic torture, bound fast, bound fast.
But as I looked I saw how it came and went, That touch, that communion, almost inevident, Through the host of these my brothers who ran nigh spent. When it came they ran like men with life and lung And the wind went by them like a song bravely sung, Their hearts spread wide radiance, their limbs glowed young. It passed, and they were phantoms with phantom arms that swung.
Here and there a true form some spirit would endue For moments, but we mortals were but ghosts I knew. Then a light low down before us to a distant landscape grew. The stars from heaven crowded down. I knew our race was through. The stars from heaven crowded down intolerably bright With dizzying brilliance, height above armored height. Every star upcast a spear and hurled it down to smite.
There was one strange thought in me. It echoed through my head As some titanic corridor echoes a giant tread, Only a little thing that my love once had said. Common daily speech, a comforting word Tossed to me as lightly as crumbs to a bird, But it lived in my heart, it broke to flame and stirred My self to a purpose at last not self could mar, And I cried "We are delivered!" and I heard it echo far Up to the vault of heaven past star on shrinking star.
So then I was running through poppies that I knew Above a blue sea basking—and you—and you Were running on the headland in the world made anew.
I know some force is mighty, some force I cannot reach. I know that words are said to me that are not said with speech. My heart has learned a lesson that I can never teach. Only this I know, that I am overtaken By a swifter runner Whose breath is never shaken, That I follow on His pace, and that round me, as I waken, Are the headlands of home and the blue sea swinging And the flowers of the valleys their fresh scents flinging And the prophets and the poets, with their singing—with their singing!
For all your gestures, for your gray-blue eyes And Irish mouth, and hair that makes you child, When shaken out at evening; for your mirth And your quick pity, and your mother's breast; For the great tenderness that you have given And the rich dreams through purple-flowing night, The holy lull of effort and the peace Of a deep love; because of all these things, Wherever I should be,—beyond what seas Of an enchanted music, on what isles, I know not, of a strange irradiance, In dream or life or death,—dissatisfied With splendor or white mystery, my heart Would break—my heart would break—never to hear Your tones again or feel your hair again Beneath my lips, or see your lifted eyes Brimming with all the secrets of the stars!
DEATH WILL MAKE CLEAR
What in the night says the clock that ticks time to eternity, Swimmer of waves of your thought that are dark waves and deep? What in the night says the moon, from her patient infinity, Laying pale hands on your heart, hands of peace and of sleep? What say the stars to her eyes, who has loosed by the window The billow of her hair, as the dark of the trees feels her fear? And over the cradle what whisper is breathing, is breathing. As over the bed of the bride or the catafalqued bier, Or over the flung and clawed earth where a soldier is dying? "Death will make clear!"
Furious and fleet is man's soul, like a hound through the woodland, On through the tangle of trees and the green and the gold. Yes, for the senses are goads, but the lineage noble, Not for the warren or hutch to be cornered and sold, Then there is freedom and ease, and a dream that persuades one On, till the track quakes on black whence the death-lilies peer. So the bronzed shoulder, that sets to the crust of the boulder Heaving it up—as the mill-wheel that turns at the weir— Bring—? They bring silence and candles and creaking and whispers. Death will make clear.
Why that white work from the crag and the hands of the sculptor Smitten in a moment to rubble as earth heaves her breast? Why that intangible glory, remote but God-in-us, Golden and crumbling to pathos of dusk in the west? Why the pure curve of the arm and the breast of a mother, Yes, and the proud head of man held erect on the mere Void of blue heaven,—the seas and the ships and the trumpets, Towers and horizons, all shouting? The answer is here, Here in thy breast, son of man, sorry son of the ages. Death will make clear.
Lord of the mighty, as Lord of the weak and the lowly, Lord of the sage and the madman, of clean and unclean; Breeder of suns and of excrement, loathly and holy, Graving the skull with the pity of all that had been,— Death, oh thou graver of countenance knighted austerely, Yea, on the pitiful clay, such poor flesh in its fear Of God and the soul and the singing of stars that may teach us Wisdom at last,—oh thou ultimate searcher and seer, Beckon—I follow. At last on my lips set thy finger; Thou wilt make clear!
Sunlight is full of age. Ah, so old! Older than any sage Has ever told!
The draught our Lord quaffed up To the bloody lees; The aching hemlock cup Of Socrates.
It is a golden sword; The veil of the Grail; The unfathomable Word That will not fail.
Along a summer street It often lies Shimmering to repeat Immortal paradise.
As a mountain lake can mirror The exalted with the near, Heaven's wonder and terror— Both shine here.
It says all things in nought; And, saying them, passes To gild like gentle thought Trees and grasses.
It sways upon the ocean Like a god asleep Where the waves' wandering motion Hides the deep.
It shafts through forest aisles Like miracle; It trembles and smiles On the lip of Hell.
It has touched Greece and Rome And Persia's might— And stirs the vines of home With flickering light.
It lay on Cain's hot neck As he stooped to slay. David's stone from the beck Glittered its day.
Cleopatra gazed upon it Through shadowed lids. High halls they built to shun it In the Pyramids.
It opens babies' hands That crawl to snatch its beams. Through hovels in ancient lands Its splendor streams.
Eternal wells of light Its largeness shows. There shall be no more night Its conscience knows.
It is a smiling stranger, A fainting hour, Love and peace and danger And the mock of power.
Yet have I said no word Of what it is. Only—my heart is stirred By its mysteries!
AND A LONG WAY OFF HE SAW FAIRYLAND
I lived once with fairies, (And I know they're true fairies!) One lifts laughing eyes In a way I most admire. Truth goes by contraries, For you don't know they're fairies Till there isn't any firelight, Nor song beside the fire.
One fairy's small to hold, And her hair is fairy gold. One's a feminine fairy With unusual address. One fairy's just Jim. You just look and love him, With his nonsense and his laugh And his sturdy steadfastness.
And the fairy queen I knew Has eyes that are blue, Has moods that are decided, And courage that denies It is ever brave at all. She mends them when they fall; She tends the little fairies In absurd, delightful wise.
They bring her thoughts like birds And very funny words And mountainous decisions And things to make you cry. But, after all, it's airy In the house of a fairy, With a face like that to sob to And those arms close by.
I lived once with a fairy. I was wild and contrary. I'm still wild and contrary. But her heart's a heart for two. She sees rooms of starry graces, Kind firelight on our faces, And a watch on sleeping fairies, And the fairy home come true. Once again, with gentle evening And the dreaming trees, come true.
IN TIME OF TROUBLE
In memory of your desolate eyes I know That words are words, with nothing to gainsay The testimony of pain, the heavy day; But searching in the ruins of overthrow I gathered you this wreath that now I show; Small and barbaric brightness on the gray,— Glimmering irony, perhaps. I lay It down before your eyes, and softly go.
You are a vista blundered on in Arden Where the fool grasps his bells, that he may hark; A sudden skyward path where cliffs are warden Of waves that foam to reach a high tide-mark; Whisper of blossoms in a midnight garden; A fountain whitely flowering on the dark.
Men who are fain to change, look wizenedly Into the flowing mirror of your thought And see on what strange reefs your joys are caught And contemplate your vexed variety: Grief that was hooded for eternity Casting the stole for spangled domino, Awe on its pinnacle jigging heel and toe. Love laughing into hate and mockery.
What shoots the warp to patterns that reblend And spread and fade,—and working out what end? In time of pain why be as voluble As one who tells an endless useless sum, Yet simple clay, pallid and deaf and dumb Through the one moment forging Heaven or Hell?
I rooted silver stars from heaven in showers, Rived adamant to show an azure gap, Captured the very Psyche in my cap, Filched from the sack of Time six diamond hours. Hyperborean in my crown of flowers I ran and leapt the cliff of thunderclap Plunging through green sea-light where bronze fronds wrap Crumbling pearl palaces and coral bowers.
Now—"Could I move, all humankind would pant Even to think such effort! Could my songs Cry out, dusked heaven would shudder at my wrongs!" I moaned, and then looked flushed and palpitant On Love's rapt face, that frenzied flagellant Wielding with zeal the welting golden thongs.
Down the deep steps of stone through iron doors I entered that red room and saw the rack, And round the walls I saw them sit in black, The immutable and urgent councillors. My heart was clotted with an old remorse, Despair a vulture fast upon my back. I saw my body like an empty sack Tossed disarticulate on grated floors.
But even a wilder wonder at this crime Tried in the dungeon of my own grim life Woke, as your memory awoke with tune That crazed the very walls. I stared through Time Like to a man who stands with smoking knife Above his dead, and sees the rising moon.
Wakening in the night, the pain that slumber Strikes with her mace of silence dead and dumb Loomed over me and, formless, said, "I come! Bringing illusions lost beyond all number. Rigid you lie, yet for a little cumber This flaming world, where some die proudly, some Glitter like granite, or dream millenium." It left me toiled in mountainous clouds of umber.
I lay sustaining all the old emotion, Numbed as beneath the blows of iron cars. Then slowly, slowly some supreme devotion Crept down, and drew me out of ageless wars, Like a dear voice heard over darkened ocean When all dim heaven is trembling into stars.
THE PALE DANCER
My heart's a still shore; all the golden sails are gone. A pale, silver floor in the hugeness of dawn My heart lies once more, and the little ripples beat This small, idle tune, like the fall of elves' feet, "Oh, come, airy dancer—come dance on us, Sweet!"
She comes like a breeze in the midnight of May. The tumbling of the seas makes a tune far away. She comes with closed eyes, with light footsteps she nears, And she sings the low song that each lipping ripple hears. "In love there is laughter, and after—come tears!"
She dances like the moonlight—light, languorous, aswoon. Her face floats uplifted, a flower to the moon, To the moon pale in heaven and the dawn coming slow, And under her measure the ripples breathe low, "The dancer, the dancer from ages ago!"
Oh, dance me no more! Witching dancer be gone! For my heart's a still shore in the hugeness of dawn, And some answer is thrilling, is trembling for me In the eerie still brightness of heaven and sea, And the little ripples whisper, "What thing can it be?"
Pale dancer, pale dancer, atread without breath, Majestic and yearning and brooding as death, Oh, passion of my heart, oh, enchanted despair That glides before God like a bird from a snare, Return, then, return to me, clothe me with care!— But the beautiful dancer has vanished in air.
(Written in absence and unaware of her desperate condition, a few days before her death.)
This is the song I shall make. Love with white wing bids it wake. Love with dark wing bids it die. Trailing to dimness, the flood of my passion, Glittering to darkness, the necklace I fashion To loop on the breast of the sky!
I have climbed high, even I, Following a light through a rift in the blue, Following a silence that pierced like a cry, Following the image of you.
This is the song I will fashion for you.
Oh ragged-jawed, jagged-toothed Dragon of Time, What will you do with the weft of my rhyme, You who have pawed every jewel in slime— You!
No, in this space between darkness and light, Holiness gleams like a rift in the night Here where I stand and command the full height, All of the glory and gall ... Wrestle and struggle and surge for the height— And fall....
Pain, your pale hands are clenched loose in my hair. My heaving breast to your bleakness is bare. Each of the other as brothers aware, Backward and forward we strain. What is this struggle, why my despair, Pain?
God is somewhere in the night. Listen! The night is so still God could be heard if he walked on the height As a man at night will walk on a hill Lulled by the darkness and dim. Heaven is the hill under Him. Is there not glimmer of light at its rim?
Pain? Ah the struggle again. Drive then your darts in me, drive! Pang after pang of it, Pain. Wounds that will wake me alive. Listen! The night is a hive Of sound like a swarming of myriad bees. Drive the gold darts in me, whet them and drive, Pain! But his shadow flees. What is this plain, whose these shapes that connive Peace?
Peace? But your garment is smirched With grime and the stain of blood! Peace! When I struggled and searched, Ah, when have I understood? I who was broken and spent, I who was baffled, and meant Only to wrench my release!
Who are Those crouching behind you, so still and intent, Peace?
Memories? Why do they haunt? Lust and vainglory and pride? What is it now of my victory they want? What of you, Peace, the crucified? This is the height. Can they scan it? This is no space-festering planet. This is no rack of vain tears! Even a dream, can they cloud it and ban it,— Fears?
Years go over me, cloud me and cover me, Years—haunted years.
Only one thing I say over and over Under that catafalque glooming to cover My shame and disaster and wraith of faith. Only one thing I say over and over, Your name, said under my breath.
There, like a storm on the sea line, you hover, Death!
Ripples and eddies and whirlpools of light Swirling like veils on the face of the night. Down from the infinite, down from the height Stricken and whirled, Swept like a leaf on the blast of the night Back to the world!
Breathing beside me—your breath! Listen! The night is so still God could be heard if he talked with Death As a man at night might talk on a hill Gently and sad to a friend Of the things we always intend ... Night without end for Him—night without end...!
This is the song I have made Of the night when I was afraid, Of the night too breathless, too still, When I lay like stone—alone—alone, However near me the love we kill. What of the love we kill?
Pride that died and darkness that grew! This is the song I began to wreathe ... Ah, but God remembered,—it is not true! And you—you live, you breathe!
On Sunday in the sunlight With brightness round her strown And murmuring beauty of the sky At last her very own, She who had loved all children And all high things and clean Turned away to silentness And bliss unseen.
Rending, blinding anguish, Is all a man can know; Yet still I kneel beside her For she would have it so, Kneel and pray beside her In light she left behind— Light and love in silentness, Sight to the blind.
Oh living light burn through me! Oh speak, as spoke to me Her deep sweet eyes and faithful, Voice on Calvary! Oh light be near and shining, Nearer than I guess, And teach me that true language Of silentness!
If now I fall away From faith, may never day Shine as it shone With inmost sanctities Of those sun-glittering trees— We two alone.
The darkness toils and heaves. The Wood of Glittering Leaves You gave—you gave, Dearest in life and death, Dearest with every breath, Lamp of the brave!
You came in sunlight, still As God, with Whom your will Was always one. You knew me, and you knew I read your presence through That sacred sun.
League upon league of light, As the train raced the night, With night on me, With pain that gripped and wrung As the cars clashed and swung,— I yet could see
The slim trees of that wood Brighter than tears or blood, Fairy with day; That dark marsh land made bright, Veiled in miraculous light,— Your way!
I hold it fast. I hold All that mysterious gold, All that it weaves Of Heaven to understand— Our radiant bridal land Of glittering leaves.
Honest hands to help, honest eyes to see, Light that lives in God: Such our dearest was, such will ever be Under Heaven. Nothing in this life gives to you and me Such a sunlight-shod, Sunlight-crowned delight in our memory As was given.
There was not a harm in these roaring hours That could touch Her head Perfect was Her charm borne against the powers Gnashing still. In her heart a field laughed with golden flowers Where Her soul could tread. Swift, serene, she passed all that snarls and cowers, White of will.
Song can give her nothing. We who brave the night Say Her name again Raise it like a cup full of sacred light Up to Heaven. Now we know our pain blinding, burning bright In the world of men. Yet we know our joy, knowing now aright What was given.
Base rewards and glamours, the beating tide of hours, The crying and clamors and the surge of silent powers Pass me and pass me now. Silently I go The one road, the only road I know.
Oh, bare and bright as dreams And laced with silver streams Lies the land on either hand, past the darkness and dread. Though a man must grip his soul lest it start from all control, And must bow his head.
Where are your footprints on air that I may find them? Where your radiant garments that I may hide behind them? No, it is my own road, straight and black That turns not back.
I will search till the darkness sears on either hand With the drifting sparkles of some fiery brand, Of some pain that lights me nearer to the land of your endeavor. I will search forever.
The torrent of the hours like a veil veiling heaven, The war with bitter powers—I am given. But light that you left me—light, your own decision, Your secret and your vision.
Time? What is Time now. Standing to the thong And the dream that is passing, time is not long. And I shall find the valley past the mountains that defeat me, And see you come to meet me.
Not all the spoils you cast, not all the dark was bearing In dream across the sea, across the murmurous sea; Not beauty that has passed or crowns the stars were wearing Or flame that fierce and fast through darkness hunted me; Not the frustrate desire, the web of memory broken, The silence where your speech dizzies through all the air; Not these elude my reach when the dark hours have spoken As does that priceless token, your soul of passionate prayer.
Oh race that falters on, the striving and the stricken Passing with fruits and garlands and dust upon the head; Oh burning sunset gone wherein was hope to quicken The surge of starry dawn rising above the dead; Oh clamor over shame, yoke of the little-wiser On the unwilling shoulders, clenched by the quivering hands; Patience and proof that were and are your still appriser Now veil her and disguise her, gone from the spectral lands.
The spectral lands of time, the eternal torrent pouring Of dark and light around us, who fear both dark and light; And grief that wails in rhyme, and flesh the soul abhorring, And dismal pantomine played on a stage moon-bright; Why should such things as these assail her happy meadow, Creep on the court of children, come crying through the shine? We who are too unskilled even to taunt the shadow Groan only in the darkness and spill the precious wine!
For round us beating, beating her wings are in the mirror Of sleep, the mirror of silence built up with perilous breath. And in our conscience meeting her smile is on the terror That chains us round with error and desperate fear of death; Kind as a child's small hands her faithfulness is round us With swift and fading gestures, wise as a child is wise; Out of the gathering clouds that curtain and confound us, Ecstasy and enchantment—sudden and swift, her eyes!
The hills shall lay away their sombreness unspoken, The seas shall hush their murmur, the saddened wind be still, When the long league of silence 'twixt earth and beast is broken When at the end of all things the stones speak on the hill. Then Calvary shall cry with glorious joy to heaven, Aceldama be hearkened and purged by words aware,— For that in days gone by her voice to His was given, And to the joy of heaven her soul of passionate prayer.
I listened to the wind who speaks of finding Among the litter of his blown leaves of days All rainbow gold of tears that are so blinding; And then again he says Something of glittering jewels in the haze, Incense of praise, myrtles and bays for binding The wounds that blossom blood upon his ways.
I listened to the sun who can recover Miraculous instants of an earlier time Surprise Her eyes alinger on her lover And run like rhyme On leaf and stream. He spoke of dream and clime Sacred with everlasting Spring, ahover With light more cadenced than bright bells in chime.
I listened to the earth and sea. Their voices, Too mixed with men, came sombrer and more sad. They droned awhile of all the tangled choices That every man has had, And moaned like ancients with mere age gone mad And left me nothing that reasons or rejoices— That seemed so reasonless in being glad.
I listened starward where the ghostly weaving Of wandering lights is all of Heaven we know And worlds are lamps and darkness comes bereaving The world of ebb and flow, And 'tis as if a bosom were heaving slow With firmamental care,—ah, heaving, heaving With an unfathomable earlier woe.
"Listener at many doors,—for what disaster?—" Her spirit murmur crept into my ears. "Brooder on pictures breathed on by the Master, Listen at the heart that hears,— Ah, listen softly, breathing low!" The years Were not—for there She was—and, gazing past her, I saw the Vision raised by blood and tears.
For the eyes loved, For the face lifted In that still light, Dark trees are groved, The snow drifted, And the mound white.
And the grave dug And the words spoken And the flowers shed— And the eyes tearless But the heart broken For the brave dead.
Though a soul thrill To the stars' fire And a mind sing To a keen will Of a high desire And a great thing,—
Ah, who listens? Who—who hearkens Or answer makes,— Though the moon glistens And the night darkens And the heart breaks?
Lay her sword by her, Her steel of spirit, Her phantom blade, Lest the loud liar In his hell inherit What her soul made!
Sweet sword, she came To pierce and quicken My heart to grace,— Oh, white flame, Oh, heart life-stricken, Oh, deathless face!
Now the snow drives. The day Goes on in whirling gray. Still the world roars, As if no striving flame Had gone, as it suddenly came, Passing blind doors;
As if no eyes, no smile, No heart that could beguile Evil from earth, Had hovered just a space To light one holy place In the dark and the dearth.
Was it always as fierce and strange— This blank and sudden change Men have known ever? This veil as hard and keen As the blade of a guillotine Flashing to sever?
Oh, ears that hark in the night, Eyeballs that strain for sight, Pulses that know The same dull burning ache, Though a man sleep, though he wake,— Was it always so?
True love runs wild and wildly understands. I took the bread of Heaven once from your two hands. And your eyes are upon me even as I sing, Saying, "Be of comfort. Death is a little thing."
Oh, magic child and woman, who crept into my heart, Who hold me with strong arms from all the world apart— No, I will not say it—for your eyes grieve; I will say you draw us all to Heaven—your Heaven, by your leave!
Lady Simplicitas, who hummed like any bee Little quaint and olden rhymes to keep simplicity, Lady of the downcast eyes and sudden starry mirth, And eloquence by torchlight for the wronged of all the earth,
True love runs wild and wildly understands! I took the wine of Heaven once from your two hands; And when your eyes were darkened for the world's red smart You made a violet twilight as you pressed against my heart.
For that coiled hair's brown crown, for that sweet and seemly way, The straight thoughts, the eager words, the dazzle of your day, Shall I turn base then and learn to whine and curse? Not though daggers of memory flicker through this verse!
For true love runs wild and wildly understands. I took the sacrament of love from your two hands. So shall I cross the sunset hill and climb the pasture bars And meet you in our porch at last, in the Village of the Stars.
One thing only I can say to you Whatever be the things men do; Let one love make May to you, Hold one love true. Who but hears the querulous Sigh and the heavy groan,— Yet stand for the one love perilous, Though you stand alone.
Yes, and though beaten and beaten By the ravings of the blood; Though with dust and ashes eaten, Be one thing understood. The battle in the cloud overthrows you, Your lips are dashed with foam,— Yet the one love lives and knows you And leads you home.
Home—ah, God!—to the slumber At last and the waking peace, Where wars without name or number Give last release; Where her whisper again is more to you Than the angels' flaming wars, And proud Death's hands can pour to you The cold of the stars.
The selfishness of grief! ... and yet each turning And questing after some new brave relief Shows other steel stretched forth and on me burning The selfishness of grief.
Till self who was my God and love, my chief, Even these turn from my side with footsteps spurning As, stooping low, I lift the heavy sheaf
Of our flowered hours gathered with our yearning, Gathered so wildly in our happy fief And glimmering beautiful beyond belief, With dazing fragrance, till my dim discerning Sees them the legend dropped for my unlearning The selfishness of grief!
THE LONG ABSENCE
"If you saw blue eyes that could light and darkle With merriment or pain; If you saw a face that was only heart—lonely In the cities of the plain; If you felt a kindness that was happy as the daybreak, Patient as night, And saw the eyes lift and—the dawn in May break, You have seen her aright.
"Blue-cloaked archangel, rein your steed a little, Though cities flame! Messenger of night, though my words are brittle, Though I know not your name, Though your steed paw sparkles and your pinions quiver With colors like the sea, Tell me if you saw her, if you saw my love ever! She is lost to me.
"That is why I walk this windy highway And stop and hark And peer through the moonlight—always my way! And listen up the dark And knuckle my forehead to remember her truly, The very She; And that is why I cling your rein unduly To answer me!"
But the eyes were deep and dark, though somehow tender. Haste was manifest In the gauntlet, the greaves, the irid splendor That pulsed on his breast. He did not even gesture to the night grown holy, But shook his rein As his steed leapt forth; while I—turned slowly To the cities of the plain.
THE HOUSE AT EVENING
Across the school-ground it would start To light my eyes, that yellow gleam,— The window of the flaming heart, The chimney of the tossing dream, The scuffed and wooden porch of Heaven, The voice that came like a caress, The warm kind hands that once were given My carelessness.
It was a house you would not think Could hold such sacraments in things Or give the wild heart meat and drink Or give the stormy soul high wings Or chime small voices to such mirth Or crown the night with stars and flowers Or make upon this quaking earth Such steady hours.
Yet, that in storm it stood secure, And in the cold was warm with love, Shall its similitude endure Past trophies that men weary of, When two were out of fortune's reach, Building great empires round a name And ushering into casual speech Dim worlds aflame.
FOR THINKING EVIL
For thinking evil and planning shame The fire licked upward—at first a name, Then star-devouring rebellious flame.
The dread light lingered high on the sky. It grew and reddened—a voiceless cry. It spread and touched us, we knew not why.
And a man sat staring out to the night, Through tender silence, in warm lamplight, Thinking always, "The fire at height!"
That fire blowing with growing roar Saw us going, closing the door; Saw us parted—who meet no more.
For thinking evil—all men drawn Against a devil that dusked the dawn. Each to his station. All men gone.
Some for the hilltop, fire to its brow,— Death, long torture,—some for the plough,— Some for the silence—that I know now.
You and I dreaming Planned the far-away, Cities and hedgerows, Distant summer day, When, the sun sinking,— But oh, a distant sun!— We would be thinking, "Think what we have done!"
You and I whispering Held the isles in fee By a chain of grasses, By your smile to me, Visioning some clime— But long years between— When we should say, sometime, "Think what we have seen!"
You and I wondering Of our old age, Turned a page pondering, And turned a page ... Now, my hands pluck ravelled Strands I can't untie. Yet—you always travelled Farther than I!
You loved the hay in the meadow, Flowers at noon, The high cloud's long shadow, Honey of June, The flaming woodways tangled With Fall on the hill, The towering night star-spangled And winter-still.
And you loved firelit faces, The hearth, the home,— Your mind on golden traces, London or Rome,— On quaintly-colored spaces Where heavens glow With his quaint saints' embraces,— Angelico.
In cloister and highway (Gold of God's dust!) And many an elfin byway You put your trust,— A crock and a table, Love's end of day, And light of a storied stable Where kings must pray.
Somewhere there is a village For you and me, Hay field, hearth and tillage,— Where can it be? Prayers when birds awake, Daily bread, Toil for His sunlit sake Who raised us dead.
With this in mind you moved Through love and pain. Hard though the long road proved, You turned again With a heart that knew its trust Not ill-bestowed. With this you light the dust That clouds my road.
BY THE COUNSEL OF HER HANDS
"Propter veritatem, et mansuetudinem, et justitiam: et deducet te mirabiliter dextera tua. Alleluia."
With her clear eyes lifted, Dreaming, lighting, swift and quelling On all darkness drifted From this earth, a vacant dwelling,— With her haste flashing, flowing Bright above all fear or scorning,— I have seen my darling going Up the mountains of the morning!
Oh, like harps wrung thrilling, Like those viols that voice their answer To the wild still willing Of the heavens' necromancer, From the flowers around her rises Music—gold, more gold in glory— First of all those pure surprises At the ending of the story.
Through the trees she passes Where the purple spreads in shadow, Through the dew-bright grasses Of that heaven-quiet meadow, Up the way of climbing vines, Never faltering, never failing, Where the blue of heaven shines Through the sun for only veiling.
Flowers and leaves together sing Like those birds in clouds that choir. Aching-sweet from silver string, Purling flute and golden wire Music flows no mortal knows Even in April thronged with voices. Deeper glory throbs and glows Till the trembling air rejoices.
Sweet and deep, sweet and deep In the heart dark and aching, Glamorous waves across my sleep Is that tide of splendor breaking. Pure and high, pure and high, Shaking every star to chiming, Till the wonder-stricken sky Thrills and trembles to the rhyming!
Seraphim and cherubim On their wings' immaculate wonder Rise in whirlwinds from the dim, Pass through voids of rolling thunder, Mount from lightning into light, One great surge of praise awaking, White and white into the height— And the music trembling—breaking—!
But above the wood of fear, On one white road forever, From the darkness mounts my dear In her still and bright endeavor, With her kind brave eyes, Honest hands and heart of healing,— Lips that rapturously surmise— Little smiles upon them stealing.
For—a violet twilight now Spreads—as arms had cast a shadow And the Godhead stooped to bow Over phantom hill and meadow! And—again—a field Floats before her—as her choice is— Where her heaven is revealed In those small and rippling voices.
Elfin flowers invoked alive, Fairy clouds from hives of honey Like no angry human hive, Billows of brightness swift and sunny, Pattering, chuckling, panting haste, Rosy-shy—though never sweeter Than the three her arms embraced— Heaven's children flock to meet her!
There are harps in Heaven That must fail against that splendor; And the Sacred Seven Bow their heads in mute surrender. Holy Mother of God, tonight Bend your star-bright eyes and brimming On the sweetness of that sight In that meadow, dusk and dimming!
For, with hands in grasp so small Of the tumbling ones that follow,— With her smile upon them all, Up the hill and through the hollow,— With that rich voice crooning, waking Sparkling gusts of joy and laughter,— Climbs the Light of my forsaking, Mounts the Hope of my hereafter!
Harshest song, bow down! Mutinous words!—to make immortal How the heavens in starlight drown As she enters in the Portal, How the Heavenly City glows, How the bells cry, "We have found her!" As through tears and praise she goes With the children crowding round her!
STRENGTH BEYOND STRENGTH
"If thou hast run with the footmen and they have wearied thee, what wilt thou do with the horsemen?"
Breathless, beaten as with whips of wonder, Scourged and naked to the flying sky,— Yet have I heard the hoofs of thunder, Seen the horsemen glimmering by.
Head back, teeth bared, eyes aglitter, Questioning still the black reply, Laboring stride and breath grown bitter— Phantom horsemen swerving by!
Foot on the flint and burning, parching Death at the throat, with gall to taste. Rank on rank are the footmen marching, Wave on wave do the footmen haste!
Past and past me toiled and slowing, Gasping breathing and straining limb,— Rank on rank are the footmen going Forward to fog and the distance dim.
Sledge on the brain and huge hands crushing Hard on my heart that they wring at will. Wave on wave are the footmen rushing, Surging in silence across the hill.
Sudden lit road they run together Just as the cloven mist-wreaths close! Each, each strives by a stirrup-leather Where some glimmering horseman goes!
Iron in sinew, steel persuasion Now of the weak and sobbing will; Scorn that beats on the old evasion; Limbs that move for the further hill.
Teeth clenched hard on an execration, Chin sunk deep on a laboring chest— Racing death with a revelation, Dead and done with—but forging abreast,
Forging past them and past, and gaining Once again to my hard-fought place. Lord of Runners, requite my feigning! Help me only to run this race!
Head-down, plunged through the roiling weather, Flinging the sweat from a straining brow,— Now, I run by your stirrup-leather. Golden Horseman, I see you now!
If I could answer that sob of the brave little heart, If I could answer that silence I suddenly fear, If I could give him truth that would set this apart From creeping question, my dear,
There would be ground for our feet, sky for our eyes, At least, at worst. All I can whisper is dreams And faith I hold, being doubtful of all things "wise" And all the outrage that seems.
We are your boys to the end, that is all I know. I the stronger as yet, but knowing no more For all my years than I guessed at years ago And searched through weary lore.
I thought they knew who were older and wiser than I. I saw them confident, grave, with their answers swift. Till I stood in turn at the edge of earth and sky And saw the planets adrift,
And felt my heart struggling and striving for rest And my baffled mind groping and yearning for peace In some great answer or on some infinite breast Of last complete release.
And now I turn his mind to fanciful things And grip him close and hoarsely murmur my love And pray away from him all this pain that clings To this mind I am weary of.
Oh, I will teach him as best a man can teach And strive to find him all knowledge of you I hold And make you near to him even when out of reach Of my treacherous heart and cold.
For though I cannot see there is more to be seen, And what I cannot know is in presciences, And all you are is as it has ever been Between my heart and his.
You who were never afraid of truth or doubt, Only saying "The light in the soul is real, The spirit of grace is true, the lamp is not put out." I must follow forever your white ideal.
Splendor amid the smoke and the dust and vapor, Truth through the litter of lies and rubble of dreams, Mutable yet immutable; changed, and the shaper Of all that light in the mind that steadily gleams!
So—words fail, and run to ironic length; Like panting breath the phrases quiver and fade. And the heart unthought-of throbs its appalling strength— Tireless—till it too in the dust is laid.
But something lives—say there is something lives! Our passion it is, all of our will to be— Something in men like a rout of fugitives Hurrying on the shore of a phantom sea,
Hurrying, wailing, questing, seeing the moon Light that waste of beauty and terror and plangent sound; Knowing the tide creeps on, and that soon, too soon, All of the torches and all of the flowers lie drowned
Yet that that sea moves not of its movement only, All of the dim vast force is motes that blend, Each still striving and still secure and lonely Unto some end, some great mysterious end.
You who were never afraid of truth or doubt— Granted that truth we know!—oh, eyes of mine, Eyes in my soul that will never glimmer out,— This is my soul's ebb-tide, but I make the Sign!
By her beauty stayed, by her love empowered, (Coward! Coward!) Take the honest light and pray for grace. Where her lightning struck, where her pureness flowered, (Coward! Coward!) Dare to see her face.
Through the sea of lies—skies have always lowered!— (Coward! Coward!) Be she your horizon or your mist, Make straight on, though dawn be still undowered, (Coward! Coward!) Toward the timeless tryst.
One thing now you know for truth at least, One thing more than groan of witless beast, One thing more than jest at mumming feast, Pain is still increased, increased, increased Marking life like milestones toward Love's East.
Ax and bundled rods let Csar's henchmen bear, Down to the house of sods processional torchmen pass,— When was your part with these, armed thought's aquilifer, Turning with streaming standard where the barbarians mass!
Csar's screaming eagles black as Hell's vultures flew, But birds went up our dawning splendid and wing and wing And bright for the slaves and captives your fearless banner blew And laughing-glad as a trumpet the faith you still could sing.
Old as the world is evil and disenchantment old. Man's ancient heart is bitter, his hard eyes doubt of a sign. Blown hair beneath that banner that floated in folds of gold, In spirit I see you standing first in the battle-line.
Kind, and a girl, and little, but wiser than all their sneers; Truer than their predictions, daring to be not base; Daring to ride for the Captain who held through blood and tears Life well lost for justice and love acclaimed to the race.
Still with shifting and turning, with minds and the ways of swine, Earth is girded by Csar's men, life a stag in a snare,— Yet still—your banner burning first in the battle-line, Aye, and the trumpets blowing for dawning, Aquilifer!
You could hurt and you could heal, You could hide and still reveal, You were lilies, lilies and steel.
You the near and you the far Were as lamplight and a star.
I cannot tell them what you were; Yet, Death, you have not all of her.
No, I, the passionate nondescript, Have wine your lips have never sipped,
Have wine of her in my heart's blood Whom I never understood.
You were tender and benign, Trusting—and all fire divine And a constellation's sign.
You the far and you the near, You heaven high and heaven here, You the quest, and closest dear.
Ah, God, you have not all of her, For still my cause she can prefer Where she goes, and where You were.
You could weep and you could rise With the Word clear in your eyes, With a strength beyond the wise.
Girl and goddess, will and love, Struggling, battling, winged above Memories I have memory of!
Oh, not in words—for what are words to seeing; Yet not in sight, for presence veils and hides; Not even in sleep, though then the gates of being Stand open to the large eternal tides; Neither in memory, embers fading ashen; Nor by the code, wherein the voice is dumb; Nor wild still love, fluttered by veils of passion, Rise summit by summit to Janiculum!
Think not to speak and tell the riddling purport; Think not that sight of beauty caught the best; Nor any dream furls its dim sails in her port; Nor any memory makes her manifest; Nor by a measure of days mete out her measure, Nor through remembered poignance pluck her strings. For she, like moonlight on some hidden treasure, Steals glimmering down and renders vain these things.
Then I cried, "Love!"—but stars not even shrinking Glittered the same and night remained the same. Slowly I swam on dark tides of my thinking, Yet like no moon she rose to hear her name. I lay like sand unrimmed of sea and crisping Under dead sunlight, parched as bleaching bone, Till all seas shrank and dried, and the last lisping Of beaded water vanished from the stone.
Then jagged lightning forked, the thunder shattered Like stunning guns. Amain the trees were blown And shrieked and writhed and whirled their branches tattered Like patriarchs waking to some end long-known,— All my heart's storm—assault and wild repulsion— And hissing sand-coils swaying high and dim— Flash blinding-bright! And through that last revulsion I saw her passing on the desert's rim.
Time was when you would enter That door and I would be No longer in the darkness Upon the sea, Sailing through lowering tempest Of thoughts within the brain.... If that could be so Ever again....