IN TWO VOLUMES
AUTHOR'S COMPLETE EDITION
GEORGE KILGOUR INGELOW
YOUR LOVING SISTER
OFFERS YOU THESE POEMS, PARTLY AS
AN EXPRESSION OF HER AFFECTION, PARTLY FOR THE
PLEASURE OF CONNECTING HER EFFORTS
WITH YOUR NAME
KENSINGTON: June, 1863
CONTENTS OF VOL. I.
DIVIDED HONORS.—PART I. HONORS.—PART II. REQUIESCAT IN PACE SUPPER AT THE MILL SCHOLAR AND CARPENTER THE STAR'S MONUMENT A DEAD YEAR REFLECTIONS THE LETTER L THE HIGH TIDE ON THE COAST OF LINCOLNSHIRE (1571) AFTERNOON AT A PARSONAGE SONGS OF SEVEN A COTTAGE IN A CHINE PERSEPHONE A SEA SONG BROTHERS, AND A SERMON A WEDDING SONG THE FOUR BRIDGES A MOTHER SHOWING THE PORTRAIT OF HER CHILD STRIFE AND PEACE
THE DREAMS THAT CAME TRUE
SONGS ON THE VOICES OF BIRDS. INTRODUCTION.—CHILD AND BOATMAN THE NIGHTINGALE HEARD BY THE UNSATISFIED HEART SAND MARTINS A POET IN HIS YOUTH AND THE CUCKOO-BIRD A RAVEN IN A WHITE CHINE THE WARBLING OF BLACKBIRDS SEA-MEWS IN WINTER-TIME
SONGS OF THE NIGHT WATCHES. INTRODUCTORY.—EVENING THE FIRST WATCH.—TIRED THE MIDDLE WATCH THE MORNING WATCH CONCLUDING.—EARLY DAWN
CONTRASTED SONGS. SAILING BEYOND SEAS REMONSTRANCE SONG FOR THE NIGHT OF CHRIST'S RESURRECTION SONG OF MARGARET SONG OF THE GOING AWAY A LILY AND A LUTE
GLADYS AND HER ISLAND
SONGS WITH PRELUDES. WEDLOCK REGRET LAMENTATION DOMINION FRIENDSHIP
An empty sky, a world of heather, Purple of foxglove, yellow of broom; We two among them wading together, Shaking out honey, treading perfume.
Crowds of bees are giddy with clover, Crowds of grasshoppers skip at our feet, Crowds of larks at their matins hang over, Thanking the Lord for a life so sweet.
Flusheth the rise with her purple favor, Gloweth the cleft with her golden ring, 'Twixt the two brown butterflies waver, Lightly settle, and sleepily swing.
We two walk till the purple dieth And short dry grass under foot is brown. But one little streak at a distance lieth Green like a ribbon to prank the down.
Over the grass we stepped unto it, And God He knoweth how blithe we were! Never a voice to bid us eschew it: Hey the green ribbon that showed so fair!
Hey the green ribbon! we kneeled beside it, We parted the grasses dewy and sheen; Drop over drop there filtered and slided A tiny bright beck that trickled between.
Tinkle, tinkle, sweetly it sang to us, Light was our talk as of faery bells— Faery wedding-bells faintly rung to us Down in their fortunate parallels.
Hand in hand, while the sun peered over, We lapped the grass on that youngling spring; Swept back its rushes, smoothed its clover, And said, "Let us follow it westering."
A dappled sky, a world of meadows, Circling above us the black rooks fly Forward, backward; lo, their dark shadows Flit on the blossoming tapestry—
Flit on the beck, for her long grass parteth As hair from a maid's bright eyes blown back; And, lo, the sun like a lover darteth His flattering smile on her wayward track.
Sing on! we sing in the glorious weather Till one steps over the tiny strand, So narrow, in sooth, that still together On either brink we go hand in hand.
The beck grows wider, the hands must sever. On either margin, our songs all done, We move apart, while she singeth ever, Taking the course of the stooping sun.
He prays, "Come over"—I may not follow; I cry, "Return"—but he cannot come: We speak, we laugh, but with voices hollow; Our hands are hanging, our hearts are numb.
A breathing sigh, a sigh for answer, A little talking of outward things The careless beck is a merry dancer, Keeping sweet time to the air she sings.
A little pain when the beck grows wider; "Cross to me now—for her wavelets swell." "I may not cross,"—and the voice beside her Faintly reacheth, though heeded well.
No backward path; ah! no returning; No second crossing that ripple's flow: "Come to me now, for the west is burning; Come ere it darkens;"—"Ah, no! ah, no!"
Then cries of pain, and arms outreaching— The beck grows wider and swift and deep: Passionate words as of one beseeching— The loud beck drowns them; we walk, and weep.
A yellow moon in splendor drooping, A tired queen with her state oppressed, Low by rushes and swordgrass stooping, Lies she soft on the waves at rest.
The desert heavens have felt her sadness; Her earth will weep her some dewy tears; The wild beck ends her tune of gladness, And goeth stilly as soul that fears.
We two walk on in our grassy places On either marge of the moonlit flood, With the moon's own sadness in our faces, Where joy is withered, blossom and bud.
A shady freshness, chafers whirring, A little piping of leaf-hid birds; A flutter of wings, a fitful stirring, A cloud to the eastward snowy as curds.
Bare grassy slopes, where kids are tethered Round valleys like nests all ferny-lined; Round hills, with fluttering tree-tops feathered, Swell high in their freckled robes behind.
A rose-flush tender, a thrill, a quiver, When golden gleams to the tree-tops glide; A flashing edge for the milk-white river, The beck, a river—with still sleek tide.
Broad and white, and polished as silver, On she goes under fruit-laden trees; Sunk in leafage cooeth the culver, And 'plaineth of love's disloyalties.
Glitters the dew and shines the river, Up comes the lily and dries her bell; But two are walking apart forever, And wave their hands for a mute farewell.
A braver swell, a swifter sliding; The river hasteth, her banks recede: Wing-like sails on her bosom gliding Bear down the lily and drown the reed.
Stately prows are rising and bowing (Shouts of mariners winnow the air), And level sands for banks endowing The tiny green ribbon that showed so fair.
While, O my heart! as white sails shiver, And crowds are passing, and banks stretch wide How hard to follow, with lips that quiver, That moving speck on the far-off side!
Farther, farther—I see it—know it— My eyes brim over, it melts away: Only my heart to my heart shall show it As I walk desolate day by day.
And yet I know past all doubting, truly— A knowledge greater than grief can dim— I know, as he loved, he will love me duly— Yea better—e'en better than I love him.
And as I walk by the vast calm river, The awful river so dread to see, I say, "Thy breadth and thy depth forever Are bridged by his thoughts that cross to me."
(A Scholar is musing on his want of success.)
To strive—and fail. Yes, I did strive and fail; I set mine eyes upon a certain night To find a certain star—and could not hail With them its deep-set light.
Fool that I was! I will rehearse my fault: I, wingless, thought myself on high to lift Among the winged—I set these feet that halt To run against the swift.
And yet this man, that loved me so, can write— That loves me, I would say, can let me see; Or fain would have me think he counts but light These Honors lost to me.
(The letter of his friend.) "What are they? that old house of yours which gave Such welcome oft to me, the sunbeams fall Yet, down the squares of blue and white which pave Its hospitable hall.
"A brave old house! a garden full of bees, Large dropping poppies, and Queen hollyhocks, With butterflies for crowns—tree peonies And pinks and goldilocks.
"Go, when the shadow of your house is long Upon the garden—when some new-waked bird. Pecking and fluttering, chirps a sudden song, And not a leaf is stirred;
"But every one drops dew from either edge Upon its fellow, while an amber ray Slants up among the tree-tops like a wedge Of liquid gold—to play
"Over and under them, and so to fall Upon that lane of water lying below— That piece of sky let in, that you do call A pond, but which I know
"To be a deep and wondrous world; for I Have seen the trees within it—marvellous things So thick no bird betwixt their leaves could fly But she would smite her wings;—
"Go there, I say; stand at the water's brink, And shoals of spotted barbel you shall see Basking between the shadows—look, and think 'This beauty is for me;
"'For me this freshness in the morning hours, For me the water's clear tranquillity; For me the soft descent of chestnut flowers; The cushat's cry for me.
"'The lovely laughter of the wind-swayed wheat The easy slope of yonder pastoral hill; The sedgy brook whereby the red kine meet And wade and drink their fill.'
"Then saunter down that terrace whence the sea All fair with wing-like sails you may discern; Be glad, and say 'This beauty is for me— A thing to love and learn.
"'For me the bounding in of tides; for me The laying bare of sands when they retreat; The purple flush of calms, the sparkling glee When waves and sunshine meet.'
"So, after gazing, homeward turn, and mount To that long chamber in the roof; there tell Your heart the laid-up lore it holds to count And prize and ponder well.
"The lookings onward of the race before It had a past to make it look behind; Its reverent wonder, and its doubting sore, Its adoration blind.
"The thunder of its war-songs, and the glow Of chants to freedom by the old world sung; The sweet love cadences that long ago Dropped from the old-world tongue.
"And then this new-world lore that takes account Of tangled star-dust; maps the triple whirl Of blue and red and argent worlds that mount And greet the IRISH EARL;
"Or float across the tube that HERSCHEL sways, Like pale-rose chaplets, or like sapphire mist; Or hang or droop along the heavenly ways, Like scarves of amethyst.
"O strange it is and wide the new-world lore, For next it treateth of our native dust! Must dig out buried monsters, and explore The green earth's fruitful crust;
"Must write the story of her seething youth— How lizards paddled in her lukewarm seas; Must show the cones she ripened, and forsooth Count seasons on her trees;
"Must know her weight, and pry into her age, Count her old beach lines by their tidal swell; Her sunken mountains name, her craters gauge, Her cold volcanoes tell;
"And treat her as a ball, that one might pass From this hand to the other—such a ball As he could measure with a blade of grass, And say it was but small!
"Honors! O friend, I pray you bear with me: The grass hath time to grow in meadow lands, And leisurely the opal murmuring sea Breaks on her yellow sands;
"And leisurely the ring-dove on her nest Broods till her tender chick will peck the shell And leisurely down fall from ferny crest The dew-drops on the well;
"And leisurely your life and spirit grew, With yet the time to grow and ripen free: No judgment past withdraws that boon from you, Nor granteth it to me.
"Still must I plod, and still in cities moil; From precious leisure, learned leisure far, Dull my best self with handling common soil; Yet mine those honors are.
"Mine they are called; they are a name which means, 'This man had steady pulses, tranquil nerves: Here, as in other fields, the most he gleans Who works and never swerves.
"We measure not his mind; we cannot tell What lieth under, over, or beside The test we put him to; he doth excel, We know, where he is tried;
"But, if he boast some farther excellence— Mind to create as well as to attain; To sway his peers by golden eloquence, As wind doth shift a fane;
"'To sing among the poets—we are nought: We cannot drop a line into that sea And read its fathoms off, nor gauge a thought, Nor map a simile.
"'It may be of all voices sublunar The only one he echoes we did try; We may have come upon the only star That twinkles in his sky,'
"And so it was with me." O false my friend! False, false, a random charge, a blame undue; Wrest not fair reasoning to a crooked end: False, false, as you are true!
But I read on: "And so it was with me; Your golden constellations lying apart They neither hailed nor greeted heartily, Nor noted on their chart.
"And yet to you and not to me belong Those finer instincts that, like second sight And hearing, catch creation's undersong, And see by inner light.
"You are a well, whereon I, gazing, see Reflections of the upper heavens—a well From whence come deep, deep echoes up to me— Some underwave's low swell.
"I cannot soar into the heights you show, Nor dive among the deeps that you reveal; But it is much that high things ARE to know, That deep things ARE to feel.
"'Tis yours, not mine, to pluck out of your breast Some human truth, whose workings recondite Were unattired in words, and manifest And hold it forth to light
"And cry, 'Behold this thing that I have found,' And though they knew not of it till that day, Nor should have done with no man to expound Its meaning, yet they say,
"'We do accept it: lower than the shoals We skim, this diver went, nor did create, But find it for us deeper in our souls Than we can penetrate.'
"You were to me the world's interpreter, The man that taught me Nature's unknown tongue, And to the notes of her wild dulcimer First set sweet words, and sung.
"And what am I to you? A steady hand To hold, a steadfast heart to trust withal; Merely a man that loves you, and will stand By you, whatever befall.
"But need we praise his tendance tutelar Who feeds a flame that warms him? Yet 'tis true I love you for the sake of what you are, And not of what you do:—
"As heaven's high twins, whereof in Tyrian blue The one revolveth: through his course immense Might love his fellow of the damask hue, For like, and difference.
"For different pathways evermore decreed To intersect, but not to interfere; For common goal, two aspects, and one speed, One centre and one year;
"For deep affinities, for drawings strong, That by their nature each must needs exert; For loved alliance, and for union long, That stands before desert.
"And yet desert makes brighter not the less, For nearest his own star he shall not fail To think those rays unmatched for nobleness, That distance counts but pale.
"Be pale afar, since still to me you shine, And must while Nature's eldest law shall hold;"— Ah, there's the thought which makes his random line Dear as refined gold!
Then shall I drink this draft of oxymel, Part sweet, part sharp? Myself o'erprized to know Is sharp; the cause is sweet, and truth to tell Few would that cause forego,
Which is, that this of all the men on earth Doth love me well enough to count me great— To think my soul and his of equal girth— O liberal estimate!
And yet it is so; he is bound to me, For human love makes aliens near of kin; By it I rise, there is equality: I rise to thee, my twin.
"Take courage"—courage! ay, my purple peer I will take courage; for thy Tyrian rays Refresh me to the heart, and strangely dear And healing is thy praise.
"Take courage," quoth he, "and respect the mind Your Maker gave, for good your fate fulfil; The fate round many hearts your own to wind." Twin soul, I will! I will!
As one who, journeying, checks the rein in haste Because a chasm doth yawn across his way Too wide for leaping, and too steeply faced For climber to essay—
As such an one, being brought to sudden stand, Doubts all his foregone path if 'twere the true, And turns to this and then to the other hand As knowing not what to do,—
So I, being checked, am with my path at strife Which led to such a chasm, and there doth end. False path! it cost me priceless years of life, My well-beloved friend.
There fell a flute when Ganymede went up— The flute that he was wont to play upon: It dropped beside the jonquil's milk-white cup, And freckled cowslips wan—
Dropped from his heedless hand when, dazed and mute, He sailed upon the eagle's quivering wing, Aspiring, panting—aye, it dropped—the flute Erewhile a cherished thing.
Among the delicate grasses and the bells Of crocuses that spotted a rill side, I picked up such a flute, and its clear swells To my young lips replied.
I played thereon, and its response was sweet; But lo, they took from me that solacing reed. "O shame!" they said; "such music is not meet; Go up like Ganymede.
"Go up, despise these humble grassy things, Sit on the golden edge of yonder cloud." Alas! though ne'er for me those eagle wings Stooped from their eyry proud.
My flute! and flung away its echoes sleep; But as for me, my life-pulse beateth low; And like a last-year's leaf enshrouded deep Under the drifting snow,
Or like some vessel wrecked upon the sand Of torrid swamps, with all her merchandise, And left to rot betwixt the sea and land, My helpless spirit lies.
Rueing, I think for what then was I made; What end appointed for—what use designed? Now let me right this heart that was bewrayed— Unveil these eyes gone blind.
My well-beloved friend, at noon to-day Over our cliffs a white mist lay unfurled, So thick, one standing on their brink might say, Lo, here doth end the world.
A white abyss beneath, and nought beside; Yet, hark! a cropping sound not ten feet down: Soon I could trace some browsing lambs that hied Through rock-paths cleft and brown.
And here and there green tufts of grass peered through, Salt lavender, and sea thrift; then behold The mist, subsiding ever, bared to view A beast of giant mould.
She seemed a great sea-monster lying content With all her cubs about her: but deep—deep— The subtle mist went floating; its descent Showed the world's end was steep.
It shook, it melted, shaking more, till, lo, The sprawling monster was a rock; her brood Were boulders, whereon sea-mews white as snow Sat watching for their food.
Then once again it sank, its day was done: Part rolled away, part vanished utterly, And glimmering softly under the white sun, Behold! a great white sea.
O that the mist which veileth my To-come Would so dissolve and yield unto mine eyes A worthy path! I'd count not wearisome Long toil, nor enterprise,
But strain to reach it; ay, with wrestlings stout And hopes that even in the dark will grow (Like plants in dungeons, reaching feelers out), And ploddings wary and slow.
Is there such path already made to fit The measure of my foot? It shall atone For much, if I at length may light on it And know it for mine own.
But is there none? why, then, 'tis more than well: And glad at heart myself will hew one out, Let me he only sure; for, sooth to tell, The sorest dole is doubt—
Doubt, a blank twilight of the heart, which mars All sweetest colors in its dimness same; A soul-mist, through whose rifts familiar stare Beholding, we misname.
A ripple on the inner sea, which shakes Those images that on its breast reposed; A fold upon a wind-swayed flag, that breaks The motto it disclosed.
O doubt! O doubt! I know my destiny; I feel thee fluttering bird-like in my breast; I cannot loose, but I will sing to thee, And flatter thee to rest.
There is no certainty, "my bosom's guest," No proving for the things whereof ye wot; For, like the dead to sight unmanifest, They are, and they are not.
But surely as they are, for God is truth, And as they are not, for we saw them die, So surely from the heaven drops light for youth, If youth will walk thereby.
And can I see this light? It may be so; "But see it thus and thus," my fathers said. The living do not rule this world; ah no! It is the dead, the dead.
Shall I be slave to every noble soul, Study the dead, and to their spirits bend; Or learn to read my own heart's folded scroll, And make self-rule my end?
Thought from without—O shall I take on trust, And life from others modelled steal or win; Or shall I heave to light, and clear of rust My true life from within?
O, let me be myself! But where, O where, Under this heap of precedent, this mound Of customs, modes, and maxims, cumbrance rare, Shall the Myself be found?
O thou Myself, thy fathers thee debarred None of their wisdom, but their folly came Therewith; they smoothed thy path, but made it hard For thee to quit the same.
With glosses they obscured God's natural truth, And with tradition tarnished His revealed; With vain protections they endangered youth, With layings bare they sealed.
What aileth thee, myself? Alas! thy hands Are tied with old opinions—heir and son, Thou hast inherited thy father's lands And all his debts thereon.
O that some power would give me Adam's eyes! O for the straight simplicity of Eve! For I see nought, or grow, poor fool, too wise With seeing to believe.
Exemplars may be heaped until they hide The rules that they were made to render plain; Love may be watched, her nature to decide, Until love's self doth wane.
Ah me! and when forgotten and foregone We leave the learning of departed days, And cease the generations past to con, Their wisdom and their ways,—
When fain to learn we lean into the dark, And grope to feel the floor of the abyss, Or find the secret boundary lines which mark Where soul and matter kiss—
Fair world! these puzzled souls of ours grow weak With beating their bruised wings against the rim That bounds their utmost flying, when they seek The distant and the dim.
We pant, we strain like birds against their wires; Are sick to reach the vast and the beyond;— And what avails, if still to our desires Those far-off gulfs respond?
Contentment comes not therefore; still there lies An outer distance when the first is hailed, And still forever yawns before our eyes An UTMOST—that is veiled.
Searching those edges of the universe, We leave the central fields a fallow part; To feed the eye more precious things amerce, And starve the darkened heart.
Then all goes wrong: the old foundations rock; One scorns at him of old who gazed unshod; One striking with a pickaxe thinks the shock Shall move the seat of God.
A little way, a very little way (Life is so short), they dig into the rind, And they are very sorry, so they say,— Sorry for what they find.
But truth is sacred—ay, and must be told: There is a story long beloved of man; We must forego it, for it will not hold— Nature had no such plan.
And then, if "God hath said it," some should cry, We have the story from the fountain-head: Why, then, what better than the old reply, The first "Yea, HATH God said?"
The garden, O the garden, must it go, Source of our hope and our most dear regret? The ancient story, must it no more show How man may win it yet?
And all upon the Titan child's decree, The baby science, born but yesterday, That in its rash unlearned infancy With shells and stones at play,
And delving in the outworks of this world, And little crevices that it could reach, Discovered certain bones laid up, and furled Under an ancient beach,
And other waifs that lay to its young mind Some fathoms lower than they ought to lie, By gain whereof it could not fail to find Much proof of ancientry,
Hints at a Pedigree withdrawn and vast, Terrible deeps, and old obscurities, Or soulless origin, and twilight passed In the primeval seas,
Whereof it tells, as thinking it hath been Of truth not meant for man inheritor; As if this knowledge Heaven had ne'er foreseen And not provided for!
Knowledge ordained to live! although the fate Of much that went before it was—to die, And be called ignorance by such as wait Till the next drift comes by.
O marvellous credulity of man! If God indeed kept secret, couldst thou know Or follow up the mighty Artisan Unless He willed it so?
And canst thou of the Maker think in sooth That of the Made He shall be found at fault, And dream of wresting from Him hidden truth By force or by assault?
But if He keeps not secret—if thine eyes He openeth to His wondrous work of late— Think how in soberness thy wisdom lies, And have the grace to wait.
Wait, nor against the half-learned lesson fret, Nor chide at old belief as if it erred, Because thou canst not reconcile as yet The Worker and the word.
Either the Worker did in ancient days Give us the word, His tale of love and might; (And if in truth He gave it us, who says He did not give it right?)
Or else He gave it not, and then indeed We know not if HE is—by whom our years Are portioned, who the orphan moons doth lead, And the unfathered spheres.
We sit unowned upon our burial sod And know not whence we come or whose we be, Comfortless mourners for the mount of God, The rocks of Calvary:
Bereft of heaven, and of the long-loved page Wrought us by some who thought with death to cope. Despairing comforters, from age to age Sowing the seeds of hope:
Gracious deceivers, who have lifted us Out of the slough where passed our unknown youth. Beneficent liars, who have gifted us With sacred love of truth!
Farewell to them: yet pause ere thou unmoor And set thine ark adrift on unknown seas; How wert thou bettered so, or more secure Thou, and thy destinies?
And if thou searchest, and art made to fear Facing of unread riddles dark and hard, And mastering not their majesty austere, Their meaning locked and barred:
How would it make the weight and wonder less, If, lifted from immortal shoulders down, The worlds were cast on seas of emptiness In realms without a crown.
And (if there were no God) were left to rue Dominion of the air and of the fire? Then if there be a God, "Let God be true, And every man a liar."
But as for me, I do not speak as one That is exempt: I am with life at feud: My heart reproacheth me, as there were none Of so small gratitude.
Wherewith shall I console thee, heart o' mine. And still thy yearning and resolve thy doubt? That which I know, and that which I divine, Alas! have left thee out.
I have aspired to know the might of God, As if the story of His love was furled, Nor sacred foot the grasses e'er had trod Of this redeemed world:—
Have sunk my thoughts as lead into the deep, To grope for that abyss whence evil grew, And spirits of ill, with eyes that cannot weep, Hungry and desolate flew;
As if their legions did not one day crowd The death-pangs of the Conquering Good to see! As if a sacred head had never bowed In death for man—for me;
Nor ransomed back the souls beloved, the sons Of men, from thraldom with the nether kings In that dark country where those evil ones Trail their unhallowed wings.
And didst Thou love the race that loved not Thee, And didst Thou take to heaven a human brow? Dost plead with man's voice by the marvellous sea? Art Thou his kinsman now?
O God, O kinsman loved, but not enough! O man, with eyes majestic after death, Whose feet have toiled along our pathways rough, Whose lips drawn human breath!
By that one likeness which is ours and Thine, By that one nature which doth hold us kin, By that high heaven where, sinless, Thou dost shine To draw us sinners in,
By Thy last silence in the judgment-hall, By long foreknowledge of the deadly tree, By darkness, by the wormwood and the gall, I pray Thee visit me.
Come, lest this heart should, cold and cast away, Die ere the guest adored she entertain— Lest eyes which never saw Thine earthly day Should miss Thy heavenly reign.
Come, weary-eyed from seeking in the night Thy wanderers strayed upon the pathless wold, Who wounded, dying, cry to Thee for light, And cannot find their fold.
And deign, O Watcher, with the sleepless brow, Pathetic in its yearning—deign reply: Is there, O is there aught that such as Thou Wouldst take from such as I?
Are there no briers across Thy pathway thrust? Are there no thorns that compass it about? Nor any stones that Thou wilt deign to trust My hands to gather out?
O if Thou wilt, and if such bliss might be, It were a cure for doubt, regret, delay— Let my lost pathway go—what aileth me?— There is a better way.
What though unmarked the happy workman toil, And break unthanked of man the stubborn clod? It is enough, for sacred is the soil, Dear are the hills of God.
Far better in its place the lowliest bird Should sing aright to Him the lowliest song, Than that a seraph strayed should take the word And sing His glory wrong.
Friend, it is time to work. I say to thee, Thou dost all earthly good by much excel; Thou and God's blessing are enough for me: My work, my work—farewell!
REQUIESCAT IN PACE!
My heart is sick awishing and awaiting: The lad took up his knapsack, he went, he went his way; And I looked on for his coming, as a prisoner through the grating Looks and longs and longs and wishes for its opening day.
On the wild purple mountains, all alone with no other, The strong terrible mountains he longed, he longed to be; And he stooped to kiss his father, and he stooped to kiss his mother, And till I said, "Adieu, sweet Sir," he quite forgot me.
He wrote of their white raiment, the ghostly capes that screen them, Of the storm winds that beat them, their thunder-rents and scars, And the paradise of purple, and the golden slopes atween them, And fields, where grow God's gentian bells, and His crocus stars.
He wrote of frail gauzy clouds, that drop on them like fleeces, And make green their fir forests, and feed their mosses hoar; Or come sailing up the valleys, and get wrecked and go to pieces, Like sloops against their cruel strength: then he wrote no more.
O the silence that came next, the patience and long aching! They never said so much as "He was a dear loved son;" Not the father to the mother moaned, that dreary stillness breaking: "Ah! wherefore did he leave us so—this, our only one."
They sat within, as waiting, until the neighbors prayed them, At Cromer, by the sea-coast, 'twere peace and change to be; And to Cromer, in their patience, or that urgency affrayed them, Or because the tidings tarried, they came, and took me.
It was three months and over since the dear lad had started: On the green downs at Cromer I sat to see the view; On an open space of herbage, where the ling and fern had parted, Betwixt the tall white lighthouse towers, the old and the new.
Below me lay the wide sea, the scarlet sun was stooping, And he dyed the waste water, as with a scarlet dye; And he dyed the lighthouse towers; every bird with white wing swooping Took his colors, and the cliffs did, and the yawning sky.
Over grass came that strange flush, and over ling and heather, Over flocks of sheep and lambs, and over Cromer town; And each filmy cloudlet crossing drifted like a scarlet feather Torn from the folded wings of clouds, while he settled down.
When I looked, I dared not sigh:—In the light of God's splendor, With His daily blue and gold, who am I? what am I? But that passion and outpouring seemed an awful sign and tender, Like the blood of the Redeemer, shown on earth and sky.
O for comfort, O the waste of a long doubt and trouble! On that sultry August eve trouble had made me meek; I was tired of my sorrow—O so faint, for it was double In the weight of its oppression, that I could not speak!
And a little comfort grew, while the dimmed eyes were feeding, And the dull ears with murmur of water satisfied; But a dream came slowly nigh me, all my thoughts and fancy leading Across the bounds of waking life to the other side.
And I dreamt that I looked out, to the waste waters turning, And saw the flakes of scarlet from wave to wave tossed on; And the scarlet mix with azure, where a heap of gold lay burning On the clear remote sea reaches; for the sun was gone.
Then I thought a far-off shout dropped across the still water— A question as I took it, for soon an answer came From the tall white ruined lighthouse: "If it be the old man's daughter That we wot of," ran the answer, "what then—who's to blame?"
I looked up at the lighthouse all roofless and storm-broken: A great white bird sat on it, with neck stretched out to sea; Unto somewhat which was sailing in a skiff the bird had spoken, And a trembling seized my spirit, for they talked of me.
I was the old man's daughter, the bird went on to name him; "He loved to count the starlings as he sat in the sun; Long ago he served with Nelson, and his story did not shame him: Ay, the old man was a good man—and his work was done."
The skiff was like a crescent, ghost of some moon departed, Frail, white, she rocked and curtseyed as the red wave she crossed, And the thing within sat paddling, and the crescent dipped and darted, Flying on, again was shouting, but the words were lost.
I said, "That thing is hooded; I could hear but that floweth The great hood below its mouth:" then the bird made reply. "If they know not, more's the pity, for the little shrew-mouse knoweth, And the kite knows, and the eagle, and the glead and pye."
And he stooped to whet his beak on the stones of the coping; And when once more the shout came, in querulous tones he spake, "What I said was 'more's the pity;' if the heart be long past hoping, Let it say of death, 'I know it,' or doubt on and break.
"Men must die—one dies by day, and near him moans his mother, They dig his grave, tread it down, and go from it full loth: And one dies about the midnight, and the wind moans, and no other, And the snows give him a burial—and God loves them both.
"The first hath no advantage—it shall not soothe his slumber That a lock of his brown hair his father aye shall keep; For the last, he nothing grudgeth, it shall nought his quiet cumber, That in a golden mesh of HIS callow eaglets sleep.
"Men must die when all is said, e'en the kite and glead know it, And the lad's father knew it, and the lad, the lad too; It was never kept a secret, waters bring it and winds blow it, And he met it on the mountain—why then make ado?"
With that he spread his white wings, and swept across the water, Lit upon the hooded head, and it and all went down; And they laughed as they went under, and I woke, "the old man's daughter." And looked across the slope of grass, and at Cromer town.
And I said, "Is that the sky, all gray and silver-suited?" And I thought, "Is that the sea that lies so white and wan? I have dreamed as I remember: give me time—I was reputed Once to have a steady courage—O, I fear 'tis gone!"
And I said, "Is this my heart? if it be, low 'tis beating So he lies on the mountain, hard by the eagles' brood; I have had a dream this evening, while the white and gold were fleeting, But I need not, need not tell it—where would be the good?
"Where would be the good to them, his father and his mother? For the ghost of their dead hope appeareth to them still. While a lonely watch-fire smoulders, who its dying red would smother, That gives what little light there is to a darksome hill?"
I rose up, I made no moan, I did not cry nor falter, But slowly in the twilight I came to Cromer town. What can wringing of the hands do that which is ordained to alter? He had climbed, had climbed the mountain, he would ne'er come down.
But, O my first, O my best, I could not choose but love thee: O, to be a wild white bird, and seek thy rocky bed! From my breast I'd give thee burial, pluck the down and spread above thee; I would sit and sing thy requiem on the mountain head.
Fare thee well, my love of loves! would I had died before thee! O, to be at least a cloud, that near thee I might flow, Solemnly approach the mountain, weep away my being o'er thee, And veil thy breast with icicles, and thy brow with snow!
SUPPER AT THE MILL.
Mother. Well, Frances.
Frances. Well, good mother, how are you?
M. I'm hearty, lass, but warm; the weather's warm: I think 'tis mostly warm on market days. I met with George behind the mill: said he, "Mother, go in and rest awhile."
F. Ay, do, And stay to supper; put your basket down.
M. Why, now, it is not heavy?
F. Willie, man, Get up and kiss your Granny. Heavy, no! Some call good churning luck; but, luck or skill, Your butter mostly comes as firm and sweet As if 'twas Christmas. So you sold it all?
M. All but this pat that I put by for George; He always loved my butter.
F. That he did.
M. And has your speckled hen brought off her brood?
F. Not yet; but that old duck I told you of, She hatched eleven out of twelve to-day.
Child. And, Granny, they're so yellow.
M. Ay, my lad, Yellow as gold—yellow as Willie's hair.
C. They're all mine, Granny, father says they're mine.
M. To think of that!
F. Yes, Granny, only think! Why, father means to sell them when they're fat. And put the money in the savings-bank, And all against our Willie goes to school: But Willie would not touch them—no, not he; He knows that father would be angry else.
C. But I want one to play with—O, I want A little yellow duck to take to bed!
M. What! would ye rob the poor old mother, then?
F. Now, Granny, if you'll hold the babe awhile; 'Tis time I took up Willie to his crib. [Exit FRANCES.
[Mother sings to the infant.]
Playing on the virginals, Who but I? Sae glad, sae free, Smelling for all cordials, The green mint and marjorie; Set among the budding broom, Kingcup and daffodilly; By my side I made him room: O love my Willie!
"Like me, love me, girl o' gowd," Sang he to my nimble strain; Sweet his ruddy lips o'erflowed Till my heartstrings rang again: By the broom, the bonny broom, Kingcup and daffodilly, In my heart I made him room: O love my Willie!
"Pipe and play, dear heart," sang he, "I must go, yet pipe and play; Soon I'll come and ask of thee For an answer yea or nay;" And I waited till the flocks Panted in yon waters stilly, And the corn stood in the shocks: O love my Willie!
I thought first when thou didst come I would wear the ring for thee, But the year told out its sum, Ere again thou sat'st by me; Thou hadst nought to ask that day By kingcup and daffodilly; I said neither yea nor nay: O love my Willie!
George. Well, mother, 'tis a fortnight now, or more, Since I set eyes on you.
M. Ay, George, my dear, I reckon you've been busy: so have we.
G. And how does father?
M. He gets through his work. But he grows stiff, a little stiff, my dear; He's not so young, you know, by twenty years As I am—not so young by twenty years, And I'm past sixty.
G. Yet he's hale and stout, And seems to take a pleasure in his pipe; And seems to take a pleasure in his cows, And a pride, too.
M. And well he may, my dear.
G. Give me the little one, he tires your arm, He's such a kicking, crowing, wakeful rogue, He almost wears our lives out with his noise Just at day-dawning, when we wish to sleep. What! you young villain, would you clench your fist In father's curls? a dusty father, sure, And you're as clean as wax. Ay, you may laugh; But if you live a seven years more or so, These hands of yours will all be brown and scratched With climbing after nest-eggs. They'll go down As many rat-holes as are round the mere; And you'll love mud, all manner of mud and dirt, As your father did afore you, and you'll wade After young water-birds; and you'll get bogged Setting of eel-traps, and you'll spoil your clothes, And come home torn and dripping: then, you know, You'll feel the stick—you'll feel the stick, my lad!
F. You should not talk so to the blessed babe— How can you, George? why, he may be in heaven Before the time you tell of.
M. Look at him: So earnest, such an eager pair of eyes! He thrives, my dear.
F. Yes, that he does, thank God My children are all strong.
M. 'Tis much to say; Sick children fret their mother's hearts to shreds, And do no credit to their keep nor care. Where is your little lass?
F. Your daughter came And begged her of us for a week or so.
M. Well, well, she might be wiser, that she might, For she can sit at ease and pay her way; A sober husband, too—a cheerful man— Honest as ever stepped, and fond of her; Yet she is never easy, never glad, Because she has not children. Well-a-day! If she could know how hard her mother worked, And what ado I had, and what a moil With my half-dozen! Children, ay, forsooth, They bring their own love with them when they come, But if they come not there is peace and rest; The pretty lambs! and yet she cries for more: Why the world's full of them, and so is heaven— They are not rare.
G. No, mother, not at all; But Hannah must not keep our Fanny long— She spoils her.
M. Ah! folks spoil their children now; When I was a young woman 'twas not so; We made our children fear us, made them work, Kept them in order.
G. Were not proud of them— Eh, mother?
M. I set store by mine, 'tis true, But then I had good cause.
G. My lad, d'ye hear? Your Granny was not proud, by no means proud! She never spoilt your father—no, not she, Nor ever made him sing at harvest-home, Nor at the forge, nor at the baker's shop, Nor to the doctor while she lay abed Sick, and he crept upstairs to share her broth.
M. Well, well, you were my youngest, and, what's more Your father loved to hear you sing—he did, Although, good man, he could not tell one tune From the other.
F. No, he got his voice from you: Do use it, George, and send the child to sleep.
G. What must I sing?
F. The ballad of the man That is so shy he cannot speak his mind.
G. Ay, of the purple grapes and crimson leaves; But, mother, put your shawl and bonnet off. And, Frances, lass, I brought some cresses in: Just wash them, toast the bacon, break some eggs, And let's to supper shortly.
My neighbor White—we met to-day— He always had a cheerful way, As if he breathed at ease; My neighbor White lives down the glade, And I live higher, in the shade Of my old walnut-trees.
So many lads and lasses small, To feed them all, to clothe them all, Must surely tax his wit; I see his thatch when I look out, His branching roses creep about, And vines half smother it.
There white-haired urchins climb his eaves, And little watch-fires heap with leaves, And milky filberts hoard; And there his oldest daughter stands With downcast eyes and skilful hands Before her ironing-board.
She comforts all her mother's days, And with her sweet obedient ways She makes her labor light; So sweet to hear, so fair to see! O, she is much too good for me, That lovely Lettice White!
'Tis hard to feel one's self a fool! With that same lass I went to school— I then was great and wise; She read upon an easier book, And I—I never cared to look Into her shy blue eyes.
And now I know they must be there Sweet eyes, behind those lashes fair That will not raise their rim: If maids be shy, he cures who can; But if a man be shy—a man— Why then the worse for him!
My mother cries, "For such a lad A wife is easy to be had And always to be found; A finer scholar scarce can be, And for a foot and leg," says she, "He beats the country round!
"My handsome boy must stoop his head To clear her door whom he would wed." Weak praise, but fondly sung! "O mother! scholars sometimes fail— And what can foot and leg avail To him that wants a tongue?"
When by her ironing-board I sit, Her little sisters round me flit, And bring me forth their store; Dark cluster grapes of dusty blue, And small sweet apples bright of hue And crimson to the core.
But she abideth silent, fair, All shaded by her flaxen hair The blushes come and go; I look, and I no more can speak Than the red sun that on her cheek Smiles as he lieth low.
Sometimes the roses by the latch Or scarlet vine-leaves from her thatch Come sailing down like birds; When from their drifts her board I clear, She thanks me, but I scarce can hear The shyly uttered words.
Oft have I wooed sweet Lettice White By daylight and by candlelight When we two were apart. Some better day come on apace, And let me tell her face to face, "Maiden, thou hast my heart."
How gently rock yon poplars high Against the reach of primrose sky With heaven's pale candles stored! She sees them all, sweet Lettice White; I'll e'en go sit again to-night Beside her ironing-board!
Why, you young rascal! who would think it, now? No sooner do I stop than you look up. What would you have your poor old father do? 'Twas a brave song, long-winded, and not loud.
M. He heard the bacon sputter on the fork, And heard his mother's step across the floor. Where did you get that song?—'tis new to me.
G. I bought it of a peddler.
M. Did you so? Well, you were always for the love-songs, George.
F. My dear, just lay his head upon your arm. And if you'll pace and sing two minutes more He needs must sleep—his eyes are full of sleep.
G. Do you sing, mother.
F. Ay, good mother, do; 'Tis long since we have heard you.
M. Like enough; I'm an old woman, and the girls and lads I used to sing to sleep o'ertop me now. What should I sing for?
G. Why, to pleasure us. Sing in the chimney corner, where you sit, And I'll pace gently with the little one.
When sparrows build, and the leaves break forth, My old sorrow wakes and cries, For I know there is dawn in the far, far north, And a scarlet sun doth rise; Like a scarlet fleece the snow-field spreads, And the icy founts run free, And the bergs begin to bow their heads, And plunge, and sail in the sea.
O my lost love, and my own, own love, And my love that loved me so! Is there never a chink in the world above Where they listen for words from below? Nay, I spoke once, and I grieved thee sore, I remember all that I said, And now thou wilt hear me no more—no more Till the sea gives up her dead.
Thou didst set thy foot on the ship, and sail To the ice-fields and the snow; Thou wert sad, for thy love did not avail, And the end I could not know; How could I tell I should love thee to-day, Whom that day I held not dear? How could I know I should love thee away When I did not love thee anear?
We shall walk no more through the sodden plain With the faded bents o'erspread, We shall stand no more by the seething main While the dark wrack drives overhead; We shall part no more in the wind and the rain, Where thy last farewell was said; But perhaps I shall meet thee and know thee again When the sea gives up her dead.
F. Asleep at last, and time he was, indeed. Turn back the cradle-quilt, and lay him in; And, mother, will you please to draw your chair?— The supper's ready.
SCHOLAR AND CARPENTER.
While ripening corn grew thick and deep, And here and there men stood to reap, One morn I put my heart to sleep, And to the lanes I took my way. The goldfinch on a thistle-head Stood scattering seedlets while she fed; The wrens their pretty gossip spread, Or joined a random roundelay.
On hanging cobwebs shone the dew, And thick the wayside clovers grew; The feeding bee had much to do, So fast did honey-drops exude: She sucked and murmured, and was gone, And lit on other blooms anon, The while I learned a lesson on The source and sense of quietude.
For sheep-bells chiming from a wold, Or bleat of lamb within its fold, Or cooing of love-legends old To dove-wives make not quiet less; Ecstatic chirp of winged thing, Or bubbling of the water-spring, Are sounds that more than silence bring Itself and its delightsomeness.
While thus I went to gladness fain, I had but walked a mile or twain Before my heart woke up again, As dreaming she had slept too late; The morning freshness that she viewed With her own meanings she endued, And touched with her solicitude The natures she did meditate.
"If quiet is, for it I wait; To it, ah! let me wed my fate, And, like a sad wife, supplicate My roving lord no more to flee; If leisure is—but, ah! 'tis not— 'Tis long past praying for, God wot; The fashion of it men forgot, About the age of chivalry.
"Sweet is the leisure of the bird; She craves no time for work deferred; Her wings are not to aching stirred Providing for her helpless ones. Fair is the leisure of the wheat; All night the damps about it fleet; All day it basketh in the heat, And grows, and whispers orisons.
"Grand is the leisure of the earth; She gives her happy myriads birth, And after harvest fears not dearth, But goes to sleep in snow-wreaths dim. Dread is the leisure up above The while He sits whose name is Love, And waits, as Noah did, for the dove, To wit if she would fly to him.
"He waits for us, while, houseless things, We beat about with bruised wings On the dark floods and water-springs, The ruined world, the desolate sea; With open windows from the prime All night, all day, He waits sublime, Until the fulness of the time Decreed from His eternity.
"Where is OUR leisure?—give us rest. Where is the quiet we possessed? We must have had it once—were blest With peace whose phantoms yet entice. Sorely the mother of mankind Longed for the garden left behind; For we prove yet some yearnings blind Inherited from Paradise."
"Hold, heart!" I cried; "for trouble sleeps; I hear no sound of aught that weeps; I will not look into thy deeps— I am afraid, I am afraid!" "Afraid!" she saith; "and yet 'tis true That what man dreads he still should view— Should do the thing he fears to do, And storm the ghosts in ambuscade."
"What good?" I sigh. "Was reason meant To straighten branches that are bent, Or soothe an ancient discontent, The instinct of a race dethroned? Ah! doubly should that instinct go Must the four rivers cease to flow, Nor yield those rumors sweet and low Wherewith man's life is undertoned."
"Yet had I but the past," she cries, "And it was lost, I would arise And comfort me some other wise. But more than loss about me clings: I am but restless with my race; The whispers from a heavenly place, Once dropped among us, seem to chase Rest with their prophet-visitings.
"The race is like a child, as yet Too young for all things to be set Plainly before him with no let Or hindrance meet for his degree; But nevertheless by much too old Not to perceive that men withhold More of the story than is told, And so infer a mystery.
"If the Celestials daily fly With messages on missions high, And float, our masts and turrets nigh, Conversing on Heaven's great intents; What wonder hints of coming things, Whereto man's hope and yearning clings, Should drop like feathers from their wings And give us vague presentiments?
"And as the waxing moon can take The tidal waters in her wake, And lead them round and round to break Obedient to her drawings dim; So may the movements of His mind, The first Great Father of mankind, Affect with answering movements blind, And draw the souls that breathe by Him.
"We had a message long ago That like a river peace should flow, And Eden bloom again below. We heard, and we began to wait: Full soon that message men forgot; Yet waiting is their destined lot, And waiting for they know not what They strive with yearnings passionate.
"Regret and faith alike enchain; There was a loss, there comes a gain; We stand at fault betwixt the twain, And that is veiled for which we pant. Our lives are short, our ten times seven; We think the councils held in heaven Sit long, ere yet that blissful leaven Work peace amongst the militant.
"Then we blame God that sin should be; Adam began it at the tree, 'The woman whom THOU gavest me; And we adopt his dark device. O long Thou tarriest! come and reign, And bring forgiveness in Thy train, And give us in our hands again The apples of Thy Paradise."
"Far-seeing heart! if that be all The happy things that did not fall," I sighed, "from every coppice call They never from that garden went. Behold their joy, so comfort thee, Behold the blossom and the bee, For they are yet as good and free As when poor Eve was innocent
"But reason thus: 'If we sank low, If the lost garden we forego, Each in his day, nor ever know But in our poet souls its face; Yet we may rise until we reach A height untold of in its speech— A lesson that it could not teach Learn in this darker dwelling-place.
"And reason on: 'We take the spoil; Loss made us poets, and the soil Taught us great patience in our toil, And life is kin to God through death. Christ were not One with us but so, And if bereft of Him we go; Dearer the heavenly mansions grow, HIS home, to man that wandereth.'
"Content thee so, and ease thy smart." With that she slept again, my heart, And I admired and took my part With crowds of happy things the while: With open velvet butterflies That swung and spread their peacock eyes, As if they cared no more to rise From off their beds of camomile.
The blackcaps in an orchard met, Praising the berries while they ate: The finch that flew her beak to whet Before she joined them on the tree; The water mouse among the reeds— His bright eyes glancing black as beads, So happy with a bunch of seeds— I felt their gladness heartily.
But I came on, I smelt the hay, And up the hills I took my way, And down them still made holiday, And walked, and wearied not a whit; But ever with the lane I went Until it dropped with steep descent, Cut deep into the rock, a tent Of maple branches roofing it.
Adown the rock small runlets wept, And reckless ivies leaned and crept, And little spots of sunshine slept On its brown steeps and made them fair; And broader beams athwart it shot, Where martins cheeped in many a knot, For they had ta'en a sandy plot And scooped another Petra there.
And deeper down, hemmed in and hid From upper light and life amid The swallows gossiping, I thrid Its mazes, till the dipping land Sank to the level of my lane. That was the last hill of the chain, And fair below I saw the plain That seemed cold cheer to reprimand.
Half-drowned in sleepy peace it lay, As satiate with the boundless play Of sunshine in its green array. And clear-cut hills of gloomy blue, To keep it safe rose up behind, As with a charmed ring to bind The grassy sea, where clouds might find A place to bring their shadows to.
I said, and blest that pastoral grace, "How sweet thou art, thou sunny place! Thy God approves thy smiling face:" But straight my heart put in her word; She said, "Albeit thy face I bless, There have been times, sweet wilderness, When I have wished to love thee less, Such pangs thy smile administered."
But, lo! I reached a field of wheat, And by its gate full clear and sweet A workman sang, while at his feet Played a young child, all life and stir— A three years' child, with rosy lip, Who in the song had partnership, Made happy with each falling chip Dropped by the busy carpenter.
This, reared a new gate for the old, And loud the tuneful measure rolled, But stopped as I came up to hold Some kindly talk of passing things. Brave were his eyes, and frank his mien; Of all men's faces, calm or keen, A better I have never seen In all my lonely wanderings.
And how it was I scarce can tell, We seemed to please each other well; I lingered till a noonday bell Had sounded, and his task was done. An oak had screened us from the heat; And 'neath it in the standing wheat, A cradle and a fair retreat, Full sweetly slept the little one.
The workman rested from his stroke, And manly were the words he spoke, Until the smiling babe awoke And prayed to him for milk and food. Then to a runlet forth he went, And brought a wallet from the bent, And bade me to the meal, intent I should not quit his neighborhood.
"For here," said he, "are bread and beer, And meat enough to make good cheer; Sir, eat with me, and have no fear, For none upon my work depend, Saving this child; and I may say That I am rich, for every day I put by somewhat; therefore stay, And to such eating condescend."
We ate. The child—child fair to see— Began to cling about his knee, And he down leaning fatherly Received some softly-prattled prayer; He smiled as if to list were balm, And with his labor-hardened palm Pushed from the baby-forehead calm Those shining locks that clustered there.
The rosy mouth made fresh essay— "O would he sing, or would he play?" I looked, my thought would make its way— "Fair is your child of face and limb, The round blue eyes full sweetly shine." He answered me with glance benign— "Ay, Sir; but he is none of mine. Although I set great store by him."
With that, as if his heart was fain To open—nathless not complain— He let my quiet questions gain His story: "Not of kin to me," Repeating; "but asleep, awake, For worse, for better, him I take, To cherish for my dead wife's sake, And count him as her legacy.
"I married with the sweetest lass That ever stepped on meadow grass; That ever at her looking-glass Some pleasure took, some natural care; That ever swept a cottage floor And worked all day, nor e'er gave o'er Till eve, then watched beside the door Till her good man should meet her there.
"But I lost all in its fresh prime; My wife fell ill before her time— Just as the bells began to chime One Sunday morn. By next day's light Her little babe was born and dead, And she, unconscious what she said, With feeble hands about her spread, Sought it with yearnings infinite.
"With mother-longing still beguiled, And lost in fever-fancies wild, She piteously bemoaned her child That we had stolen, she said, away. And ten sad days she sighed to me, 'I cannot rest until I see My pretty one! I think that he Smiled in my face but yesterday.'
"Then she would change, and faintly try To sing some tender lullaby; And 'Ah!' would moan, 'if I should die, Who, sweetest babe, would cherish thee?' Then weep, 'My pretty boy is grown; With tender feet on the cold stone He stands, for he can stand alone, And no one leads him motherly.'
"Then she with dying movements slow Would seem to knit, or seem to sew: 'His feet are bare, he must not go Unshod:' and as her death drew on, 'O little baby,' she would sigh; 'My little child, I cannot die Till I have you to slumber nigh— You, you to set mine eyes upon.'
"When she spake thus, and moaning lay, They said, 'She cannot pass away, So sore she longs:' and as the day Broke on the hills, I left her side. Mourning along this lane I went; Some travelling folk had pitched their tent Up yonder: there a woman, bent With age, sat meanly canopied.
"A twelvemonths' child was at her side: 'Whose infant may that be?' I cried. 'His that will own him,' she replied; 'His mother's dead, no worse could be.' 'Since you can give—or else I erred— See, you are taken at your word,' Quoth I; 'That child is mine; I heard, And own him! Rise, and give him me.'
"She rose amazed, but cursed me too; She could not hold such luck for true, But gave him soon, with small ado. I laid him by my Lucy's side: Close to her face that baby crept, And stroked it, and the sweet soul wept; Then, while upon her arm he slept, She passed, for she was satisfied.
"I loved her well, I wept her sore, And when her funeral left my door I thought that I should never more Feel any pleasure near me glow; But I have learned, though this I had, 'Tis sometimes natural to be glad, And no man can be always sad Unless he wills to have it so.
"Oh, I had heavy nights at first, And daily wakening was the worst: For then my grief arose, and burst Like something fresh upon my head; Yet when less keen it seemed to grow, I was not pleased—I wished to go Mourning adown this vale of woe, For all my life uncomforted.
"I grudged myself the lightsome air, That makes man cheerful unaware; When comfort came, I did not care To take it in, to feel it stir: And yet God took with me his plan, And now for my appointed span I think I am a happier man For having wed and wept for her.
"Because no natural tie remains, On this small thing I spend my gains; God makes me love him for my pains, And binds me so to wholesome care I would not lose from my past life That happy year, that happy wife! Yet now I wage no useless strife With feelings blithe and debonair.
"I have the courage to be gay, Although she lieth lapped away Under the daisies, for I say, 'Thou wouldst be glad if thou couldst see': My constant thought makes manifest I have not what I love the best, But I must thank God for the rest While I hold heaven a verity."
He rose, upon his shoulder set The child, and while with vague regret We parted, pleased that we had met, My heart did with herself confer; With wholesome shame she did repent Her reasonings idly eloquent, And said, "I might be more content: But God go with the carpenter."
THE STAR'S MONUMENT.
IN THE CONCLUDING PART OF A DISCOURSE ON FAME.
If there be memory in the world to come, If thought recur to SOME THINGS silenced here, Then shall the deep heart be no longer dumb, But find expression in that happier sphere; It shall not be denied their utmost sum Of love, to speak without or fault or fear, But utter to the harp with changes sweet Words that, forbidden still, then heaven were incomplete.
Now let us talk about the ancient days, And things which happened long before our birth: It is a pity to lament that praise Should be no shadow in the train of worth. What is it, Madam, that your heart dismays? Why murmur at the course of this vast earth? Think rather of the work than of the praise; Come, we will talk about the ancient days.
There was a Poet, Madam, once (said he); I will relate his story to you now. While through the branches of this apple-tree Some spots of sunshine flicker on your brow; While every flower hath on its breast a bee, And every bird in stirring doth endow The grass with falling blooms that smoothly glide, As ships drop down a river with the tide.
For telling of his tale no fitter place Then this old orchard, sloping to the west; Through its pink dome of blossom I can trace Some overlying azure; for the rest, These flowery branches round us interlace; The ground is hollowed like a mossy nest: Who talks of fame while the religious Spring Offers the incense of her blossoming?
There was a Poet, Madam, once (said he), Who, while he walked at sundown in a lane, Took to his heart the hope that destiny Had singled him this guerdon to obtain, That by the power of his sweet minstrelsy Some hearts for truth and goodness he should gain. And charm some grovellers to uplift their eyes And suddenly wax conscious of the skies.
"Master, good e'en to ye!" a woodman said, Who the low hedge was trimming with his shears. "This hour is fine"—the Poet bowed his head. "More fine," he thought, "O friend! to me appears The sunset than to you; finer the spread Of orange lustre through these azure spheres, Where little clouds lie still, like flocks of sheep, Or vessels sailing in God's other deep.
"O finer far! What work so high as mine, Interpreter betwixt the world and man, Nature's ungathered pearls to set and shrine, The mystery she wraps her in to scan; Her unsyllabic voices to combine, And serve her with such love as poets can; With mortal words, her chant of praise to bind, Then die, and leave the poem to mankind?
"O fair, O fine, O lot to be desired! Early and late my heart appeals to me, And says, 'O work, O will—Thou man, be fired To earn this lot,'—she says, 'I would not be A worker for mine OWN bread, or one hired For mine OWN profit. O, I would be free To work for others; love so earned of them Should be my wages and my diadem.
"'Then when I died I should not fall,' says she, 'Like dropping flowers that no man noticeth, But like a great branch of some stately tree Rent in a tempest, and flung down to death, Thick with green leafage—so that piteously Each passer by that ruin shuddereth, And saith, The gap this branch hath left is wide; The loss thereof can never be supplied.'"
But, Madam, while the Poet pondered so, Toward the leafy hedge he turned his eye, And saw two slender branches that did grow, And from it rising spring and flourish high: Their tops were twined together fast, and, lo, Their shadow crossed the path as he went by— The shadow of a wild rose and a brier, And it was shaped in semblance like a lyre.
In sooth, a lyre! and as the soft air played, Those branches stirred, but did not disunite. "O emblem meet for me!" the Poet said; "Ay, I accept and own thee for my right; The shadowy lyre across my feet is laid, Distinct though frail, and clear with crimson light, Fast is it twined to bear the windy strain, And, supple, it will bend and rise again.
"This lyre is cast across the dusty way, The common path that common men pursue, I crave like blessing for my shadowy lay, Life's trodden paths with beauty to renew, And cheer the eve of many a toil-stained day. Light it, old sun, wet it, thou common dew, That 'neath men's feet its image still may be While yet it waves above them, living lyre, like thee!"
But even as the Poet spoke, behold He lifted up his face toward the sky; The ruddy sun dipt under the gray wold, His shadowy lyre was gone; and, passing by, The woodman lifting up his shears, was bold Their temper on those branches twain to try, And all their loveliness and leafage sweet Fell in the pathway, at the Poet's feet.
"Ah! my fair emblem that I chose," quoth he, "That for myself I coveted but now, Too soon, methinks, them hast been false to me; The lyre from pathway fades, the light from brow." Then straightway turned he from it hastily, As dream that waking sense will disallow; And while the highway heavenward paled apace, He went on westward to his dwelling-place.
He went on steadily, while far and fast The summer darkness dropped upon the world, A gentle air among the cloudlets passed And fanned away their crimson; then it curled The yellow poppies in the field, and cast A dimness on the grasses, for it furled Their daisies, and swept out the purple stain That eve had left upon the pastoral plain.
He reached his city. Lo! the darkened street Where he abode was full of gazing crowds; He heard the muffled tread of many feet; A multitude stood gazing at the clouds. "What mark ye there," said he, "and wherefore meet? Only a passing mist the heaven o'ershrouds; It breaks, it parts, it drifts like scattered spars— What lies behind it but the nightly stars?"
Then did the gazing crowd to him aver They sought a lamp in heaven whose light was hid: For that in sooth an old Astronomer Down from his roof had rushed into their mid, Frighted, and fain with others to confer, That he had cried, "O sirs!"—and upward bid Them gaze—"O sirs, a light is quenched afar; Look up, my masters, we have lost a star!"
The people pointed, and the Poet's eyes Flew upward, where a gleaming sisterhood Swam in the dewy heaven. The very skies Were mutable; for all-amazed he stood To see that truly not in any wise He could behold them as of old, nor could His eyes receive the whole whereof he wot, But when he told them over, one WAS NOT.
While yet he gazed and pondered reverently, The fickle folk began to move away. "It is but one star less for us to see; And what does one star signify?" quoth they: "The heavens are full of them." "But, ah!" said he, "That star was bright while yet she lasted." "Ay!" They answered: "Praise her, Poet, an' ye will: Some are now shining that are brighter still."
"Poor star! to be disparaged so soon On her withdrawal," thus the Poet sighed; "That men should miss, and straight deny her noon Its brightness!" But the people in their pride Said, "How are we beholden? 'twas no boon She gave. Her nature 'twas to shine so wide: She could not choose but shine, nor could we know Such star had ever dwelt in heaven but so."
The Poet answered sadly, "That is true!" And then he thought upon unthankfulness; While some went homeward; and the residue, Reflecting that the stars are numberless, Mourned that man's daylight hours should be so few, So short the shining that his path may bless: To nearer themes then tuned their willing lips, And thought no more upon the star's eclipse.
But he, the Poet, could not rest content Till he had found that old Astronomer; Therefore at midnight to his house he went And prayed him be his tale's interpreter. And yet upon the heaven his eyes he bent, Hearing the marvel; yet he sought for her That was a wanting, in the hope her face Once more might fill its reft abiding-place.
Then said the old Astronomer: "My son. I sat alone upon my roof to-night; I saw the stars come forth, and scarcely shun To fringe the edges of the western light; I marked those ancient clusters one by one, The same that blessed our old forefather's sight For God alone is older—none but He Can charge the stars with mutability:
"The elders of the night, the steadfast stars, The old, old stars which God has let us see, That they might be our soul's auxiliars, And help us to the truth how young we be— God's youngest, latest born, as if, some spars And a little clay being over of them—He Had made our world and us thereof, yet given, To humble us, the sight of His great heaven.
"But ah! my son, to-night mine eyes have seen The death of light, the end of old renown; A shrinking back of glory that had been, A dread eclipse before the Eternal's frown. How soon a little grass will grow between These eyes and those appointed to look down Upon a world that was not made on high Till the last scenes of their long empiry!
"To-night that shining cluster now despoiled Lay in day's wake a perfect sisterhood; Sweet was its light to me that long had toiled, It gleamed and trembled o'er the distant wood, Blown in a pile the clouds from it recoiled, Cool twilight up the sky her way made good; I saw, but not believed—it was so strange— That one of those same stars had suffered change.
"The darkness gathered, and methought she spread, Wrapped in a reddish haze that waxed and waned; But notwithstanding to myself I said— 'The stars are changeless; sure some mote hath stained Mine eyes, and her fair glory minished.' Of age and failing vision I complained, And I bought 'some vapor in the heavens doth swim, That makes her look so large and yet so dim.'
"But I gazed round, and all her lustrous peers In her red presence showed but wan and white For like a living coal beheld through tears She glowed and quivered with a gloomy light: Methought she trembled, as all sick through fears, Helpless, appalled, appealing to the night; Like one who throws his arms up to the sky And bows down suffering, hopeless of reply.
"At length, as if an everlasting Hand Had taken hold upon her in her place, And swiftly, like a golden grain of sand, Through all the deep infinitudes of space Was drawing her—God's truth as here I stand— Backward and inward to itself; her face Fast lessened, lessened, till it looked no more Than smallest atom on a boundless shore.
"And she that was so fair, I saw her lie, The smallest thing in God's great firmament, Till night was lit the darkest, and on high Her sisters glittered, though her light was spent; I strained, to follow her, each aching eye, So swiftly at her Maker's will she went; I looked again—I looked—the star was gone, And nothing marked in heaven where she had shone."
"Gone!" said the Poet, "and about to be Forgotten: O, how sad a fate is hers!" "How is it sad, my son?" all reverently The old man answered; "though she ministers No longer with her lamp to me and thee, She has fulfilled her mission. God transfers Or dims her ray; yet was she blest as bright, For all her life was spent in giving light."
"Her mission she fulfilled assuredly," The Poet cried; "but, O unhappy star! None praise and few will bear in memory The name she went by. O, from far, from far Comes down, methinks, her mournful voice to me, Full of regrets that men so thankless are." So said, he told that old Astronomer All that the gazing crowd had said of her.
And he went on to speak in bitter wise, As one who seems to tell another's fate, But feels that nearer meaning underlies, And points its sadness to his own estate: "If such be the reward," he said with sighs, "Envy to earn for love, for goodness hate— If such be thy reward, hard case is thine! It had been better for thee not to shine.
"If to reflect a light that is divine Makes that which doth reflect it better seen, And if to see is to contemn the shrine, 'Twere surely better it had never been: It had been better for her NOT TO SHINE, And for me NOT TO SING. Better, I ween, For us to yield no more that radiance bright, For them, to lack the light than scorn the light."
Strange words were those from Poet lips (said he); And then he paused and sighed, and turned to look Upon the lady's downcast eyes, and see How fast the honey-bees in settling shook Those apple blossoms on her from the tree: He watched her busy lingers as they took And slipped the knotted thread, and thought how much He would have given that hand to hold—to touch.
At length, as suddenly become aware Of this long pause, she lifted up her face, And he withdrew his eyes—she looked so fair And cold, he thought, in her unconscious grace. "Ah! little dreams she of the restless care," He thought, "that makes my heart to throb apace: Though we this morning part, the knowledge sends No thrill to her calm pulse—we are but FRIENDS."
Ah! turret clock (he thought), I would thy hand Were hid behind yon towering maple-trees! Ah! tell-tale shadow, but one moment stand— Dark shadow—fast advancing to my knees; Ah! foolish heart (he thought), that vainly planned By feigning gladness to arrive at ease; Ah! painful hour, yet pain to think it ends; I must remember that we are but friends.
And while the knotted thread moved to and fro, In sweet regretful tones that lady said: "It seemeth that the fame you would forego The Poet whom you tell of coveted; But I would fain, methinks, his story know. And was he loved?" said she, "or was he wed? And had he friends?" "One friend, perhaps," said he, "But for the rest, I pray you let it be."
Ah! little bird (he thought), most patient bird, Breasting thy speckled eggs the long day through, By so much as my reason is preferred Above thine instinct, I my work would do Better than thou dost thine. Thou hast not stirred This hour thy wing. Ah! russet bird, I sue For a like patience to wear through these hours— Bird on thy nest among the apple-flowers.
I will not speak—I will not speak to thee, My star! and soon to be my lost, lost star. The sweetest, first, that ever shone on me, So high above me and beyond so far; I can forego thee, but not bear to see My love, like rising mist, thy lustre mar: That were a base return for thy sweet light. Shine, though I never more-shall see that thou art bright.
Never! 'Tis certain that no hope is—none! No hope for me, and yet for thee no fear. The hardest part of my hard task is done; Thy calm assures me that I am not dear; Though far and fast the rapid moments run, Thy bosom heaveth not, thine eyes are clear; Silent, perhaps a little sad at heart She is. I am her friend, and I depart.
Silent she had been, but she raised her face; "And will you end," said she, "this half-told tale?" "Yes, it were best," he answered her. "The place Where I left off was where he felt to fail His courage, Madam, through the fancy base That they who love, endure, or work, may rail And cease—if all their love, the works they wrought, And their endurance, men have set at nought."
"It had been better for me NOT to sing," My Poet said, "and for her NOT to shine;" But him the old man answered, sorrowing, "My son, did God who made her, the Divine Lighter of suns, when down to yon bright ring He cast her, like some gleaming almandine, And set her in her place, begirt with rays, Say unto her 'Give light,' or say 'Earn praise?'"
The Poet said, "He made her to give light." "My son," the old man answered, "Blest are such; A blessed lot is theirs; but if each night Mankind had praised her radiance, inasmuch As praise had never made it wax more bright, And cannot now rekindle with its touch Her lost effulgence, it is nought. I wot That praise was not her blessing nor her lot."
"Ay," said the Poet, "I my words abjure, And I repent me that I uttered them; But by her light and by its forfeiture She shall not pass without her requiem. Though my name perish, yet shall hers endure; Though I should be forgotten, she, lost gem, Shall be remembered; though she sought not fame, It shall be busy with her beauteous name.
"For I will raise in her bright memory, Lost now on earth, a lasting monument, And graven on it shall recorded be That all her rays to light mankind were spent; And I will sing albeit none heedeth me, On her exemplar being still intent: While in men's sight shall stand the record thus— 'So long as she did last she lighted us.'"
So said, he raised, according to his vow, On the green grass where oft his townsfolk met, Under the shadow of a leafy bough That leaned toward a singing rivulet, One pure white stone, whereon, like crown on brow, The image of the vanished star was set; And this was graven on the pure white stone In golden letters—"WHILE SHE LIVED SHE SHONE."
Madam, I cannot give this story well— My heart is beating to another chime; My voice must needs a different cadence swell; It is yon singing bird, which all the time Wooeth his nested mate, that doth dispel My thoughts. What, deem you, could a lover's rhyme The sweetness of that passionate lay excel? O soft, O low her voice—"I cannot tell."
The old man—ay, he spoke, he was not hard; "She was his joy," he said, "his comforter, But he would trust me. I was not debarred Whate'er my heart approved to say to her." Approved! O torn and tempted and ill-starred And breaking heart, approve not nor demur; It is the serpent that beguileth thee With "God doth know" beneath this apple-tree.
Yea, God DOTH know, and only God doth know. Have pity, God, my spirit groans to Thee! I bear Thy curse primeval, and I go; But heavier than on Adam falls on me My tillage of the wilderness; for lo, I leave behind the woman, and I see As 'twere the gates of Eden closing o'er To hide her from my sight for evermore.
I am a fool, with sudden start he cried, To let the song-bird work me such unrest: If I break off again, I pray you chide, For morning neeteth, with my tale at best Half told. That white stone, Madam, gleamed beside The little rivulet, and all men pressed To read the lost one's story traced thereon, The golden legend—"While she lived she shone."
And, Madam, when the Poet heard them read, And children spell the letters softly through, It may be that he felt at heart some need, Some craving to be thus remembered too; It may be that he wondered if indeed He must die wholly when he passed from view; It may be, wished when death his eyes made dim, That some kind hand would raise such stone for him.
But shortly, as there comes to most of us, There came to him the need to quit his home: To tell you why were simply hazardous. What said I, Madam?—men were made to roam My meaning is. It hath been always thus: They are athirst for mountains and sea-foam; Heirs of this world, what wonder if perchance They long to see their grand inheritance?
He left his city, and went forth to teach Mankind, his peers, the hidden harmony That underlies God's discords, and to reach And touch the master-string that like a sigh Thrills in their souls, as if it would beseech Some hand to sound it, and to satisfy Its yearning for expression: but no word Till poet touch it hath to make its music heard.
I know that God is good, though evil dwells Among us, and doth all things holiest share; That there is joy in heaven, while yet our knells Sound for the souls which He has summoned there: That painful love unsatisfied hath spells Earned by its smart to soothe its fellows care: But yet this atom cannot in the whole Forget itself—it aches a separate soul.
But, Madam, to my Poet I return. With his sweet cadences of woven words He made their rude untutored hearts to burn And melt like gold refined. No brooding birds Sing better of the love that doth sojourn Hid in the nest of home, which softly girds The beating heart of life; and, strait though it be, Is straitness better than wide liberty.
He taught them, and they learned, but not the less Remained unconscious whence that lore they drew, But dreamed that of their native nobleness Some lofty thoughts, that he had planted, grew; His glorious maxims in a lowly dress Like seed sown broadcast sprung in all men's view. The sower, passing onward, was not known, And all men reaped the harvest as their own.
It may be, Madam, that those ballads sweet, Whose rhythmic words we sang but yesterday, Which time and changes make not obsolete, But (as a river blossoms bears away That on it drop) take with them while they fleet— It may be his they are, from him bear sway: But who can tell, since work surviveth fame?— The rhyme is left, but lost the Poet's name.
He worked, and bravely he fulfilled his trust— So long he wandered sowing worthy seed, Watering of wayside buds that were adust, And touching for the common ear his reed— So long to wear away the cankering rust That dulls the gold of life—so long to plead With sweetest music for all souls oppressed, That he was old ere he had thought of rest.
Old and gray-headed, leaning on a staff, To that great city of his birth he came, And at its gates he paused with wondering laugh To think how changed were all his thoughts of fame Since first he carved the golden epitaph To keep in memory a worthy name, And thought forgetfulness had been its doom But for a few bright letters on a tomb.
The old Astronomer had long since died; The friends of youth were gone and far dispersed, Strange were the domes that rose on every side; Strange fountains on his wondering vision burst; The men of yesterday their business plied; No face was left that he had known at first; And in the city gardens, lo, he sees The saplings that he set are stately trees.
Upon the grass beneath their welcome shade, Behold! he marks the fair white monument, And on its face the golden words displayed, For sixty years their lustre have not spent; He sitteth by it and is not afraid, But in its shadow he is well content; And envies not, though bright their gleamings are, The golden letters of the vanished star.
He gazeth up; exceeding bright appears That golden legend to his aged eyes, For they are dazzled till they fill with tears, And his lost Youth doth like a vision rise; She saith to him, "In all these toilsome years, What hast thou won by work or enterprise? What hast thou won to make amends to thee, As thou didst swear to do, for loss of me?
"O man! O white-haired man!" the vision said "Since we two sat beside this monument Life's clearest hues are all evanished; The golden wealth thou hadst of me is spent; The wind hath swept thy flowers, their leaves are shed The music is played out that with thee went." "Peace, peace!" he cried, "I lost thee, but, in truth, There are worse losses than the loss of youth."
He said not what those losses were—but I— But I must leave them, for the time draws near. Some lose not ONLY joy, but memory Of how it felt: not love that was so dear Lose only, but the steadfast certainty That once they had it; doubt comes on, then fear, And after that despondency. I wis The Poet must have meant such loss as this.
But while he sat and pondered on his youth, He said, "It did one deed that doth remain, For it preserved the memory and the truth Of her that now doth neither set nor wane, But shine in all men's thought; nor sink forsooth, And be forgotten like the summer rain. O, it is good that man should not forget Or benefits foregone or brightness set!"
He spoke and said, "My lot contented: me; I am right glad for this her worthy fame; That which was good and great I fain would see Drawn with a halo round what rests—its name." This while the Poet said, behold there came A workman with his tools anear the tree, And when he read the words he paused awhile And pondered on them with a wondering smile.
And then he said, "I pray you, Sir, what mean The golden letters of this monument?" In wonder quoth the Poet, "Hast thou been A dweller near at hand, and their intent Hast neither heard by voice of fame, nor seen The marble earlier?" "Ay," said he, and leant Upon his spade to hear the tale, then sigh, And say it was a marvel, and pass by.
Then said the Poet, "This is strange to me." But as he mused, with trouble in his mind, A band of maids approached him leisurely, Like vessels sailing with a favoring wind; And of their rosy lips requested he, As one that for a doubt would solving find, The tale, if tale there were, of that white stone, And those fair letters—"While she lived she shone."
Then like a fleet that floats becalmed they stay. "O, Sir," saith one, "this monument is old; But we have heard our virtuous mothers say That by their mothers thus the tale was told: A Poet made it; journeying then away, He left us; and though some the meaning hold For other than the ancient one, yet we Receive this legend for a certainty:—
"There was a lily once, most purely white, Beneath the shadow of these boughs it grew; Its starry blossom it unclosed by night, And a young Poet loved its shape and hue. He watched it nightly, 'twas so fair a sight, Until a stormy wind arose and blew, And when he came once more his flower to greet Its fallen petals drifted to his feet.
"And for his beautiful white lily's sake, That she might be remembered where her scent Had been right sweet, he said that he would make In her dear memory a monument: For she was purer than a driven flake Of snow, and in her grace most excellent; The loveliest life that death did ever mar, As beautiful to gaze on as a star."
"I thank you, maid," the Poet answered her. "And I am glad that I have heard your tale." With that they passed; and as an inlander, Having heard breakers raging in a gale, And falling down in thunder, will aver That still, when far away in grassy vale, He seems to hear those seething waters bound, So in his ears the maiden's voice did sound.
He leaned his face upon his hand, and thought, And thought, until a youth came by that way; And once again of him the Poet sought The story of the star. But, well-a-day! He said, "The meaning with much doubt is fraught, The sense thereof can no man surely say; For still tradition sways the common ear, That of a truth a star DID DISAPPEAR.
"But they who look beneath the outer shell That wraps the 'kernel of the people's lore,' Hold THAT for superstition; and they tell That seven lovely sisters dwelt of yore In this old city, where it so befell That one a Poet loved; that, furthermore, As stars above us she was pure and good, And fairest of that beauteous sisterhood.
"So beautiful they were, those virgins seven, That all men called them clustered stars in song, Forgetful that the stars abide in heaven: But woman bideth not beneath it long; For O, alas! alas! one fated even When stars their azure deeps began to throng, That virgin's eyes of Poet loved waxed dim, And all their lustrous shining waned to him.
"In summer dusk she drooped her head and sighed Until what time the evening star went down, And all the other stars did shining bide Clear in the lustre of their old renown. And then—the virgin laid her down and died: Forgot her youth, forgot her beauty's crown, Forgot the sisters whom she loved before, And broke her Poet's heart for evermore."
"A mournful tale, in sooth," the lady saith: "But did he truly grieve for evermore?" "It may be you forget," he answereth, "That this is but a fable at the core O' the other fable." "Though it be but breath," She asketh, "was it true?"—then he, "This lore, Since it is fable, either way may go; Then, if it please you, think it might be so."
"Nay, but," she saith, "if I had told your tale, The virgin should have lived his home to bless, Or, must she die, I would have made to fail His useless love." "I tell you not the less," He sighs, "because it was of no avail: His heart the Poet would not dispossess Thereof. But let us leave the fable now. My Poet heard it with an aching brow."
And he made answer thus: "I thank thee, youth; Strange is thy story to these aged ears, But I bethink me thou hast told a truth Under the guise of fable. If my tears, Thou lost beloved star, lost now, forsooth, Indeed could bring thee back among thy peers, So new thou should'st be deemed as newly seen, For men forget that thou hast ever been.
"There was a morning when I longed for fame, There was a noontide when I passed it by, There is an evening when I think not shame Its substance and its being to deny; For if men bear in mind great deeds, the name Of him that wrought them shall they leave to die; Or if his name they shall have deathless writ, They change the deeds that first ennobled it.
"O golden letters of this monument! O words to celebrate a loved renown Lost now or wrested! and to fancies lent, Or on a fabled forehead set for crown, For my departed star, I am content, Though legends dim and years her memory drown: For nought were fame to her, compared and set By this great truth which ye make lustrous yet."
"Adieu!" the Poet said, "my vanished star, Thy duty and thy happiness were one. Work is heaven's best; its fame is sublunar: The fame thou dost not need—the work is done. For thee I am content that these things are; More than content were I, my race being run, Might it be true of me, though none thereon Should muse regretful—'While he lived he shone.'"
So said, the Poet rose and went his way, And that same lot he proved whereof he spake. Madam, my story is told out; the day Draws out her shadows, time doth overtake The morning. That which endeth call a lay, Sung after pause—a motto in the break Between two chapters of a tale not new, Nor joyful—but a common tale. Adieu!
And that same God who made your face so fair, And gave your woman's heart its tenderness, So shield the blessing He implanted there, That it may never turn to your distress, And never cost you trouble or despair, Nor granted leave the granter comfortless; But like a river blest where'er it flows, Be still receiving while it still bestows.
Adieu, he said, and paused, while she sat mute In the soft shadow of the apple-tree; The skylark's song rang like a joyous flute, The brook went prattling past her restlessly: She let their tongues be her tongue's substitute; It was the wind that sighed, it was not she: And what the lark, the brook, the wind, had said, We cannot tell, for none interpreted.
Their counsels might be hard to reconcile, They might not suit the moment or the spot. She rose, and laid her work aside the while Down in the sunshine of that grassy plot; She looked upon him with an almost smile, And held to him a hand that faltered not. One moment—bird and brook went warbling on, And the wind sighed again—and he was gone.
So quietly, as if she heard no more Or skylark in the azure overhead, Or water slipping past the cressy shore, Or wind that rose in sighs, and sighing fled— So quietly, until the alders hoar Took him beneath them; till the downward spread Of planes engulfed him in their leafy seas— She stood beneath her rose-flushed apple-trees.
And then she stooped toward the mossy grass, And gathered up her work and went her way; Straight to that ancient turret she did pass, And startle back some fawns that were at play. She did not sigh, she never said "Alas!" Although he was her friend: but still that day, Where elm and hornbeam spread a towering dome, She crossed the dells to her ancestral home.
And did she love him?—what if she did not? Then home was still the home of happiest years Nor thought was exiled to partake his lot, Nor heart lost courage through forboding fears; Nor echo did against her secret plot, Nor music her betray to painful tears; Nor life become a dream, and sunshine dim, And riches poverty, because of him.
But did she love him?—what and if she did? Love cannot cool the burning Austral sand, Nor show the secret waters that lie hid In arid valleys of that desert land. Love has no spells can scorching winds forbid, Or bring the help which tarries near to hand, Or spread a cloud for curtaining faded eyes That gaze up dying into alien skies.
A DEAD YEAR.
I took a year out of my life and story— A dead year, and said, "I will hew thee a tomb! 'All the kings of the nations lie in glory;' Cased in cedar, and shut in a sacred gloom; Swathed in linen, and precious unguents old; Painted with cinnabar, and rich with gold.
"Silent they rest, in solemn salvatory, Sealed from the moth and the owl and the flitter-mouse— Each with his name on his brow. 'All the kings of the nations lie in glory, Every one in his own house:' Then why not thou?
"Year," I said, "thou shalt not lack Bribes to bar thy coming back; Doth old Egypt wear her best In the chambers of her rest? Doth she take to her last bed Beaten gold, and glorious red? Envy not! for thou wilt wear In the dark a shroud as fair; Golden with the sunny ray Thou withdrawest from my day; Wrought upon with colors fine, Stolen from this life of mine; Like the dusty Lybian kings, Lie with two wide open wings On thy breast, as if to say, On these wings hope flew away; And so housed, and thus adorned, Not forgotten, but not scorned, Let the dark for evermore Close thee when I close the door; And the dust for ages fall In the creases of thy pall; And no voice nor visit rude Break thy sealed solitude."
I took the year out of my life and story, The dead year, and said, "I have hewed thee a tomb 'All the kings of the nations lie in glory,' Cased in cedar, and shut in a sacred gloom; But for the sword, and the sceptre, and diadem, Sure thou didst reign like them." So I laid her with those tyrants old and hoary, According to my vow; For I said, "The kings of the nations lie in glory, And so shalt thou!"
"Rock," I said, "thy ribs are strong. That I bring thee guard it long; Hide the light from buried eyes— Hide it, lest the dead arise." "Year," I said, and turned away, "I am free of thee this day; All that we two only know, I forgive and I forego, So thy face no more I meet, In the field or in the street."
Thus we parted, she and I; Life hid death, and put it by: Life hid death, and said, "Be free I have no more need of thee." No more need! O mad mistake, With repentance in its wake! Ignorant, and rash, and blind, Life had left the grave behind; But had locked within its hold With the spices and the gold, All she had to keep her warm In the raging of the storm.
Scarce the sunset bloom was gone, And the little stars outshone, Ere the dead year, stiff and stark, Drew me to her in the dark; Death drew life to come to her, Beating at her sepulchre, Crying out, "How can I part With the best share of my heart? Lo, it lies upon the bier, Captive, with the buried year. O my heart!" And I fell prone, Weeping at the sealed stone; "Year among the shades," I said, "Since I live, and thou art dead, Let my captive heart be free, Like a bird to fly to me." And I stayed some voice to win, But none answered from within; And I kissed the door—and night Deepened till the stars waxed bright And I saw them set and wane, And the world turn green again.
"So," I whispered, "open door, I must tread this palace floor— Sealed palace, rich and dim. Let a narrow sunbeam swim After me, and on me spread While I look upon my dead; Let a little warmth be free To come after; let me see Through the doorway, when I sit Looking out, the swallows flit, Settling not till daylight goes; Let me smell the wild white rose, Smell the woodbine and the may; Mark, upon a sunny day, Sated from their blossoms rise, Honey-bees and butterflies. Let me hear, O! let me hear, Sitting by my buried year, Finches chirping to their young, And the little noises flung Out of clefts where rabbits play, Or from falling water-spray; And the gracious echoes woke By man's work: the woodman's stroke, Shout of shepherd, whistlings blithe. And the whetting of the scythe; Let this be, lest shut and furled From the well-beloved world, I forget her yearnings old, And her troubles manifold, Strivings sore, submissions meet, And my pulse no longer beat, Keeping time and bearing part With the pulse of her great heart.