POEMS OF HENRY TIMROD
By Henry Timrod
Introduction The Late Judge George S. Bryan
Spring The Cotton Boll Praeceptor Amat The Problem A Year's Courtship Serenade Youth and Manhood Hark to the Shouting Wind Too Long, O Spirit of Storm The Lily Confidante The Stream is Flowing from the West Vox et Praeterea Nihil Madeline A Dedication Katie Why Silent? Two Portraits La Belle Juive An Exotic The Rosebuds A Mother's Wail Our Willie Address Delivered at the Opening of the New Theatre at Richmond A Vision of Poesy The Past Dreams The Arctic Voyager Dramatic Fragment The Summer Bower A Rhapsody of a Southern Winter Night Flower-Life A Summer Shower Baby's Age The Messenger Rose On Pressing Some Flowers 1866—Addressed to the Old Year Stanzas: A Mother Gazes Upon Her Daughter, Arrayed for an Approaching Bridal. Written in Illustration of a Tableau Vivant Hymn Sung at an Anniversary of the Asylum of Orphans at Charleston To a Captive Owl Love's Logic Second Love Hymn Sung at the Consecration of Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston, S.C. Hymn Sung at a Sacred Concert at Columbia, S.C. Lines to R. L. To Whom? To Thee Storm and Calm Retirement A Common Thought
Poems Written in War Times
Carolina A Cry to Arms Charleston Ripley Ethnogenesis Carmen Triumphale The Unknown Dead The Two Armies Christmas Ode Sung on the Occasion of Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead, at Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston, S.C., 1867
I "Poet! If on a Lasting Fame Be Bent" II "Most Men Know Love But as a Part of Life" III "Life Ever Seems as from Its Present Site" IV "They Dub Thee Idler, Smiling Sneeringly" V "Some Truths There Be Are Better Left Unsaid" VI "I Scarcely Grieve, O Nature! at the Lot" VII "Grief Dies Like Joy; the Tears Upon My Cheek" VIII "At Last, Beloved Nature! I Have Met" IX "I Know Not Why, But All This Weary Day" X "Were I the Poet-Laureate of the Fairies" XI "Which Are the Clouds, and Which the Mountains? See" XII "What Gossamer Lures Thee Now? What Hope, What Name" XIII "I Thank You, Kind and Best Beloved Friend" XIV "Are These Wild Thoughts, Thus Fettered in My Rhymes" XV In Memoriam—Harris Simons
Poems Now First Collected
Song Composed for Washington's Birthday, and Respectfully Inscribed to the Officers and Members of the Washington Light Infantry of Charleston, February 22, 1859
A Bouquet Lines: "I Stooped from Star-Bright Regions" A Trifle Lines: "I Saw, or Dreamed I Saw, Her Sitting Lone" Sonnet: "If I Have Graced No Single Song of Mine" To Rosa ——: Acrostic Dedication
"A true poet is one of the most precious gifts that can be bestowed on a generation." He speaks for it and he speaks to it. Reflecting and interpreting his age and its thoughts, feelings, and purposes, he speaks for it; and with a love of truth, with a keener moral insight into the universal heart of man, and with the intuition of inspiration, he speaks to it, and through it to the world. It is thus
"The poet to the whole wide world belongs, Even as the Teacher is the child's."
"Nor is it to the great masters alone that our homage and thankfulness are due. Wherever a true child of song strikes his harp, we love to listen. All that we ask is that the music be native, born of impassioned impulse that will not be denied, heartfelt, like the lark when she soars up to greet the morning and pours out her song by the same quivering ecstasy that impels her flight." For though the voices be many, the oracle is one, for "God gave the poet his song."
Such was Henry Timrod, the Southern poet. A child of nature, his song is the voice of the Southland. Born in Charleston, S.C., December 8th, 1829, his life cast in the seething torrent of civil war, his voice was also the voice of Carolina, and through her of the South, in all the rich glad life poured out in patriotic pride into that fatal struggle, in all the valor and endurance of that dark conflict, in all the gloom of its disaster, and in all the sacred tenderness that clings about its memories. He was the poet of the Lost Cause, the finest interpreter of the feelings and traditions of the splendid heroism of a brave people. Moreover, by his catholic spirit, his wide range, and world-wide sympathies, he is a true American poet.
The purpose of the TIMROD MEMORIAL ASSOCIATION of his native city and State, in undertaking this new edition of his poems, is to erect a suitable public memorial to the poet, and also to let his own words renew and keep his own memory in his land's literature.
The earliest edition of Timrod's poems was a small volume by Ticknor & Fields, of Boston, in 1860, just before the Civil War. This contained only the poems of the first eight or nine years previous, and was warmly welcomed North and South. The "New York Tribune" then greeted this small first volume in these words: "These poems are worthy of a wide audience, and they form a welcome offering to the common literature of our country."
In this first volume was evinced the culture, the lively fancy, the delicate and vigorous imagination, and the finished artistic power of his mind, even then rejoicing in the fullness and freshness of its creations and in the unwearied flow of its natural music. But it fell then on the great world of letters almost unheeded, shut out by the war cloud that soon broke upon the land, enveloping all in darkness.
The edition of his complete poems was not issued until the South was recovering from the ravage of war, and was entitled "The Poems of Henry Timrod, edited with a sketch of the Poet's life by Paul H. Hayne. E. J. Hale & Son, publishers, New York, 1873." And immediately, in 1874, there followed a second edition of this volume, which contained the noble series of war poems and other lyrics written since the edition of 1860. In 1884 an illustrated edition of "Katie" was published by Hale & Son, New York. All of these editions were long ago exhausted by an admiring public.
The present edition contains the poems of all the former editions, and also some earlier poems not heretofore published.
The name of Timrod has been closely identified with the history of South Carolina for over a century. Before the Revolution, Henry Timrod, of German birth, the founder of the family in America, was a prominent citizen of Charleston, and the president of that historic association, the German Friendly Society, still existing, a century and a quarter old. We find his name first on the roll of the German Fusiliers of Charleston, volunteers formed in May, 1775, for the defense of the country, immediately on hearing of the battle of Lexington. Again in the succeeding generation, in the Seminole war and in the peril of St. Augustine, the German Fusiliers were commanded by his son, Captain William Henry Timrod, who was the father of the poet, and who himself published a volume of poems in the early part of the century. He was the editor of a literary periodical published in Charleston, to which he himself largely contributed. He was of strong intellect and delicate feelings, and an ardent patriot.
Some of the more striking of the poems of the elder Timrod are the following. Washington Irving said of these lines that Tom Moore had written no finer lyric:—
To Time, the Old Traveler
They slander thee, Old Traveler, Who say that thy delight Is to scatter ruin, far and wide, In thy wantonness of might: For not a leaf that falleth Before thy restless wings, But in thy flight, thou changest it To a thousand brighter things.
Thou passest o'er the battlefield Where the dead lie stiff and stark, Where naught is heard save the vulture's scream, And the gaunt wolf's famished bark; But thou hast caused the grain to spring From the blood-enriched clay, And the waving corn-tops seem to dance To the rustic's merry lay.
Thou hast strewed the lordly palace In ruins on the ground, And the dismal screech of the owl is heard Where the harp was wont to sound; But the selfsame spot thou coverest With the dwellings of the poor, And a thousand happy hearts enjoy What ONE usurped before.
'T is true thy progress layeth Full many a loved one low, And for the brave and beautiful Thou hast caused our tears to flow; But always near the couch of death Nor thou, nor we can stay; AND THE BREATH OF THY DEPARTING WINGS, DRIES ALL OUR TEARS AWAY!
Nor did lack Sweet music to the magic of the scene: The little crimson-breasted Nonpareil Was there, his tiny feet scarce bending down The silken tendril that he lighted on To pour his love notes; and in russet coat, Most homely, like true genius bursting forth In spite of adverse fortune, a full choir Within himself, the merry Mock Bird sate, Filling the air with melody; and at times, IN THE RAPT FAVOR OF HIS SWEETEST SONG, HIS QUIVERING FORM WOULD SPRING INTO THE SKY, IN SPIRAL CIRCLES, AS IF HE WOULD CATCH NEW POWERS FROM KINDRED WARBLERS IN THE CLOUDS WHO WOULD BEND DOWN TO GREET HIM!
These lines, addressed to the poet by his father, have a pathetic interest:—
Harry, my little blue-eyed boy, I love to have thee playing near; There's music in thy shouts of joy To a fond father's ear.
I love to see the lines of mirth Mantle thy cheek and forehead fair, As if all pleasures of the earth Had met to revel there;
For gazing on thee, do I sigh That those most happy years must flee, And thy full share of misery Must fall in life on thee!
There is no lasting grief below, My Harry! that flows not from guilt; Thou canst not read my meaning now— In after times thou wilt.
Thou'lt read it when the churchyard clay Shall lie upon thy father's breast, And he, though dead, will point the way Thou shalt be always blest.
They'll tell thee this terrestrial ball, To man for his enjoyment given, Is but a state of sinful thrall To keep the soul from heaven.
My boy! the verdure-crowned hills, The vales where flowers innumerous blow, The music of ten thousand rills Will tell thee, 't is not so.
God is no tyrant who would spread Unnumbered dainties to the eyes, Yet teach the hungering child to dread That touching them he dies!
No! all can do his creatures good, He scatters round with hand profuse— The only precept understood, ENJOY, BUT NOT ABUSE!
The poet's mother was the daughter of Mr. Charles Prince, a citizen of Charleston, whose parents had come from England just before the Revolution. Mr. Prince had married Miss French, daughter of an officer in the Revolution, whose family were from Switzerland. It was the influence of his mother also that helped to form the poet's character, and his intense and passionate love of nature. Her beautiful face and form, her purity and goodness, her delight in all the sights and sounds of the country, her childish rapture in wood and field, her love of flowers and trees, and all the mystery and gladness of nature, are among the cherished memories of all her children, and vividly described by the poet's sister.
William Henry Timrod, father of the poet, died of disease contracted in the Florida war, and his family thereafter were in straitened circumstances. Nevertheless, the early education of his gifted son was provided for. Paul H. Hayne, the poet, was one of his earliest friends and schoolmates at Charleston's best school. They sat together, and to his brother boy-poet he first showed his earliest verses in exulting confidence. This friendship and confidence lasted through life, and Hayne has tenderly embalmed it in his sketch of the poet. We have this faithful picture of him at that time:—
"Modest and diffident, with a nervous utterance, but with melody ever in his heart and on his lip. Though always slow of speech, he was yet, like Burns, quick to learn. The chariot wheels might jar in the gate through which he tried to drive his winged steeds, but the horses were of celestial temper and the car purest gold."
His school-fellows remember him as silent and shy, full of quick impulse, and with an eager ambition, insatiable in his thirst for books, yet mingling freely in all sports, and rejoicing unspeakably in the weekly holiday and its long rambles through wood and field. "The sweet security of streets" had no charm for him. He rejoiced in Nature and her changing scenes and seasons. She was always to him comfort, refreshment, balm. She never turned her face from him, and through all his years he "leaned on her breast with loving trustfulness as a little child."
But he had other teachers. He studied all classic literature. "The AEschylean drama had no attraction for him; he reveled in the rich and elegant strains of Virgil, and of the many toned lyre of Horace and the silver lute of Catullus." From the full and inexhaustible fountain of English letters he drank unceasingly. Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Burns, Wordsworth, and, later, Tennyson were his immediate inspiration.
His college life at the University of Georgia was interrupted by sickness and cramped by lack of means, and his literary plans were foiled by necessity. Nevertheless, he left his Alma Mater with a mind stirred to its depths, and with a large store of learning, and had already sounded with clear note those chords which were afterwards so vocal in melody.
Dr. J. Dickson Bruns has left this graphic description of Timrod's personal appearance, and of some prominent traits of his social character:—
"In stature," he says, "Timrod was far below the medium height. He had always excelled in boyish sports, and, as he grew to manhood, his unusual breadth of shoulder still seemed to indicate a physical vigor which the slender wrists, thin, transparent hands, and habitually lax attitude but too plainly contradicted.
"The square jaw was almost stern in its strongly pronounced lines, the mouth large, the lips exquisitely sensitive, the gray eyes set deeply under massive brows, and full of a melancholy and pleading tenderness, which attracted attention to his face at once, as the face of one who had thought and suffered much.
"His walk was quick and nervous, with an energy in it that betokened decision of character, but ill sustained by the stammering speech; for in society he was the shyest and most undemonstrative of men. To a single friend whom he trusted, he would pour out his inmost heart; but let two or three be gathered together, above all, introduce a stranger, and he instantly became a quiet, unobtrusive listener, though never a moody or uncongenial one!
"Among men of letters, he was always esteemed as a most sympathetic companion; timid, reserved, unready, if taken by surprise, but highly cultivated, and still more highly endowed.
"The key to his social character was to be found in the feminine gentleness of his temperament. He shrank from noisy debate, and the wordy clash of argument, as from a blow. It stunned and bewildered him, and left him, in the melee, alike incapable of defense or attack. And yet, when some burly protagonist would thrust himself too rudely into the ring, and try to bear down opposition by sheer vehemence of declamation, from the corner where he sat ensconced in unregarded silence, HE WOULD SUDDENLY SLING OUT SOME SHARP, SWIFT PEBBLE OF THOUGHT, which he had been slowly rounding, and smite with an aim so keen and true as rarely failed to bring down the boastful Anakim!"
In Charleston, as a first effort in life, for a brief period Timrod attempted the law, but found that jealous mistress unsuited to his life work, though he had all the opportunity afforded him in the office of his friend, the Hon. J. L. Petigru, the great jurist. Leaving the bar, he thenceforward devoted himself to literature and to his art.
Charleston to Timrod was home, and he always returned with kindling spirit to the city of his love. There were all his happiest associations and the delight of purest friendships,—W. Gilmore Simms and Paul Hayne, and the rest of the literary coterie that presided over "Russell's Magazine", and Judge Bryan and Dr. Bruns (to whom Hayne dedicated his edition of Timrod's poems), and others were of this glad fellowship, and his social hours were bright in their intercourse and in the cordial appreciation of his genius and the tender love they bore him. These he never forgot, and returning after the ravage of war to his impoverished and suffering city, he writes, in the last year of his young life, "My eyes were blind to everything and everybody but a few old friends."
Suited by endowment and prepared by special study for a professorship, still all his efforts for the academic chair failed, and, finally, he was compelled to become a private teacher, an office the sacredness of which he profoundly realized. In his leisure hours he now gave himself up to deeper study of nature, literature, and man. It was in these few years of quiet retreat that he wrote the poems contained in the first edition of his works, 1859-60, which, laden with all the poet's longing to be heard, were little heeded in the first great shock of war. Indeed, in such a storm, what shelter could a poet find? An ardent Carolinian, devoted to his native State with an allegiance as to his country, he left his books and study, and threw himself into the struggle, a volunteer in the army. In the first years of the war he was in and near Charleston, and wrote those memorable poems and martial lyrics: "Carolina", "A Cry to Arms", "Charleston", "Ripley", "Ethnogenesis", and "The Cotton Boll", which deeply stirred the heart of his State, and, indeed, of the whole South. His was the voice of his people. Under its spell the public response was quick, and promised largest honor and world-wide fame for the poet. The project formed by some of the most eminent men of the State, late in 1862, was to publish an illustrated and highly embellished edition of his works in London. The war correspondent of the "London Illustrated News", Vizitelly, himself an artist, promised original illustrations, and the future seemed bright for the gratification of his heart's desire, to be known and heard in the great literary centre of the English-speaking world. But disappointment again was his lot. Amid the increasing stress of the conflict, every public and private energy in the South was absorbed in maintaining the ever weakening struggle; and with all art and literature and learning our poet's hopes were buried in the common grave of war; not because he was not loved and cherished, and his genius appreciated, but because a terrible need was upon his people, and desperate issues were draining their life-blood. Then he went to the front. Too weak for the field (for the fatal weakness that finally sapped his life was then upon him), he was compelled, under medical direction, to retire from the battle ranks, and made a last desperate effort to serve the cause he loved as a war correspondent. In this capacity he joined the great army of the West after the battle of Shiloh. The story of his camp life was indeed pathetic. Dr. Bruns writes of him then: "One can scarcely conceive of a situation more hopelessly wretched than that of a mere child in the world's ways suddenly flung down into the heart of that strong retreat, and tossed like a straw on the crest of those refluent waves from which he escaped as by a miracle." Home he came, baffled, dispirited, and sore hurt, to receive the succor of generous friendship, and for a brief time a safe congenial refuge, in 1864, in an editor's chair of the "South Carolinian", at the capital of his native State. Here his strong pen wrote the stirring editorials of that critical time, and there, tempted by the passing hour of comparative calm, he married Miss Kate Goodwin, "Katie, the fair Saxon" of his exquisite song. Here the war that had broken all his plans, and wrecked his health and hopes, and made literature for a time in the South a beggar's vocation, left him with wife and child, the "darling Willie" of his verse, dependent upon his already sapped and fast failing strength for support. Here he saw the capital of his native State, marked for vengeance, pitilessly destroyed by fire and sword. Here gaunt ruin stalked and want entered his own home, made desolate as all the hearthstones of his people. Here the peace that ensued was the peace of the desert! Here the army, defeated and broken, came back after the long heroic struggle to blackened chimneys, sole vestige of home, and the South, with not even bread for her famished children, still stood in solemn silence by those deeper furrows watered with blood. The suffering that he endured was the common suffering of those around him,—actual physical want and lack of the commonest comforts of life, felt most keenly by his sensitive nature and delicate constitution. In the midst of this fierce stress, his darling boy, the crown of his life, died. All his affections, it seemed, were poured out at once, as water spilled upon the ground. He was dying of consumption, and earth shadows crowded around him.
Though long in feeble health, his last illness was brief. The best physicians lovingly gave their skillful ministration, and the State's most eminent men, in their common need, tenderly cared for him and his. With death before him, he clung passionately to his art, absorbed in that alone and in the great Beyond. His latest occupation was correcting the proof-sheets of his own poems, and he passed away with them by his side, stained with his life-blood.
In the autumn of 1867 he was laid by his beloved child in Trinity churchyard, Columbia, S.C. General Hampton, Governor Thompson, and other great Carolinians bore him to the grave,—a grave that, through the sackcloth of the Reconstruction period in South Carolina, remained without a stone. But as he himself wrote of the host of the Southern dead of the war,—
"In seeds of laurel in the earth The blossom of your fame is blown, And somewhere waiting for its birth, The shaft is in the stone."
In later years loving friends reared a small memorial shaft to mark his grave. It was in that dark period that Carl McKinley's genius was touched to these fine lines.
At Timrod's Grave. 1877.
Harp of the South! no more, no more Thy silvery strings shall quiver, The one strong hand might win thy strains Is chilled and stilled forever.
Our one sweet singer breaks no more The silence sad and long, The land is hushed from shore to shore, It brooks no feebler song!
No other voice can charm our ears, None other soothe our pain; Better these echoes lingering yet, Than any ruder strain.
For singing, Fate has given sighs, For music we make moan; Oh, who may touch the harp-strings since That whisper—"HE IS GONE!"
See where he lies—his last sad home Of all memorial bare, Save for a little heap of leaves The winds have gathered there!
One fair frail shell from some far sea Lies lone above his breast, Sad emblem and sole epitaph To mark his place of rest.
The sweet winds murmur in its heart A music soft and low, As they would bring their secrets still To him who sleeps below.
And lo! one tender, tearful bloom Wins upward through the grass, As some sweet thought he left unsung Were blossoming at last.
Wild weeds grow rank about the place, A dark, cold spot, and drear; The dull neglect that marked his life Has followed even here.
Around shine many a marble shaft And polished pillars fair, And strangers stand on Timrod's grave To praise them, unaware!
"Hold up the glories of thy dead!" To thine own self be true, Land that he loved! Come, honor now This grave that honors you!
The one characteristic above all others that marked the poet's life was his unfaltering trust,—the soul's unclouded sky, a quenchless radiance of blessed sunlight amid the deep darkness that encompassed him.
As in his poetry there is no false note, no doubtful sentiment, no selfish grief, even when he sings with breast against the thorn, so in his life do we find no word of bitterness or moaning or complaining. Even amid the terrible blight of war and its final utter ruin, prophet-like, he speaks in faith and hope and courage. His own heart breaking, and life ebbing, he writes of Spring as the true Reconstructionist, and pleads her message to his stricken people. It is so true and prophetic that we quote the words written in April, 1866.
"For Spring is a true Reconstructionist,—a reconstructionist in the best and most practical sense. There is not a nook in the land in which she is not at this moment exerting her influence in preparing a way for the restoration of the South. No politician may oppose her; her power defies embarrassment; but she is not altogether independent of help. She brings us balmy airs and gentle dews, golden suns and silver rains; and she says to us, 'These are the materials of the only work in which you need be at present concerned; avail yourselves of them to reclothe your naked country and feed your impoverished people, and you will find that, in the discharge of that task, you have taken the course which will most certainly and most peacefully conduct you to the position which you desire. Turn not aside to bandy epithets with your enemies; stuff your ears, like the princess in the Arabian Nights, against words of insult and wrong; pause not to muse over your condition, or to question your prospects; but toil on bravely, silently, surely....'
"Such are the words of wise and kindly counsel, which, if we attend rightly, we may all hear in the winds and read in the skies of Spring. Nowhere, however, does she speak with so eloquent a voice or so pathetic an effect as in this ruined town. She covers our devastated courts with images of renovation in the shape of flowers; she hangs once more in our blasted gardens the fragrant lamps of the jessamine; in our streets she kindles the maple like a beacon; and from amidst the charred and blackened ruins of once happy homes she pours, through the mouth of her favorite musician, the mocking-bird, a song of hope and joy. What is the lesson which she designs by these means to convey? It may be summed in a single sentence,—forgetfulness of the past, effort in the present, and trust for the future."
Such was the lofty creed and last hopeful, but dying message to his brothers of the South, whose war songs he had written, and the requiem of whose martyred hosts he had chanted.
Such was the tragedy that ended in October, 1867, with the hero at the age of thirty-seven; glory, genius, anguish, tears, but unconquerable faith and heroic fortitude. His larger life scarce begun, his full power felt, but only half expressed, he realized deeply—
"The petty done, the vast undone!"
He yearned with passionate longing and hope and conscious might to fulfill an even greater mission; but in the infinite providence of God the full fruitage of this exquisite soul was for another sphere. He was indeed "one of those who stirred us, a friend of man and a lover. In no country of this earth could he long have been an alien, and that may now be said of his spirit. In no part of this universe could it feel lonely or unbefriended; it was in harmony with all that flowers or gives perfume in life."
The story of his last days, as given by his poet-friend, Paul Hayne, at the latter's cottage among the pines, is of tender and peculiar interest, and we quote it here, as it was written in 1873:—
... In the latter summer-tide of this same year (1867), I again persuaded him to visit me. Ah! how sacred now, how sad and sweet, are the memories of that rich, clear, prodigal August of '67!
We would rest on the hillsides, in the swaying golden shadows, watching together the Titanic masses of snow-white clouds which floated slowly and vaguely through the sky, suggesting by their form, whiteness, and serene motion, despite the season, flotillas of icebergs upon Arctic seas. Like Lazzaroni we basked in the quiet noons, sunk into the depths of reverie, or perhaps of yet more "charmed sleep". Or we smoked, conversing lazily between the puffs,
"Next to some pine whose antique roots just peeped From out the crumbling bases of the sand."
But the evenings, with their gorgeous sunsets "rolling down like a chorus" and the "gray-eyed melancholy gloaming", were the favorite hours of the day with him. He would often apostrophize twilight in the language of Wordsworth's sonnet:—
"Hail, twilight! sovereign of one peaceful hour! Not dull art thou as undiscerning night; But only studious to remove from sight Day's mutable distinctions."
"Yes," said he, "she is indeed sovereign of ONE PEACEFUL HOUR! In the hardest, busiest time one feels the calm, merciful-minded queen stealing upon one in the fading light, and 'whispering', as Ford has it (or is it Fletcher?),—'WHISPERING tranquillity'."
When in-doors and disposed to read, he took much pleasure in perusing the poems of Robert Buchanan and Miss Ingelow. The latter's "Ballads" particularly delighted him. One, written "in the old English manner", he quickly learned by heart, repeating it with a relish and fervor indescribable.
Here is the opening stanza:—
"Come out and hear the waters shoot, the owlet hoot, the owlet hoot; Yon crescent moon, a golden boat, hangs dim behind the tree, O! The dropping thorn makes white the grass, O! sweetest lass, and sweetest lass Come out and smell the ricks of hay adown the croft with me, O!"
With but a slight effort of memory I can vividly recall his voice and manner in repeating these simple yet beautiful lines.
They were the last verses I ever heard from the poet's lips.
Just as the woods were assuming their first delicate autumnal tints, Timrod took his leave of us. In a conversation on the night but one previous to his departure, we had been speaking of Dr. Parr and other literary persons of unusual age, when he observed: "I haven't the slightest desire, P——, to be an octogenarian, far less a centenarian, like old Parr; but I hope that I may be spared until I am FIFTY or fifty-five."
"About Shakespeare's age," I suggested.
"Oh!" he replied, smiling, "I was not thinking of THAT; but I'm sure that after fifty-five I would begin to wither, mind and body, and one hates the idea of a mummy, intellectual or physical. Do you remember that picture of extreme old age which Charles Reade gives us in 'Never Too Late to Mend'? George Fielding, the hero, is about going away from England to try his luck in Australia. All his friends and relations are around him, expressing their sorrow at his enforced voyage; all but his grandfather, aged ninety-two, who sits stolid and mumbling in his armchair.
"'Grandfather!' shouts George into the deafened ears, 'I'm going a long journey; mayhap shall never see you again; speak a word to me before I go!' Grandfather looks up, brightens for a moment, and cackles feebly out: 'George, fetch me some SNUFF from where you're going. See now' (half whimpering), 'I'm out of snuff.' A good point in the way of illustration, but not a pleasant picture."
On the 13th of September, ten days after Timrod's return to Columbia, he wrote me the following note:—
"Dear P——: I have been too sick to write before, and am still too sick to drop you more than a few lines. You will be surprised and pained to hear that I have had a severe hemorrhage of the lungs.
"I did not come home an instant too soon. I found them without money or provisions. Fortunately I brought with me a small sum. I won't tell you how small, but six dollars of it was from the editor of the 'Opinion' for my last poem.
"I left your climate to my injury. But not only for the sake of my health, I begin already to look back with longing regret to 'Copse Hill'. You have all made me feel as if I had TWO beloved homes!
"I wish that I could divide myself between them; or that I had wings, so that I might flit from one to other in a moment.
"I hope soon to write you at length. Yours," etc.
Again on the 16th I heard from him, thus:—
"Yesterday I had a still more copious hemorrhage!...
"I am lying supine in bed, forbidden to speak or make any exertion whatever. But I can't resist the temptation of dropping you a line, in the hope of calling forth a score or two from you in return.
"An awkward time this for me to be sick! We are destitute of funds, almost of food. But God will provide!
"I send you a Sonnet, written the other day, as an Obituary for Mr. Harris Simons. Tell me what you think of it—be sure! Love to your mother, wife, and my precious Willie [since the death of his own child he had turned with a yearning affection to my boy]. Let me hear from you soon—VERY soon! You'll do me more good than medicines!" etc.
On the 25th of the month confidence in Timrod's recovery was confirmed by a letter from Mrs. Goodwin:—
"Our brother," she writes, "is decidedly better; and if there be no recurrence of the hemorrhage will, I hope, be soon convalescent!"
A week and upwards passed on in silence. I received no more communications from Columbia. But early in October a vaguely threatening report reached my ears. On the 9th it was mournfully confirmed. Forty-eight hours before, Henry Timrod had expired!
On the 7th of October, the mortal remains of the poet, so worn and shattered, were buried in the cemetery of Trinity Church, Columbia.
There, in the ruined capital of his native State, whence scholarship, culture, and social purity have been banished to give place to the orgies of semi-barbarians and the political trickery of adventurers and traitors; there, tranquil amid the vulgar turmoil of factions, reposes the dust of one of the truest and sweetest singers this country has given to the world.
Nature, kinder to his senseless ashes than ever Fortune had been to the living man, is prodigal around his grave—unmarked and unrecorded though it be—of her flowers and verdant grasses, of her rains that fertilize, and her purifying dews. The peace he loved, and so vainly longed for through stormy years, has crept to him at last, but only to fall upon the pallid eyelids, closed forever; upon the pulseless limbs, and the breathless, broken heart. Still it is good to know that
"After life's fitful fever, he sleeps well."
Yet, from this mere material repose, this quiet of decaying atoms, surely the most skeptical of thinkers, in contemplation of SUCH a life and SUCH a death, must instinctively look from earth to heaven; from the bruised and mouldering clod to the spirit infinitely exalted, and radiant in redemption.
"A calm, a beautiful, a sacred star."
The poetic creed of Timrod, expressed in his "Vision of Poesy", set the impress upon all his work. Conscious of his power, he reverently believed in the mission of the poet as prophet and teacher,—
"The mission of Genius on Earth! To uplift, Purify, and confirm, by its own gracious gift, The world,"—
and he has consecrated his gift to its noblest uses in the discharge of that "high and holy debt".
As lover of man and nature, his sympathy was universal; no theme was too humble for his pen. "The same law that moulds a planet forms a drop of dew." "Humility is power!" "We may trace the mighty sun above even by the shadow of a slender flower." Yet he dealt not with the fleeting; that was only the passing form of the abiding. Passionately fond as he was of Nature, and nourished and refreshed by her always, he never wrote a line of mere descriptive poetry. Nature is only the symbol, the image, to interpret his spiritual meaning. He felt with Milton, in his noble words, that the abiding work is not raised in the heat of youth or the vapors of wine, or by "invocation to dame Memory and her siren daughters, but by devout prayer to that Eternal Spirit who can enrich with all utterance and knowledge, and send out his seraphim with the hallowed fire of his altars to touch and purify the lips of whom He pleases."
Under that inspiration and revelation the poet is a divine interpreter of (in his own words)—
"All lovely things, and gentle—the sweet laugh Of children, Girlhood's kiss, and Friendship's clasp, The boy that sporteth with the old man's staff, The baby, and the breast its fingers grasp— All that exalts the grounds of happiness, All griefs that hallow, and all joys that bless,
"To me are sacred; at my holy shrine Love breathes its latest dreams, its earliest hints; I turn life's tasteless waters into wine, And flush them through and through with purple tints. Wherever Earth is fair, and Heaven looks down, I rear my altars, and I wear my crown."
It was this mission of Poetry that filled his mind and heart and life with abiding light, which made him cling passionately to life, not because of any physical fear of death, but because in that mission Art and Nature were so inexpressibly rich and sweet to him to reveal his message to man. In the benediction of his dying words, "Love is sweeter than rest!"
The moral purity of these poems is their distinctive quality, as it was of the man. With a universal sympathy for all life, still he moved always on the highest planes of thought and feeling and purpose. He seemed always to be impressed in his art with the truth of his own lines,—
"There is no unimpressive spot on earth, The beauty of the stars is over all."
His earnestness and deep poetic insight clothed all themes with the beauty and light that is in and over all.
Timrod's melancholy, the finest test of high poetic quality, when purified and spiritualized, has no Byronic bitterness, no selfish morbidness, no impenetrable gloom, but in his own exquisite lines it is,—
"A shadowy land, where joy and sorrow kiss, Each still to each corrective and relief, Where dim delights are brightened into bliss, And nothing wholly perishes but Grief.
"Ah, me!—not dies—no more than spirit dies; But in a change like death is clothed with wings; A serious angel, with entranced eyes, Looking to far off and celestial things."
Again, in all these poems there is a nameless spell of a simplicity, fervid yet tender, and an imagination, strong yet delicate, both in its perception and expression.
His style, "like noble music unto noble words," is elaborate, yet perfectly natural. There is no trace of labor; grace guides and power impels. So perfect is it at times in its natural power that the mind is almost unconscious of the word-symbol in grasping immediately the thought revealed.
There is in the verse a ceaseless melody and perfect finish. At times there is "the easy elegance of Catullus", always his delight, and a metrical translation of whose poems he had completed.
Rare endowment with broad culture is evinced in the high intellectual level always maintained; and the evenness of quality that is always of the mountain top. He always knows his power, and its range. His song is always clear and true.
Moreover, with a universality of poetic feeling, he has struck every chord, and always with a keen sensibility and delicacy of natural instinct. Among the finest poems, how wide is this range and varied this power!
"The Vision of Poesy", his longest work, written in youth, essaying the mission and the philosophy of the poetic art, has some lofty passages, and all the promise of his later power, felicity, and melody.
"A Year's Courtship" is in its glow, and grace, and music the perfection of classic art.
The dainty voluptuousness in a "Serenade" kindles with the luxuriousness of the South.
His "Praeceptor Amat" is warm with the breath of rapturous feeling, and rich with the fragrance of flowers.
"Ethnogenesis", "the birth of the nation", is regarded by some his greatest poem. It is prophecy linked with the hope and aspiration of the newborn nation of the South. A permanent image of the Southern nature and character is thus richly portrayed:—
"But the type Whereby we shall be known in every land Is that vast gulf which lips our Southern strand, And through the cold, untempered ocean pours Its genial streams, that far off Arctic shores May sometimes catch upon the softened breeze Strange tropic warmth and hints of summer seas."
"The Cotton Boll", in "the snow of Southern summers", is a forerunner of Lanier's "Corn". It reveals the mystic spell and kingly power of that far-stretching tropic snow, and contains that glowing painting of Carolina from sea to mountain, which closes
"No fairer land hath fired a poet's lays, Or given a home to man!"
"Too Long, O Spirit of Storm", is the fused passion of the poet's heart appalled at the moral death of stagnation. It has all the intensity and subtlety of Shelley.
In "The Lily Confidante", delicate and fanciful as it is, the reply of the Lily "is a simple yet sacred melody", hallowing the purity of passion.
"The Arctic Voyager" suggests Tennyson's "Ulysses" in its high faith, lofty purpose, and sustained power.
"Spring" is the burst of the Southern spring, in its flooding life and glory and beauty. There is "a nameless pathos in the air." A wonderful revelation is going on before our eyes! No miracle could startle in the ever new creation, so strange and rapturous is this joy of sense and spiritual rebirth.
Nor was his genius only reflective, and creative, and playful; his was a trumpet voice also. When the blast of war sounded, his voice rang like a clarion in "Carolina" and "Cry to Arms". Beyond their local meaning, which kindles and thrills, now as then, the men of the South, they have an abiding, universal power from the standpoint of art; for there is nothing finer in all the martial strains of the lyric.
Paul Hayne, his brother poet, speaking of "Carolina", as "lines destined perhaps to outlive the political vitality of the State, whose antique fame they celebrate," said:—
"I read them first, and was thrilled by their power and pathos, upon a stormy March evening in Fort Sumter! Walking along the battlements, under the red light of a tempestuous sunset, the wind steadily and loudly blowing from off the bar across the tossing and moaning waste of waters, driven inland; with scores of gulls and white sea-birds flying and shrieking round me,—those wild voices of Nature mingled strangely with the rhythmic roll and beat of the poet's impassioned music. The very spirit, or dark genius, of the troubled scene appeared to take up and to repeat such verses as—
"'I hear a murmur as of waves That grope their way through sunless caves, Like bodies struggling in their graves, Carolina! And now it deepens; slow and grand It swells, as rolling to the land, An ocean broke upon the strand, Carolina! Shout! let it reach the startled Huns! And roar with all thy festal guns! It is the answer of thy sons, Carolina!'"
Profoundly appealing as are Timrod's war strains, for they are the heart-cry of a people, still it should be noted that there is scarcely a battle ode that does not close with an invocation to peace, such was the lofty nature of the poet. War to him was only the drawn sword of right, and truth, and justice, which accomplished, the prayer for peace was ever on his lips, as witness the noble invocation to Peace, closing his "Christmas", that has so often stirred and hushed at once the heart of the South.
The Ode, written for Memorial Day, April, 1867, of the Confederate graves at Charleston, was his last production. He had sung in lofty strains each phase of the struggle, its hope, its courage, its fear, its despair; he now sings his latest song, a wreath of flowers upon the unmarked graves of the Southern dead, and has hallowed these sacred mounds to his people in the words,—
"There is no holier spot of ground Than where defeated valor lies, By mourning beauty crowned!"
These poems are written in the life-blood of the poet and his generation. The patriotic fire, the devoted sacrifice and splendid achievement, that "Carolina", "Cry to Arms", "Unknown Dead", "Carmen Triumphale", "Charleston", "Storm and Calm", and the other of the war poems celebrate were not only the rushing tide of earnest feeling of a noble people then, but are now a part of the glory and heritage of the State, of the South, and of the American republic. They were the mighty heart-beats of that great epoch. They are now irrevocable history, and make these poems a part of the abiding literature of America.
"A Common Thought" is the poet's premonition of his end; but he sees no vision of the dying glory of sunset, no going out into the dark, no presentiment of a vague and gloomy voyage on a homeless sea; but in the sunshine, in the growing light of ever broadening day, amid the joy and splendor of nature, bright prophecy and intuition of immortality, is to come the sudden, solemn mystery of the whisper, "He is gone!" And so it was. For as the sun broadened into glad day, and the full radiance illumined and animated earth and sea and sky, "as it purpled in the zenith, as it brightened on the lawn," this rich young life, in its own fresh morning of genius and spiritual sunshine, passed, and in his own triumphant words,—
"not dies, no more than Spirit dies; But in a change like death was clothed with wings."
The Late Judge George S. Bryan
It would not be fitting that this memorial edition of Timrod's Poems should go forth to the world without proper recognition, on the part of the TIMROD MEMORIAL ASSOCIATION, of the relation occupied and the services rendered to the poet in his lifetime by the late Hon. George S. Bryan, of Charleston. During the whole of Timrod's career Judge Bryan was his devoted friend, ever ready to assist him materially, morally, and in every other respect.
His faith in Timrod's genius never wavered, and but for his early assistance, sympathy, and encouragement, much of the fruit of that genius would have been lost or wasted. He helped him in adversity, cheered him in his hours of anxiety and despondency, and from first to last, throughout the literary and spiritual history of the poet, he did more than any other friend to keep alive in his heart the steadfast flame of faith in his poetic destiny; Judge Bryan's name must always be inseparably connected with Henry Timrod's in the literary annals of South Carolina.
POEMS OF HENRY TIMROD
Spring, with that nameless pathos in the air Which dwells with all things fair, Spring, with her golden suns and silver rain, Is with us once again.
Out in the lonely woods the jasmine burns Its fragrant lamps, and turns Into a royal court with green festoons The banks of dark lagoons.
In the deep heart of every forest tree The blood is all aglee, And there's a look about the leafless bowers As if they dreamed of flowers.
Yet still on every side we trace the hand Of Winter in the land, Save where the maple reddens on the lawn, Flushed by the season's dawn;
Or where, like those strange semblances we find That age to childhood bind, The elm puts on, as if in Nature's scorn, The brown of Autumn corn.
As yet the turf is dark, although you know That, not a span below, A thousand germs are groping through the gloom, And soon will burst their tomb.
Already, here and there, on frailest stems Appear some azure gems, Small as might deck, upon a gala day, The forehead of a fay.
In gardens you may note amid the dearth The crocus breaking earth; And near the snowdrop's tender white and green, The violet in its screen.
But many gleams and shadows need must pass Along the budding grass, And weeks go by, before the enamored South Shall kiss the rose's mouth.
Still there's a sense of blossoms yet unborn In the sweet airs of morn; One almost looks to see the very street Grow purple at his feet.
At times a fragrant breeze comes floating by, And brings, you know not why, A feeling as when eager crowds await Before a palace gate
Some wondrous pageant; and you scarce would start, If from a beech's heart, A blue-eyed Dryad, stepping forth, should say, "Behold me! I am May!"
Ah! who would couple thoughts of war and crime With such a blessed time! Who in the west wind's aromatic breath Could hear the call of Death!
Yet not more surely shall the Spring awake The voice of wood and brake, Than she shall rouse, for all her tranquil charms, A million men to arms.
There shall be deeper hues upon her plains Than all her sunlit rains, And every gladdening influence around, Can summon from the ground.
Oh! standing on this desecrated mould, Methinks that I behold, Lifting her bloody daisies up to God, Spring kneeling on the sod,
And calling, with the voice of all her rills, Upon the ancient hills To fall and crush the tyrants and the slaves Who turn her meads to graves.
The Cotton Boll
While I recline At ease beneath This immemorial pine, Small sphere! (By dusky fingers brought this morning here And shown with boastful smiles), I turn thy cloven sheath, Through which the soft white fibres peer, That, with their gossamer bands, Unite, like love, the sea-divided lands, And slowly, thread by thread, Draw forth the folded strands, Than which the trembling line, By whose frail help yon startled spider fled Down the tall spear-grass from his swinging bed, Is scarce more fine; And as the tangled skein Unravels in my hands, Betwixt me and the noonday light, A veil seems lifted, and for miles and miles The landscape broadens on my sight, As, in the little boll, there lurked a spell Like that which, in the ocean shell, With mystic sound, Breaks down the narrow walls that hem us round, And turns some city lane Into the restless main, With all his capes and isles!
Yonder bird, Which floats, as if at rest, In those blue tracts above the thunder, where No vapors cloud the stainless air, And never sound is heard, Unless at such rare time When, from the City of the Blest, Rings down some golden chime, Sees not from his high place So vast a cirque of summer space As widens round me in one mighty field, Which, rimmed by seas and sands, Doth hail its earliest daylight in the beams Of gray Atlantic dawns; And, broad as realms made up of many lands, Is lost afar Behind the crimson hills and purple lawns Of sunset, among plains which roll their streams Against the Evening Star! And lo! To the remotest point of sight, Although I gaze upon no waste of snow, The endless field is white; And the whole landscape glows, For many a shining league away, With such accumulated light As Polar lands would flash beneath a tropic day! Nor lack there (for the vision grows, And the small charm within my hands— More potent even than the fabled one, Which oped whatever golden mystery Lay hid in fairy wood or magic vale, The curious ointment of the Arabian tale— Beyond all mortal sense Doth stretch my sight's horizon, and I see, Beneath its simple influence, As if with Uriel's crown, I stood in some great temple of the Sun, And looked, as Uriel, down!) Nor lack there pastures rich and fields all green With all the common gifts of God, For temperate airs and torrid sheen Weave Edens of the sod; Through lands which look one sea of billowy gold Broad rivers wind their devious ways; A hundred isles in their embraces fold A hundred luminous bays; And through yon purple haze Vast mountains lift their plumed peaks cloud-crowned; And, save where up their sides the ploughman creeps, An unhewn forest girds them grandly round, In whose dark shades a future navy sleeps! Ye Stars, which, though unseen, yet with me gaze Upon this loveliest fragment of the earth! Thou Sun, that kindlest all thy gentlest rays Above it, as to light a favorite hearth! Ye Clouds, that in your temples in the West See nothing brighter than its humblest flowers! And you, ye Winds, that on the ocean's breast Are kissed to coolness ere ye reach its bowers! Bear witness with me in my song of praise, And tell the world that, since the world began, No fairer land hath fired a poet's lays, Or given a home to man!
But these are charms already widely blown! His be the meed whose pencil's trace Hath touched our very swamps with grace, And round whose tuneful way All Southern laurels bloom; The Poet of "The Woodlands", unto whom Alike are known The flute's low breathing and the trumpet's tone, And the soft west wind's sighs; But who shall utter all the debt, O Land wherein all powers are met That bind a people's heart, The world doth owe thee at this day, And which it never can repay, Yet scarcely deigns to own! Where sleeps the poet who shall fitly sing The source wherefrom doth spring That mighty commerce which, confined To the mean channels of no selfish mart, Goes out to every shore Of this broad earth, and throngs the sea with ships That bear no thunders; hushes hungry lips In alien lands; Joins with a delicate web remotest strands; And gladdening rich and poor, Doth gild Parisian domes, Or feed the cottage-smoke of English homes, And only bounds its blessings by mankind! In offices like these, thy mission lies, My Country! and it shall not end As long as rain shall fall and Heaven bend In blue above thee; though thy foes be hard And cruel as their weapons, it shall guard Thy hearth-stones as a bulwark; make thee great In white and bloodless state; And haply, as the years increase— Still working through its humbler reach With that large wisdom which the ages teach— Revive the half-dead dream of universal peace! As men who labor in that mine Of Cornwall, hollowed out beneath the bed Of ocean, when a storm rolls overhead, Hear the dull booming of the world of brine Above them, and a mighty muffled roar Of winds and waters, yet toil calmly on, And split the rock, and pile the massive ore, Or carve a niche, or shape the arched roof; So I, as calmly, weave my woof Of song, chanting the days to come, Unsilenced, though the quiet summer air Stirs with the bruit of battles, and each dawn Wakes from its starry silence to the hum Of many gathering armies. Still, In that we sometimes hear, Upon the Northern winds, the voice of woe Not wholly drowned in triumph, though I know The end must crown us, and a few brief years Dry all our tears, I may not sing too gladly. To Thy will Resigned, O Lord! we cannot all forget That there is much even Victory must regret. And, therefore, not too long From the great burthen of our country's wrong Delay our just release! And, if it may be, save These sacred fields of peace From stain of patriot or of hostile blood! Oh, help us, Lord! to roll the crimson flood Back on its course, and, while our banners wing Northward, strike with us! till the Goth shall cling To his own blasted altar-stones, and crave Mercy; and we shall grant it, and dictate The lenient future of his fate There, where some rotting ships and crumbling quays Shall one day mark the Port which ruled the Western seas.
It is time (it was time long ago) I should sever This chain—why I wear it I know not—forever! Yet I cling to the bond, e'en while sick of the mask I must wear, as of one whom his commonplace task And proof-armor of dullness have steeled to her charms! Ah! how lovely she looked as she flung from her arms, In heaps to this table (now starred with the stains Of her booty yet wet with those yesterday rains), These roses and lilies, and—what? let me see! Then was off in a moment, but turned with a glee, That lit her sweet face as with moonlight, to say, As 't was almost too late for a lesson to-day, She meant to usurp, for this morning at least, My office of Tutor; and instead of a feast Of such mouthfuls as 'poluphloisboio thalasses', With which I fed her, I should study the grasses (Love-grasses she called them), the buds, and the flowers Of which I know nothing; and if "with MY powers", I did not learn all she could teach in that time, And thank her, perhaps, in a sweet English rhyme, If I did not do this, and she flung back her hair, And shook her bright head with a menacing air, She'd be—oh! she'd be—a real Saracen Omar To a certain much-valued edition of Homer! But these flowers! I believe I could number as soon The shadowy thoughts of a last summer's noon, Or recall with their phases, each one after one, The clouds that came down to the death of the Sun, Cirrus, Stratus, or Nimbus, some evening last year, As unravel the web of one genus! Why, there, As they lie by my desk in that glistering heap, All tangled together like dreams in the sleep Of a bliss-fevered heart, I might turn them and turn Till night, in a puzzle of pleasure, and learn Not a fact, not a secret I prize half so much, As, how rough is this leaf when I think of her touch. There's one now blown yonder! what can be its name? A topaz wine-colored, the wine in a flame; And another that's hued like the pulp of a melon, But sprinkled all o'er as with seed-pearls of Ceylon; And a third! its white petals just clouded with pink! And a fourth, that blue star! and then this, too! I think If one brought me this moment an amethyst cup, From which, through a liquor of amber, looked up, With a glow as of eyes in their elfin-like lustre, Stones culled from all lands in a sunshiny cluster, From the ruby that burns in the sands of Mysore To the beryl of Daunia, with gems from the core Of the mountains of Persia (I talk like a boy In the flush of some new, and yet half-tasted joy); But I think if that cup and its jewels together Were placed by the side of this child of the weather (This one which she touched with her mouth, and let slip From her fingers by chance, as her exquisite lip, With a music befitting the language divine, Gave the roll of the Greek's multitudinous line), I should take—not the gems—but enough! let me shut In the blossom that woke it, my folly, and put Both away in my bosom—there, in a heart-niche, One shall outlive the other—is 't hard to tell which? In the name of all starry and beautiful things, What is it? the cross in the centre, these rings, And the petals that shoot in an intricate maze, From the disk which is lilac—or purple? like rays In a blue Aureole!
And so now will she wot, When I sit by her side with my brows in a knot, And praise her so calmly, or chide her perhaps, If her voice falter once in its musical lapse, As I've done, I confess, just to gaze at a flush In the white of her throat, or to watch the quick rush Of the tear she sheds smiling, as, drooping her curls O'er that book I keep shrined like a casket of pearls, She reads on in low tones of such tremulous sweetness, That (in spite of some faults) I am forced, in discreetness, To silence, lest mine, growing hoarse, should betray What I must not reveal—will she guess now, I say, How, for all his grave looks, the stern, passionless Tutor, With more than the love of her youthfulest suitor, Is hiding somewhere in the shroud of his vest, By a heart that is beating wild wings in its nest, This flower, thrown aside in the sport of a minute, And which he holds dear as though folded within it Lay the germ of the bliss that he dreams of! Ah, me! It is hard to love thus, yet to seem and to be A thing for indifference, faint praise, or cold blame, When you long (by the right of deep passion, the claim, On the loved of the loving, at least to be heard) To take the white hand, and with glance, touch, and word, Burn your way to the heart! That her step on the stair? Be still thou fond flutterer!
How little I care For your favorites, see! they are all of them, look! On the spot where they fell, and—but here is your book!
Not to win thy favor, maiden, not to steal away thy heart, Have I ever sought thy presence, ever stooped to any art; Thou wast but a wildering problem, which I aimed to solve, and then Make it matter for my note-book, or a picture for my pen. So, I daily conned thee over, thinking it no dangerous task, Peeping underneath thy lashes, peering underneath thy mask— For thou wear'st one—no denial! there is much within thine eyes; But those stars have other secrets than are patent in their skies. And I read thee, read thee closely, every grace and every sin, Looked behind the outward seeming to the strange wild world within, Where thy future self is forming, where I saw—no matter what! There was something less than angel, there was many an earthly spot; Yet so beautiful thy errors that I had no heart for blame, And thy virtues made thee dearer than my dearest hopes of fame; All so blended, that in wishing one peculiar trait removed, We indeed might make thee better, but less lovely and less loved. All my mind was in the study—so two thrilling fortnights passed— All my mind was in the study—till my heart was touched at last. Well! and then the book was finished, the absorbing task was done, I awoke as one who had been dreaming in a noon-day sun; With a fever on my forehead, and a throbbing in my brain, In my soul delirious wishes, in my heart a lasting pain; Yet so hopeless, yet so cureless—as in every great despair— I was very calm and silent, and I never stooped to prayer, Like a sick man unattended, reckless of the coming death, Only for he knows it certain, and he feels no sister's breath. All the while as by an Ate, with no pity in her face, Yet with eyes of witching beauty, and with form of matchless grace, I was haunted by thy presence, oh! for weary nights and days, I was haunted by thy spirit, I was troubled by thy gaze, And the question which to answer I had taxed a subtle brain, What thou art, and what thou wilt be, came again and yet again; With its opposite deductions, it recurred a thousand times, Like a coward's apprehensions, like a madman's favorite rhymes. But to-night my thoughts flow calmer—in thy room I think I stand, See a fair white page before thee, and a pen within thy hand; And thy fingers sweep the paper, and a light is in thine eyes, Whilst I read thy secret fancies, whilst I hear thy secret sighs. What they are I will not whisper, those are lovely, these are deep, But one name is left unwritten, that is only breathed in sleep. Is it wonder that my passion bursts at once from out its nest? I have bent my knee before thee, and my love is all confessed; Though I knew that name unwritten was another name than mine, Though I felt those sighs half murmured what I could but half divine. Aye! I hear thy haughty answer! Aye! I see thy proud lip curl! "What presumption, and what folly!" why, I only love a girl With some very winning graces, with some very noble traits, But no better than a thousand who have bent to humbler fates. That I ask not; I have, maiden, just as haught a soul as thine; If thou think'st thy place above me, thou shalt never stoop to mine. Yet as long as blood runs redly, yet as long as mental worth Is a nobler gift than fortune, is a holier thing than birth, I will claim the right to utter, to the high and to the low, That I love them, or I hate them, that I am a friend or foe. Nor shall any slight unman me; I have yet some little strength, Yet my song shall sound as sweetly, yet a power be mine at length! Then, oh, then! but moans are idle—hear me, pitying saints above! With a chaplet on my forehead, I will justify my love. And perhaps when thou art leaning on some less devoted breast, Thou shalt murmur, "He was worthier than my blinded spirit guessed."
A Year's Courtship
I saw her, Harry, first, in March— You know the street that leadeth down By the old bridge's crumbling arch?— Just where it leaves the dusty town
A lonely house stands grim and dark— You've seen it? then I need not say How quaint the place is—did you mark An ivied window? Well! one day,
I, chasing some forgotten dream, And in a poet's idlest mood, Caught, as I passed, a white hand's gleam— A shutter opened—there she stood
Training the ivy to its prop. Two dark eyes and a brow of snow Flashed down upon me—did I stop?— She says I did—I do not know.
But all that day did something glow Just where the heart beats; frail and slight, A germ had slipped its shell, and now Was pushing softly for the light.
And April saw me at her feet, Dear month of sunshine and of rain! My very fears were sometimes sweet, And hope was often touched with pain.
For she was frank, and she was coy, A willful April in her ways; And in a dream of doubtful joy I passed some truly April days.
May came, and on that arch, sweet mouth, The smile was graver in its play, And, softening with the softening South, My April melted into May.
She loved me, yet my heart would doubt, And ere I spoke the month was June— One warm still night we wandered out To watch a slowly setting moon.
Something which I saw not—my eyes Were not on heaven—a star, perchance, Or some bright drapery of the skies, Had caught her earnest, upper glance.
And as she paused—Hal! we have played Upon the very spot—a fir Just touched me with its dreamy shade, But the full moonlight fell on her—
And as she paused—I know not why— I longed to speak, yet could not speak; The bashful are the boldest—I— I stooped and gently kissed her cheek.
A murmur (else some fragrant air Stirred softly) and the faintest start— O Hal! we were the happiest pair! O Hal! I clasped her heart to heart!
And kissed away some tears that gushed; But how she trembled, timid dove, When my soul broke its silence, flushed With a whole burning June of love.
Since then a happy year hath sped Through months that seemed all June and May, And soon a March sun, overhead, Will usher in the crowning day.
Twelve blessed moons that seemed to glow All summer, Hal!—my peerless Kate! She is the dearest—"Angel?"—no! Thank God!—but you shall see her—wait.
So all is told! I count on thee To see the Priest, Hal! Pass the wine! Here's to my darling wife to be! And here's to—when thou find'st her—thine!
Hide, happy damask, from the stars, What sleep enfolds behind your veil, But open to the fairy cars On which the dreams of midnight sail; And let the zephyrs rise and fall About her in the curtained gloom, And then return to tell me all The silken secrets of the room.
Ah, dearest! may the elves that sway Thy fancies come from emerald plots, Where they have dozed and dreamed all day In hearts of blue forget-me-nots. And one perhaps shall whisper thus: Awake! and light the darkness, Sweet! While thou art reveling with us, He watches in the lonely street.
Youth and Manhood
Another year! a short one, if it flow Like that just past, And I shall stand—if years can make me so— A man at last.
Yet, while the hours permit me, I would pause And contemplate The lot whereto unalterable laws Have bound my fate.
Yet, from the starry regions of my youth, The empyreal height Where dreams are happiness, and feeling truth, And life delight—
From that ethereal and serene abode My soul would gaze Downward upon the wide and winding road, Where manhood plays;
Plays with the baubles and the gauds of earth— Wealth, power, and fame— Nor knows that in the twelvemonth after birth He did the same.
Where the descent begins, through long defiles I see them wind; And some are looking down with hopeful smiles, And some are—blind.
And farther on a gay and glorious green Dazzles the sight, While noble forms are moving o'er the scene, Like things of light.
Towers, temples, domes of perfect symmetry Rise broad and high, With pinnacles among the clouds; ah, me! None touch the sky.
None pierce the pure and lofty atmosphere Which I breathe now, And the strong spirits that inhabit there, Live—God sees how.
Sick of the very treasure which they heap; Their tearless eyes Sealed ever in a heaven-forgetting sleep, Whose dreams are lies;
And so, a motley, unattractive throng, They toil and plod, Dead to the holy ecstasies of song, To love, and God.
Dear God! if that I may not keep through life My trust, my truth, And that I must, in yonder endless strife, Lose faith with youth;
If the same toil which indurates the hand Must steel the heart, Till, in the wonders of the ideal land, It have no part;
Oh! take me hence! I would no longer stay Beneath the sky; Give me to chant one pure and deathless lay, And let me die!
Hark to the Shouting Wind
Hark to the shouting Wind! Hark to the flying Rain! And I care not though I never see A bright blue sky again.
There are thoughts in my breast to-day That are not for human speech; But I hear them in the driving storm, And the roar upon the beach.
And oh, to be with that ship That I watch through the blinding brine! O Wind! for thy sweep of land and sea! O Sea! for a voice like thine!
Shout on, thou pitiless Wind, To the frightened and flying Rain! I care not though I never see A calm blue sky again.
Too Long, O Spirit of Storm
Too long, O Spirit of Storm, Thy lightning sleeps in its sheath! I am sick to the soul of yon pallid sky, And the moveless sea beneath.
Come down in thy strength on the deep! Worse dangers there are in life, When the waves are still, and the skies look fair, Than in their wildest strife.
A friend I knew, whose days Were as calm as this sky overhead; But one blue morn that was fairest of all, The heart in his bosom fell dead.
And they thought him alive while he walked The streets that he walked in youth— Ah! little they guessed the seeming man Was a soulless corpse in sooth.
Come down in thy strength, O Storm! And lash the deep till it raves! I am sick to the soul of that quiet sea, Which hides ten thousand graves.
The Lily Confidante
Lily! lady of the garden! Let me press my lip to thine! Love must tell its story, Lily! Listen thou to mine.
Two I choose to know the secret— Thee, and yonder wordless flute; Dragons watch me, tender Lily, And thou must be mute.
There's a maiden, and her name is... Hist! was that a rose-leaf fell? See, the rose is listening, Lily, And the rose may tell.
Lily-browed and lily-hearted, She is very dear to me; Lovely? yes, if being lovely Is—resembling thee.
Six to half a score of summers Make the sweetest of the "teens"— Not too young to guess, dear Lily, What a lover means.
Laughing girl, and thoughtful woman, I am puzzled how to woo— Shall I praise, or pique her, Lily? Tell me what to do.
"Silly lover, if thy Lily Like her sister lilies be, Thou must woo, if thou wouldst wear her, With a simple plea.
"Love's the lover's only magic, Truth the very subtlest art; Love that feigns, and lips that flatter, Win no modest heart.
"Like the dewdrop in my bosom, Be thy guileless language, youth; Falsehood buyeth falsehood only, Truth must purchase truth.
"As thou talkest at the fireside, With the little children by— As thou prayest in the darkness, When thy God is nigh—
"With a speech as chaste and gentle, And such meanings as become Ear of child, or ear of angel, Speak, or be thou dumb.
"Woo her thus, and she shall give thee Of her heart the sinless whole, All the girl within her bosom, And her woman's soul."
The Stream is Flowing from the West
The stream is flowing from the west; As if it poured from yonder skies, It wears upon its rippling breast The sunset's golden dyes; And bearing onward to the sea, 'T will clasp the isle that holdeth thee.
I dip my hand within the wave; Ah! how impressionless and cold! I touch it with my lip, and lave My forehead in the gold. It is a trivial thought, but sweet, Perhaps the wave will kiss thy feet.
Alas! I leave no trace behind— As little on the senseless stream As on thy heart, or on thy mind; Which was the simpler dream, To win that warm, wild love of thine, Or make the water whisper mine?
Dear stream! some moons must wax and wane Ere I again shall cross thy tide, And then, perhaps, a viewless chain Will drag me to her side, To love with all my spirit's scope, To wish, do everything but—hope.
Vox et Praeterea Nihil
I've been haunted all night, I've been haunted all day, By the ghost of a song, by the shade of a lay, That with meaningless words and profusion of rhyme, To a dreamy and musical rhythm keeps time. A simple, but still a most magical strain, Its dim monotones have bewildered my brain With a specious and cunning appearance of thought, I seem to be catching but never have caught.
I know it embodies some very sweet things, And can almost divine the low burden it sings; But again, and again, and still ever again, It has died on my ear at the touch of my pen. And so it keeps courting and shunning my quest, As a bird that has just been aroused from her nest, Too fond to depart, and too frightened to stay, Now circles about you, now flutters away.
Oh! give me fit words for that exquisite song, And thou couldst not, proud beauty! be obdurate long; It would come like the voice of a saint from above, And win thee to kindness, and melt thee to love. Not gilded with fancy, nor frigid with art, But simple as feeling, and warm as the heart, It would murmur my name with so charming a tone, As would almost persuade thee to wish it thine own.
O lady! if, until this hour, I've gazed in those bewildering eyes, Yet never owned their touching power, But when thou couldst not hear my sighs; It has not been that love has slept One single moment in my soul, Or that on lip or look I kept A stern and stoical control; But that I saw, but that I felt, In every tone and glance of thine, Whate'er they spoke, where'er they dwelt, How small, how poor a part was mine; And that I deeply, dearly knew, THAT hidden, hopeless love confessed, The fatal words would lose me, too, Even the weak friendship I possessed. And so, I masked my secret well; The very love within my breast Became the strange, but potent spell By which I forced it into rest. Yet there were times—I scarce know how These eager lips refrained to speak,— Some kindly smile would light thy brow, And I grew passionate and weak; The secret sparkled at my eyes, And love but half repressed its sighs,— Then had I gazed an instant more, Or dwelt one moment on that brow, I might have changed the smile it wore, To what perhaps it weareth now, And spite of all I feared to meet, Confessed that passion at thy feet. To save my heart, to spare thine own, There was one remedy alone. I fled, I shunned thy very touch,— It cost me much, O God! how much! But if some burning tears were shed, Lady! I let them freely flow; At least, they left unbreathed, unsaid, A worse and wilder woe.
But now,—NOW that we part indeed, And that I may not think as then, That as I wish, or as I need, I may return again,— Now that for months, perhaps for years— I see no limit in my fears— My home shall be some distant spot, Where thou—where even thy name is not, And since I shall not see the frown, Such wild, mad language must bring down, Could I—albeit I may not sue In hope to bend thy steadfast will— Could I have breathed this word, adieu, And kept my secret still?
Doubtless thou know'st the Hebrew story— The tale 's with me a favorite one— How Raphael left the Courts of Glory, And walked with Judah's honored Son; And how the twain together dwelt, And how they talked upon the road, How often too they must have knelt As equals to the same kind God; And still the mortal never guessed, How much and deeply he was blessed, Till when—the Angel's mission done— The spell which drew him earthwards, riven— The lover saved—the maiden won— He plumed again his wings for Heaven; O Madeline! as unaware Thou hast been followed everywhere, And girt and guarded by a love, As warm, as tender in its care, As pure, ay, powerful in prayer, As any saint above! Like the bright inmate of the skies, It only looked with friendly eyes, And still had worn the illusive guise, And thus at least been half concealed; But at this parting, painful hour, It spreads its wings, unfolds its power, And stands, like Raphael, revealed.
More, Lady! I would wish to speak,— But it were vain, and words are weak, And now that I have bared my breast, Perchance thou wilt infer the rest. So, so, farewell! I need not say I look, I ask for no reply, The cold and scarcely pitying "nay" I read in that unmelted eye; Yet one dear favor, let me pray! Days, months, however slow to me, Must drag at last their length away, And I return—if not to thee— At least to breathe the same sweet air That wooes thy lips and waves thy hair. Oh, then!—these daring lines forgot— Look, speak, as thou hadst read them not. So, Lady, may I still retain A right I would not lose again, For all that gold or guilt can buy, Or all that Heaven itself deny, A right such love may justly claim, Of seeing thee in friendship's name. Give me but this, and still at whiles, A portion of thy faintest smiles, It were enough to bless; I may not, dare not ask for more Than boon so rich, and yet so poor, But I should die with less.
To K. S. G.
Fair Saxon, in my lover's creed, My love were smaller than your meed, And you might justly deem it slight, As wanting truth as well as sight, If, in that image which is shrined Where thoughts are sacred, you could find A single charm, or more or less, Than you to all kind eyes possess. To me, even in the happiest dreams, Where, flushed with love's just dawning gleams, My hopes their radiant wings unfurl, You're but a simple English girl, No fairer, grace for grace arrayed, Than many a simple Southern maid; With faults enough to make the good Seem sweeter far than else it would; Frank in your anger and your glee, And true as English natures be, Yet not without some maiden art Which hides a loving English heart. Still there are moments, brief and bright, When fancy, by a poet's light, Beholds you clothed with loftier charms Than love e'er gave to mortal arms. A spell is woven on the air From your brown eyes and golden hair, And all at once you seem to stand Before me as your native land, With all her greatness in your guise, And all her glory in your eyes; And sometimes, as if angels sung, I hear her poets on your tongue. And, therefore, I, who from a boy Have felt an almost English joy In England's undecaying might, And England's love of truth and right, Next to my own young country's fame Holding her honor and her name, I—who, though born where not a vale Hath ever nursed a nightingale, Have fed my muse with English song Until her feeble wing grew strong— Feel, while with all the reverence meet I lay this volume at your feet, As if through your dear self I pay, For many a deep and deathless lay, For noble lessons nobly taught, For tears, for laughter, and for thought, A portion of the mighty debt We owe to Shakespeare's England yet!
It may be through some foreign grace, And unfamiliar charm of face; It may be that across the foam Which bore her from her childhood's home, By some strange spell, my Katie brought, Along with English creeds and thought— Entangled in her golden hair— Some English sunshine, warmth, and air! I cannot tell—but here to-day, A thousand billowy leagues away From that green isle whose twilight skies No darker are than Katie's eyes, She seems to me, go where she will, An English girl in England still!
I meet her on the dusty street, And daisies spring about her feet; Or, touched to life beneath her tread, An English cowslip lifts its head; And, as to do her grace, rise up The primrose and the buttercup! I roam with her through fields of cane, And seem to stroll an English lane, Which, white with blossoms of the May, Spreads its green carpet in her way! As fancy wills, the path beneath Is golden gorse, or purple heath: And now we hear in woodlands dim Their unarticulated hymn, Now walk through rippling waves of wheat, Now sink in mats of clover sweet, Or see before us from the lawn The lark go up to greet the dawn! All birds that love the English sky Throng round my path when she is by: The blackbird from a neighboring thorn With music brims the cup of morn, And in a thick, melodious rain The mavis pours her mellow strain! But only when my Katie's voice Makes all the listening woods rejoice I hear—with cheeks that flush and pale— The passion of the nightingale!
Anon the pictures round her change, And through an ancient town we range, Whereto the shadowy memory clings Of one of England's Saxon kings, And which to shrine his fading fame Still keeps his ashes and his name. Quaint houses rise on either hand, But still the airs are fresh and bland, As if their gentle wings caressed Some new-born village of the West. A moment by the Norman tower We pause; it is the Sabbath hour! And o'er the city sinks and swells The chime of old St. Mary's bells, Which still resound in Katie's ears As sweet as when in distant years She heard them peal with jocund din A merry English Christmas in! We pass the abbey's ruined arch, And statelier grows my Katie's march, As round her, wearied with the taint Of Transatlantic pine and paint, She sees a thousand tokens cast Of England's venerable Past! Our reverent footsteps lastly claims The younger chapel of St. James, Which, though, as English records run, Not old, had seen full many a sun, Ere to the cold December gale The thoughtful Pilgrim spread his sail. There Katie in her childish days Spelt out her prayers and lisped her praise, And doubtless, as her beauty grew, Did much as other maidens do— Across the pews and down the aisle Sent many a beau-bewildering smile, And to subserve her spirit's need Learned other things beside the creed! There, too, to-day her knee she bows, And by her one whose darker brows Betray the Southern heart that burns Beside her, and which only turns Its thoughts to Heaven in one request, Not all unworthy to be blest, But rising from an earthlier pain Than might beseem a Christian fane. Ah! can the guileless maiden share The wish that lifts that passionate prayer? Is all at peace that breast within? Good angels! warn her of the sin! Alas! what boots it? who can save A willing victim of the wave? Who cleanse a soul that loves its guilt? Or gather wine when wine is spilt?
We quit the holy house and gain The open air; then, happy twain, Adown familiar streets we go, And now and then she turns to show, With fears that all is changing fast, Some spot that's sacred to her Past. Here by this way, through shadows cool, A little maid, she tripped to school; And there each morning used to stop Before a wonder of a shop Where, built of apples and of pears, Rose pyramids of golden spheres; While, dangling in her dazzled sight, Ripe cherries cast a crimson light, And made her think of elfin lamps, And feast and sport in fairy camps, Whereat, upon her royal throne (Most richly carved in cherry-stone), Titania ruled, in queenly state, The boisterous revels of the fete! 'T was yonder, with their "horrid" noise, Dismissed from books, she met the boys, Who, with a barbarous scorn of girls, Glanced slightly at her sunny curls, And laughed and leaped as reckless by As though no pretty face were nigh! But—here the maiden grows demure— Indeed she's not so VERY sure, That in a year, or haply twain, Who looked e'er failed to look again, And sooth to say, I little doubt (Some azure day, the truth will out!) That certain baits in certain eyes Caught many an unsuspecting prize; And somewhere underneath these eaves A budding flirt put forth its leaves!
Has not the sky a deeper blue, Have not the trees a greener hue, And bend they not with lordlier grace And nobler shapes above the place Where on one cloudless winter morn My Katie to this life was born? Ah, folly! long hath fled the hour When love to sight gave keener power, And lovers looked for special boons In brighter flowers and larger moons. But wave the foliage as it may, And let the sky be ashen gray, Thus much at least a manly youth May hold—and yet not blush—as truth: If near that blessed spot of earth Which saw the cherished maiden's birth No softer dews than usual rise, And life there keeps its wonted guise, Yet not the less that spot may seem As lovely as a poet's dream; And should a fervid faith incline To make thereof a sainted shrine, Who may deny that round us throng A hundred earthly creeds as wrong, But meaner far, which yet unblamed Stalk by us and are not ashamed? So, therefore, Katie, as our stroll Ends at this portal, while you roll Those lustrous eyes to catch each ray That may recall some vanished day, I—let them jeer and laugh who will— Stoop down and kiss the sacred sill!
So strongly sometimes on the sense These fancies hold their influence, That in long well-known streets I stray Like one who fears to lose his way. The stranger, I, the native, she, Myself, not Kate, had crossed the sea; And changing place, and mixing times, I walk in unfamiliar climes! These houses, free to every breeze That blows from warm Floridian seas, Assume a massive English air, And close around an English square; While, if I issue from the town, An English hill looks greenly down, Or round me rolls an English park, And in the Broad I hear the Larke! Thus when, where woodland violets hide, I rove with Katie at my side, It scarce would seem amiss to say: "Katie! my home lies far away, Beyond the pathless waste of brine, In a young land of palm and pine! There, by the tropic heats, the soul Is touched as if with living coal, And glows with such a fire as none Can feel beneath a Northern sun, Unless—my Katie's heart attest!— 'T is kindled in an English breast! Such is the land in which I live, And, Katie! such the soul I give. Come! ere another morning beam, We'll cleave the sea with wings of steam; And soon, despite of storm or calm, Beneath my native groves of palm, Kind friends shall greet, with joy and pride, The Southron and his English bride!"
Why am I silent from year to year? Needs must I sing on these blue March days? What will you say, when I tell you here, That already, I think, for a little praise, I have paid too dear?
For, I know not why, when I tell my thought, It seems as though I fling it away; And the charm wherewith a fancy is fraught, When secret, dies with the fleeting lay Into which it is wrought.
So my butterfly-dreams their golden wings But seldom unfurl from their chrysalis; And thus I retain my loveliest things, While the world, in its worldliness, does not miss What a poet sings.
You say, as one who shapes a life, That you will never be a wife,
And, laughing lightly, ask my aid To paint your future as a maid.
This is the portrait; and I take The softest colors for your sake:
The springtime of your soul is dead, And forty years have bent your head;
The lines are firmer round your mouth, But still its smile is like the South.
Your eyes, grown deeper, are not sad, Yet never more than gravely glad;
And the old charm still lurks within The cloven dimple of your chin.
Some share, perhaps, of youthful gloss Your cheek hath shed; but still across
The delicate ear are folded down Those silken locks of chestnut brown;
Though here and there a thread of gray Steals through them like a lunar ray.
One might suppose your life had passed Unvexed by any troubling blast;
And such—for all that I foreknow— May be the truth! The deeper woe!
A loveless heart is seldom stirred; And sorrow shuns the mateless bird;
But ah! through cares alone we reach The happiness which mocketh speech;
In the white courts beyond the stars The noblest brow is seamed with scars;
And they on earth who've wept the most Sit highest of the heavenly host.
Grant that your maiden life hath sped In music o'er a golden bed,
With rocks, and winds, and storms at truce, And not without a noble use;
Yet are you happy? In your air I see a nameless want appear,
And a faint shadow on your cheek Tells what the lips refuse to speak.
You have had all a maid could hope In the most cloudless horoscope:
The strength that cometh from above; A Christian mother's holy love;
And always at your soul's demand A brother's, sister's heart and hand.
Small need your heart hath had to roam Beyond the circle of your home;
And yet upon your wish attends A loving throng of genial friends.
What, in a lot so sweet as this, Is wanting to complete your bliss?
And to what secret shall I trace The clouds that sometimes cross your face,
And that sad look which now and then Comes, disappears, and comes again,
And dies reluctantly away In those clear eyes of azure gray?
At best, and after all, the place You fill with such a serious grace,
Hath much to try a woman's heart, And you but play a painful part.
The world around, with little ruth, Still laughs at maids who have not youth,
And, right or wrong, the old maid rests The victim of its paltry jests,
And still is doomed to meet and bear Its pitying smile or furtive sneer.
These are indeed but petty things, And yet they touch some hearts like stings.
But I acquit you of the shame Of being unresisting game;
For you are of such tempered clay As turns far stronger shafts away,
And all that foes or fools could guide Would only curl that lip of pride.
How then, O weary one! explain The sources of that hidden pain?
Alas! you have divined at length How little you have used your strength,
Which, with who knows what human good, Lies buried in that maidenhood,
Where, as amid a field of flowers, You have but played with April showers.
Ah! we would wish the world less fair, If Spring alone adorned the year,
And Autumn came not with its fruit, And Autumn hymns were ever mute.
So I remark without surprise That, as the unvarying season flies,
From day to night and night to day, You sicken of your endless May.
In this poor life we may not cross One virtuous instinct without loss,
And the soul grows not to its height Till love calls forth its utmost might.
Not blind to all you might have been, And with some consciousness of sin—
Because with love you sometimes played, And choice, not fate, hath kept you maid—
You feel that you must pass from earth But half-acquainted with its worth,
And that within your heart are deeps In which a nobler woman sleeps;
That not the maiden, but the wife Grasps the whole lesson of a life,
While such as you but sit and dream Along the surface of its stream.
And doubtless sometimes, all unsought, There comes upon your hour of thought,
Despite the struggles of your will, A sense of something absent still;
And then you cannot help but yearn To love and be beloved in turn,
As they are loved, and love, who live As love were all that life could give;
And in a transient clasp or kiss Crowd an eternity of bliss;
They who of every mortal joy Taste always twice, nor feel them cloy,
Or, if woes come, in Sorrow's hour Are strengthened by a double power.
Here ends my feeble sketch of what Might, but will never be your lot;
And I foresee how oft these rhymes Shall make you smile in after-times.
If I have read your nature right, It only waits a spark of light;
And when that comes, as come it must, It will not fall on arid dust,
Nor yet on that which breaks to flame In the first blush of maiden shame;
But on a heart which, even at rest, Is warmer than an April nest,
Where, settling soft, that spark shall creep About as gently as a sleep;
Still stealing on with pace so slow Yourself will scarcely feel the glow,
Till after many and many a day, Although no gleam its course betray,
It shall attain the inmost shrine, And wrap it in a fire divine!
I know not when or whence indeed Shall fall and burst the burning seed,
But oh! once kindled, it will blaze, I know, forever! By its rays
You will perceive, with subtler eyes, The meaning in the earth and skies,
Which, with their animated chain Of grass and flowers, and sun and rain,
Of green below, and blue above, Are but a type of married love.
You will perceive that in the breast The germs of many virtues rest,
Which, ere they feel a lover's breath, Lie in a temporary death;
And till the heart is wooed and won It is an earth without a sun.
But now, stand forth as sweet as life! And let me paint you as a wife.
I note some changes in your face, And in your mien a graver grace;
Yet the calm forehead lightly bears Its weight of twice a score of years;
And that one love which on this earth Can wake the heart to all its worth,
And to their height can lift and bind The powers of soul, and sense, and mind,
Hath not allowed a charm to fade— And the wife's lovelier than the maid.
An air of still, though bright repose Tells that a tender hand bestows
All that a generous manhood may To make your life one bridal day,
While the kind eyes betray no less, In their blue depths of tenderness,
That you have learned the truths which lie Behind that holy mystery,
Which, with its blisses and its woes, Nor man nor maiden ever knows.
If now, as to the eyes of one Whose glance not even thought can shun,
Your soul lay open to my view, I, looking all its nature through,
Could see no incompleted part, For the whole woman warms your heart.
I cannot tell how many dead You number in the cycles fled,
And you but look the more serene For all the griefs you may have seen,
As you had gathered from the dust The flowers of Peace, and Hope, and Trust.
Your smile is even sweeter now Than when it lit your maiden brow,
And that which wakes this gentler charm Coos at this moment on your arm.
Your voice was always soft in youth, And had the very sound of truth,
But never were its tones so mild Until you blessed your earliest child;
And when to soothe some little wrong It melts into a mother's song,
The same strange sweetness which in years Long vanished filled the eyes with tears,
And (even when mirthful) gave always A pathos to your girlish lays,
Falls, with perchance a deeper thrill, Upon the breathless listener still.
I cannot guess in what fair spot The chance of Time hath fixed your lot,
Nor can I name what manly breast Gives to that head a welcome rest;
I cannot tell if partial Fate Hath made you poor, or rich, or great;
But oh! whatever be your place, I never saw a form or face
To which more plainly hath been lent The blessing of a full content!
La Belle Juive
Is it because your sable hair Is folded over brows that wear At times a too imperial air;
Or is it that the thoughts which rise In those dark orbs do seek disguise Beneath the lids of Eastern eyes;
That choose whatever pose or place May chance to please, in you I trace The noblest woman of your race?
The crowd is sauntering at its ease, And humming like a hive of bees— You take your seat and touch the keys:
I do not hear the giddy throng; The sea avenges Israel's wrong, And on the wind floats Miriam's song!
You join me with a stately grace; Music to Poesy gives place; Some grand emotion lights your face:
At once I stand by Mizpeh's walls: With smiles the martyred daughter falls, And desolate are Mizpeh's halls!
Intrusive babblers come between; With calm, pale brow and lofty mien, You thread the circle like a queen!
Then sweeps the royal Esther by; The deep devotion in her eye Is looking "If I die, I die!"
You stroll the garden's flowery walks; The plants to me are grainless stalks, And Ruth to old Naomi talks.
Adopted child of Judah's creed, Like Judah's daughters, true at need, I see you mid the alien seed.
I watch afar the gleaner sweet; I wake like Boaz in the wheat, And find you lying at my feet!
My feet! Oh! if the spell that lures My heart through all these dreams endures, How soon shall I be stretched at yours!
Not in a climate near the sun Did the cloud with its trailing fringes float, Whence, white as the down of an angel's plume, Fell the snow of her brow and throat.
And the ground had been rich for a thousand years With the blood of heroes, and sages, and kings, Where the rose that blooms in her exquisite cheek Unfolded the flush of its wings.
On a land where the faces are fair, though pale As a moonlit mist when the winds are still, She breaks like a morning in Paradise Through the palms of an orient hill.
Her beauty, perhaps, were all too bright, But about her there broods some delicate spell, Whence the wondrous charm of the girl grows soft As the light in an English dell.
There is not a story of faith and truth On the starry scroll of her country's fame, But has helped to shape her stately mien, And to touch her soul with flame.
I sometimes forget, as she sweeps me a bow, That I gaze on a simple English maid, And I bend my head, as if to a queen Who is courting my lance and blade.
Once, as we read, in a curtained niche, A poet who sang of her sea-throned isle, There was something of Albion's mighty Bess In the flash of her haughty smile.
She seemed to gather from every age All the greatness of England about her there, And my fancy wove a royal crown Of the dusky gold of her hair.
But it was no queen to whom that day, In the dim green shade of a trellised vine, I whispered a hope that had somewhat to do With a small white hand in mine.
The Tudor had vanished, and, as I spoke, 'T was herself looked out of her frank brown eye, And an answer was burning upon her face, Ere I caught the low reply.
What was it! Nothing the world need know— The stars saw our parting! Enough, that then I walked from the porch with the tread of a king, And she was a queen again!
Yes, in that dainty ivory shrine, With those three pallid buds, I twine And fold away a dream divine!
One night they lay upon a breast Where Love hath made his fragrant nest, And throned me as a life-long guest.
Near that chaste heart they seemed to me Types of far fairer flowers to be— The rosebuds of a human tree!
Buds that shall bloom beside my hearth, And there be held of richer worth Than all the kingliest gems of earth.
Ah me! the pathos of the thought! I had not deemed she wanted aught; Yet what a tenderer charm it wrought!
I know not if she marked the flame That lit my cheek, but not from shame, When one sweet image dimly came.
There was a murmur soft and low; White folds of cambric, parted slow; And little fingers played with snow!
How far my fancy dared to stray, A lover's reverence needs not say— Enough—the vision passed away!
Passed in a mist of happy tears, While something in my tranced ears Hummed like the future in a seer's!
A Mother's Wail
My babe! my tiny babe! my only babe! My single rose-bud in a crown of thorns! My lamp that in that narrow hut of life, Whence I looked forth upon a night of storm! Burned with the lustre of the moon and stars!