THE RIDE TO THE LADY
And Other Poems
HELEN GRAY CONE
The Ride to the Lady
The First Guest
The Going Out of the Tide
Ivo of Chartres
Two Moods of Failure
The Story of the "Orient"
The Glorious Company
The House of Hate
A Nest in a Lyre
The Spring Beauties
When Willows Green
At the Parting of the Ways
The Fair Gray Lady
The Wish for a Chaplet
Sonnets: The Torch Race To Sleep Sister Snow The Contrast A Mystery Triumph In Winter, with the Book we had in Spring Sere Wisdom Isolation The Lost Dryad The Gifts of the Oak The Strayed Singer The Immortal Word
THE RIDE TO THE LADY
"Now since mine even is come at last,— For I have been the sport of steel, And hot life ebbeth from me fast, And I in saddle roll and reel,— Come bind me, bind me on my steed! Of fingering leech I have no need!" The chaplain clasped his mailed knee. "Nor need I more thy whine and thee! No time is left my sins to tell; But look ye bind me, bind me well!" They bound him strong with leathern thong, For the ride to the lady should be long.
Day was dying; the poplars fled, Thin as ghosts, on a sky blood-red; Out of the sky the fierce hue fell, And made the streams as the streams of hell. All his thoughts as a river flowed, Flowed aflame as fleet he rode, Onward flowed to her abode, Ceased at her feet, mirrored her face. (Viewless Death apace, apace, Rode behind him in that race.)
"Face, mine own, mine alone, Trembling lips my lips have known, Birdlike stir of the dove-soft eyne Under the kisses that make them mine! Only of thee, of thee, my need! Only to thee, to thee, I speed!" The Cross flashed by at the highway's turn; In a beam of the moon the Face shone stern.
Far behind had the fight's din died; The shuddering stars in the welkin wide Crowded, crowded, to see him ride. The beating hearts of the stars aloof kept time to the beat of the horse's hoof, "What is the throb that thrills so sweet? Heart of my lady, I feel it beat!" But his own strong pulse the fainter fell, Like the failing tongue of a hushing bell. The flank of the great-limbed steed was wet Not alone with the started sweat.
Fast, and fast, and the thick black wood Arched its cowl like a black friar's hood; Fast, and fast, and they plunged therein,— But the viewless rider rode to win, Out of the wood to the highway's light Galloped the great-limbed steed in fright; The mail clashed cold, and the sad owl cried, And the weight of the dead oppressed his side.
Fast, and fast, by the road he knew; And slow, and slow, the stars withdrew; And the waiting heaven turned weirdly blue, As a garment worn of a wizard grim. He neighed at the gate in the morning dim.
She heard no sound before her gate, Though very quiet was her bower. All was as her hand had left it late: The needle slept on the broidered vine, Where the hammer and spikes of the passion-flower Her fashioning did wait. On the couch lay something fair, With steadfast lips and veiled eyne;
But the lady was not there, On the wings of shrift and prayer, Pure as winds that winnow snow, Her soul had risen twelve hours ago. The burdened steed at the barred gate stood, No whit the nearer to his goal. Now God's great grace assoil the soul That went out in the wood!
THE FIRST GUEST
When the house is finished, Death enters. Eastern Proverb
Life's House being ready all, Each chamber fair and dumb, Ere life, the Lord, is come With pomp into his hall,— Ere Toil has trod the floors, Ere Love has lit the fires, Or young great-eyed Desires Have, timid, tried the doors; Or from east-window leaned One Hope, to greet the sun, Or one gray Sorrow screened Her sight against the west,— Then enters the first guest, The House of life being done.
He waits there in the shade. I deem he is Life's twin, For whom the house was made. Whatever his true name, Be sure, to enter in He has both key and claim.
The daybeams, free of fear, Creep drowsy toward his feet; His heart were heard to beat, Were any there to hear; Ah, not for ends malign, Like wild thing crouched in lair, Or watcher of a snare, But with a friend's design He lurks in shadow there!
He goes not to the gates To welcome any other, Nay, not Lord Life, his brother; But still his hour awaits Each several guest to find Alone, yea, quite alone; Pacing with pensive mind The cloister's echoing stone, Or singing, unaware, At the turning of the stair Tis truth, though we forget, In Life's House enters none Who shall that seeker shun, Who shall not so be met. "Is this mine hour?" each saith. "So be it, gentle Death!" Each has his way to end, Encountering this friend. Griefs die to memories mild; Hope turns a weaned child; Love shines a spirit white, With eyes of deepened light. When many a guest has passed, Some day 'tis Life's at last To front the face of Death. Then, casements closed, men say: "Lord Life is gone away; He went, we trust and pray, To God, who gave him breath." Beginning, End, He is: Are not these sons both His? Lo, these with Him are one! To phrase it so were best: God's self is that first Guest, The House of Life being done!
Why should I sing of earth or heaven? not rather rest, Powerless to speak of that which hath my soul possessed,— For full possession dumb? Yea, Silence, that were best.
And though for what it failed to sound I brake the string, And dashed the sweet lute down, a too much fingered thing, And found a wild new voice,—oh, still, why should I sing?
An earth-song could I make, strange as the breath of earth, Filled with the great calm joy of life and death and birth? Yet, were it less than this, the song were little worth.
For this the fields caress; brown clods tell each to each; Sad-colored leaves have sense whereto I cannot reach; Spiced everlasting-flowers outstrip my range of speech.
A heaven-song could I make, all fire that yet was peace, And tenderness not lost, though glory did increase? But were it less than this, 't were well the song should cease.
For this the still west saith, with plumy flames bestrewn; Heaven's body sapphire-clear, at stirless height of noon; The cloud where lightnings pulse, beside the untroubled moon.
I will not sing of earth or heaven, but rather rest, Rapt by the face of heaven, and hold on earth's warm breast. Hushed lips, a beating heart, yea, Silence, that were best.
"Not ye who have stoned, not ye who have smitten us," cry The sad, great souls, as they go out hence into dark, "Not ye we accuse, though for you was our passion borne; And ye we reproach not, who silently passed us by. We forgive blind eyes and the ears that would not hark, The careless and causeless hate and the shallow scorn.
"But ye, who have seemed to know us, have seen and heard; Who have set us at feasts and have crowned with the costly rose; Who have spread us the purple of praises beneath our feet; Yet guessed not the word that we spake was a living word, Applauding the sound,—we account you as worse than foes! We sobbed you our message; ye said, 'It is song, and sweet!'"
THE GOING OUT OF THE TIDE
The eastern heaven was all faint amethyst, Whereon the moon hung dreaming in the mist; To north yet drifted one long delicate plume Of roseate cloud; like snow the ocean-spume.
Now when the first foreboding swiftly ran Through the loud-glorying sea that it began To lose its late gained lordship of the land, Uprose the billow like an angered man, And flung its prone strength far along the sand; Almost, almost to the old bound, the dark And taunting triumph-mark.
But no, no, no! and slow, and slow, and slow, Like a heart losing hold, this wave must go,— Must go, must go,—dragged heavily back, back, Beneath the next wave plunging on its track, Charging, with thunderous and defiant shout, To fore-determined rout.
Again, again the unexhausted main Renews fierce effort, drawing force unguessed From awful deeps of its mysterious breast: Like arms of passionate protest, tossed in vain, The spray upflings above the billow's crest. Again the appulse, again the backward strain— Till ocean must have rest.
With one abandoned movement, swift and wild,— As though bowed head and outstretched arms it laid On the earth's lap, soft sobbing,—hushed and stayed, The great sea quiets, like a soothed child. Ha! what sharp memory clove the calm, and drave This last fleet furious wave?
On, on, endures the struggle into night, Ancient as Time, yet fresh as the fresh hour; As oft repeated since the birth of light As the strong agony and mortal fight Of human souls, blind-reaching, with the Power Aloof, unmoved, impossible to cross, Whose law is seeming loss.
Low-sunken from the longed-for triumph-mark; The spent sea sighs as one that grieves in sleep. The unveiled moon along the rippling plain Casts many a keen, cold, shifting silvery spark, Wild as the pulses of strange joy, that leap Even in the quick of pain.
And she compelling, she that stands for law,— As law for Will eternal,—perfect, clear, And uncompassionate shines: to her appear Vast sequences close-linked without a flaw. All past despairs of ocean unforgot, All raptures past, serene her light she gives, The moon too high for pity, since she lives Aware that loss is not.
Will you hear now the speech of King Raedwald,—heathen Raedwald, the simple yet wise? He, the ruler of North-folk and South-folk, a man open-browed as the skies, Held the eyes of the eager Italians with his blue, bold, Englishman's eyes.
In his hall, on his throne, so he sat, with the light of the fire on him full: Colored bright as the ring of red gold on his hand, fit to buffet a bull, Was the mane that grew down on his neck, was the beard he would pondering pull.
To the priests, to the eager Italians, thus fearless less he poured his free speech; "O my honey-tongued fathers, I turn not away from the faith that ye teach! Not the less hath a man many moods, and may ask a religion for each.
"Grant that all things are well with the realm on a delicate day of the spring, Easter month, time of hopes and of swallows! The praises, the psalms that ye sing, As in pleasant accord they float heavenward, are good in the ears of the king.
"Then the heart bubbles forth with clear waters, to the time of this wonder-word Peace, From the chanting and preaching whereof ye who serve the white Christ never cease; And your curly, soft incense ascending enwraps my content like a fleece.
"But a churl comes adrip from the rivers, pants me out, fallen spent on the floor, 'O King Raedwald, Northumberland marches, and to-morrow knocks hard at thy door, Hot for melting thy crown on the hearth!' Then commend me to Woden and Thor!
"Could I sit then and listen to preachments on turning the cheek to the blow, And saying a prayer for the smiter, and holding my seen treasure low For the sake of a treasure unseen? By the sledge of the Thunderer, no!
"For my thought flashes out as a sword, cleaving counsel as clottage of cream; And your incense and chanting are but as the smoke of burnt towns and the scream; And I quaff me the thick mead of triumph from enemies' skulls in my dream!
"And 'tis therefore this day I resolve me,—for King Raedwald will cringe not, nor lie!— I will bring back the altar of Woden; in the temple will have it, hard by The new altar of this your white Christ. As my mood may decide, worship I!"
So he spake in his large self-reliance,—he, a man open-browed as the skies; Would not measure his soul by a standard that was womanish-weak to his eyes, Smite his breast and go on with his sinning,—savage Raedwald, the simple yet wise!
And the centuries bloom o'er his barrow. But for us,—have we mastered it quite, The old riddle, that sweet is strong's outcome, the old marvel, that meekness is might, That the child is the leader of lions, that forgiveness is force at its height?
When we summon the shade of rude Raedwald, in his candor how king-like he towers! Have the centuries, over his slumber, only borne sterile falsehoods for flowers? Pray you, what if Christ found him the nobler, having weighed his frank manhood with ours?
IVO OF CHARTRES
Now may it please my lord, Louis the king, Lily of Christ and France! riding his quest, I, Bishop Ivo, saw a wondrous thing.
There was no light of sun left in the west, And slowly did the moon's new light increase. Heaven, without cloud, above the near hill's crest, Lay passion purple in a breathless peace. Stars started like still tears, in rapture shed, Which without consciousness the lids release.
All steadily, one little sparkle red, Afar, drew close. A woman's form grew up Out of the dimness, tall, with queen-like head, And in one hand was fire; in one, a cup. Of aspect grave she was, with eyes upraised, As one whose thoughts perpetually did sup At the Lord's table.
While the cresset blazed, Her I regarded. "Daughter, whither bent, And wherefore?" As by speech of man amazed, One moment her deep look to me she lent; Then, in a voice of hymn-like, solemn fall, Calm, as by role, she spake out her intent:
"I in my cruse bear water, wherewithal To quench the flames of Hell; and with my fire I Paradise would burn: that hence no small Fear shall impel, and no mean hope shall hire, Men to serve God as they have served of yore; But to his will shall set their whole desire, For love, love, love alone, forevermore!"
And "love, love, love," rang round her as she passed From sight, with mystic murmurs o'er and o'er Reverbed from hollow heaven, as from some vast, Deep-colored, vaulted, ocean-answering shell.
I, Ivo, had no power to ban or bless, But was as one withholden by a spell. Forward she fared in lofty loneliness, Urged on by an imperious inward stress, To waste fair Eden, and to drown fierce Hell.
Ricordati di me, che son la Pia. Siena mi fe; disfecomi Maremma; Salsi colui, che, inanellata pria, Disposato m'avea colla sua gemma.
Purgatorio, Canto V.
To westward lies the unseen sea, Blue sea the live winds wander o'er. The many-colored sails can flee, And leave the dead, low-lying shore. Her longing does not seek the main, Her face turns northward first at morn; There, crowning all the wide champaign, Siena stood, where she was born.
Siena stands, and still shall stand; She ne'er shall see or town or tower. Warm life and beauty, hand in hand, Steal farther from her hour by hour. Yet forth she leans, with trembling knees, And northward will she stare and stare Through that thick wall of cypress-trees, And sigh adown the stirless air:
"Shall no remembrance in Siena linger Of me, once fair, whom slow Maremma slays? As well he knows, whose ring upon my finger Hath sealed for his alone mine earthly days!"
From wilds where shudders through the weeds The dull, mean-headed, silent snake, Like voiceless doubt that creeps and breeds; From swamps where sluggish waters take, As lives unblest a passing love, The flag-flower's image in the spring, Or seem, when flits the bird above, To stir within with shadowed wing,
A Presence mounts in pallid mist To fold her close: she breathes its breath; She waxes wan, by Fever kissed, Who weds her for his master, Death, Aside are set her dimmed hopes all, She counts no more the uncurrent hoard; On gray Death's neck she fain would fall, To own him for her proper lord.
She minds the journey here by night: When some red sudden torch would blaze, She saw by fits, with childish fright, The cork-trees twist beside the ways. Like dancing demon shapes they showed, With malice drunk; the bat beat by, The owlet sobbed; on, on they rode, She knew not where, she knows not why.
For Nello—when in piteous wise She lifted up her look to ask, Except the ever-burning eyes His face was like a marble mask. And so it always meets her now; The tomb wherein at last he lies Shall bear such carven lips and brow, All save the ever-burning eyes.
Perchance it is his form alone Doth stroke his hound, at meat doth sit, And, for the soul that was his own, A fiend awhile inhabits it; While he sinks through the fiery throng, Down, to fill an evil bond, Since false conceit of others' wrong Hath wrought him to a sin beyond.
But she—if when her years were glad Vain fluttering thoughts were hers, that hid Behind that gracious fame she had; If e'er observance hard she did That sinful men might call her saint,— White-handed Pia, dovelike-eyed,— The sick blank hours shall yet acquaint Her heart with all her blameful pride.
And Death shall find her kneeling low, And lift her to the porphyry stair, And she from ledge to ledge shall go, Stayed by the staff of that last prayer, Until the high, sweet-singing wood Whence folk are rapt to heaven, she win; Therein the unpardoned never stood, Nor may one Sorrow nest therein.
But through the Tuscan land shall beat Her Sorrow, like a wounded bird; And if her suit at Mary's feet Avail, its moan shall yet be heard By some just poet, who shall shed, Whate'er the theme that leads his rhyme Bright words like tears above her, dead, Entreating of the after time:
"Among you let her mournful memory linger! Siena bare her, whom Maremma slew; And this dark lord, who gave her maiden finger His ancient gem, the secret only knew."
TWO MOODS OF FAILURE
THE LAST CUP OF CANARY
Sir Harry Lovelock, 1645
So, the powder's low, and the larder's clean, And surrender drapes, with its black impending, All the stage for a sorry and sullen scene: Yet indulge me my whim of a madcap ending!
Let us once more fill, ere the final chill, Every vein with the glow of the rich canary! Since the sweet hot liquor of life's to spill, Of the last of the cellar what boots be chary?
Then hear the conclusion: I'll yield my breath, But my leal old house and my good blade never! Better one bitter kiss on the lips of Death Than despoiled Defeat as a wife forever!
Let the faithful fire hold the walls in ward Till the roof-tree crash! Be the smoke once riven While we flash from the gate like a single sword, True steel to the hilt, though in dull earth driven!
Do you frown, Sir Richard, above your ruff, In the Holbein yonder? My deed ensures you! For the flame like a fencer shall give rebuff To your blades that blunder, you Roundhead boors, you!
And my ladies, a-row on the gallery wall, Not a sing-song sergeant or corporal sainted Shall pierce their breasts with his Puritan ball, To annul the charms of the flesh, though painted!
I have worn like a jewel the life they gave; As the ring in mine ear I can lightly lose it, If my days be done, why, my days were brave! If the end arrive, I as master choose it!
Then fill to the brim, and a health, I say, To our liege King Charles, and I pray God bless him! 'T would amend worse vintage to drink dismay To the clamorous mongrel pack that press him!
And a health to the fair women, past recall, That like birds astray through the heart's hall flitted; To the lean devil Failure last of all, And the lees in his beard for a fiend outwitted!
THE YOUNG MAN CHARLES STUART REVIEWETH THE TROOPS ON BLACKHEATH
(Private Constant-in-Tribulation Joyce, May, 1660)
We were still as a wood without wind; as 't were set by a spell Stayed the gleam on the steel cap, the glint on the slant petronel. He to left of me drew down his grim grizzled lip with his teeth,— I remember his look; so we grew like dumb trees on the heath.
But the people,—the people were mad as with store of new wine; Oh, they cheered him, they capped him, they roared as he rode down the line: He that fled us at Worcester, the boy, the green brier-shoot, the son Of the Stuart on whom for his sin the great judgment was done!
Swam before us the field of our shame, and our souls walked afar; Saw the glory, the blaze of the sun bursting over Dunbar; Saw the faces of friends, in the morn riding jocund to fight; Saw the stern pallid faces again, as we saw them at night!
"O ye blessed, who died in the Lord! would to God that we too Had so passed, only sad that we ceased his high justice to do, With the words of the psalm on our lips that from Israel's once came, How the Lord is a strong man of war; yea, the Lord is his name!
"Not for us, not for us! who have served for his kingdom seven years, Yea, and yet other seven have we served, sweating blood, bleeding tears, For the kingdom of God and the saints! Rachel's beauty made bold, Yet we bear but a Leah at last to a hearth that is cold!"
Burned the fire while I mused, while I gloomed; in the end came a call; Settled o'er me a calm like a cloud, spake a voice still and small: "Take thou Leah to bride, take thou Failure to bed and to board! Thou shalt rear up new strengths at her knees; she is given of the Lord!
"If with weight of his right hand, with power, he denieth to deal, And the smoke clouds, and thunders of guns, and the lightnings of steel, Shall the cool silent dews of his grace, in a season of peace, Not descend on the land, as of old, for a sign, on the fleece?
"Hath he cleft not the rock, to the yield of a stream that is sweet? Hath he set in the ribs of the lion no honey for meat? Can he bring not delight to the desert, and buds to the rod? He will shine, he will visit his vine; he hath sworn, he is God!"
Then I thought of the gate I rode through on the roan that's long dead,— I remember the dawn was but pale, and the stars overhead; Of the babe that is grown to a maid, and of Martha, my wife, And the spring on the wolds far away, and gave thanks for my life!
THE STORY OF THE "ORIENT"
'T was a pleasant Sunday morning while the spring was in its glory, English spring of gentle glory; smoking by his cottage door, Florid-faced, the man-o'-war's-man told his white-head boy the story, Noble story of Aboukir, told a hundred times before.
"Here, the Theseus—here, the Vanguard;" as he spoke each name sonorous,— Minotaur, Defence, Majestic, stanch old comrades of the brine, That against the ships of Brucys made their broadsides roar in chorus,— Ranging daisies on his doorstone, deft he mapped the battle-line.
Mapped the curve of tall three-deckers, deft as might a man left-handed, Who had given an arm to England later on at Trafalgar. While he poured the praise of Nelson to the child with eyes expanded, Bright athwart his honest forehead blushed the scarlet cutlass-scar.
For he served aboard the Vanguard, saw the Admiral blind and bleeding Borne below by silent sailors, borne to die as then they deemed. Every stout heart sick but stubborn, fought the sea-dogs on unheeding, Guns were cleared and manned and cleared, the battle thundered, flashed, and screamed.
Till a cry swelled loud and louder,—towered on fire the Orient stately, Brucys' flag-ship, she that carried guns a hundred and a score; Then came groping up the hatchway he they counted dead but lately, Came the little one-armed Admiral to guide the fight once more.
"'Lower the boats!' was Nelson's order."— But the listening boy beside him, Who had followed all his motions with an eager wide blue eye, Nursed upon the name of Nelson till he half had deified him, Here, with childhood's crude consistence, broke the tale to question "Why?"
For by children facts go streaming in a throng that never pauses, Noted not, till, of a sudden, thought, a sunbeam, gilds the motes, All at once the known words quicken, and the child would deal with causes. Since to kill the French was righteous, why bade Nelson lower the boats?
Quick the man put by the question. "But the Orient, none could save her; We could see the ships, the ensigns, clear as daylight by the flare; And a many leaped and left her; but, God rest 'em! some were braver; Some held by her, firing steady till she blew to God knows where."
At the shock, he said, the Vanguard shook through all her timbers oaken; It was like the shock of Doomsday,—not a tar but shuddered hard. All was hushed for one strange moment; then that awful calm was broken By the heavy plash that answered the descent of mast and yard.
So, her cannon still defying, and her colors flaming, flying, In her pit her wounded helpless, on her deck her Admiral dead, Soared the Orient into darkness with her living and her dying: "Yet our lads made shift to rescue three-score souls," the seaman said.
Long the boy with knit brows wondered o'er that friending of the foeman; Long the man with shut lips pondered; powerless he to tell the cause Why the brother in his bosom that desired the death of no man, In the crash of battle wakened, snapped the bonds of hate like straws.
While he mused, his toddling maiden drew the daisies to a posy; Mild the bells of Sunday morning rang across the church-yard sod; And, helped on by tender hands, with sturdy feet all bare and rosy, Climbed his babe to mother's breast, as climbs the slow world up to God.
Neither would they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
I was quick in the flesh, was warm, and the live heart shook my breast; In the market I bought and sold, in the temple I bowed my head. I had swathed me in shows and forms, and was honored above the rest For the sake of the life I lived; nor did any esteem me dead.
But at last, when the hour was ripe—was it sudden-remembered word? Was it sight of a bird that mounted, or sound of a strain that stole? I was 'ware of a spell that snapped, of an inward strength that stirred, Of a Presence that filled that place; and it shone, and I knew my Soul.
And the dream I had called my life was a garment about my feet, For the web of the years was rent with the throe of a yearning strong. With a sweep as of winds in heaven, with a rush as of flames that meet, The Flesh and the Spirit clasped; and I cried, "Was I dead so long?"
I had glimpse of the Secret, flashed through the symbol obscure and mean, And I felt as a fire what erst I repeated with lips of clay; And I knew for the things eternal the things eye hath not seen; Yea, the heavens and the earth shall pass; but they never shall pass away.
And the miracle on me wrought, in the streets I would straight make known: "When this marvel of mine is heard, without cavil shall men receive Any legend of haloed saint, staring up through the sealed stone!" So I spake in the trodden ways; but behold, there would none believe!
THE GLORIOUS COMPANY
"Faces, faces, faces of the streaming marching surge, Streaming on the weary road, toward the awful steep, Whence your glow and glory, as ye set to that sharp verge, Faces lit as sunlit stars, shining as ye sweep?
"Whence this wondrous radiance that ye somehow catch and cast, Faces rapt, that one discerns 'mid the dusky press Herding in dull wonder, gathering fearful to the Vast? Surely all is dark before, night of nothingness!"
Lo, the Light! (they answer) O the pure, the pulsing Light, Beating like a heart of life, like a heart of love, Soaring, searching, filling all the breadth and depth and height, Welling, whelming with its peace worlds below, above!
"O my soul, how art thou to that living Splendor blind, Sick with thy desire to see even as these men see!— Yet to look upon them is to know that God hath shined: Faces lit as sunlit stars, be all my light to me!"
Two ships, alone in sky and sea, Hang clinched, with crash and roar; There is but one—whiche'er it be— Will ever come to shore.
And will it be the grim black bulk, That towers so evil now? Or will it be The Grace of God, With the angel at her prow?
The man that breathes the battle's breath May live at last to know; But the trumpeter lies sick to death In the stifling dark below.
He hears the fight above him rave; He fears his mates must yield; He lies as in a narrow grave Beneath a battle-field.
His fate will fall before the ship's, Whate'er the ship betide; He lifts the trumpet to his lips As though he kissed a bride.
"Now blow thy best, blow thy last, My trumpet, for the Right!"— He has sent his soul in one strong blast, To hearten them that fight.
"Oh, whither, whither, rider toward the west?" "And whither, whither, rider toward the east?" "I rode we ride upon the same high quest, Whereon who enters may not be released;
"To seek the Cup whose form none ever saw,— A nobler form than e'er was shapen yet, Though million million cups without a flaw, Afire with gems, on princes' boards are set;
"To seek the Wine whereof none ever had One draught, though many a generous wine flows free,— The spiritual blood that shall make glad The hearts of mighty men that are to be."
"But shall one find it, brother? Where I ride, Men mock and stare, who never had the dream, Yet hope within my breast has never died." "Nor ever died in mine that trembling gleam."
"Eastward, I deem: the sun and all good things Are born to bless us of the Orient old." "Westward, I deem: an untried ocean sings Against that coast, 'New shores await the bold.'"
"God speed or thee or me, so coming men But have the Cup!" "God speed!"—Not once before Their eyes had met, nor ever met again, Yet were they loving comrades evermore.
THE HOUSE OF HATE
Mine enemy builded well, with the soft blue hills in sight; But betwixt his house and the hills I builded a house for spite: And the name thereof I set in the stone-work over the gate, With a carving of bats and apes; and I called it the House of Hate.
And the front was alive with masks of malice and of despair; Horned demons that leered in stone, and women with serpent hair; That whenever his glance would rest on the soft hills far and blue, It must fall on mine evil work, and my hatred should pierce him through.
And I said, "I will dwell herein, for beholding my heart's desire On my foe;" and I knelt, and fain had brightened the hearth with fire; But the brands they would hiss and die, as with curses a strangled man, And the hearth was cold from the day that the House of Hate began.
And I called at the open door, "Make ye merry, all friends of mine, In the hall of my House of Hate, where is plentiful store and wine. We will drink unhealth together unto him I have foiled and fooled!" And they stared and they passed me by; but I scorned to be thereby schooled.
And I ordered my board for feast; and I drank, in the topmost seat, Choice grape from a curious cup; and the first it was wonder-sweet; But the second was bitter indeed, and the third was bitter and black, And the gloom of the grave came on me, and I cast the cup to wrack.
Alone, I was stark alone, and the shadows were each a fear; And thinly I laughed, but once, for the echoes were strange to hear; And the wind in the hallways howled as a green-eyed wolf might cry, And I heard my heart: I must look on the face of a man, or die!
So I crept to my mirrored face, and I looked, and I saw it grown (By the light in my shaking hand) to the like of the masks of stone; And with horror I shrieked aloud as I flung my torch and fled, And a fire-snake writhed where it fell; and at midnight the sky was red.
And at morn, when the House of Hate was a ruin, despoiled of flame, I fell at mine enemy's feet, and besought him to slay my shame; But he looked in mine eyes and smiled, and his eyes were calm and great: "You rave, or have dreamed," he said; "I saw not your House of Hate."
Day in, day out, or sun or rain, Or sallow leaf, or summer grain, Beneath a wintry morning moon Or through red smouldering afternoon, With simple joy, with careful pride, He plies the craft he long has plied: To shape the stave, to set the sting, To fit the shaft with irised wing; And farers by may hear him sing, For still his door is wide: "Laugh and sigh, live and die,— The world swings round; I know not, I, If north or south mine arrows fly!"
And sometimes, while he works, he dreams, And on his soul a vision gleams: Some storied field fought long ago, Where arrows fell as thick as snow. His breath comes fast, his eyes grow bright, To think upon that ancient fight. Oh, leaping from the strained string Against an armored Wrong to ring, Brave the songs that arrows sing! He weighs the finished flight: "Live and die; by and by The sun kills dark; I know not, I, In what good fight mine arrows fly!"
Or at the gray hour, weary grown, When curfew o'er the wold is blown, He sees, as in a magic glass, Some lost and lonely mountain-pass; And lo! a sign of deathful rout The mocking vine has wound about,— An earth-fixed arrow by a spring, All greenly mossed, a mouldered thing; That stifled shaft no more shall sing! He shakes his head in doubt. "Laugh and sigh, live and die,— The hand is blind: I know not, I, In what lost pass mine arrows lie! One to east, one to west, Another for the eagle's breast,— The archer and the wind know best!" The stars are in the sky; He lays his arrows by.
A NEST IN A LYRE
As sign before a playhouse serves A giant Lyre, ornately gilded, On whose convenient coignes and curves The pert brown sparrows late have builded. They flit, and flirt, and prune their wings, Not awed at all by golden glitter, And make among the silent strings Their satisfied ephemeral twitter.
Ah, somewhat so we perch and flit, And spy some crumb and dash to win it, And with a witty chirping twit Our sheltering Time—there's nothing in it! In Life's large frame, a glorious Lyre's, We nest, content, our season flighty, Nor guess we brush the powerful wires Might witch the stars with music mighty.
The garden within was shaded, And guarded about from sight; The fragrance flowed to the south wind, The fountain leaped to the light.
And the street without was narrow, And dusty, and hot, and mean; But the bush that bore white roses, She leaned to the fence between:
And softly she sought a crevice In that barrier blank and tall, And shyly she thrust out through it Her loveliest bud of all.
And tender to touch, and gracious, And pure as the moon's pure shine, The full rose paled and was perfect,— For whose eyes, for whose lips, but mine!
THE SPRING BEAUTIES
The Puritan Spring Beauties stood freshly clad for church; A Thrush, white-breasted, o'er them sat singing on his perch. "Happy be! for fair are ye!" the gentle singer told them, But presently a buff-coat Bee came booming up to scold them. "Vanity, oh, vanity! Young maids, beware of vanity!" Grumbled out the buff-coat Bee, Half parson-like, half soldierly.
The sweet-faced maidens trembled, with pretty, pinky blushes, Convinced that it was wicked to listen to the Thrushes; And when, that shady afternoon, I chanced that way to pass, They hung their little bonnets down and looked into the grass, All because the buff-coat Bee Lectured them so solemnly:— "Vanity, oh, vanity! Young maids, beware of vanity!"
A lily grew in the tangle, In a flame red garment dressed, And many a ruby spangle Besprinkled her tawny breast.
And the silken moth sailed by her With a swift and a snow-white sail; Not a gilt-girt bee came nigh her, Nor a fly in his gay green mail.
And the bronze-brown wings and the golden, O'er the billowing meadows blown, Were still as by magic holden From the lily that flamed alone;
Till over the fragrant tangle A wanderer winging went, And with many a ruby spangle Were his tawny vans besprent. And he hovered one moment stilly O'er the thicket, her mazy bower, Then he sank to the heart of the lily, And they seemed but a single flower.
The brook ran laughing from the shade, And in the sunshine danced all day: The starlight and the moonlight made Its glimmering path a Milky Way.
The blue sky burned, with summer fired; For parching fields, for pining flowers, The spirits of the air desired The brook's bright life to shed in showers.
It gave its all that thirst to slake; Its dusty channel lifeless lay; Now softest flowers, white-foaming, make Its winding bed a Milky Way.
WHEN WILLOWS GREEN
When goldenly the willows green, And, mirrored in the sunset pool, Hang wavering, wild-rose clouds between: When robins call in twilights cool: What is it we await? Who lingers and is late? What strange unrest, what yearning stirs us all When willows green, when robins call?
When fields of flowering grass respire A sweet that seems the breath of Peace, And liquid-voiced the thrushes choir, Oh, whence the sense of glad release? What is it life uplifts? Who entered, bearing gifts? What floods from heaven the being overpower When thrushes choir, when grasses flower?
AT THE PARTING OF THE WAYS
(AD COMITEM JUNIOREM)
Comrade Youth! Sit down with me Underneath the summer tree, Cool green dome whose shade is sweet, Where the sunny roadways meet, See, the ancient finger-post, Silver-bleached with rain and shine, Warns us like a noon-day ghost: That way's yours, and this way's mine! I would hold you with delays Here at parting of the ways.
Hold you! I as well might look To detain the racing brook With regrets and grievance tender, As my comrade swift and slender, Shy, capricious, all of spring! Catch the wind with blossoms laden, Catch the wild bird on the wing, Catch the heart of boy or maiden!
Yet I'll hold your image fast, As this hour I saw you last,— As with staff in hand you sat, Soft curls putting forth defiant From the tilted Mercury's hat, Wreathen with the wilding grace Of the fresh-leaved vine and pliant, Stealing down to see your face. Eyes of pleasance, lips of laughter, I shall hoard you long hereafter; Very dear shall be the days Ere the parting of the ways!
Shall you deem them dear, in truth, Days when we, o'er hill and hollow, Trudged together, Comrade Youth? Ah, you dream of days to follow! Hand in hand we jogged along; I would fetch from out my scrip, Crust or jest or antique song,— Live and lovely, on your lip, Such poor needments as I had Were as yours; you made me glad. —Lo, the dial! No prayer stays Time, at parting of the ways!
This gold memory—rings it true? Half for me and half for you. Cleave and share it. Now, good sooth, God be with you, Comrade Youth!
THE FAIR GRAY LADY
When the charm at last is fled From the woodland stark and pale, And like shades of glad hours dead Whirl the leaves before the gale:
When against the western fire Darkens many an empty nest, Like a thwarted heart's desire That in prime was hardly guessed:
Then the fair gray Lady leans, Lingering, o'er the faded grass, Still the soul of all the scenes Once she graced, a golden lass.
O'er the Year's discrowned sleep, Dear as in her earlier day, She her bending watch doth keep, She the Goldenrod grown gray.
There's a wood-way winding high, Roofed far up with light-green flicker, Save one midmost star of sky. Underfoot 'tis all pale brown With the dead leaves matted down One on other, thick and thicker; Soft, but springing to the tread. There a youth late met a maid Running lightly,—oh, so fleetly! "Whence art thou?" the herd-boy said. Either side her long hair swayed, Half a tress and half a braid, Colored like the soft dead leaf, As she answered, laughing sweetly, On she ran, as flies the swallow; He could not choose but follow Though it had been to his grief.
"I have come up from the valley,— From the valley!" Once he caught her, Swerving down a sidelong alley, For a moment, by the hand. "Tell me, tell me," he besought her, "Sweetest, I would understand Why so cold thy palm, that slips From me like the shy cold minnow? The wood is warm, and smells of fern, And below the meadows burn. Hard to catch and hard to win, oh! Why are those brown finger tips Crinkled as with lines of water?"
Laughing while she featly footed, With the herd-boy hasting after, Sprang she on a trunk uprooted, Clung she by a roping vine; Leaped behind a birch, and told, Still eluding, through its fine, Mocking, slender, leafy laughter, Why her finger tips were cold:
"I went down to tease the brook, With her fishes, there below; She comes dancing, thou must know, And the bushes arch above her; But the seeking sunbeams look, Dodging through the wind-blown cover, Find and kiss her into stars. Silvery veins entwine and crook Where a stone her tripping bars; There be smooth, clear sweeps, and swirls Bubbling up crisp drops like pearls. There I lie, along the rocks Thick with greenest slippery moss, And I have in hand a strip Of gray, pliant, dappled bark; And I comb her liquid locks Till her tangling currents cross; And I have delight to hark To the chiding of her lip, Taking on the talking stone With each turn another tone. Oh, to set her wavelets bickering! Oh, to hear her laughter simple, See her fret and flash and dimple! Ha, ha, ha!" The woodland rang With the rippling through the flickering. At the birch the herd-boy sprang.
On a sudden something wound Vine-like round his throbbing throat; On a sudden something smote Sharply on his longing lips, Stung him as the birch bough whips: Was it kiss or was it blow? Never after could he know; She was gone without a sound.
Never after could he see In the wood or in the mead, Or in any company Of the rustic mortal maids, Her with acorn-colored braids; Never came she to his need. Never more the lad was merry, Strayed apart, and learned to dream, Feeding on the tart wild berry; Murmuring words none understood,— Words with music of the wood, And with music of the stream.
Hours aimless-drifting as the milkweed's down In seeming, still a seed of joy ye bear That steals into the soul when unaware, And springs up Memory in the stony town.
Seven jewelled rays has the Sun fast bound In his arrow of blinding sheen; But he quickens the breast of the fruitful ground With a subtlest ray unseen.
And the rainbow moods of this love of ours I may blend in the song I bring; But the magic that makes life laugh with flowers Is the love that I cannot sing.
THE WISH FOR A CHAPLET
Vineleaf and rose I would my chaplet make: I would my word were wine for all men's sake. Pure from the pressing of the stainless feet Of unblamed Hours, and for an altar meet.
Vineleaf and rose: I would, had I the art, Distil, to lasting sweet, Joy's rosy heart, That no sere autumn should its fragrance wrong, Closed in the crystal glass of slender song.
Brave racer, who hast sped the living light With throat outstretched and every nerve a-strain, Now on thy left hand labors gray-faced Pain, And Death hangs close behind thee on the right. Soon flag the flying feet, soon fails the sight, With every pulse the gaunt pursuers gain; And all thy splendor of strong life must wane And set into the mystery of night.
Yet fear not, though in falling, blindness hide Whose hand shall snatch, before it scars the sod, The light thy lessening grasp no more controls: Truth's rescuer, Truth shall instantly provide: This is the torch-race game, that noblest souls Play on through time beneath the eyes of God.
All slumb'rous images that be, combined, To this white couch and cool shall woo thee, Sleep! First will I think on fields of grasses deep In gray-green flower, o'er which the transient wind Runs like a smile; and next will call to mind How glistening poplar-tops, when breezes creep Among their leaves, a tender motion keep, Stroking the sky, like touch of lovers kind.
Ah, having felt thy calm kiss on mine eyes, All night inspiring thy divine pure breath, I shall awake as into godhood born, And with a fresh, undaunted soul arise, Clear as the blue convolvulus at morn. —Dear bedfellow, deals thus thy brother, Death?
Praised be our Lord (to echo the sweet phrase Of saintly Francis) for our sister Snow: Whose soft, soft coming never man may know By any sound; whose down-light touch allays All fevers of worn earth. She clothes the days In garments without spot, and hence doth go Her noiseless shuttle swiftly to and fro, And very pure, and pleasant, are her ways.
But yesterday, how loveless looked the skies! How cold the sun's last glance, and unbenign, Across the field forsaken, russet-leaved! Now pearly peace on all the landscape lies. —Wast thou not sent us, Sister, for a sign Of that vast Mercy of God, else unconceived?
"Backward," he said, "dear heart I like to look To those half-spring, half-winter days, when first We drew together, ere the leaf-buds burst. Sunbeams were silver yet, keen gusts yet shook The boughs. Have you remembered that kind book, That for our sake Galeotto's part rehearsed, (The friend of lovers,—this time blessed, not cursed!) And that best hour, when reading we forsook?"
She, listening, wore the smile a mother wears At childish fancies needless to control; Yet felt a fine, hid pain with pleasure blend. Better it seemed to think that love of theirs, Native as breath, eternal as the soul, Knew no beginning, could not have an end.
He loved her; having felt his love begin With that first look,—as lover oft avers. He made pale flowers his pleading ministers, Impressed sweet music, drew the springtime in To serve his suit; but when he could not win, Forgot her face and those gray eyes of hers; And at her name his pulse no longer stirs, And life goes on as though she had not been.
She never loved him; but she loved Love so, So reverenced Love, that all her being shook At his demand whose entrance she denied. Her thoughts of him such tender color took As western skies that keep the afterglow. The words he spoke were with her till she died.
That sunless day no living shadow swept Across the hills, fleet shadow chasing light, Twin of the sailing cloud: but, mists wool white, Slow-stealing mists, on those heaved shoulders crept, And wrought about the strong hills while they slept In witches' wise, and rapt their forms from sight. Dreams were they; less than dream, the noblest height And farthest; and the chilly woodland wept.
A sunless day and sad: yet all the while Within the grave green twilight of the wood, inscrutable, immutable, apart, Hearkening the brook, whose song she understood, The secret birch-tree kept her silver smile, Strange as the peace that gleams at sorrow's heart.
This windy sunlit morning after rain, The wet bright laurel laughs with beckoning gleam In the blown wood, whence breaks the wild white stream Rushing and flashing, glorying in its gain; Nor swerves nor parts, but with a swift disdain O'erleaps the boulders lying in long dream, Lapped in cold moss; and in its joy doth seem A wood-born creature bursting from a chain.
And "Triumph, triumph, triumph!" is its hoarse Fierce-whispered word. O fond, and dost not know Thy triumph on another wise must be,— To render all the tribute of thy force, And lose thy little being in the flow Of the unvaunting river toward the sea!
IN WINTER, WITH THE BOOK WE READ IN SPRING
The blackberry's bloom, when last we went this way, Veiled all her bowsome rods with trembling white; The robin's sunset breast gave forth delight At sunset hour; the wind was warm with May. Armored in ice the sere stems arch to-day, Each tiny thorn encased and argent bright; Where clung the birds that long have taken flight, Dead songless leaves cling fluttering on the spray.
O hand in mine, that mak'st all paths the same, Being paths of peace, where falls nor chill nor gloom, Made sweet with ardors of an inward spring! I hold thee—frozen skies to rosy flame Are turned, and snows to living snows of bloom, And once again the gold-brown thrushes sing.
I had remembrance of a summer morn, When all the glistening field was softly stirred And like a child's in happy sleep I heard The low and healthful breathing of the corn. Late when the sumach's red was dulled and worn, And fainter grew the trite and troublous word Of tristful cricket, that replaced the bird, I sought the slope, and found a waste forlorn.
Against that cold clear west, whence winter peers, All spectral stood the bleached stalks thin-leaved, Dry as papyrus kept a thousand years, And hissing whispered to the wind that grieved, It was a dream—we have no goodly ears— There was no summer-time—deceived! deceived!
White fog around, soft snow beneath the tread, All sunless, windless, tranced, the morning lay; All noiseless, trackless, new, the well-known way. The silence weighed upon the sense; in dread, "Alone, I am alone," I shuddering said, "And wander in a region where no ray Has ever shone, and as on earth's first day Or last, my kind are not yet born or dead."
Yet not afar, meanwhile, there faltered feet Like mine, through that wide mystery of the snow, Nor could the old accustomed paths divine; And even as mine, unheard spake voices low, And hearts were near, that as my own heart beat, Warm hands, and faces fashioned like to mine.
THE LOST DRYAD
(TO EDITH M. THOMAS)
Into what beech or silvern birch, O friend Suspected ever of a dryad strain, Hast crept at last, delighting to regain Thy sylvan house? Now whither shall I wend, Or by what winged post my greeting send, Bird, butterfly, or bee? Shall three moons wane, And yet not found?—Ah, surely it was pain Of old, for mortal youth his heart to lend To any hamadryad! In his hour Of simple trust, wild impulse him bereaves: She flees, she seeks her strait enmossed bower And while he, searching, softly calls, and grieves, Oblivious, high above she laughs in leaves, Or patters tripping talk to the quick shower.
Though pent in stony streets, 'tis joy to know, 'Tis joy, although we breathe a fainter air, The spirit of those places far and fair That we have loved, abides; and fern-scents flow Out of the wood's heart still, and shadows grow Long on remembered roads as warm days wear; And still the dark wild water, in its lair, The narrow chasm, stirs blindly to and fro.
Delight is in the sea-gull's dancing wings, And sunshine wakes to rose the ruddy hue Of rocks; and from her tall wind-slanted stem A soft bright plume the goldenrod outflings Along the breeze, above a sea whose blue Is like the light that kindles through a gem.
THE GIFTS OF THE OAK
(FOR THE SEVENTIETH BIRTHDAY OF JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL)
'There needs no crown to mark the forest's king.' Thus, long ago thou sang'st the sound-heart tree Sacred to sovereign Jove, and dear to thee Since first, a venturous youth with eyes of spring,— Whose pilgrim-staff each side put forth a wing,— Beneath the oak thou lingeredst lovingly To crave, as largess of his majesty, Firm-rooted strength, and grace of leaves that sing.
He gave; we thank him! Graciousness as grave, And power as easeful as his own he gave; Long broodings rich with sun, and laughters kind; And singing leaves, whose later bronze is dear As the first amber of the budding year,— Whose voices answer the autumnnal wind.
THE STRAYED SINGER
He wandered from us long, oh, long ago, Rare singer, with the note unsatisfied; Into what charmed wood, what shade star-eyed With the wind's April darlings, none may know. We lost him. Songless, one with seed to sow, Keen-smiling toiler, came in place, and plied His strength in furrowed field till eventide, And passed to slumber when the sun was low.
But now,—as though Death spoke some mystic word Solving a spell,—present to thought appears The morn's estray, not him we saw but late; And on his lips the strain that once we heard, And in his hand, cool as with Springtime's tears, The melancholy wood-flowers delicate.
THE IMMORTAL WORD
One soiled and shamed and foiled in this world's fight, Deserter from the host of God, that here Still darkly struggles,—waked from death in fear, And strove to screen his forehead from the white And blinding glory of the awful Light, The revelation and reproach austere. Then with strong hand outstretched a Shape drew near, Bright-browed, majestic, armored like a knight.
"Great Angel, servant of the Highest, why Stoop'st thou to me?" although his lips were mute, His eyes inquired. The Shining One replied: "Thy Book, thy birth, life of thy life am I, Son of thy soul, thy youth's forgotten fruit. We two go up to judgment side by side."