ROSE AND ROOF-TREE:
GEORGE PARSONS LATHROP
Upon the enchanted ladder of his rhymes, Round after round and patiently The poet ever upward climbs.
I need give my verse no hint as to whom it sings for. The rose, knowing her own right, makes servitors of the light-rays to carry her color. So every line here shall in some sense breathe of thee, and in its very face bear record of her whom, however unworthily, it seeks to serve and honor.
ROSE AND ROOF-TREE MUSIC OF GROWTH A SONG LONG AGO MELANCHOLY CONTENTMENT
AN APRIL ARIA THE BOBOLINK THE SUN-SHOWER JUNE LONGINGS A RUNE OF THE RAIN THE SONG-SPARROW FAIRHAVEN BAY CHANT FOR AUTUMN BEFORE THE SNOW THE GHOSTS OF GROWTH THE LILY-POND
FIRST GLANCE "THE SUNSHINE OF THINE EYES" "WHEN, LOOKING DEEPLY IN THY FACE" WITHIN A YEAR THE SINGING WIRE MOODS OF LOVE: I. In Absence II. Heart's Fountain III. South-Wind Song IV. The Lover's Year V. New Worlds VI. Wedding-Night LOVE'S DEFEAT MAY AND MARRIAGE THE FISHER OF THE CAPE SAILOR'S SONG JESSAMINE GRIEF'S HERO A FACE IN THE STREET THE BATHER HELEN AT THE LOOM "O WHOLESOME DEATH" BURIAL-SONG FOR SUMNER ARISE, AMERICAN! THE SILENT TIDE
ROSE AND ROOF-TREE.
O wayward rose, why dost thou wreathe so high, Wasting thyself in sweet-breath'd ecstasy?
"The pulses of the wind my life uplift, And through my sprays I feel the sunlight sift;
"And all my fibres, in a quick consent Entwined, aspire to fill their heavenward bent.
"I feel the shaking of the far-off sea, And all things growing blend their life with me:
"When men and women on me look, there glows Within my veins a life not of the rose.
"Then let me grow, until I touch the sky, And let me grow and grow until I die!"
So, every year, the sweet rose shooteth higher, And scales the roof upon its wings of fire,
And pricks the air, in lovely discontent, With thorns that question still of its intent.
But when it reached the roof-tree, there it clung, Nor ever farther up its blossoms flung.
O wayward rose, why hast thou ceased to climb? Hast thou forgot the ardor of thy prime?
"O hearken!"—thus the rose-spray, listening,— "With what weird music sweet these full hearts ring!
"What mazy ripples of deep, eddying sound, Rise, touch the roof-tree old, and drift around,
"Bearing aloft the burden musical Of joys and griefs from human hearts that fall!
"Green stem and fair, flush'd circle I will lay Along the roof, and listen here alway;
"For rose and tree, and every leafy growth That toward the sky unfolds with spiry blowth,
"No purpose hath save this, to breathe a grace O'er men, and in men's hearts to seek a place.
"Therefore, O poet, thou who gav'st to me The homage of thy humble sympathy,
"No longer vest thy verse in rose-leaves frail:— Let the heart's voice loud through thy paan wail!"
* * * * *
Lo, at my feet the wind of autumn throws A hundred turbulent blossoms of the rose,
Full of the voices of the sea and grove And air, and full of hidden, murmured love,
And warm with passion through the roof-tree sent; Dew-drenched with tears;—all in one wild gush spent!
MUSIC OF GROWTH.
Music is in all growing things; And underneath the silky wings Of smallest insects there is stirred A pulse of air that must be heard. Earth's silence lives, and throbs, and sings.
If poet from the vibrant strings Of his poor heart a measure flings, Laugh not, that he no trumpet blows: It may be that Heaven hears and knows His language of low listenings.
A SONG LONG AGO.
Through the pauses of thy fervid singing Fell crystal sound That thy fingers from the keys were flinging Lightly around: I felt the vine-like harmonies close clinging About my soul; And to my eyes, as fruit of their sweet bringing, The full tear stole!
Daughter of my nobler hope That dying gave thee birth, Sweet Melancholy! For memory of the dead, In her dear stead, 'Bide thou with me, Sweet Melancholy! As purple shadows to the tree, When the last sun-rays sadly slope Athwart the bare and darkening earth, Art thou to me, Sweet Melancholy!
Glad hours have been when I have seen Life's scope and each dry day's intent United; so that I could stand In silence, covering with my hand The circle of the universe, Balance the blessing and the curse, And trust in deeds without chagrin, Free from to-morrow and yesterday—content.
AN APRIL ARIA.
When the mornings dankly fall With a dim forethought of rain, And the robins richly call To their mates mercurial, And the tree-boughs creak and strain In the wind; When the river's rough with foam, And the new-made clearings smoke, And the clouds that go and come Shine and darken frolicsome, And the frogs at evening croak Undefined Mysteries of monotone, And by melting beds of snow Wind-flowers blossom all alone; Then I know That the bitter winter's dead. Over his head The damp sod breaks so mellow,— Its mosses tipped with points of yellow,— I cannot but be glad; Yet this sweet mood will borrow Something of a sweeter sorrow, To touch and turn me sad.
How sweetly sang the bobolink, When thou, my Love, wast nigh! His liquid music from the brink Of some cloud-fountain seemed to sink, Built in the blue-domed sky.
How sadly sings the bobolink! No more my Love is nigh: Yet rise, my spirit, rise, and drink Once more from that cloud-fountain's brink,— Once more before I die!
A penciled shade the sky doth sweep, And transient glooms creep in to sleep Amid the orchard; Fantastic breezes pull the trees Hither and yon, to vagaries Of aspect tortured.
Then, like the downcast dreamy fringe Of eyelids, when dim gates unhinge That locked their tears, Falls on the hills a mist of rain,— So faint, it seems to fade again; Yet swiftly nears.
Now sparkles the air, all steely-bright, With drops swept down in arrow-flight, Keen, quivering lines. Ceased in a breath the showery sound; And teasingly, now, as I look around, Sweet sunlight shines!
Lo, all about the lofty blue are blown Light vapors white, like thistle-down, That from their softened silver heaps opaque Scatter delicate flake by flake, Upon the wide loom of the heavens weaving Forms of fancies past believing, And, with fantastic show of mute despair, As for some sweet hope hurt beyond repair, Melt in the silent voids of sunny air.
All day the cooing brooklet runs in tune: Half sunk i' th' blue, the powdery moon Shows whitely. Hark, the bobolink's note! I hear it, Far and faint as a fairy spirit! Yet all these pass, and as some blithe bird, winging, Leaves a heart-ache for his singing, A frustrate passion haunts me evermore For that which closest dwells to beauty's core. O Love, canst thou this heart of hope restore?
A RUNE OF THE RAIN.
O many-toned rain! O myriad sweet voices of the rain! How welcome is its delicate overture At evening, when the glowing-moistur'd west Seals all things with cool promise of night's rest!
At first it would allure The earth to kinder mood, With dainty flattering Of soft, sweet pattering: Faintly now you hear the tramp Of the fine drops falling damp On the dry, sun-seasoned ground And the thirsty leaves around. But anon, imbued With a sudden, bounding access Of passion, it relaxes All timider persuasion, And, with nor pretext nor occasion, Its wooing redoubles; And pounds the ground, and bubbles In sputtering spray, Flinging itself in a fury Of flashing white away; Till the dusty road Flings a perfume dank abroad, And the grass, and the wide-hung trees, The vines, the flowers in their beds, The vivid corn that to the breeze Rustles along the garden-rows, Visibly lift their heads,— And, as the shower wilder grows, Upleap with answering kisses to the rain.
Then, the slow and pleasant murmur Of its subsiding, As the pulse of the storm beats firmer, And the steady rain Drops into a cadenced chiding. Deep-breathing rain, The sad and ghostly noise Wherewith thou dost complain,— Thy plaintive, spiritual voice, Heard thus at close of day Through vaults of twilight-gray,— Doth vex me with sweet pain! And still my soul is fain To know the secret of that yearning Which in thine utterance I hear returning.
Hush, oh hush! Break not the dreamy rush Of the rain: Touch not the marring doubt Words bring, to the certainty Of its soft refrain, But let the flying fringes flout Their gouts against the pane, And the gurgling throat of the water-spout Groan in the eaves amain.
The earth is wedded to the shower. Darkness and awe, gird round the bridal-hour!
O many-toned rain! It hath caught the strain Of a wilder tune, Ere the same night's noon, When dreams and sleep forsake me, And sudden dread doth wake me, To hear the booming drums of heaven beat The long roll to battle; when the knotted cloud, With an echoing loud, Bursts asunder At the sudden resurrection of the thunder; And the fountains of the air, Unsealed again sweep, ruining, everywhere, To wrap the world in a watery winding-sheet.
O myriad sweet voices of the rain! When the airy war doth wane, And the storm to the east hath flown, Cloaked close in the whirling wind, There's a voice still left behind In each heavy-hearted tree, Charged with tearful memory Of the vanished rain: From their leafy lashes wet Drip the dews of fresh regret For the lover that's gone! All else is still. But the stars are listening; And low o'er the wooded hill Hangs, upon listless wing Outspread, a shape of damp, blue cloud, Watching, like a bird of evil That knows no mercy nor reprieval, The slow and silent death of the pallid moon.
But soon, returning duly, Dawn whitens the wet hill-tops bluely. To her vision pure and cold The night's wild tale is told On the glistening leaf, in the mid-road pool, The garden mold turned dark and cool, And the meadow's trampled acres. But hark, how fresh the song of the winged music-makers! For now the moanings bitter, Left by the rain, make harmony With the swallow's matin-twitter, And the robin's note, like the wind's in a tree: The infant morning breathes sweet breath, And with it is blent The wistful, wild, moist scent Of the grass in the marsh which the sea nourisheth: And behold! The last reluctant drop of the storm, Wrung from the roof, is smitten warm And turned to gold; For in its veins doth run The very blood of the bold, unsullied sun!
Glimmers gray the leafless thicket Close beside my garden gate, Where, so light, from post to picket Hops the sparrow, blithe, sedate; Who, with meekly folded wing, Comes to sun himself and sing.
It was there, perhaps, last year, That his little house he built; For he seems to perk and peer, And to twitter, too, and tilt The bare branches in between, With a fond, familiar mien.
Once, I know, there was a nest, Held there by the sideward thrust Of those twigs that touch his breast; Though 'tis gone now. Some rude gust Caught it, over-full of snow,— Bent the bush,—and robbed it so
Thus our highest holds are lost, By the ruthless winter's wind, When, with swift-dismantling frost, The green woods we dwelt in, thinn'd Of their leafage, grow too cold For frail hopes of summer's mold.
But if we, with spring-days mellow, Wake to woeful wrecks of change, And the sparrow's ritornello Scaling still its old sweet range; Can we do a better thing Than, with him, still build and sing?
Oh, my sparrow, thou dost breed Thought in me beyond all telling; Shootest through me sunlight, seed, And fruitful blessing, with that welling Ripple of ecstatic rest, Gurgling ever from thy breast!
And thy breezy carol spurs Vital motion in my blood, Such as in the sapwood stirs, Swells and shapes the pointed bud Of the lilac; and besets The hollows thick with violets.
Yet I know not any charm That can make the fleeting time Of thy sylvan, faint alarm Suit itself to human rhyme: And my yearning rhythmic word, Does thee grievous wrong, dear bird.
So, however thou hast wrought This wild joy on heart and brain, It is better left untaught. Take thou up the song again: There is nothing sad afloat On the tide that swells thy throat!
I push on through the shaggy wood, I round the hill: 't is here it stood; And there, beyond the crumbled walls, The shining Concord slowly crawls,
Yet seems to make a passing stay, And gently spreads its lilied bay, Curbed by this green and reedy shore, Up toward the ancient homestead's door.
But dumbly sits the shattered house, And makes no answer: man and mouse Long since forsook it, and decay Chokes its deep heart with ashes gray.
On what was once a garden-ground Dull red-bloomed sorrels now abound; And boldly whistles the shy quail Within the vacant pasture's pale.
Ah, strange and savage, where he shines, The sun seems staring through those pines That once the vanished home could bless With intimate, sweet loneliness.
The ignorant, elastic sod The feet of them that daily trod Its roods hath utterly forgot: The very fire-place knows them not.
For, in the weedy cellar, thick The ruined chimney's mass of brick Lies strown. Wide heaven, with such an ease Dost thou, too, lose the thought of these?
Yet I, although I know not who Lived here, in years that voiceless grew Ere I was born,—and never can,— Am moved, because I am a man.
Oh glorious gift of brotherhood! Oh sweet elixir in the blood, That makes us live with those long dead, Or hope for those that shall be bred
Hereafter! No regret can rob My heart of this delicious throb; No thought of fortunes haply wrecked, Nor pang for nature's wild neglect.
And, though the hearth be cracked and cold, Though ruin all the place enfold, These ashes that have lost their name Shall warm my life with lasting flame!
CHANT FOR AUTUMN.
Veiled in visionary haze, Behold, the ethereal autumn days Draw near again! In broad array, With a low, laborious hum These ministers of plenty come, That seem to linger, while they steal away.
O strange, sweet charm Of peaceful pain, When yonder mountain's bended arm Seems wafting o'er the harvest-plain A message to the heart that grieves, And round us, here, a sad-hued rain Of leaves that loosen without number Showering falls in yellow, umber, Red, or russet, 'thwart the stream! Now pale Sorrow shall encumber All too soon these lands, I deem; Yet who at heart believes The autumn, a false friend, Can bring us fatal harm? Ah, mist-hung avenues in dream Not more uncertainly extend Than the season that receives A summer's latest gleam!
But the days of death advance: They tarry not, nor turn! I will gather the ashes of summer In my heart, as an urn.
Oh draw thou nearer, Thou Spirit of the distant height, Whither now that slender flight Of swallows, winging, guides my sight! The hill cloth seem to me A fading memory Of long delight, And in its distant blue Half hideth from my view This shrinking season that must now retire; And so shall hold it, hopeful, a desire And knowledge old as night and always new. Draw nigher! And, with bended brow, I will be thy reverer Through the long winter's term!
So, when the snows hold firm, And the brook is dumb; When sharp winds come To flay the hill-tops bleak, And whistle down the creek; While the unhappy worm Crawls deeper down into the ground, To 'scape Frost's jailer on his round; Thy form to me shall speak From the wide valley's bound, Recall the waving of the last bird's wing, And help me hope for spring.
BEFORE THE SNOW.
Autumn is gone: through the blue woodlands bare Shatters the windy rain. A thousand leaves, Like birds that fly the mournful Northern air, Flutter away from the old forest's eaves.
Autumn is gone: as yonder silent rill, Slow eddying o'er thick leaf-heaps lately shed, My spirit, as I walk, moves awed and still, By thronging fancies wild and wistful led.
Autumn is gone: alas, how long ago The grapes were plucked, and garnered was the grain! How soon death settles on us, and the snow Wraps with its white alike our graves, our gain!
Yea, autumn's gone! Yet it robs not my mood Of that which makes moods dear,—some shoot of spring Still sweet within me; or thoughts of yonder wood We walked in,—memory's rare environing.
And, though they die, the seasons only take A ruined substance. All that's best remains In the essential vision that can make One light for life, love, death, their joys, their pains.
THE GHOSTS OF GROWTH.
Last night it snowed; and Nature fell asleep. Forest and field lie tranced in gracious dreams Of growth, for ghosts of leaves long dead, me-seems, Hover about the boughs; and wild winds sweep O'er whitened fields full many a hoary heap From the storm-harvest mown by ice-bound streams! With beauty of crushed clouds the cold earth teems, And winter a tranquil-seeming truce would keep.
But such ethereal slumber may not bide The ascending sun's bright scorn—not long, I fear; And all its visions on the golden tide Of mid-noon gliding off, must disappear. Fair dreams, farewell! So in life's stir and pride You fade, and leave the treasure of a tear!
Some fairy spirit with his wand, I think, has hovered o'er the dell, And spread this film upon the pond, And touched it with this drowsy spell.
For here the musing soul is merged In moods no other scene can bring, And sweeter seems the air when scourged With wandering wild-bees' murmuring.
One ripple streaks the little lake, Sharp purple-blue; the birches, thin And silvery, crowd the edge, yet break To let a straying sunbeam in.
How came we through the yielding wood, That day, to this sweet-rustling shore? Oh, there together while we stood, A butterfly was wafted o'er,
In sleepy light; and even now His glimmering beauty doth return Upon me, when the soft winds blow, And lilies toward the sunlight yearn.
The yielding wood? And yet 't was both To yield unto our happy march; Doubtful it seemed, at times, if both Could pass its green, elastic arch.
Yet there, at last, upon the marge We found ourselves, and there, behold, In hosts the lilies, white and large, Lay close, with hearts of downy gold!
Deep in the weedy waters spread The rootlets of the placid bloom: So sprung my love's flower, that was bred In deep, still waters of heart's-gloom.
So sprung; and so that morn was nursed To live in light, and on the pool Wherein its roots were deep immersed Burst into beauty broad and cool.
Few words were said; a moment passed; I know not how it came—that awe And ardor of a glance that cast Our love in universal law!
But all at once a bird sang loud, From dead twigs of the gleamy beech; His notes dropped dewy, as out of a cloud, A blessing on our married speech.
Ah, Love! how fresh and rare, even now, That moment and that mood return Upon me, when the soft winds blow, And lilies toward the sunlight yearn!
A budding mouth and warm blue eyes; A laughing face;—and laughing hair, So ruddy does it rise From off that forehead fair;
Frank fervor in whate'er she said, And a shy grace when she was still; A bright, elastic tread; Enthusiastic will;
These wrought the magic of a maid As sweet and sad as the sun in spring, Joyous, yet half-afraid Her joyousness to sing.
What weighs the unworthiness of earth When beauty such as this finds birth? Rare maid, to look on thee Gives all things harmony!
"THE SUNSHINE OF THINE EYES."
The sunshine of thine eyes, (Oh still, celestial beam!) Whatever it touches it fills With the life of its lambent gleam.
The sunshine of thine eyes, Oh let it fall on me! Though I be but a mote of the air, I could turn to gold for thee!
"WHEN, LOOKING DEEPLY IN THY FACE."
When, looking deeply in thy face, I catch the undergleam of grace That grows beneath the outward glance, Long looking, lost as in a trance Of long desires that fleet and meet Around me like the fresh and sweet White showers of rain which, vanishing, 'Neath heaven's blue arches whirl, in spring; Suddenly then I seem to know Of some new fountain's overflow In grassy basins, with a sound That leads my fancy, past all bound, Into a region of retreat From this my life's bewildered heat. Oh if my soul might always draw From those deep fountains full of awe, The current of my days should rise Unto the level of thine eyes!
WITHIN A YEAR
Lips that are met in love's Devotion sweet, While parting lovers passionately greet, And earth through heaven's arc more swiftly moves— Oh, will they be less dear Within a year?
Eyes in whose shadow-spell Far off I read That which to lovers taking loving heed Dear women's eyes full soon and plainly tell— Oh, will you give such cheer This time a year?
Behold! the dark year goes, Nor will reveal Aught of its purpose, if for woe or weal, Swift as a stream that o'er the mill-weir flows: Mayhap the end draws near Within the year!
Yet, darling, once more touch Those lips to mine. Set on my life that talisman divine; Absence, new friends, I fear not overmuch—— Even Death, should he appear Within the year!
THE SINGING WIRE.
Hark to that faint, ethereal twang That from the bosom of the breeze Has caught its rise and fall: there rang Aolian harmonies!
I looked; again the mournful, chords, In random rhythm lightly flung From off the wire, came shaped in words; And thus, meseemed, they sung.
"I, messenger of many fates, Strung to the tones of woe or weal, Fine nerve that thrills and palpitates With all men know or feel,—
"Oh, is it strange that I should wail? Leave me my tearless, sad refrain, When in the pine-top wakes the gale That breathes of coming rain.
"There is a spirit in the post; It, too, was once a murmuring tree; Its sapless, sad, and withered ghost Echoes my melody.
"Come close, and lay your listening ear Against the bare and branchless wood. Say, croons it not, so low and clear, As if it understood?"
I listened to the branchless pole That held aloft the singing wire; I heard its muffled music roll, And stirred with sweet desire:
"O wire more soft than seasoned lute, Hast thou no sunlit word for me? Though long to me so coyly mute, Sure she may speak through thee!"
I listened; but it was in vain. At first, the wind's old, wayward will Drew forth the tearless, sad refrain: That ceased, and all was still.
But suddenly some kindling shock Struck flashing through the wire: a bird, Poised on it, screamed and flew; the flock Rose with him, wheeled, and whirred.
Then to my soul there came this sense: "Her heart has answered unto thine; She comes, to-night. Go, hie thee hence! Meet her: no more repine!"
Mayhap the fancy was far-fetched; And yet, mayhap, it hinted true. Ere moonrise, Love, a hand was stretched In mine, that gave me—you!
And so more dear to me has grown, Than rarest tones swept from the lyre, The minor-movement of that moan In yonder singing wire.
Nor care I for the will of states. Or aught besides, that smites that string, Since then so close it knit our fates, What time the bird took wing!
MOODS OF LOVE.
My love for thee is like a winged seed Blown from the heart of thy rare beauty's flower, And deftly guided by some breezy power To fall and rest, where I should never heed, In deepest caves of memory. There, indeed, With virtue rife of many a sunny hoar,— Ev'n making cold neglect and darkness dower Its roots with life,—swiftly it 'gan to breed, Till now wide-branching tendrils it outspreads Like circling arms, to prison its own prison, Fretting the walls with blooms by myriads, And blazoning in my brain full summer-season: Thy face, whose dearness presence had not taught. In absence multiplies, and fills all thought.
Her moods are like the fountain's, changing ever, That spouts aloft a sudden, watery dome, Only to fall again in shattering foam, Just where the wedded jets themselves dissever, And palpitating downward, downward quiver, Unfolded like a swift ethereal flower, That sheds white petals in a blinding shower, And straightway soars anew with blithe endeavor.
The sun may kindle it with healthful fire; Upon it falls the cloud-gray's leaden load; At night the stars shall haunt the whirling spire: Yet these have but a transient garb bestowed. So her glad life, whate'er the hours impart, Plays still 'twixt heaven's cope and her own clear heart.
Soft-throated South, breathing of summer's ease (Sweet breath, whereof the violet's life is made!) Through lips moist-warm, as thou hadst lately stayed 'Mong rosebuds, wooing to the cheeks of these Loth blushes faint and maidenly—rich Breeze, Still doth thy honeyed blowing bring a shade Of sad foreboding. In thy hand is laid The power to build or blight rich fruit of trees, The deep, cool grass, and field of thick-combed grain.
Even so my Love may bring me joy or woe, Both measureless, but either counted gain Since given by her. For pain and pleasure flow Like tides upon us of the self-same sea. Tears are the gems of joy and misery!
THE LOVER'S YEAR
Thou art my morning, twilight, noon, and eve, My Summer and my Winter, Spring and Fall; For Nature left on thee a touch of all The moods that come to gladden or to grieve The heart of Time, with purpose to relieve From lagging sameness. So do these forestall In thee such o'erheaped sweetnesses as pall Too swiftly, and the taster tasteless leave.
Scenes that I love to me always remain Beautiful, whether under summer's sun Beheld, or, storm-dark, stricken across with rain. So, through all humors, thou 'rt the same sweet one: Doubt not I love thee well in each, who see Thy constant change is changeful constancy.
With my beloved I lingered late one night. At last the hour when I must leave her came: But, as I turned, a fear I could not name Possessed me that the long sweet evening might Prelude some sudden storm, whereby delight Should perish. What if Death, ere dawn, should claim One of us? What, though living, not the same Each should appear to each in morning-light?
Changed did I find her, truly, the next day: Ne'er could I see her as of old again. That strange mood seemed to draw a cloud away, And let her beauty pour through every vein Sunlight and life, part of me. Thus the lover With each new morn a new world may discover.
At night, with shaded eyes, the summer moon In tender meditation downward glances At the dark earth, far-set in dim expanses, And, welcomer than blazoned gold of noon, Down through the air her steady lights are strewn. The breezy forests sigh in moonlit trances, And the full-hearted poet, waking, fancies The smiling hills will break in laughter soon.
Oh thus, thou gentle Nature, dost thou shine On me to-night. My very limbs would melt, Like rugged earth beneath yon ray divine, Into faint semblance of what they have felt: Thine eye doth color me, O wife, O mine, With peace that in thy spirit long hath dwelt!
A thousand times I would have hoped, A thousand times protested; But still, as through the night I groped, My torch from me was wrested, and wrested.
How often with a succoring cup Unto the hurt I hasted! The wounded died ere I came up; My cup was still untasted,— Untasted.
Of darkness, wounds, and harsh disdain Endured, I ne'er repented. 'T is not of these I would complain: With these I were contented,— Contented.
Here lies the misery, to feel No work of love completed; In prayerless passion still to kneel, And mourn, and cry: "Defeated Defeated!"
MAY AND MARRIAGE.
THE LOVER WHO THINKS.
Dost thou remember, Love, those hours Shot o'er with random rainy showers, When the bold sun would woo coy May? She smiled, then wept—and looked another way.
We, learning from the sun and season, Together plotted joyous treason 'Gainst maiden majesty, to give Each other troth, and henceforth wedded live.
But love, ah, love we know is blind! Not always what they seek they find When, groping through dim-lighted natures, Fond lovers look for old, ideal statures.
What then? Is all our purpose lost? The balance broken, since Fate tossed Uneven weights? Oh well beware That thought, my sweet: 't were neither fit nor fair!
Seek not for any grafted fruits From souls so wedded at the roots; But whatsoe'er our fibres hold, Let that grow forth in mutual, ample mold!
No sap can circle without flaw Into the perfect sphere we saw Hanging before our happy eyes Amid the shade of marriage-mysteries;
But all that in the heart doth lurk Must toward the mystic shaping work: Sweet fruit and bitter both must fall When the boughs bend, at each year's autumn-call.
Ah, dear defect! that aye shall lift Us higher, not through craven shift Of fault on common frailty;—nay, But twofold hope to help with generous stay!
I shall be nearer, understood: More prized art thou than perfect good. And since thou lov'st me, I shall grow Thy other self—thy Life, thy Joy, thy Woe!
THE FISHER OF THE CAPE.
At morn his bark like a bird Slips lightly oceanward— Sail feathering smooth o'er the bay And beak that drinks the wild spray. In his eyes beams cheerily A light like the sun's on the sea, As he watches the waning strand, Where the foam, like a waving hand Of one who mutely would tell Her love, flutters faintly, "Farewell."
But at night, when the winds arise And pipe to driving skies, And the moon peers, half afraid, Through the storm-cloud's ragged shade, He hears her voice in the blast That sighs about the mast, He sees her face in the clouds As he climbs the whistling shrouds; And a power nerves his hand, Shall bring the bark to land.
The sea goes up; the sky comes down. Oh, can you spy the ancient town,— The granite hills so hard and gray, That rib the land behind the bay? O ye ho, boys! Spread her wings! Fair winds, boys: send her home! O ye ho!
Three years? Is it so long that we Have lived upon the lonely sea? Oh, often I thought we'd see the town, When the sea went up, and the sky came down. O ye ho, boys! Spread her wings! Fair winds, boys: send her home! O ye ho!
Even the winter winds would rouse A memory of my father's house; For round his windows and his door They made the same deep, mouthless roar. O ye ho, boys! Spread her wings! Fair winds, boys: send her home! O ye ho!
And when the summer's breezes beat, Methought I saw the sunny street Where stood my Kate. Beneath her hand She gazed far out, far out from land. O ye ho, boys! Spread her wings! Fair winds, boys: send her home! O ye ho!
Farthest away, I oftenest dreamed That I was with her. Then, it seemed A single stride the ocean wide Had bridged, and brought me to her side. O ye ho, boys! Spread her wings! Fair winds, boys: send her home. O ye ho!
But though so near we're drawing, now, 'T is farther off——I know not how. We sail and sail: we see no home. Would we into the port were come! O ye ho, boys! Spread her wings! Fair winds, boys: send her home! O ye ho!
At night, the same stars o'er the mast: The mast sways round—however fast We fly—still sways and swings around One scanty circle's starry bound. O ye ho, boys! Spread her wings! Fair winds, boys: send her home! O ye ho!
Ah, many a month those stars have shone, And many a golden morn has flown, Since that so solemn, happy morn, When, I away, my babe was born. O ye ho, boys! Spread her wings! Fair winds, boys: send her home! O ye ho!
And, though so near we're drawing, now, 'T is farther off—I know not how— I would not aught amiss had come To babe or mother there, at home! O ye ho, boys! Spread her wings! Fair winds, boys: send her home! O ye ho!
'T is but a seeming: swiftly rush The seas, beneath. I hear the crush Of foamy ridges 'gainst the prow. Longing outspeeds the breeze, I know. O ye ho, boys! Spread her wings! Fair winds, boys: send her home! O ye ho!
Patience, my mates! Though not this eve We cast our anchor, yet believe, If but the wind holds, short the run: We 'll sail in with to-morrow's sun. O ye ho, boys! Spread her wings! Fair winds, boys: send her home! O ye ho!
Here stands the great tree still, with broad, bent head, And wide arms grown aweary, yet outspread With their old blessing. But wan memory weaves Strange garlands now amongst the darkening leaves. And the moon hangs low in the elm.
Beneath these glimmering arches Jessamine Walked with her lover long ago, and in This moon-made shade he questioned; and she spoke: Then on them both love's rarer radiance broke. And the moon hangs low in the elm.
Sweet Jessamine we called her; for she shone Like blossoms that in sun and shade have grown, Gathering from each alike a perfect white, Whose rich bloom breaks opaque through darkest night. And the moon hangs low in the elm.
And for this sweetness Walt, her lover, sought To win her; wooed her here, his heart full-fraught With fragrance of her being, and gained his plea. So "We will wed," they said, "beneath this tree." And the moon hangs low in the elm.
Was it unfaith, or faith more full to her, Made him, for fame and fortune longing, spur Into the world? Far from his home he sailed: And life paused; while she watched joy vanish, vailed. And the moon hangs low in the elm.
Oh, better at the elm tree's sun-browned feet If he had been content to let life fleet Its wonted way!—there rearing his small house; Mowing and milking, lord of corn and cows! And the moon hangs low in the elm.
For as against a snarling sea one steers, Ever he battled with the beetling years; And ever Jessamine must watch and pine, Her vision bounded by the bleak sea-line. And the moon hangs low in the elm.
At last she heard no more. The neighbors said That Walt had married, faithless, or was dead. Yet naught her trust could move; the tryst she kept Each night still, 'neath this tree, before she slept. And the moon hangs low in the elm.
So, circling years went by; and in her face Slow melancholy wrought a tempered grace Of early joy with sorrow's rich alloy— Refined, rare, no doom should e'er destroy. And the moon hangs low in the elm.
Sometimes at twilight, when sweet Jessamine, Slow-footed, weary-eyed, passed by to win The elm, we smiled for pity of her, and mused On love that so could live with love refused. And the moon hangs low in the elm.
Nor none could hope for her. But she had grown Too high in love for hope, and bloomed alone, Aloft in pure sincerity secure; For fortune's failures, in her faith too sure. And the moon hangs low in the elm.
Oh, well for Walt, if he had known her soul! Discouraged on disaster's changeful shoal Wrecking, he rested; starved on selfish pride Long years; nor would obey love's homeward tide. And the moon hangs low in the elm.
But, bitterly repenting of his sin, Oh, bitterly he learned to look within Sweet Jessamine's clear depth—when the past, dead, Mocked him, and wild, waste years forever fled! And the moon hangs low in the elm.
Late, late, oh, late beneath the tree stood two! In awe and anguish wondering: "Is it true?" Two that were each most like to some wan wraith: Yet each on each looked with a living faith. And the moon hangs low in the elm.
Even to the tree-top sang the wedding-bell; Even to the tree-top tolled the passing knell. Beneath it Walt and Jessamine were wed; Beneath it many a year she lieth dead! And the moon hangs low in the elm.
Here stands the great tree still. But age has crept Through every coil, while Walt each night has kept The tryst alone. Hark! with what windy might The boughs chant o'er her grave their burial-rite! And the moon hangs low in the elm.
A youth unto herself Grief took, Whom everything of joy forsook, And men passed with denying head, Saying: "'T were better he were dead."
Grief took him, and with master-touch Molded his being. I marveled much To see her magic with the clay, So much she gave—and took away. Daily she wrought, and her design Grew daily clearer and more fine, To make the beauty of his shape Serve for the spirit's free escape. With liquid fire she filled his eyes. She graced his lips with swift surmise Of sympathy for others' woe, And made his every fibre flow In fairer curves. On brow and chin And tinted cheek, drawn clean and thin, She sculptured records rich, great Grief! She made him loving, made him lief.
I marveled; for, where others saw A failing frame with many a flaw, Meseemed a figure I beheld Fairer than anything of eld Fashioned from sunny marble. Here Nature was artist with no peer. No chisel's purpose could have caught These lines, nor brush their secret wrought. Not so the world weighed, busily Pursuing drossy industry; But, saturated with success, Well-guarded by a soft excess Of bodily ease, gave little heed To him that held not by their creed, Save o'er the beauteous youth to moan: "A pity that he is not grown To our good stature and heavier weight, To bear his share of our full freight." Meanwhile, thus to himself he spoke: "Oh, noble is the knotted oak, And sweet the gush of sylvan streams, And good the great sun's gladding beams, The blush of life upon the field, The silent might that mountains wield. Still more I love to mix with men, Meeting the kindly human ken; To feel the force of faithful friends— The thirst for smiles that never ends.
"Yet precious more than all of these I hold great Sorrow's mysteries, Whereby Gehenna's sultry gale Is made to lift the golden veil 'Twixt heaven's starry-sphered light Of truth and our dim, sun-blent sight. Joy comes to ripen; but 'tis Grief That garners in the grainy sheaf. Time was I feared to know or feel The spur of aught but gilded weal; To bear aloft the victor, Fame, Would ev'n have champed a stately shame Of bit and bridle. But my fears Fell off in the pure bath of tears. And now with sinews fresh and strong I stride, to summon with a song The deep, invigorating truth That makes me younger than my youth. "O Sorrow, deathless thy delight! Deathless it were but for our slight Endurance! Truth like thine, too rare, We dare but take in scantiest share."
He died: the creatures of his kind Fared on. Not one had known his mind.
But the unnamed yearnings of the air, The eternal sky's wide-searching stare, The undertone of brawling floods, And the old moaning of the woods Grew full of memory.
The sun Many a brave heart has shone upon Since then, of men who walked abroad For joy and gladness praising God. But widowed Grief lives on alone: She hath not chosen, of them, one.
A FACE IN THE STREET.
Poor, withered face, that yet was once so fair, Grown ashen-old in the wild fires of lust— Thy star-like beauty, dimm'd with earthly dust, Yet breathing of a purer native air;— They who whilom, cursed vultures, sought a share Of thy dead womanhood, their greed unjust Have satisfied, have stripped and left thee bare. Still, like a leaf warped by the autumn gust, And driving to the end, thou wrapp'st in flame And perfume all thy hollow-eyed decay, Feigning on those gray cheeks the blush that Shame Took with her when she fled long since away. Ah God! rain fire upon this foul-souled city That gives such death, and spares its men,—for pity!
Standing here alone, Let me pause awhile, Drinking in the light Ere, with plunge of white limbs prone, I raise the sparkling flight Of foam-flakes volatile.
Now, in natural guise, I woo the deathless breeze, Through me rushing fleet The joy of life, in swift surprise: I grow with growing wheat, And burgeon with the trees.
Lo! I fetter Time, So he cannot run; And in Eden again— Flash of memory sublime!— Dwell naked, without stain, Beneath the dazed sun.
All yields brotherhood; Each least thing that lives, Wrought of primal spores, Deepens this wild sense of good That, on these shaggy shores, Return to nature gives.
Oh, that some solitude Were ours, in woodlands deep, Where, with lucent eyes, Living lithe and limber-thewed, Our life's shape might arise Like mountains fresh from sleep!
To sounds of water falling, Hosts of delicate dreams Should lull us and allure With a dim, enchanted calling, Blameless to live and pure Like these sweet springs and streams.
But in a wilderness Alone may such life be? Why of all things framed, In my human form confessed Should I be ashamed, And blush for honesty?
Rounded, strengthy limbs That knit me to my kind— Your glory turns to grief! Shall I for my soul sing hymns, Yet for my body find No clear, divine belief?
Let me rather die, Than by faith uphold Dogmas weak that dare The form that once Christ wore deny Afraid with him to share A purity twofold;
Yet, while sin remains On this saddened earth, Humbly walk my ways! For my garments are as chains; And I fear to praise My frame with careless mirth.
Joy and penance go Hand in hand, I see! Would I could live so well, Soul of me should never know When my coverings fell, Nor feel this nudity!
HELEN AT THE LOOM.
Helen, in her silent room, Weaves upon the upright loom, Weaves a mantle rich and dark, Purpled over-deep. But mark How she scatters o'er the wool Woven shapes, till it is full Of men that struggle close, complex; Short-clipp'd steeds with wrinkled necks Arching high; spear, shield, and all The panoply that doth recall Mighty war, such war as e'en For Helen's sake is waged, I ween. Purple is the groundwork: good! All the field is stained with blood. Blood poured out for Helen's sake; (Thread, run on; and, shuttle, shake!) But the shapes of men that pass Are as ghosts within a glass, Woven with whiteness of the swan, Pale, sad memories, gleaming wan From the garment's purple fold Where Troy's tale is twined and told. Well may Helen, as with tender Touch of rosy fingers slender She doth knit the story in Of Troy's sorrow and her sin, Feel sharp filaments of pain Reeled off with the well-spun skein, And faint blood-stains on her hands From the shifting sanguine strands. Gently, sweetly she doth sorrow: What has been must be to-morrow; Meekly to her fate she bows. Heavenly beauties still will rouse Strife and savagery in men: Shall the lucid heavens, then, Lose their high serenity, Sorrowing over what must be? If she taketh to her shame, Lo, they give her not the blame,— Priam's wisest counselors, Aged men, not loving wars: When she goes forth, clad in white, Day-cloud touched by first moonlight, With her fair hair, amber-hued As vapor by the moon imbued With burning brown, that round her clings, See, she sudden silence brings On the gloomy whisperers Who would make the wrong all hers.
So, Helen, in thy silent room, Labor at the storied loom; (Thread, run on; and, shuttle, shake!) Let thy aching sorrow make Something strangely beautiful Of this fabric, since the wool Comes so tinted from the Fates, Dyed with loves, hopes, fears, and hates. Thou shalt work with subtle force All thy deep shade of remorse In the texture of the weft, That no stain on thee be left;— Ay, false queen, shalt fashion grief, Grief and wrong, to soft relief. Speed the garment! It may chance. Long hereafter, meet the glance Of Onone; when her lord, Now thy Paris, shall go t'ward Ida, at his last sad end, Seeking her, his early friend, Who alone can cure his ill Of all who love him, if she will. It were fitting she should see In that hour thine artistry, And her husband's speechless corse In the garment of remorse! But take heed that in thy work Naught unbeautiful may lurk. Ah, how little signifies Unto thee what fortunes rise, What others fall! Thou still shalt rule, Still shalt work the colored crewl. Though thy yearning woman's eyes Burn with glorious agonies, Pitying the waste and woe, And the heroes falling low In the war around thee, here, Yet that exquisitest tear 'Twixt thy lids shall dearer be Than life, to friend or enemy.
There are people on the earth Doomed with doom of too great worth. Look on Helen not with hate, Therefore, but compassionate. If she suffer not too much, Seldom does she feel the touch Of that fresh, auroral joy Lighter spirits may decoy To their pure and sunny lives. Heavy honey 't is, she hives. To her sweet but burdened soul All that here she doth control— What of bitter memories, What of coming fate's surmise, Paris' passion, distant din Of the war now drifting in To her quiet—idle seems; Idle as the lazy gleams Of some stilly water's reach, Seen from where broad vine-leaves pleach A heavy arch, and, looking through, Far away the doubtful blue Glimmers, on a drowsy day, Crowded with the sun's rich gray, As she stands within her room, Weaving, weaving at the loom.
"O WHOLESOME DEATH."
O Wholesome Death, thy sombre funeral-car Looms ever dimly on the lengthening way Of life; while, lengthening still, in sad array, My deeds in long procession go, that are As mourners of the man they helped to mar. I see it all in dreams, such as waylay The wandering fancy when the solid day Has fallen in smoldering ruins, and night's star, Aloft there, with its steady point of light Mastering the eye, has wrapped the brain in sleep. Ah, when I die, and planets take their flight Above my grave, still let my spirit keep Sometimes its vigil of divine remorse, 'Midst pity, praise, or blame heaped o'er my corse!
BURIAL-SONG FOR SUMNER.
Now the last wreath of snow That melts, in mist exhales White aspiration, and our deep-voiced gales In chorus chant the measured march of spring, Whom griefs of life and death Are burdening! Slow, slow— With half-held breath— Tread slow, O mourners, that all men may know What hero here lies low!
O music, sweep From some deep cave, and bear To us that gasp in this so meagre air Sweet ministerings And consolations of contorted sound, With agonies profound Of nobly warring and enduring chords That lie, close-bound, Unstirred as yet 'neath thy wide, wakening wings; So that our hearts break not in broken words. O music, that hast power This darkness to devour In vivid light; that from the dusk of grief Canst cause to grow divergent flower and leaf, And from death's darkest roots Bring forth the fairest fruits;— Come thou, to quicken this hour Of loss, and keep Thy spell on all, that none may dare to weep!
For he whom now we mourn, As if from giants born, Was strong in limb and strong in brain, And nobly with a giant scorn Withstood the direst pain That healing science knows, When, by the dastard blows Of his brute enemy Laid low, he sought to rise again Through help of knife and fire,— The awful enginery Wherewith men dare aspire To wrest from Death his victims. Yea, Though he who healed him shrank and throbbed With horror of the wound, Brave Sumner gave no sound, Nor flinched, nor sobbed, But as though within the man Instant premonition ran Of his high fate, Imperishable, sculptured state Enthroned in death to hold, He stood, a statued form Of veiled and voiceless storm, Inwardly quivering Like the swift-smitten string Of unheard music, yet As massively and firmly set As if he had been marble or wrought gold!
Built in so brave a shape, How could he hope escape The blundering people's wrath? Who, seeing him strong, Supposed it right to cast on him their wrong, Since he could bear it all! Lo, now, the sombre pall Sweeps their dull errors from the path, And leaves it free For him, whose hushed heart no reproaches hath, Unto his grave to fare, In shrouded majesty! His triumph fills the air: Behold, the streets are bordered with vain breath Of those who reverent watch the train of death; But he has done with breathing!
Wise Death, still choosing near and far, Thou couldst not strike a higher star From out our heaven, and yet its light In falling glorifies the night!
Leader in life, his lips, though dumb, Still rule us by their restfulness, their smile Of far-off meanings; and the people come In tributary hosts for many a mile, Drawn by an eloquence More solemn and intense Than that wherewith he shook The Senate, while his look Of sober lightning cleft the knotty growth Of error, that within the riven root Uplifted, lit with peace, truth's buds might shoot, And blow sweet breath o'er all, however loth!
Unspeaking, though his eyes forget The light that late forsook Their chambers, there doth rise Mysteriously yet A radiance thence that glows On brows of them, the great and wise, Poets and men of prophecies, Who, with looks of strange repose, Calm, exalted, here have met Him to follow to his grave. Well they know he's crossed their bound, Yet, with baffled longing brave, Seek with him the depths to sound That gulf our lonely life around. Oh, on these mortal faces frail What immortality Falls from the death-light pale!
Ev'n thus the path unto thy tomb, Sumner, all our brave and good Still shall pace through time to come, For in distant Auburn wood Seeing the glimmer of thy stone, They a shaft shall deem it, thrown From a dawn beyond the deep, And so haste with thee to keep Angelic brotherhood! O herald, gone before, For these throw wide the door, Make room, make room!
Now, music, cease, And bitter brazen trumpets hold your peace! Now, while the dumb, white air Draws from our still despair A purer prayer. Then must the sod Fulfill its humble share, Meek-folded o'er his breast, Here where he lies amongst the waiting trees: They shall break bud when warm winds from the west And southern breezes come to touch the place Made precious by this grace Of memory dear to God.
We leave him where the granite Lion lies And gazes toward the East, with woman's eyes That read the riddle of the undying sun, Bearing within her breast the stony germ Of continents, but—lasting no less firm— The memory of those marvels done, The battles fought, the words that wrought To free a race, and chasten one. We leave him where the river slowly winds, A broken chain; The river that so late its hero finds, Without a stain, Whose name so long expectantly it bore; And, echoing now a people's thought, The Charles shall murmur by this reedy shore His fame forevermore.
The soul of a nation awaking,— High visions of daybreak I saw, And the stir of a state, the forsaking Of sin, and the worship of law.
O pine-tree, shout! And hoarser Rush, river, unto the sea, Foam-fettered and sun-flushed, a courser That feels the prairie, free!
Our birth-star beckons to trial All faith of the far-fled years, Ere scorn was our share, and denial, Or laughter for patriot's tears.
And lo, Faith comes forth the finer From trampled thickets of fire, And the orient opens diviner Before her; the heaven lifts higher.
O deep, sweet eyes, and severer Than steel! he knoweth who comes, Thy hero: bend thine eyes nearer! Now wilder than battle-drums
Thy glance in his blood is stirring! His heart is alive like the main When the roweled winds are spurring, And the broad tides shoreward strain.
O hero, art thou among us? O helper, hidest thou still? Why hath he no anthem sung us, Why waiteth, nor worketh our will?
For still a smirk or a favor Can hide the face of the false; And the old-time Faith seeks braver Upholders, and sacreder walls.
Yea, cunning is Christian evil, And subtle the conscience' snare; But virtue's volcanic upheaval Shall cast fine device to the air!
Too long has the land's soul slumbered, And triumph bred dangerous ease,— Our victories all unnumbered, Our feet on the down-bowed seas.
Come, then, simple and stalwart Life of the earlier days! Come! Far better than all were it— Our precepts, our prayers, and our lays—
That the heart of the people should tremble Accord to some mighty one's voice, The helpless atoms assemble In music, their valor to poise.
Come to us, mountain-dweller, Leader, wherever thou art, Skilled from thy cradle, a queller Of serpents, and sound to the heart!
Modest, and mighty, and tender, Man of an iron mold, Learned or unlearned, our defender, American-souled!
THE SILENT TIDE
A tangled orchard round the farm-house spreads, Wherein it stands home-like, but desolate, 'Midst crowded and uneven-statured sheds, Alike by rain and sunshine sadly stained. A quiet country-road before the door Runs, gathering close its ruts to scale the hill— A sudden bluff on the New Hampshire coast, That rises rough against the sea, and hangs Crested above the bowlder-sprinkled beach. And on the road white houses small are strung Like threaded beads, with intervals. The church Tops the rough hill; then comes the wheelwright's shop.
From orchard, church, and shop you hear the sea, And from the farm-house windows see it strike Sharp gleams through slender arching apple-boughs.
Sea-like, too, echoing round me here there rolls A surging sorrow; and even so there breaks A smitten light of woe upon me, now, Seeing this place, and telling o'er again The tale of those who dwelt here once. Long since It was, and they were two—two brothers, bound By early orphanage and solitude The closer, cleaving strongly each to each, Till love, that held them many years in gage, Itself swept them asunder. I have heard The story from old Deacon Snow, their friend, He who was boy and man with them. A boy! What, he? How strange it seems! who now is stiff And warped with life's fierce heat and cold: his brows Are hoary white, and on his head the hairs Stand sparse as wheat-stalks on the bare field's edge!
Reuben and Jerry they were named; but two Of common blood and nurture scarce were found More sharply different. For the first was bold, Breeze-like and bold to come or go; not rash, But shrewdly generous, popular, and boon: And Jerry, dark and sad-faced. Whether least He loved himself or neighbor none could tell, So cold he seemed in wonted sympathy. Yet he would ponder an hour at a time Upon a bird found dead; and much he loved To brood i' th' shade of yon wind-wavered pines. Often at night, too, he would wander forth, Lured by the hollow rumbling of the sea In moonlight breaking, there to learn wild things, Such as these dreamers pluck out of the dusk While other men lie sleeping. But a star, Rose on his sight, at last, with power to rule Majestically mild that deep-domed sky, High as youth's hopes, that stood above his soul; And, ruling, led him dayward. That was Grace, I mean Grace Brierly, daughter of the squire, Rivaling the wheelwright Hungerford's shy Ruth For beauty. Therefore, in the sunny field, Mowing the clover-purpled grass, or, waked In keen December dawns,—while creeping light And winter-tides beneath the pallid stars Stole o'er the marsh together,—a thought of her Would turn him cool or warm, like the south breeze, And make him blithe or bitter. Alas for him! Eagerly storing golden thoughts of her, He locked a phantom treasure in his breast.
He sought to chain the breezes, and to lift A perfume as a pearl before his eyes— Intangible delight! A time drew on When from these twilight musings on his hopes He woke, and found the morning of his love Blasted, and all its rays shorn suddenly. For Reuben, too, had turned his eye on Grace, And she with favoring face the suit had met, Known in the village; this dream-fettered youth Perceiving not what passed, until too late.
One holiday the young folks all had gone Strawberrying, with the village Sabbath-school; Reuben and Grace and Jerry, Ruth, Rob Snow, And all their friends, youth-mates that buoyantly Bore out 'gainst Time's armadas, like a fleet Of fair ships, sunlit, braced by buffeting winds, Indomitably brave; but, soon or late, Battle and hurricane or whirl them deep Below to death, or send them homeward, seared By shot and storm: so went they forth, that day.
Two wagons full of rosy children rolled Along the rutty track, 'twixt swamp and slope, Through deep, green-glimmering woods, and out at last On grassy table-land, warm with the sun And yielding tributary odors wild Of strawberry, late June-rose, juniper, Where sea and land breeze mingled. There a brook Through a bare hollow flashing, spurted, purled, And shot away, yet stayed—a light and grace Unconscious and unceasing. And thick pines, Hard by, drew darkly far away their dim And sheltering, cool arcades. So all dismount, And fields and forest gladden with their shout; Ball, swing, and see-saw sending the light hearts Of the children high o'er earth and everything. While some staid, kindly women draw and spread In pine-shade the long whiteness of a cloth, The rest, a busy legion, o'er the grass Kneeling, must rifle the meadow of its fruit.
O laughing Fate! O treachery of truth To royal hopes youth bows before! That day, Ev'n there where life in such glad measure beat Its round, with winds and waters, tunefully, And birds made music in the matted wood, The shaft of death reached Jerry's heart: he saw The sweet conspiracy of those two lives, In looks and gestures read his doom, and heard Their laughter ring to the grave all mirth of his.
So Reuben's life in full leaf stood, its fruit Hidden in a green expectancy; but all His days were rounded with ripe consciousness: While Jerry felt the winter's whitening blight, As when that frosty fern-work and those palms Of visionary leaf, and trailing vines, Quaint-chased by night-winds on the pane, melt off, And naked earth, stone-stiff, with bristling trees, Stares in the winter sunlight coldly through. But yet he rose, and clothed himself amain With misery, and once more put on life As a stained garment. Highly he resolved To make his deedless days henceforward strike Pure harmony—a psalm of silences.
But on the Sunday, coming from the church, He saw those happy, plighted lovers walk Before proud Grace's father, and of friends Heard comment and congratulation given. Then with Rob Snow he hurried to the beach, To a rough heap of stones they two had reared In boyhood. There the two held sad debate Of life's swift losses, Bob inspiriting still, Jerry rejecting hope, ev'n though his friend, Self-wounding (for he loved Ruth Hungerford), Told how the wheelwright's daughter longed for him, And yet might make him glad, though Grace was lost.
The season deepened, and in Jerry's heart Ripened a thought charged with grave consequence. His grief he would have stifled at its birth, Sad child of frustrate longing! But anon— Knowledge of Ruth's affection being revealed, Which, if he stayed to let it feed on him, Vine-like might wreathe and wind about his life, Lifting all shade and sweetness out of reach Of Robert, so long his friend—honor, and hopes He would not name, kindled a torch for war Of various impulse in him. Reuben wedded; Yet Jerry lingered. Then, swift whisperings Along reverberant walls of gossips' ears Hummed loud and louder a love for Ruth. Grace, too, Involved him in a web of soft surmise With Ruth; and Reuben questioned him thereof. But a white, sudden anger struck like a bolt O'er Jerry's face, that blackened under it: He strode away, and left his brother dazed, With red rush of offended self-conceit Staining his forehead to the hair. This flash Of anger—first since boyhood's wholesome strifes— On Jerry's path gleamed lurid; by its light He shaped a life's course out.
There came a storm One night. He bade farewell to Ruth; and when Above the seas the bare-browed dawn arose, While the last laggard drops ran off the eaves, He dressed, but took some customary garb On his arm; stole swiftly to the sands; and there Cast clown his garments by the ancient heap Of stones. At first brief pause he made, and thought: "And thus I play, to win perchance a tear From her whom, first, to save the smallest care, I thought I could have died!" But then at once Within the sweep of swirling water-planes That from the great waves circled up and slid Instantly back, passing far down the shore, Southward he made his way. Next day he shipped Upon a whaler outward bound. She spread Her mighty wings, and bore him far away— So far, Death seemed across her wake to stalk, Withering her swift shape from the empty air, Until her memory grew a faded dream.
Ah, what a desolate brightness that young day Flung o'er the impassive strand and dull green marsh And green-arched orchard, ere it struck the farm! Storm-strengthened, clear, and cool the morning rose To gaze down on that frighted home, where dawned Pale Ruth's discovery of her loss, who late, Guessing some ill in Jerry's last-night words Of vague farewell, woke now to certainty Of strange disaster. So, when Reuben and Rob, Hither and thither searching, with locked lips And eyes grown suddenly cold in eager dread, On those still sands beside the untamed sea, Came to the garments Jerry had thrown there, dumb They stood, and knew he'd perished. If by chance Borne out with undertow and rolled beneath The gaping surge, or rushing on his death Free-willed, they would not guess; but straight they set Themselves to watch the changes of the sea— The watchful sea that would not be betrayed, The surly flood that echoed their suspense With hollow-sounding horror. Thus three tides Hurled on the beach their empty spray, and brought Nor doubt-dispelling death, nor new-born hope. But with the fourth slow turn at length there came A naked, drifting body impelled to shore, An unknown sailor by the late storm swept Out of the rigging of some laboring ship. And him, disfigured by the water's wear, The watching friends supposed their dead; and so, Mourning, took up this outcast of the deep, And buried him, with church-rite and with pall Trailing, and train of sad-eyed mourners, there In the old orchard-lot by Reuben's door.
Observed among the mourners walked slight Ruth. Her grief had dropped a veil of finer light Around her, hedging her with sanctity Peculiar; all stood shy about her save Rob Snow, he venturing from time to time Some small, uncertain act of kindliness. Long seemed she vowed from joy, but when the birds Began to mate, and quiet violets blow Along the brook-side, lo! she smiled again; Again the wind-flower color in her cheeks Blanch'd in a breath, and bloomed once more; then stayed; Till, like the breeze that rumors ripening buds, A delicate sense crept through the air that soon These two would scale the church-crowned hill, and wed.
The seasons faced the world, and fled, and came. In summer nights, the soft roll of the sea Was shattered, resonant, beneath a moon That, silent, seemed to hearken. And every hour In autumn, night or day, large apples fell Without rebound to earth, upon the sod There mounded greenly by the large slate slab In the old orchard-lot near Reuben's door. But there were changes: after some long years Reuben and Grace beheld a brave young boy Bearing their double life abroad in one— Beginning new the world, and bringing hopes That in their path fell flower-like. Not at ease They dwelt, though; for a slow discordancy Of temper—weak-willed waste of life in bursts Of petulance—had marred their happiness. And so the boy, young Reuben, as he grew, Was chafed and vexed by this ill-fitting mode Of life forced on him, and rebelled. Too oft Brooding alone, he shaped loose schemes of flight Into the joyous outer world, to break From the unwholesome wranglings of his home. Then once, when at some slight demur he made, Dispute ensued between the man and wife, He burst forth, goaded, "Some day I will leave— Leave you forever!" And his father stared, Lifted and clenched his hand, but let it unloose, Nerveless. The blow, unstruck, yet quivered through The boy's whole body.
Waiting for the night, Reuben made ready, lifted latch, went forth; Then, with his little bundle in his hand, Took the bleak road that led him to the world. When Jerry eighteen years had sailed, had bared His hurt soul to the pitiless sun and drunk The rainy brew of storms on all seas, tired Of wreck and fever and renewed mischance That would not end in death, a longing stirred Within him to revisit that gray coast Where he was born. He landed at the port Whence first he sailed; and, as in fervid youth, Set forth upon the highway, to walk home. Some hoarding he had made, wherewith to enrich His brother's brood for spendthrift purposes; And as he walked he wondered how they looked, How tall they were, how many there might be. At noon he set himself beside the way, Under a clump of willows sprouting dense O'er the weed-woven margin of a brook; While in the fine green branches overhead Song-sparrows lightly perched, for whom he threw From his scant bread some crumbs, remembering well Old days when he had played with birds like these— The same, perhaps, or grandfathers of theirs, Or earlier still progenitors: whereat They chirped and chattered louder than before. But, as he sat, a boy came down the road, Stirring the noontide dust with laggard feet. Young Reuben 't was, who seaward made his way. And Jerry hailed him, carelessly, his mood Moving to salutation, and the boy, From under his torn hat-brim looking, answered. Then, seeing that he eyed his scrap of bread, The sailor bade him come and share it. So They fell to talk; and Jerry, with a rough, Quick-touching kindness, the boy's heart so moved That unto him he all his wrong confessed. Gravely the sailor looked at him, and told His own tale of mad flight and wandering; how, Wasted he had come back, his life a husk Of withered seeds, a raveled purse, though once With golden years well stocked, all squandered now. At ending, he prevailed, and Reub was won To turn and follow. Jerry, though he knew Not yet the father's name, said he that way Was going, too, and he would intercede Between the truant and his father. Back Together then they went. But on the way, As now they passed from pines to farming-land, The boy asked more. "'T is queer you should have come From these same parts, and run away like me! You did not tell me how it happened."
Foolish, All of it! But I thought it weightier Than the world's history, once. I could not stay And see my brother married to the girl I loved; and so I went.
I had an uncle That was in love. But he—he drowned himself. Why do men do so?
Drowned himself? And when?
I don't know. Long ago; it's like a dream To me. I was not born then. Deacon Snow Has told me something of it. Mother cries Even now, beside his grave. Poor uncle!
His grave! (That could not be, then.) Yet if it should be, How can I think Grace cried—
How did you know My mother's name was Grace?
I am confused By what you say. But is your mother's name Grace? How! Grace, too?
A strange uneasiness In Jerry's breast had waked. They walked awhile In silence. This he could not well believe, That Grace and Reuben unhappy were, nor that One son alone was theirs. Therefore aside He thrust that hidden, sharp foreboding: still He trusted, still sustained a calm suspense, And ranged among his memories. "Tell me, son," He said, "about this Deacon Snow—Rob Snow It must be, I suppose."
Oh, do you know him?
A deacon now! Ay, once I knew Rob Snow— A jolly blade, if ever any was, And merry as the full moon.
He has failed A good deal now, though, since his wife died.
What! (Of course; of course; all's changed.) He married!
Why, How long you must have been away! For since I can remember he has had a wife And children. She was Gran'ther Hungerford's—
Her name was Ruth?
Yes, Ruth! 'T is after her The deacon's nicest daughter's named; she's Ruth.
Then sadly Jerry pondered, and no more Found speech. They tramped on sternly. To the brow Of a long hill they came, whence they could see The village and blue ocean; then they sank Into a region of low-lying fields Half-naked from the scythe, and others veined With vines that 'midst dismantled, fallen corn Dragged all athwart a weight of tawny gourds, Sun-mellowed, sound. And now the level way Stretched forward eagerly, for hard ahead It made the turn that rounded Reuben's house. Between the still road and the tossing sea Lay the wide swamp, with all its hundred pools Reflecting leaden light; anon they passed A farm-yard where the noisy chanticleer Strutted and ruled, as one long since had done; And then the wayside trough with jutting spout Of ancient, mossy wood, that still poured forth Its liquid largess to all comers. Soon A slow cart met them, filled with gathered kelp: The salt scent seemed a breath of younger days. They reached the road-bend, and the evening shone Upon them, calmly. Jerry paused, o'erwhelmed. Reuben, surprised, glanced at him, and then said, "Yonder's the house." Old Jerry gazed on him, And trembled; for before him slowly grew Through the boy's face the mingled features there Of father and of mother—Grace's mouth, Ripe, pouting lips, and Reuben's square-framed eyes. But, mastering well his voice, he bade the boy Wait by the wall, till he a little while Went forward, and prepared. So Reuben stayed; And Jerry with uncertain step advanced, As dreaming of his youth and this his home. Slowly he passed between the gateless posts Before the unused front door, slowly too Beyond the side porch with its woodbine thick Draping autumnal splendor. Thus he came Before the kitchen window, where he saw A gray-haired woman bent o'er needle-work In gathering twilight. And without a voice, Rooted, he stood. He stirred not, but his glance Burned through the pane; uneasily she turned, And seeing that shaggy stranger standing there Expectant, shook her head, as though to warn Some chance, wayfaring beggar. He, though, stood And looked at her immovably. Then, quick The sash upthrowing, she made as if to speak Harshly; but still he held his quiet eyes Upon her. Now she paused; her throat throbbed full; Her lips paled suddenly, her wan face flamed, A fertile stir of memory strove to work Renewal in those features wintry cold. And so she hung, while Jerry by a step Drawn nearer, coming just beneath her, said, "Grace!" And she murmured, "Jerry!" Then she bent Over him, clasping his great matted head With those worn arms, all joyless; and the tears Fell hot upon his forehead from her eyes. For now in this dim gloaming their two souls Unfruited, by an instant insight wild, Delicious, found the full, mysterious clew Of individual being, each in each. But, tremulously, soon they drew themselves Away from that so sweet, so sad embrace, The first, the last that could be theirs. Then he, Summing his story in a word, a glance, Added, "But though you see me broken down And poor enough, not empty-handed quite I come. For God set in my way a gift, The best I could have sought. I bring it you In memory of the love I bore. Not now Must that again be thought of! Waste and black My life's fields lie behind me, and a frost Has stilled the music of my hopes, but here If I may dwell, nor trouble you, such a joy Were mine, I dare not ask it. Oh forgive The weakness! Come and see my gift!"
Ah, tears Flowed fast, that night, from springs of love unsealed Once more within the ancient house—rare tears Of reconciliation, grief, and joy! A miracle, it seemed, had here been wrought, The dead brought back to life. And with him came The prodigal, repenting.
So, thenceforth, A spirit of peace within the household dwelt. In Jerry a swift-sent age these years had brought, To soften him, wrought with all the woe at home Such open, gracious dignity, that all For cheer and guidance learned to look to him. But chiefly th' younger Reuben sought his aid, And he with homely wisdom shaped the lad To a life's loving duty. Yet not long, Alas! the kind sea-farer with them stayed. After some years his storm-racked body drooped. The season came when crickets cease to sing And flame-curled leaves fly fast; and Jerry sank Softly toward death. Then, on a boisterous morn That beat the wrecked woods with incessant gusts To wrest some last leaf from them, he arose And passed away. But those who loved him watched His fading, half in doubt, and half afraid, As if he must return again; for now Entering the past he seemed, and not a life Beyond; and some who thought of that old grave In the orchard, dreamed a breath's space that the man Long buried had come back, and could not die. But so he died, and, ceasing, made request Beside that outcast of the deep to lie. None other mark desired he but the stone Set there long since, though at a stranger's grave, In heavy memory of him thought dead.
They marked the earth with one more mound beside The other, near a gap in the low wall That looked out seaward. There you ever hear The deep, remorseful requiem of the sea; And there, in autumn, windfalls, showering thick Upon the grave, score the slow, voiceless hours With unrebounding stroke. All round about Green milkweed rankly thrives, and golden-rod Sprouts from his prostrate heart in fine-poised grace Of haughty curve, with every crest in flower.