The House of Life
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Part I. YOUTH AND CHANGE
A Sonnet is a moment's monument,— Memorial from the Soul's eternity To one dead deathless hour. Look that it be, Whether for lustral rite or dire portent, Of its own arduous fulness reverent: Carve it in ivory or in ebony, As Day or Night may rule; and let Time see Its flowering crest impearled and orient.
A Sonnet is a coin: its face reveals The soul,—its converse, to what Power 'tis due:— Whether for tribute to the august appeals Of Life, or dower in Love's high retinue, It serve; or, 'mid the dark wharf's cavernous breath, In Charon's palm it pay the toll to Death.
I marked all kindred Powers the heart finds fair:— Truth, with awed lips; and Hope, with eyes upcast; And Fame, whose loud wings fan the ashen Past To signal-fires, Oblivion's flight to scare; And Youth, with still some single golden hair Unto his shoulder clinging, since the last Embrace wherein two sweet arms held him fast; And Life, still wreathing flowers for Death to wear.
Love's throne was not with these; but far above All passionate wind of welcome and farewell He sat in breathless bowers they dream not of; Though Truth foreknow Love's heart, and Hope foretell, And Fame be for Love's sake desirable, And Youth be dear, and Life be sweet to Love.
As when desire, long darkling, dawns, and first The mother looks upon the new-born child, Even so my Lady stood at gaze and smiled When her soul knew at length the Love it nursed. Born with her life, creature of poignant thirst And exquisite hunger, at her heart Love lay Quickening in darkness, till a voice that day Cried on him, and the bonds of birth were burst.
Now, shielded in his wings, our faces yearn Together, as his fullgrown feet now range The grove, and his warm hands our couch prepare: Till to his song our bodiless souls in turn Be born his children, when Death's nuptial change Leaves us for light the halo of his hair.
O Thou who at Love's hour ecstatically Unto my lips dost evermore present The body and blood of Love in sacrament; Whom I have neared and felt thy breath to be The inmost incense of his sanctuary; Who without speech hast owned him, and intent Upon his will, thy life with mine hast blent, And murmured o'er the cup, Remember me!—
O what from thee the grace, for me the prize, And what to Love the glory,—when the whole Of the deep stair thou tread'st to the dim shoal And weary water of the place of sighs, And there dost work deliverance, as thine eyes Draw up my prisoned spirit to thy soul!
When do I see thee most, beloved one? When in the light the spirits of mine eyes Before thy face, their altar, solemnize The worship of that Love through thee made known? Or when in the dusk hours, (we two alone,) Close-kissed and eloquent of still replies Thy twilight-hidden glimmering visage lies, And my soul only sees thy soul its own?
O love, my love! if I no more should see Thyself, nor on the earth the shadow of thee, Nor image of thine eyes in any spring,— How then should sound upon Life's darkening slope The ground-whirl of the perished leaves of Hope, The wind of Death's imperishable wing?
By what word's power, the key of paths untrod, Shall I the difficult deeps of Love explore, Till parted waves of Song yield up the shore Even as that sea which Israel crossed dry-shod? For lo! in some poor rhythmic period, Lady, I fain would tell how evermore Thy soul I know not from thy body, nor Thee from myself, neither our love from God.
Yea, in God's name, and Love's, and thine, would I Draw from one loving heart such evidence As to all hearts all things shall signify; Tender as dawn's first hill-fire, and intense As instantaneous penetrating sense, In Spring's birth-hour, of other Springs gone by.
What smouldering senses in death's sick delay Or seizure of malign vicissitude Can rob this body of honour, or denude This soul of wedding-raiment worn to-day? For lo! even now my lady's lips did play With these my lips such consonant interlude As laurelled Orpheus longed for when he wooed The half-drawn hungering face with that last lay.
I was a child beneath her touch,—a man When breast to breast we clung, even I and she,— A spirit when her spirit looked through me,— A god when all our life-breath met to fan Our life-blood, till love's emulous ardours ran, Fire within fire, desire in deity.*
At length their long kiss severed, with sweet smart: And as the last slow sudden drops are shed From sparkling eaves when all the storm has fled, So singly flagged the pulses of each heart. Their bosoms sundered, with the opening start Of married flowers to either side outspread From the knit stem; yet still their mouths, burnt red, Fawned on each other where they lay apart.
Sleep sank them lower than the tide of dreams, And their dreams watched them sink, and slid away. Slowly their souls swam up again, through gleams Of watered light and dull drowned waifs of day; Till from some wonder of new woods and streams He woke, and wondered more: for there she lay.
O all the spirits of love that wander by Along the love-sown fallowfield of sleep My lady lies apparent; and the deep Calls to the deep; and no man sees but I. The bliss so long afar, at length so nigh, Rests there attained. Methinks proud Love must weep When Fate's control doth from his harvest reap The sacred hour for which the years did sigh.
First touched, the hand now warm around my neck Taught memory long to mock desire: and lo! Across my breast the abandoned hair doth flow, Where one shorn tress long stirred the longing ache: And next the heart that trembled for its sake Lies the queen-heart in sovereign overthrow.
Some ladies love the jewels in Love's zone And gold-tipped darts he hath for painless play In idle scornful hours he flings away; And some that listen to his lure's soft tone Do love to deem the silver praise their own; Some prize his blindfold sight; and there be they Who kissed his wings which brought him yesterday And thank his wings to-day that he is flown.
My lady only loves the heart of Love: Therefore Love's heart, my lady, hath for thee His bower of unimagined flower and tree: There kneels he now, and all-anhungered of Thine eyes grey-lit in shadowing hair above, Seals with thy mouth his immortality.
PASSION AND WORSHIP
One flame-winged brought a white-winged harp-player Even where my lady and I lay all alone; Saying: 'Behold, this minstrel is unknown; Bid him depart, for I am minstrel here: Only my strains are to Love's dear ones, dear.' Then said I: 'Through thine hautboy's rapturous tone Unto my lady still this harp makes moan, And still she deems the cadence deep and clear.'
Then said my lady: 'Thou art Passion of Love, And this Love's Worship: both he plights to me. Thy mastering music walks the sunlit sea: But where wan water trembles in the grove And the wan moon is all the light thereof, This harp still makes my name its voluntary.'
O Lord of all compassionate control, O Love! let this my lady's picture glow Under my hand to praise her name, and show Even of her inner self the perfect whole: That he who seeks her beauty's furthest goal, Beyond the light that the sweet glances throw And refluent wave of the sweet smile, may know The very sky and sea-line of her soul.
Lo! it is done. Above the long lithe throat The mouth's mould testifies of voice and kiss, The shadowed eyes remember and foresee. Her face is made her shrine. Let all men note That in all years (O Love, thy gift is this!) They that would look on her must come to me.
Warmed by her hand and shadowed by her hair As close she leaned and poured her heart through thee, Whereof the articulate throbs accompany The smooth black stream that makes thy whiteness fair,— Sweet fluttering sheet, even of her breath aware,— Oh let thy silent song disclose to me That soul wherewith her lips and eyes agree Like married music in Love's answering air.
Fain had I watched her when, at some fond thought, Her bosom to the writing closelier press'd, And her breast's secrets peered into her breast; When, through eyes raised an instant, her soul sought My soul, and from the sudden confluence caught The words that made her love the loveliest.
THE LOVERS' WALK
Sweet twining hedgeflowers wind-stirred in no wise On this June day; and hand that clings in hand:— Still glades; and meeting faces scarcely fann'd:— An osier-odoured stream that draws the skies Deep to its heart; and mirrored eyes in eyes:— Fresh hourly wonder o'er the Summer land Of light and cloud; and two souls softly spann'd With one o'erarching heaven of smiles and sighs:—
Even such their path, whose bodies lean unto Each other's visible sweetness amorously,— Whose passionate hearts lean by Love's high decree Together on his heart for ever true, As the cloud-foaming firmamental blue Rests on the blue line of a foamless sea.
'I love you, sweet: how can you ever learn How much I love you?' 'You I love even so, And so I learn it.' 'Sweet, you cannot know How fair you are.' 'If fair enough to earn Your love, so much is all my love's concern.' 'My love grows hourly, sweet.' 'Mine too doth grow, Yet love seemed full so many hours ago!' Thus lovers speak, till kisses claim their turn.
Ah! happy they to whom such words as these In youth have served for speech the whole day long, Hour after hour, remote from the world's throng, Work, contest, fame, all life's confederate pleas,— What while Love breathed in sighs and silences Through two blent souls one rapturous undersong.
On this sweet bank your head thrice sweet and dear I lay, and spread your hair on either side, And see the newborn wood flowers bashful-eyed Look through the golden tresses here and there. On these debateable* borders of the year Spring's foot half falters; scarce she yet may know The leafless blackthorn-blossom from the snow; And through her bowers the wind's way still is clear.
But April's sun strikes down the glades to-day; So shut your eyes upturned, and feel my kiss Creep, as the Spring now thrills through every spray, Up your warm throat to your warm lips: for this Is even the hour of Love's sworn suitservice, With whom cold hearts are counted castaway.
Have you not noted, in some family Where two were born of a first marriage-bed, How still they own their gracious bond, though fed And nursed on the forgotten breast and knee?— How to their father's children they shall be In act and thought of one goodwill; but each Shall for the other have, in silence speech, And in a word complete community?
Even so, when first I saw you, seemed it, love, That among souls allied to mine was yet One nearer kindred than life hinted of. O born with me somewhere that men forget, And though in years of sight and sound unmet, Known for my soul's birth-partner well enough!
A DAY OF LOVE
Those envied places which do know her well, And are so scornful of this lonely place, Even now for once are emptied of her grace: Nowhere but here she is: and while Love's spell From his predominant presence doth compel All alien hours, an outworn populace, The hours of Love fill full the echoing space With sweet confederate music favourable.
Now many memories make solicitous The delicate love-lines of her mouth, till, lit With quivering fire, the words take wing from it; As here between our kisses we sit thus Speaking of things remembered, and so sit Speechless while things forgotten call to us.
What dawn-pulse at the heart of heaven, or last Incarnate flower of culminating day,— What marshalled marvels on the skirts of May, Or song full-quired, sweet June's encomiast; What glory of change by nature's hand amass'd Can vie with all those moods of varying grace Which o'er one loveliest woman's form and face Within this hour, within this room, have pass'd?
Love's very vesture and elect disguise Was each fine movement,—wonder new-begot Of lily or swan or swan-stemmed galiot; Joy to his sight who now the sadlier sighs, Parted again; and sorrow yet for eyes Unborn that read these words and saw her not.
GENIUS IN BEAUTY
Beauty like hers is genius. Not the call Of Homer's or of Dante's heart sublime,— Not Michael's hand furrowing the zones of time,— Is more with compassed mysteries musical; Nay, not in Spring's or Summer's sweet footfall More gathered gifts exuberant Life bequeathes* Than doth this sovereign face, whose love-spell breathes Even from its shadowed contour on the wall.
As many men are poets in their youth, But for one sweet-strung soul the wires prolong Even through all change the indomitable song; So in likewise the envenomed years, whose tooth Rends shallower grace with ruin void of ruth, Upon this beauty's power shall wreak no wrong.
Your hands lie open in the long fresh grass,— The finger-points look through the rosy blooms: Your eyes smile peace. The pasture gleams and glooms 'Neath billowing skies that scatter and amass. All round our nest, far as the eye can pass, Are golden kingcup-fields with silver edge Where the cow-parsley skirts the hawthorn-hedge. 'Tis visible silence, still as the hour-glass.
Deep in the sun-searched growths the dragon-fly Hangs like a blue thread loosened from the sky: So this wing'd hour is dropt to us from above. Oh! clasp we to our hearts, for deathless dower, This close-companioned inarticulate hour When twofold silence was the song of love.
Even as the moon grows queenlier in mid-space When the sky darkens, and her cloud-rapt car Thrills with intenser radiance from afar,— So lambent, lady, beams thy sovereign grace When the drear soul desires thee. Of that face What shall be said,—which, like a governing star, Gathers and garners from all things that are Their silent penetrative loveliness?
O'er water-daisies and wild waifs of Spring, There where the iris rears its gold-crowned sheaf With flowering rush and sceptred arrow-leaf, So have I marked Queen Dian, in bright ring Of cloud above and wave below, take wing And chase night's gloom, as thou the spirit's grief.
Sweet dimness of her loosened hair's downfall About thy face; her sweet hands round thy head In gracious fostering union garlanded, Her tremulous smiles, her glances' sweet recall Of love; her murmuring sighs memorial; Her mouth's culled sweetness by thy kisses shed On cheeks and neck and eyelids, and so led Back to her mouth which answers there for all:—
What sweeter than these things, except the thing In lacking which all these would lose their sweet:— The confident heart's still fervour: the swift beat And soft subsidence of the spirit's wing, Then when it feels, in cloud—girt wayfaring, The breath of kindred plumes against its feet?
Sometimes she is a child within mine arms, Cowering beneath dark wings that love must chase,— With still tears showering and averted face, Inexplicably filled with faint alarms: And oft from mine own spirit's hurtling harms I crave the refuge of her deep embrace,— Against all ills the fortified strong place And sweet reserve of sovereign counter-charms.
And Love, our light at night and shade at noon, Lulls us to rest with songs, and turns away All shafts of shelterless tumultuous day. Like the moon's growth, his face gleams through his tune; And as soft waters warble to the moon, Our answering spirits chime one roundelay.
I stood where Love in brimming armfuls bore Slight wanton flowers and foolish toys of fruit: And round him ladies thronged in warm pursuit, Fingered and lipped and proffered the strange store: And from one hand the petal and the core Savoured of sleep; and cluster and curled shoot Seemed from another hand like shame's salute,— Gifts that I felt my cheek was blushing for.
At last Love bade my Lady give the same: And as I looked, the dew was light thereon; And as I took them, at her touch they shone With inmost heaven-hue of the heart of flame. And then Love said: 'Lo! when the hand is hers, Follies of love are love's true ministers.'
PRIDE OF YOUTH
Even as a child, of sorrow that we give The dead, but little in his heart can find, Since without need of thought to his clear mind Their turn it is to die and his to live: Even so the winged New Love smiles to receive Along his eddying plumes the auroral wind, Nor, forward glorying, casts one look behind Where night-rack shrouds the Old Love fugitive.
There is a change in every hour's recall, And the last cowslip in the fields we see On the same day with the first corn-poppy. Alas for hourly change! Alas for all The loves that from his hand proud Youth lets fall, Even as the beads of a told rosary!
Each hour until we meet is as a bird That wings from far his gradual way along The rustling covert of my soul,—his song Still loudlier trilled through leaves more deeply stirr'd: But at the hour of meeting, a clear word Is every note he sings, in Love's own tongue; Yet, Love, thou know'st the sweet strain wrong, Through our contending kisses oft unheard.
What of that hour at last, when for her sake No wing may fly to me nor song may flow; When, wandering round my life unleaved, I The bloodied feathers scattered in the brake, And think how she, far from me, with like eyes Sees through the untuneful bough the wingless skies?
Thou lovely and beloved, thou my love; Whose kiss seems still the first; whose summoning eyes, Even now, as for our love-world's new sunrise, Shed very dawn; whose voice, attuned above All modulation of the deep-bowered dove, Is like a hand laid softly on the soul; Whose hand is like a sweet voice to control Those worn tired brows it hath the keeping of:—
What word can answer to thy word,—what gaze To thine, which now absorbs within its sphere My worshipping face, till I am mirrored there Light-circled in a heaven of deep-drawn rays? What clasp, what kiss mine inmost heart can prove, O lovely and beloved, O my love?
Sometimes thou seem'st not as thyself alone, But as the meaning of all things that are; A breathless wonder, shadowing forth afar Some heavenly solstice hushed and halcyon; Whose unstirred lips are music's visible tone; Whose eyes the sun-gate of the soul unbar, Being of its furthest fires oracular;— The evident heart of all life sown and mown.
Even such Love is; and is not thy name Love? Yea, by thy hand the Love-god rends apart All gathering clouds of Night's ambiguous art; Flings them far down, and sets thine eyes above; And simply, as some gage of flower or glove, Stakes with a smile the world against thy heart.
What other woman could be loved like you, Or how of you should love possess his fill? After the fulness of all rapture, still,— As at the end of some deep avenue A tender glamour of day,—there comes to view Far in your eyes a yet more hungering thrill,— Such fire as Love's soul-winnowing hands distil Even from his inmost arc of light and dew.
And as the traveller triumphs with the sun, Glorying in heat's mid-height, yet startide brings Wonder new-born, and still fresh transport springs From limpid lambent hours of day begun;— Even so, through eyes and voice, your soul doth move My soul with changeful light of infinite love.
Lady, I thank thee for thy loveliness, Because my lady is more lovely still. Glorying I gaze, and yield with glad goodwill To thee thy tribute; by whose sweet-spun dress Of delicate life Love labours to assess My Lady's absolute queendom; saying, 'Lo! How high this beauty is, which yet doth show But as that beauty's sovereign votaress.'
Lady, I saw thee with her, side by side; And as, when night's fair fires their queen surround, An emulous star too near the moon will ride,— Even so thy rays within her luminous bound Were traced no more; and by the light so drown'd, Lady, not thou but she was glorified.
Love, through your spirit and mine what summer eve Now glows with glory of all things possess'd, Since this day's sun of rapture filled the west And the light sweetened as the fire took leave? Awhile now softlier let your bosom heave, As in Love's harbour, even that loving breast, All care takes refuge while we sink to rest, And mutual dreams the bygone bliss retrieve.
Many the days that Winter keeps in store, Sunless throughout, or whose brief sun-glimpses Scarce shed the heaped snow through the naked trees. This day at least was Summer's paramour, Sun-coloured to the imperishable core With sweet well-being of love and full heart's ease.
High grace, the dower of queens; and therewithal Some wood-born wonder's sweet simplicity; A glance like water brimming with the sky Or hyacinth-light where forest-shadows fall; Such thrilling pallor of cheek as doth enthral The heart; a mouth whose passionate forms imply All music and all silence held thereby; Deep golden locks, her sovereign coronal; A round reared neck, meet column of Love's shrine To cling to when the heart takes sanctuary; Hands which for ever at Love's bidding be, And soft-stirred feet still answering to his sign:— These are her gifts, as tongue may tell them o'er. Breathe low her name, my soul; for that means more.
Not by one measure mayst thou mete our love; For how should I be loved as I love thee?— I, graceless, joyless, lacking absolutely All gifts that with thy queenship best behove;— Thou, throned in every heart's elect alcove, And crowned with garlands culled from every tree, Which for no head but thine, by Love's decree, All beauties and all mysteries interwove.
But here thine eyes and lips yield soft rebuke:— 'Then only,' (say'st thou), 'could I love thee less, When thou couldst doubt my love's equality.' Peace, sweet! If not to sum but worth we look, Thy heart's transcendence, not my heart's excess, Then more a thousandfold thou lov'st than I.
Could Juno's self more sovereign presence wear Than thou, 'mid other ladies throned in grace?— Or Pallas, when thou bend'st with soul-stilled face O'er poet's page gold-shadowed in thy hair? Dost thou than Venus seem less heavenly fair When o'er the sea of love's tumultuous trance Hovers thy smile, and mingles with thy glance That sweet voice like the last wave murmuring there?
Before such triune loveliness divine Awestruck I ask, which goddess here most claims The prize that, howsoe'er adjudged, is thine? Then Love breathes low the sweetest of thy names; And Venus Victrix to my heart doth bring Herself, the Helen of her guerdoning.
THE DARK GLASS
Not I myself know all my love for thee: How should I reach so far, who cannot weigh To-morrow's dower by gage of yesterday? Shall birth and death, and all dark names that be As doors and windows bared to some loud sea, Lash deaf mine ears and blind my face with spray; And shall my sense pierce love,—the last relay And ultimate outpost of eternity?
Lo! what am I to Love, the lord of all? One murmuring shell he gathers from the sand,— One little heart-flame sheltered in his hand. Yet through thine eyes he grants me clearest call And veriest touch of powers primordial That any hour-girt life may understand.
THE LAMP'S SHRINE
Sometimes I fain would find in thee some fault, That I might love thee still in spite of it: Yet how should our Lord Love curtail one whit Thy perfect praise whom most he would exalt? Alas! he can but make my heart's low vault Even in men's sight unworthier, being lit By thee, who thereby show'st more exquisite Like fiery chrysoprase in deep basalt.
Yet will I nowise shrink; but at Love's shrine Myself within the beams his brow doth dart Will set the flashing jewel of thy heart In that dull chamber where it deigns to shine: For lo! in honour of thine excellencies My heart takes pride to show how poor it is.
Not in thy body is thy life at all But in this lady's lips and hands and eyes; Through these she yields the life that vivifies What else were sorrow's servant and death's thrall. Look on thyself without her, and recall The waste remembrance and forlorn surmise That lived but in a dead-drawn breath of sighs O'er vanished hours and hours eventual.
Even so much life hath the poor tress of hair Which, stored apart, is all love hath to show For heart-beats and for fire-heats long ago; Even so much life endures unknown, even where, 'Mid change the changeless night environeth, Lies all that golden hair undimmed in death.
'When that dead face, bowered in the furthest years, Which once was all the life years held for thee, Can now scarce bide the tides of memory Cast on thy soul a little spray of tears,— How canst thou gaze into these eyes of hers Whom now thy heart delights in, and not see Within each orb Love's philtred euphrasy Make them of buried troth remembrancers?'
'Nay, pitiful Love, nay, loving Pity! Well Thou knowest that in these twain I have confess'd Two very voices of thy summoning bell. Nay, Master, shall not Death make manifest In these the culminant changes which approve The love-moon that must light my soul to Love?'
THE MORROW'S MESSAGE
'Thou Ghost,' I said, 'and is thy name To-day?— Yesterday's son, with such an abject brow!— And can To-morrow be more pale than thou?' While yet I spoke, the silence answered: 'Yea, Henceforth our issue is all grieved and grey, And each beforehand makes such poor avow As of old leaves beneath the budding bough Or night-drift that the sundawn shreds away.'
Then cried I: 'Mother of many malisons, O Earth, receive me to thy dusty bed!' But therewithal the tremulous silence said: 'Lo! Love yet bids thy lady greet thee once:— Yea, twice,—whereby thy life is still the sun's; And thrice,—whereby the shadow of death is dead.'
Girt in dark growths, yet glimmering with one star, O night desirous as the nights of youth! Why should my heart within thy spell, forsooth, Now beat, as the bride's finger-pulses are Quickened within the girdling golden bar? What wings are these that fan my pillow smooth? And why does Sleep, waved back by Joy and Ruth, Tread softly round and gaze at me from far?
Nay, night deep-leaved! And would Love feign in thee Some shadowy palpitating grove that bears Rest for man's eyes and music for his ears? O lonely night! art thou not known to me, A thicket hung with masks of mockery And watered with the wasteful warmth of tears?
Two separate divided silences, Which, brought together, would find loving voice; Two glances which together would rejoice In love, now lost like stars beyond dark trees; Two hands apart whose touch alone gives ease; Two bosoms which, heart-shrined with mutual flame, Would, meeting in one clasp, be made the same; Two souls, the shores wave-mocked of sundering seas:—
Such are we now. Ah! may our hope forecast Indeed one hour again, when on this stream Of darkened love once more the light shall gleam? An hour how slow to come, how quickly past, Which blooms and fades, and only leaves at last, Faint as shed flowers, the attenuated dream.
THROUGH DEATH TO LOVE
Like labour-laden moonclouds faint to flee From winds that sweep the winter-bitten wold,— Like multiform circumfluence manifold Of night's flood-tide,—like terrors that agree Of hoarse-tongued fire and inarticulate sea,— Even such, within some glass dimmed by our breath, Our hearts discern wild images of Death, Shadows and shoals that edge eternity.
Howbeit athwart Death's imminent shade doth soar One Power, than flow of stream or flight of dove Sweeter to glide around, to brood above. Tell me, my heart;—what angel-greeted door Or threshold of wing-winnowed threshing-floor Hath guest fire-fledged as thine, whose lord is Love?
I deemed thy garments, O my Hope, were grey, So far I viewed thee. Now the space between Is passed at length; and garmented in green Even as in days of yore thou stand'st to-day. Ah God! and but for lingering dull dismay, On all that road our footsteps erst had been Even thus commingled, and our shadows seen Blent on the hedgerows and the water-way.
O Hope of mine whose eyes are living love, No eyes but hers,—O Love and Hope the same!— Lean close to me, for now the sinking sun That warmed our feet scarce gilds our hair above. O hers thy voice and very hers thy name! Alas, cling round me, for the day is done!
LOVE AND HOPE
Bless love and hope. Full many a withered year Whirled past us, eddying to its chill doomsday; And clasped together where the blown leaves lay, We long have knelt and wept full many a tear. Yet lo! one hour at last, the Spring's compeer, Flutes softly to us from some green byeway:* Those years, those tears are dead, but only they:— Bless love and hope, true soul; for we are here.
Cling heart to heart; nor of this hour demand Whether in very truth, when we are dead, Our hearts shall wake to know Love's golden head Sole sunshine of the imperishable land; Or but discern, through night's unfeatured scope, Scorn-fired at length the illusive eyes of Hope.
CLOUD AND WIND
Love, should I fear death most for you or me? Yet if you die, can I not follow you, Forcing the straits of change? Alas! but who Shall wrest a bond from night's inveteracy, Ere yet my hazardous soul put forth, to be Her warrant against all her haste might rue?— Ah! in your eyes so reached what dumb adieu, What unsunned gyres of waste eternity?
And if I die the first, shall death be then A lampless watchtower whence I see you weep?— Or (woe is me!) a bed wherein my sleep Ne'er notes (as death's dear cup at last you drain), The hour when you too learn that all is vain And that Hope sows what Love shall never reap?
Because our talk was of the cloud-control And moon-track of the journeying face of Fate, Her tremulous kisses faltered at love's gate And her eyes dreamed against a distant goal: But soon, remembering her how brief the whole Of joy, which its own hours annihilate, Her set gaze gathered, thirstier than of late, And as she kissed, her mouth became her soul.
Thence in what ways we wandered, and how strove To build with fire-tried vows the piteous home Which memory haunts and whither sleep may roam,— They only know for whom the roof of Love Is the still-seated secret of the grove, Nor spire may rise nor bell be heard therefrom.
What shall be said of this embattled day And armed occupation of this night By all thy foes beleaguered,—now when sight Nor sound denotes the loved one far away? Of these thy vanquished hours what shalt thou say,— As every sense to which she dealt delight Now labours lonely o'er the stark noon-height To reach the sunset's desolate disarray?
Stand still, fond fettered wretch! while Memory's art Parades the Past before thy face, and lures Thy spirit to her passionate portraitures: Till the tempestuous tide-gates flung apart Flood with wild will the hollows of thy heart, And thy heart rends thee, and thy body endures.
The mother will not turn, who thinks she hears Her nursling's speech first grow articulate; But breathless with averted eyes elate She sits, with open lips and open ears, That it may call her twice. 'Mid doubts and fears Thus oft my soul has hearkened; till the song, A central moan for days, at length found tongue, And the sweet music welled and the sweet tears.
But now, whatever while the soul is fain To list that wonted murmur, as it were The speech-bound sea-shell's low importunate strain,— No breath of song, thy voice alone is there, O bitterly beloved! and all her gain Is but the pang of unpermitted prayer.
There came an image in Life's retinue That had Love's wings and bore his gonfalon: Fair was the web, and nobly wrought thereon, O soul-sequestered face, thy form and hue! Bewildering sounds, such as Spring wakens to, Shook in its folds; and through my heart its power Sped trackless as the immemorable hour When birth's dark portal groaned and all was new.
But a veiled woman followed, and she caught The banner round its staff, to furl and cling,— Then plucked a feather from the bearer's wing, And held it to his lips that stirred it not, And said to me, 'Behold, there is no breath: I and this Love are one, and I am Death.'
I sat with Love upon a woodside well, Leaning across the water, I and he; Nor ever did he speak nor looked at me, But touched his lute wherein was audible The certain secret thing he had to tell: Only our mirrored eyes met silently In the low wave; and that sound came to be The passionate voice I knew; and my tears fell.
And at their fall, his eyes beneath grew hers; And with his foot and with his wing-feathers He swept the spring that watered my heart's drouth. Then the dark ripples spread to waving hair, And as I stooped, her own lips rising there Bubbled with brimming kisses at my mouth.
And now Love sang: but his was such a song, So meshed with half-remembrance hard to free, As souls disused in death's sterility May sing when the new birthday tarries long. And I was made aware of a dumb throng That stood aloof, one form by every tree, All mournful forms, for each was I or she, The shades of those our days that had no tongue.
They looked on us, and knew us and were known; While fast together, alive from the abyss, Clung the soul-wrung implacable close kiss; And pity of self through all made broken moan Which said, 'For once, for once, for once alone!' And still Love sang, and what he sang was this:—
'O ye, all ye that walk in Willow-wood, That walk with hollow faces burning white; What fathom-depth of soul-struck widowhood, What long, what longer hours, one lifelong night, Ere ye again, who so in vain have wooed Your last hope lost, who so in vain invite Your lips to that their unforgotten food, Ere ye, ere ye again shall see the light!
Alas! the bitter banks in Willowwood, With tear-spurge wan, with blood-wort burning red: Alas! if ever such a pillow could Steep deep the soul in sleep till she were dead,— Better all life forget her than this thing, That Willowwood should hold her wandering!'
So sang he: and as meeting rose and rose Together cling through the wind's wellaway Nor change at once, yet near the end of day The leaves drop loosened where the heart-stain glows,— So when the song died did the kiss unclose; And her face fell back drowned, and was as grey As its grey eyes; and if it ever may Meet mine again I know not if Love knows.
Only I know that I leaned low and drank A long draught from the water where she sank, Her breath and all her tears and all her soul: And as I leaned, I know I felt Love's face Pressed on my neck with moan of pity and grace, Till both our heads were in his aureole.
What of her glass without her? The blank grey There where the pool is blind of the moon's face. Her dress without her? The tossed empty space Of cloud-rack whence the moon has passed away. Her paths without her? Day's appointed sway Usurped by desolate night. Her pillowed place Without her? Tears, ah me! for love's good grace, And cold forgetfulness of night or day.
What of the heart without her? Nay, poor heart, Of thee what word remains ere speech be still? A wayfarer by barren ways and chill, Steep ways and weary, without her thou art, Where the long cloud, the long wood's counterpart, Sheds doubled darkness up the labouring hill.
Sweet Love,—but oh! most dread Desire of Love Life-thwarted. Linked in gyves I saw them stand, Love shackled with Vain-longing, hand to hand: And one was eyed as the blue vault above: But hope tempestuous like a fire-cloud hove I' the other's gaze, even as in his whose wand Vainly all night with spell-wrought power has spann'd The unyielding caves of some deep treasure-trove.
Also his lips, two writhen flakes of flame, Made moan: 'Alas O Love, thus leashed with me! Wing-footed thou, wing-shouldered, once born free: And I, thy cowering self, in chains grown tame, Bound to thy body and soul, named with thy name, Life's iron heart, even Love's Fatality.'
The hour which might have been yet might not be, Which man's and woman's heart conceived and bore Yet whereof life was barren,—on what shore Bides it the breaking of Time's weary sea? Bondchild of all consummate joys set free, It somewhere sighs and serves, and mute before The house of Love, hears through the echoing door His hours elect in choral consonancy.
But lo! what wedded souls now hand in hand Together tread at last the immortal strand With eyes where burning memory lights love home? Lo! how the little outcast hour has turned And leaped to them and in their faces yearned:— 'I am your child: O parents, ye have come!'
To be a sweetness more desired than Spring; A bodily beauty more acceptable Than the wild rose-tree's arch that crowns the fell; To be an essence more environing Than wine's drained juice; a music ravishing More than the passionate pulse of Philomel;— To be all this 'neath one soft bosom's swell That is the flower of life:—how strange a thing!
How strange a thing to be what Man can know But as a sacred secret! Heaven's own screen Hides her soul's purest depth and loveliest glow; Closely withheld, as all things most unseen,— The wave-bowered pearl, the heart-shaped seal of green That flecks the snowdrop underneath the snow.
II. HER LOVE
She loves him; for her infinite soul is Love, And he her lodestar. Passion in her is A glass facing his fire, where the bright bliss Is mirrored, and the heat returned. Yet move That glass, a stranger's amorous flame to prove, And it shall turn, by instant contraries, Ice to the moon; while her pure fire to his For whom it burns, clings close i' the heart's alcove.
Lo! they are one. With wifely breast to breast And circling arms, she welcomes all command Of love,—her soul to answering ardours fann'd: Yet as morn springs or twilight sinks to rest, Ah! who shall say she deems not loveliest The hour of sisterly sweet hand-in-hand?
III. HER HEAVEN
If to grow old in Heaven is to grow young, (As the Seer saw and said,) then blest were he With youth forevermore, whose heaven should be True Woman, she whom these weak notes have sung. Here and hereafter,—choir-strains of her tongue,— Sky-spaces of her eyes,—sweet signs that flee About her soul's immediate sanctuary,— Were Paradise all uttermost worlds among.
The sunrise blooms and withers on the hill Like any hillflower; and the noblest troth Dies here to dust. Yet shall Heaven's promise clothe Even yet those lovers who have cherished still This test for love:—in every kiss sealed fast To feel the first kiss and forebode the last.
LOVE'S LAST GIFT
Love to his singer held a glistening leaf, And said: 'The rose-tree and the apple-tree Have fruits to vaunt or flowers to lure the bee; And golden shafts are in the feathered sheaf Of the great harvest-marshal, the year's chief, Victorious Summer; aye, and 'neath warm sea Strange secret grasses lurk inviolably Between the filtering channels of sunk reef.
All are my blooms; and all sweet blooms of love To thee I gave while Spring and Summer sang; But Autumn stops to listen, with some pang From those worse things the wind is moaning of. Only this laurel dreads no winter days: Take my last gift; thy heart hath sung my praise.'
PART II. CHANGE AND FATE
As growth of form or momentary glance In a child's features will recall to mind The father's with the mother's face combin'd,— Sweet interchange that memories still enhance: And yet, as childhood's years and youth's advance, The gradual mouldings leave one stamp behind, Till in the blended likeness now we find A separate man's or woman's countenance:—
So in the Song, the singer's Joy and Pain, Its very parents, evermore expand To bid the passion's fullgrown birth remain, By Art's transfiguring essence subtly spann'd; And from that song-cloud shaped as a man's hand There comes the sound as of abundant rain.
By thine own tears thy song must tears beget, O Singer! Magic mirror thou hast none Except thy manifest heart; and save thine own Anguish or ardour, else no amulet. Cisterned in Pride, verse is the feathery jet Of soulless air-flung fountains; nay, more dry Than the Dead Sea for throats that thirst and sigh, That song o'er which no singer's lids grew wet.
The Song-god—He the Sun-god—is no slave Of thine: thy Hunter he, who for thy soul Fledges his shaft: to no august control Of thy skilled hand his quivered store he gave: But if thy lips' loud cry leap to his smart, The inspir'd recoil shall pierce thy brother's heart.
THE SOUL'S SPHERE
Come prisoned moon in steep cloud-fastnesses,— Throned queen and thralled; some dying sun whose pyre Blazed with momentous memorable fire;— Who hath not yearned and fed his heart with these? Who, sleepless, hath not anguished to appease Tragical shadow's realm of sound and sight Conjectured in the lamentable night?... Lo! the soul's sphere of infinite images!
What sense shall count them? Whether it forecast The rose-winged hours that flutter in the van Of Love's unquestioning unreveale'd span,— Visions of golden futures: or that last Wild pageant of the accumulated past That clangs and flashes for a drowning man.
The changing guests, each in a different mood, Sit at the roadside table and arise: And every life among them in likewise Is a soul's board set daily with new food. What man has bent o'er his son's sleep, to brood How that face shall watch his when cold it lies?— Or thought, as his own mother kissed his eyes, Of what her kiss was when his father wooed?
May not this ancient room thou sit'st in dwell In separate living souls for joy or pain? Nay, all its corners may be painted plain Where Heaven shows pictures of some life spent well; And may be stamped, a memory all in vain, Upon the sight of lidless eyes in Hell.
ARDOUR AND MEMORY
The cuckoo-throb, the heartbeat of the Spring; The rosebud's blush that leaves it as it grows Into the full-eyed fair unblushing rose; The summer clouds that visit every wing With fires of sunrise and of sunsetting; The furtive flickering streams to light re-born 'Mid airs new-fledged and valorous lusts of morn, While all the daughters of the daybreak sing:—
These ardour loves, and memory: and when flown All joys, and through dark forest-boughs in flight The wind swoops onward brandishing the light, Even yet the rose-tree's verdure left alone Will flush all ruddy though the rose be gone; With ditties and with dirges infinite.
KNOWN IN VAIN
As two whose love, first foolish, widening scope, Knows suddenly, with music high and soft, The Holy of holies; who because they scoff'd Are now amazed with shame, nor dare to cope With the whole truth aloud, lest heaven should ope; Yet, at their meetings, laugh not as they In speech; nor speak, at length; but sitting oft Together, within hopeless sight of hope For hours are silent:—So it happeneth When Work and Will awake too late, to gaze After their life sailed by, and hold their breath. Ah! who shall dare to search through what sad maze Thenceforth their incommunicable ways Follow the desultory feet of Death?
HEART OF THE NIGHT
From child to youth; from youth to arduous man; From lethargy to fever of the heart; From faithful life to dream-dowered days apart; From trust to doubt; from doubt to brink of ban;— Thus much of change in one swift cycle ran Till now. Alas, the soul!—how soon must she Accept her primal immortality,— The flesh resume its dust whence it began?
O Lord of work and peace! O Lord of life! O Lord, the awful Lord of will! though late, Even yet renew this soul with duteous breath: That when the peace is garnered in from strife, The work retrieved, the will regenerate, This soul may see thy face, O Lord of death!
Was that the landmark? What,—the foolish well Whose wave, low down, I did not stoop to drink, But sat and flung the pebbles from its brink In sport to send its imaged skies pell-mell, (And mine own image, had I noted well!) Was that my point of turning?—I had thought The stations of my course should rise unsought, As altar-stone or ensigned citadel.
But lo! the path is missed, I must go back, And thirst to drink when next I reach the spring Which once I stained, which since may have grown black. Yet though no light be left nor bird now sing As here I turn, I'll thank God, hastening, That the same goal is still on the same track.
A DARK DAY
The gloom that breathes upon me with these airs Is like the drops which strike the traveller's brow Who knows not, darkling, if they bring him now Fresh storm, or be old rain the covert bears. Ah! bodes this hour some harvest of new tares, Or hath but memory of the day whose plough Sowed hunger once,—the night at length when thou, O prayer found vain, didst fall from out my prayers?
How prickly were the growths which yet how smooth, Along the hedgerows of this journey shed, Lie by Time's grace till night and sleep may soothe! Even as the thistledown from pathsides dead Gleaned by a girl in autumns of her youth, Which one new year makes soft her marriage-bed.
This sunlight shames November where he grieves In dead red leaves, and will not let him shun The day, though bough with bough be over-run. But with a blessing every glade receives High salutation; while from hillock-eaves The deer gaze calling, dappled white and dun, As if, being foresters of old, the sun Had marked them with the shade of forest-leaves.
Here dawn to-day unveiled her magic glass; Here noon now gives the thirst and takes the dew; Till eve bring rest when other good things pass. And here the lost hours the lost hours renew While I still lead my shadow o'er the grass, Nor know, for longing, that which I should do.
THE HILL SUMMIT
This feast-day of the sun, his altar there In the broad west has blazed for vesper-song; And I have loitered in the vale too long And gaze now a belated worshipper. Yet may I not forget that I was 'ware, So journeying, of his face at intervals Transfigured where the fringed horizon falls,— A fiery bush with coruscating hair.
And now that I have climbed and won this height, I must tread downward through the sloping shade And travel the bewildered tracks till night. Yet for this hour I still may here be stayed And see the gold air and the silver fade And the last bird fly into the last light.
Eat thou and drink; to-morrow thou shalt die. Surely the earth, that's wise being very old, Needs not our help. Then loose me, love, and hold Thy sultry hair up from my face that I May pour for thee this yellow wine, brim-high, Till round the glass thy fingers glow like gold. We'll drown all hours: thy song, while hours toil'd, Shall leap, as fountains veil the changing sky.
Now kiss, and think that there are really those, My own high-bosomed beauty, who increase Vain gold, vain lore, and yet might choose our way Through many days they toil; then comes a day They die not,—never having lived,—but cease; And round their narrow lips the mould falls close.
Watch thou and fear; to-morrow thou shalt die. Or art thou sure thou shalt have time for death? Is not the day which God's word promiseth To come man knows not when? In yonder sky, Now while we speak, the sun speeds forth: can I Or thou assure him of his goal? God's breath Even at the moment haply quickeneth The air to a flame; till spirits, always nigh Though screened and hid, shall walk the daylight here.
And dost thou prate of all that man shall do? Canst thou, who hast but plagues, presume to be Glad in his gladness that comes after thee? Will his strength slay thy worm in Hell? Go to: Cover thy countenance, and watch, and fear.
Think thou and act; to-morrow thou shalt die. Outstretched in the sun's warmth upon the shore, Thou say'st: 'Man's measured path is all gone o'er: Up all his years, steeply, with strain and sigh, Man clomb* until he touched the truth; and I, Even I, am he whom it was destined for.' How should this be? Art thou then so much more Than they who sowed, that thou shouldst reap thereby?
Nay, come up hither. From this wave-washed mound Unto the furthest flood-brim look with me; Then reach on with thy thought till it be drown'd. Miles and miles distant though the grey line be, And though thy soul sail leagues and leagues beyond,— Still, leagues beyond those leagues there is more sea.
OLD AND NEW ART
I. ST. LUKE THE PAINTER
Give honour unto Luke Evangelist; For he it was (the aged legends say) Who first taught Art to fold her hands and pray. Scarcely at once she dared to rend the mist Of devious symbols: but soon having wist How sky-breadth and field-silence and this day Are symbols also in some deeper way, She looked through these to God and was God's priest.
And if, past noon, her toil began to irk, And she sought talismans, and turned in vain To soulless self-reflections of man's skill, Yet now, in this the twilight, she might still Kneel in the latter grass to pray again, Ere the night cometh and she may not work.
II. NOT AS THESE
'I am not as these are,' the poet saith In youth's pride, and the painter, among men At bay, where never pencil comes nor pen, And shut about with his own frozen breath. To others, for whom only rhyme wins faith As poets,—only paint as painters,—then He turns in the cold silence; and again Shrinking, 'I am not as these are,' he saith.
And say that this is so, what follows it? For were thine eyes set backwards in thine head, Such words were well; but they see on, and far. Unto the lights of the great Past, new-lit Fair for the Future's track, look thou instead,— Say thou instead 'I am not as these are.'
III. THE HUSBANDMEN
Though God, as one that is an householder, Called these to labour in his vine-yard first, Before the husk of darkness was well burst Bidding them grope their way out and bestir, (Who, questioned of their wages, answered, 'Sir, Unto each man a penny:') though the worst Burthen of heat was theirs and the dry thirst: Though God hath since found none such as these were To do their work like them:—Because of this Stand not ye idle in the market-place. Which of ye knoweth he is not that last Who may be first by faith and will?—yea, his The hand which after the appointed days And hours shall give a Future to their Past?
Under the arch of Life, where love and death, Terror and mystery, guard her shrine, I saw Beauty enthroned; and though her gaze struck awe, I drew it in as simply as my breath. Hers are the eyes which, over and beneath, The sky and sea bend on thee,—which can draw, By sea or sky or woman, to one law, The allotted bondman of her palm and wreath.
This is that Lady Beauty, in whose praise Thy voice and hand shake still,—long known to thee By flying hair and fluttering hem,—the beat Following her daily of thy heart and feet, How passionately and irretrievably, In what fond flight, how many ways and days!
Of Adam's first wife, Lilith, it is told (The witch he loved before the gift of Eve,) That, ere the snake's, her sweet tongue could deceive, And her enchanted hair was the first gold. And still she sits, young while the earth is old, And, subtly of herself contemplative, Draws men to watch the bright web she can weave, Till heart and body and life are in its hold.
The rose and poppy are her flowers; for where Is he not found, O Lilith, whom shed scent And soft-shed kisses and soft sleep shall snare? Lo! as that youth's eyes burned at thine, so went Thy spell through him, and left his straight neck bent And round his heart one strangling golden hair.
Is it this sky's vast vault or ocean's sound That is Life's self and draws my life from me, And by instinct ineffable decree Holds my breath quailing on the bitter bound? Nay, is it Life or Death, thus thunder-crown'd, That 'mid the tide of all emergency Now notes my separate wave, and to what sea Its difficult eddies labour in the ground?
Oh! what is this that knows the road I came, The flame turned cloud, the cloud returned to flame, The lifted shifted steeps and all the way?— That draws round me at last this wind-warm space, And in regenerate rapture turns my face Upon the devious coverts of dismay?
FROM DAWN TO NOON
As the child knows not if his mother's face Be fair; nor of his elders yet can deem What each most is; but as of hill or stream At dawn, all glimmering life surrounds his place: Who yet, tow'rd noon of his half-weary race, Pausing awhile beneath the high sun-beam And gazing steadily back,—as through a dream, In things long past new features now can trace:—
Even so the thought that is at length fullgrown Turns back to note the sun-smit paths, all grey And marvellous once, where first it walked alone; And haply doubts, amid the unblenching day, Which most or least impelled its onward way,— Those unknown things or these things overknown.
What place so strange,—though unrevealed snow With unimaginable fires arise At the earth's end,—what passion of surprise Like frost-bound fire-girt scenes of long ago? Lo! this is none but I this hour; and lo! This is the very place which to mine eyes Those mortal hours in vain immortalize, 'Mid hurrying crowds, with what alone I know.
City, of thine a single simple door, By some new Power reduplicate, must be Even yet my life-porch in eternity, Even with one presence filled, as once of yore Or mocking winds whirl round a chaff-strown floor Thee and thy years and these my words and me.
I said: 'Nay, pluck not,—let the first fruit be: Even as thou sayest, it is sweet and red, But let it ripen still. The tree's bent head Sees in the stream its own fecundity And bides the day of fulness. Shall not we At the sun's hour that day possess the shade, And claim our fruit before its ripeness fade, And eat it from the branch and praise the tree?'
I say: 'Alas! our fruit hath wooed the sun Too long,—'tis fallen and floats adown the stream. Lo, the last clusters! Pluck them every one, And let us sup with summer; ere the gleam Of autumn set the year's pent sorrow free, And the woods wail like echoes from the sea.'
So now the changed year's turning wheel returns And as a girl sails balanced in the wind, And now before and now again behind Stoops as it swoops, with cheek that laughs and burns,— So Spring comes merry towards me now, but earns No answering smile from me, whose life is twin'd With the dead boughs that winter still must bind, And whom to-day the Spring no more concerns.
Behold, this crocus is a withering flame; This snowdrop, snow; this apple-blossom's part To breed the fruit that breeds the serpent's art. Nay, for these Spring-flowers, turn thy face from them, Nor gaze till on the year's last lily-stem The white cup shrivels round the golden heart.
FAREWELL TO THE GLEN
Sweet stream-fed glen, why say 'farewell' to thee Who far'st so well and find'st for ever smooth The brow of Time where man may read no ruth? Nay, do thou rather say 'farewell' to me, Who now fare forth in bitterer fantasy Than erst was mine where other shade might soothe By other streams, what while in fragrant youth The bliss of being sad made melancholy.
And yet, farewell! For better shalt thou fare When children bathe sweet faces in thy flow And happy lovers blend sweet shadows there In hours to come, than when an hour ago Thine echoes had but one man's sighs to bear And thy trees whispered what he feared to know.
What is the sorriest thing that enters Hell? None of the sins,—but this and that fair deed Which a soul's sin at length could supersede. These yet are virgins, whom death's timely knell Might once have sainted; whom the fiends compel Together now, in snake-bound shuddering sheaves Of anguish, while the scorching bridegroom leaves Their refuse maidenhood abominable.
Night sucks them down, the garbage of the pit, Whose names, half entered in the book of Life, Were God's desire at noon. And as their hair And eyes sink last, the Torturer deigns no whit To gaze, but, yearning, waits his worthier wife, The Sin still blithe on earth that sent them there.
The lost days of my life until to-day, What were they, could I see them on the street Lie as they fell? Would they be ears of wheat Sown once for food but trodden into clay? Or golden coins squandered and still to pay? Or drops of blood dabbling the guilty feet? Or such spilt water as in dreams must cheat The throats of men in Hell, who thirst alway?
I do not see them here; but after death God knows I know the faces I shall see, Each one a murdered self, with low last breath. 'I am thyself,—what hast thou done to me?' 'And I—and I—thyself,' (lo! each one saith,) 'And thou thyself to all eternity!'
When first that horse, within whose populous womb The birth was death, o'ershadowed Troy with fate, Her elders, dubious of its Grecian freight, Brought Helen there to sing the songs of home: She whispered, 'Friends, I am alone; come, come!' Then, crouched within, Ulysses waxed afraid, And on his comrades' quivering mouths he laid His hands, and held them till the voice was dumb.
The same was he who, lashed to his own mast, There where the sea-flowers screen the charnel-caves, Beside the sirens' singing island pass'd, Till sweetness failed along the inveterate waves... Say, soul,—are songs of Death no heaven to thee, Nor shames her lip the cheek of Victory?
That lamp thou fill'st in Eros name to-night, O Hero, shall the Sestian augurs take To-morrow, and for drowned Leander's sake To Anteros its fireless lip shall plight. Aye, waft the unspoken vow: yet dawn's first light On ebbing storm and life twice ebb'd must break; While 'neath no sunrise, by the Avernian Lake, Lo where Love walks, Death's pallid neophyte.
That lamp within Anteros' shadowy shrine Shall stand unlit (for so the gods decree) Till some one man the happy issue see Of a life's love, and bid its flame to shine: Which still may rest unfir'd; for, theirs or thine, O brother, what brought love to them or thee?
*After the deaths of Leander and Hero, the signal-lamp was dedicated to Anteros, with the edict that no man should light it unless his love had proved fortunate.
THE TREES OF THE GARDEN
Ye who have passed Death's haggard hills; and ye Whom trees that knew your sires shall cease to know And still stand silent:—is it all a show, A wisp that laughs upon the wall?—decree Of some inexorable supremacy Which ever, as man strains his blind surmise From depth to ominous depth, looks past his eyes, Sphinx-faced with unabashed augury?
Nay, rather question the Earth's self. Invoke The storm-felled forest-trees moss-grown to-day Whose roots are hillocks where the children play; Or ask the silver sapling 'neath what yoke Those stars, his spray-crown's clustering gems, shall wage Their journey still when his boughs shrink with age.
'RETRO ME, SATHANA!'
Get thee behind me. Even as, heavy-curled, Stooping against the wind, a charioteer Is snatched from out his chariot by the hair, So shall Time be; and as the void car, hurled Abroad by reinless steeds, even so the world: Yea, even as chariot-dust upon the air, It shall be sought and not found anywhere. Get thee behind me, Satan. Oft unfurled, Thy perilous wings can beat and break like lath Much mightiness of men to win thee praise. Leave these weak feet to tread in narrow ways. Thou still, upon the broad vine-sheltered path, Mayst wait the turning of the phials of wrath For certain years, for certain months and days.
LOST ON BOTH SIDES
As when two men have loved a woman well, Each hating each, through Love's and Death's deceit; Since not for either this stark marriage-sheet And the long pauses of this wedding bell; Yet o'er her grave the night and day dispel At last their feud forlorn, with cold and heat; Nor other than dear friends to death may fleet The two lives left that most of her can tell:—
So separate hopes, which in a soul had wooed The one same Peace, strove with each other long, And Peace before their faces perished since: So through that soul, in restless brotherhood, They roam together now, and wind among Its bye-streets, knocking at the dusty inns.
THE SUN'S SHAME
Beholding youth and hope in mockery caught From life; and mocking pulses that remain When the soul's death of bodily death is fain; Honour unknown, and honour known unsought; And penury's sedulous self-torturing thought On gold, whose master therewith buys his bane; And longed-for woman longing all in vain For lonely man with love's desire distraught; And wealth, and strength, and power, and pleasantness, Given unto bodies of whose souls men say, None poor and weak, slavish and foul, as they:— Beholding these things, I behold no less The blushing morn and blushing eve confess The shame that loads the intolerable day.
As some true chief of men, bowed down with stress Of life's disastrous eld, on blossoming youth May gaze, and murmur with self-pity and ruth, 'Might I thy fruitless treasure but possess, Such blessing of mine all coming years should bless;'— Then sends one sigh forth to the unknown goal, And bitterly feels breathe against his soul The hour swift-winged of nearer nothingness:—
Even so the World's grey Soul to the green World Perchance one hour must cry: 'Woe's me, for whom Inveteracy of ill portends the doom,— Whose heart's old fire in shadow of shame is furl'd: While thou even as of yore art journeying, All soulless now, yet merry with the Spring!'
Great Michelangelo, with age grown bleak And uttermost labours, having once o'ersaid All grievous memories on his long life shed, This worst regret to one true heart could speak:— That when, with sorrowing love and reverence meek, He stooped o'er sweet Colonna's dying bed, His Muse and dominant Lady, spirit-wed, Her hand he kissed, but not her brow or cheek.
O Buonarruoti,—good at Art's fire-wheels To urge her chariot!—even thus the Soul, Touching at length some sorely-chastened goal, Earns oftenest but a little: her appeals Were deep and mute,—lowly her claim. Let be: What holds for her Death's garner? And for thee?
THE VASE OF LIFE
Around the vase of Life at your slow pace He has not crept, but turned it with his hands, And all its sides already understands. There, girt, one breathes alert for some great race; Whose road runs far by sands and fruitful space; Who laughs, yet through the jolly throng has pass'd; Who weeps, nor stays for weeping; who at last, A youth, stands somewhere crowned, with silent face.
And he has filled this vase with wine for blood, With blood for tears, with spice for burning vow, With watered flowers for buried love most fit; And would have cast it shattered to the flood, Yet in Fate's name has kept it whole; which now Stands empty till his ashes fall in it.
LIFE THE BELOVED
As thy friend's face, with shadow of soul o'erspread, Somewhile unto thy sight perchance hath been Ghastly and strange, yet never so is seen In thought, but to all fortunate favour wed; As thy love's death-bound features never dead To memory's glass return, but contravene Frail fugitive days, and always keep, I ween Than all new life a livelier lovelihead:—
So Life herself, thy spirit's friend and love, Even still as Spring's authentic harbinger Glows with fresh hours for hope to glorify; Though pale she lay when in the winter grove Her funeral flowers were snow-flakes shed on her And the red wings of frost-fire rent the sky.
Look in my face; my name is Might-have-been; I am also called No-more, Too-late, Farewell; Unto thine ear I hold the dead-sea shell Cast up thy Life's foam-fretted feet between; Unto thine eyes the glass where that is seen Which had Life's form and Love's, but by my spell Is now a shaken shadow intolerable, Of ultimate things unuttered the frail screen.
Mark me, how still I am! But should there dart One moment through thy soul the soft surprise Of that winged Peace which lulls the breath of sighs, Then shalt thou see me smile, and turn apart Thy visage to mine ambush at thy heart Sleepless with cold commemorative eyes.
HE AND I
Whence came his feet into my field, and why? How is it that he sees it all so drear? How do I see his seeing, and how hear The name his bitter silence knows it by? This was the little fold of separate sky Whose pasturing clouds in the soul's atmosphere Drew living light from one continual year: How should he find it lifeless? He, or I?
Lo! this new Self now wanders round my field, With plaints for every flower, and for each tree A moan, the sighing wind's auxiliary: And o'er sweet waters of my life, that yield Unto his lips no draught but tears unseal'd, Even in my place he weeps. Even I, not he.
To-day Death seems to me an infant child Which her worn mother Life upon my knee Has set to grow my friend and play with me; If haply so my heart might be beguil'd To find no terrors in a face so mild,— If haply so my weary heart might be Unto the newborn milky eyes of thee, O Death, before resentment reconcil'd.
How long, O Death? And shall thy feet depart Still a young child's with mine, or wilt thou stand Fullgrown the helpful daughter of my heart, What time with thee indeed I reach the strand Of the pale wave which knows thee what thou art, And drink it in the hollow of thy hand?
And thou, O Life, the lady of all bliss, With whom, when our first heart beat full and fast, I wandered till the haunts of men were pass'd, And in fair places found all bowers amiss Till only woods and waves might hear our kiss, While to the winds all thought of Death we cast: Ah, Life! and must I have from thee at last No smile to greet me and no babe but this?
Lo! Love, the child once ours; and Song, whose hair Blew like a flame and blossomed like a wreath; And Art, whose eyes were worlds by God found fair; These o'er the book of Nature mixed their breath With neck-twined arms, as oft we watched them there: And did these die that thou mightst bear me Death?
THE ONE HOPE
When all desire at last and all regret Go hand in hand to death, and all is vain, What shall assuage the unforgotten pain And teach the unforgetful to forget? Shall Peace be still a sunk stream long unmet,— Or may the soul at once in a green plain Stoop through the spray of some sweet life-fountain And cull the dew-drenched flowering amulet?
Ah! when the wan soul in that golden air Between the scriptured petals softly blown Peers breathless for the gift of grace unknown, Ah! let none other written spell soe'er But only the one Hope's one name be there,— Not less nor more, but even that word alone.