THE POETICAL WORKS
WITH BIOGRAPHICAL INTRODUCTION
WILLIAM MICHAEL ROSSETTI
ENLARGED AND REVISED EDITION
A. L. BURT COMPANY, PUBLISHERS, 52-58 DUANE STREET, NEW YORK
There were scarcely any events in the life of Thomas Hood. One condition there was of too potent determining importance—life-long ill health; and one circumstance of moment—a commercial failure, and consequent expatriation. Beyond this, little presents itself for record in the outward facts of this upright and beneficial career, bright with genius and coruscating with wit, dark with the lengthening and deepening shadow of death.
The father of Thomas Hood was engaged in business as a publisher and bookseller in the Poultry, in the city of London,—a member of the firm of Vernor, Hood, and Sharpe. He was a Scotchman, and had come up to the capital early in life, to make his way. His interest in books was not solely confined to their saleable quality. He reprinted various old works with success; published Bloomfield's poems, and dealt handsomely with him; and was himself the author of two novels, which are stated to have had some success in their day. For the sake of the son rather than the father, one would like to see some account, with adequate specimens, of these long-forgotten tales; for the queries which Thomas Hood asks concerning the piteous woman of his Bridge of Sighs interest us all concerning a man of genius, and interest us moreover with regard to the question of intellectual as well as natural affinity:—
"Who was his father, Who was his mother? Had he a sister, Had he a brother?"
Another line of work in which the elder Hood is recorded to have been active was the opening of the English book-trade with America. He married a sister of the engraver Mr. Sands, and had by her a large family; two sons and four daughters survived the period of childhood. The elder brother, James, who died early of consumption, drew well, as did also one or two of the sisters. It would seem therefore, when we recall Thomas Hood's aptitudes and frequent miscellaneous practice in the same line, that a certain tendency towards fine art, as well as towards literature, ran in the family. The consumption which killed James appears to have been inherited from his mother; she, and two of her daughters, died of the same disease; and a pulmonary affection of a somewhat different kind became, as we shall see, one of the poet's most inveterate persecutors. The death of the father, which was sudden and unexpected, preceded that of the mother, but not of James, and left the survivors in rather straitened circumstances.
Thomas, the second of the two sons, was born in the Poultry, on or about the 23d of May, 1799. He is stated to have been a retired child, with much quiet humor; chuckling, we may guess, over his own quaint imaginings, which must have come in crowds, and of all conceivable or inconceivable sorts, to judge from the products of his after years; keeping most of these fancies and surprises to himself, but every now and then letting some of them out, and giving homely or stolid bystanders an inkling of insight into the many-peopled crannies of his boyish brain. He received his education at Dr. Wanostrocht's school at Clapham. It is not very clear how far this education extended: I should infer that it was just about enough, and not more than enough, to enable Hood to shift for himself in the career of authorship, without serious disadvantage from inadequate early training, and also without much aid thence derived—without, at any rate, any such rousing and refining of the literary sense as would warrant us in attributing to educational influences either the inclination to become an author, or the manipulative power over language and style which Hood displayed in his serious poems, not to speak of those of a lighter kind. We seem to see him sliding, as it were, into the profession of letters, simply through capacity and liking, and the course of events—not because he had resolutely made up his mind to be an author, nor because his natural faculty had been steadily or studiously cultivated. As to details, it may be remarked that his schooling included some amount—perhaps a fair average amount—of Latin. We find it stated that he had a Latin prize at school, but was not apt at the language in later years. He had however one kind of aptitude at it—being addicted to the use of familiar Latin quotations or phrases, cited with humorous verbal perversions.
[Footnote 1: The authority—I might almost say, the one authority—for the life of Hood, is the Memorials published by his son and daughter. Any point which is not clearly brought out in that affectionate and interesting record will naturally be equally or more indefinite in my brief summary, founded as it is on the Memorials.]
In all the relations of family life, and the forms of family affection, Hood was simply exemplary. The deaths of his elder brother and of his father left him the principal reliance of his mother, herself destined soon to follow them to the tomb: he was an excellent and devoted son. His affection for one of his sisters, Anne, who also died shortly afterwards, is attested in the beautiful lines named The Deathbed,—
"We watched her breathing through the night."
At a later date, the loves of a husband and a father seem to have absorbed by far the greater part of his nature and his thoughts: his letters to friends are steeped and drenched In "Jane," "Fanny," and "Tom junior." These letters are mostly divided between perpetual family details and perennial jocularity: a succession of witticisms, or at lowest of puns and whimsicalities, mounts up like so many squibs and crackers, fizzing through, sparkling amid, or ultimately extinguished by, the inevitable shower—the steady rush and downpour—of the home-affections. It may easily be inferred from this account that there are letters which one is inclined to read more thoroughly, and in greater number consecutively, than Hood's.
The vocation first selected for Hood, towards the age of fifteen, was one which he did not follow up for long—that of an engraver. He was apprenticed to his uncle Mr. Sands, and afterwards to one of the Le Keux family. The occupation was ill-suited to his constantly ailing health, and this eventually conduced to his abandoning it. He then went to Scotland to recruit, remaining there among his relatives about five years. According to a statement made by himself, he was in a merchant's office within this interval; it is uncertain, however, whether this assertion is to be accepted as genuine, or as made for some purpose of fun. His first published writing appeared in the Dundee Advertiser in 1814—his age being then, at the utmost, fifteen and a half; this was succeeded by some contribution to a local magazine. But as yet he had no idea of authorship as a profession.
[Footnote 2: "Two years," according to the Memorials; but the dates for this portion of Hood's life are not accurately given in that work. Hood completed the fifteenth year of his age in May, 1814. It is certain, from the dates of his letters, that his sojourn in Scotland began not later than September, 1815; and the writer of the Memorials himself affirms that Hood "returned to London about 1820," in or before July. If so, he was in Scotland about five years; and, from the fact that he had written in a Dundee newspaper in 1814, one might even surmise that the term of six years was nearer the mark. At any rate, as he had reached Scotland by September, 1815, he was there soon after completing his sixteenth year: yet Mr. Hessey (Memorials, p. 23) says that he was articled to the engraving business "at the age of fifteen or sixteen," and his apprenticeship, according to Mr. Hood, junior, lasted "some years" even before his transfer from Mr. Sands to Mr. Le Keux. The apprenticeship did not begin until after the father's death; but the year of that death is left unspecified, though the day and month are given. These dates, as the reader will readily perceive, are sometimes vague, and sometimes contradictory. In the text of my notice, I have endeavored to pick my way through their discrepancies.]
Towards the middle of the year 1820, Hood was re-settled in London, improved in health, and just come of age. At first he continued practising as an engraver; but in 1821 he began to act as a sort of sub-editor for the London Magazine after the death of the editor, Mr. Scott, in a duel. He concocted fictitious and humorous answers to correspondents—a humble yet appropriate introduction to the insatiable habit and faculty for out-of-the-way verbal jocosity which marked-off his after career from that of all other excellent poets.
His first regular contribution to the magazine, in July, 1821, was a little poem To Hope: even before this, as early at any rate as 1815, he was in the frequent practice of writing correctly and at some length in verse, as witnessed by selections, now in print, from what he had composed for the amusement of his relatives. Soon afterwards, a private literary society was the recipient of other verses of the same order. The lines To Hope were followed, in the London Magazine, by the Ode to Dr. Kitchener and some further poems, including the important work, Lycus the Centaur—after the publication of which, there could not be much doubt of the genuine and uncommon powers of the new writer. The last contribution of Hood to this magazine was the Lines to a Cold Beauty. Another early work of his, and one which, like the verses To the Moon, affords marked evidence of the impression which he had received from Keats's poetry, is the unfinished drama (or, as he termed it, "romance") of Lamia: I do not find its precise date recorded. Its verse is lax, and its tone somewhat immature; yet it shows a great deal of sparkling and diversified talent. Hood certainly takes a rather more rational view than Keats did of his subject as a moral invention, or a myth having some sort of meaning at its root. A serpent transformed into a woman, who beguiles a youth of the highest hopes into amorous languid self-abandonment, is clearly not, in morals, the sort of person that ought to be left uncontrolled to her own devices. Keats ostentatiously resents the action of the unimpassioned philosopher Appollonius in revealing the true nature of the woman-serpent, and dissolving her spell. An elderly pedant to interfere with the pretty whims of a viper when she wears the outer semblance of a fine woman! Intolerable!
(Such is the sentiment of Keats; but such plainly is not altogether the conviction of Hood, although his story remains but partially developed.)
By this time it may have become pretty clear to himself and others that his proper vocation and destined profession was literature. Through the London Magazine, he got to know John Hamilton Reynolds (author of the Garden of Florence and other poems, and a contributor to this serial under the pseudonym of Edward Herbert), Charles Lamb, Allan Cunningham, De Quincey, and other writers of reputation. To Hood the most directly important of all these acquaintances was Mr. Reynolds; this gentleman having a sister, Jane, to whom Hood was introduced. An attachment ensued, and shortly terminated in marriage, the wedding taking place on the 5th of May, 1824. The father of Miss Reynolds was the head writing-master at Christ Hospital. She is stated to have had good manners, a cultivated mind, and literary tastes, though a high educational standard is not always traceable in her letters. At any rate the marriage was a happy one; Mrs. Hood being a tender and attentive wife, unwearied in the cares which her husband's precarious health demanded, and he being (as I have said) a mirror of marital constancy and devotion, distinguishable from a lover rather by his intense delight in all domestic relations and details than by any cooling-down in his fondness. It would appear that, in the later years of Hood's life, he was not on entirely good terms with some members of his wife's family, including his old friend John Hamilton Reynolds. What may have caused this I do not find specified: all that we know of the character of Hood justifies us in thinking that he was little or not at all to blame, for he appears throughout a man of just, honorable, and loving nature, and free besides from that sort of self-assertion which invites a collision. Every one, however, has his blemishes; and we may perhaps discern in Hood a certain over-readiness to think himself imposed upon, and the fellow-creatures with whom he had immediately to do a generation of vipers—a state of feeling not characteristic of a mind exalted and magnanimous by habit, or "gentle" in the older and more significant meaning of the term.
The time was now come for Hood to venture a volume upon the world. Conjointly with Reynolds, he wrote, and published in 1825, his Odes and Addresses to Great People. The title-page bore no author's name; but the extraordinary talent and point of the work could hardly fail to be noticed, even apart from its appeal to immediate popularity, dealing as it did so continually with the uppermost topics of the day. It had what it deserved, a great success. This volume was followed, in 1826, by the first series of Whims and Oddities, which also met with a good sale; the second series appeared in 1827. Next came two volumes of National Tales, somewhat after the manner of Boccaccio (but how far different from his spirit may easily be surmised), which are now little known. The volume containing the Plea of the Midsummer Fairies, Hero and Leander, and some other of Hood's most finished and noticeable poems, came out in 1827. The Midsummer Fairies itself was one of the authors own favorite works, and certainly deserved to be so, as far as dainty elegance of motive and of execution is concerned: but the conception was a little too ingeniously remote for the public to ratify the author's predilection. The Hero and Leander will be at once recognized as modelled on the style of Elizabethan narrative poems: indeed Marlow treated the very same subject, and his poem, left uncompleted, was finished by Chapman. Hood's is a most astonishing example of revivalist poetry: it is reproductive and spontaneous at the same time. It resembles its models closely, not servilely—significantly, not mechanically; and has the great merit of resembling them with comparative moderation. Elizabethan here both in spirit and in letter, Hood is nevertheless a little less extreme than his prototypes. Where they loaded, he does not find it needful to overload, which is the ready and almost the inevitable resource of revivalists, all but the fewest: on the contrary, he alleviates a little,—but only a little.
In 1829 appeared the most famous of all his poems of a narrative character—The Dream of Eugene Aram; it was published in the Gem, an annual which the poet was then editing. Besides this amount of literary activity, Hood continued writing in periodicals, sometimes under the signature of "Theodore M."
His excessive and immeasurable addiction to rollicking fun, to the perpetual "cracking of jokes" (for it amounts to that more definitely than to anything else in the domain of the Comic Muse), is a somewhat curious problem, taken in connection with his remarkable genius and accomplishment as a poet, and his personal character as a solid housekeeping citizen, bent chiefly upon rearing his family in respectability, and paying his way, or, as the Church Catechism has neatly and unimprovably expressed it, upon "doing his duty in that state of life to which it had pleased God to call him." His almost constant ill-health, and, in a minor degree, the troubles which beset him in money-matters, make the problem all the more noticeable. The influence of Charles Lamb may have had something to do with it,—probably not very much. Perhaps there was something in the literary atmosphere or the national tone of the time which gave comicality a turn of predominance after the subsiding of the great poetic wave which filled the last years of the eighteenth and the first quarter of the nineteenth century in our country, in Blake, Burns, Wordsworth, Scott, Coleridge, Landor, Byron, Keats, and, supreme among all, Shelley. Something of the same transition may be noticed in the art of design; the multifarious illustrator in the prior generation is Stothard,—in the later, Cruikshank. At any rate, in literature, Lamb, Hood, and then Dickens in his earliest works, the Sketches by Boz and Pickwick, are uncommonly characteristic and leading minds, and bent, with singular inveteracy, upon being "funny,"—though not funny and nothing else at all. But we should not force this consideration too far: Hood is a central figure in the group and the period, and the tendency of the time may be almost as much due to him as he to the tendency. Mainly, we have to fall back upon his own idiosyncrasy: he was born with a boundlessly whimsical perception, which he trained into an inimitable sleight-of-hand in the twisting of notions and of words; circumstances favored his writing for fugitive publications and skimming readers, rather than under conditions of greater permanency; and the result is as we find it in his works. His son expresses the opinion that part of Hood's success in comic writing arose from his early reading of Humphrey Clinker, Tristram Shandy, Tom Jones, and other works of that period, and imbuing himself with their style: a remark, however, which applies to his prose rather than his poetical works. Certain it is that the appetite for all kinds of fun, verbal and other was a part of Hood's nature. We see it in the practical jokes he was continually playing on his good-humored wife—such as altering into grotesque absurdity many of the words contained in her letters to friends: we see it—the mere animal love of jocularity, as it might be termed—in such a small point as his frequently addressing his friend Philip de Franck, in letters, by the words, "Tim, says he," instead of any human appellative Hood reminds us very much of one of Shakespeare's Fools (to use the word in no invidious sense) transported into the nineteenth century,—the Fool in King Lear, or Touchstone. For the occasional sallies of coarseness or ribaldry, the spirit of the time has substituted a bourgeois good-humor which respects the family circle, and haunts the kitchen-stairs; for the biting jeer, intended to make some victim uncomfortable, it gives the sarcastic or sprightly banter, not unconscious of an effort at moral amelioration; for the sententious sagacity, and humorous enjoyment of the nature of man, it gives bright thoughts and a humanitarian sympathy. But, on the whole, the intellectual personality is nearly the same: seeking by natural affinity, and enjoying to the uttermost, whatever tends to lightness of heart and to ridicule—thus dwelling indeed in the region of the commonplace and the gross, but constantly informing it with some suggestion of poetry, somewise side-meaning, or some form of sweetness and grace. These observations relate of course to Hood's humorous poems: into his grave and pathetic poems he can import qualities still loftier than these—though even here it is not often that he utterly forswears quaintness and oddity. The risible, the fantastic, was his beacon-light; sometimes as delicate as a dell of glow-worms; sometimes as uproarious as a bonfire; sometimes, it must be said (for he had to be perpetually writing whether the inspiration came or not, or his inspiration was too liable to come from the very platitudes and pettinesses of everyday life), not much more brilliant than a rush-light, and hardly more aromatic than the snuff of a tallow candle.
[Footnote 3: This "Tim, says he," is a perfect gag in many of Hood's letters. It is curious to learn what was the kind of joke which could assume so powerful an ascendant over the mind and associations of this great humorist. Here it is, as given in the Hood Memorials from Sir Jonah Barrington's Memoirs:—
"'Tim,' says he— 'Sir,' says he— 'Fetch me my hat, says he; 'That I may go,' says he, 'To Timahoe,' says he, 'And go to the fair,' says he, 'And see all that's there,' says he.— 'First pay what you owe,' says he; 'And then you may go,' says he, 'To Timahoe,' says he, 'And go to the fair,' says he, 'And see all that's there,' says he.— 'Now by this and by that,' says he, 'Tim, hang up my hat,' says he."]
We must now glance again at Hood's domestic affairs. His first child had no mundane existence worth calling such; but has nevertheless lived longer than most human beings in the lines which Lamb wrote for the occasion, On an Infant dying as soon as born. A daughter followed, and in 1830 was born his son, the Tom Hood who became editor of the comic journal Fun, and died in 1874. At the time of his birth, the family was living at Winchmore Hill: thence they removed about 1832, to the Lake House, Wanstead, a highly picturesque dwelling, but scanty in domestic comforts. The first of the Comic Annual series was brought out at Christmas, 1830. In the following couple of years, Hood did some theatrical work; writing the libretto for an English opera which (it is believed) was performed at the Surrey Theatre. Its name is now unknown, but it had a good run in its day; a similar fate has befallen an entertainment which he wrote for Mathews. He also composed a pantomime for the Adelphi; and, along with Reynolds, dramatized Gil Blas. This play is understood to have been acted at Drury Lane. The novel of Tylney Hall, and the poem of the Epping Hunt, were written at Wanstead.
Born in comfortable mediocrity, and early inured to narrow fortunes, Hood had no doubt entered upon the literary calling without expecting or caring to become rich. Hitherto, however, he seems to have prospered progressively, and to have had no reason to regret, even in a wordly sense, his choice of a profession. But towards the end of 1834 a disaster overtook him; and thenceforth, to the end of his days, he had nothing but tedious struggling and uphill work. To a man of his buoyant temperament, and happy in his home, this might have been of no extreme consequence, if only sound health had blessed him: unfortunately, the very reverse was the case. Sickly hitherto, he was soon to become miserably and hopelessly diseased: he worked on through everything bravely and uncomplainingly, but no doubt with keen throbs of discomfort, and not without detriment at times to the quality of his writings. The disaster adverted to was the failure of a firm with which Hood was connected, entailing severe loss upon him. With his accustomed probity, he refused to avail himself of any legal immunities, and resolved to meet his engagements in full eventually; but it became requisite that he should withdraw from England. He proposed to settle down in some one of the towns on the Rhine, and circumstances fixed his choice on Coblentz. A great storm which overtook him during the passage to Rotterdam told damagingly on his already feeble health. Coblentz, which he reached in March, 1835, pleased him at first; though it was not long before he found himself a good deal of an Englishman, and his surroundings vexatiously German. After a while he came to consider a German Jew and a Jew German nearly convertible terms; and indulged at times in considerable acrimony of comment, such as a reader of cosmopolitan temper is not inclined to approve. He had, however, at least one very agreeable acquaintance at Coblentz—Lieutenant Philip de Franck, an officer in the Prussian service, of partly English parentage: the good-fellowship which he kept up with this amiable gentleman, both in personal intercourse and by letter, was (as we have seen) even boyishly vivacious and exuberant. In the first instance Hood lived at No. 372 Castor Hof, where his family joined him in the Spring of 1835: about a year later, they removed to No. 752 Alten Graben.
Spasms in the chest now began to be a trying and alarming symptom of his ill-health, which, towards the end of 1836, took a turn for the worse; he never afterwards rallied very effectually, though the fluctuations were numerous—(in November, 1838, for instance, he fancied that a radical improvement had suddenly taken place)—and at times the danger was imminent. The unfavorable change in question was nearly simultaneous with a visit which he made to Berlin, accompanying Lieutenant de Franck and his regiment, on their transfer to Bromberg: the rate of travelling was from fifteen to twenty English miles per diem, for three days consecutively, and then one day of rest. Hood liked the simple unextortionate Saxon folk whom he encountered on the route, and contrasted them with the Coblentzers, much to the disadvantage of the latter. By the beginning of December he was back in his Rhineland home; but finally quitted it towards May, 1837. Several attacks of blood-spitting occurred in the interval; at one time Hood proposed for himself the deadly-lively epitaph, "Here lies one who spat more blood and made more puns than any other man."
About this time he was engaged in writing Up the Rhine; performing, as was his wont, the greater part of the work during the night-hours. The sojourn at Coblentz was succeeded by a sojourn at Ostend; in which city—besides the sea, which Hood always supremely delighted in—he found at first more comfort in the ordinary mode of living, including the general readiness at speaking or understanding English. Gradually, however, the climate, extremely damp and often cold, proved highly unsuitable to him; and, when he quitted Ostend in the Spring of 1840, at the close of nearly three years' residence there, it was apparent that his stay had already lasted too long. Within this period the publication of Hood's Own had occurred, and put to a severe trial even his unrivalled fertility in jest: one of his letters speaks of the difficulty of being perfectly original in the jocose vein, more especially with reference to the concurrent demands of Hood's Own, and of the Comic Annual of the year. At the beginning of 1839 he paid a visit of about three weeks to his often-regretted England, staying with one of his oldest and most intimate friends, Mr. Dilke, then editor of the Athenaeum. Another of his best friends—one indeed who continued to the end roost unwearied and affectionate in his professional and other attentions, Dr. Elliot—now made a medical examination of Hood's condition. He pronounced the lungs to be organically sound; the chief seat of disease being the liver, and the heart, which was placed lower down than usual. At a later stage of the disease, enlargement of the heart is mentioned, along with haemorrhage from the lungs consequent on that malady, and recurring with terrible frequency: to these dropsy, arising from extreme weakness, was eventually superadded. Indeed, the catalogue of the illnesses of the unconquerably hilarious Hood, and the details of his sufferings, are painful to read. They have at least the merit of giving a touch of adventitious but intimate pathos even to some of his wildest extravagances of verbal fence,—and of enhancing our sympathy and admiration for the force and beauty of his personal character, which could produce work such as this out of a torture of body and spirit such as that. During this visit to London, Hood scrutinized his publishing and other accounts, and found them sufficiently encouraging. The first edition of Up the Rhine, consisting of 1500 copies, sold off In a fortnight. Soon, however, some vexations with publishers ensued: Hood felt it requisite to take legal proceedings, and the action lingered on throughout and beyond the brief remainder of his life. Thus his prospects were again blighted, and his means crippled when most they needed to be unembarrassed.
The poet was back in England from Ostend in April 1840; and, under medical advice, he determined to prolong his visit into a permanent re-settlement in his native London. Here therefore he remained and returned, no more to the Continent. He took a house, with his family, in Camberwell, not far from the Green; removing afterwards to St. John's Wood, and finally to another house in the same district, Devonshire Lodge, Finchley Road. He wrote in the New Monthly Magazine, then edited by Theodore Hook: his Rhymes for the Times, the celebrated Miss Kilmansegg, and other compositions, first appeared here. Hook dying in August 1841, Hood was invited to succeed him as editor, and closed with the offer: this gave him an annual salary of L300, besides the separate payments for any articles that he wrote. The Song of the Shirt, which it would be futile to praise or even to characterize, came out, anonymously of course, in the Christmas number of Punch for 1843: it ran like wildfire, and rang like a tocsin, through the land. Immediately afterwards, in January 1844, Hood's connection with the New Monthly closed, and he started a publication of his own, Hood's Magazine, which was a considerable success: more than half the first number was the actual handiwork of the editor. Many troubles and cross-purposes, however, beset the new periodical; difficulties with which Hood was ill fitted, by his now rapidly and fatally worsening health, to cope. They pestered him when he was most in need of rest; and he was in need of rest when most he was wanted to control the enterprise. The Haunted House, and various other excellent poems by Hood, were published in this magazine.
His last days and final agonies were a little cheered by the granting of a Government pension of L100, dating from June 1844, which, with kindly but ominous foresight, was conferred upon Mrs. Hood, as likely to prove the survivor. This was during the ministry of Sir Robert Peel, whose courteous communications to the poet, and expressions of direct personal interest in his writings, made the boon all the more acceptable. Hood, indeed, had not been directly concerned in soliciting it. At a somewhat earlier date, January 1841, the Literary Society had, similarly unasked, voted him a sum of L50; but this he returned, although his circumstances were such as might have made it by no means unwelcome. From Christmas 1844 he was compelled to take to his bed, and was fated never to leave his room again. The ensuing Spring, throughout which the poet lay seemingly almost at the last gasp day by day, was a lovely one. At times he was delirious; but mostly quite clear in mind, and full of gentleness and resignation. "Dying, dying," were his last words; and shortly before, "Lord, say 'Arise, take up thy cross, and follow me.'" On the 3d of May 1845 he lay dead.
Hood's funeral took place in Kensal Green Cemetery: it was a quiet one, but many friends attended. His faithful and loving wife would not be long divided from him. Eighteen months later she was laid beside him, dying of an illness first contracted from her constant tendance on his sick-bed. In the closing period of his life, Hood could hardly bear her being out of his sight, or even write when she was away. Some years afterwards, a public subscription was got up, and a monument erected to mark the grave of the good man and true poet who "sang the Song of the Shirt."
The face of Hood is best known by two busts and an oil-portrait which have both been engraved from. It is a sort of face to which apparently a bust does more than justice, yet less than right. The features, being mostly by no means bad ones, look better, when thus reduced to the mere simple and abstract contour, than they probably showed in reality, for no one supposed Hood to be a fine-looking man; on the other hand, the value of the face must have been in its shifting expression—keen, playful, or subtle—and this can be but barely suggested by the sculptor. The poet's visage was pallid, his figure slight, his voice feeble; he always dressed in black, and is spoken of as presenting a generally clerical aspect. He was remarkably deficient in ear for music—not certainly for the true chime and varied resources of verse. His aptitude for the art of design was probably greater than might be inferred from the many comic woodcut-drawings which he has left. These are irresistibly ludicrous—(who would not laugh over "The Spoiled Child"—"What next? as the Frog said when his tail fell off"—and a host of others?)—and all the more ludicrous and effective for being drawn more childishly and less artistically than was within Hood's compass. One may occasionally see some water-color landscape-bit or the like from his hands pleasantly done; and during his final residence in England he acted upon an idea he had long entertained, and produced some little in the way of oil-painting. He was also ingenious in any sort of light fancy-work—such, for instance, as carving the scenery for a child's theatre which formed the delight of his little son and daughter. His religious faith was, according to the writers of the Memorials, deep and sincere, though his opposition to sectarian narrowness and spite of all sorts was vigorous, and caused him sometimes to be regarded as anti-religious. A letter of his to a tract-giving and piously censorious lady who had troubled him (published in the same book) is absolutely fierce, and indeed hardly to be reconciled with the courtesy due to a woman, as a mere question of sex. It would be convenient, I may observe, to know more plainly what the biographers mean by such expressions as "religious faith," "Christian gentleman," and the like. They are not explained, for instance, by adding that Hood honored the Bible too much to make it a task-book for his children. "Religious faith" covers many very serious differences of sentiment and conviction, between natural theology and historical Christianity; and, on hearing that a man possessed religious faith, one would like to learn which of the two extremes this faith was more nearly conversant with. In respect of political or social opinion, Hood appears to have been rather humane and philanthropic than democratic, or "liberal" in the distinct technical sense. His favorite theory of government, as he said in a letter to Peel, was "an angel from heaven, and a despotism." He loved neither whigs nor tories, but was on the side of a national policy: war was his abhorrence, and so were the wicked corn-laws—an oligarchical device which survived him, but not for long. His private generosity, not the less true or hearty for the limits which a precarious and very moderate income necessarily imposed on it, was in accordance with the general sentiments of kindness which he was wont to express both in public and private: if he preached, he did not forget to practise.
It has been well said that "the predominant characteristics of his genius are humorous fancies grafted upon melancholy impressions." Yet the term "grafted" seems hardly strong enough. Hood appears, by natural bent and permanent habit of mind, to have seen and sought for ludicrousness under all conditions—it was the first thing that struck him as a matter of intellectual perception or choice. On the other hand, his nature being poetic, his sympathies acute, and the condition of his life morbid, he very frequently wrote in a tone of deep and indeed melancholy feeling, and was a master both of his own art and of the reader's emotion; but, even in work of this sort, the intellectual execration, when it takes precedence of the general feeling, is continually fantastic, grotesque, or positively mirthful. And so again with those of his works—including rude designs along with finished or off-hand writing—which are professedly comical: the funny twist of thought is the essential thing, and the most gloomy or horrible subject-matter is often selected as the occasion for the horse-laugh. In some of his works indeed (we might cite the poems named The Dead Robbery, The Forge, and The Supper Superstition) the horse-laugh almost passes into a nightmare laugh. A ghoul might seem to have set it going, and laughing hyenas to be chorusing it. A man of such a faculty and such a habit of work could scarcely, in all instances, keep himself within the bounds of good taste—a term which people are far too ready to introduce into serious discussions, for the purpose of casting disparagement upon some work which transcends the ordinary standards of appreciation, but a term nevertheless which has its important meaning and its true place. Hood is too often like a man grinning awry, or interlarding serious and beautiful discourse with a nod, a wink, or a leer, neither requisite nor convenient as auxiliaries to his speech: and to do either of these things is to fail in perfect taste. Sometimes, not very often, we are allowed to reach the close of a poem of his without having our attention jogged and called off by a single interpolation of this kind; and then we feel unalloyed—what we constantly feel also even under the contrary conditions—how exquisite a poetic sense and how choice a cunning of hand were his. On the whole, we can pronounce Hood the finest English poet between the generation of Shelley and the generation of Tennyson.
[Footnote 4: Horne's New Spirit of the Age.]
To Hope The Departure of Summer The Sea of Death To an Absentee Lycus the Centaur The Two Peacocks of Bedfont Hymn to the Sun Midnight To a Sleeping Child To Fancy Fair Ines To a False Friend Ode—Autumn Sonnet—Silence Sonnet Sonnet—to an Enthusiast To a Cold Beauty Sonnet—Death Serenade Verses in an Album The Forsaken Song Song Birthday Verses I Love Thee Lines False Poets and True The Two Swans Ode on a Distant Prospect of Clapham Academy Song The Water Lady Autumn I Remember, I Remember! The Poet's Portion Ode to the Moon Sonnet A Retrospective Review Ballad Time, Hope and Memory Flowers Ballad Ruth The Plea of the Midsummer Fairies Hero and Leander Ballad Autumn Ballad The Exile To —— Ode to Melancholy Sonnet—to my Wife Sonnet on Receiving a Gift Sonnet The Dream of Eugene Aram Sonnet—for the 14th of February The Death-Bed Anticipation To a Child Embracing his Mother Stanzas Sonnet to Ocean To —— Lines Stanzas Ode to Rae Wilson, Esq. To my Daughter Miss Kelmansegg and her Precious Leg The Lee Shore Sonnet The Elm Tree Lear Sonnet The Song of the Shirt The Pauper's Christmas Carol The Haunted House The Mary The Lady's Dream The Key The Workhouse Clock The Bridge of Sighs The Lay of the Laborer Stanzas Ode to Mr. Graham A Friendly Address to Mrs. Fry in Newgate Ode to Richard Martin, Esq. Ode to the Great Unknown Ode to Joseph Grimaldi, Senior An Address to the Steam Washing Company Ode to Captain Parry Ode to W. Kitchener, M. D. The Last Man Faithless Sally Brown As it Fell Upon a Day The Stag-eyed Lady The Irish Schoolmaster Faithless Nelly Gray Bianca's Dream The Demon-ship Tim Turpin Death's Ramble A Sailor's Apology for Bow-Legs The Volunteer The Epping Hunt The Drowning Ducks A Storm at Hastings Lines to a Lady The Angler's Farewell Ode—to the Advocates for the Removal of Smithfield Market A Report from Below "I'm not a Single Man" The Supper Superstition The Duel A Singular Exhibition at Somerset House Lines to Mary The Compass with Variations The Ghost The Fall Our Village A Public Dinner Sally Simpkin's Lament Ode to Sir Andrew Agnew, Bart The Lost Heir The Fox and the Hen The Poacher A Waterloo Ballad A Lay of Real Life The Sweep's Complaint The Desert-Born Agricultural Distress Domestic Poems The Green Man Hit or Miss The Forlorn Shepherd's Complaint Lieutenant Luff Morning Meditations A Plain Direction The Assistant Drapers' Petition The Bachelor's Dream Rural Felicity A Flying Visit Queen Mab To Henrietta A Parthian Glance A True Story The Mermaid of Margate A Fairy Tale Craniology The Wee Man The Progress of Art Those Evening Bells The Carelesse Nurse Mayd Domestic Asides Shooting Pains John Day Huggins and Duggins The China-Mender Domestic Didactics Lament for the Decline of Chivalry Playing at Soldiers Mary's Ghost The Widow An Open Question A Black Job Etching Moralised A Tale of a Trumpet The Forge The University Feud
HOOD'S POETICAL WORKS.
Oh! take, young Seraph, take thy harp, And play to me so cheerily; For grief is dark, and care is sharp, And life wears on so wearily. Oh! take thy harp! Oh! sing as thou wert wont to do, When, all youth's sunny season long, I sat and listened to thy song, And yet 'twas ever, ever new, With magic in its heaven-tuned string— The future bliss thy constant theme. Oh! then each little woe took wing Away, like phantoms of a dream; As if each sound That flutter'd round, Had floated over Lethe's stream!
By all those bright and happy hours We spent in life's sweet eastern bow'rs, Where thou wouldst sit and smile, and show, Ere buds were come, where flowers would blow, And oft anticipate the rise Of life's warm sun that scaled the skies; By many a story of love and glory, And friendships promised oft to me; By all the faith I lent to thee,— Oh! take, young Seraph, take thy harp, And play to me so cheerily; For grief is dark, and care is sharp, And life wears on so wearily. Oh! take thy harp!
Perchance the strings will sound less clear, That long have lain neglected by In sorrow's misty atmosphere; It ne'er may speak as it hath spoken Such joyous notes so brisk and high; But are its golden chords all broken? Are there not some, though weak and low, To play a lullaby to woe? But thou canst sing of love no more, For Celia show'd that dream was vain; And many a fancied bliss is o'er, That comes not e'en in dreams again. Alas! alas! How pleasures pass, And leave thee now no subject, save The peace and bliss beyond the grave!
Then be thy flight among the skies: Take, then, oh! take the skylark's wing, And leave dull earth, and heavenward rise O'er all its tearful clouds, and sing On skylark's wing!
Another life-spring there adorns Another youth—without the dread Of cruel care, whose crown of thorns Is here for manhood's aching head. Oh! there are realms of welcome day, A world where tears are wiped away! Then be thy flight among the skies: Take, then, oh! take the skylark's wing, And leave dull earth, and heavenward rise O'er all its tearful clouds, and sing On skylark's wing!
THE DEPARTURE OF SUMMER.
Summer is gone on swallows' wings, And Earth has buried all her flowers: No more the lark,—the linnet—sings, But Silence sits in faded bowers. There is a shadow on the plain Of Winter ere he comes again,— There is in woods a solemn sound Of hollow warnings whisper'd round, As Echo in her deep recess For once had turn'd a prophetess. Shuddering Autumn stops to list, And breathes his fear in sudden sighs, With clouded face, and hazel eyes That quench themselves, and hide in mist.
Yes, Summer's gone like pageant bright; Its glorious days of golden light Are gone—the mimic suns that quiver, Then melt in Time's dark-flowing river. Gone the sweetly-scented breeze That spoke in music to the trees; Gone—for damp and chilly breath, As if fresh blown o'er marble seas, Or newly from the lungs of Death. Gone its virgin roses' blushes, Warm as when Aurora rushes Freshly from the God's embrace, With all her shame upon her face. Old Time hath laid them in the mould; Sure he is blind as well as old, Whose hand relentless never spares Young cheeks so beauty-bright as theirs! Gone are the flame-eyed lovers now From where so blushing-blest they tarried Under the hawthorn's blossom-bough, Gone; for Day and Night are married. All the light of love is fled:— Alas! that negro breasts should hide The lips that were so rosy red, At morning and at even-tide!
Delightful Summer! then adieu Till thou shalt visit us anew: But who without regretful sigh Can say, adieu, and see thee fly? Not he that e'er hath felt thy pow'r. His joy expanding like a flow'r, That cometh after rain and snow, Looks up at heaven, and learns to glow:— Not he that fled from Babel-strife To the green sabbath-land of life, To dodge dull Care 'mid clustered trees, And cool his forehead in the breeze,— Whose spirit, weary-worn perchance, Shook from its wings a weight of grief, And perch'd upon an aspen leaf, For every breath to make it dance.
Farewell!—on wings of sombre stain, That blacken in the last blue skies, Thou fly'st; but thou wilt come again On the gay wings of butterflies. Spring at thy approach will sprout Her new Corinthian beauties out, Leaf-woven homes, where twitter-words Will grow to songs, and eggs to birds; Ambitious buds shall swell to flowers, And April smiles to sunny hours, Bright days shall be, and gentle nights Full of soft breath and echo-lights, As if the god of sun-time kept His eyes half-open while he slept. Roses shall be where roses were, Not shadows, but reality; As if they never perished there, But slept in immortality: Nature shall thrill with new delight, And Time's relumined river run Warm as young blood, and dazzling bright, As if its source were in the sun!
But say, hath Winter then no charms? Is there no joy, no gladness warms His aged heart? no happy wiles To cheat the hoary one to smiles? Onward he comes—the cruel North Pours his furious whirlwind forth Before him—and we breathe the breath Of famish'd bears that howl to death. Onward he comes from the rocks that blanch O'er solid streams that never flow: His tears all ice, his locks all snow, Just crept from some huge avalanche— A thing half-breathing and half-warm, As if one spark began to glow Within some statue's marble form, Or pilgrim stiffened in the storm. Oh! will not Mirth's light arrows fail To pierce that frozen coat of mail? Oh! will not joy but strive in vain To light up those glazed eyes again?
No! take him in, and blaze the oak, And pour the wine, and warm the ale; His sides shall shake to many a joke, His tongue shall thaw in many a tale, His eyes grow bright, his heart be gay, And even his palsy charm'd away. What heeds he then the boisterous shout Of angry winds that scowl without, Like shrewish wives at tavern door? What heeds he then the wild uproar Of billows bursting on the shore? In dashing waves, in howling breeze, There is a music that can charm him; When safe, and sheltered, and at ease, He hears the storm that cannot harm him.
But hark! those shouts! that sudden din Of little hearts that laugh within. Oh! take him where the youngsters play, And he will grow as young as they! They come! they come! each blue-eyed Sport, The Twelfth-Night King and all his court— 'Tis Mirth fresh crown'd with misletoe! Music with her merry fiddles, Joy "on light fantastic toe," Wit with all his jests and riddles, Singing and dancing as they go. And Love, young Love, among the rest, A welcome—nor unbidden guest.
But still for Summer dost thou grieve? Then read our Poets—they shall weave A garden of green fancies still, Where thy wish may rove at will. They have kept for after-treats The essences of summer sweets, And echoes of its songs that wind In endless music through the mind: They have stamp'd in visible traces The "thoughts that breathe," in words that shine— The flights of soul in sunny places— To greet and company with thine. These shall wing thee on to flow'rs— The past or future, that shall seem All the brighter in thy dream For blowing in such desert hours. The summer never shines so bright As thought-of in a winter's night; And the sweetest loveliest rose Is in the bud before it blows; The dear one of the lover's heart Is painted to his longing eyes, In charms she ne'er can realize— But when she turns again to part. Dream thou then, and bind thy brow With wreath of fancy roses now, And drink of Summer in the cup Where the Muse hath mix'd it up; The "dance, and song, and sun-burnt mirth," With the warm nectar of the earth: Drink! 'twill glow in every vein, And thou shalt dream the winter through: Then waken to the sun again, And find thy Summer Vision true!
THE SEA OF DEATH.
——Methought I saw Life swiftly treading over endless space; And, at her foot-print, but a bygone pace, The ocean-past, which, with increasing wave, Swallow'd her steps like a pursuing grave.
Sad were my thoughts that anchor'd silently On the dead waters of that passionless sea, Unstirr'd by any touch of living breath: Silence hung over it, and drowsy Death, Like a gorged sea-bird, slept with folded wings On crowded carcases—sad passive things That wore the thin gray surface, like a veil Over the calmness of their features pale.
And there were spring-faced cherubs that did sleep Like water-lilies on that motionless deep, How beautiful! with bright unruffled hair On sleek unfretted brows, and eyes that were Buried in marble tombs, a pale eclipse! And smile-bedimpled cheeks, and pleasant lips, Meekly apart, as if the soul intense Spake out in dreams of its own innocence: And so they lay in loveliness, and kept The birth-night of their peace, that Life e'en wept With very envy of their happy fronts; For there were neighbor brows scarr'd by the brunts Of strife and sorrowing—where Care had set His crooked autograph, and marr'd the jet Of glassy locks, with hollow eyes forlorn, And lips that curl'd in bitterness and scorn— Wretched,—as they had breathed of this world's pain, And so bequeathed it to the world again, Through the beholder's heart in heavy sighs.
So lay they garmented in torpid light, Under the pall of a transparent night, Like solemn apparitions lull'd sublime To everlasting rest,—and with them Time Slept, as he sleeps upon the silent face Of a dark dial in a sunless place.
TO AN ABSENTEE.
O'er hill, and dale, and distant sea, Through all the miles that stretch between, My thought must fly to rest on thee, And would, though worlds should intervene.
Nay, thou art now so dear, methinks The farther we are forced apart, Affection's firm elastic links But bind the closer round the heart.
For now we sever each from each, I learned what I have lost in thee; Alas, that nothing else could teach How great indeed my love should be!
Farewell! I did not know thy worth; But thou art gone, and now 'tis prized: So angels walk'd unknown on earth, But when they flew were recognized!
LYCUS THE CENTAUR.
FROM AN UNROLLED MANUSCRIPT OF APOLLONIUS CURIUS.
Lycus, detained by Circe in her magical dominion, is beloved by a Water Nymph, who, desiring to render him immortal, has recourse to the Sorceress. Circe gives her an incantation to pronounce, which should turn Lycus into a horse; but the horrible effect of the charm causing her to break off in the midst, he becomes a Centaur.
Who hath ever been lured and bound by a spell To wander, fore-doomed, in that circle of hell Where Witchery works with her will like a god, Works more than the wonders of time at a nod,— At a word,—at a touch,—at a flash of the eye, But each form is a cheat, and each sound is a lie, Things born of a wish—to endure for a thought, Or last for long ages—to vanish to nought, Or put on new semblance? O Jove, I had given The throne of a kingdom to know if that heaven, And the earth and its streams were of Circe, or whether They kept the world's birthday and brighten'd together! For I loved them in terror, and constantly dreaded That the earth where I trod, and the cave where I bedded, The face I might dote on, should live out the lease Of the charm that created, and suddenly cease: And I gave me to slumber, as if from one dream To another—each horrid,—and drank of the stream Like a first taste of blood, lest as water I quaff'd Swift poison, and never should breathe from the draught,— Such drink as her own monarch husband drain'd up When he pledged her, and Fate closed his eyes in the cup. And I pluck'd of the fruit with held breath, and a fear That the branch would start back and scream out in my ear; For once, at my suppering, I plucked in the dusk An apple, juice-gushing and fragrant of musk; But by daylight my fingers were crimson'd with gore, And the half-eaten fragment was flesh at the core; And once—only once—for the love of its blush, I broke a bloom bough, but there came such a gush On my hand, that it fainted away in weak fright, While the leaf-hidden woodpecker shriek'd at the sight; And oh! such an agony thrill'd in that note, That my soul, startling up, beat its wings in my throat, As it long'd to be free of a body whose hand Was doom'd to work torments a Fury had plann'd!
There I stood without stir, yet how willing to flee, As if rooted and horror-turn'd into a tree,— Oh! for innocent death,—and to suddenly win it, I drank of the stream, but no poison was in it; I plunged in its waters, but ere I could sink, Some invisible fate pull'd me back to the brink; I sprang from the rock, from its pinnacle height, But fell on the grass with a grasshopper's flight; I ran at my fears—they were fears and no more, For the bear would not mangle my limbs, nor the boar, But moan'd—all their brutalized flesh could not smother The horrible truth,—we were kin to each other!
They were mournfully gentle, and group'd for relief, All foes in their skin, but all friends in their grief: The leopard was there,—baby-mild in its feature; And the tiger, black-barr'd, with the gaze of a creature That knew gentle pity; the bristle-back'd boar, His innocent tusks stain'd with mulberry gore; And the laughing hyena—but laughing no more; And the snake, not with magical orbs to devise Strange death, but with woman's attraction of eyes; The tall ugly ape, that still bore a dim shine Through his hairy eclipse of a manhood divine; And the elephant stately, with more than its reason, How thoughtful in sadness! but this is no season To reckon them up from the lag-bellied toad To the mammoth, whose sobs shook his ponderous load. There were woes of all shapes, wretched forms, when I came, That hung down their heads with a human-like shame; The elephant hid in the boughs, and the bear Shed over his eyes the dark veil of his hair; And the womanly soul turning sick with disgust, Tried to vomit herself from her serpentine crust; While all groan'd their groans into one at their lot, As I brought them the image of what they were not.
Then rose a wild sound of the human voice choking Through vile brutal organs—low tremulous croaking: Cries swallow'd abruptly—deep animal tones Attuned to strange passion, and full-utter'd groans; All shuddering weaken, till hush'd in a pause Of tongues in mute motion and wide-yawning jaws; And I guessed that those horrors were meant to tell o'er The tale of their woes; but the silence told more, That writhed on their tongues; and I knelt on the sod, And pray'd with my voice to the cloud-stirring god, For the sad congregation of supplicants there, That upturn'd to his heaven brute faces of prayer; And I ceased, and they utter'd a moaning so deep, That I wept for my heart-ease,—but they could not weep, And gazed with red eyeballs, all wistfully dry, At the comfort of tears in a stag's human eye. Then I motion'd them round, and, to soothe their distress, I caress'd, and they bent them to meet my caress, Their necks to my arm, and their heads to my palm, And with poor grateful eyes suffer'd meekly and calm Those tokens of kindness, withheld by hard fate From returns that might chill the warm pity to hate; So they passively bow'd—save the serpent, that leapt To my breast like a sister, and pressingly crept In embrace of my neck, and with close kisses blister'd My lips in rash love,—then drew backward, and glister'd Her eyes in my face, and loud hissing affright, Dropt down, but swift started away from my sight!
This sorrow was theirs, but thrice wretched my lot, Turn'd brute in my soul, though my body was not, When I fled from the sorrow of womanly faces, That shrouded their woe in the shade of lone places, And dash'd off bright tears, till their fingers were wet, And then wiped their lids with long tresses of jet: But I fled—though they stretch'd out their hands, all entangled With hair, and blood-stain'd of the breasts they had mangled,— Though they call'd—and perchance but to ask, had I seen Their loves, or to tell the vile wrongs that had been: But I stayed not to hear, lest the story should hold Some hell-form of words, some enchantment, once told, Might translate me in flesh to a brute; and I dreaded To gaze on their charms, lest my faith should be wedded With some pity,—and love in that pity perchance— To a thing not all lovely; for once at glance, Methought, where one sat, I descried a bright wonder That flow'd like a long silver rivulet under The long fenny grass,—with so lovely a breast, Could it be a snake-tail made the charm of the rest?
So I roamed in that circle of horrors, and Fear Walk'd with me, by hills, and in valleys, and near Cluster'd trees for their gloom—not to shelter from heat— But lest a brute-shadow should grow at my feet; And besides that full oft in the sunshiny place Dark shadows would gather like clouds on its face, In the horrible likeness of demons (that none Could see, like invisible flames in the sun); But grew to one monster that seized on the light, Like the dragon that strangles the moon in the night; Fierce sphinxes, long serpents, and asps of the south; Wild birds of huge beak, and all horrors that drouth Engenders of slime in the land of the pest, Vile shapes without shape, and foul bats of the West, Bringing Night on their wings; and the bodies wherein Great Brahma imprisons the spirits of sin, Many-handed, that blent in one phantom of fight Like a Titan, and threatfully warr'd with the light; I have heard the wild shriek that gave signal to close, When they rushed on that shadowy Python of foes, That met with sharp beaks and wide gaping of jaws, With flappings of wings, and fierce grasping of claws, And whirls of long tails:—I have seen the quick flutter Of fragments dissevered,—and necks stretch'd to utter Long screamings of pain,—the swift motion of blows, And wrestling of arms—to the flight at the close, When the dust of the earth startled upward in rings, And flew on the whirlwind that follow'd their wings.
Thus they fled—not forgotten—but often to grow Like fears in my eyes, when I walk'd to and fro In the shadows, and felt from some beings unseen The warm touch of kisses, but clean or unclean I knew not, nor whether the love I had won Was of heaven or hell—till one day in the sun, In its very noon-blaze, I could fancy a thing Of beauty, but faint as the cloud-mirrors fling On the gaze of the shepherd that watches the sky, Half-seen and half-dream'd in the soul of his eye. And when in my musings I gazed on the stream, In motionless trances of thought, there would seem A face like that face, looking upward through mine: With his eyes full of love, and the dim-drownd shine Of limbs and fair garments, like clouds in that blue Serene:—there I stood for long hours but to view Those fond earnest eyes that were ever uplifted Towards me, and wink'd as the water-weed drifted Between; but the fish knew that presence, and plied Their long curvy tails, and swift darted aside.
There I gazed for lost time, and forgot all the things That once had been wonders—the fishes with wings, And the glimmer of magnified eyes that look'd up From the glooms of the bottom like pearls in a cup, And the huge endless serpent of silvery gleam, Slow winding along like a tide in the stream. Some maid of the waters, some Naiad, methought Held me dear in the pearl of her eye—and I brought My wish to that fancy; and often I dash'd My limbs in the water, and suddenly splash'd The cool drops around me, yet clung to the brink, Chill'd by watery fears, how that beauty might sink With my life in her arms to her garden, and bind me With its long tangled grasses, or cruelly wind me In some eddy to hum out my life in her ear, Like a spider-caught bee,—and in aid of that fear Came the tardy remembrance—Oh falsest of men! Why was not that beauty remember'd till then? My love, my safe love, whose glad life would have run Into mine—like a drop—that our fate might be one, That now, even now,—may-be,—clasp'd in a dream, That form which I gave to some jilt of the stream, And gazed with fond eyes that her tears tried to smother On a mock of those eyes that I gave to another!
Then I rose from the stream, but the eyes of my mind, Still full of the tempter, kept gazing behind On her crystalline face, while I painfully leapt To the bank, and shook off the curst waters, and wept With my brow in the reeds; and the reeds to my ear Bow'd, bent by no wind, and in whispers of fear, Growing small with large secrets, foretold me of one That loved me,—but oh to fly from her, and shun Her love like a pest—though her love was as true To mine as her stream to the heavenly blue; For why should I love her with love that would bring All misfortune, like hate, on so joyous a thing? Because of her rival,—even Her whose witch-face I had slighted, and therefore was doom'd in that place To roam, and had roam'd, where all horrors grew rank, Nine days ere I wept with my brow on that bank; Her name be not named, but her spite would not fail To our love like a blight; and they told me the tale Of Scylla,—and Picus, imprison'd to speak His shrill-screaming woe through a woodpecker's beak.
Then they ceased—I had heard as the voice of my star That told me the truth of my fortunes—thus far I had read of my sorrow, and lay in the hush Of deep meditation,—when lo! a light crush Of the reeds, and I turn'd and look'd round in the night Of new sunshine, and saw, as I sipp'd of the light Narrow-winking, the realized nymph of the stream, Rising up from the wave with the bend and the gleam Of a fountain, and o'er her white arms she kept throwing Bright torrents of hair, that went flowing and flowing In falls to her feet, and the blue waters roll'd Down her limbs like a garment, in many a fold, Sun-spangled, gold-broider'd, and fled far behind, Like an infinite train. So she came and reclined In the reeds, and I hunger'd to see her unseal The buds of her eyes that would ope and reveal The blue that was in them;—they oped and she raised Two orbs of pure crystal, and timidly gazed With her eyes on my eyes; but their color and shine Was of that which they look'd on, and mostly of mine— For she loved me,—except when she blush'd, and they sank, Shame-humbled, to number the stones on the bank, Or her play-idle fingers, while lisping she told me How she put on her veil, and in love to behold me Would wing through the sun till she fainted away Like a mist, and then flew to her waters and lay In love-patience long hours, and sore dazzled her eyes In watching for mine 'gainst the midsummer skies. But now they were heal'd,—O my heart, it still dances When I think of the charm of her changeable glances, And my image how small when it sank in the deep Of her eyes where her soul was,—Alas! now they weep, And none knoweth where. In what stream do her eyes Shed invisible tears? Who beholds where her sighs Flow in eddies, or sees the ascent of the leaf She has pluck'd with her tresses? Who listens her grief Like a far fall of waters, or hears where her feet Grow emphatic among the loose pebbles, and beat Them together? Ah! surely her flowers float adown To the sea unaccepted, and little ones drown For need of her mercy,—even he whose twin-brother Will miss him forever; and the sorrowful mother Imploreth in vain for his body to kiss And cling to, all dripping and cold as it is, Because that soft pity is lost in hard pain We loved,—how we loved!—for I thought not again Of the woes that were whisper'd like fears in that place If I gave me to beauty. Her face was the face, Far away, and her eyes were the eyes that were drown'd For my absence,—her arms were the arms that sought round And claspt me to nought; for I gazed and became Only true to my falsehood, and had but one name For two loves, and call'd ever on AEgle, sweet maid Of the sky-loving waters,—and was not afraid Of the sight of her skin;—for it never could be; Her beauty and love were misfortunes to me!
Thus our bliss had endured for a time-shorten'd space, Like a day made of three, and the smile of her face Had been with me for joy,—when she told me indeed Her love was self-task'd with a work that would need Some short hours, for in truth 'twas the veriest pity Our love should not last, and then sang me a ditty, Of one with warm lips that should love her, and love her When suns were burnt dim and long ages past over. So she fled with her voice, and I patiently nested My limbs in the reeds, in still quiet, and rested Till my thoughts grew extinct, and I sank in a sleep Of dreams,—but their meaning was hidden too deep To be read what their woe was;—but still it was woe That was writ on all faces that swam to and fro In that river of night;—and the gaze of their eyes Was sad,—and the bend of their brows,—and their cries Were seen, but I heard not. The warm touch of tears Travell'd down my cold cheeks, and I shook till my fears Awaked me, and lo! I was couch'd in a bower, The growth of long summers rear'd up in an hour! Then I said, in the fear of my dream, I will fly From this magic, but could not, because that my eye Grew love-idle among the rich blooms; and the earth Held me down with its coolness of touch, and the mirth Of some bird was above me,—who, even in fear, Would startle the thrush? and methought there drew near A form as of AEgle,—but it was not the face Hope made, and I knew the witch-Queen of that place, Even Circe the Cruel, that came like a Death, Which I fear'd, and yet fled not, for want of my breath. There was thought in her face, and her eyes were not raised From the grass at her foot, but I saw, as I gazed, Her spite—and her countenance changed with her mind As she plann'd how to thrall me with beauty, and bind My soul to her charms,—and her long tresses play'd From shade into shine and from shine into shade, Like a day in mid-autumn,—first fair, O how fair! With long snaky locks of the adder-black hair That clung round her neck,—those dark locks that I prize, For the sake of a maid that once loved me with eyes Of that fathomless hue,—but they changed as they roll'd, And brighten'd, and suddenly blazed into gold That she comb'd into flames, and the locks that fell down Turn'd dark as they fell, but I slighted their brown, Nor loved, till I saw the light ringlets shed wild, That innocence wears when she is but a child; And her eyes,—Oh I ne'er had been witched with their shine, Had they been any other, my AEgle, than thine!
Then I gave me to magic, and gazed till I madden'd In the full of their light,—but I sadden'd and sadden'd The deeper I look'd,—till I sank on the snow Of her bosom, a thing made of terror and woe, And answer'd its throb with the shudder of fears, And hid my cold eyes from her eyes with my tears, And strain'd her white arms with the still languid weight Of a fainting distress. There she sat like the Fate That is nurse unto Death, and bent over in shame To hide me from her the true AEgle—that came With the words on her lips the false witch had fore-given To make me immortal—for now I was even At the portals of Death, who but waited the hush Of world-sounds in my ears to cry welcome, and rush With my soul to the banks of his black-flowing river. Oh, would it had flown from my body forever, Ere I listen'd those words, when I felt with a start, The life-blood rush back in one throb to my heart, And saw the pale lips where the rest of that spell Had perished in horror—and heard the farewell Of that voice that was drown'd in the dash of the stream! How fain had I follow'd, and plunged with that scream Into death, but my being indignantly lagg'd Through the brutalized flesh that I painfully dragg'd Behind me:—O Circe! O mother of spite! Speak the last of that curse! and imprison me quite In the husk of a brute,—that no pity may name The man that I was,—that no kindred may claim— "The monster I am! Let me utterly be Brute-buried, and Nature's dishonor with me Uninscribed!"—But she listen'd my prayer, that was praise To her malice, with smiles, and advised me to gaze On the river for love,—and perchance she would make In pity a maid without eyes for my sake, And she left me like Scorn. Then I ask'd of the wave, What monster I was, and it trembled and gave The true shape of my grief, and I turn'd with my face From all waters forever, and fled through that place, Till with horror more strong than all magic I pass'd Its bounds, and the world was before me at last.
There I wander'd in sorrow, and shunned the abodes Of men, that stood up in the likeness of Gods, But I saw from afar the warm shine of the sun On the cities, where man was a million, not one; And I saw the white smoke of their altars ascending, That show'd where the hearts of many were blending, And the wind in my face brought shrill voices that came From the trumpets that gather'd whole bands in one fame As a chorus of man,—and they stream'd from the gates Like a dusky libation poured out to the Fates. But at times there were gentler processions of peace That I watch'd with my soul in my eyes till their cease, There were women! there men! but to me a third sex I saw them all dots—yet I loved them as specks: And oft to assuage a sad yearning of eyes I stole near the city, but stole covert-wise Like a wild beast of love, and perchance to be smitten By some hand that I rather had wept on than bitten! Oh, I once had a haunt near a cot where a mother Daily sat in the shade with her child, and would smother Its eyelids in kisses, and then in its sleep Sang dreams in its ear of its manhood, while deep In a thicket of willows I gazed o'er the brooks That murmur'd between us and kiss'd them with looks; But the willows unbosom'd their secret, and never I return'd to a spot I had startled forever, Though I oft long'd to know, but could ask it of none, Was the mother still fair, and how big was her son?
For the haunters of fields they all shunn'd me by flight; The men in their horror, the women in fright; None ever remain'd save a child once that sported Among the wild bluebells, and playfully courted The breeze; and beside him a speckled snake lay Tight strangled, because it had hiss'd him away From the flower at his finger; he rose and drew near Like a Son of Immortals, one born to no fear, But with strength of black locks and with eyes azure bright To grow to large manhood of merciful might. He came, with his face of bold wonder, to feel, The hair of my side, and to lift up my heel, And question'd my face with wide eyes; but when under My lids he saw tears,—for I wept at his wonder, He stroked me, and utter'd such kindliness then, That the once love of women, the friendship of men In past sorrow, no kindness e'er came like a kiss On my heart in its desolate day such as this! And I yearn'd at his cheeks in my love, and down bent, And lifted him up in my arms with intent To kiss him,—but he cruel-kindly, alas! Held out to my lips a pluck'd handful of grass! Then I dropt him in horror, but felt as I fled The stone he indignantly hurl'd at my head, That dissever'd my ear,—but I felt not, whose fate Was to meet more distress in his love that his hate!
Thus I wander'd, companion'd of grief and forlorn Till I wish'd for that land where my being was born But what was that land with its love, where my home Was self-shut against me; for why should I come Like an after-distress to my gray-bearded father, With a blight to the last of his sight?—let him rather Lament for me dead, and shed tears in the urn Where I was not, and still in fond memory turn To his son even such as he left him. Oh, how Could I walk with the youth once my fellows, but now Like Gods to my humbled estate?—or how bear The steeds once the pride of my eyes and the care Of my hands? Then I turn'd me self-banish'd, and came Into Thessaly here, where I met with the same As myself. I have heard how they met by a stream In games, and were suddenly changed by a scream That made wretches of many, as she roll'd her wild eyes Against heaven, and so vanish'd.—The gentle and wise Lose their thoughts in deep studies, and others their ill In the mirth of mankind where they mingle them still.
THE TWO PEACOCKS OF BEDFONT.
Alas! That breathing Vanity should go Where Pride is buried,—like its very ghost, Uprisen from the naked bones below, In novel flesh, clad in the silent boast Of gaudy silk that flutters to and fro, Shedding its chilling superstition most On young and ignorant natures—as it wont To haunt the peaceful churchyard of Bedfont!
Each Sabbath morning, at the hour of prayer, Behold two maidens, up the quiet green Shining, far distant, in the summer air That flaunts their dewy robes and breathes between Their downy plumes,—sailing as if they were Two far-off ships,—until they brush between The churchyard's humble walls, and watch and wait On either side of the wide open'd gate,
And there they stand—with haughty necks before God's holy house, that points towards the skies— Frowning reluctant duty from the poor, And tempting homage from unthoughtful eyes: And Youth looks lingering from the temple door, Breathing its wishes in unfruitful sighs, With pouting lips,—forgetful of the grace, Of health, and smiles, on the heart-conscious face;—
Because that Wealth, which has no bliss beside, May wear the happiness of rich attire; And those two sisters, in their silly pride, May change the soul's warm glances for the fire Of lifeless diamonds;—and for health denied,— With art, that blushes at itself, inspire Their languid cheeks—and flourish in a glory That has no life in life, nor after-story.
The aged priest goes shaking his gray hair In meekest censuring, and turns his eye Earthward in grief, and heavenward in pray'r, And sighs, and clasps his hands, and passes by, Good-hearted man! what sullen soul would wear Thy sorrow for a garb, and constantly Put on thy censure, that might win the praise Of one so gray in goodness and in days?
Also the solemn clerk partakes the shame Of this ungodly shine of human pride, And sadly blends his reverence and blame In one grave bow, and passes with a stride Impatient:—many a red-hooded dame Turns her pain'd head, but not her glance, aside From wanton dress, and marvels o'er again, That heaven hath no wet judgments for the vain.
"I have a lily in the bloom at home," Quoth one, "and by the blessed Sabbath day I'll pluck my lily in its pride, and come And read a lesson upon vain array;— And when stiff silks are rustling up, and some Give place, I'll shake it in proud eyes and say— Making my reverence,—'Ladies, an you please, King Solomon's not half so fine as these,'"
Then her meek partner, who has nearly run His earthly course,—"Nay, Goody, let your text Grow in the garden.—We have only one— Who knows that these dim eyes may see the next? Summer will come again, and summer sun, And lilies too,—but I were sorely vext To mar my garden, and cut short the blow Of the last lily I may live to grow,"
"The last!" quoth she, "and though the last it were— Lo! those two wantons, where they stand so proud With waving plumes, and jewels in their hair, And painted cheeks, like Dagons to be bow'd And curtsey'd to!—last Sabbath after pray'r, I heard the little Tomkins ask aloud If they were angels—but I made him know God's bright ones better, with a bitter blow!"
So speaking, they pursue the pebbly walk That leads to the white porch the Sunday throng, Hand-coupled urchins in restrained talk, And anxious pedagogue that chastens wrong, And posied churchwarden with solemn stalk, And gold-bedizen'd beadle flames along, And gentle peasant clad in buff and green, Like a meek cowslip in the spring serene;
And blushing maiden—modestly array'd In spotless white,—still conscious of the glass; And she, the lonely widow, that hath made A sable covenant with grief,—alas! She veils her tears under the deep, deep shade, While the poor kindly-hearted, as they pass, Bend to unclouded childhood, and caress Her boy,—so rosy!—and so fatherless!
Thus, as good Christians ought, they all draw near The fair white temple, to the timely call Of pleasant bells that tremble in the ear.— Now the last frock, and scarlet hood, and shawl Fade into dusk, in the dim atmosphere Of the low porch, and heav'n has won them all, —Saying those two, that turn aside and pass, In velvet blossom, where all flesh is grass.
Ah me! to see their silken manors trail'd In purple luxuries—with restless gold,— Flaunting the grass where widowhood has wail'd In blotted black,—over the heapy mould Panting wave-wantonly! They never quail'd How the warm vanity abused the cold; Nor saw the solemn faces of the gone Sadly uplooking through transparent stone:
But swept their dwellings with unquiet light, Shocking the awful presence of the dead; Where gracious natures would their eyes benight, Nor wear their being with a lip too red, Nor move too rudely in the summer bright Of sun, but put staid sorrow in their tread, Meting it into steps, with inward breath, In very pity to bereaved death.
Now in the church, time-sober'd minds resign To solemn pray'r, and the loud chaunted hymn,— With glowing picturings of joys divine Painting the mist-light where the roof is dim; But youth looks upward to the window shine, Warming with rose and purple and the swim Of gold, as if thought-tinted by the stains Of gorgeous light through many-color'd panes;
Soiling the virgin snow wherein God hath Enrobed his angels,—and with absent eyes Hearing of Heav'n, and its directed path, Thoughtful of slippers—and the glorious skies Clouding with satin,—till the preacher's wrath Consumes his pity, and he glows and cries With a deep voice that trembles in its might, And earnest eyes grow eloquent in light:
"Oh, that the vacant eye would learn to look On very beauty, and the heart embrace True loveliness, and from this holy book Drink the warm-breathing tenderness and grace Of love indeed! Oh, that the young soul took Its virgin passion from the glorious face Of fair religion, and address'd its strife, To win the riches of eternal life!"
"Doth the vain heart love glory that is none, And the poor excellence of vain attire? Oh go, and drown your eyes against the sun, The visible ruler of the starry quire, Till boiling gold in giddy eddies run, Dazzling the brain with orbs of living fire; And the faint soul down-darkens into night, And dies a burning martyrdom to light."
Oh go, and gaze,—when the low winds of ev'n Breathe hymns, and Nature's many forests nod Their gold-crown'd heads; and the rich blooms of heav'n Sun-ripen'd give their blushes up to God; And mountain-rocks and cloudy steeps are riv'n By founts of fire, as smitten by the rod Of heavenly Moses,—that your thirsty sense May quench its longings of magnificence!
"Yet suns shall perish—stars shall fade away— Day into darkness—darkness into death— Death into silence; the warm light of day, The blooms of summer, the rich glowing breath Of even—all shall wither and decay, Like the frail furniture of dreams beneath The touch of morn—or bubbles of rich dyes That break and vanish in the aching eyes."
They hear, soul-blushing, and repentant shed Unwholesome thoughts in wholesome tears, and pour Their sin to earth,—and with low drooping head Receive the solemn blessing, and implore Its grace—then soberly with chasten'd tread, They meekly press towards the gusty door With humbled eyes that go to graze upon The lowly grass—like him of Babylon.
The lowly grass!—O water-constant mind! Fast-ebbing holiness!—soon-fading grace Of serious thought, as if the gushing wind Through the low porch had wash'd it from the face For ever!—How they lift their eyes to find Old vanities!—Pride wins the very place Of meekness, like a bird, and flutters now With idle wings on the curl-conscious brow!
And lo! with eager looks they seek the way Of old temptation at the lowly gate; To feast on feathers, and on vain array, And painted cheeks, and the rich glistering state Of jewel-sprinkled locks,—But where are they, The graceless haughty ones that used to wait With lofty neck, and nods, and stiffen'd eye?— None challenge the old homage bending by.
In vain they look for the ungracious bloom Of rich apparel where it glow'd before,— For Vanity has faded all to gloom, And lofty Pride has stiffen'd to the core, For impious Life to tremble at its doom,— Set for a warning token evermore, Whereon, as now, the giddy and the wise Shall gaze with lifted hands and wond'ring eyes.
The aged priest goes on each Sabbath morn, But shakes not sorrow under his gray hair; The solemn clerk goes lavender'd and shorn Nor stoops his back to the ungodly pair;— And ancient lips that pucker'd up in scorn, Go smoothly breathing to the house of pray'r; And in the garden-plot, from day to day, The lily blooms its long white life away.
And where two haughty maidens used to be, In pride of plume, where plumy Death had trod, Trailing their gorgeous velvets wantonly, Most unmeet pall, over the holy sod; There, gentle stranger, thou may'st only see Two sombre Peacocks. Age, with sapient nod Marking the spot, still tarries to declare How they once lived, and wherefore they are there.
HYMN TO THE SUN.
Giver of glowing light! Though but a god of other days, The kings and sages Of wiser ages Still live and gladden in thy genial rays!
King of the tuneful lyre, Still poets' hymns to thee belong; Though lips are cold Whereon of old Thy beams all turn'd to worshipping and song!
Lord of the dreadful bow, None triumph now for Python's death; But thou dost save From hungry grave The life that hangs upon a summer breath.
Father of rosy day, No more thy clouds of incense rise; But waking flow'rs At morning hours, Give out their sweets to meet thee in the skies.
God of the Delphic fame, No more thou listenest to hymns sublime; But they will leave On winds at eve, A solemn echo to the end of time.
Unfathomable Night! how dost thou sweep Over the flooded earth, and darkly hide The mighty city under thy full tide; Making a silent palace for old Sleep, Like his own temple under the hush'd deep, Where all the busy day he doth abide, And forth at the late dark, outspreadeth wide
His dusky wings, whence the cold waters sweep! How peacefully the living millions lie! Lull'd unto death beneath his poppy spells; There is no breath—no living stir—no cry No tread of foot—no song—no music-call— Only the sound of melancholy bells— The voice of Time—survivor of them all!
TO A SLEEPING CHILD.
Oh, 'tis a touching thing, to make one weep,— A tender infant with its curtain'd eye, Breathing as it would neither live nor die With that unchanging countenance of sleep! As if its silent dream, serene and deep, Had lined its slumber with a still blue sky So that the passive cheeks unconscious lie With no more life than roses—just to keep The blushes warm, and the mild, odorous breath. O blossom boy! so calm is thy repose. So sweet a compromise of life and death, 'Tis pity those fair buds should e'er unclose For memory to stain their inward leaf, Tinging thy dreams with unacquainted grief.
TO A SLEEPING CHILD.
Thine eyelids slept so beauteously, I deem'd No eyes could wake so beautiful as they: Thy rosy cheeks in such still slumbers lay, I loved their peacefulness, nor ever dream'd Of dimples:—for those parted lips so seem'd, I never thought a smile could sweetlier play, Nor that so graceful life could chase away Thy graceful death,—till those blue eyes upbeam'd. Now slumber lies in dimpled eddies drown'd And roses bloom more rosily for joy, And odorous silence ripens into sound, And fingers move to sound.—All-beauteous boy! How thou dost waken into smiles, and prove, If not more lovely thou art more like Love!
Most delicate Ariel! submissive thing, Won by the mind's high magic to its hest— Invisible embassy, or secret guest,— Weighing the light air on a lighter wing;— Whether into the midnight moon, to bring Illuminate visions to the eye of rest,— Or rich romances from the florid West,— Or to the sea, for mystic whispering,— Still by thy charm'd allegiance to the will, The fruitful wishes prosper in the brain, As by the fingering of fairy skill,— Moonlight, and waters, and soft music's strain, Odors, and blooms, and my Miranda's smile, Making this dull world an enchanted isle.
O Saw ye not fair Ines? She's gone into the West, To dazzle when the sun is down, And rob the world of rest: She took our daylight with her, The smiles that we love best, With morning blushes on her cheek, And pearls upon her breast.
O turn again, fair Ines, Before the fall of night, For fear the moon should shine alone, And stars unrivall'd bright; And blessed will the lover be That walks beneath their light, And breathes the love against thy cheek I dare not even write!
Would I had been, fair Ines, That gallant cavalier, Who rode so gaily by thy side, And whisper'd thee so near! Were there no bonny dames at home, Or no true lovers here, That he should cross the seas to win The dearest of the dear?
I saw thee, lovely Ines, Descend along the shore, With bands of noble gentlemen, And banners waved before; And gentle youth and maidens gay, And snowy plumes they wore; It would have been a beauteous dream, —If it had been no more!
Alas, alas, fair Ines, She went away with song, With Music waiting on her steps, And shoutings of the throng; But some were sad, and felt no mirth, But only Musics wrong, In sounds that sang Farewell, Farewell, To her you've loved so long.
Farewell, farewell, fair Ines, That vessel never bore So fair a lady on its deck, Nor danced so light before,— Alas, for pleasure on the sea, And sorrow on the shore! The smile that blest one lover's heart Has broken many more!
TO A FALSE FRIEND.
Our hands have met, but not our hearts; Our hands will never meet again. Friends, if we have ever been, Friends we cannot now remain: I only know I loved you once, I only know I loved in vain; Our hands have met, but not our hearts; Our hands will never meet again!
Then farewell to heart and hand! I would our hands had never met: Even the outward form of love Must be resign'd with some regret. Friends, we still might seem to be, If I my wrong could e'er forget; Our hands have join'd but not our hearts: I would our hands had never met!
I saw old Autumn in the misty morn Stand shadowless like Silence, listening To silence, for no lonely bird would sing Into his hollow ear from woods forlorn, Nor lowly hedge nor solitary thorn; Shaking his languid locks all dewy bright With tangled gossamer that fell by night, Pearling his coronet of golden corn.
Where are the songs of Summer?—With the sun, Opening the dusky eyelids of the south, Till shade and silence waken up as one, And Morning sings with a warm odorous mouth. Where are the merry birds?—Away, away, On panting wings through the inclement skies, Lest owls should prey Undazzled at noon-day, And tear with horny beak their lustrous eyes.
Where are the blooms of Summer?—In the west, Blushing their last to the last sunny hours. When the mild Eve by sudden Night is prest Like tearful Proserpine, snatch'd from her flow'rs To a most gloomy breast. Where is the pride of Summer,—the green prime,— The many, many leaves all twinkling?—Three On the moss'd elm; three on the naked lime Trembling,—and one upon the old oak tree! Where is the Dryad's immortality?— Gone into mournful cypress and dark yew, Or wearing the long gloomy Winter through In the smooth holly's green eternity. The squirrel gloats on his accomplish'd hoard, The ants have brimm'd their garners with ripe grain, And honey been save stored The sweets of summer in their luscious cells; The swallows all have wing'd across the main; But here the Autumn melancholy dwells, And sighs her tearful spells Amongst the sunless shadows of the plain. Alone, alone, Upon a mossy stone, She sits and reckons up the dead and gone, With the last leaves for a love-rosary; Whilst all the wither'd world looks drearily, Like a dim picture of the drowned past In the hush'd mind's mysterious far-away, Doubtful what ghostly thing will steal the last Into that distance, gray upon the gray.
O go and sit with her, and be o'ershaded Under the languid downfall of her hair; She wears a coronal of flowers faded Upon her forehead, and a face of care;— There is enough of wither'd everywhere To make her bower,—and enough of gloom; There is enough of sadness to invite, If only for the rose that died, whose doom Is Beauty's,—she that with the living bloom Of conscious cheeks most beautifies the light: There is enough of sorrowing, and quite Enough of bitter fruits the earth doth bear,— Enough of chilly droppings from her bowl; Enough of fear and shadowy despair, To frame her cloudy prison for the soul!
There is a silence where hath been no sound, There is a silence where no sound may be, In the cold grave—under the deep deep sea, Or in wide desert where no life is found, Which hath been mute, and still must sleep profound; No voice is hush'd—no life treads silently, But clouds and cloudy shadows wander free. That never spoke, over the idle ground: But in green ruins, in the desolate walls Of antique palaces, where Man hath been, Though the dun fox, or wild hyaena, calls, And owls, that flit continually between, Shriek to the echo, and the low winds moan,— There the true Silence is, self-conscious and alone.