THE SINGING MAN
A Book of Songs and Shadows
By JOSEPHINE PRESTON PEABODY
BOSTON and NEW YORK
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
The Riverside Press Cambridge
COPYRIGHT, 1911, BY JOSEPHINE PEABODY MARKS
Published November 1911
Thanks are especially due to the editors of The American Magazine, Scribner's, The Atlantic Monthly, and to Messrs. Harper and Brothers, for their courteous permission to reprint certain of the poems included in this volume.
We make our songs as we must, from fragments of the joy and sorrow of living. What Life itself may be, we cannot know till all men share the chance to know.
Until the day of some more equal portion, there is no human brightness unhaunted by this black shadow: the thought of those unnumbered who pay all the heavier cost of life, to live and die without knowledge that there is any Joy of Living.
No song could face such blackness, but for the will to share, and for hope of the day of sharing.
Upon that hope and that mindfulness, the poems in this book are linked together.
4 October, 1911.
THE SINGING MAN 3
THE TREES 15
O, do you remember? How it came to be? 21
RICH MAN, POOR MAN 23
But we did walk in Eden 29
THE FOUNDLING 31
Love sang to me. And I went down the stair 35
THE FEASTER 37
Beloved, if the moon could weep 43
THE GOLDEN SHOES 45
NOON AT PAESTUM 47
VESTAL FLAME 48
The dark had left no speech save hand-in-hand 51
THE PROPHET 53
THE LONG LANE 56
Ah but, Beloved, men may do 59
ALISON'S MOTHER TO THE BROOK 61
You, Four Walls, wall not in my heart! 65
CANTICLE OF THE BABE 67
And thou, Wayfaring Woman whom I meet 73
THE NIGHTINGALE UNHEARD 81
THE SINGING MAN
AN ODE OF THE PORTION OF LABOR
'The profit of the Earth is for all.' —ECCLESIASTES.
THE SINGING MAN
He sang above the vineyards of the world. And after him the vines with woven hands Clambered and clung, and everywhere unfurled Triumphing green above the barren lands; Till high as gardens grow, he climbed, he stood, Sun-crowned with life and strength, and singing toil, And looked upon his work; and it was good: The corn, the wine, the oil.
He sang above the noon. The topmost cleft That grudged him footing on the mountain scars He planted and despaired not; till he left His vines soft breathing to the host of stars. He wrought, he tilled; and even as he sang, The creatures of his planting laughed to scorn The ancient threat of deserts where there sprang The wine, the oil, the corn!
He sang not for abundance.—Over-lords Took of his tilth. Yet was there still to reap, The portion of his labor; dear rewards Of sunlit day, and bread, and human sleep. He sang for strength; for glory of the light. He dreamed above the furrows, 'They are mine!' When all he wrought stood fair before his sight With corn, and oil, and wine.
Truly, the light is sweet Yea, and a pleasant thing It is to see the Sun. And that a man should eat His bread that he hath won;— (So is it sung and said), That he should take and keep, After his laboring, The portion of his labor in his bread, His bread that he hath won; Yea, and in quiet sleep, When all is done.
He sang; above the burden and the heat, Above all seasons with their fitful grace; Above the chance and change that led his feet To this last ambush of the Market-place. 'Enough for him,' they said—and still they say— 'A crust, with air to breathe, and sun to shine; He asks no more!'—Before they took away The corn, the oil, the wine.
He sang. No more he sings now, anywhere. Light was enough, before he was undone. They knew it well, who took away the air, —Who took away the sun; Who took, to serve their soul-devouring greed, Himself, his breath, his bread—the goad of toil;— Who have and hold, before the eyes of Need, The corn, the wine,—the oil!
Truly, one thing is sweet Of things beneath the Sun; This, that a man should earn his bread and eat, Rejoicing in his work which he hath done. What shall be sung or said Of desolate deceit. When others take his bread; His and his children's bread?— And the laborer hath none. This, for his portion now, of all that he hath done. He earns; and others eat. He starves;—they sit at meat Who have taken away the Sun.
Seek him now, that singing Man. Look for him, Look for him In the mills, In the mines; Where the very daylight pines,— He, who once did walk the hills! You shall find him, if you scan Shapes all unbefitting Man, Bodies warped, and faces dim. In the mines; in the mills Where the ceaseless thunder fills Spaces of the human brain Till all thought is turned to pain. Where the skirl of wheel on wheel, Grinding him who is their tool, Makes the shattered senses reel To the numbness of the fool. Perisht thought, and halting tongue (Once it spoke;—once it sung!) Live to hunger, dead to song. Only heart-beats loud with wrong Hammer on,—How long? ... How long?—How long?
Search for him; Search for him; Where the crazy atoms swim Up the fiery furnace-blast. You shall find him, at the last,— He whose forehead braved the sun,— Wreckt and tortured and undone. Where no breath across the heat Whispers him that life was sweet; But the sparkles mock and flare, Scattering up the crooked air. (Blackened with that bitter mirk,— Would God know His handiwork?)
Thought is not for such as he; Naught but strength, and misery; Since, for just the bite and sup, Life must needs be swallowed up. Only, reeling up the sky, Hurtling flames that hurry by, Gasp and flare, with Why—Why, ... Why?...
Why the human mind of him Shrinks, and falters and is dim When he tries to make it out: What the torture is about.— Why he breathes, a fugitive Whom the World forbids to live. Why he earned for his abode, Habitation of the toad! Why his fevered day by day Will not serve to drive away Horror that must always haunt:— ... Want ... Want! Nightmare shot with waking pangs;— Tightening coil, and certain fangs, Close and closer, always nigh ... ... Why?... Why?
Why he labors under ban That denies him for a man. Why his utmost drop of blood Buys for him no human good; Why his utmost urge of strength Only lets Them starve at length;— Will not let him starve alone; He must watch, and see his own Fade and fail, and starve, and die.
* * * * *
... Why?... Why?
* * * * *
Heart-beats, in a hammering song, Heavy as an ox may plod, Goaded—goaded—faint with wrong, Cry unto some ghost of God ... How long?... How long? .......... How long?
Seek him yet. Search for him! You shall find him, spent and grim; In the prisons, where we pen These unsightly shards of men. Sheltered fast; Housed at length; Clothed and fed, no matter how!— Where the householders, aghast, Measure in his broken strength Nought but power for evil, now. Beast-of-burden drudgeries Could not earn him what was his: He who heard the world applaud Glories seized by force and fraud, He must break,—he must take!— Both for hate and hunger's sake. He must seize by fraud and force; He must strike, without remorse! Seize he might; but never keep. Strike, his once!—Behold him here. (Human life we buy so cheap, Who should know we held it dear?)
No denial,—no defence From a brain bereft of sense, Any more than penitence. But the heart-beats now, that plod Goaded—goaded—dumb with wrong, Ask not even a ghost of God .............How long?
When the Sea gives up its dead, Prison caverns, yield instead This, rejected and despised; This, the Soiled and Sacrificed! Without form or comeliness; Shamed for us that did transgress; Bruised, for our iniquities, With the stripes that are all his! Face that wreckage, you who can. It was once the Singing Man.
Must it be?—Must we then Render back to God again This His broken work, this thing, For His man that once did sing? Will not all our wonders do? Gifts we stored the ages through, (Trusting that He had forgot)— Gifts the Lord required not?
Would the all-but-human serve! Monsters made of stone and nerve; Towers to threaten and defy Curse or blessing of the sky; Shafts that blot the stars with smoke; Lightnings harnessed under yoke; Sea-things, air-things, wrought with steel, That may smite, and fly, and feel! Oceans calling each to each; Hostile hearts, with kindred speech. Every work that Titans can; Every marvel: save a man, Who might rule without a sword.— Is a man more precious, Lord?
Can it be?—Must we then Render back to Thee again Million, million wasted men? Men, of flickering human breath, Only made for life and death?
Ah, but see the sovereign Few, Highly favored, that remain! These, the glorious residue, Of the cherished race of Cain. These, the magnates of the age, High above the human wage, Who have numbered and possesst All the portion of the rest!
What are all despairs and shames, What the mean, forgotten names Of the thousand more or less, For one surfeit of success?
For those dullest lives we spent, Take these Few magnificent! For that host of blotted ones, Take these glittering central suns. Few;—but how their lustre thrives On the million broken lives! Splendid, over dark and doubt, For a million souls gone out! These, the holders of our hoard,— Wilt thou not accept them, Lord?
Oh, in the wakening thunders of the heart, —The small lost Eden, troubled through the night, Sounds there not now,—forboded and apart, Some voice and sword of light? Some voice and portent of a dawn to break?— Searching like God, the ruinous human shard Of that lost Brother-man Himself did make, And Man himself hath marred?
It sounds!—And may the anguish of that birth Seize on the world; and may all shelters fail, Till we behold new Heaven and new Earth Through the rent Temple-vail! When the high-tides that threaten near and far To sweep away our guilt before the sky,— Flooding the waste of this dishonored Star, Cleanse, and o'erwhelm, and cry!—
Cry, from the deep of world-accusing waves, With longing more than all since Light began, Above the nations,—underneath the graves,— 'Give back the Singing Man!'
Now, in the thousandth year, When April's near, Now comes it that the great ones of the earth Take all their mirth Away with them, far off, to orchard-places,— Nor they nor Solomon arrayed like these,— To sun themselves at ease; To breathe of wind-swept spaces; To see some miracle of leafy graces;— To catch the out-flowing rapture of the trees. Considering the lilies. —Yes. And when Shall they consider Men?
(O showering May-clad tree, Bear yet awhile with me.)
For now at last, they have beheld the trees. Lo, even these!— The men of sounding laughter and low fears; The women of light laughter, and no tears; The great ones of the town. And those, of most renown, That once sold doves,—now grown so pennywise To bargain with forlorner merchandise,— They buy and sell, they buy and sell again, The life-long toil of men. Worn with their market strife to dispossess The blind,—the fatherless, They too go forth, to breathe of budding trees, And woods with beckoning wonders new unfurled. Yes, even these: The money-changers and the Pharisees; The rulers of the darkness of this world.
(O choiring Summer tree, Bear yet awhile with me.)
For now, behold their heart's desire is thrall To simpleness.—O new delight, unguessed, In very rest! And precious beyond all, A garden-place, a garden with a wall! To the green earth! All bountiful to bless Hearts sickening with excess. To the green earth, whose blithe replenishments Shall fresh the jaded sense! To the green earth, the dust-corrupted soul Returns to be made whole. For now it comes indeed, They will go forth, all they, to see a reed So shaken by the wind. Men are no longer blind To aught, save human kind.
(O mellowing August tree, Bear yet awhile with me.)
The wonder this. For some there are no trees; Or in the trees no beauty and no mirth:— Those dullest millions, pent In life-long banishment From all the gifts and creatures of the earth, Shut in the inner darkness of the town; Those blighted things you see, But the Sun sees not, at its going down:— Warped outcasts of some human forestry; Blind victims of the blind, Wreckt ones and dark of mind, With the poor fruit, after their piteous kind. And if you take some Old One to the fields, To see what Nature yields With fullest hands to men already free, It well may be, As on some indecipherable book The Guest will look, With eyes too old,—too old, too dim to see; Too old, too old to learn; Or to discern— Before it slips away, The joy of such a late half-holiday! Proffer those starved eyes your belated cup: They look not up. Too late, too late for any sky to do Brief kindness with its blue. And what behold they, then? In the shamed moment, when Old eyes bow down again?
Down in the night and blackness of the heart, The drowned things start. And he recks nothing of the meadow air, Because of what is There. Lost things of hope and sorrow without tongue: The human lilies, sprung Out of the ooze, and trodden, Even as they breathed and clung! Lost lilies, bruised and sodden; Lost faces, gleaming there, Where misery blasphemes the sacred young! Mute outcry, most, of those Small suffering hands defrauded of their rose; Faces the daylight shuns; Ruinous faces of the little ones,— Pale witness, unaware. Starved lips, and withering blood— O broken in the bud!— Blank eyes, and blighted hair.
(O golden, golden tree! Bear yet awhile with me.)
So is it, haply, when Dull eyes look up, and then Dull eyes look down again. Waste no vain holiday on such as these; For them there is no joy in blossomed trees.
For them there is no joy in blossomed trees. And with what eye-shut ease We leave them, at the last, for company, The Tree, Whose two stark boughs no springtime yet unfurled, Ever, since time began; Nor bloom so strange to see!— Behold, the Man, With His two arms outstretched to fold the world.
O, do you remember?—How it came to be? Far, golden windows gazing from the shore; Golden ebb of daylight; heart could hold no more: Beloved and Beloved, and the sea.
Westward the sun,—low, slow and golden; Eastward the moon climbed, honey-pale. O do you remember? while our eyes were holden, Close, close upon us,—the Golden Sail? Wind-swift she came,—thing of living flame, Sea-breathing Glory, to make the heart afraid! The ripples, fold on fold Of coiling gold, Trailing a thousand ways Her golden maze, Rocked in a golden tumult, every one, The gondolas, the ships .. Westward she made ..... A portent from the sky,—gone by, gone by, To golden, far eclipse; ... Into the Sun.
Behold, a mystery That shook to golden throbbing all the sea. Oh, and what needed one more wonder be For thee and me, Beloved? thee and me?
RICH MAN, POOR MAN
'Rich man, Poor man, Beggar man, Thief, Doctor, Lawyer, Merchant, Chief.'
Highway, stretched along the sun, Highway, thronged till day is done; Where the drifting Face replaces Wave on wave on wave of faces, And you count them, one by one: 'Rich man—Poor man—Beggar man—Thief: Doctor—Lawyer—Merchant—Chief.' Is it soothsay?—Is it fun?
Young ones, like as wave and wave; Old ones, like as grave and grave; Tide on tide of human faces With what human undertow! Rich man, poor man, beggar-man, thief!— Tell me of the eddying spaces, Show me where the lost ones go; Like and lost, as leaf and leaf. What's your secret grim refrain Back and forth and back again, Once, and now, and always so? Three days since, and who was Thief? Three days more, and who'll be Chief? Oh, is that beyond belief, Doctor, Lawyer—Merchant-Chief?
(Down, like grass before the mowing; On, like wind in its mad going:— Wind and dust forever blowing.)
Highway, shrill with murderous pride, Highway, of the swarming tide! Why should my way lead me deeper? I am not my Brother's keeper.
Byway, ambushed with the dark, Byway, where the ears may hark; Live and fierce when day is done, You, that do without the Sun:— What's this game you bring to nought?— Muttering like a thing distraught, Reckoning like a simpleton? (Since the hearing must be brief,— Living or a dying thief!) Cobbled with the anguished stones That the thoroughfare disowns; Stones they gave you for your bread Of the disinherited! Where the Towers of Hunger loom, Crowding in the dregs of doom; Where the lost sky peering through Sees no more the grudging grass,— Only this mud-mirrored blue, Like some shattered looking-glass.
(Under, with the sorry reaping! Underneath the stones of weeping, For the Dark to have in keeping.)
Byway, you, so foully marred; You, whose sodden walls and scarred, See no light, but only where Fevered lamps are set to stare In the eyes of such despair! Tell me—as a Byway can— Was this Beggar once a Man? 'Rich man—Poor man—Beggar man—Thief!' Like and lost as leaf and leaf. Stammering out your wrongs and shames, Must you cry their very names? Must you sob your shame, your grief? —'Poor man—Poor man!—Beggar—Thief.'
Highway, where the Sun is wide; Byway, where the lost ones hide, Byway, where the Soul must hark, Byway, dreadful with the Dark: Can you nothing do with Man? Doctor, Lawyer, Merchant, Chief, Learns he nothing, even of grief? Must it still be all his wonder Some men soar, while some go under? He has heard, and he has seen: Make him know the thing you mean. He has prayed since time began,— He's so curious of the Plan! He will pray you till he die, For the Whence and for the Why; Mad for wisdom—when 'tis cheaper! 'Why should my way lead me deeper? Am I, then, my Brother's keeper?'
Show him, Byway, if you can; Lest he end as he began, Rich and poor,—this beggar, Man.
But we did walk in Eden, Eden, the garden of God;— There, where no beckoning wonder Of all the paths we trod, No choiring sun-filled vineyard, No voice of stream or bird, But was some radiant oracle And flaming with the Word!
Mine ears are dim with voices; Mine eyes yet strive to see The black things here to wonder at, The mirth,—the misery. Beloved, who wert with me there, How came these shames to be?— On what lost star are we?
Men say: The paths of gladness By men were never trod!— But we have walked in Eden, Eden, the garden of God.
Beautiful Mother, I have toiled all day; And I am wearied. And the day is done. Now, while the wild brooks run Soft by the furrows—fading, gold to gray, Their laughters turned to musing—ah, let me Hide here my face at thine unheeding knee, Beautiful Mother; if I be thy son.
The birds fly low. Gulls, starlings, hoverers, Along the meadows and the paling foam, All wings of thine that roam Fly down, fly down. One reedy murmur blurs The silence of the earth; and from the warm Face of the field the upward savors swarm Into the darkness. And the herds are home.
All they are stalled and folded for their rest, The creatures: cloud-fleece young that leap and veer; Mad-mane and gentle ear; And breath of loving-kindness. And that best,— O shaggy house-mate, watching me from far, With human-aching heart, as I a star— Tempest of plumed joys, just to be near!
So close, so like, so dear; and whom I love More than thou lovest them, or lovest me. So beautiful to see, Ah, and to touch! When those far lights above Scorch me with farness—lights that call and call To the far heart, and answer not at all; Save that they will not let the darkness be.
And what am I? That I alone of these Make me most glad at noon? That I should mark The after-glow go dark? This hour to sing—but never have—heart's-ease! That when the sorrowing winds fly low, and croon Outside our happy windows their old rune, Beautiful Mother, I must wake, and hark?
Who am I? Why for me this iron Must? Burden the moon-white ox would never bear; Load that he cannot share, He, thine imperial hostage of the dust. Else should I look to see the god's surprise Flow from his great unscornful, lovely eyes— The ox thou gavest to partake my care.
Yea, all they bear their yoke of sun-filled hours. I, lord at noon, at nightfall no more free, Take on more heavily The yoke of hid, intolerable Powers. —Then pushes here, in my forgetful hand, This near one's breathless plea to understand. Starward I look; he, even so, at me!
And she who shines within my house, my sight Of the heart's eyes, my hearth-glow, and my rain, My singing's one refrain— Are there for her no tidings from the height? For her, my solace, likewise lost and far, Islanded with me here, on this lone star Washed by the ceaseless tides of dark and light.
What shall it profit, that I built for her A little wayside shelter from the stark Sky that we hear, and mark? Lo, in her eyes all dreams that ever were! And cheek-to-cheek with me she shares the quest, Her heart, as mine for her, sole tented rest From light to light of day; from dark—till Dark.
Yea, but for her, how should I greatly care Whither and whence? But that the dark should blast Our bright! To hold her fast,— Yet feel this dread creep gray along the air. To know I cannot hold her so my own, But under surge of joy, the surges moan That threaten us with parting at the last!
Beautiful Mother, I am not thy son. I know from echoes far behind the sky. I know; I know not why. Even from thy golden, wide oblivion: Thy careless leave to help thy harvesting, Thy leave to work a little, live, and sing; Thy leave to suffer—yea, to sing and die, Beautiful Mother! ... Ah, Whose child am I?
Love sang to me. And I went down the stair, And out into the darkness and the dew; And bowed myself unto the little grass, And the blind herbs, and the unshapen dust Of earth without a face. So let me be.
For as I hear, the singing makes of me My own desire, and momently I grow. Yea, all the while with hands of melody, The singing makes me, out of what I was, Even as a potter shaping Eden clay.
Ever Love sings, and saith in words that sing, 'Beloved, thus art thou; and even so Lovely art thou, Beloved!'—Even so, As the Sea weaves her path before the light, I hear, I hear, and I am glorified.
Love sang to me, and I am glorified Because of some commandment in the stars. And I shall grow in favour and in shining, Till at the last I am all-beautiful; Beautiful, for the day Love sings no more.
Oh, who will hush that cry outside the doors, While we are glad within? Go forth, go forth, all you my servitors; (And gather close, my kin.) Go out to her. Tell her we keep a feast,— Lost Loveliness who will not sit her down Though we implore. It is her silence binds me unreleased, It is her silence that no flute can drown, It is her moonlit silence at the door, Wide as the whiteness, but a fire on high That frights my heart with an immortal Cry, Calling me evermore.
Louder, you viols;—louder, O my harp; Let me not hear her voice; And drown her keener silence, silver-sharp, With waves of golden noise! For she is wise as Eden, even mute, To search my spirit through the deep and height Again, again. Outpierce her with your singing, dawnlike flute; And you, gloom over, viols of the night With colors lost in umber,—with sweet pain Of richest world's desire,—prevail, sing down All memory with pleading, so you drown Her merciless refrain!
Oh, can you not with music, nor with din, Save me the stress and stir In my lone spirit, throned among my kin, From that same voice of her?— The never ending query she hath had Only to wake my Soul, and only then Wake it to weep? With 'Why?' and 'Art thou happy? Art thou glad? And hast thou fellowship with fellow-men?' So, through my mirth and underneath my sleep; Her voice,—abysmal hunger unfulfilled;— The calling, calling, never to be stilled,— Calling of deep to deep.
But I have that shall fill this wound of mine, Since Loveliness must be;— Since Loveliness must save us, or we pine And perish utterly. All that the years have left us, undismayed Of age or death; and happier fair than truth, —When truth is fair! Shapes of immortal sweetness, to persuade Iron and fire and marble to their youth; Wild graces trapped from the three kingdoms' lair Of wildest Beauty; shadow and smile and hush; —Fleet color, of a daybreak, of a blush, For my sad soul to wear!
Let April fade! For me, unfading bloom!... The little fruitless seed Deep sown of fire within the midmost gloom, A sterner fire to feed:— The rainbow, frozen in a lasting dew; Green-gazing emerald, fresh as grass beneath The placid rose. Fair pearl, and you, fair pearl, and you and you, Rained from the moon, and kissing in a wreath, As moment unto eager moment goes! Look back at me, you sapphires blue and wise With farthest twilight, blue resplendent eyes That never weep, nor close.
O house me, glories! Give me house and home Here for my homelessness. Set forth for me the wine, the honeycomb Whereto desire saith 'Yes!' O Senses, weave me from all lovely dust Some home-array, some fair familiar garb For me, exiled. Charm me some rare anointment I may trust Against her query, searching like a barb The dumbness of a heart unreconciled. Clothe me with silver; fold me from dismay; Save me from pity. For I hear her say, 'Alas, Alas, poor child!'
'Alas, Alas, thou lost poor child, how long? Why wilt thou suffer want? Why must I hear thy weeping through thy song, And see thine eyes grow gaunt? Making sad feast upon the crumbs of light Shed long ago from heavenly highways where Thy brethren are! And thy heart smoulders in thee, to be bright, Thy one sole refuge from thy one despair, Fraying the thwarted body with a scar. How long, before thine eyelids, desolate, How long shall this thy dark dominion wait For thee, belated Star?'
Beloved, if the Moon could weep, Or if the Sun could see How all these weltering alleys keep Their outcast treasury!
O bitter, bitter-sweet!— Beauty of babyhood,— Earth's wistful uttermost of good Flung out upon the street; Fouled, even as the highways would, With mirk and mire and bruise; The cheek more petal-fine Than rose before a shrine! Those hands like star-fish in the ooze, And fingers fain to cling To any stronger thing! And smiles, for one triumphal Gift, Should one lean down, and lift! And tendril hair;—O in such wise, With wild lights aureoled, The morning-glories twine and hold, In some far paradise!
Oh well and deep, the foul ways keep Lost treasure hid from day!— Sun may not see: but only we, Who look; and look away.
THE GOLDEN SHOES
The winds are lashing on the sea; The roads are blind with storm. And it's far and far away with me; So bide you there, stay warm. It's forth I must, and forth to-day; And I have no path to choose. The highway hill, it is my way still.— Give me my golden shoes.
God gave them me on that first day I knew that I was young. And I looked far forth, from west to north; And I heard the Songs unsung.
This cloak is worn too threadbare thin, But ah, how weatherwise! This girdle serves to bind it in; What heed of wondering eyes?— And yet beside, I wear one pride —Too bright, think you, to use?— That I must wear, and still keep fair.— Give here my golden shoes.
God gave them me, on that first day I heard the Stars all chime. And I looked forth far, from road to star; And I knew it was far to climb.
They would buy me house and hearth, no doubt, And the mirth to spend and share; Could I sell that gift, and go without, Or wear—what neighbors wear. But take my staff, my purse, my scrip; For I have one thing to choose. For you,—Godspeed! May you soothe your need. For me, my golden shoes!
He gave them me, that far, first day When I heard all Songs unsung. And I looked far forth, from west to north. God saw that I was young!
NOON AT PAESTUM
Lord of the Sea, we sun-filled creatures raise Our hands among the clamorous weeds,—we too. Lord of the Sun, and of the upper blue, Of all To-morrow, and all yesterdays, Here, where the thousand broken names and ways Of worship are but shards we wandered through, There is no gift to offer, or undo; There is no prayer left in us, only praise.
Only to glory in this glory here, Through the dead smoke of myriad sacrifice;— To look through these blue spaces, blind and clear Even as the seaward gaze of Homer's eyes; And from uplifted heart, and cup, to pour Wine to the Unknown God.—We ask no more.
Light, light,—the last: Till the night be done, Keep the watch for stars and sun, and eyelids over-cast.
Once there seemed a sky, Brooding over men. Now no stars have come again, since their bright good-bye!
Once my dreams were wise. Now I nothing know; Fasting and the dark have so put out my heart's eyes.
But thy golden breath Burns against my cheek. I can feel and love, and seek all the rune it saith.
Do not thou be spent, Holy thing of fire,— Only hope of heart's desire dulled with wonderment!
While there bide these two Hands to bar the wind; Though such fingers chill and thinned, shed no roses through.
While this body bends Only for thy guard; Like a tower, to ward and worship all the light it sends.
It is not for fear Lest there ring some cry On the midnight, 'Rise and come. Lo, the Bridegroom near!'
It is not for pride, To be shining fair In a wedding-garment there, lighting home the Bride.
It is not to win Love, for hoarded toil, From those poor, with their spent oil, weeping, 'Light us in!'—
No; but in despite Of all vigils set, Do I bind me to thee yet,—strangest thing of Light!
Only, all, for thee Whatsoe'er thou art, Smiling through the blinded heart, things it cannot see.
Very Soul's Desire, Take my life; and live By the rapture thine doth give, ecstasy of fire!
Hold thy golden breath! For I feel,—not hear— Spent with joy and fear to lose thee, all the song it saith.
Light, light, my own: Do not thou disown Thy poor keeper-of-the-light, for Light's sake alone.
The dark had left no speech save hand-in-hand Between us two the while, with others near. Mine questioned thine with 'Why should I be here?' 'Yet bide thou here,' said thine, 'and understand.'
And mine was mute; but strove not then to go; And hid itself, and murmured, 'Do not hear The listening in my heart!' Said thine, 'My Dear, I will not hear it, ever. But I know.'
Said mine to thine: 'Let be. Now will I go!— For you are saying,—you who do not speak, This hand-in-hand is one day cheek-to-cheek!' And said thy hand around me, 'Even so.'
Then mine to thine.—'Yea, I have been alone; —Yet happy.—This is strange. This is not I! You hold me, but you can not tell me why.' And said thy hand to mine again, 'My Own.'
All day long he kept the sheep:— Far and early, from the crowd, On the hills from steep to steep, Where the silence cried aloud; And the shadow of the cloud Wrapt him in a noonday sleep.
Where he dipped the water's cool, Filling boyish hands from thence, Something breathed across the pool Stir of sweet enlightenments; And he drank, with thirsty sense, Till his heart was brimmed and full.
Still, the hovering Voice unshed, And the Vision unbeheld, And the mute sky overhead, And his longing, still withheld! —Even when the two tears welled, Salt, upon that lonely bread.
Vaguely blessed in the leaves, Dim-companioned in the sun, Eager mornings, wistful eves, Very hunger drew him on; And To-morrow ever shone With the glow the sunset weaves.
Even so, to that young heart, Words and hands, and Men were dear; And the stir of lane and mart After daylong vigil here. Sunset called, and he drew near, Still to find his path apart.
When the Bell, with gentle tongue, Called the herd-bells home again, Through the purple shades he swung, Down the mountain, through the glen; Towards the sound of fellow-men,— Even from the light that clung.
Dimly too, as cloud on cloud, Came that silent flock of his: Thronging whiteness, in a crowd, After homing twos and threes; With the thronging memories Of all white things dreamed and vowed.
Through the fragrances, alone, By the sudden-silent brook, From the open world unknown, To the close of speech and book; There to find the foreign look In the faces of his own.
Sharing was beyond his skill; Shyly yet, he made essay: Sought to dip, and share, and fill Heart's-desire, from day to day. But their eyes, some foreign way, Looked at him; and he was still.
Last, he reached his arms to sleep, Where the Vision waited, dim, Still beyond some deep-on-deep. And the darkness folded him, Eager heart and weary limb.— All day long, he kept the sheep.
THE LONG LANE
All through the summer night, down the long lane in flower, The moon-white lane, All through the summer night,—dim as a shower, Glimmer and fade the Twain: Over the cricket hosts, throbbing the hour by hour, Young voices bloom and wane.
Down the long lane they go, and past one window, pale With visions silver-blurred; Stirring the heart that waits,—the eyes that fail After a spring deferred. Query, and hush, and Ah!—dim through a moon-lit veil, The same one word.
Down the long lane, entwined with all the fragrance there; The lane in flower somehow With youth, and plighted hands, and star-strewn air, And muted 'Thee' and 'Thou':— All the wild bloom and reach of dreams that never were, —Never to be, now.
So, in the throbbing dark, where ebbs the old refrain, A starved heart hears. And silver-bright, and silver-blurred again With moonlight and with tears. All the long night they go, down the long summer lane, The long, long years.
Ah but, Beloved, men may do All things to music;—march, and die; And wear the longest vigil through, ... And say good-by. All things to music!—Ah, but where Peace never falls upon the air;— These city-ways of dark and din Where greed has shut and barred them in! And thundering, swart against the sky, That whirlwind,—never to go by— Of tracks and wheels, that overhead Beat back the senses with their roar And menace of undying war,— War—war—for daily bread!
All things to silence! Ah, but where Men dwell not, but must make a lair;— And Sorrow may not sit alone, Nor Love hear music of its own; And Thought that strives to breast that sea Must struggle even for memory. Day-long, night-long,—besieging din To thrust all pain the deeper in!— And drown the flutter of first-breath; And batter at the doors of Death. To lull their dearest:—watch their dead; While the long thunders overhead, Gather and break for evermore, Eternal tides—eternal War, War—war—Bread—bread!
ALISON'S MOTHER TO THE BROOK
Brook, of the listening grass, Brook of the sun-fleckt wings, Brook of the same wild way and flickering spell! Must you begone? Will you forever pass, After so many years and dear to tell?— Brook of all hoverings ... Brook that I kneel above; Brook of my love.
Ah, but I have a charm to trouble you; A spell that shall subdue Your all-escaping heart, unheedful one And unremembering! Now, when I make my prayer To your wild brightness there That will but run and run, O mindless Water!— Hark,—now will I bring A grace as wild,—my little yearling daughter, My Alison.
Heed well that threat; And tremble for your hill-born liberty So bright to see!— Your shadow-dappled way, unthwarted yet, And the high hills whence all your dearness bubbled;— You, never to possess! For let her dip but once—O fair and fleet,— Here in your shallows, yes, Here in your silverness Her two blithe feet,— O Brook of mine, how shall your heart be troubled!
The heart, the bright unmothering heart of you, That never knew.— (O never, more than mine of long ago. How could we know?—) For who should guess The shock and smiting of that perfectness?— The lily-thrust of those ecstatic feet Unpityingly sweet?— Sweet beyond all the blurred blind dreams that grope The upward paths of hope? And who could guess The dulcet holiness, The lilt and gladness of those jocund feet, Unpityingly sweet? Ah, for your coolness that shall change and stir With every glee of her!— Under the fresh amaze That drips and glistens from her wiles and ways; When the endearing air That everywhere Must twine and fold and follow her, shall be Rippled to ring on ring of melody,— Music, like shadows from the joy of her, Small starry Reveller!— When from her triumphings,— All frolic wings— There soars beyond the glories of the height, The laugh of her delight!
And it shall sound, until Your heart stand still; Shaken to human sight; Struck through with tears and light; One with the one desire Unto that central Fire Of Love the Sun, whence all we lighted are Even from clod to star.
And all your glory, O most swift and sweet!— And all your exultation only this; To be the lowly and forgotten kiss Beneath those feet.
You that must ever pass,— You of the same wild way,— The silver-bright good-bye without a look!— You that would never stay, For the beseeching grass ... Brook!—
You, Four Walls, Wall not in my heart! When the lovely night-time falls All so welcomely, Blinding, sweet hearth-fire, Light of heart's desire, Blind not, blind not me! Unto them that weep apart,— While you glow, within, Wreckt, despairing kin,— Dark with misery: —Do not blind my heart!
You, close Heart! Never hide from mine Worlds that I divine Through thy human dearness. O beloved Nearness, Hallow all I understand With thy hand-in-hand;— All the lights I seek, With thy cheek-to-cheek; All the loveliness I loved apart.
You, heart's Home!— Wall not in my heart.
CANTICLE OF THE BABE
Over the broken world, the dark gone by, Horror of outcast darkness torn with wars; And timeless agony Of the white fire, heaped high by blinded Stars, Unfaltering, unaghast;— Out of the midmost Fire At last,—at last,— Cry! ... O darkness' one desire,— O darkness, have you heard?— Black Chaos, blindly striving towards the Word? —The Cry!
Behold thy conqueror, Death! Behold, behold from whom It flutters forth, that triumph of First-Breath, Victorious one that can but breathe and cling,— This pulsing flower,—this weaker than a wing, Halcyon thing!— Cradled above unfathomable doom.
Under my feet, O Death, Under my trembling feet! Back, through the gates of hell, now give me way. I come.—I bring new Breath! Over the trampled shards of mine own clay, That smoulder still, and burn, Lo, I return! Hail, singing Light that floats Pulsing with chorused motes:— Hail to thee, Sun, that lookest on all lands! And take thou from my weak undying hands, A precious thing, unblemished, undefiled:— Here, on my heart uplift, Behold the Gift,— Thy glory and my glory, and my child!
(And our eyes were opened; eyes that had been holden. And I saw the world, and the fruits thereof. And I saw their glories, scarlet-stained and golden, All a crumbled dust beneath the feet of Love. And I saw their dreams, all of nothing worth; But a path for Love, for Him to walk above, And I saw new heaven, and new earth.)
The grass is full of murmurs; The sky is full of wings; The earth is full of breath. With voices, choir on choir With tongues of fire, They sing how Life out-sings— Out-numbers Death.
Who are these that fly; As doves, and as doves to the windows? Doves, like hovering dreams round Love that slumbereth; Silvering clouds blown by, Doves and doves to the windows,— Warm through the radiant sky their wings beat breath. They are the world's new-born: Doves, doves to the windows! Lighting, as flakes of snow; Lighting, as flakes of flame; Some to the fair sown furrows; Some to the huts and burrows Choked of the mire and thorn,— Deep in the city's shame. Wind-scattered wreaths they go, Doves, and doves, to the windows; Some for worshipping arms, to shelter and fold, and shrine; Some to be torn and trodden, Withered and waste, and sodden; Pitiful, sacred leaves from Life's dishonored vine.
O Vine of Life, that in these reaching fingers, Urges a sunward way! Hold here and climb, and halt not, that there lingers So far outstripped, my halting, wistful clay. Make here thy foothold of my rapturous heart,— Yea, though the tendrils start To hold and twine! I am the heart that nursed Thy sunward thirst.— A little while, a little while, O Vine, My own and never mine, Feed thy sweet roots with me Abundantly. O wonder-wildness of the pushing Bud With hunger at the flood, Climb on, and seek, and spurn. Let my dull spirit learn To follow with its longing, as it may, While thou seek higher day.— But thou, the reach of my own heart's desire, Be free as fire! Still climb and cling; and so Outstrip,—outgrow.
O Vine of Life, my own and not my own, So far am I outgrown! High as I may, I lift thee, Soul's Desire. —Lift thou me higher.
And thou, Wayfaring Woman, whom I meet On all the highways,—every brimming street, Lady Demeter, is it thou, grown gaunt With work and want? At last, and with what shamed and stricken eyes, I see through thy disguise Of drudge and Exile,—even the holy boon That silvers yonder in the Harvest-moon;— That dimly under glows The furrows of thy worn immortal face, With mother-grace.
O Queen and Burden-bearer, what of those To whom thou gavest the lily and the rose Of thy far youth?... For whom, Out of the wondrous loom Of thine enduring body, thou didst make Garments of beauty, cunningly adorned, But only for Death's sake! Largess of life, but to lie waste and scorned.— Could not such cost of pain, Nor daily utmost of thy toil prevail?— But they must fade, and pale, And wither from thy desolated throne?— And still no Summer give thee back again Thine own?
Lady of Sorrows,—Mother,—Drudge august. Behold me in the dust.
Unto my Gladness then I cried: 'I will not be denied! Answer me now; and tell me why Thou dost not fall, as a broken star Out of the Dark where such things are, And where such bright things die. How canst thou, with thy fountain dance Shatter clear sight with radiance?— How canst thou reach and soar, and fling, Over my heart's dark shuddering, Unearthly lights on everything? What dost thou see? What dost thou know?' My Gladness said to me, bowed below, 'Gladness I am: created so.'
'And dare'st thou, in my mortal veins Sing, with the Spring's descending rains? While in this hour, and momently, Forth of myself I look, and see Torn treasure of my heart's Desire; And human glories in the mire, That should make glad some paradise!— The childhood strewn in foulest place, The girlhood, plundered of its grace; The eyelids shut upon spent eyes That never looked upon thy face! Answer me, thou, if answer be!'
My Gladness said to me: 'Weep if thou wilt; yea, weep, and doubt. I may not let the Sun go out.'
Then to my Gladness still I cried: 'And how canst thou abide?—' Here, where my listening heart must hark These sorrows rising from the Dark Where still they starve, and strive and die, Who bear each heaviest penalty Of humanhood;—nor grasp, nor guess, The garment's hem of happiness!— The spear-wound throbbing in my song, It throbs more bitterly than wrong,— It burns more wildly than despair,— The will to share, The will to share! Little I knew,—the blind-fold I,— Joy would become like agony,— Like arrows of the Sun in me!
* * * * *
I hold thee here. I have thee, now,— And I am human. But what art thou!'
My Gladness answered me: 'Wayfarer, wilt thou understand?— Follow me on. And keep my hand.'
THE NIGHTINGALE UNHEARD
Yes, Nightingale, through all the summer-time We followed on, from moon to golden moon; From where Salerno day-dreams in the noon, And the far rose of Paestum once did climb. All the white way beside the girdling blue, Through sun-shrill vines and campanile chime, We listened;—from the old year to the new. Brown bird, and where were you?
You, that Ravello lured not, throned on high And filled with singing out of sun-burned throats! Nor yet Minore of the flame-sailed boats; Nor yet—of all bird-song should glorify— Assisi, Little Portion of the blest, Assisi, in the bosom of the sky, Where God's own singer thatched his sunward nest; That little, heavenliest!
And north and north, to where the hedge-rows are, That beckon with white looks an endless way; Where, through the fair wet silverness of May, A lamb shines out as sudden as a star, Among the cloudy sheep; and green, and pale, The may-trees reach and glimmer, near or far, And the red may-trees wear a shining veil. —And still, no nightingale!
The one vain longing,—through all journeyings, The one: in every hushed and hearkening spot,— All the soft-swarming dark where you were not, Still longed for! Yes, for sake of dreams and wings, And wonders, that your own must ever make To bower you close, with all hearts' treasurings; And for that speech toward which all hearts do ache;— Even for Music's sake. But most, his music whose beloved name Forever writ in water of bright tears, Wins to one grave-side even the Roman years, That kindle there the hallowed April flame Of comfort-breathing violets. By that shrine Of Youth, Love, Death, forevermore the same, Violets still!—When falls, to leave no sign, The arch of Constantine.
Most for his sake we dreamed. Tho' not as he, From that lone spirit, brimmed with human woe, Your song once shook to surging overflow. How was it, sovran dweller of the tree, His cry, still throbbing in the flooded shell Of silence with remembered melody, Could draw from you no answer to the spell? —O Voice, O Philomel?
Long time we wondered (and we knew not why):— Nor dream, nor prayer, of wayside gladness born, Nor vineyards waiting, nor reproachful thorn, Nor yet the nested hill-towns set so high All the white way beside the girdling blue,— Nor olives, gray against a golden sky, Could serve to wake that rapturous voice of you! But the wise silence knew.
O Nightingale unheard!—Unheard alone, Throughout that woven music of the days From the faint sea-rim to the market-place, And ring of hammers on cathedral stone!— So be it, better so: that there should fail For sun-filled ones, one blessed thing unknown. To them, be hid forever,—and all hail! Sing never, Nightingale.
Sing, for the others! Sing; to some pale cheek Against the window, like a starving flower. Loose, with your singing, one poor pilgrim hour Of journey, with some Heart's Desire to seek. Loose, with your singing, captives such as these In misery and iron, hearts too meek, For voyage—voyage over dreamful seas To lost Hesperides.
Sing not for free-men. Ah, but sing for whom The walls shut in; and even as eyes that fade, The windows take no heed of light nor shade,— The leaves are lost in mutterings of the loom. Sing near! So in that golden overflowing They may forget their wasted human bloom; Pay the devouring days their all, unknowing.— Reck not of life's bright going!
Sing not for lovers, side by side that hark; Nor unto parted lovers, save they be Parted indeed by more than makes the Sea. Where never hope shall meet—like mounting lark— Far Joy's uprising; and no memories Abide to star the music-haunted dark: To them that sit in darkness, such as these, Pour down, pour down heart's-ease.
Not in kings' gardens. No; but where there haunt The world's forgotten, both of men and birds; The alleys of no hope and of no words, The hidings where men reap not, though they plant; But toil and thirst—so dying and so born;— And toil and thirst to gather to their want, From the lean waste, beyond the daylight's scorn, —To gather grapes of thorn!
* * * * *
And for those two, your pilgrims without tears, Who prayed a largess where there was no dearth, Forgive it to their human-happy ears: Forgive it them, brown music of the Earth, Unknowing,—though the wiser silence knew! Forgive it to the music of the spheres That while they walked together so, the Two Together,—heard not you.
Beloved, till the day break, Leave wide the little door; And bless, to lack and longing, Our brimming more-and-more.
Is love a scanted portion, That we should hoard thereof?— Oh, call unto the deserts, Beloved and my Love!