Transcribed from the 1892 David Nutt edition by David Price, email firstname.lastname@example.org
THE SONG OF THE SWORD AND OTHER VERSES
W. E. HENLEY
LONDON Published by DAVID NUTT in the Strand 1892
To R. T. Hamilton-Bruce
Edinburgh, Mar. 17, 1892
With three exceptions, these numbers have appeared in 'The National Observer,' by permission of whose proprietors they are here reprinted.
THE SONG OF THE SWORD (To Rudyard Kipling)
The Sword Singing— The voice of the Sword from the heart of the Sword Clanging imperious Forth from Time's battlements His ancient and triumphing Song.
In the beginning, Ere God inspired Himself Into the clay thing Thumbed to His image, The vacant, the naked shell Soon to be Man: Thoughtful He pondered it, Prone there and impotent, Fragile, inviting Attack and discomfiture: Then, with a smile— As He heard in the Thunder That laughed over Eden The voice of the Trumpet, The iron Beneficence, Calling His dooms To the Winds of the world— Stooping, He drew On the sand with His finger A shape for a sign Of His way to the eyes That in wonder should waken, For a proof of His will To the breaking intelligence: That was the birth of me: I am the Sword.
Hard and bleak, keen and cruel, Short-hilted, long-shafted, I froze into steel: And the blood of my elder, His hand on the hafts of me, Sprang like a wave In the wind, as the sense Of his strength grew to ecstasy, Glowed like a coal At the throat of the furnace, As he knew me and named me The War-Thing, the Comrade, Father of honour And giver of kingship, The fame-smith, the song-master, Bringer of women On fire at his hands For the pride of fulfilment, Priest (saith the Lord) Of his marriage with victory. Ho! then, the Trumpet, Handmaid of heroes, Calling the peers To the place of espousal! Ho! then, the splendour And sheen of my ministry, Clothing the earth With a livery of lightnings! Ho! then, the music Of battles in onset And ruining armours, And God's gift returning In fury to God! Glittering and keen As the song of the winter stars, Ho! then, the sound Of my voice, the implacable Angel of Destiny!— I am the Sword.
Heroes, my children, Follow, O follow me, Follow, exulting In the great light that breaks From the sacred companionship: Thrust through the fatuous, Thrust through the fungous brood Spawned in my shadow And gross with my gift! Thrust through, and hearken, O hark, to the Trumpet, The Virgin of Battles, Calling, still calling you Into the Presence, Sons of the Judgment, Pure wafts of the Will! Edged to annihilate, Hilted with government, Follow, O follow me Till the waste places All the grey globe over Ooze, as the honeycomb Drips, with the sweetness Distilled of my strength: And, teeming in peace Through the wrath of my coming, They give back in beauty The dread and the anguish They had of me visitant! Follow, O follow, then, Heroes, my harvesters! Where the tall grain is ripe Thrust in your sickles: Stripped and adust In a stubble of empire, Scything and binding The full sheaves of sovranty: Thus, O thus gloriously, Shall you fulfil yourselves: Thus, O thus mightily, Show yourselves sons of mine— Yea, and win grace of me: I am the Sword.
I am the feast-maker: Hark, through a noise Of the screaming of eagles, Hark how the Trumpet, The mistress of mistresses, Calls, silver-throated And stern, where the tables Are spread, and the work Of the Lord is in hand! Driving the darkness, Even as the banners And spears of the Morning; Sifting the nations, The slag from the metal, The waste and the weak From the fit and the strong; Fighting the brute, The abysmal Fecundity; Checking the gross, Multitudinous blunders, The groping, the purblind Excesses in service, Of the Womb universal, The absolute Drudge; Changing the charactry Carved on the World, The miraculous gem In the seal-ring that burns On the hand of the Master— Yea! and authority Flames through the dim, Unappeasable Grisliness Prone down the nethermost Chasms of the Void; Clear singing, clean slicing; Sweet spoken, soft finishing; Making death beautiful, Life but a coin To be staked in the pastime Whose playing is more Than the transfer of being; Arch-anarch, chief builder, Prince and evangelist, I am the Will of God: I am the Sword.
The Sword Singing— The voice of the Sword from the heart of the Sword Clanging majestical, As from the starry-staired Courts of the primal Supremacy, His high, irresistible song.
LONDON VOLUNTARIES (To Charles Whibley)
Andante con mote
Forth from the dust and din, The crush, the heat, the many-spotted glare, The odour and sense of life and lust aflare, The wrangle and jangle of unrests, Let us take horse, dear heart, take horse and win— As from swart August to the green lap of May— To quietness and the fresh and fragrant breasts Of the still, delicious night, not yet aware In any of her innumerable nests Of that first sudden plash of dawn, Clear, sapphirine, luminous, large, Which tells that soon the flowing springs of day In deep and ever deeper eddies drawn Forward and up, in wider and wider way Shall float the sands and brim the shores On this our haunch of Earth, as round she roars And spins into the outlook of the Sun (The Lord's first gift, the Lord's especial charge) With light, with living light, from marge to marge, Until the course He set and staked be run.
Through street and square, through square and street, Each with his home-grown quality of dark And violated silence, loud and fleet, Waylaid by a merry ghost at every lamp, The hansom wheels and plunges. Hark, O hark, Sweet, how the old mare's bit and chain Ring back a rough refrain Upon the marked and cheerful tramp Of her four shoes! Here is the Park, And O the languid midsummer wafts adust, The tired midsummer blooms! O the mysterious distances, the glooms Romantic, the august And solemn shapes! At night this City of Trees Tunis to a tryst of vague and strange And monstrous Majesties, Let loose from some dim underworld to range These terrene vistas till their twilight sets: When, dispossessed of wonderfulness, they stand Beggared and common, plain to all the land For stooks of leaves! And lo! the wizard hour Whose shining, silent sorcery hath such power! Still, still the streets, between their carcanets Of linking gold, are avenues of sleep: But see how gable ends and parapets In gradual beauty and significance Emerge! And did you hear That little twitter-and-cheep, Breaking inordinately loud and clear On this still, spectral, exquisite atmosphere? 'Tis a first nest at matins! And behold A rakehell cat—how furtive and acold! A spent witch homing from some infamous dance— Obscene, quick-trotting, see her tip and fade Through shadowy railings into a pit of shade! And lo! a little wind and shy, The smell of ships (that earnest of romance), A sense of space and water, and thereby A lamplit bridge ouching the troubled sky. And look, O look! a tangle of silver gleams And dusky lights, our River and all his dreams, His dreams of a dead past that cannot die!
What miracle is happening in the air, Charging the very texture of the gray With something luminous and rare? The night goes out like an ill-parcelled fire, And, as one lights a candle, it is day. The extinguisher that fain would strut for spire On the formal little church is not yet green Across the water: but the house-tops nigher, The corner-lines, the chimneys—look how clean, How new, how naked! See the batch of boats, Here at the stairs, washed in the fresh-sprung beam! And those are barges that were goblin floats, Black, hag-steered, fraught with devilry and dream! And in the piles the water frolics clear, The ripples into loose rings wander and flee, And we—we can behold that could but hear The ancient River singing as he goes New-mailed in morning to the ancient Sea. The gas burns lank and jaded in its glass: The old Ruffian soon shall yawn himself awake, And light his pipe, and shoulder his tools, and take His hobnailed way to work! Let us too pass: Through these long blindfold rows Of casements staring blind to right and left, Each with his gaze turned inward on some piece Of life in death's own likeness—Life bereft Of living looks as by the Great Release (Perchance of shadow-shapes from shadow-shows), Whose upshot all men know yet no man knows.
Reach upon reach of burial—so they feel, These colonies of dreams! And as we steal Homeward together, but for the buxom breeze That frolics at our heel, Greeting the town with news of the summer seas, We might—thus awed, thus lonely that we are— Be wandering some depopulated star, Some world of memories and unbroken graves, So broods the abounding Silence near and far: Till even your footfall craves Forgiveness of the majesty it braves.
Down through the ancient Strand The Spirit of October, mild and boon And sauntering, takes his way This golden end of afternoon, As though the corn stood yellow in all the land And the ripe apples dropped to the harvest-moon.
Lo! the round sun, half down the western slope— Seen as along an unglazed telescope— Lingers and lolls, loth to be done with day: Gifting the long, lean, lanky street And its abounding confluences of being With aspects generous and bland: Making a thousand harnesses to shine As with new ore from some enchanted mine, And every horse's coat so full of sheen He looks new-tailored, and every 'bus feels clean, And never a hansom but is worth the feeing; And every jeweller within the pale Offers a real Arabian Night for sale; And even the roar Of the strong streams of toil that pause and pour Eastward and westward sounds suffused— Seems as it were bemused And blurred, and like the speech Of lazy seas upon a lotus-eating beach— With this enchanted lustrousness, This mellow magic, that (as a man's caress Brings back to some faded face beloved before A heavenly shadow of the grace it wore Ere the poor eyes were minded to beseech) Old things transfigures, and you hail and bless Their looks of long-lapsed loveliness once more; Till the sedate and mannered elegance Of Clement's is all tinctured with romance; The while the fanciful, formal, finicking charm Of Bride's, that madrigal in stone, Glows flushed and warm And beauteous with a beauty not its own; And the high majesty of Paul's Uplifts a voice of living light, and calls— Calls to his millions to behold and see How goodly this his London Town can be!
For earth and sky and air Are golden everywhere, And golden with a gold so suave and fine The looking on it lifts the heart like wine. Trafalgar Square (The fountains volleying golden glaze) Gleams like an angel-market. High aloft Over his couchant Lions in a haze Shimmering and bland and soft, A dust of chrysoprase, Our Sailor takes the golden gaze Of the saluting sun, and flames superb As once he flamed it on his ocean round. The dingy dreariness of the picture-place, Turned very nearly bright, Takes on a certain dismal grace, And shows not all a scandal to the ground. The very blind man pottering on the kerb, Among the posies and the ostrich feathers And the rude voices touched with all the weathers Of all the varying year, Shares in the universal alms of light. The windows, with their fleeting, flickering fires, The height and spread of frontage shining sheer, The glistering signs, the rejoicing roofs and spires— 'Tis El Dorado—El Dorado plain, The Golden City! And when a girl goes by, Look! as she turns her glancing head, A call of gold is floated from her ear! Golden, all golden! In a golden glory, Long lapsing down a golden coasted sky, The day not dies but seems Dispersed in wafts and drifts of gold, and shed Upon a past of golden song and story And memories of gold and golden dreams.
Largo e mesto
Out of the poisonous East, Over a continent of blight, Like a maleficent Influence released From the most squalid cellarage of hell, The Wind-Fiend, the abominable— The hangman wind that tortures temper and light— Comes slouching, sullen and obscene, Hard on the skirts of the embittered night: And in a cloud unclean Of excremental humours, roused to strife By the operation of some ruinous change Wherever his evil mandate run and range Into a dire intensity of life, A craftsman at his bench, he settles down To the grim job of throttling London Town.
And, by a jealous lightlessness beset That might have oppressed the dragons of old time Crunching and groping in the abysmal slime, A cave of cut-throat thoughts and villainous dreams, Hag-rid and crying with cold and dirt and wet, The afflicted city, prone from mark to mark In shameful occultation, seems A nightmare labyrinthine, dim and drifting, With wavering gulfs and antic heights and shifting Rent in the stuff of a material dark Wherein the lamplight, scattered and sick and pale, Shows like the leper's living blotch of bale: Uncoiling monstrous into street on street Paven with perils, teeming with mischance, Where man and beast go blindfold and in dread, Working with oaths and threats and faltering feet Somewhither in the hideousness ahead; Working through wicked airs and deadly dews That make the laden robber grin askance At the good places in his black romance, And the poor, loitering harlot rather choose Go pinched and pined to bed Than lurk and shiver and curse her wretched way From arch to arch, scouting some threepenny prey.
Forgot his dawns and far-flushed afterglows, His green garlands and windy eyots forgot, The old Father-River flows, His watchfires cores of menace in the gloom, As he came oozing from the Pit, and bore, Sunk in his filthily transfigured sides, Shoals of dishonoured dead to tumble and rot In the squalor of the universal shore: His voices sounding through the gruesome air As from the ferry where the Boat of Doom With her blaspheming cargo reels and rides: The while his children, the brave ships, No more adventurous and fair Nor tripping it light of heel as home-bound brides, But infamously enchanted, Huddle together in the foul eclipse, Or feel their course by inches desperately, As through a tangle of alleys murder-haunted, From sinister reach to reach—out—out—to sea.
And Death the while— Death with his well-worn, lean, professional smile, Death in his threadbare working trim— Comes to your bedside, unannounced and bland, And with expert, inevitable hand Feels at your windpipe, fingers you in the lung, Or flicks the clot well into the labouring heart: Thus signifying unto old and young, However hard of mouth or wild of whim, 'Tis time—'tis time by his ancient watch—to part With books and women and talk and drink and art: And you go humbly after him To a mean suburban lodging: on the way To what or where Not Death, who is old and very wise, can say: And you—how should you care So long as, unreclaimed of hell, The Wind-Fiend, the insufferable, Thus vicious and thus patient sits him down To the black job of burking London Town?
Spring winds that blow As over leagues of myrtle-blooms and may; Bevies of spring clouds trooping slow, Like matrons heavy-bosomed and aglow With the mild and placid pride of increase! Nay, What makes this insolent and comely stream Of appetence, this freshet of desire (Milk from the wild breasts of the wilful Day!), Down Piccadilly dance and murmur and gleam In genial wave on wave and gyre on gyre? Why does that nymph unparalleled splash and churn The wealth of her enchanted urn Till, over-billowing all between Her cheerful margents grey and living green, It floats and wanders, glittering and fleeing, An estuary of the joy of being? Why should the buxom leafage of the Park Touch to an ecstasy the act of seeing? —As if my paramour, my bride of brides, Lingering and flushed, mysteriously abides In some dim, eye-proof angle of odorous dark, Some smiling nook of green-and-golden shade, In the divine conviction robed and crowned The globe fulfils his immemorial round But as the marrying-place of all things made!
There is no man, this deifying day, But feels the primal blessing in his blood. The sacred impulse of the May Brightening like sex made sunshine through her veins, There is no woman but disdains To vail the ensigns of her womanhood. None but, rejoicing, flaunts them as she goes, Bounteous in looks of her delicious best, On her inviolable quest: These with their hopes, with their sweet secrets those, But all desirable and frankly fair, As each were keeping some most prosperous tryst, And in the knowledge went imparadised. For look! a magical influence everywhere, Look how the liberal and transfiguring air Washes this inn of memorable meetings, This centre of ravishments and gracious greetings, Till, through its jocund loveliness of length A tidal-race of lust from shore to shore, A brimming reach of beauty met with strength, It shines and sounds like some miraculous dream, Some vision multitudinous and agleam, Of happiness as it shall be evermore!
Praise God for giving Through this His messenger among the days His word the life He gave is thrice-worth living! For Pan, the bountiful, imperious Pan— Not dead, not dead, as dreamers feigned, But the lush genius of a million Mays Renewing his beneficent endeavour!— Still reigns and triumphs, as he hath triumphed and reigned Since in the dim blue dawn of time The universal ebb-and-flow began, To sound his ancient music, and prevails By the persuasion of his mighty rhyme Here in this radiant and immortal street Lavishly and omnipotently as ever In the open hills, the undissembling dales, The laughing-places of the juvenile earth. For lo! the wills of man and woman meet, Meet and are moved, each unto each endeared As once in Eden's prodigal bowers befell, To share his shameless, elemental mirth In one great act of faith, while deep and strong, Incomparably nerved and cheered, The enormous heart of London joys to beat To the measures of his rough, majestic song: The lewd, perennial, overmastering spell That keeps the rolling universe ensphered And life and all for which life lives to long Wanton and wondrous and for ever well.
RHYMES AND RHYTHMS
Where forlorn sunsets flare and fade On desolate sea and lonely sand, Out of the silence and the shade What is the voice of strange command Calling you still, as friend calls friend With love that cannot brook delay, To rise and follow the ways that wend Over the hills and far away?
Hark in the city, street on street A roaring reach of death and life, Of vortices that clash and fleet And ruin in appointed strife, Hark to it calling, calling clear, Calling until you cannot stay From dearer things than your own most dear Over the hills and far away.
Out of the sound of ebb and flow, Out of the sight of lamp and star, It calls you where the good winds blow, And the unchanging meadows are: From faded hopes and hopes agleam, It calls you, calls you night and day Beyond the dark into the dream Over the hills and far away.
A desolate shore, The sinister seduction of the Moon, The menace of the irreclaimable Sea.
Flaunting, tawdry and grim, From cloud to cloud along her beat, Leering her battered and inveterate leer, She signals where he prowls in the dark alone, Her horrible old man, Mumbling old oaths and warming His villainous old bones with villainous talk— The secrets of their grisly housekeeping Since they went out upon the pad In the first twilight of self-conscious Time: Growling, obscene and hoarse, Tales of unnumbered Ships, Goodly and strong, Companions of the Advance In some vile alley of the night Waylaid and bludgeoned— Dead.
Deep cellared in primeval ooze, Ruined, dishonoured, spoiled, They lie where the lean water-worm Crawls free of their secrets, and their broken sides Bulge with the slime of life. Thus they abide, Thus fouled and desecrate, The summons of the Trumpet, and the while These Twain, their murderers, Unravined, imperturbable, unsubdued, Hang at the heels of their children—She aloft As in the shining streets, He as in ambush at some fetid stair.
The stalwart Ships, The beautiful and bold adventurers! Stationed out yonder in the isle, The tall Policeman, Flashing his bull's-eye, as he peers About him in the ancient vacancy, Tells them this way is safety—this way home.
III (To R. F. B.)
We are the Choice of the Will: God, when He gave the word That called us into line, set in our hand a sword;
Set us a sword to wield none else could lift and draw, And bade us forth to the sound of the trumpet of the Law.
East and west and north, wherever the battle grew, As men to a feast we fared, the work of the Will to do.
Bent upon vast beginnings, bidding anarchy cease— (Had we hacked it to the Pit, we had left it a place of peace!)—
Marching, building, sailing, pillar of cloud or fire, Sons of the Will, we fought the fight of the Will, our sire.
Road was never so rough that we left its purpose dark; Stark was ever the sea, but our ships were yet more stark;
We tracked the winds of the world to the steps of their very thrones; The secret parts of the world were salted with our bones;
Till now the name of names, England, the name of might, Flames from the austral bounds to the ends of the northern night;
And the call of her morning drum goes in a girdle of sound, Like the voice of the sun in song, the great globe round and round;
And the shadow of her flag, when it shouts to the mother-breeze, Floats from shore to shore of the universal seas;
And the loneliest death is fair with a memory of her flowers, And the end of the road to Hell with the sense of her dews and showers!
Who says that we shall pass, or the fame of us fade and die, While the living stars fulfil their round in the living sky?
For the sire lives in his sons, and they pay their father's debt, And the Lion has left a whelp wherever his claw was set:
And the Lion in his whelps, his whelps that none shall brave, Is but less strong than Time and the all-devouring Grave.
It came with the threat of a waning moon And the wail of an ebbing tide, But many a woman has lived for less, And many a man has died; For life upon life took hold and passed, Strong in a fate set free, Out of the deep, into the dark, On for the years to be.
Between the gleam of a waning moon And the song of an ebbing tide, Chance upon chance of love and death Took wing for the world so wide. Leaf out of leaf is the way of the land, Wave out of wave of the sea; And who shall reckon what lives may live In the life that we bade to be?
Why, my heart, do we love her so? (Geraldine, Geraldine!)— Why does the great sea ebb and flow? Why does the round world spin? Geraldine, Geraldine, Bid me my life renew, What is it worth unless I win, Love—love and you?
Why, my heart, when we speak her name (Geraldine, Geraldine!), Throbs the word like a flinging flame?— Why does the spring begin? Geraldine, Geraldine, Bid me indeed to be, Open your heart and take us in, Love—love and me.
Space and dread and the dark— Over a livid stretch of sky Cloud-monsters crawling like a funeral train Of huge primeval presences Stooping beneath the weight Of some enormous, rudimentary grief; While in the haunting loneliness The far sea waits and wanders, with a sound As of the trailing skirts of Destiny Passing unseen To some immitigable end With her grey henchman, Death.
What larve, what spectre is this Thrilling the wilderness to life As with the bodily shape of Fear? What but a desperate sense, A strong foreboding of those dim, Interminable continents, forlorn And many-silenced in a dusk Inviolable utterly, and dead As the poor dead it huddles and swarms and styes In hugger-mugger through eternity?
Life—life—let there be life! Better a thousand times the roaring hours When wave and wind, Like the Arch-Murderer in flight From the Avenger at his heel, Storm through the desolate fastnesses And wild waste places of the world!
Life—give me life until the end, That at the very top of being, The battle-spirit shouting in my blood, Out of the reddest hell of the fight I may be snatched and flung Into the everlasting lull, The immortal, incommunicable dream.
There's a regret So grinding, so immitigably sad, Remorse thereby feels tolerant, even glad. . . . Do you not know it yet?
For deeds undone Rankle, and snarl, and hunger for their due Till there seems naught so despicable as you In all the grin o' the sun.
Like an old shoe The sea spurns and the land abhors, you lie About the beach of Time, till by-and-by Death, that derides you too—
Death, as he goes His ragman's round, espies you, where you stray, With half-an-eye, and kicks you out of his way; And then—and then, who knows
But the kind Grave Turns on you, and you feel the convict Worm, In that black bridewell working out his term, Hanker and grope and crave?
'Poor fool that might— That might, yet would not, dared not, let this be, Think of it, here and thus made over to me In the implacable night!'
And writhing, fain And like a lover, he his fill shall take Where no triumphant memory lives to make His obscene victory vain.
VIII (To J. A. C.)
Fresh from his fastnesses Wholesome and spacious, The north wind, the mad huntsman, Halloos on his white hounds Over the grey, roaring Reaches and ridges, The forest of ocean, The chace of the world. Hark to the peal Of the pack in full cry, As he thongs them before him Swarming voluminous, Weltering, wide-wallowing, Till in a ruining Chaos of energy, Hurled on their quarry, They crash into foam!
Old Indefatigable, Time's right-hand man, the sea Laughs as in joy From his millions of wrinkles: Laughs that his destiny, Great with the greatness Of triumphing order, Shows as a dwarf By the strength of his heart And the might of his hands.
Master of masters, O maker of heroes, Thunder the brave, Irresistible message:— 'Life is worth living Through every grain of it From the foundations To the last edge Of the cornerstone, death.'
'As like the Woman as you can'— (Thus the New Adam was beguiled)— 'So shall you touch the Perfect Man'— (God in the Garden heard and smiled). 'Your father perished with his day: 'A clot of passions fierce and blind 'He fought, he slew, he hacked his way: 'Your muscles, Child, must be of mind.
'The Brute that lurks and irks within, 'How, till you have him gagged and bound, 'Escape the foullest form of Sin?' (God in the Garden laughed and frowned). 'So vile, so rank, the bestial mood 'In which the race is bid to be, 'It wrecks the Rarer Womanhood: 'Live, therefore, you, for Purity!
'Take for your mate no buxom croup, 'No girl all grace and natural will: 'To make her happy were to stoop 'From light to dark, from Good to Ill. 'Choose one of whom your grosser make'— (God in the Garden laughed outright)— 'The true refining touch may take 'Till both attain Life's highest height.
'There, equal, purged of soul and sense, 'Beneficent, high-thinking, just, 'Beyond the appeal of Violence, 'Incapable of common Lust, 'In mental Marriage still prevail'— (God in the Garden hid His face)— 'Till you achieve that Female-Male, 'In Which shall culminate the race.
Midsummer midnight skies, Midsummer midnight influences and airs, The shining sensitive silver of the sea Touched with the strange-hued blazonings of dawn: And all so solemnly still I seem to hear The breathing of Life and Death, The secular Accomplices, Renewing the visible miracle of the world.
The wistful stars Shine like good memories. The young morning wind Blows full of unforgotten hours As over a region of roses. Life and Death Sound on—sound on. . . . And the night magical, Troubled yet comforting, thrills As if the Enchanted Castle at the heart Of the wood's dark wonderment Swung wide his valves and filled the dim sea-banks With exquisite visitants: Words fiery-hearted yet, dreams and desires With living looks intolerable, regrets Whose voice comes as the voice of an only child Heard from the grave: shapes of a Might-Have-Been— Beautiful, miserable, distraught— The Law no man may baffle denied and slew.
The spell-bound ships stand as at gaze To let the marvel by. The grey road glooms . . . Glimmers . . . goes out . . . and there, O there where it fades, What grace, what glamour, what wild will, Transfigure the shadows? Whose, Heart of my heart, Soul of my soul, but yours?
Ghosts—ghosts—the sapphirine air Teems with them even to the gleaming ends Of the wild day-spring! Ghosts, Everywhere—everywhere—till I and you At last—dear love, at last!— Are in the dreaming, even as Life and Death, Twin-ministers of the unoriginal Will.
Gulls in an aery morrice Gleam and vanish and gleam . . . The full sea, sleepily basking, Dreams under skies of dream.
Gulls in an aery morrice Circle and swoop and close . . . Fuller and ever fuller The rose of the morning blows.
Gulls in an aery morrice Frolicking float and fade . . . O the way of a bird in the sunshine, The way of a man with a maid!
Some starlit garden grey with dew, Some chamber flushed with wine and fire, What matters where, so I and you Are worthy our desire?
Behind, a past that scolds and jeers For ungirt loin and lamp unlit; In front the unmanageable years, The trap upon the pit;
Think on the shame of dreams for deeds, The scandal of unnatural strife, The slur upon immortal needs, The treason done to life:
Arise! no more a living lie And with me quicken and control A memory that shall magnify The universal Soul.
XIII (To James McNeill Whistler)
Under a stagnant sky, Gloom out of gloom uncoiling into gloom, The River, jaded and forlorn, Welters and wanders wearily—wretchedly—on; Yet in and out among the ribs Of the old skeleton bridge, as in the piles Of some dead lake-built city, fall of skulls, Worm-worn, rat-riddled, mouldy with memories, Lingers to babble, to a broken tune (Once, O the unvoiced music of my heart!) So melancholy a soliloquy It sounds as it might tell The secret of the unending grief-in-grain, The terror of Time and Change and Death, That wastes this floating, transitory world.
What of the incantation That forced the huddled shapes on yonder short To take and wear the night Like a material majesty? That touched the shafts of wavering fire About this miserable welter and wash— (River, O River of Journeys, River of Dreams!—) Into long, shining signals from the panes Of an enchanted pleasure-house Where life and life might live life lost in life For ever and evermore?
O Death! O Change! O Time! Without you, O the insufferable eyes Of these poor Might-Have-Beens, These fatuous, ineffectual Yesterdays!
Time and the Earth— The old Father and Mother— Their teeming accomplished, Their purpose fulfilled, Close with a smile For a moment of kindness Ere for the winter They settle to sleep.
Failing yet gracious, Slow pacing, soon homing, A patriarch that strolls Through the tents of his children, The Sun, as he journeys His round on the lower Ascents of the blue, Washes the roofs And the hillsides with clarity; Charms the dark pools Till they break into pictures; Scatters magnificent Alms to the beggar trees; Touches the mist-folk That crowd to his escort Into translucencies Radiant and ravishing, As with the visible Spirit of Summer Gloriously vaporised, Visioned in gold.
Love, though the fallen leaf Mark, and the fleeting light And the loud, loitering Footfall of darkness Sign, to the heart Of the passage of destiny, Here is the ghost Of a summer that lived for us, Here is a promise Of summers to be.
You played and sang a snatch of song, A song that all-too well we knew; But whither had flown the ancient wrong; And was it really I and you? O since the end of life's to live And pay in pence the common debt, What should it cost us to forgive Whose daily task is to forget?
You babbled in the well-known voice— Not new, not new, the words you said. You touched me off that famous poise, That old effect, of neck and head. Dear, was it really you and I? In truth the riddle's ill to read, So many are the deaths we die Before we can be dead indeed.
One with the ruined sunset, The strange forsaken sands, What is it waits and wanders And signs with desperate hands?
What is it calls in the twilight— Calls as its chance were vain? The cry of a gull sent seaward Or the voice of an ancient pain?
The red ghost of the sunset, It walks them as its own, These dreary and desolate reaches . . . But O that it walked alone!
XVII CARMEN PATIBULARE (To H. S.)
Tree, Old Tree of the Triple Crook And the rope of the Black Election, 'Tis the faith of the Fool that a race you rule Can never achieve perfection: And 'It's O for the time of the New Sublime And the better than human way When the Wolf (poor beast) shall come to his own And the Rat shall have his day!'
For Tree, Old Tree of the Triple Beam And the power of provocation, You have cockered the Brute with your dreadful fruit Till your thought is mere stupration: And 'It's how should we rise to be pure and wise, And how can we choose but fall, So long as the Hangman makes us dread And the Noose floats free for all?'
So Tree, Old Tree of the Triple Coign And the trick there's no recalling, They will haggle and hew till they hack you through And at last they lay you sprawling: When 'Hey! for the hour of the race in flower And the long good-bye to sin!' And 'Ho! for the fires of Hell gone out For the want of keeping in!'
But Tree, Old Tree of the Triple Bough And the ghastly Dreams that tend you, Your growth began with the life of Man And only his death can end you: They may tug in line at your hempen twine, They may flourish with axe and saw, But your taproot drinks of the Sacred Springs In the living rock of Law.
And Tree, Old Tree of the Triple Fork, When the spent sun reels and blunders Down a welkin lit with the flare of the Pit As it seethes in spate and thunders, Stern on the glare of the tortured air Your lines august shall gloom, And your master-beam be the last thing whelmed In the ruining roar of Doom.
XVIII (To M. E. H.)
When you wake in your crib, You, an inch of experience— Vaulted about With the wonder of darkness; Wailing and striving To reach from your feebleness Something you feel Will be good to and cherish you, Something you know And can rest upon blindly: O then a hand (Your mother's, your mother's!) By the fall of its fingers All knowledge, all power to you, Out of the dreary, Discouraging strangenesses Comes to and masters you, Takes you, and lovingly Woos you and soothes you Back, as you cling to it, Back to some comforting Corner of sleep.
So you wake in your bed, Having lived, having loved: But the shadows are there, And the world and its kingdoms Incredibly faded; And you grope in the Terror Above you and under For the light, for the warmth, The assurance of life; But the blasts are ice-born, And your heart is nigh burst With the weight of the gloom And the stress of your strangled And desperate endeavour: Sudden a hand— Mother, O Mother!— God at His best to you, Out of the roaring, Impossible silences, Falls on and urges you, Mightily, tenderly, Forth, as you clutch at it, Forth to the infinite Peace of the Grave.
O Time and Change, they range and range From sunshine round to thunder!— They glance and go as the great winds blow, And the best of our dreams drive under: For Time and Change estrange, estrange— And, now they have looked and seen us, O we that were dear we are all-too near With the thick of the world between us.
O Death and Time, they chime and chime Like bells at sunset falling!— They end the song, they right the wrong, They set the old echoes calling: For Death and Time bring on the prime Of God's own chosen weather, And we lie in the peace of the Great Release As once in the grass together.
The shadow of Dawn; Stillness and stars and over-mastering dreams Of Life and Death and Sleep; Heard over gleaming flats the old unchanging sound Of the old unchanging Sea.
My soul and yours— O hand in hand let us fare forth, two ghosts, Into the ghostliness, The infinite and abounding solitudes, Beyond—O beyond!—beyond . . .
Here in the porch Upon the multitudinous silences Of the kingdoms of the grave, We twain are you and I—two ghosts Omnipotence Can touch no more—no more!
When the wind storms by with a shout, and the stern sea-caves Exult in the tramp and the roar of onsetting waves, Then, then, it comes home to the heart that the top of life Is the passion that burns the blood in the act of strife— Till you pity the dead down there in their quiet graves.
But to drowse with the fen behind and the fog before, When the rain-rot spreads and a tame sea mumbles the shore, Not to adventure, none to fight, no right and no wrong, Sons of the Sword heart-sick for a stave of your sire's old song— O you envy the blessed dead that can live no more!
Trees and the menace of night; Then a long, lonely, leaden mere Backed by a desolate fell As by a spectral battlement; and then, Low-brooding, interpenetrating all, A vast, grey, listless, inexpressive sky, So beggared, so incredibly bereft Of starlight and the song of racing worlds It might have bellied down upon the Void Where as in terror Light was beginning to be.
Hist! In the trees fulfilled of night (Night and the wretchedness of the sky) Is it the hurry of the rain? Or the noise of a drive of the Dead Streaming before the irresistible Will Through the strange dusk of this, the Debateable Land Between their place and ours?
Like the forgetfulness Of the work-a-day world made visible, A mist falls from the melancholy sky: A messenger from some lost and loving soul, Hopeless, far wandered, dazed Here in the provinces of life, A great white moth fades miserably past.
Thro' the trees in the strange dead night, Under the vast dead sky, Forgetting and forgot, a drift of Dead Sets to the mystic mere, the phantom fell, And the unimagined vastitudes beyond.
XXIII (To P. A. G.)
Here they trysted, here they strayed, In the leafage dewy and boon, Many a man and many a maid, And the morn was merry June: 'Death is fleet, Life is sweet,' Sang the blackbird in the may; And the hour with flying feet While they dreamed was yesterday.
Many a maid and many a man Found the leafage close and boon; Many a destiny began— O the morn was merry June. Dead and gone, dead and gone, (Hark the blackbird in the may!), Life and Death went hurrying on, Cheek on cheek—and where were they?
Dust in dust engendering dust In the leafage fresh and boon, Man and maid fulfil their trust— Still the morn turns merry June. Mother Life, Father Death (O the blackbird in the may!), Each the other's breath for breath, Fleet the times of the world away.
XXIV (To A. C.)
What should the Trees, Midsummer-manifold, each one, Voluminous, a labyrinth of life— What should such things of bulk and multitude Yield of their huge, unutterable selves, To the random importunity of Day, The blabbing journalist? Alert to snatch and publish hour by hour Their greenest hints, their leafiest privacies, How can he other than endure The ruminant irony that foists him off With broad-blown falsehoods, or the obviousness Of laughter flickering back from shine to shade, And disappearances of homing birds, And frolicsome freaks Of little boughs that frisk with little boughs?
Now, at the word Of the ancient, sacerdotal Night, Night of the many secrets, whose effect— Transfiguring, hierophantic, dread— Themselves alone may fully apprehend, They tremble and are changed: In each, the uncouth individual soul Looms forth and glooms Essential, and, their bodily presences Touched with inordinate significance, Wearing the darkness like the livery Of some mysterious and tremendous guild, They brood—they menace—they appal: Or the anguish of prophecy tears them, and they wring Wild hands of warning in the face Of some inevitable advance of doom: Or, each to the other bending, beckoning, signing, As in some monstrous market-place, They pass the news, these Gossips of the Prime, In that old speech their forefathers Learned on the lawns of Eden, ere they heard The troubled voice of Eve Naming the wondering folk of Paradise.
Your sense is sealed, or you should hear them tell The tale of their dim life and all Its compost of experience: how the Sun Spreads them their daily feast, Sumptuous, of light, firing them as with wine; Of the old Moon's fitful solicitude And those mild messages the Stars Descend in silver silences and dews; Or what the buxom West, Wanton with wading in the swirl of the wheat, Said, and their leafage laughed; And how the wet-winged Angel of the Rain Came whispering . . . whispering; and the gifts of the Year— The sting of the stirring sap Under the wizardry of the young-eyed Spring, Their summer amplitudes of pomp And rich autumnal melancholy, and the shrill, Embittered housewifery Of the lean Winter: all such things, And with them all the goodness of the Master Whose right hand blesses with increase and life, Whose left hand honours with decay and death.
So, under the constraint of Night, These gross and simple creatures, Each in his scores of rings, which rings are years, A servant of the Will. And God, the Craftsman, as He walks The floor of His workshop, hearkens, full of cheer In thus accomplishing The aims of His miraculous artistry.
What have I done for you, England, my England? What is there I would not do, England my own? With your glorious eyes austere, As the Lord were walking near, Whispering terrible things and dear As the Song on your bugles blown, England— Round the world on your bugles blown!
Where shall the watchful Sun, England, my England, Match the master-work you've done, England my own? When shall he rejoice agen Such a breed of mighty men As come forward, one to ten, To the Song on your bugles blown, England— Down the years on your bugles blown?
Ever the faith endures, England, my England:— 'Take and break us: we are yours, 'England, my own! 'Life is good, and joy runs high 'Between English earth and sky: 'Death is death; but we shall die 'To the Song on your bugles blown, 'England— 'To the stars on your bugles blown!'
They call you proud and hard, England, my England: You with worlds to watch and ward, England, my own! You whose mailed hand keeps the keys Of such teeming destinies You could know nor dread nor ease Were the Song on your bugles blown, England, Round the Pit on your bugles blown!
Mother of Ships whose might, England, my England, Is the fierce old Sea's delight, England, my own, Chosen daughter of the Lord, Spouse-in-Chief of the ancient Sword, There's the menace of the Word In the Song on your bugles blown, England— Out of heaven on your bugles blown!
Edinburgh: T. and A. CONSTABLE, Printers to Her Majesty