Poems

Second Series


Emily Dickinson

Edited by two of her friends

Mabel Loomis Todd and T.W. Higginson

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Table of Contents

Preface

I. Life.

II. Love.

III. Nature.

IV. Time and Eternity.

Preface

The eagerness with which the first volume of Emily Dickinson’s poems has been read shows very clearly that all our alleged modern artificiality does not prevent a prompt appreciation of the qualities of directness and simplicity in approaching the greatest themes — life and love and death. That “irresistible needle-touch,” as one of her best critics has called it, piercing at once the very core of a thought, has found a response as wide and sympathetic as it has been unexpected even to those who knew best her compelling power. This second volume, while open to the same criticism as to form with its predecessor, shows also the same shining beauties.

Although Emily Dickinson had been in the habit of sending occasional poems to friends and correspondents, the full extent of her writing was by no means imagined by them. Her friend “H.H.” must at least have suspected it, for in a letter dated 5th September, 1884, she wrote:—

MY DEAR FRIEND — What portfolios full of verses you must have! It is a cruel wrong to your “day and generation” that you will not give them light.

If such a thing should happen as that I should outlive you, I wish you would make me your literary legatee and executor. Surely after you are what is called “dead” you will be willing that the poor ghosts you have left behind should be cheered and pleased by your verses, will you not? You ought to be. I do not think we have a right to withhold from the world a word or a thought any more than a deed which might help a single soul . . . .

Truly yours,

Helen Jackson.

The “portfolios” were found, shortly after Emily Dickinson’s death, by her sister and only surviving housemate. Most of the poems had been carefully copied on sheets of note-paper, and tied in little fascicules, each of six or eight sheets. While many of them bear evidence of having been thrown off at white heat, still more had received thoughtful revision. There is the frequent addition of rather perplexing foot-notes, affording large choice of words and phrases. And in the copies which she sent to friends, sometimes one form, sometimes another, is found to have been used. Without important exception, her friends have generously placed at the disposal of the Editors any poems they had received from her; and these have given the obvious advantage of comparison among several renderings of the same verse.

To what further rigorous pruning her verses would have been subjected had she published them herself, we cannot know. They should be regarded in many cases as merely the first strong and suggestive sketches of an artist, intended to be embodied at some time in the finished picture.

Emily Dickinson appears to have written her first poems in the winter of 1862. In a letter to oone of the present Editors the April following, she says, “I made no verse, but one or two, until this winter.”

The handwriting was at first somewhat like the delicate, running Italian hand of our elder gentlewomen; but as she advanced in breadth of thought, it grew bolder and more abrupt, until in her latest years each letter stood distinct and separate from its fellows. In most of her poems, particularly the later ones, everything by way of punctuation was discarded, except numerous dashes; and all important words began with capitals. The effect of a page of her more recent manuscript is exceedingly quaint and strong. The fac-simile given in the present volume is from one of the earlier transition periods. Although there is nowhere a date, the handwriting makes it possible to arrange the poems with general chronologic accuracy.

As a rule, the verses were without titles; but “A Country Burial,” “A Thunder–Storm,” “The Humming–Bird,” and a few others were named by their author, frequently at the end — sometimes only in the accompanying note, if sent to a friend.

The variation of readings, with the fact that she often wrote in pencil and not always clearly, have at times thrown a good deal of responsibility upon her Editors. But all interference not absolutely inevitable has been avoided. The very roughness of her rendering is part of herself, and not lightly to be touched; for it seems in many cases that she intentionally avoided the smoother and more usual rhymes.

Like impressionist pictures, or Wagner’s rugged music, the very absence of conventional form challenges attention. In Emily Dickinson’s exacting hands, the especial, intrinsic fitness of a particular order of words might not be sacrificed to anything virtually extrinsic; and her verses all show a strange cadence of inner rhythmical music. Lines are always daringly constructed, and the “thought-rhyme” appears frequently — appealing, indeed, to an unrecognized sense more elusive than hearing.

Emily Dickinson scrutinized everything with clear-eyed frankness. Every subject was proper ground for legitimate study, even the sombre facts of death and burial, and the unknown life beyond. She touches these themes sometimes lightly, sometimes almost humorously, more often with weird and peculiar power; but she is never by any chance frivolous or trivial. And while, as one critic has said, she may exhibit toward God “an Emersonian self-possession,” it was because she looked upon all life with a candor as unprejudiced as it is rare.

She had tried society and the world, and found them lacking. She was not an invalid, and she lived in seclusion from no love-disappointment. Her life was the normal blossoming of a nature introspective to a high degree, whose best thought could not exist in pretence.

Storm, wind, the wild March sky, sunsets and dawns; the birds and bees, butterflies and flowers of her garden, with a few trusted human friends, were sufficient companionship. The coming of the first robin was a jubilee beyond crowning of monarch or birthday of pope; the first red leaf hurrying through “the altered air,” an epoch. Immortality was close about her; and while never morbid or melancholy, she lived in its presence.

Mabel Loomis Todd.

Amherst, Massachusetts,

August, 1891.

My nosegays are for captives;

   Dim, long-expectant eyes,

Fingers denied the plucking,

   Patient till paradise,

To such, if they should whisper

   Of morning and the moor,

They bear no other errand,

   And I, no other prayer.

I. Life.

I.

I’m nobody! Who are you?

Are you nobody, too?

Then there ’s a pair of us — don’t tell!

They ’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!

How public, like a frog

To tell your name the livelong day

To an admiring bog!

II.

I bring an unaccustomed wine

To lips long parching, next to mine,

And summon them to drink.

Crackling with fever, they essay;

I turn my brimming eyes away,

And come next hour to look.

The hands still hug the tardy glass;

The lips I would have cooled, alas!

Are so superfluous cold,

I would as soon attempt to warm

The bosoms where the frost has lain

Ages beneath the mould.

Some other thirsty there may be

To whom this would have pointed me

Had it remained to speak.

And so I always bear the cup

If, haply, mine may be the drop

Some pilgrim thirst to slake, —

If, haply, any say to me,

“Unto the little, unto me,”

When I at last awake.

III.

The nearest dream recedes, unrealized.

      The heaven we chase

      Like the June bee

      Before the school-boy

      Invites the race;

      Stoops to an easy clover —

Dips — evades — teases — deploys;

      Then to the royal clouds

      Lifts his light pinnace

      Heedless of the boy

Staring, bewildered, at the mocking sky.

      Homesick for steadfast honey,

      Ah! the bee flies not

That brews that rare variety.

IV.

We play at paste,

Till qualified for pearl,

Then drop the paste,

And deem ourself a fool.

The shapes, though, were similar,

And our new hands

Learned gem-tactics

Practising sands.

V.

I found the phrase to every thought

I ever had, but one;

And that defies me, — as a hand

Did try to chalk the sun

To races nurtured in the dark; —

How would your own begin?

Can blaze be done in cochineal,

Or noon in mazarin?

VI.

Hope.

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;

And sore must be the storm

That could abash the little bird

That kept so many warm.

I ’ve heard it in the chillest land,

And on the strangest sea;

Yet, never, in extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.

VII.

The White Heat.

Dare you see a soul at the white heat?

   Then crouch within the door.

Red is the fire’s common tint;

   But when the vivid ore

Has sated flame’s conditions,

   Its quivering substance plays

Without a color but the light

   Of unanointed blaze.

Least village boasts its blacksmith,

   Whose anvil’s even din

Stands symbol for the finer forge

   That soundless tugs within,

Refining these impatient ores

   With hammer and with blaze,

Until the designated light

   Repudiate the forge.

VIII.

Triumphant.

Who never lost, are unprepared

A coronet to find;

Who never thirsted, flagons

And cooling tamarind.

Who never climbed the weary league —

Can such a foot explore

The purple territories

On Pizarro’s shore?

How many legions overcome?

The emperor will say.

How many colors taken

On Revolution Day?

How many bullets bearest?

The royal scar hast thou?

Angels, write “Promoted”

On this soldier’s brow!

IX.

The Test.

I can wade grief,

Whole pools of it, —

I ’m used to that.

But the least push of joy

Breaks up my feet,

And I tip — drunken.

Let no pebble smile,

’T was the new liquor, —

That was all!

Power is only pain,

Stranded, through discipline,

Till weights will hang.

Give balm to giants,

And they ’ll wilt, like men.

Give Himmaleh, —

They ’ll carry him!

X.

Escape.

I never hear the word “escape”

Without a quicker blood,

A sudden expectation,

A flying attitude.

I never hear of prisons broad

By soldiers battered down,

But I tug childish at my bars, —

Only to fail again!

XI.

Compensation.

For each ecstatic instant

We must an anguish pay

In keen and quivering ratio

To the ecstasy.

For each beloved hour

Sharp pittances of years,

Bitter contested farthings

And coffers heaped with tears.

XII.

The Martyrs.

Through the straight pass of suffering

The martyrs even trod,

Their feet upon temptation,

Their faces upon God.

A stately, shriven company;

Convulsion playing round,

Harmless as streaks of meteor

Upon a planet’s bound.

Their faith the everlasting troth;

Their expectation fair;

The needle to the north degree

Wades so, through polar air.

XIII.

A Prayer.

I meant to have but modest needs,

Such as content, and heaven;

Within my income these could lie,

And life and I keep even.

But since the last included both,

It would suffice my prayer

But just for one to stipulate,

And grace would grant the pair.

And so, upon this wise I prayed, —

Great Spirit, give to me

A heaven not so large as yours,

But large enough for me.

A smile suffused Jehovah’s face;

The cherubim withdrew;

Grave saints stole out to look at me,

And showed their dimples, too.

I left the place with all my might, —

My prayer away I threw;

The quiet ages picked it up,

And Judgment twinkled, too,

That one so honest be extant

As take the tale for true

That “Whatsoever you shall ask,

Itself be given you.”

But I, grown shrewder, scan the skies

With a suspicious air, —

As children, swindled for the first,

All swindlers be, infer.

XIV.

The thought beneath so slight a film

Is more distinctly seen, —

As laces just reveal the surge,

Or mists the Apennine.

XV.

The soul unto itself

Is an imperial friend, —

Or the most agonizing spy

An enemy could send.

Secure against its own,

No treason it can fear;

Itself its sovereign, of itself

The soul should stand in awe.

XVI.

Surgeons must be very careful

When they take the knife!

Underneath their fine incisions

Stirs the culprit, — Life!

XVII.

The Railway Train.

I like to see it lap the miles,

And lick the valleys up,

And stop to feed itself at tanks;

And then, prodigious, step

Around a pile of mountains,

And, supercilious, peer

In shanties by the sides of roads;

And then a quarry pare

To fit its sides, and crawl between,

Complaining all the while

In horrid, hooting stanza;

Then chase itself down hill

And neigh like Boanerges;

Then, punctual as a star,

Stop — docile and omnipotent —

At its own stable door.

XVIII.

The Show.

The show is not the show,

But they that go.

Menagerie to me

My neighbor be.

Fair play —

Both went to see.

XIX.

Delight becomes pictorial

When viewed through pain, —

More fair, because impossible

That any gain.

The mountain at a given distance

In amber lies;

Approached, the amber flits a little, —

And that ’s the skies!

XX.

A thought went up my mind today

That I have had before,

But did not finish, — some way back,

I could not fix the year,

Nor where it went, nor why it came

The second time to me,

Nor definitely what it was,

Have I the art to say.

But somewhere in my soul, I know

I ’ve met the thing before;

It just reminded me — ’t was all —

And came my way no more.

XXI.

Is Heaven a physician?

They say that He can heal;

But medicine posthumous

   Is unavailable.

Is Heaven an exchequer?

   They speak of what we owe;

But that negotiation

   I ’m not a party to.

XXII.

The Return.

Though I get home how late, how late!

So I get home, ’t will compensate.

Better will be the ecstasy

That they have done expecting me,

When, night descending, dumb and dark,

They hear my unexpected knock.

Transporting must the moment be,

Brewed from decades of agony!

To think just how the fire will burn,

Just how long-cheated eyes will turn

To wonder what myself will say,

And what itself will say to me,

Beguiles the centuries of way!

XXIII.

A poor torn heart, a tattered heart,

That sat it down to rest,

Nor noticed that the ebbing day

Flowed silver to the west,

Nor noticed night did soft descend

Nor constellation burn,

Intent upon the vision

Of latitudes unknown.

The angels, happening that way,

This dusty heart espied;

Tenderly took it up from toil

And carried it to God.

There, — sandals for the barefoot;

There, — gathered from the gales,

Do the blue havens by the hand

Lead the wandering sails.

XXIV.

Too Much.

I should have been too glad, I see,

Too lifted for the scant degree

   Of life’s penurious round;

My little circuit would have shamed

This new circumference, have blamed

   The homelier time behind.

I should have been too saved, I see,

Too rescued; fear too dim to me

   That I could spell the prayer

I knew so perfect yesterday, —

That scalding one, “Sabachthani,”

   Recited fluent here.

Earth would have been too much, I see,

And heaven not enough for me;

   I should have had the joy

Without the fear to justify, —

The palm without the Calvary;

   So, Saviour, crucify.

Defeat whets victory, they say;

The reefs in old Gethsemane

   Endear the shore beyond.

’T is beggars banquets best define;

’T is thirsting vitalizes wine, —

   Faith faints to understand.

XXV.

Shipwreck.

It tossed and tossed, —

A little brig I knew, —

O’ertook by blast,

It spun and spun,

And groped delirious, for morn.

It slipped and slipped,

As one that drunken stepped;

Its white foot tripped,

Then dropped from sight.

Ah, brig, good-night

To crew and you;

The ocean’s heart too smooth, too blue,

To break for you.

XXVI.

Victory comes late,

And is held low to freezing lips

Too rapt with frost

To take it.

How sweet it would have tasted,

Just a drop!

Was God so economical?

His table ’s spread too high for us

Unless we dine on tip-toe.

Crumbs fit such little mouths,

Cherries suit robins;

The eagle’s golden breakfast

Strangles them.

God keeps his oath to sparrows,

Who of little love

Know how to starve!

XXVII.

Enough.

God gave a loaf to every bird,

But just a crumb to me;

I dare not eat it, though I starve, —

My poignant luxury

To own it, touch it, prove the feat

That made the pellet mine, —

Too happy in my sparrow chance

For ampler coveting.

It might be famine all around,

I could not miss an ear,

Such plenty smiles upon my board,

My garner shows so fair.

I wonder how the rich may feel, —

An Indiaman — an Earl?

I deem that I with but a crumb

Am sovereign of them all.

XXVIII.

Experiment to me

Is every one I meet.

If it contain a kernel?

The figure of a nut

Presents upon a tree,

Equally plausibly;

But meat within is requisite,

To squirrels and to me.

XXIX.

My Country’s Wardrobe.

My country need not change her gown,

Her triple suit as sweet

As when ’t was cut at Lexington,

And first pronounced “a fit.”

Great Britain disapproves “the stars;”

Disparagement discreet, —

There ’s something in their attitude

That taunts her bayonet.

XXX.

Faith is a fine invention

For gentlemen who see;

But microscopes are prudent

In an emergency!

XXXI.

Except the heaven had come so near,

So seemed to choose my door,

The distance would not haunt me so;

I had not hoped before.

But just to hear the grace depart

I never thought to see,

Afflicts me with a double loss;

’T is lost, and lost to me.

XXXII.

Portraits are to daily faces

As an evening west

To a fine, pedantic sunshine

In a satin vest.

XXXIII.

The Duel.

I took my power in my hand.

And went against the world;

’T was not so much as David had,

But I was twice as bold.

I aimed my pebble, but myself

Was all the one that fell.

Was it Goliath was too large,

Or only I too small?

XXXIV.

A shady friend for torrid days

Is easier to find

Than one of higher temperature

For frigid hour of mind.

The vane a little to the east

Scares muslin souls away;

If broadcloth breasts are firmer

Than those of organdy,

Who is to blame? The weaver?

Ah! the bewildering thread!

The tapestries of paradise

So notelessly are made!

XXXV.

The Goal.

Each life converges to some centre

Expressed or still;

Exists in every human nature

A goal,

Admitted scarcely to itself, it may be,

Too fair

For credibility’s temerity

To dare.

Adored with caution, as a brittle heaven,

To reach

Were hopeless as the rainbow’s raiment

To touch,

Yet persevered toward, surer for the distance;

How high

Unto the saints’ slow diligence

The sky!

Ungained, it may be, by a life’s low venture,

But then,

Eternity enables the endeavoring

Again.

XXXVI.

Sight.

Before I got my eye put out,

I liked as well to see

As other creatures that have eyes,

And know no other way.

But were it told to me, today,

That I might have the sky

For mine, I tell you that my heart

Would split, for size of me.

The meadows mine, the mountains mine, —

All forests, stintless stars,

As much of noon as I could take

Between my finite eyes.

The motions of the dipping birds,

The lightning’s jointed road,

For mine to look at when I liked, —

The news would strike me dead!

So safer, guess, with just my soul

Upon the window-pane

Where other creatures put their eyes,

Incautious of the sun.

XXXVII.

Talk with prudence to a beggar

Of ‘Potosi’ and the mines!

Reverently to the hungry

Of your viands and your wines!

Cautious, hint to any captive

You have passed enfranchised feet!

Anecdotes of air in dungeons

Have sometimes proved deadly sweet!

XXXVIII.

The Preacher.

He preached upon “breadth” till it argued him narrow, —

The broad are too broad to define;

And of “truth” until it proclaimed him a liar, —

The truth never flaunted a sign.

Simplicity fled from his counterfeit presence

As gold the pyrites would shun.

What confusion would cover the innocent Jesus

To meet so enabled a man!

XXXIX.

Good night! which put the candle out?

A jealous zephyr, not a doubt.

   Ah! friend, you little knew

How long at that celestial wick

The angels labored diligent;

   Extinguished, now, for you!

It might have been the lighthouse spark

Some sailor, rowing in the dark,

   Had importuned to see!

It might have been the waning lamp

That lit the drummer from the camp

   To purer reveille!

XL.

When I hoped I feared,

Since I hoped I dared;

Everywhere alone

As a church remain;

Spectre cannot harm,

Serpent cannot charm;

He deposes doom,

Who hath suffered him.

XLI.

Deed.

A deed knocks first at thought,

And then it knocks at will.

That is the manufacturing spot,

And will at home and well.

It then goes out an act,

Or is entombed so still

That only to the ear of God

Its doom is audible.

XLII.

Time’s Lesson.

Mine enemy is growing old, —

I have at last revenge.

The palate of the hate departs;

If any would avenge, —

Let him be quick, the viand flits,

It is a faded meat.

Anger as soon as fed is dead;

’T is starving makes it fat.

XLIII.

Remorse.

Remorse is memory awake,

Her companies astir, —

A presence of departed acts

At window and at door.

It’s past set down before the soul,

And lighted with a match,

Perusal to facilitate

Of its condensed despatch.

Remorse is cureless, — the disease

Not even God can heal;

For ’t is his institution, —

The complement of hell.

XLIV.

The Shelter.

The body grows outside, —

The more convenient way, —

That if the spirit like to hide,

Its temple stands alway

Ajar, secure, inviting;

It never did betray

The soul that asked its shelter

In timid honesty.

XLV.

Undue significance a starving man attaches

To food

Far off; he sighs, and therefore hopeless,

And therefore good.

Partaken, it relieves indeed, but proves us

That spices fly

In the receipt. It was the distance

Was savory.

XLVI.

Heart not so heavy as mine,

Wending late home,

As it passed my window

Whistled itself a tune, —

A careless snatch, a ballad,

A ditty of the street;

Yet to my irritated ear

An anodyne so sweet,

It was as if a bobolink,

Sauntering this way,

Carolled and mused and carolled,

Then bubbled slow away.

It was as if a chirping brook

Upon a toilsome way

Set bleeding feet to minuets

Without the knowing why.

To-morrow, night will come again,

Weary, perhaps, and sore.

Ah, bugle, by my window,

I pray you stroll once more!

XLVII.

I many times thought peace had come,

When peace was far away;

As wrecked men deem they sight the land

At centre of the sea,

And struggle slacker, but to prove,

As hopelessly as I,

How many the fictitious shores

Before the harbor lie.

XLVIII.

Unto my books so good to turn

Far ends of tired days;

It half endears the abstinence,

And pain is missed in praise.

As flavors cheer retarded guests

With banquetings to be,

So spices stimulate the time

Till my small library.

It may be wilderness without,

Far feet of failing men,

But holiday excludes the night,

And it is bells within.

I thank these kinsmen of the shelf;

Their countenances bland

Enamour in prospective,

And satisfy, obtained.

XLIX.

This merit hath the worst, —

It cannot be again.

When Fate hath taunted last

And thrown her furthest stone,

The maimed may pause and breathe,

And glance securely round.

The deer invites no longer

Than it eludes the hound.

L.

Hunger.

I had been hungry all the years;

My noon had come, to dine;

I, trembling, drew the table near,

And touched the curious wine.

’T was this on tables I had seen,

When turning, hungry, lone,

I looked in windows, for the wealth

I could not hope to own.

I did not know the ample bread,

’T was so unlike the crumb

The birds and I had often shared

In Nature’s dining-room.

The plenty hurt me, ’t was so new, —

Myself felt ill and odd,

As berry of a mountain bush

Transplanted to the road.

Nor was I hungry; so I found

That hunger was a way

Of persons outside windows,

The entering takes away.

LI.

I gained it so,

      By climbing slow,

By catching at the twigs that grow

Between the bliss and me.

      It hung so high,

      As well the sky

      Attempt by strategy.

I said I gained it, —

      This was all.

Look, how I clutch it,

      Lest it fall,

And I a pauper go;

Unfitted by an instant’s grace

For the contented beggar’s face

I wore an hour ago.

LII.

To learn the transport by the pain,

As blind men learn the sun;

To die of thirst, suspecting

That brooks in meadows run;

To stay the homesick, homesick feet

Upon a foreign shore

Haunted by native lands, the while,

And blue, beloved air —

This is the sovereign anguish,

This, the signal woe!

These are the patient laureates

Whose voices, trained below,

Ascend in ceaseless carol,

Inaudible, indeed,

To us, the duller scholars

Of the mysterious bard!

LIII.

Returning.

I years had been from home,

And now, before the door,

I dared not open, lest a face

I never saw before

Stare vacant into mine

And ask my business there.

My business, — just a life I left,

Was such still dwelling there?

I fumbled at my nerve,

I scanned the windows near;

The silence like an ocean rolled,

And broke against my ear.

I laughed a wooden laugh

That I could fear a door,

Who danger and the dead had faced,

But never quaked before.

I fitted to the latch

My hand, with trembling care,

Lest back the awful door should spring,

And leave me standing there.

I moved my fingers off

As cautiously as glass,

And held my ears, and like a thief

Fled gasping from the house.

LIV.

Prayer.

Prayer is the little implement

Through which men reach

Where presence is denied them.

They fling their speech

By means of it in God’s ear;

If then He hear,

This sums the apparatus

Comprised in prayer.

LV.

I know that he exists

Somewhere, in silence.

He has hid his rare life

From our gross eyes.

’T is an instant’s play,

’T is a fond ambush,

Just to make bliss

Earn her own surprise!

But should the play

Prove piercing earnest,

Should the glee glaze

In death’s stiff stare,

Would not the fun

Look too expensive?

Would not the jest

Have crawled too far?

LVI.

Melodies Unheard.

Musicians wrestle everywhere:

All day, among the crowded air,

  I hear the silver strife;

And — waking long before the dawn —

Such transport breaks upon the town

  I think it that “new life!”

It is not bird, it has no nest;

Nor band, in brass and scarlet dressed,

  Nor tambourine, nor man;

It is not hymn from pulpit read, —

The morning stars the treble led

  On time’s first afternoon!

Some say it is the spheres at play!

Some say that bright majority

  Of vanished dames and men!

Some think it service in the place

Where we, with late, celestial face,

  Please God, shall ascertain!

LVII.

Called Back.

Just lost when I was saved!

Just felt the world go by!

Just girt me for the onset with eternity,

When breath blew back,

And on the other side

I heard recede the disappointed tide!

Therefore, as one returned, I feel,

Odd secrets of the line to tell!

Some sailor, skirting foreign shores,

Some pale reporter from the awful doors

Before the seal!

Next time, to stay!

Next time, the things to see

By ear unheard,

Unscrutinized by eye.

Next time, to tarry,

While the ages steal, —

Slow tramp the centuries,

And the cycles wheel.

II. Love.

I.

Choice.

Of all the souls that stand create

I have elected one.

When sense from spirit files away,

And subterfuge is done;

When that which is and that which was

Apart, intrinsic, stand,

And this brief tragedy of flesh

Is shifted like a sand;

When figures show their royal front

And mists are carved away, —

Behold the atom I preferred

To all the lists of clay!

II.

I have no life but this,

To lead it here;

Nor any death, but lest

Dispelled from there;

Nor tie to earths to come,

Nor action new,

Except through this extent,

The realm of you.

III.

Your riches taught me poverty.

Myself a millionnaire

In little wealths, — as girls could boast, —

Till broad as Buenos Ayre,

You drifted your dominions

A different Peru;

And I esteemed all poverty,

For life’s estate with you.

Of mines I little know, myself,

But just the names of gems, —

The colors of the commonest;

And scarce of diadems

So much that, did I meet the queen,

Her glory I should know:

But this must be a different wealth,

To miss it beggars so.

I ’m sure ’t is India all day

To those who look on you

Without a stint, without a blame, —

Might I but be the Jew!

I ’m sure it is Golconda,

Beyond my power to deem, —

To have a smile for mine each day,

How better than a gem!

At least, it solaces to know

That there exists a gold,

Although I prove it just in time

Its distance to behold!

It ’s far, far treasure to surmise,

And estimate the pearl

That slipped my simple fingers through

While just a girl at school!

IV.

The Contract.

I gave myself to him,

And took himself for pay.

The solemn contract of a life

Was ratified this way.

The wealth might disappoint,

Myself a poorer prove

Than this great purchaser suspect,

The daily own of Love

Depreciate the vision;

But, till the merchant buy,

Still fable, in the isles of spice,

The subtle cargoes lie.

At least, ’t is mutual risk, —

Some found it mutual gain;

Sweet debt of Life, — each night to owe,

Insolvent, every noon.

V.

The Letter.

“GOING to him! Happy letter! Tell him —

Tell him the page I didn’t write;

Tell him I only said the syntax,

And left the verb and the pronoun out.

Tell him just how the fingers hurried,

Then how they waded, slow, slow, slow;

And then you wished you had eyes in your pages,

So you could see what moved them so.

“Tell him it wasn’t a practised writer,

You guessed, from the way the sentence toiled;

You could hear the bodice tug, behind you,

As if it held but the might of a child;

You almost pitied it, you, it worked so.

Tell him — No, you may quibble there,

For it would split his heart to know it,

And then you and I were silenter.

“Tell him night finished before we finished,

And the old clock kept neighing ‘day!’

And you got sleepy and begged to be ended —

What could it hinder so, to say?

Tell him just how she sealed you, cautious,

But if he ask where you are hid

Until tomorrow, — happy letter!

Gesture, coquette, and shake your head!”

VI.

The way I read a letter ’s this:

’T is first I lock the door,

And push it with my fingers next,

For transport it be sure.

And then I go the furthest off

To counteract a knock;

Then draw my little letter forth

And softly pick its lock.

Then, glancing narrow at the wall,

And narrow at the floor,

For firm conviction of a mouse

Not exorcised before,

Peruse how infinite I am

To — no one that you know!

And sigh for lack of heaven, — but not

The heaven the creeds bestow.

VII.

Wild nights! Wild nights!

Were I with thee,

Wild nights should be

Our luxury!

Futile the winds

To a heart in port, —

Done with the compass,

Done with the chart.

Rowing in Eden!

Ah! the sea!

Might I but moor

To-night in thee!

VIII.

At Home.

The night was wide, and furnished scant

With but a single star,

That often as a cloud it met

Blew out itself for fear.

The wind pursued the little bush,

And drove away the leaves

November left; then clambered up

And fretted in the eaves.

No squirrel went abroad;

A dog’s belated feet

Like intermittent plush were heard

Adown the empty street.

To feel if blinds be fast,

And closer to the fire

Her little rocking-chair to draw,

And shiver for the poor,

The housewife’s gentle task.

“How pleasanter,” said she

Unto the sofa opposite,

“The sleet than May — no thee!”

IX.

Possession.

Did the harebell loose her girdle

To the lover bee,

Would the bee the harebell hallow

Much as formerly?

Did the paradise, persuaded,

Yield her moat of pearl,

Would the Eden be an Eden,

Or the earl an earl?

X.

A charm invests a face

Imperfectly beheld, —

The lady dare not lift her veil

For fear it be dispelled.

But peers beyond her mesh,

And wishes, and denies, —

Lest interview annul a want

That image satisfies.

XI.

The Lovers.

The rose did caper on her cheek,

Her bodice rose and fell,

Her pretty speech, like drunken men,

Did stagger pitiful.

Her fingers fumbled at her work, —

Her needle would not go;

What ailed so smart a little maid

It puzzled me to know,

Till opposite I spied a cheek

That bore another rose;

Just opposite, another speech

That like the drunkard goes;

A vest that, like the bodice, danced

To the immortal tune, —

Till those two troubled little clocks

Ticked softly into one.

XII.

In lands I never saw, they say,

Immortal Alps look down,

Whose bonnets touch the firmament,

Whose sandals touch the town, —

Meek at whose everlasting feet

A myriad daisies play.

Which, sir, are you, and which am I,

Upon an August day?

XIII.

The moon is distant from the sea,

And yet with amber hands

She leads him, docile as a boy,

Along appointed sands.

He never misses a degree;

Obedient to her eye,

He comes just so far toward the town,

Just so far goes away.

Oh, Signor, thine the amber hand,

And mine the distant sea, —

Obedient to the least command

Thine eyes impose on me.

XIV.

He put the belt around my life, —

I heard the buckle snap,

And turned away, imperial,

My lifetime folding up

Deliberate, as a duke would do

A kingdom’s title-deed, —

Henceforth a dedicated sort,

A member of the cloud.

Yet not too far to come at call,

And do the little toils

That make the circuit of the rest,

And deal occasional smiles

To lives that stoop to notice mine

And kindly ask it in, —

Whose invitation, knew you not

For whom I must decline?

XV.

The Lost Jewel.

I held a jewel in my fingers

And went to sleep.

The day was warm, and winds were prosy;

I said: “’T will keep.”

I woke and chid my honest fingers, —

The gem was gone;

And now an amethyst remembrance

Is all I own.

XVI.

What if I say I shall not wait?

What if I burst the fleshly gate

And pass, escaped, to thee?

What if I file this mortal off,

See where it hurt me, — that ’s enough, —

And wade in liberty?

They cannot take us any more, —

Dungeons may call, and guns implore;

Unmeaning now, to me,

As laughter was an hour ago,

Or laces, or a travelling show,

Or who died yesterday!

III. Nature.

I.

Mother Nature.

Nature, the gentlest mother,

Impatient of no child,

The feeblest or the waywardest, —

Her admonition mild

In forest and the hill

By traveller is heard,

Restraining rampant squirrel

Or too impetuous bird.

How fair her conversation,

A summer afternoon, —

Her household, her assembly;

And when the sun goes down

Her voice among the aisles

Incites the timid prayer

Of the minutest cricket,

The most unworthy flower.

When all the children sleep

She turns as long away

As will suffice to light her lamps;

Then, bending from the sky

With infinite affection

And infiniter care,

Her golden finger on her lip,

Wills silence everywhere.

II.

Out of the Morning.

Will there really be a morning?

Is there such a thing as day?

Could I see it from the mountains

If I were as tall as they?

Has it feet like water-lilies?

Has it feathers like a bird?

Is it brought from famous countries

Of which I have never heard?

Oh, some scholar! Oh, some sailor!

Oh, some wise man from the skies!

Please to tell a little pilgrim

Where the place called morning lies!

III.

At half-past three a single bird

Unto a silent sky

Propounded but a single term

Of cautious melody.

At half-past four, experiment

Had subjugated test,

And lo! her silver principle

Supplanted all the rest.

At half-past seven, element

Nor implement was seen,

And place was where the presence was,

Circumference between.

IV.

Day’s Parlor.

The day came slow, till five o’clock,

Then sprang before the hills

Like hindered rubies, or the light

A sudden musket spills.

The purple could not keep the east,

The sunrise shook from fold,

Like breadths of topaz, packed a night,

The lady just unrolled.

The happy winds their timbrels took;

The birds, in docile rows,

Arranged themselves around their prince

(The wind is prince of those).

The orchard sparkled like a Jew, —

How mighty ’t was, to stay

A guest in this stupendous place,

The parlor of the day!

V.

The Sun’s Wooing.

The sun just touched the morning;

The morning, happy thing,

Supposed that he had come to dwell,

And life would be all spring.

She felt herself supremer, —

A raised, ethereal thing;

Henceforth for her what holiday!

Meanwhile, her wheeling king

Trailed slow along the orchards

His haughty, spangled hems,

Leaving a new necessity, —

The want of diadems!

The morning fluttered, staggered,

Felt feebly for her crown, —

Her unanointed forehead

Henceforth her only one.

VI.

The Robin.

The robin is the one

That interrupts the morn

With hurried, few, express reports

When March is scarcely on.

The robin is the one

That overflows the noon

With her cherubic quantity,

An April but begun.

The robin is the one

That speechless from her nest

Submits that home and certainty

And sanctity are best.

VII.

The Butterfly’s Day.

From cocoon forth a butterfly

As lady from her door

Emerged — a summer afternoon —

Repairing everywhere,

Without design, that I could trace,

Except to stray abroad

On miscellaneous enterprise

The clovers understood.

Her pretty parasol was seen

Contracting in a field

Where men made hay, then struggling hard

With an opposing cloud,

Where parties, phantom as herself,

To Nowhere seemed to go

In purposeless circumference,

As ’t were a tropic show.

And notwithstanding bee that worked,

And flower that zealous blew,

This audience of idleness

Disdained them, from the sky,

Till sundown crept, a steady tide,

And men that made the hay,

And afternoon, and butterfly,

Extinguished in its sea.

VIII.

The Bluebird.

Before you thought of spring,

Except as a surmise,

You see, God bless his suddenness,

A fellow in the skies

Of independent hues,

A little weather-worn,

Inspiriting habiliments

Of indigo and brown.

With specimens of song,

As if for you to choose,

Discretion in the interval,

With gay delays he goes

To some superior tree

Without a single leaf,

And shouts for joy to nobody

But his seraphic self!

IX.

April.

An altered look about the hills;

A Tyrian light the village fills;

A wider sunrise in the dawn;

A deeper twilight on the lawn;

A print of a vermilion foot;

A purple finger on the slope;

A flippant fly upon the pane;

A spider at his trade again;

An added strut in chanticleer;

A flower expected everywhere;

An axe shrill singing in the woods;

Fern-odors on untravelled roads, —

All this, and more I cannot tell,

A furtive look you know as well,

And Nicodemus’ mystery

Receives its annual reply.

X.

The Sleeping Flowers.

“Whose are the little beds,” I asked,

“Which in the valleys lie?”

Some shook their heads, and others smiled,

And no one made reply.

“Perhaps they did not hear,” I said;

“I will inquire again.

Whose are the beds, the tiny beds

So thick upon the plain?”

“’T is daisy in the shortest;

A little farther on,

Nearest the door to wake the first,

Little leontodon.

“’T is iris, sir, and aster,

Anemone and bell,

Batschia in the blanket red,

And chubby daffodil.”

Meanwhile at many cradles

Her busy foot she plied,

Humming the quaintest lullaby

That ever rocked a child.

“Hush! Epigea wakens! —

The crocus stirs her lids,

Rhodora’s cheek is crimson, —

She’s dreaming of the woods.”

Then, turning from them, reverent,

“Their bed-time ’t is,” she said;

“The bumble-bees will wake them

When April woods are red.”

XI.

My Rose.

Pigmy seraphs gone astray,

Velvet people from Vevay,

Belles from some lost summer day,

Bees’ exclusive coterie.

Paris could not lay the fold

Belted down with emerald;

Venice could not show a cheek

Of a tint so lustrous meek.

Never such an ambuscade

As of brier and leaf displayed

For my little damask maid.

I had rather wear her grace

Than an earl’s distinguished face;

I had rather dwell like her

Than be Duke of Exeter

Royalty enough for me

To subdue the bumble-bee!

XII.

The Oriole’s Secret.

To hear an oriole sing

May be a common thing,

Or only a divine.

It is not of the bird

Who sings the same, unheard,

As unto crowd.

The fashion of the ear

Attireth that it hear

In dun or fair.

So whether it be rune,

Or whether it be none,

Is of within;

The “tune is in the tree,”

The sceptic showeth me;

“No, sir! In thee!”

XIII.

The Oriole.

One of the ones that Midas touched,

Who failed to touch us all,

Was that confiding prodigal,

The blissful oriole.

So drunk, he disavows it

With badinage divine;

So dazzling, we mistake him

For an alighting mine.

A pleader, a dissembler,

An epicure, a thief, —

Betimes an oratorio,

An ecstasy in chief;

The Jesuit of orchards,

He cheats as he enchants

Of an entire attar

For his decamping wants.

The splendor of a Burmah,

The meteor of birds,

Departing like a pageant

Of ballads and of bards.

I never thought that Jason sought

For any golden fleece;

But then I am a rural man,

With thoughts that make for peace.

But if there were a Jason,

Tradition suffer me

Behold his lost emolument

Upon the apple-tree.

XIV.

In Shadow.

I dreaded that first robin so,

But he is mastered now,

And I ’m accustomed to him grown, —

He hurts a little, though.

I thought if I could only live

Till that first shout got by,

Not all pianos in the woods

Had power to mangle me.

I dared not meet the daffodils,

For fear their yellow gown

Would pierce me with a fashion

So foreign to my own.

I wished the grass would hurry,

So when ’t was time to see,

He ’d be too tall, the tallest one

Could stretch to look at me.

I could not bear the bees should come,

I wished they ’d stay away

In those dim countries where they go:

What word had they for me?

They ’re here, though; not a creature failed,

No blossom stayed away

In gentle deference to me,

The Queen of Calvary.

Each one salutes me as he goes,

And I my childish plumes

Lift, in bereaved acknowledgment

Of their unthinking drums.

XV.

The Humming-Bird.

A route of evanescence

With a revolving wheel;

A resonance of emerald,

A rush of cochineal;

And every blossom on the bush

Adjusts its tumbled head, —

The mail from Tunis, probably,

An easy morning’s ride.

XVI.

Secrets.

The skies can’t keep their secret!

They tell it to the hills —

The hills just tell the orchards —

And they the daffodils!

A bird, by chance, that goes that way

Soft overheard the whole.

If I should bribe the little bird,

Who knows but she would tell?

I think I won’t, however,

It’s finer not to know;

If summer were an axiom,

What sorcery had snow?

So keep your secret, Father!

I would not, if I could,

Know what the sapphire fellows do,

In your new-fashioned world!

XVII.

Who robbed the woods,

The trusting woods?

The unsuspecting trees

Brought out their burrs and mosses

His fantasy to please.

He scanned their trinkets, curious,

He grasped, he bore away.

What will the solemn hemlock,

What will the fir-tree say?

XVIII.

Two Voyagers.

Two butterflies went out at noon

And waltzed above a stream,

Then stepped straight through the firmament

And rested on a beam;

And then together bore away

Upon a shining sea, —

Though never yet, in any port,

Their coming mentioned be.

If spoken by the distant bird,

If met in ether sea

By frigate or by merchantman,

Report was not to me.

XIX.

By the Sea.

I started early, took my dog,

And visited the sea;

The mermaids in the basement

Came out to look at me,

And frigates in the upper floor

Extended hempen hands,

Presuming me to be a mouse

Aground, upon the sands.

But no man moved me till the tide

Went past my simple shoe,

And past my apron and my belt,

And past my bodice too,

And made as he would eat me up

As wholly as a dew

Upon a dandelion’s sleeve —

And then I started too.

And he — he followed close behind;

I felt his silver heel

Upon my ankle, — then my shoes

Would overflow with pearl.

Until we met the solid town,

No man he seemed to know;

And bowing with a mighty look

At me, the sea withdrew.

XX.

Old-Fashioned.

Arcturus is his other name, —

I’d rather call him star!

It’s so unkind of science

To go and interfere!

I pull a flower from the woods, —

A monster with a glass

Computes the stamens in a breath,

And has her in a class.

Whereas I took the butterfly

Aforetime in my hat,

He sits erect in cabinets,

The clover-bells forgot.

What once was heaven, is zenith now.

Where I proposed to go

When time’s brief masquerade was done,

Is mapped, and charted too!

What if the poles should frisk about

And stand upon their heads!

I hope I ’m ready for the worst,

Whatever prank betides!

Perhaps the kingdom of Heaven ’s changed!

I hope the children there

Won’t be new-fashioned when I come,

And laugh at me, and stare!

I hope the father in the skies

Will lift his little girl, —

Old-fashioned, naughty, everything, —

Over the stile of pearl!

XXI.

A Tempest.

An awful tempest mashed the air,

The clouds were gaunt and few;

A black, as of a spectre’s cloak,

Hid heaven and earth from view.

The creatures chuckled on the roofs

And whistled in the air,

And shook their fists and gnashed their teeth.

And swung their frenzied hair.

The morning lit, the birds arose;

The monster’s faded eyes

Turned slowly to his native coast,

And peace was Paradise!

XXII.

The Sea.

An everywhere of silver,

With ropes of sand

To keep it from effacing

The track called land.

XXIII.

In the Garden.

A bird came down the walk:

He did not know I saw;

He bit an angle-worm in halves

And ate the fellow, raw.

And then he drank a dew

From a convenient grass,

And then hopped sidewise to the wall

To let a beetle pass.

He glanced with rapid eyes

That hurried all abroad, —

They looked like frightened beads, I thought;

He stirred his velvet head

Like one in danger; cautious,

I offered him a crumb,

And he unrolled his feathers

And rowed him softer home

Than oars divide the ocean,

Too silver for a seam,

Or butterflies, off banks of noon,

Leap, plashless, as they swim.

XXIV.

The Snake.

A narrow fellow in the grass

Occasionally rides;

You may have met him, — did you not,

His notice sudden is.

The grass divides as with a comb,

A spotted shaft is seen;

And then it closes at your feet

And opens further on.

He likes a boggy acre,

A floor too cool for corn.

Yet when a child, and barefoot,

I more than once, at morn,

Have passed, I thought, a whip-lash

Unbraiding in the sun, —

When, stooping to secure it,

It wrinkled, and was gone.

Several of nature’s people

I know, and they know me;

I feel for them a transport

Of cordiality;

But never met this fellow,

Attended or alone,

Without a tighter breathing,

And zero at the bone.

XXV.

The Mushroom.

The mushroom is the elf of plants,

At evening it is not;

At morning in a truffled hut

It stops upon a spot

As if it tarried always;

And yet its whole career

Is shorter than a snake’s delay,

And fleeter than a tare.

’T is vegetation’s juggler,

The germ of alibi;

Doth like a bubble antedate,

And like a bubble hie.

I feel as if the grass were pleased

To have it intermit;

The surreptitious scion

Of summer’s circumspect.

Had nature any outcast face,

Could she a son contemn,

Had nature an Iscariot,

That mushroom, — it is him.

XXVI.

The Storm.

There came a wind like a bugle;

It quivered through the grass,

And a green chill upon the heat

So ominous did pass

We barred the windows and the doors

As from an emerald ghost;

The doom’s electric moccason

That very instant passed.

On a strange mob of panting trees,

And fences fled away,

And rivers where the houses ran

The living looked that day.

The bell within the steeple wild

The flying tidings whirled.

How much can come

And much can go,

And yet abide the world!

XXVII.

The Spider.

A spider sewed at night

Without a light

Upon an arc of white.

If ruff it was of dame

Or shroud of gnome,

Himself, himself inform.

Of immortality

His strategy

Was physiognomy.

XXVIII.

I know a place where summer strives

With such a practised frost,

She each year leads her daisies back,

Recording briefly, “Lost.”

But when the south wind stirs the pools

And struggles in the lanes,

Her heart misgives her for her vow,

And she pours soft refrains

Into the lap of adamant,

And spices, and the dew,

That stiffens quietly to quartz,

Upon her amber shoe.

XXIX.

The one that could repeat the summer day

Were greater than itself, though he

Minutest of mankind might be.

And who could reproduce the sun,

At period of going down —

The lingering and the stain, I mean —

When Orient has been outgrown,

And Occident becomes unknown,

His name remain.

XXX.

THE WlND’S VISIT.

The wind tapped like a tired man,

And like a host, “Come in,”

I boldly answered; entered then

My residence within

A rapid, footless guest,

To offer whom a chair

Were as impossible as hand

A sofa to the air.

No bone had he to bind him,

His speech was like the push

Of numerous humming-birds at once

From a superior bush.

His countenance a billow,

His fingers, if he pass,

Let go a music, as of tunes

Blown tremulous in glass.

He visited, still flitting;

Then, like a timid man,

Again he tapped — ’t was flurriedly —

And I became alone.

XXXI.

Nature rarer uses yellow

   Than another hue;

Saves she all of that for sunsets, —

   Prodigal of blue,

Spending scarlet like a woman,

   Yellow she affords

Only scantly and selectly,

   Like a lover’s words.

XXXII.

Gossip.

The leaves, like women, interchange

  Sagacious confidence;

Somewhat of nods, and somewhat of

  Portentous inference,

The parties in both cases

  Enjoining secrecy, —

Inviolable compact

  To notoriety.

XXXIII.

Simplicity.

How happy is the little stone

That rambles in the road alone,

And doesn’t care about careers,

And exigencies never fears;

Whose coat of elemental brown

A passing universe put on;

And independent as the sun,

Associates or glows alone,

Fulfilling absolute decree

In casual simplicity.

XXXIV.

Storm.

It sounded as if the streets were running,

And then the streets stood still.

Eclipse was all we could see at the window,

And awe was all we could feel.

By and by the boldest stole out of his covert,

To see if time was there.

Nature was in her beryl apron,

Mixing fresher air.

XXXV.

The Rat.

The rat is the concisest tenant.

He pays no rent, —

Repudiates the obligation,

On schemes intent.

Balking our wit

To sound or circumvent,

Hate cannot harm

A foe so reticent.

Neither decree

Prohibits him,

Lawful as

Equilibrium.

XXXVI.

Frequently the woods are pink,

Frequently are brown;

Frequently the hills undress

Behind my native town.

Oft a head is crested

I was wont to see,

And as oft a cranny

Where it used to be.

And the earth, they tell me,

On its axis turned, —

Wonderful rotation

By but twelve performed!

XXXVII.

A Thunder-Storm.

The wind begun to rock the grass

With threatening tunes and low, —

He flung a menace at the earth,

A menace at the sky.

The leaves unhooked themselves from trees

And started all abroad;

The dust did scoop itself like hands

And throw away the road.

The wagons quickened on the streets,

The thunder hurried slow;

The lightning showed a yellow beak,

And then a livid claw.

The birds put up the bars to nests,

The cattle fled to barns;

There came one drop of giant rain,

And then, as if the hands

That held the dams had parted hold,

The waters wrecked the sky,

But overlooked my father’s house,

Just quartering a tree.

XXXVIII.

With Flowers.

South winds jostle them,

Bumblebees come,

Hover, hesitate,

Drink, and are gone.

Butterflies pause

On their passage Cashmere;

I, softly plucking,

Present them here!

XXXIX.

Sunset.

Where ships of purple gently toss

On seas of daffodil,

Fantastic sailors mingle,

And then — the wharf is still.

XL.

She sweeps with many-colored brooms,

And leaves the shreds behind;

Oh, housewife in the evening west,

Come back, and dust the pond!

You dropped a purple ravelling in,

You dropped an amber thread;

And now you ’ve littered all the East

With duds of emerald!

And still she plies her spotted brooms,

And still the aprons fly,

Till brooms fade softly into stars —

And then I come away.

XLI.

Like mighty footlights burned the red

At bases of the trees, —

The far theatricals of day

Exhibiting to these.

’T was universe that did applaud

While, chiefest of the crowd,

Enabled by his royal dress,

Myself distinguished God.

XLII.

Problems.

Bring me the sunset in a cup,

Reckon the morning’s flagons up,

   And say how many dew;

Tell me how far the morning leaps,

Tell me what time the weaver sleeps

   Who spun the breadths of blue!

Write me how many notes there be

In the new robin’s ecstasy

   Among astonished boughs;

How many trips the tortoise makes,

How many cups the bee partakes, —

   The debauchee of dews!

Also, who laid the rainbow’s piers,

Also, who leads the docile spheres

   By withes of supple blue?

Whose fingers string the stalactite,

Who counts the wampum of the night,

   To see that none is due?

Who built this little Alban house

And shut the windows down so close

   My spirit cannot see?

Who ’ll let me out some gala day,

With implements to fly away,

   Passing pomposity?

XLIII.

The Juggler of Day.

Blazing in gold and quenching in purple,

Leaping like leopards to the sky,

Then at the feet of the old horizon

Laying her spotted face, to die;

Stooping as low as the otter’s window,

Touching the roof and tinting the barn,

Kissing her bonnet to the meadow, —

And the juggler of day is gone!

XLIV.

My Cricket.

Farther in summer than the birds,

Pathetic from the grass,

A minor nation celebrates

Its unobtrusive mass.

No ordinance is seen,

So gradual the grace,

A pensive custom it becomes,

Enlarging loneliness.

Antiquest felt at noon

When August, burning low,

Calls forth this spectral canticle,

Repose to typify.

Remit as yet no grace,

No furrow on the glow,

Yet a druidic difference

Enhances nature now.

XLV.

As imperceptibly as grief

The summer lapsed away, —

Too imperceptible, at last,

To seem like perfidy.

A quietness distilled,

As twilight long begun,

Or Nature, spending with herself

Sequestered afternoon.

The dusk drew earlier in,

The morning foreign shone, —

A courteous, yet harrowing grace,

As guest who would be gone.

And thus, without a wing,

Or service of a keel,

Our summer made her light escape

Into the beautiful.

XLVI.

It can’t be summer, — that got through;

It ’s early yet for spring;

There ’s that long town of white to cross

Before the blackbirds sing.

It can’t be dying, — it’s too rouge, —

The dead shall go in white.

So sunset shuts my question down

With clasps of chrysolite.

XLVII.

Summer’s Obsequies.

The gentian weaves her fringes,

The maple’s loom is red.

My departing blossoms

Obviate parade.

A brief, but patient illness,

An hour to prepare;

And one, below this morning,

Is where the angels are.

It was a short procession, —

The bobolink was there,

An aged bee addressed us,

And then we knelt in prayer.

We trust that she was willing, —

We ask that we may be.

Summer, sister, seraph,

Let us go with thee!

In the name of the bee

And of the butterfly

And of the breeze, amen!

XLVIII.

Fringed Gentian.

God made a little gentian;

It tried to be a rose

And failed, and all the summer laughed.

But just before the snows

There came a purple creature

That ravished all the hill;

And summer hid her forehead,

And mockery was still.

The frosts were her condition;

The Tyrian would not come

Until the North evoked it.

“Creator! shall I bloom?”

XLIX.

November.

Besides the autumn poets sing,

A few prosaic days

A little this side of the snow

And that side of the haze.

A few incisive mornings,

A few ascetic eyes, —

Gone Mr. Bryant’s golden-rod,

And Mr. Thomson’s sheaves.

Still is the bustle in the brook,

Sealed are the spicy valves;

Mesmeric fingers softly touch

The eyes of many elves.

Perhaps a squirrel may remain,

My sentiments to share.

Grant me, O Lord, a sunny mind,

Thy windy will to bear!

L.

The Snow.

It sifts from leaden sieves,

It powders all the wood,

It fills with alabaster wool

The wrinkles of the road.

It makes an even face

Of mountain and of plain, —

Unbroken forehead from the east

Unto the east again.

It reaches to the fence,

It wraps it, rail by rail,

Till it is lost in fleeces;

It flings a crystal veil

On stump and stack and stem, —

The summer’s empty room,

Acres of seams where harvests were,

Recordless, but for them.

It ruffles wrists of posts,

As ankles of a queen, —

Then stills its artisans like ghosts,

Denying they have been.

LI.

The Blue Jay.

No brigadier throughout the year

So civic as the jay.

A neighbor and a warrior too,

With shrill felicity

Pursuing winds that censure us

A February day,

The brother of the universe

Was never blown away.

The snow and he are intimate;

I ’ve often seen them play

When heaven looked upon us all

With such severity,

I felt apology were due

To an insulted sky,

Whose pompous frown was nutriment

To their temerity.

The pillow of this daring head

Is pungent evergreens;

His larder — terse and militant —

Unknown, refreshing things;

His character a tonic,

His future a dispute;

Unfair an immortality

That leaves this neighbor out.

IV. Time and Eternity.

I.

Let down the bars, O Death!

The tired flocks come in

Whose bleating ceases to repeat,

Whose wandering is done.

Thine is the stillest night,

Thine the securest fold;

Too near thou art for seeking thee,

Too tender to be told.

II.

Going to heaven!

I don’t know when,

Pray do not ask me how, —

Indeed, I ’m too astonished

To think of answering you!

Going to heaven! —

How dim it sounds!

And yet it will be done

As sure as flocks go home at night

Unto the shepherd’s arm!

Perhaps you ’re going too!

Who knows?

If you should get there first,

Save just a little place for me

Close to the two I lost!

The smallest “robe” will fit me,

And just a bit of “crown;”

For you know we do not mind our dress

When we are going home.

I ’m glad I don’t believe it,

For it would stop my breath,

And I ’d like to look a little more

At such a curious earth!

I am glad they did believe it

Whom I have never found

Since the mighty autumn afternoon

I left them in the ground.

III.

At least to pray is left, is left.

O Jesus! in the air

I know not which thy chamber is, —

I ’m knocking everywhere.

Thou stirrest earthquake in the South,

And maelstrom in the sea;

Say, Jesus Christ of Nazareth,

Hast thou no arm for me?

IV.

Epitaph.

Step lightly on this narrow spot!

The broadest land that grows

Is not so ample as the breast

These emerald seams enclose.

Step lofty; for this name is told

As far as cannon dwell,

Or flag subsist, or fame export

Her deathless syllable.

V.

Morns like these we parted;

Noons like these she rose,

Fluttering first, then firmer,

To her fair repose.

Never did she lisp it,

And ’t was not for me;

She was mute from transport,

I, from agony!

Till the evening, nearing,

One the shutters drew —

Quick! a sharper rustling!

And this linnet flew!

VI.

A death-blow is a life-blow to some

Who, till they died, did not alive become;

Who, had they lived, had died, but when

They died, vitality begun.

VII.

I read my sentence steadily,

Reviewed it with my eyes,

To see that I made no mistake

In its extremest clause, —

The date, and manner of the shame;

And then the pious form

That “God have mercy” on the soul

The jury voted him.

I made my soul familiar

With her extremity,

That at the last it should not be

A novel agony,

But she and Death, acquainted,

Meet tranquilly as friends,

Salute and pass without a hint —

And there the matter ends.

VIII.

I have not told my garden yet,

Lest that should conquer me;

I have not quite the strength now

To break it to the bee.

I will not name it in the street,

For shops would stare, that I,

So shy, so very ignorant,

Should have the face to die.

The hillsides must not know it,

Where I have rambled so,

Nor tell the loving forests

The day that I shall go,

Nor lisp it at the table,

Nor heedless by the way

Hint that within the riddle

One will walk today!

IX.

The Battle-Field.

They dropped like flakes, they dropped like stars,

   Like petals from a rose,

When suddenly across the June

   A wind with fingers goes.

They perished in the seamless grass, —

   No eye could find the place;

But God on his repealless list

   Can summon every face.

X.

The only ghost I ever saw

Was dressed in mechlin, — so;

He wore no sandal on his foot,

And stepped like flakes of snow.

His gait was soundless, like the bird,

But rapid, like the roe;

His fashions quaint, mosaic,

Or, haply, mistletoe.

His conversation seldom,

His laughter like the breeze

That dies away in dimples

Among the pensive trees.

Our interview was transient —

Of me, himself was shy;

And God forbid I look behind

Since that appalling day!

XI.

Some, too fragile for winter winds,

The thoughtful grave encloses, —

Tenderly tucking them in from frost

Before their feet are cold.

Never the treasures in her nest

The cautious grave exposes,

Building where schoolboy dare not look

And sportsman is not bold.

This covert have all the children

Early aged, and often cold, —

Sparrows unnoticed by the Father;

Lambs for whom time had not a fold.

XII.

As by the dead we love to sit,

Become so wondrous dear,

As for the lost we grapple,

Though all the rest are here, —

In broken mathematics

We estimate our prize,

Vast, in its fading ratio,

To our penurious eyes!

XIII.

Memorials.

Death sets a thing significant

The eye had hurried by,

Except a perished creature

Entreat us tenderly

To ponder little workmanships

In crayon or in wool,

With “This was last her fingers did,”

Industrious until

The thimble weighed too heavy,

The stitches stopped themselves,

And then ’t was put among the dust

Upon the closet shelves.

A book I have, a friend gave,

Whose pencil, here and there,

Had notched the place that pleased him, —

At rest his fingers are.

Now, when I read, I read not,

For interrupting tears

Obliterate the etchings

Too costly for repairs.

XIV.

I went to heaven, —

’T was a small town,

Lit with a ruby,

Lathed with down.

Stiller than the fields

At the full dew,

Beautiful as pictures

No man drew.

People like the moth,

Of mechlin, frames,

Duties of gossamer,

And eider names.

Almost contented

I could be

’Mong such unique

Society.

XV.

Their height in heaven comforts not,

Their glory nought to me;

’T was best imperfect, as it was;

I ’m finite, I can’t see.

The house of supposition,

The glimmering frontier

That skirts the acres of perhaps,

To me shows insecure.

The wealth I had contented me;

If ’t was a meaner size,

Then I had counted it until

It pleased my narrow eyes

Better than larger values,

However true their show;

This timid life of evidence

Keeps pleading, “I don’t know.”

XVI.

There is a shame of nobleness

Confronting sudden pelf, —

A finer shame of ecstasy

Convicted of itself.

A best disgrace a brave man feels,

Acknowledged of the brave, —

One more “Ye Blessed” to be told;

But this involves the grave.

XVII.

Triumph.

Triumph may be of several kinds.

There ’s triumph in the room

When that old imperator, Death,

By faith is overcome.

There ’s triumph of the finer mind

When truth, affronted long,

Advances calm to her supreme,

Her God her only throng.

A triumph when temptation’s bribe

Is slowly handed back,

One eye upon the heaven renounced

And one upon the rack.

Severer triumph, by himself

Experienced, who can pass

Acquitted from that naked bar,

Jehovah’s countenance!

XVIII.

Pompless no life can pass away;

    The lowliest career

To the same pageant wends its way

    As that exalted here.

How cordial is the mystery!

    The hospitable pall

A “this way” beckons spaciously, —

    A miracle for all!

XIX.

I noticed people disappeared,

When but a little child, —

Supposed they visited remote,

Or settled regions wild.

Now know I they both visited

And settled regions wild,

But did because they died, — a fact

Withheld the little child!

XX.

Following.

I had no cause to be awake,

My best was gone to sleep,

And morn a new politeness took,

And failed to wake them up,

But called the others clear,

And passed their curtains by.

Sweet morning, when I over-sleep,

Knock, recollect, for me!

I looked at sunrise once,

And then I looked at them,

And wishfulness in me arose

For circumstance the same.

’T was such an ample peace,

It could not hold a sigh, —

’T was Sabbath with the bells divorced,

’T was sunset all the day.

So choosing but a gown

And taking but a prayer,

The only raiment I should need,

I struggled, and was there.

XXI.

If anybody’s friend be dead,

It ’s sharpest of the theme

The thinking how they walked alive,

At such and such a time.

Their costume, of a Sunday,

Some manner of the hair, —

A prank nobody knew but them,

Lost, in the sepulchre.

How warm they were on such a day:

You almost feel the date,

So short way off it seems; and now,

They ’re centuries from that.

How pleased they were at what you said;

You try to touch the smile,

And dip your fingers in the frost:

When was it, can you tell,

You asked the company to tea,

Acquaintance, just a few,

And chatted close with this grand thing

That don’t remember you?

Past bows and invitations,

Past interview, and vow,

Past what ourselves can estimate, —

That makes the quick of woe!

XXII.

The Journey.

Our journey had advanced;

Our feet were almost come

To that odd fork in Being’s road,

Eternity by term.

Our pace took sudden awe,

Our feet reluctant led.

Before were cities, but between,

The forest of the dead.

Retreat was out of hope, —

Behind, a sealed route,

Eternity’s white flag before,

And God at every gate.

XXIII.

A Country Burial.

Ample make this bed.

Make this bed with awe;

In it wait till judgment break

Excellent and fair.

Be its mattress straight,

Be its pillow round;

Let no sunrise’ yellow noise

Interrupt this ground.

XXIV.

Going.

On such a night, or such a night,

Would anybody care

If such a little figure

Slipped quiet from its chair,

So quiet, oh, how quiet!

That nobody might know

But that the little figure

Rocked softer, to and fro?

On such a dawn, or such a dawn,

Would anybody sigh

That such a little figure

Too sound asleep did lie

For chanticleer to wake it, —

Or stirring house below,

Or giddy bird in orchard,

Or early task to do?

There was a little figure plump

For every little knoll,

Busy needles, and spools of thread,

And trudging feet from school.

Playmates, and holidays, and nuts,

And visions vast and small.

Strange that the feet so precious charged

Should reach so small a goal!

XXV.

Essential oils are wrung:

The attar from the rose

Is not expressed by suns alone,

It is the gift of screws.

The general rose decays;

But this, in lady’s drawer,

Makes summer when the lady lies

In ceaseless rosemary.

XXVI.

I lived on dread; to those who know

The stimulus there is

In danger, other impetus

Is numb and vital-less.

As ’t were a spur upon the soul,

A fear will urge it where

To go without the spectre’s aid

Were challenging despair.

XXVII.

If I should die,

And you should live,

And time should gurgle on,

And morn should beam,

And noon should burn,

As it has usual done;

If birds should build as early,

And bees as bustling go, —

One might depart at option

From enterprise below!

’T is sweet to know that stocks will stand

When we with daisies lie,

That commerce will continue,

And trades as briskly fly.

It makes the parting tranquil

And keeps the soul serene,

That gentlemen so sprightly

Conduct the pleasing scene!

XXVIII.

At Length.

Her final summer was it,

And yet we guessed it not;

If tenderer industriousness

Pervaded her, we thought

A further force of life

Developed from within, —

When Death lit all the shortness up,

And made the hurry plain.

We wondered at our blindness, —

When nothing was to see

But her Carrara guide-post, —

At our stupidity,

When, duller than our dulness,

The busy darling lay,

So busy was she, finishing,

So leisurely were we!

XXIX.

Ghosts.

One need not be a chamber to be haunted,

One need not be a house;

The brain has corridors surpassing

Material place.

Far safer, of a midnight meeting

External ghost,

Than an interior confronting

That whiter host.

Far safer through an Abbey gallop,

The stones achase,

Than, moonless, one’s own self encounter

In lonesome place.

Ourself, behind ourself concealed,

Should startle most;

Assassin, hid in our apartment,

Be horror’s least.

The prudent carries a revolver,

He bolts the door,

O’erlooking a superior spectre

More near.

XXX.

Vanished.

She died, — this was the way she died;

And when her breath was done,

Took up her simple wardrobe

And started for the sun.

Her little figure at the gate

The angels must have spied,

Since I could never find her

Upon the mortal side.

XXXI.

Precedence.

Wait till the majesty of Death

Invests so mean a brow!

Almost a powdered footman

Might dare to touch it now!

Wait till in everlasting robes

This democrat is dressed,

Then prate about “preferment”

And “station” and the rest!

Around this quiet courtier

Obsequious angels wait!

Full royal is his retinue,

Full purple is his state!

A lord might dare to lift the hat

To such a modest clay,

Since that my Lord, “the Lord of lords”

Receives unblushingly!

XXXII.

Gone.

Went up a year this evening!

I recollect it well!

Amid no bells nor bravos

The bystanders will tell!

Cheerful, as to the village,

Tranquil, as to repose,

Chastened, as to the chapel,

This humble tourist rose.

Did not talk of returning,

Alluded to no time

When, were the gales propitious,

We might look for him;

Was grateful for the roses

In life’s diverse bouquet,

Talked softly of new species

To pick another day.

Beguiling thus the wonder,

The wondrous nearer drew;

Hands bustled at the moorings —

The crowd respectful grew.

Ascended from our vision

To countenances new!

A difference, a daisy,

Is all the rest I knew!

XXXIII.

Requiem.

Taken from men this morning,

Carried by men today,

Met by the gods with banners

Who marshalled her away.

One little maid from playmates,

One little mind from school, —

There must be guests in Eden;

All the rooms are full.

Far as the east from even,

Dim as the border star, —

Courtiers quaint, in kingdoms,

Our departed are.

XXXIV.

What inn is this

Where for the night

Peculiar traveller comes?

Who is the landlord?

Where the maids?

Behold, what curious rooms!

No ruddy fires on the hearth,

No brimming tankards flow.

Necromancer, landlord,

Who are these below?

XXXV.

It was not death, for I stood up,

And all the dead lie down;

It was not night, for all the bells

Put out their tongues, for noon.

It was not frost, for on my flesh

I felt siroccos crawl, —

Nor fire, for just my marble feet

Could keep a chancel cool.

And yet it tasted like them all;

The figures I have seen

Set orderly, for burial,

Reminded me of mine,

As if my life were shaven

And fitted to a frame,

And could not breathe without a key;

And ’t was like midnight, some,

When everything that ticked has stopped,

And space stares, all around,

Or grisly frosts, first autumn morns,

Repeal the beating ground.

But most like chaos, — stopless, cool, —

Without a chance or spar,

Or even a report of land

To justify despair.

XXXVI.

Till the End.

I should not dare to leave my friend,

Because — because if he should die

While I was gone, and I— too late —

Should reach the heart that wanted me;

If I should disappoint the eyes

That hunted, hunted so, to see,

And could not bear to shut until

They “noticed” me — they noticed me;

If I should stab the patient faith

So sure I ’d come — so sure I ’d come,

It listening, listening, went to sleep

Telling my tardy name, —

My heart would wish it broke before,

Since breaking then, since breaking then,

Were useless as next morning’s sun,

Where midnight frosts had lain!

XXXVII.

Void.

Great streets of silence led away

To neighborhoods of pause;

Here was no notice, no dissent,

No universe, no laws.

By clocks ’t was morning, and for night

The bells at distance called;

But epoch had no basis here,

For period exhaled.

XXXVIII.

A throe upon the features

A hurry in the breath,

An ecstasy of parting

Denominated “Death,” —

An anguish at the mention,

Which, when to patience grown,

I ’ve known permission given

To rejoin its own.

XXXIX.

Saved!

Of tribulation these are they

Denoted by the white;

The spangled gowns, a lesser rank

Of victors designate.

All these did conquer; but the ones

Who overcame most times

Wear nothing commoner than snow,

No ornament but palms.

Surrender is a sort unknown

On this superior soil;

Defeat, an outgrown anguish,

Remembered as the mile

Our panting ankle barely gained

When night devoured the road;

But we stood whispering in the house,

And all we said was “Saved”!

XL.

I think just how my shape will rise

When I shall be forgiven,

Till hair and eyes and timid head

Are out of sight, in heaven.

I think just how my lips will weigh

With shapeless, quivering prayer

That you, so late, consider me,

The sparrow of your care.

I mind me that of anguish sent,

Some drifts were moved away

Before my simple bosom broke, —

And why not this, if they?

And so, until delirious borne

I con that thing, — “forgiven,” —

Till with long fright and longer trust

I drop my heart, unshriven!

XLI.

The Forgotten Grave.

After a hundred years

Nobody knows the place, —

Agony, that enacted there,

Motionless as peace.

Weeds triumphant ranged,

Strangers strolled and spelled

At the lone orthography

Of the elder dead.

Winds of summer fields

Recollect the way, —

Instinct picking up the key

Dropped by memory.

XLII.

Lay this laurel on the one

Too intrinsic for renown.

Laurel! veil your deathless tree, —

Him you chasten, that is he!

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