Imaginary Conversations and Poems, by Walter Savage Landor

Poems

i

She I love (alas in vain!)

Floats before my slumbering eyes:

When she comes she lulls my pain,

When she goes what pangs arise!

Thou whom love, whom memory flies,

Gentle Sleep! prolong thy reign!

If even thus she soothe my sighs,

Never let me wake again!

ii

Pleasure! why thus desert the heart

In its spring-tide?

I could have seen her, I could part,

And but have sigh’d!

O’er every youthful charm to stray,

To gaze, to touch. . . .

Pleasure! why take so much away,

Or give so much?

iii

Past ruin’d Ilion Helen lives,

Alcestis rises from the shades;

Verse calls them forth; ’tis verse that gives

Immortal youth to mortal maids.

Soon shall Oblivion’s deepening veil

Hide all the peopled hills you see,

The gay, the proud, while lovers hail

These many summers you and me.

iv

Ianthe! you are call’d to cross the sea!

A path forbidden me!

Remember, while the Sun his blessing sheds

Upon the mountain-heads,

How often we have watcht him laying down

His brow, and dropt our own

Against each other’s, and how faint and short

And sliding the support!

What will succeed it now? Mine is unblest,

Ianthe! nor will rest

But on the very thought that swells with pain.

O bid me hope again!

O give me back what Earth, what (without you)

Not Heaven itself can do,

One of the golden days that we have past;

And let it be my last!

Or else the gift would be, however sweet,

Fragile and incomplete.

v

The gates of fame and of the grave

Stand under the same architrave.

vi

Twenty years hence my eyes may grow

If not quite dim, yet rather so,

Still yours from others they shall know

Twenty years hence.

Twenty years hence tho’ it may hap

That I be call’d to take a nap

In a cool cell where thunder-clap

Was never heard,

There breathe but o’er my arch of grass

A not too sadly sigh’d Alas,

And I shall catch, ere you can pass,

That winged word.

vii

Here, ever since you went abroad,

If there be change, no change I see,

I only walk our wonted road,

The road is only walkt by me.

Yes; I forgot; a change there is;

Was it of that you bade me tell?

I catch at times, at times I miss

The sight, the tone, I know so well.

Only two months since you stood here!

Two shortest months! then tell me why

Voices are harsher than they were,

And tears are longer ere they dry.

viii

Tell me not things past all belief;

One truth in you I prove;

The flame of anger, bright and brief,

Sharpens the barb of Love.

ix

Proud word you never spoke, but you will speak

Four not exempt from pride some future day.

Resting on one white hand a warm wet cheek

Over my open volume you will say,

‘This man loved me!’ then rise and trip away.

x

Fiesole Idyl

Here, where precipitate Spring, with one light bound

Into hot Summer’s lusty arms, expires,

And where go forth at morn, at eve, at night,

Soft airs that want the lute to play with ’em,

And softer sighs that know not what they want,

Aside a wall, beneath an orange-tree,

Whose tallest flowers could tell the lowlier ones

Of sights in Fiesole right up above,

While I was gazing a few paces off

At what they seem’d to show me with their nods,

Their frequent whispers and their pointing shoots,

A gentle maid came down the garden-steps

And gathered the pure treasure in her lap.

I heard the branches rustle, and stept forth

To drive the ox away, or mule, or goat,

Such I believed it must be. How could I

Let beast o’erpower them? When hath wind or rain

Borne hard upon weak plant that wanted me,

And I (however they might bluster round)

Walkt off? ’Twere most ungrateful: for sweet scents

Are the swift vehicles of still sweeter thoughts,

And nurse and pillow the dull memory

That would let drop without them her best stores.

They bring me tales of youth and tones of love,

And ’tis and ever was my wish and way

To let all flowers live freely, and all die

(Whene’er their Genius bids their souls depart)

Among their kindred in their native place.

I never pluck the rose; the violet’s head

Hath shaken with my breath upon its bank

And not reproacht me; the ever-sacred cup

Of the pure lily hath between my hands

Felt safe, unsoil’d, nor lost one grain of gold.

I saw the light that made the glossy leaves

More glossy; the fair arm, the fairer cheek

Warmed by the eye intent on its pursuit;

I saw the foot that, although half-erect

From its grey slipper, could not lift her up

To what she wanted: I held down a branch

And gather’d her some blossoms; since their hour

Was come, and bees had wounded them, and flies

Of harder wing were working their way thro’

And scattering them in fragments under-foot.

So crisp were some, they rattled unevolved,

Others, ere broken off, fell into shells,

For such appear the petals when detacht,

Unbending, brittle, lucid, white like snow,

And like snow not seen thro’, by eye or sun:

Yet every one her gown received from me

Was fairer than the first. I thought not so,

But so she praised them to reward my care.

I said, ‘You find the largest.’

‘This indeed,’

Cried she, ‘is large and sweet.’ She held one forth,

Whether for me to look at or to stake

She knew not, nor did I; but taking it

Would best have solved (and this she felt) her doubt.

I dared not touch it; for it seemed a part

Of her own self; fresh, full, the most mature

Of blossoms, yet a blossom; with a touch

To fall, and yet unfallen. She drew back

The boon she tender’d, and then, finding not

The ribbon at her waist to fix it in,

Dropt it, as loath to drop it, on the rest.

xi

Ah what avails the sceptred race,

Ah what the form divine!

What every virtue, every grace!

Rose Aylmer, all were thine.

Rose Aylmer, whom these wakeful eyes

May weep, but never see,

A night of memories and of sighs

I consecrate to thee.

xii

With rosy hand a little girl prest down

A boss of fresh-cull’d cowslips in a rill:

Often as they sprang up again, a frown

Show’d she disliked resistance to her will:

But when they droopt their heads and shone much less,

She shook them to and fro, and threw them by,

And tript away. ‘Ye loathe the heaviness

Ye love to cause, my little girls!’ thought I,

‘And what had shone for you, by you must die.’

xiii

Ternissa! you are fled!

I say not to the dead,

But to the happy ones who rest below:

For, surely, surely, where

Your voice and graces are,

Nothing of death can any feel or know.

Girls who delight to dwell

Where grows most asphodel,

Gather to their calm breasts each word you speak:

The mild Persephone

Places you on her knee,

And your cool palm smooths down stern Pluto’s cheek.

xiv

Various the roads of life; in one

All terminate, one lonely way

We go; and ‘Is he gone?’

Is all our best friends say.

xv

Yes; I write verses now and then,

But blunt and flaccid is my pen,

No longer talkt of by young men

As rather clever:

In the last quarter are my eyes,

You see it by their form and size;

Is it not time then to be wise?

Or now or never.

Fairest that ever sprang from Eve!

While Time allows the short reprieve,

Just look at me! would you believe

’Twas once a lover?

I cannot clear the five-bar gate,

But, trying first its timber’s state,

Climb stiffly up, take breath, and wait

To trundle over.

Thro’ gallopade I cannot swing

The entangling blooms of Beauty’s spring:

I cannot say the tender thing,

Be ’t true or false,

And am beginning to opine

Those girls are only half-divine

Whose waists yon wicked boys entwine

In giddy waltz.

I fear that arm above that shoulder,

I wish them wiser, graver, older,

Sedater, and no harm if colder

And panting less.

Ah! people were not half so wild

In former days, when, starchly mild,

Upon her high-heel’d Essex smiled

The brave Queen Bess.

xvi

On Seeing a Hair of Lucretia Borgia

Borgia, thou once wert almost too august

And high for adoration; now thou’rt dust.

All that remains of thee these plaits unfold,

Calm hair, meandering in pellucid gold.

xvii

Once, and once only, have I seen thy face,

Elia! once only has thy tripping tongue

Run o’er my breast, yet never has been left

Impression on it stronger or more sweet.

Cordial old man! what youth was in thy years,

What wisdom in thy levity, what truth

In every utterance of that purest soul!

Few are the spirits of the glorified

I’d spring to earlier at the gate of Heaven.

xviii

To Wordsworth

Those who have laid the harp aside

And turn’d to idler things,

From very restlessness have tried

The loose and dusty strings.

And, catching back some favourite strain,

Run with it o’er the chords again.

But Memory is not a Muse,

O Wordsworth! though ’tis said

They all descend from her, and use

To haunt her fountain-head:

That other men should work for me

In the rich mines of Poesie,

Pleases me better than the toil

Of smoothing under hardened hand,

With Attic emery and oil,

The shining point for Wisdom’s wand,

Like those thou temperest ‘mid the rills

Descending from thy native hills.

Without his governance, in vain

Manhood is strong, and Youth is bold

If oftentimes the o’er-piled strain

Clogs in the furnace, and grows cold

Beneath his pinions deep and frore,

And swells and melts and flows no more,

That is because the heat beneath

Pants in its cavern poorly fed.

Life springs not from the couch of Death,

Nor Muse nor Grace can raise the dead;

Unturn’d then let the mass remain,

Intractable to sun or rain.

A marsh, where only flat leaves lie,

And showing but the broken sky,

Too surely is the sweetest lay

That wins the ear and wastes the day,

Where youthful Fancy pouts alone

And lets not Wisdom touch her zone.

He who would build his fame up high,

The rule and plummet must apply,

Nor say, ‘I’ll do what I have plann’d,’

Before he try if loam or sand

Be still remaining in the place

Delved for each polisht pillar’s base.

With skilful eye and fit device

Thou raisest every edifice,

Whether in sheltered vale it stand

Or overlook the Dardan strand,

Amid the cypresses that mourn

Laodameia’s love forlorn.

We both have run o’er half the space

Listed for mortal’s earthly race;

We both have crost life’s fervid line,

And other stars before us shine:

May they be bright and prosperous

As those that have been stars for us!

Our course by Milton’s light was sped,

And Shakespeare shining overhead:

Chatting on deck was Dryden too,

The Bacon of the rhyming crew;

None ever crost our mystic sea

More richly stored with thought than he;

Tho’ never tender nor sublime,

He wrestles with and conquers Time.

To learn my lore on Chaucer’s knee,

I left much prouder company;

Thee gentle Spenser fondly led,

But me he mostly sent to bed.

I wish them every joy above

That highly blessed spirits prove,

Save one: and that too shall be theirs,

But after many rolling years,

When ‘mid their light thy light appears.

xix

To Charles Dickens

Go then to Italy; but mind

To leave the pale low France behind;

Pass through that country, nor ascend

The Rhine, nor over Tyrol wend:

Thus all at once shall rise more grand

The glories of the ancient land.

Dickens! how often, when the air

Breath’d genially, I’ve thought me there,

And rais’d to heaven my thankful eyes

To see three spans of deep blue skies.

In Genoa now I hear a stir,

A shout . . . Here comes the Minister!

Yes, thou art he, although not sent

By cabinet or parliament:

Yes, thou art he. Since Milton’s youth

Bloom’d in the Eden of the South,

Spirit so pure and lofty none

Hath heavenly Genius from his throne

Deputed on the banks of Thames

To speak his voice and urge his claims.

Let every nation know from thee

How less than lovely Italy

Is the whole world beside; let all

Into their grateful breasts recall

How Prospero and Miranda dwelt

In Italy: the griefs that melt

The stoniest heart, each sacred tear

One lacrymatory gathered here;

All Desdemona’s, all that fell

In playful Juliet’s bridal cell.

Ah! could my steps in life’s decline

Accompany or follow thine!

But my own vines are not for me

To prune, or from afar to see.

I miss the tales I used to tell

With cordial Hare and joyous Gell,

And that good old Archbishop whose

Cool library, at evening’s close

(Soon as from Ischia swept the gale

And heav’d and left the dark’ning sail),

Its lofty portal open’d wide

To me, and very few beside:

Yet large his kindness. Still the poor

Flock round Taranto’s palace door,

And find no other to replace

The noblest of a noble race.

Amid our converse you would see

Each with white cat upon his knee,

And flattering that grand company:

For Persian kings might proudly own

Such glorious cats to share the throne.

Write me few letters: I’m content

With what for all the world is meant;

Write then for all: but, since my breast

Is far more faithful than the rest,

Never shall any other share

With little Nelly nestling there.

xx

To Barry Cornwall

Barry! your spirit long ago

Has haunted me; at last I know

The heart it sprung from: one more sound

Ne’er rested on poetic ground.

But, Barry Cornwall! by what right

Wring you my breast and dim my sight,

And make me wish at every touch

My poor old hand could do as much?

No other in these later times

Has bound me in so potent rhymes.

I have observed the curious dress

And jewelry of brave Queen Bess,

But always found some o’ercharged thing,

Some flaw in even the brightest ring,

Admiring in her men of war,

A rich but too argute guitar.

Our foremost now are more prolix,

And scrape with three-fell fiddlesticks,

And, whether bound for griefs or smiles,

Are slow to turn as crocodiles.

Once, every court and country bevy

Chose the gallant of loins less heavy,

And would have laid upon the shelf

Him who could talk but of himself.

Reason is stout, but even Reason

May walk too long in Rhyme’s hot season.

I have heard many folks aver

They have caught horrid colds with her.

Imagination’s paper kite,

Unless the string is held in tight,

Whatever fits and starts it takes,

Soon bounces on the ground, and breaks.

You, placed afar from each extreme,

Nor dully drowse nor wildly dream,

But, ever flowing with good-humour,

Are bright as spring and warm as summer.

Mid your Penates not a word

Of scorn or ill-report is heard;

Nor is there any need to pull

A sheaf or truss from cart too full,

Lest it o’erload the horse, no doubt,

Or clog the road by falling out.

We, who surround a common table,

And imitate the fashionable,

Wear each two eyeglasses: this lens

Shows us our faults, that other men’s.

We do not care how dim may be

This by whose aid our own we see,

But, ever anxiously alert

That all may have their whole desert,

We would melt down the stars and sun

In our heart’s furnace, to make one

Thro’ which the enlighten’d world might spy

A mote upon a brother’s eye.

xxi

To Robert Browning

There is delight in singing, tho’ none hear

Beside the singer: and there is delight

In praising, tho’ the praiser sit alone

And see the prais’d far off him, far above.

Shakespeare is not our poet, but the world’s,

Therefore on him no speech! and brief for thee,

Browning! Since Chaucer was alive and hale,

No man hath walkt along our roads with step

So active, so inquiring eye, or tongue

So varied in discourse. But warmer climes

Give brighter plumage, stronger wing: the breeze

Of Alpine highths thou playest with, borne on

Beyond Sorrento and Amalfi, where

The Siren waits thee, singing song for song.

xxii

Age

Death, tho’ I see him not, is near

And grudges me my eightieth year.

Now, I would give him all these last

For one that fifty have run past.

Ah! he strikes all things, all alike,

But bargains: those he will not strike.

xxiii

Leaf after leaf drops off, flower after flower,

Some in the chill, some in the warmer hour:

Alike they flourish and alike they fall,

And Earth who nourisht them receives them all.

Should we, her wiser sons, be less content

To sink into her lap when life is spent?

xxiv

Well I remember how you smiled

To see me write your name upon

The soft sea-sand —‘O! what a child!

You think you’re writing upon stone!

I have since written what no tide

Shall ever wash away, what men

Unborn shall read o’er ocean wide

And find Ianthe’s name again.

xxv

I strove with none, for none was worth my strife.

Nature I loved, and, next to Nature, Art;

I warmed both hands before the fire of Life;

It sinks, and I am ready to depart.

xxvi

Death stands above me, whispering low

I know not what into my ear:

Of his strange language all I know

Is, there is not a word of fear.

xxvii

A Pastoral

Damon was sitting in the grove

With Phyllis, and protesting love;

And she was listening; but no word

Of all he loudly swore she heard.

How! was she deaf then? no, not she,

Phyllis was quite the contrary.

Tapping his elbow, she said, ‘Hush!

O what a darling of a thrush!

I think he never sang so well

As now, below us, in the dell.’

xxviii

The Lover

Now thou art gone, tho’ not gone far,

It seems that there are worlds between us;

Shine here again, thou wandering star!

Earth’s planet! and return with Venus.

At times thou broughtest me thy light

When restless sleep had gone away;

At other times more blessed night

Stole over, and prolonged thy stay.

xxix

The Poet who Sleeps

One day, when I was young, I read

About a poet, long since dead,

Who fell asleep, as poets do

In writing — and make others too.

But herein lies the story’s gist,

How a gay queen came up and kist

The sleeper.

‘Capital!’ thought I.

‘A like good fortune let me try.’

Many the things we poets feign.

I feign’d to sleep, but tried in vain.

I tost and turn’d from side to side,

With open mouth and nostrils wide.

At last there came a pretty maid,

And gazed; then to myself I said,

‘Now for it!’ She, instead of kiss,

Cried, ‘What a lazy lout is this!’

xxx

Daniel Defoe

Few will acknowledge what they owe

To persecuted, brave Defoe.

Achilles, in Homeric song,

May, or he may not, live so long

As Crusoe; few their strength had tried

Without so staunch and safe a guide.

What boy is there who never laid

Under his pillow, half afraid,

That precious volume, lest the morrow

For unlearnt lessons might bring sorrow?

But nobler lessons he has taught

Wide-awake scholars who fear’d naught:

A Rodney and a Nelson may

Without him not have won the day.

xxxi

Idle Words

They say that every idle word

Is numbered by the Omniscient Lord.

O Parliament! ’tis well that He

Endureth for Eternity,

And that a thousand Angels wait

To write them at thy inner gate.

xxxii

To the River Avon

Avon! why runnest thou away so fast?

Rest thee before that Chancel where repose

The bones of him whose spirit moves the world.

I have beheld thy birthplace, I have seen

Thy tiny ripples where they play amid

The golden cups and ever-waving blades.

I have seen mighty rivers, I have seen

Padus, recovered from his fiery wound,

And Tiber, prouder than them all to bear

Upon his tawny bosom men who crusht

The world they trod on, heeding not the cries

Of culprit kings and nations many-tongued.

What are to me these rivers, once adorn’d

With crowns they would not wear but swept away?

Worthier art thou of worship, and I bend

My knees upon thy bank, and call thy name,

And hear, or think I hear, thy voice reply.

The single Greek word in this work has been transliterated, and is surrounded by plus signs +like this+.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38