Collected Poems

by

Oscar Wilde

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Table of Contents

Ravenna

[1878]
I

 A year ago I breathed the Italian air —

And yet, methinks this northern Spring is fair —

These fields made golden with the flower of March,

The throstle singing on the fathered larch,

The cawing rooks, the wood-doves fluttering by,

The little clouds that race across the sky;

And fair the violet’s gentle drooping head,

The primrose, pale for love uncomforted,

The rose that burgeons on the climbing briar,

The crocus-bed, (that seems a moon of fire

Round-girdled with a purple marriage-ring);

And all the flowers of oar English Spring,

Fond snow-drops, and the bright-starred daffodil.

Up starts the lark beside the murmuring mill,

And breaks the gossamer-threads of early dew;

And down the river, like a flame of blue,

Keene as an arrow flies the water-king,

While the brown linnets in the greenwood sing.

A year ago! — it seems a little time

Since last I saw that lordly southern clime,

Where flower and fruit to purple radiance blow,

And like bright lamps the fabled apples grow.

Full Spring it was — and by rich flowing vines,

Dark olive-groves and noble forest-pines,

I rode at will; the moist glad air was sweet,

The white road rang beneath my horse’s feet,

And musing on Ravenna’s ancient name,

I watched the day till, marked with wounds of flame,

The turquoise sky to burnished gold was turned.

 O how my heart with boyish passion burned,

When far away across the sedge and mere

I saw that Holy City rising clear,

Crowned with her crown of towers! — On and on

I galloped, racing with the setting sun,

And ere the crimson after-glow was passed,

I stood within Ravenna’s walls at last!

II

 How strangely still! no sound of life or joy

Startles the air! no laughing shepherd-boy

Pipes on his reed, nor ever through the day

Comes the glad sound of children at their play:

O sad, and sweet, and silent! surely here

A man might dwell apart from troublous fear,

Watching the tide of seasons as they flow

From amorous Spring to Winter’s rain and snow,

And have no thought of sorrow; — here, indeed,

Are Lethe’s waters, and that fatal weed

Which makes a man forget his fatherland.

 Ay! amid lotus-meadows dost thou stand,

Like Proserpine, with poppy-laden head,

Guarding the holy ashes of the dead.

For though thy brood of warrior sons hath ceased,

Thy noble dead are with thee! — they at least

Are faithful to thine honour:— guard them well,

O childless city! for a mighty spell,

To wake men’s hearts to dream of things sublime,

Are the lone tombs where rest the Great of Time.

III

 Yon lonely pillar, rising on the plain,

Marks where the bravest knight of France was slain —

The Prince of chivalry, the Lord of war,

Gaston de Foix: for some untimely star

Led him against thy city, and he fell,

As falls some forest-lion fighting well.

Taken from life while life and love were new,

He lies beneath God’s seamless veil of blue;

Tall lance-like reeds wave sadly o’er his head,

And oleanders bloom to deeper red,

Where his bright youth flowed crimson on the ground.

 Look farther north unto that broken mound —

There, prisoned now within a lordly tomb

Raised by a daughter’s hand, in lonely gloom,

Huge-limbed Theodoric, the Gothic king,

Sleeps after all his weary conquering.

Time hath not spared his ruin — wind and rain

Have broken down his stronghold; and again

We see that Death is mighty lord of all,

And king and clown to ashen dust must fall.

 Mighty indeed their glory! yet to me

Barbaric king, or knight of chivalry,

Or the great queen herself, were poor and vain

Beside the grave where Dante rests from pain.

His gilded shrine lies open to the air;

And cunning sculptor’s hands have carven there

The calm white brow, as calm as earliest morn,

The eyes that flashed with passionate love and scorn,

The lips that sang of Heaven and of Hell,

The almond-face which Giotto drew so well,

The weary face of Dante; — to this day,

Here in his place of resting, far away

From Arno’s yellow waters, rushing down

Through the wide bridges of that fairy town,

Where the tall tower of Giotto seems to rise

A marble lily under sapphire skies!

Alas! my Dante! thou hast known the pain

Of meaner lives — the exile’s — galling chain,

How steep the stairs within king’s houses are,

And all the petty miseries which mar

Man’s nobler nature with the sense of wrong.

Yet this dull world is grateful for thy song;

Our nations do thee homage — even she,

That cruel queen of vine-clad Tuscany,

Who bound with crown of thorns thy living brow,

Hath decked thine empty tomb with laurels now,

And begs in vain the ashes of her son.

 O mightiest exile! all thy grief is done:

Thy soul walks now beside thy Beatrice;

Ravenna guards thine ashes: sleep in peace.

IV

 How lone this palace is; how grey the walls!

No minstrel now wakes echoes in these halls.

The broken chain lies rusting on the door,

And noisome weeds have split the marble floor:

Here lurks the snake, and here the lizards run

By the stone lions blinking in the sun.

Byron dwelt here in love and revelry

For two long years — a second Anthony,

Who of world another Actium made! —

Yet suffered not his royal soul to fade,

Or lyre to break, or lance to grow less keen,

‘Neath any wiles of an Egyptian queen.

For from the East there came a mighty cry,

And Greece stood up to fight for Liberty,

And called him from Ravenna: never knight

Rode forth more nobly to wild scenes of fight!

None fell more bravely on ensanguined field,

Borne like a Spartan back upon his shield!

O Hellas! Hellas! in thine hour of pride,

Thy day of might, remember him who died

To wrest from off thy limbs the trammelling chain:

O Salamis! O lone Plataean plain!

O tossing waves of wild Euboean sea!

O wind-swept heights of lone Thermopylae!

He loved you well — ay, not alone in word,

Who freely gave to thee his lyre and sword

Like Aeschylus at well-fought Marathon:

 And England, too, shall glory in her son,

Her warrior-poet, first in song and fight.

No longer now, shall Slander’s venomed spite

Crawl like a snake across his perfect name,

Or mar the lordly scutcheon of his fame.

 For as the olive-garland of the race

Which lights with joy each eager runner’s face,

As the red cross which saveth men in war,

As a flame-bearded beacon seen from far

By mariners upon a storm-tossed sea —

Such was his love for Greece and Liberty!

 Byron, thy crowns are ever fresh and green:

Red leaves of rose from Sapphic Mitylene

Shall bind thy brows; the myrtle blooms for thee,

In hidden glades by lonely Castaly;

The laurels wait thy coming: all are thine,

And round thy head one perfect wreath will twine.

V

 The pine-tops rocked before the evening breeze

With the hoarse murmur of the wintry seas,

And the tall stems were streaked with amber bright; —

I wandered through the wood in wild delight,

Some startled bird, with fluttering wings and fleet,

Made snow of all the blossoms: at my feet,

Like silver crowns, the pale narcissi lay,

And small birds sang on every twining spray.

O waving trees, O forest liberty!

Within your haunts at least a man is free,

And half forgets the weary world of strife:

The blood flows hotter, and a sense of life

Wakes i’ the quickening veins, while once again

The woods are filled with gods we fancied slain.

Long time I watched, and surely hoped to see

Some goat-foot Pan make merry minstrelsy

Amid the reed! some startled Dryad-maid

In girlish flight! or lurking in the glade,

The soft brown limbs, the wanton treacherous face

Of woodland god! Queen Dian in the chase,

White-limbed and terrible, with look of pride,

And leash of boar-hounds leaping at her side!

Or Hylas mirrored in the perfect stream.

 O idle heart! O fond Hellenic dream!

Ere long, with melancholy rise and swell,

The evening chimes, the convent’s vesper-bell

Struck on mine ears amid the amorous flowers.

Alas! alas! these sweet and honied hours

Had ‘whelmed my heart like some encroaching sea,

And drowned all thoughts of black Gethsemane.

VI

 O lone Ravenna! many a tale is told

Of thy great glories in the days of old:

Two thousand years have passed since thou didst see

Caesar ride forth in royal victory.

Mighty thy name when Rome’s lean eagles flew

From Britain’s isles to far Euphrates blue;

And of the peoples thou wast noble queen,

Till in thy streets the Goth and Hun were seen.

Discrowned by man, deserted by the sea,

Thou sleepest, rocked in lonely misery!

No longer now upon thy swelling tide,

Pine-forest like, thy myriad galleys ride!

For where the brass-beaked ships were wont to float,

The weary shepherd pipes his mourning note;

And the white sheep are free to come and go

Where Adria’s purple waters used to flow.

 O fair! O sad! O Queen uncomforted!

In ruined loveliness thou liest dead,

Alone of all thy sisters; for at last

Italia’s royal warrior hath passed

Rome’s lordliest entrance, and hath worn his crown

In the high temples of the Eternal Town!

The Palatine hath welcomed back her king,

And with his name the seven mountains ring!

 And Naples hath outlived her dream of pain,

And mocks her tyrant! Venice lives again,

New risen from the waters! and the cry

Of Light and Truth, of Love and Liberty,

Is heard in lordly Genoa, and where

The marble spires of Milan wound the air,

Rings from the Alps to the Sicilian shore,

And Dante’s dream is now a dream no more.

 But thou, Ravenna, better loved than all,

Thy ruined palaces are but a pall

That hides thy fallen greatness! and thy name

Burns like a grey and flickering candle-flame,

Beneath the noon-day splendour of the sun

Of new Italia! for the night is done,

The night of dark oppression, and the day

Hath dawned in passionate splendour: far away

The Austrian hounds are hunted from the land,

Beyond those ice-crowned citadels which stand

Girdling the plain of royal Lombardy,

From the far West unto the Eastern sea.

 I know, indeed, that sons of thine have died

In Lissa’s waters, by the mountain-side

Of Aspromonte, on Novara’s plain —

Nor have thy children died for thee in vain:

And yet, methinks, thou hast not drunk this wine

From grapes new-crushed of Liberty divine,

Thou hast not followed that immortal Star

Which leads the people forth to deeds of war.

Weary of life, thou liest in silent sleep,

As one who marks the lengthening shadows creep,

Careless of all the hurrying hours that run,

Mourning some day of glory, for the sun

Of freedom hath not shown to thee his face,

And thou hast caught no flambeau in the race.

 Yet wake not from thy slumbers — rest thee well,

Amidst thy fields of amber asphodel,

Thy lily-sprinkled meadows — rest thee there,

To mock all human greatness: who would dare

To vent the paltry sorrows of his life

Before thy ruins, or to praise the strife

Of kings’ ambition, and the barren pride

Of warrior nations! wert not thou the Bride

Of the wild Lord of Adria’s stormy sea!

The Queen of double Empires! and to thee

Were not the nations given as thy prey!

And now — thy gates lie open night and day,

The grass grows green on every tower and hall,

The ghastly fig hath cleft thy bastioned wall;

And where thy mailed warriors stood at rest

The midnight owl hath made her secret nest.

O fallen! fallen! from thy high estate,

O city trammelled in the toils of Fate,

Doth nought remain of all thy glorious days,

But a dull shield, a crown of withered bays!

 Yet who beneath this night of wars and fears,

From tranquil tower can watch the coming years;

Who can fortell what joys the day shall bring,

Or why before the dawn the linnets sing?

Thou, even thou, mayst wake, as wakes the rose

To crimson splendour from its grave of snows;

As the rich corn-fields rise to red and gold

From these brown lands, now stiff with Winter’s cold

As from the storm-rack comes a perfect star!

 O much-loved city! I have wandered far

From the wave-circled islands of my home,

Have seen the gloomy mystery of the Dome

Rise slowly from the drear Campagna’s way,

Clothed in the royal purple of the day

I from the city of the violet crown

Have watched the sun by Corinth’s hill go down,

And marked the “myriad laughter”

From the hills of flower-starred Arkady;

Yet back to thee returns my perfect love,

As to its forest-nest the evening dove.

 O poet’s city! one who scarce has seen

Some twenty summers cast their doublets green,

For Autumn’s livery, would seek in vain

To wake his lyre to sing a louder strain,

Or tell thy days of glory; — poor indeed

Is the low murmur of the shepherd’s reed,

Where the loud clarion’s blast should shake the sky,

And flame across the heavens! and to try

Such lofty themes were folly: yet I know

That never felt my heart yet nobler glow

That when felt my the silence of thy street

With clamorous trampling of my horse’s feet,

And saw the city which now I try to sing,

After long days of weary travelling.

VII

 Adieu, Ravenna! but a year ago,

I stood and watched the crimson sunset glow

From the lone chapel on thy marshy plain:

The sky was as a shield that caught the stain

Of blood and battle from the dying sun,

And in the west the circling clouds had spun

A royal robe, which some great God might wear,

While into ocean-seas of purple air

Sank the gold galley of the Lord of Light.

 Yet here the gentle stillness of the night

Brings back the swelling tide of memory,

And wakes again my passionate love for thee:

Now is the Spring of Love, yet soon will come

On meadow and tree the Summer’s lordly bloom:

And soon the grass with brighter flowers will blow,

And send up lilies for some boy to mow.

Then before long the Summer’s conqueror,

Rich Autumn-time, the season’s usurer,

Will lend his hoarded gold to all the trees,

And see it scattered by the spend-thrift breeze;

And after that the Winter cold and drear.

So runs the perfect cycle of the year.

And so from youth to manhood do we go,

And fall to weary days and locks of snow.

Love only knows no winter; never dies:

Nor cares for frowning storms or leaden skies.

And mine for thee shall never pass away,

Though my weak lips may falter in my lay.

 Adieu! Adieu! yon silent evening star,

The night’s ambassador, doth gleam afar,

And bid the shepherd bring his flocks to fold.

Perchance before our inland seas of gold

Are garnered by, the reapers into sheaves,

Perchance before I see the Autumn leaves,

I may behold thy city; and lay down

Low at thy feet the poet’s laurel crown.

 Adieu! Adieu! yon silver lamp, the moon,

Which turns our midnight into perfect noon,

Doth surely light thy towers, guarding well

Where Dante sleeps, where Byron loved to dwell.

Miscellaneous Poems

[1881]

The True Knowledge

Thou knowest all — I seek in vain

 What lands to till or sow with seed —

 The land is black with briar and weed,

Nor cares for falling tears or rain.

Thou knowest all — I sit and wait

 With blinded eyes and hands that fail,

 Till the last lifting of the veil,

And the first opening of the gate.

Thou knowest all — I cannot see.

 I trust I shall not live in vain,

 I know that we shall meet again,

In some divine eternity.

A Lament

O well for him who lives at ease

 With garnered gold in wide domain,

 Nor heeds the splashing of the rain,

The crashing down of forest trees.

O well for him who ne’er hath known

 The travail of the hungry years,

 A father grey with grief and tears,

A mother weeping all alone.

But well for him whose feet hath trod

 The weary road of toil and strife,

 Yet from the sorrows of his life

Builds ladders to be nearer God.

Wasted Days

A fair slim boy not made for this world’s pain.

 With hair of gold thick clustering round his ears,

 And longing eyes half veiled by foolish tears

Like bluest water seen through mists of rain:

Pale cheeks whereon no kiss hath left its stain,

 Red under lip drawn for fear of Love,

 And white throat whiter than the breast of dove.

Alas! alas! if all should be in vain.

Behind, wide fields, and reapers all a-row

 In heat and labour toiling wearily,

To no sweet sound of laughter or of lute.

The sun is shooting wide its crimson glow,

Still the boy dreams: nor knows that night is nigh,

And in the night-time no man gathers fruit.

Lotus Leaves

I

There is no peace beneath the moon —

 Ah! in those meadows is there peace

 Where, girdled with a silver fleece,

As a bright shepherd, strays the moon?

Queen of the gardens of the sky,

 Where stars like lilies, white and fair,

 Shine through the mists of frosty air,

Oh, tarry, for the dawn is nigh!

Oh, tarry, for the envious day

 Stretches long hands to catch thy feet.

 Alas! but thou art overfleet,

Alas! I know thou wilt not stay.

II

Eastward the dawn has broken red,

 The circling mists and shadows flee;

 Aurora rises from the sea,

And leaves the crocus-flowered bed.

Eastward the silver arrows fall,

 Splintering the veil of holy night:

 And a long wave of yellow light

Breaks silently on tower and hall.

And speeding wide across the wold

 Wakes into flight some fluttering bird;

 And all the chestnut tops are stirred,

And all the branches streaked with gold.

III

To outer senses there is peace,

 A dream-like peace on either hand,

 Deep silence in the shadowy land,

Deep silence where the shadows cease,

Save for a cry that echoes shrill

 From some lone bird disconsolate;

 A curlew calling to its mate;

The answer from the distant hill.

And, herald of my love to Him

 Who, waiting for the dawn, doth lie,

 The orbed maiden leaves the sky,

And the white firs grow more dim.

IV

Up sprang the sun to run his race,

 The breeze blew fair on meadow and lea,

But in the west I seemed to see

The likeness of a human face.

A linnet on the hawthorn spray

 Sang of the glories of the spring,

 And made the flow’ring copses ring

With gladness for the new-born day.

A lark from out the grass I trod

 Flew wildly, and was lost to view

 In the great seamless veil of blue

That hangs before the face of God.

The willow whispered overhead

 That death is but a newer life

 And that with idle words of strife

We bring dishonour on the dead.

I took a branch from off the tree,

 And hawthorn branches drenched with dew,

 I bound them with a sprig of yew,

And made a garland fair to see.

I laid the flowers where He lies

 (Warm leaves and flowers on the stones):

 What joy I had to sit alone

Till evening broke on tired eyes:

Till all the shifting clouds had spun

 A robe of gold for God to wear

 And into seas of purple air

Sank the bright galley of the sun.

V

Shall I be gladdened for the day,

 And let my inner heart be stirred

 By murmuring tree or song of bird,

And sorrow at the wild winds’ play?

Not so, such idle dreams belong

 To souls of lesser depth than mine;

 I feel that I am half divine;

I that I am great and strong.

I know that every forest tree

 By labour rises from the root

 I know that none shall gather fruit

By sailing on the barren sea.

Impressions

I
Le Jardin

The lily’s withered chalice falls

 Around its rod of dusty gold,

 And from the beeeh trees on the wold

The last wood-pigeon coos and calls.

The gaudy leonine sunflower

 Hangs black and barren on its stalk,

 And down the windy garden walk

The dead leaves scatter — hour by hour.

Pale privet-petals white as milk

 Are blown into a snowy mass;

 The roses lie upon the grass,

Like little shreds of crimson silk.

II
La Mer

A white mist drifts across the shrouds,

 A wild moon in this wintry sky

 Gleams like an angry lion’s eye

Out of a mane of tawny clouds.

The muffled steersman at the wheel

 Is but a shadow in the gloom; —

 And in the throbbing engine room

Leap the long rods of polished steel.

The shattered storm has left its trace

 Upon this huge and heaving dome,

 For the thin threads of yellow foam

Float on the waves like ravelled lace.

Under the Balcony

O beautiful star with the crimson mouth!

 O moon with the brows of gold!

Rise up, rise up, from the odorous south!

  And light for my love her way,

  Lest her feet should stray

 On the windy hill and the wold!

O beautiful star with the crimson mouth!

 O moon with the brows of gold!

O ship that shakes on the desolate sea!

 O ship with the wet, white sail!

Put in, put in, to the port to me!

  For my love and I would go

  To the land where the daffodils blow

 In the heart of a violet dale!

O ship that shakes on the desolate sea!

 O ship with the wet, white sail!

O rapturous bird with the low, sweet note!

 O bird that sits on the spray!

Sing on, sing on, from your soft brown throat!

  And my love in her little bed

  Will listen, and lift her head

 From the pillow, and come my way!

O rapturous bird with the low, sweet note!

 O bird that sits on the spray!

O blossom that hangs in the tremulous air!

 O blossom with lips of snow!

Come down, Come down, for my love to wear!

  You will die in her head in a crown,

  You will die in a fold of her gown,

 To her little light heart you will go!

O blossom that hangs in the tremulous air!

 O blossom with lips of snow!

A Fragment

Beautiful star with the crimson lips

 And flagrant daffodil hair,

Come back, come back, in the shaking ships

  O’er the much-overrated sea,

  To the hearts that are sick for thee

 With a woe worse than mal de mer —

O beautiful stars with the crimson lips

 And the flagrant daffodil hair.

O ship that shakes on the desolate sea,

 Neath the flag of the wan White Star,

Thou bringest a brighter star with thee

  From the land of the Philistine,

  Where Niagara’s reckoned fine

 And Tupper is popular —

O ship that shakes on the desolate sea,

 Neath the flag of the wan White Star.

Le Jardin Des Tuileries

This winter air is keen and cold,

 And keen and cold this winter sun,

 But round my chair the children run

Like little things of dancing gold.

Sometimes about the painted kiosk

 The mimic soldiers strut and stride,

 Sometimes the blue-eyed brigands hide

In the bleak tangles of the bosk.

And sometimes, while the old nurse cons

 Her book, they steal across the square

 And launch their paper navies where

Huge Triton writhes in greenish bronze.

And now in mimic flight they flee,

 And now they rush, a boisterous band —

 And, tiny hand on tiny hand,

Climb up the black and leafless tree.

Ah! cruel tree! if I were you,

 And children climbed me, for their sake

 Though it be winter I would break

Into spring blossoms white and blue!

Sonnet

On the Sale by Auction of Keats’ Love Letters

These are the letters which Endymion wrote

 To one he loved in secret and apart,

 And now the brawlers of the auction-mart

Bargain and bid for each tear-blotted note,

Aye! for each separate pulse of passion quote

 The merchant’s price! I think they love not art

 Who break the crystal of a poet’s heart,

That small and sickly eyes may glare or gloat.

Is it not said, that many years ago,

 In a far Eastern town some soldiers ran

 With torches through the midnight, and began

To wrangle for mean raiment, and to throw

 Dice for the garments of a wretched Man,

Not knowing the God’s wonder, or His woe?

The New Remorse

The sin was mine; I did not understand.

 So now is music prisoned in her cave,

 Save where some ebbing desultory wave

Frets with its restless whirls this meagre strand.

And in the withered hollow of this land

 Hath Summer dug herself so deep a grave,

 That hardly can the leaden willow crave

One silver blossom from keen Winter’s hand.

But who is this that cometh by the shore?

(Nay, love, look up and wonder!) Who is this

 Who cometh in dyed garments from the South?

It is thy new-found Lord, and he shall kiss

 The yet unravished roses of thy mouth,

And I shall weep and worship, as before.

An Inscription

 Go, little book,

To him who, on a lute with horns of pearl,

Sang of the white feet of the Golden Girl:

 And bid him look

Into thy pages: it may hap that he

May find that golden maidens dance through thee.

The Harlot’s House

 We caught the tread of dancing feet,

 We loitered down the moonlit street,

And stopped beneath the Harlot’s House.

 Inside, above the din and fray,

 We heard the loud musicians play

The “Treues Liebes,” of Strauss.

 Like strange mechanical grotesques,

 Making fantastic arabesques,

The shadows raced across the blind.

 We watched the ghostly dancers spin,

 To sound of horn and violin,

Like black leaves wheeling in the wind.

 Like wire-pulled Automatons,

 Slim silhouetted skeletons

Went sidling through the slow quadrille,

 Then took each other by the hand,

 And danced a stately saraband;

Their laughter echoed thin and shrill.

 Sometimes a clock-work puppet pressed

 A phantom lover to her breast,

Sometimes they seemed to try and sing.

 Sometimes a horrible Marionette

 Came out, and smoked its cigarette

Upon the steps like a live thing.

 Then turning to my love I said,

 “The dead are dancing with the dead,

The dust is whirling with the dust.”

 But she, she heard the violin,

 And left my side and entered in:

Love passed into the House of Lust.

 Then suddenly the tune went false,

 The dancers wearied of the waltz,

The shadows ceased to wheel and whirl,

 And down the long and silent street,

 The dawn with silver-sandalled feet,

Crept like a frightened girl.

The Burden of Itys

[1890]

This English Thames is holier far than Rome,

 Those harebells like a sudden flush of sea

Breaking across the woodland, with the foam

 Of meadow-sweet and white anemone

To fleck their blue waves — God is likelier there,

Than hidden in that crystal-hearted star the pale monks bear!

Those violet-gleaming butterflies that take

 Yon creamy lily for their pavilion

Are monsignores, and where the rushes shake

 A lazy pike lies basking in the sun

His eyes half-shut — He is some mitred old

Bishop in partibus! look at those gaudy scales all green and gold!

The wind the restless prisoner of the trees

 Does well for Palaestrina, one would say

The mighty master’s hands were on the keys

 Of the Maria organ, which they play

When early on some sapphire Easter morn

In a high litter red as blood or sin the Pope is borne

From his dark house out to the balcony

 Above the bronze gates and the crowded square,

Whose very fountains seem for ecstasy

 To toss their silver lances in the air,

And stretching out weak hands to East and West

In vain sends peace to peaceless lands, to restless nations rest.

Is not yon lingering orange afterglow

 That stays to vex moon more fair than all

Rome’s lordliest pageants! strange, a year ago

 I knelt before some crimson Cardinal

Who bare the Host across the Esquiline,

And now — those common poppies in the wheat seem twice as fine.

The blue-green beanfields yonder, tremulous

 With the last shower, sweeter perfume bring

Through this cool evening than the odorous

 Flame-jewelled censers the young deacons swing,

When the gray priest unlocks the curtained shrine,

And makes God’s body from the common fruit of corn and vine.

Poor Fra Giovanni bawling at the mass

 Were out of tune now, for a small brown bird

Sings overhead, and through the long cool grass

 I see that throbbing throat which once I heard

On starlit hills of flower-starred Arcady,

Once where the white and crescent sand of Salamis meets the sea.

Sweet is the swallow twittering on the eaves

 At daybreak, when the mower whets his scythe,

And stock-doves murmur, and the milkmaid leaves

 Her little lonely bed, and carols blithe

To see the heavy-lowing cattle wait

Stretching their huge and dripping mouths across the farmyard gate.

And sweet the hops upon the Kentish leas,

 And sweet the wind that lifts the new-mown hay,

And sweet the fretful swarms of grumbling bees

 That round and round the linden blossoms play;

And sweet the heifer breathing in the stall,

And the green bursting figs that hang upon the red-brick wall.

And sweet to hear the cuckoo mock the spring

 While the last violet loiters by the well,

And sweet to hear the shepherd Daphnis sing

 The song of Linus through a sunny dell

Of warm Arcadia where the corn is gold

And the slight lithe-limbed reapers dance about the wattled fold

And sweet with young Lycoris to recline

 In some Illyrian valley far away,

Where canopied on herbs amaracine

 We too might waste the summer-tranced day

Matching our reeds in sportive rivalry,

While far beneath us frets the troubled purple of the sea.

But sweeter far if silver-sandalled foot

 Of some long-hidden God should ever tread

The Nuneham meadows, if with reeded flute

 Pressed to his lips some Faun might raise his head

By the green water-flags, ah! sweet indeed

To see the heavenly herdsman call his white-fleeced flock to feed.

Then sing to me thou tuneful chorister,

 Though what thou sing’st be thine own requiem!

Tell me thy tale thou hapless chronicler

 Of thine own tragedies! do not contemn

These unfamiliar haunts, this English field,

For many a lovely coronal our northern isle can yield,

Which Grecian meadows know not, many a rose,

 Which all day long in vales Aeolian

A lad might seek in vain for, overgrows

 Our hedges like a wanton courtesan

Unthrifty of her beauty, lilies too

Ilissus never mirrored star our streams, and cockles blue

Dot the green wheat which, though they are the signs

 For swallows going south, would never spread

Their azure tints between the Attic vines;

 Even that little weed of ragged red,

Which bids the robin pipe, in Arcady

Would be a trespasser, and many an unsung elegy.

Sleeps in the reeds that fringe our winding Thames

 Which to awake were sweeter ravishment

Than ever Syrinx wept for, diadems

 Of brown be-studded orchids which were meant

For Cytheraea’s brows are hidden here

Unknown to Cytheraea, and by yonder pasturing steer

There is a tiny yellow daffodil,

 The butterfly can see it from afar,

Although one summer evening’s dew could fill

 Its little cup twice over ere the star

Had called the lazy shepherd to his fold

And be no prodigal, each leaf is flecked with spotted gold

As if Jove’s gorgeous leman Danae

 Hot from his gilded arms had stooped to kiss

The trembling petals, or young Mercury

 Low-flying to the dusky ford of Dis

Had with one feather of his pinions

Just brushed them! — the slight stem which bears the burdens of its suns

Is hardly thicker than the gossamer,

 Or poor Arachne’s silver tapestry —

Men say it bloomed upon the sepulchre

 Of One I sometime worshipped, but to me

It seems to bring diviner memories

Of faun-loved Heliconian glades and blue nymph-haunted seas,

Of an untrodden vale at Tempe where

 On the clear river’s marge Narcissus lies,

The tangle of the forest in his hair,

 The silence of the woodland in his eyes,

Wooing that drifting imagery which is

No sooner kissed than broken, memories of Salmacis.

Who is not boy or girl and yet is both,

 Fed by two fires and unsatisfied

Through their excess, each passion being loath

 For love’s own sake to leave the other’s side,

Yet killing love by staying, memories

Of Oreads peeping through the leaves of silent moonlit trees.

Of lonely Ariadne on the wharf

 At Naxos, when she saw the treacherous crew

Far out at sea, and waved her crimson scarf

 And called the false Theseus back again nor knew

That Dionysos on an amber pard

Was close behind her: memories of what Maeonia’s bard

With sightless eyes beheld, the wall of Troy,

 Queen Helen lying in the carven room,

And at her side an amorous red-lipped boy

 Trimming with dainty hand his helmet’s plume,

And far away the moil, the shout, the groan,

As Hector shielded off the spear and Ajax hurled the stone;

Of winged Perseus with his flawless sword

 Cleaving the snaky tresses of the witch,

And all those tales imperishably stored

 In little Grecian urns, freightage more rich

Than any gaudy galleon of Spain

Bare from the Indies ever! these at least bring back again,

For well I know they are not dead at all,

 The ancient Gods of Grecian poesy,

They are asleep, and when they hear thee call

 Will wake and think ’tis very Thessaly,

This Thames the Daulian waters, this cool glade

The yellow-irised mead where once young Itys laughed and played.

If it was thou dear jasmine-cradled bird

 Who from the leafy stillness of thy throne

Sang to the wondrous boy, until he heard

 The horn of Atalanta faintly blown

Across the Cumnor hills, and wandering

Through Bagley wood at evening found the Attic poet’s spring —

Ah! tiny sober-suited advocate

 That pleadest for the moon against the day!

If thou didst make the shepherd seek his mate

 On that sweet questing, when Proserpina

Forgot it was not Sicily and leant

Across the mossy Sandford stile in ravished wonderment —

Light-winged and bright-eyed miracle of the wood!

 If ever thou didst soothe with melody

One of that little clan, that brotherhood

 Which loved the morning-star of Tuscany

More than the perfect sun of Raphael,

And is immortal, sing to me! for I too love thee well,

Sing on! sing on! let the dull world grow young,

 Let elemental things take form again,

And the old shapes of Beauty walk among

 The simple garths and open crofts, as when

The son of Leto bare the willow rod,

And the soft sheep and shaggy goats followed the boyish God.

Sing on! sing on! and Bacchus will be here

 Astride upon his gorgeous Indian throne,

And over whimpering tigers shake the spear

 With yellow ivy crowned and gummy cone,

While at his side the wanton Bassarid

Will throw the lion by the mane and catch the mountain kid!

Sing on! and I will wear the leopard skin,

 And steal the mooned wings of Ashtaroth,

Upon whose icy chariot we could win

 Cithaeron in an hour e’er the froth

Has overbrimmed the wine-vat or the Faun

Ceased from the treading! ay, before the flickering lamp of dawn

Has scared the hooting owlet to its nest,

 And warned the bat to close its filmy vans,

Some Maenad girl with vine-leaves on her breast

 Will filch their beechnuts from the sleeping Pans

So softly that the little nested thrush

Will never wake, and then with shrilly laugh and leap will rush

Down the green valley where the fallen dew

 Lies thick beneath the elm and count her store,

Till the brown Satyrs in a jolly crew

 Trample the loosestrife down along the shore,

And where their horned master sits in state

Bring strawberries and bloomy plums upon a wicker crate!

Sing on! and soon with passion-wearied face

 Through the cool leaves Apollo’s lad will come,

The Tyrian prince his bristled boar will chase

 Adown the chestnut copses all a-bloom,

And ivory-limbed, gray-eyed, with look of pride,

After yon velvet-coated deer the virgin maid will ride.

Sing on! and I the dying boy will, see

 Stain with his purple blood the waxen bell

That overweighs the jacinth, and to me

 The wretched Cyprian her woe will tell,

And I will kiss her mouth and streaming eyes,

And lead her to the myrtle-hidden grove where Adon lies!

Cry out aloud on Itys! memory

 That foster-brother of remorse and pain

Drops poison in mine ear — O to be free,

 To burn one’s old ships! and to launch again

Into the white-plumed battle of the waves

And fight old Proteus for the spoil of coral-flowered caves?

O for Medea with her poppied spell!

 O for the secret of the Colchian shrine!

O for one leaf of that pale asphodel

 Which binds the tired brows of Proserpine,

And sheds such wondrous dews at eve that she

Dreams of the fields of Enna, by the far Sicilian sea,

Where oft the golden-girdled bee she chased

 From lily to lily on the level mead,

Ere yet her sombre Lord had bid her taste

 The deadly fruit of that pomegranate seed,

Ere the black steeds had harried her away

Down to the faint and flowerless land, the sick and sunless day.

O for one midnight and as paramour

 The Venus of the little Melian farm!

O that some antique statue for one hour

 Might wake to passion, and that I could charm

The Dawn at Florence from its dumb despair,

Mix with those mighty limbs and make that giant breast my lair!

Sing on! sing on! I would be drunk with life,

 Drunk with the trampled vintage of my youth,

I would forget the wearying wasted strife,

 The riven vale, the Gorgon eyes of Truth,

The prayerless vigil and the cry for prayer,

The barren gifts, the lifted arms, the dull insensate air!

Sing on! sing on! O feathered Niobe,

 Thou canst make sorrow beautiful, and steal

From joy its sweetest music, not as we

 Who by dead voiceless silence strive to heal

Our too untented wounds, and do but keep

Pain barricaded in our hearts, and murder pillowed sleep.

Sing louder yet, why must I still behold

 The wan white face of that deserted Christ,

Whose bleeding hands my hands did once infold.

 Whose smitten lips my lips so oft have kissed,

And now in mute and marble misery

Sirs in His lone dishonored House and weeps, perchance for me.

O memory cast down thy wreathed shell!

 Break thy hoarse lute O sad Melpomene!

O sorrow, sorrow keep thy cloistered cell

 Nor dim with tears this limpid Castaly!

Cease, cease, sad bird, thou dost the forest wrong

To vex its sylvan quiet with such wild impassioned song!

Cease, cease, or if ’tis anguish to be dumb

 Take from the pastoral thrush her simpler air,

Whose jocund carelessness doth more become

 This English woodland than thy keen despair,

Ah! cease and let the north wind bear thy lay

Back to the rocky hills of Thrace, the stormy Daulian bay.

A moment more, the startled leaves had stirred,

 Endymion would have passed across the mead

Moonstruck with love, and this still Thames had heard

 Pan plash and paddle groping for some reed

To lure from her blue cave that Naiad maid

Who for such piping listens half in joy and half afraid.

A moment more, the waking dove had cooed,

 The silver daughter of the silver sea

With the fond gyves of clinging hands had wooed

 Her wanton from the chase, the Dryope

Had thrust aside the branches of her oak

To see the he lusty gold-haired lad rein in his snorting yoke.

A moment more, the trees had stooped to kiss

 Pale Daphne just awakening from the swoon

Of tremulous laurels, lonely Salmacis

 Had bared his barren beauty to the moon,

And through the vale with sad voluptuous smile

Antinous had wandered, the red lotus of the Nile.

Down leaning the from his black and clustering hair

 To shade those slumberous eyelids’ caverned bliss,

Or else on yonder grassy slope with bare

 High-tuniced limbs unravished Artemis

Had bade her hounds give tongue, and roused the deer

From his green ambuscade with shrill hallo and pricking spear.

Lie still, lie still, O passionate heart, lie still!

 O Melancholy, fold thy raven wing!

O sobbing Dryad, from thy hollow hill

 Come not with such desponded answering!

No more thou winged Marsyas complain,

Apollo loveth not to hear such troubled songs of pain!

It was a dream, the glade is tenantless,

 No soft Ionian laughter moves the air,

The Thames creeps on in sluggish leadenness,

 And from the copse left desolate and bare

Fled is young Bacchus with his revelry,

Yet still from Nuneham wood there comes that thrilling melody

So sad, that one might think a human heart

 Brake in each separate note, a quality

Which music sometimes has, being the Art

 Which is most nigh to tears and memory,

Poor mourning Philomel, what dost thou fear?

Thy sister doth not haunt these fields, Pandion is not here,

Here is no cruel Lord with murderous blade,

 No woven web of bloody heraldries,

But mossy dells for roving comrades made,

 Warm valleys where the tired student lies

With half-shut book, and many a winding walk

Where rustic lovers stray at eve in happy simple talk.

The harmless rabbit gambols with its young

 Across the trampled towing-path, where late

A troop of laughing boys in jostling throng

 Cheered with their noisy cries the racing eight;

The gossamer, with ravelled silver threads,

Works at its little loom, and from the dusky red-caved sheds

Of the lone Farm a flickering light shines out

 Where the swinked shepherd drives his bleating flock,

Back to their wattled sheep-cotes, a faint shout

 Comes from some Oxford boat at Sandford lock,

And starts the moor-hen from the sedgy rill,

And the dim lengthening shadows flit like swallows up the hill.

The heron passes homeward to the mere,

 The blue mist creeps among the shivering trees,

Gold world by world the silent stars appear,

 And like a blossom blown before the breeze,

A white moon drifts across the shimmering sky,

Mute arbitress of all thy sad, thy rapturous threnody.

She does not heed thee, wherefore should she heed,

 She knows Endymion is not far away,

’Tis I, ’tis I, whose soul is as the reed

 Which has no message of its own to play,

So pipes another’s bidding, it is I,

Drifting with every wind on the wide sea of misery.

Ah! the brown bird has ceased: one exquisite trill

 About the sombre woodland seems to cling,

Dying in music, else the air is still,

 So still that one might hear the bat’s small wing

Wander and wheel above the pines, or tell

Each tiny dewdrop dripping from the, bluebell’s brimming cell.

And far across the lengthening wold,

 Across the willowy flats and thickets brown,

Magdalen’s tall tower tipped with tremulous gold

 Marks the long High Street of the little town,

And warns me to return; I must not wait,

Hark! ’tis the curfew booming from the bell of Christ Church Gate.

Charmides

[1890]
I

He was a Grecian lad, who coming home

 With pulpy figs and wine from Sicily

Stood at his galley’s prow, and let the foam

 Blow through his crisp brown curls unconsciously,

And holding wind and wave in boy’s despite

Peered from his dripping seat across the wet and stormy night.

Till with the dawn he saw a burnished spear

 Like a thin thread of gold against the sky,

And hoisted sail, and strained the creeking gear,

 And bade the pilot head her lustily

Against the nor-west gale, and all day long

Held on his way, and marked the rowers’ time with measured song.

And when the faint Corinthian hills were red

 Dropped anchor in a little sandy bay,

And with fresh boughs of olive crowned his head,

 And brushed from cheek and throat the hoary spray,

And washed his limbs with oil, and from the hold

Brought out his linen tunic and his sandals brazen-soled.

And a rich robe stained with the fishes’ juice

 Which of some swarthy trader he had bought

Upon the sunny quay at Syracuse,

 And was with Tyrian broideries inwrought,

And by the questioning merchants made his way

Up through the soft and silver woods, and when the laboring day

Had spun its tangled web of crimson cloud,

 Clomb the high hill, and with swift silent feet

Crept to the fane unnoticed by the crowd

 Of busy priests, and from some dark retreat

Watched the young swains his frolic playmates bring

The firstling of their little flock, and the shy shepherd fling

The crackling salt upon the flame, or hang

 His studded crook against the temple wall

To Her who keeps away the ravenous fang

 Of the base wolf from homestead and from stall;

And then the clear-voiced maidens ‘gan to sing,

And to the altar each man brought some goodly offering,

A beechen cup brimming with milky foam,

 A fair cloth wrought with cunning imagery

Of hounds in chase, a waxen honeycomb

 Dripping with oozy gold which scarce the bee

Had ceased from building, a black skin of oil

Meet for the wrestlers, a great boar the fierce and white-tusked spoil

Stolen from Artemis that jealous maid

 To please Athena, and the dappled hide

Of a tall stag who in some mountain glade

 Had met the shaft; and then the herald cried,

And from the pillared precinct one by one

Went the glad Greeks well pleased that they their simple vows had done.

And the old priest put out the waning fires

 Save that one lamp whose restless ruby glowed

For ever in the cell, and the shrill lyres

 Came fainter on the wind, as down the road

In joyous dance these country folk did pass,

And with stout hands the warder closed the gates of polished brass.

Long time he lay and hardly dared to breathe,

 And heard the cadenced drip of spilt-out wine,

And the rose-petals falling from the wreath

 As the night breezes wandered through the shrine,

And seemed to be in some entranced swoon

Till through the open roof above the full and brimming moon

Flooded with sheeny waves the marble floor,

 When from his nook upleapt the venturous lad,

And flinging wide the cedar-carven door

 Beheld an awful image saffron-clad

And armed for battle! the gaunt Griffin glared

From the huge helm, and the long lance of wreck and ruin flared

Like a red rod of flame, stony and steeled

 The Gorgon’s head its leaden eyeballs rolled,

And writhed its snaky horrors through the shield,

 And gaped aghast with bloodless lips and cold

In passion impotent, while with blind gaze

The blinking owl between the feet hooted in shrill amaze.

The lonely fisher as he trimmed his lamp

 Far out at sea off Sunium, or cast

The net for tunnies, heard a brazen tramp

 Of horses smite the waves, and a wild blast

Divide the folded curtains of the night,

And knelt upon the little poop, and prayed in holy fright.

And guilty lovers in their venery

 Forgat a little while their stolen sweets,

Deeming they heard dread Dian’s bitter cry;

 And the grim watchmen on their lofty seats

Ran to their shields in haste precipitate,

Or strained black-bearded throats across the dusky parapet.

For round the temple rolled the clang of arms,

 And the twelve Gods leapt up in marble fear,

And the air quaked with dissonant alarums

 Till huge Poseidon shook his mighty spear,

And on the frieze the prancing horses neighed,

And the low tread of hurrying feet rang from the cavalcade.

Ready for death with parted lips he stood,

 And well content at such a price to see

That calm wide brow, that terrible maidenhood.

 The marvel of that pitiless chastity,

Ah! well content indeed, for never wight

Since Troy’s young shepherd prince had seen so wonderful a sight.

Ready for death he stood, but lo! the air

 Grew silent, and the horses ceased to neigh,

And off his brow he tossed the clustering hair,

 And from his limbs he threw the cloak away,

For whom would not such love make desperate,

And nigher came, and touched her throat, and with hands violate

Undid the cuirass, and the crocus gown,

 And bared the breasts of polished ivory,

Till from the waist the peplos falling down

 Left visible the secret mystery

Which no lover will Athena show,

The grand cool flanks, the crescent thighs, the bossy hills of snow.

Those who have never known a lover’s sin

 Let them not read my ditty, it will be

To their dull ears so musicless and thin

 That they will have no joy of it, but ye

To whose wan cheeks now creeps the lingering smile,

Ye who have learned who Eros is — O listen yet a-while.

A little space he let his greedy eyes

 Rest on the burnished image, till mere sight

Half swooned for surfeit of such luxuries,

 And then his lips in hungering delight

Fed on her lips, and round the towered neck

He flung his arms, nor cared at all his passion’s will to check.

Never I ween did lover hold such tryst,

 For all night long he murmured honeyed word,

And saw her sweet unravished limbs, and kissed

 Her pale and argent body undisturbed,

And paddled with the polished throat, and pressed

His hot and beating heart upon her chill and icy breast.

It was as if Numidian javelins

 Pierced through and through his wild and whirling brain,

And his nerves thrilled like throbbing violins

 In exquisite pulsation, and the pain

Was such sweet anguish that he never drew

His lips from hers till overhead the lark of warning flew.

They who have never seen the daylight peer

 Into a darkened room, and drawn the curtain,

And with dull eyes and wearied from some dear

 And worshipped body risen, they for certain

Will never know of what I try to sing,

How long the last kiss was, how fond and late his lingering.

The moon was girdled with a crystal rim,

 The sign which shipmen say is ominous

Of wrath in heaven, the wan stars were dim

 And the low lightening cast was tremulous

With the faint fluttering wings of flying dawn,

Ere from the silent sombre shrine this lover had withdrawn.

Down the steep rock with hurried feet and fast

 Clomb the brave lad, and reached the cave of Pan,

And heard the goat-foot snoring as he passed,

 And leapt upon a grassy knoll and ran

Like a young fawn unto an olive wood

Which in a shady valley by the well-built city stood.

And sought a little stream, which well he knew,

 For oftentimes with boyish careless shout

The green and crested grebe he would pursue,

 Or snare in woven net the silver trout,

And down amid the startled reeds he lay

Panting in breathless sweet affright, and waited for the day.

On the green bank he lay, and let one hand

 Dip in the cool dark eddies listlessly,

And soon the breath of morning came and fanned

 His hot flushed cheeks, or lifted wantonly

The tangled curls from off his forehead, while

He on the running water gazed with strange and secret smile.

And soon the shepherd in rough woollen cloak

 With his long crook undid the wattled cotes,

And from the stack a thin blue wreath of smoke

 Curled through the air across the ripening oats,

And on the hill the yellow house-dog bayed

As through the crisp and rustling fern the heavy cattle strayed.

And when the light-foot mower went a-field

 Across the meadows laced with threaded dew,

And the sheep bleated on the misty weald,

 And from its nest the wakening corn-crake flew,

Some woodmen saw him lying by the stream

And marvelled much that any lad so beautiful could seem,

Nor deemed him born of mortals, and one said,

 “It is young Hylas, that false runaway

Who with a Naiad now would make his bed

 Forgetting Herakles,” but others, “Nay,

It is Narcissus, his own paramour,

Those are the fond and crimson lips no woman can allure.”

And when they nearer cane a third one cried,

 “It is young Dionysos who has hid

His spear and fawnskin by the river side

 Weary of hunting with the Bassarid,

And wise indeed were we away to fly,

They live not long who on the gods immortal come to spy.”

So turned they back, and feared to look behind,

 And told the timid swain how they had seen

Amid the reeds some woodland God reclined,

 And no man dared to cross the open green,

And on that day no olive-tree was slain,

Nor rushes cut, but all deserted was the fair domain.

Save when the neat-herd’s lad, his empty pail

 Well slung upon his back, with leap and bound

Raced on the other side, and stopped to hail

 Hoping that he some comrade new had found,

And gat no answer, and then half afraid

Passed on his simple way, or down the still and silent glade.

A little girl ran laughing from the farm

 Not thinking of love’s secret mysteries,

And when she saw the white and gleaming arm

 And all his manlihood, with longing eyes

Whose passion mocked her sweet virginity

Watched him a-while, and then stole back sadly and wearily.

Far off he heard the city’s hum and noise,

 And now and then the shriller laughter where

The passionate purity of brown-limbed boys

Wrestled or raced in the clear healthful air,

And now and then a little tinkling bell

As the shorn wether led the sheep down to the mossy well.

Through the gray willows danced the fretful gnat,

The grasshopper chirped idly from the tree,

In sleek and oily coat the water-rat

 Breasting the little ripples manfully

Made for the wild-duck’s nest, from bough to bough

Hopped the shy finch, and the huge tortoise crept across the slough.

On the faint wind floated the silky seeds,

 As the bright scythe swept through the waving grass,

The ousel-cock splashed circles in the reeds

 And flecked with silver whorls the forest’s glass,

Which scarce had caught again its imagery

Ere from its bed the dusky tench leapt at the dragon-fly.

But little care had he for anything

 Though up and down the beech the squirrel played,

And from the copse the linnet ‘gan to sing

 To her brown mate her sweetest serenade,

Ah! little care indeed, for he had seen

The breasts of Pallas and the naked wonder of the Queen.

But when the herdsman called his straggling goats

 With whistling pipe across the rocky road,

And the shard-beetle with its trumpet-notes

 Boomed through the darkening woods, and seemed to bode

Of coming storm, and the belated crane

Passed homeward like a shadow, and the dull big drops of rain

Fell on the pattering fig-leaves, up he rose,

 And from the gloomy forest went his way

Past sombre homestead and wet orchard-close,

 And came at last unto a little quay,

And called his mates a-board, and took his seat

On the high poop, and pushed from land, and loosed the dripping sheet,

And steered across the bay, and when nine suns

 Passed down the long and laddered way of gold,

And nine pale moons had breathed their orisons

 To the chaste stars their confessors, or told

Their dearest secret to the downy moth

That will not fly at noonday, through the foam and surging froth

Came a great owl with yellow sulphurous eyes

 And lit upon the ship, whose timbers creaked

As though the lading of three argosies

 Were in the hold, and flopped its wings, and shrieked,

And darkness straightway stole across the deep,

Sheathed was Orion’s sword, dread Mars himself fled down the steep,

And the moon hid behind a tawny mask

 Of drifting cloud, and from the ocean’s marge

Rose the red plume, the huge and horned casque,

 The seven cubit spear, the brazen targe!

And clad in bright and burnished panoply

Athena strode across the stretch of sick and shivering sea!

To the dull sailors’ sight her loosened locks

 Seemed like the jagged storm-rack, and her feet

Only the spume that floats on hidden rocks,

 And marking how the rising waters beat

Against the rolling ship, the pilot cried

To the young helmsman at the stern to luff to windward side.

But he, the over-bold adulterer,

 A dear profaner of great mysteries,

An ardent amorous idolater,

 When he beheld those grand relentless eyes

Laughed loud for joy, and crying out “I come”

Leapt from the lofty poop into the chill and churning foam.

Then fell from the high heaven one bright star,

 One dancer left the circling galaxy,

And back to Athens on her clattering car

 In all the pride of venged divinity

Pale Pallas swept with shrill and steely clank,

And a few gurgling bubbles rose where her boy lover sank.

And the mast shuddered as the gaunt owl flew,

 With mocking hoots after the wrathful Queen,

And the old pilot bade the trembling crew

 Hoist the big sail, and told how he had seen

Close to the stern a dim and giant form,

And like a dripping swallow the stout ship dashed through the storm.

And no man dared to speak of Charmides

 Deeming that he some evil thing had wrought,

And when they reached the strait Symplegades

 They beached their galley on the shore, and sought

The toll-gate of the city hastily,

And in the market showed their brown and pictured pottery.

II

But some good Triton-god had ruth, and bare

 The boy’s drowned body back to Grecian land,

And mermaids combed his dank and dripping hair

 And smoothed his brow, and loosed his clinching hand,

Some brought sweet spices from far Araby,

And others made the halcyon sing her softest lullaby.

And when he neared his old Athenian home,

 A mighty billow rose up suddenly

Upon whose oily back the clotted foam

 Lay diapered in some strange fantasy,

And clasping him unto its glassy breast,

Swept landward, like a white-maned Steed upon a venturous quest!

Now where Colonos leans unto the sea

 There lies a long and level stretch of lawn,

The rabbit knows it, and the mountain bee

 For it deserts Hymettus, and the Faun

Is not afraid, for never through the day

Comes a cry ruder than the shout of shepherd lads at play.

But often from the thorny labyrinth

 And tangled branches of the circling wood

The stealthy hunter sees young Hyacinth

 Hurling the polished disk, and draws his hood

Over his guilty gaze, and creeps away,

Nor dares to wind his horn, or — else at the first break of day

The Dryads come and throw the leathern ball

 Along the reedy shore, and circumvent

Some goat-eared Pan to be their seneschal

 For fear of bold Poseidon’s ravishment,

And loose their girdles, with shy timorous eyes,

Lest from the surf his azure arms and purple beard should rise.

On this side and on that a rocky cave,

 Hung with yellow-bell’d laburnum, stands,

Smooth is the beach, save where some ebbing wave

 Leaves its faint outline etched upon the sands,

As though it feared to be too soon forgot

By the green rush, its playfellow — and yet, it is a spot

So small, that the inconstant butterfly

 Could steal the hoarded honey from each flower

Ere it was noon, and still not satisfy

 Its over-greedy love — within an hour

A sailor boy, were he but rude enow

To land and pluck a garland for his galley’s painted prow,

Would almost leave the little meadow bare,

 For it knows nothing of great pageantry,

Only a few narcissi here and there

 Stand separate in sweet austerity,

Dotting the unmown grass with silver stars,

And here aid there a daffodil waves tiny scimetars.

Hither the billow brought him, and was glad

 Of such dear servitude, and where the land

Was virgin of all waters laid the lad

 Upon the golden margent of the strand,

And like a lingering lover oft returned

To kiss those pallid limbs which once with intense fire burned,

Ere the wet seas had quenched that holocaust,

 That self-fed flame, that passionate lustihead,

Ere grisly death with chill and nipping frost

 Had withered up those lilies white and red

Which, while the boy would through the forest range,

Answered each other in a sweet antiphonal counter-change.

And when at dawn the wood-nymphs, hand-in-hand,

 Threaded the bosky dell, their satyr spied

The boy’s pale body stretched upon the sand,

 And feared Poseidon’s treachery, and cried,

And like bright sunbeams flitting through a glade,

Each startled Dryad sought some safe and leafy ambuscade.

Save one white girl, who deemed it would not be

 So dread a thing to feel a sea-god’s arms

Crushing her breasts in amorous tyranny,

 And longed to listen to those subtle charms

Insidious lovers weave when they would win

Some fenced fortress, and stole back again, nor thought it sin

To yield her treasure unto one so fair,

 And lay beside him, thirsty with love’s drouth,

Called him soft names, played with his tangled hair,

 And with hot lips made havoc of his mouth

Afraid he might not wake, and then afraid

Lest he might wake too soon, fled back, and then, fond renegade,

Returned to fresh assault, and all day long

 Sat at his side, and laughed at her new toy,

And held his hand, and sang her sweetest song,

 Then frowned to see how froward was the boy

Who would not with her maidenhood entwine,

Nor knew that three days since his eyes had looked on Proserpine,

Nor knew what sacrilege his lips had done,

 But said, “He will awake, I know him well,

He will awake at evening when the sun

 Hangs his red shield on Corinth’s citadel,

This sleep is but a cruel treachery

To make me love him more, and in some cavern of the sea

“Deeper than ever falls the fisher’s line

 Already a huge Triton blows his horn,

And weaves a garland from the crystalline

 And drifting ocean-tendrils to adorn

The emerald pillars of our bridal bed,

For sphered in foaming silver, and with coral-crowned head.

“We two will sit upon a throne of pearl,

 And a blue wave will be our canopy,

And at our feet the water-snakes will curl

 In all their amethystine panoply

Of diamonded man, and we will mark

The mullets swimming by the mast of some storm-foundered bark,

“Vermilion-finned with eyes of bossy gold

 Like flakes of crimson light, and the great deep

His glassy-portaled chamber will unfold,

 And we will see the painted dolphins sleep

Cradled by murmuring halcyons on the rocks

Where Proteus in quaint suit of green pastures his monstrous flocks.

“And tremulous opal hued anemones

 Will wave their purple fringes where we tread

Upon the mirrored floor, and argosies

 Of fishes flecked with tawny scales will thread

The drifting cordage of the shattered wreck,

And honey-colored amber beads our twining limbs will deck.”

But when that baffled Lord of War the Sun

 With gaudy pennon flying passed away

Into his brazen House, and one by one

 The little yellow stars began to stray

Across the field of heaven, ah! then indeed

She feared his lips upon her lips would never care to feed,

And cried, “Awake, already the pale moon

 Washes the trees with silver, and the wave

Creeps gray and chilly up this sandy dune,

 The croaking frogs are out, and from the cave

The night-jar shrieks, the fluttering bats repass,

And the brown stoat with hollow flanks creeps through the dusky grass.

“Nay, though thou art a God, be not so coy,

 For in yon stream there is a little reed

That often whispers how a lovely boy

 Lay with her once upon a grassy mead,

Who when his cruel pleasure he had done

Spread wings of rustling gold and soared aloft into the sun.

“Be not so coy, the laurel trembles still

 With great Apollo’s kisses, and the fir

Whose clustering sisters fringe the sea-ward hill

 Hath many a tale of that bold ravisher

Whom men call Boreas, and I have seen

The mocking eyes of Hermes through the poplar’s silvery sheen.

“Even the jealous Naiads call me fair,

 And every morn a young and ruddy swain

Wooes me with apples and with locks of hair,

 And seeks to soothe my virginal disdain

By all the gifts the gentle wood-nymphs love;

But yesterday he brought to me an iris-plumaged dove

“With little crimson feet, which with its store

 Of seven spotted eggs the cruel lad

Had stolen from the lofty sycamore

 At daybreak when her amorous comrade had

Flown off in search of berried juniper

Which most they love; the fretful wasp, that earliest vintager

“Of the blue grapes, hath not persistency

 So constant as this simple shepherd-boy

For my poor lips, his joyous purity

 And laughing sunny eyes might well decoy

A Dryad from her oath to Artemis;

For very beautiful is he, his mouth was made to kiss.

“His argent forehead, like a rising moon

 Over the dusky hills of meeting brows,

Is crescent shaped, the hot and Tyrian noon

 Leads from the myrtle-grove no goodlier spouse

For Cytheraea, the first silky down

Fringes his blushing cheeks, and his young limbs are strong and brown:

“And he is rich, and fat and fleecy herds

 Of bleating sheep upon his meadows lie,

And many an earthen bowl of yellow curds

 Is in his homestead for the thievish fly

To swim and drown in, the pink clover mead

Keeps its sweet store for him, and he can pipe on oaten reed.

“And yet I love him not, it was for thee

 I kept my love, I knew that thou would’st come

To rid me of this pallid chastity;

 Thou fairest flower of the flowerless foam

Of all the wide Aegean, brightest star

Of ocean’s azure heavens where the mirrored planets are!

“I knew that thou would’st come, for when at first

 The dry wood burgeoned, and the sap of Spring

Swelled in my green and tender bark or burst

 To myriad multitudinous blossoming

Which mocked the midnight with its mimic moons

That did not dread the dawn, and first the thrushes’ rapturous tunes

“Startled the squirrel from its granary,

 And cuckoo flowers fringed the narrow lane,

Through my young leaves a sensuous ecstasy

 Crept like new wine, and every mossy vein

Throbbed with the fitful pulse of amorous blood,

And the wild winds of passion shook my slim stem’s maidenhood.

“The trooping fawns at evening came and laid

 Their cool black noses on my lowest boughs

And on my topmost branch the blackbird made

 A little nest of grasses for his spouse,

And now and then a twittering wren would light

On a thin twig which hardly bare the weight of such delight.

“I was the Attic shepherd’s trysting place,

 Beneath my shadow Amaryllis lay,

And round my trunk would laughing Daphnis chase

 The timorous girl, till tired out with play

She felt his hot breath stir her tangled hair,

And turned, and looked, and fled no more from such delightful snare.

“Then come away unto my ambuscade

 Where clustering woodbine weaves a canopy

For amorous pleasaunce, and the rustling shade

 Of Paphian myrtles seems to sanctify

The dearest rites of love, there in the cool

And green recesses of its furthest depth there is a pool,

“The ouzel’s haunt, the wild bee’s pasturage;

 For round its rim great creamy lilies float

Through their flat leaves in verdant anchorage,

Each cup a white-sailed golden-laden boat

Steered by a dragon-fly — be not afraid

To leave this wan and wave-kissed shore, surely the place were made

“For lovers such as we, the Cyprian Queen,

 One arm around her boyish paramour,

Strays often there at eve, and I have seen

 The moon strip off her misty vestiture

For young Endymion’s eyes, be not afraid,

The panther feet of Dian never tread that secret glade.

“Nay, if thou wil’st, back to the beating brine,

 Back to the boisterous billow let us go,

And all day beneath the hyaline

 Huge vault of Neptune’s watery portico,

And watch the purple monsters of the deep

Sport in ungainly play, and from his lair keen Xiphias leap.

“For if my mistress find me lying here

 She will not ruth or gentle pity show,

But lay her boar-spear down, and with austere

 Relentless fingers string the cornel bow,

And draw the feathered notch against her breast,

And loose the arched cord, ay, even now upon the quest

“I hear her hurrying feet — awake, awake,

 Thou laggard in love’s battle! once at least

Let me drink deep of passion’s wine, and slake

 My parched being with the nectarous feast

Which even Gods affect! O come Love come,

Still we have time to reach the cavern of thine azure home.”

Scarce had she spoken when the shuddering trees

 Shook, and the leaves divided, and the air

Grew conscious of a God, and the gray seas

 Crawled backward, and a long and dismal blare

Blew from some tasseled horn, a sleuth-hound bayed

And like a flame a barbed reed flew whizzing down the glade.

And where the little flowers of her breast

 Just brake in to their milky blossoming,

This murderous paramour, this unbidden guest,

 Pierced and struck deep in horrid chambering,

And plowed a bloody furrow with its dart,

And dug a long red road, and cleft with winged death her heart.

Sobbing her life out with a bitter cry

 On the boy’s body fell the Dryad maid,

Sobbing for incomplete virginity,

 And raptures unenjoyed, and pleasures dead,

And all the pain of things unsatisfied,

And the bright drops of crimson youth crept down her throbbing side.

Ah! pitiful it was to hear her moan,

 And very pitiful to see her die

Ere she had yielded up her sweets, or known

 The joy of passion, that dread mystery

Which not to know is not to live at all,

And yet to know is to be held in death’s most deadly thrall.

But as it hapt the Queen of Cythere,

 Who with Adonis all night long had lain

Within some shepherd’s hut in Arcady,

 On team of silver doves and gilded wane

Was journeying Paphos-ward, high up afar

From mortal ken between the mountains and the morning star,

And when low down she spied the hapless pair,

 And heard the Oread’s faint despairing cry,

Whose cadence seemed to play upon the air

 As though it were a viol, hastily

She bade her pigeons fold each straining plume,

And dropt to earth, and reached the strand, and saw their dolorous doom.

For as a gardener turning back his head

 To catch the last notes of the linnet, mows

With careless scythe too near some flower bed,

 And cuts the thorny pillar of the rose,

And with the flower’s loosened loveliness

Strews the brown mold, or as some shepherd lad in wantonness

Driving his little flock along the mead

 Treads down two daffodils which side by side

Have lured the lady-bird with yellow brede

 And made the gaudy moth forget its pride,

Treads down their brimming golden chalices

Under light feet which were not made for such rude ravages,

Or as a schoolboy tired of his book

 Flings himself down upon the reedy grass

And plucks two water-lilies from the brook,

 And for a time forgets the hour glass,

Then wearies of their sweets, and goes his way,

And lets the hot sun kill them, even so these lovers lay,

And Venus cried, “It is dread Artemis

 Whose bitter hand hath wrought this cruelty,

Or else that mightier mayde whose care it is

 To guard her strong and stainless majesty

Upon the hill Athenian — alas!

That they who loved so well unloved into Death’s house should pass.”

So with soft hands she laid the boy and girl

 In the great golden waggon tenderly,

Her white throat whiter than a moony pearl

 Just threaded with a blue vein’s tapestry

Had not yet ceased to throb, and still her breast

Swayed like a wind-stirred lily in ambiguous unrest.

And then each pigeon spread its milky van,

 The bright car soared into the dawning sky

And like a cloud the aerial caravan

 Passed over the Aegean silently,

Till the faint air was troubled with the song

From the wan mouths that call on bleeding Thammuz all night long.

But when the doves had reached their wonted goal

 Where the wide stair of orbed marble dips

Its snows into the sea, her fluttering soul

 Just shook the trembling petals of her lips

And passed into the void, and Venus knew

That one fair maid the less would walk amid her retinue,

And bade her servants carve a cedar chest

 With all the wonder of this history,

Within whose scented womb their limbs should rest

 Where olive-trees make tender the blue sky

On the low hills of Paphos, and the fawn

Pipes in the noonday, and the nightingale sings on till dawn.

Nor failed they to obey her hest, and ere

 The morning bee had stung the daffodil

With tiny fretful spear, or from its lair

 The waking stag had leapt across the rill

And roused the ousel, or the lizard crept

Athwart the sunny rock, beneath the grass their bodies slept.

And when day brake, within that silver shrine

 Fed by the flames of cressets tremulous,

Queen Venus knelt and prayed to Proserpine

 That she whose beauty made Death amorous

Should beg a guerdon from her pallid Lord,

And let desire pass across dread Charon’s icy ford.

III

In melancholy moonless Acheron,

 Far from the goodly earth and joyous day,

Where no spring ever buds, nor ripening sun

 Weighs down the apple trees, nor flowery May

Checkers with chestnut blooms the grassy floor,

Where thrushes never sing, and piping linnets mate no more,

There by a dim and dark Lethaean well,

 Young Charmides was lying wearily

He plucked the blossoms from the asphodel,

 And with its little rifled treasury

Strewed the dull waters of the dusky stream,

And watched the white stars founder, and the land was like a dream.

When as he gazed into the watery glass

 And through his brown hair’s curly tangles scanned

His own wan face, a shadow seemed to pass

 Across the mirror, and a little hand

Stole into his, and warm lips timidly

Brushed his pale cheeks, and breathed their secret forth into a sigh.

Then turned he around his weary eyes and saw,

 And ever nigher still their faces came,

And nigher ever did their young mouths draw

 Until they seemed one perfect rose of flame,

And longing arms around her neck he cast,

And felt her throbbing bosom, and his breath came hot and fast,

And all his hoarded sweets were hers to kiss,

 And all her maidenhood was his to slay,

And limb to limb in long and rapturous bliss

 Their passion waxed and waned — O why essay

To pipe again of love too venturous reed!

Enough, enough that Eros laughed upon that flowerless mead,

Too venturous poesy O why essay

 To pipe again of passion! fold thy wings

O’er daring Icarus and bid thy lay

 Sleep hidden in the lyre’s silent strings,

Till thou hast found the old Castilian rill,

Or from the Lesbian waters plucked drowned Sappho’s golden quill!

Enough, enough that he whose life had been

 A fiery pulse of sin, a splendid shame,

Could in the loveless land of Hades glean

 One scorching harvest from those fields of flame

Where passion walks with naked unshod feet

And is not wounded — ah! enough that once their lips could meet

In that wild throb when all existences

 Seem narrowed to one single ecstasy

Which dies through its own sweetness and the stress

 Of too much pleasure, ere Persephone

Had made them serve her by the ebon throne

Of the pale God who in the fields of Enna loosed her zone.

Eleutheria

[1890]

Sonnet to Liberty

Not that I love thy children, whose dull eyes

See nothing save their own unlovely woe,

Whose minds know nothing, nothing care to know —

But that the roar of thy Democracies,

Thy reigns of Terror, thy great Anarchies,

Mirror my wildest passions like the sea,

And give my rage a brother-! Liberty!

For his sake only do thy dissonant cries

Delight my discreet soul, else might all kings

By bloody knout or treacherous cannonades

Rob nations of their rights inviolate

And I remain unmoved — and yet, and yet,

These Christs that die upon the barricades,

God knows it I am with them, in some things.

Ave Imperatrix

Set in this stormy Northern sea,

 Queen of these restless fields of tide,

England! what shall men say of thee,

 Before whose feet the worlds divide?

The earth, a brittle globe of glass,

 Lies in the hollow of thy hand,

And through its heart of crystal pass,

 Like shadows through a twilight land,

The spears of crimson-suited war,

 The long white-crested waves of fight,

And all the deadly fires which are

 The torches of the lords of Night.

The yellow leopards, strained and lean,

 The treacherous Russian knows so well,

With gaping blackened jaws are seen

 Leap through the hail of screaming shell.

The strong sea-lion of England’s wars

 Hath left his sapphire cave of sea,

To battle with the storm that mars

 The star of England’s chivalry.

The brazen-throated clarion blows

 Across the Pathan’s reedy fen,

And the high steeps of Indian snows

 Shake to the tread of armed men.

And many an Afghan chief, who lies

 Beneath his cool pomegranate-trees,

Clutches his sword in fierce surmise

 When on the mountain-side he sees

The fleet-foot Marri scout, who comes

 To tell how he hath heard afar

The measured roll of English drums

 Beat at the gates of Kandahar.

For southern wind and east wind meet

 Where, girt and crowned by sword and fire,

England with bare and bloody feet

 Climbs the steep road of wide empire.

O lonely Himalayan height,

 Gray pillar of the Indian sky,

Where saw’st thou last in clanging fight,

 Our winged dogs of Victory?

The almond groves of Samarcand,

 Bokhara, where red lilies blow,

And Oxus, by whose yellow sand

 The grave white-turbaned merchants go:

And on from thence to Ispahan,

 The gilded garden of the sun,

Whence the long dusty caravan

 Brings cedar and vermilion;

And that dread city of Cabool

 Set at the mountain’s scarped feet,

Whose marble tanks are ever full

 With water for the noon-day heat:

Where through the narrow straight Bazaar

 A little maid Circassian

Is led, a present from the Czar

 Unto some old and bearded khan —

Here have our wild war-eagles flown,

 And flapped wide wings in fiery fight;

But the sad dove, that sits alone

 In England — she hath no delight.

In vain the laughing girl will lean

 To greet her love with love-lit eyes:

Down in some treacherous black ravine,

 Clutching his flag, the dead boy lies.

And many a moon and sun will see

 The lingering wistful children wait

To climb upon their father’s knee;

 And in each house made desolate

Pale women who have lost their lord

 Will kiss the relics of the slain —

Some tarnished epaulet — some sword —

 Poor toys to soothe such anguished pain.

For not in quiet English fields

 Are these, our brothers, laid to rest.

Where we might deck their broken shields

 With all the flowers the dead love best.

For some are by the Delhi walls,

 And many in the Afghan land,

And many where the Ganges falls

 Through seven mouths of shifting sand.

And some in Russian waters lie,

 And others in the seas which are

The portals to the East, or by

 The wind-swept heights of Trafalgar.

O wandering graves! O restless sleep!

 O silence of the sunless day!

O still ravine! O stormy deep!

 Give up your prey! Give up your prey!

And thou whose wounds are never healed,

 Whose weary race is never won,

O Cromwell’s England! must thou yield

 For every inch of ground a son?

Go! crown with thorns thy gold-crowned head,

 Change thy glad song to song of pain;

Wind and wild wave have got thy dead,

 And will not yield them back again.

Wave and wild wind and foreign shore

 Possess the flower of English land —

Lips that thy lips shall kiss no more,

 Hands that shall never clasp thy hand.

What profit now that we have bound

 The whole round world with net of gold,

If hidden in our heart is found

 The care that groweth never old?

What profit that our galleys ride,

 Pine-forest-like, on every main?

Ruin and wreck are at our side,

 Grim warders of the House of pain.

Where are the brave, the strong, the fleet

 Where is our English chivalry?

Wild grasses are their burial-sheet,

 And sobbing waves their threnody.

O loved ones lying far away,

 What word of love can dead lips send!

O wasted dust! O senseless clay!

 Is this the end! is this the end!

Peace, peace! we wrong the noble dead

 To vex their solemn slumber so:

Though childless, and with thorn-crowned head,

 Up the steep road must England go,

Yet when this fiery web is spun,

 Her watchmen shall decry from far

The young Republic like a sun

 Rise from these crimson seas of war.

To Milton

Milton! I think thy spirit hath passed away

 From these white cliffs, and high embattled-towers;

 This gorgeous fiery-colored world of ours

Seems fallen into ashes dull and gray,

And the age changed unto a mimic play,

 Wherein we waste our else too-crowded hours:

 For all our pomp and pageantry and powers

We are but fit to delve the common clay,

Seeing this little isle on which we stand,

 This England, this sea-lion of the sea,

 By ignorant demagogues is held in fee,

Who love her not: Dear God! is this the land

 Which bare a triple empire in her hand

 When Cromwell spake the word Democracy!

Louis Napoleon

Eagle of Austerlitz! where were thy wings

 When far away upon a barbarous strand,

 In fight unequal, by an obscure hand,

Fell the last scion of thy brood of Kings!

Poor boy! thou wilt not flaunt thy cloak of red,

 Nor ride in state through Paris in the van

 Of thy returning legions, but instead

Thy mother France, free and republican,

Shall on thy dead and crownless forehead place

 The better laurels of a soldier’s crown,

 That not dishonored should thy soul go down

To tell the mighty Sire of thy race

That France hath kissed the mouth of Liberty,

 And found it sweeter than his honeyed bees,

 And that the giant wave Democracy

Breaks on the shores where Kings lay couched at ease.

Sonnet

On the Massacre of the Christians in Bulgaria.

Christ, dost Thou live indeed? or are Thy bones

Still straightened in their rock-hewn sepulchre?

And was Thy Rising only dreamed by her

Whose love of Thee for all her sin atones?

For here the air is horrid with men’s groans,

The priests who call upon Thy name are slain,

Dost Thou not hear the bitter wail of pain

From those whose children lie upon the stones?

Come down, O Son of God! incestuous gloom

Curtains the land, and through the starless night

Over Thy Cross the Crescent moon I see!

If Thou in very truth didst burst the tomb

Come down, O Son of Man! and show Thy might

Lest Mahomet be crowned instead of Thee!

Quantum Mutata

There was a time in Europe long ago,

 When no man died for freedom anywhere,

 But England’s lion leaping from its lair

Laid hands on the oppressor! it was so

While England could a great Republic show.

 Witness the men of Piedmont, chiefest care

 Of Cromwell, when with impotent despair

The Pontiff in his painted portico

Trembled before our stern embassadors.

 How comes it then that from such high estate

 We have thus fallen, save that Luxury

With barren merchandise piles up the gate

Where nobler thoughts and deeds should enter by:

 Else might we still be Milton’s heritors.

Libertatis Sacra Fames

Albeit nurtured in democracy,

 And liking best that state republican

 Where every man is Kinglike and no man

Is crowned above his fellows, yet I see

Spite of this modern fret for Liberty,

 Better the rule of One, whom all obey,

 Than to let clamorous demagogues betray

Our freedom with the kiss of anarchy.

Wherefore I love them not whose hands profane

 Plant the red flag upon the piled-up street

 For no right cause, beneath whose ignorant reign

Arts, Culture, Reverence, Honor, all things fade,

 Save Treason and the dagger of her trade,

 And Murder with his silent bloody feet.

Theoretikos

This mighty empire hath but feet of clay;

 Of all its ancient chivalry and might

 Our little island is forsaken quite:

Some enemy hath stolen its crown of bay,

And from its hills that voice hath passed away

 Which spake of Freedom: O come out of it,

 Come out of it, my Soul, thou art not fit

For this vile traffic-house, where day by day

 Wisdom and reverence are sold at mart,

 And the rude people rage with ignorant cries

Against an heritage of centuries.

 It mars my calm: wherefore in dreams of Art

 And loftiest culture I would stand apart,

Neither for God, nor for His enemies.

Flowers of Gold

[1890]

Impressions

I
Les Silhouettes

The sea is flecked with bars of gray,

 The dull dead wind is out of tune,

 And like a withered leaf the moon

Is blown across the stormy bay.

Etched clear upon the pallid sand

 The black boat lies: a sailor boy

 Clambers aboard in careless joy

With laughing face and gleaming hand.

And overhead the curlews cry,

 Where through the dusky upland grass

 The young brown-throated reapers pass,

Like silhouettes against the sky.

II
   La Fuite de la Lune

To outer senses there is peace,

 A dreamy peace on either hand,

 Deep silence in the shadowy land,

Deep silence where the shadows cease.

Save for a cry that echoes shrill

 From some lone bird disconsolate;

 A corncrake calling to its mate;

The answer from the misty hill.

And suddenly the moon withdraws

 Her sickle from the lightening skies,

 And to her sombre cavern flies,

Wrapped in a veil of yellow gauze.

The Grave of Keats

Rid of the world’s injustice, and his pain,

 He rests at last beneath God’s veil of blue:

 Taken from life when life and love were new

The youngest of the martyrs here is lain,

Fair as Sebastian, and as early slain.

 No cypress shades his grave, no funeral yew,

 But gentle violets weeping with the dew

Weave on his bones an ever-blossoming chain.

O proudest heart that broke for misery!

 O sweetest lips since those of Mitylene!

 O poet-painter of our English land!

 Thy name was writ in water — it shall stand:

 And tears like mine will keep thy memory green,

As Isabella did her Basil tree.

Rome

Theocritus

   A Villanelle

O singer of Persephone!

 In the dim meadows desolate

Dost thou remember Sicily?

Still through the ivy flits the bee

 Where Amaryllis lies in state;

O Singer of Persephone!

Simaetha calls on Hecate

 And hears the wild dogs at the gate:

Dost thou remember Sicily?

Still by the light and laughing sea

 Poor Polypheme bemoans his fate:

O Singer of Persephone!

And still in boyish rivalry

 Young Daphnis challenges his mate:

Dost thou remember Sicily?

Slim Lacon keeps a goat for thee,

 For thee the jocund shepherds wait,

O Singer of Persephone!

Dost thou remember Sicily?

In the Gold Room

A Harmony

Her ivory hands on the ivory keys

 Strayed in a fitful fantasy,

Like the silver gleam when the poplar trees

 Rustle their pale leaves listlessly,

 Or the drifting foam of a restless sea

When the waves show their teeth in the flying breeze.

Her gold hair fell on the wall of gold

 Like the delicate gossamer tangles spun

On the burnished disk of the marigold,

 Or the sun-flower turning to meet the sun

 When the gloom of the jealous night is done,

And the spear of the lily is aureoled.

And her sweet red lips on these lips of mine

 Burned like the ruby fire set

In the swinging lamp of a crimson shrine,

 Or the bleeding wounds of the pomegranate,

 Or the heart of lotus drenched and wet

With the spilt-out blood of the rose-red wine.

Ballade De Marguerite

Normande

I am weary of lying within the chase

When the knights are meeting in market-place.

Nay, go not thou to the red-roofed town

Lest the hooves of the war-horse tread thee down.

But I would not go where the Squires ride,

I would only walk by my Lady’s side.

Alack! and alack! thou art over bold,

A Forester’s son may not eat off gold.

Will she love me the less that my Father is seen

Each Martinmas day in a doublet green?

Perchance she is sewing at tapestrie,

Spindle and loom are not meet for thee.

Ah, if she is working the arras bright

I might ravel the threads by the firelight.

Perchance she is hunting of the deer,

Flow could you follow o’er hill and mere?

Ah, if she is riding with the court,

I might run beside her and wind the morte.

Perchance she is kneeling in S. Denys,

(On her soul may our Lady have gramercy!)

Ah, if she is praying in lone chapelle,

I might swing the censer and ring the bell.

Come in my son, for you look sae pale,

Thy father shall fill thee a stoup of ale.

But who are these knights in bright array?

Is it a pageant the rich folks play?

’Tis the King of England from over sea,

Who has come unto visit our fair countrie.

But why does the curfew tool sae low

And why do the mourners walk a-row?

O ’tis Hugh of Amiens my sister’s son

Who is lying stark, for his day is done.

Nay, nay, for I see white lilies clear,

It is no strong man who lies on the bier.

O ’tis old Dame Jeannette that kept the hall,

I knew she would die at the autumn fall.

Dame Jeannette had not that gold-brown hair,

Old Jeannette was not a maiden fair.

O ’tis none of our kith and none of our kin,

(Her soul may our Lady assoil from sin!)

But I hear the boy’s voice chanting sweet,

“Elle est morte, la Marguerite.”

Come in my son and lie on the bed,

And let the dead folk bury their dead.

O mother, you know I loved her true:

O mother, hath one grave room for two?

The Dole of the King’s Daughter

Breton

Seven stars in the still water,

 And seven in the sky;

Seven sins on the King’s daughter,

 Deep in her soul to lie.

Red roses are at her feet,

 (Roses are red in her red-gold hair,)

And O where her bosom and girdle meet

 Red roses are hidden there.

Fair is the knight who lieth slain

 Amid the rush and reed,

See the lean fishes that are fain

 Upon dead men to feed.

Sweet is the page that lieth there,

 (Cloth of gold is goodly prey,)

See the black ravens in the air,

 Black, O black as the night are they.

What do they there so stark and dead?

 (There is blood upon her hand)

Why are the lilies flecked with red,

 (There is blood on the river sand.)

There are two that ride from the south and east,

 And two from the north and west,

For the black raven a goodly feast,

 For the King’s daughter rest.

There is one man who loves her true

 (Red, O red, is the stain of gore!

He hath duggen a grave by the darksome yew,

 (One grave will do for four.)

No moon in the still heaven,

 In the black water none,

The sins on her soul are seven,

 The sin upon his is one.

Amor Intellectualis

Oft have we trod the vales of Castaly

 And heard sweet notes of sylvan music blown

 From antique reeds to common folk unknown

And often launched our bark upon that sea

Which the nine muses hold in empery,

 And plowed free furrows through the wave and foam,

 Nor spread reluctant sail for more safe home

Till we had freighted well our argosy.

Of which despoiled treasures these remain,

 Sordello’s passion, and the honeyed line

Of young Endymion, lordly Tamburlaine

 Driving him pampered jades, and more than these,

The seven-fold vision of the Florentine,

And grave-browed Milton’s solemn harmonics.

Santa Decca

THE Gods are dead: no longer do we bring

 To gray-eyed Pallas crowns of olive-leaves!

 Demeter’s child no more hath tithe of sheaves,

And in the noon the careless shepherds sing,

For Pan is dead, and all the wantoning

 By secret glade and devious haunt is o’er:

 Young Hylas seeks the water-springs no more;

Great Pan is dead, and Mary’s Son is King.

And yet — perchance in this sea-tranced isle,

 Chewing the bitter fruit of memory,

 Some God lies hidden in the asphodel.

Ah Love! if such there be then it were well

 For us to fly his anger: nay, but see

 The leaves are stirring: let us watch a-while.

Corfu

A Vision

Two crowned Kings and One that stood alone

 With no green weight of laurels round his head,

 But with sad eyes as one uncomforted,

And wearied with man’s never-ceasing moan

For sins no bleating victim can atone,

 And sweet long lips with tears and kisses fed.

 Girt was he in a garment black and red,

And at his feet I marked a broken stone

 Which sent up lilies, dove-like, to his knees,

Now at their sight, my heart being lit with flame

 I cried to Beatrice, “Who are these?”

“Aeschylos first, the second Sophokles,

 And last (wide stream of tears!) Euripides.”

Impression De Voyage

The sea was sapphire colored, and the sky

 Burned like a heated opal through the air,

 We hoisted sail; the wind was blowing fair

For the blue lands that to the eastward lie.

From the steep prow I marked with quickening eye

 Zakynthos, every olive grove and creek,

 Ithaca’s cliff, Lycaon’s snowy peak,

And all the flower-strewn hills of Arcady.

The flapping of the sail against the mast,

 The ripple of the water on the side,

The ripple of girls’ laughter at the stern,

The only sounds:— when ‘gan the West to burn,

 And a red sun upon the seas to ride,

I stood upon the soil of Greece at last!

Katakolo

The Grave of Shelley

Like burnt-out torches by a sick man’s bed

 Gaunt cypress-trees stand round the sun-bleached stone;

 Here doth the little night-owl make her throne,

And the slight lizard show his jewelled head.

And, where the chaliced poppies flame to red,

 In the still chamber of yon pyramid

 Surely some Old-World Sphinx lurks darkly hid,

Grim warder of this pleasaunce of the dead.

Ah! sweet indeed to rest within the womb

 Of Earth great mother of eternal sleep,

But sweeter far for thee a restless tomb

 In the blue cavern of an echoing deep,

Or where the tall ships founder in the gloom

 Against the rocks of some wave-shattered steep.

Rome

By the Arno

The oleander on the wall

 Grows crimson in the dawning light,

 Though the gray shadows of the night

Lie yet on Florence like a pall.

The dew is bright upon the hill,

 And bright the blossoms overhead,

 But ah! the grasshoppers have fled,

The little Attic song is still.

Only the leaves are gently stirred

 By, the soft breathing of the gale,

 And in the almond-scented vale

The lonely nightingale is heard

The day will make thee silent soon,

 O nightingale sing on for love!

 While yet upon the shadowy grove

Splinter the arrows of the moon.

Before across the silent lawn

 In sea-green mist the morning steals,

 And to love’s frightened eyes reveals

The long white fingers of the dawn.

Fast climbing up the eastern sky,

 To grasp and slay the shuddering night,

 All careless of my heart’s delight,

Or if the nightingale should die.

Flower or Love

[1890]

Sweet, I blame you not, for mine the fault was,

 Had I not been made of common clay

I had climbed the higher heights unclimbed yet,

 Seen the fuller air, the larger day.

From the wildness of my wasted passion I had

 Struck a better, clearer song,

Lit some lighter light of freer freedom, battled

 With some Hydra-headed wrong.

Had my lips been smitten into music by the

 Kisses that but made them bleed,

You had walked with Bice and the angels on

 That verdant and enamelled mead.

I had trod the road which Dante treading saw

 The suns of seven circles shine,

Ay! perchance had seen the heavens opening, as

 They opened to the Florentine.

And the mighty nations would have crowned me,

 Who am crownless now and without name,

And some orient dawn had found me kneeling

 On the threshold of the House of Fame

I had sat within that marble circle where the

 Oldest bard is as the young,

And the pipe is ever dropping honey, and the

 Lyre’s strings are ever strung.

Keats had lifted up his hymeneal curls from out

 The poppy-seeded wine,

With ambrosial mouth had kissed my forehead,

 Clasped the hand of noble love in mine.

And at springtime, when the apple-blossoms

 Brush the burnished bosom of the dove,

Two young lovers lying in an orchard would

 Have read the story of our love.

Would have read the legend of my passion,

 Known the bitter secret of my heart,

Kissed as we have kissed, but never parted as

We two are fated now to part.

For the crimson flower of our life is eaten by

 The canker-worm of truth,

And no hand can gather up the fallen withered

 Petals of the rose of youth.

Yet I am not sorry that I loved you — ah! what

 Else had I a boy to do —

For the hungry teeth of time devour, and the

 Silent-footed years pursue.

Rudderless, we drift athwart a tempest, and

 When once the storm of youth is past,

Without lyre, without lute or chorus, Death a

 Silent pilot comes at last.

And within the grave there is no pleasure, for

 The blind-worm battens on the root,

And Desire shudders into ashes, and the tree of

 Passion bears no fruit.

Ah! what else had I to do but love you, God’s

 Own mother was less dear to me,

And less dear the Cytheraean rising like an

 Argent lily from the sea.

I have made my choice, have lived my poems,

 And, though youth is gone in wasted days,

I have found the lover’s crown of myrtle

 Better than the poet’s crown of bays.

The Fourth Movement

[1890]

Impression

   Le Reveillon

The sky is laced with fitful red,

 The circling mists and shadows flee,

 The dawn is rising from the sea,

Like a white lady from her bed.

And jagged brazen arrows fall

 Athwart the feathers of the night,

 And a long wave of yellow light

Breaks silently on tower and hall,

And spreading wide across the wold

 Wakes into flight some fluttering bird,

 And all the chestnut tops are stirred,

And all the branches streaked with gold.

At Verona

How steep the stairs within Kings’ houses are

 For exile-wearied feet as mine to tread,

 And O how salt and bitter is the bread

Which falls from this Hound’s table — better far

That I had died in the red ways of war,

 Or that the gate of Florence bare my head,

 Than to live thus, by all things comraded

Which seek the essence of my soul to mar.

“Curse God and die: what better hope than this?

 He hath forgotten thee in all the bliss

 Of his gold city, and eternal day”—

Nay peace: behind my prison’s blinded bars

 I do possess what none can take away,

My love, and all the glory of the stars.

Apologia

Is it thy will that I should wax and wane,

 Barter my cloth of gold for hodden gray,

And at thy pleasure weave that web of pain

 Whose brightest threads are each a wasted day?

Is it thy will — Love that I love so well —

 That my Soul’s House should be a tortured spot

Wherein, like evil paramours, must dwell

 The quenchless flame, the worm that dieth not?

Nay, if it be thy will I shall endure,

 And sell ambition at the common mart,

And let dull failure be my vestiture,

 And sorrow dig its grave within my heart.

Perchance it may be better so — at least

 I have not made my heart a heart of stone,

Nor starved my boyhood of its goodly feast,

 Nor walked where Beauty is a thing unknown.

Many a man hath done so; sought to fence

 In straitened bonds the soul that should be free,

Trodden the dusty road of common sense,

 While all the forest sang of liberty,

Not marking how the spotted hawk in flight

 Passed on wide pinion through the lofty air,

To where the steep untrodden mountain height

 Caught the last tresses of the Sun God’s hair.

Or how the little flower he trod upon,

 The daisy, that white-feathered shield of gold,

Followed with wistful eyes the wandering sun

 Content if once its leaves were aureoled.

But surely it is something to have been

 The best beloved for a little while,

To have walked hand in hand with Love, and seen

 His purple wings flit once across thy smile.

Ay! though the gorged asp of passion feed

 On my boy’s heart, yet have I burst the bars,

Stood face to face with Beauty, known indeed

 The Love which moves the Sun and all the stars!

Quia Multum Amavi

Dear heart I think the young impassioned priest

 When first he takes from out the hidden shrine

His God imprisoned in the Eucharist,

 And eats the Bread, and drinks the Dreadful Wine,

Feels not such awful wonder as I felt

 When first my smitten eyes beat full on thee,

And all night long before thy feet I knelt

 Till thou wert wearied of Idolatry.

Ah! had’st thou liked me less and loved me more,

 Through all those summer days of joy and rain,

I had not now been sorrow’s heritor,

 Or stood a lackey in the House of Pain.

Yet, though remorse, youth’s white-faced seneschal

 Tread on my heels with all his retinue,

I am most glad I loved thee — think of all

 The sums that go to make one speedwell blue!

Silentium Amoris

As oftentimes the too resplendent sun

 Hurries the pallid and reluctant moon

Back to her sombre cave, ere she hath won

 A single ballad from the nightingale,

 So doth thy Beauty make my lips to fail,

And all my sweetest singing out of tune.

And as at dawn across the level mead

 On wings impetuous some wind will come,

And with its too harsh kisses break the reed

 Which was its only instrument of song,

 So my too stormy passions work me wrong,

And for excess of Love my Love is dumb.

But surely unto thee mine eyes did show

 Why I am silent, and my lute unstrung;

Else it were better we should part, and go,

 Thou to some lips of sweeter melody,

 And I to nurse the barren memory

Of unkissed kisses, and songs never sung.

Her Voice

The wild bee reels from bough to bough

 With his furry coat and his gauzy wing.

Now in a lily-cup, and now

 Setting a jacinth bell a-swing,

 In his wandering;

Sit closer love: it was here I trow

I made that vow,

Swore that two lives should be like one

As long as the sea-gull loved the sea,

As long as the sunflower sought the sun —

 It shall be, I said, for eternity

 ‘Twixt you and me!

Dear friend, those times are over and done,

Love’s web is spun.

Look upward where the poplar trees

 Sway and sway in the summer air,

Here in the valley never a breeze

 Scatters the thistledowns, but there

 Great winds blow fair

From the mighty murmuring mystical seas,

And the wave-lashed leas.

Look upward where the white gull screams

 What does it see that we do not see?

Is that a star? or the lamp that gleams

 On some outward voyaging argosy —

 Ah! can it be

We have lived our lives in land of dreams!

How sad it seems.

Sweet, there is nothing left to say

 But this, that love is never lost.

Keen winter stabs the breasts of May

 Whose crimson roses burst his frost,

 Ships tempest-tossed

Will find a harbour in some bay,

And so we may.

And there is nothing left to do

 But to kiss once again, and part,

Nay, there is nothing we should rue,

 I have my beauty — you your Art.

 Nay, do not start,

One world was not enough for two

Like me and you.

My Voice

Within this restless, hurried, modern world

 We took our heart’s full pleasure — You and I,

And now the white sails of our ship are furled,

 And spent the lading of our argosy.

Wherefore my cheeks before their time are wan,

 For very weeping is my gladness fled

Sorrow hath paled my lip’s vermilion,

 And Ruin draws the curtains of my bed.

But all this crowded life has been to thee

 No more than lyre, or lute, or subtle spell

Of viols, or the music of the sea

 That sleeps, a mimic echo, in the shell.

Taedium Vitae

To stab my youth with desperate knife, to wear

 This paltry age’s gaudy livery,

 To let each base hand filch my treasury,

To mesh my soul within a woman’s hair,

And be mere Fortune’s lackeyed groom — I swear,

 I love it not! these things are less to me

 Than the thin foam that frets upon the sea,

Less than the thistle-down of summer air

 Which hath no seed: better to stand aloof

Far from these slanderous fools who mock my life

 Knowing me not, better the lowliest roof

Fit for the meanest hind to sojourn in,

Than to go back to that hoarse cave of strife

Where my white soul first kissed the mouth of sin.

The Garden of Eros

[1890]

It is full summer now, the heart of June,

 Not yet the sun-burnt reapers are a-stir

Upon the upland meadow where too soon

 Rich autumn time, the season’s usurer,

Will lend his hoarded gold to all the trees,

And see his treasure scattered by the wild and spendthrift breeze.

Too soon indeed! yet here the daffodil,

 That love-child of the Spring, has lingered on

To vex the rose with jealousy, and still

 The harebell spreads her azure pavilion,

And like a strayed and wandering reveller

Abandoned of its brothers, whom long since June’s messenger

The missel-thrush has frighted from the glade,

 One pale narcissus loiters fearfully

Close to a shadowy nook, where half afraid

 Of their own loveliness some violets lie

That will not look the gold sun in the face

For fear of too much splendour — ah! methinks it is a place

Which should be trodden by Persephone

 When wearied of the flowerless fields of Dis!

Or danced on by the lads of Arcady!

 The hidden secret of eternal bliss

Known to the Grecian here a man might find,

Ah! you and I may find it now if Love and Sleep be kind.

There are the flowers which mourning Herakles

 Strewed on the tomb of Hylas, columbine,

Its white doves all a-flutter where the breeze

 Kissed them too harshly, the small celandine,

That yellow-kirtled chorister of eve,

And lilac lady’s-smock — but let them bloom alone and leave

Yon spired holly-hock red-crocketed

 To sway its silent chimes, else must the bee,

Its little bell-ringer, go seek instead

 Some other pleasaunce; the anemone

That weeps at daybreak, like a silly girl

Before her love, and hardly lets the butterflies unfurl

Their painted wings beside it — bid it pine

 In pale virginity; the winter snow

Will suit it better than those lips of thine

 Whose fires would but scorch it, rather go

And pluck that amorous flower which blooms alone,

Fed by the pander wind with dust of kisses not its own.

The trumpet-mouths of red convolvulus

 So dear to maidens, creamery meadow-sweet

Whiter than Juno’s throat and odorous

 As all Arabia, hyacinths the feet

Of Huntress Dian would be loath to mar

For any dappled fawn — pluck these, and those fond flowers which are

Fairer than what Queen Venus trod upon

 Beneath the pines of Ida, eucharis,

That morning star which does not dread the sun,

 And budding marjoram which but to kiss

Would sweeten Cytheraea’s lips and make

Adonis jealous — these for thy head — and for thy girdle take

Yon curving spray of purple clematis

 Whose gorgeous dye outflames the Tyrian King,

And fox-gloves with their nodding chalices,

 But that one narciss which the startled Spring

Let from her kirtle fall when first she heard

In her own woods the wild tempestuous song of summer’s bird,

Ah! leave it for a subtle memory

 Of those sweet tremulous days of rain and sun,

When April laughed between her tears to see

 The early primrose with shy footsteps run

From the gnarled oak-tree roots till all the wold,

Spite of its brown and trampled leaves, grew bright with shimmering gold.

Nay, pluck it too, it is not half so sweet

 As thou thyself, my soul’s idolatry!

And when thou art a-wearied at thy feet

 Shall oxlips weave their brightest tapestry,

For thee the woodbine shall forget its pride

And veil its tangled whorls, and thou shalt walk on daisies pied.

And I will cut a reed by yonder spring

 And make the wood-gods jealous, and old Pan

Wonder what young intruder dares to sing

 In these still haunts, where never foot of man

Should tread at evening, lest he chance to spy

The marble limbs of Artemis and all her company.

And I will tell you why the jacinth wears

 Such dread embroidery of dolorous moan,

And why the hapless nightingale forbears

 To sing her song at noon, but weeps alone

When the fleet swallow sleeps, and rich men feast,

And why the laurel trembles when she sees the lightening east.

And I will sing how sad Proserpina

 Unto a grave and gloomy Lord was wed,

And lure the silver-breasted Helena

 Back from the lotus meadows of the dead,

So shalt thou see that awful loveliness

For which two mighty Hosts met fearfully in war’s abyss!

And then I’ll pipe to thee that Grecian tale

 How Cynthia loves the lad Endymion,

And hidden in a gray and misty veil

 Hies to the cliffs of Latmos, once the Sun

Leaps from his ocean bed, in fruitless chase

Of those pale flying feet which fade away in his embrace.

And if my flute can breathe sweet melody,

 We may behold Her face who long ago

Dwelt among men by the Aegean sea,

 And whose sad house with pillaged portico

And friezeless wall and columns toppled down

Looms o’er the ruins of that fair and violet-cinctured town.

Spirit of Beauty! tarry still a-while,

 They are not dead, thine ancient votaries,

Some few there are to whom thy radiant smile

 Is better than a thousand victories,

Though all the nobly slain of Waterloo

Rise up in wrath against them! tarry still, there are a few,

Who for thy sake would give their manlihood

 And consecrate their being, I at least

Have done so, made thy lips my daily food,

 And in thy temples found a goodlier feast

Than this starved age can give me, spite of all

Its new-found creeds so skeptical and so dogmatical.

Here not Cephissos, not Ilissos flows,

 The woods of white Colonos are not here,

On our bleak hills the olive never blows,

 No simple priest conducts his lowing steer

Up the steep marble way, nor through the town

Do laughing maidens bear to thee the crocus-flowered gown.

Yet tarry! for the boy who loved thee best,

 Whose very name should be a memory

To make thee linger, sleeps in silent rest

 Beneath the Roman walls, and melody

Still mourns her sweetest lyre, none can play

The lute of Adonais, with his lips Song passed away.

Nay, when Keats died the Muses still had left

 One silver voice to sing his threnody,

But ah! too soon of it we were bereft

 When on that riven night and stormy sea

Panthea claimed her singer as her own,

And slew the mouth that praised her; since which time we walk alone,

Save for that fiery heart, that morning star

 Of re-arisen England, whose clear eye

Saw from our tottering throne and waste of war

 The grand Greek limbs of young Democracy

Rise mightily like Hesperus and bring

The great Republic! him at least thy love hath taught to sing,

And he hath been thee at Thessaly,

 And seen white Atalanta fleet of foot

In passionless and fierce virginity

 Hunting the tusked boar, his honeyed lute

Hath pierced the cavern of the hollow hill,

And Venus laughs to the one knee will bow before her still.

And he hath kissed the one of Proserpine,

 And sung the Galilaean’s requiem,

That wounded forehead dashed with blood and wine

 He hath discrowned, the Ancient Gods in him

Have found their last, most ardent worshipper,

And the Sign grows gray and dim before its conqueror

Spirit of Beauty! tarry with us still,

 It is not quenched the torch of poesy,

The star that shook above the Eastern hill

 Holds unassailed its argent armory

From all the gathering gloom and fretful fight —

O tarry with us still! for through the long and common night,

Morris, our sweet and simple Chaucer’s child,

 Dear heritor of Spenser’s tuneful reed,

With soft and sylvan pipe has oft beguiled

 The weary soul of man in troublous need,

And from the far and flowerless fields of ice

Has brought fair flowers meet to make an earthly paradise.

We know them all, Gudrun the strong man’s bride,

 Aslaug and Olafson we know them all,

How giant Grettir fought and Sigurd died,

 And what enchantment held the king in thrall

When lonely Brynhild wrestled with the powers

That war against all passion, ah! how oft through summer hours,

Long listless summer hours when the noon

 Being enamored of a damask rose

Forgets to journey westward, till the moon

 The pale usurper of its tribute grows

From a thin sickle to a silver shield

And chides its loitering car — how oft, in some cool grassy field

Far from the cricket-ground and noisy eight

 At Bagley, where the rustling bluebells come

Almost before the blackbird finds a mate

 And overstay the swallow, and the hum

Of many murmuring bees flits through the leaves,

Have I lain poring on the dreamy tales his fancy weaves,

And through their unreal woes and mimic pain

 Wept for myself, and so was purified,

And in their simple mirth grew glad again;

 For as I sailed upon that pictured tide

The strength and splendour of the storm was mine

Without the storm’s red ruin, for the singer is divine.

The little laugh of water falling down

 Is not so musical, the clammy gold

Close hoarded in the tiny waxen town

 Has less of sweetness in it, and the old

Half-withered reeds that waved in Arcady

Touched by his lips break forth again to fresher harmony.

Spirit of Beauty tarry yet a-while!

 Although the cheating merchants of the mart

With iron roads profane our lovely isle,

 And break on whirring wheels the limbs of Art,

Ay! though the crowded factories beget

The blind-worm Ignorance that slays the soul, O tarry yet!

For One at least there is — He bears his name

 From Dante and the seraph Gabriel —

Whose double laurels burn with deathless flame

 To light thine altar; He too loves thee well

Who saw old Merlin lured in Vivien’s snare,

And the white feet of angels coming down the golden stair,

Loves thee so well, that all the world for him

 A gorgeous-colored vestiture must wear,

And Sorrow take a purple diadem,

 Or else be no more Sorrow, and Despair

Gild its own thorns, and Pain, like Adon, be

Even in anguish beautiful; — such is the empery

Which painters hold, and such the heritage

 This gentle, solemn Spirit doth possess,

Being a better mirror of his age

 In all his pity, love, and weariness,

Than those who can but copy common things,

And leave the soul unpainted with its mighty questionings.

But they are few, and all romance has flown,

 And men can prophesy about the sun,

And lecture on his arrows — how, alone,

 Through a waste void the soulless atoms run,

How from each tree its weeping nymph has fled,

And that no more ‘mid English reeds a Naiad shows her head.

Methinks these new actaeons boast too soon

 That they have spied on beauty; what if we

Have analysed the rainbow, robbed the moon

 Of her most ancient, chastest mystery,

Shall I, the last Endymion, lose all hope

Because rude eyes peer at my mistress through a telescope!

What profit if this scientific age

 Burst through our gates with all its retinue

Of modern miracles! Can it assuage

 One lover’s breaking heart? what can it do

To make one life more beautiful, one day

More god-like in its period? but now the Age of Clay

Returns in horrid cycle, and the earth

 Hath borne again a noisy progeny

Of ignorant Titans, whose ungodly birth

 Hurls them against the august hierarchy

Which sat upon Olympus, to the Dust

They have appealed, and to that barren arbiter they must

Repair for judgment, let them, if they can,

 From Natural Warfare and insensate Chance,

Create the new ideal rule for man!

 Methinks that was not my inheritance;

For I was nurtured otherwise, my soul

Passes from higher heights of life to a more supreme goal.

Lo! while we spake the earth did turn away

 Her visage from the God, and Hecate’s boat

Rose silver-laden, till the jealous day

 Blew all its torches out: I did not note

The waning hours, to young Endymions

Time’s palsied fingers count in vain his rosary of suns! —

Mark how the yellow iris wearily

 Leans back its throat, as though it would be kissed

By its false chamberer, the dragon-fly,

 Who, like a blue vein on a girl’s white wrist,

Sleeps on that snowy primrose of the night,

Which ‘gins to flush with crimson shame, and die beneath the light.

Come let us go, against the pallid shield

 Of the wan sky the almond blossoms gleam,

The corn-crake nested in the unmown field

 Answers its mate, across the misty stream

On fitful wing the startled curlews fly,

And in his sedgy bed the lark, for joy that Day is nigh,

Scatters the pearled dew from off the grass,

 In tremulous ecstasy to greet the sun,

Who soon in gilded panoply will pass

 Forth from yon orange-curtained pavilion

Hung in the burning east, see, the red rim

O’ertops the expectant hills! it is the God! for love of him

Already the shrill lark is out of sight,

 Flooding with waves of song this silent dell —

Ah! there is something more in that bird’s flight

 Than could be tested in a crucible! —

But the air freshens, let us go — why soon

The woodmen will be here; how we have lived this night of June!

Humanitad

[1890]

It is full winter now: the trees are bare,

 Save where the cattle huddle from the cold

Beneath the pine, for it doth never wear

 The Autumn’s gaudy livery whose gold

Her jealous brother pilfers, but is true

To the green doublet; bitter is the wind, as though it blew

From Saturn’s cave; a few thin wisps of hay

 Lie on the sharp black hedges, where the wain

Dragged the sweet pillage of a summer’s day

 From the low meadows up the narrow lane;

Upon the half-thawed snow the bleating sheep

Press close against the hurdles, and the shivering housedogs creep

From the shut stable to the frozen stream

 And back again disconsolate, and miss

The bawling shepherds and the noisy team;

 And overhead in circling listlessness

The cawing rooks whirl round the frosted stack,

Or crowd the dripping boughs; and in the fen the ice-pools crack

Where the gaunt bittern stalks among the reeds

 And flaps his wings, and stretches back his neck,

And hoots to see the moon; across the meads

 Limps the poor frightened hare, a little speck;

And a stray seamew with its fretful cry

Flits like a sudden drift of snow against the dull gray sky.

Full winter: and a lusty goodman brings

 His load of faggots from the chilly byre,

And stamps his feet upon the hearth, and flings

 The sappy billets on the waning fire,

And laughs to see the sudden lightning scare

His children at their play; and yet — the Spring is in the air,

Already the slim crocus stirs the snow,

 And soon yon blanched fields will bloom again

With nodding cowslips for some lad to mow,

 For with the first warm kisses of the rain

The winter’s icy, sorrow breaks to tears,

And the brown thrushes mate, and with bright eyes the rabbit peers

From the dark warren where the fir-cones lie,

 And treads one snowdrop under foot and runs

Over the mossy knoll, and blackbirds fly

 Across our path at evening, and the suns

Stay longer with us; ah! how good to see

Grass-girdled Spring in all her joy of laughing greenery

Dance through the hedges till the early rose,

 (That sweet repentance of the thorny briar!)

Burst from its sheathed emerald and disclose

 The little quivering disk of golden fire

Which the bees know so well, for with it come

Pale boy’s love, sops-in-wine, and daffodillies all in bloom.

Then up and down the field the sower goes,

 While close behind the laughing younker scares,

With shrilly whoop the black and thievish crows.

 And then the chestnut-tree its glory wears,

And on the grass the creamy blossom falls

In odorous excess, and faint half-whispered madrigals

Steal from the bluebells’ nodding carillons

 Each breezy morn, and then white jessamine,

That star of its own heaven, snap-dragons

 With lolling crimson tongues, and eglantine

In dusty velvets clad usurp the bed

And woodland empery, and when the lingering rose hath shed

Red leaf by leaf its folded panoply,

 And pansies closed their purple-lidded eyes,

Chrysanthemums from gilded argosy

 Unload their gaudy scentless merchandise

And violets getting overbold withdraw

From their shy nooks, and scarlet berries dot the leafless haw.

O happy field! and O thrice happy tree!

 Soon will your queen in daisy-flowered smock,

And crown of flower-de-luce trip down the lea,

 Soon will the lazy shepherds drive their flock

Back to the pasture by the pool, and soon

Through the green leaves will float the hum of murmuring bees at noon.

Soon will the glade be bright with bellamour,

 The flower which wantons love, and those sweet nuns

Vale-lilies in their snowy vestiture

 Will tell their bearded pearls, and carnations

With mitred dusky leaves will scent the wind,

And straggling traveller’s joy each hedge with yellow stars will bind.

Dear Bride of Nature and most bounteous Spring!

 That can’st give increase to the sweet-breath’d kine,

And to the kid its little horns, and bring

 The soft and silky blossoms to the vine,

Where is that old nepenthe which of yore

Man got from poppy root and glossy-berried mandragore!

There was a time when any common bird

 Could make me sing in unison, a time

When all the strings of boyish life were stirred

 To quick response or more melodious rhyme

By every forest idyll; — do I change?

Or rather doth some evil thing through thy fair pleasaunce range?

Nay, nay, thou art the same: ’tis I who seek

 To vex with sighs thy simple solitude,

And because fruitless tears bedew my cheek

 Would have thee weep with me in brotherhood;

Fool! shall each wronged and restless spirit dare

To taint such wine with the salt poison of his own despair!

Thou art the same: ’tis I whose wretched soul

 Takes discontent to be its paramour,

And gives its kingdom to the rude control

 Of what should be its servitor — for sure

Wisdom is somewhere, though the stormy sea

Contain it not, and the huge deep answer “’Tis not in me.”

To burn with one clear flame, to stand erect

 In natural honor, not to bend the knee

In profitless prostrations whose effect

 Is by, itself condemned, what alchemy

Can teach me this? what herb Medea brewed

Will bring the unexultant peace of essence not subdued?

The minor chord which ends the harmony,

 And for its answering brother waits in vain,

Sobbing for incompleted melody

 Dies a swan’s death; but I the heir of pain

A silent Memnon with blank lidless eyes

Wait for the light and music of those suns which never rise.

The quanched-out torch, the lonely cypress-gloom,

 The little dust stored in the narrow urn,

The gentle XAIPE of the Attic tomb —

 Were not these better far than to return

To my old fitful restless malady,

Or spend my days within the voiceless cave of misery?

Nay! for perchance that poppy-crowned God

 Is like the watcher by a sick man’s bed

Who talks of sleep but gives it not; his rod

 Hath lost its virtue, and, when all is said,

Death is too rude, too obvious a key

To solve one single secret in a life’s philosophy.

And love! that noble madness, whose august

 And inextinguishable might can slay

The soul with honeyed drugs — alas! I must

 From such sweet ruin play the runaway,

Although too constant memory never can

Forget the arched splendor of those brows Olympian

Which for a little season made my youth

 So soft a swoon of exquisite indolence

That all the chiding of more prudent Truth

 Seemed the thin voice of jealousy — O Hence

Thou huntress deadlier than Artemis!

Go seek some other quarry! for of thy too perilous bliss

My lips have drunk enough — no more, no more —

 Though Love himself should turn his gilded prow

Back to the troubled waters of this shore

 Where I am wrecked and stranded, even now

The chariot wheels of passion sweep too near,

Hence! Hence! I pass unto a life more barren, more austere.

More barren — ay, those arms will never lean

 Down through the trellised vines and draw my soul

In sweet reluctance through the tangled green;

 Some other head must wear that aureole,

For I am Hers who loves not any man

Whose white and stainless bosom bears the sign Gorgonian.

Let Venus go and chuck her dainty page,

 And kiss his mouth, and toss his curly hair,

With net and spear and hunting equipage

 Let young Adonis to his tryst repair,

But me her fond and subtle-fashioned spell

Delights no more, though I could win her dearest citadel.

Ay, though I were that laughing shepherd boy

 Who from Mount Ida saw the little cloud

Pass over Tenedos and lofty Troy

 And knew the coming of the Queen, and bowed

In wonder at her feet, not for the sake

Of a new Helen would I bid her hand the apple take.

Then rise supreme Athena argent-limbed!

 And, if my lips be musicless, inspire

At least my life: was not thy glory hymned

 By one who gave to thee his sword and lyre

Like Aeschylus at well-fought Marathon,

And died to show that Milton’s England still could bear a son!

And yet I cannot tread the portico

 And live without desire, fear and pain,

Or nurture that wise calm which long ago

 The grave Athenian master taught to men,

Self-poised, self-centered, and self-comforted,

To watch the world’s vain phantasies go by with unbowed head.

Alas! that serene brow, those eloquent lips,

 Those eyes that mirrored all eternity,

Rest in their own Colonos, an eclipse

 Hath come on Wisdom, and Mnemosyne

Is childless; in the night which she had made

For lofty secure flight Athena’s owl itself hath strayed.

Nor much with Science do I care to climb,

 Although by strange and subtle witchery

She draw the moon from heaven: the Muse of Time

 Unrolls her gorgeous-colored tapestry

To no less eager eyes; often indeed

In the great epic of Polymnia’s scroll I love to read

How Asia sent her myriad hosts to war

 Against a little town, and panoplied

In gilded mail with jewelled scimetar,

 White-shielded, purple-crested, rode the Mede

Between the waving poplars and the sea

Which men call Artemisium, till he saw Thermopylae

Its steep ravine spanned by a narrow wall,

 And on the nearer side a little brood

Of careless lions holding festival!

 And stood amazed at such hardihood,

And pitched his tent upon the reedy shore,

And stayed two days to wonder, and then crept at midnight o’er

Some unfrequented height, and coming down

 The autumn forests treacherously slew

What Sparta held most dear and was the crown

 Of far Eurotas, and passed on, nor knew

How God had staked an evil net for him

In the small bay of Salamis — and yet, the page grows dim.

Its cadenced Greek delights me not, I feel

 With such a goodly time too out of tune

To love it much: for like the Dial’s wheel

 That from its blinded darkness strikes the noon

Yet never sees the sun, so do my eyes

Restlessly follow that which from my cheated vision flies.

O for one grand unselfish simple life

 To teach us what is Wisdom! speak ye hills

Of lone Helvellyn, for this note of strife

 Shunned your untroubled crags and crystal rills,

Where is that Spirit which living blamelessly

Yet dared to kiss the smitten mouth of his own century!

Speak ye Ridalian laurels! where is He

 Whose gentle head ye sheltered, that pure soul

Whose gracious days of uncrowned majesty

 Through lowliest conduct touched the lofty goal

Where Love and Duty mingle! Him at least

The most high Laws were glad of, he had sat at Wisdom’s feast,

But we are Learning’s changelings, known by rote

 The clarion watchword of each Grecian school

And follow none, the flawless sword which smote

 The pagan Hydra is an effete tool

Which we ourselves have blunted, what man now

Shall scale the august ancient heights and to old Reverence bow?

One such indeed I saw, but, Ichabod!

 Gone is that last dear son of Italy,

Who being man died for the sake of God,

 And whose unrisen bones sleep peacefully.

O guard him, guard him well, my Giotto’s tower,

Thou marble lily of the lily town! let not the lower

Of the rude tempest vex his slumber, or

 The Arno with its tawny troubled gold

O’erleap its marge, no mightier conqueror

 Clomb the high Capitol in the days of old

When Rome was indeed Rome, for Liberty

Walked like a Bride beside him, at which sight pale Mystery

Fled shrieking to her furthest somberest cell

 With an old man who grabbled rusty keys,

Fled shuddering for that immemorial knell

 With which oblivion buries dynasties

Swept like a wounded eagle on the blast,

As to the holy heart of Rome the great triumvir passed.

He knew the holiest heart and heights of Rome,

 He drave the base wolf from the lion’s lair,

And now lies dead by that empyreal dome

 Which overtops Valdarno hung in air

By Brunelleschi — O Melpomene

Breathe through thy melancholy pipe thy sweetest threnody!

Breathe through the tragic stops such melodies

 That Joy’s self may grow jealous, and the Nine

Forget a-while their discreet emperies,

 Mourning for him who on Rome’s lordliest shrine

Lit for men’s lives the light of Marathon,

And bare to sun-forgotten fields the fire of the sun!

O guard him, guard him well, my Giotto’s tower,

 Let some young Florentine each eventide

Bring coronals of that enchanted flower

 Which the dim woods of Vallombrosa hide,

And deck the marble tomb wherein he lies

Whose soul is as some mighty orb unseen of mortal eyes.

Some mighty orb whose cycled wanderings,

 Being tempest-driven to the furthest rim

Where Chaos meets Creation and the wings

 Of the eternal chanting Cherubim

Are pavilioned on Nothing, passed away

Into a moonless void — and yet, though he is dust and clay,

He is not dead, the immemorial Fates

 Forbid it, and the closing shears refrain,

Lift up your heads ye everlasting gates!

 Ye argent clarions sound a loftier strain!

For the vile thing he hated lurks within

Its sombre house, alone with God and memories of sin.

Still what avails it that she sought her cave

 That murderous mother of red harlotries?

At Munich on the marble architrave

 The Grecian boys die smiling, but the seas

Which wash Aegina fret in loneliness

Not mirroring their beauty, so our lives grow colourless

For lack of our ideals, if one star

 Flame torch-like in the heavens the unjust

Swift daylight kills it, and no trump of war

 Can wake to passionate voice the silent dust

Which was Mazzini once! rich Niobe

For all her stony sorrows hath her sons, but Italy!

What Easter Day shall make her children rise,

 Who were not Gods yet suffered, what sure feet

Shall find their graveclothes folded? what clear eyes

 Shall see them bodily? O it were meet

To roll the stone from off the sepulchre

And kiss the bleeding roses of their wounds, in love of Her

Our Italy! our mother visible!

 Most blessed among nations and most sad,

For whose dear sake the young Calabrian fell

 That day at Aspromonte and was glad

That in an age when God was bought and sold

One man could die for Liberty! but we, burnt out and cold,

See Honour smitten on the cheek and gyves

 Bind the sweet feet of Mercy: Poverty

Creeps through our sunless lanes and with sharp knives

 Cuts the warm throats of children stealthily,

And no word said:— O we are wretched men

Unworthy of our great inheritance! where is the pen

Of austere Milton? where the mighty sword

 Which slew its master righteously? the years

Have lost their ancient leader, and no word

 Breaks from the voiceless tripod on our ears;

While as a ruined mother in some spasm

Bears a base child and loathes it, so our best enthusiasm

Genders unlawful children, Anarchy

 Freedom’s own Judas, the vile prodigal

License who steals the gold of Liberty

 And yet nothing, Ignorance the real

One Fratricide since Cain, Envy the asp

That stings itself to anguish, Avarice whose palsied grasp

Is in its extent stiffened, moneyed Greed

 For whose dull appetite men waste away

Amid the whirr of wheels and are the seed

 Of things which slay their sower, these each day

Sees rife in England, and the gentle feet

Of Beauty tread no more the stones of each unlovely street.

What even Cromwell spared is desecrated

 By weed and worm, left to the stormy play

Of wind and beating snow, or renovated

 By more destructful hands: Time’s worst decay

Will wreathe its ruins with some loveliness,

But these new Vandals can but make a rainproof barrenness.

Where is that Art which bade the Angels sing

 Through Lincoln’s lofty choir, till the air

Seems from such marble harmonies to ring

 With sweeter song than common lips can dare

To draw from actual reed? ah! where is now

The cunning hand which made the flowering hawthorn branches bow

For Southwell’s arch, and carved the House of One

 Who loved the lilies of the field with all

Our dearest English flowers? the same sun

 Rises for us: the season’s natural

Weave the same tapestry of green and gray:

The unchanged hills are with us: but that Spirit hath passed away.

And yet perchance it may be better so,

 For Tyranny is an incestuous Queen,

Murder her brother is her bedfellow,

 And the Plague chambers with her: in obscene

And bloody paths her treacherous feet are set;

Better the empty desert and a soul inviolate!

For gentle brotherhood, the harmony

 Of living in the healthful air, the swift

Clean beauty of strong limbs when men are free

 And women chaste, these are the things which lift

Our souls up more than even Agnolo’s

Gaunt blinded Sibyl poring o’er the scroll of human woes,

Or Titian’s little maiden on the stair

 White as her own sweet lily and as tall,

Or Mona Lisa smiling through her hair —

 Ah! somehow life is bigger after all

Than any painted angel could we see

The God that is within us! The old Greek serenity

Which curbs the passion of that level line

 Of marble youths, who with untroubled eyes

And chastened limbs ride round Athena’s shrine

 And mirror her divine economies,

And balanced symmetry of what in man

Would else wage ceaseless warfare — this at least within the span

Between our mother’s kisses and the grave

 Might so inform our lives, that we could win

Such mighty empires that from her cave

 Temptation would grow hoarse, and pallid Sin

Would walk ashamed of his adulteries,

And Passion creep from out the House of Lust with startled eyes.

To make the Body and the Spirit one

 With all right things, till no thing live in vain

From morn to noon, but in sweet unison

 With every pulse of flesh and throb of pain

The Soul in flawless essence high enthroned,

Against all outer vain attack invincibly bastioned,

Mark with serene impartiality

 The strife of things, and yet be comforted,

Knowing that by the chain causality

 All separate existences are wed

Into one supreme whole, whose utterance

Is joy, or holier praise! ah! surely this were governance

Of life in most august omnipresence,

 Through which the rational intellect would find

In passion its expression, and mere sense

 Ignoble else, lend fire to the mind,

And being joined with it in harmony

More mystical than that which binds the stars planetary

Strike from their several tones one octave chord

 Whose cadence being measureless would fly

Through all the circling spheres, then to its Lord

 Return refreshed with its new empery

And more exultant power — this indeed

Could we but reach it were to find the last, the perfect creed.

Ah! it was easy when the world was young

 To keep one’s life free and inviolate,

From our sad lips another song is rung,

 By our own hands our heads are desecrate,

Wanderers in drear exile and dispossessed

Of what should be our own, we can but feed on wild unrest.

Somehow the grace, the bloom of things has flown,

 And of all men we are most wretched who

Must live each other’s lives and not our own

 For very pity’s sake and then undo

All that we live for — it was otherwise

When soul and body seemed to blend in mystic symphonies.

But we have left those gentle haunts to pass

 With weary feet to the new Calvary,

Where we behold, as one who in a glass

 Sees his own face, self-slain Humanity,

And in the dumb reproach of that sad gaze

Learn what an awful phantom the red hand of man can raise.

O smitten mouth! O forehead crowned with thorn!

 O chalice of all common miseries!

Thou for our sakes that loved thee not hast borne

 An agony of endless centuries,

And we were vain and ignorant nor knew

That when we stabbed thy heart it was our own real hearts we slew.

Being ourselves the sowers and the seeds,

 The night that covers and the lights that fade,

The spear that pierces and the side that bleeds,

 The lips betraying and the life betrayed;

The deep hath calm: the moon hath rest: but we

Lords of the natural world are yet our own dread enemy.

Is this the end of all that primal force

 Which, in its changes being still the same,

From eyeless Chaos cleft its upward course,

 Through ravenous seas and whirling rocks and flame,

Till the suns met in heaven and began

Their cycles, and the morning stars sang, and the Word was Man!

Nay, nay, we are but crucified, and though

 The bloody sweat falls from our brows like rain,

Loosen the nails — we shall come down I know,

 Stanch the red wounds — we shall be whole again,

No need have we of hyssop-laden rod,

That which is purely human that is Godlike that is God.

Panthea

[1890]

Nay, let us walk from fire unto fire,

 From passionate pain to deadlier delight —

I am too young to live without desire,

 Too young art thou to waste this summer night

Asking those idle questions which of old

Man sought of seer and oracle, and no reply was told.

For sweet, to feel is better than to know,

 And wisdom is a childless heritage,

One pulse of passion-youth’s first fiery glow —

 Are worth the hoarded proverbs of the sage:

Vex not thy soul with dead philosophy,

Have we not lips to kiss with, hearts to love, and eyes to see!

Dost thou not hear the murmuring nightingale

 Like water bubbling from a silver jar,

So soft she sings the envious moon is pale,

 That high in heaven she hung so far

She cannot hear that love-enraptured tune —

Mark how she wreathes each horn with mist, yon late and laboring moon.

White lilies, in whose cups the gold bees dream,

 The fallen snow of petals where the breeze

Scatters the chestnut blossom, or the gleam

 Of all our endless sins, our vain endeavour

Enough for thee, dost thou desire more?

Alas! the Gods will give naught else from their eternal store.

For our high Gods have sick and wearied grown

 Of boyish limbs in water — are not these

For wasted days of youth to make atone

 By pain or prayer or priest, and never, never,

Hearken they now to either good or ill,

But send their rain upon the just and the unjust at will.

They sit at ease, our Gods they sit at ease,

 Strewing with leaves of rose their scented wine,

They sleep, they sleep, beneath the rocking trees

 Where asphodel and yellow lotus twine,

Mourning the old glad days before they knew

What evil things the heart of man could dream, and dreaming do.

And far beneath the brazen floor, they see

 Like swarming flies the crowd of little men,

The bustle of small lives, then wearily

 Back to their lotus-haunts they turn again

Kissing each other’s mouths, and mix more deep

The poppy-seeded draught which brings soft purple-lidded sleep.

There all day long the golden-vestured sun,

 Their torch-bearer, stands with his torch a-blaze,

And when the gaudy web of noon is spun

 By its twelve maidens through the crimson haze

Fresh from Endymion’s arms comes forth the moon,

And the immortal Gods in toils of mortal passions swoon.

There walks Queen Juno through some dewy mead,

 Her grand white feet flecked with the saffron dust

Of wind-stirred lilies, while young Ganymede

 Leaps in the hot and amber-foaming must,

His curls all tossed, as when the eagle bare

The frightened boy from Ida through the blue Ionian air.

There in the green heart of some garden close

 Queen Venus with the shepherd at her side,

Her warm soft body like the brier rose

 Which would be white yet blushes at its pride,

Laughs low for love, till jealous Salmacis

Peers through the myrtle-leaves and sighs for pain of lonely bliss.

There never does that dreary northwind blow

 Which leaves our English forests bleak and bare,

Nor ever falls the swift white-feathered snow,

 Nor doth the red-toothed lightning ever dare

To wake them in the silver-fretted night

When we lie weeping for some sweet sad sin, some dead delight.

Alas! they know the far Lethaean spring,

 The violet-hidden waters well they know,

Where one whose feet with tired wandering

 Are faint and broken may take heart and go,

And from those dark depths cool and crystalline

Drink, and draw balm, and sleep for sleepless souls, and anodyne.

But we oppress our natures, God or Fate

 Is our enemy, we starve and feed

On vain repentance — O we are born too late!

 What balm for us in bruised poppy seed

Who crowd into one finite pulse of time

The joy of infinite love and the fierce pain of infinite crime.

O we are wearied of this sense of guilt,

 Wearied of pleasures paramour despair,

Wearied of every temple we have built,

 Wearied of every right, unanswered prayer,

For man is weak; God sleeps: and heaven is high:

One fiery-colored moment: one great love: and lo! we die.

Ah! but no ferry-man with laboring pole

 Nears his black shallop to the flowerless strand,

No little coin of bronze can bring the soul

 Over Death’s river to the sunless land,

Victim and wine and vow are all in vain,

The tomb is sealed; the soldiers watch; the dead rise not again.

We are resolved into the supreme air,

 We are made one with what we touch and see,

With our heart’s blood each crimson sun is fair,

 With our young lives each spring-impassioned tree

Flames into green, the wildest beasts that range

The moor our kinsmen are, all life is one, and all is change.

With beat of systole and of diastole

 One grand great light throbs through earth’s giant heart,

And mighty waves of single Being roll

 From nerve-less germ to man, for we are part

Of every rock and bird and beast and hill,

One with the things that prey on us, and one with what we kill.

From lower cells of waking life we pass

 To full perfection; thus the world grows old:

We who are godlike now were once a mass

 Of quivering purple flecked with bars of gold,

Unsentient or of joy or misery,

And tossed in terrible tangles of some wild and wind-swept sea.

This hot hard flame with which our bodies burn

 Will make some meadow blaze with daffodil,

Ay! and those argent breasts of thine will turn

 To water-lilies; the brown fields men till

Will be more fruitful for our love to-night,

Nothing is lost in nature, all things live in Death’s despite.

The boy’s first kiss, the hyacinth’s first bell,

 The man’s last passion, and the last red spear

That from the lily leaps, the asphodel

 Which will not let its blossoms blow for fear

Of too much beauty, and the timid shame

Of the young bridegroom at his lover’s eyes — these with the same

One sacrament are consecrate, the earth

 Not we alone hath passions hymeneal,

The yellow buttercups that shake for mirth

 At daybreak know a pleasure not less real

Than we do, when in some fresh-blossoming wood

We draw the spring into our hearts, and feel that life is good.

So when men bury us beneath the yew

 Thy crimson-stained mouth a rose will be,

And thy soft eyes lush bluebells dimmed with dew,

 And when the white narcissus wantonly

Kisses the wind its playment, some faint joy

Will thrill our dust, and we will be again fond maid and boy.

And thus without life’s conscious torturing pain

 In some sweet flower we will feel the sun,

And from the linnet’s throat will sing again,

 And as two gorgeous-mailed snakes will run

Over our graves, or as two tigers creep

Through the hot jungle where the yellow-eyed huge lions sleep

And give them battle! How my heart leaps up

 To think of that grand living after death

In beast and bird and flower, when this cup,

 Being filled too full of spirit, bursts for breath,

And with the pale leaves of some autumn day

The soul earth’s earliest conqueror becomes earth’s last great prey.

O think of it! We shall inform ourselves

 Into all sensuous life, the goat-foot Faun,

The Centaur, or the merry bright-eyed Elves

 That leave their dancing rings to spite the dawn

Upon the meadows, shall not be more near

Than you and I to nature’s mysteries, for we shall hear

The thrush’s heart beat, and the daisies grow,

 And the wan snowdrop sighing for the sun

On sunless days in winter, we shall know

 By whom the silver gossamer is spun,

Who paints the diapered fritillaries,

On what wide wings from shivering pine to pine the eagle flies.

Ay! had we never loved at all, who knows

 If yonder daffodil had lured the bee

Into its gilded womb, or any rose

 Had hung with crimson lamps its little tree!

Methinks no leaf would ever bud in spring,

But for the lovers’ lips that kiss, the poet’s lips that sing.

Is the light vanished from our golden sun,

 Or is this daedal-fashioned earth less fair,

That we are nature’s heritors, and one

 With every pulse of life that beats the air?

Rather new suns across the sky shall pass,

New splendour come unto the flower, new glory to the grass.

And we two lovers shall not sit afar,

 Critics of nature, but the joyous sea

Shall be our raiment, and the bearded star

 Shoot arrows at our pleasure! We shall be

Part of the mighty universal whole,

And through all aeons mix and mingle with the Kosmic Soul!

We shall be notes in that great Symphony

 Whose cadence circles through the rhythmic spheres,

And all the live World’s throbbing heart shall be

 One with our heart, the stealthy creeping years

Have lost their terrors now, we shall not die,

The Universe itself shall be our Immortality!

Rosa Mystica

[1890]

Helas

To drift with every passion till my soul

Is a stringed lute on which all winds can play,

Is it for this that I have given away

Mine ancient wisdom, and austere control? —

Methinks my life is a twice-written scroll

Scrawled over on some boyish holiday

With idle songs for pipe and virelay

Which do but mar the secret of the whole.

Surely that was a time I might have trod

The sunlit heights, and from life’s dissonance

Struck one clear chord to reach the ears of God;

is that time dead? lo! with a little rod

I did but touch the honey of romance —

And must I lose a soul’s inheritance?

Requiescat

Tread lightly, she is near

 Under the snow,

Speak gently, she can hear

 The daisies grow.

All her bright golden hair

 Tarnished with rust,

She that was young and fair

 Fallen to dust.

Lily-like, white as snow,

 She hardly knew

She was a woman, so

 Sweetly she grew.

Coffin-board, heavy stone,

 Lie on her breast,

I vex my heart alone

 She is at rest.

Peace, Peace, she cannot hear

 Lyre or sonnet,

All my life’s buried here,

 Heap earth upon it.

Avignon

Salve Saturnia Tellus

I reached the Alps: the soul within me burned

 Italia, my Italia, at thy name:

 And when from out the mountain’s heart I came

And saw the land for which my life had yearned,

I laughed as one who some great prize had earned:

 And musing on the story of thy fame

 I watched the day, till marked with wounds of flame

The turquoise sky to burnished gold was turned

The pine-trees waved as waves a woman’s hair,

 And in the orchards every twining spray

 Was breaking into flakes of blossoming foam:

But when I knew that far away at Rome

 In evil bonds a second Peter lay,

 I wept to see the land so very fair.

Turin

San Miniato

See, I have climbed the mountain side

 Up to this holy house of God,

 Where once that Angel-Painter trod

Who say the heavens opened wide,

And throned upon the crescent moon

 The Virginal white Queen of Grace —

 Mary! could I but see thy face

Death could not come at all too soon.

O crowned by God with thorns and pain!

 Mother of Christ! O mystic wife!

 My heart is weary of this life

And over-sad to sing again.

O crowned by, God with love and flame!

 O crowned by Christ the Holy One!

 O listen ere the searching sun

Show to the world my sin and shame.

Ave Maria Plena Gratia

Was this his coming! I had hoped to see

 A scene wondrous glory, as was told

 Of some great God who a rain of gold

Broke open bars and fell on Danae:

Or a dread vision as when Semele

 Sickening for love and unappeased desire

 Prayed to see God’s clear body, and the fire

Caught her white limbs and slew her utterly:

With such glad dreams I sought this holy place,

 And now with wondering eyes and heart I stand

 Before this supreme mystery of Love:

A kneeling girl with passionless pale face,

 An angel with a lily in his hand,

 And over both with outstretched wings the Dove.

Florence

Italia

Italia! thou art fallen, though with sheen

 Of battle-spears thy clamorous armies stride

 From the North Alps to the Sicilian tide!

Ay! fallen, though the nations hail thee Queen

Because rich gold in every town is seen,

 An on thy sapphire lake, in tossing pride

 Of wind-filled vans thy myriad galleys ride

Beneath one flag of red and white and green.

O Fair and Strong! O Strong and Fair in vain!

 Look southward where Rome’s desecrated town

 Lies mourning for her God-anointed King?

Look heavenward! shall God allow this thing?

 Nay! but some flame-girt Raphael shall come down,

And smite the Spoiler with the sword of pain.

Venice

Sonnet

I wandered in Scoglietto’s green retreat,

 The oranges on each o’erhanging spray

 Burned as bright lamps of gold to shame the day

Some startled bird with fluttering wings and fleet

Made snow of all the blossoms, at my feet

 Like silver moons the pale narcissi lay:

 And the curved waves that streaked the sapphire bay

Laughed i’ the sun, and life seemed very sweet.

Outside the young boy-priest passed singing clear,

 “Jesus the Son of Mary has been slain,

 O come and fill his sepulchre with flowers.”

Ah, God! Ah, God! those dear Hellenic hours

 Had drowned all memory of thy bitter pain,

 The Cross, the Crown, the Soldiers, and the Spear.

Genoa, Holy Week

Rome Unvisited

I

The corn has turned from gray to red,

 Since first my spirit wandered forth

 From the drear cities of the north,

And to Italia’s mountains fled.

And here I set my face toward home,

 For all my pilgrimage is done,

 Although, methinks, yon blood-red sun

 Marshals the way to Holy Rome.

O Blessed Lady, who dost hold

 Upon the seven hills thy reign!

 O Mother without blot or stain,

Crowned with bright crowns of triple gold!

O Roma, Roma, at thy feet

 I lay this barren gift of song!

 For, ah! the way is steep and long

That leads unto thy sacred street.

II

And yet what joy it were for me

 To turn my feet unto the south,

 And journeying toward the Tiber mouth

To kneel again at Fiesole!

And wandering through the tangled pines

 That break the gold of Arno’s stream,

 To see the purple mist and gleam

Of morning on the Apennines.

By many a vineyard-hidden home,

 Orchard, and olive-garden gray,

 Till from the drear Campagna’s way

The seven hills bear up the dome!

III

A pilgrim from the northern seas —

 What joy for me to seek alone

 The wondrous Temple, and the throne

Of Him who holds the awful keys!

When, bright with purple and with gold,

 Come priest and holy Cardinal,

 And borne above the heads of all

The gentle Shepherd of the Fold.

O joy to see before I die

 The only God-anointed King,

 And hear the silver trumpets ring

A triumph as He passes by.

Or at the altar of the shrine

 Holds high the mystic sacrifice,

 And shows a God to human eyes

Beneath the veil of bread and wine.

IV

For lo, what changes time can bring!

 The cycles of revolving years

 May free my heart from all its fears —

And teach my lips a song to sing.

Before yon field of trembling gold

 Is garnered into dusty sheaves,

 Or ere the autumn’s scarlet leaves

Flutter as birds adown the wold,

I may have run the glorious race,

 And caught the torch while yet aflame,

 And called upon the holy name

Of Him who now doth hide His face.

Aruna

Urbs Sacra Aeterna

Rome! What a scroll of History thine has been!

 In the first days thy sword republican

 Ruled the whole world for many an age’s span:

Then of thy peoples thou wert crowned Queen,

Till in thy streets the bearded Goth was seen;

 And now upon thy walls the breezes fan

 (Ah, city crowned by God, discrowned by man!)

The hated flag of red and white and green.

When was thy glory! when in search for power

 Thine eagles flew to greet the double sun,

 And all the nations trembled at thy rod?

Nay, but thy glory tarried for this hour,

 When pilgrims kneel before the Holy One,

 The prisoned shepherd of the Church of God.

Sonnet

On Hearing the Dies Irae Sung in the Sistine Chapel

Nay, Lord, not thus! white lilies in the spring,

 Sad olive-groves, or sliver-breasted dove,

 Teach me more clearly of Thy life and love

Than terrors of red flame and thundering.

The empurpled vines dear memories of Thee bring:

 A bird at evening flying to its nest,

 Tells me of One who had no place of rest:

I think it is of Thee the sparrows sing.

Come rather on some autumn afternoon,

 When red and brown are burnished on the leaves,

 And the fields echo to the gleaner’s song,

Come when the splendid fulness of the moon

 Looks down upon the rows of golden sheaves,

 And reap Thy harvest: we have waited long.

Easter Day

The silver trumpets rang across the Dome:

 The people knelt upon the ground with awe:

 And borne upon the necks of men I saw,

Like some great God, the Holy Lord of Rome.

Priest-like, he wore a robe more white than foam,

 And, king-like, swathed himself in royal red,

 Three crowns of gold rose high upon his head:

In splendor and in light the Pope passed home.

My heart stole back across wide wastes of years

 To One who wandered by a lonely sea,

 And sought in vain for any place of rest:

“Foxes have holes, and every bird its nest,

 I, only I, must wander wearily,

And bruise My feet, and drink wine salt with tears.”

E Tenebris

Come down, O Christ, and help me! reach thy hand,

 For I am drowning in a stormier sea

 Than Simon on Thy lake of Galilee:

The wine of life is spilt upon the sand,

My heart is as some famine-murdered land,

 Whence all good things have perished utterly,

 And well I know my soul in Hell must lie

If I this night before God’s throne should stand.

“He sleeps perchance, or rideth to the chase,

Like Baal, when his prophets howled that name

From morn to noon on Carmel’s smitten height.”

Nay, peace, I shall behold before the night,

 The feet of brass, the robe more white than flame,

 The wounded hands, the weary human face.

Vita Nuova

I stood by the unvintageable sea

 Till the wet waves drenched face and hair with spray,

 The long red fires of the dying day

Burned in the west; the wind piped drearily;

And to the land the clamorous gulls did flee:

 “Alas! “ I cried, “my life is full of pain,

 And who can garner fruit or golden grain,

From these waste fields which travail ceaselessly!”

My nets gaped wide with many a break and flaw

 Nathless I threw them as my final cast

 Into the sea, and waited for the end.

When lo! a sudden glory! and I saw

 The argent splendor of white limbs ascend,

 And in that joy forgot my tortured past.

Madonna Mia

A lily girl, not made for this world’s pain,

 With brown, soft hair close braided by her ears,

 And longing eyes half veiled by slumbrous tears

Like bluest water seen through mists of rain;

Pale cheeks whereon no love hath left its stain,

 Red underlip drawn in for fear of love,

 And white throat, whiter than the silvered dove,

Through whose wan marble creeps one purple vein.

Yet, though my lips shall praise her without cease,

 Even to kiss her feet I am not bold,

 Being o’ershadowed by the wings of awe.

Like Dante, when he stood with Beatrice

 Beneath the flaming Lion’s breast and saw

 The seventh Crystal, and the Stair of Gold.

The New Helen

Where hast thou been since round the walls of Troy

 The sons of God fought in that great emprise?

  Why dost thou walk our common earth again?

Hast thou forgotten that impassioned boy,

  His purple galley, and his Tyrian men,

 And treacherous Aphrodite’s mocking eyes?

For surely it was thou, who, like a star

 Hung in the silver silence of the night,

 Didst lure the Old World chivalry and might

Into the clamorous crimson waves of war!

Or didst thou rule the fire-laden moon?

 In amorous Sidon was thy temple built

  Over the light and laughter of the sea?

 Where, behind lattice scarlet-wrought and gilt,

  Some brown-limbed girl did weave thee tapestry,

 All through the waste and wearied hours of noon;

Till her wan cheek with flame of passion burned,

 And she rose up the sea-washed lips to kiss

Of some glad Cyprian sailor, safe returned

 From Calpe and the cliffs of Herakles!

No! thou art Helen, and none other one!

 It was for thee that young Sarpedon died,

  And Memnon’s manhood was untimely spent;

 It was for thee gold-crested Hector tried

With Thetis’ child that evil race to run,

  In the last year of thy beleaguerment;

Ay! even now the glory of thy fame

 Burns in those fields of trampled asphodel,

 Where the high lords whom Ilion knew so well

Clash ghostly shields, and call upon thy name.

Where hast thou been? in that enchanted land

 Whose slumbering vales forlorn Calypso knew,

  Where never mower rose to greet the day

 But all unswathed the trammeling grasses grew,

And the sad shepherd saw the tall corn stand

 Till summer’s red had changed to withered gray?

Didst thou lie there by some Lethaean stream

 Deep brooding on thine ancient memory,

The crash of broken spears, the fiery gleam

 From shivered helm, the Grecian battle-cry?

Nay, thou were hidden in that hollow hill

 With one who is forgotten utterly,

  That discrowned Queen men call the Erycine;

 Hidden away that never might’st thou see

  The face of her, before whose mouldering shrine

To-day at Rome the silent nations kneel;

Who gat from joy no joyous gladdening,

  But only Love’s intolerable pain,

  Only a sword to pierce her heart in twain,

Only the bitterness of child-bearing.

The lotos-leaves which heal the wounds of Death

 Lie in thy hand; O, be thou kind to me,

  While yet I know the summer of my days;

For hardly can my tremulous lips draw breath

  To fill the silver trumpet with thy praise,

 So bowed am I before thy mystery;

So bowed and broken on Love’s terrible wheel,

 That I have lost all hope and heart to sing,

 Yet care I not what ruin time may bring

If in thy temple thou wilt let me kneel.

Alas, alas, thou wilt not tarry here,

 But, like that bird, the servant of the sun,

  Who flies before the north wind and the home.

So wilt thou fly our evil land and drear,

  Back to the tower of thine old delight,

  And the red lips of young Euphorion;

Nor shall I ever see thy face again,

 But in this poisonous garden must I stay,

Crowning my brows with the thorn-crown of pain,

 Till all my loveless life shall pass away.

O Helen! Helen! Helen! Yet awhile,

 Yet for a little while, O tarry here,

  Till the dawn cometh and the shadows flee!

For in the gladsome sunlight of thy smile

 Of heaven or hell I have no thought or fear,

  Seeing I know no other god but thee:

No other god save him, before whose feet

 In nets of gold the tired planets move,

 The incarnate spirit of spiritual love

Who in thy body holds his joyous seat.

Thou wert not born as common women are!

 But, girt with silver splendor of the foam,

  Didst from the depths of sapphire seas arise!

And at thy coming some immortal star,

  Bearded with flame, blazed in the Eastern skies;

 And waked the shepherds on thine island home.

Thou shalt not die! no asps of Egypt creep

 Close at thy heels to taint the delicate air;

 No sullen-blooming poppies stain thy hair,

Those scarlet heralds of eternal sleep.

Lily of love, pure and inviolate!

 Tower of ivory! red rose of fire!

  Thou hast come down our darkness to illume:

For we, close-caught in the wide nets of Fate,

 Wearied with waiting for the World’s Desire,

  Aimlessly wandered in the house of gloom.

Aimlessly sought some slumberous anodyne

 For wasted lives, for lingering wretchedness,

Till we beheld thy re-arisen shrine,

 And the white glory of thy loveliness.

Impressions De Theatre

[1890]

Fabien Dei Franchi

 To My Friend Henry Irving

The silent room, the heavy creeping shade,

 The dead that travel fast, the opening door,

 The murdered brother rising through the floor,

The ghost’s white fingers on thy shoulders laid,

And then the lonely duel in the glade,

 The broken swords, the stifled scream, the gore,

 Thy grand revengeful eyes when all is o’er —

These things are well enough — but thou wert made

For more august creation! frenzied Lear

 Should at thy bidding wander on the heath

 With the shrill fool to mock him, Romeo

For thee should lure his love, and desperate fear

 Pluck Richard’s recreant dagger from its sheath —

 Thou trumpet set for Shakespeare’s lips to blow!

Phedre

To Sarah Bernhardt

How vain and dull this common world must seem

 To such a One as thou, who should’st have talked

 At Florence with Mirandola, or walked

Through the cool olives of the Academe:

Thou should’st have gathered reeds from a green stream

 For goat-foot Pan’s shrill piping, and have played

 With the white girls in that Phaeacian glade

Where grave Odysseus wakened from his dream.

Ah! surely once some urn of Attic clay

 Held thy wan dust, and thou hast come again

 Back to this common world so dull and vain,

For thou wert weary of the sunless day,

 The heavy fields of scentless asphodel,

 The loveless lips with which men kiss in Hell.

I. — Portia

   To Ellen Terry

I marvel not Bassanio was so bold

 To peril all he had upon the lead,

 Or that proud Aragon bent low his head,

Or that Morocco’s fiery heart grew cold:

For in that gorgeous dress of beaten gold

 Which is more golden than the golden sun,

 No woman Veronese looked upon

Was half so fair as thou whom I behold.

Yet fairer when with wisdom as your shield

The sober-suited lawyer’s gown you donned

And would not let the laws of Venice yield

 Antonio’s heart to that accursed Jew —

 O Portia! take my heart; it is thy due:

I think I will not quarrel with bond.

Written at the Lyceum Theatre

II. — Queen Henrietta Maria

To Ellen Terry

In the lone tent, waiting for victory,

 She stands with eyes marred by the mists of pain,

 Like some wan lily overdrenched with rain;

The clamorous clang of arms, the ensanguined sky,

War’s ruin, and the wreck of chivalry,

 To her proud soul no common fear can bring:

 Bravely she tarrieth for her Lord the King,

Her soul a-flame with passionate ecstasy.

O Hair of Gold! O crimson lips! O Face

 Made for the luring and the love of man!

 With thee I do forget the toil and stress.

The loveless road that knows no resting place,

 Time’s straitened pulse, the soul’s dread weariness,

 My freedom and my life republican!

Written at the Lyceum Theatre

III. Camma

To Ellen Terry

As one who poring on a Grecian urn

 Scans the fair shapes some Attic hand hath made,

 God with slim goddess, goodly man with maid,

And for their beauty’s sake is loath to turn

And face the obvious day, must I not yearn

 For many a secret moon of indolent bliss,

 When is the midmost shrine of Artemis

I see thee standing, antique-limbed, and stern?

And yet — methinks I’d rather see thee play

 That serpent of old Nile, whose witchery

Made Emperors drunken — come, great Egypt, shake

Our stage with all thy mimic pageants! Nay,

 I am growing sick of unreal passions, make

The world thine Actium, me thine Anthony!

Written at the Lyceum Theatre

Wind Flowers

[1890]

Impression Du Matin

The Thames nocturne of blue and gold

 Changed to a Harmony in gray:

 A barge with ochre-colored hay

Dropt from the wharf: and chill and cold

The yellow fog came creeping down

 The bridges, till the houses’ walls

 Seemed changed to shadows, and St. Paul’s

Loomed like a bubble o’er the town.

Then suddenly arose the clang

 Of waking life; the streets were stirred

 With country waggons: and a bird

Flew to the glistening roofs and sang.

But one pale woman all alone,

 The daylight kissing her wan hair,

 Loitered beneath the gas lamp’s flare,

With lips of flame and heart of stone.

Magdalen Walks

The little white clouds are racing over the sky,

 And the fields are strewn with the gold of the flower of March

 The daffodil breaks underfoot, and the tasselled larch

Sways and swings as the thrush goes hurrying by.

A delicate odor is borne on the wings of the morning breeze,

 The odor of leaves, and of grass, and of newly upturned earth,

 The birds are singing for joy of the Spring’s glad birth,

Hopping from branch to branch on the rocking trees,

And all the woods are alive with the murmur and sound of Spring,

 And the rosebud breaks into pink on the climbing brier,

 And the crocus-bed is a quivering moon of fire

Girdled round with the belt of an amethyst ring.

And the plane to the pine-tree is whispering some tale of love

 Till it rustles with laughter and tosses its mantle of green

 And the gloom of the wych-elm’s hollow is lit with the iris sheen

Of the burnished rainbow throat and the silver breast of a dove.

See! the lark starts up from his bed in the meadow there,

 Breaking the gossamer threads and the nets of dew,

 And flashing a-down the river, a flame of blue!

The kingfisher flies like an arrow, and wounds the air.

Athanasia

To that gaunt House of Art which lacks for naught

 Of all the great things men have saved from Time,

The withered body of a girl was brought

 Dead ere the world’s glad youth had touched its prime,

And seen by lonely Arabs lying hid

In the dim wound of some black pyramid.

But when they had unloosed the linen band

 Which swathed the Egyptian’s body — lo! was found

Closed in the wasted hollow of her hand

 A little seed, which sown in English ground

Did wondrous snow of starry blossoms bear,

And spread rich odors through our springtide air.

With such strange arts this flower did allure

 That all forgotten was the asphodel,

And the brown bee, the lily’s paramour,

 Forsook the cup where he was wont to dwell,

For not a thing of earth it seemed to be,

But stolen from some heavenly Arcady.

In vain the sad narcissus, wan and white

 At its own beauty, hung across the stream,

The purple dragon-fly had no delight

 With its gold-dust to make his wings a-gleam,

Ah! no delight the jasmine-bloom to kiss,

Or brush the rain-pearls from the eucharis.

For love of it the passionate nightingale

 Forgot the hills of Thrace, the cruel king,

And the pale dove no longer cared to sail

 Through the wet woods at time of blossoming,

But round this flower of Egypt sought to float,

With silvered wing and amethystine throat.

While the hot sun blazed in his tower of blue

 A cooling wind crept from the land of snows,

And the warm south with tender tears of dew

 Drenched its white leaves when Hesperos uprose

Amid those sea-green meadows of the sky

On which the scarlet bars of sunset lie.

But when o’er wastes of lily-haunted field

 The tired birds had stayed their amorous tune,

And broad and glittering like an argent shield

 High in the sapphire heavens hung the moon,

Did no strange dream or evil memory make

Each tremulous petal of its blossoms shake?

Ah no! to this bright flower a thousand years

 Seemed but the lingering of a summer’s day,

It never knew the tide of cankering fears

 Which turn a boy’s gold hair to withered gray,

The dread desire of death it never knew,

Or how all folk that they were born must rue.

For we to death with pipe and dancing go,

 Nor would we pass the ivory gate again,

As some sad river wearied of its flow

 Through the dull plains, the haunts of common men,

Leaps lover-like into the terrible sea!

And counts it gain to die so gloriously.

We mar our lordly strength in barren strife

 With the world’s legions led by clamorous care,

It never feels decay but gathers life

 From the pure sunlight and the supreme air,

We live beneath Time’s wasting sovereignty,

It is the child of all eternity.

Serenade

For Music

The western wind is blowing fair

 Across the dark Aegean sea,

And at the secret marble stair

 My Tyrian galley waits for thee.

Come down! the purple sail is spread,

 The watchman sleeps within the town.

O leave thy lily-flowered bed,

 O lady mine come down, come down!

She will not come, I know her well,

 Of lover’s vows she hath no care,

And little good a man can tell

 Of one so cruel and so fair.

True love is but a woman’s toy,

 They never know the lover’s pain,

And I who loved as loves a boy.

 Must love in vain, must love in vain.

O noble pilot tell me true

 Is that the sheen of golden hair?

Or is it but the tangled dew

 That binds the passion-flowers there?

Good sailor come and tell me now

 Is that my lady’s lily hand?

Or is it but the gleaming prow,

 Or is it but the silver sand?

No! no! ’tis not the tangled dew,

 ’Tis not the silver-fretted sand,

It is my own dear Lady true

 With golden hair and lily hand!

O noble pilot steer for Troy,

 Good sailor ply the laboring oar,

This is the Queen of life and joy

 Whom we must bear from Grecian shore!

The waning sky grows faint and blue,

 It wants an hour still of day,

Aboard! aboard! my gallant crew,

 O Lady mine away! away!

O noble pilot steer for Troy,

 Good sailor ply the laboring oar,

O loved as only loves a boy!

 O loved for ever evermore!

Endymion

For Music

The apple trees are hung with gold,

 And birds are loud in Arcady,

The sheep lie bleating in the fold,

The wild goat runs across the wold,

But yesterday his love he told,

 I know he will come back to me.

O rising moon! O Lady moon!

 Be you my lover’s sentinel,

 You cannot choose but know him well,

For he is shod with purple shoon,

You cannot choose but know my love,

 For he a shepherd’s crook doth bear,

And he is soft as any dove,

 And brown and curly is his hair.

The turtle now has ceased to call

 Upon her crimson-footed groom,

The gray wolf prowls about the stall,

The lily’s singing seneschal

Sleeps in the lily-bell, and all

 The violet hills are lost in gloom.

O risen moon! O holy moon!

 Stand on the top of Helice,

 And if my own true love you see,

Ah! if you see the purple shoon,

The hazel crook, the lad’s brown hair,

 The goat-skin wrapped about his arm,

Tell him that I am waiting where

 The rushlight glimmers in the Farm.

The falling dew is cold and chill,

 And no bird sings in Arcady,

The little fauns have left the hill,

Even the tired daffodil

Has closed its gilded doors, and still

 My lover comes not back to me.

False moon! False moon! O waning moon!

 Where is my own true lover gone,

 Where are the lips vermilion,

The shepherd’s crook, the purple shoon?

Why spread that silver pavilion,

 Why wear that veil of drifting mist?

Ah! thou hast young Endymion,

 Thou hast the lips that should be kissed!

La Bella Donna Del Mia Mente

My limbs are wasted with a flame,

 My feet are sore with travelling,

For calling on my Lady’s name

 My lips have now forgot to sing.

O Linnet in the wild-rose brake

 Strain for my Love thy melody,

O Lark sing louder for love’s sake

 My gentle Lady passeth by.

She is too fair for any man

 To see or hold his heart’s delight,

Fairer than Queen or courtezan

 Or moon-lit water in the night.

Her hair is bound with myrtle leaves,

 (Green leaves upon her golden hair!)

Green grasses through the yellow sheaves

Of autumn corn are not more fair.

Her little lips, more made to kiss

 Than to cry bitterly for pain,

Are tremulous as brook-water is,

 Or roses after evening rain.

Her neck is like white melilote

 Flushing for pleasure of the sun,

The throbbing of the linnet’s throat

 Is not so sweet to look upon.

As a pomegranate, cut in twain,

 White-seeded, is her crimson mouth,

Her cheeks are as the fading stain

 Where the peach reddens to the south.

O twining hands! O delicate

 White body made for love and pain!

O House of Love! O desolate

 Pale flower beaten by the rain!

Chanson

A ring of gold and a milk-white dove

 Are goodly gifts for thee,

And a hempen rope for your own love

 To hang upon a tree.

For you a House of Ivory

 (Roses are white in the rose-bower)!

A narrow bed for me to lie

 (White, O white is the hemlock flower)!

Myrtle and jessamine for you

 (O the red rose is fair to see)!

For me the cypress and the rue

 (Fairest of all is rosemary)!

For you three lovers of your hand

 (Green grass where a man lies dead)!

For me three paces on the sand

 (Plant lilies at my head)!

The Sphinx

[1894]

In a dim corner of my room

 For longer than my fancy thinks,

 A beautiful and silent Sphinx

Has watched me through the shifting gloom.

Inviolate and immobile

 She does not rise, she does not stir

 For silver moons are nought to her,

And nought to her the suns that reel.

Red follows grey across the air

 The waves of moonlight ebb and flow

 But with the dawn she does not go

And in the night-time she is there.

Dawn follows Dawn, and Nights grow old

 And all the while this curious cat

 Lies crouching on the Chinese mat

With eyes of satin rimmed with gold.

Upon the mat she lies and leers,

 And on the tawny throat of her

 Flutters the soft and fur

Or ripples to her pointed ears.

Come forth my lovely seneschal,

 So somnolent, so statuesque,

 Come forth you exquisite grotesque,

Half woman and half animal,

Come forth my lovely languorous Sphinx,

 And put your head upon my knee

 And let me stroke your throat and see

Your body spotted like the Lynx,

And let me touch those curving claws

 Of yellow ivory, and grasp

 The tail that like a monstrous Asp

Coils round your heavy velvet paws.

A thousand weary centuries

 Are thine, while I have hardly seen

 Some twenty summers cast their green

For Autumn’s gaudy liveries,

But you can read the Hieroglyphs

 On the great sandstone obelisks,

 And you have talked with Basilisks

And you have looked on Hippogriffs

O tell me, were you standing by

 When Isis to Osiris knelt,

 And did you watch the Egyptian melt

Her union for Anthony,

And drink the jewel-drunken wine,

 And bend her head in mimic awe

 To see the huge pro-consul draw

The salted tunny from the brine?

And did you mark the Cyprian kiss

 With Adon on his catafalque,

 And did you follow Amanalk

The god of Heliopolis?

And did you talk with Thoth, and did

 You hear the moon-horned Io weep

 And know the painted kings who sleep

Beneath the wedge-shaped Pyramid?

Lift up your large black satin eyes

 Which are like cushions where one sinks,

 Fawn at my feet, fantastic Sphinx,

And sing me all your memories.

Sing to me of the Jewish maid

 Who wandered with the Holy Child,

 And how you led them through the wild,

And how they slept beneath your shade.

Sing to me of that odorous

 Green eve when crouching by the marge

 You heard from Adrian’s gilded barge

The laughter of Antinous,

And lapped the stream, and fed your drouth,

 And watched with hot and hungry stare

 The ivory body of that rare

Young slave with his pomegranate mouth.

Sing to me of the Labyrinth

 In which the two-formed bull was stalled,

 Sing to me of the night you crawled

Across the temple’s granite plinth

When through the purple corridors

 The screaming scarlet Ibis flew

 In terror, and a horrid dew

Dripped from the moaning Mandragores,

And the great torpid crocodile

 Within the great shed slimy tears,

 And tore the jewels from his ears

And staggered back into the Nile,

And the Priests cursed you with shrill psalms

 As in your claws you seized their snake

 And crept away with it to slake

Your passion by the shuddering palms.

Who were your lovers, who were they

 Who wrestled for you in the dust?

 Which was the vessel of your Lust,

What Leman had you every day?

Did giant lizards come and crouch

 Before you on the reedy banks?

 Did Gryphons with great metal flanks

Leap on you in your trampled couch,

Did monstrous hippopotami

 Come sidling to you in the mist

 Did gilt-scaled dragons write and twist

With passion as you passed them by?

And from that brick-built Lycian tomb

 What horrible Chimaera came

 With fearful heads and fearful flame

To breed new wonders from your womb?

Or had you shameful secret guests

 And did you harry to your home

 Some Nereid coiled in amber foam

With curious rock-crystal breasts;

Or did you, treading through the froth,

 Call to the brown Sidonian

 For tidings of Leviathan,

Leviathan of Behemoth?

Or did you when the sun was set,

 Climb up the cactus-covered slope

 To meet your swarthy Ethiop

Whose body was of polished jet?

Or did you while the earthen skiffs

 Dropt down the gray Nilotic flats

 At twilight, and the flickering bats

Flew round the temple’s triple glyphs

Steal to the border of the bar

 And swim across the silent lake

 And slink into the vault and make

The Pyramid your lupanar,

Till from each black sarcophagus

 Rose up the painted, swathed dead,

 Or did you lure unto your bed

The ivory-horned Trageophos?

Or did you love the God of flies

 Who plagued the Hebrews and was splashed

 With wine unto the waist, or Pasht

Who had green beryls for her eyes?

Or that young God, the Tyrian,

 Who was more amorous than the dove

 Of Ashtaroth, or did you love

The God of the Assyrian,

Whose wings that like transparent talc

 Rose high above his hawk-faced head

 Painted with silver and with red

And ribbed with rods of Oreichalch?

Or did huge Apis from his car

 Leap down and lay before your feet

 Big blossoms of the honey-sweet,

And honey-coloured nenuphar?

How subtle secret is your smile;

 Did you love none then? Nay I know

 Great Ammon was your bedfellow,

He lay with you beside the Nile.

The river-horses in the slime

 Trumpeted when they saw him come

 Odorous with Syrian galbanum

And smeared with spikenard and with thyme.

He came along the river bank

 Like some tall galley argent-sailed

 He strode across the waters, mailed

In beauty and the waters sank.

He strode across the desert sand,

 He reached the valley where you lay,

 He waited till the dawn of day,

Then touched your black breasts with his hand.

You kissed his mouth with mouth of flame,

 You made the horned-god your own,

 You stood behind him on his throne;

You called him by his secret name,

You whispered monstrous oracles

 Into the caverns of his ears,

 With blood of goats and blood of steers

You taught him monstrous miracles,

While Ammon was your bedfellow

 Your chamber was the steaming Nile

 And with your curved Archaic smile

You watched his passion come and go.

With Syrian oils his brows were bright

 And wide-spread as a tent at noon

 His marble limbs made pale the moon

And lent the day a larger light,

His long hair was nine cubits span

 And coloured like that yellow gem

 Which hidden in their garments’ hem,

The merchants bring from Kurdistan.

His face was as the must that lies

 Upon a vat of new-made wine,

 The seas could not insapphirine

The perfect azure of his eyes.

His thick, soft throat was white as milk

 And threaded with thin veins of blue

 And curious pearls like frozen dew

Were broidered on his flowing silk.

On pearl and porphyry pedestalled

 He was too bright to look upon

 For on his ivory breast there shone

The wondrous ocean-emerald —

That mystic, moonlight jewel which

 Some diver of the Colchian caves

 Had found beneath the blackening waves

And carried to the Colchian witch.

Before his gilded galiot

 Ran naked vine-wreathed corybants

 And lines of swaying elephants

Knelt down to draw his chariot,

And lines of swarthy Nubians

 Bore up his litter as he rode

 Down the great granite-paven road,

Between the nodding peacock fans.

The merchants brought him steatite

 From Sidon in their painted ships;

 The meanest cup that touched his lips

Was fashioned from a chrysolite.

The merchants brought him cedar chests

 Of rich apparel, bound with cords;

 His train was borne by Memphian lords;

Young kings were glad to be his guests.

Ten hundred shaven priests did bow

 To Ammon’s altar day and night,

 Ten hundred lamps did wave their light

Through Ammon’s carven house — and now

Foul snake and speckled adder with

 Their young ones crawl from stone to stone

 For ruined is the house, and prone

The great rose-marble monolith;

Wild ass or strolling jackal comes

 And crouches in the mouldering gates,

 Wild satyrs call unto their mates

Across the fallen fluted drums.

And on the summit of the pile,

 The blue-faced ape of Horus sits

 And gibbers while the fig-tree splits

The pillars of the peristyle.

The God is scattered here and there;

 Deep hidden in the windy sand

 I saw his giant granite hand

Still clenched in impotent despair.

And many a wandering caravan

 Of stately negroes, silken-shawled,

 Crossing the desert, halts appalled

Before the neck that none can span.

And many a bearded Bedouin

 Draws back his yellow-striped burnous

 To gaze upon the Titan thews

Of him who was thy paladin.

Go seek his fragments on the moor,

 And wash them in the evening dew,

 And from their pieces make anew

Thy mutilated paramour.

Go seek them where they lie alone

 And from their broken pieces make

 Thy bruised bedfellow! And wake

Mad passions in the senseless stone!

Charm his dull ear with Syrian hymns;

 He loved your body; oh be kind!

 Pour spikenard on his hair and wind

Soft rolls of linen round his limbs;

Wind round his head the figured coins,

 Stain with red fruits the pallid lips;

 Weave purple for his shrunken hips

And purple for his barren loins!

Away to Egypt! Have no fear;

 Only one God has ever died,

 Only one God has let His side

Be wounded by a soldier’s spear.

But these, thy lovers, are not dead;

 Still by the hundred-cubit gate

 Dog-faced Anubis sits in state

With lotus lilies for thy head.

Still from his chair of porphyry

 Giant Memnon strains his lidless eyes

 Across the empty land and cries

Each yellow morning unto thee.

And Nilus with his broken horn

 Lies in his black and oozy bed

 And till thy coming will not spread

His waters on the withering corn.

Your lovers are not dead, I know,

 And will rise up and hear thy voice

 And clash their symbols and rejoice

And run to kiss your mouth — and so

Set wings upon your argosies!

 Set horses to your ebon car!

 Back to your Nile! Or if you are

Grown sick of dead divinities;

Follow some roving lion’s spoor

 Across the copper-coloured plain,

 Reach out and hale him by the mane

And bid him to be your paramour!

Crouch by his side upon the grass

 And set your white teeth in his throat,

 And when you hear his dying note,

Lash your long flanks of polished brass

And take a tiger for your mate,

 Whose amber sides are flecked with black,

 And ride upon his gilded back

In triumph through the Theban gate,

And toy with him in amorous jests,

 And when he turns and snarls and gnaws,

 Oh smite him with your jasper claws

And bruise him with your agate breasts!

Why are you tarrying? Get hence!

 I weary of your sullen ways.

 I weary of your steadfast gaze,

Your somnolent magnificence.

Your horrible and heavy breath

 Makes the light flicker in the lamp,

 And on my brow I feel the damp

And dreadful dews of night and death,

Your eyes are like fantastic moons

 That shiver in some stagnant lake,

 Your tongue is like a scarlet snake

That dances to fantastic tunes.

Your pulse makes poisonous melodies,

 And your black throat is like the hole

 Left by some torch or burning coal

On Saracenic tapestries.

Away! the sulphur-coloured stars

 Are hurrying through the Western gate!

 Away! Or it may be too late

To climb their silent silver cars!

See, the dawn shivers round the gray,

 Gilt-dialled towers, and the rain

 Streams down each diamonded pane

And blurs with tears the wannish day.

What snake-tressed fury, fresh from Hell,

 With uncouth gestures and unclean,

 Stole from the poppy-drowsy queen

And led you to a student’s cell?

What songless, tongueless ghost of sin

 Crept through the curtains of the night

 And saw my taper burning bright,

And knocked and bade you enter in?

Are there not others more accursed,

 Whiter with leprosies than I?

 Are Abana and Pharphar dry,

That you come here to slake your thirst?

False Sphinx! False Sphinx! By reedy Styx,

 Old Charon, leaning on his oar,

 Waits for my coin. Go thou before

And leave me to my crucifix,

Whose pallid burden, sick with pain,

 Watches the world with wearied eyes.

 And weeps for every soul that dies,

And weep for every soul in vain!!.

The Ballad of Reading Gaol

[1898]
I

He did not wear his scarlet coat,

 For blood and wine are red,

And blood and wine were on his hands

 When they found him with the dead,

The poor dead woman whom he loved,

 And murdered in her bed.

He walked amongst the Trial Men

 In a suit of shabby gray;

A cricket cap was on his head,

 And his step seemed light and gay;

But I never saw a man who looked

 So wistfully at the day.

I never saw a man who looked

 With such a wistful eye

Upon that little tent of blue

 Which prisoners call the sky,

And at every drifting cloud that went

 With sails of silver by.

I walked, with other souls in pain,

 Within another ring,

And was wondering if the man had done

 A great or little thing,

When a voice behind me whispered low,

 “That fellow’s got to swing.”

Dear Christ! the very prison walls

 Suddenly seemed to reel,

And the sky above my head became

 Like a casque of scorching steel;

And, though I was a soul in pain,

 My pain I could not feel.

I only knew what haunted thought

 Quickened his step, and why

He looked upon the garish day

 With such a wistful eye;

The man had killed the thing he loved,

 And so he had to die.

Yet each man kills the thing he loves,

 By each let this be heard,

Some do it with a bitter look,

 Some with a flattering word,

The coward does it with a kiss,

 The brave man with a sword!

Some kill their love when they are young,

 And some when they are old;

Some strangle with the hands of Lust,

 Some with the hands of Gold:

The kindest use a knife, because

 The dead so soon grow cold.

Some love too little, some too long,

 Some sell, and others buy;

Some do the deed with many tears,

 And some without a sigh:

For each man kills the thing he loves,

 Yet each man does not die.

He does not die a death of shame

 On a day of dark disgrace,

Nor have a noose about his neck,

 Nor a cloth upon his face,

Nor drop feet foremost through the floor

 Into an empty space.

He does not sit with silent men

 Who watch him night and day;

Who watch him when he tries to weep,

 And when he tries to pray;

Who watch him lest himself should rob

 The prison of its prey.

He does not wake at dawn to see

 Dread figures throng his room,

The shivering Chaplain robed in white,

 The Sheriff stern with gloom,

And the Governor all in shiny black,

 With the yellow face of Doom.

He does not rise in piteous haste

 To put on convict-clothes,

While some coarse-mouthed Doctor gloats, and notes

 Each new and nerve-twitched pose,

Fingering a watch whose little ticks

 Are like horrible hammer-blows.

He does not feel that sickening thirst

 That sands one’s throat, before

The hangman with his gardener’s gloves

 Comes through the padded door,

And binds one with three leathern thongs,

That the throat may thirst no more.

He does not bend his head to hear

 The Burial Office read,

Nor, while the anguish of his soul

 Tells him he is not dead,

Cross his own coffin, as he moves

 Into the hideous shed.

He does not stare upon the air

 Through a little roof of glass:

He does not pray with lips of clay

 For his agony to pass;

Nor feel upon his shuddering cheek

 The kiss of Caiaphas.

II

Six weeks the guardsman walked the yard,

 In the suit of shabby gray:

His cricket cap was on his head,

 And his step was light and gay,

But I never saw a man who looked

 So wistfully at the day.

I never saw a man who looked

 With such a wistful eye

Upon that little tent of blue

 Which prisoners call the sky,

And at every wandering cloud that trailed

 Its ravelled fleeces by.

He did not wring his hands, as do

 Those witless men who dare

To try to rear the changeling Hope

 In the cave of black Despair:

He only looked upon the sun,

 And drank the morning air.

He did not wring his hands nor weep,

 Nor did he peek or pine,

But he drank the air as though it held

 Some healthful anodyne;

With open mouth he drank the sun

 As though it had been wine!

And I and all the souls in pain,

 Who tramped the other ring,

Forgot if we ourselves had done

 A great or little thing,

And watched with gaze of dull amaze

 The man who had to swing.

For strange it was to see him pass

 With a step so light and gay,

And strange it was to see him look

 So wistfully at the day,

And strange it was to think that he

 Had such a debt to pay.

The oak and elm have pleasant leaves

 That in the spring-time shoot:

But grim to see is the gallows-tree,

 With its alder-bitten root,

And, green or dry, a man must die

 Before it bears its fruit!

The loftiest place is the seat of grace

 For which all worldlings try:

But who would stand in hempen band

 Upon a scaffold high,

And through a murderer’s collar take

 His last look at the sky?

It is sweet to dance to violins

 When Love and Life are fair:

To dance to flutes, to dance to lutes

 Is delicate and rare:

But it is not sweet with nimble feet

 To dance upon the air!

So with curious eyes and sick surmise

 We watched him day by day,

And wondered if each one of us

 Would end the self-same way,

For none can tell to what red Hell

 His sightless soul may stray.

At last the dead man walked no more

 Amongst the Trial Men,

And I knew that he was standing up

 In the black dock’s dreadful pen,

And that never would I see his face

 For weal or woe again.

Like two doomed ships that pass in storm

 We had crossed each other’s way:

But we made no sign, we said no word,

 We had no word to say;

For we did not meet in the holy night,

 But in the shameful day.

A prison wall was round us both,

 Two outcast men we were:

The world had thrust us from its heart,

 And God from out His care:

And the iron gin that waits for Sin

 Had caught us in its snare.

III

In Debtors’ Yard the stones are hard,

 And the dripping wall is high,

So it was there he took the air

 Beneath the leaden sky,

And by each side a warder walked,

 For fear the man might die.

Or else he sat with those who watched

 His anguish night and day;

Who watched him when he rose to weep,

 And when he crouched to pray;

Who watched him lest himself should rob

 Their scaffold of its prey.

The Governor was strong upon

 The Regulations Act:

The Doctor said that Death was but

 A scientific fact:

And twice a day the Chaplain called,

 And left a little tract.

And twice a day he smoked his pipe,

 And drank his quart of beer:

His soul was resolute, and held

 No hiding-place for fear;

He often said that he was glad

 The hangman’s day was near.

But why he said so strange a thing

 No warder dared to ask:

For he to whom a watcher’s doom

 Is given as his task,

Must set a lock upon his lips,

 And make his face a mask.

Or else he might be moved, and try

 To comfort or console:

And what should Human Pity do

 Pent up in Murderers’ Hole?

What word of grace in such a place

 Could help a brother’s soul?

With slouch and swing around the ring

 We trod the Fools’ Parade!

We did not care: we knew we were

 The Devils’ Own Brigade:

And shaven head and feet of lead

 Make a merry masquerade.

We tore the tarry rope to shreds

 With blunt and bleeding nails;

We rubbed the doors, and scrubbed the floors,

 And cleaned the shining rails:

And, rank by rank, we soaped the plank,

 And clattered with the pails.

We sewed the sacks, we broke the stones,

 We turned the dusty drill:

We banged the tins, and bawled the hymns,

 And sweated on the mill:

But in the heart of every man

 Terror was lying still.

So still it lay that every day

 Crawled like a weed-clogged wave:

And we forgot the bitter lot

 That waits for fool and knave,

Till once, as we tramped in from work,

 We passed an open grave.

With yawning mouth the horrid hole

 Gaped for a living thing;

The very mud cried out for blood

 To the thirsty asphalte ring:

And we knew that ere one dawn grew fair

 The fellow had to swing.

Right in we went, with soul intent

 On Death and Dread and Doom:

The hangman, with his little bag,

 Went shuffling through the gloom:

And I trembled as I groped my way

 Into my numbered tomb.

That night the empty corridors

 Were full of forms of Fear,

And up and down the iron town

 Stole feet we could not hear,

And through the bars that hide the stars

 White faces seemed to peer.

He lay as one who lies and dreams

 In a pleasant meadow-land,

The watchers watched him as he slept,

 And could not understand

How one could sleep so sweet a sleep

 With a hangman close at hand.

But there is no sleep when men must weep

 Who never yet have wept:

So we — the fool, the fraud, the knave —

 That endless vigil kept,

And through each brain on hands of pain

 Another’s terror crept.

Alas! it is a fearful thing

 To feel another’s guilt!

For, right within, the sword of Sin

 Pierced to its poisoned hilt,

And as molten lead were the tears we shed

 For the blood we had not spilt.

The warders with their shoes of felt

 Crept by each padlocked door,

And peeped and saw, with eyes of awe,

 Gray figures on the floor,

And wondered why men knelt to pray

 Who never prayed before.

All through the night we knelt and prayed,

 Mad mourners of a corse!

The troubled plumes of midnight shook

 Like the plumes upon a hearse:

And as bitter wine upon a sponge

 Was the savour of Remorse.

The gray cock crew, the red cock crew,

 But never came the day:

And crooked shapes of Terror crouched,

 In the corners where we lay:

And each evil sprite that walks by night

 Before us seemed to play.

They glided past, the glided fast,

 Like travellers through a mist:

They mocked the moon in a rigadoon

 Of delicate turn and twist,

And with formal pace and loathsome grace

 The phantoms kept their tryst.

With mop and mow, we saw them go,

 Slim shadows hand in hand:

About, about, in ghostly rout

 They trod a saraband:

And the damned grotesques made arabesques,

 Like the wind upon the sand!

With the pirouettes of marionettes,

 They tripped on pointed tread:

But with flutes of Fear they filled the ear,

 As their grisly masque they led,

And loud they sang, and long they sang,

 For they sang to wake the dead.

“Oho!” they cried, “the world is wide,

 But fettered limbs go lame!

And once, or twice, to throw the dice

 Is a gentlemanly game,

But he does not win who plays with Sin

 In the secret House of Shame.”

No things of air these antics were,

 That frolicked with such glee:

To men whose lives were held in gyves,

 And whose feet might not go free,

Ah! wounds of Christ! they were living things,

 Most terrible to see.

Around, around, they waltzed and wound;

 Some wheeled in smirking pairs;

With the mincing step of a demirep

 Some sidled up the stairs:

And with subtle sneer, and fawning leer,

 Each helped us at our prayers.

The morning wind began to moan,

 But still the night went on:

Through its giant loom the web of gloom

 Crept till each thread was spun:

And, as we prayed, we grew afraid

 Of the Justice of the Sun.

The moaning wind went wandering round

 The weeping prison wall:

Till like a wheel of turning steel

 We felt the minutes crawl:

O moaning wind! what had we done

 To have such a seneschal?

At last I saw the shadowed bars,

 Like a lattice wrought in lead,

Move right across the whitewashed wall

 That faced my three-plank bed,

And I knew that somewhere in the world

 God’s dreadful dawn was red.

At six o’clock we cleaned our cells,

 At seven all was still,

But the sough and swing of a mighty wing

 The prison seemed to fill,

For the Lord of Death with icy breath

 Had entered in to kill.

He did not pass in purple pomp,

 Nor ride a moon-white steed.

Three yards of cord and a sliding board

 Are all the gallows’ need:

So with rope of shame the Herald came

 To do the secret deed.

We were as men who through a fen

 Of filthy darkness grope:

We did not dare to breathe a prayer,

 Or to give our anguish scope:

Something was dead in each of us,

 And what was dead was Hope.

For Man’s grim Justice goes its way

 And will not swerve aside:

It slays the weak, it slays the strong,

 It has a deadly stride:

With iron heel it slays the strong

 The monstrous parricide!

We waited for the stroke of eight:

 Each tongue was thick with thirst:

For the stroke of eight is the stroke of Fate

 That makes a man accursed,

And Fate will use a running noose

 For the best man and the worst.

We had no other thing to do,

 Save to wait for the sign to come:

So, like things of stone in a valley lone,

 Quiet we sat and dumb:

But each man’s heart beat thick and quick,

 Like a madman on a drum!

With sudden shock the prison-clock

 Smote on the shivering air,

And from all the gaol rose up a wail

 Of impotent despair,

Like the sound the frightened marshes hear

 From some leper in his lair.

And as one sees most fearful things

 In the crystal of a dream,

We saw the greasy hempen rope

 Hooked to the blackened beam,

And heard the prayer the hangman’s snare

 Strangled into a scream.

And all the woe that moved him so

 That he gave that bitter cry,

And the wild regrets, and the bloody sweats,

 None knew so well as I:

For he who lives more lives than one

 More deaths that one must die.

IV

There is no chapel on the day

 On which they hang a man:

The Chaplain’s heart is far too sick,

 Or his face is far too wan,

Or there is that written in his eyes

 Which none should look upon.

So they kept us close till nigh on noon,

 And then they rang the bell,

And the warders with their jingling keys

 Opened each listening cell,

And down the iron stair we tramped,

 Each from his separate Hell.

Out into God’s sweet air we went,

 But not in wonted way,

For this man’s face was white with fear,

 And that man’s face was gray,

And I never saw sad men who looked

 So wistfully at the day.

I never saw sad men who looked

 With such a wistful eye

Upon that little tent of blue

 We prisoners called the sky,

And at every happy cloud that passed

 In such strange freedom by.

But there were those amongst us all

 Who walked with downcast head,

And knew that, had each got his due,

 They should have died instead:

He had but killed a thing that lived,

 Whilst they had killed the dead.

For he who sins a second time

 Wakes a dead soul to pain,

And draws it from its spotted shroud

 And makes it bleed again,

And makes it bleed great gouts of blood,

 And makes it bleed in vain!

Like ape or clown, in monstrous garb

 With crooked arrows starred,

Silently we went round and round

 The slippery asphalte yard;

Silently we went round and round,

 And no man spoke a word.

Silently we went round and round,

 And through each hollow mind

The Memory of dreadful things

 Rushed like a dreadful wind,

And Horror stalked before each man,

 And Terror crept behind.

The warders strutted up and down,

 And watched their herd of brutes,

Their uniforms were spick and span,

 And they wore their Sunday suits,

But we knew the work they had been at,

 By the quicklime on their boots.

For where a grave had opened wide,

 There was no grave at all:

Only a stretch of mud and sand

 By the hideous prison-wall,

And a little heap of burning lime,

 That the man should have his pall.

For he has a pall, this wretched man,

 Such as few men can claim:

Deep down below a prison-yard,

 Naked, for greater shame,

He lies, with fetters on each foot,

 Wrapt in a sheet of flame!

And all the while the burning lime

 Eats flesh and bone away,

It eats the brittle bones by night,

 And the soft flesh by day,

It eats the flesh and bone by turns,

 But it eats the heart alway.

For three long years they will not sow

 Or root or seedling there:

For three long years the unblessed spot

 Will sterile be and bare,

And look upon the wondering sky

 With unreproachful stare.

They think a murderer’s heart would taint

 Each simple seed they sow.

It is not true! God’s kindly earth

 Is kindlier than men know,

And the red rose would but glow more red,

 The white rose whiter blow.

Out of his mouth a red, red rose!

 Out of his heart a white!

For who can say by what strange way,

 Christ brings His will to light,

Since the barren staff the pilgrim bore

 Bloomed in the great Pope’s sight?

But neither milk-white rose nor red

 May bloom in prison air;

The shard, the pebble, and the flint,

 Are what they give us there:

For flowers have been known to heal

 A common man’s despair.

So never will wine-red rose or white,

 Petal by petal, fall

On that stretch of mud and sand that lies

 By the hideous prison-wall,

To tell the men who tramp the yard

 That God’s Son died for all.

Yet though the hideous prison-wall

 Still hems him round and round,

And a spirit may not walk by night

 That is with fetters bound,

And a spirit may but weep that lies

 In such unholy ground,

He is at peace — this wretched man —

 At peace, or will be soon:

There is no thing to make him mad,

 Nor does Terror walk at noon,

For the lampless Earth in which he lies

 Has neither Sun nor Moon.

They hanged him as a beast is hanged:

 They did not even toll

A requiem that might have brought

 Rest to his startled soul,

But hurriedly they took him out,

 And hid him in a hole.

The warders stripped him of his clothes,

 And gave him to the flies:

They mocked the swollen purple throat,

 And the stark and staring eyes:

And with laughter loud they heaped the shroud

 In which the convict lies.

The Chaplain would not kneel to pray

 By his dishonoured grave:

Nor mark it with that blessed Cross

 That Christ for sinners gave,

Because the man was one of those

 Whom Christ came down to save.

Yet all is well; he has but passed

 To Life’s appointed bourne:

And alien tears will fill for him

 Pity’s long-broken urn,

For his mourners be outcast men,

 And outcasts always mourn.

V

I know not whether Laws be right,

 Or whether Laws be wrong;

All that we know who lie in gaol

 Is that the wall is strong;

And that each day is like a year,

 A year whose days are long.

But this I know, that every Law

 That men have made for Man,

Since first Man took His brother’s life,

 And the sad world began,

But straws the wheat and saves the chaff

 With a most evil fan.

This too I know — and wise it were

 If each could know the same —

That every prison that men build

 Is built with bricks of shame,

And bound with bars lest Christ should see

 How men their brothers maim.

With bars they blur the gracious moon,

 And blind the goodly sun:

And the do well to hide their Hell,

 For in it things are done

That Son of things nor son of Man

 Ever should look upon!

The vilest deeds like poison weeds

 Bloom well in prison-air:

It is only what is good in Man

 That wastes and withers there:

Pale Anguish keeps the heavy gate,

 And the warder is Despair.

For they starve the little frightened child

 Till it weeps both night and day:

And they scourge the weak, and flog the fool,

 And gibe the old and gray,

And some grow mad, and all grow bad,

 And none a word may say.

Each narrow cell in which we dwell

 Is a foul and dark latrine,

And the fetid breath of living Death

 Chokes up each grated screen,

And all, but Lust, is turned to dust

 In Humanity’s machine.

The brackish water that we drink

 Creeps with a loathsome slime,

And the bitter bread they weigh in scales

 Is full of chalk and lime,

And Sleep will not lie down, but walks

 Wild-eyed, and cries to Time.

But though lean Hunger and green Thirst

 Like asp with adder fight,

We have little care of prison fare,

 For what chills and kills outright

Is that every stone one lifts by day

 Becomes one’s heart by night.

With midnight always in one’s heart,

 And twilight in one’s cell,

We turn the crank, or tear the rope,

 Each in his separate Hell,

And the silence is more awful far

 Than the sound of a brazen bell.

And never a human voice comes near

 To speak a gentle word:

And the eye that watches through the door

 Is pitiless and hard:

And by all forgot, we rot and rot,

 With soul and body marred.

And thus we rust Life’s iron chain

 Degraded and alone:

And some men curse, and some men weep,

 And some men make no moan:

But God’s eternal Laws are kind

 And break the heart of stone.

And every human heart that breaks,

 In prison-cell or yard,

Is as that broken box that gave

 Its treasure to the Lord,

And filled the unclean leper’s house

 With the scent of costliest nard.

Ah! happy they whose hearts can break

 And peace of pardon win!

How else may man make straight his plan

 And cleanse his soul from Sin?

How else but through a broken heart

 May Lord Christ enter in?

And he of the swollen purple throat,

 And the stark and staring eyes,

Waits for the holy hands that took

 The Thief to Paradise;

And a broken and a contrite heart

 The Lord will not despise.

The man in red who reads the Law

 Gave him three weeks of life,

Three little weeks in which to heal

 His soul of his soul’s strife,

And cleanse from every blot of blood

 The hand that held the knife.

And with tears of blood he cleansed the hand,

 The hand that held the steel:

For only blood can wipe out blood,

 And only tears can heal:

And the crimson stain that was of Cain

 Became Christ’s snow-white seal.

VI

In Reading gaol by Reading town

 There is a pit of shame,

And in it lies a wretched man

 Eaten by teeth of flame,

In a burning winding-sheet he lies,

 And his grave has got no name.

And there, till Christ call forth the dead,

 In silence let him lie:

No need to waste the foolish tear,

 Or heave the windy sigh:

The man had killed the thing he loved,

 And so he had to die.

And all men kill the thing they love,

 By all let this be heard,

Some do it with a bitter look,

 Some with a flattering word,

The coward does it with a kiss,

 The brave man with a sword!

C. 3. 3.

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