Elizabeth Barrett Browning

A Vision of Poets

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The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

A Vision of Poets

O Sacred Essence, lighting me this hour,

How may I lightly stile thy great power?


Power! but of whence? under the greenwood spraye?

Or liv’st in Heaven? saye.

Echo.In Heavens aye.

In Heavens aye! tell, may I it obtayne

By alms, by fasting, prayer,—by paine?

Echo.By paine

Show me the paine, it shall be undergone.

I to mine end will still go on.

Echo.Go on.

Britannia’s Pastorals.

A poet could not sleep aright,

For his soul kept up too much light

Under his eyelids for the night.

And thus he rose disquieted

With sweet rhymes ringing through his head,

And in the forest wanderèd

Where, sloping up the darkest glades,

The moon had drawn long colonnades

Upon whose floor the verdure fades

To a faint silver: pavement fair,

The antique wood-nymphs scarce would dare

To foot-print o’er, had such been there,

And rather sit by breathlessly,

With fear in their large eyes, to see

The consecrated sight. But he

The poet who, with spirit-kiss

Familiar, had long claimed for his

Whatever earthly beauty is,

Who also in his spirit bore

A beauty passing the earth’s store,—

Walked calmly onward evermore.

His aimless thoughts in metre went,

Like a babe’s hand without intent

Drawn down a seven-stringed instrument:

Nor jarred it with his humour as,

With a faint stirring of the grass,

An apparition fair did pass.

He might have feared another time,

But all things fair and strange did chime

With his thoughts then, as rhyme to rhyme.

An angel had not startled him,

Alighted from heaven’s burning rim

To breathe from glory in the Dim;

Much less a lady riding slow

Upon a palfrey white as snow,

And smooth as a snow-cloud could go.

Full upon his she turned her face,

“What ho, sir poet! dost thou pace

Our woods at night in ghostly chase

“Of some fair Dryad of old tales

Who chants between the nightingales

And over sleep by song prevails?”

She smiled; but he could see arise

Her soul from far adown her eyes,

Prepared as if for sacrifice.

She looked a queen who seemeth gay

From royal grace alone. “Now, nay,”

He answered, “slumber passed away,

“Compelled by instincts in my head

That I should see to-night, instead

Of a fair nymph, some fairer Dread.”

She looked up quickly to the sky

And spake: “The moon’s regality

Will hear no praise; She is as I.

“She is in heaven, and I on earth;

This is my kingdom: I come forth

To crown all poets to their worth.”

He brake in with a voice that mourned;

“To their worth, lady? They are scorned

By men they sing for, till inurned.

“To their worth? Beauty in the mind

Leaves the hearth cold, and love-refined

Ambitions make the world unkind.

“The boor who ploughs the daisy down,

The chief whose mortgage of renown,

Fixed upon graves, has bought a crown—

“Both these are happier, more approved

Than poets!—why should I be moved

In saying, both are more beloved?”

“The south can judge not of the north,”

She resumed calmly; “I come forth

To crown all poets to their worth.

“Yea, verily, to anoint them all

With blessed oils which surely shall

Smell sweeter as the ages fall.”

“As sweet,” the poet said, and rung

A low sad laugh, “as flowers are, sprung

Out of their graves when they die young;

“As sweet as window-eglantine,

Some bough of which, as they decline,

The hired nurse gathers at their sign:

“As sweet, in short, as perfumed shroud

Which the gay Roman maidens sewed

For English Keats, singing aloud.”

The lady answered, “Yea, as sweet!

The things thou namest being complete

In fragrance, as I measure it.

“Since sweet the death-clothes and the knell

Of him who having lived, dies well;

And wholly sweet the asphodel

“Stirred softly by that foot of his,

When he treads brave on all that is,

Into the world of souls, from this.

“Since sweet the tears, dropped at the door

Of tearless Death, and even before:

Sweet, consecrated evermore.

“What, dost thou judge it a strange thing

That poets, crowned for vanquishing,

Should bear some dust from out the ring?

“Come on with me, come on with me,

And learn in coming: let me free

Thy spirit into verity.”

She ceased: her palfrey’s paces sent

No separate noises as she went;

’Twas a bee’s hum, a little spent.

And while the poet seemed to tread

Along the drowsy noise so made,

The forest heaved up overhead

Its billowy foliage through the air,

And the calm stars did far and spare

O’erswim the masses everywhere

Save when the overtopping pines

Did bar their tremulous light with lines

All fixed and black. Now the moon shines

A broader glory. You may see

The trees grow rarer presently;

The air blows up more fresh and free:

Until they come from dark to light,

And from the forest to the sight

Of the large heaven-heart, bare with night,

A fiery throb in every star,

Those burning arteries that are

The conduits of God’s life afar,—

A wild brown moorland underneath,

And four pools breaking up the heath

With white low gleamings, blank as death.

Beside the first pool, near the wood,

A dead tree in set horror stood,

Peeled and disjointed, stark as rood;

Since thunder-stricken, years ago,

Fixed in the spectral strain and throe

Wherewith it struggled from the blow:

A monumental tree, alone,

That will not bend in storms, nor groan,

But break off sudden like a stone.

Its lifeless shadow lies oblique

Upon the pool where, javelin-like,

The star-rays quiver while they strike.

“Drink,” said the lady, very still—

“Be holy and cold.” He did her will

And drank the starry water chill.

The next pool they came near unto

Was bare of trees; there, only grew

Straight flags, and lilies just a few

Which sullen on the water sate

And leant their faces on the flat,

As weary of the starlight-state.

“Drink,” said the lady, grave and slow—

World’s use behoveth thee to know.”

He drank the bitter wave below.

The third pool, girt with thorny bushes

And flaunting weeds and reeds and rushes

That winds sang through in mournful gushes,

Was whitely smeared in many a round

By a slow slime; the starlight swound

Over the ghastly light it found.

“Drink,” said the lady, sad and slow—

World’s love behoveth thee to know.”

He looked to her commanding so;

Her brow was troubled, but her eye

Struck clear to his soul. For all reply

He drank the water suddenly,—

Then, with a deathly sickness, passed

Beside the fourth pool and the last,

Where weights of shadow were downcast

From yew and alder and rank trails

Of nightshade clasping the trunk-scales

And flung across the intervals

From yew to yew: who dares to stoop

Where those dank branches overdroop,

Into his heart the chill strikes up,

He hears a silent gliding coil,

The snakes strain hard against the soil,

His foot slips in their slimy oil,

And toads seem crawling on his hand,

And clinging bats but dimly scanned

Full in his face their wings expand.

A paleness took the poet’s cheek:

“Must I drink here?” he seemed to seek

The lady’s will with utterance meek:

“Ay, ay,” she said, “it so must be;”

(And this time she spake cheerfully)

“Behoves thee know World’s cruelty.”

He bowed his forehead till his mouth

Curved in the wave, and drank unloth

As if from rivers of the south;

His lips sobbed through the water rank,

His heart paused in him while he drank,

His brain beat heart-like, rose and sank,

And he swooned backward to a dream

Wherein he lay ’twixt gloom and gleam,

With Death and Life at each extreme:

And spiritual thunders, born of soul

Not cloud, did leap from mystic pole

And o’er him roll and counter-roll,

Crushing their echoes reboant

With their own wheels. Did Heaven so grant

His spirit a sign of covenant?

At last came silence. A slow kiss

Did crown his forehead after this;

His eyelids flew back for the bliss—

The lady stood beside his head,

Smiling a thought, with hair dispread;

The moonshine seemed dishevellèd

In her sleek tresses manifold

Like Danaë‘s in the rain of old

That dripped with melancholy gold:

But she was holy, pale and high

As one who saw an ecstasy

Beyond a foretold agony.

“Rise up!” said she with voice where song

Eddied through speech, “rise up; be strong:

And learn how right avenges wrong.”

The poet rose up on his feet:

He stood before an altar set

For sacrament with vessels meet

And mystic altar-lights which shine

As if their flames were crystalline

Carved flames that would not shrink or pine.

The altar filled the central place

Of a great church, and toward its face

Long aisles did shoot and interlace,

And from it a continuous mist

Of incense (round the edges kissed

By a yellow light of amethyst)

Wound upward slowly and throbbingly,

Cloud within cloud, right silverly,

Cloud above cloud, victoriously,—

Broke full against the archèd roof

And thence refracting eddied off

And floated through the marble woof

Of many a fine-wrought architrave,

Then, poising its white masses brave,

Swept solemnly down aisle and nave

Where, now in dark and now in light,

The countless columns, glimmering white,

Seemed leading out to the Infinite:

Plunged halfway up the shaft, they showed

In that pale shifting incense-cloud

Which flowed them by and overflowed

Till mist and marble seemed to blend

And the whole temple, at the end,

With its own incense to distend,—

The arches like a giant’s bow

To bend and slacken,—and below,

The nichèd saints to come and go:

Alone amid the shifting scene

That central altar stood serene

In its clear steadfast taper-sheen.

Then first, the poet was aware

Of a chief angel standing there

Before that altar, in the glare.

His eyes were dreadful, for you saw

That they saw God; his lips and jaw

Grand-made and strong, as Sinai’s law

They could enunciate and refrain

From vibratory after-pain,

And his brow’s height was sovereign:

On the vast background of his wings

Rises his image, and he flings

From each plumed arc pale glitterings

And fiery flakes (as beateth, more

Or less, the angel-heart) before

And round him upon roof and floor,

Edging with fire the shifting fumes,

While at his side ’twixt lights and glooms

The phantasm of an organ booms.

Extending from which instrument

And angel, right and left-way bent,

The poet’s sight grew sentient

Of a strange company around

And toward the altar, pale and bound

With bay above the eyes profound.

Deathful their faces were, and yet

The power of life was in them set—

Never forgot nor to forget:

Sublime significance of mouth,

Dilated nostril full of youth,

And forehead royal with the truth.

These faces were not multiplied

Beyond your count, but side by side

Did front the altar, glorified,

Still as a vision, yet exprest

Full as an action—look and geste

Of buried saint in risen rest.

The poet knew them. Faint and dim

His spirits seemed to sink in him—

Then, like a dolphin, change and swim

The current: these were poets true,

Who died for Beauty as martyrs do

For Truth—the ends being scarcely two.

God’s prophets of the Beautiful

These poets were; of iron rule,

The rugged cilix, serge of wool.

Here Homer, with the broad suspense

Of thunderous brows, and lips intense

Of garrulous god-innocence.

There Shakespeare, on whose forehead climb

The crowns o’ the world: O eyes sublime

With tears and laughters for all time!

Here Æschylus, the women swooned

To see so awful when he frowned

As the gods did: he standeth crowned.

Euripides, with close and mild

Scholastic lips, that could be wild

And laugh or sob out like a child

Even in the classes. Sophocles,

With that king’s-look which down the trees

Followed the dark effigies

Of the lost Theban. Hesiod old,

Who, somewhat blind and deaf and cold,

Cared most for gods and bulls. And bold

Electric Pindar, quick as fear,

With race-dust on his cheeks, and clear

Slant startled eyes that seem to hear

The chariot rounding the last goal,

To hurtle past it in his soul.

And Sappho, with that gloriole

Of ebon hair on calmèd brows—

O poet-woman! none forgoes

The leap, attaining the repose.

Theocritus, with glittering locks

Dropt sideway, as betwixt the rocks

He watched the visionary flocks.

And Aristophanes, who took

The world with mirth, and laughter-struck

The hollow caves of Thought and woke

The infinite echoes hid in each.

And Virgil: shade of Mantuan beech

Did help the shade of bay to reach

And knit around his forehead high:

For his gods wore less majesty

Than his brown bees hummed deathlessly.

Lucretius, nobler than his mood,

Who dropped his plummet down the broad

Deep universe and said “No God—”

Finding no bottom: he denied

Divinely the divine, and died

Chief poet on the Tiber-side

By grace of God: his face is stern

As one compelled, in spite of scorn,

To teach a truth he would not learn.

And Ossian, dimly seen or guessed;

Once counted greater than the rest,

When mountain-winds blew out his vest.

And Spenser drooped his dreaming head

(With languid sleep-smile you had said

From his own verse engenderèd)

On Ariosto’s, till they ran

Their curls in one: the Italian

Shot nimbler heat of bolder man

From his fine lids. And Dante stern

And sweet, whose spirit was an urn

For wine and milk poured out in turn.

Hard-souled Alfieri; and fancy-willed

Boiardo, who with laughter filled

The pauses of the jostled shield.

And Berni, with a hand stretched out

To sleek that storm. And, not without

The wreath he died in and the doubt

He died by, Tasso, bard and lover,

Whose visions were too thin to cover

The face of a false woman over.

And soft Racine; and grave Corneille,

The orator of rhymes, whose wail

Scarce shook his purple. And Petrarch pale,

From whose brain-lighted heart were thrown

A thousand thoughts beneath the sun,

Each lucid with the name of One.

And Camoens, with that look he had,

Compelling India’s Genius sad

From the wave through the Lusiad,—

The murmurs of the storm-cape ocean

Indrawn in vibrative emotion

Along the verse. And, while devotion

In his wild eyes fantastic shone

Under the tonsure blown upon

By airs celestial, Calderon.

And bold De Vega, who breathed quick

Verse after verse, till death’s old trick

Put pause to life and rhetoric.

And Goethe, with that reaching eye

His soul reached out from, far and high,

And fell from inner entity.

And Schiller, with heroic front

Worthy of Plutarch’s kiss upon ’t,

Too large for wreath of modern wont.

And Chaucer, with his infantine

Familiar clasp of things divine;

That mark upon his lip is wine.

Here, Milton’s eyes strike piercing-dim:

The shapes of suns and stars did swim

Like clouds from them, and granted him

God for sole vision. Cowley, there,

Whose active fancy debonair

Drew straws like amber—foul to fair.

Drayton and Browne, with smiles they drew

From outward nature, still kept new

From their own inward nature true.

And Marlowe, Webster, Fletcher, Ben,

Whose fire-hearts sowed our furrows when

The world was worthy of such men.

And Burns, with pungent passionings

Set in his eyes: deep lyric springs

Are of the fire-mount’s issuings.

And Shelley, in his white ideal,

All statue-blind. And Keats the real

Adonis with the hymeneal

Fresh vernal buds half sunk between

His youthful curls, kissed straight and sheen

In his Rome-grave, by Venus queen.

And poor, proud Byron, sad as grave

And salt as life; forlornly brave,

And quivering with the dart he drave.

And visionary Coleridge, who

Did sweep his thoughts as angels do

Their wings with cadence up the Blue.

These poets faced (and many more)

The lighted altar looming o’er

The clouds of incense dim and hoar:

And all their faces, in the lull

Of natural things, looked wonderful

With life and death and deathless rule.

All, still as stone and yet intense;

As if by spirit’s vehemence

That stone were carved and not by sense.

But where the heart of each should beat,

There seemed a wound instead of it,

From whence the blood dropped to their feet

Drop after drop—dropped heavily

As century follows century

Into the deep eternity.

Then said the lady—and her word

Came distant, as wide waves were stirred

Between her and the ear that heard,—

World’s use is cold, world’s love is vain,

World’s cruelty is bitter bane,

But pain is not the fruit of pain.

“Hearken, O poet, whom I led

From the dark wood: dismissing dread,

Now hear this angel in my stead.

“His organ’s clavier strikes along

These poets’ hearts, sonorous, strong,

They gave him without count of wrong,—

“A diapason whence to guide

Up to God’s feet, from these who died,

An anthem fully glorified—

“Whereat God’s blessing, Ibarak (=yivarech=)

Breathes back this music, folds it back

About the earth in vapoury rack,

“And men walk in it, crying ‘Lo

The world is wider, and we know

The very heavens look brighter so:

“‘The stars move statelier round the edge

Of the silver spheres, and give in pledge

Their light for nobler privilege:

“‘No little flower but joys or grieves,

Full life is rustling in the sheaves,

Full spirit sweeps the forest-leaves.’

“So works this music on the earth,

God so admits it, sends it forth

To add another worth to worth—

“A new creation-bloom that rounds

The old creation and expounds

His Beautiful in tuneful sounds.

“Now hearken!” Then the poet gazed

Upon the angel glorious-faced

Whose hand, majestically raised,

Floated across the organ-keys,

Like a pale moon o’er murmuring seas,

With no touch but with influences:

Then rose and fell (with swell and swound

Of shapeless noises wandering round

A concord which at last they found)

Those mystic keys: the tones were mixed,

Dim, faint, and thrilled and throbbed betwixt

The incomplete and the unfixed:

And therein mighty minds were heard

In mighty musings, inly stirred,

And struggling outward for a word:

Until these surges, having run

This way and that, gave out as one

An Aphroditè of sweet tune,

A Harmony that, finding vent,

Upward in grand ascension went,

Winged to a heavenly argument,

Up, upward like a saint who strips

The shroud back from his eyes and lips,

And rises in apocalypse:

A harmony sublime and plain,

Which cleft (as flying swan, the rain,—

Throwing the drops off with a strain

Of her white wing) those undertones

Of perplext chords, and soared at once

And struck out from the starry thrones

Their several silver octaves as

It passed to God. The music was

Of divine stature; strong to pass:

And those who heard it, understood

Something of life in spirit and blood,

Something of nature’s fair and good:

And while it sounded, those great souls

Did thrill as racers at the goals

And burn in all their aureoles;

But she the lady, as vapour-bound,

Stood calmly in the joy of sound,

Like Nature with the showers around:

And when it ceased, the blood which fell

Again, alone grew audible,

Tolling the silence as a bell.

The sovran angel lifted high

His hand, and spake out sovranly:

“Tried poets, hearken and reply!

“Give me true answers. If we grant

That not to suffer, is to want

The conscience of the jubilant,—

“If ignorance of anguish is

But ignorance, and mortals miss

Far prospects, by a level bliss,—

“If, as two colours must be viewed

In a visible image, mortals should

Need good and evil, to see good,—

“If to speak nobly, comprehends

To feel profoundly,—if the ends

Of power and suffering, Nature blends,—

“If poets on the tripod must

Writhe like the Pythian to make just

Their oracles and merit trust,—

“If every vatic word that sweeps

To change the world must pale their lips

And leave their own souls in eclipse,—

“If to search deep the universe

Must pierce the searcher with the curse,

Because that bolt (in man’s reverse)

“Was shot to the heart o’ the wood and lies

Wedged deepest in the best,—if eyes

That look for visions and surprise

“From influent angels, must shut down

Their eyelids first to sun and moon,

The head asleep upon a stone,—

“If One who did redeem you back,

By His own loss, from final wrack,

Did consecrate by touch and track

“Those temporal sorrows till the taste

Of brackish waters of the waste

Is salt with tears He dropt too fast,—

“If all the crowns of earth must wound

With prickings of the thorns He found,—

If saddest sighs swell sweetest sound,—

“What say ye unto this?—refuse

This baptism in salt water?—choose

Calm breasts, mute lips, and labour loose?

“Or, O ye gifted givers! ye

Who give your liberal hearts to me

To make the world this harmony,

“Are ye resigned that they be spent

To such world’s help?”

The Spirits bent

Their awful brows and said “Content.”

Content! it sounded like Amen

Said by a choir of mourning men;

An affirmation full of pain

And patience,—ay, of glorying

And adoration, as a king

Might seal an oath for governing.

Then said the angel—and his face

Lightened abroad until the place

Grew larger for a moment’s space,—

The long aisles flashing out in light,

And nave and transept, columns white

And arches crossed, being clear to sight

As if the roof were off and all

Stood in the noon-sun,—“Lo, I call

To other hearts as liberal.

“This pedal strikes out in the air:

My instrument has room to bear

Still fuller strains and perfecter.

“Herein is room, and shall be room

While Time lasts, for new hearts to come

Consummating while they consume.

“What living man will bring a gift

Of his own heart and help to lift

The tune?—The race is to the swift.”

So asked the angel. Straight the while,

A company came up the aisle

With measured step and sorted smile;

Cleaving the incense-clouds that rise,

With winking unaccustomed eyes

And love-locks smelling sweet of spice.

One bore his head above the rest

As if the world were dispossessed,

And one did pillow chin on breast,

Right languid, an as he should faint;

One shook his curls across his paint

And moralized on worldly taint;

One, slanting up his face, did wink

The salt rheum to the eyelid’s brink,

To think—O gods! or—not to think.

Some trod out stealthily and slow,

As if the sun would fall in snow

If they walked to instead of fro;

And some, with conscious ambling free,

Did shake their bells right daintily

On hand and foot, for harmony;

And some, composing sudden sighs

In attitudes of point-device,

Rehearsed impromptu agonies.

And when this company drew near

The spirits crowned, it might appear

Submitted to a ghastly fear;

As a sane eye in master-passion

Constrains a maniac to the fashion

Of hideous maniac imitation

In the least geste—the dropping low

O’ the lid, the wrinkling of the brow,

Exaggerate with mock and mow,—

So mastered was that company

By the crowned vision utterly,

Swayed to a maniac mockery.

One dulled his eyeballs, as they ached

With Homer’s forehead, though he lacked

An inch of any; and one racked

His lower lip with restless tooth,

As Pindar’s rushing words forsooth

Were pent behind it; one his smooth

Pink cheeks did rumple passionate

Like Æschylus, and tried to prate

On trolling tongue of fate and fate;

One set her eyes like Sappho’s—or

Any light woman’s; one forbore

Like Dante, or any man as poor

In mirth, to let a smile undo

His hard-shut lips; and one that drew

Sour humours from his mother, blew

His sunken cheeks out to the size

Of most unnatural jollities,

Because Anacreon looked jest-wise;

So with the rest: it was a sight

A great world-laughter would requite,

Or great world-wrath, with equal right

Out came a speaker from that crowd

To speak for all, in sleek and proud

Exordial periods, while he bowed

His knee before the angel—“Thus,

O angel who hast called for us,

We bring thee service emulous,

“Fit service from sufficient soul,

Hand-service to receive world’s dole,

Lip-service in world’s ear to roll

“Adjusted concords soft enow

To hear the wine-cups passing, through,

And not too grave to spoil the show:

“Thou, certes, when thou askest more,

O sapient angel, leanest o’er

The window-sill of metaphor.

“To give our hearts up? fie! that rage

Barbaric antedates the age;

It is not done on any stage.

“Because your scald or gleeman went

With seven or nine-stringed instrument

Upon his back,—must ours be bent?

“We are not pilgrims, by your leave;

No, nor yet martyrs; if we grieve,

It is to rhyme to—summer eve:

“And if we labour, it shall be

As suiteth best with our degree,

In after-dinner reverie.”

More yet that speaker would have said,

Poising between his smiles fair-fed

Each separate phrase till finishèd;

But all the foreheads of those born

And dead true poets flashed with scorn

Betwixt the bay leaves round them worn,

Ay, jetted such brave fire that they,

The new-come, shrank and paled away

Like leaden ashes when the day

Strikes on the hearth. A spirit-blast,

A presence known by power, at last

Took them up mutely: they had passed.

And he our pilgrim-poet saw

Only their places, in deep awe,

What time the angel’s smile did draw

His gazing upward. Smiling on,

The angel in the angel shone,

Revealing glory in benison;

Till, ripened in the light which shut

The poet in, his spirit mute

Dropped sudden as a perfect fruit;

He fell before the angel’s feet,

Saying, “If what is true is sweet,

In something I may compass it:

“For, where my worthiness is poor,

My will stands richly at the door

To pay shortcomings evermore.

“Accept me therefore: not for price

And not for pride my sacrifice

Is tendered, for my soul is nice

“And will beat down those dusty seeds

Of bearded corn if she succeeds

In soaring while the covey feeds.

“I soar, I am drawn up like the lark

To its white cloud—so high my mark,

Albeit my wing is small and dark.

“I ask no wages, seek no fame:

Sew me, for shroud round face and name,

God’s banner of the oriflamme.

“I only would have leave to loose

(In tears and blood if so He choose)

Mine inward music out to use:

“I only would be spent—in pain

And loss, perchance, but not in vain—

Upon the sweetness of that strain;

“Only project beyond the bound

Of mine own life, so lost and found,

My voice, and live on in its sound;

“Only embrace and be embraced

By fiery ends, whereby to waste,

And light God’s future with my past.”

The angel’s smile grew more divine,

The mortal speaking; ay, its shine

Swelled fuller, like a choir-note fine,

Till the broad glory round his brow

Did vibrate with the light below;

But what he said I do not know.

Nor know I if the man who prayed,

Rose up accepted, unforbade,

From the church-floor where he was laid,—

Nor if a listening life did run

Through the king-poets, one by one

Rejoicing in a worthy son:

My soul, which might have seen, grew blind

By what it looked on: I can find

No certain count of things behind.

I saw alone, dim, white and grand

As in a dream, the angel’s hand

Stretched forth in gesture of command

Straight through the haze. And so, as erst,

A strain more noble than the first

Mused in the organ, and outburst:

With giant march from floor to roof

Rose the full notes, now parted off

In pauses massively aloof

Like measured thunders, now rejoined

In concords of mysterious kind

Which fused together sense and mind,

Now flashing sharp on sharp along

Exultant in a mounting throng,

Now dying off to a low song

Fed upon minors, wavelike sounds

Re-eddying into silver rounds,

Enlarging liberty with bounds:

And every rhythm that seemed to close

Survived in confluent underflows

Symphonious with the next that rose.

Thus the whole strain being multiplied

And greatened, with its glorified

Wings shot abroad from side to side,

Waved backward (as a wind might wave

A Brocken mist and with as brave

Wild roaring) arch and architrave,

Aisle, transept, column, marble wall,—

Then swelling outward, prodigal

Of aspiration beyond thrall,

Soared, and drew up with it the whole

Of this said vision, as a soul

Is raised by a thought. And as a scroll

Of bright devices is unrolled

Still upward with a gradual gold,

So rose the vision manifold,

Angel and organ, and the round

Of spirits, solemnized and crowned;

While the freed clouds of incense wound

Ascending, following in their track,

And glimmering faintly like the rack

O’ the moon in her own light cast back.

And as that solemn dream withdrew,

The lady’s kiss did fall anew

Cold on the poet’s brow as dew.

And that same kiss which bound him first

Beyond the senses, now reversed

Its own law and most subtly pierced

His spirit with the sense of things

Sensual and present. Vanishings

Of glory with Æolian wings

Struck him and passed: the lady’s face

Did melt back in the chrysopras

Of the orient morning sky that was

Yet clear of lark and there and so

She melted as a star might do,

Still smiling as she melted slow:

Smiling so slow, he seemed to see

Her smile the last thing, gloriously

Beyond her, far as memory.

Then he looked round: he was alone.

He lay before the breaking sun,

As Jacob at the Bethel stone.

And thought’s entangled skein being wound,

He knew the moorland of his swound,

And the pale pools that smeared the ground;

The far wood-pines like offing ships;

The fourth pool’s yew anear him drips,

World’s cruelty attaints his lips,

And still he tastes it, bitter still;

Through all that glorious possible

He had the sight of present ill.

Yet rising calmly up and slowly

With such a cheer as scorneth folly,

A mild delightsome melancholy,

He journeyed homeward through the wood

And prayed along the solitude

Betwixt the pines, “O God, my God!”

The golden morning’s open flowings

Did sway the trees to murmurous bowings,

In metric chant of blessed poems.

And passing homeward through the wood,

He prayed along the solitude,

Thou, Poet-God, art great and good!

“And though we must have, and have had

Right reason to be earthly sad,

Thou, Poet-God, art great and glad!”


Life treads on life, and heart on heart;

We press too close in church and mart

To keep a dream or grave apart:

And I was ‘ware of walking down

That same green forest where had gone

The poet-pilgrim. One by one

I traced his footsteps. From the east

A red and tender radiance pressed

Through the near trees, until I guessed

The sun behind shone full and round;

While up the leafiness profound

A wind scarce old enough for sound

Stood ready to blow on me when

I turned that way, and now and then

The birds sang and brake off again

To shake their pretty feathers dry

Of the dew sliding droppingly

From the leaf-edges and apply

Back to their song: ’twixt dew and bird

So sweet a silence ministered,

God seemed to use it for a word,

Yet morning souls did leap and run

In all things, as the least had won

A joyous insight of the sun,

And no one looking round the wood

Could help confessing as he stood,

This Poet-God is glad and good.

But hark! a distant sound that grows,

A heaving, sinking of the boughs,

A rustling murmur, not of those,

A breezy noise which is not breeze!

And white-clad children by degrees

Steal out in troops among the trees,

Fair little children morning-bright,

With faces grave yet soft to sight,

Expressive of restrained delight.

Some plucked the palm-boughs within reach,

And others leapt up high to catch

The upper boughs and shake from each

A rain of dew till, wetted so,

The child who held the branch let go

And it swang backward with a flow

Of faster drippings. Then I knew

The children laughed; but the laugh flew

From its own chirrup as might do

A frightened song-bird; and a child

Who seemed the chief said very mild,

“Hush! keep this morning undefiled.”

His eyes rebuked them from calm spheres,

His soul upon his brow appears

In waiting for more holy years.

I called the child to me, and said,

“What are your palms for?” “To be spread,”

He answered, “on a poet dead.

“The poet died last month, and now

The world which had been somewhat slow

In honouring his living brow,

“Commands the palms; they must be strown

On his new marble very soon,

In a procession of the town.”

I sighed and said, “Did he foresee

Any such honour?” “Verily

I cannot tell you,” answered he.

“But this I know, I fain would lay

My own head down, another day,

As he did,—with the fame away.

“A lily, a friend’s hand had plucked,

Lay by his death-bed, which he looked

As deep down as a bee had sucked,

“Then, turning to the lattice, gazed

O’er hill and river and upraised

His eyes illumined and amazed

“With the world’s beauty, up to God,

Re-offering on their iris broad

The images of things bestowed

“By the chief Poet. ‘God!’ he cried,

‘Be praised for anguish which has tried,

For beauty which has satisfied:

“‘For this world’s presence half within

And half without me—thought and scene—

This sense of Being and Having Been.

“‘I thank Thee that my soul hath room

For Thy grand world: both guests may come—

Beauty, to soul—Body, to tomb.

“‘I am content to be so weak:

Put strength into the words I speak,

And I am strong in what I seek.

“‘I am content to be so bare

Before the archers, everywhere

My wounds being stroked by heavenly air.

“‘I laid my soul before Thy feet

That images of fair and sweet

Should walk to other men on it.

“‘I am content to feel the step

Of each pure image: let those keep

To mandragore who care to sleep.

“‘I am content to touch the brink

Of the other goblet and I think

My bitter drink a wholesome drink.

“‘Because my portion was assigned

Wholesome and bitter, Thou art kind,

And I am blessed to my mind.

“‘Gifted for giving, I receive

The maythorn and its scent outgive:

I grieve not that I once did grieve.

“‘In my large joy of sight and touch

Beyond what others count for such,

I am content to suffer much.

“‘I know—is all the mourner saith,

Knowledge by suffering entereth,

And Life is perfected by Death.’”

The child spake nobly: strange to hear,

His infantine soft accents clear

Charged with high meanings, did appear;

And fair to see, his form and face

Winged out with whiteness and pure grace

From the green darkness of the place.

Behind his head a palm-tree grew;

An orient beam which pierced it through

Transversely on his forehead drew

The figure of a palm-branch brown

Traced on its brightness up and down

In fine fair lines,—a shadow-crown:

Guido might paint his angels so—

A little angel, taught to go

With holy words to saints below—

Such innocence of action yet

Significance of object met

In his whole bearing strong and sweet.

And all the children, the whole band,

Did round in rosy reverence stand,

Each with a palm-bough in his hand.

“And so he died,” I whispered. “Nay,

Not so,” the childish voice did say,

“That poet turned him first to pray

“In silence, and God heard the rest

’Twixt the sun’s footsteps down the west.

Then he called one who loved him best,

“Yea, he called softly through the room

(His voice was weak yet tender)—‘Come,’

He said, ‘come nearer! Let the bloom

“‘Of Life grow over, undenied,

This bridge of Death, which is not wide—

I shall be soon at the other side.

“‘Come, kiss me!’ So the one in truth

Who loved him best,—in love, not ruth,

Bowed down and kissed him mouth to mouth:

“And in that kiss of love was won

Life’s manumission. All was done:

The mouth that kissed last, kissed alone.

“But in the former, confluent kiss,

The same was sealed, I think, by His,

To words of truth and uprightness.”

The child’s voice trembled, his lips shook

Like a rose leaning o’er a brook,

Which vibrates though it is not struck.

“And who,” I asked, a little moved

Yet curious-eyed, “was this that loved

And kissed him last, as it behoved?”

I,” softly said the child; and then

I,” said he louder, once again:

“His son, my rank is among men:

“And now that men exalt his name

I come to gather palms with them,

That holy love may hallow fame.

“He did not die alone, nor should

His memory live so, ‘mid these rude

World-praisers—a worse solitude.

“Me, a voice calleth to that tomb

Where these are strewing branch and bloom

Saying, ‘Come nearer:’ and I come.

“Glory to God!” resumèd he,

And his eyes smiled for victory

O’er their own tears which I could see

Fallen on the palm, down cheek and chin—

“That poet now has entered in

The place of rest which is not sin.

“And while he rests, his songs in troops

Walk up and down our earthly slopes,

Companioned by diviner hopes.”

“But thou,” I murmured to engage

The child’s speech farther—“hast an age

Too tender for this orphanage.”

“Glory to God—to God!” he saith:

“Knowledge by Suffering Entereth,

And Life Is Perfected by Death.”

This web edition published by:

The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005