A Sonnet is a moment’s monument, —
Memorial from the Soul’s eternity
To one dead deathless hour. Look that it be,
Whether for lustral rite or dire portent,
Of its own arduous fulness reverent:
Carve it in ivory or in ebony,
As Day or Night may rule; and let Time see
Its flowering crest impearled and orient.
A Sonnet is a coin: its face reveals
The soul, — its converse, to what Power ’tis due:—
Whether for tribute to the august appeals
Of Life, or dower in Love’s high retinue,
It serve; or, ‘mid the dark wharf’s cavernous breath,
In Charon’s palm it pay the toll to Death.
I marked all kindred Powers the heart finds fair:—
Truth, with awed lips; and Hope, with eyes upcast;
And Fame, whose loud wings fan the ashen Past
To signal-fires, Oblivion’s flight to scare;
And Youth, with still some single golden hair
Unto his shoulder clinging, since the last
Embrace wherein two sweet arms held him fast;
And Life, still wreathing flowers for Death to wear.
Love’s throne was not with these; but far above
All passionate wind of welcome and farewell
He sat in breathless bowers they dream not of;
Though Truth foreknow Love’s heart, and Hope foretell,
And Fame be for Love’s sake desirable,
And Youth be dear, and Life be sweet to Love.
As when desire, long darkling, dawns, and first
The mother looks upon the new-born child,
Even so my Lady stood at gaze and smiled
When her soul knew at length the Love it nursed.
Born with her life, creature of poignant thirst
And exquisite hunger, at her heart Love lay
Quickening in darkness, till a voice that day
Cried on him, and the bonds of birth were burst.
Now, shielded in his wings, our faces yearn
Together, as his fullgrown feet now range
The grove, and his warm hands our couch prepare:
Till to his song our bodiless souls in turn
Be born his children, when Death’s nuptial change
Leaves us for light the halo of his hair.
O Thou who at Love’s hour ecstatically
Unto my lips dost evermore present
The body and blood of Love in sacrament;
Whom I have neared and felt thy breath to be
The inmost incense of his sanctuary;
Who without speech hast owned him, and intent
Upon his will, thy life with mine hast blent,
And murmured o’er the cup, Remember me! —
O what from thee the grace, for me the prize,
And what to Love the glory, — when the whole
Of the deep stair thou tread’st to the dim shoal
And weary water of the place of sighs,
And there dost work deliverance, as thine eyes
Draw up my prisoned spirit to thy soul!
When do I see thee most, beloved one?
When in the light the spirits of mine eyes
Before thy face, their altar, solemnize
The worship of that Love through thee made known?
Or when in the dusk hours, (we two alone,)
Close-kissed and eloquent of still replies
Thy twilight-hidden glimmering visage lies,
And my soul only sees thy soul its own?
O love, my love! if I no more should see
Thyself, nor on the earth the shadow of thee,
Nor image of thine eyes in any spring, —
How then should sound upon Life’s darkening slope
The ground-whirl of the perished leaves of Hope,
The wind of Death’s imperishable wing?
By what word’s power, the key of paths untrod,
Shall I the difficult deeps of Love explore,
Till parted waves of Song yield up the shore
Even as that sea which Israel crossed dry-shod?
For lo! in some poor rhythmic period,
Lady, I fain would tell how evermore
Thy soul I know not from thy body, nor
Thee from myself, neither our love from God.
Yea, in God’s name, and Love’s, and thine, would I
Draw from one loving heart such evidence
As to all hearts all things shall signify;
Tender as dawn’s first hill-fire, and intense
As instantaneous penetrating sense,
In Spring’s birth-hour, of other Springs gone by.
What smouldering senses in death’s sick delay
Or seizure of malign vicissitude
Can rob this body of honour, or denude
This soul of wedding-raiment worn today?
For lo! even now my lady’s lips did play
With these my lips such consonant interlude
As laurelled Orpheus longed for when he wooed
The half-drawn hungering face with that last lay.
I was a child beneath her touch, — a man
When breast to breast we clung, even I and she, —
A spirit when her spirit looked through me, —
A god when all our life-breath met to fan
Our life-blood, till love’s emulous ardours ran,
Fire within fire, desire in deity.
At length their long kiss severed, with sweet smart:
And as the last slow sudden drops are shed
From sparkling eaves when all the storm has fled,
So singly flagged the pulses of each heart.
Their bosoms sundered, with the opening start
Of married flowers to either side outspread
From the knit stem; yet still their mouths, burnt red,
Fawned on each other where they lay apart.
Sleep sank them lower than the tide of dreams,
And their dreams watched them sink, and slid away.
Slowly their souls swam up again, through gleams
Of watered light and dull drowned waifs of day;
Till from some wonder of new woods and streams
He woke, and wondered more: for there she lay.
O all the spirits of love that wander by
Along the love-sown fallowfield of sleep
My lady lies apparent; and the deep
Calls to the deep; and no man sees but I.
The bliss so long afar, at length so nigh,
Rests there attained. Methinks proud Love must weep
When Fate’s control doth from his harvest reap
The sacred hour for which the years did sigh.
First touched, the hand now warm around my neck
Taught memory long to mock desire: and lo!
Across my breast the abandoned hair doth flow,
Where one shorn tress long stirred the longing ache:
And next the heart that trembled for its sake
Lies the queen-heart in sovereign overthrow.
Some ladies love the jewels in Love’s zone
And gold-tipped darts he hath for painless play
In idle scornful hours he flings away;
And some that listen to his lure’s soft tone
Do love to deem the silver praise their own;
Some prize his blindfold sight; and there be they
Who kissed his wings which brought him yesterday
And thank his wings today that he is flown.
My lady only loves the heart of Love:
Therefore Love’s heart, my lady, hath for thee
His bower of unimagined flower and tree:
There kneels he now, and all-anhungered of
Thine eyes grey-lit in shadowing hair above,
Seals with thy mouth his immortality.
One flame-winged brought a white-winged harp-player
Even where my lady and I lay all alone;
Saying: ‘Behold, this minstrel is unknown;
Bid him depart, for I am minstrel here:
Only my strains are to Love’s dear ones, dear.’
Then said I: ‘Through thine hautboy’s rapturous tone
Unto my lady still this harp makes moan,
And still she deems the cadence deep and clear.’
Then said my lady: ‘Thou art Passion of Love,
And this Love’s Worship: both he plights to me.
Thy mastering music walks the sunlit sea:
But where wan water trembles in the grove
And the wan moon is all the light thereof,
This harp still makes my name its voluntary.’
O Lord of all compassionate control,
O Love! let this my lady’s picture glow
Under my hand to praise her name, and show
Even of her inner self the perfect whole:
That he who seeks her beauty’s furthest goal,
Beyond the light that the sweet glances throw
And refluent wave of the sweet smile, may know
The very sky and sea-line of her soul.
Lo! it is done. Above the long lithe throat
The mouth’s mould testifies of voice and kiss,
The shadowed eyes remember and foresee.
Her face is made her shrine. Let all men note
That in all years (O Love, thy gift is this!)
They that would look on her must come to me.
Warmed by her hand and shadowed by her hair
As close she leaned and poured her heart through thee,
Whereof the articulate throbs accompany
The smooth black stream that makes thy whiteness fair, —
Sweet fluttering sheet, even of her breath aware, —
Oh let thy silent song disclose to me
That soul wherewith her lips and eyes agree
Like married music in Love’s answering air.
Fain had I watched her when, at some fond thought,
Her bosom to the writing closelier press’d,
And her breast’s secrets peered into her breast;
When, through eyes raised an instant, her soul sought
My soul, and from the sudden confluence caught
The words that made her love the loveliest.
Sweet twining hedgeflowers wind-stirred in no wise
On this June day; and hand that clings in hand:—
Still glades; and meeting faces scarcely fann’d:—
An osier-odoured stream that draws the skies
Deep to its heart; and mirrored eyes in eyes:—
Fresh hourly wonder o’er the Summer land
Of light and cloud; and two souls softly spann’d
With one o’erarching heaven of smiles and sighs:—
Even such their path, whose bodies lean unto
Each other’s visible sweetness amorously, —
Whose passionate hearts lean by Love’s high decree
Together on his heart for ever true,
As the cloud-foaming firmamental blue
Rests on the blue line of a foamless sea.
‘I love you, sweet: how can you ever learn
How much I love you?’ ‘You I love even so,
And so I learn it.’ ‘Sweet, you cannot know
How fair you are.’ ‘If fair enough to earn
Your love, so much is all my love’s concern.’
‘My love grows hourly, sweet.’ ‘Mine too doth grow,
Yet love seemed full so many hours ago!’
Thus lovers speak, till kisses claim their turn.
Ah! happy they to whom such words as these
In youth have served for speech the whole day long,
Hour after hour, remote from the world’s throng,
Work, contest, fame, all life’s confederate pleas, —
What while Love breathed in sighs and silences
Through two blent souls one rapturous undersong.
On this sweet bank your head thrice sweet and dear
I lay, and spread your hair on either side,
And see the newborn wood flowers bashful-eyed
Look through the golden tresses here and there.
On these debateable borders of the year
Spring’s foot half falters; scarce she yet may know
The leafless blackthorn-blossom from the snow;
And through her bowers the wind’s way still is clear.
But April’s sun strikes down the glades today;
So shut your eyes upturned, and feel my kiss
Creep, as the Spring now thrills through every spray,
Up your warm throat to your warm lips: for this
Is even the hour of Love’s sworn suitservice,
With whom cold hearts are counted castaway.
Have you not noted, in some family
Where two were born of a first marriage-bed,
How still they own their gracious bond, though fed
And nursed on the forgotten breast and knee? —
How to their father’s children they shall be
In act and thought of one goodwill; but each
Shall for the other have, in silence speech,
And in a word complete community?
Even so, when first I saw you, seemed it, love,
That among souls allied to mine was yet
One nearer kindred than life hinted of.
O born with me somewhere that men forget,
And though in years of sight and sound unmet,
Known for my soul’s birth-partner well enough!
Those envied places which do know her well,
And are so scornful of this lonely place,
Even now for once are emptied of her grace:
Nowhere but here she is: and while Love’s spell
From his predominant presence doth compel
All alien hours, an outworn populace,
The hours of Love fill full the echoing space
With sweet confederate music favourable.
Now many memories make solicitous
The delicate love-lines of her mouth, till, lit
With quivering fire, the words take wing from it;
As here between our kisses we sit thus
Speaking of things remembered, and so sit
Speechless while things forgotten call to us.
What dawn-pulse at the heart of heaven, or last
Incarnate flower of culminating day, —
What marshalled marvels on the skirts of May,
Or song full-quired, sweet June’s encomiast;
What glory of change by nature’s hand amass’d
Can vie with all those moods of varying grace
Which o’er one loveliest woman’s form and face
Within this hour, within this room, have pass’d?
Love’s very vesture and elect disguise
Was each fine movement, — wonder new-begot
Of lily or swan or swan-stemmed galiot;
Joy to his sight who now the sadlier sighs,
Parted again; and sorrow yet for eyes
Unborn that read these words and saw her not.
Beauty like hers is genius. Not the call
Of Homer’s or of Dante’s heart sublime, —
Not Michael’s hand furrowing the zones of time, —
Is more with compassed mysteries musical;
Nay, not in Spring’s or Summer’s sweet footfall
More gathered gifts exuberant Life bequeathes
Than doth this sovereign face, whose love-spell breathes
Even from its shadowed contour on the wall.
As many men are poets in their youth,
But for one sweet-strung soul the wires prolong
Even through all change the indomitable song;
So in likewise the envenomed years, whose tooth
Rends shallower grace with ruin void of ruth,
Upon this beauty’s power shall wreak no wrong.
Your hands lie open in the long fresh grass, —
The finger-points look through the rosy blooms:
Your eyes smile peace. The pasture gleams and glooms
‘Neath billowing skies that scatter and amass.
All round our nest, far as the eye can pass,
Are golden kingcup-fields with silver edge
Where the cow-parsley skirts the hawthorn-hedge.
’Tis visible silence, still as the hour-glass.
Deep in the sun-searched growths the dragon-fly
Hangs like a blue thread loosened from the sky:
So this wing’d hour is dropt to us from above.
Oh! clasp we to our hearts, for deathless dower,
This close-companioned inarticulate hour
When twofold silence was the song of love.
Even as the moon grows queenlier in mid-space
When the sky darkens, and her cloud-rapt car
Thrills with intenser radiance from afar, —
So lambent, lady, beams thy sovereign grace
When the drear soul desires thee. Of that face
What shall be said, — which, like a governing star,
Gathers and garners from all things that are
Their silent penetrative loveliness?
O’er water-daisies and wild waifs of Spring,
There where the iris rears its gold-crowned sheaf
With flowering rush and sceptred arrow-leaf,
So have I marked Queen Dian, in bright ring
Of cloud above and wave below, take wing
And chase night’s gloom, as thou the spirit’s grief.
Sweet dimness of her loosened hair’s downfall
About thy face; her sweet hands round thy head
In gracious fostering union garlanded,
Her tremulous smiles, her glances’ sweet recall
Of love; her murmuring sighs memorial;
Her mouth’s culled sweetness by thy kisses shed
On cheeks and neck and eyelids, and so led
Back to her mouth which answers there for all:—
What sweeter than these things, except the thing
In lacking which all these would lose their sweet:—
The confident heart’s still fervour: the swift beat
And soft subsidence of the spirit’s wing,
Then when it feels, in cloud — girt wayfaring,
The breath of kindred plumes against its feet?
Sometimes she is a child within mine arms,
Cowering beneath dark wings that love must chase, —
With still tears showering and averted face,
Inexplicably filled with faint alarms:
And oft from mine own spirit’s hurtling harms
I crave the refuge of her deep embrace, —
Against all ills the fortified strong place
And sweet reserve of sovereign counter-charms.
And Love, our light at night and shade at noon,
Lulls us to rest with songs, and turns away
All shafts of shelterless tumultuous day.
Like the moon’s growth, his face gleams through his tune;
And as soft waters warble to the moon,
Our answering spirits chime one roundelay.
I stood where Love in brimming armfuls bore
Slight wanton flowers and foolish toys of fruit:
And round him ladies thronged in warm pursuit,
Fingered and lipped and proffered the strange store:
And from one hand the petal and the core
Savoured of sleep; and cluster and curled shoot
Seemed from another hand like shame’s salute, —
Gifts that I felt my cheek was blushing for.
At last Love bade my Lady give the same:
And as I looked, the dew was light thereon;
And as I took them, at her touch they shone
With inmost heaven-hue of the heart of flame.
And then Love said: ‘Lo! when the hand is hers,
Follies of love are love’s true ministers.’
Even as a child, of sorrow that we give
The dead, but little in his heart can find,
Since without need of thought to his clear mind
Their turn it is to die and his to live:
Even so the winged New Love smiles to receive
Along his eddying plumes the auroral wind,
Nor, forward glorying, casts one look behind
Where night-rack shrouds the Old Love fugitive.
There is a change in every hour’s recall,
And the last cowslip in the fields we see
On the same day with the first corn-poppy.
Alas for hourly change! Alas for all
The loves that from his hand proud Youth lets fall,
Even as the beads of a told rosary!
Each hour until we meet is as a bird
That wings from far his gradual way along
The rustling covert of my soul, — his song
Still loudlier trilled through leaves more deeply stirr’d:
But at the hour of meeting, a clear word
Is every note he sings, in Love’s own tongue;
Yet, Love, thou know’st the sweet strain wrong,
Through our contending kisses oft unheard.
What of that hour at last, when for her sake
No wing may fly to me nor song may flow;
When, wandering round my life unleaved, I
The bloodied feathers scattered in the brake,
And think how she, far from me, with like eyes
Sees through the untuneful bough the wingless skies?
Thou lovely and beloved, thou my love;
Whose kiss seems still the first; whose summoning eyes,
Even now, as for our love-world’s new sunrise,
Shed very dawn; whose voice, attuned above
All modulation of the deep-bowered dove,
Is like a hand laid softly on the soul;
Whose hand is like a sweet voice to control
Those worn tired brows it hath the keeping of:—
What word can answer to thy word, — what gaze
To thine, which now absorbs within its sphere
My worshipping face, till I am mirrored there
Light-circled in a heaven of deep-drawn rays?
What clasp, what kiss mine inmost heart can prove,
O lovely and beloved, O my love?
Sometimes thou seem’st not as thyself alone,
But as the meaning of all things that are;
A breathless wonder, shadowing forth afar
Some heavenly solstice hushed and halcyon;
Whose unstirred lips are music’s visible tone;
Whose eyes the sun-gate of the soul unbar,
Being of its furthest fires oracular; —
The evident heart of all life sown and mown.
Even such Love is; and is not thy name Love?
Yea, by thy hand the Love-god rends apart
All gathering clouds of Night’s ambiguous art;
Flings them far down, and sets thine eyes above;
And simply, as some gage of flower or glove,
Stakes with a smile the world against thy heart.
What other woman could be loved like you,
Or how of you should love possess his fill?
After the fulness of all rapture, still, —
As at the end of some deep avenue
A tender glamour of day, — there comes to view
Far in your eyes a yet more hungering thrill, —
Such fire as Love’s soul-winnowing hands distil
Even from his inmost arc of light and dew.
And as the traveller triumphs with the sun,
Glorying in heat’s mid-height, yet startide brings
Wonder new-born, and still fresh transport springs
From limpid lambent hours of day begun; —
Even so, through eyes and voice, your soul doth move
My soul with changeful light of infinite love.
Lady, I thank thee for thy loveliness,
Because my lady is more lovely still.
Glorying I gaze, and yield with glad goodwill
To thee thy tribute; by whose sweet-spun dress
Of delicate life Love labours to assess
My Lady’s absolute queendom; saying, ‘Lo!
How high this beauty is, which yet doth show
But as that beauty’s sovereign votaress.’
Lady, I saw thee with her, side by side;
And as, when night’s fair fires their queen surround,
An emulous star too near the moon will ride, —
Even so thy rays within her luminous bound
Were traced no more; and by the light so drown’d,
Lady, not thou but she was glorified.
Love, through your spirit and mine what summer eve
Now glows with glory of all things possess’d,
Since this day’s sun of rapture filled the west
And the light sweetened as the fire took leave?
Awhile now softlier let your bosom heave,
As in Love’s harbour, even that loving breast,
All care takes refuge while we sink to rest,
And mutual dreams the bygone bliss retrieve.
Many the days that Winter keeps in store,
Sunless throughout, or whose brief sun-glimpses
Scarce shed the heaped snow through the naked trees.
This day at least was Summer’s paramour,
Sun-coloured to the imperishable core
With sweet well-being of love and full heart’s ease.
High grace, the dower of queens; and therewithal
Some wood-born wonder’s sweet simplicity;
A glance like water brimming with the sky
Or hyacinth-light where forest-shadows fall;
Such thrilling pallor of cheek as doth enthral
The heart; a mouth whose passionate forms imply
All music and all silence held thereby;
Deep golden locks, her sovereign coronal;
A round reared neck, meet column of Love’s shrine
To cling to when the heart takes sanctuary;
Hands which for ever at Love’s bidding be,
And soft-stirred feet still answering to his sign:—
These are her gifts, as tongue may tell them o’er.
Breathe low her name, my soul; for that means more.
Not by one measure mayst thou mete our love;
For how should I be loved as I love thee? —
I, graceless, joyless, lacking absolutely
All gifts that with thy queenship best behove; —
Thou, throned in every heart’s elect alcove,
And crowned with garlands culled from every tree,
Which for no head but thine, by Love’s decree,
All beauties and all mysteries interwove.
But here thine eyes and lips yield soft rebuke:—
‘Then only,’ (say’st thou), ‘could I love thee less,
When thou couldst doubt my love’s equality.’
Peace, sweet! If not to sum but worth we look,
Thy heart’s transcendence, not my heart’s excess,
Then more a thousandfold thou lov’st than I.
Could Juno’s self more sovereign presence wear
Than thou, ‘mid other ladies throned in grace? —
Or Pallas, when thou bend’st with soul-stilled face
O’er poet’s page gold-shadowed in thy hair?
Dost thou than Venus seem less heavenly fair
When o’er the sea of love’s tumultuous trance
Hovers thy smile, and mingles with thy glance
That sweet voice like the last wave murmuring there?
Before such triune loveliness divine
Awestruck I ask, which goddess here most claims
The prize that, howsoe’er adjudged, is thine?
Then Love breathes low the sweetest of thy names;
And Venus Victrix to my heart doth bring
Herself, the Helen of her guerdoning.
Not I myself know all my love for thee:
How should I reach so far, who cannot weigh
To-morrow’s dower by gage of yesterday?
Shall birth and death, and all dark names that be
As doors and windows bared to some loud sea,
Lash deaf mine ears and blind my face with spray;
And shall my sense pierce love, — the last relay
And ultimate outpost of eternity?
Lo! what am I to Love, the lord of all?
One murmuring shell he gathers from the sand, —
One little heart-flame sheltered in his hand.
Yet through thine eyes he grants me clearest call
And veriest touch of powers primordial
That any hour-girt life may understand.
Sometimes I fain would find in thee some fault,
That I might love thee still in spite of it:
Yet how should our Lord Love curtail one whit
Thy perfect praise whom most he would exalt?
Alas! he can but make my heart’s low vault
Even in men’s sight unworthier, being lit
By thee, who thereby show’st more exquisite
Like fiery chrysoprase in deep basalt.
Yet will I nowise shrink; but at Love’s shrine
Myself within the beams his brow doth dart
Will set the flashing jewel of thy heart
In that dull chamber where it deigns to shine:
For lo! in honour of thine excellencies
My heart takes pride to show how poor it is.
Not in thy body is thy life at all
But in this lady’s lips and hands and eyes;
Through these she yields the life that vivifies
What else were sorrow’s servant and death’s thrall.
Look on thyself without her, and recall
The waste remembrance and forlorn surmise
That lived but in a dead-drawn breath of sighs
O’er vanished hours and hours eventual.
Even so much life hath the poor tress of hair
Which, stored apart, is all love hath to show
For heart-beats and for fire-heats long ago;
Even so much life endures unknown, even where,
‘Mid change the changeless night environeth,
Lies all that golden hair undimmed in death.
‘When that dead face, bowered in the furthest years,
Which once was all the life years held for thee,
Can now scarce bide the tides of memory
Cast on thy soul a little spray of tears, —
How canst thou gaze into these eyes of hers
Whom now thy heart delights in, and not see
Within each orb Love’s philtred euphrasy
Make them of buried troth remembrancers?’
‘Nay, pitiful Love, nay, loving Pity! Well
Thou knowest that in these twain I have confess’d
Two very voices of thy summoning bell.
Nay, Master, shall not Death make manifest
In these the culminant changes which approve
The love-moon that must light my soul to Love?’
‘Thou Ghost,’ I said, ‘and is thy name To-day? —
Yesterday’s son, with such an abject brow! —
And can To-morrow be more pale than thou?’
While yet I spoke, the silence answered: ‘Yea,
Henceforth our issue is all grieved and grey,
And each beforehand makes such poor avow
As of old leaves beneath the budding bough
Or night-drift that the sundawn shreds away.’
Then cried I: ‘Mother of many malisons,
O Earth, receive me to thy dusty bed!’
But therewithal the tremulous silence said:
‘Lo! Love yet bids thy lady greet thee once:—
Yea, twice, — whereby thy life is still the sun’s;
And thrice, — whereby the shadow of death is dead.’
Girt in dark growths, yet glimmering with one star,
O night desirous as the nights of youth!
Why should my heart within thy spell, forsooth,
Now beat, as the bride’s finger-pulses are
Quickened within the girdling golden bar?
What wings are these that fan my pillow smooth?
And why does Sleep, waved back by Joy and Ruth,
Tread softly round and gaze at me from far?
Nay, night deep-leaved! And would Love feign in thee
Some shadowy palpitating grove that bears
Rest for man’s eyes and music for his ears?
O lonely night! art thou not known to me,
A thicket hung with masks of mockery
And watered with the wasteful warmth of tears?
Two separate divided silences,
Which, brought together, would find loving voice;
Two glances which together would rejoice
In love, now lost like stars beyond dark trees;
Two hands apart whose touch alone gives ease;
Two bosoms which, heart-shrined with mutual flame,
Would, meeting in one clasp, be made the same;
Two souls, the shores wave-mocked of sundering seas:—
Such are we now. Ah! may our hope forecast
Indeed one hour again, when on this stream
Of darkened love once more the light shall gleam?
An hour how slow to come, how quickly past,
Which blooms and fades, and only leaves at last,
Faint as shed flowers, the attenuated dream.
Like labour-laden moonclouds faint to flee
From winds that sweep the winter-bitten wold, —
Like multiform circumfluence manifold
Of night’s flood-tide, — like terrors that agree
Of hoarse-tongued fire and inarticulate sea, —
Even such, within some glass dimmed by our breath,
Our hearts discern wild images of Death,
Shadows and shoals that edge eternity.
Howbeit athwart Death’s imminent shade doth soar
One Power, than flow of stream or flight of dove
Sweeter to glide around, to brood above.
Tell me, my heart; — what angel-greeted door
Or threshold of wing-winnowed threshing-floor
Hath guest fire-fledged as thine, whose lord is Love?
I deemed thy garments, O my Hope, were grey,
So far I viewed thee. Now the space between
Is passed at length; and garmented in green
Even as in days of yore thou stand’st today.
Ah God! and but for lingering dull dismay,
On all that road our footsteps erst had been
Even thus commingled, and our shadows seen
Blent on the hedgerows and the water-way.
O Hope of mine whose eyes are living love,
No eyes but hers, — O Love and Hope the same! —
Lean close to me, for now the sinking sun
That warmed our feet scarce gilds our hair above.
O hers thy voice and very hers thy name!
Alas, cling round me, for the day is done!
Bless love and hope. Full many a withered year
Whirled past us, eddying to its chill doomsday;
And clasped together where the blown leaves lay,
We long have knelt and wept full many a tear.
Yet lo! one hour at last, the Spring’s compeer,
Flutes softly to us from some green byeway:
Those years, those tears are dead, but only they:—
Bless love and hope, true soul; for we are here.
Cling heart to heart; nor of this hour demand
Whether in very truth, when we are dead,
Our hearts shall wake to know Love’s golden head
Sole sunshine of the imperishable land;
Or but discern, through night’s unfeatured scope,
Scorn-fired at length the illusive eyes of Hope.
Love, should I fear death most for you or me?
Yet if you die, can I not follow you,
Forcing the straits of change? Alas! but who
Shall wrest a bond from night’s inveteracy,
Ere yet my hazardous soul put forth, to be
Her warrant against all her haste might rue? —
Ah! in your eyes so reached what dumb adieu,
What unsunned gyres of waste eternity?
And if I die the first, shall death be then
A lampless watchtower whence I see you weep? —
Or (woe is me!) a bed wherein my sleep
Ne’er notes (as death’s dear cup at last you drain),
The hour when you too learn that all is vain
And that Hope sows what Love shall never reap?
Because our talk was of the cloud-control
And moon-track of the journeying face of Fate,
Her tremulous kisses faltered at love’s gate
And her eyes dreamed against a distant goal:
But soon, remembering her how brief the whole
Of joy, which its own hours annihilate,
Her set gaze gathered, thirstier than of late,
And as she kissed, her mouth became her soul.
Thence in what ways we wandered, and how strove
To build with fire-tried vows the piteous home
Which memory haunts and whither sleep may roam, —
They only know for whom the roof of Love
Is the still-seated secret of the grove,
Nor spire may rise nor bell be heard therefrom.
What shall be said of this embattled day
And armed occupation of this night
By all thy foes beleaguered, — now when sight
Nor sound denotes the loved one far away?
Of these thy vanquished hours what shalt thou say, —
As every sense to which she dealt delight
Now labours lonely o’er the stark noon-height
To reach the sunset’s desolate disarray?
Stand still, fond fettered wretch! while Memory’s art
Parades the Past before thy face, and lures
Thy spirit to her passionate portraitures:
Till the tempestuous tide-gates flung apart
Flood with wild will the hollows of thy heart,
And thy heart rends thee, and thy body endures.
The mother will not turn, who thinks she hears
Her nursling’s speech first grow articulate;
But breathless with averted eyes elate
She sits, with open lips and open ears,
That it may call her twice. ‘Mid doubts and fears
Thus oft my soul has hearkened; till the song,
A central moan for days, at length found tongue,
And the sweet music welled and the sweet tears.
But now, whatever while the soul is fain
To list that wonted murmur, as it were
The speech-bound sea-shell’s low importunate strain, —
No breath of song, thy voice alone is there,
O bitterly beloved! and all her gain
Is but the pang of unpermitted prayer.
There came an image in Life’s retinue
That had Love’s wings and bore his gonfalon:
Fair was the web, and nobly wrought thereon,
O soul-sequestered face, thy form and hue!
Bewildering sounds, such as Spring wakens to,
Shook in its folds; and through my heart its power
Sped trackless as the immemorable hour
When birth’s dark portal groaned and all was new.
But a veiled woman followed, and she caught
The banner round its staff, to furl and cling, —
Then plucked a feather from the bearer’s wing,
And held it to his lips that stirred it not,
And said to me, ‘Behold, there is no breath:
I and this Love are one, and I am Death.’
I sat with Love upon a woodside well,
Leaning across the water, I and he;
Nor ever did he speak nor looked at me,
But touched his lute wherein was audible
The certain secret thing he had to tell:
Only our mirrored eyes met silently
In the low wave; and that sound came to be
The passionate voice I knew; and my tears fell.
And at their fall, his eyes beneath grew hers;
And with his foot and with his wing-feathers
He swept the spring that watered my heart’s drouth.
Then the dark ripples spread to waving hair,
And as I stooped, her own lips rising there
Bubbled with brimming kisses at my mouth.
And now Love sang: but his was such a song,
So meshed with half-remembrance hard to free,
As souls disused in death’s sterility
May sing when the new birthday tarries long.
And I was made aware of a dumb throng
That stood aloof, one form by every tree,
All mournful forms, for each was I or she,
The shades of those our days that had no tongue.
They looked on us, and knew us and were known;
While fast together, alive from the abyss,
Clung the soul-wrung implacable close kiss;
And pity of self through all made broken moan
Which said, ‘For once, for once, for once alone!’
And still Love sang, and what he sang was this:—
‘O ye, all ye that walk in Willow-wood,
That walk with hollow faces burning white;
What fathom-depth of soul-struck widowhood,
What long, what longer hours, one lifelong night,
Ere ye again, who so in vain have wooed
Your last hope lost, who so in vain invite
Your lips to that their unforgotten food,
Ere ye, ere ye again shall see the light!
Alas! the bitter banks in Willowwood,
With tear-spurge wan, with blood-wort burning red:
Alas! if ever such a pillow could
Steep deep the soul in sleep till she were dead, —
Better all life forget her than this thing,
That Willowwood should hold her wandering!’
So sang he: and as meeting rose and rose
Together cling through the wind’s wellaway
Nor change at once, yet near the end of day
The leaves drop loosened where the heart-stain glows, —
So when the song died did the kiss unclose;
And her face fell back drowned, and was as grey
As its grey eyes; and if it ever may
Meet mine again I know not if Love knows.
Only I know that I leaned low and drank
A long draught from the water where she sank,
Her breath and all her tears and all her soul:
And as I leaned, I know I felt Love’s face
Pressed on my neck with moan of pity and grace,
Till both our heads were in his aureole.
What of her glass without her? The blank grey
There where the pool is blind of the moon’s face.
Her dress without her? The tossed empty space
Of cloud-rack whence the moon has passed away.
Her paths without her? Day’s appointed sway
Usurped by desolate night. Her pillowed place
Without her? Tears, ah me! for love’s good grace,
And cold forgetfulness of night or day.
What of the heart without her? Nay, poor heart,
Of thee what word remains ere speech be still?
A wayfarer by barren ways and chill,
Steep ways and weary, without her thou art,
Where the long cloud, the long wood’s counterpart,
Sheds doubled darkness up the labouring hill.
Sweet Love, — but oh! most dread Desire of Love
Life-thwarted. Linked in gyves I saw them stand,
Love shackled with Vain-longing, hand to hand:
And one was eyed as the blue vault above:
But hope tempestuous like a fire-cloud hove
I’ the other’s gaze, even as in his whose wand
Vainly all night with spell-wrought power has spann’d
The unyielding caves of some deep treasure-trove.
Also his lips, two writhen flakes of flame,
Made moan: ‘Alas O Love, thus leashed with me!
Wing-footed thou, wing-shouldered, once born free:
And I, thy cowering self, in chains grown tame,
Bound to thy body and soul, named with thy name,
Life’s iron heart, even Love’s Fatality.’
The hour which might have been yet might not be,
Which man’s and woman’s heart conceived and bore
Yet whereof life was barren, — on what shore
Bides it the breaking of Time’s weary sea?
Bondchild of all consummate joys set free,
It somewhere sighs and serves, and mute before
The house of Love, hears through the echoing door
His hours elect in choral consonancy.
But lo! what wedded souls now hand in hand
Together tread at last the immortal strand
With eyes where burning memory lights love home?
Lo! how the little outcast hour has turned
And leaped to them and in their faces yearned:—
‘I am your child: O parents, ye have come!’
To be a sweetness more desired than Spring;
A bodily beauty more acceptable
Than the wild rose-tree’s arch that crowns the fell;
To be an essence more environing
Than wine’s drained juice; a music ravishing
More than the passionate pulse of Philomel; —
To be all this ‘neath one soft bosom’s swell
That is the flower of life:— how strange a thing!
How strange a thing to be what Man can know
But as a sacred secret! Heaven’s own screen
Hides her soul’s purest depth and loveliest glow;
Closely withheld, as all things most unseen, —
The wave-bowered pearl, the heart-shaped seal of green
That flecks the snowdrop underneath the snow.
She loves him; for her infinite soul is Love,
And he her lodestar. Passion in her is
A glass facing his fire, where the bright bliss
Is mirrored, and the heat returned. Yet move
That glass, a stranger’s amorous flame to prove,
And it shall turn, by instant contraries,
Ice to the moon; while her pure fire to his
For whom it burns, clings close i’ the heart’s alcove.
Lo! they are one. With wifely breast to breast
And circling arms, she welcomes all command
Of love, — her soul to answering ardours fann’d:
Yet as morn springs or twilight sinks to rest,
Ah! who shall say she deems not loveliest
The hour of sisterly sweet hand-inhand?
If to grow old in Heaven is to grow young,
(As the Seer saw and said,) then blest were he
With youth forevermore, whose heaven should be
True Woman, she whom these weak notes have sung.
Here and hereafter, — choir-strains of her tongue, —
Sky-spaces of her eyes, — sweet signs that flee
About her soul’s immediate sanctuary, —
Were Paradise all uttermost worlds among.
The sunrise blooms and withers on the hill
Like any hillflower; and the noblest troth
Dies here to dust. Yet shall Heaven’s promise clothe
Even yet those lovers who have cherished still
This test for love:— in every kiss sealed fast
To feel the first kiss and forebode the last.
Love to his singer held a glistening leaf,
And said: ‘The rose-tree and the apple-tree
Have fruits to vaunt or flowers to lure the bee;
And golden shafts are in the feathered sheaf
Of the great harvest-marshal, the year’s chief,
Victorious Summer; aye, and ‘neath warm sea
Strange secret grasses lurk inviolably
Between the filtering channels of sunk reef.
All are my blooms; and all sweet blooms of love
To thee I gave while Spring and Summer sang;
But Autumn stops to listen, with some pang
From those worse things the wind is moaning of.
Only this laurel dreads no winter days:
Take my last gift; thy heart hath sung my praise.’
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:12