As growth of form or momentary glance
In a child’s features will recall to mind
The father’s with the mother’s face combin’d, —
Sweet interchange that memories still enhance:
And yet, as childhood’s years and youth’s advance,
The gradual mouldings leave one stamp behind,
Till in the blended likeness now we find
A separate man’s or woman’s countenance:—
So in the Song, the singer’s Joy and Pain,
Its very parents, evermore expand
To bid the passion’s fullgrown birth remain,
By Art’s transfiguring essence subtly spann’d;
And from that song-cloud shaped as a man’s hand
There comes the sound as of abundant rain.
By thine own tears thy song must tears beget,
O Singer! Magic mirror thou hast none
Except thy manifest heart; and save thine own
Anguish or ardour, else no amulet.
Cisterned in Pride, verse is the feathery jet
Of soulless air-flung fountains; nay, more dry
Than the Dead Sea for throats that thirst and sigh,
That song o’er which no singer’s lids grew wet.
The Song-god — He the Sun-god — is no slave
Of thine: thy Hunter he, who for thy soul
Fledges his shaft: to no august control
Of thy skilled hand his quivered store he gave:
But if thy lips’ loud cry leap to his smart,
The inspir’d recoil shall pierce thy brother’s heart.
Come prisoned moon in steep cloud-fastnesses, —
Throned queen and thralled; some dying sun whose pyre
Blazed with momentous memorable fire; —
Who hath not yearned and fed his heart with these?
Who, sleepless, hath not anguished to appease
Tragical shadow’s realm of sound and sight
Conjectured in the lamentable night? . . .
Lo! the soul’s sphere of infinite images!
What sense shall count them? Whether it forecast
The rose-winged hours that flutter in the van
Of Love’s unquestioning unreveale’d span, —
Visions of golden futures: or that last
Wild pageant of the accumulated past
That clangs and flashes for a drowning man.
The changing guests, each in a different mood,
Sit at the roadside table and arise:
And every life among them in likewise
Is a soul’s board set daily with new food.
What man has bent o’er his son’s sleep, to brood
How that face shall watch his when cold it lies? —
Or thought, as his own mother kissed his eyes,
Of what her kiss was when his father wooed?
May not this ancient room thou sit’st in dwell
In separate living souls for joy or pain?
Nay, all its corners may be painted plain
Where Heaven shows pictures of some life spent well;
And may be stamped, a memory all in vain,
Upon the sight of lidless eyes in Hell.
The cuckoo-throb, the heartbeat of the Spring;
The rosebud’s blush that leaves it as it grows
Into the full-eyed fair unblushing rose;
The summer clouds that visit every wing
With fires of sunrise and of sunsetting;
The furtive flickering streams to light reborn
‘Mid airs new-fledged and valorous lusts of morn,
While all the daughters of the daybreak sing:—
These ardour loves, and memory: and when flown
All joys, and through dark forest-boughs in flight
The wind swoops onward brandishing the light,
Even yet the rose-tree’s verdure left alone
Will flush all ruddy though the rose be gone;
With ditties and with dirges infinite.
As two whose love, first foolish, widening scope,
Knows suddenly, with music high and soft,
The Holy of holies; who because they scoff’d
Are now amazed with shame, nor dare to cope
With the whole truth aloud, lest heaven should ope;
Yet, at their meetings, laugh not as they
In speech; nor speak, at length; but sitting oft
Together, within hopeless sight of hope
For hours are silent:— So it happeneth
When Work and Will awake too late, to gaze
After their life sailed by, and hold their breath.
Ah! who shall dare to search through what sad maze
Thenceforth their incommunicable ways
Follow the desultory feet of Death?
From child to youth; from youth to arduous man;
From lethargy to fever of the heart;
From faithful life to dream-dowered days apart;
From trust to doubt; from doubt to brink of ban; —
Thus much of change in one swift cycle ran
Till now. Alas, the soul! — how soon must she
Accept her primal immortality, —
The flesh resume its dust whence it began?
O Lord of work and peace! O Lord of life!
O Lord, the awful Lord of will! though late,
Even yet renew this soul with duteous breath:
That when the peace is garnered in from strife,
The work retrieved, the will regenerate,
This soul may see thy face, O Lord of death!
Was that the landmark? What, — the foolish well
Whose wave, low down, I did not stoop to drink,
But sat and flung the pebbles from its brink
In sport to send its imaged skies pell-mell,
(And mine own image, had I noted well!)
Was that my point of turning? — I had thought
The stations of my course should rise unsought,
As altar-stone or ensigned citadel.
But lo! the path is missed, I must go back,
And thirst to drink when next I reach the spring
Which once I stained, which since may have grown black.
Yet though no light be left nor bird now sing
As here I turn, I’ll thank God, hastening,
That the same goal is still on the same track.
The gloom that breathes upon me with these airs
Is like the drops which strike the traveller’s brow
Who knows not, darkling, if they bring him now
Fresh storm, or be old rain the covert bears.
Ah! bodes this hour some harvest of new tares,
Or hath but memory of the day whose plough
Sowed hunger once, — the night at length when thou,
O prayer found vain, didst fall from out my prayers?
How prickly were the growths which yet how smooth,
Along the hedgerows of this journey shed,
Lie by Time’s grace till night and sleep may soothe!
Even as the thistledown from pathsides dead
Gleaned by a girl in autumns of her youth,
Which one new year makes soft her marriage-bed.
This sunlight shames November where he grieves
In dead red leaves, and will not let him shun
The day, though bough with bough be over-run.
But with a blessing every glade receives
High salutation; while from hillock-eaves
The deer gaze calling, dappled white and dun,
As if, being foresters of old, the sun
Had marked them with the shade of forest-leaves.
Here dawn today unveiled her magic glass;
Here noon now gives the thirst and takes the dew;
Till eve bring rest when other good things pass.
And here the lost hours the lost hours renew
While I still lead my shadow o’er the grass,
Nor know, for longing, that which I should do.
This feast-day of the sun, his altar there
In the broad west has blazed for vesper-song;
And I have loitered in the vale too long
And gaze now a belated worshipper.
Yet may I not forget that I was ‘ware,
So journeying, of his face at intervals
Transfigured where the fringed horizon falls, —
A fiery bush with coruscating hair.
And now that I have climbed and won this height,
I must tread downward through the sloping shade
And travel the bewildered tracks till night.
Yet for this hour I still may here be stayed
And see the gold air and the silver fade
And the last bird fly into the last light.
Eat thou and drink; tomorrow thou shalt die.
Surely the earth, that’s wise being very old,
Needs not our help. Then loose me, love, and hold
Thy sultry hair up from my face that I
May pour for thee this yellow wine, brim-high,
Till round the glass thy fingers glow like gold.
We’ll drown all hours: thy song, while hours toil’d,
Shall leap, as fountains veil the changing sky.
Now kiss, and think that there are really those,
My own high-bosomed beauty, who increase
Vain gold, vain lore, and yet might choose our way
Through many days they toil; then comes a day
They die not, — never having lived, — but cease;
And round their narrow lips the mould falls close.
Watch thou and fear; tomorrow thou shalt die.
Or art thou sure thou shalt have time for death?
Is not the day which God’s word promiseth
To come man knows not when? In yonder sky,
Now while we speak, the sun speeds forth: can I
Or thou assure him of his goal? God’s breath
Even at the moment haply quickeneth
The air to a flame; till spirits, always nigh
Though screened and hid, shall walk the daylight here.
And dost thou prate of all that man shall do?
Canst thou, who hast but plagues, presume to be
Glad in his gladness that comes after thee?
Will his strength slay thy worm in Hell? Go to:
Cover thy countenance, and watch, and fear.
Think thou and act; tomorrow thou shalt die.
Outstretched in the sun’s warmth upon the shore,
Thou say’st: ‘Man’s measured path is all gone o’er:
Up all his years, steeply, with strain and sigh,
Man clomb until he touched the truth; and I,
Even I, am he whom it was destined for.’
How should this be? Art thou then so much more
Than they who sowed, that thou shouldst reap thereby?
Nay, come up hither. From this wave-washed mound
Unto the furthest flood-brim look with me;
Then reach on with thy thought till it be drown’d.
Miles and miles distant though the grey line be,
And though thy soul sail leagues and leagues beyond, —
Still, leagues beyond those leagues there is more sea.
Give honour unto Luke Evangelist;
For he it was (the aged legends say)
Who first taught Art to fold her hands and pray.
Scarcely at once she dared to rend the mist
Of devious symbols: but soon having wist
How sky-breadth and field-silence and this day
Are symbols also in some deeper way,
She looked through these to God and was God’s priest.
And if, past noon, her toil began to irk,
And she sought talismans, and turned in vain
To soulless self-reflections of man’s skill,
Yet now, in this the twilight, she might still
Kneel in the latter grass to pray again,
Ere the night cometh and she may not work.
‘I am not as these are,’ the poet saith
In youth’s pride, and the painter, among men
At bay, where never pencil comes nor pen,
And shut about with his own frozen breath.
To others, for whom only rhyme wins faith
As poets, — only paint as painters, — then
He turns in the cold silence; and again
Shrinking, ‘I am not as these are,’ he saith.
And say that this is so, what follows it?
For were thine eyes set backwards in thine head,
Such words were well; but they see on, and far.
Unto the lights of the great Past, new-lit
Fair for the Future’s track, look thou instead, —
Say thou instead ‘I am not as these are.’
Though God, as one that is an householder,
Called these to labour in his vine-yard first,
Before the husk of darkness was well burst
Bidding them grope their way out and bestir,
(Who, questioned of their wages, answered, ‘Sir,
Unto each man a penny:’) though the worst
Burthen of heat was theirs and the dry thirst:
Though God hath since found none such as these were
To do their work like them:— Because of this
Stand not ye idle in the market-place.
Which of ye knoweth he is not that last
Who may be first by faith and will? — yea, his
The hand which after the appointed days
And hours shall give a Future to their Past?
Under the arch of Life, where love and death,
Terror and mystery, guard her shrine, I saw
Beauty enthroned; and though her gaze struck awe,
I drew it in as simply as my breath.
Hers are the eyes which, over and beneath,
The sky and sea bend on thee, — which can draw,
By sea or sky or woman, to one law,
The allotted bondman of her palm and wreath.
This is that Lady Beauty, in whose praise
Thy voice and hand shake still, — long known to thee
By flying hair and fluttering hem, — the beat
Following her daily of thy heart and feet,
How passionately and irretrievably,
In what fond flight, how many ways and days!
Of Adam’s first wife, Lilith, it is told
(The witch he loved before the gift of Eve,)
That, ere the snake’s, her sweet tongue could deceive,
And her enchanted hair was the first gold.
And still she sits, young while the earth is old,
And, subtly of herself contemplative,
Draws men to watch the bright web she can weave,
Till heart and body and life are in its hold.
The rose and poppy are her flowers; for where
Is he not found, O Lilith, whom shed scent
And soft-shed kisses and soft sleep shall snare?
Lo! as that youth’s eyes burned at thine, so went
Thy spell through him, and left his straight neck bent
And round his heart one strangling golden hair.
Is it this sky’s vast vault or ocean’s sound
That is Life’s self and draws my life from me,
And by instinct ineffable decree
Holds my breath quailing on the bitter bound?
Nay, is it Life or Death, thus thunder-crown’d,
That ‘mid the tide of all emergency
Now notes my separate wave, and to what sea
Its difficult eddies labour in the ground?
Oh! what is this that knows the road I came,
The flame turned cloud, the cloud returned to flame,
The lifted shifted steeps and all the way? —
That draws round me at last this wind-warm space,
And in regenerate rapture turns my face
Upon the devious coverts of dismay?
As the child knows not if his mother’s face
Be fair; nor of his elders yet can deem
What each most is; but as of hill or stream
At dawn, all glimmering life surrounds his place:
Who yet, tow’rd noon of his half-weary race,
Pausing awhile beneath the high sun-beam
And gazing steadily back, — as through a dream,
In things long past new features now can trace:—
Even so the thought that is at length fullgrown
Turns back to note the sun-smit paths, all grey
And marvellous once, where first it walked alone;
And haply doubts, amid the unblenching day,
Which most or least impelled its onward way, —
Those unknown things or these things overknown.
What place so strange, — though unrevealed snow
With unimaginable fires arise
At the earth’s end, — what passion of surprise
Like frost-bound fire-girt scenes of long ago?
Lo! this is none but I this hour; and lo!
This is the very place which to mine eyes
Those mortal hours in vain immortalize,
‘Mid hurrying crowds, with what alone I know.
City, of thine a single simple door,
By some new Power reduplicate, must be
Even yet my life-porch in eternity,
Even with one presence filled, as once of yore
Or mocking winds whirl round a chaff-strown floor
Thee and thy years and these my words and me.
I said: ‘Nay, pluck not, — let the first fruit be:
Even as thou sayest, it is sweet and red,
But let it ripen still. The tree’s bent head
Sees in the stream its own fecundity
And bides the day of fulness. Shall not we
At the sun’s hour that day possess the shade,
And claim our fruit before its ripeness fade,
And eat it from the branch and praise the tree?’
I say: ‘Alas! our fruit hath wooed the sun
Too long, — ’tis fallen and floats adown the stream.
Lo, the last clusters! Pluck them every one,
And let us sup with summer; ere the gleam
Of autumn set the year’s pent sorrow free,
And the woods wail like echoes from the sea.’
So now the changed year’s turning wheel returns
And as a girl sails balanced in the wind,
And now before and now again behind
Stoops as it swoops, with cheek that laughs and burns, —
So Spring comes merry towards me now, but earns
No answering smile from me, whose life is twin’d
With the dead boughs that winter still must bind,
And whom today the Spring no more concerns.
Behold, this crocus is a withering flame;
This snowdrop, snow; this apple-blossom’s part
To breed the fruit that breeds the serpent’s art.
Nay, for these Spring-flowers, turn thy face from them,
Nor gaze till on the year’s last lily-stem
The white cup shrivels round the golden heart.
Sweet stream-fed glen, why say ‘farewell’ to thee
Who far’st so well and find’st for ever smooth
The brow of Time where man may read no ruth?
Nay, do thou rather say ‘farewell’ to me,
Who now fare forth in bitterer fantasy
Than erst was mine where other shade might soothe
By other streams, what while in fragrant youth
The bliss of being sad made melancholy.
And yet, farewell! For better shalt thou fare
When children bathe sweet faces in thy flow
And happy lovers blend sweet shadows there
In hours to come, than when an hour ago
Thine echoes had but one man’s sighs to bear
And thy trees whispered what he feared to know.
What is the sorriest thing that enters Hell?
None of the sins, — but this and that fair deed
Which a soul’s sin at length could supersede.
These yet are virgins, whom death’s timely knell
Might once have sainted; whom the fiends compel
Together now, in snake-bound shuddering sheaves
Of anguish, while the scorching bridegroom leaves
Their refuse maidenhood abominable.
Night sucks them down, the garbage of the pit,
Whose names, half entered in the book of Life,
Were God’s desire at noon. And as their hair
And eyes sink last, the Torturer deigns no whit
To gaze, but, yearning, waits his worthier wife,
The Sin still blithe on earth that sent them there.
The lost days of my life until today,
What were they, could I see them on the street
Lie as they fell? Would they be ears of wheat
Sown once for food but trodden into clay?
Or golden coins squandered and still to pay?
Or drops of blood dabbling the guilty feet?
Or such spilt water as in dreams must cheat
The throats of men in Hell, who thirst alway?
I do not see them here; but after death
God knows I know the faces I shall see,
Each one a murdered self, with low last breath.
‘I am thyself, — what hast thou done to me?’
‘And I— and I— thyself,’ (lo! each one saith,)
‘And thou thyself to all eternity!’
When first that horse, within whose populous womb
The birth was death, o’ershadowed Troy with fate,
Her elders, dubious of its Grecian freight,
Brought Helen there to sing the songs of home:
She whispered, ‘Friends, I am alone; come, come!’
Then, crouched within, Ulysses waxed afraid,
And on his comrades’ quivering mouths he laid
His hands, and held them till the voice was dumb.
The same was he who, lashed to his own mast,
There where the sea-flowers screen the charnel-caves,
Beside the sirens’ singing island pass’d,
Till sweetness failed along the inveterate waves . . .
Say, soul, — are songs of Death no heaven to thee,
Nor shames her lip the cheek of Victory?
That lamp thou fill’st in Eros name to-night,
O Hero, shall the Sestian augurs take
To-morrow, and for drowned Leander’s sake
To Anteros its fireless lip shall plight.
Aye, waft the unspoken vow: yet dawn’s first light
On ebbing storm and life twice ebb’d must break;
While ‘neath no sunrise, by the Avernian Lake,
Lo where Love walks, Death’s pallid neophyte.
That lamp within Anteros’ shadowy shrine
Shall stand unlit (for so the gods decree)
Till some one man the happy issue see
Of a life’s love, and bid its flame to shine:
Which still may rest unfir’d; for, theirs or thine,
O brother, what brought love to them or thee?
[After the deaths of Leander and Hero, the signal-lamp was dedicated to Anteros, with the edict that no man should light it unless his love had proved fortunate.]
Ye who have passed Death’s haggard hills; and ye
Whom trees that knew your sires shall cease to know
And still stand silent:— is it all a show,
A wisp that laughs upon the wall? — decree
Of some inexorable supremacy
Which ever, as man strains his blind surmise
From depth to ominous depth, looks past his eyes,
Sphinx-faced with unabashed augury?
Nay, rather question the Earth’s self. Invoke
The storm-felled forest-trees moss-grown today
Whose roots are hillocks where the children play;
Or ask the silver sapling ‘neath what yoke
Those stars, his spray-crown’s clustering gems, shall wage
Their journey still when his boughs shrink with age.
Get thee behind me. Even as, heavy-curled,
Stooping against the wind, a charioteer
Is snatched from out his chariot by the hair,
So shall Time be; and as the void car, hurled
Abroad by reinless steeds, even so the world:
Yea, even as chariot-dust upon the air,
It shall be sought and not found anywhere.
Get thee behind me, Satan. Oft unfurled,
Thy perilous wings can beat and break like lath
Much mightiness of men to win thee praise.
Leave these weak feet to tread in narrow ways.
Thou still, upon the broad vine-sheltered path,
Mayst wait the turning of the phials of wrath
For certain years, for certain months and days.
As when two men have loved a woman well,
Each hating each, through Love’s and Death’s deceit;
Since not for either this stark marriage-sheet
And the long pauses of this wedding bell;
Yet o’er her grave the night and day dispel
At last their feud forlorn, with cold and heat;
Nor other than dear friends to death may fleet
The two lives left that most of her can tell:—
So separate hopes, which in a soul had wooed
The one same Peace, strove with each other long,
And Peace before their faces perished since:
So through that soul, in restless brotherhood,
They roam together now, and wind among
Its bye-streets, knocking at the dusty inns.
Beholding youth and hope in mockery caught
From life; and mocking pulses that remain
When the soul’s death of bodily death is fain;
Honour unknown, and honour known unsought;
And penury’s sedulous self-torturing thought
On gold, whose master therewith buys his bane;
And longed-for woman longing all in vain
For lonely man with love’s desire distraught;
And wealth, and strength, and power, and pleasantness,
Given unto bodies of whose souls men say,
None poor and weak, slavish and foul, as they:—
Beholding these things, I behold no less
The blushing morn and blushing eve confess
The shame that loads the intolerable day.
As some true chief of men, bowed down with stress
Of life’s disastrous eld, on blossoming youth
May gaze, and murmur with self-pity and ruth,
‘Might I thy fruitless treasure but possess,
Such blessing of mine all coming years should bless;’ —
Then sends one sigh forth to the unknown goal,
And bitterly feels breathe against his soul
The hour swift-winged of nearer nothingness:—
Even so the World’s grey Soul to the green World
Perchance one hour must cry: ‘Woe’s me, for whom
Inveteracy of ill portends the doom, —
Whose heart’s old fire in shadow of shame is furl’d:
While thou even as of yore art journeying,
All soulless now, yet merry with the Spring!’
Great Michelangelo, with age grown bleak
And uttermost labours, having once o’ersaid
All grievous memories on his long life shed,
This worst regret to one true heart could speak:—
That when, with sorrowing love and reverence meek,
He stooped o’er sweet Colonna’s dying bed,
His Muse and dominant Lady, spirit-wed,
Her hand he kissed, but not her brow or cheek.
O Buonarruoti, — good at Art’s fire-wheels
To urge her chariot! — even thus the Soul,
Touching at length some sorely-chastened goal,
Earns oftenest but a little: her appeals
Were deep and mute, — lowly her claim. Let be:
What holds for her Death’s garner? And for thee?
Around the vase of Life at your slow pace
He has not crept, but turned it with his hands,
And all its sides already understands.
There, girt, one breathes alert for some great race;
Whose road runs far by sands and fruitful space;
Who laughs, yet through the jolly throng has pass’d;
Who weeps, nor stays for weeping; who at last,
A youth, stands somewhere crowned, with silent face.
And he has filled this vase with wine for blood,
With blood for tears, with spice for burning vow,
With watered flowers for buried love most fit;
And would have cast it shattered to the flood,
Yet in Fate’s name has kept it whole; which now
Stands empty till his ashes fall in it.
As thy friend’s face, with shadow of soul o’erspread,
Somewhile unto thy sight perchance hath been
Ghastly and strange, yet never so is seen
In thought, but to all fortunate favour wed;
As thy love’s death-bound features never dead
To memory’s glass return, but contravene
Frail fugitive days, and always keep, I ween
Than all new life a livelier lovelihead:—
So Life herself, thy spirit’s friend and love,
Even still as Spring’s authentic harbinger
Glows with fresh hours for hope to glorify;
Though pale she lay when in the winter grove
Her funeral flowers were snow-flakes shed on her
And the red wings of frost-fire rent the sky.
Look in my face; my name is Might-have-been;
I am also called No-more, Too-late, Farewell;
Unto thine ear I hold the dead-sea shell
Cast up thy Life’s foam-fretted feet between;
Unto thine eyes the glass where that is seen
Which had Life’s form and Love’s, but by my spell
Is now a shaken shadow intolerable,
Of ultimate things unuttered the frail screen.
Mark me, how still I am! But should there dart
One moment through thy soul the soft surprise
Of that winged Peace which lulls the breath of sighs,
Then shalt thou see me smile, and turn apart
Thy visage to mine ambush at thy heart
Sleepless with cold commemorative eyes.
Whence came his feet into my field, and why?
How is it that he sees it all so drear?
How do I see his seeing, and how hear
The name his bitter silence knows it by?
This was the little fold of separate sky
Whose pasturing clouds in the soul’s atmosphere
Drew living light from one continual year:
How should he find it lifeless? He, or I?
Lo! this new Self now wanders round my field,
With plaints for every flower, and for each tree
A moan, the sighing wind’s auxiliary:
And o’er sweet waters of my life, that yield
Unto his lips no draught but tears unseal’d,
Even in my place he weeps. Even I, not he.
To-day Death seems to me an infant child
Which her worn mother Life upon my knee
Has set to grow my friend and play with me;
If haply so my heart might be beguil’d
To find no terrors in a face so mild, —
If haply so my weary heart might be
Unto the newborn milky eyes of thee,
O Death, before resentment reconcil’d.
How long, O Death? And shall thy feet depart
Still a young child’s with mine, or wilt thou stand
Fullgrown the helpful daughter of my heart,
What time with thee indeed I reach the strand
Of the pale wave which knows thee what thou art,
And drink it in the hollow of thy hand?
And thou, O Life, the lady of all bliss,
With whom, when our first heart beat full and fast,
I wandered till the haunts of men were pass’d,
And in fair places found all bowers amiss
Till only woods and waves might hear our kiss,
While to the winds all thought of Death we cast:
Ah, Life! and must I have from thee at last
No smile to greet me and no babe but this?
Lo! Love, the child once ours; and Song, whose hair
Blew like a flame and blossomed like a wreath;
And Art, whose eyes were worlds by God found fair;
These o’er the book of Nature mixed their breath
With neck-twined arms, as oft we watched them there:
And did these die that thou mightst bear me Death?
When all desire at last and all regret
Go hand in hand to death, and all is vain,
What shall assuage the unforgotten pain
And teach the unforgetful to forget?
Shall Peace be still a sunk stream long unmet, —
Or may the soul at once in a green plain
Stoop through the spray of some sweet life-fountain
And cull the dew-drenched flowering amulet?
Ah! when the wan soul in that golden air
Between the scriptured petals softly blown
Peers breathless for the gift of grace unknown,
Ah! let none other written spell soe’er
But only the one Hope’s one name be there, —
Not less nor more, but even that word alone.
This web edition published by:
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:12