Sometime in the early eighteen nineties, perhaps in December 1891, Archibald Lampman (1861-99) composed three lists of the poems that he envisaged assembling for publication either as sections of a single book or as in three separate collections: “A Century of Sonnets,” “Afoot with the Year,” and “The Land of Pallas and Other Poems.”1 While the second of these lists consists of the poems that provided the basis for Lyrics of Earth (1895), and the third for Alcyone (1899), the first—“A Century of Sonnets”—did not result in a publication. Moreover, more than half of the sonnets that it contains did not appear in book form until their inclusion in the “Sonnets” section of Duncan Campbell Scott’s posthumous edition of The Poems of Archibald Lampman (1900), where they are joined by other sonnets and arranged in an order that bears scant relation to that set out my Lampman himself in “A Century of Sonnets.” To an extent this is understandable because a significant number of sonnets on the list appear either in Alcyone or in Lampman’s first collection, Among the Millet, and Other Poems (1888), and the inclusion of “A Century of Sonnets” in Poems would have resulted in expensive repetition or an awkward editorial apparatus to direct the reader to the location elsewhere in the volume of sonnets omitted from the sequence in order to avoid such repetition. Neither of these hindrances exists in the present situation of electronic publication, however, so what follows is “A Century of Sonnets” as Lampman envisaged it when he compiled his list and, in essence, a fourth and hitherto hidden collection of his poems.
On the evidence of the differences between “Afoot of the Year” and Lyrics of Earth and “The Land of Pallas and Other Poems” and Alcyone, it is likely that Lampman would have tinkered with the order and perhaps the contents of “A Century of Sonnets” en route to publication. Nevertheless, the list as it stands is a fair copy with only two deletions and one interstitial addition,2 and even at a glance it shows evidence of careful arrangement: it begins with “An Invocation,” spaces set off the six sonnets concerned with love (“Love Doubt,” “Perfect Love,” “Love Wonder,” “In Absence,” “The Spirit of the House,” and “Love”) from the poems that precede and follow them, and a space between “Stoic and Hedonist” and “Aspiration” suggests a pause or turn of thought at that point in the series. The fact that the series comprises a hundred sonnets may be arbitrary, but it may also indicate that Lampman had in mind as a model the 1881 edition of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s The House of Life, which consists of a hundred and one sonnets arranged in narrative and thematic groups centred on love, art, and other topics. In entitling his series “A Century of Sonnets,” Lampman may have been thinking of Robert Browning’s statement in “One Word More” (1855) that “Rafael made a century of sonnets, / Made and wrote them in a certain volume…” that has been lost, though the sonnets themselves were published and remain for all to read (362).
The Present Text
A scholarly edition of Lampman’s poems is in the process of being compiled for publication by the Canadian Poetry Press. In the interim, the present text will provide students and scholars of Lampman with a view of the contents and shape of “A Century of Sonnets.” The texts of the sonnets are based on those in Poems (1900) and, in a few instances, Margaret Coulby Whitridge’s edition of Lampman’s Sonnets, 1884-1899 (1976). Where necessary, the titles of sonnets from these sources have been altered to accord with those given to them in “A Century of Sonnets.” Both in the table of contents and in the texts, the sonnets have been numbered for ease of reference. In all instances ampersand has been expanded to “and”.
1. The three lists are contained in a foolscap notebook held by the Library of Parliament in Ottawa. The fact that the three lists are collectively entitled “Contents of Book” suggests that Lampman may have envisaged them initially as sections of a single publication. Each list begins on a fresh page, however, and the title of each is preceded by roman numeral “I”, “II”, or “III”.
Lampman’s first mention of “A Century of Sonnets” in an extant letter was on 4 September, 1894 to his friend Edward William Thomson, who was then living in Boston: “I have collected and prepared a volume of sonnets —all sonnets—100 sonnets—a ‘Century of Sonnets’” (Correspondence 125). At that time, he may have sent the collection to the American publishers Stone and Kimball, for some three months later, on 6 December, 1894, he expressed frustration at not having heard from them and states that he has “just sent…[his] volume of sonnets” to another American publishing house, Houghton, Mufflin and Co. (129). By 6 May, 1895, the “book of sonnets” had been returned by Houghton, Mifflin and was on its way to yet another American publisher, Scribners’ (138), who also rejected the collection. Two weeks later, on 30 May, Lampman told Thomson that he was reluctant to “break” the volume because he is “so far satisfied with [it]”, but by 30 October of the same year he had changed his mind and decided to “adopt” a “compromise” version of his friend’s suggestion after seeing the collection that he “div[ide]…the sonnets in toto”: “I will take out ten of the descriptive sonnets and mix…the rest in with the general ones, so as to make a variegated collection of 90. The love sonnets I will put almost at the front, but not quite there. There are one or two others which ought, I think [,] to go first. I will call it ‘Sonnets of Life and Death’” (142,158). By 13 November, 1895, Lampman has sent “the sonnets again” to Thomson in the hope that he will be able to interest the Boston firm Copeland and Day, who had accepted Lyrics of Earth, in publishing the collection (161). On 31 March, 1896, Lampman worried that Copeland and Day were “irritated at…[him] for sending the sonnets through [Thomson] and expressed sadness about the fate of the collection, which he then considered to be his “best book” and believed “would do…[him] credit,” adding, “[h]owever, I dare say it will get into print someday” (172). His final reference to the collection is a regret to Thomson on 25 June, 1896: “[i]f…Copeland and Day have fully decided not to handle my sonnets, you had better—if you will be so kind—get them back and return them to me” (173).
2. Between “The Pilot” and “To Death,” the word Recognition has been scored through and at the end of the series, after “The King Sabbath,” Falling Asleep has been scored through. “The Cup of Life” is inserted between “Avarice” and “Stoic and Hedonist.”
3. The sonnets drawn from Whitridge’s edition are “Music II,” “Sleep,” and “The Death of Tennyson I,” all three of which are based on holograph manuscripts held by the National Library and Archives in Ottawa. Although aware of “A Century of Sonnets,” Whitridge chose to arrange the poems in her edition chronologically and, unfortunately, included some pieces such as “To Chicago” that are not sonnets. Both Whitridge’s edition and L.R. Earlys “Chronology of Lampman’s Poems” have been helpful in dealing with the few instances in which there is room for doubt about the sonnet to which the title in “A Century of Sonnets” refers.
Browning, Robert. Complete Poems. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1895.
Early, L.R. “A Chronology of Lampman’s Poems.” Canadian Poetry: Studies, Documents,Reviews, 14 (Spring/Summer 1984): 75-87.
Lampman, Archibald. Alcyone. Ottawa: Ogilvy, 1899. An Annotated Edition of theCorrespondence between Archibald Lampman and Edward William Thomson (1880-1898). Ed. Helen Lynn. Ottawa: Techumseh, 1980.
_________. Among the Millet, and Other Poems. Ottawa: Durie, 1888.
_________. “Contents of Book.” Library of Parliament, Ottawa. PS 8473.
_________. Poems. Ed. Duncan Campbell Scott. Toronto: Morang, 1900.
_________. Lampman’s Sonnets, 1884-1899. Ed. Margaret Coulby Whitridge. Ottawa: Borealis, 1976.
A Century of Sonnets
Contents of Book
5. Nesting Time
6. April Voices
7. April Night
11. After the Shower
14. To the Cricket
15. A Thunderstorm
16. The Pine Grove I
19. At Dusk
20. Midsummer Night
21. The Loons
25. Voices of Earth
29. Storm Voices
31. The Autumn Waste
32. The City
33. Autumn Maples
34. Indian Summer
36. In November
37. Earth the Stoic
38. A Winter Evening
40. Winter Dawn
42. After Mist
43. Winter Break
44. Before the Robin
45. A March Day
46. In March
48. Love Doubt
49. Perfect Love
50. Love Wonder
51. In Absence
61. The Truth
62. To a Millionaire
65. To a Protestant
67. The Cup of Life
71. A Prayer
72. By the Sea
74. Music I
75. Music II
76. The Piano
78. Dead Cities I
79. Dead Cities II
84. The Pilot
85. To Death
86. The Poets
87. To Chaucer
88. A Forecast
89. A Night of Storm
93. The Vain Fight
94. In a Cemetery
98. Thamyris I
99. Thamyris II
100. The King’s Sabbath
1: AN INVOCATION
Spirit of joy and that enchanted air That feeds the poet’s parted lips like wine, I dreamed and wandered hand in hand of thine, How many a blissful day; but doubt and care, The ghostly masters of this world, did come With torturous malady and hid the day, A gnawing flame that robbed my songs away, And bound mine ears, and made me blind and dumb. Master of mine, and Lord of light and ease, Return, return, and take me by the hand; Lead me again into that pleasant land, Whose charmèd eyes and griefless lips adore No lord but beauty; let me see once more The light upon her golden palaces.
2: THE COMPANIONSHIP WITH NATURE
Let us be much with Nature; not as they That labour without seeing, that employ Her unloved forces, blindly without joy; Nor those whose hands and crude delights obey The old brute passion to hunt down and slay; But rather as children of one common birth, Discerning in each natural fruit of earth Kinship and bond with this diviner clay. Let us be with her wholly at all hours, With the fond lover’s zest, who is content If his ear hears, and if his eye but sees; So shall we grow like her in mould and bent, Our bodies stately as her blessèd trees, Our thoughts as sweet and sumptuous as her flowers.
3: THE SONG SPARROW
Fair little scout, that when the iron year Changes, and the first fleecy clouds deploy, Comest with such a sudden burst of joy, Lifting on winter’s doomed and broken rear That song of silvery triumph blithe and clear; Not yet quite conscious of the happy glow, We hungered for some surer touch, and lo! One morning we awake and thou art here. And thousands of frail-stemmed hepaticas, With their crisp leaves and pure and perfect hues, Light sleepers, ready for the golden news, Spring at thy note beside the forest ways— Next to thy song, the first to deck the hour— The classic lyrist and the classic flower.
4: A MORNING SUMMONS
Upon the outer verge of sleep I heard A little sparrow piping in the morn; Unto my very heart the sound was borne; It seemed to me a something more than bird, Even Nature’s self that touched me with a word:— “While thou sleep'st on, I have not done my duty. Awake, O man! Of all this gift of beauty Lose not one grain. The forest deeps are stirred With morning, and the brooks are loud aflow.” Perhaps it was a dream, but this I know, Behind me, as I passed into the sun, Whether to me or each one to his mate, I heard the little sparrows one by one Piping in triumph at my garden gate.
5: NESTING TIME
The bees are busy in their murmurous search, The birds are putting up their woven frames, And all the twigs and branches of the birch Are shooting into tiny emerald flames: The maple leaves are spreading slowly out Like small red hats, or pointed parasols. The high-ho flings abroad his merry shout, The veery from the inner brushwood calls: The gold-green poplar, jocund as may be, The sunshine in its laughing heart receives, And shimmers in the wind innumerably Through all its host of little lacquered leaves. And lo! the bob-o-link—he soars and sings, With all the heart of summer in his wings.
6: APRIL VOICES
To-day all throats are touched with life’s full treasure; Even the black birds in yon leafless tree, Wheezing and squeaking in discordant glee, Make shift to sing, and full of pensive pleasure Here the bold robin sits and at his leisure Whistles and warbles disconnectedly, As if he were too happy and too free To trim his notes and sing a perfect measure. Across the steaming meadows all day long, I hear the murmur of the frogs. In schools Shy harping lizards pipe about the pools. From hedge and roof and many a garden gate, The cheery sparrow still repeats his song, So clear, so silver sweet, and delicate.
7: APRIL NIGHT
How deep the April night is in its noon, The hopeful, solemn, many-murmured night! The earth lies hushed with expectation; bright Above the world’s dark border burns the moon, Yellow and large; from forest floorways, strewn With flowers, and fields that tingle with new birth, The moist smell of the unimprisoned earth Comes up, a sigh, a haunting promise. Soon, Ah, soon, the teeming triumph! At my feet The river with its stately sweep and wheel Moves on slow-motioned, luminous, gray like steel. Form fields far off whose watery hollows gleam, Aye with blown throats that make the long hours sweet, The sleepless toads are murmuring in their dreams.
The broad earth smiles in open benison, An emerald sea, whose waves of leaf and shade On far-off shores of misty turquoise fade; And all the host of life steers blithely on, With joy for captain, fancy at the helm: The woodpecker taps roundly at his tree, The vaulting high-ho flings abroad his glee In fluty laughter from the towering elm. Here at my feet are violets, and below— A gracile spirit tremulously alive— Spring water fills a little greenish pool, Paved all with mottled leaves and crystal cool. Beyond it stands a plum-tree in full blow, Creamy with bloom, and humming like a hive.
9: ACROSS THE PEA-FIELDS
Field upon field to westward hum and shine The gray-green sun-drenched mists of blossoming peas; Beyond them are great elms and poplar trees That guard the noon-stilled farm-yards, groves of pine, And long dark fences muffled thick with vine; Then the high city, murmurous with mills; And last upon the sultry west blue hills, Misty, far-lifted, a mere filmy line. Across these blackening rails into the light I lean and listen, lolling drowsily; On the fence corner, yonder to the right, A red squirrel whisks and chatters; nearer by A little old brown woman on her knees Searches the deep hot grass for strawberries.
How still it is here in the woods. The trees Stand motionless, as if they did not dare To stir, lest it should break the spell. The air Hangs quiet as spaces in a marble frieze. Even this little brook, that runs at ease, Whispering and gurgling in its knotted bed, Seems but to deepen, with its curling thread Of sound, the shadowy sun-pierced silences. Sometimes a hawk screams or a woodpecker Startles the stillness from its fixèd mood With his loud careless tap. Sometimes I hear The dreamy white-throat from some far off tree Pipe slowly on the listening solitude, His five pure notes succeeding pensively.
11: AFTER THE SHOWER
The shower is past, ere it hath well begun. The enormous clouds are rolling up like steam Into the illimitable blue. They gleam In summits of banked snow against the sun. The old dry beds begin to laugh and run, As if ’twere spring. The trees in the wind’s stir Shower down great drops, and every gossamer Glitters a net of diamonds fresh-spun. The happy flowers put on a spritelier grace, Star-flower and smilacina creamy-hued, With little spires of honey-scent and light, And that small, dainty violet, pure and white, That holds by magic in its twisted face The heart of all the perfumes of the wood.
From upland slopes I see the cows file by, Lowing, great-chested, down the homeward trail, By dusking fields and meadows shining pale With moon-tipped dandelions. Flickering high, A peevish night-hawk in the western sky Beats up into the lucent solitudes, Or drops with griding wing. The stilly woods Grow dark and deep and gloom mysteriously. Cool night winds creep, and whisper in mine ear. The homely cricket gossips at my feet. From far-off pools and wastes of reeds I hear, Clear and soft-piped, the chanting frogs break sweet In full Pandean chorus. One by one Shine out the stars, and the great night comes on.
13: THE WARBLING VIREO
Sweet little prattler, whom the morning sun Found singing, and this livelong summer day Keeps warbling still: here have I dreamed away Two bright and happy hours, that passed like one, Lulled by thy silvery converse, just begun And never ended. Thou dost preach to me Sweet patience and her guest, reality, The sense of days, and weeks, and months that run Scarce altering in their round of happiness, And quiet thoughts, and toils that do not kill, And homely pastimes. Though the old distress Loom gray above us both at times, ah, still, Be constant to thy woodland note, sweet bird; By me at least thou shalt be loved and heard.
14: TO THE CRICKET
Didst thou not tease and fret me to and fro, Sweet spirit of this summer-circled field, With that quiet voice of thine that would not yield Its meaning, though I mused and sought it so? But now I am content to let it go, To lie at length and watch the swallows pass, As blithe and restful as this quiet grass, Content only to listen and to know That years shall turn, and summers yet shall shine, And I shall lie beneath these swaying trees, Still listening thus; haply at last to seize, And render in some happier verse divine That friendly, homely, haunting speech of thine, That perfect utterance of content and ease.
15: A THUNDERSTORM
A moment the wild swallows like a flight Of withered gust-caught leaves, serenely high, Toss in the windrack up the muttering sky. The leaves hand still. Above the weird twilight, The hurrying centres of the storm unite And spreading with huge trunk and rolling fringe, Each wheeled upon its own tremendous hinge, Tower darkening on. And now from heaven’s height, With the long roar of elm-trees swept and swayed, And pelted waters, on the vanished plain Plunges the blast. Behind the wild white flash That splits abroad the pealing thunder-crash, Over bleared fields and gardens disarrayed, Column on column comes the drenching rain.
16, 17: IN THE PINE GROVE
Here is a quiet place where one may dream The hours away and be content. It shines With many a shadow spot and golden gleam Under the murmur of these priestly pines. About the level russet-matted floor, Each like a star in his appointed station, The sole-flowered scented pyrolas by the score Stand with heads drooped in fragrant meditation. The pensive thrush, the hermit of the wood, Dreams far within, and piping at his leisure, Tells to the hills the forest’s inmost mood Of memory and its solitary pleasure. Earth only and sun are here, and shadow and trees And thoughts that are eternal even as these.
Almost till noon I kept the weary road, Amid the dust and din of passing teams, With a soul shaped to its accustomed load Of silly cares and microscopic dreams: But here a nobler influence is unfurled; It is no more the present petty hour, But Time, and all the pine-groves of the world Enfold my spirit in their pensive power. Behold this little speedwell: Time shall flow, Customs and commonwealths and faiths shall pass, And be as they had never been; not so The little pale blue speedwell in the grass, Whatever change shall fall of good or ill, Grave eyes shall mark the little speedwell still.
The old night waned, and all the purple dawn Grew pale with green and opal. The wide earth Lay darkling and strange and silent as at birth, Save for a single far-off brightness drawn Of water gray as steel. The silver bow Of broad Orion still pursued the night, And farther down, amid the gathering light, A great star leaped and smouldered. Standing so, I dreamed myself in Denderah by the Nile; Beyond the hall of columns and the crowd And the vast pylons, I beheld afar The goddess gleam, and saw the morning smile, And lifting both my hands, I cried aloud In joy to Hathor, smitten by her star!
19: AT DUSK
Already o’er the west the first star shines, And day and dark are imperceptibly linked; The fences and pied fields grow indistinct, Deep beyond deep the living light declines, Still lingering o’er the westward mountain lines, Pallid and clear; and on its silent breast A symbol of eternal quiet rest, Far and black-plumed, the imperturbable pines. A few thin threads of purple clouds still float In the serene ether, and the night wind, Wandering in puffs from off the darkening hill, Breathes warm or cool; and now the whip-poor-will, Beyond the river margins glassed and thinned, Whips the cool hollows with his liquid note.
20: MIDSUMMER NIGHT
Mother of balms and soothings manifold, Quiet-breathèd night whose brooding hours are seven, To whom the voices of all rest are given, And those few stars whose scattered names are told, Far off beyond the westward hills outrolled, Darker than thou, more still, more dreamy even, The golden moon leans in the dusky heaven, And under her one star—a point of gold: And all go slowly lingering toward the west, As we go down forgetfully to our rest, Weary of daytime, tired of noise and light: Ah, it was time that thou should’st come; for we Were sore athirst, and had great need of thee, Thou sweet physician, balmy-bosomed night.
21: THE LOONS
Once ye were happy, once by many a shore, Wherever Glooscap’s gentle feet might stray, Lulled by his presence like a dream, ye lay Floating at rest; but that was long of yore. He was too good for earthly men; he bore Their bitter deeds for many a patient day, And then at last he took his unseen way. He was your friend, and ye might rest no more: And now, though many hundred altering years Have passed, among the desolate northern meres Still must ye search and wander querulously, Crying for Glooscap, still bemoan the light With weird entreaties, and in agony With awful laughter pierce the lonely night.
22: A DAWN ON THE LIEVRES
Up the dark-valleyed river stroke by stroke We drove the water from the rustling blade; And when the night was almost gone we made The Oxbow bend; and there the dawn awoke; Full on the shrouded night-charged river broke The sun, down the long mountain valley rolled, A sudden swinging avalanche of gold, Through mists that sprang and reeled aside like smoke. And lo! before us, toward the east upborne, Packed with curled forest, bunched and topped with pine, Brow beyond brow, drawn deep with shade and shine, The mount; upon whose golden sunward side, Still threaded with the melting mist, the morn Sat like some glowing conqueror satisfied.
23: A MIDNIGHT LANDSCAPE
A great black cloud from heaven’s midmost height Hangs all to eastward roofing half the world, Whereunder in vast shadow stretches furled A waste, meseems, where never leaf nor light Might be, but only darkness infinite, Where the lost heroes of old dreams oppressed Might still be wandering on some dolorous quest, A land of witchcraft and accursed blight. Lapping the border of that huge distress, A pallid stream from valleys gnarled and dim Comes creeping with a Stygian silentness; While yonder southward at the cloud’s last rim Antares from the Scorpion burns afar, With surge and baleful gleam, the fierce red star!
24: AN OLD LESSON FROM THE FIELDS
Even as I watched the daylight how it sped From noon till eve, and saw the light wind pass In long pale waves across the flashing grass, And heard through all my dreams, wherever led, The thin cicada singing overhead, I felt what joyance all this nature has, And saw myself made clear as in a glass, How that my soul was for the most part dead. O light, I cried, and heaven, with all your blue, O earth, with all your sunny fruitfulness, And ye, tall lilies, of the wind-vexed field, What power and beauty life indeed might yield, Could we but cast away its conscious stress, Simple of heart becoming even as you.
25: VOICES OF EARTH
We have not heard the music of the spheres, The song of star to star, but there are sounds More deep than human joy and human tears, That Nature uses in her common rounds; The fall of streams, the cry of winds that strain The oak, the roaring of the sea’s surge, might Of thunder breaking afar off, or rain That falls by minutes in the summer night. These are the voices of earth’s secret soul, Uttering the mystery from which she came. To him who hears them grief beyond control, Or joy inscrutable without a name, Wakes in his heart thoughts bedded there, impearled, Before the birth and making of the world.
26: AMONG THE ORCHARDS
Already in the dew-wrapped vineyards dry Dense weights of heat press down. The large bright drops Shrink in the leaves. From dark acacia tops The nut-hatch flings his short reiterate cry; And ever as the sun mounts hot and high Thin voices crowd the grass. In soft long strokes The wind goes murmuring through the mountain oaks. Faint wefts creep out along the blue and die. I hear far in among the motionless trees— Shadows that sleep upon the shaven sod— The thud of dropping apples. Reach on reach Stretch plots of perfumed orchard, where the bees Murmur among the full-fringed goldenrod Or cling half-drunken to the rotting peach.
27: ST. CATHARINES
Heavy with haze that merges and melts free Into the measureless depth on either hand, The full day rests upon the luminous land In one long noon golden reverie. Now hath the harvest come and gone with glee. The shaven fields stretch smooth and clean away, Purple and green, and yellow, and soft gray, Chequered with orchards. Farther still I see Towns and dim villages, whose roof-tops fill The distant mist, yet scarcely catch the view. Thorold set sultry on its plateau’d hill, And far to westward, where yon pointed towers Rise faint and ruddy from the vaporous blue, Saint Catharines, city of the host of flowers.
28: A SUNSET AT LES EBOULEMENTS
Broad shadows fall. On all the mountain side The scythe-swept fields are silent. Slowly home By the long beach the high-piled hay-carts come, Splashing the pale salt shallows. Over wide Fawn-coloured wastes of mud the slipping tide, Round the dun rocks and wattled fisheries, Creeps murmuring in. And now by twos and threes, O’er the slow spreading pools with clamorous chide, Belated crows from strip to strip take flight. Soon will the first star shine; yet ere the night Reach onward to the pale-green distances, The sun’s last shaft beyond the gray sea-floor Still dreams upon the Kamouraska shore, And the long line of golden villages.
29: STORM VOICES
The night grows old; again and yet again The tempest wakens round the whistling height, And all the winds like loosened hounds take flight With bay and halloo, and the wintry rain Sweeps the drenched roof, and blears the narrow pane. There is a surging horror in the night; The woods far out are roaring in their might; The curtains sway; the rafters creak and strain: And as I dream, o’er all my spirit swims A passion sad and holy as the tomb; Strange human voices cry into mine ear; Out of the vexèd dark I seem to hear Vast organ thunders, and a burst of hymns That swell and soar in some cathedral gloom.
30: THE RUIN OF THE YEAR
Along the hills and by the sleeping stream A warning falls, and all the glorious trees— Vestures of gold and grand embroideries— Stand mute, as in a sad and beautiful dream, Brooding on death and Nature’s vast undoing, And spring that came an age ago and fled, And summer’s splendour long since drawn to head, And now the fall and all the slow soft ruin: And soon some day comes by the pillaging wind, The winter’s wild outrider, with harsh roar, And leaves the meadows sacked and waste and thinned, And strips the forest of its golden store; Till the grim tyrant comes, and then they sow The silent wreckage, not with salt, but snow.
31: THE AUTUMN WASTE
There is no break in all the wide gray sky, Nor light on any field, and the wind grieves And talks of death. Where cold gray waters lie Round grayer stones, and the new-fallen leaves Heap the chill hollows of the naked woods, A lisping moan, an inarticulate cry, Creeps far among the charnel solitudes, Numbing the waste with mindless misery. In these bare paths, these melancholy lands, What dream, or flesh, could ever have been young? What lovers have gone forth with linkèd hands? What flowers could ever have bloomed, what birds have sung? Life, hopes, and human things seem wrapped away, With shrouds and spectres, in one long decay.
32: THE CITY
Beyond the dusky cornfields, towards the west, Dotted with farms, beyond the shallow stream, Through drifts of elm with quiet peep and gleam, Curved white and slender as a lady’s wrist, Faint and far off out of the autumn mist, Even as a pointed jewel softly set In clouds of colour warmer, deeper yet, Crimson and gold and rose and amethyst, Toward dayset, where the journeying sun grown old Hangs lowly westward darker now than gold, With the soft sun-touch of the yellowing hours Made lovelier, I see with dreaming eyes, Even as a dream out of a dream, arise The bell-tongued city with its glorious towers.
33: AUTUMN MAPLES
The thoughts of all the maples who shall name, When the sad landscape turns to cold and gray? Yet some for very ruth and sheer dismay, Hearing the northwind pipe the winter’s name, Have fired the hills with beaconing clouds of flame; And some with softer woe that day by day, So sweet and brief, should go the westward way, Have yearned upon the sunset with such shame That all their cheeks have turned to tremulous rose; Others for wrath have turned to rusty red, And some that knew not either grief or dread, Ere the old year should find its iron close, Have gathered down the sun's last smiles acold, Deep, deep, into their luminous hearts of gold.
34: INDIAN SUMMER
The old gray year is near his term in sooth, And now with backward eye and soft-laid palm Awakens to a golden dream of youth, A second childhood lovely and most calm, And the smooth hour about his misty head An awning of enchanted splendour weaves, Of maples, amber, purple, and rose-red, And droop-limbed elms down-dropping golden leaves. With still half-fallen lids he sits and dreams Far in a hollow of the sunlit wood, Lulled by the murmur of thin-threading streams, Nor sees the polar armies overflood The darkening barriers of the hills, nor hears The north-wind ringing with a thousand spears.
35: THE MARCH OF WINTER
They that have gone by forest paths shall hear The outcry of worn reeds and leaves long shed, The rise and sound of waters. Overhead, Out of the wide northwest, wind-stripped and clear, Like some great army dense with battle gear, All day the columned clouds come marching on, Long hastening lines in sombre unison, Vanguard, and centre, and still deepening rear; While from the waste beyond the barren verge Drives the great wind with hoof and thong set free, And buffets and wields high its whistling scourge Around the roofs, or in tempestuous glee, Over the far-off woods with tramp and surge, Huge and deep-tongued, goes roaring like the sea.
36: IN NOVEMBER
The hills and leafless forests slowly yield To the thick-driving snow. A little while And night shall darken down. In shouting file The woodmen’s carts go by me homeward-wheeled, Past the thin fading stubbles, half concealed, Now golden-gray, sowed softly through with snow, Where the last ploughman follows still his row, Turning black furrows through the whitening field. Far off the village lamps begin to gleam, Fast drives the snow, and no man comes this way; The hills grow wintry white, and bleak winds moan About the naked uplands. I alone Am neither sad, nor shelterless, nor gray, Wrapped round with thought, content to watch and dream.
37: EARTH THE STOIC
Earth, like a goblet empty of delight, Empty of summer and balm-breathing hours, Empty of music, empty of all flowers, Now with that other draught of death and night And loss, and iron bitterness refills. The upland rifts are gleaming white with snow The north wind pipes, the forest groans below, The clouds are heaping grandly on the hills. Yet thou complainest not, O steadfast Earth, Beautiful mother with thy stoic fields; In all the ages since thy fiery birth Deep in thine own wide heart thou findest still Whatever comforts and whatever shields, And plannest also for us the same sheer will.
38: WINTER EVENING
To-night the very horses springing by Toss gold from whitened nostrils. In a dream The streets that narrow to the westward gleam Like rows of golden palaces; and high From all the crowded chimneys tower and die A thousand aureoles. Down in the west The brimming plains beneath the sunset rest, One burning sea of gold. Soon, soon shall fly The glorious vision, and the hours shall feel A mightier master; soon from height to height, With silence and the sharp unpitying stars, Stern creeping frosts, and winds that touch like steel, Out of the depth beyond the eastern bars, Glittering and still shall come the awful night.
39: A JANUARY MORNING
The glittering roofs are still with frost; each worn Black chimney builds into the quiet sky Its curling pile to crumble silently. Far out to westward on the edge of morn, The slender misty city towers up-borne Glimmer faint rose against the pallid blue; And yonder on those northern hills, the hue Of amethyst, hang fleeces dull as horn. And here behind me come the woodmen’s sleighs With shouts and clamorous squeakings; might and main Up the steep slope the horses stamp and strain, Urged on by hoarse-tongued drivers—cheeks ablaze. Iced beards and frozen eyelids—team to team, With frost-fringed flanks, and nostrils jetting steam.
40: WINTER DAWN
Thin clouds are vanishing slowly. Overhead The stars melt in the wakening sky; and, lo, Far on the blue band of the eastern snow Sober and still the morning breaks, dull red. Innumerable smoke wreaths curl and spread Up from the snow-capped roofs. From the gray north A little wind that bites like fire creeps forth. The purple mists along the south hang dead. Out of the distance eastward, frosty, still, Where soon the gold-shower of the sun shall be, A file of straggling snowshoers winds aslant, Across the dull blue river, up the hill, Toward the dusk city plodding silently,— The jaded enders of some midnight jaunt.
41: A FOREST PATH IN WINTER
Along this secret and forgotten road All depths and forest forms, above, below, Are plumed and draped and hillocked with the snow. A branch cracks now and then, and its soft load Drifts by me in a thin prismatic shower; Else not a sound, but vistas bound and crossed With sheeted gleams and sharp blue shadows, frost, And utter silence. In his glittering power The master of mid-winter reveries Holds all things buried soft and strong and deep. The busy squirrel has his hidden lair; And even the spirits of the stalwart trees Have crept into their utmost roots, and there, Upcoiled in the close earth, lie fast asleep.
42: AFTER MIST
Last night there was a mist. Pallid and chill The yellow moon-blue clove the thickening sky, And all night long a gradual wind crept by, And froze the fog, and with minutest skill Fringed it and forked it, adding bead to bead, In spears, and feathery tufts, and delicate hems Round windward trunks, and all the topmost stems, And every bush, and every golden weed; And now upon the meadows silvered through And forests frosted to their farthest pines— A last faint gleam upon the misty blue— The magic of the morning falls and shines, A creamy splendour on a dim white world, Broidered with violet, crystalled and impearled.
43: WINTER BREAK
All day between high-curded clouds the sun Shone down like summer on the steaming planks. The long bright icicles in dwindling ranks Dripped from the murmuring eaves till one by one They fell. As if the spring had now begun, The quilted snow, sun-softened to the core, Loosened and shunted with a sudden roar From downward roofs. Not even with day done Had ceased the sound of waters, but all night I heard it. In my dreams forgetfully bright Methought I wandered in the April woods, Where many a silver-piping sparrow was, By gurgling brooks and sprouting solitudes, And stooped, and laughed, and plucked hepaticas.
44: BEFORE THE ROBIN
The noon hangs warm and still. Only the crow Banters and chides with his importunate call The world-wide silence resting over all. Down by the hollow yonder, where the slow Frail sheets of tremulous pools collect and grow, A few bronzed cedars in their fading dress, Almost asleep for happy weariness, Lean their blue shadows on the puckered snow. And as I listen, all my sense concealed In the very core of silence, mirthfully still, Where the first grass above the gleeting field Lies bare and yellow on a tiny hill, I hear the shore-lark in his search prolong The little lonely welcome of his song.
45: A MARCH DAY
The wind went by buffeting gust that grew And lulled and gathered. In the town below It piled the drifts and drove the powdered snow In sheets from the roof-edges. Dim clouds flew All day across the silvery mist-veiled blue, And far away between the dark pine-patches The sun shone out and dimmed again by snatches, And swept the foothills with long gleams, and threw A blind white glare upon the buried plain. Toward night there came a rush of clouds with rain And sleet driving, and then all passed, and now Clouds, wind and sunshine, all have sunk to rest. Slowly athwart the midnight’s eastern brow, The Herdsman mounts: Orion spans the west.
46: IN MARCH
The sun falls warm: the southern winds awake: The air seethes upwards with a steamy shiver: Each dip of the road is now a crystal lake, And every rut a little dancing river. Through great soft clouds that sunder overhead The deep sky breaks as pearly blue as summer: Out of a cleft beside the river’s bed Flaps the black crow, the first demure newcomer. The last seared drifts are eating fast away With glassy tinkle into glittering laces: Dogs lie asleep, and little children play With tops and marbles in the sun-bare places; And I that stroll with many a thoughtful pause Almost forget that winter ever was.
Over the dripping roofs and sunk snow-barrows, The bells are ringing loud and strangely near, The shout of children dins upon mine ear Shrilly, and like a flight of silvery arrows Showers the sweet gossip of the British sparrows, Gathered in noisy knots of one or two, To joke and chatter just as mortals do Over the day’s long tale of joys and sorrows; Talk before bed-time of bold deeds together, Of theft and fights, of hard-times and the weather, Till sleep disarm them, to each little brain Bringing tucked wings and many a blissful dream, Vision of wind and sun, of field and stream, And busy barnyards with their scattered grain.
48: LOVE DOUBT
Yearning upon the faint rose-curves that flit About her child-sweet mouth and innocent cheek, And in her eyes watching with eyes all meek The light and shadow of laughter, I would sit Mute, knowing our two souls might never knit; As if a pale proud lily-flower should seek The love of some red rose, but could not speak One word of her blithe tongue to tell of it. For oh, my Love was sunny-lipped and stirred With all swift light and sound and gloom not long Retained; I, with dreams weighed, that ever heard Sad burdens echoing through the loudest throng; She, the wild song of some May-merry bird; I, but the listening maker of a song.
49: PERFECT LOVE
Belovèd, those who moan of love’s brief day Shall find but little grace with me, I guess, Who know too well this passion’s tenderness To deem that it shall lightly pass away, A moment’s interlude in life's dull play; Though many loves have lingered to distress, So shall not ours, sweet Lady, ne’ertheless, But deepen with us till both head be gray. For perfect love is like a fair green plant, That fades not with its blossoms, but lives on, And gentle lovers shall not come to want, Though fancy with its first mad dream be gone; Sweet is the flower, whose radiant glory flies, But sweeter still the green that never dies.
50: LOVE WONDER
Or whether sad or joyous be her hours, Yet ever is she good and ever fair. If she be glad, ’tis like a child’s wild air, Who claps her hands above a heap of flowers; And if she’s sad, it is no cloud that lowers, Rather a saint’s pale grace, whose golden hair Gleams like a crown, whose eyes are like a prayer From some quiet window under minster towers. But ah, Beloved, how shall I be taught To tell this truth in any rhymèd line? For words and woven phrases fall of naught, Lost in the silence of one dream divine. Wrapped in the beating wonder of this thought: Even thou, who art so precious, thou art mine!
51: IN ABSENCE
My love is far away from me to-night, O spirits of sweet peace, kind destinies, Watch over her, and breathe upon her eyes; Keep near to her in every hurt’s despite, That no rude care or noisome dream affright. So let her rest, so let her sink to sleep, As little clouds that breast the sunset steep Merge and melt out into the golden light. My love is far away and I am grown A very child, oppressed with formless glooms, Some shadowy sadness with a name unknown Haunts the chill twilight, and these silent rooms Seem with vague fears and dim regrets astir, Lonesome and strange and empty without her.
52: THE SPIRIT OF THE HOUSE
These four gray walls are but the bodily shell, Whereof my lady of the brave blue eyes Is the immortal soul. All sweet replies And viewless records of a touch known well That like the tone within a golden bell Pervade them with a gentle atmosphere, These things are just herself—she being here— The breath that makes the rose-tree sweet to smell. Through sunshine, and gray shadow, and through gloom, With mirth and gracious courage for her ways, And goodness ever forth, but never spent, She passes with light hands from room to room, And beauty grows before her, and the days Are full, and quietly rounded, and content.
How much of wasteful grief, and fruitless sighs, O Passion, whom men justly name the blind, How many crimes, how many miseries, Scored in the tragic story of mankind Accuse your power! With what strange care you bind And part for ever with your charmèd lies, Unmated bosoms and unknowing eyes! How rarely in your barren search you find The two who in some fair and fortunate hour Know at a glance each other’s absolute power— A single touch, a single tone, betraying The truth adorned in ancient song and fable, And rush into each other’s arms, obeying An impulse perfect and inevitable.
Comfort the sorrowful with watchful eyes In silence, for the tongue cannot avail. Vex not his wounds with rhetoric, nor the stale Worn truths, that are but maddening mockeries To him whose grief outmasters all replies. Only watch near him gently; do but bring The piteous help of silent ministering, Watchful and tender. This alone is wise. So shall thy presence and thine every motion, The grateful knowledge of thy sad devotion, Melt out the passionate hardness of his grief, And break the flood-gates of the pent-up soul. He shall bow down beneath thy mute control, And take thine hands, and weep, and find relief.
Not to be conquered by these headlong days, But to stand free: to keep the mind at brood On life’s deep meaning, nature’s altitude Of loveliness, and time’s mysterious ways; At every thought and deed to clear the haze Out of our eyes, considering only this, What man, what life, what love, what beauty is, This is to live, and win the final praise. Though strife, ill fortune and harsh human need Beat down the soul, at moments blind and dumb With agony; yet, patience—there shall come Many great voices from life’s outer sea, Hours of strange triumph, and, when few men heed, Murmurs and glimpses of eternity.
Blind multitudes that jar confusèdly At strife, earth’s children, will ye never rest From toils made hateful here, and dawns distressed With ravelling self-engendered misery? And will ye never know, till sleep shall see Your graves , how dreadful and how dark indeed Are pride, self-will, and blind-voiced anger, greed, And malice with its subtle cruelty? How beautiful is gentleness, whose face Like April sunshine, or the summer rain, Swells everywhere the buds of generous thought; So easy, and so sweet it is; its grace Smoothes out so soon the tangled knots of pain. Can ye not learn it? will ye not be taught?
The world is bright with beauty, and its days Are filled with music; could we only know True ends from false, and lofty things from low; Could we but tear away the walls that graze Our very elbows in life’s frosty ways; Behold the width beyond us with its flow, Its knowledge and its murmur and its glow, Where doubt itself is but a golden haze. Ah brothers, still upon our pathway lies The shadow of dim weariness and fear, Yet if we could but lift our earthward eyes To see, and open our dull ears to hear, Then should the wonder of this world draw near And life’s innumerable harmonies.
Only the things of Beauty shall endure. While man goes woeful, wasting his brief day, From Truth and Love and Nature far astray, Lo! Beauty, the lost goal, the unsought cure; For how can he whom Beauty hath made sure, Who hath her law and sovereign creed by heart, Be proud, or pitiless, play the tyrant’s part, Be false, or envious, greedy or impure. Nay! she will gift him with a golden key To unlock every virtue. Name not ye, As once, “The good, the beautiful, the true,” For these are but three names for one sole thing; Or rather Beauty is the perfect ring That circles and includes the other two.
’Tis well with words, O masters, ye have sought To turn men’s yearning to the great and true, Yet first take heed to what your own hands do; By deeds not words the souls of men are taught; Good lives alone are fruitful; they are caught Into the fountain of all life (wherethrough Men’s souls that drink are broken or made new) Like drops of heavenly elixir, fraught With the clear essence of eternal youth. Even one little deed of weak untruth Is like a drop of quenchless venom cast, A liquid thread into life’s feeding stream, Woven for ever with its crystal gleam, Bearing the seed of death and woe at last.
Nature hath fixed in each man’s life for dower One root-like gift, one primal energy, Wherefrom the soul takes growth, as grows a tree, With sap and fibre, branch and leaf and flower; But if this seed in its creative hour Be crushed and stifled, only then the shell Lifts like a phantom falsely visible, Wherein is neither growth, nor joy, nor power. Find thou this germ, and find thou thus thyself, This one clear meaning of the deathless I, This bent, this work, this duty—for thereby God numbers thee, and marks thee for His own: Careless of hurt, or threat, or praise, or pelf, Find it and follow it, this, and this alone!
61: THE TRUTH
Friend, though thy soul should burn thee, yet be still. Thoughts were not meant for strife, nor tongues for swords. He that sees clear is gentlest of his words, And that’s not truth that hath the heart to kill. The whole world’s thought shall not one truth fulfil. Dull in our age, and passionate in youth, No mind of man hath found the perfect truth, Nor shalt thou find it; therefore, friend, be still. Watch and be still, nor hearken to the fool, The babbler of consistency and rule: Wisest is he, who, never quite secure, Changes his thoughts for better day by day: To-morrow some new light will shine, be sure, And thou shalt see thy thought another way.
62: TO A MILLIONAIRE
The world in gloom and splendour passes by, And thou in the midst of it with brows that gleam, A creature of that old distorted dream That makes the sound of life an evil cry. Good men perform just deeds, and brave men die, And win not honour such as gold can give, While the vain multitudes plod on, and live, And serve the curse that pins them down: But I Think only of the unnumbered broken hearts, The hunger and the mortal strife for bread, Old age and youth alike mistaught, misfed, By want and rags and homelessness made vile, The griefs and hates, and all the meaner parts That balance thy one grim misgotten pile.
63: THE MODERN POLITICIAN
What manner of soul is his to whom high truth Is but the plaything of a feverish hour, A dangling ladder to the ghost of power! Gone are the grandeurs of the world’s iron youth, When kings were mighty, being made by swords. Now comes the transit age, the age of brass, When clowns into the vacant empires pass, Blinding the multitude with specious words. To them faith, kinship, truth and verity, Man’s sacred rights and very holiest thing, Are but the counters at a desperate play, Flippant and reckless what the end may be, So that they glitter, each his little day, The little mimic of a vanished king.
I deem that virtue but a thing of straw That is not self-subsistent, needs the press Of sharp-eyed custom, or the point of law To teach it honour, justice, gentleness. His soul is but a shadow who does well Through lure of gifts or terror of the rod, Some painted paradise or pictured hell, Not for the love but for the fear of God. Him only do I honour in whom right, Not the sour product of some grudged control, Flows from a Godlike habit, whose clear soul, Bathed in the noontide of an inward light, In its own strength and beauty is secure, Too proud to lie, to proud to be impure.
65: TO A PROTESTANT
Why rage and fret thee; only let them be: The monkish rod, the sacerdotal pall, Council and convent, Pope and Cardinal, The black priest and his holy wizardry. Nay dread them not, for thought and liberty Spread ever faster than the foe can smite, And these shall vanish as the starless night Before a morning mightier than the sea. But what of thee and thine? That battle cry? Those forms and dogmas that thou rear’st so high? Those blasts of doctrine and those vials of wrath? Thy hell for most and heaven for the few? That narrow, joyless and ungenerous path? What then of these? Ah, they shall vanish too!
Beware of avarice! It is the sin That hath no pardon either in death or here, For it means cruelty. Hatred and fear Enter the soul, and are the lords therein. The gold that gathers at the rich man’s knees Is stored with curses and with dead men’s bones, And women’s cries and little children’s moans, The harvest of ten thousand miseries. What needs it to be rich—only a soul, Deaf to the shaken tongue and blind to tears, The sordid patience of the sightless mole! Would’st thou thus waste the sacred span of years? Lock up the doors of life and break the key, The simple heart-touch with humanity?
67: THE CUP OF LIFE
One after one the high emotions fade; Time’s wheeling measure empties and refills Year after year; we seek no more the hills That lured our youth divine and unafraid, But swarming on some common highway, made Beaten and smooth, plod onward with blind feet And only where the crowded crossways meet We halt and question, anxious and dismayed. Yet can we not escape it; some we know Have angered and grown mad, some scornfully laughed; Yet surely to each lip—to mine to thin— Comes with strange scent and pallid poisonous glow The cup of Life, that dull Circean draught, That taints us all, and turns the half to swine.
68: STOIC AND HEDONIST
The cup of knowledge emptied to its lees, Soft dreamers in a perfumed atmosphere, Ye turn, and from your luminous reveries Follow with curious eyes and biting sneer Yon grave-eyed men, to whom alone are sweet Strength and self-rule, who move with stately tread, And reck not if the earth beneath your feet With bitter herb or blossoming rose be spread. Ye smile and frown, and yet for all your art, Supple and shining as the ringèd snake, And all your knowledge, all your grace of heart, Is there not one thing missing from your make— The thing that is life’s acme, and its key— The stoic’s grander portion—Dignity.
O deep-eyed brothers, was there ever here, Or is there now, or shall there sometime be Harbour or any rest for such as we, Lone thin-cheeked mariners, that aye must steer Our whispering barks with such keen hope and fear Toward misty bournes across that coastless sea, Whose winds are songs that ever gust and flee, Whose shores are dreams that tower but come not near. Yet we perchance, for all that flesh and mind Of many ills be marked with many a trace, Shall find the life more sweet more strangely kind Than they of that dim-hearted earthly race Who creep firm-nailed upon the earth’s hard face, And hear nor see not, being deaf and blind.
What is more large than knowledge and more sweet; Knowledge of thoughts and deeds, of rights and wrongs, Of passions and of beauties and of songs; Knowledge of life; to feel its great heart beat Through all the soul upon her crystal seat; To see, to feel, and evermore to know; To till the old world’s wisdom till it grow A garden for the wandering of our feet. Oh for a life of leisure and broad hours, To think and dream, to put away small things, This world’s perpetual leaguer of dull naughts; To wander like the bee among the flowers Till old age find us weary, feet and wings Grown heavy with gold of many thoughts
71: A PRAYER
O Earth, O dewy mother, breathe on us Something of all thy beauty and thy might, Us that are part of day, but most of night, Not strong like thee, but ever burdened thus With glooms and cares, things pale and dolorous Whose gladdest moments are not wholly bright; Something of all thy freshness and thy light, O Earth, O mighty mother, breathe on us. O mother, who wast long before our day, And after us full many an age shalt be, Careworn and blind, we wander from thy way: Born of thy strength, yet weak and halt are we; Grant us O mother, therefore, us who pray, Some little of thy light and majesty.
72: BY THE SEA
At morn beside the ocean’s foamy roar I walked soft-shadowed through the luminous mist, And saw not clearly, sea or land, nor wist Where the tide stayed, nor where began the shore. A gentle seaward wind came down, and bore The scent of roses and of bay-berry; And through the great gray veil that hid the sea Broke the pale sun—a silvery warmth—not more. So through the fogs that cover all this life I walk as in a dream ’twixt sea and land— The meadows of wise thought, the sea of strife— And sounds and happy scents from either hand Come with vast gleams that spread and softly shine, The joy of life, the energy divine.
73: IN THE CITY
I wandered in a city great and old, At morn, at noon, and when the evening fell, And round my spirit gathered like a spell Its splendour and its tumult and its gold, The mysteries and the memories of its years, Its victors and fair women, all the life, The joy, the power, the passion, and the strife, Its sighs of hand-locked lovers, and its tears. And whereso in that mighty city, free And with clear eyes and eager heart I trod, My thought became a passion high and strong, And all the spirit of humanity, Soft as a child and potent as a god, Drew near to me, and rapt me like a song.
74, 75: MUSIC
Move on, light hands, so strongly tenderly, Now with dropped calm and yearning undersong Now swift and loud, tumultuously strong, And I in darkness, sitting near to thee, Shall only hear, and feel, but shall not see, One hour made passionately bright with dreams, Keen glimpses of life’s splendour, dashing gleams Of what we would, and what we cannot be. Surely not painful ever, yet not glad, Shall such hours be to me, but blindly sweet. Sharp with all yearning and all fact at strife, Dreams that shine by with unremembered feet, And tones that like far distance make this life Spectral and wonderful and strangely sad.
I see thy fingers move leaping key to key, Now heavily like winds that sigh and strain, Now ghostly like fair sunshine on a plain Where many streams and many cities be, Now like the roar of the disturbed sea On windy shores, or fitfully like spent rain, Half heard at dawn upon the misty pane, Or leaves caught by the wind forgetfully, Till souls and hands in wilder mood take flight Borne with tempestuous sound from height to height Of trembling joy or giant agony, As when through lonely forests in the night The crashing wings of awful winds go by And the trees surge in one tumultuous cry.
76: THE PIANO
Low brooding cadences that dream and cry Life’s stress and passion echoing straight and clear; Wild flights of notes that clamour and beat high Into the storm and battle, or drop sheer; Strange majesties of sound beyond all words Ringing on clouds and thunderous heights sublime; Sad detonance of golden tones and chords That tremble with the secret of all time; O wrap me round; for one exulting hour Possess my soul, and I indeed shall know The wealth of living, the desire, the power, The tragic sweep, the Appollonian glow; All life shall stream before me; I shall see, With eyes unblanched, Time and Eternity.
Slow figures in some live remorseless frieze, The approaching days escapeless and unguessed, With mask and shroud impenetrably dressed; Time, whose inexorable destinies Bear down upon us like impending seas; And the huge presence of this world, at best A sightless giant wandering without rest, Agèd and mad with many miseries. The weight and measure of these things who knows? Resting at times beside life’s thought-swept stream, Sobered and stunned with unexpected blows, We scarcely hear the uproar; life doth seem, Save for the certain nearness of its woes, Vain and phantasmal as a sick man’s dream.
78, 79: DEAD CITIES
Phantoms of many a dead idolatry, Dream-rescued from oblivion, in mine ear Your very names are strange and great to hear, A sound of ancientness and majesty, Memphis and Shushan, Carthage, Meroë, And crowned, before these ages rose, with fame, Troja, long vanished in Achaean flame, On and Cyrene, perished utterly. Things old and strange and dim to dream upon, Cumae and Sardis, cities waste and gone; And that pale river by whose ghostly strand Thebes’ monstrous tombs and desolate altars stand, Baalbec, and Tyre, and buried Babylon, And ruined Tadmor in the desert sand.
Of Ur and Erech and Accad who shall tell And Calneh in the land of Shinar. Time Hath made them but the substance of a rhyme. And where are Ninus and the towers that fell, When Jahveh’s anger was made visible? Where now are Sepharvaim and its dead? Hammath and Arpad? In their ruined stead The wild ass and the maneless lion dwell. In Poestum now the roses bloom no more, But the wind wails about the barren shore, An echo in its gloomed and ghostly reeds. And many a city of an elder age, Now nameless, fallen in some antique rage, Lies worn to dust, and none shall know its deeds.
Behold! I lay in prison like St. Paul, Chained to two guards that both were grim and stout; All day they sat by me and held me thrall. The one is named Regret, the other Doubt. And through the twilight of that hopeless close There came an angel shining suddenly That took me by the hand and, as I rose, The chains grew soft and slipped away from me. The doors gave back and swung without a sound, Like petals of some magic flowers unfurled. I followed, speeding o’er enchanted ground, Into another and a kindlier world. The master of that black and bolted keep Thou knowest is Life: the angel’s name is Sleep.
81: SPIRITUAL SOLITUDE
How still it is here in the woods. The trees Stand motionless, as if they did not dare To stir, lest it should break the spell. The air Hangs quiet as spaces in a marble frieze. Even this little brook, that runs at ease, Whispering and gurgling in its knotted bed, Seems but to deepen, with its curling thread Of sound, the shadowy sun-pierced silences. Sometimes a hawk screams or a woodpecker Startles the stillness from its fixèd mood With his loud careless tap. Sometimes I hear The dreamy white-throat from some far off tree Pipe slowly on the listening solitude, His five pure notes succeeding pensively.
While knowledge and high wisdom yet were young, Through Sicily of old, from tryst to tryst, Wandered with sad-set brow and eloquent tongue, The melancholy, austere rhapsodist: ‘All my life long,’ he cried, ‘by many ways I follow truth where devious footmarks fall; Now I am old, and still my spirit strays, Mocked and eluded, lost amid the All.’ That was Mind’s youth, and ages long ago, And still thine hunger, O Xenophanes, Preys on the hearts of men; and to and fro, They probe the same implacable mysteries: The same vast toils oppress them, and they bear The same unquenchable hope, the same despair.
83: THE PASSING OF THE SPIRIT
The wind—the world-old rhapsodist—goes by, And the great pines in changeless vesture gloomed, And all the towering elm-trees thatched and plumed With green, take up, one after one, the cry, And as their choral voices swell and die, Catching the infinite note from tree to tree, Others far off in long antistrophe With swaying arms and surging tops reply. So to men’s souls, at sacred intervals, Out of the dust of life takes wing and calls A spirit that we know not, nor can trace, And heart to heart makes answer with strange thrill, It passes, and a moment face to face We dream ourselves immortal, and are still.
84: THE PILOT
The skilful pilot from the windy prow Watches far off the markings of the sea, And knows, long-studied in its charactery, What rocks, what shoals, what currents hide below. This can the skilful pilot do, with brow Serene and certain; but not so to me That mouth, those eyes, a subtler mystery, Yield up the secrets of the heart. I know, Poring upon the soul-chart of your face, That all my searching, all my skill are vain. I do but follow on some broken trace, And please myself with guessing. Joy concurs With grief, but neither can the script explain, So veiled and various are the characters.
85: TO DEATH
Methought in dreams I saw my little son— My little son that in his cradle died; No more a babe, but all his childhood done, A full-grown man. Deep-browed and tender-eyed, I knew him by the subtle touch of me, And by his mother’s look, and by the eyes We hold in such remembrance piteously, And the bright smile so quick for sweet replies. O Death, I would that from thy front of stone My grief could wring one word, or my tears draw On the strange night of life, one single gleam! Was he whom by the gift of sleep I saw The living shape of my belovèd gone, My very son, or but a fleeting dream.
86: THE POETS
Half god, half brute, within the self-same shell, Changers with every hour from dawn till even, Who dream with angels in the gate of heaven, And skirt with curious eyes the brinks of hell, Children of Pan, whom some, the few, love well, But most draw back, and know not what to say, Poor shining angels, whom the hoofs betray, Whose pinions frighten with their goatish smell. Half brutish, half divine, but all of earth, Half-way ’twixt hell and heaven, near to man, The whole world’s tangle gathered in one span, Full of this human torture and this mirth: Life with its hope and error, toil and bliss, Earth-born, earth-reared, ye know it as it is.
87: TO CHAUCER
’Twas high mid-spring, when thou wert here on earth, Chaucer, and the new world was just begun; For thee ’twas pastime and immortal mirth To work and dream beneath the pleasant sun, Full glorious were the hearty ways of man, And God above was great and wise and good, Thy soul sufficient for its earthly span, Thy body brave and full of dancing blood. Such was thy faith, O master! We believe Neither in God, humanity, nor self; Even the votaries of place and pelf Pass by firm-footed, while we build and weave With doubt and restless care. Too well we see The drop of life lost in eternity.
88: A FORECAST
What days await this woman, whose strange feet Breathe spells, whose presence makes men dream like wine, Tall, free and slender as the forest pine, Whose form is moulded music, through whose sweet Frank eyes I feel the very heart’s least beat, Keen, passionate, full of dreams and fire: How in the end, and to what man’s desire Shall all this yield, whose lips shall these lips meet? On thing I know: if he be great and pure, This love, this fire, this beauty shall endure; Triumph and hope shall lead him by the palm: But if not this, some differing thing he be, That dream shall break in terror; he shall see The whirlwind ripen, where he sowed the calm.
89: A NIGHT OF STORM
O city, whom gray stormy hands have sown With restless drift, scarce broken now of any, Out of the dark thy windows dim and many Gleam red across the storm. Sound is there none, Save evermore the fierce wind’s sweep and moan, From whose gray hands the keen white snow is shaken In desperate gusts, that fitfully lull and waken, Dense as night’s darkness round thy towers of stone. Darkling and strange art thou thus vexed and chidden; More dark and strange thy veilèd agony, City of storm, in whose gray heart are hidden What stormier woes, what lives that groan and beat, Stern and thin-cheeked, against time’s heavier sleet, Rude fates, hard hearts, and prisoning poverty.
90: AT THE RAILWAY STATION
The darkness brings no quiet here, the light No waking: ever on my blinded brain The flare of lights, the rush, and cry, and strain, The engines’ scream, the hiss and thunder smite: I see the hurrying crowds, the clasp, the flight, Faces that touch, eyes that are dim with pain: I see the hoarse wheels turn, and the great train Move labouring out into the bourneless night. So many souls within its dim recesses, So many bright, so many mournful eyes: Mine eyes that watch grow fixed with dreams and guesses; What threads of life, what hidden histories, What sweet or passionate dreams and dark distresses, What unknown thoughts, what various agonies!
O soft-cheeked mother, O belovèd night, Dispeller of black thoughts and mortal dreads, Drowner of sorrows. In how many beds, Betwixt the evening and the dawning light, Thy tenderness, thy pity infinite, Hath it not poured nepenthe, soft as rain, On thankful lids that have forgotten pain, Forgotten grief, forgotten care and spite! How many lovers also side by side, After long waiting such a weary while, Now with arms locked, cheeks touching, satisfied, Sleep, and their one great hour returns to thee, On these too dost thou not incline thy smile, Tender with welcome, Mother Euphrone?
I like to stretch full-length upon my bed, Sometimes, when I am weary body and mind, And think that I shall some day lie thus, blind And cold, and motionless, my last word said. How grim it were, how piteous to be dead! And yet how sweet, to hear no more, nor see, Sleeping, past care, through all eternity, With clay for pillow to the clay-cold head. And I should seem so absent, so serene: They who should see me in that hour would ask What spirit, or what fire, could ever have been Within that yellow and discoloured mask; For there seems life in lead, or in a stone, But in a soul's deserted dwelling none.
93: THE VAIN FIGHT
Such a grim fight we fought for thee with death As never hero in the ancient gloom, With swollen brows, strained cords, and labouring breath, Fought for Alcestis by the rocky tomb. In vain. Thou wert too beautiful, too pure, Too tender and too frail for earthly life. Thou wert in love with Death, nor could’st endure Even the dawnrise of this day of strife. Ah! thou art gone, who scarcely saw the day, Fair little comrade of one fleeting while, And we must travel our appointed space, Nor ever for the brightening of our way Behold again on any living face That matchless kindred look, that touching smile.
94: IN A CEMETERY
Here the dead sleep—the quiet dead. No sound Disturbs them ever, and no storm dismays. Winter mid snow caresses the tired ground, And the wind roars about the woodland ways. Springtime and summer and red autumn pass, With leaf and bloom and pipe of wind and bird, And the old earth puts forth her tender grass, By them unfelt, unheeded and unheard. Our centuries to them are but as strokes In the dim gamut of some far-off chime. Unaltering rest their perfect being cloaks— A thing too vast to hear or feel or see— Children of Silence and Eternity, They know no season but the end of time.
Come with thine unveiled worlds, O truth of night, Come with thy calm. Adown the shallow day, Whose splendours hid the vaster world away, I wandered on this little plot of light, A dreamer among dreamers. Veiled or bright, Whether the gold shower roofed me or the gray, I strove and fretted at life’s feverish play, And dreamed until the dream seemed infinite. But now the gateway of the All unbars; The passions and the cares that beat so shrill, The giants of this petty world, disband; On the great threshold of the night I stand, Once more a soul self-cognizant and still, Among the wheeling multitude of stars.
96, 97: THE DEATH OF TENNYSON
Tonight while the grey wings of storm are spread So wide and deep about the unquiet world, And younder for our spring-loved flowers uncurled Lie withered ferns and crimson leaves instead, Passes low-lipped from bended head to head, O’er every English land, mixed with the blind Tulmut and ceaseless groping of mankind, The world that Alfred Tennyson is dead. Aye, he is dead; even as those great ones die, Who yield their sacred bodies to the dust, Content, lest even Death’s self should suffer wrong Being robbed of his just due, yet deathlessly, His way goes with us in eternal trust The word, the power, the vision and the song.
They tell that when his final hour drew near, He whose fair praise the ages shall rehearse, Whom now the living and the dead hold dear; Our gray-haired master of immortal verse, Called for his Shakespeare, and with touch of rue Turned to that page in stormy Cymbeline That bears the dirge. Whether he read none knew, But on the book he laid his hand serene, And kept it there unshaken, till there fell The last gray change, and from before his eyes, This glorious world that Shakespeare loved so well, Slowly, as at a beck, without surprise— Its woe, its pride, its passion, and its play— Like mists and melting shadows passed away.
98, 99: THAMYRIS
Œchalian Eurytus in his hall Held feast; and, charged with triumph and with wine, Wrought to a glowing madness half divine, The Thracian Thamyris sang, and held in thrall The kings and leaning heroes, each and all; And there he challenged, standing with raised head, The Zeus-born Muses, offering, void of dread, To meet and match them in the song, nor fall In aught behind, nor yield the mastery; But him, when his great spirit seemed most strong, Leading at cool of dawn their sacred round, The vengeful daughters of Mnemosyne In the gray gorges near Eurotas found, And made him blind, and took away his song.
Now by the gate at Argos, where the way Brings all the traffic in from Argolis, Gray-haired and full of grief, sits Thamyris, Blind; and his numbed and witless fingers stray Among the broken harp-strings—so men say— And ever, when feet pass, he lifts his eyes, Sightless and robbed of all their fire, and cries With a great warning twenty times a day: ‘The proud and boastful man who grasps a crown For his own greatness, him the gods strike down. Heroes and Bards know that it is not ye That make yourselves, but a god gave it you; Therefore walk heedfully, holding as is due Your sacred gift with thankful mind in fee.’
100: THE KING’S SABBATH
Once idly in his hall King Olave sat Pondering, and with his dagger whittled chips; And one drew near to him with austere lips, Saying, “To-morrow is Monday,” and at that The king said nothing, but held forth his flat Broad palm, and bending on his mighty hips, Took up and mutely laid thereon the slips Of scattered wood, as on a hearth, and gat From off the embers near, a burning brand. Kindling the pile with this, the dreaming Dane Sat silent with his eyes set and his bland Proud mouth, tight-woven, smiling, drawn with pain, Watching the fierce fire flare, and wax, and wane, Hiss and burn down upon his shrivelled hand.