Quatrains Of Life By Wilfrid Scawen Blunt
What has my youth been that I love it thus,
Sad youth, to all but one grown tedious,
Stale as the news which last week wearied us,
Or a tired actor’s tale told to an empty house?
What did it bring me that I loved it, even
With joy before it and that dream of Heaven,
Boyhood’s first rapture of requited bliss,
What did it give? What ever has it given?
‘Let me recount the value of my days,
Call up each witness, mete out blame and praise,
Set life itself before me as it was,
And–for I love it–list to what it says.
Oh, I will judge it fairly. Each old pleasure
Shared with dead lips shall stand a separate treasure.
Each untold grief, which now seems lesser pain,
Shall here be weighed and argued of at leisure.
I will not mark mere follies. These would make
The count too large and in the telling take
More tears than I can spare from seemlier themes
To cure its laughter when my heart should ache.
Only the griefs which are essential things,
The bitter fruit which all experience brings;
Nor only of crossed pleasures, but the creed
Men learn who deal with nations and with kings.
All shall be counted fairly, griefs and joys,
Solely distinguishing ‘twixt mirth and noise,
The thing which was and that which falsely seemed,
Pleasure and vanity, man’s bliss and boy’s.
So I shall learn the reason of my trust
In this poor life, these particles of dust
Made sentient for a little while with tears,
Till the great “may–be” ends for me in “must.”
My childhood? Ah, my childhood! What of it
Stripped of all fancy, bare of all conceit?
Where is the infancy the poets sang?
Which was the true and which the counterfeit?
I see it now, alas, with eyes unsealed,
That age of innocence too well revealed.
The flowers I gathered–for I gathered flowers–
Were not more vain than I in that far field.
Self was my god, the self I most despise,
Blind in its joys and swine–like gluttonies,
The rule of the brute beast that in us is,
Its heaven a kitchen and a gorge its prize.
No other pleasures knew I but of sense,
No other loves but lusts without pretence.
Oh, childhood is but Nature unredeemed,
Blind in desire, unshamed in ignorance.
I was all vanity and greed, my hand
Uncaring, as a panther’s, whom it pained,
My nurse, my sisters, the young birds my prey.
I saw them grieve nor stopped to understand.
My mother loved me. Did I love her? Yes,
When I had need of her to soothe distress
Or serve my wants. But when the need was by,
Others were there more dear in idleness.
These coaxed and flattered me. Their wit afforded
Edge to my wit, and I would strut and lord it
Among them a young god–for god I seemed–
Or goose–for goose I was–they still encored it.
Alas, poor mother! What a love was yours!
How little profit of it all endures!
What wasted vigils, what ill–omened prayers;
What thankless thanks for what disastrous cures!
Why did you bind yourself in such harsh fetter,
To serve a heart so hard? It had been better
Surely to take your rest through those long nights,
Than watching on to leave me thus your debtor.
I heard but heeded not her warning voice;
I grudged her face its sadness in my joys,
And when she looked at me I did not guess
The secret of her sorrow and my loss.
They told me she was dying, but my eyes
Brimmed not with tears. I hardly felt surprise,
Nay, rather anger at their trouble when
I asked them “what it was one does who dies.”
She threw her weak arms round me, and my face
Pressed to her own in one supreme embrace;
I felt her tears upon my cheeks all wet,
And I was carried frightened from the place.
I lost her thus who was indeed my all,
Lost her with scarce a pang whom now I call
Aloud to in the night a grieving man,
Hoar in his sins, and only clasp the wall.
This the beginning. Next my boyhood came,
Childhood embittered, its brute joys the same,
Only in place of kindness cruelty,
For courage fear, and for vain–glory shame.
Here now was none to flatter or to sue.
My lords were of the many, I the few;
These gave command nor heeded my vain prayers.
It was their will, not mine, my hands must do.
I was their slave. My body was the prey
Of their rude sports, more savage still than they,
My every sense the pastime of their whim,
My soul a hunted thing by night and day.
Pain was my portion, hunger, wakefulness,
And cold more bitter still, and that distress
Which is unnamed of tears that dare not fall,
When the weak body grieves and none may guess.
There was no place where I might lay my head,
No refuge from the world which was my dread,
No shrine inviolate for me from my foes,
No corner quite my own, not even my bed.
I would have changed then with the meanest thing
Which has its home in the free fields in Spring,
And makes its lair in the Earth’s secret dells,
Or hides in her dark womb by burrowing.
I used to gaze into the depths of Earth,
And watch the worms and beetles that have birth
Under the stones secure from outer ills,
And envy them their loneliness in mirth.
One treasure had I, one thing that I loved,
A snail with shell most delicately grooved,
And a mute patient face which seemed to see,
And horns which moved towards me as I moved.
It was like me a creature full of fear,
But happier far for its strong household gear,
The living fortress on its back wherein
Its griefs could shrink away and disappear.
I kept it in a nest, the hollow bole
Of a dead elm, and for its daily dole,
And my own comfort in its luckier state,
Brought it a lettuce I in secret stole.
It waited for my coming each new noon,
When from my fellows I could steal so soon,
And there I fed it and arranged its cell,
All through a single happy month of June.
And then–ah, then–who even now shall tell,
The terror of that moment, when with yell
Of triumph on their prize they broke and me,
And crushed it ‘neath their heels, those hounds of Hell!
Even yet the thought of it makes my blood rush
Back to my temples with an angry flush;
And for an instant, if Man’s race could be
Crushed with it, God forgive me, I would crush.
Ay, God forgive me! ‘Tis an evil thought,
And thus it is that wrong on wrong is wrought,
Vengeance on vengeance by a single deed
Of violent ill or idleness untaught.
Nay, rather let me love. I will not be
Partner with Man even thus in cruelty
For one least instant, though the prize should stand,
Hate slain for ever and the Nations free.
Thus for four years I lived of slaves the slave,
Too weak to fight, too beaten to be brave.
Who mocks at impotence and coward fear
Knows little of the pangs mute creatures have.
Yet wherefore grieve? Perhaps of all my days
This is the thing I mostly need to praise,
My chiefest treasure to have suffered wrong,
For God is cunning in His works and ways.
The sense of justice which He gives to Man
Is his own suffering, and His pity’s plan
Man’s own great need of pity which brims o’er
In alms to Africa and Hindostan.
And he who has not suffered nothing knows;
Therefore I chide not at these ancient woes,
But keep them as a lesson to my pride,
Lest I should smite the meanest of my foes.
And it is ended. Kindly Death drew near
And warned them from me with his face of fear.
I did not fear him, but the rest stood awed,
As at the frown of some dread minister.
I passed out of their sight, one living still,
But dead to sense who knows not good or ill,
Their blessings were the last thing that I heard
In that dark house. I wish them only well.
What next befell me was as some have found,
Peace to their wounds upon a battle ground,
Who sleep through days of pain and nights of fear,
Conscious of nothing but their dream profound.
My dream was of a convent with smooth floors,
And whitewashed walls, a place of corridors,
Where the wind blew in summer all day long,
And a shut garden filled with altar flowers.
Here lived in piety a score of men,
Who, having found the world a place of pain,
Or fearing it ere yet they knew it well,
Sought in God’s service their eternal gain.
With these it was my privilege to be
The pensioner of their great pity’s fee,
Nor favoured less for my dim soul’s dark ways,
Awhile ‘twixt boyhood and maturity.
My sorrow to their zeal was fruitful soil,
My wounds their pride as needing wine and oil;
All knowledge had they to redeem and save,
Mirth, silence, prayer, and that best opiate, toil.
The garden was my task. I learned to dig,
To nail the fruit–trees, pear, and peach, and fig;
To trim the grass plots and the box make good,
And keep the gravel smooth from leaf or twig.
Dear blessed garden! In this night of days
I see it still with its fair formal face,
Where even the flowers looked prim, as who should ask
Pardon for beauty in so pure a place.
This for the summer. But when winter fell,
A gentler service called me from my cell,
As suited to the frailty of my needs,
To serve the mass and ring the chapel bell.
Mine was the sacristy, the care of copes,
Albs, censers, pyxes, gifts of kings and popes,
Of lace and linen and the lamps which hung
For ever lit with oil of human hopes.
There on the altar steps, as one at home,
I hourly knelt the servant of old Rome,
And learned her ritual, and assuaged my soul
With the high lessons of her martyrdom.
Not seldom in those hours the dream was mine
Of voices speaking and a call divine.
God in all ages thus has shown to men
His secret will, and I too sought a sign.
The voice that called me was a voice of good.
It spoke of feasts less vain than the world’s food,
And showed me my place set a guest for aye
Of heavenly things in that calm brotherhood.
Why did I shrink? What profit to my soul
Has the world proved that I must yield it toll?
What its ambitions that for these my zeal
Turned backward then from its eternal goal?
Yet thus it is. Our fallen human blood
Is ever a mixed stream ‘twixt bad and good;
And mine, perhaps, worse mingled than the rest,
Flowed in a baser, a more prurient flood.
And so it might not be. There came a day
When I must grasp my fate and choose my way,
And when my will was weaker than a child’s,
And pride stood in rebellion and said nay.
There in the garden, while the thrushes sang,
I listened to his prayer with a mute pang.
That man of God who argued with my soul,
And still the vesper chorus rang and rang.
Below us a pool lay with depths profound,
And in its face I gazed as if to sound
His reason’s meaning, while the rain of grace
Was shed on all things but my heart around.
“For lo,” he said, “thus near us lies the end;
A step–no more–may mar our lives or mend.
This side a little, and Hell gapes for us;
On that side Heaven holds out strong hands, a friend.
“And he who fears is wise. Oh look,” he cried,
“Here in this pool lies Death with its arms wide.
Speak. Shall I buy you life at cost of mine?
Nay; I would drown, though in my sin I died.”
Thus Moses argued with his people, these
Than I less stubborn and less hard to please.
God on that night spoke loudly to my soul,
And I refused Him–weeping–on my knees.
Here my dream ended. From that hidden life
I went out hungry to a world of strife,
The world of pleasure, and with heart keen set
For human joy as having felt the knife.
What is the root of pleasure in Man’s heart?
The need to know made practical in part,
The shaping of the thing the soul has dreamed,
In gold or clay, with art or little art.
Youth knows not how to fashion its own pleasure;
It deals with Fortune without scale or measure.
And so is cheated of the gold life holds,
A treasure house of hope without the treasure.
The need is there, as swallows need to fly,
The strength of wing which longs for liberty;
The courage of the soul which upward tends,
And the eye’s light, a truth which is no lie.
Behind us the past sinks, too tedious night,
Whose shadows brighter show the world of light.
And who shall say that laughter is not good,
When the blood pulses in the veins aright?
An April morning with the birds awake;
The sound of waters lapping by a lake;
The scent of flowers, the rhyme of dancing feet;
The breath of midnight with the heart aquake.
These are the moods of pleasure. And no less
The soul itself has need of wantonness.
The thirst of knowledge fired not only Eve,
And youth grieves still to guess and only guess.
We ask for wisdom. Knowledge first of all
Demands our vows from her high pedestal.
We wish ourselves in act as wise as gods,
Nor even in age dare quite our oath recall.
The truth !–to hold the actual thing and be
Bound by no law but hers and liberty.
Such was my youth’s ambition, the fruit fair
And good for food of the forbidden tree.
Two things I was resolved my soul should know;
The physical meaning of the Earth below,
With its dumb forces armed for good and ill,
And its blind fires which in their cycles go;
This, and the power of Love. Here doubly set,
The riddle stood which holds life’s alphabet.
What of a very truth were God and Man?
I dared not die till I had answered it.
And first of God. What Quixote on what steed
Of foundered folly urged to headlong speed,
Ere chose his path more madly, or fell down
Proner on life’s least lenient stones to bleed?
Striding my horse of reason with loose rein,
I tilted at all shadows in disdain.
To each eternal I my question put,
“What art thou, for Man’s pleasure or his pain?”
The Maker I had worshipped, where was He,
In the Earth’s fields, or the circumfluent sea?
The footsteps of His presence on the wind,
How should I trace them through infinity?
The huge world in its naked shape unclad,
Mocked me with silence, as a thing gone mad.
A brainless virgin, passionless and blind,
Reeling through space, unsentient–yet how sad!
The stars of heaven! Their voices once went out
Through all a firmament in psalm and shout.
What word have they to–night? Nay, Jesse’s son
Had only mocked in our new world of doubt.
I searched them, and I numbered, and I came
To numbers only, flame evolved of flame,
Orb wheeled on orb, a meaningless machine,
A handless clock without the maker’s name.
Where was my God the Father? Not in space,
Which needs no god for glory or disgrace,
Being itself eternal. He I sought
Knew not the stars but smiled with human face.
Darkly the night looked at me; darker still
The inner Earth with its tumultuous will,
Its legion of destroyers and destroyed,
Its law of hunger and the need to kill.
In this too was no god, or–monstrous thought–
A god of endless wrong, of treason wrought
Through countless ages still against the weak.
Out on such truth if this be all it taught!
Out on such reason! From that cave of dread
Like one despoiled of thieves I naked fled,
My thirst for knowledge slaked in bitterness,
And Earth’s blank riddle all too sternly read.
What has my youth been that I love it thus?
The love of Woman? Ah, thou virtuous
Dear face of wisdom which first filled my heaven,
How art thou fled from life’s deserted house!
I see thee pure and noble as a vision,
Rapt in the joy of thy sublime derision
Of all things base, yet tender to the pain
Of him that loved thee spite of love’s misprision.
Joyous thou wert as a Spring morning filled
With mirth of birds which strive and wive and build,
A presence of all pleasure on the Earth
Transformed through thee and with thy laughter thrilled.
True were thy eyes and pitiful thy voice,
The colour of thy cheeks how rare a choice,
The smiling of thy lips how strangely dear
When thy wit moved and made our souls rejoice!
Few years thou countedst to thy wisdom’s score,
But more than mine and than thy pleasure more
I deemed thee roof and crown of womanhood,
Framed for all fame to blazon and adore.
Why wert thou fashioned thus for Earth and Man,
If only Heaven was to possess thy plan?
Why wert thou beautiful as God to me,
If only God should see thee and should scan?
Oh, thou wert cruel in thy ignorance,
Thou first beloved of my time’s romance.
The love within thee was a light of death,
Set for a snare and luring to mischance.
What didst thou think of him, the boy untried,
To whom thou spakest of Heaven as speaks a bride?
The love of Heaven! Alas, thou couldst not guess
The fires he nursed or surely thou hadst lied.
His secret springs of passion had no art,
Nor loosed his tongue to any counterpart
Of mastering words. You neither feared nor knew
The rage of cursing hidden in his heart.
If thou hadst seen it, wouldst thou not have said
A soul by Satan tortured and misled?
Thou didst not guess the truth, that in thy hand
The scourges lay, the pincers, and the lead.
Or haply didst thou love me? Not so heaven
Possessed thee then but sometimes there were given
Glimpses which, to my later eyes of light,
Have shown new worlds as if by lightnings riven.
How had it been if I had ventured quite
That first enchanted, unforgotten night,
When I surprised thee weeping and in fear
Forbore the wrong that should have proved me right?
How had it been if youth had been less weak,
And love’s mute hand had found the wit to speak.
If thou hadst been less valiant in thy tears,
And I had touched the heaven which was thy cheek?
Would life have been to me what now it is,
A thing of dreams half wise and half unwise,
A web unpatterned where each idler’s hand
Has woven his thoughts, flowers, scrolls, and butterflies?
Or rather, had it not, redeemed of bliss,
Grasped at new worlds less impotent than this,
And made of love a heaven? for depths of fate
Lie in the issue of a woman’s kiss.
Alas, it was not, and it may not be
Now, though the sun were melted in the sea,
And though thou livedst, and though I still should live,
Searching thy soul through all Eternity.
The ideal love, how fondly it gives place
To loves all real–alas, and flavourless.
The heart in hunger needs its meat to live,
And takes what dole it finds of happiness.
Then are strange spectacles of treason seen,
Earthquakes and tempests and the wars of men,
Shipwrecks of faith, ungodly interludes
And pagan rites to Moloch on the green.
Lust travestied as love goes nightly forth,
Preaching its creed unclean from South to North,
Using the very gestures of true love,
Its words, its prayers, its vows–how little worth!
Where are ye now, ye poor unfortunates,
Who once my partners were in these mad gaits,
Sad souls of women half unsexed by shame,
In what dire clutches of what felon fates?
Dark–eyed I see her, her who caused my fall,
Nay, caused it not who knew it not at all.
I hear her babble her fool’s creed of bliss,
While I lie mute, a swine–like prodigal.
Her chamber redolent of unctuous glooms
Prisons me yet with its profane perfumes,
A cell of follies used and cast aside,
Painted in pleasure’s likeness–and a tomb’s.
Oh, those dead flowers upon her table set,
How loud they preach to me of wisdom yet,
Poor slaughtered innocents there parched in Hell,
Which Heaven had seen at dawn with dewdrops wet!
Littered they lay, those maidenheads of saints,
Mid pots of fard and powder–puffs and paints,
Egregious relics of lost purity
Tortured on wires with all that mars and taints.
Beneath, upon the floor her slippers lay
Who was the queen of all that disarray,
Left where she dropped them when she fled the room
To speed her latest gallant on his way.
The pictures on the wall–by what strange chance–
Showed sacred scenes of Biblical romance;
Among them Pilate on his judgment–seat
Washing before the multitude his hands.
Smiling he sat while in reproachful mood
He they led forth to crucifixion stood.
“Innocent am I,” thus the legend ran
Inscribed beneath it, “of this just One’s blood.”
Innocent! Ah, the sad forgotten thought
Of that mute face my convent dreams had sought.
And while I sighed, behold the arms of sin
In my own arms enlatticed and enwrought.
A life of pleasure is a misnamed thing,
Soulless at best, an insect on the wing,
But mostly sad with its unconquered griefs,
The noise that frets, the vanities that sting.
The weapons of youth’s armoury are these–
The chase, the dance, the gambler’s ecstasies.
Each in its turn I handled with the rest,
And drained my cup of folly to the lees.
What days I murdered thus without design,
What nights deflowered in madness and lewd wine!
The ghosts of those lost hours are with me still,
Crying, “Give back my life, and mine, and mine!”
Yet was it glorious on the scented morn
To wake the woods with clamouring hound and horn,
To ride red–coated where the red fox ran,
And shout with those who laughed to see him torn.
Glorious to lie ‘neath the tall reeds in wait
For the swift fowl at flight returning late,
And pull them from their path with lightning shot,
The bolt of Jove less certain in its fate.
Glorious to battle with the crested wave
For the full nets engulphed in the sea’s grave,
And see the fishes flash entangled there,
With only courage and strong arms to save.
And glorious more, with sword high–poised and still,
To meet the bull’s rush with o’ermastering skill,
And watch the stricken mass in anger die,
Tamed by the potency of human will.
All glorious and vain–glorious and most sad,
Because of the dark death their doing made,
And of the nothingness that swept the track,
Leaving no footprint or of good or bad.
The light–heeled love of laughter and the dance
Held me, yet held not, in its transient trance.
The hours were few when, fired with love and wine,
I trod the Bacchanalian maze of France.
Yet do I mind me of one afternoon
In Meudon wood, when night came all too soon;
And then again the morning, and unstayed
We pranced our measure out from noon to noon.
That day of dancing in my memory stands
A thing apart and almost of romance,
A day of pleasure physical and strong,
Unwearied and unwearying, feet, lips, hands.
The “Coq de Bruyère” was the fortunate sign
Of the lone inn where we had met to dine,
And found a score companions light as we
To turn our rustic hostel to a shrine.
If it still stands, how strangely it must view
This older world with hopes of paler hue!
Or was it youth so painted the grass green,
The apple–blossoms pink, the heavens blue?
Alas! I know not, nor remember yet
Her name with whom those foolish hours seemed sweet,
Only that she laughed on and danced with me,
And that my fingers just could span her feet.
How far away! And Meudon, too, how far!
And all those souls of women lost in care,
And even fair France herself how merged in pain!
It was the Spring before the Prussian war.
One day, one only day, and then the light
Waned in the place and hid our faces white,
And, our score paid, we left the empty room
And met no more on this side of the night.
Who speaks of play speaks treason to youth’s state.
Youth is the heir to passion, love and hate,
The passion of the body in its strength,
The passion of the soul commensurate.
Nought needs it in its force of whip or goad,
Say rather a strong bridle for the road.
He who would spur it to a fiercer heat
Is an ill rider whom no fortunes bode.
Shame is it that the glory of youth’s eyes
Should be lack–lustred with the grape’s disguise,
And doubly shame its vast desires should swoon
In maniac clutchings at a vagrant prize.
Gold is the last least noble stake of life,
When all is gone, friends, fashion, fame, love’s strife,
The thing men still can chase when dotage stings
And joy is dead and gout is as the knife.
Youth, seeking gold at Fortune’s hand, goes bare
Of its best weapons with the humblest there,
As impotent to win a smile from fate
As the least valiant, the most cursed with care.
Watch well the doors of Fortune. Who goes in?
The prince, the peasant, the gay child of sin,
The red–cheeked soldier, the mad crook–backed crone,
Which shall prevail with Fortune? Which shall win?
Nay, who shall tell? Luck levels all pretence,
Manhood’s high pride, youth’s first concupiscence.
The arbiter of fame it stands and wit,
The judge supreme of sense and lack of sense.
The gambler’s heaven is Youth’s untimely Hell.
And I, who dwelt there as lost spirits dwell,
There touched the bottom of the pit. Even yet
I dare not nakedly its secrets tell.
What saved me from the gulf? All ye who preach
Art the physician and consoling leech
Of fallen souls, if but a single spark
Of genius lives, behold the text you teach.
In Art’s high hall for whoso holds the key
Honour does service on a suppliant knee,
Virtue his handmaid is, to work his will,
And beauty crowns him, be he bond or free.
His sad soul’s raiment from his shoulders fall,
Light pure is given, and he is clothed withal,
His eye grows single and his madness parts
As once in song the raging mood of Saul.
What saved me from the gulf? Thrice generous hand,
A king’s in gifts, a prophet’s in command,
All potent intellect designed to guide,
Transforming grief as with a master’s wand!
This life, if it be worthy grown, is thine;
These tears made sweet once bitter with such brine,
This impotence of will to purpose fired,
This death fenced out with mine and countermine.
For I insensate had resolved to fly
From life’s despairs and sick pride’s misery,
A craven braggart to the arms of death,
And die dishonoured as the wretched die.
Thou stoodst, how oft, between me and my fate,
Bidding me cheer, or, if I dared not, wait,
From morn to night and then from night to morn
Pointing to Fame as to an open gate;
Till Time, the healer, had half closed the wound,
And Spring in the year’s mercy came back crowned
With leaves and blossoms, and I could not choose
To lie unknown forgotten underground.
If there be aught of pleasure worth the living
‘Tis to be loved when trouble has done grieving,
And the sick soul, resigned to her mute state,
Forgets the pain forgiven and forgiving.
With wan eyes set upon life’s door ajar
She waits half conscious of the rising star,
And lo! ’tis Happiness on tip–toe comes
With fruits and flowers and incense from afar.
Scarcely she heeds him as he stops and smiles.
She does not doubt his innocent lips’ wiles.
She lies in weakness wondering and half won,
While beauty cunningly her sense beguiles.
Then at her feet he sets his stores unrolled
Of spice and gums and treasure manifold.
All kingdoms of the Earth have tribute paid
To heap the myrrh and frankincense and gold.
These are his gifts, and tenderly he stands
With eyes of reverence and mute folded hands,
Pleading her grace, and lo! her heaven is filled
With music as of archangelic bands.
What saved me from the gulf? A woman’s prayer
Sublimely venturing all a soul might dare,
A saint’s high constancy outwitting Fate
And dowered with love supreme in its despair.
I had done naught to merit such high lot,
Given naught in hostage and adventured naught.
The gift was free as heaven’s own copious rains,
And came like these unseeking and unsought.
O noble heart of woman! On life’s sea
Thou sailedst bravely, a proud argosy,
Freighted with wisdom’s wealth and ordered well,
Defiant of all storms–since storms must be.
On thy high way thou passedst pursuant only
Of Virtue’s purpose and Truth’s instinct thronely.
Strength’s symbol wert thou, self–contained and free,
Lone in thy path of good but never lonely.
What glory of the morning lit thy shrouds!
What pure thought limned thee white on thunder–clouds!
I from my shattered raft afar in pain
Kneeled to thy form and prayed across the floods.
In godlike patience, to my soul’s surprise,
Thou paused and parleyed wise with me unwise.
Ah, dearest soul seraphic! Who shall paint
The heaven revealed of pity in thine eyes?
She took me to her riches. All the gladness
Of her great joy she gave to cure my sadness,
All her soul’s garment of unearthly hopes
To ease the ache which fructified to madness.
She took me to her pleasure, wealth long stored
Of silent thought and fancy in full hoard,
Treasures of wisdom and discerning wit,
And dreams of beauty chaste and unexplored.
She took me to her heart,–and what a heart,
Vast as all heaven and love itself and art!
She gave it royally as monarchs give
Who hold back nothing when they give a part.
A king I rose who had knelt down a slave,
A soul new born who only sought a grave,
A victor from the fight whence I had fled,
A hero crowned with bays who was not brave.
Blest transformation! Circe’s ancient curse
See here interpreted in plain reverse.
Love, generous love, in me devised a spell
Ennobling all and subtler far than hers.
Thus was I saved. Yet, mark how hardly Fate
Deals with its victors vanquished soon or late.
The ransomed captive of his chains goes free.
She pines in durance who has paid the debt.
Behold this woman of all joy the heir,
Robed in high virtue and worth’s worthiest wear,
A saint by saints esteemed, a matron wise
As Rome’s Cornelia chastely debonnaire.
Behold her touched with my own soul’s disease,
Grieving in joy and easeless still in ease,
The gall of sorrow and the thorn of shame
Twined ever in the wreaths love framed to please.
Behold her languishing for honour’s loss,
Her pride nailed daily to a nameless cross,
Her vesture sullied with the dust of sin,
Her gold of purity transfused with dross.
The echo of her voice has tones that thrill:
I hear her weeping with a blind wild will.
A name she speaks to the dim night, his name
Her virtue spared not yet remembered still.
“Say, shall I comfort thee?” “O soul of mine,
Thy comfort slays me with its joys like wine.
Thy love is dear to me–then let me go.
Bid me fare forth for aye from thee and thine.”
“Is there no pleasure?” “Pleasure is not sweet
When doors are shut and veiled Man’s mercy–seat.
My heaven thou wert, but heaven itself is pain
When God is dumb and angels turn their feet.”
“Is there no beauty? See, the sun is fair
And the world laughs because the Spring is there.
Hast thou no laughter?” “Ay, I laugh as Eve
Laughed with her lord the night of their despair.”
“The past is passed.” “Nay, ’tis a ghost that lives.”
“Grief dies.” “We slew it truly and it thrives.
Pain walks behind us like a murdered man
Asking an alms of joy which vainly gives.
“Give me thy tears: their bitterness is true.
Give me thy patience: it is all my due.
Give me thy silence, if thou wilt thy scorn,
But spare thy kisses, for they pierce me through.”
I saw her perish, not at once by death,
Which has an edge of mercy in its sheath.
No bodily pleadings heralded decay;
No violence of pity stopped her breath.
Only the eternal part which was her mind
Had withered there as by a breath unkind.
Only the reason of her eyes was mute;
Their meaning vanished, leaving naught behind.
“No bells shall ring my burial hour,” she said.
“No prayers be sung, no requiem for the dead.
Only the wind shall chaunt in its wild way,
And be thou there to lay flowers on my head.”
I laid them on her grave. Alas! dear heart,
What love can follow thee where now thou art?
Sleep on. My youth sleeps with thee–and the rest
Would but disturb. We are too far apart.
What has my life been? What life has the wind
Wandering for ever on in change of mind
Winter and summer, chasing hopes as vain
And seeking still the rest it may not find?
When she was dead I rose up in my place,
Like Israel’s king, and smiled and washed my face.
My grief had died in me with her long tears,
And I was changed and maimed and passionless.
I said, “There are griefs wider than this grief,
Hopes broader harvested, of ampler sheaf.
Man may not live the caged bird of his pride,
And he who wends afar shall win relief.”
The world of sea and mountain shape high browed
Lured me to dreams of nobler solitude,
Fair plains beyond the limits of the dawn,
And desert places lawless and untrod.
Beyond youth’s lamp of bitter–sweet desires
And manhood’s kindling of less lawful fires
A star I sought should lead me to my dream
Of a new Bethlehem and angelic choirs.
This passionate England with its wild unrest,
How has it straitened us to needs unblest!
Need is that somewhere in the world there be
A better wisdom, seek it East or West.
I sought it first on that great Continent
Which is the eldest born of man’s intent.
All that the race of Japhet has devised
Of wit to live lives there pre–eminent.
The record of the ages proudly stand
Revealed in constancy and close at hand,
Man’s march triumphant against natural foes,
His conquest of the air and sea and land,
From that far day when, wielding shafts of stone,
He drove the bear back from the banks of Rhone,
And built his dwelling on the fair lake’s shore
He earliest learned to love and call his own,
On thro’ the generations of wild men,
The skin–clad hunters of the field and fen,
At war with life, all life than theirs less strong
Less fenced with cunning in its lawless den,
Until the dawn broke of a larger age,
With milder fortunes and designs more sage,
And men raised cities on the naked plains
With wine and corn and oil for heritage.
Etruscan Italy! Pelasgic Greece!
How did they labour in the arts of peace!
If strong men were before the time of Troy,
What of the wise who planned their palaces?
The men of cunning who, ere letters came
To hand their learning down from fame to fame,
Dealt with Titanic square and basalt slab
And found the law of parallelogram?
Unnamed discoverers, or of those who gave
Its rule to beauty, line and curve and wave,
Smelters of bronze, artificers in gold,
Painters of tear–cups for the hero’s grave?
Or those, the last, who of Man’s social state
Devised the code his lusts to mitigate,
Who set a bridle on his jaws of pride,
And manacled with law his limbs of hate,
Till each fair town its separate polity
Enjoyed in its own walls well–fenced and free,
With king and court and poet and buffoon
And burgess roll inscribed of chivalry?
This was the old world’s golden age renowned
Shown thro’ dim glimpses of a past spell–bound.
Some shadow of it lives in Homer’s story.
In vain we search. Its like shall not be found.
It vanished in the impatient march of Man
When Empires rose, with Cyrus in the van,
The Assyrian tyranny, the Persian scourge,
And his the all–conquering boy of Macedon.
Then were the little freedoms swept aside,
The household industries for fields more wide.
With heavy hand Rome weighed upon the world
A blind Colossus, order classified.
And what of the new world, the world that is?
Ah, Europe! What a tragedy there lies!
Thy faiths forgotten and thy laws made void,
Hunger and toil thy sole known destinies.
The sombre livery of thy bastard races
Proclaims thee slave and their ignoble faces,
Gaul, Teuton, Serb, all fortunes merged in one,
All bloods commingled in thy frail embraces.
No type, no image of the God in thee,
No form survives of nobler ancestry,
No mark is on thy brow, even that of Cain,
By which to learn thy soul’s lost pedigree.
Thou toilest blindly in thy central hive
Of the world’s hopes impatient and alive,
Waiting the reason which shall light thy years
To a new gospel of initiative,
Rueful, unconscious, to thy labour bound
And dumb to love, above or underground.
He were the Sage of the new discipline
Who first should wake thy silence into sound.
Where is the poet who shall sing of Man
In his new world, a better Caliban,
And show him Heaven? What nobler Prospero
To cure his ache on an Eternal plan?
The voice that should arouse that slumbering clod
Must echo boldly as to steps unshod
Of angels heralding the advent day
Of a new Saviour and a latest God.
But whose the voice? And where the listeners?
I sought and found not. Rather in my ears
The discord grew of that ungodly host
Whose laughter mocks the music of the Spheres.
“Glory of glories!” Thus it was they chaunted,
But not to Heaven for which men blindly panted,
Rather to that Hell’s master who hath held
Their backs to pain in labour covenanted.
To him the honour and obedience due
Of their lost Moab where the bluebells blew,
Now the sad washpot of his engines’ slime,
Their childhood’s Edom darkened by his shoe.
Through that dim murk no glimpse of the Divine
Shall pierce with song where the sun dares not shine,
No praise of beauty in a land all bleared
With poison–smoke and waters aniline?
Better they died unchronicled. Their room
Would then be for each weed that wreathed their tomb,
More beautiful than they with all their love
It is not worth a spray of butcher’s broom.
All this I read as in an open book
Wandering in bye paths with my pilgrim’s crook,
Through Alp and Apennine and Eastward on
To where the Balkans on the Danube look.
On Trajan’s wall I lay in the tall grass
And watched the Tartar shepherds wandering pass.
A boy was blowing in his flute below;
Afar the river shone, a sea of glass.
This was the world’s once boundary; and beyond
What terrors reigned for fearful hearts and fond,
The Scythian wilderness, where were–wolves were
And night for ever lay in frozen bond!
The subtle wonder of the desert came
And touched my longing with its breath of flame.
I too, methought, sad child of a new age,
Would learn its mystery and inscribe my name,
Clothed in the garments of its ancient past,
My race forgotten and my creed outcast,
On some lone pile whence centuries look down
On days unchanged the earliest with the last.
As Abraham was at Mamre on the leas,
I too would be, or Ur of the Chaldees,
Feeding my flocks in patience at God’s hand,
Guided by signs and girt with mysteries.
With staff in hand and wallet for all need,
Footing the goat–tracks or with ass for steed,
Clad in mean raiment, with attendants none,
And fed on locusts as the prophets feed.
Climbing the dunes each morning to behold
The world’s last miracle of light enfold
The Eastern heaven, and see the victor sun
Press back the darkness with his spears of gold.
The fair Earth, pure in her sweet nakedness,
Should smile for me each day with a new face,
Her only lover; and her virgin sands
Should be my daily sacrilege to press.
The deep blue shadows of the rocks at noon
My tent should be from a burnt world in swoon,
Rocks scored with what dead names of worshippers,
Of Gods as dead, the sun and stars and moon.
There would I stand in prayer, with unshod feet
And folded arms, at Time’s true mercy seat,
Making my vows to the one God of gods
Whose praise the Nations of the East repeat.
Haply some wonder of prophetic kind
My eyes should see to the world’s reason blind,
Some ladder to the Heaven, or a face
Speaking in thunder to me from the wind.
I lay in the tall grass, and overhead
The ravens called who once Elisha fed.
It was a message meet for my desires,
And I arose and followed where they led,
Arose and followed;–and behold, at hand,
With tinkling bells and tread as if on sand,
Toward me spectral from the Orient came
The pilgrim camels of that holy Land.
The rock of Horeb is the holiest place
Of all Earth’s holies. In the wilderness
It stands with its gaunt head bare to the heaven
As when God spake with Moses face to face.
Red in the eternal sunset of the years,
Crowned with a glory the world’s evening wears,
Where evening is with morning a first day
Unchanged in the mute music of the Spheres.
From base to top the boulder crags high thrown
Fortress the plain which Israel camped upon,
A living presence in the unliving waste,
A couchant lion with a mane of stone.
Aloft in the dread shadow of his brows
And shut from summer suns and winter snows,
When snows there be in the parched wilderness,
A cell I found and of it made my house.
A single hewn stone chamber, carved of old
By hermits’ hands, of rocks with labour rolled,
Undoored, unwindowed, with the earth for floor,
Within, an altar where their beads they told.
Without, a rood of soil and a scant spring,
Their garden once, where deep in the vast ring
Of those grave granite domes they delved and prayed,
One thorn tree its sole life left blossoming.
There laid I down the burden of my care
And dwelt a space in the clean upper air.
I dwelt, how many days or months or years
I know not, for I owned no calendar;
Only the rising of the winter’s sun
Daily more northward as the months moved on,
Only the sun’s return along his ways
When summer slackened his first rage outrun;
Only the bee–birds passing overhead
With their Spring twitter and eyes crimson red,
The storks and pelicans in soldier bands,
The purple doves that stayed to coo and wed;
These and the shepherds of the waste, the few
Poor Bedouin clansmen, with their weak flocks, who
Strayed through the valleys at appointed days,
As water failed them or the herbage grew,
Lean hungry–eyed wild sons of Ishmael
Who climbed the rocks and sought me in my cell
With their poor wares of butter, dates and corn
And almond–cake in skins and hydromel,
Unwise in the world’s learning, yet with gleams
Of subtler instinct than the vain world deems,
Glimpses of faiths transmitted from afar
In signs and wonders and revealed in dreams.
They taught me their strange knowledge, how to read
The forms celestial ordered to Man’s need,
To count on sand the arrow heads of fate
And mark the bird’s flight and the grey hare’s speed.
The empty waste informed with their keen eyes
Became a scroll close writ with mysteries
Unknown to reason yet compelling awe
With that brave folly which confounds the wise.
Nor less the faith was there of the revealed
God of their fathers, Ishmael’s sword and shield,
Their own, the Merciful, the Compassionate,
By martyrs witnessed in the stricken field.
His name was on their lips, a living name.
His law was in their hearts, their pride in shame.
His will their fortitude in hours of ill
When the skies rained not and the locusts came.
I learned their creed in this as in the rest,
Making submission to God’s ways as best.
What matter if in truth the ways were His,
So I should abdicate my own unblest!
And thus I might have lived–and died, who knows,
A Moslem saint, on those high mountain brows,
Prayed to by alien lips in alien prayer
As intercessor for their mortal woes,
Lived, died, and been remembered for some good
In the world’s chronicle of brotherhood,
Nor yet through strife with his own Bedlam kind,
The Hydra–headed Saxon multitude.
But for the clamour of untimely war,
The sound of Nations marching from afar.
Their voice was on the tongue of winds and men,
Their presaging in sun and moon and star.
I dreamed a dream of our fair mother Earth
In her first beauty, ere mankind had birth,
Peopled with forms how perfect in design,
How rich in purpose, of what varied worth,
Birds, four–foot beasts and fishes of the Sea
Each in its kind and order and degree
Holding their place unchid, her children all,
And none with right to strain her liberty.
Her deep green garment of the forest glade
Held monsters grim, but none was there afraid.
The lion and the antelope lay down
In the same thicket for their noon–day shade.
The tyranny of strength was powerless all
To break her order with unseemly brawl.
No single kind, how stout soe’er of limb,
Might drive her weakest further than the wall.
All was in harmony and all was true
On the green Earth beneath her tent of blue.
When lo, the advent of her first born lie,
The beast with mind from which her bondage grew.
O woeful apparition! what a shape
To set the world’s expectancy agape,
To crown its wonders! what lewd naked thing
To wreck its Paradise! The human ape!
Among the forms of dignity and awe
It moved a ribald in the world of law,
In the world’s cleanness it alone unclean,
With hairless buttocks and prognathous jaw.
Behold it in that Eden once so fair,
Pirate and wanton, a blind pillager,
With axe and fire and spade among the trees
Blackening a league to build itself a lair.
Behold it marshalling its court,–soft kine,
And foolish sheep and belly–lorded swine,
Striding the horse anon, high–mettled fool,
And fawned on by the dog as one divine.
Outrage on sense and decent Nature’s pride!
Feast high of reason–nay of Barmecide,
Where every guest goes hungry but this one,
The Harpy–clawed, too foul to be denied!
I saw it, and I blushed for my Man’s race,
And once again when in the foremost place
Of human tyranny its latest born
Stood threatening conquest with an English face.
Chief of the sons of Japhet he, with hand
Hard on the nations of the sea and land,
Intolerant of all, tongues, customs, creeds,
Too dull to spare, too proud to understand.
I saw them shrink abashed before his might,
Like tropic birds before the sparrow’s flight.
The world was poorer when they fled. But he
Deemed he had done “God” service and “his right.”
I saw it and I heard it and I rose
With the clear vision of a seer that knows.
I had a message to the powers of wrong
And counted not the number of my foes.
I stood forth in the strength of my soul’s rage
And spoke my word of truth to a lewd age.
It was the first blow struck in that mad war,
My last farewell to my fair hermitage.
O God of many battles! Thou that art
Strong to withstand when warriors close and part,
That art or wast the Lord of the right cause!
How has thy hand grown feeble in its smart!
How are the vassals of thy power to–day
Set in rebellion mastering the fray!
Blaspheming Thee they smite with tongues obscene,
While these Thy saints lie slaughtered where they pray.
How is the cauldron of thy wrath the deepest,
Cold on its stones? No fire for it thou heapest.
Thou in the old time wert a jealous God.
Thieves have dishonoured Thee. And lo, Thou sleepest!
Between the camps I passed in the still night,
The breath of heaven how pure, the stars how bright.
On either hand the life impetuous flowed
Waiting the morrow which should crown the fight.
How did they greet it? With what voice, what word,
What mood of preparation for the sword?
On this side and on that a chaunt was borne
Faint on the night–wind from each hostile horde.
Here lay the camps. The sound from one rose clear,
A single voice through the thrilled listening air.
“There is no God but God,” it cried aloud.
“Arise, ye faithful, ’tis your hour of prayer.”
And from the other? Hark the ignoble chorus,
Strains of the music halls, the slums before us.
Let our last thought be as our lives were there,
Drink and debauchery! The drabs adore us.
And these were proved the victors on that morrow,
And those the vanquished, fools, beneath war’s harrow.
And the world laughed applauding what was done,
And if the angels wept none heard their sorrow.
What has my life been in its last best scene
Stripped of Time’s violence, its one serene
Experience of things fair without a flaw,
Its grasp of Heaven’s own paradisal green?
After the storm the clouds white laughters fly;
After the battle hark the children’s cry!
After the stress of pain, if God so will,
We too may taste our honey ere we die.
What little secret ’tis we need discover!
How small a drop to make the cup brim over!
A single word half spoken between two,
And Heaven is there, the loved one and the lover.
Tell me not, thou, of youth as Time’s last glory.
Tell not of manhood when it strikes its quarry.
The prime of years is not the prime of pleasure.
Give me life’s later love when locks are hoary,
Love, when the hurry and the rush are past,
Love when the soul knows what will fade what last,
The worth of simple joys youth trampled on,
Its pearl of price upon the dunghill cast.
Time was, I mocked, I too, at life’s plain blisses,
The rustic treasure of connubial kisses,
The bourgeois wealth of amorous maid and man
Made man and wife in legal tendernesses.
Time was, but is not, since the scales of pride
Fell from my eyes and left me glorified.
Now ’tis the world’s turn. Let it laugh at me,
Who care not, having Love’s self on my side.
How came I by this jewel, this sweet friend,
This best companion of my lone life’s end?
So young she was, so fair, of soul so gay,
And I with only wisdom to commend.
I looked into her eyes and saw them seek
My own with questions, roses on her cheek.
One sign there is of love no words belie,
The soul’s wide windows watching where lips speak.
What wouldst thou with me, thou dear wise one, say?
My face is withered, my few locks are grey.
Time has dealt with me like a dolorous Jew.
My gold he holds; in silver now I pay.
How shall I serve thee? Shall I be thy priest,
To read thy dear sins to the last and least?
I have some knowledge of the ways of men,
Some too of women. Wilt thou be confessed?
Nay, but thou lovest? A gay youth and fair?
Is he less kind to thee than lovers are?
Shall I chastise him for his backward ways,
Teach him thy whole worth and his own despair?
Thou dost deny? Thou lovest none? To thee
Youth, sayest thou, is void, mere vanity.
Yet how to build up life and leave out love,
The corner stone of all its joys to be?
Thou wouldst be wise. Thou swearest to me this.
Know then, all wisdom is but happiness.
So thou art happy, there is none more sage
Than thou of the wise seven famed of Greece.
She did not answer me, but heaved a sigh
And raised her eyes, where tears stood, silently.
I kissed her hands, the outside and the in,
“Child, dost thou love me?” And she whispered “Ay.”
Thus the thing happened. And between us two
Was now a secret beautiful and new.
We hid it from all eyes as fearing ill,
And cherished it in wonder, and it grew.
Some say that Heaven is but to be with God,
Hell–but without God–the same blest abode.
How wide the difference only those may know
Whose eyes have seen the glory and the cloud.
We two beheld the glory. Every morn
We rose to greet it with the day new born;
No laggards we when Love was in the fields
Waiting to walk there with us in the corn.
O those first hours of the yet folded day,
While Man still sleeps and Nature has its play,
When beast and bird secure from death and him
Wander and wanton in their own wild way.
These were our prize untroubled by the whim
Of slugging fools still wrapped in dreamings dim.
In these we lived a whole life ere their day
And heard the birds chaunt and the seraphim.
How good it was to see her through the grass,
Pressing to meet me with her morning face
Wreathed in new smiles by the sweet thought within
Triumphant o’er the world and worldlings base!
How good to mark her beauty decked anew
With leaf and blossom, crimson, white and blue!
The beechen spray fresh gathered in her hand
Was her queen’s sceptre diamonded with dew.
I heard her young voice long ere she was near,
Calling her call–note of the wood dove clear.
It was our signal. And I answered low
In the same note, “Beloved, I am here.”
And then the meeting. Who shall count the bliss
Of sweet words said and sweeter silences.
It was agreed between us we should wed
Some happy day nor yet forestall a kiss.
Sublime convention by true lovers made
To try their joy more nearly in the shade.
“Not yet, dear love! Thy mad lips take from mine,
Lest thou shouldst harm me and the world upbraid.”
Who says a wedding day is not all white
From dawn to dusk, nay far into the night?
The man who makes not that one day divine
Dullard is he and dastard in Love’s sight.
First day of the new month, the honeymoon,
Last of the old life naked and alone.
The apparent heirship come to actual reign,
The entrance in possession of a throne.
Why grudge rejoicings? The vain world is there.
It sees the feast spread that it may not share.
God’s angels envy thee; then why not these?
Let them make merry with thy wealth to spare.
Nay, join it thou. The foolish old life waits,
A slave discharged, to see thee to the gates.
Give it thy bounty, though it claim thy all,
Thy clothes, thy bed, thy empty cups and plates.
The world hath loved thee, or it loved thee not,
What matter now! Thou needest raise no doubt.
All smile on thee to–day, the false, the true.
The new king pardons. Shout then with their shout.
Thy friends surround thee, sceptics of thy reason.
They ply thee gaily in and out of season.
Thou in thy heart the while art far away
True to thy god. Thou heedest not their treason.
Proud in the face of all thou vowest thy vow,
Love in thine eyes and glory on thy brow,
Thou hast sworn to cherish her, to have, to hold,
“Till death us twain do part.” Ah she! Ah thou!
What has my life been? Nay, my life is good.
Dear life, I love thee, now thou art subdued.
Thou hast fled the battle, cast thine arms away,
And so art victor of the multitude.
Thou art forgotten wholly of thy foes,
Of thy friends wholly, these alike with those.
One garden of the world thy kingdom is
Walled from the wicked, and there blooms thy rose.
She that I love lives there and lives with me.
Enough, kind heaven, I make my terms with thee.
Worth, wealth, renown, power, honour–shadows all!
This is the substance, this reality.
O world that I have known! how well, things, men,
Glories of vanity, the sword, the pen!
Fair praise of kings, applause of crowds–nay more,
Saints’ pure approval of the loss and gain!
High deeds of fame which made the eyelids brim
With tears of pride grief’s anguish could not dim,
The day of triumph crowning all the days,
The harvest of the years brought home by Time!
What are you to Man’s heart, his soul, his sense
Prouder than this, more robed in incidence?
The cry of the first babe, his own, and hers,
Thrilling to joy? Ah matchless eloquence!
The wisdom of all Time is in that cry,
The knowledge of Life’s whence, at last, and why,
The root of Love new grafted in the tree,
Even as it falls, which shall not wholly die.
To rest in a new being! Here it stands
The science of all ages in all lands,
The joy which makes us kin with the Earth’s life,
And knits us with all Nature joining hands,
Till we forget our heritage of gloom,
Our dark humanity how near its doom.
Away! Man’s soul was a disease. ‘Tis fled
Scared by this infant face of perfect bloom.
And so, farewell, poor passionate Life, the past.
I close thy record with this word, “Thou wast.”
Why wait upon the Future? Lo To–day
Smiles on our tears, Time’s toy, his best and last.