And must I wear a silken life,
Hemmed in by city walls?
And must I give my garden up
For theatres and balls?
Nay, though the cage be made of gold,
'Tis better to be free;
The green of the green meadows, love,
Is quite enough for me.
I'd rather ramble through the lanes
Than drive about in town;
I'd rather muse or dream than dance,
When the stars are shining down.
I do not care for diamonds, dear,
But I care a deal for flowers;
And thousands are just creeping out
For the sunshine and the showers.
I like to hear the Household band,
But I love the bird-songs best;
And hark! how they are twittering now
Round each half-hidden nest!
The wind is whispering in the leaves,
And the downy bees begin
To hum in the blossoming sycamores,
And the brook is chiming in.
There is such melody in the woods,
Such music in the air!
The streets are full of life and sound,
And yet 'tis silent there.
I like to see the pictures—ay,
But I am hard to please!
I never saw a picture yet
As great and grand as these;
Such tones of colour as transform
The tender green and brown,
When the pink dawn is flushing up,
Or the red sun sinking down;
Such painting as the chestnut bud
Shows in its opening heart;
Such lights as shine 'twixt earth and sky
When rain-clouds break apart;
Such soft, warm, subtle tints, as lie
In every mossy patch—
On the blue-brown trunks, now filled with life,
And the humble roof of thatch,—
In the purple hollows of the hills,
In the lichen on the wall,
In the orchard and the feathery woods,
And the sun-lit waterfall.
I like my humble country ways,
My simple, early meals;
I like to potter about the yard,
With my chickens at my heels.
I'd rather climb this brambly steep,
Where freshest sea-winds blow,
With my old straw hat hanging down my back.
Than canter along the Row.
To me (it's vulgar, dear, I know)
No fête half so gay
As a cricket-match on the village green,
Or a picnic in the hay.
Ah, yes! I'm happier as I am,—
I'm ignorant, you see;
And the life of fashion that you love
Would never do for me.
The Winged Mariners
Through the wild night, the silence and the dark,
Through league on league of the uncharted sky,
Lonelier than dove of fable from its ark,
The fieldfares fly.
Mate with his tiny mate, and younglings frail,
That only knew the crevice of their tree
Until, in faith stupendous, they set sail
Across the sea.
The black North Sea, that takes such savage toll
Of ships and men - and yet could not appal
These little mariners, who seek their goal
Beyond it all.
Turning those soft, indomitable breasts
To meet the unchained Titans of the deep -
Calm, as if cradled in Norwegian nests,
Their course they keep.
No more than thistledown or flake of snow
To those great gods at play, they win the game;
Never sped archer's arrow from his bow
With surer aim.
Still tossed and scattered, their unwinking eyes
Point to that pole unseen where wanderings cease;
Still on they press, and warble to the skies
With hearts at peace.
Scenting the English morning in the air,
Through the salt night, ere any morning wakes -
The perfumed fields, the dun woods, sere and bare,
The brambly brakes -
The well-loved orchard, with its hawthorn hedge,
Where luscious berries, red and brown, are found -
The misty miles of water-mead and sedge
Where gnats abound.
. . . . .
But what is this, 'twixt sea and surf-bound shore?
What form stands there, amid the shadows gray,
With flaming blade that smites them as they soar,
And bars their way?
Hushed are the twittering throats; each silken head
Turns to the voiceless siren - turns and stares -
By some strange lure of mystery and dread
It draws them on, as the magnetic sun
Draws vagrant meteors to its burning breast.
The day is near, the harbour all but won -
That English nest.
But here they meet inexorable Fate;
Here lies a dreadful reef of fire and glass;
Here stands a glittering sentry at the gate -
They cannot pass.
Confused, dismayed, they flutter in the gale,
Those little pinions that have lost their track;
The gallant hearts that sped them reel and fail
Like ships aback.
Sucked in a magic current, like a leaf
Torn from autumnal tree, they drift abroad,
But ever nearer to the siren reef,
The ruthless sword.
On, on, transfixed and swooning, without check,
To the lee shore of that bedazzling wall,
Until they strike, and break in utter wreck,
And founder all.
Brave little wings, that sailed the storm so well,
Trimmed to the set of every wayward blast!
Brave little hearts, that never storm could quell,
Beaten at last!
The great sea swallows them, and they are gone,
For ever gone, like bubbles of the foam;
And the bright star that lured them, shining on,
Still points to Home.
When the investing darkness growls,
And deep reverberates to deep;
When keyhole whines and chimney howls,
And all the roofs and windows weep;
Then, through the doorless walls of sleep,
The still-sealed ear and shuttered sight,
Phantoms of memory steal and creep,
The very ghosts of sound and light--
Dream-visions and dream-voices of a bygone night.
I see again, I hear again,
Where lightnings flash and house-eaves drip,
A flying swirl of waves and rain--
That storm-path between Sound and Rip.
I feel the swaying of the ship
In every gust that rocks the trees,
And taste that brine upon my lip
And smell the freshness of the breeze
That sped us through the welter of those racing seas.
I hear the menace of the call
To rope and rivet, wheel and mast,
In the swift onrush of the squall,
The challenge of the thundering blast
To daring men as it sweeps past;
And in my dream I have no dread.
Rivet and rope are firm and fast,
The clear lights shining, green and red,
The quiet eyes of sentry watching overhead.
What epic battles pass unsung!
It was a war of gods befell
On that wild night when we were young.
They rode, like cavalry of hell,
The mighty winds, the monstrous swell,
On their white horses, fierce and fleet;
They stood at bay, invincible,
Where pulsed beneath our sliding feet
The faithful iron heart that never lost a beat.
How the sharp sea-spume lashed and stung!
How the salt sea-wind tugged and tare
And clawed and mauled us where we clung,
With panting breasts and streaming hair,
To our frail eyrie in mid-air!
How we exulted in the fight--
With neither haste nor halt to dare
Those Titans furies in their might,
Undaunted and unswerving in our insect flight!
No lap of exquisite repose!
A mortar wherein souls are brayed;
An anvil ringing to the blows
Whereby true men are shaped, and made
Divinely strong and unafraid.
Such gallant sailor-men there be--
Never unready or dismayed,
Though 't's the face of death they see
In cyclone, fire and fog, and white surf on the lee.
Not only in the sylvan bower,
On dreaming hill, by sleeping mere,
The holy place--the sacred hour.
Beset by every form of fear,
Darkness ahead and danger near,
Sorely hard-driven and hard-prest,
But still unspent and of good cheer--
He finds them who can pass the test,
Who never winks an eye and never stays to rest
By The Camp Fire
Ah, 'twas but now I saw the sun flush pink on yonder placid tide;
The purple hill-tops, one by one, were strangely lit and glorified;
And yet how sweet the night has grown, with palest starlights dimly sown!
Those mountain ranges, far and near, enclasp me,— sharply pencilled there,
Like blackest sea-waves,—outlined here, like phantoms in the luminous air,
Between that cold and quiet sky, and the calm river running by.
The gum-trees whisper overhead, and, delicately dark and fine,
Their lovely shadow-patterns shed across the paths of white moonshine.
The golden wattles glimmer bright, scenting this cool, transparent night.
What spirits wake when earth is still? I hear wild wood-notes softly swell.
There's the strange clamour, hoarse and shrill, that drowns the bull-frogs' hollow
And there's the plaintive rise and fall of the lone mopoke's cuckoo-call.
And nearer, an opossum flits above the firelight, pauses, peers—
I see a round ball where he sits, with pendant tail and pointed ears;
And two are gruffly snarling now in hollows of yon upper bough.
Hark! that's the curlew's thrilling scream. What mountain echoes it has stirred!
The sound goes crying down the stream, the wildest bird-note ever heard.
And there's a crane, with legs updrawn, gone sailing out to meet the dawn.
It croaks its farewell, like a crow, beating the air with soft, wide wings.
On the white water down below its vague grey shadow-shape it flings,
And, dream-like, passes out of sight, a lonely vision of the night.
Ah me! how weird the undertones that thrill my wake-ful fancy through!
The river softly creeps and moans; the wind seems faintly crying too.
Such whisperings seem to come and pass across the orchis-flower'd grass.
The darkness gather'd all around is full of rustlings, strange and low,
The dead wood crackles on the ground, and shadowy shapes flit to and fro;
I think they are my own dim dreams, wandering amongst the woods and streams.
The tangled trees seem full of eyes,—still eyes that watch me as I sit;
A flame begins to fall and rise, their glances come and go with it.
And on the torn bark, rough and brown, I hear soft scratchings up and down.
Sometimes I hear a sound of feet,—a slow step through the darkness steals;
And then I think of yours, my sweet, in spirit following at my heels;
For leagues before, around, behind, part me from all my human-kind.
Coo-ey!—the long vibration throbs in countless echoes through the hills.
The lonely forest wakes and sobs, and then no sound the silence fills,—
Only the night-frogs' bubbling shriek in every water-hole and creek;
Only a rush of wind in flight, as startled wild-ducks flutter past,
Quivering and twinkling in the light, skimming the shining water fast;
And ripples from a black swan's breast, darting from out its rushy nest.
How is't in England?—Sunday morn, and organ-music, love, with you.
That breath of memory, idly born, like a great storm-wind shakes me through.
Ah, darling! bend your head and pray,—it cannot touch you far away.
Why do I care? My house of God, beyond all thought, is grand and great!
My prayerful knees, upon the sod, its flowers and grasses consecrate.
And I can see Him in the stars, undimmed by walls and window-bars.
Great Nature spreads her wondrous book, and shows me all her pages fair;
To me the language, when I look, seems but a letter here and there—
The very stones beneath me teach a lore beyond my utmost reach.
For all my pain, and toil, and strife, I see so dimly what is true!
O Art! O Science! O great Life! I grasp thee by so faint a clue!
No more of ocean tides I dream than minnows in their shallow stream.
Sea without bottom, without shore, where is the plumb to fathom thee?
O mystery! as I learn thee more, the more thy deeps are dark to me!
But who am I, that I should scan the Divine Maker's mighty plan?
And yet, oh yet, if I could hear that organ-music once again,
My soul, methinks, would lose its fear; and on this troubled heart and brain
Some light of knowledge would be shed, and some few riddles would be read.
“ON board the Petrel, in St. Lucia's bay,
Of yellow fever—agèd twenty-nine.”
“Who did you say, my lady?” drawled the Earl.
“The duke—what duke?”
“I did not speak of dukes,”
Replied the Countess slowly, white and grim,
Pressing the rustling sheet between her palms,
The while her diamonds heaved upon her breast,
And sank and heaved, and glitter'd like her eyes—
Hungry, pathetic eyes,—“'Tis only Dick,
Only a sailor-lad I used to know.”
“Humph! A West Indian friend?” he softly sneer'd,
And bow'd and gave his arm. “The carriage waits—
My lady loses time.”
Then pass'd they out,
Through silky servants,—he, the great Earl, stark
In plume and crest and linked mediaeval steel,
The Countess en bergère, in white and red,
With roses, diamond dew-dropped, in her hat
And in her queenly bosom;—pass'd they out,
And, through clear gaslight and the avenue
Of silent Champs-Elysées, to the fête.
Her restless eyes were blind to all the blaze
And motley splendour of the throng'd saloons;
The flowers, the cool cascades, the magic wand
Of Strauss, the vine-draped balustrades, the gaze
Of wistful admiration meeting hers
At every step. The Empress smiled and bow'd,
The Emperor praised the beauty and the taste
Of her mock-rustic costume, princes begged
Her fair hand for the dance, and her grim lord
Scowl'd, wrathful, on her when she pass'd him by.
She cared for none,—she look'd beyond them all.
She saw another night—a hot, bright night—
A night of years ago—danced out in joy
'Neath the low roof-tree of a planter's house
In fair Antigua's bosom;—saw the stars,
Large, liquid, golden, swimming in the blue,
Shining through open doors and jalousies,
And the green sparkles of the fire-flies, thick
About the forest, fringing all the dark;
The crimson creepers swaying in the air
From white verandah pillars—swaying soft;
The small nest of a humming-bird; the stems,
Brown-ring'd, of feathery palm-trees,—plaintains bow'd
With broad, thick leaves, and clustering fruit, and seeds
In scarlet vessels—orange-groves, white-flower'd
And sweet, with hanging balls of green and gold—
All vaguely outlined in the mellow night.
And nearer still a brave, brown English face,
Bent low, with clear grey eyes and faithful lips
That whisper'd, “Reine, I love you,” meeting hers.
The drowsy sound of laughter and light feet
Behind them she could hear—but the quick throb
Of poor Dick's English heart upon her breast
She felt to suffocation. “Reine, my sweet,
I love you—Reine, I love you; kiss me, child.”
And her soft hands stray'd softly round his neck,
And softer still she kiss'd him.
Then she saw
A morning, hot and stormy—saw the Earl,
Drunk with her wondrous beauty, standing there
Where Dick had stood. She saw his cultured ways,
His high-bred, stately courtesy and grace;
She heard his subtle flatteries, his tales
Of the great world, of court and city life,
With gaping ears and speculating brain.
The voice of the arch-tempter, low and soft,
Spoke in his polished accents, “Reine, 'tis sin,
'Tis sin and shame, that such a face as yours
Should waste its sweetness in these heathen isles.
There's not a fairer face in Europe, Reine;
'Tis worth a coronet. Come back with me
As a great earl's wife; in his diamonds dress'd,
You would have homage like a crownèd queen.”
She shudder'd now,—his diamonds gall'd her worse
Than felon's chains.
Anon she saw a bay—
Blue, limpid water, fringed with dipping palms,
A green rock-gateway opening on the sea,
Green cane-fields stretching upward, woods and hills
Lying entangled in the summer clouds;
An English ship at anchor—burning noon—
A thin, brown, fever'd face, with hungry eyes
Roaming from side to side, in dumb appeal,
Which none could understand,—and dying lips
Muttering to vacant air and heedless ears,
“I love you, Reine, I love you!”
“O my love—
O Dick—my Dick—would I could sleep with thee
In thy last happy sleep among the palms,
With my dead hands clasp'd tight about thy neck!
O Dick, I did not mean it—did not think—
And now my heart is broken!
“Take me home.
The rooms are hot, my lord, and I am faint—
The music makes me giddy. Take me home!”
Watchman, what of the night?
See you a streak of light?
Whither, O Captain of the quest,
The course we steer for Port of Rest?
How shall he answer - he
Who never put to sea?
Within his tabernacle wall
He cannot even hear us call.
Behind the jealous door
That he must pass no more,
And whence he scarcely dares to look,
He keeps his eyes upon his book.
The little candles, lit
Where the disciples sit,
Light their small refuge round about,
But show no gleam to those without -
Spirits that cannot dwell
In such an airless cell,
Sniffing the sea-winds from afar,
Glimpsing the light of moon and star.
We must fare forth, unsped,
From homely board and bed;
We must set sail for port unknown,
On an uncharted course, alone.
Push off. We have to go,
Whether we choose or no.
The Call, though faint and far away,
Has reached us, and we must obey.
. . . . .
O but the night is dark
Beyond that only ark!
The salt sea-winds blow keen and cold
Outside the shelter of the fold!
Boom of the deep-sea swell,
Solemn as funeral bell -
Silence transcending sound, to make
High courage falter and heart quake . . . . .
What will the voyage cost?
We are already lost
Who turn from land and love, to face
This blank immensity of space.
Push out. We have to go,
Whether we fear or no.
And why stand shivering and appalled?
We go because the Voice has called.
Noah's inspired dove
Took wing to find her love.
The sea is His - safe as the land
Within the hollow of His hand.
Here are the breakers - pull
Before the boat is full!
'Ware the sharp reefs that line the shore!
Row for the open evermore!
. . . . .
O but the night is dark!
Never the faintest spark
Where surf and shore and cities were!
And not a whisper in the air.
The open - heart of grace,
It is a lonely place!
No light on any onward track!
Too far - too late - for turning back!
Where is that little ark -
Those candles in the dark -
The Rock of Ages cleft for me -
The Cross uprising in the sea -
Whereto the drowning grope
With yearning faith and hope,
And cling as to their mother's breast,
And find safe shelter and sweet rest?
Gone, gone - for ever gone!
And still we must press on.
Steady, true soul, too brave to fret!
Press on - we are not drowning yet.
. . . . .
The night is soft and still
That was so wild and chill;
The bosom of the mighty deep
Breathes like a tired child asleep.
So peaceful, so profound,
The silence spread around!
The very breakers of the shore
Moan to the listening ear no more.
Night - but the stars are out.
Darkness of dread and doubt,
The way so lonely and so rough,
Have cleared a little, but enough.
We know not where we are-
Light cannot reach so far,
But shows us we have lost and gained
As the compelling Voice ordained.
Gone, gone beyond recall,
Candle and prisoning wall,
Last echo of the hue and cry,
Last glint of an accusing eye.
Too late for looking back
Over the darkening track.
How should the life-taught soul return
That cannot unlive or unlearn?
. . . . .
Changed, changed, for ever changed,
Since hitherward we ranged,
To vision in a space so vast,
All the perspectives of the past.
How infinitely small
The once so broad and tall -
The aims, the pursuit and the strife
Shut in the sheltered grooves of life!
Those terrifying laws,
The wrangles and the wars
Of church with church and state with state -
The things men love, the things men hate -
Money and gauds and fame,
And neighbours' scorn and blame -
The passion of desire and haste
To gather, to possess, to waste . . . . . .
How infinitely high,
Broad as the sea and sky,
The loyalty of man to man,
Once almost missing from the plan -
The elemental law
That codes and creeds ignore,
Of duty to the trust we hold
For heirs unborn and years untold . . . . . .
. . . . .
Night - and the drifting soul
Still without path or goal.
Yet was the voyage worth the cost.
We are not drowned. We are not lost.
'T'is I. Be not afraid.
Moonlight and stars may fade.
One walks the ocean and the night.
We have no further need of light.
What matters where we go?
We do not ask to know.
He called us, and we came. The quest
For us is ended, and we rest.
The Midnight Mass
An incident of the French Revolution.
The light lay trembling in a silver bar
Along the western borders of the sky;
From out the shadowy dome a little star
Stole forth to keep its patient watch on high;
And night came down, with solemn, soft embrace,
On storied Brittany.
Another night lay over all the land—
The dark of hell, and lurid with its fire.
She heard the roar of fiends; she saw the brand
Flung red and hissing over roof and spire;
She saw her golden spurs and reaping-hooks
Tossed on the funeral pyre.
She stood in calm defiance, while the flood
Swept over her;—while everywhere was seen
Her dim, majestic cities drenched in blood;
Ashes and smoke where temple-walls had been;
And high on woodland knoll and market-place,
The ghastly guillotine.
'Twas hard to tear her peasant-souls apart
From priest and liege, and clinging faith of old;
'Twas hard to bend the strong and simple heart
By fear of torture or by love of gold:
For naught those gory hands could offer them
Might consciences be sold.
“No tower or belfry shall be left to stand,”
Saint André swore, and waved his cap of red;
“You shall have naught in all this cursèd land
For sign of your superstition,—it is dead!”
A peasant heard, and raised his eyes to heaven;—
“You'll leave the stars,” he said.
True were the priests and people, each to each,
And all alike to their unlettered creed;
No violent force of sophistry could reach
Their rough-hewn faith in bitter time of need.
They died with deaf ears and dumb mouths; and theirs
Was martyrdom indeed!
Night—midnight—lay beneath her silver lamps;
Her deep sleep broken by the fitful glare
Of bivouac fires in noisy village camps,
And hoarse shouts mellowed through the listening air;
Save only where the sea-waves washed the coast—
'Twas still and quiet there:
The heave and swell, and sudden, plunging dash
Against the low rocks lying in their reach;
The hissing shingle, and the sweet, free plash
Of long-drawn breakers on the open beach;
And now and then, in momentary pause,
The curlew's mournful screech:
The soft, low gurgle in the hollowed track
Through reef and boulder; and the rippling fall
Of idle wandering waters, swirling back
From secret tryst in Naiads' rocky hall;—
Only these sounds—save that deep monotone
Which held and hushed them all.
Only these sounds? Was nothing to be heard
But voice of breaker as it rose and fell,
The kelpie's song, the wailing of a bird?
Ay, far and faint amid the restless swell,
One other voice stole whispering through the air—
The chime of a silver bell.
It came from dim mid-ocean, wild and free,
To listening ears, in silence of the night;
And watchful eyes saw, out upon the sea
And 'neath the stars, a little twinkling light—
Now lost behind a waving mountain-top,
Now shining clear and bright.
Softly the fishers' boats began to glide
From shadowy rock and sheltered cave and creek;
Bronzed men and gentle maidens, side by side,
Dipped muffled oars; no woman-hand was weak.
All eyes turned, wistful, to the beacon-lamp;
But no one dared to speak.
The scattered specks, with each its little crowd,
Drew near, converging on the distant bark;
The sweet bell rang out louder and more loud,
The light shone bright and brighter in the dark;
And soon a hundred lips burst forth in praise—
For all had reach'd the ark.
There was the priest, with whom they came to sup,
White-hair'd and holy, by his humble board;
There, amid light and darkness lifted up,
The blessed rood, by simple eyes adored.
Each head was bowed, each pious knee was bent
In presence of the Lord.
Ah! 'twas a grand cathedral where they knelt!
Grand was the organ-music—vast the crypt
Wherein its wild, mysterious echoes dwelt;
And fresh and pure the incense, as it slipp'd
Down shining floor and down wide altar-steps,
With frosted silver tipp'd.
Grand was the darken'd aisles and solemn nave—
The domèd roof, magnificently high—
The airy walls and mighty architrave—
The sweet star-tapers that could never die!
And grander still its purity of peace,
Its untouched sanctity.
The worn and weary ones came there, to search
For rest and hope in holy Eucharist;
There—in the splendour of that solemn church—
They, priest and people, communed with the Christ;
Thus—with all other temples overthrown—
They kept his sacred tryst.
With calm, grave eyes and even-pulsing breath,
They dipp'd their still oars in the darken'd space.
Strong now the hands fast rowing back to death!—
And strong the simple hearts, new clothed in grace—
The hush'd and quiet souls—ere long to meet
Their Saviour face to face.
Nightfall In The Fens
One hour ago the red- hot sun below the bright horizon sank.
The long midsummer day is done. Our boat is moored beneath the bank.
The glory of the crimson west dies slowly on the river's breast.
The water- violet shuts its eye; the water- lily petals close;
So in the evening light we lie and dream in undisturbed repose.
How far all petty cares have flown! How calm the fretful world has grown!
We only hear the gentle breeze, in soft, delicious whispers, pass
Through osier beds and alder trees, and rustling flags and bending grass;
The song of blackbird in the hedge, the quack of wild duck in the sedge.
The distant bark of farmhouse dogs, the piping of a clear- voiced thrush;
The murmurous babble of the frogs, of rippling stream in reed and rush;
The splash of hungry trout that rise to passing gnats and dragon- flies.
Sounds that make silence eloquent, but cannot break it, nor dispel
The tranquil sense of still content that holds us like enchanter's spell —
At rest and free, in this lone fen, from noise of streets and striving men.
What perfume in these dewy hours the rich earth to the soft air yields!
Sweetbriar and bean and clover flowers breathe incense from the quiet fields;
And every whiff that comes this way brings fragrant scent of new- mown hay.
A long- legged heron stalks about that marshy meadow, seeking food;
A little water- hen creeps out close by us, with her paddling brood;
A water- rat, in blank surprise, stares at us with his beady eyes.
The swallow lingers, and the swift, like arrow from a bow, darts by;
Light clouds of little midges drift between us and the tender sky;
Cockchafers hum as they whir past. But the hushed twilight gathers fast.
All Nature takes her happy ease, and we no more can fume and fret.
No inward questions taunt and tease. All life's disasters we forget —
All life's injustice we forgive. To- night it is enough to live.
No time is this to talk of books — no time vexed problems to discuss
Through all the upward spirit looks, and sees that Good is meant for us —
Sees more in these transparent skies than in all wise philosophies.
* * * * *
The western glories fade and pass. The twilight deepens more and more.
A thin mist, like a breath on glass, veils shining stream and distant shore;
And night is falling, still and cool, on each broad marsh and silent pool.
The moor- hen paddles in the weeds no longer, for her chicks are fed;
The heron, rising from the reeds, goes slowly sailing home to bed;
Just now, from off that mossy bank, the little brown rat slipped and sank.
Night comes at length. The last pale gleam of lingering day has disappeared.
On silent fields and quiet stream a few stars shine; the mist has cleared;
The willows of the further shore stand outlined on the sky once more.
No hum of gnat or bee is heard; no pipe of thrush on hawthorn bough;
No cry of any beast or bird to stir the solemn stillness now,
Though all the soundless air is rife with latent energies of life
Only a vagrant bat we see on silken pinion flitting by;
Only a white owl, roaming free, with downy wings and steadfast eye;
Two ghostly visions in their flight — two noiseless shadows of the night.
How clear the darkness, and how fine the plumes upon those bulbous stumps!
A luminous greyness seems to shine behind those serried osier clumps;
And sharper in the pallid glow the stems of flag and bulrush grow.
A faint dawn breaks on yonder sedge, and broadens in that bed of weeds;
A bright disc shows its radiant edge, the round moon rises from the reeds;
Its level rays of silver glide across the steel- dark river tide.
They burnish steel to silver bright — a mirror for an angel meet;
They bridge it with a bridge of light — fit pathway for an angel's feet;
If angel feet and angel face haunt mortal creatures' dwelling place.
The widening track of glory streams to this low margin where we sit;
My sight swims in its dazzling beams, and heart and brain are steeped in it —
Are washed from all the dust and grime, the smears and tears, of working time.
Like waves when stormy winds are past, my toils and turmoils sink and cease;
Like long- bound captive free at last, I bask in ecstasies of peace;
Like tired child I lie at rest upon my unknown parent's breast.
There may be happier worlds than this — a heavenly country, vast and fair,
Where saints and seraphs dwell in bliss — but I pray not for entrance there.
While in my human flesh I live I ask no more than earth can give.
Ethereal essences may roam Elysian fields beyond the grave,
But I, a man, am in my home, with all I love and all I crave.
How is it, faithful friend, with thee? This sweet world is enough for me.
The Kind Word
Speak kindly, wife; the little ones will grow
Fairest and straightest in the warmest sun.
We talk so often of the seed we sow;
But, maybe, when we think our labour done,
And when we look to gather in the grain,
We'll find these stones, we fling about, again
Strewing the fruitless sod,
Having crush'd down and stunted the sweet life
That bore the likeness of the life of God.
All your hard words of bitterness and strife
Will lie upon their love, as stones would lie;
You think to pick them up, but, by-and-by,
You'll find where they have lain
By the poor, meagre, crooked ears of grain.
You will be sorry then.
Speak kindly, wife; you know not half the wealth
Kind words bring in. Ah! I remember when
I was a little lad, all youth and health,
How I went wrong for want of one, and how
One saved my life—ay, keeps it steady now.
* * * * *
My mother died, you know, when I had seen
Only a few days' light; they say her face
Was fair and young—and so it might have been;
I cannot tell. But she, who took her place,
Was coarse and hard, and had a shrewish tongue
That fretted all the household into strife.
Ah, how that sharp voice rung
Through ear and heart—through all the peace of life!
It drove my father from his home at length,
And drove him to the ale-house, where he learn'd
To drink away the good name he had earn'd,
And drink away his precious health and strength.
I can remember well how he would sigh,
Would sigh, and turn from his own chimney nook;
And how, though wintry winds blew fierce and high,
He fumbled at the door with hands that shook,
And pass'd out slowly, as though caring not
Whither he went. And she, who tempted him,
Was first to see the change—to mark the blot
That made his manhood's beauty blurred and dim—
But had no mercy and no help for him.
I think I see her now!
Standing, with that red flush upon her brow,
Hurling her stinging insults thick and fast,
As he was sadly creeping through the door;
Until he raised his grizzled head, and swore,
And suddenly struck her, growing mad at last.
Was that the way to better him? Ah, no;
She taunted him, and stung his spirit so,
That what was weakness became sin and crime.
Wife, did you ever hear
What happen'd in that dark and dreadful time?
One night, when I was wide awake for fear,
Straining my baby ears to catch the sound
Of the fierce voices that were storming near—
One night, I heard a cry—
So sharp! so shrill! a strange and fearful cry—
And then a heavy fall upon the ground;
And then—and then—in the grey morning light
I saw her lie,
With her hard face so strangely still and white,
With a broad purple stain upon her brow,
And dusky shadows on her lips and eyes.
Ah me! ah me! I think I see her now,
Wrapped in that awful death-sleep, as she lies!
I well remember how I cried and shook
In childish terror, and with what a look
I turn'd to all the living faces there,
Seeking in vain,
With the first dreary thrill of my despair,
The one face that I never saw again!
* * * * *
I was so young—a little lad, a child—
And it was hard, ay, very hard, to be
So helpless and so ignorant and wild,
With not a soul to love and care for me.
She, when she storm'd about,
Had roughly used me, and had turn'd me out
Into the streets, to gather what I could
And what I liked of all the evil there;
But he, my father, at odd times he would
Sit, with his arms flung round me, in his chair,
And tell me, as he stroked my curly head,
How he could see the mother that was dead
In my blue eyes and in my golden hair.
And now I was alone—quite, quite alone.
Ah, you can never know how I was toss'd
From place to place; how like a thing of stone,
Frozen for want of just a kindly tone,
My heart became—all its good instincts cross'd!
And how like some distorted tree I grew,
Barren of all things beautiful and true.
Sullen, and hard, and reckless, I was fit
And ready, when the devil laid his snare—
Quite ready—to rush headlong into it.
And who was there to care?
In a wild night—a well-remember'd night,
When I was prowling in a darken'd street,
Trying to hush the echo of my feet,
Trying to hide me out of sound and sight—
Just as I heard the bells begin to call
From a church-tower—as I caught a gleam
Of marble pillars, standing white and tall,
And saw the stream
Of tender, mellow light make, as it were,
A shining pathway in the misty air,
Whither soft footsteps trod
Out of the world into the courts of God—
Just then they found me out—
They who had watch'd and follow'd me so long—
They found me as I idly hung about
That stately doorway; and I felt the strong
Relentless grip upon my arm—I saw
The quiet, cruel, smiling eyes, and saw
That I was bound.
That night I lay awake upon the ground
Of a dark cell. The moonlight quiver'd in,
Tender, and pure, and sweet, and hover'd round—
Trying to cool the raging fire within
My eyes and heart; like tender mother's touch,
It wander'd over lips, and hands, and hair.
I think I feel it now—it came with such
An unexpected pity to me there!
It was so dark—and I was all alone.
No gentle tone
To comfort and to keep me from despair!
A blessing had been sent—ah, now I know,
Just by that little moonbeam; its white glow
Lay on my heart, till the tears fell like rain.
The long-endured, sullen sense of pain,
So dark and deep,
Was stirred and touch'd, and almost lighten'd, when
I plunged my face into my hands to weep.
Somehow the boyish spirit came again,
With just a little of its softness, then;
The burning fever cool'd, and I could sleep.
Ah, I remember, as I lay there, she
I never knew came gliding through my dream,
As through the shadows that encompass'd me
Glided the tender moonshine; I could see,
Dim and yet purely bright—just in the gleam
That cross'd the prison-floor—a girlish face,
Divinely beautiful—an angel's face;
And long robes, fair and white,
Shadow'd with wings that shone like living light.
I seem'd to feel, e'en in that gloomy place,
The soft, sweet kisses stray
Over my feverish forehead as I lay;
But when I woke, and look'd with glistening eyes
Up through the grating, I could only see
The pale rose-colour dawning in the skies
From whence that message had come down to me.
I was so lonely! Yet more lonely far
In the bright day-time, when my sight was bound
By cold, hard, scornful faces all around,
Instead of prison-wall and iron bar.
More lonely—ay, so much more lonely! They,
My judges and accusers, and the crowd
That witness'd all my misery that day,
They knew not that my spirit was as proud,
As sensitive to suffering, as theirs.
They knew the sweet hearth-love, that makes the cares
And storms of life so light!
And the great safeguard against sin and crime
Stood round about their homes by day and night.
But I had no one in that bitter time,
No one, I thought—no one to stand by me,
No one to teach me or to care for me!
I pass'd through fire as I stood waiting—stood
In that great, dreary, dreadful, crowded place;
A fire that scorch'd out even the faintest trace
My tearful dream had left, of good and true.
* * * * *
Wearily, wearily, I laid me down
Within my little prison-cell that night;
And then I long'd for death to come, and drown
The sinful, lonely, sorrowful earthly life
That always seem'd at strife
With God and man. I know it was not right—
I know it, dear; but it is hard to be
Shut out from all the pleasant, genial life
That makes life worth!—and it was hard for me.
And so I lay, and fix'd a vacant stare
Upon my grated bars, now dimly drawn
Across a grey-blue thunder-cloud; for there
The moonlight came, and there the rosy dawn
Peep'd in—a kind and friendly face to see;
One thing, at least, of peace and purity.
And dark thoughts brooded in my heart and brain,
Such wicked, reckless thoughts! I wonder'd why
I had been born to so much misery,
Born to so large a heritage of pain!
Sure it was wrong, I murmur'd bitterly,
Setting my teeth again.
And then there slowly drifted through my mind—
Vaguely and darkly, gaining shape at length—
A thought whose likeness it were hard to find
In any common words. I felt the strength
Of stern endurance and resolve die out,
And felt a fierce new strength creep round about
My smouldering heart. Eager I turn'd to gaze
At my new vision—and the warning doubt
Died in the passion that was set ablaze.
What was the vision? Wife, I scarcely dare
Paint it again.
It's very memory enfolds such pain!
A river, dark, and deep, and dreadful, where
The moaning eddies swirl'd about the piers
Of a high bridge; lights twinkling in the air;
Unnumber'd voices thrilling in my ears;
And one—one only—speaking to me there—
Calling from out the deep,
Dark water, in its slow, reluctant sweep . . . . .
An awful space of shadows; then the gleam
Of steely ripples, lying far below,
Like bright snakes coil'd together on the stream;—
Ah, wife, you know! you know!
I saw—but did not see—the grey-blue cloud
Change into black; the thunder roar'd aloud;
And shining arrows glanced across the floor,
Striking a blaze upon my staring eyes;—
Darling, these are such painful memories,
I cannot tell you more.
* * * * *
But in the day that follow'd—when the sun
Was high in heaven, and the crimson flame
Danced on the bleak white wall above me—one
Bearing a sweet and holy message, came.
He found me lying motionless, alone,
Passionately quiet, and as hard as stone;
And he stepped softly, and bent over me
Until I saw his face—
Fair as an angel's, with a shining crown
Of wavy golden hair—a boyish face,
But shadow'd with a wondrous dignity.
As he bent down,
His grave eyes looking deeply into mine,
The dignity seem'd born of the divine.
Ah me, he was so good! so true! so kind!
He melted that black shadow on my mind
With his sweet, earnest tones; I sat and wept
Just like a child; and a new life and light
Once more, as he sat by me, gently crept
Into my spirit, that was dark as night.
He did not talk as if he were above
The sins and follies of his fellow-men;
But all his words were sympathy and love—
Or I had never listen'd to them then.
He did not once reproach me, though he heard—
Because he would not ask it—every word
I had to tell him; but he counselled me,
Framing his lips in that humility
Which seems the stamp of a good man and true.
Saying not, “I know this,” but “God has said;”
Saying not, with the solemn warning, “you,”
But mostly “we;” yet over all he shed
The high and special dignity he bore.
One felt he was a priest, as if he wore
His surplice—standing in the church, instead
Of on a prison-floor.
* * * * *
And those kind words—they brought a blessed morn
Unto my soul; I never wish'd again
That I might die; I never felt forlorn,
As if my life were given me in vain.
But I went out into the world, and fought
Against its legions, with an arm of strength!
Wife, though I often falter'd, what he taught
Nerved me to courage, and I won at length.
The Hand In The Dark
How calm the spangled city spread below!
How cool the night! How fair the starry skies!
How sweet the dewy breezes! But I know
What, under all their seeming beauty, lies.
That million-fibred heart, alive, is wrung
With every grief that human creatures fear.
Could its dumb anguish find a fitting tongue
The very dead within their graves would hear.
It calls me from my rest, that voiceless wail
Of Lazarus at the gate — my kith and kin
Whose cruise and cake, and staff and beacon, fail —
The famished crowd, that cannot enter in.
How can I take my ease amid this pain,
These pangs, these tears, these crimes, that never cease?
While homeless children cry for bread in vain
How can I eat? How can I sleep in peace?
Poor comrades of the fight, that have no place!
Brothers and sisters, born to want and wrong.
Born weak and maimed, to run a hopeless race,
Lost at the start, against the hale and strong!
Poor scapegoats of the wilderness, that fast
For those who feast! And, ah, poor feasters too!
They also thirst and hunger at the last.
And this is Life — and all the Race can do.
Vain, vain the listening ear, the questioning gaze.
Shoreless, unplumbed, the ether-ocean lies
Above these roofs, beyond the smoke and haze —
The Infinite — alive with watching eyes.
To see our orb of sorrow whirling there —
The tiny swarm of struggling things, that curse
Their subject province, and yet calmly dare
To claim the kingship of the Universe.
Dread cloud of witnesses to earth's disgrace!
Earth is my trust — I am afraid to look
Those still and stern accusers in the face,
And haste to hide in my familiar nook.
My little nook — where is it? Have I none?
I grow confused betwixt the sea and shore.
I had some lamps to guide me — one by one
They flashed and failed, and now I have no more.
Where am I? Oh, where am I? I can feel —
To feel my torment — but I cannot see,
I cannot hear. My brain begins to reel,
My heart to faint. Almighty, speak to me!
Help me! Or, in Thy pity, take me hence
While feeling heart and thinking brain are whole,
Or give me any rag of carnal sense,
So it suffice to wrap my naked soul!
* * * * *
No word. No sign. Yet something in the air
Soothes, like a cool hand on a fevered brow.
Replenished, from the ashes of despair
I rise renewed. Belovèd, where art thou?
She sleeps. She stirs. She hears the lightest fall
Of foot familiar with her chamber floor.
Her spirit answers to my spirit's call:
Come home! Come home! And I am saved once more.
Bringing no leaf of hope, alone and late,
Spent and wing-weary, famished for a crumb,
The wandering dove heads back to nest and mate.
My Love and Comforter, I come! I come!
Here is the welcome threshold of my ark,
My island-home amid the trackless flood.
Her hand shuts out the Silence and the Dark;
Her pulse thrills life into my fainting blood.
She draws me down upon that couch of bliss,
Her faithful arms, her tender mother-breast;
I clasp her close, those sweetest lips I kiss,
And, at long last, I have my hour of rest.
* * * * *
Thou, too, my love, hast wandered far and wide,
And hast come home, where all thy wanderings cease.
The door is shut. Thy mate is at thy side.
Here is thy long-sought pillow. Sleep in peace.
Heed not the patter of the weeping eaves,
The groan of branches bending to the rain,
The sad tap-tapping of dead autumn leaves,
Like ghostly fingers, on the window-pane.
The wind-borne echoings, from east and west,
Of weeping woe and wailing agony;
All night they cry round thy beleaguered nest,
But fear them not, for thou art safe with me.
Let the sad world spin on, a trail of shame
Amongst the myriad worlds. Whate'er befalls,
The great God knows that we are not to blame.
Our world is here, within our chamber walls.
In this asylum, secret and apart,
Whereof we keep the one and only key,
Rest thee, poor tired heart, upon my heart,
As all my weary being rests in thee.
Good-night! Good-night! Sleep deep and well, my bride.
The fight goes on, but we have won release.
Our wounds are healed, our tears are shed and dried.
Let the storms rage — they cannot break our peace.
* * * * *
Peace — is it peace? What is that form of fear
That looms ahead? What distillation sours
The joy of life when thou, alive, art near,
And nought seems wanting to the perfect hours?
What chills my passion when I love thee most,
And dims my eyes, and veils thy face, and slips,
An unseen shadow, like a creeping ghost,
Betwixt my hungering kisses and thy lips?
What, amid richest plenty, starves me thus?
What is it steals my soul's content, and thine —
That sits a guest at marriage-feast with us,
And mixes poison with the food and wine?
* * * * *
A vision comes. A graveyard, all alone,
A small green mound, a withered funeral wreath;
Love's last drear symbol of a graven stone,
And Life and I but worthless dust beneath.
There weep the dews, and winds of winter blow;
The soft breeze rustles in the bending grass;
The cold rain falls there, and the drifting snow.
But tears fall not, nor lover's footsteps pass.
Bees hum all day amid the young spring leaves;
The rooks call loudly from the elm-tree bough;
The sparrows twitter in the old church eaves;
But no voice cries for me, or calls me, now.
Bright beams of morning compass me about;
The stars shine o'er me, and the pale moonlight;
But I, that lit and warmed thee, am gone out
Like a burnt candle, in eternal night.
Earth to the earth upon this churchyard slope,
Ashes to ashes, nothing to the nought;
No tryst between us, and no star of hope
To light the path so passionately sought.
And still the sands between thy fingers run —
Desires, delights, ambitions, days and years,
Rich hours of life for thee, though mine are done —
Too full for vain regrets, too brief for tears.
I have lost all, but thou dost hold and save,
Adding new treasure to thy rifled store;
While weeds grow long on the deserted grave
Where sleeps thy mate who may be thine no more.
* * * * *
This is the fate I fear, the ghost I see,
The dream I dream at night, the thought I dread —
That thus 't'will be someday with thee and me,
Thou fain to live while I am doubly dead.
Thou still defiant of our common foe,
I vanquished quite — the once-resplendent crown
Of all thy joys become a dragging woe,
To be lopped off lest it should weigh thee down.
I, once thy sap of life, a wasteful drain
On thy green vigour, like a rotten branch;
I, once thy health, a paralysing pain,
A bleeding wound, that thou must haste to stanch.
Because the dead are dead — the past is gone;
Because dear life is sweet and time is brief,
And some must fall, and some must still press on,
Nor waste scant strength in unavailing grief.
* * * * *
I blame thee not. I know what must be must.
Nor shall I suffer when apart from thee.
I shall not care, when I am mouldering dust,
That once quick love is in the grave with me.
Cast me away — thou knowest I shall not fret;
Take thy due joys — I shall not bear the cost.
I, that am thus forgotten, shall forget,
Nor shed one tear for all that I have lost.
Not then the sting of death, the day of dole,
When corpse of love lies under funeral pall;
'Tis now I wear the sackcloth on my soul,
Bereaved and lonely, while possessed of all.
* * * * *
If thou wert dead, belovèd, should I turn
Deaf heart to memory when of thee she spake?
Should I, when this pure fire had ceased to burn,
Seek other hearths for sordid comfort's sake?
No, no! Yet I am mortal, I am weak,
And any fire is warm in wintry cold.
Alas! alas! The fateful years will wreak
Their own stern will on ours, when all is told.
Tell us, 0 Thou that canst behold us grope,
Whole-souled, incessant, through these realms unknown
For but one touch of a substantial hope,
How can we keep our dear selves for our own?
Whence did we come? And is it there we go?
We look behind — night hides our place of birth;
The blank ahead hides Heaven, for aught we know;
But what is Heaven to us, whose home is Earth?
Flesh may be gross — the husk that holds the seed;
Jewels of gold worth more than common bread;
But we are flesh, and common bread our need.
Angels in glory, we should still be dead.
What is the infinite Universe to him
Who has no home? Eternal Future seems,
Like the eternal Past, unreal and dim,
The airy region of a poet's dreams.
What spirit-essence, howsoe'er divine,
Can our lost selves restore from dusty grave?
Her mortal mind and body — hers and mine —
Make all the joys I know, and all I crave.
No fair romance of transcendental bliss,
No tale of palms and crowns, my dull heart stirs,
That only hungers for a woman's kiss,
And asks no life that is not one with hers.
No such Hereafter do I ask to see;
No such pale hope my sinking soul exalts;
I want no sexless angel — only thee,
My human love, with all thy human faults.
Just as thou art — not beautiful or wise,
But prone to simple sins and sad unrest —
With thy warm lips and arms, and thy sweet eyes,
Sweeter for tears they weep upon my breast.
Just as thou art, with thy soft household ways,
Thy noble failures and thy poor success,
Thy love that fits me for my strenuous days;
A mortal woman — neither more nor less.
* * * * *
And thou must pass, with these too rapid hours,
To that great deep wherefrom we both were brought;
Thy sentient flesh must turn to grass and flowers,
To birds and beasts, to dust — to air — to nought.
I know the parable. The great oaks grow
To their vast stature from an acorn grain,
And mightiest man was once an embryo.
But how can nothing bring thee forth again?
And is the new oak tree the old oak tree?
And is the son the father? And would'st thou,
If thou could'st rise from nothing, be to me
The precious self that satisfies me now?
Words! Words! A tale — a fairy legend, drawn
From lore of babes, that men must cast away;
Faith of the primal dreamer and the dawn,
Eluding vision in the light of day.
Here in our little island-home we bide
Our few brief years — the years that we possess.
Beyond, the Infinite on every side
Holds what no man may know, though all may guess.
We may remain — a lasting miracle. Ay, well we may. Our island-home is rife
With marvels greater than the tongue can tell,
And all things teem and travail with new life.
We may awake, ineffably alive,
Divinely perfect, in some higher sphere:
But still not we shall wake — the we who strive,
Who love and learn, who joy and suffer, here.
What then our hope, if any hope there be?
A something vague and formless and unknown,
That some strange beings, yet unborn, shall see.
Alas! And all we cry for is our own.
Only to be ourselves — not cast abroad
In space and time, for either bliss or woe;
Only to keep the treasures we have stored.
And they must pass away. And we must go.
How can we bear it? How can we submit?
Like a wild beast imprisoned, in our pain
We rave and rage for some way out of it,
And bruise and bleed against the bars in vain.
All, all is dark. Beyond our birth and death —
At either end — the same unyielding door.
We live, we love, while we draw human breath;
And then we die. And then? We know no more.
* * * * *
Ah, but look up, above these roofs and spires,
To where the stars shine down like watching eyes.
Conceive the tumult of those spinning fires!
Behold the vastness of those midnight skies!
And count the value of this speck of earth
Amid the countless Whole; and measure Man —
That on this speck but yesterday had birth,
And claims all God — with the prodigious plan.
Man, but a phase of planetary change,
That once was not, and will give place anon
To other forms, more beautiful and strange —
To pass in turn — till Earth herself is gone.
Earth, that is next to nothing in the sum
Of things created — a brief mote in space,
With all her aeons past and yet to come.
How we miscalculate our size — our place!
Yet are we men — details of the design,
Set to our course, like circling sun and star;
Mortal, infinitesimal, yet divine
Of that divine which made us what we are.
And yet this world, this microscopic ball,
This cast-up grain of sand upon the shore,
This trivial shred and atom of the ALL,
Is still our Trust, that we must answer for.
A lighthouse in the Infinite, with lamps
That we must trim and feed until we die;
A lonely outpost of the unseen camps
That we must keep, although we know not why.
The workman and the soldier have the word;
Theirs to obey, and not to question. Thus
We stand to orders that we never heard,
Bound to our little part. Enough for us.
The warm sap runs; the tender leaves unfold;
Ant helps his brother ant; birds build and sing;
The patient earthworm aids the pregnant mould
To fruit in autumn and to bud in spring.
Not less am I in wisdom and in will
Than ants and worms. I am full-furnished too
My arduous errand hither to fulfil.
I know my work, and what a man can do.
Maker of all! Enough that Thou hast given
This tempered mind, this brain without a flaw.
Enough for me to strive, as I have striven,
To make them serve their purpose and Thy law.
* * * * *
But, oh, my soul's companion! Thee I seek
For daily courage to support my lot.
In thee hath Nature made me strong or weak.
My human comforter, forsake me not!
My nobler self, in whom I live my best,
Strengthen me! Raise me! Lead me to the last!
Lay thy dear head upon my throbbing breast,
Give me thy hands, that I may hold thee fast!
Come close — come closer! Let me feel thy heart,
Thy pulsing heart, thy breathing lips, on mine.
0 love, let only death and graveyard part —
If they must part — my flesh and soul from thine!
Be thou my purer eyes, my keener ears,
My finer conscience, clean and unafraid,
Till these few, swift, inexorable years
Have borne us both beyond the reach of aid.
My rod and staff upon this lonely way,
My beacon-lamp till need of light is past;
Till the great Shadow, lengthening day by day,
Spreads over all and quenches us at last.
A Story At Dusk
An evening all aglow with summer light
And autumn colour—fairest of the year.
The wheat-fields, crowned with shocks of tawny gold,
All interspersed with rough sowthistle roots,
And interlaced with white convolvulus,
Lay, flecked with purple shadows, in the sun.
The shouts of little children, gleaning there
The scattered ears and wild blue-bottle flowers—
Mixed with the corn-crake's crying, and the song
Of lone wood birds whose mother-cares were o'er,
And with the whispering rustle of red leaves—
Scarce stirred the stillness. And the gossamer sheen
Was spread on upland meadows, silver bright
In low red sunshine and soft kissing wind—
Showing where angels in the night had trailed
Their garments on the turf. Tall arrow-heads,
With flag and rush and fringing grasses, dropped
Their seeds and blossoms in the sleepy pool.
The water-lily lay on her green leaf,
White, fair, and stately; while an amorous branch
Of silver willow, drooping in the stream,
Sent soft, low-babbling ripples towards her:
And oh, the woods!—erst haunted with the song
Of nightingales and tender coo of doves—
They stood all flushed and kindling 'neath the touch
Of death—kind death!—fair, fond, reluctant death!—
A dappled mass of glory!
With russet wood-fruit thick upon the ground,
'Mid crumpled ferns and delicate blue harebells.
The orchard-apples rolled in seedy grass—
Apples of gold, and violet-velvet plums;
And all the tangled hedgerows bore a crop
Of scarlet hips, blue sloes, and blackberries,
And orange clusters of the mountain ash.
The crimson fungus and soft mosses clung
To old decaying trunks; the summer bine
Drooped, shivering, in the glossy ivy's grasp.
By day the blue air bore upon its wings
Wide-wandering seeds, pale drifts of thistle-down;
By night the fog crept low upon the earth,
All white and cool, and calmed its feverishness,
And veiled it over with a veil of tears.
The curlew and the plover were come back
To still, bleak shores; the little summer birds
Were gone—to Persian gardens, and the groves
Of Greece and Italy, and the palmy lands.
A Norman tower, with moss and lichen clothed,
Wherein old bells, on old worm-eaten frames
And rusty wheels, had swung for centuries,
Chiming the same soft chime—the lullaby
Of cradled rooks and blinking bats and owls;
Setting the same sweet tune, from year to year,
For generations of true hearts to sing.
A wide churchyard, with grassy slopes and nooks,
And shady corners and meandering paths;
With glimpses of dim windows and grey walls
Just caught at here and there amongst the green
Of flowering shrubs and sweet lime-avenues.
An old house standing near—a parsonage-house—
With broad thatched roof and overhanging eaves,
O'errun with banksia roses,—a low house,
With ivied windows and a latticed porch,
Shut in a tiny Paradise, all sweet
With hum of bees and scent of mignonette.
We lay our lazy length upon the grass
In that same Paradise, my friend and I.
And, as we lay, we talked of college days—
Wild, racing, hunting, steeple-chasing days;
Of river reaches, fishing-grounds, and weirs,
Bats, gloves, debates, and in-humanities:
And then of boon-companions of those days,
How lost and scattered, married, changed, and dead;
Until he flung his arm across his face,
And feigned to slumber.
He was changed, my friend;
Not like the man—the leader of his set—
The favourite of the college—that I knew.
And more than time had changed him. He had been
“A little wild,” the Lady Alice said;
“A little gay, as all young men will be
At first, before they settle down to life—
While they have money, health, and no restraint,
Nor any work to do,” Ah, yes! But this
Was mystery unexplained—that he was sad
And still and thoughtful, like an aged man;
And scarcely thirty. With a winsome flash,
The old bright heart would shine out here and there;
But aye to be o'ershadowed and hushed down,
As he had hushed it now.
His dog lay near,
With long, sharp muzzle resting on his paws,
And wistful eyes, half shut,—but watching him;
A deerhound of illustrious race, all grey
And grizzled, with soft, wrinkled, velvet ears;
A gaunt, gigantic, wolfish-looking brute,
And worth his weight in gold.
“There, there,” said he,
And raised him on his elbow, “you have looked
Enough at me; now look at some one else.”
“You could not see him, surely, with your arm
Across your face?”
“No, but I felt his eyes;
They are such sharp, wise eyes—persistent eyes—
Perpetually reproachful. Look at them;
Had ever dog such eyes?”
“Oh yes,” I thought;
But, wondering, turned my talk upon his breed.
And was he of the famed Glengarry stock?
And in what season was he entered? Where,
Pray, did he pick him up?
He moved himself
At that last question, with a little writhe
Of sudden pain or restlessness; and sighed.
And then he slowly rose, pushed back the hair
From his broad brows; and, whistling softly, said,
“Come here, old dog, and we will tell him. Come.”
“On such a day, and such a time, as this,
Old Tom and I were stalking on the hills,
Near seven years ago. Bad luck was ours;
For we had searched up corrie, glen, and burn,
From earliest daybreak—wading to the waist
Peat-rift and purple heather—all in vain!
We struck a track nigh every hour, to lose
A noble quarry by ignoble chance—
The crowing of a grouse-cock, or the flight
Of startled mallards from a reedy pool,
Or subtle, hair's breadth veering of the wind.
And now 'twas waning sunset—rosy soft
On far grey peaks, and the green valley spread
Beneath us. We had climbed a ridge, and lay
Debating in low whispers of our plans
For night and morning. Golden eagles sailed
Above our heads; the wild ducks swam about
Amid the reeds and rushes of the pools;
A lonely heron stood on one long leg
In shallow water, watching for a meal;
And there, to windward, couching in the grass
That fringed the blue edge of a sleeping loch—
Waiting for dusk to feed and drink—there lay
A herd of deer.
“And as we looked and planned,
A mountain storm of sweeping mist and rain
Came down upon us. It passed by, and left
The burnies swollen that we had to cross;
And left us barely light enough to see
The broad, black, branching antlers, clustering still
Amid the long grass in the valley.
Said Tom, ‘there is a shealing down below,
To leeward. We might bivouac there to-night,
And come again at dawn.’
“And so we crept
Adown the glen, and stumbled in the dark
Against the doorway of the keeper's home,
And over two big deerhounds—ancestors
Of this our old companion. There was light
And warmth, a welcome and a heather bed,
At Colin's cottage; with a meal of eggs
And fresh trout, broiled by dainty little hands,
And sweetest milk and oatcake. There were songs
And Gaelic legends, and long talk of deer—
Mixt with a sweet, low laughter, and the whir
“The dogs lay at her feet—
The feet of Colin's daughter—with their soft
Dark velvet ears pricked up for every sound
And movement that she made. Right royal brutes,
Whereon I gazed with envy.
“ ‘What,’ I asked,
‘Would Colin take for these?’
“ ‘Eh, sir,’ said he,
And shook his head, ‘I cannot sell the dogs.
They're priceless, they, and—Jeanie's favourites.
But there's a litter in the shed—five pups,
As like as peas to this one. You may choose
Amongst them, sir—take any that you like.
Get us the lantern, Jeanie. You shall show
“Ah, she was fair, that girl!
Not like the other lassies—cottage folk;
For there was subtle trace of gentle blood
Through all her beauty and in all her ways.
(The mother's race was ‘poor and proud,’ they said).
Ay, she was fair, my darling! with her shy,
Brown, innocent face and delicate-shapen limbs.
She had the tenderest mouth you ever saw,
And grey, dark eyes, and broad, straight-pencill'd brows;
Dark hair, sun-dappled with a sheeny gold;
Dark chestnut braids that knotted up the light,
As soft as satin. You could scarcely hear
Her step, or hear the rustling of her gown,
Or the soft hovering motion of her hands
At household work. She seemed to bring a spell
Of tender calm and silence where she came.
You felt her presence—and not by its stir,
But by its restfulness. She was a sight
To be remembered—standing in the straw;
A sleepy pup soft-cradled in her arms
Like any Christian baby; standing still,
The while I handled his ungainly limbs.
And Colin blustered of the sport—of hounds,
Roe, ptarmigan, and trout, and ducal deer—
Ne'er lifting up that sweet, unconscious face,
To see why I was silent. Oh, I would
You could have seen her then. She was so fair,
And oh, so young!—scarce seventeen at most—
So ignorant and so young!
“Tell them, my friend—
Your flock—the restless-hearted—they who scorn
The ordered fashion fitted to our race,
And scoff at laws they may not understand—
Tell them that they are fools. They cannot mate
With other than their kind, but woe will come
In some shape—mostly shame, but always grief
And disappointment. Ah, my love! my love!
But she was different from the common sort;
A peasant, ignorant, simple, undefiled;
The child of rugged peasant-parents, taught
In all their thoughts and ways; yet with that touch
Of tender grace about her, softening all
The rougher evidence of her lowly state—
That undefined, unconscious dignity—
That delicate instinct for the reading right
The riddles of less simple minds than hers—
That sharper, finer, subtler sense of life—
That something which does not possess a name,
Which made her beauty beautiful to me—
The long-lost legacy of forgotten knights.
“I chose amongst the five fat creeping things
This rare old dog. And Jeanie promised kind
And gentle nurture for its infant days;
And promised she would keep it till I came
Another year. And so we went to rest.
And in the morning, ere the sun was up,
We left our rifles, and went out to run
The browsing red-deer with old Colin's hounds.
Through glen and bog, through brawling mountain streams,
Grey, lichened boulders, furze, and juniper,
And purple wilderness of moor, we toiled,
Ere yet the distant snow-peak was alight.
We chased a hart to water; saw him stand
At bay, with sweeping antlers, in the burn.
His large, wild, wistful eyes despairingly
Turned to the deeper eddies; and we saw
The choking struggle and the bitter end,
And cut his gallant throat upon the grass,
And left him. Then we followed a fresh track—
A dozen tracks—and hunted till the noon;
Shot cormorants and wild cats in the cliffs,
And snipe and blackcock on the ferny hills;
And set our floating night-lines at the loch;—
And then came back to Jeanie.
“Well, you know
What follows such commencement:—how I found
The woods and corries round about her home
Fruitful of roe and red-deer; how I found
The grouse lay thickest on adjacent moors;
Discovered ptarmigan on rocky peaks,
And rare small game on birch-besprinkled hills,
O'ershadowing that rude shealing; how the pools
Were full of wild-fowl, and the loch of trout;
How vermin harboured in the underwood,
And rocks, and reedy marshes; how I found
The sport aye best in this charmed neighbourhood.
And then I e'en must wander to the door,
To leave a bird for Colin, or to ask
A lodging for some stormy night, or see
How fared my infant deerhound.
“And I saw
The creeping dawn unfolding; saw the doubt,
And faith, and longing swaying her sweet heart;
And every flow just distancing the ebb.
I saw her try to bar the golden gates
Whence love demanded egress,—calm her eyes,
And still the tender, sensitive, tell-tale lips,
And steal away to corners; saw her face
Grow graver and more wistful, day by day;
And felt the gradual strengthening of my hold.
I did not stay to think of it—to ask
What I was doing!
“In the early time,
She used to slip away to household work
When I was there, and would not talk to me;
But when I came not, she would climb the glen
In secret, and look out, with shaded brow,
Across the valley. Ay, I caught her once—
Like some young helpless doe, amongst the fern—
I caught her, and I kissed her mouth and eyes;
And with those kisses signed and sealed our fate
For evermore. Then came our happy days—
The bright, brief, shining days without a cloud!
In ferny hollows and deep, rustling woods,
That shut us in and shut out all the world—
The far, forgotten world—we met, and kissed,
And parted, silent, in the balmy dusk.
We haunted still roe-coverts, hand in hand,
And murmured, under our breath, of love and faith,
And swore great oaths for one of us to keep.
We sat for hours, with sealèd lips, and heard
The crossbill chattering in the larches—heard
The sweet wind whispering as it passed us by—
And heard our own hearts' music in the hush.
Ah, blessed days! ah, happy, innocent days!—
I would I had them back.
“Then came the Duke,
And Lady Alice, with her worldly grace
And artificial beauty—with the gleam
Of jewels, and the dainty shine of silk,
And perfumed softness of white lace and lawn;
With all the glamour of her courtly ways,
Her talk of art and fashion, and the world
We both belonged to. Ah, she hardened me!
I lost the sweetness of the heathery moors
And hills and quiet woodlands, in that scent
Of London clubs and royal drawing-rooms;
I lost the tender chivalry of my love,
The keen sense of its sacredness, the clear
Perception of mine honour, by degrees,
Brought face to face with customs of my kind.
I was no more a “man;” nor she, my love,
A delicate lily of womanhood—ah, no!
I was the heir of an illustrious house,
And she a simple, homespun cottage-girl.
“And now I stole at rarer intervals
To those dim trysting woods; and when I came
I brought my cunning worldly wisdom—talked
Of empty forms and marriages in heaven—
To stain that simple soul, God pardon me!
And she would shiver in the stillness, scared
And shocked, with her pathetic eyes—aye proof
Against the fatal, false philosophy.
But my will was the strongest, and my love
The weakest; and she knew it.
“Well, well, well,
I need not talk of that. There came the day
Of our last parting in the ferny glen—
A bitter parting, parting from my life,
Its light and peace for ever! And I turned
To balls and billiards, politics and wine;
Was wooed by Lady Alice, and half won;
And passed a feverous winter in the world.
Ah, do not frown! You do not understand.
You never knew that hopeless thirst for peace—
That gnawing hunger, gnawing at your life;
The passion, born too late! I tell you, friend,
The ruth, and love, and longing for my child,
It broke my heart at last.
“In the hot days
Of August, I went back; I went alone.
And on old garrulous Margery—relict she
Of some departed seneschal—I rained
My eager questions. ‘Had the poaching been
As ruinous and as audacious as of old?
Were the dogs well? and had she felt the heat?
And—I supposed the keeper, Colin, still
Was somewhere on the place?’
“ ‘Nay, sir,’; said she,
‘But he has left the neighbourhood. He ne'er
Has held his head up since he lost his child,
Poor soul, a month ago.’
“I heard—I heard!
His child—he had but one—my little one,
Whom I had meant to marry in a week!
“ ‘Ah, sir, she turned out badly after all,
The girl we thought a pattern for all girls.
We know not how it happened, for she named
No names. And, sir, it preyed upon her mind,
And weakened it; and she forgot us all,
And seemed as one aye walking in her sleep
She noticed no one—no one but the dog,
A young deerhound that followed her about;
Though him she hugged and kissed in a strange way
When none was by. And Colin, he was hard
Upon the girl; and when she sat so still,
And pale and passive, while he raved and stormed,
Looking beyond him, as it were, he grew
The harder and more harsh. He did not know
That she was not herself. Men are so blind!
But when he saw her floating in the loch,
The moonlight on her face, and her long hair
All tangled in the rushes; saw the hound
Whining and crying, tugging at her plaid—
Ah, sir, it was a death-stroke!’
“This was all.
This was the end of her sweet life—the end
Of all worth having of mine own! At night
I crept across the moors to find her grave,
And kiss the wet earth covering it—and found
The deerhound lying there asleep. Ay me!
It was the bitterest darkness,—nevermore
To break out into dawn and day again!
“And Lady Alice shakes her dainty head,
Lifts her arch eyebrows, smiles, and whispers, “Once
He was a little wild!’ ”
With that he laughed;
Then suddenly flung his face upon the grass,
Crying, “Leave me for a little—let me be!”
And in the dusky stillness hugged his woe,
And wept away his passion by himself.
A Dream Of Venice
NUMB, half asleep, and dazed with whirl of wheels,
And gasp of steam, and measured clank of chains,
I heard a blithe voice break a sudden pause,
Ringing familiarly through the lamp-lit night,
“Wife, here's your Venice!”
I was lifted down,
And gazed about in stupid wonderment,
Holding my little Katie by the hand—
My yellow-haired step-daughter. And again
Two strong arms led me to the water-brink,
And laid me on soft cushions in a boat,—
A queer boat, by a queerer boatman manned—
Swarthy-faced, ragged, with a scarlet cap—
Whose wild, weird note smote shrilly through the dark.
Oh yes, it was my Venice! Beautiful,
With melancholy, ghostly beauty—old,
And sorrowful, and weary—yet so fair,
So like a queen still, with her royal robes,
Full of harmonious colour, rent and worn!
I only saw her shadow in the stream,
By flickering lamplight,—only saw, as yet,
White, misty palace-portals here and there,
Pillars, and marble steps, and balconies,
Along the broad line of the Grand Canal;
And, in the smaller water-ways, a patch
Of wall, or dim bridge arching overhead.
But I could feel the rest. 'Twas Venice!—ay,
The veritable Venice of my dreams.
I saw the grey dawn shimmer down the stream,
And all the city rise, new bathed in light,
With rose-red blooms on her decaying walls,
And gold tints quivering up her domes and spires—
Sharp-drawn, with delicate pencillings, on a sky
Blue as forget-me-nots in June. I saw
The broad day staring in her palace-fronts,
Pointing to yawning gap and crumbling boss,
And colonnades, time-stained and broken, flecked
With soft, sad, dying colours—sculpture-wreathed,
And gloriously proportioned; saw the glow
Light up her bright, harmonious, fountain'd squares,
And spread out on her marble steps, and pass
Down silent courts and secret passages,
Gathering up motley treasures on its way;—
Groups of rich fruit from the Rialto mart,
Scarlet and brown and purple, with green leaves—
Fragments of exquisite carving, lichen-grown,
Found, 'mid pathetic squalor, in some niche
Where wild, half-naked urchins lived and played—
A bright robe, crowned with a pale, dark-eyed face—
A red-striped awning 'gainst an old grey wall—
A delicate opal gleam upon the tide.
I looked out from my window, and I saw
Venice, my Venice, naked in the sun—
Sad, faded, and unutterably forlorn!—
But still unutterably beautiful.
For days and days I wandered up and down—
Holding my breath in awe and ecstasy,—
Following my husband to familiar haunts,
Making acquaintance with his well-loved friends,
Whose faces I had only seen in dreams
And books and photographs and his careless talk.
For days and days—with sunny hours of rest
And musing chat, in that cool room of ours,
Paved with white marble, on the Grand Canal;
For days and days—with happy nights between,
Half-spent, while little Katie lay asleep
Out on the balcony, with the moon and stars.
O Venice, Venice!—with thy water-streets—
Thy gardens bathed in sunset, flushing red
Behind San Giorgio Maggiore's dome—
Thy glimmering lines of haughty palaces
Shadowing fair arch and column in the stream—
Thy most divine cathedral, and its square,
With vagabonds and loungers daily thronged,
Taking their ice, their coffee, and their ease—
Thy sunny campo's, with their clamorous din,
Their shrieking vendors of fresh fish and fruit—
Thy churches and thy pictures—thy sweet bits
Of colour—thy grand relics of the dead—
Thy gondoliers and water-bearers—girls
With dark, soft eyes, and creamy faces, crowned
With braided locks as bright and black as jet—
Wild ragamuffins, picturesque in rags,
And swarming beggars and old witch-like crones,
And brown-cloaked contadini, hot and tired,
Sleeping, face-downward, on the sunny steps—
Thy fairy islands floating in the sun—
Thy poppy-sprinkled, grave-strewn Lido shore—
Thy poetry and thy pathos—all so strange!—
Thou didst bring many a lump into my throat,
And many a passionate thrill into my heart,
And once a tangled dream into my head.
'Twixt afternoon and evening. I was tired;
The air was hot and golden—not a breath
Of wind until the sunset—hot and still.
Our floor was water-sprinkled; our thick walls
And open doors and windows, shadowed deep
With jalousies and awnings, made a cool
And grateful shadow for my little couch.
A subtle perfume stole about the room
From a small table, piled with purple grapes,
And water-melon slices, pink and wet,
And ripe, sweet figs, and golden apricots,
New-laid on green leaves from our garden—leaves
Wherewith an antique torso had been clothed.
My husband read his novel on the floor,
Propped up on cushions and an Indian shawl;
And little Katie slumbered at his feet,
Her yellow curls alight, and delicate tints
Of colour in the white folds of her frock.
I lay, and mused, in comfort and at ease,
Watching them both and playing with my thoughts;
And then I fell into a long, deep sleep,
I saw a water-wilderness—
Islands entangled in a net of streams—
Cross-threads of rippling channels, woven through
Bare sands, and shallows glimmering blue and broad—
A line of white sea-breakers far away.
There came a smoke and crying from the land—
Ruin was there, and ashes, and the blood
Of conquered cities, trampled down to death.
But here, methought, amid these lonely gulfs,
There rose up towers and bulwarks, fair and strong,
Lapped in the silver sea-mists;—waxing aye
Fairer and stronger—till they seemed to mock
The broad-based kingdoms on the mainland shore.
I saw a great fleet sailing in the sun,
Sailing anear the sand-slip, whereon broke
The long white wave-crests of the outer sea,—
Pepin of Lombardy, with his warrior hosts—
Following the bloody steps of Attila!
I saw the smoke rise when he touched the towns
That lay, outposted, in his ravenous reach;
Then, in their island of deep waters,* saw
A gallant band defy him to his face,
And drive him out, with his fair vessels wrecked
And charred with flames, into the sea again.
“Ah, this is Venice!” I said proudly—“queen
Whose haughty spirit none shall subjugate.”
It was the night. The great stars hung, like globes
Of gold, in purple skies, and cast their light
In palpitating ripples down the flood
That washed and gurgled through the silent streets—
White-bordered now with marble palaces.
It was the night. I saw a grey-haired man,
Sitting alone in a dark convent-porch—
In beggar's garments, with a kingly face,
And eyes that watched for dawnlight anxiously—
A weary man, who could not rest nor sleep.
I heard him muttering prayers beneath his breath,
And once a malediction—while the air
Hummed with the soft, low psalm-chants from within.
And then, as grey gleams yellowed in the east,
I saw him bend his venerable head,
Creep to the door, and knock.
Again I saw
The long-drawn billows breaking on the land,
And galleys rocking in the summer noon.
The old man, richly retinued, and clad
In princely robes, stood there, and spread his arms,
And cried, to one low-kneeling at his feet,
“Take thou my blessing with thee, O my son!
And let this sword, wherewith I gird thee, smite
The impious tyrant-king, who hath defied,
Dethroned, and exiled him who is as Christ.
The Lord be good to thee, my son, my son,
For thy most righteous dealing!”
'Twas that long slip of land betwixt the sea
And still lagoons of Venice—curling waves
Flinging light, foamy spray upon the sand.
The noon was past, and rose-red shadows fell
Across the waters. Lo! the galleys came
To anchorage again—and lo! the Duke
Yet once more bent his noble head to earth,
And laid a victory at the old man's feet,
Praying a blessing with exulting heart.
“This day, my well-belovèd, thou art blessed,
And Venice with thee, for St. Peter's sake.
And I will give thee, for thy bride and queen,
The sea which thou hast conquered. Take this ring,
As sign of her subjection, and thy right
To be her lord for ever.”
I saw that old man,—in the vestibule
Of St. Mark's fair cathedral,—circled round
With cardinals and priests, ambassadors
And the noblesse of Venice—richly robed
In papal vestments, with the triple crown
Gleaming upon his brows. There was a hush:—
I saw a glittering train come sweeping on,
From the blue water and across the square,
Thronged with an eager multitude,—the Duke,
And with him Barbarossa, humbled now,
And fain to pray for pardon. With bare heads,
They reached the church, and paused. The Emperor knelt,
Casting away his purple mantle—knelt,
And crept along the pavement, as to kiss
Those feet, which had been weary twenty years
With his own persecutions. And the Pope
Lifted his white haired, crowned, majestic head,
And trod upon his neck,—crying out to Christ,
“Upon the lion and adder shalt thou go—
The dragon shalt thou tread beneath thy feet!”
The vision changed. Sweet incense-clouds rose up
From the cathedral altar, mix'd with hymns
And solemn chantings, o'er ten thousand heads;
And ebbed and died away along the aisles.
I saw a train of nobles—knights of France—
Pass 'neath the glorious arches through the crowd,
And stand, with halo of soft, coloured light
On their fair brows—the while their leader's voice
Rang through the throbbing silence like a bell.
“Signiors, we come to Venice, by the will
Of the most high and puissant lords of France,
To pray you look with your compassionate eyes
Upon the Holy City of our Christ—
Wherein He lived, and suffered, and was lain
Asleep, to wake in glory, for our sakes—
By Paynim dogs dishonoured and defiled!
Signiors, we come to you, for you are strong.
The seas which lie betwixt that land and this
Obey you. O have pity! See, we kneel—
Our Masters bid us kneel—and bid us stay
Here at your feet until you grant our prayers!”
Wherewith the knights fell down upon their knees,
And lifted up their supplicating hands.
Lo! the ten thousand people rose as one,
And shouted with a shout that shook the domes
And gleaming roofs above them—echoing down,
Through marble pavements, to the shrine below,
Where lay the miraculous body of their Saint
(Shed he not heavenly radiance as he heard?—
Perfuming the damp air of his secret crypt),
And cried, with an exceeding mighty cry,
“We do consent! We will be pitiful!”
The thunder of their voices reached the sea,
And thrilled through all the netted water-veins
Of their rich city. Silence fell anon,
Slowly, with fluttering wings, upon the crowd;
And then a veil of darkness.
The filtered sunlight streamed upon those walls,
Marbled and sculptured with divinest grace;
Again I saw a multitude of heads,
Soft-wreathed with cloudy incense, bent in prayer—
The heads of haughty barons, armed knights,
And pilgrims girded with their staff and scrip,
The warriors of the Holy Sepulchre.
The music died away along the roof;
The hush was broken—not by him of France—
By Enrico Dandolo, whose grey head
Venice had circled with the ducal crown.
The old man looked down, with his dim, wise eyes,
Stretching his hands abroad, and spake. “Seigneurs,
My children, see—your vessels lie in port
Freighted for battle. And you, standing here,
Wait but the first fair wind. The bravest hosts
Are with you, and the noblest enterprise
Conceived of man. Behold, I am grey-haired,
And old and feeble. Yet am I your lord.
And, if it be your pleasure, I will trust
My ducal seat in Venice to my son,
And be your guide and leader.”
When they heard,
They cried aloud, “In God's name, go with us!”
And the old man, with holy weeping, passed
Adown the tribune to the altar-steps;
And, kneeling, fixed the cross upon his cap.
A ray of sudden sunshine lit his face—
The grand, grey, furrowed face—and lit the cross,
Until it twinkled like a cross of fire.
“We shall be safe with him,” the people said,
Straining their wet, bright eyes; “and we shall reap
Harvests of glory from our battle-fields!”
Anon there rose a vapour from the sea—
A dim white mist, that thickened into fog.
The campanile and columns were blurred out,
Cathedral domes and spires, and colonnades
Of marble palaces on the Grand Canal.
Joy-bells rang sadly and softly—far away;
Banners of welcome waved like wind-blown clouds;
Glad shouts were muffled into mournful wails.
A Doge was come to be enthroned and crowned,—
Not in the great Bucentaur—not in pomp;
The water-ways had wandered in the mist,
And he had tracked them, slowly, painfully,
From San Clemente to Venice, in a frail
And humble gondola. A Doge was come;
But he, alas! had missed his landing-place,
And set his foot upon the blood-stained stones
Betwixt the blood-red columns. Ah, the sea—
The bride, the queen—she was the first to turn
Against her passionate, proud, ill-fated lord!
Slowly the sea-fog melted, and I saw
Long, limp dead bodies dangling in the sun.
Two granite pillars towered on either side,
And broad blue waters glittered at their feet.
“These are the traitors,” said the people; “they
Who, with our Lord the Duke, would overthrow
The government of Venice.”
The doors about the palace were made fast.
A great crowd gathered round them, with hushed breath
And throbbing pulses. And I knew their lord,
The Duke Faliero, knelt upon his knees,
On the broad landing of the marble stairs
Where he had sworn the oath he could not keep—
Vexed with the tyrannous oligarchic rule
That held his haughty spirit netted in,
And cut so keenly that he writhed and chafed
Until he burst the meshes—could not keep!
I watched and waited, feeling sick at heart;
And then I saw a figure, robed in black—
One of their dark, ubiquitous, supreme
And fearful tribunal of Ten—come forth,
And hold a dripping sword-blade in the air.
“Justice has fallen on the traitor! See,
His blood has paid the forfeit of his crime!”
And all the people, hearing, murmured deep,
Cursing their dead lord, and the council, too,
Whose swift, sure, heavy hand had dealt his death.
Then came the night, all grey and still and sad.
I saw a few red torches flare and flame
Over a little gondola, where lay
The headless body of the traitor Duke,
Stripped of his ducal vestments. Floating down
The quiet waters, it passed out of sight,
Bearing him to unhonoured burial.
And then came mist and darkness.
Lo! I heard
The shrill clang of alarm-bells, and the wails
Of men and women in the wakened streets.
A thousand torches flickered up and down,
Lighting their ghastly faces and bare heads;
The while they crowded to the open doors
Of all the churches—to confess their sins,
To pray for absolution, and a last
Lord's Supper—their viaticum, whose death
Seemed near at hand—ay, nearer than the dawn.
“Chioggia is fall'n!” they cried, “and we are lost!”
Anon I saw them hurrying to and fro,
With eager eyes and hearts and blither feet—
Grave priests, with warlike weapons in their hands,
And delicate women, with their ornaments
Of gold and jewels for the public fund—
Mix'd with the bearded crowd, whose lives were given,
With all they had, to Venice in her need.
No more I heard the wailing of despair,—
But great Pisani's blithe word of command,
The dip of oars, and creak of beams and chains,
And ring of hammers in the arsenal.
“Venice shall ne'er be lost!” her people cried—
Whose names were worthy of the Golden Book—
“Venice shall ne'er be conquered!”
I saw a scene of triumph—saw the Doge,
In his Bucentaur, sailing to the land—
Chioggia behind him blackened in the smoke,
Venice before, all banners, bells, and shouts
Of passionate rejoicing! Ten long months
Had Genoa waged that war of life and death;
And now—behold the remnant of her host,
Shrunken and hollow-eyed and bound with chains—
Trailing their galleys in the conqueror's wake!
Once more the tremulous waters, flaked with light;
A covered vessel, with an armèd guard—
A yelling mob on fair San Giorgio's isle,
And ominous whisperings in the city squares.
Carrara's noble head bowed down at last,
Beaten by many storms,—his golden spurs
Caught in the meshes of a hidden snare!
“O Venice!” I cried, “where is thy great heart
And honourable soul?”
And yet once more
I saw her—the gay Sybaris of the world—
The rich voluptuous city—sunk in sloth.
I heard Napoleon's cannon at her gates,
And her degenerate nobles cry for fear.
I saw at last the great Republic fall—
Conquered by her own sickness, and with scarce
A noticeable wound—I saw her fall!
And she had stood above a thousand years!
O Carlo Zeno! O Pisani! Sure
Ye turned and groaned for pity in your graves.
I saw the flames devour her Golden Book
Beneath the rootless “Tree of Liberty;”
I saw the Lion's legend blotted out,
For “rights of men”—unutterable wrongs!—
Dandolo's brazen horses borne away—
The venerable Bucentaur, with its wealth
Of glorious recollections, broken up.
I heard the riotous clamour; then the change
To passionate minor cadence—then the sad
And hopeless silence settle down; and then—
I woke. The flickering water-gleam was gone
From off the ceiling, and white snows of light
Fell softly on the marble walls and floors,
And on the yellow head of little Kate
Musingly bent down from the balcony.
The lapping of the tide—the dip of oars—
The sad, sweet songs, and sadder city bells,
Mellowly borne along the water-streets:—
The swirl and ripple around lumbering keels
Of heavy, slow, Rialto market-boats,
Adown the broad and misty highway, lit
With moonbeams and the far-strown light of lamps,
Following the track of vanished gondolas:—
The flutter of a fig-leaf in the wind,
A faded fig-leaf, flapping faded walls,
With faded, crumbling, delicate sculpture-crusts:—
The voice of dreaming Katie crooning out
A snatch of melody that the Austrian band
Played in San Marco's Place some hours agone,
While patriots, neath their shadowy colonnades,
Sauntered, and shut their ears, and ate their hearts:—
A measured footstep, pacing to and fro—
The brush of two strong hands upon my brows—
The tenor-music of dear English lips,
Whispering, between two kisses, cheerily,
“Wake up, my wife; Nina has brought our tea:”—
These were the sounds that called me back to life.
Rialto (Rivo alto)
The Old Manor House
AN old house, crumbling half away, all barnacled and lichen-grown,
Of saddest, mellowest, softest grey,—with a grand history of its own—
Grand with the work and strife and tears of more than half a thousand years.
Such delicate, tender, russet tones of colour on its gables slept,
With streaks of gold betwixt the stones, where wind-sown flowers and mosses crept:
Wild grasses waved in sun and shade o'er terrace slab and balustrade.
Around the clustered chimneys clung the ivy's wreathed and braided threads,
And dappled lights and shadows flung across the sombre browns and reds;
Where'er the graver's hand had been, it spread its tendrils bright and green.
Far-stretching branches shadowed deep the blazoned windows and broad eaves,
And rocked the faithful rooks asleep, and strewed the terraces with leaves.
A broken dial marked the hours amid damp lawns and garden bowers.
An old house, silent, sad, forlorn, yet proud and stately to the last;
Of all its power and splendour shorn, but rich with memories of the past;
And pitying, from its own decay, the gilded piles of yesterday.
Pitying the new race that passed by, with slighting note of its grey walls,—
And entertaining tenderly the shades of dead knights in its halls,
Whose blood, that soaked these hallowed sods, came down from Scandinavian gods.
I saw it first in summer-time. The warm air hummed and buzzed with bees,
Where now the pale green hop-vines climb about the sere trunks of the trees,
And waves of roses on the ground scented the tangled glades around.
Some long fern-plumes drooped there—below; the heaven above was still and blue;
Just here—between the gloom and glow—a cedar and an aged yew
Parted their dusky arms, to let the glory fall on Margaret.
She leaned on that old balustrade, her white dress tinged with golden air,
Her small hands loosely clasped, and laid amongst the moss and maidenhair:
I watched her, hearing, as I stood, a turtle cooing in the wood—
Hearing a mavis far away, piping his dreamy interludes,
While gusts of soft wind, sweet with hay, swept through those garden solitudes,—
And thinking she was lovelier e'en than my young ideal love had been.
Tall, with that subtle, sensitive grace, which made so plainly manifest
That she was born of noble race,—a cool, hushed presence, bringing rest,
Of one who felt and understood the dignity of womanhood.
Tall, with a slow, proud step and air; with skin half marble and half milk;
With twisted coils of raven hair, blue-tinged, and fine and soft as silk;
With haughty, clear-cut chin and cheek, and broad brows exquisitely Greek;
With still, calm mouth, whose dreamy smile possessed me like a haunting pain,
So rare, so sweet, so free from guile, with that slight accent of disdain;
With level, liquid tones that fell like chimings of a vesper bell;
With large, grave stag-eyes, soft, yet keen with slumbering passion, hazel-brown,
Long-lashed and dark, whose limpid sheen my thirsty spirit swallowed down;—
O poor, pale words, wherewith to paint my queen, my goddess, and my saint!
You see that oriel, ivy-grown, with the blurred sculpture underneath?
Her sweet head, like the Clytie's own, with a white stephanotis wreath
Inwoven with its coiling hair, first bent to me in greeting there.
I shall remember till I die that night when we were introduced!
The great Sir Hildebrand stood by—her cousin— scowling as he used
To scowl if e'en a poor dumb cur ventured to lift his eyes to her.
I cared not. Well I knew her grace was not for him. I watched them dance,
And knew it by her locked-up face, and her slow, haughty utterance.
I knew he chafed and raged to see how kind and sweet she was to me.
O dear old window!—nevermore the red and purple lights, that stray
Through your dim panes upon the floor on sunny summer-night, will lay
Soft rainbows on her glossy hair and the white dress she used to wear!
Those panes the ivy used to scratch—I hear it now when I'm alone!
A pair of martlets used to hatch their young ones in the sculptured stone;
Those warm slabs were the bloodhound's bed, with fine yew-needles carpeted.
The missel-thrushes used to search there for the berries as they fell;
On that high twig, at morn, would perch a shy and shivering locustelle,—
From yon low sweep of furzy brake, we used to watch it thrill and shake.
The banksia roses twined a wreath all round that ancient coat and crest,
And trailed the time-worn steps beneath, and almost touched the martin's nest;
The honey bees swam in and out, and little lizards flashed about.
And when we flung the casement wide, the wind would play about her brow,
As she sat, etching, by my side,—I see the bright locks lifted now!
And such a view would meet our eyes of crimson woods and azure skies!
'Twas there, when fell the twilight hush, I used to feed her wistful ears,
And make her cheek and forehead flush, and her dark eyes fill full of tears,
With tales of my wild, fighting life—our bitter, brave Crimean strife.
We had, too, little concerts in that dear recess,—I used to play
Accompaniments on my violin, and she would sing “Old Robin Gray,”
And simple, tender Scottish songs of loyal love and royal wrongs.
My violin is dead for me, the dust lies thick upon the case;
And she is dead,—yet I can see e'en now the rapt and listening face;
And all about the garden floats the echo of those crying notes!
'Tis a sweet garden, is it not? So wild and tangled, nothing prim;
No quaint-cut bed, no shaven plot, no stunted bushes, stiff and trim;
Its flowers and shrubs all overblown, its long paths moss and lichen-grown.
'Twas on that terrace that we read the “Idylls,” sauntering up and down
With gentle, musing, measured tread, while leaves kept falling, gold and brown,
And mists kept rising, silver-grey, one still and peaceful autumn-day.
In those long glades we roamed apart, and studied Spanish, and the tales
Of Chaucer,—there we talked of art, and listened to the nightingales;
E'en now, when summer daylight dies, I hear their bubbling melodies.
You see that bower, half-hidden, made by the low-branching willow-tree?
We used to lounge there in the shade, and laugh, and gossip, and drink tea:
I wreathed her head with ferns, one night, and little rose-buds sweet and white.
It grew my habit, by-and-by, to gather all the flowers she wore;
She used to take them silently, or I would leave them at her door,—
And wait about till she was drest, to see them nestling on her breast.
In that green nook she used to sit, and I would watch her as she worked.
Her face had such a spell in it, and such a subtle glamour lurked
In even the motion of her hand!—why, I could never understand.
'Twas there I tied the little strap that held her netting down, one day,
And kissed the soft palm in her lap, which she so gently drew away.
Ay me, we held our tongues for hours! and I plucked off and ate the flowers.
She would not look at me at first—I recollect it all so well!
Her delicate, downcast features, erst so pale, were tinted like a shell—
Then like the petals that enclose the inmost heart of a moss rose.
The others came and chatted round, but we could laugh and chat no more;
I propped my elbow on the ground, and watched her count her stitches o'er;
Their talk I did not comprehend,—she was too busy to attend.
The days passed on, and still we sat in our old place; but things were changed.
We were so silent after that!—so oddly formal—so estranged!
No more we met to worship art,—our little pathways branched apart.
All day I kept her face in view—scarce one low tone I failed to hear;
And, though she would not see, I knew she felt when I was far or near.
Yet brief and seldom was the chance that gave me word, or smile, or glance.
One night I came home in the gloom. The other guests were mostly gone.
A light was burning in her room, and from the lawn it shone upon
I plucked a flower for her to wear—a white rose, fringed with maidenhair.
I passed through that long corridor—those are its windows, to the west—
That I might leave it at her door,—and saw her cross her threshold, drest.
No lamps were lit,—the twilight shed a grey mist on her shiny head.
Her garments swept the oaken stairs; I stood below her, hushed and dumb;
She started, seeing me unawares, and stopped. “Come down,” I whispered; “come!”
She waited, but I waited too;—and she had nothing else to do.
She came down, slowly, haughtily, with sweet pretence of carelessness.
I watched each step as she drew nigh, each brighter gleam on her white dress.
I did not speak, I did not stir, but all my heart went out to her.
She would have passed me, shy and still,—she would not suffer herself to mark
That I was grown so bold, until I took her dear hands in the dark.
And then—and then—Well! she was good and patient, and she understood.
My arms were strong, and rude, and rough—because my love was so intense;
She knew the reason well enough, and so she would not take offence;
Though 'twas by force I made her stay, she did not try to get away.
Ah, then we had some happy hours—some blessed days of peace and rest!
This garden, full of shady bowers and lonely pathways, from whose breast
A thousand blending perfumes rise, became a very Paradise.
'Twas fair as the first Eden, then; and Adam had no fairer mate!
Nor grieved he more than I grieved, when the angel drove him from the gate.
When God cursed him from His high throne, He did not cast him out alone!
'Twas on that broken step we sat, where the yew branch is fall'n and bent,
And read the Colonel's letter, that recalled me to my regiment.
'Twas there, on such a night as this, I stood to give my parting kiss.
'Twas there I hugged the small Greek head upon my bosom, damp with dew;
'Twas there she soothed my grief, and said, “But I shall still belong to you.”
O my sweet Eve, with your pure eyes!—you're mine now, in God's Paradise.
I sailed, you know, within a week, en route for Malta's heat and blaze;
And tender letters came, to speak of love, and comfort, and bright days.
I tried to think it was not hard—of what was coming afterward.
I used to dream, and dream, and dream, from night till morn, from morn till night;
My future life just then did seem so full, so beautiful, so bright!
I could not see, I could not feel, the sorrow dogging at my heel.
At length it touched me. By-and-by the letters ceased. I looked in vain;
I roamed the streets dejectedly, and gnawed my long moustache in pain.
I wrote twice—thrice; no answer still. Surely, I thought, she must be ill.
Until one evening Eyre came in, to lounge and gossip, drink and smoke,
I gave him leisure to begin; and, when his pipe was lit, he spoke,
Through curling vapour, soft and blue—“Guy, I've a piece of news for you.
“One of the girls you met last year at that poor tumble-down old place—
The dark-haired one—she with the clear white skin and sweet Madonna face,—
She's married now, I understand, to her rich cousin Hildebrand.”
I felt my limbs grow stark and stiff; I felt my heart grow cold as lead;
I heard Eyre's quiet, musing whiff—the noise swam round and round my head.
I veiled my eyes, lest he should see their passionate, mute misery.
“I only heard,” he said, “to-day. It's out in all the papers, though.
She did not care for him, they say. But the old house was falling low—
Her father's name and fame at stake. She would do anything for his sake.
“Some mortgages foreclosed—the price of years and centuries of debt;
The manor doomed for sacrifice—or else the Lady Margaret.
Doubtless for Hildebrand's red gold the rare Madonna face was sold.
“I fancy that's the history,” he ended, in a bitter tone.
“It's not a new one, by-the-bye.” And when he went, I sat alone,
And tried to ease me with a prayer, but ground my teeth in my despair.
Then I grew stupid, numb, and tired. A fever crept through all my veins,
And wearied out my heart, and fired my dazed, tumultuous, teeming brains.
I hung suspended by a breath, for weeks and months, 'twixt life and death.
Then I recovered, and had leave to go to England— where she dwelt;
In my home climate to retrieve my broken health and strength. I felt
Twice ten years older than before. I knew I should come back no more.
Soon as I touched my native land, my feet turned toward the manor house.
They told me that Sir Hildebrand was in the Highlands, shooting grouse;
That she was in her father's care. That night I found her, sitting there,
On that third step, just where the trees cast down their greenest, coolest shade;
Her weary hands about her knees, her head against the balustrade;
And such dumb woe in her sweet eyes, uplifted to the fading skies.
She did not see me till I burst through the rose-thickets round about.
She sprang up with a cry at first—and then her arms were half stretched out—
And then caught backward, for his sake. I felt as if my heart would break.
I knew the truth. I did not care. I did not think. I flung me down,
And kissed her hands, her wrists, her hair, the very fringes of her gown;
While she sat cowering in a heap, and moaned, and shook, but could not weep.
It was soon over. O good God, forgive me!—I was sorely tried.
'Twas a dark pathway that I trod; I could not see Thee at my side.
It was soon over. “I shall die,” she whispered, “if you stay here, Guy!
“O Guy! Guy! you were kind to me in our old days,—be kinder now,—
Be kind, and go, and let me be!” And then I felt on my hot brow
The brush of her cold finger-tips—the last soft contact of her lips.
And I obeyed her will and went, and vowed to tempt her nevermore.
I tried hard, too, to be content, and think of that which lay before.
I knew my dream of love was past, yet strove to serve her to the last.
I left my comrades—I had lost all taste for glory and for mirth—
And, without hopes or aims, I cross'd the seas and wander'd o'er the earth.
Without a light, without a guide, I drifted with the wind and tide.
My heart was broken when 'twas struck that bitter blow, and joy ran out!
Only a few stray treasures stuck—a few gleams flickered round about.
My old art-love still lingered there,—I think that kept me from despair.
With strange companions did I dwell, one scorching summer, on the heights
Of Tangiers' Moorish citadel, and mused away the days and nights.
With loose white garments and long gun, I roamed the deserts in the sun.
I painted Atlas, capped with snow, and lifted, cool, and still, and fair,
Out of the burning heat and glow, into the solemn upper air;
And Tetuan's gleaming walls I drew on fields of Mediterranean blue.
I haunted Cairo's crowded ways, and sketched carved doors and gilded grates,
Mosque-domes and minarets ablaze, and sweet dark heads with shining plaits;
And now a grave old Arab sheikh, and then a slim, straight-featured Greek.
In a swift wing-sailed boat I slid across the stream where Libya looms,
And from King Cheop's pyramid saw Pharaoh-cities, Pharaoh-tombs;
And, stretching off for many a mile, the sacred waters of the Nile.
I saw the graves of mighty states,—I saw Thebes' temple, overturned—
The City of the Hundred Gates, where Moses and Greek sages learned,
Where hungry lions prowl at noon, and hyaenas snarl at the bright moon.
I roamed through Nubian desert flats, where vultures sailed o'er burning seas;
And forests where the yellow bats hung, cloaked and hooded, from the trees;
And marshy wastes, where crocodiles slept on the shores of sandy isles.
I followed, through long days and nights, where, with their little ones and flocks,
Had passed the wandering Israelites; I read the writing on the rocks;
And e'en these restless feet of mine tracked holy feet in Palestine.
Roaming through India's burning plains, I chased wild boars and antelopes;
Swam brawling nullahs in the rains, and haunted dew-wet mango-topes;
Shot bears and tigers in the gloom of the dense forests of Beerbhoom.
Through swathing-nets I watched at night the clear moon gild a palm-tree ledge;
And, through the flood of silver light, heard jackals at the compound-hedge;
While punkahs waved above my head, and faint airs hovered round my bed.
I mused by many a sacred tank, where lonely temples fell away,
Where the fat alligators drank, and scarlet lotus-flowers lay;
Smoked curling pipes 'neath roof and tree, the while dark nautch-girls danced to me.
I trod the creeper-netted ground of deadly, beautiful, bright woods,
Where birds and monkeys chattered round, and serpents reared their crimson hoods.
I dwelt 'neath breathless desert-glows, and Simla's Himalayan snows.
From the hot glades of garden reach, I wandered upward to Cabool—
From the bright Hooghly's flowering beach to the wild mountains, calm and cool.
I wept at Cawnpore's fatal well, and where our heroes fought and fell.
I roamed through Lucknow's battered gate—thick-thronged with memories so
And Delhi's ruins of wild state and old Mogul magnificence.
I pressed the rank, blood-nurtured grass that creeps along the Khyber Pass.
I sailed the Irrawaddy's stream, 'mid dense teak forests; saw the moon
Light up with broad and glittering gleam the golden Dagun of Rangoon—
The delicate, fretted temple-shells, whose roofs were rimmed with swaying bells.
In his gold palace, all alone, with square, hard face and eyes aslant,
I saw upon his royal throne the Lord of the White Elephant.
I mixed in wild, barbaric feasts with Buddha's yellow-robèd priests.
I crept with curious feet within imperial China's sacred bounds;
I saw the Palace of Pekin, and all its fairy garden-grounds;
The green rice-fields, the tremulous rills, the white azaleas on the hills;
The tea-groves climbing mountain backs; the girls' rich robes of blue and white;
The cattle 'neath the paddy-stacks; the gilt pagodas, tall and bright;—
And in a merchant-junk I ran across the waters to Japan.
I saw, where silk-fringed mats were spread, within his laquered, bare saloon,
With his curled roofs above his head, on muffled heels, the great Tycoon.
Familiar things they were to me—the pipes, and betelnuts, and tea.
I dug in Californian ground, at Sacramento's golden brim,
With hunger, murder, all around, and fever shaking every limb;
Saw, in lush forests and rude sheds, the Dyaks roast ing pirates' heads.
I shot white condors on the brows of snowy Andes; and I chased
Wild horses, and wild bulls and cows, o'er the wide Pampas' jungle-waste;
And saw, while wandering to and fro, the silver mines of Mexico.
In Caffre waggons I was drawn up lone Cape gorges, green and steep,
And camped by river-grove and lawn, where nightly tryst the wild things keep;
Where glaring eyes without the line of circling watch-fires used to shine.
I chased o'er sandy plains and shot the ostrich,—at the reedy brink
Of pools, the lion, on the slot of antelopes that came to drink;
Giraffes, that held their heads aloof'neath the mimosa's matted roof;
And brindled gnus, and cowardly, striped shard-wolves, and, 'mid water-plants
And flags, black hippopotami, and snakes, and shrieking elephants.
From courted sickness, hunger, strife, God spared my weary, reckless life.
In the bright South Seas did I toss through wild blue nights and fainting days,
With the snow-plumaged albatross. I saw Tahiti's peaks ablaze;
And still, palm-fringed lagoons asleep o'er coral grottoes, cool and deep.
I built an Australian hut of logs, and lived alone— with just a noose,
A trap, a gun, my horse and dogs; I hunted long-legged kangaroos;
And oft I spent the calm night-hours beneath the gum-trees' forest-bowers.
I threaded miles and miles and miles, where Lena's sad, slow waters flow,
'Mid silent rocks, and woods, and isles, and drear Siberian steppes of snow;
Where pines and larches, set alight, blaze in the dark and windless night.
I shot a wild fowl on the shore of a still, lonely mountain lake,
And, o'er the sheer white torrents' roar, heard long-drawn, plaintive echoes wake;
Caught squirrels in their leafy huts, munching the little cedar-nuts.
I trapped the small, soft sables, stripped the bloomy fur from off their backs,
And hunted grey wolves as they slipped and snuffed and snarled down reindeer
I brought the brown, bald eagle down from the white sea-hill's rugged crown.
I saw the oil-lamp shining through the small and dim ice window-pane;
And the near sky, so deeply blue, spangled with sparks, like golden rain;
While dogs lay tethered, left and right, howling across the arctic night.
I saw when, in my flying sledge, I swept the frozen tundra-slopes,
The white bears on some craggy ledge, far-off, where ocean blindly gropes
In her dim caves—where bones lie furled, the tokens of a vanished world.
I saw across the dread blue sky, spanning blue ice and bluer mist
(That shows where open waters lie), the bright Aurora keep her tryst,—
That arch of tinted flame—so fair! lighting the crystals in the air.
Then, all at once—I know not why—I felt I could no longer roam;
A voice seemed calling to my heart—Return to England and thy home;
I found my thoughts were yearning yet, for one more glimpse of Margaret.
So on a sudden I returned. I reached the village in the night.
At one small inn a candle burned with feeble, pale, unsteady light:
The hostess curtseyed, grave and strange. She did not know me for the change.
My broad white brows were bronzed, and scarred with lines of trouble, thought, and
My young bright eyes were dim and hard—the sunshine was no longer there;
My brown moustache was hid away in a great beard of iron-grey.
“The Manor House is habited,” to my brief question she replied.
“To-night my lady lies there dead. She's long been ailing, and she died
At noon. A happy thing for her! Were you acquainted with her, sir?
“A sweeter lady never walked! So kind and good to all the poor!
She ne'er disdained us when she talked—ne'er turned a beggar from her door.
Ah, sir, but we may look in vain; we ne'er shall see her likes again.
“I heard the squire's great bloodhound's bark; I woke, and shook, and held my
My man, he stirred too in the dark. Said he to me, ‘My lady's death
Is not far off. Another night she'll never see.’ And he was right.
“'Twas over in twelve hours or less. She lies there, on the golden bed,
In her old confirmation dress, with the small white cap on her head
Which bore the bishop's blessing hand,—she asked that of Sir Hildebrand.”
You see that window in the shade of those old beeches? 'Twas that room
Wherein my dear dead love was laid. I climbed the ivy in the gloom
And silence—just once more to see the face that had belonged to me.
I stood beside her. No one heard. On the great rajah's bed, alone
She lay. The night-breeze softly stirred the Cashmere curtains, and the moan
Of my wild kisses seemed to thrill the solitude. All else was still.
In the pale yellow taper light, I gazed upon her till the morn.
I see her now—so sweet and white! the fair, pure face so trouble-worn!
The thin hands folded on her breast, in peace at last, and perfect rest!