Yet do not thou forsake me now,
Poesy, with Peace-together!
Ere this last disastrous blow
Did lay my struggling fortunes low,
In love unworn have we not borne
Much wintry weather?
The storm is past, perhaps the last,
Its rainy skirts are wearing over
But though yet a sunnier glow
Should give my ice-bound hopes to flow,
Forlorn of thee, ’twere nought to me
A lonely rover!
Ah, misery! what were then my lot
Amongst a race of unbelievers
Sordid men who all declare
That earthly gain alone is fair,
And they who pore on bardic lore
That all the love I’ve felt to move
Round beauty in thy fountain laving,
Move in music through the air,
Gathering increase everywhere,
The more to bless her loveliness,
Was Folly raving!
That to believe thought yet shall weave,—
Although with arm’d oppression coping,
Truth-bright banners which, unfurled,
Shall herald freedom through the world,
And give to man her kindly plan,
Is Folly hoping!
On thy breast in sabbath rest
How often have I lain, deep musing
In the golden eventide,
Till all the dead, for truth that died,
Looked from the skies with starry eyes,
Great thoughts infusing!
But can it be life’s mystery
Is but a baseless panorama,
Peopled thick with passing dreams,
Wild writhing glooms, and wandering gleams,
And soul a breath exhaled by death,
Which ends the drama?
Then is the scope of this world’s hope
No more than worldlings deem it ever,
Earth and sky, with nought between
Of spiritual truth serene:
And if so, fly! for thou and I
At once should sever.
But if there lives, as love believes,
All underneath this silent heaven,
In yon shades, and by yon streams,
As we have seen them in our dreams,
A deathless race; still let thy grace
My being leaven!
Thy mystic grace! that face to face
Full converse I may hold with nature,
Seeing published everywhere
In forms, the soul that makes her fair,
And grow the while to her large style
In mental stature.
Description Of A Tropical Island
Behold an Indian isle, reposed
Upon the deep’s enamoured breast,
Even like a royal bride, be-rosed
With passion in her happy rest.
Or, when the morn is there disclosed,
Or eve is robing in the west,
The deep, as by that isle embossed
With central gauds of sumless cost,
And else outspread in circuit—wide
And round as heaven from side to side—
Might figure to a fancy bold
A wide vast shield of fretted gold,
Dropped by some conquer’d elder god,
When on his track, where’er he trod,
Jove’s chasing thunders rolled.
Or in the broad noon domed with heaven,
A world-wide temple’s marble floor
It seemeth, with one alter graven
From the rude mass of things terrene,
By Time inspired with Eden lore;—
An isle-like alter, sculptured o’er
With craggy hills and valleys green,
And heaping forests hung between:
By Time, with an old love enthralled,
Wrought thus in living emerald;—
And after nature’s earliest style
Is shaped that wondrous Indian isle.
Or circling out beneath the moon,
Or sowed with all the stars of night,
And by the lamp-like planets strewn
With long and flame-like tracks of light,
Might seem it to a watcher fond,
Grey Time’s broad seal of diamond,
Enchased by nature, memory-taught,
With one most rich and rare device,
A haunting isolated thought
Of her sin-ruined Paradise.
A summer island! There the trees,
Of glorious forms, unseen elsewhere,
Hang forth in golden congeries
Their fruit through all the purple year;
And flowers of every sunset hue,
And peerless plants of stateliest stem,
Fresh-showered each morn with honey-dew,
Voluptuously impave and gem
The pillary aisles of primal groves
That skirt the sunny sea-board coves,
Or hang in their umbrageous crowds
From coasting slopes like verdant clouds:
While from the craggy midland hills,
Out of their gelid springs, the rills
Leap, as exulting to be free,
And thence in their bright liberty
Through glades and cultured valleys vast,
And many a wide pasture lea,
Come murmurously winding, fast
And flashing to the sea.
There, too, what birds on plain and mountain,
The fairest creatures of the earth,
The deepest dipt in beauty’s fountain,
(The summer’s loveliest birth),
Flock round, and vividly unfold
Their fulgent wings of feathery gold;
Bedropt with gem-like lustres, which
All interbeaming in their flight
Break, as they pass, into a rich
Flame-vision on the sight.
Thus fly they, and with splendours rare
Emblaze the warm and genial air.
Such is the summer wealth and worth
Of that bright isle I’d picture forth:
Nor wants it fields that well afford
The yellow grain and mellow gourd;
With many a cultivated plain
Prolific of the luscious cane
And mealy root: for all things there
Are bounteous in their kind, and fair
And genial; all but the bad mind
Of recreant man! And this hath made
Its very beauty seem designed
To deepen Evil’s deadly shade,
And given its repute to be
Borne far abroad by every wind
That wafts a white sail o’er the sea,
Even like the savour, damp with doom,
Of some o’ergorged though costly tomb.
O learn how, like a Upas-tree,
(Not fabled) his dread cruelty
Can make a scene that else might tell
Of Paradise, a type of hell!
One summer morn, out of the sea-waves wild,
A speck-like Cloud, the season’s fated child,
Came softly floating up the boundless sky,
And o’er the sun-parched hills all brown and dry.
Onward she glided through the azure air,
Borne by its motion without toil or care,
When looking down in her ethereal joy,
She marked earth’s moilers at their hard employ;
“And oh!” she said, “that by some act of grace
’Twere mine to succour yon fierce-toiling race,
To give the hungry meat, the thirsty drink—
The thought of good is very sweet to think.”
The day advanced, and the cloud greater grew,
And greater; likewise her desire to do
Some charity to men had more and more,
As the long sultry summer day on wore,
Greatened and warmed within her fleecy breast,
Like a dove fledging in its downy nest.
The heat waxed fiercer, until all the land
Clared in the sun as ’twere a monstrous brand
And the shrunk rivers, few and far between,
Like molten metal lightened in the scene.
Ill could Earth’s sons endure their toilsome state,
Though still they laboured, for their need was great,
And many a long beseeching look they sped
Towards that fair cloud, with many a sigh that said:
“We famish for thy bounty! For our sake
O break thou! in a showery blessing, break!”
“I feel, and fain would help you, ” said the cloud,
And towards the earth her bounteous being bowed;
But then remem’bring a tradition she
Had in her youth learned from her native sea,
That when a cloud adventures from the skies
Too near the altar of the hills, it dies!
Awhile she wavered and was blown about
Hither and thither by the winds of doubt;
But in the midst of heaven at length all still
She stood; then suddenly, with a keen thrill
Of light, she said within herself, “I will!
Yea, in the glad strength of devotion, I Will help
you, though in helping you I die.”
Filled with this thought’s divinity, the cloud
Grew worldlike vast, as earthward more she bowed!
Oh, never erewhile had she dreamed her state
So great might be, beneficently great!
O’er the parched fields in her angelic love
She spread her wide wings like a brooding dove
Till as her purpose deepened, drawing near,
Divinely awful did her front appear,
And men and beasts all trembled at the view,
And the woods bowed, though well all creatures knew
That near in her, to every kind the same,
A great predestined benefactress came.
And then wide-flashed throughout her full-grown form
The glory of her will! the pain and storm
Of life’s dire dread of death, whose mortal threat
From Christ himself drew agonizing sweat,
Flashed seething out of rents amid her heaps
Of lowering gloom, and thence with arrowy leaps
Hissed jagging downward, till a sheety glare
Illumined all the illimitable air;
The thunder followed, a tremendous sound,
Loud doubling and reverberating round;
Strong was her will, but stronger yet the power
Of love, that now dissolved her in a shower,
Dropping in blessings to enrich the earth
With health and plenty at one blooming birth.
Far as the rain extended o’er the land,
A splendid bow the freshened landscape spanned
Like a celestial arc, hung in the air
By angel artists, to illumine there
The parting triumph of that spirit fair.
The rainbow vanished, but the blessing craved
Rested upon the land the cloud had saved.
The Death Of Shelley
Fit winding-sheet for thee
Was the upheaving eternal sea,
Fit dirge the tempest’s slave-alarming roll
For yokeless as the waves alway
Thy thoughts went sounding forth, as they
Were marshalling to the trumpet of the universal soul.
Yet tell me, spirit bright,
Did nature sorrow not for thee?
That day, veiled not the sun his light
When rolling over Italy?
Paled not the stricken moon, that night,
When gazing down upon the doomful sea?
Yet tell me, for from under them
Was never reft away before a richer, purer gem
Than was thy being, wherein love did dwell
With joy and natural piety as well,—
Inraying it with a deep life,
So sweetly deep, so wildly bright,
Such as no words may tell!
And never in their day and night
Did ruin, with the beautiful at strife,
Compass before so horrible a spite!
Never trod down at once so much of musical delight.
. . . . .
Whom the gods love die young;
Flowers wither where rank weeds still thrive apace;
Nor is the battle always to the strong,
Nor to the swift for ever sure the race.
Yet if the odours of the flowers remain,
Are they not, even to regret,
A sweet consolatory gain?
Nor vainly forth was the lost battle set,
Nor the race urged in vain,
Whence flow inspiriting examples yet.
Yet, poetry and passion’s darling son!
Though thou didst walk the world as one
Proscribed by stars inimical to mankind,
While mitred persecution, dread
And deadly, raged in mortal hate behind,
With ignorance, her dull slave abhorred;
And these, in mercy as they said,
With many a madly mystic word,
And vengeful, hot, God-wounding glance upthrown,
Implored the heavens to thunder down
Their Christian wrath on thy devoted head;
And yet, O good and kind!
This was for thee the meet memorial crown
By the great Spirit of all good designed,
That men, to nobler motions born,
And more to a large charity inclined,
Should well reverse their bigot fathers’scorn,
And, yearning o’er thy story,
Shall learn therefrom how gnomelike are spirits freedom-blind,
And live glorying in the glory
Of thy love-illumined mind.
All then was well—yea, very well;
Though brief, too brief, here on the earth thy stay.
Thy name is with us for a strengthening spell
To all who, banding against wrong’s bad brood,
Would do the unwilling world some good,
Nor idly pass away,
A vapour, nothing more—a cloudlet grey
By every wind transformed and driven
A dull and wasting stain in the blue dome of heaven!
And though the heart and brain be food
For hungry death, where erst the sisterhood
Of thy bright dreams (a seraph choir) did dwell,
What light around us these remaining fling!
For lovelier splendours never fell
In star-showers from Urania’s wing,
And freedom in her golden age
Shall constellate her spheres with glories from thy page.
But hark! Yet from her ghostly cell
Built on the dubious brink of the Unknown,
Cowled Superstition’s sullen bell
Tolls thee to her deepest hell!
Blind Fury! She alone
Can darkly dare to think
A soul like thine, though in its earthly shell
Bedimmed by error,
Should at her bidding sink
Lossward-down, in penal terror!
Enough! Wherever love may soar
Beyond that mound which mortals blench to see—
That last low mound on time’s change-beaten shore—
There is thy spirit now, fire-wing’d and free,
And there a shining dweller shall it be
The Nevers Of Poetry
Never say aught in verse, or grave or gay,
That you in prose would hesitate to say.
Never in rhyme pretend to tears, unless
True feeling sheds them in unfeigned distress;
Or some dream-grief, with such a mournful strain
As night winds make in pine tops, stirs your brain,
To shake them, dew-like, o’er the flowers that bloom
In the wild dark, round Joy’s imagined tomb;
Or save when doubts that over Love may lower,
Like summer clouds, break in a sunny shower
Out of your gladdened eyes, to freshen all
The bowers of memory with their grateful fall.
Never too much affect that polished thing—
Once belauded—known as point, or sting.
The highest and the noblest growths of wit
Are never, or but seldom, touched with it.
For of the muse it is not truly born
Unless the apex of some burst of scorn,
Or irony, or hate all torture-torn!
Not to increase the passion, but to make
The wave, full surging, on its object break.
Never, if you’d be readable at all,
Aim overmuch at being ethical.
Though she should be a teacher, still the Muse
To be a mere schoolmistress should refuse.
She should instruct us, but her methods never
Be academic ones, however clever.
Her morals, like great nature’s morals, aye
Should work themselves out in an unforced way,
And not so patly as to hint the while
At cryptic ingenuities of style.
Whate’er the theme, her ethic lights should shine
Full forth, as from a central heat divine,
Or heat inherent to the passion, wrought
Into the chastened harmony of thought;
And not be mere extraneous coals of fire
Blown for the nonce into factitious ire.
Though sone has oft some beauty most divine,
Which well we feel, yet cannot well define—
Some yearning excellence, intense and far,
Coming and going like a clouded star—
Some awful glory we but half descry,
Like a strong sunset in a stormy sky—
Yet ne’er be murky of set purpose, since
You only thereby shall the more evince
That even the Sublime’s but then made sure
When, like a morning alp, it breaks from the obscure.
Never heed whether a line strictly goes
By learned rule, if, brook-like, it warble as it flows,
Or if, in concord with the thought, it fills
Fast forward, like a torrent fast flooding from the hills.
Never say aught is “fading like a star”
Because receding in the past afar,
Since stars do not fade, but shine on no less,
Thought lost in light to our weaksightedness;
And no true trope should ever rest on fancy,
But claim a universal relevancy;
Nor think a line is racy to the core,
And bold, and bravely eloquent, the more
It striving seems to tear itself asunder,
Like this—“Down there i’ the deep heart o’ the thunder,”
But for which, surely (out of chaos), none
Might feign to find a sanction, save in fun.
Never think harshness the best foil to raise
And relish sweetness; for love craggy lays.
Yet never be you glib, when passion’s force
Should ridge your style, as by a tempest hoarse
The deep is roughened into waves that roar
At heaven—upheaping, huddling, more and more,
To burst at last in booming thunder on the shore.
Never be such a pagan as to deem
That truth or beauty must diviner seem
For some abnormal set-off, hunched and rude,
Prowling for evil in the neighbourhood,
If such strange opposite breathe not the air
Of nature—being found, not conjured there;
And never to be graceless be you fain,
Till to be graceful you have tried in vain.
Never be cheated—never may you be!—
Into the cramp belief that poesy
Must of necessity in soul be one
With the mere form of verse if it but deftly run;
Or pour, as with a mill-wheel’s vigorous cheer,
A rhyming clatter hard upon the ear.
Never believe that verse a license knows
For aught that would be balderdash in prose,
Or that all reason may at any time
Find a sufficient substitute in rhyme;
Or that because with many words you re fraught,
There must be under them some flood of thought.
Never compel a simile that wont
Take service without forcing; if it don t,
As of itself, into your verses flow,
But true to liberty—and let it go.
Never reject a homely-sounding phrase,
That your whole meaning easily conveys,
For one made current by some courtly wit
Which barely indicates a shade of it,
Or which—for probably it so may fall—
Does not express what you would mean at all.
Never suppose that you in song are free
To strain all praise, and make it flattery.
To sing of the heroic is to raise
One value by another—but to praise
Mere clowns, in verse, or natures lean and cold,
Is like to setting gravel stones in gold.
Never exalt vagaries to a station
But due to flights of the imagination—
Gas-charged balloons, put vainly all a-bloat,
For clouds of God that in the orient float;
Theatric thunders, all set brattling for
The dread all-shaking tempest-trumps of Thor;
For in the end all charlatanry must,
The more it startle, but the more disgust.
And lastly, never take for gospel all
Your friends say of your genius, when they call
Its merits o’er; but at the same time see
That you do never take yourself to be
So great an ass as your known foes declare
They do most solemnly believe you are.
[Each embryo poet, profit by my strain!
Then shall men say, “He has not lived in vain! ”]
The Bush Fire
“’TIS nine o’clock:—to bed!” cried Egremont,
Who with his youthful household (for ’tis now
Long since) inhabited a lonely home
In the Australian wilderness, that then
As with an unshorn fleece of gloomy wood
Robed the vast bulk of all the mighty Isle.
But ere retiring finally, he went
Forth as his wont was, to survey the night.
’Twas clear and silent: and the stirless woods
Seemed dreaming in the witch-light of the moon
As like a boat of stained pearl, she hung
Amid the ridges of a wavy cloud—
The only cloud in heaven. While Egremont
Looked thus abroad observingly, he marked
All around him, listing the horizon’s verge,
A broad unusual upward glaring gleam,
Such a drear radiance as the setting sun
Effuses when the atmosphere is stormy.
What this might be he wondered—but not long;
Divining soon the cause—a vast Bush Fire!
But deeming it too distant yet for harm,
During the night betiding, to repose
With his bed-faring household he retired.
Sound was their sleep: for honesty of life
Is somewhat lumpish when ’tis once a-bed.
And now the darkness of the night was past,
When with the dreams of Egremont, a strange
And momently approaching roar began
To mingle and insinuate through them more
And more of its own import, till a Fire
Huge as the world was their sole theme: and then
He started from his sleep to find the type
A warning! for what else however terrible,
Might breathe with a vitality so fierce
As that which reigned without?
Scarce did he wait
To clothe himself ere forth he rushed; and lo,
Within the circling forest he beheld
A vast and billowy belt of writhing fire,
That shed a wild and lurid splendour up
Against the whitening dawn, come raging on!
Raging and roaring as with ten thousand tongues
That prophesied destruction. On it came,
A dreadful apparition—such as Fear
Conceives when dreaming of the front of hell!
No time was there to lose. “Up—up!” he cried
To all the house. Instantly all within
Was haste and wonder, and in briefest space
The whole-roused family were staring out
In speechless admiration, such as kept
Even Terror dormant;—till more urgently
The voice of Egremont again was heard:—
“Lose not a moment! Follow me at once,
Each with whatever he can grasp of use
And carry unincumbered!”
A narrow strip of clearing 1 like a glade
Stretched out tow’rds a bald summit. Thitherward
The perilled people now were hurrying all,
While in their front, beneath the ridge, a dense
Extent of brushwood into which the Fire’s
Bright teeth were eating hungrily, still brought
The danger nearer! Shall they reach that hill
Unscathed, their only refuge? Will they speed
Past the red-rushing peril? Onward yet!
And onward!—till at length the summit’s gained,
And halting, they look back—in safety all,
But no sooner had they past
That fearful brush, than a vast swathe of flame
Lifted and hurried forward by the wind
Over their very passage track, was pitched
With a loud thud like thunder into it—
With such a thud as the sea-swell gives up
From under the ledges of some hanging cliff!
And in an instant all its depth of shade
Was as a lake of hell! And hark! as then,
Even like a ghastly pyramid its mass
Of flames went surging up—up with them still
A cry of mortal agony was heard
Ascending, all so terrible, indeed,
That they who heard it, never, until then,
Might deem a voice so earnest in its fear,
So strenuous in its anguish could have being
In the live bosom of the suffering Earth!
But soon did they divine, even to their loss,
Its import:—there a giant steed, their best,
Had taken refuge, there to die!
In safety now upon that hill’s bare top—
Egremont and his household looked abroad,
Astonished at the terrors of the time!
Soon sunk their rooftree in the fiery surge,
Which entering next a high-grassed bottom, thick
With bark-ringed trees all standing bleak and leafless,
Tenfold more terrible in its ravage grew,
Upclimbing to their very tops! As when
Upon some day of national festival,
From the tall spars of the ship-crowded port
Innumerous flags in one direction all
Tongue outward, writhing in the wind: even so,
From those dry boles where still the dead bark clings
And from their multifarious mass above
Of leafless boughs, myriads of flaming tongues
Lick upward, or aloft in narrowing flakes
Stream out,—and thence upon the tortured blast
Bicker and flap in one inconstant blaze!
Scared forward by the roaring of the Fire,
A flight of parrots o’er the upper ridge
Comes whizzing, and then sweeping down, alights
Amid the oaks that fringe the base of yon
Precipitous terrace, being deterred from still
Proceeding by the smoke uprolled in front
Like a dim-moving range of spectral mountains.
There they abide, and listen in their fear
To the tremendous riot of the flames
Beyond the ridge line, that keep nearing fast
Though yet unseen from thence—unseen, till now
Furiously seizing on the withered grove
That tops the terrace, all whose spiry shafts
Rush upward, and then culminating, bend
Sheer o’er the oaks wherein the birds are lodged.
All are in flight at once, but from above
As suddenly, a mightier burst of flame
Outsheeteth o’er them!—Down they dip, but it
Keeps swooping with them even to the ground—
Where, in a moment after, all are seen
To writhe convulsed—blasted and plumeless all!
Thus through the day the conflagration raged:
And when the wings of night o’erspread the scene,
Not even their starry blazonry wore such
An aggregated glory to the eye,
As did the blazing dead wood of the forest—
On all hands blazing! Mighty sapless gums
Amid their living kindred, stood all fire—
Boles, branches, all!—like flaming ghosts of trees,
Come from the past within the whiteman’s pale
To typify a doom. Such was the prospect:
Illuminated cities were but jests
Compared to it for splendor. But enough!
Where are the words to paint the million shapes
And unimaginable freaks of Fire,
When holding thus its monster carnival
In the primeval forest all night long?
A Storm In The Mountains
A lonely boy, far venturing from home
Out on the half-wild herd’s faint tracks I roam;
Mid rock-browned mountains, which with stony frown
Glare into haggard chasms deep adown;
A rude and craggy world, the prospect lies
Bounded in circuit by the bending skies.
Now at some clear pool scooped out by the shocks
Of rain-floods plunging from the upper rocks
Whose liquid disc in its undimpled rest
Glows like a mighty gem brooching the mountain’s breast,
I drink and must, or mark the wide-spread herd,
Or list the thinking of the dingle-bird;
And now towards some wild-hanging shade I stray,
To shun the bright oppression of the day;
For round each crag, and o’er each bosky swell,
The fierce refracted heat flares visible,
Lambently restless, like the dazzling hem
Of some else viewless veil held trembling over them.
Why congregate the swallows in the air,
And northward then in rapid flight repair?
With sudden swelling din, remote yet harsh,
Why roar the bull-frogs in the tea-tree marsh?
Why cease the locusts to throng up in flight
And clap their gay wings in the fervent light?
Why climb they, bodingly demure, instead
The tallest spear-grass to the bending head?
Instinctively, along the sultry sky,
I turn a listless, yet inquiring, eye;
And mark that now with a slow gradual pace
A solemn trance creams northward o’er its face;
Yon clouds that late were labouring past the sun,
Reached by its sure arrest, one after one,
Come to a heavy halt; the airs that played
About the rugged mountains all are laid:
While drawing nearer far-off heights appear,
As in a dream’s wild prospect, strangely near!
Till into wood resolves their robe of blue,
And the grey crags rise bluffly on the view.
Such are the signs and tokens that presage
A summer hurricane’s forthcoming rage.
At length the south sends out her cloudy heaps
And up the glens at noontide dimness creeps;
The birds, late warbling in the hanging green
Off steep-set brakes, seek now some safer screen;
The herd, in doubt, no longer wanders wide,
But fast ingathering throngs yon mountain’s side,
Whose echoes, surging to its tramp, might seem
The muttered troubles of some Titan’s dream.
Fast the dim legions of the muttering storm
Throng denser, or protruding columns form;
While splashing forward from their cloudy lair,
Convolving flames, like scouting dragons, glare:
Low thunders follow, labouring up the sky;
And as fore-running blasts go blaring by,
At once the forest, with a mighty stir,
Bows, as in homage to the thunderer!
Hark! From the dingoes blood-polluted dens
In the gloom-hidden chasms of the glens,
Long fitful howls wail up; and in the blast
Strange hissing whispers seem to huddle past;
As if the dread stir had aroused from sleep
Weird spirits, cloistered in yon cavy steep
(On which, in the grim past, some Cain’s offence
Hath haply outraged heaven!) Who rising thence
Wrapped in the boding vapours, laughed again
To wanton in the wild-willed hurricane.
See in the storm’s front, sailing dark and dread,
A wide-winged eagle like a black flag spread!
The clouds aloft flash doom! Short stops his flight!
He seems to shrivel in the blasting light!
The air is shattered with a crashing sound,
And he falls stonelike, lifeless, to the ground.
Now, like a shadow at great nature’s heart,
The turmoil grows. Now wonder, with a start,
Marks where right overhead the storm careers,
Girt with black horrors and wide-flaming fears!
Arriving thunders, mustering on his path,
Swell more and more the roarings of his wrath,
As out in widening circles they extend,
And then—at once—in utter silence end.
Portentous silence! Time keeps breathing past,
Yet it continues! May this marvel last?
This wild weird silence in the midst of gloom
So manifestly big with coming doom?
Tingles the boding ear; and up the glens
Instinctive dread comes howling from the wild-dogs dens.
Terrific vision! Heaven’s great ceiling splits,
And a vast globe of writhing fire emits,
Which pouring down in one continuous stream,
Spans the black concave like a burning beam,
A moment;—then from end to end it shakes
With a quick motion—and in thunder breaks!
Peal rolled on peal! While heralding the sound,
As each concussion thrills the solid ground,
Fierce glares coil, snake-like, round the rocky wens
Of the red hills, or hiss into the glens,
Or thick through heaven like flaming falchions swarm,
Cleaving the teeming cisterns of the storm,
From which rain-torrents, searching every gash,
Split by the blast come sheeting with a dash.
On yon grey peak, from rock-encrusted roots,
The mighty patriarch of the wood upshoots,
In whose proud-spreading top’s imperial height,
The mountain-eagle loveth most to light:
Now dimly seen through the tempestuous air,
His form seems harrowed by a mad despair,
As with his ponderous arms uplifted high,
He wrestles with the storm and threshes at the sky!
A swift bolt hurtles through the lurid air,
Another thundering crash! The peak is bare!
Huge hurrying fragments all around are cast,
The wild-winged, mad-limbed monsters of the blast.
The darkness thickens! With despairing cry
From shattering boughs the rain-drenched parrtos fly;
Loose rocks roll rumbling from the mountains round,
And half the forest strews the smoking ground;
To the bared crags the blasts now wilder moan,
And the caves labour with a ghostlier groan.
Wide raging torrents down the gorges flow
Swift bearing with them to the vale below
Those sylvan wrecks that littered late the path
Of the loud hurricane s all-trampling wrath.
The storm is past. Yet booming on afar
Is heard the rattling of the thunder-car,
And that low muffled moaning, as of grief,
Which follows with a wood-sigh wide and brief.
The clouds break up; the sun s forth-bursting rays
Clothe the wet landscape with a dazzling blaze;
The birds begin to sing a lively strain,
And merry echoes ring it o’er again;
The clustered herd is spreading out to graze,
Though lessening torrents still a hundred ways
Flash downward, and from many a rock ledge
A mantling gush comes quick and shining o er the edge.
’Tis evening; and the torrent’s furious flow
Runs gentlier now into the lake below,
O’er all the freshened scene no sound is heard,
Save the short twitter of some busied bird,
Or a faint rustle made amongst the trees
By wasting fragments of a broken breeze.
Along the wild and wreck-strewed paths I wind,
Watching earth’s happiness with quiet mind,
And see a beauty all unmarked till now
Flushing each flowery nook and sunny brow;
Wished peace returning like a bird of calm,
Brings to the wounded world its blessed healing balm.
On nerveless, tuneless lines how sadly
Ringing rhymes may wasted be,
While blank verse oft is mere prose madly
Striving to be poetry:
While prose that’s craggy as a mountain
May Apollo’s sun-robe don,
Or hold the well-spring of a fountain
Bright as that in Helicon.
I stand in thought beside my father’s grave:
The grave of one who, in his old age, died
Too late perhaps, since he endured so much
Of corporal anguish, sweating bloody sweat;
But not an hour too soon—no, not an hour!
Even if through all his many years, he ne’er
Had known another ailment than decay,
Or felt one bodily pang. For his bruised heart
And wounded goodwill, wounded through its once
Samsonian vigour and too credulous trust
In that great Delilah, the harlot world,
Had done with fortune;—nay, his very tastes,
Even the lowliest, had by blast on blast
Of sorrow and mischance, been blown like leaves
Deciduous, when the year is withering out,
From every living hold on what we here
Call nature; he but followed in their wake.
Nor was there in the lives of those he loved,
Even had he been susceptible of cheer,
Enough of fortune to warm into peace
A little longer ere he passed away
The remnant of his chilled humanity.
Wet are mine eyes, and my heart aches, to think
How much of evil ridged his course of time
And earthly pilgrimage. Alas! Enough
(However bravely struggled with throughout,
Or passively accepted) to have slain
In almost any other human heart,
All comforting reliance on the sure
Though still reserved supremecy of good!
For few are they, who, on this stormy ball,
Can live a long life full of loss and pain,
And yet through doubts, dull clouds, uplooking, see
In that wide dome which roofs the apparent whole
Without or seam or flaw, a visible type
Of heaven’s intact infinitude of love.
Yet died he a believer in the truth
And fatherhood of the Holy One—a God
Help-mighty, nor unmindful of mankind;
Yea, in the heavenward reaching light of faith
His soul went forth, as in a sunbeam’s track
Some close-caged bird, from a long bondage freed,
Goes winging up—up through the open sky,
Rejoicing in the widening glow that paths
The final victory of its native wings!
And whether all was triumph as it went
Piercing eternity, or whether clouds
Of penal terror gathered in the way,
Not less must death the great inductor be
To much that far transcends time’s highest lore,
Must be at worst a grimly grateful thing,
If only through deliverance from doubt,
The clinging curse of mortals. In the flesh
What own we but the present, with its scant
Assurance of a secular permanence
Even in the fact of being? While all that lies
Beyond it, lies or in the casual drifts
Of embryon needs that, lurking dark, project
To-morrow’s world,—or worse, at the wild will
Of a demoniac fortune! But the dead
Have this immunity at least—a lot
Final and fixed, as evermore within
The gates of the Eternal! For the past
Is wholly God s, and therefore, like himself,
Knows no reverse, no change,—but lies for eye
Stretched in the sabbath of its vast repose.
My dear, dear Charley! Can it be that thou
Art gone from us for ever! Whilst I sit
Amid these forest shadows that now fall
In sombre masses mixed with sunny gleams
Upon thy early grave, and think of all
The household love that was our mutual lot
So late, and during all thy little life—
Thy thirteen years of sonhood,—it is hard
(So dreamlike wild it seems) to realize
The shuddering certainty, that thou art now
In the eternal world, and reft away
In one dread moment from thy father’s heart!
Thy young intelligence from his lonely side
So reft for ever, leaving him, alas!
Thus sitting here forlorn—here by thy grave
New-made and bare, as upon life’s bleak brink,
To stare out deathward through his blinding tears.
And they, thy brothers and thy sisters, Charley,
They miss their vanished playmate so beloved,
And so endeared by years of happy help,
And many a pleasant old-faced memory!
I see them often when thy name is breathed
Look away askingly out into space,
As if they thought thy spirit might be there,
Still yearning towards them with a saddened love
Like that in their own hearts. And an! To him
Who at thy side, when death came swift upon thee,
Sent out through the wild forest such a shriek
As never until then might break the peace
That nestles in its lairs—ah! When to him
Shall the drear haggard memory of that day
Be other than a horror—such as, clothed
In terrible mystery, for ever keeps
Stalking beside us in some ghastly dream.
But most I pity her who bore thee, Charley,
Whose mother-bosom was at once the next
And fountain of thy infant life, and who,
Through all thy after years, was ever wont
To shield thee with her love, and doat the while
(Though with some fear) upon those spirited ways
And nascent self-reliance, that seemed
The promise of a manhood strong and brave;
Loving thee more perhaps than ever I—
If that be possible; and to whom ’tis plain
All things are changed now through the loss of thee!
All home consuetudes, and household wonts,
And motherly providences, which before
Did fill the passing hour so pleasantly,
Changed now and irksome, as if life itself
With all its motives suddenly had grown
Delusive as a dream. Then will she come,
And gaze out hitherward, and up to heaven,
With eyes so asking that they seem to say,
Where is my darling, and why was he torn
Away so rudely from a love like mine?
In vain! In vain! Art thou so vacant then,
O thou wide heaven! That no pitying star
May seem to breathe down through the forest trees,
With mystical assurance that the past
Is living and not dead? That no refrain
Of lingering spirit-sympathy may for once
Intone the melancholy wind, as thus
Its waves surge overhead, with what might seem
Some imtimation from beyond the grave
That love can never cease?
We ask in vain!
Voiceless is that dread gulf twixt life and death!
And is it wholly well it should be so?
That even love (though in the morning glow
Of human faith once visioned to have moved
The inexorable profound of hell itself)
May stare tear-blinded from its hither shore
And shriek to it in vain? That from beyond
No quieting whisper may across it breathe
Of peace from the immortals? Not a glimpse
Of that Elysian beauty which enrobes,
As with the garment of the Deity,
Its heavenward coast, e’er reach us? While we here
Sit groaning—full of wild misgivings—full
Of mournful memories and embittered wonts,
And so engloomed, so overcast by dark
Disquieting doubts, that we are often fain
To leap from them at once, though out of life,
Madly desirous to have done with time?
Ah! Whither has emotion, wild with loss,
Carried me doubtward? Broken as I am,
Let me strive rather to believe that God
Has ordered nothing otherwise than well;
And thereby strengthened, let me teach my heart
That he who now in this bleak world to us
Is lost for ever—the bright boy we loved—
The Charley of our memory, whose death
Came down amongst us in a guise so fierce,
Was taken yet in mercy, and is now
At home with Him.
Since thou art dead—since thou art dead,
Though to look up is still to see
The blue heaven bending o’er my head
So big with good, showered bounteously;
Though scenes of love he round me spread,
And o’er the hills, as once with thee,
My brother, still with venturous tread
I wander where broad rivers fret
And lighten onward to the sea,
As erst unchanged, unchanging; yet
How different is the world to me.
The light, a with a living robe,
Doth clothe all nature as of yore;
The sun with his great golden globe
Doth crown yon hill when night is o’er;
The moon and stars o’erwatch the earth
As I have seen them from my birth;
But O! Thou light, and sun, and moon,
And O! Ye stars so bright and boon,
Though I as fervently may feel
All the great glories you reveal
As ever I have felt before—
Your genial warmth, your mystic sheen—
Yet all to me that you have been
You never can be more.
Fragments From 'Genius Lost'
I SEE the boy-bard neath life’s morning skies,
While hope’s bright cohorts guess not of defeat,
And ardour lightens from his earnest eyes,
And faith’s cherubic wings around his being beat.
Loudly the echo of his soul repeats
Those deathless strains that witched the world of old;
While to the deeds, his high heart proudly beats,
Of names within them, treasured like heroic gold.
To love he lights the ode of vocal fire,
And yearns in song o’er freedom’s sacred throes,
Or pours a pious incense from his lyre,
Wherever o’er the grave a martyre-glory glows.
Or as he wanders waking dreams arise,
And paint new Edens on the future’s scroll,
While on the wings of rapture he outflies
The faltering mood that warns in his prophetic soul.
“All doubt away!” he cries in trustful mood;
“From Time’s unknown the perfect yet shall rise;
And this full heart attests how much of God
Might dwell with man beneath these purple-clouded skies!”
Thus holiest shapes inhabit his desire,
And love’s dream-turtles sing along his way;
Thus faith keeps mounting, like a skylark, higher,
As hope engoldens more the morning of his day.
But ah! Too high that harp-like heart is strung,
To bear the jar of this harsh world’s estate;
And ’tis betrayed by that too fervent tongue
How burns the fire within, that bodes a wayward fate.
Soon on the morning’s wings shall fancy flee,
And world-damps quench love’s spiritual flame,
And his wild powers, now as the wild waves free,
Be reef-bound by low wants and beaten down by shame.
Now mark him in the city’s weltering crowd
Haggard and pale; and yet, in his distress,
How quick to scorn the vile—defy the pround—
Grim, cold, and distant now—then seized with recklessness.
Yet oft what agony his pride assails,
When life’s first morning faith to thought appears
Lost in the shadowy past, and nought avails
Her calling to the lost—then blood is in his tears.
Henceforth must his sole comrade be despair,
Sole wanderer by his side in ways forlorn;
And as a root-wrenched vine no more may bear,
No more by this dry wood shall fruit be borne.
No more! And every care of life, in woe
And desperation, to the wind is hurled!
He thanks dull wondering pity with a blow,
And leaps, though into hell, out of the cruel world.
I, even when a child,
Had fondly brooded, with a glowing cheek
And asking heart, with lips apart, and breath
Hushed to such silence as the matron dove
Preserves while warming into life her young,
Over the secretely-disclosing hope
Of finding in the fulness of my youth
Some sweet, congenial one to love, to call
My own. And one has been whose soul
Felt to its depth the influence of mine,
Albeit between us the sweet name of Love
Passed never, to bring blooming to the check
Those rosy shames that burn it on the heart—
Symbol of heaven, sole synonym of God!—
Yet not the less a sympathy that heard,
Through many a whisper, Love’s sweet spirit-self,
Low breathing in the silence of our souls,
Knit us together with a still consent.
And she was beautiful in outward shape,
As lovely in her mind. Such eyes she had
As burn in the far depths of passionate thought,
While yet the visionary heart of youth
Is lonely in its hope! Cherries were ne’er
More ruby-rich, more delicately full,
Than were her lips; and, when her young heart would,
A smile, ineffably enchanting, played
The unwitting conqueress there.
Her light, round form
Had grace in every impulse, motions fair
As her life’s purity; her being all
Was as harmonious to the mind, as are
Most perfect strains of purest tones prolonged,
To music-loving ears.
But full of dole
Her mortal fate to me! Ere sixteen springs
Had bloomed about her being, a most fell
And secret malady did feel amid
The roses of her cheeks, her lips—but still,
Felon-like, shunned the lustre of her eyes,
That more replendent grew. And so, before
Those glowing orbs had turned their starry light
Upon one human face with other troth
Than a meek daughter or fond sister yields;
Ere her white arms and heaving bosom held
A nestling other than the weary head
Of sickness or a stranger babe, the grass
That whistled dry in the autumnal wind,
Was billowing round her grave.
And yet I live
Within a world that knoweth her no more.
. . . . .
’Tis well when misery’s harassed son
For shelter to the grave doth go,
As to his mountain-hold may run
The hunted roe.
Yet when, beneath benignant skies,
The angle Grace herself appears
But Death’s born bride, the stoniest eyes
Might break in tears.
Chorus of the Hours
Ah! That Death
Should ever, like a drear, untimely night,
Descent upon the loved, in Love’s despite!
Ah! That a little breath
Expiring from the world, should leave each scene,
Where its warm influence before hath been,
So empty to the heart in its despair
Of all but misery—misery everywhere!
Thus in the morning of my life have I
No happiness rooted in the earth, to hold
My spirit to the actual. All my hopes
Are blown away by adverse chilling winds,
Blown sheer away, out of the world, to seek
Such solace as may be derived from far
And lonely flights of faith. Yet even these
Only divert, not satisfy, my soul;
Still, when her wings refuse them, wearied out
By so wild-will’d an aeronaut as I,
Having no nearer comfort, even as now,
Their foregone influence do I meditate,
Tracing them upward in their heavenward track.
As through an ocean of uprolling mist
Amid the morning Alps, a morning bird
Keeps soaring, trustful of the risen sun—
Who then is turning all the mountain tops
To diamond islets washed by waves of gold,
That shatter as they surge—keeps soaring, till
It shoots at length into the cloudless light,
And gleams a bird of fire; so faith upmounts
Through the earth’s misty tribulations, up
Into the clear of the eternal world,
Unfainting, fervent, till, with happy wings
Outspreading full amid the rays of God
It glories, gleaming like the Alpine bird.
But wearying in her flight, even faith returns,
As does the bird—returns into the mist
That shutteth down all less adventurous life,
But stronger for the mighty vision left
And for the heavenly warmth upon her wings.
Once,—did I only stand in thought beside
The grave of one who had for freedom died,
Or on some spot made holy by the vow
Of tuneful love, though of an ancient day,—
My very life would thrill—and am I now
From that fraternal interest which cast
Around me then the feeling of the past?
I know not; but my heart no more will leap
Even to the trump of some Homeric lay:
Bad progress is it, if from that I keep
As the moaning wild waves ever
Fret around some lonely isle,
There are griefs that no endeavour
Stilleth even for a while,
Beating at my heart for ever,
Beating at it now,
Beating at my heart—and aching
Upward to my brow.
Like the wild clouds flying over
High above all human reach,
There are joys that I their lover
Cannot even scale in speech;
Flying o’er my head for ever
Flying o’er it now;
Flying o’er my head—and shading
With despair my brow.
Chorus of the Hours
Alas! The veriest human clod
Is happier than he,
On whom the majesty,
And the mystery
Of thought, had fallen like the fire of God!
Ah! Those by nature gifted to pursue
The beautiful and true
Have chiefly in dishonour trod
The regions they redeemed—as even yet they do!
And where are they, to gods upgrown,
Shall drive this darksome doom?
Ye suffering sons of Genius, you
Must dissipate the gloom
That clouds you even as of old
In its mist so deadly cold!
With your own injuries, let stern thought
Of the most desolate deathless of those
Who with the power of darkness fought,
(Each in his age, whereon his spirit rose,
As rises some peculiar star of night
To burn eternally apart,)
Yea, let stern thought of those
Now nerve you to re-urge the lengthened fight;
And for those others,
Your future brothers,
Now follow victory with unflinching heart!
Yes, it is well, in this our cold grim earth
To steal an hour for meditation free;
To die in body, and with all the mind
Thus freed, to bridge with might beams of thought
The depth of the Eternal. Even on me
Such mood sometimes descends, the precious gift
Of pitying Urania, then I fly,
Even as a stork mid evening’s purple clouds
In mid-Elysiums—Paradises fair
Perhaps in stars consummated, whereon
The once earth-treading votaries of Truth
In soul reside, until a period when
Knowledge, advancing them from height to height,
And Love, grown perfect, shall have nurtured forth
Angelic wings for heaven.
But by these
I mean not such as with sour faces boast;
Blind moles of fear, who deem thy honour God
By offering up on outraged human hearts,
As upon blood-stained altars, every gay
And happy feeling, every rose wish
That sweetens human souls: and who, convened
In their dull tabernacles, all at once
Behowl the Diety as dogs the moon,
Or deprecate his wrath with grovelling rites,
And boisterous groans, that from stentorian lungs
Are grunted, swine-like, forth! Oh no! For such
The paradise of fools full wide extends
Her dismal gates!
I speak not thus in scorn;
Scorn is not sweet to me; but when the rights
Of man are trampled on; when villains sit
In the high places of the land, and sport
With what the just hold sacred; when mere wealth
Can win its Nestor’s favour, and the sleek
Regard even of its saints, and when religion
Itself is ever in a bad extreme—
A bloated pomp of mystery and show,
Or a most crude and coarse perversity,
Vile as a beggar’s raiment—then the scorn
Of indignation, then the brave disgust
Of righteous shame and honest hate, put forth
In tones like God’s own thunder burst aboard,
Are things the thin-souled scoundrel never feels.
Enough. The good I deem leave vain disputes
On things that are, and must be from their kind,
Mainly unknown, and still with faithful heed
Have care of those God gave them light to see
Strewn round their daily being: and of such
Rightfully choosing, and to fitting ends
Well shaping all, upbuild with honest hands
A true and simple life; and in the jars
Of national factions they alway, despite
Of frowning kings and banning priests afford
Their aid to freedom.
Yet will there come a day, though not to me,
When excellence of being shall be sought
Not only thus in vision, but within
The actual round of this diurnal world,—
A day whose light shall chase the clouds that veil
Upon the mountain tops of old repute
The imaginary gods of wrongful power,
And pierce thence downward to the vales of toil,
Healing and blessing all men—the great day
Of knowledge. Then the accident of birth—
That empty imposition! Or the claim
Of wealth—that earthly and most gnomish cheat!
Shall neither arrogate to any, proud
Distinctions as of right, nor qualify
Any by its sole influence for power
Over his fellows, but all men shall stand
Proudly beneath the fair wide roof of heaven,
As God-created equals, each the sire
Of his own worth, and the joint sanctioner
Of all political pertainment, all
Moral and social honour.
Yea, for such
Is Freedom’s charter traced upon the heart
Of our humanity, whene’er ’tis rid
Of the foul scroff of vice, and on the brain
Built godlike, when disclouded by God’s light
Of a too old distemper’s fatal rout,
Of boastful hell-suggested superstitions
And customs born of Error. And let none
Despair of such an advent; for, as when
Some solemn wood’s familiar cadences,
Deepening and deepening all around, portend
The salutary storm, even so the wide
Pervading instinct of a sure revolt
Against the ancient tyrannies of the earth
Roams on before it in the living stress
Of knowledge, omening the unborn change
By harshening still to the fine ear of thought
The daily jar of customary wrongs.
And let none fear that earthly power, or aught
Less than Omnipotence, can still or stay
The solemn prelude that for ever thus
Keeps deepening round and onward in the front
Of that great victory over wrong, which time
Shall witness—wrong and its abettors, all
Whom lust of sway unsanctioned by the truth
Shall to the last disnature; for the spirit
It first evokes—a mighty will to think—
Doth thenceforth charge it with oracular tones
That may not be mistaken.
Yea, great thoughts
With great thoughts coalescing through the world,
Into the future of all progress pour
Sun-prophecies, there quickening what were else
Nascent too long.
Chorus of the Hours
O why is not this beauteous earth
The Eden men imagine—the fair seat
Of fruitful peace, pure love, and sunny mirth?
And why are its prime souls, though so complete
In apprehension of a Godlike state,
The subjects ever of fraternal hate—
Oppressing or oppressed,
That so the portion is of all, deceit
And fear, and anger, sorrow, and unrest?
There’s not one bright enduring thing
In this great round of nature that appears—
No shining stars, no river murmuring,
No morn-crowned hill, no golden evening scene,
That hath not glimmered and distorted been
Through the dim mist of tears—
Tears not as blood from some wrung human brain,
Throbbing and aching with unpitied pain!
There is not one green mound, existent long
In any region, nor old wayside stone,
On which some weary child of social wrong
Hath sat not—there, alone,
To bite his pallid lip and heave the unheeded groan!
And such hath been the state of man
Since first the race’s recreancy began;
And thus his piety is scared away
From earth, its proper home,
To seek vague heavens above the source of day;
Or out beyond the gorgeous gloom
Wherewith dusk evening curtains up the west;
There flying, like the psalmist’s dove, to rest
In sinless gardens of perpetual bloom
And islands of the blest.
Ah! My heart
Is like a core of fire within my breast,
And by this agony is all my mind
Shaken away from its tenacious hold
Of time and sensuous things. Now come, thou meek
Religious trust, that sometime to my soul
Fliest friendly, like a heaven-descended dove,
With wings that whisper of the peace of God!
Come, and assure it now, that all thus seen
Of evil, by the patience of the One
Almighty Master of the Universe,
Is but allowed, to dash our vain repose
On Time’s foundations, and all mad belief
In human consequence; that, finally,
Amid the death of expectations fond,—
Discoveries diurnal that the pomps
And pleasures of the world are but bright mists
Concealing, mid its heights of pomp and shame,
Its depths of degradation,—that all weal,
Beauty, and peace, even in their permanence,
Are but the florid riches of a soil
That crusts the cone of some yet masked volcano,
Whose darling fires but wait the dread command:
“Up, to the work appointed! ”—we at length,
Even thus admonished, thus in hope and heart
Subdued and chastened, might be so constrained
To look between the thunder-bearing clouds
That darken over this mysterious ball s
Blind face, for surer, better things beyond
Its flying scenes of doubtful good, commixed
With evident evil: yea, conclude at last
That wereso in the universe of God
Our better home may be, it is not here;
Then here why build we?
O! Then, farewell,
Fancy and Hope, twin angels of the past!
Thee, Fancy, chiefly of my younger life
The spiritual spouse, farewell! With all
Thy pictured equipage: the shapes sublime
Of universal liberty and right,
Dethroning tyrants and investing worth
Alone with power and honour; and with these
Fair visions that come shining to the heart
Like evening stars from a serener air
Of generosity, in rapture high
At rival excellence; of charity
Living in secret for her own sweet sake;
Of mercy lifting up a fallen foe;
Of pity yearning o’er the child of shame;
Unselfish love, and resolute friendship—all,
Even to common trust—farewell! These lights
May never burn in the grey dome of time
or constellate for me the world again!
No more! No, never more.
Here, only here
In the dark dwellings of this silent city
Is rest for the world-weary. Slander here,
Disease and poverty, forego their victim;
The fox of envy and the wolf of scorn
Snarl not within these gates. The enemy
Who comes to triumph o’er the powerless bones
That once he feared, still hates—even as he comes,
By the dismaying silence smitten, stops,
Listening for some far reproachful voice
Heard only through the mystery of his soul,
And, shuddering, asks forgiveness. Slept I here,
And should an enemy so plead, and might
My injured spirit, hovering over, hear—
The boon were granted. O that here, even now,
The sense were frozen to forgetfulness
That I, upon this populous star of God,
This earth that I was born to, and have loved,
Am utterly uncared-for and alone!
Alas! These thoughts are storming all my soul
With madness—yea, the madness of despair!
And though my reason lifting up its strength
As desperately confronts them, just as well
Might the poor castaway, who helpless stands
On some bleak rock in the mid ocean, preach
Obedience to the breakers surging round
That perilous point, as I (in this wild gloom)
Strive to o’ercome them—And why should I strive?
No, rather let them howl like midnight wolves
Within my failing brain, and gnaw and tug
At my sick heart, their bitter food, for they
Will help me to my one desire—death.
Be his rest who sleeps below,
Done to death by toil and woe,
Sound and sweet.
So much in fortune did he lack,
So little meet
Of kindness, as with bleeding feet
He journeyed life’s most barren track,
That only hate in its deceit,
Not love, not pity, would entreat
To have him back.
But he sleeps well where many a bloom
That might not grace his living home
Pranks the raised sod:
Tokening, perhaps, that one who here
Missed the world’s smile, hath met elsewhere
The smile of God.
The Tower Of The Dream
HOW wonderful are dreams! If they but be
As some have said, the thin disjoining shades
Of thoughts or feelings, long foregone or late,
All interweaving, set in ghostly act
And strange procession, fair, grotesque, or grim,
By mimic fancy; wonderful no less
Are they though this be true and wondrous more
Is she, who in the dark, and stript of sense,
Can wield such sovereignty—the Queen of Art!
For what a cunning painter is she then,
Who hurriedly embodying, from the waste
Of things memorial littering life’s dim floor,
The forms and features, manifold and quaint,
That crowd the timeless vistas of a dream,
Fails in no stroke, but breathes Pygmalion-like
A soul of motion into all her work;
And doth full oft in magic mood inspire
Her phantom creatures with more eloquent tones
Than ever broke upon a waking ear.
But are they more? True glimpses oft, though vague,
Over that far unnavigable sea
Of mystic being, where the impatient soul
Is sometimes wont to stray and roam at large?
No answer comes. Yet are they wonderful
However we may rank them in our lore,
And worthy some fond record are these dreams
That with so capable a wand can bring
Back to the faded heart the rosy flush
And sweetness of a long-fled love, or touch
The eyes of an old enmity with tears
Of a yet older friendship; or restore
A world-lost mate, or reunite in joy
The living and the dead!—can, when so wills
Their wand’s weird wielder, whatsoe’er it be,
Lift up the fallen—fallen however low!
Give youth unto the worn, enrich the poor;
Build in the future higher than the hope
Of power, when boldest, ever dared to soar;
Annul the bars of space, the dens of time,
Giving the rigid and cold-clanking chain
Which force, that grey iniquity, hath clenched
About its captive, to relent,—yea, stretch
Forth into fairy-land, or melt like wax
In that fierce life whose spirit lightens wide
Round freedom, seated on her mountain throne.
But not thus always are our dreams benign;
Oft are they miscreations—gloomier worlds,
Crowded tempestuously with wrongs and fears,
More ghastly than the actual ever knew,
And rent with racking noises, such as should
Go thundering only through the wastes of hell.
Yes, wonderful are dreams: and I have known
Many most wild and strange. And once, long since,
As in the death-like mystery of sleep
My body lay impalled, my soul arose
And journeyed outward in a wondrous dream.
In the mid-hour of a dark night, methought
I roamed the margin of a waveless lake,
That in the knotted forehead of the land
Deep sunken, like a huge Cyclopean eye,
Lidless and void of speculation, stared
Glassily up—for ever sleepless—up
At the wide vault of heaven; and vaguely came
Into my mind a mystic consciousness
That over against me, on the farther shore
Which yet I might not see, there stood a tower.
The darkness darkened, until overhead
Solidly black the starless heaven domed,
And earth was one wide blot;—when, as I looked,
A light swung blazing from the tower (as yet
Prophesied only in my inner thought),
And brought at once its rounded structure forth
Massive and tall out of the mighty gloom.
On the broad lake that streaming radiance fell,
Through the lit fluid like a shaft of fire,
Burning its sullen depths with one red blaze.
Long at that wild light was I gazing held
In speechless wonder, till I thence could feel
A strange and thrillingly attractive power;
My bodily weight seemed witched away, aloft
I mounted, poised within the passive air,
Then felt I through my veins a branching warmth,
The herald of some yet unseen content,
The nearness of some yet inaudible joy,
As if some spell of golden destiny
Lifted me onwards to the fateful tower.
High up the tower, a circling balcony
Emporched a brazen door. The silver roof
Rested on shafts of jet, and ivory work
Made a light fence against the deep abyss.
Before that portal huge a lady stood
In radiant loveliness, serene and bright,
Yet as it seemed expectant; for as still
She witched me towards her, soft she beckon’d me
With tiny hand more splendid than a star;
And then she smiled, not as a mortal smiles
With visible throes, to the mere face confined,
But with her whole bright influence all at once
In gracious act, as the Immortals might,
God-happy, or as smiles the morning, when
Its subtle lips in rosy beauty part
Under a pearly cloud, and breathe the while
A golden prevalence of power abroad,
That taketh all the orient heaven and earth
Into the glory of its own delight.
Then in a voice, keen, sweet, and silvery clear,
And intimately tender as the first
Fine feeling of a love-born bliss, she spoke,
“Where hast thou stayed so long? Oh, tell me where?”
With thrilling ears and heart I heard, but felt
Pass from me forth a cry of sudden fear,
As swooning through the wildness of my joy,
Methought I drifted,—whither? All was now
One wide cold blank; the lady and the tower,
The gleaming lake, with all around it, one
Wide dreary blank;—the drearier for that still
A dizzy, clinging, ghostly consciousness
Kept flickering from mine inmost pulse of life,
Like a far meteor in some dismal marsh;
How long I knew not, but the thrilling warmth
That, like the new birth of a passionate bliss,
Erewhile had searched me to the quick, again
Shuddered within me, more and more, until
Mine eyes had opened under two that made
All else like darkness; and upon my cheek
A breath that seemed the final spirit of health
And floral sweetness, harbingered once more
The silver accents of that wondrous voice,
Which to have heard was never to forget;
And with her tones came, warbled as it seemed,
In mystical respondence to her voice,
Still music, such as Eolus gives forth,
But purer, deeper;—warbled as from some
Unsearchable recess of soul supreme,
Some depth of the Eternal! echoing thence
Through the sweet meanings of its spirit speech.
I answered not, but followed in mute love
The beamy glances of her eyes; methought
Close at her side I lay upon a couch
Of purple, blazoned all with stars of gold
Tremblingly rayed with spiculated gems;
Thus sat we, looking forth; nor seemed it strange
That the broad lake, with its green shelving shores,
And all the hills and woods and winding vales,
Were basking in the beauty of a day
So goldenly serene, that never yet
The perfect power of life-essential light
Had so enrobed, since paradise was lost,
The common world inhabited by man.
I saw this rare surpassing beauty;—yea,
But saw it all through her superior life,
Orbing mine own in love; I felt her life,
The source of holiest and truth-loving thoughts,
Breathing abroad like odours from a flower,
Enriched with rosy passion, and pure joy
And earnest tenderness. Nor ever might
The glassy lake below more quickly give
Nimble impressions of the coming wind’s
Invisible footsteps, dimpling swift along,
Than instant tokens of communion sweet
With outward beauty’s subtle spirit, passed
Forth from her eyes, and thence in lambent waves
Suffused and lightened o’er her visage bright.
But as upon the wonder of her face
My soul now feasted, even till it seemed
Instinct with kindred lustre, lo! her eyes
Suddenly saddened; then abstractedly
Outfixing them as on some far wild thought
That darkened up like a portentous cloud
Over the morning of our peace, she flung
Her silver voice into a mystic song
Of many measures, which, as forth they went,
Slid all into a sweet abundant flood
Of metric melody! And to her voice
As still she sung, invisible singers joined
A choral burden that prolonged the strain’s
Rich concords, till the echoes of the hills
Came forth in tidal flow, and backward then
Subsiding like a refluent wave, died down
In one rich harmony. It strangely seemed
As though the song were ware that I but slept,
And that its utterer was but a dream;
’Tis traced upon the tablet of my soul
In shining lines that intonate themselves—
Not sounding to the ear but to the thought—
Out of the vague vast of the wonderful,
And might, when hardened into mortal speech,
And narrowed from its wide and various sweep
Into such flows as make our waking rhymes
Most wildly musical, be written thus:—
Wide apart, wide apart,
In old Time’s dim heart
One terrible Fiend doth his stern watch keep
Over the mystery
Lovely and deep,
Locked in thy history,
Could we disarm him,
Could we but charm him,
The soul of the sleeper might happily leap,
Through the dark of the dim waste so deathly and deep
That shroudeth the triple divinity,
The three of thy mystical Trinity:
Joy from all trammels free,
Beautiful Spirit of Sleep!
Could we confound him
Who darkens thy throne,
Could we surround him
With spells like thine own
For the divinity
Then of thy Trinity,
Oh, what a blesseder reign were begun!
For then it were evermore one,
With all that soul, freed from the body’s strait scheme,
Inherits of seer-light and mystical dream.
And to sleep were to die
Into life in the Infinite,
Holy and high,
Spotless and bright,
Calmly, peacefully deep
Ah then! that dread gulf should be crossed by a mortal,
Ah then! to what life were thy bright arch the portal,
Beautiful Spirit of Sleep.
------------------------- ------------------------------------------------- ------
She ceased, and a deep tingling silence fell
Instantly round,—silence complete, and yet
Instinct as with a breathing sweetness, left
By the rare spirit of her voice foregone;
Even as the fragrance of a flower were felt
Pervading the mute air through which erewhile,
It had been borne by the delighted hand
Of some sweet-thoughted maiden. Turning then
Her bright face towards me, as I stood entranced,
Yet with keen wonder stung, she said, “I love thee
As first love loveth—utterly! But ah
This love itself—this purple-wingéd love—
This life-enriching spirit of delight
Is but a honey-bee of paradise,
That only in the morning glory dares
To range abroad, only in vagrant mood,
Adventures out into the common world
Of man and woman, thither lured by sight
Of some sweet human soul that blooms apart,
Untainted by a rank soil’s weedy growths
Lured thither thus, yet being even then
A wilful wanderer from its birthplace pure,
Whereto it sadly must return again,
Or forfeit else its natal passport, ere
The dread night cometh. Yet of how great worth
Is love within the world! By the fair spring
Of even the lowliest love, how many rich
And gracious things that could not else have been,
Grow up like flowers, and breathe a perfume forth
That never leaves again the quickened sense
It once hath hit, as with a fairy’s wand!”
She spoke in mournful accents wild and sweet,
And lustrous tears brimmed over from the eyes
That met my own now melancholy gaze.
But not all comfortless is grief that sees
Itself reflected in another’s eyes,
And love again grew glad: alas, not long
For with a short low gasp of sudden fear
She started back, and hark! within the tower
A sound of strenuous steps approaching fast
Rang upwards, as it seemed, from the hard slabs
Of a steep winding stair; and soon the huge
And brazen portal, that behind us shut,
Burst open with a clang of loosened bolts—
A clang like thunder, that went rattling out
Against the echoes of the distant hills.
With deafened ears and looks aghast I turned
Towards the harsh noise, there to behold, between
The mighty jambs in the strong wall from which
The door swung inward, a tremendous form!
A horrid gloomy form that shapeless seemed,
And yet, in all its monstrous bulk, to man
A hideous likeness bare! Still more and more
Deformed it grew, as forth it swelled, and then
Its outlines melted in a grizzly haze,
That hung about them, even as grey clouds
Beskirt a coming tempest’s denser mass,
That thickens still internally, and shows
The murkiest in the midst—yea, murkiest there,
Where big with fate, and hid in solid gloom,
The yet still spirit of the thunder broods,
And menaces the world.
Beholding that dread form, the lady of light
Had rushed to my extended arms, and hid
Her beamy face, fright-harrowed, in my breast!
And thus we stood, made one in fear; while still
That terrible vision out upon us glared
With horny eyeballs—horrible the more
For that no evidence of conscious will,
No touch of passion, vitalized their fixed
Eumenidèan, stone-cold stare, as towards
Some surely destined task they seemed to guide
Its shapeless bulk and awful ruthless strength.
Then with a motion as of one dark stride
Shadowing forward, and outstretching straight
One vague-seen arm, from my reluctant grasp
It tore the radiant lady, saying “This
Is love forbidden!” in a voice whose tones
Were like low guttural thunders heard afar,
Outgrowling from the clouded gorges wild
Of steep-cragged mountains, when a sultry storm
Is pondering in its dark pavilions there.
Me then he seized, and threw me strongly back
Within the brazen door; its massive beam
Dropped with a wall-quake, and the bolts were shot
Into their sockets with a shattering jar.
I may not paint the horrible despair
That froze me now; more horrible than aught
In actual destiny, in waking life,
Could give the self -possession of my soul.
Within, without,—all silent, stirless, cold
Whither was she, my lady of delight
Reft terribly away? Time—every drip of which
Was as an age—kept trickling on and on,
Brought no release, no hope; brought not a breath
That spake of fellowship, or even of life
Out of myself. Utterly blank I stood
In marble-cold astonishment of heart!
And when at length I cast despairing eyes—
Eyes so despairing that the common gift
Of vision stung me like a deadly curse—
The dungeon round, pure pity of myself
So warmed and loosened from my brain, the pent
And icy anguish, that its load at once
Came like an Alp-thaw streaming through my eyes;
Till resignation, that balm-fragrant flower
Of meek pale grief that hath its root in tears,
Grew out of mine, and dewed my soul with peace.
My dungeon was a half-round lofty cell,
Massively set within the crossing wall
That seemed to cut the tower’s whole round in twain;
A door with iron studs and brazen clamps
Shut off the inner stairway of the tower;
And by this door a strange and mystic thing,
A bat-winged steed on scaly dragon claws,
Stood mute and rigid in the darkening cell.
The night came on; I saw the bat-winged steed
Fade, melt and die into the gathering gloom,
Then in the blackness hour by hour I paced,
And heard my step—the only sound to me
In all the wide world—throb with a dull blow
Down through the hollow tower that seemed to yawn.
A monstrous well beneath, with wide waste mouth
Bridged only by the quaking strip of floor
On which I darkling strode. Then hour on hour
Paused as if clotting at the heart of time,
And yet no other sound had being there
And still that strange, mute, mystic, bat-winged steed
Stood waiting near me by the inner door.
At last, all suddenly, in the air aloft
Over the tower a wild wailful song
Woke, flying many-voiced, then sweeping off
Far o’er the echoing hills, so passed away
In dying murmurs through the hollow dark.
In vain was the charm sought
In vain was our spell wrought
Which that dread watcher’s eyes drowsy might keep;
In vain was the dragon-steed
There at the hour of need
Out with his double freight blissward to sweep.
In vain were our spells of an infinite cost
Yon gulf by a mortal may never be crossed
Never, ah never!
The doom holds for ever
For ever! for ever!
Away, come away!
For see, wide uprolling, the white front of day!
Away to the mystic mid-regions of sleep,
Of the beautiful Spirit of sleep.
The gulf we are crossing may never be crossed
By a mortal, ah, never!
The doom holds for ever!
For ever! for ever!
So passed that song (of which the drift alone
Is here reached after in such leaden speech
As uncharmed mortals use). And when its tones
Out towards the mountains in the dark afar
Had wasted, light began to pierce the gloom,
Marbling the dusk with grey; and then the steed,
With his strange dragon-claws and half-spread wings,
Grew slowly back into the day again.
The sunrise! Oh, it was a desolate pass
Immured in that relentless keep, to feel
How o’er the purple hills came the bright sun,
Rejoicing in his strength; and then to know
That he was wheeling up the heaven, and o’er
My prison roof, tracking his midway course
With step of fire, loud rolling through the world
The thunder of its universal life!
Thus seven times wore weary day and night
Wearily on, and still I could not sleep.
And still through this drear time the wintry tooth
Of hunger never gnawed my corporal frame;
No thirst inflamed me; while by the grim door
That strange, unmoving, dragon-footed steed
Stood as at first. Mere wonder at my doom
Relieved the else-fixed darkness of despair!
But on the seventh night at midnight—hark!
What might I hear? A step?—a small light step,
That by the stair ascending, swiftly came
Straight to the inner door—then stopped. Alas!
The black leaf opened not; and yet, the while,
A rainbow radiance through its solid breadth
Came flushing bright, in subtle wave on wave,
As sunset glow in swift rich curves wells forth
Through some dense cloud upon the verge of heaven:
So came it, filling all the cell at length
With rosy lights; and then the mystic steed
Moved, and spread wide his glimmering bat-like wings.
When hark! deep down in the mysterious tower
Another step! Yea, the same strenuous tramp
That once before I heard, big beating up—
A cry, a struggle, and retreating steps!
And that fair light had faded from the air.
Again the hateful tramp came booming up;
The great door opened, and the monster-fiend
Filled all the space between the mighty jambs.
My heart glowed hot with rage and hate at once;
Fiercely I charged him, but his horrible glooms
Enwrapped me closer, in yet denser coils
Every dread moment! But my anguish now,
My pain, and hate, and loathing, all had grown
Into so vast a horror that methought
I burst with irresistible strength away—
Rushed through the door and down the stairway—down
An endless depth—till a portcullis, hinged
In the tower’s basement, opened to my flight
It fell behind me, and my passage lay
By the long ripples of the rock-edged lake.
Then, breathless, pausing in my giddy flight,
I saw the lustrous lady upward pass
Through the lit air, with steadfast downward look
Of parting recognition—full of love,
But painless, passionless. Above the tower
And o’er the clouds her radiance passed away,
And melted into heaven’s marble dome!
Then fell there on my soul a sense of loss
So bleak, so desolate, that with a wild
Sleep-startling outcry, sudden I awoke
Awoke to find it but a wondrous dream;
Yet ever since to feel as if some pure
And guardian soul, out of the day and night,
Had passed for ever from the reach of love!
The Witch Of Hebron
A Rabbinical Legend
From morn until the setting of the sun
The rabbi Joseph on his knees had prayed,
And, as he rose with spirit meek and strong,
An Indian page his presence sought, and bowed
Before him, saying that a lady lay
Sick unto death, tormented grievously,
Who begged the comfort of his holy prayers.
The rabbi, ever to the call of grief
Open as day, arose; and girding straight
His robe about him, with the page went forth;
Who swiftly led him deep into the woods
That hung, heap over heap, like broken clouds
On Hebron’s southern terraces; when lo!
Across a glade a stately pile he saw,
With gleaming front, and many-pillared porch
Fretted with sculptured vinage, flowers and fruit,
And carven figures wrought with wondrous art
As by some Phidian hand.
For a wide space in front, and belting all
The splendid structure with a finer grace,
A glowing garden smiled; its breezes bore
Airs as from paradise, so rich the scent
That breathed from shrubs and flowers; and fair the growths
Of higher verdure, gemm’d with silver blooms,
Which glassed themselves in fountains gleaming light
Each like a shield of pearl.
Within the halls
Strange splendour met the rabbi’s careless eyes,
Halls wonderful in their magnificance,
With pictured walls, and columns gleaming white
Like Carmel’s snow, or blue-veined as with life;
Through corridors he passed with tissues hung
Inwrought with threaded gold by Sidon’s art,
Or rich as sunset clouds with Tyrian dye;
Past lofty chambers, where the gorgeous gleam
Of jewels, and the stainèd radiance
Of golden lamps, showed many a treasure rare
Of Indian and Armenian workmanship
Which might have seemed a wonder of the world:
And trains of servitors of every clime,
Greeks, Persians, Indians, Ethiopians,
In richest raiment thronged the spacious halls.
The page led on, the rabbi following close,
And reached a still and distant chamber, where
In more than orient pomp, and dazzling all
The else-unrivalled splendour of the rest,
A queenly woman lay; so beautiful,
That though upon her moon-bright visage, pain
And langour like eclipsing shadows gloomed,
The rabbi’s aged heart with tremor thrilled;
Then o’er her face a hectic colour passed,
Only to leave that pallor which portends
The nearness of the tomb.
From youth to age
The rabbi Joseph still had sought in herbs
And minerals the virtues they possess,
And now of his medicaments he chose
What seemed most needful in her sore estate;
“Alas, not these,” the dying woman said,
“A malady like mine thou canst not cure,
’Tis fatal as the funeral march of Time!
But that I might at length discharge my mind
Of a dread secret, that hath been to me
An ever-haunting and most ghostly fear,
Darkening my whole life like an ominous cloud
And which must end it ere the morning come,
Therefore did I entreat thy presence here.”
The rabbi answered, “If indeed it stand
Within my power to serve thee, speak at once
All that thy heart would say. But if ’tis vain,
If this thy sin hath any mortal taint,
Forbear, O woman, to acquaint my soul
With aught that could thenceforth with horror chase
The memory of a man of Israel.”
“I am,” she said “the daughter of thy friend
Rabbi Ben Bachai—be his memory blest!
Once at thy side a laughing child I played;
I married with an Arab Prince, a man
Of lofty lineage, one of Ishmael’s race;
Not great in gear. Behold’st thou this abode?
Did ever yet the tent-born Arab build
Thus for his pride or pleasure? See’st thou
These riches? An no! Such were ne’er amassed
By the grey desert’s wild and wandering son;
Deadly the game by which I won them all!
And with a burning bitterness at best
Have I enjoyed them! And how gladly now
Would I, too late, forego them all, to mend
My broken peace with a repentant heed
In abject poverty!”
She ceased, and lay
Calm in her loveliness, with dreamy looks
Roaming, perhaps, in thought the fateful past;
Then suddenly her beauteous countenance grew
Bedimm’d and drear, then dark with mortal pangs,
While fierce convulsions shook her tortured frame,
And from her foaming lips such words o’erran,
That rabbi Joseph sank upon his knees,
And bowed his head a space in horror down
While ardent, pitying prayers for her great woe
Rose from his soul; when, lo! The woman’s face
Was cloudless as a summer heaven! The late
Dark brow was bright, the late pale cheek suffused
With roseate bloom; and, wondrous more than all,
Here weary eyes were changed to splendours now
That shot electric influence, and her lips
Were full and crimson, curled with stormy pride.
The doubting rabbi stood in wild amaze
To see the dying woman bold and fierce
In bright audacity of passion’s power.
“These are the common changes,” then she said,
“Of the fell ailment, that with torments strange,
Which search my deepest life, is tearing up
The dark foundations of my mortal state,
And sinking all its structures, hour by hour,
Into the dust of death. For nothing now
Is left me but to meet my nearing doom
As best I may in silent suffering.”
Then as he heard her words and saw her face,
The rabbi in his wisdom knew some strong
Indwelling evil spirit troubled her,
And straighway for an unction sent, wherewith
The famous ancestor whose name he bore,
Herod the Great’s chief hakim, had expelled
The daemon haunter of the dying king.
With this he touched her forehead and her eyes
And all her finger-tips. Forthwith he made
Within a consecrated crucible
A fire of citron-wood and cinnamon;
Then splashed the flames with incense, mingling all
With the strong influence of fervent prayer;
And, as the smoke arose, he bowed her head
Into its coils, that so she might inhale
Its salutary odour—till the fiend
That dwelt within her should be exorcised.
Her face once more grew pale with pain; she writhed
In burning torment, uttering many words
Of most unhallowed meaning! Yet her eyes
Were fixed the while, and motionless her lips!
Whereby the rabbi certainly perceived
’Twas not the woman of herself that spake,
But the dread spirit that possessed her soul,
And thus it cried aloud.
“WHY am I here, in this my last resort,
Perturbed with incense and anointings? Why
Compelled to listen to the sound of prayers
That smite me through as with the fire of God?
O pain, pain, pain! Is not this chamber full
Of the implacable stern punishers?
Full of avenging angels, holding each
A scourge of thunder in his potent hand,
Ready to lighten forth! And then, thus armed,
For ever chase and wound us as we fly!
Nor end with this—but, in each wound they make,
Pour venom sweltered from that tree As-gard,
Whose deadly shadow in its blackness falls
Over the lake of everlasting doom!
“Five hundred years ago, I, who thus speak,
Was an Egyptian of the splendid court
Of Ptolemy Philadelphus. To the top
Of mountainous power, though roughened with unrest,
And girt with dangers as with thunder-clouds,
Had I resolved by all resorts to climb;
By truth and falsehood, right and wrong alike;
And I did climb! Then firmly built in power
Second alone to my imperial lord’s,
I crowned with its impunity my lust
Of beauty, sowing broadcast everywhere
Such sensual baits wide round me, as should lure
Through pleasure, or through interest entrap,
The fairest daughters of the land, and lo!
Their lustrous eyes surcharged with passionate light
The chambers of my harem! But at length
Wearied of these, though sweet, I set my heart
On riches, heaped to such a fabulous sum
As never one man’s hoard in all the world
Might match; and to acquire them, steeped my life
In every public, every private wrong,
In lies, frauds, secret murders; till at last
A favoured minion I had trusted most,
And highest raised, unveiled before the king
The dark abysmal badness of my life;
But dearly did he rue it; nor till then
Guessed I how deadly grateful was revenge!
I stole into his chamber as he slept,
And with a sword, whose double edge for hours
I had whetted for the purpose of the deed,
There staked him through the midriff to his bed.
I fled; but first I sent, as oft before,
A present to the household of the man
Who had in secret my betrayer bribed.
Twas scented wine, and rich Damascus cakes;
On these he feasted, and fell sudden down,
Rolling and panting in his dying pangs,
A poisoned desert dog!
“But I had fled.
A swift ship bore me, which my forecast long
Had kept prepared against such need as this.
Over the waves three days she proudly rode;
Then came a mighty storm, and trampled all
Her masted bravery flat, and still drove on
The wave-swept ruin towards a reefy shore!
Meanwhile amongst the terror-stricken crew
An ominous murmur went from mouth to mouth;
They grouped themselves in councils, and, ere long,
Grew loud and furious with surmises wild,
And maniac menaces, all aimed at me!
My fugitive head it was at which so loud
The thunder bellowed! The wild-shrieking winds
And roaring waters held in vengeful chase
Me only! Me! Whose signal crimes alone
Had brought on us this anger of the gods!
And thus reproaching me with glaring eyes,
They would have seized and slain me, but I sprang
Back from amongst them, and, outstriking, stabbed
With sudden blow their leader to the heart;
Then, with my poniard scaring off the rest,
Leaped from the deck, and swimming reached the shore,
From which, in savage triumph, I beheld
The battered ship, with all her howling crew,
Heel, and go down, amid the whelming waves.
“Inland my course now lay for many days,
O’er barren hills and glens, whose herbless scopes
Never grew luminous with a water gleam,
Or heard the pleasant bubble of a brook,
For vast around the Afric desert stretched.
Starving and sun-scorched and afire with thirst,
I wandered ever on, until I came
To where, amid the dun and level waste,
In frightful loneliness, a mouldered group
Of ancient tombs stood ghostly. Here at last,
Utterly spent, in my despair I lay
Down on the burning sand, to gasp and die!
When from among the stones a withered man,
Old-seeming as the desert where he lived,
Came and stood by me, saying ‘get thee up!
Not much have I to give, but these at least
I offer to thy need, water and bread.’
“Then I arose and followed to his cell,—
A dismal cell, that seemed itself a tomb,
So lightless was it, and so foul with damp,
And at its entrance there were skulls and bones.
Long and deep drank I of the hermit’s draught,
And munched full greedily the hermit’s bread;
But with the strength which thence my frame derived,
Fierce rage devoured me, and I cursed my fate!
Whereat the withered creature laughed in scorn,
And mocked me with the malice of his eyes,
That sometimes, like a snake’s, shrank small, and then
Enlarging blazed as with infernal fire!
Then, on a sudden, with an oath that seemed
To wake a stir in the grey musty tombs,
As if their silence shuddered, he averred
That he could life me once more to the height
Of all my wishes—nay, even higher, but
On one condition only. Dared I swear,
By the dread angel of the second death,
I would be wholly his, both body and soul,
After a hundred years?
“Why should I not?
I answered, quivering with a stormy haste,
A rampart unreluctance! For so great
Was still my fury against all mankind,
And my desire of pomp and riches yet
So monstrous, that I felt I could have drunk
Blood, fire, or worse, to wear again the power
That fortune, working through my enemies’ hands,
Had stript away from me. So, word by word,
I swore the oath as he repeated it;
Nor much it moved me, in my eagerness,
To feel a damp and earthy odour break
Out of each tomb, from which there darkling rose
At every word a hissing as of snakes;
And yet the fell of hair upon my scalp
Rose bristling under a cold creeping thrill:
But I failed not, I swore the dread oath through,
And then the tombs grew silent as their dead.
But through my veins a feeling of strong youth
Coursed bold along, and summered in my heart,
Till there before him in my pride I stood
In stately strength, and swift as is the wind,
Magnificant as a desert-nurtured steed
Of princeliest pedigree, with nostrils wide
Dilated, and with eyes effusing flame.
‘Begone,’ he said, ’and live thy hundred years
Of splendour, power, pleasure, ease.’ His voice
Sighed off into the distance. He was gone:
Only a single raven, far aloft,
Was beating outwards with its sable wings;
The tombs had vanished, and the desert grey
Merged its whole circle with the bending sky.
“OUT of these wilds to Egypt I returned:
Men thought that I had perished with the ship,
And no one knew me now, because my face
And form were greatly changed,—from passing fair
To fairer yet; from manly, to a pile
So nobly built, that in all eyes I seemed
Beauteous as Thammuz! And my heart was changed;
Ambition wilder than a leopard’s thirst
For blood of roe, or flying hart, possessed
My spirit, like the madness of a god!
But this I yet even in its fiercest strain
Could curb and guide with sovereign strength of will.
From small beginnings onward still I worked,
Stepping as up a stair from rival head
To rival head,—from high to higher still,
Unto the loftiest post that might be held
Under the Ptolemies; and meantime paid
Each old unsettled score, defeating those
Who erst had worked against me, sweeping them
Out of all posts, all places; for though time
And change had wide dispersed them through the land,
The sleuth-hounds of my vengeance found them out!
Which things not being in a corner done,
What wonder was it that all Egypt now,
From end to end, even like a shaken hive,
Buzzed as disturbed with my portentous fame?
“And what to me were secret enemies?
Had I not also spies, who could pin down
A whisper in the dark and keep it there?
Could dash a covert frown by the same means
An open charge had challenged? Hence my name
Became a sound that struck through every heart
Ineffable dismay! And yet behold
There more I trampled on mankind, the more
Did fawning flatterers praise me as I swept
Like a magnificant meteor through the land!
The more I hurled the mighty from their seats,
And triumphed o’er them prostrate in the dust,
The human hounds that licked my master hand
But multiplied the more! And still I strode
From bad to worse, corrupting as I went,
Making the lowly ones more abject yet;
Awing as with a thunder-bearing hand
The high and affluent; while I bound the strong
To basest service, even with chains of gold.
All hated, cursed and feared me, for in vain
Daggers were levelled at my brazen heart—
They glanced, and slew some minion at my side
Poison was harmless as a heifer’s milk
When I had sipped it with my lips of scorn;
All that paraded pomp and smiling power
Could draw against me from the envious hearts
Of men in will as wicked as myself
I challenged, I encountered, and o’erthrew!
“But, after many years, exhaustion sere
Spread through the branches of my tree of life;
My forces flagged, my senses more and more
Were blunted, and incapable of joy;
The splendours of my rank availed me not;
A poverty as naked as a slave’s
Peered from them mockingly. The pride of power
That glowed so strong within me in my youth
Was now like something dying at my heart.
To cheat or stimulate my jaded taste,
Feasts, choice or sumptuous, were devised in vain;
there was disfavour, there was fraud within,
Like that which filled the fair-appearing rind
Of those delusive apples that of old
Grew on the Dead Sea shore.
“And yet, though thus
All that gave pleasure to my younger life
Was withering from my path like summer grass,
I still had one intense sensation, which
Grew ever keener as my years increased—
A hatred of mankind; to pamper which
I gloated, with a burning in my soul,
Over their degradation; and like one
Merry with wine, I revelled day by day
In scattering baits that should corrupt them more:
The covetous I sharpened into thieves,
Urged the vindictive, hardened the malign,
Whetted the ruffian with self-interest,
And flung him then, a burning brand, abroad.
And the decadence of the state in which
My fortunes had recast me, served me well.
Excess reeled shameless in the court itself,
Or, staggering thence, was rivalled by the wild
Mad looseness of the crowd. Down to its death
The old Greek dynasty was sinking fast;
Waste and pale want, extortion, meanness, fraud—
These, welling outwards from the throne itself,
Spread through the land.
“But now there seized my soul
A new ambition—from his feeble throne
To hurl the king, and mount thereon myself!
To this end still I lured him into ill,
And daily wove around him cunning snares,
That reached and trammelled too his fawning court;
And all went well, the end at last was near,
But in my triumph one thing I forgot—
My name was measured. At a banquet held
In the king’s chamber, lo! A guest appeared,
Chief of a Bactrian tribe, who tendered gold
To pay for some great wrong his desert horde
Had done our caravans; his age, men said,
Was wonderful; his craft more wondrous still;
For this his fame had spread through many lands,
And the dark seekers of forbidden lore
Knew his decrepit wretch to be their lord.
“The first glance that I met of his weird eye
Had sent into my soul a fearful doubt
That I had seen that cramp-shrunk withered form
And strange bright eye in some forgotten past.
But at the dry croak of his raven voice
Remembrance wok; I knew that I beheld
The old man of the tombs: I saw, and fell
Into the outer darkness of despair.
The day that was to close my dread account
Was come at last. The long triumphant feast
Of life had ended in a funeral treat.
I was to die—to suffer with the damned
The hideous torments of the second death!
The days, weeks, months of a whole hundred years
Seemed crushed into a thought, and burning out
In that brief period which was left me now.
“Stung with fierce horror, shame, and hate I fled;
I seized my sword, to plunge its ready point
Into my maddened heart, but on my arm
I felt a strong forbidding grasp! I turned;
The withered visage of the Bactrian met
My loathing eyes; I struggled to be free
From the shrunk wretch in vain; his spidery hands
Were strong as fetters of Ephesian brass,
And all my strength, though now with madness strung,
Was as a child’s to his. He calmly smiled:
‘Forbear, thou fool! Am I not Sammael?
Whom to resist is vain, and from whom yet
Has never mercy flowed; for what to me
Are feelings which thou knowest even in men
Are found the most in fools. But wide around
A prince of lies I reign. ’Tis I that fill
the Persian palaces with lust and wrong,
Till like the darkling heads of sewers they flow
With a corruption that in fretting thence
Taints all the region round with rankest ill;
’Tis I that clot the Bactrian sand with blood;
And now I come to fling the brands of war
Through all this people, this most ill-mixed mob,
Where Afric’s savage hordes meet treacherous Greeks,
And swarming Asia’s luxury-wasted sons.
This land throughout shall be a deluge soon
Of blood and fire, till ruin stalk alone,
A grisly spectre, in its grass-grown marts.’
The fiery eyes within his withered face
Glowed like live coals, as he triumphant spake,
And his strange voice, erewhile so thin and dry,
Came as if bellowed from the vaults of doom.
Prone fell I, powerless to move or speak;
And now he was about to plunge me down
Ten thousand times ten thousand fathoms deep
Through the earth’s crust, and through the slimy beds
Of nether ocean—down! Still down, below
The darkling roots of all this upper world
Into the regions of the courts of hell!
“To stamp me downward to the convict dead
His heel was raised, when suddenly I heard
Him heave a groan of superhuman pain,
So deep twas drawn! And as he groaned, I saw
A mighty downburst of celestial light
Enwrap his shrivelled form from head to foot,
As with a robe within whose venomous folds
He writhed in torment. Then above him stood
A shining shape, unspeakably sublime,
And gazed upon him! One of the high sons
Of Paradise, who still keep watch and ward
O’er Israel’s progeny, where’er dispersed;
And now they fought for me with arms that filled
The air wide round with flashes and swift gleams
Of dazzling light; full soon the Evil One
Fell conquered. Then forth sprang he from the ground
And with dark curses wrapped him in a cloud
That moved aloft, low thundering as it went.
“And then the shining son of paradise
Came where I lay and spoke, his glorious face
Severe with wrath, and yet divinely fair—
‘O Child of Guilt! Should vengeance not be wrought
On thee as well? On Sammael’s willing slave?’
I clasped his radiant knees—I wept—I groaned—
I beat my bosom in my wild distress.
At last the sacred Presence, who had held
The blow suspended still, spoke thus: ‘Thou’rt spared;
From no weak pity, but because thou art
Descended from the line of Israel:
For that cause spared;—yet must thou at my hand
Find some meet punishment.’ And as he spake,
He laid his hand with a life-crushing weight
Upon my forehead—and I fell, as dead!
“AWAKING as from sleep, I bounded up,
Stung with a feeling of enormous strength,
Though yet half wild with horror. Onward then
Ramping I went, out through the palace gates,
Down the long streets, and into the highways,
Forth to the wilds, amazed at my own speed!
And now afar, in long-drawn line appeared
A caravan upon its outward way
Over the desert of Pentapolis.
And strange the instinct seemed that urged me then
to rush amongst them—and devour: for I
Was fierce with hunger, and inflamed with thirst.
“Amidst a laggard company I leaped
That rested yet beside a cooling spring;
One of those clear springs that, like giant pearls,
Inlay the burning borders of the grey
Enormous desert. All at once they rose!
Some fled, some threw themselves amongst the brakes,
Some seized their swords and lances; this to see
Filled me at once with a mysterious rage
And savage joy! The sternness of their looks,
Their fearful cries, the gleaming of their spears
Seemed to insult me, and I rushed on them.
Then sudden spasms of pain searched deep my side,
Wherein a fell lance quivered. On I rushed;
I roared a roar that startled e’en myself,
So loud and hoarse and terrible its tone,
Then bounding, irresistible it seemed
As some huge fragment from a crag dislodged,
Against the puny wretch that sent the lance,
Instantly tore him, as he were a kid,
All into gory shreds! The others fled
At sight of this, nor would I chase them then,
All wearied by my flight. Besides, the well
Was gleaming in its coolness by me there.
“And as I stooped to quench my parching thirst,
Behold, reversed within the water clear,
The semblance of a monstrous lion stood!
I saw his shaggy mane, I saw his red
And glaring eyeballs rolling in amaze,
His rough and grinning lips, his long sharp fangs
All foul with gore and hung with strings of flesh!
I shrank away in horrible dismay.
But as the sun each moment fiercer grew,
I soon returned to stoop and slake my thirst.
Again was that tremendous presence there
Standing reversed, as erewhile, in the clear
And gleaming mirror of the smiling well!
The horrid truth smote like a rush of fire
Upon my brain! The dreadful thing I saw
Was my own shadow! I was a wild beast.”
“They did not fable, then, who held that oft
The guilty dead are punished in the shapes
Of beasts, if brutal were their lives as men.”
“Long lapped I the cool lymph, while still my tongue
Made drip for drip against the monstrous one,
Which, as in ugly mockery, from below
Seemed to lap up against it. But though thirst
Was quenched at length, what was there might appease
The baffled misery of my fated soul?
The thought that I no more was human, ran
Like scorpion venom through my mighty frame;
Fiercely I bounded, tearing up the sands,
That, like a drab mist, coursed me as I went
Out on my homeless track. I made my fangs
Meet in my flesh, trusting to find in pain
Some respite from the anguish of regret.
From morn to night, from night to morn, I fled,
Chased by the memory of my lost estate;
Then, worn and bleeding, in the burning sands
I lay down, as to die. In vain!—in vain!
The savage vigour of my lion-life
Might yield alone to the long tract of time.
“From hill to valley rushing after prey,
With whirlwind speed, was now my daily wont,
For all things fled before me—all things shrank
In mortal terror at my shaggy front.
Sometimes I sought those close-fenced villages,
Wherein the desert-dwellers hide their swart
And naked bodies from the scorching heats,
Hoping that I might perish by their shafts.
And often was I wounded—often bore
Their poisoned arrows in my burning flesh—
But still I lived.
“The tenor of my life
Was always this—the solitary state
Of a wild beast of prey, that hunted down
The antelope, the boar, the goat, the gorged
Their quivering flesh, and lapped their steaming blood;
Then slept till hunger, or the hunter’s cry,
Roused him again to battle or to slay,
To flight, pursuit, blood, stratagem, and wounds.
And to make this rude life more hideous yet,
I still retained a consciousness of all
The nobler habits of my eariler time,
And had a keen sense of what most had moved
My nature as a man, and knew besides
That this my punishment was fixed by One
Too mighty to be questioned, and too just
One tittle of its measure to remit.
“How long this haggard course of life went on
I might not even guess, for I had lost
The human faculty that measures time.
But still from night to night I found myself
Roaming the desert, howling at the moon,
Whose cold light always, as she poured it down,
Awoke a drear distemper in my brain:
But much I shunned the sunblaze, which at once
Inflamed me, and revealed my dread approach.
“Homelessly roaming thus for evermore,
The tempests beat on my unsheltered bulk,
In those bleak seasons when the drenching rains
Drove into covert all those gentler beasts
That were my natural prey. I swinkt beneath
The furnace heats of the midsummer sun,
When even the palm of the oasis stood
All withered, like a weed: and for how long,
Yet knew not.
“Thus the sun and moon arose
Through an interminable tract of time,
And yet though sense was dim, the view of all
My human life was ever at my beck,
Nay, opened out before me of itself
Plain as the pictures in a wizard’s glass!
I saw again the trains that round my car
Streamed countless, saw its pageants and its pomps,
Its faces fair and passionate, and felt
Lie’s eager pleasures, even its noble pangs!
Then in the anguish of my goaded heart
Would I roll howling in the burning sand.
“At length this life of horror seemed to near
Its fated bourn. The slow but sure approach
Of old decay was felt in every limb
And every function of my lion frame.
My massive strength seemed spent, my speed was gone,
The antelope escaped me! Wearily
I sought a mountain cavern, shut from day
By savage draperies of tangled briers,
And only dragged my tardy bulk abroad
When hunger urged. It chanced on such a day
I sprange amid a herd of buffaloes
And tore their leader down, who bellowing fell.
When, lo! The chief of those that drove them came
Against me, and I turned my rage on him:
But though the long lapse of so many years
Of ever-grinding wretchedness had dulled
My memory, I felt that I had seen
His withered visage twice before; and straight
A shuddering awe subdued me, and I crouched
Beneath him in the dust. My lust of blood,
My ruthless joy at sight of mortal pain,
Within me died, and if in human speech
I might have told the wild desire that filled
My being, I had prayed him once for all
To crush me out of life, and to consign
My misery to the pit of final death!
But when, all hopeless, I again looked up,
The tawney presence of the desert chief
Was gone, and I beheld the shining son
Of paradise, from whose majestic brow
There flashed the lightings of a wrath divine.
Yea, twas the angel that with Sammael
Had fought for me in Egypt; and once more
He laid his crushing had upon my front;
And earth and sky, and all that in them is,
Became to me a darkness, swimming blank
In the Eternal, round that point where now
My body lay, stretched dead upon the sand.
“AGAIN I lived—again I felt. But now
The winds of heaven seemed under me, and I
Was sweeping, like the spirit of a storm
That bellowed round me, in its murky glooms,
All heaving with a motion wide and swift
That seemed yet mightier than the darkling swells
Of ocean, wrestling with a midnight gale!
The wild winds tossed me; I was drenched throughout
With heavy moisture, and at intervals
Amid the ragged gaps of moving cloud,
Methought I caught dim glimpses of the sun
Hanging aloft, as if in drear eclipse;
But as my senses cleared, I saw my limbs
Were clothed with plumage; and long-taloned claws
Were closing eagerly with fierce desire
And sudden hunger after blood and prey!
An impulse to pursue and to destroy
Both on the earth and in the air, ran quick
Out from my heart and shivered in my wings;
And as a thing more central yet, I felt
Pregnant within me, throned o’er all, a lone
And sullen, yet majestic, glow of pride.
“’Twas plain that I, who had aforetime been
Crushed out of human being into that
Of a wild beast, had thence again passed on
Into the nature of some mighty thing
That now swept sailing on wide van-like wings,
Amid the whirls of an aërial gloom,
That out extending in one mighty cope
Hung heaving, like a black tent-roof, o’er all
The floor of Africa.
“Still on I swept,
And still as far as my keen vision went,
That now was gifted with a power that seemed
To pierce all space, I saw the vapours roll
In dreadful continuous of black
And shapeless masses, by the winds convulsed;
But soon in the remotest distance came
A change: the clouds were touched with sunny light,
And, as I nearer drew, I saw them dash,
Like the wild surges of an uproused sea
Of molten gold, against the marble sides
Of lofty mountains, which, though far below
My flight, yet pierced up through them all, and stood
With splintered cones and monster-snouted crags,
Immovable as fate. Beneath me, lo!
The grandeur of the kingdom of the air
Was circling in its magnitude! It was
A dread magnificence of which before
I might not even dream. I saw its quick
And subtle interchange of forms and hues,
Saw its black reservoirs of densest rain,
Its awful forges of the thunderstorm.
“At last, as onward still I swept, above
A milky mass of vapour far outspread,
Behold, reflected in its quiet gleam,
I saw an image that swept on with me,
Reversed as was the lion’s in the well,
With van-like wings, with eyeballs seething fire,
With taloned claws, and cruel down-bent beak,—
The mightiest eagle that had ever sailed
The seas of space since Adam named the first!
“My fated soul had passed into the form
Of that huge eagle which swept shadowed there.
Cold horror thrilled me! I was once again
Imprisoned in the being of a brute,
In the base being of a nature yet
Inferior by what infinite descent
To that poor remnant of intelligence
Which still kept with me,—like a put-back soul
Burningly conscious of its powers foregone,
Its inborn sovreignty of kind, and yet
So latent, self-less; once again to live
A life of carnage, and to sail abroad
A terror to all birds and gentle beasts
That heard the stormy rushings of my wings!
A royal bird indeed, who lived alone
In the great stillness of the mighty hills,
Or in the highest heavens.
“But in truth
Not much for many seasons had I need
To search for prey, for countless hosts of men,
Forth mustering over all the face of earth,
Cast the quick gleam of arms o’er trampled leagues
Of golden corn, and as they onward marched
They left behind them seas of raging fire,
In whose red surges cities thronged with men
And happy hamlets, homes of health and peace,
That rang erewhile with rural thankfulness,
Were whelmed in one wide doom; or in their strength
Confronted upon some set field of fight,
Their sullen masses charged with dreadful roar
That far out-yelled the fiercest yells of beasts,
And with brute madness rushed on wounds and death;
Or else about fenced cities they would pitch
Their crowded camps, and leaguer them for years,
Sowing the fields about them with a slime
Of carnage, till their growths were plagues alone.
What is the ravage made by brutes on brutes
To that man makes on man?
“With mingled pain
And joy I saw the wondrous ways of men,
(For ever when I hungered, close at hand,
Some fresh slain man lay smoking in his gore)
And though the instincts of the eagle’s life
Were fierce within me, yet I felt myself
Cast in a lot more capable of joy;
Safe from pursuit, from famine, and from wounds.
Some solaces, though few and far between,
Were added to me; and I argued thence,
In the dark musings of my eagle heart,
That not for ever was my soul condemned
To suffer in the body of a brute;
For though remembrance of the towering crimes
And matchless lusts, that filled my whole career
Of human life, worked in me evermore,
No longer did they shed about my life
So venomous a blight. Nay, I could think
How often I had looked with longing eyes
Up at the clear Egyptian heavens, and watched
The wings that cleft them, envying every bird
That, soaring in the sunshine, seemed to be
Exempt from all the grovelling cares of men.
I thought how once, when with my hunting train
I pierced that region round the cataracts,
I watched an eagle as it rose aloft
Into the lovely blue, and wished to change
My being with it as it floated on,
So inaccessible to hate or hurt,
So peaceful, at a height in heaven so safe;
And then it passed away through gorgeous clouds
Against the sunset, through the feathered flags
Of royal purple edged with burning gold.
“These fields of space were my dominion now;
Motion alone within a world so rich
Was something noble: but to move at will,
Upward or forward, or in circles vast,
Through boundless spaces with a rushing speed
No living thing might rival, and to see
The glory of the everlasting hills
Beneath me, and the myriad-peopled plains,
Broad rivers, and the towery towns that sate
Beside their spacious mouths, with out beyond
The lonely strength of the resounding seas—
This liberty began to move my sense
As something godlike; and in moving made
A sure impression that kept graining still
Into the texture of my brute estate—
Yea, graining in through all its fleshy lusts
And savage wonts.
“Hence ever more and more
The temper of a better spirit grew
Within me, as from inkling roots, and moved
E’en like an embryon in its moist recess:
A sensibility to beauteous things
As now I saw them in the heavens displayed,
And in the bright luxuriance of the earth;
Some power of just comparison, some sense
Of how a man would rank them, could he see
Those earthly grandeurs from the sovreign height
Whence I beheld them. And with this a wish
To commune even with the human race,
And pour the loftier wonders of my life
Into their ears, through a rich-worded song
Whose golden periods in mellow flow
Should witch all ears that heard them—ev’n old men s,
Ev’n jaded monarchs; not to speak of theirs,
Those spirit-lovely ones—yea, moons of love,
That rise at first in the Circassian hills—
And they should tingle all like tiny shells
Of roseate whiteness to its perfect chords.
“One day amid the mountains of the moon,
Behold a sudden storm had gatherd up
Out of my view, hid by a neighbouring height,
But which, thence wheeling with terrific force,
Wide tossed me with its gusts—aloft, and then
Downward as far; then whirlingly about,
Ev’n like a withered leaf. My strength of wing
Availed me nought, so mightily it raged;
Then suddenly, in the dim distance, lo!
I saw, as from the storm’s Plutonian heart,
A mass of white-hot light come writing forth,
And then the figure of a withered man
Seemed dropping headlong through the lurid clouds;
While full within the radiant light, again
The conquering son of paradise appeared,
Upon whose brow divine I yet might trace
Some sing of wrath. Onward the vision rushed,
Orbed in white light. I felt a stifling heat,
One cruel blasting pang, and headlong then
Fell earthward—dead; a plumb descending mass.
“WITHIN a rustic chamber, dark and low,
Thronged with wild-looking men and women strange,
I seemed to waken. Inwardly I felt
No briskness of existence, but a sense
Of languor rather, or revival slow:
And evermore the men and women came
And gazed upon me, shouting in amaze,
Then would they whirl about the room in dance,
Abandoned to their barbarous delight.
“I turned mine eyes about the low-roofed room,
Half fearing and half hoping I might see
The mighty angel that now ruled my life;
They thought I needed air, and I was borne
to a low casement. Like a picture lay
The world without. On all sides wide around
Nothing but mountains, feathered to their tops
With a dense growth of pines, and valleys filled
With a cold darkness that was lit alone
By the broad flashes of the furious streams
That leaped in thunder our of marble gaps!
Dull vapours, like a canopy of smoke,
Did so obscure the sun, that I had thought
The scene that now I saw was not of earth,
But for a golden flush that now and then
Would touch the highest ranges. What I was
I knew not, but I felt my former wants,
And oft I made vain efforts to expand
The wings I had no longer, and sail off,
And through those sullen vapours—up, and up—
Into the mighty silence of the blue.
“The day was fading, and a blare of horns,
With many voices and much trampling noise,
Heard from without, aroused me; and, ere long,
Women rushed in, each bearing some rich robe
Or some gay bauble, wherewithal they next
Arrayed me to their taste; and then they held
A mirror up before me, and I saw
My soul had this time passed into the form
Of a fair damsel. She, whose form I now
Re-animated, was—so learned I soon—
The only child of a Circassian chief,
Who had been long regarded by her house
As its chief treasure, for her beauty rare;
Reserved for him, no matter whence he came,
Whose hand could dip into the longest purse.
But envy lurks in the Circassian hills
As elsewhere, and a dose of opium,
Administered by one who had been long
The rival beauty of a neighbouring tribe,
Had served to quash a bargain quite complete
Save in the final payment of the gold,
Which had been even offered and told down,
And only not accepted, through some old
Delaying ceremony of the tribe;
And in this luckless circumstances, twas plain
That both my admirable parents saw
The unkindest turn of all.
“On all hands forth
Had scouts been sent to summon the whole tribe
To attend my obsequies, and then forthwith
Exterminate our ancient enemies
Through all their tents—such was the fierce resolve.
But while these things were pending, lo! The light
Had broken like a new morn from the eyes
Of the dead beauty; on her cheeks had dawned
A roseate colour; from her moistening lips
Low murmurs, too, had broken; whereupon
My parents in exulting hope transformed
The funeral to a general tribal feast,
And loaded me with all the ancient gauds
And ornaments they held. The Persian, too,
Had been invited to renew his suit,
And carry me at once beyond the reach
Of future opium doses.
“Soon he came
Galloping back to bear me to the arms
Of his long-bearded lord. He paid the price;
My worthy parents took a fond farewell
Of me, with tears declaring me to be
The life-light of their eyes, their rose of joy,—
Then stretched their palms out for the stranger’s gold,
And hurried off to count it o’er again—
The dear recovered treasure they so late
Had mourned as lost for ever. On that night
I was packed neatly on a camel’s back
Beside a precious case of porcelain pipes,
And carried Persia-ward, by stages safe,
From the Circassian mountains.
“At the court
I soon became the favourite of the king;
Lived sumptuously, but in perpetual fear:
For all my luxury and gold and gems,
I envied the poor slaves who swept the floors.
I was the favourite of my Persian lord
For one whole month, perhaps a little more,
And then I learned my place was to be filled;
And though I loathed him, as we loathe some cold
And reptile creature, yet I could not bear
To see a newer rival take my place,
For I was beautiful, and therefore vain:
So, that I might regain his favour past,
I now arrayed myself in airy robes,
While scarfs of purple like an orient queen’s
Barred them with brilliant tints, and gold and pearls
Confined the wavelets of my sunny hair.
“The harem all applauded, and there seemed
Even in his own dull eyes almost a flash
As of extorted joy, but this became
At the next moment a malignant scowl,
Which had its dark cause in such thoughts as these:
‘What! Did so soft and ignorant a thing
Hope to enchant again a man so wise
As he was—he! The paragon of kings!
By floating in before him like a swan,
A little better feathered than before?’
And then he waved the harem ladies forth,
And with him kept only a Nubian girl,
Whom he thought dull, and altogether his:
A conclave of those strange demoniac dwarfs
Who from their secret dens and crypts would come
On given signals forth, was summoned in:
Wizard-like beings, with enormous heads,
Splay-feet, and monstrous spider-fingered hands.
Nor was the council long; I on that night
Was to be poisoned with a pomegranate.
Then stole the Nubian girl away, and brought
Me word of all; yet her news moved me not,
So sure I felt that this was not my doom;
Or moved me only to prepare for flight
With the poor Nubian girl. Unseen I came
To my own chamber, where I packed my goods;
And whence, unseen by all, we swiftly fled.
’Twas plain and patent to my inmost self
That in this last change I had always been
Regenerating more and more; for though
I had a love of mischief in my head,
At heart I was not bad, and they who knew
Me closely, or at least the woman sort,
Loved me,—nay, served me, as the Nubian did.
And now, as no one else might sell me,—lo!
I sold myself, and found myself installed
Queen of a rude baboon-like Afric king.
“Then I was captive to a Bedouin sheik,
Was sold in the slave-mart of Astrachan,
And carried thence to India, to be crowned
A rajahpoot’s sultana; from which state
Flying at length, I fell into a worse,
Being pounced on by a Turkoman horse-stealer.
At Alexandra I became the slave
Of a harsh Roman matron, who was wont
To flog and famish me to make me good,
And when I owned myself converted, then
She flogged and famished me the more, to make
My goodness lasting; and I finally
Fell stabbed in Cairo—slaughtered by a slave.
“AFTER some short and intermediate terms
Of transmigration, all in female forms,
In which, through kindly offices performed,
It seemed the temper of my spirit much
Had humanized, and in the last of which
Twas mine to die for once a natural death,
Again I had some deep-down hold on being,
Dim as an oyster’s in its ocean-bed;
Then came a sense of light and air, of space,
Of hunger, comfort, warmth, of sight and sound
I caught at length the drift of speech, and knew
That all who came to see me and admire
Called me Ben Bachai’s daughter.
But lovely as a starry night I grew,
A maid, the glory of her father’s house,
Her mother’s dovelet, filling all her wonts
With tenderness and joy. Still as I grew,
By strange degrees the memory of all
That I had been came back upon my mind
To fill it with wild sorrow and dismay;
To know I was a cheat, nor wholly what
I seemed to my fond parents—that I was
But half their daughter, and the rest a fiend,
With a fiend’s destiny,—ah! This, I say,
Would smite me even in dreams with icy pangs
Or wordless woe, yea, even while I slept
So innocently as it seemed, and so
Securely happy in the arms of love!”
As this was said, the Rabbi looked, and saw
That now again the woman seemed to speak
As of herself, and not as heretofore
With moveless lips, and prisoned voice, that came
As from some dark duality within.
Her looks had changed, too, with the voice, and now
Again she lay, a queen-like creature, racked
With mortal sufferings, who, when these grew less,
Or for a time remitted, even thus
Took up her tale again.
“At length upgrown
To womanhood, by some mysterious pact
Existing twixt my father’s house and that
Of an Arabian prince time out of mind,
I was now wedded ere I wished, and he,
My husband, finally had come to claim
And bear me from my home, that happiest home
Which I should know no more: a man most fair
To look upon, but void of force, in truth
The weakling of a worn-out line, who yet
(What merit in a prince!) Was not depraved,
Not wicked, not the mendicant of lust,
But mild, and even affectionate and just.
My dowry was immense, and flushed with this
The prince had summoned from his vassal tribe
Five hundred horse, all spearmen, to escort
And guard us desert-ward. And as we went
These ever and anon, at signal given,
Would whirl around us like a thunder-cloud
Wind-torn, and shooting instant shafts of fire!
And thus we roamed about the Arabian wastes,
Pitching our camp amid the fairest spots.
Beneath an awning oft I lay, and gazed
Out at the cloudless ether, where it wrapt
The silent hills, like to a conscious power
Big with the soul of an eternal past.
“But long this life might last not, for the prince
Sickened and died;—died poor, his wealth and mine
Having been squandered on the hungry horde
That wont to prance about us; who ere long,
Divining my extremity, grew loud
And urgent for rewards, till on a day,
By concert as it seemed, the tribe entire
Came fiercely round me, all demanding gifts,
Gifts that I had not; as they nearer pressed,
Wearing his way among them, lo! I saw
The old man of the tombs! The Bactrian sage!
With signs of awe they made him room to pass;
He fixed me with his shrunk and serpent eyes,
Waved off the abject Arabs, and then asked
‘Why art thou poor? With needs so great upon thee?
I offer thee long life and wealth and power.’
“I turned to him and said: ‘Should I not know,
By all the past, the nature of thy gifts?
Shows and delusions, evil, sin-stained all,
And terminating in eternal loss.’
‘Well, take it as thou wilt,’ he said; ‘my gifts
Are not so weighed by all.’ And saying this
He went his way, while I retired within
My lonely tent to weep.
“Next day the tribes
Again assembled, and with threats and cries,
And insults loud, they raised a passion in me.
My blood arose: I chid them angrily,
Called them all things but men, till they, alarmed,
Fell back in sullen silence for a while,
Crouching like tigers ready for a spring.
Humbled, perplexed, and frightened, I returned
Into my tent, and there within its folds
Stood the weird Bactrian with his snaky eyes,
And wiry voice that questioned as before:
‘Why art thou poor? Why dost thou suffer wrong,
With all this petty baseness brattling round?
Am I not here to help thee? I, thy one
Sole friend—not empty, but with ample means.
Behold the secrets of the inner earth!
There, down among the rock-roots of the hills,
What seest thou there? Look, as I point, even those
Strange miscreations, as they seem to thee,
Are demoniac moilers that obey
Such arts as I possess; the gnomish brood
Of Demogorgon. See them how they moil
Amid those diamonds shafts and reefs of gold
Embedded in the oldest drifts of time,
And in the mire that was the first crude floor
And blind extension of the infant earth:
Why art thou poor, then, when such slaves as they
Might work for thee, and glut thy need with all
The matchless values which are there enwombed,
Serving thee always as they now serve me?
Nor these alone: turn thou thy looks aloft,
And watch the stars as they go swimming past.
Behold their vastness, each a world,’ he said;
‘The secrets of all these, too, thou shalt know,
The spirits of all these shall be thy slaves,
If thou wilt swear as erst amid the tombs.’
“The woe of desolation wrapped me round,
The joy to know all mysteries tempted me,
And with a shudder that shook me to the soul
I swore, as erst I swore amid the tombs.
“As on my hand he placed a signet-ring,
Suddenly loud the desert winds arose,
And blew with mighty stress among the tents;
And instantly aloft the thunder ran,
A mighty issue of miraculous light
Burst shaft-like forward, smiting him in twain,
Or so it seemed, down through the solid earth.
In vain I shrunk into a dim recess;
Before me stood the son of paradise.
Then leapt the soul to life within my heart—
Leapt into life with fear, and pain, and woe—
Anger and sadness both were on his brow.
“‘Could’st thou no trial bear—all but redeemed;
Could’st thou not rest content? A rabbi’s child!
Enjoy as best thou may this ill-won power
Over the darker agencies of time,
And bide the end, which end is punishment
But the more terrible, the more delayed;
Yet know this also, thou shalt thus no more
Be punished in a body built of clay.’
He vanished, leaving me to sharp remorse,
And harrowed with the thought of his grieved look.
‘And yet no power in heaven or hell,’ I said,
‘May now annul my deed.’
“And not one day
Of joy has brought to me my ‘ill-won power.’
I built vast palaces in quiet view
Of ancient cities, or by famous streams;
I filled my halls with men and women fair,
And with these pages of a beauty rare
Like striplings kidnapped from some skirt of heaven;
Yet sorrowful of countenance withal,
As knowing that their mortal doom is joined
With mine irrevocably, that with me
’Tis theirs to own these shows of time, with me
To live—with me to die. And as, ’tis said,
A hunted roe will evermore beat round
Towards whence he started first, I felt at length
An ardent longing for my native place;
That spot in all the earth where only I,
In tasting of it, had divined the worth
And Sabbath quality of household peace.
Then coming hither, thus constrained, I pitched
My dwelling here, even this thou seest; built fair,
And filled with splendours such as never yet
Under one roof-tree on this earth were stored.
See yon surpassing lustres! Could this orb
Show such? From Mars came that; from Venus this;
And yonder mass of sun-bright glory, that
From Mercury came, whence came these viols, too,
Instinct with fervent music such as ne’er
From earthly instruments might thrill abroad.”
Then seizing one of them, even as she spake,
Over its chords she moved her ivory hand,
And instantly the palace domes throughout
Rang resonant, as every hall and crypt
Were pulsing music from a thousand shells
That still ran confluent with a mellow slide
And intercourse of cadence: sweet, and yet
Most mournful and most weird, and oft intoned
With a wild wilfulness of power that worked
For madness more than joy. “Even such, ” she said
“Are the delights with which I most converse
In the dark loneness of my fated soul,
For all is show, not substance. All I hold
But darkens more the certainty I have
Of wrath to come, from which no change of place,
No earthly power, no power of heaven nor hell,
May shield me now. I see it shadowing forth
Even like a coming night, in whose dark folds
My soul would ask to hide itself in vain.
And now I go to meet the angel’s face;
I will not claim my hundred years of pride,
I trample underneath my feet the gift
For which I sold my soul; I will not touch
The ring of Sammael, nor use his power
To stay the torments that devour my life;
Misery, shame, remorse, and dread are mine;
Yet shall the angel see repentent eyes,
And know at last I could one trial bear;
Too late, too late.”
As thus the woman spake,
Her brow grew dark, and suddenly she shrieked
In her great agony. “Oh pray for me!
Pray, rabbi! For the daughter of thy friend!
The hour is coming, nay, the hour is come!”
There was a rustle as of wings aloft,
A sudden flicker in the lights below,
And she, who until now seemed speaking, sank
Back on her pillow and in silence lay
Beautiful in the marble calm of death.
The rabbi gazed on her, and thought the while
Of those far times, when, as a child, her grace
Had filled with pleasantness her father’s house.
Then to her servants gave in charge the corpse,
And forth he paced, much musing as he went.
At length he turned to gaze once more upon
The silent house of death. Can such things be?
All had evanished like a morning mist!
Only the woods that hung like clouds about
The steeps of Hebron, in the whitening dawn
Lay dark against the sky! Only a pool
Gleamed flat before him, where it seemed erewhile
The splendid palace had adorned the view!
Perplexed in mind, the rabbi turned again
And hurried homeward, muttering as he went:
Was it a vision? Can such marvels be?
But what in truth are all things, even those
That seem most solid—dust and air at last