LIKE crimson lamps the tulips swing,
The lily flowers their incense bring,
The daisies votive garlands fling
Before the altar of the Spring.
And you and I in this green May,
When thrushes sing, and white lambs play,
Go glad at heart--so glad and gay,
No word seems good enough to say.
Yet there's a charm, it would appear,
Which, if I spoke it in your ear,
Would fix the spring for ever here;
Pass on--I will not speak it, dear.
FAREWELL! How soon unmeasured distance rolls
Its leaden clouds between our parted souls!
How little to each other now are we--
And once how much I dreamed we two might be!
I, who now stand with eyes undimmed and dry
To say good-bye--
To say good-bye to all sweet memories,
Good-bye to tender questions, soft replies;
Good bye to hope, good-bye to dreaming too,
Good-bye to all things dear--good-bye to you,
Without a kiss, a tear, a prayer, a sigh--
Our last good-bye.
I had no chain to bind you with at all;
No grace to charm, no beauty to enthral;
No power to hold your eyes with mine, and make
Your heart on fire with longing for my sake,
Till all the yearning passed into one cry:
'Love, not good-bye!'
Ah, no--I had no strength like that, you know;
Yet my worst weakness was to love you so!
So much too well--so much too well--or ill--
Yet even that might have been pardoned still--
It would have been had I been you--you I!
How soon the bitter follows on the sweet!
Could I not chain your fancy's flying feet?
Could I not hold your soul--to make you play
To-morrow in the key of yesterday--?
Dear--do you dream that I would stoop to try?
A Kentish Garden
THERE is a grey-walled garden, far away
From noise and smoke of cities, where the hours
Pass with soft wings among the happy flowers,
And lovely leisure blossoms every day.
There, tall and white, the sceptral lily blows;
There grow the pansy, pink, and columbine,
Brave hollyhocks, and star-white jessamine,
And the red glory of the royal rose.
There greeny glow-worms gem the dusky lawn,
The lime-trees breathe their fragrance to the night,
Pink roses sleep, and dream that they are white,
Until they wake to colour with the dawn.
There, in the splendour of the sultry noon,
The sunshine sleeps upon the garden bed
Where the white poppy droops a drowsy head
And dreams of kisses from the white full moon.
And there, some days, all wild with wind and rain,
The tossed trees show the white side of their leaves,
While the great drops drip from the ivied eaves,
And birds are still--till the sun shines again.
And there, all days, my heart goes wandering,
Because there, first, my heart began to know
The glories of the summer and the snow,
The loveliness of harvest and of spring.
There may be fairer gardens; but I know
There is no other garden half so dear;
Because 'tis there, this many, many a year,
The sacred, sweet, white flowers of memory grow!
A PRINCESS, sleeping in enchanted bowers,
Earth springs to waking at Spring's voice and kiss,
And after winter's cold, unlovely hours,
Laughs out to find how beautiful she is.
Spring flings a song across the field and fold,
And sighs it through the glad wood's tangled ways;
And million, million tales of love are told,
And dreams are dreamed of undivided days.
In hollows where so late but dead leaves lay,
Through the dead leaves the primroses push up;
And wind-flowers fleck the copse, and fields are gay
With daisies and the budding buttercup.
So in our hearts, though thick the dead leaves lie
Of grief--heaped up by winds of old despair--
May there not be a spring-time by-and-by,
When flowers of joy shall blossom even there?
So long has Winter held our hearts in his,
We dare not dream of Spring and all her flowers?
Ah! the undreamed-of happiness it is
That comes--the dreamed-of joy is never ours!
When late the trees were brown and hedges bare,
And keen east wind cut sharp as human pain,
Did the Earth guess how soon she would be fair
With Spring's dear dainty loveliness again?
We do not guess of joy, but hope alone--
Like life's mysterious force that thrills the earth--
Lives in our souls, unrecognised, unknown,
Till time shall bring unhoped-for joy to birth.
To A Child
The fairies have been busy while you slept;
They have been laughing where the sad rain wept,
They have taught Beauty to the ignorant flowers,
Set tasks of hope to weary wind-torn bowers,
And heard the lessons learned in school-rooms cold
By seedling snapdragon and marigold.
At dawn, while still you slept, I grew aware
How good the fairies are, how many and fair.
The fairy whose delightful gown is red
Across a corner of our garden sped,
And, where her flying raiment fluttered past,
Its roseate reflection still is cast:
Red poppies by the rhododendron's side,
Paeonies gorgeous in their summer pride,
And red may-bushes by the old red wall
Shower down their crimson petals over all.
Then she whose gown is gold, and gold her hair,
Swept down the golden steep straight sunbeam-stair,
She lit the tulip-lamps, she lit the torch
Of hollyhock beside the cottage porch.
She dressed the honeysuckle in fringe of gold,
She gave the king-cups fairy wealth to hold,
She kissed St. John's wort till it opened wide,
She set the yarrow by the river side.
Then came the lady all whose robes are white:
She made the pale buds blossom in delight,
Set silver stars upon the jasmine's hair,
And gave the stream white lily-buds to wear.
She painted lilies white, and pearl-white phlox,
White poppies, passion-flowers and gray-leaved stocks.
Her pure kind touch redeemed the most forlorn,
And even the vile petunia smiled, new-born.
The dearest fairy of all--green is her gown--
She kissed the plane-trees in the tiresome town,
She smoothed the pastures and the lawn's pale sheen,
She decked the boughs with hangings fresh and green,
She showed each flower the one and only way
Its beauty of shape and colour to display;
She taught the world to be a Paradise
Of changing leaf and blade, for tired eyes.
Then, one and all, they came where you were laid
In your strait bed, my little lovely maid;
The red-robed fairy kissed your lips, your face,
The white-robed made your heart her dwelling-place.
Into your eyes the green robed fairy smiled;
The golden fairy touched your dreams, my child,
And one, not named, but mightiest, made my Dear
The innermost rose of the re-flowered year.
LEAVE me alone, for August's sleepy charm
Is on me, and I will not break the spell;
My head is on the mighty Mother's arm:
I will not ask if life goes ill or well.
There is no world!--I do not care to know
Whence aught has come, nor whither it shall go.
I want to wander over pastures still,
Where sheared white sheep and mild-eyed cattle graze;
To climb the thymy, clover-covered hill,
To look down on the valley's hot blue haze;
And on the short brown turf for hours to lie
Gazing straight up into the clear, deep sky,
I want to walk through crisp gold harvest fields,
Through meadows yellowed by the August heat;
To loiter through the cool dim wood, that yields
Such perfect flowers and quiet so complete--
The happy woods, where every bud and leaf
Is full of dreams as life is full of grief.
I want to think no more of all the pain
That in the city thrives, a poison flower--
The eternal loss, the never-coming gain,
The lifelong woe--the joy that lives an hour,
Bright, evanescent as the dew that dawn
Shows on this silent, wood-encircled lawn.
I want to pull the honey-bud that twines
About the blackberries and gold-leaf sloes;
To part the boughs where the rare water shines,
Tread the soft bank whereby the bulrush grows--
I want to be no more myself, but be
Made one with all the beauty that I see.
Oh, happy country, myriad voiced and dear,
I have no heart, no eyes, except for you;
Yours are the only voices I will hear,
Yours is the only bidding I will do:
You bid me be at peace, and let alone
That loud, rough world where peace is never known.
Yet through your voices comes a sterner cry,
A voice I cannot silence if I would;
It mars the song the lark sings to the sky,
It breaks the changeful music of the wood.
'Back to your post--a charge you have to keep--
Freedom is bleeding while her soldiers sleep.'
Oh, heart of mine I have to carry here,
Will you not let me rest a little while?--
A space 'mid doubtful fight and doubtful fear--
A little space to see the Mother's smile,
To stretch my hands out to her, and possess
No sense of aught but of her loveliness?
Ah, just this power to feel how she is fair
Means just the power to see how foul life is.
How can I linger in the sacred air
And taste the pure wine of the dear sun's kiss
When in the outer dark my brothers moan,
Nor even guess the joys that I have known?
Back the least soldier goes! To jar and fret,
To hope uncrowned--faith tried--love wounded sore--
To prayers that never have been answered yet,
To dreams that must be dreams for evermore;
To all that, after all, is far more dear
Than all the joys of all the changing year.
'SWEET are the lanes and the hedges, the fields made red with the clover,
With tall field-sorrel, and daisies, and golden buttercups glowing;
Sweet is the way through the woods, where at sundown maiden and lover
Linger by stile or by bank where wild clematis is growing.
Fair is our world when the dew and the dawn thrill the half-wakened roses,
Fair when the corn-fields grow warm with poppies in noonlight gleaming,
Fair through the long afternoon, when hedges and hay-fields lie dreaming,
Fair as in lessening light the last convolvulus closes
'Scent of geranium and musk that in cottage windows run riot,
Breath from the grass that is down in the meadows each side the highway,
Slumberous hush of the churchyard where we one day may lie quiet,
Murmuring wind through the leaves bent over the meadow byway,
Deeps of cool shadow, and gleams of light on high elm-tops shining,
Such peace in the dim green brake as the town, save in dreams, knows never,
But in, through, under it all, the old pain follows us ever--
Ever the old despair, the old unrest and repining.
'Dark is the City's face; but her children who know her find her
Mother to them who are brothers, mindful of brotherhood's duty;
To each of us, lonely, unhelped, the grave would be warmer, kinder,
Than the cold unloving face of our world of blossom and beauty.
Poverty deep and dark cowers under the thatch with the swallows,
Cruel disease lies hid in the changeful breast of the waters,
Drink sets snares for our sons, and shame digs graves for our daughters,
Want and care crush the flower of a youth that no life-fruit follows.
'What are the woodland sweets--the meadow's fair flowery treasure--
When we are hungry and sad, and stupid with work and with sorrows?
Leisure for nothing but sleep, and with heart but for sleep in our leisure;
The work of to-day still the same as yesterday's work, and to-morrow's.
Ever the weary round--the treadmill of innocent lives--
Hopeless and helpless, and bowing our backs like a hound's to the lashes;
What can seem fair to the eyes that are smarting and sore with the ashes
Blown from the fires that consume the souls of our children and wives?
'Dreams sometimes we have had of an hour when we might speak plainly,
Raise the mantle and show how the iron eats into our bosom,
The rotting root of the Nation, the worm at the heart of its blossom,
Dreaming we said, 'We will speak, when the time for it comes, not vainly.'
Ah--but the time comes never--Life, we are used to bear it,
Starved are our brains and grow not, our hands are fit but for toiling,
If we stretched them out their touch to our masters' hand would be soiling;
Weak is our voice with disuse--too weak for our lords to hear it!'
'So has the spark died out that the torch of hope dropped among you?
So is the burden bound more fast to the shrinking shoulder?
Far too faint are your cries to be heard by the men who wrong you?
And if they heard they are high, and the air as men rise grows colder!
Yet you are men though so weak, and in mine and workshop your brothers,
Stronger in head, and in heart not less sad, for deliverance are striving;
These will stand fast, and will face the cruel unjust and ungiving,
And you in our ranks shall be 'listed, our hands fast clasped in each other's!
'For in the night of our sorrow cold lights are breaking and brightening
Out in the eastern sky; through the drifting clouds, wind-driven,
Over the earth new gleams and glories are laughing and lightening,
Clearer the air grows each moment, brighter the face of the heaven.
Turn we our face to the east--oh, wind of the dawn, blow to us
Freshness and strength and resolve! The star of old faith grows paler
Before the eyes of our Freedom, though still wrath's red mists veil her,
For this is our battle day; revenge, like our blood, runs through us.
'This is our vengeance day. Our masters, made fat with our fasting,
Shall fall before us like corn when the sickle for harvest is strong:
Old wrong shall give might to our arm--remembrance of wrong shall make lasting
The graves we will dig for the tyrants we bore with too much and too long.
The sobs of our starving children, the tears of our heart-sick mothers,
The moan of your murdered manhood crushed out by their wanton pressure,
The wail of the life-long anguish that paid the price of their pleasure,
These will make funeral music to speed the lost souls of them, brothers!
'Shoulder to shoulder we march, and for those who go down mid the fighting
With rifles in hand and pikes, and the red flag over them flying,
Glad shall our hearts be for them--who die when our sun is lighting
The warm, wide heavens, and sheds its lovely light on their dying.
Fight, though we lose our dearest--fight, though the battle rages
Fiercer and hotter than ever was fight in the world before:
We must fight--how can men do less? If we die, what can men do more?
And the sun of Freedom shall shine across our graves to the ages!'
The Singing Of The Magnificat
IN midst of wide green pasture-lands, cut through
By lines of alders bordering deep-banked streams,
Where bulrushes and yellow iris grew,
And rest and peace, and all the flowers of dreams,
The Abbey stood--so still, it seemed a part
Of the marsh-country's almost pulseless heart.
Where grey-green willows fringed the stream and pool,
The lazy meek-faced cattle strayed to graze,
Sheep in the meadows cropped the grasses cool,
And silver fish shone through the watery ways,
And many a load of fruit and load of corn
Into the Abbey storehouses was borne.
Yet though so much they had of life's good things,
The monks but held them as a sacred trust,
Lent from the storehouse of the King of kings
Till they, His stewards, should crumble back to dust.
'Not as our own,' they said, 'but as the Lord's,
All that the stream yields, or the land affords.'
And all the villages and hamlets near
Knew the monks' wealth, and how their wealth was spent.
In tribulation, sickness, want, or fear,
First to the Abbey all the peasants went,
Certain to find a welcome, and to be
Helped in the hour of their extremity.
When plague or sickness smote the people sore,
The Brothers prayed beside the dying bed,
And nursed the sick back into health once more,
And through the horror and the danger said:
'How good is God, Who has such love for us,
He lets us tend His suffering children thus!'
They in their simple ways and works were glad:
Yet all men must have sorrows of their own.
And so a bitter grief the Brothers had,
Nor mourned for others' heaviness alone.
This was the secret of their sorrowing,
That not a monk in all the house could sing!
Was it the damp air from the lovely marsh,
Or strain of scarcely intermitted prayer,
That made their voices, when they sang, as harsh
As any frog's that croaks in evening air--
That made less music in their hymns to lie
Than in the hoarsest wild-fowl's hoarsest cry?
If love could sweeten voice to sing a song,
Theirs had been sweetest song was ever sung:
But their hearts' music reached their lips all wrong,
The soul's intent foiled by the traitorous tongue
That marred the chapel's peace, and seemed to scare
The rapt devotion lingering in the air.
The birds that in the chapel built their nests,
And in the stone-work found their small lives fair,
Flew thence with hurled wings and fluttering breasts
When rang the bell to call the monks to prayer.
'Why will they sing,' they twittered, 'why at all?
In heaven their silence must be festival!'
The brothers prayed with penance and with tears
That God would let them give some little part
Out for the solace of their own sad ears
Of all the music crowded in their heart.
Their nature and the marsh-air had their way,
And still they sang more vilely every day.
And all their prayers and fasts availing not
To give them voices sweet, their souls' desire,
The Abbot said, 'Gifts He did not allot
God at our hands will not again require;
The love He gives us He will ask again
In love to Him and to our fellow-men.
'Praise Him we must, and since we cannot praise
As we would choose, we praise Him as we can.
In heaven we shall be taught the angels' ways
Of singing--we afford to wait a span.
In singing, as in toil, do ye your best;
God will adjust the balance--do the rest!'
But one good Brother, anxious to remove
This, the reproach now laid on them so long,
Rejected counsel, and for very love
Besought a Brother, skilled in art of song,
To come to them--his cloister far to leave--
And sing Magnificat on Christmas Eve.
So when each brown monk duly sought his place,
By two and two, slow pacing to the choir,
Shrined in his dark oak stall, the strange monk's face
Shone with a light as of devotion's fire,
Good, young and fair, his seemed a form wherein
Pure beauty left no room at all for sin.
And when the time for singing it had come,
'Magnificat,' face raised, and voice, he sang:
Each in his stall the monks stood glad and dumb,
As through the chancel's dusk his voice outrang,
Pure, clear, and perfect--as the thrushes sing
Their first impulsive welcome of the spring.
At the first notes the Abbot's heart spoke low:
'Oh God, accept this singing, seeing we,
Had we the power, would ever praise Thee so--
Would ever, Lord, Thou know'st, sing thus for Thee;
Thus in our hearts Thy hymns are ever sung,
As he Thou blessest sings them with his tongue.'
But as the voice rose higher, and more sweet,
The Abbot's heart said, 'Thou hast heard us grieve,
And sent an angel from beside Thy feet,
To sing Magnificat on Christmas Eve;
To ease our ache of soul, and let us see
How we some day in heaven shall sing to Thee.'
Through the cold Christmas night the hymn rang out,
In perfect cadence, clear as sunlit rain--
Such heavenly music that the birds without
Beat their warm wings against the window pane,
Scattering the frosted crystal snow outspread
Upon the stone-lace and the window-lead.
The white moon through the window seemed to gaze
On the pure face and eyes the singer raised;
The storm-wind hushed the clamour of its ways,
God seemed to stoop to hear Himself thus praised,
And breathless all the Brothers stood, and still
Reached longing souls out to the music's thrill.
Old years came back, and half-remembered hours,
Dreams of delight that never was to be,
Mothers' remembered kiss, the funeral flowers
Laid on the grave of life's felicity;
An infinite dear passion of regret
Swept through their hearts, and left their eyelids wet.
The birds beat ever at the window, till
They broke the pane, and so could entrance win;
Their slender feet clung to the window-sill,
And though with them the bitter air came in,
The monks were glad that the birds too should hear,
Since to God's creatures all, His praise is dear.
The lovely music waxed and waned, and sank,
And brought less conscious sadness in its train,
Unrecognised despair that thinks to thank
God for a joy renounced, a chosen pain--
And deems that peace which is but stifled life
Dulled by a too-prolonged unfruitful strife.
When, service done, the Brothers gathered round
To thank the singer--modest-eyed, said he:
'Not mine the grace, if grace indeed abound;
God gave the power, if any power there be;
If I in hymn or psalm clear voice can raise,
As His the gift, so His be all the praise!'
That night--the Abbot lying on his bed--
A sudden flood of radiance on him fell,
Poured from the crucifix above his head,
And cast a stream of light across his cell--
And in the fullest fervour of the light
An Angel stood, glittering, and great, and white.
His wings of thousand rainbow clouds seemed made,
A thousand lamps of love shone in his eyes,
The light of dawn upon his brows was laid,
Odours of thousand flowers of Paradise
Filled all the cell, and through the heart there stirred
A sense of music that could not be heard.
The Angel spoke--his voice was low and sweet
As the sea's murmur on low-lying shore--
Or whisper of the wind in ripened wheat:
'Brother,' he said, 'the God we both adore
Has sent me down to ask, is all not right?--
Why was Magnificat not sung to-night?'
Tranced in the joy the Angel's presence brought,
The Abbot answered: 'All these weary years
We have sung our best--but always have we thought
Our voices were unworthy heavenly ears;
And so to-night we found a clearer tongue,
And by it the Magnificat was sung.'
The Angel answered, 'All these happy years
In heaven has your Magnificat been heard;
This night alone, the angels' listening ears
Of all its music caught no single word.
Say, who is he whose goodness is not strong
Enough to bear the burden of his song?'
The Abbot named his name. 'Ah, why,' he cried,
'Have angels heard not what we found so dear?'
'Only pure hearts,' the Angel's voice replied,
'Can carry human songs up to God's ear;
To-night in heaven was missed the sweetest praise
That ever rises from earth's mud-stained maze.
'The monk who sang Magnificat is filled
With lust of praise, and with hypocrisy;
He sings for earth--in heaven his notes are stilled
By muffling weight of deadening vanity;
His heart is chained to earth, and cannot bear
His singing higher than the listening air!
'From purest hearts most perfect music springs,
And while you mourned your voices were not sweet,
Marred by the accident of earthly things,--
In heaven, God, listening, judged your song complete.
The sweetest of earth's music came from you,
The music of a noble life and true!'
WHEN on the West broke light from out the East,
Then from the splendour and the shame of Rome--
Renouncing wealth and pleasure, game and feast,
And all the joys of his polluted home,
Desiring not the gifts his world could give,
If haply he might save his soul and live--
Into the desert's heart a man had come.
His God had died for love of him, and he
For love of God would die to all of these
Sweet sins he had not known for sins, and be
Estranged for evermore from rest and ease;
His days in penance spent might half atone
For the iniquity of days bygone,
And in the desert might his soul find peace.
Crossing wide seas, he reached an alien land:
By mighty harbours and broad streams he passed
Into an arid, trackless waste of sand,
And journeying ever faster and more fast,
Left men behind, and onward still did press
To a ruined city in the wilderness,
And there he stayed his restless feet at last.
There stood long lines of columns richly wrought,
Colossal statues of forgotten kings,
Vast shadowy temples, court within dim court,
Great shapes of man-faced beasts with wide firm wings;
And in and out each broken colonnade
The bright-eyed, swift, green-gleaming lizards played,
In that still place the only living things.
But when the moon unveiled her still, white face,
And over sand and stone her glory shed--
Another life awoke within the place,
And great beasts stalked, with silent heavy tread,
Through pillared vista, over marble floor,
And the stern menace of the lion's roar
Made horrible the city of the dead.
Like a great bird soft sinking on its nest,
Too lightly to disturb its tender brood,
The night, with dark spread wings and cloudy breast,
Sank on the desert city's solitude
As he drew near. The shadows grew more dense,
The silence stronger; weariness intense
Fell on him then, and only rest seemed good.
He passed between tall pillars' sculptured gloom,
And entered a deserted, lightless fane,
And knew not if it temple were, or tomb,
But slept and slept, till over all the plain
The level sunbeams spread, and earth was bright
With morning's radiant resurrection-light;
Then he awoke, refreshed and strong again.
Through empty courts he passed, and lo! a wall
Whereon was imaged all the languid grace
Of fairest women, and among them all
Shone like a star one lovely Eastern face:
Undimmed by centuries the colours were,
Bright as when first the painter found her fair,
And set her there to glorify the place.
All he had fled from suddenly drew near,
And from her eyes a challenge seemed down-thrown;
'Ah, fool!' she seemed to say, 'what dost thou here?
How canst thou bear this stern, sad life alone,
When I--not just this face that copies me,
But I myself--stretch arms and lips to thee,
From that same world whose joys thou hast foregone?'
His heart leaped up like flame--she was so fair;
Then with a start he hid his eyes and fled
Into the hotness of the outer air.
His pulse beat quickly. 'Oh, my God!' he said,
'These be the heart made pure, and cleansèd brain!
I vow to Thee to never look again
On women, real or painted, quick or dead!'
So lest within the city he should find,
To tempt his soul, still some accursèd thing,
He left the palaces and courts behind,
Found a green spot, with date-palms and a spring
And built himself a rough stone shelter there
And saw no more the face, so strange and fair
That had begot such vain imagining.
He tilled the patch of land, and planted seeds
Which from his own far country he had brought;
And, caring little for his body's needs,
Strove still by blind belief to strangle thought,
By ceaseless penance to deny desire,
To quench in prayer and fast all human fire,
And wrest from Heaven the blessings that he sought.
And there peace found him, and he dwelt alone,
And gladly gave his life to God. Behind
Lay the long dim arcades of graven stone;
Before him lay the desert, burning blind
Sometimes with the dread dance of its own sand,
That wildly whirled in shadowy columns, fanned
By the hot breath of the fierce desert wind.
Each day passed by as had passed other days,
And days gone by were as the days to come,
Save that on some days he was wild with praise,
And weak with vigil and with fast on some;
And no man saw he for long months and years,
But ever did he penance with hot tears,
And but for prayer and praise his lips were dumb.
Sometimes at first, when spent with watch and prayer,
He saw again the Imperial City's towers,
Where, in a mist of music and sweet air,
Thais and Phryne crowned his cup with flowers--
He saw the easeful day, the festal night,
The life that was one dream of long delight,
One rose-red glow of rapture and fair hours.
He heard old well-remembered voices cry,
'Come back to us! Think of the joys you miss;
Each moment floats some foregone rapture by,
A cup, a crown, a song, a laugh, a kiss!
Cast down that crown of thorns, return, and be
Once more flower-crowned, love-thrilled, wine-warmed, and see
The old sweet life--how good a thing it is!'
But his soul answered, 'Nay, I am content;
Ye call in vain; the desert shuts me in.
Your flowers are sere, your wine with gall is blent,
Your sweets have all the sickening taste of sin;
Such sin I expiate with ceaseless pain,
And world and flesh and devil strive in vain
Back from its sanctuary my soul to win.
'Fair are the Imperial City's towers to see?
I seek the City with the streets of gold.
Beside the lilies God has grown for me
Faint are the roses that your fingers hold.
Ear hath not heard the music I shall hear,
Eye hath not seen the joys that shall appear,
Nor heart conceived the things I shall behold.'
After long days a stranger halted there,
For some far distant monastery bound.
The hermit fed and lodged, nor could forbear
To tell his guest what rest his soul had found
How with the world he long ago had done,
How the hard battle had been fought and won,
And he found peace, pure, perfect and profound.
The stranger answered, 'Thou hast watched an hour,
But many hours go to make up our day,
And some of these are dark with fateful power,
And Satan watches for our souls alway;
The spirit may be willing, but indeed
The flesh is weak, and so much more the need
To pray and watch, my brother, watch and pray.'
The Roman bowed his head in mute assent,
And, having served the stranger with his best,
Bade him God-speed, and down the way he went--
Gazed sadly after, but within his breast
A pale fire of resentment sprang to flame
Was he not holy now, and void of blame,
And certain of himself, and pure, and blest?
That night a new-born desolation grew
Within his heart as he made fast the stone
Against the doorway of his hut, and knew
How more than ever he was now alone.
He was in darkness, but the moon without
Made a new tender daylight round about
The hut, the palms, the plot with millet sown.
Hark!--what was that?--For many months and years
He had not heard that faint uncertain noise,
Broken, and weak, and indistinct with tears--
A voice--a human voice--a woman's voice.
'Oh, let me in,' it wailed, 'before I die!
Oh, let me in, for Holy Charity!
For see--my life or death is at thy choice!'
Unthinking, swift he rolled the stone away:
There stood a woman, trembling, shrinking, thin;
Her pale hair by the moon's white light looked grey,
And grey her hands and grey her withered skin.
'Oh, save me--lest I die among the beasts
Who roam, and roar, and hold their fearful feasts!
Oh, save me,' she besought him, 'let me in!'
Troubled, he answered, 'Nay, I have a vow
Never again a woman's face to see!'
'But, ah,' she cried, 'thy vow is broken now,
For at this moment thou beholdest me.
I cannot journey farther. Help!' she said,
'Or I before the dawning shall be dead,
And thou repent to all eternity!'
His soul was gentle and compassionate.
'Thou shalt not perish--enter here,' he said;
'My vow is broken, and thy need is great.'
She staggered forward to the dry leaf bed,
And sank upon it, cold and still and white.
'Perhaps she may not live until the light,'
He thought, and lifted up her drooping head,
And gave her wine from out a little store
Which he had kept untouched since first he came;
He rolled the stone again before his door
To keep the night air from her wasted frame;
And, though his vow was broken, somehow knew
That he was doing what was right to do,
Yet felt a weight of unacknowledged blame.
And many a day he tended her and fed;
But ever after that first night's surprise
With earnest vigilance he held his head
Averted, and downcast he kept his eyes.
His vow, though broken once, was still his law;
He looked upon her face no more, nor saw
Her whom he cared for in such kindly wise.
She never spoke to him, nor he to her--
That she was sick and sad was all he knew;
He never asked her what her past days were,
Nor of the future, what she meant to do.
So dwelt they, till the full moon's yellow light
Flooded the world once more. Then came the night
Which all his life had been a prelude to.
The stone was moved a little from the door,
And near it he was kneeling rapt in prayer
Upon the cold uneven earthen floor;
The moonbeams passed him by, and rested where
The woman slept--her breathing soft and slow,
With rhythmic cadence even, restful, low,
Stirring the stillness of the cool night air
His prayer being ended, as he turned to rest,
He chanced to let his eyes fall carelessly
Upon the figure that the moon caressed,
The woman that his care had not let die.
And now no more he turned his face aside,
But gazed, and gazed, and still unsatisfied
His eager look fed on her, hungrily.
On her? On whom? The suppliant he had saved,
Thin, hollow-cheeked and sunken-eyed had been,
With shrunken brow whereon care-lines were graved,
With withered arms, dull hair, and fingers lean.
'Has my blind care transformed her so?' he said;
For she was gone, and there lay in her stead
The loveliest woman he had ever seen.
The rags she wore but made her seem more sweet,
Since in despite of them she was so fair;
The rough brown leaves quite covered up her feet,
But left one ivory arm and shoulder bare,
The other lay beneath the little head,
And over all the moonlit couch was spread
The sunlight-coloured wonder of her hair.
He could not move, nor turn away his gaze:
How long he stood and looked he could not guess.
At last she faintly sighed, and in her face
Trembled the dawn of coming consciousness;
The eyelids quivered, and the red lips stirred,
As if they tried to find some sweet lost wo
And then her eyelids lifted, and he met
Full in his dazzled eyes the glorious light
Of eyes that he had struggled to forget
Since he had broken from their spells of might--
The Eastern eyes that from the painted wall
Had lightened down upon him, to enthral
Senses and soul with fetters of delight.
He knew her now, his love without a name,
Who in his dreams had looked on him and smiled,
And almost back to his old world of shame
His unconsenting manhood had beguiled!
There was no world now any more. At last
He knew that all--his future, present, past--
In her sole self was fused and reconciled.
The moments fled as in a dream divine:
Fire filled his veins--there beat within his brain
The madness that is born of love or wine;
And her eyes gleamed--softened and gleamed again,
And in those stormy seas he gazed, until
Her beauty seemed the whole vast night to fill,
And all, save her, seemed valueless and vain.
Then, with her eyes still deep in his, she rose
And moved towards him, and a wave of bliss
Flooded his sense with the wild joy that goes
Before a longed-for, almost granted kiss,
And slowly she drew nearer to his side--
Then, with a smile like mid-June's dawn, she sighed,
And turned to him, and laid her hand on his.
And at the touch, all he had deemed effaced--
All the heart-searing passions of his past--
Surged up, and their destroying wave laid waste
The ordered garden of his soul. At last
The spell of silence broke, and suddenly
The man's whole heart found voice in one low cry,
As round her perfect head his arms he cast--
And did not clasp her, for his foiled arms crossed
Only upon his own tumultuous breast!
His wrecked heart, tempest driven, passion tossed,
Beat fierce against his own hand on it pressed.
As on June fields might fall December frost,
In one cold breath he knew that she was lost--
Eternally foregone and unpossessed.
For even as he clasped she had seemed to melt,
And fade into the misty moonlit air;
His arms were empty, yet his hand still felt
The touch of her hand that had rested there:
But she was gone, with all her maddening grace--
The solitude and silence, in her place,
Like a chill searching wind crept everywhere.
Silence--at first. Then suddenly outbroke
A little laugh. And then, above, around,
A hideous peal of laughter, shout on shout,
Re-echoing from sky, and air, and ground;
And in his devastated soul had birth
A horrid echo of that demon mirth,
And with his human voice he swelled its sound.
'Tricked, fooled!' he laughed. 'We laugh, the fiends and I,
They for their triumph, I to feel my fall!
From snares like these is no security,
In desert wild or close-built city wall:
And since I must be tempted, let me go
And brave the old temptations that I know;
Not these, that are but phantoms after all--
'Phantoms, not living women, warm and real,
As the fair Roman women were. And yet
The phantom only is my soul's ideal,
Longed for through all the years and never met
Till now; and only now to make hell worse--
To fan my fires of infinite remorse
With the cold wind of infinite regret.
'Back to the world, the world of love and sin!
For since my soul is lost, I claim its price!
Prayers are not heard. The God I trusted in
Has failed me once--He shall not fail me twice!
No more of that wild striving and intense
For irrecoverable innocence--
No more of useless, vain self-sacrifice!
'Life is too potent and too passionate,
Against whose force I all these years have striven
In vain, in vain! Our own lives make our Fate;
And by our Fate our lives are blindly driven!
There is no refuge in the hermit's cell
From memories enough to make a hell--
Of chances lost that might have made a heaven!'
Back to his world he went, and plunged anew
Into the old foul life's polluted tide;
But ever in his sweetest feast he knew
A longing never to be satisfied:
This strange wild wickedness, that new mad sin,
Might be the frame to find her picture in;
And if that failed, some other must be tried.
And in the search, soul, body, heart, and brain
Were blasted and destroyed, and still his prize,
Ever untouched, seemed always just to gain,
And just beyond his reach shone Paradise.
So followed he, too faithfully, too well,
Through death, into the very gate of hell,
The love-light of those unforgotten eyes!
The Moat House
UNDER the shade of convent towers,
Where fast and vigil mark the hours,
From childhood into youth there grew
A maid as fresh as April dew,
And sweet as May's ideal flowers,
Brighter than dawn in wind-swept skies,
Like children's dreams most pure, unwise,
Yet with a slumbering soul-fire too,
That sometimes shone a moment through
Her wondrous unawakened eyes.
The nuns, who loved her coldly, meant
The twig should grow as it was bent;
That she, like them, should watch youth's bier,
Should watch her day-dreams disappear,
And go the loveless way they went.
The convent walls were high and grey;
How could Love hope to find a way
Into that citadel forlorn,
Where his dear name was put to scorn,
Or called a sinful thing to say?
Yet Love did come; what need to tell
Of flowers downcast, that sometimes fell
Across her feet when dreamily
She paced, with unused breviary,
Down paths made still with August's spell--
Of looks cast through the chapel grate,
Of letters helped by Love and Fate,
That to cold fingers did not come
But lay within a warmer home,
Upon her heart inviolate?
Somehow he loved her--she loved him:
Then filled her soul's cup to the brim,
And all her daily life grew bright
With such a flood of rosy light
As turned the altar candles dim.
But love that lights is love that leads,
And lives upon the heart it feeds;
Soon grew she pale though not less fair,
And sighed his name instead of prayer,
And told her heart-throbs, not her beads.
How could she find the sunlight fair,
A sunlight that he did not share?
How could a rose smell sweet within
The cruel bars that shut her in,
And shut him out while she was there?
He vowed her fealty firm and fast,
Then to the winds her fears she cast;
They found a way to cheat the bars,
And in free air, beneath free stars,
Free, and with him, she stood at last.
'Now to some priest,' he said, 'that he
May give thee--blessing us--to me.'
'No priest,' she cried in doubt and fear,
'He would divide, not join us, dear.
I am mine--I give myself to thee.
'Since thou and I are mine and thine,
What need to swear it at a shrine?
Would love last longer if we swore
That we would love for evermore?
God gives me thee--and thou art mine.'
'God weds us now,' he said, 'yet still
Some day shall we all forms fulfil.
Eternal truth affords to smile
At laws wherewith man marks his guile,
Yet law shall join us--when you will.
'So look your last, my love, on these
Forbidding walls and wooing trees.
Farewell to grief and gloom,' said he;
'Farewell to childhood's joy,' said she;
But neither said, 'Farewell to peace.'
My sweet, my sweet,
She is complete
From dainty head to darling feet;
So warm and white,
So brown and bright,
So made for love and love's delight.
God could but spare
One flower so fair,
There is none like her anywhere;
Beneath wide skies
The whole earth lies,
But not two other such brown eyes.
The world we're in,
If one might win?
Not worth that dimple in her chin
A heaven to know?
I'll let that go
But once to see her lids droop low
Over her eyes,
By love made wise:
To see her bosom fall and rise
Is more than worth
The angels' mirth,
And all the heaven-joys of earth.
This is the hour
Which gives me power
To win and wear earth's whitest flower.
Oh, Love, give grace,
Through all life's ways
Keep pure this heart, her dwelling place.
The fields were reaped and the pastures bare,
And the nights grown windy and chill,
When the lovers passed through the beech woods fair,
And climbed the brow of the hill.
In the hill's spread arm the Moat House lies
With elm and willow tree;
'And is that your home at last?' she sighs.
'Our home at last,' laughs he.
Across the bridge and into the hall
Where the waiting housefolk were.
'This is my lady,' he said to them all,
And she looked so sweet and fair
That every maid and serving-boy
God-blessed them then and there,
And wished them luck, and gave them joy,
For a happy, handsome pair.
And only the old nurse shook her head:
'Too young,' she said, 'too young.'
She noted that no prayers were read,
No marriage bells were rung;
No guests were called, no feast was spread,
As was meet for a marriage tide;
The young lord in the banquet hall broke bread
Alone with his little bride.
Yet her old heart warmed to the two, and blessed,
They were both so glad and gay,
By to-morrow and yesterday unoppressed,
Fulfilled of the joy of to-day;
Like two young birds in that dull old nest,
So careless of coming care,
So rapt in the other that each possessed,
The two young lovers were.
He was heir to a stern hard-natured race,
That had held the Moat House long,
But the gloom of his formal dwelling place
Dissolved at her voice and song;
So bright, so sweet, to the house she came,
So winning of way and word,
The household knew her by one pet name,
'My Lady Ladybird.'
First love so rarely gets leave to bring,
In our world where money is might,
Its tender buds to blossoming
With the sun of its own delight.
We love at rose or at vintage prime,
In the glare and heat of the day,
Forgetting the dawn and the violet time,
And the wild sweet scent of the may.
These loved like children, like children played,
The old house laughed with delight
At her song of a voice, at the radiance made
By her dress's flashing flight.
Up the dark oak stair, through the gallery's gloom,
She ran like a fairy fleet,
And ever her lover from room to room
Fast followed her flying feet.
They gathered the buds of the late-lived rose
In the ordered garden ways,
They walked through the sombre yew-walled close
And threaded the pine woods maze,
They rode through woods where their horses came
Knee-deep through the rustling leaves,
Through fields forlorn of the poppies' flame
And bereft of their golden sheaves.
In the mellow hush of October noon
They rowed in the flat broad boat,
Through the lily leaves so thickly strewn
On the sunny side of the moat.
They were glad of the fire of the beech-crowned hill,
And glad of the pale deep sky,
And the shifting shade that the willows made
On the boat as she glided by.
They roamed each room of the Moat House through
And questioned the wraiths of the past,
What legends rare the old dresses knew,
And the swords, what had wet them last?
What faces had looked through the lozenge panes,
What shadows darkened the door,
What feet had walked in the jewelled stains
That the rich glass cast on the floor?
She dressed her beauty in old brocade
That breathed of loss and regret,
In laces that broken hearts had swayed,
In the days when the swords were wet;
And the rubies and pearls laughed out and said,
'Though the lovers for whom we were set,
And the women who loved us, have long been dead,
Yet beauty and we live yet.'
When the wild white winter's spectral hand
Effaced the green and the red,
And crushed the fingers brown of the land
Till they grew death-white instead,
The two found cheer in their dark oak room,
And their dreams of a coming spring,
For a brighter sun shone through winter's gloom
Than ever a summer could bring.
They sat where the great fires blazed in the hall,
Where the wolf-skins lay outspread,
The pictured faces looked down from the wall
To hear his praise of the dead.
He told her ghostly tales of the past,
And legends rare of his house,
Till she held her breath at the shade fire-cast,
And the scamper-rush of the mouse,
Till she dared not turn her head to see
What shape might stand by her chair--
Till she cried his name, and fled to his knee,
And safely nestled there.
Then they talked of their journey, the city's crowd,
Of the convent's faint joy and pain,
Till the ghosts of the past were laid in the shroud
Of commonplace things again.
So the winter died, and the baby spring,
With hardly voice for a cry,
And hands too weak the signs to bring
That all men might know her by,
Yet woke, and breathed through the soft wet air
The promise of all things dear,
And poets and lovers knew she was there,
And sang to their hearts, 'She is here.'
Soft is the ground underfoot,
Soft are the skies overhead,
Green is the ivy round brown hedge root,
Green is the moss where we tread.
Purple the woods are, and brown;
The blackbird is glossy and sleek,
He knows that the worms are no more kept down
By frost out of reach of his beak.
Grey are the sheep in the fold,
Tired of their turnip and beet,
Dreaming of meadow and pasture and wold,
And turf the warm rain will make sweet.
Leaves sleep, no bud wakens yet,
But we know by the song of the sun,
And the happy way that the world smiles, wet,
That the spring--oh, be glad!--is begun.
What stirs the heart of the tree?
What stirs the seed the earth bears?
What is it stirring in you and in me
Longing for summer, like theirs?--
Longing you cannot explain,
Yearning that baffles me still!
Ah! that each spring should bring longings again
No summer can ever fulfil!
When all the world had echoed the song
That the poet and lover sang,
When 'Glory to spring,' sweet, soft, and strong,
From the ferny woods outrang,
In wet green meadow, in hollow green,
The primrose stars outshone,
And the bluebells balanced their drooping sheen
In copses lovely and lone.
The green earth laughed, full of leaf and flower,
The sky laughed too, full of sun;
Was this the hour for a parting hour,
With the heaven of spring just won?
The woods and fields were echoing
To a chorus of life and bliss.
Oh, hard to sting the face of the spring
With the smart of a parting kiss!
A kinsman ailing, a summons sent
To haste to his dying bed.
'Oh, cruel sentence of banishment!
For my heart says 'Go'!' he said.
'So now good-bye to my home, my dear,
To the spring we watched from its birth;
There is no spring, oh, my sweet, but here,
'Tis winter all over the earth.
'But I come again, oh, spring of my life,
You hold the cord in your hand
That will draw me back, oh, my sweetheart wife,
To the place where your dear feet stand;
But a few short days, and my arms shall be
Once more round your little head,
And you will be weeping glad tears with me
On the grave of our parting, dead!
'I leave you my heart for a short short while,
It will ache if 'tis wrapped in fears;
Keep it safe and warm in the sun of your smile,
Not wet with the rain of your tears.
Be glad of the joy that shall soon be won,
Be glad to-day, though we part;
You shall weep for our parting when parting is done,
And drop your tears on my heart.'
Good-bye, my love, my only dear, I know your heart is true
And that it lingers here with me while mine fares forth with you.
We part? Our hearts are almost one, and are so closely tied
'Tis yours that stirs my bosom-lace, mine beats against your side.
So not at losing you I grieve, since heart and soul stay here,
But all the gladness of my life, I cry to lose it, dear;
Warmth of the sun, sweet of the rose, night's rest and light of day,
I mourn for these, for if you go, you take them all away.
You are sad too--not at leaving me, whose heart must with you go,
But at the heaven you leave behind--ah, yes--you told me so,
You said wherever you might go you could not ever find
A spring so sweet, love so complete, as these you leave behind.
No future joy will ever pay this moment's bitter ache,
Yet I am glad to be so sad, since it is for your sake.
You take so much, I do but wish that you could take the whole,
Could take me, since you take my rest, my light, my joy, my soul.
Oh, love, I leave
This springtide eve,
When woods in sunset shine blood-red;
The long road lies
Before my eyes,
My horse goes on with even tread.
I dare not turn
These eyes that burn
Back to the terrace where you lean;
If I should see
Your tears for me,
I must turn back to dry them, O my queen!
Yet I must go,
Fate has it so,
Duty spoke once, and I obey;
Sadly I rise,
And turn my face the other way.
Nothing is dear
On earth but here,
There is no joy away from you;
What though there be
New things to see,
New friends, new faces, and adventures new?
Yet since I may
Not with you stay,
Hey for the outer world of life!
Brace limbs, shake rein,
And seek again
The hurry, jostle, jar and strife.
Hey for the new!
Yet, love, for you--
I have loved you so--the last hand-kiss.
How vast a world
Lies here unfurled!
How small, if sweet, home's inner round of bliss!
The road bends right,
Leads out of sight,
Here I may turn, nor fear to see;
So far away,
One could not say
If you are weeping now for me.
Behind this eve
My love I leave,
The big bright world spreads out before;
Yet will I come,
To you and home,
Oh, love, and rest beneath your yoke once more.
She stood upon the terrace, gazing still
Down the long road to watch him out of sight,
Dry-eyed at first, until the swelling hill
Hid him. Then turned she to the garden bright,
Whose ways held memories of lover's laughter,
And lover's sadness that had followed after,
Both born of passion's too intense delight.
The garden knew her secrets, and its bowers
Threw her her secrets back in mocking wise;
''Twas here he buried you in lilac flowers.
Here while he slept you covered up his eyes
With primroses. They died; and by that token
Love, like a flower whose stalk has once been broken,
Will live no more for all your tears and sighs.'
The sundial that had marked their happy hours
Cried out to her, 'I know that he is gone;
So many twos have wreathed me round with flowers,
And always one came afterwards alone,
And always wept--even as you are weeping.
The flowers while they lived were cold, shade keeping,
But always through the tears the sun still shone.'
She left the garden; but the house still more
Whispered, 'You love him--he has gone away.'
Where fell her single footstep sighed the floor,
'Another foot than yours fell here to-day.'
The very hound she stroked looked round and past her,
Then in her face, and whined, 'Where is our master?'
The whole house had the same one thing to say.
Empty, without its soul, disconsolate,
The great house was: through all the rooms went she,
And every room was dark and desolate,
Nothing seemed good to do or good to see.
At last, upon the wolf-skins, worn with weeping,
The old nurse found her, like a tired child, sleeping
With face tear-stained, and sobbing brokenly.
Wearily went the days, all sad the same,
Yet each brought its own added heaviness.
Why was it that no letter from him came
To ease the burden of her loneliness?
Why did he send no message, word, or greeting,
To help her forward to their day of meeting,
No written love--no black and white caress?
At last there came a letter, sweet but brief,
'He was so busy--had no time for more.'
No time! She had had time enough for grief,
There never had been so much time before;
And yet the letter lay within her bosom,
Pressed closely to her breathing beauty's blossom,
Worn for a balm, because her heart was sore.
She knew not where he stayed, and so could send,
Of all the letters that she wrote, not one;
Hour after soft spring hour the child would spend
In pouring out her soul, for, once begun,
The tale of all her love and grief flowed over
Upon the letters that she wrote her lover,
And that the fire read when the tale was done.
And yet she never doubted he would come,
If not before, yet when a baby's eyes
Should look for him, when his deserted home
Should waken to a baby's laughs and cries.
'He judges best--perhaps he comes to-morrow,
But come he will, and we shall laugh at sorrow
When in my arms our little baby lies.'
And in the August days a soft hush fell
Upon the house--the old nurse kept her place
Beside the little wife--and all was well;
After rapt anguish came a breathing space,
And she, mid tears and smiles, white-faced, glad-eyed,
Felt her wee baby move against her side,
Kissed its small hands, worshipped its tiny face.
Oh, baby, baby, baby dear,
We lie alone together here;
The snowy gown and cap and sheet
With lavender are fresh and sweet;
Through half-closed blinds the roses peer
To see and love you, baby dear.
We are so tired, we like to lie
Just doing nothing, you and I,
Within the darkened quiet room.
The sun sends dusk rays through the gloom,
Which is no gloom since you are here,
My little life, my baby dear.
Soft sleepy mouth so vaguely pressed
Against your new-made mother's breast,
Soft little hands in mine I fold,
Soft little feet I kiss and hold,
Round soft smooth head and tiny ear,
All mine, my own, my baby dear.
And he we love is far away!
But he will come some happy day.
You need but me, and I can rest
At peace with you beside me pressed.
There are no questions, longings vain,
No murmuring, nor doubt, nor pain,
Only content and we are here,
My baby dear.
While winged Love his pinions folded in the Moat House by the hill,
In the city there was anger, doubt, distrust, and thoughts of ill;
For his kinsmen, hearing rumours of the life the lovers led,
Wept, and wrung their hands, and sorrowed--'Better that the lad were dead
Than to live thus--he, the son of proudest man and noblest earl--
Thus in open sin with her, a nameless, shameless, foreign girl.'
(Ever when they thus lamented, 'twas the open sin they named,
Till one wondered whether sinning, if less frank, had been less blamed.)
''Tis our duty to reclaim him--mate him to a noble bride
Who shall fitly grace his station, and walk stately by his side--
Gently loose him from the fetters of this siren fair and frail
(In such cases time and absence nearly always will prevail).
He shall meet the Duke's fair daughter--perfect, saintly Lady May--
Beauty is the surest beacon to a young man gone astray!
Not at all precipitately, but with judgment sure and fine,
We will rescue and redeem him from his shameful husks and swine.
So--his uncle's long been ailing (gout and dropsy for his sins)--
Let that serve for pretext; hither bring the youth--his cure begins.'
So they summoned him and welcomed, and their utmost efforts bent
To snatch back a brand from burning and a soul from punishment--
Sought to charm him with their feastings, each more sumptuous than the last,
From his yearning recollections of his very sinful past--
Strove to wipe his wicked doings from his memory's blotted
By the chaster, purer interests of the ball-room and the stage.
And for Lady May--they hinted to the girl, child-innocent,
That her hand to save the sinner by her Saviour had been sent,
That her voice might bring his voice her Master's triumph choir to swell,
And might save a man from sorrow and a human soul from hell.
So she used her maiden graces, maiden glances, maiden smiles,
To protect the erring pilgrim from the devil's subtle wiles--
Saw him daily, sent him letters, pious verses by the score,
Every angel's trap she baited with her sweet religious lore--
Ventured all she knew, not knowing that her beauty and her youth
Were far better to bait traps with than her odds and ends of truth.
First he listened, vain and flattered that a girl as fair as she
Should be so distinctly anxious for his lost humanity,
Yet determined no attentions, even from the Lady May,
Should delay his home-returning one unnecessary day.
But as she--heart-wrung with pity for his erring soul--grew kind,
Fainter, fainter grew the image of his sweetheart left behind;
Till one day May spoke of sorrow--prayed him to reform--repent,
Urged the festival in heaven over every penitent;
Bold in ignorance, spoke vaguely and low-toned of sin and shame,
And at last her voice, half breathless, faltered, broke upon his name,
And two tears fell from her lashes on the roses at her breast,
Far more potent in their silence than her preaching at its best.
And his weak soul thrilled and trembled at her beauty, and he cried,
'Not for me those priceless tears: I am your slave--you shall decide.'
'Save your soul,' she sighed. 'Was ever man so tempted, tried, before?
It is yours!' and at the word his soul was lost for evermore.
Never woman pure and saintly did the devil's work so well!
Never soul ensnared for heaven took a surer road to hell!
Lady May had gained her convert, loved him, and was satisfied,
And before the last leaves yellowed she would kneel down as his bride.
She was happy, and he struggled to believe that perfidy
Was repentance--reformation was not one with cruelty,
Yet through all congratulations, friends' smiles, lovers' flatteries,
Lived a gnawing recollection of the lost love harmonies.
In the day he crushed it fiercely, kept it covered out of sight,
But it held him by the heart-strings and came boldly out at night:
In the solemn truthful night his soul shrank shuddering from its lies,
And his base self knew its baseness, and looked full in its false eyes.
In the August nights, when all the sky was deep and toneless blue,
And the gold star-points seemed letting the remembered sunlight through,
When the world was hushed and peaceful in the moonlight's searching white,
He would toss and cast his arms out through the silence and the night
To those eyes that through the night and through the silence came again,
Haunting him with the persistence and the passion of their pain.
'Oh, my little love--my sweetheart--oh, our past--our sweet love-day--
Oh, if I were only true--or you were only Lady May!'
But the sunshine scared the vision, and he rose once more love-warm
To the Lady May's perfections and his own proposed reform.
Coward that he was! he could not write and break that loving heart:
To the worn-out gouty kinsman was assigned that pleasing part.
'Say it kindly,' said her lover, 'always friends--I can't forget--
We must meet no more--but give her tenderest thought and all regret;
Bid her go back to the convent--she and I can't meet as friends--
Offer her a good allowance--any terms to make amends
For what nought could make amends for--for my baseness and my sin.
Oh, I know which side the scale this deed of mine will figure in!
Curse reform!--she may forget me--'tis on me the burdens fall,
For I love her only, solely--not the Lady May at all!'
'Patience,' said the uncle, 'patience, this is but the natural pain
When a young man turns from sinning to the paths of grace again.
Your wild oats are sown--you're plighted to the noble Lady May
(Whose estates adjoin your manor in a providential way).
Do your duty, sir, for surely pangs like these are such as win
Pardon and the heavenly blessing on the sinner weaned from sin.'
Day is fair, and so is she
Whom so soon I wed;
But the night, when memory
Guards my sleepless bed,
And with cold hands brings once more
Thorns from rose-sweet days of yore--
Night I curse and dread.
Day is sweet, as sweet as her
But the night, when near me stir
Rustlings of a dress,
Echoes of a loving tone
Now renounced, forsworn, foregone,
Night is bitterness.
Day can stir my blood like wine
Or her beauty's fire,
But at night I burn and pine,
Torture, turn and tire,
With a longing that is pain,
Just to kiss and clasp again
Love's one lost desire.
Day is glad and pure and bright,
Pure, glad, bright as she;
But the sad and guilty night
Outlives day--for me.
Oh, for days when day and night
Equal balance of delight
Were alike to me!
In the day I see my feet
Walk in steadfast wise,
Following my lady sweet
To her Paradise,
Like some stray-recovered lamb;
But I see the beast I am
When the night stars rise.
Yet in wedding day there lies
Magic--so they say;
Ghosts will have no chance to rise
Near my Lady May.
Vain the hope! In good or ill
Those lost eyes will haunt me still
Till my dying day.
Quickly died the August roses, and the kin of Lady May
Dowered her richly, blessed her freely, and announced her wedding day;
And his yearnings and remorses fainter grew as days went on
'Neath the magic of the beauty of the woman he had won;
And less often and less strongly was his fancy caught and crossed
By remembrance of the dearness of the woman he had lost.
Long sweet mornings in the boudoir where the flowers stood about,
Whisperings in the balcony when stars and London lamps came out,
Concerts, flower shows, garden parties, balls and dinners, rides and drives,
All the time-killing distractions of these fashionable lives;
Dreary, joyless as a desert, pleasure's everlasting way,
But enchantment can make lovely even deserts, so they say,
Sandy waste, or waste of London season, where no green leaf grows,
Shone on but by love or passion, each will blossom like the rose!
Came no answer to the letter that announced his marriage day;
But his people wrote that Lady Ladybird had gone away.
So he sent to bid get ready to receive his noble wife.
Two such loving women granted to one man, and in one life!
Though he shuddered to remember with what ghosts the Moat House swarmed--
Ghosts of lovely days and dreamings ere the time when he reformed--
Yet he said, 'She cannot surely greatly care, or I had heard
Some impulsive, passionate pleading, had some sorrowing written word;
She has journeyed to her convent--will be glad as ere I came,
Through her beauty's dear enchantment, to a life of shameless shame;
And the memories of her dearness passion's flaming sword shall slay,
When the Moat House sees the bridal of myself and Lady May!'
Bright the mellow autumn sunshine glows upon the wedding day;
Lawns are swept from leaves, and doorways are wreathed round with garlands gay,
Flowery arches span the carriage drive from grass again to grass,
Flowers are ready for the flinging when the wedded pair shall pass;
Bells are ringing, clanging, clamouring from the belfry 'mid the trees,
And the sound rings out o'er woodlands, parks and gardens, lawns and leas;
All the village gay with banners waits the signal, 'Here they come!'
To strew flowers, wave hats, drop curtseys, and hurra its 'Welcome home!'
At the gates the very griffins on the posts are wreathed with green.
In their ordered lines wait servants for the pair to pass between;
But among them there is missing more than one familiar face,
And new faces, blank expectant, fill up each vacated place,
And the other servants whisper, 'Nurse would wail to see this day,
It was well she left the service when 'my Lady' ran away.'
Louder, clearer ring the joy-bells through the shaken, shattered air,
Till the echoes of them waken in the hillside far and fair;
Level shine the golden sunbeams in the golden afternoon.
In the east the wan ghost rises of the silver harvest moon.
Hark! wheels was it? No, but fancy. Listen! No--yes--can you hear?
Yes, it is the coming carriage rolling nearer and more near!
Till the horse-hoofs strike the roadway, unmistakable and clear!
They are coming! shout your welcome to my lord and lady fair:
May God shower his choicest blessings on the happy wedded pair!
Here they are! the open carriage and surrounding dusty cloud,
Whence he smiles his proud acceptance of the homage of the crowd;
And my lady's sweet face! Bless her! there's a one will help the poor,
Eyes like those could never turn a beggar helpless from her door!
Welcome, welcome! scatter flowers: see, they smile--bow left and right,
Reach the lodge gates--God of heaven! what was that, the flash of white?
Shehas sprung out from the ambush of the smiling, cheering crowd:
'Fling your flowers--here's my welcome!' sharp the cry rings out and loud.
Sudden sight of wild white face, and haggard eyes, and outstretched hands--
Just one heart-beat's space before the bridal pair that figure stands,
Then the horses, past controlling, forward bound, their hoofs down thrust--
And the carriage wheels jolt over something bloody in the dust.
'Stop her! Stop her! Stop the horses!' cry the people all too late,
For my lord and Lady May have had their welcome at their gate.
'Twas the old nurse who sprang to her, raised the brown-haired, dust-soiled head,
Looked a moment, closed the eyelids--then turned to my lord and said,
Kneeling still upon the roadway, with her arm flung round the dead,
While the carriage waited near her, blood and dust upon its wheels
(Ask my lord within to tell you how a happy bridegroom feels):
'Now, my lord, you are contented; you have chosen for your bride
This same fine and dainty lady who is sitting by your side.
Did ye tell her ere this bridal of the girl who bore your shame,
Bore your love-vows--bore your baby--everything except your name?
When they strewed the flowers to greet you, and the banners were unfurled,
She has flung before your feet the sweetest flower in all the world!
Woe's the day I ever nursed you--loved your lisping baby word,
For you grew to name of manhood, and to title of my lord;
Woe's the day you ever saw her, brought her home to wreck her life,
Throwing by your human plaything, to seek out another wife.
God will judge, and I would rather be the lost child lying there,
With your babe's milk in her bosom, your horse-hoof marks on her hair,
Than be you when God shall thunder, when your days on earth are filled,
'Where is she I gave, who loved you, whom you ruined, left and killed?'
Murderer, liar, coward, traitor, look upon your work and say
That your heart is glad within you on your happy wedding day!
And for you, my noble lady, take my blessing on your head,
Though it is not like the blessing maidens look for when they wed.
Never bride had such a welcome, such a flower laid on her way,
As was given you when your carriage crushed her out of life to-day.
Take my blessing--see her body, see what you and he have done--
And I wish you joy, my lady, of the bridegroom you have won.'
Like a beaten cur, that trembles at the whistling of the lash,
He stands listening, hands a-tremble, face as pale as white wood ash;
But the Lady May springs down, her soul shines glorious in her eyes,
Moving through the angry silence comes to where the other lies,
Gazes long upon her silent, but at last she turns her gaze
On the nurse, and lips a-tremble, hands outstretched, she slowly says,
'She is dead--but, but her baby--' all her woman's heart is wild
With an infinite compassion for the little helpless child.
Then she turns to snatch the baby from the arms of one near by,
Holds it fast and looks towards him with a voiceless bitter cry,
As imploring him to loose her from some nightmare's deadly bands.
Dogged looks he down and past her, and she sees and understands,
Then she speaks--'I keep your baby--that's my right in sight of men,
But by God I vow I'll never see your dastard face again.'
So she turned with no word further towards the purple-clouded west,
And passed thither with his baby clasped against her maiden breast.
Little Ladybird was buried in the old ancestral tomb.
From that grave there streams a shadow that wraps up his life in gloom,
And he drags the withered life on, longs for death that will not come,
The interminable night hours riven by that 'Welcome home!'
And he dares not leave this earthly hell of sharp remorse behind,
Lest through death not rest but hotter fire of anguish he should find.
Coward to the last, he will not risk so little for so much,
So he burns, convicted traitor, in the hell self-made of such:
And at night he wakes and shivers with unvanquishable dread
At the ghosts that press each other for a place beside his bed,
And he shudders to remember all the dearness that is dead.
I had a soul,
Not strong, but following good if good but led.
I might have kept it clean and pure and whole,
And given it up at last, grown strong with days
Of steadfast striving in truth's stern sweet ways;
Instead, I soiled and smutched and smothered it
With poison-flowers it valued not one whit--
Now it is dead.
I had a heart
Most true, most sweet, that on my loving fed.
I might have kept her all my life, a part
Of all my life--I let her starve and pine,
Ruined her life and desolated mine.
Sin brushed my lips--I yielded at a touch,
Tempted so little, and I sinned so much,
And she is dead.
There was a life
That in my sin I took and chained and wed,
And made--perpetual remorse!--my wife.
In my sin's harvest she must reap her share,
That makes its sheaves less light for me to bear.
Oh, life I might have left to bloom and grow!
I struck its root of happiness one blow,
And it is dead.
Once joy I had,
Now I have only agony instead,
That maddens, yet will never send me mad.
The best that comes is numbed half-sick despair,
Remembering how sweet the dear dead were.
My whole life might have been one clear joy song!
Now--oh, my heart, how still life is, how long,
For joy is dead.
Yet there is this:
I chose the thorns not grapes, the stones not bread;
I had my chance, they say, to gain or miss.
And yet I feel it was predestinate
From the first hour, from the first dawn of fate,
That I, thus placed, when that hour should arise,
Must act thus, and could not act otherwise.
This is the worst of all that can be said;
For hope is dead.