The Lost Poem
Flushed with fancies, I bethought me,
'Into music I will set them,
Like a pearl into its setting
Of the finest golden fretting;
Never shall the world forget them;
It shall sing me, ring me back the melody;
It shall rise and bless the poem while it blesseth me.'
But, ah me! some faintness ailed me,
Or it ailed the music rather.
Was it all a stir of gladness?
Was it half a pang of sadness?
Do my best, I could not gather
From my heart's store any chord of harmony;
No other thought was music to me but the thought of thee.
Proud as joy my failure makes me!
Proud I sit and sing about it;
Not in finest poet-fashion,
Not for deepest poet's passion,
Would my soul have gone without it,
While the old earth asketh song or psalmody,
Heart, remember! love shall still the truest music be!
An Autumn Violet
I saw a miracle to-day!
Where the September sunshine lay
Languidly as a lost desire
Upon a sumach's fading fire,
Where calm some pallid asters trod,
Indifferent, past a golden-rod,
Beside a gray-haired thistle set,-
A perfect purple violet.
I wonder what it were to miss
The life of spring, and live like this?
To bloom so lone, to bloom so late,
And were it worth the while to wait
So long for such a little day?
And were it not a better way
Never, indeed, (worse might befall,)
To be a violet at all?
So lonely when the spring was gone,
So calm when autumn splendors shone,
So peaceful midst the blazing flowers,
So blessed through the golden hours,
So might have bloomed my love for thee.
It is not, and it cannot be,-
It cannot, must not be,-and yet,
I picked for thee the violet.
I think upon the conquering Greek who ran
(Brave was the racer!) that brave race of old-
Swifter than hope his feet that did not tire.
Calmer than love the hand which reached that goal;
A torch it bore, and cherished to the end,
And rescued from the winds the sacred fire.
O life the race! O heart the racer! Hush!
And listen long enough to learn of him
Who sleeps beneath the dust with his desire.
Go! shame thy coward weariness, and wail.
Who doubles contest, doubles victory.
Go! learn to run the race, and carry fire.
O Friend! The lip is brave, the heart is weak.
Stay near. The runner faints-the torch falls pale.
Save me the flame that mounteth ever higher!
Grows it so dark? I lift mine eyes to thine;
Blazing within them, steadfast, pure, and strong,
Against the wind there fights the eternal fire.
Learning To Pray
My inmost soul, O Lord, to thee
Leans like a growing flower
Unto the light. I do not know
The day nor blessed hour
When that deep-rooted, daring growth
We call the heart's desire
Shall burst and blossom to a prayer
Within the sacred fire
Of thy great patience; grow so pure,
So still, so sweet a thing
As perfect prayer must surely be.
And yet my heart will sing
Because thou seem'st sometimes so near.
Close-present God! to me,
It seems I could not have a wish
That was not shared by thee;
It seems I cannot be afraid
To speak my longings out,
So tenderly thy gathering love
Enfolds me round about;
It seems as if my heart would break,
If, living on the light
I should not lift to thee at last
A bud of flawless white.
And yet, O helpless heart! how sweet
To grow, and bud, and say:
The flower, however marred or wan,
Shall not be cast away.
CAPE ANN, SEPTEMBER SURF. 1882.
White fire upon the gray-green waste of waves,
The low light of the breaker flares. Ah, see!
Outbursting on a sky of steel and ice,
The baffled sun stabs wildly at the gale.
The water rises like a god aglow,
Who all too long hath slept, and dreamed too sure,
And finds his goddess fled his empty arms.
Silent, the mighty cliff receives at last
That rage of elemental tenderness,
The old, omnipotent caress she knows.
Yet once the solid earth did melt for her
And, pitying, made retreat before her flight;
Would she have hidden her forever there?
Or did she, wavering, linger long enough
To let the accustomed torrent chase her down?
Over the neck of the gorge,
I cling. Lean desperately!
He who feared a chasm's edge
Were never the one to see
The torment and the triumph hid
Where the deep surges be.
I pierce the gulf; I sweep the coast
Where wide the tide swings free;
I search as never soul sought before.
There is not patience enough in all the shore,
There is not passion enough in all the sea,
To tell my love for thee.
By The Hearth
You come too late;
'Tis far on in November.
The wind strikes bleak
Upon the cheek
That careth rather to keep warm,
(And where 's the harm?)
Than to abate
One jot of its calm color for your sake.
Watch! See! I stir the ember
Upon my lonely hearth and bid the fire wake.
And think you that it will?
'Tis burned, I say, to ashes.
It smoulders cold
As grave-yard mould.
I wish indeed you would not blow
Upon it so!
The dead to kill.
I say, the ghosts of fires will never stir,
Nor woman lift the lashes
Of eyes wept dim, howe'er yours shine for love of her!
Ah, sweet surprise!
did not think such shining
Upon the gloom
Of this cold room
Could fall. Your even, strong, calm breath
Calls life from death.
The warm light lies
At your triumphant feet, faint with desire
To reach you. See! The lining
Of violet and of silver in that sheath of fire!
If you would care-
Although it is November-
I will not say
A bitter nay
To such a gift for building fires.
And though it tires
Me to think of it-I'll own to you
(If you can stir the ember)
It may be found at last, just warm enough for two!
You do not lift your eyes to watch
Us pass the conscious door;
Your startled ear perceiveth not
Our footfall on the floor;
No eager word your lips betray
To greet us when we stand;
We throng to meet you, but you hold
To us no beckoning hand.
Faint as the years in which we breathed,
Far as the death we died,
Dim as the faded battle-smoke,
We wander at your side;
Cold as a cause outlived, or lost,
Vague as the legends told
At twilight, of a mystic band
Circling an Age of Gold.
Unseen, unheard, unfelt-and yet,
Beneath the army blue
Our heart-beats sounded real enough
When we were boys like you.
We turned us from your fabled lore,
With ancient passion rife;
No myth, our solemn laying down
Of love, and hope, and life.
No myth, the clasped and severed hands,
No dream, the last replies.
Upon the desolated home
To-day, the sunlight lies.
Take, sons of peace, your heritage-
Our loss, your legacy;
Our action be your fables fair,
Our facts, your poetry.
O ye who fall on calmer times!
The perils of the calm
Are yours-the swell, the sloth, the sleep,
The carelessness of harm,
The keel that rides the gale, to strike
Where the warm waves are still;
Ours were the surf, the stir, the shock,
The tempest and the thrill.
Comrades, be yours that vigor old,
Be yours the elected power
That fits a man, like rock to tide,
To his appointed hour;
Yours to become all that we were,
And all we might have been;
Yours the fine eye that separates
The unseen from the seen.
A moment's grace, Pygmalion! Let me be
A breath's space longer on this hither hand
Of fate too sweet, too sad, too mad to meet.
Whether to be thy statue or thy bride-
An instant spare me! Terrible the choice,
As no man knoweth, being only man;
Nor any, saving her who hath been stone
And loved her sculptor. Shall I dare exchange
Veins of the quarry for the throbbing pulse?
Insensate calm for a sure-aching heart?
Repose eternal for a woman's lot?
Forego God's quiet for the love of man?
To float on his uncertain tenderness,
A wave tossed up the shore of his desire,
To ebb and flow whene'er it pleaseth him;
Remembered at his leisure, and forgot,
Worshiped and worried, clasped and dropped at mood,
Or soothed or gashed at mercy of his will,
Now Paradise my portion, and now Hell;
And every single, several nerve that beats
In soul or body, like some rare vase, thrust
In fire at first, and then in frost, until
The fine, protesting fibre snaps?
Foreknowing, ever chose a fate like this?
What woman out of all the breathing world
Would be a woman, could her heart select,
Or love her lover, could her life prevent?
Then let me be that only, only one;
Thus let me make that sacrifice supreme,
No other ever made, or can, or shall.
Behold, the future shall stand still to ask,
What man was worth a price so isolate?
And rate thee at its value for all time.
For I am driven by an awful Law.
See! while I hesitate, it mouldeth me,
And carves me like a chisel at my heart.
'T is stronger than the woman or the man;
'T is greater than all torment or delight;
'T is mightier than the marble or the flesh.
Obedient be the sculptor and the stone!
Thine am I, thine at all the cost of all
The pangs that woman ever bore for man;
Thine I elect to be, denying them;
Thine I elect to be, defying them;
Thine, thine I dare to be, in scorn of them;
And being thine forever, bless I them!
Pygmalion! Take me from my pedestal,
And set me lower-lower, Love!-that I
May be a woman, and look up to thee;
And looking, longing, loving, give and take
The human kisses worth the worst that thou
By thine own nature shalt inflict on me.
Only A Chromo
A blessing on the Art that dares
(Cold critic, call it what you may!)
Bring precious things to common homes;
A blessing fall on it, I say!
Like Heaven's happy rain, that loves
Upon the just and unjust to fall;
Th' impartial shelter of the skies,
Or sun's heart beating warm for all;
So be it Art's high privilege
To hold a language and a speech
With humble needs; to lay its gifts-
And gladly-in the common reach.
So be it Art's insignia
Of undisputed royalty,
That out of largeness groweth love,
And out of choiceness, charity.
There is my picture, caught and throned
Within four walls for me at last;
My eyes, which never thought to see
Fit semblance of her, hold her fast.
Murillo's Mary! that one face
We call the Immaculate. Ah, see
How goddess-like she fills the room,
How woman-like she leans to me.
I would not garner in my home,
I could not gather to my heart,
A dim gray mockery of that face
Chilled under the engraver's art.
These human colors deepen, glow;
This human flesh will palpitate;
These human eyes,-like human eyes
Alight, alive,-stir, watch, and wait.
Perhaps you wonder why I chose
This single-windowed little room
Where only at the evenfall,
A moment's space, the sunlight's bloom
Shall open out upon the face
I prize so dear; I think, indeed,
There 's something of a whim in that,
And something of a certain need
I could not make you understand,
That solitude or sickness gives
To take in somewhat solemn guise
The blessings that enrich our lives.
I like to watch the late, soft light,-
No spirit could more softly come,-
The picture is the only thing
It touches in the darkening room.
I wonder if to her indeed,
The maiden of the spotless name,
In holier guise or tenderer touch
The annunciating angel came.
Madonna Mary! Here she lives!
See how my sun has wrapped her in!
O solemn sun! O maiden face!
O joy that never knoweth sin!
How shall I name thee? How express
The thoughts that unto thee belong?
Sometimes a sigh interprets them,
At other times, perhaps, a song.
More often still it chanceth me
They grow and group into a prayer
That guards me down my sleepless hours,
A sentry on the midnight air.
But when the morning's monotone
Begins of sickness or of pain,
They catch the key, and, striking it,
They turn into a song again.
Great Master, whose enraptured eyes
Saw maiden Mary's holy face,
Whose human hand could lift and move
An earthly passion from its place,
And set therein the spotless shape
Which Heavenly love itself might wear,
And set thereon the dazzling look
Which Heavenly purity must bear;
Thy blessing on the Art must fall
(If thou couldst speak as thou canst see)
Which brings thy best to common homes,
Thy mighty picture unto me.