THE alert and valiant faith that could respond,
Upon life's threshold, to the highest call,
Unquestioning of what might lie beyond,—
Courage afield and courtesy in hall,
And sweet, unbroken patience therewithal,
And simple loyalty,— can these things be
The virtues that have died with chivalry?
The lapsing stream that leads to love and fate,
Now mystic-shadowed, and now broad and free,
Reflecting all the gold of heaven's gate;
The snowy bird's symbolic purity,
The toilsome contest and the victory,
The troubled joy of life, and after these,
The crowning guerdon of the perfect peace,—
These dreams have filled my dazzled sense and brain,
With images so vivid that at last
I wake to life and find them all again
Repeated in the present as the past,
The hues recolored and the forms recast;
And in familiar eyes I see outshine
The old heroic faith in love divine.
No empty fable of a day long dead,
No baseless vision of some sanguine saint,
No legend, only half rememberéd,
Of prowess obsolete and virtues quaint;
But be this rather a reflection faint
Of that which taught me how the near and real
Surpass in strength and beauty the ideal.
BEHOLD, I walked abroad at early morning,
The fields of June were bathed in dew and lustre,
The hills were clad with light as with a garment.
The inexpressible auroral freshness,
The grave, immutable, aerial heavens,
The transient clouds above the quiet landscape,
The heavy odor of the passionate lilacs,
That hedged the road with sober-colored clusters,
All these o'ermastered me with subtle power,
And made my rural walk a royal progress,
Peopled my solitude with airy spirits,
Who hovered over me with joyous singing.
'Behold!' they sang, 'the glory of the morning.
Through every vein does not the summer tingle,
With vague desire and flush of expectation?
'To think how fair is life! set round with grandeur;
The eloquent sea beneath the voiceless heavens,
The shifting shows of every bounteous season;
'Rich skies, fantastic clouds, and herby meadows,
Gray rivers, prairies spread with regal flowers,
Grasses and grains and herds of browsing cattle:
'Great cities filled with breathing men and women,
Of whom the basest have their aspirations,
High impulses of courage or affection.
'And on this brave earth still those finer spirits,
Heroic Valor, admirable Friendship,
And Love itself, a very god among you.
'All these for thee, and thou evoked from nothing,
Born from blank darkness to this blaze of beauty,
Where is thy faith, and where are thy thanksgivings?'
The world is his who can behold it rightly,
Who hears the harmonies of unseen angels
Above the senseless outcry of the hour.
The Day Of Dead Soldiers
WELCOME, thou gray and fragrant Sabbath-day,
To deathless love and valor dedicate!
Glorious with the richest flowers of May,
With early roses, lingering lilacs late,
With vivid green of grass and leaf and spray,
Thou bringest memories that far outweigh
The season's joy with thoughts of death and fate.
What words may paint the picture on the air
Of this broad land to-day from sea to sea?
The rolling prairies, purple valleys rare,
And royal mountains, endless rivers free,
Filled full with phantoms flitting everywhere,
Pale ghosts of buried armies, slowly there
From countless graves uprising silently.
A calm, grave day,—the sunlight does not shine
But thin, gray clouds bedrape the sky o'erhead.
The delicate air is filled with spirits fine,
The temperate breezes whisper of the dead.
What visions and what memories divine,
O holy Sabbath flower-day, are thine,
Painted in light against a field of red!
Behold the fairest spots in all the land,
To-day in this mid-season of fresh flowers,
Are heroes' graves, —by many a tender hand
Sprinkled With odorous, radiant-colored showers;
By mild, moist breezes delicately fanned,
Sending o'er distant towns their perfumes bland,
Loading with sweet aroma sunless hours.
Who knows what tremulous, dusky hands set free,
Deck quaintly with gay flowers the graves unknown?
What wealth of bloom is shed exuberantly,
On the far grave in Illinois alone,
Where the last hero, sleeping peacefully,
Beyond detraction and mistrust, doth lie,
By the glad winds of prairies overblown?
With hymns and prayer be this day sanctified,
And consecrate to heroes' memories;
Not with wild, violent grief for those who died,
O wives and mothers, but with patience wise,
Calm resignation, and a thankful pride,
That they have left their land a fame so wide,
So rich a page of thrilling histories.
Weep for the martyr! Strew his bier
With the last roses of the year;
Shadow the land with sables; knell
The harsh-tongued, melancholy bell;
Beat the dull muffled drum, and flaunt
The drooping banner; let the chant
Of the deep-throated organ sob-
One voice, one sorrow, one heart-throb,
From land to land, from sea to sea-
The huge world quires his elegy.
Tears, love, and honor he shall have,
Through ages keeping green his grave.
Too late approved, too early lost,
His story is the people's boast.
Tough-sinewed offspring of the soil,
Of peasant lineage, reared to toil,
In Europe he had been a thing
To the glebe tethered-here a king!
Crowned not for some transcendent gift,
Genius of power that may lift
A Caesar or a Bonaparte
Up to the starred goal of his heart;
But that he was the epitome
Of all the people aim to be.
Were they his dying trust? He was
No less their model and their glass.
In him the daily traits were viewed
Of the undistinguished multitude.
Brave as the silent myriads are,
Crushed by the juggernaut world-car;
Strong with the people's strength, yet mild,
Simple and tender as a child;
Wise with the wisdom of the heart,
Able in council, field, and mart;
Nor lacking in the lambent gleam,
The great soul's final stamp-the beam
Of genial fun, the humor sane
Wherewith the hero sports with pain.
His virtues hold within the span
Of his obscurest fellow-man.
To live without reproach, to die
Without a fear-in these words lie
His highest aims, for none too high.
No triumph his beyond the reach
Of patient courage, kindly speech;
And yet so brave the soul outbreathed,
The great example he bequeathed,
Were all to follow, we should see
A universal chivalry.
His trust, the People! They respond
From Maine to Florida, beyond
The sea-walled continent's broad scope,
Honor his pledge, confirm his hope.
Hark! over seas the echo hence,
The nations do him reverence.
An Empress lays her votive wreath
Where peoples weep with bated breath.
The world-clock strikes a fateful hour,
Bright with fair portents, big with power,-
The first since history's course has run,
When kings' and peoples' cause is one;
Those mourn a brother-these a son!
O how he loved them! That gray morn,
When his wound-wasted form was borne
North, from the White House to the sea,
Lifting his tired lids thankfully,
'How good,' he murmured in his pain,
'To see the people once again!'
Oh, how they loved him! They stood there,
Thronging the road, the street, the square,
With hushed lips locked in silent prayer,
Uncovered heads and streaming eyes,
Breathless as when a father dies.
The records of the ghostly ride,
Past town and field at morning-tide.
When life's full stream is wont to gush
Through all its ways with boisterous rush,
-The records note that once a hound
Had barked, and once was heard the sound
Of cart-wheels rumbling on the stones-
And once, mid stifled sobs and groans,
One man dared audibly lament,
And cried, 'God bless the president!'
Always the waiting crowds to send
A God-speed to his journey's end-
The anxious whisper, brow of gloom,
As in a sickness-sacred room,
Till his ear drank with ecstasy
The rhythmic thunders of the sea.
Tears for the smitten fatherless,
The wife's, the mother's life-distress,
To whom the million-throated moan
From throne and hut, may not atone
For one hushed voice, one empty chair,
One presence missing everywhere.
But only words of joy and sheer,
The people from his grave shall hear.
Were they not worthy of his trust,
From whose seed sprang the sacred dust?
He broke the bars that separate
The humble from the high estate.
And heirs of empire round his bed
Mourn with the 'disinherited.'
Oh, toil-worn, patient Heart that bleeds,
Whose martyrdom even his exceeds,
Wronged, cursed, despised, misunderstood-
Oh, all-enduring multitude,
Rejoice! amid you tears, rejoice!
There issues from this grave a voice,
Proclaiming your long night is o'er,
Your day-dawn breaks from shore to shore.
You have redeemed his pledge, remained
Secure, erect, and self-sustained,
Holding more dear one thing alone,
Even than the blood of dearest son,
Revering with religious awe
The inviolable might of Law.
'The epochs of our life are not in the facts, but in the
silent thought by the wayside as we walk.'-Emerson
Sweet empty sky of June without a stain,
Faint, gray-blue dewy mists on far-off hills,
Warm, yellow sunlight flooding mead and plain,
That each dark copse and hollow overfills;
The rippling laugh of unseen, rain-fed rills,
Weeds delicate-flowered, white and pink and gold,
A murmur and a singing manifold.
The gray, austere old earth renews her youth
With dew-lines, sunshine, gossamer, and haze.
How still she lies and dreams, and veils the truth,
While all is fresh as in the early days!
What simple things be these the soul to raise
To bounding joy, and make young pulses beat,
With nameless pleasure finding life so sweet.
On such a golden morning forth there floats,
Between the soft earth and the softer sky,
In the warm air adust with glistening motes,
The mystic winged and flickering butterfly,
A human soul, that hovers giddily
Among the gardens of earth's paradise,
Nor dreams of fairer fields or loftier skies.
Thin summer rain on grass and bush and hedge,
Reddening the road and deepening the green
On wide, blurred lawn, and in close-tangled sedge;
Veiling in gray the landscape stretched between
These low broad meadows and the pale hills seen
But dimly on the far horizon's edge.
In these transparent-clouded, gentle skies,
Wherethrough the moist beams of the soft June sun
Might any moment break, no sorrow lies,
No note of grief in swollen brooks that run,
No hint of woe in this subdued, calm tone
Of all the prospect unto dreamy eyes.
Only a tender, unnamed half-regret
For the lost beauty of the gracious morn;
A yearning aspiration, fainter yet,
For brighter suns in joyous days unborn,
Now while brief showers ruffle grass and corn,
And all the earth lies shadowed, grave, and wet;
Space for the happy soul to pause again
From pure content of all unbroken bliss,
To dream the future void of grief and pain,
And muse upon the past, in reveries
More sweet for knowledge that the present is
Not all complete, with mist and clouds and rain.
Look westward o'er the steaming rain-washed slopes,
Now satisfied with sunshine, and behold
Those lustrous clouds, as glorious as our hopes,
Softened with feathery fleece of downy gold,
In all fantastic, huddled shapes uprolled,
Floating like dreams, and melting silently,
In the blue upper regions of pure sky.
The eye is filled with beauty, and the heart
Rejoiced with sense of life and peace renewed;
And yet at such an hour as this, upstart
Vague myriad longing, restless, unsubdued,
And causeless tears from melancholy mood,
Strange discontent with earth's and nature's best,
Desires and yearnings that may find no rest.
Serene was morning with clear, winnowed air,
But threatening soon the low, blue mass of cloud
Rose in the west, with mutterings faint and rare
At first, but waxing frequent and more loud.
Thick sultry mists the distant hill-tops shroud;
The sunshine dies; athwart black skies of lead
Flash noiselessly thin threads of lightning red.
Breathless the earth seems waiting some wild blow,
Dreaded, but far too close to ward or shun.
Scared birds aloft fly aimless, and below
Naught stirs in fields whence light and life are gone,
Save floating leaves, with wisps of straw and down,
Upon the heavy air; 'neath blue-black skies,
Livid and yellow the green landscape lies.
And all the while the dreadful thunder breaks,
Within the hollow circle of the hills,
With gathering might, that angry echoes wakes,
And earth and heaven with unused clamor fills.
O'erhead still flame those strange electric thrills.
A moment more,-behold! yon bolt struck home,
And over ruined fields the storm hath come!
When the stunned soul can first lift tired eyes
On her changed world of ruin, waste and wrack,
Ah, what a pang of aching sharp surprise
Brings all sweet memories of the lost past back,
With wild self-pitying grief of one betrayed,
Duped in a land of dreams where Truth is dead!
Are these the heavens that she deemed were kind?
Is this the world that yesterday was fair?
What painted images of folk half-blind
Be these who pass her by, as vague as air?
What go they seeking? there is naught to find.
Let them come nigh and hearken her despair.
A mocking lie is all she once believed,
And where her heart throbbed, is a cold dead stone.
This is a doom we never preconceived,
Yet now she cannot fancy it undone.
Part of herself, part of the whole hard scheme,
All else is but the shadow of a dream.
There is a hungry longing in the soul,
A craving sense of emptiness and pain,
She may not satisfy nor yet control,
For all the teeming world looks void and vain.
No compensation in eternal spheres,
She knows the loneliness of all her years.
There is no comfort looking forth nor back,
The present gives the lie to all her past.
Will cruel time restore what she doth lack?
Why was no shadow of this doom forecast?
Ah! she hath played with many a keen-edged thing;
Naught is too small and soft to turn and sting.
In the unnatural glory of the hour,
Exalted over time, and death, and fate,
No earthly task appears beyond her power,
No possible endurance seemeth great.
She knows her misery and her majesty,
And recks not if she be to live or die.
Yea, she hath looked Truth grimly face to face,
And drained unto the lees the proffered cup.
This silence is not patience, nor the grace
Of recognition, meekly offered up,
But mere acceptance fraught with keenest pain,
Seeing that all her struggles must be vain.
Her future clear and terrible outlies,-
This burden to be borne through all her days,
This crown of thorns pressed down above her eyes,
This weight of trouble she may never raise.
No reconcilement doth she ask nor wait;
Knowing such things are, she endures her fate.
No brave endeavor of the broken will
To cling to such poor stays as will abide
(Although the waves be wild and angry still)
After the lapsing of the swollen tide.
No fear of further loss, no hope of gain,
Naught but the apathy of weary pain.
All stupor of surprise hath passed away;
She sees, with clearer vision than before,
A world far off of light and laughter gay,
Herself alone and lonely evermore.
Folk come and go, and reach her in no wise,
Mere flitting phantoms to her heavy eyes.
All outward things, that once seemed part of her,
Fall from her, like the leaves in autumn shed.
She feels as one embalmed in spice and myrrh,
With the heart eaten out, a long time dead;
Unchanged without, the features and the form;
Within, devoured by the thin red worm.
By her own prowess she must stand or fall,
This grief is to be conquered day by day.
Who could befriend her? who could make this small,
Or her strength great? she meets it as she may.
A weary struggle and a constant pain,
She dreams not they may ever cease nor wane.
It comes not in such wise as she had deemed,
Else might she still have clung to her despair.
More tender, grateful than she could have dreamed,
Fond hands passed pitying over brows and hair,
And gentle words borne softly through the air,
Calming her weary sense and wildered mind,
By welcome, dear communion with her kind.
Ah! she forswore all words as empty lies;
What speech could help, encourage, or repair?
Yet when she meets these grave, indulgent eyes,
Fulfilled with pity, simplest words are fair,
Caressing, meaningless, that do not dare
To compensate or mend, but merely soothe
With hopeful visions after bitter Truth.
One who through conquered trouble had grown wise,
To read the grief unspoken, unexpressed,
The misery of the blank and heavy eyes,-
Or through youth's infinite compassion guessed
The heavy burden,-such a one brought rest,
And bade her lay aside her doubts and fears,
While the hard pain dissolved in blessed tears.
The passion of despair is quelled at last;
The cruel sense of undeserved wrong,
The wild self-pity, these are also past;
She knows not what may come, but she is strong;
She feels she hath not aught to lose nor gain,
Her patience is the essence of all pain.
As one who sits beside a lapsing stream,
She sees the flow of changeless day by day,
Too sick and tired to think, too sad to dream,
Nor cares how soon the waters slip away,
Nor where they lead; at the wise God's decree,
She will depart or bide indifferently.
There is deeper pathos in the mild
And settled sorrow of the quiet eyes,
Than in the tumults of the anguish wild,
That made her curse all things beneath the skies;
No question, no reproaches, no complaint,
Hers is the holy calm of some meek saint.
Her languid pulses thrill with sudden hope,
That will not be forgot nor cast aside,
And life in statelier vistas seems to ope,
Illimitably lofty, long, and wide.
What doth she know? She is subdued and mild,
Quiet and docile 'as a weaned child.'
If grief came in such unimagined wise,
How may joy dawn? In what undreamed-of hour,
May the light break with splendor of surprise,
Disclosing all the mercy and the power?
A baseless hope, yet vivid, keen, and bright,
As the wild lightning in the starless night.
She knows not whence it came, nor where it passed,
But it revealed, in one brief flash of flame,
A heaven so high, a world so rich and vast,
That, full of meek contrition and mute shame,
In patient silence hopefully withdrawn,
She bows her head, and bides the certain dawn.
'T is not alone that black and yawning void
That makes her heart ache with this hungry pain,
But the glad sense of life hath been destroyed,
The lost delight may never come again.
Yet myriad serious blessings with grave grace
Arise on every side to fill their place.
For much abides in her so lonely life,-
The dear companionship of her own kind,
Love where least looked for, quiet after strife,
Whispers of promise upon every wind,
A quickened insight, in awakened eyes,
For the new meaning of the earth and skies.
The nameless charm about all things hath died,
Subtle as aureole round a shadow's head,
Cast on the dewy grass at morning-tide;
Yet though the glory and the joy be fled,
'T is much her own endurance to have weighed,
And wrestled with God's angels, unafraid.
She feels outwearied, as though o'er her head
A storm of mighty billows broke and passed.
Whose hand upheld her? Who her footsteps led
To this green haven of sweet rest at last?
What strength was hers, unreckoned and unknown?
What love sustained when she was most alone?
Unutterably pathetic her desire,
To reach, with groping arms outstretched in prayer,
Something to cling to, to uplift her higher
From this low world of coward fear and care,
Above disaster, that her will may be
At one with God's, accepting his decree.
Though by no reasons she be justified,
Yet strangely brave in Evil's very face,
She deems this want must needs be satisfied,
Though here all slips from out her weak embrace.
And in blind ecstasy of perfect faith,
With her own dream her prayer she answereth.
Yet life is not a vision nor a prayer,
But stubborn work; she may not shun her task.
After the first compassion, none will spare
Her portion and her work achieved, to ask.
She pleads for respite,-she will come ere long
When, resting by the roadside, she is strong.
Nay, for the hurrying throng of passers-by
Will crush her with their onward-rolling stream.
Much must be done before the brief light die;
She may not loiter, rapt in the vain dream.
With unused trembling hands, and faltering feet,
She staggers forth, her lot assigned to meet.
But when she fills her days with duties done,
Strange vigor comes, she is restored to health.
New aims, new interests rise with each new sun,
And life still holds for her unbounded wealth.
All that seemed hard and toilsome now proves small,
And naught may daunt her,-she hath strength for all.
How strange, in some brief interval of rest,
Backward to look on her far-stretching past.
To see how much is conquered and repressed,
How much is gained in victory at last!
The shadow is not lifted,-but her faith,
Strong from life's miracles, now turns toward death.
Though much be dark where once rare splendor shone,
Yet the new light has touched high peaks unguessed
In her gold, mist-bathed dawn, and one by one
New outlooks loom from many a mountain crest.
She breathes a loftier, purer atmosphere,
And life's entangled paths grow straight and clear.
Nor will Death prove an all-unwelcome guest;
The struggle has been toilsome to this end,
Sleep will be sweet, and after labor rest,
And all will be atoned with him to friend.
Much must be reconciled, much justified,
And yet she feels she will be satisfied.
The calm outgoing of a long, rich day,
Checkered with storm and sunshine, gloom and light,
Now passing in pure, cloudless skies away,
Withdrawing into silence of blank night.
Thick shadows settle on the landscape bright,
Like the weird cloud of death that falls apace
On the still features of the passive face.
Soothing and gentle as a mother's kiss,
The touch that stopped the beating of the heart.
A look so blissfully serene as this,
Not all the joy of living could impart.
With dauntless faith and courage therewithal,
The Master found her ready at his call.
On such a golden evening forth there floats,
Between the grave earth and the glowing sky
In the clear air, unvexed with hazy motes,
The mystic-winged and flickering butterfly,
A human soul, that drifts at liberty,
Ah! who can tell to what strange paradise,
To what undreamed-of fields and lofty skies.!
THE holy bell, untouched by human hands,
Clanged suddenly, and tolled with solemn knell.
Between the massive, blazoned temple-doors,
Thrown wide, to let the summer morning in,
Sir Lohengrin, the youngest of the knights,
Had paused to taste the sweetness of the air.
All sounds came up the mountain-side to him,
Softened to music,— noise of laboring men,
The cheerful cock-crow and the low of kine,
Bleating of sheep, and twittering of the birds,
Commingled into murmurous harmonies—
When harsh, and near, and clamorous tolled the bell.
He started, with his hand upon his sword;
His face, an instant since serene and fair,
And simple with the beauty of a boy,
Heroic, flushed, expectant all at once.
The lovely valley stretching out beneath
Was now a painted picture,— nothing more;
All music of the mountain or the vale
Rang meaningless to him who heard the bell.
'I stand upon the threshold, and am called,'
His clear, young voice shrilled gladly through the air,
And backward through the sounding corridors.
'And have ye heard the bell, my brother knights,
Untouched by human hands or winds of heaven?
It called me, yea, it called my very name!'
So, breathing still of morning, Lohengrin
Sprang 'midst the gathering circle of the knights,
Eager, exalted. 'Nay, it called us all:
It rang as it hath often rung before,—
Because the good cause, somewhere on the earth,
Requires a champion,' with a serious smile,
An older gravely answered. 'Where to go?
We know not, and we know not whom to serve.'
Then spake Sir Percivale, their holiest knight,
And father of the young Sir Lohengrin:
'All that to us seems old, familiar, stale,
Unto the boy is vision, miracle.
Cross him not, brethren, in his first desire.
I will dare swear the summons rang to him,
Not sternly solemn, as it tolled to us,
But gracious, sweet, and gay as marriage-bells.'
His pious hands above the young man's head
Wandered in blessing, lightly touching it,
As fondly as a mother. 'Lohengrin,
My son, farewell,— God send thee faith and strength.'
' God send me patience and humility,'
Murmured the boyish knight, from contrite heart,
With head downcast for those anointing hands.
Then raising suddenly wide, innocent eyes,—
'Father, my faith is boundless as God's love.'
Complete in glittering silver armor clad,
With silver maiden-shield, blank of device,
Sir Lohengrin rode down the Montsalvatsch,
With Percivale and Tristram, Frimutelle
And Eliduc, to speed him on his quest.
They fared in silence, for the elder knights
Were filled with grave misgivings, solemn thoughts
Of fate and sorrow, and they heard the bell
Tolling incessant; while Sir Lohengrin,
Buoyant with hope, and dreaming like a girl,
With wild blood dancing in his veins, had made
The journey down the mount unconsciously,
Surprised to find that he had reached the vale.
Distinct and bowered in green the mountain loomed,
Topped with the wondrous temple, with its cross
Smitten to splendor by the eastern sun.
Around them lay the valley beautiful,
Imparadised with flowers and light of June;
And through the valley flowed a willowy stream,
Golden and gray, at this delicious hour,
With purity and sunshine. Here the knights,
Irresolute, gave pause — which path to choose?
'God lead me right!' said meek Sir Lohengrin;
And as he spoke afar upon the stream,
He saw a shining swan approaching them.
Full-breasted, with the current it sailed down,
Dazzling in sun and shadow, air and wave,
With unseen movement, wings a little spread,
Their downy under-feathers fluttering,
Stirred by its stately progress; in its beak
It held a silver chain, and drew thereby
A dainty carven shallop after it,
Embossed with silver and with ivory.
'Lead ye my charger up the mount again,'
Cried Lohengrin, and leaped unto the ground,
'For I will trust my guidance to the swan.'
' Nay, hold, Sir Lohengrin,' said Eliduc,
' Thou hast not made provision for this quest.'
' God will provide,' the pious knight replied.
Then Percival: 'Be faithful to thy vows;
Bethink thee of thine oath when thou art asked
Thy mission in the temple, or thy race.
Farewell, farewell.' 'Farewell,' cried Lohengrin,
And sprang into the shallop as it passed,
And waved farewells unto his brother knights,
Until they saw the white and silver shine
Of boat and swan and armor less and less,
Till in the willowy distance they were lost.
Skirting the bases of the rolling hills,
He glided on the river hour by hour,
All through the endless summer day. At first
On either side the willows brushed his boat,
Then underneath their sweeping arch he passed,
Into a rich, enchanted wilderness,
Cool, full of mystic shadows and rare lights,
Wherein the very river changed its hue,
Reflecting tender shades of waving green,
And mossy undergrowth of grass and fern.
Here yellow lilies floated 'midst broad leaves,
Upon their reedy stalks, and far below,
Beneath the flags and rushes, coppery bream
Sedately sailed, and flickering perch, and dace
With silvery lustres caught the glancing rays
Of the June sun upon their mottled scales.
'Midst the close sedge the bright-eyed water-mouse
Nibbled its food, while overhead, its kin,
The squirrel, frisked among the trees. The air
Was full of life and sound of restless birds,
Darting with gayer tints of red and blue
And speckled plumage 'mid gray willow leaves,
And sober alders, and light-foliaged birch.
Unnumbered insects fluttered o'er the banks,
Some dimpling the smooth river's slippery floor,
Leaping from point to point. Then passed the knight
'Twixt broad fields basking in excess of light,
And girt around by range on range of hills,
Green, umber, purple, waving limitless,
Unto the radiant crystal of the sky.
Through unfamiliar solitudes the swan
Still led him, and he saw no living thing
Save creatures of the wood, no human face,
Nor sign of human dwelling. But he sailed,
Holding high thoughts and vowing valorous vows,
Filled with vast wonder and keen happiness,
At the world's very beauty, and his life
Opened in spacious vistas measureless,
As lovely as the stream that bore him on.
So dazzled was the boyish Lohengrin
By all the vital beauty of the real,
And the yet wilder beauty of his dreams,
That he had lost all sense of passing time,
And woke as from a trance of centuries,
To find himself within the heart of hills,
The river widened to an ample lake,
And the swan faring towards a narrow gorge,
That seemed to lead him to the sunset clouds.
Suffused with color were the extremest heights;
The river rippled in a glassy flood,
Glorying in the glory of the sky.
O what a moment for a man to take
Down with him in his memory to the grave!
Life at that hour appeared as infinite
As expectation, sacred, wonderful,
A vision and a privilege. The stream
Lessened to force its way through rocky walls,
Then swerved and flowed, a purple brook, through woods
Dewy with evening, sunless, odorous.
There Lohengrin, with eyes upon the stream,
Now brighter than the earth, saw, deep and clear,
The delicate splendor of the earliest star.
All night, too full of sweet expectancy,
Too reverent of the loveliness, for sleep,
He watched the rise and setting of the stars..
All things were new upon that magic day,
Suggesting nobler possibilities,
For a life passed in wise serenity,
Confided with sublimely simple faith
Unto the guidance of the higher will.
In the still heavens hung the large round moon,
White on the blue-black ripples glittering,
And rolled soft floods of slumberous, misty light
Over dim fields and colorless, huge hills.
But the pure swan still bore its burden on,
The ivory shallop and the silver knight,
Pale-faced in that white lustre, neither made
For any port, but seemed to float at will
Aimlessly in a strange, unpeopled land.
So passed the short fair night, and morning broke
Upon the river where it flowed through flats
Wide, fresh, and vague in gray, uncertain dawn,
With cool air sweet from leagues of dewy grass.
Then 'midst the flush and beauty of the east,
The risen sun made all the river flow,
Smitten with light, in gold and gray again.
Rightly he judged his voyage but begun,
When the swan loitered by low banks set thick
With cresses, and red berries, and sweet herbs,
That he might pluck and taste thereof; for these
Such wondrous vigor in his frame infused,
They seemed enchanted and ambrosial fruits.
Day waxed and waned and vanished many times,
And many suns still found him journeying;
But when the sixth night darkened hill and wold,
He seemed bewitched as by a wizard's spell,
By this slow, constant progress, and deep sleep
Possessed his spirit, and his head drooped low
On the hard pillow of his silver shield.
Unconscious he was borne through silent hours,
Nor wakened by the dawn of a new day,
But in his dreamless sleep he never lost
The sense of moving forward on a stream.
Now fared the swan through tilled and cultured lands,
Dappled with sheep and kine on pastures soft,
Sprinkled with trim and pleasant cottages,
With men and women working noiselessly,
As in a picture; nearer then they drew,
And sounds of rural labor, spoken words,
Sir Lohengrin might hear, but still he slept,
Nor saw the shining turrets of a town,
Gardens and castles, domes and cross-topped spires
Fair in the distance, and the flowing stream,
Cleaving its liquid path 'midst many men,
And glittering galleries filled with courtly folk,
Ranged for a tourney-show in open air.
Ah! what a miracle it seemed to these,—
The white bird bearing on the river's breast
That curious, sparkling shallop, and within
The knight in silver armor, with bared head,
And crisp hair blown about his angel face,
Asleep upon his shield! They gazed on him
As on the incarnate spirit of pure faith,
And as the very ministrant of God.
But one great damsel throned beside a king,
With coroneted head and white, wan face,
Flushed suddenly, and clasped her hands in prayer,
And raised large, lucid eyes in thanks to Heaven.
Then, in his dreamless slumber, Lohengrin,
Feeling the steady motion of the boat
Suddenly cease, awoke. Refreshed, alert,
He knew at once that he had reached his port,
And saw that peerless maiden thanking Heaven
For his own advent, and his heart leaped up
Into his throat, and love o'ermastered him.
After the blare of flourished trumpets died,
A herald thus proclaimed the tournament:
'Greetings and glory to the majesty
Of the imperial Henry. By his grace,
This tourney has been granted to the knight,
Frederick of Telramund, who claims the hand
Of Lady Elsie, Duchess of Brabant,
His ward, and stands prepared to prove in arms
His rights against all champions in the lists,
Whom his unwilling mistress may select.
Sir Frederick, Lord of Telramund, is here:
What champion will espouse the lady's cause?'
Sir Frederick, huge in stature and in bulk,
In gleaming armor terribly equipped,
Advanced defiant, as the herald ceased.
Then Lohengrin, with spear and shield in hand,
Sprang lightly, from his shallop, in the lists.
His beaver raised disclosed his ardent face,
His whole soul shining from inspired eyes.
With cast-back head, sun-smitten silver mail,
Quivering with spirit, light, and life, he stood,
And flung his gauntlet at Sir Frederick's feet,
Crying with shrill, clear voice that rang again,
'Sir Lohengrin adopts the lady's cause.'
Then these with shock of conflict couched their spears
In deadly combat; but their weapons clanged
Harmless against their mail impregnable,
Or else were nimbly foiled by dexterous shields.
Unequal and unjust it seemed at first,—
The slender boy matched with the warrior huge,
Who bore upon him with the skill and strength
Of a tried conqueror; but the stranger knight
Displayed such agile grace in parrying blows,
Such fiery valor dealing his own strokes,
That men looked on in wonder, and his foe
Was hardly put upon it for his life.
Thrice they gave praise, to breathe, and to prepare
For fiercer battle, and the galleries rang
With plaudits, and the names of both the knights.
And they, with spirits whetted by the strife,
Met for the fourth, last time, and fenced and struck,
And the keen lance of Lohengrin made way,
Between the meshes of Sir Frederick's mail,
Through cuirass and through jerkin, to the flesh,
With pain so sharp and sudden that he fell.
Then Henry threw his warder to the ground,
And cried the stranger knight had won the day;
And all the lesser voices, following his,
Called, ' Lohengrin—Sir Lohengrin hath won!'
He, flushed with victory, standing in the lists,
Deafened with clamor of his very name,
Reëchoed to the heavens, felt himself
Alone and alien, and would fain float back
Unto the temple, had he not recalled
The fair, great damsel throned beside the king.
But lo! the swan had vanished, and the boat
He fancied he descried a tiny star,
Glimmering in the shining distances.
'His Majesty would greet Sir Lohengrin;
And Lady Elsie, Duchess of Brabant,
Would thank him for his prowess.' Thus proclaimed
The herald, while the unknown knight was led
To the imperial throne. Then Elsie spake:
'Thou hast redeemed my life from misery;
How may I worthily reward or thank?
Be thou the nearest to our ducal throne,
The highest knight of Limburg and Brabant,
The greatest gentleman,— unless thy rank,
In truth, be suited to thine own deserts,
And thou, a prince, art called to higher aims.'
'Madam, my thanks are rather due to Fate,
For having chosen so poor an instrument
For such a noble end. A knight am I,
The champion of the helpless and oppressed,
Bound by fast vows to own no other name
Than Lohengrin, the Stranger, in this land,
And to depart when asked my race or rank.
Trusting in God I came, and, trusting Him,
I must remain, for all my fate hath changed,
All my desires and hopes, since I am here.'
So ended that great joust, and in the days
Thereafter Elsie and Sir Lohengrin,
United by a circumstance so strange,
Loved and were wedded. A more courteous duke,
A braver chevalier, Brabant ne'er saw.
Such grace breathed from his person and his deeds,
Such simple innocence and faith looked forth
From eyes well-nigh too beautiful for man,
That whom he met, departed as his friend.
But Elsie, bound to him by every bond
Of love and honor and vast gratitude,
Being of lesser faith and confidence,
Tortured herself with envious jealousies,
Misdoubting her own beauty, and her power
To win and to retain so great a heart.
Each year Sir Lohengrin proclaimed a joust
In memory of the tourney where he won
His lovely Duchess, and his lance prevailed
Against all lesser knights. When his twain sons,
Loyal and brave and gentle as their sire,
Had grown to stalwart men, and his one girl,
Eyed like himself and as his Duchess fair,
Floramie, grew to gracious maidenhood,
He gave a noble tourney, and o'erthrew
The terrible and potent Duke of Cleves.
'Ha!' sneered the Dame of Cleves, 'this Lohengrin
May be a knight adroit and valorous,
But who knows whence he sprang?' and lightly laughed,
Seeing the hot blood kindle Elsie's cheek.
That night Sir Lohengrin sought rest betimes,
By hours of crowded action quite forespent,
And found the Duchess Elsie on her couch,
Staining the silken broideries with her tears.
'Why dost thou weep?' he questioned tenderly,
Kissing her delicate hands, and parting back
Her heavy yellow hair from brow and face.
'The Duchess Anne of Cleves hath wounded me.'
'Sweet, am not I at hand to comfort thee?'
And he caressed her as an ailing child,
Until she smiled and slept. But the next night
He found her weeping, and he questioned her,
With the same answer, and again she slept;
Then the third night he asked her why she grieved
And she uprising, white, with eager eyes,
Cried, 'Lohengrin, my lord, my only love,
For our sons' sake, who know not whence they spring,
Our daughter who remains a virgin yet,
Let me not hear folk girding at thy race.
I know thy blood is royal, I have faith;
But tell me all, that I may publish it
Unto our dukedom.' Hurt and wondering,
He answered simply, 'I am Lohengrin,
Son to Sir Percivale, and ministrant
Within the holy temple of the Grail.
I would thy faith were greater, this is all.
Now must I bid farewell.' ' O Lohengrin,
What have I done?' She clung about his neck,
And moistened all his beard with streaming tears;
But he with one long kiss relaxed her arms
Calmly from his embrace, and stood alone.
' Blame not thy nature now with vain reproofs.
This also is our fate: in all things else.
We have submitted,—let us yield in this,
With no less grace now that God tries our hearts,
Than when He sent us victory and love.'
' Yea, go, — you never loved me,' faltered she;
' I will not blame my nature, but your own.
Through all our wedded years I doubted you;
Your eyes have never brightened meeting mine
As I have seen them in religious zeal,
Or in exalted hours of victory.'
A look of perfect weariness, unmixed
With wrath or grief, o'erspread the knight's pale face;
But with the pity that a god might show
Towards one with ills impossible to him,
He drew anear, caressing her, and sighed:
' Through all our wedded years you doubted me?
Poor child, poor child! and it has come to this.
Thank Heaven, I gave no cause for your mistrust,
Desiring never an ideal more fair
Of womanhood than was my chosen wife.'
She, broken, sobbing, leaned her delicate head
On his great shoulder, and remorseful cried,
' O loyal, honest, simple Lohengrin,
Thy wife has been unworthy: this is why
Thou sayest farewell in accents cold and strange,
With alien eyes that even now behold
Things fairer, better, than her mournful face.'
But he with large allowance answered her:
'If this be truth, it is because I feel
That I belong no more unto myself,
Neither to thee, for God withdraws my soul
Beyond all earthly passions unto Him.
Now that we know our doom, with serious calm,
Beside thee I will sit, till break of day,
Thus holding thy chill hand and tell thee all.
This will resign thee, for I cannot think
How any human soul that hath beheld
Life's compensations and its miracles,
Can fail to trust in what is yet to come.'
Then he began from that auroral hour
When he first heard the temple bell, and told
The wonder of the swan that came for him,
His journey down the stream, the tournament,
His strength unwonted, combating the knight
Who towered above him with superior force
Of flesh and sinew,— how he prayed through all,
Imploring God to let the just cause win,
Unconscious of the close-thronged galleries,
Feeling two eyes alone that burned his soul.
She knew the rest. Therewith he kissed her brow
And ended,—' Now the knights will take me back
Into the temple; all who keep their vows,
Are welcomed there again to peace and rest.
There will my years fall from me like a cloak,
And I will stand again at manhood's prime.
Then when all errors of the flesh are purged
From these I loved here, they may follow me,
Unto perpetual worship and to peace.'
She lay quite calm, and smiling heard his voice,
Already grown to her remote and changed,
And when he ceased, arose and gazed in awe
On his transfigured face and kissed his brow,
And understood, accepting all her fate.
Anon he called his children, and to these:
'Farewell, sweet Florance and dear Percivale;
Here is my horn, and here mine ancient sword,—
Guard them with care and win with them repute.
Here, Elsie, is the ring my mother gave,—
Part with it never; and thou, Floramie,
Take thou my love,—I have naught else to give;
Be of strong faith in him thou mean'st to wed.'
So these communed together, till the night
Died from the brightening skies, and in the east
The morning star hung in aerial rose,
And the blue deepened; while moist lawn and hedge
Breathed dewy freshness through the windows oped.
Then on the stream, that nigh the palace flowed,
A stainless swan approached them; in its beak
It held a silver chain, and drew thereby
A dainty, carven shallop after it,
Embossed with silver and with ivory.
Followed by waved farewells and streaming eyes,
Sir Lohengrin embarked and floated forth
Unto perpetual worship and to peace.
Admetus: To My Friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson
He who could beard the lion in his lair,
To bind him for a girl, and tame the boar,
And drive these beasts before his chariot,
Might wed Alcestis. For her low brows' sake,
Her hairs' soft undulations of warm gold,
Her eyes' clear color and pure virgin mouth,
Though many would draw bow or shiver spear,
Yet none dared meet the intolerable eye,
Or lipless tusk, of lion or of boar.
This heard Admetus, King of Thessaly,
Whose broad, fat pastures spread their ample fields
Down to the sheer edge of Amphrysus' stream,
Who laughed, disdainful, at the father's pride,
That set such value on one milk-faced child.
One morning, as he rode alone and passed
Through the green twilight of Thessalian woods,
Between two pendulous branches interlocked,
As through an open casement, he descried
A goddess, as he deemed, — in truth a maid.
On a low bank she fondled tenderly
A favorite hound, her floral face inclined
Above the glossy, graceful animal,
That pressed his snout against her cheek and gazed
Wistfully, with his keen, sagacious eyes.
One arm with lax embrace the neck enwreathed,
With polished roundness near the sleek, gray skin.
Admetus, fixed with wonder, dared not pass,
Intrusive on her holy innocence
And sacred girlhood, but his fretful steed
Snuffed the large air, and champed and pawed the ground;
And hearing this, the maiden raised her head.
No let or hindrance then might stop the king,
Once having looked upon those supreme eyes.
The drooping boughs disparting, forth he sped,
And then drew in his steed, to ask the path,
Like a lost traveller in an alien land.
Although each river-cloven vale, with streams
Arrowy glancing to the blue Ægean,
Each hallowed mountain, the abode of gods,
Pelion and Ossa fringed with haunted groves,
The height, spring-crowned, of dedicate Olympus,
And pleasant sun-fed vineyards, were to him
Familiar as his own face in the stream,
Nathless he paused and asked the maid what path
Might lead him from the forest. She replied,
But still he tarried, and with sportsman's praise
Admired the hound and stooped to stroke its head,
And asked her if she hunted. Nay, not she:
Her father Pelias hunted in these woods,
Where there was royal game. He knew her now, —
Alcestis, — and her left her with due thanks:
No goddess, but a mortal, to be won
By such a simple feat as driving boars
And lions to his chariot. What was that
To him who saw the boar of Calydon,
The sacred boar of Artemis, at bay
In the broad stagnant marsh, and sent his darts
In its tough, quivering flank, and saw its death,
Stung by sure arrows of Arcadian nymph?
To river-pastures of his flocks and herds
Admetus rode, where sweet-breathed cattle grazed,
Heifers and goats and kids, and foolish sheep
Dotted cool, spacious meadows with bent heads,
And necks' soft wool broken in yellow flakes,
Nibbling sharp-toothed the rich, thick-growing blades.
One herdsmen kept the innumerable droves —
A boy yet, young as immortality —
In listless posture on a vine-grown rock.
Around him huddled kids and sheep that left
The mother's udder for his nighest grass,
Which sprouted with fresh verdure where he sat.
And yet dull neighboring rustics never guessed
A god had been among them till he went,
Although with him they acted as he willed,
Renouncing shepherds' silly pranks and quips,
Because his very presence made them grave.
Amphryssius, after their translucent stream,
They called him, but Admetus knew his name, —
Hyperion, god of sun and song and silver speech,
Condemned to serve a mortal for his sin
To Zeus in sending violent darts of death,
And raising hand irreverent, against
The one-eyed forgers of the thunderbolt.
For shepherd's crook he held the living rod
Of twisted serpents, later Hermes' wand.
Him sought the king, discovering soon hard by,
Idle, as one in nowise bound to time,
Watching the restless grasses blow and wave,
The sparkle of the sun upon the stream,
Regretting nothing, living with the hour:
For him, who had his light and song within,
Was naught that did not shine, and all things sang.
Admetus prayed for his celestial aid
To win Alcestis, which the god vouchsafed,
Granting with smiles, as grant all gods, who smite
With stern hand, sparing not for piteousness,
But give their gifts in gladness.
Thus the king
Led with loose rein the beasts as tame as kine,
And townsfolk thronged within the city streets,
As round a god; and mothers showed their babes,
And maidens loved the crowned intrepid youth,
And men would worship, though the very god
Who wrought the wonder dwelled unnoted nigh,
Divinely scornful of neglect or praise.
Then Pelias, seeing this would be his son,
As he had vowed, called for his wife and child.
With Anaxibia, Alcestis came,
A warm flush spreading o'er her eager face
In looking on the rider of the woods,
And knowing him her suitor and the king.
Admetus won Alcestis thus to wife,
And these with mated hearts and mutual love
Lived a life blameless, beautiful: the king
Ordaining justice in the gates; the queen,
With grateful offerings to the household gods,
Wise with the wisdom of the pure in heart.
One child she bore, — Eumelus, — and he throve.
Yet none the less because they sacrificed
The firstlings of their flocks and fruits and flowers,
Did trouble come; for sickness seized the king.
Alcestis watched with many-handed love,
But unavailing service, for he lay
With languid limbs, despite his ancient strength
Of sinew, and his skill with spear and sword.
His mother came, Clymene, and with her
His father, Pheres: his unconscious child
They brought him, while forlorn Alcestis sat
Discouraged, with the face of desolation.
The jealous gods would bind his mouth from speech,
And smite his vigorous frame with impotence;
And ruin with bitter ashes, worms, and dust,
The beauty of his crowned, exalted head.
He knew her presence, — soon he would not know,
Nor feel her hand in his lie warm and close,
Nor care if she were near him any more.
Exhausted with long vigils, thus the queen
Held hard and grievous thoughts, till heavy sleep
Possessed her weary senses, and she dreamed.
And even in her dream her trouble lived,
For she was praying in a barren field
To all the gods for help, when came across
The waste of air and land, from distant skies,
A spiritual voice divinely clear,
Whose unimaginable sweetness thrilled
Her aching heart with tremor of strange joy:
'Arise, Alcestis, cast away white fear.
A god dwells with you: seek, and you shall find.'
Then quiet satisfaction filled her soul
Almost akin to gladness, and she woke.
Weak as the dead, Admetus lay there still;
But she, superb with confidence, arose,
And passed beyond the mourners' curious eyes,
Seeking Amphryssius in the meadow-lands.
She found him with the godlike mien of one
Who, roused, awakens unto deeds divine:
'I come, Hyperion, with incessant tears,
To crave the life of my dear lord the king.
Pity me, for I see the future years
Widowed and laden with disastrous days.
And ye, the gods, will miss him when the fires
Upon your shrines, unfed, neglected die.
Who will pour large libations in your names,
And sacrifice with generous piety?
Silence and apathy will greet you there
Where once a splendid spirit offered praise.
Grant me this boon divine, and I will beat
With prayer at morning's gates, before they ope
Unto thy silver-hoofed and flame-eyed steeds.
Answer ere yet the irremeable stream
Be crossed: answer, O god, and save!'
With full throat salt with tears, and looked on him,
And with a sudden cry of awe fell prone,
For, lo! he was transmuted to a god;
The supreme aureole radiant round his brow,
Divine refulgence on his face, — his eyes
Awful with splendor, and his august head
With blinding brilliance crowned by vivid flame.
Then in a voice that charmed the listening air:
'Woman, arise! I have no influence
On Death, who is the servant of the Fates.
Howbeit for thy passion and thy prayer,
The grace of thy fair womanhood and youth,
Thus godlike will I intercede for thee,
And sue the insatiate sisters for this life.
Yet hope not blindly: loth are these to change
Their purpose; neither will they freely give,
But haggling lend or sell: perchance the price
Will countervail the boon. Consider this.
Now rise and look upon me.' And she rose,
But by her stood no godhead bathed in light,
But young Amphryssius, herdsman to the king,
Fleet as thought, the god
Fled from the glittering earth to blackest depths
Of Tartarus; and none might say he sped
On wings ambrosial, or with feet as swift
As scouring hail, or airy chariot
Borne by flame-breathing steeds ethereal;
But with a motion inconceivable
Departed and was there. Before the throne
Of Ades, first he hailed the long-sought queen,
Stolen with violent hands from grassy fields
And delicate airs of sunlit Sicily,
Pensive, gold-haired, but innocent-eyed no more
As when she laughing plucked the daffodils,
But grave as one fulfilling a strange doom.
And low at Ades' feet, wrapped in grim murk
And darkness thick, the three gray women sat,
Loose-robed and chapleted with wool and flowers,
Purple narcissi round their horrid hair.
Intent upon her task, the first one held
The slender thread that at a touch would snap;
The second weaving it with warp and woof
Into strange textures, some stained dark and foul,
Some sanguine-colored, and some black as night,
And rare ones white, or with a golden thread
Running throughout the web: the farthest hag
With glistening scissors cut her sisters' work.
To these Hyperion, but they never ceased,
Nor raised their eyes, till with soft, moderate tones,
But by their powerful persuasiveness
Commanding all to listen and obey,
He spoke, and all hell heard, and these three looked
And waited his request:
'I come, a god,
At a pure mortal queen's request, who sues
For life renewed unto her dying lord,
Admetus; and I also pray this prayer.'
'Then cease, for when hath Fate been moved by prayer?'
'But strength and upright heart should serve with you.'
'Nay, these may serve with all but Destiny.'
'I ask ye not forever to forbear,
But spare a while, — a moment unto us,
A lifetime unto men.' 'The Fates swerve not
For supplications, like the pliant gods.
Have they not willed a life's thread should be cut?
With them the will is changeless as the deed.
O men! ye have not learned in all the past,
Desires are barren and tears yield no fruit.
How long will ye besiege the thrones of gods
With lamentations? When lagged Death for all
Your timorous shirking? We work not like you,
Delaying and relenting, purposeless,
With unenduring issues; but our deeds,
Forever interchained and interlocked,
Complete each other and explain themselves.'
'Ye will a life: then why not any life?'
'What care we for the king? He is not worth
These many words; indeed, we love not speech.
We care not if he live, or lose such life
As men are greedy for, — filled full with hate,
Sins beneath scorn, and only lit by dreams,
Or one sane moment, or a useless hope, —
Lasting how long? — the space between the green
And fading yellow of the grass they tread.'
But he withdrawing not: 'Will any life
Suffice ye for Admetus?' 'Yea,' the crones
Three times repeated. 'We know no such names
As king or queen or slave: we want but life.
Begone, and vex us in our work no more.'
With broken blessings, inarticulate joy
And tears, Alcestis thanked Hyperion,
And worshipped. Then he gently: 'Who will die,
So that the king may live?' And she: 'You ask?
Nay, who will live when life clasps hands with shame,
And death with honor? Lo, you are a god;
You cannot know the highest joy of life, —
To leave it when 't is worthier to die.
His parents, kinsmen, courtiers, subjects, slaves, —
For love of him myself would die, were none
Found ready; but what Greek would stand to see
A woman glorified, and falter? Once,
And only once, the gods will do this thing
In all the ages: such a man themselves
Delight to honor, — holy, temperate, chaste,
With reverence for his dæmon and his god.'
Thus she triumphant to the very door
Of King Admetus' chamber. All there saw
Her ill-timed gladness with much wonderment.
But she: 'No longer mourn! The king is saved:
The Fates will spare him. Lift your voice in praise;
Sing pæans to Apollo; crown your brows
With laurel; offer thankful sacrifice!'
'O Queen, what mean these foolish words misplaced?
And what an hour is this to thank the Fates?'
'Thrice blessed be the gods! — for God himself
Has sued for me, — they are not stern and deaf.
Cry, and they answer: commune with your soul,
And they send counsel: weep with rainy grief,
And these will sweeten you your bitterest tears.
On one condition King Admetus lives,
And ye, on hearing, will lament no more,
Each emulous to save.' Then — for she spake
Assured, as having heard an oracle —
They asked: 'What deed of ours may serve the king?'
'The Fates accept another life for his,
And one of you may die.' Smiling, she ceased.
But silence answered her. 'What! do ye thrust
Your arrows in your hearts beneath your cloaks,
Dying like Greeks, too proud to own the pang?
This ask I not. In all the populous land
But one need suffer for immortal praise.
The generous Fates have sent no pestilence,
Famine, nor war: it is as though they gave
Freely, and only make the boon more rich
By such slight payment. Now a people mourns,
And ye may change the grief to jubilee,
Filling the cities with a pleasant sound.
But as for me, what faltering words can tell
My joy, in extreme sharpness kin to pain?
A monument you have within my heart,
Wreathed with kind love and dear remembrances;
And I will pray for you before I crave
Pardon and pity for myself from God.
Your name will he the highest in the land,
Oftenest, fondest on my grateful lips,
After the name of him you die to save.
What! silent still? Since when has virtue grown
Less beautiful than indolence and ease?
Is death more terrible, more hateworthy,
More bitter than dishonor? Will ye live
On shame? Chew and find sweet its poisoned fruits?
What sons will ye bring forth — mean-souled like you,
Or, like your parents, brave — to blush like girls,
And say, 'Our fathers were afraid to die!'
Ye will not dare to raise heroic eyes
Unto the eyes of aliens. In the streets
Will women and young children point at you
Scornfully, and the sun will find you shamed,
And night refuse to shield you. What a life
Is this ye spin and fashion for yourselves!
And what new tortures of suspense and doubt
Will death invent for such as are afraid!
Acastus, thou my brother, in the field
Foremost, who greeted me with sanguine hands
From ruddy battle with a conqueror's face, —
These honors wilt thou blot with infamy?
Nay, thou hast won no honors: a mere girl
Would do as much as thou at such a time,
In clamorous battle, 'midst tumultuous sounds,
Neighing of war-steeds, shouts of sharp command,
Snapping of shivered spears; for all are brave
When all men look to them expectantly;
But he is truly brave who faces death
Within his chamber, at a sudden call,
At night, when no man sees, — content to die
When life can serve no longer those he loves.'
Then thus Acastus: 'Sister, I fear not
Death, nor the empty darkness of the grave,
And hold my life but as a little thing,
Subject unto my people's call, and Fate.
But if 't is little, no greater is the king's;
And though my heart bleeds sorely, I recall
Astydamia, who thus would mourn for me.
We are not cowards, we youth of Thessaly,
And Thessaly — yea, all Greece — knoweth it;
Nor will we brook the name from even you,
Albeit a queen, and uttering these wild words
Through your unwonted sorrow.' Then she knew
That he stood firm, and turning from him, cried
To the king's parents: 'Are ye deaf with grief,
Pheres, Clymene? Ye can save your son,
Yet rather stand and weep with barren tears.
O, shame! to think that such gray, reverend hairs
Should cover such unvenerable heads!
What would ye lose?— a remnant of mere life,
A few slight raveled threads, and give him years
To fill with glory. Who, when he is gone,
Will call you gentlest names this side of heaven, —
Father and mother? Knew ye not this man
Ere he was royal, — a poor, helpless child,
Crownless and kingdomless? One birth alone
Sufficeth not, Clymene: once again
You must give life with travail and strong pain.
Has he not lived to outstrip your swift hopes?
What mother can refuse a second birth
To such a son? But ye denying him,
What after-offering may appease the gods?
What joy outweigh the grief of this one day?
What clamor drown the hours' myriad tongues,
Crying, 'Your son, your son? where is your son,
Unnatural mother, timid, foolish man?'
Then Pheres gravely: 'These are graceless words
From you our daughter. Life is always life,
And death comes soon enough to such as we.
We twain are old and weak, have served our time,
And made our sacrifices. Let the young
Arise now in their turn and save the king.'
'O gods! look on your creatures! do ye see?
And seeing, have ye patience? Smite them all,
Unsparing, with dishonorable death.
Vile slaves! a woman teaches you to die.
Intrepid, with exalted steadfast soul,
Scorn in my heart, and love unutterable,
I yield the Fates my life, and like a god
Command them to revere that sacred head.
Thus kiss I thrice the dear, blind, holy eyes,
And bid them see; and thrice I kiss this brow,
And thus unfasten I the pale, proud lips
With fruitful kissings, bringing love and life,
And without fear or any pang, I breathe
My soul in him.'
'Alcestis, I awake.
I hear, I hear — unspeak thy reckless words!
For, lo! thy life-blood tingles in my veins,
And streameth through my body like new wine.
Behold! thy spirit dedicate revives
My pulse, and through thy sacrifice I breathe.
Thy lips are bloodless: kiss me not again.
Ashen thy cheeks, faded thy flowerlike hands.
O woman! perfect in thy womanhood
And in thy wifehood, I adjure thee now
As mother, by the love thou bearest our child,
In this thy hour of passion and of love,
Of sacrifice and sorrow, to unsay
Thy words sublime!' 'I die that thou mayest live.'
'And deemest thou that I accept the boon,
Craven, like these my subjects? Lo, my queen,
Is life itself a lovely thing, — bare life?
And empty breath a thing desirable?
Or is it rather happiness and love
That make it precious to its inmost core?
When these are lost, are there not swords in Greece,
And flame and poison, deadly waves and plagues?
No man has ever lacked these things and gone
Unsatisfied. It is not these the gods refuse
(Nay, never clutch my sleeve and raise thy lip), —
Not these I seek; but I will stab myself,
Poison my life and burn my flesh, with words,
And save or follow thee. Lo! hearken now:
I bid the gods take back their loathsome gifts:
I spurn them, and I scorn them, and I hate.
Will they prove deaf to this as to my prayers?
With tongue reviling, blasphemous, I curse,
With mouth polluted from deliberate heart.
Dishonored be their names, scorned be their priests,
Ruined their altars, mocked their oracles!
It is Admetus, King of Thessaly,
Defaming thus: annihilate him, gods!
So that his queen, who worships you, may live.'
He paused as one expectant; but no bolt
From the insulted heavens answered him,
But awful silence followed. Then a hand,
A boyish hand, upon his shoulder fell,
And turning, he beheld his shepherd boy,
Not wrathful, but divinely pitiful,
Who spake in tender, thrilling tones: 'The gods
Cannot recall their gifts. Blaspheme them not:
Bow down and worship rather. Shall he curse
Who sees not, and who hears not, — neither knows
Nor understands? Nay, thou shalt bless and pray, —
Pray, for the pure heart, purged by prayer, divines
And seeth when the bolder eyes are blind.
Worship and wonder, — these befit a man
At every hour; and mayhap will the gods
Yet work a miracle for knees that bend
And hands that supplicate.'
Then all they knew
A sudden sense of awe, and bowed their heads
Beneath the stripling's gaze: Admetus fell,
Crushed by that gentle touch, and cried aloud:
'Pardon and pity! I am hard beset.'
There waited at the doorway of the king
One grim and ghastly, shadowy, horrible,
Bearing the likeness of a king himself,
Erect as one who serveth not, — upon
His head a crown, within his fleshless hands
A sceptre, — monstrous, winged, intolerable.
To him a stranger coming 'neath the trees,
Which slid down flakes of light, now on his hair,
Close-curled, now on his bared and brawny chest,
Now on his flexile, vine-like veinéd limbs,
With iron network of strong muscle thewed,
And godlike brows and proud mouth unrelaxed.
Firm was his step; no superfluity
Of indolent flesh impeded this man's strength.
Slender and supple every perfect limb,
Beautiful with the glory of a man.
No weapons bare he, neither shield: his hands
Folded upon his breast, his movements free
Of all incumbrance. When his mighty strides
Had brought him nigh the waiting one, he paused:
'Whose palace this? and who art thou, grim shade?'
'The palace of the King of Thessaly,
And my name is not strange unto thine ears;
For who hath told men that I wait for them,
The one sure thing on earth? Yet all they know,
Unasking and yet answered. I am Death,
The only secret that the gods reveal.
But who art thou who darest question me?'
'Alcides; and that thing I dare not do
Hath found no name. Whom here awaitest thou?'
'Alcestis, Queen of Thessaly, — a queen
Who wooed me as the bridegroom woos the bride,
For her life sacrificed will save her lord
Admetus, as the Fates decreed. I wait
Impatient, eager; and I enter soon,
With darkening wing, invisible, a god,
And kiss her lips, and kiss her throbbing heart,
And then the tenderest hands can do no more
Than close her eyes and wipe her cold, white brow,
Inurn her ashes and strew flowers above.'
'This woman is a god, a hero, Death.
In this her sacrifice I see a soul
Luminous, starry: earth can spare her not:
It is not rich enough in purity
To lose this paragon. Save her, O Death!
Thou surely art more gentle than the Fates,
Yet these have spared her lord, and never meant
That she should suffer, and that this their grace,
Beautiful, royal on one side, should turn
Sudden and show a fearful, fatal face.'
'Nay, have they not? O fond and foolish man,
Naught comes unlooked for, unforeseen by them.
Doubt when they favor thee, though thou mayest laugh
When they have scourged thee with an iron scourge.
Behold, their smile is deadlier than their sting,
And every boon of theirs is double-faced.
Yea, I am gentler unto ye than these:
I slay relentless, but when have I mocked
With poisoned gifts, and generous hands that smite
Under the flowers? for my name is Truth.
Were this fair queen more fair, more pure, more chaste,
I would not spare her for your wildest prayer
Nor her best virtue. Is the earth's mouth full?
Is the grave satisfied? Discrown me then,
For life is lord, and men may mock the gods
With immortality.' 'I sue no more,
But I command thee spare this woman's life,
Or wrestle with Alcides.' 'Wrestle with thee,
Thou puny boy!' And Death laughed loud, and swelled
To monstrous bulk, fierce-eyed, with outstretched wings,
And lightnings round his brow; but grave and firm,
Strong as a tower, Alcides waited him,
And these began to wrestle, and a cloud
Impenetrable fell, and all was dark.
'Farewell, Admetus and my little son,
Eumelus, — O these clinging baby hands!
Thy loss is bitter, for no chance, no fame,
No wealth of love, can ever compensate
For a dead mother. Thou, O king, fulfill
The double duty: love him with my love,
And make him bold to wrestle, shiver spears,
Noble and manly, Grecian to the bone;
And tell him that his mother spake with gods.
Farewell, farewell! Mine eyes are growing blind:
The darkness gathers. O my heart, my heart!'
No sound made answer save the cries of grief
From all the mourners, and the suppliance
Of strick'n Admetus: ' O have mercy, gods!
O gods, have mercy, mercy upon us!'
Then from the dying woman's couch again
Her voice was heard, but with strange sudden tones:
'Lo, I awake, — the light comes back to me.
What miracle is this?' And thunders shook
The air, and clouds of mighty darkness fell,
And the earth trembled, and weird, horrid sounds
Were heard of rushing wings and fleeing feet,
And groans; and all were silent, dumb with awe,
Saving the king, who paused not in his prayer:
'Have mercy, gods!' and then again, 'O gods,
Through the open casement poured
Bright floods of sunny light; the air was soft,
Clear, delicate as though a summer storm
Had passed away; and those there standing saw,
Afar upon the plain, Death fleeing thence,
And at the doorway, weary, well-nigh spent,
Alcides, flushed with victory.