To Richard Watson Gilder

Old friends are best! And so to you
Again I send, in closer throng,
No unfamliar shapes of song,
But those that once you liked and knew.
You surely will not do them wrong;
For are you not an old friend, too? -
Old friends are best.
Old books, old wine, old Nankin blue; -
All things, in short, to which belong
The charm, the grace that Time makes strong, -
All these I prize, but (entre nous)
Old friends are best.

On The Hurry Of This Time

With slower pen men used to write,
Of old, when 'letters' were 'polite';
In Anna's, or in George's days,
They could afford to turn a phrase,
Or trim a straggling theme aright.

They knew not steam; electric light
Not yet had dazed their calmer sight; -
They meted out both blame and praise
With slower pen.

Too swiftly now the hours take flight!
What's read at morn is dead at night;
Scant space have we for Art's delays,
Whose breathless thought so briefly stays,
We may not work - ah! would we might! -
With slower pen.

'With Pipe And Flute'

(To E. G.)
WITH pipe and flute the rustic Pan
Of old made music sweet for man;
And wonder hushed the warbling bird,
And closer drew the calm-eyed herd,--
The rolling river slowlier ran.
Ah! would,--ah! would, a little span,
Some air of Arcady could fan
This age of ours, too seldom stirred,
With pipe and flute!
But now for gold we plot and plan;
And from Beersheba unto Dan,
Apollo's self might pass unheard,
Or find the night-jar's note preferred;--
Not so it fared, when time began,
With pipe and flute!

When This Old World Was New

When this old world was new,
Before the towns were made,
Love was a shepherd too.

Clear-eyed as flowers men grew,
Of evil unafraid,
When this old world was new.

No skill had they to woo,
Who but their hearts obey'd—
Love was a shepherd too.

What need to feign or sue?
Not thus was life delay'd
When this old world was new.

Under the cloudless blue
They kiss'd their shepherd-maid—
Love was a shepherd too.

They knew but joy; they knew
No pang of Love decay'd:
When this old world was new,
Love was a shepherd too.

For A Copy Of Theocritus

O SINGER of the field and fold,
Theocritus! Pan’s pipe was thine,—
Thine was the happier Age of Gold.

For thee the scent of new-turned mould,
The bee-hives, and the murmuring pine,
O Singer of the field and fold!

Thou sang’st the simple feasts of old,—
The beechen bowl made glad with wine…
Thine was the happier Age of Gold.

Thou bad’st the rustic loves be told,—
Thou bad’st the tuneful reeds combine,
O Singer of the field and fold!

And round thee, ever-laughing, rolled
The blithe and blue Sicilian brine…
Thine was the happier Age of Gold.

Alas for us! Our songs are cold;
Our Northern suns too sadly shine:—
O Singer of the field and fold,
Thine was the happier Age of Gold!

A Song Of The Greenaway Child

As I went a-walking on _Lavender Hill_,
O, I met a Darling in frock and frill;
And she looked at me shyly, with eyes of blue,
'Are you going a-walking? Then take me too!'

So we strolled to the field where the cowslips grow,
And we played--and we played, for an hour or so;
Then we climbed to the top of the old park wall,
And the Darling she threaded a cowslip ball.

Then we played again, till I said--'My Dear,
This pain in my side, it has grown severe;
I ought to have mentioned I'm past three-score,
And I fear that I scarcely can play any more!'

But the Darling she answered,-'O no! O no!
You must play--you must play.--I sha'n't let you go!'

--And I woke with a start and a sigh of despair,
And I found myself safe in my Grandfather's-chair!

A Persian Apologue

Melek the sultan, tired and wan,
Nodded at noon on the divan.

Beside the fountain lingered near
Jamil the bard, and the vizier ---

Old Yusuf, cross and hard to please;
Then Jamil sang, in words like these:

Slim is Butheina -- slim is she
As boughs of the Araka-tree!

'Nay,' quoth the other, teeth between,
'Learn, if you will -- I call her lean.'

Sweet is Butheina -- sweet as wine,
With smiles that like red bubbles shine!

'True. -- by the Prophet!' Yusuf said.
'She makes men wander in the head!'

Dear is Butheina -- ah! more dear
Than all the maidens of Kashmeer!

'Dear,' came the answer, quick as thought,
'Dear . . and yet always to be bought.'

So Jamil ceased. But still Life's page
Shows diverse unto Youth and Age:

And, be the song of Ghouls or Gods,
Time, like the Sultan, sits . . and nods.

The Paradox Of Time

Time goes, you say? Ah no!
Alas, Time stays, we go;
Or else, were this not so,
What need to chain the hours,
For Youth were always ours?
Time goes, you say?-ah no!

Ours is the eyes' deceit
Of men whose flying feet
Lead through some landscape low;
We pass, and think we see
The earth's fixed surface flee:-
Alas, Time stays,-we go!

Once in the days of old,
Your locks were curling gold,
And mine had shamed the crow.
Now, in the self-same stage,
We've reached the silver age;
Time goes, you say?-ah no!

Once, when my voice was strong,
I filled the woods with song
To praise your 'rose' and 'snow';
My bird, that sang, is dead;
Where are your roses fled?
Alas, Time stays,-we go!

See, in what traversed ways,
What backward Fate delays
The hopes we used to know;
Where are our old desires?-
Ah, where those vanished fires?
Time goes, you say?-ah no!

How far, how far, O Sweet,
The past behind our feet
Lies in the even-glow!
Now, on the forward way,
Let us fold hands, and pray;
Alas, Time stays,-we go!

The Happy Printer

The Printer's is a happy lot:
Alone of all professions,
No fateful smudges ever blot
His earliest 'impressions.'

The outgrowth of his youthful ken
No cold obstruction fetters;
He quickly learns the 'types' of men,
And all the world of 'letters.'

With 'forms' he scorns to compromise;
For him no 'rule' has terrors;
The 'slips' he makes he can 'revise'--
They are but 'printers' errors.'

From doubtful questions of the 'Press'
He wisely holds aloof;
In all polemics, more or less,
His argument is 'proof.'

Save in their 'case,' with High and Low,
Small need has he to grapple!
Without dissent he still can go
To his accustomed 'Chapel,'

From ills that others scape or shirk,
He rarely fails to rally;
For him, his most 'composing' work
Is labour of the 'galley.'

Though ways be foul, and days are dim,
He makes no lamentation;
The primal 'fount' of woe to him
Is--want of occupation:

And when, at last, Time finds him grey
With over-close attention,
He solves the problem of the day,
And gets an Old Age pension.

My Little Boy That Died

Look at his pretty face for just one minute !
His braided frock and dainty buttoned shoes,
His firm-shut hand, the favorite plaything in it,
Then, tell me, mothers, was it not hard to lose
And miss him from my side,—
My little boy that died?

How many another boy, as dear and charming,
His father's hope, his mother's one delight,
Slips through strange sicknesses, all fear disarming, And lives a long, long life in parents' sight
Mine was so short a pride:
And then—my poor boy died.

I see him rocking on his wooden charger;
I hear him pattering through the house all day;
I watch his great blue eyes grow large and larger, Listening to stories, whether grave or gay
Told at the bright fireside—
So dark now, since he died.

But yet I often think my boy is living,
As living as my other children are.
When good-night kisses I all round am giving
I keep one for him, though he is so far.
Can a mere grave divide
Me from him—though he died?

So, while I come and plant it o'er with daisies
(Nothing but childish daisies all year round)
Continually God's hand the curtain raises,
And I can hear his merry voice's sound,
And I feel him at my side—
My little boy that died.

The Friend Of Humanity And The Rhymer

F. OF H. I want a verse. It gives you little pains;--
You just sit down, and draw upon your brains.

Come, now, be amiable.

R. To hear you talk,
You'd make it easier to fly than walk.
You seem to think that rhyming is a thing
You can produce if you but touch a spring;

That fancy, fervour, passion--and what not,

Are just a case of 'penny in the slot.'
You should reflect that no evasive bird
Is half so shy as is your fittest word;
And even similes, however wrought,
Like hares, before you cook them, must be caught;--

Impromptus, too, require elaboration,
And (unlike eggs) grow fresh by incubation;
Then,--as to epigrams,..

F. of H. Nay, nay, I've done.
I did but make petition. You make fun.

R. Stay. I am grave. Forgive me if I ramble:
But, then, a negative needs some preamble
To break the blow. I feel with you, in truth,
These complex miseries of Age and Youth;
I feel with you--and none can feel it more
Than I--this burning Problem of the Poor;
The Want that grinds, the Mystery of Pain,
The Hearts that sink, and never rise again;--
How shall I set this to some careless screed,
Or jigging stave, when Help is what you need,
Help, Help,--more Help?

F. of H. I fancied that with ease
You'd scribble off some verses that might please,
And so give help to us.

R. Why then--TAKE THESE!

On The Future Of Poetry

Bards of the Future! you that come
With striding march, and roll of drum,
What will your newest challenge be
To our prose-bound community?
What magic will you find to stir
The limp and languid listener?
Will it be daring and dramatic?
Will it be frankly democratic?
Will Pegasus return again
In guise of modern aeroplane,
Descending from a cloudless blue
To drop on us a bomb or two?
I know not. Far be it from me
To darken dark futurity;
Still less to render more perplexed
The last vagary, or the next.
Leave Pindus Hill to those who list,
Iconoclast or anarchist -
So be it. 'They that break shall pay.'
I stand upon the ancient way.
I hold it for a certain thing,
That, blank or rhyming, song must sing;
And more, that what is good for verse,
Need not, by dint of rhyme, grow worse.
I hold that they who deal in rhyme
Must take the standpoint of the time -
But not to catch the public ear,
As mountebank or pulpiteer;
That the old notes are still the new,
If the musician's touch be true -
Nor can the hand that knows its trade
Achieve the trite and ready-made;
That your first theme is Human Life,
Its hopes and fears, its love and strife -
A theme no custom can efface,
Common, but never commonplace;
For this, beyond all doubt, is plain:
The Truth that pleased will please again,
And move men as in bygone years
When Hector's wife smiled through her tears.

A Gage D’amour

Charles,—for it seems you wish to know,—
You wonder what could scare me so,
And why, in this long-locked bureau,
With trembling fingers,—
With tragic air, I now replace
This ancient web of yellow lace,
Among whose faded folds the trace
Of perfume lingers.

Friend of my youth, severe as true,
I guess the train your thoughts pursue;
But this my state is nowise due
To indigestion;
I had forgotten it was there,
A scarf that Some-one used to wear.
Hinc illæ lacrimæ,—so spare
Your cynic question.

Some-one who is not girlish now,
And wed long since. We meet and bow;
I don’t suppose our broken vow
Affects us keenly;
Yet, trifling though my act appears,
Your Sternes would make it ground for tears;—
One can’t disturb the dust of years,
And smile serenely.

“My golden locks” are gray and chill,
For hers,—let them be sacred still;
But yet, I own, a boyish thrill
Went dancing through me,
Charles, when I held yon yellow lace;
For, from its dusty hiding-place,
Peeped out an arch, ingenuous face
That beckoned to me.

We shut our heart up nowadays,
Like some old music-box that plays
Unfashionable airs that raise
Derisive pity;
Alas,—a nothing starts the spring;
And lo, the sentimental thing
At once commences quavering
Its lover’s ditty.

Laugh, if you like. The boy in me,—
The boy that was,—revived to see
The fresh young smile that shone when she,
Of old, was tender.
Once more we trod the Golden Way,—
That mother you saw yesterday,
And I, whom none can well portray
As young, or slender.

She twirled the flimsy scarf about
Her pretty head, and stepping out,
Slipped arm in mine, with half a pout
Of childish pleasure.
Where we were bound no mortal knows,
For then you plunged in Ireland’s woes,
And brought me blankly back to prose
And Gladstone’s measure.

Well, well, the wisest bend to Fate.
My brown old books around me wait,
My pipe still holds, unconfiscate,
Its wonted station.
Pass me the wine. To Those that keep
The bachelor’s secluded sleep
Peaceful, inviolate, and deep,
I pour libation.

A Familiar Epistle

DEAR COSMOPOLITAN,—I know
I should address you a Rondeau,
Or else announce what I ’ve to say
At least en Ballade fratriseé
But No: for once I leave Gymnasticks,
And take to simple Hudibrasticks,
Why should I choose another Way,
When this was good enough for GAY?

You love, my FRIEND, with me I think,
That Age of Lustre and of Link;
Of Chelsea China and long “s”es,
Of Bag-wigs and of flowered Dresses;
That Age of Folly and of Cards,
Of Hackney Chairs and Hackney Bards;
—No H-LTS, no K-G-N P-LS were then
Dispensing Competence to Men;
The gentle Trade was left to Churls,
Your frowsy TONSONS and your CURLLS;
Mere Wolves in Ambush to attack
The AUTHOR in a Sheep-skin Back;
Then SAVAGE and his Brother-Sinners
In Porridge Island div’d for Dinners;
Or doz’d on Covent Garden Bulks,
And liken’d Letters to the Hulks;—
You know that by-gone Time, I say,
That aimless easy-moral’d Day,
When rosy Morn found MADAM still
Wrangling at Ombre or Quadrille,
When good SIR JOHN reel’d Home to Bed,
From Pontack’s or the Shakespeare's’s Head;
When TRIP convey’d his Master’s Cloaths,
And took his Titles and his Oaths;
While BETTY, in a cast Brocade,
Ogled MY LORD at Masquerade;
When GARRICK play’d the guilty Richard,
Or mouth’d Macbeth with Mrs. PRITCHARD;
When FOOTE grimaced his snarling Wit;
When CHURCHILL bullied in the Pit;
When the CUZZONI sang—
But there!
The further Catalogue I spare,
Having no Purpose to eclipse
That tedious Tale of HOMER’S Ships;—
This is the MAN that drew it all
From Pannier Alley to the Mall,
Then turn’d and drew it once again
From Bird-Cage-Walk to Lewknor’s Lane;—
Its Rakes and Fools, its Rogues and Sots;
Its brawling Quacks, its starveling Scots;
Its Ups and Downs, its Rags and Garters,
Its HENLEYS, LOVATS, MALCOLMS, CHARTRES,
Its Splendor, Squalor, Shame, Disease;
Its quicquid agunt Homines;—
Nor yet omitted to pourtray
Furens quid possit Foemina;—
In short, held up to ev’ry Class
NATURE’S unflatt’ring looking-Glass;
And, from his Canvas, spoke to All
The Message of a JUVENAL.

Take Him. His Merits most aver:
His weak Point is—his Chronicler!

'Tis an old dial, dark with many a stain;
In summer crowned with drifting orchard bloom,
Tricked in the autumn with the yellow rain,
And white in winter like a marble tomb.

And round about its gray, time-eaten brow
Lean letters speak,--a worn and shattered row:
=I am a Shade; a Shadowe too art thou:
I marke the Time: saye, Gossip, dost thou soe?=

Here would the ring-doves linger, head to head;
And here the snail a silver course would run,
Beating old Time; and here the peacock spread
His gold-green glory, shutting out the sun.

The tardy shade moved forward to the noon;
Betwixt the paths a dainty Beauty stept,
That swung a flower, and, smiling hummed a tune,--
Before whose feet a barking spaniel leapt.

O'er her blue dress an endless blossom strayed;
About her tendril-curls the sunlight shone;
And round her train the tiger-lilies swayed,
Like courtiers bowing till the queen be gone.

She leaned upon the slab a little while,
Then drew a jewelled pencil from her zone,
Scribbled a something with a frolic smile,
Folded, inscribed, and niched it in the stone.

The shade slipped on, no swifter than the snail;
There came a second lady to the place,
Dove-eyed, dove-robed, and something wan and pale,--
An inner beauty shining from her face.

She, as if listless with a lonely love,
Straying among the alleys with a book,--
Herrick or Herbert,--watched the circling dove,
And spied the tiny letter in the nook.

Then, like to one who confirmation found
Of some dread secret half-accounted true,--
Who knew what hearts and hands the letter bound,
And argued loving commerce 'twixt the two,--

She bent her fair young forehead on the stone;
The dark shade gloomed an instant on her head;
And 'twixt her taper fingers pearled and shone
The single tear that tear-worn eyes will shed.

The shade slipped onward to the falling gloom;
Then came a soldier gallant in her stead,
Swinging a beaver with a swaling plume,
A ribboned love-lock rippling from his head.

Blue-eyed, frank-faced, with clear and open brow,
Scar-seamed a little, as the women love;
So kindly fronted that you marvelled how
The frequent sword-hilt had so frayed his glove;

Who switched at Psyche plunging in the sun;
Uncrowned three lilies with a backward swinge;
And standing somewhat widely, like to one
More used to 'Boot and Saddle' than to cringe

As courtiers do, but gentleman withal,
Took out the note;--held it as one who feared
The fragile thing he held would slip and fall;
Read and re-read, pulling his tawny beard;

Kissed it, I think, and hid it in his breast;
Laughed softly in a flattered, happy way,
Arranged the broidered baldrick on his crest,
And sauntered past, singing a roundelay.

* * * * *

The shade crept forward through the dying glow;
There came no more nor dame nor cavalier;
But for a little time the brass will show
A small gray spot,--the record of a tear.

Just for a space I met her –
Just for a day in the train!
It began when she feared it would wet her,
That tiniest spurtle of rain:
So we tucked a great rug in the sashes,
And carefully padded the pane;
And I sorrow in sackcloth and ashes,
Longing to do it again!

Then it grew when she begged me to reach her
A dressing-case under the seat;
She was “really so tiny a creature,
That she needed a stool for her feet.! ”
Which was promptly arranged to her order
With a care that was even minute,
And a glimpse – of an open- worked border,
And a glance – of the fairyest boot.

Then it drooped, and revived at some hovels –
“Were they houses for men or for pigs? ”
Then it shifted to muscular novels,
With a little digression on prigs:
She thought “Wives and Daughters” “so jolly”;
“Had I read it? ” She knew when I had,
Like the rest, I should dote upon “Molly”;
And “poor Mrs Gaskell – how sad! ”

“Like Browning? ” “But so-so.” His proof lay
“Too deep for her frivolous mood,
That preferred your mere metrical soufflé
To the stronger poetical food;
Yet at times he was good – “as a tonic”;
Was Tennyson writing just now?
And was this new poet Byronic,
And clever, and naughty, or how?

Then we trifled with concerts and croquet,
Then she daintily dusted her face;
Then she sprinkled herself with “Ess Bouquet”,
Fished out from the foregoing case;
And we chattered of Gassier and Grisi,
And voted Aunt Sally a bore;
Discussed if the tight rope were easy,
Or Chopin much harder than Spohr.

And oh! The odd things that she quoted,
With the prettiest possible look,
And the price of two buns that she noted
In the prettiest possible book;
While her talk like a musical rillet
Flashed on with the hours that flew,
And the carriage, her smile seemed to fill it
With just enough summer – for Two.

Till at last in her corner, peeping
From a nest of rugs and of furs,
With the white shut eyelids sleeping
On those dangerous looks of hers,
She seemed like a snowdropp breaking,
Not wholly alive nor dead,
But with one blind impulse making
To the sounds of the spring overhead;

And I watched in the lamplights’s swerving
The shade of the down-dropped lid,
And the lip-line’s delicate curving,
Where a slumbering smile lay hid,
Till I longed that, rather than sever,
The train should shriek into space,
And carry us onward – for ever –
Me and that beautiful face.

But she suddenly woke in a fidget,
With fears she was “nearly at home”,
And talk of a certain Aunt Bridget,
Whom I mentally wished – well at Rome;
Got out at the very next station,
Looking back with a merry bon soir,
Adding, too, to my utter vexation,
A surplus, unkind Au Revoir.

So left me to muse on her graces,
To doze and to muse, till I dreamed
That we sailed through the sunniest places
In a glorified galley, it seemed;
But the cabin was made of a carriage,
And the ocean was Eau-de-Cologne,
And we split on a rock labelled MARRIAGE,
And I woke, - as cold as a stone.

And that’s how I lost her – a jewel,
Incognita – one in a crowd,
Not prudent enough to be cruel,
Not worldly enough to be proud.
It was just a shut lid and its lashes,
Just a few hours in a train,
And I sorrow in sackcloth and ashes,
Longing to see her again

I DREW it from its china tomb;—
It came out feebly scented
With some thin ghost of past perfume
That dust and days had lent it.

An old, letter,—folded still!
To read with due composure,
I sought the sun-lit window-sill,
Above the gray enclosure,

That glimmering in the sultry haze,
Faint flowered, dimly shaded,
Slumbered like Goldsmith’s Madam Blaize,
Bedizened and brocaded.

A queer old place! You ’d surely say
Some tea-board garden-maker
Had planned it in Dutch William’s day
To please some florist Quaker,

So trim it was. The yew-trees still,
With pious care perverted,
Grew in the same grim shapes; and still
The lipless dolphin spurted;

Still in his wonted state abode
The broken-nosed Apollo;
And still the cypress-arbor showed
The same umbrageous hollow.

Only,—as fresh young Beauty gleams
From coffee-colored laces,—
So peeped from its old-fashioned dreams
The fresher modern traces;

For idle mallet, hoop, and ball
Upon the lawn were lying;
A magazine, a tumbled shawl,
Round which the swifts were flying;

And, tossed beside the Guelder rose,
A heap of rainbow knitting,
Where, blinking in her pleased repose,
A Persian cat was sitting.

“A place to love in,—live,—for aye,
If we too, like Tithonus,
Could find some God to stretch the gray
Scant life the Fates have thrown us;

“But now by steam we run our race,
With buttoned heart and pocket;
Our Love’s a gilded, surplus grace,—
Just like an empty locket!

“‘The time is out of joint.’ Who will,
May strive to make it better;
For me, this warm old window-sill,
And this old dusty letter.”

II
“Dear John (the letter ran), it can’t, can’t be,
For Father’s gone to Chorley Fair with Sam,
And Mother’s storing Apples,—Prue and Me
Up to our Elbows making Damson Jam:
But we shall meet before a Week is gone,—
‘’T is a long Lane that has no turning,’ John!

“Only till Sunday next, and then you ’ll wait
Behind the White-Thorn, by the broken Stile—
We can go round and catch them at the Gate,
All to Ourselves, for nearly one long Mile;
Dear Prue won’t look, and Father he’ll go on,
And Sam’s two Eyes are all for Cissy, John!

“John, she ’s so smart,—with every ribbon new,
Flame-colored Sack, and Crimson Padesoy;
As proud as proud; and has the Vapours too,
Just like My Lady;—calls poor Sam a Boy,
And vows no Sweet-heart’s worth the Thinking-on
Till he ’s past Thirty … I know better, John!

“My Dear, I don’t think that I thought of much
Before we knew each other, I and you;
And now, why, John, your least, least Finger-touch,
Gives me enough to think a Summer through.
See, for I send you Something! There, ’t is gone!
Look in this corner,—mind you find it, John!”

III
This was the matter of the note,—
A long-forgot deposit,
Dropped in an Indian dragon’s throat,
Deep in a fragrant closet,

Piled with a dapper Dresden world,—
Beaux, beauties, prayers, and poses,—
Bonzes with squat legs undercurled,
And great jars filled with roses.

Ah, heart that wrote! Ah, lips that kissed!
You had no thought or presage
Into what keeping you dismissed
Your simple old-world message!

A reverent one. Though we to-day
Distrust beliefs and powers,
The artless, ageless things you say
Are fresh as May’s own flowers,

Starring some pure primeval spring,
Ere Gold had grown despotic,—
Ere Life was yet a selfish thing,
Or Love a mere exotic!

I need not search too much to find
Whose lot it was to send it,
That feel upon me yet the kind,
Soft hand of her who penned it;

And see, through twoscore years of smoke,
In by-gone, quaint apparel,
Shine from yon time-black Norway oak
The face of Patience Caryl,—

The pale, smooth forehead, silver-tressed;
The gray gown, primly flowered;
The spotless, stately coif whose crest
Like Hector’s horse-plume towered;

And still the sweet half-solemn look
Where some past thought was clinging,
As when one shuts a serious book
To hear the thrushes singing.

I kneel to you! Of those you were,
Whose kind old hearts grow mellow,—
Whose fair old faces grow more fair
As Point and Flanders yellow;

Whom some old store of garnered grief,
Their placid temples shading,
Crowns like a wreath of autumn leaf
With tender tints of fading.

Peace to your soul! You died unwed—
Despite this loving letter.
And what of John? The less that ’s said
Of John, I think, the better.

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