The Cathedral Porch
Towering, towering up to the noon--blaze,
Up to the hot blue, up to blinding gold,
Pillar and pinnacle, arch and corbel, scrolled,
Flowered and tendrilled, soar, aspire and raise
The giant porch, with kings and prophets old
High in their niches, like one shout of praise,
From earth to heaven.--In shadow of the door
Cringeing, a beggar stands;
He holds out abject hands;
His lips for pity and alms mechanically implore.
Splendour of air and the bright splintered beam
Carve all afresh in strong reverberate glow
As if even now the passionate master--blow
Struck from the stone the shapes of beauty's dream.
Can a mere hand ever have fashioned so
Desire's adventure, god--like force, supreme
Sky--scaling joy?--The beggar's toneless drone
Comes from his laughterless
As from a long--dried well, where off--cast clutter's thrown.
Prophet and saint and kingly king, whose eyes,
Flashing authority, gaze and awe, you came
From wombs of flesh, though now enthroned in fame.
A mother heard the helpless wailing cries
Of voices that have won the world's acclaim
By wisdom, suffering, truth. August you rise
Above this wreck, by whom the children run
Careless with dancing limb,
And laugh, and mock at him;
And beggar, children, towering porch are equal in the sun.
From the opened door bursts upon glorious wings
Music: the shadowy silence moves with sound
That overflows and rolls returning round.
As if to itself, the pillared grandeur sings
Of deeper than all thought has ever found,
Of richer than the heart's imaginings,
Of higher than all hope has dared to see.
Like comment of a crow,
Dulled, reiterate, slow,
The human plaint croaks answer: Vanity! look on me!
Who made the stark unfeatured quarry--block
Live in those song--like pillars? And who smote
The ancient silence into note on note
Melodious as the river from the rock?
Out of the heart of man such splendours float
As make his vileness and his misery mock
The prisoned soul: which shall bespeak him more,
Grandeur of stone and sound,
Or fawning abject, bound
To his abasement, close as to a dungeon floor?
Sunken eyes, craving hands, defeated shape,
Whom to look on so humbles, you appear
But as the avoided husk, shrivelled and sere,
Cast by the spirit that springs up to escape
To its own reality and radiance there
For ever fresh as young bloom on a grape,
Triumphing to be human, yet to win
An amplitude beyond
Dull care and fancy fond,
And breathe the light that man was born to glory in.
Yet littleness, and envy, and obscure pain
Were mortised into that magnificence!
Trading his wretchedness for pity's pence,
Though this poor ruin from the depth complain,
Slave to his self--lamenting impotence,
Nor can his proud humanity regain;
O Wonder of Man, in his indignity,
Forfeit, disgrace, and rue,
Shares he not still in you?
Did not man sink so low, could he aspire so high?
Rolled in a smouldering mist, wrapt in an ardent cloud,
Over ridged roofs, over the buried roar
That comes and goes
Where shadowy London mutters at the core
Of meeting streets interminably ploughed
Through blackness built and steepled and immense
With felt, unfeatured, waste magnificence,
The night shudders and glows.
Ensanguined skies, that lower and lift and change
Each instant! sullen with a spectral rose
Upon the towered horizon; but more near
A lurid vapour, throbbing up the gloom,
Glares like a furnace fume;
Exhausted pallors hover faint and strange;
Dull fiery flushes melt and reappear;
While over all in lofty glimpses far
Spaces of silence and blue dream disclose
The still eye of a star.
Muffled in burning air, so dumb
Above this monstrous ever--trembling hum,
What hide you, heavens? What sombre presences,
What powers pass over? What dim--legioned host,
What peopled pageantries,
With gleam of arms and robes that crimsoned trail,
In silent triumph or huge mockery hail?
O, is it the tumultuous--memoried ghost
Of some lost city, fabulous and frail,
Stoops over London; Susa, Thebes, or Tyre,
Rebuilded out of mist and fire?
No, rather to its secret self revealed
The soul of London burning in the skies
Her desolations and her majesties!
There, there is all unsealed:
Terror and hope, ecstasy and despair
Their apparition yield,
While still through kindled street and shadowy square
The faces pass, the uncounted faces crowd,--
Rages, lamentings, joys, in masks of flesh concealed.
Down a grimed lane, around a bare--benched room,
Seven shapes of men are sunken, heads upon hands bowed.
--O spent and mad desires, lost in the fiery cloud,
What dungeon fled you from?
Across the river's glittering gloom,
Under the towered chimes, a youth steps, bright
With dream that all the future clothes,
Into this new, enchanted land.
Incessant stream the faces into light!
From his wife's hand
Behold a drunkard snatch the toil--earned pence,
And strike her on the patient face with oaths.
But over trees, upon a balcony,
To a young girl life murmurs up immense
Its strange delight,
And in her pulses to her spirit sings.
Along an alley thronged and flaring
A woman's loud self--loathing laughter rings.
The old prowler leers. Fierce cries a mob incense.
(Still the red Night her stormy heart is baring.)
A bent blind beggar taps along the stones.
The indifferent traffic roars and drones.
Blank under a high torch
Gapes a house--ruin, propped with beams; beneath
Some shadow--guarded and neglected porch
A girl and boy
(Whence flowered, O Night, yon soft and fearful rose?)
Press timid lips and breathe,
Speechless, their joy.
Hither and thither goes
The homeless outcast; students turn the page
By lamplight; the physician sentences;
Dull--eyed or jovial, tavern--loungers drink;
The applauded actor steps upon the stage;
Mothers with far thoughts watch upon their knees
Where children slumber; revellers stamp and shout;
Long--parted bosoms meet in sobbed embrace;
Hope, behind doors, ebbs from the waiting face;
Locked bodies sway and swell
With pain of unendurable farewell:
No instant, but some debt of terror's paid,
Some shame exacted, measureless love poured out,
Weak hearts are helped, strong men are torn,
Wild sorrow in dear arms is comforted,
The last peace dawns upon the newly dead,
And in hushed rooms is heard wail of the newly born.
What ferments rise and mingle,
Night, on your cloudy mirror! what young fire
Shoots, and what endless lassitudes expire!
Yet out of one flesh wrought,
None separate, none single!
Hater and hated, seeker and sought,
O restless, O innumerable shapes,
Kneaded by one all--urging thought,
That none diverts, that none escapes;
So thirsted for, if not in pride, in shame,
If not with tenderness, with railing curse,
If not with hands that cherish, hands that maim,
Life, how vast! Life, how brief!
Eternally wooed and wooing,
That some would stifle, and some hotly seize,
And some by cunning trap into their mesh,
Or plunder in the darkness like a thief;
And these from rapturous pangs of flesh
Would crush to maddening wine, and these
In still renunciation lure to their soul's ease.
Though never in a single heart contained,
Though depth of it no wisest seer may plumb,
Though height of it no hero wholly gained,
Heavenly and human, twined in all our throes
Of passion that in blind heat overflows
To charge the night with thick and shuddering fume,
And felt in every cry, in every deed
Defaced or freed,
Ah, spent at such a dear and cruel cost,--
Possessed a moment, and then, like yon height
Of stars, clouded in our own selves and lost,--
Lives the supreme
Reality, diviner than all dream.
Now all the heaven like a huge smithy glows,
Hollow and palpitating dusk and glare!
Ah, forge of God, where blows
The blast of an incredible flame, what might
Shapes to what uses there
Each obdurate iron or molten fiery part
Of the one infinite wrought human heart,
In tears, love, anger, beauty and despair
Throbbing for ever, under the red night?
The Bacchanal Of Alexander
A wondrous rumour fills and stirs
The wide Carmanian Vale;
On leafy hills the sunburnt vintagers
Stand listening; silent is the echoing flail
Upon the threshing--floors:
Girls in the orchards one another hail
Over their golden stores.
``Leave the dewy apples hanging flushed,
Ripe to drop
In our baskets! Leave the heavy grapes uncrushed,
Leave the darkened figs, a half--pulled crop,
Olive--boughs by staves unbeaten, come,
All our hills be hushed!
For a Conqueror, nay a God,
Comes into our land this day,
From the Eastern desert dumb,
That no mortal ever trod:
Come we down to meet him on his way!''
From reddening vineyards steeped in sun,
Trees that with riches droop,
Down the green upland men and maidens run
Or under the low leaves with laughter stoop.
But now they pause, they hear
Far trampling sounds; and many a soft--eyed troop
Murmurs a wondering fear.
``Wherefore hast thou summoned us afar,
Voice so proud?
Who are ye that so imperious are?
Is it he to whom all India bowed,
Bacchus, and the great host that pursue
Triumphing, his car;
Whom our fathers long foretold?
O if it be he, the God indeed,
May his power our vines endue
With prosperity fourfold.
Bring we all ripe offerings for his need!''
Slowly along the vine--robed vale move on,
Like those that walk in dream,
The ranks of Macedon.
O much--proved men, why doubt ye truth so sweet?
This is that fair Carmania, that did seem
So far to gain, yet now is at your feet.
'Tis no Circean magic greenly crowds
This vale of elms, the laden vines uprearing,
The small flowers in the grass, the illumined clouds,
Trembling streams with rushes lined,
All in strangeness reappearing
Like a blue morn to the blind!
Worn feet go happy, and parched throats may laugh,
Or blissful cold drops from dipt helmets quaff;
Dear comrades, flinging spears down, stand embraced
And heap this rich oblivion on the waste
Of torment whence they came;
That land of salt sand vaulted o'er with flame,
That furnace, which for sixty days they pierced,
Wrapt in a hot slow cloud of pricking grains,
On ever crumbling mounds, through endless plains,
And ravening hands scooped fire, not water, for their thirst.
Streams of Carmania, never have ye seen
Such mirrored rapture of strong limbs unclad,
Lips pressing, lover--like, delicious green
Of leaves, or breaking into laughter mad;
Out--wearied ranks, that couched in gloom serene,
Let idle memory toy
With torment past whose pangs enrich the gust of joy.
O peerless Alexander! Still
From his kindling words they glow.
Like a straight shaft to a bow
Is their strength unto his will.
He hath done what no man ever dared:
That fierce desert, where great Cyrus lost
All save seven of his unnumbered host,
Where the proud Semiramis despaired,
He hath brought his thousands through.
Vainly, vainly Wind and Fire
Stormed against the way of his desire:
They at last their tamer knew.
O'er mile--broad rivers, like young brooks, he stept,
Walls of unconquered cities overleapt.
And now Earth yields, for storm and strife and heat,
Her greenest valley to his feet.
But lo! the soft Carmanian folk,
Round these warriors gathering nigh,
Down the slopes with murmur shy
The benignant God invoke.
While they stand in wonder and in doubt,
Comes a throng in leaves their heads arraying,
Some on pipes and some on tabors playing,
``Bacchus, Bacchus is our king,'' they shout,
``Magic mirth into our blood he pours;
Join us, strangers, in our feast!
All our parching toil hath ceased.
Give us of your fruitful valley's stores!''
Apples they heap on shields in golden domes,
And spearpoints bear the dripping honeycombs.
``Our Bacchus bids you to his joy,'' they sing;
``Lo, where he comes, the king!''
Two massy ivory cars, together bound,
Roll through the parting throng;
A whole uprooted vine enwreathes them round;
Long tendrils over the gold axles trail,
While jubilant pipe and chanted song
The cars' oncoming hail.
By the dark bunches idle helms and greaves
Are hung, and swords that on Hydaspes shone;
Heroic shoulders gleam betwixt the leaves!
There sits reclined on rugs of Susa spread,
Throned amid his Seven of Macedon,
Alexander! his victorious head
Bound with ivy and pale autumn flowers.
Ah, what a sunny redolence of showers
The wind wafts round him from this promised land!
Over Hephaestion's neck is laid one hand,
Lightly the other holds a spear; but now
No passion fires his eye, nor deep thought knots his brow.
Like his own Pella breathes this upland air;
A joy--born beauty flushes up his face,
O'ersmoothing old fell rages, to replace
Youth in lost lines most indolently fair.
Remembrance is at peace, desire forgone,
And those winged brows their watchful menace ease
In languor proud as a storm--sailing swan
New lighted on a mere from the wild seas.
Beat, thrilling drums, beat low, and pipes sound on,
While his full soul doth gaze
From this the topmost hour of all his glorious days.
The shy Carmanians awed
Gaze on that sun--like head.
``Is it he,'' they murmur, ``who led
The mirth of the vineyard abroad?
Surely none else may bear
So regal a beauty; yet why
On us turns not his eye?
We have heard that he loves not care,
But the dance and idle glee
Of the laughing Satyr tribe.
Could toil those brows inscribe?
Is it he? is it surely he?
Are these the revellers of his train?
Yet surely these have passed through fire, through pain!
Can the Gods also suffer throes,
Nor crave to conquer, but repose?''
The king uplifts his bowl.
Peucestas stoops, pours in
From a brown fawn's swelling skin
The ripe grape's rosy soul.
``Pledge us,'' he cries, and smiles,
``Lord of Nysa, to--day!
Have we not toiled our way
To a valley of the Blessed Isles?
Drink of a richer boon
Than the water we brought thee to taste
In the fiery Gedrosian waste
When we halted our host at noon,
And thou in the sight of all didst spill
Those longed--for drops on the darkened sand,--O fill,
Remembering how our hearts drank wine
From thy refusing deed divine.''
What hath the king so stirred?
What grief of a great desire
Stung by that spoken word?
Sudden as storm his thoughts tumultuous run
Back into peril, Indus, Issus, Tyre,
And the famed gates of Babylon yet unwon.
Far, far those mighty days in glory tower!
A valley keeps him, while the great peaks call.
O for that supreme exultant hour,
When alone, Achilles--like, he sprang
'Mid the astonished Indians o'er the wall,
And a hundred arrows round him rang!
O Alexander, all these thousands own
Thy pleasure, but thy throes were thine alone.
Dulled is the joy that hath no need to dare;
Match thy great self, and breed another heir
To those high deeds, from which thy kindled fame
Runs, as the world's hope runs from youth to youth aflame.
Climb, climb again to those lone eagle skies,
Where ocean's unadventured circle bends
And dragon ignorance girdles the world's ends!--
As fire leaps up a tower, that thought leaps to his eyes.
``Off, Maenad mummery,'' he cries; his brow
Strips of its garland with indignant hands,
Starts up, and plants his ringing spear; and now
Soul--flushed through radiant limbs, a man transfigured stands.
With joy the marvelling Carmanians bow,
From their long doubting freed:
``It is the God,'' they cry, ``the enraptured God indeed!''
Where is all the beauty that hath been?
Where the bloom?
Dust on boundless wind? Grass dropt into fire?
Shall Earth boast at last of all her teeming womb,
All that suffered, all that triumphed to inspire
Life in perfect mould and speech, the proud mind's lamp serene--
Nothing? Space be starry in tremendous choir--
In this deserted chamber, as the evening falls,
Silent curtains move no fold;
Long has ebbed the floor's pale gold;
Shadows deepen down the silent walls.
The air is mute as dreams beneath a sleeper's face,
But every hovering shadow seems to hold
The look of things forsaken, each in its own place,
Memories without home in any mind,
Idle, rich neglect and perfume old--
Over these the glimmer of the twilight fades;
Infinite human solitude invades
Forms relinquished, hues resigned.
O little mirror, round and clear,
In solemn--coloured shadow lying
Cold as the moon, pale as a tear,
With spiritual silver beam replying,
Indifferently to all things as to one;
Beauty's relic and oblivion,
But void, void, void! Desolate as a cave
Abandoned even of the breaking wave,
A home of youth and mirth, when all its guests are gone!
As I touch thee in the silence here,
Where thou liest alone, apart,
Through the silence of my heart
Thou flashest elfin flames of fear.
Like a thought of lost delight,
Like love--sweetness, like despair,
Come faint spices of the night
Floating on the darkened air.
The air is tender with the sense of dew,
Is tranced, is dim, is heavy, as if there hung
Within the tinges of its shadowy hue
Ghosts of lost flowers, with all their petals young,
And the young beauty they made incense to.
O forlorn mirror, is there nothing thine?
The cup is emptied of its fragrant wine,
The dress is vacant of the breathing form,
And thou that gleam'st
All absence of what once moved gracious, white and warm
In thy clear wells, or luminously mused,
O little mirror long disused,
Laid in this empty bower's recess,
Thou thyself seem'st
The soul and mystery of emptiness.
Yet if I should raise thee now,
As once and oft, thou knowest how,
Hand and slim wrist, smooth as a flower--stem, raised
Thy silent radiance, and with intent brow
Eyes within thee gazed
Seeking thine oracle,
Shall not from these pellucid secrecies appear
Not I, nor any shape of this dim room,
But all that in thy cave of lambent gloom
Hath dwelt and still may dwell,
Ambushed like visions bound in sleeping memory's cell;
All that thy brightness buries as the sea
Tossed bones and crusted gold: had I the key,
Might'st thou not open depths, might'st thou not yield,
Wonder of wonders! what since time began
Was never yet revealed,
The unmapped, unmeasured, secret heart of man?
Half--shut eyes voluptuously
Lightening, as the bosom swells and glows;
Smile to smile flowering from an ardent thought:
O what moments didst thou deify
With the promise of life crushed to wine
Redder than the cheek's triumphant rose!
--But from deeper places hast thou brought
Nothing? Are not other answers thine?
Hast thou not heard, hast thou not seen,
Hast thou not shown, hast thou not found
Shames unwhispered, terrors bound,
Earthquake pangs of aghast surmise,
When with itself the heart has been
Face to face in an hour profound?
Out of thee what ghosts shall rise,
Shapes and gestures, and accusing eyes!
World--flattered faces in midnights of pain;
Faces defaced by tiger--lusts insane;
Faces appalled before a self unguessed;
Ashaming dawns on faces fallen and dispossessed!
O what glimpses hast thou flashed in dread,
With what hauntings wast thou visited,
Apparitions of a soul made bare
Shuddering at the thing it looked on there!
But thou art stainless, though the heart has bled,
Thou art silent as the air
Or the wave that closes smooth above the drowner's head.
No man hath seen his soul
Save for a glimpse in the night
Brief as an ember of coal
Blown for an instant bright.
To see his own soul as it is,
Eternity must enter him
With the torches of Seraphim
That have shone to the last abyss.
Mirror, couldst thou show the spirit this,
Then within this narrow room
Were the Judgment and the Doom.
For by so much as its own self it knew,
Searched by that burning vision through and through
To the innermost of where it crouched and hid
Amid the husks of the mean deeds it did,
Amid the shadow of all it shunned, the quest
It turned from, and in palterings acquiesced,
To the uttermost of what its eager passion
Caught of the glory springing to re--fashion
Hope and the world, and great with pity saw
Life darkly wrestling with the angel, Law--
By such a measure, molten in that fire,
Should the soul mete itself on God's desire,
Suffer at last all wisdom, and endure
The beam and vision of a thought all--pure.
O were not this to taste Heaven's dawn, or dwell,
Because of knowledge, in the pains of Hell?
Where is all the wailing, all the want
That sorrow tore
From Love's bleeding breast? Extinguished quite?
Shall the wide--winged glory of hope extravagant,
Shall the laughter, shall the song that sprang to soar
Fall, and no ear hearken, and their falling flight
Echoless waste walls of adamant
Draw wide the curtain! Fabulous, remote
Night is come.
Over Earth's lost bosom fragrant breathings float
Into glimmering heights of gloom,
But upon the solitary verge extreme
Steals a beam.
Hushed and sudden, ere the eye could note,
Lo, the moon is there!
Innocence of splendour, gazing bare,
Drenches leaves in quiet, thought in dream.
Is it Earth's pale mirror lifted lone
For an answer to her million sighs?
Can that far Tranquillity atone
In the gaze of those unnumbered eyes
For the pang and for the moan,
For the heart's dim burial and long dirge,
Luring, as she lures the mutinous sea--surge,
To her will of peace this human tide?
From a charmed shadow on the shorn hill--side
Hand--in--hand lovers through the trees emerge,
And pause; their very souls are glorified,
Their feet tread airy on immaterial ground,
With marvelling gaze they feel
That well of spiritual light o'erflow
The listening hush, and steal
Fear and trouble, as though
The world were one vast music of ethereal sound
And they a stillness in the midst of it.
Peace, peace and pity! pardon, pity, peace,
Passing all mortal wit!
O truth long--sought and magically found,
O wonder and release!
O secret of the world long--hidden in day's dust!
They bathe their hearts in that sweet dew, their hands
Thrill clasping in a touch that understands
Nothing magnificent but a divine surrender
Absolving and august.
To distances immersed and tender
Unfolds this vale of struggle hard and pent,
Region of unwon ravishment
In unadventured lands,
A place of leaves and lonely light and leafy scent
Storied like that old forest of the perilous Fleece.
Sorceress of million nights!
Hast thou charmed indeed the brew,
When the stealth of perverse rites--
Mouths that mutter, hands that strew,--
Love tormented and malign,
Flushed with terror like a maddening wine,
Sought another's rue?
Hecate of the cross--roads, hast thou hearkened
To the sailing witch's mew
And the felon raven's croak
When the shuddering winds were darkened
And the leaves rushed from the withered oak?
Ah, not these foul toys would I invoke!
O for some supreme enchanting spell,
Voice of a God crying aloud,
Felt and feared on Earth's heart--strings,
To conjure and to compel
Like a spectre from the shroud
Or like incense--dust that springs
Into fire and fragrant cloud,
Out of thy blind caves and cold recesses,
Out of that blank mirror's desert beam
All the unnumbered longings and wild prayers,
Infinite heart--broken tendernesses,
Indignations and despairs
That from man's long wound of passion stream,
Sucked like vapour, like a mist of tears
Into that imagined peace, that ecstasy!
O surely, surely, thou hast wrought thy part
In every secret and tempestuous heart,
Thou that hast gleamed on thousand battle--crimsoned spears,
Thou that wast radiant on Gethsemane!
She has seen not, she has heard not.
Hearts have leapt for her, but she has stirred not.
Pity she has made, but none has had,
Though her magic mingles with Earth's want
And the trouble of Earth's tender sons,
Thunder of the builded Babylons,
Music of the dreaming poet's chant,
Venture of the steering argosies,
With a light as of divine fulfilment clad
Breathing in for ever syllables of peace.
Peace, is it peace? Yet Earth, dark Earth,
Mother, O Mother, thou that nourishest
In the blind patience of thy teeming breast
Hope without end; who drivest life to birth,
Yet numberest not our dear and sacred dead,
Unheeding of our anguish and lost cries
So thou mayst build beyond us, in our stead,
A race enriched with all for which we bled,
Of haughtier stature and of kinglier eyes;
Thou of whose vast desire strong realms of old,
The dynasty of empires, were but waves
That towered and crashed into their splendid graves,
For thine unresting hunger to remould
Yet mightier, O insatiable! Doth fear
Not shake thee, Mother, seest thou not ev'n here
In that cold mirror's answer what shall steep
Thee also in oblivion? Thou shalt keep
Of all the fruit of thy most fiery spring,
Stored riches of thy sleepless trafficking,
And proud perfection thou hast travailed for,
Nothing! The beauty that thy body bore
Fresh and exulting (Mother, dost not weep?)
Laughter of streams, young flowers, and starry seas,
Pillar and palace, heaven--faced images
That man has wrought, his tossing heart to ease,
Nothing! To cloud shall vanish the deed done;
The bannered victory, the wrong borne alone,
Nothing! and thou be desolate and none
To feel thy desolation: emptiness,
Night within night, immense and issueless,
Till as a breath upon the mirror dies,
Fades the last smoke of thy long sacrifice.
Out of the deeps, trembling, the soul
Cries through night to the silent pole:
``I that am want, I that am grief,
I that am love, I that am mirth,
I that am fear, I that am fire,
Though thou clothe me in beauty brief,
Though I have worn thy sweet attire,
I, thy endless sorrow, Earth,
Dwell in the glory of God's desire,
That kneads for ever in the flesh
Of man, to make his spirit afresh,
A marvel more than all thy wandering seas,
And mightier than thy caverned mysteries,
Nor stays nor sleeps, but world on world transfuses
Melted ever to diviner uses,
Through infinite swift changes burning,
Itself the end, no end discerning,
Till all the universe be wrought
Into its far perfecting thought.
Then this mind of cloud and rue
Shall in eternal mind be new,
Mirror of God, pure and alone,
See and be seen, know and be known.''