Not of desire alone is music born,
Not till the Muse wills is our passion crowned;
Unsought she comes; if sought, but seldom found,
Repaying thus our longing with her scorn.
Hence is it poets often are forlorn,
In super-subtle chains of silence bound,
And mid the crowds that compass them around
Still dwell in isolation night and morn,
With knitted brow and cheek all passion-pale
Showing the baffled purpose of the mind.
Hence is it I, that find no prayers avail
To move my Lyric mistress to be kind,
Have stolen away into this leafy dale
Drawn by the flutings of the silvery wind.
When all the panes are hung with frost,
Wild wizard-work of silver lace,
I draw my sofa on the rug,
Before the ancient chimney-place.
Upon the painted tiles are mosques
And minarets, and here and there
A blind muezzin lifts his hands,
And calls the faithful unto prayer.
Folded in idle, twilight dreams,
I hear the hemlock chirp and sing,
As if within its ruddy core
It held the happy heart of Spring.
Ferdousi never sang like that,
Nor Saadi grave, nor Hafiz gay;
I lounge, and blow white rings of smoke,
And watch them rise and float away.
The curling wreaths like turbans seem
Of silent slaves that come and go,—
Or Viziers, packed with craft and crime,
Whom I behead from time to time,
With pipe-stem, at a single blow.
And now and then a lingering cloud
Takes gracious form at my desire,
And at my side my lady stands,
Unwinds her veil with snowy hands,—
A shadowy shape, a breath of fire!
O Love, if you were only here
Beside me in this mellow light,
Though all the bitter winds should blow,
And all the ways be choked with snow,
'Twould be a true Arabian night!
SCENE: A roadside in Arcady
Good sir, have you seen pass this way
A mischief straight from market-day?
You'd know her at a glance, I think;
Her eyes are blue, her lips are pink;
She has a way of looking back
Over her shoulder, and, alack!
Who gets that look one time, good sir,
Has naught to do but follow her.
I have not seen this maid, methinks,
Though she that passed had lips like pinks.
Or like two strawberries made one
By some sly trick of dew and sun.
Nay, a simple swain
That tends his flock on yonder plain,
Naught else, I swear by book and bell.
But she that passed, you marked her well.
Was she not smooth as any be
That dwell herein in Arcady?
Her skin was as the satin bark
Light or dark?
Then 'twas not she.
The peach's side
That's next the sun is not so dyed
As was her cheek. Her hair hung down
Like summer twilight falling brown;
And when the breeze swept by, I wist
Her face was in a sombre mist.
No, that is not the maid I seek.
Her hair lies gold against the cheek;
Her yellow tresses take the morn
Like silken tassles of the corn.
And yet--brown locks are far from bad.
Now I bethinks me, this one had
A figure like the willow-tree
Which, slight and supple, wondrously
Inclines to droop with pensive grace,
And still retains its proper place;
A foot so arched and very small
The marvel was she walked at all;
Her hand--in sooth I lack for words--
her hand, five slender snow-white birds.
Her voice--though she but said "God-speed"--
Was melody blown through a reed;
The girl Pan changed into a pipe
Had not a note so full and ripe.
And then her eye--my lad her eye!
Discreet, inviting, candid, shy,
An outward ice, an inward fire,
And lashes to the heart's desire--
Soft fringes blacker than the sloe.
Good sir, which way did this one go?
So, he is off! The silly youth
Knoweth not love in sober sooth.
He loves, thus lads at first are blind--
No woman, only Womankind.
I needs must laugh, for, by the Mass,
No maid at all did this way pass!
The Sisters' Tragedy
AGLÄE, a widow.
MURIEL, her unmarried sister.
It happened once, in that brave land that lies
For half the twelvemonth wrapt in sombre skies,
Two sisters loved one man. He being dead,
Grief loosed the lips of her he had not wed,
And all the passion that through heavy years
Had masked in smiles unmasked itself in tears.
No purer love may mortals know than this,
The hidden love that guards another's bliss.
High in a turret's westward-facing room,
Whose painted window held the sunset's bloom,
The two together grieving, each to each
Unveiled her soul with sobs and broken speech.
Both were young, in life's rich summer yet;
And one was dark, with tints of violet
In hair and eyes, and one was blond as she
Who rose--a second daybreak--from the sea,
Gold-tressed and azure-eyed. In that lone place,
Like dusk and dawn, they sat there face to face.
She spoke the first whose strangely silvering hair
No wreath had worn, nor widow's weed might wear,
And told her blameless love, and knew no shame--
Her holy love that, like a vestal flame
Beside the body of some queen
Within a guarded crypt, had burned unseen
From weary year to year. And she who heard
Smiled proudly through her tears and said no word,
But, drawing closer, on the troubled brow
Laid one long kiss, and that was words enow!
Be still, my heart! Grown patient with thine ache,
Thou shouldst be dumb, yet needs must speak, or break.
The world is empty now that he is gone.
None was like him, no, not one.
From other men he stood apart, alone
In honor spotless as unfallen snow.
Nothing all evil was it his to know;
His charity still found some germ, some spark
Of light in natures that seemed wholly dark.
He read men's souls; the lowly and the high
Moved on the self-same level in his eye.
Gracious to all, to none subservient,
Without offence he spake the word he meant--
His word no trick of tact or courtly art,
But the white flowering of the noble heart.
Careless he was of much the world counts gain,
Careless of self, too simple to be vain,
Yet strung so finely that for conscience-sake
He would have gone like Cranmer to the stake.
I saw--how could I help but love? And you--
At this perfection did I worship too . . .
'T was this that stabbed me. Heed not what I say!
I meant it not, my wits are gone astray,
With all that is and has been. No, I lie--
Had he been less perfection, happier I!
Strange words and wild! 'T is the distracted mind
Breathes them, not you, and I no meaning find.
Yet 't were as plain as writing on a scroll
had you but eyes to read within my soul.--
How a grief hidden feeds on its own mood,
Poison's the healthful currents of the blood
With bitterness, and turns the heart to stone!
I think, in truth, 't were better to make moan,
And so be done with it. This many a year,
Sweetheart, have I laughed lightly and made cheer,
Pierced through with sorrow!
Then the widowed one
With sorrowfullest eyes beneath the sun,
Faltered, irresolute, and bending low
Her head, half whispered,
Dear, how could you know?
What masks are faces!--yours, unread by me
These seven long summers; mine, so placidly
Shielding my woe! No tremble of the lip,
No cheek's quick pallor let our secret slip!
Mere players we, and she that played the queen,
Now in her homespun, looks how poor and mean!
How shall I say it, how find words to tell
What thing it was for me made earth a hell
That else had been my heaven! 'T would blanch your cheek
Were I to speak it. Nay, but I will speak,
Since like two souls at compt we seem to stand,
Where nothing may be hidden. Hold my hand,
But look not at me! Noble 't was, and meet,
To hide your heart, nor fling it at his feet
To lie despised there. Thus saved you our pride
And that white honor for which earls have died.
You were not all unhappy, loving so!
I with a difference wore my weight of woe.
My lord was he. It was my cruel lot,
My hell, to love him--for he loved me not!
Then came a silence. Suddenly like death
The truth flashed on them, and each held her breath--
A flash of light whereby they both were slain,
She that was loved and she that loved in vain!
SCENE: St. Petersburg. Period: the present time. A ballroom in the winter palace of the prince---. The ladies in character costumes and masks. The gentlement in official dress and unmasked, with the exception of six tall figures in scarlet kaftans, who are treated with marked distinction as they move here and there among the promenaders. Quadrille music throughout the dialogue.
Count SERGIUS PAVLOVICH PANSHINE, who has just arrived, is standing anxiously in the doorway of an antechamber with his eyes fixed upon the lady in the costume of a maid of honor in the time of Catharine II. The lady presently disengages herself from the crowd, and passes near count PANSHINE, who impulsively takes her by the hand and leads her across the threshold of the inner apartment, which is unoccupied.
You knew me?
How could I have failed?
A mask may hide your features, not your soul.
There is an air about you like the air
That folds a star. A blind man knows the night,
And feels the constellations. No coarse sense
Of eye or ear had made you plain to me.
Through these I had not found you; for your eyes,
As blue as the violets of our Novgorod,
Look black behind your mask there, and your voice--
I had not known that either. My heart said,
Ah! your heart said that?
You trust your heart, then! 'T is a serious risk!--
How is it you and others wear no mask?
The Emperor's orders.
Is the Emperor here?
I have not seen him.
He is one of the six
In scarlet kaftans and all masked alike.
Watch--you will note how every one bows down
Before these figures, thinking each by chance
May be the Tsar; yet none knows which he is.
Even his counterparts are left in doubt.
Unhappy Russia! No serf ever wore
Such chains as gall our emperor these sad days.
He dare trust no man.
All men are so false.
Spare one, Pauline Pavlovna.
No; all, all!
I think there is no truth left in the world,
In man or woman. Once were noble souls.--
Count Sergius, is Nastasia here to-night?
Ah! then you know! I thought to tell you first.
Not here, beneath these hundred curious eyes,
In all this glare of light; but in some place
Where I could throw me at your feet and weep.
In what shape came the story to your ear?
Decked in the teller's colors, I'll be sworn;
The truth, but in the livery of a lie,
And so must wrong me. Only this is true:
The Tsar, because I risked my wretched life
To shield a life as wretched as my own,
Bestows upon me, as supreme reward--
O irony--the hand of this poor girl.
Says, "Here, I have the pearl of pearls for you,
Such as was never plucked from out of the deep
By Indian diver, for a Sultan's crown.
Your joy's decreed, and stabs me with a smile.
And she--she loves you?
I know not, indeed.
Likes me, Perhaps. What matters it?--her love!
The guardian, Sidor Yurievich consents,
And she consents. No love in it at all,
A mere caprice, a young girl's spring-tide dream.
Sick of ear-rings, weary of her mare,
She'll have a lover--something ready-made,
Or improvised between two cups of tea--
A lover by imperial ukase!
Fate said her word--I chanced to be the man!
If that grenade the crazy student threw
Had not spared me, as well as spared the Tsar,
All this would not have happened. I'd have been
A hero, but quite safe from her romance.
She takes me for a hero--think of that!
Now, by our holy Lady of Kazan,
When I have finished pitying myself,
I'll pity her.
Oh no; begin with her;
She needs it most.
At her door lies the blame.
Whatever falls. She, with a single word
With half a tear, had stopt it at the first,
This cruel juggling with poor human hearts.
The Tsar commanded it--you said the Tsar
The Tsar does what she wills--God fathoms why.
Were she his mistress, now! but there's no snow
Whiter within the bosom of a cloud,
Nor colder wither. She is very haughty,
For all her fragile air of gentleness;
With something vital in her, like those flowers
That on our desolate steppes outlast the year.
Resembles you in some things. It was that
First made us friends. I do her justice, see!
For we were friends in that smooth surface way
We Russians have imported out of France.
Alas! from what a blue and tranquil heaven
This bolt fell on me! After these two years,
My suit with Ossip Leminoff at an end,
The old wrong righted, the estates restored,
And my promotion, with the ink not dry!
Those fairies which neglected me at birth
Seemed now to lavish all good gifts on me--
Gold roubles, office, sudden dearest friends.
The whole world smiled. Then, as I stooped to taste
The sweetest cup, freak dashed it from my lip.
This very night--just think, this very night--
I planned to come and beg of you the alms
I dared not ask for in my poverty.
I thought me poor then. How stript am I now!
There's not a ragged medicant one meets
Along the Nevski Prospeky but has leave
To tell his love, and I have not that right!
Pauline Pavlovna, why do you stand there
Stark as a statue, with no word to say?
Because this thing has frozen up my heart.
I think that there is something killed in me,
A dream that would have mocked all other bliss.
What shall I say? What would you have me say?
If it be possible, the word of words!
SHE, very slowly.
Well, then--I love you. I may tell you so
This once, . . . . and then forever hold my peace.
We cannot stay here longer unobserved.
No--do not touch me! but stand further off,
And seem to laugh, as if we jested--eyes,
Eyes everywhere! Now turn your face away . . . .
I love you.
With such music in my ears
I would death found me. It were sweet to die
Listening! You love me--prove it.
I prove saying it. How else?
I have three things to choose from; you shall choose:
This marriage, or Siberia, or France.
The first means hell; the second purgatory;
The third--with you--were nothing less than heaven!
How dared you even dream it!
I was mad.
This business has touched me in the brain.
Have parience! the calamity's so new.
There is a fourth way; but that gate is shut
To brave men who hold life a thing of God.
Yourself spoke there; the rest was not of you.
Oh, lift me to your level! So I'm safe.
What's to be done?
There must be some path out.
Perhaps the Emperor--
Not a ray of hope!
His mind is set on this with that insistence
Which seems to seize on all match-making folk.
The fancy bites them, and they straight go mad.
Your father's friend, the Metropolitan--
A word from him . . . .
Alas, he too is bitten!
Gray-haired, gray-hearted, worldly wise, he sees
This marriage makes me the Tsar's protégé,
And opens every door to preference.
Think while I think. There surely is some key
Unlocks the labyrinth, could we but find it.
What! beg life of her? not I.
Beg love. She is a woman, young, perhaps
Untouched as yet of this too poisonous air.
Were she told all, would she not pity us?
For if she love you, as I think she must,
Would not some generous impulse stir in her,
Some latent, unsuspected spark illume?
How love thrills even commonest girl-clay,
Ennobling it an instant, if no more!
You said that she is proud; then touch her pride,
And turn her into marble at the touch.
But yet the gentler passion is the stronger.
Go to her, tell her, in some tenderest phrase
That will not hurt too much--ah, but 't will hurt!--
Just how your happiness lies in her hand
To make or mar for all time; hint, not say,
Your heart is gone from you, and you may find--
A casemate in St. Peter and St. Paul
For, say, a month; then some Siberian town.
Not this way lies escape. At my first word
That sluggish Tartar blood would turn to fire
In every vein.
How blindly you read her,
Or any woman! Yes, I know, I grant
How small we often seem in our small world
Of trivial cares and narrow precedents--
Lacking that wide horizon stretched for men--
Capricious, spiteful, frightened at a mouse;
But when it comes to suffering mortal pangs,
The weakest of us measures pulse with you.
Yes, you, not she. If she were at your height!
But there's no martyr wrapt in her rose flesh.
There should have been; for Nature gave you both
The self-same purple for your eyes and hair,
The self-same music to your southern lips,
Fashioned you both, as 't were, in the same mould,
Yet failed to put the soul in one of you!
I know her wilful--her light head quite turned
In this court atmosphere of flatteries;
A Moscow beauty, petted and soiled there,
And since spoiled here; as soft as swan's down now,
With words like honey melting from the comb,
But being crossed, vindictive, cruel, cold.
I fancy her, between two rosy smiles,
Saying, "Poor fellow, in the Nertchinsk mines!"
That is the sum of her.
You know her not.
Count Sergius Pavlovich, you said no mask
Could hide the soul, yet how you have mistaken
The soul these two months--and the face to-night!
[Removes her mask.]
You!--It was you!
Count Sergius Pavlovich,
Go find Pauline Pavlovna--she is here--
And tell her the Tsar has set you free.
[She goes out hurriedly, replacing her mask.]