These broken lines for pardon crave;
I cannot end the song with art:
My grief is gray and old—her grave
Is dug so deep within my heart.
I.—Her Last Day
IT was a day of sombre heat:
The still, dense air was void of sound
And life; no wing of bird did beat
A little breeze through it—the ground
Was like live ashes to the feet.
From the black hills that loomed around
The valley many a sudden spire
Of flame shot up, and writhed, and curled,
And sank again for heaviness:
And heavy seemed to men that day
The burden of the weary world.
For evermore the sky did press
Closer upon the earth that lay
Fainting beneath, as one in dire
Dreams of the night, upon whose breast
Sits a black phantom of unrest
That holds him down. The earth and sky
Appeared unto the troubled eye
A roof of smoke, a floor of fire.
There was no water in the land.
Deep in the night of each ravine
Men, vainly searching for it, found
Dry hollows in the gaping ground,
Like sockets where clear eyes had been,
Now burnt out with a burning brand.
There was no water in the land
But the salt sea tide, that did roll
Far past the places where, till then,
The sweet streams met and flung it back;
The beds of little brooks, that stole
In spring-time down each ferny glen,
And rippled over rock and sand,
Were drier than a cattle-track.
A dull, strange languor of disease,
That ever with the heat increased,
Fell upon man, and bird, and beast;
The thin-flanked cattle gasped for breath;
The birds dropped dead from drooping trees;
And men, who drank the muddy lees
From each near-dry though deep-dug well,
Grew faint; and over all things fell
A heavy stupor, dank as Death.
Fierce Nature, glaring with a face
Of savage scorn at my despair,
Withered my heart. From cone to base
The hills were full of hollow eyes
That rayed out darkness, dead and dull;
Gray rocks grinned under ridges bare,
Like dry teeth in a mouldered skull;
And ghastly gum-tree trunks did loom
Out of black clefts and rifts of gloom,
As sheeted spectres that arise
From yawning graves at dead of night
To fill the living with affright;
And, like to witches foul that bare
Their withered arms, and bend, and cast
Dread curses on the sleeping lands
In awful legends of the past,
Red gums, with outstretched bloody hands,
Shook maledictions in the air.
Fear was around me everywhere:
The wrinkled foreheads of the rocks
Frowned on me, and methought I saw—
Deep down in dismal gulfs of awe,
Where gray death-adders have their lair,
With the fiend-bat, the flying-fox,
And dim sun-rays, down-groping far,
Pale as a dead man’s fingers are—
The grisly image of Decay,
That at the root of Life doth gnaw,
Sitting alone upon a throne
Of rotting skull and bleaching bone.
“There is an end to all our griefs:
Little the red worm of the grave
Will vex us when our days are done.”
So changed my thought: up-gazing then
On gray-piled stones that seemed the cairns
Of dead and long-forgotten chiefs—
The men of old, the poor wild men
Who, under dim lights, fought a brave,
Sad fight of Life, where hope was none,
In the vague, voiceless, far-off years—
It changed again to present pain,
And I saw Sorrow everywhere:
In blackened trees and rust-red ferns,
Blasted by bush-fires and the sun;
And by the salt-flood—salt as tears—
Where the wild apple-trees hung low,
And evermore stooped down to stare
At their drowned shadows in the wave,
Wringing their knotted hands of woe;
And the dark swamp-oaks, row on row,
Lined either bank—a sombre train
Of mourners with down-streaming hair.
THE DAY and its delights are done;
So all delights and days expire:
Down in the dim, sad West the sun
Is dying like a dying fire.
The fiercest lances of his light
Are spent; I watch him droop and die
Like a great king who falls in fight;
None dared the duel of his eye
Living, but, now his eye is dim,
The eyes of all may stare at him.
How lovely in his strength at morn
He orbed along the burning blue!
The blown gold of his flying hair
Was tangled in green-tressèd trees,
And netted in the river sand
In gleaming links of amber clear;
But all his shining locks are shorn,
His brow of its bright crown is bare,
The golden sceptre leaves his hand,
And deeper, darker, grows the hue
Of the dim purple draperies
And cloudy banners round his bier.
O beautiful, rose-hearted dawn!—
O splendid noon of gold and blue!—
Is this wan glimmer all of you?
Where are the blush and bloom ye gave
To laughing land and smiling sea?—
The swift lights that did flash and shiver
In diamond rain upon the river,
And set a star in each blue wave?
Where are the merry lights and shadows
That danced through wood and over lawn,
And flew across the dewy meadows
Like white nymphs chased by satyr lovers?
Faded and perished utterly.
All delicate and all rich colour
In flower and cloud, on lawn and lea,
On butterfly, and bird, and bee,
A little space and all are gone—
And darkness, like a raven, hovers
Above the death-bed of the day.
So, when the long, last night draws on,
And all the world grows ghastly gray,
We see our beautiful and brave
Wither, and watch with heavy sighs
The life-light dying in their eyes,
The love-light slowly fading out,
Leaving no faint hope in their place,
But only on each dear wan face
The shadow of a weary doubt,
The ashen pallor of the grave.
O gracious morn and golden noon!
With what fair dreams did ye depart—
Beloved so well and lost so soon!
I could not fold you to my breast:
I could not hide you in my heart;
I saw the watchers in the West—
Sad, shrouded shapes, with hands that wring
And phantom fingers beckoning!
Fade off the ridges, rosy light,
Fade slowly from the last gray height,
And leave no gloomy cloud to grieve
The heart of this enchanted eve!
All things beneath the still sky seem
Bound by the spell of a sweet dream;
In the dusk forest, dreamingly,
Droops slowly down each plumèd head;
The river flowing softly by
Dreams of the sea; the quiet sea
Dreams of the unseen stars; and I
Am dreaming of the dreamless dead.
The river has a silken sheen,
But red rays of the sunset stain
Its pictures, from the steep shore caught,
Till shades of rock, and fern, and tree
Glow like the figures on a pane
Of some old church by twilight seen,
Or like the rich devices wrought
In mediaeval tapestry.
All lonely in a drifting boat
Through shine and shade I float and float,
Dreaming and dreaming, till I seem
Part of the picture and the dream.
There is no sound to break the spell,
No voice of bird or stir of bough;
Only the lisp of waters wreathing
In little ripples round the prow,
And a low air, like Silence breathing,
That hardly dusks the sleepy swell
Whereon I float to that strange deep
That sighs upon the shores of Sleep.
But in the silent heaven blooming
Behold the wondrous sunset flower
That blooms and fades within the hour—
The flower of fantasy, perfuming
With subtle melody of scent
The blue aisles of the firmament!
For colour, music, scent, are one;
From deeps of air to airless heights,
Lo! how he sweeps, the splendid sun,
His burning lyre of many lights!
See the clear golden lily blowing!
It shines as shone thy gentle soul,
O my most sweet, when from the goal
Of life, far-gazing, thou didst see—
While Death still feared to touch thine eyes,
Where such immortal light was glowing—
The vision of eternity,
The pearly gates of Paradise!
Now richer hues the skies illume:
The pale gold blushes into bloom,
Delicate as the flowering
Of first love in the tender spring
Of Life, when love is wizardry
That over narrow days can throw
A glamour and a glory! so
Did thine, my Beautiful, for me
So long ago; so long ago.
So long ago! so long ago!
Ah, who can Love and Grief estrange?
Or Memory and Sorrow part?
Lo, in the West another change—
A deeper glow: a rose of fire:
A rose of passionate desire
Lone burning in a lonely heart.
A lonely heart; a lonely flood.
The wave that glassed her gleaming head
And smiling passed, it does not know
That gleaming head lies dark and low;
The myrtle-tree that bends above,
I pray that it may early bud,
For under its green boughs sat we—
We twain, we only, hand in hand,
When Love was lord of all the land—
It does not know that she is dead
And all is over now with Love,
Is over now with Love and me.
Once more, once more, O shining years
Gone by; once more, O vanished days
Whose hours flew by on iris-wings,
Come back and bring my love to me!
My voice faints down the wooded ways
And dies along the darkling flood.
The past is past; I cry in vain,
For when did Death an answer deign
To Love’s heart-broken questionings?
The dead are deaf; dust chokes their ears;
Only the rolling river hears
Far off the calling of the sea—
A shiver strikes through all my blood,
Mine eyes are full of sudden tears.
. . . . .
The shadows gather over all,
The valley, and the mountains old;
Shadow on shadow fast they fall
On glooming green and waning gold;
And on my heart they gather drear,
Damp as with grave-damps, dark with fear.
O Sorrow, Sorrow, couldst thou leave me
Not one brief hour to dream alone?
Hast thou not all my days to grieve me?
My nights, are they not all thine own?
Thou hauntest me at morning light,
Thou blackenest the white moonbeams;
A hollow voice at noon; at night
A crowned ghost, sitting on a throne,
Ruling the kingdom of my dreams.
Maker of men, Thou gavest breath,
Thou gavest love to all that live,
Thou rendest loves and lives apart;
Allwise art Thou; who questioneth
Thy will, or who can read Thy heart?
But couldst Thou not in mercy give
A sign to us—one little spark
Of sure hope that the end of all
Is not concealed beneath the pall,
Or wound up with the winding-sheet?
Who heedeth aught the preacher saith
When eyes wax dim, and limbs grow stark,
And fear sits on the darkened bed?
The dying man turns to the wall.
What hope have we above our dead?—
Tense fingers clutching at the dark,
And hopeless hands that vainly beat
Against the iron doors of Death!