Part 1 out of 3
Produced by Ted Garvin and PG Distributed Proofreaders
WALTER DE LA MARE
IN TWO VOLUMES
* * * * *
THEY TOLD ME
THE CHILDREN OF STARE
THE BIRTHNIGHT: TO F.
"WHERE IS THY VICTORY?"
CHARACTERS FROM SHAKESPEARE--
THE HAPPY ENCOUNTER
EVEN IN THE GRAVE
MEMORIES OF CHILDHOOD--
ENVOI: TO MY MOTHER
THE LISTENERS: 1914
THE THREE CHERRY TREES
THE KEYS OF MORNING
THERE BLOOMS NO BUD IN MAY
NOON AND NIGHT FLOWER
THE TIRED CUPID
BE ANGRY NOW NO MORE
ALL THAT'S PAST
WHEN THE ROSE IS FADED
NEVER MORE SAILOR
THE DARK CHATEAU
"THE HAWTHORN HATH A DEATHLY SMELL"
THE LITTLE SALAMANDER
THE SUNKEN GARDEN
THE BLIND BOY
THE EMPTY HOUSE
THE OLD MEN
TO E.T.: 1917
THE FOOL'S SONG
DUST TO DUST
THE THREE STRANGERS
THE VACANT DAY
FOR ALL THE GRIEF
* * * * *
TO HENRY NEWBOLT
* * * * *
* * * * *
THEY TOLD ME
They told me Pan was dead, but I
Oft marvelled who it was that sang
Down the green valleys languidly
Where the grey elder-thickets hang.
Sometimes I thought it was a bird
My soul had charged with sorcery;
Sometimes it seemed my own heart heard
Inland the sorrow of the sea.
But even where the primrose sets
The seal of her pale loveliness,
I found amid the violets
Tears of an antique bitterness.
"What voice is that I hear
Crying across the pool?"
"It is the voice of Pan you hear,
Crying his sorceries shrill and clear,
In the twilight dim and cool."
"What song is it he sings,
Echoing from afar;
While the sweet swallow bends her wings,
Filling the air with twitterings,
Beneath the brightening star?"
The woodman answered me,
His faggot on his back:--
"Seek not the face of Pan to see;
Flee from his clear note summoning thee
To darkness deep and black!"
"He dwells in thickest shade,
Piping his notes forlorn
Of sorrow never to be allayed;
Turn from his coverts sad
Of twilight unto morn!"
The woodman passed away
Along the forest path;
His ax shone keen and grey
In the last beams of day:
And all was still as death:--
Only Pan singing sweet
Out of Earth's fragrant shade;
I dreamed his eyes to meet,
And found but shadow laid
Before my tired feet.
Comes no more dawn to me,
Nor bird of open skies.
Only his woods' deep gloom I see
Till, at the end of all, shall rise,
Afar and tranquilly,
Death's stretching sea.
THE CHILDREN OF STARE
Winter is fallen early
On the house of Stare;
Birds in reverberating flocks
Haunt its ancestral box;
Bright are the plenteous berries
In clusters in the air.
Still is the fountain's music,
The dark pool icy still,
Whereupon a small and sanguine sun
Floats in a mirror on,
Into a West of crimson,
From a South of daffodil.
'Tis strange to see young children
In such a wintry house;
Like rabbits' on the frozen snow
Their tell-tale footprints go;
Their laughter rings like timbrels
'Neath evening ominous:
Their small and heightened faces
Like wine-red winter buds;
Their frolic bodies gentle as
Flakes in the air that pass,
Frail as the twirling petal
From the briar of the woods.
Above them silence lours,
Still as an arctic sea;
Light fails; night falls; the wintry moon
Glitters; the crocus soon
Will ope grey and distracted
On earth's austerity:
Thick mystery, wild peril,
Law like an iron rod:--
Yet sport they on in Spring's attire,
Each with his tiny fire
Blown to a core of ardour
By the awful breath of God.
This ugly old crone--
Every beauty she had
When a maid, when a maid.
Her beautiful eyes,
Too youthful, too wise,
Seemed ever to come
To so lightless a home,
Cold and dull as a stone.
And her cheeks--who would guess
Cheeks cadaverous as this
Once with colours were gay
As the flower on its spray?
Who would ever believe
Aught could bring one to grieve
So much as to make
Lips bent for love's sake
So thin and so grey?
O Youth, come away!
As she asks in her lone,
This old, desolate crone.
She loves us no more;
She is too old to care
For the charms that of yore
Made her body so fair.
Past repining, past care,
She lives but to bear
One or two fleeting years
Earth's indifference: her tears
Have lost now their heat;
Her hands and her feet
Now shake but to be
Shed as leaves from a tree;
And her poor heart beats on
Like a sea--the storm gone.
Art thou asleep? or have thy wings
Wearied of my unchanging skies?
Or, haply, is it fading dreams
Are in my eyes?
Not even an echo in my heart
Tells me the courts thy feet trod last,
Bare as a leafless wood it is,
The summer past.
My inmost mind is like a book
The reader dulls with lassitude,
Wherein the same old lovely words
Sound poor and rude.
Yet through this vapid surface, I
Seem to see old-time deeps; I see,
Past the dark painting of the hour,
Only a moment; as when day
Is set, and in the shade of night,
Through all the clouds that compassed her,
Stoops into sight
Pale, changeless, everlasting Dian,
Gleams on the prone Endymion,
Troubles the dulness of his dreams:
And then is gone.
The sky was like a waterdrop
In shadow of a thorn,
Clear, tranquil, beautiful,
Lightning along its margin ran;
A rumour of the sea
Rose in profundity and sank
Lofty and few the elms, the stars
In the vast boughs most bright;
I stood a dreamer in a dream
In the unstirring night.
Not wonder, worship, not even peace
Seemed in my heart to be:
Only the memory of one,
Of all most dead to me.
She had amid her ringlets bound
Green leaves to rival their dark hue;
How could such locks with beauty bound
Dry up their dew,
Wither them through and through?
She had within her dark eyes lit
Sweet fires to burn all doubt away;
Yet did those fires, in darkness lit,
Burn but a day,
Not even till twilight stay.
She had within a dusk of words
A vow in simple splendour set;
How, in the memory of such words,
Could she forget
That vow--the soul of it?
I knocked upon thy door ajar,
While yet the woods with buds were grey;
Nought but a little child I heard
Warbling at break of day.
I knocked when June had lured her rose
To mask the sharpness of its thorn;
Knocked yet again, heard only yet
Thee singing of the morn.
The frail convolvulus had wreathed
Its cup, but the faint flush of eve
Lingered upon thy Western wall;
Thou hadst no word to give.
Once yet I came; the winter stars
Above thy house wheeled wildly bright;
Footsore I stood before thy door--
Wide open into night.
Who beckons the green ivy up
Its solitary tower of stone?
What spirit lures the bindweed's cup
Calls even the starry lichen to climb
By agelong inches endless Time?
Who bids the hollyhock uplift
Her rod of fast-sealed buds on high;
Fling wide her petals--silent, swift,
Lovely to the sky?
Since as she kindled, so she will fade,
Flower above flower in squalor laid.
Ever the heavy billow rears
All its sea-length in green, hushed wall;
But totters as the shore it nears,
Foams to its fall;
Where was its mark? on what vain quest
Rose that great water from its rest?
So creeps ambition on; so climb
Man's vaunting thoughts. He, set on high,
Forgets his birth, small space, brief time,
That he shall die;
Dreams blindly in his dark, still air;
Consumes his strength; strips himself bare;
Rejects delight, ease, pleasure, hope,
Seeking in vain, but seeking yet,
Past earthly promise, earthly scope,
On one aim set:
As if, like Chaucer's child, he thought
All but "O Alma!" nought.
Like an old battle, youth is wild
With bugle and spear, and counter cry,
Fanfare and drummery, yet a child
Dreaming of that sweet chivalry,
The piercing terror cannot see.
He, with a mild and serious eye
Along the azure of the years,
Sees the sweet pomp sweep hurtling by;
But he sees not death's blood and tears,
Sees not the plunging of the spears.
And all the strident horror of
Horse and rider, in red defeat,
Is only music fine enough
To lull him into slumber sweet
In fields where ewe and lambkin bleat.
O, if with such simplicity
Himself take arms and suffer war;
With beams his targe shall gilded be,
Though in the thickening gloom be far
The steadfast light of any star!
Though hoarse War's eagle on him perch,
Quickened with guilty lightnings--there
It shall in vain for terror search,
Where a child's eyes beneath bloody hair
Gaze purely through the dingy air.
And when the wheeling rout is spent,
Though in the heaps of slain he lie;
Or lonely in his last content;
Quenchless shall burn in secrecy
The flame Death knows his victors by.
Wilt thou never come again,
Yet the woods are green and dim,
Yet the birds' deluding cry
Echoes in the hollow sky,
Yet the falling waters brim
The clear pool which thou wast fain
To paint thy lovely cheek upon,
I may see the thorny rose
Stir and wake
The dark dewdrop on her gold;
But thy secret will she keep
Half-divulged--yet all untold,
Since a child's heart woke from sleep.
The faltering sunbeam fades and goes;
The night-bird whistles in the brake;
The willows quake;
Utter darkness walls; the wind
Sighs no more.
Yet it seems the silence yearns
But to catch thy fleeting foot;
Yet the wandering glowworm burns
Lest her lamp should light thee not--
Thee whom I shall never find;
Though thy shadow lean before,
Thou thyself return'st no more--
All the world's woods, tree o'er tree,
Come to nought.
Birds, flowers, beasts, how transient they,
Angels of a flying day.
Love is quenched; dreams drown in sleep;
Ruin nods along the deep:
Only thou immortally
This poor earth in Time's flux caught;
Hauntest on, pursued, unwon,
Phantom child of memory,
Who is it calling by the darkened river
Where the moss lies smooth and deep,
And the dark trees lean unmoving arms,
Silent and vague in sleep,
And the bright-heeled constellations pass
In splendour through the gloom;
Who is it calling o'er the darkened river
In music, "Come!"?
Who is it wandering in the summer meadows
Where the children stoop and play
In the green faint-scented flowers, spinning
The guileless hours away?
Who touches their bright hair? who puts
A wind-shell to each cheek,
Whispering betwixt its breathing silences,
Who is it watching in the gathering twilight
When the curfew bird hath flown
On eager wings, from song to silence,
To its darkened nest alone?
Who takes for brightening eyes the stars,
For locks the still moonbeam,
Sighs through the dews of evening peacefully
If thou art sweet as they are sad
Who on the shores of Time's salt sea
Watch on the dim horizon fade
Ships bearing love to night and thee;
If past all beacons Hope hath lit
In the dark wanderings of the deep
They who unwilling traverse it
Dream not till dawn unseal their sleep;
Ah, cease not in thy winds to mock
Us, who yet wake, but cannot see
Thy distant shores; who at each shock
Of the waves' onset faint for thee!
THE BIRTHNIGHT: TO F.
Dearest, it was a night
That in its darkness rocked Orion's stars;
A sighing wind ran faintly white
Along the willows, and the cedar boughs
Laid their wide hands in stealthy peace across
The starry silence of their antique moss:
No sound save rushing air
Cold, yet all sweet with Spring,
And in thy mother's arms, couched weeping there,
Thou, lovely thing.
Who, now, put dreams into thy slumbering mind?
Who, with bright Fear's lean taper, crossed a hand
Athwart its beam, and stooping, truth maligned,
Spake so thy spirit speech should understand,
And with a dread "He's dead!" awaked a peal
Of frenzied bells along the vacant ways
Of thy poor earthly heart; waked thee to steal,
Like dawn distraught upon unhappy days,
To prove nought, nothing? Was it Time's large voice
Out of the inscrutable future whispered so?
Or but the horror of a little noise
Earth wakes at dead of night? Or does Love know
When his sweet wings weary and droop, and even
In sleep cries audibly a shrill remorse?
Or, haply, was it I who out of dream
Stole but a little where shadows course,
Called back to thee across the eternal stream?
"WHERE IS THY VICTORY?"
None, none can tell where I shall be
When the unclean earth covers me;
Only in surety if thou cry
Where my perplexed ashes lie,
Know, 'tis but death's necessity
That keeps my tongue from answering thee.
Even if no more my shadow may
Lean for a moment in thy day;
No more the whole earth lighten, as if,
Thou near, it had nought else to give:
Surely 'tis but Heaven's strategy
To prove death immortality.
Yet should I sleep--and no more dream,
Sad would the last awakening seem,
If my cold heart, with love once hot,
Had thee in sleep remembered not:
How could I wake to find that I
Had slept alone, yet easefully?
Or should in sleep glad visions come:
Sick, in an alien land, for home
Would be my eyes in their bright beam;
Awake, we know 'tis not a dream;
Asleep, some devil in the mind
Might truest thoughts with false enwind.
Life is a mockery if death
Have the least power men say it hath.
As to a hound that mewing waits,
Death opens, and shuts to, his gates;
Else even dry bones might rise and say,--
"'Tis _ye_ are dead and laid away."
Innocent children out of nought
Build up a universe of thought,
And out of silence fashion Heaven:
So, dear, is this poor dying even,
Seeing thou shall be touched, heard, seen,
Better than when dust stood between.
Thou canst not see him standing by--
Time--with a poppied hand
Stealing thy youth's simplicity,
Even as falls unceasingly
His waning sand.
He will pluck thy childish roses, as
Summer from her bush
Strips all the loveliness that was;
Even to the silence evening has
Thy laughter hush.
Thy locks too faint for earthly gold,
The meekness of thine eyes,
He will darken and dim, and to his fold
Drive, 'gainst the night, thy stainless, old
Thy simple words confuse and mar,
Thy tenderest thoughts delude,
Draw a long cloud athwart thy star,
Still with loud timbrels heaven's far
Thou canst not see; I see, dearest;
O, then, yet patient be,
Though love refuse thy heart all rest,
Though even love wax angry, lest
Love should lose _thee_?
Ever before my face there went
Betwixt earth's buds and me
A beauty beyond earth's content,
A hope--half memory:
Till in the woods one evening--
Ah! eyes as dark as they,
Fastened on mine unwontedly,
Grey, and dear heart, how grey!
"What is the world, O soldiers?
It is I:
I, this incessant snow,
This northern sky;
Soldiers, this solitude
Through which we go
No lovelier hills than thine have laid
My tired thoughts to rest:
No peace of lovelier valleys made
Like peace within my breast.
Thine are the woods whereto my soul,
Out of the noontide beam,
Flees for a refuge green and cool
And tranquil as a dream.
Thy breaking seas like trumpets peal;
Thy clouds--how oft have I
Watched their bright towers of silence steal
My heart within me faults to roam
In thought even far from thee:
Thine be the grave whereto I come,
And thine my darkness be.
Far inland here Death's pinions mocked the roar
Of English seas;
We sleep to wake no more,
Hushed, and at ease;
Till sound a trump, shore on to echoing shore,
Rouse from a peace, unwonted then to war,
Us and our enemies.
When twilight darkens, and one by one,
The sweet birds to their nests have gone;
When to green banks the glow-worms bring
Pale lamps to brighten evening;
Then stirs in his thick sleep the owl
Through the dewy air to prowl.
Hawking the meadows swiftly he flits,
While the small mouse atrembling sits
With tiny eye of fear upcast
Until his brooding shape be past,
Hiding her where the moonbeams beat,
Casting black shadows in the wheat.
Now all is still: the field-man is
Lapped deep in slumbering silentness.
Not a leaf stirs, but clouds on high
Pass in dim flocks across the sky,
Puffed by a breeze too light to move
Aught but these wakeful sheep above.
O what an arch of light now spans
These fields by night no longer Man's!
Their ancient Master is abroad,
Walking beneath the moonlight cold:
His presence is the stillness, He
Fills earth with wonder and mystery.
All from the light of the sweet moon
Tired men lie now abed;
Actionless, full of visions, soon
Vanishing, soon sped.
The starry night aflock with beams
Of crystal light scarce stirs:
Only its birds--the cocks, the streams,
Call 'neath heaven's wanderers.
All silent; all hearts still;
Love, cunning, fire fallen low:
When faint morn straying on the hill
Sighs, and his soft airs flow.
I heard a little child beneath the stars
Talk as he ran along
To some sweet riddle in his mind that seemed
A-tiptoe into song.
In his dark eyes lay a wild universe,--
Wild forests, peaks, and crests;
Angels and fairies, giants, wolves and he
Were that world's only guests.
Elsewhere was home and mother, his warm bed:--
Now, only God alone
Could, armed with all His power and wisdom, make
Earths richer than his own.
O Man!--thy dreams, thy passions, hopes, desires!--
He in his pity keep
A homely bed where love may lull a child's
Fond Universe asleep!
Upon a bank, easeless with knobs of gold,
Beneath a canopy of noonday smoke,
I saw a measureless Beast, morose and bold,
With eyes like one from filthy dreams awoke,
Who stares upon the daylight in despair
For very terror of the nothing there.
This beast in one flat hand clutched vulture-wise
A glittering image of itself in jet,
And with the other groped about its eyes
To drive away the dreams that pestered it;
And never ceased its coils to toss and beat
The mire encumbering its feeble feet.
Sharp was its hunger, though continually
It seemed a cud of stones to ruminate,
And often like a dog let glittering lie
This meatless fare, its foolish gaze to sate;
Once more convulsively to stoop its jaw,
Or seize the morsel with an envious paw.
Indeed, it seemed a hidden enemy
Must lurk within the clouds above that bank,
It strained so wildly its pale, stubborn eye,
To pierce its own foul vapours dim and dank;
Till, wearied out, it raved in wrath and foam,
Daring that Nought Invisible to come.
Ay, and it seemed some strange delight to find
In this unmeaning din, till, suddenly,
As if it heard a rumour on the wind,
Or far away its freer children cry,
Lifting its face made-quiet, there it stayed,
Till died the echo its own rage had made.
That place alone was barren where it lay;
Flowers bloomed beyond, utterly sweet and fair;
And even its own dull heart might think to stay
In livelong thirst of a clear river there,
Flowing from unseen hills to unheard seas,
Through a still vale of yew and almond trees.
And then I spied in the lush green below
Its tortured belly, One, like silver, pale,
With fingers closed upon a rope of straw,
That bound the Beast, squat neck to hoary tail;
Lonely in all that verdure faint and deep,
He watched the monster as a shepherd sheep.
I marvelled at the power, strength, and rage
Of this poor creature in such slavery bound;
Tettered with worms of fear; forlorn with age;
Its blue wing-stumps stretched helpless on the ground;
While twilight faded into darkness deep,
And he who watched it piped its pangs asleep.
I saw old Idleness, fat, with great cheeks
Puffed to the huge circumference of a sigh,
But past all tinge of apples long ago.
His boyish fingers twiddled up and down
The filthy remnant of a cup of physic
That thicked in odour all the while he stayed.
His eyes were sad as fishes that swim up
And stare upon an element not theirs
Through a thin skin of shrewish water, then
Turn on a languid fin, and dip down, down,
Into unplumbed, vast, oozy deeps of dream.
His stomach was his master, and proclaimed it;
And never were such meagre puppets made
The slaves of such a tyrant, as his thoughts
Of that obese epitome of ills.
Trussed up he sat, the mockery of himself;
And when upon the wan green of his eye
I marked the gathering lustre of a tear,
Thought I myself must weep, until I caught
A grey, smug smile of satisfaction smirch
His pallid features at his misery.
And laugh did I, to see the little snares
He had set for pests to vex him: his great feet
Prisoned in greater boots; so narrow a stool
To seat such elephantine parts as his;
Ay, and the book he read, a Hebrew Bible;
And, to incite a gross and backward wit,
An old, crabbed, wormed, Greek dictionary; and
A foxy Ovid bound in dappled calf.
Still as a mountain with dark pines and sun
He stood between the armies, and his shout
Rolled from the empyrean above the host:
"Bid any little flea ye have come forth,
And wince at death upon my finger-nail!"
He turned his large-boned face; and all his steel
Tossed into beams the lustre of the noon;
And all the shaggy horror of his locks
Rustled like locusts in a field of corn.
The meagre pupil of his shameless eye
Moved like a cormorant over a glassy sea.
He stretched his limbs, and laughed into the air,
To feel the groaning sinews of his breast,
And the long gush of his swollen arteries pause:
And, nodding, wheeled, towering in all his height.
Then, like a wind that hushes, gazed and saw
Down, down, far down upon the untroubled green
A shepherd-boy that swung a little sling.
Goliath shut his lids to drive that mote,
Which vexed the eastern azure of his eye,
Out of his vision; and stared down again.
Yet stood the youth there, ruddy in the flare
Of his vast shield, nor spake, nor quailed, gazed up,
As one might scan a mountain to be scaled.
Then, as it were, a voice unearthly still
Cried in the cavern of his bristling ear,
"His name is Death!" ... And, like the flush
That dyes Sahara to its lifeless verge,
His brows' bright brass flamed into sudden crimson;
And his great spear leapt upward, lightning-like,
Shaking a dreadful thunder in the air;
Spun betwixt earth and sky, bright as a berg
That hoards the sunlight in a myriad spires,
Crashed: and struck echo through an army's heart.
Then paused Goliath, and stared down again.
And fleet-foot Fear from rolling orbs perceived
Steadfast, unharmed, a stooping shepherd-boy
Frowning upon the target of his face.
And wrath tossed suddenly up once more his hand;
And a deep groan grieved all his strength in him.
He breathed; and, lost in dazzling darkness, prayed--
Besought his reins, his gloating gods, his youth:
And turned to smite what he no more could see.
Then sped the singing pebble-messenger,
The chosen of the Lord from Israel's brooks,
Fleet to its mark, and hollowed a light path
Down to the appalling Babel of his brain.
And like the smoke of dreaming Souffriere
Dust rose in cloud, spread wide, slow silted down
Softly all softly on his armour's blaze.
* * * * *
CHARACTERS FROM SHAKESPEARE
* * * * *
'Twas in a tavern that with old age stooped
And leaned rheumatic rafters o'er his head--
A blowzed, prodigious man, which talked, and stared,
And rolled, as if with purpose, a small eye
Like a sweet Cupid in a cask of wine.
I could not view his fatness for his soul,
Which peeped like harmless lightnings and was gone;
As haps to voyagers of the summer air.
And when he laughed, Time trickled down those beams,
As in a glass; and when in self-defence
He puffed that paunch, and wagged that huge, Greek head,
Nosed like a Punchinello, then it seemed
An hundred widows swept in his small voice,
Now tenor, and now bass of drummy war.
He smiled, compact of loam, this orchard man;
Mused like a midnight, webbed with moonbeam snares
Of flitting Love; woke--and a King he stood,
Whom all the world hath in sheer jest refused
For helpless laughter's sake. And then, forfend!
Bacchus and Jove reared vast Olympus there;
And Pan leaned leering from Promethean eyes.
"Lord!" sighed his aspect, weeping o'er the jest,
"What simple mouse brought such a mountain forth?"
Rose, like dim battlements, the hills and reared
Steep crags into the fading primrose sky;
But in the desolate valleys fell small rain,
Mingled with drifting cloud. I saw one come,
Like the fierce passion of that vacant place,
His face turned glittering to the evening sky;
His eyes, like grey despair, fixed satelessly
On the still, rainy turrets of the storm;
And all his armour in a haze of blue.
He held no sword, bare was his hand and clenched,
As if to hide the inextinguishable blood
Murder had painted there. And his wild mouth
Seemed spouting echoes of deluded thoughts.
Around his head, like vipers all distort,
His locks shook, heavy-laden, at each stride.
If fire may burn invisible to the eye;
O, if despair strive everlastingly;
Then haunted here the creature of despair,
Fanning and fanning flame to lick upon
A soul still childish in a blackened hell.
What dost thou here far from thy native place?
What piercing influences of heaven have stirred
Thy heart's last mansion all-corruptible to wake,
To move, and in the sweets of wine and fire
Sit tempting madness with unholy eyes?
Begone, thou shuddering, pale anomaly!
The dark presses without on yew and thorn;
Stoops now the owl upon her lonely quest;
The pomp runs high here, and our beauteous women
Seek no cold witness--O, let murder cry,
Too shrill for human ear, only to God.
Come not in power to wreak so wild a vengeance!
Thou knowest not now the limit of man's heart;
He is beyond thy knowledge. Gaze not then,
Horror enthroned lit with insanest light!
Along an avenue of almond-trees
Came three girls chattering of their sweethearts three.
And lo! Mercutio, with Byronic ease,
Out of his philosophic eye cast all
A mere flowered twig of thought, whereat--
Three hearts fell still as when an air dies out
And Venus falters lonely o'er the sea.
But when within the further mist of bloom
His step and form were hid, the smooth child Ann
Said, "La, and what eyes he had!" and Lucy said,
"How sad a gentleman!" and Katherine,
"I wonder, now, what mischief he was at."
And these three also April hid away,
Leaving the Spring faint with Mercutio.
In old-world nursery vacant now of children,
With posied walls, familiar, fair, demure,
And facing southward o'er romantic streets,
Sits yet and gossips winter's dark away
One gloomy, vast, glossy, and wise, and sly:
And at her side a cherried country cousin.
Her tongue claps ever like a ram's sweet bell;
There's not a name but calls a tale to mind--
Some marrowy patty of farce or melodram;
There's not a soldier but hath babes in view;
There's not on earth what minds not of the midwife:
"O, widowhood that left me still espoused!"
Beauty she sighs o'er, and she sighs o'er gold;
Gold will buy all things, even a sweet husband,
Else only Heaven is left and--farewell youth!
Yet, strangely, in that money-haunted head,
The sad, gemmed crucifix and incense blue
Is childhood once again. Her memory
Is like an ant-hill which a twig disturbs,
But twig stilled never. And to see her face,
Broad with sleek homely beams; her babied hands,
Ever like 'lighting doves, and her small eyes--
Blue wells a-twinkle, arch and lewd and pious--
To darken all sudden into Stygian gloom,
And paint disaster with uplifted whites,
Is life's epitome. She prates and prates--
A waterbrook of words o'er twelve small pebbles.
And when she dies--some grey, long, summer evening,
When the bird shouts of childhood through the dusk,
'Neath night's faint tapers--then her body shall
Lie stiff with silks of sixty thrifty years.
A dark lean face, a narrow, slanting eye,
Whose deeps of blackness one pale taper's beam
Haunts with a fitting madness of desire;
A heart whose cinder at the breath of passion
Glows to a momentary core of heat
Almost beyond indifference to endure:
So parched Iago frets his life away.
His scorn works ever in a brain whose wit
This world hath fools too many and gross to seek.
Ever to live incredibly alone,
Masked, shivering, deadly, with a simple Moor
Of idiot gravity, and one pale flower
Whose chill would quench in everlasting peace
His soul's unmeasured flame--O paradox!
Might he but learn the trick!--to wear her heart
One fragile hour of heedless innocence,
And then, farewell, and the incessant grave.
"O fool! O villain!"--'tis the shuttlecock
Wit never leaves at rest. It is his fate
To be a needle in a world of hay,
Where honour is the flattery of the fool;
Sin, a tame bauble; lies, a tiresome jest;
Virtue, a silly, whitewashed block of wood
For words to fell. Ah! but the secret lacking,
The secret of the child, the bird, the night,
Faded, flouted, bespattered, in days so far
Hate cannot bitter them, nor wrath deny;
Else were this Desdemona.... Why!
Woman a harlot is, and life a nest
Fouled by long ages of forked fools. And God--
Iago deals not with a tale so dull:
To have made the world! Fie on thee, Artisan!
Even she too dead! all languor on her brow,
All mute humanity's last simpleness,--
And yet the roses in her cheeks unfallen!
Can death haunt silence with a silver sound?
Can death, that hushes all music to a close,
Pluck one sweet wire scarce-audible that trembles,
As if a little child, called Purity,
Sang heedlessly on of his dear Imogen?
Surely if some young flowers of Spring were put
Into the tender hollow of her heart,
'Twould faintly answer, trembling in their petals.
Poise but a wild bird's feather, it will stir
On lips that even in silence wear the badge
Only of truth. Let but a cricket wake,
And sing of home, and bid her lids unseal
The unspeakable hospitality of her eyes.
O childless soul--call once her husband's name!
And even if indeed from these green hills
Of England, far, her spirit flits forlorn,
Back to its youthful mansion it will turn,
Back to the floods of sorrow these sweet locks
Yet heavy bear in drops; and Night shall see
Unwearying as her stars still Imogen,
Pausing 'twixt death and life on one hushed word.
There haunts in Time's bare house an active ghost,
Enamoured of his name, Polonius.
He moves small fingers much, and all his speech
Is like a sampler of precisest words,
Set in the pattern of a simpleton.
His mirth floats eerily down chill corridors;
His sigh--it is a sound that loves a keyhole;
His tenderness a faint court-tarnished thing;
His wisdom prates as from a wicker cage;
His very belly is a pompous nought;
His eye a page that hath forgot his errand.
Yet in his brain--his spiritual brain--
Lies hid a child's demure, small, silver whistle
Which, to his horror, God blows, unawares,
And sets men staring. It is sad to think,
Might he but don indeed thin flesh and blood,
And pace important to Law's inmost room,
He would see, much marvelling, one immensely wise,
Named Bacon, who, at sound of his youth's step,
Would turn and call him Cousin--for the likeness.
There runs a crisscross pattern of small leaves
Espalier, in a fading summer air,
And there Ophelia walks, an azure flower,
Whom wind, and snowflakes, and the sudden rain
Of love's wild skies have purified to heaven.
There is a beauty past all weeping now
In that sweet, crooked mouth, that vacant smile;
Only a lonely grey in those mad eyes,
Which never on earth shall learn their loneliness.
And when amid startled birds she sings lament,
Mocking in hope the long voice of the stream,
It seems her heart's lute hath a broken string.
Ivy she hath, that to old ruin clings;
And rosemary, that sees remembrance fade;
And pansies, deeper than the gloom of dreams;
But ah! if utterable, would this earth
Remain the base, unreal thing it is?
Better be out of sight of peering eyes;
Out--out of hearing of all-useless words,
Spoken of tedious tongues in heedless ears.
And lest, at last, the world should learn heart-secrets;
Lest that sweet wolf from some dim thicket steal;
Better the glassy horror of the stream.
Umbrageous cedars murmuring symphonies
Stooped in late twilight o'er dark Denmark's Prince:
He sat, his eyes companioned with dream--
Lustrous large eyes that held the world in view
As some entranced child's a puppet show.
Darkness gave birth to the all-trembling stars,
And a far roar of long-drawn cataracts,
Flooding immeasurable night with sound.
He sat so still, his very thoughts took wing,
And, lightest Ariels, the stillness haunted
With midge-like measures; but, at last, even they
Sank 'neath the influences of his night.
The sweet dust shed faint perfume in the gloom;
Through all wild space the stars' bright arrows fell
On the lone Prince--the troubled son of man--
On Time's dark waters in unearthly trouble:
Then, as the roar increased, and one fair tower
Of cloud took sky and stars with majesty,
He rose, his face a parchment of old age,
Sorrow hath scribbled o'er, and o'er, and o'er.
* * * * *
* * * * *
THE HAPPY ENCOUNTER
I saw sweet Poetry turn troubled eyes
On shaggy Science nosing in the grass,
For by that way poor Poetry must pass
On her long pilgrimage to Paradise.
He snuffled, grunted, squealed; perplexed by flies,
Parched, weatherworn, and near of sight, alas,
From peering close where very little was
In dens secluded from the open skies.
But Poetry in bravery went down,
And called his name, soft, clear, and fearlessly;
Stooped low, and stroked his muzzle overgrown;
Refreshed his drought with dew; wiped pure and free
His eyes: and lo! laughed loud for joy to see
In those grey deeps the azure of her own.
Come, then, with showers; I love thy cloudy face
Gilded with splendour of the sunbeam thro'
The heedless glory of thy locks. I know
The arch, sweet languor of thy fleeting grace,
The windy lovebeams of thy dwelling-place,
Thy dim dells where in azure bluebells blow,
The brimming rivers where thy lightnings go
Harmless and full and swift from race to race.
Thou takest all young hearts captive with thine eyes;
At rumour of thee the tongues of children ring
Louder than bees; the golden poplars rise
Like trumps of peace; and birds, on homeward wing,
Fly mocking echoes shrill along the skies,
Above the waves' grave diapasoning.
My heart faints in me for the distant sea.
The roar of London is the roar of ire
The lion utters in his old desire
For Libya out of dim captivity.
The long bright silver of Cheapside I see,
Her gilded weathercocks on roof and spire
Exulting eastward in the western fire;
All things recall one heart-sick memory:--
Ever the rustle of the advancing foam,
The surges' desolate thunder, and the cry
As of some lone babe in the whispering sky;
Ever I peer into the restless gloom
To where a ship clad dim and loftily
Looms steadfast in the wonder of her home.
My mind is like a clamorous market-place.
All day in wind, rain, sun, its babel wells;
Voice answering to voice in tumult swells.
Chaffering and laughing, pushing for a place,
My thoughts haste on, gay, strange, poor, simple, base;
This one buys dust, and that a bauble sells:
But none to any scrutiny hints or tells
The haunting secrets hidden in each sad face.
Dies down the clamour when the dark draws near;
Strange looms the earth in twilight of the West,
Lonely with one sweet star serene and clear,
Dwelling, when all this place is hushed to rest,
On vacant stall, gold, refuse, worst and best,
Abandoned utterly in haste and fear.
By chance my fingers, resting on my face,
Stayed suddenly where in its orbit shone
The lamp of all things beautiful; then on,
Following more heedfully, did softly trace
Each arch and prominence and hollow place
That shall revealed be when all else is gone--
Warmth, colour, roundness--to oblivion,
And nothing left but darkness and disgrace.
Life like a moment passed seemed then to be;
A transient dream this raiment that it wore;
While spelled my hand out its mortality
Made certain all that had seemed doubt before:
Proved--O how vaguely, yet how lucidly!--
How much death does; and yet can do no more.
EVEN IN THE GRAVE
I laid my inventory at the hand
Of Death, who in his gloomy arbour sate;
And while he conned it, sweet and desolate
I heard Love singing in that quiet land.
He read the record even to the end--
The heedless, livelong injuries of Fate,
The burden of foe, the burden of love and hate;
The wounds of foe, the bitter wounds of friend:
All, all, he read, ay, even the indifference,
The vain talk, vainer silence, hope and dream.
He questioned me: "What seek'st thou then instead?"
I bowed my face in the pale evening gleam.
Then gazed he on me with strange innocence:
"Even in the grave thou wilt have thyself," he said.
"Come now," I said, "put off these webs of death,
Distract this leaden yearning of thine eyes
From lichened banks of peace, sad mysteries
Of dust fallen-in where passed the flitting breath:
Turn thy sick thoughts from him that slumbereth
In mouldered linen to the living skies,
The sun's bright-clouded principalities,
The salt deliciousness the sea-breeze hath!
"Lay thy warm hand on earth's cold clods and think
What exquisite greenness sprouts from these to grace
The moving fields of summer; on the brink
Of arched waves the sea-horizon trace,
Whence wheels night's galaxy; and in silence sink
The pride in rapture of life's dwelling-place!"
"Ever exulting in thyself, on fire
To flaunt the purple of the Universe,
To strut and strut, and thy great part rehearse;
Ever the slave of every proud desire;
Come now a little down where sports thy sire;
Choose thy small better from thy abounding worse;
Prove thou thy lordship who hadst dust for nurse,
And for thy swaddling the primeval mire!"
Then stooped our Manhood nearer, deep and still,
As from earth's mountains an unvoyaged sea,
Hushed my faint voice in its great peace until
It seemed but a bird's cry in eternity;
And in its future loomed the undreamable,
And in its past slept simple men like me.
Her breast is cold; her hands how faint and wan!
And the deep wonder of her starry eyes
Seemingly lost in cloudless Paradise,
And all earth's sorrow out of memory gone.
Yet sings her clear voice unrelenting on
Of loveliest impossibilities;
Though echo only answer her with sighs
Of effort wasted and delights foregone.
Spent, baffled, 'wildered, hated and despised,
Her straggling warriors hasten to defeat;
By wounds distracted, and by night surprised,
Fall where death's darkness and oblivion meet:
Yet, yet: O breast how cold! O hope how far!
Grant my son's ashes lie where these men's are!
* * * * *
MEMORIES OF CHILDHOOD
* * * * *
Bring not bright candles, for his eyes
In twilight have sweet company;
Bring not bright candles, else they fly--
His phantoms fly--
Gazing aggrieved on thee!
Bring not bright candles, startle not
The phantoms of a vacant room,
Flocking above a child that dreams--
Deep, deep in dreams,--
Hid, in the gathering gloom!
Bring not bright candles to those eyes
That between earth and stars descry,
Lovelier for the shadows there,
Children of air,
Palaces in the sky!
The shadow of a poplar tree
Lay in that lake of sun,
As I with my little sword went in--
Against a thousand, one.
Haughty and infinitely armed,
Insolent in their wrath,
Plumed high with purple plumes they held
The narrow meadow path.
The air was sultry; all was still;
The sun like flashing glass;
And snip-snap my light-whispering steel
In arcs of light did pass.
Lightly and dull fell each proud head,
Spiked keen without avail,
Till swam my uncontented blade
With ichor green and pale.
And silence fell: the rushing sun
Stood still in paths of heat,
Gazing in waves of horror on
The dead about my feet.
Never a whir of wing, no bee
Stirred o'er the shameful slain;
Nought but a thirsty wasp crept in,
Stooped, and came out again.
The very air trembled in fear;
Eclipsing shadow seemed
Rising in crimson waves of gloom--
On one who dreamed.
"Who called?" I said, and the words
Through the whispering glades,
Hither, thither, baffled the birds--
"Who called? Who called?"
The leafy boughs on high
Hissed in the sun;
The dark air carried my cry
Eyes in the green, in the shade,
In the motionless brake,
Voices that said what I said,
For mockery's sake:
"Who cares?" I bawled through my tears;
The wind fell low:
In the silence, "Who cares? who cares?"
Wailed to and fro.
I know where lurk
The eyes of Fear;
I, I alone,
Watching for me,
'Tis ever still
And dark, despite
All singing and
'Tis ever cold,
He touches me;
"Stir not, nor whisper,
I am nigh;
Walk noiseless on,
I am by!"
He drives me
As a dog a sheep;
Like a cold stone
I cannot weep.
He lifts me
Hot from sleep
In marble hands
To where on high
The jewelled horror
Of his eye
Dares me to struggle
No breast wherein
To chase away
That watchful shape!
Vain, vain to say
"Haunt not with night
Sand, sand; hills of sand;
And the wind where nothing is
Green and sweet of the land;
No grass, no trees,
No bird, no butterfly,
But hills, hills of sand,
And a burning sky.
Sea, sea, mounds of the sea,
Hollow, and dark, and blue,
The whole sea through;
No flower, no jutting root,
Only the floor of the sea,
With foam afloat.
Blow, blow, winding shells;
And the watery fish,
Deaf to the hidden bells,
In the water splash;
No streaming gold, no eyes,
Watching along the waves,
But far-blown shells, faint bells,
From the darkling caves.
There is a garden, grey
With mists of autumntide;
Under the giant boughs,
Stretched green on every side,
Along the lonely paths,
A little child like me,
With face, with hands, like mine,
Plays ever silently;
On, on, quite silently,
When I am there alone,
Turns not his head; lifts not his eyes;
Heeds not as he plays on.
After the birds are flown
From singing in the trees,
When all is grey, all silent,
Voices, and winds, and bees;
And I am there alone:
Plays in the evening garden
Myself with me.
There is a wind where the rose was;
Cold rain where sweet grass was;
And clouds like sheep
Stream o'er the steep
Grey skies where the lark was.
Nought gold where your hair was;
Nought warm where your hand was;
But phantom, forlorn,
Beneath the thorn,
Your ghost where your face was.
Sad winds where your voice was;
Tears, tears where my heart was;
And ever with me,
Child, ever with me,
Silence where hope was.
Oh, I remember now
A dell of snow,
Frost on the bough;
None there but I:
Snow, snow, and a wintry sky.
None there but I,
And footprints one by one,
Where I had run;
Where shrill and powdery
A robin sat in the tree.
And he whistled sweet;
And I in the crusted snow
With snow-clubbed feet
Jigged to and fro,
Till, from the day,
The rose-light ebbed away.
And the robin flew
Into the air, the air,
The white mist through;
And small and rare
The night-frost fell
In the calm and misty dell.
And the dusk gathered low,
And the silver moon and stars
On the frozen snow
Drew taper bars,
Kindled winking fires
In the hooded briers.
And the sprawling Bear
Growled deep in the sky;
And Orion's hair
Streamed sparkling by:
But the North sighed low,
"Snow, snow, more snow!"
* * * * *
* * * * *
TO MY MOTHER
Thine is my all, how little when 'tis told
Beside thy gold!
Thine the first peace, and mine the livelong strife;
Thine the clear dawn, and mine the night of life;
Thine the unstained belief,
Darkened in grief.
Scarce even a flower but thine its beauty and name,
Dimmed, yet the same;
Never in twilight comes the moon to me,
Stealing thro' those far woods, but tells of thee,
Falls, dear, on my wild heart,
And takes thy part.
Thou art the child, and I--how steeped in age!
A blotted page
From that clear, little book life's taken away:
How could I read it, dear, so dark the day?
Be it all memory
'Twixt thee and me!
* * * * *
THE LISTENERS: 1914
* * * * *
THE THREE CHERRY TREES
There were three cherry trees once,
Grew in a garden all shady;
And there for delight of so gladsome a sight,
Walked a most beautiful lady,
Dreamed a most beautiful lady.
Birds in those branches did sing,
Blackbird and throstle and linnet,
But she walking there was by far the most fair--
Lovelier than all else within it,
Blackbird and throstle and linnet.
But blossoms to berries do come,
All hanging on stalks light and slender,
And one long summer's day charmed that lady away,
With vows sweet and merry and tender;
A lover with voice low and tender.
Moss and lichen the green branches deck;
Weeds nod in its paths green and shady:
Yet a light footstep seems there to wander in dreams,
The ghost of that beautiful lady,
That happy and beautiful lady.
When Susan's work was done, she would sit,
With one fat guttering candle lit,
And window opened wide to win
The sweet night air to enter in.
There, with a thumb to keep her place,
She would read, with stern and wrinkled face,
Her mild eyes gliding very slow
Across the letters to and fro,
While wagged the guttering candle flame
In the wind that through the window came.
And sometimes in the silence she