Part 3 out of 4
Makes all the difference. If you hadn't children,
I'ld find it in my heart to pity you,
Granted you'ld let me. I don't understand!
I've seen you stripped. I've seen your children stripped.
You've never seen me naked; but you can guess
The misstitched, gnarled, and crooked thing I am.
Now, do you understand? I may have words.
But you, man, do you never burn with pride
That you've begotten those six limber bodies,
Firm flesh, and supple sinew, and lithe limb--
Six nimble lads, each like young Absalom,
With red blood running lively in his veins,
Bone of your bone, your very flesh and blood?
It's you don't understand. God, what I'ld give
This moment to be you, just as you are,
Preposterous pantaloons, and purple cats,
And painted leer, and crimson curls, and all--
To be you now, with only one missed hoop,
If I'd six clean-limbed children of my loins,
Born of the ecstasy of life within me,
To keep it quick and valiant in the ring
When I ... but I ... Man, man, you've missed a hoop;
But they'll take every hoop like blooded colts:
And 'twill be you in them that leaps through life,
And in their children, and their children's children.
God! doesn't it make you hold your breath to think
There'll always be an Andrew in the ring,
The very spit and image of you stripped,
While life's old circus lasts? And I ... at least
There is no twisted thing of my begetting
To keep my shame alive: and that's the most
That I've to pride myself upon. But, God,
I'm proud, ay, proud as Lucifer, of that.
Think what it means, with all the urge and sting,
When such a lust of life runs in the veins.
You, with your six sons, and your one missed hoop,
Put that thought in your pipe and smoke it. Well,
And how d'you like the flavour? Something bitter?
And burns the tongue a trifle? That's the brand
That I must smoke while I've the breath to puff.
I've always worshipped the body, all my life--
The body, quick with the perfect health which is beauty,
Lively, lissom, alert, and taking its way
Through the world with the easy gait of the early gods.
The only moments I've lived my life to the full
And that live again in remembrance unfaded are those
When I've seen life compact in some perfect body,
The living God made manifest in man:
A diver in the Mediterranean, resting,
With sleeked black hair, and glistening salt-tanned skin,
Gripping the quivering gunwale with tense hands,
His torso lifted out of the peacock sea,
Like Neptune, carved in amber, come to life:
A stark Egyptian on the Nile's edge poised
Like a bronze Osiris against the lush, rank green:
A fisherman dancing reels, on New Year's Eve,
In a hall of shadowy rafters and flickering lights,
At St Abbs on the Berwickshire coast, to the skirl of the pipes,
The lift of the wave in his heels, the sea in his veins:
A Cherokee Indian, as though he were one with his horse,
His coppery shoulders agleam, his feathers aflame
With the last of the sun, descending a gulch in Alaska;
A brawny Cleveland puddler, stripped to the loins,
On the cauldron's brink, stirring the molten iron
In the white-hot glow, a man of white-hot metal:
A Cornish ploughboy driving an easy share
Through the grey, light soil of a headland, against a sea
Of sapphire, gay in his new white corduroys,
Blue-eyed, dark-haired, and whistling a careless tune:
Jack Johnson, stripped for the ring, in his swarthy pride
Of sleek and rippling muscle ...
Jack's the boy!
Ay, he's the proper figure of a man.
But he'll grow fat and flabby and scant of breath.
He'll miss his hoop some day.
But what are words
To shape the joy of form? The Greeks did best
To cut in marble or to cast in bronze
Their ecstasy of living. I remember
A marvellous Hermes that I saw in Athens,
Fished from the very bottom of the deep
Where he had lain two thousand years or more,
Wrecked with a galleyful of Roman pirates,
Among the white bones of his plunderers
Whose flesh had fed the fishes as they sank--
Serene in cold, imperishable beauty,
Biding his time, till he should rise again,
Exultant from the wave, for all men's worship,
The morning-spring of life, the youth of the world,
Shaped in sea-coloured bronze for everlasting.
Ay, the Greeks knew: but men have forgotten now.
Not easily do we meet beauty walking
The world to-day in all the body's pride.
That's why I'm here--a stable-boy to camels--
For in the circus-ring there's more delight
Of seemly bodies, goodly in sheer health,
Bodies trained and tuned to the perfect pitch,
Eager, blithe, debonair, from head to heel
Aglow and alive in every pulse, than elsewhere
In this machine-ridden land of grimy, glum
Round-shouldered, coughing mechanics. Once I lived
In London, in a slum called Paradise,
Sickened to see the greasy pavements crawling
With puny flabby babies, thick as maggots.
Poor brats! I'ld soon go mad if I'd to live
In London, with its stunted men and women
But little better to look on than myself.
Yet, there's an island where the men keep fit--
St Kilda's, a stark fastness of high crag:
They must keep fit or famish: their main food
The Solan goose; and it's a chancy job
To swing down a sheer face of slippery granite
And drop a noose over the sentinel bird
Ere he can squawk to rouse the sleeping flock.
They must keep fit--their bodies taut and trim--
To have the nerve: and they're like tempered steel,
Suppled and fined. But even they've grown slacker
Through traffic with the mainland, in these days.
A hundred years ago, the custom held
That none should take a wife till he had stood,
His left heel on the dizziest point of crag,
His right leg and both arms stretched in mid air,
Above the sea: three hundred feet to drop
To death, if he should fail--a Spartan test.
But any man who could have failed, would scarce
Have earned his livelihood or his children's bread
On that bleak rock.
Merry Andrew (drowsily):
Ay, children--that's it, children!
St Kilda's children had a chance, at least,
With none begotten idly of weakling fathers.
A Spartan test for fatherhood! Should they miss
Their hoop, 'twas death, and childless. You have still
Six lives to take unending hoops for you,
And you yourself are not done yet ...
Merry Andrew (more drowsily):
And there's much comfort in the thought of children.
They're bonnie boys enough; and should do well,
If I can but keep going a little while,
A little longer till ...
Six strapping sons!
And I have naught but camels.
Yet, I've seen
A vision in this stable that puts to shame
Each ecstasy of mortal flesh and blood
That's been my eyes' delight. I never breathed
A word of it to man or woman yet:
I couldn't whisper it now to you, if you looked
Like any human thing this side of death.
'Twas on the night I stumbled on the circus.
I'd wandered all day, lost among the fells,
Over snow-smothered hills, through blinding blizzard,
Whipped by a wind that seemed to strip and skin me,
Till I was one numb ache of sodden ice.
Quite done, and drunk with cold, I'ld soon have dropped
Dead in a ditch; when suddenly a lantern
Dazzled my eyes. I smelt a queer warm smell;
And felt a hot puff in my face; and blundered
Out of the flurry of snow and raking wind
Dizzily into a glowing Arabian night
Of elephants and camels having supper.
I thought that I'd gone mad, stark, staring mad;
But I was much too sleepy to mind just then--
Dropped dead asleep upon a truss of hay;
And lay, a log, till--well, I cannot tell
How long I lay unconscious. I but know
I slept, and wakened, and that 'twas no dream.
I heard a rustle in the hay beside me,
And opening sleepy eyes, scarce marvelling,
I saw her, standing naked in the lamplight,
Beneath the huge tent's cavernous canopy,
Against the throng of elephants and camels
That champed unwondering in the golden dusk,
Moon-white Diana, mettled Artemis--
Her body, quick and tense as her own bowstring,
Her spirit, an arrow barbed and strung for flight--
White snowflakes melting on her night-black hair,
And on her glistening breasts and supple thighs:
Her red lips parted, her keen eyes alive
With fierce, far-ranging hungers of the chase
Over the hills of morn--The lantern guttered
And I was left alone in the outer darkness
Among the champing elephants and camels.
And I'll be a camel-keeper to the end:
Though never again my eyes...
So you can sleep,
You Merry Andrew, for all you missed your hoop.
It's just as well, perhaps. Now I can hold
My secret to the end. Ah, here they come!
[Six lads, between the ages of three and twelve, clad in pink tights
covered with silver spangles, tumble into the tent.]
The Eldest Boy:
Daddy, the bell's rung, and--
He's snoozing sound.
(to the youngest boy)
You just creep quietly, and take tight hold
Of the crimson curls, and tug, and you will hear
The purple pussies all caterwaul at once.
I do not understand.
I only know
That as he turned to go
And waved his hand,
In his young eyes a sudden glory shone,
And I was dazzled with a sunset glow,
And he was gone.
* * * * *
See an old unhappy bull,
Sick in soul and body both,
Slouching in the undergrowth
Of the forest beautiful,
Banished from the herd he led,
Bulls and cows a thousand head.
Cranes and gaudy parrots go
Up and down the burning sky;
Tree-top cats purr drowsily
In the dim-day green below;
And troops of monkeys, nutting, some,
All disputing, go and come;
And things abominable sit
Picking offal buck or swine,
On the mess and over it
Burnished flies and beetles shine,
And spiders big as bladders lie
Under hemlocks ten foot high;
And a dotted serpent curled
Round and round and round a tree,
Yellowing its greenery,
Keeps a watch on all the world,
All the world and this old bull
In the forest beautiful.
Bravely by his fall he came:
One he led, a bull of blood
Newly come to lustihood,
Fought and put his prince to shame,
Snuffed and pawed the prostrate head
Tameless even while it bled.
There they left him, every one,
Left him there without a lick,
Left him for the birds to pick,
Left him there for carrion,
Vilely from their bosom cast
Wisdom, worth and love at last.
When the lion left his lair
And roared his beauty through the hills,
And the vultures pecked their quills
And flew into the middle air,
Then this prince no more to reign
Came to life and lived again.
He snuffed the herd in far retreat,
He saw the blood upon the ground,
And snuffed the burning airs around
Still with beevish odours sweet,
While the blood ran down his head
And his mouth ran slaver red.
Pity him, this fallen chief,
All his splendour, all his strength,
All his body's breadth and length
Dwindled down with shame and grief,
Half the bull he was before,
Bones and leather, nothing more.
See him standing dewlap-deep
In the rushes at the lake,
Surly, stupid, half asleep,
Waiting for his heart to break
And the birds to join the flies
Feasting at his bloodshot eyes,--
Standing with his head hung down
In a stupor, dreaming things:
Green savannas, jungles brown,
Battlefields and bellowings,
Bulls undone and lions dead
And vultures flapping overhead.
Dreaming things: of days he spent
With his mother gaunt and lean
In the valley warm and green,
Full of baby wonderment,
Blinking out of silly eyes
At a hundred mysteries;
Dreaming over once again
How he wandered with a throng
Of bulls and cows a thousand strong,
Wandered on from plain to plain,
Up the hill and down the dale,
Always at his mother's tail;
How he lagged behind the herd,
Lagged and tottered, weak of limb,
And she turned and ran to him
Blaring at the loathly bird
Stationed always in the skies,
Waiting for the flesh that dies.
Dreaming maybe of a day
When her drained and drying paps
Turned him to the sweets and saps,
Richer fountains by the way,
And she left the bull she bore
And he looked to her no more;
And his little frame grew stout,
And his little legs grew strong,
And the way was not so long;
And his little horns came out,
And he played at butting trees
And boulder-stones and tortoises,
Joined a game of knobby skulls
With the youngsters of his year,
All the other little bulls,
Learning both to bruise and bear,
Learning how to stand a shock
Like a little bull of rock.
Dreaming of a day less dim,
Dreaming of a time less far,
When the faint but certain star
Of destiny burned clear for him,
And a fierce and wild unrest
Broke the quiet of his breast,
And the gristles of his youth
Hardened in his comely pow,
And he came to fighting growth,
Beat his bull and won his cow,
And flew his tail and trampled off
Past the tallest, vain enough,
And curved about in splendour full
And curved again and snuffed the airs
As who should say Come out who dares!
And all beheld a bull, a Bull,
And knew that here was surely one
That backed for no bull, fearing none.
And the leader of the herd
Looked and saw, and beat the ground,
And shook the forest with his sound,
Bellowed at the loathly bird
Stationed always in the skies,
Waiting for the flesh that dies.
Dreaming, this old bull forlorn,
Surely dreaming of the hour
When he came to sultan power,
And they owned him master-horn,
Chiefest bull of all among
Bulls and cows a thousand strong.
And in all the tramping herd
Not a bull that barred his way,
Not a cow that said him nay,
Not a bull or cow that erred
In the furnace of his look
Dared a second, worse rebuke;
Not in all the forest wide,
Jungle, thicket, pasture, fen,
Not another dared him then,
Dared him and again defied;
Not a sovereign buck or boar
Came a second time for more.
Not a serpent that survived
Once the terrors of his hoof
Risked a second time reproof,
Came a second time and lived,
Not a serpent in its skin
Came again for discipline;
Not a leopard bright as flame,
Flashing fingerhooks of steel,
That a wooden tree might feel,
Met his fury once and came
For a second reprimand,
Not a leopard in the land.
Not a lion of them all,
Not a lion of the hills,
Hero of a thousand kills,
Dared a second fight and fall,
Dared that ram terrific twice,
Paid a second time the price ...
Pity him, this dupe of dream,
Leader of the herd again
Only in his daft old brain,
Once again the bull supreme
And bull enough to bear the part
Only in his tameless heart.
Pity him that he must wake;
Even now the swarm of flies
Blackening his bloodshot eyes
Bursts and blusters round the lake,
Scattered from the feast half-fed,
By great shadows overhead.
And the dreamer turns away
From his visionary herds
And his splendid yesterday,
Turns to meet the loathly birds
Flocking round him from the skies,
Waiting for the flesh that dies.
THE SONG OF HONOUR
I climbed a hill as light fell short,
And rooks came home in scramble sort,
And filled the trees and flapped and fought
And sang themselves to sleep;
An owl from nowhere with no sound
Swung by and soon was nowhere found,
I heard him calling half-way round,
Holloing loud and deep;
A pair of stars, faint pins of light,
Then many a star, sailed into sight,
And all the stars, the flower of night,
Were round me at a leap;
To tell how still the valleys lay
I heard a watchdog miles away ...
And bells of distant sheep.
I heard no more of bird or bell,
The mastiff in a slumber fell,
I stared into the sky,
As wondering men have always done
Since beauty and the stars were one,
Though none so hard as I.
It seemed, so still the valleys were,
As if the whole world knelt at prayer,
Save me and me alone;
So pure and wide that silence was
I feared to bend a blade of grass,
And there I stood like stone.
There, sharp and sudden, there I heard--
'Ah! some wild lovesick singing bird
Woke singing in the trees?'
'The nightingale and babble-wren
Were in the English greenwood then,
And you heard one of these?'
The babble-wren and nightingale
Sang in the Abyssinian vale
That season of the year!
Yet, true enough, I heard them plain,
I heard them both again, again,
As sharp and sweet and clear
As if the Abyssinian tree
Had thrust a bough across the sea,
Had thrust a bough across to me
With music for my ear!
I heard them both, and oh! I heard
The song of every singing bird
That sings beneath the sky,
And with the song of lark and wren
The song of mountains, moths and men
And seas and rainbows vie!
I heard the universal choir
The Sons of Light exalt their Sire
With universal song,
Earth's lowliest and loudest notes,
Her million times ten million throats
Exalt Him loud and long,
And lips and lungs and tongues of Grace
From every part and every place
Within the shining of His face,
The universal throng.
I heard the hymn of being sound
From every well of honour found
In human sense and soul:
The song of poets when they write
The testament of Beautysprite
Upon a flying scroll,
The song of painters when they take
A burning brush for Beauty's sake
And limn her features whole--
The song of men divinely wise
Who look and see in starry skies
Not stars so much as robins' eyes,
And when these pale away
Hear flocks of shiny pleiades
Among the plums and apple trees
Sing in the summer day--
The song of all both high and low
To some blest vision true,
The song of beggars when they throw
The crust of pity all men owe
To hungry sparrows in the snow,
Old beggars hungry too--
The song of kings of kingdoms when
They rise above their fortune men,
And crown themselves anew,--
The song of courage, heart and will
And gladness in a fight,
Of men who face a hopeless hill
With sparking and delight,
The bells and bells of song that ring
Round banners of a cause or king
From armies bleeding white--
The song of sailors every one
When monstrous tide and tempest run
At ships like bulls at red,
When stately ships are twirled and spun
Like whipping tops and help there's none
And mighty ships ten thousand ton
Go down like lumps of lead--
And song of fighters stern as they
At odds with fortune night and day,
Crammed up in cities grim and grey
As thick as bees in hives,
Hosannas of a lowly throng
Who sing unconscious of their song,
Whose lips are in their lives--
And song of some at holy war
With spells and ghouls more dread by far
Than deadly seas and cities are,
Or hordes of quarrelling kings---
The song of fighters great and small,
The song of pretty fighters all,
And high heroic things--
The song of lovers--who knows how
Twitched up from place and time
Upon a sigh, a blush, a vow,
A curve or hue of cheek or brow,
Borne up and off from here and now
Into the void sublime!
And crying loves and passions still
In every key from soft to shrill
And numbers never done,
Dog-loyalties to faith and friend,
And loves like Ruth's of old no end,
And intermission none--
And burst on burst for beauty and
For numbers not behind,
From men whose love of motherland
Is like a dog's for one dear hand,
Sole, selfless, boundless, blind--
And song of some with hearts beside
For men and sorrows far and wide,
Who watch the world with pity and pride
And warm to all mankind--
And endless joyous music rise
From children at their play,
And endless soaring lullabies
From happy, happy mothers' eyes,
And answering crows and baby cries,
How many who shall say!
And many a song as wondrous well
With pangs and sweets intolerable
From lonely hearths too gray to tell,
God knows how utter gray!
And song from many a house of care
When pain has forced a footing there
And there's a Darkness on the stair
Will not be turned away--
And song--that song whose singers come
With old kind tales of pity from
The Great Compassion's lips,
That makes the bells of Heaven to peal
Round pillows frosty with the feel
Of Death's cold finger tips--
The song of men all sorts and kinds,
As many tempers, moods and minds
As leaves are on a tree,
As many faiths and castes and creeds,
As many human bloods and breeds
As in the world may be;
The song of each and all who gaze
On Beauty in her naked blaze,
Or see her dimly in a haze,
Or get her light in fitful rays
And tiniest needles even,
The song of all not wholly dark,
Not wholly sunk in stupor stark
Too deep for groping Heaven--
And alleluias sweet and clear
And wild with beauty men mishear,
From choirs of song as near and dear
To Paradise as they,
The everlasting pipe and flute
Of wind and sea and bird and brute,
And lips deaf men imagine mute
In wood and stone and clay;
The music of a lion strong
That shakes a hill a whole night long,
A hill as loud as he,
The twitter of a mouse among
The ruby's and the rainbow's song,
The nightingale's--all three,
The song of life that wells and flows
From every leopard, lark and rose
And everything that gleams or goes
Lack-lustre in the sea.
I heard it all, each, every note
Of every lung and tongue and throat,
Ay, every rhythm and rhyme
Of everything that lives and loves
And upward, ever upward moves
From lowly to sublime!
Earth's multitudinous Sons of Light,
I heard them lift their lyric might
With each and every chanting sprite
That lit the sky that wondrous night
As far as eye could climb!
I heard it all, I heard the whole
Harmonious hymn of being roll
Up through the chapel of my soul
And at the altar die,
And in the awful quiet then
Myself I heard, Amen, Amen,
Amen I heard me cry!
I heard it all, and then although
I caught my flying senses, oh,
A dizzy man was I!
I stood and stared; the sky was lit,
The sky was stars all over it,
I stood, I knew not why,
Without a wish, without a will,
I stood upon that silent hill
And stared into the sky until
My eyes were blind with stars and still
I stared into the sky.
* * * * *
SERVICE OF ALL THE DEAD
Between the avenues of cypresses,
All in their scarlet cloaks, and surplices
Of linen, go the chaunting choristers,
The priests in gold and black, the villagers.
And all along the path to the cemetery
The round, dark heads of men crowd silently,
And black-scarved faces of women-folk, wistfully
Watch at the banner of death, and the mystery.
And at the foot of a grave a father stands
With sunken head, and forgotten, folded hands;
And at the foot of a grave a woman kneels
With pale shut face, and neither hears nor feels
The coming of the chaunting choristers
Between the avenues of cypresses,
The silence of the many villagers,
The candle-flames beside the surplices.
MEETING AMONG THE MOUNTAINS
The little pansies by the road have turned
Away their purple faces and their gold,
And evening has taken all the bees from the thyme,
And all the scent is shed away by the cold.
Against the hard and pale blue evening sky
The mountain's new-dropped summer snow is clear
Glistening in steadfast stillness: like transcendent
Clean pain sending on us a chill down here.
Christ on the Cross!--his beautiful young man's body
Has fallen dead upon the nails, and hangs
White and loose at last, with all the pain
Drawn on his mouth, eyes broken at last by his pangs.
And slowly down the mountain road, belated,
A bullock wagon comes; so I am ashamed
To gaze any more at the Christ, whom the mountain snows
Whitely confront; I wait on the grass, am lamed.
The breath of the bullock stains the hard, chill air,
The band is across its brow, and it scarcely seems
To draw the load, so still and slow it moves,
While the driver on the shaft sits crouched in dreams.
Surely about his sunburnt face is something
That vexes me with wonder. He sits so still
Here among all this silence, crouching forward,
Dreaming and letting the bullock take its will.
I stand aside on the grass to let them go;
--And Christ, I have met his accusing eyes again,
The brown eyes black with misery and hate, that look
Full in my own, and the torment starts again.
One moment the hate leaps at me standing there,
One moment I see the stillness of agony,
Something frozen in the silence that dare not be
Loosed, one moment the darkness frightens me.
Then among the averted pansies, beneath the high
White peaks of snow, at the foot of the sunken Christ
I stand in a chill of anguish, trying to say
The joy I bought was not too highly priced.
But he has gone, motionless, hating me,
Living as the mountains do, because they are strong,
With a pale, dead Christ on the crucifix of his heart,
And breathing the frozen memory of his wrong.
Still in his nostrils the frozen breath of despair,
And heart like a cross that bears dead agony
Of naked love, clenched in his fists the shame,
And in his belly the smouldering hate of me.
And I, as I stand in the cold, averted flowers,
Feel the shame-wounds in his hands pierce through my own,
And breathe despair that turns my lungs to stone
And know the dead Christ weighing on my bone.
CRUELTY AND LOVE
What large, dark hands are those at the window
Lifted, grasping in the yellow light
Which makes its way through the curtain web
At my heart to-night?
Ah, only the leaves! So leave me at rest,
In the west I see a redness come
Over the evening's burning breast--
For now the pain is numb.
The woodbine creeps abroad
Calling low to her lover:
The sunlit flirt who all the day
Has poised above her lips in play
And stolen kisses, shallow and gay
Of dalliance, now has gone away
--She woos the moth with her sweet, low word,
And when above her his broad wings hover
Then her bright breast she will uncover
And yield her honey-drop to her lover.
Into the yellow, evening glow
Saunters a man from the farm below,
Leans, and looks in at the low-built shed
Where hangs the swallow's marriage bed.
The bird lies warm against the wall.
She glances quick her startled eyes
Towards him, then she turns away
Her small head, making warm display
Of red upon the throat. Her terrors sway
Her out of the nest's warm, busy ball,
Whose plaintive cries start up as she flies
In one blue stoop from out the sties
Into the evening's empty hall.
Oh, water-hen, beside the rushes
Hide your quaint, unfading blushes,
Still your quick tail, and lie as dead,
Till the distance covers his dangerous tread.
The rabbit presses back her ears,
Turns back her liquid, anguished eyes
And crouches low: then with wild spring
Spurts from the terror of the oncoming
To be choked back, the wire ring
Her frantic effort throttling:
Piteous brown ball of quivering fears!
Ah soon in his large, hard hands she dies,
And swings all loose to the swing of his walk.
Yet calm and kindly are his eyes
And ready to open in brown surprise
Should I not answer to his talk
Or should he my tears surmise.
I hear his hand on the latch, and rise from my chair
Watching the door open: he flashes bare
His strong teeth in a smile, and flashes his eyes
In a smile like triumph upon me; then careless-wise
He flings the rabbit soft on the table board
And comes towards me: ah, the uplifted sword
Of his hand against my bosom, and oh, the broad
Blade of his hand that raises my face to applaud
His coming: he raises up my face to him
And caresses my mouth with his fingers, smelling grim
Of the rabbit's fur! God, I am caught in a snare
I know not what fine wire is round my throat,
I only know I let him finger there
My pulse of life, letting him nose like a stoat
Who sniffs with joy before he drinks the blood:
And down his mouth comes to my mouth, and down
His dark bright eyes descend like a fiery hood
Upon my mind: his mouth meets mine, and a flood
Of sweet fire sweeps across me, so I drown
Within him, die, and find death good.
* * * * *
THE WIFE OF LLEW
And Gwydion said to Math, when it was Spring:
"Come now and let us make a wife for Llew."
And so they broke broad boughs yet moist with dew,
And in a shadow made a magic ring:
They took the violet and the meadow-sweet
To form her pretty face, and for her feet
They built a mound of daisies on a wing,
And for her voice they made a linnet sing
In the wide poppy blowing for her mouth.
And over all they chanted twenty hours.
And Llew came singing from the azure south
And bore away his wife of birds and flowers.
A RAINY DAY IN APRIL
When the clouds shake their hyssops, and the rain
Like holy water falls upon the plain,
'Tis sweet to gaze upon the springing grain
And see your harvest born.
And sweet the little breeze of melody
The blackbird puffs upon the budding tree,
While the wild poppy lights upon the lea
And blazes 'mid the corn.
The skylark soars the freshening shower to hail,
And the meek daisy holds aloft her pail,
And Spring all radiant by the wayside pale
Sets up her rock and reel.
See how she weaves her mantle fold on fold,
Hemming the woods and carpeting the wold.
Her warp is of the green, her woof the gold,
The spinning world her wheel.
THE LOST ONES
Somewhere is music from the linnets' bills,
And thro' the sunny flowers the bee-wings drone,
And white bells of convolvulus on hills
Of quiet May make silent ringing, blown
Hither and thither by the wind of showers,
And somewhere all the wandering birds have flown;
And the brown breath of Autumn chills the flowers.
But where are all the loves of long ago?
O little twilight ship blown up the tide,
Where are the faces laughing in the glow
Of morning years, the lost ones scattered wide.
Give me your hand, O brother, let us go
Crying about the dark for those who died.
* * * * *
All day they loitered by the resting ships,
Telling their beauties over, taking stock;
At night the verdict left my messmates' lips,
'The 'Wanderer' is the finest ship in dock.'
I had not seen her, but a friend, since drowned,
Drew her, with painted ports, low, lovely, lean,
Saying, ''The Wanderer', clipper, outward bound,
The loveliest ship my eyes have ever seen--
'Perhaps to-morrow you will see her sail.
She sails at sunrise': but the morrow showed
No 'Wanderer' setting forth for me to hail;
Far down the stream men pointed where she rode,
Rode the great trackway to the sea, dim, dim,
Already gone before the stars were gone.
I saw her at the sea-line's smoky rim
Grow swiftly vaguer as they towed her on.
Soon even her masts were hidden in the haze
Beyond the city; she was on her course
To trample billows for a hundred days;
That afternoon the norther gathered force,
Blowing a small snow from a point of east.
'Oh, fair for her,' we said, 'to take her south.'
And in our spirits, as the wind increased,
We saw her there, beyond the river mouth,
Setting her side-lights in the wildering dark,
To glint upon mad water, while the gale
Roared like a battle, snapping like a shark,
And drunken seamen struggled with the sail;
While with sick hearts her mates put out of mind
Their little children left astern, ashore,
And the gale's gathering made the darkness blind,
Water and air one intermingled roar.
Then we forgot her, for the fiddlers played,
Dancing and singing held our merry crew;
The old ship moaned a little as she swayed.
It blew all night, oh, bitter hard it blew!
So that at midnight I was called on deck
To keep an anchor-watch: I heard the sea
Roar past in white procession filled with wreck;
Intense bright frosty stars burned over me,
And the Greek brig beside us dipped and dipped
White to the muzzle like a half-tide rock,
Drowned to the mainmast with the seas she shipped;
Her cable-swivels clanged at every shock.
And like a never-dying force, the wind
Roared till we shouted with it, roared until
Its vast vitality of wrath was thinned,
Had beat its fury breathless and was still.
By dawn the gale had dwindled into flaw,
A glorious morning followed: with my friend
I climbed the fo'c's'le-head to see; we saw
The waters hurrying shorewards without end.
Haze blotted out the river's lowest reach;
Out of the gloom the steamers, passing by,
Called with their sirens, hooting their sea-speech;
Out of the dimness others made reply.
And as we watched there came a rush of feet
Charging the fo'c's'le till the hatchway shook.
Men all about us thrust their way, or beat,
Crying, 'The 'Wanderer'! Down the river! Look!'
I looked with them towards the dimness; there
Gleamed like a spirit striding out of night
A full-rigged ship unutterably fair,
Her masts like trees in winter, frosty-bright.
Foam trembled at her bows like wisps of wool;
She trembled as she towed. I had not dreamed
That work of man could be so beautiful,
In its own presence and in what it seemed.
'So she is putting back again,' I said.
'How white with frost her yards are on the fore!'
One of the men about me answer made,
'That is not frost, but all her sails are tore,
'Torn into tatters, youngster, in the gale;
Her best foul-weather suit gone.' It was true,
Her masts were white with rags of tattered sail
Many as gannets when the fish are due.
Beauty in desolation was her pride,
Her crowned array a glory that had been;
She faltered tow'rds us like a swan that died,
But although ruined she was still a queen.
'Put back with all her sails gone,' went the word;
Then, from her signals flying, rumour ran,
'The sea that stove her boats in killed her third;
She has been gutted and has lost a man.'
So, as though stepping to a funeral march,
She passed defeated homewards whence she came
Ragged with tattered canvas white as starch,
A wild bird that misfortune had made tame.
She was refitted soon: another took
The dead man's office; then the singers hove
Her capstan till the snapping hawsers shook;
Out, with a bubble at her bows, she drove.
Again they towed her seawards, and again
We, watching, praised her beauty, praised her trim,
Saw her fair house-flag flutter at the main,
And slowly saunter seawards, dwindling dim;
And wished her well, and wondered, as she died,
How, when her canvas had been sheeted home,
Her quivering length would sweep into her stride,
Making the greenness milky with her foam.
But when we rose next morning, we discerned
Her beauty once again a shattered thing;
Towing to dock the 'Wanderer' returned,
A wounded sea-bird with a broken wing.
A spar was gone, her rigging's disarray
Told of a worse disaster than the last;
Like draggled hair dishevelled hung the stay,
Drooping and beating on the broken mast.
Half-mast upon her flagstaff hung her flag;
Word went among us how the broken spar
Had gored her captain like an angry stag,
And killed her mate a half-day from the bar.
She passed to dock upon the top of flood.
An old man near me shook his head and swore:
'Like a bad woman, she has tasted blood--
There'll be no trusting in her any more.'
We thought it truth, and when we saw her there
Lying in dock, beyond, across the stream,
We would forget that we had called her fair,
We thought her murderess and the past a dream.
And when she sailed again we watched in awe,
Wondering what bloody act her beauty planned,
What evil lurked behind the thing we saw,
What strength was there that thus annulled man's hand,
How next its triumph would compel man's will
Into compliance with external Fate,
How next the powers would use her to work ill
On suffering men; we had not long to wait.
For soon the outcry of derision rose,
'Here comes the 'Wanderer'!' the expected cry.
Guessing the cause, our mockings joined with those
Yelled from the shipping as they towed her by.
She passed us close, her seamen paid no heed
To what was called: they stood, a sullen group,
Smoking and spitting, careless of her need,
Mocking the orders given from the poop.
Her mates and boys were working her; we stared.
What was the reason of this strange return,
This third annulling of the thing prepared?
No outward evil could our eyes discern.
Only like someone who has formed a plan
Beyond the pitch of common minds, she sailed,
Mocked and deserted by the common man,
Made half divine to me for having failed.
We learned the reason soon; below the town
A stay had parted like a snapping reed,
'Warning,' the men thought, 'not to take her down.'
They took the omen, they would not proceed.
Days passed before another crew would sign.
The 'Wanderer' lay in dock alone, unmanned,
Feared as a thing possessed by powers malign,
Bound under curses not to leave the land.
But under passing Time fear passes too;
That terror passed, the sailors' hearts grew bold.
We learned in time that she had found a crew
And was bound out and southwards as of old.
And in contempt we thought, 'A little while
Will bring her back again, dismantled, spoiled.
It is herself; she cannot change her style;
She has the habit now of being foiled.'
So when a ship appeared among the haze
We thought, 'The 'Wanderer' back again'; but no,
No 'Wanderer' showed for many, many days,
Her passing lights made other waters glow.
But we would often think and talk of her,
Tell newer hands her story, wondering, then,
Upon what ocean she was 'Wanderer',
Bound to the cities built by foreign men.
And one by one our little conclave thinned,
Passed into ships, and sailed, and so away,
To drown in some great roaring of the wind,
Wanderers themselves, unhappy fortune's prey.
And Time went by me making memory dim.
Yet still I wondered if the 'Wanderer' fared
Still pointing to the unreached ocean's rim,
Brightening the water where her breast was bared.
And much in ports abroad I eyed the ships,
Hoping to see her well-remembered form
Come with a curl of bubbles at her lips
Bright to her berth, the sovereign of the storm.
I never did, and many years went by;
Then, near a Southern port, one Christmas Eve,
I watched a gale go roaring through the sky,
Making the cauldrons of the clouds upheave.
Then the wrack tattered and the stars appeared,
Millions of stars that seemed to speak in fire;
A byre-cock cried aloud that morning neared,
The swinging wind-vane flashed upon the spire.
And soon men looked upon a glittering earth,
Intensely sparkling like a world new-born;
Only to look was spiritual birth,
So bright the raindrops ran along the thorn.
So bright they were, that one could almost pass
Beyond their twinkling to the source, and know
The glory pushing in the blade of grass,
That hidden soul which makes the flowers grow.
That soul was there apparent, not revealed;
Unearthly meanings covered every tree;
That wet grass grew in an immortal field;
Those waters fed some never-wrinkled sea.
The scarlet berries in the hedge stood out
Like revelations, but the tongue unknown;
Even in the brooks a joy was quick; the trout
Rushed in a dumbness dumb to me alone.
All of the valley was aloud with brooks;
I walked the morning, breasting up the fells,
Taking again lost childhood from the rooks,
Whose cawing came above the Christmas bells.
I had not walked that glittering world before,
But up the hill a prompting came to me,
'This line of upland runs along the shore:
Beyond the hedgerow I shall see the sea.'
And on the instant from beyond away
That long familiar sound, a ship's bell, broke
The hush below me in the unseen bay.
Old memories came: that inner prompting spoke.
And bright above the hedge a seagull's wings
Flashed and were steady upon empty air.
'A Power unseen,' I cried, 'prepares these things;
'Those are her bells, the 'Wanderer' is there.'
So, hurrying to the hedge and looking down,
I saw a mighty bay's wind-crinkled blue
Ruffling the image of a tranquil town,
With lapsing waters glittering as they grew.
And near me in the road the shipping swung,
So stately and so still in such great peace
That like to drooping crests their colours hung,
Only their shadows trembled without cease.
I did but glance upon those anchored ships.
Even as my thought had told, I saw her plain;
Tense, like a supple athlete with lean hips,
Swiftness at pause, the 'Wanderer' come again--
Come as of old a queen, untouched by Time,
Resting the beauty that no seas could tire,
Sparkling, as though the midnight's rain were rime,
Like a man's thought transfigured into fire.
And as I looked, one of her men began
To sing some simple tune of Christmas Day;
Among her crew the song spread, man to man,
Until the singing rang across the bay;
And soon in other anchored ships the men
Joined in the singing with clear throats, until
The farm-boy heard it up the windy glen,
Above the noise of sheep-bells on the hill.
Over the water came the lifted song--
Blind pieces in a mighty game we swing;
Life's battle is a conquest for the strong;
The meaning shows in the defeated thing.
* * * * *
MILK FOR THE CAT
When the tea is brought at five o'clock,
And all the neat curtains are drawn with care,
The little black cat with bright green eyes
Is suddenly purring there.
At first she pretends, having nothing to do,
She has come in merely to blink by the grate,
But, though tea may be late or the milk may be sour,
She is never late.
And presently her agate eyes
Take a soft large milky haze,
And her independent casual glance
Becomes a stiff, hard gaze.
Then she stamps her claws or lifts her ears,
Or twists her tail and begins to stir,
Till suddenly all her lithe body becomes
One breathing, trembling purr.
The children eat and wriggle and laugh,
The two old ladies stroke their silk:
But the cat is grown small and thin with desire,
Transformed to a creeping lust for milk.
The white saucer like some full moon descends
At last from the clouds of the table above;
She sighs and dreams and thrills and glows,
Transfigured with love.
She nestles over the shining rim,
Buries her chin in the creamy sea;
Her tail hangs loose; each drowsy paw
Is doubled under each bending knee.
A long, dim ecstasy holds her life;
Her world is an infinite shapeless white,
Till her tongue has curled the last holy drop,
Then she sinks back into the night,
Draws and dips her body to heap
Her sleepy nerves in the great arm-chair,
Lies defeated and buried deep
Three or four hours unconscious there.
OVERHEARD ON A SALTMARSH
Nymph, nymph, what are your beads?
Green glass, goblin. Why do you stare at them?
Give them me.
Give them me. Give them me.
Then I will howl all night in the reeds,
Lie in the mud and howl for them.
Goblin, why do you love them so?
They are better than stars or water,
Better than voices of winds that sing,
Better than any man's fair daughter,
Your green glass beads on a silver ring.
Hush, I stole them out of the moon.
Give me your beads, I want them.
I will howl in a deep lagoon
For your green glass beads, I love them so.
Give them me. Give them.
CHILDREN OF LOVE
The holy boy
Went from his mother out in the cool of the day
Over the sun-parched fields
And in among the olives shining green and shining grey.
There was no sound,
No smallest voice of any shivering stream.
Poor sinless little boy,
He desired to play and to sing; he could only sigh and dream.
Running along to him naked, with curly hair,
That rogue of the lovely world,
That other beautiful child whom the virgin Venus bare.
The holy boy
Gazed with those sad blue eyes that all men know.
Impudent Cupid stood
Panting, holding an arrow and pointing his bow.
(Will you not play?
Jesus, run to him, run to him, swift for our joy.
Is he not holy, like you?
Are you afraid of his arrows, O beautiful dreaming boy?)
And now they stand
Watching one another with timid gaze;
Youth has met youth in the wood,
But holiness will not change its melancholy ways.
Cupid at last
Draws his bow and softly lets fly a dart.
Smile for a moment, sad world!--
It has grazed the white skin and drawn blood from the sorrowful heart.
Now, for delight,
Cupid tosses his locks and goes wantonly near;
But the child that was born to the cross
Has let fall on his cheek, for the sadness of life, a compassionate tear.
Cupid has offered his arrows for Jesus to try;
He has offered his bow for the game.
But Jesus went weeping away, and left him there wondering why.
* * * * *
I heard a bird at dawn
Singing sweetly on a tree,
That the dew was on the lawn,
And the wind was on the lea;
But I didn't listen to him,
For he didn't sing to me.
I didn't listen to him,
For he didn't sing to me
That the dew was on the lawn
And the wind was on the lea;
I was singing at the time
Just as prettily as he.
I was singing all the time,
Just as prettily as he,
About the dew upon the lawn
And the wind upon the lea;
So I didn't listen to him
And he sang upon a tree.
THE GOAT PATHS
The crooked paths go every way
Upon the hill--they wind about
Through the heather in and out
Of the quiet sunniness.
And there the goats, day after day,
Stray in sunny quietness,
Cropping here and cropping there,
As they pause and turn and pass,
Now a bit of heather spray,
Now a mouthful of the grass.
In the deeper sunniness,
In the place where nothing stirs,
Quietly in quietness,
In the quiet of the furze,
For a time they come and lie
Staring on the roving sky.
If you approach they run away,
They leap and stare, away they bound,
With a sudden angry sound,
To the sunny quietude;
Crouching down where nothing stirs
In the silence of the furze,
Couching down again to brood
In the sunny solitude.
If I were as wise as they
I would stray apart and brood,
I would beat a hidden way
Through the quiet heather spray
To a sunny solitude;
And should you come I'd run away,
I would make an angry sound,
I would stare and turn and bound
To the deeper quietude,
To the place where nothing stirs
In the silence of the furze.
In that airy quietness
I would think as long as they;
Through the quiet sunniness
I would stray away to brood
By a hidden beaten way
In a sunny solitude.
I would think until I found
Something I can never find,
Something lying on the ground,
In the bottom of my mind.
I hear a sudden cry of pain!
There is a rabbit in a snare:
Now I hear the cry again,
But I cannot tell from where.
But I cannot tell from where
He is calling out for aid;
Crying on the frightened air,
Making everything afraid.
Making everything afraid,
Wrinkling up his little face,
As he cries again for aid;
And I cannot find the place!
And I cannot find the place
Where his paw is in the snare:
Little one! Oh, little one!
I am searching everywhere.
IN WOODS AND MEADOWS
Play to the tender stops, though cheerily:
Gently, my soul, my song: let no one hear:
Sing to thyself alone; thine ecstasy
Rising in silence to the inward ear
That is attuned to silence: do not tell
A friend, a bird, a star, lest they should say--
_He danced in woods and meadows all the day,
Waving his arms, and cried as evening fell,
'O, do not come,' and cried, 'O, come, thou queen,
And walk with me unwatched upon the green
Under the sky.'_
Do not let any woman read this verse;
It is for men, and after them their sons
And their sons' sons.
The time comes when our hearts sink utterly;
When we remember Deirdre and her tale,
And that her lips are dust.
Once she did tread the earth: men took her hand;.
They looked into her eyes and said their say,
And she replied to them.
More than a thousand years it is since she
Was beautiful: she trod the waving grass;
She saw the clouds.
A thousand years! The grass is still the same,
The clouds as lovely as they were that time
When Deirdre was alive.
But there has never been a woman born
Who was so beautiful, not one so beautiful
Of all the women born.
Let all men go apart and mourn together;
No man can ever love her; not a man
Can ever be her lover.
No man can bend before her: no man say--
What could one say to her? There are no words
That one could say to her!
Now she is but a story that is told
Beside the fire! No man can ever be
The friend of that poor queen.
* * * * *
THE END OF THE WORLD
HUFF, the Farmer.
SOLLERS, the Wainwright.
MERRICK, the Smith.
VINE, the Publican.
SHALE, the Labourer.
WARP, the Molecatcher.
Men and Women of the Village.'
[Scene: A public-house kitchen. HUFF the Farmer and SOLLERS the
Wainwright talking; another man, a stranger, sitting silent.]
Ay, you may think we're well off--
Now for croaks,
Old toad! who's trodden on you now?--Go on;
But if you can, croak us a new tune.
You think you're well off--and don't grab my words
Before they're spoken--but some folks, I've heard,
Pity us, living quiet in the valley.
Well, I suppose 'tis their affair.
But what I mean to say,--if they think small
Of us that live in the valley, mayn't it show
That we aren't all so happy as we think?
[MERRICK the Smith comes in.]
Quick, cider! I believe I've swallowed a coal.
Good evening. True, the heat's a wonder to-night.
[Smith draws himself cider.]
Haven't you brought your flute? We've all got room
For music in our minds to-night, I'll swear.
Working all day in the sun do seem to push
The thought out of your brain.
O, 'tis the sun
Has trodden on you? That's what makes you croak?
Ay, whistle him somewhat: put a tune in his brain;
He'll else croak us out of pleasure with drinking.
'Tis quenching, I believe.--A tune? Too hot.
You want a fiddler.
Nay, I want your flute.
I like a piping sound, not scraping o' guts.
This is no weather for a man to play
Flutes or music at all that asks him spend
His breath and spittle: you want both yourself
These oven days. Wait till a fiddler comes.
Who ever comes down here?
There's someone come.
[Pointing with his pipe to the stranger.]
Good evening, mister. Are you a man for tunes?
And if I was I'ld give you none to-night.
Well, no offence: there's no offence, I hope,
In taking a dummy for a tuneful man.
Is it for can't or won't you are?
You wouldn't, if you carried in your mind
What I've been carrying all day.
You wait; you'll know about it soon; O yes,
Soon enough it will find you out and rouse you.
Now ain't that just the way we go down here?
Here in the valley we're like dogs in a yard,
Chained to our kennels and wall'd in all round,
And not a sound of the world jumps over our hills.
And when there comes a passenger among us,
One who has heard what's stirring out beyond,
'Tis a grutchy mumchance fellow in the dismals!
News, is it, you want? I could give you news!--
I wonder, did you ever hate to feel
The earth so fine and splendid?
Oh, you're one
Has stood in the brunt of the world's wickedness,
Like me? But listen, and I'll give you a tale
Of wicked things done in this little valley,
Done against me, will surely make you think
The Devil here fetcht up his masterpiece.
Ah, but it's hot enough without you talking
Your old hell fire about that pair of sinners.
Leave them alone and drink.
I'll smell them grilling
One of these days.
But there'll be nought to drink
When that begins! Best keep your skin full now.
What do I care for wickedness? Let those
Who've played with dirt, and thought the game was bold,
Make much of it while they can: there's a big thing
Coming down to us, ay, well on its road,
Will make their ploys seem mighty piddling sport.
This is a fool; or else it's what I think,--
The world now breeds such crowd that they've no room
For well-grown sins: they hatch 'em small as flies.
But you stay here, out of the world awhile,
Here where a man's mind, and a woman's mind,
Can fling out large in wickedness: you'll see
Something monstrous here, something dreadful.
I've seen enough of that. Though it was only
Fancying made me see it, it was enough:
I've seen the folk of the world yelling aghast,
Scurrying to hide themselves. I want nought else
Monstrous and dreadful.--
What had roused 'em so?
Some house afire?
A huzzy flogged to death
For her hard-faced adultery?
Stranger (too intent to hear them):
Oh to think of it!
Talk, do, chatter some nonsense, else I'll think:
And then I'm feeling like a grub that crawls
All abroad in a dusty road; and high
Above me, and shaking the ground beneath me, come
Wheels of a thundering wain, right where I'm plodding.
Queer thinking, that.
And here's a queerer thing.
I have a sort of lust in me, pushing me still
Into that terrible way of thinking, like
Black men in India lie them down and long
To feel their holy wagon crack their spines.
Do you mean beetles? I've driven over scores,
They sprawling on their backs, or standing mazed.
I never knew they liked it.
He means frogs.
I know what's in his mind. When I was young
My mother would catch us frogs and set them down,
Lapt in a screw of paper, in the ruts,
And carts going by would quash 'em; and I'ld laugh,
And yet be thinking, 'Suppose it was myself
Twisted stiff in huge paper, and wheels
Big as the wall of a barn treading me flat!'
I know what's in his mind: just madness it is.
He's lookt too hard at his fellows in the world;
Sight of their monstrous hearts, like devils in cages,
Has jolted all the gearing of his wits.
It needs a tough brain, ay, a brain like mine,
To pore on ugly sin and not go mad.
Madness! You're not far out.--I came up here
To be alone and quiet in my thoughts,
Alone in my own dreadful mind. The path,
Of red sand trodden hard, went up between
High hedges overgrown of hawthorn blowing
White as clouds; ay it seemed burrowed through
A white sweet-smelling cloud,--I walking there
Small as a hare that runs its tunnelled drove
Thro' the close heather. And beside my feet
Blue greygles drifted gleaming over the grass;
And up I climbed to sunlight green in birches,
And the path turned to daisies among grass
With bonfires of the broom beside, like flame
Of burning straw: and I lookt into your valley.
I could scarce look.
Anger was smarting in my eyes like grit.
O the fine earth and fine all for nothing!
Mazed I walkt, seeing and smelling and hearing:
The meadow lands all shining fearfully gold,--
Cruel as fire the sight of them toucht my mind;
Breathing was all a honey taste of clover
And bean flowers: I would have rather had it
Carrion, or the stink of smouldering brimstone.
And larks aloft, the happy piping fools,
And squealing swifts that slid on hissing wings,
And yellowhammers playing spry in hedges.
I never noted them before; but now--
Yes, I was mad, and crying mad, to see
The earth so fine, fine all for nothing!
Pst! yellowhammers! He talks gentry talk.
That's worse than being mad.
I tell you, you'll be feeling them to-morn
And hating them to be so wonderful.
Let's have some sense. Where do you live?