Part 3 out of 3
One by one life robs us of our treasures;
Nothing is our own except our Dead.
They are ours, and hold in faithful keeping
Safe for ever, all they took away.
Cruel life can never stir that sleeping,
Cruel time can never seize that prey.
Justice pales; truth fades; stars fall from Heaven;
Human are the great whom we revere:
No true crown of honour can be given,
Till we place it on a funeral bier.
How the Children leave us: and no traces
Linger of that smiling angel band;
Gone, for ever gone; and in their places,
Weary men and anxious women stand.
Yet we have some little ones, still ours;
They have kept the baby smile we know,
Which we kissed one day and hid with flowers,
On their dead white faces, long ago.
When our Joy is lost--and life will take it -
Then no memory of the past remains;
Save with some strange, cruel sting, to make it
Bitterness beyond all present pains.
Death, more tender-hearted, leaves to sorrow
Still the radiant shadow, fond regret:
We shall find, in some far, bright to-morrow,
Joy that he has taken, living yet.
Is Love ours, and do we dream we know it,
Bound with all our heart-strings, all our own?
Any cold and cruel dawn may show it,
Shattered, desecrated, overthrown.
Only the dead Hearts forsake us never;
Death's last kiss has been the mystic sign
Consecrating Love our own for ever,
Crowning it eternal and divine.
So when Fate would fain besiege our city,
Dim our gold, or make our flowers fall,
Death the Angel, comes in love and pity,
And to save our treasures, claims them all.
VERSE: A WOMAN'S ANSWER
I will not let you say a Woman's part
Must be to give exclusive love alone;
Dearest, although I love you so, my heart
Answers a thousand claims beside your own.
I love--what do I not love? earth and air
Find space within my heart, and myriad things
You would not deign to heed, are cherished there,
And vibrate on its very inmost strings.
I love the summer with her ebb and flow
Of light, and warmth, and music that have nurst
Her tender buds to blossoms . . . and you know
It was in summer that I saw you first.
I love the winter dearly too, . . . but then
I owe it so much; on a winter's day,
Bleak, cold, and stormy, you returned again,
When you had been those weary months away.
I love the Stars like friends; so many nights
I gazed at them, when you were far from me,
Till I grew blind with tears . . . those far-off lights
Could watch you, whom I longed in vain to see.
I love the Flowers; happy hours lie
Shut up within their petals close and fast:
You have forgotten, dear: but they and I
Keep every fragment of the golden Past.
I love, too, to be loved; all loving praise
Seems like a crown upon my Life,--to make
It better worth the giving, and to raise
Still nearer to your own the heart you take.
I love all good and noble souls;--I heard
One speak of you but lately, and for days
Only to think of it, my soul was stirred
In tender memory of such generous praise.
I love all those who love you; all who owe
Comfort to you: and I can find regret
Even for those poorer hearts who once could know,
And once could love you, and can now forget.
Well, is my heart so narrow--I, who spare
Love for all these? Do I not even hold
My favourite books in special tender care,
And prize them as a miser does his gold?
The Poets that you used to read to me
While summer twilights faded in the sky;
But most of all I think Aurora Leigh,
Because--because--do you remember why?
Will you be jealous? Did you guess before
I loved so many things?--Still you the best:-
Dearest, remember that I love you more,
Oh, more a thousand times than all the rest!
VERSE: THE STORY OF THE FAITHFUL SOUL
FOUNDED ON AN OLD FRENCH LEGEND
The fettered Spirits linger
In purgatorial pain,
With penal fires effacing
Their last faint earthly stain,
Which Life's imperfect sorrow
Had tried to cleanse in vain.
Yet on each feast of Mary
Their sorrow finds release,
For the Great Archangel Michael
Comes down and bids it cease;
And the name of these brief respites
Is called "Our Lady's Peace."
Yet once--so runs the Legend -
When the Archangel came
And all these holy spirits
Rejoiced at Mary's name;
One voice alone was wailing,
Still wailing on the same.
And though a great Te Deum
The happy echoes woke,
This one discordant wailing
Through the sweet voices broke;
So when St. Michael questioned,
Thus the poor spirit spoke:-
"I am not cold or thankless,
Although I still complain;
I prize our Lady's blessing
Although it comes in vain
To still my bitter anguish,
Or quench my ceaseless pain.
"On earth a heart that loved me,
Still lives and mourns me there,
And the shadow of his anguish
Is more than I can bear;
All the torment that I suffer
Is the thought of his despair.
"The evening of my bridal
Death took my Life away;
Not all Love's passionate pleading
Could gain an hour's delay.
And he I left has suffered
A whole year since that day.
"If I could only see him, -
If I could only go
And speak one word of comfort
And solace,--then, I know
He would endure with patience,
And strive against his woe."
Thus the Archangel answered:-
"Your time of pain is brief,
And soon the peace of Heaven
Will give you full relief;
Yet if his earthly comfort
So much outweighs your grief,
"Then, through a special mercy
I offer you this grace, -
You may seek him who mourns you
And look upon his face,
And speak to him of comfort
For one short minute's space.
"But when that time is ended,
Return here, and remain
A thousand years in torment,
A thousand years in pain:
Thus dearly must you purchase
The comfort he will gain."
* * *
The Lime-trees' shade at evening
Is spreading broad and wide;
Beneath their fragrant arches,
Pace slowly, side by side,
In low and tender converse,
A Bridegroom and his Bride.
The night is calm and stilly,
No other sound is there
Except their happy voices:
What is that cold bleak air
That passes through the Lime-trees
And stirs the Bridegroom's hair?
While one low cry of anguish,
Like the last dying wail
Of some dumb, hunted creature,
Is borne upon the gale:-
Why does the Bridegroom shudder
And turn so deathly pale?
* * *
Near Purgatory's entrance
The radiant Angels wait;
It was the great St. Michael
Who closed that gloomy gate,
When the poor wandering spirit
Came back to meet her fate.
* * *
"Pass on," thus spoke the Angel:
Heaven's joy is deep and vast;
Pass on, pass on, poor Spirit,
For Heaven is yours at last;
In that one minute's anguish
Your thousand years have passed."
VERSE: A CONTRAST
Can you open that ebony Casket?
Look, this is the key: but stay,
Those are only a few old letters
Which I keep,--to burn some day.
Yes, that Locket is quaint and ancient;
But leave it, dear, with the ring,
And give me the little Portrait
Which hangs by a crimson string.
I have never opened that Casket
Since, many long years ago,
It was sent me back in anger
By one whom I used to know.
But I want you to see the Portrait:
I wonder if you can trace
A look of that smiling creature
Left now in my faded face.
It was like me once; but remember
The weary relentless years,
And Life, with its fierce, brief Tempests,
And its long, long rain of tears.
Is it strange to call it my Portrait?
Nay, smile, dear, for well you may,
To think of that radiant Vision
And of what I am to-day.
With restless, yet confident longing
How those blue eyes seem to gaze
Into deep and exhaustless Treasures,
All hid in the coming days.
With that trust which leans on the Future,
And counts on her promised store,
Until she has taught us to tremble
And hope,--but to trust no more.
How that young, light heart would have pitied
Me now--if her dreams had shown
A quiet and weary woman
With all her illusions flown.
Yet I--who shall soon be resting,
And have passed the hardest part,
Can look back with a deeper pity
On that young unconscious heart.
It is strange; but Life's currents drift us
So surely and swiftly on,
That we scarcely notice the changes,
And how many things are gone:
And forget, while to-day absorbs us,
How old mysteries are unsealed;
How the old, old ties are loosened,
And the old, old wounds are healed.
And we say that our Life is fleeting
Like a story that Time has told;
But we fancy that we--we only
Are just what we were of old.
So now and then it is wisdom
To gaze, as I do to-day,
At a half-forgotten relic
Of a Time that is passed away.
The very look of that Portrait,
The Perfume that seems to cling
To those fragile and faded letters,
And the Locket, and the Ring,
If they only stirred in my spirit
Forgotten pleasure and pain, -
Why, memory is often bitter,
And almost always in vain;
But the contrast of bygone hours
Comes to rend a veil away, -
And I marvel to see the stranger
Who is living in me to-day.
VERSE: THE BRIDE'S DREAM
The stars are gleaming;
The maiden sleeps -
What is she dreaming?
For see--she weeps.
By her side is an Angel
With folded wings;
While the Maiden slumbers
The Angel sings:
He sings of a Bridal,
Of Love, of Pain,
Of a heart to be given, -
And all in vain;
(See, her cheek is flushing,
As if with pain;)
He telleth of sorrow,
Regrets and fears,
And the few vain pleasures
We buy with tears;
And the bitter lesson
We learn from years.
The stars are gleaming
Upon her brow:
What is she dreaming
So calmly now?
By her side is the Angel
With folded wings;
She smiles in her slumber
The while he sings.
He sings of a Bridal,
Of Love divine;
Of a heart to be laid
On a sacred shrine;
Of a crown of glory,
Where seraphs shine;
Of the deep, long rapture
The chosen know
Who forsake for Heaven
Vain joys below,
Who desire no pleasure,
And fear no woe.
The Bells are ringing,
The sun shines clear,
The Choir is singing,
The guests are here.
Before the High Altar
Behold the Bride;
And a mournful Angel
Is by her side.
She smiles, all content
With her chosen lot, -
(Is her last night's dreaming
So soon forgot?)
And oh, may the Angel
Forsake her not!
For on her small hand
There glitters plain
The first sad link
Of a life-long chain; -
And she needs his guiding
Through paths of pain.
VERSE: THE ANGEL'S BIDDING
Not a sound is heard in the Convent;
The Vesper Chant is sung,
The sick have all been tended,
The poor nun's toils are ended
Till the Matin bell has rung.
All is still, save the Clock, that is ticking
So loud in the frosty air,
And the soft snow, falling as gently
As an answer to a prayer.
But an Angel whispers, "Oh, Sister,
You must rise from your bed to pray;
In the silent, deserted chapel,
You must kneel till the dawn of day;
For, far on the desolate moorland,
So dreary, and bleak, and white,
There is one, all alone and helpless,
In peril of death to-night.
"No sound on the moorland to guide him,
No star in the murky air;
And he thinks of his home and his loved ones
With the tenderness of despair;
He has wandered for hours in the snow-drift,
And he strives to stand in vain,
And so lies down to dream of his children
And never to rise again.
Then kneel in the silent chapel
Till the dawn of to-morrow's sun,
And ask of the Lord you worship
For the life of that desolate one;
And the smiling eyes of his children
Will gladden his heart again,
And the grateful tears of God's poor ones
Will fall on your soul like rain! -
"Yet, leave him alone to perish,
And the grace of your God implore,
With all the strength of your spirit,
For one who needs it more.
Far away, in the gleaming city,
Amid perfume, and song, and light,
A soul that Jesus has ransomed
Is in peril of sin to-night.
"The Tempter is close beside him,
And his danger is all forgot,
And the far-off voices of childhood
Call aloud, but he hears them not;
He sayeth no prayer, and his mother -
He thinks not of her to-day,
And he will not look up to Heaven,
And his Angel is turning away.
"Then pray for a soul in peril,
A soul for which Jesus died;
Ask, by the cross that bore Him,
And by her who stood beside;
And the Angels of God will thank you,
And bend from their thrones of light,
To tell you that Heaven rejoices
At the deed you have done to-night."
Hark! the Hours are softly calling,
Bidding Spring arise,
To listen to the raindrops falling
From the cloudy skies,
To listen to Earth's weary voices,
Louder every day,
Bidding her no longer linger
On her charmed way;
But hasten to her task of beauty
Scarcely yet begun;
By the first bright day of summer
It should all be done.
She has yet to loose the fountain
From its iron chain;
And to make the barren mountain
Green and bright again;
She must clear the snow that lingers
Round the stalks away
And let the snowdrop's trembling whiteness
See the light of day.
She must watch, and warm, and cherish
Every blade of green;
Till the tender grass appearing
From the earth is seen;
She must bring the golden crocus
From her hidden store;
She must spread broad showers of daisies
Each day more and more.
In each hedgerow she must hasten
Cowslips sweet to set;
Primroses in rich profusion,
With bright dewdrops wet,
And under every leaf, in shadow
Hide a Violet!
Every tree within the forest
Must be decked anew
And the tender buds of promise
Should be peeping through,
Folded deep, and almost hidden,
Leaf by leaf beside,
What will make the Summer's glory,
And the Autumn's pride.
She must weave the loveliest carpets,
Chequered sun and shade,
Every wood must have such pathways
Laid in every glade;
She must hang laburnum branches
On each arched bough; -
And the white and purple lilac
Should be waving now;
She must breathe, and cold winds vanish
At her breath away;
And then load the air around her
With the scent of May!
Listen then, Oh Spring! nor linger
On thy charmed way;
Have pity on thy prisoned flowers
Wearying for the day.
Listen to the raindrops falling
From the cloudy skies;
Listen to the hours calling
Bidding thee arise.
VERSE: EVENING HYMN
The shadows of the evening hours
Fall from the darkening sky;
Upon the fragrance of the flowers
The dews of evening lie:
Before Thy throne, O Lord of Heaven,
We kneel at close of day;
Look on Thy children from on high,
And hear us while we pray.
The sorrows of Thy Servants, Lord,
Oh, do not Thou despise;
But let the incense of our prayers
Before Thy mercy rise;
The brightness of the coming night
Upon the darkness rolls:
With hopes of future glory chase
The shadows on our souls.
Slowly the rays of daylight fade;
So fade within our heart,
The hopes in earthly love and joy,
That one by one depart:
Slowly the bright stars, one by one,
Within the Heavens shine; -
Give us, Oh, Lord, fresh hopes in Heaven,
And trust in things divine.
Let peace, Oh Lord, Thy peace, Oh God,
Upon our souls descend;
From midnight fears and perils, Thou
Our trembling hearts defend;
Give us a respite from our toil,
Calm and subdue our woes;
Through the long day we suffer, Lord,
Oh, give us now repose!
VERSE: THE INNER CHAMBER
In the outer Court I was singing,
Was singing the whole day long;
From the inner chamber were ringing
Echoes repeating my song.
And I sang till it grew immortal;
For that very song of mine,
When re-echoed behind the Portal,
Was filled with a life divine.
Was the Chamber a silver round
Of arches, whose magical art
Drew in coils of musical sound,
And cast them back on my heart?
Was there hidden within a lyre
Which, as air breathed over its strings,
Filled my song with a soul of fire,
And sent back my words with wings?
Was some seraph imprisoned there,
Whose voice made my song complete,
And whose lingering, soft despair,
Made the echo so faint and sweet?
Long I trembled and paused--then parted
The curtains with heavy fringe;
And, half fearing, yet eager-hearted
Turned the door on its golden hinge.
Now I sing in the court once more,
I sing and I weep all day,
As I kneel by the close-shut door,
For I know what the echoes say.
Yet I sing not the song of old,
Ere I knew whence the echo came,
Ere I opened the door of gold;
But the music sounds just the same.
Then take warning, and turn away
Do not ask of that hidden thing,
Do not guess what the echoes say,
Or the meaning of what I sing.
A trinket made like a Heart, dear,
Of red gold, bright and fine,
Was given to me for a keepsake,
Given to me for mine.
And another heart, warm and tender,
As true as a heart could be;
And every throb that stirred it
Was always and all for me.
Sailing over the waters,
Watching the far blue land,
I dropped my golden heart, dear,
Dropped it out of my hand!
It lies in the cold blue waters,
Fathoms and fathoms deep,
The golden heart which I promised,
Promised to prize and keep.
Gazing at Life's bright visions,
So false, and fair, and new,
I forgot the other heart, dear,
Forgot it and lost it too!
I might seek that heart for ever,
I might seek and seek in vain; -
And for one short, careless hour,
I pay with a life of pain.
The Heart?--Yes I wore it
As sign and as token
Of a love that once gave it,
A vow that was spoken;
But a love, and a vow, and a heart
Can be broken.
The Love?--Life and Death
Are crushed into a day,
So what wonder that Love
Should as soon pass away -
What wonder I saw it
Fade, fail, and decay.
The Vow?--why what was it,
It snapped like a thread:
Who cares for the corpse
When the spirit is fled?
Then I said, "Let the Dead rise
And bury its dead,
"While the true, living future
Grows pure, wise, and strong"
So I cast the gold heart,
I had worn for so long,
In the Lake, and bound on it
A Stone--and a Wrong!
Look, this little golden Heart
Was a true-love shrine
For a tress of hair; I held them,
Heart and tress, as mine,
Like the Love which gave the token
See to-day the Heart is broken!
Broken is the golden heart,
Lost the tress of hair;
Ah, the shrine is empty, vacant,
Desolate, and bare!
So the token should depart,
When Love dies within the heart.
Fast and deep the river floweth,
Floweth to the west;
I will cast the golden trinket
In its cold dark breast, -
Flow, oh river, deep and fast,
Over all the buried past!
VERSE: TWO LOVES
Deep within my heart of hearts, dear,
Bound with all its strings,
Two Loves are together reigning
Both are crowned like Kings;
While my life, still uncomplaining,
Rests beneath their wings.
So they both will rule my heart, dear,
Till it cease to beat;
No sway can be deeper, stronger,
Truer, more complete;
Growing, as it lasts the longer,
Sweeter, and more sweet.
One all life and time transfigures,
Piercing through and through
Meaner things with magic splendour,
Old, yet ever new:
This,--so strong and yet so tender, -
Is . . . my Love for you.
Should it fail,--forgive my doubting
In this world of pain, -
Yet my other Love would ever
And I know that I could never
Turn to that in vain.
Though its radiance may be fainter,
Yet its task is wide;
For it lives to comfort sorrows,
Strengthen, calm, and guide,
And from Trust and Honour borrows
All its peace and pride.
Will you blame my dreaming even
If the first were flown?
Ah, I would not live without it,
It is all your own:
And the other--can you doubt it? -
Yours, and yours alone.
VERSE: A WOMAN'S LAST WORD
Well--the links are broken,
All is past;
This farewell, when spoken,
Is the last.
I have tried and striven
All in vain;
Such bonds must be riven,
Spite of pain,
And never, never, never
So I tell you plainly,
It must be:
I shall try, not vainly,
To be free;
Truer, happier chances
Wait me yet,
While you, through fresh fancies,
Can forget; -
And life has nobler uses
All past words retracing,
One by one,
Does not help effacing
What is done.
Let it be. Oh, stronger
Links can break!
Had we dreamed still longer
We could wake, -
Yet let us part in kindness
For Love's sake.
Bitterness and sorrow
Will at last,
In some bright to-morrow,
Heal their past;
But future hearts will never
Be as true
As mine was--is ever,
Dear, for you . . .
. . . Then must we part, when loving
As we do?
VERSE: PAST AND PRESENT
"Linger," I cried, "oh radiant Time! thy power
Has nothing more to give; life is complete:
Let but the perfect Present, hour by hour,
Itself remember and itself repeat.
"And Love,--the future can but mar its splendour,
Change can but dim the glory of its youth;
Time has no star more faithful or more tender,
To crown its constancy or light its truth."
But Time passed on in spite of prayer or pleading,
Through storm and peril; but that life might gain
A Peace through strife all other peace exceeding,
Fresh joy from sorrow, and new hope from pain.
And since Love lived when all save Love was dying,
And, passed through fire, grew stronger than before:-
Dear, you know why, in double faith relying,
I prize the Past much, but the Present more.
VERSE: FOR THE FUTURE
I wonder did you ever count
The value of one human fate;
Or sum the infinite amount
Of one heart's treasures, and the weight
Of Life's one venture, and the whole concentrate purpose of a soul.
And if you ever paused to think
That all this in your hands I laid
Without a fear:- did you not shrink
From such a burthen? half afraid,
Half wishing that you could divide the risk, or cast it all aside.
While Love has daily perils, such
As none foresee and none control;
And hearts are strung so that one touch,
Careless or rough, may jar the whole,
You well might feel afraid to reign with absolute power of joy and
You well might fear--if Love's sole claim
Were to be happy: but true Love
Takes joy as solace, not as aim,
And looks beyond, and looks above;
And sometimes through the bitterest strife first learns to live her
Earth forges joy into a chain
Till fettered Love forgets its strength,
Its purpose, and its end;--but Pain
Restores its heritage at length,
And bids Love rise again and be eternal, mighty, pure, and free.
If then your future life should need
A strength my Love can only gain
Through suffering, or my heart be freed
Only by sorrow, from some stain -
Then you shall give, and I will take, this Crown of fire for Love's
Sept. 8th, 1860.