Part 14 out of 31
Of firesides in the silent winter nights,
And watching from his window hour by hour
The light that burned in Princess Emma's tower.
At length one night, while musing by the fire,
O'ercome at last by his insane desire,--
For what will reckless love not do and dare?--
He crossed the court, and climbed the winding stair,
With some feigned message in the Emperor's name;
But when he to the lady's presence came
He knelt down at her feet, until she laid
Her hand upon him, like a naked blade,
And whispered in his ear: "Arise, Sir Knight,
To my heart's level, O my heart's delight."
And there he lingered till the crowing cock,
The Alectryon of the farmyard and the flock,
Sang his aubade with lusty voice and clear,
To tell the sleeping world that dawn was near.
And then they parted; but at parting, lo!
They saw the palace courtyard white with snow,
And, placid as a nun, the moon on high
Gazing from cloudy cloisters of the sky.
"Alas!" he said, "how hide the fatal line
Of footprints leading from thy door to mine,
And none returning!" Ah, he little knew
What woman's wit, when put to proof, can do!
That night the Emperor, sleepless with the cares
And troubles that attend on state affairs,
Had risen before the dawn, and musing gazed
Into the silent night, as one amazed
To see the calm that reigned o'er all supreme,
When his own reign was but a troubled dream.
The moon lit up the gables capped with snow,
And the white roofs, and half the court below,
And he beheld a form, that seemed to cower
Beneath a burden, come from Emma's tower,--
A woman, who upon her shoulders bore
Clerk Eginhard to his own private door,
And then returned in haste, but still essayed
To tread the footprints she herself had made;
And as she passed across the lighted space,
The Emperor saw his daughter Emma's face!
He started not; he did not speak or moan,
But seemed as one who hath been turned to stone;
And stood there like a statue, nor awoke
Out of his trance of pain, till morning broke,
Till the stars faded, and the moon went down,
And o'er the towers and steeples of the town
Came the gray daylight; then the sun, who took
The empire of the world with sovereign look,
Suffusing with a soft and golden glow
All the dead landscape in its shroud of snow,
Touching with flame the tapering chapel spires,
Windows and roofs, and smoke of household fires,
And kindling park and palace as he came;
The stork's nest on the chimney seemed in flame.
And thus he stood till Eginhard appeared,
Demure and modest with his comely beard
And flowing flaxen tresses, come to ask,
As was his wont, the day's appointed task.
The Emperor looked upon him with a smile,
And gently said: "My son, wait yet awhile;
This hour my council meets upon some great
And very urgent business of the state.
Come back within the hour. On thy return
The work appointed for thee shalt thou learn.
Having dismissed this gallant Troubadour,
He summoned straight his council, and secure
And steadfast in his purpose, from the throne
All the adventure of the night made known;
Then asked for sentence; and with eager breath
Some answered banishment, and others death.
Then spake the king: "Your sentence is not mine;
Life is the gift of God, and is divine;
Nor from these palace walls shall one depart
Who carries such a secret in his heart;
My better judgment points another way.
Good Alcuin, I remember how one day
When my Pepino asked you, 'What are men?'
You wrote upon his tablets with your pen,
'Guests of the grave and travellers that pass!'
This being true of all men, we, alas!
Being all fashioned of the selfsame dust,
Let us be merciful as well as just;
This passing traveller, who hath stolen away
The brightest jewel of my crown to-day,
Shall of himself the precious gem restore;
By giving it, I make it mine once more.
Over those fatal footprints I will throw
My ermine mantle like another snow."
Then Eginhard was summoned to the hall,
And entered, and in presence of them all,
The Emperor said: "My son, for thou to me
Hast been a son, and evermore shalt be,
Long hast thou served thy sovereign, and thy zeal
Pleads to me with importunate appeal,
While I have been forgetful to requite
Thy service and affection as was right.
But now the hour is come, when I, thy Lord,
Will crown thy love with such supreme reward,
A gift so precious kings have striven in vain
To win it from the hands of Charlemagne."
Then sprang the portals of the chamber wide,
And Princess Emma entered, in the pride
Of birth and beauty, that in part o'er-came
The conscious terror and the blush of shame.
And the good Emperor rose up from his throne,
And taking her white hand within his own
Placed it in Eginhard's, and said: "My son
This is the gift thy constant zeal hath won;
Thus I repay the royal debt I owe,
And cover up the footprints in the snow."
Thus ran the Student's pleasant rhyme
Of Eginhard and love and youth;
Some doubted its historic truth,
But while they doubted, ne'ertheless
Saw in it gleams of truthfulness,
And thanked the Monk of Lauresheim.
This they discussed in various mood;
Then in the silence that ensued
Was heard a sharp and sudden sound
As of a bowstring snapped in air;
And the Musician with a bound
Sprang up in terror from his chair,
And for a moment listening stood,
Then strode across the room, and found
His dear, his darling violin
Still lying safe asleep within
Its little cradle, like a child
That gives a sudden cry of pain,
And wakes to fall asleep again;
And as he looked at it and smiled,
By the uncertain light beguiled,
Despair! two strings were broken in twain.
While all lamented and made moan,
With many a sympathetic word
As if the loss had been their own,
Deeming the tones they might have heard
Sweeter than they had heard before,
They saw the Landlord at the door,
The missing man, the portly Squire!
He had not entered, but he stood
With both arms full of seasoned wood,
To feed the much-devouring fire,
That like a lion in a cage
Lashed its long tail and roared with rage.
The missing man! Ah, yes, they said,
Missing, but whither had he fled?
Where had he hidden himself away?
No farther than the barn or shed;
He had not hidden himself, nor fled;
How should he pass the rainy day
But in his barn with hens and hay,
Or mending harness, cart, or sled?
Now, having come, he needs must stay
And tell his tale as well as they.
The Landlord answered only: "These
Are logs from the dead apple-trees
Of the old orchard planted here
By the first Howe of Sudbury.
Nor oak nor maple has so clear
A flame, or burns so quietly,
Or leaves an ash so clean and white";
Thinking by this to put aside
The impending tale that terrified;
When suddenly, to his delight,
The Theologian interposed,
Saying that when the door was closed,
And they had stopped that draft of cold,
Unpleasant night air, he proposed
To tell a tale world-wide apart
From that the Student had just told;
World-wide apart, and yet akin,
As showing that the human heart
Beats on forever as of old,
As well beneath the snow-white fold
Of Quaker kerchief, as within
Sendal or silk or cloth of gold,
And without preface would begin.
And then the clamorous clock struck eight,
Deliberate, with sonorous chime
Slow measuring out the march of time,
Like some grave Consul of old Rome
In Jupiter's temple driving home
The nails that marked the year and date.
Thus interrupted in his rhyme,
The Theologian needs must wait;
But quoted Horace, where he sings
The dire Necessity of things,
That drives into the roofs sublime
Of new-built houses of the great
The adamantine nails of Fate.
When ceased the little carillon
To herald from its wooden tower
The important transit of the hour,
The Theologian hastened on,
Content to be all owed at last
To sing his Idyl of the Past.
THE THEOLOGIAN'S TALE
"Ah, how short are the days! How soon the night overtakes us!
In the old country the twilight is longer; but here in the forest
Suddenly comes the dark, with hardly a pause in its coming,
Hardly a moment between the two lights, the day and the lamplight;
Yet how grand is the winter! How spotless the snow is, and perfect!"
Thus spake Elizabeth Haddon at nightfall to Hannah the housemaid,
As in the farm-house kitchen, that served for kitchen and parlor,
By the window she sat with her work, and looked on a landscape
White as the great white sheet that Peter saw in his vision,
By the four corners let down and descending out of the heavens.
Covered with snow were the forests of pine, and the fields and the meadows.
Nothing was dark but the sky, and the distant Delaware flowing
Down from its native hills, a peaceful and bountiful river.
Then with a smile on her lips made answer Hannah the housemaid:
"Beautiful winter! yea, the winter is beautiful, surely,
If one could only walk like a fly with one's feet on the ceiling.
But the great Delaware River is not like the Thames, as we saw it
Out of our upper windows in Rotherhithe Street in the Borough,
Crowded with masts and sails of vessels coming and going;
Here there is nothing but pines, with patches of snow on their branches.
There is snow in the air, and see! it is falling already;
All the roads will be blocked, and I pity Joseph to-morrow,
Breaking his way through the drifts, with his sled and oxen; and then, too,
How in all the world shall we get to Meeting on First-Day?"
But Elizabeth checked her, and answered, mildly reproving:
"Surely the Lord will provide; for unto the snow he sayeth,
Be thou on the earth, the good Lord sayeth; he is it
Giveth snow like wool, like ashes scatters the hoar-frost."
So she folded her work and laid it away in her basket.
Meanwhile Hannah the housemaid had closed and fastened the shutters,
Spread the cloth, and lighted the lamp on the table, and placed there
Plates and cups from the dresser, the brown rye loaf, and the butter
Fresh from the dairy, and then, protecting her hand with a holder,
Took from the crane in the chimney the steaming and simmering kettle,
Poised it aloft in the air, and filled up the earthen teapot,
Made in Delft, and adorned with quaint and wonderful figures.
Then Elizabeth said, "Lo! Joseph is long on his errand.
I have sent him away with a hamper of food and of clothing
For the poor in the village. A good lad and cheerful is Joseph;
In the right place is his heart, and his hand is ready and willing."
Thus in praise of her servant she spake, and Hannah the housemaid
Laughed with her eyes, as she listened, but governed her tongue, and was silent,
While her mistress went on: "The house is far from the village;
We should be lonely here, were it not for Friends that in passing
Sometimes tarry o'ernight, and make us glad by their coming."
Thereupon answered Hannah the housemaid, the thrifty, the frugal:
"Yea, they come and they tarry, as if thy house were a tavern;
Open to all are its doors, and they come and go like the pigeons
In and out of the holes of the pigeon-house over the hayloft,
Cooing and smoothing their feathers and basking themselves in the sunshine."
But in meekness of spirit, and calmly, Elizabeth answered:
"All I have is the Lord's, not mine to give or withhold it;
I but distribute his gifts to the poor, and to those of his people
Who in journeyings often surrender their lives to his service.
His, not mine, are the gifts, and only so far can I make them
Mine, as in giving I add my heart to whatever is given.
Therefore my excellent father first built this house in the clearing;
Though he came not himself, I came; for the Lord was my guidance,
Leading me here for this service. We must not grudge, then, to others
Ever the cup of cold water, or crumbs that fall from our table."
Thus rebuked, for a season was silent the penitent housemaid;
And Elizabeth said in tones even sweeter and softer:
"Dost thou remember, Hannah, the great May-Meeting in London,
When I was still a child, how we sat in the silent assembly,
Waiting upon the Lord in patient and passive submission?
No one spake, till at length a young man, a stranger, John Estaugh,
Moved by the Spirit, rose, as if he were John the Apostle,
Speaking such words of power that they bowed our hearts, as a strong wind
Bends the grass of the fields, or grain that is ripe for the sickle.
Thoughts of him to-day have been oft borne inward upon me,
Wherefore I do not know; but strong is the feeling within me
That once more I shall see a face I have never forgotten."
E'en as she spake they heard the musical jangle of sleigh-bells,
First far off, with a dreamy sound and faint in the distance,
Then growing nearer and louder, and turning into the farmyard,
Till it stopped at the door, with sudden creaking of runners.
Then there were voices heard as of two men talking together,
And to herself, as she listened, upbraiding said Hannah the housemaid,
"It is Joseph come back, and I wonder what stranger is with him?"
Down from its nail she took and lighted the great tin lantern
Pierced with holes, and round, and roofed like the top of a lighthouse,
And went forth to receive the coming guest at the doorway,
Casting into the dark a network of glimmer and shadow
Over the falling snow, the yellow sleigh, and the horses,
And the forms of men, snow-covered, looming gigantic.
Then giving Joseph the lantern, she entered the house with the stranger.
Youthful he was and tall, and his cheeks aglow with the night air;
And as he entered, Elizabeth rose, and, going to meet him,
As if an unseen power had announced and preceded his presence,
And he had come as one whose coming had long been expected,
Quietly gave him her hand, and said, "Thou art welcome, John Estaugh."
And the stranger replied, with staid and quiet behavior,
"Dost thou remember me still, Elizabeth? After so many
Years have passed, it seemeth a wonderful thing that I find thee.
Surely the hand of the Lord conducted me here to thy threshold.
For as I journeyed along, and pondered alone and in silence
On his ways, that are past finding out, I saw in the snow-mist,
Seemingly weary with travel, a wayfarer, who by the wayside
Paused and waited. Forthwith I remembered Queen Candace's eunuch,
How on the way that goes down from Jerusalem unto Gaza,
Reading Esaias the Prophet, he journeyed, and spake unto Philip,
Praying him to come up and sit in his chariot with him.
So I greeted the man, and he mounted the sledge beside me,
And as we talked on the way he told me of thee and thy homestead,
How, being led by the light of the Spirit, that never deceiveth,
Full of zeal for the work of the Lord, thou hadst come to this country.
And I remembered thy name, and thy father and mother in England,
And on my journey have stopped to see thee, Elizabeth Haddon.
Wishing to strengthen thy hand in the labors of love thou art doing."
And Elizabeth answered with confident voice, and serenely
Looking into his face with her innocent eyes as she answered,
"Surely the hand of the Lord is in it; his Spirit hath led thee
Out of the darkness and storm to the light and peace of my fireside."
Then, with stamping of feet, the door was opened, and Joseph
Entered, bearing the lantern, and, carefully blowing the light out,
Rung it up on its nail, and all sat down to their supper;
For underneath that roof was no distinction of persons,
But one family only, one heart, one hearth and one household.
When the supper was ended they drew their chairs to the fireplace,
Spacious, open-hearted, profuse of flame and of firewood,
Lord of forests unfelled, and not a gleaner of fagots,
Spreading its arms to embrace with inexhaustible bounty
All who fled from the cold, exultant, laughing at winter!
Only Hannah the housemaid was busy in clearing the table,
Coming and going, and hustling about in closet and chamber.
Then Elizabeth told her story again to John Estaugh,
Going far back to the past, to the early days of her childhood;
How she had waited and watched, in all her doubts and besetments
Comforted with the extendings and holy, sweet inflowings
Of the spirit of love, till the voice imperative sounded,
And she obeyed the voice, and cast in her lot with her people
Here in the desert land, and God would provide for the issue.
Meanwhile Joseph sat with folded hands, and demurely
Listened, or seemed to listen, and in the silence that followed
Nothing was heard for a while but the step of Hannah the housemaid
Walking the floor overhead, and setting the chambers in order.
And Elizabeth said, with a smile of compassion, "The maiden
Hath a light heart in her breast, but her feet are heavy and awkward."
Inwardly Joseph laughed, but governed his tongue, and was silent.
Then came the hour of sleep, death's counterfeit, nightly rehearsal
Of the great Silent Assembly, the Meeting of shadows, where no man
Speaketh, but all are still, and the peace and rest are unbroken!
Silently over that house the blessing of slumber descended.
But when the morning dawned, and the sun uprose in his splendor,
Breaking his way through clouds that encumbered his path in the heavens,
Joseph was seen with his sled and oxen breaking a pathway
Through the drifts of snow; the horses already were harnessed,
And John Estaugh was standing and taking leave at the threshold,
Saying that he should return at the Meeting in May; while above them
Hannah the housemaid, the homely, was looking out of the attic,
Laughing aloud at Joseph, then suddenly closing the casement,
As the bird in a cuckoo-clock peeps out of its window,
Then disappears again, and closes the shutter behind it.
Now was the winter gone, and the snow; and Robin the Redbreast,
Boasted on bush and tree it was he, it was he and no other
That had covered with leaves the Babes in the Wood, and blithely
All the birds sang with him, and little cared for his boasting,
Or for his Babes in the Wood, or the Cruel Uncle, and only
Sang for the mates they had chosen, and cared for the nests they were building.
With them, but more sedately and meekly, Elizabeth Haddon
Sang in her inmost heart, but her lips were silent and songless.
Thus came the lovely spring with a rush of blossoms and music,
Flooding the earth with flowers, and the air with melodies vernal.
Then it came to pass, one pleasant morning, that slowly
Up the road there came a cavalcade, as of pilgrims
Men and women, wending their way to the Quarterly Meeting
In the neighboring town; and with them came riding John Estaugh.
At Elizabeth's door they stopped to rest, and alighting
Tasted the currant wine, and the bread of rye, and the honey
Brought from the hives, that stood by the sunny wall of the garden;
Then remounted their horses, refreshed, and continued their journey,
And Elizabeth with them, and Joseph, and Hannah the housemaid.
But, as they started, Elizabeth lingered a little, and leaning
Over her horse's neck, in a whisper said to John Estaugh
"Tarry awhile behind, for I have something to tell thee,
Not to be spoken lightly, nor in the presence of others;
Them it concerneth not, only thee and me it concerneth."
And they rode slowly along through the woods, conversing together.
It was a pleasure to breathe the fragrant air of the forest;
It was a pleasure to live on that bright and happy May morning!
Then Elizabeth said, though still with a certain reluctance,
As if impelled to reveal a secret she fain would have guarded:
"I will no longer conceal what is laid upon me to tell thee;
I have received from the Lord a charge to love thee, John Estaugh."
And John Estaugh made answer, surprised by the words she had spoken,
"Pleasant to me are thy converse, thy ways, thy meekness of spirit;
Pleasant thy frankness of speech, and thy soul's immaculate whiteness,
Love without dissimulation, a holy and inward adorning.
But I have yet no light to lead me, no voice to direct me.
When the Lord's work is done, and the toil and the labor completed
He hath appointed to me, I will gather into the stillness
Of my own heart awhile, and listen and wait for his guidance."
Then Elizabeth said, not troubled nor wounded in spirit,
"So is it best, John Estaugh. We will not speak of it further.
It hath been laid upon me to tell thee this, for to-morrow
Thou art going away, across the sea, and I know not
When I shall see thee more; but if the Lord hath decreed it,
Thou wilt return again to seek me here and to find me."
And they rode onward in silence, and entered the town with the others.
Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing,
Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;
So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,
Only a look and a voice, then darkness again and a silence.
Now went on as of old the quiet life of the homestead.
Patient and unrepining Elizabeth labored, in all things
Mindful not of herself, but bearing the burdens of others,
Always thoughtful and kind and untroubled; and Hannah the housemaid
Diligent early and late, and rosy with washing and scouring,
Still as of old disparaged the eminent merits of Joseph,
And was at times reproved for her light and frothy behavior,
For her shy looks, and her careless words, and her evil surmisings,
Being pressed down somewhat like a cart with sheaves overladen,
As she would sometimes say to Joseph, quoting the Scriptures.
Meanwhile John Estaugh departed across the sea, and departing
Carried hid in his heart a secret sacred and precious,
Filling its chambers with fragrance, and seeming to him in its sweetness
Mary's ointment of spikenard, that filled all the house with its odor.
O lost days of delight, that are wasted in doubting and waiting!
O lost hours and days in which we might have been happy!
But the light shone at last, and guided his wavering footsteps,
And at last came the voice, imperative, questionless, certain.
Then John Estaugh came back o'er the sea for the gift that was offered,
Better than houses and lands, the gift of a woman's affection.
And on the First-Day that followed, he rose in the Silent Assembly,
Holding in his strong hand a hand that trembled a little,
Promising to be kind and true and faithful in all things.
Such were the marriage-rites of John and Elizabeth Estaugh.
And not otherwise Joseph, the honest, the diligent servant,
Sped in his bashful wooing with homely Hannah the housemaid;
For when he asked her the question, she answered, "Nay"; and then added
"But thee may make believe, and see what will come of it, Joseph."
"A pleasant and a winsome tale,"
The Student said, "though somewhat pale
And quiet in its coloring,
As if it caught its tone and air
From the gray suits that Quakers wear;
Yet worthy of some German bard,
Hebel, or Voss, or Eberhard,
Who love of humble themes to sing,
In humble verse; but no more true
Than was the tale I told to you."
The Theologian made reply,
And with some warmth, "That I deny;
'T is no invention of my own,
But something well and widely known
To readers of a riper age,
Writ by the skilful hand that wrote
The Indian tale of Hobomok,
And Philothea's classic page.
I found it like a waif afloat
Or dulse uprooted from its rock,
On the swift tides that ebb and flow
In daily papers, and at flood
Bear freighted vessels to and fro,
But later, when the ebb is low,
Leave a long waste of sand and mud."
"It matters little," quoth the Jew;
"The cloak of truth is lined with lies,
Sayeth some proverb old and wise;
And Love is master of all arts,
And puts it into human hearts
The strangest things to say and do."
And here the controversy closed
Abruptly, ere 't was well begun;
For the Sicilian interposed
With, "Lordlings, listen, every one
That listen may, unto a tale
That's merrier than the nightingale;
A tale that cannot boast, forsooth,
A single rag or shred of truth;
That does not leave the mind in doubt
As to the with it or without;
A naked falsehood and absurd
As mortal ever told or heard.
Therefore I tell it; or, maybe,
Simply because it pleases me."
THE SICILIAN'S TALE
THE MONK OF CASAL-MAGGIORE
Once on a time, some centuries ago,
In the hot sunshine two Franciscan friars
Wended their weary way with footsteps slow
Back to their convent, whose white walls and spires
Gleamed on the hillside like a patch of snow;
Covered with dust they were, and torn by briers,
And bore like sumpter-mules upon their backs
The badge of poverty, their beggar's sacks.
The first was Brother Anthony, a spare
And silent man, with pallid cheeks and thin,
Much given to vigils, penance, fasting, prayer,
Solemn and gray, and worn with discipline,
As if his body but white ashes were,
Heaped on the living coals that glowed within;
A simple monk, like many of his day,
Whose instinct was to listen and obey.
A different man was Brother Timothy,
Of larger mould and of a coarser paste;
A rubicund and stalwart monk was he,
Broad in the shoulders, broader in the waist,
Who often filled the dull refectory
With noise by which the convent was disgraced,
But to the mass-book gave but little heed,
By reason he had never learned to read.
Now, as they passed the outskirts of a wood,
They saw, with mingled pleasure and surprise,
Fast tethered to a tree an ass, that stood
Lazily winking his large, limpid eyes.
The farmer Gilbert of that neighborhood
His owner was, who, looking for supplies
Of fagots, deeper in the wood had strayed,
Leaving his beast to ponder in the shade.
As soon as Brother Timothy espied
The patient animal, he said: "Good-lack!
Thus for our needs doth Providence provide;
We'll lay our wallets on the creature's back."
This being done, he leisurely untied
From head and neck the halter of the jack,
And put it round his own, and to the tree
Stood tethered fast as if the ass were he.
And, bursting forth into a merry laugh,
He cried to Brother Anthony: "Away!
And drive the ass before you with your staff;
And when you reach the convent you may say
You left me at a farm, half tired and half
Ill with a fever, for a night and day,
And that the farmer lent this ass to bear
Our wallets, that are heavy with good fare."
Now Brother Anthony, who knew the pranks
Of Brother Timothy, would not persuade
Or reason with him on his quirks and cranks,
But, being obedient, silently obeyed;
And, smiting with his staff the ass's flanks,
Drove him before him over hill and glade,
Safe with his provend to the convent gate,
Leaving poor Brother Timothy to his fate.
Then Gilbert, laden with fagots for his fire,
Forth issued from the wood, and stood aghast
To see the ponderous body of the friar
Standing where he had left his donkey last.
Trembling he stood, and dared not venture nigher,
But stared, and gaped, and crossed himself full fast;
For, being credulous and of little wit,
He thought it was some demon from the pit.
While speechless and bewildered thus he gazed,
And dropped his load of fagots on the ground,
Quoth Brother Timothy: "Be not amazed
That where you left a donkey should be found
A poor Franciscan friar, half-starved and crazed,
Standing demure and with a halter bound;
But set me free, and hear the piteous story
Of Brother Timothy of Casal-Maggiore.
"I am a sinful man, although you see
I wear the consecrated cowl and cape;
You never owned an ass, but you owned me,
Changed and transformed from my own natural shape
All for the deadly sin of gluttony,
From which I could not otherwise escape,
Than by this penance, dieting on grass,
And being worked and beaten as an ass.
"Think of the ignominy I endured;
Think of the miserable life I led,
The toil and blows to which I was inured,
My wretched lodging in a windy shed,
My scanty fare so grudgingly procured,
The damp and musty straw that formed my bed!
But, having done this penance for my sins,
My life as man and monk again begins."
The simple Gilbert, hearing words like these,
Was conscience-stricken, and fell down apace
Before the friar upon his bended knees,
And with a suppliant voice implored his grace;
And the good monk, now very much at ease,
Granted him pardon with a smiling face,
Nor could refuse to be that night his guest,
It being late, and he in need of rest.
Upon a hillside, where the olive thrives,
With figures painted on its white-washed walls,
The cottage stood; and near the humming hives
Made murmurs as of far-off waterfalls;
A place where those who love secluded lives
Might live content, and, free from noise and brawls,
Like Claudian's Old Man of Verona here
Measure by fruits the slow-revolving year.
And, coming to this cottage of content
They found his children, and the buxom wench
His wife, Dame Cicely, and his father, bent
With years and labor, seated on a bench,
Repeating over some obscure event
In the old wars of Milanese and French;
All welcomed the Franciscan, with a sense
Of sacred awe and humble reverence.
When Gilbert told them what had come to pass,
How beyond question, cavil, or surmise,
Good Brother Timothy had been their ass,
You should have seen the wonder in their eyes;
You should have heard them cry, "Alas! alas!
Have heard their lamentations and their sighs!
For all believed the story, and began
To see a saint in this afflicted man.
Forthwith there was prepared a grand repast,
To satisfy the craving of the friar
After so rigid and prolonged a fast;
The bustling housewife stirred the kitchen fire;
Then her two barnyard fowls, her best and last,
Were put to death, at her express desire,
And served up with a salad in a bowl,
And flasks of country wine to crown the whole.
It would not be believed should I repeat
How hungry Brother Timothy appeared;
It was a pleasure but to see him eat,
His white teeth flashing through his russet beard,
His face aglow and flushed with wine and meat,
His roguish eyes that rolled and laughed and leered!
Lord! how he drank the blood-red country wine
As if the village vintage were divine!
And all the while he talked without surcease,
And told his merry tales with jovial glee
That never flagged, but rather did increase,
And laughed aloud as if insane were he,
And wagged his red beard, matted like a fleece,
And cast such glances at Dame Cicely
That Gilbert now grew angry with his guest,
And thus in words his rising wrath expressed.
"Good father," said he, "easily we see
How needful in some persons, and how right,
Mortification of the flesh may be.
The indulgence you have given it to-night,
After long penance, clearly proves to me
Your strength against temptation is but slight,
And shows the dreadful peril you are in
Of a relapse into your deadly sin.
"To-morrow morning, with the rising sun,
Go back unto your convent, nor refrain
From fasting and from scourging, for you run
Great danger to become an ass again,
Since monkish flesh and asinine are one;
Therefore be wise, nor longer here remain,
Unless you wish the scourge should be applied
By other hands, that will not spare your hide."
When this the monk had heard, his color fled
And then returned, like lightning in the air,
Till he was all one blush from foot to head,
And even the bald spot in his russet hair
Turned from its usual pallor to bright red!
The old man was asleep upon his chair.
Then all retired, and sank into the deep
And helpless imbecility of sleep.
They slept until the dawn of day drew near,
Till the cock should have crowed, but did not crow,
For they had slain the shining chanticleer
And eaten him for supper, as you know.
The monk was up betimes and of good cheer,
And, having breakfasted, made haste to go,
As if he heard the distant matin bell,
And had but little time to say farewell.
Fresh was the morning as the breath of kine;
Odors of herbs commingled with the sweet
Balsamic exhalations of the pine;
A haze was in the air presaging heat;
Uprose the sun above the Apennine,
And all the misty valleys at its feet
Were full of the delirious song of birds,
Voices of men, and bells, and low of herds.
All this to Brother Timothy was naught;
He did not care for scenery, nor here
His busy fancy found the thing it sought;
But when he saw the convent walls appear,
And smoke from kitchen chimneys upward caught
And whirled aloft into the atmosphere,
He quickened his slow footsteps, like a beast
That scents the stable a league off at least.
And as he entered though the convent gate
He saw there in the court the ass, who stood
Twirling his ears about, and seemed to wait,
Just as he found him waiting in the wood;
And told the Prior that, to alleviate
The daily labors of the brotherhood,
The owner, being a man of means and thrift,
Bestowed him on the convent as a gift.
And thereupon the Prior for many days
Revolved this serious matter in his mind,
And turned it over many different ways,
Hoping that some safe issue he might find;
But stood in fear of what the world would say,
If he accepted presents of this kind,
Employing beasts of burden for the packs,
That lazy monks should carry on their backs.
Then, to avoid all scandal of the sort,
And stop the mouth of cavil, he decreed
That he would cut the tedious matter short,
And sell the ass with all convenient speed,
Thus saving the expense of his support,
And hoarding something for a time of need.
So he despatched him to the neighboring Fair,
And freed himself from cumber and from care.
It happened now by chance, as some might say,
Others perhaps would call it destiny,
Gilbert was at the Fair; and heard a bray,
And nearer came, and saw that it was he,
And whispered in his ear, "Ah, lackaday!
Good father, the rebellious flesh, I see,
Has changed you back into an ass again,
And all my admonitions were in vain."
The ass, who felt this breathing in his ear,
Did not turn round to look, but shook his head,
As if he were not pleased these words to hear,
And contradicted all that had been said.
And this made Gilbert cry in voice more clear,
"I know you well; your hair is russet-red;
Do not deny it; for you are the same
Franciscan friar, and Timothy by name."
The ass, though now the secret had come out,
Was obstinate, and shook his head again;
Until a crowd was gathered round about
To hear this dialogue between the twain;
And raised their voices in a noisy shout
When Gilbert tried to make the matter plain,
And flouted him and mocked him all day long
With laughter and with jibes and scraps of song.
"If this be Brother Timothy," they cried,
"Buy him, and feed him on the tenderest grass;
Thou canst not do too much for one so tried
As to be twice transformed into an ass."
So simple Gilbert bought him, and untied
His halter, and o'er mountain and morass
He led him homeward, talking as he went
Of good behavior and a mind content.
The children saw them coming, and advanced,
Shouting with joy, and hung about his neck,--
Not Gilbert's, but the ass's,--round him danced,
And wove green garlands where-withal to deck
His sacred person; for again it chanced
Their childish feelings, without rein or check,
Could not discriminate in any way
A donkey from a friar of Orders Gray.
"O Brother Timothy," the children said,
"You have come back to us just as before;
We were afraid, and thought that you were dead,
And we should never see you any more."
And then they kissed the white star on his head,
That like a birth-mark or a badge he wore,
And patted him upon the neck and face,
And said a thousand things with childish grace.
Thenceforward and forever he was known
As Brother Timothy, and led alway
A life of luxury, till he had grown
Ungrateful being stuffed with corn and hay,
And very vicious. Then in angry tone,
Rousing himself, poor Gilbert said one day
"When simple kindness is misunderstood
A little flagellation may do good."
His many vices need not here be told;
Among them was a habit that he had
Of flinging up his heels at young and old,
Breaking his halter, running off like mad
O'er pasture-lands and meadow, wood and wold,
And other misdemeanors quite as bad;
But worst of all was breaking from his shed
At night, and ravaging the cabbage-bed.
So Brother Timothy went back once more
To his old life of labor and distress;
Was beaten worse than he had been before.
And now, instead of comfort and caress,
Came labors manifold and trials sore;
And as his toils increased his food grew less,
Until at last the great consoler, Death,
Ended his many sufferings with his breath.
Great was the lamentation when he died;
And mainly that he died impenitent;
Dame Cicely bewailed, the children cried,
The old man still remembered the event
In the French war, and Gilbert magnified
His many virtues, as he came and went,
And said: "Heaven pardon Brother Timothy,
And keep us from the sin of gluttony."
"Signor Luigi," said the Jew,
When the Sicilian's tale was told,
"The were-wolf is a legend old,
But the were-ass is something new,
And yet for one I think it true.
The days of wonder have not ceased
If there are beasts in forms of men,
As sure it happens now and then,
Why may not man become a beast,
In way of punishment at least?
"But this I will not now discuss,
I leave the theme, that we may thus
Remain within the realm of song.
The story that I told before,
Though not acceptable to all,
At least you did not find too long.
I beg you, let me try again,
With something in a different vein,
Before you bid the curtain fall.
Meanwhile keep watch upon the door,
Nor let the Landlord leave his chair,
Lest he should vanish into air,
And thus elude our search once more."
Thus saying, from his lips he blew
A little cloud of perfumed breath,
And then, as if it were a clew
To lead his footsteps safely through,
Began his tale as followeth.
THE SPANISH JEW'S SECOND TALE
The battle is fought and won
By King Ladislaus the Hun,
In fire of hell and death's frost,
On the day of Pentecost.
And in rout before his path
From the field of battle red
Flee all that are not dead
Of the army of Amurath.
In the darkness of the night
Iskander, the pride and boast
Of that mighty Othman host,
With his routed Turks, takes flight
From the battle fought and lost
On the day of Pentecost;
Leaving behind him dead
The army of Amurath,
The vanguard as it led,
The rearguard as it fled,
Mown down in the bloody swath
Of the battle's aftermath.
But he cared not for Hospodars,
Nor for Baron or Voivode,
As on through the night he rode
And gazed at the fateful stars,
That were shining overhead
But smote his steed with his staff,
And smiled to himself, and said;
"This is the time to laugh."
In the middle of the night,
In a halt of the hurrying flight,
There came a Scribe of the King
Wearing his signet ring,
And said in a voice severe:
"This is the first dark blot
On thy name, George Castriot!
Alas why art thou here,
And the army of Amurath slain,
And left on the battle plain?"
And Iskander answered and said:
"They lie on the bloody sod
By the hoofs of horses trod;
But this was the decree
Of the watchers overhead;
For the war belongeth to God,
And in battle who are we,
Who are we, that shall withstand
The wind of his lifted hand?"
Then he bade them bind with chains
This man of books and brains;
And the Scribe said: "What misdeed
Have I done, that, without need,
Thou doest to me this thing?"
And Iskander answering
Said unto him: "Not one
Misdeed to me hast thou done;
But for fear that thou shouldst run
And hide thyself from me,
Have I done this unto thee.
"Now write me a writing, O Scribe,
And a blessing be on thy tribe!
A writing sealed with thy ring,
To King Amurath's Pasha
In the city of Croia,
The city moated and walled,
That he surrender the same
In the name of my master, the King;
For what is writ in his name
Can never be recalled."
And the Scribe bowed low in dread,
And unto Iskander said:
"Allah is great and just,
But we are as ashes and dust;
How shall I do this thing,
When I know that my guilty head
Will be forfeit to the King?"
Then swift as a shooting star
The curved and shining blade
Of Iskander's scimetar
From its sheath, with jewels bright,
Shot, as he thundered: "Write!"
And the trembling Scribe obeyed,
And wrote in the fitful glare
Of the bivouac fire apart,
With the chill of the midnight air
On his forehead white and bare,
And the chill of death in his heart.
Then again Iskander cried:
"Now follow whither I ride,
For here thou must not stay.
Thou shalt be as my dearest friend,
And honors without end
Shall surround thee on every side,
And attend thee night and day."
But the sullen Scribe replied
"Our pathways here divide;
Mine leadeth not thy way."
And even as he spoke
Fell a sudden scimetar-stroke,
When no one else was near;
And the Scribe sank to the ground,
As a stone, pushed from the brink
Of a black pool, might sink
With a sob and disappear;
And no one saw the deed;
And in the stillness around
No sound was heard but the sound
Of the hoofs of Iskander's steed,
As forward he sprang with a bound.
Then onward he rode and afar,
With scarce three hundred men,
Through river and forest and fen,
O'er the mountains of Argentar;
And his heart was merry within,
When he crossed the river Drin,
And saw in the gleam of the morn
The White Castle Ak-Hissar,
The city Croia called,
The city moated and walled,
The city where he was born,--
And above it the morning star.
Then his trumpeters in the van
On their silver bugles blew,
And in crowds about him ran
Albanian and Turkoman,
That the sound together drew.
And he feasted with his friends,
And when they were warm with wine,
He said: "O friends of mine,
Behold what fortune sends,
And what the fates design!
King Amurath commands
That my father's wide domain,
This city and all its lands,
Shall be given to me again."
Then to the Castle White
He rode in regal state,
And entered in at the gate
In all his arms bedight,
And gave to the Pasha
Who ruled in Croia
The writing of the King,
Sealed with his signet ring.
And the Pasha bowed his head,
And after a silence said:
"Allah is just and great!
I yield to the will divine,
The city and lands are thine;
Who shall contend with fate?"
Anon from the castle walls
The crescent banner falls,
And the crowd beholds instead,
Like a portent in the sky,
Iskander's banner fly,
The Black Eagle with double head;
And a shout ascends on high,
For men's souls are tired of the Turks,
And their wicked ways and works,
That have made of Ak-Hissar
A city of the plague;
And the loud, exultant cry
That echoes wide and far
Is: "Long live Scanderbeg!"
It was thus Iskander came
Once more unto his own;
And the tidings, like the flame
Of a conflagration blown
By the winds of summer, ran,
Till the land was in a blaze,
And the cities far and near,
Sayeth Ben Joshua Ben Meir,
In his Book of the Words of the Days,
"Were taken as a man
Would take the tip of his ear."
"Now that is after my own heart,"
The Poet cried; "one understands
Your swarthy hero Scanderbeg,
Gauntlet on hand and boot on leg,
And skilled in every warlike art,
Riding through his Albanian lands,
And following the auspicious star
That shone for him o'er Ak-Hissar."
The Theologian added here
His word of praise not less sincere,
Although he ended with a jibe;
"The hero of romance and song
Was born," he said, "to right the wrong;
And I approve; but all the same
That bit of treason with the Scribe
Adds nothing to your hero's fame."
The Student praised the good old times
And liked the canter of the rhymes,
That had a hoofbeat in their sound;
But longed some further word to hear
Of the old chronicler Ben Meir,
And where his volume might he found.
The tall Musician walked the room
With folded arms and gleaming eyes,
As if he saw the Vikings rise,
Gigantic shadows in the gloom;
And much he talked of their emprise,
And meteors seen in Northern skies,
And Heimdal's horn, and day of doom
But the Sicilian laughed again;
"This is the time to laugh," he said,
For the whole story he well knew
Was an invention of the Jew,
Spun from the cobwebs in his brain,
And of the same bright scarlet thread
As was the Tale of Kambalu.
Only the Landlord spake no word;
'T was doubtful whether he had heard
The tale at all, so full of care
Was he of his impending fate,
That, like the sword of Damocles,
Above his head hung blank and bare,
Suspended by a single hair,
So that he could not sit at ease,
But sighed and looked disconsolate,
And shifted restless in his chair,
Revolving how he might evade
The blow of the descending blade.
The Student came to his relief
By saying in his easy way
To the Musician: "Calm your grief,
My fair Apollo of the North,
Balder the Beautiful and so forth;
Although your magic lyre or lute
With broken strings is lying mute,
Still you can tell some doleful tale
Of shipwreck in a midnight gale,
Or something of the kind to suit
The mood that we are in to-night
For what is marvellous and strange;
So give your nimble fancy range,
And we will follow in its flight."
But the Musician shook his head;
"No tale I tell to-night," he said,
"While my poor instrument lies there,
Even as a child with vacant stare
Lies in its little coffin dead."
Yet, being urged, he said at last:
"There comes to me out of the Past
A voice, whose tones are sweet and wild,
Singing a song almost divine,
And with a tear in every line;
An ancient ballad, that my nurse
Sang to me when I was a child,
In accents tender as the verse;
And sometimes wept, and sometimes smiled
While singing it, to see arise
The look of wonder in my eyes,
And feel my heart with tenor beat.
This simple ballad I retain
Clearly imprinted on my brain,
And as a tale will now repeat"
THE MUSICIAN'S TALE
THE MOTHER'S GHOST
Svend Dyring he rideth adown the glade;
I myself was young!
There he hath wooed him so winsome a maid;
Fair words gladden so many a heart.
Together were they for seven years,
And together children six were theirs.
Then came Death abroad through the land,
And blighted the beautiful lily-wand.
Svend Dyring he rideth adown the glade,
And again hath he wooed him another maid,
He hath wooed him a maid and brought home a bride,
But she was bitter and full of pride.
When she came driving into the yard,
There stood the six children weeping so hard.
There stood the small children with sorrowful heart;
From before her feet she thrust them apart.
She gave to them neither ale nor bread;
"Ye shall suffer hunger and hate," she said.
She took from them their quilts of blue,
And said: "Ye shall lie on the straw we strew."
She took from them the great waxlight;
"Now ye shall lie in the dark at night."
In the evening late they cried with cold;
The mother heard it under the mould.
The woman heard it the earth below:
"To my little children I must go."
She standeth before the Lord of all:
"And may I go to my children small?"
She prayed him so long, and would not cease,
Until he bade her depart in peace.
"At cock-crow thou shalt return again;
Longer thou shalt not there remain!"
She girded up her sorrowful bones,
And rifted the walls and the marble stones.
As through the village she flitted by,
The watch-dogs howled aloud to the sky.
When she came to the castle gate,
There stood her eldest daughter in wait.
"Why standest thou here, dear daughter mine?
How fares it with brothers and sisters thine?"
"Never art thou mother of mine,
For my mother was both fair and fine.
"My mother was white, with cheeks of red,
But thou art pale, and like to the dead."
"How should I be fair and fine?
I have been dead; pale cheeks are mine.
"How should I be white and red,
So long, so long have I been dead?"
When she came in at the chamber door,
There stood the small children weeping sore.
One she braided, another she brushed,
The third she lifted, the fourth she hushed.
The fifth she took on her lap and pressed,
As if she would suckle it at her breast.
Then to her eldest daughter said she,
"Do thou bid Svend Dyring come hither to me."
Into the chamber when he came
She spake to him in anger and shame.
"I left behind me both ale and bread;
My children hunger and are not fed.
"I left behind me quilts of blue;
My children lie on the straw ye strew.
"I left behind me the great waxlight;
My children lie in the dark at night.
"If I come again unto your hall,
As cruel a fate shall you befall!
"Now crows the cock with feathers red;
Back to the earth must all the dead.
"Now crows the cock with feathers swart;
The gates of heaven fly wide apart.
"Now crows the cock with feathers white;
I can abide no longer to-night."
Whenever they heard the watch-dogs wail,
They gave the children bread and ale.
Whenever they heard the watch-dogs bay,
They feared lest the dead were on their way.
Whenever they heard the watch-dogs bark;
I myself was young!
They feared the dead out there in the dark.
Fair words gladden so many a heart.
Touched by the pathos of these rhymes,
The Theologian said: "All praise
Be to the ballads of old times
And to the bards of simple ways,
Who walked with Nature hand in hand,
Whose country was their Holy Land,
Whose singing robes were homespun brown
From looms of their own native town,
Which they were not ashamed to wear,
And not of silk or sendal gay,
Nor decked with fanciful array
Of cockle-shells from Outre-Mer."
To whom the Student answered: "Yes;
All praise and honor! I confess
That bread and ale, home-baked, home-brewed,
Are wholesome and nutritious food,
But not enough for all our needs;
Poets--the best of them--are birds
Of passage; where their instinct leads
They range abroad for thoughts and words,
And from all climes bring home the seeds
That germinate in flowers or weeds.
They are not fowls in barnyards born
To cackle o'er a grain of corn;
And, if you shut the horizon down
To the small limits of their town,
What do you but degrade your bard
Till he at last becomes as one
Who thinks the all-encircling sun
Rises and sets in his back yard?"
The Theologian said again:
"It may be so; yet I maintain
That what is native still is best,
And little care I for the rest.
'T is a long story; time would fail
To tell it, and the hour is late;
We will not waste it in debate,
But listen to our Landlord's tale."
And thus the sword of Damocles
Descending not by slow degrees,
But suddenly, on the Landlord fell,
Who blushing, and with much demur
And many vain apologies,
Plucking up heart, began to tell
The Rhyme of one Sir Christopher.
THE LANDLORD'S TALE
THE RHYME OF SIR CHRISTOPHER
It was Sir Christopher Gardiner,
Knight of the Holy Sepulchre,
From Merry England over the sea,
Who stepped upon this continent
As if his august presence lent
A glory to the colony.
You should have seen him in the street
Of the little Boston of Winthrop's time,
His rapier dangling at his feet
Doublet and hose and boots complete,
Prince Rupert hat with ostrich plume,
Gloves that exhaled a faint perfume,
Luxuriant curls and air sublime,
And superior manners now obsolete!
He had a way of saying things
That made one think of courts and kings,
And lords and ladies of high degree;
So that not having been at court
Seemed something very little short
Of treason or lese-majesty,
Such an accomplished knight was he.
His dwelling was just beyond the town,
At what he called his country-seat;
For, careless of Fortune's smile or frown,
And weary grown of the world and its ways,
He wished to pass the rest of his days
In a private life and a calm retreat.
But a double life was the life he led,
And, while professing to be in search
Of a godly course, and willing, he said,
Nay, anxious to join the Puritan church,
He made of all this but small account,
And passed his idle hours instead
With roystering Morton of Merry Mount,
That pettifogger from Furnival's Inn,
Lord of misrule and riot and sin,
Who looked on the wine when it was red.
This country-seat was little more
Than a cabin of log's; but in front of the door
A modest flower-bed thickly sown
With sweet alyssum and columbine
Made those who saw it at once divine
The touch of some other hand than his own.
And first it was whispered, and then it was known,
That he in secret was harboring there
A little lady with golden hair,
Whom he called his cousin, but whom he had wed
In the Italian manner, as men said,
And great was the scandal everywhere.
But worse than this was the vague surmise,
Though none could vouch for it or aver,
That the Knight of the Holy Sepulchre
Was only a Papist in disguise;
And the more to imbitter their bitter lives,
And the more to trouble the public mind,
Came letters from England, from two other wives,
Whom he had carelessly left behind;
Both of them letters of such a kind
As made the governor hold his breath;
The one imploring him straight to send
The husband home, that he might amend;
The other asking his instant death,
As the only way to make an end.
The wary governor deemed it right,
When all this wickedness was revealed,
To send his warrant signed and sealed,
And take the body of the knight.
Armed with this mighty instrument,
The marshal, mounting his gallant steed,
Rode forth from town at the top of his speed,
And followed by all his bailiffs bold,
As if on high achievement bent,
To storm some castle or stronghold,
Challenge the warders on the wall,
And seize in his ancestral hall
A robber-baron grim and old.
But when though all the dust and heat
He came to Sir Christopher's country-seat,
No knight he found, nor warder there,
But the little lady with golden hair,
Who was gathering in the bright sunshine
The sweet alyssum and columbine;
While gallant Sir Christopher, all so gay,
Being forewarned, through the postern gate
Of his castle wall had tripped away,
And was keeping a little holiday
In the forests, that bounded his estate.
Then as a trusty squire and true
The marshal searched the castle through,
Not crediting what the lady said;
Searched from cellar to garret in vain,
And, finding no knight, came out again
And arrested the golden damsel instead,
And bore her in triumph into the town,
While from her eyes the tears rolled down
On the sweet alyssum and columbine,
That she held in her fingers white and fine.
The governor's heart was moved to see
So fair a creature caught within
The snares of Satan and of sin,
And he read her a little homily
On the folly and wickedness of the lives
Of women, half cousins and half wives;
But, seeing that naught his words availed,
He sent her away in a ship that sailed
For Merry England over the sea,
To the other two wives in the old countree,
To search her further, since he had failed
To come at the heart of the mystery.
Meanwhile Sir Christopher wandered away
Through pathless woods for a month and a day,
Shooting pigeons, and sleeping at night
With the noble savage, who took delight
In his feathered hat and his velvet vest,
His gun and his rapier and the rest.
But as soon as the noble savage heard
That a bounty was offered for this gay bird,
He wanted to slay him out of hand,
And bring in his beautiful scalp for a show,
Like the glossy head of a kite or crow,
Until he was made to understand
They wanted the bird alive, not dead;
Then he followed him whithersoever he fled,
Through forest and field, and hunted him down,
And brought him prisoner into the town.
Alas! it was a rueful sight,
To see this melancholy knight
In such a dismal and hapless case;
His hat deformed by stain and dent,
His plumage broken, his doublet rent,
His beard and flowing locks forlorn,
Matted, dishevelled, and unshorn,
His boots with dust and mire besprent;
But dignified in his disgrace,
And wearing an unblushing face.
And thus before the magistrate
He stood to hear the doom of fate.
In vain he strove with wonted ease
To modify and extenuate
His evil deeds in church and state,
For gone was now his power to please;
And his pompous words had no more weight
Than feathers flying in the breeze.
With suavity equal to his own
The governor lent a patient ear
To the speech evasive and highflown,
In which he endeavored to make clear
That colonial laws were too severe
When applied to a gallant cavalier,
A gentleman born, and so well known,
And accustomed to move in a higher sphere.
All this the Puritan governor heard,
And deigned in answer never a word;
But in summary manner shipped away,
In a vessel that sailed from Salem bay,
This splendid and famous cavalier,
With his Rupert hat and his popery,
To Merry England over the sea,
As being unmeet to inhabit here.
Thus endeth the Rhyme of Sir Christopher,
Knight of the Holy Sepulchre,
The first who furnished this barren land
With apples of Sodom and ropes of sand.
These are the tales those merry guests
Told to each other, well or ill;
Like summer birds that lift their crests
Above the borders of their nests
And twitter, and again are still.
These are the tales, or new or old,
In idle moments idly told;
Flowers of the field with petals thin,
Lilies that neither toil nor spin,
And tufts of wayside weeds and gorse
Hung in the parlor of the inn
Beneath the sign of the Red Horse.
And still, reluctant to retire,
The friends sat talking by the fire
And watched the smouldering embers burn
To ashes, and flash up again
Into a momentary glow,
Lingering like them when forced to go,
And going when they would remain;
For on the morrow they must turn
Their faces homeward, and the pain
Of parting touched with its unrest
A tender nerve in every breast.
But sleep at last the victory won;
They must be stirring with the sun,
And drowsily good night they said,
And went still gossiping to bed,
And left the parlor wrapped in gloom.
The only live thing in the room
Was the old clock, that in its pace
Kept time with the revolving spheres
And constellations in their flight,
And struck with its uplifted mace
The dark, unconscious hours of night,
To senseless and unlistening ears.
Uprose the sun; and every guest,
Uprisen, was soon equipped and dressed
For journeying home and city-ward;
The old stage-coach was at the door,
With horses harnessed, long before
The sunshine reached the withered sward
Beneath the oaks, whose branches hoar
Murmured: "Farewell forevermore."
"Farewell!" the portly Landlord cried;
"Farewell!" the parting guests replied,
But little thought that nevermore
Their feet would pass that threshold o'er;
That nevermore together there
Would they assemble, free from care,
To hear the oaks' mysterious roar,
And breathe the wholesome country air.
Where are they now? What lands and skies
Paint pictures in their friendly eyes?
What hope deludes, what promise cheers,
What pleasant voices fill their ears?
Two are beyond the salt sea waves,
And three already in their graves.
Perchance the living still may look
Into the pages of this book,
And see the days of long ago
Floating and fleeting to and fro,
As in the well-remembered brook
They saw the inverted landscape gleam,
And their own faces like a dream
Look up upon them from below.
Beautiful lily, dwelling by still rivers,
Or solitary mere,
Or where the sluggish meadow-brook delivers
Its waters to the weir!
Thou laughest at the mill, the whir and worry
Of spindle and of loom,
And the great wheel that toils amid the hurry
And rushing of the flame.
Born in the purple, born to joy and pleasance,
Thou dost not toil nor spin,
But makest glad and radiant with thy presence
The meadow and the lin.
The wind blows, and uplifts thy drooping banner,
And round thee throng and run
The rushes, the green yeomen of thy manor,
The outlaws of the sun.
The burnished dragon-fly is thine attendant,
And tilts against the field,
And down the listed sunbeam rides resplendent
With steel-blue mail and shield.
Thou art the Iris, fair among the fairest,
Who, armed with golden rod
And winged with the celestial azure, bearest
The message of some God.
Thou art the Muse, who far from crowded cities
Hauntest the sylvan streams,
Playing on pipes of reed the artless ditties
That come to us as dreams.
O flower-de-luce, bloom on, and let the river
Linger to kiss thy feet!
O flower of song, bloom on, and make forever
The world more fair and sweet.
I lay upon the headland-height, and listened
To the incessant sobbing of the sea
In caverns under me,
And watched the waves, that tossed and fled and glistened,
Until the rolling meadows of amethyst
Melted away in mist.
Then suddenly, as one from sleep, I started;
For round about me all the sunny capes
Seemed peopled with the shapes
Of those whom I had known in days departed,
Apparelled in the loveliness which gleams
On faces seen in dreams.
A moment only, and the light and glory
Faded away, and the disconsolate shore
Stood lonely as before;
And the wild-roses of the promontory
Around me shuddered in the wind, and shed
Their petals of pale red.
There was an old belief that in the embers
Of all things their primordial form exists,
And cunning alchemists
Could re-create the rose with all its members
From its own ashes, but without the bloom,
Without the lost perfume.
Ah me! what wonder-working, occult science
Can from the ashes in our hearts once more
The rose of youth restore?
What craft of alchemy can bid defiance
To time and change, and for a single hour
Renew this phantom-flower?
"O, give me back," I cried, "the vanished splendors,
The breath of morn, and the exultant strife,
When the swift stream of life
Bounds o'er its rocky channel, and surrenders
The pond, with all its lilies, for the leap
Into the unknown deep!"
And the sea answered, with a lamentation,
Like some old prophet wailing, and it said,
"Alas! thy youth is dead!
It breathes no more, its heart has no pulsation;
In the dark places with the dead of old
It lies forever cold!"
Then said I, "From its consecrated cerements
I will not drag this sacred dust again,
Only to give me pain;
But, still remembering all the lost endearments,
Go on my way, like one who looks before,
And turns to weep no more."
Into what land of harvests, what plantations
Bright with autumnal foliage and the glow
Of sunsets burning low;
Beneath what midnight skies, whose constellations
Light up the spacious avenues between
This world and the unseen!
Amid what friendly greetings and caresses,
What households, though not alien, yet not mine,
What bowers of rest divine;
To what temptations in lone wildernesses,
What famine of the heart, what pain and loss,
The bearing of what cross!
I do not know; nor will I vainly question
Those pages of the mystic book which hold
The story still untold,
But without rash conjecture or suggestion
Turn its last leaves in reverence and good heed,
Until "The End" I read.
THE BRIDGE OF CLOUD
Burn, O evening hearth, and waken
Pleasant visions, as of old!
Though the house by winds be shaken,
Safe I keep this room of gold!
Ah, no longer wizard Fancy
Builds her castles in the air,
Luring me by necromancy
Up the never-ending stair!
But, instead, she builds me bridges
Over many a dark ravine,
Where beneath the gusty ridges
Cataracts dash and roar unseen.
And I cross them, little heeding
Blast of wind or torrent's roar,
As I follow the receding
Footsteps that have gone before.
Naught avails the imploring gesture,
Naught avails the cry of pain!
When I touch the flying vesture,
'T is the gray robe of the rain.
Baffled I return, and, leaning
O'er the parapets of cloud,
Watch the mist that intervening
Wraps the valley in its shroud.
And the sounds of life ascending
Faintly, vaguely, meet the ear,
Murmur of bells and voices blending
With the rush of waters near.
Well I know what there lies hidden,
Every tower and town and farm,
And again the land forbidden
Reassumes its vanished charm.
Well I know the secret places,
And the nests in hedge and tree;
At what doors are friendly faces,
In what hearts are thoughts of me.
Through the mist and darkness sinking,
Blown by wind and beaten by shower,
Down I fling the thought I'm thinking,
Down I toss this Alpine flower.
MAY 23, 1864
How beautiful it was, that one bright day
In the long week of rain!
Though all its splendor could not chase away
The omnipresent pain.
The lovely town was white with apple-blooms,
And the great elms o'erhead
Dark shadows wove on their aerial looms
Shot through with golden thread.
Across the meadows, by the gray old manse,
The historic river flowed:
I was as one who wanders in a trance,
Unconscious of his road.
The faces of familiar friends seemed strange;
Their voices I could hear,
And yet the words they uttered seemed to change
Their meaning to my ear.
For the one face I looked for was not there,
The one low voice was mute;
Only an unseen presence filled the air,
And baffled my pursuit.
Now I look back, and meadow, manse, and stream
Dimly my thought defines;
I only see--a dream within a dream--
The hill-top hearsed with pines.
I only hear above his place of rest
Their tender undertone,
The infinite longings of a troubled breast,
The voice so like his own.
There in seclusion and remote from men
The wizard hand lies cold,
Which at its topmost speed let fall the pen,
And left the tale half told.
Ah! who shall lift that wand of magic power,
And the lost clew regain?
The unfinished window in Aladdin's tower
Unfinished must remain!
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said:
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"
THE WIND OVER THE CHIMNEY
See, the fire is sinking low,
Dusky red the embers glow,
While above them still I cower,
While a moment more I linger,
Though the clock, with lifted finger,
Points beyond the midnight hour.
Sings the blackened log a tune
Learned in some forgotten June
From a school-boy at his play,
When they both were young together,
Heart of youth and summer weather
Making all their holiday.
And the night-wind rising, hark!
How above there in the dark,
In the midnight and the snow,
Ever wilder, fiercer, grander,
Like the trumpets of Iskander,
All the noisy chimneys blow!
Every quivering tongue of flame
Seems to murmur some great name,
Seems to say to me, "Aspire!"
But the night-wind answers, "Hollow
Are the visions that you follow,
Into darkness sinks your fire!"
Then the flicker of the blaze
Gleams on volumes of old days,
Written by masters of the art,
Loud through whose majestic pages
Rolls the melody of ages,
Throb the harp-strings of the heart.
And again the tongues of flame
Start exulting and exclaim:
"These are prophets, bards, and seers;
In the horoscope of nations,
Like ascendant constellations,
They control the coming years."
But the night-wind cries: "Despair!
Those who walk with feet of air
Leave no long-enduring marks;
At God's forges incandescent
Mighty hammers beat incessant,
These are but the flying sparks.
"Dust are all the hands that wrought;
Books are sepulchres of thought;
The dead laurels of the dead
Rustle for a moment only,
Like the withered leaves in lonely
Churchyards at some passing tread."
Suddenly the flame sinks down;
Sink the rumors of renown;
And alone the night-wind drear
Clamors louder, wilder, vaguer,--
"'T is the brand of Meleager
Dying on the hearth-stone here!"
And I answer,--"Though it be,
Why should that discomfort me?
No endeavor is in vain;
Its reward is in the doing,
And the rapture of pursuing
Is the prize the vanquished gain."