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Toward the Gulf by Edgar Lee Masters

Part 2 out of 5

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With all the stumps grubbed out, the secret lying
Revealed and ready for the appointed hands.

We passed an orchard growing on a knoll
And saw a barn perked on a rocky hill,
And near the barn a house. Hosea said:
"This is Sir Galahad's." We tied the horse.
And we were in the silence of the country
At mid-day on a day in June. No bird
Was singing, fowl was cackling, cow was lowing,
No dog was barking. All was summer stillness.
We crossed a back-yard past a windlass well,
Dodged under clothes lines through a place of chips,
Walked in a path along the house. I said:
"Sir Galahad is ploughing, or perhaps
Is mending fences, cutting weeds." It seemed
Too bad to come so far and not to find him.
"We'll find him," said Hosea. "Let us sit
Under that tree and wait for him."

And then
We turned the corner of the house and there
Under a tree an old man sat, his head
Bowed down upon his breast, locked fast in sleep.
And by his feet a dog half blind and fat
Lay dozing, too inert to rise and bark.

Hosea gripped my arm. "Be still" he said.
"Let's ask him where Sir Galahad is," said I.
And then Hosea whispered, "God forgive me,
I had forgotten, you too have forgotten.
The man is old, he's very old. The years
Go by unnoticed. Come! Sir Galahad
Should sleep and not be waked."

We tip-toed off
And hurried back to Alden for the train.


You wonder at my bright round eyes, my lips
Pressed tightly like a venomous rosette.
Thus do me honor by so much, fond wretch,
And praise my Persian beauty, dulcet voice.
But oh you know me, read me, passion blinds
Your vision not at all, and you have passion
For me and what I am. How can you be so?
Hold me so bear-like, take my lips with yours,
Bury your face in these my russet tresses,
And yet not lose your vision? So I love you,
And fear you too. How idle to deny it
To you who know I fear you.

Here am I
Who answer you what e'er you choose to ask.
You stride about my rooms and open books,
And say when did he give you this? You pick
His photograph from mantels, dressers, drawl
Out of ironic strength, and smile the while:
"You did not love this man." You probe my soul
About his courtship, how I ran away,
How he pursued with gifts from city to city,
Threw bouquets to me from the pit, or stood

Like Cleopatra's Giant negro guard,
Watchful and waiting at the green-room door.
So, devil, that you are, with needle pricks,
One little question at a time, you've inked
The story in my flesh. And now at last
You smile and say I killed him. Well, it's true.
But what a death he had! Envy him that.
Your frigid soul can never win the death
I gave him.

Listen since you know already
All but the subtlest matters. How you laugh!
You know these too? Well, only I can tell them.

First 'twas a piteous thing to see a man
So love a woman, see a living thing
So love another. Why he could not touch
My hand but that his heart went up ten beats.
His eyes would grow as bright as flames, his breath
Come short when speaking. When he felt my breast
Crush soft around him he would reel and walk
Away from me, while I stood like a snake
Poised for the strike, as quiet and possessed
As a dead breeze. And you can have me wholly,
And pet and pat me like a favored child,
And let me go my way, while you turn back
To what you left for me.

Not so with him:
I was all through his blood, had made his flesh
My flesh, his nerves, brain, soul all mine at last,
Dreams, thoughts, emotions, hungers all my own.
So that he lived two lives, his own and mine,
With one poor body, which he gave to me.
Save that he could not give what I pushed back
Into his hands to use for me and live
My pities, hatreds, loves and passions with.
I loved all this and thrived upon it, still
I did not love him. Then why marry him?
Why don't you see? It meant so much to him.
And 'twas a little thing for me to do.
His loneliness, his hunger, his great passion
That showed in his poor eyes, his broken breath,
His chivalry, his gifts, his poignant letters,
His failing health, why even woman's cruelty
Cannot deny such passion. Woman's cruelty
Takes other means for finding its expression.
And mine found its expression--you have guessed
And so I tell you all.

We were married then.
He made a sacrament of our nuptials,
Knelt with closed eyes beside the bed, my lips
Pressed to his brow and throat. Unveiled my breast
And looked, then closed his eyes. He did not take me
As man takes his possession, nature's way,
In triumph of life, in lightning, no, he came
A suppliant, a worshipper, and whispered:
"What angel child may lie upon the breast
Of this it's angel mother."

Well, you see
The tears came in my eyes, for pity of him,
Who made so much of what I had to give,
And could give easily whether 'twas my rapture
To give or to withhold. And in that moment
Contempt of which I had been scarcely conscious
Lying diffused like dew around my heart
Drained down itself into my heart's dark cup
To one bright drop of vital power, where
He could not see it, scarcely knew that something
Gradually drugged the potion that he drank
In life with me.

So we were wed a year,
And he was with me hourly, till at last
I could not breathe for him, while he could breathe
No where but where I was. Then the bazaar
Was coming on where I was to dance, and he
Had long postponed a trip to England where
Great interests waited for him, and with kisses
I pushed him to his duty, and he went
Shame stricken for a duty long postponed,
Unable to retort against my words
When I said "You must go;" for well he knew
He should have gone before. And as for going
I pleaded the bazaar and hate of travel,
And got him off, and freed myself to breathe.

His life had been too fast, his years too many
To stand the strain that came. There was the worry
About the business, and the labor over it.
There was the war, and all the fear and turmoil
In London for the war. But most of all
There was the separation. And his letters!
You've read them, wretch. Such letters never were
Of aching loneliness and pining love
And hope that lives across three thousand miles,
And waits the day to travel them, and fear
Of something which may bar the way forever:
A storm, a wreck, a submarine and no day
Without a letter or a cablegram.
And look at the endearments--oh you fiend
To pick their words to pieces like a botanist
Who cuts a flower up for his microscope.
And oh myself who let you see these letters.
Why did I do it? Rather why is it
You master me, even as I mastered him?

At last he finished, got his passage back.
He had been gone three months. And all these letters
Showed how he starved for me, and scarce could wait
To take me in his arms again, would choke
With fast and heavy feeding.

Well, you see
The contempt I spoke of which lay long diffused
Like dew around my heart, and which at once
Drained down itself into my heart's dark cup
Grew brighter, bitterer, for this obvious hunger,
This thirst which could not wait, the piteous trembling.
And all the while it seemed he thought his love
Grew sacreder as it grew uncontrolled,
And marked by trembling, choking, tears and sighs.
This is not love which should be, has no use
In this or any world. And as for me
I could not stand it longer. And I thought
Of what was best to do: if 'twas not best
To kill him as the queen bee kills the mate
In rapture's own excess.

Then he arrived.
I went to meet him in the car, pretended
The feed pipe broke while I was on the way.
I was not at the station when he came.
I got back to the house and found him gone.
He had run through the rooms calling my name,
So Mary told me. Then he went around
From place to place, wherever in the village
He thought to find me.

Soon I heard his steps,
The key in the door, his winded breath, his call,
His running, stumbling up the stairs, while I
Stood silent as a shadow in our room,
My round bright eyes grown brighter for the light
His life was feeding them. And then he stood
Breathless and trembling in the door-way, stood
Transfixed with ecstacy, then rushed and caught me
And broke into loud tears.

It had to end.
One or the other of us had to die.
I could not die but by a violence,
And he could die by love alone, and love
I gave him to his death.

Why tell you details
And ways with which I maddened him, and whipped
The energies of love? You have extracted
The secret in the main, that 'twas from love
He came to death. His life had been too fast,
His years too many for the daily rapture
I gave him after three months' separation.
And so he died one morning, made me free
Of nothing but his presence in the flesh.
His love is on me yet, and its effect.
And now you're here to slave me differently--
No soul is ever free.


Eyes wide for wisdom, calm for joy or pain,
Bright hair alloyed with silver, scarcely gold.
And gracious lips flower pressed like buds to hold
The guarded heart against excess of rain.
Hands spirit tipped through which a genius plays
With paints and clays,
And strings in many keys--
Clothed in an aura of thought as soundless as a flood
Of sun-shine where there is no breeze.
So is it light in spite of rhythm of blood,
Or turn of head, or hands that move, unite--
Wind cannot dim or agitate the light.
From Plato's idea stepping, wholly wrought
From Plato's dream, made manifest in hair,
Eyes, lips and hands and voice,
As if the stored up thought
From the earth sphere
Had given down the being of your choice
Conjured by the dream long sought.

* * * * *

For you have moved in madness, rapture, wrath
In and out of the path
Drawn by the dream of a face.
You have been watched, as star-men watch a star
That leaves its way, returns and leaves its way,
Until the exploring watchers find, can trace
A hidden star beyond their sight, whose sway
Draws the erratic star so long observed--
So have you wandered, swerved.

* * * * *

Always pursued and lost,
Sometimes half found, half-faced,
Such years we waste
With the almost:
The lips flower pressed like buds to hold
Guarded the heart of the flower,
But over them eyes not hued as the Dream foretold.
Or to find the lips too rich and the dower
Of eyes all gaiety
Where wisdom scarce can be.
Or to find the eyes, but to find offence
In fingers where the sense
Falters with colors, strings,
Not touching with closed eyes, out of an immanence
Of flame and wings.
Or to find the light, but to find it set behind
An eye which is not your dream, nor the shadow thereof,
As it were your lamp in a stranger's window.
And so almost to find
In the great weariness of love.

* * * * *

Now this is the tragedy:
If the Idea did not move
Somewhere in the realm of Love,
Clothing itself in flesh at last for you to see,
You could scarcely follow the gleam.
And the tragedy is when Life has made you over,
And denied you, and dulled your dream,
And you no longer count the cost,
Nor the past lament,
You are sitting oblivious of your discontent
Beside the Almost--
And then the face appears
Evoked from the Idea by your dead desire,
And blinds and burns you like fire.
And you sit there without tears,
Though thinking it has come to kill you, or mock your youth
With its half of the truth.

* * * * *

A beach as yellow as gold
Daisied with tents for a lovely mile.
And a sea that edges and walls the sand with blue,
Matching the heaven without a seam,
Save for the threads of foam that hold
With stitches the canopy rare as the tile
Of old Damascus. And O the wind
Which roars to the roaring water brightened
By the beating wings of the sun!
And here I walk, not seeking the Dream,
As men walk absent of heart or mind
Who have no wish for a sorrow lightened
Since all things now seem lost or won.
And here it is that your face appears!
Like a star brushed out from leaves by a breeze
When day's in the sky, though evening nears.
You are here by a tent with your little brood,
And I approach in a quiet mood
And see you, know that the Destinies
Have surrendered you at last.
Voice, lips and hands and the light of the eyes.

* * * * *

And I who have asked so much discover
That you find in me the man and lover
You have divined and visualized,
In quiet day dreams. And what is strange
Your boy of eight is subtly guised
In fleeting looks that half resemble
Something in me. Two souls may range
Mid this earth's billion souls for life,
And hide their hunger or dissemble.
For there are two at least created,
Endowed with alien powers that draw,
And kindred powers that by some law
Bind souls as like as sister, brother.
There are two at least who are for each other.
If we are such, it is not fated
You are for him, howe'er belated
The time's for us.

* * * * *

And yet is not the time gone by?
Your garden has been planted, dear.
And mine with weeds is over-grown.
Oh yes! 'tis only late July!
We can replant, ere frosts appear,
Gather the blossoms we have sown.
And I have preached that hearts should seize
The hour that brings realities. ...

Yes, I admit it all, we crush
Under our feet the world's contempt.
But when I raise the cup, it's blush
Reveals the snake's eyes, there's a hush
While a hand writes upon the wall:
Life cannot be re-made, exempt
From life that has been, something's gone
Out of the soil, in life updrawn
To growths that vine, and tangle, crawl,
Withered in part, or gone to seed.
'Tis not the same, though you have freed
The soil from what was grown. ...

* * * * *

Heaven is but the hour
Of the planting of the flower.
But heaven is the blossom to be,
Of the one Reality.
And heaven cannot undo the once sown ground.
But heaven is love in the pursuing,
And in the memory of having found. ...

The rocks in the river make light and sound
And show that the waters search and move.
And what is time but an infinite whole
Revealed by the breaks in thought, desire?
To put it away is to know one's soul.
Love is music unheard and fire
Too rare for eyes; between hurt beats
The heart detects it, sees how pure
Its essence is, through heart defeats.--
You are the silence making sure
The sound with which it has to cope,
My sorrow and as well my hope.


You dull Goliaths clothed in coats of blue,
Strained and half bursted by the swell of flesh,
Topped by Gorilla heads. You Marmoset,
Trained scoundrel, taught to question and ensnare,
I hate you, hate your laws and hate your courts.
Hands off, give me a chair, now let me be.
I'll tell you more than you can think to ask me.
I love this woman, but what is love to you?
What is it to your laws or courts? I love her.
She loves me, if you'd know. I entered her room--
She stood before me naked, shrank a little,
Cried out a little, calmed her sudden cry
When she saw amiable passion in my eyes--
She loves me, if you'd know. I saw in her eyes
More in those moments than whole hours of talk
From witness stands exculpate could make clear
My innocence.

But if I did a crime
My excuse is hunger, hunger for more life.
Oh what a world, where beauty, rapture, love
Are walled in and locked up like coal or food
And only may he had by purchasers
From whose fat fingers slip the unheeded gold.
Oh what a world where beauty lies in waste,
While power and freedom skulk with famished lips
Too tightly pressed for curses.

So do men,
Save for the thousandth man, deny themselves
And live in meagreness to make sure a life
Of meagreness by hearth stones long since stale;
And live in ways, companionships as fixed
As the geared figures of the Strassburg clock.
You wonder at war? Why war lets loose desires,
Emotions long repressed. Would you stop war?
Then let men live. The moral equivalent
Of war is freedom. Art does not suffice--
Religion is not life, but life is living.
And painted cherries to the hungry thrush
Is art to life. The artist lived his work.
You cannot live his life who love his work.
You are the thrush that pecks at painted cherries
Who hope to live through art. Beer-soaked Goliaths,
The story's coming of her nakedness
Be patient for a time.

All this I learned
While painting pictures no one ever bought,
Till hunger drove me to this servile work
As butler in her father's house, with time
On certain days to walk the galleries
And look at pictures, marbles. For I saw
I was not living while I painted pictures.
I was not living working for a crust,
I was not living walking galleries:
All this was but vicarious life which felt
Through gazing at the thing the artist made,
In memory of the life he lived himself:
As we preserve the fragrance of a flower
By drawing off its essence in a bottle,
Where color, fluttering leaves, are thrown away
To get the inner passion of the flower
Extracted to a bottle that a queen
May act the flower's part.

Say what you will,
Make laws to strangle life, shout from your pulpits,
Your desks of editors, your woolsack benches
Where judges sit, that this dull hypocrite,
You call the State, has fashioned life aright--
The secret is abroad, from eye to eye
The secret passes from poor eyes that wink
In boredom, in fatigue, in furious strength
Roped down or barred, that what the human heart
Dreams of and hopes for till the aspiring flame
Flaps in the guttered candle and goes out,
Is love for body and for spirit, love
To satisfy their hunger. Yet what is it,
This earth, this life, what is it but a meadow
Where spirits are left free a little while
Within a little space, so long as strength,
Flesh, blood increases to the day of use
As roasts or stews wherewith this witless beast,
Society may feed himself and keep
His olden shape and power?

Fools go crop
The herbs they turn you to, and starve yourself
For what you want, and count it righteousness,
No less you covet love. Poor shadows sighing,
Across the curtain racing! Mangled souls
Pecking so feebly at the painted cherries,
Inhaling from a bottle what was lived
These summers gone! You know, and scarce deny
That what we men desire are horses, dogs,
Loves, women, insurrections, travel, change,
Thrill in the wreck and rapture for the change,
And re-adjusted order.

As I turned
From painting and from art, yet found myself
Full of all lusts while bound to menial work
Where my eyes daily rested on this woman
A thought came to me like a little spark
One sees far down the darkness of a cave,
Which grows into a flame, a blinding light
As one approaches it, so did this thought
Both burn and blind me: For I loved this woman,
I wanted her, why should I lose this woman?
What was there to oppose possession? Will?
Her will, you say? I am not sure, but then
Which will is better, mine or hers? Which will
Deserves achievement? Which has rights above
The other? I desire her, her desire
Is not toward me, which of these two desires
Shall triumph? Why not mine for me and hers
For her, at least the stronger must prevail,
And wreck itself or bend all else before it.
That millionaire who wooed her, tried in vain
To overwhelm her will with gold, and I
With passion, boldness would have overwhelmed it,
And what's the difference?

But as I said
I walked the galleries. When I stood in the yard
Bare armed, bare throated at my work, she came
And gazed upon me from her window. I
Could feel the exhausting influence of her eyes.
Then in a concentration which was blindness
To all else, so bewilderment of mind,
I'd go to see Watteau's Antiope
Where he sketched Zeus in hunger, drawing back
The veil that hid her sleeping nakedness.
There was Correggio's too, on whom a satyr
Smiled for his amorous wonder. A Semele,
Done by an unknown hand, a thing of lightning
Moved through by Zeus who seized her as the flames
Consumed her ravished beauty.

So I looked,
And trembled, then returned perhaps to find
Her eyes upon me conscious, calm, elate,
And radiate with lashes of surprise,
Delight as when a star is still but shines.
And on this night somehow our natures worked
To climaxes. For first she dressed for dinner
To show more back and bosom than before.
And as I served her, her down-looking eyes
Were more than glances. Then she dropped her napkin.
Before I could begin to bend she leaned
And let me see--oh yes, she let me see
The white foam of her little breasts caressing
The scarlet flame of silk, a swooning shore
Of bright carnations. It was from such foam
That Venus rose. And as I stooped and gave
The napkin to her she pushed out a foot,
And then I coughed for breath grown short, and she
Concealed a smile--and you, you jailers laugh
Coarse-mouthed, and mock my hunger.

I go on,
Observe how courage, boldness mark my steps!
At nine o'clock she climbs to her boudoir.
I finding errands in the hallway hear
The desultory taking up of books,
And through her open door, see her at last
Cast off her dinner gown and to the bath
Step like a ray of moonlight. Then she snaps
The light on where the onyx tub and walls
Dazzle the air. I enter then her room
And stand against the closed door, do not pry
Upon her in the bath. Give her the chance
To fly me, fight me standing face to face.
I hear her flounder in the water, hear
Hands slap and slip with water breast and arms;
Hear little sighs and shudders and the roughness
Of crash towels on her back, when in a minute
She stands with back toward me in the doorway,
A sea-shell glory, pink and white to hair
Sun-lit, a lily crowned with powdered gold.
She turned toward her dresser then and shook
White dust of talcum on her arms, and looked
So lovingly upon her tense straight breasts,
Touching them under with soft tapering hands
To blue eyes deepening like a brazier flame
Turned by a sudden gust. Who gives her these,
The thought ran through me, for her joy alone
And not for mine?

So I stood there like Zeus
Coming in thunder to Semele, like
The diety of Watteau. Correggio
Had never painted me a satyr there
Drinking her beauty in, so worshipful,
My will subdued in worship of her beauty
To obey her will.

And then she turned and saw me,
And faced me in her nakedness, nor tried
To hide it from me, faced me immovable
A Mona Lisa smile upon her lips.
And let me plead my cause, make known my love,
Speak out my torture, wearing still the smile.
Let me approach her till I almost touched
The whiteness of her bosom. Then it seemed
That smile of hers not wilting me she clapped
Hands over eyes and said: "I am afraid--
Oh no, it cannot be--what would they say?"
Then rushing in the bathroom, quick she slammed
The door and shrieked: "You scoundrel, go--you beast."
My dream went up like paper charred and whirled
Above a hearth. Thrilling I stood alone
Amid her room and saw my life, our life
Embodied in this woman lately there
Lying and cowardly. And as I turned
To leave the room, her father and the gardener
Pounced on me, threw me down a flight of stairs
And turned me over, stunned, to you the law
Here with these others who have stolen coal
To keep them warm, as I have stolen beauty
To keep from freezing in this arid country
Of winter winds on which the dust of custom
Rides like a fog.

Now do your worst to me!


You and your landscape! There it lies
Stripped, resuming its disguise,
Clothed in dreams, made bare again,
Symbol infinite of pain,
Rapture, magic, mystery
Of vanished days and days to be.
There's its sea of tidal grass
Over which the south winds pass,
And the sun-set's Tuscan gold
Which the distant windows hold
For an instant like a sphere
Bursting ere it disappear.
There's the dark green woods which throve
In the spell of Leese's Grove.
And the winding of the road;
And the hill o'er which the sky
Stretched its pallied vacancy
Ere the dawn or evening glowed.
And the wonder of the town
Somewhere from the hill-top down
Nestling under hills and woods
And the meadow's solitudes.

* * * * *

And your paper knight of old
Secrets of the landscape told.
And the hedge-rows where the pond
Took the blue of heavens beyond
The hastening clouds of gusty March.
There you saw their wrinkled arch
Where the East wind cracks his whips
Round the little pond and clips
Main-sails from your toppled ships. ...

Landscape that in youth you knew
Past and present, earth and you!
All the legends and the tales
Of the uplands, of the vales;
Sounds of cattle and the cries
Of ploughmen and of travelers
Were its soul's interpreters.
And here the lame were always lame.
Always gray the gray of head.
And the dead were always dead
Ere the landscape had become
Your cradle, as it was their tomb.

* * * * *

And when the thunder storms would waken
Of the dream your soul was not forsaken:
In the room where the dormer windows look--
There were your knight and the tattered book.
With colors of the forest green
Gabled roofs and the demesne
Of faery kingdoms and faery time
Storied in pre-natal rhyme. ...
Past the orchards, in the plain
The cattle fed on in the rain.
And the storm-beaten horseman sped
Rain blinded and with bended head.
And John the ploughman comes and goes
In labor wet, with steaming clothes.
This is your landscape, but you see
Not terror and not destiny
Behind its loved, maternal face,
Its power to change, or fade, replace
Its wonder with a deeper dream,
Unfolding to a vaster theme.
From time eternal was this earth?
No less this landscape with your birth
Arose, nor leaves you, nor decay
Finds till the twilight of your day.
It bore you, moulds you to its plan.
It ends with you as it began,
But bears the seed of future years
Of higher raptures, dumber tears.

* * * * *

For soon you lose the landscape through
Absence, sorrow, eyes grown true
To the naked limbs which show
Buds that never more may blow.
Now you know the lame were straight
Ere you knew them, and the fate
Of the old is yet to die.
Now you know the dead who lie
In the graves you saw where first
The landscape on your vision burst,
Were not always dead, and now
Shadows rest upon the brow
Of the souls as young as you.
Some are gone, though years are few
Since you roamed with them the hills.
So the landscape changes, wills
All the changes, did it try
Its promises to justify?...

* * * * *

For you return and find it bare:
There is no heaven of golden air.
Your eyes around the horizon rove,
A clump of trees is Leese's Grove.
And what's the hedgerow, what's the pond?
A wallow where the vagabond
Beast will not drink, and where the arch
Of heaven in the days of March
Refrains to look. A blinding rain
Beats the once gilded window pane.
John, the poor wretch, is gone, but bread
Tempts other feet that path to tread
Between the barn and house, and brave
The March rain and the winds that rave. ...
O, landscape I am one who stands
Returned with pale and broken hands
Glad for the day that I have known,
And finds the deserted doorway strown
With shoulder blade and spinal bone.
And you who nourished me and bred
I find the spirit from you fled.
You gave me dreams,'twas at your breast
My soul's beginning rose and pressed
My steps afar at last and shaped
A world elusive, which escaped
Whatever love or thought could find
Beyond the tireless wings of mind.
Yet grown by you, and feeding on
Your strength as mother, you are gone
When I return from living, trace
My steps to see how I began,
And deeply search your mother face
To know your inner self, the place
For which you bore me, sent me forth
To wander, south or east or north. ...
Now the familiar landscape lies
With breathless breast and hollow eyes.
It knows me not, as I know not
Its secret, spirit, all forgot
Its kindred look is, as I stand
A stranger in an unknown land.

* * * * *

Are we not earth-born, formed of dust
Which seeks again its love and trust
In an old landscape, after change
In hearts grown weary, wrecked and strange?
What though we struggled to emerge
Dividual, footed for the urge
Of further self-discoveries, though
In the mid-years we cease to know,
Through disenchanted eyes, the spell
That clothed it like a miracle--
Yet at the last our steps return
Its deeper mysteries to learn.
It has been always us, it must
Clasp to itself our kindred dust.
We cannot free ourselves from it.
Near or afar we must submit
To what is in us, what was grown
Out of the landscape's soil, the known
And unknown powers of soil and soul.
As bodies yield to the control
Of the earth's center, and so bend
In age, so hearts toward the end
Bend down with lips so long athirst
To waters which were known at first--
The little spring at Leese's Grove
Was your first love, is your last love!

* * * * *

When those we knew in youth have crept
Under the landscape, which has kept
Nothing we saw with youthful eyes;
Ere God is formed in the empty skies,
I wonder not our steps are pressed
Toward the mystery of their rest.
That is the hope at bud which kneels
Where ancestors the tomb conceals.
Age no less than youth would lean
Upon some love. For what is seen
No more of father, mother, friend,
For hands of flesh lost, eyes grown blind
In death, a something which assures,
Comforts, allays our fears, endures.
Just as the landscape and our home
In childhood made of heaven's dome,
And all the farthest ways of earth
A place as sheltered as the hearth.

* * * * *

Is it not written at the last day
Heaven and earth shall roll away?
Yes, as my landscape passed through death,
Lay like a corpse, and with new breath
Became instinct with fire and light--
So shall it roll up in my sight,
Pass from the realm of finite sense,
Become a thing of spirit, whence
I shall pass too, its child in faith
Of dreams it gave me, which nor death
Nor change can wreck, but still reveal
In change a Something vast, more real
Than sunsets, meadows, green-wood trees,
Or even faery presences.
A Something which the earth and air
Transmutes but keeps them what they were;
Clear films of beauty grown more thin
As we approach and enter in.
Until we reach the scene that made
Our landscape just a thing of shade.


Well, then, another drink! Ben Jonson knows,
So do you, Michael Drayton, that to-morrow
I reach my fifty-second year. But hark ye,
To-morrow lacks two days of being a month--
Here is a secret--since I made my will.
Heigh ho! that's done too! I wonder why I did it?
That I should make a will! Yet it may be
That then and jump at this most crescent hour
Heaven inspired the deed.

As a mad younker
I knew an aged man in Warwickshire
Who used to say, "Ah, mercy me," for sadness
Of change, or passing time, or secret thoughts.
If it was spring he sighed it, if 'twas fall,
With drifting leaves, he looked upon the rain
And with doleful suspiration kept
This habit of his grief. And on a time
As he stood looking at the flying clouds,
I loitering near, expectant, heard him say it,
Inquired, "Why do you say 'Ah, mercy me,'
Now that it's April?" So he hobbled off
And left me empty there.

Now here am I!
Oh, it is strange to find myself this age,
And rustling like a peascod, though unshelled,
And, like this aged man of Warwickshire,
Slaved by a mood which must have breath--"Tra-la!
That's what I say instead of "Ah, mercy me."
For look you, Ben, I catch myself with "Tra-la"
The moment I break sleep to see the day.
At work, alone, vexed, laughing, mad or glad
I say, "Tra-la" unknowing. Oft at table
I say, "Tra-la." And 'tother day, poor Anne
Looked long at me and said, "You say, 'Tra-la'
Sometimes when you're asleep; why do you so?"
Then I bethought me of that aged man
Who used to say, "Ah, mercy me," but answered:
"Perhaps I am so happy when awake
The song crops out in slumber--who can say?"
And Anne arose, began to keel the pot,
But was she answered, Ben? Who know a woman?

To-morrow is my birthday. If I die,
Slip out of this with Bacchus for a guide,
What soul would interdict the poppied way?
Heroes may look the Monster down, a child
Can wilt a lion, who is cowed to see
Such bland unreckoning of his strength--but I,
Having so greatly lived, would sink away
Unknowing my departure. I have died
A thousand times, and with a valiant soul
Have drunk the cup, but why? In such a death
To-morrow shines and there's a place to lean.
But in this death that has no bottom to it,
No bank beyond, no place to step, the soul
Grows sick, and like a falling dream we shrink
From that inane which gulfs us, without place
For us to stand and see it.

Yet, dear Ben,
This thing must be; that's what we live to know
Out of long dreaming, saying that we know it.
As yeasty heroes in their braggart teens
Spout learnedly of war, who never saw
A cannon aimed. You drink too much to-day,
Or get a scratch while turning Lucy's stile,
And like a beast you sicken. Like a beast
They cart you off. What matter if your thought
Outsoared the Phoenix? Like a beast you rot.
Methinks that something wants our flesh, as we
Hunger for flesh of beasts. But still to-morrow,
To-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow
Creeps in this petty pace--O, Michael Drayton,
Some end must be. But 'twixt the fear of ceasing
And weariness of going on we lie
Upon these thorns!

These several springs I find
No new birth in the Spring. And yet in London
I used to cry, "O, would I were in Stratford;
It's April and the larks are singing now.
The flags are green along the Avon river;
O, would I were a rambler in the fields.
This poor machine is racing to its wreck.
This grist of thought is endless, this old sorrow
Sprouts, winds and crawls in London's darkness. Come
Back to your landscape! Peradventure waits
Some woman there who will make new the earth,
And crown the spring with fire."

So back I come.
And the springs march before me, say, "Behold
Here are we, and what would you, can you use us?
What good is air if lungs are out, or springs
When the mind's flown so far away no spring,
Nor loveliness of earth can call it back?
I tell you what it is: in early youth
The life is in the loins; by thirty years
It travels through the stomach to the lungs,
And then we strut and crow. By forty years
The fruit is swelling while the leaves are fresh.
By fifty years you're ripe, begin to rot.
At fifty-two, or fifty-five or sixty
The life is in the seed--what's spring to you?
Puff! Puff! You are so winged and light you fly.
For every passing zephyr, are blown off,
And drifting, God knows where, cry out "tra-la,"
"Ah, mercy me," as it may happen you.
Puff! Puff! away you go!

Another drink?
Why, you may drown the earth with ale and I
Will drain it like a sea. The more I drink
The better I see that this is April time. ...

Ben! There is one Voice which says to everything:
"Dream what you will, I'll make you bear your seed.
And, having borne, the sickle comes among ye
And takes your stalk." The rich and sappy greens
Of spring or June show life within the loins,
And all the world is fair, for now the plant
Can drink the level cup of flame where heaven
Is poured full by the sun. But when the blossom
Flutters its colors, then it takes the cup
And waves the stalk aside. And having drunk
The stalk to penury, then slumber comes
With dreams of spring stored in the imprisoned germ,
An old life and a new life all in one,
A thing of memory and of prophecy,
Of reminiscence, longing, hope and fear.
What has been ours is taken, what was ours
Becomes entailed on our seed in the spring,
Fees in possession and enjoyment too. ...

The thing is sex, Ben. It is that which lives
And dies in us, makes April and unmakes,
And leaves a man like me at fifty-two,
Finished but living, on the pinnacle
Betwixt a death and birth, the earth consumed
And heaven rolled up to eyes whose troubled glances
Would shape again to something better--what?
Give me a woman, Ben, and I will pick
Out of this April, by this larger art
Of fifty-two, such songs as we have heard,
Both you and I, when weltering in the clouds
Of that eternity which comes in sleep,
Or in the viewless spinning of the soul
When most intense. The woman is somewhere,
And that's what tortures, when I think this field
So often gleaned could blossom once again
If I could find her.

Well, as to my plays:
I have not written out what I would write.
They have a thousand buds of finer flowering.
And over "Hamlet" hangs a teasing spirit
As fine to that as sense is fine to flesh.
Good friends, my soul beats up its prisoned wings
Against the ceiling of a vaster whorl
And would break through and enter. But, fair friends,
What strength in place of sex shall steady me?
What is the motive of this higher mount?
What process in the making of myself--
The very fire, as it were, of my growth--
Shall furnish forth these writings by the way,
As incident, expression of the nature
Relumed for adding branches, twigs and leaves?...

Suppose I'd make a tragedy of this,
Focus my fancied "Dante" to this theme,
And leave my halfwrit "Sappho," which at best
Is just another delving in the mine
That gave me "Cleopatra" and the Sonnets?
If you have genius, write my tragedy,
And call it "Shakespeare, Gentleman of Stratford,"
Who lost his soul amid a thousand souls,
And had to live without it, yet live with it
As wretched as the souls whose lives he lived.
Here is a play for you: Poor William Shakespeare,
This moment growing drunk, the famous author
Of certain sugared sonnets and some plays,
With this machine too much to him, which started
Some years ago, now cries him nay and runs
Even when the house shakes and complains, "I fall,
You shake me down, my timbers break apart.
Why, if an engine must go on like this
The building should be stronger."

Or to mix,
And by the mixing, unmix metaphors,
No mortal man has blood enough for brains
And stomach too, when the brain is never done
With thinking and creating.

For you see,
I pluck a flower, cut off a dragon's head--
Choose twixt these figures--lo, a dozen buds,
A dozen heads out-crop. For every fancy,
Play, sonnet, what you will, I write me out
With thinking "Now I'm done," a hundred others
Crowd up for voices, and, like twins unborn
Kick and turn o'er for entrance to the world.
And I, poor fecund creature, who would rest,
As 'twere from an importunate husband, fly
To money-lending, farming, mulberry trees,
Enclosing Welcombe fields, or idling hours
In common talk with people like the Combes.
All this to get a heartiness, a hold
On earth again, lest Heaven Hercules,
Finding me strayed to mid-air, kicking heels
Above the mountain tops, seize on my scruff
And bear me off or strangle.

Good, my friends,
The "Tempest" is as nothing to the voice
That calls me to performance--what I know not.
I've planned an epic of the Asian wash
Which slopped the star of Athens and put out,
Which should all history analyze, and present
A thousand notables in the guise of life,
And show the ancient world and worlds to come
To the last blade of thought and tiniest seed
Of growth to be. With visions such as these
My spirit turns in restless ecstacy,
And this enslaved brain is master sponge,
And sucks the blood of body, hands and feet.
While my poor spirit, like a butterfly
Gummed in its shell, beats its bedraggled wings,
And cannot rise.

I'm cold, both hands and feet.
These three days past I have been cold, this hour
I am warm in three days. God bless the ale.
God did do well to give us anodynes. ...
So now you know why I am much alone,
And cannot fellow with Augustine Phillips,
John Heminge, Richard Burbage, Henry Condell,
And do not have them here, dear ancient friends,
Who grieve, no doubt, and wonder for changed love.
Love is not love which alters when it finds
A change of heart, but mine has changed not, only
I cannot be my old self. I blaspheme:
I hunger for broiled fish, but fly the touch
Of hands of flesh.

I am most passionate,
And long am used perplexities of love
To bemoan and to bewail. And do you wonder,
Seeing what I am, what my fate has been?
Well, hark you; Anne is sixty now, and I,
A crater which erupts, look where she stands
In lava wrinkles, eight years older than I am,
As years go, but I am a youth afire
While she is lean and slippered. It's a Fury
Which takes me sometimes, makes my hands clutch out
For virgins in their teens. O sullen fancy!
I want them not, I want the love which springs
Like flame which blots the sun, where fuel of body
Is piled in reckless generosity. ...
You are most learned, Ben, Greek and Latin know,
And think me nature's child, scarce understand
How much of physic, law, and ancient annals
I have stored up by means of studious zeal.
But pass this by, and for the braggart breath
Ensuing now say, "Will was in his cups,
Potvaliant, boozed, corned, squiffy, obfuscated,
Crapulous, inter pocula, or so forth.
Good sir, or so, or friend, or gentleman,
According to the phrase or the addition
Of man and country, on my honor, Shakespeare
At Stratford, on the twenty-second of April,
Year sixteen-sixteen of our Lord was merry--
Videlicet, was drunk." Well, where was I?--
Oh yes, at braggart breath, and now to say it:
I believe and say it as I would lightly speak
Of the most common thing to sense, outside
Myself to touch or analyze, this mind
Which has been used by Something, as I use
A quill for writing, never in this world
In the most high and palmy days of Greece,
Or in this roaring age, has known its peer.
No soul as mine has lived, felt, suffered, dreamed,
Broke open spirit secrets, followed trails
Of passions curious, countless lives explored
As I have done. And what are Greek and Latin,
The lore of Aristotle, Plato to this?
Since I know them by what I am, the essence
From which their utterance came, myself a flower
Of every graft and being in myself
The recapitulation and the complex
Of all the great. Were not brains before books?
And even geometries in some brain
Before old Gutenberg? O fie, Ben Jonson,
If I am nature's child am I not all?
Howe'er it be, ascribe this to the ale,
And say that reason in me was a fume.
But if you honor me, as you have said,
As much as any, this side idolatry,
Think, Ben, of this: That I, whate'er I be
In your regard, have come to fifty-two,
Defeated in my love, who knew too well
That poets through the love of women turn
To satyrs or to gods, even as women
By the first touch of passion bloom or rot
As angels or as bawds.

Bethink you also
How I have felt, seen, known the mystic process
Working in man's soul from the woman soul
As part thereof in essence, spirit and flesh,
Even as a malady may be, while this thing
Is health and growth, and growing draws all life,
All goodness, wisdom for its nutriment.
Till it become a vision paradisic,
And a ladder of fire for climbing, from its topmost
Rung a place for stepping into heaven. ...

This I have know, but had not. Nor have I
Stood coolly off and seen the woman, used
Her blood upon my palette. No, but heaven
Commanded my strength's use to abort and slay
What grew within me, while I saw the blood
Of love untimely ripped, as 'twere a child
Killed i' the womb, a harpy or an angel
With my own blood stained.

As a virgin shamed
By the swelling life unlicensed needles it,
But empties not her womb of some last shred
Of flesh which fouls the alleys of her body,
And fills her wholesome nerves with poisoned sleep,
And weakness to the last of life, so I
For some shame not unlike, some need of life
To rid me of this life I had conceived
Did up and choke it too, and thence begot
A fever and a fixed debility
For killing that begot.

Now you see that I
Have not grown from a central dream, but grown
Despite a wound, and over the wound and used
My flesh to heal my flesh. My love's a fever
Which longed for that which nursed the malady,
And fed on that which still preserved the ill,
The uncertain, sickly appetite to please.
My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept
Has left me. And as reason is past care
I am past cure, with ever more unrest
Made frantic-mad, my thoughts as madmen's are,
And my discourse at random from the truth,
Not knowing what she is, who swore her fair
And thought her bright, who is as black as hell
And dark as night.

But list, good gentlemen,
This love I speak of is not as a cloak
Which one may put away to wear a coat,
And doff that for a jacket, like the loves
We men are wont to have as loves or wives.
She is the very one, the soul of souls,
And when you put her on you put on light,
Or wear the robe of Nessus, poisonous fire,
Which if you tear away you tear your life,
And if you wear you fall to ashes. So
'Tis not her bed-vow broke, I have broke mine,
That ruins me; 'tis honest faith quite lost,
And broken hope that we could find each other,
And that mean more to me and less to her.
'Tis that she could take all of me and leave me
Without a sense of loss, without a tear,
And make me fool and perjured for the oath
That swore her fair and true. I feel myself
As like a virgin who her body gives
For love of one whose love she dreams is hers,
But wakes to find herself a toy of blood,
And dupe of prodigal breath, abandoned quite
For other conquests. For I gave myself,
And shrink for thought thereof, and for the loss
Of myself never to myself restored.
The urtication of this shame made plays
And sonnets, as you'll find behind all deeds
That mount to greatness, anger, hate, disgust,
But, better, love.

To hell with punks and wenches,
Drabs, mopsies, doxies, minxes, trulls and queans,
Rips, harridans and strumpets, pieces, jades.
And likewise to the eternal bonfire lechers,
All rakehells, satyrs, goats and placket fumblers,
Gibs, breakers-in-at-catch-doors, thunder tubes.
I think I have a fever--hell and furies!
Or else this ale grows hotter i' the mouth.
Ben, if I die before you, let me waste
Richly and freely in the good brown earth,
Untrumpeted and by no bust marked out.
What good, Ben Jonson, if the world could see
What face was mine, who wrote these plays and sonnets?
Life, you have hurt me. Since Death has a veil
I take the veil and hide, and like great Casar
Who drew his toga round him, I depart.

Good friends, let's to the fields--I have a fever.
After a little walk, and by your pardon,
I think I'll sleep. There is no sweeter thing,
Nor fate more blessed than to sleep. Here, world,
I pass you like an orange to a child:
I can no more with you. Do what you will.
What should my care be when I have no power
To save, guide, mould you? Naughty world you need me
As little as I need you: go your way!
Tyrants shall rise and slaughter fill the earth,
But I shall sleep. In wars and wars and wars
The ever-replenished youth of earth shall shriek
And clap their gushing wounds--but I shall sleep,
Nor earthy thunder wake me when the cannon
Shall shake the throne of Tartarus. Orators
Shall fulmine over London or America
Of rights eternal, parchments, sacred charters
And cut each others' throats when reason fails--
But I shall sleep. This globe may last and breed
The race of men till Time cries out "How long?"
But I shall sleep ten thousand thousand years.
I am a dream, Ben, out of a blessed sleep--
Let's walk and hear the lark.


Only a few plants up--and not a blossom
My clover didn't catch. What is the matter?
Old John comes by. I show him my result.
Look, John! My clover patch is just a failure,
I wanted you to sow it. Now you see
What comes of letting Hunter do your work.
The ground was not plowed right, or disced perhaps,
Or harrowed fine enough, or too little seed
Was sown.

But John, who knows a clover field,
Pulls up a plant and cleans the roots of soil
And studies them.

He says, Look at the roots!
Hunter neglected to inoculate
The seed, for clover seed must always have
Clover bacteria to make it grow,
And blossom. In a thrifty field of clover
The roots are studded thick with tubercles,
Like little warts, made by bacteria.
And somehow these bacteria lay hold
Upon the nitrogen that fills the soil,
And make the plants grow, make them blossom too.
When Hunter sowed this field he was not well:
He should have hauled some top-soil to this field
From some old clover field, or made a culture
Of these bacteria and soaked the seed
In it before he sowed it.

As I said,
Hunter was sick when he was working here.
And then he ran away to Indiana
And left his wife and children. Now he's back.
His cough was just as bad in Indiana
As it is here. A cough is pretty hard
To run away from. Wife and children too
Are pretty hard to leave, since thought of them
Stays with a fellow and cannot be left.
Yes, Hunter's back, but he can't work for you.
He's straightening out his little farm and making
Provision for his family. Hunter's changed.
He is a better man. It almost seems
That Hunter's blossomed. ...

I am sorry for him.
The doctor says he has tuberculosis.


To a western breeze
A row of golden tulips is nodding.
They flutter their golden wings
In a sudden ecstasy and say:
Something comes to us from beyond,
Out of the sky, beyond the hill
We give it to you.

* * * * *

And I walk through rows of jonquils
To a beloved door,
Which you open.
And you stand with the priceless gold of your tulip head
Nodding to me, and saying:
Something comes to me
Out of the mystery of Eternal Beauty--
I give it to you.

* * * * *

There is the morning wonder of hyacinth in your eyes,
And the freshness of June iris in your hands,
And the rapture of gardenias in your bosom.
But your voice is the voice of the robin
Singing at dawn amid new leaves.
It is like sun-light on blue water
Where the south-wind is on the water
And the buds of the flags are green.
It is like the wild bird of the sedges
With fluttering wings on a wind-blown reed
Showering lyrics over the sun-light
Between rhythmical pauses
When his heart has stopped,
Making light and water
Into song.

* * * * *

Let me hear your voice,
And the voice of Eternal Beauty
Through the music of your voice.
Let me gather the iris of your hands.
Against my face.
And close my eyes with your eyes.
Let me listen with you
For the Voice.


How did the sculptor, Voltaire, keep you quiet and posed
In an arm chair, just think, at your busiest age we are told,
Being better than seventy? How did he manage to stay you
From hopping through Europe for long enough time for his work,
Which shows you in marble, the look and the smile and the nose,
The filleted brow very bald, the thin little hands,
The posture pontifical, face imperturbable, smile so serene.
How did the sculptor detain you, you ever so restless,
You ever so driven by princes and priests? So I stand here
Enwrapped of this face of you, frail little frame of you,
And think of your work--how nothing could balk you
Or quench you or damp you. How you twisted and turned,
Emerged from the fingers of malice, emerged with a laugh,
Kept Europe in laughter, in turmoil, in fear
For your eighty-four years!

And they say of you still
You were light and a mocker! You should have been solemn,
And argued with monkeys and swine, speaking truthfully always.
Nay, truthful with whom, to what end? With a breed such as lived
In your day and your place? It was never their due!
Truth for the truthful and true, and a lie for the liar if need be--
A board out of plumb for a place out of plumb, for the hypocrite flashes
Of lightning or rods red hot for thrusting in tortuous places.
Well, this was your way, you lived out the genius God gave you.
And they hated you for it, hunted you all over Europe--
Why should they not hate you? Why should you not follow your light?
But wherever they drove you, you climbed to a place more satiric.
Did France bar her door? Geneva remained--good enough!
Les Delices close to some several cantons, you know.
Would they lay hands upon you? I fancy you laughing,
You stand at your door and step into Vaud by one path;
You stand at your door and step by another to France--
Such safe jurisdictions, in truth, as the Illinois rowdies
Step from county to county ahead of the frustrate policeman.
And here you have printers to print what you write and a house
For the acting of plays, La Pucelle, Orphelin.
O busy Voltaire, never resting. ...

So England conservative, England of Southey and Burke,
The fox-hunting squires, the England of Church and of State,
The England half mule and half ox, writes you down, O Voltaire:
The quack grass of popery flourished in France, you essayed
To plow up the tangle, and harrow the roots from the soil.
It took a good ploughman to plow it, a ploughman of laughter,
A ploughman who laughed when the plow struck the roots, and your breast
Was thrown on the handles.

And yet to this day, O Voltaire,
They charge you with levity, scoffing, when all that you did
Was to plough up the quack grass, and turn up the roots to the sun,
And let the sun kill them. For laughter is sun-light,
And nothing of worth or of truth needs to fear it.
But listen
The strength of a nation is mind, I will grant you, and still
But give it a tongue read and spoken more greatly than others,
That nation can judge true or false and the judgment abides.
The judgment in English condemns you, where is there a judgment
To save you from this? Is it German, or Russian, or French?

Did you give up three years of your life
To wipe out the sentence that burned the wracked body of Calas?
Did you help the oppressed Montbailli and Lally, O well,
Six lines in an article written in English are plenty
To weigh what you did, put it by with a generous gesture,
Give the minds of the student your measure, impress them
Forever that all of this sacrifice, service was noble,
But done with mixed motives, the fruits of your meddlesome nature,
Your hatred of churches and priests. Six lines are the record
Of all of these years of hard plowing in quack-grass, while batting
At poisonous flies and stepping on poisonous snakes ...

How well did you know that life to a genius, a god,
Is naught but a farce! How well did you look with those eyes
As black as a beetle's through all the ridiculous show:
Ridiculous war, and ridiculous strife, and ridiculous pomp.
Ridiculous dignity, riches, rituals, reasons and creeds.
Ridiculous guesses at what the great Silence is saying.
Ridiculous systems wound over the earth like a snake
Devouring the children of Fear! Ridiculous customs,
Ridiculous judgments and laws, philosophies, worships.
You saw through and laughed at--you saw above all
That a soul must make end with a groan, or a curse, or a laugh.

So you smiled till the lines of your mouth
A crescent became with dimples for horns, so expressing
To centuries after who see you in marble: Behold me,
I lived, I loved, I laughed, I toiled without ceasing
Through eighty-four years for realities--O let them pass,
Let life go by. Would you rise over death like a god?
Front the ages with a smile!


Here far away from the city, here by the yellow dunes
I will lie and soothe my heart where the sea croons.
For what can I do with strife, or what can I do with hate?
Or the city, or life, or fame, or love or fate?

Or the struggle since time began of the rich and poor?
Or the law that drives the weak from the temple's door?
Bury me under the sand so that my sorrow shall lie
Hidden under the dunes from the world's eye.

I have learned the secret of silence, silence long and deep:
The dead knew all that I know, that is why they sleep.
They could do nothing with fate, or love, or fame, or strife--
When life fills full the soul then life kills life.

I would glide under the earth as a shadow over a dune,
Into the soul of silence, under the sun and moon.
And forever as long as the world stands or the stars flee
Be one with the sands of the shore and one with the sea.


Well, there's the brazier set by the temple door:
Blue flames run over the coals and flicker through.
There are cool spaces of sky between white clouds--
But what are flames and spaces but eyes of blue?

* * * * *

And there's the harp on which great fingers play
Of gods who touch the wires, dreaming infinite things;
And there's a soul that wanders out when called
By a voice afar from the answering strings.

* * * * *

And there's the wish of the deep fulfillment of tears,
Till the vision, the mad music are wept away.
One cannot have them and live, but if one die
It might be better than living--who can say?

* * * * *

Why do we thirst for urns beyond urns who know
How sweet they are, yet bitter, not enough?
Eternity will quench your thirst, O soul--
But never the Desert's spectre, cup of love!

* * * * *


The mad wind is the warden,
And the smiling dahlias nod
To the dahlias across the garden,
And the wastes of the golden rod.

They never pray for pardon,
Nor ask his way nor forego,
Nor close their hearts nor harden
Nor stay his hand, nor bestow

Their hearts filched out of their bosoms,
Nor plan for dahlias to be.
For the wind blows over the garden
And sets the dahlias free.

They drift to the song of the warden,
Heedless they give him heed.
And he walks and blows through the garden
Blossom and leaf and seed.


Silvers and purples breathing in a sky
Of fiery mid-days, like a watching tiger,
Of the restrained but passionate July
Upon the marshes of the river lie,
Like the filmed pinions of the dragon fly.

* * * * *

A whole horizon's waste of rushes bend
Under the flapping of the breeze's wing,
Departing and revisiting
The haunts of the river twisting without end.

* * * * *

The torsions of the river make long miles
Of the waters of the river which remain
Coiled by the village, tortuous aisles
Of water between the rushes, which restrain
The bewildered currents in returning files,
Twisting between the greens like a blue racer,
Too hurt to leap with body or uplift
Its head while gliding, neither slow nor swift

* * * * *

Against the shaggy yellows of the dunes
The iron bridge's reticules
Are seen by fishermen from the Damascened lagoons.
But from the bridge, watching the little steamer
Paddling against the current up to Eastmanville,
The river loosened from the abandoned spools
Of earth and heaven wanders without will,
Between the rushes, like a silken streamer.
And two old men who turn the bridge
For passing boats sit in the sun all day,
Toothless and sleepy, ancient river dogs,
And smoke and talk of a glory passed away.
And of the ruthless sacrilege
Which mowed away the pines,
And cast them in the current here as logs,
To be devoured by the mills to the last sliver,
Making for a little hour heroes and heroines,
Dancing and laughter at Grand Haven,
When the great saws sent screeches up and whines,
And cries for more and more
Slaughter of forests up and down the river
And along the lake's shore.

* * * * *

But all is quiet on the river now
As when the snow lay windless in the wood,
And the last Indian stood
And looked to find the broken bough
That told the path under the snow.
All is as silent as the spiral lights
Of purple and of gold that from the marshes rise,
Like the wings of swarming dragon flies,
Far up toward Eastmanville, where the enclosing skies
Quiver with heat; as silent as the flights
Of the crow like smoke from shops against the glare
Of dunes and purple air,
There where Grand Haven against the sand hill lies.

* * * * *

The forests and the mills are gone!
All is as silent as the voice I heard
On a summer dawn
When we two fished among the river reeds.
As silent as the pain
In a heart that feeds
A sorrow, but does not complain.
As silent as above the bridge in this July,
Noiseless, far up in this mirror-lighted sky
Wheels aimlessly a hydroplane:
A man-bestridden dragon fly!


Because thou wast most delicate,
A woman fair for men to see,
The earth did compass thy estate,
Thou didst hold life and death in fee,
And every soul did bend the knee.

[Sidenote: (Wherein the corrupt spirit of privilege is symbolized by
Delilah and the People by Samson.)]

Much pleasure also made thee grieve
For that the goblet had been drained.
The well spiced viand thou didst leave
To frown on want whose throat was strained,
And violence whose hands were stained.

The purple of thy royal cloak,
Made the sea paler for its hue.
Much people bent beneath the yoke
To fetch thee jewels white and blue,
And rings to pass thy gold hair through.

Therefore, Delilah wast thou called,
Because the choice wines nourished thee
In Sorek, by the mountains walled
Against the north wind's misery,
Where flourished every pleasant tree.

[Sidenote: (Delilah hath a taste for ease and luxury and wantoneth
with divers lovers.)]

Thy lovers also were as great
In numbers as the sea sands were;
Thou didst requite their love with hate;
And give them up to massacre,
Who brought thee gifts of gold and myrrh.

[Sidenote: (Delilah conceiveth the design of ensnaring Samson.)]

At Gaza and at Ashkelon,
The obscene Dagon worshipping,
Thy face was fair to look upon.
Yet thy tongue, sweet to talk or sing,
Was deadlier than the adder's sting.

Wherefore, thou saidst: "I will procure
The strong man Samson for my spouse,
His death will make my ease secure.
The god has heard this people's vows
To recompense their injured house."

Thereafter, when the giant lay
Supinely rolled against thy feet,
Him thou didst craftily betray,
With amorous vexings, low and sweet,
To tell thee that which was not meet.

[Sidenote: (Delilah attempteth to discover the source of Samson's
strength. Samson very neatly deceiveth her.)]

And Samson spake to thee again;
"With seven green withes I may be bound,
So shall I be as other men."
Whereat the lords the green withes found--
The same about his limbs were bound.

Then did the fish-god in thee cry:
"The Philistines be upon thee now."
But Samson broke the withes awry,
As when a keen fire toucheth tow;
So thou didst not the secret know.

But thou, being full of guile, didst plead:
"My lord, thou hast but mocked my love
With lies who gave thy saying heed;
Hast thou not vexed my heart enough,
To ease me all the pain thereof?"

Now, in the chamber with fresh hopes,
The liers in wait did list, and then
He said: "Go to, and get new ropes,
Wherewith thou shalt bind me again,
So shall I be as other men."

[Sidenote: (Samson retaineth his intellect and the lustihood of his
body and again misleadeth the subtle craft of Delilah.)]

Then didst thou do as he had said,
Whereat the fish-god in thee cried,
"The Philistines be upon thy head,"
He shook his shoulders deep and wide,
And cast the ropes like thread aside.

Yet thou still fast to thy conceit,
Didst chide him softly then and say:
"Beforetime thou hast shown deceit,
And mocked my quest with idle play,
Thou canst not now my wish gainsay."

Then with the secret in his thought,
He said: "If thou wilt weave my hair,
The web withal, the deed is wrought;
Thou shalt have all my strength in snare,
And I as other men shall fare."

Seven locks of him thou tookest and wove
The web withal and fastened it,
And then the pin thy treason drove,
With laughter making all things fit,
As did beseem thy cunning wit.

[Sidenote: (Delilah still pursueth her designs and Samson beginning to
be somewhat wearied hinteth very close to his secret.)]

Then the god Dagon speaking by
Thy delicate mouth made horrid din;
"Lo the Philistine lords are nigh"--
He woke ere thou couldst scarce begin,
And took away the web and pin.

Yet, saying not it doth suffice,
Thou in the chamber's secrecy,
Didst with thy artful words entice
Samson to give his heart to thee,
And tell thee where his strength might be.

Pleading, "How canst thou still aver,
I love thee, being yet unkind?
How is it thou dost minister
Unto my heart with treacherous mind,
Thou art but cruelly inclined."

From early morn to falling dusk,
At night upon the curtained bed,
Fragrant with spikenard and with musk,
For weariness he laid his head,
Whilst thou the insidious net didst spread.

[Sidenote: (Samson being weakened by lust and overcome by Delilah's
importunities and guile telleth her wherein his great strength

Nor wouldst not give him any rest,
But vexed with various words his soul,
Till death far more than life was blest,
Shot through and through with heavy dole,
He gave his strength to thy control.

Saying, "I am a Nazarite,
To God alway, nor hath there yet
Razor or shears done despite
To these my locks of coarsen jet,
Therefore my strength hath known no let."

"But, and if these be shaven close,
Whereas I once was strong as ten,
I may not meet my meanest foes
Among the hated Philistine,
I shall be weak like other men."

He turned to sleep, the spell was done,
Thou saidst "Come up this once, I trow
The secret of his strength is known;
Hereafter sweat shall bead his brow,
Bring up the silver thou didst vow."

[Sidenote: (Samson having trusted Delilah turneth to sleep whereat her
minions with force falleth upon him and depriveth him of his

They came, and sleeping on thy knees,
The giant of his locks was shorn.
And Dagon, being now at ease,
Cried like the harbinger of morn,
To see the giant's strength forlorn.

For he wist not the Lord was gone:--
"I will go as I went erewhile,"
He said, "and shake my mighty brawn."
Without the captains, file on file,
Did execute Delilah's guile.

[Sidenote: (Sansculottism, as it seemeth, is overthrown.)]

At Gaza where the mockers pass,
Midst curses and unholy sound,
They fettered him with chains of brass,
Put out his eyes, and being bound
Within the prison house he ground.

The heathen looking on did sing;
"Behold our god into our hand,
Hath brought him for our banqueting,
Who slew us and destroyed our land,
Against whom none of us could stand."

[Sidenote: (Samson being no longer formidable and being deprived of
his eyes is reduced to slavery and made the sport of the heathen.)]

Now, therefore, when the festival
Waxed merrily, with one accord,
The lords and captains loud did call,
To bring him out whom they abhorred,
To make them sport who sat at board.

[Sidenote: (After a time Samson prayeth for vengeance even though
himself should perish thereby.)]

And Samson made them sport and stood
Betwixt the pillars of the house,
Above with scornful hardihood,
Both men and women made carouse,
And ridiculed his eyeless brows.

Then Samson prayed "Remember me
O Lord, this once, if not again.
O God, behold my misery,
Now weaker than all other men,
Who once was mightier than ten."

"Grant vengeance for these sightless eyes,
And for this unrequited toil,
For fraud, injustice, perjuries,
For lords whose greed devours the soil,
And kings and rulers who despoil."

[Sidenote: (Wherein by a very nice conceit revolution is symbolized.)]

"For all that maketh light of Thee,
And sets at naught Thy holy word,
For tongues that babble blasphemy,
And impious hands that hold the sword--
Grant vengeance, though I perish, Lord."

He grasped the pillars, having prayed,
And bowed himself--the building fell,
And on three thousand souls was laid,
Gone soon to death with mighty yell.
And Samson died, for it was well.

The lords and captains greatly err,
Thinking that Samson is no more,
Blind, but with ever-growing hair,
He grinds from Tyre to Singapore,
While yet Delilah plays the whore.

So it hath been, and yet will be,
The captains, drunken at the feast
To garnish their felicity,
Will taunt him as a captive beast,
Until their insolence hath ceased.

[Sidenote: (Wherein it is shown that while the people like Samson have
been blinded, and have not recovered their sight still that their hair
continueth to grow.)]

Of ribaldry that smelleth sweet,
To Dagon and to Ashtoreth;
Of bloody stripes from head to feet,
He will endure unto the death,
Being blind, he also nothing saith.

Then 'gainst the Doric capitals,
Resting in prayer to God for power,
He will shake down your marble walls,
Abiding heaven's appointed hour,
And those that fly shall hide and cower.

But this Delilah shall survive,
To do the sin already done,
Her treacherous wiles and arts shall thrive,
At Gaza and at Ashkelon,
A woman fair to look upon.


If the grim Fates, to stave ennui,
Play whips for fun, or snares for game,
The liar full of ease goes free,
And Socrates must bear the shame.

With the blunt sage he stands despised,
The Pharisees salute him not;
Laughter awaits the truth he prized,
And Judas profits by his plot.

A million angels kneel and pray,
And sue for grace that he may win--
Eternal Jove prepares the day,
And sternly sets the fateful gin.

Satan, who hates the light, is fain,
To back his virtuous enterprise;
The omnipotent powers alone refrain,
Only the Lord of hosts denies.

Whatever of woven argument,
Lacks warp to hold the woof in place,
Smothers his honest discontent,
But leaves to view his woeful face.

Fling forth the flag, devour the land,
Grasp destiny and use the law;
But dodge the epigram's keen brand,
And fall not by the ass's jaw.

The idiot snicker strikes more down,
Than fell at Troy or Waterloo;
Still, still he meets it with a frown,
And argues loudly for "the True."

Injustice lengthens out her chain,
Greed, yet ahungered, calls for more;
But while the eons wax and wane,
He storms the barricaded door.

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