Poems by William Ernest

This etext was donated by Diarmuid Pigott with some additional material and proofing by David Price, ccx074@coventry.ac.uk Poems by William Ernest Henley Contents: Dedication Advertisement In Hospital Preface Enter Patient Waiting Interior Before Operation After Vigil Staff-Nurse: Old Style Lady Probationer Staff-Nurse: New Style Clinical Etching Casualty Ave, Caeser! ‘The Chief’ House-Surgeon Interlude Children: Private
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  • 1897
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This etext was donated by Diarmuid Pigott with some additional material and proofing by David Price, ccx074@coventry.ac.uk

Poems by William Ernest Henley


In Hospital
Enter Patient
Staff-Nurse: Old Style
Lady Probationer
Staff-Nurse: New Style
Ave, Caeser!
‘The Chief’
Children: Private Ward
The Song of the Sword
Arabian Nights’ Entertainments
Ballade of the Toyokuni Colour-Print Ballade of Youth and Age
Ballade of Midsummer Days and Nights Ballade of Dead Actors
Ballade Made in the Hot Weather
Ballade of Truisms
Double Ballade of Life and Death
Double Ballade of the Nothingness of Things At Queensferry
In Fisherrow
Attadale, West Highlands
From a Window in Princes Street
In the Dials
The gods are dead
Let us be drunk
When you are old
Beside the idle summer sea
The ways of Death are soothing and serene We shall surely die
What is to come
To my mother
Life is bitter
O, gather me the rose
Out of the night that covers me
I am the Reaper
Praise the generous gods
Fill a glass with golden wine
We’ll go no more a-roving
Madam Life’s a piece in bloom
The sea is full of wandering foam Thick is the darkness
To me at my fifth-floor window
Bring her again, O western wind
The wan sun westers, faint and slow There is a wheel inside my head
While the west is paling
The sands are alive with sunshine The nightingale has a lyre of gold
Your heart has trembled to my tongue The surges gushed and sounded
We flash across the level
The West a glimmering lake of light The skies are strown with stars
The full sea rolls and thunders
In the year that’s come and gone
In the placid summer midnight
She sauntered by the swinging seas Blithe dreams arise to greet us
A child
Kate-A-Whimsies, John-a-Dreams
O, have you blessed, behind the stars O, Falmouth is a fine town
The ways are green
Life in her creaking shoes
A late lark twitters from the quiet skies I gave my heart to a woman
Or ever the knightly years were gone On the way to Kew
The past was goodly once
The spring, my dear
The Spirit of Wine
A Wink from Hesper
Friends. . . old friends
If it should come to be
From the brake the Nightingale
In the waste hour
Crosses and troubles
London Voluntaries
Andante con Moto
Largo e Mesto
Allegro Maestoso
Rhymes and Rhyhms
Where forlorn sunsets flare and fade We are the Choice of the Will
A desolate shore
It came with the threat of a waning moon Why, my heart, do we love her so?
One with the ruined sunset
There’s a regret
Time and the Earth
As like the Woman as you can
Midsummer midnight skies
Gulls in an aery morrice
Some starlit garden grey with dew Under a stagnant sky
Fresh from his fastnesses
You played and sang a snatch of song Space and dread and the dark
Tree, Old Tree of the Triple Crook When you wake in your crib
O, Time and Change
The shadow of Dawn
When the wind storms by with a shout Trees and the menace of night
Here they trysted, here they strayed Not to the staring Day
What have I done for you


Take, dear, my little sheaf of songs, For, old or new,
All that is good in them belongs
Only to you;

And, singing as when all was young,
They will recall
Those others, lived but left unsung – The bent of all.
W. E. H
APRIL 1888


My friend and publisher, Mr. Alfred Nutt, asks me to introduce this re-issue of old work in a new shape. At his request, then, I have to say that nearly all the numbers contained in the present volume are reprinted from ‘A Book of Verses’ (1888) and ‘London Voluntaries’ (1892-3). From the first of these I have removed some copies of verse which seemed to me scarce worth keeping; and I have recovered for it certain others from those publications which had made room for them. I have corrected where I could, added such dates as I might, and, by re-arrangement and revision, done my best to give my book, such as it is, its final form. If any be displeased by the result, I can but submit that my verses are my own, and that this is how I would have them read.

The work of revision has reminded me that, small as is this book of mine, it is all in the matter of verse that I have to show for the years between 1872 and 1897. A principal reason is that, after spending the better part of my life in the pursuit of poetry, I found myself (about 1877) so utterly unmarketable that I had to own myself beaten in art, and to addict myself to journalism for the next ten years. Came the production by my old friend, Mr. H. B. Donkin, in his little collection of ‘Voluntaries’ (1888), compiled for that East-End Hospital to which he has devoted so much time and energy and skill, of those unrhyming rhythms in which I had tried to quintessentialize, as (I believe) one scarce can do in rhyme, my impressions of the Old Edinburgh Infirmary. They had long since been rejected by every editor of standing in London–I had well-nigh said in the world; but as soon as Mr. Nutt had read them, he entreated me to look for more. I did as I was told; old dusty sheaves were dragged to light; the work of selection and correction was begun; I burned much; I found that, after all, the lyrical instinct had slept–not died; I ventured (in brief) ‘A Book of Verses.’ It was received with so much interest that I took heart once more, and wrote the numbers presently reprinted from ‘The National Observer’ in the collection first (1892) called ‘The Song of the Sword’ and afterwards (1893), ‘London voluntaries.’ If I have said nothing since, it is that I have nothing to say which is not, as yet, too personal–too personal and too a afflicting–for utterance.

For the matter of my book, it is there to speak for itself:-

‘Here’s a sigh to those who love me
And a smile to those who hate.’

I refer to it for the simple pleasure of reflecting that it has made me many friends and some enemies.

W. E. H.

Muswell Hill, 4th September 1897.


On ne saurait dire e quel point un homme, seul dans son lit et malade, devient personnel. –



The morning mists still haunt the stony street; The northern summer air is shrill and cold; And lo, the Hospital, grey, quiet, old,
Where Life and Death like friendly chafferers meet. Thro’ the loud spaciousness and draughty gloom A small, strange child–so aged yet so young! – Her little arm besplinted and beslung,
Precedes me gravely to the waiting-room. I limp behind, my confidence all gone.
The grey-haired soldier-porter waves me on, And on I crawl, and still my spirits fail: A tragic meanness seems so to environ
These corridors and stairs of stone and iron, Cold, naked, clean–half-workhouse and half-jail.


A square, squat room (a cellar on promotion), Drab to the soul, drab to the very daylight; Plasters astray in unnatural-looking tinware; Scissors and lint and apothecary’s jars.

Here, on a bench a skeleton would writhe from, Angry and sore, I wait to be admitted:
Wait till my heart is lead upon my stomach, While at their ease two dressers do their chores.

One has a probe–it feels to me a crowbar. A small boy sniffs and shudders after bluestone. A poor old tramp explains his poor old ulcers. Life is (I think) a blunder and a shame.


The gaunt brown walls
Look infinite in their decent meanness. There is nothing of home in the noisy kettle, The fulsome fire.

The atmosphere
Suggests the trail of a ghostly druggist. Dressings and lint on the long, lean table – Whom are they for?

The patients yawn,
Or lie as in training for shroud and coffin. A nurse in the corridor scolds and wrangles. It’s grim and strange.

Far footfalls clank.
The bad burn waits with his head unbandaged. My neighbour chokes in the clutch of chloral . . . O, a gruesome world!


Behold me waiting–waiting for the knife. A little while, and at a leap I storm
The thick, sweet mystery of chloroform, The drunken dark, the little death-in-life. The gods are good to me: I have no wife, No innocent child, to think of as I near The fateful minute; nothing all-too dear Unmans me for my bout of passive strife. Yet am I tremulous and a trifle sick,
And, face to face with chance, I shrink a little: My hopes are strong, my will is something weak. Here comes the basket? Thank you. I am ready. But, gentlemen my porters, life is brittle: You carry Caesar and his fortunes–steady!


You are carried in a basket,
Like a carcase from the shambles,
To the theatre, a cockpit
Where they stretch you on a table.

Then they bid you close your eyelids, And they mask you with a napkin,
And the anaesthetic reaches
Hot and subtle through your being.

And you gasp and reel and shudder
In a rushing, swaying rapture,
While the voices at your elbow

Lights about you shower and tumble,
And your blood seems crystallising – Edged and vibrant, yet within you
Racked and hurried back and forward.

Then the lights grow fast and furious, And you hear a noise of waters,
And you wrestle, blind and dizzy,
In an agony of effort,

Till a sudden lull accepts you,
And you sound an utter darkness . . . And awaken . . . with a struggle . . .
On a hushed, attentive audience.


Like as a flamelet blanketed in smoke, So through the anaesthetic shows my life; So flashes and so fades my thought, at strife With the strong stupor that I heave and choke And sicken at, it is so foully sweet.
Faces look strange from space–and disappear. Far voices, sudden loud, offend my ear – And hush as sudden. Then my senses fleet: All were a blank, save for this dull, new pain That grinds my leg and foot; and brokenly Time and the place glimpse on to me again; And, unsurprised, out of uncertainty,
I wake–relapsing–somewhat faint and fain, To an immense, complacent dreamery.


Lived on one’s back,
In the long hours of repose,
Life is a practical nightmare –
Hideous asleep or awake.

Shoulders and loins
Ache— -!
Ache, and the mattress,
Run into boulders and hummocks,
Glows like a kiln, while the bedclothes – Tumbling, importunate, daft –
Ramble and roll, and the gas,
Screwed to its lowermost,
An inevitable atom of light,
Haunts, and a stertorous sleeper
Snores me to hate and despair.

All the old time
Surges malignant before me;
Old voices, old kisses, old songs
Blossom derisive about me;
While the new days
Pass me in endless procession:
A pageant of shadows
Silently, leeringly wending
On . . . and still on . . . still on!

Far in the stillness a cat
Languishes loudly. A cinder
Falls, and the shadows
Lurch to the leap of the flame. The next man to me Turns with a moan; and the snorer,
The drug like a rope at his throat, Gasps, gurgles, snorts himself free, as the night-nurse, Noiseless and strange,
Her bull’s eye half-lanterned in apron, (Whispering me, ‘Are ye no sleepin’ yet?’), Passes, list-slippered and peering,
Round . . . and is gone.

Sleep comes at last –
Sleep full of dreams and misgivings – Broken with brutal and sordid
Voices and sounds that impose on me, Ere I can wake to it,
The unnatural, intolerable day.


The greater masters of the commonplace, REMBRANDT and good SIR WALTER–only these Could paint her all to you: experienced ease And antique liveliness and ponderous grace; The sweet old roses of her sunken face;
The depth and malice of her sly, grey eyes; The broad Scots tongue that flatters, scolds, defies; The thick Scots wit that fells you like a mace. These thirty years has she been nursing here, Some of them under SYME , her hero still. Much is she worth, and even more is made of her. Patients and students hold her very dear. The doctors love her, tease her, use her skill. They say ‘The Chief’ himself is half-afraid of her.


Some three, or five, or seven, and thirty years; A Roman nose; a dimpling double-chin;
Dark eyes and shy that, ignorant of sin, Are yet acquainted, it would seem, with tears; A comely shape; a slim, high-coloured hand, Graced, rather oddly, with a signet ring; A bashful air, becoming everything;
A well-bred silence always at command. Her plain print gown, prim cap, and bright steel chain Look out of place on her, and I remain
Absorbed in her, as in a pleasant mystery. Quick, skilful, quiet, soft in speech and touch . . . ‘Do you like nursing?’ ‘Yes, Sir, very much.’ Somehow, I rather think she has a history.


Blue-eyed and bright of face but waning fast Into the sere of virginal decay,
I view her as she enters, day by day, As a sweet sunset almost overpast.
Kindly and calm, patrician to the last, Superbly falls her gown of sober gray,
And on her chignon’s elegant array
The plainest cap is somehow touched with caste. She talks BEETHOVEN; frowns disapprobation At BALZAC’S name, sighs it at ‘poor GEORGE SAND’S’; Knows that she has exceeding pretty hands; Speaks Latin with a right accentuation;
And gives at need (as one who understands) Draught, counsel, diagnosis, exhortation.


Hist? . . .
Through the corridor’s echoes,
Louder and nearer
Comes a great shuffling of feet.
Quick, every one of you,
Strighten your quilts, and be decent! Here’s the Professor.

In he comes first
With the bright look we know,
From the broad, white brows the kind eyes Soothing yet nerving you. Here at his elbow, White-capped, white-aproned, the Nurse,
Towel on arm and her inkstand
Fretful with quills.
Here in the ruck, anyhow,
Surging along,
Louts, duffers, exquisites, students, and prigs – Whiskers and foreheads, scarf-pins and spectacles – Hustles the Class! And they ring themselves Round the first bed, where the Chief
(His dressers and clerks at attention), Bends in inspection already.

So shows the ring
Seen from behind round a conjurer
Doing his pitch in the street.
High shoulders, low shoulders, broad shoulders, narrow ones, Round, square, and angular, serry and shove; While from within a voice,
Gravely and weightily fluent,
Sounds; and then ceases; and suddenly (Look at the stress of the shoulders!)
Out of a quiver of silence,
Over the hiss of the spray,
Comes a low cry, and the sound
Of breath quick intaken through teeth Clenched in resolve. And the Master
Breaks from the crowd, and goes,
Wiping his hands,
To the next bed, with his pupils
Flocking and whispering behind him.

Now one can see.
Case Number One
Sits (rather pale) with his bedclothes Stripped up, and showing his foot
(Alas for God’s Image!)
Swaddled in wet, white lint
Brilliantly hideous with red.


Two and thirty is the ploughman.
He’s a man of gallant inches,
And his hair is close and curly,
And his beard;
But his face is wan and sunken,
And his eyes are large and brilliant, And his shoulder-blades are sharp,
And his knees.

He is weak of wits, religious,
Full of sentiment and yearning,
Gentle, faded–with a cough
And a snore.
When his wife (who was a widow,
And is many years his elder)
Fails to write, and that is always, He desponds.

Let his melancholy wander,
And he’ll tell you pretty stories
Of the women that have wooed him
Long ago;
Or he’ll sing of bonnie lasses
Keeping sheep among the heather,
With a crackling, hackling click
In his voice.


As with varnish red and glistening
Dripped his hair; his feet looked rigid; Raised, he settled stiffly sideways:
You could see his hurts were spinal.

He had fallen from an engine,
And been dragged along the metals.
It was hopeless, and they knew it;
So they covered him, and left him.

As he lay, by fits half sentient,
Inarticulately moaning,
With his stockinged soles protruded Stark and awkward from the blankets,

To his bed there came a woman,
Stood and looked and sighed a little, And departed without speaking,
As himself a few hours after.

I was told it was his sweetheart.
They were on the eve of marriage.
She was quiet as a statue,
But her lip was grey and writhen.


From the winter’s grey despair,
From the summer’s golden languor,
Death, the lover of Life,
Frees us for ever.

Inevitable, silent, unseen,
Everywhere always,
Shadow by night and as light in the day, Signs she at last to her chosen;
And, as she waves them forth,
Sorrow and Joy
Lay by their looks and their voices, Set down their hopes, and are made
One in the dim Forever.

Into the winter’s grey delight,
Into the summer’s golden dream,
Holy and high and impartial,
Death, the mother of Life,
Mingles all men for ever.


His brow spreads large and placid, and his eye Is deep and bright, with steady looks that still. Soft lines of tranquil thought his face fulfill – His face at once benign and proud and shy. If envy scout, if ignorance deny,
His faultless patience, his unyielding will, Beautiful gentleness and splendid skill, Innumerable gratitudes reply.
His wise, rare smile is sweet with certainties, And seems in all his patients to compel
Such love and faith as failure cannot quell. We hold him for another Herakles,
Battling with custom, prejudice, disease, As once the son of Zeus with Death and Hell.


Exceeding tall, but built so well his height Half-disappears in flow of chest and limb; Moustache and whisker trooper-like in trim; Frank-faced, frank-eyed, frank-hearted; always bright And always punctual–morning, noon, and night; Bland as a Jesuit, sober as a hymn;
Humorous, and yet without a touch of whim; Gentle and amiable, yet full of fight.
His piety, though fresh and true in strain, Has not yet whitewashed up his common mood To the dead blank of his particular Schism. Sweet, unaggressive, tolerant, most humane, Wild artists like his kindly elderhood,
And cultivate his mild Philistinism.


O, the fun, the fun and frolic
That The Wind that Shakes the Barley Scatters through a penny-whistle
Tickled with artistic fingers!

Kate the scrubber (forty summers,
Stout but sportive) treads a measure, Grinning, in herself a ballet,
Fixed as fate upon her audience.

Stumps are shaking, crutch-supported; Splinted fingers tap the rhythm;
And a head all helmed with plasters Wags a measured approbation.

Of their mattress-life oblivious,
All the patients, brisk and cheerful, Are encouraging the dancer,
And applauding the musician.

Dim the gas-lights in the output
Of so many ardent smokers,
Full of shadow lurch the corners,
And the doctor peeps and passes.

There are, maybe, some suspicions
Of an alcoholic presence . . .
‘Tak’ a sup of this, my wumman!’ . . . New Year comes but once a twelvemonth.


Here in this dim, dull, double-bedded room, I play the father to a brace of boys,
Ailing but apt for every sort of noise, Bedfast but brilliant yet with health and bloom. Roden, the Irishman, is ‘sieven past,’
Blue-eyed, snub-nosed, chubby, and fair of face. Willie’s but six, and seems to like the place, A cheerful little collier to the last.
They eat, and laugh, and sing, and fight, all day; All night they sleep like dormice. See them play At Operations:- Roden, the Professor,
Saws, lectures, takes the artery up, and ties; Willie, self-chloroformed, with half-shut eyes, Holding the limb and moaning–Case and Dresser.


She’s tall and gaunt, and in her hard, sad face With flashes of the old fun’s animation
There lowers the fixed and peevish resignation Bred of a past where troubles came apace. She tells me that her husband, ere he died, Saw seven of their children pass away,
And never knew the little lass at play Out on the green, in whom he’s deified.
Her kin dispersed, her friends forgot and gone, All simple faith her honest Irish mind,
Scolding her spoiled young saint, she labours on: Telling her dreams, taking her patients’ part, Trailing her coat sometimes: and you shall find No rougher, quainter speech, nor kinder heart.


Her little face is like a walnut shell With wrinkling lines; her soft, white hair adorns Her withered brows in quaint, straight curls, like horns; And all about her clings an old, sweet smell. Prim is her gown and quakerlike her shawl. Well might her bonnets have been born on her. Can you conceive a Fairy Godmother
The subject of a strong religious call? In snow or shine, from bed to bed she runs, All twinkling smiles and texts and pious tales, Her mittened hands, that ever give or pray, Bearing a sheaf of tracts, a bag of buns: A wee old maid that sweeps the Bridegroom’s way, Strong in a cheerful trust that never fails.


‘Talk of pluck!’ pursued the Sailor,
Set at euchre on his elbow,
‘I was on the wharf at Charleston,
Just ashore from off the runner.

‘It was grey and dirty weather,
And I heard a drum go rolling,
Rub-a-dubbing in the distance,
Awful dour-like and defiant.

‘In and out among the cotton,
Mud, and chains, and stores, and anchors, Tramped a squad of battered scarecrows – Poor old Dixie’s bottom dollar!

‘Some had shoes, but all had rifles,
Them that wasn’t bald was beardless, And the drum was rolling Dixie,
And they stepped to it like men, sir!

‘Rags and tatters, belts and bayonets, On they swung, the drum a-rolling,
Mum and sour. It looked like fighting, And they meant it too, by thunder!’


It’s the Spring.
Earth has conceived, and her bosom, Teeming with summer, is glad.

Vistas of change and adventure,
Thro’ the green land
The grey roads go beckoning and winding, Peopled with wains, and melodious
With harness-bells jangling:
Jangling and twangling rough rhythms To the slow march of the stately, great horses Whistled and shouted along.

White fleets of cloud,
Argosies heavy with fruitfulness,
Sail the blue peacefully. Green flame the hedgerows. Blackbirds are bugling, and white in wet winds Sway the tall poplars.
Pageants of colour and fragrance,
Pass the sweet meadows, and viewless Walks the mild spirit of May,
Visibly blessing the world.

O, the brilliance of blossoming orchards! O, the savour and thrill of the woods,
When their leafage is stirred
By the flight of the Angel of Rain! Loud lows the steer; in the fallows
Rooks are alert; and the brooks
Gurgle and tinkle and trill. Thro’ the gloamings, Under the rare, shy stars,
Boy and girl wander,
Dreaming in darkness and dew.

It’s the Spring.
A sprightliness feeble and squalid
Wakes in the ward, and I sicken,
Impotent, winter at heart.


Down the quiet eve,
Thro’ my window with the sunset
Pipes to me a distant organ
Foolish ditties;

And, as when you change
Pictures in a magic lantern,
Books, beds, bottles, floor, and ceiling Fade and vanish,

And I’m well once more . . .
August flares adust and torrid,
But my heart is full of April
Sap and sweetness.

In the quiet eve
I am loitering, longing, dreaming . . . Dreaming, and a distant organ
Pipes me ditties.

I can see the shop,
I can smell the sprinkled pavement, Where she serves–her chestnut chignon
Thrills my senses!

O, the sight and scent,
Wistful eve and perfumed pavement!
In the distance pipes an organ . . . The sensation

Comes to me anew,
And my spirit for a moment
Thro’ the music breathes the blessed Airs of London.


Staring corpselike at the ceiling,
See his harsh, unrazored features,
Ghastly brown against the pillow,
And his throat–so strangely bandaged!

Lack of work and lack of victuals,
A debauch of smuggled whisky,
And his children in the workhouse
Made the world so black a riddle

That he plunged for a solution;
And, although his knife was edgeless, He was sinking fast towards one,
When they came, and found, and saved him.

Stupid now with shame and sorrow,
In the night I hear him sobbing.
But sometimes he talks a little.
He has told me all his troubles.

In his broad face, tanned and bloodless, White and wild his eyeballs glisten;
And his smile, occult and tragic,
Yet so slavish, makes you shudder!


Thin-legged, thin-chested, slight unspeakably, Neat-footed and weak-fingered: in his face – Lean, large-boned, curved of beak, and touched with race, Bold-lipped, rich-tinted, mutable as the sea, The brown eyes radiant with vivacity –
There shines a brilliant and romantic grace, A spirit intense and rare, with trace on trace Of passion and impudence and energy.
Valiant in velvet, light in ragged luck, Most vain, most generous, sternly critical, Buffoon and poet, lover and sensualist:
A deal of Ariel, just a streak of Puck, Much Antony, of Hamlet most of all,
And something of the Shorter-Catechist.


Laughs the happy April morn
Thro’ my grimy, little window,
And a shaft of sunshine pushes
Thro’ the shadows in the square.

Dogs are tracing thro’ the grass,
Crows are cawing round the chimneys, In and out among the washing
Goes the West at hide-and-seek.

Loud and cheerful clangs the bell.
Here the nurses troop to breakfast. Handsome, ugly, all are women . . .
O, the Spring–the Spring–the Spring!


At the barren heart of midnight,
When the shadow shuts and opens
As the loud flames pulse and flutter, I can hear a cistern leaking.

Dripping, dropping, in a rhythm,
Rough, unequal, half-melodious,
Like the measures aped from nature
In the infancy of music;

Like the buzzing of an insect,
Still, irrational, persistent . . . I must listen, listen, listen
In a passion of attention;

Till it taps upon my heartstrings,
And my very life goes dripping,
Dropping, dripping, drip-drip-dropping, In the drip-drop of the cistern.


Carry me out
Into the wind and the sunshine,
Into the beautiful world.

O, the wonder, the spell of the streets! The stature and strength of the horses,
The rustle and echo of footfalls,
The flat roar and rattle of wheels! A swift tram floats huge on us . . .
It’s a dream?
The smell of the mud in my nostrils Blows brave–like a breath of the sea!

As of old,
Ambulant, undulant drapery,
Vaguery and strangely provocative,
Fluttersd and beckons. O, yonder –
Is it?–the gleam of a stocking!
Sudden, a spire
Wedged in the mist! O, the houses,
The long lines of lofty, grey houses, Cross-hatched with shadow and light!
These are the streets . . .
Each is an avenue leading
Whither I will!

Free . . . !
Dizzy, hysterical, faint,
I sit, and the carriage rolls on with me Into the wonderful world.



Do you remember
That afternoon–that Sunday afternoon! – When, as the kirks were ringing in,
And the grey city teemed
With Sabbath feelings and aspects,
LEWIS–our LEWIS then,
Now the whole world’s–and you,
Young, yet in shape most like an elder, came, Laden with BALZACS
(Big, yellow books, quite impudently French), The first of many times
To that transformed back-kitchen where I lay So long, so many centuries –
Or years is it!–ago?

Dear CHARLES, since then
We have been friends, LEWIS and you and I, (How good it sounds, ‘LEWIS and you and I!’): Such friends, I like to think,
That in us three, LEWIS and me and you, Is something of that gallant dream
Which old DUMAS–the generous, the humane, The seven-and-seventy times to be forgiven! – Dreamed for a blessing to the race,
The immortal Musketeers.

Our ATHOS rests–the wise, the kind,
The liberal and august, his fault atoned, Rests in the crowded yard
There at the west of Princes Street. We three – You, I, and LEWIS!–still afoot,
Are still together, and our lives,
In chime so long, may keep
(God bless the thought!)
Unjangled till the end.

W. E. H.

CHISWICK, March 1888


The Sword
Singing –
The voice of the Sword from the heart of the Sword Clanging imperious
Forth from Time’s battlements
His ancient and triumphing Song.

In the beginning,
Ere God inspired Himself
Into the clay thing
Thumbed to His image,
The vacant, the naked shell
Soon to be Man:
Thoughtful He pondered it,
Prone there and impotent,
Fragile, inviting
Attack and discomfiture;
Then, with a smile –
As He heard in the Thunder
That laughed over Eden
The voice of the Trumpet,
The iron Beneficence,
Calling his dooms
To the Winds of the world –
Stooping, He drew
On the sand with His finger
A shape for a sign
Of his way to the eyes
That in wonder should waken,
For a proof of His will
To the breaking intelligence.
That was the birth of me:
I am the Sword.

Bleak and lean, grey and cruel,
Short-hilted, long shafted,
I froze into steel;
And the blood of my elder,
His hand on the hafts of me,
Sprang like a wave
In the wind, as the sense
Of his strength grew to ecstasy;
Glowed like a coal
In the throat of the furnace;
As he knew me and named me
The War-Thing, the Comrade,
Father of honour
And giver of kingship,
The fame-smith, the song-master,
Bringer of women
On fire at his hands
For the pride of fulfilment,
PRIEST (saith the Lord)
Ho! then, the Trumpet,
Handmaid of heroes,
Calling the peers
To the place of espousals!
Ho! then, the splendour
And glare of my ministry,
Clothing the earth
With a livery of lightnings!
Ho! then, the music
Of battles in onset,
And ruining armours,
And God’s gift returning
In fury to God!
Thrilling and keen
As the song of the winter stars,
Ho! then, the sound
Of my voice, the implacable
Angel of Destiny! –
I am the Sword.

Heroes, my children,
Follow, O, follow me!
Follow, exulting
In the great light that breaks
From the sacred Companionship!
Thrust through the fatuous,
Thrust through the fungous brood,
Spawned in my shadow
And gross with my gift!
Thrust through, and hearken
O, hark, to the Trumpet,
The Virgin of Battles,
Calling, still calling you
Into the Presence,
Sons of the Judgment,
Pure wafts of the Will!
Edged to annihilate,
Hilted with government,
Follow, O, follow me,
Till the waste places
All the grey globe over
Ooze, as the honeycomb
Drips, with the sweetness
Distilled of my strength,
And, teeming in peace
Through the wrath of my coming,
They give back in beauty
The dread and the anguish
They had of me visitant!
Follow, O follow, then,
Heroes, my harvesters!
Where the tall grain is ripe
Thrust in your sickles!
Stripped and adust
In a stubble of empire,
Scything and binding
The full sheaves of sovranty:
Thus, O, thus gloriously,
Shall you fulfil yourselves!
Thus, O, thus mightily,
Show yourselves sons of mine –
Yea, and win grace of me:
I am the Sword!

I am the feast-maker:
Hark, through a noise
Of the screaming of eagles,
Hark how the Trumpet,
The mistress of mistresses,
Calls, silver-throated
And stern, where the tables
Are spread, and the meal
Of the Lord is in hand!
Driving the darkness,
Even as the banners
And spears of the Morning;
Sifting the nations,
The slag from the metal,
The waste and the weak
From the fit and the strong;
Fighting the brute,
The abysmal Fecundity;
Checking the gross,
Multitudinous blunders,
The groping, the purblind
Excesses in service
Of the Womb universal,
The absolute drudge;
Firing the charactry
Carved on the World,
The miraculous gem
In the seal-ring that burns
On the hand of the Master –
Yea! and authority
Flames through the dim,
Unappeasable Grisliness
Prone down the nethermost
Chasms of the Void! –
Clear singing, clean slicing;
Sweet spoken, soft finishing;
Making death beautiful,
Life but a coin
To be staked in the pastime
Whose playing is more
Than the transfer of being;
Arch-anarch, chief builder,
Prince and evangelist,
I am the Will of God:
I am the Sword.

The Sword
Singing –
The voice of the Sword from the heart of the Sword Clanging majestical,
As from the starry-staired
Courts of the primal Supremacy,
His high, irresistible song.


‘O mes cheres Mille et Une Nuits!’–Fantasio.

Once on a time
There was a little boy: a master-mage By virtue of a Book
Of magic–O, so magical it filled
His life with visionary pomps
Processional! And Powers
Passed with him where he passed. And Thrones And Dominations, glaived and plumed and mailed, Thronged in the criss-cross streets,
The palaces pell-mell with playing-fields, Domes, cloisters, dungeons, caverns, tents, arcades, Of the unseen, silent City, in his soul
Pavilioned jealously, and hid
As in the dusk, profound,
Green stillnesses of some enchanted mere. –

I shut mine eyes . . . And lo!
A flickering snatch of memory that floats Upon the face of a pool of darkness five And thirty dead years deep,
Antic in girlish broideries
And skirts and silly shoes with straps And a broad-ribanded leghorn, he walks
Plain in the shadow of a church
(St. Michael’s: in whose brazen call To curfew his first wails of wrath were whelmed), Sedate for all his haste
To be at home; and, nestled in his arm, Inciting still to quiet and solitude,
Boarded in sober drab,
With small, square, agitating cuts
Let in a-top of the double-columned, close, Quakerlike print, a Book! . . .
What but that blessed brief
Of what is gallantest and best
In all the full-shelved Libraries of Romance? The Book of rocs,
Sandalwood, ivory, turbans, ambergris, Cream-tarts, and lettered apes, and calendars, And ghouls, and genies–O, so huge
They might have overed the tall Minster Tower Hands down, as schoolboys take a post!
In truth, the Book of Camaralzaman, Schemselnihar and Sindbad, Scheherezade
The peerless, Bedreddin, Badroulbadour, Cairo and Serendib and Candahar,
And Caspian, and the dim, terrific bulk – Ice-ribbed, fiend-visited, isled in spells and storms – Of Kaf! . . . That centre of miracles,
The sole, unparalleled Arabian Nights!

Old friends I had a-many–kindly and grim Familiars, cronies quaint
And goblin! Never a Wood but housed Some morrice of dainty dapperlings. No Brook But had his nunnery
Of green-haired, silvry-curving sprites, To cabin in his grots, and pace
His lilied margents. Every lone Hillside Might open upon Elf-Land. Every Stalk
That curled about a Bean-stick was of the breed Of that live ladder by whose delicate rungs You climbed beyond the clouds, and found The Farm-House where the Ogre, gorged
And drowsy, from his great oak chair, Among the flitches and pewters at the fire, Called for his Faery Harp. And in it flew, And, perching on the kitchen table, sang Jocund and jubilant, with a sound
Of those gay, golden-vowered madrigals The shy thrush at mid-May
Flutes from wet orchards flushed with the triumphing dawn; Or blackbirds rioting as they listened still, In old-world woodlands rapt with an old-world spring, For Pan’s own whistle, savage and rich and lewd, And mocked him call for call!

I could not pass
The half-door where the cobbler sat in view Nor figure me the wizen Leprechaun,
In square-cut, faded reds and buckle-shoes, Bent at his work in the hedge-side, and know Just how he tapped his brogue, and twitched His wax-end this and that way, both with wrists And elbows. In the rich June fields,
Where the ripe clover drew the bees, And the tall quakers trembled, and the West Wind Lolled his half-holiday away
Beside me lolling and lounging through my own, ‘Twas good to follow the Miller’s Youngest Son On his white horse along the leafy lanes; For at his stirrup linked and ran,
Not cynical and trapesing, as he loped From wall to wall above the espaliers,
But in the bravest tops
That market-town, a town of tops, could show: Bold, subtle, adventurous, his tail
A banner flaunted in disdain
Of human stratagems and shifts:
King over All the Catlands, present and past And future, that moustached
Artificer of fortunes, Puss-in-Boots! Or Bluebeard’s Closet, with its plenishing Of meat-hooks, sawdust, blood,
And wives that hung like fresh-dressed carcases – Odd-fangled, most a butcher’s, part
A faery chamber hazily seen
And hazily figured–on dark afternoons And windy nights was visiting of the best. Then, too, the pelt of hoofs
Out in the roaring darkness told
Of Herne the Hunter in his antlered helm Galloping, as with despatches from the Pit, Between his hell-born Hounds.
And Rip Van Winkle . . . often I lurked to hear, Outside the long, low timbered, tarry wall, The mutter and rumble of the trolling bowls Down the lean plank, before they fluttered the pins; For, listening, I could help him play
His wonderful game,
In those blue, booming hills, with Mariners Refreshed from kegs not coopered in this our world.

But what were these so near,
So neighbourly fancies to the spell that brought The run of Ali Baba’s Cave
Just for the saying ‘Open Sesame,’
With gold to measure, peck by peck, In round, brown wooden stoups
You borrowed at the chandler’s? . . . Or one time Made you Aladdin’s friend at school,
Free of his Garden of Jewels, Ring and Lamp In perfect trim? . . . Or Ladies, fair
For all the embrowning scars in their white breasts Went labouring under some dread ordinance, Which made them whip, and bitterly cry the while, Strange Curs that cried as they,
Till there was never a Black Bitch of all Your consorting but might have gone
Spell-driven miserably for crimes
Done in the pride of womanhood and desire . . . Or at the ghostliest altitudes of night, While you lay wondering and acold,
Your sense was fearfully purged; and soon Queen Labe, abominable and dear,
Rose from your side, opened the Box of Doom, Scattered the yellow powder (which I saw Like sulphur at the Docks in bulk),
And muttered certain words you could not hear; And there! a living stream,
The brook you bathed in, with its weeds and flags And cresses, glittered and sang
Out of the hearthrug over the nakedness, Fair-scrubbed and decent, of your bedroom floor! . . .

I was–how many a time! –
That Second Calendar, Son of a King, On whom ’twas vehemently enjoined,
Pausing at one mysterious door,
To pry no closer, but content his soul With his kind Forty. Yet I could not rest For idleness and ungovernable Fate.
And the Black Horse, which fed on sesame (That wonder-working word!),
Vouchsafed his back to me, and spread his vans, And soaring, soaring on
From air to air, came charging to the ground Sheer, like a lark from the midsummer clouds, And, shaking me out of the saddle, where I sprawled Flicked at me with his tail,
And left me blinded, miserable, distraught (Even as I was in deed,
When doctors came, and odious things were done On my poor tortured eyes
With lancets; or some evil acid stung And wrung them like hot sand,
And desperately from room to room
Fumble I must my dark, disconsolate way), To get to Bagdad how I might. But there
I met with Merry Ladies. O you three – Safie, Amine, Zobeide–when my heart
Forgets you all shall be forgot!
And so we supped, we and the rest,
On wine and roasted lamb, rose-water, dates, Almonds, pistachios, citrons. And Haroun Laughed out of his lordly beard
On Giaffar and Mesrour (I knew the Three For all their Mossoul habits). And outside The Tigris, flowing swift
Like Severn bend for bend, twinkled and gleamed With broken and wavering shapes of stranger stars; The vast, blue night
Was murmurous with peris’ plumes
And the leathern wings of genies; words of power Were whispering; and old fishermen,
Casting their nets with prayer, might draw to shore Dead loveliness: or a prodigy in scales
Worth in the Caliph’s Kitchen pieces of gold: Or copper vessels, stopped with lead,
Wherein some Squire of Eblis watched and railed, In durance under potent charactry
Graven by the seal of Solomon the King . . .

Then, as the Book was glassed
In Life as in some olden mirror’s quaint, Bewildering angles, so would Life
Flash light on light back on the Book; and both Were changed. Once in a house decayed
From better days, harbouring an errant show (For all its stories of dry-rot
Were filled with gruesome visitants in wax, Inhuman, hushed, ghastly with Painted Eyes), I wandered; and no living soul
Was nearer than the pay-box; and I stared Upon them staring–staring. Till at last, Three sets of rafters from the streets,
I strayed upon a mildewed, rat-run room, With the two Dancers, horrible and obscene, Guarding the door: and there, in a bedroom-set, Behind a fence of faded crimson cords,
With an aspect of frills
And dimities and dishonoured privacy That made you hanker and hesitate to look, A Woman with her litter of Babes–all slain, All in their nightgowns, all with Painted Eyes Staring–still staring; so that I turned and ran As for my neck, but in the street
Took breath. The same, it seemed,
And yet not all the same, I was to find, As I went up! For afterwards,
Whenas I went my round alone –
All day alone–in long, stern, silent streets, Where I might stretch my hand and take
Whatever I would: still there were Shapes of Stone, Motionless, lifelike, frightening–for the Wrath Had smitten them; but they watched,
This by her melons and figs, that by his rings And chains and watches, with the hideous gaze, The Painted Eyes insufferable,
Now, of those grisly images; and I
Pursued my best-beloved quest,
Thrilled with a novel and delicious fear. So the night fell–with never a lamplighter; And through the Palace of the King
I groped among the echoes, and I felt That they were there,
Dreadfully there, the Painted staring Eyes, Hall after hall . . . Till lo! from far
A Voice! And in a little while
Two tapers burning! And the Voice,
Heard in the wondrous Word of God, was–whose? Whose but Zobeide’s,
The lady of my heart, like me
A True Believer, and like me
An outcast thousands of leagues beyond the pale! . . .

Or, sailing to the Isles
Of Khaledan, I spied one evenfall
A black blotch in the sunset; and it grew Swiftly . . . and grew. Tearing their beards, The sailors wept and prayed; but the grave ship, Deep laden with spiceries and pearls, went mad, Wrenched the long tiller out of the steersman’s hand, And, turning broadside on,
As the most iron would, was haled and sucked Nearer, and nearer yet;
And, all awash, with horrible lurching leaps Rushed at that Portent, casting a shadow now That swallowed sea and sky; and then,
Anchors and nails and bolts
Flew screaming out of her, and with clang on clang, A noise of fifty stithies, caught at the sides Of the Magnetic Mountain; and she lay,
A broken bundle of firewood, strown piecemeal About the waters; and her crew
Passed shrieking, one by one; and I was left To drown. All the long night I swam;
But in the morning, O, the smiling coast Tufted with date-trees, meadowlike,
Skirted with shelving sands! And a great wave Cast me ashore; and I was saved alive.
So, giving thanks to God, I dried my clothes, And, faring inland, in a desert place
I stumbled on an iron ring –
The fellow of fifty built into the Quays: When, scenting a trap-door,
I dug, and dug; until my biggest blade Stuck into wood. And then,
The flight of smooth-hewn, easy-falling stairs, Sunk in the naked rock! The cool, clean vault, So neat with niche on niche it might have been Our beer-cellar but for the rows
Of brazen urns (like monstrous chemist’s jars) Full to the wide, squat throats
With gold-dust, but a-top
A layer of pickled-walnut-looking things I knew for olives! And far, O, far away, The Princess of China languished! Far away Was marriage, with a Vizier and a Chief
Of Eunuchs and the privilege
Of going out at night
To play–unkenned, majestical, secure – Where the old, brown, friendly river shaped Like Tigris shore for shore! Haply a Ghoul Sat in the churchyard under a frightened moon, A thighbone in his fist, and glared
At supper with a Lady: she who took Her rice with tweezers grain by grain.
Or you might stumble–there by the iron gates Of the Pump Room–underneath the limes – Upon Bedreddin in his shirt and drawers, Just as the civil Genie laid him down.
Or those red-curtained panes,
Whence a tame cornet tenored it throatily Of beer-pots and spittoons and new long pipes, Might turn a caravansery’s, wherein
You found Noureddin Ali, loftily drunk, And that fair Persian, bathed in tears,
You’d not have given away
For all the diamonds in the Vale Perilous You had that dark and disleaved afternoon Escaped on a roc’s claw,
Disguised like Sindbad–but in Christmas beef! And all the blissful while
The schoolboy satchel at your hip
Was such a bulse of gems as should amaze Grey-whiskered chapmen drawn
From over Caspian: yea, the Chief Jewellers Of Tartary and the bazaars,
Seething with traffic, of enormous Ind. –

Thus cried, thus called aloud, to the child heart The magian East: thus the child eyes
Spelled out the wizard message by the light Of the sober, workaday hours
They saw, week in week out, pass, and still pass In the sleepy Minster City, folded kind
In ancient Severn’s arm,
Amongst her water-meadows and her docks, Whose floating populace of ships –
Galliots and luggers, light-heeled brigantines, Bluff barques and rake-hell fore-and-afters–brought To her very doorsteps and geraniums
The scents of the World’s End; the calls That may not be gainsaid to rise and ride Like fire on some high errand of the race; The irresistible appeals
For comradeship that sound
Steadily from the irresistible sea. Thus the East laughed and whispered, and the tale, Telling itself anew
In terms of living, labouring life, Took on the colours, busked it in the wear Of life that lived and laboured; and Romance, The Angel-Playmate, raining down
His golden influences
On all I saw, and all I dreamed and did, Walked with me arm in arm,
Or left me, as one bediademed with straws And bits of glass, to gladden at my heart Who had the gift to seek and feel and find His fiery-hearted presence everywhere.
Even so dear Hesper, bringer of all good things, Sends the same silver dews
Of happiness down her dim, delighted skies On some poor collier-hamlet–(mound on mound Of sifted squalor; here a soot-throated stalk Sullenly smoking over a row
Of flat-faced hovels; black in the gritty air A web of rails and wheels and beams; with strings Of hurtling, tipping trams) –
As on the amorous nightingales
And roses of Shiraz, or the walls and towers Of Samarcand–the Ineffable–whence you espy The splendour of Ginnistan’s embattled spears, Like listed lightnings.
That name of names! That star-vaned belvedere Builded against the Chambers of the South! That outpost on the Infinite!
And behold!
Questing therefrom, you knew not what wild tide Might overtake you: for one fringe,
One suburb, is stablished on firm earth; but one Floats founded vague
In lubberlands delectable–isles of palm And lotus, fortunate mains, far-shimmering seas, The promise of wistful hills –
The shining, shifting Sovranties of Dream.


‘The tune of the time.’–HAMLET, concerning OSRIC


Was I a Samurai renowned,
Two-sworded, fierce, immense of bow? A histrion angular and profound?
A priest? a porter?–Child, although I have forgotten clean, I know
That in the shade of Fujisan,
What time the cherry-orchards blow, I loved you once in old Japan.

As here you loiter, flowing-gowned
And hugely sashed, with pins a-row
Your quaint head as with flamelets crowned, Demure, inviting–even so,
When merry maids in Miyako
To feel the sweet o’ the year began, And green gardens to overflow,
I loved you once in old Japan.

Clear shine the hills; the rice-fields round Two cranes are circling; sleepy and slow, A blue canal the lake’s blue bound
Breaks at the bamboo bridge; and lo! Touched with the sundown’s spirit and glow, I see you turn, with flirted fan,
Against the plum-tree’s bloomy snow . . . I loved you once in old Japan!


Dear, ’twas a dozen lives ago;
But that I was a lucky man
The Toyokuni here will show:
I loved you–once–in old Japan.

BALLADE (DOUBLE REFRAIN) OF YOUTH AND AGE–I. M. Thomas Edward Brown (1829-1896)

Spring at her height on a morn at prime, Sails that laugh from a flying squall,
Pomp of harmony, rapture of rhyme – Youth is the sign of them, one and all.
Winter sunsets and leaves that fall, An empty flagon, a folded page,
A tumble-down wheel, a tattered ball – These are a type of the world of Age.

Bells that clash in a gaudy chime,
Swords that clatter in onsets tall, The words that ring and the fames that climb – Youth is the sign of them, one and all.
Hymnals old in a dusty stall,
A bald, blind bird in a crazy cage, The scene of a faded festival –
These are a type of the world of Age.

Hours that strut as the heirs of time, Deeds whose rumour’s a clarion-call,
Songs where the singers their souls sublime – Youth is the sign of them, one and all.
A staff that rests in a nook of wall, A reeling battle, a rusted gage,
The chant of a nearing funeral –
These are a type of the world of Age.


Struggle and turmoil, revel and brawl – Youth is the sign of them, one and all.
A smouldering hearth and a silent stage – These are a type of the world of Age.


With a ripple of leaves and a tinkle of streams The full world rolls in a rhythm of praise, And the winds are one with the clouds and beams – Midsummer days! Midsummer days!
The dusk grows vast; in a purple haze, While the West from a rapture of sunset rights, Faint stars their exquisite lamps upraise – Midsummer nights! O midsummer nights!

The wood’s green heart is a nest of dreams, The lush grass thickens and springs and sways, The rathe wheat rustles, the landscape gleams – Midsummer days! Midsummer days!
In the stilly fields, in the stilly ways, All secret shadows and mystic lights,
Late lovers murmur and linger and gaze – Midsummer nights! O midsummer nights!

There’s a music of bells from the trampling teams, Wild skylarks hover, the gorses blaze,
The rich, ripe rose as with incense steams – Midsummer days! Midsummer days!
A soul from the honeysuckle strays, And the nightingale as from prophet heights Sings to the Earth of her million Mays – Midsummer nights! O midsummer nights!


And it’s O, for my dear and the charm that stays – Midsummer days! Midsummer days!
It’s O, for my Love and the dark that plights – Midsummer nights! O midsummer nights!

BALLADE OF DEAD ACTORS–I. M. Edward John Henley (1861-1898)

Where are the passions they essayed,
And where the tears they made to flow? Where the wild humours they portrayed
For laughing worlds to see and know? Othello’s wrath and Juliet’s woe?
Sir Peter’s whims and Timon’s gall? And Millamant and Romeo?
Into the night go one and all.

Where are the braveries, fresh or frayed? The plumes, the armours–friend and foe? The cloth of gold, the rare brocade,
The mantles glittering to and fro?
The pomp, the pride, the royal show? The cries of war and festival?
The youth, the grace, the charm, the glow? Into the night go one and all.

The curtain falls, the play is played: The Beggar packs beside the Beau;
The Monarch troops, and troops the Maid; The Thunder huddles with the Snow.
Where are the revellers high and low? The clashing swords? The lover’s call?
The dancers gleaming row on row?
Into the night go one and all.


Prince, in one common overthrow
The Hero tumbles with the Thrall:
As dust that drives, as straws that blow, Into the night go one and all.


Fountains that frisk and sprinkle
The moss they overspill;
Pools that the breezes crinkle;
The wheel beside the mill,
With its wet, weedy frill;
Wind-shadows in the wheat;
A water-cart in the street;
The fringe of foam that girds
An islet’s ferneries;
A green sky’s minor thirds –
To live, I think of these!

Of ice and glass the tinkle,
Pellucid, silver-shrill;
Peaches without a wrinkle;
Cherries and snow at will,
From china bowls that fill
The senses with a sweet
Incuriousness of heat;
A melon’s dripping sherds;
Cream-clotted strawberries;
Dusk dairies set with curds –
To live, I think of these!

Vale-lily and periwinkle;
Wet stone-crop on the sill;
The look of leaves a-twinkle
With windlets clear and still;
The feel of a forest rill
That wimples fresh and fleet
About one’s naked feet;
The muzzles of drinking herds;
Lush flags and bulrushes;
The chirp of rain-bound birds –
To live, I think of these!


Dark aisles, new packs of cards,
Mermaidens’ tails, cool swards,
Dawn dews and starlit seas,
White marbles, whiter words –
To live, I think of these!


Gold or silver, every day,
Dies to gray.
There are knots in every skein.
Hours of work and hours of play
Fade away
Into one immense Inane.
Shadow and substance, chaff and grain, Are as vain
As the foam or as the spray.
Life goes crooning, faint and fain, One refrain:
‘If it could be always May!’

Though the earth be green and gay,
Though, they say,
Man the cup of heaven may drain;
Though, his little world to sway,
He display
Hoard on hoard of pith and brain:
Autumn brings a mist and rain
That constrain

Him and his to know decay,
Where undimmed the lights that wane Would remain,
If it could be always May.

YEA, alas, must turn to NAY,
Flesh to clay.
Chance and Time are ever twain.
Men may scoff, and men may pray,
But they pay
Every pleasure with a pain.
Life may soar, and Fortune deign
To explain
Where her prizes hide and stay;
But we lack the lusty train
We should gain,
If it could be always May.


Time, the pedagogue, his cane
Might retain,
But his charges all would stray
Truanting in every lane –
Jack with Jane –
If it could be always May.


Fools may pine, and sots may swill,
Cynics gibe, and prophets rail,
Moralists may scourge and drill,
Preachers prose, and fainthearts quail. Let them whine, or threat, or wail!
Till the touch of Circumstance
Down to darkness sink the scale,
Fate’s a fiddler, Life’s a dance.

What if skies be wan and chill?
What if winds be harsh and stale?
Presently the east will thrill,
And the sad and shrunken sail,
Bellying with a kindly gale,
Bear you sunwards, while your chance Sends you back the hopeful hail:-
‘Fate’s a fiddler, Life’s a dance.’

Idle shot or coming bill,
Hapless love or broken bail,
Gulp it (never chew your pill!),
And, if Burgundy should fail,
Try the humbler pot of ale!
Over all is heaven’s expanse.
Gold’s to find among the shale.
Fate’s a fiddler, Life’s a dance.

Dull Sir Joskin sleeps his fill,
Good Sir Galahad seeks the Grail,
Proud Sir Pertinax flaunts his frill, Hard Sir AEger dints his mail;
And the while by hill and dale
Tristram’s braveries gleam and glance, And his blithe horn tells its tale:-
‘Fate’s a fiddler, Life’s a dance.’