Collected Poems 1901-1918 in Two Volumes
Walter de la Mare
Part 3 out of 3
Though a tongue now past praise this bitter thing doth say, I know
What solitude means, and how, homeless, I fare.
Strange, strange, are ye all--except in beauty shared with her--
Since I seek one I loved, yet was faithless to in death.
Not life enough I heaped, so thus my heart must fare with her,
Now wrapt in the gross clay, bereft of life's breath.
When music sounds, gone is the earth I know,
And all her lovely things even lovelier grow;
Her flowers in vision flame, her forest trees,
Lift burdened branches, stilled with ecstasies.
When music sounds, out of the water rise
Naiads whose beauty dims my waking eyes,
Rapt in strange dreams burns each enchanted face,
With solemn echoing stirs their dwelling-place.
When music sounds, all that I was I am
Ere to this haunt of brooding dust I came;
While from Time's woods break into distant song
The swift-winged hours, as I hasten along.
I was at peace until you came
And set a careless mind aflame.
I lived in quiet; cold, content;
All longing in safe banishment,
Until your ghostly lips and eyes
Made wisdom unwise.
Naught was in me to tempt your feet
To seek a lodging. Quite forgot
Lay the sweet solitude we two
In childhood used to wander through;
Time's cold had closed my heart about;
And shut you out.
Well, and what then?... O vision grave,
Take all the little all I have!
Strip me of what in voiceless thought
Life's kept of life, unhoped, unsought!--
Reverie and dream that memory must
Hide deep in dust!
This only I say:--Though cold and bare
The haunted house you have chosen to share,
Still 'neath its walls the moonbeam goes
And trembles on the untended rose;
Still o'er its broken roof-tree rise
The starry arches of the skies;
And in your lightest word shall be
The thunder of an ebbing sea.
'Tis not my voice now speaks; but a bird
In darkling forest hollows a sweet throat--
Pleads on till distant echo too hath heard
And doubles every note:
So love that shrouded dwells in mystery
Would cry and waken thee.
Thou Solitary, stir in thy still sleep;
All the night waits thee, yet thou still dream'st on.
Furtive the shadows that about thee creep,
And cheat the shining footsteps of the moon:
Unseal thine eyes, it is my heart that sings,
And beats in vain its wings.
Lost in heaven's vague, the stars burn softly through
The world's dark latticings, we prisoned stray
Within its lovely labyrinth, and know
Mute seraphs guard the way
Even from silence unto speech, from love
To that self's self it still is dreaming of.
I am that Adam who, with Snake for guest,
Hid anguished eyes upon Eve's piteous breast.
I am that Adam who, with broken wings,
Fled from the Seraph's brazen trumpetings.
Betrayed and fugitive, I still must roam
A world where sin, and beauty, whisper of Home.
Oh, from wide circuit, shall at length I see
Pure daybreak lighten again on Eden's tree?
Loosed from remorse and hope and love's distress,
Enrobe me again in my lost nakedness?
No more with wordless grief a loved one grieve,
But to Heaven's nothingness re-welcome Eve?
After the songless rose of evening,
Night quiet, dark, still,
In nodding cavalcade advancing
Starred the deep hill:
You, in the valley standing,
In your quiet wonder took
All that glamour, peace, and mystery
In one grave look.
Beauty hid your naked body,
Time dreamed in your bright hair,
In your eyes the constellations
Burned far and fair.
The burning fire shakes in the night,
On high her silver candles gleam,
With far-flung arms enflamed with light,
The trees are lost in dream.
Come in thy beauty! 'tis my love,
Lost in far-wandering desire,
Hath in the darkling deep above
Set stars and kindled fire.
O strange devices that alone divide
The seer from the seen--
The very highway of earth's pomp and pride
That lies between
The traveller and the cheating, sweet delight
Of where he longs to be,
But which, bound hand and foot, he, close on night,
Can only see.
Hearken, O dear, now strikes the hour we die;
We, who in our strange kiss
Have proved a dream the world's realities,
Turned each from other's darkness with a sigh,
Need heed no more of life, waste no more breath
On any other journey, but of death.
And yet: Oh, know we well
How each of us must prove Love's infidel;
Still out of ecstasy turn trembling back
To earth's same empty track
Of leaden day by day, and hour by hour, and be
Of all things lovely the cold mortuary.
Why in my heart, O Grief,
Dost thou in beauty hide?
Dead is my well-content,
And buried deep my pride.
Cold are their stones, beloved,
To hand and side.
The shadows of even are gone,
Shut are the day's clear flowers,
Now have her birds left mute
Their singing bowers,
Lone shall we be, we twain,
In the night hours.
Thou with thy cheek on mine,
And dark hair loosed, shall see
Take the far stars for fruit
The cypress tree,
And in the yew's black
Shall the moon be.
We will tell no old tales,
Nor heed if in wandering air
Die a lost song of love
Or the once fair;
Still as well-water be
The thoughts we share!
And, while the ghosts keep
Tryst from chill sepulchres,
Dreamless our gaze shall sleep,
And sealed our ears;
Heart unto heart will speak,
O, thy veiled, lovely face--
Joy's strange disguise--
Shall be the last to fade
From these rapt eyes,
Ere the first dart of daybreak
Pierce the skies.
What needest thou?--a few brief hours of rest
Wherein to seek thyself in thine own breast;
A transient silence wherein truth could say
Such was thy constant hope, and this thy way?--
O burden of life that is
A livelong tangle of perplexities!
What seekest thou?--a truce from that thou art;
Some steadfast refuge from a fickle heart;
Still to be thou, and yet no thing of scorn,
To find no stay here, and yet not forlorn?--
O riddle of life that is
An endless war 'twixt contrarieties.
Leave this vain questioning. Is not sweet the rose?
Sings not the wild bird ere to rest he goes?
Hath not in miracle brave June returned?
Burns not her beauty as of old it burned?
O foolish one to roam
So far in thine own mind away from home!
Where blooms the flower when her petals fade,
Where sleepeth echo by earth's music made,
Where all things transient to the changeless win,
There waits the peace thy spirit dwelleth in.
Dark is the night,
The fire burns faint and low,
Into grey ashes go;
I strive to read,
But sombre is the glow.
Thumbed are the pages,
And the print is small;
Mocking the winds
That from the darkness call;
Feeble the fire that lends
Its light withal.
O ghost, draw nearer;
Let thy shadowy hair,
Blot out the pages
That we cannot share;
Be ours the one last leaf
By Fate left bare!
Let's Finis scrawl,
And then Life's book put by;
Turn each to each
In all simplicity:
Ere the last flame is gone
To warm us by.
THE OLD MEN
Old and alone, sit we,
Caged, riddle-rid men;
Lost to Earth's "Listen!" and "See!"
Thought's "Wherefore?" and "When?"
Only far memories stray
Of a past once lovely, but now
Wasted and faded away,
Like green leaves from the bough.
Vast broods the silence of night,
The ruinous moon
Lifts on our faces her light,
Whence all dreaming is gone.
We speak not; trembles each head;
In their sockets our eyes are still;
Desire as cold as the dead;
Without wonder or will.
And One, with a lanthorn, draws near,
At clash with the moon in our eyes:
"Where art thou?" he asks: "I am here,"
One by one we arise.
And none lifts a hand to withhold
A friend from the touch of that foe:
Heart cries unto heart, "Thou art old!"
Yet, reluctant, we go.
O thou who giving helm and sword,
Gav'st, too, the rusting rain,
And starry dark's all tender dews
To blunt and stain:
Out of the battle I am sped,
Unharmed, yet stricken sore;
A living shape amid whispering shades
On Lethe's shore.
No trophy in my hands I bring,
To this sad, sighing stream,
The neighings and the trumps and cries
Were but a dream.
Traitor to life, of life betrayed:
O, of thy mercy deep,
A dream my all, the all I ask
Come, Death, I'd have a word with thee;
And thou, poor Innocency;
And love--a Lad with broken wing;
And Pity, too:
The Fool shall sing to you,
As Fools will sing.
Ay, music hath small sense,
And a tune's soon told,
And Earth is old,
And my poor wits are dense;
Yet have I secrets,--dark, my dear,
To breathe you all: Come near.
And lest some hideous listener tells,
I'll ring my bells.
They are all at war!--
Yes, yes, their bodies go
'Neath burning sun and icy star
To chaunted songs of woe,
Dragging cold cannon through a mire
Of rain and blood and spouting fire,
The new moon glinting hard on eyes
Wide with insanities!
Hush!... I use words
I hardly know the meaning of;
And the mute birds
Are glancing at Love
From out their shade of leaf and flower,
Trembling at treacheries
Which even in noonday cower.
Heed, heed not what I said
Of frenzied hosts of men,
More fools than I,
On envy, hatred fed,
Who kill, and die--
Spake I not plainly, then?
Yet Pity whispered, "Why?"
Thou silly thing, off to thy daisies go.
Mine was not news for child to know,
And Death--no ears hath. He hath supped where creep
Eyeless worms in hush of sleep;
Yet, when he smiles, the hand he draws
Athwart his grinning jaws--
Faintly the thin bones rattle, and--There, there;
Hearken how my bells in the air
Drive away care!...
Nay, but a dream I had
Of a world all mad.
Not simply happy mad like me,
Who am mad like an empty scene
Of water and willow tree,
Where the wind hath been;
But that foul Satan-mad,
Who rots in his own head,
And counts the dead,
Not honest one--and two--
But for the ghosts they were,
Brave, faithful, true,
When, head in air,
In Earth's clear green and blue
Heaven they did share
With beauty who bade them there ...
There, now! Death goes--
Mayhap I've wearied him.
Ay, and the light doth dim,
And asleep's the rose,
And tired Innocence
In dreams is hence ...
Come, Love, my lad,
Nodding that drowsy head,
'Tis time thy prayers were said!
Let the foul Scene proceed:
There's laughter in the wings;
'Tis sawdust that they bleed,
But a box Death brings.
How rare a skill is theirs
These extreme pangs to show,
How real a frenzy wears
Each feigner of woe!
Gigantic dins uprise!
Even the gods must feel
A smarting of the eyes
As these fumes upsweal.
Strange, such a Piece is free,
While we Spectators sit,
Aghast at its agony,
Yet absorbed in it!
Dark is the outer air,
Cold the night draughts blow
Mutely we stare, and stare
At the frenzied Show.
Yet heaven hath its quiet shroud
Of deep, immutable blue--
We cry "An end!" We are bowed
By the dread, "'Tis true!"
While the Shape who hoofs applause
Behind our deafened ear,
And affright even fear.
TO E.T.: 1917
You sleep too well--too far away,
For sorrowing word to soothe or wound;
Your very quiet seems to say
How longed-for a peace you have found.
Else, had not death so lured you on,
You would have grieved--'twixt joy and fear--
To know how my small loving son
Had wept for you, my dear.
Roses are sweet to smell and see,
And lilies on the stem;
But rarer, stranger buds there be,
And she was like to them.
The little moon that April brings,
More lovely shade than light,
That, setting, silvers lonely hills
Upon the verge of night--
Close to the world of my poor heart
So stole she, still and clear;
Now that she's gone, O dark, and dark,
The solitude, the fear.
THE FOOL'S SONG
Never, no never, listen too long,
To the chattering wind in the willow, the night bird's song.
'Tis sad in sooth to lie under the grass,
But none too gladsome to wake and grow cold where life's shadows pass.
Dumb the old Toll-Woman squats,
And, for every green copper battered and worn, doles out Nevers and Nots.
I know a Blind Man, too,
Who with a sharp ear listens and listens the whole world through.
Oh, sit we snug to our feast,
With platter and finger and spoon--and good victuals at least.
Clear eyes do dim at last,
And cheeks outlive their rose.
Time, heedless of the past,
No loving-kindness knows;
Chill unto mortal lip
Still Lethe flows.
Griefs, too, but brief while stay,
And sorrow, being o'er,
Its salt tears shed away,
Woundeth the heart no more.
Stealthily lave those waters
That solemn shore.
Ah, then, sweet face burn on,
While yet quick memory lives!
And Sorrow, ere thou art gone,
Know that my heart forgives--
Ere yet, grown cold in peace,
It loves not, nor grieves.
DUST TO DUST
Heavenly Archer, bend thy bow;
Now the flame of life burns low,
Youth is gone; I, too, would go.
Even Fortune leads to this:
Harsh or kind, at last she is
Murderess of all ecstasies.
Yet the spirit, dark, alone,
Bound in sense, still hearkens on
For tidings of a bliss foregone.
Sleep is well for dreamless head,
At no breath astonished,
From the Gardens of the Dead.
I the immortal harps hear ring,
By Babylon's river languishing.
Heavenly Archer, loose thy string.
THE THREE STRANGERS
Far are those tranquil hills,
Dyed with fair evening's rose;
On urgent, secret errand bent,
A traveller goes.
Approach him strangers three,
Barefooted, cowled; their eyes
Scan the lone, hastening solitary
With dumb surmise.
One instant in close speech
With them he doth confer:
God-sped, he hasteneth on,
That anxious traveller ...
I was that man--in a dream:
And each world's night in vain
I patient wait on sleep to unveil
Those vivid hills again.
Would that they three could know
How yet burns on in me
Love--from one lost in Paradise--
For their grave courtesy.
It was the Great Alexander,
Capped with a golden helm,
Sate in the ages, in his floating ship,
In a dead calm.
Voices of sea-maids singing
Wandered across the deep:
The sailors labouring on their oars
Rowed, as in sleep.
All the high pomp of Asia,
Charmed by that siren lay,
Out of their weary and dreaming minds,
Like a bold boy sate their Captain,
His glamour withered and gone,
In the souls of his brooding mariners,
While the song pined on.
Time, like a falling dew,
Life, like the scene of a dream,
Laid between slumber and slumber,
Only did seem....
O Alexander, then,
In all us mortals too,
Wax thou not bold--too bold
On the wave dark-blue!
Come the calm, infinite night,
Who then will hear
Aught save the singing
Of the sea-maids clear?
Green in light are the hills, and a calm wind flowing
Filleth the void with a flood of the fragrance of Spring;
Wings in this mansion of life are coming and going,
Voices of unseen loveliness carol and sing.
Coloured with buds of delight the boughs are swaying,
Beauty walks in the woods, and wherever she rove
Flowers from wintry sleep, her enchantment obeying,
Stir in the deep of her dream, reawaken to love.
Oh, now begone sullen care--this light is my seeing;
I am the palace, and mine are its windows and walls;
Daybreak is come, and life from the darkness of being
Springs, like a child from the womb, when the lonely one calls.
THE VACANT DAY
As I did walk in meadows green
I heard the summer noon resound
With call of myriad things unseen
That leapt and crept upon the ground.
High overhead the windless air
Throbbed with the homesick coursing cry
Of swallows that did everywhere
Wake echo in the sky.
Beside me, too, clear waters coursed
Which willow branches, lapsing low,
Breaking their crystal gliding forced
To sing as they did flow.
I listened; and my heart was dumb
With praise no language could express;
Longing in vain for him to come
Who had breathed such blessedness
On this fair world, wherein we pass
So chequered and so brief a stay;
And yearned in spirit to learn, alas,
What kept him still away.
How do the days press on, and lay
Their fallen locks at evening down,
Whileas the stars in darkness play
And moonbeams weave a crown--
A crown of flower-like light in heaven,
Where in the hollow arch of space
Morn's mistress dreams, and the Pleiads seven
Stand watch about her place.
Stand watch--O days no number keep
Of hours when this dark clay is blind.
When the world's clocks are dumb in sleep
'Tis then I seek my kind.
FOR ALL THE GRIEF
For all the grief I have given with words
May now a few clear flowers blow,
In the dust, and the heat, and the silence of birds,
Where the lonely go.
For the thing unsaid that heart asked of me
Be a dark, cool water calling--calling
To the footsore, benighted, solitary,
When the shadows are falling.
O, be beauty for all my blindness,
A moon in the air where the weary wend,
And dews burdened with loving-kindness
In the dark of the end.
What lovely things
Thy hand hath made:
The smooth-plumed bird
In its emerald shade,
The seed of the grass,
The speck of stone
Which the wayfaring ant
Stirs--and hastes on!
Though I should sit
By some tarn in thy hills,
Using its ink
As the spirit wills
To write of Earth's wonders,
Its live, willed things,
Flit would the ages
On soundless wings.
Ere unto Z
My pen drew nigh;
And the honey-fly:
And still would remain
My wit to try
My worn reeds broken,
The dark tarn dry,
All words forgotten--
Thou, Lord, and I.
When I lie where shades of darkness
Shall no more assail mine eyes,
Nor the rain make lamentation
When the wind sighs;
How will fare the world whose wonder
Was the very proof of me?
Memory fades, must the remembered
Oh, when this my dust surrenders
Hand, foot, lip, to dust again,
May these loved and loving faces
Please other men!
May the rustling harvest hedgerow
Still the Traveller's Joy entwine,
And as happy children gather
Posies once mine.
Look thy last on all things lovely,
Every hour. Let no night
Seal thy sense in deathly slumber
Till to delight
Thou have paid thy utmost blessing;
Since that all things thou wouldst praise
Beauty took from those who loved them
In other days.
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