Poems by Jean Ingelow, In Two Volumes, Volume I.
Part 2 out of 7
We parted, pleased that we had met,
My heart did with herself confer;
With wholesome shame she did repent
Her reasonings idly eloquent,
And said, "I might be more content:
But God go with the carpenter."
THE STAR'S MONUMENT.
IN THE CONCLUDING PART OF A DISCOURSE ON FAME.
If there be memory in the world to come,
If thought recur to SOME THINGS silenced here,
Then shall the deep heart be no longer dumb,
But find expression in that happier sphere;
It shall not be denied their utmost sum
Of love, to speak without or fault or fear,
But utter to the harp with changes sweet
Words that, forbidden still, then heaven were incomplete.
Now let us talk about the ancient days,
And things which happened long before our birth:
It is a pity to lament that praise
Should be no shadow in the train of worth.
What is it, Madam, that your heart dismays?
Why murmur at the course of this vast earth?
Think rather of the work than of the praise;
Come, we will talk about the ancient days.
There was a Poet, Madam, once (said he);
I will relate his story to you now.
While through the branches of this apple-tree
Some spots of sunshine flicker on your brow;
While every flower hath on its breast a bee,
And every bird in stirring doth endow
The grass with falling blooms that smoothly glide,
As ships drop down a river with the tide.
For telling of his tale no fitter place
Then this old orchard, sloping to the west;
Through its pink dome of blossom I can trace
Some overlying azure; for the rest,
These flowery branches round us interlace;
The ground is hollowed like a mossy nest:
Who talks of fame while the religious Spring
Offers the incense of her blossoming?
There was a Poet, Madam, once (said he),
Who, while he walked at sundown in a lane,
Took to his heart the hope that destiny
Had singled him this guerdon to obtain,
That by the power of his sweet minstrelsy
Some hearts for truth and goodness he should gain.
And charm some grovellers to uplift their eyes
And suddenly wax conscious of the skies.
"Master, good e'en to ye!" a woodman said,
Who the low hedge was trimming with his shears.
"This hour is fine"--the Poet bowed his head.
"More fine," he thought, "O friend! to me appears
The sunset than to you; finer the spread
Of orange lustre through these azure spheres,
Where little clouds lie still, like flocks of sheep,
Or vessels sailing in God's other deep.
"O finer far! What work so high as mine,
Interpreter betwixt the world and man,
Nature's ungathered pearls to set and shrine,
The mystery she wraps her in to scan;
Her unsyllabic voices to combine,
And serve her with such love as poets can;
With mortal words, her chant of praise to bind,
Then die, and leave the poem to mankind?
"O fair, O fine, O lot to be desired!
Early and late my heart appeals to me,
And says, 'O work, O will--Thou man, be fired
To earn this lot,'--she says, 'I would not be
A worker for mine OWN bread, or one hired
For mine OWN profit. O, I would be free
To work for others; love so earned of them
Should be my wages and my diadem.
"'Then when I died I should not fall,' says she,
'Like dropping flowers that no man noticeth,
But like a great branch of some stately tree
Rent in a tempest, and flung down to death,
Thick with green leafage--so that piteously
Each passer by that ruin shuddereth,
And saith, The gap this branch hath left is wide;
The loss thereof can never be supplied.'"
But, Madam, while the Poet pondered so,
Toward the leafy hedge he turned his eye,
And saw two slender branches that did grow,
And from it rising spring and flourish high:
Their tops were twined together fast, and, lo,
Their shadow crossed the path as he went by--
The shadow of a wild rose and a brier,
And it was shaped in semblance like a lyre.
In sooth, a lyre! and as the soft air played,
Those branches stirred, but did not disunite.
"O emblem meet for me!" the Poet said;
"Ay, I accept and own thee for my right;
The shadowy lyre across my feet is laid,
Distinct though frail, and clear with crimson light,
Fast is it twined to bear the windy strain,
And, supple, it will bend and rise again.
"This lyre is cast across the dusty way,
The common path that common men pursue,
I crave like blessing for my shadowy lay,
Life's trodden paths with beauty to renew,
And cheer the eve of many a toil-stained day.
Light it, old sun, wet it, thou common dew,
That 'neath men's feet its image still may be
While yet it waves above them, living lyre, like thee!"
But even as the Poet spoke, behold
He lifted up his face toward the sky;
The ruddy sun dipt under the gray wold,
His shadowy lyre was gone; and, passing by,
The woodman lifting up his shears, was bold
Their temper on those branches twain to try,
And all their loveliness and leafage sweet
Fell in the pathway, at the Poet's feet.
"Ah! my fair emblem that I chose," quoth he,
"That for myself I coveted but now,
Too soon, methinks, them hast been false to me;
The lyre from pathway fades, the light from brow."
Then straightway turned he from it hastily,
As dream that waking sense will disallow;
And while the highway heavenward paled apace,
He went on westward to his dwelling-place.
He went on steadily, while far and fast
The summer darkness dropped upon the world,
A gentle air among the cloudlets passed
And fanned away their crimson; then it curled
The yellow poppies in the field, and cast
A dimness on the grasses, for it furled
Their daisies, and swept out the purple stain
That eve had left upon the pastoral plain.
He reached his city. Lo! the darkened street
Where he abode was full of gazing crowds;
He heard the muffled tread of many feet;
A multitude stood gazing at the clouds.
"What mark ye there," said he, "and wherefore meet?
Only a passing mist the heaven o'ershrouds;
It breaks, it parts, it drifts like scattered spars--
What lies behind it but the nightly stars?"
Then did the gazing crowd to him aver
They sought a lamp in heaven whose light was hid:
For that in sooth an old Astronomer
Down from his roof had rushed into their mid,
Frighted, and fain with others to confer,
That he had cried, "O sirs!"--and upward bid
Them gaze--"O sirs, a light is quenched afar;
Look up, my masters, we have lost a star!"
The people pointed, and the Poet's eyes
Flew upward, where a gleaming sisterhood
Swam in the dewy heaven. The very skies
Were mutable; for all-amazed he stood
To see that truly not in any wise
He could behold them as of old, nor could
His eyes receive the whole whereof he wot,
But when he told them over, one WAS NOT.
While yet he gazed and pondered reverently,
The fickle folk began to move away.
"It is but one star less for us to see;
And what does one star signify?" quoth they:
"The heavens are full of them." "But, ah!" said he,
"That star was bright while yet she lasted." "Ay!"
They answered: "Praise her, Poet, an' ye will:
Some are now shining that are brighter still."
"Poor star! to be disparaged so soon
On her withdrawal," thus the Poet sighed;
"That men should miss, and straight deny her noon
Its brightness!" But the people in their pride
Said, "How are we beholden? 'twas no boon
She gave. Her nature 'twas to shine so wide:
She could not choose but shine, nor could we know
Such star had ever dwelt in heaven but so."
The Poet answered sadly, "That is true!"
And then he thought upon unthankfulness;
While some went homeward; and the residue,
Reflecting that the stars are numberless,
Mourned that man's daylight hours should be so few,
So short the shining that his path may bless:
To nearer themes then tuned their willing lips,
And thought no more upon the star's eclipse.
But he, the Poet, could not rest content
Till he had found that old Astronomer;
Therefore at midnight to his house he went
And prayed him be his tale's interpreter.
And yet upon the heaven his eyes he bent,
Hearing the marvel; yet he sought for her
That was a wanting, in the hope her face
Once more might fill its reft abiding-place.
Then said the old Astronomer: "My son.
I sat alone upon my roof to-night;
I saw the stars come forth, and scarcely shun
To fringe the edges of the western light;
I marked those ancient clusters one by one,
The same that blessed our old forefather's sight
For God alone is older--none but He
Can charge the stars with mutability:
"The elders of the night, the steadfast stars,
The old, old stars which God has let us see,
That they might be our soul's auxiliars,
And help us to the truth how young we be--
God's youngest, latest born, as if, some spars
And a little clay being over of them--He
Had made our world and us thereof, yet given,
To humble us, the sight of His great heaven.
"But ah! my son, to-night mine eyes have seen
The death of light, the end of old renown;
A shrinking back of glory that had been,
A dread eclipse before the Eternal's frown.
How soon a little grass will grow between
These eyes and those appointed to look down
Upon a world that was not made on high
Till the last scenes of their long empiry!
"To-night that shining cluster now despoiled
Lay in day's wake a perfect sisterhood;
Sweet was its light to me that long had toiled,
It gleamed and trembled o'er the distant wood,
Blown in a pile the clouds from it recoiled,
Cool twilight up the sky her way made good;
I saw, but not believed--it was so strange--
That one of those same stars had suffered change.
"The darkness gathered, and methought she spread,
Wrapped in a reddish haze that waxed and waned;
But notwithstanding to myself I said--
'The stars are changeless; sure some mote hath stained
Mine eyes, and her fair glory minished.'
Of age and failing vision I complained,
And I bought 'some vapor in the heavens doth swim,
That makes her look so large and yet so dim.'
"But I gazed round, and all her lustrous peers
In her red presence showed but wan and white
For like a living coal beheld through tears
She glowed and quivered with a gloomy light:
Methought she trembled, as all sick through fears,
Helpless, appalled, appealing to the night;
Like one who throws his arms up to the sky
And bows down suffering, hopeless of reply.
"At length, as if an everlasting Hand
Had taken hold upon her in her place,
And swiftly, like a golden grain of sand,
Through all the deep infinitudes of space
Was drawing her--God's truth as here I stand--
Backward and inward to itself; her face
Fast lessened, lessened, till it looked no more
Than smallest atom on a boundless shore.
"And she that was so fair, I saw her lie,
The smallest thing in God's great firmament,
Till night was lit the darkest, and on high
Her sisters glittered, though her light was spent;
I strained, to follow her, each aching eye,
So swiftly at her Maker's will she went;
I looked again--I looked--the star was gone,
And nothing marked in heaven where she had shone."
"Gone!" said the Poet, "and about to be
Forgotten: O, how sad a fate is hers!"
"How is it sad, my son?" all reverently
The old man answered; "though she ministers
No longer with her lamp to me and thee,
She has fulfilled her mission. God transfers
Or dims her ray; yet was she blest as bright,
For all her life was spent in giving light."
"Her mission she fulfilled assuredly,"
The Poet cried; "but, O unhappy star!
None praise and few will bear in memory
The name she went by. O, from far, from far
Comes down, methinks, her mournful voice to me,
Full of regrets that men so thankless are."
So said, he told that old Astronomer
All that the gazing crowd had said of her.
And he went on to speak in bitter wise,
As one who seems to tell another's fate,
But feels that nearer meaning underlies,
And points its sadness to his own estate:
"If such be the reward," he said with sighs,
"Envy to earn for love, for goodness hate--
If such be thy reward, hard case is thine!
It had been better for thee not to shine.
"If to reflect a light that is divine
Makes that which doth reflect it better seen,
And if to see is to contemn the shrine,
'Twere surely better it had never been:
It had been better for her NOT TO SHINE,
And for me NOT TO SING. Better, I ween,
For us to yield no more that radiance bright,
For them, to lack the light than scorn the light."
Strange words were those from Poet lips (said he);
And then he paused and sighed, and turned to look
Upon the lady's downcast eyes, and see
How fast the honey-bees in settling shook
Those apple blossoms on her from the tree:
He watched her busy lingers as they took
And slipped the knotted thread, and thought how much
He would have given that hand to hold--to touch.
At length, as suddenly become aware
Of this long pause, she lifted up her face,
And he withdrew his eyes--she looked so fair
And cold, he thought, in her unconscious grace.
"Ah! little dreams she of the restless care,"
He thought, "that makes my heart to throb apace:
Though we this morning part, the knowledge sends
No thrill to her calm pulse--we are but FRIENDS."
Ah! turret clock (he thought), I would thy hand
Were hid behind yon towering maple-trees!
Ah! tell-tale shadow, but one moment stand--
Dark shadow--fast advancing to my knees;
Ah! foolish heart (he thought), that vainly planned
By feigning gladness to arrive at ease;
Ah! painful hour, yet pain to think it ends;
I must remember that we are but friends.
And while the knotted thread moved to and fro,
In sweet regretful tones that lady said:
"It seemeth that the fame you would forego
The Poet whom you tell of coveted;
But I would fain, methinks, his story know.
And was he loved?" said she, "or was he wed?
And had he friends?" "One friend, perhaps," said he,
"But for the rest, I pray you let it be."
Ah! little bird (he thought), most patient bird,
Breasting thy speckled eggs the long day through,
By so much as my reason is preferred
Above thine instinct, I my work would do
Better than thou dost thine. Thou hast not stirred
This hour thy wing. Ah! russet bird, I sue
For a like patience to wear through these hours--
Bird on thy nest among the apple-flowers.
I will not speak--I will not speak to thee,
My star! and soon to be my lost, lost star.
The sweetest, first, that ever shone on me,
So high above me and beyond so far;
I can forego thee, but not bear to see
My love, like rising mist, thy lustre mar:
That were a base return for thy sweet light.
Shine, though I never more-shall see that thou art bright.
Never! 'Tis certain that no hope is--none!
No hope for me, and yet for thee no fear.
The hardest part of my hard task is done;
Thy calm assures me that I am not dear;
Though far and fast the rapid moments run,
Thy bosom heaveth not, thine eyes are clear;
Silent, perhaps a little sad at heart
She is. I am her friend, and I depart.
Silent she had been, but she raised her face;
"And will you end," said she, "this half-told tale?"
"Yes, it were best," he answered her. "The place
Where I left off was where he felt to fail
His courage, Madam, through the fancy base
That they who love, endure, or work, may rail
And cease--if all their love, the works they wrought,
And their endurance, men have set at nought."
"It had been better for me NOT to sing,"
My Poet said, "and for her NOT to shine;"
But him the old man answered, sorrowing,
"My son, did God who made her, the Divine
Lighter of suns, when down to yon bright ring
He cast her, like some gleaming almandine,
And set her in her place, begirt with rays,
Say unto her 'Give light,' or say 'Earn praise?'"
The Poet said, "He made her to give light."
"My son," the old man answered, "Blest are such;
A blessed lot is theirs; but if each night
Mankind had praised her radiance, inasmuch
As praise had never made it wax more bright,
And cannot now rekindle with its touch
Her lost effulgence, it is nought. I wot
That praise was not her blessing nor her lot."
"Ay," said the Poet, "I my words abjure,
And I repent me that I uttered them;
But by her light and by its forfeiture
She shall not pass without her requiem.
Though my name perish, yet shall hers endure;
Though I should be forgotten, she, lost gem,
Shall be remembered; though she sought not fame,
It shall be busy with her beauteous name.
"For I will raise in her bright memory,
Lost now on earth, a lasting monument,
And graven on it shall recorded be
That all her rays to light mankind were spent;
And I will sing albeit none heedeth me,
On her exemplar being still intent:
While in men's sight shall stand the record thus--
'So long as she did last she lighted us.'"
So said, he raised, according to his vow,
On the green grass where oft his townsfolk met,
Under the shadow of a leafy bough
That leaned toward a singing rivulet,
One pure white stone, whereon, like crown on brow,
The image of the vanished star was set;
And this was graven on the pure white stone
In golden letters--"WHILE SHE LIVED SHE SHONE."
Madam, I cannot give this story well--
My heart is beating to another chime;
My voice must needs a different cadence swell;
It is yon singing bird, which all the time
Wooeth his nested mate, that doth dispel
My thoughts. What, deem you, could a lover's rhyme
The sweetness of that passionate lay excel?
O soft, O low her voice--"I cannot tell."
The old man--ay, he spoke, he was not hard;
"She was his joy," he said, "his comforter,
But he would trust me. I was not debarred
Whate'er my heart approved to say to her."
Approved! O torn and tempted and ill-starred
And breaking heart, approve not nor demur;
It is the serpent that beguileth thee
With "God doth know" beneath this apple-tree.
Yea, God DOTH know, and only God doth know.
Have pity, God, my spirit groans to Thee!
I bear Thy curse primeval, and I go;
But heavier than on Adam falls on me
My tillage of the wilderness; for lo,
I leave behind the woman, and I see
As 'twere the gates of Eden closing o'er
To hide her from my sight for evermore.
I am a fool, with sudden start he cried,
To let the song-bird work me such unrest:
If I break off again, I pray you chide,
For morning neeteth, with my tale at best
Half told. That white stone, Madam, gleamed beside
The little rivulet, and all men pressed
To read the lost one's story traced thereon,
The golden legend--"While she lived she shone."
And, Madam, when the Poet heard them read,
And children spell the letters softly through,
It may be that he felt at heart some need,
Some craving to be thus remembered too;
It may be that he wondered if indeed
He must die wholly when he passed from view;
It may be, wished when death his eyes made dim,
That some kind hand would raise such stone for him.
But shortly, as there comes to most of us,
There came to him the need to quit his home:
To tell you why were simply hazardous.
What said I, Madam?--men were made to roam
My meaning is. It hath been always thus:
They are athirst for mountains and sea-foam;
Heirs of this world, what wonder if perchance
They long to see their grand inheritance?
He left his city, and went forth to teach
Mankind, his peers, the hidden harmony
That underlies God's discords, and to reach
And touch the master-string that like a sigh
Thrills in their souls, as if it would beseech
Some hand to sound it, and to satisfy
Its yearning for expression: but no word
Till poet touch it hath to make its music heard.
I know that God is good, though evil dwells
Among us, and doth all things holiest share;
That there is joy in heaven, while yet our knells
Sound for the souls which He has summoned there:
That painful love unsatisfied hath spells
Earned by its smart to soothe its fellows care:
But yet this atom cannot in the whole
Forget itself--it aches a separate soul.
But, Madam, to my Poet I return.
With his sweet cadences of woven words
He made their rude untutored hearts to burn
And melt like gold refined. No brooding birds
Sing better of the love that doth sojourn
Hid in the nest of home, which softly girds
The beating heart of life; and, strait though it be,
Is straitness better than wide liberty.
He taught them, and they learned, but not the less
Remained unconscious whence that lore they drew,
But dreamed that of their native nobleness
Some lofty thoughts, that he had planted, grew;
His glorious maxims in a lowly dress
Like seed sown broadcast sprung in all men's view.
The sower, passing onward, was not known,
And all men reaped the harvest as their own.
It may be, Madam, that those ballads sweet,
Whose rhythmic words we sang but yesterday,
Which time and changes make not obsolete,
But (as a river blossoms bears away
That on it drop) take with them while they fleet--
It may be his they are, from him bear sway:
But who can tell, since work surviveth fame?--
The rhyme is left, but lost the Poet's name.
He worked, and bravely he fulfilled his trust--
So long he wandered sowing worthy seed,
Watering of wayside buds that were adust,
And touching for the common ear his reed--
So long to wear away the cankering rust
That dulls the gold of life--so long to plead
With sweetest music for all souls oppressed,
That he was old ere he had thought of rest.
Old and gray-headed, leaning on a staff,
To that great city of his birth he came,
And at its gates he paused with wondering laugh
To think how changed were all his thoughts of fame
Since first he carved the golden epitaph
To keep in memory a worthy name,
And thought forgetfulness had been its doom
But for a few bright letters on a tomb.
The old Astronomer had long since died;
The friends of youth were gone and far dispersed,
Strange were the domes that rose on every side;
Strange fountains on his wondering vision burst;
The men of yesterday their business plied;
No face was left that he had known at first;
And in the city gardens, lo, he sees
The saplings that he set are stately trees.
Upon the grass beneath their welcome shade,
Behold! he marks the fair white monument,
And on its face the golden words displayed,
For sixty years their lustre have not spent;
He sitteth by it and is not afraid,
But in its shadow he is well content;
And envies not, though bright their gleamings are,
The golden letters of the vanished star.
He gazeth up; exceeding bright appears
That golden legend to his aged eyes,
For they are dazzled till they fill with tears,
And his lost Youth doth like a vision rise;
She saith to him, "In all these toilsome years,
What hast thou won by work or enterprise?
What hast thou won to make amends to thee,
As thou didst swear to do, for loss of me?
"O man! O white-haired man!" the vision said
"Since we two sat beside this monument
Life's clearest hues are all evanished;
The golden wealth thou hadst of me is spent;
The wind hath swept thy flowers, their leaves are shed
The music is played out that with thee went."
"Peace, peace!" he cried, "I lost thee, but, in truth,
There are worse losses than the loss of youth."
He said not what those losses were--but I--
But I must leave them, for the time draws near.
Some lose not ONLY joy, but memory
Of how it felt: not love that was so dear
Lose only, but the steadfast certainty
That once they had it; doubt comes on, then fear,
And after that despondency. I wis
The Poet must have meant such loss as this.
But while he sat and pondered on his youth,
He said, "It did one deed that doth remain,
For it preserved the memory and the truth
Of her that now doth neither set nor wane,
But shine in all men's thought; nor sink forsooth,
And be forgotten like the summer rain.
O, it is good that man should not forget
Or benefits foregone or brightness set!"
He spoke and said, "My lot contented: me;
I am right glad for this her worthy fame;
That which was good and great I fain would see
Drawn with a halo round what rests--its name."
This while the Poet said, behold there came
A workman with his tools anear the tree,
And when he read the words he paused awhile
And pondered on them with a wondering smile.
And then he said, "I pray you, Sir, what mean
The golden letters of this monument?"
In wonder quoth the Poet, "Hast thou been
A dweller near at hand, and their intent
Hast neither heard by voice of fame, nor seen
The marble earlier?" "Ay," said he, and leant
Upon his spade to hear the tale, then sigh,
And say it was a marvel, and pass by.
Then said the Poet, "This is strange to me."
But as he mused, with trouble in his mind,
A band of maids approached him leisurely,
Like vessels sailing with a favoring wind;
And of their rosy lips requested he,
As one that for a doubt would solving find,
The tale, if tale there were, of that white stone,
And those fair letters--"While she lived she shone."
Then like a fleet that floats becalmed they stay.
"O, Sir," saith one, "this monument is old;
But we have heard our virtuous mothers say
That by their mothers thus the tale was told:
A Poet made it; journeying then away,
He left us; and though some the meaning hold
For other than the ancient one, yet we
Receive this legend for a certainty:--
"There was a lily once, most purely white,
Beneath the shadow of these boughs it grew;
Its starry blossom it unclosed by night,
And a young Poet loved its shape and hue.
He watched it nightly, 'twas so fair a sight,
Until a stormy wind arose and blew,
And when he came once more his flower to greet
Its fallen petals drifted to his feet.
"And for his beautiful white lily's sake,
That she might be remembered where her scent
Had been right sweet, he said that he would make
In her dear memory a monument:
For she was purer than a driven flake
Of snow, and in her grace most excellent;
The loveliest life that death did ever mar,
As beautiful to gaze on as a star."
"I thank you, maid," the Poet answered her.
"And I am glad that I have heard your tale."
With that they passed; and as an inlander,
Having heard breakers raging in a gale,
And falling down in thunder, will aver
That still, when far away in grassy vale,
He seems to hear those seething waters bound,
So in his ears the maiden's voice did sound.
He leaned his face upon his hand, and thought,
And thought, until a youth came by that way;
And once again of him the Poet sought
The story of the star. But, well-a-day!
He said, "The meaning with much doubt is fraught,
The sense thereof can no man surely say;
For still tradition sways the common ear,
That of a truth a star DID DISAPPEAR.
"But they who look beneath the outer shell
That wraps the 'kernel of the people's lore,'
Hold THAT for superstition; and they tell
That seven lovely sisters dwelt of yore
In this old city, where it so befell
That one a Poet loved; that, furthermore,
As stars above us she was pure and good,
And fairest of that beauteous sisterhood.
"So beautiful they were, those virgins seven,
That all men called them clustered stars in song,
Forgetful that the stars abide in heaven:
But woman bideth not beneath it long;
For O, alas! alas! one fated even
When stars their azure deeps began to throng,
That virgin's eyes of Poet loved waxed dim,
And all their lustrous shining waned to him.
"In summer dusk she drooped her head and sighed
Until what time the evening star went down,
And all the other stars did shining bide
Clear in the lustre of their old renown.
And then--the virgin laid her down and died:
Forgot her youth, forgot her beauty's crown,
Forgot the sisters whom she loved before,
And broke her Poet's heart for evermore."
"A mournful tale, in sooth," the lady saith:
"But did he truly grieve for evermore?"
"It may be you forget," he answereth,
"That this is but a fable at the core
O' the other fable." "Though it be but breath,"
She asketh, "was it true?"--then he, "This lore,
Since it is fable, either way may go;
Then, if it please you, think it might be so."
"Nay, but," she saith, "if I had told your tale,
The virgin should have lived his home to bless,
Or, must she die, I would have made to fail
His useless love." "I tell you not the less,"
He sighs, "because it was of no avail:
His heart the Poet would not dispossess
Thereof. But let us leave the fable now.
My Poet heard it with an aching brow."
And he made answer thus: "I thank thee, youth;
Strange is thy story to these aged ears,
But I bethink me thou hast told a truth
Under the guise of fable. If my tears,
Thou lost beloved star, lost now, forsooth,
Indeed could bring thee back among thy peers,
So new thou should'st be deemed as newly seen,
For men forget that thou hast ever been.
"There was a morning when I longed for fame,
There was a noontide when I passed it by,
There is an evening when I think not shame
Its substance and its being to deny;
For if men bear in mind great deeds, the name
Of him that wrought them shall they leave to die;
Or if his name they shall have deathless writ,
They change the deeds that first ennobled it.
"O golden letters of this monument!
O words to celebrate a loved renown
Lost now or wrested! and to fancies lent,
Or on a fabled forehead set for crown,
For my departed star, I am content,
Though legends dim and years her memory drown:
For nought were fame to her, compared and set
By this great truth which ye make lustrous yet."
"Adieu!" the Poet said, "my vanished star,
Thy duty and thy happiness were one.
Work is heaven's best; its fame is sublunar:
The fame thou dost not need--the work is done.
For thee I am content that these things are;
More than content were I, my race being run,
Might it be true of me, though none thereon
Should muse regretful--'While he lived he shone.'"
So said, the Poet rose and went his way,
And that same lot he proved whereof he spake.
Madam, my story is told out; the day
Draws out her shadows, time doth overtake
The morning. That which endeth call a lay,
Sung after pause--a motto in the break
Between two chapters of a tale not new,
Nor joyful--but a common tale. Adieu!
And that same God who made your face so fair,
And gave your woman's heart its tenderness,
So shield the blessing He implanted there,
That it may never turn to your distress,
And never cost you trouble or despair,
Nor granted leave the granter comfortless;
But like a river blest where'er it flows,
Be still receiving while it still bestows.
Adieu, he said, and paused, while she sat mute
In the soft shadow of the apple-tree;
The skylark's song rang like a joyous flute,
The brook went prattling past her restlessly:
She let their tongues be her tongue's substitute;
It was the wind that sighed, it was not she:
And what the lark, the brook, the wind, had said,
We cannot tell, for none interpreted.
Their counsels might be hard to reconcile,
They might not suit the moment or the spot.
She rose, and laid her work aside the while
Down in the sunshine of that grassy plot;
She looked upon him with an almost smile,
And held to him a hand that faltered not.
One moment--bird and brook went warbling on,
And the wind sighed again--and he was gone.
So quietly, as if she heard no more
Or skylark in the azure overhead,
Or water slipping past the cressy shore,
Or wind that rose in sighs, and sighing fled--
So quietly, until the alders hoar
Took him beneath them; till the downward spread
Of planes engulfed him in their leafy seas--
She stood beneath her rose-flushed apple-trees.
And then she stooped toward the mossy grass,
And gathered up her work and went her way;
Straight to that ancient turret she did pass,
And startle back some fawns that were at play.
She did not sigh, she never said "Alas!"
Although he was her friend: but still that day,
Where elm and hornbeam spread a towering dome,
She crossed the dells to her ancestral home.
And did she love him?--what if she did not?
Then home was still the home of happiest years
Nor thought was exiled to partake his lot,
Nor heart lost courage through forboding fears;
Nor echo did against her secret plot,
Nor music her betray to painful tears;
Nor life become a dream, and sunshine dim,
And riches poverty, because of him.
But did she love him?--what and if she did?
Love cannot cool the burning Austral sand,
Nor show the secret waters that lie hid
In arid valleys of that desert land.
Love has no spells can scorching winds forbid,
Or bring the help which tarries near to hand,
Or spread a cloud for curtaining faded eyes
That gaze up dying into alien skies.
A DEAD YEAR.
I took a year out of my life and story--
A dead year, and said, "I will hew thee a tomb!
'All the kings of the nations lie in glory;'
Cased in cedar, and shut in a sacred gloom;
Swathed in linen, and precious unguents old;
Painted with cinnabar, and rich with gold.
"Silent they rest, in solemn salvatory,
Sealed from the moth and the owl and the flitter-mouse--
Each with his name on his brow.
'All the kings of the nations lie in glory,
Every one in his own house:'
Then why not thou?
"Year," I said, "thou shalt not lack
Bribes to bar thy coming back;
Doth old Egypt wear her best
In the chambers of her rest?
Doth she take to her last bed
Beaten gold, and glorious red?
Envy not! for thou wilt wear
In the dark a shroud as fair;
Golden with the sunny ray
Thou withdrawest from my day;
Wrought upon with colors fine,
Stolen from this life of mine;
Like the dusty Lybian kings,
Lie with two wide open wings
On thy breast, as if to say,
On these wings hope flew away;
And so housed, and thus adorned,
Not forgotten, but not scorned,
Let the dark for evermore
Close thee when I close the door;
And the dust for ages fall
In the creases of thy pall;
And no voice nor visit rude
Break thy sealed solitude."
I took the year out of my life and story,
The dead year, and said, "I have hewed thee a tomb
'All the kings of the nations lie in glory,'
Cased in cedar, and shut in a sacred gloom;
But for the sword, and the sceptre, and diadem,
Sure thou didst reign like them."
So I laid her with those tyrants old and hoary,
According to my vow;
For I said, "The kings of the nations lie in glory,
And so shalt thou!"
"Rock," I said, "thy ribs are strong.
That I bring thee guard it long;
Hide the light from buried eyes--
Hide it, lest the dead arise."
"Year," I said, and turned away,
"I am free of thee this day;
All that we two only know,
I forgive and I forego,
So thy face no more I meet,
In the field or in the street."
Thus we parted, she and I;
Life hid death, and put it by:
Life hid death, and said, "Be free
I have no more need of thee."
No more need! O mad mistake,
With repentance in its wake!
Ignorant, and rash, and blind,
Life had left the grave behind;
But had locked within its hold
With the spices and the gold,
All she had to keep her warm
In the raging of the storm.
Scarce the sunset bloom was gone,
And the little stars outshone,
Ere the dead year, stiff and stark,
Drew me to her in the dark;
Death drew life to come to her,
Beating at her sepulchre,
Crying out, "How can I part
With the best share of my heart?
Lo, it lies upon the bier,
Captive, with the buried year.
O my heart!" And I fell prone,
Weeping at the sealed stone;
"Year among the shades," I said,
"Since I live, and thou art dead,
Let my captive heart be free,
Like a bird to fly to me."
And I stayed some voice to win,
But none answered from within;
And I kissed the door--and night
Deepened till the stars waxed bright
And I saw them set and wane,
And the world turn green again.
"So," I whispered, "open door,
I must tread this palace floor--
Sealed palace, rich and dim.
Let a narrow sunbeam swim
After me, and on me spread
While I look upon my dead;
Let a little warmth be free
To come after; let me see
Through the doorway, when I sit
Looking out, the swallows flit,
Settling not till daylight goes;
Let me smell the wild white rose,
Smell the woodbine and the may;
Mark, upon a sunny day,
Sated from their blossoms rise,
Honey-bees and butterflies.
Let me hear, O! let me hear,
Sitting by my buried year,
Finches chirping to their young,
And the little noises flung
Out of clefts where rabbits play,
Or from falling water-spray;
And the gracious echoes woke
By man's work: the woodman's stroke,
Shout of shepherd, whistlings blithe.
And the whetting of the scythe;
Let this be, lest shut and furled
From the well-beloved world,
I forget her yearnings old,
And her troubles manifold,
Strivings sore, submissions meet,
And my pulse no longer beat,
Keeping time and bearing part
With the pulse of her great heart.
"So; swing open door, and shade
Take me; I am not afraid,
For the time will not be long;
Soon I shall have waxen strong--
Strong enough my own to win
From the grave it lies within."
And I entered. On her bier
Quiet lay the buried year;
I sat down where I could see
Life without and sunshine free,
Death within. And I between,
Waited my own heart to wean
From the shroud that shaded her
In the rock-hewn sepulchre--
Waited till the dead should say,
"Heart, be free of me this day"--
Waited with a patient will--
AND I WAIT BETWEEN THEM STILL.
I take the year back to my life and story,
The dead year, and say, "I will share in thy tomb.
'All the kings of the nations lie in glory;'
Cased in cedar, and shut in a sacred gloom!
They reigned in their lifetime with sceptre and diadem,
But thou excellest them;
For life doth make thy grave her oratory,
And the crown is still on thy brow;
'All the kings of the nations lie in glory,'
And so dost thou."
LOOKING OVER A GATE AT A POOL IN A FIELD.
What change has made the pastures sweet
And reached the daisies at my feet,
And cloud that wears a golden hem?
This lovely world, the hills, the sward--
They all look fresh, as if our Lord
But yesterday had finished them.
And here's the field with light aglow;
How fresh its boundary lime-trees show,
And how its wet leaves trembling shine!
Between their trunks come through to me
The morning sparkles of the sea
Below the level browsing line
I see the pool more clear by half
Than pools where other waters laugh
Up at the breasts of coot and rail.
There, as she passed it on her way,
I saw reflected yesterday
A maiden with a milking-pail.
There, neither slowly nor in haste,
One hand upon her slender waist,
The other lifted to her pail,
She, rosy in the morning light,
Among the water-daisies white,
Like some fair sloop appeared to sail.
Against her ankles as she trod
The lucky buttercups did nod.
I leaned upon the gate to see:
The sweet thing looked, but did not speak;
A dimple came in either cheek,
And all my heart was gone from me.
Then, as I lingered on the gate,
And she came up like coming fate,
I saw my picture in her eyes--
Clear dancing eyes, more black than sloes,
Cheeks like the mountain pink, that grows
Among white-headed majesties.
I said, "A tale was made of old
That I would fain to thee unfold;
Ah! let me--let me tell the tale."
But high she held her comely head;
"I cannot heed it now," she said,
"For carrying of the milking-pail."
She laughed. What good to make ado?
I held the gate, and she came through,
And took her homeward path anon.
From the clear pool her face had fled;
It rested on my heart instead,
Reflected when the maid was gone.
With happy youth, and work content,
So sweet and stately on she went,
Right careless of the untold tale.
Each step she took I loved her more,
And followed to her dairy door
The maiden with the milking-pail.
For hearts where wakened love doth lurk,
How fine, how blest a thing is work!
For work does good when reasons fail--
Good; yet the axe at every stroke
The echo of a name awoke--
Her name is Mary Martindale.
I'm glad that echo was not heard
Aright by other men: a bird
Knows doubtless what his own notes tell;
And I know not, but I can say
I felt as shame-faced all that day
As if folks heard her name right well.
And when the west began to glow
I went--I could not choose but go--
To that same dairy on the hill;
And while sweet Mary moved about
Within, I came to her without.
And leaned upon the window-sill.
The garden border where I stood
Was sweet with pinks and southernwood.
I spoke--her answer seemed to fail:
I smelt the pinks--I could not see;
The dusk came down and sheltered me,
And in the dusk she heard my tale.
And what is left that I should tell?
I begged a kiss, I pleaded well:
The rosebud lips did long decline;
But yet I think, I think 'tis true,
That, leaned at last into the dew,
One little instant they were mine.
O life! how dear thou hast become:
She laughed at dawn and I was dumb,
But evening counsels best prevail.
Fair shine the blue that o'er her spreads,
Green be the pastures where she treads,
The maiden with the milking-pail!
THE LETTER L.
We sat on grassy slopes that meet
With sudden dip the level strand;
The trees hung overhead--our feet
Were on the sand.
Two silent girls, a thoughtful man,
We sunned ourselves in open light,
And felt such April airs as fan
The Isle of Wight;
And smelt the wall-flower in the crag
Whereon that dainty waft had fed,
Which made the bell-hung cowslip wag
Her delicate head;
And let alighting jackdaws fleet
Adown it open-winged, and pass
Till they could touch with outstretched feet
The warmed grass.
The happy wave ran up and rang
Like service bells a long way off,
And down a little freshet sprang
From mossy trough,
And splashed into a rain of spray,
And fretted on with daylight's loss,
Because so many bluebells lay
Blue martins gossiped in the sun,
And pairs of chattering daws flew by,
And sailing brigs rocked softly on
Wild cherry-boughs above us spread,
The whitest shade was ever seen,
And flicker, flicker, came and fled
Sun spots between.
Bees murmured in the milk-white bloom,
As babes will sigh for deep content
When their sweet hearts for peace make room,
As given, not lent.
And we saw on: we said no word,
And one was lost in musings rare,
One buoyant as the waft that stirred
Her shining hair.
His eyes were bent upon the sand,
Unfathomed deeps within them lay.
A slender rod was in his hand--
A hazel spray.
Her eyes were resting on his face,
As shyly glad, by stealth to glean
Impressions of his manly grace
And guarded mien;
The mouth with steady sweetness set,
And eyes conveying unaware
The distant hint of some regret
That harbored there.
She gazed, and in the tender flush
That made her face like roses blown,
And in the radiance and the hush,
Her thought was shown.
It was a happy thing to sit
So near, nor mar his reverie;
She looked not for a part in it,
So meek was she.
But it was solace for her eyes,
And for her heart, that yearned to him,
To watch apart in loving wise
Those musings dim.
Lost--lost, and gone! The Pelham woods
Were full of doves that cooed at ease;
The orchis filled her purple hoods
For dainty bees.
He heard not; all the delicate air
Was fresh with falling water-spray:
It mattered not--he was not there,
But far away.
Till with the hazel in his hand,
Still drowned in thought it thus befell;
He drew a letter on the sand--
The letter L.
And looking on it, straight there wrought
A ruddy flush about his brow;
His letter woke him: absent thought
Rushed homeward now.
And half-abashed, his hasty touch
Effaced it with a tell-tale care,
As if his action had been much,
And not his air.
And she? she watched his open palm
Smooth out the letter from the sand,
And rose, with aspect almost calm,
And filled her hand
With cherry-bloom, and moved away
To gather wild forget-me-not,
And let her errant footsteps stray
To one sweet spot,
As if she coveted the fair
White lining of the silver-weed,
And cuckoo-pint that shaded there
She had not feared, as I divine,
Because she had not hoped. Alas!
The sorrow of it! for that sign
Came but to pass;
And yet it robbed her of the right
To give, who looked not to receive,
And made her blush in love's despite
That she should grieve.
A shape in white, she turned to gaze;
Her eyes were shaded with her hand,
And half-way up the winding ways
We saw her stand.
Green hollows of the fringed cliff,
Red rocks that under waters show,
Blue reaches, and a sailing skiff,
Were spread below.
She stood to gaze, perhaps to sigh,
Perhaps to think; but who can tell
How heavy on her heart must lie
The letter L!
* * * * *
She came anon with quiet grace;
And "What," she murmured, "silent yet!"
He answered, "'Tis a haunted place,
"O speak to us, and break the spell!"
"The spell is broken," she replied.
"I crossed the running brook, it fell,
It could not bide.
"And I have brought a budding world,
Of orchis spires and daisies rank,
And ferny plumes but half uncurled,
From yonder bank;
"And I shall weave of them a crown,
And at the well-head launch it free,
That so the brook may float it down,
And out to sea.
"There may it to some English hands
From fairy meadow seem to come;
The fairyest of fairy lands--
The land of home."
"Weave on," he said, and as she wove
We told how currents in the deep,
With branches from a lemon grove,
Blue bergs will sweep.
And messages from shipwrecked folk
Will navigate the moon-led main,
And painted boards of splintered oak
Their port regain.
Then floated out by vagrant thought,
My soul beheld on torrid sand
The wasteful water set at nought
Man's skilful hand,
And suck out gold-dust from the box,
And wash it down in weedy whirls,
And split the wine-keg on the rocks,
And lose the pearls.
"Ah! why to that which needs it not,"
Methought, "should costly things be given?
How much is wasted, wrecked, forgot,
On this side heaven!"
So musing, did mine ears awake
To maiden tones of sweet reserve,
And manly speech that seemed to make
The steady curve
Of lips that uttered it defer
Their guard, and soften for the thought:
She listened, and his talk with her
Was fancy fraught.
"There is not much in liberty"--
With doubtful pauses he began;
And said to her and said to me,
"There was a man--
"There was a man who dreamed one night
That his dead father came to him;
And said, when fire was low, and light
Was burning dim--
"'Why vagrant thus, my sometime pride,
Unloved, unloving, wilt thou roam?
Sure home is best!' The son replied,
'I have no home.'
"'Shall not I speak?' his father said,
'Who early chose a youthful wife,
And worked for her, and with her led
My happy life.
"'Ay, I will speak, for I was young
As thou art now, when I did hold
The prattling sweetness of thy tongue
Dearer than gold;
"'And rosy from thy noonday sleep
Would bear thee to admiring kin,
And all thy pretty looks would keep
My heart within.
"'Then after, mid thy young allies--
For thee ambition flushed my brow--
I coveted the school-boy prize
Far more than thou.
"'I thought for thee, I thought for all
My gamesome imps that round me grew;
The dews of blessing heaviest fall
Where care falls too.
"'And I that sent my boys away,
In youthful strength to earn their bread,
And died before the hair was gray
Upon my head--
"'I say to thee, though free from care,
A lonely lot, an aimless life,
The crowning comfort is not there--
Son, take a wife.'
"'Father beloved,' the son replied,
And failed to gather to his breast,
With arms in darkness searching wide,
The formless guest.
"'I am but free, as sorrow is,
To dry her tears, to laugh, to talk;
And free, as sick men are, I wis
To rise and walk.
"'And free, as poor men are, to buy
If they have nought wherewith to pay;
Nor hope, the debt before they die,
To wipe away.
"'What 'vails it there are wives to win,
And faithful hearts for those to yearn,
Who find not aught thereto akin
To make return?
"'Shall he take much who little gives,
And dwells in spirit far away,
When she that in his presence lives
Doth never stray,
"But waking, guideth as beseems
The happy house in order trim,
And tends her babes; and sleeping, dreams
Of them and him?
"'O base, O cold,'"--while thus he spake
The dream broke off, the vision fled;
He carried on his speech awake
And sighing said--
"'I had--ah happy man!--I had
A precious jewel in my breast,
And while I kept it I was glad
At work, at rest!
"'Call it a heart, and call it strong
As upward stroke of eagle's wing;
Then call it weak, you shall not wrong
The beating thing.
"'In tangles of the jungle reed,
Whose heats are lit with tiger eyes,
In shipwreck drifting with the weed
'Neath rainy skies,
"'Still youthful manhood, fresh and keen,
At danger gazed with awed delight
As if sea would not drown, I ween,
Nor serpent bite.
"'I had--ah happy! but 'tis gone,
The priceless jewel; one came by,
And saw and stood awhile to con
With curious eye,
"'And wished for it, and faintly smiled
From under lashes black as doom,
With subtle sweetness, tender, mild,
That did illume
"'The perfect face, and shed on it
A charm, half feeling, half surprise,
And brim with dreams the exquisite
Brown blessed eyes.
"'Was it for this, no more but this,
I took and laid it in her hand,
By dimples ruled, to hint submiss,
By frown unmanned?
"'It was for this--and O farewell
The fearless foot, the present mind,
And steady will to breast the swell
And face the wind!
"'I gave the jewel from my breast,
She played with it a little while
As I sailed down into the west,
Fed by her smile;
"'Then weary of it--far from land,
With sigh as deep as destiny,
She let it drop from her fair hand
Into the sea,
"'And watched it sink; and I--and I,--
What shall I do, for all is vain?
No wave will bring, no gold will buy,
No toil attain;
"'Nor any diver reach to raise
My jewel from the blue abyss;
Or could they, still I should but praise
Their work amiss.
"'Thrown, thrown away! But I love yet
The fair, fair hand which did the deed:
That wayward sweetness to forget
Were bitter meed.
"'No, let it lie, and let the wave
Roll over it for evermore;
Whelmed where the sailor hath his grave--
The sea her store.
"'My heart, my sometime happy heart!
And O for once let me complain,
I must forego life's better part--
Man's dearer gain.
"'I worked afar that I might rear
A peaceful home on English soil;
I labored for the gold and gear--
I loved my toil.
"'Forever in my spirit spake
The natural whisper, "Well 'twill be
When loving wife and children break
Their bread with thee!"
"'The gathered gold is turned to dross,
The wife hath faded into air,
My heart is thrown away, my loss
I cannot spare.
"'Not spare unsated thought her food--
No, not one rustle of the fold,
Nor scent of eastern sandal-wood,
Nor gleam of gold;
"'Nor quaint devices of the shawl,
Far less the drooping lashes meek;
The gracious figure, lithe and tall,
The dimpled cheek;
"'And all the wonders of her eyes,
And sweet caprices of her air,
Albeit, indignant reason cries,
Fool! have a care.
"'Fool! join not madness to mistake;
Thou knowest she loved thee not a whit;
Only that she thy heart might break--
She wanted it,
"'Only the conquered thing to chain
So fast that none might set it free,
Nor other woman there might reign
And comfort thee.
"'Robbed, robbed of life's illusions sweet;
Love dead outside her closed door,
And passion fainting at her feet
To wake no more;
"'What canst thou give that unknown bride
Whom thou didst work for in the waste,
Ere fated love was born, and cried--
Was dead, ungraced?
"'No more but this, the partial care,
The natural kindness for its own,
The trust that waxeth unaware,
As worth is known:
"'Observance, and complacent thought
Indulgent, and the honor due
That many another man has brought
Who brought love too.
"'Nay, then, forbid it Heaven!' he said,
'The saintly vision fades from me;
O bands and chains! I cannot wed--
I am not free.'"
With that he raised his face to view;
"What think you," asking, "of my tale?
And was he right to let the dew
Of morn exhale,
"And burdened in the noontide sun,
The grateful shade of home forego--
Could he be right--I ask as one
Who fain would know?"
He spoke to her and spoke to me;
The rebel rose-hue dyed her cheek;
The woven crown lay on her knee;
She would not speak.
And I with doubtful pause--averse
To let occasion drift away--
I answered--"If his case were worse
Than word can say,
"Time is a healer of sick hearts,
And women have been known to choose,
With purpose to allay their smarts,
And tend their bruise,
"These for themselves. Content to give,
In their own lavish love complete,
Taking for sole prerogative
Their tendance sweet.
"Such meeting in their diadem
Of crowning love's ethereal fire,
Himself he robs who robbeth them
Of their desire.
"Therefore the man who, dreaming, cried
Against his lot that even-song,
I judge him honest, and decide
That he was wrong."
"When I am judged, ah may my fate,"
He whispered, "in thy code be read!
Be thou both judge and advocate."
Then turned, he said--
"Fair weaver!" touching, while he spoke,
The woven crown, the weaving hand,
"And do you this decree revoke,
Or may it stand?
"This friend, you ever think her right--
She is not wrong, then?" Soft and low
The little trembling word took flight:
She answered, "No."
A meadow where the grass was deep,
Rich, square, and golden to the view,
A belt of elms with level sweep
About it grew.
The sun beat down on it, the line
Of shade was clear beneath the trees;
There, by a clustering eglantine,
We sat at ease.
And O the buttercups! that field
O' the cloth of gold, where pennons swam--
Where France set up his lilied shield,
And Henry's lion-standard rolled:
What was it to their matchless sheen,
Their million million drops of gold
Among the green!
We sat at ease in peaceful trust,
For he had written, "Let us meet;
My wife grew tired of smoke and dust,
And London heat,
"And I have found a quiet grange,
Set back in meadows sloping west,
And there our little ones can range
And she can rest.
"Come down, that we may show the view,
And she may hear your voice again,
And talk her woman's talk with you
Along the lane."
Since he had drawn with listless hand
The letter, six long years had fled,
And winds had blown about the sand,
And they were wed.
Two rosy urchins near him played,
Or watched, entranced, the shapely ships
That with his knife for them he made
Of elder slips.
And where the flowers were thickest shed,
Each blossom like a burnished gem,
A creeping baby reared its head,
And cooed at them.
And calm was on the father's face,
And love was in the mother's eyes;
She looked and listened from her place,
In tender wise.
She did not need to raise her voice
That they might hear, she sat so nigh;
Yet we could speak when 'twas our choice,
And soft reply.
Holding our quiet talk apart
Of household things; till, all unsealed,
The guarded outworks of the heart
Began to yield;
And much that prudence will not dip
The pen to fix and send away,
Passed safely over from the lip
That summer day.
"I should be happy," with a look
Towards her husband where he lay,
Lost in the pages of his book,
Soft did she say.
"I am, and yet no lot below
For one whole day eludeth care;
To marriage all the stories flow,
And finish there:
"As if with marriage came the end,
The entrance into settled rest,
The calm to which love's tossings tend,
The quiet breast.
"For me love played the low preludes,
Yet life began but with the ring,
Such infinite solicitudes
Around it cling.
"I did not for my heart divine
Her destiny so meek to grow;
The higher nature matched with mine
Will have it so.
"Still I consider it, and still
Acknowledge it my master made,
Above me by the steadier will
Of nought afraid.
"Above me by the candid speech;
The temperate judgment of its own;
The keener thoughts that grasp and reach
At things unknown.
"But I look up and he looks down,
And thus our married eyes can meet;
Unclouded his, and clear of frown,
And gravely sweet.
"And yet, O good, O wise and true!
I would for all my fealty,
That I could be as much to you
As you to me;
"And knew the deep secure content
Of wives who have been hardly won,
And, long petitioned, gave assent,
Jealous of none.
"But proudly sure in all the earth
No other in that homage shares,
Nor other woman's face or worth
Is prized as theirs."
I said: "And yet no lot below
For one whole day eludeth care.
Your thought." She answered, "Even so.
I would beware
"Regretful questionings; be sure
That very seldom do they rise,
Nor for myself do I endure--
"For once"--she turned away her head,
Across the grass she swept her hand--
"There was a letter once," she said,
"Upon the sand."
"There was, in truth, a letter writ
On sand," I said, "and swept from view;
But that same hand which fashioned it
Is given to you.
"Efface the letter; wherefore keep
An image which the sands forego?"
"Albeit that fear had seemed to sleep,"
She answered low,
"I could not choose but wake it now;
For do but turn aside your face,
A house on yonder hilly brow
Your eyes may trace.
"The chestnut shelters it; ah me,
That I should have so faint a heart!
But yester-eve, as by the sea
I sat apart,
"I heard a name, I saw a hand
Of passing stranger point that way--
And will he meet her on the strand,
When late we stray?
"For she is come, for she is there,
I heard it in the dusk, and heard
Admiring words, that named her fair,
But little stirred
"By beauty of the wood and wave,
And weary of an old man's sway;
For it was sweeter to enslave
Than to obey."
--The voice of one that near us stood,
The rustle of a silken fold,
A scent of eastern sandal wood,
A gleam of gold!
A lady! In the narrow space
Between the husband and the wife,
But nearest him--she showed a face
With dangers rife;
A subtle smile that dimpling fled,
As night-black lashes rose and fell:
I looked, and to myself I said,
"The letter L."
He, too, looked up, and with arrest
Of breath and motion held his gaze,
Nor cared to hide within his breast
His deep amaze;
Nor spoke till on her near advance
His dark cheek flushed a ruddier hue;
And with his change of countenance
Hers altered too.
"Lenore!" his voice was like the cry
Of one entreating; and he said
But that--then paused with such a sigh
As mourns the dead.
And seated near, with no demur
Of bashful doubt she silence broke,
Though I alone could answer her
When first she spoke.
She looked: her eyes were beauty's own;
She shed their sweetness into his;
Nor spared the married wife one moan
That bitterest is.
She spoke, and lo, her loveliness
Methought she damaged with her tongue;
And every sentence made it less,
All falsely rung.
The rallying voice, the light demand,
Half flippant, half unsatisfied;
The vanity sincere and bland--
The answers wide.
And now her talk was of the East,
And next her talk was of the sea;
"And has the love for it increased
You shared with me?"
He answered not, but grave and still
With earnest eyes her face perused,
And locked his lips with steady will,
As one that mused--
That mused and wondered. Why his gaze
Should dwell on her, methought, was plain;
But reason that should wonder raise
I sought in vain.
And near and near the children drew,
Attracted by her rich array,
And gems that trembling into view
Like raindrops lay.
He spoke: the wife her baby took
And pressed the little face to hers;
What pain soe'er her bosom shook,
What jealous stirs
Might stab her heart, she hid them so,
The cooing babe a veil supplied;
And if she listened none might know,
Or if she sighed;
Or if forecasting grief and care
Unconscious solace thence she drew,
And lulled her babe, and unaware
Lulled sorrow too.
The lady, she interpreter
For looks or language wanted none,
If yet dominion stayed with her--
So lightly won;
If yet the heart she wounded sore
Could yearn to her, and let her see
The homage that was evermore
If sign would yield that it had bled,
Or rallied from the faithless blow,
Or sick or sullen stooped to wed,
She craved to know.
Now dreamy deep, now sweetly keen,
Her asking eyes would round him shine;
But guarded lips and settled mien
Refused the sign.
And unbeguiled and unbetrayed,
The wonder yet within his breast,
It seemed a watchful part he played
Against her quest.
Until with accent of regret
She touched upon the past once more,
As if she dared him to forget
His dream of yore.
And words of little weight let fall
The fancy of the lower mind;
How waxing life must needs leave all
Its best behind;
How he had said that "he would fain
(One morning on the halcyon sea)
That life would at a stand remain
"And sails be mirrored in the deep,
As then they were, for evermore,
And happy spirits wake and sleep
Afar from shore:
"The well-contented heart be fed
Ever as then, and all the world
(It were not small) unshadowed
When sails were furled.
"Your words"--a pause, and quietly
With touch of calm self-ridicule:
"It may be so--for then," said he,
"I was a fool."
With that he took his book, and left
An awkward silence to my care,
That soon I filled with questions deft
And slid into an easy vein,
The favorite picture of the year;
The grouse upon her lord's domain--
The salmon weir;
Till she could fain a sudden thought
Upon neglected guests, and rise,
And make us her adieux, with nought
In her dark eyes
Acknowledging or shame or pain;
But just unveiling for our view
A little smile of still disdain
As she withdrew.
Then nearer did the sunshine creep,
And warmer came the wafting breeze;
The little babe was fast asleep
On mother's knees.
Fair was the face that o'er it leant,
The cheeks with beauteous blushes dyed;
The downcast lashes, shyly bent,
That failed to hide
Some tender shame. She did not see;
She felt his eyes that would not stir,
She looked upon her babe, and he
So looked at her.
So grave, so wondering, so content,
As one new waked to conscious life,
Whose sudden joy with fear is blent,
He said, "My wife."
"My wife, how beautiful you are!"
Then closer at her side reclined,
"The bold brown woman from afar
Comes, to me blind.
"And by comparison, I see
The majesty of matron grace,
And learn how pure, how fair can be
My own wife's face:
"Pure with all faithful passion, fair
With tender smiles that come and go,
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