Poems of Cheer
Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Part 1 out of 2
This etext was produced from the 1914 Gay and Hancock edition by
David Price, email email@example.com
POEMS OF CHEER
by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
The House of Life
A Song of Life
In the Long Run
As you go through Life
Nothing but Stones
The Ocean of Song
"It might have been"
Momus, God of Laughter
Let them go
To the West
The Land of Content
After the Battles are over
And they are dumb
All for me
Through Dim Eyes
In the crowd
Life and I
Little Blue Hood
A Girl's Faith
Is it done?
Poems of the Week
Over the May Hill
Two sat down
Bound and free
Wishes for a little girl
To marry or not to marry?
River and Sea
This Volume contains the poems published under the title "Poems of
Life," with the exception of about half a dozen, which appear in my
other volumes. I have also added a few new verses.
ELLA WHEELER WILCOX.
April 12th, 1910.
I step across the mystic border-land,
And look upon the wonder-world of Art.
How beautiful, how beautiful its hills!
And all its valleys, how surpassing fair!
The winding paths that lead up to the heights
Are polished by the footsteps of the great.
The mountain-peaks stand very near to God:
The chosen few whose feet have trod thereon
Have talked with Him, and with the angels walked.
Here are no sounds of discord--no profane
Or senseless gossip of unworthy things -
Only the songs of chisels and of pens,
Of busy brushes, and ecstatic strains
Of souls surcharged with music most divine.
Here is no idle sorrow, no poor grief
For any day or object left behind -
For time is counted precious, and herein
Is such complete abandonment of Self
That tears turn into rainbows, and enhance
The beauty of the land where all is fair.
Awed and afraid, I cross the border-land.
Oh, who am I, that I dare enter here
Where the great artists of the world have trod -
The genius-crowned aristocrats of Earth?
Only the singer of a little song;
Yet loving Art with such a mighty love
I hold it greater to have won a place
Just on the fair land's edge, to make my grave,
Than in the outer world of greed and gain
To sit upon a royal throne and reign.
It is easy enough to be pleasant
When life flows by like a song,
But the man worth while is the one who will smile
When everything goes dead wrong.
For the test of the heart is trouble,
And it always comes with the years,
And the smile that is worth the praises of earth
Is the smile that shines through tears.
It is easy enough to be prudent
When nothing tempts you to stray,
When without or within no voice of sin
Is luring your soul away;
But it's only a negative virtue
Until it is tried by fire,
And the life that is worth the honour on earth
Is the one that resists desire.
By the cynic, the sad, the fallen,
Who had no strength for the strife,
The world's highway is cumbered to-day -
They make up the sum of life;
But the virtue that conquers passion,
And the sorrow that hides in a smile -
It is these that are worth the homage on earth,
For we find them but once in a while.
THE HOUSE OF LIFE
All wondering, and eager-eyed, within her portico
I made my plea to Hostess Life, one morning long ago.
"Pray show me this great house of thine, nor close a single door;
But let me wander where I will, and climb from floor to floor!
For many rooms, and curious things, and treasures great and small
Within your spacious mansion lie, and I would see them all."
Then Hostess Life turned silently, her searching gaze on me,
And with no word, she reached her hand, and offered up the key.
It opened first the door of Hope, and long I lingered there,
Until I spied the room of Dreams, just higher by a stair.
And then a door whereon the one word "Happiness" was writ;
But when I tried the little key I could not make it fit.
It turned the lock of Pleasure's room, where first all seemed so
But after I had stayed awhile it somehow lost its light.
And wandering down a lonely hall, I came upon a room
Marked "Duty," and I entered it--to lose myself in gloom.
Along the shadowy halls I groped my weary way about,
And found that from dull Duty's room, a door of Toil led out.
It led out to another door, whereon a crimson stain
Made sullenly against the dark these words: "The Room of Pain."
But oh the light, the light, the light, that spilled down from above
And upward wound, the stairs of Faith, right to the Tower of Love!
And when I came forth from that place, I tried the little key -
And lo! the door of Happiness swung open, wide and free.
A SONG OF LIFE
In the rapture of life and of living,
I lift up my heart and rejoice,
And I thank the great Giver for giving
The soul of my gladness a voice.
In the glow of the glorious weather,
In the sweet-scented, sensuous air,
My burdens seem light as a feather -
They are nothing to bear.
In the strength and the glory of power,
In the pride and the pleasure of wealth
(For who dares dispute me my dower
Of talents and youth-time and health?),
I can laugh at the world and its sages -
I am greater than seers who are sad,
For he is most wise in all ages
Who knows how to be glad.
I lift up my eyes to Apollo,
The god of the beautiful days,
And my spirit soars off like a swallow,
And is lost in the light of its rays.
Are you troubled and sad? I beseech you
Come out of the shadows of strife -
Come out in the sun while I teach you
The secret of life.
Come out of the world--come above it -
Up over its crosses and graves,
Though the green earth is fair and I love it,
We must love it as masters, not slaves.
Come up where the dust never rises -
But only the perfume of flowers -
And your life shall be glad with surprises
Of beautiful hours.
Come up where the rare golden wine is
Apollo distills in my sight,
And your life shall be happy as mine is,
And as full of delight.
I do not undertake to say
That literal answers come from Heaven,
But I know this--that when I pray
A comfort, a support is given
That helps me rise o'er earthly things
As larks soar up on airy wings.
In vain the wise philosopher
Points out to me my fabric's flaws,
In vain the scientists aver
That "all things are controlled by laws."
My life has taught me day by day
That it availeth much to pray.
I do not stop to reason out
The why and how. I do not care,
Since I know this, that when I doubt,
Life seems a blackness of despair,
The world a tomb; and when I trust,
Sweet blossoms spring up in the dust.
Since I know in the darkest hour,
If I lift up my soul in prayer,
Some sympathetic, loving Power
Sends hope and comfort to me there.
Since balm is sent to ease my pain,
What need to argue or explain?
Prayer has a sweet, refining grace,
It educates the soul and heart.
It lends a lustre to the face,
And by its elevating art
It gives the mind an inner sight
That brings it near the Infinite.
From our gross selves it helps us rise
To something which we yet may be.
And so I ask not to be wise,
If thus my faith is lost to me.
Faith, that with angel's voice and touch
Says, "Pray, for prayer availeth much."
IN THE LONG RUN
In the long run fame finds the deserving man.
The lucky wight may prosper for a day,
But in good time true merit leads the van
And vain pretence, unnoticed, goes its way.
There is no Chance, no Destiny, no Fate,
But Fortune smiles on those who work and wait,
In the long run.
In the long run all godly sorrow pays,
There is no better thing than righteous pain,
The sleepless nights, the awful thorn-crowned days,
Bring sure reward to tortured soul and brain.
Unmeaning joys enervate in the end,
But sorrow yields a glorious dividend
In the long run.
In the long run all hidden things are known,
The eye of truth will penetrate the night,
And good or ill, thy secret shall be known,
However well 'tis guarded from the light.
All the unspoken motives of the breast
Are fathomed by the years and stand confess'd
In the long run.
In the long run all love is paid by love,
Though undervalued by the hosts of earth;
The great eternal Government above
Keeps strict account and will redeem its worth.
Give thy love freely; do not count the cost;
So beautiful a thing was never lost
In the long run.
AS YOU GO THROUGH LIFE
Don't look for the flaws as you go through life;
And even when you find them,
It is wise and kind to be somewhat blind,
And look for the virtue behind them;
For the cloudiest night has a hint of light
Somewhere in its shadows hiding;
It's better by far to hunt for a star,
Than the spots on the sun abiding.
The current of life runs ever away
To the bosom of God's great ocean.
Don't set your force 'gainst the river's course,
And think to alter its motion.
Don't waste a curse on the universe,
Remember, it lived before you;
Don't butt at the storm with your puny form,
But bend and let it go o'er you.
The world will never adjust itself
To suit your whims to the letter,
Some things must go wrong your whole life long,
And the sooner you know it the better.
It is folly to fight with the Infinite,
And go under at last in the wrestle.
The wiser man shapes into God's plan,
As water shapes into a vessel.
In the fair morning of his life,
When his pure heart lay in his breast,
Panting, with all that wild unrest
To plunge into the great world's strife
That fills young hearts with mad desire,
He saw a sunset. Red and gold
The burning billows surged and rolled,
And upward tossed their caps of fire.
He looked. And as he looked, the sight
Sent from his soul through breast and brain
Such intense joy, it hurt like pain.
His heart seemed bursting with delight.
So near the Unknown seemed, so close
He might have grasped it with his hands
He felt his inmost soul expand,
As sunlight will expand a rose
One day he heard a singing strain -
A human voice, in bird-like trills.
He paused, and little rapture-rills
Went trickling downward through each vein.
And in his heart the whole day long,
As in a temple veiled and dim,
He kept and bore about with him
The beauty of that singer's song.
And then? But why relate what then?
His smouldering heart flamed into fire -
He had his one supreme desire,
And plunged into the world of men.
For years queen Folly held her sway.
With pleasures of the grosser kind
She fed his flesh and drugged his mind,
Till, shamed, he sated, turned away.
He sought his boyhood's home.
That hour Triumphant should have been, in sooth,
Since he went forth, an unknown youth,
And came back crowned with wealth and power.
The clouds made day a gorgeous bed;
He saw the splendour of the sky
With unmoved heart and stolid eye;
He only knew the West was red.
Then suddenly a fresh young voice
Rose, bird-like, from some hidden place,
He did not even turn his face -
It struck him simply as a noise.
He trod the old paths up and down.
Their rich-hued leaves by Fall winds whirled -
How dull they were--how dull the world -
Dull even in the pulsing town.
O! worst of punishments, that brings
A blunting of all finer sense,
A loss of feelings keen, intense,
And dulls us to the higher things.
O! penalty most dire, most sure,
Swift following after gross delights,
That we no more see beauteous sights,
Or hear as hear the good and pure.
O! shape more hideous and more dread
Than Vengeance takes in creed-taught minds,
This certain doom that blunts and blinds,
And strikes the holiest feelings dead.
In the youth of the year, when the birds were building,
When the green was showing on tree and hedge,
And the tenderest light of all lights was gilding
The world from zenith to outermost edge,
My soul grew sad and longingly lonely!
I sighed for the season of sun and rose,
And I said, "In the Summer and that time only
Lies sweet contentment and blest repose."
With bee and bird for her maids of honour
Came Princess Summer in robes of green.
And the King of day smiled down upon her
And wooed her, and won her, and made her queen.
Fruit of their union and true love's pledges,
Beautiful roses bloomed day by day,
And rambled in gardens and hid in hedges
Like royal children in sportive play.
My restless soul for a little season
Revelled in rapture of glow and bloom,
And then, like a subject who harbours treason,
Grew full of rebellion and grey with gloom.
And I said, "I am sick of the summer's blisses,
Of warmth and beauty, and nothing more.
The full fruition my sad soul misses
That beauteous Fall-time holds in store!"
But now when the colours are almost blinding,
Burning and blending on bush and tree,
And the rarest fruits are mine for the finding,
And the year is ripe as a year can be,
My soul complains in the same old fashion;
Crying aloud in my troubled breast
Is the same old longing, the same old passion.
O where is the treasure which men call rest?
Of all the waltzes the great Strauss wrote,
Mad with melody, rhythm--rife
From the very first to the final note.
Give me his "Artist's Life!"
It stirs my blood to my finger-ends,
Thrills me and fills me with vague unrest,
And all that is sweetest and saddest blends
Together within my breast.
It brings back that night in the dim arcade,
In love's sweet morning and life's best prime,
When the great brass orchestra played and played,
And set our thoughts to rhyme.
It brings back that Winter of mad delights,
Of leaping pulses and tripping feet,
And those languid moon-washed Summer nights
When we heard the band in the street.
It brings back rapture and glee and glow,
It brings back passion and pain and strife,
And so of all the waltzes I know,
Give me the "Artist's Life."
For it is so full of the dear old time -
So full of the dear old friends I knew.
And under its rhythm, and lilt, and rhyme,
I am always finding--YOU.
NOTHING BUT STONES
I think I never passed so sad an hour,
Dear friend, as that one at the church to-night.
The edifice from basement to the tower
Was one resplendent blaze of coloured light.
Up through broad aisles the stylish crowd was thronging,
Each richly robed like some king's bidden guest.
"Here will I bring my sorrow and my longing,"
I said, "and here find rest."
I heard the heavenly organ's voice of thunder,
It seemed to give me infinite relief.
I wept. Strange eyes looked on in well-bred wonder.
I dried my tears: their gaze profaned my grief.
Wrapt in the costly furs, and silks, and laces,
Beat alien hearts, that had no part with me.
I could not read, in all those proud cold faces,
One thought of sympathy.
I watched them bowing and devoutly kneeling,
Heard their responses like sweet waters roll
But only the glorious organ's sacred pealing
Seemed gushing from a full and fervent soul.
I listened to the man of holy calling,
He spoke of creeds, and hailed his own as best;
Of man's corruption and of Adam's-falling,
But naught that gave me rest:
Nothing that helped me bear the daily grinding
Of soul with body, heart with heated brain;
Nothing to show the purpose of this blinding
And sometimes overwhelming sense of pain.
And then, dear friend, I thought of thee, so lowly,
So unassuming, and so gently kind,
And lo! a peace, a calm serene and holy,
Settled upon my mind.
Ah, friend, my friend! one true heart, fond and tender,
That understands our troubles and our needs,
Brings us more near to God than all the splendour
And pomp of seeming worship and vain creeds.
One glance of thy dear eyes so full of feeling,
Doth bring me closer to the Infinite
Than all that throng of worldly people kneeling
In blaze of gorgeous light.
To-day I was so weary and I lay
In that delicious state of semi-waking,
When baby, sitting with his nurse at play,
Cried loud for "mamma," all his toys forsaking.
I was so weary and I needed rest,
And signed to nurse to bear him from the room.
Then, sudden, rose and caught him to my breast,
And kissed the grieving mouth and cheeks of bloom.
For swift as lightning came the thought to me,
With pulsing heart-throes and a mist of tears,
Of days inevitable, that are to be,
If my fair darling grows to manhood's years;
Days when he will not call for "mamma," when
The world, with many a pleasure and bright joy,
Shall tempt him forth into the haunts of men
And I shall lose the first place with my boy;
When other homes and loves shall give delight,
When younger smiles and voices will seem best.
And so I held him to my heart to-night,
Forgetting all my need of peace and rest.
THE OCEAN OF SONG
In a land beyond sight or conceiving,
In a land where no blight is, no wrong,
No darkness, no graves, and no grieving,
There lies the great ocean of song.
And its waves, oh, its waves unbeholden
By any save gods, and their kind,
Are not blue, are not green, but are golden,
Like moonlight and sunlight combined.
It was whispered to me that their waters
Were made from the gathered-up tears
That were wept by the sons and the daughters
Of long-vanished eras and spheres.
Like white sands of heaven the spray is
That falls all the happy day long,
And whoever it touches straightway is
Made glad with the spirit of song.
Up, up to the clouds where their hoary
Crowned heads melt away in the skies,
The beautiful mountains of glory
Each side of the song-ocean rise.
Here day is one splendour of sky-light -
Of God's light with beauty replete.
Here night is not night, but is twilight,
Pervading, enfolding, and sweet.
Bright birds from all climes and all regions,
That sing the whole glad summer long,
Are dumb, till they flock here in legions
And lave in the ocean of song.
It is here that the four winds of heaven,
The winds that do sing and rejoice,
It is here they first came and were given
The secret of sound and a voice.
Far down along beautiful beeches,
By night and by glorious day,
The throng of the gifted ones reaches,
Their foreheads made white with the spray,
And a few of the sons and the daughters
Of this kingdom, cloud-hidden from sight,
Go down in the wonderful waters,
And bathe in those billows of light.
And their souls evermore are like fountains,
And liquid and lucent and strong,
High over the tops of the mountains
Gush up the sweet billows of song.
No drouth-time of waters can dry them.
Whoever has bathed in that sea,
All dangers, all deaths, they defy them,
And are gladder than gods are, with glee.
"IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN"
We will be what we could be. Do not say,
"It might have been, had not or that, or this."
No fate can keep us from the chosen way;
He only might, who IS.
We will do what we could do. Do not dream
Chance leaves a hero, all uncrowned to grieve.
I hold, all men are greatly what they seem;
He does, who could achieve.
We will climb where we could climb. Tell me not
Of adverse storms that kept thee from the height.
What eagle ever missed the peak he sought?
He always climbs who might.
I do not like the phrase, "It might have been!"
It lacks all force, and life's best truths perverts
For I believe we have, and reach, and win,
Whatever our deserts.
MOMUS, GOD OF LAUGHTER
Though with gods the world is cumbered,
Gods unnamed, and gods unnumbered,
Never god was known to be
Who had not his devotee.
So I dedicate to mine,
Here in verse, my temple-shrine.
'Tis not Ares,--mighty Mars,
Who can give success in wars.
'Tis not Morpheus, who doth keep
Guard above us while we sleep,
'Tis not Venus, she whose duty
'Tis to give us love and beauty;
Hail to these, and others, after
Momus, gleesome god of laughter.
Quirinus would guard my health,
Plutus would insure me wealth;
Mercury looks after trade,
Hera smiles on youth and maid.
All are kind, I own their worth,
After Momus, god of mirth.
Though Apollo, out of spite,
Hides away his face of light,
Though Minerva looks askance,
Deigning me no smiling glance,
Kings and queens may envy me
While I claim the god of glee.
Wisdom wearies, Love has wings -
Wealth makes burdens, Pleasure stings,
Glory proves a thorny crown -
So all gifts the gods throw down
Bring their pains and troubles after;
All save Momus, god of laughter.
He alone gives constant joy.
Hail to Momus, happy boy.
Oh, I have dreams. I sometimes dream of Life
In the full meaning of that splendid word.
Its subtle music which few men have heard,
Though all may hear it, sounding through earth's strife.
Its mountain heights by mystic breezes kissed
Lifting their lovely peaks above the dust;
Its treasures which no touch of time can rust,
Its emerald seas, its dawns of amethyst,
Its certain purpose, its serene repose,
Its usefulness, that finds no hour for woes,
This is my dream of Life.
Yes, I have dreams. I ofttimes dream of Love
As radiant and brilliant as a star.
As changeless, too, as that fixed light afar
Which glorifies vast worlds of space above.
Strong as the tempest when it holds its breath,
Before it bursts in fury; and as deep
As the unfathomed seas, where lost worlds sleep,
And sad as birth, and beautiful as death.
As fervent as the fondest soul could crave,
Yet holy as the moonlight on a grave.
This is my dream of Love.
Yes, yes, I dream. One oft-recurring dream
Is beautiful and comforting and blest,
Complete with certain promises of rest,
Divine content, and ecstasy supreme.
When that strange essence, author of all faith,
That subtle something, which cries for the light,
Like a lost child who wanders in the night,
Shall solve the mighty mystery of Death,
Shall find eternal progress, or sublime
And satisfying slumber for all time.
This is my dream of Death.
Alone it stands in Poesy's fair land,
A temple by the muses set apart;
A perfect structure of consummate art,
By artists builded and by genius planned,
Beyond the reach of the apprentice hand,
Beyond the ken of the untutored heart,
Like a fine carving in a common mart,
Only the favoured few will understand.
A chef d'auvre toiled over with great care,
Yet which the unseeing careless crowd goes by,
A plainly set, but well-cut solitaire,
An ancient bit of pottery, too rare
To please or hold aught save the special eye,
These only with the sonnet can compare.
Fling my past behind me, like a robe
Worn threadbare in the seams, and out of date.
I have outgrown it. Wherefore should I weep
And dwell up on its beauty, and its dyes
Of Oriental splendour, or complain
That I must needs discard it? I can weave
Upon the shuttles of the future years
A fabric far more durable. Subdued,
It may be, in the blending of its hues,
Where sombre shades commingle, yet the gleam
Of golden warp shall shoot it through and through,
While over all a fadeless lustre lies,
And starred with gems made out of crystalled tears,
My new robe shall be richer than the old.
That was a curious dream; I thought the three
Great planets that are drawing near the sun
With such unerring certainty begun
To talk together in a mighty glee.
They spoke of vast convulsions which would be
Throughout the solar system--the rare fun
Of watching haughty stars drop, one by one,
And vanish in a seething vapour sea.
I thought I heard them comment on the earth -
That small dark object--doomed beyond a doubt.
They wondered if live creatures moved about
Its tiny surface, deeming it of worth.
And then they laughed--'twas such a singing shout
That I awoke and joined too in their mirth.
Let mine not be that saddest fate of all
To live beyond my greater self; to see
My faculties decaying, as the tree
Stands stark and helpless while its green leaves fall.
Let me hear rather the imperious call,
Which all men dread, in my glad morning time,
And follow death ere I have reached my prime,
Or drunk the strengthening cordial of life's gall.
The lightning's stroke or the fierce tempest blast
Which fells the green tree to the earth to-day
Is kinder than the calm that lets it last,
Unhappy witness of its own decay.
May no man ever look on me and say,
"She lives, but all her usefulness is past."
There is no chance, no destiny, no fate,
Can circumvent or hinder or control
The firm resolve of a determined soul.
Gifts count for nothing; will alone is great;
All things give way before it, soon or late.
What obstacle can stay the mighty force
Of the sea-seeking river in its course,
Or cause the ascending orb of day to wait?
Each well-born soul must win what it deserves.
Let the fool prate of luck. The fortunate
Is he whose earnest purpose never swerves,
Whose slightest action or inaction serve.
The one great aim.
Why, even Death stands still,
And waits an hour sometimes for such a will.
Falling upon the frozen world last
I heard the slow beat of the Winter rain -
Poor foolish drops, down-dripping all in vain;
The ice-bound Earth but mocked their puny might,
Far better had the fixedness of white
And uncomplaining snows--which make no sign,
But coldly smile, when pitying moonbeams shine -
Concealed its sorrow from all human sight.
Long, long ago, in blurred and burdened years,
I learned the uselessness of uttered woe.
Though sinewy Fate deals her most skilful blow,
I do not waste the gall now of my tears,
But feed my pride upon its bitter, while
I look straight in the world's bold eyes, and smile.
Life, like a romping schoolboy, full of glee,
Doth bear us on his shoulder for a time.
There is no path too steep for him to climb.
With strong, lithe limbs, as agile and as free,
As some young roe, he speeds by vale and sea,
By flowery mead, by mountain peak sublime,
And all the world seems motion set to rhyme,
Till, tired out, he cries, "Now carry me!"
In vain we murmur; "Come," Life says, "Fair play!"
And seizes on us. God! he goads us so!
He does not let us sit down all the day.
At each new step we feel the burden grow,
Till our bent backs seem breaking as we go,
Watching for Death to meet us on the way.
"Genius, a man's weapon, a woman's burden."--Lamartine.
Dear God! there is no sadder fate in life
Than to be burdened so that you can not
Sit down contented with the common lot
Of happy mother and devoted wife.
To feel your brain wild and your bosom rife
With all the sea's commotion; to be fraught
With fires and frenzies which you have not sought,
And weighed down with the wild world's weary strife;
To feel a fever always in your breast;
To lean and hear, half in affright, half shame,
A loud-voiced public boldly mouth your name;
To reap your hard-sown harvest in unrest,
And know, however great your meed of fame,
You are but a weak woman at the best.
LET THEM GO
Let the dream go. Are there not other dreams
In vastness of clouds hid from thy sight
That yet shall gild with beautiful gold gleams,
And shoot the shadows through and through with light?
What matters one lost vision of the night?
Let the dream go!!
Let the hope set. Are there not other hopes
That yet shall rise like new stars in thy sky?
Not long a soul in sullen darkness gropes
Before some light is lent it from on high;
What folly to think happiness gone by!
Let the hope set!
Let the joy fade. Are there not other joys,
Like frost-bound bulbs, that yet shall start and bloom?
Severe must be the winter that destroys
The hardy roots locked in their silent tomb.
What cares the earth for her brief time of gloom
Let the joy fade!
Let the love die. Are there not other loves
As beautiful and full of sweet unrest,
Flying through space like snowy-pinioned doves?
They yet shall come and nestle in thy breast,
And thou shalt say of each, "Lo, this is best!"
Let the love die!
I--THE MOTHER'S KISS
Love breathed a secret to her listening heart,
And said "Be silent." Though she guarded it,
And dwelt as one within a world apart,
Yet sun and star seemed by that secret lit.
And where she passed, each whispering wind ablow,
And every little blossom in the sod,
Called joyously to her, "We know, we know,
For are we not the intimates of God?"
Life grew so radiant, and so opulent,
That when her fragile body and her brain
By mortal throes of agony were rent,
She felt a curious rapture in her pain.
Then, after anguish, came the supreme bliss -
They brought the little baby, for her kiss!
There was a little pause between the dances;
Without, somewhere, a tinkling fountain played.
The dusky path was lit by ardent glances
As forth they fared, a lover and a maid.
He chose a nook, from curious eyes well hidden -
All redolent with sweet midsummer charm,
And by the great primeval instinct bidden,
He drew her in the shelter of his arm.
The words that long deep in his heart had trembled
Found sudden utterance; she at first dissembled,
Refused her lips, and half withdrew her hand,
Then murmured "Yes," and yielded, woman fashion,
Her virgin mouth to young love's kiss of passion.
III--THE BRIDAL KISS
As fleecy clouds trail back across the skies,
Showing the sweet young moon in azure space,
The lifted veil revealed her shining face -
A sudden wonder to his eager eyes.
In that familiar beauty lurked surprise:
For now the wife stood in the maiden's place -
With conscious dignity, and woman's grace,
And love's large pride grown trebly fair and wise.
The world receded, leaving them alone.
The universe was theirs, from sphere to sphere,
And life assumed new meaning, and new worth.
Love held no privilege they did not own,
And when they kissed each other without fear,
They understood why God had made the earth.
Sequestered in their calm domestic bower,
They sat together. He in manhood's prime
And she a matron in her fullest flower.
The mantel clock gave forth a warning chime.
She put her work aside; his bright cigar
Grew pale, and crumbled in an ashen heap.
The lights went out, save one remaining star
That watched beside the children in their sleep.
She hummed a little song and nestled near,
As side by side they went to their repose.
His arm about her waist, he whispered "Dear,"
And pressed his lips upon her mouth's full rose -
The sacred sweetness of their wedded life
Breathed in that kiss of husband and of wife.
The young see heaven--but to the old who wait
The final call, the hills of youth arise
More beautiful than shores of Paradise.
Beside a glowing and voracious grate
A dozing couple dream of yesterday;
The islands of a vanished past appear,
Bringing forgotten names and faces near;
While lost in mist, the present fades away.
The fragrant winds of tender memories blow
Across the gardens of the "Used-to-be!"
They smile into each other's eyes, and see
The bride and bridegroom of the long ago.
And tremulous lips, pressed close to faded cheek
Love's silent tale of deathless passion speak.
I look down the lengthening distance
Far back to youth's valley of hope.
How strange seemed the ways of existence,
How infinite life and its scope!
What dreams, what ambitions came thronging
To people a world of my own!
How the heart in my bosom was longing,
For pleasures and places unknown.
But the hill-tops of pleasure and beauty
Were covered with mist at the dawn;
And only the rugged road Duty
Shone clear, as my feet wandered on.
I loved not the path and its leading,
I hated the rocks and the dust;
But a Voice from the Silence was pleading,
It spoke but one syllable--"Trust."
I saw, as the morning grew older,
The fair flowered hills of delight;
And the feet of my comrades grew bolder,
They hurried away from my sight.
And when on the pathway I faltered,
And when I rebelled at my fate,
The Voice with assurance unaltered,
Again spoke one syllable--"Wait."
Along the hard highway I travelled
And saw, with dim vision, how soon
The morning's gold locks were unravelled,
By fingers of amorous noon.
A turn in the pathway of duty -
I stood in the perfect day's prime,
Close, close to the hillside of beauty
The Voice from the Silence said "Climb"
The road to the beautiful Regions
Lies ever through Duty's hard way.
Oh ye who go searching in legions,
Know this and be patient to-day.
Last night I saw Helena. She whose praise
Of late all men have sounded. She for whom
Young Angus rashly sought a silent tomb
Rather than live without her all his days.
Wise men go mad who look upon her long,
She is so ripe with dangers. Yet meanwhile
I find no fascination in her smile,
Although I make her theme of this poor song.
"Her golden tresses?" yes, they may be fair,
And yet to me each shining silken tress
Seems robbed of beauty and all lustreless -
Too many hands have stroked Helena's hair.
(I know a little maiden so demure
She will not let her one true lover's hands
In playful fondness touch her soft brown bands
So dainty-minded is she, and so pure.)
"Her great dark eyes that flash like gems at night?
Large, long-lashed eyes and lustrous?" that may be,
And yet they are not beautiful to me.
Too many hearts have sunned in their delight.
(I mind me of two tender blue eyes, hid
So underneath white curtains, and so veiled
That I have sometimes plead for hours, and failed
To see more than the shyly lifted lid.)
"Her perfect mouth so liked a carved kiss?"
"Her honeyed-mouth, where hearts do, fly-like, drown?"
I would not taste its sweetness for a crown;
Too many lips have drank its nectared bliss.
(I know a mouth whose virgin dew, undried,
Lies like a young grape's bloom, untouched and sweet,
And though I plead in passion at her feet,
She would not let me brush it if I died.)
In vain, Helena! though wise men may vie
For thy rare smile, or die from loss of it,
Armoured by my sweet lady's trust, I sit,
And know thou are not worth her faintest sigh.
Nothing remains of unrecorded ages
That lie in the silent cemetery time;
Their wisdom may have shamed our wisest sages,
Their glory may have been indeed sublime.
How weak do seem our strivings after power,
How poor the grandest efforts of our brains,
If out of all we are, in one short hour
Nothing remains but the Eternal Spaces,
Time and decay uproot the forest trees.
Even the mighty mountains leave their places,
And sink their haughty heads beneath strange seas
The great earth writhes in some convulsive spasms
And turns the proudest cities into plains.
The level sea becomes a yawning chasm -
Nothing remains but the Eternal Forces,
The sad seas cease complaining and grow dry,
Rivers are drained and altered in their courses,
Great stars pass out and vanish from the sky.
Ideas die and old religions perish,
Our rarest pleasures and our keenest pains
Are swept away with all we hate or cherish -
Nothing remains but the Eternal Nameless
And all-creative spirit of the Law,
Uncomprehended, comprehensive, blameless,
Invincible, resistless, with no flaw;
So full of love it must create for ever,
Destroying that it may create again,
Persistent and perfecting in endeavour,
It yet must bring forth angels, after men -
This, this remains!
I and my Soul are alone to-day,
All in the shining weather;
We were sick of the world, and put it away,
So we could rejoice together.
Our host, the Sun, in the blue, blue sky
Is mixing a rare, sweet wine,
In the burnished gold of this cup on high,
For me, and this Soul of mine.
We find it a safe and royal drink,
And a cure for every pain;
It helps us to love, and helps us to think,
And strengthens body and brain.
And sitting here, with my Soul alone,
Where the yellow sun-rays fall,
Of all the friends I have ever known
I find it the BEST of all.
We rarely meet when the world is near,
For the World hath a pleasing art
And brings me so much that is bright and dear
That my Soul it keepeth apart.
But when I grow weary of mirth and glee,
Of glitter, glow, and splendour,
Like a tried old friend it comes to me,
With a smile that is sad and tender.
And we walk together as two friends may,
And laugh and drink God's wine.
Oh, a royal comrade any day
I find this Soul of mine.
Now, while thy rounded cheek is fresh and fair,
While beauty lingers, laughing, in thine eyes,
Ere thy young heart shall meet the stranger, "Care,"
Or thy blithe soul become the home of sighs,
Were it not kindness should I give thee rest
By plunging this sharp dagger in thy breast?
Dying so young, with all thy wealth of youth,
What part of life wouldst thou not claim, in sooth?
Only the woe,
Sweetheart, that sad souls know.
Now, in this sacred hour of supreme trust,
Of pure delight and palpitating joy,
Ere change can come, as come it surely must,
With jarring doubts and discords, to destroy
Our far too perfect peace, I pray thee, Sweet,
Were it not best for both of us, and meet,
If I should bring swift death to seal our bliss?
Dying so full of joy, what could we miss?
Nothing but tears,
Sweetheart, and weary years.
How slight the action! Just one well-aimed blow
Here, where I feel thy warm heart's pulsing beat,
And then another through my own, and so
Our perfect union would be made complete:
So, past all parting, I should claim thee mine.
Dead with our youth, and faith, and love divine,
Should we not keep the best of life that way?
What shall we gain by living day on day?
What shall we gain,
Sweetheart, but bitter pain?
TO THE WEST
[In an interview with Lawrence Barrett, he said: "The literature of
the New World must look to the West for its poetry."]
Not to the crowded East,
Where, in a well-worn groove,
Like the harnessed wheel of a great machine,
The trammelled mind must move--
Where Thought must follow the fashion of Thought,
Or be counted vulgar and set at naught.
Not to the languid South,
Where the mariners of the brain
Are lured by the Sirens of the Sense,
And wrecked upon its main -
Where Thought is rocked, on the sweet wind's breath
To a torpid sleep that ends in death.
But to the mighty West,
That chosen realm of God,
Where Nature reaches her hands to men,
And Freedom walks abroad -
Where mind is King, and fashion is naught,
There shall the New World look for thought
To the West, the beautiful West,
She shall look, and not in vain -
For out of its broad and boundless store
Come muscle, and nerve, and brain.
Let the bards of the East and the South be dumb -
For out of the West shall the Poets come.
They shall come with souls as great
As the cradle where they were rocked;
They shall come with brows that are touched with fire
Like the gods with whom they have walked;
They shall come from the West in royal state,
The Singers and Thinkers for whom we wait.
THE LAND OF CONTENT
I set out for the Land of Content,
By the gay crowded pleasure-highway,
With laughter, and jesting, I went
With the mirth-loving throng for a day;
Then I knew I had wandered astray,
For I met returned pilgrims, belated,
Who said, "We are weary and sated,
But we found not the Land of Content."
I turned to the steep path of fame,
I said, "It is over yon height -
This land with the beautiful name -
Ambition will lend me its light."
But I paused in my journey ere night,
For the way grew so lonely and troubled;
I said--my anxiety doubled -
"This is not the road to Content."
Then I joined the great rabble and throng
That frequents the moneyed world's mart;
But the greed, and the grasping and wrong,
Left me only one wish--to depart.
And sickened, and saddened at heart,
I hurried away from the gateway,
For my soul and my spirit said straightway.
"This is not the road to Content."
Then weary in body and brain,
An overgrown path I detected,
And I said "I will hide with my pain
In this byway, unused and neglected."
Lo! it led to the realm God selected
To crown with His best gifts of beauty,
And through the dark pathway of duty
I came to the land of Content.
High in the heavens I saw the moon this morning,
Albeit the sun shone bright;
Unto my soul it spoke, in voice of warning,
AFTER THE BATTLES ARE OVER
[Read at Reunion of the G. A. T., Madison, Wis., July 4, 1872.]
After the battles are over,
And the war drums cease to beat,
And no more is heard on the hillside
The sound of hurrying feet,
Full many a noble action,
That was done in the days of strife
By the soldier is half forgotten,
In the peaceful walks of life.
Just as the tangled grasses,
In Summer's warmth and light,
Grow over the graves of the fallen
And hide them away from sight,
So many an act of valour,
And many a deed sublime,
Fade from the mind of the soldier
O'ergrown by the grass of time
Not so should they be rewarded,
Those noble deeds of old!
They should live for ever and ever,
When the heroes' hearts are cold.
Then rally, ye brave old comrades,
Old veterans, reunite!
Uproot Time's tangled grasses -
Live over the march, and the fight.
Let Grant come up from the White House,
And clasp each brother's hand,
First chieftain of the army,
Last chieftain of the land.
Let him rest from a nation's burdens,
And go, in thought, with his men,
Through the fire and smoke of Shiloh,
And save the day again.
This silent hero of battles
Knew no such word as defeat.
It was left for the rebels' learning,
Along with the word--retreat.
He was not given to talking,
But he found that guns would preach
In a way that was more convincing
Than fine and flowery speech
Three cheers for the grave commander
Of the grand old Tennessee!
Who won the first great battle -
Gained the first great victory.
His motto was always "Conquer,"
"Success" was his countersign,
And "though it took all Summer,"
He kept fighting upon "that line."
Let Sherman, the stern old General,
Come rallying with his men;
Let them march once more through Georgia
And down to the sea again.
Oh! that grand old tramp to Savannah,
Three hundred miles to the coast,
It will live in the heart of the nation,
For ever its pride and boast.
As Sheridan went to the battle,
When a score of miles away,
He has come to the feast and banquet,
By the iron horse to-day.
Its pace is not much swifter
Than the pace of that famous steed
Which bore him down to the contest
And saved the day by his speed.
Then go over the ground to-day, boys
Tread each remembered spot.
It will be a gleesome journey,
On the swift-shod feet of thought;
You can fight a bloodless battle,
You can skirmish along the route,
But it's not worth while to forage,
There are rations enough without.
Don't start if you hear the cannon,
It is not the sound of doom,
It does not call to the contest -
To the battle's smoke and gloom.
"Let us have peace," was spoken,
And lo! peace ruled again;
And now the nation is shouting,
Through the cannon's voice, "Amen."
O boys who besieged old Vicksburgh,
Can time e'er wash away
The triumph of her surrender,
Nine years ago to-day?
Can you ever forget the moment,
When you saw the flag of white,
That told how the grim old city
Had fallen in her might?
Ah, 'twas a bold, brave army,
When the boys, with a right good will,
Went gaily marching and singing
To the fight at Champion Hill.
They met with a warm reception,
But the soul of "Old John Brown"
Was abroad on that field of battle,
And our flag did NOT go down.
Come, heroes of Look Out Mountain,
Of Corinth and Donelson,
Of Kenesaw and Atlanta,
And tell how the day was won!
Hush! bow the head for a moment -
There are those who cannot come.
No bugle-call can arouse them -
No sound of fife or drum.
Oh, boys who died for the country,
Oh, dear and sainted dead!
What can we say about you
That has not once been said?
Whether you fell in the contest,
Struck down by shot and shell,
Or pined 'neath the hand of sickness
Or starved in the prison cell,
We know that you died for Freedom,
To save our land from shame,
To rescue a perilled Nation,
And we give you deathless fame.
'Twas the cause of Truth and Justice
That you fought and perished for,
And we say it, oh, so gently,
"Our boys who died in the war."
Saviours of our Republic,
Heroes who wore the blue,
We owe the peace that surrounds us -
And our Nation's strength to you.
We owe it to you that our banner,
The fairest flag in the world,
Is to-day unstained, unsullied,
On the Summer air unfurled.
We look on its stripes and spangles,
And our hearts are filled the while
With love for the brave commanders,
And the boys of the rank and file.
The grandest deeds of valour
Were never written out,
The noblest acts of virtue
The world knows nothing about.
And many a private soldier,
Who walks his humble way,
With no sounding name or title,
Unknown to the world to-day,
In the eyes of God is a hero
As worthy of the bays
As any mighty General
To whom the world gives praise.
Brave men of a mighty army,
We extend you friendship's hand
I speak for the "Loyal Women,"
Those pillars of our land.
We wish you a hearty welcome,
We are proud that you gather here
To talk of old times together
On this brightest day in the year.
And if Peace, whose snow-white pinions
Brood over our land to-day,
Should ever again go from us,
(God grant she may ever stay!)
Should our Nation call in her peril
For "Six hundred thousand more,"
The loyal women would hear her,
And send you out as before.
We would bring out the treasured knapsack,
We would take the sword from the wall,
And hushing our own hearts' pleadings,
Hear only the country's call.
For next to our God is our Nation;
And we cherish the honoured name
Of the bravest of all brave armies
Who fought for that Nation's fame.
AND THEY ARE DUMB
I have been across the bridges of the years.
Wet with tears
Were the ties on which I trod, going back
Down the track
To the valley where I left, 'neath skies of Truth,
My lost youth.
As I went, I dropped my burdens, one and all -
Let them fall;
All my sorrows, all my wrinkles, all my care,
My white hair,
I laid down, like some lone pilgrim's heavy pack,
By the track.
As I neared the happy valley with light feet,
My heart beat
To the rhythm of a song I used to know
And my spirits gushed and bubbled like a fountain
Down a mountain.
On the border of that valley I found you,
Tried and true;
And we wandered through the golden Summer-Land
Hand in hand.
And my pulses beat with rapture in the blisses
Of your kisses.
And we met there, in those green and verdant places,
And sweet laughter echoed upward from the dells
Like gold bells.
And the world was spilling over with the glory
Of Youth's story.
It was but a dreamer's journey of the brain;
I have left the happy valley far behind;
And I find
Time stands waiting with his burdens in a pack
For my back.
As he speeds me, like a rough, well-meaning friend,
To the end,
Will I find again the lost ones loved so well?
Who can tell!
But the dead know what the life will be to come -
And they are dumb!
As some dusk mother shields from all alarms
The tired child she gathers to her breast,
The brunette Night doth fold me in her arms,
And hushes me to perfect peace and rest.
Her eyes of stars shine on me, and I hear
Her voice of winds low crooning on my ear.
O Night, O Night, how beautiful thou art!
Come, fold me closer to thy pulsing heart.
The day is full of gladness, and the light
So beautifies the common outer things,
I only see with my external sight,
And only hear the great world's voice which rings.
But silently from daylight and from din
The sweet Night draws me--whispers, "Look within!"
And looking, as one wakened from a dream,
I see what IS--no longer what doth seem.
The Night says, "Listen!" and upon my ear
Revealed, as are the visions to my sight,
The voices known as "Beautiful" come near
And whisper of the vastly Infinite.
Great, blue-eyed Truth, her sister Purity,
Their brother Honour, all converse with me,
And kiss my brow, and say, "Be brave of heart!"
O holy three! how beautiful thou art!
The Night says, "Child, sleep that thou may'st arise
Strong for to-morrow's struggle." And I feel
Her shadowy fingers pressing on my eyes:
Like thistledown I float to the Ideal -
The Slumberland, made beautiful and bright
As death, by dreams of loved ones gone from sight,
O food for souls, sweet dreams of pure delight,
How beautiful the holy hours of Night!
ALL FOR ME
The world grows green on a thousand hills -
By a thousand willows the bees are humming,
And a million birds by a million rills,
Sing of the golden season coming.
But, gazing out on the sun-kist lea,
And hearing a thrush and a blue-bird singing,
I feel that the summer is all for me,
And all for me are the joys it is bringing.
All for me the bumble-bee
Drones his song in the perfect weather;
And, just on purpose to sing to me,
Thrush and blue-bird came North together.
Just for me, in red and white,
Bloom and blossom the fields of clover;
And all for me and my delight
The wild Wind follows and plays the lover.
The mighty sun, with a scorching kiss
(I have read, and heard, and do not doubt it)
Has burned up a thousand worlds like this,
And never stopped to think about it.
And yet I believe he hurries up
Just on purpose to kiss my flowers -
To drink the dew from the lily-cup,
And help it to grow through golden hours.
I know I am only a speck of dust,
An individual mite of masses,
Clinging upon the outer crust
Of a little ball of cooling gases.
And yet, and yet, say what you will,
And laugh, if you please, at my lack of reason,
For me wholly, and for me still,
Blooms and blossoms the Summer season.
Nobody else has ever heard
The story the Wind to me discloses;
And none but I and the humming-bird
Can read the hearts of the crimson roses.
Ah, my Summer--my love--my own!
The world grows glad in your smiling weather;
Yet all for me, and me alone,
You and your Court came North together.
If the sad old world should jump a cog
Sometime, in its dizzy spinning,
And go off the track with a sudden jog,
What an end would come to the sinning,
What a rest from strife and the burdens of life
For the millions of people in it,
What a way out of care, and worry and wear,
All in a beautiful minute.
As 'round the sun with a curving sweep
It hurries and runs and races,
Should it lose its balance, and go with a leap
Into the vast sea-spaces,
What a blest relief it would bring to the grief,
And the trouble and toil about us,
To be suddenly hurled from the solar world
And let it go on without us.
With not a sigh or a sad good-bye
For loved ones left behind us,
We would go with a lunge and a mighty plunge
Where never a grave should find us.
What a wild mad thrill our veins would fill
As the great earth, like a feather,
Should float through the air to God knows where,
And carry us all together.
No dark, damp tomb and no mourner's gloom,
No tolling bell in the steeple,
But in one swift breath a painless death
For a million billion people.
What greater bliss could we ask than this,
To sweep with a bird's free motion
Through leagues of space to a resting place,
In a vast and vapoury ocean -
To pass away from this life for aye
With never a dear tie sundered,
And a world on fire for a funeral pyre,
While the stars looked on and wondered?
THROUGH DIM EYES
Is it the world, or my eyes, that are sadder?
I see not the grace that I used to see
In the meadow-brook whose song was so glad, or
In the boughs of the willow tree.
The brook runs slower--its song seems lower
And not the song that it sang of old;
And the tree I admired looks weary and tired
Of the changeless story of heat and cold.
When the sun goes up, and the stars go under,
In that supreme hour of the breaking day,
Is it my eyes, or the dawn, I wonder,
That finds less of the gold, and more of the gray
I see not the splendour, the tints so tender,
The rose-hued glory I used to see;
And I often borrow a vague half-sorrow
That another morning has dawned for me.
When the royal smile of that welcome comer
Beams on the meadow and burns in the sky,
Is it my eyes, or does the Summer
Bring less of bloom than in days gone by?
The beauty that thrilled me, the rapture that filled me,
To an overflowing of happy tears,
I pass unseeing, my sad eyes being
Dimmed by the shadow of vanished years.
When the heart grows weary, all things seem dreary;
When the burden grows heavy, the way seems long.
Thank God for sending kind death as an ending,
Like a grand Amen to a minor song.
Not they who know the awful gibbet's anguish,
Not they who, while sad years go by them, in
The sunless cells of lonely prisons languish,
Do suffer fullest penalty for sin.
'Tis they who walk the highways unsuspected,
Yet with grim fear for ever at their side,
Who hug the corpse of some sin undetected,
A corpse no grave or coffin-lid can hide -
'Tis they who are in their own chambers haunted
By thoughts that like unbidden guests intrude,
And sit down, uninvited and unwanted,
And make a nightmare of the solitude.
I feel the stirrings in me of great things.
New half-fledged thoughts rise up and beat their wings,
And tremble on the margin of their nest,
Then flutter back, and hide within my breast.
Beholding space, they doubt their untried strength.
Beholding men, they fear them. But at length,
Grown all too great and active for the heart
That broods them with such tender mother art,
Forgetting fear, and men, and all, that hour,
Save the impelling consciousness of power
That stirs within them--they shall soar away
Up to the very portals of the Day.
Oh, what exultant rapture thrills me through
When I contemplate all those thoughts may do;
Like snow-white eagles penetrating space,
They may explore full many an unknown place,
And build their nests on mountain heights unseen,
Whereon doth lie that dreamed-of rest serene.
Stay thou a little longer in my breast,
Till my fond heart shall push thee from the nest
Anxious to see thee soar to heights divine -
Oh, beautiful but half-fledged thoughts of mine.
What can be said in New Year rhymes,
That's not been said a thousand times?
The new years come, the old years go,
We know we dream, we dream we know.
We rise up laughing with the light,
We lie down weeping with the night.
We hug the world until it stings,
We curse it then and sigh for wings.
We live, we love, we woo, we wed,
We wreathe our brides, we sheet our dead.
We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,
And that's the burden of the year.
A vision beauteous as the morn,
With heavenly eyes and tresses streaming,
Slow glided o'er a field late shorn
Where walked a poet idly dreaming.
He saw her, and joy lit his face,
"Oh, vanish not at human speaking,"
He cried, "thou form of magic grace,
Thou art the poem I am seeking.
"I've sought thee long! I claim thee now -
My thought embodied, living, real."
She shook the tresses from her brow.
"Nay, nay!" she said, "I am ideal.
I am the phantom of desire -
The spirit of all great endeavour,
I am the voice that says, 'Come higher,'
That calls men up and up for ever.
"'Tis not alone thy thought supreme
That here upon thy path has risen;
I am the artist's highest dream,
The ray of light he cannot prison.
I am the sweet ecstatic note
Than all glad music gladder, clearer,
That trembles in the singer's throat,
And dies without a human hearer.
"I am the greater, better yield,
That leads and cheers thy farmer neighbour,
For me he bravely tills the field
And whistles gaily at his labour.
Not thou alone, O poet soul,
Dost seek me through an endless morrow,
But to the toiling, hoping whole
I am at once the hope and sorrow.
"The spirit of the unattained,
I am to those who seek to name me,
A good desired but never gained:
All shall pursue, but none shall claim me."
IN THE CROWD
How happy they are, in all seeming,
How gay, or how smilingly proud,
How brightly their faces are beaming,
These people who make up the crowd!
How they bow, how they bend, how they flutter,
How they look at each other and smile,
How they glow, and what bon mots they utter!
But a strange thought has found me the while!
It is odd, but I stand here and fancy
These people who now play a part,
All forced by some strange necromancy
To speak, and to act, from the heart.
What a hush would come over the laughter!
What a silence would fall on the mirth!
And then what a wail would sweep after,
As the night-wind sweeps over the earth!
If the secrets held under and hidden
In the intricate hearts of the crowd
Were suddenly called to, and bidden
To rise up and cry out aloud,
How strange one would look to another!
Old friends of long standing and years -
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