Latest quotes | Random quotes | Vote! | Latest comments | Add quote

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Fourth Book

THEY met still sooner. 'Twas a year from thence
When Lucy Gresham, the sick semptress girl,
Who sewed by Marian's chair so still and quick,
And leant her head upon the back to cough
More freely when, the mistress turning round,
The others took occasion to laugh out,–
Gave up a last. Among the workers, spoke
A bold girl with black eyebrows and red lips,–
'You know the news? Who's dying, do you think?
Our Lucy Gresham. I expected it
As little as Nell Hart's wedding. Blush not, Nell,
Thy curls be red enough without thy cheeks;
And, some day, there'll be found a man to dote
On red curls.–Lucy Gresham swooned last night,
Dropped sudden in the street while going home;
And now the baker says, who took her up
And laid her by her grandmother in bed,
He'll give her a week to die in. Pass the silk.
Let's hope he gave her a loaf too, within reach,
For otherwise they'll starve before they die,
That funny pair of bedfellows! Miss Bell,
I'll thank you for the scissors. The old crone
Is paralytic–that's the reason why
Our Lucy's thread went faster than her breath,
Which went too quick, we all know. Marian Erle!
Why, Marian Erle, you're not the fool to cry?
Your tears spoil Lady Waldemar's new dress,
You piece of pity!'
Marian rose up straight,
And, breaking through the talk and through the work,
Went outward, in the face of their surprise,
To Lucy's home, to nurse her back to life
Or down to death. She knew by such an act,
All place and grace were forfeit in the house,
Whose mistress would supply the missing hand
With necessary, not inhuman haste,
And take no blame. But pity, too, had dues:
She could not leave a solitary soul
To founder in the dark, while she sate still
And lavished stitches on a lady's hem
As if no other work were paramount.
'Why, God,' thought Marian, 'has a missing hand
This moment; Lucy wants a drink, perhaps.
Let others miss me! never miss me, God!'

So Marian sat by Lucy's bed, content
With duty, and was strong, for recompense,
To hold the lamp of human love arm-high
To catch the death-strained eyes and comfort them,
Until the angels, on the luminous side
Of death, had got theirs ready. And she said,
When Lucy thanked her sometimes, called her kind,
It touched her strangely. 'Marian Erle called kind!
What, Marian, beaten and sold, who could not die!
'Tis verily good fortune to be kind.
Ah, you,' she said, 'who are born to such a grace,
Be sorry for the unlicensed class, the poor,
Reduced to think the best good fortune means
That others, simply, should be kind to them.'

From sleep to sleep while Lucy slid away
So gently, like a light upon a hill,
Of which none names the moment when it goes,
Though all see when 'tis gone,–a man came in
And stood beside the bed. The old idiot wretch
Screamed feebly, like a baby overlain,
'Sir, sir, you won't mistake me for the corpse?
Don't look at me, sir! never bury me!
Although I lie here, I'm alive as you,
Except my legs and arms,–I eat and drink,
And understand,–(that you're the gentleman
Who fits the funerals up, Heaven speed you, sir,)
And certainly I should be livelier still
If Lucy here . . sir, Lucy is the corpse . .
Had worked more properly to buy me wine:
But Lucy, sir, was always slow at work,
I shan't lose much by Lucy. Marian Erle,
Speak up and show the gentleman the corpse.'

And then a voice said, 'Marian Erle.' She rose;
It was the hour for angels–there, stood hers!
She scarcely marvelled to see Romney Leigh.
As light November snows to empty nests,
As grass to graves, as moss to mildewed stones,
As July suns to ruins, through the rents,
As ministering spirits to mourners, through a loss,
As Heaven itself to men, through pangs of death,
He came uncalled wherever grief had come.
'And so,' said Marian Erle, 'we meet anew,'
And added softly, 'so, we shall not part.'
He was not angry that she had left the house
Wherein he placed her. Well–she had feared it might
Have vexed him. Also, when he found her set
On keeping, though the dead was out of sight,
That half-dead, half-live body left behind
With cankerous heart and flesh,–which took your best
And cursed you for the little good it did,
(Could any leave the bedrid wretch alone,
So joyless, she was thankless even to God,
Much less to you?) he did not say 'twas well
Yet Marian thought he did not take it ill,–
Since day by day he came, and, every day,
She felt within his utterance and his eyes
A closer, tenderer presence of the soul,
Until at last he said, 'We shall not part.'

On that same day, was Marian's work complete:
She had smoothed the empty bed, and swept the floor
Of coffin sawdust, set the chairs anew
The dead had ended gossip in, and stood
In that poor room so cold and orderly,
The door-key in her hand, prepared to go
As they had, howbeit not their way. He spoke.

'Dear Marian, of one clay God made us all,
And though men push and poke and paddle in't
(As children play at fashioning dirt-pies)
And call their fancies by the name of facts,
Assuming difference, lordship, privilege,
When all's plain dirt,–they come back to it at last;
The first grave-digger proves it with a spade,
And pats all even. Need we wait for this,
You, Marian, and I, Romney?'
She at that,
Looked blindly in his face, as when one looks
Through drying autumn-rains to find the sky.
He went on speaking.
'Marian, I being born
What men call noble, and you, issued from
The noble people,–though the tyrannous sword
Which pierced Christ's heart, has cleft the world in twain
'Twixt class and class, opposing rich to poor,–
Shall we keep parted? Not so. Let us lean
And strain together rather, each to each,
Compress the red lips of this gaping wound,
As far as two souls can,–ay, lean and league,
I, from my superabundance,–from your want,
You,–joining in a protest 'gainst the wrong
On both sides!'–
All the rest, he held her hand
In speaking, which confused the sense of much;
Her heart, against his words, beat out so thick
They might as well be written on the dust
Where some poor bird, escaping from hawk's beak,
Has dropped, and beats its shuddering wings,–the lines
Are rubbed so,–yet 'twas something like to this,
–'That they two, standing at the two extremes
Of social classes, had received one seal,
Been dedicate and drawn beyond themselves
To mercy and ministration,–he, indeed,
Through what he knew, and she, through what she felt,
He, by man's conscience, she, by woman's heart,
Relinquishing their several 'vantage posts
Of wealthy case and honourable toil,
To work with God at love. And, since God willed
That, putting out his hand to touch this ark,
He found a woman's hand there, he'd accept
The sign too, hold the tender fingers fast,
And say, 'My fellow-worker, be my wife!'

She told the tale with simple, rustic turns,–
Strong leaps of meaning in her sudden eyes
That took the gaps of any imperfect phrase
Of the unschooled speaker: I have rather writ
The thing I understood so, than the thing
I heard so. And I cannot render right
Her quick gesticulation, wild yet soft,
Self-startled from the habitual mood she used,
Half sad, half languid,–like dumb creatures (now
A rustling bird, and now a wandering deer,
Or squirrel against the oak-gloom flashing up
His sidelong burnished head, in just her way
Of savage spontaneity,) that stir
Abruptly the green silence of the woods,
And make it stranger, holier, more profound;
As Nature's general heart confessed itself
Of life, and then fell backward on repose.

I kissed the lips that ended.–'So indeed
He loves you, Marian?'
'Loves me!' She looked up
With a child's wonder when you ask him first
Who made the sun–a puzzled blush, that grew,
Then broke off in a rapid radiant smile
Of sure solution. 'Loves me! he loves all,–
And me, of course. He had not asked me else
To work with him for ever, and be his wife.'
Her words reproved me. This perhaps was love–
To have its hands too full of gifts to give,
For putting out a hand to take a gift;
To love so much, the perfect round of love
Includes, in strictly conclusion, the being loved;
As Eden-dew went up and fell again,
Enough for watering Eden. Obviously
She had not thought about his love at all:
The cataracts of her soul had poured themselves
And risen self-crowned in rainbow; would she ask
Who crowned her?–it sufficed that she was crowned.
With women of my class, 'tis otherwise:
We haggle for the small change of our gold,
And so much love, accord, for so much love,
Rialto-prices. Are we therefore wrong?
If marriage be a contract, look to it then,
Contracting parties should be equal, just;
Bit if, a simple fealty on one side,
A mere religion,–right to give, is all,
And certain brides of Europe duly ask
To mount the pile, as Indian widows do,
The spices of their tender youth heaped up,
The jewels of their gracious virtues worn,
More gems, more glory,–to consume entire
For a living husband! as the man's alive,
Not dead,–the woman's duty, by so much,
Advanced in England, beyond Hindostan.

I sate there, musing, till she touched my hand
With hers, as softly as a strange white bird
She feared to startle in touching. 'You are kind.
But are you, peradventure, vexed at heart
Because your cousin takes me for a wife?
I know I am not worthy–nay, in truth,
I'm glad on't, since, for that, he chooses me.
He likes the poor things of the world the best;
I would not therefore, if I could, be rich,
It pleasures him to stoop for buttercups;
I would not be a rose upon the wall
A queen might stop at, near the palace-door,
To say to a courtier, 'Pluck that rose for me,
'It's prettier than the rest.' O Romeny Leigh!
I'd rather far be trodden by his foot,
Than like in a great queen's bosom'
Out of breath
She paused.
'Sweet Marian, do you disavow
The roses with that face?'
She dropt her head
As if the wind had caught that flower of her,
And bent it in the garden,–then looked up
With grave assurance. 'Well, you think me bold!
But so we all are, when we're praying to God.
And if I'm bold–yet, lady, credit me,
That, since I know myself for what I am
Much fitter for his handmaid than his wife,
I'll prove the handmaid and the wife at once,
Serve tenderly, and love obediently,
And be a worthier mate, perhaps, than some
Who are wooed in silk among their learned books;
While I shall set myself to read his eyes,
Till such grow plainer to me than the French
To wisest ladies. Do you think I'll miss
A letter, in the spelling of his mind?'
No more than they do, when they sit and write
Their flying words with flickering wild-fowl tails,
Nor ever pause to ask how many t s,
Should that be a y or i –they know't so well:
I've seen them writing, when I brought a dress
And waited,–floating out their soft white hands
On shining paper. But they're hard sometimes,
For all those hands!–we've used out many nights,
And worn the yellow daylight into shreds
Which flapped and shivered down our aching eyes
Till night appeared more tolerable, just
That pretty ladies might look beautiful,
Who said at last . . 'You're lazy in that house!
'You're slow in sending home the work,–I count
'I've waited near an hour for't.' Pardon me–
I do not blame them, madam, nor misprize;
They are fair and gracious; ay, but not like you,
Since none but you has Mister Leigh's own blood
Both noble and gentle,–and without it . . well,
They are fair, I said; so fair, it scarce seems strange
That, flashing out in any looking-glass
The wonder of their glorious brows and breasts,
They are charmed so, they forget to look behind
And mark how pale we've grown, we pitiful
Remainders of the world. And so, perhaps,
If Mister Leigh had chosen a wife from these,
She might . . although he's better than her best,
And dearly she would know it . . steal a thought
Which should be all his, an eye-glance from his face,
To plunge into the mirror opposite,
In search of her own beauty's pearl: while I . .
Ah, dearest lady, serge will outweigh silk
For winter-wear, when bodies feel a-cold,
And I'll be a true wife to your cousin Leigh.'

Before I answered, he was there himself.
I think he had been standing in the room,
And listened probably to half her talk,
Arrested, turned to stone,–as white as stone.
Will tender sayings make men look so white?
He loves her then profoundly.
'You are here,
Aurora? Here I meet you!'–We clasped hands.

'Even so, dear Romney. Lady Waldemar
Has sent me in haste to find a cousin of mine
Who shall be.'

'Lady Waldemar is good.'

'Here's one, at least, who is good,' I sighed and touched
Poor Marian's happy head, as, doglike, she
Most passionately patient, waited on,
A-tremble for her turn of greeting words;
'I've sat a full hour with your Marian Erle,
And learnt the thing by heart,–and, from my heart,
Am therefore competent to give you thanks
For such a cousin.'
'You accept at last
A gift from me, Aurora, without scorn?
At last I please you?'–How his voice was changed!

'You cannot please a woman against her will,
And once you vexed me. Shall we speak of that?
We'll say, then, you were noble in it all,
And I not ignorant–let it pass. And now,
You please me, Romney, when you please yourself;
So, please you, be fanatical in love,
And I'm well pleased. Ah, cousin! at the old hall,
Among the gallery portraits of our Leighs,
We shall not find a sweeter signory
Than this pure forehead's.'
Not a word he said.
How arrogant men are!–Even philanthropists,
Who try to take a wife up in the way
They put down a subscription-cheque,–if once
She turns and says, 'I will not tax you so,
Most charitable sir,'–feel ill at ease,
As though she had wronged them somehow. I suppose
We women should remember what we are,
And not throw back an obolus inscribed
With Cæsar's image, lightly. I resumed.

'It strikes me, some of those sublime Vandykes
Were not too proud, to make good saints in heaven;
And, if so, then they're not too proud to-day
To bow down (now the ruffs are off their necks)
And own this good, true, noble Marian, . . yours,
And mine, I'll say!–For poets (bear the word)
Half-poets even, are still whole democrats,–
Oh, not that we're disloyal to the high,
But loyal to the low, and cognisant
Of the less scrutable majesties. For me,
I comprehend your choice–I justify
Your right in choosing.'
'No, no, no' he sighed,
With a sort of melancholy impatient scorn,
As some grown man, who never had a child,
Puts by some child who plays at being a man;
–'You did not, do not, cannot comprehend
My choice, my ends, my motives, nor myself:
No matter now–we'll let it pass, you say.
I thank you for your generous cousinship
Which helps this present; I accept for her
Your favourable thoughts. We're fallen on days,
We two, who are not poets, when to wed
Requires less mutual love than common love,
For two together to bear out at once
Upon the loveless many. Work in pairs,
In galley-couplings or in marriage-rings,
The difference lies in the honour, not the work,–
And such we're bound to, I and she. But love,
(You poets are benighted in this age;
The hour's too late for catching even moths,
You've gnats instead,) love!–love's fool-paradise
Is out of date, like Adam's. Set a swan
To swim the Trenton, rather than true love
To float its fabulous plumage safely down
The cataracts of this loud transition-time,–
Whose roar, for ever, henceforth, in my ears,
Must keep me deaf to music.'
There, I turned
And kissed poor Marian, out of discontent.
The man had baffled, chafed me, till I flung
For refuge to the woman,–as, sometimes,
Impatient of some crowded room's close smell,
You throw a window open, and lean out
To breathe a long breath, in the dewy night,
And cool your angry forehead. She, at least,
Was not built up, as walls are, brick by brick;
Each fancy squared, each feeling ranged by line,
The very heat of burning youth applied
To indurate forms and systems! excellent bricks,
A well-built wall,–which stops you on the road,
And, into which, you cannot see an inch
Although you beat your head against it–pshaw!

'Adieu,' I said, 'for this time, cousins both:
And, cousin Romney, pardon me the word,
Be happy!–oh, in some esoteric sense
Of course!–I mean no harm in wishing well.
Adieu, my Marian:–may she come to me,
Dear Romney, and be married from my house?
It is not part of your philosophy
To keep your bird upon the blackthorn?'
'Ay,'
He answered, 'but it is:–I take my wife
Directly from the people,–and she comes,
As Austria's daughter to imperial France,
Betwixt her eagles, blinking not her race,
From Margaret's Court at garret-height, to meet
And wed me at St. James's, nor put off
Her gown of serge for that. The things we do,
We do: we'll wear no mask, as if we blushed.'

'Dear Romney, you're the poet,' I replied,–
But felt my smile too mournful for my word,
And turned and went. Ay, masks, I thought,–beware
Of tragic masks, we tie before the glass,
Uplifted on the cothurn half a yard
Above the natural stature! we would play
Heroic parts to ourselves,–and end, perhaps,
As impotently as Athenian wives
Who shrieked in fits at the Eumenides.

His foot pursued me down the stair. 'At least,
You'll suffer me to walk with you beyond
These hideous streets, these graves, where men alive,
Packed close with earthworms, burr unconsciously
About the plague that slew them; let me go.
The very women pelt their souls in mud
At any woman who walks here alone.
How came you here alone?–you are ignorant.'

We had a strange and melancholy walk:
The night came drizzling downward in dark rain;
And, as we walked, the colour of the time,
The act, the presence, my hand upon his arm,
His voice in my ear, and mine to my own sense,
Appeared unnatural. We talked modern books,
And daily papers; Spanish marriage-schemes,
And English climate–was't so cold last year?
And will the wind change by to-morrow morn?
Can Guizot stand? is London full? is trade
Competitive? has Dickens turned his hinge
A-pinch upon the fingers of the great?
And are potatoes to grow mythical
Like moly? will the apple die out too?
Which way is the wind to-night? south-east? due east?
We talked on fast, while every common word
Seemed tangled with the thunder at one end,
And ready to pull down upon our heads
A terror out of sight. And yet to pause
Were surelier mortal: we tore greedily up
All silence, all the innocent breathing -points,
As if, like pale conspirators in haste,
We tore up papers where our signatures
Imperilled us to an ugly shame or death.

I cannot tell you why it was. 'Tis plain
We had not loved nor hated: wherefore dread
To spill gunpowder on ground safe from fire?
Perhaps we had lived too closely, to diverge
So absolutely: leave two clocks, they say,
Wound up to different hours, upon one shelf,
And slowly, through the interior wheels of each,
The blind mechanic motion sets itself
A-throb, to feel out for the mutual time.
It was not so with us, indeed. While he
Struck midnight, I kept striking six at dawn,
While he marked judgment, I, redemption-day;
And such exception to a general law,
Imperious upon inert matter even,
Might make us, each to either insecure,
A beckoning mystery, or a troubling fear.

I mind me, when we parted at the door,
How strange his good-night sounded,–like good-night
Beside a deathbed, where the morrow's sun
Is sure to come too late for more good days:–
And all that night I thought . . 'Good-night,' said he.

And so, a month passed. Let me set it down
At once,–I have been wrong, I have been wrong.
We are wrong always, when we think too much
Of what we think or are; albeit our thoughts
Be verily bitter as self-sacrifice,
We're no less selfish. If we sleep on rocks
Or roses, sleeping past the hour of noon
We're lazy. This I write against myself.
I had done a duty in the visit paid
To Marian, and was ready otherwise
To give the witness of my presence and name
Whenever she should marry.–Which, I thought
Sufficed. I even had cast into the scale
An overweight of justice toward the match;
The Lady Waldemar had missed her tool,
Had broken it in the lock as being too straight
For a crooked purpose, while poor Marian Erle
Missed nothing in my accents or my acts:
I had not been ungenerous on the whole,
Nor yet untender; so, enough. I felt
Tired, overworked: this marriage somewhat jarred;
Or, if it did not, all the bridal noise . .
The pricking of the map of life with pins,
In schemes of . . 'Here we'll go,' and 'There we'll stay,'
And 'Everywhere we'll prosper in our love,'
Was scarce my business. Let them order it;
Who else should care? I threw myself aside,
As one who had done her work and shuts her eyes
To rest the better.
I, who should have known,
Forereckoned mischief! Where we disavow
Being keeper to our brother, we're his Cain.

I might have held that poor child to my heart
A little longer! 'twould have hurt me much
To have hastened by its beats the marriage day,
And kept her safe meantime from tampering hands,
Or, peradventure, traps? What drew me back
From telling Romney plainly, the designs
Of Lady Waldemar, as spoken out
To me . . me? had I any right, ay, right,
With womanly compassion and reserve
To break the fall of woman's impudence?–
To stand by calmly, knowing what I knew,
And hear him call her good?
Distrust that word.
'There is none good save God,' said Jesus Christ.
If He once, in the first creation-week,
Called creatures good,–for ever afterward,
The Devil only has done it, and his heirs.
The knaves who win so, and the fools who lose;
The world's grown dangerous. In the middle age,
I think they called malignant fays and imps
Good people. A good neighbour, even in this
Is fatal sometimes,–cuts your morning up
To mince-meat of the very smallest talk,
Then helps to sugar her bohea at night
With her reputation. I have known good wives,
As chaste, or nearly so, as Potiphar's;
And good, good mothers, who would use a child
To better an intrigue; good friends, beside.
(Very good) who hung succinctly round your neck
And sucked your breath, as cats are fabled to do
By sleeping infants. And we all have known
Good critics, who have stamped out poet's hopes;
Good statesmen, who pulled ruin on the state;
Good patriots, who for a theory, risked a cause
Good kings, who disemboweled for a tax;
Good popes, who brought all good to jeopardy;
Good Christians, who sate still in easy chairs,
And damned the general world for standing up.–
Now, may the good God pardon all good men!

How bitterly I speak,–how certainly
The innocent white milk in us is turned,
By much persistent shining of the sun!
Shake up the sweetest in us long enough
With men, it drips to foolish curd, too sour
To feed the most untender of Christ's lambs.

I should have thought . . .a woman of the world
Like her I'm meaning,–centre to herself,
Who has wheeled on her own pivot half a life
In isolated self-love and self-will,
As a windmill seen at distance radiating
Its delicate white vans against the sky,
So soft and soundless, simply beautiful,–
Seen nearer . . what a roar and tear it makes,
How it grinds and bruises! . . if she loves at last,
Her love's a re-adjustment of self-love,
No more; a need felt of another's use
To her one advantage,–as the mill wants grain,
The fire wants fuel, the very wolf wants prey;
And none of these is more unscrupulous
Than such a charming woman when she loves.
She'll not be thwarted by an obstacle
So trifling as . . her soul is, . . much less yours!–
Is God a consideration?–she loves you,
Not God; she will not flinch for him indeed:
She did not for the Marchioness of Perth,
When wanting tickets for the birthnight ball.
She loves you, sir, with passion, to lunacy;
She loves you like her diamonds . . almost.
Well,
A month passed so, and then the notice came;
On such a day the marriage at the church.
I was not backward.
Half St. Giles in frieze
Was bidden to meet St. James in cloth of gold,
And, after contract at the altar, pass
To eat a marriage-feast on Hampstead Heath.
Of course the people came in uncompelled,
Lame, blind, and worse–sick, sorrowful, and worse,
The humours of the peccant social wound
All pressed out, poured out upon Pimlico.
Exasperating the unaccustomed air
With hideous interfusion: you'd suppose
A finished generation, dead of plague,
Swept outward from their graves into the sun,
The moil of death upon them. What a sight!
A holiday of miserable men
Is sadder than a burial-day of kings.

They clogged the streets, they oozed into the church
In a dark slow stream, like blood. To see that sight,
The noble ladies stood up in their pews,
Some pale for fear, a few as red for hate,
Some simply curious , some just insolent,
And some in wondering scorn,–'What next? what next?'
These crushed their delicate rose-lips from the smile
That misbecame them in a holy place,
With broidered hems of perfumed handkerchiefs;
Those passed the salts with confidence of eyes
And simultaneous shiver of moiré silk;
While all the aisles, alive and black with heads,
Crawled slowly toward the altar from the street,
As bruised snakes crawl and hiss out of a hole
With shuddering involutions, swaying slow
From right to left, and then from left to right,
In pants and pauses. What an ugly crest
Of faces, rose upon you everywhere,
From that crammed mass! you did not usually
See faces like them in the open day:
They hide in cellars, not to make you mad
As Romney Leigh is.–Faces?–O my God,
We call those, faces? men's and women's . . ay,
And children's;–babies, hanging like a rag
Forgotten on their mother's neck,–poor mouths.
Wiped clean of mother's milk by mother's blow
Before they are taught her cursing. Faces . . phew,
We'll call them vices festering to despairs,
Or sorrows petrifying to vices: not
A finger-touch of God left whole on them;
All ruined, lost–the countenance worn out
As the garments, the will dissolute as the acts,
The passions loose and draggling in the dirt
To trip the foot up at the first free step!–
Those, faces! 'twas as if you had stirred up hell
To heave its lowest dreg-fiends uppermost
In fiery swirls of slime,–such strangled fronts,
Such obdurate jaws were thrown up constantly,
To twit you with your race, corrupt your blood,
And grind to devilish colors all your dreams
Henceforth, . . though, haply, you should drop asleep
By clink of silver waters, in a muse
On Raffael's mild Madonna of the Bird.

I've waked and slept through many nights and days
Since then,–but still that day will catch my breath
Like a nightmare. There are fatal days, indeed,
In which the fibrous years have taken root
So deeply, that they quiver to their tops
Whene'er you stir the dust of such a day.

My cousin met me with his eyes and hand,
And then, with just a word, . . that 'Marian Erle
Was coming with her bridesmaids presently,'
Made haste to place me by the altar-stair,
Where he and other noble gentlemen
And high-born ladies, waited for the bride.

We waited. It was early: there was time
For greeting, and the morning's compliment;
And gradually a ripple of women's talk
Arose and fell, and tossed about a spray
Of English s s, soft as a silent hush,
And, notwithstanding, quite as audible
As louder phrases thrown out by the men.
–'Yes really, if we've need to wait in church,
We've need to talk there.'–'She? 'Tis Lady Ayr
In blue–not purple! that's the dowager.'
–'She looks as young.'–'She flirts as young, you mean!
Why if you had seen her upon Thursday night,
You'd call Miss Norris modest.'–' You again!
I waltzed with you three hours back. Up at six,
Up still at ten: scarce time to change one's shoes.
I feel as white and sulky as a ghost,
So pray don't speak to me, Lord Belcher.'–'No,
I'll look at you instead, and it's enough
While you have that face.' 'In church, my lord! fie, fie!'
–'Adair, you stayed for the Division?'–'Lost
By one.' 'The devil it is! I'm sorry for't.
And if I had not promised Mistress Grove' . .
–'You might have kept your word to Liverpool.'
'Constituents must remember, after all,
We're mortal.'–'We remind them of it.'–'Hark,
The bride comes! Here she comes, in a stream of milk!'
–'There? Dear, you are asleep still; don't you know
The five Miss Granvilles? always dressed in white
To show they're ready to be married.'–'Lower!
The aunt is at your elbow.'–'Lady Maud,
Did Lady Waldemar tell you she had seen
This girl of Leigh's?' 'No,–wait! 'twas Mrs. Brookes,
Who told me Lady Waldemar told her–
No, 'twasn't Mrs. Brookes.'–'She's pretty?'–'Who?
Mrs.Brookes? Lady Waldemar?'–'How hot!
Pray is't the law to-day we're not to breathe?
You're treading on my shawl–I thank you, sir.'
–'They say the bride's a mere child, who can't read,
But knows the things she shouldn't, with wide-awake
Great eyes. I'd go through fire to look at her.'
–'You do, I think.'–'and Lady Waldemar
(You see her; sitting close to Romney Leigh;
How beautiful she looks, a little flushed!)
Has taken up the girl, and organised
Leigh's folly. Should I have come here, you suppose,
Except she'd asked me?'–'She'd have served him more
By marrying him herself.'
'Ah–there she comes,
The bride, at last!'
'Indeed, no. Past eleven.
She puts off her patched petticoat to-day
And puts on May-fair manners, so begins
By setting us to wait.'–'Yes, yes, this Leigh
Was always odd; it's in the blood, I think;
His father's uncle's cousin's second son
Was, was . . you understand me–and for him,
He's stark!–has turned quite lunatic upon
This modern question of the poor–the poor:
An excellent subject when you're moderate;
You've seen Prince Albert's model lodging-house?
Does honour to his royal highness. Good:
But would he stop his carriage in Cheapside
To shake a common fellow by the fist
Whose name was . . Shakspeare? no. We draw a line,
And if we stand not by our order, we
In England, we fall headlong. Here's a sight,–
A hideous sight, a most indecent sight,–
My wife would come, sir, or I had kept her back.
By heaven, sir, when poor Damiens' trunk and limbs
Were torn by horses, women of the court
Stood by and stared, exactly as to-day
On this dismembering of society,
With pretty troubled faces.'
'Now, at last.
She comes now.'
'Where? who sees? you push me, sir,
Beyond the point of what is mannerly.
You're standing, madam, on my second flounce–
I do beseech you.'
'No–it's not the bride.
Half-past eleven. How late! the bridegroom, mark,
Gets anxious and goes out.'
'And as I said . .
These Leighs! our best blood running in the rut!
It's something awful. We had pardoned him
A simple misalliance, got up aside
For a pair of sky-blue eyes; our House of Lords
Has winked at such things, and we've all been young.
But here's an inter-marriage reasoned out,
A contract (carried boldly to the light,
To challenge observation, pioneer
Good acts by a great example) 'twixt the extremes
Of martyrised society,–on the left,
The well-born,–on the right, the merest mob.
To treat as equals!–'tis anarchical!
It means more than it says–'tis damnable!
Why, sir, we can't have even our coffee good,
Unless we strain it.'
'Here, Miss Leigh!'
'Lord Howe,
You're Romney's friend. What's all this waiting for?'

'I cannot tell. The bride has lost her head
(And way, perhaps!) to prove her sympathy
With the bridegroom.'
'What,–you also, disapprove!'

'Oh I approve of nothing in the world,'
He answered; 'not of you, still less of me,
Nor even of Romney–though he's worth us both.
We're all gone wrong. The tune in us is lost:
And whistling in back alleys to the moon,
Will never catch it.'
Let me draw Lord Howe;
A born aristocrat, bred radical,
And educated socialist, who still
Goes floating, on traditions of his kind,
Across the theoretic flood from France,–
Though, like a drenched Noah on a rotten deck,
Scarce safer for his place there. He, at least,
Will never land on Ararat, he knows,
To recommence the world on the old plan:
Indeed, he thinks, said world had better end;
He sympathises rather with the fish
Outside, than with the drowned paired beasts within
Who cannot couple again or multiply:
And that's the sort of Noah he is, Lord Howe.
He never could be anything complete,
Except a loyal, upright gentleman,
A liberal landlord, graceful diner-out,
And entertainer more than hospitable,
Whom authors dine with and forget the port.
Whatever he believes, and it is much,
But no-wise certain . . now here and now there, . .
He still has sympathies beyond his creed,
Diverting him from action. In the House,
No party counts upon him, and all praise:
All like his books too, (for he has written books)
Which, good to lie beside a bishop's chair,
So oft outreach themselves with jets of fire
At which the foremost of the progressists
May warm audacious hands in passing by.
–Of stature over-tall, lounging for ease;
Light hair, that seems to carry a wind in it,
And eyes that, when they look on you, will lean
Their whole weight half in indolence, and half
In wishing you unmitigated good,
Until you know not if to flinch from him
Or thank him.–'Tis Lord Howe.
'We're all gone wrong,'
Said he, 'and Romney, that dear friend of ours,
Is no-wise right. There's one true thing on earth;
That's love! He takes it up, and dresses it,
And acts a play with it, as Hamlet did,
To show what cruel uncles we have been,
And how we should be uneasy in our minds,
While he, Prince Hamlet, weds a pretty maid
(Who keeps us too long waiting, we'll confess)
By symbol, to instruct us formally
To fill the ditches up 'twixt class and class,
And live together in phalansteries.
What then?–he's mad, our Hamlet! clap his play,
And bind him.'
'Ah, Lord Howe, this spectacle
Pulls stronger at us than the Dane's. See there!
The crammed aisles heave and strain and steam with life–
Dear Heaven, what life!'
'Why , yes,–a poet sees;
Which makes him different from a common man.
I, too, see somewhat, though I cannot sing;
I should have been a poet, only that
My mother took fright at the ugly world,
And bore me tongue-tied. If you'll grant me now
That Romney gives us a fine actor-piece
To make us merry on his marriage-morn,–
The fable's worse than Hamlet's, I'll concede
The terrible people, old and poor and blind,
Their eyes eat out with plague and poverty
From seeing beautiful and cheerful sights,
We'll liken to a brutalized King Lear,
Led out,–by no means to clear scores with wrongs–
His wrongs are so far back, . . he has forgot;
All's past like youth; but just to witness here
A simple contract,–he, upon his side,
And Regan with her sister Goneril
And all the dappled courtiers and court-fools,
On their side. Not that any of these would say
They're sorry, neither. What is done, is done.
And violence is now turned privilege,
As cream turns cheese, if buried long enough.
What could such lovely ladies have to do
With the old man there, in those ill-odorous rags,
Except to keep the wind-side of him? Lear
Is flat and quiet, as a decent grave;
He does not curse his daughters in the least.
Be these his daughters? Lear is thinking of
His porridge chiefly . . is it getting cold
At Hampstead? will the ale be served in pots?
Poor Lear, poor daughters? Bravo, Romney's play?'

A murmur and a movement drew around;
A naked whisper touched us. Something wrong!
What's wrong! That black crowd, as an overstrained
Cord, quivered in vibrations, and I saw
Was that his face I saw? . . his . . Romney Leigh's.
Which tossed a sudden horror like a sponge
Into all eyes,–while himself stood white upon
The topmost altar-stair, and tried to speak,
And failed, and lifted higher above his head
A letter, . . as a man who drowns and gasps.

'My brothers, bear with me! I am very weak.
I meant but only good. Perhaps I meant
Too proudly,–and God snatched the circumstance
And changed it therefore. There's no marriage–none
She leaves me,–she departs,–she disappears,–
I lose her. Yet I never forced her 'ay'
To have her 'no' so cast into my teeth
In manner of an accusation, thus.
My friends, you are all dismissed. Go, eat and drink
According to the programme,–and farewell!'

He ended. There was silence in the church;
We heard a baby sucking in its sleep
At the farthest end of the aisle. Then spoke a man,
'Now, look to it, coves, that all the beef and drink
Be not filched from us like the other fun;
For beer's spilt easier than a woman is!
This gentry is not honest with the poor;
They bring us up, to trick us.'–'Go it, Jim,'
A woman screamed back,–'I'm a tender soul;
I never banged a child at two years old
And drew blood from him, but I sobbed for it
Next moment,–and I've had a plague of seven.
I'm tender; I've no stomach even for beef.
Until I know about the girl that's lost,
That's killed, mayhap. I did misdoubt, at first,
The fine lord meant no good by her, or us.
He, maybe, got the upper hand of her
By holding up a wedding-ring, and then . .
A choking finger on her throat, last night,
And just a clever tale to keep us still,
As she is, poor lost innocent. 'Disappear!'
Who ever disappears except a ghost?
And who believes a story of a ghost?
I ask you,–would a girl go off, instead
Of staying to be married? a fine tale!
A wicked man, I say, a wicked man!
For my part I would rather starve on gin
Than make my dinner on his beef and beer.'–
At which a cry rose up–'We'll have our rights.
We'll have the girl, the girl! Your ladies there
Are married safely and smoothly every day,
And she shall not drop through into a trap
Because she's poor and of the people: shame!
We'll have no tricks played off by gentlefolks;
We'll see her righted.
Through the rage and roar
I heard the broken words which Romney flung
Among the turbulent masses, from the ground
He held still, with his masterful pale face–
As huntsmen throw the ration to the pack,
Who, falling on it headlong, dog on dog
In heaps of fury, rend it, swallow it up
With yelling hound jaws,–his indignant words,
His piteous words, his most pathetic words,
Whereof I caught the meaning here and there
By his gesture . . torn in morsels, yelled across,
And so devoured. From end to end, the church
Rocked round us like the sea in storm, and then
Broke up like the earth in earthquake. Men cried out
'Police!'–and women stood and shrieked for God,
Or dropt and swooned; or, like a herd of deer,
(For whom the black woods suddenly grow alive,
Unleashing their wild shadows down the wind
To hunt the creatures into corners, back
And forward) madly fled, or blindly fell,
Trod screeching underneath the feet of those
Who fled and screeched.
The last sight left to me
Was Romney's terrible calm face above
The tumult!–the last sound was 'Pull him down!
Strike–Kill him!' Stretching my unreasoning arms,
As men in dreams, who vainly interpose
'Twixt gods and their undoing, with a cry
I struggled to precipitate myself
Head-foremost to the rescue of my soul
In that white face, . . till some one caught me back,
And so the world went out,–I felt no more.

What followed, was told after by Lord Howe,
Who bore me senseless from the strangling crowd
In church and street, and then returned alone
To see the tumult quelled. The men of law
Had fallen as thunder on a roaring fire,
And made all silent,–while the people's smoke
Passed eddying slowly from the emptied aisles.

Here's Marian's letter, which a ragged child
Brought running, just as Romney at the porch
Looked out expectant of the bride. He sent
The letter to me by his friend Lord Howe
Some two hours after, folded in a sheet
On which his well-known hand had left a word.
Here's Marian's letter.
'Noble friend, dear saint
Be patient with me. Never think me vile,
Who might to-morrow morning be your wife
But that I loved you more than such a name.
Farewell, my Romney. Let me write it once,–
My Romney.
Tis so pretty a coupled word,
I have no heart to pluck it with a blot.
We say 'My God' sometimes, upon our knees,
Who is not therefore vexed: so bear with it . .
And me. I know I'm foolish, weak, and vain;
Yet most of all I'm angry with myself
For losing your last footstep on the stair,
The last time of your coming,–yesterday!
The very first time I lost step of yours,
(Its sweetness comes the next to what you speak)
But yesterday sobs took me by the throat,
And cut me off from music.
'Mister Leigh,
You'll set me down as wrong in many things.
You've praised me, sir, for truth,–and now you'll learn
I had not courage to be rightly true.
I once began to tell you how she came,
The woman . . and you stared upon the floor
In one of your fixed thoughts . . which put me out
For that day. After, some one spoke of me,
So wisely, and of you, so tenderly,
Persuading me to silence for your sake . . .
Well, well! it seems this moment I was wrong
In keeping back from telling you the truth:
There might be truth betwixt us two, at least,
If nothing else. And yet 'twas dangerous.
Suppose a real angel came from heaven
To live with men and women! he'd go mad,
If no considerate hand should tie a blind
Across his piercing eyes. 'Tis thus with you:
You see us too much in your heavenly light;
I always thought so, angel,–and indeed
There's danger that you beat yourself to death
Against the edges of this alien world,
In some divine and fluttering pity.
'Yes
It would be dreadful for a friend of yours,
To see all England thrust you out of doors
And mock you from the windows. You might say,
Or think (that's worse), 'There's some one in the house
I miss and love still.' Dreadful!
'Very kind,
I pray you mark, was Lady Waldemar.
She came to see me nine times, rather ten–
So beautiful, she hurts me like the day
Let suddenly on sick eyes.
'Most kind of all,
Your cousin!–ah, most like you! Ere you came
She kissed me mouth to mouth: I felt her soul
Dip through her serious lips in holy fire.
God help me, but it made me arrogant;
I almost told her that you would not lose
By taking me to wife: though, ever since,
I've pondered much a certain thing she asked . .
'He love's you, Marian?' . . in a sort of mild
Derisive sadness . . as a mother asks
Her babe, 'You'll touch that star, you think?'
'Farewell!
I know I never touched it.
'This is worst:
Babes grow, and lose the hope of things above;
A silver threepence sets them leaping high–
But no more stars! mark that.
'I've writ all night,
And told you nothing. God, if I could die,
And let this letter break off innocent
Just here! But no–for your sake . .
'Here's the last:
I never could be happy as your wife,
I never could be harmless as your friend,
I never will look more into your face,
Till God says, 'Look!' I charge you, seek me not,
Nor vex yourself with lamentable thoughts
That peradventure I have come to grief;
Be sure I'm well, I'm merry, I'm at ease,
But such a long way, long way, long way off,
I think you'll find me sooner in my grave;
And that's my choice, observe. For what remains,
An over-generous friend will care for me,
And keep me happy . . happier . .
'There's a blot!
This ink runs thick . . we light girls lightly weep . .
And keep me happier . . was the thing to say, . .
Than as your wife I could be!–O, my star,
My saint, my soul! for surely you're my soul,
Through whom God touched me! I am not so lost
I cannot thank you for the good you did,
The tears you stopped, which fell down bitterly,
Like these–the times you made me weep for joy
At hoping I should learn to write your notes
And save the tiring of your eyes, at night;
And most for that sweet thrice you kissed my lips
And said 'Dear Marian.'
Twould be hard to read,
This letter, for a reader half as learn'd,
But you'll be sure to master it, in spite
Of ups and downs. My hand shakes, I am blind,
I'm poor at writing, at the best,–and yet
I tried to make my g s the way you showed.
Farewell–Christ love you.–Say 'Poor Marian' now.'

Poor Marian!–wanton Marian!–was it so,
Or so? For days, her touching, foolish lines
We mused on with conjectural fantasy,
As if some riddle of a summer-cloud
On which some one tries unlike similitudes
Of now a spotted Hydra-skin cast off,
And now a screen of carven ivory
That shuts the heaven's conventual secrets up
From mortals over-bold. We sought the sense:
She loved him so perhaps, (such words mean love,)
That, worked on by some shrewd perfidious tongue,
(And then I thought of Lady Waldemar)
She left him, not to hurt him; or perhaps
She loved one in her class,–or did not love,
But mused upon her wild bad tramping life,
Until the free blood fluttered at her heart,
And black bread eaten by the road-side hedge
Seemed sweeter than being put to Romney's school
Of philanthropical self-sacrifice,
Irrevocably.–Girls are girls, beside,
Thought I, and like a wedding by one rule.
You seldom catch these birds, except with chaff:
They feel it almost an immoral thing
To go out and be married in broad day,
Unless some winning special flattery should
Excuse them to themselves for't, . . 'No one parts
Her hair with such a silver line as you,
One moonbeam from the forehead to the crown!'
Or else . . 'You bite your lip in such a way,
It spoils me for the smiling of the rest'–
And so on. Then a worthless gaud or two,
To keep for love,–a ribbon for the neck,
Or some glass pin,–they have their weight with girls.

And Romney sought her many days and weeks:
He sifted all the refuse of the town,
Explored the trains, enquired among the ships,
And felt the country through from end to end;
No Marian!–Though I hinted what I knew,–
A friend of his had reasons of her own
For throwing back the match–he would not hear:
The lady had been ailing ever since,
The shock had harmed her. Something in his tone
Repressed me; something in me shamed my doubt
To a sigh, repressed too. He went on to say
That, putting questions where his Marian lodged,
He found she had received for visitors,
Besides himself and Lady Waldemar
And, that once, me–a dubious woman dressed
Beyond us both. The rings upon her hands
Had dazed the children when she threw them pence.
'She wore her bonnet as the queen might hers,
To show the crown,' they said,–'a scarlet crown
Of roses that had never been in bud.'

When Romney told me that,–for now and then
He came to tell me how the search advanced,
His voice dropped: I bent forward for the rest:
The woman had been with her, it appeared,
At first from week to week, then day by day,
And last, 'twas sure . .
I looked upon the ground
To escape the anguish of his eyes, and asked
As low as when you speak to mourners new
Of those they cannot bear yet to call dead,
If Marian had as much as named to him
A certain Rose, an early friend of hers,
A ruined creature.'
'Never.'–Starting up
He strode from side to side about the room,
Most like some prisoned lion sprung awake,
Who has felt the desert sting him through his dreams.
'What was I to her, that she should tell me aught?
A friend! Was I a friend? I see all clear.
Such devils would pull angels out of heaven,
Provided they could reach them; 'tis their pride;
And that's the odds 'twixt soul and body-plague!
The veriest slave who drops in Cairo's street,
Cries, 'Stand off from me,' to the passengers;
While these blotched souls are eager to infect,
And blow their bad breath in a sister's face
As if they got some ease by it.'
I broke through.
'Some natures catch no plagues. I've read of babes
Found whole and sleeping by the spotted breast
Of one a full day dead. I hold it true,
As I'm a woman and know womanhood,
That Marian Erle, however lured from place,
Deceived in way, keeps pure in aim and heart,
As snow that's drifted from the garden-bank
To the open road.'
'Twas hard to hear him laugh.
'The figure's happy. Well–a dozen carts
And trampers will secure you presently
A fine white snow-drift. Leave it there, your snow!
'Twill pass for soot ere sunset. Pure in aim?
She's pure in aim, I grant you,–like myself,
Who thought to take the world upon my back
To carry it over a chasm of social ill,
And end by letting slip through impotence
A single soul, a child's weight in a soul,
Straight down the pit of hell! yes, I and she
Have reason to be proud of our pure aims.'
Then softly, as the last repenting drops
Of a thunder shower, he added, 'The poor child;
Poor Marian! 'twas a luckless day for her,
When first she chanced on my philanthropy.'

He drew a chair beside me, and sate down;
And I, instinctively, as women use
Before a sweet friend's grief,–when, in his ear,
They hum the tune of comfort, though themselves
Most ignorant of the special words of such,
And quiet so and fortify his brain
And give it time and strength for feeling out
To reach the availing sense beyond that sound,–
Went murmuring to him, what, if written here,
Would seem not much, yet fetched him better help
Than, peradventure, if it had been more.

I've known the pregnant thinkers of this time
And stood by breathless, hanging on their lips,
When some chromatic sequence of fine thought
In learned modulation phrased itself
To an unconjectured harmony of truth.
And yet I've been more moved, more raised, I say,
By a simple word . . a broken easy thing,
A three-years infant might say after you,–
A look, a sigh, a touch upon the palm,
Which meant less than 'I love you' . . than by all
The full-voiced rhetoric of those master-mouths.

'Ah, dear Aurora,' he began at last,
His pale lips fumbling for a sort of smile,
'Your printer's devils have not spoilt your heart:
That's well. And who knows but, long years ago,
When you and I talked, you were somewhat right
In being so peevish with me? You, at least,
Have ruined no one through your dreams! Instead,
You've helped the facile youth to live youth's day
With innocent distraction, still perhaps
Suggestive of things better than your rhymes.
The little shepherd-maiden, eight years old,
I've seen upon the mountains of Vaucluse,
Asleep i' the sun her head upon her knees,
The flocks all scattered,–is more laudable
Than any sheep-dog trained imperfectly,
Who bites the kids through too much zeal.'
'I look
As if I had slept, then?'
He was touched at once
By something in my face. Indeed 'twas sure
That he and I,–despite a year or two
Of younger life on my side, and on his,
The heaping of the years' work on the days,–
The three-hour speeches from the member's seat,
The hot committees, in and out the House,
The pamphlets, 'Arguments,' 'Collective Views,'
Tossed out as straw before sick houses, just
To show one's sick and so be trod to dirt,
And no more use,–through this world's underground
The burrowing, groping effort, whence the arm
And heart came bleeding,–sure, that he and I
Were, after all, unequally fatigued!
That he, in his developed manhood, stood
A little sunburnt by the glare of life;
While I . . it seemed no sun had shone on me,
So many seasons I had forgot my Springs;
My cheeks had pined and perished from their orbs.
And all the youth blood in them had grown white
As dew on autumn cyclamens: alone
My eyes and forehead answered for my face.

He said . . 'Aurora, you are changed–are ill!'

'Not so, my cousin,–only not asleep!'
I answered, smiling gently. 'Let it be.
You scarcely found the poet of Vaucluse
As drowsy as the shepherds. What is art,
But life upon the larger scale, the higher,
When, graduating up in a spiral line
Of still expanding and ascending gyres,
It pushes toward the intense significance
Of all things, hungry for the Infinite?
Art's life,–and where we live, we suffer and toil.'

He seemed to sift me with his painful eyes.
'Alas! You take it gravely; you refuse
Your dreamland, right of common, and green rest.
You break the mythic turf where danced the nymphs,
With crooked ploughs of actual life,–let in
The axes to the legendary woods,
To pay the head-tax. You are fallen indeed
On evil days, you poets, if yourselves
Can praise that art of yours no otherwise;
And, if you cannot, . .better take a trade
And be of use! 'twere cheaper for your youth.'

'Of use!' I softly echoed, 'there's the point
We sweep about for ever in an argument;
Like swallows, which the exasperate, dying year
Sets spinning in black circles, round and round,
Preparing for far flights o'er unknown seas.
And we . . where tend we?'
'Where?' he said, and sighed.
'The whole creation, from the hour we are born,
Perplexes us with questions. Not a stone
But cries behind us, every weary step,
'Where, where?' I leave stones to reply to stones.
Enough for me and for my fleshly heart
To harken the invocations of my kind,
When men catch hold upon my shuddering nerves
And shriek, 'What help? what hope? what bread i' the house,
'What fire i' the frost?' There must be some response,
Though mine fail utterly. This social Sphinx,
Who sits between the sepulchres and stews,
Makes mock and mow against the crystal heavens,
And bullies God,–exacts a word at least
From each man standing on the side of God,
However paying a sphinx-price for it.
We pay it also if we hold our peace,
In pangs and pity. Let me speak and die.
Alas! you'll say, I speak and kill, instead.'

I pressed in there; 'The best men, doing their best,
Know peradventure least of what they do:
Men usefullest i' the world, are simply used;
The nail that holds the wood, must pierce it first,
And He alone who wields the hammer, sees
The work advanced by the earliest blow. Take heart.'
'Ah, if I could have taken yours!' he said,
'But that's past now.' Then rising . . 'I will take
At least your kindness and encouragement.
I thank you. Dear, be happy. Sing your songs,
If that's your way! but sometimes slumber too,
Nor tire too much with following, out of breath,
The rhymes upon your mountains of Delight.
Reflect, if Art be, in truth, the higher life,
You need the lower life to stand upon,
In order to reach up into that higher:
And none can stand a-tiptoe in the place
He cannot stand in with two stable feet.
Remember then!–for art's sake, hold your life.'

We parted so. I held him in respect.
I comprehended what he was in heart
And sacrificial greatness. Ay, but he
Supposed me a thing too small to deign to know;
He blew me, plainly, from the crucible,
As some intruding, interrupting fly
Not worth the pains of his analysis
Absorbed on nobler subjects. Hurt a fly!
He would not for the world: he's pitiful
To flies even. 'Sing,' says he, 'and teaze me still,
If that's your way, poor insect.' That's your way!

poem by from Aurora Leigh (1856)Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Veronica Serbanoiu
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

Related quotes

Lucy and Colin

Of Leinster, fam'd for maidens fair,
Bright Lucy was the grace;
Nor e'er did Liffy's limpid stream
Reflect so fair a face,

Till luckless love and pining care
Impair'd her rosy hue,
Her coral lip, and damask cheek,
And eyes of glossy blue.

Oh! have you seen a lily pale,
When beating rains descend?
So droop'd the slow-consuming maid;
Her life now near its end.

By Lucy warn'd, of flattering swains
Take heed, ye easy fair!
Of vengeance due to broken vows,
Ye perjured swains, beware!

Three times, all in the dead of night,
A bell was heard to ring;
And at her window, shrieking thrice,
The raven flap'd his wing.

Too well the love-lorn maiden knew
That solemn boding sound;
And thus, in dying words, bespoke
The virgins weeping round.

'I hear a voice you cannot hear,
Which says, I must not stay;
I see a hand you cannot see,
Which beckons me away.

'By a false heart and broken vows,
In early youth, I die.
Am I to blame, because his bride
Is thrice as rich as I?

'Ah, Colin! give not her thy vows,
Vows due to me alone.
Nor tho, fond maid, receive his kiss,
Nor think him all thy own.

'To-morrow in the church to wed,
Impatient, both prepare;
But know, fond maid, and know, false man,
That Lucy will be there.

'Then bear my corse, ye comrades, bear,
The bridegroom blithe to meet;
He in his wedding-trim so gay,
I in my winding-sheet.'

She spoke, she died; - her corse was borne,
The bridegroom blithe to meet;
He in his wedding-trim so gay,
She in her winding-sheet.

Then what were perjur'd Colin's thoughts?
How were those nuptials kept?
The bride-men flock'd round Lucy dead,
And all the village wept.

Confusion, shame, remorse, despair,
At once his bosom swell;
The damps of death bedew'd his brow,
He shook, he groan'd, he fell.

From the vain bride (ah, bride no more!)
The varying crimson fled,
When, stretch'd before her rival's corse,
She saw her husband dead.

Then to his Lucy's new-made grave,
Convey'd by trembling swains,
One mould with her, beneath one sod,
For ever now remains.

Oft at their grave the constant hind
And plighted maid are seen;
With garlands gay and true-love knots
They deck the sacred green.

But, swain forsworn, whoe'er thou art,
This hallow'd spot forbear;
Remember Colin's dreadful fate,
And fear to meet him there.

poem by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Poetry Lover
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

Metamorphoses: Book The Third

WHEN now Agenor had his daughter lost,
He sent his son to search on ev'ry coast;
And sternly bid him to his arms restore
The darling maid, or see his face no more,
But live an exile in a foreign clime;
Thus was the father pious to a crime.
The Story of The restless youth search'd all the world around;
of Cadmus But how can Jove in his amours be found?
When, tir'd at length with unsuccessful toil,
To shun his angry sire and native soil,
He goes a suppliant to the Delphick dome;
There asks the God what new appointed home
Should end his wand'rings, and his toils relieve.
The Delphick oracles this answer give.
"Behold among the fields a lonely cow,
Unworn with yokes, unbroken to the plow;
Mark well the place where first she lays her down,
There measure out thy walls, and build thy town,
And from thy guide Boeotia call the land,
In which the destin'd walls and town shall stand."
No sooner had he left the dark abode,
Big with the promise of the Delphick God,
When in the fields the fatal cow he view'd,
Nor gall'd with yokes, nor worn with servitude:
Her gently at a distance he pursu'd;
And as he walk'd aloof, in silence pray'd
To the great Pow'r whose counsels he obey'd.
Her way thro' flow'ry Panope she took,
And now, Cephisus, cross'd thy silver brook;
When to the Heav'ns her spacious front she rais'd,
And bellow'd thrice, then backward turning gaz'd
On those behind, 'till on the destin'd place
She stoop'd, and couch'd amid the rising grass.
Cadmus salutes the soil, and gladly hails
The new-found mountains, and the nameless vales,
And thanks the Gods, and turns about his eye
To see his new dominions round him lye;
Then sends his servants to a neighb'ring grove
For living streams, a sacrifice to Jove.
O'er the wide plain there rose a shady wood
Of aged trees; in its dark bosom stood
A bushy thicket, pathless and unworn,
O'er-run with brambles, and perplex'd with thorn:
Amidst the brake a hollow den was found,
With rocks and shelving arches vaulted round.
Deep in the dreary den, conceal'd from day,
Sacred to Mars, a mighty dragon lay,
Bloated with poison to a monstrous size;
Fire broke in flashes when he glanc'd his eyes:
His tow'ring crest was glorious to behold,
His shoulders and his sides were scal'd with gold;
Three tongues he brandish'd when he charg'd his
foes;
His teeth stood jaggy in three dreadful rowes.
The Tyrians in the den for water sought,
And with their urns explor'd the hollow vault:
From side to side their empty urns rebound,
And rowse the sleeping serpent with the sound.
Strait he bestirs him, and is seen to rise;
And now with dreadful hissings fills the skies,
And darts his forky tongues, and rowles his glaring
eyes.
The Tyrians drop their vessels in the fright,
All pale and trembling at the hideous sight.
Spire above spire uprear'd in air he stood,
And gazing round him over-look'd the wood:
Then floating on the ground in circles rowl'd;
Then leap'd upon them in a mighty fold.
Of such a bulk, and such a monstrous size
The serpent in the polar circle lyes,
That stretches over half the northern skies.
In vain the Tyrians on their arms rely,
In vain attempt to fight, in vain to fly:
All their endeavours and their hopes are vain;
Some die entangled in the winding train;
Some are devour'd, or feel a loathsom death,
Swoln up with blasts of pestilential breath.
And now the scorching sun was mounted high,
In all its lustre, to the noon-day sky;
When, anxious for his friends, and fill'd with
cares,
To search the woods th' impatient chief prepares.
A lion's hide around his loins he wore,
The well poiz'd javelin to the field he bore,
Inur'd to blood; the far-destroying dart;
And, the best weapon, an undaunted heart.
Soon as the youth approach'd the fatal place,
He saw his servants breathless on the grass;
The scaly foe amid their corps he view'd,
Basking at ease, and feasting in their blood.
"Such friends," he cries, "deserv'd a longer date;
But Cadmus will revenge or share their fate."
Then heav'd a stone, and rising to the throw,
He sent it in a whirlwind at the foe:
A tow'r, assaulted by so rude a stroke,
With all its lofty battlements had shook;
But nothing here th' unwieldy rock avails,
Rebounding harmless from the plaited scales,
That, firmly join'd, preserv'd him from a wound,
With native armour crusted all around.
With more success, the dart unerring flew,
Which at his back the raging warriour threw;
Amid the plaited scales it took its course,
And in the spinal marrow spent its force.
The monster hiss'd aloud, and rag'd in vain,
And writh'd his body to and fro with pain;
He bit the dart, and wrench'd the wood away;
The point still buried in the marrow lay.
And now his rage, increasing with his pain,
Reddens his eyes, and beats in ev'ry vein;
Churn'd in his teeth the foamy venom rose,
Whilst from his mouth a blast of vapours flows,
Such as th' infernal Stygian waters cast.
The plants around him wither in the blast.
Now in a maze of rings he lies enrowl'd,
Now all unravel'd, and without a fold;
Now, like a torrent, with a mighty force
Bears down the forest in his boist'rous course.
Cadmus gave back, and on the lion's spoil
Sustain'd the shock, then forc'd him to recoil;
The pointed jav'lin warded off his rage:
Mad with his pains, and furious to engage,
The serpent champs the steel, and bites the spear,
'Till blood and venom all the point besmear.
But still the hurt he yet receiv'd was slight;
For, whilst the champion with redoubled might
Strikes home the jav'lin, his retiring foe
Shrinks from the wound, and disappoints the blow.
The dauntless heroe still pursues his stroke,
And presses forward, 'till a knotty oak
Retards his foe, and stops him in the rear;
Full in his throat he plung'd the fatal spear,
That in th' extended neck a passage found,
And pierc'd the solid timber through the wound.
Fix'd to the reeling trunk, with many a stroke
Of his huge tail he lash'd the sturdy oak;
'Till spent with toil, and lab'ring hard for
breath,
He now lay twisting in the pangs of death.
Cadmus beheld him wallow in a flood
Of swimming poison, intermix'd with blood;
When suddenly a speech was heard from high
(The speech was heard, nor was the speaker nigh),
"Why dost thou thus with secret pleasure see,
Insulting man! what thou thy self shalt be?"
Astonish'd at the voice, he stood amaz'd,
And all around with inward horror gaz'd:
When Pallas swift descending from the skies,
Pallas, the guardian of the bold and wise,
Bids him plow up the field, and scatter round
The dragon's teeth o'er all the furrow'd ground;
Then tells the youth how to his wond'ring eyes
Embattled armies from the field should rise.
He sows the teeth at Pallas's command,
And flings the future people from his hand.
The clods grow warm, and crumble where he sows;
And now the pointed spears advance in rows;
Now nodding plumes appear, and shining crests,
Now the broad shoulders and the rising breasts;
O'er all the field the breathing harvest swarms,
A growing host, a crop of men and arms.
So through the parting stage a figure rears
Its body up, and limb by limb appears
By just degrees; 'till all the man arise,
And in his full proportion strikes the eyes.
Cadmus surpriz'd, and startled at the sight
Of his new foes, prepar'd himself for fight:
When one cry'd out, "Forbear, fond man, forbear
To mingle in a blind promiscuous war."
This said, he struck his brother to the ground,
Himself expiring by another's wound;
Nor did the third his conquest long survive,
Dying ere scarce he had begun to live.
The dire example ran through all the field,
'Till heaps of brothers were by brothers kill'd;
The furrows swam in blood: and only five
Of all the vast increase were left alive.
Echion one, at Pallas's command,
Let fall the guiltless weapon from his hand,
And with the rest a peaceful treaty makes,
Whom Cadmus as his friends and partners takes;
So founds a city on the promis'd earth,
And gives his new Boeotian empire birth.
Here Cadmus reign'd; and now one would have
guess'd
The royal founder in his exile blest:
Long did he live within his new abodes,
Ally'd by marriage to the deathless Gods;
And, in a fruitful wife's embraces old,
A long increase of children's children told:
But no frail man, however great or high,
Can be concluded blest before he die.
Actaeon was the first of all his race,
Who griev'd his grandsire in his borrow'd face;
Condemn'd by stern Diana to bemoan
The branching horns, and visage not his own;
To shun his once lov'd dogs, to bound away,
And from their huntsman to become their prey,
And yet consider why the change was wrought,
You'll find it his misfortune, not his fault;
Or, if a fault, it was the fault of chance:
For how can guilt proceed from ignorance?
The In a fair chace a shady mountain stood,
Transformation Well stor'd with game, and mark'd with trails of
of Actaeon blood;
into a Stag Here did the huntsmen, 'till the heat of day,
Pursue the stag, and load themselves with rey:
When thus Actaeon calling to the rest:
"My friends," said he, "our sport is at the best,
The sun is high advanc'd, and downward sheds
His burning beams directly on our heads;
Then by consent abstain from further spoils,
Call off the dogs, and gather up the toils,
And ere to-morrow's sun begins his race,
Take the cool morning to renew the chace."
They all consent, and in a chearful train
The jolly huntsmen, loaden with the slain,
Return in triumph from the sultry plain.
Down in a vale with pine and cypress clad,
Refresh'd with gentle winds, and brown with shade,
The chaste Diana's private haunt, there stood
Full in the centre of the darksome wood
A spacious grotto, all around o'er-grown
With hoary moss, and arch'd with pumice-stone.
From out its rocky clefts the waters flow,
And trickling swell into a lake below.
Nature had ev'ry where so plaid her part,
That ev'ry where she seem'd to vie with art.
Here the bright Goddess, toil'd and chaf'd with
heat,
Was wont to bathe her in the cool retreat.
Here did she now with all her train resort,
Panting with heat, and breathless from the sport;
Her armour-bearer laid her bow aside,
Some loos'd her sandals, some her veil unty'd;
Each busy nymph her proper part undrest;
While Crocale, more handy than the rest,
Gather'd her flowing hair, and in a noose
Bound it together, whilst her own hung loose.
Five of the more ignoble sort by turns
Fetch up the water, and unlade the urns.
Now all undrest the shining Goddess stood,
When young Actaeon, wilder'd in the wood,
To the cool grott by his hard fate betray'd,
The fountains fill'd with naked nymphs survey'd.
The frighted virgins shriek'd at the surprize
(The forest echo'd with their piercing cries).
Then in a huddle round their Goddess prest:
She, proudly eminent above the rest,
With blushes glow'd; such blushes as adorn
The ruddy welkin, or the purple morn;
And tho' the crowding nymphs her body hide,
Half backward shrunk, and view'd him from a side.
Surpriz'd, at first she would have snatch'd her
bow,
But sees the circling waters round her flow;
These in the hollow of her hand she took,
And dash'd 'em in his face, while thus she spoke:
"Tell, if thou can'st, the wond'rous sight
disclos'd,
A Goddess naked to thy view expos'd."
This said, the man begun to disappear
By slow degrees, and ended in a deer.
A rising horn on either brow he wears,
And stretches out his neck, and pricks his ears;
Rough is his skin, with sudden hairs o'er-grown,
His bosom pants with fears before unknown:
Transform'd at length, he flies away in haste,
And wonders why he flies away so fast.
But as by chance, within a neighb'ring brook,
He saw his branching horns and alter'd look.
Wretched Actaeon! in a doleful tone
He try'd to speak, but only gave a groan;
And as he wept, within the watry glass
He saw the big round drops, with silent pace,
Run trickling down a savage hairy face.
What should he do? Or seek his old abodes,
Or herd among the deer, and sculk in woods!
Here shame dissuades him, there his fear prevails,
And each by turns his aking heart assails.
As he thus ponders, he behind him spies
His op'ning hounds, and now he hears their cries:
A gen'rous pack, or to maintain the chace,
Or snuff the vapour from the scented grass.
He bounded off with fear, and swiftly ran
O'er craggy mountains, and the flow'ry plain;
Through brakes and thickets forc'd his way, and
flew
Through many a ring, where once he did pursue.
In vain he oft endeavour'd to proclaim
His new misfortune, and to tell his name;
Nor voice nor words the brutal tongue supplies;
From shouting men, and horns, and dogs he flies,
Deafen'd and stunn'd with their promiscuous cries.
When now the fleetest of the pack, that prest
Close at his heels, and sprung before the rest,
Had fasten'd on him, straight another pair,
Hung on his wounded haunch, and held him there,
'Till all the pack came up, and ev'ry hound
Tore the sad huntsman grov'ling on the ground,
Who now appear'd but one continu'd wound.
With dropping tears his bitter fate he moans,
And fills the mountain with his dying groans.
His servants with a piteous look he spies,
And turns about his supplicating eyes.
His servants, ignorant of what had chanc'd,
With eager haste and joyful shouts advanc'd,
And call'd their lord Actaeon to the game.
He shook his head in answer to the name;
He heard, but wish'd he had indeed been gone,
Or only to have stood a looker-on.
But to his grief he finds himself too near,
And feels his rav'nous dogs with fury tear
Their wretched master panting in a deer.
The Birth of Actaeon's suff'rings, and Diana's rage,
Bacchus Did all the thoughts of men and Gods engage;
Some call'd the evils which Diana wrought,
Too great, and disproportion'd to the fault:
Others again, esteem'd Actaeon's woes
Fit for a virgin Goddess to impose.
The hearers into diff'rent parts divide,
And reasons are produc'd on either side.
Juno alone, of all that heard the news,
Nor would condemn the Goddess, nor excuse:
She heeded not the justice of the deed,
But joy'd to see the race of Cadmus bleed;
For still she kept Europa in her mind,
And, for her sake, detested all her kind.
Besides, to aggravate her hate, she heard
How Semele, to Jove's embrace preferr'd,
Was now grown big with an immortal load,
And carry'd in her womb a future God.
Thus terribly incens'd, the Goddess broke
To sudden fury, and abruptly spoke.
"Are my reproaches of so small a force?
'Tis time I then pursue another course:
It is decreed the guilty wretch shall die,
If I'm indeed the mistress of the sky,
If rightly styl'd among the Pow'rs above
The wife and sister of the thund'ring Jove
(And none can sure a sister's right deny);
It is decreed the guilty wretch shall die.
She boasts an honour I can hardly claim,
Pregnant she rises to a mother's name;
While proud and vain she triumphs in her Jove,
And shows the glorious tokens of his love:
But if I'm still the mistress of the skies,
By her own lover the fond beauty dies."
This said, descending in a yellow cloud,
Before the gates of Semele she stood.
Old Beroe's decrepit shape she wears,
Her wrinkled visage, and her hoary hairs;
Whilst in her trembling gait she totters on,
And learns to tattle in the nurse's tone.
The Goddess, thus disguis'd in age, beguil'd
With pleasing stories her false foster-child.
Much did she talk of love, and when she came
To mention to the nymph her lover's name,
Fetching a sigh, and holding down her head,
"'Tis well," says she, "if all be true that's said.
But trust me, child, I'm much inclin'd to fear
Some counterfeit in this your Jupiter:
Many an honest well-designing maid
Has been by these pretended Gods betray'd,
But if he be indeed the thund'ring Jove,
Bid him, when next he courts the rites of love,
Descend triumphant from th' etherial sky,
In all the pomp of his divinity,
Encompass'd round by those celestial charms,
With which he fills th' immortal Juno's arms."
Th' unwary nymph, ensnar'd with what she said,
Desir'd of Jove, when next he sought her bed,
To grant a certain gift which she would chuse;
"Fear not," reply'd the God, "that I'll refuse
Whate'er you ask: may Styx confirm my voice,
Chuse what you will, and you shall have your
choice."
"Then," says the nymph, "when next you seek my
arms,
May you descend in those celestial charms,
With which your Juno's bosom you enflame,
And fill with transport Heav'n's immortal dame."
The God surpriz'd would fain have stopp'd her
voice,
But he had sworn, and she had made her choice.
To keep his promise he ascends, and shrowds
His awful brow in whirl-winds and in clouds;
Whilst all around, in terrible array,
His thunders rattle, and his light'nings play.
And yet, the dazling lustre to abate,
He set not out in all his pomp and state,
Clad in the mildest light'ning of the skies,
And arm'd with thunder of the smallest size:
Not those huge bolts, by which the giants slain
Lay overthrown on the Phlegrean plain.
'Twas of a lesser mould, and lighter weight;
They call it thunder of a second-rate,
For the rough Cyclops, who by Jove's command
Temper'd the bolt, and turn'd it to his hand,
Work'd up less flame and fury in its make,
And quench'd it sooner in the standing lake.
Thus dreadfully adorn'd, with horror bright,
Th' illustrious God, descending from his height,
Came rushing on her in a storm of light.
The mortal dame, too feeble to engage
The lightning's flashes, and the thunder's rage,
Consum'd amidst the glories she desir'd,
And in the terrible embrace expir'd.
But, to preserve his offspring from the tomb,
Jove took him smoaking from the blasted womb:
And, if on ancient tales we may rely,
Inclos'd th' abortive infant in his thigh.
Here when the babe had all his time fulfill'd,
Ino first took him for her foster-child;
Then the Niseans, in their dark abode,
Nurs'd secretly with milk the thriving God.
The 'Twas now, while these transactions past on
Transformation Earth,
of Tiresias And Bacchus thus procur'd a second birth,
When Jove, dispos'd to lay aside the weight
Of publick empire and the cares of state,
As to his queen in nectar bowls he quaff'd,
"In troth," says he, and as he spoke he laugh'd,
"The sense of pleasure in the male is far
More dull and dead, than what you females share."
Juno the truth of what was said deny'd;
Tiresias therefore must the cause decide,
For he the pleasure of each sex had try'd.
It happen'd once, within a shady wood,
Two twisted snakes he in conjunction view'd,
When with his staff their slimy folds he broke,
And lost his manhood at the fatal stroke.
But, after seven revolving years, he view'd
The self-same serpents in the self-same wood:
"And if," says he, "such virtue in you lye,
That he who dares your slimy folds untie
Must change his kind, a second stroke I'll try."
Again he struck the snakes, and stood again
New-sex'd, and strait recover'd into man.
Him therefore both the deities create
The sov'raign umpire, in their grand debate;
And he declar'd for Jove: when Juno fir'd,
More than so trivial an affair requir'd,
Depriv'd him, in her fury, of his sight,
And left him groping round in sudden night.
But Jove (for so it is in Heav'n decreed,
That no one God repeal another's deed)
Irradiates all his soul with inward light,
And with the prophet's art relieves the want of
sight.
The Fam'd far and near for knowing things to come,
Transformation From him th' enquiring nations sought their doom;
of Echo The fair Liriope his answers try'd,
And first th' unerring prophet justify'd.
This nymph the God Cephisus had abus'd,
With all his winding waters circumfus'd,
And on the Nereid got a lovely boy,
Whom the soft maids ev'n then beheld with joy.
The tender dame, sollicitous to know
Whether her child should reach old age or no,
Consults the sage Tiresias, who replies,
"If e'er he knows himself he surely dies."
Long liv'd the dubious mother in suspence,
'Till time unriddled all the prophet's sense.
Narcissus now his sixteenth year began,
Just turn'd of boy, and on the verge of man;
Many a friend the blooming youth caress'd,
Many a love-sick maid her flame confess'd:
Such was his pride, in vain the friend caress'd,
The love-sick maid in vain her flame confess'd.
Once, in the woods, as he pursu'd the chace,
The babbling Echo had descry'd his face;
She, who in others' words her silence breaks,
Nor speaks her self but when another speaks.
Echo was then a maid, of speech bereft,
Of wonted speech; for tho' her voice was left,
Juno a curse did on her tongue impose,
To sport with ev'ry sentence in the close.
Full often when the Goddess might have caught
Jove and her rivals in the very fault,
This nymph with subtle stories would delay
Her coming, 'till the lovers slip'd away.
The Goddess found out the deceit in time,
And then she cry'd, "That tongue, for this thy
crime,
Which could so many subtle tales produce,
Shall be hereafter but of little use."
Hence 'tis she prattles in a fainter tone,
With mimick sounds, and accents not her own.
This love-sick virgin, over-joy'd to find
The boy alone, still follow'd him behind:
When glowing warmly at her near approach,
As sulphur blazes at the taper's touch,
She long'd her hidden passion to reveal,
And tell her pains, but had not words to tell:
She can't begin, but waits for the rebound,
To catch his voice, and to return the sound.
The nymph, when nothing could Narcissus move,
Still dash'd with blushes for her slighted love,
Liv'd in the shady covert of the woods,
In solitary caves and dark abodes;
Where pining wander'd the rejected fair,
'Till harrass'd out, and worn away with care,
The sounding skeleton, of blood bereft,
Besides her bones and voice had nothing left.
Her bones are petrify'd, her voice is found
In vaults, where still it doubles ev'ry sound.
The Story of Thus did the nymphs in vain caress the boy,
Narcissus He still was lovely, but he still was coy;
When one fair virgin of the slighted train
Thus pray'd the Gods, provok'd by his disdain,
"Oh may he love like me, and love like me in vain!"
Rhamnusia pity'd the neglected fair,
And with just vengeance answer'd to her pray'r.
There stands a fountain in a darksom wood,
Nor stain'd with falling leaves nor rising mud;
Untroubled by the breath of winds it rests,
Unsully'd by the touch of men or beasts;
High bow'rs of shady trees above it grow,
And rising grass and chearful greens below.
Pleas'd with the form and coolness of the place,
And over-heated by the morning chace,
Narcissus on the grassie verdure lyes:
But whilst within the chrystal fount he tries
To quench his heat, he feels new heats arise.
For as his own bright image he survey'd,
He fell in love with the fantastick shade;
And o'er the fair resemblance hung unmov'd,
Nor knew, fond youth! it was himself he lov'd.
The well-turn'd neck and shoulders he descries,
The spacious forehead, and the sparkling eyes;
The hands that Bacchus might not scorn to show,
And hair that round Apollo's head might flow;
With all the purple youthfulness of face,
That gently blushes in the wat'ry glass.
By his own flames consum'd the lover lyes,
And gives himself the wound by which he dies.
To the cold water oft he joins his lips,
Oft catching at the beauteous shade he dips
His arms, as often from himself he slips.
Nor knows he who it is his arms pursue
With eager clasps, but loves he knows not who.
What could, fond youth, this helpless passion
move?
What kindled in thee this unpity'd love?
Thy own warm blush within the water glows,
With thee the colour'd shadow comes and goes,
Its empty being on thy self relies;
Step thou aside, and the frail charmer dies.
Still o'er the fountain's wat'ry gleam he stood,
Mindless of sleep, and negligent of food;
Still view'd his face, and languish'd as he view'd.
At length he rais'd his head, and thus began
To vent his griefs, and tell the woods his pain.
"You trees," says he, "and thou surrounding grove,
Who oft have been the kindly scenes of love,
Tell me, if e'er within your shades did lye
A youth so tortur'd, so perplex'd as I?
I, who before me see the charming fair,
Whilst there he stands, and yet he stands not
there:
In such a maze of love my thoughts are lost:
And yet no bulwark'd town, nor distant coast,
Preserves the beauteous youth from being seen,
No mountains rise, nor oceans flow between.
A shallow water hinders my embrace;
And yet the lovely mimick wears a face
That kindly smiles, and when I bend to join
My lips to his, he fondly bends to mine.
Hear, gentle youth, and pity my complaint,
Come from thy well, thou fair inhabitant.
My charms an easy conquest have obtain'd
O'er other hearts, by thee alone disdain'd.
But why should I despair? I'm sure he burns
With equal flames, and languishes by turns.
When-e'er I stoop, he offers at a kiss,
And when my arms I stretch, he stretches his.
His eye with pleasure on my face he keeps,
He smiles my smiles, and when I weep he weeps.
When e'er I speak, his moving lips appear
To utter something, which I cannot hear.
"Ah wretched me! I now begin too late
To find out all the long-perplex'd deceit;
It is my self I love, my self I see;
The gay delusion is a part of me.
I kindle up the fires by which I burn,
And my own beauties from the well return.
Whom should I court? how utter my complaint?
Enjoyment but produces my restraint,
And too much plenty makes me die for want.
How gladly would I from my self remove!
And at a distance set the thing I love.
My breast is warm'd with such unusual fire,
I wish him absent whom I most desire.
And now I faint with grief; my fate draws nigh;
In all the pride of blooming youth I die.
Death will the sorrows of my heart relieve.
Oh might the visionary youth survive,
I should with joy my latest breath resign!
But oh! I see his fate involv'd in mine."
This said, the weeping youth again return'd
To the clear fountain, where again he burn'd;
His tears defac'd the surface of the well,
With circle after circle, as they fell:
And now the lovely face but half appears,
O'er-run with wrinkles, and deform'd with tears.
"Ah whither," cries Narcissus, "dost thou fly?
Let me still feed the flame by which I die;
Let me still see, tho' I'm no further blest."
Then rends his garment off, and beats his breast:
His naked bosom redden'd with the blow,
In such a blush as purple clusters show,
Ere yet the sun's autumnal heats refine
Their sprightly juice, and mellow it to wine.
The glowing beauties of his breast he spies,
And with a new redoubled passion dies.
As wax dissolves, as ice begins to run,
And trickle into drops before the sun;
So melts the youth, and languishes away,
His beauty withers, and his limbs decay;
And none of those attractive charms remain,
To which the slighted Echo su'd in vain.
She saw him in his present misery,
Whom, spight of all her wrongs, she griev'd to see.
She answer'd sadly to the lover's moan,
Sigh'd back his sighs, and groan'd to ev'ry groan:
"Ah youth! belov'd in vain," Narcissus cries;
"Ah youth! belov'd in vain," the nymph replies.
"Farewel," says he; the parting sound scarce fell
From his faint lips, but she reply'd, "farewel."
Then on th' wholsome earth he gasping lyes,
'Till death shuts up those self-admiring eyes.
To the cold shades his flitting ghost retires,
And in the Stygian waves it self admires.
For him the Naiads and the Dryads mourn,
Whom the sad Echo answers in her turn;
And now the sister-nymphs prepare his urn:
When, looking for his corps, they only found
A rising stalk, with yellow blossoms crown'd.
The Story of This sad event gave blind Tiresias fame,
Pentheus Through Greece establish'd in a prophet's name.
Th' unhallow'd Pentheus only durst deride
The cheated people, and their eyeless guide.
To whom the prophet in his fury said,
Shaking the hoary honours of his head:
"'Twere well, presumptuous man, 'twere well for
thee
If thou wert eyeless too, and blind, like me:
For the time comes, nay, 'tis already here,
When the young God's solemnities appear:
Which, if thou dost not with just rites adorn,
Thy impious carcass, into pieces torn,
Shall strew the woods, and hang on ev'ry thorn.
Then, then, remember what I now foretel,
And own the blind Tiresias saw too well."
Still Pentheus scorns him, and derides his skill;
But time did all the prophet's threats fulfil.
For now through prostrate Greece young Bacchus
rode,
Whilst howling matrons celebrate the God:
All ranks and sexes to his Orgies ran,
To mingle in the pomps, and fill the train.
When Pentheus thus his wicked rage express'd:
"What madness, Thebans, has your souls possess'd?
Can hollow timbrels, can a drunken shout,
And the lewd clamours of a beastly rout,
Thus quell your courage; can the weak alarm
Of women's yells those stubborn souls disarm,
Whom nor the sword nor trumpet e'er could fright,
Nor the loud din and horror of a fight?
And you, our sires, who left your old abodes,
And fix'd in foreign earth your country Gods;
Will you without a stroak your city yield,
And poorly quit an undisputed field?
But you, whose youth and vigour should inspire
Heroick warmth, and kindle martial fire,
Whom burnish'd arms and crested helmets grace,
Not flow'ry garlands and a painted face;
Remember him to whom you stand ally'd:
The serpent for his well of waters dy'd.
He fought the strong; do you his courage show,
And gain a conquest o'er a feeble foe.
If Thebes must fall, oh might the fates afford
A nobler doom from famine, fire, or sword.
Then might the Thebans perish with renown:
But now a beardless victor sacks the town;
Whom nor the prancing steed, nor pond'rous shield,
Nor the hack'd helmet, nor the dusty field,
But the soft joys of luxury and ease,
The purple vests, and flow'ry garlands please.
Stand then aside, I'll make the counterfeit
Renounce his god-head, and confess the cheat.
Acrisius from the Grecian walls repell'd
This boasted pow'r; why then should Pentheus yield?
Go quickly drag th' impostor boy to me;
I'll try the force of his divinity."
Thus did th' audacious wretch those rites profane;
His friends dissuade th' audacious wretch in vain:
In vain his grandsire urg'd him to give o'er
His impious threats; the wretch but raves the more.
So have I seen a river gently glide,
In a smooth course, and inoffensive tide;
But if with dams its current we restrain,
It bears down all, and foams along the plain.
But now his servants came besmear'd with blood,
Sent by their haughty prince to seize the God;
The God they found not in the frantick throng,
But dragg'd a zealous votary along.
The Mariners Him Pentheus view'd with fury in his look,
transform'd to And scarce with-held his hands, whilst thus he
Dolphins spoke:
"Vile slave! whom speedy vengeance shall pursue,
And terrify thy base seditious crew:
Thy country and thy parentage reveal,
And, why thou joinest in these mad Orgies, tell."
The captive views him with undaunted eyes,
And, arm'd with inward innocence, replies,
"From high Meonia's rocky shores I came,
Of poor descent, Acoetes is my name:
My sire was meanly born; no oxen plow'd
His fruitful fields, nor in his pastures low'd.
His whole estate within the waters lay;
With lines and hooks he caught the finny prey,
His art was all his livelyhood; which he
Thus with his dying lips bequeath'd to me:
In streams, my boy, and rivers take thy chance;
There swims, said he, thy whole inheritance.
Long did I live on this poor legacy;
'Till tir'd with rocks, and my old native sky,
To arts of navigation I inclin'd;
Observ'd the turns and changes of the wind,
Learn'd the fit havens, and began to note
The stormy Hyades, the rainy Goat,
The bright Taygete, and the shining Bears,
With all the sailor's catalogue of stars.
"Once, as by chance for Delos I design'd,
My vessel, driv'n by a strong gust of wind,
Moor'd in a Chian Creek; a-shore I went,
And all the following night in Chios spent.
When morning rose, I sent my mates to bring
Supplies of water from a neighb'ring spring,
Whilst I the motion of the winds explor'd;
Then summon'd in my crew, and went aboard.
Opheltes heard my summons, and with joy
Brought to the shore a soft and lovely boy,
With more than female sweetness in his look,
Whom straggling in the neighb'ring fields he took.
With fumes of wine the little captive glows,
And nods with sleep, and staggers as he goes.
"I view'd him nicely, and began to trace
Each heav'nly feature, each immortal grace,
And saw divinity in all his face,
I know not who, said I, this God should be;
But that he is a God I plainly see:
And thou, who-e'er thou art, excuse the force
These men have us'd; and oh befriend our course!
Pray not for us, the nimble Dictys cry'd,
Dictys, that could the main-top mast bestride,
And down the ropes with active vigour slide.
To the same purpose old Epopeus spoke,
Who over-look'd the oars, and tim'd the stroke;
The same the pilot, and the same the rest;
Such impious avarice their souls possest.
Nay, Heav'n forbid that I should bear away
Within my vessel so divine a prey,
Said I; and stood to hinder their intent:
When Lycabas, a wretch for murder sent
From Tuscany, to suffer banishment,
With his clench'd fist had struck me over-board,
Had not my hands in falling grasp'd a cord.
"His base confederates the fact approve;
When Bacchus (for 'twas he) begun to move,
Wak'd by the noise and clamours which they rais'd;
And shook his drowsie limbs, and round him gaz'd:
What means this noise? he cries; am I betray'd?
Ah, whither, whither must I be convey'd?
Fear not, said Proreus, child, but tell us where
You wish to land, and trust our friendly care.
To Naxos then direct your course, said he;
Naxos a hospitable port shall be
To each of you, a joyful home to me.
By ev'ry God, that rules the sea or sky,
The perjur'd villains promise to comply,
And bid me hasten to unmoor the ship.
With eager joy I launch into the deep;
And, heedless of the fraud, for Naxos stand.
They whisper oft, and beckon with the hand,
And give me signs, all anxious for their prey,
To tack about, and steer another way.
Then let some other to my post succeed,
Said I, I'm guiltless of so foul a deed.
What, says Ethalion, must the ship's whole crew
Follow your humour, and depend on you?
And strait himself he seated at the prore,
And tack'd about, and sought another shore.
"The beauteous youth now found himself betray'd,
And from the deck the rising waves survey'd,
And seem'd to weep, and as he wept he said:
And do you thus my easy faith beguile?
Thus do you bear me to my native isle?
Will such a multitude of men employ
Their strength against a weak defenceless boy?
"In vain did I the God-like youth deplore,
The more I begg'd, they thwarted me the more.
And now by all the Gods in Heav'n that hear
This solemn oath, by Bacchus' self, I swear,
The mighty miracle that did ensue,
Although it seems beyond belief, is true.
The vessel, fix'd and rooted in the flood,
Unmov'd by all the beating billows stood.
In vain the mariners would plow the main
With sails unfurl'd, and strike their oars in vain;
Around their oars a twining ivy cleaves,
And climbs the mast, and hides the cords in leaves:
The sails are cover'd with a chearful green,
And berries in the fruitful canvass seen.
Amidst the waves a sudden forest rears
Its verdant head, and a new Spring appears.
"The God we now behold with open'd eyes;
A herd of spotted panthers round him lyes
In glaring forms; the grapy clusters spread
On his fair brows, and dangle on his head.
And whilst he frowns, and brandishes his spear,
My mates surpriz'd with madness or with fear,
Leap'd over board; first perjur'd Madon found
Rough scales and fins his stiff'ning sides
surround;
Ah what, cries one, has thus transform'd thy look?
Strait his own mouth grew wider as he spoke;
And now himself he views with like surprize.
Still at his oar th' industrious Libys plies;
But, as he plies, each busy arm shrinks in,
And by degrees is fashion'd to a fin.
Another, as he catches at a cord,
Misses his arms, and, tumbling over-board,
With his broad fins and forky tail he laves
The rising surge, and flounces in the waves.
Thus all my crew transform'd around the ship,
Or dive below, or on the surface leap,
And spout the waves, and wanton in the deep.
Full nineteen sailors did the ship convey,
A shole of nineteen dolphins round her play.
I only in my proper shape appear,
Speechless with wonder, and half dead with fear,
'Till Bacchus kindly bid me fear no more.
With him I landed on the Chian shore,
And him shall ever gratefully adore."
"This forging slave," says Pentheus, "would
prevail
O'er our just fury by a far-fetch'd tale:
Go, let him feel the whips, the swords, the fire,
And in the tortures of the rack expire."
Th' officious servants hurry him away,
And the poor captive in a dungeon lay.
But, whilst the whips and tortures are prepar'd,
The gates fly open, of themselves unbarr'd;
At liberty th' unfetter'd captive stands,
And flings the loosen'd shackles from his hands.
The Death of But Pentheus, grown more furious than before,
Pentheus Resolv'd to send his messengers no more,
But went himself to the distracted throng,
Where high Cithaeron echo'd with their song.
And as the fiery war-horse paws the ground,
And snorts and trembles at the trumpet's sound;
Transported thus he heard the frantick rout,
And rav'd and madden'd at the distant shout.
A spacious circuit on the hill there stood.
Level and wide, and skirted round with wood;
Here the rash Pentheus, with unhallow'd eyes,
The howling dames and mystick Orgies spies.
His mother sternly view'd him where he stood,
And kindled into madness as she view'd:
Her leafy jav'lin at her son she cast,
And cries, "The boar that lays our country waste!
The boar, my sisters! Aim the fatal dart,
And strike the brindled monster to the heart."
Pentheus astonish'd heard the dismal sound,
And sees the yelling matrons gath'ring round;
He sees, and weeps at his approaching fate,
And begs for mercy, and repents too late.
"Help, help! my aunt Autonoe," he cry'd;
"Remember, how your own Actaeon dy'd."
Deaf to his cries, the frantick matron crops
One stretch'd-out arm, the other Ino lops.
In vain does Pentheus to his mother sue,
And the raw bleeding stumps presents to view:
His mother howl'd; and, heedless of his pray'r,
Her trembling hand she twisted in his hair,
"And this," she cry'd, "shall be Agave's share,"
When from the neck his struggling head she tore,
And in her hands the ghastly visage bore.
With pleasure all the hideous trunk survey;
Then pull'd and tore the mangled limbs away,
As starting in the pangs of death it lay,
Soon as the wood its leafy honours casts,
Blown off and scatter'd by autumnal blasts,
With such a sudden death lay Pentheus slain,
And in a thousand pieces strow'd the plain.
By so distinguishing a judgment aw'd,
The Thebans tremble, and confess the God.

The End of the Third Book.

poem by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Poetry Lover
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

Squire Hawkins's Story

I hain't no hand at tellin' tales,
Er spinnin' yarns, as the sailors say;
Someway o' 'nother, language fails
To slide fer me in the oily way
That LAWYERS has; and I wisht it would,
Fer I've got somepin' that I call good;
But bein' only a country squire,
I've learned to listen and admire,
Ruther preferrin' to be addressed
Than talk myse'f--but I'll do my best:--

Old Jeff Thompson--well, I'll say,
Was the clos'test man I ever saw!--
Rich as cream, but the porest pay,
And the meanest man to work fer--La!
I've knowed that man to work one 'hand'--
Fer little er nothin', you understand--
From four o'clock in the morning light
Tel eight and nine o'clock at night,
And then find fault with his appetite!
He'd drive all over the neighberhood
To miss the place where a toll-gate stood,
And slip in town, by some old road
That no two men in the county knowed,
With a jag o' wood, and a sack o' wheat,
That wouldn't burn and you couldn't eat!
And the trades he'd make, 'll I jest de-clare,
Was enough to make a preacher swear!
And then he'd hitch, and hang about
Tel the lights in the toll-gate was blowed out,
And then the turnpike he'd turn in
And sneak his way back home ag'in!

Some folks hint, and I make no doubt,
That that's what wore his old wife out--
Toilin' away from day to day
And year to year, through heat and cold,
Uncomplainin'--the same old way
The martyrs died in the days of old;
And a-clingin', too, as the martyrs done,
To one fixed faith, and her ONLY one,--
Little Patience, the sweetest child
That ever wept unrickonciled,
Er felt the pain and the ache and sting
That only a mother's death can bring.

Patience Thompson!--I think that name
Must 'a' come from a power above,
Fer it seemed to fit her jest the same
As a GAITER would, er a fine kid glove!
And to see that girl, with all the care
Of the household on her--I de-clare
It was OUDACIOUS, the work she'd do,
And the thousand plans that she'd putt through;

And sing like a medder-lark all day long,
And drowned her cares in the joys o' song;
And LAUGH sometimes tel the farmer's 'hand,'
Away fur off in the fields, would stand
A-listenin', with the plow half drawn,
Tel the coaxin' echoes called him on;
And the furries seemed, in his dreamy eyes,
Like foot-paths a-leadin' to Paradise,
As off through the hazy atmosphere
The call fer dinner reached his ear.

Now LOVE'S as cunnin'a little thing
As a hummin'-bird upon the wing,
And as liable to poke his nose
Jest where folks would least suppose,--
And more'n likely build his nest
Right in the heart you'd leave unguessed,
And live and thrive at your expense--
At least, that's MY experience.
And old Jeff Thompson often thought,
In his se'fish way, that the quiet John
Was a stiddy chap, as a farm-hand OUGHT
To always be,--fer the airliest dawn
Found John busy--and 'EASY,' too,
Whenever his wages would fall due!--
To sum him up with a final touch,
He EAT so little and WORKED so much,
That old Jeff laughed to hisse'f and said,
'He makes ME money and airns his bread!--

But John, fer all of his quietude,
Would sometimes drap a word er so
That none but PATIENCE understood,
And none but her was MEANT to know!--
Maybe at meal-times John would say,
As the sugar-bowl come down his way,
'Thanky, no; MY coffee's sweet
Enough fer ME!' with sich conceit,
SHE'D know at once, without no doubt,
HE meant because she poured it out;
And smile and blush, and all sich stuff,
And ast ef it was 'STRONG enough?'
And git the answer, neat and trim,
'It COULDN'T be too 'strong' fer HIM!'

And so things went fer 'bout a year,
Tel John, at last, found pluck to go
And pour his tale in the old man's ear--
And ef it had been HOT LEAD, I know
It couldn't 'a' raised a louder fuss,
Ner 'a' riled the old man's temper wuss!
He jest LIT in, and cussed and swore,
And lunged and rared, and ripped and tore,
And told John jest to leave his door,
And not to darken it no more!
But Patience cried, with eyes all wet,
'Remember, John, and don't ferget,
WHATEVER comes, I love you yet!'
But the old man thought, in his se'fish way,
'I'll see her married rich some day;
And THAT,' thinks he, 'is money fer ME--
And my will's LAW, as it ought to be!'

So when, in the course of a month er so,
A WIDOWER, with a farm er two,
Comes to Jeff's, w'y, the folks, you know,
Had to TALK--as the folks'll do:
It was the talk of the neighberhood--
PATIENCE and JOHN, and THEIR affairs;--
And this old chap with a few gray hairs
Had 'cut John out,' it was understood.
And some folks reckoned 'Patience, too,
Knowed what SHE was a-goin' to do--
It was LIKE her--la! indeed!--
All she loved was DOLLARS and CENTS--
Like old JEFF--and they saw no need
Fer JOHN to pine at HER negligence!'

But others said, in a KINDER way,
They missed the songs she used to sing--
They missed the smiles that used to play
Over her face, and the laughin' ring
Of her glad voice--that EVERYthing
Of her OLD se'f seemed dead and gone,
And this was the ghost that they gazed on!

Tel finally it was noised about
There was a WEDDIN' soon to be
Down at Jeff's; and the 'cat was out'
Shore enough!--'Ll the JEE-MUN-NEE!
It RILED me when John told me so,--
Fer _I_ WAS A FRIEND O' JOHN'S, you know;
And his trimblin' voice jest broke in two--
As a feller's voice'll sometimes do.--
And I says, says I, 'Ef I know my biz--
And I think I know what JESTICE is,--
I've read SOME law--and I'd advise
A man like you to wipe his eyes
And square his jaws and start AGIN,
FER JESTICE IS A-GOIN' TO WIN!'
And it wasn't long tel his eyes had cleared
As blue as the skies, and the sun appeared
In the shape of a good old-fashioned smile
That I hadn't seen fer a long, long while.

So we talked on fer a' hour er more,
And sunned ourselves in the open door,--
Tel a hoss-and-buggy down the road
Come a-drivin' up, that I guess John KNOWED,--
Fer he winked and says, 'I'll dessappear--
THEY'D smell a mice ef they saw ME here!'
And he thumbed his nose at the old gray mare,
And hid hisse'f in the house somewhere.

Well.--The rig drove up: and I raised my head
As old Jeff hollered to me and said
That 'him and his old friend there had come
To see ef the squire was at home.'
. . . I told 'em 'I was; and I AIMED to be
At every chance of a weddin'-fee!'
And then I laughed--and they laughed, too,--
Fer that was the object they had in view.
'Would I be on hands at eight that night?'
They ast; and 's-I, 'You're mighty right,
I'LL be on hand!' And then I BU'ST
Out a-laughin' my very wu'st,--
And so did they, as they wheeled away
And drove to'rds town in a cloud o' dust.
Then I shet the door, and me and John
Laughed and LAUGHED, and jest LAUGHED on,
Tel Mother drapped her specs, and BY
JEEWHILLIKERS! I thought she'd DIE!--
And she couldn't 'a' told, I'll bet my hat,
What on earth she was laughin' at!

But all o' the fun o' the tale hain't done!--
Fer a drizzlin' rain had jest begun,
And a-havin' 'bout four mile' to ride,
I jest concluded I'd better light
Out fer Jeff's and save my hide,--
Fer IT WAS A-GOIN' TO STORM, THAT NIGHT!
So we went down to the barn, and John
Saddled my beast, and I got on;
And he told me somepin' to not ferget,
And when I left, he was LAUGHIN' yet.

And, 'proachin' on to my journey's end,
The great big draps o' the rain come down,
And the thunder growled in a way to lend
An awful look to the lowerin' frown
The dull sky wore; and the lightnin' glanced
Tel my old mare jest MORE'N pranced,
And tossed her head, and bugged her eyes
To about four times their natchurl size,
As the big black lips of the clouds 'ud drap
Out some oath of a thunderclap,
And threaten on in an undertone
That chilled a feller clean to the bone!

But I struck shelter soon enough
To save myse'f. And the house was jammed
With the women-folks, and the weddin'stuff:--
A great, long table, fairly CRAMMED
With big pound-cakes--and chops and steaks--
And roasts and stews--and stumick-aches
Of every fashion, form, and size,
From twisters up to punkin-pies!
And candies, oranges, and figs,
And reezins,--all the 'whilligigs'
And 'jim-cracks' that the law allows
On sich occasions!--Bobs and bows
Of gigglin' girls, with corkscrew curls,
And fancy ribbons, reds and blues,
And 'beau-ketchers' and 'curliques'
To beat the world! And seven o'clock
Brought old Jeff;-and brought--THE GROOM,--
With a sideboard-collar on, and stock
That choked him so, he hadn't room
To SWALLER in, er even sneeze,
Er clear his th'oat with any case
Er comfort--and a good square cough
Would saw his Adam's apple off!

But as fer PATIENCE--MY! Oomh-OOMH!--
I never saw her look so sweet!--
Her face was cream and roses, too;
And then them eyes o' heavenly blue
Jest made an angel all complete!
And when she split 'em up in smiles
And splintered 'em around the room,
And danced acrost and met the groom,
And LAUGHED OUT LOUD--It kind o' spiles
My language when I come to that--
Fer, as she laid away his hat,
Thinks I, 'THE PAPERS HID INSIDE
OF THAT SAID HAT MUST MAKE A BRIDE
A HAPPY ONE FER ALL HER LIFE,
Er else a WRECKED AND WRETCHED WIFE!'
And, someway, then, I thought of JOHN,--
Then looked towards PATIENCE. . . . She was GONE!--
The door stood open, and the rain
Was dashin' in; and sharp and plain
Above the storm we heerd a cry--
A ringin', laughin', loud 'Good-by!'
That died away, as fleet and fast
A hoss's hoofs went splashin' past!
And that was all. 'Twas done that quick! . . .
You've heerd o' fellers 'lookin' sick'?
I wisht you'd seen THE GROOM jest then--
I wisht you'd seen them two old men,
With starin' eyes that fairly GLARED
At one another, and the scared
And empty faces of the crowd,--
I wisht you could 'a' been allowed
To jest look on and see it all,--
And heerd the girls and women bawl
And wring their hands; and heerd old Jeff
A-cussin' as he swung hisse'f
Upon his hoss, who champed his bit
As though old Nick had holt of it:
And cheek by jowl the two old wrecks
Rode off as though they'd break their necks.

And as we all stood starin' out
Into the night, I felt the brush
Of some one's hand, and turned about,
And heerd a voice that whispered, 'HUSH!--
THEY'RE WAITIN' IN THE KITCHEN, AND
YOU'RE WANTED. DON'T YOU UNDERSTAND?'
Well, ef my MEMORY serves me now,
I think I winked.--Well, anyhow,
I left the crowd a-gawkin' there,
And jest slipped off around to where
The back door opened, and went in,
And turned and shet the door ag'in,
And maybe LOCKED it--couldn't swear,--
A woman's arms around me makes
Me liable to make mistakes.--
I read a marriage license nex',
But as I didn't have my specs
I jest INFERRED it was all right,
And tied the knot so mortal-tight
That Patience and my old friend John
Was safe enough from that time on!

Well, now, I might go on and tell
How all the joke at last leaked out,
And how the youngsters raised the yell
And rode the happy groom about
Upon their shoulders; how the bride
Was kissed a hunderd times beside
The one _I_ give her,--tel she cried
And laughed untel she like to died!
I might go on and tell you all
About the supper--and the BALL.--
You'd ought to see me twist my heel
Through jest one old Furginny reel
Afore you die! er tromp the strings
Of some old fiddle tel she sings
Some old cowtillion, don't you know,
That putts the devil in yer toe!

We kep' the dancin' up tel FOUR
O'clock, I reckon--maybe more.--
We hardly heerd the thunders roar,
ER THOUGHT about the STORM that blowed--
AND THEM TWO FELLERS ON THE ROAD!
Tel all at onc't we heerd the door
Bu'st open, and a voice that SWORE,--
And old Jeff Thompson tuck the floor.
He shuck hisse'f and looked around
Like some old dog about half-drowned--
HIS HAT, I reckon, WEIGHED TEN POUND
To say the least, and I'll say, SHORE,
HIS OVERCOAT WEIGHED FIFTY more--
THE WETTEST MAN YOU EVER SAW,
TO HAVE SO DRY A SON-IN-LAW!

He sized it all; and Patience laid
Her hand in John's, and looked afraid,
And waited. And a stiller set
O' folks, I KNOW, you never met
In any court room, where with dread
They wait to hear a verdick read.

The old man turned his eyes on me:
'And have you married 'em?' says he.
I nodded 'Yes.' 'Well, that'll do,'
He says, 'and now we're th'ough with YOU,--
YOU jest clear out, and I decide
And promise to be satisfied!'
He hadn't nothin' more to say.
I saw, of course, how matters lay,
And left. But as I rode away
I heerd the roosters crow fer day.

poem by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Poetry Lover
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share
John Keats

Otho The Great - Act IV

SCENE I.

AURANTHE'S Apartment.
AURANTHE and CONRAD discovered.
Conrad. Well, well, I know what ugly jeopardy
We are cag'd in; you need not pester that
Into my ears. Prythee, let me be spared
A foolish tongue, that I may bethink me
Of remedies with some deliberation.
You cannot doubt but 'tis in Albert's power
To crush or save us?
Auranthe. No, I cannot doubt.
He has, assure yourself, by some strange means,
My secret ; which I ever hid from him,
Knowing his mawkish honesty.
Conrad. Curs'd slave!
Auranthe. Ay, I could almost curse him now myself.
Wretched impediment! Evil genius!
A glue upon my wings, that cannot spread,
When they should span the provinces! A snake,
A scorpion, sprawling on the first gold step,
Conducting to the throne, high canopied.
Conrad. You would not hear my council, when his life
Might have been trodden out, all sure and hush'd;
Now the dull animal forsooth must be
Intreated, managed! When can you contrive
The interview he demands?
Auranthe. As speedily
It must be done as my brib'd woman can
Unseen conduct him to me; but I fear
Twill be impossible, while the broad day
Comes through the panes with persecuting glare.
Methinks, if 't now were night I could intrigue
With darkness, bring the stars to second me,
And settle all this trouble.
Conrad. Nonsense! Child!
See him immediately; why not now?
Auranthe. Do you forget that even the senseless door-posts
Are on the watch and gape through all the house?
How many whispers there are about,
Hungry for evidence to ruin me ;
Men I have spurn 'd, and women I have taunted?
Besides, the foolish prince sends, minute whiles,
His pages so they tell me to enquire
After my health, entreating, if I please,
To see me.
Conrad. Well, suppose this Albert here;
What is your power with him?
Auranthe. He should be
My echo, my taught parrot! but I fear
He will be cur enough to bark at me ;
Have his own say ; read me some silly creed
'Bout shame and pity.
Conrad. What will you do then?
Auranthe. What I shall do, I know not: what L would
Cannot be done; for see, this chain her-floor
Will not yield to the pick-axe and the spade,
Here is no quiet depth of hollow ground.
Conrad. Sister, you have grown sensible and wise,
Seconding, ere I speak it, what is now,
I hope, resolv'd between us.
Auranthe. Say, what is 't?
Conrad. You need not be his sexton too: a man
May carry that with him shall make him die
Elsewhere, give that to him; pretend the while
You will to-morrow succumb to his wishes,
Be what they may, and send him from the Castle
On some fool's errand; let his latest groan
Frighten the wolves!
Auranthe. Alas! he must not die!
Conrad. Would you were both hears'd up in stifling lead!
Detested
Auranthe. Conrad, hold! I would not bear
The little thunder of your fretful tongue,
Tho; I alone were taken in these toils,
And you could free me; but remember, sir,
You live alone in my security:
So keep your wits at work, for your own sake,
Not mine, and be more mannerly.
Conrad. Thou wasp!
If my domains were emptied of these folk,
And I had thee to starve
Auranthe. O, marvellous!
But Conrad, now be gone; the Host is look'd for;
Cringe to the Emperor, entertain the Lords,
And, do ye mind, above all things, proclaim
My sickness, with a brother's sadden'd eye,
Condoling with Prince Ludolph. In fit time
Return to me.
Conrad. I leave you to your thoughts. [Exit.
Auranthe (sola) Down, down, proud temper! down,
Auranthe's pride!
Why do I anger him when I should kneel?
Conrad! Albert! help! help! What can I do?
wretched woman! lost, wreck'd, swallow'd up,
Accursed, blasted ! O, thou golden Crown,
Orbing along the serene firmament
Of a wide empire, like a glowing moon;
And thou, bright sceptre! lustrous in my eyes,
There as the fabled fair Hesperian tree,
Bearing a fruit more precious! graceful thing.
Delicate, godlike, magic! must I leave
Thee to melt in the visionary air,
Ere, by one grasp, this common hand is made
Imperial? I do not know the time
When I have wept for sorrow; but methinks
I could now sit upon the ground, and shed
Tears, tears of misery. O, the heavy day!
How shall I bear my life till Albert comes?
Ludolph! Erminia! Proofs! O heavy day!
Bring me some mourning weeds, that I may 'tire
Myself, as fits one wailing her own death:
Cut off these curls, and brand this lilly hand,
And throw these jewels from my loathing sight,
Fetch me a missal, and a string of beads,
A cup of bitter'd water, and a crust,
I will confess, O holy Abbot How!
What is this? Auranthe! thou fool, dolt,
Whimpering idiot! up! up! act and quell!
I am safe! Coward! why am I in fear?
Albert! he cannot stickle, chew the cud
In such a fine extreme, impossible!
Who knocks? [Goes to the Door, listens, and opens it.
Enter ALBERT.
Albert, I have been waiting for you here
With such an aching heart, such swooning throbs
On my poor brain, such cruel cruel sorrow,
That I should claim your pity! Art not well?
Albert. Yes, lady, well.
Auranthe. You look not so, alas!
But pale, as if you brought some heavy news.
Albert. You know full well what makes me look so pale.
Auranthe. No! Do I? Surely I am still to learn
Some horror; all I know, this present, is
I am near hustled to a dangerous gulph,
Which you can save me from, and therefore safe,
So trusting in thy love; that should not make
Thee pale, my Albert.
Albert. It doth make me freeze.
Auranthe. Why should it, love?
Albert. You should not ask me that,
But make your own heart monitor, and save
Me the great pain of telling. You must know.
Auranthe. Something has vexed you, Albert. There are times
When simplest things put on a sombre cast;
A melancholy mood will haunt a man,
Until most easy matters take the shape
Of unachievable tasks; small rivulets
Then seem impassable.
Albert. Do not cheat yourself
With hope that gloss of words, or suppliant action,
Or tears, or ravings, or self-threaten 'd death,
Can alter my resolve.
Auranthe. You make me tremble;

Not so much at your threats, as at your voice.
Untun'd. and harsh, and barren of all love.
Albert. You suffocate me! Stop this devil's parley,
And listen to me; know me once for all.
Auranthe. I thought I did. Alas! I am deceiv'd.
Albert. No, you are not deceiv'd. You took me for
A man detesting all inhuman crime;
And therefore kept from me your demon's plot
Against Erminia. Silent? Be so still;
For ever! Speak no more; but hear my words,
Thy fate. Your safety I have bought to-day
By blazoning a lie, which in the dawn
I expiate with truth.
Auranthe. O cruel traitor!
Albert. For I would not set eyes upon thy shame;
I would not see thee dragg'd to death by the hair,
Penanc'd, and taunted on a scaffolding!
To-night, upon the skirts of the blind wood
That blackens northward of these horrid towers,
I wait for you with horses. Choose your fate.
Farewell.
Auranthe. Albert, you jest; I'm sure you must.
You, an ambitious Soldier! I, a Queen,
One who could say, Here, rule these Provinces!
Take tribute from those cities for thyself!
Empty these armouries, these treasuries,
Muster thy warlike thousands at a nod !
Go! conquer Italy!
Albert. Auranthe, you have made
The whole world chaff to me. Your doom is fix'd.
Auranthe. Out, villain! dastard!
Albert. Look there to the door!
Who is it?
Auranthe. Conrad, traitor!
Albert. Let him in.
Enter CONRAD.
Do not affect amazement, hypocrite,
At seeing me in this chamber.
Conrad. Auranthe?
Albert. Talk not with eyes, but speak your curses out
Against me, who would sooner crush and grind
A brace of toads, than league with them to oppress
An innocent lady, gull an Emperor,
More generous to me than autumn's sun
To ripening harvests.
Auranthe. No more insult, sir!
Albert. Aye, clutch your scabbard; but, for prudence sake,
Draw not the sword; 'twould make an uproar, Duke,
You would not hear the end of. At nightfall
Your lady sister, if I guess aright,
Will leave this busy castle. You had best
Take farewell too of worldly vanities.
Conrad. Vassal!
Albert. To-morrow, when the Emperor sends
For loving Conrad, see you fawn on him.
Good even !
Auranthe. You'll be seen!
Albert. See the coast clear then.
Auranthe (as he goes). Remorseless Albert! Cruel,
cruel wretch!
[She lets him out.
Conrad. So, we must lick the dust?
Auranthe. I follow him.
Conrad. How? Where? The plan of your escape?
Auranthe. He waits
For me with horses by the forest-side,

Northward.
Conrad. Good, good! he dies. You go, say you?
Auranthe. Perforce.
Conrad. Be speedy, darkness! Till that comes,
Fiends keep you company! [Exit.
Auranthe. And you! And you!
And all men! Vanish!
[Retires to an inner Apartment.

SCENE II. An Apartment in the Castle.
Enter LUDOLPH and Page.
Page. Still very sick, my Lord; but now I went
Knowing my duty to so good a Prince;
And there her women in a mournful throng
Stood in the passage whispering: if any
Mov'd 'twas with careful steps and hush'd as death;
They bid me stop.
Ludolph. Good fellow, once again
Make soft enquiry; prythee be not stay'd
By any hindrance, but with gentlest force
Break through her weeping servants, till thou com'st
E'en to her chamber door, and there, fair boy,
If with thy mother's milk thou hast suck'd in
Any diviner eloquence ; woo her ears
With plaints for me more tender than the voice
Of dying Echo, echoed.
Page. Kindest master!
To know thee sad thus, will unloose my tongue
In mournful syllables. Let but my words reach
Her ears and she shall take them coupled with
Moans from my heart and sighs not counterfeit.
May I speed better! [Exit Page.
Ludolph. Auranthe! My Life!
Long have I lov'd thee, yet till now not lov'd:
Remembering, as I do, hard-hearted times
When I had heard even of thy death perhaps,
And thoughtless, suffered to pass alone
Into Elysium! now I follow thee
A substance or a shadow, wheresoe'er
Thou leadest me, whether thy white feet press,
With pleasant weight, the amorous-aching earth,
Or thro' the air thou pioneerest me,
A shade! Yet sadly I predestinate!
O unbenignest Love, why wilt thou let
Darkness steal out upon the sleepy world
So wearily; as if night's chariot wheels
Were clog'd in some thick cloud. O, changeful Love,
Let not her steeds with drowsy-footed pace
Pass the high stars, before sweet embassage
Comes from the pillow 'd beauty of that fair
Completion of all delicate nature's wit.
Pout her faint lips anew with rubious health
And with thine infant fingers lift the fringe
Of her sick eyelids ; that those eyes may glow
With wooing light upon me, ere the Morn
Peers with disrelish, grey, barren, and cold.
Enter GERSA and Courtiers.
Otho calls me his Lion should I blush
To be so tam'd, so
Gersa. Do me the courtesy
Gentlemen to pass on.
Courtier. We are your servants.
[Exeunt Courtiers.
Ludolph. It seems then, Sir, you have found out the man
You would confer with; me?
Gersa. If I break not
Too much upon your thoughtful mood, I will
Claim a brief while your patience.
Ludolph. For what cause
Soe'er I shall be honour 'd.
Gersa. I not less.
Ludolph. What may it be? No trifle can take place
Of such deliberate prologue, serious 'haviour.
But be it what it may I cannot fail
To listen with no common interest
For though so new your presence is to me,
I have a soldier's friendship for your fame
Please you explain.
Gersa. As thus for, pardon me,
I cannot in plain terms grossly assault
A noble nature ; and would faintly sketch
What your quick apprehension will fill up
So finely I esteem you.
Ludolph. I attend
Gersa. Your generous Father, most illustrious Otho,
Sits in the Banquet room among his chiefs
His wine is bitter, for you are not there
His eyes are fix'd still on the open doors,
And every passer in he frowns upon
Seeing no Ludolph comes.
Ludolph. I do neglect
Gersa. And for your absence, may I guess the cause?
Ludolph. Stay there! no guess? more princely you must be
Than to make guesses at me. ‘Tis enough,
I'm sorry I can hear no more.
Gersa. And I
As griev'd to force it on you so abrupt;
Yet one day you must know a grief whose sting
Will sharpen more the longer 'tis concealed.
Ludolph. Say it at once, sir, dead, dead, is she dead?
Gersa. Mine is a cruel task : she is not dead
And would for your sake she were innocent
Ludolph. Thou liest! thou amazest me beyond
All scope of thought; convulsest my heart's blood
To deadly churning Gersa you are young
As I am ; let me observe you face to face ;
Not grey-brow'd like the poisonous Ethelbert,
No rheumed eyes, no furrowing of age,
No wrinkles where all vices nestle in
Like crannied vermin no, but fresh and young
And hopeful featured. Ha! by heaven you weep
Tears, human tears Do you repent you then
Of a curs'd torturer's office! Why shouldst join
Tell me, the league of Devils? Confess confess
The Lie.
Gersa. Lie!- but begone all ceremonious points
Of honour battailous. I could not turn
My wrath against thee for the orbed world.
Ludolph. Your wrath, weak boy? Tremble at mine unless
Retraction follow close upon the heels
Of that late stounding insult: why has my sword
Not done already a sheer judgment on thee?
Despair, or eat thy words. Why, thou wast nigh
Whimpering away my reason: hark ye, Sir,
It is no secret; that Erminia,
Erminia, Sir, was hidden in your tent;
O bless 'd asylum! comfortable home!
Begone, I pity thee, thou art a Gull
Erminia's last new puppet
Gersa. Furious fire!
Thou mak'st me boil as hot as thou canst flame!
And in thy teeth I give thee back the lie!
Thou liest! Thou, Auranthe's fool, a wittol
Ludolph. Look! look at this bright sword;
There is no part of it to the very hilt
But shall indulge itself about thine heart
Draw but remember thou must cower thy plumes,
As yesterday the Arab made thee stoop
Gersa. Patience! not here, I would not spill thy blood
Here underneath this roof where Otho breathes,
Thy father almost mine
Ludolph. O faltering coward
Re-enter PAGE.
Stay, stay, here is one I have half a word with
Well What ails thee child?
Page. My lord,
Ludolph. Good fellow
Page. They are fled!
Ludolph. They who?
Page. When anxiously
I hasten 'd back, your grieving messenger,
I found the stairs all dark, the lamps extinct,
And not a foot or whisper to be heard.
I thought her dead, and on the lowest step
Sat listening; when presently came by
Two muffled up, one sighing heavily,
The other cursing low, whose voice I knew
For the Duke Conrad's. Close I follow'd them
Thro' the dark ways they chose to the open air;
And, as I follow'd, heard my lady speak.
Ludolph. Thy life answers the truth!
Page. The chamber's empty!
Ludolph. As I will be of mercy! So, at last,
This nail is in my temples!
Gersa. Be calm in this.
Ludolph. I am.
Gersa. And Albert too has disappeared;
Ere I met you, I sought him everywhere ;
You would not hearken.
Ludolph. Which way went they, boy?
Gersa. I'll hunt with you.
Ludolph. No, no, no. My senses are
Still whole. I have surviv'd. My arm is strong
My appetite sharp for revenge! I'll no sharer
In my feast; my injury is all my own,
And so is my revenge, my lawful chattels!
Terrier, ferret them out! Burn burn the witch!
Trace me their footsteps! Away!
[Exeunt.

poem by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Poetry Lover
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share
Amy Lowell

Pickthorn Manor

I

How fresh the Dartle's little waves that day!
A steely silver, underlined with blue,
And flashing where the round clouds, blown away,
Let drop the yellow sunshine to gleam through
And tip the edges of the waves with shifts
And spots of whitest fire, hard like gems
Cut from the midnight moon they were, and sharp
As wind through leafless stems.
The Lady Eunice walked between the drifts
Of blooming cherry-trees, and watched the rifts
Of clouds drawn through the river's azure warp.

II

Her little feet tapped softly down the path.
Her soul was listless; even the morning breeze
Fluttering the trees and strewing a light swath
Of fallen petals on the grass, could please
Her not at all. She brushed a hair aside
With a swift move, and a half-angry frown.
She stopped to pull a daffodil or two,
And held them to her gown
To test the colours; put them at her side,
Then at her breast, then loosened them and tried
Some new arrangement, but it would not do.

III

A lady in a Manor-house, alone,
Whose husband is in Flanders with the Duke
Of Marlborough and Prince Eugene, she's grown
Too apathetic even to rebuke
Her idleness. What is she on this Earth?
No woman surely, since she neither can
Be wed nor single, must not let her mind
Build thoughts upon a man
Except for hers. Indeed that were no dearth
Were her Lord here, for well she knew his worth,
And when she thought of him her eyes were kind.

IV

Too lately wed to have forgot the wooing.
Too unaccustomed as a bride to feel
Other than strange delight at her wife's doing.
Even at the thought a gentle blush would steal
Over her face, and then her lips would frame
Some little word of loving, and her eyes
Would brim and spill their tears, when all they saw
Was the bright sun, slantwise
Through burgeoning trees, and all the morning's flame
Burning and quivering round her. With quick shame
She shut her heart and bent before the law.

V

He was a soldier, she was proud of that.
This was his house and she would keep it well.
His honour was in fighting, hers in what
He'd left her here in charge of. Then a spell
Of conscience sent her through the orchard spying
Upon the gardeners. Were their tools about?
Were any branches broken? Had the weeds
Been duly taken out
Under the 'spaliered pears, and were these lying
Nailed snug against the sunny bricks and drying
Their leaves and satisfying all their needs?

VI

She picked a stone up with a little pout,
Stones looked so ill in well-kept flower-borders.
Where should she put it? All the paths about
Were strewn with fair, red gravel by her orders.
No stone could mar their sifted smoothness. So
She hurried to the river. At the edge
She stood a moment charmed by the swift blue
Beyond the river sedge.
She watched it curdling, crinkling, and the snow
Purfled upon its wave-tops. Then, 'Hullo,
My Beauty, gently, or you'll wriggle through.'

VII

The Lady Eunice caught a willow spray
To save herself from tumbling in the shallows
Which rippled to her feet. Then straight away
She peered down stream among the budding sallows.
A youth in leather breeches and a shirt
Of finest broidered lawn lay out upon
An overhanging bole and deftly swayed
A well-hooked fish which shone
In the pale lemon sunshine like a spurt
Of silver, bowed and damascened, and girt
With crimson spots and moons which waned and played.

VIII

The fish hung circled for a moment, ringed
And bright; then flung itself out, a thin blade
Of spotted lightning, and its tail was winged
With chipped and sparkled sunshine. And the shade
Broke up and splintered into shafts of light
Wheeling about the fish, who churned the air
And made the fish-line hum, and bent the rod
Almost to snapping. Care
The young man took against the twigs, with slight,
Deft movements he kept fish and line in tight
Obedience to his will with every prod.

IX

He lay there, and the fish hung just beyond.
He seemed uncertain what more he should do.
He drew back, pulled the rod to correspond,
Tossed it and caught it; every time he threw,
He caught it nearer to the point. At last
The fish was near enough to touch. He paused.
Eunice knew well the craft - 'What's got the thing!'
She cried. 'What can have caused -
Where is his net? The moment will be past.
The fish will wriggle free.' She stopped aghast.
He turned and bowed. One arm was in a sling.

X

The broad, black ribbon she had thought his basket
Must hang from, held instead a useless arm.
'I do not wonder, Madam, that you ask it.'
He smiled, for she had spoke aloud. 'The charm
Of trout fishing is in my eyes enhanced
When you must play your fish on land as well.'
'How will you take him?' Eunice asked. 'In truth
I really cannot tell.
'Twas stupid of me, but it simply chanced
I never thought of that until he glanced
Into the branches. 'Tis a bit uncouth.'

XI

He watched the fish against the blowing sky,
Writhing and glittering, pulling at the line.
'The hook is fast, I might just let him die,'
He mused. 'But that would jar against your fine
Sense of true sportsmanship, I know it would,'
Cried Eunice. 'Let me do it.' Swift and light
She ran towards him. 'It is so long now
Since I have felt a bite,
I lost all heart for everything.' She stood,
Supple and strong, beside him, and her blood
Tingled her lissom body to a glow.

XII

She quickly seized the fish and with a stone
Ended its flurry, then removed the hook,
Untied the fly with well-poised fingers. Done,
She asked him where he kept his fishing-book.
He pointed to a coat flung on the ground.
She searched the pockets, found a shagreen case,
Replaced the fly, noticed a golden stamp
Filling the middle space.
Two letters half rubbed out were there, and round
About them gay rococo flowers wound
And tossed a spray of roses to the clamp.

XIII

The Lady Eunice puzzled over these.
'G. D.' the young man gravely said. 'My name
Is Gervase Deane. Your servant, if you please.'
'Oh, Sir, indeed I know you, for your fame
For exploits in the field has reached my ears.
I did not know you wounded and returned.'
'But just come back, Madam. A silly prick
To gain me such unearned
Holiday making. And you, it appears,
Must be Sir Everard's lady. And my fears
At being caught a-trespassing were quick.'

XIV

He looked so rueful that she laughed out loud.
'You are forgiven, Mr. Deane. Even more,
I offer you the fishing, and am proud
That you should find it pleasant from this shore.
Nobody fishes now, my husband used
To angle daily, and I too with him.
He loved the spotted trout, and pike, and dace.
He even had a whim
That flies my fingers tied swiftly confused
The greater fish. And he must be excused,
Love weaves odd fancies in a lonely place.'

XV

She sighed because it seemed so long ago,
Those days with Everard; unthinking took
The path back to the orchard. Strolling so
She walked, and he beside her. In a nook
Where a stone seat withdrew beneath low boughs,
Full-blossomed, hummed with bees, they sat them down.
She questioned him about the war, the share
Her husband had, and grown
Eager by his clear answers, straight allows
Her hidden hopes and fears to speak, and rouse
Her numbed love, which had slumbered unaware.

XVI

Under the orchard trees daffodils danced
And jostled, turning sideways to the wind.
A dropping cherry petal softly glanced
Over her hair, and slid away behind.
At the far end through twisted cherry-trees
The old house glowed, geranium-hued, with bricks
Bloomed in the sun like roses, low and long,
Gabled, and with quaint tricks
Of chimneys carved and fretted. Out of these
Grey smoke was shaken, which the faint Spring breeze
Tossed into nothing. Then a thrush's song

XVII

Needled its way through sound of bees and river.
The notes fell, round and starred, between young leaves,
Trilled to a spiral lilt, stopped on a quiver.
The Lady Eunice listens and believes.
Gervase has many tales of her dear Lord,
His bravery, his knowledge, his charmed life.
She quite forgets who's speaking in the gladness
Of being this man's wife.
Gervase is wounded, grave indeed, the word
Is kindly said, but to a softer chord
She strings her voice to ask with wistful sadness,

XVIII

'And is Sir Everard still unscathed? I fain
Would know the truth.' 'Quite well, dear Lady, quite.'
She smiled in her content. 'So many slain,
You must forgive me for a little fright.'
And he forgave her, not alone for that,
But because she was fingering his heart,
Pressing and squeezing it, and thinking so
Only to ease her smart
Of painful, apprehensive longing. At
Their feet the river swirled and chucked. They sat
An hour there. The thrush flew to and fro.

XIX

The Lady Eunice supped alone that day,
As always since Sir Everard had gone,
In the oak-panelled parlour, whose array
Of faded portraits in carved mouldings shone.
Warriors and ladies, armoured, ruffed, peruked.
Van Dykes with long, slim fingers; Holbeins, stout
And heavy-featured; and one Rubens dame,
A peony just burst out,
With flaunting, crimson flesh. Eunice rebuked
Her thoughts of gentler blood, when these had duked
It with the best, and scorned to change their name.

XX

A sturdy family, and old besides,
Much older than her own, the Earls of Crowe.
Since Saxon days, these men had sought their brides
Among the highest born, but always so,
Taking them to themselves, their wealth, their lands,
But never their titles. Stern perhaps, but strong,
The Framptons fed their blood from richest streams,
Scorning the common throng.
Gazing upon these men, she understands
The toughness of the web wrought from such strands
And pride of Everard colours all her dreams.

XXI

Eunice forgets to eat, watching their faces
Flickering in the wind-blown candle's shine.
Blue-coated lackeys tiptoe to their places,
And set out plates of fruit and jugs of wine.
The table glitters black like Winter ice.
The Dartle's rushing, and the gentle clash
Of blossomed branches, drifts into her ears.
And through the casement sash
She sees each cherry stem a pointed slice
Of splintered moonlight, topped with all the spice
And shimmer of the blossoms it uprears.

XXII

'In such a night -' she laid the book aside,
She could outnight the poet by thinking back.
In such a night she came here as a bride.
The date was graven in the almanack
Of her clasped memory. In this very room
Had Everard uncloaked her. On this seat
Had drawn her to him, bade her note the trees,
How white they were and sweet
And later, coming to her, her dear groom,
Her Lord, had lain beside her in the gloom
Of moon and shade, and whispered her to ease.

XXIII

Her little taper made the room seem vast,
Caverned and empty. And her beating heart
Rapped through the silence all about her cast
Like some loud, dreadful death-watch taking part
In this sad vigil. Slowly she undrest,
Put out the light and crept into her bed.
The linen sheets were fragrant, but so cold.
And brimming tears she shed,
Sobbing and quivering in her barren nest,
Her weeping lips into the pillow prest,
Her eyes sealed fast within its smothering fold.

XXIV

The morning brought her a more stoic mind,
And sunshine struck across the polished floor.
She wondered whether this day she should find
Gervase a-fishing, and so listen more,
Much more again, to all he had to tell.
And he was there, but waiting to begin
Until she came. They fished awhile, then went
To the old seat within
The cherry's shade. He pleased her very well
By his discourse. But ever he must dwell
Upon Sir Everard. Each incident

XXV

Must be related and each term explained.
How troops were set in battle, how a siege
Was ordered and conducted. She complained
Because he bungled at the fall of Liege.
The curious names of parts of forts she knew,
And aired with conscious pride her ravelins,
And counterscarps, and lunes. The day drew on,
And his dead fish's fins
In the hot sunshine turned a mauve-green hue.
At last Gervase, guessing the hour, withdrew.
But she sat long in still oblivion.

XXVI

Then he would bring her books, and read to her
The poems of Dr. Donne, and the blue river
Would murmur through the reading, and a stir
Of birds and bees make the white petals shiver,
And one or two would flutter prone and lie
Spotting the smooth-clipped grass. The days went by
Threaded with talk and verses. Green leaves pushed
Through blossoms stubbornly.
Gervase, unconscious of dishonesty,
Fell into strong and watchful loving, free
He thought, since always would his lips be hushed.

XXVII

But lips do not stay silent at command,
And Gervase strove in vain to order his.
Luckily Eunice did not understand
That he but read himself aloud, for this
Their friendship would have snapped. She treated him
And spoilt him like a brother. It was now
'Gervase' and 'Eunice' with them, and he dined
Whenever she'd allow,
In the oak parlour, underneath the dim
Old pictured Framptons, opposite her slim
Figure, so bright against the chair behind.

XXVIII

Eunice was happier than she had been
For many days, and yet the hours were long.
All Gervase told to her but made her lean
More heavily upon the past. Among
Her hopes she lived, even when she was giving
Her morning orders, even when she twined
Nosegays to deck her parlours. With the thought
Of Everard, her mind
Solaced its solitude, and in her striving
To do as he would wish was all her living.
She welcomed Gervase for the news he brought.

XXIX

Black-hearts and white-hearts, bubbled with the sun,
Hid in their leaves and knocked against each other.
Eunice was standing, panting with her run
Up to the tool-house just to get another
Basket. All those which she had brought were filled,
And still Gervase pelted her from above.
The buckles of his shoes flashed higher and higher
Until his shoulders strove
Quite through the top. 'Eunice, your spirit's filled
This tree. White-hearts!' He shook, and cherries spilled
And spat out from the leaves like falling fire.

XXX

The wide, sun-winged June morning spread itself
Over the quiet garden. And they packed
Full twenty baskets with the fruit. 'My shelf
Of cordials will be stored with what it lacked.
In future, none of us will drink strong ale,
But cherry-brandy.' 'Vastly good, I vow,'
And Gervase gave the tree another shake.
The cherries seemed to flow
Out of the sky in cloudfuls, like blown hail.
Swift Lady Eunice ran, her farthingale,
Unnoticed, tangling in a fallen rake.

XXXI

She gave a little cry and fell quite prone
In the long grass, and lay there very still.
Gervase leapt from the tree at her soft moan,
And kneeling over her, with clumsy skill
Unloosed her bodice, fanned her with his hat,
And his unguarded lips pronounced his heart.
'Eunice, my Dearest Girl, where are you hurt?'
His trembling fingers dart
Over her limbs seeking some wound. She strove
To answer, opened wide her eyes, above
Her knelt Sir Everard, with face alert.

XXXII

Her eyelids fell again at that sweet sight,
'My Love!' she murmured, 'Dearest! Oh, my Dear!'
He took her in his arms and bore her right
And tenderly to the old seat, and 'Here
I have you mine at last,' she said, and swooned
Under his kisses. When she came once more
To sight of him, she smiled in comfort knowing
Herself laid as before
Close covered on his breast. And all her glowing
Youth answered him, and ever nearer growing
She twined him in her arms and soft festooned

XXXIII

Herself about him like a flowering vine,
Drawing his lips to cling upon her own.
A ray of sunlight pierced the leaves to shine
Where her half-opened bodice let be shown
Her white throat fluttering to his soft caress,
Half-gasping with her gladness. And her pledge
She whispers, melting with delight. A twig
Snaps in the hornbeam hedge.
A cackling laugh tears through the quietness.
Eunice starts up in terrible distress.
'My God! What's that?' Her staring eyes are big.


XXXIV

Revulsed emotion set her body shaking
As though she had an ague. Gervase swore,
Jumped to his feet in such a dreadful taking
His face was ghastly with the look it wore.
Crouching and slipping through the trees, a man
In worn, blue livery, a humpbacked thing,
Made off. But turned every few steps to gaze
At Eunice, and to fling
Vile looks and gestures back. 'The ruffian!
By Christ's Death! I will split him to a span
Of hog's thongs.' She grasped at his sleeve, 'Gervase!


XXXV

What are you doing here? Put down that sword,
That's only poor old Tony, crazed and lame.
We never notice him. With my dear Lord
I ought not to have minded that he came.
But, Gervase, it surprises me that you
Should so lack grace to stay here.' With one hand
She held her gaping bodice to conceal
Her breast. 'I must demand
Your instant absence. Everard, but new
Returned, will hardly care for guests. Adieu.'
'Eunice, you're mad.' His brain began to reel.

XXXVI

He tried again to take her, tried to twist
Her arms about him. Truly, she had said
Nothing should ever part them. In a mist
She pushed him from her, clasped her aching head
In both her hands, and rocked and sobbed aloud.
'Oh! Where is Everard? What does this mean?
So lately come to leave me thus alone!'
But Gervase had not seen
Sir Everard. Then, gently, to her bowed
And sickening spirit, he told of her proud
Surrender to him. He could hear her moan.

XXXVII

Then shame swept over her and held her numb,
Hiding her anguished face against the seat.
At last she rose, a woman stricken - dumb -
And trailed away with slowly-dragging feet.
Gervase looked after her, but feared to pass
The barrier set between them. All his rare
Joy broke to fragments - worse than that, unreal.
And standing lonely there,
His swollen heart burst out, and on the grass
He flung himself and wept. He knew, alas!
The loss so great his life could never heal.

XXXVIII

For days thereafter Eunice lived retired,
Waited upon by one old serving-maid.
She would not leave her chamber, and desired
Only to hide herself. She was afraid
Of what her eyes might trick her into seeing,
Of what her longing urge her then to do.
What was this dreadful illness solitude
Had tortured her into?
Her hours went by in a long constant fleeing
The thought of that one morning. And her being
Bruised itself on a happening so rude.

XXXIX

It grew ripe Summer, when one morning came
Her tirewoman with a letter, printed
Upon the seal were the Deane crest and name.
With utmost gentleness, the letter hinted
His understanding and his deep regret.
But would she not permit him once again
To pay her his profound respects? No word
Of what had passed should pain
Her resolution. Only let them get
Back the old comradeship. Her eyes were wet
With starting tears, now truly she deplored

XL

His misery. Yes, she was wrong to keep
Away from him. He hardly was to blame.
'Twas she - she shuddered and began to weep.
'Twas her fault! Hers! Her everlasting shame
Was that she suffered him, whom not at all
She loved. Poor Boy! Yes, they must still be friends.
She owed him that to keep the balance straight.
It was such poor amends
Which she could make for rousing hopes to gall
Him with their unfulfilment. Tragical
It was, and she must leave him desolate.

XLI

Hard silence he had forced upon his lips
For long and long, and would have done so still
Had not she - here she pressed her finger tips
Against her heavy eyes. Then with forced will
She wrote that he might come, sealed with the arms
Of Crowe and Frampton twined. Her heart felt lighter
When this was done. It seemed her constant care
Might some day cease to fright her.
Illness could be no crime, and dreadful harms
Did come from too much sunshine. Her alarms
Would lessen when she saw him standing there,

XLII

Simple and kind, a brother just returned
From journeying, and he would treat her so.
She knew his honest heart, and if there burned
A spark in it he would not let it show.
But when he really came, and stood beside
Her underneath the fruitless cherry boughs,
He seemed a tired man, gaunt, leaden-eyed.
He made her no more vows,
Nor did he mention one thing he had tried
To put into his letter. War supplied
Him topics. And his mind seemed occupied.

XLIII

Daily they met. And gravely walked and talked.
He read her no more verses, and he stayed
Only until their conversation, balked
Of every natural channel, fled dismayed.
Again the next day she would meet him, trying
To give her tone some healthy sprightliness,
But his uneager dignity soon chilled
Her well-prepared address.
Thus Summer waned, and in the mornings, crying
Of wild geese startled Eunice, and their flying
Whirred overhead for days and never stilled.

XLIV

One afternoon of grey clouds and white wind,
Eunice awaited Gervase by the river.
The Dartle splashed among the reeds and whined
Over the willow-roots, and a long sliver
Of caked and slobbered foam crept up the bank.
All through the garden, drifts of skirling leaves
Blew up, and settled down, and blew again.
The cherry-trees were weaves
Of empty, knotted branches, and a dank
Mist hid the house, mouldy it smelt and rank
With sodden wood, and still unfalling rain.

XLV

Eunice paced up and down. No joy she took
At meeting Gervase, but the custom grown
Still held her. He was late. She sudden shook,
And caught at her stopped heart. Her eyes had shown
Sir Everard emerging from the mist.
His uniform was travel-stained and torn,
His jackboots muddy, and his eager stride
Jangled his spurs. A thorn
Entangled, trailed behind him. To the tryst
He hastened. Eunice shuddered, ran - a twist
Round a sharp turning and she fled to hide.

XLVI

But he had seen her as she swiftly ran,
A flash of white against the river's grey.
'Eunice,' he called. 'My Darling. Eunice. Can
You hear me? It is Everard. All day
I have been riding like the very devil
To reach you sooner. Are you startled, Dear?'
He broke into a run and followed her,
And caught her, faint with fear,
Cowering and trembling as though she some evil
Spirit were seeing. 'What means this uncivil
Greeting, Dear Heart?' He saw her senses blur.

XLVII

Swaying and catching at the seat, she tried
To speak, but only gurgled in her throat.
At last, straining to hold herself, she cried
To him for pity, and her strange words smote
A coldness through him, for she begged Gervase
To leave her, 'twas too much a second time.
Gervase must go, always Gervase, her mind
Repeated like a rhyme
This name he did not know. In sad amaze
He watched her, and that hunted, fearful gaze,
So unremembering and so unkind.

XLVIII

Softly he spoke to her, patiently dealt
With what he feared her madness. By and by
He pierced her understanding. Then he knelt
Upon the seat, and took her hands: 'Now try
To think a minute I am come, my Dear,
Unharmed and back on furlough. Are you glad
To have your lover home again? To me,
Pickthorn has never had
A greater pleasantness. Could you not bear
To come and sit awhile beside me here?
A stone between us surely should not be.'

XLIX

She smiled a little wan and ravelled smile,
Then came to him and on his shoulder laid
Her head, and they two rested there awhile,
Each taking comfort. Not a word was said.
But when he put his hand upon her breast
And felt her beating heart, and with his lips
Sought solace for her and himself. She started
As one sharp lashed with whips,
And pushed him from her, moaning, his dumb quest
Denied and shuddered from. And he, distrest,
Loosened his wife, and long they sat there, parted.

L

Eunice was very quiet all that day,
A little dazed, and yet she seemed content.
At candle-time, he asked if she would play
Upon her harpsichord, at once she went
And tinkled airs from Lully's `Carnival'
And `Bacchus', newly brought away from France.
Then jaunted through a lively rigadoon
To please him with a dance
By Purcell, for he said that surely all
Good Englishmen had pride in national
Accomplishment. But tiring of it soon

LI

He whispered her that if she had forgiven
His startling her that afternoon, the clock
Marked early bed-time. Surely it was Heaven
He entered when she opened to his knock.
The hours rustled in the trailing wind
Over the chimney. Close they lay and knew
Only that they were wedded. At his touch
Anxiety she threw
Away like a shed garment, and inclined
Herself to cherish him, her happy mind
Quivering, unthinking, loving overmuch.

LII

Eunice lay long awake in the cool night
After her husband slept. She gazed with joy
Into the shadows, painting them with bright
Pictures of all her future life's employ.
Twin gems they were, set to a single jewel,
Each shining with the other. Soft she turned
And felt his breath upon her hair, and prayed
Her happiness was earned.
Past Earls of Crowe should give their blood for fuel
To light this Frampton's hearth-fire. By no cruel
Affrightings would she ever be dismayed.

LIII

When Everard, next day, asked her in joke
What name it was that she had called him by,
She told him of Gervase, and as she spoke
She hardly realized it was a lie.
Her vision she related, but she hid
The fondness into which she had been led.
Sir Everard just laughed and pinched her ear,
And quite out of her head
The matter drifted. Then Sir Everard chid
Himself for laziness, and off he rid
To see his men and count his farming-gear.

LIV

At supper he seemed overspread with gloom,
But gave no reason why, he only asked
More questions of Gervase, and round the room
He walked with restless strides. At last he tasked
Her with a greater feeling for this man
Than she had given. Eunice quick denied
The slightest interest other than a friend
Might claim. But he replied
He thought she underrated. Then a ban
He put on talk and music. He'd a plan
To work at, draining swamps at Pickthorn End.

LV

Next morning Eunice found her Lord still changed,
Hard and unkind, with bursts of anger. Pride
Kept him from speaking out. His probings ranged
All round his torment. Lady Eunice tried
To sooth him. So a week went by, and then
His anguish flooded over; with clenched hands
Striving to stem his words, he told her plain
Tony had seen them, 'brands
Burning in Hell,' the man had said. Again
Eunice described her vision, and how when
Awoke at last she had known dreadful pain.

LVI

He could not credit it, and misery fed
Upon his spirit, day by day it grew.
To Gervase he forbade the house, and led
The Lady Eunice such a life she flew
At his approaching footsteps. Winter came
Snowing and blustering through the Manor trees.
All the roof-edges spiked with icicles
In fluted companies.
The Lady Eunice with her tambour-frame
Kept herself sighing company. The flame
Of the birch fire glittered on the walls.

LVII

A letter was brought to her as she sat,
Unsealed, unsigned. It told her that his wound,
The writer's, had so well recovered that
To join his regiment he felt him bound.
But would she not wish him one short 'Godspeed',
He asked no more. Her greeting would suffice.
He had resolved he never should return.
Would she this sacrifice
Make for a dying man? How could she read
The rest! But forcing her eyes to the deed,
She read. Then dropped it in the fire to burn.

LVIII

Gervase had set the river for their meeting
As farthest from the farms where Everard
Spent all his days. How should he know such cheating
Was quite expected, at least no dullard
Was Everard Frampton. Hours by hours he hid
Among the willows watching. Dusk had come,
And from the Manor he had long been gone.
Eunice her burdensome
Task set about. Hooded and cloaked, she slid
Over the slippery paths, and soon amid
The sallows saw a boat tied to a stone.

LIX

Gervase arose, and kissed her hand, then pointed
Into the boat. She shook her head, but he
Begged her to realize why, and with disjointed
Words told her of what peril there might be
From listeners along the river bank.
A push would take them out of earshot. Ten
Minutes was all he asked, then she should land,
He go away again,
Forever this time. Yet how could he thank
Her for so much compassion. Here she sank
Upon a thwart, and bid him quick unstrand

LX

His boat. He cast the rope, and shoved the keel
Free of the gravel; jumped, and dropped beside
Her; took the oars, and they began to steal
Under the overhanging trees. A wide
Gash of red lantern-light cleft like a blade
Into the gloom, and struck on Eunice sitting
Rigid and stark upon the after thwart.
It blazed upon their flitting
In merciless light. A moment so it stayed,
Then was extinguished, and Sir Everard made
One leap, and landed just a fraction short.

LXI

His weight upon the gunwale tipped the boat
To straining balance. Everard lurched and seized
His wife and held her smothered to his coat.
'Everard, loose me, we shall drown -' and squeezed
Against him, she beat with her hands. He gasped
'Never, by God!' The slidden boat gave way
And the black foamy water split - and met.
Bubbled up through the spray
A wailing rose and in the branches rasped,
And creaked, and stilled. Over the treetops, clasped
In the blue evening, a clear moon was set.

LXII

They lie entangled in the twisting roots,
Embraced forever. Their cold marriage bed
Close-canopied and curtained by the shoots
Of willows and pale birches. At the head,
White lilies, like still swans, placidly float
And sway above the pebbles. Here are waves
Sun-smitten for a threaded counterpane
Gold-woven on their graves.
In perfect quietness they sleep, remote
In the green, rippled twilight. Death has smote
Them to perpetual oneness who were twain.

poem by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Poetry Lover
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share
William Cowper

The Task: Book IV. -- The Winter Evening

Hark! ‘tis the twanging horn oer yonder bridge,
That with its wearisome but needful length
Bestrides the wintry flood, in which the moon
Sees her unwrinkled face reflected bright;—
He comes, the herald of a noisy world,
With spatter’d boots, strapp’d waist, and frozen locks;
News from all nations lumbering at his back.
True to his charge, the close-packd load behind,
Yet, careless what he brings, his one concern
Is to conduct it to the destined inn,
And, having dropp’d the expected bag, pass on.
He whistles as he goes, light-hearted wretch,
Cold and yet cheerful: messenger of grief
Perhaps to thousands, and of joy to some;
To him indifferent whether grief or joy.
Houses in ashes, and the fall of stocks,
Births, deaths, and marriages, epistles wet
With tears, that trickled down the writer’s cheeks
Fast as the periods from his fluent quill,
Or charged with amorous sighs of absent swains,
Or nymphs responsive, equally affect
His horse and him, unconscious of them all.
But O the important budget! usher’d in
With such heart-shaking music, who can say
What are its tidings? have our troops awaked?
Or do they still, as if with opium drugg’d,
Snore to the murmurs of the Atlantic wave?
Is India free? and does she wear her plumed
And jewell’d turban with a smile of peace,
Or do we grind her still? The grand debate,
The popular harangue, the tart reply,
The logic, and the wisdom, and the wit,
And the loud laughI long to know them all;
I burn to set the imprison’d wranglers free,
And give them voice and utterance once again.

Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups,
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
Not such his evening, who with shining face
Sweats in the crowded theatre, and, squeezed
And bored with elbow points through both his sides,
Outscolds the ranting actor on the stage:
Nor his, who patient stands till his feet throb,
And his head thumps, to feed upon the breath
Of patriots, bursting with heroic rage,
Or placemen, all tranquillity and smiles.
This folio of four pages, happy work!
Which not e’en critics criticise; that holds
Inquisitive attention, while I read,
Fast bound in chains of silence, which the fair,
Though eloquent themselves, yet fear to break;
What is it but a map of busy life,
Its fluctuations, and its vast concerns?
Here runs the mountainous and craggy ridge
That tempts Ambition. On the summit see
The seals of office glitter in his eyes;
He climbs, he pants, he grasps them! At his heels,
Close at his heels, a demagogue ascends,
And with a dexterous jerk soon twists him down,
And wins them, but to lose them in his turn.
Here rills of oily eloquence, in soft
Meanders, lubricate the course they take;
The modest speaker is ashamed and grieved
To engross a moments notice; and yet begs,
Begs a propitious ear for his poor thoughts,
However trivial all that he conceives.
Sweet bashfulness! it claims at least this praise;
The dearth of information and good sense,
That it foretells us, always comes to pass.
Cataracts of declamation thunder here;
There forests of no meaning spread the page,
In which all comprehension wanders lost;
While fields of pleasantry amuse us there
With merry descants on a nation’s woes.
The rest appears a wilderness of strange
But gay confusion; roses for the cheeks
And lilies for the brows of faded age,
Teeth for the toothless, ringlets for the bald,
Heaven, earth, and ocean, plunder’d of their sweets,
Nectareous essences, Olympian dews,
Sermons, and city feasts, and favourite airs,
Æthereal journeys, submarine exploits,
And Katerfelto, with his hair on end
At his own wonders, wondering for his bread.

Tis pleasant, through the loopholes of retreat,
To peep at such a world; to see the stir
Of the great Babel, and not feel the crowd;
To hear the roar she sends through all her gates
At a safe distance, where the dying sound
Falls a soft murmur on the uninjured ear.
Thus sitting, and surveying thus at ease
The globe and its concerns, I seem advanced
To some secure and more than mortal height
That liberates and exempts me from them all.
It turns submitted to my view, turns round
With all its generations; I behold
The tumult and am still. The sound of war
Has lost its terrors ere it reaches me;
Grieves, but alarms me not. I mourn the pride
And avarice that make man a wolf to man;
Hear the faint echo of those brazen throats,
By which he speaks the language of his heart,
And sigh, but never tremble at the sound.
He travels and expatiates, as the bee
From flower to flower, so he from land to land;
The manners, customs, policy of all
Pay contribution to the store he gleans;
He sucks intelligence in every clime,
And spreads the honey of his deep research
At his return—a rich repast for me.
He travels, and I too. I tread his deck,
Ascend his topmast, through his peering eyes
Discover countries, with a kindred heart
Suffer his woes, and share in his escapes;
While fancy, like the finger of a clock,
Runs the great circuit, and is still at home.

O Winter, ruler of the inverted year,
Thy scatter’d hair with sleet like ashes filld,
Thy breath congeal’d upon thy lips, thy cheeks
Fringed with a beard made white with other snows
Than those of age, thy forehead wrapp’d in clouds,
A leafless branch thy sceptre, and thy throne
A sliding car, indebted to no wheels,
But urged by storms along its slippery way,
I love thee, all unlovely as thou seemst,
And dreaded as thou art! Thou holdst the sun
A prisoner in the yet undawning east,
Shortening his journey between morn and noon,
And hurrying him, impatient of his stay,
Down to the rosy west; but kindly still
Compensating his loss with added hours
Of social converse and instructive ease,
And gathering, at short notice, in one group
The family dispersed, and fixing thought,
Not less dispersed by daylight and its cares.
I crown thee king of intimate delights,
Fireside enjoyments, homeborn happiness,
And all the comforts that the lowly roof
Of undisturb’d Retirement, and the hours
Of long uninterrupted evening know.
No rattling wheels stop short before these gates;
No powder’d pert proficient in the art
Of sounding an alarm assaults these doors
Till the street rings; no stationary steeds
Cough their own knell, while, heedless of the sound,
The silent circle fan themselves, and quake:
But here the needle plies its busy task,
The pattern grows, the well-depicted flower,
Wrought patiently into the snowy lawn,
Unfolds its bosom; buds, and leaves, and sprigs,
And curling tendrils, gracefully disposed,
Follow the nimble finger of the fair;
A wreath, that cannot fade, of flowers that blow
With most success when all besides decay.
The poets or historian’s page by one
Made vocal for the amusement of the rest;
The sprightly lyre, whose treasure of sweet sounds
The touch from many a trembling chord shakes out;
And the clear voice, symphonious, yet distinct,
And in the charming strife triumphant still,
Beguile the night, and set a keener edge
On female industry: the threaded steel
Flies swiftly, and unfelt the task proceeds.
The volume closed, the customary rites
Of the last meal commence. A Roman meal,
Such as the mistress of the world once found
Delicious, when her patriots of high note,
Perhaps by moonlight, at their humble doors,
And under an old oaks domestic shade,
Enjoy’d, spare feast! a radish and an egg!
Discourse ensues, not trivial, yet not dull,
Nor such as with a frown forbids the play
Of fancy, or proscribes the sound of mirth:
Nor do we madly, like an impious world,
Who deem religion frenzy, and the God
That made them an intruder on their joys,
Start at his awful name, or deem his praise
A jarring note. Themes of a graver tone,
Exciting oft our gratitude and love,
While we retrace with Memory’s pointing wand,
That calls the past to our exact review,
The dangers we have ‘scaped, the broken snare,
The disappointed foe, deliverance found
Unlook’d for, life preserved, and peace restored,
Fruits of omnipotent eternal love.
O evenings worthy of the gods! exclaim’d
The Sabine bard. O evenings, I reply,
More to be prized and coveted than yours,
As more illumined, and with nobler truths,
That I, and mine, and those we love, enjoy.

Is Winter hideous in a garb like this?
Needs he the tragic fur, the smoke of lamps,
The pent-up breath of an unsavoury throng,
To thaw him into feeling; or the smart
And snappish dialogue, that flippant wits
Call comedy, to prompt him with a smile?
The self-complacent actor, when he views
(Stealing a sidelong glance at a full house)
The slope of faces from the floor to the roof
(As if one master spring controll’d them all),
Relax’d into a universal grin,
Sees not a countenance there that speaks of joy
Half so refined or so sincere as ours.
Cards were superfluous here, with all the tricks
That idleness has ever yet contrived
To fill the void of an unfurnish’d brain,
To palliate dulness, and give time a shove.
Time, as he passes us, has a dove’s wing.
Unsoil’d, and swift, and of a silken sound;
But the Worlds Time is Time in masquerade!
Theirs, should I paint him, has his pinions fledged
With motley plumes; and, where the peacock shows
His azure eyes, is tinctured black and red
With spots quadrangular of diamond form,
Ensanguined hearts, clubs typical of strife,
And spades, the emblem of untimely graves.
What should be, and what was an hour-glass once,
Becomes a dice-box, and a billiard mace
Well does the work of his destructive scythe.
Thus deckd, he charms a world whom Fashion blinds
To his true worth, most pleased when idle most;
Whose only happy are their wasted hours.
E’en misses, at whose age their mothers wore
The backstring and the bib, assume the dress
Of womanhood, fit pupils in the school
Of card-devoted Time, and, night by night
Placed at some vacant corner of the board,
Learn every trick, and soon play all the game.
But truce with censure. Roving as I rove,
Where shall I find an end, or how proceed?
As he that travels far oft turns aside,
To view some rugged rock or mouldering tower,
Which seen delights him not; then, coming home,
Describes and prints it, that the world may know
How far he went for what was nothing worth;
So I, with brush in hand and pallet spread,
With colours mix’d for a far different use,
Paint cards, and dolls, and every idle thing
That Fancy finds in her excursive flights.

Come, Evening, once again, season of peace;
Return, sweet Evening, and continue long!
Methinks I see thee in the streaky west,
With matron step slow moving, while the Night
Treads on thy sweeping train; one hand employ’d
In letting fall the curtain of repose
On bird and beast, the other charged for man
With sweet oblivion of the cares of day:
Not sumptuously adorn’d, not needing aid,
Like homely featured Night, of clustering gems;
A star or two, just twinkling on thy brow
Suffices thee; save that the moon is thine
No less than hers, not worn indeed on high
With ostentatious pageantry, but set
With modest grandeur in thy purple zone,
Resplendent less, but of an ampler round.
Come then, and thou shalt find thy votary calm,
Or make me so. Composure is thy gift:
And, whether I devote thy gentle hours
To books, to music, or the poets toil;
To weaving nets for bird-alluring fruit;
Or twining silken threads round ivory reels,
When they command whom man was born to please;
I slight thee not, but make thee welcome still.

Just when our drawing-rooms begin to blaze
With lights, by clear reflection multiplied
From many a mirror, in which he of Gath,
Goliath, might have seen his giant bulk
Whole without stooping, towering crest and all,
My pleasures too begin. But me perhaps
The glowing hearth may satisfy awhile
With faint illumination, that uplifts
The shadows to the ceiling, there by fits
Dancing uncouthly to the quivering flame.
Not undelightful is an hour to me
So spent in parlour twilight: such a gloom
Suits well the thoughtful or unthinking mind,
The mind contemplative, with some new theme
Pregnant, or indisposed alike to all.
Laugh ye, who boast your more mercurial powers,
That never felt a stupor, know no pause,
Nor need one; I am conscious, and confess,
Fearless, a soul that does not always think.
Me oft has Fancy ludicrous and wild
Soothed with a waking dream of houses, towers,
Trees, churches, and strange visages, express’d
In the red cinders, while with poring eye
I gazed, myself creating what I saw.
Nor less amused, have I quiescent watch’d
The sooty films that play upon the bars,
Pendulous and foreboding, in the view
Of superstition, prophesying still,
Though still deceived, some strangers near approach.
Tis thus the understanding takes repose
In indolent vacuity of thought,
And sleeps and is refresh’d. Meanwhile the face
Conceals the mood lethargic with a mask
Of deep deliberation, as the man
Were task’d to his full strength, absorb’d and lost.
Thus oft, reclined at ease, I lose an hour
At evening, till at length the freezing blast,
That sweeps the bolted shutter, summons home
The recollected powers; and, snapping short
The glassy threads with which the fancy weaves
Her brittle toils, restores me to myself.
How calm is my recess; and how the frost,
Raging abroad, and the rough wind, endear
The silence and the warmth enjoy’d within!
I saw the woods and fields at close of day
A variegated show; the meadows green,
Though faded; and the lands, where lately waved
The golden harvest, of a mellow brown,
Upturn’d so lately by the forceful share.
I saw far off the weedy fallows smile
With verdure not unprofitable, grazed
By flocks, fast feeding, and selecting each
His favourite herb; while all the leafless groves
That skirt the horizon, wore a sable hue
Scarce noticed in the kindred dusk of eve.
To-morrow brings a change, a total change!
Which even now, though silently perform’d,
And slowly, and by most unfelt, the face
Of universal nature undergoes.
Fast falls a fleecy shower: the downy flakes
Descending, and with never-ceasing lapse,
Softly alighting upon all below,
Assimilate all objects. Earth receives
Gladly the thickening mantle; and the green
And tender blade, that feard the chilling blast,
Escapes unhurt beneath so warm a veil.

In such a world so thorny, and where none
Finds happiness unblighted; or, if found,
Without some thistly sorrow at its side;
It seems the part of wisdom, and no sin
Against the law of love, to measure lots
With less distinguish’d than ourselves; that thus
We may with patience bear our moderate ills,
And sympathise with others suffering more.
Ill fares the traveller now, and he that stalks
In ponderous boots beside his reeking team.
The wain goes heavily, impeded sore
By congregated loads, adhering close
To the clogg’d wheels; and in its sluggish pace
Noiseless appears a moving hill of snow.
The toiling steeds expand the nostril wide,
While every breath, by respiration strong
Forced downward, is consolidated soon
Upon their jutting chests. He, form’d to bear
The pelting brunt of the tempestuous night,
With half-shut eyes, and pucker’d cheeks, and teeth
Presented bare against the storm, plods on.
One hand secures his hat, save when with both
He brandishes his pliant length of whip,
Resounding oft, and never heard in vain.
O happy; and, in my account, denied
That sensibility of pain with which
Refinement is endued, thrice happy thou!
Thy frame, robust and hardy, feels indeed
The piercing cold, but feels it unimpair’d.
The learned finger never need explore
Thy vigorous pulse; and the unhealthful east,
That breathes the spleen, and searches every bone
Of the infirm, is wholesome air to thee.
Thy days roll on exempt from household care;
Thy waggon is thy wife, and the poor beasts,
That drag the dull companion to and fro,
Thine helpless charge, dependent on thy care.
Ah, treat them kindly! rude as thou appear’st,
Yet show that thou hast mercy! which the great,
With needless hurry whirl’d from place to place,
Humane as they would seem, not always show.

Poor, yet industrious, modest, quiet, neat,
Such claim compassion in a night like this,
And have a friend in every feeling heart.
Warmd, while it lasts, by labour all day long,
They brave the season, and yet find at eve,
Ill clad, and fed but sparely, time to cool.
The frugal housewife trembles when she lights
Her scanty stock of brushwood, blazing clear,
But dying soon, like all terrestrial joys.
The few small embers left she nurses well;
And, while her infant race, with outspread hands,
And crowded knees, sit cowering oer the sparks,
Retires, content to quake, so they be warmd.
The man feels least, as more inured than she
To winter, and the current in his veins
More briskly moved by his severer toil;
Yet he too finds his own distress in theirs.
The taper soon extinguish’d, which I saw
Dangled along at the cold fingers end
Just when the day declined; and the brown loaf
Lodged on the shelf, half eaten without sauce
Of savoury cheese, or butter, costlier still;
Sleep seems their only refuge: for, alas!
Where penury is felt the thought is chain’d,
And sweet colloquial pleasures are but few!
With all this thrift they thrive not. All the care,
Ingenious Parsimony takes, but just
Saves the small inventory, bed, and stool,
Skillet, and old carved chest, from public sale.
They live, and live without extorted alms
From grudging hands; but other boast have none
To soothe their honest pride, that scorns to beg,
Nor comfort else, but in their mutual love.
I praise you much, ye meek and patient pair,
For ye are worthy; choosing rather far
A dry but independent crust, hard earn’d,
And eaten with a sigh, than to endure
The rugged frowns and insolent rebuffs
Of knaves in office, partial in the work
Of distribution, liberal of their aid
To clamorous importunity in rags,
But ofttimes deaf to suppliants, who would blush
To wear a tatter’d garb however coarse,
Whom famine cannot reconcile to filth:
These ask with painful shyness, and refused
Because deserving, silently retire!
But be ye of good courage! Time itself
Shall much befriend you. Time shall give increase;
And all your numerous progeny, well train’d,
But helpless, in few years shall find their hands,
And labour too. Meanwhile ye shall not want
What, conscious of your virtues, we can spare,
Nor what a wealthier than ourselves may send.
I mean the man who, when the distant poor
Need help, denies them nothing but his name.

But poverty with most, who whimper forth
Their long complaints, is self-inflicted woe;
The effect of laziness or sottish waste.
Now goes the nightly thief prowling abroad
For plunder; much solicitous how best
He may compensate for a day of sloth
By works of darkness and nocturnal wrong.
Woe to the gardener’s pale, the farmer’s hedge,
Plash’d neatly, and secured with driven stakes
Deep in the loamy bank! Uptorn by strength,
Resistless in so bad a cause, but lame
To better deeds, he bundles up the spoil,
An ass’s burden, and, when laden most
And heaviest, light of foot steals fast away;
Nor does the boarded hovel better guard
The well-stack’d pile of riven logs and roots
From his pernicious force. Nor will he leave
Unwrench’d the door, however well secured,
Where Chanticleer amidst his harem sleeps
In unsuspecting pomp. Twitch’d from the perch,
He gives the princely bird, with all his wives,
To his voracious bag, struggling in vain,
And loudly wondering at the sudden change.
Nor this to feed his own. ‘Twere some excuse,
Did pity of their sufferings warp aside
His principle, and tempt him into sin
For their support, so destitute. But they
Neglected pine at home; themselves, as more
Exposed than others, with less scruple made
His victims, robb’d of their defenceless all.
Cruel is all he does. ‘Tis quenchless thirst
Of ruinous ebriety that prompts
His every action, and imbrutes the man.
O for a law to noose the villain’s neck
Who starves his own; who persecutes the blood
He gave them in his childrens veins, and hates
And wrongs the woman he has sworn to love!

Pass where we may, through city or through town,
Village, or hamlet, of this merry land,
Though lean and beggar’d, every twentieth pace
Conducts the unguarded nose to such a whiff
Of stale debauch, forth issuing from the styes
That law has licensed, as makes temperance reel.
There sit, involved and lost in curling clouds
Of Indian fume, and guzzling deep, the boor,
The lackey, and the groom: the craftsman there
Takes a Lethean leave of all his toil;
Smith, cobbler, joiner, he that plies the shears,
And he that kneads the dough; all loud alike,
All learned, and all drunk! the fiddle screams
Plaintive and piteous, as it wept and wail’d
Its wasted tones and harmony unheard:
Fierce the dispute, whate’er the theme; while she,
Fell Discord, arbitress of such debate,
Perch’d on the sign-post, holds with even hand
Her undecisive scales. In this she lays
A weight of ignorance; in that, of pride;
And smiles delighted with the eternal poise.
Dire is the frequent curse, and its twin sound,
The cheek-distending oath, not to be praised
As ornamental, musical, polite,
Like those which modern senators employ,
Whose oath is rhetoric, and who swear for fame!
Behold the schools in which plebeian minds,
Once simple, are initiated in arts,
Which some may practise with politer grace,
But none with readier skill!—’tis here they learn
The road that leads from competence and peace
To indigence and rapine; till at last
Society, grown weary of the load,
Shakes her encumber’d lap, and casts them out.
But censure profits little: vain the attempt
To advertise in verse a public pest,
That, like the filth with which the peasant feeds
His hungry acres, stinks, and is of use.
The excise is fatten’d with the rich result
Of all this riot; and ten thousand casks,
For ever dribbling out their base contents,
Touchd by the Midas finger of the state,
Bleed gold for ministers to sport away.
Drink, and be mad then; ‘tis your country bids!
Gloriously drunk, obey the important call!
Her cause demands the assistance of your throat;—
Ye all can swallow, and she asks no more.

Would I had fallen upon those happier days,
That poets celebrate; those golden times,
And those Arcadian scenes, that Maro sings,
And Sidney, warbler of poetic prose.
Nymphs were Dianas then, and swains had hearts
That felt their virtues: Innocence, it seems,
From courts dismiss’d, found shelter in the groves;
The footsteps of Simplicity, impress’d
Upon the yielding herbage (so they sing)
Then were not all effaced: then speech profane
And manners profligate were rarely found,
Observed as prodigies, and soon reclaim’d.
Vain wish! those days were never: airy dreams
Sat for the picture: and the poets hand,
Imparting substance to an empty shade,
Imposed a gay delirium for a truth.
Grant it:—I still must envy them an age
That favour’d such a dream; in days like these
Impossible, when Virtue is so scarce,
That to suppose a scene where she presides,
Is tramontane, and stumbles all belief.
No: we are polish’d now! The rural lass,
Whom once her virgin modesty and grace,
Her artless manners, and her neat attire,
So dignified, that she was hardly less
Than the fair shepherdess of old romance,
Is seen no more. The character is lost!
Her head, adorn’d with lappets pinn’d aloft,
And ribands streaming gay, superbly raised,
And magnified beyond all human size,
Indebted to some smart wig-weaver’s hand
For more than half the tresses it sustains;
Her elbows ruffled, and her tottering form
Ill propp’d upon French heels; she might be deem’d
(But that the basket dangling on her arm
Interprets her more truly) of a rank
Too proud for dairy work, or sale of eggs.
Expect her soon with footboy at her heels,
No longer blushing for her awkward load,
Her train and her umbrella all her care!

The town has tinged the country; and the stain
Appears a spot upon a vestal’s robe,
The worse for what it soils. The fashion runs
Down into scenes still rural; but, alas!
Scenes rarely graced with rural manners now!
Time was when in the pastoral retreat
The unguarded door was safe; men did not watch
To invade anothers right, or guard their own.
Then sleep was undisturb’d by fear, unscared
By drunken howlings; and the chilling tale
Of midnight murder was a wonder heard
With doubtful credit, told to frighten babes.
But farewell now to unsuspicious nights,
And slumbers unalarm’d! Now, ere you sleep,
See that your polish’d arms be primed with care,
And drop the night bolt;—ruffians are abroad;
And the first ‘larum of the cock’s shrill throat
May prove a trumpet, summoning your ear
To horrid sounds of hostile feet within.
E’en daylight has its dangers; and the walk
Through pathless wastes and woods, unconscious once
Of other tenants than melodious birds,
Or harmless flocks, is hazardous and bold.
Lamented change! to which full many a cause
Inveterate, hopeless of a cure, conspires.
The course of human things from good to ill,
From ill to worse, is fatal, never fails.
Increase of power begets increase of wealth;
Wealth luxury, and luxury excess;
Excess, the scrofulous and itchy plague,
That seizes first the opulent, descends
To the next rank contagious, and in time
Taints downward all the graduated scale
Of order, from the chariot to the plough.
The rich, and they that have an arm to check
The licence of the lowest in degree,
Desert their office; and themselves, intent
On pleasure, haunt the capital, and thus
To all the violence of lawless hands
Resign the scenes their presence might protect.
Authority herself not seldom sleeps,
Though resident, and witness of the wrong.
The plump convivial parson often bears
The magisterial sword in vain, and lays
His reverence and his worship both to rest
On the same cushion of habitual sloth.
Perhaps timidity restrains his arm;
When he should strike he trembles, and sets free,
Himself enslaved by terror of the band,
The audacious convict, whom he dares not bind.
Perhaps, though by profession ghostly pure,
He too may have his vice, and sometimes prove
Less dainty than becomes his grave outside
In lucrative concerns. Examine well
His milk-white hand; the palm is hardly clean
But here and there an ugly smutch appears.
Foh! ‘twas a bribe that left it: he has touchd
Corruption! Whoso seeks an audit here
Propitious, pays his tribute, game or fish,
Wildfowl or venison, and his errand speeds.

But faster far, and more than all the rest,
A noble cause, which none who bears a spark
Of public virtue, ever wish’d removed,
Works the deplored and mischievous effect.
Tis universal soldiership has stabb’d
The heart of merit in the meaner class.
Arms, through the vanity and brainless rage
Of those that bear them, in whatever cause,
Seem most at variance with all moral good,
And incompatible with serious thought.
The clown, the child of nature, without guile,
Blest with an infants ignorance of all
But his own simple pleasures; now and then
A wrestling-match, a foot-race, or a fair;
Is balloted, and trembles at the news:
Sheepish he doffs his hat, and mumbling swears
A bible-oath to be whate’er they please,
To do he knows not what. The task perform’d,
That instant he becomes the serjeant’s care,
His pupil, and his torment, and his jest.
His awkward gait, his introverted toes,
Bent knees, round shoulders, and dejected looks,
Procure him many a curse. By slow degrees
Unapt to learn, and form’d of stubborn stuff,
He yet by slow degrees puts off himself,
Grows conscious of a change, and likes it well:
He stands erect; his slouch becomes a walk;
He steps right onward, martial in his air,
His form, and movement; is as smart above
As meal and larded locks can make him; wears
His hat, or his plumed helmet, with a grace;
And, his three years of heroship expired,
Returns indignant to the slighted plough.
He hates the field, in which no fife or drum
Attends him; drives his cattle to a march;
And sighs for the smart comrades he has left.
Twere well if his exterior change were all
But with his clumsy port the wretch has lost
His ignorance and harmless manners too.
To swear, to game, to drink; to show at home,
By lewdness, idleness, and Sabbath beach,
The great proficiency he made abroad;
To astonish and to grieve his gazing friends;
To break some maidens and his mothers heart;
To be a pest where he was useful once;
Are his sole aim, and all his glory now.

Man in society is like a flower
Blown in its native bed: ‘tis there alone
His faculties, expanded in full bloom,
Shine out; there only reach their proper use.
But man, associated and leagued with man
By regal warrant, or self-join’d by bond
For interest sake, or swarming into clans
Beneath one head for purposes of war,
Like flowers selected from the rest, and bound
And bundled close to fill some crowded vase,
Fades rapidly, and, by compression marr’d,
Contracts defilement not to be endured.
Hence charter’d burghs are such public plagues;
And burghers, men immaculate perhaps
In all their private functions, once combined,
Become a loathsome body, only fit
For dissolution, hurtful to the main.
Hence merchants, unimpeachable of sin
Against the charities of domestic life,
Incorporated, seem at once to lose
Their nature; and, disclaiming all regard
For mercy and the common rights of man,
Build factories with blood, conducting trade
At the swords point, and dyeing the white robe
Of innocent commercial Justice red.
Hence too the field of glory, as the world
Misdeems it, dazzled by its bright array,
With all its majesty of thundering pomp,
Enchanting music and immortal wreaths,
Is but a school where thoughtlessness is taught
On principle, where foppery atones
For folly, gallantry for every vice.

But slighted as it is, and by the great
Abandon’d, and, which still I more regret,
Infected with the manners and the modes
It knew not once, the country wins me sill.
I never framed a wish, or form’d a plan,
That flatter’d me with hopes of earthly bliss,
But there I laid the scene. There early stray’d
My fancy, ere yet liberty of choice
Had found me, or the hope of being free.
My very dreams were rural; rural too
The firstborn efforts of my youthful muse,
Sportive, and jingling her poetic bells
Ere yet her ear was mistress of their powers.
No bard could please me but whose lyre was tuned
To Natures praises. Heroes and their feats
Fatigued me, never weary of the pipe
Of Tityrus, assembling, as he sang,
The rustic throng beneath his favourite beech.
Then Milton had indeed a poets charms:
New to my taste, his Paradise surpass’d
The struggling efforts of my boyish tongue
To speak its excellence. I danced for joy.
I marvell’d much that, at so ripe an age
As twice seven years, his beauties had then first
Engaged my wonder; and admiring still,
And still admiring, with regret supposed
The joy half lost, because not sooner found.
There too, enamour’d of the life I loved,
Pathetic in its praise, in its pursuit
Determined, and possessing it at last,
With transports, such as favour’d lovers feel,
I studied, prized, and wish’d that I had known
Ingenious Cowley! and, though now reclaim’d
By modern lights from an erroneous taste,
I cannot but lament thy splendid wit
Entangled in the cobwebs of the schools.
I still revere thee, courtly though retired;
Though stretch’d at ease in Chertsey’s silent bowers,
Not unemployed; and finding rich amends
For a lost world in solitude and verse.
Tis born with all: the love of Natures works
Is an ingredient in the compound man,
Infused at the creation of the kind.
And, though the Almighty Maker has throughout
Discriminated each from each, by strokes
And touches of his hand, with so much art
Diversified, that two were never found
Twins at all pointsyet this obtains in all,
That all discern a beauty in his works,
And all can taste them: minds that have been form’d
And tutor’d, with a relish more exact,
But none without some relish, none unmoved.
It is a flame that dies not even there
Where nothing feeds it: neither business, crowds,
Nor habits of luxurious city life,
Whatever else they smother of true worth
In human bosoms, quench it or abate.
The villas with which London stands begirt
Like a swarth Indian with his belt of beads
Prove it. A breath of unadulterate air,
The glimpse of a green pasture, how they cheer
The citizen, and brace his languid frame!
E’en in the stifling bosom of the town
A garden, in which nothing thrives, has charms
That soothe the rich possessor; much consoled,
That here and there some sprigs of mournful mint,
Of nightshade, or valerian, grace the well
He cultivates. These serve him with a hint
That Nature lives; that sight-refreshing green
Is still the livery she delights to wear,
Though sickly samples of the exuberant whole.
What are the casements lined with creeping herbs,
The prouder sashes fronted with a range
Of orange, myrtle, or the fragrant weed,
The Frenchman’s darling? are they not all proofs
That man, immured in cities, still retains
His inborn inextinguishable thirst
Of rural scenes, compensating his loss
By supplemental shifts, the best he may,
The most unfurnish’d with the means of life,
And they that never pass their brick-wall bounds,
To range the fields and treat their lungs with air,
Yet feel the burning instinct: over head
Suspend their crazy boxes, planted thick,
And water’d duly. There the pitcher stands,
A fragment, and the spoutless teapot there;
Sad witnesses how close-pent man regrets
The country, with what ardour he contrives
A peep at Nature, when he can no more.

Hail, therefore, patroness of health and ease,
And contemplation, heart-consoling joys,
And harmless pleasures, in the throng’d abode
Of multitudes unknown! hail, rural life!
Address himself who will to the pursuit
Of honours, or emolument, or fame;
I shall not add myself to such a chase,
Thwart his attempts, or envy his success.
Some must be great. Great offices will have
Great talents. And God gives to every man
The virtue, temper, understanding, taste,
That lifts him into life, and lets him fall
Just in the niche he was ordain’d to fill.
To the deliverer of an injured land
He gives a tongue to enlarge upon, a heart
To feel, and courage to redress her wrongs;
To monarchs dignity; to judges sense;
To artists ingenuity and skill;
To me an unambitious mind, content
In the low vale of life, that early felt
A wish for ease and leisure, and ere long
Found here that leisure and that ease I wish’d.

poem by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Poetry Lover
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share
John Dryden

The Cock And The Fox: Or, The Tale Of The Nun's Priest

There lived, as authors tell, in days of yore,
A widow, somewhat old, and very poor;
Deep in a dale her cottage lonely stood,
Well thatched, and under covert of a wood.
This dowager, on whom my tale I found,
Since last she laid her husband in the ground,
A simple sober life, in patience led,
And had but just enough to buy her bread;
But huswifing the little Heaven had lent,
She duly paid a groat for quarter rent;
And pinched her belly, with her daughters two,
To bring the year about with much ado.
The cattle in her homestead were three sows,
An ewe called Mally, and three brinded cows.
Her parlour window stuck with herbs around,
Of savoury smell; and rushes strewed the ground.
A maple-dresser in her hall she had,
On which full many a slender meal she made,
For no delicious morsel passed her throat;
According to her cloth she cut her coat;
No poignant sauce she knew, nor costly treat,
Her hunger gave a relish to her meat.
A sparing diet did her health assure;
Or sick, a pepper posset was her cure.
Before the day was done, her work she sped,
And never went by candle light to bed.
With exercise she sweat ill humours out;
Her dancing was not hindered by the gout.
Her poverty was glad, her heart content,
Nor knew she what the spleen or vapours meant.
Of wine she never tasted through the year,
But white and black was all her homely cheer;
Brown bread and milk,(but first she skimmed her bowls)
And rashers of singed bacon on the coals.
On holy days an egg, or two at most;
But her ambition never reached to roast.
A yard she had with pales enclosed about,
Some high, some low, and a dry ditch without.
Within this homestead lived, without a peer,
For crowing loud, the noble Chanticleer;
So hight her cock, whose singing did surpass
The merry notes of organs at the mass.
More certain was the crowing of the cock
To number hours, than is an abbey-clock;
And sooner than the matin-bell was rung,
He clapped his wings upon his roost, and sung:
For when degrees fifteen ascended right,
By sure instinct he knewtwas one at night.
High was his comb, and coral-red withal,
In dents embattled like a castle wall;
His bill was raven-black, and shone like jet;
Blue were his legs, and orient were his feet;
White were his nails, like silver to behold,
His body glittering like the burnished gold
This gentle cock, for solace of his life,
Six misses had, besides his lawful wife;
Scandal, that spares no king, though ne’er so good,
Says, they were all of his own flesh and blood,
His sisters both by sire and mothers side;
And sure their likeness showed them near allied.
But make the worst, the monarch did no more,
Than all the Ptolemys had done before:
When incest is for interest of a nation,
Tis made no sin by holy dispensation.
Some lines have been maintained by this alone,
Which by their common ugliness are known.
But passing this as from our tale apart,
Dame Partlet was the sovereign of his heart:
Ardent in love, outrageous in his play,
He feathered her a hundred times a day;
And she, that was not only passing fair,
But was withal discreet, and debonair,
Resolved the passive doctrine to fulfil,
Though loath, and let him work his wicked will:
At board and bed was affable and kind,
According as their marriage-vow did bind,
And as the Churchs precept had enjoined.
Even since she was a se’nnight old, they say,
Was chaste and humble to her dying day,
Nor chick nor hen was known to disobey.
By this her husbands heart she did obtain;
What cannot beauty, joined with virtue, gain!
She was his only joy, and he her pride,
She, when he walked, went pecking by his side;
If, spurning up the ground, he sprung a corn,
The tribute in his bill to her was borne.
But oh! what joy it was to hear him sing
In summer, when the day began to spring,
Stretching his neck, and warbling in his throat,
Solus cum sola, then was all his note.
For in the days of yore, the birds of parts
Were bred to speak, and sing, and learn the liberal arts.
It happed that perching on the parlour-beam
Amidst his wives, he had a deadly dream,
Just at the dawn; and sighed and groaned so fast,
As every breath he drew would be his last.
Dame Partlet, ever nearest to his side,
Heard all his piteous moan, and how he cried
For help from gods and men; and sore aghast
She pecked and pulled, and wakened him at last.
Dear heart,’ said she, ‘for love of Heaven declare
Your pain, and make me partner in your care.
You groan, sir, ever since the morning light,
As something had disturbed your noble sprite.’
And, madam, well I might,’ said Chanticleer,
Never was shrovetide-cock in such a fear.
Even still I run all over in a sweat,
My princely senses not recovered yet.
For such a dream I had of dire portent,
That much I fear my body will be shent;
It bodes I shall have wars and woeful strife,
Or in a loathsome dungeon end my life.
Know, dame, I dreamt within my troubled breast,
That in our yard I saw a murderous beast,
That on my body would have made arrest.
With waking eyes I ne’er beheld his fellow;
His colour was betwixt a red and yellow:
Tipped was his tail, and both his pricking ears
Were black; and much unlike his other hairs:
The rest, in shape a beagle’s whelp throughout,
With broader forehead, and a sharper snout.
Deep in his front were sunk his glowing eyes,
That yet, methinks, I see him with surprise.
Reach out your hand, I drop with clammy sweat,
And lay it to my heart, and feel it beat.’
Now fie for shame,’ quoth she, ‘by Heaven above,
Thou hast for ever lost thy ladys love.
No woman can endure a recreant knight;
He must be bold by day, and free by night:
Our sex desires a husband or a friend,
Who can our honour and his own defend;
Wise, hardy, secret, liberal of his purse;
A fool is nauseous, but a coward worse:
No bragging coxcomb, yet no baffled knight.
How darest thou talk of love, and darest not fight?
How darest thou tell thy dame thou art affeared;
Hast thou no manly heart, and hast a beard?
If aught from fearful dreams may be divined,
They signify a cock of dunghill kind.
All dreams, as in old Galen I have read,
Are from repletion and complexion bred;
From rising fumes of indigested food,
And noxious humours that infect the blood:
And sure, my lord, if I can read aright,
These foolish fancies, you have had to-night,
Are certain symptoms (in the canting style)
Of boiling choler, and abounding bile;
This yellow gall that in your stomach floats,
Engenders all these visionary thoughts.
When choler overflows, then dreams are bred
Of flames, and all the family of red;
Red dragons, and red beasts, in sleep we view,
For humours are distinguished by their hue.
From hence we dream of wars and warlike things,
And wasps and hornets with their double wings.
‘Choler adust congeals our blood with fear,
Then black bulls toss us, and black devils tear.
In sanguine airy dreams aloft we bound;
With rheums oppressed, we sink in rivers drowned.
More I could say, but thus conclude my theme,
The dominating humour makes the dream.
Cato was in his time accounted wise,
And he condemns them all for empty lies.
Take my advice, and when we fly to ground,
With laxatives preserve your body sound,
And purge the peccant humours that abound.
I should be loath to lay you on a bier;
And though there lives no ’pothecary near,
I dare for once prescribe for your disease,
And save long bills, and a damned doctor’s fees.
Two sovereign herbs, which I by practice know,
And both at hand, (for in our yard they grow,)
On peril of my soul shall rid you wholly
Of yellow choler, and of melancholy:
You must both purge and vomit; but obey,
And for the love of Heaven make no delay.
Since hot and dry in your complexion join,
Beware the sun when in a vernal sign;
For when he mounts exalted in the Ram,
If then he finds your body in a flame,
Replete with choler, I dare lay a groat,
A tertian ague is at least your lot.
Perhaps a fever (which the gods forfend)
May bring your youth to some untimely end:
And therefore, sir, as you desire to live,
A day or two before your laxative,
Take just three worms, nor under nor above,
Because the gods unequal numbers love,
These digestives prepare you for your purge;
Of fumetery, centaury, and spurge,
And of ground-ivy add a leaf, or two,
All which within our yard or garden grow.
Eat these, and be, my lord, of better cheer;
Your fathers son was never born to fear.’
Madam,’ quoth he, ‘gramercy for your care,
But Cato, whom you quoted, you may spare;
Tis true, a wise and worthy man he seems,
And (as you say) gave no belief to dreams;
But other men of more authority,
And, by the immortal powers, as wise as he,
Maintain, with sounder sense, that dreams forbode;
For Homer plainly says they come from God.
Nor Cato said it; but some modern fool
Imposed in Cato’s name on boys at school.
‘Believe me, madam, morning dreams foreshow
The events of things, and future weal or woe:
Some truths are not by reason to be tried,
But we have sure experience for our guide.
An ancient author, equal with the best,
Relates this tale of dreams among the rest.
Two friends or brothers, with devout intent,
On some far pilgrimage together went.
It happened so, that, when the sun was down,
They just arrived by twilight at a town;
That day had been the baiting of a bull,
Twas at a feast, and every inn so full,
That at void room in chamber, or on ground,
And but one sorry bed was to be found;
And that so little it would hold but one,
Though till this hour they never lay alone.
So were they forced to part; one stayed behind,
His fellow sought what lodging he could find;
At last he found a stall where oxen stood,
And that he rather choose than lie abroad.
Twas in a farther yard without a door;
But, for his ease, well littered was the floor.
His fellow, who the narrow bed had kept,
Was weary, and without a rocker slept:
Supine he snored; but in the dead of night,
He dreamt his friend appeared before his sight,
Who, with a ghastly look and doleful cry,
Said, ‘Help me, brother, or this night I die:
Arise, and help, before all help be vain,
Or in an ox’s stall I shall be slain.’
‘Roused from his rest, he wakened in a start,
Shivering with horror, and with aching heart;
At length to cure himself by reason tries;
Tis but a dream, and what are dreams but lies?
So thinking changed his side, and closed his eyes.
His dream returns; his friend appears again:
The murderers come, now help, or I am slain:’
Twas but a vision still, and visions are but vain.
He dreamt the third: but now his friend appeared
Pale, naked, pierced with wounds, with blood besmeared:
Thrice warned, awake,’ said he; ‘relief is late,
The deed is done; but thou revenge my fate:
Tardy of aid, unseal thy heavy eyes,
Awake, and with the dawning day arise:
Take to the western gate thy ready way,
For by that passage they my corpse convey
My corpse is in a tumbril laid, among
The filth, and ordure, and inclosed with dung.
That cart arrest, and raise a common cry;
For sacred hunger of my gold, I die:’
Then showed his grisly wounds; and last he drew
A piteous sigh; and took a long adieu.
The frighted friend arose by break of day,
And found the stall where late his fellow lay.
Then of his impious host inquiring more,
Was answered that his guest was gone before:
‘Muttering he went,’ said he, ‘by morning light,
And much complained of his ill rest by night.’
This raised suspicion in the pilgrim’s mind;
Because all hosts are of an evil kind,
And oft to share the spoil with robbers joined.
His dream confirmed his thought: with troubled look
Straight to the western gate his way he took;
There, as his dream foretold, a cart he found,
That carried composs forth to dung the ground.
This when the pilgrim saw, he stretched his throat,
And cried out ‘Murder’ with a yelling note.
My murdered fellow in this cart lies dead;
Vengeance and justice on the villain’s head!
You, magistrates, who sacred laws dispense,
On you I call to punish this offence.’
The word thus given, within a little space,
The mob came roaring out, and thronged the place.
All in a trice they cast the cart to ground,
And in the dung the murdered body found;
Though breathless, warm, and reeking from the wound.
Good Heaven, whose darling attribute we find,
Is boundless grace, and mercy to mankind,
Abhors the cruel; and the deeds of night
By wondrous ways reveals in open light:
Murder may pass unpunished for a time,
But tardy justice will o’ertake the crime.
And oft a speedier pain the guilty feels,
The hue and cry of Heaven pursues him at the heels,
Fresh from the fact; as in the present case,
The criminals are seized upon the place:
Carter and host confronted face to face.
Stiff in denial, as the law appoints,
On engines they distend their tortured joints:
So was confession forced, the offence was known.
And public justice on the offenders done.
Here may you see that visions are to dread;
And in the page that follows this, I read
Of two young merchants, whom the hope of gain
Induced in partnership to cross the main;
Waiting till willing winds their sails supplied,
Within a trading town they long abide,
Full fairly situate on a haven’s side.
One evening it befel, that looking out,
The wind they long had wished was come about;
Well pleased they went to rest; and if the gale
Till morn continued, both resolved to sail.
But as together in a bed they lay,
The younger had a dream at break of day.
A man, he thought, stood frowning at his side,
Who warned him for his safety to provide,
Nor put to sea, but safe on shore abide.
I come, thy genius, to command thy stay;
Trust not the winds, for fatal is the day,
And death unhoped attends the watery way.'
The vision said: and vanished from his sight;
The dreamer wakened in a mortal fright;
Then pulled his drowsy neighbour, and declared
What in his slumber he had seen and heard.
His friend smiled scornful, and, with proud contempt,
Rejects as idle what his fellow dreamt.
Stay, who will stay; for me no fears restrain,
Who follow Mercury, the god of gain;
Let each man do as to his fancy seems,
I wait not, I, till you have better dreams.
Dreams are but interludes, which fancy makes;
When monarch reason sleeps, this mimic wakes;
Compounds a medley of disjointed things,
A mob of cobblers, and a court of kings:
Light fumes are merry, grosser fumes are sad;
Both are the reasonable soul run mad;
And many monstrous forms in sleep we see,
That neither were, nor are, nor e’er can be.
Sometimes, forgotten things long cast behind
Rush forward in the brain, and come to mind.
The nurses legends are for truths received,
And the man dreams but what the boy believed.
Sometimes we but rehearse a former play,
The night restores our actions done by day,
As hounds in sleep will open for their prey.
In short the farce of dreams is of a piece,
Chimeras all; and more absurd, or less.
You, who believe in tales, abide’ alone;
Whate’er I get this voyage is my own.’
Thus while he spoke, he heard the shouting crew
That called aboard, and took his last adieu.
The vessel went before a merry gale,
And for quick passage put on every sail:
But when least feared, and even in open day,
The mischief overtook her in the way:
Whether she sprung a leak, I cannot find,
Or whether she was overset with wind,
Or that some rock below her bottom rent;
But down at once with all her crew she went.
Her fellow-ships from far her loss descried;
But only she was sunk, and all were safe beside.
By this example you are taught again,
That dreams and visions are not always vain:
But if, dear Partlet, you are still in doubt,
Another tale shall make the former out.
‘Kenelm, the son of Kenulph, Mercia’s king,
Whose holy life the legends loudly sing,
Warned in a dream, his murder did foretel
From point to point as after it befel;
All circumstances to his nurse he told,
(A wonder from a child of seven years old);
The dream with horror heard, the good old wife
From treason counselled him to guard his life;
But close to keep the secret in his mind,
For a boy’s vision small belief would find.
The pious child, by promise bound, obeyed,
Nor was the fatal murder long delayed:
By Quenda slain, he fell before his time,
Made a young martyr by his sisters crime.
The tale is told by venerable Bede,
Which, at your better leisure, you may read.
‘Macrobius too relates the vision sent
To the great Scipio, with the famed, event;
Objections makes, but after makes replies,
And adds, that dreams are often prophesies.
Of Daniel you may read in holy writ,
Who, when the king his vision did forget,
Could word for word the wondrous dream repeat.
Nor less of patriarch Joseph understand,
Who by a dream, enslaved, the Egyptian land,
The years of plenty and of dearth foretold,
When, for their bread, their liberty they sold.
Nor must the exalted butler be forgot,
Nor he whose dream presaged his hanging lot.
And did not Crœsus the same death foresee,
Raised in his vision on a lofty tree?
The wife of Hector, in his utmost pride,
Dreamt of his death the night before he died;
Well was he warned from battle to refrain,
But men to death decreed are warned in vain;
He dared the dream, and by his fatal foe was slain.
Much more I know, which I forbear to speak,
For see the ruddy day begins to break:
Let this suffice, that plainly I foresee
My dream was bad, and bodes adversity,
But neither pills nor laxatives I like,
They only serve to make the well-man sick:
Of these his gain the sharp physician makes,
And often gives a purge, but seldom takes;
They not correct, but poison all the blood,
And ne’er did any but the doctors good.
Their tribe, trade, trinkets, I defy them all,
With every work of ’pothecary’s hall.
These melancholy matters I forbear;
But let me tell thee, Partlet mine, and swear,
That when I view the beauties of thy face,
I fear not death, nor dangers, nor disgrace;
So may my soul have bliss, as when I spy
The scarlet red about thy partridge eye,
While thou art constant to thy own true knight,
While thou art mine, and I am thy delight,
All sorrows at thy presence take their flight.
For true it is, as in principio,
Mulier est hominis confusio.
Madam, the meaning of this Latin is,
That woman is to man his sovereign bliss.
For when by night I feel your tender side,
Though for the narrow perch I cannot ride,
Yet I have such a solace in my mind,
That all my boding cares are cast behind,
And even already I forget my dream.’
He said, and downward flew from off the beam.
For daylight now began apace to spring,
The thrush to whistle, and the lark to sing.
Then crowing clapped his wings, the appointed call,
To chuck his wives together in the hall.
By this the widow had unbarred the door,
And Chanticleer went strutting out before,
With royal courage, and with heart so light,
As showed he scorned the visions of the night.
Now roaming in the yard, he spurned the ground,
And gave to Partlet the first grain found.
Then often feathered her with wanton play,
And trod her twenty times ere prime of day;
And took by turns and gave so much delight,
Her sisters pined with envy at the sight.
He chucked again, when other corns he found,
And scarcely deigned to set a foot to ground,
But swaggered like a lord about his hall,
And his seven wives came running at his call.
Twas now the month in which the world began,
(If March beheld the first created man
And since the vernal equinox, the sun,
In Aries twelve degrees, or more had run;
When casting up his eyes against the light,
Both month, and day, and hour, he measured right,
And told more truly than the Ephemeris:
For art may err, but nature cannot miss.
Thus numbering times and seasons in his breast,
His second crowing the third hour confessed.
Then turning, said to Partlet,—‘See, my dear,
How lavish nature has adorned the year;
How the pale primrose and blue violet spring,
And birds essay their throats diffused to sing:
All these are ours; and I with pleasure see
Man strutting on two legs, and aping me:
An unfledged creature of a lumpish frame,
Endowed with fewer particles of flame:
Our dame sits cowering oer a kitchen fire,
I draw fresh air, and natures works admire;
And even this day in more delight abound,
Than, since I was an egg, I ever found.’—
The time shall come when Chanticleer shall wish
His words unsaid, and hate his boasted bliss;
The crested bird shall by experience knew,
Jove made not him his masterpiece below;
And learn the latter end of joy is woe.
The vessel of his bliss to dregs is run,
And Heaven will have him taste his other tun.
Ye wise, draw near, and hearken to my tale,
Which proves that oft the proud by flattery fall;
The legend is as true I undertake
As Tristran is, and Lancelot of the Lake:
Which all our ladies in such reverence hold,
As if in Book of Martyrs it were told.
A Fox full fraught with seeming sanctity,
That feared an oath, but, like the devil, would lie;
Who looked like Lent, and had the holy leer,
And durst not sin before he said his prayer;
This pious cheat, that never sucked the blood,
Nor chewed the flesh of lambs, but when he could;
Had passed three summers in the neighbouring wood:
And musing long, whom next to cirumvent,
On Chanticleer his wicked fancy bent;
And in his high imagination cast,
By stratagem to gratify his taste.
The plot contrived, before the break of day,
Saint Reynard through the hedge had made his way;
The pale was next, but, proudly, with a bound
He leapt the fence of the forbidden ground:
Yet fearing to be seen, within a bed
Of coleworts he concealed his wily head;
Then skulked till afternoon, and watched his time,
(As murderers use) to perpetrate his crime.
O hypocrite, ingenious to destroy!
O traitor, worse than Simon was to Troy!
O vile subverter of the Gallic reign,
More false than Gano was to Charlemagne!
O Chanticleer, in an unhappy hour
Didst thou forsake the safety of thy bower;
Better for thee thou hadst believed thy dream,
And not that day descended from the beam!
But here the doctors eagerly dispute;
Some hold predestination absolute;
Some clerks maintain, that Heaven at first foresees,
And in the virtue of foresight decrees.
If this be so, then prescience binds the will,
And mortals are not free to good or ill;
For what he first foresaw, he must ordain,
Or its enternal prescience may be vain;
As bad for us as prescience had not been;
For first, or last, hes author of the sin.
And who says that, let the blaspheming man
Say worse even of the devil, if he can.
For how can that Eternal Power be just
To punish man, who sins because he must?
Or, how can He reward a virtuous deed,
Which is not done by us, but first decreed?
I cannot bolt this matter to the bran,
As Bradwardin and holy Austin can:
If prescience can determine actions so,
That we must do, because he did foreknow,
Or that foreknowing, yet our choice is free,
Not forced to sin by strict necessity;
This strict necessity they simple call,
Another sort there is conditional.
The first so binds the will, that things foreknown
By spontaneity, not choice, are done.
Thus galley-slaves tug willing at their oar,
Content to work, in prospect of the shore;
But would not work at all, if not constrained before.
That other does not liberty constrain,
But man may either act, or my refrain.
Heaven made us agents free to good or ill,
And forced it not, though he foresaw the will.
Freedom was first bestowed on human race,
And prescience only held the second place.
If he could make such agents wholly free,
I not dispute; the points too high for me:
For Heavens unfathomed power what man can sound,
Or pout to his omnipotence a bound?
He made us to his image, all agree;
That image is the soul, and that must be,
Or not the Maker’s image, or be free.
But whether it were better man had been
By nature bound to good, not free to sin,
I waive, for fear of splitting on a rock.
The tale I tell is only of a cock;
Who had not run the hazard of his life,
Had he believed his dream, and not his wife:
For women, which a mischief to their kind,
Pervert, with bad advice, our better mind.
A womans counsel brought us first to woe,
And made her man his paradise forego,
Where at hearts ease he lived; and might have been
As free from sorrow as he was from sin.
For what the devil had their sex to do,
That, born to folly, they presumed to know;
And could not see the serpent in the grass?
But I myself presume, and let it pass.
Silence in times of suffering is the best,
Tis dangerous to disturb a hornets’ nest.
In other authors you may find enough,
But all they way of dames is idle stuff.
Legends of lying wits together bound,
The wife of Bath would throw them to the ground;
These are the words of Chanticleer, not mine,
I honour dames, and think their sex divine.
Now to continue what my tale begun;
Lay madam Partlet basking in the sun,
Breast high in sand; her sisters, in a row,
Enjoyed the beams above, the warmth below.
The cock, that of his flesh was ever free,
Sung merrier than the mermaid in the sea;
And so befel, that as he cast his eye
Among the coleworts, on a butterfly,
He saw false Reynard where he lay full low;
I need not swear he had no list to crow;
But cried, cock, cock, and gave a sudden start,
As sore dismayed and frighted at his heart.
For birds and beasts, informed by nature know
Kinds opposite to theirs, and fly their foe.
So Chanticleer, who never was a fox,
Yet shunned him as a sailor shuns the rocks.
But the false loon, who could not work his will
By open force, employed his flattering skill:
I hope, my lord,’ said he, ‘I not offend;
Are you afraid of me that am your friend?
I were a beast indeed to do you wrong,
I, who have loved and honoured you so long:
Stay, gentle sir, nor take a false alarm,
For, on my soul, I never meant you harm!
I come no spy, nor as a traitor press,
To learn the secrets of your soft recess:
Far be from Reynard so profane a thought,
But by the sweetness of your voice was brought:
For, as I bid my beads, by chance I heard
The song that would have charmed the infernal gods,
And banished horror from the dark abodes:
Had Orpheus sung it in the nether sphere,
So much the hymn had pleased the tyrant’s ear,
The wife had been detained, to keep the husband there.
My lord, your sire familiarly I knew,
A peer deserving such a son as you:
He, with your lady-mother, (whom Heaven rest)
Has often graced my house, and been my guest:
To view his living features does me good,
For I am your poor neighbour in the wood;
And in my cottage should be proud to see
The worthy heir of my friends family.
But since I speak of signing let me say,
As with un upright heart I safely may,
That, save yourself, there breathes not on the ground
One like your father for a silver-sound.
So sweetly would he wake the winter-day,
That matrons to the church mistook their way,
And thought they heard the merry organ play.
And he to raise his voice with artful care,
(What will not beaux attempt to please the fair?)
On tiptoe stood do sing with greater strength,
And stretched his comely neck at all the length;
And while he strained his voice to pierce the skies,
As saints in raptures, use, would shut his eyes,
That the sound striving through the narrow throat,
His winking might avail to mend the note.
By this, in song, he never had his peer,
From sweet Cecilia down to Chanticleer;
Not Maro’s muse, who sung the mighty man,
Nor Pindar’s heavenly lyre, nor Horace when a swan.
Your ancestors proceed from race divine:
From Brennus and Belinus is your line;
Who gave to sovereign Rome such loud alarms,
That even the priests were not excused from arms,
Besides, a famous monk of modern times
Has left of cocks recorded in his rhymes,
That of a parish priest the son and heir,
(When sons of priests were from the proverb clear,)
Affronted once a cock of noble kind,
And either lamed his legs, or strucks him blind;
For which the clerk his father was disgraced,
And in his benefice another placed.
Now sing, my lord, if not for love of me,
Yet for the sake of sweet Saint Charity;
Make hills and dales, and earth and heaven, rejoice,
And emulate your fathers angel-voice.’
The cock was pleased to hear him speak so fair,
And proud beside, as solar people are;
Nor could the treason from the truth descry,
So was he ravished with this flattery:
So much the more, as from a little elf,
He had a high opinion of himself;
Though sickly, slender, and not large of limb,
Concluding all the world was made for him.
Ye princes, raised by poets to the gods,
And Alexandered up in lying odes,
Believe not every flattering knave’s report,
Theres many a Reynard lurking in the court;
And he shall be received with more regard,
And listened to, than modest truth is heard.
This Chanticleer, of whom the story sings,
Stood high upon his toes, and clapped his wings;
Then stretched his neck, and winked with both his eyes,
Ambitious, as he sought the Olympic prize.
But while he pained himself to raise his note,
False Reynard rushed, and caught him by the throat.
Then on his back he laid the precious load,
And sought his wonted shelter of the wood;
Swiftly he made his way, the mischief done,
Of all unheeded, and pursued by none.
Alas! what stay is there in human state,
Or who can shun inevitable fate?
The doom was written, the decree was past,
Ere the foundations of the world were cast!
In Aries though the sun exalted stood,
His patron-planet to procure his good;
Yet Saturn was his mortal foe, and he,
In Libra raised, opposed the same degree:
The rays both good and bad, of equal power,
Each thwarting other, made a mingled hour.
On Friday-morn he dreamt this direful dream,
Cross to the worthy native, in his scheme.
Ah blissful Venus! Goddess of delight!
How couldst thou suffer thy devoted knight,
On thy own day, to fall by foe oppressed,
The wight of all the world who served thee best?
Who true to love, was all for recreation,
And minded not the work of propagation.
Ganfride, who couldst so well in rhyme complain
The death of Richard with an arrow slain,
Why had not I thy muse, or thou my heart,
To sing this heavy dirge with equal art!
That I like thee on Friday might complain;
For on that day was Coeur de Lion slain.
Not louder cries, when Ilium was in flames,
Were sent to Heaven by woeful Trojan dames,
When Pyrrhus tossed on high his burnished blade,
And offered Priam to his fathers shade,
Than for the cock the widowed poultry made.
Fair Partlet first, when he was borne from sight,
With sovereign shrieks bewailed her captive knight:
Far louder than the Carthaginian wife,
When Asdrubal her husband lost his life,
When she beheld the smould’ring flames ascend,
And all the Punic glories at an end:
Willing into the fires she plunged her head,
With greater ease than others seek their bed.
Not more aghast the matrons of renown,
When tyrant Nero burned the imperial town,
Shrieked for the downfal in a doleful cry,
For which their guiltless lords were doomed to die.
Now to my story I return again:
The trembling widow, and her daughters twain,
This woeful cackling cry with horror heard,
Of those distracted damsels in the yard;
And starting up, beheld the heavy sight,
How Reynard to the forest took his flight,
And cross his back, as in triumphant scorn,
The hope and pillar of the house was borne.
The fox, the wicked fox,’ was all the cry;
Out from his house ran every neighbour nigh:
The vicar first, and after him the crew,
With forks and staves the felon to pursue.
Ran Coll our dog, and Talbot with the band,
And Malkin, with her distaff in her hand:
Ran cow and calf, and family of hogs,
In panic horror of pursuing dogs;
With many a deadly grunt and doleful squeak,
Poor swine, as if their pretty hearts would break.
The shouts of men, the women in dismay,
With shrieks augment the terror of the day.
The ducks, that heard the proclamation cried,
And feared a persecution might betide,
Full twenty mile from town their voyage take,
Obscure in rushes of the liquid lake.
The geese fly oer the barn; the bees in arms,
Drive headlong from their waxen cells in swarms.
Jack Straw at London-stone, with all his rout,
Struck not the city with so loud a shout;
Not when with English hate they did pursue
A Frenchman, or an unbelieving Jew;
Not when the welkin rung withone and all;’
And echoes bounded back from Fox’s hall;
Earth seemed to sink beneath, and heaven above to fall.
With might and main they chased the murderous fox,
With brazen trumpets, and inflated box,
To kindle Mars with military sounds,
Nor wanted horns to inspire sagacious hounds.
But see how Fortune can confound the wise,
And when they least expect it, turn the dice.
The captive-cock, who scarce could draw his breath,
And lay within the very jaws of death;
Yet in this agony his fancy wrought,
And fear supplied him with this happy thought:
Yours is the prize, victorious prince,’ said he,
The vicar my defeat, and all the village see.
Enjoy your friendly fortune while you may,
And bid the churls that envy you the prey
Call back the mongrel curs, and cease their cry:
See, fools, the shelter of the wood is nigh,
And Chanticleer in your despite shall die;
He shall be plucked and eaten to the bone.’
Tis well advised, in faith it shall be done;’
This Reynard said: but as the word he spoke,
The prisoner with a spring from prison broke;
Then stretched his feathered fans with all his might,
And to the neighbouring maple winged his flight.
Whom, when the traitor safe on tree beheld,
He cursed the gods, with shame and sorrow filled;
Shame for his folly; sorrow out of time,
For plotting an unprofitable crime:
Yet, mastering both, the artificer of lies
Renews the assault, and his last battery tries.
Though I,’ said he, ‘did ne’er in thought offend,
How justly may my lord suspect his friend!
The appearance is against me, I confess,
Who seemingly have put you in distress;
You, if your goodness does not plead my cause,
May think I broke all hospitable laws,
To bear you from your palace-yard by might,
And put your noble person in a fright;
This, since you take it ill, I must repent,
Though Heaven can witness with no bad intent
I practised it, to make you taste your cheer
With double pleasure, first prepared by fear.
So loyal subjects often seize their prince,
Forced (for his good) to seeming violence,
Yet mean his sacred person not the least offence.
Descend; so help me Jove, as you shall find,
That Reynard comes of no dissembling kind.’
Nay,’ quoth the cock; ‘but I beshrew us both,
If I believe a saint upon his oath:
An honest man may take a knave’s advice,
But idiots only may be cozened twice:
Once warned is well bewared; not flattering lies
Shall soothe me more to sing with winking eyes,
And open mouth, for fear of catching flies.
Who blindfold walks upon a river’s brim,
When he should see, has he deserved to swim!’
Better, sir Cock, let all contention cease,
Come down,’ said Reynard, ‘let us treat of peace.’
A peace with all my soul,’ said Chanticleer,
But, with your favour, I will treat it here:
And lest the truce with treason should be mixed,
Tis my concern to have the tree betwixt.'

The Moral
In this plain fable you the effect may see
Of negligence, and fond credulity:
And learn besides of flatterers to beware,
Then most pernicious when they speak too fair.
The cock and fox, the fool and knave imply;
The truth is moral, though the tale a lie.
Who spoke in parables, I dare not say;
But sure he knew it was a pleasing way,
Sound sense, by plain example, to convey.
And in a heathen author we may find,
That pleasure with instruction should be joined;
So take the corn, and leave the chaff behind.

poem by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Poetry Lover
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

Pharsalia - Book V: The Oracle. The Mutiny. The Storm

Thus had the smiles of Fortune and her frowns
Brought either chief to Macedonian shores
Still equal to his foe. From cooler skies
Sank Atlas' daughters down, and Haemus' slopes
Were white with winter, and the day drew nigh
Devoted to the god who leads the months,
And marking with new names the book of Rome,
When came the Fathers from their distant posts
By both the Consuls to Epirus called
Ere yet the year was dead: a foreign land
Obscure received the magistrates of Rome,
And heard their high debate. No warlike camp
This; for the Consul's and the Praetor's axe
Proclaimed the Senate-house; and Magnus sat
One among many, and the state was all.

When all were silent, from his lofty seat
Thus Lentulus began, while stern and sad
The Fathers listened: 'If your hearts still beat
With Latian blood, and if within your breasts
Still lives your fathers' vigour, look not now
On this strange land that holds us, nor enquire
Your distance from the captured city: yours
This proud assembly, yours the high command
In all that comes. Be this your first decree,
Whose truth all peoples and all kings confess;
Be this the Senate. Let the frozen wain
Demand your presence, or the torrid zone
Wherein the day and night with equal tread
For ever march; still follows in your steps
The central power of Imperial Rome.
When flamed the Capitol with fires of Gaul
When Veii held Camillus, there with him
Was Rome, nor ever though it changed its clime
Your order lost its rights. In Caesar's hands
Are sorrowing houses and deserted homes,
Laws silent for a space, and forums closed
In public fast. His Senate-house beholds
Those Fathers only whom from Rome it drove,
While Rome was full. Of that high order all
Not here, are exiles. Ignorant of war,
Its crimes and bloodshed, through long years of peace,
Ye fled its outburst: now in session all
Are here assembled. See ye how the gods
Weigh down Italia's loss by all the world
Thrown in the other scale? Illyria's wave
Rolls deep upon our foes: in Libyan wastes
Is fallen their Curio, the weightier part
Of Caesar's senate! Lift your standards, then,
Spur on your fates and prove your hopes to heaven.
Let Fortune, smiling, give you courage now
As, when ye fled, your cause. The Consuls' power
Fails with the dying year: not so does yours;
By your commandment for the common weal
Decree Pompeius leader.' With applause
They heard his words, and placed their country's fates,
Nor less their own, within the chieftain's hands.

Then did they shower on people and on kings
Honours well earned -- Rhodes, Mistress of the Seas,
Was decked with gifts; Athena, old in fame,
Received her praise, and the rude tribes who dwell
On cold Taygetus; Massilia's sons
Their own Phocaea's freedom; on the chiefs
Of Thracian tribes, fit honours were bestowed.
They order Libya by their high decree
To serve King Juba's sceptre; and, alas!
On Ptolemaeus, of a faithless race
The faithless sovereign, scandal to the gods,
And shame to Fortune, placed the diadem
Of Pella. Boy! thy sword was only sharp
Against thy people. Ah if that were all!
The fatal gift gave, too, Pompeius' life;
Bereft thy sister of her sire's bequest,
Half of the kingdom; Caesar of a crime.
Then all to arms.

While soldier thus and chief,
In doubtful sort, against their hidden fate
Devised their counsel, Appius alone
Feared for the chances of the war, and sought
Through Phoebus' ancient oracle to break
The silence of the gods and know the end.

Between the western belt and that which bounds
The furthest east, midway Parnassus rears
His double summit: to the Bromian god
And Paean consecrate, to whom conjoined
The Theban band leads up the Delphic feast
On each third year. This mountain, when the sea
Poured o'er the earth her billows, rose alone,
By one high peak scarce master of the waves,
Parting the crest of waters from the stars.
There, to avenge his mother, from her home
Chased by the angered goddess while as yet
She bore him quick within her, Paean came
(When Themis ruled the tripods and the spot)
And with unpractised darts the Python slew.
But when he saw how from the yawning cave
A godlike knowledge breathed, and all the air
Was full of voices murmured from the depths,
He took the shrine and filled the deep recess;
Henceforth to prophesy.

Which of the gods
Has left heaven's light in this dark cave to hide?
What spirit that knows the secrets of the world
And things to come, here condescends to dwell,
Divine, omnipotent? bear the touch of man,
And at his bidding deigns to lift the veil?
Perchance he sings the fates, perchance his song,
Once sung, is fate. Haply some part of Jove
Sent here to rule the earth with mystic power,
Balanced upon the void immense of air,
Sounds through the caves, and in its flight returns
To that high home of thunder whence it came.
Caught in a virgin's breast, this deity
Strikes on the human spirit: then a voice
Sounds from her breast, as when the lofty peak
Of Etna boils, forced by compelling flames,
Or as Typheus on Campania's shore
Frets 'neath the pile of huge Inarime.

Though free to all that ask, denied to none,
No human passion lurks within the voice
That heralds forth the god; no whispered vow,
No evil prayer prevails; none favour gain:
Of things unchangeable the song divine;
Yet loves the just. When men have left their homes
To seek another, it hath turned their steps
Aright, as with the Tyrians; and raised
The hearts of nations to confront their foe,
As prove the waves of Salamis: when earth
Hath been unfruitful, or polluted air
Has plagued mankind, this utterance benign
Hath raised their hopes and pointed to the end.
No gift from heaven's high gods so great as this
Our centuries have lost, since Delphi's shrine
Has silent stood, and kings forbade the gods
To speak the future, fearing for their fates.
Nor does the priestess sorrow that the voice
Is heard no longer; and the silent fane
To her is happiness; for whatever breast
Contains the deity, its shattered frame
Surges with frenzy, and the soul divine
Shakes the frail breath that with the god receives,
As prize or punishment, untimely death.

These tripods Appius seeks, unmoved for years
These soundless caverned rocks, in quest to learn
Hesperia's destinies. At his command
To loose the sacred gateways and permit
The prophetess to enter to the god,
The keeper calls Phemonoe; whose steps
Round the Castalian fount and in the grove
Were wandering careless; her he bids to pass
The portals. But the priestess feared to tread
The awful threshold, and with vain deceits
Sought to dissuade the chieftain from his zeal
To learn the future. 'What this hope,' she cried,
'Roman, that moves thy breast to know the fates?
Long has Parnassus and its silent cleft
Stifled the god; perhaps the breath divine
Has left its ancient gorge and thro' the world
Wanders in devious paths; or else the fane,
Consumed to ashes by barbarian fire,
Closed up the deep recess and choked the path
Of Phoebus; or the ancient Sibyl's books
Disclosed enough of fate, and thus the gods
Decreed to close the oracle; or else
Since wicked steps are banished from the fane,
In this our impious age the god finds none
Whom he may answer.' But the maiden's guile
Was known, for though she would deny the gods
Her fears approved them. On her front she binds
A twisted fillet, while a shining wreath
Of Phocian laurels crowns the locks that flow
Upon her shoulders. Hesitating yet
The priest compelled her, and she passed within.
But horror filled her of the holiest depths
From which the mystic oracle proceeds;
And resting near the doors, in breast unmoved
She dares invent the god in words confused,
Which proved no mind possessed with fire divine;
By such false chant less injuring the chief
Than faith in Phoebus and the sacred fane.
No burst of words with tremor in their tones,
No voice re-echoing through the spacious vault
Proclaimed the deity, no bristling locks
Shook off the laurel chaplet; but the grove
Unshaken, and the summits of the shrine,
Gave proof she shunned the god. The Roman knew
The tripods yet were idle, and in rage,
'Wretch,' he exclaimed, 'to us and to the gods,
Whose presence thou pretendest, thou shalt pay
For this thy fraud the punishment; unless
Thou enter the recess, and speak no more,
Of this world-war, this tumult of mankind,
Thine own inventions.' Then by fear compelled,
At length the priestess sought the furthest depths,
And stayed beside the tripods; and there came
Into her unaccustomed breast the god,
Breathed from the living rock for centuries
Untouched; nor ever with a mightier power
Did Paean's inspiration seize the frame
Of Delphic priestess; his pervading touch
Drove out her former mind, expelled the man,
And made her wholly his. In maddened trance
She whirls throughout the cave, her locks erect
With horror, and the fillets of the god
Dashed to the ground; her steps unguided turn
To this side and to that; the tripods fall
O'erturned; within her seethes the mighty fire
Of angry Phoebus; nor with whip alone
He urged her onwards, but with curb restrained;
Nor was it given her by the god to speak
All that she knew; for into one vast mass
All time was gathered, and her panting chest
Groaned 'neath the centuries. In order long
All things lay bare: the future yet unveiled
Struggled for light; each fate required a voice;
The compass of the seas, Creation's birth,
Creation's death, the number of the sands,
All these she knew. Thus on a former day
The prophetess upon the Cuman shore,
Disdaining that her frenzy should be slave
To other nations, from the boundless threads
Chose out with pride of hand the fates of Rome.
E'en so Phemonoe, for a time oppressed
With fates unnumbered, laboured ere she found,
Beneath such mighty destinies concealed,
Thine, Appius, who alone had'st sought the god
In land Castalian; then from foaming lips
First rushed the madness forth, and murmurs loud
Uttered with panting breath and blent with groans;
Till through the spacious vault a voice at length
Broke from the virgin conquered by the god:
'From this great struggle thou, O Roman, free
Escap'st the threats of war: alive, in peace,
Thou shalt possess the hollow in the coast
Of vast Euboea.' Thus she spake, no more.

Ye mystic tripods, guardians of the fates
And Paean, thou, from whom no day is hid
By heaven's high rulers, Master of the truth,
Why fear'st thou to reveal the deaths of kings,
Rome's murdered princes, and the latest doom
Of her great Empire tottering to its fall,
And all the bloodshed of that western land?
Were yet the stars in doubt on Magnus' fate
Not yet decreed, and did the gods yet shrink
From that, the greatest crime? Or wert thou dumb
That Fortune's sword for civil strife might wreak
Just vengeance, and a Brutus' arm once more
Strike down the tyrant?

From the temple doors
Rushed forth the prophetess in frenzy driven,
Not all her knowledge uttered; and her eyes,
Still troubled by the god who reigned within,
Or filled with wild affright, or fired with rage
Gaze on the wide expanse: still works her face
Convulsive; on her cheeks a crimson blush
With ghastly pallor blent, though not of fear.
Her weary heart throbs ever; and as seas
Boom swollen by northern winds, she finds in sighs,
All inarticulate, relief. But while
She hastes from that dread light in which she saw
The fates, to common day, lo! on her path
The darkness fell. Then by a Stygian draught
Of the forgetful river, Phoebus snatched
Back from her soul his secrets; and she fell
Yet hardly living.

Nor did Appius dread
Approaching death, but by dark oracles
Baffled, while yet the Empire of the world
Hung in the balance, sought his promised realm
In Chalcis of Euboea. Yet to escape
All ills of earth, the crash of war -- what god
Can give thee such a boon, but death alone?
Far on the solitary shore a grave
Awaits thee, where Carystos' marble crags
Draw in the passage of the sea, and where
The fane of Rhamnus rises to the gods
Who hate the proud, and where the ocean strait
Boils in swift whirlpools, and Euripus draws
Deceitful in his tides, a bane to ships,
Chalcidian vessels to bleak Aulis' shore.

But Caesar carried from the conquered west
His eagles to another world of war;
When envying his victorious course the gods
Almost turned back the prosperous tide of fate.
Not on the battle-field borne down by arms
But in his tents, within the rampart lines,
The hoped-for prize of this unholy war
Seemed for a moment gone. That faithful host,
His comrades trusted in a hundred fields,
Or that the falchion sheathed had lost its charm;
Or weary of the mournful bugle call
Scarce ever silent; or replete with blood,
Well nigh betrayed their general and sold
For hope of gain their honour and their cause.
No other perilous shock gave surer proof
How trembled 'neath his feet the dizzy height
From which great Caesar looked. A moment since
His high behest drew nations to the field:
Now, maimed of all, he sees that swords once drawn
Are weapons for the soldier, not the chief.
From the stern ranks no doubtful murmur rose;
Not silent anger as when one conspires,
His comrades doubting, feared himself in turn;
Alone (he thinks) indignant at the wrongs
Wrought by the despot. In so great a host
Dread found no place. Where thousands share the guilt
Crime goes unpunished. Thus from dauntless throats
They hurled their menace: 'Caesar, give us leave
To quit thy crimes; thou seek'st by land and sea
The sword to slay us; let the fields of Gaul
And far Iberia, and the world proclaim
How for thy victories our comrades fell.
What boots it us that by an army's blood
The Rhine and Rhone and all the northern lands
Thou hast subdued? Thou giv'st us civil war
For all these battles; such the prize. When fled
The Senate trembling, and when Rome was ours
What homes or temples did we spoil? Our hands
Reek with offence! Aye, but our poverty
Proclaims our innocence! What end shall be
Of arms and armies? What shall be enough
If Rome suffice not? and what lies beyond?
Behold these silvered locks, these nerveless hands
And shrunken arms, once stalwart! In thy wars
Gone is the strength of life, gone all its pride!
Dismiss thine aged soldiers to their deaths.
How shameless is our prayer! Not on hard turf
To stretch our dying limbs; nor seek in vain,
When parts the soul, a hand to close our eyes;
Not with the helmet strike the stony clod:
Rather to feel the dear one's last embrace,
And gain a humble but a separate tomb.
Let nature end old age. And dost thou think
We only know not what degree of crime
Will fetch the highest price? What thou canst dare
These years have proved, or nothing; law divine
Nor human ordinance shall hold thine hand.
Thou wert our leader on the banks of Rhine;
Henceforth our equal; for the stain of crime
Makes all men like to like. Add that we serve
A thankless chief: as fortune's gift he takes
The fruits of victory our arms have won.
We are his fortunes, and his fates are ours
To fashion as we will. Boast that the gods
Shall do thy bidding! Nay, thy soldiers' will
Shall close the war.' With threatening mien and speech
Thus through the camp the troops demand their chief.

When faith and loyalty are fled, and hope
For aught but evil, thus may civil war
In mutiny and discord find its end!
What general had not feared at such revolt?
But mighty Caesar trusting on the throw,
As was his wont, his fortune, and o'erjoyed
To front their anger raging at its height
Unflinching comes. No temples of the gods,
Not Jove's high fane on the Tarpeian rock,
Not Rome's high dames nor maidens had he grudged
To their most savage lust: that they should ask
The worst, his wish, and love the spoils of war.
Nor feared he aught save order at the hands
Of that unconquered host. Art thou not shamed
That strife should please thee only, now condemned
Even by thy minions? Shall they shrink from blood,
They from the sword recoil? and thou rush on
Heedless of guilt, through right and through unright,
Nor learn that men may lay their arms aside
Yet bear to live? This civil butchery
Escapes thy grasp. Stay thou thy crimes at length;
Nor force thy will on those who will no more.

Upon a turfy mound unmoved he stood
And, since he feared not, worthy to be feared;
And thus while anger stirred his soul began:
'Thou that with voice and hand didst rage but now
Against thine absent chief, behold me here;
Here strike thy sword into this naked breast,
To stay the war; and flee, if such thy wish.
This mutiny devoid of daring deed
Betrays your coward souls, betrays the youth
Who tires of victories which gild the arms
Of an unconquered chief, and yearns for flight.
Well, leave me then to battle and to fate!
I cast you forth; for every weapon left,
Fortune shall find a man, to wield it well.
Shall Magnus in his flight with such a fleet
Draw nations in his train; and not to me as
My victories bring hosts, to whom shall fall
The prize of war accomplished, who shall reap
Your laurels scorned, and scathless join the train
That leads my chariot to the sacred hill?
While you, despised in age and worn in war,
Gaze on our triumph from the civic crowd.
Think you your dastard flight shall give me pause?
If all the rivers that now seek the sea
Were to withdraw their waters, it would fail
By not one inch, no more than by their flow
It rises now. Have then your efforts given
Strength to my cause? Not so: the heavenly gods
Stoop not so low; fate has no time to judge
Your lives and deaths. The fortunes of the world
Follow heroic souls: for the fit few
The many live; and you who terrified
With me the northern and Iberian worlds,
Would flee when led by Magnus. Strong in arms
For Caesar's cause was Labienus; now
That vile deserter, with his chief preferred,
Wanders o'er land and sea. Nor were your faith
One whit more firm to me if, neither side
Espoused, you ceased from arms. Who leaves me once,
Though not to fight against me with the foe,
Joins not my ranks again. Surely the gods
Smile on these arms who for so great a war
Grant me fresh soldiers. From what heavy load
Fortune relieves me! for the hands which aimed
At all, to which the world did not suffice,
I now disarm, and for myself alone
Reserve the conflict. Quit ye, then, my camp,
`Quirites', Caesar's soldiers now no more,
And leave my standards to the grasp of men!
Yet some who led this mad revolt I hold,
Not as their captain now, but as their judge.
Lie, traitors, prone on earth, stretch out the neck
And take th' avenging blow. And thou whose strength
Shall now support me, young and yet untaught,
Behold the doom and learn to strike and die.'

Such were his words of ire, and all the host
Drew back and trembled at the voice of him
They would depose, as though their very swords
Would from their scabbards leap at his command
Themselves unwilling; but he only feared
Lest hand and blade to satisfy the doom
Might be denied, till they submitting pledged
Their lives and swords alike, beyond his hope.
To strike and suffer holds in surest thrall
The heart inured to guilt; and Caesar kept,
By dreadful compact ratified in blood,
Those whom he feared to lose.

He bids them march
Upon Brundusium, and recalls the ships
From soft Calabria's inlets and the point
Of Leucas, and the Salapinian marsh,
Where sheltered Sipus nestles at the feet
Of rich Garganus, jutting from the shore
In huge escarpment that divides the waves
Of Hadria; on each hand, his seaward slopes
Buffeted by the winds; or Auster borne
From sweet Apulia, or the sterner blast
Of Boreas rushing from Dalmatian strands.

But Caesar entered trembling Rome unarmed,
Now taught to serve him in the garb of peace.
Dictator named, to grant their prayers, forsooth:
Consul, in honour of the roll of Rome.
Then first of all the names by which we now
Lie to our masters, men found out the use:
For to preserve his right to wield the sword
He mixed the civil axes with his brands;
With eagles, fasces; with an empty word
Clothing his power; and stamped upon the time
A worthy designation; for what name
Could better mark the dread Pharsalian year
Than 'Caesar, Consul'? Now the famous field
Pretends its ancient ceremonies: calls
The tribes in order and divides the votes
In vain solemnity of empty urns.
Nor do they heed the portents of the sky:
Deaf were the augurs to the thunder roll;
The owl flew on the left; yet were the birds
Propitious sworn. Then was the ancient name
Degraded first; and monthly Consuls,
Shorn of their rank, are chosen to mark the years.
And Trojan Alba's god (since Latium's fall
Deserving not) beheld the wonted fires
Blaze from his altars on the festal night.

Then through Apulia's fallows, that her hinds
Left all untilled, to sluggish weeds a prey
Passed Caesar onward, swifter than the fire
Of heaven, or tigress dam: until he reached
Brundusium's winding ramparts, built of old
By Cretan colonists. There icy winds
Constrained the billows, and his trembling fleet
Feared for the winter storms nor dared the main.
But Caesar's soul burned at the moments lost
For speedy battle, nor could brook delay
Within the port, indignant that the sea
Should give safe passage to his routed foe:
And thus he stirred his troops, in seas unskilled,
With words of courage: 'When the winter wind
Has seized on sky and ocean, firm its hold;
But the inconstancy of cloudy spring
Permits no certain breezes to prevail
Upon the billows. Straight shall be our course.
No winding nooks of coast, but open seas
Struck by the northern wind alone we plough,
And may he bend the spars, and bear us swift
To Grecian cities; else Pompeius' oars,
Smiting the billows from Phaeacian coasts,
May catch our flagging sails. Cast loose the ropes
From our victorious prows. Too long we waste
Tempests that blow to bear us to our goal.'

Now sank the sun to rest; the evening star
Shone on the darkening heaven, and the moon
Reigned with her paler light, when all the fleet
Freed from retaining cables seized the main.
With slackened sheet the canvas wooed the breeze,
Which rose and fell and fitful died away,
Till motionless the sails, and all the waves
Were still as deepest pool, where never wind
Ripples the surface. Thus in Scythian climes
Cimmerian Bosphorus restrains the deep
Bound fast in frosty fetters; Ister's streams
No more impel the main, and ships constrained
Stand fast in ice; and while in depths below
The waves still murmur, loud the charger's hoof
Sounds on the surface, and the travelling wheel
Furrows a track upon the frozen marsh.
Cruel as tempest was the calm that lay
In stagnant pools upon the mournful deep:
Against the course of nature lay outstretched
A rigid ocean: 'twas as if the sea
Forgat its ancient ways and knew no more
The ceaseless tides, nor any breeze of heaven,
Nor quivered at the image of the sun,
Mirrored upon its wave. For while the fleet
Hung in mid passage motionless, the foe
Might hurry to attack, with sturdy stroke
Churning the deep; or famine's deadly grip
Might seize the ships becalmed. For dangers new
New vows they find. 'May mighty winds arise
And rouse the ocean, and this sluggish plain
Cast off stagnation and be sea once more.'
Thus did they pray, but cloudless shone the sky,
Unrippled slept the surface of the main;
Until in misty clouds the moon arose
And stirred the depths, and moved the fleet along
Towards the Ceraunian headland; and the waves
And favouring breezes followed on the ships,
Now speeding faster, till (their goal attained)
They cast their anchors on Palaeste's shore.

This land first saw the chiefs in neighbouring camps
Confronted, which the streams of Apsus bound
And swifter Genusus; a lengthy course
Is run by neither, but on Apsus' waves
Scarce flowing from a marsh, the frequent boat
Finds room to swim; while on the foamy bed
Of Genusus by sun or shower compelled
The melted snows pour seawards. Here were met
(So Fortune ordered it) the mighty pair;
And in its woes the world yet vainly hoped
That brought to nearer touch their crime itself
Might bleed abhorrence: for from either camp
Voices were clearly heard and features seen.
Nor e'er, Pompeius, since that distant day
When Caesar's daughter and thy spouse was reft
By pitiless fate away, nor left a pledge,
Did thy loved kinsman (save on sands of Nile)
So nearly look upon thy face again.

But Caesar's mind though frenzied for the fight
Was forced to pause until Antonius brought
The rearward troops; Antonius even now
Rehearsing Leucas' fight. With prayers and threats
Caesar exhorts him. 'Why delay the fates,
Thou cause of evil to the suffering world?
My speed hath won the major part: from thee
Fortune demands the final stroke alone.
Do Libyan whirlpools with deceitful tides
Uncertain separate us? Is the deep
Untried to which I call? To unknown risks
Art thou commanded? Caesar bids thee come,
Thou sluggard, not to leave him. Long ago
I ran my ships midway through sands and shoals
To harbours held by foes; and dost thou fear
My friendly camp? I mourn the waste of days
Which fate allotted us. Upon the waves
And winds I call unceasing: hold not back
Thy willing troops, but let them dare the sea;
Here gladly shall they come to join my camp,
Though risking shipwreck. Not in equal shares
The world has fallen between us: thou alone
Dost hold Italia, but Epirus I
And all the lords of Rome.' Twice called and thrice
Antonius lingered still: but Caesar thought
To reap in full the favour of the gods,
Not sit supine; and knowing danger yields
To whom heaven favours, he upon the waves
Feared by Antonius' fleets, in shallow boat
Embarked, and daring sought the further shore.

Now gentle night had brought repose from arms;
And sleep, blest guardian of the poor man's couch,
Restored the weary; and the camp was still.
The hour was come that called the second watch
When mighty Caesar, in the silence vast
With cautious tread advanced to such a deed
As slaves should dare not. Fortune for his guide,
Alone he passes on, and o'er the guard
Stretched in repose he leaps, in secret wrath
At such a sleep. Pacing the winding beach,
Fast to a sea-worn rock he finds a boat
On ocean's marge afloat. Hard by on shore
Its master dwelt within his humble home.
No solid front it reared, for sterile rush
And marshy reed enwoven formed the walls,
Propped by a shallop with its bending sides
Turned upwards. Caesar's hand upon the door
Knocks twice and thrice until the fabric shook.
Amyclas from his couch of soft seaweed
Arising, calls: 'What shipwrecked sailor seeks
My humble home? Who hopes for aid from me,
By fates adverse compelled?' He stirs the heap
Upon the hearth, until a tiny spark
Glows in the darkness, and throws wide the door.
Careless of war, he knew that civil strife
Stoops not to cottages. Oh! happy life
That poverty affords! great gift of heaven
Too little understood! what mansion wall,
What temple of the gods, would feel no fear
When Caesar called for entrance? Then the chief:
'Enlarge thine hopes and look for better things.
Do but my bidding, and on yonder shore
Place me, and thou shalt cease from one poor boat
To earn thy living; and in years to come
Look for a rich old age: and trust thy fates
To those high gods whose wont it is to bless
The poor with sudden plenty.' So he spake
E'en at such time in accents of command,
For how could Caesar else? Amyclas said,
''Twere dangerous to brave the deep to-night.
The sun descended not in ruddy clouds
Or peaceful rays to rest; part of his beams
Presaged a southern gale, the rest proclaimed
A northern tempest; and his middle orb,
Shorn of its strength, permitted human eyes
To gaze upon his grandeur; and the moon
Rose not with silver horns upon the night
Nor pure in middle space; her slender points
Not drawn aright, but blushing with the track
Of raging tempests, till her lurid light
Was sadly veiled within the clouds. Again
The forest sounds; the surf upon the shore;
The dolphin's mood, uncertain where to play;
The sea-mew on the land; the heron used
To wade among the shallows, borne aloft
And soaring on his wings -- all these alarm;
The raven, too, who plunged his head in spray,
As if to anticipate the coming rain,
And trod the margin with unsteady gait.
But if the cause demands, behold me thine.
Either we reach the bidden shore, or else
Storm and the deep forbid -- we can no more.'

Thus said he loosed the boat and raised the sail.
No sooner done than stars were seen to fall
In flaming furrows from the sky: nay, more;
The pole star trembled in its place on high:
Black horror marked the surging of the sea;
The main was boiling in long tracts of foam,
Uncertain of the wind, yet seized with storm.
Then spake the captain of the trembling bark:
'See what remorseless ocean has in store!
Whether from east or west the storm may come
Is still uncertain, for as yet confused
The billows tumble. Judged by clouds and sky
A western tempest: by the murmuring deep
A wild south-eastern gale shall sweep the sea.
Nor bark nor man shall reach Hesperia's shore
In this wild rage of waters. To return
Back on our course forbidden by the gods,
Is our one refuge, and with labouring boat
To reach the shore ere yet the nearest land
Way be too distant.'

But great Caesar's trust
Was in himself, to make all dangers yield.
And thus he answered: 'Scorn the threatening sea,
Spread out thy canvas to the raging wind;
If for thy pilot thou refusest heaven,
Me in its stead receive. Alone in thee
One cause of terror just -- thou dost not know
Thy comrade, ne'er deserted by the gods,
Whom fortune blesses e'en without a prayer.
Break through the middle storm and trust in me.
The burden of this fight fails not on us
But on the sky and ocean; and our bark
Shall swim the billows safe in him it bears.
Nor shall the wind rage long: the boat itself
Shall calm the waters. Flee the nearest shore,
Steer for the ocean with unswerving hand:
Then in the deep, when to our ship and us
No other port is given, believe thou hast
Calabria's harbours. And dost thou not know
The purpose of such havoc? Fortune seeks
In all this tumult of the sea and sky
A boon for Caesar.' Then a hurricane
Swooped on the boat and tore away the sheet:
The fluttering sail fell on the fragile mast:
And groaned the joints. From all the universe
Commingled perils rush. In Atlas' seas
First Corus lifts his head, and stirs the depths
To fury, and had forced upon the rocks
Whole seas and oceans; but the chilly north
Drove back the deep that doubted which was lord.
But Scythian Aquilo prevailed, whose blast
Tossed up the main and showed as shallow pools
Each deep abyss; and yet was not the sea
Heaped on the crags, for Corus' billows met
The waves of Boreas: such seas had clashed
Even were the winds withdrawn; Eurus enraged
Burst from the cave, and Notus black with rain,
And all the winds from every part of heaven
Strove for their own; and thus the ocean stayed
Within his boundaries. No petty seas
Rapt in the storm are whirled. The Tuscan deep
Invades th' Aegean; in Ionian gulfs
Sounds wandering Hadria. How long the crags
Which that day fell, the Ocean's blows had braved!
What lofty peaks did vanquished earth resign!
And yet on yonder coast such mighty waves
Took not their rise; from distant regions came
Those monster billows, driven on their course
By that great current which surrounds the world.
Thus did the King of Heaven, when length of years
Wore out the forces of his thunder, call
His brother's trident to his help, what time
The earth and sea one second kingdom formed
And ocean knew no limit but the sky.
Now, too, the sea had risen to the stars
In mighty mass, had not Olympus' chief
Pressed down its waves with clouds: came not from heaven
That night, as others; but the murky air
Was dim with pallor of the realms below;
The sky lay on the deep; within the clouds
The waves received the rain: the lightning flash
Clove through the parted air a path obscured
By mist and darkness: and the heavenly vaults
Re-echoed to the tumult, and the frame
That holds the sky was shaken. Nature feared
Chaos returned, as though the elements
Had burst their bonds, and night had come to mix
Th' infernal shades with heaven.

In such turmoil
Not to have perished was their only hope.
Far as from Leucas point the placid main
Spreads to the horizon, from the billow's crest
They viewed the dashing of th' infuriate sea;
Thence sinking to the middle trough, their mast
Scarce topped the watery height on either hand,
Their sails in clouds, their keel upon the ground.
For all the sea was piled into the waves,
And drawn from depths between laid bare the sand.
The master of the boat forgot his art,
For fear o'ercame; he knew not where to yield
Or where to meet the wave: but safety came
From ocean's self at war: one billow forced
The vessel under, but a huger wave
Repelled it upwards, and she rode the storm
Through every blast triumphant. Not the shore
Of humble Sason, nor Thessalia's coast
Indented, not Ambracia's scanty ports
Dismay the sailors, but the giddy tops
Of high Ceraunia's cliffs.

But Caesar now,
Thinking the peril worthy of his fates:
'Are such the labours of the gods?' exclaimed,
'Bent on my downfall have they sought me thus,
Here in this puny skiff in such a sea?
If to the deep the glory of my fall
Is due, and not to war, intrepid still
Whatever death they send shall strike me down.
Let fate cut short the deeds that I would do
And hasten on the end: the past is mine.
The northern nations fell beneath my sword;
My dreaded name compels the foe to flee.
Pompeius yields me place; the people's voice
Gave at my order what the wars denied.
And all the titles which denote the powers
Known to the Roman state my name shall bear.
Let none know this but thou who hear'st my prayers,
Fortune, that Caesar summoned to the shades,
Dictator, Consul, full of honours, died
Ere his last prize was won. I ask no pomp
Of pyre or funeral; let my body lie
Mangled beneath the waves: I leave a name
That men shall dread in ages yet to come
And all the earth shall honour.' Thus he spake,
When lo! a tenth gigantic billow raised
The feeble keel, and where between the rocks
A cleft gave safety, placed it on the shore.
Thus in a moment fortune, kingdoms, lands,
Once more were Caesar's.

But on his return
When daylight came, he entered not the camp
Silent as when he parted; for his friends
Soon pressed around him, and with weeping eyes
In accents welcome to his ears began:
'Whither in reckless daring hast thou gone,
Unpitying Caesar? Were these humble lives
Left here unguarded while thy limbs were given,
Unsought for, to be scattered by the storm?
When on thy breath so many nations hang
For life and safety, and so great a world
Calls thee its master, to have courted death
Proves want of heart. Was none of all thy friends
Deserving held to join his fate with thine?
When thou wast tossed upon the raging deep
We lay in slumber! Shame upon such sleep!
And why thyself didst seek Italia's shores?
'Twere cruel (such thy thought) to speak the word
That bade another dare the furious sea.
All men must bear what chance or fate may bring,
The sudden peril and the stroke of death;
But shall the ruler of the world attempt
The raging ocean? With incessant prayers
Why weary heaven? is it indeed enough
To crown the war, that Fortune and the deep
Have cast thee on our shores? And would'st thou use
The grace of favouring deities, to gain
Not lordship, not the empire of the world,
But lucky shipwreck!' Night dispersed, and soon
The sun beamed on them, and the wearied deep,
The winds permitting, lulled its waves to rest.
And when Antonius saw a breeze arise
Fresh from a cloudless heaven, to break the sea,
He loosed his ships which, by the pilots' hands
And by the wind in equal order held,
Swept as a marching host across the main.
But night unfriendly from the seamen snatched
All governance of sail, parting the ships
In divers paths asunder. Like as cranes
Deserting frozen Strymon for the streams
Of Nile, when winter falls, in casual lines
Of wedge-like figures first ascend the sky;
But when in loftier heaven the southern breeze
Strikes on their pinions tense, in loose array
Dispersed at large, in flight irregular,
They wing their journey onwards. Stronger winds
With day returning blew the navy on,
Past Lissus' shelter which they vainly sought,
Till bare to northern blasts, Nymphaeum's port,
But safe in southern, gave the fleet repose,
For favouring winds came on.

When Magnus knew
That Caesar's troops were gathered in their strength
And that the war for quick decision called
Before his camp, Cornelia he resolved
To send to Lesbos' shore, from rage of fight
Safe and apart: so lifting from his soul
The weight that burdened it. Thus, lawful Love.
Thus art thou tyrant o'er the mightiest mind!
His spouse was the one cause why Magnus stayed
Nor met his fortunes, though he staked the world
And all the destinies of Rome. The word
He speaks not though resolved; so sweet it seemed,
When on the future pondering, to gain
A pause from Fate! But at the close of night,
When drowsy sleep had fled, Cornelia sought
To soothe the anxious bosom of her lord
And win his kisses. Then amazed she saw
His cheek was tearful, and with boding soul
She shrank instinctive from the hidden wound,
Nor dared to rouse him weeping. But he spake:
'Dearer to me than life itself, when life
Is happy (not at moments such as these);
The day of sorrow comes, too long delayed,
Nor long enough! With Caesar at our gates
With all his forces, a secure retreat
Shall Lesbos give thee. Try me not with prayers.
This fatal boon I have denied myself.
Thou wilt not long be absent from thy lord.
Disasters hasten, and things highest fall
With speediest ruin. 'Tis enough for thee
To hear of Magnus' peril; and thy love
Deceives thee with the thought that thou canst gaze
Unmoved on civil strife. It shames my soul
On the eve of war to slumber at thy side,
And rise from thy dear breast when trumpets call
A woeful world to misery and arms.
I fear in civil war to feel no loss
To Magnus. Meantime safer than a king
Lie hid, nor let the fortune of thy lord
Whelm thee with all its weight. If unkind heaven
Our armies rout, still let my choicest part
Survive in thee; if fated is my flight,
Still leave me that whereto I fain would flee.'

Hardly at first her senses grasped the words
In their full misery; then her mind amazed
Could scarce find utterance for the grief that pressed.
'Nought, Magnus, now is left wherewith to upbraid
The gods and fates of marriage; 'tis not death
That parts our love, nor yet the funeral pyre,
Nor that dread torch which marks the end of all.
I share the ignoble lot of vulgar lives:
My spouse rejects me. Yes, the foe is come!
Break we our bonds and Julia's sire appease! --
Is this thy consort, Magnus, this thy faith
In her fond loving heart? Can danger fright
Her and not thee? Long since our mutual fates
Hang by one chain; and dost thou bid me now
The thunder-bolts of ruin to withstand
Without thee? Is it well that I should die
Even while you pray for fortune? And suppose
I flee from evil and with death self-sought
Follow thy footsteps to the realms below --
Am I to live till to that distant isle
Some tardy rumour of thy fall may come?
Add that thou fain by use would'st give me strength
To bear such sorrow and my doom. Forgive
Thy wife confessing that she fears the power.
And if my prayers shall bring the victory,
The joyful tale shall come to me the last
In that lone isle of rocks. When all are glad,
My heart shall throb with anguish, and the sail
Which brings the message I shall see with fear,
Not safe e'en then: for Caesar in his flight
Might seize me there, abandoned and alone
To be his hostage. If thou place me there,
The spouse of Magnus, shall not all the world
Well know the secret Mitylene holds?
This my last prayer: if all is lost but flight,
And thou shalt seek the ocean, to my shores
Turn not thy keel, ill-fated one: for there,
There will they seek thee.' Thus she spoke distraught,
Leaped from the couch and rushed upon her fate;
No stop nor stay: she clung not to his neck
Nor threw her arms about him; both forego
The last caress, the last fond pledge of love,
And grief rushed in unchecked upon their souls;
Still gazing as they part no final words
Could either utter, and the sweet Farewell
Remained unspoken. This the saddest day
Of all their lives: for other woes that came
More gently struck on hearts inured to grief.
Borne to the shore with failing limbs she fell
And grasped the sands, embracing, till at last
Her maidens placed her senseless in the ship.

Not in such grief she left her country's shores
When Caesar's host drew near; for now she leaves,
Though faithful to her lord, his side in flight
And flees her spouse. All that next night she waked;
Then first what means a widowed couch she knew,
Its cold, its solitude. When slumber found
Her eyelids, and forgetfulness her soul,
Seeking with outstretched arms the form beloved,
She grasps but air. Though tossed by restless love,
She leaves a place beside her as for him
Returning. Yet she feared Pompeius lost
To her for ever. But the gods ordained
Worse than her fears, and in the hour of woe
Gave her to look upon his face again.

poem by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Poetry Lover
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

The Plea Of The Midsummer Fairies

I

'Twas in that mellow season of the year
When the hot sun singes the yellow leaves
Till they be gold,—and with a broader sphere
The Moon looks down on Ceres and her sheaves;
When more abundantly the spider weaves,
And the cold wind breathes from a chillier clime;—
That forth I fared, on one of those still eves,
Touch'd with the dewy sadness of the time,
To think how the bright months had spent their prime,


II

So that, wherever I address'd my way,
I seem'd to track the melancholy feet
Of him that is the Father of Decay,
And spoils at once the sour weed and the sweet;—
Wherefore regretfully I made retreat
To some unwasted regions of my brain,
Charm'd with the light of summer and the heat,
And bade that bounteous season bloom again,
And sprout fresh flowers in mine own domain.


III

It was a shady and sequester'd scene,
Like those famed gardens of Boccaccio,
Planted with his own laurels evergreen,
And roses that for endless summer blow;
And there were fountain springs to overflow
Their marble basins,—and cool green arcades
Of tall o'erarching sycamores, to throw
Athwart the dappled path their dancing shades,—
With timid coneys cropping the green blades.


IV

And there were crystal pools, peopled with fish,
Argent and gold; and some of Tyrian skin,
Some crimson-barr'd;—and ever at a wish
They rose obsequious till the wave grew thin
As glass upon their backs, and then dived in,
Quenching their ardent scales in watery gloom;
Whilst others with fresh hues row'd forth to win
My changeable regard,—for so we doom
Things born of thought to vanish or to bloom.


V

And there were many birds of many dyes,
From tree to tree still faring to and fro,
And stately peacocks with their splendid eyes,
And gorgeous pheasants with their golden glow,
Like Iris just bedabbled in her bow,
Beside some vocalists, without a name,
That oft on fairy errands come and go,
With accents magical;—and all were tame,
And peckled at my hand where'er I came.


VI

And for my sylvan company, in lieu
Of Pampinea with her lively peers,
Sate Queen Titania with her pretty crew,
All in their liveries quaint, with elfin gears,
For she was gracious to my childish years,
And made me free of her enchanted round;
Wherefore this dreamy scene she still endears,
And plants her court upon a verdant mound,
Fenced with umbrageous woods and groves profound.


VII

'Ah me,' she cries, 'was ever moonlight seen
So clear and tender for our midnight trips?
Go some one forth, and with a trump convene
My lieges all!'—Away the goblin skips
A pace or two apart, and deftly strips
The ruddy skin from a sweet rose's cheek,
Then blows the shuddering leaf between his lips,
Making it utter forth a shrill small shriek,
Like a fray'd bird in the gray owlet's beak.


VIII

And lo! upon my fix'd delighted ken
Appear'd the loyal Fays.—Some by degrees
Crept from the primrose buds that open'd then,
Ana some from bell-shaped blossoms like the bees,
Some from the dewy meads, and rushy leas,
Flew up like chafers when the rustics pass;
Some from the rivers, others from tall trees
Dropp'd, like shed blossoms, silent to the grass,
Spirits and elfins small, of every class.


IX

Peri and Pixy, and quaint Puck the Antic,
Brought Robin Goodfellow, that merry swain;
And stealthy Mab, queen of old realms romantic,
Came too, from distance, in her tiny wain,
Fresh dripping from a cloudsome bloomy rain,
Then circling the bright Moon, had wash'd her car,
And still bedew'd it with a various stain:
Lastly came Ariel, shooting from a star,
Who bears all fairy embassies afar.


X

But Oberon, that night elsewhere exiled,
Was absent, whether some distemper'd spleen
Kept him and his fair mate unreconciled,
Or warfare with the Gnome (whose race had been
Sometime obnoxious), kept him from his queen,
And made her now peruse the starry skies
Prophetical, with such an absent mien;
Howbeit, the tears stole often to her eyes,
And oft the Moon was incensed with her sighs—


XI

Which made the elves sport drearily, and soon
Their hushing dances languish'd to a stand,
Like midnight leaves, when, as the Zephyrs swoon,
All on their drooping stems they sink unfann'd,—
So into silence droop'd the fairy band,
To see their empress dear so pale and still,
Crowding her softly round on either hand,
As pale as frosty snowdrops, and as chill,
To whom the sceptred dame reveals her ill.


XII

'Alas,' quoth she, 'ye know our fairy lives
Are leased upon the fickle faith of men;
Not measured out against Fate's mortal knives,
Like human gosamers,—we perish when
We fade and are forgot in worldly kens—
Though poesy has thus prolong'd our date,
Thanks be to the sweet Bard's auspicious pen
That rescued us so long!—howbeit of late
I feel some dark misgivings of our fate.'


XIII

'And this dull day my melancholy sleep
Hath been so thronged with images of woe,
That even now I cannot choose but weep
To think this was some sad prophetic show
Of future horror to befall us so,
Of mortal wreck and uttermost distress,
Yea, our poor empire's fall and overthrow,
For this was my long vision's dreadful stress,
And when I waked my trouble was not less.'


XIV

'Whenever to the clouds I tried to seek,
Such leaden weight dragg'd these Icarian wings,
My faithless wand was wavering and weak,
And slimy toads had trespass'd in our rings
The birds refused to sing for meall things
Disown'd their old allegiance to our spells;
The rude bees prick'd me with their rebel stings;
And, when I pass'd, the valley-lily's bells
Rang out, methought, most melancholy knells.'


XV

'And ever on the faint and flagging air
A doleful spirit with a dreary note
Cried in my fearful ear, 'Prepare! prepare!'
Which soon I knew came from a raven's throat,
Perch'd on a cypress-bough not far remote,—
A cursed bird, too crafty to be shot,
That alway cometh with his soot-black coat
To make hearts dreary:—for he is a blot
Upon the book of life, as well ye wot!—'


XVI

'Wherefore some while I bribed him to be mute,
With bitter acorns stuffing his foul maw,
Which barely I appeased, when some fresh bruit
Startled me all aheap!—and soon I saw
The horridest shape that ever raised my awe,—
A monstrous giant, very huge and tall,
Such as in elder times, devoid of law,
With wicked might grieved the primeval ball,
And this was sure the deadliest of them all!'

XVII

'Gaunt was he as a wolf of Languedoc,
With bloody jaws, and frost upon his crown
So from his barren poll one hoary lock
Over his wrinkled front fell far adown,
Well nigh to where his frosty brows did frown
Like jagged icicles at cottage eaves;
And for his coronal he wore some brown
And bristled ears gather'd from Ceres' sheaves,
Entwined with certain sere and russet leaves.'


XVIII

'And lo! upon a mast rear'd far aloft,
He bore a very bright and crescent blade,
The which he waved so dreadfully, and oft,
In meditative spite, that, sore dismay'd,
I crept into an acorn-cup for shade;
Meanwhile the horrid effigy went by:
I trow his look was dreadful, for it made
The trembling birds betake them to the sky,
For every leaf was lifted by his sigh.'


XIX

'And ever, as he sigh'd, his foggy breath
Blurr'd out the landscape like a flight of smoke:
Thence knew I this was either dreary Death
Or Time, who leads all creatures to his stroke.
Ah wretched me!'—Here, even as she spoke,
The melancholy Shape came gliding in,
And lean'd his back against an antique oak,
Folding his wings, that were so fine and thin,
They scarce were seen against the Dryad's skin.


XX

Then what a fear seized all the little rout!
Look how a flock of panick'd sheep will stare—
And huddle closeand start—and wheel about,
Watching the roaming mongrel here and there,—
So did that sudden Apparition scare
All close aheap those small affrighted things;
Nor sought they now the safety of the air,
As if some leaden spell withheld their wings;
But who can fly that ancientest of Kings?


XXI

Whom now the Queen, with a forestalling tear
And previous sigh, beginneth to entreat,
Bidding him spare, for love, her lieges dear:
'Alas!' quoth she, 'is there no nodding wheat
Ripe for thy crooked weapon, and more meet,—
Or wither'd leaves to ravish from the tree,—
Or crumbling battlements for thy defeat?
Think but what vaunting monuments there be
Builded in spite and mockery of thee.'


XXII

'O fret away the fabric walls of Fame,
And grind down marble Cæsars with the dust:
Make tombs inscriptionless—raze each high name,
And waste old armors of renown with rust:
Do all of this, and thy revenge is just:
Make such decays the trophies of thy prime,
And check Ambition's overweening lust,
That dares exterminating war with Time,—
But we are guiltless of that lofty crime.'


XXIII

'Frail feeble spirits!—the children of a dream!
Leased on the sufferance of fickle men,
Like motes dependent on the sunny beam,
Living but in the sun's indulgent ken,
And when that light withdraws, withdrawing then;—
So do we flutter in the glance of youth
And fervid fancy,—and so perish when
The eye of faith grows aged;—in sad truth,
Feeling thy sway, O Time! though not thy tooth!'


XXIV

'Where be those old divinities forlorn,
That dwelt in trees, or haunted in a stream?
Alas! their memories are dimm'd and torn,
Like the remainder tatters of a dream:
So will it fare with our poor thrones, I deem;—
For us the same dark trench Oblivion delves,
That holds the wastes of every human scheme.
O spare us then,—and these our pretty elves,—
We soon, alas! shall perish of ourselves!'

XXV

Now as she ended, with a sigh, to name
Those old Olympians, scatter'd by the whirl
Of Fortune's giddy wheel and brought to shame,
Methought a scornful and malignant curl
Show'd on the lips of that malicious churl,
To think what noble havocs he had made;
So that I fear'd he all at once would hurl
The harmless fairies into endless shade,—
Howbeit he stopp'd awhile to whet his blade.


XXVI

Pity it was to hear the elfins' wail
Rise up in concert from their mingled dread,
Pity it was to see them, all so pale,
Gaze on the grass as for a dying bed;—
But Puck was seated on a spider's thread,
That hung between two branches of a briar,
And 'gan to swing and gambol, heels o'er head,
Like any Southwark tumbler on a wire,
For him no present grief could long inspire.


XXVII

Meanwhile the Queen with many piteous drops,
Falling like tiny sparks full fast and free,
Bedews a pathway from her throne;—and stops
Before the foot of her arch enemy,
And with her little arms enfolds his knee,
That shows more grisly from that fair embrace;
But she will ne'er depart. 'Alas!' quoth she,
'My painful fingers I will here enlace
Till I have gain'd your pity for our race.'

XXVIII

'What have we ever done to earn this grudge,
And hate—(if not too humble for thy hating?)—
Look o'er our labors and our lives, and judge
If there be any ills of our creating;
For we are very kindly creatures, dating
With nature's charities still sweet and bland:—
O think this murder worthy of debating!'
Herewith she makes a signal with her hand,
To beckon some one from the Fairy band.


XXIX

Anon I saw one of those elfin things,
Clad all in white like any chorister,
Come fluttering forth on his melodious wings,
That made soft music at each little stir,
But something louder than a bee's demur
Before he lights upon a bunch of broom,
And thus 'gan he with Saturn to confer,—
And O his voice was sweet, touch'd with the gloom
Of that sad theme that argued of his doom!


XXX

Quoth he, 'We make all melodies our care,
That no false discords may offend the Sun,
Music's great master—tuning everywhere
All pastoral sounds and melodies, each one
Duly to place and season, so that none
May harshly interfere. We rouse at morn
The shrill sweet lark; and when the day is done,
Hush silent pauses for the bird forlorn,
That singeth with her breast against a thorn.'


XXXI

'We gather in loud choirs the twittering race,
That make a chorus with their single note;
And tend on new-fledged birds in every place,
That duly they may get their tunes by rote;
And oft, like echoes, answering remote,
We hide in thickets from the feather'd throng,
And strain in rivalship each throbbing throat,
Singing in shrill responses all day long,
Whilst the glad truant listens to our song.'


XXXII

'Wherefore, great King of Years, as thou dost love
The raining music from a morning cloud,
When vanish'd larks are carolling above,
To wake Apollo with their pipings loud;—
If ever thou hast heard in leafy shroud
The sweet and plaintive Sappho of the dell,
Show thy sweet mercy on this little crowd,
And we will muffle up the sheepfold bell
Whene'er thou listenest to Philomel.'


XXXIII

Then Saturn thus;—'Sweet is the merry lark,
That carols in man's ear so clear and strong;
And youth must love to listen in the dark
That tuneful elegy of Tereus' wrong;
But I have heard that ancient strain too long,
For sweet is sweet but when a little strange,
And I grow weary for some newer song;
For wherefore had I wings, unless to range
Through all things mutable, from change to change?'


XXXIV

'But would'st thou hear the melodies of Time,
Listen when sleep and drowsy darkness roll
Over hush'd cities, and the midnight chime
Sounds from their hundred clocks, and deep bells toll
Like a last knell over the dead world's soul,
Saying, 'Time shall be final of all things,
Whose late, last voice must elegize the whole,'—
O then I clap aloft my brave broad wings,
And make the wide air tremble while it rings!'


XXXV

Then next a fair Eve-Fay made meek address,
Saying, 'We be the handmaids of the Spring;
In sign whereof, May, the quaint broideress,
Hath wrought her samplers on our gauzy wing.
We tend upon buds birth and blossoming,
And count the leafy tributes that they owe—
As, so much to the earthso much to fling
In showers to the brook—so much to go
In whirlwinds to the clouds that made them grow.'


XXXVI

'The pastoral cowslips are our little pets,
And daisy stars, whose firmament is green;
Pansies, and those veil'd nuns, meek violets,
Sighing to that warm world from which they screen;
And golden daffodils, pluck'd for May's Queen;
And lonely harebells, quaking on the heath;
And Hyacinth, long since a fair youth seen,
Whose tuneful voice, turn'd fragrance in his breath,
Kiss'd by sad Zephyr, guilty of his death.'


XXXVII

'The widow'd primrose weeping to the moon
And saffron crocus in whose chalice bright
A cool libation hoarded for the noon
Is keptand she that purifies the light,
The virgin lily, faithful to her white,
Whereon Eve wept in Eden for her shame;
And the most dainty rose, Aurora's spright,
Our every godchild, by whatever name
Spares us our lives, for we did nurse the same!'


XXXVIII

Then that old Mower stamp'd his heel, and struck
His hurtful scythe against the harmless ground,
Saying, 'Ye foolish imps, when am I stuck
With gaudy buds, or like a wooer crown'd
With flow'ry chaplets, save when they are found
Withered?—Whenever have I pluck'd a rose,
Except to scatter its vain leaves around?
For so all gloss of beauty I oppose,
And bring decay on every flow'r that blows.'


XXXIX

'Or when am I so wroth as when I view
The wanton pride of Summer;—how she decks
The birthday world with blossoms ever-new,
As if Time had not lived, and heap'd great wrecks
Of years on years?—O then I bravely vex
And catch the gay Months in their gaudy plight,
And slay them with the wreaths about their necks,
Like foolish heifers in the holy rite,
And raise great trophies to my ancient might.'


XL

Then saith another, 'We are kindly things,
And like her offspring nestle with the dove,—
Witness these hearts embroidered on our wings,
To show our constant patronage of love:—
We sit at even, in sweet bow'rs above
Lovers, and shake rich odors on the air,
To mingle with their sighs; and still remove
The startling owl, and bid the bat forbear
Their privacy, and haunt some other where.'


XLI

'And we are near the mother when she sits
Beside her infant in its wicker bed;
And we are in the fairy scene that flits
Across its tender brain: sweet dreams we shed,
And whilst the tender little soul is fled,
Away, to sport with our young elves, the while
We touch the dimpled cheek with roses red,
And tickle the soft lips until they smile,
So that their careful parents they beguile.'


XLII

'O then, if ever thou hast breathed a vow
At Love's dear portal, or at pale moon-rise
Crush'd the dear curl on a regardful brow,
That did not frown thee from thy honey prize—
If ever thy sweet son sat on thy thighs,
And wooed thee from thy careful thoughts within
To watch the harmless beauty of his eyes,
Or glad thy fingers on his smooth soft skin,
For Love's dear sake, let us thy pity win!'


XLIII

Then Saturn fiercely thus:—'What joy have I
In tender babes, that have devour'd mine own,
Whenever to the light I heard them cry,
Till foolish Rhea cheated me with stone?
Whereon, till now, is my great hunger shown,
In monstrous dint of my enormous tooth;
Andbut the peopled world is too full grown
For hunger's edge—I would consume all youth
At one great meal, without delay or ruth!'


XLIV

'For I am well nigh crazed and wild to hear
How boastful fathers taunt me with their breed,
Saying, 'We shall not die nor disappear,
But, in these other selves, ourselves succeed
Ev'n as ripe flowers pass into their seed
Only to be renew'd from prime to prime,'
All of which boastings I am forced to read,
Besides a thousand challenges to Time,
Which bragging lovers have compiled in rhyme.'


XLV

'Wherefore, when they are sweetly met o' nights,
There will I steal and with my hurried hand
Startle them suddenly from their delights
Before the next encounter hath been plann'd,
Ravishing hours in little minutes spann'd;
But when they say farewell, and grieve apart,
Then like a leaden statue I will stand,
Meanwhile their many tears encrust my dart,
And with a ragged edge cut heart from heart.'


XLVI

Then next a merry Woodsman, clad in green,
Step vanward from his mates, that idly stood
Each at his proper ease, as they had been
Nursed in the liberty of old Shérwood,
And wore the livery of Robin Hood,
Who wont in forest shades to dine and sup,—
So came this chief right frankly, and made good
His haunch against his axe, and thus spoke up,
Doffing his cap, which was an acorn's cup:—


XLVII

'We be small foresters and gay, who tend
On trees, and all their furniture of green,
Training the young boughs airily to bend,
And show blue snatches of the sky between;—
Or knit more close intricacies, to screen
Birds' crafty dwellings, as may hide them best,
But most the timid blackbird'sshe that, seen,
Will bear black poisonous berries to her nest,
Lest man should cage the darlings of her breast.'


XLVIII

'We bend each tree in proper attitude,
And founting willows train in silvery falls;
We frame all shady roofs and arches rude,
And verdant aisles leading to Dryads' halls,
Or deep recesses where the Echo calls;—
We shape all plumy trees against the sky,
And carve tall elms' Corinthian capitals,—
When sometimes, as our tiny hatchets ply,
Men say, the tapping woodpecker is nigh.'


XLIX

'Sometimes we scoop the squirrel's hollow cell,
And sometimes carve quaint letters on trees' rind,
That haply some lone musing wight may spell
Dainty Aminta,—Gentle Rosalind,—
Or chastest Laura,—sweetly call'd to mind
In sylvan solitudes, ere he lies down;—
And sometimes we enrich gray stems with twined
And vagrant ivy,—or rich moss, whose brown
Burns into gold as the warm sun goes down.'


L

'And, lastly, for mirth's sake and Christmas cheer,
We bear the seedling berries, for increase,
To graft the Druid oaks, from year to year,
Careful that mistletoe may never cease;—
Wherefore, if thou dost prize the shady peace
Of sombre forests, or to see light break
Through sylvan cloisters, and in spring release
Thy spirit amongst leaves from careful ake,
Spare us our lives for the Green Dryad's sake.'


LI

Then Saturn, with a frown:—'Go forth, and fell
Oak for your coffins, and thenceforth lay by
Your axes for the rust, and bid farewell
To all sweet birds, and the blue peeps of sky
Through tangled branches, for ye shall not spy
The next green generation of the tree;
But hence with the dead leaves, whene'e they fly,—
Which in the bleak air I would rather see,
Than flights of the most tuneful birds that be.'


LII

'For I dislike all prime, and verdant pets,
Ivy except, that on the aged wall
Prays with its worm-like roots, and daily frets
The crumbled tower it seems to league withal,
King-like, worn down by its own coronal:—
Neither in forest haunts love I to won,
Before the golden plumage 'gins to fall,
And leaves the brown bleak limbs with few leaves on,
Or bare—like Nature in her skeleton.'


LIII

'For then sit I amongst the crooked boughs,
Wooing dull Memory with kindred sighs;
And there in rustling nuptials we espouse,
Smit by the sadness in each other's eyes;—
But Hope must have green bowers and blue skies,
And must be courted with the gauds of Spring;
Whilst Youth leans god-like on her lap, and cries,
'What shall we always do, but love and sing?'—
And Time is reckon'd a discarded thing.'


LIV

Here in my dream it made me fret to see
How Puck, the antic, all this dreary while
Had blithely jested with calamity,
With mis-timed mirth mocking the doleful style
Of his sad comrades, till it raised my bile
To see him so reflect their grief aside,
Turning their solemn looks to have a smile
Like a straight stick shown crooked in the tide;—
But soon a novel advocate I spied.


LV

Quoth he—'We teach all natures to fulfil
Their fore-appointed crafts, and instincts meet,—
The bee's sweet alchemy,—the spider's skill,—
The pismire's care to garner up his wheat,—
And rustic masonry to swallows fleet,—
The lapwing's cunning to preserve her nest,—
But most, that lesser pelican, the sweet
And shrilly ruddock, with its bleeding breast,
Its tender pity of poor babes distrest.'


LVI

'Sometimes we cast our shapes, and in sleek skins
Delve with the timid mole, that aptly delves
From our example; so the spider spins,
And eke the silk-worm, pattern'd by ourselves:
Sometimes we travail on the summer shelves
Of early bees, and busy toils commence,
Watch'd of wise men, that know not we are elves,
But gaze and marvel at our stretch of sense,
And praise our human-like intelligence.'


LVII

'Wherefore, by thy delight in that old tale,
And plaintive dirges the late robins sing,
What time the leaves are scatter'd by the gale,
Mindful of that old forest burying;—
As thou dost love to watch each tiny thing,
For whom our craft most curiously contrives,
If thou hast caught a bee upon the wing,
To take his honey-bag,—spare us our lives,
And we will pay the ransom in full hives.'


LVIII

'Now by my glass,' quoth Time, 'ye do offend
In teaching the brown bees that careful lore,
And frugal ants, whose millions would have end,
But they lay up for need a timely store,
And travail with the seasons evermore;
Whereas Great Mammoth long hath pass'd away,
And none but I can tell what hide he wore;
Whilst purblind men, the creatures of a day,
In riddling wonder his great bones survey.'


LIX

Then came an elf, right beauteous to behold,
Whose coat was like a brooklet that the sun
Hath all embroider'd with its crooked gold,
It was so quaintly wrought and overrun
With spangled traceries,—most meet for one
That was a warden of the pearly streams;—
And as he stept out of the shadows dun,
His jewels sparkled in the pale moon's gleams,
And shot into the air their pointed beams.

LX

Quoth he,—'We bear the gold and silver keys
Of bubbling springs and fountains, that below
Course thro' the veiny earth,—which when they freeze
Into hard crysolites, we bid to flow,
Creeping like subtle snakes, when, as they go,
We guide their windings to melodious falls,
At whose soft murmurings, so sweet and low,
Poets have tuned their smoothest madrigals,
To sing to ladies in their banquet-halls.'


LXI

'And when the hot sun with his steadfast heat
Parches the river god,—whose dusty urn
Drips miserly, till soon his crystal feet
Against his pebbly floor wax faint and burn
And languid fish, unpoised, grow sick and yearn,—
Then scoop we hollows in some sandy nook,
And little channels dig, wherein we turn
The thread-worn rivulet, that all forsook
The Naiad-lily, pining for her brook.'


LXII

'Wherefore, by thy delight in cool green meads,
With living sapphires daintily inlaid,—
In all soft songs of waters and their reeds,—
And all reflections in a streamlet made,
Haply of thy own love, that, disarray'd,
Kills the fair lily with a livelier white,—
By silver trouts upspringing from green shade,
And winking stars reduplicate at night,
Spare us, poor ministers to such delight.'


LXIII

Howbeit his pleading and his gentle looks
Moved not the spiteful Shade:—Quoth he, 'Your taste
Shoots wide of mine, for I despise the brooks
And slavish rivulets that run to waste
In noontide sweats, or, like poor vassals, haste
To swell the vast dominion of the sea,
In whose great presence I am held disgraced,
And neighbor'd with a king that rivals me
In ancient might and hoary majesty.'


LXIV

'Whereas I ruled in Chaos, and still keep
The awful secrets of that ancient dearth,
Before the briny fountains of the deep
Brimm'd up the hollow cavities of earth;—
I saw each trickling Sea-God at his birth,
Each pearly Naiad with her oozy locks,
And infant Titans of enormous girth,
Whose huge young feet yet stumbled on the rocks,
Stunning the early world with frequent shocks.'


LXV

'Where now is Titan, with his cumbrous brood,
That scared the world?—By this sharp scythe they fell,
And half the sky was curdled with their blood:
So have all primal giants sigh'd farewell.
No wardens now by sedgy fountains dwell,
Nor pearly Naiads. All their days are done
That strove with Time, untimely, to excel;
Wherefore I razed their progenies, and none
But my great shadow intercepts the sun!'


LXVI

Then saith the timid Fay—'Oh, mighty Time!
Well hast thou wrought the cruel Titans' fall,
For they were stain'd with many a bloody crime:
Great giants work great wrongs,—but we are small,
For love goes lowly;—but Oppression's tall,
And with surpassing strides goes foremost still
Where love indeed can hardly reach at all;
Like a poor dwarf o'erburthen'd with good will,
That labors to efface the tracks of ill.—'


LXVII.

'Man even strives with Man, but we eschew
The guilty feud, and all fierce strifes abhor;
Nay, we are gentle as the sweet heaven's dew,
Beside the red and horrid drops of war,
Weeping the cruel hates men battle for,
Which worldly bosoms nourish in our spite:
For in the gentle breast we ne'er withdraw,
But only when all love hath taken flight,
And youth's warm gracious heart is hardened quite.'


LXVIII

'So are our gentle natures intertwined
With sweet humanities, and closely knit
In kindly sympathy with human kind.
Witness how we befriend, with elfin wit,
All hopeless maids and lovers,—nor omit
Magical succors unto hearts forlorn:—
We charm man's life, and do not perish it;—
So judge us by the helps we showed this morn,
To one who held his wretched days in scorn.'


LXIX

''Twas nigh sweet Amwell;—for the Queen had task'd
Our skill to-day amidst the silver Lea,
Whereon the noontide sun had not yet bask'd,
Wherefore some patient man we thought to see,
Planted in moss-grown rushes to the knee,
Beside the cloudy margin cold and dim;—
Howbeit no patient fisherman was he
That cast his sudden shadow from the brim,
Making us leave our toils to gaze on him.'


LXX

'His face was ashy pale, and leaden care
Had sunk the levell'd arches of his brow,
Once bridges for his joyous thoughts to fare
Over those melancholy springs and slow,
That from his piteous eyes began to flow,
And fell anon into the chilly stream;
Which, as his mimick'd image show'd below,
Wrinkled his face with many a needless seam,
Making grief sadder in its own esteem.'


LXXI

'And lo! upon the air we saw him stretch
His passionate arms; and, in a wayward strain,
He 'gan to elegize that fellow wretch
That with mute gestures answer'd him again,
Saying, 'Poor slave, how long wilt thou remain
Life's sad weak captive in a prison strong,
Hoping with tears to rust away thy chain,
In bitter servitude to worldly wrong?—
Thou wear'st that mortal livery too long!''


LXXII

'This, with more spleenful speeches and some tears,
When he had spent upon the imaged wave,
Speedily I convened my elfin peers
Under the lily-cups, that we might save
This woeful mortal from a wilful grave
By shrewd diversions of his mind's regret,
Seeing he was mere Melancholy's slave,
That sank wherever a dark cloud he met,
And straight was tangled in her secret net.'


LXXIII

'Therefore, as still he watch'd the water's flow,
Daintily we transform'd, and with bright fins
Came glancing through the gloom; some from below
Rose like dim fancies when a dream begins,
Snatching the light upon their purple skins;
Then under the broad leaves made slow retire:
One like a golden galley bravely wins
Its radiant course,—another glows like fire,—
Making that wayward man our pranks admire.'


LXXIV

'And so he banish'd thought, and quite forgot
All contemplation of that wretched face;
And so we wiled him from that lonely spot
Along the river's brink; till, by heaven's grace,
He met a gentle haunter of the place,
Full of sweet wisdom gather'd from the brooks,
Who there discuss'd his melancholy case
With wholesome texts learned from kind nature's books,
Meanwhile he newly trimm'd his lines and hooks.'


LXXV

Herewith the Fairy ceased. Quoth Ariel now
'Let me remember how I saved a man,
Whose fatal noose was fastened on a bough,
Intended to abridge his sad life's span;
For haply I was by when he began
His stern soliloquy in life dispraise,
And overheard his melancholy plan,
How he had made a vow to end his days,
And therefore follow'd him in all his ways.'


LXXVI

'Through brake and tangled copse, for much he loathed
All populous haunts, and roam'd in forests rude,
To hide himself from man. But I had clothed
My delicate limbs with plumes, and still pursued,
Where only foxes and wild cats intrude,
Till we were come beside an ancient tree
Late blasted by a storm. Here he renew'd
His loud complaints,—choosing that spot to be
The scene of his last horrid tragedy.'


LXXVII

'It was a wild and melancholy glen,
Made gloomy by tall firs and cypress dark,
Whose roots, like any bones of buried men,
Push'd through the rotten sod for fear's remark;
A hundred horrid stems, jagged and stark,
Wrestled with crooked arms in hideous fray,
Besides sleek ashes with their dappled bark,
Like crafty serpents climbing for a prey,
With many blasted oaks moss-grown and gray.'


LXXVIII

'But here upon his final desperate clause
Suddenly I pronounced so sweet a strain,
Like a pang'd nightingale, it made him pause,
Till half the frenzy of his grief was slain,
The sad remainder oozing from his brain
In timely ecstasies of healing tears,
Which through his ardent eyes began to drain;—
Meanwhile the deadly Fates unclosed their shears:—
So pity me and all my fated peers!'


LXXIX

Thus Ariel ended, and was some time hush'd:
When with the hoary shape a fresh tongue pleads,
And red as rose the gentle Fairy blush'd
To read the records of her own good deeds:—
'It chanced,' quoth she, 'in seeking through the meads
For honied cowslips, sweetest in the morn,
Whilst yet the buds were hung with dewy beads.'
And Echo answered to the huntsman's horn,
We found a babe left in the swaths forlorn.


LXXX

'A little, sorrowful, deserted thing,
Begot of love, and yet no love begetting;
Guiltless of shame, and yet for shame to wring;
And too soon banish'd from a mother's petting,
To churlish nurture and the wide world's fretting,
For alien pity and unnatural care;—
Alas! to see how the cold dew kept wetting
His childish coats, and dabbled all his hair,
Like gossamers across his forehead fair.'


LXXXI

'His pretty pouting mouth, witless of speech,
Lay half-way open like a rose-lipp'd shell;
And his young cheek was softer than a peach,
Whereon his tears, for roundness, could not dwell,
But quickly roll'd themselves to pearls, and fell,
Some on the grass, and some against his hand,
Or haply wander'd to the dimpled well,
Which love beside his mouth had sweetly plann'd,
Yet not for tears, but mirth and smilings bland.'


LXXXII

'Pity it was to see those frequent tears
Falling regardless from his friendless eyes;
There was such beauty in those twin blue spheres,
As any mother's heart might leap to prize;
Blue were they, like the zenith of the skies
Softened betwixt two clouds, both clear and mild;—
Just touched with thought, and yet not over wise,
They show'd the gentle spirit of a child,
Not yet by care or any craft defiled.'


LXXXIII

'Pity it was to see the ardent sun
Scorching his helpless limbsit shone so warm;
For kindly shade or shelter he had none,
Nor mother's gentle breast, come fair or storm.
Meanwhile I bade my pitying mates transform
Like grasshoppers, and then, with shrilly cries,
All round the infant noisily we swarm,
Haply some passing rustic to advise—
Whilst providential Heaven our care espies.'


LXXXIV

'And sends full soon a tender-hearted hind,
Who, wond'ring at our loud unusual note,
Strays curiously aside, and so doth find
The orphan child laid in the grass remote,
And laps the foundling in his russet coat,
Who thence was nurtured in his kindly cot:—
But how he prosper'd let proud London quote,
How wise, how rich, and how renown'd he got,
And chief of all her citizens, I wot.'


LXXXV

'Witness his goodly vessels on the Thames,
Whose holds were fraught with costly merchandise,—
Jewels from Ind, and pearls for courtly dames,
And gorgeous silks that Samarcand supplies:
Witness that Royal Bourse he bade arise,
The mart of merchants from the East and West:
Whose slender summit, pointing to the skies,
Still bears, in token of his grateful breast,
The tender grasshopper, his chosen crest—'


LXXXVI

'The tender grasshopper, his chosen crest,
That all the summer, with a tuneful wing,
Makes merry chirpings in its grassy nest,
Inspirited with dew to leap and sing:—
So let us also live, eternal King!
Partakers of the green and pleasant earth:—
Pity it is to slay the meanest thing,
That, like a mote, shines in the smile of mirth:—
Enough there is of joy's decrease and dearth!'


LXXXVII

'Enough of pleasure, and delight, and beauty,
Perish'd and gone, and hasting to decay;—
Enough to sadden even thee, whose duty
Or spite it is to havoc and to slay:
Too many a lovely race razed quite away,
Hath left large gaps in life and human loving;—
Here then begin thy cruel war to stay,
And spare fresh sighs, and tears, and groans, reproving
Thy desolating hand for our removing.'


LXXXVIII

Now here I heard a shrill and sudden cry,
And, looking up, I saw the antic Puck
Grappling with Time, who clutch'd him like a fly,
Victim of his own sport,—the jester's luck!
He, whilst his fellows grieved, poor wight, had stuck
His freakish gauds upon the Ancient's brow,
And now his ear, and now his beard, would pluck;
Whereas the angry churl had snatched him now,
Crying, 'Thou impish mischief, who art thou?'


LXXXIX

'Alas!' quoth Puck, 'a little random elf,
Born in the sport of nature, like a weed,
For simple sweet enjoyment of myself,
But for no other purpose, worth, or need;
And yet withal of a most happy breed;
And there is Robin Goodfellow besides,
My partner dear in many a prankish deed
To make dame Laughter hold her jolly sides,
Like merry mummers twain on holy tides.'


XC

''Tis we that bob the angler's idle cork,
Till e'en the patient man breathes half a curse;
We steal the morsel from the gossip's fork,
And curdling looks with secret straws disperse,
Or stop the sneezing chanter at mid verse:
And when an infant's beauty prospers ill,
We change, some mothers say, the child at nurse:
But any graver purpose to fulfil,
We have not wit enough, and scarce the will.'


XCI

'We never let the canker melancholy
To gather on our faces like a rust,
But glass our features with some change of folly,
Taking life's fabled miseries on trust,
But only sorrowing when sorrow must:
We ruminate no sage's solemn cud,
But own ourselves a pinch of lively dust
To frisk upon a wind,—whereas the flood
Of tears would turn us into heavy mud.'


XCII

'Beshrew those sad interpreters of nature,
Who gloze her lively universal law,
As if she had not form'd our cheerful feature
To be so tickled with the slightest straw!
So let them vex their mumbling mouths, and draw
The corners downward, like a wat'ry moon,
And deal in gusty sighs and rainy flaw—
We will not woo foul weather all too soon,
Or nurse November on the lap of June.'


XCIII

'For ours are winging sprites, like any bird,
That shun all stagnant settlements of grief;
And even in our rest our hearts are stirr'd,
Like insects settled on a dancing leaf:—
This is our small philosophy in brief,
Which thus to teach hath set me all agape:
But dost thou relish it? O hoary chief!
Unclasp thy crooked fingers from my nape,
And I will show thee many a pleasant scrape.'


XCIV

Then Saturn thus:—shaking his crooked blade
O'erhead, which made aloft a lightning flash
In all the fairies' eyes, dismally fray'd!
His ensuing voice came like the thunder crash—
Meanwhile the bolt shatters some pine or ash—
'Thou feeble, wanton, foolish, fickle thing!
Whom nought can frighten, sadden, or abash,—
To hope my solemn countenance to wring
To idiot smiles!—but I will prune thy wing!'


XCV

'Lo! this most awful handle of my scythe
Stood once a May-pole, with a flowery crown,
Which rustics danced around, and maidens blithe,
To wanton pipings;—but I pluck'd it down,
And robed the May Queen in a churchyard gown,
Turning her buds to rosemary and rue;
And all their merry minstrelsy did drown,
And laid each lusty leaper in the dew;—
So thou shalt fare—and every jovial crew!'


XCVI

Here he lets go the struggling imp, to clutch.
His mortal engine with each grisly hand,
Which frights the elfin progeny so much,
They huddle in a heap, and trembling stand
All round Titania, like the queen bee's band,
With sighs and tears and very shrieks of woe!—
Meanwhile, some moving argument I plann'd,
To make the stern Shade merciful,—when lo!
He drops his fatal scythe without a blow!


XCVII

For, just at need, a timely Apparition
Steps in between, to bear the awful brunt;
Making him change his horrible position,
To marvel at this comer, brave and blunt,
That dares Time's irresistible affront,
Whose strokes have scarr'd even the gods of old;—
Whereas this seem'd a mortal, at mere hunt
For coneys, lighted by the moonshine cold,
Or stalker of stray deer, stealthy and bold.


XCVIII

Who, turning to the small assembled fays,
Doffs to the lily queen his courteous cap,
And holds her beauty for a while in gaze,
With bright eyes kindling at this pleasant hap;
And thence upon the fair moon's silver map,
As if in question of this magic chance,
Laid like a dream upon the green earth's lap;
And then upon old Saturn turns askance,
Exclaiming, with a glad and kindly glance:—


XCIX

'Oh, these be Fancy's revelers by night!
Stealthy companions of the downy moth—
Diana's motes, that flit in her pale light,
Shunners of sunbeams in diurnal sloth;—
These be the feasters on night's silver cloth;—
The gnat with shrilly trump is their convener,
Forth from their flowery chambers, nothing loth,
With lulling tunes to charm the air serener,
Or dance upon the grass to make it greener.'


C

'These be the pretty genii of the flow'rs,
Daintily fed with honey and pure dew
Midsummer's phantoms in her dreaming hours,
King Oberon, and all his merry crew,
The darling puppets of romance's view;
Fairies, and sprites, and goblin elves we call them,
Famous for patronage of lovers true;—
No harm they act, neither shall harm befall them,
So do not thus with crabbed frowns appal them.'


CI

O what a cry was Saturn's then!—it made
The fairies quake. 'What care I for their pranks,
However they may lovers choose to aid,
Or dance their roundelays on flow'ry banks?—
Long must they dance before they earn my thanks,—
So step aside, to some far safer spot,
Whilst with my hungry scythe I mow their ranks,
And leave them in the sun, like weeds, to rot,
And with the next day's sun to be forgot.'


CII

Anon, he raised afresh his weapon keen;
But still the gracious Shade disarm'd his aim,
Stepping with brave alacrity between,
And made his sore arm powerless and tame.
His be perpetual glory, for the shame
Of hoary Saturn in that grand defeat!—
But I must tell how here Titania, came
With all her kneeling lieges, to entreat
His kindly succor, in sad tones, but sweet.


CIII

Saying, 'Thou seest a wretched queen before thee,
The fading power of a failing land,
Who for a kingdom kneeleth to implore thee,
Now menaced by this tyrant's spoiling hand;
No one but thee can hopefully withstand
That crooked blade, he longeth so to lift.
I pray thee blind him with his own vile sand,
Which only times all ruins by its drift,
Or prune his eagle wings that are so swift.'


CIV

'Or take him by that sole and grizzled tuft,
That hangs upon his bald and barren crown;
And we will sing to see him so rebuff'd,
And lend our little mights to pull him down,
And make brave sport of his malicious frown,
For all his boastful mockery o'er men.
For thou wast born, I know, for this renown,
By my most magical and inward ken,
That readeth ev'n at Fate's forestalling pen.'


CV

'Nay, by the golden lustre of thine eye,
And by thy brow's most fair and ample span,
Thought's glorious palace, framed for fancies high,
And by thy cheek thus passionately wan,
I know the signs of an immortal man,—
Nature's chief darling, and illustrious mate,
Destined to foil old Death's oblivious plan,
And shine untarnish'd by the fogs of Fate,
Time's famous rival till the final date!'


CVI

'O shield us then from this usurping Time,
And we will visit thee in moonlight dreams;
And teach thee tunes, to wed unto thy rhyme,
And dance about thee in all midnight gleams,
Giving thee glimpses of our magic schemes,
Such as no mortal's eye hath ever seen;
And, for thy love to us in our extremes,
Will ever keep thy chaplet fresh and green,
Such as no poet's wreath hath ever been!'


CVII

'And we'll distil thee aromatic dews,
To charm thy sense, when there shall be no flow'rs;
And flavor'd syrups in thy drinks infuse,
And teach the nightingale to haunt thy bow'rs,
And with our games divert thy weariest hours,
With all that elfin wits can e'er devise.
And, this churl dead, there'll be no hasting hours
To rob thee of thy joys, as now joy flies':—
Here she was stopp'd by Saturn's furious cries.]

CVIII

Whom, therefore, the kind Shade rebukes anew,
Saying, 'Thou haggard Sin, go forth, and scoop
Thy hollow coffin in some churchyard yew,
Or make th' autumnal flow'rs turn pale, and droop;
Or fell the bearded corn, till gleaners stoop
Under fat sheaves,—or blast the piny grove;—
But here thou shall not harm this pretty group,
Whose lives are not so frail and feebly wove,
But leased on Nature's loveliness and love.'


CIX

''Tis these that free the small entangled fly,
Caught in the venom'd spider's crafty snare;—
These be the petty surgeons that apply
The healing balsams to the wounded hare,
Bedded in bloody fern, no creature's care!—
These be providers for the orphan brood,
Whose tender mother hath been slain in air,
Quitting with gaping bill her darling's food,
Hard by the verge of her domestic wood.'


CX

''Tis these befriend the timid trembling stag,
When, with a bursting heart beset with fears,
He feels his saving speed begin to flag;
For then they quench the fatal taint with tears,
And prompt fresh shifts in his alarum'd ears,
So piteously they view all bloody morts;
Or if the gunner, with his arms, appears,
Like noisy pyes and jays, with harsh reports,
They warn the wild fowl of his deadly sports.'


CXI

'For these are kindly ministers of nature,
To soothe all covert hurts and dumb distress;
Pretty they be, and very small of stature,—
For mercy still consorts with littleness;—
Wherefore the sum of good is still the less,
And mischief grossest in this world of wrong;—
So do these charitable dwarfs redress
The tenfold ravages of giants strong,
To whom great malice and great might belong.'


CXII

'Likewise to them are Poets much beholden
For secret favors in the midnight glooms;
Brave Spenser quaff'd out of their goblets golden,
And saw their tables spread of prompt mushrooms,
And heard their horns of honeysuckle blooms
Sounding upon the air most soothing soft,
Like humming bees busy about the brooms,—
And glanced this fair queen's witchery full oft,
And in her magic wain soar'd far aloft.'


CXIII

'Nay I myself, though mortal, once was nursed
By fairy gossips, friendly at my birth,
And in my childish ear glib Mab rehearsed
Her breezy travels round our planet's girth,
Telling me wonders of the moon and earth;
My gramarye at her grave lap I conn'd,
Where Puck hath been convened to make me mirth;
I have had from Queen Titania tokens fond,
And toy'd with Oberon's permitted wand.'


CXIV

'With figs and plums and Persian dates they fed me,
And delicate cates after my sunset meal,
And took me by my childish hand, and led me
By craggy rocks crested with keeps of steel,
Whose awful bases deep dark woods conceal,
Staining some dead lake with their verdant dyes.
And when the West sparkled at Phoebus' wheel,
With fairy euphrasy they purged mine eyes,
To let me see their cities in the skies.'


CXV

''Twas they first school'd my young imagination
To take its flights like any new-fledged bird,
And show'd the span of winged meditation
Stretch'd wider than things grossly seen or heard.
With sweet swift Ariel how I soar'd and stirr'd
The fragrant blooms of spiritual bow'rs!
'Twas they endear'd what I have still preferr'd,
Nature's blest attributes and balmy pow'rs,
Her hills and vales and brooks, sweet birds and flow'rs.'


CXVI

'Wherefore with all true loyalty and duty
Will I regard them in my honoring rhyme,
With love for love, and homages to beauty,
And magic thoughts gather'd in night's cool clime,
With studious verse trancing the dragon Time,
Strong as old Merlin's necromantic spells;
So these dear monarchs of the summer's prime
Shall live unstartled by his dreadful yells,
Till shrill larks warn them to their flowery cells.'


CXVII

Look how a poison'd man turns livid black,
Drugg'd with a cup of deadly hellebore,
That sets his horrid features all at rack,—
So seem'd these words into the ear to pour
Of ghastly Saturn, answering with a roar
Of mortal pain and spite and utmost rage,
Wherewith his grisly arm he raised once more,
And bade the cluster'd sinews all engage,
As if at one fell stroke to wreck an age.


CXVIII

Whereas the blade flash'd on the dinted ground,
Down through his steadfast foe, yet made no scar
On that immortal Shade, or death-like wound;
But Time was long benumb'd, and stood ajar,
And then with baffled rage took flight afar,
To weep his hurt in some Cimmerian gloom,
Or meaner fames (like mine) to mock and mar,
Or sharp his scythe for royal strokes of doom,
Whetting its edge on some old Cæsar's tomb.


CXIX

Howbeit he vanish'd in the forest shade,
Distantly heard as if some grumbling pard,
And, like Nymph Echo, to a sound decay'd;—
Meanwhile the fays cluster'd the gracious Bard,
The darling centre of their dear regard:
Besides of sundry dances on the green,
Never was mortal man so brightly starr'd,
Or won such pretty homages, I ween.
'Nod to him, Elves!' cries the melodious queen.


CXX

'Nod to him, Elves, and flutter round about him,
And quite enclose him with your pretty crowd,
And touch him lovingly, for that, without him,
The silkworm now had spun our dreary shroud;—
But he hath all dispersed Death's tearful cloud,
And Time's dread effigy scared quite away:
Bow to him then, as though to me ye bow'd,
And his dear wishes prosper and obey
Wherever love and wit can find a way!'


CXXI

''Noint him with fairy dews of magic savors,
Shaken from orient buds still pearly wet,
Roses and spicy pinks,—and, of all favors,
Plant in his walks the purple violet,
And meadow-sweet under the hedges set,
To mingle breaths with dainty eglantine
And honeysuckles sweet,—nor yet forget
Some pastoral flowery chaplets to entwine,
To vie the thoughts about his brow benign!'


CXXII

'Let no wild things astonish him or fear him,
But tell them all how mild he is of heart,
Till e'en the timid hares go frankly near him,
And eke the dappled does, yet never start;
Nor shall their fawns into the thickets dart,
Nor wrens forsake their nests among the leaves,
Nor speckled thrushes flutter far apart;—
But bid the sacred swallow haunt his eaves,
To guard his roof from lightning and from thieves.'


CXXIII

'Or when he goes the nimble squirrel's visitor,
Let the brown hermit bring his hoarded nuts,
For, tell him, this is Nature's kind Inquisitor,—
Though man keeps cautious doors that conscience shuts,
For conscious wrong all curious quest rebuts,—
Nor yet shall bees uncase their jealous stings,
However he may watch their straw-built huts;—
So let him learn the crafts of all small things,
Which he will hint most aptly when he sings.'


CXXIV

Here she leaves off, and with a graceful hand
Waves thrice three splendid circles round his head;
Which, though deserted by the radiant wand,
Wears still the glory which her waving shed,
Such as erst crown'd the old Apostle's head,
To show the thoughts there harbor'd were divine,
And on immortal contemplations fed:—
Goodly it was to see that glory shine
Around a brow so lofty and benign!—


CXXV

Goodly it was to see the elfin brood
Contend for kisses of his gentle hand,
That had their mortal enemy withstood,
And stay'd their lives, fast ebbing with the sand.
Long while this strife engaged the pretty band;
But now bold Chanticleer, from farm to farm,
Challenged the dawn creeping o'er eastern land,
And well the fairies knew that shrill alarm,
Which sounds the knell of every elfish charm.


CXXVI

And soon the rolling mist, that 'gan arise
From plashy mead and undiscover'd stream,
Earth's morning incense to the early skies,
Crept o'er the failing landscape of my dream.
Soon faded then the Phantom of my theme—
A shapeless shade, that fancy disavowed,
And shrank to nothing in the mist extreme,
Then flew Titania,—and her little crowd,
Like flocking linnets, vanished in a cloud.

poem by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Poetry Lover
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Second Book

TIMES followed one another. Came a morn
I stood upon the brink of twenty years,
And looked before and after, as I stood
Woman and artist,–either incomplete,
Both credulous of completion. There I held
The whole creation in my little cup,
And smiled with thirsty lips before I drank,
'Good health to you and me, sweet neighbour mine
And all these peoples.'
I was glad, that day;
The June was in me, with its multitudes
Of nightingales all singing in the dark,
And rosebuds reddening where the calyx split.
I felt so young, so strong, so sure of God!
So glad, I could not choose be very wise!
And, old at twenty, was inclined to pull
My childhood backward in a childish jest
To see the face of't once more, and farewell!
In which fantastic mood I bounded forth
At early morning,–would not wait so long
As even to snatch my bonnet by the strings,
But, brushing a green trail across the lawn
With my gown in the dew, took will and way
Among the acacias of the shrubberies,
To fly my fancies in the open air
And keep my birthday, till my aunt awoke
To stop good dreams. Meanwhile I murmured on,
As honeyed bees keep humming to themselves;
'The worthiest poets have remained uncrowned
Till death has bleached their foreheads to the bone,
And so with me it must be, unless I prove
Unworthy of the grand adversity,–
And certainly I would not fail so much.
What, therefore, if I crown myself to-day
In sport, not pride, to learn the feel of it,
Before my brows be numb as Dante's own
To all the tender pricking of such leaves?
Such leaves? what leaves?'
I pulled the branches down,
To choose from.
'Not the bay! I choose no bay;
The fates deny us if we are overbold:
Nor myrtle–which means chiefly love; and love
Is something awful which one dare not touch
So early o' mornings. This verbena strains
The point of passionate fragrance; and hard by,
This guelder rose, at far too slight a beck
Of the wind, will toss about her flower-apples.
Ahthere's my choice,–that ivy on the wall,
That headlong ivy! not a leaf will grow
But thinking of a wreath. Large leaves, smooth leaves,
Serrated like my vines, and half as green.
I like such ivy; bold to leap a height
'Twas strong to climb! as good to grow on graves
As twist about a thyrsus; pretty too,
(And that's not ill) when twisted round a comb.'
Thus speaking to myself, half singing it,
Because some thoughts are fashioned like a bell
To ring with once being touched, I drew a wreath
Drenched, blinding me with dew, across my brow,
And fastening it behind so, . . turning faced
. . My public!–Cousin Romneywith a mouth
Twice graver than his eyes.
I stood there fixed
My arms up, like the caryatid, sole
Of some abolished temple, helplessly
Persistent in a gesture which derides
A former purpose. Yet my blush was flame,
As if from flax, not stone.
'Aurora Leigh,
The earliest of Aurora's!'
Hand stretched out
I clasped, as shipwrecked men will clasp a hand,
Indifferent to the sort of palm. The tide
Had caught me at my pastime, writing down
My foolish name too near upon the sea
Which drowned me with a blush as foolish. 'You,
My cousin!'
The smile died out in his eyes
And dropped upon his lips, a cold dead weight,
For just a moment . . 'Here's a book, I found!
No name writ on it–poems, by the form;
Some Greek upon the margin,–lady's Greek,
Without the accents. Read it? Not a word.
I saw at once the thing had witchcraft in't,
Whereof the reading calls up dangerous spirits;
I rather bring it to the witch.'
'My book!
You found it.' . .
'In the hollow by the stream,
That beach leans down intoof which you said,
The Oread in it has a Naiad's heart
And pines for waters.'
'Thank you.'
'Rather you,
My cousin! that I have seen you not too much
A witch, a poet, scholar, and the rest,
To be a woman also.'
With a glance
The smile rose in his eyes again, and touched
The ivy on my forehead, light as air.
I answered gravely, 'Poets needs must be
Or men or womenmore's the pity.'
'Ah,
But men, and still less women, happily,
Scarce need be poets. Keep to the green wreath,
Since even dreaming of the stone and bronze
Brings headaches, pretty cousin, and defiles
The clean white morning dresses.'
'So you judge!
Because I love the beautiful, I must
Love pleasure chiefly, and be overcharged
For ease and whiteness! Wellyou know the world.
And only miss your cousin; 'tis not much!–
But learn this: I would rather take my part
With God's Dead, who afford to walk in white
Yet spread His glory, than keep quiet here,
And gather up my feet from even a step,
For fear to soil my gown in so much dust.
I choose to walk at all risks.–Here, if heads
That hold a rhythmic thought, must ache perforce,
For my part, I choose headaches,–and to-day's
My birthday.'
'Dear Aurora, choose instead
To cure such. You have balsams.'
'I perceive!–
The headache is too noble for my sex.
You think the heartache would sound decenter,
Since that's the woman's special, proper ache,
And altogether tolerable, except
To a woman.'
Saying which, I loosed my wreath.
And, swinging it beside me as I walked,
Half petulant, half playful, as we walked,
I sent a sidelong look to find his thought,–
As falcon set on falconer's finger may,
With sidelong head, and startled, braving eye,
Which means, 'You'll seeyou'll see! I'll soon take flight–
You shall not hinder.' He, as shaking out
His hand and answering 'Fly then,' did not speak,
Except by such a gesture. Silently
We paced, until, just coming into sight
Of the house-windows, he abruptly caught
At one end of the swinging wreath, and said
'Aurora!' There I stopped short, breath and all.

'Aurora, let's be serious, and throw by
This game of head and heart. Life means, be sure,
Both heart and head,–both active, both complete,
And both in earnest. Men and women make
The world, as head and heart make human life.
Work man, work woman, since there's work to do
In this beleaguered earth, for head and heart,
And thought can never do the work of love!
But work for ends, I mean for uses; not
For such sleek fringes (do you call them ends?
Still less God's glory) as we sew ourselves
Upon the velvet of those baldaquins
Held 'twixt us and the sun. That book of yours,
I have not read a page of; but I toss
A rose upit falls calyx down, you see! . .
The chances are that, being a woman, young,
And pure, with such a pair of large, calm eyes, . .
You write as well . . and ill . . upon the whole,
As other women. If as well, what then?
If even a little better, . . still what then?
We want the Best in art now, or no art.
The time is done for facile settings up
Of minnow gods, nymphs here, and tritons there;
The polytheists have gone out in God,
That unity of Bests. No best, no God!–
And so with art, we say. Give art's divine,
Direct, indubitable, real as grief,–
Or leave us to the grief we grow ourselves
Divine by overcoming with mere hope
And most prosaic patience. You, you are young
As Eve with nature's daybreak on her face;
But this same world you are come to, dearest coz,
Has done with keeping birthdays, saves her wreaths
To hang upon her ruins,–and forgets
To rhyme the cry with which she still beats back
Those savage, hungry dogs that hunt her down
To the empty grave of Christ. The world's hard pressed;
The sweat of labour in the early curse
Has (turning acrid in six thousand years)
Become the sweat of torture. Who has time,
An hour's time . . think! . . to sit upon a bank
And hear the cymbal tinkle in white hands!
When Egypt's slain, I say, let Miriam sing!–
Before . . where's Moses?'
'Ahexactly that
Where's Moses?–is a Moses to be found?–
You'll sink him vainly in the bulrushes,
While I in vain touch cymbals. Yet, concede,
Such sounding brass has done some actual good,
(The application in a woman's hand,
If that were credible, being scarcely spoilt,)
In colonising beehives.'
'There it is!–
You play beside a death-bed like a child,
Yet measure to yourself a prophet's place
To teach the living. None of all these things,
Can women understand. You generalise,
Oh, nothing!–not even grief! Your quick-breathed hearts,
So sympathetic to the personal pang,
Close on each separate knife-stroke, yielding up
A whole life at each wound; incapable
Of deepening, widening a large lap of life
To hold the world-full woe. The human race
To you means, such a child, or such a man,
You saw one morning waiting in the cold,
Beside that gate, perhaps. You gather up
A few such cases, and, when strong, sometimes
Will write of factories and of slaves, as if
Your father were a negro, and your son
A spinner in the mills. All's yours and you,–
All, coloured with your blood, or otherwise
Just nothing to you. Why, I call you hard
To general suffering. Here's the world half blind
With intellectual light, half brutalised
With civilization, having caught the plague
In silks from Tarsus, shrieking east and west
Along a thousand railroads, mad with pain
And sin too! . . does one woman of you all,
(You who weep easily) grow pale to see
This tiger shake his cage?–does one of you
Stand still from dancing, stop from stringing pearls
And pine and die, because of the great sum
Of universal anguish?–Show me a tear
Wet as Cordelia's, in eyes bright as yours,
Because the world is mad? You cannot count,
That you should weep for this account, not you!
You weep for what you know. A red-haired child
Sick in a fever, if you touch him once,
Though but so little as with a finger-tip,
Will set you weeping! but a million sick . .
You could as soon weep for the rule of three,
Or compound fractions. Therefore, this same world
Uncomprehended by you must remain
Uninfluenced by you. Women as you are,
Mere women, personal and passionate,
You give us doating mothers, and chaste wives.
Sublime Madonnas, and enduring saints!
We get no Christ from you,–and verily
We shall not get a poet, in my mind.'

'With which conclusion you conclude' . .
'But this
That you, Aurora, with the large live brow
And steady eyelids, cannot condescend
To play at art, as children play at swords,
To show a pretty spirit, chiefly admired
Because true action is impossible.
You never can be satisfied with praise
Which men give women when they judge a book
Not as mere work, but as mere woman's work,
Expressing the comparative respect
Which means the absolute scorn. 'Oh, excellent!
'What grace! what facile turns! what fluent sweeps!
'What delicate discernment . . almost thought!
'The book does honour to the sex, we hold.
'Among our female authors we make room
'For this fair writer, and congratulate
'The country that produces in these times
'Such women, competent to . . spell.
'Stop there!'
I answeredburning through his thread of talk
With a quick flame of emotion,–'You have read
My soul, if not my book, and argue well
I would not condescend . . we will not say
To such a kind of praise, (a worthless end
Is praise of all kinds) but to such a use
Of holy art and golden life. I am young,
And peradventure weakyou tell me so
Through being a woman. And, for all the rest,
Take thanks for justice. I would rather dance
At fairs on tight-rope, till the babies dropped
Their gingerbread for joy,–than shift the types
For tolerable verse, intolerable
To men who act and suffer. Better far,
Pursue a frivolous trade by serious means,
Than a sublime art frivolously.'
'You,
Choose nobler work than either, O moist eyes,
And hurrying lips, and heaving heart! We are young
Aurora, you and I. The world . . look round . .
The world, we're come to late, is swollen hard
With perished generations and their sins:
The civiliser's spade grinds horribly
On dead men's bones, and cannot turn up soil
That's otherwise than fetid. All success
Proves partial failure; all advance implies
What's left behind; all triumph, something crushed
At the chariot-wheels; all government, some wrong:
And rich men make the poor, who curse the rich,
Who agonise together, rich and poor,
Under and over, in the social spasm
And crisis of the ages. Here's an age,
That makes its own vocation! here, we have stepped
Across the bounds of time! here's nought to see,
But just the rich man and just Lazarus,
And both in torments; with a mediate gulph,
Though not a hint of Abraham's bosom. Who,
Being man and human, can stand calmly by
And view these things, and never tease his soul
For some great cure? No physic for this grief,
In all the earth and heavens too?'
'You believe
In God, for your part?–ay? That He who makes,
Can make good things from ill things, best from worst,
As men plant tulips upon dunghills when
They wish them finest?'
'True. A death-heat is
The same as life-heat, to be accurate;
And in all nature is no death at all,
As men account of death, as long as God
Stands witnessing for life perpetually,'
By being just God. That's abstract truth, I know,
Philosophy, or sympathy with God:
But I, I sympathise with man, not God,
I think I was a man for chiefly this;
And when I stand beside a dying bed,
It's death to me. Observe,–it had not much
Consoled the race of mastodons to know
Before they went to fossil, that anon
Their place should quicken with the elephant
They were not elephants but mastodons:
And I, a man, as men are now, and not
As men may be hereafter, feel with men
In the agonising present.'
'Is it so,'
I said, 'my cousin? is the world so bad,
While I hear nothing of it through the trees?
The world was always evil,–but so bad?'

'So bad, Aurora. Dear, my soul is grey
With poring over the long sum of ill;
So much for vice, so much for discontent,
So much for the necessities of power,
So much for the connivances of fear,–
Coherent in statistical despairs
With such a total of distracted life, . .
To see it down in figures on a page,
Plain, silent, clear . . as God sees through the earth
The sense of all the graves! . . . that's terrible
For one who is not God, and cannot right
The wrong he looks on. May I choose indeed
But vow away my years, my means, my aims,
Among the helpers, if there's any help
In such a social strait? The common blood
That swings along my veins, is strong enough
To draw me to this duty.'
Then I spoke.
'I have not stood long on the strand of life,
And these salt waters have had scarcely time
To creep so high up as to wet my feet.
I cannot judge these tides–I shall, perhaps.
A woman's always younger than a man
At equal years, because she is disallowed
Maturing by the outdoor sun and air,
And kept in long-clothes past the age to walk.
Ah well, I know you men judge otherwise!
You think a woman ripens as a peach,–
In the cheeks, chiefly. Pass it to me now;
I'm young in age, and younger still, I think,
As a woman. But a child may say amen
To a bishop's prayer and see the way it goes;
And I, incapable to loose the knot
Of social questions, can approve, applaud
August compassion, christian thoughts that shoot
Beyond the vulgar white of personal aims.
Accept my reverence.'
There he glowed on me
With all his face and eyes. 'No other help?'
Said he–'no more than so?'
'What help?' I asked.
'You'd scorn my help,–as Nature's self, you say,
Has scorned to put her music in my mouth,
Because a woman's. Do you now turn round
And ask for what a woman cannot give?'

'For what she only can, I turn and ask,'
He answered, catching up my hands in his,
And dropping on me from his high-eaved brow
The full weight of his soul,–'I ask for love,
And that, she can; for life in fellowship
Through bitter duties–that, I know she can;
For wifehood . . will she?'
'Now,' I said, 'may God
Be witness 'twixt us two!' and with the word,
Meseemed I floated into a sudden light
Above his stature,–'am I proved too weak
To stand alone, yet strong enough to bear
Such leaners on my shoulder? poor to think,
Yet rich enough to sympathise with thought?
Incompetent to sing, as blackbirds can,
Yet competent to love, like HIM?'
I paused:
Perhaps I darkened, as the lighthouse will
That turns upon the sea. 'It's always so!
Anything does for a wife.'
'Aurora, dear,
And dearly honoured' . . he pressed in at once
With eager utterance,–'you translate me ill.
I do not contradict my thought of you
Which is most reverent, with another thought
Found less so. If your sex is weak for art,
(And I who said so, did but honour you
By using truth in courtship) it is strong
For life and duty. Place your fecund heart
In mine, and let us blossom for the world
That wants love's colour in the grey of time.
With all my talk I can but set you where
You look down coldly on the arena-heaps
Of headless bodies, shapeless, indistinct!
The Judgment-Angel scarce would find his way
Through such a heap of generalised distress,
To the individual man with lips and eyes
Much less Aurora. Ah, my sweet, come down,
And, hand in hand, we'll go where yours shall touch
These victims, one by one! till one by one,
The formless, nameless trunk of every man
Shall seem to wear a head, with hair you know,
And every woman catch your mother's face
To melt you into passion.'
'I am a girl,'
I answered slowly; 'you do well to name
My mother's face. Though far too early, alas,
God's hand did interpose 'twixt it and me,
I know so much of love, as used to shine
In that face and another. Just so much;
No more indeed at all. I have not seen
So much love since, I pray you pardon me,
As answers even to make a marriage with,
In this cold land of England. What you love,
Is not a woman, Romney, but a cause:
You want a helpmate, not a mistress, sir,–
A wife to help your ends . . in her no end!
Your cause is noble, your ends excellent,
But I, being most unworthy of these and that,
Do otherwise conceive of love. Farewell.'

'Farewell, Aurora, you reject me thus?'
He said.
'Why, sir, you are married long ago.
You have a wife already whom you love,
Your social theory. Bless you both, I say.
For my part, I am scarcely meek enough
To be the handmaid of a lawful spouse.
Do I look a Hagar, think you?'
'So, you jest!'

'Nay so, I speak in earnest,' I replied.
'You treat of marriage too much like, at least,
A chief apostle; you would bear with you
A wife . . a sister . . shall we speak it out?
A sister of charity.'
'Then, must it be
Indeed farewell? And was I so far wrong
In hope and in illusion, when I took
The woman to be nobler than the man,
Yourself the noblest woman,–in the use
And comprehension of what love is,–love,
That generates the likeness of itself
Through all heroic duties? so far wrong
In saying bluntly, venturing truth on love,
'Come, human creature, love and work with me,'–
Instead of, 'Lady, thou art wondrous fair,
'And, where the Graces walk before, the Muse
'Will follow at the lighting of the eyes,
'And where the Muse walks, lovers need to creep
'Turn round and love me, or I die of love.

With quiet indignation I broke in.
'You misconceive the question like a man,
Who sees a woman as the complement
Of his sex merely. You forget too much
That every creature, female as the male,
Stands single in responsible act and thought
As also in birth and death. Whoever says
To a loyal woman, 'Love and work with me,'
Will get fair answers, if the work and love
Being good themselves, are good for herthe best
She was born for. Women of a softer mood,
Surprised by men when scarcely awake to life,
Will sometimes only hear the first word, love,
And catch up with it any kind of work,
Indifferent, so that dear love go with it:
I do not blame such women, though, for love,
They pick much oakum; earth's fanatics make
Too frequently heaven's saints. But me, your work
Is not the best for,–nor your love the best,
Nor able to commend the kind of work
For love's sake merely. Ah, you force me, sir,
To be over-bold in speaking of myself,–
I, too, have my vocation,–work to do,
The heavens and earth have set me, since I changed
My father's face for theirs,–and though your world
Were twice as wretched as you represent
Most serious work, most necessary work,
As any of the economists'. Reform,
Make trade a Christian possibility,
And individual right no general wrong;
Wipe out earth's furrows of the Thine and Mine,
And leave one green, for men to play at bowls;
With innings for them all! . . what then, indeed,
If mortals were not greater by the head
Than any of their prosperities? what then,
Unless the artist keep up open roads
Betwixt the seen and unseen,–bursting through
The best of your conventions with his best
The unspeakable, imaginable best
God bids him speak, to prove what lies beyond
Both speech and imagination? A starved man
Exceeds a fat beast: we'll not barter, sir,
The beautiful for barley.–And, even so,
I hold you will not compass your poor ends
Of barley-feeding and material ease,
Without a poet's individualism
To work your universal. It takes a soul,
To move a body: it takes a high-souled man,
To move the masses . . even to a cleaner stye:
It takes the ideal, to blow a hair's breadth off
The dust of the actual.–ah, your Fouriers failed,
Because not poets enough to understand
That life develops from within.–For me,
Perhaps I am not worthy, as you say,
Of work like this! . . perhaps a woman's soul
Aspires, and not creates! yet we aspire,
And yet I'll try out your perhapses, sir;
And if I fail . . why, burn me up my straw
Like other false works–I'll not ask for grace,
Your scorn is better, cousin Romney. I
Who love my art, would never wish it lower
To suit my stature. I may love my art,
You'll grant that even a woman may love art,
Seeing that to waste true love on anything,
Is womanly, past question.'
I retain
The very last word which I said, that day,
As you the creaking of the door, years past,
Which let upon you such disabling news
You ever after have been graver. He,
His eyes, the motions in his silent mouth,
Were fiery points on which my words were caught,
Transfixed for ever in my memory
For his sake, not their own. And yet I know
I did not love him . . nor he me . . that's sure . .
And what I said, is unrepented of,
As truth is always. Yet . . a princely man!–
If hard to me, heroic for himself!
He bears down on me through the slanting years,
The stronger for the distance. If he had loved,
Ay, loved me, with that retributive face, . .
I might have been a common woman now,
And happier, less known and less left alone;
Perhaps a better woman after all,–
With chubby children hanging on my neck
To keep me low and wise. Ah me, the vines
That bear such fruit are proud to stoop with it.
The palm stands upright in a realm of sand.

And I, who spoke the truth then, stand upright,
Still worthy of having spoken out the truth,
By being content I spoke it, though it set
Him there, me here.–O woman's vile remorse,
To hanker after a mere name, a show,
A supposition, a potential love!
Does every man who names love in our lives,
Become a power for that? is love's true thing
So much best to us, that what personates love
Is next best? A potential love, forsooth!
We are not so vile. No, nohe cleaves, I think,
This man, this image, . . chiefly for the wrong
And shock he gave my life, in finding me
Precisely where the devil of my youth
Had set me, on those mountain-peaks of hope
All glittering with the dawn-dew, all erect
And famished for the morning,–saying, while
I looked for empire and much tribute, 'Come,
I have some worthy work for thee below.
Come, sweep my barns, and keep my hospitals,–
And I will pay thee with a current coin
Which men give women.'
As we spoke, the grass
Was trod in haste beside us, and my aunt,
With smile distorted by the sun,–face, voice,
As much at issue with the summer-day
As if you brought a candle out of doors,–
Broke in with, 'Romney, here!–My child, entreat
Your cousin to the house, and have your talk,
If girls must talk upon their birthdays. Come.'

He answered for me calmly, with pale lips
That seemed to motion for a smile in vain.
'The talk is ended, madam, where we stand.
Your brother's daughter has dismissed me here;
And all my answer can be better said
Beneath the trees, than wrong by such a word
Your house's hospitalities. Farewell.'

With that he vanished. I could hear his heel
Ring bluntly in the lane, as down he leapt
The short way, from us.–Then, a measured speech
Withdrew me. 'What means this, Aurora Leigh?
My brother's daughter has dismissed my guests?'

The lion in me felt the keeper's voice,
Through all its quivering dewlaps: I was quelled
Before her,–meekened to the child she knew:
I prayed her pardon, said, 'I had little thought
To give dismissal to a guest of hers,
In letting go a friend of mine, who came
To take me into service as a wife,–
No more than that, indeed.'
'No more, no more?
Pray heaven,' she answered, 'that I was not mad.
I could not mean to tell her to her face
That Romney Leigh had asked me for a wife,
And I refused him?'
'Did he ask?' I said;
'I think he rather stooped to take me up
For certain uses which he found to do
For something called a wife. He never asked.'

'What stuff!' she answered; 'are they queens, these girls?
They must have mantles, stitched with twenty silks,
Spread out upon the ground, before they'll step
One footstep for the noblest lover born.'

'But I am born,' I said with firmness, 'I,
To walk another way than his, dear aunt.'

'You walk, you walk! A babe at thirteen months
Will walk as well as you,' she cried in haste,
'Without a steadying finger. Why, you child,
God help you, you are groping in the dark,
For all this sunlight. You suppose, perhaps,
That you, sole offspring of an opulent man,
Are rich and free to choose a way to walk?
You think, and it's a reasonable thought,
That I besides, being well to do in life,
Will leave my handful in my niece's hand
When death shall paralyse these fingers? Pray,
Pray, child,–albeit I know you love me not,–
As if you loved me, that I may not die!
For when I die and leave you, out you go,
(Unless I make room for you in my grave)
Unhoused, unfed, my dear, poor brother's lamb,
(Ah heaven,–that pains!)–without a right to crop
A single blade of grass beneath these trees,
Or cast a lamb's small shadow on the lawn,
Unfed, unfolded! Ah, my brother, here's
The fruit you planted in your foreign loves!–
Ay, there's the fruit he planted! never look
Astonished at me with your mother's eyes,
For it was they, who set you where you are,
An undowered orphan. Child, your father's choice
Of that said mother, disinherited
His daughter, his and hers. Men do not think
Of sons and daughters, when they fall in love,
So much more than of sisters; otherwise,
He would have paused to ponder what he did,
And shrunk before that clause in the entail
Excluding offspring by a foreign wife
(The clause set up a hundred years ago
By a Leigh who wedded a French dancing-girl
And had his heart danced over in return)
But this man shrunk at nothing, never thought
Of you, Aurora, any more than me
Your mother must have been a pretty thing,
For all the coarse Italian blacks and browns,
To make a good man, which my brother was,
Unchary of the duties to his house;
But so it fell indeed. Our cousin Vane,
Vane Leigh, the father of this Romney, wrote
Directly on your birth, to Italy,
'I ask your baby daughter for my son
In whom the entail now merges by the law.
Betroth her to us out of love, instead
Of colder reasons, and she shall not lose
By love or law from henceforth'–so he wrote;
A generous cousin, was my cousin Vane.
Remember how he drew you to his knee
The year you came here, just before he died,
And hollowed out his hands to hold your cheeks,
And wished them redder,–you remember Vane?
And now his son who represents our house
And holds the fiefs and manors in his place,
To whom reverts my pittance when I die,
(Except a few books and a pair of shawls)
The boy is generous like him, and prepared
To carry out his kindest word and thought
To you, Aurora. Yes, a fine young man
Is Romney Leigh; although the sun of youth
Has shone too straight upon his brain, I know,
And fevered him with dreams of doing good
To good-for-nothing people. But a wife
Will put all right, and stroke his temples cool
With healthy touches' . .
I broke in at that.
I could not lift my heavy heart to breathe
Till then, but then I raised it, and it fell
In broken words like these–'No need to wait.
The dream of doing good to . . me, at least,
Is ended, without waiting for a wife
To cool the fever for him. We've escaped
That danger . . thank Heaven for it.'
You,' she cried,
'Have got a fever. What, I talk and talk
An hour long to you,–I instruct you how
You cannot eat or drink or stand or sit
Or even die, like any decent wretch
In all this unroofed and unfurnished world,
Without your cousin,–and you still maintain
There's room 'twixt him and you, for flirting fans
And running knots in eyebrows! You must have
A pattern lover sighing on his knee:
You do not count enough a noble heart,
Above book-patterns, which this very morn
Unclosed itself, in two dear fathers' names,
To embrace your orphaned life! fie, fie! But stay
I write a word, and counteract this sin.'

She would have turned to leave me, but I clung.
'O sweet my father's sister, hear my word
Before you write yours. Cousin Vane did well,
And Romney well,–and I well too,
In casting back with all my strength and will
The good they meant me. O my God, my God!
God meant me good, too, when he hindered me
From saying 'yes' this morning. If you write
A word, it shall be 'no.' I say no, no!
I tie up 'no' upon His altar-horns
Quite out of reach of perjury! At least
My soul is not a pauper; I can live
At least my soul's life, without alms from men,
And if it must be in heaven instead of earth,
Let heaven look to it,–I am not afraid.'

She seized my hands with both hers, strained them fast
And drew her probing and unscrupulous eyes
Right through me, body and heart. 'Yet, foolish Sweet,
You love this man. I have watched you when he came
And when he went, and when we've talked of him:
I am not old for nothing; I can tell
The weather-signs of loveyou love this man.'

Girls blush, sometimes, because they are alive,
Half wishing they were dead to save the shame.
The sudden blush devours them, neck and brow;
They have drawn too near the fire of life, like gnats,
And flare up bodily, wings and all. What then?
Who's sorry for a gnat . . or girl?
I blushed.
I feel the brand upon my forehead now
Strike hot, sear deep, as guiltless men may feel
The felon's iron, say, and scorn the mark
Of what they are not. Most illogical
Irrational nature of our womanhood,
That blushes one way, feels another way,
And prays, perhaps, another! After all,
We cannot be the equal of the male,
Who rules his blood a little.
For although
I blushed indeed, as if I loved the man,
And her incisive smile, accrediting
That treason of false witness in my blush,
Did bow me downward like a swathe of grass
Below its level that struck me,–I attest
The conscious skies and all their daily suns,
I think I loved him not . . nor then, nor since . .
Nor ever. Do we love the schoolmaster,
Being busy in the woods? much less, being poor,
The overseer of the parish? Do we keep
Our love, to pay our debts with?
White and cold
I grew next moment. As my blood recoiled
From that imputed ignominy, I made
My heart great with it. Then, at last I spoke,–
Spoke veritable words, but passionate,
Too passionate perhaps . . ground up with sobs
To shapeless endings. She let fall my hands,
And took her smile off, in sedate disgust,
As peradventure she had touched a snake,–
A dead snake, mind!–and, turning round, replied
'We'll leave Italian manners, if you please.
I think you had an English father, child,
And ought to find it possible to speak
A quiet 'yes' or 'no,' like English girls,
Without convulsions. In another month
We'll take another answer . . no, or yes.'
With that she left me in the garden-walk.

I had a father! yes, but long ago
How long it seemed that moment!–Oh, how far,
How far and safe, God, dost thou keep thy saints
When once gone from us! We may call against
The lighted windows of thy fair June-heaven
Where all the souls are happy,–and not one,
Not even my father, look from work or play
To ask, 'Who is it that cries after us,
Below there, in the dusk?' Yet formerly
He turned his face upon me quick enough,
If I said 'father.' Now I might cry loud;
The little lark reached higher with his song
Than I with crying. Oh, alone, alone,–
Not troubling any in heaven, nor any on earth,
I stood there in the garden, and looked up
The deaf blue sky that brings the roses out
On such June mornings.
You who keep account
Of crisis and transition in this life,
Set down the first time Nature says plain 'no'
To some 'yes' in you, and walks over you
In gorgeous sweeps of scorn. We all begin
By singing with the birds, and running fast
With June-days, hand in hand: but once, for all,
The birds must sing against us, and the sun
Strike down upon us like a friend's sword caught
By an enemy to slay us, while we read
The dear name on the blade which bites at us!–
That's bitter and convincing: after that
We seldom doubt that something in the large
Smooth order of creation, though no more
Than haply a man's footstep, has gone wrong.

Some tears fell down my cheeks, and then I smiled,
As those smile who have no face in the world
To smile back to them. I had lost a friend
In Romney Leigh; the thing was surea friend,
Who had looked at me most gently now and then,
And spoken of my favourite books . . 'our books' . .
With such a voice! Well, voice and look were now
More utterly shut out from me, I felt,
Than even my father's. Romney now was turned
To a benefactor, to a generous man,
Who had tied himself to marry . . me, instead
Of such a woman, with low timorous lids
He lifted with a sudden word one day,
And left, perhaps, for my sake.–Ah, self-tied
By a contract,–male Iphigenia, bound
At a fatal Aulis, for the winds to change,
(But loose himthey'll not change;) he well might seem
A little cold and dominant in love!
He had a right to be dogmatical,
This poor, good Romney. Love, to him, was made
A simple law-clause. If I married him,
I would not dare to call my soul my own,
Which so he had bought and paid for: every thought
And every heart-beat down there in the bill,–
Not one found honestly deductible
From any use that pleased him! He might cut
My body into coins to give away
Among his other paupers; change my sons,
While I stood dumb as Griseld, for black babes
Or piteous foundlings; might unquestioned set
My right hand teaching in the Ragged Schools,
My left hand washing in the Public Baths,
What time my angel of the Ideal stretched
Both his to me in vain! I could not claim
The poor right of a mouse in a trap, to squeal.
And take so much as pity, from myself.

Farewell, good Romney! if I loved you even,
I could but ill afford to let you be
So generous to me. Farewell, friend, since friend
Betwixt us two, forsooth, must be a word
So heavily overladen. And, since help
Must come to me from those who love me not,
Farewell, all helpers–I must help myself,
And am alone from henceforth.–Then I stooped,
And lifted the soiled garland from the ground,
And set it on my head as bitterly
As when the Spanish king did crown the bones
Of his dead love. So be it. I preserve
That crown still,–in the drawer there! 'twas the first;
The rest are like it;–those Olympian crowns,
We run for, till we lose sight of the sun
In the dust of the racing chariots!
After that,
Before the evening fell, I had a note
Which ran,–'Aurora, sweet Chaldean, you read
My meaning backward like your eastern books,
While I am from the west, dear. Read me now
A little plainer. Did you hate me quite
But yesterday? I loved you for my part;
I love you. If I spoke untenderly
This morning, my beloved, pardon it;
And comprehend me that I loved you so,
I set you on the level of my soul,
And overwashed you with the bitter brine
Of some habitual thoughts. Henceforth, my flower,
Be planted out of reach of any such,
And lean the side you please, with all your leaves!
Write woman's verses and dream woman's dreams;
But let me feel your perfume in my home,
To make my sabbath after working-days;
Bloom out your youth beside me,–be my wife.'

I wrote in answer–'We, Chaldeans, discern
Still farther than we read. I know your heart
And shut it like the holy book it is,
Reserved for mild-eyed saints to pore upon
Betwixt their prayers at vespers. Well, you're right,
I did not surely hate you yesterday;
And yet I do not love you enough to-day
To wed you, cousin Romney. Take this word,
And let it stop you as a generous man
From speaking farther. You may tease, indeed,
And blow about my feelings, or my leaves,–
And here's my aunt will help you with east winds,
And break a stalk, perhaps, tormenting me;
But certain flowers grow near as deep as trees,
And, cousin, you'll not move my root, not you,
With all your confluent storms. Then let me grow
Within my wayside hedge, and pass your way!
This flower has never as much to say to you
As the antique tomb which said to travellers, 'Pause,
'Siste, viator. Ending thus, I signed.

The next week passed in silence, so the next,
And several after: Romney did not come,
Nor my aunt chide me. I lived on and on,
As if my heart were kept beneath a glass,
And everybody stood, all eyes and ears,
To see and hear it tick. I could not sit,
Nor walk, nor take a book, nor lay it down,
Nor sew on steadily, nor drop a stitch
And a sigh with it, but I felt her looks
Still cleaving to me, like the sucking asp
To Cleopatra's breast, persistently
Through the intermittent pantings. Being observed,
When observation is not sympathy,
Is just being tortured. If she said a word,
A 'thank you,' or an 'if it please you, dear.'
She meant a commination, or, at best,
An exorcism against the devildom
Which plainly held me. So with all the house.
Susannah could not stand and twist my hair,
Without such glancing at the looking-glass
To see my face there, that she missed the plait:
And John,–I never sent my plate for soup,
Or did not send it, but the foolish John
Resolved the problem, 'twixt his napkined thumbs,
Of what was signified by taking soup
Or choosing mackerel. Neighbours, who dropped in
On morning visits, feeling a joint wrong,
Smiled admonition, sate uneasily,
And talked with measured, emphasised reserve,
Of parish news, like doctors to the sick,
When not called in,–as if, with leave to speak,
They might say something. Nay, the very dog
Would watch me from his sun-patch on the floor,
In alternation with the large black fly
Not yet in reach of snapping. So I lived.

A Roman died so: smeared with honey, teased
By insects, stared to torture by the noon:
And many patient souls 'neath English roofs
Have died like Romans. I, in looking back,
Wish only, now, I had borne the plague of all
With meeker spirits than were rife in Rome.

For, on the sixth week, the dead sea broke up,
Dashed suddenly through beneath the heel of Him
Who stands upon the sea and earth, and swears
Time shall be nevermore. The clock struck nine
That morning, too,–no lark was out of tune;
The hidden farms among the hills, breathed straight
Their smoke toward heaven; the lime-trees scarcely stirred
Beneath the blue weight of the cloudless sky,
Though still the July air came floating through
The woodbine at my window, in and out,
With touches of the out-door country-news
For a bending forehead. There I sate, and wished
That morning-truce of God would last till eve,
Or longer. 'Sleep,' I thought, 'late sleepers,–sleep,
And spare me yet the burden of your eyes.'

Then, suddenly, a single ghastly shriek
Tore upwards from the bottom of the house.
Like one who wakens in a grave and shrieks,
The still house seemed to shriek itself alive,
And shudder through its passages and stairs
With slam of doors and clash of bells.–I sprang,
I stood up in the middle of the room,
And there confronted at my chamber-door,
A white face,–shivering, ineffectual lips.

'Come, come,' they tried to utter, and I went;
As if a ghost had drawn me at the point
Of a fiery finger through the uneven dark,
I went with reeling footsteps down the stair.
Nor asked a question.

There she sate, my aunt,–
Bolt upright in the chair beside her bed,
Whose pillow had no dint! she had used no bed
For that night's sleeping . . yet slept well. My God
The dumb derision of that grey, peaked face
Concluded something grave against the sun,
Which filled the chamber with its July burst
When Susan drew the curtains, ignorant
Of who sate open-eyed behind her. There,
She sate . . it sate . . we said 'she' yesterday . .
And held a letter with unbroken seal,
As Susan gave it to her hand last night:
All night she had held it. If its news referred
To duchies or to dunghills, not an inch
She'd budge, 'twas obvious, for such worthless odds:
Nor, though the stars were suns, and overburned
Their spheric limitations, swallowing up
Like wax the azure spaces, could they force
Those open eyes to wink once. What last sight
Had left them blank and flat so,–drawing out
The faculty of vision from the roots,
As nothing more, worth seeing, remained behind?

Were those the eyes that watched me, worried me?
That dogged me up and down the hours and days,
A beaten, breathless, miserable soul?
And did I pray, a half hour back, but so,
To escape the burden of those eyes . . those eyes?
'Sleep late' I said.–
Why now, indeed, they sleep.
God answers sharp and sudden on some prayers,
And thrusts the thing we have prayed for in our face,
A gauntlet with a gift in't. Every wish
Is like a prayer . . With God.
I had my wish,–
To read and meditate the thing I would,
To fashion all my life upon my thought,
And marry, or not marry. Henceforth, none
Could disapprove me, vex me, hamper me.
Full ground-room, in this desert newly made,
For Babylon or Balbec,–when the breath,
Just choked with sand, returns, for building towns!

The heir came over on the funeral day,
And we two cousins met before the dead,
With two pale faces. Was it death or life
That moved us? When the will was read and done,
The official guest and witnesses withdrawn,
We rose up in a silence almost hard,
And looked at one another. Then I said,
'Farewell, my cousin.'
But he touched, just touched
My hatstrings tied for going, (at the door
The carriage stood to take me) and said low,
His voice a little unsteady through his smile,
'Siste, viator.'
'Is there time,' I asked,
'In these last days of railroads, to stop short
Like Cæsar's chariot (weighing half a ton)
On the Appian road for morals?'
'There is time,'
He answered grave, 'for necessary words,
Inclusive, trust me, of no epitaph
On man or act, my cousin. We have read
A will, which gives you all the personal goods
And funded monies of your aunt.'
'I thank
Her memory for it. With three hundred pounds
We buy in England even, clear standing-room
To stand and work in. Only two hours since,
I fancied I was poor.'
'And cousin, still
You're richer than you fancy. The will says,
Three hundred pounds, and any other sum
Of which the said testatrix dies possessed.
I say she died possessed of other sums.'

'Dear Romney, need we chronicle the pence?
I'm richer than I thoughtthat's evident.
Enough so.'
'Listen rather. You've to do
With business and a cousin,' he resumed,
'And both, I fear, need patience. Here's the fact.
The other sum (there is another sum,
Unspecified in any will which dates
After possession, yet bequeathed as much
And clearly as those said three hundred pounds)
Is thirty thousand. You will have it paid
When? . . where? My duty troubles you with words.'

He struck the iron when the bar was hot;
No wonder if my eyes sent out some sparks.
'Pause there! I thank you. You are delicate
In glosing gifts;–but I, who share your blood,
Am rather made for giving, like yourself,
Than taking, like your pensioners. Farewell.'

He stopped me with a gesture of calm pride.
'A Leigh,' he said, 'gives largesse and gives love,
But gloses neither: if a Leigh could glose,
He would not do it, moreover, to a Leigh,
With blood trained up along nine centuries
To hound and hate a lie, from eyes like yours.
And now we'll make the rest as clear; your aunt
Possessed these monies.'
'You'll make it clear,
My cousin, as the honour of us both,
Or one of us speaks vainlythat's not I.
My aunt possessed this sum,–inherited
From whom, and when? bring documents, prove dates.'

'Why now indeed you throw your bonnet off.
As if you had time left for a logarithm!
The faith's the want. Dear cousin, give me faith,
And you shall walk this road with silken shoes,
As clean as any lady of our house
Supposed the proudest. Oh, I comprehend
The whole position from your point of sight.
I oust you from your father's halls and lands,
And make you poor by getting richthat's law;
Considering which, in common circumstance,
You would not scruple to accept from me
Some compensation, some sufficiency
Of income–that were justice; but, alas,
I love you . . that's mere nature!–you reject
My love . . that's nature also;–and at once,
You cannot, from a suitor disallowed,
A hand thrown back as mine is, into yours
Receive a doit, a farthing, . . not for the world!
That's etiquette with women, obviously
Exceeding claim of nature, law, and right,
Unanswerable to all. I grant, you see,
The case as you conceive it,–leave you room
To sweep your ample skirts of womanhood;
While, standing humbly squeezed against the wall,
I own myself excluded from being just,
Restrained from paying indubitable debts,
Because denied from giving you my soul
That's my fortune!–I submit to it
As if, in some more reasonable age,
'Twould not be less inevitable. Enough.
You'll trust me, cousin, as a gentleman,
To keep your honour, as you count it, pure,–
Your scruples (just as if I thought them wise)
Safe and inviolate from gifts of mine.'

I answered mild but earnest. 'I believe
In no one's honour which another keeps,
Nor man's nor woman's. As I keep, myself,
My truth and my religion, I depute
No father, though I had one this side death,
Nor brother, though I had twenty, much less you,
Though twice my cousin, and once Romney Leigh,
To keep my honour pure. You face, today,
A man who wants instruction, mark me, not
A woman who wants protection. As to a man,
Show manhood, speak out plainly, be precise
With facts and dates. My aunt inherited
This sum, you say–'
'I said she died possessed
Of this, dear cousin.'
'Not by heritage.
Thank you: we're getting to the facts at last.
Perhaps she played at commerce with a ship
Which came in heavy with Australian gold?
Or touched a lottery with her finger-end,
Which tumbled on a sudden into her lap
Some old Rhine tower or principality?
Perhaps she had to do with a marine
Sub-transatlantic railroad, which pre-pays
As well as pre-supposes? or perhaps
Some stale ancestral debt was after-paid
By a hundred years, and took her by surprise?–
You shake your head my cousin; I guess ill.'

'You need not guess, Aurora, nor deride,
The truth is not afraid of hurting you.
You'll find no cause, in all your scruples, why
Your aunt should cavil at a deed of gift
'Twixt her and me.'
'I thought soah! a gift.'

'You naturally thought so,' he resumed.
'A very natural gift.'
'A gift, a gift!
Her individual life being stranded high
Above all want, approaching opulence,
Too haughty was she to accept a gift
Without some ultimate aim: ah, ah, I see,–
A gift intended plainly for her heirs,
And so accepted . . if accepted . . ah,
Indeed that might be; I am snared perhaps,
Just so. But, cousin, shall I pardon you,
If thus you have caught me with a cruel springe?'

He answered gently, 'Need you tremble and pant
Like a netted lioness? is't my fault, mine,
That you're a grand wild creature of the woods,
And hate the stall built for you? Any way,
Though triply netted, need you glare at me?
I do not hold the cords of such a net,
You're free from me, Aurora!'
'Now may God
Deliver me from this strait! This gift of yours
Was tendered . . when? accepted . . when?' I asked.
'A month . . a fortnight since? Six weeks ago
It was not tendered. By a word she dropped,
I know it was not tendered nor received.
When was it? bring your dates.'
'What matters when?
A half-hour ere she died, or a half-year,
Secured the gift, maintains the heritage
Inviolable with law. As easy pluck
The golden stars from heaven's embroidered stole,
To pin them on the grey side of this earth,
As make you poor again, thank God.'
'Not poor
Nor clean again from henceforth, you thank God?
Well, sirI ask you . . I insist at need . .
Vouchsafe the special date, the special date.'

'The day before her death-day,' he replied,
'The gift was in her hands. We'll find that deed,
And certify that date to you.'
As one
Who has climbed a mountain-height and carried up
His own heart climbing, panting in his throat
With the toil of the ascent, takes breath at last,
Looks back in triumph–so I stood and looked:
'Dear cousin Romney, we have reached the top
Of this steep question, and may rest, I think.
But first, I pray you pardon, that the shock
And surge of natural feeling and event
Had made me oblivious of acquainting you
That this, this letter . . unread, mark,–still sealed,
Was found enfolded in the poor dead hand:
That spirit of hers had gone beyond the address,
Which could not find her though you wrote it clear.–
I know your writing, Romney,–recognise
The open-hearted A, the liberal sweep
Of the G. Now listen,–let us understand;
You will not find that famous deed of gift,
Unless you find it in the letter here,
Which, not being mine, I give you back.–Refuse
To take the letter? well thenyou and I,
As writer and as heiress, open it
Together, by your leave.–Exactly so:
The words in which the noble offering's made,
Are nobler still, my cousin; and, I own,
The proudest and most delicate heart alive,
Distracted from the measure of the gift
By such a grace in giving, might accept
Your largesse without thinking any more
Of the burthen of it, than King Solomon
Considered, when he wore his holy ring
Charactered over with the ineffable spell,
How many carats of fine gold made up
Its money-value. So, Leigh gives to Leigh
Or rather, might have given, observe!–for that's
The point we come to. Here's a proof of gift,
But here's no proof, sir, of acceptancy,
But rather, disproof. Death's black dust, being blown,
Infiltrated through every secret fold
Of this sealed letter by a puff of fate,
Dried up for ever the fresh-written ink,
Annulled the gift, disutilised the grace,
And left these fragments.'
As I spoke, I tore
The paper up and down, and down and up
And crosswise, till it fluttered from my hands,
As forest-leaves, stripped suddenly and rapt
By a whirlwind on Valdarno, drop again,
Drop slow, and strew the melancholy ground
Before the amazed hills . . why, so, indeed,
I'm writing like a poet, somewhat large
In the type of the image,–and exaggerate
A small thing with a great thing, topping it!–
But then I'm thinking how his eyes looked . . his
With what despondent and surprised reproach!
I think the tears were in them as he looked
I think the manly mouth just trembled. Then
He broke the silence.
'I may ask, perhaps,
Although no stranger . . only Romney Leigh,
Which means still less . . than Vincent Carrington . .
Your plans in going hence, and where you go.
This cannot be a secret.'
'All my life
Is open to you, cousin. I go hence
To London, to the gathering-place of souls,
To live mine straight out, vocally, in books;
Harmoniously for others, if indeed
A woman's soul, like man's, be wide enough
To carry the whole octave (that's to prove)
Or, if I fail, still, purely for myself.
Pray God be with me, Romney.'
'Ah, poor child,
Who fight against the mother's 'tiring hand,
And choose the headsman's! May God change his world
For your sake, sweet, and make it mild as heaven,
And juster than I have found you!'
But I paused.
'And you, my cousin?'–
'I,' he said,–'you ask?
You care to ask? Well, girls have curious minds,
And fain would know the end of everything,
Of cousins, therefore, with the rest.
For me, Aurora, I've my work; you know my work;
And having missed this year some personal hope,
I must beware the rather that I miss
No reasonable duty. While you sing
Your happy pastorals of the meads and trees,
Bethink you that I go to impress and prove
On stifled brains and deafened ears, stunned deaf,
Crushed dull with grief, that nature sings itself,
And needs no mediate poet, lute or voice,
To make it vocal. While you ask of men
Your audience, I may get their leave perhaps
For hungry orphans to say audibly
'We're hungry, see,'–for beaten and bullied wives
To hold their unweaned babies up in sight,
Whom orphanage would better; and for all
To speak and claim their portion . . by no means
Of the soil, . . but of the sweat in tilling it,–
Since this is now-a-days turned privilege,
To have only God's curse on us, and not man's
Such work I have for doing, elbow-deep
In social problems,–as you tie your rhymes,
To draw my uses to cohere with needs,
And bring the uneven world back to its round;
Or, failing so much, fill up, bridge at least
To smoother issues, some abysmal cracks
And feuds of earth, intestine heats have made
To keep men separate,–using sorry shifts
Of hospitals, almshouses, infant schools,
And other practical stuff of partial good,
You lovers of the beautiful and whole,
Despise by system.'
'I despise? The scorn
Is yours, my cousin. Poets become such,
Through scorning nothing. You decry them for
The good of beauty, sung and taught by them,
While they respect your practical partial good
As being a part of beauty's self. Adieu!
When God helps all the workers for his world,
The singers shall have help of Him, not last.'

He smiled as men smile when they will not speak
Because of something bitter in the thought;
And still I feel his melancholy eyes
Look judgment on me. It is seven years since:
I know not if 'twas pity or 'twas scorn
Has made them so far-reaching: judge it ye
Who have had to do with pity more than love,
And scorn than hatred. I am used, since then,
To other ways, from equal men. But so,
Even so, we let go hands, my cousin and I,
And, in between us, rushed the torrent-world
To blanch our faces like divided rocks,
And bar for ever mutual sight and touch
Except through swirl of spray and all that roar.

poem by from Aurora Leigh (1856)Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Veronica Serbanoiu
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Third Book

'TO-DAY thou girdest up thy loins thyself,
And goest where thou wouldest: presently
Others shall gird thee,' said the Lord, 'to go
Where thou would'st not.' He spoke to Peter thus,
To signify the death which he should die
When crucified head downwards.
If He spoke
To Peter then, He speaks to us the same;
The word suits many different martyrdoms,
And signifies a multiform of death,
Although we scarcely die apostles, we,
And have mislaid the keys of heaven and earth.

For tis not in mere death that men die most;
And, after our first girding of the loins
In youth's fine linen and fair broidery,
To run up hill and meet the rising sun,
We are apt to sit tired, patient as a fool,
While others gird us with the violent bands
Of social figments, feints, and formalisms,
Reversing our straight nature, lifting up
Our base needs, keeping down our lofty thoughts,
Head downward on the cross-sticks of the world.
Yet He can pluck us from the shameful cross.
God, set our feet low and our forehead high,
And show us how a man was made to walk!

Leave the lamp, Susan, and go up to bed.
The room does very well; I have to write
Beyond the stroke of midnight. Get away;
Your steps, for ever buzzing in the room,
Tease me like gnats. Ah, letters! throw them down
At once, as I must have them, to be sure,
Whether I bid you never bring me such
At such an hour, or bid you. No excuse.
You choose to bring them, as I choose perhaps
To throw them in the fire. Now, get to bed,
And dream, if possible, I am not cross.

Why what a pettish, petty thing I grow,–
A mere, mere woman,–a mere flaccid nerve,-
A kerchief left out all night in the rain,
Turned soft so,–overtasked and overstrained
And overlived in this close London life!
And yet I should be stronger.
Never burn
Your letters, poor Aurora! for they stare
With red seals from the table, saying each,
'Here's something that you know not.' Out alas,
'Tis scarcely that the world's more good and wise
Or even straighter and more consequent
Since yesterday at this timeyet, again,
If but one angel spoke from Ararat,
I should be very sorry not to hear:
So open all the letters! let me read.
Blanche Ord, the writer in the 'Lady's Fan,'
Requests my judgment on . . that, afterwards.
Kate Ward desires the model of my cloak,
And signs, 'Elisha to you.' Pringle Sharpe
Presents his work on 'Social Conduct,' . . craves
A little money for his pressing debts . .
From me, who scarce have money for my needs,–
Art's fiery chariot which we journey in
Being apt to singe our singing-robes to holes,
Although you ask me for my cloak, Kate Ward!
Here's Rudgely knows it,–editor and scribe–
He's 'forced to marry where his heart is not,
Because the purse lacks where he lost his heart.'
Ah,–lost it because no one picked it up!
That's really loss! (and passable impudence.)
My critic Hammond flatters prettily,
And wants another volume like the last.
My critic Belfair wants another book
Entirely different, which will sell, (and live?)
A striking book, yet not a startling book,
The public blames originalities.
(You must not pump spring-water unawares
Upon a gracious public, full of nerves–)
Good things, not subtle, new yet orthodox,
As easy reading as the dog-eared page
That's fingered by said public, fifty years,
Since first taught spelling by its grandmother,
And yet a revelation in some sort:
That's hard, my critic, Belfair! Sowhat next?
My critic Stokes objects to abstract thoughts;
'Call a man, John, a woman, Joan,' says he,
'And do not prate so of humanities:'
Whereat I call my critic, simply Stokes.
My critic Jobson recommends more mirth,
Because a cheerful genius suits the times,
And all true poets laugh unquenchably
Like Shakspeare and the gods. That's very hard,
The gods may laugh, and Shakspeare; Dante smiled
With such a needy heart on two pale lips,
We cry, 'Weep rather, Dante.' Poems are
Men, if true poems: and who dares exclaim
At any man's door, 'Here, 'tis probable
The thunder fell last week, and killed a wife,
And scared a sickly husbandwhat of that?
Get up, be merry, shout, and clap your hands,
Because a cheerful genius suits the times–'?
None says so to the man,–and why indeed
Should any to the poem? A ninth seal;
The apocalypse is drawing to a close.
Ha,–this from Vincent Carrington,–'Dear friend,
I want good counsel. Will you lend me wings
To raise me to the subject, in a sketch
I'll bring to-morrowmay I? at eleven?
A poet's only born to turn to use;
So save you! for the world . . and Carrington.'

'(Writ after.) Have you heard of Romney Leigh,
Beyond what's said of him in newspapers,
His phalansteries there, his speeches here,
His pamphlets, pleas, and statements, everywhere?
He dropped me long ago; but no one drops
A golden applethough, indeed, one day,
You hinted that, but jested. Well, at least,
You know Lord Howe, who sees him . . whom he sees,
And you see, and I hate to see,–for Howe
Stands high upon the brink of theories,
Observes the swimmers, and cries 'Very fine,'
But keeps dry linen equally,–unlike
That gallant breaster, Romney. Strange it is,
Such sudden madness, seizing a young man,
To make earth over again,–while I'm content
To make the pictures. Let me bring the sketch.
A tiptoe Danae, overbold and hot:
Both arms a-flame to meet her wishing Jove
Halfway, and burn him faster down; the face
And breasts upturned and straining, the loose locks
All glowing with the anticipated gold.
Or here's another on the self-same theme.
She lies hereflat upon her prison-floor,
The long hair swathed about her to the heel,
Like wet sea-weed. You dimly see her through
The glittering haze of that prodigious rain,
Half blotted out of nature by a love
As heavy as fate. I'll bring you either sketch.
I think, myself, the second indicates
More passion. '
Surely. Self is put away,
And calm with abdication. She is Jove,
And no more Danae–greater thus. Perhaps
The painter symbolises unawares
Two states of the recipient artist-soul;
One, forward, personal, wanting reverence,
Because aspiring only. We'll be calm,
And know that, when indeed our Joves come down.
We all turn stiller than we have ever been.

Kind Vincent Carrington. I'll let him come.
He talks of Florence,–and may say a word
Of something as it chanced seven years ago,–
A hedgehog in the path, or a lame bird,
In those green country walks, in that good time,
When certainly I was so miserable . .
I seem to have missed a blessing ever since.

The music soars within the little lark,
And the lark soars. It is not thus with men.
We do not make our places with our strains,–
Content, while they rise, to remain behind,
Alone on earth instead of so in heaven.
No matterI bear on my broken tale.

When Romney Leigh and I had parted thus,
I took a chamber up three flights of stairs
Not far from being as steep as some larks climb,
And, in a certain house in Kensington,
Three years I lived and worked. Get leave to work
In this world,–'tis the best you get at all;
For God, in cursing, gives us better gifts
Than men in benediction. God says, 'Sweat
For foreheads;' men say 'crowns;' and so we are crowned,
Ay, gashed by some tormenting circle of steel
Which snaps with a secret spring. Get work; get work;
Be sure 'tis better than what you work to get.

So, happy and unafraid of solitude,
I worked the short days out,–and watched the sun
On lurid morns or monstrous afternoons,
Like some Druidic idol's fiery brass,
With fixed unflickering outline of dead heat,
In which the blood of wretches pent inside
Seemed oozing forth to incarnadine the air,–
Push out through fog with his dilated disk,
And startle the slant roofs and chimney-pots
With splashes of fierce colour. Or I saw
Fog only, the great tawny weltering fog,
Involve the passive city, strangle it
Alive, and draw it off into the void,
Spires, bridges, streets, and squares, as if a sponge
Had wiped out London,–or as noon and night
Had clapped together and utterly struck out
The intermediate time, undoing themselves
In the act. Your city poets see such things,
Not despicable. Mountains of the south,
When, drunk and mad with elemental wines,
They rend the seamless mist and stand up bare,
Make fewer singers, haply. No one sings,
Descending Sinai; on Parnassus mount,
You take a mule to climb, and not a muse,
Except in fable and figure: forests chant
Their anthems to themselves, and leave you dumb.
But sit in London, at the day's decline,
And view the city perish in the mist
Like Pharaoh's armaments in the deep Red Sea,–
The chariots, horsemen, footmen, all the host,
Sucked down and choked to silencethen, surprised
By a sudden sense of vision and of tune,
You feel as conquerors though you did not fight,
And you and Israel's other singing girls,
Ay, Miriam with them, sing the song you choose.

I worked with patience which means almost power
I did some excellent things indifferently,
Some bad things excellently. Both were praised,
The latter loudest. And by such a time
That I myself had set them down as sins
Scarce worth the price of sackcloth, week by week,
Arrived some letter through the sedulous post,
Like these I've read, and yet dissimilar,
With pretty maiden seals,–initials twined
Of lilies, or a heart marked Emily,
(Convicting Emily of being all heart);
Or rarer tokens from young bachelors,
Who wrote from college (with the same goosequill,
Suppose, they had been just plucked of) and a snatch
From Horace, 'Collegisse juvat,' set
Upon the first page. Many a letter signed
Or unsigned, showing the writers at eighteen
Had lived too long, though every muse should help
The daylight, holding candles,–compliments,
To smile or sigh at. Such could pass with me
No more than coins from Moscow circulate
At Paris. Would ten rubles buy a tag
Of ribbon on the boulevard, worth a sou?
I smiled that all this youth should love me,–sighed
That such a love could scarcely raise them up
To love what was more worthy than myself;
Then sighed again, again, less generously,
To think the very love they lavished so,
Proved me inferior. The strong loved me not,
And he . . my cousin Romney . . did not write.
I felt the silent finger of his scorn
Prick every bubble of my frivolous fame
As my breath blew it, and resolve it back
To the air it came from. Oh, I justified
The measure he had taken of my height:
The thing was plainhe was not wrong a line;
I played at art, made thrusts with a toy-sword,
Amused the lads and maidens.
Came a sigh
Deep, hoarse with resolution,–I would work
To better ends, or play in earnest. 'Heavens,
I think I should be almost popular
If this went on!'–I ripped my verses up,
And found no blood upon the rapier's point:
The heart in them was just an embryo's heart,
Which never yet had beat, that it should die:
Just gasps of make-believe galvanic life;
Mere tones, inorganised to any tune.

And yet I felt it in me where it burnt,
Like those hot fire-seeds of creation held
In Jove's clenched palm before the worlds were sown;
But II was not Juno even! my hand
Was shut in weak convulsion, woman's ill,
And when I yearned to loose a finger–lo,
The nerve revolted. 'Tis the same even now:
This hand may never, haply, open large,
Before the spark is quenched, or the palm charred,
To prove the power not else than by the pain.

It burns, it burnt–my whole life burnt with it,
And light, not sunlight and not torchlight, flashed
My steps out through the slow and difficult road.
I had grown distrustful of too forward Springs,
The season's books in drear significance
Of morals, dropping round me. Lively books?
The ash has livelier verdure than the yew;
And yet the yew's green longer, and alone
Found worthy of the holy Christmas time.
We'll plant more yews if possible, albeit
We plant the graveyards with them.
Day and night
I worked my rhythmic thought, and furrowed up
Both watch and slumber with long lines of life
Which did not suit their season. The rose fell
From either cheek, my eyes globed luminous
Through orbits of blue shadow, and my pulse
Would shudder along the purple-veined wrist
Like a shot bird. Youth's stern, set face to face
With youth's ideal: and when people came
And said, 'You work too much, you are looking ill,'
I smiled for pity of them who pitied me,
And thought I should be better soon perhaps
For those ill looks. Observe–' I,' means in youth
Just I . . the conscious and eternal soul
With all its ends,–and not the outside life,
The parcel-man, the doublet of the flesh,
The so much liver, lung, integument,
Which make the sum of 'I' hereafter, when
World-talkers talk of doing well or ill.
I prosper, if I gain a step, although
A nail then pierced my foot: although my brain
Embracing any truth, froze paralysed,
I prosper. I but change my instrument;
I break the spade off, digging deep for gold,
And catch the mattock up.
I worked on, on.
Through all the bristling fence of nights and days
Which hedges time in from the eternities,
I struggled, . . never stopped to note the stakes
Which hurt me in my course. The midnight oil
Would stink sometimes; there came some vulgar needs:
I had to live, that therefore I might work.
And, being but poor, I was constrained, for life,
To work with one hand for the booksellers,
While working with the other for myself
And art. You swim with feet as well as hands
Or make small way. I apprehended this,–
In England, no one lives by verse that lives;
And, apprehending, I resolved by prose
To make a space to sphere my living verse.
I wrote for cyclopædias, magazines,
And weekly papers, holding up my name
To keep it from the mud. I learnt the use
Of the editorial 'we' in a review,
As courtly ladies the fine trick of trains,
And swept it grandly through the open doors
As if one could not pass through doors at all
Save so encumbered. I wrote tales beside,
Carved many an article on cherry-stones
To suit light readers,–something in the lines
Revealing, it was said, the mallet-hand,
But that, I'll never vouch for. What you do
For bread, will taste of common grain, not grapes,
Although you have a vineyard in Champagne,–
Much less in Nephelococcygia,
As mine was, peradventure.
Having bread
For just so many days, just breathing room
For body and verse, I stood up straight and worked
My veritable work. And as the soul
Which grows within a child, makes the child grow,–
Or as the fiery sap, the touch from God,
Careering through a tree, dilates the bark,
And roughs with scale and knob, before it strikes
The summer foliage out in a green flame–
So life, in deepening with me, deepened all
The course I took, the work I did. Indeed,
The academic law convinced of sin;
The critics cried out on the falling off
Regretting the first manner. But I felt
My heart's life throbbing in my verse to show
It lived, it also–certes incomplete,
Disordered with all Adam in the blood,
But even its very tumours, warts, and wens,
Still organised by, and implying life.

A lady called upon me on such a day.
She had the low voice of your English dames,
Unused, it seems, to need rise half a note
To catch attention,–and their quiet mood,
As if they lived too high above the earth
For that to put them out in anything:
So gentle, because verily so proud;
So wary and afeared of hurting you,
By no means that you are not really vile,
But that they would not touch you with their foot
To push you to your place; so self-possessed
Yet gracious and conciliating, it takes
An effort in their presence to speak truth:
You know the sort of woman,–brilliant stuff,
And out of nature. 'Lady Waldemar.'
She said her name quite simply, as if it meant
Not much indeed, but something,–took my hands,
And smiled, as if her smile could help my case,
And dropped her eyes on me, and let them melt.
'Is this,' she said, 'the Muse?'
'No sibyl even,'
I answered, 'since she fails to guess the cause
Which taxed you with this visit, madam.'
'Good,'
She said, 'I like to be sincere at once;
Perhaps, if I had found a literal Muse,
The visit might have taxed me. As it is,
You wear your blue so chiefly in your eyes,
My fair Aurora, in a frank good way,
It comforts me entirely for your fame,
As well as for the trouble of my ascent
To this Olympus. '
There, a silver laugh
Ran rippling through her quickened little breaths
The steep stair somewhat justified.
'But still
Your ladyship has left me curious why
You dared the risk of finding the said Muse?'

'Ah,–keep me, notwithstanding, to the point
Like any pedant. Is the blue in eyes
As awful as in stockings, after all,
I wonder, that you'd have my business out
Before I breathe–exact the epic plunge
In spite of gasps? Well, naturally you think
I've come here, as the lion-hunters go
To deserts, to secure you, with a trap
For exhibition in my drawing-rooms
On zoologic soirées? Not in the least.
Roar softly at me; I am frivolous,
I dare say; I have played at lions, too
Like other women of my class,–but now
I meet my lion simply as Androcles
Met his . . when at his mercy.'
So, she bent
Her head, as queens may mock,–then lifting up
Her eyelids with a real grave queenly look,
Which ruled, and would not spare, not even herself,
'I think you have a cousin:–Romney Leigh.'

'You bring a word from him? '–my eyes leapt up
To the very height of hers,– 'a word from him? '

'I bring a word about him, actually.
But first,'–she pressed me with her urgent eyes
'You do not love him,–you?'
'You're frank at least
In putting questions, madam,' I replied.
'I love my cousin cousinly–no more.'

'I guessed as much. I'm ready to be frank
In answering also, if you'll question me,
Or even with something less. You stand outside,
You artist women, of the common sex;
You share not with us, and exceed us so
Perhaps by what you're mulcted in, your hearts
Being starved to make your heads: so run the old
Traditions of you. I can therefore speak,
Without the natural shame which creatures feel
When speaking on their level, to their like.
There's many a papist she, would rather die
Than own to her maid she put a ribbon on
To catch the indifferent eye of such a man,–
Who yet would count adulteries on her beads
At holy Mary's shrine, and never blush;
Because the saints are so far off, we lose
All modesty before them. Thus, to-day.
'Tis I, love Romney Leigh.'
'Forbear,' I cried.
'If here's no muse, still less is any saint;
Nor even a friend, that Lady Waldemar
Should make confessions' . .
'That's unkindly said.
If no friend, what forbids to make a friend
To join to our confession ere we have done?
I love your cousin. If it seems unwise
To say so, it's still foolisher (we're frank)
To feel so. My first husband left me young,
And pretty enough, so please you, and rich enough,
To keep my booth in May-fair with the rest
To happy issues. There are marquises
Would serve seven years to call me wife, I know:
And, after seven, I might consider it,
For there's some comfort in a marquisate
When all's said,–yes, but after the seven years;
I, now, love Romney. You put up your lip,
So like a Leigh! so like him!–Pardon me,
I am well aware I do not derogate
In loving Romney Leigh. The name is good,
The means are excellent; but the man, the man
Heaven help us both,–I am near as mad as he
In loving such an one.'
She slowly wrung
Her heavy ringlets till they touched her smile,
As reasonably sorry for herself;
And thus continued,–
'Of a truth, Miss Leigh,
I have not, without a struggle, come to this.
I took a master in the German tongue,
I gamed a little, went to Paris twice;
But, after all, this love! . . . you eat of love,
And do as vile a thing as if you ate
Of garlic–which, whatever else you eat,
Tastes uniformly acrid, till your peach
Reminds you of your onion! Am I coarse?
Well, love's coarse, nature's coarse–ah there's the rub!
We fair fine ladies, who park out our lives
From common sheep-paths, cannot help the crows
From flying over,–we're as natural still
As Blowsalinda. Drape us perfectly
In Lyons' velvet,–we are not, for that,
Lay-figures, like you! we have hearts within,
Warm, live, improvident, indecent hearts,
As ready for distracted ends and acts
As any distressed sempstress of them all
That Romney groans and toils for. We catch love
And other fevers, in the vulgar way.
Love will not be outwitted by our wit,
Nor outrun by our equipages:–mine
Persisted, spite of efforts. All my cards
Turned up but Romney Leigh; my German stopped
At germane Wertherism; my Paris rounds
Returned me from the Champs Elysées just
A ghost, and sighing like Dido's. I came home
Uncured,–convicted rather to myself
Of being in love . . in love! That's coarse you'll say
I'm talking garlic.'
Coldly I replied.
'Apologise for atheism, not love!
For, me, I do believe in love, and God.
I know my cousin: Lady Waldemar
I know not: yet I say as much as this
Whoever loves him, let her not excuse
But cleanse herself; that, loving such a man,
She may not do it with such unworthy love
He cannot stoop and take it.'
'That is said
Austerely, like a youthful prophetess,
Who knits her brows across her pretty eyes
To keep them back from following the grey flight
Of doves between the temple-columns. Dear,
Be kinder with me. Let us two be friends.
I'm a mere womanthe more weak perhaps
Through being so proud; you're better; as for him,
He's best. Indeed he builds his goodness up
So high, it topples down to the other side,
And makes a sort of badness; there's the worst
I have to say against your cousin's best!
And so be mild, Aurora, with my worst,
For his sake, if not mine.'
'I own myself
Incredulous of confidence like this
Availing him or you.'
'I, worthy of him?
In your sense I am not solet it pass.
And yet I save him if I marry him;
Let that pass too.'
'Pass, pass, we play police
Upon my cousin's life, to indicate
What may or may not pass?' I cried. 'He knows
what's worthy of him; the choice remains with him;
And what he chooses, act or wife, I think
I shall not call unworthy, I, for one.'
'Tis somewhat rashly said,' she answered slow.
Now let's talk reason, though we talk of love.
Your cousin Romney Leigh's a monster! there,
The word's out fairly; let me prove the fact.
We'll take, say, that most perfect of antiques,
They call the Genius of the Vatican,
Which seems too beauteous to endure itself
In this mixed world, and fasten it for once
Upon the torso of the Drunken Fawn,
(Who might limp surely, if he did not dance,)
Instead of Buonarroti's mask: what then?
We show the sort of monster Romney is,
With god-like virtue and heroic aims
Subjoined to limping possibilities
Of mismade human nature. Grant the man
Twice godlike, twice heroic,–still he limps,
And here's the point we come to.'
'Pardon me,
But, Lady Waldemar, the point's the thing
We never come to.'
'Caustic, insolent
At need! I like you'–(there, she took my hands)
'And now my lioness, help Androcles,
For all your roaring. Help me! for myself
I would not say sobut for him. He limps
So certainly, he'll fall into the pit
A week hence,–so I lose himso he is lost!
And when he's fairly married, he a Leigh,
To a girl of doubtful life, undoubtful birth,
Starved out in London, till her coarse-grained hands
Are whiter than her morals,–you, for one,
May call his choice most worthy.'
'Married! lost!
He, . . . Romney!'
'Ah, you're moved at last,' she said.
'These monsters, set out in the open sun,
Of course throw monstrous shadows: those who think
Awry, will scarce act straightly. Who but he?
And who but you can wonder? He has been mad,
The whole world knows, since first, a nominal man,
He soured the proctors, tried the gownsmen's wits,
With equal scorn of triangles and wine,
And took no honours, yet was honourable.
They'll tell you he lost count of Homer's ships
In Melbourne's poor-bills, Ashley's factory bills,–
Ignored the Aspasia we all dared to praise,
For other women, dear, we could not name
Because we're decent. Well, he had some right
On his side probably; men always have,
Who go absurdly wrong. The living boor
Who brews your ale, exceeds in vital worth
Dead Caesar who 'stops bungholes' in the cask;
And also, to do good is excellent,
For persons of his income, even to boors:
I sympathise with all such things. But he
Went mad upon them . . madder and more mad,
From college times to these,–as, going down hill,
The faster still, the farther! you must know
Your Leigh by heart; he has sown his black young curls
With bleaching cares of half a million men
Already. If you do not starve, or sin,
You're nothing to him. Pay the income-tax,
And break your heart upon't . . . he'll scarce be touched;
But come upon the parish, qualified
For the parish stocks, and Romney will be there
To call you brother, sister, or perhaps
A tenderer name still. Had I any chance
With Mister Leigh, who am Lady Waldemar,
And never committed felony?'
'You speak
Too bitterly,' I said, 'for the literal truth.'

'The truth is bitter. Here's a man who looks
For ever on the ground! you must be low;
Or else a pictured ceiling overhead,
Good painting thrown away. For me, I've done
What women may, (we're somewhat limited,
We modest women) but I've done my best.
How men are perjured when they swear our eyes
Have meaning in them! they're just blue or brown,–
They just can drop their lids a little. In fact,
Mine did more, for I read half Fourier through,
Proudhon, Considerant, and Louis Blanc
With various other of his socialists;
And if I had been a fathom less in love,
Had cured myself with gaping. As it was,
I quoted from them prettily enough,
Perhaps, to make them sound half rational
To a saner man than he, whene'er we talked,
(For which I dodged occasion)–learnt by heart
His speeches in the Commons and elsewhere
Upon the social question; heaped reports
Of wicked women and penitentiaries,
On all my tables, with a place for Sue;
And gave my name to swell subscription-lists
Toward keeping up the sun at nights in heaven,
And other possible ends. All things I did,
Except the impossible . . such as wearing gowns
Provided by the Ten Hours' movement! there,
I stoppedwe must stop somewhere. He, meanwhile,
Unmoved as the Indian tortoise 'neath the world
Let all that noise go on upon his back;
He would not disconcert or throw me out;
'Twas well to see a woman of my class
With such a dawn of conscience. For the heart,
Made firewood for his sake, and flaming up
To his very face . . he warmed his feet at it:
But deigned to let my carriage stop him short
In park or street,–he leaning on the door
With news of the committee which sate last
On pickpockets at suck.'

'You jest–you jest.'

'As martyrs jest, dear (if you read their lives),
Upon the axe which kills them. When all's done
By me, . . for himyou'll ask him presently
The color of my hairhe cannot tell,
Or answers 'dark' at random,–while, be sure,
He's absolute on the figure, five or ten,
Of my last subscription. Is it bearable,
And I a woman?'
'Is it reparable,
Though I were a man?'
'I know not. That's to prove.
But, first, this shameful marriage?'
'Ay?' I cried.
'Then really there's a marriage.'
'Yesterday
I held him fast upon it. 'Mister Leigh,'
Said I, 'shut up a thing, it makes more noise.
'The boiling town keeps secrets ill; I've known
'Yours since last week. Forgive my knowledge so:
'You feel I'm not the woman of the world
'The world thinks; you have borne with me before
'And used me in your noble work, our work,
'And now you shall not cast me off because
'You're at the difficult point, the join. 'Tis true
'Even if I can scarce admit the cogency
'Of such a marriage . . where you do not love
'(Except the class), yet marry and throw your name
'Down to the gutter, for a fire-escape
'To future generation! it's sublime,
'A great example,–a true Genesis
'Of the opening social era. But take heed;
'This virtuous act must have a patent weight,
'Or loses half its virtue. Make it tell,
'Interpret it, and set it in the light,
'And do not muffle it in a winter-cloak
'As a vulgar bit of shame,–as if, at best,
'A Leigh had made a misalliance and blushed
'A Howard should know it.' Then, I pressed him more
'He would not choose,' I said, 'that even his kin, . .
'Aurora Leigh, even . . should conceive his act
'Less sacrifice, more appetite.' At which
He grew so pale, dear, . . to the lips, I knew
I had touched him. 'Do you know her,' he inquired,
'My cousin Aurora?' 'Yes,' I said, and lied
(But truly we all know you by your books),
And so I offered to come straight to you,
Explain the subject, justify the cause,
And take you with me to Saint Margaret's Court
To see this miracle, this Marian Erle,
This drover's daughter (she's not pretty, he swears),
Upon whose finger, exquisitely pricked
By a hundred needles, we're to hang the tie
'Twixt class and class in England,–thus indeed
By such a presence, yours and mine, to lift
The match up from the doubtful place. At once
He thanked me, sighing, . . murmured to himself
'She'll do it perhaps; she's noble,'–thanked me, twice,
And promised, as my guerdon, to put off
His marriage for a month.'
I answered then.
'I understand your drift imperfectly.
You wish to lead me to my cousin's betrothed,
To touch her hand if worthy, and hold her hand
If feeble, thus to justify his match.
So be it then. But how this serves your ends,
And how the strange confession of your love
Serves this, I have to learnI cannot see.'

She knit her restless forehead. 'Then, despite,
Aurora, that most radiant morning name,
You're dull as any London afternoon.
I wanted time,–and gained it,–wanted you,
And gain you! You will come and see the girl
In whose most prodigal eyes, the lineal pearl
And pride of all your lofty race of Leighs
Is destined to solution. Authorised
By sight and knowledge, then, you'll speak your mind,
And prove to Romney, in your brilliant way,
He'll wrong the people and posterity
(Say such a thing is bad for you and me,
And you fail utterly), by concluding thus
An execrable marriage. Break it up.
Disroot itperadventure, presently,
We'll plant a better fortune in its place.
Be good to me, Aurora, scorn me less
For saying the thing I should not. Well I know
I should not. I have kept, as others have,
The iron rule of womanly reserve
In lip and life, till now: I wept a week
Before I came here.'–Ending, she was pale;
The last words, haughtily said, were tremulous.
This palfrey pranced in harness, arched her neck,
And, only by the foam upon the bit,
You saw she champed against it.
Then I rose.
'I love love: truth's no cleaner thing than love.
I comprehend a love so fiery hot
It burns its natural veil of august shame,
And stands sublimely in the nude, as chaste
As Medicean Venus. But I know,
A love that burns through veils will burn through masks
And shrivel up treachery. What, love and lie!
Naygo to the opera! your love's curable.'

'I love and lie!' she said–'I lie, forsooth?'
And beat her taper foot upon the floor,
And smiled against the shoe,–'You're hard, Miss Leigh,
Unversed in current phrases.–Bowling-greens
Of poets are fresher than the world's highways:
Forgive me that I rashly blew the dust
Which dims our hedges even, in your eyes,
And vexed you so much. You find, probably,
No evil in this marriage,–rather good
Of innocence, to pastoralise in song:
You'll give the bond your signature, perhaps,
Beneath the lady's work,–indifferent
That Romney chose a wife, could write her name,
In witnessing he loved her.'
'Loved!' I cried;
'Who tells you that he wants a wife to love?
He gets a horse to use, not love, I think:
There's work for wives as well,–and after, straw,
When men are liberal. For myself, you err
Supposing power in me to break this match.
I could not do it, to save Romney's life,
And would not, to save mine.'
'You take it so,'
She said, 'farewell then. Write your books in peace,
As far as may be for some secret stir
Now obvious to me,–for, most obviously,
In coming hither I mistook the way.'
Whereat she touched my hand and bent her head,
And floated from me like a silent cloud
That leaves the sense of thunder.
I drew breath,
As hard as in a sick-room. After all,
This woman breaks her social system up
For love, so counted–the love possible
To such,–and lilies are still lilies, pulled
By smutty hands, though spotted from their white;
And thus she is better, haply, of her kind,
Than Romney Leigh, who lives by diagrams,
And crosses out the spontaneities
Of all his individual, personal life
With formal universals. As if man
Were set upon a high stool at a desk,
To keep God's books for Him, in red and black,
And feel by millions! What, if even God
Were chiefly God by living out Himself
To an individualism of the Infinite,
Eterne, intense, profuse,–still throwing up
The golden spray of multitudinous worlds
In measure to the proclive weight and rush
Of his inner nature,–the spontaneous love
Still proof and outflow of spontaneous life?
Then live, Aurora!
Two hours afterward,
Within Saint Margaret's Court I stood alone,
Close-veiled. A sick child, from an ague-fit,
Whose wasted right hand gambled 'gainst his left
With an old brass button, in a blot of sun,
Jeered weakly at me as I passed across
The uneven pavement; while a woman, rouged
Upon the angular cheek-bones, kerchief torn,
Thin dangling locks, and flat lascivious mouth,
Cursed at a window, both ways, in and out,
By turns some bed-rid creature and myself,–
'Lie still there, mother! liker the dead dog
You'll be to-morrow. What, we pick our way,
Fine madam, with those damnable small feet!
We cover up our face from doing good,
As if it were our purse! What brings you here,
My lady? is't to find my gentleman
Who visits his tame pigeon in the eaves?
Our cholera catch you with its cramps and spasms,
And tumble up your good clothes, veil and all,
And turn your whiteness dead-blue.' I looked up;
I think I could have walked through hell that day,
And never flinched. 'The dear Christ comfort you,'
I said, 'you must have been most miserable
To be so cruel,'–and I emptied out
My purse upon the stones: when, as I had cast
The last charm in the cauldron, the whole court
Went boiling, bubbling up, from all its doors
And windows, with a hideous wail of laughs
And roar of oaths, and blows perhaps . . I passed
Too quickly for distinguishing . . and pushed
A little side-door hanging on a hinge,
And plunged into the dark, and groped and climbed
The long, steep, narrow stair 'twixt broken rail
And mildewed wall that let the plaster drop
To startle me in the blackness. Still, up, up!
So high lived Romney's bride. I paused at last
Before a low door in the roof, and knocked;
There came an answer like a hurried dove–
'So soon! can that be Mister Leigh? so soon?'
And, as I entered, an ineffable face
Met mine upon the threshold. 'Oh, not you,
Not you!' . . the dropping of the voice implied;
'Then, if not you, for me not any one.'
I looked her in the eyes, and held her hands,
And said 'I am his cousin,–Romney Leigh's;
And here I'm come to see my cousin too.'
She touched me with her face and with her voice,
This daughter of the people. Such soft flowers
From such rough roots? The people, under there,
Can sin so, curse so, look so, smell so . . . faugh!
Yet have such daughters!
Nowise beautiful
Was Marian Erle. She was not white nor brown,
But could look either, like a mist that changed
According to being shone on more or less:
The hair, too, ran its opulence of curls
In doubt 'twixt dark and bright, nor left you clear
To name the color. Too much hair perhaps
(I'll name a fault here) for so small a head,
Which seemed to droop on that side and on this,
As a full-blown rose uneasy with its weight,
Though not a breath should trouble it. Again,
The dimple in the cheek had better gone
With redder, fuller rounds; and somewhat large
The mouth was, though the milky little teeth
Dissolved it to so infantile a smile!
For soon it smiled at me; the eyes smiled too,
But 'twas as if remembering they had wept,
And knowing they should, some day, weep again.

We talked. She told me all her story out,
Which I'll re-tell with fuller utterance,
As coloured and confirmed in aftertimes
By others, and herself too. Marian Erle
Was born upon the ledge of Malvern Hill,
To eastward, in a hut, built up at night,
To evade the landlord's eye, of mud and turf,
Still liable, if once he looked that way,
To being straight levelled, scattered by his foot,
Like any other anthill. Born, I say;
God sent her to his world, commissioned right,
Her human testimonials fully signed,
Not scant in soulcomplete in lineaments;
But others had to swindle her a place
To wail in when she had come. No place for her,
By man's law! born an outlaw, was this babe;
Her first cry in our strange and strangling air,
When cast in spasms out by the shuddering womb,
Was wrong against the social code,–forced wrong.
What business had the baby to cry there?

I tell her story and grow passionate.
She, Marian, did not tell it so, but used
Meek words that made no wonder of herself
For being so sad a creature. 'Mister Leigh
Considered truly that such things should change.
They will, in heavenbut meantime, on the earth,
There's none can like a nettle as a pink,
Except himself. We're nettles, some of us,
And give offence by the act of springing up;
And, if we leave the damp side of the wall,
The hoes, of course, are on us.' So she said.
Her father earned his life by random jobs
Despised by steadier workmen–keeping swine
On commons, picking hops, or hurrying on
The harvest at wet seasons,–or, at need,
Assisting the Welsh drovers, when a drove
Of startled horses plunged into the mist
Below the mountain-road, and sowed the wind
With wandering neighings. In between the gaps
Of such irregular work, he drank and slept,
And cursed his wife because, the pence being out,
She could not buy more drink. At which she turned,
(The worm), and beat her baby in revenge
For her own broken heart. There's not a crime
But takes its proper change out still in crime
If once rung on the counter of this world:
Let sinners look to it.
Yet the outcast child,
For whom the very mother's face forewent
The mother's special patience, lived and grew;
Learnt early to cry low, and walk alone,
With that pathetic vacillating roll
Of the infant body on the uncertain feet,
(The earth being felt unstable ground so soon)
At which most women's arms unclose at once
With irrepressive instinct. Thus, at three,
This poor weaned kid would run off from the fold,
This babe would steal off from the mother's chair,
And, creeping through the golden walls of gorse,
Would find some keyhole toward the secrecy
Of Heaven's high blue, and, nestling down, peer out
Oh, not to catch the angels at their games,
She had never heard of angels, but to gaze
She knew not why, to see she knew not what,
A-hungering outward from the barren earth
For something like a joy. She liked, she said,
To dazzle black her sight against the sky,
For then, it seemed, some grand blind Love came down,
And groped her out, and clasped her with a kiss;
She learnt God that way, and was beat for it
Whenever she went home,–yet came again,
As surely as the trapped hare, getting free,
Returns to his form. This grand blind Love, she said,
This skyey father and mother both in one,
Instructed her and civilised her more
Than even the Sunday-school did afterward,
To which a lady sent her to learn books
And sit upon a long bench in a row
With other children. Well, she laughed sometimes
To see them laugh and laugh, and moil their texts;
But ofter she was sorrowful with noise,
And wondered if their mothers beat them hard
That ever they should laugh so. There was one
She loved indeed,–Rose Bell, a seven years' child,
So pretty and clever, who read syllables
When Marian was at letters; she would laugh
At nothinghold your finger up, she laughed,
Then shook her curls down on her eyes and mouth
To hide her make-mirth from the schoolmaster.
And Rose's pelting glee, as frank as rain
On cherry-blossoms, brightened Marian too,
To see another merry whom she loved.
She whispered once (the children side by side,
With mutual arms entwined about their necks)
'Your mother lets you laugh so?' 'Ay,' said Rose,
'She lets me. She was dug into the ground
Six years since, I being but a yearling wean.
Such mothers let us play and lose our time,
And never scold nor beat us! Don't you wish
You had one like that?' There, Marian, breaking off
Looked suddenly in my face. 'Poor Rose,' said she,
'I heard her laugh last night in Oxford Street.
I'd pour out half my blood to stop that laugh,–
Poor Rose, poor Rose!' said Marian.
She resumed.
It tried her, when she had learnt at Sunday-school
What God was, what he wanted from us all,
And how, in choosing sin, we vexed the Christ,
To go straight home and hear her father pull
The name down on us from the thunder-shelf,
Then drink away his soul into the dark
From seeing judgment. Father, mother, home,
Were God and heaven reversed to her: the more
She knew of Right, the more she guessed their wrong:
Her price paid down for knowledge, was to know
The vileness of her kindred: through her heart,
Her filial and tormented heart, henceforth
They struck their blows at virtue. Oh, 'tis hard
To learn you have a father up in heaven
By a gathering certain sense of being, on earth,
Still worse than orphaned: 'tis too heavy a grief,
The having to thank God for such a joy!

And so passed Marian's life from year to year.
Her parents took her with them when they tramped,
Dodged lanes and heaths, frequented towns and fairs,
And once went farther and saw Manchester,
And once the sea, that blue end of the world,
That fair scroll-finis of a wicked book,–
And twice a prison, back at intervals,
Returning to the hills. Hills draw like heaven,
And stronger sometimes, holding out their hands
To pull you from the vile flats up to them;
And though, perhaps, these strollers still strolled back,
As sheep do, simply that they knew the way,
They certainly felt bettered unawares
Emerging from the social smut of towns
To wipe their feet clean on the mountain turf.
In which long wanderings, Marian lived and learned,
Endured and learned. The people on the roads
Would stop and ask her how her eyes outgrew
Her cheeks, and if she meant to lodge the birds
In all that hair; and then they lifted her,
The miller in his cart, a mile or twain,
The butcher's boy on horseback. Often, too,
The pedlar stopped, and tapped her on the head
With absolute forefinger, brown and ringed,
And asked if peradventure she could read:
And when she answered 'ay,' would toss her down
Some stray odd volume from his heavy pack,
A Thomson's Seasons, mulcted of the Spring,
Or half a play of Shakespeare's, torn across:
(She had to guess the bottom of a page
By just the top sometimes,–as difficult,
As, sitting on the moon, to guess the earth!),
Or else a sheaf of leaves (for that small Ruth's
Small gleanings) torn out from the heart of books,
From Churchyard Elegies and Edens Lost,
From Burns, and Bunyan, Selkirk, and Tom Jones.
'Twas somewhat hard to keep the things distinct,
And oft the jangling influence jarred the child
Like looking at a sunset full of grace
Through a pothouse window while the drunken oaths
Went on behind her; but she weeded out
Her book-leaves, threw away the leaves that hurt,
(First tore them small, that none should find a word),
And made a nosegay of the sweet and good
To fold within her breast, and pore upon
At broken moments of the noontide glare,
When leave was given her to untie her cloak
And rest upon the dusty roadside bank
From the highway's dust. Or oft, the journey done,
Some city friend would lead her by the hand
To hear a lecture at an institute.
And thus she had grown, this Marian Erle of ours,
To no book-learning,–she was ignorant
Of authors,–not in earshot of the things
Out-spoken o'er the heads of common men,
By men who are uncommon,–but within
The cadenced hum of such, and capable
Of catching from the fringes of the wind
Some fragmentary phrases, here and there,
Of that fine music,–which, being carried in
To her soul, had reproduced itself afresh
In finer motions of the lips and lids.

She said, in speaking of it, 'If a flower
Were thrown you out of heaven at intervals,
You'd soon attain to a trick of looking up,–
And so with her.' She counted me her years,
Till I felt old; and then she counted me
Her sorrowful pleasures, till I felt ashamed.
She told me she was almost glad and calm
On such and such a season; sate and sewed,
With no one to break up her crystal thoughts:
While rhymes from lovely poems span around
Their ringing circles of ecstatic tune,
Beneath the moistened finger of the Hour.
Her parents called her a strange, sickly child,
Not good for much, and given to sulk and stare,
And smile into the hedges and the clouds,
And tremble if one shook her from her fit
By any blow, or word even. Out-door jobs
Went ill with her; and household quiet work
She was not born to. Had they kept the north,
They might have had their pennyworth out of her
Like other parents, in the factories;
(Your children work for you, not you for them,
Or else they better had been choked with air
The first breath drawn;) but, in this tramping life,
Was nothing to be done with such a child,
But tramp and tramp. And yet she knitted hose
Not ill, and was not dull at needlework;
And all the country people gave her pence
For darning stockings past their natural age,
And patching petticoats from old to new,
And other light work done for thrifty wives.

One day, said Marianthe sun shone that day
Her mother had been badly beat, and felt
The bruises sore about her wretched soul
(That must have been): she came in suddenly,
And snatching, in a sort of breathless rage,
Her daughter's headgear comb, let down the hair
Upon her, like a sudden waterfall,
Then drew her drenched and passive, by the arm,
Outside the hut they lived in. When the child
Could clear her blinded face from all that stream
Of tresses . . there, a man stood, with beasts' eyes
That seemed as they would swallow her alive,
Complete in body and spirit, hair and all,–
With burning stertorous breath that hurt her cheek,
He breathed so near. The mother held her tight,
Saying hard between her teeth–'Why wench, why wench,
The squire speaks to you nowthe squire's too good,
He means to set you up and comfort us.
Be mannerly at least.' The child turned round
And looked up piteous in the mother's face
(Be sure that mother's death-bed will not want
Another devil to damn, than such a look),
'Oh, mother!' then, with desperate glance to heaven,
'Good, free me from my mother,' she shrieked out,
'These mothers are too dreadful.' And, with force
As passionate as fear, she tore her hands,
Like lilies from the rocks, from hers and his,
And sprang down, bounded headlong down the steep,
Away from bothaway, if possible,
As far as God,–away! They yelled at her,
As famished hounds at a hare. She heard them yell;
She felt her name hiss after her from the hills,
Like shot from guns. On, on. And now she had cast
The voices off with the uplands. On. Mad fear
Was running in her feet and killing the ground;
The white roads curled as if she burnt them up,
The green fields melted, wayside trees fell back
To make room for her. Then her head grew vexed;
Trees, fields, turned on her and ran after her;
She heard the quick pants of the hills behind,
Their keen air pricked her neck. She had lost her feet,
Could run no more, yet somehow went as fast,–
The horizon, red, 'twixt steeples in the east
So sucked her forward, forward, while her heart
Kept swelling, swelling, till it swelled so big
It seemed to fill her body; then it burst,
And overflowed the world and swamped the light,
'And now I am dead and safe,' thought Marian Erle
She had dropped, she had fainted.
When the sense returned,
The night had passednot life's night. She was 'ware
Of heavy tumbling motions, creaking wheels,
The driver shouting to the lazy team
That swung their rankling bells against her brain,
While, through the waggon's coverture and chinks,
The cruel yellow morning pecked at her
Alive or dead, upon the straw inside,–
At which her soul ached back into the dark
And prayed, 'no more of that.' A waggoner
Had found her in a ditch beneath the moon,
As white as moonshine, save for the oozing blood.
At first he thought her dead; but when he had wiped
The mouth and heard it sigh, he raised her up,
And laid her in his waggon in the straw,
And so conveyed her to the distant town
To which his business called himself, and left
That heap of misery at the hospital.

She stirred;–the place seemed new and strange as death.
The white strait bed, with others strait and white,
Like graves dug side by side, at measured lengths,
And quiet people walking in and out
With wonderful low voices and soft steps,
And apparitional equal care for each,
Astonished her with order, silence, law:
And when a gentle hand held out a cup,
She took it, as you do at sacrament,
Half awed, half melted,–not being used, indeed,
To so much love as makes the form of love
And courtesy of manners. Delicate drinks
And rare white bread, to which some dying eyes
Were turned in observation. O my God,
How sick we must be, ere we make men just!
I think it frets the saints in heaven to see
How many Desolate creatures on the earth
Have learnt the simple dues of fellowship
And social comfort, in a hospital,
As Marian did. She lay there, stunned, half tranced,
And wished, at intervals of growing sense,
She might be sicker yet, if sickness made
The world so marvellous kind, the air so hushed,
And all her wake-time quiet as a sleep;
For now she understood, (as such things were)
How sickness ended very oft in heaven,
Among the unspoken raptures. Yet more sick,
And surelier happy. Then she dropped her lids,
And, folding up her hands as flowers at night,
Would lose no moment of the blessed time.

She lay and seethed in fever many weeks;
But youth was strong and overcame the test;
Revolted soul and flesh were reconciled
And fetched back to the necessary day
And daylight duties. She could creep about
The long bare rooms, and stare out drearily
From any narrow window on the street,
Till some one, who had nursed her as a friend,
Said coldly to her, as an enemy,
'She had leave to go next week, being well enough,'
While only her heart ached. 'Go next week,' thought she,
'Next week! how would it be with her next week,
Let out into that terrible street alone
Among the pushing people, . . to go . . where?'

One day, the last before the dreaded last,
Among the convalescents, like herself
Prepared to go next morning, she sate dumb,
And heard half absently the women talk,
How one was famished for her baby's cheeks
'The little wretch would know her! a year old,
And lively, like his father!' one was keen
To get to work, and fill some clamorous mouths;
And one was tender for her dear goodman
Who had missed her sorely,–and one, querulous . .
'Would pay those scandalous neighbours who had dared
To talk about her as already dead,'–
And one was proud . . 'and if her sweetheart Luke
Had left her for a ruddier face than hers,
(The gossip would be seen through at a glance)
Sweet riddance of such sweethearts–let him hang!
'Twere good to have been as sick for such an end.'

And while they talked, and Marian felt the worse
For having missed the worst of all their wrongs,
A visitor was ushered through the wards
And paused among the talkers. 'When he looked,
It was as if he spoke, and when he spoke
He sang perhaps,' said Marian; 'could she tell?
She only knew' (so much she had chronicled,
As seraphs might, the making of the sun)
'That he who came and spake was Romney Leigh,
And then, and there, she saw and heard him first.'
And when it was her turn to have the face
Upon her,–all those buzzing pallid lips
Being satisfied with comfortwhen he changed
To Marian, saying, 'And you? You're going, where?'–
She, moveless as a worm beneath a stone
Which some one's stumbling foot has spurned aside,
Writhed suddenly, astonished with the light,
And breaking into sobs cried, 'Where I go?
None asked me till this moment. Can I say
Where I go? When it has not seemed worth while
To God himself, who thinks of every one,
To think of me, and fix where I shall go?'

'So young,' he gently asked her, 'you have lost
Your father and your mother?'
'Both' she said,
'Both lost! My father was burnt up with gin
Or ever I sucked milk, and so is lost.
My mother sold me to a man last month,
And so my mother's lost, 'tis manifest.
And I, who fled from her for miles and miles,
As if I had caught sight of the fires of hell
Through some wild gap, (she was my mother, sir)
It seems I shall be lost too, presently,
And so we end, all three of us.'
'Poor child!'
He said,–with such a pity in his voice,
It soothed her more than her own tears,–'poor child!
'Tis simple that betrayal by mother's love
Should bring despair of God's too. Yet be taught
He's better to us than many mothers are,
And children cannot wander beyond reach
Of the sweep of his white raiment. Touch and hold'
And if you weep still, weep where John was laid
While Jesus loved him.'
'She could say the words,'
She told me, 'exactly as he uttered them
A year back, . . since in any doubt or dark,
They came out like the stars, and shone on her
With just their comfort. Common words, perhaps;
The ministers in church might say the same;
But he, he made the church with what he spoke,–
The difference was the miracle,' said she.

Then catching up her smile to ravishment,
She added quickly, 'I repeat his words,
But not his tones: can any one repeat
The music of an organ, out of church?
And when he said 'poor child,' I shut my eyes
To feel how tenderly his voice broke through,
As the ointment-box broke on the Holy feet
To let out the rich medicative nard.'

She told me how he had raised and rescued her
With reverent pity, as, in touching grief,
He touched the wounds of Christ,–and made her feel
More self-respecting. Hope, he called, belief
In God,–work, worship . . therefore let us pray!
And thus, to snatch her soul from atheism,
And keep it stainless from her mother's face,
He sent her to a famous sempstress-house
Far off in London, there to work and hope.

With that they parted. She kept sight of Heaven,
But not of Romney. He had good to do
To others: through the days and through the nights,
She sewed and sewed and sewed. She drooped sometimes,
And wondered, while, along the tawny light,
She struck the new thread into her needle's eye,
How people without mothers on the hills,
Could choose the town to live in!–then she drew
The stitch, and mused how Romney's face would look,
And if 'twere likely he'd remember hers,
When they two had their meeting after death.

poem by from Aurora Leigh (1856)Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Veronica Serbanoiu
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Fifth Book

AURORA LEIGH, be humble. Shall I hope
To speak my poems in mysterious tune
With man and nature,–with the lava-lymph
That trickles from successive galaxies
Still drop by drop adown the finger of God,
In still new worlds?–with summer-days in this,
That scarce dare breathe, they are so beautiful?–
With spring's delicious trouble in the ground
Tormented by the quickened blood of roots.
And softly pricked by golden crocus-sheaves
In token of the harvest-time of flowers?–
With winters and with autumns,–and beyond,
With the human heart's large seasons,–when it hopes
And fears, joys, grieves, and loves?–with all that strain
Of sexual passion, which devours the flesh
In a sacrament of souls? with mother's breasts,
Which, round the new made creatures hanging there,
Throb luminous and harmonious like pure spheres?–
With multitudinous life, and finally
With the great out-goings of ecstatic souls,
Who, in a rush of too long prisoned flame,
Their radiant faces upward, burn away
This dark of the body, issuing on a world
Beyond our mortal?–can I speak my verse
So plainly in tune to these things and the rest,
That men shall feel it catch them on the quick,
As having the same warrant over them
To hold and move them, if they will or no,
Alike imperious as the primal rhythm
Of that theurgic nature? I must fail,
Who fail at the beginning to hold and move
One man,–and he my cousin, and he my friend,
And he born tender, made intelligent,
Inclined to ponder the precipitous sides
Of difficult questions; yet, obtuse to me,–
Of me, incurious! likes me very well,
And wishes me a paradise of good,
Good looks, good means, and good digestion!–ay,
But otherwise evades me, puts me off
With kindness, with a tolerant gentleness,–
Too light a book for a grave man's reading! Go,
Aurora Leigh: be humble.
There it is;
We women are too apt to look to one,
Which proves a certain impotence in art.
We strain our natures at doing something great,
Far less because it's something great to do,
Than, haply, that we, so, commend ourselves
As being not small, and more appreciable
To some one friend. We must have mediators
Betwixt our highest conscience and the judge;
Some sweet saint's blood must quicken in our palms.
Or all the life in heaven seems slow and cold:
Good only, being perceived as the end of good,
And God alone pleased,–that's too poor, we think,
And not enough for us, by any means.
AyRomney, I remember, told me once
We miss the abstract, when we comprehend!
We miss it most when we aspire, . . and fail.

Yet, so, I will not.–This vile woman's way
Of trailing garments, shall not trip me up.
I'll have no traffic with the personal thought
In art's pure temple. Must I work in vain,
Without the approbation of a man?
It cannot be; it shall not. Fame itself,
That approbation of the general race,
Presents a poor end, (though the arrow speed,
Shot straight with vigorous finger to the white,)
And the highest fame was never reached except
By what was aimed above it. Art for art,
And good for God Himself, the essential Good!
We'll keep our aims sublime, our eyes erect,
Although our woman-hands should shake and fail;
And if we fail . . But must we?–
Shall I fail?
The Greeks said grandly in their tragic phrase,
'Let no one be called happy till his death.'
To which I add,–Let no one till his death
Be called unhappy. Measure not the work
Until the day's out and the labour done;
Then bring your gauges. If the day's work's scant,
Why, call it scant; affect no compromise;
And, in that we have nobly striven at least,
Deal with us nobly, women though we be,
And honour us with truth, if not with praise.

My ballads prospered; but the ballad's race
Is rapid for a poet who bears weights
Of thought and golden image. He can stand
Like Atlas, in the sonnet,–and support
His own heavens pregnant with dynastic stars;
But then he must stand still, nor take a step.

In that descriptive poem called 'The Hills,'
The prospects were too far and indistinct.
'Tis true my critics said, 'A fine view, that!'
The public scarcely cared to climb the book
For even the finest; and the public's right,
A tree's mere firewood, unless humanised;
Which well the Greeks knew, when they stirred the bark
With close-pressed bosoms of subsiding nymphs,
And made the forest-rivers garrulous
With babble of gods. For us, we are called to mark
A still more intimate humanity
In this inferior nature,–or, ourselves,
Must fall like dead leaves trodden underfoot
By veritabler artists. Earth shut up
By Adam, like a fakir in a box
Left too long buried, remained stiff and dry,
A mere dumb corpse, till Christ the Lord came down,
Unlocked the doors, forced opened the blank eyes,
And used his kingly chrisms to straighten out
The leathery tongue turned back into the throat:
Since when, she lives, remembers, palpitates
In every lip, aspires in every breath,
Embraces infinite relations. Now,
We want no half-gods, Panomph&alig;ean Joves,
Fauns, Naiads, Tritons, Oreads, and the rest,
To take possession of a senseless world
To unnatural vampire-uses. See the earth,
The body of our body, the green earth,
Indubitably human, like this flesh
And these articulated veins through which
Our heart drives blood! There's not a flower of spring,
That dies ere June, but vaunts itself allied
By issue and symbol, by significance
And correspondence, to that spirit-world
Outside the limits of our space and time,
Whereto we are bound. Let poets give it voice
With human meanings; else they miss the thought,
And henceforth step down lower, stand confessed
Instructed poorly for interpreters,–
Thrown out by an easy cowslip in the text.

Even so my pastoral failed: it was a book
Of surface-pictures–pretty, cold, and false
With literal transcript,–the worse done, I think,
For being not ill-done. Let me set my mark
Against such doings, and do otherwise.
This strikes me.–if the public whom we know,
Could catch me at such admissions, I should pass
For being right modest. Yet how proud we are,
In daring to look down upon ourselves!

The critics say that epics have died out
With Agamemnon and the goat-nursed gods
I'll not believe it. I could never dream
As Payne Knight did, (the mythic mountaineer
Who travelled higher than he was born to live,
And showed sometimes the goitre in his throat
Discoursing of an image seen through fog,)
That Homer's heroes measured twelve feet high.
They were but men!–his Helen's hair turned grey
Like any plain Miss Smith's, who wears a front:
And Hector's infant blubbered at a plume
As yours last Friday at a turkey-cock.
All men are possible heroes: every age,
Heroic in proportions, double-faced,
Looks backward and before, expects a morn
And claims an epos.
Ay, but every age
Appears to souls who live in it, (ask Carlyle)
Most unheroic. Ours, for instance, ours!
The thinkers scout it, and the poets abound
Who scorn to touch it with a finger-tip:
A pewter age,–mixed metal, silver-washed;
An age of scum, spooned off the richer past;
An age of patches for old gabardines;
An age of mere transition, meaning nought,
Except that what succeeds must shame it quite,
If God please. That's wrong thinking, to my mind,
And wrong thoughts make poor poems.
Every age,
Through being beheld too close, is ill-discerned
By those who have not lived past it. We'll suppose
Mount Athos carved, as Persian Xerxes schemed,
To some colossal statue of a man:
The peasants, gathering brushwood in his ear,
Had guessed as little of any human form
Up there, as would a flock of browsing goats.
They'd have, in fact, to travel ten miles off
Or ere the giant image broke on them,
Full human profile, nose and chin distinct,
Mouth, muttering rhythms of silence up the sky,
And fed at evening with the blood of suns;
Grand torso,–hand, that flung perpetually
The largesse of a silver river down
To all the country pastures. 'Tis even thus
With times we live in,–evermore too great
To be apprehended near.
But poets should
Exert a double vision; should have eyes
To see near things as comprehensibly
As if afar they took their point of sight,
And distant things, as intimately deep,
As if they touched them. Let us strive for this.
I do distrust the poet who discerns
No character or glory in his times,
And trundles back his soul five hundred years,
Past moat and drawbridge, into a castle-court,
Oh not to sing of lizards or of toads
Alive i' the ditch there!–'twere excusable;
But of some black chief, half knight, half sheep-lifter
Some beauteous dame, half chattel and half queen,
As dead as must be, for the greater part,
The poems made on their chivalric bones.
And that's no wonder: death inherits death.

Nay, if there's room for poets in the world
A little overgrown, (I think there is)
Their sole work is to represent the age,
Their age, not Charlemagne's,–this live, throbbing age,
That brawls, cheats, maddens, calculates, aspires,
And spends more passion, more heroic heat,
Betwixt the mirrors of its drawing-rooms,
Than Roland with his knights, at Roncesvalles.
To flinch from modern varnish, coat or flounce,
Cry out for togas and the picturesque,
Is fatal,–foolish too. King Arthur's self
Was commonplace to Lady Guenever;
And Camelot to minstrels seemed as flat,
As Regent street to poets.
Never flinch,
But still, unscrupulously epic, catch
Upon a burning lava of a song,
The full-veined, heaving, double-breasted Age:
That, when the next shall come, the men of that
May touch the impress with reverent hand, and say
'Behold,–behold the paps we all have sucked!
That bosom seems to beat still, or at least
It sets ours beating. This is living art,
Which thus presents, and thus records true life.'

What form is best for poems? Let me think
Of forms less, and the external. Trust the spirit,
As sovran nature does, to make the form;
For otherwise we only imprison spirit,
And not embody. Inward evermore
To outward,–so in life, and so in art,
Which still is life.
Five acts to make a play.
And why not fifteen? Why not ten? or seven?
What matter for the number of the leaves,
Supposing the tree lives and grows? exact
The literal unities of time and place,
When 'tis the essence of passion to ignore
Both time and place? Absurd. Keep up the fire
And leave the generous flames to shape themselves.

'Tis true the stage requires obsequiousness
To this or that convention; 'exit' here
And 'enter' there; the points for clapping, fixed,
Like Jacob's white-peeled rods before the rams;
And all the close-curled imagery clipped
In manner of their fleece at shearing time.
Forget to prick the galleries to the heart
Precisely at the fourth act,–culminate
Our five pyramidal acts with one act more,–
We're lost so! Shakspeare's ghost could scarcely plead
Against our just damnation. Stand aside;
We'll muse for comfort that, last century,
On this same tragic stage on which we have failed,
A wigless Hamlet would have failed the same.

And whosoever writes good poetry,
Looks just to art. He does not write for you
Or me,–for London or for Edinburgh;
He will not suffer the best critic known
To step into his sunshine of free thought
And self-absorbed conception, and exact
An inch-long swerving of the holy lines.
If virtue done for popularity
Defiles like vice, can art for praise or hire
Still keep its splendour, and remain pure art?
Eschew such serfdom. What the poet writes,
He writes: mankind accepts it, if it suits,
And that's success: if not, the poem's passed
From hand to hand, and yet from hand to hand,
Until the unborn snatch it, crying out
In pity on their fathers' being so dull,
And that's success too.
I will write no plays.
Because the drama, less sublime in this,
Makes lower appeals, defends more menially,
Adopts the standard of the public taste
To chalk its height on, wears a dog chain round
Its regal neck, and learns to carry and fetch
The fashions of the day to please the day;
Fawns close on pit and boxes, who clap hands,
Commending chiefly its docility
And humour in stage-tricks; or else indeed
Gets hissed at, howled at, stamped at like a dog,
Or worse, we'll say. For dogs, unjustly kicked,
Yell, bite at need; but if your dramatist
(Being wronged by some five hundred nobodies
Because their grosser brains most naturally
Misjudge the fineness of his subtle wit)
Shows teeth an almond's breath, protests the length
Of a.modest phrase,–' My gentle countrymen,
'There's something in it, haply of your fault,'–
Why then, besides five hundred nobodies,
He'll have five thousand, and five thousand more,
Against him,–the whole public,–all the hoofs
Of King Saul's father's asses, in full drove,–
And obviously deserve it. He appealed
To these,–and why say more if they condemn,
Than if they praised him?–Weep, my Æschylus,
But low and far, upon Sicilian shores!
For since 'twas Athens (so I read the myth)
Who gave commission to that fatal weight,
The tortoise, cold and hard, to drop on thee
And crush thee,–better cover thy bald head;
She'll hear the softest hum of Hyblan bee
Before thy loud'st protesting.–For the rest,
The risk's still worse upon the modern stage;
I could not, in so little, accept success,
Nor would I risk so much, in ease and calm,
For manifester gains; let those who prize,
Pursue them: I stand off.
And yet, forbid,
That any irreverent fancy or conceit
Should litter in the Drama's throne-room, where
The rulers of our art, in whose full veins
Dynastic glories mingle, sit in strength
And do their kingly work,–conceive, command,
And, from the imagination's crucial heat,
Catch up their men and women all a-flame
For action all alive, and forced to prove
Their life by living out heart, brain, and nerve,
Until mankind makes witness, 'These be men
As we are,' and vouchsafes the kiss that's due
To Imogen and Juliet–sweetest kin
On art's side.
'Tis that, honouring to its worth
The drama, I would fear to keep it down
To the level of the footlights. Dies no more
The sacrificial goat, for Bacchus slain,–
His filmed eyes fluttered by the whirling white
Of choral vestures,–troubled in his blood
While tragic voices that clanged keen as swords,
Leapt high together with the altar-flame,
And made the blue air wink. The waxen mask,
Which set the grand still front of Themis' son
Upon the puckered visage of a player;–
The buskin, which he rose upon and moved,
As some tall ship, first conscious of the wind,
Sweeps slowly past the piers;–the mouthpiece,where
The mere man's voice with all its breaths and breaks
Went sheathed in brass, and clashed on even heights
Its phrasèd thunders;–these things are no more,
Which once were. And concluding, which is clear,
The growing drama has outgrown such toys
Of simulated stature, faces and speech,
It also, peradventure, may outgrow
The simulation of the painted scene,
Boards, actors, prompters, gaslight, and costume;
And take for a worthier stage the soul itself,
Its shifting fancies and celestial lights,
With all its grand orchestral silences
To keep the pauses of the rhythmic sounds.

Alas, I still see something to be done,
And what I do falls short of what I see,
Though I waste myself on doing. Long green days,
Worn bare of grass and sunshine,–long calm nights,
From which the silken sleeps were fretted out,–
Be witness for me, with no amateur's
Irreverent haste and busy idleness
I've set myself to art! What then? what's done?
What's done, at last?
Behold, at last, a book.
If life-blood's necessary,–which it is,
(By that blue vein athrob on Mahomet's brow,
Each prophet-poet's book must show man's blood!)
If life-blood's fertilising, I wrung mine
On every leaf of this,–unless the drops
Slid heavily on one side and left it dry.
That chances often: many a fervid man
Writes books as cold and flat as grave-yard stones
From which the lichen's scraped; and if St. Preux
Had written his own letters, as he might,
We had never wept to think of the little mole
'Neath Julie's drooping eyelid. Passion is
But something suffered, after all.
While art
Sets action on the top of suffering:
The artist's part is both to be and do,
Transfixing with a special, central power
The flat experience of the common man,
And turning outward, with a sudden wrench,
Half agony, half ecstasy, the thing
He feels the inmost: never felt the less
Because he sings it. Does a torch less burn
For burning next reflectors of blue steel,
That he should be the colder for his place
'Twixt two incessant fires,–his personal life's,
And that intense refraction which burns back
Perpetually against him from the round
Of crystal conscience he was born into
If artist born? O sorrowful great gift
Conferred on poets, of a twofold life,
When one life has been found enough for pain!
We staggering 'neath our burden as mere men,
Being called to stand up straight as demi-gods,
Support the intolerable strain and stress
Of the universal, and send clearly up
With voices broken by the human sob,
Our poems to find rhymes among the stars!
But soft!–a 'poet' is a word soon said;
A book's a thing soon written. Nay, indeed,
The more the poet shall be questionable,
The more unquestionably comes his book!
And this of mine,–well, granting to myself
Some passion in it, furrowing up the flats,
Mere passion will not prove a volume worth
Its gall and rags even. Bubbles round a keel
Mean nought, excepting that the vessel moves.
There's more than passion goes to make a man,
Or book, which is a man too.
I am sad:
I wonder if Pygmalion had these doubts,
And, feeling the hard marble first relent,
Grow supple to the straining of his arms,
And tingle through its cold to his burning lip,
Supposed his senses mocked, and that the toil
Of stretching past the known and seen, to reach
The archetypal Beauty out of sight,
Had made his heart beat fast enough for two,
And with his own life dazed and blinded him!
Not so; Pygmalion loved,–and whoso loves
Believes the impossible.
And I am sad:
I cannot thoroughly love a work of mine,
Since none seems worthy of my thought and hope
More highly mated. He has shot them down,
My Phoebus Apollo, soul within my soul,
Who judges by the attempted, what's attained,
And with the silver arrow from his height,
Has struck down all my works before my face,
While I say nothing. Is there aught to say?
I called the artist but a greatened man:
He may be childless also, like a man.

I laboured on alone. The wind and dust
And sun of the world beat blistering in my face;
And hope, now for me, now against me, dragged
My spirits onward,–as some fallen balloon,
Which, whether caught by blossoming tree or bare,
Is torn alike. I sometimes touched my aim,
Or seemed,–and generous souls cried out, 'Be strong,
Take courage; now you're on our level,–now!
The next step saves you!' I was flushed with praise,
But, pausing just a moment to draw breath,
I could not choose but murmur to myself
'Is this all? all that's done? and all that's gained?
If this then be success, 'tis dismaller
Than any failure.'
O my God, my God,
O supreme Artist, who as sole return
For all the cosmic wonder of Thy work,
Demandest of us just a word . . a name,
'My Father!'–thou hast knowledge, only thou,
How dreary 'tis for women to sit still
On winter nights by solitary fires,
And hear the nations praising them far off;
Too far! ay, praising our quick sense of love,
Our very heart of passionate womanhood,
Which could not beat so in the verse without
Being present also in the unkissed lips,
And eyes undried because there's none to ask
The reason they grew moist.
To sit alone,
And think, for comfort, how, that very night,
Affianced lovers, leaning face to face
With sweet half-listenings for each other's breath,
Are reading haply from some page of ours,
To pause with a thrill, as if their cheeks had touched,
When such a stanza, level to their mood,
Seems floating their own thoughts out–'So I feel
For thee,'–'And I, for thee: this poet knows
What everlasting love is!'–how, that night.
A father, issuing from the misty roads
Upon the luminous round of lamp and hearth
And happy children, having caught up first
The youngest there until it shrunk and shrieked
To feel the cold chin prick its dimple through
With winter from the hills, may throw i' the lap
Of the eldest, (who has learnt to drop her lids
To hide some sweetness newer than last year's)
Our book and cry, . . 'Ah you, you care for rhymes;
So here be rhymes to pore on under trees,
When April comes to let you! I've been told
They are not idle as so many are,
But set hearts beating pure as well as fast:
It's yours, the book: I'll write your name in it,–
That so you may not lose, however lost
In poet's lore and charming reverie,
The thought of how your father thought of you
In riding from the town.'
To have our books
Appraised by love, associated with love,
While we sit loveless! is it hard, you think?
At least 'tis mournful. Fame, indeed, 'twas said,
Means simply love. It was a man said that.
And then there's love and love: the love of all
(To risk, in turn, a woman's paradox,)
Is but a small thing to the love of one.
You bid a hungry child be satisfied
With a heritage of many corn-fields: nay,
He says he's hungry,–he would rather have
That little barley-cake you keep from him
While reckoning up his harvests. So with us;
(Here, Romney, too, we fail to generalise!)
We're hungry.
Hungry! but it's pitiful
To wail like unweaned babes and suck our thumbs
Because we're hungry. Who, in all this world,
(Wherein we are haply set to pray and fast,
And learn what good is by its opposite)
Has never hungered? Woe to him who has found
The meal enough: if Ugolino's full,
His teeth have crunched some foul unnatural thing:
For here satiety proves penury
More utterly irremediable. And since
We needs must hunger,–better, for man's love,
Than God's truth! better, for companions sweet,
Than great convictions! let us bear our weights,
Preferring dreary hearths to desert souls.

Well, well, they say we're envious, we who rhyme;
But I, because I am a woman, perhaps,
And so rhyme ill, am ill at envying.
I never envied Graham his breadth of style,
Which gives you, with a random smutch or two,
(Near-sighted critics analyse to smutch)
Such delicate perspectives of full life;
Nor Belmore, for the unity of aim
To which he cuts his cedarn poems, fine
As sketchers do their pencils; not Mark Gage,
For that caressing colour and trancing tone
Whereby you're swept away and melted in
The sensual element, which, with a back wave,
Restores you to the level of pure souls
And leaves you with Plotinus. None of these,
For native gifts or popular applause,
I've envied; but for this,–that when, by chance,
Says some one,–'There goes Belmore, a great man!
He leaves clean work behind him, and requires
No sweeper up of the chips,' . . a girl I know,
Who answers nothing, save with her brown eyes,
Smiles unawares, as if a guardian saint
Smiled in her:–for this, too,–that Gage comes home
And lays his last book's prodigal review
Upon his mother's knees, where, years ago,
He had laid his childish spelling-book and learned
To chirp and peck the letters from her mouth,
As young birds must. 'Well done,' she murmured then,
She will not say it now more wonderingly;
And yet the last 'Well done' will touch him more,
As catching up to-day and yesterday
In a perfect chord of love; and so, Mark Gage,
I envy you your mother!–and you, Graham,
Because you have a wife who loves you so,
She half forgets, at moments, to be proud
Of being Graham's wife, until a friend observes,
'The boy here, has his father's massive brow,
Done small in wax . . if we push back the curls.'

Who loves me? Dearest father,–mother sweet,–
I speak the names out sometimes by myself,
And make the silence shiver: they sound strange,
As Hindostanee to an Ind-born man
Accustomed many years to English speech;
Or lovely poet-words grown obsolete,
Which will not leave off singing. Up in heaven
I have my father,–with my mother's face
Beside him in a blotch of heavenly light;
No more for earth's familiar household use,
No more! The best verse written by this hand,
Can never reach them where they sit, to seem
Well-done to them. Death quite unfellows us,
Sets dreadful odds betwixt the live and dead,
And makes us part as those at Babel did,
Through sudden ignorance of a common tongue.
A living Cæsar would not dare to play
At bowls, with such as my dead father is.

And yet, this may be less so than appears,
This change and separation. Sparrows five
For just two farthings, and God cares for each.
If God is not too great for little cares,
Is any creature, because gone to God?
I've seen some men, veracious, nowise mad,
Who have thought or dreamed, declared and testified,
They've heard the Dead a-ticking like a clock
Which strikes the hours of the eternities,
Beside them, with their natural ears, and known
That human spirits feel the human way,
And hate the unreasoning awe which waves them off
From possible communion. It may be.

At least, earth separates as well as heaven.
For instance, I have not seen Romney Leigh
Full eighteen months . . add six, you get two years.
They say he's very busy with good works,–
Has parted Leigh Hall into almshouses.
He made an almshouse of his heart one day,
Which ever since is loose upon the latch
For those who pull the string.–I never did.

It always makes me sad to go abroad;
And now I'm sadder that I went to-night
Among the lights and talkers at Lord Howe's.
His wife is gracious, with her glossy braids,
And even voice, and gorgeous eyeballs, calm
As her other jewels. If she's somewhat cold,
Who wonders, when her blood has stood so long
In the ducal reservoir she calls her line
By no means arrogantly? she's not proud;
Not prouder than the swan is of the lake
He has always swum in;–'tis her element,
And so she takes it with a natural grace,
Ignoring tadpoles. She just knows, perhaps,
There are men, move on without outriders,
Which isn't her fault. Ah, to watch her face,
When good Lord Howe expounds his theories
Of social justice and equality–
'Tis curious, what a tender, tolerant bend
Her neck takes: for she loves him, likes his talk,
Such clever talkthat dear, odd Algernon!'
She listens on, exactly as if he talked
Some Scandinavian myth of Lemures,
Too pretty to dispute, and too absurd.

She's gracious to me as her husband's friend,
And would be gracious, were I not a Leigh,
Being used to smile just so, without her eyes,
On Joseph Strangways, the Leeds mesmerist,
And Delia Dobbs, the lecturer from 'the States'
Upon the 'Woman's question.' Then, for him,
I like him . . he's my friend. And all the rooms
Were full of crinkling silks that swept about
The fine dust of most subtle courtesies.
What then?–why then, we come home to be sad.
How lovely One I love not, looked to-night!
She's very pretty, Lady Waldemar.
Her maid must use both hands to twist that coil
Of tresses, then be careful lest the rich
Bronze rounds should slip :–she missed, though, a grey hair,
A single one,–I saw it; otherwise
The woman looked immortal. How they told,
Those alabaster shoulders and bare breasts,
On which the pearls, drowned out of sight in milk,
Were lost, excepting for the ruby-clasp!
They split the amaranth velvet-boddice down
To the waist, or nearly, with the audacious press
Of full-breathed beauty. If the heart within
Were half as white!–but, if it were, perhaps
The breast were closer covered, and the sight
Less aspectable, by half, too.
I heard
The young man with the German student's look
A sharp face, like a knife in a cleft stick,
Which shot up straight against the parting line
So equally dividing the long hair,–
Say softly to his neighbour, (thirty-five
And mediæval) 'Look that way, Sir Blaise.
She's Lady Waldemarto the left,–in red
Whom Romney Leigh, our ablest man just now,
Is soon to marry.'
Then replied
Sir Blaise Delorme, with quiet, priest-like voice,
Too used to syllable damnations round
To make a natural emphasis worth while:
'Is Leigh your ablest man? the same, I think,
Once jilted by a recreant pretty maid
Adopted from the people? Now, in change,
He seems to have plucked a flower from the other side
Of the social hedge.'
'A flower, a flower,' exclaimed
My German student,–his own eyes full-blown
Bent on her. He was twenty, certainly.

Sir Blaise resumed with gentle arrogance,
As if he had dropped his alms into a hat,
And had the right to counsel,–'My young friend,
I doubt your ablest man's ability
To get the least good or help meet for him,
For pagan phalanstery or Christian home,
From such a flowery creature.'

'Beautiful!'
My student murmured, rapt,–'Mark how she stirs
Just waves her head, as if a flower indeed,
Touched far off by the vain breath of our talk.'

At which that bilious Grimwald, (he who writes
For the Renovator) who had seemed absorbed
Upon the table-book of autographs,
(I dare say mentally he crunched the bones
Of all those writers, wishing them alive
To feel his tooth in earnest) turned short round
With low carnivorous laugh,–'A flower, of course!
She neither sews nor spins,–and takes no thought
Of her garments . . falling off.'
The student flinched,
Sir Blaise, the same; then both, drawing back their chairs
As if they spied black-beetles on the floor,
Pursued their talk, without a word being thrown
To the critic.
Good Sir Blaise's brow is high
And noticeably narrow; a strong wind,
You fancy, might unroof him suddenly,
And blow that great top attic off his head
So piled with feudal relics. You admire
His nose in profile, though you miss his chin;
But, though you miss his chin, you seldom miss
His golden cross worn innermostly, (carved
For penance, by a saintly Styrian monk
Whose flesh was too much with him,) slipping trough
Some unaware unbuttoned casualty
Of the under-waistcoat. With an absent air
Sir Blaise sate fingering it and speaking low,
While I, upon the sofa, heard it all.

'My dear young friend, if we could bear our eyes
Like blessedest St. Lucy, on a plate,
They would not trick us into choosing wives,
As doublets, by the colour. Otherwise
Our fathers chose,–and therefore, when they had hung
Their household keys about a lady's waist,
The sense of duty gave her dignity:
She kept her bosom holy to her babes;
And, if a moralist reproved her dress,
'Twas, 'Too much starch!'–and not, 'Too little lawn!'

'Now, pshaw!' returned the other in a heat,
A little fretted by being called 'young friend,'
Or so I took it,–'for St. Lucy's sake,
If she's the saint to curse by, let us leave
Our fathers,–plagued enough about our sons!'
(He stroked his beardless chin) 'yes, plagued, sir, plagued:
The future generations lie on us
As heavy as the nightmare of a seer;
Our meat and drink grow painful prophecy:
I ask you,–have we leisure, if we liked,
To hollow out our weary hands to keep
Your intermittent rushlight of the past
From draughts in lobbies? Prejudice of sex,
And marriage-laws . . the socket drops them through
While we two speak,–however may protest
Some over-delicate nostrils, like our own,
'Gainst odours thence arising.'
'You are young,'
Sir Blaise objected.
'If I am,' he said
With fire,–'though somewhat less so than I seem.
The young run on before, and see the thing
That's coming. Reverence for the young, I cry.
In that new church for which the world's near ripe,
You'll have the younger in the elder's chair,
Presiding with his ivory front of hope
O'er foreheads clawed by cruel carrion birds
Of life's experience.'
'Pray your blessing, sir,'
Sir Blaise replied good-humouredly,–'I plucked
A silver hair this morning from my beard,
Which left me your inferior. Would I were
Eighteen, and worthy to admonish you!
If young men of your order run before
To see such sights as sexual prejudice
And marriage-law dissolved,–in plainer words,
A general concubinage expressed
In a universal pruriency,–the thing
Is scarce worth running fast for, and you'd gain
By loitering with your elders.'
'Ah,' he said,
'Who, getting to the top of Pisgah-hill,
Can talk with one at the bottom of the view,
To make it comprehensible? Why Leigh
Himself, although our ablest man, I said,
Is scarce advanced to see as far as this,
Which some are: he takes up imperfectly
The social questionby one handle–leaves
The rest to trail. A Christian socialist,
Is Romney Leigh, you understand.'
'Not I.
I disbelieve in Christians-pagans, much
As you in women-fishes. If we mix
Two colours, we lose both, and make a third
Distinct from either. Mark you! to mistake
A colour is the sign of a sick brain,
And mine, I thank the saints, is clear and cool:
A neutral tint is here impossible.
The church,–and by the church, I mean, of course,
The catholic, apostolic, mother-church,–
Draws lines as plain and straight as her own wall;
Inside of which, are Christians, obviously,
And outside . . dogs.'
'We thank you. Well I know
The ancient mother-church would fain still bite
For all her toothless gums,–as Leigh himself
Would fain be a Christian still, for all his wit;
Pass that; you two may settle it, for me.
You're slow in England. In a month I learnt
At Göttingen, enough philosophy
To stock your English schools for fifty years;
Pass that, too. Here, alone, I stop you short,
–Supposing a true man like Leigh could stand
Unequal in the stature of his life
To the height of his opinions. Choose a wife
Because of a smooth skin?–not he, not he!
He'd rail at Venus' self for creaking shoes,
Unless she walked his way of righteousness:
And if he takes a Venus Meretrix
(No imputation on the lady there)
Be sure that, by some sleight of Christian art,
He has metamorphosed and converted her
To a Blessed Virgin.'
'Soft!' Sir Blaise drew breath
As if it hurt him,–'Soft! no blasphemy,
I pray you!'
'The first Christians did the thing;
Why not the last?' asked he of Göttingen,
With just that shade of sneering on the lip,
Compensates for the lagging of the beard,–
'And so the case is. If that fairest fair
Is talked of as the future wife of Leigh,
She's talked of, too, at least as certainly,
As Leigh's disciple. You may find her name
On all his missions and commissions, school,
Asylums, hospitals,–he has had her down,
With other ladies whom her starry lead
Persuaded from their spheres, to his country-place
In Shropshire, to the famed phalanstery
At Leigh Hall, christianised from Fourier's own,
(In which he has planted out his sapling stocks
Of knowledge into social nurseries)
And there, they say, she has tarried half a week,
And milked the cows, and churned, and pressed the curd,
And said 'my sister' to the lowest drab
Of all the assembled castaways; such girls!
Ay, sided with them at the washing-tub–
Conceive, Sir Blaise, those naked perfect arms,
Round glittering arms, plunged elbow-deep in suds,
Like wild swans hid in lilies all a-shake.'

Lord Howe came up. 'What, talking poetry
So near the image of the unfavouring Muse?
That's you, Miss Leigh: I've watched you half an hour,
Precisely as I watched the statue called
A Pallas in the Vatican;–you mind
The face, Sir Blaise?–intensely calm and sad,
As wisdom cut it off from fellowship,–
But that spoke louder. Not a word from you!
And these two gentlemen were bold, I marked,
And unabashed by even your silence.'
'Ah,'
Said I, 'my dear Lord Howe, you shall not speak
To a printing woman who has lost her place,
(The sweet safe corner of the household fire
Behind the heads of children) compliments
As if she were a woman. We who have clipt
The curls before our eyes, may see at least
As plain as men do: speak out, man to man;
No compliments, beseech you.'
'Friend to friend,
Let that be. We are sad to-night, I saw,
(–Good night, Sir Blaise! Ah, Smith–he has slipped away)
I saw you across the room, and stayed, Miss Leigh,
To keep a crowd of lion-hunters off,
With faces toward your jungle. There were three;
A spacious lady, five feet ten and fat,
Who has the devil in her (and there's room)
For walking to and fro upon the earth,
From Chippewa to China; she requires
Your autograph upon a tinted leaf
'Twixt Queen Pomare's and Emperor Soulouque's;
Pray give it; she has energies, though fat:
For me, I'd rather see a rick on fire
Than such a woman angry. Then a youth
Fresh from the backwoods, green as the underboughs,
Asks modestly, Miss Leigh, to kiss your shoe,
And adds, he has an epic, in twelve parts,
Which when you've read, you'll do it for his boot,–
All which I saved you, and absorb next week
Both manuscript and man,–because a lord
Is still more potent that a poetess,
With any extreme republican. Ah, ah,
You smile at last, then.'
'Thank you.'
'Leave the smile,
I'll lose the thanks for't,–ay, and throw you in
My transatlantic girl, with golden eyes,
That draw you to her splendid whiteness, as
The pistil of a water-lily draws,
Adust with gold. Those girls across the sea
Are tyrannously pretty,–and I swore
(She seemed to me an innocent, frank girl)
To bring her to you for a woman's kiss,
Not now, but on some other day or week:
We'll call it perjury; I give her up.'

'No, bring her.'
'Now,' said he, 'you make it hard
To touch such goodness with a grimy palm.
I thought to tease you well, and fret you cross,
And steel myself, when rightly vexed with you,
For telling you a thing to tease you more.'

'Of Romney?'
'No, no; nothing worse,' he cried,
'Of Romney Leigh, than what is buzzed about,–
That he is taken in an eye-trap too,
Like many half as wise. The thing I mean
Refers to you, not him.'
'Refers to me,'
He echoed,–'Me! You sound it like a stone
Dropped down a dry well very listlessly,
By one who never thinks about the toad
Alive at the bottom. Presently perhaps
You'll sound your 'me' more proudlytill I shrink.

Lord Howe's the toad, then, in this question?'
'Brief,
We'll take it graver. Give me sofa-room,
And quiet hearing. You know Eglinton,
John Eglinton, of Eglinton in Kent?'

'Is he the toad?–he's rather like the snail;
Known chiefly for the house upon his back:
Divide the man and houseyou kill the man;
That's Eglinton of Eglinton, Lord Howe.'
He answered grave. 'A reputable man,
An excellent landlord of the olden stamp,
If somewhat slack in new philanthropies;
Who keeps his birthdays with a tenants' dance,
Is hard upon them when they miss the church
Or keep their children back from catechism,
But not ungentle when the aged poor
Pick sticks at hedge-sides; nay, I've heard him say
'The old dame has a twinge because she stoops:
'That's punishment enough for felony.

'O tender-hearted landlord! May I take
My long lease with him, when the time arrives
For gathering winter-faggots?'

'He likes art,
Buys books and pictures . . of a certain kind;
Neglects no patient duty; a good son' . . .

'To a most obedient mother. Born to wear
His father's shoes, he wears her husband's too:
Indeed, I've heard its touching. Dear Lord Howe,
You shall not praise me so against your heart,
When I'm at worst for praise and faggots.'
'Be
Less bitter with me, for . . in short,' he said,
'I have a letter, which he urged me so
To bring you . . I could scarcely choose but yield
Insisting that a new love passing through
The hand of an old friendship, caught from it
Some reconciling perfume.'
'Love, you say?
My lord, I cannot love. I only find
The rhymes for love,–and that's not love, my lord.
Take back your letter.'
'Pause: you'll read it first?'

'I will not read it: it is stereotyped;
The same he wrote to,–anybody's name,–
Anne Blythe, the a�ctress, when she had died so true,
A duchess fainted in an open box:
Pauline, the dancer, after the great pas,
In which her little feet winked overhead
Like other fire-flies, and amazed the pit:
Or Baldinacci, when her F in alt
Had touched the silver tops of heaven itself
With such a pungent soul-dart, even the Queen
Laid softly, each to each, her white-gloved palms,
And sighed for joy: or else (I thank your friend)
Aurora Leigh,–when some indifferent rhymes,
Like those the boys sang round the holy ox
On Memphis-road, have chanced, perhaps, to set
Our Apis-public lowing. Oh, he wants,
Instead of any worthy wife at home,
A star upon his stage of Eglinton!
Advise him that he is not overshrewd
In being so little modest: a dropped star
Makes bitter waters, says a Book I've read,–
And there's his unread letter,'
'My dear friend,'
Lord Howe began . .

In haste I tore the phrase.
'You mean your friend of Eglinton, or me?'

'I mean you, you,' he answered with some fire.
'A happy life means prudent compromise;
The tare runs through the farmer's garnered sheaves;
But though the gleaner's apron holds pure wheat,
We count her poorer. Tare with wheat, we cry,
And good with drawbacks. You, you love your art,
And, certain of vocation, set your soul
On utterance. Only, . . in this world we have made,
(They say God made it first, but, if He did,
'Twas so long since, . . and, since, we have spoiled it so,
He scarce would know it, if He looked this way,
From hells we preach of, with the flames blown out,)
In this bad, twisted, topsy-turvy world,
Where all the heaviest wrongs get uppermost,–
In this uneven, unfostering England here,
Where ledger-strokes and sword-strokes count indeed,
But soul-strokes merely tell upon the flesh
They strike from,–it is hard to stand for art,
Unless some golden tripod from the sea
Be fished up, by Apollo's divine chance,
To throne such feet as yours, my prophetess,
At Delphi. Think,–the god comes down as fierce
As twenty bloodhounds! shakes you, strangles you,
Until the oracular shriek shall ooze in froth!
At best it's not all ease,–at worst too hard:
A place to stand on is a 'vantage gained,
And here's your tripod. To be plain, dear friend,
You're poor, except in what you richly give;
You labour for your own bread painfully,
Or ere you pour our wine. For art's sake, pause.'

I answered slow,–as some wayfaring man,
Who feels himself at night too far from home,
Makes stedfast face against the bitter wind.
'Is art so less a thing than virtue is,
That artists first must cater for their ease
Or ever they make issue past themselves
To generous use? alas, and is it so,
That we, who would be somewhat clean, must sweep
Our ways as well as walk them, and no friend
Confirm us nobly,–'Leave results to God,
But you be clean?' What! 'prudent compromise
Makes acceptable life,' you say instead,
You, you, Lord Howe?–in things indifferent, well.
For instance, compromise the wheaten bread
For rye, the meat for lentils, silk for serge,
And sleep on down, if needs, for sleep on straw;
But there, end compromise. I will not bate
One artist-dream, on straw or down, my lord,
Nor pinch my liberal soul, though I be poor,
Nor cease to love high, though I live thus low.

So speaking, with less anger in my voice
Than sorrow, I rose quickly to depart;
While he, thrown back upon the noble shame
Of such high-stumbling natures, murmured words,
The right words after wrong ones. Ah, the man
Is worthy, but so given to entertain
Impossible plans of superhuman life,–
He sets his virtues on so raised a shelf,
To keep them at the grand millennial height,
He has to mount a stool to get at them;
And meantime, lives on quite the common way,
With everybody's morals.
As we passed,
Lord Howe insisting that his friendly arm
Should oar me across the sparkling brawling stream
Which swept from room to room, we fell at once
On Lady Waldemar. 'Miss Leigh,' she said,
And gave me such a smile, so cold and bright,
As if she tried it in a 'tiring glass
And liked it; 'all to-night I've strained at you,
As babes at baubles held up out of reach
By spiteful nurses, ('Never snatch,' they say,)
And there you sate, most perfectly shut in
By good Sir Blaize and clever Mister Smith,
And then our dear Lord Howe! at last, indeed,
I almost snatched. I have a world to speak
About your cousin's place in Shropshire, where
I've been to see his work . . our work,–you heard
I went? . . and of a letter yesterday,
In which, if I should read a page or two,
You might feel interest, though you're locked of course
In literary toil.–You'll like to hear
Your last book lies at the phalanstery,
As judged innocuous for the elder girls
And younger women who still care for books.
We all must read, you see, before we live:
But slowly the ineffable light comes up,
And, as it deepens, drowns the written word,–
So said your cousin, while we stood and felt
A sunset from his favorite beech-tree seat:
He might have been a poet if he would,
But then he saw the higher thing at once,
And climbed to it. It think he looks well now,
Has quite got over that unfortunate . .
Ah, ah . . I know it moved you. Tender-heart!
You took a liking to the wretched girl.
Perhaps you thought the marriage suitable,
Who knows? a poet hankers for romance,
And so on. As for Romney Leigh, 'tis sure
He never loved her,–never. By the way,
You have not heard of her . .? quite out of sight.
And out of saving? lost in every sense?'

She might have gone on talking half-an-hour,
And I stood still, and cold, and pale, I think,
As a garden-statue a child pelts with snow
For pretty pastime. Every now and then
I put in 'yes' or 'no,' I scarce knew why;
The blind man walks wherever the dog pulls,
And so I answered. Till Lord Howe broke in;
'What penance takes the wretch who interrupts
The talk of charming women? I, at last,
Must brave it. Pardon, Lady Waldemar!
The lady on my arm is tired, unwell,
And loyally I've promised she may say
Nor harder word this evening, than . . goodnight;
The rest her face speaks for her.'–Then we went.

And I breathe large at home. I drop my cloak,
Unclasp my girdle, loose the band that ties
My hair . . now could I but unloose my soul!
We are sepulchred alive in this close world,
And want more room.
The charming woman there
This reckoning up and writing down her talk
Affects me singularly. How she talked
To pain me! woman's spite!–You wear steel-mail;
A woman takes a housewife from her breast,
And plucks the delicatest needle out
As 'twere a rose, and pricks you carefully
'Neath nails, 'neath eyelids, in your nostrils,–say,
A beast would roar so tortured,–but a man,
A human creature, must not, shall not flinch,
No, not for shame.
What vexes after all,
Is just that such as she, with such as I,
Knows how to vex. Sweet heaven, she takes me up
As if she had fingered me and dog-eared me
And spelled me by the fireside, half a life!
She knows my turns, my feeble points,–What then?
The knowledge of a thing implies the thing;
Of course she found that in me, she saw that,
Her pencil underscored this for a fault,
And I, still ignorant. Shut the book up! close!
And crush that beetle in the leaves.
O heart,
At last we shall grow hard too, like the rest,
And call it self-defence because we are soft.

And after all, now, . . why should I be pained,
That Romney Leigh, my cousin, should espouse
This Lady Waldemar? And, say, she held
Her newly-blossomed gladness in my face, . .
'Twas natural surely, if not generous,
Considering how, when winter held her fast,
I helped the frost with mine, and pained her more
Than she pains me. Pains me!–but wherefore pained?
'Tis clear my cousin Romney wants a wife,–
So, good!–The man's need of the woman, here,
Is greater than the woman's of the man,
And easier served; for where the man discerns
A sex, (ah, ah, the man can generalise,
Said he) we see but one, ideally
And really: where we yearn to lose ourselves
And melt like white pearls in another's wine,
He seeks to double himself by what he loves,
And make his drink more costly by our pearls.
At board, at bed, at work, and holiday,
It is not good for a man to be alone,–
And that's his way of thinking, first and last;
And thus my cousin Romney wants a wife.

But then my cousin sets his dignity
On personal virtue. If he understands
By love, like others, self-aggrandisement,
It is that he may verily be great
By doing rightly and kindly. Once he thought,
For charitable ends set duly forth
In heaven's white judgement-book, to marry . . ah,
We'll call her name Aurora Leigh, although
She's changed since then!–and once, for social ends,
Poor Marian Erle, my sister Marian Erle,
My woodland sister, sweet Maid Marian,
Whose memory moans on in me like the wind
Through ill-shut casements, making me more sad
Than ever I find reasons for. Alas,
Poor pretty plaintive face, embodied ghost,
He finds it easy, then, to clap thee off
From pulling at his sleeve and book and pen,–
He locks thee out at night into the cold,
Away from butting with thy horny eyes
Against his crystal dreams,–that, now, he's strong
To love anew? that Lady Waldemar
Succeeds my Marian?
After all, why not?
He loved not Marian, more than once he loved
Aurora. If he loves, at last, that Third,
Albeit she prove as slippery as spilt oil
On marble floors, I will not augur him
Ill luck for that. Good love, howe'er ill-placed,
Is better for a man's soul in the end,
Than if he loved ill what deserves love well.
A pagan, kissing, for a step of Pan,
The wild-goat's hoof-print on the loamy down,
Exceeds our modern thinker who turns back
The strata . . granite, limestone, coal, and clay,
Concluding coldly with, 'Here's law! Where's God?'

And then at worse,–if Romney loves her not,–
At worst,–if he's incapable of love,
Which may bethen indeed, for such a man
Incapable of love, she's good enough;
For she, at worst too, is a woman still
And loves him as the sort of woman can.

My loose long hair began to burn and creep,
Alive to the very ends, about my knees:
I swept it backward as the wind sweeps flame,
With the passion of my hands. Ah, Romney laughed
One day . . (how full the memories came up!)
'–Your Florence fire-flies live on in your hair,'
He said, 'it gleams so.' Well, I wrung them out,
My fire-flies; made a knot as hard as life,
Of those loose, soft, impracticable curls,
And then sat down and thought . . 'She shall not think
Her thoughts of me,'–and drew my desk and wrote.

'Dear Lady Waldemar, I could not speak
With people around me, nor can sleep to-night
And not speak, after the great news I heard
Of you and of my cousin. My you be
Most happy; and the good he meant the world,
Replenish his own life. Say what I say,
And let my word be sweeter for your mouth,
As you are you . . I only Aurora Leigh.'

That's quiet, guarded! Though she hold it up
Against the light, she'll not see through it more
Than lies there to be seen. So much for pride;
And now for peace, a little! Let me stop
All writing back . . 'Sweet thanks, my sweetest friend,
'You've made more joyful my great joy itself.'
No, that's too simple! she would twist it thus,
'My joy would still be as sweet as thyme in drawers,
However shut up in the dark and dry;
But violets, aired and dewed by love like yours,
Out-smell all thyme! we keep that in our clothes,
But drop the other down our bosoms, till
they smell like' . . ah, I see her writing back
Just so. She'll make a nosegay of her words,
And tie it with blue ribbons at the end
To suit a poet;–pshaw!
And then we'll have
The call to church; the broken, sad, bad dream
Dreamed out at last; the marriage-vow complete
With the marriage-breakfast; praying in white gloves,
Drawn off in haste for drinking pagan toasts
In somewhat stronger wine than any sipped
By gods, since Bacchus had his way with grapes.

A postscript stops all that, and rescues me.
'You need not write. I have been overworked,
And think of leaving London, England, even,
And hastening to get nearer to the sun,
Where men sleep better. So, adieu,'–I fold
And seal,–and now I'm out of all the coil;
I breathe now; I spring upward like a branch,
A ten-years school-boy with a crooked stick
May pull down to his level, in search of nuts,
But cannot hold a moment. How we twang
Back on the blue sky, and assert our height,
While he stares after! Now, the wonder seems
That I could wrong myself by such a doubt.
We poets always have uneasy hearts;
Because our hearts, large-rounded as the globe,
Can turn but one side to the sun at once.
We are used to dip our artist-hands in gall
And potash, trying potentialities
Of alternated colour, till at last
We get confused, and wonder for our skin
How nature tinged it first. Wellhere's the true
Good flesh-colour; I recognise my hand,–
Which Romney Leigh may clasp as just a friend's,
And keep his clean.
And now, my Italy.
Alas, if we could ride with naked souls
And make no noise and pay no price at all,
I would have seen thee sooner, Italy,–
For still I have heard thee crying through my life,
Thou piercing silence of ecstatic graves,
Men call that name!

But even a witch, to-day,
Must melt down golden pieces in the nard
Wherewith to anoint her broomstick ere she rides;
And poets evermore are scant of gold,
And, if they find a piece behind the door,
It turns by sunset to a withered leaf.
The Devil himself scarce trusts his patented
Gold-making art to any who make rhymes,
But culls his Faustus from philosophers
And not from poets. 'Leave my Job,' said God;
And so, the Devil leaves him without pence,
And poverty proves, plainly, special grace.
In these new, just, administrative times,
Men clamour for an order of merit. Why?
Here's black bread on the table, and no wine!
At least I am a poet in being poor;
Thank God. I wonder if the manuscript
Of my long poem, it 'twere sold outright,
Would fetch enough to buy me shoes, to go
A-foot, (thrown in, the necessary patch
For the other side the Alps)? it cannot be:
I fear that I must sell this residue
Of my father's books; although the Elzevirs
Have fly-leaves over-written by his hand,
In faded notes as thick and fine and brown
as cobwebs on a tawny monument
Of the old Greeks–conferenda hoec cum his
Corruptè citat–lege potiùs,
And so on, in the scholar's regal way
Of giving judgment on the parts of speech,
As if he sate on all twelve thrones up-piled,
Arraigning Israel. Ay, but books and notes
Must go together. And this Proclus too,
In quaintly dear contracted Grecian types,
Fantastically crumpled, like his thoughts
Which would not seem too plain; you go round twice
For one step forward, then you take it back
Because you're somewhat giddy! there's the rule
For Proclus. Ah, I stained this middle leaf
With pressing in't my Florentine iris-bell,
Long stalk and all; my father chided me
For that stain of blue blood,–I recollect
The peevish turn his voice took,–'Silly girls,
Who plant their flowers in our philosophy
To make it fine, and only spoil the book!
No more of it, Aurora.' Yesno more!
Ah, blame of love, that's sweeter than all praise
Of those who love not! 'tis so lost to me,
I cannot, in such beggared life, afford
To lose my Proclus. Not for Florence, even.

The kissing Judas, Wolff, shall go instead,
Who builds us such a royal book as this
To honour a chief-poet, folio-built,
And writes above, 'The house of Nobody:'
Who floats in cream, as rich as any sucked
From Juno's breasts, the broad Homeric lines,
And, while with their spondaic prodigious mouths
They lap the lucent margins as babe-gods,
Proclaims them bastards. Wolff's an atheist;
And if the Iliad fell out, as he says,
By mere fortuitous concourse of old songs,
We'll guess as much, too, for the universe.

That Wolff, those Platos: sweep the upper shelves
As clean as this, and so I am almost rich,
Which means, not forced to think of being poor
In sight of ends. To-morrow: no delay.
I'll wait in Paris till good Carrington
Dispose of such, and, having chaffered for
My book's price with the publisher, direct
All proceeds to me. Just a line to ask
His help.
And now I come, my Italy,
My own hills! are you 'ware of me, my hills,
How I burn toward you? do you feel to-night
The urgency and yearning of my soul,
As sleeping mothers feel the sucking babe
And smile?–Nay, not so much as when, in heat,
Vain lightnings catch at your inviolate tops,
And tremble while ye are stedfast. Still, ye go
Your own determined, calm, indifferent way
Toward sunrise, shade by shade, and light by light;
Of all the grand progression nought left out;
As if God verily made you for yourselves,
And would not interrupt your life with ours.

poem by from Aurora Leigh (1856)Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Veronica Serbanoiu
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

English Eclogues V - The Witch

NATHANIEL.
Father! here father! I have found a horse-shoe!
Faith it was just in time, for t'other night
I laid two straws across at Margery's door,
And afterwards I fear'd that she might do me
A mischief for't. There was the Miller's boy
Who set his dog at that black cat of hers,
I met him upon crutches, and he told me
'Twas all her evil eye.


FATHER.
'Tis rare good luck;
I would have gladly given a crown for one
If t'would have done as well. But where did'st find it?


NATHANIEL.
Down on the Common; I was going a-field
And neighbour Saunders pass'd me on his mare;
He had hardly said 'good day,' before I saw
The shoe drop off; 'twas just upon my tongue
To call him back,--it makes no difference, does it.
Because I know whose 'twas?


FATHER.
Why no, it can't.
The shoe's the same you know, and you 'did find' it.


NATHANIEL.
That mare of his has got a plaguey road
To travel, father, and if he should lame her,
For she is but tender-footed,--


FATHER.
Aye, indeed--
I should not like to see her limping back
Poor beast! but charity begins at home,
And Nat, there's our own horse in such a way
This morning!


NATHANIEL.
Why he ha'nt been rid again!
Last night I hung a pebble by the manger
With a hole thro', and every body says
That 'tis a special charm against the hags.


FATHER.
It could not be a proper natural hole then,
Or 'twas not a right pebble,--for I found him
Smoking with sweat, quaking in every limb,
And panting so! God knows where he had been
When we were all asleep, thro' bush and brake
Up-hill and down-hill all alike, full stretch
At such a deadly rate!--


NATHANIEL.
By land and water,
Over the sea perhaps!--I have heard tell
That 'tis some thousand miles, almost at the end
Of the world, where witches go to meet the Devil.
They used to ride on broomsticks, and to smear
Some ointment over them and then away
Out of the window! but 'tis worse than all
To worry the poor beasts so. Shame upon it
That in a Christian country they should let
Such creatures live!


FATHER.
And when there's such plain proof!
I did but threaten her because she robb'd
Our hedge, and the next night there came a wind
That made me shake to hear it in my bed!
How came it that that storm unroofed my barn,
And only mine in the parish? look at her
And that's enough; she has it in her face--
A pair of large dead eyes, rank in her head,
Just like a corpse, and purs'd with wrinkles round,
A nose and chin that scarce leave room between
For her lean fingers to squeeze in the snuff,
And when she speaks! I'd sooner hear a raven
Croak at my door! she sits there, nose and knees
Smoak-dried and shrivell'd over a starved fire,
With that black cat beside her, whose great eyes
Shine like old Beelzebub's, and to be sure
It must be one of his imps!--aye, nail it hard.


NATHANIEL.
I wish old Margery heard the hammer go!
She'd curse the music.


FATHER.
Here's the Curate coming,
He ought to rid the parish of such vermin;
In the old times they used to hunt them out
And hang them without mercy, but Lord bless us!
The world is grown so wicked!


CURATE.
Good day Farmer!
Nathaniel what art nailing to the threshold?


NATHANIEL.
A horse-shoe Sir, 'tis good to keep off witchcraft,
And we're afraid of Margery.


CURATE.
Poor old woman!
What can you fear from her?


FATHER.
What can we fear?
Who lamed the Miller's boy? who rais'd the wind
That blew my old barn's roof down? who d'ye think
Rides my poor horse a'nights? who mocks the hounds?
But let me catch her at that trick again,
And I've a silver bullet ready for her,
One that shall lame her, double how she will.


NATHANIEL.
What makes her sit there moping by herself,
With no soul near her but that great black cat?
And do but look at her!


CURATE.
Poor wretch! half blind
And crooked with her years, without a child
Or friend in her old age, 'tis hard indeed
To have her very miseries made her crimes!
I met her but last week in that hard frost
That made my young limbs ache, and when I ask'd
What brought her out in the snow, the poor old woman
Told me that she was forced to crawl abroad
And pick the hedges, just to keep herself
From perishing with cold, because no neighbour
Had pity on her age; and then she cried,
And said the children pelted her with snow-balls,
And wish'd that she were dead.


FATHER.
I wish she was!
She has plagued the parish long enough!


CURATE.
Shame farmer!
Is that the charity your bible teaches?


FATHER.
My bible does not teach me to love witches.
I know what's charity; who pays his tithes
And poor-rates readier?


CURATE.
Who can better do it?
You've been a prudent and industrious man,
And God has blest your labour.


FATHER.
Why, thank God Sir,
I've had no reason to complain of fortune.


CURATE.
Complain! why you are wealthy. All the parish
Look up to you.


FATHER.
Perhaps Sir, I could tell
Guinea for guinea with the warmest of them.


CURATE.
You can afford a little to the poor,
And then what's better still, you have the heart
To give from your abundance.


FATHER.
God forbid
I should want charity!


CURATE.
Oh! 'tis a comfort
To think at last of riches well employ'd!
I have been by a death-bed, and know the worth
Of a good deed at that most awful hour
When riches profit not.
Farmer, I'm going
To visit Margery. She is sick I hear--
Old, poor, and sick! a miserable lot,
And death will be a blessing. You might send her
Some little matter, something comfortable,
That she may go down easier to the grave
And bless you when she dies.


FATHER.
What! is she going!
Well God forgive her then! if she has dealt
In the black art. I'll tell my dame of it,
And she shall send her something.


CURATE.
So I'll say;
And take my thanks for her's. ['goes']


FATHER.
That's a good man
That Curate, Nat, of ours, to go and visit
The poor in sickness; but he don't believe
In witchcraft, and that is not like a christian.


NATHANIEL.
And so old Margery's dying!


FATHER.
But you know
She may recover; so drive t'other nail in!

poem by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Poetry Lover
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

Death In The Arctic

I

I took the clock down from the shelf;
"At eight," said I, "I shoot myself."
It lacked a minute of the hour,
And as I waited all a-cower,
A skinful of black, boding pain,
Bits of my life came back again. . . .

"Mother, there's nothing more to eat --
Why don't you go out on the street?
Always you sit and cry and cry;
Here at my play I wonder why.
Mother, when you dress up at night,
Red are your cheeks, your eyes are bright;
Twining a ribband in your hair,
Kissing good-bye you go down-stair.
Then I'm as lonely as can be.
Oh, how I wish you were with me!
Yet when you go out on the street,
Mother, there's always lots to eat. . . ."

II

For days the igloo has been dark;
But now the rag wick sends a spark
That glitters in the icy air,
And wakes frost sapphires everywhere;
Bright, bitter flames, that adder-like
Dart here and there, yet fear to strike
The gruesome gloom wherein they lie,
My comrades, oh, so keen to die!
And I, the last -- well, here I wait
The clock to strike the hour of eight. . . .

"Boy, it is bitter to be hurled
Nameless and naked on the world;
Frozen by night and starved by day,
Curses and kicks and clouts your pay.
But you must fight! Boy, look on me!
Anarch of all earth-misery;
Beggar and tramp and shameless sot;
Emblem of ill, in rags that rot.
Would you be foul and base as I?
Oh, it is better far to die!
Swear to me now you'll fight and fight,
Boy, or I'll kill you here to-night. . . ."

III

Curse this silence soft and black!
Sting, little light, the shadows back!
Dance, little flame, with freakish glee!
Twinkle with brilliant mockery!
Glitter on ice-robed roof and floor!
Jewel the bear-skin of the door!
Gleam in my beard, illume my breath,
Blanch the clock face that times my death!
But do not pierce that murk so deep,
Where in their sleeping-bags they sleep!
But do not linger where they lie,
They who had all the luck to die! . . .

"There is nothing more to say;
Let us part and go our way.
Since it seems we can't agree,
I will go across the sea.
Proud of heart and strong am I;
Not for woman will I sigh;
Hold my head up gay and glad:
You can find another lad. . . ."

IV

Above the igloo piteous flies
Our frayed flag to the frozen skies.
Oh, would you know how earth can be
A hell -- go north of Eighty-three!
Go, scan the snows day after day,
And hope for help, and pray and pray;
Have seal-hide and sea-lice to eat;
Melt water with your body's heat;
Sleep all the fell, black winter through
Beside the dear, dead men you knew.
(The walrus blubber flares and gleams --
O God! how long a minute seems!) . . .

"Mary, many a day has passed,
Since that morn of hot-head youth.
Come I back at last, at last,
Crushed with knowing of the truth;
How through bitter, barren years
You loved me, and me alone;
Waited, wearied, wept your tears --
Oh, could I atone, atone,
I would pay a million-fold!
Pay you for the love you gave.
Mary, look down as of old --
I am kneeling by your grave." . . .

V

Olaf, the Blonde, was first to go;
Bitten his eyes were by the snow;
Sightless and sealed his eyes of blue,
So that he died before I knew.
Here in those poor weak arms he died:
"Wolves will not get you, lad," I lied;
"For I will watch till Spring come round;
Slumber you shall beneath the ground."
Oh, how I lied! I scarce can wait:
Strike, little clock, the hour of eight! . . .

"Comrade, can you blame me quite?
The horror of the long, long night
Is on me, and I've borne with pain
So long, and hoped for help in vain.
So frail am I, and blind and dazed;
With scurvy sick, with silence crazed.
Beneath the Arctic's heel of hate,
Avid for Death I wait, I wait.
Oh if I falter, fail to fight,
Can you, dear comrade, blame me quite?" . . .

VI

Big Eric gave up months ago.
But seldom do men suffer so.
His feet sloughed off, his fingers died,
His hands shrunk up and mummified.
I had to feed him like a child;
Yet he was valiant, joked and smiled,
Talked of his wife and little one
(Thanks be to God that I have none),
Passed in the night without a moan,
Passed, and I'm here, alone, alone. . . .

"I've got to kill you, Dick.
Your life for mine, you know.
Better to do it quick,
A swift and sudden blow.
See! here's my hand to lick;
A hug before you go --
God! but it makes me sick:
Old dog, I love you so.
Forgive, forgive me, Dick --
A swift and sudden blow. . . ."

VII

Often I start up in the dark,
Thinking the sound of bells to hear.
Often I wake from sleep: "Oh, hark!
Help . . . it is coming . . . near and near."
Blindly I reel toward the door;
There the snow billows bleak and bare;
Blindly I seek my den once more,
Silence and darkness and despair.
Oh, it is all a dreadful dream!
Scurvy and cold and death and dearth;
I will awake to warmth and gleam,
Silvery seas and greening earth.
Life is a dream, its wakening,
Death, gentle shadow of God's wing. . . .

"Tick, little clock, my life away!
Even a second seems a day.
Even a minute seems a year,
Peopled with ghosts, that press and peer
Into my face so charnel white,
Lit by the devilish, dancing light.
Tick, little clock! mete out my fate:
Tortured and tense I wait, I wait. . . ."

VIII

Oh, I have sworn! the hour is nigh:
When it strikes eight, I die, I die.
Raise up the gun -- it stings my brow --
When it strikes eight . . . all ready . . . now --

* * * * *

Down from my hand the weapon dropped;
Wildly I stared. . . .
THE CLOCK HAD STOPPED.

IX

Phantoms and fears and ghosts have gone.
Peace seems to nestle in my brain.
Lo! the clock stopped, I'm living on;
Heart-sick I was, and less than sane.
Yet do I scorn the thing I planned,
Hearing a voice: "O coward, fight!"
Then the clock stopped . . . whose was the hand?
Maybe 'twas God's -- ah well, all's right.
Heap on me darkness, fold on fold!
Pain! wrench and rack me! What care I?
Leap on me, hunger, thirst and cold!
I will await my time to die;
Looking to Heaven that shines above;
Looking to God, and love . . . and love.

X

Hark! what is that? Bells, dogs again!
Is it a dream? I sob and cry.
See! the door opens, fur-clad men
Rush to my rescue; frail am I;
Feeble and dying, dazed and glad.
There is the pistol where it dropped.
"Boys, it was hard -- but I'm not mad. . . .
Look at the clock -- it stopped, it stopped.
Carry me out. The heavens smile.
See! there's an arch of gold above.
Now, let me rest a little while --
Looking to God and Love . . .and Love . . ."

poem by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Poetry Lover
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share
La Fontaine

A Confidant Without Knowing It; Or The Stratagem

NO master sage, nor orator I know,
Who can success, like gentle Cupid show;
His ways and arguments are pleasing smiles,
Engaging looks, soft tears, and winning wiles.
Wars in his empire will at times arise,
And, in the field, his standard meet the eyes;
Now stealing secretly, with skilful lure.
He penetrates to hearts supposed secure,
O'erleaps the ramparts that protect around,
And citadels reduces, most renowned.

I DARE engage, two fortresses besiege
Leave one to Mars, and t'other to this liege.
And though the god of war should numbers bring,
With all the arms that can his thunders fling,
Before the fort he'll vainly waste his time,
While Cupid, unattended, in shall climb,
Obtain possession perfectly at ease,
And grant conditions just as he shall please.

I NOW propose to give a fav'rite tale :--
The god of Love was never known to fail,
In finding stratagems, as I have read,
And many have I seen most nicely spread.

THE young Aminta was Gerontes' wife,
With whom she lived, it seems, a wretched life.
Far better she deserved than what she had,
For he was jealous, and his temper bad:
An aged hunks, while she was in the hour
When hearts, that never felt LOVE'S mighty pow'r,
Are presently by tender objects caught,
Which ne'er before had entered in the thought.

WHEN first Aminta saw young Cleon's face,
A lad possessing all engaging grace,
Much prudence then she ev'ry way displayed,
E'en more perhaps than necessary made.
For though we may suppose the lovely fair,
Would ev'ry effort use to 'scape the snare,
Yet when the god of soft persuasion takes
The fatal moment, havock soon he makes,
In vain his duty, any thing opposed,
If once the tender sentiment's disclosed.
Aminta consolation had in view
'Twas that alone the passion from her drew,
A meeting innocent, to vent her tears,
And, to a feeling friend, express her fears.
'Tis represented thus I cannot doubt;
But sight of meat brings appetite about;
And if you would avoid the tempting bit,
'Tis better far at table not to sit.

AMINTA hoped to render Cleon kind;
Poor innocent! as yet to dangers blind,
These conversations she was led to deem,
Mere friendly ways that raised sincere esteem;
And this alone she ardently desired,
Without supposing more would be required,
Or any thing improper be the case:
She'd rather die than suffer such disgrace.
'Twas difficult the business to commence;
A letter 's often lost, or gives offence,
And many serious accidents arrive:
To have a confidant 'twere better strive;
But where could such a female friend be found?
Gerontes dreaded was by all around.
I've said already, Cupid will obtain,
One way or t'other, what he wants to gain;
And this will show the observation just
The maxim's such as you may always trust.

A FEMALE relative young Cleon had,
A peevish prude, who looked upon the lad,
As one she had a right to rule and scold;
Her name was Mistress Alice: sour and old.

ONE summer's day, Aminta to her said:
I cannot think how 'tis, your cousin's led,
(Though quite indifferent he is to me,
And doubtless such will ever prove to be)
With various fond attentions, to pretend,
He loves me--much beyond a common friend.
My window oft he passes day and night;
I cannot move a step, but he's in sight,
And in a moment at my heels appears;
Notes, letters full of soft expressions, dears,
To me are sent by one I will not name,
For known to you, she would be thought to blame:
Pray put an end to such a wild pursuit
It nothing can produce but wretched fruit;
My husband may take fire at things like these;
And as to Cleon.--me he'll never please;
I'll thank you to inform him what I say;
Such steps are useless: folly they betray.

MUCH praise Aminta from the dame received;
Who promised that the conduct, which aggrieved;
To Cleon she would mention, as desired,
And reprimand him, as the fault required:
So well would scold him, that she might be sure,
From him in future she would be secure.

THE foll'wing day our youth to Alice came;
To pay a visit solely was his aim;
She told him what Aminta had declared,
And, in her lecture, words by no means spared.
The lad, surprised, on oath the whole denied,
And vowed to gain her love, he never tried.
Old Alice called her cousin, imp of Hell;
Said she, in all that's wicked, you excel;
You will not all your base designs confess;
The oaths are false on which you lay such stress,
And punishment most richly you deserve;
But false or true, from this I will not swerve,
That you should recollect, Aminta 's chaste,
And never will submit to be disgraced;
Renounce her from this hour; no more pursue:--
That easily, said Cleon, I can do;
Away he went: the case considered o'er;
But still the myst'ry he could not explore.

THREE days had scarcely passed: Aminta came,
To pay a visit to our ancient dame;
Cried she I fear, you have not seen as yet,
This youth, who worse and worse appears to get.
Rage, Mistress Alice, instantly o'erspread,
And ev'ry thing that's vile she of him said.

NO sooner had Aminta gone away,
But she for Cleon sent without delay.
He presently appeared; yet to detail
How Alice stormed, I certainly should fail;
Unless an iron tongue I could obtain:
All Hell was ransacked epithets to gain;
And Lucifer and Beelzebub were used:
No mortal ever was so much abused.

QUITE terrified, poor lad, he scarcely knew;
Her fury was so great, what best to do;
If he allowed that he had acted wrong,
'Twould wound his conscience and defile his tongue.
He home repaired, and turning in his mind
What he had heard, at length his thoughts inclined,
To fancy that Aminta was disposed,
To play some cunning trick, which, not disclosed,
Would operate to bring her wish about;
I see, said he, the scheme I should not doubt;
It surely is my duty kind to be:
Methinks I hear her freely say to me,
O Cleon! show affection, I am yours;
I love her too, for beauty that secures;
And while her seraph charms my bosom fire;
I equally the stratagem admire.
Most freely howsoe'er I will confess,
At first I was so dull, I could not guess
At what she aimed, but now the object's plain:
Aminta o'er my heart desires to reign.

THIS minute, if I durst, I'd thither go,
And, full of confidence, declare my woe,
The subtle flame that burns without controul;
What hurt to paint feelings of my soul?
From balance of accounts 'twill both exempt:
'Tis better far to love than show contempt.
But should the husband find me in the house?--
Ne'er think of that, and try the hunks to chouse.

THEIR course had hardly run three other days,
When fair Aminta, studious still of ways
To have her wish, again to Alice came,
To give dear Cleon notice of her flame.
My home, cried she, 'tis requisite I leave:
To ruin me, your cousin, I perceive,
Is still resolved, for presents now he sends;
But he mistakes, and blindly wealth expends;
I'm clearly not the woman he suspects:
See here, what jewels rare to please the sex!
Nice rubies, diamonds too, but what is more,
My portrait I have found among the store,
Which must have been from memory designed,
Since only with my husband that you'll find.

WHEN I arose, this person known to you,
Whose name I must conceal (to honour true),
Arrived and brought me what I just have shown;
The whole should at your cousin's head be thrown;
And were he present:--but I'll curb my rage;
Allow me to proceed, and you engage
To hear the rest:--he word has also sent,
That as to-day he knew my husband went
On business to his cottage in the wood,
Where he would sleep the night, he understood,
No sooner should the servants be in bed,
And Morpheus' robe be o'er their senses spread,
But to my dressing room he would repair:--
What can he hope, such project to declare?
A meeting place indeed!--he must be mad;
Were I not fearful 'twould affliction add
To my old husband, I would set a watch,
Who, at the entrance, should the villain catch;
Or put him instantly to shame and flight;
This said, she presently was out of sight.

AN hour had passed when Cleon came anew;
The jewels at him in a moment flew;
And scarcely Mistress Alice could refrain,
From wreaking further vengeance on the swain.
Is this your plan? cried she; but what is worse,
I find you still desire a greater curse;
And then she told him all Aminta said,
When last to visit her the fair was led.

HIMSELF most fully warned the youth now thought;
I loved, cried he, 'tis true; but that is naught,
Since nothing from the belle I must expect:
In future her completely I'll neglect.
That is the line, said Alice, you should take;
The lad howe'er was fully now awake,
And thoroughly resolved to seek the dame,
Whose cunning wiles had set him in a flame.

THE, midnight hour the clock no sooner told;
Than Cleon ran the myst'ry to unfold,
And to the spot repaired, which he supposed,
Aminta meant, from what had been disclosed;
The place was well described, and there he found;
Awaiting at the door, this belle renowned,
Without attendants: sleep their eyes o'erspread:
Behind thick clouds the very stars had fled:
As all had been expected, in he went,
Most thoroughly they both appeared content;
Few words were used: in haste the pair withdrew,
Where ev'ry wish at ease they might pursue.
The smart gallant at once her beauty praised;
His admiration presently was raised;
Sweet kindness followed; charms were oft admired;
And all was managed as their hearts desired.

SAID youthful Cleon, now you'll tell me why
This stratagem you were induced to try?
For such before in love was never seen;
'Tis excellent, and worthy Beauty's queen.
A lovely blush o'erspread Aminta's face,
And gave her lily-cheeks superior grace.
He praised her person, artifice, and wit,
And did whate'er the moments would admit.

poem by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Poetry Lover
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

The Borough. Letter XIX: The Parish-Clerk

WITH our late Vicar, and his age the same,
His clerk, hight Jachin, to his office came;
The like slow speech was his, the like tall slender

frame:
But Jachin was the gravest man on ground,
And heard his master's jokes with look profound;
For worldly wealth this man of letters sigh'd,
And had a sprinkling of the spirit's pride:
But he was sober, chaste, devout and just,
One whom his neighbours could believe and trust:
Of none suspected, neither man nor maid
By him were wrong'd, or were of him afraid.
There was indeed a frown, a trick of state
In Jachin;--formal was his air and gait:
But if he seem'd more solemn and less kind,
Than some light men to light affairs confined,
Still 'twas allow'd that he should so behave
As in high seat, and be severely grave.
This book-taught man, to man's first foe

profess'd
Defiance stern, and hate that knew not rest;
He held that Satan, since the world began,
In every act, had strife with every man;
That never evil deed on earth was done,
But of the acting parties he was one;
The flattering guide to make ill prospects clear;
To smooth rough ways the constant pioneer;
The ever-tempting, soothing, softening power,
Ready to cheat, seduce, deceive, devour.
'Me has the sly Seducer oft withstood,'
Said pious Jachin,--'but he gets no good;
I pass the house where swings the tempting sign,
And pointing, tell him, 'Satan, that is thine:'
I pass the damsels pacing down the street,
And look more grave and solemn when we meet;
Nor doth it irk me to rebuke their smiles,
Their wanton ambling and their watchful wiles:
Nay, like the good John Bunyan, when I view
Those forms, I'm angry at the ills they do;
That I could pinch and spoil, in sin's despite,
Beauties, which frail and evil thoughts excite.
'At feasts and banquets seldom am I found,
And (save at church) abhor a tuneful sound;
To plays and shows I run not to and fro,
And where my master goes, forbear to go.'
No wonder Satan took the thing amiss,
To be opposed by such a man as this -
A man so grave, important, cautious, wise,
Who dared not trust his feeling or his eyes;
No wonder he should lurk and lie in wait,
Should fit his hooks and ponder on his bait;
Should on his movements keep a watchful eye;
For he pursued a fish who led the fry.
With his own peace our Clerk was not content;
He tried, good man! to make his friends repent.
'Nay, nay, my friends, from inns and taverns

fly;
You may suppress your thirst, but not supply:
A foolish proverb says, 'the devil's at home;'
But he is there, and tempts in every room:
Men feel, they know not why, such places please;
His are the spells--they're idleness and ease;
Magic of fatal kind he throws around,
Where care is banish'd, but the heart is bound.
'Think not of beauty;--when a maid you meet,
Turn from her view and step across the street;
Dread all the sex: their looks create a charm,
A smile should fright you and a word alarm:
E'en I myself, with all my watchful care,
Have for an instant felt the insidious snare;
And caught my sinful eyes at the endang'ring stars;
Till I was forced to smite my bounding breast
With forceful blow, and bid the bold-one rest.
'Go not with crowds when they to pleasure run,
But public joy in private safety shun:
When bells, diverted from their true intent,
Ring loud for some deluded mortal sent
To hear or make long speech in parliament;
What time the many, that unruly beast,
Roars its rough joy and shares the final feast?
Then heed my counsel, shut thine ears and eyes;
A few will hear me--for the few are wise.'
Not Satan's friends, nor Satan's self could

bear,
The cautious man who took of souls such care;
An interloper,--one who, out of place,
Had volunteered upon the side of grace:
There was his master ready once a week
To give advice; what further need he seek?
'Amen, so be it:'--what had he to do
With more than this?--'twas insolent and new;
And some determined on a way to see
How frail he was, that so it might not be.
First they essay'd to tempt our saint to sin,
By points of doctrine argued at an inn;
Where he might warmly reason, deeply drink,
Then lose all power to argue and to think.
In vain they tried; he took the question up,
Clear'd every doubt, and barely touch'd the cup:
By many a text he proved his doctrine sound,
And look'd in triumph on the tempters round.
Next 'twas their care an artful lass to find,
Who might consult him, as perplex'd in mind;
She they conceived might put her case with fears,
With tender tremblings and seducing tears;
She might such charms of various kind display,
That he would feel their force and melt away:
For why of nymphs such caution and such dread,
Unless he felt, and fear'd to be misled?
She came, she spake: he calmly heard her case,
And plainly told her 'twas a want of grace;
Bade her 'such fancies and affections check,
And wear a thicker muslin on her neck.'
Abased, his human foes the combat fled,
And the stern clerk yet higher held his head.
They were indeed a weak, impatient set,
But their shrewd prompter had his engines yet;
Had various means to make a mortal trip,
Who shunn'd a flowing bowl and rosy lip;
And knew a thousand ways his heart to move,
Who flies from banquets and who laughs at love.
Thus far the playful Muse has lent her aid,
But now departs, of graver theme afraid;
Her may we seek in more appropriate time, -
There is no jesting with distress and crime.
Our worthy Clerk had now arrived at fame,
Such as but few in his degree might claim;
But he was poor, and wanted not the sense
That lowly rates the praise without the pence:
He saw the common herd with reverence treat
The weakest burgess whom they chanced to meet;
While few respected his exalted views,
And all beheld his doublet and his shoes:
None, when they meet, would to his parts allow
(Save his poor boys) a hearing or a bow:
To this false judgment of the vulgar mind,
He was not fully, as a saint, resign'd;
He found it much his jealous soul affect,
To fear derision and to find neglect.
The year was bad, the christening-fees were

small,
The weddings few, the parties paupers all:
Desire of gain with fear of want combined,
Raised sad commotion in his wounded mind;
Wealth was in all his thoughts, his views, his

dreams,
And prompted base desires and baseless schemes.
Alas! how often erring mortals keep
The strongest watch against the foes who sleep;
While the more wakeful, bold, and artful foe
Is suffer'd guardless and unmark'd to go.
Once in a month the sacramental bread
Our Clerk with wine upon the table spread:
The custom this, that as the vicar reads,
He for our off'rings round the church proceeds;
Tall spacious seats the wealthier people hid,
And none had view of what his neighbour did:
Laid on the box and mingled when they fell,
Who should the worth of each oblation tell?
Now as poor Jachin took the usual round,
And saw the alms and heard the metal sound,
He had a thought--at first it was no more
Than--'these have cash and give it to the poor.'
A second thought from this to work began -
'And can they give it to a poorer man?'
Proceeding thus,--'My merit could they know;
And knew my need, how freely they'd bestow;
But though they know not, these remain the same,
And are a strong, although a secret claim:
To me, alas! the want and worth are known;
Why then, in fact, 'tis but to take my own.'
Thought after thought pour'd in, a tempting

train: -
'Suppose it done,--who is it could complain?
How could the poor? for they such trifles share,
As add no comfort, as suppress no care;
But many a pittance makes a worthy heap, -
What says the law? that silence puts to sleep: -
Nought then forbids, the danger could we shun,
And sure the business may be safely done.
'But am I earnest?--earnest? No.--I say,
If such my mind, that I could plan a way;
Let me reflect;--I've not allow'd me time
To purse the pieces, and if dropp'd they'd chime:'
Fertile is evil in the soul of man. -
He paused,--said Jachin, 'They may drop on bran.
Why then 'tis safe and (all consider'd) just,
The poor receive it,--'tis no breach of trust:
The old and widows may their trifles miss,
There must be evil in a good like this:
But I'll be kind--the sick I'll visit twice,
When now but once, and freely give advice.
Yet let me think again:'--Again he tried,
For stronger reasons on his passion's side,
And quickly these were found, yet slowly he

complied.
The morning came: the common service done,
Shut every door,--the solemn rite begun, -
And, as the priest the sacred sayings read,
The clerk went forward, trembling as he tread:
O'er the tall pew he held the box, and heard
The offer'd piece, rejoicing as he fear'd:
Just by the pillar, as he cautious tripp'd,
And turn'd the aisle, he then a portion slipp'd
From the full store, and to the pocket sent,
But held a moment--and then down it went.
The priest read on, on walk'd the man afraid,
Till a gold offering in the plate was laid:
Trembling he took it, for a moment stopp'd,
Then down it fell, and sounded as it dropp'd;
Amazed he started, for th' affrighted man,
Lost and bewilder'd, thought not of the bran.
But all were silent, all on things intent
Of high concern, none ear to money lent;
So on he walk'd, more cautious than before,
And gain'd the purposed sum and one piece more.
'Practice makes perfect:' when the month came

round,
He dropp'd the cash, nor listen'd for a sound:
But yet, when last of all th' assembled flock
He ate and drank,--it gave th' electric shock:
Oft was he forced his reasons to repeat,
Ere he could kneel in quiet at his seat;
But custom soothed him--ere a single year
All this was done without restraint or fear:
Cool and collected, easy and composed,
He was correct till all the service closed;
Then to his home, without a groan or sigh,
Gravely he went, and laid his treasure by.
Want will complain: some widows had express'd
A doubt if they were favour'd like the rest;
The rest described with like regret their dole,
And thus from parts they reason'd to the whole:
When all agreed some evil must be done,
Or rich men's hearts grew harder than a stone.
Our easy vicar cut the matter short;
He would not listen to such vile report.
All were not thus--there govern'd in that year
A stern stout churl, an angry overseer;
A tyrant fond of power, loud, lewd, and most

severe:
Him the mild vicar, him the graver clerk,
Advised, reproved, but nothing would he mark.
Save the disgrace; 'and that, my friends,' said he,
'Will I avenge, whenever time may be.'
And now, alas! 'twas time: --from man to man
Doubt and alarm and shrewd suspicions ran.
With angry spirit and with sly intent,
This parish-ruler to the altar went:
A private mark he fix'd on shillings three,
And but one mark could in the money see:
Besides in peering round, he chanced to note
A sprinkling slight on Jachin's Sunday-coat:
All doubt was over: --when the flock were bless'd,
In wrath he rose, and thus his mind express'd: -
'Foul deeds are here!' and saying this, he took
The Clerk, whose conscience, in her cold-fit,

shook:
His pocket then was emptied on the place;
All saw his guilt; all witness'd his disgrace:
He fell, he fainted, not a groan, a look,
Escaped the culprit; 'twas a final stroke -
A death-wound never to be heal'd--a fall
That all had witness'd, and amazed were all.
As he recover'd, to his mind it came,
'I owe to Satan this disgrace and shame:'
All the seduction now appear'd in view;
'Let me withdraw,' he said, and he withdrew:
No one withheld him, all in union cried,
E'en the avenger,--'We are satisfied:'
For what has death in any form to give,
Equal to that man's terrors, if he live?
He lived in freedom, but he hourly saw
How much more fatal justice is than law;
He saw another in his office reign,
And his mild master treat him with disdain:
He saw that all men shunn'd him, some reviled,
The harsh pass'd frowning, and the simple smiled;
The town maintain'd him, but with some reproof,
And clerks and scholars proudly kept aloof.
In each lone place, dejected and dismay'd,
Shrinking from view, his wasting form he laid;
Or to the restless sea and roaring wind
Gave the strong yearnings of a ruin'd mind:
On the broad beach, the silent summer-day,
Stretch'd on some wreck, he wore his life away;
Or where the river mingles with the sea,
Or on the mud-bank by the elder tree,
Or by the bounding marsh-dike, there was he:
And when unable to forsake the town,
In the blind courts he sat desponding down -
Always alone: then feebly would he crawl
The church-way walk, and lean upon the wall:
Too ill for this, he lay beside the door,
Compell'd to hear the reasoning of the poor:
He look'd so pale, so weak, the pitying crowd
Their firm belief of his repentance vow'd;
They saw him then so ghastly and so thin,
That they exclaim'd, 'Is this the work of sin?'
'Yes,' in his better moments, he replied,
'Of sinful avarice and the spirit's pride; -
While yet untempted, I was safe and well;
Temptation came; I reason'd, and I fell:
To be man's guide and glory I design'd,
A rare example for our sinful kind;
But now my weakness and my guilt I see,
And am a warning--man, be warn'd by me!'
He said, and saw no more the human face;
To a lone loft he went, his dying place,
And, as the vicar of his state inquired,
Turn'd to the wall and silently expired!

poem by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Poetry Lover
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

Jenny

Lazy laughing languid Jenny,
Fond of a kiss and fond of a guinea,
Whose head upon my knee to-night
Rests for a while, as if grown light
With all our dances and the sound
To which the wild tunes spun you round:
Fair Jenny mine, the thoughtless queen
Of kisses which the blush between
Could hardly make much daintier;
Whose eyes are as blue skies, whose hair
Is countless gold incomparable:
Fresh flower, scarce touched with signs that tell
Of Love's exuberant hotbed:—Nay,
Poor flower left torn since yesterday
Until to-morrow leave you bare;
Poor handful of bright spring-water
Flung in the whirlpool's shrieking face;
Poor shameful Jenny, full of grace
Thus with your head upon my knee;—
Whose person or whose purse may be
The lodestar of your reverie?
This room of yours, my Jenny, looks
A change from mine so full of books,
Whose serried ranks hold fast, forsooth,
So many captive hours of youth,—
The hours they thieve from day and night
To make one's cherished work come right,
And leave it wrong for all their theft,
Even as to-night my work was left:
Until I vowed that since my brain
And eyes of dancing seemed so fain,
My feet should have some dancing too:—
And thus it was I met with you.
Well, I suppose 'twas hard to part,
For here I am. And now, sweetheart,
You seem too tired to get to bed.
It was a careless life I led
When rooms like this were scarce so strange
Not long ago. What breeds the change,—
The many aims or the few years?
Because to-night it all appears
Something I do not know again.
The cloud's not danced out of my brain
The cloud that made it turn and swim
While hour by hour the books grew dim.
Why, Jenny, as I watch you there,—
For all your wealth of loosened hair,
Your silk ungirdled and unlac'd
And warm sweets open to the waist,
All golden in the lamplight's gleam,—
You know not what a book you seem,
Half-read by lightning in a dream!
How should you know, my Jenny? Nay,
And I should be ashamed to say:—
Poor beauty, so well worth a kiss!
But while my thought runs on like this
With wasteful whims more than enough,
I wonder what you're thinking of.
If of myself you think at all,
What is the thought?—conjectural
On sorry matters best unsolved?—
Or inly is each grace revolved
To fit me with a lure?—or (sad
To think!) perhaps you're merely glad
That I'm not drunk or ruffianly
And let you rest upon my knee.
For sometimes, were the truth confess'd,
You're thankful for a little rest,—
Glad from the crush to rest within,
From the heart-sickness and the din
Where envy's voice at virtue's pitch
Mocks you because your gown is rich;
And from the pale girl's dumb rebuke,
Whose ill-clad grace and toil-worn look
Proclaim the strength that keeps her weak,
And other nights than yours bespeak;
And from the wise unchildish elf,
To schoolmate lesser than himself
Pointing you out, what thing you are:—
Yes, from the daily jeer and jar,
From shame and shame's outbraving too,
Is rest not sometimes sweet to you?—
But most from the hatefulness of man,
Who spares not to end what he began,
Whose acts are ill and his speech ill,
Who, having used you at his will,
Thrusts you aside, as when I dine
I serve the dishes and the wine.
Well, handsome Jenny mine, sit up:
I've filled our glasses, let us sup,
And do not let me think of you,
Lest shame of yours suffice for two.
What, still so tired? Well, well then, keep
Your head there, so you do not sleep;
But that the weariness may pass
And leave you merry, take this glass.
Ah! lazy lily hand, more bless'd
If ne'er in rings it had been dress'd
Nor ever by a glove conceal'd!
Behold the lilies of the field,
They toil not neither do they spin;
(So doth the ancient text begin,—
Not of such rest as one of these
Can share.) Another rest and ease
Along each summer-sated path
From its new lord the garden hath,
Than that whose spring in blessings ran
Which praised the bounteous husbandman,
Ere yet, in days of hankering breath,
The lilies sickened unto death.
What, Jenny, are your lilies dead?
Aye, and the snow-white leaves are spread
Like winter on the garden-bed.
But you had roses left in May,—
They were not gone too. Jenny, nay,
But must your roses die, and those
Their purfled buds that should unclose?
Even so; the leaves are curled apart,
Still red as from the broken heart,
And here's the naked stem of thorns.
Nay, nay, mere words. Here nothing warns
As yet of winter. Sickness here
Or want alone could waken fear,—
Nothing but passion wrings a tear.
Except when there may rise unsought
Haply at times a passing thought
Of the old days which seem to be
Much older than any history
That is written in any book;
When she would lie in fields and look
Along the ground through the blown grass
And wonder where the city was,
Far out of sight, whose broil and bale
They told her then for a child's tale.
Jenny, you know the city now.
A child can tell the tale there, how
Some things which are not yet enroll'd
In market-lists are bought and sold
Even till the early Sunday light,
When Saturday night is market-night
Everywhere, be it dry or wet,
And market-night in the Haymarket.
Our learned London children know,
Poor Jenny, all your pride and woe;
Have seen your lifted silken skirt
Advertise dainties through the dirt;
Have seen your coach-wheels splash rebuke
On virtue; and have learned your look
When, wealth and health slipped past, you stare
Along the streets alone, and there,
Round the long park, across the bridge,
The cold lamps at the pavement's edge
Wind on together and apart,
A fiery serpent for your heart.
Let the thoughts pass, an empty cloud!
Suppose I were to think aloud,—
What if to her all this were said?
Why, as a volume seldom read
Being opened halfway shuts again,
So might the pages of her brain
Be parted at such words, and thence
Close back upon the dusty sense.
For is there hue or shape defin'd
In Jenny's desecrated mind,
Where all contagious currents meet,
A Lethe of the middle street?
Nay, it reflects not any face,
Nor sound is in its sluggish pace,
But as they coil those eddies clot,
And night and day remember not.
Why, Jenny, you're asleep at last!—
Asleep, poor Jenny, hard and fast,—
So young and soft and tired; so fair,
With chin thus nestled in your hair,
Mouth quiet, eyelids almost blue
As if some sky of dreams shone through!
Just as another woman sleeps!
Enough to throw one's thoughts in heaps
Of doubt and horror,—what to say
Or think,—this awful secret sway,
The potter's power over the clay!
Of the same lump (it has been said)
For honour and dishonour made,
Two sister vessels. Here is one.
My cousin Nell is fond of fun,
And fond of dress, and change, and praise,
So mere a woman in her ways:
And if her sweet eyes rich in youth
Are like her lips that tell the truth,
My cousin Nell is fond of love.
And she's the girl I'm proudest of.
Who does not prize her, guard her well?
The love of change, in cousin Nell,
Shall find the best and hold it dear:
The unconquered mirth turn quieter
Not through her own, through others' woe:
The conscious pride of beauty glow
Beside another's pride in her,
One little part of all they share.
For Love himself shall ripen these
In a kind soil to just increase
Through years of fertilizing peace.
Of the same lump (as it is said)
For honour and dishonour made,
Two sister vessels. Here is one.
It makes a goblin of the sun.
So pure,—so fall'n! How dare to think
Of the first common kindred link?
Yet, Jenny, till the world shall burn
It seems that all things take their turn;
And who shall say but this fair tree
May need, in changes that may be,
Your children's children's charity?
Scorned then, no doubt, as you are scorn'd!
Shall no man hold his pride forewarn'd
Till in the end, the Day of Days,
At Judgment, one of his own race,
As frail and lost as you, shall rise,—
His daughter, with his mother's eyes?
How Jenny's clock ticks on the shelf!
Might not the dial scorn itself
That has such hours to register?
Yet as to me, even so to her
Are golden sun and silver moon,
In daily largesse of earth's boon,
Counted for life-coins to one tune.
And if, as blindfold fates are toss'd,
Through some one man this life be lost,
Shall soul not somehow pay for soul?
Fair shines the gilded aureole
In which our highest painters place
Some living woman's simple face.
And the stilled features thus descried
As Jenny's long throat droops aside,—
The shadows where the cheeks are thin,
And pure wide curve from ear to chin,—
With Raffael's, Leonardo's hand
To show them to men's souls, might stand,
Whole ages long, the whole world through,
For preachings of what God can do.
What has man done here? How atone,
Great God, for this which man has done?
And for the body and soul which by
Man's pitiless doom must now comply
With lifelong hell, what lullaby
Of sweet forgetful second birth
Remains? All dark. No sign on earth
What measure of God's rest endows
The many mansions of his house.
If but a woman's heart might see
Such erring heart unerringly
For once! But that can never be.
Like a rose shut in a book
In which pure women may not look,
For its base pages claim control
To crush the flower within the soul;
Where through each dead rose-leaf that clings,
Pale as transparent Psyche-wings,
To the vile text, are traced such things
As might make lady's cheek indeed
More than a living rose to read;
So nought save foolish foulness may
Watch with hard eyes the sure decay;
And so the life-blood of this rose,
Puddled with shameful knowledge, flows
Through leaves no chaste hand may unclose:
Yet still it keeps such faded show
Of when 'twas gathered long ago,
That the crushed petals' lovely grain,
The sweetness of the sanguine stain,
Seen of a woman's eyes, must make
Her pitiful heart, so prone to ache,
Love roses better for its sake:—
Only that this can never be:—
Even so unto her sex is she.
Yet, Jenny, looking long at you,
The woman almost fades from view.
A cipher of man's changeless sum
Of lust, past, present, and to come,
Is left. A riddle that one shrinks
To challenge from the scornful sphinx.
Like a toad within a stone
Seated while Time crumbles on;
Which sits there since the earth was curs'd
For Man's transgression at the first;
Which, living through all centuries,
Not once has seen the sun arise;
Whose life, to its cold circle charmed,
The earth's whole summers have not warmed;
Which always—whitherso the stone
Be flungsits there, deaf, blind, alone;—
Aye, and shall not be driven out
Till that which shuts him round about
Break at the very Master's stroke,
And the dust thereof vanish as smoke,
And the seed of Man vanish as dust:—
Even so within this world is Lust.
Come, come, what use in thoughts like this?
Poor little Jenny, good to kiss,—
You'd not believe by what strange roads
Thought travels, when your beauty goads
A man to-night to think of toads!
Jenny, wake up…. Why, there's the dawn!
And there's an early waggon drawn
To market, and some sheep that jog
Bleating before a barking dog;
And the old streets come peering through
Another night that London knew;
And all as ghostlike as the lamps.
So on the wings of day decamps
My last night's frolic. Glooms begin
To shiver off as lights creep in
Past the gauze curtains half drawn-to,
And the lamp's doubled shade grows blue,—
Your lamp, my Jenny, kept alight,
Like a wise virgin's, all one night!
And in the alcove coolly spread
Glimmers with dawn your empty bed;
And yonder your fair face I see
Reflected lying on my knee,
Where teems with first foreshadowings
Your pier-glass scrawled with diamond rings:
And on your bosom all night worn
Yesterday's rose now droops forlorn,
But dies not yet this summer morn.
And now without, as if some word
Had called upon them that they heard,
The London sparrows far and nigh
Clamour together suddenly;
And Jenny's cage-bird grown awake
Here in their song his part must take,
Because here too the day doth break.
And somehow in myself the dawn
Among stirred clouds and veils withdrawn
Strikes greyly on her. Let her sleep.
But will it wake her if I heap
These cushions thus beneath her head
Where my knee was? No,—there's your bed,
My Jenny, while you dream. And there
I lay among your golden hair,
Perhaps the subject of your dreams,
These golden coins.
For still one deems
That Jenny's flattering sleep confers
New magic on the magic purse,—
Grim web, how clogged with shrivelled flies!
Between the threads fine fumes arise
And shape their pictures in the brain.
There roll no streets in glare and rain,
Nor flagrant man-swine whets his tusk;
But delicately sighs in musk
The homage of the dim boudoir;
Or like a palpitating star
Thrilled into song, the opera-night
Breathes faint in the quick pulse of light;
Or at the carriage-window shine
Rich wares for choice; or, free to dine,
Whirls through its hour of health (divine
For her) the concourse of the Park.
And though in the discounted dark
Her functions there and here are one,
Beneath the lamps and in the sun
There reigns at least the acknowledged belle
Apparelled beyond parallel.
Ah Jenny, yes, we know your dreams.
For even the Paphian Venus seems
A goddess o'er the realms of love,
When silver-shrined in shadowy grove:
Aye, or let offerings nicely plac'd
But hide Priapus to the waist,
And whoso looks on him shall see
An eligible deity.
Why, Jenny, waking here alone
May help you to remember one,
Though all the memory's long outworn
Of many a double-pillowed morn.
I think I see you when you wake,
And rub your eyes for me, and shake
My gold, in rising, from your hair,
A Danaë for a moment there.
Jenny, my love rang true! for still
Love at first sight is vague, until
That tinkling makes him audible.
And must I mock you to the last,
Ashamed of my own shame,—aghast
Because some thoughts not born amiss
Rose at a poor fair face like this?
Well, of such thoughts so much I know:
In my life, as in hers, they show,
By a far gleam which I may near,
A dark path I can strive to clear.
Only one kiss. Good-bye, my dear.

poem by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Poetry Lover
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share
Charles Lamb

Prince Dorus

In days of yore, as Ancient Stories tell,
A King in love with a great Princess fell.
Long at her feet submiss the Monarch sigh'd,
While she with stern repulse his suit denied.
Yet was he form'd by birth to please the fair,
Dress'd, danc'd, and courted, with a Monarch's air;
But Magic Spells her frozen breast had steel'd
With stubborn pride, that knew not how to yield.


This to the King a courteous Fairy told,
And bade the Monarch in his suit be bold;
For he that would the charming Princess wed,
Had only on her cat's black tail to tread,
When straight the Spell would vanish into air,
And he enjoy for life the yielding fair.


He thank'd the Fairy for her kind advice.-
Thought he, 'If this be all, I'll not be nice;
Rather than in my courtship I will fail,
I will to mince-meat tread Minon's black tail.'


To the Princess's court repairing strait,
He sought the cat that must decide his fate;
But when he found her, how the creature stared!
How her back bristled, and her great eyes glared!
That tail, which he so fondly hop'd his prize,
Was swell'd by wrath to twice its usual size;
And all her cattish gestures plainly spoke,
She thought the affair he came upon, no joke.


With wary step the cautious King draws near,
And slyly means to attack her in her rear;
But when he thinks upon her tail to pounce,
Whisk-off she skips-three yards upon a bounce-
Again he tries, again his efforts fail-
Minon's a witch-the deuce is in her tail.-


The anxious chase for weeks the Monarch tried,
Till courage fail'd, and hope within him died.
A desperate suit 'twas useless to prefer,
Or hope to catch a tail of quicksilver.-
When on a day, beyond his hopes, he found
Minon, his foe, asleep upon the ground;
Her ample tail hehind her lay outspread,
Full to the eye, and tempting to the tread.
The King with rapture the occasion bless'd,
And with quick foot the fatal part he press'd.
Loud squalls were heard, like howlings of a storm,
And sad he gazed on Minon's altered form,-
No more a cat, but chang'd into a man
Of giant size, who frown'd, and thus began:


'Rash King, that dared with impious design
To violate that tail, that once was mine;
What tho' the spell be broke, and burst the charms,
That kept the Princess from thy longing arms,-
Not unrevenged shalt thou my fury dare,
For by that violated tail I swear,
From your unhappy nuptials shall be born
A Prince, whose Nose shall be thy subjects' scorn.
Bless'd in his love thy son shall never be,
Till he his foul deformity shall see,
Till he with tears his blemish shall confess,
Discern its odious length, and wish it less!'


This said, he vanish'd; and the King awhile
Mused at his words, then answer'd with a smile,
'Give me a child in happy wedlock born,
And let his Nose be made like a French horn;
His knowledge of the fact I ne'er can doubt,-
If he have eyes, or hands, he'll find it out.'


So spake the King, self-flatter'd in his thought,
Then with impatient step the Princess sought;
His urgent suit no longer she withstands,
But links with him in Hymen's knot her hands.


Almost as soon a widow as a bride,
Within a year the King her husband died;
And shortly after he was dead and gone
She was deliver'd of a little son,
The prettiest babe, with lips as red as rose,
And eyes like little stars-but such a nose-
The tender Mother fondly took the boy
Into her arms, and would have kiss'd her joy;
His luckless nose forbade the fond embrace-
He thrust the hideous feature in her face.


Then all her Maids of Honour tried in turn,
And for a Prince's kiss in envy burn;
By sad experience taught, their hopes they miss'd,
And mourn'd a Prince that never could be kiss'd.
In silent tears the Queen confess'd her grief,
Till kindest Flattery came to her relief.
Her maids, as each one takes him in her arms,
Expatiate freely o'er his world of charms-
His eyes, lips, mouth-his forehead was divine-
And for the nose-they call'd it Aquiline-
Declared that Cæsar, who the world subdued,
Had such a one-just of that longitude-
That Kings like him compell'd folks to adore them,
And drove the short-nos'd sons of men before them-
That length of nose portended length of days,
And was a great advantage many ways-
To mourn the gifts of Providence was wrong-
Besides, the Nose was not so very long.-


These arguments in part her grief redrest,
A mother's partial fondness did the rest;
And Time, that all things reconciles by use,
Did in her notions such a change produce,
That, as she views her babe, with favour blind,
She thinks him handsomest of human kind.


Meantime, in spite of his disfigured face,
Dorus (for so he's call'd) grew up a pace;
In fair proportion all his features rose,
Save that most prominent of all-his Nose.
That Nose, which in the infant could annoy,
Was grown a perfect nuisance in the boy.
Whene'er he walk'd, his Handle went before,
Long as the snout of Ferret, or Wild Boar;
Or like the Staff, with which on holy day
The solemn Parish Beadle clears the way.


But from their cradle to their latest year,
How seldom Truth can reach a Prince's ear!
To keep the unwelcome knowledge out of view,
His lesson well each flattering Courtier knew;
The hoary Tutor, and the wily Page,
Unmeet confederates! dupe his tender age.
They taught him that whate'er vain mortals boast-
Strength, Courage, Wisdom-all they value most-
Whate'er on human life distinction throws-
Was all comprized-in what?-a length of nose!
Ev'n Virtue's self (by some suppos'd chief merit)
In short-nosed folks was only want of spirit.


While doctrines such as these his guides instill'd,
His Palace was with long-nosed people fill'd;
At Court whoever ventured to appear
With a short nose, was treated with a sneer.
Each courtier's wife, that with a babe is blest,
Moulds its young nose betimes; and does her best,
By pulls, and hauls, and twists, and lugs, and pinches,
To stretch it to the standard of the Prince's.


Dup'd by these arts, Dorus to manhood rose,
Nor dream'd of ought more comely than his Nose;
Till Love, whose power ev'n Princes have confest,
Claim'd the soft empire o'er his youthful breast.
Fair Claribel was she who caus'd his care;
A neighb'ring Monarch's daughter, and sole heir.
For beauteous Claribel his bosom burn'd;
The beauteous Claribel his flame return'd;
Deign'd with kind words his passion to approve,
Met his soft vows, and yielded love for love.
If in her mind some female pangs arose
At sight (and who can blame her?) of his Nose,
Affection made her willing to be blind;
She loved him for the beauties of his mind;
And in his lustre, and his royal race,
Contented sunk-one feature of his face.


Blooming to sight, and lovely to behold,
Herself was cast in Beauty's richest mould;
Sweet female majesty her person deck'd-
Her face an angel's-save for one defect-
Wise Nature, who to Dorus over kind,
A length of nose too liberal had assign'd,
As if with us poor mortals to make sport,
Had given to Claribel a nose too short:
But turn'd up with a sort of modest grace;
It took not much of beauty from her face;
And subtle Courtiers, who their Prince's mind
Still watch'd, and turn'd about with every wind,
Assur'd the Prince, that though man's beauty owes
Its charms to a majestic length of nose,
The excellence of Woman (softer creature)
Consisted in the shortness of that feature.
Few arguments were wanted to convince
The already more than half persuaded Prince;
Truths, which we hate, with slowness we receive,
But what we wish to credit, soon believe.


The Princess's affections being gain'd,
What but her Sire's approval now remain'd?
Ambassadors with solemn pomp are sent
To win the aged Monarch to consent
(Seeing their States already were allied)
That Dorus might have Claribel to bride.
Her Royal Sire, who wisely understood
The match propos'd was for both kingdoms' good,
Gave his consent; and gentle Claribel
With weeping bids her father's court farewell.


With gallant pomp, and numerous array,
Dorus went forth to meet her on her way;
But when the Princely pair of lovers met,
Their hearts on mutual gratulations set,
Sudden the Enchanter from the ground arose,
(The same who prophesied the Prince's nose)
And with rude grasp, unconscious of her charms,
Snatch'd up the lovely Princess in his arms,
Then bore her out of reach of human eyes,
Up in the pathless regions of the skies.


Bereft of her that was his only care,
Dorus resign'd his soul to wild despair;
Resolv'd to leave the land that gave him birth,
And seek fair Claribel throughout the earth.
Mounting his horse, he gives the beast the reins,
And wanders lonely through the desert plains;
With fearless heart the savage heath explores,
Where the wolf prowls, and where the tiger roars,
Nor wolf, nor tiger, dare his way oppose;
The wildest creatures see, and shun, his Nose.
Ev'n lions fear! the elephant alone
Surveys with pride a trunk so like his own.


At length he to a shady forest came,
Where in a cavern lived an aged dame;
A reverend Fairy, on whose silver head
A hundred years their downy snows had shed.
Here ent'ring in, the Mistress of the place
Bespoke him welcome with a cheerful grace;
Fetch'd forth her dainties, spread her social board
With all the store her dwelling could afford.
The Prince, with toil and hunger sore opprest,
Gladly accepts, and deigns to be her guest.
But when the first civilities were paid,
The dishes rang'd, and Grace in order said;
The Fairy, who had leisure now to view
Her guest more closely, from her pocket drew
Her spectacles, and wip'd them from the dust,
Then on her nose endeavour'd to adjust;
With difficulty she could find a place
To hang them on in her unshapely face;
For, if the Princess's was somewhat small,
This Fairy scarce had any nose at all.
But when by help of spectacles the Crone
Discern'd a Nose so different from her own,
What peals of laughter shook her aged sides!
While with sharp jests the Prince she thus derides.


FAIRY.
'Welcome, great Prince of Noses, to my cell;
'Tis a poor place,-but thus we Fairies dwell.
Pray, let me ask you, if from far you come-
And don't you sometimes find it cumbersome?'


PRINCE.
'Find what?'


FAIRY.
'Your Nose-'


PRINCE.
'My Nose, Ma'am!'


FAIRY.
'No offence-
The King your Father was a man of sense,
A handsome man (but lived not to be old)
And had a Nose cast in the common mould.
Ev'n I myself, that now with age am grey,
Was thought to have some beauty in my day,
And am the Daughter of a King.-Your Sire
In this poor face saw something to admire-
And I to shew my gratitude made shift-
Have stood his friend-and help'd him at a lift-
'Twas I that, when his hopes began to fail,
Shew'd him the spell that lurk'd in Minon's tail-
Perhaps you have heard-but come, Sir, you don't eat-
That Nose of yours requires both wine and meat-
Fall to, and welcome, without more ado-
You see your fare-what shall I help you to?
This dish the tongues of nightingales contains;
This, eyes of peacocks; and that, linnets' brains;
That next you is a Bird of Paradise-
We Fairies in our food are somewhat nice.-
And pray, Sir, while your hunger is supplied,
Do lean your Nose a little on one side;
The shadow, which it casts upon the meat,
Darkens my plate, I see not what I eat-'


The Prince, on dainty after dainty feeding,
Felt inly shock'd at the old Fairy's breeding,
But held it want of manners in the Dame,
And did her country education blame.
One thing he only wonder'd at,-what she
So very comic in his Nose could see.
Hers, it must be confest, was somewhat short,
And time and shrinking age accounted for't;
But for his own, thank heaven, he could not tell
That it was ever thought remarkable;
A decent nose, of reasonable size,
And handsome thought, rather than otherwise.
But that which most of all his wonder paid,
Was to observe the Fairy's waiting Maid;
How at each word the aged Dame let fall;
She curtsied low, and smil'd assent to all;
But chiefly when the rev'rend Grannam told
Of conquests, which her beauty made of old.-
He smiled to see how Flattery sway'd the Dame,
Nor knew himself was open to the same!
He finds her raillery now increase so fast,
That making hasty end of his repast,
Glad to escape her tongue, he bids farewell
To the old Fairy, and her friendly cell.


But his kind Hostess, who had vainly tried
The force of ridicule to cure his pride,
Fertile in plans, a surer method chose,
To make him see the error of his Nose;
For, till he view'd that feature with remorse,
The Enchanter's direful spell must be in force.


Midway the road by which the Prince must pass,
She rais'd by magic art a House of Glass;
No mason's hand appear'd, nor work of wood;
Compact of glass the wondrous fabric stood.
Its stately pillars, glittering in the sun,
Conspicuous from afar, like silver, shone.
Here, snatch'd and rescued from th' Enchanter's might,
She placed the beauteous Claribel in sight.


The admiring Prince the chrystal dome survey'd,
And sought access unto his lovely Maid:
But, strange to tell, in all that mansion's bound,
Nor door, nor casement, was there to be found.
Enrag'd he took up massy stones, and flung
With such a force, that all the palace rung;
But made no more impression on the glass,
Than if the solid structure had been brass.
To comfort his despair, the lovely maid
Her snowy hand against her window laid;
But when with eager haste he thought to kiss,
His Nose stood out, and robb'd him of the bliss.
Thrice he essay'd th' impracticable feat;
The window and his lips can never meet.


The painful Truth, which Flattery long conceal'd,
Rush'd on his mind, and 'O!' he cried, 'I yield;
Wisest of Fairies, thou wert right, I wrong-
I own, I own, I have a Nose too long.'


The frank confession was no sooner spoke,
But into shivers all the palace broke.
His Nose of monstrous length, to his surprise
Shrunk to the limits of a common size:
And Claribel with joy her Lover view'd,
Now grown as beautiful as he was good.
The aged Fairy in their presence stands,
Confirms their mutual vows, and joins their hands.
The Prince with rapture hails the happy hour,
That rescued him from self-delusion's power;
And trains of blessings crown the future life
Of Dorus, and of Claribel, his wife.


THE END

poem by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Poetry Lover
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

Tale IV

PROCRASTINATION.

Love will expire--the gay, the happy dream
Will turn to scorn, indiff'rence, or esteem:
Some favour'd pairs, in this exchange, are blest,
Nor sigh for raptures in a state of rest;
Others, ill match'd, with minds unpair'd, repent
At once the deed, and know no more content;
From joy to anguish they, in haste, decline,
And, with their fondness, their esteem resign;
More luckless still their fate, who are the prey
Of long-protracted hope and dull delay:
'Mid plans of bliss the heavy hours pass on,
Till love is withered, and till joy is gone.
This gentle flame two youthful hearts possess'd,
The sweet disturber of unenvied rest;
The prudent Dinah was the maid beloved,
And the kind Rupert was the swain approved:
A wealthy Aunt her gentle niece sustain'd,
He, with a father, at his desk remain'd;
The youthful couple, to their vows sincere,
Thus loved expectant; year succeeding year,
With pleasant views and hopes, but not a prospect

near.
Rupert some comfort in his station saw,
But the poor virgin lived in dread and awe;
Upon her anxious looks the widow smiled,
And bade her wait, 'for she was yet a child.'
She for her neighbour had a due respect,
Nor would his son encourage or reject;
And thus the pair, with expectation vain,
Beheld the seasons change and change again;
Meantime the nymph her tender tales perused,
Where cruel aunts impatient girls refused:
While hers, though teasing, boasted to be kind,
And she, resenting, to be all resign'd.
The dame was sick, and when the youth applied
For her consent, she groan'd, and cough'd, and

cried,
Talk'd of departing, and again her breath
Drew hard, and cough'd, and talk'd again of death:
'Here may you live, my Dinah! here the boy
And you together my estate enjoy:'
Thus to the lovers was her mind expressed,
Till they forbore to urge the fond request.
Servant, and nurse, and comforter, and friend,
Dinah had still some duty to attend;
But yet their walk, when Rupert's evening call
Obtain'd an hour, made sweet amends for all;
So long they now each other's thoughts had known,
That nothing seem'd exclusively their own:
But with the common wish, the mutual fear,
They now had travelled to their thirtieth year.
At length a prospect open'd--but alas!
Long time must yet, before the union, pass.
Rupert was call'd, in other clime, t'increase
Another's wealth, and toil for future peace.
Loth were the lovers; but the aunt declared
'Twas fortune's call, and they must be prepar'd:
'You now are young, and for this brief delay,
And Dinah's care, what I bequeath will pay;
All will be yours; nay, love, suppress that sigh;
The kind must suffer, and the best must die:'
Then came the cough, and strong the signs it gave
Of holding long contention with the grave.
The lovers parted with a gloomy view,
And little comfort, but that both were true;
He for uncertain duties doom'd to steer,
While hers remain'd too certain and severe.
Letters arrived, and Rupert fairly told
'His cares were many, and his hopes were cold:
The view more clouded, that was never fair,
And love alone preserved him from despair;'
In other letters brighter hopes he drew,
'His friends were kind, and he believed them true.'
When the sage widow Dinah's grief descried,
She wonder'd much why one so happy sigh'd:
Then bade her see how her poor aunt sustain'd
The ills of life, nor murmur'd nor complain'd.
To vary pleasures, from the lady's chest
Were drawn the pearly string and tabby vest;
Beads, jewels, laces, all their value shown,
With the kind notice--'They will be your own.'
This hope, these comforts, cherish'd day by day,
To Dinah's bosom made a gradual way;
Till love of treasure had as large a part,
As love of Rupert, in the virgin's heart.
Whether it be that tender passions fail,
From their own nature, while the strong prevail;
Or whether av'rice, like the poison-tree,
Kills all beside it, and alone will be;
Whatever cause prevail'd, the pleasure grew
In Dinah's soul,--she loved the hoards to view;
With lively joy those comforts she survey'd,
And love grew languid in the careful maid.
Now the grave niece partook the widow's cares,
Look'd to the great, and ruled the small affairs;
Saw clean'd the plate, arranged the china-show,
And felt her passion for a shilling grow:
Th' indulgent aunt increased the maid's delight,
By placing tokens of her wealth in sight;
She loved the value of her bonds to tell,
And spake of stocks, and how they rose and fell.
This passion grew, and gain'd at length such

sway,
That other passions shrank to make it way;
Romantic notions now the heart forsook,
She read but seldom, and she changed her book;
And for the verses she was wont to send,
Short was her prose, and she was Rupert's friend.
Seldom she wrote, and then the widow's cough,
And constant call, excused her breaking off;
Who now oppressed, no longer took the air,
But sat and dozed upon an easy chair.
The cautious doctor saw the case was clear,
But judged it best to have companions near;
They came, they reason'd, they prescribed,--at

last,
Like honest men, they said their hopes were past;
Then came a priest--'tis comfort to reflect
When all is over, there was no neglect:
And all was over.--By her husband's bones,
The widow rests beneath the sculptured stones,
That yet record their fondness and their fame,
While all they left the virgin's care became;
Stock, bonds, and buildings; it disturb'd her rest,
To think what load of troubles she possessed:
Yet, if a trouble, she resolved to take
Th' important duty for the donor's sake;
She too was heiress to the widow's taste,
Her love of hoarding, and her dread of waste.
Sometimes the past would on her mind intrude,
And then a conflict full of care ensued;
The thoughts of Rupert on her mind would press,
His worth she knew, but doubted his success:
Of old she saw him heedless; what the boy
Forebore to save, the man would not enjoy;
Oft had he lost the chance that care would seize,
Willing to live, but more to live at ease:
Yet could she not a broken vow defend,
And Heav'n, perhaps, might yet enrich her friend.
Month after month was pass'd, and all were spent
In quiet comfort, and in rich content;
Miseries there were, and woes the world around,
But these had not her pleasant dwelling found;
She knew that mothers grieved, and widows wept,
And she was sorry, said her prayers, and slept:
Thus passed the seasons, and to Dinah's board
Gave what the seasons to the rich afford;
For she indulged, nor was her heart so small,
That one strong passion should engross it all.
A love of splendour now with av'rice strove,
And oft appeared to be the stronger love:
A secret pleasure fill'd the Widow's breast,
When she reflected on the hoards possess'd;
But livelier joy inspired th' ambitious Maid,
When she the purchase of those hoards display'd:
In small but splendid room she loved to see
That all was placed in view and harmony.
There, as with eager glance she look'd around,
She much delight in every object found.
While books devout were near her--to destroy,
Should it arise, an overflow of joy.
Within that fair apartment guests might see
The comforts cull'd for wealth by vanity:
Around the room an Indian paper blazed,
With lively tint and figures boldly raised;
Silky and soft upon the floor below,
Th' elastic carpet rose with crimson glow;
All things around implied both cost and care,
What met the eye was elegant or rare:
Some curious trifles round the room were laid,
By hope presented to the wealthy Maid;
Within a costly case of varnish'd wood,
In level rows, her polish'd volumes stood;
Shown as a favour to a chosen few,
To prove what beauty for a book could do:
A silver urn with curious work was fraught;
A silver lamp from Grecian pattern wrought:
Above her head, all gorgeous to behold,
A time-piece stood on feet of burnish'd gold;
A stag's-head crest adorn'd the pictured case,
Through the pure crystal shone the enamel'd face;
And while on brilliants moved the hands of steel,
It click'd from pray'r to pray'r, from meal to

meal.
Here as the lady sat, a friendly pair
Stept in t'admire the view, and took their chair:
They then related how the young and gay
Were thoughtless wandering in the broad highway:
How tender damsels sail'd in tilted boats,
And laugh'd with wicked men in scarlet coats;
And how we live in such degen'rate times,
That men conceal their wants and show their crimes;
While vicious deeds are screen'd by fashion's name,
And what was once our pride is now our shame.
Dinah was musing, as her friends discoursed,
When these last words a sudden entrance forced
Upon her mind, and what was once her pride
And now her shame, some painful views supplied;
Thoughts of the past within her bosom press'd,
And there a change was felt, and was confess'd:
While thus the Virgin strove with secret pain,
Her mind was wandering o'er the troubled main;
Still she was silent, nothing seem'd to see,
But sat and sigh'd in pensive reverie.
The friends prepared new subjects to begin,
When tall Susannah, maiden starch, stalk'd in;
Not in her ancient mode, sedate and slow,
As when she came, the mind she knew, to know;
Nor as, when list'ning half an hour before,
She twice or thrice tapp'd gently at the door;
But all decorum cast in wrath aside,
'I think the devil's in the man!' she cried;
'A huge tall sailor, with his tawny cheek
And pitted face, will with my lady speak;
He grinn'd an ugly smile, and said he knew,
Please you, my lady, 't would be joy to you:
What must I answer?'--Trembling and distress'd
Sank the pale Dinah by her fears oppress'd;
When thus alarm'd and brooking no delay,
Swift to her room the stranger made his way.
'Revive, my love!' said he, 'I've done thee

harm;
Give me thy pardon,' and he look'd alarm:
Meantime the prudent Dinah had contrived
Her soul to question, and she then revived.
'See! my good friend,' and then she raised her

head,
'The bloom of life, the strength of youth is fled;
Living we die; to us the world is dead;
We parted bless'd with health, and I am now
Age-struck and feeble--so I find art thou;
Thine eye is sunken, furrow'd is thy face,
And downward look'st thou--so we run our race;
And happier they whose race is nearly run,
Their troubles over, and their duties done.'
'True, lady, true--we are not girl and boy,
But time has left us something to enjoy.'
'What! hast thou learn'd my fortune?--yes, I live
To feel how poor the comforts wealth can give:
Thou too perhaps art wealthy; but our fate
Still mocks our wishes, wealth is come too late.'
'To me nor late nor early; I am come
Poor as I left thee to my native home:
Nor yet,' said Rupert, 'will I grieve; 'tis mine
To share thy comforts, and the glory thine:
For thou wilt gladly take that generous part
That both exalts and gratifies the heart;
While mine rejoices'--'Heavens!' return'd the maid,
'This talk to one so wither'd and decay'd?
No! all my care is now to fit my mind
For other spousal, and to die resigned:
As friend and neighbour, I shall hope to see
These noble views, this pious love in thee;
That we together may the change await,
Guides and spectators in each other's fate;
When fellow pilgrims, we shall daily crave
The mutual prayer that arms us for the grave.'
Half angry, half in doubt, the lover gazed
On the meek maiden, by her speech amazed;
'Dinah,' said he, 'dost thou respect thy vows?
What spousal mean'st thou?--thou art Rupert's

spouse;
That chance is mine to take, and thine to give:
But, trifling this, if we together live:
Can I believe, that, after all the past,
Our vows, our loves, thou wilt be false at last?
Something thou hast--I know not what--in view;
I find thee pious--let me find thee true.'
'Ah! cruel this; but do, my friend, depart;
And to its feelings leave my wounded heart.'
'Nay, speak at once; and Dinah, let me know,
Mean'st thou to take me, now I'm wreck'd, in tow?
Be fair; nor longer keep me in the dark;
Am I forsaken for a trimmer spark?
Heaven's spouse thou art not; nor can I believe
That God accepts her who will man deceive:
True I am shatter'd, I have service seen,
And service done, and have in trouble been;
My cheek (it shames me not) has lost its red,
And the brown buff is o'er my features spread:
Perchance my speech is rude; for I among
Th' untamed have been, in temper and in tongue;
Have been trepann'd, have lived in toil and care,
And wrought for wealth I was not doom'd to share;
It touch'd me deeply, for I felt a pride
In gaining riches for my destin'd bride:
Speak then my fate; for these my sorrows past,
Time lost, youth fled, hope wearied, and at last
This doubt of thee--a childish thing to tell,
But certain truth--my very throat they swell:
They stop the breath, and but for shame could I
Give way to weakness, and with passion cry;
These are unmanly struggles, but I feel
This hour must end them, and perhaps will heal.'
Here Dinah sigh'd, as if afraid to speak -
And then repeated--'They were frail and weak:
His soul she lov'd, and hoped he had the grace
To fix his thoughts upon a better place.'
She ceased;--with steady glance, as if to see
The very root of this hypocrisy, -
He her small fingers moulded in his hard
And bronzed broad hand; then told her his regard,
His best respect were gone, but love had still
Hold in his heart, and govern'd yet the will -
Or he would curse her: --saying this, he threw
The hand in scorn away, and bade adieu
To every lingering hope, with every care in view.
Proud and indignant, suffering, sick, and poor,
He grieved unseen: and spoke of love no more -
Till all he felt in indignation died,
As hers had sunk in avarice and pride.
In health declining, as in mind distressed,
To some in power his troubles he confess'd,
And shares a parish-gift; at prayers he sees
The pious Dinah dropp'd upon her knees;
Thence as she walks the street with stately air
As chance directs, oft meet the parted pair;
When he, with thickset coat of badgeman's blue,
Moves near her shaded silk of changeful hue;
When his thin locks of gray approach her braid,
A costly purchase made in Beauty's aid;
When his frank air, and his unstudied pace,
Are seen with her soft manner, air, and grace;
And his plain artless look with her sharp meaning

face;
It might some wonder in a stranger move,
How these together could have talk'd of love.
Behold them now!--see there a tradesman stands,
And humbly hearkens to some fresh commands;
He moves to speak, she interrupts him--'Stay,'
Her air expresses,--'Hark to what I say!'
Ten paces off, poor Rupert on a seat
Has taken refuge from the noon-day heat,
His eyes on her intent, as if to find
What were the movements of that subtle mind:
How still!--how earnest is he!--it appears
His thoughts are wand'ring through his earlier

years;
Through years of fruitless labour, to the day
When all his earthly prospects died away:
'Had I,' he thinks, 'been wealthier of the two,
Would she have found me so unkind, untrue?
Or knows not man when poor, what man when rich will

do?
Yes, yes! I feel that I had faithful proved,
And should have soothed and raised her, bless'd and

loved.'
But Dinah moves--she had observed before
The pensive Rupert at an humble door:
Some thoughts of pity raised by his distress,
Some feeling touch of ancient tenderness;
Religion, duty urged the maid to speak,
In terms of kindness to a man so weak:
But pride forbade, and to return would prove
She felt the shame of his neglected love;
Nor wrapp'd in silence could she pass, afraid
Each eye should see her, and each heart upbraid;
One way remain'd--the way the Levite took,
Who without mercy could on misery look;
(A way perceiv'd by craft, approved by pride),
She cross'd and pass'd him on the other side.

poem by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Poetry Lover
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share

Tale VIII

THE MOTHER.

There was a worthy, but a simple Pair,
Who nursed a Daughter, fairest of the fair:
Sons they had lost, and she alone remain'd,
Heir to the kindness they had all obtain'd,
Heir to the fortune they design'd for all,
Nor had th' allotted portion then been small;
And now, by fate enrich'd with beauty rare,
They watch'd their treasure with peculiar care:
The fairest features they could early trace,
And, blind with love saw merit in her face -
Saw virtue, wisdom, dignity, and grace;
And Dorothea, from her infant years,
Gain'd all her wishes from their pride or fears;
She wrote a billet, and a novel read,
And with her fame her vanity was fed;
Each word, each look, each action was a cause
For flattering wonder and for fond applause;
She rode or danced, and ever glanced around,
Seeking for praise, and smiling when she found,
The yielding pair to her petitions gave
An humble friend to be a civil slave,
Who for a poor support herself resign'd
To the base toil of a dependant mind:
By nature cold, our Heiress stoop'd to art,
To gain the credit of a tender heart.
Hence at her door must suppliant paupers stand,
To bless the bounty of her beauteous hand:
And now, her education all complete,
She talk'd of virtuous love and union sweet;
She was indeed by no soft passion moved,
But wished with all her soul to be beloved.
Here, on the favour'd beauty Fortune smiled;
Her chosen Husband was a man so mild,
So humbly temper'd, so intent to please,
It quite distress'd her to remain at ease,
Without a cause to sigh, without pretence to tease:
She tried his patience on a thousand modes,
And tried it not upon the roughest roads.
Pleasure she sought, and disappointed, sigh'd
For joys, she said, 'to her alone denied;'
And she was sure 'her parents if alive
Would many comforts for their child contrive:'
The gentle Husband bade her name him one;
'No--that,' she answered, 'should for her be done;
How could she say what pleasures were around?
But she was certain many might be found.'
'Would she some seaport, Weymouth, Scarborough,

grace?' -
'He knew she hated every watering-place.'
'The town?'--'What! now 'twas empty, joyless,

dull?'
'In winter?'--'No; she liked it worse when full.'
She talk'd of building--'Would she plan a room?' -
'No! she could live, as he desired, in gloom.'
'Call then our friends and neighbours.'--'He might

call,
And they might come and fill his ugly hall;
A noisy vulgar set, he knew she scorn'd them all.'
'Then might their two dear girls the time employ,
And their Improvement yield a solid joy.' -
'Solid indeed! and heavy--oh! the bliss
Of teaching letters to a lisping miss!'
'My dear, my gentle Dorothea, say,
Can I oblige you?'--'You may go away.'
Twelve heavy years this patient soul sustain'd
This wasp's attacks, and then her praise obtain'd,
Graved on a marble tomb, where he at peace

remain'd.
Two daughters wept their loss; the one a child
With a plain face, strong sense, and temper mild,
Who keenly felt the Mother's angry taunt,
'Thou art the image of thy pious Aunt:'
Long time had Lucy wept her slighted face,
And then began to smile at her disgrace.
Her father's sister, who the world had seen
Near sixty years when Lucy saw sixteen,
Begg'd the plain girl: the gracious Mother smiled,
And freely gave her grieved but passive child;
And with her elder-born, the beauty bless'd,
This parent rested, if such minds can rest:
No miss her waxen babe could so admire,
Nurse with such care, or with such pride attire;
They were companions meet, with equal mind,
Bless'd with one love, and to one point inclined;
Beauty to keep, adorn, increase, and guard,
Was their sole care, and had its full reward:
In rising splendour with the one it reign'd,
And in the other was by care sustain'd,
The daughter's charms increased, the parent's yet

remain'd.
Leave we these ladies to their daily care,
To see how meekness and discretion fare: -
A village maid, unvex'd by want or love,
Could not with more delight than Lucy move;
The village lark, high mounted in the spring,
Could not with purer joy than Lucy sing;
Her cares all light, her pleasures all sincere,
Her duty joy, and her companion dear;
In tender friendship and in true respect
Lived Aunt and Niece, no flattery, no neglect -
They read, walk'd, visited--together pray'd,
Together slept the matron and the maid:
There was such goodness, such pure nature seen
In Lucy's looks, a manner so serene;
Such harmony in motion, speech, and air,
That without fairness she was more than fair,
Had more than beauty in each speaking grace,
That lent their cloudless glory to the face;
Where mild good sense in placid looks were shown,
And felt in every bosom but her own;
The one presiding feature in her mind
Was the pure meekness of a will resign'd;
A tender spirit, freed from all pretence
Of wit, and pleased in mild benevolence;
Bless'd in protecting fondness she reposed
With every wish indulged though undisclosed;
But love, like zephyr on the limpid lake,
Was now the bosom of the maid to shake,
And in that gentle mind a gentle strife to make.
Among their chosen friends, a favoured few
The aunt and niece a youthful Rector knew;
Who, though a younger brother, might address
A younger sister, fearless of success;
His friends, a lofty race, their native pride
At first display'd, and their assent denied:
But, pleased such virtues and such love to trace,
They own'd she would adorn the loftiest race.
The Aunt, a mother's caution to supply,
Had watch'd the youthful priest with jealous eye;
And, anxious for her charge, had view'd unseen
The cautious life that keeps the conscience clean:
In all she found him all she wish'd to find,
With slight exception of a lofty mind:
A certain manner that express'd desire
To be received as brother to the 'Squire.
Lucy's meek eye had beam'd with many a tear,
Lucy's soft heart had beat with many a fear,
Before he told (although his looks, she thought,
Had oft confess'd) that he her favour sought;
But when he kneel'd, (she wish'd him not to kneel,)
And spoke the fears and hopes that lovers feel;
When too the prudent aunt herself confess'd
Her wishes on the gentle youth would rest;
The maiden's eye with tender passion beam'd,
She dwelt with fondness on the life she schemed;
The household cares, the soft and lasting ties
Of love, with all his binding charities;
Their village taught, consoled, assisted, fed,
Till the young zealot tears of pleasure shed.
But would her Mother? Ah! she fear'd it wrong
To have indulged these forward hopes so long,
Her mother loved, but was not used to grant
Favours so freely as her gentle aunt. -
Her gentle aunt, with smiles that angels wear,
Dispell'd her Lucy's apprehensive tear:
Her prudent foresight the request had made
To one whom none could govern, few persuade;
She doubted much if one in earnest woo'd
A girl with not a single charm endued;
The Sister's nobler views she then declared,
And what small sum for Lucy could be spared;
'If more than this the foolish priest requires,
Tell him,' she wrote,' to check his vain desires.'
At length, with many a cold expression mix'd,
With many a sneer on girls so fondly fix'd,
There came a promise--should they not repent,
But take with grateful minds the portion meant,
And wait the Sister's day--the Mother might

consent.
And here, might pitying hope o'er truth prevail,
Or love o'er fortune, we would end our tale;
For who more bless'd than youthful pair removed
From fear of want--by mutual friends approved -
Short time to wait, and in that time to live
With all the pleasures hope and fancy give;
Their equal passion raised on just esteem,
When reason sanctions all that love can dream?
Yes! reason sanctions what stern fate denies:
The early prospect in the glory dies,
As the soft smiles on dying infants play
In their mild features, and then pass away.
The Beauty died ere she could yield her hand
In the high marriage by the Mother plann'd;
Who grieved indeed, but found a vast relief
In a cold heart, that ever warr'd with grief.
Lucy was present when her sister died,
Heiress to duties that she ill supplied:
There were no mutual feelings, sister arts,
No kindred taste, nor intercourse of hearts:
When in the mirror play'd the matron's smile,
The maiden's thoughts were traveling all the while;
And when desired to speak, she sigh'd to find
Her pause offended; 'Envy made her blind:
Tasteless she was, nor had a claim in life
Above the station of a rector's wife;
Yet as an heiress, she must shun disgrace,
Although no heiress to her mother's face:
It is your duty,' said th' imperious dame,
'(Advanced your fortune,) to advance your name,
And with superior rank, superior offers claim:
Your sister's lover, when his sorrows die,
May look upon you, and for favour sigh;
Nor can you offer a reluctant hand;
His birth is noble, and his seat is grand.'
Alarm'd was Lucy, was in tears--'A fool!
Was she a child in love?--a miss at school?
Doubts any mortal, if a change of state
Dissolves all claims and ties of earlier date?'
The Rector doubted, for he came to mourn
A sister dead, and with a wife return:
Lucy with heart unchanged received the youth,
True in herself, confiding in his truth;
But own'd her mother's change; the haughty dame
Pour'd strong contempt upon the youthful flame;
She firmly vow'd her purpose to pursue,
Judged her own cause, and bade the youth adieu!
The lover begg'd, insisted, urged his pain,
His brother wrote to threaten and complain;
Her sister reasoning proved the promise made,
Lucy appealing to a parent pray'd;
But all opposed the event that she design'd,
And all in vain--she never changed her mind;
But coldly answer'd in her wonted way,
That she 'would rule, and Lucy must obey.'
With peevish fear, she saw her health decline,
And cried, 'Oh! monstrous, for a man to pine!
But if your foolish heart must yield to love,
Let him possess it whom I now approve;
This is my pleasure.'--Still the Rector came
With larger offers and with bolder claim;
But the stern lady would attend no more -
She frown'd, and rudely pointed to the door;
Whate'er he wrote, he saw unread return'd,
And he, indignant, the dishonour spurn'd:
Nay, fix'd suspicion where he might confide,
And sacrificed his passion to his pride.
Lucy, meantime, though threaten'd and distress'd,
Against her marriage made a strong protest:
All was domestic war; the Aunt rebell'd
Against the sovereign will, and was expell'd;
And every power was tried, and every art,
To bend to falsehood one determined heart;
Assail'd, in patience it received the shock,
Soft as the wave, unshaken as the rock:
But while th' unconquer'd soul endures the storm
Of angry fate, it preys upon the form;
With conscious virtue she resisted still,
And conscious love gave vigour to her will;
But Lucy's trial was at hand; with joy
The Mother cried--'Behold your constant boy -
Thursday--was married: --take the paper, sweet,
And read the conduct of your reverend cheat;
See with what pomp of coaches, in what crowd
The creature married--of his falsehood proud!
False, did I say?--at least no whining fool;
And thus will hopeless passions ever cool:
But shall his bride your single state reproach?
No! give him crowd for crowd, and coach for coach.
Oh! you retire; reflect then, gentle miss,
And gain some spirit in a cause like this.'
Some spirit Lucy gain'd; a steady soul,
Defying all persuasion, all control:
In vain reproach, derision, threats were tried;
The constant mind all outward force defied,
By vengeance vainly urged, in vain assail'd by

pride;
Fix'd in her purpose, perfect in her part,
She felt the courage of a wounded heart;
The world receded from her rising view,
When heaven approach'd as earthly things withdrew;
Not strange before, for in the days of love,
Joy, hope, and pleasure, she had thoughts above,
Pious when most of worldly prospects fond,
When they best pleased her she could look beyond;
Had the young priest a faithful lover died,
Something had been her bosom to divide;
Now heaven had all, for in her holiest views
She saw the matron whom she fear'd to lose;
While from her parent, the dejected maid
Forced the unpleasant thought, or thinking pray'd.
Surprised, the mother saw the languid frame,
And felt indignant, yet forbore to blame;
Once with a frown she cried, 'And do you mean
To die of love--the folly of fifteen?'
But as her anger met with no reply,
She let the gentle girl in quiet die;
And to her sister wrote, impell'd by pain,
'Come quickly, Martha, or you come in vain.'
Lucy meantime profess'd with joy sincere,
That nothing held, employ'd, engaged her here.
'I am an humble actor, doom'd to play
A part obscure, and then to glide away:
Incurious how the great or happy shine,
Or who have parts obscure and sad as mine;
In its best prospect I but wish'd for life,
To be th' assiduous, gentle, useful wife;
That lost, with wearied mind, and spirit poor,
I drop my efforts, and can act no more;
With growing joy I feel my spirits tend
To that last scene where all my duties end.'
Hope, ease, delight, the thoughts of dying gave,
Till Lucy spoke with fondness of the grave;
She smiled with wasted form, but spirit firm,
And said, 'She left but little for the worm:'
As toll'd the bell, 'There's one,' she said, 'hath

press'd
Awhile before me to the bed of rest:'
And she beside her with attention spread
The decorations of the maiden dead.
While quickly thus the mortal part declin'd,
The happiest visions fill'd the active mind;
A soft, religious melancholy gain'd
Entire possession, and for ever reign'd:
On Holy Writ her mind reposing dwelt,
She saw the wonders, she the mercies felt;
Till, in a bless'd and glorious reverie,
She seem'd the Saviour as on earth to see,
And, fill'd with love divine, th' attending friend

to be;
Or she who trembling, yet confiding, stole
Near to the garment, touch'd it, and was whole;
When, such the intenseness of the working thought,
On her it seem'd the very deed was wrought;
She the glad patient's fear and rapture found,
The holy transport, and the healing wound;
This was so fix'd, so grafted in the heart,
That she adopted, nay became the part:
But one chief scene was present to her sight,
Her Saviour resting in the tomb by night;
Her fever rose, and still her wedded mind
Was to that scene, that hallow'd cave, confin'd -
Where in the shade of death the body laid,
There watch'd the spirit of the wandering maid;
Her looks were fix'd, entranced, illumed, serene,
In the still glory of the midnight scene:
There at her Saviour's feet, in visions bless'd,
Th' enraptured maid a sacred joy possess'd;
In patience waiting for the first-born ray
Of that all-glorious and triumphant day:
To this idea all her soul she gave,
Her mind reposing by the sacred grave;
Then sleep would seal the eye, the vision close,
And steep the solemn thoughts in brief repose.
Then grew the soul serene, and all its powers
Again restored, illumed the dying hours;
But reason dwelt where fancy stray'd before,
And the mind wander'd from its views no more;
Till death approach'd, when every look express'd
A sense of bliss, till every sense had rest.
The mother lives, and has enough to buy
The attentive ear and the submissive eye
Of abject natures--these are daily told,
How triumph'd beauty in the days of old;
How, by her window seated, crowds have cast
Admiring glances, wondering as they pass'd;
How from her carriage as she stepp'd to pray,
Divided ranks would humbly make her way;
And how each voice in the astonish'd throng
Pronounced her peerless as she moved along.
Her picture then the greedy Dame displays;
Touch'd by no shame, she now demands its praise;
In her tall mirror then she shows a face,
Still coldly fair with unaffecting grace;
These she compares: 'It has the form,' she cries,
'But wants the air, the spirit, and the eyes;
This, as a likeness, is correct and true,
But there alone the living grace we view.'
This said, th' applauding voice the Dame requir'd,
And, gazing, slowly from the glass retired.

poem by Report problemRelated quotes
Added by Poetry Lover
Comment! | Vote! | Copy!

Share
 

Search


Recent searches | Top searches