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Franz Kafka

If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skulls, then why do we read it Good God, we also would be happy if we had no books and such books that make us happy we could, if need be, write ourselves. What we must have are those books that come on us like ill fortune, like the death of one we love better than ourselves, like suicide. A book must be an ice axe to break the sea frozen inside us.

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Better Than

Two is better than one,
Three is better than two,
Four is better than three,
Five is better than four,
Six is better than five,
Seven is better than six,
And like the strength of sharing with one another;
But listen to the songs of my muse,
For i am here to show you love.

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Better Than Anything

Music by David Wheat. Words by Bill Loughborough
Better than cream cheese and bagels
Better than honey on bread
Better than champagne and pretzels
Better than breakfast in bed
Better than chili rellenos
Better than chocolate e'clairs
Better than hothouse tomatoes
Better than fresh Bartlett pears
Better than dining a la carte
Or simply gastronomic art
Better than anything except being in love
Better than making a million
Better than being a queen
Better than oil wells and gold mines
Better than pastures of green
Better than finding a horseshoe
Better than losing your head
Better than anything ever thought of
Better than anything ever said
Ah, ha, better than singing right out loud
Or being, ha, spotted in a crowd
Better than (better than anything) anything except being (except being) in love
(Musical Interlude)
Better than elephants, elephants are dancing
Better than clowns on parade
Better than peanuts and popcorn
Better than pink lemonade
Better than rides on the midway
Better than seals blowing horns
Better than men shot through cannons
Better than fresh ears of corn
Ah, better than balancing on a wire
Or watching tigers jump through fire
Better than anything except being in love
Better than driving 'round the park
Or watching fireflies after the dark
Better than anything except being in love
Hey, Diana?
Yeah?
Are you sure that love is even better than shopping?
Well, therec

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Solomon on the Vanity of the World, A Poem. In Three Books. - Power. Book III.

The Argument


Solomon considers man through the several stages and conditions of life, and concludes, in general, that we are all miserable. He reflects more particularly upon the trouble and uncertainty of greatness and power; gives some instances thereof from Adam down to himself; and still concludes that All Is Vanity. He reasons again upon life, death, and a future being; finds human wisdom too imperfect to resolve his doubts; has recourse to religion; is informed by an angel what shall happen to himself, his family, and his kingdom, till the redemption of Israel; and, upon the whole, resolves to submit his inquiries and anxieties to the will of his Creator.


Come then, my soul: I call thee by that name,
Thou busy thing, from whence I know I am;
For, knowing that I am, I know thou art,
Since that must needs exist which can impart:
But how thou camest to be, or whence thy spring,
For various of thee priests and poets sing.

Hearest thou submissive, but a lowly birth,
Some secret particles of finer earth,
A plain effect which Nature must beget,
As motion orders, and as atoms meet,
Companion of the body's good or ill,
From force of instinct more than choice of will,
Conscious of fear or valour, joy or pain,
As the wild courses of the blood ordain;
Who, as degrees of heat and cold prevail,
In youth dost flourish, and with age shalt fail,
Till, mingled with thy partner's latest breath,
Thou fliest, dissolved in air and lost in death.

Or, if thy great existence would aspire
To causes more sublime, of heavenly fire
Wert thou a spark struck off, a separate ray,
Ordain'd to mingle with terrestrial clay,
With it condemn'd for certain years to dwell,
To grieve its frailties, and its pains to feel,
To teach it good and ill, disgrace or fame,
Pale it with rage, or redden it with shame,
To guide its actions with informing care,
In peace to judge, to conquer in the war;
Render it agile, witty, valiant, sage,
As fits the various course of human age,
Till, as the earthly part decays and falls,
The captive breaks her prison's mouldering walls,
Hovers awhile upon the sad remains,
Which now the pile or sepulchre contains,
And thence, with liberty unbounded, flies,
Impatient to regain her native skies?

Whate'er thou art, where'er ordain'd to go,
(Points which we rather may dispute than know)
Come on, thou little inmate of this breast,
Which for thy sake from passions'l divest
For these, thou say'st, raise all the stormy strife,
Which hinder thy repose, and trouble life;
Be the fair level of thy actions laid
As temperance wills and prudence may persuade
By thy affections undisturb'd and clear,
Guided to what may great or good appear,
And try if life be worth the liver's care.

Amass'd in man, there justly is beheld
What through th whole creation has excell'd,
The angel's forecast and intelligence:
Say, from these glorious seeds what harvest flows?
Recount our blessings, and compare our woes:
In its true light let clearest reason see
The man dragg'd out to act, and forced to be;
Helpless and naked, on a woman's knees,
To be exposed or rear'd as she may please,
Feel her neglect, and pine from her disease:
His tender eye by too direct a ray
Wounded, and flying from unpractised day;
His heart assaulted by invading air,
And beating fervent to the vital war;
To his young sense how various forms appear,
That strike this wonder, and excite his fear;
By his distortions he reveals his pains;
He by his tears and by his sighs complains,
Till time and use assist the infant wretch,
By broken words, and rudiments of speech,
His wants in plainer characters to show,
And paint more perfect figures of his wo,
Condemn'd to sacrifice his childish years
To babbling ignorance, and to empty fears;
To pass the riper period of his age,
Acting his part upon a crowded stage;
To lasting toils exposed, and endless cares,
To open dangers, and to secret snares;
To malice which the vengeful foe intends,
And the more dangerous love of seeming friends:
His deeds examined by the people's will.
Prone to forget the good, and blame the ill;
Or, sadly censured in their cursed debate,
Who, in the scorner's or the judge's seat
Dare to condemn the virtue which they hate:
Or would he rather leave this frantic scene,
And trees and beasts prefer to courts and men,
In the remotest wood and lonely grot
Certain to meet that worst of evils, thought,
Different ideas to his memory brought,
Some intricate, as are the pathless woods,
Impetuous some, as the descending floods;
With anxious doubts, with raging passions torn,
No sweet companion near with whom to mourn,
He hears the echoing rock return his sighs,
And from himself the frighted hermit flies.

Thus, through what path soe'er of life we rove,
Rage companies our hate, and grief our love;
Vex'd with the present moment's heavy gloom,
Why seek we brightness from the years to come?
Disturb'd and broken, like a sick man's sleep,
Our troubled thoughts to distant prospects leap,
Desirous still what flies us to o'ertake;
For hope is but the dream of those that wake:
But looking back we see the dreadful train
Of woes, anew, which, were we to sustain,
We should refuse to tread the path again:
Still adding grief, still counting from the first,
Judging the latest evil still the worst,
And sadly finding each progressive hour
Heighten their number and augment their power,
Till by one countless sum of woes oppress'd,
Hoary with cares, and ignorant of rest,
We find the vital springs relax'd and worn,
Compell'd our common impotence to mourn:
Thus, through the round of age, to childhood we return;
Reflecting find, that naked, from the womb
We yesterday came forth; that in the tomb
Naked again we must to-morrow lie,
Born to lament, to labour, and to die.

Pass we the ills which each man feels or dreads,
The weight or fall'n or hanging o'er our heads;
The bear, the lion, terrors of the plain,
The sheepfold scatter'd, and the shepherd slain;
The frequent errors of the pathless wood,
The giddy precipice, and the dangerous flood;
The noisome pestilence, that in open war
Terrible, marches through the mid-way air,
And scatters death; the arrow that by night
Cuts the dank mist, and fatal wings its flight;
The billowing snow, and violence of the shower,
That from the hills disperse their dreadful store,
And o'er the vales collected ruin pour;
The worm that gnaws the ripening fruit, sad guest,
Canker or locust, hurtful to infest
The blade; while husks elude the tiller's care,
And eminence of want distinguishes the year.

Pass we the slow disease, and subtile pain
Which our weak frame is destined to sustain;
The cruel stone with congregated war,
Tearing his bloody way; the cold catarrh,
With frequent impulse, and continued strife
Weakening the wasted seeds of irksome life;
The gout's fierce rack, the burning fever's rage,
The sad experience of decay and age,
Herself the sorest ill, while death and ease,
Oft and in vain invoked, or to appease
Or end the grief, with hasty wings recede
From the vex'd patient and the sickly bed.

Nought shall it profit that the charming fair,
Angelic, softest work of Heaven, draws near
To the cold shaking paralytic hand,
Senseless of Beauty's touch, or Love's command,
No longer apt or able to fulfil
The dictates of its feeble master's will.
Nought shall the psaltery and the harp avail,
The pleasing song, or well-repeated tale,
When the quick spirits their warm march forbear,
And numbing coldness has unbraced the ear.

The verdant rising of the flowery hill,
The vale enamell'd, and the crystal rill,
The ocean rolling, and the shelly shore,
Beautiful objects, shall delight no more,
When the lax'd sinews of the weaken'd eye
Day follows night; the clouds return again
After the falling of the latter rain;
But to the aged blind shall ne'er return
Grateful vicissitude; he still must mourn,
The sun, and moon, and every starry light,
Eclipsed to him, and lost in everlasting night.

Behold where Age's wretched victim lies;
See his head trembling, and his half-closed eyes;
Frequent for breath his panting bosom heaves;
To broken sleeps his remnant sense he gives,
And only by his pains awaking finds he lives.

Loosed by devouring Time, the silver cord
Dissever'd lies; unhonour'd from the board
The crystal urn, when broken, is thrown by,
And apter utensils their place supply.
These things and thou must share one equal lot;
Die and be lost, corrupt and be forgot;
While still another and another race
Shall now supply and now give up the place.
From earth all came, to earth must all return,
Frail as the cord, and brittle as the urn.

But the terror of these ills suppress'd,
And view we man with health and vigour bless'd.
Home he returns with the declining sun,
His destined task of labour hardly done;
Goes forth again with the ascending ray,
Again his travail for his bread to pay,
And find the ill sufficient to the day.
Haply at night he does with honour shun
A widow'd daughter, or a dying son;
His neighbour's offspring he to-morrow sees,
And doubly feels his want in their increase:
The next day, and the next, he must attend
His foe triumphant, or his buried friend.
In every act and turn of life he feels
Public calamities, or household ills;
The due reward to just desert refused,
The trust betray'd, the nuptial bed abused:
The judge corrupt, the long-depending cause,
And doubtful issue of misconstrued laws:
The crafty turns of a dishonest state,
And violent will of the wrong-doing great;
The venom'd tongue, injurious to his fame,
Which nor can wisdom shun nor fair advice reclaim.

Esteem we these, my friend, event and chance,
Produced as atoms form their fluttering dance?
Or higher yet their essence may we draw
From destined order and eternal law?
Again, my Muse, the cruel doubt repeat?
Spring they, I say, from accident or fate?
Yet such we find they are, as can control
The servile actions of our wavering soul;
Can fright, can alter, or can chain the will;
Their ills all built on life, that fundamental ill.

O fatal search! in which the labouring mind,
Still press'd with weight of wo, still hopes to find
A shadow of delight, a dream of peace,
From years of pain one moment of release;
Hoping, at least, she may herself deceive,
Against experience willing to believe,
Desirous to rejoice, condemn'd to grieve,

Happy the mortal man who now at last
Has through this doleful vale of misery pass'd,
Who to his destined stage has carried on
The tedious load, and laid his burden down;
Whom the cut brass or wounded marble shows
Victor o'er Life, and all her train of woes:
He happier yet, who privileged by Fate
To shorter labour and a lighter weight,
Received but yesterday the gift of breath,
Order'd to-morrow to return to death:
But, O! beyond description happiest he
Who ne'er must roll on life's tumultuous sea;
Exempt, must never force the teeming womb,
Nor see the sun, nor sink into the tomb.

Who breathes must suffer, and who thinks must mourn!
And he alone is bless'd who ne'er was born.

'Yet in thy turn, thou frowning Preacher, hear;
Are not these general maxims too severe?
Say, cannot power secure its owner's bliss?
Are victors bless'd with fame, or kings with ease?'

I tell thee, life is but one common care,
And man was born to suffer and to fear.

'But is no rank, no station, no degree,
From this contagious taint of sorrow free?'

None, mortal, none: yet in a bolder strain
Let me this melancholy truth maintain:
But hence, ye worldly and profane, retire,
For I adapt my voice and raise my lyre
To notions not by vulgar ear received;
Yet still must covet life, and be deceived;
Your very fear of death shall make you try
To catch the shade of immortality,
Wishing on earth to linger, and to save
Part of its prey from the devouring grave;
To those who may survive ye to bequeath
Something entire, in spite of time and death;
A fancied kind of being to retrieve,
And in a book, or from a building live.
False hope! vain labour! let some ages fly,
The dome shall moulder, and the volume die.
Wretches, still taught! still will ye think it strange
That all the parts of this great fabric change.
Quit their high station and primeval frame,
And lose their shape, their essence and their name?

Reduce the song; our hopes, our joys, are vain;
Our lot is sorrow, and our portion pain.

What pause from wo, what hopes of comfort bring
The name of wise or great, of judge or king?
What is a king? a man condemn'd to bear
The public burden of the nation's care;
Now crown'd, some angry faction to appease,
Now falls a victim to the people's ease;
From the first blooming of his ill-taught youth
Nourish'd flattery, and estranged from truth:
At home surrounded by a servile crowd,
Prompt to abuse, and in detraction loud;
Abroad begirt with men, and swords and spears,
His very state acknowledging his fears;
Marching amidst a thousand guards, he shows
His secret terror of a thousand foes;
In war, however prudent, great, or brave,
To blind events and fickle chance a slave;
Seeking to settle what for ever flies,
Sure of the toil, uncertain of the prize.

But he returns with conquest on his brow,
Brings up the triumph, and absolves the vow:
The captive generals to his car are tied;
The joyful citizens, tumultuous tide,
Echoing his glory, gratify his pride.
What is this triumph? madness, shouts, and noise,
One great collection of the people's voice.
The wretches he brings back, in chains relate
What may to-morrow be the victor's fate.
The spoils and trophies borne before him show
National loss and epidemic wo,
Various distress which he and his may know.
Does he not mourn the valiant thousands slain,
The heroes, once the glory of the plain,
Left in the conflict of the fatal day,
Or the wolf's portion, or the vulture's prey?
Does he not weep the laurel which he wears,
Wet with the soldiers' blood and widows tears?

See where he comes, the darting of the war!
See millions crowding round the gilded car!
In the vast joys of this ecstatic hour,
And full fruition of successful power,
One moment and one thought might let him scan
The various turns of life, and fickle state of man.
Are the dire images of sad distrust,
And popular change, obscured amid the dust
That rises from the victor's rapid wheel?
Can the loud clarion or shrill life repel
The inward cries of Care? can Nature's voice,
Plaintive, be drown'd, or lessen'd in the noise,
Though shouts, as thunder loud, afflict the air,
Stun the birds, now released, and shake the ivory chair?

Yon crowd, (he might reflect) yon joyful crowd,
Pleased with my honours, in my praise loud,
(Should fleeting victory to the vanquish'd go,
Should she depress my arms and raise the foe)
Would for that foe with equal ardour wait,
At the high palace or the crowded gate,
With restless rage would pull my statues down,
And cast the brass anew to his renown.

O impotent desire of worldly sway!
That I who make the triumph of to-day,
May of to-morrow's pomp one part appear,
Ghastly with wounds, and lifeless on the bier!
Then, (vileness of mankind!) then of all these
Whom my dilated eye with labour sees,
Would one, alas! repeat me good or great,
Wash my pale body, or bewail my fate?
Or, march'd I chain'd behind the hostile car,
The victor's pastime, and the sport of war,
Would one, would one his pitying sorrow lend,
Or be so poor to own he was my friend?

Avails it then, O Reason, to be wise?
To see this cruel scene with quicker eyes?
To know with more distinction to complain,
And have superior sense in feeling pain?

Let us resolve, that roll with strictest eye,
Where safe from time distinguish'd actions lie,
And judge if greatness be exempt from pain,
Or pleasure ever may with power remain.
Adam, great type, for whom the world was made,
The fairest blessing to his arms convey'd,
A charming wife; and air, and sea, and land,
And all that move therein, to his command
Render'd obedient: say, my pensive Muse,
What did these golden promises produce?
Scarce tasting life he was of joy bereaved;
One day I think in Paradise he lived,
Destined the next his journey to pursue
Where wounding thorns and cursed thistles grew.
Ere yet he earns his bread, adown his brow,
Inclined to earth, his labouring sweat must flow;
His limbs must ache, with daily toils oppress'd,
Ere long-wish'd night brings necessary rest:
Still viewing with regret his darling Eve,
He for her follies and his own must grieve.
Bewailing still afresh their hapless choice,
His ear oft frighted with the imaged voice,
Of Heaven when first it thundere'd, oft his view,
Aghast, as when the infant lightning flew,
And the stern cherub stopp'd the fatal road,
Arm'd with the flames of an avenging God,
His younger son on the polluted ground,
First fruit of death, lies plaintive of a wound
Given by a brother's hand; his eldest birth
Flies, mark'd by Heaven, a fugitive o'er earth:
Yet why these sorrows heap'd upon the sire,
Becomes nor man nor angel to inquire.

Each age sinn'd on, and guild advanced with time;
The son still added to the father's crime;
Till God arose, and, great in anger, said,
Lo! it repenteth me that man was made.
And from your deep abyss, ye waters, rise!
The frighted angels heard th' Almighty Lord,
And o'er the earth from wrathful vials pour'd
Tempests and storm, obedient to his word.
Meantime his providence to Noah gave
The guard of all that he design'd to save:
Exempt from general doom the patriarch stood,
Contemn'd the waves, and triumph'd o'er the flood.

The winds fall silent and the waves decrease;
The dove brings quiet, and the clive peace;
Yet still his heart does inward sorrow feel,
Which faith alone forbids him to reveal.
If on the backward world his views are cast,
'Tis death diffused, and universal waste.
Present, (sad prospect!) can he ought descry
But (what affects his melancholy eye)
The beauties of the ancient fabric lost,
In chains of craggy hill, or lengths of dreary coast?
While to high heaven his pious breathings turn'd,
Weeping he hoped, and sacrificing mourn'd;
When of God's image only eight he found
Snatch'd from the watery grave, and saved from nations drown'd;
And of three sons, the future hopes of earth,
The seed whence empires must receive their birth,
One he foresees excluded heavenly grace,
And mark'd with curses fatal to his race.

Abraham, potent prince, the friend of God,
Of human ills must bear the destined load,
By blood and battles must his power maintain,
And slay the monarchs ere he rules the plain;
Must deal just portions of a servile life
To a proud handmaid and a peevish wife;
Must with the mother leave the weeping son,
In want to wander and in wilds to groan;
Must take his other child, his age's hope,
To trembling Moriah's melancholy top,
Order'd to drench his knife in filial blood,
Destroy his heir, or disobey his God.

Moses beheld that God; but how beheld
The Deity, in radiant beams conceal'd,
And clouded in a deep abyss of light!
While present too severe for human sight,
Nor staying longer than one swift-wing'd night
The following days, and months, and years, decreed
To fierce encounter, and to toilsome deed:
His youth with wants and hardships must engage,
Plots and rebellions must disturb his age:
Some Corah still arose, some rebel slave,
Prompter to sink the state than he to save,
And Israel did his rage so far provoke,
That what the Godhead wrote the prophet broke.
His voice scarce heard, his dictates scarce believed,
In camps, in arms, in pilgrimage, he lived,
And died obedient to severest law,
Forbid to tread the Promised land he saw.

My father's life was one long line of care,
A scene of danger and a state of war.
The bear's rough gripe and foaming lion's rage,
By various turns his threaten'd youth must fear
Goliath's lifted sword and Saul's emitted spear.
Forlorn he must, and persecuted, fly,
Climb the steep mountain, in the cavern lie,
And often ask, and be refused to die.

For ever from his manly toils are known
The weight of power and anguish of a crown.
What tongue can speak the restless monarch's woes,
When God and Nathan were declared his foes?
When every object his offence reviled,
The husband murder'd and the wife defiled,
The parent's sins impress'd upon the dying child!
What heart can think the grief which he sustain',d
When the King's crime brought vengeance on the land,
And the inexorable prophet's voice
Give famine, plague, or war, and bid him fix his choice?

He died; and, oh! may no reflection shed
Its poisonous venom on the royal dead:
Yet the unwilling truth must be express'd
Which long has labour'd in this pensive breast;
Dying he added to my weight of care;
He made me to his crimes undoubted heir;
Left his unfinish'd murder to his son,
And Joab's blood entail'd on Judah's crown.

Young as I was, I hasted to fulfil
The cruel dictates of my parent's will:
Of his fair deeds a distant view I took,
But turn'd the tube upon his faults to look;
Forgot his youth spent in his country's cause,
His care of right, his reverence to the laws,
But could with joy his years of folly trace,
Broken and old in Bathsheba's embrace
Could follow him where'er he stray'd from good,
And cite his sad example, whilst I trod
Paths open to deceit, and track'd with blood.
With smiles I could betray, with temper kill;
Soon in a brother could a rival view,
Watch all his acts, and all his ways pursue:
In vain for life he to the altar fled;
Ambition and Revenge have certain speed.
Even there, my soul, even there he should have fell,
But that my interest did my rage conceal:
Doubling my crime I promise and deceive,
Purpose to slay, whilst swearing to forgive.
Treaties, persuasions, sighs, and tears, are vain
With a mean lie cursed vengeance I sustain.
Join fraud to force, and policy to power,
Till of the destined fugitive secure,
In solemn state to parricide I rise,
And, as God lives, this day my brother dies.

Be witness to my tears, celestial Muse!
In vain I would forget, in vain excuse,
Fraternal blood by my direction spilt;
In vain on Joab's head transfer the guilt:
The deed was acted by the subject's hand,
The sword was pointed by the King's command:
Mine was the murder; it was mine alone;
Years of contrition must the crime atone:
Nor can my guilty soul expect relief
But from a long sincerity of grief.

With an imperfect hand and trembling heart,
Her love of truth superior to her art,
Already the reflecting Muse has traced
The mournful figures of my actions past,
The pensive goddess has already taught
How vain is hope, and how vexatious thought;
From growing childhood to declining age,
How tedious every step, how gloomy every stage,
This course of vanity almost complete,
Tired in the field of life, I hope retreat
In the still shades of death; for dread, and pain,
And grief, will find their shafts elanced in vain,
And their points broke, retorted from the head,
Safe in the grave, and free among the dead.

Yet tell me, frighted reason! what is death?
Blood only stopp'd, and interrupted breath?
The utmost limit of a narrow span,
And end of motion, which with life began?
As smoke that rises from the kindling fires
Is seen this moment, and the next expires;
As empty clouds by rising winds are lost,
Their fleeting forms scarce sooner found than lost,
So vanishes our state, so pass our days,
So life but opens now, and now decays;
The cradle and the tomb, alas! so nigh,
To live is scarce distinguish'd from to die.

Cure of the miser's wish and coward's fear,
Death only shows us what we knew was near,
With courage therefore view the pointed hour,
Dread not Death's anger, but expect his power,
Nor Nature's law with fruitless sorrow mourn,
But die, O mortal man! for thou wast born.

Cautious through doubt, by want of courage wise,
To such advice the reasoner still replies.

Yet measuring all the long continued space,
Every successive day's repeated race,
Since Time first started from his pristine goal,
Till he had reach'd that hour wherein my soul
Join'd to my body swell'd the womb, I was
(At least I think so) nothing; must I pass
Again to nothing when this vital breath
Ceasing, consigns me o'er to rest and death?
Must the whole man, amazing thought! return
To the cold marble or contracted urn?
And never shall those particles agree
That were in life this individual he?
But sever'd, must they join the general mass,
Through other forms and shapes ordain'd to pass,
Nor thought nor image kept of what he was?
Does the great word that gave him sense ordain
That life shall never wake that sense again?
And will no power his sinking spirits save
From the dark caves of death, and chambers of the grave?

Each evening I behold the setting sun
With downward speed into the ocean run;
Yet the same light (pass but some fleeting hours)
Exerts his vigour and renews his powers;
Starts the bright race again: his constant flame
Rises and sets, returning still the same.
I mark the various fury of the winds;
These neither seasons guide nor order binds;
They now dilate, and now contract their force;
Various their speed, but endless is their course,
From his first fountain and beginning ooze,
Down to the sea each brook and torrent flows;
Though sundry drops or leave or swell the stream,
The whole still runs, with equal pace the same;
Still other waves supply the rising urns,
And the eternal flood no want of water mourns.

Why then must man obey the sad decree,
Which subjects neither sun, nor wind, nor sea?

A flower that does with opening morn arise,
And flourishing the day at evening dies;
A winged eastern blast, just skimming o'er
The ocean's brow, and sinking on the shore;
A fire, whose flames through crackling stubbles fly;
A meteor shooting from the summer sky;
A bowl adown the bending mountain roll'd;
A bubble breaking, and a fable told;
A noontide shadow, and a midnight dream,
Are emblems which with semblance apt proclaim
Our earthly course; but, O my Soul! so fast
Must life run off, and death for ever last!

This dark opinion sure is too confined,
Else whence this hope and terror of the mind?
Does something still, and somewhere, yet remain,
Reward or punishment, delight or pain?
Say, shall our relics second birth receive?
Sleep we to wake, and only die to live?
When the sad wife has closed her husband's eyes,
And pierced the echoing vault with doleful cries,
Lies the pale corpse not yet entirely dead,
The spirit only from the body fled,
The grosser part of heat and motion void,
To be by fire, or worm, or time, destroy'd;
The soul, immortal substance, to remain
Conscious of joy and capable of pain?
And if her acts have been directed well,
While with her friendly clay she deign'd to dwell,
Shall she with safety reach her pristine seat,
Find her rest endless, and her bliss complete?
And while the buried man we idly mourn,
Do angels joy to see his better half return?
But if she has deform'd this earthly life
With murderous rapine and seditious strife,
Amazed, repulsed, and by those angels driven
From the ethereal seat and blissful heaven,
In everlasting darkness must she lie,
Still more unhappy that she cannot die?
Amid two seas, on one small point of land,
Wearied, uncertain, and amazed, we stand;
On either side our thoughts incessant turn,
Forward we dread, and looking back we mourn,
Losing the present in this dubious haste,
And lost ourselves betwixt the future and the past.

These cruel doubts contending in my breast,
My reason staggering and my hopes oppress'd,
Once more I said, once more I will inquire,
What is this little, agile, pervious fire,
This flattering motion which we call the Mind,
How does she act? and where is she confined?
Have we the power to give her as we please?
Whence then those evils that obstruct our ease?
We happiness pursue: we fly from pain;
Yet the pursuit and yet the flight is vain;
And while poor Nature labours to be bless'd,
By day with pleasure, and by night with rest,
Some stronger power eludes our sickly will,
Dashes our rising hope with certain ill,
And makes us, with reflective trouble, see
That all is destined which we fancy free.

That power superior then which rules our mind,
Is his decree by human prayer inclined?
Will he for sacrifice our sorrows ease!
And can our tears reverse his firm decrees?
Then let religion aid where reason fails,
Throw loads of incense in to turn the scales,
And let the silent sanctuary show,
What from the babbling schools we may not know,
How man may shun or bear his destined part of wo.

What shall amend, or what absolve our fate?
Anxious we hover in a mediate state
Betwixt infinity and nothing; bounds,
Or boundless terms, whose doubtful sense confounds:
Unequal thought, whilst all we apprehend
Is, that our hopes must rise, our sorrows end,
As our Creator deigns to be our friend.

I said, - and instant bade the priests prepare
The ritual sacrifice and solemn prayer.
Select from vulgar herds, with garlands gay,
A hundred bulls ascend the sacred way:
The artful youth proceed to form the choir,
They breathe the flute, or strike the vocal wire.
The maids in comely order next advance,
They beat the timbrel and instruct the dance:
Follows the chosen tribe, from Levi sprung,
Chanting by just return the holy song.
Along the choir in solemn state they pass'd,
- The anxious King came last.
The sacred hymn perform'd, my promised vow
I paid, and, bowing at the altar low.

Father of heaven! I said, and Judge of earth!
Whose word call'd out this universe to birth,
By whose kind power and influencing care
The various creatures move, and live, and are;
But ceasing once that care, withdrawn that power,
They move (alas!) and live, and are no more;
Omniscient Master, omnipresent King,
To thee, to thee my last distress I bring.

Thou that canst still the raging of the seas,
Chain up the winds, and bid the tempests cease,
Redeem my shipwreck'd soul from raging gusts
Of cruel passion and deceitful lusts;
From storms of rage and dangerous rocks of pride,
Let thy strong hand this little vessel guide,
(It was thy hand that made it) through the tide
Impetuous of this life, let thy command
Direct my course, and bring me safe to land.

If, while this wearied flesh draws fleeting breath,
Not satisfied with life, afraid of death,
It haply be thy will that I should know
Glimpse of delight, or pause from anxious wo,
From now, from instant now, great Sire! dispel
The clouds that press my soul; from now reveal
A gracious beam of light; from now inspire
My tongue to sing, my hand to touch the lyre;
My open'd thought to joyous prospects raise,
And for thy mercy let me sing thy praise:
Or, if thy will ordains, I still shall wait
Some new hereafter and a future state,
Permit me strength my weight of wo to bear,
And raise my mind superior to my care.
Let me, howe'er unable to explain
The secret lab'rinths of thy ways to man,
With humble zeal confess thy awful power,
Still weeping hope, and wondering, still adore:
So in my conquest be thy might declared,
And for thy justice be thy name revered.

My prayer scarce ended, a stupendous gloom
Darkens the air; loud thunder shakes the dome:
To the beginning miracle succeed
An awful silence and religious dread.
Sudden breaks forth a more than common day,
The sacred wood, which on the alter lay
Untouch'd, unlighted glows -
Ambrosial odour, such as never flows
From Arab's gum or the Sabaean rose,
Does round the air evolving scents diffuse:
The holy ground is wet with heavenly dews:
Celestial music (such Jessides' lyre,
Such Miriam's timbrel would in vain require)
Strikes to my thought through admiring ear,
With ecstasy too fine, and pleasure hard to bear:
And, lo! what sees my ravish'd eye? what feels
My wondering soul? an opening cloud reveals
A heavenly form embodied and array'd
With robes of light, I heard; the angel said,

Cease, Man, of women born, to hope relief
From daily trouble and continued grief.
Thy hope of joy deliver to the wind:
Suppress thy passions, and prepare thy mind.
Free and familiar with misfortune grow;
Be used to sorrow, and inured to wo.
By weakening toil and hoary age o'ercome,
See thy decrease, and hasting to thy tomb.
Leave to thy children tumult, strife, and war,
Portions of toil, and legacies of care:
Send the successive ills through ages down,
And let each weeping father tell his son
That, deeper struck, and more distinctly grieved,
He must augment the sorrows he received.

The child to whose success thy hope is bound,
Ere thou art scarce interr'd or he is crown'd,
To lust of arbitrary sway inclined,
(That cursed poison to the prince's mind!)
Shall from thy dictates and his duty rove,
And lose his great defence, his people's love:
Ill counsell'd, vanquish'd, fugitive, disgraced,
Shall mourn the fame of Jacob's strength effaced:
Shall sigh the King diminish'd, and the crown
With lessen'd rays descending to his son:
Shall see the wreaths his grandsire knew to reap
By active toil and military sweat,
Rining incline their sickly leaves, and shed
Their falling honours from his giddy head:
By arms or prayer unable to assuage
Domestic horror and intestine rage,
Shall from the victor and the vanquish'd fear,
From Israel's arrow and from Judah's spear:
Shall cast his wearied limbs on Jordan's flood,
By brothers' arms disturb'd, and stain'd with kindred blood.

Hence labouring years shall weep their destined race,
Charged with ill omens, sully'd with disgrace;
Time, by necessity compell'd, shall go
Through scenes of war, and epochas of wo:
The empire lessen',d in a parted stream
Shall lose its course -
Indulge thy tears; the Heathen shall blaspheme;
Judah shall fall, oppress'd by grief and shame,
And men shall from her ruins know her fame.

New Egypts yet and second bonds remain,
A harsher Pharaoh, and a heavier chain.
Again, obedient to a dire command,
Thy captive sons shall leave the promised land;
Their name more low, their servitude more vile,
Shall on Euphrates' bank renew the grief of Nile.

These pointed spires that wound the ambient sky,
Inglorious change shall in destruction lie
Low, levell'd with the dust, their heights unknown,
Or measured by their ruin. Yonder throne,
For lasting glory built, design'd the seat
Of kings for ever bless'd, for ever great,
Removed by the invader's barbarous hand,
Shall grace his triumph in a foreign land:
The tyrant shall demand yon' sacred load
Of gold and vessels set apart to God,
Then by bile hands to common use debased,
Shall send them flowing round his drunken feast,
With sacrilegious taunt and impious jest.

Twice fourteen ages shall their way complete,
Empires by various turns shall rise and set,
While thy abandon'd tribes shall only know
A different master and a change of wo;
With downcast eyelids, and with looks aghast,
Shall dread the future or bewail the past.
Afflicted Israel shall sit weeping down,
Fast by the streams where Babel's waters run,
Their harps upon the neighbouring willows hung,
Nor joyous hymn encouraging their tongue,
Nor cheerful dance their feet; with toil oppress'd,
Their wearied limbs aspiring but to rest.
In the reflective stream the sighing bride,
Viewing her charms impair'd, abash'd shall hide
Her pensive head, and in her languid face
The bridegroom shall foresee his sickly race,
While ponderous fetters vex their close embrace
With irksome anguish then your priests shall mourn
Their long neglected feasts despair'd return,
And sad oblivion of their solemn days:
Thenceforth their voices they shall only raise,
Louder to weep. By day your frighted seers
Shall call for fountains to express their tears,
And wish their eyes were floods: by night, from dreams
Of opening gulfs, black storms, and raging flames,
Starting amazed, shall to the people show
Emblems of heavenly wrath, and mystic types of wo.

The captives, as their tyrant shall require
That they should breathe the song and touch the lyre,
Shall say, Can Jacob's servile race rejoice,
Untuned the music, and disused the voice?
What can we play, (they shall discourse) how sing
In foreign lands, and to a barbarous king?
We and our fathers, from our childhood bred
To watch the cruel victor's eye, to dread
The arbitrary lash, to bend, to grieve,
(Outcast of mortal race) can we conceive
Image of ought delightful, soft, or gay?
Alas! when we have toil the longsome day,
The fullest bliss our hearts aspire to know,
Is but some interval from active wo;
In broken rest and startling sleep to mourn,
Till morn the tyrant and the scourge return:
Bred up in grief, can pleasure be our theme?
Our endless anguish does not nature claim?
Reason and sorrow are to us the same.
Alas! with wild amazement we require
If idle Folly was not Pleasure's sire?
Madness, we fancy, gave an ill-timed birth.

This is the series of perpetual wo
Which thou, alas! and thine, are born to know.
Illustrious wretch! repine not nor reply;
View not what Heaven ordains with reason's eye;
Too bright the object is, the distance is too high.
The man who would resolve the work of fate
May limit number and make crooked straight:
Stop thy inquiry, then, and curb thy sense,
'Tis God who must dispose and man sustain,
Born to endure, forbidden to complain:
Thy sum of life must his decrees fufil;
What derogates from his command is ill,
And that alone is good which centres in his will.

Yet that thy labouring senses may not droop,
Lost to delight, and destitute of hope,
Remark what I, God's messenger, aver
From him who neither can deceive nor err.
The land, at length redeem'd, shall cease to mourn,
Shall from her sad captivity return:
Sion shall raise her long-dejected head,
And in her courts the law again be read,
Again the glorious temple shall arise,
And with now lustre pierce the neighbouring skies:
The promised seat of empire shall again
Cover the mountain and command the plain;
And from thy race distinguish'd, One shall spring
Greater in act than victor, more than king;
In dignity and power sent down from heaven
To succour earth. To him, to him, 'tis given
Passion, and care, and anguish, to destroy;
Through him soft peace and plenitude of joy
Perpetual o'er the world redeem'd shall flow;
No more may man inquire or angel know.

Now, Solomon, remembering who thou art,
Act through thy remnant life a decent part:
Go forth; be strong; with patience and with care
Perform and suffer; to thyself severe,
Gracious to others, thy desires suppress'd,
Diffused thy virtues, first of men, be best.
Thy sum of duty let two words contain,
O may they graven in thy heart remain!
Be humble and be just. The angel said:
With upward speed his agile wings he spread,
Whilst on the holy ground I prostrate lay,
By various doubts impell'd, or to obey
Or to object; at length (my mournful look
Heavenward erect) determined, thus I spoke:

Supreme, all-wise, eternal Potentate!
Sole author, sole disposer, of our fate!
Enthroned in light and immortality,
Whom no man fully sees, and none can see!
Original of Beings! Power divine!
Since that I live, that I think, is thine;
Benign Creator! let thy plastic hand
Dispose its own effect: let thy command
Restore, great Father, thy instructed son,
And in my act may thy great will be done.

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The World Does Not Know The Way Out Of Its Own Death

The world does not know the way out of its own Death-
Nothing can stop it-
It may take a long time
Longer than we will be here to see
But nothing can stop it-

The world does not know the way out of its own death
Nothing does-

Its all going to be gone
Goodbye or no goodbye-

And neither you nor I
Can stop it.

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There Are Times When The Sun Does Not Shine

who argues
about the rainy days
when the sun
does not shine
like a child hiding
on the skirt
of her mother

who disputes
lean times
and hungry days
when we simply
bite our tongue
swallow our saliva
and say we
just had lunch

when this happens
we can do nothing
we let all these times
come and then wait
when they finally leave

for like the sun that
does not shine today
tomorrow it may come
and shine again so brightly!

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Death occurs, it does not exist

Death, as we all know
Marks the termination
Of a life process

It is the climax of a
Natural process
Where a life system takes birth
Grows, matures
And meets end

It only occurs
And has no existence as such

We fear death
As we know we are going to die one day
We fear most
The aftermath of our departure
Than what really is going to happen to us after death

Death takes not even a split of a second
To fructify
But we ponder over that
And its impact
Much much longer

We just need to know
That we cannot escape this ultimate end
And enjoy living as much as we can
In a fair and socially acceptable manner
Without troubling others around

Factually, living itself
Is indeed a preparation for death only
Because you are going to die the way you lived

A matured, well balanced living
Leads to a similar departure
A chasing, hurried living
Leads to a unplanned demise
Leaving behind others to chase and hurry
An ever complaining ways of living
Leads to a death
After which the near and dear ones
Have a lot to complain
A compassionate and considerate living
Leads to a death
Making others be the same with every one
Death is peaceful only
Health conditions may at times
Someone be hospitalised for long
And someone incapacitated
And some others becoming a real burden
All these have nothing to do with dying peacefully
As long the person to die
Remains in peace and comfort
No need to get reminded
That we die each time we breathe out
As we are not sure
Whether or not we are going to
Brathe in immediately after that

Let us live
Strengthening ourselves
With the understanding
That death does not exist
But, it is going to occur
Only once, somewhere, somehow, sometime

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The Spirit Of Discovery By Sea - Book The Third

My heart has sighed in secret, when I thought
That the dark tide of time might one day close,
England, o'er thee, as long since it has closed
On Egypt and on Tyre: that ages hence,
From the Pacific's billowy loneliness,
Whose tract thy daring search revealed, some isle
Might rise in green-haired beauty eminent,
And like a goddess, glittering from the deep,
Hereafter sway the sceptre of domain
From pole to pole; and such as now thou art,
Perhaps NEW-HOLLAND be. For who shall say
What the OMNIPOTENT ETERNAL ONE,
That made the world, hath purposed! Thoughts like these,
Though visionary, rise; and sometimes move
A moment's sadness, when I think of thee,
My country, of thy greatness, and thy name,
Among the nations; and thy character,--
Though some few spots be on thy flowing robe,--
Of loveliest beauty: I have never passed
Through thy green hamlets on a summer's morn,
Nor heard thy sweet bells ring, nor seen the youths
And smiling maidens of thy villages,
Gay in their Sunday tire, but I have said,
With passing tenderness--Live, happy land,
Where the poor peasant feels his shed, though small,
An independence and a pride, that fill
His honest heart with joy--joy such as they
Who crowd the mart of men may never feel!
Such, England, is thy boast. When I have heard
The roar of ocean bursting 'round thy rocks,
Or seen a thousand thronging masts aspire,
Far as the eye could reach, from every port
Of every nation, streaming with their flags
O'er the still mirror of the conscious Thames,--
Yes, I have felt a proud emotion swell
That I was British-born; that I had lived
A witness of thy glory, my most loved
And honoured country; and a silent prayer
Would rise to Heaven, that Fame and Peace, and Love
And Liberty, might walk thy vales, and sing
Their holy hymns, while thy brave arm repelled
Hostility, even as thy guardian cliffs
Repel the dash of that dread element
Which calls me, lingering on the banks of Thames,
On to my destined voyage, by the shores
Of Asia, and the wreck of cities old,
Ere yet we burst into the wilder deep
With Gama; or the huge Atlantic waste
With bold Columbus stem; or view the bounds
Of field-ice, stretching to the southern pole,
With thee, benevolent, lamented Cook!
Tyre be no more! said the ALMIGHTY voice:
But thou too, Monarch of the world, whose arm
Rent the proud bulwarks of the golden queen
Of cities, throned upon her subject seas,
ART THOU TOO FALL'N?
The whole earth is at rest:
'They break forth into singing:' Lebanon
Waves all his hoary pines, and seems to say,
No feller now comes here; HELL from beneath
Is moved to meet thy coming; it stirs up
The DEAD for thee; the CHIEF ONES of the earth,
Tyre and the nations, they all speak and say--
Art thou become like us! Thy pomp brought down
E'en to the dust! The noise of viols ceased,
The worm spread under thee, the crawling worm
To cover thee! How art thou fall'n from heaven,
Son of the morning! In thy heart thou saidst,
I will ascend to Heaven; I will exalt
My throne above the stars of God! Die--die,
Blasphemer! As a carcase under foot,
Defiled and trodden, so be thou cast out!
And SHE, the great, the guilty Babel--SHE
Who smote the wasted cities, and the world
Made as a wilderness--SHE, in her turn,
Sinks to the gulf oblivious at the voice
Of HIM who sits in judgment on her crimes!
Who, o'er her palaces and buried towers,
Shall bid the owl hoot, and the bittern scream;
And on her pensile groves and pleasant shades
Pour the deep waters of forgetfulness.
On that same night, when with a cry she fell,
(Like her own mighty idol dashed to earth,)
There was a strange eclipse, and long laments
Were heard, and muttering thunders o'er the towers
Of the high palace where his wassail loud
Belshazzar kept, mocking the GOD OF HEAVEN,
And flushed with impious mirth; for BEL had left
With sullen shriek his golden shrine, and sat,
With many a gloomy apparition girt,
NISROCH and NEBO chief, in the dim sphere
Of mooned ASTORETH, whose orb now rolled
In darkness:--They their earthly empire mourned;
Meantime the host of Cyrus through the night
Silent advanced more nigh; and at that hour,
In the torch-blazing hall of revelry,
The fingers of a shadowy hand distinct
Came forth, and unknown figures marked the wall,
Searing the eye-balls of the starting king:
Tyre is avenged; Babel is fall'n, is fall'n!
Bel and her gods are shattered!
PRINCE, to thee
Called by the voice of God to execute
His will on earth, and raised to Persia's throne,
CYRUS, all hearts pay homage. Touched with tints
Most clear by the historian's magic art,
Thy features wear a gentleness and grace
Unlike the stern cold aspect and the frown
Of the dark chiefs of yore, the gloomy clan
Of heroes, from humanity and love
Removed: To thee a brighter character
Belongs--high dignity, unbending truth--
Yet Nature; not that lordly apathy
Which confidence and human sympathy
Represses, but a soul that bids all hearts
Smiling approach. We almost burn in thought
To kiss the hand that loosed Panthea's chains,
And bless him with a parent's, husband's tear,
Who stood a guardian angel in distress
To the unfriended, and the beautiful,
Consigned a helpless slave. Thy portrait, touched
With tints of softest light, thus wins all hearts
To love thee; but severer policy,
Cyrus, pronounces otherwise: she hears
No stir of commerce on the sullen marge
Of waters that along thy empire's verge
Beat cheerless; no proud moles arise; no ships,
Freighted with Indian wealth, glide o'er the main
From cape to cape. But on the desert sands
Hurtles thy numerous host, seizing, in thought
Rapacious, the rich fields of Hindostan,
As the poor savage fells the blooming tree
To gain its tempting fruit; but woe the while!
For in the wilderness the noise is lost
Of all thy archers;--they have ceased;--the wind
Blows o'er them, and the voice of judgment cries:
So perish they who grasp with avarice
Another's blessed portion, and disdain
That interchange of mutual good, that crowns
The slow, sure toil of commerce.
It was thine,
Immortal son of Macedon! to hang
In the high fane of maritime renown
The fairest trophies of thy fame, and shine,
THEN only like a god, when thy great mind
Swayed in its master council the deep tide
Of things, predestining th' eventful roll
Of commerce, and uniting either world,
Europe and Asia, in thy vast design.
Twas when the victor, in his proud career,
O'er ravaged Hindostan, had now advanced
Beyond Hydaspes; on the flowery banks
Of Hyphasis, with banners thronged, his camp
Was spread. On high he bade the altars rise,
The awful records to succeeding years
Of his long march of glory, and to point
The spot where, like the thunder rolled away,
His army paused. Now shady eve came down;
The trumpet sounded to the setting sun,
That looked from his illumed pavilion, calm
Upon the scene of arms, as if, all still,
And lovely as his parting light, the world
Beneath him spread; nor clangours, nor deep groans,
Were heard, nor victory's shouts, nor sighs, nor shrieks,
Were ever wafted from a bleeding land,
After the havoc of a conqueror's sword.
So calm the sun declined; when from the woods,
That shone to his last beam, a Brahmin old
Came forth. His streaming beard shone in the ray,
That slanted o'er his feeble frame; his front
Was furrowed. To the sun's last light he cast
A look of sorrow, then in silence bowed
Before the conqueror of the world. At once
All, as in death, was still. The victor chief
Trembled, he knew not why; the trumpet ceased
Its clangor, and the crimson streamer waved
No more in folds insulting to the Lord
Of the reposing world. The pallid front
Of the meek man seemed for a moment calm,
Yet dark and thronging thoughts appeared to swell
His beating heart. He paused--and then abrupt:
Victor, avaunt! he cried,
Hence! and the banners of thy pride
Bear to the deep! Behold on high
Yon range of mountains mingled with the sky!
It is the place
Where the great Father of the human race
Rested, when all the world and all its sounds
Ceased; and the ocean that surrounds
The earth, leaped from its dark abode
Beneath the mountains, and enormous flowed,
The green earth deluging! List, soldier, list!
And dread His might no mortal may resist.
Great Bramah rested, hushed in sleep,
When Hayagraiva came,
With mooned horns and eyes of flame,
And bore the holy Vedas to the deep.
Far from the sun's rejoicing ray,
Beneath the huge abyss, the buried treasures lay.
Then foamed the billowy desert wide,
And all that breathed--they died,
Sunk in the rolling waters: such the crime
And violence of earth. But he above,
Great Vishnu, moved with pitying love,
Preserved the pious king, whose ark sublime
Floated, in safety borne:
For his stupendous horn,
Blazing like gold, and many a rood
Extended o'er the dismal flood,
The precious freight sustained, till on the crest
Of Himakeel, yon mountain high,
That darkly mingles with the sky,
Where many a griffin roams, the hallowed ark found rest.
And Heaven decrees that here
Shall cease thy slaughtering spear:
Enough we bleed, enough we weep,
Hence, victor, to the deep!
Ev'n now along the tide
I see thy ships triumphant ride:
I see the world of trade emerge
From ocean's solitude! What fury fires
My breast! The flood, the flood retires,
And owns its future sovereign! Urge
Thy destined way; what countless pennants stream!
(Or is it but the shadow of a dream?)
Ev'n now old Indus hails
Thy daring prows in long array,
That o'er the lone seas gliding,
Around the sea-gods riding,
Speed to Euphrates' shores their destined way.
Fill high the bowl of mirth!
From west to east the earth
Proclaims thee Lord; shall the blue main
Confine thy reign?
But tremble, tyrant; hark in many a ring,
With language dread
Above thy head,
The dark Assoors thy death-song sing.
What mortal blow
Hath laid the king of nations low?
No hand: his own despair.--
But shout, for the canvas shall swell to the air,
Thy ships explore
Unknown Persia's winding shore,
While the great dragon rolls his arms in vain.
And see, uprising from the level main,
A new and glorious city springs;--
Hither speed thy woven wings,
That glance along the azure tide;
Asia and Europe own thy might;--
The willing seas of either world unite:
Thy name shall consecrate the sands,
And glittering to the sky the mart of nations stands.
He spoke, and rushed into the thickest wood.
With flashing eyes the impatient monarch cried--
Yes, by the Lybian Ammon and the gods
Of Greece, thou bid'st me on, the self-same track
My spirit pointed; and, let death betide,
My name shall live in glory!
At his word
The pines descend; the thronging masts aspire;
The novel sails swell beauteous o'er the curves
Of INDUS; to the Moderators' song
The oars keep time, while bold Nearchus guides
Aloft the gallies. On the foremost prow
The monarch from his golden goblet pours
A full libation to the gods, and calls
By name the mighty rivers, through whose course
He seeks the sea. To Lybian Ammon loud
The songs ascend; the trumpets bray; aloft
The streamers fly, whilst on the evening wave
Majestic to the main the fleet descends.

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Caliban upon Setebos or, Natural Theology in the Island

"Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such a one as thyself."
(David, Psalms 50.21)
['Will sprawl, now that the heat of day is best,
Flat on his belly in the pit's much mire,
With elbows wide, fists clenched to prop his chin.
And, while he kicks both feet in the cool slush,
And feels about his spine small eft-things course,
Run in and out each arm, and make him laugh:
And while above his head a pompion-plant,
Coating the cave-top as a brow its eye,
Creeps down to touch and tickle hair and beard,
And now a flower drops with a bee inside,
And now a fruit to snap at, catch and crunch,--
He looks out o'er yon sea which sunbeams cross
And recross till they weave a spider-web
(Meshes of fire, some great fish breaks at times)
And talks to his own self, howe'er he please,
Touching that other, whom his dam called God.
Because to talk about Him, vexes--ha,
Could He but know! and time to vex is now,
When talk is safer than in winter-time.
Moreover Prosper and Miranda sleep
In confidence he drudges at their task,
And it is good to cheat the pair, and gibe,
Letting the rank tongue blossom into speech.]

Setebos, Setebos, and Setebos!
'Thinketh, He dwelleth i' the cold o' the moon.

'Thinketh He made it, with the sun to match,
But not the stars; the stars came otherwise;
Only made clouds, winds, meteors, such as that:
Also this isle, what lives and grows thereon,
And snaky sea which rounds and ends the same.

'Thinketh, it came of being ill at ease:
He hated that He cannot change His cold,
Nor cure its ache. 'Hath spied an icy fish
That longed to 'scape the rock-stream where she lived,
And thaw herself within the lukewarm brine
O' the lazy sea her stream thrusts far amid,
A crystal spike 'twixt two warm walls of wave;
Only, she ever sickened, found repulse
At the other kind of water, not her life,
(Green-dense and dim-delicious, bred o' the sun)
Flounced back from bliss she was not born to breathe,
And in her old bounds buried her despair,
Hating and loving warmth alike: so He.

'Thinketh, He made thereat the sun, this isle,
Trees and the fowls here, beast and creeping thing.
Yon otter, sleek-wet, black, lithe as a leech;
Yon auk, one fire-eye in a ball of foam,
That floats and feeds; a certain badger brown
He hath watched hunt with that slant white-wedge eye
By moonlight; and the pie with the long tongue
That pricks deep into oak warts for a worm,
And says a plain word when she finds her prize,
But will not eat the ants; the ants themselves
That build a wall of seeds and settled stalks
About their hole--He made all these and more,
Made all we see, and us, in spite: how else?
He could not, Himself, make a second self
To be His mate; as well have made Himself:
He would not make what He mislikes or slights,
An eyesore to Him, or not worth His pains:
But did, in envy, listlessness or sport,
Make what Himself would fain, in a manner, be--
Weaker in most points, stronger in a few,
Worthy, and yet mere playthings all the while,
Things He admires and mocks too,--that is it.
Because, so brave, so better though they be,
It nothing skills if He begin to plague.
Look, now, I melt a gourd-fruit into mash,
Add honeycomb and pods, I have perceived,
Which bite like finches when they bill and kiss,--
Then, when froth rises bladdery, drink up all,
Quick, quick, till maggots scamper through my brain;
Last, throw me on my back i' the seeded thyme,
And wanton, wishing I were born a bird.
Put case, unable to be what I wish,
I yet could make a live bird out of clay:
Would not I take clay, pinch my Caliban
Able to fly?--for, there, see, he hath wings,
And great comb like the hoopoe's to admire,
And there, a sting to do his foes offence,
There, and I will that he begin to live,
Fly to yon rock-top, nip me off the horns
Of grigs high up that make the merry din,
Saucy through their veined wings, and mind me not.
In which feat, if his leg snapped, brittle clay,
And he lay stupid-like,--why, I should laugh;
And if he, spying me, should fall to weep,
Beseech me to be good, repair his wrong,
Bid his poor leg smart less or grow again,--
Well, as the chance were, this might take or else
Not take my fancy: I might hear his cry,
And give the mankin three sound legs for one,
Or pluck the other off, leave him like an egg
And lessoned he was mine and merely clay.
Were this no pleasure, lying in the thyme,
Drinking the mash, with brain become alive,
Making and marring clay at will? So He.

'Thinketh, such shows nor right nor wrong in Him,
Nor kind, nor cruel: He is strong and Lord.
'Am strong myself compared to yonder crabs
That march now from the mountain to the sea;
'Let twenty pass, and stone the twenty-first,
Loving not, hating not, just choosing so.
'Say, the first straggler that boasts purple spots
Shall join the file, one pincer twisted off;
'Say, this bruised fellow shall receive a worm,
And two worms he whose nippers end in red;
As it likes me each time, I do: so He.


Well then, 'supposeth He is good i' the main,
Placable if His mind and ways were guessed,
But rougher than His handiwork, be sure!
Oh, He hath made things worthier than Himself,
And envieth that, so helped, such things do more
Than He who made them! What consoles but this?
That they, unless through Him, do nought at all,
And must submit: what other use in things?
'Hath cut a pipe of pithless elder-joint
That, blown through, gives exact the scream o' the jay
When from her wing you twitch the feathers blue:
Sound this, and little birds that hate the jay
Flock within stone's throw, glad their foe is hurt:
Put case such pipe could prattle and boast forsooth
"I catch the birds, I am the crafty thing,
I make the cry my maker cannot make
With his great round mouth; he must blow through mine!'
Would not I smash it with my foot? So He.


But wherefore rough, why cold and ill at ease?
Aha, that is a question! Ask, for that,
What knows,--the something over Setebos
That made Him, or He, may be, found and fought,
Worsted, drove off and did to nothing, perchance.
There may be something quiet o'er His head,
Out of His reach, that feels nor joy nor grief,
Since both derive from weakness in some way.
I joy because the quails come; would not joy
Could I bring quails here when I have a mind:
This Quiet, all it hath a mind to, doth.
'Esteemeth stars the outposts of its couch,
But never spends much thought nor care that way.
It may look up, work up,--the worse for those
It works on! 'Careth but for Setebos
The many-handed as a cuttle-fish,
Who, making Himself feared through what He does,
Looks up, first, and perceives he cannot soar
To what is quiet and hath happy life;
Next looks down here, and out of very spite
Makes this a bauble-world to ape yon real,
These good things to match those as hips do grapes.
'Tis solace making baubles, ay, and sport.
Himself peeped late, eyed Prosper at his books
Careless and lofty, lord now of the isle:
Vexed, 'stitched a book of broad leaves, arrow-shaped,
Wrote thereon, he knows what, prodigious words;
Has peeled a wand and called it by a name;
Weareth at whiles for an enchanter's robe
The eyed skin of a supple oncelot;
And hath an ounce sleeker than youngling mole,
A four-legged serpent he makes cower and couch,
Now snarl, now hold its breath and mind his eye,
And saith she is Miranda and my wife:
'Keeps for his Ariel a tall pouch-bill crane
He bids go wade for fish and straight disgorge;
Also a sea-beast, lumpish, which he snared,
Blinded the eyes of, and brought somewhat tame,
And split its toe-webs, and now pens the drudge
In a hole o' the rock and calls him Caliban;
A bitter heart that bides its time and bites.
'Plays thus at being Prosper in a way,
Taketh his mirth with make-believes: so He.
His dam held that the Quiet made all things
Which Setebos vexed only: 'holds not so.
Who made them weak, meant weakness He might vex.
Had He meant other, while His hand was in,
Why not make horny eyes no thorn could prick,
Or plate my scalp with bone against the snow,
Or overscale my flesh 'neath joint and joint
Like an orc's armour? Ay,--so spoil His sport!
He is the One now: only He doth all.


'Saith, He may like, perchance, what profits Him.
Ay, himself loves what does him good; but why?
'Gets good no otherwise. This blinded beast
Loves whoso places flesh-meat on his nose,
But, had he eyes, would want no help, but hate
Or love, just as it liked him: He hath eyes.
Also it pleaseth Setebos to work,
Use all His hands, and exercise much craft,
By no means for the love of what is worked.
'Tasteth, himself, no finer good i' the world
When all goes right, in this safe summer-time,
And he wants little, hungers, aches not much,
Than trying what to do with wit and strength.
'Falls to make something: 'piled yon pile of turfs,
And squared and stuck there squares of soft white chalk,
And, with a fish-tooth, scratched a moon on each,
And set up endwise certain spikes of tree,
And crowned the whole with a sloth's skull a-top,
Found dead i' the woods, too hard for one to kill.
No use at all i' the work, for work's sole sake;
'Shall some day knock it down again: so He.


'Saith He is terrible: watch His feats in proof!
One hurricane will spoil six good months' hope.
He hath a spite against me, that I know,
Just as He favours Prosper, who knows why?
So it is, all the same, as well I find.
'Wove wattles half the winter, fenced them firm
With stone and stake to stop she-tortoises
Crawling to lay their eggs here: well, one wave,
Feeling the foot of Him upon its neck,
Gaped as a snake does, lolled out its large tongue,
And licked the whole labour flat: so much for spite.
'Saw a ball flame down late (yonder it lies)
Where, half an hour before, I slept i' the shade:
Often they scatter sparkles: there is force!
'Dug up a newt He may have envied once
And turned to stone, shut up Inside a stone.
Please Him and hinder this?--What Prosper does?
Aha, if He would tell me how! Not He!
There is the sport: discover how or die!
All need not die, for of the things o' the isle
Some flee afar, some dive, some run up trees;
Those at His mercy,--why, they please Him most
When . . . when . . . well, never try the same way twice!
Repeat what act has pleased, He may grow wroth.
You must not know His ways, and play Him off,
Sure of the issue. 'Doth the like himself:
'Spareth a squirrel that it nothing fears
But steals the nut from underneath my thumb,
And when I threat, bites stoutly in defence:
'Spareth an urchin that contrariwise,
Curls up into a ball, pretending death
For fright at my approach: the two ways please.
But what would move my choler more than this,
That either creature counted on its life
To-morrow and next day and all days to come,
Saying, forsooth, in the inmost of its heart,
"Because he did so yesterday with me,
And otherwise with such another brute,
So must he do henceforth and always."--Ay?
Would teach the reasoning couple what "must" means!
'Doth as he likes, or wherefore Lord? So He.


'Conceiveth all things will continue thus,
And we shall have to live in fear of Him
So long as He lives, keeps His strength: no change,
If He have done His best, make no new world
To please Him more, so leave off watching this,--
If He surprise not even the Quiet's self
Some strange day,--or, suppose, grow into it
As grubs grow butterflies: else, here are we,
And there is He, and nowhere help at all.


'Believeth with the life, the pain shall stop.
His dam held different, that after death
He both plagued enemies and feasted friends:
Idly! He doth His worst in this our life,
Giving just respite lest we die through pain,
Saving last pain for worst,--with which, an end.
Meanwhile, the best way to escape His ire
Is, not to seem too happy. 'Sees, himself,
Yonder two flies, with purple films and pink,
Bask on the pompion-bell above: kills both.
'Sees two black painful beetles roll their ball
On head and tail as if to save their lives:
Moves them the stick away they strive to clear.


Even so, 'would have Him misconceive, suppose
This Caliban strives hard and ails no less,
And always, above all else, envies Him;
Wherefore he mainly dances on dark nights,
Moans in the sun, gets under holes to laugh,
And never speaks his mind save housed as now:
Outside, 'groans, curses. If He caught me here,
O'erheard this speech, and asked "What chucklest at?"
'Would, to appease Him, cut a finger off,
Or of my three kid yearlings burn the best,
Or let the toothsome apples rot on tree,
Or push my tame beast for the orc to taste:
While myself lit a fire, and made a song
And sung it, "What I hate, be consecrate
To celebrate Thee and Thy state, no mate
For Thee; what see for envy in poor me?"
Hoping the while, since evils sometimes mend,
Warts rub away and sores are cured with slime,
That some strange day, will either the Quiet catch
And conquer Setebos, or likelier He
Decrepit may doze, doze, as good as die.

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Oscar Wilde

The Ballad Of Reading Gaol

(In memoriam
C. T. W.
Sometime trooper of the Royal Horse Guards
obiit H.M. prison, Reading, Berkshire
July 7, 1896)

I

He did not wear his scarlet coat,
For blood and wine are red,
And blood and wine were on his hands
When they found him with the dead,
The poor dead woman whom he loved,
And murdered in her bed.

He walked amongst the Trial Men
In a suit of shabby grey;
A cricket cap was on his head,
And his step seemed light and gay;
But I never saw a man who looked
So wistfully at the day.

I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky,
And at every drifting cloud that went
With sails of silver by.

I walked, with other souls in pain,
Within another ring,
And was wondering if the man had done
A great or little thing,
When a voice behind me whispered low,
'THAT FELLOW'S GOT TO SWING.'

Dear Christ! the very prison walls
Suddenly seemed to reel,
And the sky above my head became
Like a casque of scorching steel;
And, though I was a soul in pain,
My pain I could not feel.

I only knew what hunted thought
Quickened his step, and why
He looked upon the garish day
With such a wistful eye;
The man had killed the thing he loved,
And so he had to die.


Yet each man kills the thing he loves,
By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!

Some kill their love when they are young,
And some when they are old;
Some strangle with the hands of Lust,
Some with the hands of Gold:
The kindest use a knife, because
The dead so soon grow cold.

Some love too little, some too long,
Some sell, and others buy;
Some do the deed with many tears,
And some without a sigh:
For each man kills the thing he loves,
Yet each man does not die.

He does not die a death of shame
On a day of dark disgrace,
Nor have a noose about his neck,
Nor a cloth upon his face,
Nor drop feet foremost through the floor
Into an empty space.


He does not sit with silent men
Who watch him night and day;
Who watch him when he tries to weep,
And when he tries to pray;
Who watch him lest himself should rob
The prison of its prey.

He does not wake at dawn to see
Dread figures throng his room,
The shivering Chaplain robed in white,
The Sheriff stern with gloom,
And the Governor all in shiny black,
With the yellow face of Doom.

He does not rise in piteous haste
To put on convict-clothes,
While some coarse-mouthed Doctor gloats,
and notes
Each new and nerve-twitched pose,
Fingering a watch whose little ticks
Are like horrible hammer-blows.

He does not know that sickening thirst
That sands one's throat, before
The hangman with his gardener's gloves
Slips through the padded door,
And binds one with three leathern thongs,
That the throat may thirst no more.

He does not bend his head to hear
The Burial Office read,
Nor, while the terror of his soul
Tells him he is not dead,
Cross his own coffin, as he moves
Into the hideous shed.

He does not stare upon the air
Through a little roof of glass:
He does not pray with lips of clay
For his agony to pass;
Nor feel upon his shuddering cheek
The kiss of Caiaphas.


II


Six weeks our guardsman walked the yard,
In the suit of shabby grey:
His cricket cap was on his head,
And his step seemed light and gay,
But I never saw a man who looked
So wistfully at the day.

I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky,
And at every wandering cloud that trailed
Its ravelled fleeces by.

He did not wring his hands, as do
Those witless men who dare
To try to rear the changeling Hope
In the cave of black Despair:
He only looked upon the sun,
And drank the morning air.

He did not wring his hands nor weep,
Nor did he peek or pine,
But he drank the air as though it held
Some healthful anodyne;
With open mouth he drank the sun
As though it had been wine!

And I and all the souls in pain,
Who tramped the other ring,
Forgot if we ourselves had done
A great or little thing,
And watched with gaze of dull amaze
The man who had to swing.

And strange it was to see him pass
With a step so light and gay,
And strange it was to see him look
So wistfully at the day,
And strange it was to think that he
Had such a debt to pay.


For oak and elm have pleasant leaves
That in the springtime shoot:
But grim to see is the gallows-tree,
With its adder-bitten root,
And, green or dry, a man must die
Before it bears its fruit!

The loftiest place is that seat of grace
For which all worldlings try:
But who would stand in hempen band
Upon a scaffold high,
And through a murderer's collar take
His last look at the sky?

It is sweet to dance to violins
When Love and Life are fair:
To dance to flutes, to dance to lutes
Is delicate and rare:
But it is not sweet with nimble feet
To dance upon the air!

So with curious eyes and sick surmise
We watched him day by day,
And wondered if each one of us
Would end the self-same way,
For none can tell to what red Hell
His sightless soul may stray.

At last the dead man walked no more
Amongst the Trial Men,
And I knew that he was standing up
In the black dock's dreadful pen,
And that never would I see his face
In God's sweet world again.

Like two doomed ships that pass in storm
We had crossed each other's way:
But we made no sign, we said no word,
We had no word to say;
For we did not meet in the holy night,
But in the shameful day.

A prison wall was round us both,
Two outcast men we were:
The world had thrust us from its heart,
And God from out His care:
And the iron gin that waits for Sin
Had caught us in its snare.


III


In Debtors' Yard the stones are hard,
And the dripping wall is high,
So it was there he took the air
Beneath the leaden sky,
And by each side a Warder walked,
For fear the man might die.

Or else he sat with those who watched
His anguish night and day;
Who watched him when he rose to weep,
And when he crouched to pray;
Who watched him lest himself should rob
Their scaffold of its prey.

The Governor was strong upon
The Regulations Act:
The Doctor said that Death was but
A scientific fact:
And twice a day the Chaplain called,
And left a little tract.

And twice a day he smoked his pipe,
And drank his quart of beer:
His soul was resolute, and held
No hiding-place for fear;
He often said that he was glad
The hangman's hands were near.

But why he said so strange a thing
No Warder dared to ask:
For he to whom a watcher's doom
Is given as his task,
Must set a lock upon his lips,
And make his face a mask.

Or else he might be moved, and try
To comfort or console:
And what should Human Pity do
Pent up in Murderers' Hole?
What word of grace in such a place
Could help a brother's soul?


With slouch and swing around the ring
We trod the Fools' Parade!
We did not care: we knew we were
The Devil's Own Brigade:
And shaven head and feet of lead
Make a merry masquerade.

We tore the tarry rope to shreds
With blunt and bleeding nails;
We rubbed the doors, and scrubbed the floors,
And cleaned the shining rails:
And, rank by rank, we soaped the plank,
And clattered with the pails.

We sewed the sacks, we broke the stones,
We turned the dusty drill:
We banged the tins, and bawled the hymns,
And sweated on the mill:
But in the heart of every man
Terror was lying still.

So still it lay that every day
Crawled like a weed-clogged wave:
And we forgot the bitter lot
That waits for fool and knave,
Till once, as we tramped in from work,
We passed an open grave.

With yawning mouth the yellow hole
Gaped for a living thing;
The very mud cried out for blood
To the thirsty asphalte ring:
And we knew that ere one dawn grew fair
Some prisoner had to swing.

Right in we went, with soul intent
On Death and Dread and Doom:
The hangman, with his little bag,
Went shuffling through the gloom:
And each man trembled as he crept
Into his numbered tomb.


That night the empty corridors
Were full of forms of Fear,
And up and down the iron town
Stole feet we could not hear,
And through the bars that hide the stars
White faces seemed to peer.

He lay as one who lies and dreams
In a pleasant meadow-land,
The watchers watched him as he slept,
And could not understand
How one could sleep so sweet a sleep
With a hangman close at hand.

But there is no sleep when men must weep
Who never yet have wept:
So we - the fool, the fraud, the knave -
That endless vigil kept,
And through each brain on hands of pain
Another's terror crept.

Alas! it is a fearful thing
To feel another's guilt!
For, right within, the sword of Sin
Pierced to its poisoned hilt,
And as molten lead were the tears we shed
For the blood we had not spilt.

The Warders with their shoes of felt
Crept by each padlocked door,
And peeped and saw, with eyes of awe,
Grey figures on the floor,
And wondered why men knelt to pray
Who never prayed before.

All through the night we knelt and prayed,
Mad mourners of a corse!
The troubled plumes of midnight were
The plumes upon a hearse:
And bitter wine upon a sponge
Was the savour of Remorse.


The grey cock crew, the red cock crew,
But never came the day:
And crooked shapes of Terror crouched,
In the corners where we lay:
And each evil sprite that walks by night
Before us seemed to play.

They glided past, they glided fast,
Like travellers through a mist:
They mocked the moon in a rigadoon
Of delicate turn and twist,
And with formal pace and loathsome grace
The phantoms kept their tryst.

With mop and mow, we saw them go,
Slim shadows hand in hand:
About, about, in ghostly rout
They trod a saraband:
And the damned grotesques made arabesques,
Like the wind upon the sand!

With the pirouettes of marionettes,
They tripped on pointed tread:
But with flutes of Fear they filled the ear,
As their grisly masque they led,
And loud they sang, and long they sang,
For they sang to wake the dead.

'Oho!' they cried, 'The world is wide,
But fettered limbs go lame!
And once, or twice, to throw the dice
Is a gentlemanly game,
But he does not win who plays with Sin
In the secret House of Shame.'

No things of air these antics were,
That frolicked with such glee:
To men whose lives were held in gyves,
And whose feet might not go free,
Ah! wounds of Christ! they were living things,
Most terrible to see.

Around, around, they waltzed and wound;
Some wheeled in smirking pairs;
With the mincing step of a demirep
Some sidled up the stairs:
And with subtle sneer, and fawning leer,
Each helped us at our prayers.

The morning wind began to moan,
But still the night went on:
Through its giant loom the web of gloom
Crept till each thread was spun:
And, as we prayed, we grew afraid
Of the Justice of the Sun.

The moaning wind went wandering round
The weeping prison-wall:
Till like a wheel of turning steel
We felt the minutes crawl:
O moaning wind! what had we done
To have such a seneschal?

At last I saw the shadowed bars,
Like a lattice wrought in lead,
Move right across the whitewashed wall
That faced my three-plank bed,
And I knew that somewhere in the world
God's dreadful dawn was red.

At six o'clock we cleaned our cells,
At seven all was still,
But the sough and swing of a mighty wing
The prison seemed to fill,
For the Lord of Death with icy breath
Had entered in to kill.

He did not pass in purple pomp,
Nor ride a moon-white steed.
Three yards of cord and a sliding board
Are all the gallows' need:
So with rope of shame the Herald came
To do the secret deed.

We were as men who through a fen
Of filthy darkness grope:
We did not dare to breathe a prayer,
Or to give our anguish scope:
Something was dead in each of us,
And what was dead was Hope.

For Man's grim Justice goes its way,
And will not swerve aside:
It slays the weak, it slays the strong,
It has a deadly stride:
With iron heel it slays the strong,
The monstrous parricide!

We waited for the stroke of eight:
Each tongue was thick with thirst:
For the stroke of eight is the stroke of Fate
That makes a man accursed,
And Fate will use a running noose
For the best man and the worst.

We had no other thing to do,
Save to wait for the sign to come:
So, like things of stone in a valley lone,
Quiet we sat and dumb:
But each man's heart beat thick and quick,
Like a madman on a drum!

With sudden shock the prison-clock
Smote on the shivering air,
And from all the gaol rose up a wail
Of impotent despair,
Like the sound that frightened marshes hear
From some leper in his lair.

And as one sees most fearful things
In the crystal of a dream,
We saw the greasy hempen rope
Hooked to the blackened beam,
And heard the prayer the hangman's snare
Strangled into a scream.

And all the woe that moved him so
That he gave that bitter cry,
And the wild regrets, and the bloody sweats,
None knew so well as I:
For he who lives more lives than one
More deaths than one must die.


IV


There is no chapel on the day
On which they hang a man:
The Chaplain's heart is far too sick,
Or his face is far too wan,
Or there is that written in his eyes
Which none should look upon.

So they kept us close till nigh on noon,
And then they rang the bell,
And the Warders with their jingling keys
Opened each listening cell,
And down the iron stair we tramped,
Each from his separate Hell.

Out into God's sweet air we went,
But not in wonted way,
For this man's face was white with fear,
And that man's face was grey,
And I never saw sad men who looked
So wistfully at the day.

I never saw sad men who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
We prisoners called the sky,
And at every careless cloud that passed
In happy freedom by.

But there were those amongst us all
Who walked with downcast head,
And knew that, had each got his due,
They should have died instead:
He had but killed a thing that lived,
Whilst they had killed the dead.

For he who sins a second time
Wakes a dead soul to pain,
And draws it from its spotted shroud,
And makes it bleed again,
And makes it bleed great gouts of blood,
And makes it bleed in vain!


Like ape or clown, in monstrous garb
With crooked arrows starred,
Silently we went round and round
The slippery asphalte yard;
Silently we went round and round,
And no man spoke a word.

Silently we went round and round,
And through each hollow mind
The Memory of dreadful things
Rushed like a dreadful wind,
And Horror stalked before each man,
And Terror crept behind.


The Warders strutted up and down,
And kept their herd of brutes,
Their uniforms were spick and span,
And they wore their Sunday suits,
But we knew the work they had been at,
By the quicklime on their boots.

For where a grave had opened wide,
There was no grave at all:
Only a stretch of mud and sand
By the hideous prison-wall,
And a little heap of burning lime,
That the man should have his pall.

For he has a pall, this wretched man,
Such as few men can claim:
Deep down below a prison-yard,
Naked for greater shame,
He lies, with fetters on each foot,
Wrapt in a sheet of flame!

And all the while the burning lime
Eats flesh and bone away,
It eats the brittle bone by night,
And the soft flesh by day,
It eats the flesh and bone by turns,
But it eats the heart alway.


For three long years they will not sow
Or root or seedling there:
For three long years the unblessed spot
Will sterile be and bare,
And look upon the wondering sky
With unreproachful stare.

They think a murderer's heart would taint
Each simple seed they sow.
It is not true! God's kindly earth
Is kindlier than men know,
And the red rose would but blow more red,
The white rose whiter blow.

Out of his mouth a red, red rose!
Out of his heart a white!
For who can say by what strange way,
Christ brings His will to light,
Since the barren staff the pilgrim bore
Bloomed in the great Pope's sight?

But neither milk-white rose nor red
May bloom in prison-air;
The shard, the pebble, and the flint,
Are what they give us there:
For flowers have been known to heal
A common man's despair.

So never will wine-red rose or white,
Petal by petal, fall
On that stretch of mud and sand that lies
By the hideous prison-wall,
To tell the men who tramp the yard
That God's Son died for all.


Yet though the hideous prison-wall
Still hems him round and round,
And a spirit may not walk by night
That is with fetters bound,
And a spirit may but weep that lies
In such unholy ground,

He is at peace - this wretched man -
At peace, or will be soon:
There is no thing to make him mad,
Nor does Terror walk at noon,
For the lampless Earth in which he lies
Has neither Sun nor Moon.

They hanged him as a beast is hanged:
They did not even toll
A requiem that might have brought
Rest to his startled soul,
But hurriedly they took him out,
And hid him in a hole.

They stripped him of his canvas clothes,
And gave him to the flies:
They mocked the swollen purple throat,
And the stark and staring eyes:
And with laughter loud they heaped the shroud
In which their convict lies.

The Chaplain would not kneel to pray
By his dishonoured grave:
Nor mark it with that blessed Cross
That Christ for sinners gave,
Because the man was one of those
Whom Christ came down to save.

Yet all is well; he has but passed
To Life's appointed bourne:
And alien tears will fill for him
Pity's long-broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn


V


I know not whether Laws be right,
Or whether Laws be wrong;
All that we know who lie in gaol
Is that the wall is strong;
And that each day is like a year,
A year whose days are long.

But this I know, that every Law
That men have made for Man,
Since first Man took his brother's life,
And the sad world began,
But straws the wheat and saves the chaff
With a most evil fan.

This too I know - and wise it were
If each could know the same -
That every prison that men build
Is built with bricks of shame,
And bound with bars lest Christ should see
How men their brothers maim.

With bars they blur the gracious moon,
And blind the goodly sun:
And they do well to hide their Hell,
For in it things are done
That Son of God nor son of Man
Ever should look upon!


The vilest deeds like poison weeds,
Bloom well in prison-air;
It is only what is good in Man
That wastes and withers there:
Pale Anguish keeps the heavy gate,
And the Warder is Despair.

For they starve the little frightened child
Till it weeps both night and day:
And they scourge the weak, and flog the fool,
And gibe the old and grey,
And some grow mad, and all grow bad,
And none a word may say.

Each narrow cell in which we dwell
Is a foul and dark latrine,
And the fetid breath of living Death
Chokes up each grated screen,
And all, but Lust, is turned to dust
In Humanity's machine.

The brackish water that we drink
Creeps with a loathsome slime,
And the bitter bread they weigh in scales
Is full of chalk and lime,
And Sleep will not lie down, but walks
Wild-eyed, and cries to Time.


But though lean Hunger and green Thirst
Like asp with adder fight,
We have little care of prison fare,
For what chills and kills outright
Is that every stone one lifts by day
Becomes one's heart by night.

With midnight always in one's heart,
And twilight in one's cell,
We turn the crank, or tear the rope,
Each in his separate Hell,
And the silence is more awful far
Than the sound of a brazen bell.

And never a human voice comes near
To speak a gentle word:
And the eye that watches through the door
Is pitiless and hard:
And by all forgot, we rot and rot,
With soul and body marred.

And thus we rust Life's iron chain
Degraded and alone:
And some men curse, and some men weep,
And some men make no moan:
But God's eternal Laws are kind
And break the heart of stone.


And every human heart that breaks,
In prison-cell or yard,
Is as that broken box that gave
Its treasure to the Lord,
And filled the unclean leper's house
With the scent of costliest nard.

Ah! happy they whose hearts can break
And peace of pardon win!
How else may man make straight his plan
And cleanse his soul from Sin?
How else but through a broken heart
May Lord Christ enter in?


And he of the swollen purple throat,
And the stark and staring eyes,
Waits for the holy hands that took
The Thief to Paradise;
And a broken and a contrite heart
The Lord will not despise.

The man in red who reads the Law
Gave him three weeks of life,
Three little weeks in which to heal
His soul of his soul's strife,
And cleanse from every blot of blood
The hand that held the knife.

And with tears of blood he cleansed the hand,
The hand that held the steel:
For only blood can wipe out blood,
And only tears can heal:
And the crimson stain that was of Cain
Became Christ's snow-white seal.


VI


In Reading gaol by Reading town
There is a pit of shame,
And in it lies a wretched man
Eaten by teeth of flame,
In a burning winding-sheet he lies,
And his grave has got no name.

And there, till Christ call forth the dead,
In silence let him lie:
No need to waste the foolish tear,
Or heave the windy sigh:
The man had killed the thing he loved,
And so he had to die.

And all men kill the thing they love,
By all let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!

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Homer

The Odyssey: Book 12

"After we were clear of the river Oceanus, and had got out into
the open sea, we went on till we reached the Aeaean island where there
is dawn and sunrise as in other places. We then drew our ship on to
the sands and got out of her on to the shore, where we went to sleep
and waited till day should break.
"Then, when the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn, appeared, I
sent some men to Circe's house to fetch the body of Elpenor. We cut
firewood from a wood where the headland jutted out into the sea, and
after we had wept over him and lamented him we performed his funeral
rites. When his body and armour had been burned to ashes, we raised
a cairn, set a stone over it, and at the top of the cairn we fixed the
oar that he had been used to row with.
"While we were doing all this, Circe, who knew that we had got
back from the house of Hades, dressed herself and came to us as fast
as she could; and her maid servants came with her bringing us bread,
meat, and wine. Then she stood in the midst of us and said, 'You
have done a bold thing in going down alive to the house of Hades,
and you will have died twice, to other people's once; now, then,
stay here for the rest of the day, feast your fill, and go on with
your voyage at daybreak tomorrow morning. In the meantime I will
tell Ulysses about your course, and will explain everything to him
so as to prevent your suffering from misadventure either by land or
sea.'
"We agreed to do as she had said, and feasted through the livelong
day to the going down of the sun, but when the sun had set and it came
on dark, the men laid themselves down to sleep by the stern cables
of the ship. Then Circe took me by the hand and bade me be seated away
from the others, while she reclined by my side and asked me all
about our adventures.
"'So far so good,' said she, when I had ended my story, 'and now pay
attention to what I am about to tell you- heaven itself, indeed,
will recall it to your recollection. First you will come to the Sirens
who enchant all who come near them. If any one unwarily draws in too
close and hears the singing of the Sirens, his wife and children
will never welcome him home again, for they sit in a green field and
warble him to death with the sweetness of their song. There is a great
heap of dead men's bones lying all around, with the flesh still
rotting off them. Therefore pass these Sirens by, and stop your
men's ears with wax that none of them may hear; but if you like you
can listen yourself, for you may get the men to bind you as you
stand upright on a cross-piece half way up the mast, and they must
lash the rope's ends to the mast itself, that you may have the
pleasure of listening. If you beg and pray the men to unloose you,
then they must bind you faster.
"'When your crew have taken you past these Sirens, I cannot give you
coherent directions as to which of two courses you are to take; I will
lay the two alternatives before you, and you must consider them for
yourself. On the one hand there are some overhanging rocks against
which the deep blue waves of Amphitrite beat with terrific fury; the
blessed gods call these rocks the Wanderers. Here not even a bird
may pass, no, not even the timid doves that bring ambrosia to Father
Jove, but the sheer rock always carries off one of them, and Father
Jove has to send another to make up their number; no ship that ever
yet came to these rocks has got away again, but the waves and
whirlwinds of fire are freighted with wreckage and with the bodies
of dead men. The only vessel that ever sailed and got through, was the
famous Argo on her way from the house of Aetes, and she too would have
gone against these great rocks, only that Juno piloted her past them
for the love she bore to Jason.
"'Of these two rocks the one reaches heaven and its peak is lost
in a dark cloud. This never leaves it, so that the top is never
clear not even in summer and early autumn. No man though he had twenty
hands and twenty feet could get a foothold on it and climb it, for
it runs sheer up, as smooth as though it had been polished. In the
middle of it there is a large cavern, looking West and turned
towards Erebus; you must take your ship this way, but the cave is so
high up that not even the stoutest archer could send an arrow into it.
Inside it Scylla sits and yelps with a voice that you might take to be
that of a young hound, but in truth she is a dreadful monster and no
one- not even a god- could face her without being terror-struck. She
has twelve mis-shapen feet, and six necks of the most prodigious
length; and at the end of each neck she has a frightful head with
three rows of teeth in each, all set very close together, so that they
would crunch any one to death in a moment, and she sits deep within
her shady cell thrusting out her heads and peering all round the rock,
fishing for dolphins or dogfish or any larger monster that she can
catch, of the thousands with which Amphitrite teems. No ship ever
yet got past her without losing some men, for she shoots out all her
heads at once, and carries off a man in each mouth.
"'You will find the other rocks lie lower, but they are so close
together that there is not more than a bowshot between them. [A
large fig tree in full leaf grows upon it], and under it lies the
sucking whirlpool of Charybdis. Three times in the day does she
vomit forth her waters, and three times she sucks them down again; see
that you be not there when she is sucking, for if you are, Neptune
himself could not save you; you must hug the Scylla side and drive
ship by as fast as you can, for you had better lose six men than
your whole crew.'
"'Is there no way,' said I, 'of escaping Charybdis, and at the
same time keeping Scylla off when she is trying to harm my men?'
"'You dare-devil,' replied the goddess, you are always wanting to
fight somebody or something; you will not let yourself be beaten
even by the immortals. For Scylla is not mortal; moreover she is
savage, extreme, rude, cruel and invincible. There is no help for
it; your best chance will be to get by her as fast as ever you can,
for if you dawdle about her rock while you are putting on your armour,
she may catch you with a second cast of her six heads, and snap up
another half dozen of your men; so drive your ship past her at full
speed, and roar out lustily to Crataiis who is Scylla's dam, bad
luck to her; she will then stop her from making a second raid upon
you.
"'You will now come to the Thrinacian island, and here you will
see many herds of cattle and flocks of sheep belonging to the sun-god-
seven herds of cattle and seven flocks of sheep, with fifty head in
each flock. They do not breed, nor do they become fewer in number, and
they are tended by the goddesses Phaethusa and Lampetie, who are
children of the sun-god Hyperion by Neaera. Their mother when she
had borne them and had done suckling them sent them to the
Thrinacian island, which was a long way off, to live there and look
after their father's flocks and herds. If you leave these flocks
unharmed, and think of nothing but getting home, you may yet after
much hardship reach Ithaca; but if you harm them, then I forewarn
you of the destruction both of your ship and of your comrades; and
even though you may yourself escape, you will return late, in bad
plight, after losing all your men.'
"Here she ended, and dawn enthroned in gold began to show in heaven,
whereon she returned inland. I then went on board and told my men to
loose the ship from her moorings; so they at once got into her, took
their places, and began to smite the grey sea with their oars.
Presently the great and cunning goddess Circe befriended us with a
fair wind that blew dead aft, and stayed steadily with us, keeping our
sails well filled, so we did whatever wanted doing to the ship's gear,
and let her go as wind and helmsman headed her.
"Then, being much troubled in mind, I said to my men, 'My friends,
it is not right that one or two of us alone should know the prophecies
that Circe has made me, I will therefore tell you about them, so
that whether we live or die we may do so with our eyes open. First she
said we were to keep clear of the Sirens, who sit and sing most
beautifully in a field of flowers; but she said I might hear them
myself so long as no one else did. Therefore, take me and bind me to
the crosspiece half way up the mast; bind me as I stand upright,
with a bond so fast that I cannot possibly break away, and lash the
rope's ends to the mast itself. If I beg and pray you to set me
free, then bind me more tightly still.'
"I had hardly finished telling everything to the men before we
reached the island of the two Sirens, for the wind had been very
favourable. Then all of a sudden it fell dead calm; there was not a
breath of wind nor a ripple upon the water, so the men furled the
sails and stowed them; then taking to their oars they whitened the
water with the foam they raised in rowing. Meanwhile I look a large
wheel of wax and cut it up small with my sword. Then I kneaded the wax
in my strong hands till it became soft, which it soon did between
the kneading and the rays of the sun-god son of Hyperion. Then I
stopped the ears of all my men, and they bound me hands and feet to
the mast as I stood upright on the crosspiece; but they went on rowing
themselves. When we had got within earshot of the land, and the ship
was going at a good rate, the Sirens saw that we were getting in shore
and began with their singing.
"'Come here,' they sang, 'renowned Ulysses, honour to the Achaean
name, and listen to our two voices. No one ever sailed past us without
staying to hear the enchanting sweetness of our song- and he who
listens will go on his way not only charmed, but wiser, for we know
all the ills that the gods laid upon the Argives and Trojans before
Troy, and can tell you everything that is going to happen over the
whole world.'
"They sang these words most musically, and as I longed to hear
them further I made by frowning to my men that they should set me
free; but they quickened their stroke, and Eurylochus and Perimedes
bound me with still stronger bonds till we had got out of hearing of
the Sirens' voices. Then my men took the wax from their ears and
unbound me.
"Immediately after we had got past the island I saw a great wave
from which spray was rising, and I heard a loud roaring sound. The men
were so frightened that they loosed hold of their oars, for the
whole sea resounded with the rushing of the waters, but the ship
stayed where it was, for the men had left off rowing. I went round,
therefore, and exhorted them man by man not to lose heart.
"'My friends,' said I, 'this is not the first time that we have been
in danger, and we are in nothing like so bad a case as when the
Cyclops shut us up in his cave; nevertheless, my courage and wise
counsel saved us then, and we shall live to look back on all this as
well. Now, therefore, let us all do as I say, trust in Jove and row on
with might and main. As for you, coxswain, these are your orders;
attend to them, for the ship is in your hands; turn her head away from
these steaming rapids and hug the rock, or she will give you the
slip and be over yonder before you know where you are, and you will be
the death of us.'
"So they did as I told them; but I said nothing about the awful
monster Scylla, for I knew the men would not on rowing if I did, but
would huddle together in the hold. In one thing only did I disobey
Circe's strict instructions- I put on my armour. Then seizing two
strong spears I took my stand on the ship Is bows, for it was there
that I expected first to see the monster of the rock, who was to do my
men so much harm; but I could not make her out anywhere, though I
strained my eyes with looking the gloomy rock all over and over
"Then we entered the Straits in great fear of mind, for on the one
hand was Scylla, and on the other dread Charybdis kept sucking up
the salt water. As she vomited it up, it was like the water in a
cauldron when it is boiling over upon a great fire, and the spray
reached the top of the rocks on either side. When she began to suck
again, we could see the water all inside whirling round and round, and
it made a deafening sound as it broke against the rocks. We could
see the bottom of the whirlpool all black with sand and mud, and the
men were at their wit's ends for fear. While we were taken up with
this, and were expecting each moment to be our last, Scylla pounced
down suddenly upon us and snatched up my six best men. I was looking
at once after both ship and men, and in a moment I saw their hands and
feet ever so high above me, struggling in the air as Scylla was
carrying them off, and I heard them call out my name in one last
despairing cry. As a fisherman, seated, spear in hand, upon some
jutting rock throws bait into the water to deceive the poor little
fishes, and spears them with the ox's horn with which his spear is
shod, throwing them gasping on to the land as he catches them one by
one- even so did Scylla land these panting creatures on her rock and
munch them up at the mouth of her den, while they screamed and
stretched out their hands to me in their mortal agony. This was the
most sickening sight that I saw throughout all my voyages.
"When we had passed the [Wandering] rocks, with Scylla and
terrible Charybdis, we reached the noble island of the sun-god,
where were the goodly cattle and sheep belonging to the sun
Hyperion. While still at sea in my ship I could bear the cattle lowing
as they came home to the yards, and the sheep bleating. Then I
remembered what the blind Theban prophet Teiresias had told me, and
how carefully Aeaean Circe had warned me to shun the island of the
blessed sun-god. So being much troubled I said to the men, 'My men,
I know you are hard pressed, but listen while I tell you the
prophecy that Teiresias made me, and how carefully Aeaean Circe warned
me to shun the island of the blessed sun-god, for it was here, she
said, that our worst danger would lie. Head the ship, therefore,
away from the island.'
"The men were in despair at this, and Eurylochus at once gave me
an insolent answer. 'Ulysses,' said he, 'you are cruel; you are very
strong yourself and never get worn out; you seem to be made of iron,
and now, though your men are exhausted with toil and want of sleep,
you will not let them land and cook themselves a good supper upon this
island, but bid them put out to sea and go faring fruitlessly on
through the watches of the flying night. It is by night that the winds
blow hardest and do so much damage; how can we escape should one of
those sudden squalls spring up from South West or West, which so often
wreck a vessel when our lords the gods are unpropitious? Now,
therefore, let us obey the of night and prepare our supper here hard
by the ship; to-morrow morning we will go on board again and put out
to sea.'
"Thus spoke Eurylochus, and the men approved his words. I saw that
heaven meant us a mischief and said, 'You force me to yield, for you
are many against one, but at any rate each one of you must take his
solemn oath that if he meet with a herd of cattle or a large flock
of sheep, he will not be so mad as to kill a single head of either,
but will be satisfied with the food that Circe has given us.'
"They all swore as I bade them, and when they had completed their
oath we made the ship fast in a harbour that was near a stream of
fresh water, and the men went ashore and cooked their suppers. As soon
as they had had enough to eat and drink, they began talking about
their poor comrades whom Scylla had snatched up and eaten; this set
them weeping and they went on crying till they fell off into a sound
sleep.
"In the third watch of the night when the stars had shifted their
places, Jove raised a great gale of wind that flew a hurricane so that
land and sea were covered with thick clouds, and night sprang forth
out of the heavens. When the child of morning, rosy-fingered Dawn,
appeared, we brought the ship to land and drew her into a cave wherein
the sea-nymphs hold their courts and dances, and I called the men
together in council.
"'My friends,' said I, 'we have meat and drink in the ship, let us
mind, therefore, and not touch the cattle, or we shall suffer for
it; for these cattle and sheep belong to the mighty sun, who sees
and gives ear to everything. And again they promised that they would
obey.
"For a whole month the wind blew steadily from the South, and
there was no other wind, but only South and East. As long as corn
and wine held out the men did not touch the cattle when they were
hungry; when, however, they had eaten all there was in the ship,
they were forced to go further afield, with hook and line, catching
birds, and taking whatever they could lay their hands on; for they
were starving. One day, therefore, I went up inland that I might
pray heaven to show me some means of getting away. When I had gone far
enough to be clear of all my men, and had found a place that was
well sheltered from the wind, I washed my hands and prayed to all
the gods in Olympus till by and by they sent me off into a sweet
sleep.
"Meanwhile Eurylochus had been giving evil counsel to the men,
'Listen to me,' said he, 'my poor comrades. All deaths are bad
enough but there is none so bad as famine. Why should not we drive
in the best of these cows and offer them in sacrifice to the
immortal Rods? If we ever get back to Ithaca, we can build a fine
temple to the sun-god and enrich it with every kind of ornament; if,
however, he is determined to sink our ship out of revenge for these
homed cattle, and the other gods are of the same mind, I for one would
rather drink salt water once for all and have done with it, than be
starved to death by inches in such a desert island as this is.'
"Thus spoke Eurylochus, and the men approved his words. Now the
cattle, so fair and goodly, were feeding not far from the ship; the
men, therefore drove in the best of them, and they all stood round
them saying their prayers, and using young oak-shoots instead of
barley-meal, for there was no barley left. When they had done
praying they killed the cows and dressed their carcasses; they cut out
the thigh bones, wrapped them round in two layers of fat, and set some
pieces of raw meat on top of them. They had no wine with which to make
drink-offerings over the sacrifice while it was cooking, so they
kept pouring on a little water from time to time while the inward
meats were being grilled; then, when the thigh bones were burned and
they had tasted the inward meats, they cut the rest up small and put
the pieces upon the spits.
"By this time my deep sleep had left me, and I turned back to the
ship and to the sea shore. As I drew near I began to smell hot roast
meat, so I groaned out a prayer to the immortal gods. 'Father Jove,' I
exclaimed, 'and all you other gods who live in everlasting bliss,
you have done me a cruel mischief by the sleep into which you have
sent me; see what fine work these men of mine have been making in my
absence.'
"Meanwhile Lampetie went straight off to the sun and told him we had
been killing his cows, whereon he flew into a great rage, and said
to the immortals, 'Father Jove, and all you other gods who live in
everlasting bliss, I must have vengeance on the crew of Ulysses' ship:
they have had the insolence to kill my cows, which were the one
thing I loved to look upon, whether I was going up heaven or down
again. If they do not square accounts with me about my cows, I will go
down to Hades and shine there among the dead.'
"'Sun,' said Jove, 'go on shining upon us gods and upon mankind over
the fruitful earth. I will shiver their ship into little pieces with a
bolt of white lightning as soon as they get out to sea.'
"I was told all this by Calypso, who said she had heard it from
the mouth of Mercury.
"As soon as I got down to my ship and to the sea shore I rebuked
each one of the men separately, but we could see no way out of it, for
the cows were dead already. And indeed the gods began at once to
show signs and wonders among us, for the hides of the cattle crawled
about, and the joints upon the spits began to low like cows, and the
meat, whether cooked or raw, kept on making a noise just as cows do.
"For six days my men kept driving in the best cows and feasting upon
them, but when Jove the son of Saturn had added a seventh day, the
fury of the gale abated; we therefore went on board, raised our masts,
spread sail, and put out to sea. As soon as we were well away from the
island, and could see nothing but sky and sea, the son of Saturn
raised a black cloud over our ship, and the sea grew dark beneath
it. We not get on much further, for in another moment we were caught
by a terrific squall from the West that snapped the forestays of the
mast so that it fell aft, while all the ship's gear tumbled about at
the bottom of the vessel. The mast fell upon the head of the
helmsman in the ship's stern, so that the bones of his head were
crushed to pieces, and he fell overboard as though he were diving,
with no more life left in him.
"Then Jove let fly with his thunderbolts, and the ship went round
and round, and was filled with fire and brimstone as the lightning
struck it. The men all fell into the sea; they were carried about in
the water round the ship, looking like so many sea-gulls, but the
god presently deprived them of all chance of getting home again.
"I stuck to the ship till the sea knocked her sides from her keel
(which drifted about by itself) and struck the mast out of her in
the direction of the keel; but there was a backstay of stout
ox-thong still hanging about it, and with this I lashed the mast and
keel together, and getting astride of them was carried wherever the
winds chose to take me.
"[The gale from the West had now spent its force, and the wind got
into the South again, which frightened me lest I should be taken
back to the terrible whirlpool of Charybdis. This indeed was what
actually happened, for I was borne along by the waves all night, and
by sunrise had reacfied the rock of Scylla, and the whirlpool. She was
then sucking down the salt sea water, but I was carried aloft toward
the fig tree, which I caught hold of and clung on to like a bat. I
could not plant my feet anywhere so as to stand securely, for the
roots were a long way off and the boughs that overshadowed the whole
pool were too high, too vast, and too far apart for me to reach
them; so I hung patiently on, waiting till the pool should discharge
my mast and raft again- and a very long while it seemed. A juryman
is not more glad to get home to supper, after having been long
detained in court by troublesome cases, than I was to see my raft
beginning to work its way out of the whirlpool again. At last I let go
with my hands and feet, and fell heavily into the sea, bard by my raft
on to which I then got, and began to row with my hands. As for Scylla,
the father of gods and men would not let her get further sight of
me- otherwise I should have certainly been lost.]
"Hence I was carried along for nine days till on the tenth night the
gods stranded me on the Ogygian island, where dwells the great and
powerful goddess Calypso. She took me in and was kind to me, but I
need say no more about this, for I told you and your noble wife all
about it yesterday, and I hate saying the same thing over and over
again."

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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 knew ’twas 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 mother’s 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 Church’s 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 husband’s 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 lady’s 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 father’s 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 nurse’s 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 sister’s 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 o’er a kitchen fire,
I draw fresh air, and nature’s 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, he’s 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 point’s too high for me:
For Heaven’s 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 woman’s counsel brought us first to woe,
And made her man his paradise forego,
Where at heart’s 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 friend’s 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 father’s 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,
There’s 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 father’s 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 o’er 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.

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Don Juan: Canto The Thirteenth

I now mean to be serious;--it is time,
Since laughter now-a-days is deem'd too serious.
A jest at Vice by Virtue's call'd a crime,
And critically held as deleterious:
Besides, the sad's a source of the sublime,
Although when long a little apt to weary us;
And therefore shall my lay soar high and solemn,
As an old temple dwindled to a column.

The Lady Adeline Amundeville
('Tis an old Norman name, and to be found
In pedigrees, by those who wander still
Along the last fields of that Gothic ground)
Was high-born, wealthy by her father's will,
And beauteous, even where beauties most abound,
In Britain - which of course true patriots find
The goodliest soil of body and of mind.

I'll not gainsay them; it is not my cue;
I'll leave them to their taste, no doubt the best:
An eye's an eye, and whether black or blue,
Is no great matter, so 'tis in request,
'Tis nonsense to dispute about a hue -
The kindest may be taken as a test.
The fair sex should be always fair; and no man,
Till thirty, should perceive there 's a plain woman.

And after that serene and somewhat dull
Epoch, that awkward corner turn'd for days
More quiet, when our moon's no more at full,
We may presume to criticise or praise;
Because indifference begins to lull
Our passions, and we walk in wisdom's ways;
Also because the figure and the face
Hint, that 'tis time to give the younger place.

I know that some would fain postpone this era,
Reluctant as all placemen to resign
Their post; but theirs is merely a chimera,
For they have pass'd life's equinoctial line:
But then they have their claret and Madeira
To irrigate the dryness of decline;
And county meetings, and the parliament,
And debt, and what not, for their solace sent.

And is there not religion, and reform,
Peace, war, the taxes, and what's call'd the 'Nation'?
The struggle to be pilots in a storm?
The landed and the monied speculation?
The joys of mutual hate to keep them warm,
Instead of love, that mere hallucination?
Now hatred is by far the longest pleasure;
Men love in haste, but they detest at leisure.

Rough Johnson, the great moralist, profess'd,
Right honestly, 'he liked an honest hater!'-
The only truth that yet has been confest
Within these latest thousand years or later.
Perhaps the fine old fellow spoke in jest:-
For my part, I am but a mere spectator,
And gaze where'er the palace or the hovel is,
Much in the mode of Goethe's Mephistopheles;

But neither love nor hate in much excess;
Though 'twas not once so. If I sneer sometimes,
It is because I cannot well do less,
And now and then it also suits my rhymes.
I should be very willing to redress
Men's wrongs, and rather check than punish crimes,
Had not Cervantes, in that too true tale
Of Quixote, shown how all such efforts fail.

Of all tales 'tis the saddest - and more sad,
Because it makes us smile: his hero 's right,
And still pursues the right;- to curb the bad
His only object, and 'gainst odds to fight
His guerdon: 'tis his virtue makes him mad!
But his adventures form a sorry sight;
A sorrier still is the great moral taught
By that real epic unto all who have thought.

Redressing injury, revenging wrong,
To aid the damsel and destroy the caitiff;
Opposing singly the united strong,
From foreign yoke to free the helpless native:-
Alas! must noblest views, like an old song,
Be for mere fancy's sport a theme creative,
A jest, a riddle, Fame through thin and thick sought!
And Socrates himself but Wisdom's Quixote?

Cervantes smiled Spain's chivalry away;
A single laugh demolish'd the right arm
Of his own country;- seldom since that day
Has Spain had heroes. While Romance could charm,
The world gave ground before her bright array;
And therefore have his volumes done such harm,
That all their glory, as a composition,
Was dearly purchased by his land's perdition.

I'm 'at my old lunes'- digression, and forget
The Lady Adeline Amundeville;
The fair most fatal Juan ever met,
Although she was not evil nor meant ill;
But Destiny and Passion spread the net
(Fate is a good excuse for our own will),
And caught them;- what do they not catch, methinks?
But I 'm not OEdipus, and life's a Sphinx.

I tell the tale as it is told, nor dare
To venture a solution: 'Davus sum!'
And now I will proceed upon the pair.
Sweet Adeline, amidst the gay world's hum,
Was the Queen -Bee, the glass of all that 's fair;
Whose charms made all men speak, and women dumb.
The last's a miracle, and such was reckon'd,
And since that time there has not been a second.

Chaste was she, to detraction's desperation,
And wedded unto one she had loved well -
A man known in the councils of the nation,
Cool, and quite English, imperturbable,
Though apt to act with fire upon occasion,
Proud of himself and her: the world could tell
Nought against either, and both seem'd secure -
She in her virtue, he in his hauteur.

It chanced some diplomatical relations,
Arising out of business, often brought
Himself and Juan in their mutual stations
Into close contact. Though reserved, nor caught
By specious seeming, Juan's youth, and patience,
And talent, on his haughty spirit wrought,
And form'd a basis of esteem, which ends
In making men what courtesy calls friends.

And thus Lord Henry, who was cautious as
Reserve and pride could make him, and full slow
In judging men - when once his judgment was
Determined, right or wrong, on friend or foe,
Had all the pertinacity pride has,
Which knows no ebb to its imperious flow,
And loves or hates, disdaining to be guided,
Because its own good pleasure hath decided.

His friendships, therefore, and no less aversions,
Though oft well founded, which confirm'd but more
His prepossessions, like the laws of Persians
And Medes, would ne'er revoke what went before.
His feelings had not those strange fits, like tertians,
Of common likings, which make some deplore
What they should laugh at - the mere ague still
Of men's regard, the fever or the chill.

''Tis not in mortals to command success:
But do you more, Sempronius - don't deserve it,'
And take my word, you won't have any less.
Be wary, watch the time, and always serve it;
Give gently way, when there's too great a press;
And for your conscience, only learn to nerve it,
For, like a racer, or a boxer training,
'Twill make, if proved, vast efforts without paining.

Lord Henry also liked to be superior,
As most men do, the little or the great;
The very lowest find out an inferior,
At least they think so, to exert their state
Upon: for there are very few things wearier
Than solitary Pride's oppressive weight,
Which mortals generously would divide,
By bidding others carry while they ride.

In birth, in rank, in fortune likewise equal,
O'er Juan he could no distinction claim;
In years he had the advantage of time's sequel;
And, as he thought, in country much the same -
Because bold Britons have a tongue and free quill,
At which all modern nations vainly aim;
And the Lord Henry was a great debater,
So that few members kept the house up later.

These were advantages: and then he thought -
It was his foible, but by no means sinister -
That few or none more than himself had caught
Court mysteries, having been himself a minister:
He liked to teach that which he had been taught,
And greatly shone whenever there had been a stir;
And reconciled all qualities which grace man,
Always a patriot, and sometimes a placeman.

He liked the gentle Spaniard for his gravity;
He almost honour'd him for his docility;
Because, though young, he acquiesced with suavity,
Or contradicted but with proud humility.
He knew the world, and would not see depravity
In faults which sometimes show the soil's fertility,
If that the weeds o'erlive not the first crop -
For then they are very difficult to stop.

And then he talk'd with him about Madrid,
Constantinople, and such distant places;
Where people always did as they were bid,
Or did what they should not with foreign graces.
Of coursers also spake they: Henry rid
Well, like most Englishmen, and loved the races;
And Juan, like a true-born Andalusian,
Could back a horse, as despots ride a Russian.

And thus acquaintance grew, at noble routs,
And diplomatic dinners, or at other -
For Juan stood well both with Ins and Outs,
As in freemasonry a higher brother.
Upon his talent Henry had no doubts;
His manner show'd him sprung from a high mother;
And all men like to show their hospitality
To him whose breeding matches with his quality.

At Blank-Blank Square;- for we will break no squares
By naming streets: since men are so censorious,
And apt to sow an author's wheat with tares,
Reaping allusions private and inglorious,
Where none were dreamt of, unto love's affairs,
Which were, or are, or are to be notorious,
That therefore do I previously declare,
Lord Henry's mansion was in Blank-Blank Square.

Also there bin another pious reason
For making squares and streets anonymous;
Which is, that there is scarce a single season
Which doth not shake some very splendid house
With some slight heart-quake of domestic treason -
A topic scandal doth delight to rouse:
Such I might stumble over unawares,
Unless I knew the very chastest squares.

'Tis true, I might have chosen Piccadilly,
A place where peccadillos are unknown;
But I have motives, whether wise or silly,
For letting that pure sanctuary alone.
Therefore I name not square, street, place, until I
Find one where nothing naughty can be shown,
A vestal shrine of innocence of heart:

At Henry's mansion then, in Blank-Blank Square,
Was Juan a recherche, welcome guest,
As many other noble scions were;
And some who had but talent for their crest;
Or wealth, which is a passport every where;
Or even mere fashion, which indeed's the best
Recommendation; and to be well drest
Will very often supersede the rest.

And since 'there's safety in a multitude
Of counsellors,' as Solomon has said,
Or some one for him, in some sage, grave mood;-
Indeed we see the daily proof display'd
In senates, at the bar, in wordy feud,
Where'er collective wisdom can parade,
Which is the only cause that we can guess
Of Britain's present wealth and happiness;-

But as 'there's safety' grafted in the number
'Of counsellors' for men, thus for the sex
A large acquaintance lets not Virtue slumber;
Or should it shake, the choice will more perplex -
Variety itself will more encumber.
'Midst many rocks we guard more against wrecks;
And thus with women: howsoe'er it shocks some's
Self-love, there's safety in a crowd of coxcombs.

But Adeline had not the least occasion
For such a shield, which leaves but little merit
To virtue proper, or good education.
Her chief resource was in her own high spirit,
Which judged mankind at their due estimation;
And for coquetry, she disdain'd to wear it:
Secure of admiration, its impression
Was faint, as of an every-day possession.

To all she was polite without parade;
To some she show'd attention of that kind
Which flatters, but is flattery convey'd
In such a sort as cannot leave behind
A trace unworthy either wife or maid;-
A gentle, genial courtesy of mind,
To those who were, or pass'd for meritorious,
Just to console sad glory for being glorious;

Which is in all respects, save now and then,
A dull and desolate appendage. Gaze
Upon the shades of those distinguish'd men
Who were or are the puppet-shows of praise,
The praise of persecution; gaze again
On the most favour'd; and amidst the blaze
Of sunset halos o'er the laurel-brow'd,
What can ye recognise?--a gilded cloud.

There also was of course in Adeline
That calm patrician polish in the address,
Which ne'er can pass the equinoctial line
Of any thing which nature would express;
Just as a mandarin finds nothing fine,-
At least his manner suffers not to guess
That any thing he views can greatly please.
Perhaps we have borrow'd this from the Chinese -

Perhaps from Horace: his 'Nil admirari'
Was what he call'd the 'Art of Happiness;'
An art on which the artists greatly vary,
And have not yet attain'd to much success.
However, 'tis expedient to be wary:
Indifference certes don't produce distress;
And rash enthusiasm in good society
Were nothing but a moral inebriety.

But Adeline was not indifferent: for
(Now for a common-place!) beneath the snow,
As a volcano holds the lava more
Within--et caetera. Shall I go on?--No!
I hate to hunt down a tired metaphor,
So let the often-used volcano go.
Poor thing! How frequently, by me and others,
It hath been stirr'd up till its smoke quite smothers!

I'll have another figure in a trice:-
What say you to a bottle of champagne?
Frozen into a very vinous ice,
Which leaves few drops of that immortal rain,
Yet in the very centre, past all price,
About a liquid glassful will remain;
And this is stronger than the strongest grape
Could e'er express in its expanded shape:

'Tis the whole spirit brought to a quintessence;
And thus the chilliest aspects may concentre
A hidden nectar under a cold presence.
And such are many - though I only meant her
From whom I now deduce these moral lessons,
On which the Muse has always sought to enter.
And your cold people are beyond all price,
When once you have broken their confounded ice.

But after all they are a North-West Passage
Unto the glowing India of the soul;
And as the good ships sent upon that message
Have not exactly ascertain'd the Pole
(Though Parry's efforts look a lucky presage),
Thus gentlemen may run upon a shoal;
For if the Pole's not open, but all frost
(A chance still), 'tis a voyage or vessel lost.

And young beginners may as well commence
With quiet cruising o'er the ocean woman;
While those who are not beginners should have sense
Enough to make for port, ere time shall summon
With his grey signal-flag; and the past tense,
The dreary 'Fuimus' of all things human,
Must be declined, while life's thin thread's spun out
Between the gaping heir and gnawing gout.

But heaven must be diverted; its diversion
Is sometimes truculent - but never mind:
The world upon the whole is worth the assertion
(If but for comfort) that all things are kind:
And that same devilish doctrine of the Persian,
Of the two principles, but leaves behind
As many doubts as any other doctrine
Has ever puzzled Faith withal, or yoked her in.

The English winter - ending in July,
To recommence in August - now was done.
'Tis the postilion's paradise: wheels fly;
On roads, east, south, north, west, there is a run.
But for post-horses who finds sympathy?
Man's pity's for himself, or for his son,
Always premising that said son at college
Has not contracted much more debt than knowledge.

The London winter's ended in July -
Sometimes a little later. I don't err
In this: whatever other blunders lie
Upon my shoulders, here I must aver
My Muse a glass of weatherology;
For parliament is our barometer:
Let radicals its other acts attack,
Its sessions form our only almanack.

When its quicksilver's down at zero,--lo
Coach, chariot, luggage, baggage, equipage!
Wheels whirl from Carlton palace to Soho,
And happiest they who horses can engage;
The turnpikes glow with dust; and Rotten Row
Sleeps from the chivalry of this bright age;
And tradesmen, with long bills and longer faces,
Sigh - as the postboys fasten on the traces.

They and their bills, 'Arcadians both,' are left
To the Greek kalends of another session.
Alas! to them of ready cash bereft,
What hope remains? Of hope the full possession,
Or generous draft, conceded as a gift,
At a long date - till they can get a fresh one -
Hawk'd about at a discount, small or large;
Also the solace of an overcharge.

But these are trifles. Downward flies my lord,
Nodding beside my lady in his carriage.
Away! away! 'Fresh horses!' are the word,
And changed as quickly as hearts after marriage;
The obsequious landlord hath the change restored;
The postboys have no reason to disparage
Their fee; but ere the water'd wheels may hiss hence,
The ostler pleads too for a reminiscence.

'Tis granted; and the valet mounts the dickey -
That gentleman of lords and gentlemen;
Also my lady's gentlewoman, tricky,
Trick'd out, but modest more than poet's pen
Can paint,- 'Cosi viaggino i Ricchi!'
(Excuse a foreign slipslop now and then,
If but to show I've travell'd; and what's travel,
Unless it teaches one to quote and cavil?)

The London winter and the country summer
Were well nigh over. 'Tis perhaps a pity,
When nature wears the gown that doth become her,
To lose those best months in a sweaty city,
And wait until the nightingale grows dumber,
Listening debates not very wise or witty,
Ere patriots their true country can remember;-
But there 's no shooting (save grouse) till September.

I've done with my tirade. The world was gone;
The twice two thousand, for whom earth was made,
Were vanish'd to be what they call alone -
That is, with thirty servants for parade,
As many guests, or more; before whom groan
As many covers, duly, daily, laid.
Let none accuse Old England's hospitality -
Its quantity is but condensed to quality.

Lord Henry and the Lady Adeline
Departed like the rest of their compeers,
The peerage, to a mansion very fine;
The Gothic Babel of a thousand years.
None than themselves could boast a longer line,
Where time through heroes and through beauties steers;
And oaks as olden as their pedigree
Told of their sires, a tomb in every tree.

A paragraph in every paper told
Of their departure: such is modern fame:
'Tis pity that it takes no farther hold
Than an advertisement, or much the same;
When, ere the ink be dry, the sound grows cold.
The Morning Post was foremost to proclaim -
'Departure, for his country seat, to-day,
Lord H. Amundeville and Lady A.

'We understand the splendid host intends
To entertain, this autumn, a select
And numerous party of his noble friends;
'Midst whom we have heard, from sources quite correct,
With many more by rank and fashion deck'd;
Also a foreigner of high condition,
The envoy of the secret Russian mission.'

And thus we see - who doubts the Morning Post?
(Whose articles are like the 'Thirty -nine,'
Which those most swear to who believe them most)-
Our gay Russ Spaniard was ordain'd to shine,
Deck'd by the rays reflected from his host,
With those who, Pope says, 'greatly daring dine.'
'T is odd, but true,--last war the News abounded
More with these dinners than the kill'd or wounded;-

As thus: 'On Thursday there was a grand dinner;
Present, Lords A. B. C.'- Earls, dukes, by name
Announced with no less pomp than victory's winner:
Then underneath, and in the very same
Column; date, 'Falmouth. There has lately been here
The Slap-dash regiment, so well known to fame,
Whose loss in the late action we regret:
The vacancies are fill'd up - see Gazette.'

To Norman Abbey whirl'd the noble pair,-
An old, old monastery once, and now
Still older mansion; of a rich and rare
Mix'd Gothic, such as artists all allow
Few specimens yet left us can compare
Withal: it lies perhaps a little low,
Because the monks preferr'd a hill behind,
To shelter their devotion from the wind.

It stood embosom'd in a happy valley,
Crown'd by high woodlands, where the Druid oak
Stood like Caractacus in act to rally
His host, with broad arms 'gainst the thunderstroke;
And from beneath his boughs were seen to sally
The dappled foresters - as day awoke,
The branching stag swept down with all his herd,
To quaff a brook which murmur'd like a bird.

Before the mansion lay a lucid lake,
Broad as transparent, deep, and freshly fed
By a river, which its soften'd way did take
In currents through the calmer water spread
Around: the wildfowl nestled in the brake
And sedges, brooding in their liquid bed:
The woods sloped downwards to its brink, and stood
With their green faces fix'd upon the flood.

Its outlet dash'd into a deep cascade,
Sparkling with foam, until again subsiding,
Its shriller echoes - like an infant made
Quiet - sank into softer ripples, gliding
Into a rivulet; and thus allay'd,
Pursued its course, now gleaming, and now hiding
Its windings through the woods; now clear, now blue,
According as the skies their shadows threw.

A glorious remnant of the Gothic pile
(While yet the church was Rome's) stood half apart
In a grand arch, which once screen'd many an aisle.
These last had disappear'd - a loss to art:
The first yet frown'd superbly o'er the soil,
And kindled feelings in the roughest heart,
Which mourn'd the power of time's or tempest's march,
In gazing on that venerable arch.

Within a niche, nigh to its pinnacle,
Twelve saints had once stood sanctified in stone;
But these had fallen, not when the friars fell,
But in the war which struck Charles from his throne,
When each house was a fortalice, as tell
The annals of full many a line undone,-
The gallant cavaliers, who fought in vain
For those who knew not to resign or reign.

But in a higher niche, alone, but crowned,
The Virgin Mother of the God -born Child,
With her Son in her blessed arms, look'd round,
Spared by some chance when all beside was spoil'd;
She made the earth below seem holy ground.
This may be superstition, weak or wild,
But even the faintest relics of a shrine
Of any worship wake some thoughts divine.

A mighty window, hollow in the centre,
Shorn of its glass of thousand colourings,
Through which the deepen'd glories once could enter,
Streaming from off the sun like seraph's wings,
Now yawns all desolate: now loud, now fainter,
The gale sweeps through its fretwork, and oft sings
The owl his anthem, where the silenced quire
Lie with their hallelujahs quench'd like fire.

But in the noontide of the moon, and when
The wind is winged from one point of heaven,
There moans a strange unearthly sound, which then
Is musical - a dying accent driven
Through the huge arch, which soars and sinks again.
Some deem it but the distant echo given
Back to the night wind by the waterfall,
And harmonised by the old choral wall:

Others, that some original shape, or form
Shaped by decay perchance, hath given the power
(Though less than that of Memnon's statue, warm
In Egypt's rays, to harp at a fix'd hour)
To this grey ruin, with a voice to charm.
Sad, but serene, it sweeps o'er tree or tower;
The cause I know not, nor can solve; but such
The fact:- I 've heard it - once perhaps too much.

Amidst the court a Gothic fountain play'd,
Symmetrical, but deck'd with carvings quaint -
Strange faces, like to men in masquerade,
And here perhaps a monster, there a saint:
The spring gush'd through grim mouths of granite made,
And sparkled into basins, where it spent
Its little torrent in a thousand bubbles,
Like man's vain glory, and his vainer troubles.

The mansion's self was vast and venerable,
With more of the monastic than has been
Elsewhere preserved: the cloisters still were stable,
The cells, too, and refectory, I ween:
An exquisite small chapel had been able,
Still unimpair'd, to decorate the scene;
The rest had been reform'd, replaced, or sunk,
And spoke more of the baron than the monk.

Huge halls, long galleries, spacious chambers, join'd
By no quite lawful marriage of the arts,
Might shock a connoisseur; but when combined,
Form'd a whole which, irregular in parts,
Yet left a grand impression on the mind,
At least of those whose eyes are in their hearts:
We gaze upon a giant for his stature,
Nor judge at first if all be true to nature.

Steel barons, molten the next generation
To silken rows of gay and garter'd earls,
Glanced from the walls in goodly preservation;
And Lady Marys blooming into girls,
With fair long locks, had also kept their station;
And countesses mature in robes and pearls:
Also some beauties of Sir Peter Lely,
Whose drapery hints we may admire them freely.

Judges in very formidable ermine
Were there, with brows that did not much invite
The accused to think their lordships would determine
His cause by leaning much from might to right:
Bishops, who had not left a single sermon:
Attorneys -general, awful to the sight,
As hinting more (unless our judgments warp us)
Of the 'Star Chamber' than of 'Habeas Corpus.'

Generals, some all in armour, of the old
And iron time, ere lead had ta'en the lead;
Others in wigs of Marlborough's martial fold,
Huger than twelve of our degenerate breed:
Lordlings, with staves of white or keys of gold:
Nimrods, whose canvass scarce contain'd the steed;
And here and there some stern high patriot stood,
Who could not get the place for which he sued.

But ever and anon, to soothe your vision,
Fatigued with these hereditary glories,
There rose a Carlo Dolce or a Titian,
Or wilder group of savage Salvatore's;
Here danced Albano's boys, and here the sea shone
In Vernet's ocean lights; and there the stories
Of martyrs awed, as Spagnoletto tainted
His brush with all the blood of all the sainted.

Here sweetly spread a landscape of Lorraine;
There Rembrandt made his darkness equal light,
Or gloomy Caravaggio's gloomier stain
Bronzed o'er some lean and stoic anchorite:-
But, lo! a Teniers woos, and not in vain,
Your eyes to revel in a livelier sight:
His bell -mouth'd goblet makes me feel quite Danish
Or Dutch with thirst - What, ho! a flask of Rhenish.

O reader! if that thou canst read,- and know,
'T is not enough to spell, or even to read,
To constitute a reader; there must go
Virtues of which both you and I have need;-
Firstly, begin with the beginning (though
That clause is hard); and secondly, proceed;
Thirdly, commence not with the end - or, sinning
In this sort, end at least with the beginning.

But, reader, thou hast patient been of late,
While I, without remorse of rhyme, or fear,
Have built and laid out ground at such a rate,
Dan Phoebus takes me for an auctioneer.
That poets were so from their earliest date,
By Homer's 'Catalogue of ships' is clear;
But a mere modern must be moderate -
I spare you then the furniture and plate.

The mellow autumn came, and with it came
The promised party, to enjoy its sweets.
The corn is cut, the manor full of game;
The pointer ranges, and the sportsman beats
In russet jacket:- lynx -like is his aim;
Full grows his bag, and wonderful his feats.
Ah, nut -brown partridges! Ah, brilliant pheasants!
And ah, ye poachers!- 'T is no sport for peasants.

An English autumn, though it hath no vines,
Blushing with Bacchant coronals along
The paths, o'er which the far festoon entwines
The red grape in the sunny lands of song,
Hath yet a purchased choice of choicest wines;
The claret light, and the Madeira strong.
If Britain mourn her bleakness, we can tell her,
The very best of vineyards is the cellar.

Then, if she hath not that serene decline
Which makes the southern autumn's day appear
As if 't would to a second spring resign
The season, rather than to winter drear,
Of in -door comforts still she hath a mine,-
The sea -coal fires the 'earliest of the year;'
Without doors, too, she may compete in mellow,
As what is lost in green is gain'd in yellow.

And for the effeminate villeggiatura -
Rife with more horns than hounds - she hath the chase,
So animated that it might allure
Saint from his beads to join the jocund race;
Even Nimrod's self might leave the plains of Dura,
And wear the Melton jacket for a space:
If she hath no wild boars, she hath a tame
Preserve of bores, who ought to be made game.

The noble guests, assembled at the Abbey,
Consisted of - we give the sex the pas -
The Duchess of Fitz -Fulke; the Countess Crabby;
The Ladies Scilly, Busey;- Miss Eclat,
Miss Bombazeen, Miss Mackstay, Miss O'Tabby,
And Mrs. Rabbi, the rich banker's squaw;
Also the honourable Mrs. Sleep,
Who look'd a white lamb, yet was a black sheep:

With other Countesses of Blank - but rank;
At once the 'lie' and the 'elite' of crowds;
Who pass like water filter'd in a tank,
All purged and pious from their native clouds;
Or paper turn'd to money by the Bank:
No matter how or why, the passport shrouds
The 'passee' and the past; for good society
Is no less famed for tolerance than piety,-

That is, up to a certain point; which point
Forms the most difficult in punctuation.
Appearances appear to form the joint
On which it hinges in a higher station;
And so that no explosion cry 'Aroint
Thee, witch!' or each Medea has her Jason;
Or (to the point with Horace and with Pulci)
'Omne tulit punctum, quae miscuit utile dulci.'

I can't exactly trace their rule of right,
Which hath a little leaning to a lottery.
I 've seen a virtuous woman put down quite
By the mere combination of a coterie;
Also a so -so matron boldly fight
Her way back to the world by dint of plottery,
And shine the very Siria of the spheres,
Escaping with a few slight, scarless sneers.

I have seen more than I 'll say:- but we will see
How our villeggiatura will get on.
The party might consist of thirty -three
Of highest caste - the Brahmins of the ton.
I have named a few, not foremost in degree,
But ta'en at hazard as the rhyme may run.
By way of sprinkling, scatter'd amongst these,
There also were some Irish absentees.

There was Parolles, too, the legal bully,
Who limits all his battles to the bar
And senate: when invited elsewhere, truly,
He shows more appetite for words than war.
There was the young bard Rackrhyme, who had newly
Come out and glimmer'd as a six weeks' star.
There was Lord Pyrrho, too, the great freethinker;
And Sir John Pottledeep, the mighty drinker.

There was the Duke of Dash, who was a - duke,
'Ay, every inch a' duke; there were twelve peers
Like Charlemagne's - and all such peers in look
And intellect, that neither eyes nor ears
For commoners had ever them mistook.
There were the six Miss Rawbolds - pretty dears!
All song and sentiment; whose hearts were set
Less on a convent than a coronet.

There were four Honourable Misters, whose
Honour was more before their names than after;
There was the preux Chevalier de la Ruse,
Whom France and Fortune lately deign'd to waft here,
Whose chiefly harmless talent was to amuse;
But the clubs found it rather serious laughter,
Because - such was his magic power to please -
The dice seem'd charm'd, too, with his repartees.

There was Dick Dubious, the metaphysician,
Who loved philosophy and a good dinner;
Angle, the soi -disant mathematician;
Sir Henry Silvercup, the great race -winner.
There was the Reverend Rodomont Precisian,
Who did not hate so much the sin as sinner;
And Lord Augustus Fitz -Plantagenet,
Good at all things, but better at a bet.

There was jack jargon, the gigantic guardsman;
And General Fireface, famous in the field,
A great tactician, and no less a swordsman,
Who ate, last war, more Yankees than he kill'd.
There was the waggish Welsh Judge, Jefferies Hardsman,
In his grave office so completely skill'd,
That when a culprit came far condemnation,
He had his judge's joke for consolation.

Good company 's a chess -board - there are kings,
Queens, bishops, knights, rooks, pawns; the world 's a game;
Save that the puppets pull at their own strings,
Methinks gay Punch hath something of the same.
My Muse, the butterfly hath but her wings,
Not stings, and flits through ether without aim,
Alighting rarely:- were she but a hornet,
Perhaps there might be vices which would mourn it.

I had forgotten - but must not forget -
An orator, the latest of the session,
Who had deliver'd well a very set
Smooth speech, his first and maidenly transgression
Upon debate: the papers echoed yet
With his debut, which made a strong impression,
And rank'd with what is every day display'd -
'The best first speech that ever yet was made.'

Proud of his 'Hear hims!' proud, too, of his vote
And lost virginity of oratory,
Proud of his learning (just enough to quote),
He revell'd in his Ciceronian glory:
With memory excellent to get by rote,
With wit to hatch a pun or tell a story,
Graced with some merit, and with more effrontery,
'His country's pride,' he came down to the country.

There also were two wits by acclamation,
Longbow from Ireland, Strongbow from the Tweed,
Both lawyers and both men of education;
But Strongbow's wit was of more polish'd breed:
Longbow was rich in an imagination
As beautiful and bounding as a steed,
But sometimes stumbling over a potato,-
While Strongbow's best things might have come from Cato.

Strongbow was like a new -tuned harpsichord;
But Longbow wild as an AEolian harp,
With which the winds of heaven can claim accord,
And make a music, whether flat or sharp.
Of Strongbow's talk you would not change a word:
At Longbow's phrases you might sometimes carp:
Both wits - one born so, and the other bred -
This by his heart, his rival by his head.

If all these seem a heterogeneous mas
To be assembled at a country seat,
Yet think, a specimen of every class
Is better than a humdrum tete -a -tete.
The days of Comedy are gone, alas!
When Congreve's fool could vie with Moliere's bete:
Society is smooth'd to that excess,
That manners hardly differ more than dress.

Our ridicules are kept in the back -ground -
Ridiculous enough, but also dull;
Professions, too, are no more to be found
Professional; and there is nought to cull
Of folly's fruit; for though your fools abound,
They're barren, and not worth the pains to pull.
Society is now one polish'd horde,
Form'd of two mighty tribes, the Bores and Bored.

But from being farmers, we turn gleaners, gleaning
The scanty but right -well thresh'd ears of truth;
And, gentle reader! when you gather meaning,
You may be Boaz, and I - modest Ruth.
Farther I 'd quote, but Scripture intervening
Forbids. it great impression in my youth
Was made by Mrs. Adams, where she cries,
'That Scriptures out of church are blasphemies.'

But what we can we glean in this vile age
Of chaff, although our gleanings be not grist.
I must not quite omit the talking sage,
Kit -Cat, the famous Conversationist,
Who, in his common -place book, had a page
Prepared each morn for evenings. 'List, oh, list!'-
'Alas, poor ghost!'- What unexpected woes
Await those who have studied their bon -mots!

Firstly, they must allure the conversation
By many windings to their clever clinch;
And secondly, must let slip no occasion,
Nor bate (abate) their hearers of an inch,
But take an ell - and make a great sensation,
If possible; and thirdly, never flinch
When some smart talker puts them to the test,
But seize the last word, which no doubt 's the best.

Lord Henry and his lady were the hosts;
The party we have touch'd on were the guests:
Their table was a board to tempt even ghosts
To pass the Styx for more substantial feasts.
I will not dwell upon ragouts or roasts,
Albeit all human history attests
That happiness for man - the hungry sinner!-
Since Eve ate apples, much depends on dinner.

Witness the lands which 'flow'd with milk and honey,'
Held out unto the hungry Israelites;
To this we have added since, the love of money,
The only sort of pleasure which requites.
Youth fades, and leaves our days no longer sunny;
We tire of mistresses and parasites;
But oh, ambrosial cash! Ah! who would lose thee?
When we no more can use, or even abuse thee!

The gentlemen got up betimes to shoot,
Or hunt: the young, because they liked the sport -
The first thing boys like after play and fruit;
The middle -aged to make the day more short;
For ennui is a growth of English root,
Though nameless in our language:- we retort
The fact for words, and let the French translate
That awful yawn which sleep can not abate.

The elderly walk'd through the library,
And tumbled books, or criticised the pictures,
Or saunter'd through the gardens piteously,
And made upon the hot -house several strictures,
Or rode a nag which trotted not too high,
Or on the morning papers read their lectures,
Or on the watch their longing eyes would fix,
Longing at sixty for the hour of six.

But none were 'gene:' the great hour of union
Was rung by dinner's knell; till then all were
Masters of their own time - or in communion,
Or solitary, as they chose to bear
The hours, which how to pass is but to few known.
Each rose up at his own, and had to spare
What time he chose for dress, and broke his fast
When, where, and how he chose for that repast.

The ladies - some rouged, some a little pale -
Met the morn as they might. If fine, they rode,
Or walk'd; if foul, they read, or told a tale,
Sung, or rehearsed the last dance from abroad;
Discuss'd the fashion which might next prevail,
And settled bonnets by the newest code,
Or cramm'd twelve sheets into one little letter,
To make each correspondent a new debtor.

For some had absent lovers, all had friends.
The earth has nothing like a she epistle,
And hardly heaven - because it never ends.
I love the mystery of a female missal,
Which, like a creed, ne'er says all it intends,
But full of cunning as Ulysses' whistle,
When he allured poor Dolon:- you had better
Take care what you reply to such a letter.

Then there were billiards; cards, too, but no dice;-
Save in the clubs no man of honour plays;-
Boats when 't was water, skating when 't was ice,
And the hard frost destroy'd the scenting days:
And angling, too, that solitary vice,
Whatever Izaak Walton sings or says;
The quaint, old, cruel coxcomb, in his gullet
Should have a hook, and a small trout to pull it.

With evening came the banquet and the wine;
The conversazione; the duet,
Attuned by voices more or less divine
(My heart or head aches with the memory yet).
The four Miss Rawbolds in a glee would shine;
But the two youngest loved more to be set
Down to the harp - because to music's charms
They added graceful necks, white hands and arms.

Sometimes a dance (though rarely on field days,
For then the gentlemen were rather tired)
Display'd some sylph -like figures in its maze;
Then there was small -talk ready when required;
Flirtation - but decorous; the mere praise
Of charms that should or should not be admired.
The hunters fought their fox -hunt o'er again,
And then retreated soberly - at ten.

The politicians, in a nook apart,
Discuss'd the world, and settled all the spheres;
The wits watch'd every loophole for their art,
To introduce a bon -mot head and ears;
Small is the rest of those who would be smart,
A moment's good thing may have cost them years
Before they find an hour to introduce it;
And then, even then, some bore may make them lose it.

But all was gentle and aristocratic
In this our party; polish'd, smooth, and cold,
As Phidian forms cut out of marble Attic.
There now are no Squire Westerns as of old;
And our Sophias are not so emphatic,
But fair as then, or fairer to behold.
We have no accomplish'd blackguards, like Tom Jones,
But gentlemen in stays, as stiff as stones.

They separated at an early hour;
That is, ere midnight - which is London's noon:
But in the country ladies seek their bower
A little earlier than the waning moon.
Peace to the slumbers of each folded flower -
May the rose call back its true colour soon!
Good hours of fair cheeks are the fairest tinters,
And lower the price of rouge - at least some winters.

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Byron

Canto the Thirteenth

I
I now mean to be serious; -- it is time,
Since laughter now-a-days is deem'd too serious.
A jest at Vice by Virtue's call'd a crime,
And critically held as deleterious:
Besides, the sad's a source of the sublime,
Although when long a little apt to weary us;
And therefore shall my lay soar high and solemn,
As an old temple dwindled to a column.

II
The Lady Adeline Amundeville
('T is an old Norman name, and to be found
In pedigrees, by those who wander still
Along the last fields of that Gothic ground)
Was high-born, wealthy by her father's will,
And beauteous, even where beauties most abound,
In Britain -- which of course true patriots find
The goodliest soil of body and of mind.

III
I'll not gainsay them; it is not my cue;
I'll leave them to their taste, no doubt the best:
An eye's an eye, and whether black or blue,
Is no great matter, so 't is in request,
'T is nonsense to dispute about a hue --
The kindest may be taken as a test.
The fair sex should be always fair; and no man,
Till thirty, should perceive there's a plain woman.

IV
And after that serene and somewhat dull
Epoch, that awkward corner turn'd for days
More quiet, when our moon's no more at full,
We may presume to criticise or praise;
Because indifference begins to lull
Our passions, and we walk in wisdom's ways;
Also because the figure and the face
Hint, that 't is time to give the younger place.

V
I know that some would fain postpone this era,
Reluctant as all placemen to resign
Their post; but theirs is merely a chimera,
For they have pass'd life's equinoctial line:
But then they have their claret and Madeira
To irrigate the dryness of decline;
And county meetings, and the parliament,
And debt, and what not, for their solace sent.

VI
And is there not religion, and reform,
Peace, war, the taxes, and what's call'd the "Nation"?
The struggle to be pilots in a storm?
The landed and the monied speculation?
The joys of mutual hate to keep them warm,
Instead of love, that mere hallucination?
Now hatred is by far the longest pleasure;
Men love in haste, but they detest at leisure.

VII
Rough Johnson, the great moralist, profess'd,
Right honestly, "he liked an honest hater!" --
The only truth that yet has been confest
Within these latest thousand years or later.
Perhaps the fine old fellow spoke in jest: --
For my part, I am but a mere spectator,
And gaze where'er the palace or the hovel is,
Much in the mode of Goethe's Mephistopheles;

VIII
But neither love nor hate in much excess;
Though 't was not once so. If I sneer sometimes,
It is because I cannot well do less,
And now and then it also suits my rhymes.
I should be very willing to redress
Men's wrongs, and rather check than punish crimes,
Had not Cervantes, in that too true tale
Of Quixote, shown how all such efforts fail.

IX
Of all tales 't is the saddest -- and more sad,
Because it makes us smile: his hero's right,
And still pursues the right; -- to curb the bad
His only object, and 'gainst odds to fight
His guerdon: 't is his virtue makes him mad!
But his adventures form a sorry sight;
A sorrier still is the great moral taught
By that real epic unto all who have thought.

X
Redressing injury, revenging wrong,
To aid the damsel and destroy the caitiff;
Opposing singly the united strong,
From foreign yoke to free the helpless native: --
Alas! must noblest views, like an old song,
Be for mere fancy's sport a theme creative,
A jest, a riddle, Fame through thin and thick sought!
And Socrates himself but Wisdom's Quixote?

XI
Cervantes smiled Spain's chivalry away;
A single laugh demolish'd the right arm
Of his own country; -- seldom since that day
Has Spain had heroes. While Romance could charm,
The world gave ground before her bright array;
And therefore have his volumes done such harm,
That all their glory, as a composition,
Was dearly purchased by his land's perdition.

XII
I'm "at my old lunes" -- digression, and forget
The Lady Adeline Amundeville;
The fair most fatal Juan ever met,
Although she was not evil nor meant ill;
But Destiny and Passion spread the net
(Fate is a good excuse for our own will),
And caught them; -- what do they not catch, methinks?
But I'm not Oedipus, and life's a Sphinx.

XIII
I tell the tale as it is told, nor dare
To venture a solution: "Davus sum!"
And now I will proceed upon the pair.
Sweet Adeline, amidst the gay world's hum,
Was the Queen-Bee, the glass of all that's fair;
Whose charms made all men speak, and women dumb.
The last's a miracle, and such was reckon'd,
And since that time there has not been a second.

XIV
Chaste was she, to detraction's desperation,
And wedded unto one she had loved well --
A man known in the councils of the nation,
Cool, and quite English, imperturbable,
Though apt to act with fire upon occasion,
Proud of himself and her: the world could tell
Nought against either, and both seem'd secure --
She in her virtue, he in his hauteur.

XV
It chanced some diplomatical relations,
Arising out of business, often brought
Himself and Juan in their mutual stations
Into close contact. Though reserved, nor caught
By specious seeming, Juan's youth, and patience,
And talent, on his haughty spirit wrought,
And form'd a basis of esteem, which ends
In making men what courtesy calls friends.

XVI
And thus Lord Henry, who was cautious as
Reserve and pride could make him, and full slow
In judging men -- when once his judgment was
Determined, right or wrong, on friend or foe,
Had all the pertinacity pride has,
Which knows no ebb to its imperious flow,
And loves or hates, disdaining to be guided,
Because its own good pleasure hath decided.

XVII
His friendships, therefore, and no less aversions,
Though oft well founded, which confirm'd but more
His prepossessions, like the laws of Persians
And Medes, would ne'er revoke what went before.
His feelings had not those strange fits, like tertians,
Of common likings, which make some deplore
What they should laugh at -- the mere ague still
Of men's regard, the fever or the chill.

XVIII
"'T is not in mortals to command success:
But do you more, Sempronius -- don't deserve it,"
And take my word, you won't have any less.
Be wary, watch the time, and always serve it;
Give gently way, when there's too great a press;
And for your conscience, only learn to nerve it,
For, like a racer, or a boxer training,
'T will make, if proved, vast efforts without paining.

XIX
Lord Henry also liked to be superior,
As most men do, the little or the great;
The very lowest find out an inferior,
At least they think so, to exert their state
Upon: for there are very few things wearier
Than solitary Pride's oppressive weight,
Which mortals generously would divide,
By bidding others carry while they ride.

XX
In birth, in rank, in fortune likewise equal,
O'er Juan he could no distinction claim;
In years he had the advantage of time's sequel;
And, as he thought, in country much the same --
Because bold Britons have a tongue and free quill,
At which all modern nations vainly aim;
And the Lord Henry was a great debater,
So that few members kept the house up later.

XXI
These were advantages: and then he thought --
It was his foible, but by no means sinister --
That few or none more than himself had caught
Court mysteries, having been himself a minister:
He liked to teach that which he had been taught,
And greatly shone whenever there had been a stir;
And reconciled all qualities which grace man,
Always a patriot, and sometimes a placeman.

XXII
He liked the gentle Spaniard for his gravity;
He almost honour'd him for his docility;
Because, though young, he acquiesced with suavity,
Or contradicted but with proud humility.
He knew the world, and would not see depravity
In faults which sometimes show the soil's fertility,
If that the weeds o'erlive not the first crop --
For then they are very difficult to stop.

XXIII
And then he talk'd with him about Madrid,
Constantinople, and such distant places;
Where people always did as they were bid,
Or did what they should not with foreign graces.
Of coursers also spake they: Henry rid
Well, like most Englishmen, and loved the races;
And Juan, like a true-born Andalusian,
Could back a horse, as despots ride a Russian.

XXIV
And thus acquaintance grew, at noble routs,
And diplomatic dinners, or at other --
For Juan stood well both with Ins and Outs,
As in freemasonry a higher brother.
Upon his talent Henry had no doubts;
His manner show'd him sprung from a high mother;
And all men like to show their hospitality
To him whose breeding matches with his quality.

XXV
At Blank-Blank Square; -- for we will break no squares
By naming streets: since men are so censorious,
And apt to sow an author's wheat with tares,
Reaping allusions private and inglorious,
Where none were dreamt of, unto love's affairs,
Which were, or are, or are to be notorious,
That therefore do I previously declare,
Lord Henry's mansion was in Blank-Blank Square.

XXVI
Also there bin another pious reason
For making squares and streets anonymous;
Which is, that there is scarce a single season
Which doth not shake some very splendid house
With some slight heart-quake of domestic treason --
A topic scandal doth delight to rouse:
Such I might stumble over unawares,
Unless I knew the very chastest squares.

XXVII
'T is true, I might have chosen Piccadilly,
A place where peccadillos are unknown;
But I have motives, whether wise or silly,
For letting that pure sanctuary alone.
Therefore I name not square, street, place, until I
Find one where nothing naughty can be shown,
A vestal shrine of innocence of heart:
Such are -- but I have lost the London Chart.

XXVIII
At Henry's mansion then, in Blank-Blank Square,
Was Juan a recherchè, welcome guest,
As many other noble scions were;
And some who had but talent for their crest;
Or wealth, which is a passport every where;
Or even mere fashion, which indeed's the best
Recommendation; and to be well drest
Will very often supersede the rest.

XXIX
And since "there's safety in a multitude
Of counsellors," as Solomon has said,
Or some one for him, in some sage, grave mood; --
Indeed we see the daily proof display'd
In senates, at the bar, in wordy feud,
Where'er collective wisdom can parade,
Which is the only cause that we can guess
Of Britain's present wealth and happiness; --

XXX
But as "there's safety" grafted in the number
"Of counsellors" for men, thus for the sex
A large acquaintance lets not Virtue slumber;
Or should it shake, the choice will more perplex --
Variety itself will more encumber.
'Midst many rocks we guard more against wrecks;
And thus with women: howsoe'er it shocks some's
Self-love, there's safety in a crowd of coxcombs.

XXXI
But Adeline had not the least occasion
For such a shield, which leaves but little merit
To virtue proper, or good education.
Her chief resource was in her own high spirit,
Which judged mankind at their due estimation;
And for coquetry, she disdain'd to wear it:
Secure of admiration, its impression
Was faint, as of an every-day possession.

XXXII
To all she was polite without parade;
To some she show'd attention of that kind
Which flatters, but is flattery convey'd
In such a sort as cannot leave behind
A trace unworthy either wife or maid; --
A gentle, genial courtesy of mind,
To those who were, or pass'd for meritorious,
Just to console sad glory for being glorious;

XXXIII
Which is in all respects, save now and then,
A dull and desolate appendage. Gaze
Upon the shades of those distinguish'd men
Who were or are the puppet-shows of praise,
The praise of persecution; gaze again
On the most favour'd; and amidst the blaze
Of sunset halos o'er the laurel-brow'd,
What can ye recognise? -- a gilded cloud.

XXXIV
There also was of course in Adeline
That calm patrician polish in the address,
Which ne'er can pass the equinoctial line
Of any thing which nature would express;
Just as a mandarin finds nothing fine, --
At least his manner suffers not to guess
That any thing he views can greatly please.
Perhaps we have borrow'd this from the Chinese --

XXXV
Perhaps from Horace: his "Nil admirari"
Was what he call'd the "Art of Happiness;"
An art on which the artists greatly vary,
And have not yet attain'd to much success.
However, 't is expedient to be wary:
Indifference certes don't produce distress;
And rash enthusiasm in good society
Were nothing but a moral inebriety.

XXXVI
But Adeline was not indifferent: for
(Now for a common-place!) beneath the snow,
As a volcano holds the lava more
Within -- et cætera. Shall I go on? -- No!
I hate to hunt down a tired metaphor,
So let the often-used volcano go.
Poor thing! How frequently, by me and others,
It hath been stirr'd up till its smoke quite smothers!

XXXVII
I'll have another figure in a trice: --
What say you to a bottle of champagne?
Frozen into a very vinous ice,
Which leaves few drops of that immortal rain,
Yet in the very centre, past all price,
About a liquid glassful will remain;
And this is stronger than the strongest grape
Could e'er express in its expanded shape:

XXXVIII
'T is the whole spirit brought to a quintessence;
And thus the chilliest aspects may concentre
A hidden nectar under a cold presence.
And such are many -- though I only meant her
From whom I now deduce these moral lessons,
On which the Muse has always sought to enter.
And your cold people are beyond all price,
When once you have broken their confounded ice.

XXXIX
But after all they are a North-West Passage
Unto the glowing India of the soul;
And as the good ships sent upon that message
Have not exactly ascertain'd the Pole
(Though Parry's efforts look a lucky presage),
Thus gentlemen may run upon a shoal;
For if the Pole's not open, but all frost
(A chance still), 't is a voyage or vessel lost.

XL
And young beginners may as well commence
With quiet cruising o'er the ocean woman;
While those who are not beginners should have sense
Enough to make for port, ere time shall summon
With his grey signal-flag; and the past tense,
The dreary "Fuimus" of all things human,
Must be declined, while life's thin thread's spun out
Between the gaping heir and gnawing gout.

XLI
But heaven must be diverted; its diversion
Is sometimes truculent -- but never mind:
The world upon the whole is worth the assertion
(If but for comfort) that all things are kind:
And that same devilish doctrine of the Persian,
Of the two principles, but leaves behind
As many doubts as any other doctrine
Has ever puzzled Faith withal, or yoked her in.

XLII
The English winter -- ending in July,
To recommence in August -- now was done.
'T is the postilion's paradise: wheels fly;
On roads, east, south, north, west, there is a run.
But for post-horses who finds sympathy?
Man's pity's for himself, or for his son,
Always premising that said son at college
Has not contracted much more debt than knowledge.

XLIII
The London winter's ended in July --
Sometimes a little later. I don't err
In this: whatever other blunders lie
Upon my shoulders, here I must aver
My Muse a glass of Weatherology;
For parliament is our barometer:
Let radicals its other acts attack,
Its sessions form our only almanack.

XLIV
When its quicksilver's down at zero, -- lo
Coach, chariot, luggage, baggage, equipage!
Wheels whirl from Carlton palace to Soho,
And happiest they who horses can engage;
The turnpikes glow with dust; and Rotten Row
Sleeps from the chivalry of this bright age;
And tradesmen, with long bills and longer faces,
Sigh -- as the postboys fasten on the traces.

XLV
They and their bills, "Arcadians both," are left
To the Greek kalends of another session.
Alas! to them of ready cash bereft,
What hope remains? Of hope the full possession,
Or generous draft, conceded as a gift,
At a long date -- till they can get a fresh one --
Hawk'd about at a discount, small or large;
Also the solace of an overcharge.

XLVI
But these are trifles. Downward flies my lord,
Nodding beside my lady in his carriage.
Away! away! "Fresh horses!" are the word,
And changed as quickly as hearts after marriage;
The obsequious landlord hath the change restored;
The postboys have no reason to disparage
Their fee; but ere the water'd wheels may hiss hence,
The ostler pleads too for a reminiscence.

XLVII
'T is granted; and the valet mounts the dickey --
That gentleman of lords and gentlemen;
Also my lady's gentlewoman, tricky,
Trick'd out, but modest more than poet's pen
Can paint, -- "Cosi viaggino i Ricchi!"
(Excuse a foreign slipslop now and then,
If but to show I've travell'd; and what's travel,
Unless it teaches one to quote and cavil?)

XLVIII
The London winter and the country summer
Were well nigh over. 'T is perhaps a pity,
When nature wears the gown that doth become her,
To lose those best months in a sweaty city,
And wait until the nightingale grows dumber,
Listening debates not very wise or witty,
Ere patriots their true country can remember; --
But there's no shooting (save grouse) till September.

XLIX
I've done with my tirade. The world was gone;
The twice two thousand, for whom earth was made,
Were vanish'd to be what they call alone --
That is, with thirty servants for parade,
As many guests, or more; before whom groan
As many covers, duly, daily, laid.
Let none accuse Old England's hospitality --
Its quantity is but condensed to quality.

L
Lord Henry and the Lady Adeline
Departed like the rest of their compeers,
The peerage, to a mansion very fine;
The Gothic Babel of a thousand years.
None than themselves could boast a longer line,
Where time through heroes and through beauties steers;
And oaks as olden as their pedigree
Told of their sires, a tomb in every tree.

LI
A paragraph in every paper told
Of their departure: such is modern fame:
'T is pity that it takes no farther hold
Than an advertisement, or much the same;
When, ere the ink be dry, the sound grows cold.
The Morning Post was foremost to proclaim --
"Departure, for his country seat, to-day,
Lord H. Amundeville and Lady A.

LII
"We understand the splendid host intends
To entertain, this autumn, a select
And numerous party of his noble friends;
'Midst whom we have heard, from sources quite correct,
The Duke of D--- the shooting season spends,
With many more by rank and fashion deck'd;
Also a foreigner of high condition,
The envoy of the secret Russian mission."

LIII
And thus we see -- who doubts the Morning Post?
(Whose articles are like the "Thirty-nine,"
Which those most swear to who believe them most) --
Our gay Russ Spaniard was ordain'd to shine,
Deck'd by the rays reflected from his host,
With those who, Pope says, "greatly daring dine."
'T is odd, but true, -- last war the News abounded
More with these dinners than the kill'd or wounded; --

LIV
As thus: "On Thursday there was a grand dinner;
Present, Lords A. B. C." -- Earls, dukes, by name
Announced with no less pomp than victory's winner:
Then underneath, and in the very same
Column; date, "Falmouth. There has lately been here
The Slap-dash regiment, so well known to fame,
Whose loss in the late action we regret:
The vacancies are fill'd up -- see Gazette."

LV
To Norman Abbey whirl'd the noble pair, --
An old, old monastery once, and now
Still older mansion; of a rich and rare
Mix'd Gothic, such as artists all allow
Few specimens yet left us can compare
Withal: it lies perhaps a little low,
Because the monks preferr'd a hill behind,
To shelter their devotion from the wind.

LVI
It stood embosom'd in a happy valley,
Crown'd by high woodlands, where the Druid oak
Stood like Caractacus in act to rally
His host, with broad arms 'gainst the thunderstroke;
And from beneath his boughs were seen to sally
The dappled foresters -- as day awoke,
The branching stag swept down with all his herd,
To quaff a brook which murmur'd like a bird.

LVII
Before the mansion lay a lucid lake,
Broad as transparent, deep, and freshly fed
By a river, which its soften'd way did take
In currents through the calmer water spread
Around: the wildfowl nestled in the brake
And sedges, brooding in their liquid bed:
The woods sloped downwards to its brink, and stood
With their green faces fix'd upon the flood.

LVIII
Its outlet dash'd into a deep cascade,
Sparkling with foam, until again subsiding,
Its shriller echoes -- like an infant made
Quiet -- sank into softer ripples, gliding
Into a rivulet; and thus allay'd,
Pursued its course, now gleaming, and now hiding
Its windings through the woods; now clear, now blue,
According as the skies their shadows threw.

LIX
A glorious remnant of the Gothic pile
(While yet the church was Rome's) stood half apart
In a grand arch, which once screen'd many an aisle.
These last had disappear'd -- a loss to art:
The first yet frown'd superbly o'er the soil,
And kindled feelings in the roughest heart,
Which mourn'd the power of time's or tempest's march,
In gazing on that venerable arch.

LX
Within a niche, nigh to its pinnacle,
Twelve saints had once stood sanctified in stone;
But these had fallen, not when the friars fell,
But in the war which struck Charles from his throne,
When each house was a fortalice, as tell
The annals of full many a line undone, --
The gallant cavaliers, who fought in vain
For those who knew not to resign or reign.

LXI
But in a higher niche, alone, but crowned,
The Virgin Mother of the God-born Child,
With her Son in her blessed arms, look'd round,
Spared by some chance when all beside was spoil'd;
She made the earth below seem holy ground.
This may be superstition, weak or wild,
But even the faintest relics of a shrine
Of any worship wake some thoughts divine.

LXII
A mighty window, hollow in the centre,
Shorn of its glass of thousand colourings,
Through which the deepen'd glories once could enter,
Streaming from off the sun like seraph's wings,
Now yawns all desolate: now loud, now fainter,
The gale sweeps through its fretwork, and oft sings
The owl his anthem, where the silenced quire
Lie with their hallelujahs quench'd like fire.

LXIII
But in the noontide of the moon, and when
The wind is wingéd from one point of heaven,
There moans a strange unearthly sound, which then
Is musical -- a dying accent driven
Through the huge arch, which soars and sinks again.
Some deem it but the distant echo given
Back to the night wind by the waterfall,
And harmonised by the old choral wall:

LXIV
Others, that some original shape, or form
Shaped by decay perchance, hath given the power
(Though less than that of Memnon's statue, warm
In Egypt's rays, to harp at a fix'd hour)
To this grey ruin, with a voice to charm.
Sad, but serene, it sweeps o'er tree or tower;
The cause I know not, nor can solve; but such
The fact: -- I've heard it -- once perhaps too much.

LXV
Amidst the court a Gothic fountain play'd,
Symmetrical, but deck'd with carvings quaint --
Strange faces, like to men in masquerade,
And here perhaps a monster, there a saint:
The spring gush'd through grim mouths of granite made,
And sparkled into basins, where it spent
Its little torrent in a thousand bubbles,
Like man's vain glory, and his vainer troubles.

LXVI
The mansion's self was vast and venerable,
With more of the monastic than has been
Elsewhere preserved: the cloisters still were stable,
The cells, too, and refectory, I ween:
An exquisite small chapel had been able,
Still unimpair'd, to decorate the scene;
The rest had been reform'd, replaced, or sunk,
And spoke more of the baron than the monk.

LXVII
Huge halls, long galleries, spacious chambers, join'd
By no quite lawful marriage of the arts,
Might shock a connoisseur; but when combined,
Form'd a whole which, irregular in parts,
Yet left a grand impression on the mind,
At least of those whose eyes are in their hearts:
We gaze upon a giant for his stature,
Nor judge at first if all be true to nature.

LXVIII
Steel barons, molten the next generation
To silken rows of gay and garter'd earls,
Glanced from the walls in goodly preservation;
And Lady Marys blooming into girls,
With fair long locks, had also kept their station;
And countesses mature in robes and pearls:
Also some beauties of Sir Peter Lely,
Whose drapery hints we may admire them freely.

LXIX
Judges in very formidable ermine
Were there, with brows that did not much invite
The accused to think their lordships would determine
His cause by leaning much from might to right:
Bishops, who had not left a single sermon:
Attorneys-general, awful to the sight,
As hinting more (unless our judgments warp us)
Of the "Star Chamber" than of "Habeas Corpus."

LXX
Generals, some all in armour, of the old
And iron time, ere lead had ta'en the lead;
Others in wigs of Marlborough's martial fold,
Huger than twelve of our degenerate breed:
Lordlings, with staves of white or keys of gold:
Nimrods, whose canvass scarce contain'd the steed;
And here and there some stern high patriot stood,
Who could not get the place for which he sued.

LXXI
But ever and anon, to soothe your vision,
Fatigued with these hereditary glories,
There rose a Carlo Dolce or a Titian,
Or wilder group of savage Salvatore's;
Here danced Albano's boys, and here the sea shone
In Vernet's ocean lights; and there the stories
Of martyrs awed, as Spagnoletto tainted
His brush with all the blood of all the sainted.

LXXII
Here sweetly spread a landscape of Lorraine;
There Rembrandt made his darkness equal light,
Or gloomy Caravaggio's gloomier stain
Bronzed o'er some lean and stoic anchorite: --
But, lo! a Teniers woos, and not in vain,
Your eyes to revel in a livelier sight:
His bell-mouth'd goblet makes me feel quite Danish
Or Dutch with thirst -- What, ho! a flask of Rhenish.

LXXIII
O reader! if that thou canst read, -- and know,
'T is not enough to spell, or even to read,
To constitute a reader; there must go
Virtues of which both you and I have need; --
Firstly, begin with the beginning (though
That clause is hard); and secondly, proceed;
Thirdly, commence not with the end -- or, sinning
In this sort, end at least with the beginning.

LXXIV
But, reader, thou hast patient been of late,
While I, without remorse of rhyme, or fear,
Have built and laid out ground at such a rate,
Dan Phoebus takes me for an auctioneer.
That poets were so from their earliest date,
By Homer's "Catalogue of ships" is clear;
But a mere modern must be moderate --
I spare you then the furniture and plate.

LXXV
The mellow autumn came, and with it came
The promised party, to enjoy its sweets.
The corn is cut, the manor full of game;
The pointer ranges, and the sportsman beats
In russet jacket: -- lynx-like is his aim;
Full grows his bag, and wonderful his feats.
Ah, nut-brown partridges! Ah, brilliant pheasants!
And ah, ye poachers! -- 'T is no sport for peasants.

LXXVI
An English autumn, though it hath no vines,
Blushing with Bacchant coronals along
The paths, o'er which the far festoon entwines
The red grape in the sunny lands of song,
Hath yet a purchased choice of choicest wines;
The claret light, and the Madeira strong.
If Britain mourn her bleakness, we can tell her,
The very best of vineyards is the cellar.

LXXVII
Then, if she hath not that serene decline
Which makes the southern autumn's day appear
As if 't would to a second spring resign
The season, rather than to winter drear,
Of in-door comforts still she hath a mine, --
The sea-coal fires the "earliest of the year;"
Without doors, too, she may compete in mellow,
As what is lost in green is gain'd in yellow.

LXXVIII
And for the effeminate villeggiatura --
Rife with more horns than hounds -- she hath the chase,
So animated that it might allure
Saint from his beads to join the jocund race;
Even Nimrod's self might leave the plains of Dura,
And wear the Melton jacket for a space:
If she hath no wild boars, she hath a tame
Preserve of bores, who ought to be made game.

LXXIX
The noble guests, assembled at the Abbey,
Consisted of -- we give the sex the pas --
The Duchess of Fitz-Fulke; the Countess Crabby;
The Ladies Scilly, Busey; -- Miss Eclat,
Miss Bombazeen, Miss Mackstay, Miss O'Tabby,
And Mrs. Rabbi, the rich banker's squaw;
Also the honourable Mrs. Sleep,
Who look'd a white lamb, yet was a black sheep:

LXXX
With other Countesses of Blank -- but rank;
At once the "lie" and the "élite" of crowds;
Who pass like water filter'd in a tank,
All purged and pious from their native clouds;
Or paper turn'd to money by the Bank:
No matter how or why, the passport shrouds
The "passée" and the past; for good society
Is no less famed for tolerance than piety, --

LXXXI
That is, up to a certain point; which point
Forms the most difficult in punctuation.
Appearances appear to form the joint
On which it hinges in a higher station;
And so that no explosion cry "Aroint
Thee, witch!" or each Medea has her Jason;
Or (to the point with Horace and with Pulci)
"Omne tulit punctum, quæ miscuit utile dulci."

LXXXII
I can't exactly trace their rule of right,
Which hath a little leaning to a lottery.
I've seen a virtuous woman put down quite
By the mere combination of a coterie;
Also a so-so matron boldly fight
Her way back to the world by dint of plottery,
And shine the very Siria of the spheres,
Escaping with a few slight, scarless sneers.

LXXXIII
I have seen more than I'll say: -- but we will see
How our villeggiatura will get on.
The party might consist of thirty-three
Of highest caste -- the Brahmins of the ton.
I have named a few, not foremost in degree,
But ta'en at hazard as the rhyme may run.
By way of sprinkling, scatter'd amongst these,
There also were some Irish absentees.

LXXXIV
There was Parolles, too, the legal bully,
Who limits all his battles to the bar
And senate: when invited elsewhere, truly,
He shows more appetite for words than war.
There was the young bard Rackrhyme, who had newly
Come out and glimmer'd as a six weeks' star.
There was Lord Pyrrho, too, the great freethinker;
And Sir John Pottledeep, the mighty drinker.

LXXXV
There was the Duke of Dash, who was a -- duke,
"Ay, every inch a" duke; there were twelve peers
Like Charlemagne's -- and all such peers in look
And intellect, that neither eyes nor ears
For commoners had ever them mistook.
There were the six Miss Rawbolds -- pretty dears!
All song and sentiment; whose hearts were set
Less on a convent than a coronet.

LXXXVI
There were four Honourable Misters, whose
Honour was more before their names than after;
There was the preux Chevalier de la Ruse,
Whom France and Fortune lately deign'd to waft here,
Whose chiefly harmless talent was to amuse;
But the clubs found it rather serious laughter,
Because -- such was his magic power to please --
The dice seem'd charm'd, too, with his repartees.

LXXXVII
There was Dick Dubious, the metaphysician,
Who loved philosophy and a good dinner;
Angle, the soi-disant mathematician;
Sir Henry Silvercup, the great race-winner.
There was the Reverend Rodomont Precisian,
Who did not hate so much the sin as sinner;
And Lord Augustus Fitz-Plantagenet,
Good at all things, but better at a bet.

LXXXVIII
There was jack jargon, the gigantic guardsman;
And General Fireface, famous in the field,
A great tactician, and no less a swordsman,
Who ate, last war, more Yankees than he kill'd.
There was the waggish Welsh Judge, Jefferies Hardsman,
In his grave office so completely skill'd,
That when a culprit came far condemnation,
He had his judge's joke for consolation.

LXXXIX
Good company's a chess-board -- there are kings,
Queens, bishops, knights, rooks, pawns; the world's a game;
Save that the puppets pull at their own strings,
Methinks gay Punch hath something of the same.
My Muse, the butterfly hath but her wings,
Not stings, and flits through ether without aim,
Alighting rarely: -- were she but a hornet,
Perhaps there might be vices which would mourn it.

XC
I had forgotten -- but must not forget --
An orator, the latest of the session,
Who had deliver'd well a very set
Smooth speech, his first and maidenly transgression
Upon debate: the papers echoed yet
With his début, which made a strong impression,
And rank'd with what is every day display'd --
"The best first speech that ever yet was made."

XCI
Proud of his "Hear hims!" proud, too, of his vote
And lost virginity of oratory,
Proud of his learning (just enough to quote),
He revell'd in his Ciceronian glory:
With memory excellent to get by rote,
With wit to hatch a pun or tell a story,
Graced with some merit, and with more effrontery,
"His country's pride," he came down to the country.

XCII
There also were two wits by acclamation,
Longbow from Ireland, Strongbow from the Tweed,
Both lawyers and both men of education;
But Strongbow's wit was of more polish'd breed:
Longbow was rich in an imagination
As beautiful and bounding as a steed,
But sometimes stumbling over a potato, --
While Strongbow's best things might have come from Cato.

XCIII
Strongbow was like a new-tuned harpsichord;
But Longbow wild as an Æolian harp,
With which the winds of heaven can claim accord,
And make a music, whether flat or sharp.
Of Strongbow's talk you would not change a word:
At Longbow's phrases you might sometimes carp:
Both wits -- one born so, and the other bred --
This by his heart, his rival by his head.

XCIV
If all these seem a heterogeneous mass
To be assembled at a country seat,
Yet think, a specimen of every class
Is better than a humdrum tete-a-tete.
The days of Comedy are gone, alas!
When Congreve's fool could vie with Molière's bête:
Society is smooth'd to that excess,
That manners hardly differ more than dress.

XCV
Our ridicules are kept in the back-ground --
Ridiculous enough, but also dull;
Professions, too, are no more to be found
Professional; and there is nought to cull
Of folly's fruit; for though your fools abound,
They're barren, and not worth the pains to pull.
Society is now one polish'd horde,
Form'd of two mighty tribes, the Bores and Bored.

XCVI
But from being farmers, we turn gleaners, gleaning
The scanty but right-well thresh'd ears of truth;
And, gentle reader! when you gather meaning,
You may be Boaz, and I -- modest Ruth.
Farther I'd quote, but Scripture intervening
Forbids. A great impression in my youth
Was made by Mrs. Adams, where she cries,
"That Scriptures out of church are blasphemies."

XCVII
But what we can we glean in this vile age
Of chaff, although our gleanings be not grist.
I must not quite omit the talking sage,
Kit-Cat, the famous Conversationist,
Who, in his common-place book, had a page
Prepared each morn for evenings. "List, oh, list!" --
"Alas, poor ghost!" -- What unexpected woes
Await those who have studied their bons-mots!

XCVIII
Firstly, they must allure the conversation
By many windings to their clever clinch;
And secondly, must let slip no occasion,
Nor bate (abate) their hearers of an inch,
But take an ell -- and make a great sensation,
If possible; and thirdly, never flinch
When some smart talker puts them to the test,
But seize the last word, which no doubt's the best.

XCIX
Lord Henry and his lady were the hosts;
The party we have touch'd on were the guests:
Their table was a board to tempt even ghosts
To pass the Styx for more substantial feasts.
I will not dwell upon ragoûts or roasts,
Albeit all human history attests
That happiness for man -- the hungry sinner! --
Since Eve ate apples, much depends on dinner.

C
Witness the lands which "flow'd with milk and honey,"
Held out unto the hungry Israelites;
To this we have added since, the love of money,
The only sort of pleasure which requites.
Youth fades, and leaves our days no longer sunny;
We tire of mistresses and parasites;
But oh, ambrosial cash! Ah! who would lose thee?
When we no more can use, or even abuse thee!

CI
The gentlemen got up betimes to shoot,
Or hunt: the young, because they liked the sport --
The first thing boys like after play and fruit;
The middle-aged to make the day more short;
For ennui is a growth of English root,
Though nameless in our language: -- we retort
The fact for words, and let the French translate
That awful yawn which sleep can not abate.

CII
The elderly walk'd through the library,
And tumbled books, or criticised the pictures,
Or saunter'd through the gardens piteously,
And made upon the hot-house several strictures,
Or rode a nag which trotted not too high,
Or on the morning papers read their lectures,
Or on the watch their longing eyes would fix,
Longing at sixty for the hour of six.

CIII
But none were "gêné:" the great hour of union
Was rung by dinner's knell; till then all were
Masters of their own time -- or in communion,
Or solitary, as they chose to bear
The hours, which how to pass is but to few known.
Each rose up at his own, and had to spare
What time he chose for dress, and broke his fast
When, where, and how he chose for that repast.

CIV
The ladies -- some rouged, some a little pale --
Met the morn as they might. If fine, they rode,
Or walk'd; if foul, they read, or told a tale,
Sung, or rehearsed the last dance from abroad;
Discuss'd the fashion which might next prevail,
And settled bonnets by the newest code,
Or cramm'd twelve sheets into one little letter,
To make each correspondent a new debtor.

CV
For some had absent lovers, all had friends.
The earth has nothing like a she epistle,
And hardly heaven -- because it never ends.
I love the mystery of a female missal,
Which, like a creed, ne'er says all it intends,
But full of cunning as Ulysses' whistle,
When he allured poor Dolon: -- you had better
Take care what you reply to such a letter.

CVI
Then there were billiards; cards, too, but no dice; --
Save in the clubs no man of honour plays; --
Boats when 't was water, skating when 't was ice,
And the hard frost destroy'd the scenting days:
And angling, too, that solitary vice,
Whatever Izaak Walton sings or says;
The quaint, old, cruel coxcomb, in his gullet
Should have a hook, and a small trout to pull it.

CVII
With evening came the banquet and the wine;
The conversazione; the duet,
Attuned by voices more or less divine
(My heart or head aches with the memory yet).
The four Miss Rawbolds in a glee would shine;
But the two youngest loved more to be set
Down to the harp -- because to music's charms
They added graceful necks, white hands and arms.

CVIII
Sometimes a dance (though rarely on field days,
For then the gentlemen were rather tired)
Display'd some sylph-like figures in its maze;
Then there was small-talk ready when required;
Flirtation -- but decorous; the mere praise
Of charms that should or should not be admired.
The hunters fought their fox-hunt o'er again,
And then retreated soberly -- at ten.

CIX
The politicians, in a nook apart,
Discuss'd the world, and settled all the spheres;
The wits watch'd every loophole for their art,
To introduce a bon-mot head and ears;
Small is the rest of those who would be smart,
A moment's good thing may have cost them years
Before they find an hour to introduce it;
And then, even then, some bore may make them lose it.

CX
But all was gentle and aristocratic
In this our party; polish'd, smooth, and cold,
As Phidian forms cut out of marble Attic.
There now are no Squire Westerns as of old;
And our Sophias are not so emphatic,
But fair as then, or fairer to behold.
We have no accomplish'd blackguards, like Tom Jones,
But gentlemen in stays, as stiff as stones.

CXI
They separated at an early hour;
That is, ere midnight -- which is London's noon:
But in the country ladies seek their bower
A little earlier than the waning moon.
Peace to the slumbers of each folded flower --
May the rose call back its true colour soon!
Good hours of fair cheeks are the fairest tinters,
And lower the price of rouge -- at least some winters.

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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 time–yet, 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! So–what 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 husband–what 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-morrow–may 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 apple–though, 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 here–flat 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 matter–I 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 silence–then, 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 plain–he 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 I–I 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 woman–the 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 so–let 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 so–but for him. He limps
So certainly, he'll fall into the pit
A week hence,–so I lose him–so 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 stopped–we 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 him–you'll ask him presently
The color of my hair–he 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 learn–I 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 it–peradventure, 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!
Nay–go 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 soul–complete 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 heaven–but 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 nothing–hold 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 Marian–the 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 now–the 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 both–away, 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 passed–not 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 comfort–when 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
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Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Seventh Book

'THE woman's motive? shall we daub ourselves
With finding roots for nettles? 'tis soft clay
And easily explored. She had the means,
The moneys, by the lady's liberal grace,
In trust for that Australian scheme and me,
Which so, that she might clutch with both her hands,
And chink to her naughty uses undisturbed,
She served me (after all it was not strange,;
'Twas only what my mother would have done)
A motherly, unmerciful, good turn.

'Well, after. There are nettles everywhere,
But smooth green grasses are more common still;
The blue of heaven is larger than the cloud;
A miller's wife at Clichy took me in
And spent her pity on me,–made me calm
And merely very reasonably sad.
She found me a servant's place in Paris where
I tried to take the cast-off life again,
And stood as quiet as a beaten ass
Who, having fallen through overloads, stands up
To let them charge him with another pack.

'A few months, so. My mistress, young and light,
Was easy with me, less for kindness than
Because she led, herself, an easy time
Betwixt her lover and her looking-glass,
Scarce knowing which way she was praised the most.
She felt so pretty and so pleased all day
She could not take the trouble to be cross,
But sometimes, as I stooped to tie her shoe,
Would tap me softly with her slender foot
Still restless with the last night's dancing in't,
And say 'Fie, pale-face! are you English girls
'All grave and silent? mass-book still, and Lent?
'And first-communion colours on your cheeks,
'Worn past the time for't? little fool, be gay!'
At which she vanished, like a fairy, through
A gap of silver laughter.
'Came an hour
When all went otherwise. She did not speak,
But clenched her brows, and clipped me with her eyes
As if a viper with a pair of tongs,
Too far for any touch, yet near enough
To view the writhing creature,–then at last,
'Stand still there, in the holy Virgin's name,
'Thou Marian; thou'rt no reputable girl,
'Although sufficient dull for twenty saints!
'I think thou mock'st me and my house,' she said;
'Confess thou'lt be a mother in a month,
'Thou mask of saintship.'
'Could I answer her?
The light broke in so. It meant that then, that?
I had not thought of that, in all my thoughts,
Through all the cold, dumb aching of my brow,
Through all the heaving of impatient life
Which threw me on death at intervals, through all
The upbreak of the fountains of my heart
The rains had swelled too large: it could mean that?
Did God make mothers out of victims, then,
And set such pure amens to hideous deeds?
Why not? He overblows an ugly grave
With violets which blossom in the spring.
And I could be a mother in a month!
I hope it was not wicked to be glad.
I lifted up my voice and wept, and laughed,
To heaven, not her, until I tore my throat.
'Confess, confess!' what was there to confess,
Except man's cruelty, except my wrong?
Except this anguish, or this ecstasy?
This shame, or glory? The light woman there
Was small to take it in: an acorn-cup
Would take the sea in sooner.
Good,' she cried;
'Unmarried and a mother, and she laughs!
'These unchaste girls are always impudent.
'Get out, intriguer! leave my house, and trot:
'I wonder you should look me in the face,
'With such a filthy secret.'
'Then I rolled
My scanty bundle up, and went my way,
Washed white with weeping, shuddering head and foot
With blind hysteric passion, staggering forth
Beyond those doors, 'Twas natural, of course,
She should not ask me where I meant to sleep;
I might sleep well beneath the heavy Seine,
Like others of my sort; the bed was laid
For us. By any woman, womanly,
Had thought of him who should be in a month,
The sinless babe that should be in a month,
And if by chance he might be warmer housed
Than underneath such dreary, dripping eaves.'

I broke on Marian there. 'Yet she herself,
A wife, I think, had scandals of her own,
A lover, not her husband.'
'Ay,' she said
'But gold and meal are measured otherwise;
I learnt so much at school,' said Marian Erle.

'O crooked world,' I cried, 'ridiculous
If not so lamentable! It's the way
With these light women of a thrifty vice,
My Marian,–always hard upon the rent
In any sister's virtue! while they keep
Their chastity so darned with perfidy,
That, though a rag itself, it looks as well
Across a street, in balcony or coach,
As any stronger stuff might. For my part,
I'd rather take the wind-side of the stews
Than touch such women with my finger-end
They top the poor street-walker by their lie,
And look the better for being so much worse
The devil's most devilish when respectable.
But you, dear, and your story.'
'All the rest
Is here,' she said, and sighed upon the child.
'I found a mistress-sempstress who was kind
And let me sew in peace among her girls;
And what was better than to draw the threads
All day and half the night, for him, and him?
And so I lived for him, and so he lives,
And so I know, by this time, God lives too.'
She smiled beyond the sun, and ended so,
And all my soul rose up to take her part
Against the world's successes, virtues, fames.
'Come with me, sweetest sister,' I returned,
'And sit within my house, and do me good
From henceforth, thou and thine! ye are my own
From henceforth. I am lonely in the world,
And thou art lonely, and the child is half
An orphan. Come, and, henceforth, thou and I
Being still together, will not miss a friend,
Nor he a father, since two mothers shall
Make that up to him. I am journeying south,
And, in my Tuscan home I'll find a niche,
And set thee there, my saint, the child and thee,
And burn the lights of love before thy face,
And ever at thy sweet look cross myself
From mixing with the world's prosperities;
That so, in gravity and holy calm,
We too may live on toward the truer life.'

She looked me in the face and answered not,
Nor signed she was unworthy, nor gave thanks,
But took the sleeping child and held it out
To meet my kiss, as if requiting me
And trusting me at once. And thus, at once,
I carried him and her to where I lived;
She's there now, in the little room, asleep,
I hear the soft child-breathing through the door;
And all three of us, at to-morrow's break,
Pass onward, homeward, to our Italy.
Oh, Romney Leigh, I have your debts to pay,
And I'll be just and pay them.
But yourself!
To pay your debts is scarcely difficult;
To buy your life is nearly impossible,
Being sold away to Lamia. My head aches;
I cannot see my road along this dark;
Nor can I creep and grope, as fits the dark,
For these foot-catching robes of womanhood:
A man might walk a little . . but I!–He loves
The Lamia-woman,–and I, write to him
What stops his marriage, and destroys his peace,–
Or what, perhaps, shall simply trouble him,
Until she only need to touch his sleeve
With just a finger's tremulous white flame,
Saying, 'Ah,–Aurora Leigh! a pretty tale,
'A very pretty poet! I can guess
'The motive'–then, to catch his eyes in hers,
And vow she does not wonder,–and they two
To break in laughter, as the sea along
A melancholy coast, and float up higher,
In such a laugh, their fatal weeds of love!
Ay, fatal, ay. And who shall answer me,
Fate has not hurried tides; and if to-night
My letter would not be a night too late,–
An arrow shot into a man that's dead,
To prove a vain intention? Would I show
The new wife vile, to make the husband mad?
No, Lamia! shut the shutters, bar the doors
From every glimmer on they serpent-skin!
I will not let thy hideous secret out
To agonise the man I love–I mean
The friend I love . . as friends love.
It is strange,
To-day while Marian told her story, like
To absorb most listeners, how I listened chief
To a voice not hers, nor yet that enemy's,
Nor God's in wrath, . . but one that mixed with mine
Long years ago, among the garden-trees,
And said to me, to me too, 'Be my wife,
Aurora!' It is strange, with what a swell
Of yearning passion, as a snow of ghosts
Might beat against the impervious doors of heaven,
I thought, 'Now, if I had been a woman, such
As God made women, to save men by love,–
By just my love I might have saved this man,
And made a nobler poem for the world
Than all I have failed in.' But I failed besides
In this; and now he's lost! through me alone!
And, by my only fault, his empty house
Sucks in, at this same hour, a wind from hell
To keep his hearth cold, make his casements creak
For ever to the tune of plague and sin–
O Romney, O my Romney, O my friend!
My cousin and friend! my helper, when I would,
My love that might be! mine!
Why, how one weeps
When one's too weary! Were a witness by,
He'd say some folly . . that I loved the man,
Who knows? . . and make me laugh again for scorn.
At strongest, women are as weak in flesh,
As men, at weakest, vilest, are in soul:
So, hard for women to keep pace with men!
As well give up at once, sit down at once.
And weep as I do. Tears, tears! why, we weep?
'Tis worth enquiry?–That we've shamed a life,
Or lost a love, or missed a world, perhaps?
By no means. Simply, that we've walked too far,
Or talked too much, or felt the wind i' the east,–
And so we weep, as if both body and soul
Broke up in water–this way.
Poor mixed rags
Forsooth we're made of, like those other dolls
That lean with pretty faces into fairs.
It seems as if I had a man in me,
Despising such a woman.
Yet indeed.
To see a wrong or suffering moves us all
To undo it, though we should undo ourselves;
Ay, all the more, that we undo ourselves;
That's womanly, past doubt, and not ill-moved.
A natural movement, therefore, on my part,
To fill the chair up of my cousin's wife,
And save him from a devil's company!
We're all so,–made so–'tis our woman's trade
To suffer torment for another's ease.
The world's male chivalry has perished out,
But women are knights-errant to the last;
And, if Cervantes had been greater still,
He had made his Don a Donna.
So it clears,
And so we rain our skies blue.
Put away
This weakness. If, as I have just now said,
A man's within me–let him act himself,
Ignoring the poor conscious trouble of blood
That's called the woman merely. I will write
Plain words to England,–if too late, too late,–
If ill-accounted, then accounted ill;
We'll trust the heavens with something.

'Dear Lord Howe,
You'll find a story on another leaf
That's Marian Erle's,–what noble friend of yours
She trusted once, through what flagitious means
To what disastrous ends;–the story's true.
I found her wandering on the Paris quays,
A babe upon her breast,–unnatural
Unseasonable outcast on such snows
Unthawed to this time. I will tax in this
Your friendship, friend,–if that convicted She
Be not his wife yet, to denounce the facts
To himself,–but, otherwise, to let them pass
On tip-toe like escaping murderers,
And tell my cousin, merely–Marian lives,
Is found, and finds her home with such a friend,
Myself, Aurora. Which good news, 'She's found,'
Will help to make him merry in his love:
I sent it, tell him, for my marriage gift,
As good as orange-water for the nerves,
Or perfumed gloves for headaches,–though aware
That he, except of love, is scarcely sick;
I mean the new love this time, . . since last year.
Such quick forgetting on the part of men!
Is any shrewder trick upon the cards
To enrich them? pray instruct me how it's done.
First, clubs,–and while you look at clubs, it's spades;
That's prodigy. The lightning strikes a man,
And when we think to find him dead and charred . .
Why, there he is on a sudden, playing pipes
Beneath the splintered elm-tree! Crime and shame
And all their hoggery trample your smooth world,
Nor leave more foot-marks than Apollo's kine,
Whose hoofs were muffled by the thieving god
In tamarisk-leaves and myrtle. I'm so sad,
So weary and sad to-night, I'm somewhat sour,–
Forgive me. To be blue and shrew at once,
Exceeds all toleration except yours;
But yours, I know, is infinite. Farewell.
To-morrow we take train for Italy.
Speak gently of me to your gracious wife,
As one, however far, shall yet be near
In loving wishes to your house.'
I sign.
And now I'll loose my heart upon a page,
This–
'Lady Waldemar, I'm very glad
I never liked you; which you knew so well,
You spared me, in your turn, to like me much.
Your liking surely had done worse for me
Than has your loathing, though the last appears
Sufficiently unscrupulous to hurt,
And not afraid of judgment. Now, there's space
Between our faces,–I stand off, as if
I judged a stranger's portrait and pronounced
Indifferently the type was good or bad:
What matter to me that the lines are false,
I ask you? Did I ever ink my lips
By drawing your name through them as a friend's.
Or touch your hands as lovers do? thank God
I never did: and, since you're proved so vile,
Ay, vile, I say,–we'll show it presently,–
I'm not obliged to nurse my friend in you,
Or wash out my own blots, in counting yours,
Or even excuse myself to honest souls
Who seek to touch my lip or clasp my palm,–
'Alas, but Lady Waldemar came first!'
'Tis true, by this time, you may near me so
That you're my cousin's wife. You've gambled
As Lucifer, and won the morning-star
In that case,–and the noble house of Leigh
Must henceforth with its good roof shelter you:
I cannot speak and burn you up between
Those rafters, I who am born a Leigh,–nor speak
And pierce your breast through Romney's, I who live
His friend and cousin!–so, you are safe. You two
Must grow together like the tares and wheat
Till God's great fire.–But make the best of time.

'And hide this letter! let it speak no more
Than I shall, how you tricked poor Marian Erle,
And set her own love digging her own grave
Within her green hope's pretty garden-ground;
Ay, sent her forth with some of your sort
To a wicked house in France,–from which she fled
With curses in her eyes and ears and throat,
Her whole soul choked with curses,–mad, in short,
And madly scouring up and down for weeks
The foreign hedgeless country, lone and lost,–
So innocent, male-fiends might slink within
Remote hell-corners, seeing her so defiled!

'But you,–you are a woman and more bold.
To do you justice, you'd not shrink to face . .
We'll say, the unfledged life in the other room,
Which, treading down God's corn, you trod in sight
Of all the dogs, in reach of all the guns,–
Ay, Marian's babe, her poor unfathered child,
Her yearling babe!–you'd face him when he wakes
And opens up his wonderful blue eyes:
You'd meet them and not wink perhaps, nor fear
God's triumph in them and supreme revenge,
So, righting His creation's balance-scale
(You pulled as low as Tophet) to the top
Of most celestial innocence! For me
Who am not as bold, I own those infant eyes
Have set me praying.
'While they look at heaven,
No need of protestation in my words
Against the place you've made them! let them look!
They'll do your business with the heavens, be sure:
I spare you common curses.
'Ponder this.
If haply you're the wife of Romney Leigh,
(For which inheritance beyond your birth
You sold that poisonous porridge called your soul)
I charge you, be his faithful and true wife!
Keep warm his hearth and clean his board, and, when
He speaks, be quick with your obedience;
Still grind your paltry wants and low desires
To dust beneath his heel; though, even thus,
The ground must hurt him,–it was writ of old,
'Ye shall not yoke together ox and ass,'
The nobler and ignobler. Ay, but you
Shall do your part as well as such ill things
Can do aught good. You shall not vex him,–mark,
You shall not vex him, . .jar him when he's sad,
Or cross him when he's eager. Understand
To trick him with apparent sympathies,
Nor let him see thee in the face too near
And unlearn thy sweet seeming. Pay the price
Of lies, by being constrained to lie on still;
'Tis easy for they sort: a million more
Will scarcely damn thee deeper.
'Doing which,
You are very safe from Marian and myself;
We'll breathe as softly as the infant here,
And stir no dangerous embers. Fail a point,
And show our Romney wounded, ill-content,
Tormented in his home, . . we open a mouth,
And such a noise will follow, the last trump's
Will scarcely seem more dreadful, even to you;
You'll have no pipers after: Romney will
(I know him) push you forth as none of his,
All other men declaring it well done;
While women, even the worst, your like, will draw
Their skirts back, not to brush you in the street;
And so I warn you. I'm . . . Aurora Leigh.'

The letter written, I felt satisfied.
The ashes, smouldering in me, were thrown out
By handfuls from me: I had writ my heart
And wept my tears, and now was cool and calm;
And, going straightway to the neighbouring room,
I lifted up the curtains of the bed
Where Marian Erle, the babe upon her arm,
Both faces leaned together like a pair
Of folded innocences, self-complete,
Each smiling from the other, smiled and slept.
There seemed no sin, no shame, no wrath, no grief.
I felt, she too had spoken words that night,
But softer certainly, and said to God,–
Who laughs in heaven perhaps, that such as I
Should make ado for such as she.–'Defiled'
I wrote? 'defiled' I thought her? Stoop,
Stoop lower, Aurora! get the angels' leave
To creep in somewhere, humbly, on your knees,
Within this round of sequestration white
In which they have wrapt earth's foundlings, heaven's elect!

The next day, we took train to Italy
And fled on southward in the roar of steam.
The marriage-bells of Romney must be loud,
To sound so clear through all! I was not well;
And truly, though the truth is like a jest,
I could not choose but fancy, half the way,
I stood alone i' the belfry, fifty bells
Of naked iron, mad with merriment,
(As one who laughs and cannot stop himself)
All clanking at me, in me, over me,
Until I shrieked a shriek I could not hear,
And swooned with noise,–but still, along my swoon,
Was 'ware the baffled changes backward rang,
Prepared, at each emerging sense, to beat
And crash it out with clangour. I was weak;
I struggled for the posture of my soul
In upright consciousness of place and time,
But evermore, 'twixt waking and asleep,
Slipped somehow, staggered, caught at Marian's eyes
A moment, (it is very good for strength
To know that some one needs you to be strong)
And so recovered what I called myself,
For that time.
I just knew it when we swept
Above the old roofs of Dijon. Lyons dropped
A spark into the night, half trodden out
Unseen. But presently the winding Rhone
Washed out the moonlight large along his banks,
Which strained their yielding curves out clear and clean
To hold it,–shadow of town and castle just blurred
Upon the hurrying river. Such an air
Blew thence upon the forehead,–half an air
And half a water,–that I leaned and looked;
Then, turning back on Marian, smiled to mark
That she looked only on her child, who slept,
His face towards the moon too.
So we passed
The liberal open country and the close,
And shot through tunnels, like a lightning-wedge
By great Thor-hammers driven through the rock,
Which, quivering through the intestine blackness, splits,
And lets it in at once: the train swept in
Athrob with effort, trembling with resolve,
The fierce denouncing whistle wailing on
And dying off smothered in the shuddering dark,
While we, self-awed, drew troubled breath, oppressed
As other Titans, underneath the pile
And nightmare of the mountains. Out, at last,
To catch the dawn afloat upon the land!
–Hills, slung forth broadly and gauntly everywhere,
Not crampt in their foundations, pushing wide
Rich outspreads of the vineyards and the corn
(As if they entertained i' the name of France)
While, down their straining sides, streamed manifest
A soil as red as Charlemagne's knightly blood,
To consecrate the verdure. Some one said,
'Marseilles!' And lo, the city of Marseilles,
With all her ships behind her, and beyond,
The scimitar of ever-shining sea,
For right-hand use, bared blue against the sky!
That night we spent between the purple heaven
And purple water: I think Marian slept;
But I, as a dog a-watch for his master's foot,
Who cannot sleep or eat before he hears,
I sate upon the deck and watched all night,
And listened through the stars for Italy.
Those marriage-bells I spoke of, sounded far,
As some child's go-cart in the street beneath
To a dying man who will not pass the day,
And knows it, holding by a hand he loves.
I, too, sate quiet, satisfied with death,
Sate silent: I could hear my own soul speak,
And had my friend,–for Nature comes sometimes
And says, 'I am ambassador for God.'
I felt the wind soft from the land of souls;
The old miraculous mountains heaved in sight,
One straining past another along the shore,
The way of grand dull Odyssean ghosts
Athirst to drink the cool blue wine of seas
And stare on voyagers. Peak pushing peak
They stood: I watched beyond that Tyrian belt
Of intense sea betwixt them and the ship,
Down all their sides the misty olive-woods
Dissolving in the weak congenial moon,
And still disclosing some brown convent-tower
That seems as if it grew from some brown rock,–
Or many a little lighted village, dropt
Like a fallen star, upon so high a point,
You wonder what can keep it in its place
From sliding headlong with the waterfalls
Which drop and powder all the myrtle-groves
With spray of silver. Thus my Italy
Was stealing on us. Genoa broke with day;
The Doria's long pale palace striking out,
From green hills in advance of the white town,
A marble finger dominant to ships,
Seen glimmering through the uncertain grey of dawn.

But then I did not think, 'my Italy,'
I thought, 'my father!' O my father's house,
Without his presence!–Places are too much
Or else too little, for immortal man;
Too little, when love's May o'ergrows the ground,–
Too much, when that luxuriant wealth of green
Is rustling to our ankles in dead leaves.
'Tis only good to be, or here or there,
Because we had a dream on such a stone,
Or this or that,–but, once being wholly waked,
And come back to the stone without the dream,
We trip upon't,–alas! and hurt ourselves;
Or else it falls on us and grinds us flat,
The heaviest grave-stone on this buying earth.
–But while I stood and mused, a quiet touch
Fell light upon my arm, and, turning round,
A pair of moistened eyes convicted mine.
'What, Marian! is the babe astir so soon?'
'He sleeps,' she answered; 'I have crept up thrice,
And seen you sitting, standing, still at watch.
I thought it did you good till now, but now' . . .
'But now,' I said, 'you leave the child alone.'
'And your're alone,' she answered,–and she looked
As if I, too, were something. Sweet the help
Of one we have helped! Thanks, Marian, for that help.

I found a house, at Florence, on the hill
Of Bellosguardo. 'Tis a tower that keeps
A post of double-observation o'er
The valley of Arno (holding as a hand
The outspread city) straight toward Fiesole
And Mount Morello and the setting sun,–
The Vallombrosan mountains to the right,
Which sunrise fills as full as crystal cups
Wine-filled, and red to the brim because it's red.
No sun could die, nor yet be born, unseen
By dwellers at my villa: morn and eve
Were magnified before us in the pure
Illimitable space and pause of sky,
Intense as angels' garments blanched with God,
Less blue than radiant. From the outer wall
Of the garden, dropped the mystic floating grey
Of olive-trees, (with interruptions green
From maize and vine) until 'twas caught and torn
On that abrupt black line of cypresses
Which signed the way to Florence. Beautiful
The city lay along the ample vale,
Cathedral, tower and palace, piazza and street;
The river trailing like a silver cord
Through all, and curling loosely, both before
And after, over the whole stretch of land
Sown whitely up and down its opposite slopes,
With farms and villas.
Many weeks had passed,
No word was granted.–Last, a letter came
From Vincent Carrington:–'My Dear Miss Leigh,
You've been as silent as a poet should,
When any other man is sure to speak.
If sick, if vexed, if dumb, a silver-piece
Will split a man's tongue,–straight he speaks and says,
'Received that cheque.' But you! . . I send you funds
To Paris, and you make no sign at all.
Remember I'm responsible and wait
A sign of you, Miss Leigh.
'Meantime your book
Is eloquent as if you were not dumb;
And common critics, ordinarily deaf
To such fine meanings, and, like deaf men, loth
To seem deaf, answering chance-wise, yes or no,
'It must be,' or 'it must not,' (most pronounced
When least convinced) pronounce for once aright:
You'd think they really heard,–and so they do . .
The burr of three or four who really hear
And praise your book aright: Fame's smallest trump
Is a great ear-trumpet for the deaf as posts,
No other being effective. Fear not, friend;
We think, here, you have written a good book,
And you, a woman! It was in you–yes,
I felt 'twas in you: yet I doubted half
If that od-force of German Reichenbach
Which still from female finger-tips burns blue,
Could strike out, as our masculine white heats,
To quicken a man. Forgive me. All my heart
Is quick with yours, since, just a fortnight since,
I read your book and loved it.
'Will you love
My wife, too? Here's my secret, I might keep
A month more from you! but I yield it up
Because I know you'll write the sooner for't,–
Most women (of your height even) counting love
Life's only serious business. Who's my wife
That shall be in a month? you ask? nor guess?
Remember what a pair of topaz eyes
You once detected, turned against the wall,
That morning, in my London painting-room;
The face half-sketched, and slurred; the eyes alone!
But you . . you caught them up with yours, and said
'Kate Ward's eyes, surely.'–Now, I own the truth,
I had thrown them there to keep them safe from Jove;
They would so naughtily find out their way
To both the heads of both my Danaës,
Where just it made me mad to look at them.
Such eyes! I could not paint or think of eyes
But those,–and so I flung them into paint
And turned them to the wall's care. Ay, but now
I've let them out, my Kate's! I've painted her,
(I'll change my style, and leave mythologies)
The whole sweet face; it looks upon my soul
Like a face on water, to beget itself,
A half-length portrait, in a hanging cloak
Like one you wore once; 'tis a little frayed;
I pressed, too, for the nude harmonious arm–
But she . . she'd have her way, and have her cloak;
She said she could be like you only so,
And would not miss the fortune. Ah, my friend,
You'll write and say she shall not miss your love
Through meeting mine? in faith, she would not change:
She has your books by heart, more than my words,
And quotes you up against me till I'm pushed
Where, three months since, her eyes were! nay, in fact,
Nought satisfied her but to make me paint
Your last book folded in her dimpled hands,
Instead of my brown palette, as I wished,
(And, grant me, the presentment had been newer)
She'd grant me nothing: I've compounded for
The naming of the wedding-day next month,
And gladly too. 'Tis pretty, to remark
How women can love women of your sort,
And tie their hearts with love-knots to your feet,
Grow insolent about you against men,
And put us down by putting up the lip,
As if a man,–there are such, let us own.
Who write not ill,–remains a man, poor wretch,
While you–! Write far worse than Aurora Leigh,
And there'll be women who believe of you
(Besides my Kate) that if you walked on sand
You would not leave a foot-print.
'Are you put
To wonder by my marriage, like poor Leigh?
'Kate Ward!' he said. 'Kate Ward!' he said anew.
'I thought . . .' he said, and stopped,–'I did not think . . .'
And then he dropped to silence.
'Ah, he's changed
I had not seen him, you're aware, for long,
But went of course. I have not touched on this
Through all this letter,–conscious of your heart,
And writing lightlier for the heavy fact,
As clocks are voluble with lead.
'How weak
To say I'm sorry. Dear Leigh, dearest Leigh!
In those old days of Shropshire,–pardon me,–
When he and you fought many a field of gold
On what you should do, or you should not do,
Make bread of verses, (it just came to that)
I thought you'd one day draw a silken peace
Through a gold ring. I thought so. Foolishly,
The event proved,–for you went more opposite
To each other, month by month, and year by year,
Until this happened. God knows best, we say,
But hoarsely. When the fever took him first,
Just after I had writ to you in France,
They tell me Lady Waldemar mixed drinks
And counted grains, like any salaried nurse,
Excepting that she wept too. Then Lord Howe,
You're right about Lord Howe! Lord Howe's a trump;
And yet, with such in his hand, a man like Leigh
May lose, as he does. There's an end to all,–
Yes, even this letter, through the second sheet
May find you doubtful. Write a word for Kate:
Even now she reads my letters like a wife,
And if she sees her name, I'll see her smile,
And share the luck. So, bless you, friend of two!
I will not ask you what your feeling is
At Florence with my pictures. I can hear
Your heart a-flutter over the snow-hills;
And, just to pace the Pitti with you once,
I'd give a half-hour of to-morrow's walk
With Kate . . I think so. Vincent Carrington.'

The noon was hot; the air scorched like the sun,
And was shut out. The closed persiani threw
Their long-scored shadows on my villa-floor,
And interlined the golden atmosphere
Straight, still,–across the pictures on the wall
The statuette on the console, (of young Love
And Psyche made one marble by a kiss)
The low couch where I leaned, the table near,
The vase of lilies, Marian pulled last night,
(Each green leaf and each white leaf ruled in black
As if for writing some new text of fate)
And the open letter, rested on my knee,–
But there, the lines swerved, trembled, though I sate
Untroubled . . plainly, . . reading it again
And three times. Well, he's married; that is clear.
No wonder that he's married, nor much more
That Vincent's therefore, 'sorry.' Why, of course,
The lady nursed him when he was not well,
Mixed drinks,–unless nepenthe was the drink,
'Twas scarce worth telling. But a man in love
Will see the whole sex in his mistress' hood,
The prettier for its lining of fair rose;
Although he catches back, and says at last,
'I'm sorry.' Sorry. Lady Waldemar
At prettiest, under the said hood, preserved
From such a light as I could hold to her face
To flare its ugly wrinkles out to shame,–
Is scarce a wife for Romney, as friends judge,
Aurora Leigh, or Vincent Carrington,–
That's plain. And if he's 'conscious of my heart' . .
Perhaps it's natural, though the phrase is strong;
(One's apt to use strong phrases, being in love)
And even that stuff of 'fields of gold,' 'gold rings,'
And what he 'thought,' poor Vincent! what he 'thought,'
May never mean enough to ruffle me.
Why, this room stifles. Better burn than choke;
Best have air, air, although it comes with fire,
Throw open blinds and windows to the noon
And take a blister on my brow instead
Of this dead weight! best, perfectly be stunned
By those insufferable cicale, sick
And hoarse with rapture of the summer-heat,
That sing like poets, till their hearts break, . . sing
Till men say, 'It's too tedious.'
Books succeed,
And lives fail. Do I feel it so, at last?
Kate loves a worn-out cloak for being like mine,
While I live self-despised for being myself,
And yearn toward some one else, who yearns away
From what he is, in his turn. Strain a step
For ever, yet gain no step? Are we such,
We cannot, with our admirations even,
Our tip-toe aspirations, touch a thing
That's higher than we? is all a dismal flat,
And God alone above each,–as the sun
O'er level lagunes, to make them shine and stink,–
Laying stress upon us with immediate flame,
While we respond with our miasmal fog,
And call it mounting higher, because we grow
More highly fatal?
Tush, Aurora Leigh!
You wear your sackcloth looped in Cæsar's way.
And brag your failings as mankind's. Be still.
There is what's higher in this very world,
Than you can live, or catch at. Stand aside,
And look at others–instance little Kate!
She'll make a perfect wife for Carrington.
She always has been looking round the earth
For something good and green to alight upon
And nestle into, with those soft-winged eyes
Subsiding now beneath his manly hand
'Twixt trembling lids of inexpressive joy:
I will not scorn her, after all, too much,
That so much she should love me. A wise man
Can pluck a leaf, and find a lecture in't;
And I, too, . . God has made me,–I've a heart
That's capable of worship, love, and loss;
We say the same of Shakspeare's. I'll be meek,
And learn to reverence, even this poor myself.

The book, too–pass it. 'A good book,' says he,
'And you a woman,' I had laughed at that,
But long since. I'm a woman,–it is true;
Alas, and woe to us, when we feel it most!
Then, least care have we for the crowns and goals,
And compliments on writing our good books.

The book has some truth in it, I believe:
And truth outlives pain, as the soul does life.
I know we talk our Phædons to the end
Through all the dismal faces that we make,
O'er-wrinkled with dishonouring agony
From any mortal drug. I have written truth,
And I a woman; feebly, partially,
Inaptly in presentation, Romney'll add,
Because a woman. For the truth itself,
That's neither man's nor woman's, but just God's;
None else has reason to be proud of truth:
Himself will see it sifted, disenthralled,
And kept upon the height and in the light,
As far as, and no farther, than 'tis truth;
For,–now He has left off calling firmaments
And strata, flowers and creatures, very good,–
He says it still of truth, which is His own.
Truth, so far, in my book;–the truth which draws
Through all things upwards; that a twofold world
Must go to a perfect cosmos. Natural things
And spiritual,–who separates those two
In art, in morals, or the social drift,
Tears up the bond of nature and brings death,
Paints futile pictures, writes unreal verse,
Leads vulgar days, deals ignorantly with men,
Is wrong, in short, at all points. We divide
This apple of life, and cut it through the pips,–
The perfect round which fitted Venus' hand
Has perished utterly as if we ate
Both halves. Without the spiritual, observe,
The natural's impossible;–no form,
No motion! Without sensuous, spiritual
Is inappreciable;–no beauty or power!
And in this twofold sphere the twofold man
(And still the artist is intensely a man)
Holds firmly by the natural, to reach
The spiritual beyond it,–fixes still
The type with mortal vision, to pierce through,
With eyes immortal, to the antetype
Some call the ideal,–better called the real,
And certain to be called so presently,
When things shall have their names. Look long enough
On any peasant's face here, coarse and lined.
You'll catch Antinous somewhere in that clay,
As perfect-featured as he yearns at Rome
From marble pale with beauty; then persist,
And, if your apprehension's competent,
You'll find some fairer angel at his back,
As much exceeding him, as he the boor,
And pushing him with empyreal disdain
For ever out of sight. Ay, Carrington
Is glad of such a creed! an artist must,
Who paints a tree, a leaf, a common stone
With just his hand, and finds it suddenly
A-piece with and conterminous to his soul.
Why else do these things move him, leaf or stone?
The bird's not moved, that pecks at a spring-shoot;
Nor yet the horse, before a quarry, a-graze:
But man, the two-fold creature, apprehends
The two-fold manner, in and outwardly,
And nothing in the world comes single to him.
A mere itself,–cup, column, or candlestick,
All patterns of what shall be in the Mount;
The whole temporal show related royally,
And build up to eterne significance
Through the open arms of God. 'There's nothing great
Nor small,' has said a poet of our day,
(Whose voice will ring beyond the curfew of eve
And not be thrown out by the matin's bell)
And truly, I reiterate, . . nothing's small!
No lily-muffled hum of a summer-bee,
But finds some coupling with the spinning stars;
No pebble at your foot, but proves a sphere;
No chaffinch, but implies the cherubim:
And,–glancing on my own thin, veined wrist,–
In such a little tremour of the blood
The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul
Doth utter itself distinct. Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware
More and more, from the first similitude.

Truth so far, in my book! a truth which draws
From all things upwards. I, Aurora, still
Have felt it hound me through the wastes of life
As Jove did Io: and, until that Hand
Shall overtake me wholly, and, on my head,
Lay down its large, unfluctuating peace,
The feverish gad-fly pricks me up and down
It must be. Art's the witness of what Is
Behind this show. If this world's show were all,
Then imitation would be all in Art;
There, Jove's hand gripes us!–For we stand here, we.
If genuine artists, witnessing for God's
Complete, consummate, undivided work:
That not a natural flower can grow on earth,
Without a flower upon the spiritual side,
Substantial, archetypal, all a-glow
With blossoming causes,–not so far away,
That we, whose spirit-sense is somewhat cleared,
May not catch something of the bloom and breath,–
Too vaguely apprehended, though indeed
Still apprehended, consciously or not,
And still transferred to picture, music, verse,
For thrilling audient and beholding souls
By signs and touches which are known to souls,–
How known, they know not,–why, they cannot find,
So straight call out on genius, say, 'A man
Produced this,'–when much rather they should say,
Tis insight, and he saw this.'
Thus is Art
Self-magnified in magnifying a truth
Which, fully recognized, would change the world
And shift its morals. If a man could feel,
Not one day, in the artist's ecstasy,
But every day, feast, fast, or working-day,
The spiritual significance burn through
The hieroglyphic of material shows,
Henceforward he would paint the globe with wings,
And reverence fish and fowl, the bull, the tree,
And even his very body as a man,–
Which now he counts so vile, that all the towns
Make offal of their daughters for its use
On summer-nights, when God is sad in heaven
To think what goes on in his recreant world
He made quite other; while that moon he made
To shine there, at the first love's covenant,
Shines still, convictive as a marriage-ring
Before adulterous eyes.
How sure it is,
That, if we say a true word, instantly
We feel 'tis God's, not ours, and pass it on
As bread at sacrament, we taste and pass
Nor handle for a moment, as indeed
We dared to set up any claim to such!
And I–my poem;–let my readers talk;
I'm closer to it–I can speak as well:
I'll say, with Romney, that the book is weak,
The range uneven, the points of sight obscure,
The music interrupted.
Let us go.
The end of woman (or of man, I think)
Is not a book. Alas, the best of books
Is but a word in Art, which soon grows cramped,
Stiff, dubious-statured with the weight of years,
And drops an accent or digamma down
Some cranny of unfathomable time,
Beyond the critic's reaching. Art itself,
We've called the higher life, still must feel the soul
Live past it. For more's felt than is perceived,
And more's perceived than can be interpreted,
And Love strikes higher with his lambent flame
Than Art can pile the faggots.
Is it so?
When Jove's hand meets us with composing touch,
And when, at last, we are hushed and satisfied,–
Then, Io does not call it truth, but love?
Well, well! my father was an Englishman:
My mother's blood in me is not so strong
That I should bear this stress of Tuscan noon
And keep my wits. The town, there, seems to seethe
In this Medæan boil-pot of the sun,
And all the patient hills are bubbling round
As if a prick would leave them flat. Does heaven
Keep far off, not to set us in a blaze?
Not so,–let drag your fiery fringes, heaven,
And burn us up to quiet! Ah, we know
Too much here, not to know what's best for peace;
We have too much light here, not to want more fire
To purify and end us. We talk, talk,
Conclude upon divine philosophies,
And get the thanks of men for hopeful books;
Whereat we take our own life up, and . . pshaw!
Unless we piece it with another's life,
(A yard of silk to carry out our lawn)
As well suppose my little handkerchief
Would cover Samminiato, church and all,
If out I threw it past the cypresses,
As, in this ragged, narrow life of mine,
Contain my own conclusions.
But at least
We'll shut up the persiani, and sit down,
And when my head's done aching, in the cool,
Write just a word to Kate and Carrington.
May joy be with them! she has chosen well,
And he not ill.
I should be glad, I think,
Except for Romney. Had he married Kate,
I surely, surely, should be very glad.
This Florence sits upon me easily,
With native air and tongue. My graves are calm,
And do not too much hurt me. Marian's good,
Gentle and loving,–lets me hold the child,
Or drags him up the hills to find me flowers
And fill those vases, ere I'm quite awake,–
The grandiose red tulips, which grow wild,
Or else my purple lilies, Dante blew
To a larger bubble with his prophet-breath;
Or one of those tall flowering reeds which stand
In Arno like a sheaf of sceptres, left
By some remote dynasty of dead gods,
To suck the stream for ages and get green,
And blossom wheresoe'er a hand divine
Had warmed the place with ichor. Such I've found
At early morning, laid across my bed,
And woke up pelted with a childish laugh
Which even Marian's low precipitous 'hush'
Had vainly interposed to put away,–
While I, with shut eyes, smile and motion for
The dewy kiss that's very sure to come
From mouth and cheeks, the whole child's face at once
Dissolved on mine,–as if a nosegay burst
Its string with the weight of roses overblown,
And dropt upon me. Surely I should be glad.
The little creature almost loves me now,
And calls my name . . 'Alola,' stripping off
The r s like thorns, to make it smooth enough
To take between his dainty, milk-fed lips,
God love him! I should certainly be glad,
Except, God help me, that I'm sorrowful,
Because of Romney.
Romney, Romney! Well,
This grows absurd!–too like a tune that runs
I' the head, and forces all things in the world,
Wind, rain, the creaking gnat or stuttering fly,
To sing itself and vex you;–yet perhaps
A paltry tune you never fairly liked,
Some 'I'd be a butterfly,' or 'C'est l'amour:'
We're made so,–not such tyrants to ourselves,
We are not slaves to nature. Some of us
Are turned, too, overmuch like some poor verse
With a trick of ritournelle: the same thing goes
And comes back ever.
Vincent Carrington
Is 'sorry,' and I'm sorry; but he's strong
To mount from sorrow to his heaven of love,
And when he says at moments, 'Poor, poor Leigh,
Who'll never call his own, so true a heart,
So fair a face even,'–he must quickly lose
The pain of pity in the blush he has made
By his very pitying eyes. The snow, for him,
Has fallen in May, and finds the whole earth warm,
And melts at the first touch of the green grass.
But Romney,–he has chosen, after all.
I think he had as excellent a sun
To see by, as most others, and perhaps
Has scarce seen really worse than some of us,
When all's said. Let him pass. I'm not too much
A woman, not to be a man for once,
And bury all my Dead like Alaric,
Depositing the treasures of my soul
In this drained water-course, and, letting flow
The river of life again, with commerce-ships
And pleasure-barges, full of silks and songs.
Blow winds, and help us.
Ah, we mock ourselves
With talking of the winds! perhaps as much
With other resolutions. How it weighs,
This hot, sick air! and how I covet here
The Dead's provision on the river's couch,
With silver curtains drawn on tinkling rings!
Or else their rest in quiet crypts,–laid by
From heat and noise!–from those cicale, say,
And this more vexing heart-beat.
So it is:
We covet for the soul, the body's part,
To die and rot. Even so, Aurora, ends
Our aspiration, who bespoke our place
So far in the east. The occidental flats
Had fed us fatter, therefore? we have climbed
Where herbage ends? we want the beast's part now
And tire of the angel's?–Men define a man,
The creature who stands front-ward to the stars,
The creature who looks inward to himself,
The tool-wright, laughing creature. 'Tis enough:
We'll say instead, the inconsequent creature, man,–
For that's his specialty. What creature else
Conceives the circle, and then walks the square?
Loves things proved bad, and leaves a thing proved good?
You think the bee makes honey half a year,
To loathe the comb in winter, and desire
The little ant's food rather? But a man–
Note men!–they are but women after all,
As women are but Auroras!–there are men
Born tender, apt to pale at a trodden worm,
Who paint for pastime, in their favourite dream,
Spruce auto-vestments flowered with crocus-flames:
There are, too, who believe in hell, and lie:
There are, who waste their souls in working out
Life's problem on these sands betwixt two tides,
And end,– 'Now give us the beast's part, in death.'

Alas, long-suffering and most patient God,
Thou need'st be surelier God to bear with us
Than even to have made us! thou, aspire, aspire
From henceforth for me! thou who hast, thyself,
Endured this fleshhood, knowing how, as a soaked
And sucking vesture, it would drag us down
And choke us in the melancholy Deep,
Sustain me, that, with thee, I walk these waves,
Resisting!–breathe me upward, thou for me
Aspiring, who art the way, the truth, the life,–
That no truth henceforth seem indifferent,
No way to truth laborious, and no life,
Not even this life I live, intolerable!
The days went by. I took up the old days
With all their Tuscan pleasures, worn and spoiled,–
Like some lost book we dropt in the long grass
On such a happy summer-afternoon
When last we read it with a loving friend,
And find in autumn, when the friend is gone,
The grass cut short, the weather changed, too late,
And stare at, as at something wonderful
For sorrow,–thinking how two hands, before,
Had held up what is left to only one,
And how we smiled when such a vehement nail
Impressed the tiny dint here, which presents
This verse in fire for ever! Tenderly
And mournfully I lived. I knew the birds
And insects,–which look fathered by the flowers
And emulous of their hues: I recognised
The moths, with that great overpoise of wings
Which makes a mystery of them how at all
They can stop flying: butterflies, that bear
Upon their blue wings such red embers round,
They seem to scorch the blue air into holes
Each flight they take: and fire-flies, that suspire
In short soft lapses of transported flame
Across the tingling Dark, while overhead
The constant and inviolable stars
Outburn those lights-of-love: melodious owls,
(If music had but one note and was sad,
'Twould sound just so) and all the silent swirl
Of bats, that seem to follow in the air
Some grand circumference of a shadowy dome
To which we are blind: and then, the nightingale
Which pluck our heart across a garden-wall,
(When walking in the town) and carry it
So high into the bowery almond-trees,
We tremble and are afraid, and feel as if
The golden flood of moonlight unaware
Dissolved the pillars of the steady earth
And made it less substantial. An I knew
The harmless opal snakes, and large-mouthed frogs,
(Those noisy vaunters of their shallow streams)
And lizards, the green lightnings of the wall,
Which, if you sit down still, nor sigh too loud,
Will flatter you and take you for a stone,
And flash familiarly about your feet
With such prodigious eyes in such small heads!–
I knew them though they had somewhat dwindled from
My childish imagery,–and kept in mind
How last I sat among them equally,
In fellowship and mateship, as a child
Will bear him still toward insect, beast, and bird,
Before the Adam in him has foregone
All privilege of Eden,–making friends
And talk, with such a bird or such a goat,
And buying many a two-inch-wide rush-cage
To let out the caged cricket on a tree,
Saying, 'Oh, my dear grillino, were you cramped
And are you happy with the ilex-leaves?
And do you love me who have let you go?
Say yes in singing, and I'll understand.'
But now the creatures all seemed farther off,
No longer mine, nor like me; only there,
A gulph between us. I could yearn indeed,
Like other rich men, for a drop of dew
To cool this heat,–a drop of the early dew,
The irrecoverable child-innocence
(Before the heart took fire and withered life)
When childhood might pair equally with birds;
But now . . the birds were grown too proud for us!
Alas, the very sun forbids the dew.

And I, I had come back to an empty nest,
Which every bird's too wise for. How I heard
My father's step on that deserted ground,
His voice along that silence, as he told
The names of bird and insect, tree and flower,
And all the presentations of the stars
Across Valdarno, interposing still
'My child,' 'my child.' When fathers say 'my child,'
'Tis easier to conceive the universe,
And life's transitions down the steps of law.

I rode once to the little mountain-house
As fast as if to find my father there,
But, when in sight of't, within fifty yards,
I dropped my horse's bridle on his neck
And paused upon his flank. The house's front
Was cased with lingots of ripe Indian corn
In tesselated order, and device
Of golden patterns: not a stone of wall
Uncovered,–not an inch of room to grow
A vine-leaf. The old porch had disappeared;
And, in the open doorway, sate a girl
At plaiting straws,-her black hair strained away
To a scarlet kerchief caught beneath her chin
In Tuscan fashion,–her full ebon eyes,
Which looked too heavy to be lifted so,
Still dropt and lifted toward the mulberry-tree
On which the lads were busy with their staves
In shout and laughter, stripping all the boughs
As bare as winter, of those summer leaves
My father had not changed for all the silk
In which the ugly silkworms hide themselves.
Enough. My horse recoiled before my heart–
I turned the rein abruptly. Back we went
As fast, to Florence.
That was trial enough
Of graves. I would not visit, if I could,
My father's or my mother's any more,
To see if stone-cutter or lichen beat
So early in the race, or throw my flowers,
Which could not out-smell heaven or sweeten earth.
They live too far above, that I should look
So far below to find them: let me think
That rather they are visiting my grave,
This life here, (undeveloped yet to life)
And that they drop upon me, now and then,
For token or for solace, some small weed
Least odorous of the growths of paradise,
To spare such pungent scents as kill with joy.
My old Assunta, too was dead, was dead–
O land of all men's past! for me alone,
It would not mix its tenses. I was past,
It seemed, like others,–only not in heaven.
And, many a Tuscan eve, I wandered down
The cypress alley, like a restless ghost
That tries its feeble ineffectual breath
Upon its own charred funeral-brands put out
Too soon,–where, black and stiff, stood up the trees
Against the broad vermilion of the skies.
Such skies!–all clouds abolished in a sweep
Of God's skirt, with a dazzle to ghosts and men,
As down I went, saluting on the bridge
The hem of such, before 'twas caught away
Beyond the peaks of Lucca. Underneath,
The river, just escaping from the weight
Of that intolerable glory, ran
In acquiescent shadow murmurously:
And up, beside it, streamed the festa-folk
With fellow-murmurs from their feet and fans,
(With issimo and ino and sweet poise
Of vowels in their pleasant scandalous talk)
Returning from the grand-duke's dairy-farm
Before the trees grew dangerous at eight,
(For, 'trust no tree by moonlight,' Tuscans say)
To eat their ice at Doni's tenderly,–
Each lovely lady close to a cavalier
Who holds her dear fan while she feeds her smile
On meditative spoonfuls of vanille,
He breathing hot protesting vows of love,
Enough to thaw her cream, and scorch his beard.
'Twas little matter. I could pass them by
Indifferently, not fearing to be known.
No danger of being wrecked upon a friend,
And forced to take an iceberg for an isle!
The very English, here, must wait to learn
To hang the cobweb of their gossip out
And catch a fly. I'm happy. It's sublime,
This perfect solitude of foreign lands!
To be, as if you had not been till then,
And were then, simply that you chose to be:
To spring up, not be brought forth from the ground,
Like grasshoppers at Athens, and skip thrice
Before a woman makes a pounce on you
And plants you in her hair!–possess yourself,
A new world all alive with creatures new,
New sun, new moon, new flowers, new people–ah,
And be possessed by none of them! No right
In one, to call your name, enquire your where,
Or what you think of Mister Some-one's book,
Or Mister Other's marriage, or decease,
Or how's the headache which you had last week,
Or why you look so pale still, since it's gone?
Such most surprising riddance of one's life
Comes next one's death; it's disembodiment
Without the pang. I marvel, people choose
To stand stock-still like fakirs, till the moss
Grows on them, and they cry out, self-admired,
'How verdant and how virtuous!' Well, I'm glad;
Or should be, if grown foreign to myself
As surely as to others.
Musing so,
I walked the narrow unrecognising streets,
Where many a palace-front peers gloomily
Through stony vizors iron-barred, (prepared
Alike, should foe or lover pass that way,
For guest or victim) and came wandering out
Upon the churches with mild open doors
And plaintive wail of vespers, where a few,
Those chiefly women, sprinkled round in blots
Upon the dusk pavement, knelt and prayed
Toward the altar's silver glory. Oft a ray
(I liked to sit and watch) would tremble out,
Just touch some face more lifted, more in need,
Of course a woman's–while I dreamed a tale
To fit its fortunes. There was one who looked
As if the earth had suddenly grown too large
For such a little humpbacked thing as she;
The pitiful black kerchief round her neck
Sole proof she had had a mother. One, again,
Looked sick for love,–seemed praying some soft saint
To put more virtue in the new fine scarf
She spent a fortnight's meals on, yesterday,
That cruel Gigi might return his eyes
From Giuliana. There was one, so old,
So old, to kneel grew easier than to stand.–
So solitary, she accepts at last
Our Lady for her gossip, and frets on
Against the sinful world which goes its rounds
In marrying and being married, just the same
As when 'twas almost good and had the right,
(Her Gian alive, and she herself eighteen).
And yet, now even, if Madonna willed,
She'd win a tern in Thursday's lottery,
And better all things. Did she dream for nought,
That, boiling cabbage for the fast day's soup,
It smelt like blessed entrails? such a dream
For nought? would sweetest Mary cheat her so,
And lose that certain candle, straight and white
As any fair grand-duchess in her teens,
Which otherwise should flare here in a week?
Benigna sis, thou beauteous Queen of heaven!

I sate there musing and imagining
Such utterance from such faces: poor blind souls
That writhed toward heaven along the devil's trail,–
Who knows, I thought, but He may stretch his hand
And pick them up? 'tis written in the Book,
He heareth the young ravens when they cry;
And yet they cry for carrion.–O my God,–
And we, who make excuses for the rest,
We do it in our measure. Then I knelt,
And dropped my head upon the pavement too,
And prayed, since I was foolish in desire
Like other creatures, craving offal-food,
That He would stop his ears to what I said,
And only listen to the run and beat
Of this poor, passionate, helpless blood–
And then
I lay and spoke not. But He heard in heaven.
So many Tuscan evenings passed the same!
I could not lose a sunset on the bridge,
And would not miss a vigil in the church,
And liked to mingle with the out-door crowd
So strange and gay and ignorant of my face,
For men you know not, are as good as trees.
And only once, at the Santissima,
I almost chanced upon a man I knew,
Sir Blaise Delorme. He saw me certainly,
And somewhat hurried, as he crossed himself,
The smoothness of the action,–then half bowed,
But only half, and merely to my shade,
I slipped so quick behind the porphyry plinth,
And left him dubious if 'twas really I,
Or peradventure Satan's usual trick
To keep a mounting saint uncanonised.
But I was safe for that time, and he too;
The argent angels in the altar-flare
Absorbed his soul next moment. The good man!
In England we were scare acquaintances,
That here in Florence he should keep my thought
Beyond the image on his eye, which came
And went: and yet his thought disturbed my life.
For, after that, I often sate at home
On evenings, watching how they fined themselves
With gradual conscience to a perfect night,
Until a moon, diminished to a curve,
Lay out there, like a sickle for His hand
Who cometh down at last to reap the earth.
At such times, ended seemed my trade of verse;
I feared to jingle bells upon my robe
Before the four-faced silent cherubim;
With God so near me, could I sing of God?
I did not write, nor read, nor even think,
But sate absorbed amid the quickening glooms,
Most like some passive broken lump of salt
Dropt in by chance to a bowl of oenomel,
To spoil the drink a little, and lose itself,
Dissolving slowly, slowly, until lost.

poem by from Aurora Leigh (1856)Report problemRelated quotes
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The One You Love VS. The One You Like

Don't ever leave the one you love for the one you like because the one you like will leave you for the one they love

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If the Moon on the skies Does not Roam

If the moon on the skies does not roam,
But cools, like a seal above,
My dead husband enters the home
To read the letters of love.

He remembers the box, made of oak,
With the lock, very secret and odd,
And spreads through a floor the stroke
Of his feet in the iron bond.

He watches the times of the meetings
And the signatures' blurry set.
Hasn't had he sufficiently grievings
And pains in this word until that?

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The one I love

The one I love
~
It is to my heart I hold her
and call her beautiful
it is in my thoughts I love her
daily without doubt
a blessing to my soul
I pray to grow old with her
and celebrate many years
these are the little things
that make life worth living
to love and be loved
to know such sweet joy
it is to my heart I hold her
in the warmth of new memory
each tender kiss taken
is never to be forgot
amid one lasting thought
she is the one
the one I love

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We Are All Going To Die/ And It Does Not Matter How Good

WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE/

We are all going to die
And it does not matter how good you are
Or how strong you are
Or how great you are
Or how kind you are
Or how wise you are
Or whatever you are
We are all going to die
And go away forever-

And I walking here
With the pride of my poem
And the pride of my name
And the anguish of what I have done and not done
Will like everyone else
Go away forever-
Whether I have written this poem or not.

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The Future Is In Deep Sleep And Does Not Bother....

i look back
(with minor regrets)
a life unedited
asking for some
corrections

i look back again and again
i can do more than this and that
it could have been something else
i could have been someone
more enlightened

i look back
it has become one bad habit for me
until i bump
a wall and it hurts my face
awakens me

it is this present this wall
this soundless pain
this complacency

too much of the past
i know, emaciates the present
on slipping hours
on hands with leaks
on dimming lights
on lazy afternoons and
colder nights

the future in deep sleep
does not bother.

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