Author:

The Last Leap

ALL is over! fleet career,
Dash of greyhound slipping thongs,
Flight of falcon, bound of deer,
Mad hoof-thunder in our rear,
Cold air rushing up our lungs,
Din of many tongues.

Once again, one struggle good,
One vain effort;—he must dwell
Near the shifted post, that stood
Where the splinters of the wood,
Lying in the torn tracks, tell
How he struck and fell.

Crest where cold drops beaded cling,
Small ear drooping, nostril full,
Glazing to a scarlet ring,
Flanks and haunches quivering,
Sinews stiffening, void and null,
Dumb eyes sorrowful.

Satin coat that seems to shine
Duller now, black braided tress
That a softer hand than mine
Far away was wont to twine,
That in meadows far from this
Softer lips might kiss.

All is over! this is death,
And I stand to watch thee die,
Brave old horse! with bated breath
Hardly drawn through tight-clenched teeth,
Lip indented deep, but eye
Only dull and dry.

Musing on the husk and chaff
Gathered where life’s tares are sown,
Thus I speak, and force a laugh,
That is half a sneer and half
An involuntary groan,
In a stifled tone—

‘Rest, old friend! thy day, though rife
With its toil, hath ended soon;
We have had our share of strife,
Tumblers in the masque of life,
In the pantomime of noon
Clown and pantaloon.

‘With a flash that ends thy pain,
Respite and oblivion blest
Come to greet thee. I in vain
Fall: I rise to fall again:
Thou hast fallen to thy rest—
And thy fall is best

Nocturne Iii

One night
one night all full of murmurings, of perfumes and music of wings;
one night
in which fantastic fireflies burnt in the humid nuptial shadows,
slowly by my side, pressed altogether close, silent and pale,
as if a presentiment of infinite bitternesses
agitated you unto the most hidden fibers of your being,
along the flowering path which crosses the plain
you walked;
and the full moon
in the infinite and profound blue heavens scattered its white light;
and your shadow,
fine and languid,
and my shadow
projected by the rays of the moon,
upon the sorrowful sands
of the path, joined together;
and they became one,
and they became one,
and they became only one long shadow,
and they became only one long shadow,
and they became only one long shadow….

Tonight
alone; my soul
full of the infinite bitternesses and agonies of your death,
separated from you by time, by the tomb and by distance,
by the infinite blackness
where our voice cannot reach,
silent and alone
along the path I walked …
And the barking of dogs at the moon could be heard,
at the pale moon,
and the chirping
of the frogs …
I felt cold. It was the coldness that in your alcove
your cheeks and your temples and your adoréd hands possessed
within the snowy whiteness
of the mortuary sheets.
It was the coldness of the sepulcher, it was the ice of death,
it was the coldness of oblivion.
And my shadow,
projected by the rays of the moon,
walked alone,
walked alone,
walked alone along the solitary plain;
and your shadow, svelte and agile,
fine and languid,
as in that warm night of springtime death,
as in that night full of murmurings, of perfumes and music of wings,
approached and walked with mine,
approached and walked with mine,
approached and walked with mine … Oh, the shadows intertwined!
Oh, the corporeal shadows united with the shadows of the souls!
Oh, the seeking shadows in those nights of sorrows and of tears!

I Vex Me Not With Brooding On The Years

I vex me not with brooding on the years
That were ere I drew breath; why should I then
Distrust the darkness that may fall again
When life is done? Perchance in other spheres–
Dead planets–I once tasted mortal tears,
And walked as now among a throng of men,
Pondering things that lay beyond my ken,
Questioning death, and solacing my fears.
Offtimes indeed strange sense I have of this,
Vague memories that hold me with a spell,
Touches of unseen lips upon my brow,
Breathing some incommunicable bliss!
In years foregone, O soul, was all not well?
Still lovelier life awaits thee. Fear not thou!

Alec Yeaton’s Son

GLOUCESTER, AUGUST, 1720

The wind it wailed, the wind it moaned,
And the white caps flecked the sea;
"An’ I would to God," the skipper groaned,
"I had not my boy with me!

Snug in the stern-sheets, little John
Laughed as the scud swept by;
But the skipper’s sunburnt cheeks grew wan
As he watched the wicked sky.

"Would he were at his mother’s side!"
And the skipper’s eyes were dim.
"Good Lord in heaven, if ill betide,
What would become of him!

"For me–my muscles are as steel,
For me let hap what may;
I might make shift upon the keel
Until the break o’ day.

"But he, he is so weak and small,
So young, scarce learned to stand–
O pitying Father of us all,
I trust him in Thy hand!

"For Thou, who makest from on high
A sparrow’s fall–each one!–
Surely, O Lord, thou’lt have an eye
On Alec Yeaton’s son!"

Then, helm hard-port; right straight he sailed
Towards the headland light:
The wind it moaned, the wind it wailed,
And black, black fell the night.

Then burst a storm to make one quail
Though housed from winds and waves–
They who could tell about that gale
Must rise from watery graves!

Sudden it came, as sudden went;
Ere half the night was sped,
The winds were hushed, the waves were spent,
And the stars shone overhead.

Now, as the morning mist grew thin,
The folk on Gloucester shore
Saw a little figure floating in
Secure, on a broken oar!

Up rose the cry, "A wreck! a wreck!
Pull, mates, and waste no breath!"–
They knew it, though ‘t was but a speck
Upon the edge of death!

Long did they marvel in the town
At God his strange decree,
That let the stalwart skipper drown
And the little child go free!

The Last Caesar

I

Now there was one who came in later days
To play at Emperor: in the dead of night
Stole crown and sceptre, and stood forth to light
In sudden purple. The dawn’s straggling rays
Showed Paris fettered, murmuring in amaze,
With red hands at her throat–a piteous sight.
Then the new Cæsar, stricken with affright
At his own daring, shrunk from public gaze

In the Elysée, and had lost the day
But that around him flocked his birds of prey,
Sharp-beaked, voracious, hungry for the deed.
‘Twixt hope and fear beheld great Cæsar hang!
Meanwhile, methinks, a ghostly laughter rang
Through the rotunda of the Invalides.

II

What if the boulevards, at set of sun,
Reddened, but not with the sunset’s kindly glow?
What if from quai and square the murmured woe
Swept heavenward, pleadingly? The prize was won,
A kingling made and Liberty undone.
No Emperor, this, like him awhile ago,
But his Name’s shadow; that one struck the blow
Himself, the street-sweeping gun!

This was a man of tortuous heart and brain,
So warped he knew not his own point of view–
The master of a dark, mysterious smile.

And there he plotted, by the storied Seine
And in the fairy gardens of St. Cloud,
The Sphinx that puzzled Europe, for awhile.

III

I see him as men saw him once–a face
Of true Napoleon pallor; round the eyes
The wrinkled care; mustache spread pinion-wise,
Pointing his smile with odd sardonic grace
As wearily he turns him in his place,
And bends before the hoarse Parisian cries–
Then vanishes, with glitter of gold-lace
And trumpets blaring to the patient skies.

Not thus he vanished later! On his path
The Furies waited for the hour and man,
Foreknowing that they waited not in vain.

Then fell the day, o day of dreadful wrath!
Bow-down in shame, O crimson-girt Sedan!
Weep fair Alsace! weep, loveliest Lorainne!

So mused I, sitting underneath the trees
In that old garden of the Tuileries,
Watching the dust of twilight sifting down
Through chestnut boughs just touched with autumn’s brown–

Not twilight yet, but that illusive bloom
Which holds before the deep-edged shadows come;
For still the garden stood in golden mist,
Still, like a river of golden amethyst,
The Seine slipt through its pans of fretted stone,
And, near the grille that once fenced in a throne,
The fountains still unbraided to the day
The unsubstantial silver of their spray.

A spot to dream in, love in, waste one’s hours!
Temples and palaces, and gilded towers,
And fairy terraces!–and yet, and yet
Here in her woe came Marie Antoinette,
Came sweet Corday, Du Barry with shrill cry,
Not learning from her betters how to die!
Here, while the nations watched with bated breath,
Was held the saturnalia of Red Death!

For where that slim Egyptian shaft uplifts
Its point to catch the dawn’s and sunset’s drifts
Of various gold, the busy Headsman stood. . . .
Place de la Concorde–no, the Place of Blood!

And all so peaceful now, one cannot bring
Imagination to accept the thing.
Lies, all of it! some dreamer’s wild romance–
High-hearted, witty, laughter-loving France!
In whose brain was it that the legend grew
Of Mænads shrieking in this avenue,
Of watch-fires burning, Famine standing guard,
Of long-speared Uhlans in that palace-yard!
What ruder sound this soft air ever smote
Than a bird’s twitter, or a bugle’s note?
What darker crimson ever splashed these walks
Than that of rose-leaves dropping from the stalks?
And yet–what means that charred and broken wall,
That sculptured marble, splintered, like to fall,
Looming among the trees there? . . . And you say
This happened, as it were, but yesterday?
And here the commune stretched a barricade,
And there the final desperate stand was made?
Such things have been? How all things change and fade!
How little lasts in this brave world below!
Love dies; hate cools; the Cæsars come and go;
Gaunt Hunger fattens, and the weak grow strong.
Even Republics are not here for long!

Ah, who can tell what hour may bring the doom,
The lighted torch, the tocsin’s heavy boom!

Fredericksburg

The increasing moonlight drifts across my bed,
And on the churchyard by the road, I know
It falls as white and noiselessly as snow . . . .
‘Twas such a night two weary summers fled;
The stars, as now, were waning overhead.
Listen! Again the shrill-lipped bugles blow
Where the swift currents of the river flow
Past Fredericksburg; far off the heavens are red
With sudden conflagration; on yon height,
Linstock in hand, the gunners hold their breath;
A signal rocket pierces the dense night,
Flings its spent stars upon the town beneath;
Hark! — the artillery massing on the right,
Hark! — the black squadrons wheeling down to Death!

An Alpine Picture

Stand here and look, and softly draw your breath
Lest the dread avalanche come crashing down!
How many leagues away is yonder town
Set flower-wise in the valley? Far beneath
Out feet lies summer; here a realm of death,
Where never flower has blossomed nor bird flown.
The ancient water-courses are all strown
With drifts of snow, fantastic wreath on wreath;
And peak on peak against the stainless blue
The Alps like towering campanili stand,
Wondrous, with pinnacles of frozen rain,
Silvery, crystal, like the prism in hue.
O tell me, love, if this be Switzerland —
Or is it but the frost-work on the pane?

Tennyson

I

Shakespeare and Milton–what third blazoned name
Shall lips of after-ages link to these?
His who, beside the wide encircling seas,
Was England’s voice, her voice with one acclaim,
For threescore years; whose word of praise was fame,
Whose scorn gave pause to man’s iniquities.

II

What strain was his in that Crimean war?
A bugle call in battle; a low breath,
Plaintive and sweet, above the fields of death!
So year by year the music rolled afar,
From Euxine wastes to flowery Kandahar,
Bearing the laurel or the cypress wreath.

III

Others shall have their little space of time,
Their proper niche and bust, then fade away
Into the darkness, poets of a day;
But thou, O builder of enduring rhyme,
Thou shalt not pass! Thy fame in every clime
On earth shall live where saxon speech has sway.

IV

Waft me this verse across the winter sea,
Through light and dark, through mist and blinding sleet,
O winter winds, and lay it at his feet;
Though the poor gift betray my poverty,
At his feet lay it: it may chance that he
Will find no gift, where reverence is, unmeet.

The Letter

EDWARD ROWLAND SILL, DIED FEBRUARY 27, 1887

I held his letter in my hand,
And even while I read
The lightning flashed across the land
The word that he was dead.

How strange it seemed! His living voice
Was speaking from the page
Those courteous phrases, tersely choice,
Light-hearted, witty, sage.

I wondered what it was that died!
The man himself was here,
His modesty, his scholar’s pride,
His soul serene and clear.

These neither death nor time shall dim,
Still this sad thing must be–
Henceforth I may not speak to him,
Though he can speak to me!

The Poets

When this young Land has reached its wrinkled prime,
And we are gone and all our songs are done,
And naught is left unchanged beneath the sun,
What other singers shall the womb of Time
Bring forth to reap the sunny slopes of rhyme?
For surely till the thread of life be spun
The world shall not lack poets, though but one
Make lonely music like a vesper chime
Above the heedless turmoil of the street.
What new strange voices shall be given to these,
What richer accents of melodious breath?
Yet shall they, baffled, lie at Nature’s feet
Searching the volume of her mysteries,
And vainly question the fixed eyes of Death.