Author:

The Sisters’ Tragedy

A.D. 1670

AGLÄE, a widow.
MURIEL, her unmarried sister.

It happened once, in that brave land that lies
For half the twelvemonth wrapt in sombre skies,
Two sisters loved one man. He being dead,
Grief loosed the lips of her he had not wed,
And all the passion that through heavy years
Had masked in smiles unmasked itself in tears.
No purer love may mortals know than this,
The hidden love that guards another’s bliss.
High in a turret’s westward-facing room,
Whose painted window held the sunset’s bloom,
The two together grieving, each to each
Unveiled her soul with sobs and broken speech.

Both were young, in life’s rich summer yet;
And one was dark, with tints of violet
In hair and eyes, and one was blond as she
Who rose–a second daybreak–from the sea,
Gold-tressed and azure-eyed. In that lone place,
Like dusk and dawn, they sat there face to face.

She spoke the first whose strangely silvering hair
No wreath had worn, nor widow’s weed might wear,
And told her blameless love, and knew no shame–
Her holy love that, like a vestal flame
Beside the body of some queen
Within a guarded crypt, had burned unseen
From weary year to year. And she who heard
Smiled proudly through her tears and said no word,
But, drawing closer, on the troubled brow
Laid one long kiss, and that was words enow!

MURIEL.

Be still, my heart! Grown patient with thine ache,
Thou shouldst be dumb, yet needs must speak, or break.
The world is empty now that he is gone.

AGLÄE.

Ay, sweetheart!

MURIEL.

None was like him, no, not one.
From other men he stood apart, alone
In honor spotless as unfallen snow.
Nothing all evil was it his to know;
His charity still found some germ, some spark
Of light in natures that seemed wholly dark.
He read men’s souls; the lowly and the high
Moved on the self-same level in his eye.
Gracious to all, to none subservient,
Without offence he spake the word he meant–
His word no trick of tact or courtly art,
But the white flowering of the noble heart.
Careless he was of much the world counts gain,
Careless of self, too simple to be vain,
Yet strung so finely that for conscience-sake
He would have gone like Cranmer to the stake.
I saw–how could I help but love? And you–

AGLÄE.

At this perfection did I worship too . . .
‘T was this that stabbed me. Heed not what I say!
I meant it not, my wits are gone astray,
With all that is and has been. No, I lie–
Had he been less perfection, happier I!

MURIEL.

Strange words and wild! ‘T is the distracted mind
Breathes them, not you, and I no meaning find.

AGLÄE.

Yet ‘t were as plain as writing on a scroll
had you but eyes to read within my soul.–
How a grief hidden feeds on its own mood,
Poison’s the healthful currents of the blood
With bitterness, and turns the heart to stone!
I think, in truth, ‘t were better to make moan,
And so be done with it. This many a year,
Sweetheart, have I laughed lightly and made cheer,
Pierced through with sorrow!

Then the widowed one
With sorrowfullest eyes beneath the sun,
Faltered, irresolute, and bending low
Her head, half whispered,

Dear, how could you know?
What masks are faces!–yours, unread by me
These seven long summers; mine, so placidly
Shielding my woe! No tremble of the lip,
No cheek’s quick pallor let our secret slip!
Mere players we, and she that played the queen,
Now in her homespun, looks how poor and mean!
How shall I say it, how find words to tell
What thing it was for me made earth a hell
That else had been my heaven! ‘T would blanch your cheek
Were I to speak it. Nay, but I will speak,
Since like two souls at compt we seem to stand,
Where nothing may be hidden. Hold my hand,
But look not at me! Noble ‘t was, and meet,
To hide your heart, nor fling it at his feet
To lie despised there. Thus saved you our pride
And that white honor for which earls have died.
You were not all unhappy, loving so!
I with a difference wore my weight of woe.
My lord was he. It was my cruel lot,
My hell, to love him–for he loved me not!

Then came a silence. Suddenly like death
The truth flashed on them, and each held her breath–
A flash of light whereby they both were slain,
She that was loved and she that loved in vain!

The Revelation

An idle poet, here and there,
Looks around him; but, for all the rest,
The world, unfathomably fair,
Is duller than a witling’s jest.
Love wakes men, once a lifetime each;
They lift their heavy lids, and look;
And, lo, what one sweet page can teach,
They read with joy, then shut the book.
And some give thanks, and some blaspheme
And most forget; but, either way,
That and the Child’s unheeded dream
Is all the light of all their day.

The Pig

In England once there lived a big
And wonderfully clever pig.
To everybody it was plain
That Piggy had a massive brain.
He worked out sums inside his head,
There was no book he hadn’t read.
He knew what made an airplane fly,
He knew how engines worked and why.
He knew all this, but in the end
One question drove him round the bend:
He simply couldn’t puzzle out
What LIFE was really all about.
What was the reason for his birth?
Why was he placed upon this earth?
His giant brain went round and round.
Alas, no answer could be found.
Till suddenly one wondrous night.
All in a flash he saw the light.
He jumped up like a ballet dancer
And yelled, ‘By gum, I’ve got the answer! ‘
‘They want my bacon slice by slice
‘To sell at a tremendous price!
‘They want my tender juicy chops
‘To put in all the butcher’s shops!
‘They want my pork to make a roast
‘And that’s the part’ll cost the most!
‘They want my sausages in strings!
‘They even want my chitterlings!
‘The butcher’s shop! The carving knife!
‘That is the reason for my life! ‘
Such thoughts as these are not designed
To give a pig great peace of mind.
Next morning, in comes Farmer Bland,
A pail of pigswill in his hand,
And piggy with a mighty roar,
Bashes the farmer to the floor…
Now comes the rather grisly bit
So let’s not make too much of it,
Except that you must understand
That Piggy did eat Farmer Bland,
He ate him up from head to toe,
Chewing the pieces nice and slow.
It took an hour to reach the feet,
Because there was so much to eat,
And when he finished, Pig, of course,
Felt absolutely no remorse.
Slowly he scratched his brainy head
And with a little smile he said,
‘I had a fairly powerful hunch
‘That he might have me for his lunch.
‘And so, because I feared the worst,
‘I thought I’d better eat him first.’

An Exile’s Farewell

The ocean heaves around us still
With long and measured swell,
The autumn gales our canvas fill,
Our ship rides smooth and well.
The broad Atlantic’s bed of foam
Still breaks against our prow;
I shed no tears at quitting home,
Nor will I shed them now!

Against the bulwarks on the poop
I lean, and watch the sun
Behind the red horizon stoop —
His race is nearly run.
Those waves will never quench his light,
O’er which they seem to close,
To-morrow he will rise as bright
As he this morning rose.

How brightly gleams the orb of day
Across the trackless sea!
How lightly dance the waves that play
Like dolphins in our lee!
The restless waters seem to say,
In smothered tones to me,
How many thousand miles away
My native land must be!

Speak, Ocean! is my Home the same
Now all is new to me? —
The tropic sky’s resplendent flame,
The vast expanse of sea?
Does all around her, yet unchanged,
The well-known aspect wear?
Oh! can the leagues that I have ranged
Have made no difference there?

How vivid Recollection’s hand
Recalls the scene once more!
I see the same tall poplars stand
Beside the garden door;
I see the bird-cage hanging still;
And where my sister set
The flowers in the window-sill —
Can they be living yet?

Let woman’s nature cherish grief,
I rarely heave a sigh
Before emotion takes relief
In listless apathy;
While from my pipe the vapours curl
Towards the evening sky,
And ‘neath my feet the billows whirl
In dull monotony!

The sky still wears the crimson streak
Of Sol’s departing ray,
Some briny drops are on my cheek,
‘Tis but the salt sea spray!
Then let our barque the ocean roam,
Our keel the billows plough;
I shed no tears at quitting home,
Nor will I shed them now!

Adam Lindsay Gordon

Sargent’s Portrait Of Edwin Booth

That face which no man ever saw
And from his memory banished quite,
With eyes in which are Hamlet’s awe
And Cardinal Richelieu’s subtle light,
Looks from this frame. A master’s hand
Has set the master player here,
In the fair temple that he planned
Not for himself. To us most dear
This image of him! "It was thus
He looked; such pallor touched his cheek;
With that same grace he greeted us–
Nay, ‘t is the man, could it but speak!"
Sad words that shall be said some day–
Far fall the day! O cruel Time,
Whose breath sweeps mortal things away,
Spare long this image of his prime,
That others standing in the place
Where, save as ghosts, we come no more,
May know what sweet majestic face
The gentle Prince of Players wore!

The Swimmer

With short, sharp violent lights made vivid,
To the southward far as the sight can roam,
Only the swirl of the surges livid,
The seas that climb and the surfs that comb,
Only the crag and the cliff to nor’ward,
And rocks receding, and reefs flung forward,
And waifs wreck’d seaward and wasted shoreward
On shallows sheeted with flaming foam.

A grim grey coast and a seaboard ghastly,
And shores trod seldom by feet of men —
Where the batter’d hull and the broken mast lie
They have lain embedded these long years ten.
Love! when we wander’d here together,
Hand in hand through the sparkling weather,
From the heights and hollows of fern and heather,
God surely loved us a little then.

Then skies were fairer and shores were firmer —
The blue sea over the bright sand roll’d;
Babble and prattle, and ripple and murmur,
Sheen of silver and glamour of gold —
And the sunset bath’d in the gulf to lend her
A garland of pinks and of purples tender,
A tinge of the sun-god’s rosy splendour,
A tithe of his glories manifold.

Man’s works are craven, cunning, and skillful
On earth where his tabernacles are;
But the sea is wanton, the sea is wilful,
And who shall mend her and who shall mar?
Shall we carve success or record disaster
On her bosom of heaving alabaster?
Will her purple pulse beat fainter or faster
For fallen sparrow or fallen star?

I would that with sleepy soft embraces
The sea would fold me — would find me rest
In luminous shades of her secret places,
In depths where her marvels are manifest,
So the earth beneath her should not discover
My hidden couch — nor the heaven above her —
As a strong love shielding a weary lover,
I would have her shield me with shining breast.

When light in the realms of space lay hidden,
When life was yet in the womb of time,
Ere flesh was fettered to fruits forbidden,
And souls were wedded to care and crime,
Was the course foreshaped for the future spirit —
A burden of folly, a void of merit —
That would fain the wisdom of stars inherit,
And cannot fathom the seas sublime?

Under the sea or the soil (what matter?
The sea and the soil are under the sun),
As in the former days in the latter
The sleeping or waking is known of none,
Surely the sleeper shall not awaken
To griefs forgotten or joys forsaken,
For the price of all things given and taken,
The sum of all things done and undone.

Shall we count offences or coin excuses,
Or weigh with scales the soul of a man,
Whom a strong hand binds and a sure hand looses,
Whose light is a spark and his life a span?
The seed he sowed or the soil he cumber’d,
The time he served or the space he slumber’d,
Will it profit a man when his days are number’d,
Or his deeds since the days of his life began?

One, glad because of the light, saith, "Shall not
The righteous judges of all the earth do right,
For behold the sparrows on the house-tops fall not
Save as seemeth to Him good in His sight?"
And this man’s joy shall have no abiding
Through lights departing and lives dividing,
He is soon as one in the darkness hiding,
One loving darkness rather than light.

A little season of love and laughter,
Of light and life, and pleasure and pain,
And a horror of outer darkness after,
And dust returneth to dust again;
Then the lesser life shall be as the greater,
And the lover of light shall join the hater,
And the one thing cometh sooner or later,
And no one knoweth the loss or gain.

Love of my life! we had lights in season —
Hard to part with, harder to keep —
We had strength to labour and souls to reason,
And seed to scatter and fruits to reap.
Though time estranges and fate disperses,
We have had our loves and loving mercies.
Though the gifts of the light in the end are curses,
Yet bides the gift of darkness — sleep!

See! girt with tempest and wing’d with thunder,
And clad with lightning and shod with sleet,
The strong winds treading the swift waves sunder
The flying rollers with frothy feet.
One gleam like a bloodshot swordblade swims on
The skyline, staining the green gulf crimson
A death stroke fiercely dealt by a dim sun
That strikes through his stormy winding sheet.

Oh, brave white horses! you gather and gallop,
The storm sprite loosens the gusty reins;
Now the stoutest ship were the frailest shallop
In your hollow backs, or your high arch’d manes.
I would ride as never a man has ridden
In your sleepy swirling surges hidden,
To gulfs foreshadow’d, through straits forbidden,
Where no light wearies and no love wanes.

Miracles

Sick of myself and all that keeps the light
Of the wide heavens away from me and mine,
I climb this ledge, and by this wind-swept pine
Lingering, watch the coming of the night:
‘Tis ever a new wonder to my sight.
Men look to God for some mysterious sign,
For other stars than such as nightly shine,
For some unwonted symbol of His might.
Wouldst see a miracle not less than those
The Master wrought of old in Galilee?
Come watch with me the azure turn to rose
In yonder West, the changing pageantry,
The fading alps and archipelagoes,
And spectral cities of the sunset-sea.

Corydon

A PASTORAL

SCENE: A roadside in Arcady

SHEPHERD.

Good sir, have you seen pass this way
A mischief straight from market-day?
You’d know her at a glance, I think;
Her eyes are blue, her lips are pink;
She has a way of looking back
Over her shoulder, and, alack!
Who gets that look one time, good sir,
Has naught to do but follow her.

PILGRIM.

I have not seen this maid, methinks,
Though she that passed had lips like pinks.

SHEPHERD.

Or like two strawberries made one
By some sly trick of dew and sun.

PILGRIM.

A poet!

SHEPHERD.

Nay, a simple swain
That tends his flock on yonder plain,
Naught else, I swear by book and bell.
But she that passed, you marked her well.
Was she not smooth as any be
That dwell herein in Arcady?

PILGRIM.

Her skin was as the satin bark
Of birches

SHEPHERD.

Light or dark?

PILGRIM.

Quite dark.

SHEPHERD.

Then ’twas not she.

PILGRIM.

The peach’s side
That’s next the sun is not so dyed
As was her cheek. Her hair hung down
Like summer twilight falling brown;
And when the breeze swept by, I wist
Her face was in a sombre mist.

SHEPHERD.

No, that is not the maid I seek.
Her hair lies gold against the cheek;
Her yellow tresses take the morn
Like silken tassles of the corn.
And yet–brown locks are far from bad.

PILGRIM.

Now I bethinks me, this one had
A figure like the willow-tree
Which, slight and supple, wondrously
Inclines to droop with pensive grace,
And still retains its proper place;
A foot so arched and very small
The marvel was she walked at all;
Her hand–in sooth I lack for words–
her hand, five slender snow-white birds.
Her voice–though she but said "God-speed"–
Was melody blown through a reed;
The girl Pan changed into a pipe
Had not a note so full and ripe.
And then her eye–my lad her eye!
Discreet, inviting, candid, shy,
An outward ice, an inward fire,
And lashes to the heart’s desire–
Soft fringes blacker than the sloe.

SHEPHERD.

Good sir, which way did this one go?

PILGRIM, solus.

So, he is off! The silly youth
Knoweth not love in sober sooth.
He loves, thus lads at first are blind–
No woman, only Womankind.
I needs must laugh, for, by the Mass,
No maid at all did this way pass!

The King Of Denmark’s Ride

WORD was brought to the Danish king
(Hurry!)
That the love of his heart lay suffering,
And pin’d for the comfort his voice would bring;
(Oh! ride as though you were flying!)
Better he loves each golden curl
On the brow of that Scandinavian girl
Than his rich crown jewels of ruby and pearl;
And his rose of the isles is dying!

Thirty nobles saddled with speed,
(Hurry!)
Each one mounting a gallant steed
Which he kept for battle and days of need;
(Oh! ride as though you were flying!)
Spurs were struck in the foaming flank;
Worn-out chargers stagger’d and sank;
Bridles were slacken’d, and girths were burst;
But ride as they would, the king rode first,
For his rose of the isles lay dying!

His nobles are beaten, one by one;
(Hurry!)
They have fainted, and falter’d, and homeward gone;
His little fair page now follows alone,
For strength and for courage trying.
The king look’d back at that faithful child;
Wan was the face that answering smil’d;
They passed the drawbridge with clattering din,
Then he dropp’d; and only the king rode in
Where his rose of the isles lay dying!

The king blew a blast on his bugle horn;
(Silence!)
No answer came; but faint and forlorn
An echo return’d on the cold gray morn,
Like the breath of a spirit sighing.
The castle portal stood grimly wide;
None welcom’d the king from that weary ride;
For dead, in the light of the dawning day,
The pale sweet form of the welcomer lay,
Who had yearn’d for his voice while dying!

The panting steed, with a drooping crest,
Stood weary.
The king return’d from her chamber of rest,
The thick sobs choking in his breast;
And, that dumb companion eyeing,
The tears gush’d forth which he strove to check;
He bowed his head on his charger’s neck:
“O steed—that every nerve didst strain,
Dear steed, our ride hath been in vain
To the halls where my love lay dying!”

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.

We Have Been Friends Together

WE have been friends together,
In sunshine and in shade;
Since first beneath the chestnut-trees
In infancy we played.
But coldness dwells within thy heart,
A cloud is on thy brow;
We have been friends together—
Shall a light word part us now?

We have been gay together;
We have laugh’d at little jests;
For the fount of hope was gushing
Warm and joyous in our breasts.
But laughter now hath fled thy lip,
And sullen glooms thy brow;
We have been gay together—
Shall a light word part us now?

We have been sad together,
We have wept, with bitter tears,
O’er the grass-grown graves, where slumber’d
The hopes of early years.
The voices which are silent there
Would bid thee clear thy brow;
We have been sad together—
Oh! what shall part us now?