Touched with the delicate green of early May,
Or later, when the rose uplifts her face,
The world hangs glittering in starry space,
Fresh as a jewel found but yesterday.
And yet ’tis very old; what tongue may say
How old it is? Race follows upon race,
Forgetting and forgotten; in their place
Sink tower and temple; nothing long may stay.
We build on tombs, and live our day, and die;
From out our dust new towers and temples start;
Our very name becomes a mystery.
What cities no man ever heard of lie
Under the glacier, in the mountain’s heart,
In violet glooms beneath the moaning sea!
Here, in this little Bay,
Full of tumultuous life and great repose,
Where, twice a day,
The purposeless, gay ocean comes and goes,
Under high cliffs, and far from the huge town,
I sit me down.
For want of me the world’s course will not fail:
When all its work is done, the lie shall rot;
The truth is great, and shall prevail,
When none cares whether it prevail or not.
One by one they go
Into the unknown dark–
Star-lit brows of the brave,
Voices that drew men’s souls.
Rich is the land, O Death!
Can give you dead like our dead!–
Such as he from whose hand
The magic web of romance
Slipt, and the art was lost!
Such as he who erewhile–
The last of the Titan brood–
With his thunder the Senate shook;
Or he who, beside the Charles,
Untoucht of envy or hate,
Tranced the world with his song;
Or that other, that grey-eyed seer
Who in pastoral Concord ways
With Plato and Hâfiz walked.
Not of these was the man
Whose wraith, through the mists of night,
Through the shuddering wintry stars,
Has passed to eternal morn.
Fit were the moan of the sea
And the clashing of cloud on cloud
For the passing of that soul!
Ever he faced the storm!
No weaver of rare romance,
No patient framer of laws,
No maker of wondrous rhyme,
No bookman wrapt in his dream.
His was the voice that rang
In the fight like a bugle-call,
And yet could be tender and low
As when, on a night in June,
The hushed wind sobs in the pines.
His was the eye that flashed
With a sabre’s azure gleam,
Pointing to heights unwon!
Not for him were these days
Of clerky and sluggish calm–
To the petrel the swooping gale!
Austere he seemed, but the hearts
Of all men beat in his breast;
No fetter but galled his wrist,
No wrong that was not his own.
What if those eloquent lips
Curled with the old-time scorn?
What if in needless hours
His quick hand closed on the hilt?
‘T was the smoke from the well-won fields
That clouded the vetran’s eyes.
A fighter this to the end.
Ah, if in coming times
Some giant evil arise,
And Honor falter and pale,
His were a name to conjure with!
God send his like again!
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.
SENT TO A FRIEND WITH A VOLUME OF TENNYSON
Wouldst thou know the knightly clash of steel on steel?
Or list the throstle singing loud and clear?
Or walk at twilight by some haunted mere
In Surrey; or in throbbing London feel
Life’s pulse at highest–hark, the minster’s peal! . . .
Turn but the page, that various world is here!
When to oft sleep we give ourselves away,
And in a dream as in a fairy bark
Drift on and on through the enchanted dark
To purple daybreak — little thought we pay
To that sweet bitter world we know by day.
We are clean quit of it, as is a lark
So high in heaven no human eye can mark
The thin swift pinion cleaving through the gray.
Till we awake ill fate can do no ill,
The resting heart shall not take up again
The heavy load that yet must make it bleed;
For this brief space the loud world’s voice is still,
No faintest echo of it brings us pain.
How will it be when we shall sleep indeed?
They are rhymes rudely strung with intent less
Of sound than of words,
In lands where bright blossoms are scentless,
And songless bright birds;
Where, with fire and fierce drought on her tresses,
Insatiable Summer oppresses
Sere woodlands and sad wildernesses,
And faint flocks and herds.
Where in drieariest days, when all dews end,
And all winds are warm,
Wild Winter’s large floodgates are loosen’d,
And floods, freed by storm;
From broken-up fountain heads, dash on
Dry deserts with long pent up passion–
Here rhyme was first framed without fashion,
Song shaped without form.
Whence gather’d?–The locust’s glad chirrup
May furnish a stave;
The ring os rowel and stirrup,
The wash of a wave.
The chauntof a marsh frog in rushes
That chimes through the pauses and hushes
Of nightfall, the torrent that gushes,
The tempests that rave.
In the deep’ning of dawn, when it dapples
The dusk of the sky,
With streaks like the redd’ning of apples,
The ripening of rye.
To eastward, when cluster by cluster,
Dim stars and dull planets, that muster,
Wax wan in a world of white lustre
That spreads far and high.
In the gathering of night gloom o’er head, in
The still silent change,
All fire-flush’d when forest trees redden
On slopes of the range.
When the gnarl’d knotted trunks Eucalyptian
Seemed carved like weird columns Egyptian
With curious device–quaint inscription,
And heiroglyph strange.
In the Spring, when the wattle gold trembles
‘Twixt shadow and shine,
When each dew-laden air draught resembles
A long draught of wine;
When the skyline’s blue burnished resistance
Makes deeper the dreamiest distance,
Some song in all hearts hath existence,–
Such songs have been mine.
Restless the Northern Bear amid his snows
Crouched by the Neva; menacing is France,
That sees the shadow of the Uhlan’s lance
On her clipped borders; struggling in the throes
Of wanton war lies Spain, and deathward goes.
And thou, O England, how the time’s mischance
Hath fettered thee, that with averted glance
Thou standest, marble to Armenia’s woes!
If ’twas thy haughty Dauther of the West
That stayed thy hand,, a word had driven away
Her sudden ire, and brought her to thy breast!
Thy blood makes quick her pulses, and some day,
Not now, yet some day, at thy soft behest
She by thy side shall hold the world at bay.
Upon your hearse this flower I lay
Brief be your sleep! You shall be known
When lesser men have had their day:
Fame blossoms where true seed is sown,
Or soon or late, let Time wound what it may.
Unvext by any dream of fame,
You smiled, and bade the world pass by:
But I–I turned, and saw a name
Shaping itself against the sky–
White star that rose amid the battle’s flame!
Brief be your sleep, for I would see
Your laurels–ah, how trivial now
To him must earthly laurel be
Who wears the amaranth on his brow!
How vain the voices of mortality!
Because the sky is blue; because blithe May
Masks in the wren’s note and the lilac’s hue;
Because — in fine, because the sky is blue
I will read none but piteous tales to-day.
Keep happy laughter till the skies be gray,
And the sad season cypress wears, and rue;
Then, when the wind is moaning in the flue,
And ways are dark, bid Chaucer make us gay.
But now a little sadness! All too sweet
This springtide riot, this most poignant air,
This sensuous world of color and perfume.
So listen, love, while I the woes repeat
Of Hamlet and Ophelia, and that pair
Whose bridal bed was builded in a tomb.
Listen my masters! I speak naught but truth.
From dawn to dawn they drifted on and on,
Not knowing wither nor to what dark end.
Now the North froze them, now the hot South scorched.
Some called to God, and found great comfort so;
Some gnashed their teeth with curses, some laughed
An empty laughter, seeing they yet lived,
So sweet was breath between their foolish lips.
Day after day the same relentless sun,
Night after night the same unpitying stars.
At intervals fierce lightning tore the clouds,
Showing vast hollow spaces, and the sleet
Hissed, and the torrents of the sky were loosed.
From time to time a hand relaxed its grip,
And some pale wretch slid down into the dark
With stifled moan, and transient horror seized
The rest who waited, knowing what must be.
At every turn strange shapes reached up and clutched
The whirling wreck, held on awhile, and then
Slipt back into that blackness whence they came.
Ah, hapless folk, to be so tost and torn,
So racked by hunger, fever, fire, and wave,
And swept at last into the nameless void–
Frail girls, strong men, and mothers with their babes!
And was none saved?
My masters, not a soul!
O shipman, woful, woful is thy tale!
Our hearts are heavy and our eyes are dimmed.
What ship is this that suffered such ill fate?
What ship, my masters? Know ye not?–The World!