Classics  
English    1849 - 1903   
William Ernest Henley was an English poet, critic and editor. Arguably his best-remembered work is the poem "Invictus", written in 1875. It is said that this was written as a demonstration of his resilience following the amputation of his foot due to tubercular infection. This passionate and defiant poem should ... Read more
William Ernest Henley was an English poet, critic and editor. Arguably his best-remembered work is the poem "Invictus", written in 1875. It is said that this was written as a demonstration of his resilience following the amputation of his foot due to tubercular infection. This passionate and defiant poem should ... Read more

If it should come to be,
This proof of you and me,
This type and sign
Of hours that smiled and shone,
And yet seemed dead and gone
As old-world wine:

Of Them Within the Gate
Ask we no richer fate,
No boon above,
For girl child or for boy,
My gift of life and joy,
Your gift of love.

A late lark twitters from the quiet skies;
And from the west,
Where the sun, his day's work ended,
Lingers as in content,
There falls on the old, grey city
An influence luminous and serene,
A shining peace.

The smoke ascends
In a rosy-and-golden haze.  The spires
Shine, and are changed.  In the valley
Shadows rise.  The lark sings on.  The sun,
Closing his benediction,
Sinks, and the darkening air
Thrills with a sense of the triumphing night--
Night with her train of stars
And her great gift of sleep.

So be my passing!
My task accomplished and the long day done,
My wages taken, and in my heart
Some late lark singing,
Let me be gathered to the quiet west,
The sundown splendid and serene,
Death.

Out of the night that covers me,
  Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
  For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
  I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
  My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
  Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
  Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
  How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
  I am the captain of my soul.

--To Rudyard Kipling


The Sword
Singing--
The voice of the Sword from the heart of the Sword
Clanging imperious
Forth from Time's battlements
His ancient and triumphing Song.

In the beginning,
Ere God inspired Himself
Into the clay thing
Thumbed to His image,
The vacant, the naked shell
Soon to be Man:
Thoughtful He pondered it,
Prone there and impotent,
Fragile, inviting
Attack and discomfiture;
Then, with a smile--
As He heard in the Thunder
That laughed over Eden
The voice of the Trumpet,
The iron Beneficence,
Calling his dooms
To the Winds of the world--
Stooping, He drew
On the sand with His finger
A shape for a sign
Of his way to the eyes
That in wonder should waken,
For a proof of His will
To the breaking intelligence.
That was the birth of me:
I am the Sword.

Bleak and lean, grey and cruel,
Short-hilted, long shafted,
I froze into steel;
And the blood of my elder,
His hand on the hafts of me,
Sprang like a wave
In the wind, as the sense
Of his strength grew to ecstasy;
Glowed like a coal
In the throat of the furnace;
As he knew me and named me
The War-Thing, the Comrade,
Father of honour
And giver of kingship,
The fame-smith, the song-master,
Bringer of women
On fire at his hands
For the pride of fulfilment,
Priest (saith the Lord)
Of his marriage with victory
Ho! then, the Trumpet,
Handmaid of heroes,
Calling the peers
To the place of espousals!
Ho! then, the splendour
And glare of my ministry,
Clothing the earth
With a livery of lightnings!
Ho! then, the music
Of battles in onset,
And ruining armours,
And God's gift returning
In fury to God!
Thrilling and keen
As the song of the winter stars,
Ho! then, the sound
Of my voice, the implacable
Angel of Destiny!--
I am the Sword.

Heroes, my children,
Follow, O, follow me!
Follow, exulting
In the great light that breaks
From the sacred Companionship!
Thrust through the fatuous,
Thrust through the fungous brood,
Spawned in my shadow
And gross with my gift!
Thrust through, and hearken
O, hark, to the Trumpet,
The Virgin of Battles,
Calling, still calling you
Into the Presence,
Sons of the Judgment,
Pure wafts of the Will!
Edged to annihilate,
Hilted with government,
Follow, O, follow me,
Till the waste places
All the grey globe over
Ooze, as the honeycomb
Drips, with the sweetness
Distilled of my strength,
And, teeming in peace
Through the wrath of my coming,
They give back in beauty
The dread and the anguish
They had of me visitant!
Follow, O follow, then,
Heroes, my harvesters!
Where the tall grain is ripe
Thrust in your sickles!
Stripped and adust
In a stubble of empire,
Scything and binding
The full sheaves of sovranty:
Thus, O, thus gloriously,
Shall you fulfil yourselves!
Thus, O, thus mightily,
Show yourselves sons of mine--
Yea, and win grace of me:
I am the Sword!

I am the feast-maker:
Hark, through a noise
Of the screaming of eagles,
Hark how the Trumpet,
The mistress of mistresses,
Calls, silver-throated
And stern, where the tables
Are spread, and the meal
Of the Lord is in hand!
Driving the darkness,
Even as the banners
And spears of the Morning;
Sifting the nations,
The slag from the metal,
The waste and the weak
From the fit and the strong;
Fighting the brute,
The abysmal Fecundity;
Checking the gross,
Multitudinous blunders,
The groping, the purblind
Excesses in service
Of the Womb universal,
The absolute drudge;
Firing the charactry
Carved on the World,
The miraculous gem
In the seal-ring that burns
On the hand of the Master--
Yea! and authority
Flames through the dim,
Unappeasable Grisliness
Prone down the nethermost
Chasms of the Void!--
Clear singing, clean slicing;
Sweet spoken, soft finishing;
Making death beautiful,
Life but a coin
To be staked in the pastime
Whose playing is more
Than the transfer of being;
Arch-anarch, chief builder,
Prince and evangelist,
I am the Will of God:
I am the Sword.

The Sword
Singing--
The voice of the Sword from the heart of the Sword
Clanging majestical,
As from the starry-staired
Courts of the primal Supremacy,
His high, irresistible song.

Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud,
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
      I am the captain of my soul.

--To C. M.


Fountains that frisk and sprinkle
The moss they overspill;
Pools that the breezes crinkle;
The wheel beside the mill,
With its wet, weedy frill;
Wind-shadows in the wheat;
A water-cart in the street;
The fringe of foam that girds
An islet's ferneries;
A green sky's minor thirds--
To live, I think of these!

Of ice and glass the tinkle,
Pellucid, silver-shrill;
Peaches without a wrinkle;
Cherries and snow at will,
From china bowls that fill
The senses with a sweet
Incuriousness of heat;
A melon's dripping sherds;
Cream-clotted strawberries;
Dusk dairies set with curds--
To live, I think of these!

Vale-lily and periwinkle;
Wet stone-crop on the sill;
The look of leaves a-twinkle
With windlets clear and still;
The feel of a forest rill
That wimples fresh and fleet
About one's naked feet;
The muzzles of drinking herds;
Lush flags and bulrushes;
The chirp of rain-bound birds--
To live, I think of these!

Envoy

Dark aisles, new packs of cards,
Mermaidens' tails, cool swards,
Dawn dews and starlit seas,
White marbles, whiter words--
To live, I think of these!

A late lark twitters from the quiet skies:
And from the west,
Where the sun, his day's work ended,
Lingers as in content,
There falls on the old, gray city
An influence luminous and serene,
A shining peace.

The smoke ascends
In a rosy-and-golden haze. The spires
Shine and are changed. In the valley
Shadows rise. The lark sings on. The sun,
Closing his benediction,
Sinks, and the darkening air
Thrills with a sense of the triumphing night--
Night with her train of stars
And her great gift of sleep.

So be my passing!
My task accomplish'd and the long day done,
My wages taken, and in my heart
Some late lark singing,
Let me be gather'd to the quiet west,
The sundown splendid and serene,
Death.

I gave my heart to a woman--
I gave it her, branch and root.
She bruised, she wrung, she tortured,
She cast it under foot.

Under her feet she cast it,
She trampled it where it fell,
She broke it all to pieces,
And each was a clot of hell.

There in the rain and the sunshine
They lay and smouldered long;
And each, when again she viewed them,
Had turned to a living song.

The morning mists still haunt the stony street;
The northern summer air is shrill and cold;
And lo, the Hospital, grey, quiet, old,
Where Life and Death like friendly chafferers meet.
Thro' the loud spaciousness and draughty gloom
A small, strange child--so aged yet so young!--
Her little arm besplinted and beslung,
Precedes me gravely to the waiting-room.
I limp behind, my confidence all gone.
The grey-haired soldier-porter waves me on,
And on I crawl, and still my spirits fail:
A tragic meanness seems so to environ
These corridors and stairs of stone and iron,
Cold, naked, clean--half-workhouse and half-jail.

A desolate shore,
The sinister seduction of the Moon,
The menace of the irreclaimable Sea.

Flaunting, tawdry and grim,
From cloud to cloud along her beat,
Leering her battered and inveterate leer,
She signals where he prowls in the dark alone,
Her horrible old man,
Mumbling old oaths and warming
His villainous old bones with villainous talk--
The secrets of their grisly housekeeping
Since they went out upon the pad
In the first twilight of self-conscious Time:
Growling, hideous and hoarse,
Tales of unnumbered Ships,
Goodly and strong, Companions of the Advance,
In some vile alley of the night
Waylaid and bludgeoned--
Dead.

Deep cellared in primeval ooze,
Ruined, dishonoured, spoiled,
They lie where the lean water-worm
Crawls free of their secrets, and their broken sides
Bulge with the slime of life.  Thus they abide,
Thus fouled and desecrate,
The summons of the Trumpet, and the while
These Twain, their murderers,
Unravined, imperturbable, unsubdued,
Hang at the heels of their children--She aloft
As in the shining streets,
He as in ambush at some accomplice door.

The stalwart Ships,
The beautiful and bold adventurers!
Stationed out yonder in the isle,
The tall Policeman,
Flashing his bull's-eye, as he peers
About him in the ancient vacancy,
Tells them this way is safety--this way home.

Staring corpselike at the ceiling,
See his harsh, unrazored features,
Ghastly brown against the pillow,
And his throat--so strangely bandaged!

Lack of work and lack of victuals,
A debauch of smuggled whisky,
And his children in the workhouse
Made the world so black a riddle

That he plunged for a solution;
And, although his knife was edgeless,
He was sinking fast towards one,
When they came, and found, and saved him.

Stupid now with shame and sorrow,
In the night I hear him sobbing.
But sometimes he talks a little.
He has told me all his troubles.

In his broad face, tanned and bloodless,
White and wild his eyeballs glisten;
And his smile, occult and tragic,
Yet so slavish, makes you shudder!

I am the Reaper.
All things with heedful hook
Silent I gather.
Pale roses touched with the spring,
Tall corn in summer,
Fruits rich with autumn, and frail winter blossoms--
Reaping, still reaping--
All things with heedful hook
Timely I gather.

I am the Sower.
All the unbodied life
Runs through my seed-sheet.
Atom with atom wed,
Each quickening the other,
Fall through my hands, ever changing, still changeless
Ceaselessly sowing,
Life, incorruptible life,
Flows from my seed-sheet.

Maker and breaker,
I am the ebb and the flood,
Here and Hereafter.
Sped through the tangle and coil
Of infinite nature,
Viewless and soundless I fashion all being.
Taker and giver,
I am the womb and the grave,
The Now and the Ever.

Exceeding tall, but built so well his height
Half-disappears in flow of chest and limb;
Moustache and whisker trooper-like in trim;
Frank-faced, frank-eyed, frank-hearted; always bright
And always punctual--morning, noon, and night;
Bland as a Jesuit, sober as a hymn;
Humorous, and yet without a touch of whim;
Gentle and amiable, yet full of fight.
His piety, though fresh and true in strain,
Has not yet whitewashed up his common mood
To the dead blank of his particular Schism.
Sweet, unaggressive, tolerant, most humane,
Wild artists like his kindly elderhood,
And cultivate his mild Philistinism.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head. is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

--To Elizabeth Robins Pennell


'O mes cheres Mille et Une Nuits!'--Fantasio.

Once on a time
There was a little boy:  a master-mage
By virtue of a Book
Of magic--O, so magical it filled
His life with visionary pomps
Processional!  And Powers
Passed with him where he passed.  And Thrones
And Dominations, glaived and plumed and mailed,
Thronged in the criss-cross streets,
The palaces pell-mell with playing-fields,
Domes, cloisters, dungeons, caverns, tents, arcades,
Of the unseen, silent City, in his soul
Pavilioned jealously, and hid
As in the dusk, profound,
Green stillnesses of some enchanted mere.--

I shut mine eyes . . . And lo!
A flickering snatch of memory that floats
Upon the face of a pool of darkness five
And thirty dead years deep,
Antic in girlish broideries
And skirts and silly shoes with straps
And a broad-ribanded leghorn, he walks
Plain in the shadow of a church
(St. Michael's:  in whose brazen call
To curfew his first wails of wrath were whelmed),
Sedate for all his haste
To be at home; and, nestled in his arm,
Inciting still to quiet and solitude,
Boarded in sober drab,
With small, square, agitating cuts
Let in a-top of the double-columned, close,
Quakerlike print, a Book! . . .
What but that blessed brief
Of what is gallantest and best
In all the full-shelved Libraries of Romance?
The Book of rocs,
Sandalwood, ivory, turbans, ambergris,
Cream-tarts, and lettered apes, and calendars,
And ghouls, and genies--O, so huge
They might have overed the tall Minster Tower
Hands down, as schoolboys take a post!
In truth, the Book of Camaralzaman,
Schemselnihar and Sindbad, Scheherezade
The peerless, Bedreddin, Badroulbadour,
Cairo and Serendib and Candahar,
And Caspian, and the dim, terrific bulk--
Ice-ribbed, fiend-visited, isled in spells and storms--
Of Kaf! . . . That centre of miracles,
The sole, unparalleled Arabian Nights!

Old friends I had a-many--kindly and grim
Familiars, cronies quaint
And goblin!  Never a Wood but housed
Some morrice of dainty dapperlings.  No Brook
But had his nunnery
Of green-haired, silvry-curving sprites,
To cabin in his grots, and pace
His lilied margents.  Every lone Hillside
Might open upon Elf-Land.  Every Stalk
That curled about a Bean-stick was of the breed
Of that live ladder by whose delicate rungs
You climbed beyond the clouds, and found
The Farm-House where the Ogre, gorged
And drowsy, from his great oak chair,
Among the flitches and pewters at the fire,
Called for his Faery Harp.  And in it flew,
And, perching on the kitchen table, sang
Jocund and jubilant, with a sound
Of those gay, golden-vowered madrigals
The shy thrush at mid-May
Flutes from wet orchards flushed with the triumphing dawn;
Or blackbirds rioting as they listened still,
In old-world woodlands rapt with an old-world spring,
For Pan's own whistle, savage and rich and lewd,
And mocked him call for call!

I could not pass
The half-door where the cobbler sat in view
Nor figure me the wizen Leprechaun,
In square-cut, faded reds and buckle-shoes,
Bent at his work in the hedge-side, and know
Just how he tapped his brogue, and twitched
His wax-end this and that way, both with wrists
And elbows.  In the rich June fields,
Where the ripe clover drew the bees,
And the tall quakers trembled, and the West Wind
Lolled his half-holiday away
Beside me lolling and lounging through my own,
'Twas good to follow the Miller's Youngest Son
On his white horse along the leafy lanes;
For at his stirrup linked and ran,
Not cynical and trapesing, as he loped
From wall to wall above the espaliers,
But in the bravest tops
That market-town, a town of tops, could show:
Bold, subtle, adventurous, his tail
A banner flaunted in disdain
Of human stratagems and shifts:
King over All the Catlands, present and past
And future, that moustached
Artificer of fortunes, Puss-in-Boots!
Or Bluebeard's Closet, with its plenishing
Of meat-hooks, sawdust, blood,
And wives that hung like fresh-dressed carcases--
Odd-fangled, most a butcher's, part
A faery chamber hazily seen
And hazily figured--on dark afternoons
And windy nights was visiting of the best.
Then, too, the pelt of hoofs
Out in the roaring darkness told
Of Herne the Hunter in his antlered helm
Galloping, as with despatches from the Pit,
Between his hell-born Hounds.
And Rip Van Winkle . . . often I lurked to hear,
Outside the long, low timbered, tarry wall,
The mutter and rumble of the trolling bowls
Down the lean plank, before they fluttered the pins;
For, listening, I could help him play
His wonderful game,
In those blue, booming hills, with Mariners
Refreshed from kegs not coopered in this our world.

But what were these so near,
So neighbourly fancies to the spell that brought
The run of Ali Baba's Cave
Just for the saying 'Open Sesame,'
With gold to measure, peck by peck,
In round, brown wooden stoups
You borrowed at the chandler's? . . . Or one time
Made you Aladdin's friend at school,
Free of his Garden of Jewels, Ring and Lamp
In perfect trim? . . . Or Ladies, fair
For all the embrowning scars in their white breasts
Went labouring under some dread ordinance,
Which made them whip, and bitterly cry the while,
Strange Curs that cried as they,
Till there was never a Black Bitch of all
Your consorting but might have gone
Spell-driven miserably for crimes
Done in the pride of womanhood and desire . . .
Or at the ghostliest altitudes of night,
While you lay wondering and acold,
Your sense was fearfully purged; and soon
Queen Labe, abominable and dear,
Rose from your side, opened the Box of Doom,
Scattered the yellow powder (which I saw
Like sulphur at the Docks in bulk),
And muttered certain words you could not hear;
And there! a living stream,
The brook you bathed in, with its weeds and flags
And cresses, glittered and sang
Out of the hearthrug over the nakedness,
Fair-scrubbed and decent, of your bedroom floor! . . .

I was--how many a time!--
That Second Calendar, Son of a King,
On whom 'twas vehemently enjoined,
Pausing at one mysterious door,
To pry no closer, but content his soul
With his kind Forty.  Yet I could not rest
For idleness and ungovernable Fate.
And the Black Horse, which fed on sesame
(That wonder-working word!),
Vouchsafed his back to me, and spread his vans,
And soaring, soaring on
From air to air, came charging to the ground
Sheer, like a lark from the midsummer clouds,
And, shaking me out of the saddle, where I sprawled
Flicked at me with his tail,
And left me blinded, miserable, distraught
(Even as I was in deed,
When doctors came, and odious things were done
On my poor tortured eyes
With lancets; or some evil acid stung
And wrung them like hot sand,
And desperately from room to room
Fumble I must my dark, disconsolate way),
To get to Bagdad how I might.  But there
I met with Merry Ladies.  O you three--
Safie, Amine, Zobeide--when my heart
Forgets you all shall be forgot!
And so we supped, we and the rest,
On wine and roasted lamb, rose-water, dates,
Almonds, pistachios, citrons.  And Haroun
Laughed out of his lordly beard
On Giaffar and Mesrour (I knew the Three
For all their Mossoul habits).  And outside
The Tigris, flowing swift
Like Severn bend for bend, twinkled and gleamed
With broken and wavering shapes of stranger stars;
The vast, blue night
Was murmurous with peris' plumes
And the leathern wings of genies; words of power
Were whispering; and old fishermen,
Casting their nets with prayer, might draw to shore
Dead loveliness:  or a prodigy in scales
Worth in the Caliph's Kitchen pieces of gold:
Or copper vessels, stopped with lead,
Wherein some Squire of Eblis watched and railed,
In durance under potent charactry
Graven by the seal of Solomon the King . . .

Then, as the Book was glassed
In Life as in some olden mirror's quaint,
Bewildering angles, so would Life
Flash light on light back on the Book; and both
Were changed.  Once in a house decayed
From better days, harbouring an errant show
(For all its stories of dry-rot
Were filled with gruesome visitants in wax,
Inhuman, hushed, ghastly with Painted Eyes),
I wandered; and no living soul
Was nearer than the pay-box; and I stared
Upon them staring--staring.  Till at last,
Three sets of rafters from the streets,
I strayed upon a mildewed, rat-run room,
With the two Dancers, horrible and obscene,
Guarding the door:  and there, in a bedroom-set,
Behind a fence of faded crimson cords,
With an aspect of frills
And dimities and dishonoured privacy
That made you hanker and hesitate to look,
A Woman with her litter of Babes--all slain,
All in their nightgowns, all with Painted Eyes
Staring--still staring; so that I turned and ran
As for my neck, but in the street
Took breath.  The same, it seemed,
And yet not all the same, I was to find,
As I went up!  For afterwards,
Whenas I went my round alone--
All day alone--in long, stern, silent streets,
Where I might stretch my hand and take
Whatever I would:  still there were Shapes of Stone,
Motionless, lifelike, frightening--for the Wrath
Had smitten them; but they watched,
This by her melons and figs, that by his rings
And chains and watches, with the hideous gaze,
The Painted Eyes insufferable,
Now, of those grisly images; and I
Pursued my best-beloved quest,
Thrilled with a novel and delicious fear.
So the night fell--with never a lamplighter;
And through the Palace of the King
I groped among the echoes, and I felt
That they were there,
Dreadfully there, the Painted staring Eyes,
Hall after hall . . . Till lo! from far
A Voice!  And in a little while
Two tapers burning!  And the Voice,
Heard in the wondrous Word of God, was--whose?
Whose but Zobeide's,
The lady of my heart, like me
A True Believer, and like me
An outcast thousands of leagues beyond the pale! . . .

Or, sailing to the Isles
Of Khaledan, I spied one evenfall
A black blotch in the sunset; and it grew
Swiftly . . . and grew.  Tearing their beards,
The sailors wept and prayed; but the grave ship,
Deep laden with spiceries and pearls, went mad,
Wrenched the long tiller out of the steersman's hand,
And, turning broadside on,
As the most iron would, was haled and sucked
Nearer, and nearer yet;
And, all awash, with horrible lurching leaps
Rushed at that Portent, casting a shadow now
That swallowed sea and sky; and then,
Anchors and nails and bolts
Flew screaming out of her, and with clang on clang,
A noise of fifty stithies, caught at the sides
Of the Magnetic Mountain; and she lay,
A broken bundle of firewood, strown piecemeal
About the waters; and her crew
Passed shrieking, one by one; and I was left
To drown.  All the long night I swam;
But in the morning, O, the smiling coast
Tufted with date-trees, meadowlike,
Skirted with shelving sands!  And a great wave
Cast me ashore; and I was saved alive.
So, giving thanks to God, I dried my clothes,
And, faring inland, in a desert place
I stumbled on an iron ring--
The fellow of fifty built into the Quays:
When, scenting a trap-door,
I dug, and dug; until my biggest blade
Stuck into wood.  And then,
The flight of smooth-hewn, easy-falling stairs,
Sunk in the naked rock!  The cool, clean vault,
So neat with niche on niche it might have been
Our beer-cellar but for the rows
Of brazen urns (like monstrous chemist's jars)
Full to the wide, squat throats
With gold-dust, but a-top
A layer of pickled-walnut-looking things
I knew for olives!  And far, O, far away,
The Princess of China languished!  Far away
Was marriage, with a Vizier and a Chief
Of Eunuchs and the privilege
Of going out at night
To play--unkenned, majestical, secure--
Where the old, brown, friendly river shaped
Like Tigris shore for shore!  Haply a Ghoul
Sat in the churchyard under a frightened moon,
A thighbone in his fist, and glared
At supper with a Lady:  she who took
Her rice with tweezers grain by grain.
Or you might stumble--there by the iron gates
Of the Pump Room--underneath the limes--
Upon Bedreddin in his shirt and drawers,
Just as the civil Genie laid him down.
Or those red-curtained panes,
Whence a tame cornet tenored it throatily
Of beer-pots and spittoons and new long pipes,
Might turn a caravansery's, wherein
You found Noureddin Ali, loftily drunk,
And that fair Persian, bathed in tears,
You'd not have given away
For all the diamonds in the Vale Perilous
You had that dark and disleaved afternoon
Escaped on a roc's claw,
Disguised like Sindbad--but in Christmas beef!
And all the blissful while
The schoolboy satchel at your hip
Was such a bulse of gems as should amaze
Grey-whiskered chapmen drawn
From over Caspian:  yea, the Chief Jewellers
Of Tartary and the bazaars,
Seething with traffic, of enormous Ind.--

Thus cried, thus called aloud, to the child heart
The magian East:  thus the child eyes
Spelled out the wizard message by the light
Of the sober, workaday hours
They saw, week in week out, pass, and still pass
In the sleepy Minster City, folded kind
In ancient Severn's arm,
Amongst her water-meadows and her docks,
Whose floating populace of ships--
Galliots and luggers, light-heeled brigantines,
Bluff barques and rake-hell fore-and-afters--brought
To her very doorsteps and geraniums
The scents of the World's End; the calls
That may not be gainsaid to rise and ride
Like fire on some high errand of the race;
The irresistible appeals
For comradeship that sound
Steadily from the irresistible sea.
Thus the East laughed and whispered, and the tale,
Telling itself anew
In terms of living, labouring life,
Took on the colours, busked it in the wear
Of life that lived and laboured; and Romance,
The Angel-Playmate, raining down
His golden influences
On all I saw, and all I dreamed and did,
Walked with me arm in arm,
Or left me, as one bediademed with straws
And bits of glass, to gladden at my heart
Who had the gift to seek and feel and find
His fiery-hearted presence everywhere.
Even so dear Hesper, bringer of all good things,
Sends the same silver dews
Of happiness down her dim, delighted skies
On some poor collier-hamlet--(mound on mound
Of sifted squalor; here a soot-throated stalk
Sullenly smoking over a row
Of flat-faced hovels; black in the gritty air
A web of rails and wheels and beams; with strings
Of hurtling, tipping trams)--
As on the amorous nightingales
And roses of Shiraz, or the walls and towers
Of Samarcand--the Ineffable--whence you espy
The splendour of Ginnistan's embattled spears,
Like listed lightnings.
Samarcand!
That name of names!  That star-vaned belvedere
Builded against the Chambers of the South!
That outpost on the Infinite!
And behold!
Questing therefrom, you knew not what wild tide
Might overtake you:  for one fringe,
One suburb, is stablished on firm earth; but one
Floats founded vague
In lubberlands delectable--isles of palm
And lotus, fortunate mains, far-shimmering seas,
The promise of wistful hills--
The shining, shifting Sovranties of Dream.

The rain and the wind, the wind and the rain --
    They are with us like a disease:
They worry the heart, they work the brain,
As they shoulder and clutch at the shrieking pane,
    And savage the helpless trees.

What does it profit a man to know
    These tattered and tumbling skies
A million stately stars will show,
And the ruining grace of the after-glow
   And the rush of the wild sunrise?

Ever the rain -- the rain and the wind!
    Come, hunch with me over the fire,
Dream of the dreams that leered and grinned,
Ere the blood of the Year got chilled and thinned,
    And the death came on desire!

Largo e mesto

Madam Life's a piece in bloom
Death goes dogging everywhere:
She's the tenant of the room,
He's the ruffian on the stair.

You shall see her as a friend,
You shall bilk him once or twice;
But he'll trap you in the end,
And he'll stick you for her price.

With his kneebones at your chest,
And his knuckles in your throat,
You would reason -- plead -- protest!
Clutching at her petticoat;

But she's heard it all before,
Well she knows you've had your fun,
Gingerly she gains the door,
And your little job is done.

Thick is the darkness--
Sunward, O, sunward!
Rough is the highway--
Onward, still onward!

Dawn harbours surely
East of the shadows.
Facing us somewhere
Spread the sweet meadows.

Upward and forward!
Time will restore us:
Light is above us,
Rest is before us.

Between the dusk of a summer night
    And the dawn of a summer day,
We caught at a mood as it passed in flight,
    And we bade it stoop and stay.
And what with the dawn of night began
    With the dusk of day was done;
For that is the way of woman and man,
    When a hazard has made them one.

Arc upon arc, from shade to shine,
    The World went thundering free;
And what was his errand but hers and mine--
    The lords of him, I and she?
O, it's die we must, but it's live we can,
    And the marvel of earth and sun
Is all for the joy of woman and man
    And the longing that makes them one.

Forth from the dust and din,
The crush, the heat, the many-spotted glare,
The odour and sense of life and lust aflare,
The wrangle and jangle of unrests,
Let us take horse, Dear Heart, take horse and win--
As from swart August to the green lap of May--
To quietness and the fresh and fragrant breasts
Of the still, delicious night, not yet aware
In any of her innumerable nests
Of that first sudden plash of dawn,
Clear, sapphirine, luminous, large,
Which tells that soon the flowing springs of day
In deep and ever deeper eddies drawn
Forward and up, in wider and wider way,
Shall float the sands, and brim the shores,
On this our lith of the World, as round it roars
And spins into the outlook of the Sun
(The Lord's first gift, the Lord's especial charge),
With light, with living light, from marge to marge
Until the course He set and staked be run.

Through street and square, through square and street,
Each with his home-grown quality of dark
And violated silence, loud and fleet,
Waylaid by a merry ghost at every lamp,
The hansom wheels and plunges.  Hark, O, hark,
Sweet, how the old mare's bit and chain
Ring back a rough refrain
Upon the marked and cheerful tramp
Of her four shoes!  Here is the Park,
And O, the languid midsummer wafts adust,
The tired midsummer blooms!
O, the mysterious distances, the glooms
Romantic, the august
And solemn shapes!  At night this City of Trees
Turns to a tryst of vague and strange
And monstrous Majesties,
Let loose from some dim underworld to range
These terrene vistas till their twilight sets:
When, dispossessed of wonderfulness, they stand
Beggared and common, plain to all the land
For stooks of leaves!  And lo! the Wizard Hour,
His silent, shining sorcery winged with power!
Still, still the streets, between their carcanets
Of linking gold, are avenues of sleep.
But see how gable ends and parapets
In gradual beauty and significance
Emerge!  And did you hear
That little twitter-and-cheep,
Breaking inordinately loud and clear
On this still, spectral, exquisite atmosphere?
'Tis a first nest at matins!  And behold
A rakehell cat--how furtive and acold!
A spent witch homing from some infamous dance--
Obscene, quick-trotting, see her tip and fade
Through shadowy railings into a pit of shade!
And now! a little wind and shy,
The smell of ships (that earnest of romance),
A sense of space and water, and thereby
A lamplit bridge ouching the troubled sky,
And look, O, look! a tangle of silver gleams
And dusky lights, our River and all his dreams,
His dreams that never save in our deaths can die.

What miracle is happening in the air,
Charging the very texture of the gray
With something luminous and rare?
The night goes out like an ill-parcelled fire,
And, as one lights a candle, it is day.
The extinguisher, that perks it like a spire
On the little formal church, is not yet green
Across the water:  but the house-tops nigher,
The corner-lines, the chimneys--look how clean,
How new, how naked!  See the batch of boats,
Here at the stairs, washed in the fresh-sprung beam!
And those are barges that were goblin floats,
Black, hag-steered, fraught with devilry and dream!
And in the piles the water frolics clear,
The ripples into loose rings wander and flee,
And we--we can behold that could but hear
The ancient River singing as he goes,
New-mailed in morning, to the ancient Sea.
The gas burns lank and jaded in its glass:
The old Ruffian soon shall yawn himself awake,
And light his pipe, and shoulder his tools, and take
His hobnailed way to work!

Let us too pass--
Pass ere the sun leaps and your shadow shows--
Through these long, blindfold rows
Of casements staring blind to right and left,
Each with his gaze turned inward on some piece
Of life in death's own likeness--Life bereft
Of living looks as by the Great Release--
Pass to an exquisite night's more exquisite close!

Reach upon reach of burial--so they feel,
These colonies of dreams!  And as we steal
Homeward together, but for the buxom breeze,
Fitfully frolicking to heel
With news of dawn-drenched woods and tumbling seas,
We might--thus awed, thus lonely that we are--
Be wandering some dispeopled star,
Some world of memories and unbroken graves,
So broods the abounding Silence near and far:
Till even your footfall craves
Forgiveness of the majesty it braves.

 
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