The House of Life by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Warmed by her hand and shadowed by her hair
As close she leaned and poured her heart through thee,
Whereof the articulate throbs accompany
The smooth black stream that makes thy whiteness fair,—
Sweet fluttering sheet, even of her breath aware,—
Oh let thy silent song disclose to me
That soul wherewith her lips and eyes agree
Like married music in Love’s answering air.

Fain had I watched her when, at some fond thought,
Her bosom to the writing closelier press’d,
And her breast’s secrets peered into her breast;
When, through eyes raised an instant, her soul sought
My soul, and from the sudden confluence caught
The words that made her love the loveliest.

At length their long kiss severed, with sweet smart:
And as the last slow sudden drops are shed
From sparkling eaves when all the storm has fled,
So singly flagged the pulses of each heart.
Their bosoms sundered, with the opening start
Of married flowers to either side outspread
From the knit stem; yet still their mouths, burnt red,
Fawned on each other where they lay apart.

Sleep sank them lower than the tide of dreams,
And their dreams watched them sink, and slid away.
Slowly their souls swam up again, through gleams
Of watered light and dull drowned waifs of day;
Till from some wonder of new woods and streams
He woke, and wondered more: for there she lay.

So now the changed year’s turning wheel returns
And as a girl sails balanced in the wind,
And now before and now again behind
Stoops as it swoops, with cheek that laughs and burns,—
So Spring comes merry towards me now, but earns
No answering smile from me, whose life is twin’d
With the dead boughs that winter still must bind,
And whom to-day the Spring no more concerns.

Behold, this crocus is a withering flame;
This snowdrop, snow; this apple-blossom’s part
To breed the fruit that breeds the serpent’s art.
Nay, for these Spring-flowers, turn thy face from them,
Nor gaze till on the year’s last lily-stem
The white cup shrivels round the golden heart.

3.4k
Redemption

O Thou who at Love’s hour ecstatically
Unto my lips dost evermore present
The body and blood of Love in sacrament;
Whom I have neared and felt thy breath to be
The inmost incense of his sanctuary;
Who without speech hast owned him, and intent
Upon his will, thy life with mine hast blent,
And murmured o’er the cup, Remember me!—

0 what from thee the grace, for me the prize,
And what to Love the glory,—when the whole
Of the deep stair thou tread’st to the dim shoal
And weary water of the place of sighs,
And there dost work deliverance, as thine eyes
Draw up my prisoned spirit to thy soul!

The changing guests, each in a different mood,
Sit at the roadside table and arise:
And every life among them in likewise
Is a soul’s board set daily with new food.
What man has bent o’er his son’s sleep, to brood
How that face shall watch his when cold it lies?—
Or thought, as his own mother kissed his eyes,
Of what her kiss was when his father wooed?

May not this ancient room thou sit’st in dwell
In separate living souls for joy or pain?
Nay, all its corners may be painted plain
Where Heaven shows pictures of some life spent well;
And may be stamped, a memory all in vain,
Upon the sight of lidless eyes in Hell.

O all the spirits of love that wander by
Along the love-sown fallowfield of sleep
My lady lies apparent; and the deep
Calls to the deep; and no man sees but I.
The bliss so long afar, at length so nigh,
Rests there attained. Methinks proud Love must weep
When Fate’s control doth from his harvest reap
The sacred hour for which the years did sigh.

First touched, the hand now warm around my neck
Taught memory long to mock desire: and lo!
Across my breast the abandoned hair doth flow,
Where one shorn tress long stirred the longing ache:
And next the heart that trembled for its sake
Lies the queen-heart in sovereign overthrow.

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True Woman

I. Herself

To be a sweetness more desired than Spring;
A bodily beauty more acceptable
Than the wild rose-tree’s arch that crowns the fell;
To be an essence more environing
Than wine’s drained juice; a music ravishing
More than the passionate pulse of Philomel; -
To be all this ’neath one soft bosom’s swell
That is the flower of life:—how strange a thing!

How strange a thing to be what Man can know
But as a sacred secret! Heaven’s own screen
Hides her soul’s purest depth and loveliest glow;
Closely withheld, as all things most unseen,—
The wave-bowered pearl, the heart-shaped seal of green
That flecks the snowdrop underneath the snow.


II. Her Love

She loves him; for her infinite soul is Love,
And he her lodestar. Passion in her is
A glass facing his fire, where the bright bliss
Is mirrored, and the heat returned. Yet move
That glass, a stranger’s amorous flame to prove,
And it shall turn, by instant contraries,
Ice to the moon; while her pure fire to his
For whom it burns, clings close i’ the heart’s alcove.

Lo! they are one. With wifely breast to breast
And circling arms, she welcomes all command
Of love,—her soul to answering ardours fann’d:
Yet as morn springs or twilight sinks to rest,
Ah! who shall say she deems not loveliest
The hour of sisterly sweet hand-in-hand?


III. Her Heaven

If to grow old in Heaven is to grow young,
(As the Seer saw and said,) then blest were he
With youth forevermore, whose heaven should be
True Woman, she whom these weak notes have sung.
Here and hereafter,—choir-strains of her tongue,—
Sky-spaces of her eyes,—sweet signs that flee
About her soul’s immediate sanctuary,—
Were Paradise all uttermost worlds among.

The sunrise blooms and withers on the hill
Like any hillflower; and the noblest troth
Dies here to dust. Yet shall Heaven’s promise clothe
Even yet those lovers who have cherished still
This test for love:—in every kiss sealed fast
To feel the first kiss and forebode the last.

Ye who have passed Death’s haggard hills; and ye
Whom trees that knew your sires shall cease to know
And still stand silent:—is it all a show,
A wisp that laughs upon the wall?—decree
Of some inexorable supremacy
Which ever, as man strains his blind surmise
From depth to ominous depth, looks past his eyes,
Sphinx-faced with unabashed augury?

Nay, rather question the Earth’s self. Invoke
The storm-felled forest-trees moss-grown to-day
Whose roots are hillocks where the children play;
Or ask the silver sapling ’neath what yoke
Those stars, his spray-crown’s clustering gems, shall wage
Their journey still when his boughs shrink with age.

1.9k
Lovesight

When do I see thee most, beloved one?
When in the light the spirits of mine eyes
Before thy face, their altar, solemnize
The worship of that Love through thee made known?
Or when in the dusk hours, (we two alone,)
Close-kissed and eloquent of still replies
Thy twilight-hidden glimmering visage lies,
And my soul only sees thy soul its own?

0 love, my love! if I no more should see
Thyself, nor on the earth the shadow of thee,
Nor image of thine eyes in any spring,—
How then should sound upon Life’s darkening slope
The ground-whirl of the perished leaves of Hope,
The wind of Death’s imperishable wing?

1.9k
Willowwood

I

I sat with Love upon a woodside well,
Leaning across the water, I and he;
Nor ever did he speak nor looked at me,
But touched his lute wherein was audible
The certain secret thing he had to tell:
Only our mirrored eyes met silently
In the low wave; and that sound came to be
The passionate voice I knew; and my tears fell.

And at their fall, his eyes beneath grew hers;
And with his foot and with his wing-feathers
He swept the spring that watered my heart’s drouth.
Then the dark ripples spread to waving hair,
And as I stooped, her own lips rising there
Bubbled with brimming kisses at my mouth.


II

And now Love sang: but his was such a song,
So meshed with half-remembrance hard to free,
As souls disused in death’s sterility
May sing when the new birthday tarries long.
And I was made aware of a dumb throng
That stood aloof, one form by every tree,
All mournful forms, for each was I or she,
The shades of those our days that had no tongue.

They looked on us, and knew us and were known;
While fast together, alive from the abyss,
Clung the soul-wrung implacable close kiss;
And pity of self through all made broken moan
Which said, ‘For once, for once, for once alone!’
And still Love sang, and what he sang was this:—


III

‘O ye, all ye that walk in Willow-wood,
That walk with hollow faces burning white;
What fathom-depth of soul-struck widowhood,
What long, what longer hours, one lifelong night,
Ere ye again, who so in vain have wooed
Your last hope lost, who so in vain invite
Your lips to that their unforgotten food,
Ere ye, ere ye again shall see the light!

Alas! the bitter banks in Willowwood,
With tear-spurge wan, with blood-wort burning red:
Alas! if ever such a pillow could
Steep deep the soul in sleep till she were dead,—
Better all life forget her than this thing,
That Willowwood should hold her wandering!’


IV

So sang he: and as meeting rose and rose
Together cling through the wind’s wellaway
Nor change at once, yet near the end of day
The leaves drop loosened where the heart-stain glows,—
So when the song died did the kiss unclose;
And her face fell back drowned, and was as grey
As its grey eyes; and if it ever may
Meet mine again I know not if Love knows.

Only I know that I leaned low and drank
A long draught from the water where she sank,
Her breath and all her tears and all her soul:
And as I leaned, I know I felt Love’s face
Pressed on my neck with moan of pity and grace,
Till both our heads were in his aureole.

The blessed damozel leaned out
  From the gold bar of heaven;
Her eyes were deeper than the depth
  Of waters stilled at even;
She had three lilies in her hand,
  And the stars in her hair were seven.

Her robe, ungirt from clasp to hem,
  No wrought flowers did adorn,
But a white rose of Mary’s gift,
  For service meetly worn;
Her hair that lay along her back
  Was yellow like ripe corn.

It seemed she scarce had been a day
  One of God’s choristers;
The wonder was not yet quite gone
  From that still look of hers;
Albeit, to them she left, her day
  Had counted as ten years.

(To one it is ten years of years.
  . . . Yet now, and in this place,
Surely she leaned o’er me—her hair
  Fell all about my face . . .
Nothing: the autumn-fall of leaves.
  The whole year sets apace.)

It was the rampart of God’s house
  That she was standing on;
By God built over the sheer depth
  The which is Space begun;
So high, that looking downward thence
  She scarce could see the sun.

It lies in heaven, across the flood
  Of ether, as a bridge.
Beneath the tides of day and night
  With flame and darkness ridge
The void, as low as where this earth
  Spins like a fretful midge.

Around her, lovers, newly met
  ’Mid deathless love’s acclaims,
Spoke evermore among themselves
  Their heart-remembered names;
And the souls mounting up to God
  Went by her like thin flames.

And still she bowed herself and stooped
  Out of the circling charm;
Until her bosom must have made
  The bar she leaned on warm,
And the lilies lay as if asleep
  Along her bended arm.

From the fixed place of heaven she saw
  Time like a pulse shake fierce
Through all the worlds. Her gaze still strove
  Within the gulf to pierce
Its path; and now she spoke as when
  The stars sang in their spheres.

The sun was gone now; the curled moon
  Was like a little feather
Fluttering far down the gulf; and now
  She spoke through the still weather.
Her voice was like the voice the stars
  Had when they sang together.

(Ah, sweet! Even now, in that bird’s song,
  Strove not her accents there,
Fain to be harkened? When those bells
  Possessed the midday air,
Strove not her steps to reach my side
  Down all the echoing stair?)

“I wish that he were come to me,
  For he will come,” she said.
“Have I not prayed in heaven?—on earth,
  Lord, Lord, has he not prayed?
Are not two prayers a perfect strength?
  And shall I feel afraid?

“When round his head the aureole clings,
  And he is clothed in white,
I’ll take his hand and go with him
  To the deep wells of light;
As unto a stream we will step down,
  And bathe there in God’s sight.

“We two will stand beside that shrine,
  Occult, withheld, untrod,
Whose lamps are stirred continually
  With prayer sent up to God;
And see our old prayers, granted melt
  Each like a little cloud.

“We two will lie i’ the shadow of
  That living mystic tree
Within those secret growth the Dove
  Is sometimes felt to be,
While every leaf that His plumes touch
  Saith His Name audibly.

“And I myself will teach to him,
  I myself, lying so,
The songs I sing here; which his voice
  Shall pause in, hushed and slow,
And find some knowledge at each pause,
  Or some new thing to know.”

(Alas! We two, we two, thou say’st!
  Yea, one wast thou with me
That once of old.  But shall God lift
  To endless unity
The soul whose likeness with thy soul
  Was but its love for thee?)

“We two,” she said, “will seek the groves
  Where the lady Mary is,
With her five handmaidens, whose names
  Are five sweet symphonies,
Cecily, Gertrude, Magdalen,
  Margaret, and Rosalys.

“Circlewise sit they, with bound locks
  And foreheads garlanded;
Into the fine cloth white like flame
  Weaving the golden thread,
To fashion the birth-robes for them
  Who are just born, being dead.

“He shall fear, haply, and be dumb;
  Then will I lay my cheek
To his, and tell about our love,
  Not once abashed or weak;
And the dear Mother will approve
  My pride, and let me speak.

“Herself shall bring us, hand in hand,
  To Him round whom all souls
Kneel, the clear-ranged unnumbered heads
  Bowed with their aureoles;
And angels meeting us shall sing
  To their citherns and citoles.

“There will I ask of Christ the Lord
  Thus much for him and me —
Only to live as once on earth
  With Love—only to be,
As then awhile, forever now,
  Together, I and he.”

She gazed and listened and then said,
  Less sad of speech than mild —
“All this is when he comes.” She ceased.
  The light thrilled toward her, filled
With angels in strong, level flight.
  Her eyes prayed, and she smil’d.

(I saw her smile.) But soon their path
  Was vague in distant spheres;
And then she cast her arms along
  The golden barriers,
And laid her face between her hands,
  And wept. (I heard her tears.)

A Sonnet is a moment’s monument,—
Memorial from the Soul’s eternity
To one dead deathless hour. Look that it be,
Whether for lustral rite or dire portent,
Of its own arduous fulness reverent:
Carve it in ivory or in ebony,
As Day or Night may rule; and let Time see
Its flowering crest impearled and orient.

A Sonnet is a coin: its face reveals
The soul,—its converse, to what Power ’tis due:—
Whether for tribute to the august appeals
Of Life, or dower in Love’s high retinue,
It serve; or, ’mid the dark wharf’s cavernous breath,
In Charon’s palm it pay the toll to Death.

Those envied places which do know her well,
And are so scornful of this lonely place,
Even now for once are emptied of her grace:
Nowhere but here she is: and while Love’s spell
From his predominant presence doth compel
All alien hours, an outworn populace,
The hours of Love fill full the echoing space
With sweet confederate music favourable.

Now many memories make solicitous
The delicate love-lines of her mouth, till, lit
With quivering fire, the words take wing from it;
As here between our kisses we sit thus
Speaking of things remembered, and so sit
Speechless while things forgotten call to us.

Sometimes thou seem’st not as thyself alone,
But as the meaning of all things that are;
A breathless wonder, shadowing forth afar
Some heavenly solstice hushed and halcyon;
Whose unstirred lips are music’s visible tone;
Whose eyes the sun-gate of the soul unbar,
Being of its furthest fires oracular;—
The evident heart of all life sown and mown.

Even such Love is; and is not thy name Love?
Yea, by thy hand the Love-god rends apart
All gathering clouds of Night’s ambiguous art;
Flings them far down, and sets thine eyes above;
And simply, as some gage of flower or glove,
Stakes with a smile the world against thy heart.

What dawn-pulse at the heart of heaven, or last
Incarnate flower of culminating day,—
What marshalled marvels on the skirts of May,
Or song full-quired, sweet June’s encomiast;
What glory of change by nature’s hand amass’d
Can vie with all those moods of varying grace
Which o’er one loveliest woman’s form and face
Within this hour, within this room, have pass’d?

Love’s very vesture and elect disguise
Was each fine movement,—wonder new-begot
Of lily or swan or swan-stemmed galiot;
Joy to his sight who now the sadlier sighs,
Parted again; and sorrow yet for eyes
Unborn that read these words and saw her not.

This is that blessed Mary, pre-elect
      God’s Virgin. Gone is a great while, and she
      Dwelt young in Nazareth of Galilee.
Unto God’s will she brought devout respect,
Profound simplicity of intellect,
      And supreme patience. From her mother’s knee
      Faithful and hopeful; wise in charity;
Strong in grave peace; in pity circumspect.

So held she through her girlhood; as it were
      An angel-water’d lily, that near God
           Grows and is quiet. Till, one dawn at home,
She woke in her white bed, and had no fear
      At all,—yet wept till sunshine, and felt aw’d:
           Because the fulness of the time was come.

Sweet twining hedgeflowers wind-stirred in no wise
On this June day; and hand that clings in hand:—
Still glades; and meeting faces scarcely fann’d:—
An osier-odoured stream that draws the skies
Deep to its heart; and mirrored eyes in eyes:—
Fresh hourly wonder o’er the Summer land
Of light and cloud; and two souls softly spann’d
With one o’erarching heaven of smiles and sighs:—

Even such their path, whose bodies lean unto
Each other’s visible sweetness amorously,—
Whose passionate hearts lean by Love’s high decree
Together on his heart for ever true,
As the cloud-foaming firmamental blue
Rests on the blue line of a foamless sea.

When all desire at last and all regret
Go hand in hand to death, and all is vain,
What shall assuage the unforgotten pain
And teach the unforgetful to forget?
Shall Peace be still a sunk stream long unmet,—
Or may the soul at once in a green plain
Stoop through the spray of some sweet life-fountain
And cull the dew-drenched flowering amulet?

Ah! when the wan soul in that golden air
Between the scriptured petals softly blown
Peers breathless for the gift of grace unknown,
Ah! let none other written spell soe’er
But only the one Hope’s one name be there,—
Not less nor more, but even that word alone.

This sunlight shames November where he grieves
In dead red leaves, and will not let him shun
The day, though bough with bough be over-run.
But with a blessing every glade receives
High salutation; while from hillock-eaves
The deer gaze calling, dappled white and dun,
As if, being foresters of old, the sun
Had marked them with the shade of forest-leaves.

Here dawn to-day unveiled her magic glass;
Here noon now gives the thirst and takes the dew;
Till eve bring rest when other good things pass.
And here the lost hours the lost hours renew
While I still lead my shadow o’er the grass,
Nor know, for longing, that which I should do.

1.5k
The Kiss

What smouldering senses in death’s sick delay
Or seizure of malign vicissitude
Can rob this body of honour, or denude
This soul of wedding-raiment worn to-day?
For lo! even now my lady’s lips did play
With these my lips such consonant interlude
As laurelled Orpheus longed for when he wooed
The half-drawn hungering face with that last lay.

I was a child beneath her touch,—a man
When breast to breast we clung, even I and she,—
A spirit when her spirit looked through me,—
A god when all our life-breath met to fan
Our life-blood, till love’s emulous ardours ran,
Fire within fire, desire in deity.

Thou lovely and beloved, thou my love;
Whose kiss seems still the first; whose summoning eyes,
Even now, as for our love-world’s new sunrise,
Shed very dawn; whose voice, attuned above
All modulation of the deep-bowered dove,
Is like a hand laid softly on the soul;
Whose hand is like a sweet voice to control
Those worn tired brows it hath the keeping of:—

What word can answer to thy word,—what gaze
To thine, which now absorbs within its sphere
My worshipping face, till I am mirrored there
Light-circled in a heaven of deep-drawn rays?
What clasp, what kiss mine inmost heart can prove,
O lovely and beloved, O my love?

Some ladies love the jewels in Love’s zone
And gold-tipped darts he hath for painless play
In idle scornful hours he flings away;
And some that listen to his lure’s soft tone
Do love to deem the silver praise their own;
Some prize his blindfold sight; and there be they
Who kissed his wings which brought him yesterday
And thank his wings to-day that he is flown.

My lady only loves the heart of Love:
Therefore Love’s heart, my lady, hath for thee
His bower of unimagined flower and tree:
There kneels he now, and all-anhungered of
Thine eyes grey-lit in shadowing hair above,
Seals with thy mouth his immortality.

Your hands lie open in the long fresh grass,—
The finger-points look through the rosy blooms:
Your eyes smile peace. The pasture gleams and glooms
’Neath billowing skies that scatter and amass.
All round our nest, far as the eye can pass,
Are golden kingcup-fields with silver edge
Where the cow-parsley skirts the hawthorn-hedge.
’Tis visible silence, still as the hour-glass.

Deep in the sun-searched growths the dragon-fly
Hangs like a blue thread loosened from the sky:
So this wing’d hour is dropt to us from above.
Oh! clasp we to our hearts, for deathless dower,
This close-companioned inarticulate hour
When twofold silence was the song of love.

I stood where Love in brimming armfuls bore
Slight wanton flowers and foolish toys of fruit:
And round him ladies thronged in warm pursuit,
Fingered and lipped and proffered the strange store:
And from one hand the petal and the core
Savoured of sleep; and cluster and curled shoot
Seemed from another hand like shame’s salute,—
Gifts that I felt my cheek was blushing for.

At last Love bade my Lady give the same:
And as I looked, the dew was light thereon;
And as I took them, at her touch they shone
With inmost heaven-hue of the heart of flame.
And then Love said: ‘Lo! when the hand is hers,
Follies of love are love’s true ministers.’

Bless love and hope. Full many a withered year
Whirled past us, eddying to its chill doomsday;
And clasped together where the blown leaves lay,
We long have knelt and wept full many a tear.
Yet lo! one hour at last, the Spring’s compeer,
Flutes softly to us from some green byeway:
Those years, those tears are dead, but only they:—
Bless love and hope, true soul; for we are here.

Cling heart to heart; nor of this hour demand
Whether in very truth, when we are dead,
Our hearts shall wake to know Love’s golden head
Sole sunshine of the imperishable land;
Or but discern, through night’s unfeatured scope,
Scorn-fired at length the illusive eyes of Hope.

Because our talk was of the cloud-control
And moon-track of the journeying face of Fate,
Her tremulous kisses faltered at love’s gate
And her eyes dreamed against a distant goal:
But soon, remembering her how brief the whole
Of joy, which its own hours annihilate,
Her set gaze gathered, thirstier than of late,
And as she kissed, her mouth became her soul.

Thence in what ways we wandered, and how strove
To build with fire-tried vows the piteous home
Which memory haunts and whither sleep may roam,—
They only know for whom the roof of Love
Is the still-seated secret of the grove,
Nor spire may rise nor bell be heard therefrom.

Andromeda, by Perseus sav’d and wed,
Hanker’d each day to see the Gorgon’s head:
Till o’er a fount he held it, bade her lean,
And mirror’d in the wave was safely seen
That death she liv’d by.

                                        Let not thine eyes know
Any forbidden thing itself, although
It once should save as well as kill: but be
Its shadow upon life enough for thee.

From the French of François Villon

Tell me now in what hidden way is
Lady Flora the lovely Roman?
Where’s Hipparchia, and where is Thais,
Neither of them the fairer woman?
Where is Echo, beheld of no man,
Only heard on river and mere—
She whose beauty was more than human?—
But where are the snows of yester-year?

Where’s Heloise, the learned nun,
For whose sake Abeillard, I ween,
Lost manhood and put priesthood on?
(From Love he won such dule and teen!)
And where, I pray you, is the Queen
Who willed that Buridan should steer
Sewed in a sack’s mouth down the Seine?—
But where are the snows of yester-year?

White Queen Blanche, like a queen of lilies,
With a voice like any mermaiden—
Bertha Broadfoot, Beatrice, Alice,
And Ermengarde the lady of Maine—
And that good Joan whom Englishmen
At Rouen doomed and burned her there—
Mother of God, where are they then?—
But where are the snows of yester-year?

Nay, never ask this week, fair lord,
Where they are gone, nor yet this year,
Except with this for an overword—
But where are the snows of yester-year?

I said: ‘Nay, pluck not,—let the first fruit be:
Even as thou sayest, it is sweet and red,
But let it ripen still. The tree’s bent head
Sees in the stream its own fecundity
And bides the day of fulness. Shall not we
At the sun’s hour that day possess the shade,
And claim our fruit before its ripeness fade,
And eat it from the branch and praise the tree?’

I say: ‘Alas! our fruit hath wooed the sun
Too long,—’tis fallen and floats adown the stream.
Lo, the last clusters! Pluck them every one,
And let us sup with summer; ere the gleam
Of autumn set the year’s pent sorrow free,
And the woods wail like echoes from the sea.’

1.4k
Lost Days

The lost days of my life until to-day,
What were they, could I see them on the street
Lie as they fell? Would they be ears of wheat
Sown once for food but trodden into clay?
Or golden coins squandered and still to pay?
Or drops of blood dabbling the guilty feet?
Or such spilt water as in dreams must cheat
The throats of men in Hell, who thirst alway?

I do not see them here; but after death
God knows I know the faces I shall see,
Each one a murdered self, with low last breath.
‘I am thyself, — what hast thou done to me?’
‘And I—and I—thyself,’ (lo! each one saith,)
‘And thou thyself to all eternity!’

That lamp thou fill’st in Eros name to-night,
O Hero, shall the Sestian augurs take
To-morrow, and for drowned Leander’s sake
To Anteros its fireless lip shall plight.
Aye, waft the unspoken vow: yet dawn’s first light
On ebbing storm and life twice ebb’d must break;
While ’neath no sunrise, by the Avernian Lake,
Lo where Love walks, Death’s pallid neophyte.

That lamp within Anteros’ shadowy shrine
Shall stand unlit (for so the gods decree)
Till some one man the happy issue see
Of a life’s love, and bid its flame to shine:
Which still may rest unfir’d; for, theirs or thine,
O brother, what brought love to them or thee?

The cuckoo-throb, the heartbeat of the Spring;
The rosebud’s blush that leaves it as it grows
Into the full-eyed fair unblushing rose;
The summer clouds that visit every wing
With fires of sunrise and of sunsetting;
The furtive flickering streams to light re-born
’Mid airs new-fledged and valorous lusts of morn,
While all the daughters of the daybreak sing:—

These ardour loves, and memory: and when flown
All joys, and through dark forest-boughs in flight
The wind swoops onward brandishing the light,
Even yet the rose-tree’s verdure left alone
Will flush all ruddy though the rose be gone;
With ditties and with dirges infinite.

O Lord of all compassionate control,
O Love! let this my lady’s picture glow
Under my hand to praise her name, and show
Even of her inner self the perfect whole:
That he who seeks her beauty’s furthest goal,
Beyond the light that the sweet glances throw
And refluent wave of the sweet smile, may know
The very sky and sea-line of her soul.

Lo! it is done. Above the long lithe throat
The mouth’s mould testifies of voice and kiss,
The shadowed eyes remember and foresee.
Her face is made her shrine. Let all men note
That in all years (O Love, thy gift is this!)
They that would look on her must come to me.

The hour which might have been yet might not be,
Which man’s and woman’s heart conceived and bore
Yet whereof life was barren,—on what shore
Bides it the breaking of Time’s weary sea?
Bondchild of all consummate joys set free,
It somewhere sighs and serves, and mute before
The house of Love, hears through the echoing door
His hours elect in choral consonancy.

But lo! what wedded souls now hand in hand
Together tread at last the immortal strand
With eyes where burning memory lights love home?
Lo! how the little outcast hour has turned
And leaped to them and in their faces yearned: —
‘I am your child: O parents, ye have come!’

Master of the murmuring courts
    Where the shapes of sleep convene!—
Lo! my spirit here exhorts
    All the powers of thy demesne
    For their aid to woo my queen.
       What reports
    Yield thy jealous courts unseen?

  Vaporous, unaccountable,
    Dreamland lies forlorn of light,
Hollow like a breathing shell.
    Ah! that from all dreams I might
    Choose one dream and guide its flight!
       I know well
    What her sleep should tell to-night.

  There the dreams are multitudes:
    Some that will not wait for sleep,
Deep within the August woods;
    Some that hum while rest may steep
    Weary labour laid a-heap;
       Interludes,
    Some, of grievous moods that weep.

  Poets’ fancies all are there:
    There the elf-girls flood with wings
Valleys full of plaintive air;
    There breathe perfumes; there in rings
    Whirl the foam-bewildered springs;
       Siren there
    Winds her dizzy hair and sings.

  Thence the one dream mutually
    Dreamed in bridal unison,
Less than waking ecstasy;
    Half-formed visions that make moan
    In the house of birth alone;
       And what we
    At death’s wicket see, unknown.

  But for mine own sleep, it lies
    In one gracious form’s control,
Fair with honourable eyes,
    Lamps of a translucent soul:
    O their glance is loftiest dole,
       Sweet and wise,
    Wherein Love descries his goal.

  Reft of her, my dreams are all
    Clammy trance that fears the sky:
Changing footpaths shift and fall;
    From polluted coverts nigh,
    Miserable phantoms sigh;
       Quakes the pall,
    And the funeral goes by.

  Master, is it soothly said
    That, as echoes of man’s speech
Far in secret clefts are made,
    So do all men’s bodies reach
    Shadows o’er thy sunken beach,—
       Shape or shade
    In those halls pourtrayed of each?

  Ah! might I, by thy good grace
    Groping in the windy stair,
(Darkness and the breath of space
    Like loud waters everywhere,)
    Meeting mine own image there
       Face to face,
    Send it from that place to her!

  Nay, not I; but oh! do thou,
    Master, from thy shadowkind
Call my body’s phantom now:
    Bid it bear its face declin’d
    Till its flight her slumbers find,
       And her brow
    Feel its presence bow like wind.

  Where in groves the gracile Spring
    Trembles, with mute orison
Confidently strengthening,
    Water’s voice and wind’s as one
    Shed an echo in the sun.
       Soft as Spring,
    Master, bid it sing and moan.

  Song shall tell how glad and strong
    Is the night she soothes alway;
Moan shall grieve with that parched tongue
    Of the brazen hours of day:
    Sounds as of the springtide they,
       Moan and song,
    While the chill months long for May.

  Not the prayers which with all leave
    The world’s fluent woes prefer,—
Not the praise the world doth give,
    Dulcet fulsome whisperer;—
    Let it yield my love to her,
       And achieve
    Strength that shall not grieve or err.

  Wheresoe’er my dreams befall,
    Both at night-watch, (let it say,)
And where round the sundial
    The reluctant hours of day,
    Heartless, hopeless of their way,
       Rest and call;—
    There her glance doth fall and stay.

  Suddenly her face is there:
    So do mounting vapours wreathe
Subtle-scented transports where
    The black firwood sets its teeth.
    Part the boughs and look beneath,—
       Lilies share
    Secret waters there, and breathe.

  Master, bid my shadow bend
    Whispering thus till birth of light,
Lest new shapes that sleep may send
    Scatter all its work to flight;—
    Master, master of the night,
       Bid it spend
    Speech, song, prayer, and end aright.

  Yet, ah me! if at her head
    There another phantom lean
Murmuring o’er the fragrant bed,—
    Ah! and if my spirit’s queen
    Smile those alien prayers between,—
       Ah! poor shade!
    Shall it strive, or fade unseen?

  How should love’s own messenger
    Strive with love and be love’s foe?
Master, nay! If thus, in her,
    Sleep a wedded heart should show,—
    Silent let mine image go,
       Its old share
    Of thy spell-bound air to know.

  Like a vapour wan and mute,
    Like a flame, so let it pass;
One low sigh across her lute,
    One dull breath against her glass;
    And to my sad soul, alas!
       One salute
    Cold as when Death’s foot shall pass.

  Then, too, let all hopes of mine,
    All vain hopes by night and day,
Slowly at thy summoning sign
    Rise up pallid and obey.
    Dreams, if this is thus, were they:—
       Be they thine,
    And to dreamworld pine away.

  Yet from old time, life, not death,
    Master, in thy rule is rife:
Lo! through thee, with mingling breath,
    Adam woke beside his wife.
    O Love bring me so, for strife,
       Force and faith,
    Bring me so not death but life!

  Yea, to Love himself is pour’d
    This frail song of hope and fear.
Thou art Love, of one accord
    With kind Sleep to bring her near,
    Still-eyed, deep-eyed, ah how dear.
       Master, Lord,
    In her name implor’d, O hear!

Two separate divided silences,
Which, brought together, would find loving voice;
Two glances which together would rejoice
In love, now lost like stars beyond dark trees;
Two hands apart whose touch alone gives ease;
Two bosoms which, heart-shrined with mutual flame,
Would, meeting in one clasp, be made the same;
Two souls, the shores wave-mocked of sundering seas:—

Such are we now. Ah! may our hope forecast
Indeed one hour again, when on this stream
Of darkened love once more the light shall gleam?
An hour how slow to come, how quickly past,
Which blooms and fades, and only leaves at last,
Faint as shed flowers, the attenuated dream.

A little while a little love
The hour yet bears for thee and me
Who have not drawn the veil to see
If still our heaven be lit above.
Thou merely, at the day’s last sigh,
Hast felt thy soul prolong the tone;
And I have heard the night-wind cry
And deemed its speech mine own.

A little while a little love
The scattering autumn hoards for us
Whose bower is not yet ruinous
Nor quite unleaved our songless grove.
Only across the shaken boughs
We hear the flood-tides seek the sea,
And deep in both our hearts they rouse
One wail for thee and me.

A little while a little love
May yet be ours who have not said
The word it makes our eyes afraid
To know that each is thinking of.
Not yet the end: be our lips dumb
In smiles a little season yet:
I’ll tell thee, when the end is come,
How we may best forget.

There came an image in Life’s retinue
That had Love’s wings and bore his gonfalon:
Fair was the web, and nobly wrought thereon,
O soul-sequestered face, thy form and hue!
Bewildering sounds, such as Spring wakens to,
Shook in its folds; and through my heart its power
Sped trackless as the immemorable hour
When birth’s dark portal groaned and all was new.

But a veiled woman followed, and she caught
The banner round its staff, to furl and cling,—
Then plucked a feather from the bearer’s wing,
And held it to his lips that stirred it not,
And said to me, ‘Behold, there is no breath:
I and this Love are one, and I am Death.’

I. St. Luke The Painter

Give honour unto Luke Evangelist;
For he it was (the aged legends say)
Who first taught Art to fold her hands and pray.
Scarcely at once she dared to rend the mist
Of devious symbols: but soon having wist
How sky-breadth and field-silence and this day
Are symbols also in some deeper way,
She looked through these to God and was God’s priest.

And if, past noon, her toil began to irk,
And she sought talismans, and turned in vain
To soulless self-reflections of man’s skill,
Yet now, in this the twilight, she might still
Kneel in the latter grass to pray again,
Ere the night cometh and she may not work.

II. Not As These

‘I am not as these are,’ the poet saith
In youth’s pride, and the painter, among men
At bay, where never pencil comes nor pen,
And shut about with his own frozen breath.
To others, for whom only rhyme wins faith
As poets,—only paint as painters,—then
He turns in the cold silence; and again
Shrinking, ‘I am not as these are,’ he saith.

And say that this is so, what follows it?
For were thine eyes set backwards in thine head,
Such words were well; but they see on, and far.
Unto the lights of the great Past, new-lit
Fair for the Future’s track, look thou instead,—
Say thou instead ‘I am not as these are.’

III. The Husbandmen

Though God, as one that is an householder,
Called these to labour in his vine-yard first,
Before the husk of darkness was well burst
Bidding them grope their way out and bestir,
(Who, questioned of their wages, answered, ‘Sir,
Unto each man a penny:’) though the worst
Burthen of heat was theirs and the dry thirst:
Though God hath since found none such as these were
To do their work like them:—Because of this
Stand not ye idle in the market-place.
Which of ye knoweth he is not that last
Who may be first by faith and will?—yea, his
The hand which after the appointed days
And hours shall give a Future to their Past?

Come prisoned moon in steep cloud-fastnesses,—
Throned queen and thralled; some dying sun whose pyre
Blazed with momentous memorable fire;—
Who hath not yearned and fed his heart with these?
Who, sleepless, hath not anguished to appease
Tragical shadow’s realm of sound and sight
Conjectured in the lamentable night?…
Lo! the soul’s sphere of infinite images!

What sense shall count them? Whether it forecast
The rose-winged hours that flutter in the van
Of Love’s unquestioning unreveale’d span,—
Visions of golden futures: or that last
Wild pageant of the accumulated past
That clangs and flashes for a drowning man.

Not by one measure mayst thou mete our love;
For how should I be loved as I love thee?—
I, graceless, joyless, lacking absolutely
All gifts that with thy queenship best behove;—
Thou, throned in every heart’s elect alcove,
And crowned with garlands culled from every tree,
Which for no head but thine, by Love’s decree,
All beauties and all mysteries interwove.

But here thine eyes and lips yield soft rebuke:—
‘Then only,’ (say’st thou), ‘could I love thee less,
When thou couldst doubt my love’s equality.’
Peace, sweet! If not to sum but worth we look,
Thy heart’s transcendence, not my heart’s excess,
Then more a thousandfold thou lov’st than I.

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Insomnia

Thin are the night-skirts left behind
      By daybreak hours that onward creep,
      And thin, alas! the shred of sleep
That wavers with the spirit’s wind:
But in half-dreams that shift and roll
      And still remember and forget,
My soul this hour has drawn your soul
           A little nearer yet.

Our lives, most dear, are never near,
      Our thoughts are never far apart,
      Though all that draws us heart to heart
Seems fainter now and now more clear.
To-night Love claims his full control,
      And with desire and with regret
My soul this hour has drawn your soul
           A little nearer yet.

Is there a home where heavy earth
      Melts to bright air that breathes no pain,
      Where water leaves no thirst again
And springing fire is Love’s new birth?
If faith long bound to one true goal
      May there at length its hope beget,
My soul that hour shall draw your soul
           For ever nearer yet.

Under the arch of Life, where love and death,
Terror and mystery, guard her shrine, I saw
Beauty enthroned; and though her gaze struck awe,
I drew it in as simply as my breath.
Hers are the eyes which, over and beneath,
The sky and sea bend on thee,—which can draw,
By sea or sky or woman, to one law,
The allotted bondman of her palm and wreath.

This is that Lady Beauty, in whose praise
Thy voice and hand shake still,—long known to thee
By flying hair and fluttering hem,—the beat
Following her daily of thy heart and feet,
How passionately and irretrievably,
In what fond flight, how many ways and days!

As when two men have loved a woman well,
Each hating each, through Love’s and Death’s deceit;
Since not for either this stark marriage-sheet
And the long pauses of this wedding bell;
Yet o’er her grave the night and day dispel
At last their feud forlorn, with cold and heat;
Nor other than dear friends to death may fleet
The two lives left that most of her can tell:—

So separate hopes, which in a soul had wooed
The one same Peace, strove with each other long,
And Peace before their faces perished since:
So through that soul, in restless brotherhood,
They roam together now, and wind among
Its bye-streets, knocking at the dusty inns.

Beholding youth and hope in mockery caught
From life; and mocking pulses that remain
When the soul’s death of bodily death is fain;
Honour unknown, and honour known unsought;
And penury’s sedulous self-torturing thought
On gold, whose master therewith buys his bane;
And longed-for woman longing all in vain
For lonely man with love’s desire distraught;
And wealth, and strength, and power, and pleasantness,
Given unto bodies of whose souls men say,
None poor and weak, slavish and foul, as they:—
Beholding these things, I behold no less
The blushing morn and blushing eve confess
The shame that loads the intolerable day.

As some true chief of men, bowed down with stress
Of life’s disastrous eld, on blossoming youth
May gaze, and murmur with self-pity and ruth,
‘Might I thy fruitless treasure but possess,
Such blessing of mine all coming years should bless;’—
Then sends one sigh forth to the unknown goal,
And bitterly feels breathe against his soul
The hour swift-winged of nearer nothingness:—

Even so the World’s grey Soul to the green World
Perchance one hour must cry: ‘Woe’s me, for whom
Inveteracy of ill portends the doom,—
Whose heart’s old fire in shadow of shame is furl’d:
While thou even as of yore art journeying,
All soulless now, yet merry with the Spring!’

Even as the moon grows queenlier in mid-space
When the sky darkens, and her cloud-rapt car
Thrills with intenser radiance from afar,—
So lambent, lady, beams thy sovereign grace
When the drear soul desires thee. Of that face
What shall be said,—which, like a governing star,
Gathers and garners from all things that are
Their silent penetrative loveliness?

O’er water-daisies and wild waifs of Spring,
There where the iris rears its gold-crowned sheaf
With flowering rush and sceptred arrow-leaf,
So have I marked Queen Dian, in bright ring
Of cloud above and wave below, take wing
And chase night’s gloom, as thou the spirit’s grief.

Around the vase of Life at your slow pace
He has not crept, but turned it with his hands,
And all its sides already understands.
There, girt, one breathes alert for some great race;
Whose road runs far by sands and fruitful space;
Who laughs, yet through the jolly throng has pass’d;
Who weeps, nor stays for weeping; who at last,
A youth, stands somewhere crowned, with silent face.

And he has filled this vase with wine for blood,
With blood for tears, with spice for burning vow,
With watered flowers for buried love most fit;
And would have cast it shattered to the flood,
Yet in Fate’s name has kept it whole; which now
Stands empty till his ashes fall in it.

Love to his singer held a glistening leaf,
And said: ‘The rose-tree and the apple-tree
Have fruits to vaunt or flowers to lure the bee;
And golden shafts are in the feathered sheaf
Of the great harvest-marshal, the year’s chief,
Victorious Summer; aye, and ’neath warm sea
Strange secret grasses lurk inviolably
Between the filtering channels of sunk reef.

All are my blooms; and all sweet blooms of love
To thee I gave while Spring and Summer sang;
But Autumn stops to listen, with some pang
From those worse things the wind is moaning of.
Only this laurel dreads no winter days:
Take my last gift; thy heart hath sung my praise.’

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Love-Lily

Between the hands, between the brows,
    Between the lips of Love-Lily,
A spirit is born whose birth endows
    My blood with fire to burn through me;
Who breathes upon my gazing eyes,
    Who laughs and murmurs in mine ear,
At whose least touch my colour flies,
    And whom my life grows faint to hear.

Within the voice, within the heart,
    Within the mind of Love-Lily,
A spirit is born who lifts apart
    His tremulous wings and looks at me;
Who on my mouth his finger lays,
    And shows, while whispering lutes confer,
That Eden of Love’s watered ways
    Whose winds and spirits worship her.

Brows, hands, and lips, heart, mind, and voice,
    Kisses and words of Love-Lily,—
Oh! bid me with your joy rejoice
    Till riotous longing rest in me!
Ah! let not hope be still distraught,
    But find in her its gracious goal,
Whose speech Truth knows not from her thought
    Nor Love her body from her soul.

Sometimes she is a child within mine arms,
Cowering beneath dark wings that love must chase,—
With still tears showering and averted face,
Inexplicably filled with faint alarms:
And oft from mine own spirit’s hurtling harms
I crave the refuge of her deep embrace,—
Against all ills the fortified strong place
And sweet reserve of sovereign counter-charms.

And Love, our light at night and shade at noon,
Lulls us to rest with songs, and turns away
All shafts of shelterless tumultuous day.
Like the moon’s growth, his face gleams through his tune;
And as soft waters warble to the moon,
Our answering spirits chime one roundelay.

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