How do you know that the pilgrim track
Along the belting zodiac
Swept by the sun in his seeming rounds
Is traced by now to the Fishes’ bounds
And into the Ram, when weeks of cloud
Have wrapt the sky in a clammy shroud,
And never as yet a tinct of spring
Has shown in the Earth’s apparelling;
O vespering bird, how do you know,
How do you know?
How do you know, deep underground,
Hid in your bed from sight and sound,
Without a turn in temperature,
With weather life can scarce endure,
That light has won a fraction’s strength,
And day put on some moments’ length,
Whereof in merest rote will come,
Weeks hence, mild airs that do not numb;
O crocus root, how do you know,
How do you know?
‘There is not much that I can do,
For I’ve no money that’s quite my own!’
Spoke up the pitying child—
A little boy with a violin
At the station before the train came in,—
‘But I can play my fiddle to you,
And a nice one ’tis, and good in tone!’
The man in the handcuffs smiled;
The constable looked, and he smiled too,
As the fiddle began to twang;
And the man in the handcuffs suddenly sang
With grimful glee:
‘This life so free
Is the thing for me!’
And the constable smiled, and said no word,
As if unconscious of what he heard;
And so they went on till the train came in—
The convict, and boy with the violin.
There is a house with ivied walls,
And mullioned windows worn and old,
And the long dwellers in those halls
Have souls that know but sordid calls,
And dote on gold.
In a blazing brick and plated show
Not far away a ‘villa’ gleams,
And here a family few may know,
With book and pencil, viol and bow,
Lead inner lives of dreams.
The philosophic passers say,
‘See that old mansion mossed and fair,
Poetic souls therein are they:
And O that gaudy box! Away,
You vulgar people there.’
One without looks in tonight
Through the curtain-chink
From the sheet of glistening white;
One without looks in tonight
As we sit and think
By the fender-brink.
We do not discern those eyes
Watching in the snow;
Lit by lamps of rosy dyes
We do not discern those eyes
Well, World, you have kept faith with me,
Kept faith with me;
Upon the whole you have proved to be
Much as you said you were.
Since as a child I used to lie
Upon the leaze and watch the sky,
Never, I own, expected I
That life would all be fair.
’Twas then you said, and since have said,
Times since have said,
In that mysterious voice you shed
From clouds and hills around:
“Many have loved me desperately,
Many with smooth serenity,
While some have shown contempt of me
Till they dropped underground.
“I do not promise overmuch,
Just neutral-tinted haps and such,”
You said to minds like mine.
Wise warning for your credit’s sake!
Which I for one failed not to take,
And hence could stem such strain and ache
As each year might assign.
They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
Uncoffined—just as found:
His landmark is a kopje-crest
That breaks the veldt around:
And foreign constellations west
Each night above his mound.
Young Hodge the drummer never knew—
Fresh from his Wessex home—
The meaning of the broad Karoo,
The Bush, the dusty loam,
And why uprose to nightly view
Strange stars amid the gloam.
Yet portion of that unknown plain
Will Hodge for ever be;
His homely Northern breast and brain
Grow to some Southern tree,
And strange-eyed constellations reign
His stars eternally.
My spirit will not haunt the mound
Above my breast,
But travel, memory-possessed,
To where my tremulous being found
Life largest, best.
My phantom-footed shape will go
When nightfall grays
Hither and thither along the ways
I and another used to know
In backward days.
And there you’ll find me, if a jot
You still should care
For me, and for my curious air;
If otherwise, then I shall not,
For you, be there.
But my bereavement-pain
It cannot bring again:
Twice no one dies.
But since it once hath been,
No more that severing scene
Can harrow me.
Birds faint in dread:
I shall not lose old strength
In the lone frost’s black length:
Strength long since fled!
Leaves freeze to dun;
But friends cannot turn cold
This season as of old
For him with none.
Tempests may scath;
But love cannot make smart
Again this year his heart
Who no heart hath.
Black is night’s cope;
But death will not appal
One, who past doubtings all,
Waits in unhope.
We two kept house, the Past and I,
The Past and I;
I tended while it hovered nigh,
Leaving me never alone.
It was a spectral housekeeping
Where fell no jarring tone,
As strange, as still a housekeeping
As ever has been known.
As daily I went up the stair,
And down the stair,
I did not mind the Bygone there—
The Present once to me;
Its moving meek companionship
I wished might ever be,
There was in that companionship
Something of ecstasy.
It dwelt with me just as it was,
Just as it was
When first its prospects gave me pause
In wayward wanderings,
Before the years had torn old troths
As they tear all sweet things,
Before gaunt griefs had torn old troths
And dulled old rapturings.
And then its form began to fade,
Began to fade,
Its gentle echoes faintlier played
At eves upon my ear
Than when the autumn’s look embrowned
The lonely chambers here,
The autumn’s settling shades embrowned
Nooks that it haunted near.
And so with time my vision less,
Yea, less and less
Makes of that Past my housemistress,
It dwindles in my eye;
It looms a far-off skeleton
And not a comrade nigh,
A fitful far-off skeleton
Dimming as days draw by.
Breathe not, hid Heart: cease silently,
And though thy birth-hour beckons thee,
Sleep the long sleep:
The Doomsters heap
Travails and teens around us here,
And Time-Wraiths turn our songsingings to fear.
Hark, how the peoples surge and sigh,
And laughters fail, and greetings die;
Hopes dwindle; yea,
Faiths waste away,
Affections and enthusiasms numb:
Thou canst not mend these things if thou dost come.
Had I the ear of wombed souls
Ere their terrestrial chart unrolls,
And thou wert free
To cease, or be,
Then would I tell thee all I know,
And put it to thee: Wilt thou take Life so?
Vain vow! No hint of mine may hence
To theeward fly: to thy locked sense
Explain none can
Life’s pending plan:
Thou wilt thy ignorant entry make
Though skies spout fire and blood and nations quake.
Fain would I, dear, find some shut plot
Of earth’s wide wold for thee, where not
One tear, one qualm,
Should break the calm.
But I am weak as thou and bare;
No man can change the common lot to rare.
Must come and bide. And such are we—
Unreasoning, sanguine, visionary—
That I can hope
Health, love, friends, scope
In full for thee; can dream thou’lt find
Joys seldom yet attained by humankind!
Here is the ancient floor,
Footworn and hollowed and thin,
Here was the former door
Where the dead feet walked in.
She sat here in her chair,
Smiling into the fire;
He who played stood there,
Bowing it higher and higher.
Childlike, I danced in a dream;
Blessings emblazoned that day;
Everything glowed with a gleam;
Yet we were looking away!
Had he and I but met
By some old ancient inn,
We should have set us down to wet
Right many a nipperkin!
But ranged as infantry,
And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
And killed him in his place.
I shot him dead because—
Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
That’s clear enough; although
He thought he’d ‘list, perhaps,
Off-hand like—just as I—
Was out of work—had sold his traps—
No other reason why.
Yes; quaint and curious war is!
You shoot a fellow down
You’d treat, if met where any bar is,
Or help to half a crown.
(A Reminiscence, 1893)
She wore a ‘terra-cotta’ dress,
And we stayed, because of the pelting storm,
Within the hansom’s dry recess,
Though the horse had stopped; yea, motionless
We sat on, snug and warm.
Then the downpour ceased, to my sharp sad pain,
And the glass that had screened our forms before
Flew up, and out she sprang to her door:
I should have kissed her if the rain
Had lasted a minute more.
I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.
The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.
At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.
So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.
I look into my glass,
And view my wasting skin,
And say, “Would God it came to pass
My heart had shrunk as thin!”
For then, I, undistrest
By hearts grown cold to me,
Could lonely wait my endless rest
But Time, to make me grieve,
Part steals, lets part abide;
And shakes this fragile frame at eve
With throbbings of noontide.
The Roman Road runs straight and bare
As the pale parting-line in hair
Across the heath. And thoughtful men
Contrast its days of Now and Then,
And delve, and measure, and compare;
Visioning on the vacant air
Helmeted legionnaires, who proudly rear
The Eagle, as they pace again
The Roman Road.
But no tall brass-helmeted legionnaire
Haunts it for me. Uprises there
A mother’s form upon my ken,
Guiding my infant steps, as when
We walked that ancient thoroughfare,
The Roman Road.
Between us now and here—
Two thrown together
Who are not wont to wear
Life’s flushest feather—
Who see the scenes slide past,
The daytimes dimming fast,
Let there be truth at last,
Even if despair.
So thoroughly and long
Have you now known me,
So real in faith and strong
Have I now shown me,
That nothing needs disguise
Further in any wise,
Or asks or justifies
A guarded tongue.
Face unto face, then, say,
Eyes my own meeting,
Is your heart far away,
Or with mine beating?
When false things are brought low,
And swift things have grown slow,
Feigning like froth shall go,
Faith be for aye.
I am the family face;
Flesh perishes, I live on,
Projecting trait and trace
Through time to times anon,
And leaping from place to place
The years-heired feature that can
In curve and voice and eye
Despise the human span
Of durance—that is I;
The eternal thing in man,
That heeds no call to die.
They hail me as one living,
But don’t they know
That I have died of late years,
I am but a shape that stands here,
A pulseless mould,
A pale past picture, screening
Ashes gone cold.
Not at a minute’s warning,
Not in a loud hour,
For me ceased Time’s enchantments
In hall and bower.
There was no tragic transit,
No catch of breath,
When silent seasons inched me
On to this death …
—A Troubadour-youth I rambled
With Life for lyre,
The beats of being raging
In me like fire.
But when I practised eyeing
The goal of men,
It iced me, and I perished
A little then.
When passed my friend, my kinsfolk,
Through the Last Door,
And left me standing bleakly,
I died yet more;
And when my Love’s heart kindled
In hate of me,
Wherefore I knew not, died I
One more degree.
And if when I died fully
I cannot say,
And changed into the corpse-thing
I am to-day,
Yet is it that, though whiling
The time somehow
In walking, talking, smiling,
I live not now.
Your troubles shrink not, though I feel them less
Here, far away, than when I tarried near;
I even smile old smiles—with listlessness—
Yet smiles they are, not ghastly mockeries mere.
A thought too strange to house within my brain
Haunting its outer precincts I discern:
—That I will not show zeal again to learn
Your griefs, and, sharing them, renew my pain….
It goes, like murky bird or buccaneer
That shapes its lawless figure on the main,
And each new impulse tends to make outflee
The unseemly instinct that had lodgment here;
Yet, comrade old, can bitterer knowledge be
Than that, though banned, such instinct was in me!
When the Present has latched its postern behind my tremulous stay,
And the May month flaps its glad green leaves like wings,
Delicate-filmed as new-spun silk, will the neighbours say,
“He was a man who used to notice such things”?
If it be in the dusk when, like an eyelid’s soundless blink,
The dewfall-hawk comes crossing the shades to alight
Upon the wind-warped upland thorn, a gazer may think,
“To him this must have been a familiar sight.”
If I pass during some nocturnal blackness, mothy and warm,
When the hedgehog travels furtively over the lawn,
One may say, “He strove that such innocent creatures should
come to no harm,
But he could do little for them; and now he is gone.”
If, when hearing that I have been stilled at last, they stand at
Watching the full-starred heavens that winter sees,
Will this thought rise on those who will meet my face no more,
“He was one who had an eye for such mysteries”?
And will any say when my bell of quittance is heard in the gloom,
And a crossing breeze cuts a pause in its outrollings,
Till they rise again, as they were a new bell’s boom,
“He hears it not now, but used to notice such things?”
To Jenny came a gentle youth
From inland leazes lone;
His love was fresh as apple-blooth
By Parrett, Yeo, or Tone.
And duly he entreated her
To be his tender minister,
And call him aye her own.
Fair Jenny’s life had hardly been
A life of modesty;
At Casterbridge experience keen
Of many loves had she
From scarcely sixteen years above:
Among them sundry troopers of
The King’s-Own Cavalry.
But each with charger, sword, and gun,
Had bluffed the Biscay wave;
And Jenny prized her gentle one
For all the love he gave.
She vowed to be, if they were wed,
His honest wife in heart and head
From bride-ale hour to grave.
Wedded they were. Her husband’s trust
In Jenny knew no bound,
And Jenny kept her pure and just,
Till even malice found
No sin or sign of ill to be
In one who walked so decently
The duteous helpmate’s round.
Two sons were born, and bloomed to men,
And roamed, and were as not:
Alone was Jenny left again
As ere her mind had sought
A solace in domestic joys,
And ere the vanished pair of boys
Were sent to sun her cot.
She numbered near on sixty years,
And passed as elderly,
When, in the street, with flush of fears,
On day discovered she,
From shine of swords and thump of drum,
Her early loves from war had come,
The King’s Own Cavalry.
She turned aside, and bowed her head
Anigh Saint Peter’s door;
“Alas for chastened thoughts!” she said;
“I’m faded now, and hoar,
And yet those notes—they thrill me through,
And those gay forms move me anew
As in the years of yore!”…
—’Twas Christmas, and the Phoenix Inn
Was lit with tapers tall,
For thirty of the trooper men
Had vowed to give a ball
As “Theirs” had done (fame handed down)
When lying in the self-same town
Ere Buonaparté’s fall.
That night the throbbing “Soldier’s Joy,”
The measured tread and sway
Of “Fancy-Lad” and “Maiden Coy,”
Reached Jenny as she lay
Beside her spouse; till springtide blood
Seemed scouring through her like a flood
That whisked the years away.
She rose, and rayed, and decked her head
To hide her ringlets thin;
Upon her cap two bows of red
She fixed with hasty pin;
Unheard descending to the street,
She trod the flags with tune-led feet,
And stood before the Inn.
Save for the dancers’, not a sound
Disturbed the icy air;
No watchman on his midnight round
Or traveller was there;
But over All-Saints’, high and bright,
Pulsed to the music Sirius white,
The Wain by Bullstake Square.
She knocked, but found her further stride
Checked by a sergeant tall:
“Gay Granny, whence come you?” he cried;
“This is a private ball.”
—”No one has more right here than me!
Ere you were born, man,” answered she,
“I knew the regiment all!”
“Take not the lady’s visit ill!”
Upspoke the steward free;
“We lack sufficient partners still,
So, prithee let her be!”
They seized and whirled her ’mid the maze,
And Jenny felt as in the days
Of her immodesty.
Hour chased each hour, and night advanced;
She sped as shod with wings;
Each time and every time she danced—
Reels, jigs, poussettes, and flings:
They cheered her as she soared and swooped
(She’d learnt ere art in dancing drooped
From hops to slothful swings).
The favorite Quick-step “Speed the Plough”—
(Cross hands, cast off, and wheel)—
“The Triumph,” “Sylph,” “The Row-dow dow,”
Famed “Major Malley’s Reel,”
“The Duke of York’s,” “The Fairy Dance,”
“The Bridge of Lodi” (brought from France),
She beat out, toe and heel.
The “Fall of Paris” clanged its close,
And Peter’s chime told four,
When Jenny, bosom-beating, rose
To seek her silent door.
They tiptoed in escorting her,
Lest stroke of heel or chink of spur
Should break her goodman’s snore.
The fire that late had burnt fell slack
When lone at last stood she;
Her nine-and-fifty years came back;
She sank upon her knee
Beside the durn, and like a dart
A something arrowed through her heart
In shoots of agony.
Their footsteps died as she leant there,
Lit by the morning star
Hanging above the moorland, where
The aged elm-rows are;
And, as o’ernight, from Pummery Ridge
To Maembury Ring and Standfast Bridge
No life stirred, near or far.
Though inner mischief worked amain,
She reached her husband’s side;
Where, toil-weary, as he had lain
Beneath the patchwork pied
When yestereve she’d forthward crept,
And as unwitting, still he slept
Who did in her confide.
A tear sprang as she turned and viewed
His features free from guile;
She kissed him long, as when, just wooed.
She chose his domicile.
Death menaced now; yet less for life
She wished than that she were the wife
That she had been erstwhile.
Time wore to six. Her husband rose
And struck the steel and stone;
He glanced at Jenny, whose repose
Seemed deeper than his own.
With dumb dismay, on closer sight,
He gathered sense that in the night,
Or morn, her soul had flown.
When told that some too mighty strain
For one so many-yeared
Had burst her bosom’s master-vein,
His doubts remained unstirred.
His Jenny had not left his side
Betwixt the eve and morning-tide:
—The King’s said not a word.
Well! times are not as times were then,
Nor fair ones half so free;
And truly they were martial men,
The King’s-Own Cavalry.
And when they went from Casterbridge
And vanished over Mellstock Ridge,
’Twas saddest morn to see.
If seasons all were summers,
And leaves would never fall,
And hopping casement-comers
Were foodless not at all,
And fragile folk might be here
That white winds bid depart;
Then one I used to see here
Would warm my wasted heart!
One frail, who, bravely tilling
Long hours in gripping gusts,
Was mastered by their chilling,
And now his ploughshare rusts.
So savage winter catches
The breath of limber things,
And what I love he snatches,
And what I love not, brings.
“O ‘Melia, my dear, this does everything crown!
Who could have supposed I should meet you in Town?
And whence such fair garments, such prosperi-ty?”—
“O didn’t you know I’d been ruined?” said she.
—”You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks,
Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks;
And now you’ve gay bracelets and bright feathers three!”—
“Yes: that’s how we dress when we’re ruined,” said she.
—”At home in the barton you said ‘thee’ and ‘thou,’
And ‘thik oon,’ and ‘theäs oon,’ and ‘t’other’; but now
Your talking quite fits ‘ee for high compa-ny!”—
“Some polish is gained with one’s ruin,” said she.
—”Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak
But now I’m bewitched by your delicate cheek,
And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!”—
“We never do work when we’re ruined,” said she.
—”You used to call home-life a hag-ridden dream,
And you’d sigh, and you’d sock; but at present you seem
To know not of megrims or melancho-ly!”—
“True. One’s pretty lively when ruined,” said she.
“—I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown,
And a delicate face, and could strut about Town!”—
“My dear—a raw country girl, such as you be,
Cannot quite expect that. You ain’t ruined,” said she.
You did not come,
And marching Time drew on, and wore me numb.
Yet less for loss of your dear presence there
Than that I thus found lacking in your make
That high compassion which can overbear
Reluctance for pure loving kindness’ sake
Grieved I, when, as the hope-hour stroked its sum,
You did not come.
You love me not,
And love alone can lend you loyalty;
—I know and knew it. But, unto the store
Of human deeds divine in all but name,
Was it not worth a little hour or more
To add yet this: Once you, a woman, came
To soothe a time-torn man; even though it be
You love me not.
The church flings forth a battled shade
Over the moon-blanched sward:
The church; my gift; whereto I paid
My all in hand and hoard;
Lavished my gains
With stintless pains
To glorify the Lord.
I squared the broad foundations in
Of ashlared masonry;
I moulded mullions thick and thin,
Hewed fillet and ogee;
Each sculptured head
With nimb and canopy.
I called in many a craftsmaster
To fix emblazoned glass,
To figure Cross and Sepulchure
On dossal, boss, and brass.
My gold all spent,
My jewels went
To gem the cups of Mass.
I borrowed deep to carve the screen
And raise the ivoried Rood;
I parted with my small demesne
To make my owings good.
Until debt-free I stood.
So closed the task. “Deathless the Creed
Here substanced!” said my soul:
“I heard me bidden to this deed,
And straight obeyed the call.
Illume this fane,
That not in vain
I build it, Lord of all!”
But, as it chanced me, then and there
Did dire misfortunes burst;
My home went waste for lack of care,
My sons rebelled and curst;
Till I confessed
That aims the best
Were looking like the worst.
Enkindled by my votive work
No burnng faith I find;
The deeper thinkers sneer and smirk,
And give my toil no mind;
From nod and wink
I read they think
That I am fool and blind.
My gift to God seems futile, quite;
The world moves as erstwhile;
And powerful Wrong on feeble Right
Tramples in olden style.
My faith burns down,
I see no crown;
But Cares, and Griefs, and Guile.
So now, the remedy? Yea, this:
I gently swing the door
Here, of my fane—no soul to wis—
And cross the patterned floor
To the rood-screen
That stands between
The nave and inner chore.
The rich red windows dim the moon,
But little light need I;
I mount the prie-dieu, lately hewn
From woods of rarest dye;
Then from below
My garment, so,
I draw this cord, and tie
One end thereof around the beam
Midway ‘twixt Cross and truss:
I noose the nethermost extreme,
And in ten seconds thus
I journey hence—
To that land whence
No rumour reaches us.
Well: Here at morn they’ll light on one
Dangling in mockery
Of what he spent his substance on
Blindly and uselessly!…
“He might,” they’ll say,
“Have built, some way,
A cheaper gallows-tree!”
When battles were fought
With a chivalrous sense of should and ought,
In spirit men said,
“End we quick or dead,
Honour is some reward!
Let us fight fair—for our own best or worst;
So, Gentlemen of the Guard,
In the open they stood,
Man to man in his knightlihood:
They would not deign
To profit by a stain
On the honourable rules,
Knowing that practise perfidy no man durst
Who in the heroic schools
But now, behold, what
Is war with those where honour is not!
Its dead innocents;
Herod howls: “Sly slaughter
Rules now! Let us, by modes once called accurst,
Overhead, under water,
He often would ask us
That, when he died,
After playing so many
To their last rest,
If out of us any
Should here abide,
And it would not task us,
We would with our lutes
Play over him
By his grave-brim
The psalm he liked best—
The one whose sense suits
And perhaps we should seem
To him, in Death’s dream,
Like the seraphim.
As soon as I knew
That his spirit was gone
I thought this his due,
And spoke thereupon.
“I think”, said the vicar,
“A read service quicker
Than viols out-of-doors
In these frosts and hoars.
That old-fashioned way
Requires a fine day,
And it seems to me
It had better not be.”
Hence, that afternoon,
Though never knew he
That his wish could not be,
To get through it faster
They buried the master
Without any tune.
But ’twas said that, when
At the dead of next night
The vicar looked out,
There struck on his ken
Where the frost was graying
The headstoned grass,
A band all in white
Like the saints in church-glass,
Singing and playing
The ancient stave
By the choirmaster’s grave.
Such the tenor man told
When he had grown old.
It faces west, and round the back and sides
High beeches, bending, hang a veil of boughs,
And sweep against the roof. Wild honeysucks
Climb on the walls, and seem to sprout a wish
(If we may fancy wish of trees and plants)
To overtop the apple trees hard-by.
Red roses, lilacs, variegated box
Are there in plenty, and such hardy flowers
As flourish best untrained. Adjoining these
Are herbs and esculents; and farther still
A field; then cottages with trees, and last
The distant hills and sky.
Behind, the scene is wilder. Heath and furze
Are everything that seems to grow and thrive
Upon the uneven ground. A stunted thorn
Stands here and there, indeed; and from a pit
An oak uprises, Springing from a seed
Dropped by some bird a hundred years ago.
In days bygone—
Long gone—my father’s mother, who is now
Blest with the blest, would take me out to walk.
At such a time I once inquired of her
How looked the spot when first she settled here.
The answer I remember. ‘Fifty years
Have passed since then, my child, and change has marked
The face of all things. Yonder garden-plots
And orchards were uncultivated slopes
O’ergrown with bramble bushes, furze and thorn:
That road a narrow path shut in by ferns,
Which, almost trees, obscured the passers-by.
Our house stood quite alone, and those tall firs
And beeches were not planted. Snakes and efts
Swarmed in the summer days, and nightly bats
Would fly about our bedrooms. Heathcroppers
Lived on the hills, and were our only friends;
So wild it was when we first settled here.’
(Lines on the loss of the “Titanic”)
In a solitude of the sea
Deep from human vanity,
And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.
Steel chambers, late the pyres
Of her salamandrine fires,
Cold currents thrid, and turn to rhythmic tidal lyres.
Over the mirrors meant
To glass the opulent
The sea-worm crawls—grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.
Jewels in joy designed
To ravish the sensuous mind
Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.
Dim moon-eyed fishes near
Gaze at the gilded gear
And query: “What does this vaingloriousness down here?”. . .
Well: while was fashioning
This creature of cleaving wing,
The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything
Prepared a sinister mate
For her—so gaily great—
A Shape of Ice, for the time fat and dissociate.
And as the smart ship grew
In stature, grace, and hue
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.
Alien they seemed to be:
No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history.
Or sign that they were bent
By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one august event,
Till the Spinner of the Years
Said “Now!” And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.
That night your great guns, unawares,
Shook all our coffins as we lay,
And broke the chancel window-squares,
We thought it was the Judgement-day
And sat upright. While drearisome
Arose the howl of wakened hounds:
The mouse let fall the altar-crumb,
The worm drew back into the mounds,
The glebe cow drooled. Till God cried, “No;
It’s gunnery practice out at sea
Just as before you went below;
The world is as it used to be:
“All nations striving strong to make
Red war yet redder. Mad as hatters
They do no more for Christés sake
Than you who are helpless in such matters.
“That this is not the judgment-hour
For some of them’s a blessed thing,
For if it were they’d have to scour
Hell’s floor for so much threatening. . . .
“Ha, ha. It will be warmer when
I blow the trumpet (if indeed
I ever do; for you are men,
And rest eternal sorely need).”
So down we lay again. “I wonder,
Will the world ever saner be,”
Said one, “than when He sent us under
In our indifferent century!”
And many a skeleton shook his head.
“Instead of preaching forty year,”
My neighbour Parson Thirdly said,
“I wish I had stuck to pipes and beer.”
Again the guns disturbed the hour,
Roaring their readiness to avenge,
As far inland as Stourton Tower,
And Camelot, and starlit Stonehenge.
When I set out for Lyonnesse,
A hundred miles away,
The rime was on the spray,
And starlight lit my lonesomeness
When I set out for Lyonnesse
A hundred miles away.
What would bechance at Lyonnesse
While I should sojourn there
No prophet durst declare,
Nor did the wisest wizard guess
What would bechance at Lyonnesse
While I should sojourn there.
When I came back from Lyonnesse
With magic in my eyes,
All marked with mute surmise
My radiance rare and fathomless,
When I came back from Lyonnesse
With magic in my eyes!
A bird sings the selfsame song,
With never a fault in its flow,
That we listened to here those long
Long years ago.
A pleasing marvel is how
A strain of such rapturous rote
Should have gone on thus till now
unchanged in a note!
—But its not the selfsame bird.—
No: perished to dust is he…
As also are those who heard
That song with me.
‘Whenever I plunge my arm, like this,
In a basin of water, I never miss
The sweet sharp sense of a fugitive day
Fetched back from its thickening shroud of gray.
Hence the only prime
And real love-rhyme
That I know by heart,
And that leaves no smart,
Is the purl of a little valley fall
About three spans wide and two spans tall
Over a table of solid rock,
And into a scoop of the self-same block;
The purl of a runlet that never ceases
In stir of kingdoms, in wars, in peaces;
With a hollow boiling voice it speaks
And has spoken since hills were turfless peaks.’
‘And why gives this the only prime
Idea to you of a real love-rhyme?
And why does plunging your arm in a bowl
Full of spring water, bring throbs to your soul?’
‘Well, under the fall, in a crease of the stone,
Though precisely where none ever has known,
Jammed darkly, nothing to show how prized,
And by now with its smoothness opalized,
Is a grinking glass:
For, down that pass
My lover and I
Walked under a sky
Of blue with a leaf-wove awning of green,
In the burn of August, to paint the scene,
And we placed our basket of fruit and wine
By the runlet’s rim, where we sat to dine;
And when we had drunk from the glass together,
Arched by the oak-copse from the weather,
I held the vessel to rinse in the fall,
Where it slipped, and it sank, and was past recall,
Though we stooped and plumbed the little abyss
With long bared arms. There the glass still is.
And, as said, if I thrust my arm below
Cold water in a basin or bowl, a throe
From the past awakens a sense of that time,
And the glass we used, and the cascade’s rhyme.
The basin seems the pool, and its edge
The hard smooth face of the brook-side ledge,
And the leafy pattern of china-ware
The hanging plants that were bathing there.
‘By night, by day, when it shines or lours,
There lies intact that chalice of ours,
And its presence adds to the rhyme of love
Persistently sung by the fall above.
No lip has touched it since his and mine
In turns therefrom sipped lovers’ wine.’
This is the weather the cuckoo likes,
And so do I;
When showers betumble the chestnut spikes,
And nestlings fly;
And the little brown nightingale bills his best,
And they sit outside at ‘The Traveller’s Rest,’
And maids come forth sprig-muslin drest,
And citizens dream of the south and west,
And so do I.
This is the weather the shepherd shuns,
And so do I;
When beeches drip in browns and duns,
And thresh and ply;
And hill-hid tides throb, throe on throe,
And meadow rivulets overflow,
And drops on gate bars hang in a row,
And rooks in families homeward go,
And so do I.
Pet was never mourned as you,
Purrer of the spotless hue,
Plumy tail, and wistful gaze
While you humoured our queer ways,
Or outshrilled your morning call
Up the stairs and through the hall—
Foot suspended in its fall—
While, expectant, you would stand
Arched, to meet the stroking hand;
Till your way you chose to wend
Yonder, to your tragic end.
Never another pet for me!
Let your place all vacant be;
Better blankness day by day
Than companion torn away.
Better bid his memory fade,
Better blot each mark he made,
Selfishly escape distress
By contrived forgetfulness,
Than preserve his prints to make
Every morn and eve an ache.
From the chair whereon he sat
Sweep his fur, nor wince thereat;
Rake his little pathways out
Mid the bushes roundabout;
Smooth away his talons’ mark
From the claw-worn pine-tree bark,
Where he climbed as dusk embrowned,
Waiting us who loitered round.
Strange it is this speechless thing,
Subject to our mastering,
Subject for his life and food
To our gift, and time, and mood;
Timid pensioner of us Powers,
His existence ruled by ours,
Should - by crossing at a breath
Into safe and shielded death,
By the merely taking hence
Of his insignificance—
Loom as largened to the sense,
Shape as part, above man’s will,
Of the Imperturbable.
As a prisoner, flight debarred,
Exercising in a yard,
Still retain I, troubled, shaken,
Mean estate, by him forsaken;
And this home, which scarcely took
Impress from his little look,
By his faring to the Dim
Grows all eloquent of him.
Housemate, I can think you still
Bounding to the window-sill,
Over which I vaguely see
Your small mound beneath the tree,
Showing in the autumn shade
That you moulder where you played.
If but some vengeful god would call to me
From up the sky, and laugh: “Thou suffering thing,
Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,
that thy love’s loss is my hate’s profiting!”
Then would I bear it, clench myself, and die,
Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;
Half-eased in that a Powerfuller than I
Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.
But not so. How arrives it joy lies slain,
And why unblooms the best hope ever sown?
—Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain,
And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan. . .
These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown
Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.
“Ah, are you digging on my grave,
My loved one?—planting rue?”
—”No: yesterday he went to wed
One of the brightest wealth has bred.
‘It cannot hurt her now,’ he said,
‘That I should not be true.’”
“Then who is digging on my grave,
My nearest dearest kin?”
—”Ah, no: they sit and think, ‘What use!
What good will planting flowers produce?
No tendance of her mound can loose
Her spirit from Death’s gin.’”
“But someone digs upon my grave?
My enemy?—prodding sly?”
—”Nay: when she heard you had passed the Gate
That shuts on all flesh soon or late,
She thought you no more worth her hate,
And cares not where you lie.
“Then, who is digging on my grave?
Say—since I have not guessed!”
—”O it is I, my mistress dear,
Your little dog , who still lives near,
And much I hope my movements here
Have not disturbed your rest?”
“Ah yes! You dig upon my grave…
Why flashed it not to me
That one true heart was left behind!
What feeling do we ever find
To equal among human kind
A dog’s fidelity!”
“Mistress, I dug upon your grave
To bury a bone, in case
I should be hungry near this spot
When passing on my daily trot.
I am sorry, but I quite forgot
It was your resting place.”
She sits in the tawny vapour
That the Thames-side lanes have uprolled,
Behind whose webby fold-on-fold
Like a waning taper
The street-lamp glimmers cold.
A messenger’s knock cracks smartly,
Flashed news in her hand
Of meaning it dazes to understand
Though shaped so shortly:
He—he has fallen—in the far South Land…
’Tis the morrow; the fog hangs thicker,
The postman nears and goes:
A letter is brought whose lines disclose
By the firelight flicker
His hand, whom the worm now knows:
Fresh—firm—penned in highest feather—
Page-full of his hoped return,
And of home-planned jaunts of brake and burn
In the summer weather,
And of new love that they would learn.
Once more the cauldron of the sun
Smears the bookcase with winy red,
And here my page is, and there my bed,
And the apple-tree shadows travel along.
Soon their intangible track will be run,
And dusk grow strong
And they have fled.
Yes: now the boiling ball is gone,
And I have wasted another day….
But wasted—wasted, do I say?
Is it a waste to have imagined one
Beyond the hills there, who, anon,
My great deeds done,
Will be mine alway?
I do not see the hills around,
Nor mark the tints the copses wear;
I do not note the grassy ground
And constellated daisies there.
I hear not the contralto note
Of cuckoos hid on either hand,
The whirr that shakes the nighthawk’s throat
When eve’s brown awning hoods the land.
Some say each songster, tree and mead—
All eloquent of love divine—
Receives their constant careful heed:
Such keen appraisement is not mine.
The tones around me that I hear,
The aspects, meanings, shapes I see,
Are those far back ones missed when near,
And now perceived too late by me!
There trudges one to a merry-making
With sturdy swing,
On whom the rain comes down.
To fetch the saving medicament
Is another bent,
On whom the rain comes down.
One slowly drives his herd to the stall
Ere ill befall,
On whom the rain comes down.
This bears his missives of life and death
With quickening breath,
On whom the rain comes down.
One watches for signals of wreck or war
From the hill afar,
On whom the rain comes down.
No care if he gain a shelter or none,
Unhired moves on,
On whom the rain comes down.
And another knows nought of its chilling fall
Upon him aat all,
On whom the rain comes down.
I rose at night and visited
The Cave of the Unborn,
And crowding shapes surrounded me
For tidings of the life to be,
Who long had prayed the silent Head
To speed their advent morn.
Their eyes were lit with artless trust;
Hope thrilled their every tone:
“A place the loveliest, is it not?
A pure delight, a beauty-spot
Where all is gentle, pure and just
And violence is unknown?”
My heart was anguished for their sake;
I could not frame a word;
But they descried my sunken face
And seemed to read therein, and trace
The news which Pity would not break
Nor Truth leave unaverred.
And as I silently retired
I turned and watched them still:
And they came helter-skelter out,
Driven forward like a rabble rout
Into the world they had so desired,
By the all-immanent Will.
Why did you give no hint that night
That quickly after the morrow’s dawn,
And calmly, as if indifferent quite,
You would close your term here, up and be gone
Where I could not follow
With wing of swallow
To gain one glimpse of you ever anon!
Never to bid good-bye
Or lip me the softest call,
Or utter a wish for a word, while I
Saw morning harden upon the wall,
That your great going
Had place that moment, and altered all.
Why do you make me leave the house
And think for a breath it is you I see
At the end of the alley of bending boughs
Where so often at dusk you used to be;
Till in darkening dankness
The yawning blankness
Of the perspective sickens me!
You were she who abode
By those red-veined rocks far West,
You were the swan-necked one who rode
Along the beetling Beeny Crest,
And, reining nigh me,
Would muse and eye me,
While Life unrolled us its very best.
Why, then, latterly did we not speak,
Did we not think of those days long dead,
And ere your vanishing strive to seek
That time’s renewal? We might have said,
“In this bright spring weather
We’ll visit together
Those places that once we visited.”
Well, well! All’s past amend,
Unchangeable. It must go.
I seem but a dead man held on end
To sink down soon. . . . O you could not know
That such swift fleeing
No soul foreseeing—
Not even I—would undo me so!
Only a man harrowing clods
In a slow silent walk
With an old horse that stumbles and nods
Half asleep as they stalk.
Only thin smoke without flame
From the heaps of couch-grass;
Yet this will go onwards the same
Though Dynasties pass.
Yonder a maid and her wight
Go whispering by:
War’s annals will cloud into night
Ere their story die.
Southampton Docks: October 1899
Here, where Vespasian’s legions struck the sands,
And Cendric with the Saxons entered in,
And Henry’s army lept afloat to win
Convincing triumphs over neighboring lands,
Vaster battalions press for further strands,
To argue in the selfsame bloody mode
Which this late age of thought, and pact, and code,
Still fails to mend.—Now deckward tramp the bands,
Yellow as autumn leaves, alive as spring;
And as each host draws out upon the sea
Beyond which lies the tragical To-be,
None dubious of the cause, none murmuring,
Wives, sisters, parents, wave white hands and smile,
As if they knew not that they weep the while.
They had long met o’ Zundays—her true love and she—
And at junketings, maypoles, and flings;
But she bode wi’ a thirtover uncle, and he
Swore by noon and by night that her goodman should be
Naibor Sweatley—a gaffer oft weak at the knee
From taking o’ sommat more cheerful than tea—
Who tranted, and moved people’s things.
She cried, “O pray pity me!” Nought would he hear;
Then with wild rainy eyes she obeyed,
She chid when her Love was for clinking off wi’ her.
The pa’son was told, as the season drew near
To throw over pu’pit the names of the peäir
As fitting one flesh to be made.
The wedding-day dawned and the morning drew on;
The couple stood bridegroom and bride;
The evening was passed, and when midnight had gone
The folks horned out, “God save the King,” and anon
The two home-along gloomily hied.
The lover Tim Tankens mourned heart-sick and drear
To be thus of his darling deprived:
He roamed in the dark ath’art field, mound, and mere,
And, a’most without knowing it, found himself near
The house of the tranter, and now of his Dear,
Where the lantern-light showed ’em arrived.
The bride sought her cham’er so calm and so pale
That a Northern had thought her resigned;
But to eyes that had seen her in tide-times of weal,
Like the white cloud o’ smoke, the red battlefield’s vail,
That look spak’ of havoc behind.
The bridegroom yet laitered a beaker to drain,
Then reeled to the linhay for more,
When the candle-snoff kindled some chaff from his grain—
Flames spread, and red vlankers, wi’ might and wi’ main,
And round beams, thatch, and chimley-tun roar.
Young Tim away yond, rafted up by the light,
Through brimble and underwood tears,
Till he comes to the orchet, when crooping thereright
In the lewth of a codlin-tree, bivering wi’ fright,
Wi’ on’y her night-rail to screen her from sight,
His lonesome young Barbree appears.
Her cwold little figure half-naked he views
Played about by the frolicsome breeze,
Her light-tripping totties, her ten little tooes,
All bare and besprinkled wi’ Fall’s chilly dews,
While her great gallied eyes, through her hair hanging loose,
Sheened as stars through a tardle o’ trees.
She eyed en; and, as when a weir-hatch is drawn,
Her tears, penned by terror afore,
With a rushing of sobs in a shower were strawn,
Till her power to pour ’em seemed wasted and gone
From the heft o’ misfortune she bore.
“O Tim, my own Tim I must call ‘ee—I will!
All the world ha’ turned round on me so!
Can you help her who loved ‘ee, though acting so ill?
Can you pity her misery—feel for her still?
When worse than her body so quivering and chill
Is her heart in its winter o’ woe!
“I think I mid almost ha’ borne it,” she said,
“Had my griefs one by one come to hand;
But O, to be slave to thik husbird for bread,
And then, upon top o’ that, driven to wed,
And then, upon top o’ that, burnt out o’ bed,
Is more than my nater can stand!”
Tim’s soul like a lion ‘ithin en outsprung—
(Tim had a great soul when his feelings were wrung)—
“Feel for ‘ee, dear Barbree?” he cried;
And his warm working-jacket about her he flung,
Made a back, horsed her up, till behind him she clung
Like a chiel on a gipsy, her figure uphung
By the sleeves that around her he tied.
Over piggeries, and mixens, and apples, and hay,
They lumpered straight into the night;
And finding bylong where a halter-path lay,
At dawn reached Tim’s house, on’y seen on their way
By a naibor or two who were up wi’ the day;
But they gathered no clue to the sight.
Then tender Tim Tankens he searched here and there
For some garment to clothe her fair skin;
But though he had breeches and waistcoats to spare,
He had nothing quite seemly for Barbree to wear,
Who, half shrammed to death, stood and cried on a chair
At the caddle she found herself in.
There was one thing to do, and that one thing he did,
He lent her some clouts of his own,
And she took ’em perforce; and while in ’em she slid,
Tim turned to the winder, as modesty bid,
Thinking, “O that the picter my duty keeps hid
To the sight o’ my eyes mid be shown!”
In the tallet he stowed her; there huddied she lay,
Shortening sleeves, legs, and tails to her limbs;
But most o’ the time in a mortal bad way,
Well knowing that there’d be the divel to pay
If ’twere found that, instead o’ the elements’ prey,
She was living in lodgings at Tim’s.
“Where’s the tranter?” said men and boys; “where can er be?”
“Where’s the tranter?” said Barbree alone.
“Where on e’th is the tranter?” said everybod-y:
They sifted the dust of his perished roof-tree,
And all they could find was a bone.
Then the uncle cried, “Lord, pray have mercy on me!”
And in terror began to repent.
But before ’twas complete, and till sure she was free,
Barbree drew up her loft-ladder, tight turned her key—
Tim bringing up breakfast and dinner and tea—
Till the news of her hiding got vent.
Then followed the custom-kept rout, shout, and flare
Of a skimmington-ride through the naiborhood, ere
Folk had proof o’ wold Sweatley’s decay.
Whereupon decent people all stood in a stare,
Saying Tim and his lodger should risk it, and pair:
So he took her to church. An’ some laughing lads there
Cried to Tim, “After Sweatley!” She said, “I declare
I stand as a maiden to-day!”
Had I but lived a hundred years ago
I might have gone, as I have gone this year,
By Warmwell Cross on to a Cove I know,
And Time have placed his finger on me there:
“You see that man?”—I might have looked, and said,
“O yes: I see him. One that boat has brought
Which dropped down Channel round Saint Alban’s Head.
So commonplace a youth calls not my thought.”
“You see that man?”—”Why yes; I told you; yes:
Of an idling town-sort; thin; hair brown in hue;
And as the evening light scants less and less
He looks up at a star, as many do.”
“You see that man?”—”Nay, leave me!” then I plead,
“I have fifteen miles to vamp across the lea,
And it grows dark, and I am weary-kneed:
I have said the third time; yes, that man I see!”
“Good. That man goes to Rome—to death, despair;
And no one notes him now but you and I:
A hundred years, and the world will follow him there,
And bend with reverence where his ashes lie.”