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And waited at the Parting of the Ways :
Again the figure of a woman veiled
Stood forth and beckoned, and I followed now :
Down to no bower of roses led the path.
But through the streets of towns where chattering Cold
Hewed wood for fires whose glow was owned and fenced,
Where Nakedness wove garments of warm wool
Not for itself :-or through the fields it led
Where Hunger reaped the unattainable grain
Where Idleness enforced saw idle lands,
Leagues of unpeopled soil, the common earth,
Walled round with paper against God and Man.
“I cannot look," I groaned, "at only these ;
The heart grows hardened with perpetual wont,
And palters with a feigned necessity,
Bargaining with itself to be content;
Let me behold thy face.”
The Form replied :
“Men follow Duty, never overtake ;
Duty nor lifts her veil nor looks behind."
But as she spake a loosened lock of hair
Slipped from beneath her hood, and I, who looked
To see it gray and thin, saw amplest gold ;
Not that dull metal dug from sordid earth,
But such as the retiring sunset flood
Leaves heaped on bays and capes of island cloud,
“O Guide divine,” I prayed, although not yet
I may repair the virtue which I feel
Gone out at touch of untuned things and foul
With draughts of Beauty, yet declare how soon!”
“Faithless and faint of heart," the voice returned,
“Thou see'st no beauty save thou make it first;
Man, Woman, Nature, each is but a glass
Where the soul sees the image of herself,
Visible echoes, offsprings of herself.
But, since thou need'st assurance of how soon,
Wait till that angel comes who opens all,
The reconciler, he who lifts the veil,
The reuniter, the rest-bringer, Death.”
I waited, and methought he came; but how,
Or in what shape, I doubted, for no sign,
By touch or mark, he gave me as he passed :
Only I know a lily that I held
Snapt short below the head and shrivelled up;
Then turned my Guide and looked at me unveiled,
Had played with it, and flung it by,
As wind and weather might decide it,
Then tossed it high where sand-drists dry
Cheap burial might provide it.
It rested there to bleach or tan,
The rains had soaked, the suns had burned it ;
With many a ban the fisherman
Had stumbled o'er and spurned it :
And there the fisher-girl would stay,
Conjecturing with her brother
How in their play the poor estray
Might serve some use or other.
So there it lay, through wet and dry,
As empty as the last new sonnet,
Till by and by came Mercury,
And, having mused upon it,
“Why, here,” cried he, “the thing of things
In shape, material, and dimension !
Give it but strings, and, lo, it sings,
A wonderful invention !
So said, so done; the chords he strained,
And, as his fingers o'er them hovered,
The shell disdained a soul had gained,
The lyre had been discovered.
O empty world that round us lies,
Dead shell, of soul and thought forsaken,
Brought we but eyes like Mercury's,
In thee what songs should waken !
NEW YEAR'S EVE. 1850. This is the midnight of the century,—hark ! Through aisle and arch of Godminster have gone Twelve throbs that tolled the zenith of the dark, And mornward now the starry hands move on ; “Mornward !” the angelic watchers say, " Passed is the sorest trial ; No plot of man can stay The hand upon the dial ; Night is the dark stem of the lily Day.” If we, who watched in valleys here below, Toward streaks, misdeemed of morn, our faces turned When volcan glares set all the east aglow,-
We are not poorer that we wept and yearned ;
Through earth swing wide from God's intent,
And though no man nor nation
Will move with full consent
In heavenly gravitation,
Yet by one Sun is every orbit bent.
THOUGH old the thought and oft exprest,
'Tis his at last who says it best,
I'll try my fortune with the rest.
Life is a leaf of paper white
Whereon each one of us may write
His word or two, and then comes night.
“Lo, time and space enough,” we cry,
“ To write an epic !” so we try
Our nibs upon the edge, and die.
Muse not which way the pen to hold,
Luck hates the slow and loves the bold,
Soon come the darkness and the cold.
Greatly begin ! though thou have time
But for a line, be that sublime,-
Not failure, but low aim, is crime.
Ah, with what lofty hope we came !
But we forget it, dream of fame,
And scrawl, as I do here, a name.
THE dandelions and buttercups
Gild all the lavins the drowsy bee
Stumbles among the clover-tops,
And summer sweetens all but me :
Away, unfruitful lore of books,
For whose vain idiom we reject
The soul's more native dialect,
Aliens among the birds and brooks
Dull to interpret or conceive
What gospels lost the woods retrieve !
Away, ye critics, city-bred,
Who set man-traps of thus and so,
And in the first man's footsteps tread,
Like those who toil through drifted snow !
Away, my poets, whose sweet spell
Can make a garden of a cell !
I need ye not, for I to-day
Will make one long sweet verse of play,
Snap, chord of manhood's tenser strain !
To-day I will be a boy again :
The mind's pursuing element,
Like a bow slackened and unbent,
In some dark corner shall be leant.
The robin sings, as of old, from the limb !
The cat-bird croons in the lilac-bush !
Through the dim arbour, himself more dim,
Silently hops the hermit-thrush,
The withered leaves keep dumb for him ;
The irreverent buccaneering bee
Hath stormed and rified the nunnery
Of the lily, and scattered the sacred floor
With haste-dropt gold from shrine to door ;
There, as of yore,
The rich, milk-tingeing buttercup
Its tiny polished urn holds up,
Filled with ripe summer to the edge,
The sun in his own wine to pledge ;
And our tall elm, this hundredth year
Doge of our leafy Venice here,
Who, with an annual ring, doth wed
The blue Adriatic overhead,
Shadows with his palatial mass
The deep canals of Mowing grass.
O unestranged birds and bees !
O face of nature always true !
O never-unsympathising trees !
O never-rejecting roof of blue,
Whose rash disherison never falls
On us unthinking prodigals,
Yet who convictest all our ill,
So grand and unappeasable !
Methinks my heart from each of these
Plucks part of childhood back again,
Long there imprisoned, as the breeze
Doth every hidden odour seize
Or wood and water, hill and plain.
Once more am I admitted peer
In the upper house of Nature here,
And feel through all my pulses run
The royal blood of breeze and sun.
Upon these elm-arched solitudes
No hum of neighbour toil intrudes;
The only hammer that I hear
Is wielded by the woodpecker,
The single noisy calling his
In all our leaf-hid Sybaris ;
The good old time, close-hidden here,
Persists, a loyal cavalier,
While Roundheads prim, with point of fox
Probe wainscot-chink and empty box ;
Here no hoarse-voiced iconoclast
Insults thy statues, royal Past;
Myself too prone the axe to wield,
I touch the silver side of the shield
With lance reversed, and challenge peace,
A willing convert of the trees.
How chanced it that so long I tost
A cable's length from this rich coast,
With foolish anchors hugging close
The beckoning weeds and lazy ooze,
Nor had the wit to wreck before
On this enchanted island's shore,
Whither the current of the sea,
With wiser drift, persuaded me ?
O, might we but of such rare days
Build up the spirit's dwelling-place !
A temple of so Parian stone
Would brook a marble god alone,
The statue of a perfect life,
Far-shrined from earth's bestaining strife,
Alas ! though such felicity
In our vexed world here may not be,
Yet, as sometimes the peasant's hut
Shows stones which old religion cut
With text inspired, or mystic sign
Of the Eternal and Divine,
Torn from the consecration deep
Of some fallen nunnery's mossy sleep,
So, from the ruins of this day
Crumbling in golden dust away,
The soul one gracious block may draw,