A POEM IN SONNETS.
'Roma! Roma! Roma!
Non e piu come era prima!"
TO-MORROW I will be in Rome, and thou
Within thy village. I can see thee stand,
Thine eyes in the direction of this land:
Fair pillar of the past, as it is now
The refuge of its heirlooms. In my ears
I hear thee speaking as upon that day
We parted, saying—"When thou goest away
To make a golden epoch in thy years
By travel, speak not of the Rhine's swift roll,
Mont Blanc, the Jungfrau, or the Alps that rise
Like icy Titans, nor of sunset skies;
But when thou reachest Rome let all thy soul
Fly to the past, and as it speaks to thee
From out its temples, speak thou so to me."
The one dream of our boyhood! Dost thou not
Remember how we stood in mimic fight,
And marshall'd all our legion's puny might,
Then fann'd ourselves to ardour fierce and hot?
"Thus struck a Roman for his Rome!" we cried—
"Thus, thus into the gulf a Curtius leapt!"
And with a sudden shout and rush we swept
The foe back, till they fled on every side.
Then came the hymn of triumph, and the car
Bearing the victor to the feast and wine,
And the delights of smiling peace and home;
All this was with me of that mimic war,
As I pass'd through the arch of Constantine,
And stood within the centuries and Rome!
If thou have, for the weak, defenceless past
Aught in thee like to reverence, be dumb,
And speak not, but let thought and feeling come
As mourners, and in kindred silence cast
Their sorrow on this city, now no more
The foreground of the world, but lying dead,
While the great present with its hasty tread
Moves on, and turns not save but to deplore.
The background of our Planet! But in death
She hath that awe which broods upon the face
Of the new dead, so in her fallen place
A power is with her still, though all her faith
Is snapt like her own temples in the dust,
And fades with centuries of age and rust.
I am in Rome, and underneath the spell
Of her past glory; as I tread her streets,
My soul keeps saying, as a child repeats
Its lesson—"The Eternal, here they dwell!"
I am alone, though in the busy crowd,
Yet mighty spirits keep their pace with mine:
Horace and Virgil, and those names divine
That in the world for ever speak aloud.
The past is with me, and my eyes are blind
To all the modern change on either side;
I stride a Roman, with a Roman's stride,
And feel a Roman's firmness fire my mind.
I even hail the victor from afar,
And join the throng that shout behind his car.
Yet after all, when the soul finds its home,
And we look with our daily eyes, we ask
(Doubt round us like a mist) "Can this be Rome?"
And the slow answer is a mighty task.
Can this indeed be Rome, who from her heart
Sent shocks of life, like blood, through distant
Whose Kings were sons to her by Roman bands
Of valour, and their tribute fill'd her mart?
The Jupiter of cities! Now, alas!
Upon her throne of seven hills, she seems
The shadow of a thousand former dreams,
Pointing to all the splendid pomp that was.
Even her columns seem to start and glow
Into Cassandras, and wail forth her woe.
Where'er thou stand in ancient Rome there seems
A shadow with thee; and if thy keen thought
Turn pilgrim to the shrine of thy great dreams—
Paying continual homage as it ought—
Thou art but fool'd; and if thou rear again
Columns and gods and temples, and within
The silent Forum place her mightiest men,
Whose eloquence could calm and still the din
Of factions, lo! the Presence at thy side
Cries, "Siste, viator," and from out the past
Thy soul comes, and instead of all the pride
And high magnificence that was, thou hast,
Like garments of the mighty flung away,
Marbles and columns in one mix'd decay.
What high, great thoughts might leap within the
Of the stern Romulus, that day when he
Ran a light furrow round his Rome to be,
Built huts, and, for a moment, took his rest.
Would he had been a Capys then, and seen,
From the rude doorway, all the splendid power
Taking still birth from out that quiet hour,
And spreading like a shadow all between
The earth and sky, until its mighty wings
Were at full stretch, and a great empire stood
Flinging steel network over earthly things,
Till, tired of uncheck'd force and constant blood,
Turn'd like the Titans, when it thus had striven,
And dared to parcel out the rights of heaven.
I saw the mighty form of giant Time!
He stood; within his hands were balances:
He held them up; two kingdoms were in these;
One sunk; the other rose and flower'd to prime.
Around his feet his sons, the young, keen years,
Wrestled and shaped fresh worlds; as they shaped
They look'd up; through their lips a moan
And in their eyes was something, like to tears.
Then with one voice they cried—"Is not the hour
Ready? Put down thy balances, and lift
The nations we have foster'd as a gift
For thee." And Time, frowning till eyebrows met,
Shook his white locks in sternly potent power,
Then whisper'd back to them—"Not yet, not yet!"
St. Peter's! how thy soul within thee grows
And widens out in worship, as if God
Had made this dome a moment His abode;
Then left His awful shadow to repose
Within its walls for ages. Let no speech,
Or aught of earth be with thee, in this hour
When the full past falls, like a sudden shower
Upon thee, bringing into all thy reach
The sacredness of what it hallows, till
Thou standest not on marble but on air,
Feeling thyself uplifted by the will
Of some great Presence dwelling everywhere;
Then, looking up, see right before thine eyes
God's very threshold to the bending skies.
The first brief hour within the Vatican
Is one in which thy soul can find no speech;
But dumbly yearns to gain those points to which
Climb the great possibilities of man.
Frescoes, mosaics, statues! all that speaks
Of the creative and refining power—
God's share in man,—that ever like a dower
Falls on him, and in fruitful silence seeks
High forms to build it forth, is here; and we,
Who pilgrimage to all our greater kind,
Know not the force that leads us, but must bow
Before the eternal Roman sway of mind,
Blind with the same clear light which now I see
Upon the beautiful Meleager's s brow.
To shape, when the pure thought was high and free,
Some mighty god, that, ever as we look,
We feel its godhead with a stern rebuke
Claim worship, and we almost bend the knee—
This is the task of those grand souls who stand
A thousand years between them; for the given
Fire, burning at the very core of heaven,
Cannot be flung broadcast from out the hand;
But where it lights, ay, there it ever burns,
A clear flame on the ember'd hearth of Time,
Quenchless but with himself. Lo! how it turns
From the high Greek and all his higher glow,
And, shooting onward to a sister clime,
Crowns with no stint a later Angelo.
The thoughts that only mate with gods alone
And all that high conception when the mind
Looks heavenward for a model to its kind
Of what a god may be, meet here in stone.
The Sun God! Dost thou not behold him now
With head thrown back, as if his native sky
Had come, in some wild moment, all too nigh,
Then fled, but left its splendours on his brow?
Thou glorious Archer! In that awful hour,
Granted by Heaven, did the sculptor kneel
Before his chisel touch'd the virgin block,
Feeling thy presence give consent and power?
We know not. We can only see and feel
That Heaven's fire with his sped every stroke.
Back to the grand Apollo! Tell me not
A mortal had to do with this. I know
That if a god content him here below,
A mightier one must bind him to the spot.
Can this be genius that can so enthral,
And lift us, Mahomet-like, until we feel
The very heaven around us, and we reel
In the delight of worship? Who can call
This splendid triumph stone? Say rather we
Behold a god who came to men, and met
His punishment in marble; yet he lives
While we, with all our throbbing being set,
Worship with the bold thought that it may be
Idolatry that Heaven itself forgives.
I turn'd from the Apollo with my mind
Back to the Venus. I can see her now
Looking at me with that divine-like brow
Round which the adoring world will ever bind
Its love for ages. All that hath been sung
Since Time grew up to manhood lingers round
That snowy form, that ever seems spell-bound
In its own whiteness, and for ever young.
We lose our being as we look and wear
Into her beauty, and become as naught;
We are the stone, and she the glowing thought,
For ever with us and for ever fair,—
Goddess of Love—and we who stand but seem
To touch the confines of her endless dream!
I see her yet—the glorious shape to which
The pilgrim fondly wanders! Let me kneel,
As if in that one act my soul could feel
And, all miraculously lifted, reach
The sculptor's height in that impassion'd hour
When the fair dream the world will not let die
Took shape in stone, as if a god were nigh,
Limb, breast, and brow asserting conscious power
And claiming worship. O! did she [1.] look
In that sweet hour, when glowing from her flight
She knelt by pale Endymion in delight,
Kissing his brow and lip, and tremulous
With sighs from heaven, whisper, "It is he,
The Latmian!"—and so let her passion free.
I stood before the Laocoön, and felt
A soul move in the stone; as if the pain
For ever prison'd there had power to melt
And fuse itself in double strength again
Into the gazer as he stands, and feels
The marble horror catch his breath until
He sinks, and, in his very weakness, reels
Before that form those coilings never kill.
Look on the father who with quivering form
Strives to unlace the strain that never slips,
But keeps eternal clasp upon the place
While all the agony, like a lake in storm,
Moves from huge limbs to straining finger tips,
Then makes a dread Vesuvius of the face.
Temple of all the gods! and here the dust
Of one reposes, who with early fame
Went into death, and left behind the name
Of Raphael, to defy the years' quick rust.
How shall we name him who with quick, pure eyes
Saw Heaven's Divinest, and in earth-made hues
Painted the glory of His look, as dews
Catch the first light that falls from summer skies?
Say, poet of Christ in colours, who stood near
The light of Heaven, until its very strength
Took him all kindly to itself at length,
Yet left him not, but went before his bier,
And, soul-like in that work, [2.] his last
Saw the great Master enter into rest.
The stone rolls from His feet like mountain mist;
Before Him, ghost-like, in the vanquish'd tomb,
The bands of linen lie within the gloom—
White pledges of the newly-risen Christ.
He comes forth! from the splendour of His brow
Gethsemane and the Cross have fled. He stands,
A halo of love around Him, as His hands
Clasp each in prayer; God's early morning glow
Falls on Him, matching in those deep, sad eyes
The light of conquest gain'd for all our race,
As if God bent Himself, and from above
Shed on Him all the glory of the skies;
While the earth, dumb at such astounding love;
Turns round to gaze for ever on His face.
Here on this spot the heroic martyr [4.] stood,
God's fire upon his brow and in his heart,
As the two gladiators drew apart
Glaring at each in their wild thirst for blood.
Lo! as the ages roll aside their gloom
We see him yet; the hero as he sinks
Keeps to his purpose born of Christ, nor shrinks
Though human tigers track him to his doom.
Talk of this planet's holy spots! my feet
Within this amphitheatre are on
Its holiest, for a brother here alone
Stood up for God and man, till in the heat
Of Roman thirst for blood he sank, and pass'd,
An early Livingstone, but not the last.
I saw the stage of Time, and on it kings
Strutted and fought, then laid them on the bed
Of earth, that took them, like the blood they shed,
Kindly; and they were with forgotten things.
Then nations rose, who, branching out became
The very backbone of the universe.
They reach'd their bloom until, as when a curse
Withers, they shrank and dwindled like a flame
That lacks fresh fuel. All this while I saw
Shadows creep o'er their ruins, and in awe
I turn'd to Time, and ask'd him to define
These shadows; and he answer'd thus to me—
"These are the forecasts of great worlds to be;"
I woke, and I was on the Palatine.
Are nations, then, like flowers that have their bloom,
Dying, as the still centuries pass away?
Alas! behind their acmè lurks the doom
To write its "Mene" on corroding clay.
Belief, whether it be in gods or God,
Can still work miracles; but if it fail,
And Argus doubt with poisonous darts assail
Its inmost hold; then realms and men corrode.
The Past behind thee teaches this. Look back!
Lo! from the wreck of worlds stand Greece and
With pleading silence in their eyes, whose track
Shows what may be when doubt has found a
I stood in Rome, but, when this came to me,
My England! I was looking back to thee.
Two of great England's singers, lying each
By each: one rose up wroth at human wrong,
And hung half-way to heaven in his song,
Till the heart burst in his desire to teach
The melody he heard from where he was.
The other wander'd to the early past,
Yearning with a boy's ardour to recast
Its mythologic utterances. But as
The sun takes dews, so did their beauty him;
He pass'd, leaving behind sweet words that must
For ever keep him here. The other, too,
Left melody that still will float and swim;
Aerial mist with heaven shining through,
And here a little space divides their dust.
Cor Cordium, thou art near to Shelley's heart;
Stop, if thou canst, the beatings of thine own,
For here a purer beats a perfect part,
And models thought upon a purer tone.
Ay, Shelley's heart, it may be naught to thee,
But in it lay the light which, though unseen,
Had the full stamp of that which is to be—
It now is, but the earth is all between.
I claim no tears for him. If thou art one
Who hears between the breathing of the years,
Thou shalt not miss his music; if alone,
It shall be sweeter and seem from the spheres;
For his was from the higher realm of good
Brought down to men, not to be understood.
And wilt thou go away from Rome, nor see
The resting-place of Keats, from whom thy soul
Took early draughts of worship and control—
A pilgrim thou, and from beyond the sea?
I turn'd, and stood beside his grassy grave,
Almost within the shadow of the wall
Honorian; and as kindred spirits call
Each unto each, my own rose up to crave
A moment's sweet renewal by the dust
Of that high interchange in vanish'd time,
When my young soul was reeling with his prime;
But now my manhood lay across that trust.
Ah! had I stood here in my early years,
This simple headstone had been wet with tears.
I go, for wider is the space that lies
Between the sleeper in his grave and me;
I look back on my golden youth, but he
Cannot look backward with less passion'd eyes.
There is no change in him; the fading glory
Of mighty Rome's long triumph is around.
But cannot come anear or pierce the bound
Of this our laurell'd sleeper, whose pale story
Takes fresher lustre with the years that fly.
But Roman dust upon an English heart
Is naught, yet this is Keats's, and a part
Of England's spirit. With a weary sigh
I turn from sacred ground, and all the way
Two spirits were with me —Keats and David Gray.
I left the crowd to its own will, and mused
Upon thy village life, that scarcely opes
One pathway for the liberal thought, nor copes
With the result that broadens; but suffused
With straiten'd range of thought, keeps on, nor sees
The world with proper vision. Creeds and sects
Are here, still seeing within each defects,
And men will battle to the last for these.
It will be so. Yet think, ere we condemn,
What our faith is to us is theirs to them;
And so grow broad with sympathy, nor sink
Into the barren pasture of old saws,
But think that God will open up His laws,
And tell us we are safer than we think.
Tiber! thy city's great have sunk and died
Making her famous, yet thou rollest on
(For time shrinks back from nature); in thy tone
To me, a pilgrim standing by thy side,
A threnody comes forth and fills my ears;
And all the heroic annals of the past
Rise up, as if the hand of time had cast
Its fingers on the keyboard of the years,
Hymning their changes. What a mighty reach
From the wild, fierce, wolf-suckled twins until
Seven hills saw mighty Rome repose on each—
Gateway to worlds which she oped at will,
But now for ever shut, and in her ken
No "sesame" to open them again!
Tiber! before I pass away from thee,
One other dream. I stand with half-shut eye,
And hear a mighty army's vaunt and cry;
Then see within the pass the heroic Three.
Hark to the clang that strikes against the bridge
That shakes (such strength was in a Roman's blow,
When faith was potent centuries ago);
Then the loud crash, as two from off its ledge
Leap among friends. But where is he, the best,
The mightiest—Horatius? In thy wave
He plunges, and around him thou dost lave
Thy yellow surges on his mailèd breast.
Thy foam is on his beard, he gains the land,
Thou Roman! and I stretch him forth my hand.
Who rests within this soil must slumber well,
For on it the sad, earnest past hath shed
Its holiest consecration, and the dead
Know it, and beneath can feel its spell;
To die, then, and to rest in Roman mould
Were something: wearing into all the past,
Whose glory like a sunbeam backward cast
Might keep the heart from ever growing cold.
It is as if the spirit of ancient Rome
Unveiling all its glory, cried—"Come ye
And look upon me, but in looking die,
And let thy dust within my shadow lie,
While the soul flying from its first found home
Comes to me with the dreams it had of me."
I lean back. I am ripe for dreams to-day;
For who that rests beneath a sky like this
Could shirk their soft existence, and so miss
Communings that etherealise the clay?
Rome is her own wide grave, and there can be
No aftermath for her. The wise and good—
Her foster children—claim'd it as they stood.
Through the spent avalanche of the years I see
The light of each great soul, and, dreaming on,
What Rome was sinks, as if to make a base
To the grand structure of the mind which God
Seals as a symbol of Himself alone;
I enter; though I cannot see His face
I know that I am near His pure abode.
Roma! Roma! Roma! Thus my lips
Took the soft language of the glowing skies
Of Italy. A stranger with dim eyes
Takes leave of thee, and like a shadow slips
From thy fair presence. With me I had brought
Dreams of my boyhood, and I take away
Others of sadder colour, as one may
When leaving the still room wherein our thought
Is with the sainted dead. But as I go
I feel that ever after in my breast
What Rome has been, and is, will take its rest,
And be a picture in me, with the glow
Of sunset over it. Her mighty great
Are with her to the end, above her fate.
The ruins of years—nay, Time himself—are here;
I sit within them; but the brooding heart
Wanders to Florence, to become a part
Of one, by whom, as we walk with our peer,
Sorrow went forth, nor left him till he died—
Dante, upon whose cheek the grime of hell
Seems half-wash'd off by the hot tears that fell
At sight of those that wail'd on either side.
He stood in heaven with that spot, but still
The effluence from the celestial glow
Of her who led him, made him feel the ill
He left behind on earth. So stern yet meek
He went, not looking up, but bent his brow,
Conscious of all the stains upon his cheek.
Florence! they cried, and as they spoke, I stood,
And said—the quick tears filling up my eyes—
Dante's lost city, which, with life-long sighs,
He yearn'd for, and from which the sullen brood
Of factions drove him. Had he found this home,
One marvel less had been in books, and we
Had seen no vision of the world to be,
Or known how far thought can be made to roam.
Dante's lost city! In these words we feel
That lone worn spirit of his break forth in sighs,
And all our own half-smitten, till we reel,
Seeing those eyes that seem so sunk and dull,
By looking on the gnawing of the skull, 
Or blinded by the light of Paradise.
Infinite sorrow, like a martyr's crown,
Rests upon Dante. And those stern sad eyes
Can hide it not, though ever looking down,
While those of Beatrice pierce the seventh skies.
Dost thou remember how we stood, and kept
Our gaze upon the picture where the two
Were thus seen? She so pure and sweet to view:
He earthy, though within the heavens. I wept,
Touch'd with the spirit of his grief, which spoke
To mine, until when from my trance I woke
I heard thee say—"In these two are express'd
The higher and the lower nature, which,
Being within us, we are claim'd by each,
Like the two spirits in Faust's weary breast."
The rapt diviner poets struggle still,
Like angels with one wing, to reach their heaven,
Though it may be with dust-soil'd pinion, till
Death pities, and the other wing is given.
This earth is not for them, and when they come
They stand as strangers, till, at last, they speak
Their mission in keen words, through which we hear
The low deep yearning to regain their home,
That, though they stand on earth, is ever near,
Till the light fades upon their brow and check;
Then Heaven takes back its own that was so sweet.
In this thought I can lie in Italy,
And roll aside part of the sky, and see
Beatrice with Dante at her feet.
In England now! and yet the Rome I left
Follows me like a shadow. I can still
Limn forth those ruins, which men's hands and
Made for the ages. But the Goth hath cleft
His ruthless way, and Time has followed him.
The Forum, Colosseum, Capitol,
The palace of the Cæsars dark and dim,
The Circus and the Pantheon, the soul
Of what Rome was, her temples—all is dead
But that which was of Heaven; the far thought
Of poet, sage, historian, still have part
In all the present; Sculpture bows her head,
And full-eyed Painting, with her glorious art,
Puts down her footstep, hallowing all the spot.
To-morrow I will be with thee, and break
Upon thy silence, and thy treasured books.
In fancy I can see thy eager looks
And hear thy sudden questions, as we take
Our evening walk adown the little street.
How did I feel when in the evening hour
I stood within the Forum, with the power
Of Cicero upon me? Did my feet
Half shrink to touch the ground where the abodes
Of men bad been who were fit mates for gods?
And last—What have you brought me? For I crave
Some souvenir of fallen Rome, and I,
Knowing thy early warship will reply—
A wither'd violet from Keats's grave.
2. The Transfiguration.
3. One of Raphael's pictures, unfortunately lost or
destroyed, was the Resurrection of our Saviour, who is represented
bursting out of the sepulchre, "perhaps," says the authoress of Rome in
the Nineteenth Century, "one of the grandest conceptions in the
5. La bocca sollevò dal
Quel peccator, &c.—Inferno. Canto
A pure sweet one that came but for a while,
As flowers come, and then went back to heaven,
To whom, as light unites in light, was given
The gentle purpose, and the tender smile
Of all fair things; who, dying, left behind
The gracious memory of all her ways,
The quiet raptures of melodious days,
The folded blossom of her child-like mind.
And I who still remain can feel the band
Of her fair life on mine, as from the skies
We feel the sunshine which we walk among,
Nay, more; if I could touch the spirit land,
To look for Agnes in the sinless throng,
I know I still should know her from her eyes.
I KNOW not how it is, but all the past
Is with me, speaking of its early things,
As old men like to talk about their youth.
And in its voice a clearer, sweeter chord
Is heard, and I, half in a waking dream,
Musing upon the music, think a while
Like one who on a sudden sees two paths
Before him, and, uncertain which to take,
Halts for a moment till his eye alights
On some familiar mark or shape of hill
Seen years before, and straightway goes his way;
So, thinking on that voice, a gracious time
Comes back, and in its light I stand, and say,
A touch of sorrow in my whisper, "Strange
That there should be so much to move my soul
In words so plain and simple—Agnes died."
But let me trace a pathway through the years,
Whose tombs are pillars bearing up the past,
And lay my hand upon that time when she
Knew not the shadow creeping on her cheek,
Dulling its roses, but in happy strength
Met the sweet brow of every day that brought
Glad youth and all its fairy world to her.
The first of our acquaintance sprung from where
Most human friendships spring—the school, and we,
Half shy and strange at first, broke up the ground
With words of little use to older heads,
And questions, such as owe their birth to all
The inventive gift of children free to choose
What their quick fancy thinks is best; and now
You may be looking for a long account
Of wandering slowly home in afternoons,
Amid the loyal waste of summer light;
Of holidays in which we tasted heaven;
Of the long looking forward to that time
When six weeks made us like the kings and queens
In olden stories which when brought to mind
Bring back the child into our heart once more,
And all again is sunshine. But, alas,
I lack the fitting dress of words—not thought—
For, looking back, the glory of that time
Rises like light upon the dark, and makes
A halo round it, beautiful and bright,
As if we saw the sun through our own tears.
So we grew up, and with the kindly years
Our friendship grew the stronger, and I watch'd
With a boy lover's eye the opening bud
Of her sweet spirit; saw its infant germ
Expand beneath the breathing of the years,
Touch the soft outline of her gentle form,
And tint the cheek with colour like the rose
When first it breaks its little cell of green;
So I, who made her centre of my thought,
Became her worshipper; for when we know
The purity of that to which we bow
We grow sincere indeed. And she was all
That one might picture Eve to be when in
The slumber of her Paradise she woke,
And found herself within the clasp of flowers.
What wonder, then, if Agnes, yet a child,
Was to me all I wish'd for, that my life
Took half its being from the warmth of hers;
That all my motions were as if her eyes
Kept watch upon me; that my sleep became
The silent picture of the day, and set
The sweet rehearsal of my waking thoughts
Before me in the fairy hue of dreams;
That her sweet voice made all my pulses thrill,
While the light touch of her ethereal hand
Made the heart quicken, as beneath the shock
Of strangely started fears or open wrong.
O! love like this is worth ten years of all
The staider bearing of a sober manhood.
And if, perchance, we smile at all the warmth
Of boyish passion in those early days,
It reaches further than the lips, and in
The heart we feel the sadness living on,
Crown'd with the vain regret, the broken light
Of an existence only to be seen
Lighting some distant peak within the heart.
So I in Agnes found another life,
And felt the wonder of another land,
As if an angel had come down from heaven
To fill me with a little of his joy.
But did her eyes find out this love of mine,
And catch the worship which I wrapp'd her in?
This was the question which I ask'd myself,
But found no fitting answer to reply;
For she partook so much of simple things,
And had such purity of thought and speech,
That if a thought of love had wing'd its flight
Across the open spaces of her heart,
It would have lost itself at once within
The fair fresh foliage of its innocent depths,
As when a bird will fly across a vale
And sink from sight amid a wealth of leaves.
Thus thought I, as the happy days flew on,
Flinging their sweetest light on me, until
A shadow fell upon my heart, and struck
The blossoms I had form'd, as when a hand
Strikes all unwittingly a feeble rose,
Whose leaves—full spent and ripe—fling down at once
Their rosy graces on the heedless ground.
For Agnes changed, and yet no change I knew,
But still it was a change, for which no name
Grew on the lip; a fear, a little hint,
The shadow of a shadow, yet afar,
The unseen touch of some sweet angel's hand,
That none could see but Death—who, passing by,
Stood for a moment ere he went away
And left his smile to mingle with her own.
But let me try to paint that one sweet day
We spent within the woods, before her strength
Grew a soft traitor, and confined her steps
To the hushed precincts of her sacred room.
The sun was bright that day, and all the sky
Glimmer'd like magic with its sunniest light,
As if it knew that I, in later times,
Would look back on that fading light, and sigh,
And sadden at that splendour sunk in death.
We took our way along a path which kept
Our footsteps by a lake, wherein was seen
A little island dripping to the edge
With golden lilies, double in their bloom;
When some, more amorous than the rest, leant o'er
And nodded to their shadows seen below.
The coot came forth at times to show the speck
Of white upon his wings, then swept away
Behind the twisted roots. The silent heron,
Amid the tiny pillars of the reed,
Kept eager watch, nor stirr'd upon his post,
But stood a feather'd patience waiting prey;
While in the woods the birds, as if ashamed
Of all their silence through the silent night,
Gave forth in concert one great gush of song,
That flooded all things, till the very leaves
Flutter'd to find a voice to vent their joy.
We heard the piping of the amorous thrush—
The bird that sings with all his soul in heaven—
The mellow blackbird, and the pert redbreast,
Whose song was bolder than his own bright eye;
While fainter notes of lesser choristers
Came in like semitones to swell the whole;
While over all, to crown this one great song,
The lark—the grey Apollo of his race,
The feather'd Pan, the spirit clad in song—
High up, and in the very sight of heaven,
Pour'd downward with the brightness of the smiles
Of angels all his spirit, leaving doubts
Whether his song belong'd to God or us.
And there we sat within the woods, and saw
The lake between the trees, and now and then
The gentle shadow of a cloud above
Passing along its bosom, as a thought
Across the calmness of a poet's brow.
And all around the lilies grew, and on
The bank beside us, rearing its sweet head,
The azure fairy of the woodland grass,
That has a spot of heaven for its eye,
The violet nestled, while, close by its side,
The primrose, yellow star of earth's green sky,
Peep'd up in quick surprise, and, further on,
An orchis, like the fiery orb of Mars,
Rose up with purple mouth agape to catch
All murmurs and all scents that came its way.
So in this Paradise we sat, until
We broke the silence with soft speech, to fit
The purer thought which, at the golden touch
Of the pure things beside us, grew within,
Blowing to instant blossom. Then our talk
Took simple bounds, and, with a fond delight,
We touch'd on all the heart will think, when youth
Ranges throughout its chambers; like to one
Who dares the sanctity of some fair room,
And finds in every corner fresh delight.
But I was bound by one great spell which she
Knew nothing of. I could not speak my love,
Nor could she see it, though in that sweet guise
In which we hide it only to be seen.
And so the converse sped—now quick at times,
Now slow, and then an interval in which
We went through all the paths of spoken thought,
Making the pleasure double by retouching
In silence the past interchange of words.
We felt the welcome of the summer day,
We heard its music rising everywhere;
Yet strange that all our thoughts should slip away
And strike a chord that beat not unison
With all this joy; for from our dreams and smiles
We shrunk, and, with a shadow in our eyes,
We struck upon the cypress'd edge of death.
Then solemn grew our converse, and she spoke
In low, sweet whispers, which to me were spells
Of deeper quiet, as she strove to make
A land wherein a great world moves like ours
Distinct and clear to all the grosser eye;
And simple as herself she painted heaven.
She knew not, as she spoke, how all my heart
Follow'd her words, and hung upon their tones
Helpless, and with no wish to change the task,
But catch the eloquence of what she spoke,
For truth lives nowhere but in simple words.
I hear her voice again this very hour
Clear and distinct, as if the death it wore
Made it the clearer, even as two friends,
Apart from each, but with a lake between,
Will keep up converse, losing not a word,
Because the faithful waters lie between.
So the pure essence of an unseen sweetness,
Breathing out odours from the land of death,
Speaks to me, and my spirit at each word
Wafted from lips that have no human breath,
Sighs like green leaves beneath the summer rain
When all the clouds are weeping tears of joy.
But let me to the end, nor lengthen out
This memory only for myself, for dreams
Bring to the dreamers only pain or joy,
In two weeks after, all I held as sweet
And pure of Agnes was within the grave.
For since time found a being comes this truth,
The sweetest heart within the sweetest breast
Beats not a tune to gain the ear of Death.
So Agnes died, as flowers will die when frost
Falls, ere the sun is up, upon their bloom;
Or when some curious hand will open up
The undeveloped bud, that by its hue
The eye may picture forth the perfect flower,
And shape a pleasure for the coming years.
Thus into the great garden of this life
Came Death, and, lighting with an eager eye
Upon the bud I thought would bloom for me,
He prest aside the leaves that hid as yet
The glorious promise of a glorious flower,
Letting its unripe fragrance sink and die
Upon the bosom of the careless air,
And so despoil'd it; leaving unto me
The scatter'd leaves to gather up at will.
So Agnes went away, when all her life
Stood like a prophet, mixing in its cup
Rare hopes, and novel tasks, and gentle dreams,
That took their colour from her own pure heart;
And just as she had raised it to her lips
To touch the golden nectar, lo! it fell
In rainbow pieces at her stricken feet;
And from the fragments lying now in dust,
As jewels glimmer through the barren sand,
Have I shaped out this sacred memory
Of her who rose upon my young pure life
First planet there, as in the midnight sky
A meteor lingers till it grasps the sight,
Then shooting paler light across the heaven,
Fades, as a smile might from an angel's lips,
Behind the silver fretwork of the stars.
BLOOD ON THE WHEEL.
"BLESS her dear little heart!" said my mate, and
out to me,
Fifty yards to the right, in the darkness, a light
steady and clear.
"That's her signal in answer to me, when I whistle,
to let me see
She is at her place by the window the time I am
I turn'd to look at the light, and I saw the tear on
He was tender of heart, and I knew that his love
But he dash'd it off with his hand, and I did not
think fit to
But look'd right ahead through the dark, as we clank'd
They had been at the school, the two, and had run,
like a single
Through the mazes of childhood up to the sweeter
And often he told me, smiling, he had promised to
make her his
In the rambles they had for nuts in the woods in
"I must make," he would add, "that promise good in
the course of
a month or two;
And then, when I have her safe and sound in a
nook of the
No use of us whistling then, Joe, lad, as now we
For a wave of her hand, or an answering light as
we thunder up
Well, the marriage was settled at last, and I was to
stand by his
Take a part in the happy rite, and pull from his
And still as we joked between ourselves, he would say,
in his manly
That the very ring of the engine-wheels had something
in them of
At length we had just one run to make before the
And it happen'd to be in the night, yet merry in
heart we went
But long ere he came to the house, he was turning
To catch the light by the window, placed as a beacon
"Now then, Joe," he said, with his hand on my arm,
steady look-out ahead
While I whistle for the last time;" and he whistled
But no light rose up at the sound; and he look'd
something like dread
On the white-wash'd walls of the cot, through the
dull, and misty, and drear.
But lo! as he turn'd to whistle again, there rose on
the night a
And I rush'd to the side in time to catch the flutter
Then a hitch through the engine ran like a thrill,
and in haste
he shut off the steam,
While we stood looking over at each with our
beating wild with affright.
The station was half a mile ahead, but an age seem'd
to pass away
Ere we came to a stand, and my mate, as a drunken
Rush'd on to the front with his lamp, but to bend
and come back
In a whisper faint with its terror—"Joe, come and
look at this
blood on the wheel."
Great heaven! a thought went through my heart like
stab of a knife,
While the same dread thought seem'd to settle on
him and palsy
his heart and mind,
For he went up the line with the haste of one who is
save a life,
And with the dread shadow of what was to be I
What came next is indistinct, like the mist on the
Gleam of lights and awestruck faces, but one thing
My mate, kneeling down in his grief like a child by
the side of
his mangled bride,
Kill'd, with the letter still in her hand she had
send to him.
Some little token was in it, perhaps to tell of her love
Some little love-errand to do ere the happy bridal
So in haste she had taken the line, but to meet, in
the flush of
her fair sweet youth,
The terrible death that could only be seen with a
heart and eye.
Speak not of human sorrow—it cannot be spoken in
Let us veil it as God veil'd His at the sight of His Son
on the cross.
For who can reach to the height or the depth of
infinite yearning chords
Whose tones reach the very centre of heaven when
swept by the
fingers of loss?
She sleeps by the little ivied church in which she had
Another grave close by the side of hers, for he died
of a broken
Wither'd and shrunk from that awful night like the
And the two were together that death at first had
But still, when I drive through the dark, and that
back to my mind,
I can hear the shriek take the air, and beneath me
fancy I feel
The engine shake and hitch on the rail, while a
Cries out, till I leap on the footplate, "Joe, come
and look at
this blood on the wheel!"
CHATEAUX EN ESPAGNE.
IT is a pleasant thing to rhyme,
Providing it but bring you money;
But sweeter still to pass the time
In building fabrics high and sunny.
Alnaschar, ere he bent his knee
To give a climax to his lecture,
Could by no chance have mated me
At atmospheric architecture.
From early boyhood I began
To follow Vathek, and erected
A goodly pile, upon a plan
That was not with due care inspected.
I rear'd up columns rich with fret,
And all the cunning of the gilder;
But somehow, to my deep regret,
They always fell upon their builder.
I rear'd in many a forest black
Huge castles by deep moats defended;
And strode their master, mail on back,
With half-a-dozen knights attended.
We sat, like those of Branksome Hall,
In armour, just as we were able,
And drank red wine from goblets tall,
And clash'd mail'd hands across the table.
From this you cannot fail to guess
That I was with the Middle Ages,
And never was at ease unless
With stately dames and graceful pages.
But what with manhood sober'd down,
Those dreams that made me so despotic
Have burst their chrysalis, and flown,
And left me others less Quixotic.
And now, when in my building mood,
And all my whims have free expansion,
I shape within a sober wood
An old discolour'd Gothic mansion.
You scarce can see it for the trees
That kindly interlace their branches,
Through which the sunshine slips at ease,
And falls in sunny avalanches.
Around are long and shady walks,
That lead in many a quaint direction—
Fit haunts for sage who sighs and talks,
And shakes his head as in dejection;
Or some bold poet, when his thought
Was at its swiftest mood for seizing
The glowing images it sought,
And mould them into something pleasing.
Clear leaping fountains here and there
Through all the summer day are playing;
Soft winds are coming through the air,
That bring sweet incense in their straying.
And statues from the Greek are set—
Aglow with all their snowy graces—
In nooks where drooping leaves are met,
And half conceal them in their places.
But in my own sweet sanctum, where
No outer noise dare make intrusion,
You ought to pay a visit there,
And see the poet in seclusion.
The rich light falls upon the wall,
Then fades away to something fainter,
Before white marble busts, and all
The masterpieces of the painter.
Here as you enter, on your left
A Goethe stands, whose marble vision
Seems still to keep that light which cleft
Through all this life with such precision.
While on your right, with upturn'd brow,
A Schiller stands, with noble presence,
To teach one all the upward glow
Revolving round the purer essence.
Then right before me where I sit
A Milton looks across to Dante,
Whose brows contract, as loth to fit
The slender sprig of laurel scanty.
These two would always catch my eye
When looking up for inspiration,
And teach me, when the mood was high,
To mould the keen imagination.
In every nook within the room
My favourite books get sacred lodgment—
Word-webs from the brain's restless loom,
Spun out with truth and sober judgment.
A hundred spirits there repose,
Who, at my slightest will and pleasure,
As Ariel did at Prospero's,
Kneel down and offer up their treasure.
Like Southey, all my days would be
Among the dead, but that is lying;
The mighty dead, it seems to me,
Are those that only are undying.
Of course they take our death, a pain
Which we, as humankind, inherit,
And pass for ever, to remain
Swift's struldbrugs living in the spirit.
But I digress. Not all alone
Am I within this learnèd
For, as the twilight wanders on
And feels along the distant valleys,
The door creeps softly back, and then
A fairy creature growing bolder
Comes in, and, soft as falling rain,
Lays both her hands upon my shoulder.
Then turning round, I see a face
Where love with rounded youth is blended,
And all the nameless winning grace,
Above my own all softly bended;
And, ere I can get time to speak,
Or smile a welcome at the meeting,
Two little lips, all coy and meek,
Against my own press rosy greeting.
Then, sitting on my knee, she slips
One arm around me, while the other
Comes down, until her finger tips
Are in my beard to plague and bother.
And still she whispers, while her look
Turns sad to see my deep abstraction—
"Come, take a rest, your last new book
Might surely give you satisfaction."
But just as I put up my hand
To bring her head a little nearer,
To kiss the lips that so command,
And tell her she is growing dearer—
Beim himmel! swift as lightning flies,
My statues, mansion, wife and fountains
Dissolve, and I—I rub my eyes,
Like Rip Van on the Kaatskill mountains.
And so, instead of all my fame,
My pictures, busts—both Greek and Roman—
A wife, a noble after—name,
Which makes its owner envy no man;
Instead of running into town
To see the last new book or picture,
Or hear some oracle full grown
Deliver philosophic stricture:
In lieu of this, a case of books,
A little room confined and narrow,
That might have sour'd the anxious looks
Of Faust, whose thoughts eat to the marrow;
A little desk, where all my brains
Get warp'd with long Parnassian creepers,
And dull'd throughout the day by trains,
Pick, shovel, hammers, rails, and sleepers.