Poems (2)

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SCHOLAR AND CARPENTER.


WHILE ripening corn grew thick and deep,
And here and there men stood to reap,
One morn I put my heart to sleep,
    And to the lanes I took my way.
The goldfinch on a thistle-head
Stood scattering seedlets while she fed;
The wrens their pretty gossip spread,
    Or joined a random roundelay.

On hanging cobwebs shone the dew,
And thick the wayside clovers grew;
The feeding bee had much to do,
    So fast did honey-drops exude:
She sucked and murmured, and was gone,
And lit on other blooms anon,
The while I learned a lesson on
    The source and sense of quietude.

For sheep-bells chiming from a wold,
Or bleat of lamb within its fold,
Or cooing of love-legends old
    To dove-wives make not quiet less:
Ecstatic chirp of wingèd thing,
Or bubbling of the water-spring,
Are sounds that more than silence bring
    Itself and its delightsomeness.

While thus I went to gladness fain,
I had but walked a mile or twain
Before my heart woke up again,
    As dreaming she had slept too late;
The morning freshness that she viewed
With her own meanings she endued,
And touched with her solicitude
    The natures she did meditate.

'If quiet is, for it I wait;
To it, ah! let me wed my fate,
And, like a sad wife, supplicate
    My roving lord no more to flee;
If leisure is—but, ah! 't is not—
'T is long past praying for, God wot;
The fashion of it men forgot,
    About the age of chivalry.

'Sweet is the leisure of the bird;
She craves no time for work deferred;
Her wings are not to aching stirred;
    Providing for her helpless ones.
Fair is the leisure of the wheat;
All night the damps about it fleet;
All day it basketh in the heat,
    And grows, and whispers orisons.

'Grand is the leisure of the earth;
She gives her happy myriads birth,
And after harvest fears not dearth,
    But goes to sleep in snow-wreaths dim
Dread is the leisure up above
The while He sits whose name is Love,
And waits, as Noah did, for the dove,
    To wit if she would fly to him.

'He waits for us, while, houseless things,
We beat about with bruisèd wings
On the dark floods and water-springs,
    The ruined world, the desolate sea;
With open windows from the prime
All night, all day, He waits sublime,
Until the fullness of the time
    Decreed from His eternity.

Where is OUR leisure?—Give us rest.
Where is the quiet we possessed?
We must have had it once—were blest
    With peace whose phantoms yet entice.
Sorely the mother of mankind
Longed for the garden left behind;
For we still prove some yearnings blind
    Inherited from Paradise.'

'Hold, heart!' I cried; 'for trouble sleeps:
I hear no sound of aught that weeps;
I will not look into thy deeps—
    I am afraid, I am afraid!'
'Afraid!' she saith; 'and yet 't is true
That what man dreads he still should view—
Should do the thing he fears to do,
    And storm the ghosts in ambuscade.'

'What good?' I sigh.   'Was reason meant
To straighten branches that are bent,
Or soothe an ancient discontent,
    The instinct of a race dethroned?
Ah! doubly should that instinct go
Must the four rivers cease to flow,
Nor yield those rumours sweet and low
    Wherewith man's life is undertoned.'

'Yet had I but the past,' she cries,
'And it was lost, I would arise
And comfort me some other wise.
    But more than loss about me clings:
I am but restless with my race;
The whispers from a heavenly place,
Once dropped among us, seem to chase
    Rest with their prophet-visitings.

'The race is like a child, as yet
Too young for all things to be set
Plainly before him with no let
    Or hindrance meet for his degree;
But ne'ertheless by much too old
Not to perceive that men withhold
More of the story than is told,
    And so infer a mystery.

'If the Celestials daily fly
With messages on missions high,
And float, our masts and turrets nigh,
    Conversing on Heaven's great intents;
What wonder hints of coming things,
Whereto man's hope and yearning clings,
Should drop like feathers from their wings
    And give us vague presentiments?

'And as the waxing moon can take
The tidal waters in her wake
And lead them round and round to break
    Obedient to her drawings dim;
So may the movements of His mind,
The first Great Father of mankind,
Affect with answering movements blind,
    And draw the souls that breathe by Him.

'We had a message long ago
That like a river peace should flow,
And Eden bloom again below.
    We heard, and we began to wait:
Full soon that message men forgot;
Yet waiting is their destined lot,
And waiting for they know not what
    They strive with yearnings passionate.

'Regret and faith alike enchain;
There was a loss, there comes a gain;
We stand at fault betwixt the twain,
    And that is veiled for which we pant.
Our lives are short, our ten times seven;
We think the councils held in heaven
Sit long, ere yet that blissful leaven
    Work peace amongst the militant.

'Then we blame God that sin should be:
Adam began it at the tree,
"The woman whom THOU gavest me;"
    And we adopt his dark device.
O long Thou tarriest! come and reign,
And bring forgiveness in Thy train,
And give us in our hands again
    The apples of Thy Paradise.'

'Far-seeing heart! if that be all,
The happy things that did not fall,'
I sighed, 'from every coppice call
    They never from that garden went.
Behold their joy, so comfort thee,
Behold the blossom and the bee,
For they are yet as good and free
    As when poor Eve was innocent.

'But reason thus: "If we sank low,
If the lost garden we forego,
Each in his day, nor ever know
    But in our poet souls its face;
Yet we may rise until we reach
A height untold of in its speech—
A lesson that it could not teach
    Learn in this darker dwelling-place."

'And reason on: "We take the spoil;
Loss made us poets, and the soil
Taught us great patience in our toil,
    And life is kin to God through death.
Christ were not One with us but so,
And if bereft of Him we go;
Dearer the heavenly mansions grow,
    His home, to man that wandereth."

'Content thee so, and ease thy smart.'
With that she slept again, my heart,
And I admired and took my part
    With crowds of happy things the while:
With open velvet butterflies
That swung and spread their peacock eyes,
As if they cared no more to rise
    From off their beds of camomile.

The blackcaps in an orchard met,
Praising the berries while they ate:
The finch that flew her beak to whet
    Before she joined them on the tree;
The water mouse among the reeds—
His bright eyes glancing black as beads,
So happy with a bunch of seeds—
    I felt their gladness heartily.

But I came on, I smelt the hay,
And up the hills I took my way,
And down them still made holiday,
    And walked, and wearied not a whit;
But ever with the lane I went
Until it dropped with steep descent,
Cut deep into the rock, a tent
    Of maple branches roofing it.

Adown the rock small runlets wept,
And reckless ivies leaned and crept,
And little spots of sunshine slept
    On its brown steeps and made them fair;
And broader beams athwart it shot,
Where martins cheeped in many a knot,
For they had ta'en a sandy plot
    And scooped another Petra there.

And deeper down, hemmed in and hid
From upper light and life amid
The swallows gossiping, I thrid
    Its mazes, till the dipping land
Sank to the level of my lane:
That was the last hill of the chain,
And fair below I saw the plain
    That seemed cold cheer to reprimand.

Half-drowned in sleepy peace it lay,
As satiate with the boundless play
Of sunshine on its green array.
    And clear-cut hills of gloomy blue
To keep it safe rose up behind,
As with a charmèd ring to bind
The grassy sea, where clouds might find
    A place to bring their shadows to.

I said, and blest that pastoral grace,
'How sweet thou art, thou sunny place!
Thy God approves thy smiling face:'
    But straight my heart put in her word;
She said, 'Albeit thy face I bless,
There have been times, sweet wilderness,
When I have wished to love thee less,
    Such pangs thy smile administered.

But, lo!   I reached a field of wheat,
And by its gate full clear and sweet
A workman sang, while at his feet
    Played a young child, all life and stir—
A three years' child, with rosy lip,
Who in the song had partnership,
Made happy with each falling chip
    Dropped by the busy carpenter.

This, reared a new gate for the old,
And loud the tuneful measure rolled,
But stopped as I came up to hold
    Some kindly talk of passing things.
Brave were his eyes, and frank his mien;
Of all men's faces, calm or keen,
A better I have never seen
    In all my lonely wanderings.

And how it was I scarce can tell,
We seemed to please each other well;
I lingered till a noonday bell
    Had sounded, and his task was done.
An oak had screened us from the heat;
And 'neath it in the standing wheat,
A cradle and a fair retreat,
    Full sweetly slept the little one.

The workman rested from his stroke,
And manly were the words he spoke,
Until the smiling babe awoke
    And prayed to him for milk and food.
Then to a runlet forth he went,
And brought a wallet from the bent,
And bade me to the meal, intent
    I should not quit his neighbourhood.

'For here,' said he, 'are bread and beer,
And meat enough to make good cheer;
Sir, eat with me, and have no fear,
    For none upon my work depend,
Saving this child; and I may say
That I am rich, for every day
I put by somewhat; therefore stay,
    And to such eating condescend.'

We ate.   The child—child fair to see—
Began to cling about his knee,
And he down leaning fatherly
    Received some softly-prattled prayer;
He smiled as if to list were balm,
And with his labour-hardened palm
Pushed from the baby-forehead calm
    Those shining lochs that clustered there.

The rosy mouth made fresh essay—
'O would he sing, or would he play?'
I looked, my thought would make its way'—
    Fair is your child of face and limb,
The round blue eyes full sweetly shine.'
He answered me with glance benign'—
Ay, Sir; but he is none of mine,
    Although I set great store by him.'

With that, as if his heart was fain
To open—nathless not complain—
He let my quiet questions gain
    His story: 'Not of kin to me,'
Repeating; 'but asleep, awake,
For worse, for better, him I take,
To cherish for my dead wife's sake,
    And count him as her legacy.

'I married with the sweetest lass
That ever stepped on meadow grass;
That ever at her looking-glass
    Some pleasure took, some natural care;
That ever swept a cottage floor
And worked all day, nor e'er gave o'er
Till eve, then watched beside the door
    Till her good man should meet her there.

'But I lost all in its fresh prime;
My wife fell ill before her time—
Just as the bells began to chime
    One Sunday morn.   By next day's light
Her little babe was born and dead,
And she, unconscious what she said,
With feeble hands about her spread,
    Sought it with yearnings infinite.

'With mother-longing still beguiled,
And lost in fever-fancies wild,
She piteously bemoaned her child
    That we had stolen, she said, away.
And ten sad days she sighed to me,
"I cannot rest until I see
My pretty one!   I think that he
    Smiled in my face but yesterday."

'Then she would change, and faintly try
To sing some tender lullaby;
And "Ah!" would moan, "if I should die,
    Who, sweetest babe, would cherish thee?"
Then weep, "My pretty boy is grown;
With tender feet on the cold stone
He stands, for he can stand alone,
    And no one leads him motherly."

'Then she with dying movements slow
Would seem to knit, or seem to sew:
"His feet are bare, he must not go
    Unshod:" and as her death drew on,
"O little baby," she would sigh;
"My little child, I cannot die
Till I have you to slumber nigh—
    You, you to set mine eyes upon."

'When she spake thus, and moaning lay,
They said, "She cannot pass away,
So sore she longs:" and as the day
    Broke on the hills, I left her side.
Mourning along this lane I went;
Some travelling folk had pitched their tent
Up yonder: there a woman, bent
    With age, sat meanly canopied.

'A twelvemonths' child was at her side:
"Whose infant may that be?" I cried.
"His that will own him," she replied;
    "His mother's dead, no worse could be."
"Since you can give—or else I erred—
See, you are taken at your word,"
Quoth I; "That child is mine; I heard,
    And own him!   Rise, and give him me."

'She rose amazed, but cursed me too;
She could not hold such luck for true,
But gave him soon, with small ado.
    I laid him by my Lucy's side:
Close to her face that baby crept,
And stroked it, and the sweet soul wept
Then, while upon her arm he slept,
    She passed, for she was satisfied.

'I loved her well, I wept her sore,
And when her funeral left my door
I thought that I should never more
    Feel any pleasure near me glow;
But I have learned, though this I had,
'T is sometimes natural to be glad,
And no man can be always sad
    Unless he wills to have it so.

'Oh, I had heavy nights at first,
And daily wakening was the worst:
For then my grief arose, and burst
    Like something fresh upon my head
Yet when less keen it seemed to grow,
I was not pleased—I wished to go
Mourning adown this vale of woe,
    For all my life uncomforted.

'I grudged myself the lightsome air,
That makes man cheerful unaware;
When comfort came, I did not care
    To take it in, to feel it stir:
And yet God took with me His plan,
And now for my appointed span
I think I am a happier man
    For having wed and wept for her.

'Because no natural tie remains,
On this small thing I spend my gains;
God makes me love him for my pains,
    And binds me so to wholesome care:
I would not lose from my past life
That happy year, that happy wife!
Yet now I wage no useless strife
    With feelings blithe and debonair.

'I have the courage to be gay,
Although she lieth lapped away
Under the daisies, for I say,
    "Thou wouldst be glad if thou couldst see:"
My constant thought makes manifest
I have not what I love the best,
But I must thank God for the rest
    While I hold heaven a verity.'

He rose, upon his shoulder set
The child, and while with vague regret
We parted, pleased that we had met,
    My heart did with herself confer;
With wholesome shame she did repent
Her reasonings idly eloquent,
And said, 'I might be more content:
    But God go with the carpenter.'

 

_____________________

 
THE STAR'S MONUMENT.

IN THE CONCLUDING PART OF A DISCOURSE ON FAME.

[He thinks.]


IF there be memory in the world to come,
    If thought recur to SOME THINGS silenced here,
Then shall the deep heart be no longer dumb,
    But find expression in that happier sphere;
It shall not be denied their utmost sum
    Of love, to speak without or fault or fear,
But utter to the harp with changes sweet
Words that, forbidden still, then heaven were
            incomplete.


[He speaks.]


Now let us talk about the ancient days,
    And things which happened long before our birth:
It is a pity to lament that praise
    Should be no shadow in the train of worth.
What is it, Madam, that your heart dismays?
    Why murmur at the course of this vast earth?
Think rather of the work than of the praise;
Come, we will talk about the ancient days.

There was a Poet, Madam, once (said he);
    I will relate his story to you now,
While through the branches of this apple-tree
    Some spots of sunshine flicker on your brow;
While every flower hath on its breast a bee.
    And every bird in stirring doth endow
The grass with falling blooms that smoothly glide,
As ships drop down a river with the tide.

For telling of his tale no fitter place
    Than this old orchard, sloping to the west;
Through its pink dome of blossom I can trace
    Some overlying azure; for the rest,
These flowery branches round us interlace;
    The ground is hollowed like a mossy nest:
Who talks of fame while the religious spring
Offers the incense of her blossoming?

There was a Poet, Madam, once (said he),
    Who, while he walked at sundown in a lane,
Took to his heart the hope that destiny
    Had singled him this guerdon to obtain,
That by the power of his sweet minstrelsy
    Some hearts for truth and goodness he should gain,
And charm some grovellers to uplift their eyes
And suddenly wax conscious of the skies.

'Master, good e'en to ye!' a woodman said,
    Who the low hedge was trimming with his shears.
'This hour is fine'—the Poet bowed his head.
    'More fine,' he thought, 'O friend! to me appears
The sunset than to you; finer the spread
    Of orange lustre through these azure, spheres,
Where little clouds lie still, like flocks of sheep,
Or vessels sailing in God's other deep.

'O finer far!   What work so high as mine,
    Interpreter betwixt the world and man,
Nature's ungathered pearls to set and shrine,
    The mystery she wraps her in to scan;
Her unsyllabic voices to combine,
    And serve her with such love as poets can;
With mortal words, her chant of praise to bind,
Then die, and leave the poem to mankind?

'O fair, O fine, O lot to be desired!
    Early and late my heart appeals to me,
And says, "O work, O will —Thou man, be fired
    To earn this lot,"—she says, "I would not be
A worker for mine OWN bread, or one hired
    For mine OWN profit.   O, I would be free
To work for others; love so earned of them
Should be my wages and my diadem.

' "Then when I died I should not fall," says she,
    "Like dropping flowers that no man noticeth,
But like a great branch of some stately tree
    Rent in a tempest, and flung down to death,
Thick with green leafage—so that piteously
    Each passer by that ruin shuddereth,
And saith, The gap this branch hath left is wide;
The loss thereof can never be supplied." '

But, Madam, while the Poet pondered so,
    Toward the leafy hedge he turned his eye,
And saw two slender branches that did grow,
    And from it rising spring and flourish high:
Their tops were twined together fast, and, lo,
    Their shadow crossed the path as he went by—
The shadow of a wild rose and a briar,
And it was shaped in semblance like a lyre.

In sooth, a lyre! and as the soft air played,
    Those branches stirred, but did not disunite.
'O emblem meet for me!' the Poet said;
    'Ay, I accept and own thee for my right;
The shadowy lyre across my feet is laid,
    Distinct though frail, and clear with crimson light;
Fast is it twined to bear the windy strain,
And, supple, it will bend and rise again.

'This lyre is cast across the dusty way,
    The common path that common men pursue;
I crave like blessing for my shadowy lay,
    Life's trodden paths with beauty to renew,
And cheer the eve of many a toil-stained day.
    Light it, old sun, wet it, thou common dew,
That 'neath men's feet its image still may be
While yet it waves above them, living lyre, like thee!'

But even as the Poet spoke, behold
    He lifted up his face toward the sky;
The ruddy sun dipt under the grey wold,
    His shadowy lyre was gone; and, passing by,
The woodman lifting up his shears, was bold
    Their temper on those branches twain to try,
And all their loveliness and leafage sweet
Fell an the pathway, at the Poet's feet.

'Ah! my fair emblem that I chose,' quoth he,
    'That for myself I coveted but now,
Too soon, methinks, thou hast been false to me;
    The lyre from pathway fades, the light from brow.'
Then straightway turned he from it hastily,
    As dream that waking sense will disallow;
And while the highway heavenward paled apace,
He went on westward to his dwelling-place.

He went on steadily, while far and fast
    The summer darkness dropped upon the world,
A gentle air among the cloudlets passed
    And fanned away their crimson; then it curled
The yellow poppies in the field, and cast
   A dimness on the grasses, for it furled
Their daisies, and swept out the purple stain
That eve had left upon the pastoral plain.

He reached his city.   Lo! the darkened street
    Where he abode was full of gazing crowds;
He heard the muffled tread of many feet;
    A multitude stood gazing at the clouds.
'What mark ye there,' said he, I and wherefore meet?
    Only a passing mist the heaven o'ershrouds;
It breaks, it parts, it drifts like scattered spars—
What lies behind it but the nightly stars?'

Then did the gazing crowd to him aver
    They sought a lamp in heaven whose light was hid;
For that in sooth an old Astronomer
    Down from his roof had rushed into their mid,
Frighted, and fain with others to confer,
    That he had cried, 'O sirs!'—and upward bid
Them gaze—'O sirs, a light is quenched afar;
Look up, my masters, we have lost a star!'

The people pointed, and the Poet's eyes
    Flew upward, where a gleaming sisterhood
Swam in the dewy heaven.   The very skies
    Were mutable; for all-amazed he stood
To see that truly not in any wise
    He could behold them as of old, nor could
His eyes receive the whole whereof he wot,
But when he told them over, one WAS NOT.

While yet he gazed and pondered reverently,
    The fickle folk began to move away.
'It is but one star less for us to see,
    And what does one star signify?' quoth they;
'The heavens are full of them.'   'But, ah!' said he,
    That star was bright while yet she lasted.'   'Ay!'
They answered: 'praise her, Poet, an' ye will:
Some are now shining that are brighter still.'

'Poor star! to be disparaged so soon
    On her withdrawal,' thus the Poet sighed;
'That men should miss, and straight deny her noon
    Its brightness!'   But the people in their pride
Said, 'How are we beholden? 't was no boon
    She gave.   Her nature 't was to shine so wide:
She could not choose but shine, nor could we know
Such star had ever dwelt in heaven but so.'

The Poet answered sadly, 'That is true!'
    And then he thought upon unthankfulness,
While some went homeward; and the residue,
    Reflecting that the stars are numberless,
Mourned that man's daylight hours should be so few,
    So short the shining that his path may bless:
To nearer themes then tuned their willing lips,
And thought no more upon the star's eclipse.

But he, the Poet, could not rest content
    Till he had found that old Astronomer;
Therefore at midnight to his house he went
    And prayed him be his tale's interpreter.
And yet upon the heaven his eyes he bent,
    Hearing the marvel; yet he sought for her
That was awanting, in the hope her face
Once more might fill its reft abiding-place.

Then said the old Astronomer: 'My son,
    I sat alone upon my roof to-night;
I saw the stars come forth, and scarcely shun
    To fringe the edges of the western light;
I marked those ancient clusters one by one,
    The same that blessed our old forefather's sight:
For God alone is older—none but He
Can charge the stars with mutability:

'The elders of the night, the steadfast stars,
    The old, old stars which God has let us see,
That they might be our soul's auxiliars,
    And help us to the truth how young we be—
God's youngest, latest born, as if, some spars
    And a little clay being over of them—He
Had made our world and us thereof, yet given,
To humble us, the sight of His great heaven.

'But ah! my son, to-night mine eyes have seen
    The death of light, the end of old renown;
A shrinking back of glory that had been,
    A dread eclipse before the Eternal's frown.
How soon a little grass will grow between
    These eyes and those appointed to look down
Upon a world that was not made on high
Till the last scenes of their long empiry!

'To-night that shining cluster now despoiled
    Lay in day's wake a perfect sisterhood;
Sweet was its light to me that long had toiled,
    It gleamed and trembled o'er the distant wood;
Blown in a pile the clouds from it recoiled,
    Cool twilight up the sky her way made good;
I saw, but not believed—it was so strange—
That one of those game stars had suffered change.

'The darkness gathered, and methought she spread.
    Wrapped in a reddish haze that waxed and waned;
But notwithstanding to myself I said—
    "The stars are changeless; sure some mote hath stained
Mine eyes, and her fair glory minishèd."
    Of age and failing vision I complained,
And thought "some vapour in the heavens doth swim,
That makes her look so large and yet so dim."

'But I gazed round, and all her lustrous peers
    In her red presence showed but wan and white;
For like a living coal beheld through tears
    She glowed and quivered with a gloomy light:
Methought she trembled, as all sick through fears,
   Helpless, appalled, appealing to the night;
Like one who throws his arms up to the sky
And bows down suffering, hopeless of reply.

'At length, as if an everlasting Hand
    Had taken hold upon her in her place,
And swiftly, like a golden grain of sand,
    Through all the deep infinitudes of space
Was drawing her—God's truth as here I stand—
    Backward and inward to itself; her face
Fast lessened, lessened, till it looked no more
Than smallest atom on a boundless shore.

'And she that was so fair, I saw her lie,
    The smallest thing in God's great firmament,
Till night was at the darkest, and on high
    Her sisters glittered, though her light was spent;
I strained, to follow her, each aching eye,
    So swiftly at her Maker's will she went;
I looked again—I looked—the star was gone,
And nothing marked in heaven where she had shone.'

'Gone!' said the Poet, 'and about to be
    Forgotten: O, how sad a fate is hers!'
'How is it sad, my son?' all reverently
    The old man answered; 'though she ministers
No longer with her lamp to me and thee,
    She has fulfilled her mission.   God transfers
Or dims her ray; yet was she blest as bright,
For all her life was spent in giving light.'

'Her mission she fulfilled assuredly,'
    The Poet cried: 'but, O unhappy star!
None praise and few will bear in memory
    The name she went by.   O, from far, from far
Comes down, methinks, her mournful voice to me.
    Full of regrets that men so thankless are.'
So said, he told that old Astronomer
All that the gazing crowd had said of her.

And he went on to speak in bitter wise,
    As one who seems to tell another's fate,
But feels that nearer meaning underlies,
    And points its sadness to his own estate:
'If such be the reward,' he said with sighs,
    'Envy to earn for love, for goodness hate—
If such be thy reward, hard case is thine!
It had been better for thee not to shine.

'If to reflect a light that is divine
    Makes that which doth reflect it better seen,
And if to see is to contemn the shrine,
    'T were surely better it had never been:
It had been better for her NOT TO SHINE,
    And for me NOT TO SING.   Better, I ween,
For us to yield no more that radiance bright,
For them, to lack the light than scorn the light.'

Strange words were those from Poet lips (said he);
    And then he paused, and sighed, and turned to look
Upon the lady's downcast eyes, and see
    How fast the honey bees in settling shook
Those apple blossoms on her from the tree;
    He watched her busy fingers as they took
And slipped the knotted thread, and thought
            how much
He would have given that hand to hold—to touch.

At length, as suddenly become aware
    Of this long pause, she lifted up her face,
And he withdrew his eyes—she looked so fair
    And cold, he thought, in her unconscious grace.
'Ah! little dreams she of the restless care,'
    He thought, 'that makes my heart to throb apace:
Though we this morning part, the knowledge sends
No thrill to her calm pulse—we are but FRIENDS.'

Ah! turret clock (he thought), I would thy hand
    Were hid behind yon towering maple-trees!
Ah! tell-tale shadow, but one moment stand—
    Dark shadow—fast advancing to my knees;
Ah! foolish heart (he thought), that vainly planned
    By feigning gladness to arrive at ease;
Ah! painful hour, yet pain to think it ends;
I must remember that we are but friends.

And while the knotted thread moved to and fro
    In sweet regretful tones that lady said:
'It seemeth that the fame you would forego
    The Poet whom you tell of coveted;
But I would fain, methinks, his story know.
    And was he loved?' said she, 'or was he wed?
And had he friends?'   'One friend, perhaps,' said he,
'But for the rest, I pray you let it be.'

Ah! little bird (he thought), most patient bird,
    Breasting thy speckled eggs the long day through,
By so much as my reason is preferred
    Above thine instinct, I my work would do
Better than then dost thine.   Thou hast not stirred
   This hour thy wing.  Ah! russet bird, I sue
For a like patience to wear through these hours—
Bird on thy nest among the apple-flowers.

I will not speak—I will not speak to thee,
    My star! and soon to be my lost, lost star.
The sweetest, first, that ever shone on me,
    So high above me and beyond so far;
I can forego thee, but not bear to see
    My love, like rising mist, thy lustre mar:
That were a base return for thy sweet light.
Shine, though I never more shall see that thou
            art bright.

Never! 'T is certain that no hope is—none!
    No hope for me, and yet for thee no fear
The hardest part of my hard task is done;
    Thy calm assures me that I am not dear;
Though far and fast the rapid moments run,
    Thy bosom heaveth not, thine eyes are clear;
Silent; perhaps a little sad at heart
She is.   I am her friend, and I depart.

Silent she had been, but she raised her face;
    'And will you end,' said she, 'this half-told tale?'
'Yes, it were best,' he answered her.   'The place
    Where I left off was where he felt to fail
His courage, Madam, through the fancy base
    That they who love, endure, or work, may rail
And cease—if all their love, the works they wrought,
And their endurance, men have set at nought.'

'It had been better for me NOT to sing,'
    My Poet said, 'and for her NOT to shine;'
But him the old man answered, sorrowing,
    'My son, did God who made her, the Divine
Lighter of suns, when down to yon bright ring
    He cast her, like some gleaming almandine,
And set her in her place, begirt with rays,
Say unto her "Give light," or say "Earn praise?"

The Poet said, 'He made her to give light.'
    'My son,' the old man answered, 'blest are such;
A blessed lot is theirs; but if each night
    Mankind had praised her radiance—inasmuch
As praise had never made it wax more bright,
    And cannot now rekindle with its touch
Her lost effulgence, it is nought.   I wot
That praise was not her blessing nor her lot.'

'Ay,' said the Poet, 'I my words abjure,
    And I repent me that I uttered them;
But by her light and by its forfeiture
    She shall not pass without her requiem.
Though my name perish, yet shall hers endure
   Though I should be forgotten, she, lost gem,
Shall be remembered; though she sought not fame,
It shall be busy with her beauteous name.

'For I wilt raise in her bright memory,
    Lost now on earth, a lasting monument,
And graven on it shall recorded be
    That all her rays to light mankind were spent;
And I will sing albeit none heedeth me,
    On her exemplar being still intent:
While in men's sight shall stand the record thus—
"So long as she did last she lighted us." '

So said, he raised, according to his vow,
    On the green grass, where oft his townsfolk met,
Under the shadow of a leafy bough
    That leaned toward a singing rivulet,
One pure white stone, whereon, like crown on brow,
    The image of the vanished star was set;
And this was graven on the pure white stone
In golden letters—'WHILE SHE LIVED SHE SHONE.'

Madam, I cannot give this story well—
    My heart is beating to another chime;
My voice must needs a different cadence swell;
    It is yon singing bird, which all the time
Wooeth his nested mate, that doth dispel
    My thoughts.   What, deem you, could a lover's rhyme
The sweetness of that passionate lay excel?
O soft.   O low her voice—'I cannot tell.'


[He thinks.]


The old man—aye he spoke, he was not hard;
    'She was his joy,' he said, 'his comforter,
But he would trust me.   I was not debarred
    Whate'er my heart approved to say to her.'
Approved!   O torn and tempted and ill-starred
    And breaking heart, approve not nor demur;
It is the serpent that beguileth thee
With 'God doth know' beneath this apple-tree.

Yea, God DOTH know, and only God doth know.
    Have pity, God, my spirit groans to Thee!
I, bear Thy curse primeval, and I go;
    But heavier than on Adam falls on me
My tillage of the wilderness; for lo,
    I leave behind the woman, and I see
As 't were the gates of Eden closing o'er
To bide her from my sight for evermore.


[He speaks.]


I am a fool, with sudden start he cried,
    To let the song-bird work me such unrest:
If I break off again, I pray you chide,
    For morning fleeteth, with my tale at best
Half told.   That white stone, Madam, gleamed beside
    The little rivulet, and all men pressed
To read the lost one's story traced thereon,
The golden legend—'While she lived she shone.'

And, Madam, when the Poet heard them read,
    And children spell the letters softly through,
It may be that he felt at heart some need,
    Some craving to be thus remembered too;
It may be that he wondered if indeed
    He must die wholly when he passed from view;
It may be, wished when death his eyes made dim,
That some kind hand would raise such stone for him.

But shortly, as there comes to most of us,
    There came to him the need to quit his home:
To tell you why were simply hazardous.
    What said I.   Madam?—men were made to roam
My meaning is.   It hath been always thus:
    They are athirst for mountains and sea foam;
Heirs of this world, what wonder if perchance
They long to see their grand inheritance?

He left his city, and went forth to teach
    Mankind, his peers, the hidden harmony
That underlies God's discords, and to reach
    And touch the master-string that like a sigh
Thrills in their souls, as if it would beseech
    Some hand to sound it, and to satisfy
Its yearning for expression: but no word
Till poet touch it hath to make its music heard.


[He thinks.]


I know that God is good, though evil dwells
    Among us, and doth all things holiest share;
That there is joy in heaven, while yet our knells
    Sound for the souls which He has summoned there;
That painful love unsatisfied hath spells
    Earned by its smart to soothe its fellow's care:
But yet this atom cannot in the whole
Forget itself—it aches a separate soul.


[He speaks.]


But, Madam, to my Poet I return,
    With his sweet cadences of woven words,
He made their rude untutored hearts to burn
    And melt like gold refined.   No brooding birds
Sing better of the love that doth sojourn
    Hid in the nest of home, which softly girds
The beating heart of life; and, strait though it be,
Is straitness better than wide liberty.

He taught them, and they learned, but not the less
    Remained unconscious whence that lore they drew,
But dreamed that of their native nobleness
    Some lofty thoughts that he had planted, grew;
His glorious maxims in a lowly dress
    Like seed sown broadcast sprung in all men's view,
The sower, passing onward, was not known,
And all men reaped the harvest as their own.

It may be, Madam, that those ballads sweet,
    Whose rhythmic measures yesterday we sung,
Which time and changes make not obsolete,
    But (as a river bears down blossoms flung
Upon its breast) take with them while they fleet—
    It may be from his lyre that first they sprung:
But who can tell, since work surviveth fame?—
The rhyme is left, but last the Poet's name.

He worked, and bravely he fulfilled his trust—
    So long he wandered sowing worthy seed,
Watering of wayside buds that were adust,
    And touching for the common ear his reed—
So long to wear away the cankering rust
    That dulls the gold of life—so long to plead
With sweetest music for all souls oppressed,
That he was old ere he had thought of rest.

Old and grey-headed, leaning on a staff;
    To that great city of his birth he came,
And at its gates he paused with wondering laugh
    To think: how changed were all his thoughts of fame
Since first he carved the golden epitaph
    To keep in memory a worthy name,
And thought forgetfulness had been its doom
But for a few bright letters on a tomb.

The old Astronomer had long since died;
    The friends of youth were gone and far dispersed;
Strange were the domes that rose on every side;
    Strange fountains on his wondering vision burst;
The men of yesterday their business plied;
    No face was left that he had known at first;
And in the city gardens, lo, he sees
The saplings that he set are stately trees.

Upon the grass beneath their welcome shade,
    Behold! he marks the fair white monument,
And on its face the golden words displayed,
    For sixty years their lustre have not spent;
He sitteth by it and is not afraid,
    But in its shadow he is well content;
And envies not, though bright their gleamings are,
The golden letters of the vanished star.

He gazeth up; exceeding bright appears
    That golden legend to his agèd eyes,
For they are dazzled till they fill with tears,
    And his lost Youth doth like a vision rise;
She saith to him, 'In all these toilsome years,
    What hast thou won by work or enterprise?
What hast thou won to make amends to thee,
As thou didst swear to do, for loss of me?

'O man!   O white-haired man!' the vision said,
    'Since we two sat beside this monument
Life's clearest hues are all evanishèd,
    The golden wealth thou hadst of me is spent;
The wind hath swept thy flowers, their leaves are shed;
    The music is played out that with thee went.'
'Peace, peace!' he cried; 'I lost thee, but, in truth,
There are worse losses than the loss of youth.'

He said not what those losses were—but I—
    But I must leave them, for the time draws near.
Some lose not ONLY joy, but memory
    Of how it felt: not love that was so dear
Lose only, but the steadfast certainty
    That once they had it; doubt comes on, then fear,
And after that despondency.   I wis*
The Poet must have meant such loss as this.

But while he sat and pondered, on his youth,
    He said, 'It did one deed that doth remain,
For it preserved the memory and the truth
    Of her that now doth neither set nor wane,
But shine in all men's thoughts; nor sink forsooth,
    And be forgotten like the summer rain.
O, it is good that man should not forget
Or benefits foregone or brightness set!'

He spoke and said, 'My lot contenteth me;
    I am right glad for this her worthy fame;
That which was good and great I fain would see
    Drawn with a halo round what rests—its name.'
This while the Poet said, behold there came
    A workman with his tools anear the tree,
And when he read the words he paused awhile
And pondered on them with a wondering smile.

And then he said, 'I pray you, Sir, what mean
    The golden letters of this monument?'
In wonder quoth the Poet, 'Hast thou been
    A dweller near at hand, and their intent
Hast neither heard by voice of fame, nor seen
    The marble earlier?'  'Ay,' said he, and leant
Upon his spade to hear the tale, then sigh,
And say it was a marvel, and pass by.

Then said the Poet, 'This is strange to me.'
    But as he mused, with trouble in his mind,
A band of maids approached him leisurely,
    Like vessels sailing with a favouring wind;
And of their rosy lips requested he,
    As one that for a doubt would solving find,
The tale, if tale there were, of that white stone,
And those fair letters—'While she lived she shone.'

Then like a fleet that floats becalmed they stay.
    'O, Sir,' saith one, 'this monument is old;
But we have heard our virtuous mothers say
    That by their mothers thus the tale was told:
A Poet made it; journeying then away,
    He left us; and though some the meaning hold
For other than the ancient one, yet we
Receive this legend for a certainty:—

'There was a lily once, most purely white,
    Beneath the shadow of these boughs it grew;
Its starry blossom it unclosed by night,
    And a young Poet loved its shape and hue.
He watched it nightly, 't was so fair a sight,
    Until a stormy wind arose and blew,
And when he came once more his flower to greet,
Its fallen petals drifted to his feet.

'And for his beautiful white lily's sake,
    That she might be remembered where her scent
Had been right sweet, he said that he would make
    In her dear memory a monument:
For she was purer than a driven flake
    Of snow, and in her grace most excellent;
'The loveliest life that death did ever mar,
As beautiful to gaze on as a star.'

'I thank you, maid,' the Poet answered her,
    'And I am glad that I have heard your tale.
With that they passed; and as an inlander,
    Having heard breakers raging in a gale,
And falling down in thunder, will aver
    That still, when far away in grassy vale,
He seems to hear those seething waters bound,
So in his ears the maiden's voice did sound.

He leaned his face upon his hand, and thought
    And thought, until a youth came by that way;
And once again of him the Poet sought
    The story of the star.   But, well-a-day!
He said, 'The meaning with ranch doubt is fraught,
    The sense thereof can no man surely say;
For still tradition sways the common ear,
That of a truth a star DID DISAPPEAR.

'But they who look beneath the outer shell
    That wraps the "kernel of the people's lore,"
Hold THAT for superstition; and they tell
    That seven lovely sisters dwelt of yore
In this old city, where it so befell
    That one a Poet loved; that, furthermore,
As stars above us she was pure and good,
And fairest of that beauteous sisterhood.

'So beautiful they were, those virgins seven,
    That all men called them clustered stars in song,
Forgetful that the stars abide in heaven:
    But woman bideth not beneath it long;
For O, alas! alas! one fated even,
   When stars their azure deeps began to throng,
That virgin's eyes of Poet loved waxed dim,
And all their lustrous shining waned to him.

'In summer dusk she drooped her head and sighed
    Until what time the evening star went down,
And all the other stars did shining bide
    Clear in the lustre of their old renown,
And then—the virgin laid her down and died:
    Forgot her youth, forgot her beauty's crown,
Forgot the sisters whom she loved before,
And broke her Poet's heart for evermore.'

'A mournful tale, in sooth,' the lady saith:
    'But did he truly grieve for evermore?'
'It may be you forget,' he answereth,
    'That this is but a fable at the core
O' the other fable.'   'Though it be but breath,'
    She asketh, 'was it true?'   Then he, 'This lore,
Since it is fable, either way may go;
Then, if it please you, think it might be so.'

'Say, but,' she saith, 'if I had told your tale,
    The virgin should have lived his home to bless;
Or, must she die, I would have made to fail
    His useless love.'   'I tell you not the less,'
He sighs, 'because it was of no avail:
    His heart the Poet would not dispossess
Thereof.   But let us leave the fable now.
My Poet heard it with an aching brow.

And he made answer thus: 'I thank thee, youth;
    Strange is thy story to these agèd ears,
But I bethink me thou hast told a truth
    Under the guise of fable.   If my tears,
Thou lost belovèd star, lost now, forsooth,
    Indeed could bring thee back among thy peers
So new thou shouldst be deemed as newly seen,
For men forget that thou hast ever been.

'There was a morning when I longed for fame,
    There was a noontide when I passed it by,
There is an evening when I think not shame
    Its substance and its being to deny;
For if men bear in mind great deeds, the name
    Of him that wrought them shall they leave to die
Or if his name they shall have deathless writ,
They change the deeds that first ennobled it.

'O golden letters of this monument!
    O words to celebrate a loved renown
Lost now or wrested! and to fancies lent,
    Or on a fabled forehead set for crown,
For my departed star, I am content,
    Though legends dim and years her memory drown:
For what were fame to her, compared and set
By this great truth which ye make lustrous yet?'

'Adieu!' the Poet said, 'my vanished star,
    Thy duty and thy happiness were one.
Work is heaven's best; its fame is sublunar:
    The fame thou dost not need—the work is done
For thee I am content that these things are;
    More than content were I, my race being run,
Might it be true of me, though none thereon
Should muse regretful—"While he lived he shone."

So said, the Poet rose and went his way,
    And that same lot he proved whereof he spake.
Madam, my story is told out; the day
    Draws out her shadows, time doth overtake
The morning.   That which endeth call a lay,
    Sung after pause—a motto in the break
Between two chapters of a tale not new,
Nor joyful—but a common tale.   Adieu!

And that same God who made your face so fair,
    And gave your woman's heart its tenderness,
So shield the blessing He implanted there,
    That it may never turn to your distress,
And never cost you trouble or despair,
    Nor granted leave the granter comfortless;
But like a river blest where'er it flows,
Be still receiving while it still bestows.

Adieu, he said, and paused, while she sat mute
    In the soft shadow of the apple-tree;
The skylark's song rang like a joyous flute,
    The brook went prattling past her restlessly:
She let their tongues be her tongue's substitute;
    It was the wind that sighed, it was not she:
And what the lark, the brook, the wind, had said,
We cannot tell, for none interpreted.

Their counsels might be hard to reconcile,
    They might not suit the moment or the spot.
She rose, and laid her work aside the while
    Down in the sunshine of that grassy plot;
She looked upon him with an almost smile,
    And held to him a hand that faltered not.
One moment—bird and brook went warbling on,
And the wind sighed again—and he was gone.

So quietly, as if she heard no more
    Or skylark in the azure overhead,
Or water slipping past the cressy shore,
    Or wind that rose in sighs, and sighing fled—
So quietly, until the alders hoar
    Took him beneath them; till the downward spread
Of planes engulfed him in their leafy seas—
She stood beneath her rose-flushed apple-trees.

And then she stooped toward the mossy grass;
    And gathered up her work and went her way;
Straight to that ancient turret she did pass,
    And startle back some fawns that were at play.
She did not sigh, she never said 'Alas!'
    Although he was her friend: but still that day,
Where elm and hornbeam spread a towering dome,
She crossed the dells to her ancestral home.

And did she love him?—what if she did not?
    Then home was still the home of happiest years;
Nor thought was exiled to partake his lot,
    Nor heart lost courage through foreboding fears;
Nor echo did against her secret plot,
    Nor music her betray to painful tears;
Nor life become a dream, and sunshine dim,
And riches poverty, because of him.

But did she love him?—what and if she did?
    Love cannot cool the burning Austral sand,
Nor show the secret waters that lie hid
    In arid valleys of that desert land.
Love has no spells can scorching winds forbid,
    Or bring the help which tarries near to hand,
Or spread a cloud for curtaining faded eyes
That gaze up dying into alien skies.

*  ED.—'wis': verb (archaic) meaning to think; to suppose; to imagine;
                          — used chiefly in the first person singular present tense, I wis.



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