The Epic of Hades, in Three Books by Morris, Lewis
THE POETICAL WORKS OF MR. LEWIS MORRIS.
I. SONGS OF TWO WORLDS. With Portrait. Eleventh Edition, price 5_s._ II. THE EPIC OF HADES. With an Autotype Illustration, Nineteenth Edition, price 5_s._ III. GWEN and THE ODE OF LIFE. With Frontispiece. Sixth Edition, price 5_s._
THE EPIC OF HADES. Third Illustrated Edition. With Sixteen Autotype Plates after the Drawings by the late GEORGE R. CHAPMAN, 4to, cloth extra, gilt edges, price 21_s._
THE EPIC OF HADES. The Presentation Edition. 4to, cloth extra, price 10_s._ 6_d._
SONGS UNSUNG. Fourth Edition. Fcap. 8vo, cloth, 6_s._
** _For Notices of the Press, see end of this Volume._ * LONDON: KEGAN PAUL, TRENCH & CO.
THE POETICAL WORKS OF LEWIS MORRIS
THE EPIC OF HADES
LONDON KEGAN PAUL, TRENCH & CO., 1, PATERNOSTER SQUARE 1885
[Illustration: _Then with wings Of gold we soared, I looking in his eyes Over yon dark broad river, and this dim land._ Page 228.]
THE EPIC OF HADES
IN THREE BOOKS
M.A.; HONORARY FELLOW OF JESUS COLLEGE, OXFORD KNIGHT OF THE REDEEMER OF GREECE, ETC., ETC.
"DIFFICILE EST PROPRIE COMMUNIA DICERE"
KEGAN PAUL, TRENCH & CO., 1, PATERNOSTER SQUARE 1885
"The three excellences of Poetry: simplicity of language, simplicity of subject, and simplicity of invention"-- _The Welsh Triads_.
(_The rights of translation and of reproduction are reserved._)
WHO LOVE THE LITERATURE OF GREECE
THIS POEM IS DEDICATED
PAGE TANTALUS 7
THE EPIC OF HADES.
In February, when the dawn was slow, And winds lay still, I gazed upon the fields Which stretched before me, lifeless, and the stream Which laboured in the distance to the sea, Sullen and cold. No force of fancy took My thought to bloomy June, when all the land Lay deep in crested grass, and through the dew The landrail brushed, and the lush banks were set With strawberries, and the hot noise of bees Lulled the bright flowers. Rather I seemed to move Thro' that weird land, Hellenic fancy feigned, Beyond the fabled river and the bark Of Charon; and forthwith on every side Rose the thin throng of ghosts. First thro' the gloom Of a dark grove I strayed--a sluggish wood, Where scarce the faint fires of the setting stars, Or some cold gleam of half-discovered dawn, Might pierce the darkling pines. A twilight drear Brooded o'er all the depths, and filled the dank And sunken hollows of the rocks with shapes Of terror,--beckoning hands and noiseless feet Flitting from shade to shade, wide eyes that stared With horror, and dumb mouths which seemed to cry, Yet cried not. An ineffable despair Hung over them and that dark world and took The gazer captive, and a mingled pang Of grief and anger, grown to fierce revolt And hatred of the Invisible Force which holds The issue of our lives and binds us fast Within the net of Fate; as the fisher takes The little quivering sea-things from the sea And flings them gasping on the beach to die Then spreads his net for more. And then again I knew myself and those, creatures who lie Safe in the strong grasp of Unchanging Law, Encompassed round by hands unseen, and chains Which do support the feeble life that else Were spent on barren space; and thus I came To look with less of horror, more of thought, And bore to see the sight of pain that yet Should grow to healing, when the concrete stain Of life and act were purged, and the cleansed soul, Renewed by the slow wear and waste of time, Soared after æons of days. They seemed alone, Those prisoners, thro' all time. Each soul shut fast In its own jail of woe, apart, alone, For evermore alone; no thought of kin, Or kindly human glance, or fellowship Of suffering or of sin, made light the load Of solitary pain. Ay, though they walked Together, or were prisoned in one cell With the partners of their wrong, or with strange souls Which the same Furies tore, they knew them not, But suffered still alone; as in that shape Of hell fools build on earth, where hopeless sin Rots slow in solitude, nor sees the face Of men, nor hears the sound of speech, nor feels The touch of human hand, but broods a ghost, Hating the bare blank cell--the other self, Which brought it thither--hating man and God, And all that is or has been.
A great fear And pity froze my blood, who seemed to see A half-remembered form. An Eastern King It was who lay in pain. He wore a crown Upon his aching brow, and his white robe Was jewelled with fair gems of price, the signs Of pomp and honour and all luxury, Which might prevent desire. But as I looked There came a hunger in the gloating eyes, A quenchless thirst upon the parching lips, And such unsatisfied strainings in the hands Stretched idly forth on what I could not see, Some fatal food of fancy; that I knew The undying worm of sense, which frets and gnaws The unsatisfied stained soul. Seeing me, he said: "What? And art thou too damned as I? Dost know This thirst as I, and see as I the cool Lymph drawn from thee and mock thy lips; and parch For ever in continual thirst; and mark The fair fruit offered to thy hunger fade Before thy longing eyes? I thought there was No other as I thro' all the weary lengths Of Time the gods have made, who pined so long And found fruition mock him. Long ago, When I was young on earth, 'twas a sweet pain To ride all day in the long chase, and feel Toil and the summer fire my blood and parch My lips, while in my father's halls I knew The cool bath waited, with its marble floor; And juices from the ripe fruits pressed, and chilled With snows from far-off peaks; and troops of slaves; And music and the dance; and fair young forms. And dalliance, and every joy of sense, That haunts the dreams of youth, which strength and ease Corrupt, and vacant hours. Ay, it was sweet For a while to plunge in these, as fair boys plunge Naked in summer streams, all veil of shame Laid by, only the young dear body bathed And sunk in its delight, while the firm earth, The soft green pastures gay with innocent flowers, Or sober harvest fields, show like a dream; And nought is left, but the young life which floats Upon the depths of death, to sink, maybe, And drown in pleasure, or rise at length grown wise And gain the abandoned shore. Ah, but at last The swift desire waxed stronger and more strong, And feeding on itself, grows tyrannous; And the parched soul no longer finds delight In the cool stream of old; nay, this itself, Smitten by the fire of sense as by a flame, Holds not its coolness more; and fevered limbs, Seeking the fresh tides of their youth, may find No more refreshment, but a cauldron fired With the fires of nether hell; and a black rage Usurps the soul, and drives it on to slake Its thirst with crime and blood. Longing Desire! Unsatisfied, sick, impotent Desire! Oh, I have known it ages long. I knew Its pain on earth ere yet my life had grown To its full stature, thro' the weary years Of manhood, nay, in age itself; I knew The quenchless weary thirst, unsatisfied By all the charms of sense, by wealth and power And homage; always craving, never quenched-- The undying curse of the soul! The ministers And agents of my will drave far and wide Through all the land for me, seeking to find Fresh pleasures for me, who had spent my sum Of pleasure, and had power, not even in thought, Nor faculty to enjoy. They tore apart The sacred claustral doors of home for me, Defiled the inviolate hearth for me, laid waste The flower of humble lives, in hope to heal The sickly fancies of the king, till rose A cry of pain from all the land; and I Grew happier for it, since I held the power To quench desire in blood. But even thus The old pain faded not, but swift again Revived; and thro' the sensual dull lengths Of my seraglios I stalked, and marked The glitter of the gems, the precious webs Plundered from every clime by cruel wars That strewed the sands with corpses; lovely eyes That looked no look of love, and fired no more Thoughts of the flesh; rich meats, and fruits, and wines Grown flat and savourless; and loathed them all, And only cared for power; content to shed Rivers of innocent blood, if only thus I might appease my thirst. Until I grew A monster gloating over blood and pain.
Ah, weary, weary days, when every sense Was satisfied, and nothing left to slake The parched unhappy soul, except to watch The writhing limbs and mark the slow blood drip, Drop after drop, as the life ebbed with it; In a new thrill of lust, till blood itself Palled on me, and I knew the fiend I was, Yet cared not--I who was, brief years ago, Only a careless boy lapt round with ease, Stretched by the soft and stealing tide of sense Which now grew red; nor ever dreamed at all What Furies lurked beneath it, but had shrunk In indolent horror from the sight of tears And misery, and felt my inmost soul Sicken with the thought of blood. There comes a time When the insatiate brute within the man, Weary with wallowing in the mire, leaps forth Devouring, and the cloven satyr-hoof Grows to the rending claw, and the lewd leer To the horrible fanged snarl, and the soul sinks And leaves the man a devil, all his sin Grown savourless, and yet he longs to sin And longs in vain for ever. Yet, methinks, It was not for the gods to leave me thus. I stinted not their worship, building shrines To all of them; the Goddess of Love I served With hecatombs, letting the fragrant fumes Of incense and the costly steam ascend From victims year by year; nay, my own son Pelops, my best beloved, I gave to them Offering, as he must offer who would gain The great gods' grace, my dearest. I had gained Through long and weary orgies that strange sense Of nothingness and wasted days which blights The exhausted life, bearing upon its front Counterfeit knowledge, when the bitter ash Of Evil, which the sick soul loathes, appears Like the pure fruit of Wisdom. I had grown As wizards seem, who mingle sensual rites And forms impure with murderous spells and dark Enchantments; till the simple people held My very weakness wisdom, and believed That in my blood-stained palace-halls, withdrawn, I kept the inner mysteries of Zeus And knew the secret of all Being; who was A sick and impotent wretch, so sick, so tired, That even bloodshed palled. For my stained soul, Knowing its sin, hastened to purge itself With every rite and charm which the dark lore Of priestcraft offered to it. Spells obscene, The blood of innocent babes, sorceries foul Muttered at midnight--these could occupy My weary days; till all my people shrank To see me, and the mother clasped her child Who heard the monster pass. They would not hear. They listened not--the cold ungrateful gods-- For all my supplications; nay, the more I sought them were they hidden. At the last A dark voice whispered nightly: 'Thou, poor wretch, That art so sick and impotent, thyself The source of all thy misery, the great gods Ask a more precious gift and excellent Than alien victims which thou prizest not And givest without a pang. But shouldst thou take Thy costliest and fairest offering, 'Twere otherwise. The life which thou hast given Thou mayst recall. Go, offer at the shrine Thy best belovèd Pelops, and appease Zeus and the averted gods, and know again The youth and joy of yore.' Night after night, While all the halls were still, and the cold stars Were fading into dawn, I lay awake Distraught with warring thoughts, my throbbing brain Filled with that dreadful voice. I had not shrunk From blood, but this, the strong son of my youth-- How should I dare this thing? And all day long I would steal from sight of him and men, and fight Against the dreadful thought, until the voice Seared all my burning brain, and clamoured, 'Kill! Zeus bids thee, and be happy.' Then I rose At midnight, when the halls were still, and raised The arras, and stole soft to where my son Lay sleeping. For one moment on his face And stalwart limbs I gazed, and marked the rise And fall of his young breast, and the soft plume Which drooped upon his brow, and felt a thrill Of yearning; but the cold voice urging me Burned me like fire. Three times I gazed and turned Irresolute, till last it thundered at me, 'Strike, fool! thou art in hell; strike, fool! and lose The burden of thy chains.' Then with slow step I crept as creeps the tiger on the deer, Raised high my arm, shut close my eyes, and plunged My dagger in his heart. And then, with a flash, The veil fell downward from my life and left Myself to me--the daily sum of sense-- The long continual trouble of desire-- The stain of blood blotting the stain of lust-- The weary foulness of my days, which wrecked My heart and brain, and left me at the last A madman and accursèd; and I knew, Far higher than the sensual slope which held The gods whom erst I worshipped, a white peak Of Purity, and a stern voice pealing doom-- Not the mad voice of old--which pierced so deep Within my life, that with the reeking blade Wet with the heart's blood of my child I smote My guilty heart in twain. Ah! fool, to dream That the long stain of time might fade and merge In one poor chrism of blood. They taught of yore, My priests who flattered me--nor knew at all The greater God I know, who sits afar Beyond those earthly shapes, passionless, pure, And awful as the Dawn--that the gods cared For costly victims, drinking in the steam Of sacrifice when the choice hecatombs Were offered for my wrong. Ah no! there is No recompense in these, nor any charm To cleanse the stain of sin, but the long wear Of suffering, when the soul which seized too much Of pleasure here, grows righteous by the pain That doth redress its ill. For what is Right But equipoise of Nature, alternating The Too Much and Too Little? Not on earth The salutary silent forces work Their final victory, but year on year Passes, and age on age, and leaves the debt Unsatisfied, while the o'erburdened soul Unloads itself in pain. Therefore it is I suffer as I suffered ere swift death Set me not free, no otherwise; and yet There comes a healing purpose in my pain I never knew on earth; nor ever here The once-loved evil grows, only the tale Of penalties grown greater hourly dwarfs The accomplished sum of wrong. And yet desire Pursues me still--sick, impotent desire, Fiercer than that of earth. We are ourselves Our heaven and hell, the joy, the penalty, The yearning, the fruition. Earth is hell Or heaven, and yet not only earth; but still, After the swift soul leaves the gates of death, The pain grows deeper and less mixed, the joy Purer and less alloyed, and we are damned Or blest, as we have lived." He ceased, with a wail Like some complaining wind among the pines Or pent among the fretful ocean caves, A sick, sad sound. Then as I looked, I saw His eyes glare horribly, his dry parched lips Open, his weary hands stretch idly forth As if to clutch the air--infinite pain And mockery of hope. "Seest thou them now?" He said. "I thirst, I parch, I famish, yet They still elude me, fair and tempting fruit And cooling waters. Now they come again. See, they are in my grasp, they are at my lips, Now I shall quench me. Nay, again they fly And mock me. Seest thou them, or am I shut From hope for ever, hungering, thirsting still, A madman and in Hell?" And as I passed In horror, his large eyes and straining hands Froze all my soul with pity.
Then it was A woman whom I saw: a dark pale Queen, With passion in her eyes, and fear and pain Holding her steadfast gaze, like one who sees Some dreadful deed of wrong worked out and knows Himself the cause, yet now is powerless To stay the wrong he would. Seeing me gaze In pity on her woe, she turned and spake With a low wailing voice-- "Thou well mayst gaze With horror on me, sir, for I am lost; I have shed the innocent blood, long years ago, Nay, centuries of pain. I have shed the blood Of him I loved, and found for recompense But self-inflicted death and age-long woe, Which purges not my sin. And yet not I It was who did it, but the gods, who took A woman's loveless heart and tortured it With love as with a fire. It was not I Who slew my love, but Fate. Fate 'twas which brought My love and me together, Fate which barred The path of blameless love, yet set Love's flame To burn and smoulder in a hopeless heart, Where no relief might come. The King was old, And I a girl. 'Tis an old tale which runs Thro' the sad ages, and 'twas mine. He had spent His sum of love long since, and I--I knew not A breath of Love as yet. Ah, it is strange To lose the sense of maidenhood, drink deep Of life to the very dregs, and yet not know A flutter of Love's wing. Love takes no thought For pomp, or palace, or respect of men; Nor always in the stately marriage bed, Closed round by silken curtains, laid on down, Nestles a rosy form; but 'mid wild flowers Or desert tents, or in the hind's low cot, Beneath the aspect of the unconscious stars, Dwells all night and is blest. My love, my life! He was the old man's son, a fair white soul-- Not like the others, whom the fire of youth Burns like a flame and hurries unrestrained Thro' riotous days and nights, but virginal And pure as any maid. No wandering glance He deigned for all the maidens young and fair Who sought their Prince's eye. But evermore, Upon the high lawns wandering alone, He dwelt unwed; weaving to Artemis, Fairest of all Olympian maids, a wreath From the unpolluted meads, where never herd Drives his white flock, nor ever scythe has come, But the bee sails upon unfettered wing Over the spring-like lawns, and Purity Waters them with soft dews; and yet he showed Of all his peers most manly--heart and soul A very man, tender and true, and strong And pitiful, and in his limbs and mien Fair as Apollo's self. It was at first In Troezen that I saw him, when he came To greet his sire. Amid the crowd of youths He showed a Prince indeed; yet knew I not Whom 'twas I saw, nor that I held the place Which was his mother's, only from the throng Love, with a barbed dart aiming, pierced my heart Ere yet I knew what ailed me. Every glance Fired me; the youthful grace, the tall straight limbs, The swelling sinewy arms, the large dark eyes Tender yet full of passion, the thick locks Tossed from his brow, the lip and cheek which bore The down of early manhood, seemed to feed My heart with short-lived joy. For when he stood Forth from the throng and knelt before his sire, Then raised his eyes to mine, I felt the curse Of Aphrodité burn me, as it burned My mother before me, and I dared not meet His innocent, frank young eyes. Said I then young? Ay, but not young as mine. For I had known The secret things of life, which age the soul In a moment, writing on its front their mark 'Too early ripe;' and he was innocent, My spouse in fitted years, within whose arms I had defied the world. I turned away Like some white bird that leaves the flock, which sails High in mid air above the haunts of men, Feeling some little dart within her breast, Not death, but like to death, and slowly sinks Down to the earth alone, and bears her hurt Unseen, by herbless sand and bitter pool, And pines until the end. Even from that day I strove to gain his love. Nay, 'twas not I, But the cruel gods who drove me. Day by day We were together; for in days of old Women were free, not pent in gilded jails As afterwards, but free to walk alone, For good or evil, free. I hardly took Thought for my spouse, the King. For I had found My love at last: what matter if it were A guilty love? Yet love is love indeed, Stronger than heaven or hell. Day after day I set myself to tempt him from his proud And innocent way, for I had spurned aside Care for the gods or men--all but my love.
What need to tell the tale? Was it a sigh, A blush, a momentary glance, which brought Assurance of my triumph? It is long Since I have lived, I cannot tell; I know Only the penalty of death and hell Which followed on my sin. I knew he loved. It was not wonderful, seeing that we dwelt A boy and girl together. I was fair, And Eros fired my eyes and lent my voice His own soft tremulous tones. But when our souls Trembled upon the verge, and fancy feigned His arms around me as we fled alone To some free land of exile, lo! a scroll: 'Dearest, it may not be; I fear the Gods; We dare not do this wrong. I go from hence And see thy face no more. Farewell! Forget The love we may not own; go, seek for both Forgiveness from the gods.' When I read the words, The cruel words, methought my heart stood still, And when the ebbing life returned I seemed To have lost all thought of Love. Only Revenge Dwelt with me still, the fiercer that I knew My long-prized hope, which came so near success, Snatched from me and for ever. When I rose From my deep swoon, I bade a messenger Go, seek the King for me. He came and sate Beside my couch, and all the doors were closed, And all withdrawn. Then with the liar's art, And hypocrite tears, and feigned reluctancy, And all the subtle wiles a woman draws From the armoury of hate, I did instil The poison to his soul. Cunning devices, Feigned sorrow, mention of his son, regrets, And half confessions--these, with hateful skill Confused together, drove the old man's soul To frenzy; and I watched him, with a sneer, Turn to a dotard thirsting for the life Of his own child. But how to do the deed, Yet shed no blood, nor know the people's hate, Who loved the Prince, I knew not. Till one day The old man, looking out upon the sea, Besought the dread Poseidon to avenge The treachery of his son. Even as we stood Gazing upon the breathless blue, a cloud Rose from the deep, a little fleecy cloud, Which sudden grew and grew, and turned the blue To purple; and a swift wind rose and sang Higher and higher, and the wine-dark sea Grew ruffled, and within the circling bay The tiny ripples, stealing up the sand, Plunged loud with manes of foam, until they swelled To misty surges thundering on the shore.
Then at the old man's elbow as I stood, A deep dark thought, sent by the powers of ill, Answering, as now I know, my own black hate And not my poor dupe's anger, fired my soul And bade me speak. 'The god has heard thy prayer,' I whispered; 'See the surge which wakes and swells To fury; well I know what things shall be. It is Poseidon's voice sounds in the storm And sends thy vengeance. Young Hippolytus Loves, as thou knowest, on the yellow sand, Hard by the rippled margin of the wave, To urge his flying steeds. Bid him go forth-- He will obey--and see what recompense The god will send his wrong.' In the old man's eyes A watery gleam of malice played awhile-- I hated him for it--and he bade his son Drive forth his chariot on the sand, and yoke His three young fiery steeds. And still the storm Blew fiercer and more fierce, and the white crests Plunged on the strand, and the high promontories Resounded counter-stricken, and a mist Of foam, blown landward, hid the sounding shore.
Then saw I him come forth and bid them yoke His untamed colts. I had not seen his face Since that last day, but, seeing him, I felt The old love spring anew, yet mixed with hate-- A storm of warring passions. Tho' I knew What end should come, yet would I speak no word That might avert it. The old man looked forth; I think he had well-nigh forgotten all The wrong he fancied and the doom he prayed, All but the father's pride in the strong son, Who was so young and bold. I saw a smile Upon the dotard's face, when now the steeds Were harnessed and the chariot, on the sand Along the circling margin of the bay, Flew, swift as light. A sudden gleam of sun Flashed on the silver harness as it went, Burned on the brazen axles of the wheels, And on the golden fillets of the Prince Doubled the gold. Sometimes a larger wave Would dash in mist around him, and in fear The rearing coursers plunged, and then again The strong young arm constrained them, and they flashed To where the wave-worn foreland ends the bay.
And then he turned his chariot, a bright speck Now seen, now hidden, but always, tho' the surge Broke round it, safe; emerging like a star From the white clouds of foam. And as I watched, Speaking no word, and breathing scarce a breath, I saw the firm limbs strongly set apart Upon the chariot, and the reins held high, And the proud head bent forward, with long locks Streaming behind, as nearer and more near The swift team rushed--until, with a half joy, It seemed as if my love might yet elude The slow sure anger of the god, dull wrath Swayed by a woman's lie. But on the verge, As I cast my eyes, a vast and purple wall Swelled swiftly towards the land; the lesser waves Sank as it came, and to its toppling crest The spume-flecked waters, from the strand drawn back, Left dry the yellow shore. Onward it came, Hoarse, capped with breaking foam, lurid, immense, Rearing its dreadful height. The chariot sped Nearer and nearer. I could see my love With the light of victory in his eyes, the smile Of daring on his lips: so near he came To where the marble palace-wall confined The narrow strip of beach--his brave young eyes Fixed steadfast on the goal, in the pride of life, Without a thought of death. I strove to cry, But terror choked my breath. Then, like a bull Upon the windy level of the plain Lashing himself to rage, the furious wave, Poising itself a moment, tossing high Its wind-vexed crest, dashed downward on the strand With a stamp, with a rush, with a roar. And when I looked, The shore, the fields, the plain, were one white sea Of churning, seething foam--chariot and steeds Gone, and my darling on the wave's white crest Tossed high, whirled down, beaten, and bruised, and flung, Dying upon the marble.
My great love Sprang up redoubled, and cast out my hate And spurned all thought of fear; and down the stair I hurried, and upon the bleeding form I threw myself, and raised his head, and clasped His body to mine, and kissed him on the lips, And in his dying ear confessed my wrong, And saw the horror in his dying eyes And knew that I was damned. And when he breathed His last pure breath, I rose and slowly spake-- Turned to a Fury now by love and pain-- To the old man who knelt, while all the throng Could hear my secret: 'See, thou fool, I am The murderess of thy son, and thou my dupe, Thou and thy gods. See, he was innocent; I murdered him for love. I scorn ye all, Thee and thy gods together, who are deceived By a woman's lying tongue! Oh, doting fool, To hate thy own! And ye, false powers, which punish The innocent, and let the guilty soul Escape unscathed, I hate ye all--I curse, I loathe you!' Then I stooped and kissed my love, And left them in amaze; and up the stair Swept slowly to my chamber, and therein, Hating my life and cursing men and gods, I did myself to death. But even here, I find my punishment. Oh, dreadful doom Of souls like mine! To see their evil done Always before their eyes, the one dread scene Of horror. See, the dark wave on the verge Towers horrible, and he---- Oh, Love, my Love! Safety is near! quick! quicker! urge them on! Thou wilt 'scape it yet!--Nay, nay, it bursts on him! I have shed the innocent blood! Oh, dreadful gaze Within his glazing eyes! Hide them, ye gods! Hide them! I cannot bear them. Quick! a dagger! I will lose their glare in death. Nay, die I cannot; I must endure and live--Death brings not peace To the lost souls in Hell." And her eyes stared, Rounded with horror, and she stooped and gazed So eagerly, and pressed her fevered hands Upon her trembling forehead with such pain As drives the gazer mad.
Then as I passed, I marked against the hardly dawning sky A toilsome figure standing, bent and strained, Before a rocky mass, which with great pain And agony of labour it would thrust Up a steep hill. But when upon the crest It poised a moment, then I held my breath With dread, for, lo! the poor feet seemed to clutch The hillside as in fear, and the poor hands With hopeless fingers pressed into the stone In agony, and the limbs stiffened, and a cry Like some strong swimmer's, whom the mightier stream Sweeps downward, and he sees his children's eyes Upon the bank; broke from him; and at last, After long struggles of despair, the limbs Relaxed, and as I closed my fearful eyes, Seeing the inevitable doom--a crash, A horrible thunderous noise, as down the steep The shameless fragment leapt. From crag to crag It bounded ever swifter, striking fire And wrapt in smoke, as to the lowest depths Of the vale it tore, and seemed to take with it The miserable form whose painful gaze I caught, as with the great rock whirled and dashed Downward, and marking every crag with gore And long gray hairs, it plunged, yet living still, To the black hollow; and then a silence came More dreadful than the noise, and a low groan Was all that I could hear. When to the foot Of the dark steep I hurried, half in hope To find the victim dead--not recognizing The undying life of Hell--I seemed to see An aged man, bruised, bleeding, with gray hairs, And eyes from which the cunning leer of greed Was scarcely yet gone out. A crafty voice It was that answered me, the voice of guile Part purified by pain: "There comes not death To those who live in Hell, nor hardly pause Of suffering longer than may serve to make The pain renewed, more piercing. Long ago, I thought that I had cheated Death, and now I seek him; but he comes not, nor know I If ever he will hear me. Whence art thou? Comest thou from earthly air, or whence? What power Has brought thee hither? For I know indeed Thou art not lost as I; for never here I look upon a human face, nor see The ghosts who doubtless here on every side Suffer a common pain, only at times I hear the echo of a shriek far off, Like some faint ghost of woe which fills the pause And interval of suffering; but from whom The voice may come, or whence, I know not, only The air teems with vague pain, which doth distract The ear when for a moment comes surcease Of agony, and the sense of effort spent In vain and fruitless labour, and the pang Of long-deferred defeat, which waits and takes The world-worn heart, and maddens it when all-- Heaven, conscience, happiness, are staked and lost For gains which still elude it. Yet 'twas sweet, A King in early youth, when pleasure is sweet, To live the fair successful years, and know The envy and respect of men. I cared For none of youth's delights: the dance, the song, Allured me not; the smooth soft ways of sense Tempted me not at all. I could despise The follies that I shared not, spending all The long laborious days in toilsome schemes To compass honour and wealth, and, as I grew In name and fame, finding my hoarded gains Transmuted into Power. The seas were white With laden argosies, and all were mine. The sheltering moles defied the wintry storms, And all were mine. The marble aqueducts, The costly bridges, all were mine. Fair roads Wound round and round the hills--my work. The gods Alone I heeded not, nor cared at all For aught but that my eyes and ears might take, Spurning invisible things, nor built I to them Temple or shrine, wrapt up in life, set round With earthly blessings like a god. I rose To such excess of weal and fame and pride, My people held me god-like. I grew drunk With too great power, scoffing at men and gods, Careless of both, but not averse to fling To those too weak themselves, what benefits My larger wisdom spurned. Then suddenly I knew the pain of failure. Summer storms Sucked down my fleets even within sight of port. A grievous blight wasted the harvest-fields, Mocking my hopes of gain. Wars came and drained My store, and I grew needy, knowing now The hell of stronger souls, the loss of power Wherein they exulted once. There comes no pain Deeper than to have known delight of power, And then to lose it all. But I, I would not Sit tame beneath defeat, trimming my sails To wait the breeze of Fortune--fickle breath Which perhaps might breathe no more--but chose instead By rash conceit and bolder enterprise To win her aid again. I had no thought Of selfish gain, only to be and act As a god to those, feeding my sum of pride With acted good. But evermore defeat Dogged me, and evermore my people grew To doubt me, seeing no more the wealth, the force, Which once they worshipped. Then the lust of power Loved, not for sake of others, but itself, Grew on me, and the pride which can dare all, Save failure only, seized me. Evil finds Its ready chance. There were rich argosies Upon the seas: I sank them, ship and crew, In the unbetraying ocean. Wayfarers Crossing the passes with rich merchandise My creatures, hid behind the crags, o'erwhelmed With rocks hurled downward. Yet I spent my gains For the public weal, not otherwise; and they, The careless people, took the piteous spoils Which cost the lives of many, and a man's soul, And blessed the giver. Empty venal blessings, Which sting more deep than curses! For awhile I was content with this, but at the last A great contempt and hatred of them took me, The base, vile churls! Why should I stain my soul For such as those--dogs that would fawn and lick The hand that fed them, but, if food should fail, Would turn and rend me? I would none of them; I would grow rich and happy, being indeed Godlike in brain to such. So with all craft, And guile, and violence I enriched me, loading My treasuries with gold. My deep-laid schemes Of gain engrossed the long laborious days, Stretched far into the night. Enjoy, I might not, Seeing it was all to do, and life so brief That ere a man might gain the goal he would, Lo! Age, and with it Death, and so an end! For all the tales of the indignant gods, What were they but the priests'? I had myself Broken all oaths; long time deceived and ruined With every phase of fraud the pious fools Whom oath-sworn Justice bound; battened on blood And what was I the worse? How should the gods Bear rule if I were happy? Death alone Was certain. Therefore must I haste to heap Treasure sufficient for my need, and then Enjoy the gathered good. But gradually There came--not great disasters which might crush All hope, but petty checks which did decrease My store, and left my labour vain, and me Unwilling to enjoy; and gradually I felt the chill approach of age, which stole Higher and higher on me, till the life, As in a paralytic, left my limbs And heart, and mounted upwards to my brain, Its last resort, and rested there awhile Ere it should spread its wings. But even thus, Tho' powerless to enjoy, the insatiate greed And thirst of power sustained me, and supplied Life's spark with some scant fuel, till it seemed, Year after year, as if I could not die, Holding so fast to life. I grew so old That all the comrades of my youth, my prime, My age, were gone, and I was left alone With those who knew me not, bereft of all Except my master passion--an old man Forlorn, forgotten of the gods and Death.
So all the people, seeing me grow old And prosperous, held me wise, and spread abroad Strange fables, growing day by day more strange-- How I deceived the very gods. They thought That I was blest, remembering not the wear Of anxious thought, the growing sum of pain, The failing ear and eye, the slower limbs, Whose briefer name is Age: and yet I trow I was not all unhappy, though I knew It was too late to enjoy, and though my store Increased not as my greed--nay, even sunk down A little, year by year. Till, last of all, When now my time was come and I had grown A little tired of living, a trivial hurt Laid me upon my bed; and as I mused On my long life and all its villanies, The wickedness I did, the blood I shed, The guile, the frauds of years--they came with news, One now, and now another; how my schemes Were crushed, my enterprises lost, my toil And labour all in vain. Day after day They brought these tidings, while I longed to rise And stay the tide of ill, and raved to know I could not. At the last the added sum Of evil, like yon great rock poised awhile Uncertain, gathered into one, o'erwhelmed My feeble strength, and left me ruined and lost, And showed me all I was, and all the depth And folly of my sin, and racked my brain, And sank me in despair and misery, And broke my heart and slew me. Therefore 'tis I spend the long, long centuries which have come Between me and my sin, in such dread tasks As that thou sawest. In the soul I sinned: In body and soul I suffer. What I bade My minions do to others, that of woe I bear myself; and in the pause of ill, As now, I know again the bitter pang Of failure, which of old pierced thro' my soul And left me to despair. The pain of mind Is fiercer far than any bodily ill, And both are mine--the pang of torture-pain Always recurring; and, far worse, the pang Of consciousness of black sins sinned in vain-- The doom of constant failure. Will, fierce Will! Thou parent of unrest and toil and woe, Measureless effort! growing day by day To force strong souls along the giddy steep That slopes to the pit of Hell, where effort serves Only to speed destruction! Yet I know Thou art not, as some hold, the primal curse Which doth condemn us; since thou bearest in thee No power to satisfy thyself; but rather, The spring of act, whereby in earth and heaven Both men and gods do breathe and live and are, Since Life is Act and not to Do is Death-- I do not blame thee: but to work in vain Is bitterest penalty: to find at last The soul all fouled with sin and stained with blood In vain; ah, this is hell indeed--the hell Of lost and striving souls!" Then as I passed, The halting figure bent itself again To the old task, and up the rugged steep Thrust the great rock with groanings. Horror chained My parting footsteps, like a nightmare dream Which holds us that we flee not, with wide eyes That loathe to see, yet cannot choose but gaze Till all be done. Slowly, with dreadful toil And struggle and strain, and bleeding hands and knees, And more than mortal strength, against the hill He pressed, the wretched one! till with long pain He trembled on the summit, a gaunt form, With that great rock above him, poised and strained, Now gaining, now receding, now in act To win the summit, now borne down again, And then the inevitable crash--the mass Leaping from crag to crag. But ere it ceased In dreadful silence, and the low groan came, My limbs were loosed with one convulsive bound; I hid my face within my hands, and fled, Surfeit with horror.
Then it was again A woman whom I saw, pitiless, stern, Bearing the brand of blood--a lithe dark form, And cruel eyes which glared beneath the gems That argued her a Queen, and on her side An ancient stain of gore, which did befoul Her royal robe. A murderess in thought And dreadful act, who took within the toils Her kingly Lord, and slew him of old time After burnt Troy. I had no time to speak When she shrieked thus: "It doth repent me not I would 'twere yet to do, and I would do it Again a thousand times, if the shed blood Might for one hour restore me to the kisses Of my Ægisthus. Oh, he was divine, My hero, with the godlike locks and eyes Of Eros' self! What boots it that they prate Of wifely duty, love of spouse or child, Honour or pity, when the swift fire takes A woman's heart, and burns it out, and leaps With fierce forked tongue around it, till it lies In ashes, a dead heart, nor aught remains Of old affections, naught but the new flame Which is unquenched desire? It did not come, My blessing, all at once, but the slow fruit Of solitude and midnight loneliness, And weary waiting for the tardy news Of taken Troy. Long years I sate alone, Widowed, within my palace, while my Lord Was over seas, waging the accursèd war, First of the file of Kings. Year after year Came false report, or harder, no report Of the great fleet. The summers waxed and waned, The wintry surges smote the sounding shores, And yet there came no end of it. They brought Now hopeless failure, now great victories; And all alike were false, all but delay And hope deferred, which cometh not, but breaks The heart which suffering wrings not. So I bore Long time the solitary years, and sought To solace the dull days with motherly cares For those my Lord had left me. My firstborn, Iphigeneia, sailed at first with him Upon that fatal voyage, but the young Orestes and Electra stayed with me-- Not dear as she was, for the firstborn takes The mother's heart, and, with the milk it draws From the mother's virgin breast, drains all the love It bore, ay, even tho' the sire be dear; Much more, then, when he is a King indeed, Mighty in war and council, but too high To stoop to a woman's love. But she was gone, Nor heard I tidings of her, knowing not If yet she walked the earth, nor if she bare The load of children, even as I had borne Her in my opening girlhood, when I leapt From child to Queen, but never loved the King.
Thus the slow years rolled onward, till at last There came a dreadful rumour--'She is dead, Thy daughter, years ago. The cruel priests Clamoured for blood; the stern cold Kings stood round Without a tear, and he, her sire, with them, To see a virgin bleed. They cut with knives The taper girlish throat; they watched the blood Drip slowly on the sand, and the young life Meek as a lamb come to the sacrifice To appease the angry gods.' And he, the King, Her father, stood by too, and saw them do it, The wickedness, breathing no word of wrath, Till all was done! The cowards! the dull cowards! I would some black storm, bursting suddenly, Had whelmed them and their fleets, ere yet they dared To waste an innocent life! I had gone mad, I know it, but for him, my love, my dear, My fair sweet love. He came to comfort me With words of friendship, holding that my Lord Was bound, perhaps, to let her die--'The gods Were ofttimes hard to appease--or was it indeed The priests who asked it? Were there any gods? Or only phantoms, creatures of the brain, Born of the fears of men, the greed of priests, Useful to govern women? Had he been Lord of the fleet, not all the soothsayers Who ever frighted cowards should have brought His soul to such black depths.' I hearkening to him As 'twere my own thought grown articulate, Found my grief turn to hate, and hate to love-- Hate of my Lord, love of the voice which spoke Such dear and comfortable words. And thus, Love to a storm of passion growing, swept My wounded soul and dried my tears, as dries The hot sirocco all the bitter pools Of salt among the sand. I never knew True love before; I was a child, no more, When the King cast his eyes on me. What is it To have borne the weight of offspring 'neath the zone, If Love be not their sire; or live long years Of commerce, not of love? Better a day Of Passion than the long unlovely years Of wifely duty, when Love cometh not To wake the barren days! And yet at first I hesitated long, nor would embrace The blessing that was mine. We are hedged round, We women, by such close-drawn ordinances, Set round us by our tyrants, that we fear To overstep a hand's breadth the dull bounds Of custom; but at last Love, waking in me, Burst all my chains asunder, and I lived For naught but Love. My son, the young Orestes, I sent far off; my girl Electra only Remained, too young to doubt me, and I knew At last what 'twas to live. So the swift years Fleeted and found me happy, till the dark Ill-omened day when Rumour, thousand-tongued, Whispered of taken Troy; and from my dream Of happiness, sudden I woke, and knew The coming retribution. We had grown Too loving for concealment, and our tale Of mutual love was bruited far and wide Through Argos. All the gossips bruited it, And were all tongue to tell it to the King When he should come. And should the cold proud Lord I never loved, the murderer of my girl, Come 'twixt my love and me? A swift resolve Flashed through me pondering on it: Love for Love And Blood for Blood--the simple golden rule Taught by the elder gods. When I had taken My fixed resolve, I grew impatient for it, Counting the laggard days. Oh, it was sweet To simulate the yearning of a wife Long parted from her Lord, and mock the fools Who dogged each look and word, and but for fear Had torn me from my throne--the pies, the jays, The impotent chatterers, who thought by words To stay me in the act! 'Twas sweet to mock them And read distrust within their eyes, when I, Knowing my purpose, bade them quick prepare All fitting honours for the King, and knew They dared not disobey--oh, 'twas enough To wing the slow-paced hours. But when at last I saw his sails upon the verge, and then The sea-worn ship, and marked his face grown old, The body a little bent, which was so straight, The thin gray hairs which were the raven locks Of manhood when he went, I felt a moment I could not do the deed. But when I saw The beautiful sad woman come with him, The future in her eyes, and her sad voice Proclaimed the tale of doom, two thoughts at once Assailed me, bidding me despatch with a blow Him and his mistress, making sure the will Of fate, and my revenge. Oh, it was strange To see all happen as we planned; as 'twere Some drama oft rehearsed, wherein each step, Each word, is so prepared, the poorest player Knows his turn come to do--the solemn landing-- The ride to the palace gate--the courtesies Of welcome--the mute crowds without--the bath Prepared within--the precious circling folds Of tissue stretched around him, shutting out The gaze, and folding helpless like a net The mighty limbs--the battle-axe laid down Against the wall, and I, his wife and Queen, Alone with him, waiting and watching still, Till the woman shrieked without. Then with swift step I seized the axe, and struck him as he lay Helpless, once, twice, and thrice--once for my girl, Once for my love, once for the woman, and all For Fate and my Revenge! He gave a groan, Once only, as I thought he might; and then No sound but the quick gurgling of the blood, As it flowed from him in streams, and turned the pure And limpid water of the bath to red-- I had not looked for that--it flowed and flowed, And seemed to madden me to look on it, Until my love with hands bloody as mine, But with the woman's blood, rushed in, and eyes Rounded with horror; and we turned to go, And left the dead alone. But happiness Still mocked me, and a doubt unknown before Came on me, and amid the silken shows And luxury of power I seemed to see Another answer to my riddle of life Than that I gave myself, and it was 'murder;' And in my people's sullen mien and eyes, 'Murder;' and in the mirror, when I looked, 'Murder' glared out, and terror lest my son Returning, grown to manhood, should avenge His father's blood. For somehow, as 'twould seem, The gods, if gods there be, or the stern Fate Which doth direct our little lives, do filch Our happiness--though bright with Love's own ray, There comes a cloud which veils it. Yet, indeed, My days were happy. I repent me not; I would wade through seas of blood to know again Those fierce delights once more. But my young girl Electra, grown to woman, turned from me Her modest maiden eyes, nor loved to set Her kiss upon my cheek, but, all distraught With secret care, hid her from all the pomps And revelries which did befit her youth, Walking alone; and often at the tomb Of her lost sire they found her, pouring out Libations to the dead. And evermore I did bethink me of my son Orestes, Who now should be a man; and yearned sometimes To see his face, yet feared lest from his eyes His father's soul should smite me. So I lived Happy and yet unquiet--a stern voice Speaking of doom, which long time softer notes Of careless weal, the music that doth spring From the fair harmonies of life and love, Would drown in their own concord. This at times Nay, day by day, stronger and dreadfuller, With dominant accent, marred the sounds of joy By one prevailing discord. So at length I came to lose the Present in the dread Of what might come; the penalty that waits Upon successful sin; who, having sinned, Had missed my sin's reward. Until one day I, looking from my palace casement, saw A humble suppliant, clad in pilgrim garb, Approach the marble stair. A sudden throb Thrilled thro' me, and the mother's heart went forth Thro' all disguise of garb and rank and years, Knowing my son. How fair he was, how tall And vigorous, my boy! What strong straight limbs And noble port! How beautiful the shade Of manhood on his lip! I longed to burst From my chamber down, yearning to throw myself Upon his neck within the palace court, Before the guards--spurning my queenly rank, All but my motherhood. And then a chill Of doubt o'erspread me, knowing what a gulf Fate set between our lives, impassable As that great gulf which yawns 'twixt life and death And 'twixt this Hell and Heaven. I shrank back, And turned to think a moment, half in fear, And half in pain; dividing the swift mind, Yet all in love. Then came a cry, a groan, From the inner court, the clash of swords, the fall Of a body on the pavement; and one cried, 'The King is dead, slain by the young Orestes, Who cometh hither.' With the word, the door Flew open, and my son stood straight before me, His drawn sword dripping blood. Oh, he was fair And terrible to see, when from his limbs, The suppliant's mantle fallen, left the mail And arms of a young warrior. Love and Hate, Which are the offspring of a common sire, Strove for the mastery, till within his eyes I saw his father's ghost glare unappeased From out Love's casements. Then I knew my fate And his--mine to be slain by my son's hand, And his to slay me, since the Furies drave Our lives to one destruction; and I took His point within my breast. But I praise not The selfish, careless gods who wrecked our lives, Making the King the murderer of his girl, And me his murderess; making my son The murderer of his mother and her love-- A mystery of blood!--I curse them all, The careless Forces, sitting far withdrawn Upon the heights of Space, taking men's lives For playthings, and deriding as in sport Our happiness and woe--I curse them all. We have a right to joy; we have a right, I say, as they have. Let them stand confessed The puppets that they are--too weak to give The good they feign to love, since Fate, too strong For them as us, beyond their painted sky, Sits and derides them, too. I curse Fate too, The deaf blind Fury, taking human souls And crushing them, as a dull fretful child Crushes its toys and knows not with what skill Those feeble forms are feigned. I curse, I loathe, I spit on them. It doth repent me not. I would 'twere yet to do. I have lived my life. I have loved. See, there he lies within the bath, And thus I smite him! thus! Didst hear him groan? Oh, vengeance, thou art sweet! What, living still? Ah me! we cannot die! Come, torture me, Ye Furies--for I love not soothing words-- As once ye did my son. Ye miserable Blind ministers of Hell, I do defy you; Not all your torments can undo the Past Of Passion and of Love!"
Even as she spake There came a viewless trouble in the air, Which took her, and a sweep of wings unseen, And terrible sounds, which swooped on her and hushed Her voice, and seemed to occupy her soul With horror and despair; and as she passed I marked her agonized eyes.
But as I went, Full many a dreadful shape of lonely pain I saw. What need to tell them? We are filled Who live to-day with a more present sense Of the great love of God, than those of old Who, groping in the dawn of Knowledge, saw Only dark shadows of the Unknown; or he, First-born of modern singers, who swept deep His awful lyre, and woke the voice of song, Dumb for long centuries of pain. We dread To dwell on those long agonies its sin Brings on the offending soul; who hold a creed Of deeper Pity, knowing what chains of ill Bind round our petty lives. Each phase of woe, Suffering, and torture which the gloomy thought Of bigots feigns for others--all were there. One there was stretched upon a rolling wheel, Which was the barren round of sense, that still Returned upon itself and broke the limbs Bound to it day and night. Others I saw Doomed, with unceasing toil, to fill the urns Whose precious waters sank ere they could slake Their burning thirst. Another shapeless soul, Full of revolts and hates and tyrannous force, The weight of earth, which was its earth-born taint, Pressed groaning down, while with fierce beak and claw The vulture of remorse, piercing his breast, Preyed on his heart. For others, overhead, Great crags of rock impending seemed to fall, But fell not nor brought peace. I felt my soul Blunted with horrors, yearning to escape To where, upon the limits of the wood, Some scanty twilight grew. But ere I passed From those grim shades a deep voice sounded near, A voice without a form. "There is an end Of all things that thou seest! There is an end Of Wrong and Death and Hell! When the long wear Of Time and Suffering has effaced the stain Ingrown upon the soul, and the cleansed spirit, Long ages floating on the wandering winds Or rolling deeps of Space, renews itself And doth regain its dwelling, and, once more Blent with the general order, floats anew Upon the stream of Things, and comes at length, After new deaths, to that dim waiting-place Thou next shalt see, and with the justified White souls awaits the End; or, snatched at once, If Fate so will, to the pure sphere itself, Lives and is blest, and works the Eternal Work Whose name and end is Love! There is an end Of Wrong and Death and Hell!" Even as I heard, I passed from out the shadow of Death and Pain, Crying, "There is an end!"
END OF BOOK I.
Then from those dark And dreadful precincts passing, ghostly fields And voiceless took me. A faint twilight veiled The leafless, shadowy trees and herbless plains. There stirred no breath of air to wake to life The slumbers of the world. The sky above Was one gray, changeless cloud. There looked no eye Of Life from the veiled heavens; but Sleep and Death Were round me everywhere. And yet no fear Nor horror took me here, where was no pain Nor dread, save that strange tremor which assails One who in life's hot noontide looks on death And knows he too shall die. The ghosts which rose From every darkling copse showed thin and pale-- Thinner and paler far than those I left In agony; even as Pity seems to wear A thinner form than Fear. Not caged alone Like those the avenging Furies purged were these, Nor that dim land as those black cavernous depths Where no hope comes. Fair souls were they and white Whom there I saw, waiting as we shall wait, The Beatific End, but thin and pale As the young faith which made them; touched a little By the sad memories of the earth; made glad A little by past joys: no more; and wrapt In musing on the brief play played by them Upon the lively earth, yet ignorant Of the long lapse of years, and what had been Since they too breathed Life's air, or if they knew, Keeping some echo only; but their pain Was fainter than their joy, and a great hope Like ours possessed them dimly.
First I saw A youth who pensive leaned against the trunk Of a dark cypress, and an idle flute Hung at his side. A sorrowful sad soul, Such as sometimes he knows, who meets the gaze, Mute, uncomplaining yet most pitiful, Of one whom nature, by some secret spite, Has maimed and left imperfect; or the pain Which fills a poet's eyes. Beneath his robe I seemed to see the scar of cruel stripes, Too hastily concealed. Yet was he not Wholly unhappy, but from out the core Of suffering flowed a secret spring of joy, Which mocked the droughts of Fate, and left him glad And glorying in his sorrow. As I gazed He raised his silent flute, and, half ashamed, Blew a soft note; and as I stayed awhile I heard him thus discourse-- "The flute is sweet To gods and men, but sweeter far the lyre And voice of a true singer. Shall I fear To tell of that great trial, when I strove And Phoebus conquered? Nay, no shame it is To bow to an immortal melody; But glory. Once among the Phrygian hills I lay a-musing,--while the silly sheep Wandered among the thyme--upon the bank Of a clear mountain stream, beneath the pines, Safe hidden from the noon. A dreamy haze Played on the uplands, but the hills were clear In sunlight, and no cloud was on the sky. It was the time when a deep silence comes Upon the summer earth, and all the birds Have ceased from singing, and the world is still As midnight, and if any live thing move-- Some fur-clad creature, or cool gliding snake-- Within the pipy overgrowth of weeds, The ear can catch the rustle, and the trees And earth and air are listening. As I lay, Faintly, as in a dream, I seemed to hear A tender music, like the Æolian chords, Sound low within the woodland, whence the stream, Flowed full, yet silent. Long, with ear to ground, I hearkened; and the sweet strain, fuller grown, Rounder and clearer came, and danced along In mirthful measure now, and now grown grave In dying falls, and sweeter and more clear, Tripping at nuptials and high revelry, Wailing at burials, rapt in soaring thoughts, Chanting strange sea-tales full of mystery, Touching all chords of being, and life and death, Now rose, now sank, and always was divine, So strange the music came. Till, as I lay Enraptured, swift a sudden discord rang, And all the sound grew still. A sudden flash, As from a sunlit jewel, fired the wood. A noise of water smitten, and on the hills A fair white fleece of cloud, which swiftly climbed Into the farthest heaven. Then, as I mused, Knowing a parting goddess, straight I saw A sudden splendour float upon the stream, And knew it for this jewelled flute, which paused Before me on an eddy. It I snatched Eager, and to my ardent lips I bore The wonder, and behold, with the first breath-- The first warm human breath, the silent strains. The half-drowned notes which late the goddess blew, Revived, and sounded clearer, sweeter far Than mortal skill could make. So with delight I left my flocks to wander o'er the wastes Untended, and the wolves and eagles seized The tender lambs, but I was for my art-- Nought else; and though the high-pitched notes divine Grew faint, yet something lingered, and at last So sweet a note I sounded of my skill, That all the Phrygian highlands, all the white Hill villages, were fain to hear the strain, Which the mad shepherd made. So, overbold, And rapt in my new art, at last I dared To challenge Phoebus' self. 'Twas a fair day When sudden, on the mountain side, I saw A train of fleecy clouds in a white band Descending. Down the gleaming pinnacles And difficult crags they floated, and the arch, Drawn with its thousand rays against the sun, Hung like a glory o'er them. Midst the pines They clothed themselves with form, and straight I knew The immortals. Young Apollo, with his lyre, Kissed by the sun, and all the Muses clad In robes of gleaming white; then a great fear, Yet mixed with joy, assailed me, for I knew Myself a mortal equalled with the gods.
Ah me! how fair they were! how fair and dread In face and form, they showed, when now they came Upon the thymy slope, and the young god Lay with his choir around him, beautiful And bold as Youth and Dawn! There was no cloud Upon the sky, nor any sound at all When I began my strain. No coward fear Of what might come restrained me; but an awe Of those immortal eyes and ears divine Looking and listening. All the earth seemed full Of ears for me alone--the woods, the fields, The hills, the skies were listening. Scarce a sound My flute might make; such subtle harmonies The silence seemed to weave round me and flout The half unuttered thought. Till last I blew, As now, a hesitating note, and lo! The breath divine, lingering on mortal lips, Hurried my soul along to such fair rhymes, Sweeter than wont, that swift I knew my life Rise up within me, and expand, and all The human, which so nearly is divine, Was glorified, and on the Muses' lips, And in their lovely eyes, I saw a fair Approval, and my soul in me was glad.
For all the strains I blew were strains of love-- Love striving, love triumphant, love that lies Within belovèd arms, and wreathes his locks With flowers, and lets the world go by and sings Unheeding; and I saw a kindly gleam Within the Muses' eyes, who were indeed, Women, though god-like. But upon the face Of the young Sun-god only haughty scorn Sate and he swiftly struck his golden lyre, And played the Song of Life; and lo, I knew My strain, how earthy! Oh, to hear the young Apollo playing! and the hidden cells And chambers of the universe displayed Before the charmèd sound! I seemed to float In some enchanted cave, where the wave dips In from the sunlit sea, and floods its depths With reflex hues of heaven. My soul was rapt By that I heard, and dared to wish no more For victory; and yet because the sound Of music that is born of human breath Comes straighter from the soul than any strain The hand alone can make; therefore I knew, With a mixed thrill of pity and delight, The nine immortal Sisters hardly touched By this fine strain of music, as by mine, And when the high lay trembled to its close, Still doubting. Then upon the Sun-god's face There passed a cold proud smile. He swept his lyre Once more, then laid it down, and with clear voice, The voice of godhead, sang. Oh, ecstasy, Oh happiness of him who once has heard Apollo singing! For his ears the sound Of grosser music dies, and all the earth Is full of subtle undertones, which change The listener and transform him. As he sang-- Of what I know not, but the music touched Each chord of being--I felt my secret life Stand open to it, as the parched earth yawns To drink the summer rain; and at the call Of those refreshing waters, all my thought Stir from its dark and secret depths, and burst Into sweet, odorous flowers, and from their wells Deep call to deep, and all the mystery Of all that is, laid open. As he sang, I saw the Nine, with lovely pitying eyes, Sign 'He has conquered.' Yet I felt no pang Of fear, only deep joy that I had heard Such music while I lived, even though it brought Torture and death. For what were it to lie Sleek, crowned with roses, drinking vulgar praise, And surfeited with offerings, the dull gift Of ignorant hands--all which I might have known-- To this diviner failure? Godlike 'tis To climb upon the icy ledge, and fall Where other footsteps dare not. So I knew My fate, and it was near. For to a pine They bound me willing, and with cruel stripes Tore me, and took my life. But from my blood Was born the stream of song, and on its flow My poor flute, to the cool swift river borne, Floated, and thence adown a lordlier tide Into the deep, wide sea. I do not blame Phoebus, or Nature which has set this bar Betwixt success and failure, for I know How far high failure overleaps the bound Of low successes. Only suffering draws The inner heart of song and can elicit The perfumes of the soul. 'Twere not enough To fail, for that were happiness to him Who ever upward looks with reverent eye And seeks but to admire. So, since the race Of bards soars highest; as who seek to show Our lives as in a glass; therefore it comes That suffering weds with song, from him of old, Who solaced his blank darkness with his verse; Through all the story of neglect and scorn, Necessity, sheer hunger, early death, Which smite the singer still. Not only those Who keep clear accents of the voice divine Are honourable--they are happy, indeed, Whate'er the world has held--but those who hear Some fair faint echoes, though the crowd be deaf, And see the white gods' garments on the hills, Which the crowd sees not, though they may not find Fit music for their thought; they too are blest, Not pitiable. Not from arrogant pride Nor over-boldness fail they who have striven To tell what they have heard, with voice too weak For such high message. More it is than ease, Palace and pomp, honours and luxuries, To have seen white Presences upon the hills, To have heard the voices of the Eternal Gods."
So spake he, and I seemed to look on him, Whose sad young eyes grow on us from the page Of his own verse: who did himself to death: Or whom the dullard slew: or whom the sea Rapt from us: and I passed without a word, Slow, grave, with many musings.
Then I came On one a maiden, meek with folded hands, Seated against a rugged face of cliff, In silent thought. Anon she raised her arms, Her gleaming arms, above her on the rock, With hands which clasped each other, till she showed As in a statue, and her white robe fell Down from her maiden shoulders, and I knew The fair form as it seemed chained to the stone By some invisible gyves, and named her name: And then she raised her frightened eyes to mine As one who, long expecting some great fear, Scarce sees deliverance come. But when she saw Only a kindly glance, a softer look Came in them, and she answered to my thought With a sweet voice and low. "I did but muse Upon the painful past, long dead and done, Forgetting I was saved. The angry clouds Burst always on the low flat plains, and swept The harvest to the ocean; all the land Was wasted. A great serpent from the deep, Lifting his horrible head above their homes, Devoured the children. And the people prayed In vain to careless gods. On that dear land, Which now was turned into a sullen sea, Gazing in safety from the stately towers Of my sire's palace, I, a princess, saw, Lapt in soft luxury, within my bower The wreck of humble homes come whirling by, The drowning, bleating flocks, the bellowing herds, The grain scarce husbanded by toiling hands Upon the sunlit plain, rush to the sea, With floating corpses. On the rain-swept hills The remnant of the people huddled close, Homeless and starving. All my being was filled With pity for them, and I joyed to give What food and shelter and compassionate hands Of woman might. I took the little ones And clasped them shivering to the virgin breast Which knew no other touch but theirs, and gave Raiment and food. My sire, not stern to me, Smiled on me as he saw. My gentle mother, Who loved me with a closer love than binds A mother to her son; and sunned herself In my fresh beauty, seeing in my young eyes Her own fair vanished youth; doted on me, And fain had kept my eyes from the sad sights That pained them. But my heart was sad in me, Seeing the ineffable miseries of life, And that mysterious anger of the gods, And helpless to allay them. All in vain Were prayer and supplication, all in vain The costly victims steamed. The vengeful clouds Hid the fierce sky, and still the ruin came. And wallowing his grim length within the flood, Over the ravaged fields and homeless homes, The fell sea-monster raged, sating his jaws With blood and rapine. Then to the dread shrine Of Ammon went the priests, and reverend chiefs Of all the nation. White robed, at their head, Went slow my royal sire. The oracle Spoke clear, not as ofttimes in words obscure, Ambiguous. And as we stood to meet The suppliants--she who bare me, with her head Upon my neck--we cheerful and with song Welcomed their swift return; auguring well From such a quick-sped mission. But my sire Hid his face from me, and the crowd of priests And nobles looked not at us. And no word Was spoken till at last one drew a scroll And gave it to the queen, who straightway swooned, Having read it, on my breast, and then I saw, I the young girl whose soft life scarcely knew Shadow of sorrow, I whose heart was full Of pity for the rest, what doom was mine.
I think I hardly knew in that dread hour The fear that came anon; I was transformed Into a champion of my race, made strong With a new courage, glorying to meet, In all the ecstasy of sacrifice, Death face to face. Some god, I know not who, O'erspread me, and despite my mother's tears And my stern father's grief, I met my fate Unshrinking. When the moon rose clear from cloud Once more again over the midnight sea, And that vast watery plain, where were before Hundreds of happy homes, and well-tilled fields, And purple vineyards; from my father's towers The white procession went along the paths, The high cliff paths, which well I loved of old, Among the myrtles. Priests with censers went And offerings, robed in white, and round their brows The sacred fillet. With his nobles walked My sire with breaking heart. My mother clung To me the victim, and the young girls went With wailing and with tears. A solemn strain The soft flutes sounded, as we went by night To a wild headland, rock-based in the sea.
There on a sea-worn rock, upon the verge, To some rude stanchions, high above my head, They bound me. Out at sea, a black reef rose, Washed by the constant surge, wherein a cave Sheltered deep down the monster. The sad queen Would scarcely leave me, though the priests shrunk back In terror. Last, torn from my endless kiss, Swooning they bore her upwards. All my robe Fell from my lifted arms, and left displayed The virgin treasure of my breasts; and then The white procession through the moonlight streamed Upwards, and soon their soft flutes sounded low Upon the high lawns, leaving me alone.
There stood I in the moonlight, left alone Against the sea-worn rock. Hardly I knew, Seeing only the bright moon and summer sea, Which gently heaved and surged, and kissed the ledge With smooth warm tides, what fate was mine. I seemed, Soothed by the quiet, to be resting still Within my maiden chamber, and to watch The moonlight thro' my lattice. Then again Fear came, and then the pride of sacrifice Filled me, as on the high cliff lawns I heard The wailing cries, the chanted liturgies, And knew me bound forsaken to the rock, And saw the monster-haunted depths of sea.
So all night long upon the sandy shores I heard the hollow murmur of the wave, And all night long the hidden sea caves made A ghostly echo; and the sea birds mewed Around me; once I heard a mocking laugh, As of some scornful Nereid; once the waters Broke louder on the scarpèd reefs, and ebbed As if the monster coming; but again He came not, and the dead moon sank, and still Only upon the cliffs the wails, the chants, And I forsaken on my sea-worn rock, And lo, the monster-haunted depths of sea.
Till at the dead dark hour before the dawn, When sick men die, and scarcely fear itself Bore up my weary eyelids, a great surge Burst on the rock, and slowly, as it seemed, The sea sucked downward to its depths, laid bare The hidden reefs, and then before my eyes-- Oh, horrible! a huge and loathsome snake Lifted his dreadful crest and scaly side Above the wave, in bulk and length so large, Coil after hideous coil, that scarce the eye Could measure its full horror; the great jaws Dropped as with gore; the large and furious eyes Were fired with blood and lust. Nearer he came, And slowly, with a devilish glare, more near, Till his hot foetor choked me, and his tongue, Forked horribly within his poisonous jaws, Played lightning-like around me. For awhile I swooned, and when I knew my life again, Death's bitterness was past. Then with a bound Leaped up the broad red sun above the sea, And lit the horrid fulgour of his scales, And struck upon the rock; and as I turned My head in the last agony of death, I knew a brilliant sunbeam swiftly leaping Downward from crag to crag, and felt new hope Where all was hopeless. On the hills a shout Of joy, and on the rocks the ring of mail; And while the hungry serpent's gloating eyes Were fixed on me, a knight in casque of gold And blazing shield, who with his flashing blade Fell on the monster. Long the conflict raged, Till all the rocks were red with blood and slime, And yet my champion from those horrible jaws And dreadful coils was scatheless. Zeus his sire Protected, and the awful shield he bore Withered the monster's life and left him cold, Dragging his helpless length and grovelling crest: And o'er his glaring eyes the films of death Crept, and his writhing flank and hiss of hate The great deep swallowed down, and blood and spume Rose on the waves; and a strange wailing cry Resounded o'er the waters, and the sea Bellowed within its hollow-sounding caves.
Then knew I, I was saved, and with me all The people. From my wrists he loosed the gyves, My hero; and within his godlike arms Bore me by slippery rock and difficult path, To where my mother prayed. There was no need To ask my love. Without a spoken word Love lit his fires within me. My young heart Went forth, Love calling, and I gave him all.
Dost thou then wonder that the memory Of this supreme brief moment lingers still, While all the happy uneventful years Of wedded life, and all the fair young growth Of offspring, and the tranquil later joys, Nay, even the fierce eventful fight which raged When we were wedded, fade and are deceased, Lost in the irrecoverable past? Nay, 'tis not strange. Always the memory Of overwhelming perils or great joys, Avoided or enjoyed, writes its own trace With such deep characters upon our lives, That all the rest are blotted. In this place, Where is not action, thought, or count of time, It is not weary as it were on earth, To dwell on these old memories. Time is born Of dawns and sunsets, days that wax and wane And stamp themselves upon the yielding face Of fleeting human life; but here there is Morning nor evening, act nor suffering, But only one unchanging Present holds Our being suspended. One blest day indeed, Or centuries ago or yesterday, There came among us one who was Divine, Not as our gods, joyous and breathing strength And careless life, but crowned with a new crown Of suffering, and a great light came with him, And with him he brought Time and a new sense Of dim, long-vanished years; and since he passed I seem to see new meaning in my fate, And all the deeds I tell of. Evermore The young life comes, bound to the cruel rocks Alone. Before it the unfathomed sea Smiles, filled with monstrous growths that wait to take Its innocence. Far off the voice and hand Of love kneel by in agony, and entreat The seeming careless gods. Still when the deep Is smoothest, lo, the deadly fangs and coils Lurk near, to smite with death. And o'er the crags Of duty, like a sudden sunbeam, springs Some golden soul half mortal, half divine, Heaven-sent, and breaks the chain; and evermore For sacrifice they die, through sacrifice They live, and are for others, and no grief Which smites the humblest but reverberates Thro' all the close-set files of life, and takes The princely soul that from its royal towers Looks down and sees the sorrow. Sir, farewell! If thou shouldst meet my children on the earth Or here, for maybe it is long ago Since I and they were living, say to them I only muse a little here, and wait The waking." And her lifted arms sank down Upon her knees, and as I passed I saw her Gazing with soft rapt eyes, and on her lips A smile as of a saint.
And then I saw A manly hunter pace along the lea, His bow upon his shoulder, and his spear Poised idly in his hand: the face and form Of vigorous youth; but in the full brown eyes A timorous gaze as of a hunted hart, Brute-like, yet human still, even as the Faun Of old, the dumb brute passing into man, And dowered with double nature. As he came I seemed to question of his fate, and he Answered me thus: "'Twas one hot afternoon That I, a hunter, wearied with my day, Heard my hounds baying fainter on the hills, Led by the flying hart; and when the sound Faded and all was still, I turned to seek, O'ercome by heat and thirst, a little glade, Beloved of old, where, in the shadowy wood, The clear cold crystal of a mossy pool Lipped the soft emerald marge, and gave again The flower-starred lawn where ofttimes overspent I lay upon the grass and careless bathed My limbs in the sweet lymph. But as I neared The hollow, sudden through the leaves I saw A throng of wood-nymphs fair, sporting undraped Round one, a goddess. She with timid hand Loosened her zone, and glancing round let fall Her robe from neck and bosom, pure and bright, (For it was Dian's self I saw, none else) As when she frees her from a fleece of cloud And swims along the deep blue sea of heaven On sweet June nights. Silent awhile I stood, Rooted with awe, and fain had turned to fly, But feared by careless footstep to affright Those chaste cold eyes. Great awe and reverence Held me, and fear; then Love with passing wing Fanned me, and held my eyes, and checked my breath, Signing 'Beware!' So for a time I watched, Breathless as one a brooding nightmare holds, Who fleeth some great fear, yet fleeth not; Till the last flutter of lawn, and veil no more Obscured, and all the beauty of my dreams Assailed my sense. But ere I raised my eyes, As one who fain would look and see the sun, The first glance dazed my brain. Only I knew The perfect outline flow in tender curves, To break in doubled charms; only a haze Of creamy white, dimple, and deep divine: And then no more. For lo! a sudden chill, And such thick mist as shuts the hills at eve, Oppressed me gazing; and a heaven-sent shame, An awe, a fear, a reverence for the unknown, Froze all the springs of will and left me cold, And blinded all the longings of my eyes, Leaving such dim reflection still as mocks Him who has looked on a great light, and keeps On his closed eyes the image. Presently, My fainting soul, safe hidden for awhile Deep in Life's mystic shades, renewed herself, And straight, the innocent brute within the man Bore on me, and with half-averted eye I gazed upon the secret. As I looked, A radiance, white as beamed the frosty moon On the mad boy and slew him, beamed on me; Made chill my pulses, checked my life and heat; Transformed me, withered all my soul, and left My being burnt out. For lo! the dreadful eyes Of Godhead met my gaze, and through the mask And thick disguise of sense, as through a wood, Pierced to my life. Then suddenly I knew An altered nature, touched by no desire For that which showed so lovely, but declined To lower levels. Nought of fear or awe, Nothing of love was mine. Wide-eyed I gazed, But saw no spiritual beam to blight My brain with too much beauty, no undraped And awful majesty; only a brute, Dumb charm, like that which draws the brute to it, Unknowing it is drawn. So gradually I knew a dull content o'ercloud my sense, And unabashed I gazed, like that dumb bird Which thinks no thought and speaks no word, yet fronts The sun that blinded Homer--all my fear Sunk with my shame, in a base happiness.
But as I gazed, and careless turned and passed Through the thick wood, forgetting what had been, And thinking thoughts no longer, swift there came A mortal terror: voices that I knew, My own hounds' bayings that I loved before, As with them often o'er the purple hills I chased the flying hart from slope to slope, Before the slow sun climbed the Eastern peaks, Until the swift sun smote the Western plain; Whom often I had cheered by voice and glance, Whom often I had checked with hand and thong Grim followers, like the passions, firing me, True servants, like the strong nerves, urging me On many a fruitless chase, to find and take Some too swift-fleeting beauty; faithful feet And tongues, obedient always: these I knew, Clothed with a new-born force and vaster grown, And stronger than their master; and I thought, What if they tare me with their jaws, nor knew That once I ruled them,--brute pursuing brute, And I the quarry? Then I turned and fled,-- If it was I indeed that feared and fled-- Down the long glades, and through the tangled brakes, Where scarce the sunlight pierced; fled on and on, And panted, self-pursued. But evermore The dissonant music which I knew so sweet, When by the windy hills, the echoing vales, And whispering pines it rang, now far, now near, As from my rushing steed I leant and cheered With voice and horn the chase--this brought to me Fear of I knew not what, which bade me fly, Fly always, fly; but when my heart stood still, And all my limbs were stiffened as I fled, Just as the white moon ghost-like climbed the sky, Nearer they came and nearer, baying loud, With bloodshot eyes and red jaws dripping foam; And when I strove to check their savagery, Speaking with words; no voice articulate came, Only a dumb, low bleat. Then all the throng Leapt swift on me, and tare me as I lay, And left me man again. Wherefore I walk Along these dim fields peopled with the ghosts Of heroes who have left the ways of earth For this faint ghost of them. Sometimes I think, Pondering on what has been, that all my days Were shadows, all my life an allegory; And, though I know sometimes some fainter gleam Of the old beauty move me, and sometimes Some beat of the old pulses; that my fate, For ever hurrying on in hot pursuit, To fall at length self-slain, was but a tale Writ large by Zeus upon a mortal life, Writ large, and yet a riddle. For sometimes I read its meaning thus: Life is a chase, And Man the hunter, always following on, With hounds of rushing thought or fiery sense, Some hidden truth or beauty, fleeting still For ever through the thick-leaved coverts deep And wind-worn wolds of time. And if he turn A moment from the hot pursuit to seize Some chance-brought sweetness, other than the search To which his soul is set,--some dalliance, Some outward shape of Art, some lower love, Some charm of wealth and sleek content and home,-- Then, if he check an instant, the swift chase Of fierce untempered energies which pursue, With jaws unsated and a thirst for act, Bears down on him with clanging shock, and whelms His prize and him in ruin. And sometimes I seem to myself a thinker, who at last, Amid the chase and capture of low ends, Pausing by some cold well of hidden thought Comes on some perfect truth, and looks and looks Till the fair vision blinds him. And the sum Of all his lower self pursuing him, The strong brute forces, the unchecked desires, Finding him bound and speechless, deem him now No more their master, but some soulless thing; And leap on him, and seize him, and possess His life, till through death's gate he pass to life, And, his own ghost, revives. But looks no more Upon the truth unveiled, save through a cloud Of creed and faith and longing, which shall change One day to perfect knowledge. But whoe'er Shall read the riddle of my life, I walk In this dim land amid dim ghosts of kings, As one day thou shalt; meantime, fare thou well."
Then passed he; and I marked him slowly go Along the winding ways of that weird land, And vanish in a wood.
And next I knew A woman perfect as a young man's dream, And breathing as it seemed the old sweet air Of the fair days of old, when man was young And life an Epic. Round the lips a smile Subtle and deep and sweet as hers who looks From the old painter's canvas, and derides Life and the riddle of things, the aimless strife, The folly of Love, as who has proved it all, Enjoyed and suffered. In the lovely eyes A weary look, no other than the gaze Which ofttimes as the rapid chariot whirls, And ofttimes by the glaring midnight streets, Gleams out and chills our thought. And yet not guilt Nor sorrow was it; only weariness, No more, and still most lovely. As I named Her name in haste, she looked with half surprise, And thus she seemed to speak: "What? Dost thou know Thou too, the fatal glances which beguiled Those strong rude chiefs of old? Has not the gloom Of this dim land withdrawn from out mine eyes The glamour which once filled them? Does my cheek Retain the round of youth and still defy The wear of immemorial centuries? And this low voice, long silent, keeps it still The music of old time? Aye, in thine eyes I read it, and within thine eyes I see Thou knowest me, and the story of my life Sung by the blind old bard when I was dead, And all my lovers dust. I know thee not, Thee nor thy gods, yet would I soothly swear I was not all to blame for what has been, The long fight, the swift death, the woes, the tears The brave lives spent, the humble homes uptorn To gain one poor fair face. It was not I That curved these lips into this subtle smile, Or gave these eyes their fire, nor yet made round This supple frame. It was not I, but Love, Love mirroring himself in all things fair, Love that projects himself upon a life, And dotes on his own image. Ah! the days, The weary years of Love and feasts and gold, The hurried flights, the din of clattering hoofs At midnight, when the heroes dared for me, And bore me o'er the hills; the swift pursuits Baffled and lost; or when from isle to isle The high-oared galley spread its wings and rose Over the swelling surges, and I saw, Time after time, the scarce familiar town, The sharp-cut hills, the well-loved palaces, The gleaming temples fade, and all for me, Me the dead prize, the shell, the soulless ghost, The husk of a true woman; the fond words Wasted on careless ears, that seemed to hear, Of love to me unloving; the rich feasts, The silken dalliance and soft luxury, The fair observance and high reverence For me who cared not, to whatever land My kingly lover snatched me. I have known How small a fence Love sets between the king And the strong hind, who breeds his brood, and dies Upon the field he tills. I have exchanged People for people, crown for glittering crown, Through every change a queen, and held my state Hateful, and sickened in my soul to lie Stretched on soft cushions to the lutes' low sound, While on the wasted fields the clang of arms Rang, and the foemen perished, and swift death, Hunger, and plague, and every phase of woe Vexed all the land for me. I have heard the curse Unspoken, when the wife widowed for me Clasped to her heart her orphans starved for me; As I swept proudly by. I have prayed the gods, Hating my own fair face which wrought such woe, Some plague divine might light on it and leave My curse a ruin. Yet I think indeed They had not cursed but pitied, those true wives Who mourned their humble lords, and straining felt The innocent thrill which swells the mother's heart Who clasps her growing boy; had they but known The lifeless life, the pain of hypocrite smiles, The dead load of caresses simulated, When Love stands shuddering by to see his fires Lit for the shrine of gold. What if they felt The weariness of loveless love which grew And through the jealous palace portals seized The caged unloving woman, sick of toys, Sick of her gilded chains, her ease, herself, Till for sheer weariness she flew to meet Some new unloved seducer? What if they knew No childish loving hands, or worse than all, Had borne them sullen to a sire unloved, And left them without pain? I might have been, I too, a loving mother and chaste wife, Had Fate so willed. For I remember well How one day straying from my father's halls Seeking anemones and violets, A girl in Spring-time, when the heart makes Spring Within the budding bosom, that I came Of a sudden through a wood upon a bay, A little sunny land-locked bay, whose banks Sloped gently downward to the yellow sand, Where the blue wave creamed soft with fairy foam, And oft the Nereids sported. As I strayed Singing, with fresh-pulled violets in my hair And bosom, and my hands were full of flowers, I came upon a little milk-white lamb, And took it in my arms and fondled it, And wreathed its neck with flowers, and sang to it And kissed it, and the Spring was in my life, And I was glad. And when I raised my eyes Behold, a youthful shepherd with his crook Stood by me and regarded as I lay, Tall, fair, with clustering curls, and front that wore A budding manhood. As I looked a fear Came o'er me, lest he were some youthful god Disguised in shape of man, so fair he was; But when he spoke, the kindly face was full Of manhood, and the large eyes full of fire Drew me without a word, and all the flowers Fell from me, and the little milk-white lamb Strayed through the brake, and took with it the white Fair years of childhood. Time fulfilled my being With passion like a cup, and with one kiss Left me a woman. Ah! the lovely days, When on the warm bank crowned with flowers we sate And thought no harm, and his thin reed pipe made Low music, and no witness of our love Intruded, but the tinkle of the flock Came from the hill, and 'neath the odorous shade We dreamed away the day, and watched the waves Steal shoreward, and beyond the sylvan capes The innumerable laughter of the sea!
Ah youth and love! So passed the happy days Till twilight, and I stole as in a dream Homeward, and lived as in a happy dream, And when they spoke answered as in a dream, And through the darkness saw, as in a glass, The happy, happy day, and thrilled and glowed And kept my love in sleep, and longed for dawn And scarcely stayed for hunger, and with morn Stole eager to the little wood, and fed My life with kisses. Ah! the joyous days Of innocence, when Love was Queen in heaven, And nature unreproved! Break they then still, Those azure circles, on a golden shore? Smiles there no glade upon the older earth Where spite of all, gray wisdom, and new gods, Young lovers dream within each other's arms Silent, by shadowy grove, or sunlit sea?
Ah days too fair to last! There came a night When I lay longing for my love, and knew Sudden the clang of hoofs, the broken doors. The clash of swords, the shouts, the groans, the stain Of red upon the marble, the fixed gaze Of dead and dying eyes,--that was the time When first I looked on death,--and when I woke From my deep swoon, I felt the night air cool Upon my brow, and the cold stars look down, As swift we galloped o'er the darkling plain; And saw the chill sea glimpses slowly wake, With arms unknown around me. When the dawn Broke swift, we panted on the pathless steeps, And so by plain and mountain till we came To Athens, where they kept me till I grew Fairer with every year, and many wooed, Heroes and chieftains, but I loved not one.
And then the avengers came and snatched me back To Sparta. All the dark high-crested chiefs Of Argos wooed me, striving king with king For one fair foolish face, nor knew I kept No heart to give them. Yet since I was grown Weary of honeyed words and suit of love, I wedded a brave chief, dauntless and true. But what cared I? I could not prize at all His honest service. I had grown so tired Of loving and of love, that when they brought News that the fairest shepherd on the hills, Having done himself to death for his lost love, Lay, like a lovely statue, cold and white Upon the golden sand, I hardly knew More than a passing pang. Love, like a flower, Love, springing up too tall in a young breast, The growth of morning, Life's too scorching sun Had withered long ere noon. Love, like a flame On his own altar offering up my heart, Had burnt my being to ashes. Was it love That drew me then to Paris? He was fair, I grant you, fairer than a summer morn, Fair with a woman's fairness, yet in arms A hero, but he never had my heart, Not love for him allured me, but the thirst For freedom, if in more than thought I erred, And was not rapt but willing. For my child, Born to an unloved father, loved me not, The fresh sea called, the galleys plunged, and I Fled willing from my prison and the pain Of undesired caresses, and the wind Was fair, and on the third day as we sailed, My heart was glad within me when I saw The towers of Ilium rise beyond the wave.
Ah, the long years, the melancholy years, The miserable melancholy years! For soon the new grew old, and then I grew Weary of him, of all, of pomp and state And novel splendour. Yet at times I knew Some thrill of pride within me as I saw From those high walls, a prisoner and a foe, The swift ships flock at anchor in the bay, The hasty landing and the flash of arms, The lines of royal tents upon the plain, The close-shut gates, the chivalry within Issuing in all its pride to meet the shock Of the bold chiefs without; so year by year The haughty challenge from the warring hosts Rang forth, and I with a divided heart Saw victory incline, now here, now there, And helpless marked the Argive chiefs I knew, The spouse I left, the princely loves of old, Now with each other strive, and now with Troy: The brave pomp of the morn, the fair strong limbs, The glittering panoply, the bold young hearts, Athirst for fame of war, and with the night The broken spear, the shattered helm, the plume Dyed red with blood, the ghastly dying face, And nerveless limbs laid lifeless. And I knew The stainless Hector whom I could have loved, But that a happy love made blind his eyes To all my baleful beauty; fallen and dragged His noble, manly head upon the sand By young Achilles' chariot; him in turn Fallen and slain; my fair false Paris slain; Plague, famine, battle, raging now within, And now without, for many a weary year, Summer and winter, till I loathed to live, Who was indeed, as well they said, the Hell Of men, and fleets, and cities. As I stood Upon the walls, ofttimes a longing came, Looking on rage, and fight, and blood, and death, To end it all, and dash me down and die; But no god helped me. Nay, one day I mind I would entreat them. 'Pray you, lords, be men. What fatal charm is this which Até gives To one poor foolish face? Be strong, and turn In peace, forget this glamour, get you home With all your fleets and armies, to the land I love no longer, where your faithful wives Pine widowed of their lords, and your young boys Grow wild to manhood. I have nought to give, No heart, nor prize of love for any man, Nor recompense. I am the ghost alone Of the fair girl ye knew; she still abides, If she still lives and is not wholly dead, Stretched on a flowery bank upon the sea In fair heroic Argos. Leave this form That is no other than the outward shell Of a once loving woman.' As I spake, My pity fired my eyes and flushed my cheek With some soft charm; and as I spread my hands, The purple, glancing down a little, left The marble of my breasts and one pink bud Upon the gleaming snows. And as I looked With a mixed pride and terror, I beheld The brute rise up within them, and my words Fall barren on them. So I sat apart, Nor ever more looked forth, while every day Brought its own woe. The melancholy years, The miserable melancholy years, Crept onward till the midnight terror came, And by the glare of burning streets I saw Palace and temple reel in ruin and fall, And the long-baffled legions, bursting in By gate and bastion, blunted sword and spear With unresisted slaughter. From my tower I saw the good old king; his kindly eyes In agony, and all his reverend hairs Dabbled with blood, as the fierce foeman thrust And stabbed him as he lay; the youths, the girls, Whom day by day I knew, their silken ease And royal luxury changed for blood and tears, Haled forth to death or worse. Then a great hate Of life and fate seized on me, and I rose And rushed among them, crying, 'See, 'tis I, I who have brought this evil! Kill me! kill The fury that is I, yet is not I! And let my soul go outward through the wound Made clean by blood to Hades! Let me die, Not these who did no wrong!' But not a hand Was raised, and all shrank backward as afraid, As from a goddess. Then I swooned and fell And knew no more, and when I woke I felt My husband's arms around me, and the wind Blew fair for Greece, and the beaked galley plunged; And where the towers of Ilium rose of old, A pall of smoke above a glare of fire.
What then in the near future? Ten long years Bring youth and love to that deep summer-tide When the full noisy current of our lives Creeps dumb through wealth of flowers. I think I knew Somewhat of peace at last, with my good Lord Who loved too much, to palter with the past, Flushed with the present. Young Hermione Had grown from child to woman. She was wed; And was not I her mother? At the pomp Of solemn nuptials and requited love, I prayed she might be happy, happier far Than ever I was; so in tranquil ease I lived a queen long time, and because wealth And high observance can make sweet our days When youth's swift joy is past, I did requite With what I might, not love, the kindly care Of him I loved not; pomps and robes of price And chariots held me. But when Fate cut short His life and love, his sons who were not mine Reigned in his stead, and hated me and mine: And knowing I was friendless, I sailed forth Once more across the sea, seeking for rest And shelter. Still I knew that in my eyes Love dwelt, and all the baleful charm of old Burned as of yore, scarce dimmed as yet by time: I saw it in the mirror of the sea, I saw it in the youthful seamen's eyes, And was half proud again I had such power Who now kept nothing else. So one calm eve, Behold, a sweet fair isle blushed like a rose Upon the summer sea: there my swift ship Cast anchor, and they told me it was Rhodes.
There, in a little wood above the sea, Like that dear wood of yore, I wandered forth Forlorn, and all my seamen were apart, And I, alone; when at the close of day I knew myself surrounded by strange churls With angry eyes, and one who ordered them, A woman, whom I knew not, but who walked In mien and garb a queen. She, with the fire Of hate within her eyes, 'Quick, bind her, men! I know her; bind her fast!' Then to the trunk Of a tall plane they bound me with rude cords That cut my arms. And meantime, far below, The sun was gilding fair with dying rays Isle after isle and purple wastes of sea.
And then she signed to them, and all withdrew Among the woods and left us, face to face, Two women. Ere I spoke, 'I know,' she said, 'I know that evil fairness. This it was, Or ever he had come across my life, That made him cold to me, who had my love And left me half a heart. If all my life Of wedlock was but half a life, what fiend Came 'twixt my love and me, but that fair face? What left his children orphans, but that face? And me a widow? Fiend! I have thee now; Thou hast not long to live. I will requite Thy murders; yet, oh fiend! that art so fair, Were it not haply better to deface Thy fatal loveliness, and leave thee bare Of all thy baleful power? And yet I doubt, And looking on thy face I doubt the more, Lest all thy dower of fairness be the gift Of Aphrodité, and I fear to fight Against the immortal Gods.'
Even with the word, And she relenting, all the riddle of life Flashed through me, and the inextricable coil Of Being, and the immeasurable depths And irony of Fate, burst on my thought And left me smiling in the eyes of death, With this deep smile thou seëst. Then with a shriek The woman leapt on me, and with blind rage Strangled my life. And when she had done the deed She swooned, and those her followers hasting back Fell prone upon their knees before the corpse As to a goddess. Then one went and brought A sculptor, and within a jewelled shrine They set me in white marble, bound to a tree Of marble. And they came and knelt to me, Young men and maidens, through the secular years, While the old gods bore sway, but I was here, And now they kneel no longer, for the world Has gone from beauty. But I think, indeed, They well might worship still, for never yet Was any thought or thing of beauty born Except with suffering. That poor wretch who thought I injured her, stealing the foolish heart Which she prized but I could not, what knew she Of that I suffered? She had loved her love, Though unrequited, and had borne to him Children who loved her. What if she had been Loved yet unloving: all the fire of love Burnt out before love's time in one brief blaze Of passion. Ah, poor fool! I pity her, Being blest and yet unthankful, and forgive, Now that she is a ghost as I, the hand Which loosed my load of life. For scarce indeed Could any god who cares for mortal men Have ever kept me happy. I had tired Of simple loving, doubtless, as I tired Of splendour and being loved. There be some souls For which love is enough, content to bear From youth to age, from chesnut locks to gray, The load of common, uneventful life And penury. But I was not of these; I know not now, if it were best indeed That I had reared my simple shepherd brood, And lived and died unknown in some poor hut Among the Argive hills; or lived a queen As I did, knowing every day that dawned Some high emprise and glorious, and in death To fill the world with song. Not the same meed The gods mete out for all, or She, the dread Necessity, who rules both gods and men, Some to dishonour, some to honour moulds, To happiness some, some to unhappiness. We are what Zeus has made us, discords playing In the great music, but the harmony Is sweeter for them, and the great spheres ring In one accordant hymn. But thou, if e'er There come a daughter of thy love, oh pray To all thy gods, lest haply they should mar Her life with too great beauty!" So she ceased. The fairest woman that the poet's dream Or artist hand has fashioned. All the gloom Seemed lightened round her, and I heard the sound Of her melodious voice when all was still, And the dim twilight took her.
Next there came Two who together walked: one with a lyre Of gold, which gave no sound; the other hung Upon his breast, and closely clung to him, Spent in a tender longing. As they came, I heard her gentle voice recounting o'er Some ancient tale, and these the words she said:
"Dear voice and lyre now silent, which I heard Across yon sullen river, bringing to me All my old life, and he, the ferryman, Heard and obeyed, and the grim monster heard And fawned on you. Joyous thou cam'st and free Like a white sunbeam from the dear bright earth, Where suns shone clear, and moons beamed bright, and streams Laughed with a rippling music,--nor as here The dumb stream stole, the veiled sky slept, the fields Were lost in twilight. Like a morning breeze, Which blows in summer from the gates of dawn Across the fields of spice, and wakes to life Their slumbering perfume, through this silent land Of whispering voices and of half-closed eyes, Where scarce a footstep sounds, nor any strain Of earthly song, thou cam'st; and suddenly The pale cheeks flushed a little, the murmured words Rose to a faint, thin treble; the throng of ghosts Pacing along the sunless ways and still, Felt a new life. Thou camest, dear, and straight The dull cold river broke in sparkling foam, The pale and scentless flowers grew perfumed; last To the dim chamber, where with the sad queen I sat in gloom, and silently inwove Dead wreaths of amaranths; thy music came Laden with life, and I, who seemed to know Not life's voice only, but my own, rose up, Along the hollow pathways following The sound which brought back earth and life and love, And memory and longing. Yet I went With half-reluctant footsteps, as of one Whom passion draws, or some high fantasy, Despite himself, because some subtle spell, Part born of dread to cross that sullen stream And its grim guardians, part of secret shame Of the young airs and freshness of the earth, Being that I was, enchained me. Then at last, From voice and lyre so high a strain arose As trembled on the utter verge of being, And thrilling, poured out life. Thus closelier drawn I walked with thee, shut in by halcyon sound And soft environments of harmony, Beyond the ghostly gates, beyond the dim Calm fields, where the beetle hummed and the pale owl Stole noiseless from the copse, and the white blooms Stretched thin for lack of sun: so fair a light Born out of consonant sound environed me. Nor looked I backward, as we seemed to move To some high goal of thought and life and love, Like twin birds flying fast with equal wing Out of the night, to meet the coming sun Above a sea. But on thy dear fair eyes, The eyes that well I knew on the old earth, I looked not, for with still averted gaze Thou leddest, and I followed; for, indeed, While that high strain was sounding, I was rapt In faith and a high courage, driving out All doubt and discontent and womanish fear, Nay, even my love itself. But when awhile It sank a little, or seemed to sink and fall To lower levels, seeing that use makes blunt The too accustomed ear, straightway, desire To look once more on thy recovered eyes Seized me, and oft I called with piteous voice, Beseeching thee to turn. But thou long time Wert even as one unmindful, with grave sign And waving hand, denying. Finally, When now we neared the stream, on whose far shore Lay life, great terror took me, and I shrieked Thy name, as in despair. Then thou, as one Who knows him set in some great jeopardy, A swift death fronting him on either hand, Didst slowly turning gaze; and lo! I saw Thine eyes grown awful, life that looked on death, Clear purity on dark and cankered sin, The immortal on corruption,--not the eyes That erst I knew in life, but dreadfuller, And stranger. As I looked, I seemed to swoon, Some blind force whirled me back, and when I woke I saw thee vanish in the middle stream, A speck on the dull waters, taking with thee My life, and leaving Love with me. But I Not for myself bewail, but all for thee, Who, but for me, wert now among the stars With thy great Lord; I sitting at thy feet: But now the fierce and unrestrainèd rout Of passions woman-natured, finding thee Scornful of love within thy lonely cell, With blind rage falling on thee, tore thy limbs, And left them to the Muses' sepulture, While thy soul dwells in Hades. But I wail My weakness always, who for Love destroyed The life that was my Love. I prithee, dear, Forgive me if thou canst, who hast lost heaven To save a loving woman." He with voice Sweeter than any mortal melody, And plaintive as the music that is made By the Æolian strings, or the sad bird That sings of summer nights: "Eurydice, Dear love, be comforted; not once alone That which thou mournest is, but day by day Some lonely soul, which walks apart and feeds On high hill pastures, far from herds of men, Comes to the low fat fields, and sunny vales Joyous with fruits and flowers, and the white arms Of laughing love; and there awhile he stays Content, forgetting all the joys he knew, When first the morning broke upon the hills, And the keen air breathed from the Eastern gates Like a pure draught of wine; forgetting all The strains which float, as from a nearer heaven, To him who treads at dawn the untrodden snows, While all the warm world sleeps;--forgetting these And all things that have been. And if he gain To raise to his own heights the simpler souls That dwell upon the plains, the untutored thought, The museless lives, the unawakened brain That yet might soar, then is he blest indeed. But if he fail, then, leaving love behind, The wider love of the race, the closer love Of some congenial soul, he turns again To the old difficult steeps, and there alone Pines, till the widowed passions of his heart Tear him and rend his soul, and drive him down To the low plains he left. And there he dwells, Missing the heavens, dear, and the white peaks, And the light air of old; but in their stead Finding the soft sweet sun of the vale, the clouds Which veil the skies indeed, but give the rains That feed the streams of life and make earth green, And bring at last the harvest. So I walk In this dim land content with thee, O Love, Untouched by any yearning of regret For those old days; nor that the lyre which made Erewhile such potent music now is dumb; Nor that the voice that once could move the earth (Zeus speaking through it), speaks in household words Of homely love: Love is enough for me With thee, O dearest; and perchance at last, Zeus willing, this dumb lyre and whispered voice Shall wake, by Love inspired, to such clear note As soars above the stars, and swelling, lifts Our souls to highest heaven." Then he stooped, And, folded in one long embrace, they went And faded. And I cried, "Oh, strong God, Love, Mightier than Death and Hell!"
And then I chanced On a fair woman, whose sad eyes were full Of a fixed self-reproach, like his who knows Himself the fountain of his grief, and pines In self-inflicted sorrow. As I spake Enquiring of her grief, she answered thus:
"Stranger, thou seest of all the shades below The most unhappy. Others sought their love In death, and found it, dying; but for me The death that took me, took from me my love, And left me comfortless. No load I bear Like those dark wicked women, who have slain Their Lords for lust or anger, whom the dread Propitious Ones within the pit below Punish and purge of sin; only unfaith, If haply want of faith be not a crime Blacker than murder, when we fail to trust One worthy of all faith, and folly bring No harder recompense than comes of scorn And loathing of itself. Ah, fool, fool, fool, Who didst mistrust thy love, who was the best, And truest, manliest soul with whom the gods Have ever blest the earth; so brave, so strong, Fired with such burning hate of powerful ill, So loving of the race, so swift to raise The fearless arm and mighty club, and smite All monstrous growths with ruin--Zeus himself Showed scarce more mighty--and yet was the while A very man, not cast in mould too fine For human love, but ofttimes snared and caught By womanish wiles, fast held within the net His passions wove. Oh, it was grand to hear Of how he went, the champion of his race, Mighty in war, mighty in love, now bent To more than human tasks, now lapt in ease, Now suffering, now enjoying. Strong, vast soul, Tuned to heroic deeds, and set on high Above the range of common petty sins-- Too high to mate with an unequal soul, Too full of striving for contented days.
Ah me, how well I do recall the cause Of all our ills! I was a happy bride When that dark Até which pursues the steps Of heroes--innocent blood-guiltiness-- Drove us to exile, and I joyed to be His own, and share his pain. To a swift stream Fleeing we came, where a rough ferryman Waited, more brute than man. My hero plunged In those fierce depths and battled with their flow, And with great labour gained the strand, and bade The monster row me to him. But with lust And brutal cunning in his eyes, the thing Seized me and turned to fly with me, when swift An arrow hissed from the unerring bow, Pierced him, and loosed his grasp. Then as his eyes Grew glazed in death there came in them a gleam Of what I know was hate, and he said, 'Take This white robe. It is costly. See, my blood Has stained it but a little. I did wrong: I know it, and repent me. If there come A time when he grows cold--for all the race Of heroes wander, nor can any love Fix theirs for long--take it and wrap him in it, And he shall love again.' Then, from the strange Deep look within his eyes I shrank in fear, And left him half in pity, and I went To meet my Lord, who rose from that fierce stream Fair as a god. Ah me, the weary days We women live, spending our anxious souls, Consumed with jealous fancies, hungering still For the belovèd voice and ear and eye, And hungering all in vain! For life is more To youthful manhood than to sit at home Before the hearth to watch the children's ways And lead the life of petty household care Which doth content us women. Day by day I pined in Trachis for my love, while he, Now in some warlike exploit busied, now Fighting some monster, now at some fair court, Resting awhile till some new enterprise Called him, returned not. News of treacheries Avenged, friends succoured, dreadful monsters slain, Came from him: always triumph, always fame, And honour, and success, and reverence, And sometimes, words of love for me who pined For more than words, and would have gone to him But that the toils of such high errantry Asked more than woman's strength. So the slow years Vexed me alone in Trachis, set forlorn In solitude, nor hearing at the gate The frank and cheering voice, nor on the stair The heavy tread, nor feeling the strong arm Around me in the darkling night, when all My being ran slow. Last, subtle whispers came Of womanish wiles which kept my Lord from me, And one who, young and fair, a fresh-blown life And virgin, younger, fairer far than I When first he loved me, held him in the toils Of scarce dissembled love. Not easily Might I believe this evil, but at last The oft-repeated malice finding me Forlorn, and sitting imp-like at my ear, Possessed me, and the fire of jealous love Raged through my veins, not turned as yet to hate-- Too well I loved for that--but breeding in me Unfaith in him. Love, setting him so high And self so low, betrayed me, and I prayed, Constrained to hold him false, the immortal gods To make him love again. But still he came not. And still the maddening rumours worked, and still 'Fair, young, and a king's daughter,' the same words Smote me and pierced me. Oh, there is no pain In Hades--nay, nor deepest Hell itself, Like that of jealous hearts, the torture-pain Which racked my life so long. Till one fair morn There came a joyful message. 'He has come! And at the shrine upon the promontory, The fair white shrine upon the purple sea, He waits to do his solemn sacrifice To the immortal gods; and with him comes A young maid beautiful as Dawn.' Then I, Mingling despair with love, rapt in deep joy That he was come, plunged in the depths of hell That she came too, bethought me of the robe The Centaur gave me, and the words he spake, Forgetting the deep hatred in his eyes, And all but love, and sent a messenger Bidding him wear it for the sacrifice To the immortals, knowing not at all Whom Fate decreed the victim. Shall my soul Forget the agonized message which he sent, Bidding me come? For that accursèd robe, Stained with the poisonous accursèd blood, Even in the midmost flush of sacrifice Clung to him a devouring fire, and ate The piteous flesh from his dear limbs, and stung His great soft soul to madness. When I came, Knowing it was my work, he bent on me, Wise as a god through suffering and the near Inevitable Death, so that no word Of mine was needed, such a tender look Of mild reproach as smote me. 'Couldst not thou Trust me, who never loved as I love thee? What need was there of magical arts to draw The love that never wavered? I have lived As he lives who through perilous paths must pass, And lifelong trials, striving to keep down The brute within him, born of too much strength And sloth and vacuous days; by difficult toils, Labours endured, and hard-fought fights with ill, Now vanquished, now triumphant; and sometimes, In intervals of too long labour, finding His nature grown too strong for him, falls prone Awhile a helpless prey, then once again Rises and spurns his chains, and fares anew Along the perilous ways. Dearest, I would That thou wert wedded to some knight who stayed At home within thy gates, and were content To see thee happy. But for me the fierce Rude energies of life, the mighty thews, The god-sent hate of Wrong, these drove me forth To quench the thirst of battle. See, this maid, This is the bride I destined for our son Who grows to manhood. Do thou see to her When I am dead, for soon I know again The frenzy comes, and with it ceasing, death. Go, therefore, ere I harm thee when my strength Has lost its guidance. Thou wert rich in love, Be now as rich in faith. Dear, for thy wrong I do forgive thee.' When I saw the glare Of madness fire his eyes, and my ears heard The groans the torture wrung from his great soul, I fled with broken heart to the white shrine, And knelt in prayer, but still my sad ear took The agony of his cries. Then I who knew There was no hope in god or man for me Who had destroyed my Love, and with him slain The champion of the suffering race of men, And knowing that my soul, though innocent Of blood, was guilty of unfaith and vile Mistrust, and wrapt in weakness like a cloak, And made the innocent tool of hate and wrong, Against all love and good; grown sick and filled With hatred of myself, rose from my knees, And went a little space apart, and found A gnarled tree on the cliff, and with my scarf Strangling myself, swung lifeless. But in death I found him not. For, building a vast pile Of scented woods on Oeta, as they tell, My hero with his own hand lighted it, And when the mighty pyre flamed far and wide Over all lands and seas, he climbed on it And laid him down to die; but pitying Zeus, Before the swift flames reached him, in a cloud Descending, snatched the strong brave soul to heaven, And set him mid the stars. Wherefore am I Of all the blameless shades within this place The most unhappy, if of blame, indeed, I bear no load. For what is Sin itself, But Error when we miss the road which leads Up to the gate of heaven? Ignorance! What if we be the cause of ignorance? Being blind who might have seen! Yet do I know But self-inflicted pain, nor stain there is Upon my soul such as they bear who know The dreadful scourge with which the stern judge still Lashes their sins. I am forgiven, I know, Who loved so much, and one day, if Zeus will, I shall go free from hence, and join my Lord, And be with him again." And straight I seemed, Passing, to look upon some scarce-spent life, Which knows to-day the irony of Fate In self-inflicted pain.
Together clung The ghosts whom next I saw, bound three in one By some invisible bond. A sire of port God-like as Zeus, to whom on either hand A tender stripling clung. I knew them well, As all men know them. One fair youth spake low: "Father, it does not pain me now, to be Drawn close to thee, and by a double bond, With this my brother." And the other: "Nay, Nor me, O father; but I bless the chain Which binds our souls in union. If some trace Of pain still linger, heed it not--'tis past: Still let us cling to thee." He with grave eyes Full of great tenderness, upon his sons Looked with the father's gaze, that is so far More sweet, and sad, and tender, than the gaze Of mothers,--now on this one, now on that, Regarding them. "Dear sons, whom on the earth I loved and cherished, it was hard to watch Your pain; but now 'tis finished, and we stand For ever, through all future days of time, Symbols of patient suffering undeserved, Endured and vanquished. Yet sad memory still Brings back our time of trial. For the day Broke fair when I, the dread Poseidon's priest, Joyous because the unholy strife was done, And seeing the blue waters now left free Of hostile keels--save where upon the verge Far off the white sails faded--rose at dawn, And white robed, and in garb of sacrifice, And with the sacred fillet round my brows, Stood at the altar; and behind, ye twain, Decked by your mother's hand with new-cleansed robes, And with fresh flower-wreathed chaplets on your curls, Attended, and your clear young voices made Music that touched your father's eyes with tears, If not the careless gods. I seem to hear Those high sweet accents mounting in the hymn Which rose to all the blessed gods who dwelt Upon the far Olympus--Zeus, the Lord, And Sovereign Heré, and the immortal choir Of Deities, but chiefly to the dread Poseidon, him who sways the purple sea As with a sceptre, shaking the fixed earth With stress of thundering surges. By the shrine The meek-eyed victim, for the sacrifice, Stood with his gilded horns. The hymns were done, And I in act to strike, when all the crowd Who knelt behind us, with a common fear Cried, with a cry that well might freeze the blood, And then, with fearful glances towards the sea, Fled, leaving us alone--me, the high priest, And ye, the acolytes; forlorn of men, Alone, but with our god. But we stirred not: We could not flee, who in the solemn act Of worship, and the ecstasy which comes To the believer's soul, saw heaven revealed, The mysteries unveiled, the inner sky Which meets the enraptured gaze. How should we fear Who thus were god-encircled! So we stood While the long ritual spent itself, nor cast An eye upon the sea. Till as I came To that great act which offers up a life Before life's Lord, and the full mystery Was trembling to completion, quick I heard A stifled cry of agony, and knew My children's voices. And the father's heart, Which is far more than rite or service done By man for god, seeing that it is divine And comes from God to men--this rising in me, Constrained me, and I ceased my prayer, and turned To succour you, and lo! the awful coils Which crushed your lives already, bound me round And crushed me also, as you clung to me, In common death. Some god had heard the prayer, And lo! we were ourselves the sacrifice-- The priest, the victim, the accepted life, The blood, the pain, the salutary loss.
Was it not better thus to cease and die Together in one blest moment, mid the flush And ecstasy of worship, and to know Ourselves the victims? They were wrong who taught That 'twas some jealous goddess who destroyed Our lives, revengeful for discovered wiles, Or hateful of our land. Not readily Should such base passions sway the immortal gods; But rather do I hold it sooth indeed That Zeus himself it was, who pitying The ruin he foreknew, yet might not stay, Since mightier Fate decreed it, sent in haste Those dreadful messengers, and bade them take The pious lives he loved, before the din Of midnight slaughter woke, and the fair town Flamed pitifully to the skies, and all Was blood and ruin. Surely it was best To die as we did, and in death to live, A vision for all ages of high pain Which passes into beauty, and is merged In one accordant whole, as discords merge In that great Harmony which ceaseless rings From the tense chords of life, than to have lived Our separate lives, and died our separate deaths, And left no greater mark than drops which rain Upon the unbounded sea. Those hosts which fell Before the Scæan gate upon the sand, Nor found a bard to sing their fate, but left Their bones to dogs and kites--were they more blest Than we who, in the people's sight before Ilium's unshattered towers, lay down to die Our swift miraculous death? Dear sons, and good, Dear children of my love, how doubly dear For this our common sorrow; suffering weaves Not only chains of darkness round, but binds A golden glittering link, which though withdrawn Or felt no longer, knits us soul to soul, In indissoluble bonds, and draws our lives So close, that though the individual life Be merged, there springs a common life which grows To such dread beauty, as has power to take The sting from sorrow, and transform the pain Into transcendent joy: as from the storm The unearthly rainbow draws its myriad hues And steeps the world in fairness. All our lives Are notes that fade and sink, and so are merged In the full harmony of Being. Dear sons, Cling closer to me. Life nor Death has torn Our lives asunder, as for some, but drawn Their separate strands together in a knot Closer than Life itself, stronger than Death, Insoluble as Fate." Then they three clung Together--the strong father and young sons, And in their loving eyes I saw the Pain Fade into Joy, Suffering in Beauty lost, And Death in Love!
By a still sullen pool, Into its dark depths gazing, lay the ghost Whom next I passed. In form, a lovely youth, Scarce passed from boyhood. Golden curls were his, And wide blue eyes. The semblance of a smile Came on his lip--a girl's but for the down Which hardly shaded it; but the pale cheek Was soft as any maiden's, and his robe Was virginal, and at his breast he bore The perfumed amber cup which, when March comes Gems the dry woods and windy wolds, and speaks The resurrection. Looking up, he said: "Methought I saw her then, my love, my fair, My beauty, my ideal; the dim clouds Lifted, methought, a little--or was it Fond Fancy only? For I know that here No sunbeam cleaves the twilight, but a mist Creeps over all the sky and fields and pools, And blots them; and I know I seek in vain My earth-sought beauty, nor can Fancy bring An answer to my thought from these blind depths And unawakened skies. Yet has use made The quest so precious, that I keep it here, Well knowing it is vain. On the old earth 'Twas otherwise, when in fair Thessaly I walked regardless of all nymphs who sought My love, but sought in vain, whether it were Dryad or Naiad from the woods or streams, Or white-robed Oread fleeting on the side Of fair Olympus, echoing back my sighs, In vain, for through the mountains day by day I wandered, and along the foaming brooks, And by the pine-woods dry, and never took A thought for love, nor ever 'mid the throng Of loving nymphs who knew me beautiful I dallied, unregarding; till they said Some died for love of me, who loved not one. And yet I cared not, wandering still alone Amid the mountains by the scented pines.
Till one fair day, when all the hills were still, Nor any breeze made murmur through the boughs, Nor cloud was on the heavens, I wandered slow, Leaving the nymphs who fain with dance and song Had kept me 'midst the glades, and strayed away Among the pines, enwrapt in fantasy, And by the beechen dells which clothe the feet Of fair Olympus, wrapt in fantasy, Weaving the thin and unembodied shapes Which Fancy loves to body forth, and leave In marble or in song; and so strayed down To a low sheltered vale above the plains, Where the lush grass grew thick, and the stream stayed Its garrulous tongue; and last upon the bank Of a still pool I came, where was no flow Of water, but the depths were clear as air, And nothing but the silvery gleaming side Of tiny fishes stirred. There lay I down Upon the flowery bank, and scanned the deep, Half in a waking dream. Then swift there rose, From those enchanted depths, a face more fair Than ever I had dreamt of, and I knew My sweet long-sought ideal: the thick curls, Like these, were golden, and the white robe showed Like this; but for the wondrous eyes and lips, The tender loving glance, the sunny smile Upon the rosy mouth, these knew I not, Not even in dreams; and yet I seemed to trace Myself within them too, as who should find His former self expunged, and him transformed To some high thin ideal, separate From what he was, by some invisible bar, And yet the same in difference. As I moved My arms to clasp her to me, lo! she moved Her eager arms to mine, smiled to my smile, Looked love to love, and answered longing eyes With longing. When my full heart burst in words, 'Dearest, I love thee,' lo! the lovely lips, 'Dearest, I love thee,' sighed, and through the air The love-lorn echo rang. But when I longed To answer kiss with kiss, and stooped my lips To her sweet lips in that long thrill which strains Soul unto soul, the cold lymph came between And chilled our love, and kept us separate souls Which fain would mingle, and the self-same heaven Rose, a blue vault above us, and no shade Of earthly thing obscured us, as we lay Two reflex souls, one and yet different, Two sundered souls longing to be at one.
There, all day long, until the light was gone And took my love away, I lay and loved The image, and when night was come, 'Farewell,' I whispered, and she whispered back, 'Farewell,' With oh, such yearning! Many a day we spent By that clear pool together all day long. And many a clouded hour on the wet grass I lay beneath the rain, and saw her not, And sickened for her; and sometimes the pool Was thick with flood, and hid her; and sometimes Some cold wind ruffled those clear wells, and left But glimpses of her, and I rose at eve Unsatisfied, a cold chill in my limbs And fever at my heart: until, too soon! The summer faded, and the skies were hid, And my love came not, but a quenchless thirst Wasted my life. And all the winter long The bright sun shone not, or the thick ribbed ice Obscured her, and I pined for her, and knew My life ebb from me, till I grew too weak To seek her, fearing I should see no more My dear. And so the long dead winter waned And the slow spring came back. And one blithe day, When life was in the woods, and the birds sang, And soft airs fanned the hills, I knew again Some gleam of hope within me, and again With feeble limbs crawled forth, and felt the spring Blossom within me; and the flower-starred glades, The bursting trees, the building nests, the songs, The hurry of life revived me; and I crept, Ghost-like, amid the joy, until I flung My panting frame, and weary nerveless limbs, Down by the cold still pool. And lo! I saw My love once more, not beauteous as of old, But oh, how changed! the fair young cheek grown pale, The great eyes, larger than of yore, gaze forth With a sad yearning look; and a great pain And pity took me which were more than love, And with a loud and wailing voice I cried, 'Dearest, I come again. I pine for thee,' And swift she answered back, 'I pine for thee;' 'Come to me, oh, my own,' I cried, and she-- 'Come to me, oh, my own.' Then with a cry Of love I joined myself to her, and plunged Beneath the icy surface with a kiss, And fainted, and am here. And now, indeed, I know not if it was myself I sought, As some tell, or another. For I hold That what we seek is but our other self, Other and higher, neither wholly like Nor wholly different, the half-life the gods Retained when half was given--one the man And one the woman; and I longed to round The imperfect essence by its complement, For only thus the perfect life stands forth Whole, self-sufficing. Worse it is to live Ill-mated than imperfect, and to move From a false centre, not a perfect sphere, But with a crooked bias sent oblique Athwart life's furrows. 'Twas myself, indeed, Thus only that I sought, that lovers use To see in that they love, not that which is, But that their fancy feigns, and view themselves Reflected in their love, yet glorified, And finer and more pure. Wherefore it is: All love which finds its own ideal mate Is happy--happy that which gives itself Unto itself, and keeps, through long calm years, The tranquil image in its eyes, and knows Fulfilment and is blest, and day by day Wears love like a white flower, nor holds it less Though sharp winds bite, or hot suns fade, or age Sully its perfect whiteness, but inhales Its fragrance, and is glad. But happier still He who long seeks a high goal unattained, And wearies for it all his days, nor knows Possession sate his thirst, but still pursues The fleeting loveliness--now seen, now lost, But evermore grown fairer, till at last He stretches forth his arms and takes the fair In one long rapture, and its name is Death."
Thus he; and seeing me stand grave: "Farewell. If ever thou shouldst happen on a wood In Thessaly, upon the plain-ward spurs Of fair Olympus, take the path which winds Through the close vale, and thou shalt see the pool Where once I found my life. And if in Spring Thou go there, round the margin thou shalt know These amber blooms bend meekly, smiling down Upon the crystal surface. Pluck them not. But kneel a little while, and breathe a prayer To the fair god of Love, and let them be. For in those tender flowers is hid the life That once was mine. All things are bound in one In earth and heaven, nor is there any gulf 'Twixt things that live,--the flower that was a life, The life that is a flower,--but one sure chain Binds all, as now I know. If there are still Fair Oreads on the hills, say to them, sir, They must no longer pine for me, but find Some worthier lover, who can love again; For I have found my love." And to the pool He turned, and gazed with lovely eyes, and showed Fair as an angel.
Leaving him enwrapt In musings, to a gloomy pass I came Between dark rocks, where scarce a gleam of light, Not even the niggard light of that dim land, Might enter; and the soil was black and bare, Nor even the thin growths which scarcely clothed The higher fields might live. Hard by a cave Which sloped down steeply to the lowest depths, Whence dreadful sounds ascended, seated still, Her head upon her hands, I saw a maid With eyes fixed on the ground--not Tartarus It was, but Hades; and she knew no pain, Except her painful thought. Yet there it seemed, As here, the unequal measure which awaits The adjustment, and meanwhile, inspires the strife Which rears life's palace walls; and fills the sail Which bears our bark across unfathomed seas, To its last harbour; this bore sway there too, And 'twas a luckless shade which sat and wept Amid the gloom, though blameless. Suddenly, She raised her head, and lo! the long curls, writhed Tangled, and snake-like--as the dripping hair Of a dead girl who freed from life and shame, From out the cruel wintry flow, is laid Stark on the snow with dreadful staring eyes Like hers. For when she raised her eyes to mine, They chilled my blood, so great a woe they bore; And as she gazed, wide-eyed, I knew my pulse Beat slow, and my limbs stiffen. Then they wore, At length, a softer look, and life revived Within my breast as thus she softly spoke:
"Nay, friend, I would not harm thee. I have known Great sorrow, and sometimes it racks me still, And turns me into stone, and makes my eyes As dreadful as of yore; and yet it comes But seldom, as thou sawest, now, for Time And Death have healing hands. Only I love To sit within the darkness here, nor face The throng of happier ghosts; if any ghost Of happiness come here. For on the earth They wronged me bitterly, and turned to stone My heart, till scarce I knew if e'er I was The happy girl of yore. That youth who dreams Up yonder by the margin of the lake, Knew but a cold ideal love, but me Love in unearthly guise, but bodily form, Seized and betrayed. I was a priestess once, Of stern Athené, doing day by day Due worship; raising, every dawn that came, My cold pure hymns to take her virgin ear; Nor sporting with the joyous company Of youths and maids, who at the neighbouring shrine Of Aphrodité served. Nor dance nor song Allured me, nor the pleasant days of youth And twilights 'mid the vines. They held me cold Who were my friends in childhood. For my soul Was virginal, and at the virgin shrine I knelt, athirst for knowledge. Day by day The long cold ritual sped, the liturgies Were done, the barren hymns of praise went up Before the goddess, and the ecstasy Of faith possessed me wholly, till almost I knew not I was woman. Yet I knew That I was fair to see, and fit to share Some natural honest love, and bear the load Of children like the rest; only my soul Was lost in higher yearnings. Like a god, He burst upon those pallid lifeless days, Bringing fresh airs and salt, as from the sea, And wrecked my life. How should a virgin know Deceit, who never at the joyous shrine Of Cypris knelt, but ever lived apart, And so grew guilty? For if I had spent My days among the throng, either my fault Were blameless, or undone. For innocence The tempter spreads his net. For innocence The gods keep all their terrors. Innocence It is that bears the burden, which for guilt Is lightened, and the spoiler goes his way, Uncaring, joyous, leaving her alone, The victim and unfriended. Was it just In her, my mistress, who had had my youth, To wreak such vengeance on me? I had erred, It may be; but on him, whose was the guilt, No heaven-sent vengeance lighted, but he sped Away to other hearts across the deep, Careless and free; but me, the cold stern eyes Of the pure goddess withered; and the scorn Of maids, despised before, and the great blank Of love, whose love was gone--this wrung my heart, And froze my blood; set on my brow despair, And turned my gaze to stone, and filled my eyes With horror, and stiffened the soft curls which once Lay smooth and fair into such snake-like rings As made my aspect fearful. All who saw, Shrank from me and grew cold, and felt the warm, Full tide of life freeze in them, seeing in me Love's work, who sat wrapt up and lost in shame, As in a cloak, consuming my own heart, And was in hell already. As they gazed Upon me, my despair looked forth so cold From out my eyes, that if some spoiler came Fresh from his wickedness, and looked on them, Their glare would strike him dead; and those fair curls Which once the accursèd toyed with, grew to be The poisonous things thou seest; and so, with hate Of man's injustice and the gods', who knew Me blameless, and yet punished me; and sick Of life and love, and loathing earth and sky, And feeding on my sorrow, Hate at last Left me a Fury. Ah, the load of life Which lives for hatred! We are made to love-- We women, and the injury which turns The honey of our lives to gall, transforms The angel to the fiend. For it is sweet To know the dreadful sense of strength, and smite And leave the tyrant dead with a glance; ay! sweet, In that fierce lust of power, to slay the life Which harmed not, when the suppliants' cry ascends To ears which hate has deafened. So I lived Long time in misery; to my sleepless eyes No healing slumbers coming; but at length, Zeus and the goddess pitying, I knew Soft rest once more veiling my dreadful gaze In peaceful slumbers. Then a blessed dream I dreamt. For, lo! a god-like knight in mail Of gold, who sheared with his keen flashing blade; With scarce a pang of pain, the visage cold Which too great sorrow left me; at one stroke Clean from the trunk, and then o'er land and sea, Invisible, sped with winged heels, to where, Upon a sea-worn cape, a fair young maid, More blameless even than I was, chained and bound, Waited a monster from the deep and stood In innocent nakedness. Then, as he rose, Loathsome, from out the depths, a monstrous growth, A creature wholly serpent, partly man, The wrongs that I had known, stronger than death, Rose up with such black hate in me again, And wreathed such hissing poison through my hair, And shot such deadly glances from my eyes, That nought that saw might live. And the vile worm Was slain, and she delivered. Then I dreamt My mistress, whom I thought so stern to me, Athené, set those dreadful staring eyes, And that despairing visage, on her shield Of chastity, and bears it evermore To fright the waverer from the wrong he would, And strike the unrepenting spoiler, dead."
Then for a little paused she, while I saw Again her eyes grown dreadful, till once more, And with a softer glance: "From that blest dream I woke not on the earth, but only here. And now my pain is lightened since I know My dream, which was a dream within the dream Which is our life, fulfilled. And I have saved Another through my suffering, and through her A people. Oh, strange chain of sacrifice, That binds an innocent life, and from its blood And sorrow works out joy! Oh, mystery Of pain and evil! wrong grown salutary, And mighty to redeem! If thou shouldst see A woman on the earth, who pays to-day Like penalty of sin, and the new gods (For after Saturn, Zeus ruled; after him It may be there are others) love to take The tender heart of girlhood, and to immure Within a cold and cloistered cell the life Which nature meant to bless, and if Love come Hold her accursèd; or to some poor maid, Forlorn and trusting, still the tempter comes And works his wrong, and leaves her in despair And shame and all abhorrence, while he goes His way unpunished,--if thou know her eyes Freeze thee like mine--oh! bid her lose her pain In succouring others--say to her that Time And Death have healing hands, and here there comes To the forgiven transgressor only pain Enough to chasten joy!" And a soft tear Trembled within her eyes, and her sweet gaze Was as the Magdalen's, the horror gone And a great radiance come.
Then as I passed To upper air, I saw two figures rise Together, one a woman with a grave Fair face not all unhappy, and the robes And presence of a queen; and with her walked The fairest youth that ever maiden's dream Conceived. And as they came, the throng of ghosts, For these who were not wholly ghosts, arose, And did them homage. Not the chain of love Bound them, but such calm kinship as is bred Of long and difficult pilgrimages borne Through common perils by two souls which share A common weary exile. Nor as ghosts These showed, but rather like two lives which hung Suspended in a trance. A halo of life Played round them, and they brought a sweet brisk air Tasting of earth and heaven, like sojourners Who stayed but for awhile, and knew a swift Release await them. First the youth it was Who spake thus as they passed: "Dread Queen, once more I feel life stir within me, and my blood Run faster, while a new strange cycle turns And grows completed. Soon on the dear earth Under the lively light of fuller day, I shall revive me of my wound; and thou, Passing with me yon cold and lifeless stream, And the grim monster who will fawn on thee, Shalt issue in royal pomp, and wreathed with flowers, Upon the cheerful earth, leaving behind A deeper winter for the ghosts who dwell Within these sunless haunts; and I shall lie Once more within loved arms, and thou shalt see Thy early home, and kiss thy mother's cheek, And be a girl again. But not for long; For ere the bounteous Autumn spreads her hues Of gold and purple, a cold voice will call And bring us to these wintry lands once more, As erst so often. Blest are we, indeed, Above the rest, and yet I would I knew The careless joys of old. For in hot youth, Oh, it was sweet to greet the balmy night That was love's nurse, and feel the weary eyes Closed by soft kisses,--sweet at early dawn To wake refreshed and, scarce from loving arms Leaping, to issue forth, with winding horn, By dewy heath and brake, and taste the fair Young breath of early morning; and 'twas sweet To chase the bounding quarry all day long With my true hounds and rapid steed, and gay Companions of my youth, and with the eve To turn home laden with the spoil, and take The banquet which awaited, and sweet wine Poured out, and kisses pressed on loving lips; Circled by snowy arms. Oh, it was sweet To be alive and young! For sure it is The gods gave not quick pulses and hot blood And strength and beauty for no end, but would That we should use them wisely; and the fair, Sweet mistress of my service was, indeed, Worthy of all observance. Oh, her eyes When I lay bleeding! All day long we rode, I and my youthful peers, with horse and hound, And knew the joy of swift pursuit and toil And peril. At the last, a fierce boar turned At bay, and with his gleaming tusks o'erthrew My steed, and as I fell upon the flowers, Pierced me as with a sword. Then, as I lay, I knew the strange slow chill which, stealing, tells The young that it is death. Yet knew I not Of pain or fear, only great pity, indeed, That she should lose her love, who was so fond And gracious. But when, lifting my dim gaze, I saw her bend o'er me,--the lovely eyes Suffused with tears, and her sweet smile replaced By agonized sorrow,--for a while I stayed Life's ebbing tide, and raised my cold, white lips, With a faint smile, to hers. Then, with a kiss-- One long last kiss, we mingled, and I knew No more. But even in death, so strong is Love, I could not wholly die; and year by year, When the bright springtime comes, and the earth lives, Love opens these dread gates, and calls me forth Across the gulf. Not here, indeed, she comes, Being a goddess and in heaven, but smooths My path to the old earth, where still I know Once more the sweet lost days, and once again Blossom on that soft breast, and am again A youth, and rapt in love; and yet not all As careless as of yore; but seem to know The early spring of passion, tamed by time And suffering, to a calmer, fuller flow, Less fitful, but more strong." Then the sad Queen "Fair youth, thy lot I know, for I am old As the old earth and yet as young as is The budding spring, and I was here a Queen, When Love was not or Time, and to my arms Thou camest as a little child, to dwell Within the halls of Death, for without Death There were nor Birth nor Love, nor would Life yearn To lose itself within another life, And dying, to be born. I, too, have died For love in part, and live again through love; For in the far-off years, when Time was young, And Love unborn on earth, and Zeus in heaven Ruled, a young sovereign; I, a maiden, dwelt With dread Demeter on the lovely plains Of sunny Sicily. There, day by day, I sported with the maiden goddesses, In virgin freedom. Budding age made gay Our lightsome feet, and on the flowery slopes We wandered daily, gathering flowers to weave In careless garlands for our locks, and passed The days in innocent gladness. Thought of Love There came not to us, for as yet the earth Was virginal, nor yet had Eros come With his delicious pain. And one fair morn-- Not all the ages blot it--on the side Of Ætna we were straying. There was then Summer nor winter, springtide nor the time Of harvest, but the soft unfailing sun Shone always, and the sowing time was one With reaping; fruit and flower together sprung Upon the trees; and blade and ripened ear Together clothed the plains. There, as I strayed, Sudden a black cloud down the rugged side Of Ætna, mixed with fire and dreadful sound Of thunder, rolled around me, and I heard The maids who were my fellows turn and flee With shrieks and cries for me. But I, I knew No terror while the god o'ershadowed me, Hiding my life in his, nor when I wept My flowers all withered, and my blood ran slow Within a wintry land. Some voice there was Which said, 'Fear not. Thou shalt return and see Thy mother again, only a little while Fate wills that thou shouldst tarry, and become Queen of another world. Thou seest that all Thy flowers are faded. They shall live again On earth, as thou shalt, as thou livest now The Life of Death--for what is Death but Life Suspended as in sleep? The changeless rule Where life was constant, and the sun o'erhead, Blazed forth for ever, changes and is hidden Awhile. This region which thou seest, where all The trees are lifeless, and the flowers are dead, Is but the self-same earth on which erewhile Thou sportedst fancy free.' So, without fear I wandered on this bare land, seeing far Upon the sky the peaks of my own hills And crests of my own woods. Till, when I grew Hungered, ere yet another form I saw; Along the silent alleys journeying, And leafless groves; a fair and mystic tree Rose like a heart in shape, and 'mid its leaves One golden mystic fruit with a fair seed Hid in it. This, with childish hand, I took And ate, and straight I knew the tree was Life, And the fruit Death, and the hid seed was Love.
Ah, sweet strange fruit! the which if any taste They may no longer keep their lives of old Or their own selves unchanged, but some weird change And subtle alchemy comes which can transmute The blood, and mould the spirits of gods and men In some new magical form. Not as before, Our life comes to us, though the passion cools, No, never as before. My mother came Too late to seek me. She had power to raise A life from out Death's grasp, but from the arms Of Love she might not take me, nor undo Love's past for all her strength. She came and sought With fires her daughter over land and sea, Beyond the paths of all the setting stars, In vain, and over all the earth in vain, Seeking whom love disguised. Then on all lands She cast the spell of barrenness; the wheat Was blighted in the ear, the purple grapes Blushed no more on the vines, and all the gods Were sorrowful, seeing the load of ill My rape had laid on men. Last, Zeus himself, Pitying the evil that was done, sent forth His messenger beyond the western rim To fetch me back to earth. But not the same He found me who had eaten of Love's seed, But changed into another; nor could his power Prevail to keep me wholly on the earth, Or make me maid again. The wintry life Is homelier often than the summer blaze Of happiness unclouded; so, when Spring Comes on the world, I, coming, cross with thee, Year after year, the cruel icy stream; And leave this anxious sceptre and the shades Of those in hell, or those for whom, though blest, No Spring comes, till the last great Spring which brings New heavens and new earth; and lay my head Upon my mother's bosom, and grow young, And am a girl again. A soft air breathes Across the stream and fills these barren fields With the sweet odours of the earth. I know Again the perfume of the violets Which bloom on Ætna's side. Soon we shall pass Together to our home, while round our feet The crocus flames like gold, the wind-flowers white Wave their soft petals on the breeze, and all The choir of flowers lift up their silent song To the unclouded heavens. Thou, fair boy, Shalt lie within thy love's white arms again, And I within my mother's. Sweet is Love In ceasing and renewal; nay, in these It lives and has its being. Thou couldst not keep Thy youth as now, if always on the breast Of love too late a lingerer thou hadst known Possession sate thee. Nor might I have kept My mother's heart, if I had lived to ripe And wither on the stalk. Time calls and Change Commands both men and gods, and speeds us on We know not whither; but the old earth smiles Spring after Spring, and the seed bursts again Out of its prison mould, and the dead lives Renew themselves, and rise aloft and soar And are transformed, clothing themselves with change Till the last change be done." As thus she spake, I saw a gleam of light flash from the eyes Of all the listening shades, and a great joy Thrill through the realms of Death.
And then again A youthful shade I saw, a comely boy, With lip and cheek just touched with manly down, And strong limbs wearing Spring; in mien and garb A youthful chieftain, with a perfect face Of fresh young beauty, clustered curls divine, And chiselled features like a sculptured god, But warm and breathing life; only the eyes, The fair large eyes, were full of dreaming thought, And seemed to gaze beyond the world of sight, On a hid world of beauty. Him I stayed, Accosting with soft words of courtesy; And, on a bank of scentless flowers reclined, He answered thus: "Not for the garish sun I long, nor for the splendours of high noon In this dim land I languish; for of yore Full often, when the swift chase swept along Through the brisk morn, or when my comrades called To wrestling, or the foot-race, or to cleave The sunny stream, I loved to walk apart, Self-centred, sole; and when the laughing girls To some fair stripling's oaten melody Made ready for the dance, I heeded not; Nor when to the loud trumpet's blast and blare My peers rode forth to battle. For, one eve, In Latmos, after a long day in June, I stayed to rest me on a sylvan hill, Where often youth and maid were wont to meet Towards moonrise; and deep slumber fell on me Musing on Love, just as the ruddy orb Rose on the lucid night, set in a frame Of blooming myrtle and sharp tremulous plane; Deep slumber fell, and loosed my limbs in rest.
Then, as the full orb poised upon the peak, There came a lovely vision of a maid, Who seemed to step as from a golden car Out of the low-hung moon. No mortal form, Such as ofttimes of yore I knew and clasped At twilight 'mid the vines at the mad feast Of Dionysus, or the fair maids cold Who streamed in white processions to the shrine Of the chaste Virgin Goddess; but a shape Richer and yet more pure. No thinnest veil Obscured her; but each exquisite limb revealed, Gleamed like a golden statue subtly wrought By a great sculptor on the architrave Of some high temple-front--only in her The form was soft and warm, and charged with life, And breathing. As I seemed to gaze on her, Nearer she drew and gazed; and as I lay Supine, as in a spell, the radiance stooped And kissed me on the lips, a chaste, sweet kiss, Which drew my spirit with it. So I slept Each night upon the hill, until the dawn Came in her silver chariot from the East, And chased my Love away. But ever thus Dissolved in love as in a heaven-sent dream, Whenever the bright circle of the moon Climbed from the hills, whether in leafy June Or harvest-tide, or when they leapt and pressed Red-thighed the spouting must, I walked apart From all, and took no thought for mortal maid, Nor nimble joys of youth; but night by night I stole, when all were sleeping, to the hill, And slumbered and was blest; until I grew Possest by love so deep, I seemed to live In slumber only, while the waking day Showed faint as any vision. So I turned Paler and paler with the months, and climbed The steep with laboured steps and difficult breath, But still I climbed. Ay, though the wintry frost Chained fast the streams and whitened all the fields, I sought my mistress through the leafless groves, And slumbered and was happy, till the dawn Returning found me stretched out, cold and stark, With life's fire nigh burnt out. Till one clear night, When the birds shivered in the pines, and all The inner heavens stood open, lo! she came, Brighter and kinder still, and kissed my eyes And half-closed lips, and drew my soul through them, And in one precious ecstasy dissolved My life. And thenceforth, ever on the hill I lie unseen of man; a cold, white form, Still young, through all the ages; but my soul, Clothed in this thin presentment of old days, Walks this dim land, where never moonrise comes, Nor day-break, but a twilight waiting-time, No more; and, ah! how weary! Yet I judge My lot a higher far than his who spends His youth on swift hot pleasure, quickly past; Or theirs, my equals', who through long calm years Grew sleek in dull content of wedded lives And fair-grown offspring. Many a day for them, While I was wandering here, and my bones bleached Upon the rocks, the sweet autumnal sun Beamed, and the grapes grew purple. Many a day They heaped up gold, they knelt at festivals, They waxed in high report and fame of men, They gave their girls in marriage; while for me Upon the untrodden peaks, the cold, grey morn, The snows, the rains, the winds, the untempered blaze, Beat year by year, until I turned to stone, And the great eagles shrieked at me, and wheeled Affrighted. Yet I judge it better indeed To seek in life, as now I know I sought, Some fair impossible Love, which slays our life, Some fair ideal raised too high for man; And failing to grow mad, and cease to be, Than to decline, as they do who have found Broad-paunched content and weal and happiness: And so an end. For one day, as I know, The high aim unfulfilled fulfils itself; The deep, unsatisfied thirst is satisfied; And through this twilight, broken suddenly, The inmost heaven, the lucent stars of God, The Moon of Love, the Sun of Life; and I, I who pine here--I on the Latmian hill Shall soar aloft and find them." With the word, There beamed a shaft of dawn athwart the skies, And straight the sentinel thrush within the yew Sang out reveillé to the hosts of day, Soldierly; and the pomp and rush of life Began once more, and left me there alone Amid the awaking world.
Nay, not alone. One fair shade lingered in the fuller day, The last to come, when now my dream had grown Half mixed with waking thoughts, as grows a dream In summer mornings when the broader light Dazzles the sleeper's eyes; and is most fair Of all and best remembered, and becomes Part of our waking life, when older dreams Grow fainter, and are fled. So this remained The fairest of the visions that I knew, Most precious and most dear. The increasing light Shone through her, finer than the thinnest shade, And yet most full of beauty; golden wings, From her fair shoulders springing, seemed to lift Her stainless feet from the cold ground and snatch Their wearer into air; and in her eyes Was such fair glance as comes from virgin love, Long chastened and triumphant. Every trace Of earth had vanished from her, and she showed As one who walks a saint already in life, Virgin or mother. Immortality Breathed from those radiant eyes which yet had passed Between the gates of death. I seemed to hear The Soul of mortals speaking: "I was born Of a great race and mighty, and was grown Fair, as they said, and good, and kept a life Pure from all stain of passion. Love I knew not, Who was absorbed in duty; and the Mother Of gods and men, seeing my life more calm Than human, hating my impassive heart, Sent down her perfect son in wrath to earth, And bade him break me. But when Eros came, It did repent him of the task, for Love Is kin to Duty. And within my life I knew miraculous change, and a soft flame Wherefrom the snows of Duty flushed to rose, And the chill icy flow of mind was turned To a warm stream of passion. Long I lived Not knowing what had been, nor recognized A Presence walking with me through my life, As if by night, his face and form concealed: A gracious voice alone, which none but I Might hear, sustained me, and its name was Love.
Not as the earthly loves which throb and flush Round earthly shrines was mine, but a pure spirit, Lovelier than all embodied love, more pure And wonderful; but never on his eyes I looked, which still were hidden, and I knew not The fashion of his nature; for by night, When visual eyes are blind, but the soul sees, Came he, and bade me seek not to enquire Or whence he came or wherefore. Nor knew I His name. And always ere the coming day, As if he were the Sun-god, lingering With some too well-loved maiden, he would rise And vanish until eve. But all my being Thrilled with my fair unearthly visitant To higher duty and more glorious meed Of action than of old, for it was Love That came to me, who might not know his name.
Thus, ever rapt by dreams divine, I knew The scorn that comes from weaker souls, which miss, Being too low of nature, the great joy Revealed to others higher; nay, my sisters, Who being of one blood with me, made choice To tread the lower ways of daily life, Grew jealous of me, bidding me take heed Lest haply 'twas some monstrous fiend I loved, Such as in fable ofttimes sought and won The innocent hearts of maids. Long time I held My love too dear for doubt, who was so sweet And lovable. But at the last the sneers, The mystery which hid him, the swift flight Before the coming dawn, the shape concealed, The curious girlish heart, these worked on me With an unsatisfied thirst. Not his own words: 'Dear, I am with thee only while I keep My visage hidden; and if thou once shouldst see My face, I must forsake thee: the high gods Link Love with Faith, and he withdraws himself From the full gaze of Knowledge'--not even these Could cure me of my longing, or the fear Those mocking voices worked; who fain would learn The worst that might befall. And one sad night, Just as the day leapt from the hills and brought The hour when he should go: with tremulous hands, Lighting my midnight lamp in fear, I stood Long time uncertain, and at length turned round And gazed upon my love. He lay asleep, And oh, how fair he was! The flickering light Fell on the fairest of the gods, stretched out In happy slumber. Looking on his locks Of gold, and faultless face and smile, and limbs Made perfect, a great joy and trembling took me Who was most blest of women, and in awe And fear I stooped to kiss him. One warm drop-- From the full lamp within my trembling hand, Or a glad tear from my too happy eyes, Fell on his shoulder. Then the god unclosed His lovely eyes, and with great pity spake: 'Farewell! There is no Love except with Faith, And thine is dead! Farewell! I come no more.' And straightway from the hills the full red sun Leapt up, and as I clasped my love again, The lovely vision faded from his place, And came no more. Then I, with breaking heart, Knowing my life laid waste by my own hand, Went forth and would have sought to hide my life Within the stream of Death; but Death came not To aid me who not yet was meet for Death.
Then finding that Love came not back to me, I thought that in the temples of the gods Haply he dwelt, and so from fane to fane I wandered over earth, and knelt in each, Enquiring for my Love; and I would ask The priests and worshippers, 'Is this Love's shrine? Sirs, have you seen the god?' But never at all I found him. For some answered, 'This is called The Shrine of Knowledge;' and another, 'This, The Shrine of Beauty;' and another, 'Strength;' And yet another, 'Youth.' And I would kneel And say a prayer to my Love, and rise And seek another. Long, o'er land and sea, I wandered, till I was not young or fair, Grown wretched, seeking my lost Love; and last, Came to the smiling, hateful shrine where ruled The queen of earthly love and all delight, Cypris, but knelt not there, but asked of one Who seemed her priest, if Eros dwelt with her.
Then to the subtle-smiling goddess' self They led me. She with hatred in her eyes: 'What! thou to seek for Love, who art grown thin And pale with watching! He is not for thee. What Love is left for such? Thou didst despise Love, and didst dwell apart. Love sits within The young maid's eyes, making them beautiful. Love is for youth, and joy, and happiness; And not for withered lives. Ho! bind her fast. Take her and set her to the vilest tasks, And bend her pride by solitude and tears, Who will not kneel to me, but dares to seek A disembodied love. My son has gone And left thee for thy fault, and thou shalt know The misery of my thralls.' Then in her house They bound me to hard tasks and vile, and kept My life from honour, chained among her slaves And lowest ministers, taking despite And injury for food, and set to bind Their wounds whom she had tortured, and to feed The pitiful lives which in her prisons pent Languished in hopeless pain. There is no sight Of suffering but I saw it, and was set To succour it; and all my woman's heart Was torn with the ineffable miseries Which love and life have worked; and dwelt long time In groanings and in tears. And then, oh joy! Oh miracle! once more at length again I felt Love's arms around me, and the kiss Of Love upon my lips, and in the chill Of deepest prison cells, 'mid vilest tasks, The glow of his sweet breath, and the warm touch Of his invisible hand, and his sweet voice, Ay, sweeter than of old, and tenderer, Speak to me, pierce me, hold me, fold me round With arms Divine, till all the sordid earth Was hued like heaven, and Life's dull prison-house Turned to a golden palace, and those low tasks Grew to be higher works and nobler gains Than any gains of knowledge, and at last He whispered softly, 'Dear, unclose thine eyes. Thou mayst look on me now. I go no more, But am thine own for ever.' Then with wings Of gold we soared, I looking in his eyes, Over yon dark broad river, and this dim land, Scarce for an instant staying till we reached The inmost courts of heaven. But sometimes still I come here for a little, and speak a word Of peace to those who wait. The slow wheel turns, The cycles round themselves and grow complete, The world's year whitens to the harvest-tide, And one word only am I sent to say To those dear souls, who wait here, or who now Breathe earthly air--one universal word To all things living, and the word is 'Love.'"
Then soared she visibly before my gaze, And the heavens took her, and I knew my eyes Had seen the soul of man, the deathless soul, Defeated, struggling, purified, and blest.
Then all the choir of happy waiting shades, Heroes and queens, fair maidens and brave youths, Swept by me, rhythmic, slow, as if they trod Some unheard measure, passing where I stood In fair procession, each with a faint smile Upon the lip, signing "Farewell, oh shade! It shall be well with thee, as 'tis with us, If only thou art true. The world of Life, The world of Death, are but opposing sides Of one great orb, and the Light shines on both. Oh, happy happy shade! Farewell! Farewell!" And so they passed away.
END OF BOOK II.
But I, my gaze Following the soaring soul which now was lost In the awakening skies, floated with her, As in a trance, beyond the golden gates Which separate Earth from Heaven; and to my thought Gladdened by that broad effluence of light, This old earth seemed transfigured, and the fields, So dim and bare, grew green and clothed themselves With lustrous hues. A fine ethereal air Played round me as I mused, and filled the soul With an ineffable content. What need Of words to tell of things unreached by words? Or seek to engrave upon the treacherous thought The fair and fugitive fancies of a dream, Which vanish ere we fix them? But methinks He knows the scene, who knows the one fair day, One only and no more, which year by year In springtime comes, when lingering winter flies, And lo! the trees blossom in white and pink. And golden clusters, and the glades are filled With delicate primrose and deep odorous beds Of violets, and on the tufted meads With kingcups starred, and cowslip bells, and blue Sweet hyacinths, and frail anemones, The broad West wind breathes softly, and the air Is tremulous with the lark, and thro' the woods The soft full-throated thrushes all day long Flood the green dells with joy, and thro' the dry Brown fields the sower strides, sowing his seed, And all is life and song. Or he who first, Whether in fair free boyhood, when the world Is his to choose, or when his fuller life Beats to another life, or afterwards, Keeping his youth within his children's eyes, Looks on the snow-clad everlasting hills, And marks the sunset smite them, and is glad Of the beautiful fair world. A springtide land It seemed, where East winds came not. Sweetest song Was everywhere, by glade or sunny plain; And thro' the golden valleys winding streams Rippled in glancing silver, and above, The blue hills rose, and over all a peak, White, awful, with a constant fleece of cloud Veiling its summit, towered. Unfailing Day Lighted it, for no turn of dawn and eve Came there, nor changing seasons, but a broad Fixed joy of Being, undisturbed by Time.
There, in a happy glade shut in by groves Of laurel and sweet myrtle, on a green And flower-lit lawn, I seemed to see the ghosts Of the old gods. Upon the gentle slope Of a fair hill, a joyous company, The Immortals lay. Hard by, a murmurous stream Fell through the flowers; below them, space on space, Laughed the immeasurable plains; beyond, The mystic mountain soared. Height after height Of bare rock ledges left the climbing pines, And reared their giddy, shining terraces Into the ethereal air. Above, the snows Of the white summit cleft the fleece of cloud Which always clothed it round. Ah, fail-and sweet, Yet with a ghostly fairness, fine and thin, Those godlike Presences. Not dreams indeed, But something dream-like, were they. Blessed Shades Heroic and Divine, as when, in days When Man was young, and Time, the vivid thought Translated into Form the unattained Impossible Beauty of men's dreams, and fixed The Loveliness in marble. As with awe Following my spotless guide, I stood apart, Not daring to draw near; a shining form Rose from the throng, and floated, light as air, To where I trembled. And I knew the face And form of Artemis, the fair, the pure, The undefiled. A crescent silvery moon Shone thro' her locks, and by her side she bore A quiver of golden darts. At sight of whom I felt a sudden chill, like his who once Looked upon her and died; yet could not fear, Seeing how fair she was. Her sweet voice rang Clear as a bird's: "Mortal, what fate hath brought Thee hither, uncleansed by death? How canst thou breathe Immortal air, being mortal? Yet fear not, Since thou art come. For we too are of earth Whom here thou seest: there were not a heaven Were there no earth, nor gods, had men not been, But each the complement of each and grown The other's creature, is and has its being, A double essence, Human and Divine. So that the God is hidden in the man, And something Human bounds and forms the God; Which else had shown too great and undefined For mortal sight, and having no human eye To see it, were unknown. But we who bore Sway of old time, we were but attributes Of the great God who is all Things that be-- The Pillar of the Earth and starry Sky, The Depth of the great Deep; the Sun, the Moon, The Word which Makes; the All-compelling Love-- For all Things lie within His Infinite Form."
Even as she spake, a throng of heavenly forms Floated around me, filling all my soul With fair unearthly beauty, and the air With such ambrosial perfume as is born. When morning bursts upon a tropic sea, From boundless wastes of flowers; and as I knelt In rapture, lo! the same clear voice again From out the throng of gods: "Those whom thou seest Were even as I, embodiments of Him Who is the Centre of all Life: myself The Maiden-Queen of Purity; and Strength, Divine when unabused; Love too, the Spring And Cause of Things; and Knowledge, which lays bare Their secret; and calm Duty, Queen of all, And Motherhood in one; and Youth, which bears, Beauty of Form and Life and Light, and breathes The breath of Inspiration; and the Soul, The particle of God, sent down to man, Which doth in turn reveal the world and God.
Wherefore it is men called on Artemis, The refuge of young souls; for still in age They keep some dim reflection uneffaced Of a Diviner Purity than comes To the spring days of youth, when all the world Smiles, and the rapid blood thro' the young veins Courses, and all is glad; yet knowing too That innocence is young--before the soil And smirch of sadder knowledge, settling on it, Sully its primal whiteness. So they knelt At my white shrines, the eager vigorous youths, To whom life's road showed like a dewy field In early summer dawns, when to the sound Of youth's clear voice, and to the cheerful rush Of the tumultuous feet and clamorous tongues Careering onwards, fair and dappled fawns, Strange birds with jewelled plumes, fierce spotted pards, Rise in the joyous chase, to be caught and bound By the young conqueror; nor yet the charm Of sensual ease allures. And they knelt too, The pure sweet maidens fair and fancy-free, Whose innocent virgin hearts shrank from the touch Of passion as from wrong--sweet moonlit lives Which fade, and pale, and vanish, in the glare Of Love's hot noontide: these came robed in white, With holy hymns and soaring liturgies: And so men fabled me, a huntress now, Borne thro' the flying woodlands, fair and free; And now the pale cold Moon, Light without warmth, Zeal without touch of passion, heavenly love For human, and the altar for the home.
But oh, how sweet it was to take the love And awe of my young worshippers; to watch The pure young gaze and hear the pure young voice Mount in the hymn, or see the gay troop come With the first dawn of day, brushing the dew From the unpolluted fields, and wake to song The slumbering birds; strong in their innocence! I did not envy any goddess of all The Olympian company her votaries! Ah, happy days of old which now are gone! A memory and a dream! for now on earth I rule no longer o'er young willing hearts In voluntary fealty, which should cease When Love, with fiery accents calling, woke The slumbering soul; as now it should for those Who kneel before the purer, sadder shrine Which has replaced my own. But ah! too oft, Not always, but too often, shut from life Within pale life-long cloisters and the bars Of deadly convent prisons, year by year, Age after age, the white souls fade and pine Which simulate the joyous service free Of those young worshippers. I would that I Might loose the captives' chain; or Herakles, Who was a mortal once."
But he who stood Colossal at my side: "I toil no more On earth, nor wield again the mighty strength Which Zeus once gave me for the cure of ill. I have run my race; I have done my work; I rest For ever from the toilsome days I gave To the suffering race of men. And yet, indeed, Methinks they suffer still. Tyrannous growths And monstrous vex them still. Pestilence lurks And sweeps them down. Treacheries come, and wars, And slay them still. Vaulting ambition leaps And falls in bloodshed still. But I am here At rest, and no man kneels to me, or keeps Reverence for strength mighty yet unabused-- Strength which is Power, God's choicest gift, more rare And precious than all Beauty, or the charm Of Wisdom, since it is the instrument Thro' which all Nature works. For now the earth Is full of meekness, and a new God rules, Teaching strange precepts of humility And mercy and forgiveness. Yet I trow There is no lack of bloodshed and deceit And groanings, and the tyrant works his wrong Even as of old; but now there is no arm Like mine, made strong by Zeus, to beat him down, Him and his wrong together. Yet I know I am not all discrowned. The strong brave souls, The manly tender hearts, whom tale of wrong To woman or child, to all weak things and small, Fires like a blow; calling the righteous flush Of anger to the brow; knotting the cords Of muscle on the arm; with one desire To hew the spoiler down, and make an end, And go their way for others; making light Of toil and pain, and too laborious days, And peril; beat unchanged, albeit they serve A Lord of meekness. For the world still needs Its champion as of old, and finds him still. Not always now with mighty sinews and thews Like mine, though still these profit, but keen brain And voice to move men's souls to love the right And hate the wrong; even tho' the bodily form Be weak, of giant strength, strong to assail The hydra heads of Evil, and to slay The monsters that now waste them: Ignorance, Self-seeking, coward fears, the hate of Man, Disguised as love of God. These there are still With task as hard as mine. For what was it To strive with bodily ills, and do great deeds Of daring and of strength, and bear the crown, To his who wages lifelong, doubtful strife With an impalpable foe; conquering indeed, But, ere he hears the pæan or sees the pomp Laid low in the arms of Death? And tho' men cease To worship at my shrine, yet not the less I hold, it is the toils I knew, the pains I bore for others, which have kept the heart Of manhood undefiled, and nerved the arm Of sacrifice, and made the martyr strong To do and bear, and taught the race of men How godlike 'tis to suffer thro' life, and die At last for others' good!" The strong god ceased, And stood a little, musing; blest indeed, But bearing, as it seemed, some faintest trace Of earthly struggle still, not the gay ease Of the elder heaven-born gods.
And then there came Beauty and Joy in one, bearing the form Of woman. How to reach with halting words That infinite Perfection? All have known The breathing marbles which the Greek has left Who saw her near, and strove to fix her charms, And exquisitely failed; or those fair forms The Painter offered at a later shrine, And failed. Nay, what are words?--he knows it well Who loves, or who has loved. She with a smile Playing around her rosy lips; as plays The sunbeam on a stream: "Shall I complain Men kneel to me no longer, taking to them Some graver, sterner worship; grown too wise For fleeting joys of Love? Nay, Love is Youth, And still the world is young. Still shall I reign Within the hearts of men, while Time shall last And Life renews itself. All Life that is, From the weak things of earth or sea or air, Which creep or float for an hour; to godlike man-- All know me and are mine. I am the source And mother of all, both gods and men; the spring Of Force and Joy, which, penetrating all Within the hidden depths of the Unknown, Sets the blind seed of Being, and from the bond Of incomplete and dual Essences Evolves the harmony which is Life. The world Were dead without my rays, who am the Light Which vivifies the world. Nay, but for me, The universal order which attracts Sphere unto sphere, and keeps them in their paths For ever, were no more. All things are bound Within my golden chain, whose name is Love.
And if there be, indeed, some sterner souls Or sunk in too much learning, or hedged round By care and greed, or haply too much rapt By pale ascetic fervours, to delight To kneel to me, the universal voice Scorns them as those who, missing willingly The good that Nature offers, dwell unblest Who might be blest, but would not. Every voice Of bard in every age has hymned me. All The breathing marbles, all the heavenly hues Of painting, praise me. Even the loveless shades Of dim monastic cloisters show some gleam, Tho' faint, of me. Amid the busy throngs Of cities reign I, and o'er lonely plains, Beyond the ice-fields of the frozen North, And the warm waves of undiscovered seas.
For I was born out of the sparkling foam Which lights the crest of the blue mystic wave, Stirred by the wandering breath of Life's pure dawn From a young soul's calm depths. There, without voice, Stretched on the breathing curve of a young breast, Fluttering a little, fresh from the great deep Of life, and creamy as the opening rose, Naked I lie, naked yet unashamed, While youth's warm tide steals round me with a kiss, And floods each limb with fairness. Shame I know not-- Shame is for wrong, and not for innocence-- The veil which Error grasps to hide itself From the awful Eye. But I, I lie unveiled And unashamed--the livelong day I lie, The warm wave murmuring to me; and, all night, Hidden in the moonlit caves of happy Sleep, I dream until the morning and am glad.
Why should I seek to clothe myself, and hide The treasure of my Beauty? Shame may wait On those for whom 'twas given. The sties of sense Are none of mine; the brutish, loveless wrong, The venal charm, the simulated flush Of fleshly passion, they are none of mine, Only corruptions of me. Yet I know The counterfeit the stronger, since gross souls And brutish sway the earth; and yet I hold That sense itself is sacred, and I deem 'Twere better to grow soft and sink in sense Than gloat o'er blood and wrong. My kingdom is Over infinite grades of being. All breathing things, From the least crawling insect to the brute, From brute to man, confess me. Yet in man I find my worthiest worship. Where man is, A youth and a maid, a youth and a maid, nought else Is wanting for my temple. Every clime Kneels to me--the long breaker swells and falls Under the palms, mixed with the merry noise Of savage bridals, and the straight brown limbs Know me, and over all the endless plains I reign, and by the tents on the hot sand And sea-girt isles am queen, and on the side Of silent mountains, where the white cots gleam Upon the green hill pastures, and no sound But the thunder of the avalanche is borne To the listening rocks around; and in fair lands Where all is peace; where thro' the happy hush Of tranquil summer evenings, 'mid the corn, Or thro' cool arches of the gadding vines, The lovers stray together hand in hand, Hymning my praise; and by the stately streets Of echoing cities--over all the earth, Palace and cot, mountain and plain and sea, The burning South, the icy North, the old And immemorial East, the unbounded West, No new god comes to spoil me utterly-- All worship and are mine!" With a sweet smile Upon her rosy mouth, the goddess ceased; And when she spake no more, the silence weighed As heavy on my soul as when it takes Some gracious melody, and leaves the ear Unsatisfied and longing, till the fount Of sweetness springs again.
But while I stood Expectant, lo! a fair pale form drew near With front severe, and wide blue eyes which bore Mild wisdom in their gaze. Great purity Shone from her--not the young-eyed innocence Of her whom first I saw, but that which comes From wider knowledge, which restrains the tide Of passionate youth, and leads the musing soul By the calm deeps of Wisdom. And I knew My eyes had seen the fair, the virgin Queen, Who once within her shining Parthenon Beheld the sages kneel. She with clear voice And coldly sweet, yet with a softness too, As doth befit a virgin: "She does right To boast her sway, my sister, seeing indeed That all things are as by a double law, And from a double root the tree of Life Springs up to the face of heaven. Body and Soul, Matter and Spirit, lower joys of Sense And higher joys of Thought, I know that both Build up the shrine of Being. The brute sense Leaves man a brute; but, winged with soaring thought Mounts to high heaven. The unembodied spirit, Dwelling alone, unmated, void of sense, Is impotent. And yet I hold there is, Far off, but not too far for mortal reach, A calmer height, where, nearer to the stars, Thought sits alone and gazes with rapt gaze, A large-eyed maiden in a robe of white. Who brings the light of Knowledge down, and draws To her pontifical eyes a bridge of gold, Which spans from earth to heaven. For what were life, If things of sense were all, for those large souls And high, which grudging Nature has shut fast Within unlovely forms, or those from whom The circuit of the rapid gliding years Steals the brief gift of beauty? Shall we hold, With idle singers, all the treasure of hope Is lost with youth--swift-fleeting, treacherous youth, Which fades and flies before the ripening brain Crowns life with Wisdom's crown? Nay, even in youth, Is it not more to walk upon the heights Alone--the cold free heights--and mark the vale Lie breathless in the glare, or hidden and blurred By cloud and storm; or pestilence and war Creep on with blood and death; while the soul dwells Apart upon the peaks, outfronts the sun As the eagle does, and takes the coming dawn While all the vale is dark, and knows the springs Of tiny rivulets hurrying from the snows, Which soon shall swell to vast resistless floods, And feed the Oceans which divide the World?
Oh, ecstasy! oh, wonder! oh, delight! Which neither the slow-withering wear of Time, That takes all else--the smooth and rounded cheek Of youth; the lightsome step; the warm young heart Which beats for love or friend; the treasure of hope Immeasurable; the quick-coursing blood Which makes it joy to be,--ay, takes them all And leaves us naught--nor yet satiety Born of too full possession, takes or mars! Oh, fair delight of learning! which grows great And stronger and more keen, for slower limbs, And dimmer eyes and loneliness, and loss Of lower good--wealth, friendship, ay, and Love-- When the swift soul, turning its weary gaze From the old vanished joys, projects itself Into the void and floats in empty space, Striving to reach the mystic source of Things, The secrets of the earth and sea and air, The Law that holds the process of the suns, The awful depths of Mind and Thought; the prime Unfathomable mystery of God!
Is there, then, any who holds my worship cold And lifeless? Nay, but 'tis the light which cheers The waning life! Love thou thy love, brave youth! Cleave to thy love, fair maid! it is the Law Which dominates the world, that bids ye use Your nature; but, when now the fuller tide Slackens a little, turn your calmer eyes To the fair page of Knowledge. It is power I give, and power is precious. It is strength To live four-square, careless of outward shows, And self-sufficing. It is clearer sight To know the rule of life, the Eternal scheme; And, knowing it, to do and not to err, And, doing, to be blest." The calm voice soared Higher and higher to the close; the cold Clear accents, fired as by a hidden fire, Glowed into life and tenderness, and throbbed As with some spiritual ecstasy Sweeter than that of Love.
But as they died, I heard an ampler voice; and looking, marked A fair and gracious form. She seemed a Queen Who ruled o'er gods and men; the majesty Of perfect womanhood. No opening bud Of beauty, but the full consummate flower Was hers; and from her mild large eyes looked forth Gentle command, and motherhood, and home, And pure affection. Awe and reverence O'erspread me, as I knew my eyes had looked On sovereign Heré, mother of the gods.
She, with clear, rounded utterance, sweet and calm "I know Love's fruit is good and fair to see And taste, if any gain it, and I know How brief Life's Passion-tide, which when it ends May change to thirst for Knowledge, and I know How fair the realm of Mind, wherein the soul Thirsting to know, wings its impetuous way Beyond the bounds of Thought; and yet I hold There is a higher bliss than these, which fits A mortal life, compact of Body and Soul, And therefore double-natured--a calm path Which lies before the feet, thro' common ways And undistinguished crowds of toiling men, And yet is hard to tread, tho' seeming smooth, And yet, tho' level, earns a worthier crown.
For Knowledge is a steep which few may climb, While Duty is a path which all may tread. And if the Soul of Life and Thought be this, How best to speed the mighty scheme, which still Fares onward day by day--the Life of the World, Which is the sum of petty lives, that live And die so this may live--how then shall each Of that great multitude of faithful souls Who walk not on the heights, fulfil himself, But by the duteous Life which looks not forth Beyond its narrow sphere, and finds its work, And works it out; content, this done, to fall And perish, if Fate will, so the great Scheme Goes onward? Wherefore am I Queen in Heaven And Earth, whose realm is Duty, bearing rule More constant and more wide than those whose words Thou heardest last. Mine are the striving souls Of fathers toiling day by day obscure And unrewarded, save by their own hearts, Mid wranglings of the Forum or the mart; Who long for joys of Thought, and yet must toil Unmurmuring thro' dull lives from youth to age; Who haply might have worn instead the crown Of Honour and of Fame: mine the fair mothers Who, for the love of children and of home, When passion dies, expend their toilful years In loving labour sweetened by the sense Of Duty: mine the statesman who toils on Thro' vigilant nights and days, guiding his State. Yet finds no gratitude; and those white souls Who give themselves for others all their years In trivial tasks of Pity. The fine growths Of Man and Time are mine, and spend themselves For me and for the mystical End which lies Beyond their gaze and mine, and yet is good, Tho' hidden from men and gods. For as the flower Of the tiger-lily bright with varied hues Is for a day, then fades and leaves behind Fairness nor fruit, while the green tiny tuft Swells to the purple of the clustering grape Or golden waves of wheat; so lives of men Which show most splendid; fade and are deceased And leave no trace; while those, unmarked, unseen, Which no man recks of, rear the stately tree Of Knowledge, not for itself sought out, but found In the dusty ways of life--a fairer growth Than springs in cloistered shades; and from the sum Of Duty, blooms sweeter and more divine The fair ideal of the Race, than comes From glittering gains of Learning. Life, full life, Full-flowered, full-fruited, reared from homely earth, Rooted in duty, and thro' long calm years Bearing its load of healthful energies; Stretching its arms on all sides; fed with dews Of cheerful sacrifice, and clouds of care, And rain of useful tears; warmed by the sun Of calm affection, till it breathes itself In perfume to the heavens--this is the prize I hold most dear, more precious than the fruit Of Knowledge or of Love." The goddess ceased As dies some gracious harmony, the child Of wedded themes which single and alone Were discords, but united breathe a sound Sweet as the sounds of heaven.
And then stood forth The last of the gods I saw, the first in rank And dignity and beauty, the young god Who grows not old, the Light of Heaven and Earth, The Worker from afar, who sends the fire Of inspiration to the bard and bathes The world in hues of heaven--the golden link Between High God and Man. With a sweet voice Whose every note was sweetest melody-- The melody has fled, the words remain-- Apollo sang: "I know how fair the face Of Purity; I know the treasure of Strength; I know the charm of Love, the calmer grace Of Wisdom and of Duteous well-spent lives: And yet there is a loftier height than these.
There is a Height higher than mortal thought; There is a Love warmer than mortal love; There is a Life which taketh not its hues From Earth or earthly things; and so grows pure And higher than the petty cares of men, And is a blessed life and glorified.
Oh, white young souls, strain upward, upward still, Even to the heavenly source of Purity! Brave hearts, bear on and suffer! Strike for right, Strong arms, and hew down wrong! The world hath need Of all of you--the sensual wrongful world!
Hath need of you, and of thee too, fair Love. Oh, lovers, cling together! the old world Is full of Hate. Sweeten it; draw in one Two separate chords of Life; and from the bond Of twin souls lost in Harmony create A Fair God dwelling with you--Love, the Lord!
Waft yourselves, yearning souls, upon the stars; Sow yourselves on the wandering winds of space; Watch patient all your days, if your eyes take Some dim, cold ray of Knowledge. The dull world Hath need of you--the purblind, slothful world!
Live on, brave lives, chained to the narrow round Of Duty; live, expend yourselves, and make The orb of Being wheel onward steadfastly Upon its path--the Lord of Life alone Knows to what goal of Good; work on, live on: And yet there is a higher work than yours.
To have looked upon the face of the Unknown And Perfect Beauty. To have heard the voice Of Godhead in the winds and in the seas. To have known Him in the circling of the suns, And in the changeful fates and lives of men.
To be fulfilled with Godhead as a cup Filled with a precious essence, till the hand On marble or on canvas falling, leaves Celestial traces, or from reed or string Draws out faint echoes of the voice Divine That bring God nearer to a faithless world.
Or, higher still and fairer and more blest, To be His seer, His prophet; to be the voice Of the Ineffable Word; to be the glass Of the Ineffable Light, and bring them down To bless the earth, set in a shrine of Song.
For Knowledge is a barren tree and bare, Bereft of God, and Duty but a word, And Strength but Tyranny, and Love, Desire, And Purity a folly; and the Soul, Which brings down God to Man, the Light to the world; He is the Maker, and is blest, is blest!"
He ended, and I felt my soul grow faint With too much sweetness. In a mist of grace They faded, that bright company, and seemed To melt into each other and shape themselves Into new forms, and those fair goddesses Blent in a perfect woman--all the calm High motherhood of Heré, the sweet smile Of Cypris, fair Athené's earnest eyes, And the young purity of Artemis, Blent in a perfect woman; and in her arms, Fused by some cosmic interlacing curves Of Beauty into a new Innocence, A child with eyes divine, a little child, A little child--no more. And those great gods Of Power and Beauty left a heavenly form Strong not to act, but suffer; fair and meek, Not proud and eager; with soft eyes of grace, Not bold with joyous youth; and for the fire Of song, and for the happy careless life, A sorrowful pilgrimage--changed, yet the same Only Diviner far; and keeping still The Life God-lighted and the sacrifice.
And when these faded wholly, at my side, Tho' hidden before by those too-radiant forms, I was aware once more of her, my guide Psyche, who had not left me, floating near On golden wings; and all the plains of heaven Were left to us, me and my soul alone.
Then when my thought revived again, I said Whispering, "But Zeus I saw not, the prime Source And Sire of all the gods." And she, bent low With downcast eyes: "Nay. Thou hast seen of Him All that thine eyes can bear, in those fair forms Which are but parts of Him and are indeed Attributes of the Substance which supports The Universe of Things--the Soul of the World, The Stream which flows Eternal, from no Source Into no Sea, His Purity, His Strength, His Love, His Knowledge, His unchanging rule Of Duty, thou hast seen, only a part And not the whole, being a finite mind Too weak for infinite thought; nor, couldst thou see All of Him visible to mortal sight, Wouldst thou see all His essence, since the gods-- Glorified essences of Human mould, Who are but Zeus made visible to men-- See Him not wholly, only some thin edge And halo of His glory; nor know they What vast and unsuspected Universes Lie beyond thought, where yet He rules, like those Vast Suns we cannot see, round which our Sun Moves with his system, or those darker still Which not even thus we know, but yet exist Tho' no eye marks, nor thought itself, and lurk In the awful Depths of Space; or that which is Not orbed as yet, but indiscrete, confused, Sown thro' the void--the faintest gleam of light Which sets itself to Be. And yet is He There too, and rules, none seeing. But sometimes To this our heaven, which is so like to earth But nearer to Him, for awhile He shows Some gleam of His own brightness, and methinks It cometh soon; but thou, if thou shouldst gaze, Thy Life will rush to His--the tiny spark Absorbed in that full blaze--and what there is Of mortal fall from thee." But I: "Oh, soul, What holdeth Life more precious than to know The Giver and to die?" Then she: "Behold! Look upward and adore." And with the word, Unhasting, undelaying, gradual, sure, The floating cloud which clothed the hidden peak Rose slow in awful silence, laying bare Spire after rocky spire, snow after snow, Whiter and yet more dreadful, till at last It left the summit clear. Then with a bound, In the twinkling of an eye, in the flash of a thought, I knew an Awful Effluence of Light, Formless, Ineffable, Perfect, burst on me And flood my being round, and take my life Into itself. I saw my guide bent down Prostrate, her wings before her face; and then No more.
But when I woke from my long trance Behold, it was no longer Tartarus, Nor Hades, nor Olympus, but the bare And unideal aspect of the fields Which Spring not yet had kissed--the strange old Earth So far more fabulous now than in the days When Man was young, nor yet the mystery Of Time and Fate transformed it. From the hills, The long night fled at last, the unclouded sun, The dear, fair sun, leapt upward swift, and smote My sight with rays of gold, and pierced my brain With too much light ere my entrancèd eyes Could hide themselves. And I was on the Earth Dreaming the dream of Life again, as late I dreamed the dream of Death. Another day Dawned on the race of men; another world; New heavens, and new earth.
And as I went Across the lightening fields, upon a bank I saw a single snowdrop glance, and bring Promise of Spring; and keeping my old thought In the old fair Hellenic vesture dressed, I felt myself a ghost, and seemed to be Now fair Adonis hasting to the arms Of his lost love--now sad Persephone Restored to mother earth--or that high shade Orpheus, who gave up heaven to save his love, And is rewarded--or young Marsyas, Who spent his youth and life for song, and yet Was happy though in torture--or the fair And dreaming youth I saw, who still awaits, Hopeful, the unveiling heaven, when he shall see His fair ideal love. The birds sang blithe; There came a tinkling from the waking fold; And on the hillside from the cot a girl Tripped singing with her pitcher. All the sounds And thoughts which still are beautiful--Youth, Song, Dawn, Spring, Renewal--and my soul was glad Of all the freshness, and I felt again The youth and spring-tide of the world, and thought, Which feigned those fair and gracious fantasies.
For every dawn that breaks brings a new world, And every budding bosom a new life; These fair tales, which we know so beautiful, Show only finer than our lives to-day Because their voice was clearer, and they found A sacred bard to sing them. We are pent, Who sing to-day, by all the garnered wealth Of ages of past song. We have no more The world to choose from, who, where'er we turn, Tread through old thoughts and fair. Yet must we sing-- We have no choice; and if more hard the toil In noon, when all is clear, than in the fresh White mists of early morn, yet do we find Achievement its own guerdon, and at last The rounder song of manhood grows more sweet Than the high note of youth. For Age, long Age! Nought else divides us from the fresh young days Which men call ancient; seeing that we in turn Shall one day be Time's ancients, and inspire The wiser, higher race, which yet shall sing Because to sing is human, and high thought Grows rhythmic ere its close. Nought else there is But that weird beat of Time, which doth disjoin To-day from Hellas. How should any hold Those precious scriptures only old-world tales Of strange impossible torments and false gods; Of men and monsters in some brainless dream, Coherent, yet unmeaning, linked together By some false skein of song? Nay! evermore, All things and thoughts, both new and old, are writ Upon the unchanging human heart and soul. Has Passion still no prisoners? Pine there now No lives which fierce Love, sinking into Lust, Has drowned at last in tears and blood--plunged down To the lowest depths of Hell? Have not strong Will And high Ambition rotted into Greed And Wrong, for any, as of old, and whelmed The struggling soul in ruin? Hell lies near Around us as does Heaven, and in the World, Which is our Hades, still the chequered souls Compact of good and ill--not all accurst Nor altogether blest--a few brief years Travel the little journey of their lives, They know not to what end. The weary woman Sunk deep in ease and sated with her life, Much loved and yet unloving, pines to-day As Helen; still the poet strives and sings. And hears Apollo's music, and grows dumb, And suffers, yet is happy; still the young Fond dreamer seeks his high ideal love, And finds her name is Death; still doth the fair And innocent life, bound naked to the rock, Redeem the race; still the gay tempter goes And leaves his victim, stone; still doth pain bind Men's souls in closer links of lovingness, Than Death itself can sever; still the sight Of too great beauty blinds us, and we lose The sense of earthly splendours, gaining Heaven.
And still the skies are opened as of old To the entrancèd gaze, ay, nearer far And brighter than of yore; and Might is there, And Infinite Purity is there, and high Eternal Wisdom, and the calm clear face Of Duty, and a higher, stronger Love And Light in one, and a new, reverend Name, Greater than any and combining all; And over all, veiled with a veil of cloud, God set far off, too bright for mortal eyes.
And always, always, with each soul that comes And goes, comes that fair form which was my guide, Hovering, with golden wings and eyes divine, Above the bed of birth, the bed of death, Still breathing heavenly airs of deathless love.
For while a youth is lost in soaring thought, And while a maid grows sweet and beautiful, And while a spring-tide coming lights the earth, And while a child, and while a flower is born, And while one wrong cries for redress and finds A soul to answer, still the world is young!
Footnotes:  Euripides, "Hippolytus," lines 70-78.  Virgil, "Æneid," vi. 740.  See the Orphic Hymns.
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[Transcriber's Notes: This text is hemistichia, in that the end of one stanza is vertically aligned with the start of the next stanza. Inconsistent Hyphenation and text retained.]