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Convict Once.




  ― 291 ―

Proëm.

I, HYACINTH, of whom she wrote, now write:
Not from the hope of fame, or wish for praise;
But that in waning of her latter days,
She willed her warning tale should see the light,

And whispered with her fading breath that I
Should soften nothing that she did reveal,
But charter her confession with a seal
Of manual pardon—as I do hereby.

And ere ye scorn her troubles, passion-fed,
Her wilful choosing of the crooked path,
And ere ye make a virtue of your wrath,
I pray you all, remember—she is dead.




  ― 292 ―
Forgive the passions that she could not curb,
The heaving trouble of a fevered breast.
She's very quiet now. She hath her rest:
And there is none can wake her, none disturb.

I, who have most to pardon, pardon all,
As I myself beseech forgiving grace;
And live in hope that I shall see her face,
Even as an angel's, at the Judgment call.




  ― 293 ―

Part First.

I.

FREE again! Free again! eastward and westward, before me, behind me,
Wide lies Australia! and free are my feet, as my soul is, to roam!
Oh joy unwonted of space undetermined! No limit assigned me!
Freedom conditioned by nought save the need and desire of a home!

II.

Wrought even to pain with emotions long-prisoned and ardours volcanic,
Great with the promise of things that have grown in the silence of years,
Seems to me now that my soul should be mother of issue Titanic.
Drunken with Freedom I leap, as a maddened steed plunges and rears.




  ― 294 ―
Seven retributive years have not left my tried spirit unshaken,
Vulture-like tearing me, harpy-like soiling me, blinding my eyes.
Yet from the depths I emerge; like a giant refreshed I awaken,
Strong for the purpose of life, for the struggle, the victory, the prize.

Ah! I must calm me, remembering that Freedom restores me to Duty—
Not to the license and rapture of such as have struggled and won.
Passion hath proved itself fatal, and fatal the magic of beauty;
I must try wisdom and prudence, contented to walk ere I run.

Have I not found what I longed for? Already my star is propitious.
Heaven hath found me a home where life's sweetest amenities smile;
Lowly indeed, but unmerited; poor to a spirit ambitious,
Yet a sweet oasis-fountain whereat I may linger awhile.




  ― 295 ―
Here I behold it, my long-cherished dream of a home in the wild wood:
Here I shall hide my reproach, and my name shall be MAGDALEN POWER.
Never again shall I utter the name that I bore in my childhood;
Know it shall none, save the Angel that watched at my christening hour.

Now I begin life again; but a clearer, a stronger beginning:
Not as a child, but a woman—a teacher of children not mine.
What can I teach them? My lesson? Repenting is longer than sinning?
Nay; I can read; I can write; I can moralize line upon line.

Branded no more as a felon:—but hush! let such phrases be banished!
Let me recall the old precepts that moulded my innocent youth!
Knowledge, and Beauty, and Goodness, thank God, have not utterly vanished:
Quick to perceive them as ever; alive to the glory of Truth.




  ― 296 ―
No more abasement! I'm weary and blind with the tears of repentance:
Though it was wrong, and I know it, yet surely such weeping is vain.
Have I not borne to the full all the pangs of my terrible sentence?
Shall there no harvest arise from this plentiful penitent rain?

Worshipping sorrow it seems, thus to sacrifice life on its altar;
Petting my error it is, thus to water it evening and morn:
Cherishing aye in my breast, as a fetish, a scarce escaped halter—
This is the culture of Terror—Idolatry worthy of scorn!

I will no more of it.—Twenty-three years have I lived; and my labour
Vanity, fruitless regret, and a secret that may not be told,
Honour-imperilling, head-overhanging, like Damocles' sabre,
Swinging and threat'ning my new-donned propriety scarce a day old.




  ― 297 ―
Ha! I must clothe me with armour; yet not in the garb of defiance:
Bravery burnished flings back every incident ray of the sun:
Darkly encased I shall be in a corslet of quiet reliance;
Shield I shall carry of triple propriety; sword I'll have none.

Is this hypocrisy? Is it a refuge 'twixt seeming and being?
Self-enforced virtue (who knows?) may develop from habit to love.
Heedless of obstacles, patient for ends, strong of heart, and far-seeing,
I may be wise as the serpent, yet innocent still as the dove.

Die then, sad memories, leaving behind you nor token nor relic!
Hark how the tremulous night-wind is passing in joy-laden sighs;
Soft through my window it comes, like the fanning of pinions angelic,
Whispering to cease from myself, and look out on the infinite skies.




  ― 298 ―
Out on the orb-studded night, and the crescent effulgence of Dian;
Out on the far-gleaming star-dust that marks where the angels have trod;
Out on the gem-pointed Cross, and the glittering pomp of Orion,
Flaming in measureless azure, the coronal jewels of God;

Luminous streams of delight in the silent immensity flowing,
Journeying surgelessly on through impalpable ethers of peace.
How can I think of myself when infinitude o'er me is glowing,
Glowing with tokens of love from the land where my sorrows shall cease?

Oh, summer-night of the South! Oh, sweet languor of zephyrs love-sighing!
Oh, mighty circuit of shadowy solitude, holy and still!
Music scarce audible, echo-less harmony joyously dying,
Dying in faint suspirations o'er meadow, and forest, and hill!




  ― 299 ―
I must go forth and be part of it, part of the night and its gladness.
But a few steps, and I pause on the marge of the shining lagoon.
Here then, at length, I have rest; and I lay down my burden of sadness,
Kneeling alone 'neath the stars and the silvery arc of the moon.

Peace-speaking night of the South, will thine influence last through my sleeping,
Dream with my dreaming, awake with my waking, and blend with the morn?
Or shall I start as of old, and my pillow be wet with my weeping,
Victim alternate of self-accusation and impious scorn?

Have I so cast out myself that the morrow's meridian shall find me
Lightly esteeming the earth, and with spirit affianced to heaven?
Have I said, once and for ever, “Proud Lucifer, get thee behind me!
Leave me to die in the desert, if only my sin be forgiven?”




  ― 300 ―
Let me not hoodwink myself. Of the many desires that come thronging—
Demons they may be, or angels of brightness, I hardly know which—
One I retain unto death, one supreme irresistible longing;
Heaven without it were poor, and earth with it ineffably rich.

Can it be wrong? It was God, and not I, who created me woman,
God who enthroned on my heart the imperious ideal of man;
Dowered me with instincts of love, that shall rule till I cease to be human:
Shall the Creator require of the creature beyond what she can?

Ah! but the soft, subtle voice of the Night whispers, “First be thou worthy:
Vaunt not thyself till the work of thy hands is recorded above:
Gird thee for labour; and if, being earthly, thou needs must be earthy,
Pray that through Duty alone thou attain to the pleasaunce of love.”




  ― 301 ―

III.

PLEASANTLY, almost too pleasantly, blendeth to-day with to-morrow.
Hours are as moments: a twinkle of white wings, and, lo, they are gone!
Day bringeth work without bondage, and night bringeth dreams without sorrow:
Pleasantly, almost too pleasantly, life is meandering on.

Precious my charge, and delightsome: three spirits all joyous and tender—
Children of nature and innocence, breathing the freshness of flowers.
Love-tokens are they from Paradise, warm from the kiss of the Sender,
Blooms of promise still rich with the glow of the Amaranth Bowers.




  ― 302 ―
Hyacinth, Lily, and Violet—pleasant conceit of their christening:
Hyacinth, darkly embowered in the riches of clustering curls;
Slenderly delicate Lily, a lily transfigured and glistening;
Violet, lowly and meek, yet the joy of my garland of girls.

Happy their lot—in themselves, in their sire, in a mother's affection;
Happy in mutual love all the merry bright round of the years,
Little they reck of the travailing world, with its nameless dejection;
Even their sighs are the surfeit of joy, laughter-laden their tears.

Lofty things move them to worship; adoring they wonder, but fear not;
Little things minister pleasure, as ever it fares with the good;
Nature to them utters low subtle voices that other ears hear not;
Marvellous harmonies greet them from river, and mountain, and wood.




  ― 303 ―
Down in umbrageous retreats, chosen haunts by the shadow-flecked river,
Drinking delights from the murmur of streams and the flutter of wings,
Streams as they murmur, bright wings as they flutter, green leaves as they quiver,
All have strange music for them, and a tale of invisible things.

Almost I fancy them other than human; great Nature's own daughters,
Beings of Fable that only the rapture of Fancy conceives,
Naiad-like, laving white feet in the dimpled disturbance of waters,
Dryad-like, peering bright-visioned thro' tremulous umbrage of leaves.

Otherwhile mounted on steeds and in madness of motion careering,
Fitfully seen thro' far vistas, and mazy divergence of trees;
Elfin-revealings of fleetness and liberty sudden appearing,
Vanishing whither they list, uncontrolled as the libertine breeze.




  ― 304 ―
Train them and form them! Ah me! it is they who, unconscious, have wrought me
Back to the form that I bore when I bloomed as the darling of home.
I their preceptress! Ah me! with their innocent smiles they have taught me
Lessons more glorious than Greece, aspirations more lofty than Rome.

Mine is the lore of dark ages, of empires convulsed and war-wasted,
Rapine and bloodshed, the ebb and the flow of perpetual strife;
I of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and of Evil have tasted;
Fitter for them were the fruit of the Tree, angel-guarded, of Life.




  ― 305 ―

IV.

HYACINTH loves … I have noted of late the mysterious transition;
Soft silken-footed approaches of something that whispers a change;
Chrysalis-stirrings that herald the full-winged and perfected mission;
Timid assumptions of woman-demeanour unwonted and strange;

Beautiful sequence of vermeil suffusions and paleness unbidden;
Dream-lustred eyes that look inward on something to others unseen;
Reveries sudden, and maidenly languor, and sighs but half-hidden;
Pensive reserve over-drooping the virginal grace of her mien.




  ― 306 ―
Saddened, yet listlessly happy; ah, well I remember the token,
Well I remember the oxymel mingling of pleasure and pain!
Some face hath gleamed upon hers, and the sleep of her childhood is broken;
Hardly she knows as yet whether to rise or to slumber again.




  ― 307 ―

V.

WANDERING to-day by the river where refuge is greenest and coolest,
Watching beneath me the moving mosaic of shadow and sheen,
Came I on Hyacinth, radiant, elated, her bloom at the fullest,
Rapt, like a vision-filled soul that hath quaffed of divine Hippocrene.

No need of words to interpret those moist lips half-parted and glowing,
Nor the luxurious droop of the eyelid with pleasure opprest,
Nor the strewn wealth of her tresses, in careless dishevelment flowing,
Nor the warm crimson that blushed thro' the gossamer folds on her breast.




  ― 308 ―
Heedless and hearing not, trance-like—the sun thro' the bowerage above her
Scattering broken effulgence, like largesse of gold, on her charms—
Stood the flushed impress of maidenhood fresh from the kiss of a lover,
Fervid in recent release from the passioned entwinement of arms.

Such I divined, with an eye and an instinct for love's hidden history;
Thrilled by ineffable sympathies, every sweet token I knew,
Gathered in fancy the fluttering threads, and unravelled the mystery,
Read, like a scroll, the yet lingering signs of reluctant adieu.

Lower her eyelids drooped, closing; then rose, and the sensuous present
Broke once again into verdure and song, on her eye and her ear;
But the entrancement of vision was gone, and the bloom evanescent
Passed into sorrowful paleness, and died in the track of a tear.




  ― 309 ―
Then, while her ringlets, in silken compliance and rich adaptation,
Rounded each movement with graces, as music the words of a lay,
Stooped she a moment, and, fluttering still with Love's sweet trepidation,
Caught up a scroll from the grass at her feet, and moved sighing away.

And, till the sun set, empurpling the glorified hills with its splendour,
Lone in her chamber sat Hyacinth, writing the words on her soul;
Then, as the glory died, yielding to radiance more softened and tender,
Forth from her chamber came Hyacinth, singing the song of the scroll:

“Ever thou speakest of angels, my love, and I fear me, I fear me,
Thou art too heavenly pure to commèrce with such grossness as mine.”
“Angels are lower than God, and when thou art anear me, anear me,
Godhead looks into mine eyes—for thy kinship, through grace, is Divine.”




  ― 310 ―
“Ah, but the angels will find thee in sleep, and will take thee, will take thee,
Bearing thee far from me, leaving me weary, forsaken, and old.”
“Yea, but thou likewise shalt sleep, and my singing shall wake thee, shall wake thee,
Over the crystalline sea, by the city of jasper and gold.”

“Ah, but the angels are better than I! and will love thee, will love thee,
Teaching thee music I know not, and whispering secrets of bliss.”
“Yea, but though angels, no angel I'll cherish above thee, above thee;
Nought, till thou come to thy love, save the feet of my God, shall I kiss.”

“Ah, but the angels, the iris-winged angels, will hate me, will hate me,
Soiled with the touch of corruption, and swathed in the cerements of sin.”
“Nay, at the glistening portals of pearl I'll await thee, await thee,
Bearing thee radiant attire for the joy of thine entering in.”




  ― 311 ―
“Ah, but the angels, the aureoled angels, adoring, adoring,
Will they not mock us, faint-quiring the notes of our penitent strain?”
“Nay, for our hymns have a theme of Redemption, high-soaring, high-soaring,
Far o'er the music of angels, the song of the Lamb that was slain.”

“Where hath she learned it?” quoth one; and “Who wrote it? who gave it?” another:
Hyacinth answered with silvery laughter, and sought her lone room.
“Surely my child has some secret at heart,” said the wondering mother.
I alone knew why she brooked not the question of whence or by whom.

All the night long in her slumber I heard the unconscious out-pouring
Of her young spirit in jubilant thoughts from the dream-broken strain;
Ever she murmured—“a theme of Redemption high-soaring, high-soaring,
Far o'er the music of angels, the song of the Lamb that was slain.”




  ― 312 ―

VI.

“PLEASANTLY,” said I? Yea, pleasantly! Three summer months of contentment,
Bright with bright faces, and sweet with sweet voices, or sleeping in smiles.
Here the green earth is the heaven-domed temple of poet's presentment,
Manifold harmonies rolling for ever thro' long forest aisles.

Softly I've moved through the time with the echo-less footfalls of Duty,
Wearing the garments of meekness and schooling my heart to constraint,
Shunning my mirror for dread of the slumbering demon of Beauty:
Puritan I in my plainness of garb, in demeanour a saint.




  ― 313 ―
All I resolved I have done; much in spirit, and wholly in letter;
Faultless my conduct and converse … but where is the sign of return?
See, I have prisoned my life in routine till my soul is no better
Than the grey ashes that lie in the coldly-symmetrical urn.

Am I then weary of well-doing, deeming it fruitless endurance?
Nay, but my spirit is cloyed with the feast of perpetual sweets.
I was not moulded for peace, or the dreamless repose of assurance.
Oh, I am faint with the opiate breath of these woodland retreats!

This is not life, to be bowed in the heart-hush of worship for ever,
Softly asleep on my shadow to glide o'er a summer-lit sea.
Life is not passionless calm, but the turbid delight of the river.
Give me the billowy Jordan!… enough now of blue Galilee.




  ― 314 ―
All my young dream was of heroes; my play was Olympian frolic,
Venus, Minerva, Alecto, alternate—love, wisdom, and gall.
What is the mood of my life-music now? Why, a piping bucolic,
Babbling melodious of pastoral peace and content; that is all.

Soul cannot march to the bleating of sheep and the lowing of cattle.
Rather the war-blast of passion were thrilling again in mine ears!
Oh for a touch of the palpitant world! for the glory of battle!
Show me once more the proud wave of the banners, the gleam of the spears!

What would I conquer? Myself? So I might; but such war were inglorious.
How should it yield me the rapture that only the conqueror feels?
What were the spoils of the slain? To what Capitol march when victorious?
Whom should I drag thro' the dust, captive-bound at my chariot-wheels?




  ― 315 ―
Oh, I am sick of unlaurelled self-conquest! A region fire-smitten
Lies at the feet of the victor, unworthy the cost of the strife.
What is the fruit of my summer of meekness? Behold, I have written!
Ink! where the blood should have been, and the dust of the battle of life!

Stay. Let me question myself. Whence this change of mood? Yesterday only
All in my heart was the hush of the temple, conventual calm.
Yesterday quickening Nature sufficed me; alone, but not lonely,
Breathing concordant with all things, embraced in the infinite psalm.

Now all this musical silence but frets me. I live, but I sing not,
Save in harsh discords that jar with the tender discourse of the flowers.
Soft airs are wooing my brow with their winnowing wings, but they bring not
Tribute of hope. Time's too smooth, and I chafe at the impotent hours.




  ― 316 ―
What hath unfellowed me thus from the spirits of beauty beside me?
Why do I turn from the honey of life to the blood-kindling wine?
Yesterday, heaven was opened: I saw, but its bliss was denied me,
Saw it in Hyacinth's eyes with the Demon of Envy in mine.

Even as she passed from my sight, while the branches yet shook from her presence,
Rose in unblest resurrection the sepulchred passions of yore.
I to go dreaming of life while this novice is drinking its essence!
I to be almost content with the dregs, while her cup runneth o'er!

Say, were an angel cast down by mischance at the great consummation,
Would not his sharpest distress be the gleam of his home in the skies?
Even the shadow of heaven were worse torment than hell's conflagration:
What then for me was the reflex of Eden in Hyacinth's eyes?




  ― 317 ―
Shut out from life and from love by hard circumstance, not from unmeetness,
Can I untempted look on while another sits down to the feast?
Why must I drag through the hours when this Hyacinth leaps to completeness,
Leaps to her queenly meridian, still flushed with the roseate east?

“It is because thou hast sinned.” Oh emaciate ghost of repentance!
Thou here again with thine offerings of sackcloth, and ashes, and tears!
Pointing thy skeleton finger at Law! See, I point to the Sentence,
Paid to the uttermost farthing by weary fulfilment of years.

What, then? Shall envy inherit me wholly? A thousand times, Never.
It hath but waked me once more from the spell of a somnolent hour,
Stirred up the thorns in the nest, struck a spur in the flank of endeavour:
I am the old self again. I am … Nay, I am Magdalen Power.




  ― 318 ―

VII.

STRANGERS to-day; a momentous event in this slumb'rous seclusion:
Lily and Violet sadly impatient of precept and books:
Hyacinth calmer, but fluttering dove-like with pretty confusion;
Something of mystery, too, in those quick interrogative looks.

“Are they from far?” I ask carelessly. “Not from a very great distance,”
Violet answers; “but oh! 'tis so seldom they visit us now.
There was a quarrel, you know,” she continues with prattling persistence,
All unaware of the shadow that gathers on Hyacinth's brow.




  ― 319 ―
“Something I don't understand, about cattle, and buying, and selling;
Arthur Trevelyan was rude, and dropped words about ‘ill-gotten gear;’
Father was angered, and said that no Convict should darken his dwelling:
But he repented, and wrote to both father and son; so they're here.”

“What is a Convict?” she asks me; “Trevelyan's a Convict, they tell me.
It must be something, I'm sure, to be proud of, if Raymond is one.”
Ah, cruel question that would to my own definition compel me!
Hyacinth comes to my rescue: “A Convict! Young Raymond is none!

“Tell me,” she said, and I mark the unwonted and quivering passion,
“Can it be just that a son should inherit a father's disgrace?”
Gladly I catch at the turn of the theme, and reply, “'Tis a fashion
That were best honoured by breach.” There's a story in Hyacinth's face.




  ― 320 ―

VIII.

OFT hath it pleased me in day-dream and night-watch to mould an ideal:
Is not my heart-wish incarnate, new risen or dropt from above?
One sudden gleam of a face, and my cherished ideal is real!
There moved my miracle, there passed my Fate, whom to see is to love!

Somewhere I've read that the gods, waxing wroth at our mad importunity,
Hurl us our boon, and it falls with the weight of a curse at our feet:
Perilous thing to intrude on their lofty Olympian immunity!
‘Take it, and die,” say the gods, and we die of our fondest conceit.




  ― 321 ―
Is it so now with myself? I have riven the night-watches asunder,
Murmuring “Give me to see him,” and fretting the beautiful skies.
Lo, I have seen him! And now, I shrink, trembling with impotent wonder,
Pondering, Is it the blessing I craved, or a curse in disguise?

Yes, I have seen him; and envious murmur and fretful rebellion
Pause as I muse on a possible future, and gird up my strength.
How my wild spirit was hushed when I looked on this Raymond Trevelyan!
Prince of my dreams, by the throb of this heart, thou art come—come at length!




  ― 322 ―

IX.

DOWN in the vines he is sitting, the fruitage, leaf-shadowed above him,
Lending concomitant charm to the ripeness that flushes his cheek.
There is the glory of summer about him. I see him, and love him,
Asking not why. I but know that the strong one is come to the weak.

Down in the vines he is sitting; and radiance leaf-softened and golden
On the broad calm of his brow through the veil of the vintage is shed.
Blest be each bough that enshrines him! Henceforth I am ever beholden
Unto the slenderest, tenderest leaflet that shelters his head.




  ― 323 ―
Down in the vines he is sitting; I see him leaf-circled and Faun-like,
Such as I've seen in my dreams, in like halo of amber and green,
With those same love-seeking glances, so placidly, dreamily, dawn-like,
Quiet as the birth of the dew, as the star of the morning serene.

Dream, heart, no more of thy lyre-lauded heroes, and demi-gods storied!
Open thine eyes on the breathing fulfilment of beauty and strength!
Down in the vines he is sitting; I see him leaf-girt and leaf-gloried;
Prince of my dreams, by the throb of this heart, thou art come—come at length!




  ― 324 ―

X.

ONLY two syllables uttered—“Good-night;” a conventional pressure—
Nay, not so much—a mere meeting of finger-tips formally deigned.
Nothing for heart to interpret; no look to remember and treasure:
Lovingly courteous to others; to me alone coldly constrained

Yet he is mine. I have marked him for mine. Am I fantasy's minion?
Slave to a self-born philosophy? victim of doating conceit?
Or, am I privileged priestess, beholding dark things Eleusinian,
Piercing the thought of the gods, and fore-casting the way of their feet?




  ― 325 ―
Gods, gods, and gods! I am weary of gods! I have looked on humanity,
Living, and breathing, and glowing, and burning—limb, body, and face!
Time that my dreams become touch, that I cease from this bodiless vanity,
Wistfully rounding my vacuous arms to the shape of embrace!




  ― 326 ―

XI.

OVER my mirror. 'Tis time that I look to my weapons and armour.
Keener than ever, I fancy, the penetrant edge of my glance.
I can remember a fuller-orbed cheek, and a rose blushing warmer;
But on my brow is no line sorrow-furrowed, no wake of mischance.

Loves he dark tresses, I wonder, in sinuous subtlety twining?
Loves he dark eyes, fired with love, and star-sympathied passion of night?
Loves he the long drooping eye-lash, half secret half story combining?
Loves he the lithe grace of undulous ease, and imperial height?




  ― 327 ―
This is the reflex of beauty I gaze on, the beauty I've hidden,
Most from myself, and have struggled thro' years of control to forget,
Deeming it e'en as a perilous thing, and a weapon forbidden,
Piercing the hand of the user, and dealing but shame and regret.

Wherefore should beauty be evil? and that which in lilies and roses
Men deem most gracious and holy be fatal in woman alone?
Why should the flower seek the light, while the woman in cloister reposes,
Sealed down by vows from the eyes that were made to drink love at her own?

Beauty, like Knowledge, is Power; what of Beauty and Knowledge colleaguing,
Guided by keen-visioned Prudence to work to one ultimate goal?
Not Cleopatra herself, 'mid the lurements of Tarsus intriguing,
Boasted this tri-une endowment concluded in body and soul.




  ― 328 ―
Not as my past is my present. No more as a child shall I stumble,
Hastening the end by false measures, and grasping the fruit immature.
I shall be patient. The time may be long, and the means may be humble,
But he is mine; I have marked him for mine; and the triumph is sure.

This idle curl that I smooth even now betwixt finger and finger,
Silkenly circling his own shall he press upon amorous lips;
Yea, on the yielding delight of this breast shall that conquered head linger,
And 'neath the veil of these tresses lie hid in enamoured eclipse.

But my lamp pales as I gaze; and I feel the weird tremor that thrilleth
Brain, heart, and limb, when the night seems to yield up its soul unto day.
Now to mine orisons. Shall I then speak as the spirit not willeth?
Nay: I must couch me unshriven. To-night I am powerless to pray.




  ― 329 ―

XII.

WAS it a chance or a Providence brought me once more to the river?
Wandering whither I knew not, and cared not, I came as before
Unto the spot. It was ever my solace to wander; and ever
Seem I allured to the stream: for the rush and the musical roar,

Rhyming and chiming in mystic agreement with that which works in me,
Bravely concording with thoughts of wild action and furious delight,
Win me from baleful contentment, from dreamy oblivion win me,
Call me to live and to dare, re-endow me with motion and might.




  ― 330 ―
How I have smiled at my school-bred compatriots languidly viewing
Ivy-clad relics caducous, and morbidly learned in decay!
Give me the bountiful rush of my river, its ever-renewing
Life and festivity, song, dance, and revel by night and by day!

Surely 'twas this and not espionage guided my fanciful wandering,
Drew me thro' bosky entanglement e'en to the ripple-wooed marge;
Couched me in reedy concealment, and set me conjecturing, pondering,
Ever on life, and on my life; when, lo, by the mangroves a barge,

Fairy-like, noiselessly gliding! Or ever I saw him I knew him—
Knew by the sudden rebound of my blood, and the quiver of limb!
Knew, too, that rustling of leaves, and the gleam of white vesture that drew him
Unto the haven appointed—the heaven of Hyacinth and him.




  ― 331 ―
Then the old story, the Adam-old story, the Eve-old love story:
Rapture of lips, and entwining of arms, and commingling of sighs,
Heart-to-heart clingings, and glad jets of tears; all the glow and the glory
Of a ripe summer of love sunned in splendour of amorous eyes.

Was it in generous forbearance I bore me so calmly, so mildly,
Marking the kiss-dented lips, and sweet license of zephyr-blown hair?
Who could have dreamed of young Hyacinth clasping and clinging so wildly?
She of the angels! In sooth such embracement is not of the air.

Well: 'tis enough. A new obstacle. Sometimes the ghost of it haunted me,
Breathing on sparks of suspicion that now are enkindled to flame.
Phantom no more: I have seen, and the glare of the truth hath not daunted me;
Truly, forewarned is forearmed, and I grow but the more to mine aim.




  ― 332 ―
She is a child; I a woman; and he! could he fill up the measure
Of the great longing I read in his eyes with a kiss or a song?
Greatness of heart soon outgrows the milk-dainties of infantile pleasure.
Weak silly-winning young ways are poor wiles for the wise and the strong.

It is not ivy he needeth, the boughs of his manhood caressing,
Ivy that drains what it clings to, and sappeth the life of the tree.
It is the earth for the roots, and the blood of the storm, and the blessing
Wrapt in the rolling of vapours, and born of the sun and the sea.

These would I give him, a closer embrace than poor parasite-clinging,
Being his meat, and his drink, and his strength, and his light, and his breath!
Is not this better than daintiest love-lore of sighing and singing?
Hyacinth! Hyacinth! It is not you, it is I … his till death!




  ― 333 ―
Yea, though I saw you to-day in the rapture of parasite clinging,
Luring the strength from his heart, and suspiring a mutual breath,
Practising daintiest love-lore of kissing, and sighing, and singing,
Hyacinth! Hyacinth! … it is not you … it is I … his till death!




  ― 334 ―

XIII.

LET me be justified in my own sight. She is young, and before her
Lies all the wide world to choose from. Would God that it were so with me!
Hers is blind impulse: she cannot have chosen: and Raymond reigns o'er her
Only by right of first comer. Not such would my fealty be!

Not with the eye of a child do I measure those opulent merits—
Frame of Antinöus, utterance of Pericles, heart of “The Just.”
All the more mine do I claim him because of the taint he inherits:
This were a shame unto her in high places of blue-veined disgust.




  ― 335 ―
Shall I invoke higher motives, and sanction my purpose by duty?
Well, an I would, so I might, and no more than my duty fulfil.
Am not I Hyacinth's keeper, aedile of this temple of beauty,
Bound by my service and honour to watch and to guard? … And I will.




  ― 336 ―

XIV.

LINGER, oh Sun, for a little, nor close yet this day of a million!
Is there not glory enough in the rose-curtained halls of the West?
Hast thou no joy in the passion-hued folds of thy kingly pavilion?
Why shouldst thou only pass through it? Oh rest thee a little while, rest!

Why should the Night come and take it, the wan Night that cannot enjoy it,
Bringing pale argent for golden, and changing vermilion to grey?
Why should the Night come and shadow it, entering but to destroy it?
Rest 'mid thy ruby-trailed splendours! Oh stay thee a little while, stay!




  ― 337 ―
Rest thee at least a brief hour in it! 'Tis a right royal pavilion.
Lo, there are thrones for high dalliance all gloriously canopied o'er!
Lo, there are hangings of purple, and hangings of blue and vermilion,
And there are fleeces of gold for thy feet on the diapered floor!

Linger, a little while linger. To-morrow my heart may not sing to thee:
This shall be Yesterday, numbered with memories, folded away.
Now should my flesh-fettered soul be set free! I would soar to thee, cling to thee,
And be thy rere-ward Aurora, pursuing the skirts of To-day!

Shall I not doat on to-day that hath brought me the earnest of blessing,
Young buds of friendship whose promise the coming of time shall fulfil?
First the green blade; then the ear, from the green to the yellow progressing;
Then the full corn in the ear, golden waving, to reap when I will.




  ― 338 ―
For, as it fell out to-day, I was sought and was found of young Raymond;
And he hath told me his story, beseeching my counsel and aid:
Closest of friends, we are Pythias out-Pythias'd and Damon out-Damon'd;
Man unto man is as nought to our friendship of young man and maid.

All this is well. It is something to nourish a secret between us.
All this is well. There are meetings, and moon-light and star-light in store.
Ah, my poor “mournful Œnone,” dost think there is pity in Venus
When she contends with her peers for the prize? Such have I, and no more.

This is not new in the love-lore of woman—love's messenger pleading
Subtly and warily, making the cause of another her own;
Skilfully pouring in shaft upon shaft, till the love that lies bleeding
Turns to the smiter for help, and finds rest in her bosom alone.




  ― 339 ―
Didst thou not dream then, my love, when I proffered a guerdonless traffic
'Twixt that poor dove and thyself, that thy trust was most sweetly beguiled?
Didst thou then deem me so icy-angelic, so snowy-seraphic,
That I but gazed on thine eyes to reflect back their light on a child?

Ah me! this turmoil of heart! Is it truly a change for the better?
Once I remember a setting of sun, yea, and settings of suns,
Greeted with welcome when warder, and order, and grating, and fetter
Passed into darkness and silence—twin-heaven of the spirit that shuns

Daylight and audible life. Oh my soul! the delight, the delicious
Pressing together of arms, and up-gathering of knees to the chin,
And the spent air breathed for warmth 'twixt the breasts, while the darkness propitious
Softer than wool wrapt me round with a dreamless oblivion of sin!




  ― 340 ―
Which is the better?—the torpid collapse of spent penitence crouching
Into the darkness and solitude, hugging the joy of the night,
Or the fierce gladness of day that would hinder the sun from his couching,
Mad with the bitter-sweet wine of desire, and the pain of delight?

Is there no midway for such one as I am 'twixt being and doing?
Is there no choice save the lotus of sleep or the apple of strife?
Is there no bliss that is neither dull rest nor a fevered pursuing?
Is there no twilight dividing the noon-flame and night of my life?

Well, what I am, that I am. It is better to scheme than to slumber.
What was this goodness that sometime I strove for? Supineness, constraint,
Mortification of spirit, and crosses and thorns without number,
Pride in abasement, and sombre complacence of embryo saint.




  ― 341 ―
That is all over; and, saving some fitful remembrance of pity
Piercing the joints of the harness, to break ere it reaches the heart,
All is as erst. … Touching Hyacinth, she must to school, to the city.
This I advise for her good—for her good (perhaps mine, too, in part).




  ― 342 ―

XV.

VASTNESS of verdurous solitude, forest complexity boundless,
Where is no stir save the fall of a leaf, or the wave of a wing:
Lone sunny regions where virginal Nature roams ceaseless and soundless,
Rich with the richness of summer, yet fresh with the freshness of spring:

Where is no stir save of leaf in its falling, or bird in its winging,
Or the unfrequent sweet idyll low-murmured by devious streams;
Where is no passion, or sign of desire, save the infantile clinging
Of the young tendrils, or opening of flowers to a morning of beams.




  ― 343 ―
That was but yesterday. Comes a brief journey … a sleep … and the morrow
Wakes on the City, with issuing forth of tumultuous life—
Wakes upon quickening footsteps, and faces acquainted with sorrow,
Hurried uptaking of burdens, and voices familiar with strife.

Marvel of contrast, that seems like the swift incoherence of vision!
As peradventure it may be; for who can say more than “It seems?”
Surely all life is a dream, mis-begot of Olympian derision,
And the divided strange courses of men are but dreams within dreams.

Let me dream on, then. Of late I confess I have dreamed somewhat pleasantly.
Last night I dreamed of a school in a convent. And Hyacinth and I
Came to the gate. So we knocked at the gate, and it opened, and presently
Hyacinth passed from my sight, and I heard a voice sobbing “Good-bye.”




  ― 344 ―
Poor little Hyacinth! But it was better, assuredly better.
You'll be too busy to think, and too much with the angels to care.
Now you are safe from the freaks of young fantasy—safe as your letter
Is not to pass from my hand into his. You'll forget him in there!




  ― 345 ―

XVI.

BACK to my woods; back to Lily and Violet; back to the daily
Track of the wheels, and the hidden rotation of wheels within wheels.
But there is hush in the home all unwonted. Where three voices gaily
Sang to one tune, there is silence, save whispers, and wordless appeals

From sad young eyes unto mine, as the last who have seen and have kissed her,
Fretting my soul with unspoken entreaty and inquest of truth,
Seeming to ask with sharp scrutiny, “What hast thou done with our sister?
Art thou more cruel than death, that thou grudgest the years of her youth?”




  ― 346 ―
Give me a woman to strive with, a man, or a demon, or angel!
When did I tremble or cringe, when the proud and the strong were my foes?
But from the weaklings of Christ, from the delicate lambs of Evangel,
From the lorn looks of young innocents—save me, oh save me from those!




  ― 347 ―

Part Second.

I.

EVEN as water to him who thirsts wayfaring, dust-dry and burning,
After sore heat and long stumbling in courses with never a rill,
Weary with counting of ridges, and barren result of much turning,
Tempted to curse God and die, let the afterward be what it will,

Even as the brimming delight of the wine-cup by fair hands commended
Unto hot lips that are sanguine from onslaught and stiff-set from ire,
With the undoing of baldrick and panoply heavy and splendid,
Changed for a girth of white arms, and the softness of silken attire;




  ― 348 ―
Even as pressure of ministering hands on the fevered and aching
Brow of the sorrowful, morrow-full sire and provider of bread,
Wherein is grace of sweet solace and peace, and a virtue awaking
Unexplained hope, and discernment of bliss all round and o'erhead;

Even as green rivage with homestead, rose-garden, and grass-lawn trim-shaven,
Unto eyes weary with wide waste of waters and seething sea-foam,
Changing the spirit of heaviness into the joy of the haven,
And the long vigils of storm to the rest and observance of home;

Even as the stirring of leaves on the boughs after breathless unbroken
Months of dead drought, when the earth is as iron, and heaven as brass,
When the rain-argosy cometh, and sendeth a sigh for a token,
And there is hope in the flowers, and a wave on the languishing grass;




  ― 349 ―
Even as the coming of dawn to the pilgrim in trackless wild places,
Lighting up landmarks of old, and confirming his face to the south
Zionward,—even to Jerusalem the Golden, where rest is and grace is,
Whither he toils, angel-tended, with Songs of Degrees in his mouth;

Even as the coming of night to the premature children of labour,
Smit to the heart of their youth with the curse of the iron and steel—
Night with re-unions of home, or sweet converse of neighhour with neighbour,
Proffering the peace of her stars for the wildering whirl of the wheel;

Even as all golden moments, all joyance of welcome transition,
Gathered from all the wide circuit of life and concluded in one;—
So to Love's fever and fret, its sore travail and thirsting ambition,
Comes what my lips and my heart knew to-day at the set of the sun!

II.

HE is not faithless or fickle, and had he all shamelessly yielded
At the first stroke, I had spurned him, and left him ignobly to die:
Or I had dallied a little, and played with the potence I wielded—
Kissed him perchance, and then loathed him, and branded his love with a lie.

I might have gazed on his eyes till the light of allurement had quenched them;
Suffered a violent brief little bondage of manly embrace;
This way and that way have parted his hair with my fingers, then clenched them,
And with the scorn of a woman have smitten him full on the face.




  ― 351 ―
But he is noble and virtuous, patient of evil appearance;
Charity in him is sovereign; it suffereth long and is kind.
“She may seem wholly estranged; all is darkness; but time bringeth clearance,
And I will grope in my darkness, content for her sake to be blind.”

Long months of silence, and agonized waiting, and ever-increasing
Substance of wonder still found him believing the message would come:
Yet not as mine could his suffering be, a hid torture unceasing,
Knowing the cause, yea, and being the cause, and yet wilfully dumb.

Ah, those poor letters of his and of hers! Like things murdered they haunt me.
Dead things have power on me, though with the quick I be fearless and brave.
Surely the fire would consume them! But how if the sight of them daunt me?
And should I open my desk, it would seem as I opened a grave.




  ― 352 ―
There are some things even I cannot do. False I could not declare her;
Nor could I ruthlessly slander a living love never withdrawn.
How could I rail at poor Hyacinth, knowing her purer and fairer
In the well-springs of her soul than the opaline deeps of the dawn?

Thanks to her father, her blundering father, who spoke of her marriage,
Right in the hearing of Raymond, as something quite fixed and at hand:
Vulgarly boasted of fortune in store for her, “servants and carriage,”
And of the change of her name to a name that is known in the land.

Thanks to her father, who knows not the obstacle, knows not the wayward
Heart of a girl that no arbiter brooks in the gift of her youth;
Sees not, gold-dazzled, the scorn of the world when December looks Mayward;
Thanks to her father mistaking his easy consent for the truth




  ― 353 ―
Hyacinth seen, and admired, and desired—this I knew and concealed it;
Fain would have shaped it to something, and profited somehow thereby;
Made it available, made her seem saleable, subtly revealed it:
Thanks to the old man again, who has saved me the crime of a lie.

This was the spark. It was not of my lighting. Mine only to breathe on it.
Ready the fuel, long-dried by suspense, to flame into a hell!
Mine but to watch the dark cauldron of agony bubble and seethe on it,
Then to sing soft incantations that loosen and alter the spell.

Wherefore record them: the wiles and the low-whispered counsel, the honeyed
Words of feigned comfort, the maxims of wisdom, the fanning of pride,
Praises disguised as dispraise of alliances landed and moneyed—
Damning excuses, replete with exposure, while seeming to hide?




  ― 354 ―
Wherefore? There are, and myself am of such, who are slaves to an inward
Devil of self-contemplation that drinks its own blood and own breath,
Lapping insatiate at all streams alike be they Godward or sinward;
Making good evil, bad worse: self-consuming, yet frugal of death.

Even as the shedder of blood ever fleeing the dread scene of slaughter,
Yet by centripetal charm ever drawn to the spot where the hand
Points from the shuddering earth, or the sodden white face on the water
Stares its unsinking appeal till his days be cut off from the land,—

So do I circle and hover, so flee, and yet circle and hover
Round my past deeds, and past purpose, and central arcana of sin.
When shall I know the great sigh of relief, the “Thank God, it is over”?
Ah, could I think death were better, how soon should I slumber therein!




  ― 355 ―
Strange I should love to record what, already too luridly lettered,
Burns on the tablets within me in lines of unquenchable fire.
Strange there is respite in singing of self, that the Demon sleeps fettered,
When of my passion-strained heart-strings I make me and wake me a lyre.

Even as I've seen in fair Italy, where the weird mystical mountain
Travailing mightily foams with red ruin from summit to base;
Seen there the cunning in art, ere destruction is quenched at its fountain,
Take of the lava, and make of it things of adornment and grace;

Yea, of the spume of convulsion make things to be worn on the bosom,
Out of the travail of darkness bring issue of beauty to light,
Fashion a dove in its tenderness, simulate softness of blossom,
Lips that subdued the Immortals, or brows of Olympian might;




  ― 356 ―
So do I take of my sin, and my suffering, and labour of passion,
Mould them to semblance of beauty of Nature, or classic conceit,
Smooth them, and lose me the body of pain in the sense of the fashion,
Binding distress itself captive to art in the linking of feet.

Yet, to re-track all the wiles one by one—nay I cannot, I may not.
Under the web is complexity, subtle, and hopeless to trace.
Raymond is blameless. How could he be else? There are things that I say not
Which would redeem him in eyes the severest from ban of disgrace.




  ― 357 ―

III.

DID not I dream that true happiness sat in the throne of attainment,
Crowned with the crown of victorious endeavour, and sceptred with palm?
Did not I see Fate herself flower-subdued, and in rosy enchainment,
And the importunate problem of life lying stifled in balm?

Is it the way of high Heaven to mock us with tokens of favour,
Lavish of sunshine to ripen the growth of our dearest device;
Then to deceive us with harvests that nourish not, fruits without savour,
Hemlock and hebenon clothed with the semblance of balsam and spice?




  ― 358 ―
Is the high God of Evangel more cruel than gods of old fable?
Tantalus only beholds, never touches, the fruit ere it slips;
But this Jehovah—He filleth our hands with it, heapeth our table;
Then laughs in heaven when it changes to ashes and fire on our lips!

Yes; turn on Heaven! Call the gods, then the God of gods, scornful and cruel!
Rail at the pitiless Triads that rule us, and mock us, and curse!
Call up thine ancient despair, challenge Nemesis' self to the duel!
Arm thee with Greek old-world blasphemies!… Feel'st thou then better, or worse?

Thou hast the wish of thine heart. Would'st have more? See, 'twixt finger and finger,
Lo, how he twineth thy hair, and then lifts it to amorous lips!
See, on the yielding delight of thy breast doth the conquered head linger,
And 'neath the veil of thy tresses lies hid in enamoured eclipse!




  ― 359 ―
Wherefore the fret? Is it surfeit of pleasure or surfeit of sinning?
Would'st thou have appetite grow with the feeding? the lust of the eyes
Ever renewed with the gazing? And knew'st thou not from the beginning
That, when sin hath its desire, the desirableness thereof dies?

Is it God's way that in nature He suffereth His own disappearance,
Leaves it to work to its end in the groove of immutable rule;
But that in things of the spirit He willeth direct interference,
Giving the crown to the simple, and meting out grace to the fool?

Is this His sovereign and awful prerogative: joy He retaineth
Absolute, in His own hands, to bestow, to withhold, to destroy?
What shall it profit a man that he prosper, if joy He restraineth
Who can give joy without cause and a bounteous cause without joy?




  ― 360 ―
I am a fool to indulge me in sadness of spirit-communing.
Thought is all sadness; but night is all kindness: the stars are on high.
It is the hour. I will rush to him, cling to him, revel to swooning
In the dear love of him. Eat, drink, be merry, to-morrow we die!




  ― 361 ―

IV.

WHAT have I gained? One grand moment, one moment supreme and delirious.
Something hath perished from earth and from heaven since that eve when he spoke:
That one prime eve, when the moon was a sun, and the brightness of Sirius
Glowed in the tiniest star, and the palpitant firmament broke

Everywhere into confusion of glory, and sordid conditions,
Earthy and palpable, clean fell away from our feet and our eyes,
And in the mid-air we seemed, ether-fed with unspeakable visions,
And there was none save us twain in the lands, or the seas, or the skies!




  ― 362 ―
Now is no life at my heart save the life of the serpent that hisses,
Coiled round its roots, giving slime for all moisture, and poison for dew.
Now I but mourn o'er a grace unrenewed. All in vain do his kisses
Press on a passionless cheek, that is cold as the conscience I slew.

One supreme moment; no more. And the joy of it died with the using:
One sublime bound to the copestone of bliss, then the chilling recall:
One sudden sense of a crown, then the sting of the thorns of accusing:
One sudden draught of the nectar, that turned as I drank into gall.

What shall I curse? The poor hands that lie lifelessly lax when he takes them
Into his own? Or the arms that are flaccid and powerless to cling?
Or the set lips without fervour? The eyes whose effulgence forsakes them?
Or the thin, quavering, passionless voice that refuses to sing?




  ― 363 ―
There is no good thing, I think, 'neath the sun. And yet somehow it seems to me,
When I saw her, that true happiness shone like the sun from her face
As he drew near to her. Glimpses of Hyacinth come in my dreams to me,
Radiant, elated, and clothed on with joy as an angel of grace.

All for young Raymond—my Raymond too! But there's a curse on my loving;
Curse of an inward recoiling, and curse of an outward decline;
Curse of an outward supineness, and curse of an inward reproving;
Cursed most of all in that memory of intercourse other than mine!

What shall the end be? Ah me, my wrecked reason refuseth conclusions.
Lacks there but madness to fill up my cup of reproach to the brim?
God! send me rather the sharp fires of hell than the reign of delusions!
This is the one thing I ask Thee, to slay me ere judgment grows dim!




  ― 364 ―

V.

WHY walk we softly and whisper to-day, as if one in a fever
Slept, and life lay in the stifling of sound, and the batement of breath?
Know we not well that no step can awake her, no dissonance grieve her?
Know we not well the omnipotence of the last febrifuge—Death?

Surely we know she is dead to our reverence and muffled dissembling,
Past all our little proprieties, in unprofanable spheres;
Yet we walk softly, and whisper, and do our least office with trembling,
As if the vibrating air yet made converse of sound in her ears.




  ― 365 ―
This is the riddle of Death: while she lived, no such reverent seeming
Silkened our ways. She is dead, and we whisper, move softly, and weep;
As if our delicate walking would rhyme with the peace of her dreaming,
As if the music of whispers would deepen the hush of her sleep.

Surely we know all must die: yet we cherish and hoard up our reverence,
Until the known are unknown; then subside to unechoing feet.
Were it not wiser and better to count on the moment of severance,
And pay the dues of the tomb in the house, in the mart, in the street?




  ― 366 ―

VI.

HYACINTH'S mother.… One question appals me When spirits are bounded
No more by straight circumscription and narrow availment of brain,
When they are done with all mediums wherewith our dull nature is rounded,
Can they then look, soul to soul, on the secrets of such as remain?

Then she knows all; and my heart like a scroll lieth open before her,
And I am read as I am in the merciless noonlight of truth,
As the high-priestess of craft, the arch-scorner, the self-god adorer,
As the contemner of innocence, and the deceiver of youth!




  ― 367 ―
Hush! This is dotage of morbid timidity, fruit of long waking,
Offspring of death-bed anxieties, weak suicidal despair.
I will throw off superstition, arise when the daylight is breaking,
Look on the body, and touch it, and breathe in the death-laden air.

I will be friendly with death, and familiarly handle and think of it,
Call its deep peace a delight, and its etiolation a grace.
Surely 'tis wise now and then just to sip at the cup ere we drink of it,
Wise to strip Doom of its terror by looking it full in the face.




  ― 368 ―

VII.

LO, where it lies, not yet wholly cut off from the land of the living.
What is there in it should haunt me, and thrill with mysterious awe?
Is it not matter as I am, obedient to sunlight, and giving
Even in its shadow the tenebrous token of natural law?

Yea, by the shadow it casts one might reckon the hour of the morning.
It is then subject of time, and the changing relations of space.
Is it then other than I, save the fashion of outward adorning,
Other than I, save the shroud, and the flowers, and the hue of the face?




  ― 369 ―
Oh, who will read me this Death? Who will read me this stranger Life-mystery,
Pierce to its primary subtlety, seize it, and drag it to light,
Show me its essence, its fount, its transmission, its law, and its history?
Oh, who will teach me what Day is, ere yet I go down unto Night?

Ever the problem besets me, in labour, in sorrow, in laughter:
Mystery of mysteries, too wide for conception, too deep and too high!
Imbecile! What doth it profit to gaze on the mists of Hereafter?
Turn me away from them. Eat, drink, be merry, to-morrow we die!




  ― 370 ―

VIII.

AH, but to-morrow we die not. For morrow, and morrow on morrow,
Each with a cry of awakening, and stretching importunate hands,
Rending the garments of sleep, and unveiling new danger and sorrow,
Bursts on the soul of the schemer, and bids it take heed how it stands.

Hyacinth cometh. No delegate Fury of wrath unrelenting
Ever tracked mortal as tracks me the pallid reproach of her face.
Yet even one tear is denied me. I find me no place for repenting,
Cast forth all lawless and lonesome beyond the attraction of grace.




  ― 371 ―
Oh, there are deep and dark places on earth where I fain would be lying,
Fain would be sleeping unrecked of, and hidden away from the sun,
Where is no next, and no imminent, where even death is past dying,
Where is no doing or undoing, where all is done and undone!

What have I done that the heaven frowneth o'er me, and earth reeleth under?
Hypocrite heaven, and hypocrite earth, as if sin were yet young,
And it behoved you to trumpet the marvel with tempest and thunder!
Ye who have smiled upon sin since the song of Creation was sung!

Have ye not smiled upon all the seven sins, yea, on seventy times seven,
That ye must blare out your wrath at my deeds with tempestuous din?
Were ye not glowing in greenness, oh earth, and in azure, oh heaven,
When the fair hand of our mother was laid on the key-note of sin?




  ― 372 ―
Was your complaining thus thunderous, the hue of your vesture thus sable,
When the fell Serpent hissed hideous triumph with pestilent breath?
Were ye so fruitful of gloom when the life-blood of innocent Abel
Wrote on the flowers of the field the first line of the annals of death?

Where were your flood-gates of anger when Ammon-encompassed Uriah,
Victim of lust, in the fore-front of battle fell prone to the earth?
Hid ye your beauty with sackcloth and weeping when Queen Athaliah
Spared not the innocent souls whose one crime was the fount of their birth?

Can I not picture you glorious in verdure, and azure, and amber,
When the proud Tullia swerved not her wheels from the corse of her sire?
Can I not conjure the sunshine that gilded the porphyry chamber
When the blind son of Irene lay moaning his eyelids of fire?




  ― 373 ―
Ha, ye must flash! ye must bellow! Yet have ye no potence to scare me.
Full in the face of your fury I tell you my life is my own;
And I shall end it to-day, let your thunderous futility dare me
Even as it will. I am I—I am mine, God-forsaken, alone!

Yea, and I know it is sin, and as sin I yet dare it, and do it.
Death is a light thing, and death is your inmost, your utmost, your all!
And if the wages of sin is but death, see, I crave it, I sue it;
Sue it as wages, for worse thing than life is can never befall.

Oh for the Sea! 'Twere so easy to cease in its yielding embracement,
Caught like a rain-drop, and merged in the hugeness of infinite rest,
Only the laugh of a ripple o'erbubbling the dimpled displacement,
Then the great level of calm, and the hush of the passionless breast.




  ― 374 ―
Curse on those undulous pastures, and far vista'd woods unavailing,
Scant of contiguous umbrage, unmeet for the tomb that I crave!
Oh for the dark-curtained sleep of the Sea, for her kindly, unfailing
End of all dolorous things in the bliss of the kiss of the wave!

Would that my oft-haunted river were deep as the concave of ocean,
Tideless as Euxine, and true to the secrets of final despair!
God! it would wake me, methinks, to be dragged in its libertine motion;
Stranded, perchance, to be flouted once more by the sun and the air.

I do remember that once in my wanderings I noted a lakelet,
Strangely sequestered, and high on a ridge unfrequented and steep.
Green things drank lovingly of it, and lightly in many a flakelet
Floated shed tribute of lilies thereon, a sweet refuge—and deep.




  ― 375 ―
Thither I'll hie me, and lay down my burden of sin and of sorrow;
Cast me therein with one instant and ultimate thrill of release;
And the great world shall go round to renewing of days; but to-morrow
I shall be deep in the heart of the hills, at the centre of peace!




  ― 376 ―

Part Third.

I.

IT was a fever, they tell me: to me 'twas a sleep and a waking;
Yet not a sleep without dreams: if indeed they were dreams that I saw.
Never, I think, shall I call it a dream: but the truth and the breaking
Up of all dreams, and a glimpse of superlative being and law.

Sweet, passing sweet, is this light of the morning, by green leaves made tender,
Tender and mellowed on lids fever-folded, yet sick of repose;
Even as this leaf-mellowed glow to the flood of meridian splendour,
So is the life that we live to the life that such visions disclose.




  ― 377 ―
Sweet is this dance of the shadows of leaves on my coverlet, ever
Shifting and changing, yet silent, impalpable, fretting no fold;
Even as this shadowy dance to the forest's tumultuous quiver,
So is the life that we live to the life that in vision is told.

As I lie here on the dubious bank betwixt waking and slumber,
Life on earth seems but a window that straitens our view of the skies;
And all our fluttering joys and life's things of desire without number
Are but the lattice-leaves, tempering God's light to our infantile eyes.

I have beheld what hath changed me, I know not in body or spirit,
Far in a region where leagues are no measure, and time is no bound;
Up in the realms imperturbable, which the high spirits inherit;
Out of the reach of all seasons; beyond the last echo of sound.




  ― 378 ―
First there came one like a storm-cloud, and bore me high up on the mountain,
Showed me the kingdoms of earth, and the glory thereof, and the power;
Ope'd me the well-springs of Love, drew the wine of Desire from its fountain:
“Bow down and worship,” it said, “and all this will I give for thy dower.”

Then came, all star-girt, another, and caught me away, and I know not
Whither he bore me, because of the pure inaccessible ray,
Save that it was in the land where the beams of eternity flow not
From any sun, and no morning or evening divideth the day.

As in a chrysolite sea I beheld the great cycles of story,
Circling and widening afar at each pulse of the will of the King:
But where I stood there was darkness that marred the immaculate glory;
Shadowed therein I beheld me, a guilty and shuddering thing.




  ― 379 ―
And while I stood all estranged, without welcome, or greeting, or token,
There was a voice in my soul, “Thou must weep, if thy spirit would live.”
Came a great longing for tears, and the spell of the vision was broken,
And on my bed I lay tremulous, weeping, and crying “Forgive!”

Lo, by my side, all in white! it was Hyacinth, fair as the morning;
And on her face were the meekness and peace of an angel of heaven.
Keener than anger is pity, and love than the weapons of scorning;
Lifting her finger she smote me with—“Hush! All is known and forgiven!”




  ― 380 ―

II.

LITTLE by little the tale of the stroke and the fever I gather,
As I lie bridging oblivion, and weaving her words into form;
How I was found as one dead, on a hill-side, by Hyacinth's father,
Struck by the uppermost boughs of a tree that was wrecked in the storm.

How, after days of the semblance of death, there came fever and raving;
How the brain's anarchy loosened the tongue from its wonted control;
How I spoke wildly and darkly of Raymond and Hyacinth, craving
Death for my body because of them, uttermost death for my soul.




  ― 381 ―
How it was deemed as a duty to one whom no care could recover,
Freely to search for some token of kindred, or trace of a friend;
How in the scrutiny Hyacinth chanced on the words of her lover,
Read and knew all, yet forbore to add woe to my imminent end.

How, too, at length I had rest, and the burden of heavy complaining
Changed to the sighing of rapturous vision, and trancëd repose.
Well: it is over. Where now is the passion that knew no restraining?
But is the evil past? Will the shed petals return to the rose?

Full of crushed fragments my hands are. Ah me, can I e'er re-unite them
Into the sacrament cup of the love I have broken and spilt?
How they two clung as the vine and the elm ere I saw, but to blight them!
Is there a river of tears that can cleanse out the mildew of guilt?




  ― 382 ―
Is there no way? Ah, no way. From my raving her father, astonished,
Gathered a part of poor Hyacinth's story, sufficient for wrath;
Led her away from me, questioned her, threatened, upbraided, admonished,
Tyrant and father by turns; till, unpurposed, their devious path.

Ceased at the grave of her mother. Which seeing, the old man, with weeping,
Knelt, and made Hyacinth kneel on the verge of the flowerless sod:
“Now, by my dead, hear me swear; by the heart of thy mother here sleeping”—
And he uncovered his head, and uplifted his hands unto God.

And as he raised them the gleam of the known wedding-ring on his finger,
Catching his eye as it glittered, gave form to the words of his oath:
‘See it,” he said, “it was hers; and by all the pure memories that linger
Round it, I make it the sign and the seal of a covenant for both.




  ― 383 ―
“When I shall offer this ring as a sacred and covenant token
Unto a convict, the choice of thy father: then love where thou wilt.
Can I more fitly say Never? Enough. When my purpose is broken,
Go thou to Raymond, and make thyself kin to dishonour and guilt.”

Could he more fitly say Never? I know him, a puritan cleaving
Unto the letter of covenant, a word-clinging Jephthah in vows.
He will go down to the grave with his vow in his right hand, believing
He hath done well by his children, his honour, his name, and his house.




  ― 384 ―

III.

I AM not done with my shame. As a garment it clingeth around me.
Even as a shroud it doth cover me, paralyzed, swathed in disgrace.
Fast in the folds of obstruction, as one of the dead it hath wound me,
Holding me motionless: and as a face-cloth it covereth my face.

What shall I do with my life, now I live? Could there be restitution,
Then were there something to live for, a guerdon to strive for and win.
Is there no hope, and must life be henceforward a slow dissolution,
Passive and tearful purgation of soul from unspeakable sin?




  ― 385 ―
In the old days there was refuge in orisons, vigils, and fasting,
Cloistered retirement, and matins, and vespers, and garments of grey;
Wherein the broken in spirit caught glimpses of joy everlasting,
Turning their life into night that the night might inherit the day.

Queens, and Kings' daughters, and delicate damsels, their pride and their beauty
Laid on the altar of Jesus. I think of such things and am fain.
Faugh! It was cowardice all, and the sickly evasion of duty!
Shame may be turned to a snare, and repentance made fruitless and vain.

I shall not cease to upbraid me. My burden is fixed. I will bear it.
Yet must this bondage of shame be unwound that my soul may respire.
Hid 'neath the vesture, and next to the flesh, as a chain I will wear it,
As did the monarch of old that was stained with the blood of his sire.




  ― 386 ―
So may I fight as he fought, with the iron memorial cherished
Under all kingly array, until life was laid gloriously down:
Also the world holds him kindly, and tearfully tells how he perished:
His was a crown and a chain; oh, may mine be a chain and a crown!




  ― 387 ―

IV.

I HAVE made all my confession; the truth, and the whole, and truth only;
Made it with anguish of spirit, and weeping, and hiding of face.
But I have justified him. So far well. Single handed and lonely
I must begone with my burden. My guilt over-shadows the place.

Raymond is far from us. Driven from his peace by my fitful demeanour,
Sudden he leaped at a chance of adventure, and passed from his home.
He too must know. Then my spirit may yield to a sorrow serener,
Seeking some token of duty to beckon me whither to roam.




  ― 388 ―
Hyacinth fighteth against my new purpose. His love is for ever
Closed against her, so she reasons. The oath of her father endures.
Also she pleads her worth poor; “If in you he has found what I never
Could have been unto him, let the means pass; not the less is he yours.”

Piteous dove! though thy pardon extend unto seventy times seven,
I shall not strain the advantage; thy loving is better than mine:
Clinging like Sterope unto a mortal, like her I lose heaven.
Now through repentance and duty I look to a union divine.

Surely God loves thee, thou sweet one! The Psyche that moves in thy moving,
Looks through thine eyelids, and breathes in thy breath, is some angel of grace!
Kiss me, O Hyacinth! that the sweet sense of forgiving and loving,
Some little fifth of thy nectar, may pass from thy lips to my face!




  ― 389 ―

V.

ONCE again out in the breeze and the sunlight, heaven o'er me, earth under!
Grown unfamiliar by reason of sickness, all beautiful things
Meet me with hundred-fold welcome, each green leaf a jubilant wonder,
And the old throb of delight in the music of fluttering wings.

Now I can smile with the flowers; for to day I have learned what hath brought me
Nearer akin to them. Ere this same summer hath numbered its hours,
I shall be mixed with their roots. There came one here to-day who hath taught me
How there is that in my heart which shall lay me ere long with the flowers.




  ― 390 ―
Science hath uttered its sentence. I own to a transient terror;
Only a little at first, then a sense of unspeakable rest.
Taken away from the evil to come! The long bondage of error
Soon shall be over! I carry my ransom about in my breast.

Ah, it is well. For I know my own heart: had I lived, I had striven
With a too violent haste and much stumbling to seize on the prize.
Now I am cast back on mercy, content to be simply forgiven,
Beggared of righteousness, pleading but needfulness, Magdalen-wise.

Yet it is strange I should smile with the flowers. I was wont to dissever
Nature and Grace. Behold Grace lends to Nature a kindlier charm.
All things are bright with a glorious light of redemption, and never
Seemed all the verdurous umbrage so gracious, the rose-blush so warm!




  ― 391 ―
Once on a time, to me beauty seemed only a beautiful dying,
Like to the moribund glow of the doomed one, illusive as sweet.
Death! I had deemed it the end of all beauty, the hid underlying
Worm at the root of all loveliness, making each grace a deceit.

This from afar. But now, nearer, I hail it the needful condition
Of the superlative life; not a pause, but a step, and a birth;
As but a yew-shadowed avenue leading to splendid fruition,
And the fulfilment of that which is writ on the flowers of the earth.

It is but closing the eye for repose, ere we wake to the wonder
Waiting our vision through slumber made strong to behold the Divine.
It is but turning the web we have seen as yet only from under,
That we may look on the tissues of life in completed design.




  ― 392 ―
'Tis but the fall of the seed when the season of blossom is over,
Dying to spring up anew from the womb of its burial clod.
'Tis but the clasp of the die on the coin, which the mould must once cover,
Ere it shine forth with the bright superscription and image of God.

Once in mine agony, once in my darkness of purpose I sought it,
Wilfully blind to its issues, and caring for respite alone;
Trampling the jewel of life under foot that was His who hath bought it;
Lord, re-unite the poor fragments, and set them at last with Thine own!

Not with Thine amethysts, not with the emerald, sapphire, and ligure,
Lest I be shamed into nought, as a star when the sun is on high;
Not with the Urim and Thummim, of Light and Perfection the figure,
For I am dark and imperfect; no gem of Thine worthless as I.




  ― 393 ―
Oh, if it be that a pearl is a tear, as a pearl do Thou set me
Where infant-angels shall point to me, asking the meaning of pain.
So in the day when Thou gatherest Thy jewels Thou wilt not forget me,
Though I be dim with remembrance, and shades of old sorrow remain.




  ― 394 ―

VI.

STRANGELY I wake to high thoughts, and beneath them a quiet gratulation,
Like a hid brook whisper-quiring the lordly old music of pines;
And, around all, as a glory, an incense of sweet consecration
Wraps me in mists of devotion that soars beyond visible signs.

Through the thin wall that divides us I hear the low breath of the sleeper,
All whose blest dreaming is worship, whose veriest breathing is prayer.
Oh to be like her! so meet for the Master, so ripe for the Reaper,
Clothed on with gentleness, full of sweet amnesties, stainlessly fair




  ― 395 ―
Let me but look on her. 'Twill be a sacred and privileged portal
Unto new day but to mark how the stages of crimsoning morn
Quicken the life in her cheek—how the mortal that shrines the immortal
Grows out of darkness from grace unto grace, re-illumined, re-born.

Peace to this chamber. Now kneeling I gather the breath of her purity.
See how the delicate pinions of dawning seem fondly to sweep
Over faint outlines and twilight suggestions of shapely obscurity,
Brushing the tokens of night from the maiden-white marvel of sleep.

Seems as Aurora were groping for beauty, and, lo! having found it,
Flushes with roseate rapture, and, bounteous, hastes to unfold
All the rare gifts she hath gathered from Orient, and lavish around it
Various profusion of homage in amber, and crimson, and gold.




  ― 396 ―
Not on the mountain-tops only the glad things of dawning are treasured,
Not in the vaporous magic with bright dreams bewitching the air,
Not by proud eminence only the scope of her bounty is measured,
Sweetest it lies on my sweet, on her face, and her aureoled hair.

Soft sits the light on her beautiful brow; no such radiance is given,
In the morn's kiss, unto uppermost leafage or eastern-most peak:
There is no hue on the rainbow-winged messengers floating in heaven
Like the ethereal pigments that blend in the bloom of her cheek.

What are thy visions, fair slumbering sister? What alchemy hidden
Orbeth the tremulous dream-drop that pearls the dark fringe of thine eye?
Oh, if thou sorrowest even in sleep, by thy sleep am I chidden:
There was no tear in the peace of thy dawn ere my shadow passed by.




  ― 397 ―
I should go from thee—from all that is thine; and yet fondly I linger,
Thinking some providence yet may redeem the foul wrong that I weep.
May not some juncture of good, like an angel with beckoning finger,
Wave me the way of redress, and establish thy joy ere I sleep?

Oft where the clouds gather darkest, the star of our comfort is shining.
Black though the night of our sorrow, who knows but the dawn may be nigh?
I will not speak of my secret of death, till the signs of declining
Warn me to flee to the city: to choose me a home where to die.




  ― 398 ―

Part Fourth.

I.

I HAVE no heart and no time to go forth to the world, there to choose me
One who may be to my children a mother in room of the dead.
Soil-rooted, I am no more of society. I should but lose me
In its mad vortex And yet, it behoves me to choose, and to wed.

“No more for love. As thou seest, I am old, and my summer is over.
Yet 'tis for love, too, the love of a father who fears for his own.
It is for them. Mark, I plead not in guise of a passionate lover.
Plain in my speech, what I offer are honour and duty alone.




  ― 399 ―
“Beauteous I see thee; yet 'tis not thy beauty that tempts me to sue thee:
'Tis that I've noted thee faithful in many things, weighty and small.
Gifted I know thee; yet not thy attainments could tempt me to woo thee:
Nought I behold save that thou lovest them, and they thee—this is all.

“If I should say I am rich and thou poor, this were little to claim thee.
If not for love of my little ones, let my poor quest be as nought.
Cast it aside as unseemly, incongruous: I shall not blame thee.
Better my children left motherless than a false motherhood bought.

“Ponder it. Give me thine answer in peace. Be it joyous or grievous,
Thou hast my blessing: thy will shall be sacred as heaven's decree.
If thou rebukest my haste, 'tis because thou art purposed to leave us,
Therefore I speak ere thou goest; and what are the world's ways to me?”




  ― 400 ―

II.

THOU then declinest to answer me openly, till thou hast pleaded
(Well, too, thou pleadest) the cause of my child. Would my will were my power!
Mightier things than all words for the same have in vain interceded—
Her dim sad eyes, and the cheeks that are blanching from hour unto hour.

“But from my youth up, my word has been sacred. The roots of mine honour
Must be uptorn ere I yield to the breaking of covenant vow.
Yet my heart weeps for my darling, yea, bleeds to have mercy upon her!
And I have pleaded with heaven that a way might be shown, even as thou.




  ― 401 ―
“Yea, were the brand of the law on thy name—shall the mere words offend thee?—
As I have done, even thus would I do, for the love of my child.
Could thou but show me a way, it were token that heaven did send thee
That my pledged faith and her heart-wish should meet and embrace—reconciled.”




  ― 402 ―

III.

DOTH the excess of joy kill? When the chalice of pleasure o'erfloweth,
Is it the time of the end? I am sick unto death of delight.
Why should I tarry when life is fulfilled, and no longer bestoweth
Anything better than that which hath been. Let me sleep. It is night.

No sleep for joy! When he brought them together, and blessed them in union,
There was a note in my heart that rang death. As I write, once again
Quivers the welcome vibration that rings in the heavenly communion.
Oh Thou that comest, come quickly, triumphant o'er death and o'er pain!




  ― 403 ―
'Tis but the heart of my flesh that doth flutter. Thine infinite merit
Helpeth me mightily o'er the dark mountains that Thou too hast trod.
Into Thy hands I commend me, eternal and merciful Spirit.
Come Euthanasia! Let it be kneeling.… My Lord and my God!

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