AUTHOR OF "THE WOMAN IN THE RAIN," "IRISH POEMS," ETC.
NEW YORK—JOHN LANE COMPANY
LONDON—JOHN LANE—THE BODLEY HEAD
TORONTO—BELL & COCKBURN
Copyright, 1914, by
JOHN LANE COMPANY
Press of J. J. Little & Ives Co.
New York, U. S. A.
Some Day, Oh Seeker of Dreams
Letters from Home
A Summer Night
The Wild Swans Pass
At Notre Dame
The Turn of the Year
If I Love You
What Shall I Care?
Hunter and Hunted
The House of Life
The Life on the Table
You Bid Me to Sleep
The Last of Summer
At Charing Cross
The Steel Workers
The Wild Geese
There Is Strength in the Soil
My Heart Stood Empty
One Night in the Northwest
The Gift of Hate
One Room in My Heart
The Man of Dreams
April on the Rialto
I Sat in the Sunlight
To even the casual reader of poetry who may chance to turn to the
following pages it will be evident that the lyrics contained therein
have been written without what is commonly known as end-rhyme. It may
also be claimed by this reader that the lyrics before him are without
rhythm. As such, it may at first seem that they mark an effort in
revolt against two of the primary assets of modern versification.
All art, of course, has its ancestry. While it is the duty of poetry
both to remember and to honour its inherited grandeurs, the paradoxical
fact remains that even this most convention-ridden medium of emotional
expression is a sort of warfare between the embattled soul of the
artist, seeking articulation, and the immuring traditions with which
time and the prosodian have surrounded him.
In painting and in music, as in sculpture and the drama, there has been
a movement of late to achieve what may be called formal emancipation, a
struggle to break away from the restraints and the technical
obligations imposed upon the worker by his artistic predecessors. In
one case this movement may be called Futurism, and in another it may be
termed Romanticism, but the tendency is the same. The spirit of man is
seen in rebellion against a form that has become too intricate or too
fixed to allow him freedom of utterance.
Poetry alone, during the last century, seems to have remained stable,
in the matter of structure. Few new forms have been invented, and with
one or two rare exceptions success has been achieved through
ingeniously elaborating on an already established formula and through
meticulously re-echoing what has already been said. This has resulted,
on the one hand, in a technical dexterity which often enough resembles
the strained postures of acrobatism, and, on the other, in that
constantly reiterated complaint as to the hollowness and aloofness of
modern poetry. Yet this poetry is remote and insincere, not because
the modern spirit is incapable of feeling, but because what the singer
of to-day has felt has not been directly and openly expressed. His
apparel has remained mediæval. He must still don mail to face Mausers,
and wear chain-armour against machine-guns. He must scout through the
shadowy hinterlands of consciousness in attire that may be historic,
yet at the same time is distressingly conspicuous. And when he begins
his assault on those favouring moments or inspirational moods which
lurk in the deeper valleys and by-ways of sensibility, he must begin it
as a marked man, pathetically resplendent in that rigid steel which is
an anachronism and no longer an armour.
Rhyme, from the first, has been imposed upon him. His only escape from
rhyme has been the larger utterance of blank verse. Yet the iambic
pentameter of his native tongue, perfected in the sweeping sonority of
the later Shakespearean tragedies and left even more intimidatingly
austere in the organ-like roll of Milton, has been found by the later
singer to be ill-fitted for the utterance of those more intimate moods
and those subjective experiences which may be described as
characteristically modern. Verse, in the nature of things, has become
less epic and racial, and more and more lyric and personal. The poet,
consequently, has been forced back into the narrower domain so formally
and so rigidly fenced in by rhyme. And before touching on the
limitations resulting from this incarceration, it may be worth while to
venture a brief glance back over the history of what Milton himself
denominated as "the jingling sounds of like endings" and Goldsmith
characterized as "a vile monotony" and even Howells has spoken of as
"the artificial trammels of verse."
It has been claimed that those early poets of Palestine who affected
the custom of beginning a number of lines or stanzas with the same
letter of the alphabet unconsciously prepared the way for that
latter-day ornamental fringe known as end-rhyme. Others have claimed
that this insistence of a consonance of terminals is a relique of the
communal force of the chant, where the clapping of hands, the stamping
of feet, or the twanging of bow-strings marked the period-ends of
prehistoric recitative. The bow-string of course, later evolved into
the musical instrument, and when poetry became a written as well as a
spoken language the consonantal drone of rhyming end-words took the
place of the discarded instrument which had served to mark a secondary
and wider rhythm in the progress of impassioned recitative.
It must be admitted, however, even in the face of this ingenious
pleading, that rhyme is a much more modern invention than it seems.
That it is not rudimentary in the race is evidenced by the fact that
many languages, such as the Celtic, the Teutonic, and the Scandinavian,
are quite without it. The Greeks, even in their melic poetry, saw no
need for it. The same may be said of the Romans, though with them it
will occasionally be found that the semi-feet of the pentameter
constitute what may be called accidental rhyme. Rhyming Latin verse,
indeed, does not come into existence until the end of the fourth
century, and it is not until the time of the Conquest that end-rhyme
becomes in any way general in English song. Layman, in translating
Wace's Le Brut d'Angleterre, found the original work written in
rhymed lines, and in following that early model produced what is
probably the first rhymed poem written in England.
With the introduction of end-rhymes came the discovery that a
decoration so formal could convert verse into something approaching the
architectural. It gave design to the lyric. With this new
definiteness of outline, of course, came a newer rigidity of medium.
Form was acknowledged as the visible presentation of this particular
art. Formal variations became a matter of studious attention. Efforts
were made to leave language in itself instrumental, and in these
efforts sound frequently comes perilously near triumphing over sense.
The exotic formal growths of other languages were imported into
England. No verbal tour de force of troubadour or trouvère or
jongleur or Ronsardist was too fantastic for imitation and adoption.
The one-time primitive directness of English was overrun by such forms
as the ballade, the chant royal, the rondel, the kyrielle, the rondeau
and the rondeau redoublé, the virelai and the pantoum, the sestina, the
villanelle, and last, yet by no means least, the sonnet. But through
the immense tangle of our intricate lyric growths it can now be seen
that mere mechanics do not always make poetry. While rhyme has,
indeed, served its limited purposes, it must be remembered that the
highest English verse has been written without rhyme. This verbal
embroidery, while it presents to the workman in words a pleasingly
decorative form, at the same time imposes on him both an adventitious
restraint and an increased self-consciousness. The twentieth century
poet, singing with his scrupulously polished vocalisation, usually
finds himself content to re-echo what has been said before. He is
unable to "travel light"; pioneering with so heavy a burden is out of
the question. Rhyme and meter have compelled him to sacrifice content
for form. It has left him incapable of what may be called abandonment.
And the consciousness of his technical impedimenta has limited the
roads along which he may adventure. His preoccupation with formal
exactions has implanted in him an instinctive abhorrence for anything
beyond the control of what he calls common-sense. Dominated by this
emotional and intellectual timidity, he has attributed to end-rhyme and
accentual rhythm the self-sufficiency of mystic rites, in the face of
the fact that the fewer the obstacles between feeling and expression
the richer the literary product must be, and forgetting, too, that
poetry represents the extreme vanguard of consciousness both
adventuring and pioneering along the path of future progress.
For the poet to turn his back on rhythm, as at times he has been able
to do with rhyme, is an impossibility. For the rhythmising instinct is
innate and persistent in man, standing for a law which permeates every
manifestation of energy. The great heart of Nature itself beats with a
regular systole and diastole. But, rhythmically, the modern versifier
has been a Cubist without quite comprehending it. He has been viewing
the world mathematically. He has been crowding his soul into a
geometrically designed mould. He has bowed to a rule-of-thumb order of
speech, arbitrarily imposed on him by an ancestry which wrung its
ingenuous pleasure out of an ingenuous regularity of stress and accent.
To succeed under that law he must practise an adroit form of
self-deception, solemnly pretending to fit his lines to a mould which
he actually over-runs and occasionally ignores. He has not been
satisfied with the rhythm of Nature, whose heart-beats in their
manifold expressions are omnipresent but never confined to any single
sustained pulse or any one limited movement. It is not argued that he
should ignore rhythm altogether. To do so, as has already been said,
would be impossible, since life itself is sustained by the rise and
fall of mortal breasts and the beat and throb of mortal hearts. Rhythm
is in man's blood. The ear of the world instinctively searches for
cadences. The poet's efforts towards symphonic phrasing have long
since become habitual and imperative. But that he should confine
himself to certain man-made laws of meter, that he should be shackled
by the prosodian of the past, is quite another matter. His
predecessors have fashioned many rhythms that are pretty, many
accentual forms that are cunningly intricate, but at a time when his
manner of singing has lost its vital swing it is well for man to forget
these formal prettinesses and equally well to remember that poetry is
not an intellectual exercise but the immortal soul of perplexed
mortality seeking expression.
To abandon fixed rhythm, or meter, for the floating rhythm of the chant
may not be an immediate solution of the problem. To follow the Psalms
of David, for example, will not suddenly conjure a new school of verse
into the world. But to return to the more open movement of the chant,
which is man's natural and rudimentary form of song, may constitute a
step towards freedom. The mere effort towards emancipation, in fact,
is not without its value. It may serve to impress on certain minds the
fact that poetry is capable of exhausting one particular form of
expression, of incorporating and consuming one particular embodiment of
perishable matter and passing on to its newer fields. Being a living
organism, it uses up what lies before it, and to find new vigour must
forever feed on new forms. Being the product of man's spirit, which is
forever subject to change, verse must not be worshipped for what it has
been, but for what it is capable of being. No necrophilic regard for
its established conventions must blind the lover of beautiful verse to
the fact that the primary function of poetry is both to intellectualize
sensation and to elucidate emotional experience. If man must worship
beauty only as he has known it in the past, man must be satisfied with
worshipping that which has lived and now is dead.
The blue, blue sea,
And the drone of waves,
And the wheeling swallows,
And the sun on the opal sails,
And the misty and salt-bleached headlands,
And the milkweed thick at my feet,
And the milkweed held in the hand of a child
Who dreams on the misty cliff-edge,
Watching the fading sails
And the noonday blue
Of the lonely sea!
Was it all years ago,
Or was it but yesterday?
I only know that the scent
Of the milkweed brings it back,
Back with a strangle of tears:
The child and the misty headlands,
The drone of the dark blue sea,
And the opal sails
In the sun!
I am tired of the dust
And the fever and noise
And the meaningless faces of men;
And I want to go home!
Oh, day after day I get thinking of home
Where the black firs fringe the skyline,
And the birds wheel down the silence,
And the hemlocks whisper peace,
And the hill-winds cool the blood,
And the dusk is crowned with glory,
And the lone horizon softens,
And the world's at home with God!
Oh, I want to go there!
I want to go home!
A rind of light hangs low
On the rim of the world;
A sound of feet disturbs
The quiet of the cell
Where a rope and a beam looms high
At the end of the yard.
But in the dusk
Of that walled yard waits a woman;
And as the thing from its cell,
Still guarded and chained and bound,
Crosses that little space,
Silent, for ten brief steps,
A woman hangs on his neck.
And that walk from a cell to a sleep
Is known as Life,
And those ten dark steps
Of tangled rapture and tears
Men still call Love.
SOME DAY, O SEEKER OF DREAMS
Some day, O Seeker of Dreams, they will seek even us!
Some day they will wake, Fellow Singer, and hunger and want
For the Ways to the Lonelier Height!
So let us, Shy Weaver of Beauty, take heart,
For out of their dust they will call to us yet!
Let us wait, and sing, and be wise,
As the sea has waited and sung,
As the hills through the night have been wise!
For we are the Bringers of Light, and the Voices of Love,
Aye, we are the Soothers of Pain, the Appeasers of Death,
The Dusk and the Star and the Gleam and the Loneliest Peak!
And when they have found and seen, and know not whither they trend,
They will come to us, crying aloud like a child in the night;
And when they have learned of our lips,
Still back to our feet they will grope
For that ultimate essence and core of all song,
To usher them empty and naked, then, out to the unanswering stars,
Where Silence and Dreaming and Music are one!
I have drunk deep
Of the well of bitterness.
Black hours have harried me,
Blind fate has bludgeoned my bent head,
And on my brow the iron crown
Of sorrow has been crushed.
And being mortal, I have cried aloud
At anguish ineluctable.
But over each black hour has hung
Forlorn this star of knowledge:
The path of pain too great to be endured
Leads always unto peace;
And when the granite road of anguish mounts
Up and still up to its one ultimate
And dizzy height of torture,
Softly it dips and meets
The valley of endless rest!
Summer is dead.
And love is gone.
And life is glad of this.
For sad were both, with having given much;
And bowed were both, with great desires fulfilled;
And both were grown too sadly wise
Ever to live again.
Too aged with hours o'er-passionate,
Too deeply sung by throats
That took no thought of weariness,
Moving too madly toward the crest of things,
Giving too freely of the fountaining sap,
Crowding too gladly into grass and leaves,
Breathing too blindly into flower and song!
Again the lyric hope may thrill the world,
Again the sap may sweeten into leaves,
Again will grey-eyed April come
With all her choiring throats;
But not to-day—
For the course is run.
And the cruse is full,
And the loin ungirt,
And the hour ordained!
And now there is need of rest;
And need of renewal there is;
And need of silence,
And need of sleep.
Too clear the light
Now lies on hill and valley;
And little is left to say,
And nothing is left to give.
Summer is dead;
And love is gone!
I am through with regret.
No more shall I kennel with pain.
I have called to this whimpering soul,
This soul that is sodden with tears
And sour with the reek of the years!
And now we shall glory in light!
Like a tatter of sail in the wind,
Like a tangle of net on the sand,
Like a hound stretched out in the heat,
My soul shall lie in the sun,
And be drowsy with peace,
And not think of the past!
LETTERS FROM HOME
Letters from Home, you said.
Unopened they lay on the shack-sill
As you stared with me at the prairie
And the foothills bathed with light.
Letters from Home, you whispered,
And the homeland casements shone
Through the homeland dusk again,
And the sound of the birds came back,
And the soft green sorrowing hills,
And the sigh of remembered names,
The wine of remembered youth,—
Oh, these came back,
Back with those idle words
Of "Letters from Home"!
Over such desolate leagues,
Over such sundering seas,
Out of the lost dead years,
After the days of waiting,
After the ache had died,
After the brine of failure,
After the outland peace
Of the trail that never turns back,
Now that the night-wind whispers
How Home shall never again be home,
And now that the arms of the Far-away
Have drawn us close to its breast,
Out of the dead that is proved not dead,
To waken the sorrow that should have died,
To tighten the throat that never shall sing,
To sadden the trails that we still must ride,
Too late they come to us here—
Our Letters from Home!
I watched the men at work on the stubborn rock,
But mostly the one man poised on a drill
Above the steam that hissed and billowed about him
White in the frosty air,
Where the lordly house would stand.
Majestic, muscular, high like a god,
And controlled and stopped
And started his thundering drill,
Offhand and careless and lordly as Thor,
Begrimed and solemn and crowned with sweat,
Where the great steel chains swung over the buckets of rock.
Then out of a nearby house came a youth,
All gloved and encased in fur and touched with content,
Thin-shouldered and frail and finished,
Leading a house-dog out on a silver chain.
He peered at the figure that fought with the drill
Above the billowing steam and tumult of sound,
Peered up for a moment impassive,
With almost pitying eyes,
And then went pensively down the Avenue's calm,
In the clear white light of the noonday sun,
Not holding, but held by his silvery chain!
A village wrapped in slumber,
Silent between the hills,
Empty of moon-lit marketplace,
Empty of moving life—
Such is my quiet heart.
Shadowy-walled it rests,
Sleeping its heavy sleep;
But sudden across the dark
Tingles a sound of drums!
The drums, the drums, the distant drums,
The throb of the drums strikes up,
The beat of the drums awakes!
Then loud through the little streets,
And strange to the startled roofs,
The drums, the drums approach and pound,
And throb and clamour and thrill and pass,
And between the echoing house-walls
All swart and grim they go,
The battalions of regret,
After the drums, the valiant drums
That die away in the night!
I caught the smell of ether
From the glass-roofed room
Where the hospital stood.
Suddenly all about me
I felt a mist of anguish
And the old, old hour of dread
When Death had shambled by.
Yellow with time it is,
This letter on which I look;
But up from it comes a perfume
That stabs me still to the heart;
And suddenly, at the odour,
Through a ghost-like mist I know
Rapture and love and wild regret
When Life, and You, went by.
A SUMMER NIGHT
Mournful the summer moon
Rose from the quiet sea.
Golden and sad and full of regret
As though it would ask of earth
Where all her lovers had vanished
And whither had gone the rose-red lips
That had sighed to her light of old.
Then I caught a pulse of music,
Brokenly, out at the pier-end,
And I heard the voices of girls
Going home in the dark,
Laughing along the sea-wall
Over a lover's word!
In an old and ashen island,
Beside a city grey with death,
They are seeking Sappho's tomb!
Beneath a vineyard ruinous
And a broken-columned temple
They are delving where she sleeps!
There between a lonely valley
Filled with noonday silences
And the headlands of soft violet
Where the sapphire seas still whisper,
Whisper with her sigh;
Through a country sad with wonder
Men are seeking vanished Sappho,
Men are searching for the tomb
Of muted Song!
They will find a Something there,
In a cavern where no sound is,
In a room of milky marble
Walled with black amphibolite
Over-scored with faded words
And stained with time!
Sleeping in a low-roofed chamber,
With her phials of perfume round her,
In a terra-cotta coffin
With her image on the cover,
Childish echo of her beauty
Etched in black and gold barbaric—
Lift it slowly, slowly, seekers,
Or your search will end in dust!
With a tiny nude Astarte,
Bright with gilt and gravely watching
Over grass-green malachite,
Over rubies pale, and topaz,
And the crumbled dust of pearls!
With her tarnished silver mirror,
With her rings of beaten gold,
With her robes of faded purple,
And the stylus that so often
Traced the azure on her eyelids,—
Eyelids delicate and weary,
And at her head will be a plectron
Made of ivory, worn with time,
And a flute and gilded lyre
Will be found beside her feet,
And two little yellow sandals,
And crude serpents chased in silver
On her ankle rings—
And a cloud of drifting dust
All her shining hair!
In that lost and lonely tomb
They may find her;
Find the arms that ached with rapture,
Softly folded on a breast
That for evermore is silent;
Find the eyes no longer wistful,
Find the lips no longer singing,
And the heart, so hot and wayward
When that ashen land was young,
Cold through all the mists of time,
Cold beneath the Lesbian marble
In the low-roofed room
That drips with tears!
THE WILD SWANS PASS
In the dead of the night
You turned in your troubled sleep
As you heard the wild swans pass;
And then you slept again.
While a new world swam beneath
That army of eager wings,
While plainland and slough and lake
Lay wide to those outstretched throats,
While the far lone Lights allured
That phalanx of passionate breasts.
And I who had loved you more
Than a homing bird loves flight,—
I watched with an ache for freedom,
I rose with a need for life,
Knowing that love had passed
Into its unknown North!
AT NOTRE DAME
O odour of incense, pride of purple and gold,
Burst of music and praise, and passion of flute and pipe!
O voices of silver o'er-sweet, and soothing antiphonal chant!
O Harmony, ancient, ecstatic, a-throb to the echoing roof,
With tremulous roll of awakened reverberant tubes, and thunder of sound!
And illusion of mystical song and outclangour of jubilant bell,
And glimmer of gold and taper, and throbbing, insistent pipe—
If song and emotion and music were all—
Were it only all!
For see, dark heart of mine,
How the singers have ceased and gone!
See, how all of the music is lost and the lights are low,
And how, as our idle arms, these twin ineloquent towers
Grope up through the old inaccessible Night to His stars!
How in vain we have stormed on the bastions of Silence with sound!
How in vain with our music and song and emotion assailed the Unknown,
How beat with the wings of our worship on Earth's imprisoning bars!
For the pinions of Music have wearied, the proud loud tubes have tired,
Yet still grim and taciturn stand His immutable stars,
And, lost in the gloom, to His frontiers old I turn
Where glimmer those sentinel fires,
Beyond which, Dark Heart, we two
Some night must steal us forth,
Quite naked, and alone!
I lounge on the deck of the river-steamer,
Homeward bound with its load,
Churning from headland to headland,
Through moonlight and silence and dusk.
And the decks are alive with laughter and music and singing,
And I see the forms of the sleepers
And the shadowy lovers that lean so close to the rail,
And the romping children behind,
And the dancers amidships.
But high above us there in the gloom,
Where the merriment breaks like a wave at his feet,
Unseen of lover and dancer and me,
Is the Pilot, impassive and stern,
With his grim eyes watching the course.
That falter through the gloom,
That echo through the lonely chambers
Of our house of life?
Did a door close?
Did a whisper waken?
Did a ghostly something
Sigh across the dusk?
From the mournful silence
Something, something went!
Far down some shadowy passage
Faintly closed a door—
And O how empty lies
Our house of life!
You stood alone
In the dusky window,
Watching the racing river.
Touched with a vague unrest,
And if tired of loving too much
More troubled at heart to find
That the flame of love could wither
And the wonder of love could pass,
You kneeled at the window-ledge
And stared through the black-topped maples
Where an April robin fluted,—
Stared idly out
At the flood-time sweep of the river,
Silver and paling gold
In the ghostly April twilight.
Shadowy there in the dusk
You watched with shadowy eyes
The racing, sad, unreasoning
Hurrying torrent of silver
Seeking its far-off sea.
Faintly I heard you sigh,
And faintly I heard the robin's flute,
And faintly from rooms remote
Came a broken murmur of voices.
And life, for a breath, stood bathed
In a wonder crowned with pain,
And immortal the moment hung;
And I know that the thought of you
There at the shadowy window,
And the matted black of the maples,
And the sunset call of a bird,
And the sad wide reaches of silver,
Will house in my haunted heart
Till the end of Time!
THE TURN OF THE YEAR
The pines shake and the winds wake,
And the dark waves crowd the sky-line!
The birds wheel out on a troubled sky;
The widening road runs white and long,
And the page is turned,
And the world is tired!
So I want no more of twilight sloth,
And I want no more of resting,
And of all the earth I ask no more
Than the green sea, the great sea,
The long road, the white road,
And a change of life to-day!
IF I LOVE YOU
If I love you, woman of rose
And warmth and wondering eyes,
If it so fall out
That you are the woman I choose,
Oh, what is there left to say,
And what should it matter to me,
Or what can it mean to you?
For under the two white breasts
And the womb that makes you woman
The call of the ages whispers
And the countless ghosts awaken,
And stronger than sighs and weeping
The urge that makes us one,
And older than hate or loving or shame
This want that builds the world!
WHAT SHALL I CARE?
What shall I care for the ways
Of these idle and thin-flanked women in silk
And the lisping men-shadows that trail at their heels?
What are they worth in my world
Or the world that I want,
These flabby-armed, indolent, delicate women
And these half-women daring to call themselves men
Yet afraid to get down to the earth
And afraid of the wind,
Afraid of the truth,
And so sadly afraid of themselves?
How can they help me in trouble and death?
How can they keep me from hating my kind?
Oh, I want to get out of their coffining rooms,
I want to walk free with a man,
A man who has lived and dared
And swung through the cycle of life!
God give me a man for a friend
To the End,
Give me a man with his heel on the neck of Hate,
With his fist in the face of Death,
A man not fretted with womanish things,
Unafraid of the light,
Of the worm in the lip of a corpse,
Unafraid of the call from the cell of his heart,—
God give me a man for friend!
HUNTER AND HUNTED
When the sun is high,
And the hills are happy with light,
Then virile and strong I am!
Then ruddy with life I fare,
The fighter who feels no dread,
The roamer who knows no bounds,
The hunter who makes the world his prey,
And shouting and swept with pride,
Still mounts to the lonelier height!
In the cool of the day,
When the huddling shadows swarm,
And the ominous eyes look out
And night slinks over the swales
And the silence is chill with death,
Then I am the croucher beside the coals,
The lurker within the shadowy cave,
Who listens and mutters a charm
And trembles and waits,
A hunted thing grown
Afraid of the hunt,
A silence enisled in silence,
A wonder enwrapped in awe!
I saw a woman stand
Under the seas of bloom,
Under the waves of colour and light,
The showery snow and rose of the odorous trees
That made a glory of earth.
She stood where the petals fell,
And her hands were on her breast,
And her lips were touched with wonder,
And her eyes were full of pain—
For pure she was, and young,
And it was Spring!
THE HOUSE OF LIFE
Quietly I closed the door.
Then I said to my soul:
"I shall never come back,
Back to this haunted room
Where Sorrow and I have slept."
I turned from that hated door
And passed through the House of Life,
Through its ghostly rooms and glad
And its corridors dim with age.
Then lightly I crossed a threshold
Where the casements showed the sun
And I entered an unknown room,—
And my heart went cold,
For about me stood that Chamber of Pain
I had thought to see no more!
I am desolate,
Desolate because of a woman.
When at midnight walking alone
I look up at the slow-wheeling stars,
I see only the eyes of this woman.
In bird-haunted valleys and by-ways secluded,
Where once I sought peace,
I find now only unrest
And this one unaltering want.
When the dawn-wind stirs in the pine-tops
I hear only her voice's whisper.
When by day I gaze into the azure above me
I see only the face of this woman.
In the sunlight I cannot find comfort,
Nor can I find peace in the shadows.
Neither can I take joy in the hill-wind,
Nor find solace on kindlier breasts;
For deep in the eyes of all women I watch
I see only her eyes stare back.
Nor can I shut the thought of her out of my heart
And the ache for her out of my hours.
Ruthlessly now she invades even my dreams
And wounds me in sleep;
And my body cries out for her,
Early and late and forever cries out for her,
And her alone,—
And I want this woman!
I am sick at heart because of this woman;
I am lost to shame because of my want;
And mine own people have come to mean naught to me;
And with many about me still am I utterly alone,
And quite solitary now I take my way
Where men are intent on puny things
And phantasmal legions pace!
And a wearisome thing is life,
And forever the shadow of this one woman
Is falling across my path.
The turn in the road is a promise of her.
The twilight is thronged with her ghosts;
The grasses speak only of her,
The leaves whisper her name forever;
The odorous fields are full of her.
Her lips, I keep telling myself,
Are a cup from which I must drink;
Her breast is the one last pillow
Whereon I may ever find peace!
Yet she has not come to me,
And being denied her, everything stands denied,
And all men who have waited in vain for love
Cry out through my desolate heart;
And the want of the hungering world
Runs like fire through my veins
And bursts from my throat in the cry
That I want this woman!
I am possessed of a great sickness
And likewise possessed of a great strength,
And the ultimate hour has come.
I will arise and go unto this woman,
And with bent head and my arms about her knees
I shall say unto her: "Beloved beyond all words,
Others have sought your side,
And many have craved your kiss,
But none, O body of flesh and bone,
Has known a hunger like mine!
And though evil befall, or good,
This hunger is given to me,
And is now made known to you,—
For I must die,
Or you must die,
Or Desire must die
THE LIFE ON THE TABLE
In the white-walled room
Where the white bed waits
Stand banks of meaningless flowers;
In the rain-swept street
Are a ghost-like row of cabs;
And along the corridor-dusk
Phantasmal feet repass.
Through the warm, still air
The odour of ether hangs;
And on this slenderest thread
Of one thin pulse
Hangs and swings
The hope of life—
The life of her
YOU BID ME TO SLEEP
You bid me to sleep,—
But why, O Daughter of Beauty,
Was beauty thus born in the world?
Since out of these shadowy eyes
The wonder shall pass!
And out of this surging and passionate breast
The dream shall depart!
And out of these delicate rivers of warmth
The fire shall wither and fail!
And youth like a bird from your body shall fly!
And Time like a fang on your flesh shall feed!
And this perilous bosom that pulses with love
Shall go down to the dust from which it arose,—
Yet Daughter of Beauty, close,
Close to its sumptuous warmth
You hold my sorrowing head,
And smile with shadowy eyes,
And bid me to sleep again!
THE LAST OF SUMMER
The opal afternoon
Is cool, and very still.
A wash of tawny air,
Sea-green that melts to gold,
Bathes all the skyline, hill by hill.
Out of the black-topped pinelands
A black crow calls,
And the year seems old!
A woman from a doorway sings,
And from the valley-slope a sheep-dog barks,
And through the umber woods the echo falls.
Then silence on the still world lies,
And faint and far the birds fly south,
And behind the dark pines drops the sun,
And a small wind wakes and sighs,
And Summer, see, is done!
Alone amid the Rockies I have stood;
Alone across the prairie's midnight calm
Full often I have fared
And faced the hushed infinity of night;
Alone I have hung poised
Between a quietly heaving sea
And quieter sky,
Aching with isolation absolute;
And in Death's Valley I have walked alone
And sought in vain for some appeasing sign
Of life or movement,
While over-desolate my heart called out
For some befriending face
Or some assuaging voice!
But never on my soul has weighed
Such loneliness as this,
As here amid the seething London tides
I look upon these ghosts that come and go,
These swarming restless souls innumerable,
Who through their million-footed dirge of unconcern
Must know and nurse the thought of kindred ghosts
As lonely as themselves,
Or else go mad with it!
"The sting of it all," you said, as you stooped low over your roses,
"The worst of it is, when I think of Death,
That Spring by Spring the Earth shall still be beautiful,
And Summer by Summer be lovely again,
—And I shall be gone!"
"I would not care, perhaps," you said, watching your roses,
"If only 'twere dust and ruin and emptiness left behind!
But the thought that Earth and April
Year by casual year
Shall waken around the old ways, soft and beautiful,
Year by year when I am away,
—This, this breaks my heart!"
THE STEEL WORKERS
I watched the workers in steel,
The Pit-like glow of the furnace,
The rivers of molten metal,
The tremulous rumble of cranes,
The throb of the Thor-like hammers
On sullen and resonant anvils!
I saw the half-clad workers
Twisting earth's iron to their use,
Shaping the steel to their thoughts;
And, in some way, out of the fury
And the fires of mortal passion,
It seemed to me,
In some way, out of the torture
And tumult of inchoate Time,
The hammer of sin is shaping
The soul of man!
The city is old in sin,
And children are not for cities,
And, wan-eyed woman, you want them not,
You say with a broken laugh.
Yet out of each wayward softness of voice,
And each fulness of breast,
And each flute-throated echo of song,
Each flutter of lace and quest of beautiful things,
Each coil of entangling hair built into its crown,
Each whisper and touch in the silence of night,
Each red unreasoning mouth that is lifted to mouth,
Each whiteness of brow that is furrowed no more with thought,
Each careless soft curve of lips that can never explain,
Arises the old and the inappeasable cry!
Every girl who leans from a tenement sill
And flutters a hand to a youth,
Every woman who waits for a man in the dusk,
Every harlotous arm flung up to a drunken heel
That would trample truth down in the dust,
Reaches unknowingly out for its own,
And blind to its heritage waits
For its child!
Remote, in some dim room,
On this dark April morning soft with rain,
I hear her pensive touch
Fall aimless on the keys,
And stop, and play again.
And as the music wakens
And the shadowy house is still,
How all my troubled soul cries out
For things I know not of!
Ah, keen the quick chords fall,
And weighted with regret,
Fade through the quiet rooms;
And warm as April rain
The strange tears fall,
And life in some way seems
Too deep to bear!
THE WILD GEESE
Over my home-sick head,
High in the paling light
And touched with the sunset's glow,
Soaring and strong and free,
The unswerving phalanx sweeps,
The honking wild geese go,—
Go with a flurry of wings
Home to their norland lakes
And the sedge-fringed tarns of peace
And the pinelands soft with Spring!
I cannot go as the geese go,
But into the steadfast North,
The North that is dark and tender,
My home-sick spirit wings,—
Wings with a flurry of longing thoughts
And nests in the tarns of youth.
Dewy, dewy lawn-slopes,
Is this the day she comes?
O wild-flower face of Morning,
Must you never wake?
Silvery, silvery sea-line,
Does she come to-day?
O murmurous, murmurous birch-leaves,
Beneath your whispering shadow
She will surely pass;
And thrush beneath the black-thorn
And white-throat in the pine-top,
Sing as you have never sung,
For she will surely come!
The lone green of the lawn-slope,
The grey light on the sky-line,
The mournful stir of birch-leaves,
The thin note of the brown thrush,
And the call of troubled white-throats
Across the afternoon!—
Ah, Summer now is over,
And for us the season closed,
For she who came an hour ago
Has gone again—
God knows that I've tinkled and jingled and strummed,
That I've piped it and jigged it until I'm fair sick of the game,
That I've given them slag and wasted the silver of song,
That I've thrown them the tailings and they've taken them up content!
But now I want to slough off the bitterness born of it all,
I want to throw off the shackles and chains of time,
I want to sit down with my soul and talk straight out,
I want to make peace with myself,
And say what I have to say,
While still there is time!
Yea, I will arise and go forth, I have said,
To the uplands of truth, to be free as the wind,
Rough and unruly and open and turbulent-throated!
Yea, I will go forth and fling from my soul
The shackles and chains of song!
But, lo, on my wrists are the scars,
And here on my ankles the chain-galls,
And the cell-pallor, see, on my face!
And my throat seems thick with the cell-dust,
And for guidance I grope to the walls,
And after my moment of light
I want to go back to the Dark,
Since the Open still makes me afraid,
And silence seems best in the sun,
And song in the dusk!
I feel all primal and savage to-day.
I could eat and drink deep and love strong
I could fight and exult and boast and be glad!
I could tear out the life of a wild thing and laugh at it!
I could crush into panting submission the breast of a woman
A-stray from her tribe and her smoke-stained tent-door!
I could glory in folly and fire and ruin,
And race naked-limbed with the wind,
And slink on the heels of my foes
And dabble their blood on my brows—
For to-day I am sick of it all,
This silent and orderly empty life,
And I feel all savage again!
Black with a batter of mud
Stippled with silvery pools
Stands the pavement at the street-end;
And the gutter snow is gone
From cobble and runnelling curb;
And no longer the ramping wind
Is rattling the rusty signs;
And moted and soft and misty
Hangs the sunlight over the cross-streets,
And the home-bound crowds of the city
Walk in a flood of gold.
And suddenly out of the dusk
There comes the ancient question:
Can it be that I have lived
In earlier worlds unknown?
Or is it that somewhere deep
In this husk that men call Me
Are kennelled a motley kin
I never shall know or name,—
Are housed still querulous ghosts
That sigh and awaken and move,
And sleep once more?
I am only a note in the chorus,
A leaf in the fluttering June,
A wave on the deep.
These things that I struggle to utter
Have all been uttered before.
In many another heart
The selfsame song was born,
The ancient ache endured,
The timeless wonder faced,
The unanswered question nursed,
The resurgent hunger felt,
And the eternal failure known!
But glad is the lip of its whisper;
The wave, of its life;
The leaf, of its lisp;
And glad for its hour is my soul
For its echo of godlier music,
Its fragment of song!
The thin gold of the sun lies slanting on the hill;
In the sorrowful greys and muffled violets of the old orchard
A group of girls are quietly gathering apples.
Through the mingled gloom and green they scarcely speak at all,
And their broken voices rise and fall unutterably sad.
There are no birds,
And the goldenrod is gone.
And a child calls out, far away, across the autumn twilight;
And the sad grey of the dusk grows slowly deeper,
And all the world seems old!
I tire of these empty masks,
These faces of city women
That seem so vapid and well-controlled.
I get tired of their guarded ways
And their eyes that are always empty
Of either passion or hate
Or promise or love,
And that seem to be old
And are never young!
I think of the homelier faces
That I have seen,
The vital and open faces
In the by-ways of the world:
A Polish girl who met
Her lover one wintry morning
Outside the gaol at Ossining;
A lean young Slav violinist
And the steerage women about him,
Held by the sound of his music;
A young and deep-bosomed Teuton
Suckling her shawl-wrapped child
On a grey stone bridge in Detmold;
A group of girls from Ireland,
Crowding the steps of a colonist-car
And singing half-sadly together
As their train rocked on and on
Over the sun-bathed prairie;
A mournful Calabrian mother
Standing and staring out
Past the mists of Ischia
After a fading steamer;
A Nautch girl held by a sailor
Who'd taken a knife from her fingers
But not the fire from her eyes;
And a silent Sicilian mother
Standing alone in the Marina
Awaiting her boy who had been
Long years away!—
These I remember!
And of these
I never tire!
THERE IS STRENGTH IN THE SOIL
There is strength in the soil;
In the earth there is laughter and youth.
There is solace and hope in the upturned loam.
And lo, I shall plant my soul in it here like a seed!
And forth it shall come to me as a flower of song;
For I know it is good to get back to the earth
That is orderly, placid, all-patient!
It is good to know how quiet
And noncommittal it breathes,
This ample and opulent bosom
That must some day nurse us all!
On opal Aprilian mornings like this
I seem dizzy and drunk with life.
I waken and wander and laugh in the sun;
With some mystical knowledge enormous
I lift up my face to the light.
Drunk with a gladness stupendous I seem;
With some wine of Immensity god-like I reel;
And my arm could fling Time from His throne;
I could pelt the awed taciturn arch
Of Morning with music and mirth;
And I feel, should I find but a voice for my thought,
That the infinite orbits of all God's loneliest stars
That are weaving vast traceries out on the fringes of Night
Could never stand more than a hem on the robe of my Song!
MY HEART STOOD EMPTY
My heart stood empty and bare,
So I hung it with thoughts of a woman.
The remembered ways of this woman
Hung sweet in my heart.
So I followed where thought should lead,
And it led to her feet.
But the mouth of this woman was pain,
And the love of this woman, regret;
And now only the thought
Of all those remembered thoughts
Of remembered ways,
Is shut in my heart!
ONE NIGHT IN THE NORTHWEST
When they flagged our train because of a broken rail,
I stepped down out of the crowded car,
With its clamour and dust and heat and babel of broken talk.
I stepped out into the cool, the velvet cool, of the night,
And felt the balm of the prairie-wind on my face,
And somewhere I heard the running of water,
I felt the breathing of grass,
And I knew, as I saw the great white stars,
That the world was made for good!
There's a poet tombed in you,
Man of blood and iron!
There's a dreamer dead and buried
Deep beneath your cynic frown,
Deep beneath your toil!
And deep beneath my music,
There's a strong man stirs in me;
There's a ghost of blood and granite
Coffined in this madness
Carpentered of Song!
You live your day and drain it;
I weave my dream and lose it;
But the red blood lost in me awakens still at times,
At all your city's sky-line,
At all your roaring market-place,
At all its hum of power—
And the poet dead within you stirs
Still at the plaintive note or two
Of a dreamer's plaintive song!
Glad with the wine of life,
Reeling I go my way,
Drunk with the ache of living
And mouthing my drunken song!
Then comes the lucid moment
And the shadow across the lintel;
And I hear the ghostly whisper,
And I glimpse with startled eyes
The Door beyond the doorway,
And I see the small dark house
Where I must sleep.
Then song turns sour on my lips,
And the warmth goes out of my blood,
And I turn me back to the beaker,
And re-draining my cup of dream,
I drown the whispering voices,
I banish the ghostly question
As to which in the end is true:
The wine and the open road?
Or the waiting Door?
THE GIFT OF HATE
Empty it seems, at times, their cry about Love,
Their claim that love is the only thing that survives.
For I who am born of my centuries strewn with hate,
Who was spewed into life from a timeless tangle of sin,
I can hate as strong and as long as I love!
There are hours and issues I hate;
There are creeds and deeds and doubts I hate;
There are men I hate to the uttermost;
And although in their graves they listen and weep,
Earth's mothers and wistful women who cried for peace,
I hate this King of Evil who has crowned my heart with Hate!
I lay by your side last night.
By you, in my dreams,
I felt the damp of the grave.
I was dead with you—
And my bones still ache with Death.
For my hand went out and I touched your lips,
And I found them fallen away,
Wasted and lost!
Those lips once warm with life
Were eaten and gone!
And my soul screamed out in the dark
At the intimate blackness of Death.
And then I arose from the dead
And returned to the day;
And my bones and my heart still ache with it all,
And I hunger to hear the relieving babble of life,
The crowd in the hurrying street,
The tumult and laughter and talk,
To make me forget!
ONE ROOM IN MY HEART
One room in my heart shall be closed, I said;
One chamber at least in my soul shall be secret and locked!
I shall hold it my holy of holies, and no one shall know it!
But you, calm woman predestined, with casual hands,
You came with this trivial key,
And ward by obdurate ward the surrendering lock fell back,
And disdainfully now you wander and brood and wait
In this room that I thought was my own!
It isn't the Sea that I love,
But the ships
That must dare and endure and defy and survive it!
It isn't the flesh that I love,
But the spirit
That guides and derides and controls and outlives it!
It isn't this earth that I love,
But the mortals
Who give to it meaning and colour and passion and life!
For what is the Sea without ships?
And what is the flesh without soul?
And what is a world without love?
You have said that I sold
My life for a song;
Laid bare my heart
That men might listen
And go their ways—
My inchoate heart
That I dare not plumb,
That goes unbridled
To the depths of Hell,
That sings in the sun
To the brink of Heaven!
I have tossed you the spindrift
Born of its fretting
On its shallowest coast,
But over the depths of it
Bastioned in wonder
And silent with fear
God sits with me!
THE MAN OF DREAMS
All my lean life
I garnered nothing but a dream or two,
These others gathered harvests
And grew fat with grain.
But no man lives by bread,
And bread alone.
So, forgetful of their scorn,
When starved, they cried for life,
I gave them my last dreams,
I bared for them my heart,
That they might eat!
APRIL ON THE RIALTO
A canyon of granite and steel,
A river of grim unrest,
And over the fever and street-dust
Arches the azure of dream.
And fretting along the tumult,
Threading the iron curbs,
Tawdry in tinsel and feather
Drift the daughters of pleasure,
The sad-eyed traders in song,
The makers of joy,
The Columbines of the city
Seeking their ends!
But under the beaded eye-lash,
Under the lip with its rouge,
Under the mask of white
Splashed with geranium-red,
As God's own arch of azure
Leans softly over the street,
Surely, this day, runs warmer
The blood through a wasted breast!
Must I round my life to a song,
As the waves wear smooth the shore-stone?
Shall the mortal beat and throb
Of this heart of mine
Be only to crumble a dream,
And fashion the pebbles of fancy,
That the tides of time may cover,
Or a child may find?
Little in truth it matters;
But this at the most I know:
Infinite is the ocean
That thunders upon man's soul,
And the sooner the soul falls broken,
The smoother will be its song!
Ere the thread is loosed,
And the sands run low,
And the last hope fails,
Wherever we fare,
O Fond and True,
May it fall that we come in the end,
Come back to the crimson valleys,
Back to the Indian Summer,
Back to the northern pine-lands,
And the grey lakes draped with silence,
And the sunlight thin and poignant,
And the leaf that flutters earthward,
And the skyline green and lonely,
And the ramparts of the dead world
Ruddy with wintry rose!
May we fare, O Fond and True,
Through our soft-houred Indian Summer,
Through the paling twilight weather,
And facing the lone green uplands,
And greeting the sun-warmed hills,
Step into the pineland shadows
And enter the sunset valley
And go as the glory goes
Out of the dreaming autumn,
Out of the drifting leaf
And the dying light!
If I tire of you, beautiful woman,
I know that the fault is mine;
Yet not all mine the failure
And not all mine the loss!
In loveliness still you walk;
But I have walked with sorrow!
I have threaded narrows,
And I have passed through perils
That you know nothing of!
And I in my grief have gazed
In eyes that were not yours;
And my emptier hours have known
The sigh of kindlier bosoms,
The kiss of kindlier mouths!
Yet the end of all is written,
And nothing, O rose-leaf woman,
You ever may dream or do
Henceforth can bring me anguish
Or crown my days with joy!
Three tears, O stately woman,
You said could float your soul,
So little a thing it seemed!
Yet all that's left of life
I'd give to know your love,
I'd give to show my love,
And feel your kiss again!
I SAT IN THE SUNLIGHT
I sat in the sunlight thinking of life;
I sat there, dreaming of Death.
And a moth alit on the sun-dial's face,
And the birds sang sleepily,
And the leaves stirred,
And the sun lay warm on the hills,
And the afternoon grew old.
So, some day I knew the birds would sing,
And the leaves would stir,
And the afternoon grow old—
And I would not be there.
And the warmth went out of the day,
And a wind blew out of the West where I sat,
And the birds were still!