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Project Gutenberg's Poems of London and Other Verses, by John Presland

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Title: Poems of London and Other Verses

Author: John Presland

Release Date: October 13, 2011 [EBook #37752]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1

*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK POEMS OF LONDON AND OTHER VERSES ***




Produced by Al Haines







POEMS OF LONDON

AND OTHER VERSES



BY

JOHN PRESLAND




MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED
ST. MARTIN'S STREET, LONDON
1918




COPYRIGHT




CONTENTS


POEMS OF LONDON

London Dawn
Spring in Oxford Street
Judd Street, St. Pancras
Sparrows
The Moon in January
An August Night, 1914
Counted out—Olympia
The German Band
Street Music—I
Street Music—II
Piccadilly
In the Tube
London Idyll—I
A London Idyll—II
Finis


OTHER VERSES

In Early Spring
A Ballad of the Fall of Knossos
A Sun-Dial in a Garden
"Two Only"
The Saint's Birthday
Rupert Brooke
"Comfort be with Apples, for I am sick of Love"
Of England
Question
Leonardo to Monna Lisa.
The Eternal Flux
Love is the Ultimate Measure
November 8
The Lovers
The Gentle Heart
A Ballad for Herman
France
Ilgar's Song
The Inn—I
The Inn—II
"To-Day I miss You"
"How Small the Thread"
"In all Things gracious there is a Thought of You"
"There's Duty, Friend"
"Evening"
Finis




POEMS OF LONDON




LONDON DAWN

Dawn over London; all the pearly light
Trembles and quivers over street and park,
The houses are a strange, unearthly white;
Pavement and roof grow slowly, palely bright;
There is no shadow, neither light nor dark
But everything is steeped in glimmering dawn.

Oh, purity of dawn; oh, milk-and-pearl
Translucent splendour, spreading far and wide,
As on a yellow beach the small waves curl
—Almost as noiselessly as buds unfurl—
On windless mornings with the rising tide,
So flows the dawn o'er London, all asleep.

Indeed, I think that heaven is a sea,
And London is a city of old rhymes
Sunk fathoms deep in its transparency,
That folk of living lands may dream they see
And muse on, and have thoughts about our times,
How we were great and splendid, and now gone.

For never light the common earth has born,
This crystalline pale wonder that so falls
On streets and squares the daily toil has worn,
On blind-eyed houses, holding lives forlorn,
For the grey roads and wide, blank, grey-brick walls
Shine with a glory that is new and strange.

And not more wonderful, nor otherwise
Shall dawn come up upon the dewy hills,
Nor in the mountains, where the rivers rise
That water Eden; and no lovelier lies
The dawn on Paradise, than this that fills
The space 'twixt house and house with tremulous light.

Yet, on the pavement, huddled fast asleep,
A thing of dusty, ragged misery,
Grotesque in wretchedness, from London's deep
Spumed off, a strange, distorted thing to creep
From God knows where, and lie, and let all be
Unheeding, whether of the day or night.

Such tired, hopeless angles of the knees
And neck and elbows—and the dawning grey
Trembling to sunrise; in the park the trees
Begin to shiver lightly in a breeze,
And turning watchful kindly eyes away
The policeman passes slowly on his beat.




SPRING IN OXFORD STREET

A dash of rain on the pavement,
In the air a gleam of sun,
And the clouds are white, and rolling high
From Marble Arch all down the sky
—And that's the spring begun!

The sky is all a-shining
With sunniest blue and white,
The flags are streaming out full cry
As the crisp North wind comes bustling by,
And all the roofs are bright.

And all the shops and houses
Of sunlit Oxford Street,
—Pearl behind amber, gold by rose—
To grey the long perspective goes;
Till all the houses meet.

And there, in every gutter,
The glory of spring flowers
The whole long street with colour fills,
And across the yellow daffodils
Sharp sunshine and soft showers.

And among the drabs and greys and browns
Of folk going to and fro
Are trays of violets, darkly bright,
And yellow, like the spring moon's light,
Pale primrose-bunches show.

There's blue in every puddle,
And every pane of glass
Has a thousand little dancing suns,
—And up and down the glad news runs,
That spring has come to pass.




JUDD STREET, ST. PANCRAS

My dwelling has a courtyard wide
Where lord with lady well might pace,
—Such silks and velvets side by side,
And she a fan to shield her face!—
It's fine as any king's;
For there I see on either hand
The whole great stretch of London lie;
—Just so as any king might stand
Upon his roof, to watch go by
The flashing pigeon wings.

Just so a king might look abroad:
"And this is all my own," says he,
And then he'd turn to some great lord,
Who'd acquiesce with gravity
—But that I do without,
For all of lord there is up here
Is this impassive chimney-stack,
And cloudy be my view or clear
My courtier will not answer back;
All silent I look out,

And see the flight of roofs that fade
Towards the West in golden haze,
And all this work men's hands have made
Like jewels in the sun's last rays—
I have a dwelling wide;
Three rooms are mine, but I can go
Up to this roof in shade or shine,
And watch all London change and glow
Rose, purple, gold; three rooms are mine—
And all of heaven beside.




SPARROWS

Brown little, fat little, cheerful sparrows!
I like to think, when I hear them chatter,
How, when the brazen noise was gone
Of the chariot-wheels, with the sparks a-scatter,
Their chirp was heard in old Babylon.

In Babylon, and more ancient Memphis,
They chattered and quarrelled, pecked and fumed,
And loved their loves, and flew their ways,
Where the royal Pharaohs lay entombed
Deep from the daylight's vulgar gaze.

Then, just such little homely fellows
(When the angry monarch, terrible,
Watched his curled Assyrians writhe)
They sat, on a carven granite bull
Unheeding of anguish, feathered and blithe.

So did they sit, on the roofs of Rome,
And preen themselves in the morning sun;
And Caesar saw them, brown and grey,
Whisk in the dust, when his course was run
And he took to the Forum his fated way.

Oh, changing time; oh, sun and birds
How little changing. In the Square
This winter morning I have met
Old Egypt's grandson, stopped him there,
And "Sir, you will outlive me yet,"
Said I politely, "mark my words."




THE MOON IN JANUARY

Sharp and straight are the scaffold poles,
Black on a delicate sky;
Upright they stand, across they lie,
In changeless angles fixed and bound,
The sunset light in mist is drowned,
And the moon has risen high;

High above houses, high and clear
Above the scaffolding,
So exquisite, so faint a thing,
The young moon's silver curve that shines
Above the fretting, tangled lines,
With the old moon in her ring.

The young moon holds the old black moon
In a sky all grey with frost,
By cable wires barred and crossed,
And below, the haze of purplish-brown
Smokes upward from the lamp-lit town
Where outlines all are lost.

The pure pale arch of windless sky,
The pure bright young moon's thread,
These wide and still are overhead;
And in the dusky glare below
The lamps go dotting, row on row,
And there is movement, to and fro,
Where far the pavements spread.




AN AUGUST NIGHT, 1914

The light has gone from the West; the wind has gone
From the quiet trees in the Park;
From the houses the open windows yellowly shine,
The streets are softly dark;

Row upon row the twisted chimneys stand,
Each angle sharply lined,
And the mass of the Institute rises, tower and dome,
Black on the sky behind;

Green is the sky, like some strange precious stone,
Dark, it yet holds the light
In its depths, like a bright thing shrouded over or veiled
By the creeping shadow of night;

And whiter than any whiteness there is upon earth
A faint star throbs and beats—
And the hurrying voices cry the news of the war,
Below, in the quiet street.




COUNTED OUT—OLYMPIA

The small white space roped off; the hard blue light
Burning intensely on the narrow ring,
And every muscle's movement sculpturing
Harshly, of those two naked men who fight;
Beyond, the yellow lights that seem to swing
Across abysmal darkness; and below,
Tier upon tier, all silent, row on row
The dense black-coated throng, and all a-strain
White faces, turned towards the narrow stage,
Watching intently; watching, nerves and brain,
As those two men, cut off in that blue glare
From all reality of place and age
Wherein our common being has a share,
Together isolated, watch and creep
—Sunk head, hunched shoulders, light of foot and swift,
Deadly of purpose—in that ancient game,
Which was not otherwise in forests deep
Of earth primeval: that light tread the same,
The same those watchful eyes, and those quick springs
Of a snake uncoiling; underneath the skin,
Glistening with sweat in that unearthly blaze,
The muscles run and check, like living things.
And then, the hot air tremulous with the din,
And all the great crowd surging to its feet,
Yet like a wave arrested, while the hands
Of the referee allot the moments' beat;
The seconds, strung like greyhounds on a leash
Await the signal; and there's one who stands
Still guarding, watchful, tense, while all around
Lamp-light and darkness seem to rock and spin
In one wild clamour; and upon the ground,
Beneath the stark blue light, the beaten man!




THE GERMAN BAND

When I was a little child
And lived very near the sky,
A German band was wonderful music
That could almost make me cry.

It was to me of a beauty
That I could not understand,
Though I dimly guessed at sorrow and joy
In a grown-up distant land.

All that I know with the years,
Much that I never shall know,
Was in my heart when the music came
In such guise, years ago.

And now when on Friday mornings
I hear my own child run,
When the German band in the street starts playing,
The wonder is never done;

The wonder at ways that our spirit
May take for itself to rise,
How a puddle may be a silver lake,
And a chimney touch the skies.

All the forms through which spirit
Yearns and strives to be known
Are only a little greater or less,
For great is the Spirit alone.




STREET MUSIC

I

There comes an old man to our street,
Dragging his knobby, lame old feet,
Once a week he comes and stands,
A concertina in his hands,
There in the gutter stops and plays,
No matter fine or rainy days
—Very humble and very old—
Pavement's for them who make so bold!
Prim, starched nurses, and ladies fair
With taffeta dresses and shining hair,
And gay little children, who break and run
To give him a penny—he seems to feel
(Out-at-elbows and out-at-heel)
That they've a right to the morning sun;
And so with gnarled old hands he'll play
For an hour, perhaps, then take his way,
Dragging his knobby, lame old feet
In the gutter of this quiet street.

There is no grudging in his eyes,
Nor anger, nor the least surprise
At the uneven scales of fate:
Glad of the sun, against the rain
Hunching his shoulders, age and pain
He takes as his appointed state,
And stands, like Lazarus, at the door
With the dread humility of the poor.




STREET MUSIC

II

I've heard a mad old fiddler play
Harsh, discordant, broken strains,
Down the wet street on a winter's day
When the rain was speckling the window-panes,

And though it was middle afternoon
And none of the lamps were lighted yet,
The night had settled down too soon
And the sky was low and dark and wet.

In a cracked old voice I've heard him sing,
Strangely capering to and fro,
Sawing his fiddle on one worn string,
A grotesque and desolate thing of woe,

Wagging his head and stamping his feet
(Unwitting of the passers-by
Hurrying through the gloomy street)
His shoulders hunched and his head awry.

The children would laugh when they saw him pass,
And "Look," they'd say, "at Crazy Joe!"
And press their faces against the glass
To watch him—leering and lurching—go.

Where he comes from, nobody knows,
But he, being mad, is in God's hand,
And sacred upon his way he goes;
And his music—God will understand.




PICCADILLY

Above, the quiet stars and the night wind;
Below, the lamp-lit streets, and up and down
The tired, stealthy steps of those who walk
When the just sleep, at night, in London town.

Poor garish ghosts that haunt the yellow glare,
Wan spectres, lurking in the alleys dark
Among the tainted night-smells, while the wind
Is whispering to the trees across the Park;

For it is summer, may be, and the scent
Of new-mown hay is sweet across the fields,
But neither summer, nor the gleaming spring
One breath of healing to this dark life yields;

No morning sunshine greets these sidelong eyes
With blessings, daughters as they are of gloom,
Ghosts only, such as seem to have a shape
At night in some old evil, haunted room.

Would that they were indeed to be dissolved
At every sunrise!—they are living souls
Dragging mortality about foul streets
While overhead the star-lit heaven rolls.

Living souls are they, and they have their share
In seed and harvest, and the round world's boon
Of changing seasons, and the miracle
Of each month's waxing and waning of the moon.

Living souls are they, prisoned in a net
Of stealthy streets—age after age they've gone
Bearing the burden of a city's sin,
In London, and old Rome, and Babylon.




IN THE TUBE

A tired, working woman, draggle-tailed,
Came in, harsh-featured in the yellow glare
Of electricity; an urchin trailed
Clumsily after her, with towsled hair,
And sharp, pale features, and a vacant stare,
And in her arms she bore another child.

A sick child, doubtless, where all three looked sick;
The poor legs hanging limply, lean and blue,
Dangled grotesquely, for the boots, too thick
For such frail bones a touch could snap in two,
Like clock-weights seemed to swing, as staggered through
The burdened mother, till she found a seat.

Through dark unnatural to unnatural blaze
Of stations rocked the train; it tore the air
To shreds and tatters in the tunnelled ways
With such a noise as when hell's trumpets blare;
We, swaying, faced our fellow-creatures there
Each mercilessly pilloried in light.

The sick child lay against the woman's breast
Asleep, and she looked down on it and smiled,
And with her gaunt arms made her bird a nest
Against her poor worn bosom—sad and mild
In such wise looked Madonna at her Child
Where old saints worshipped, round the altar set.

Such glory of the spirit shone and streamed
In that brief moment, that her form and face
Were rags of vesture only, through which gleamed
The splendour; something of wonder and of grace
Making the poor flesh lovely—all the place
Grew holy with the Mother and the Child.




A LONDON IDYLL

I

A heavy sky, and a drizzling rain
And the lamps in rigid rows;
Long smears of light all down the street
Where a lean cat stalking goes;

Blank, save a glimmer here and there
The gaunt dark houses stand—
And a man and a girl against the gate
Whispering, hand in hand.

There is a little dripping sound
Of rain from off the roof;
And gleaming like black armour goes
The policeman's waterproof.

He crosses the road to give them room
As he takes his evening beat;
He also knows that heaven may look
Like a rainy London street.




A LONDON IDYLL

II

Just to all of us once there comes
    This splendour and wonder of love,
When the earth is transmuted to silver and gold,
    And heaven opens above;

When all we have ever seen with our eyes,
    Daily, under the sun,
Seems like a miracle, happening again
    To us two, instead of to one.

When there is nothing so ugly or mean,
    But somehow shimmers and glows
In that light, whose spring is within our hearts
    And whose stream o'er the wide earth flows.

When the spirit of us that is prisoned within
    Seems at last to have wings,
And, soaring, looks with no common eyes
    On no other than common things;

When we may freely enter and share
    Heaven's splendour and mirth—
Just for a moment to all of us comes
    This glory of love upon earth.




FINIS

S.C.K.S.

A book's end is the end of many hopes;
Much good endeavour; certain hours of stress
When brain and spirit fail, and laziness
Thralls the poor body—yet the purpose gropes
Athwart it all, and as the horseman cheers
His tired beast with chirrup, spur, and goad
Towards his home along the heavy road,
So drives us purpose till the end appears.
Read it who may! Find more or less of good
Within its covers, but at least find this:
Glad service to a great and noble aim
That may be striven for, and understood,
And fallen short of—so not quite we miss
In our small lamp of clay Truth's very flame.




OTHER VERSES



IN EARLY SPRING

There's a secret, have you guessed it, you with human eyes and hearing—
Which the birds know, which the trees know, and by which the earth is stirred,
Stirred through all her deep foundations, where the water-springs are fastened,
Where the seed is, and the growth is, and the still blind life is heard?

There's a miracle, a miracle—oh mortal, have you seen it?
When the springs rise, and the saps rise, and the gallant cut-and-thrust
Of the spear-head bright battalions of the little green things growing
(Crocus-blade or grass-blade) pierce the brown earth's sullen crust?

Oh, wonder beyond speaking in the daily common happening;
But the little birds have known it, and the evening-singing thrush,
In the cold and pearly twilights that are February's token
Speaks of revelation through the falling day-time's hush.




A BALLAD OF THE FALL OF KNOSSOS

(Circa 1400 B.C.)

Is it a whisper that runs through the galleries?
Is it a rustle that stirs in the halls?
Is it of mortals, or things that are otherwise
This sound that so haltingly, dreadfully falls,
Pauses, and hurries, and falls?

No moon, and no torches; not even a glimmer
To pin-prick the darkness that weighs like a sin,
And nothing is breathing, and nothing is stirring,
And hushed are the small owls without, and within
The mice to their holes have run in.

It is not the step of a foot on the pavement;
It is not the brush of a wing through the air;
It is not a passing, it is not a presence,
But the ghost of the fate that this palace must bear,
Of the ruin of Knossos goes there.

*****

For on such a night, when the moon is dark,
And all of the stars are dumb,
With a sudden flare by the sea-ward gate
Shall the doom of Knossos come;
For a cry will shatter the brooding hush,
And the crickets and mice shall wake
To clatter and clash and shout and cry,
And the stumble of frenzied feet going by
Death's stride will overtake.

For into the glare of a new-lit torch
That shakes in a shaking grasp,
Sweat-streaked, wild-eyed, and dark with blood
Shall a runner break, and gasp
Of a burning harbour, of silent ships,
Of men sprung out of the night—
Is it men or devils?—He moans, and reels
Shoulder to wall, and a red stain steals
Down the frescoes gay and bright.

And hard on the word they hear approach
The surge of the battle near,
And to whistle of arrows, and clang of bronze
The palace awakes in fear.
Light! Light! and torches, like waking eyes
Leap from each darkened door;
And the guard at the sea-ward gate go down
In the vast black sea of men, and drown,
While sweeps the torrent o'er.

What door shall hold, or what walls withstand
The roll of a full spring-tide,
With an on-shore wind? And the gates of bronze
Ring, rock, and are flung aside;
And a myriad unknown raiders burst
Into the hall of the King,
Where Minos on his carved, stone seat
Beheld the nations at his feet,
Watched each its tribute bring.

Minos is slain; his guards are slain;
Which of his sons shall live
In this pillared Hall of the Double Axe
The word of the Kings to give?
Which of his sons? Shall they know his sons
In this sudden terror sprung
On sleeping men? Half-armed they stand,
Foot pressed to foot, hand tense to hand,
And muscles iron-strung.

The flame of the torches in the wind
Of their struggle blackens the wall,
And the floor is sticky with blood, and heaped
With the bodies of those that fall.
What if a son of Minos live?
In that horror of blood and gloom,
What of the noble, what of the brave?
Better to die, than endure as a slave
The days after Knossos' doom.

But above the scuffle of sandalled feet,
And the breath of men hard-pressed,
And the clash of bronze, and the gasp and thud
As the point goes through the breast,
And above the startled hoot of owls,
And the rattle of shield and spear,
The wailing voices of women rise
As their men are stricken before their eyes
And they huddle together in fear.

Slow comes the dawning in the East;
Pale light on the earth is shed,
And cool and dewy blows the wind
Over the writhen dead;
Pale light, which fades in the growing glare
Of the flames that swirl and leap
Through corridor, and bower, and hall,
On carven pillar and painted wall;
The flames that like sickles reap

A barren harvest of kingly things,
To be bound in ashy sheaves,
While driven forth by the work of his hands,
Stumbles the last of the thieves.
Behind him is fire, ruin, and death,
Before him the kine-sweet morn,
But vases of silver and cups of gold
And hoarded treasures fashioned of old
On his blood-stained back are borne.

*****

Is it the night-wind alone that blows shuddering
Down the dim corridors, tangled with weeds;
Is it a bat's wing, or is it an owl's wing
That silently passes, as thistledown seeds,
In the Hall, where the small owlet breeds?

Here do the moonbeams come, slithering, wandering
Over the faded, pale frescoes that stand
Faint and remote on the walls that are mouldering,
Crowned with a King's crown, or flowers in hand,
—Pale ghosts of a gaily-dressed band.

Faintly they gaze on the wide desolation;
Faintly they smile when the white moonbeams play
Over the dust of the throne-room of Minos,
Over the pavements where small creatures stray,
The humble small things of a day.

But there are other nights, moonless and starless,
When no moth flutters, no bat flits, owl calls,
Something is stirring, something is rustling,
Something that is not of mortals befalls
In galleries, cellars, and halls.

Soundless and viewless, a strange ghostly happening,
Life, long since ashes, and flames, long since dead;
For the Angel of Time goes relentlessly, steadily
Over dark places that mankind has fled;
And the dust is not stirred by that tread.




A SUN-DIAL IN A GARDEN

Across the quiet garden sunlight flows
In wave on wave like water, heavy bees
Hang drowsily upon the drowsy flowers,
For it is very still, and all the trees
Are pyramided high in green and gold.
There is a sun-dial there to mark the hours
Where time is not, where time has grown so old
It does not move now; yet the shadow goes
Across the dial that's so warm to feel
Like a cold, stealthy, creeping, living thing.
You cannot see it steal
Minute from minute of the golden day
Till all are eaten away,
You cannot press it back with both your hands,
And, on the shadowed stone
Laying your cheek, you never warmth can bring
To what beneath the sad triangle stands,
Solitary in sunlight: for we know,
It takes the whole great swinging earth to throw
The little shadow on the little stone.




"TWO ONLY"

Only two hearts shall understand the sea
That speaks at nightfall, in the wash and lap
Of windless evenings under flaming skies;
Only two hearts shall hear the rising sap
In wet spring woods; and two alone, grown wise
In union, shall make discovery
Of what lies hidden, though before our eyes.

Oh, core of wonder in familiar things:
Magic of evening, and of early morn
But just created, with the dew of birth
All fresh upon it, heaven itself new-born
O'er the green splendour of the quiet earth
And like a just-awakened bird that sings
Because of sunlight, is the spirit's mirth.

All forms of beauty but express the soul
As in a looking-glass; the wind that goes
Low-talking to the trees beneath the stars,
Or the small sound of water, as it flows
Under old bridges, where the ivy mars
The sharp stone outline—these are in the whole
Of the World-Symphony small, tuneful bars.

And human beings in the span of years
Some part of all the world-wealth may receive,
More, less, but never all; and with dismay
We see slow Time his net of hours weave
To catch from us dear mortal night and day,
Ere we have taken in our eyes and ears
Beauty that lies around, beyond, away.

We, singly, feel a sudden sharp regret
Behind all beauty, but we—two in one,
As white and blue are separate in a flame
Yet mingled—we shall watch the hours run
Seeing with surer knowledge how the same
Eternal splendour for the soul is set,
And the day comes again from whence day came.




THE SAINT'S BIRTHDAY

One of God's blessed pitying saints one day,
Reaching out hands to touch the azure throne:
"Because it is my birthday, Lord," he said,
"That I was born in heaven, when I was known
By an earthly name, and stoned and left for dead,

"Because it is the custom, Lord, of men
To keep their birthdays gladly, and with gifts
Grant me a blessing from your blesséd stores."
And from the cloudy rose and amber drifts
About the Throne, God answered: "It is yours."

Then sprang the glad Saint earthwards; at his feet
Were little golden flames, and all his hair
Was blown about his head like tongues of fire,
And like a star he burned through the dark air,
And came, and stood by farm and shed and byre

Before the earliest grey was in the East,
Or the first smoke above the chimney-stack
From earliest-rising housewife, yet the cheep
And twitter of birds did gladly welcome back
Him who such love for earth in heaven could keep,

And who on earth such love had had for men
And bird and beast, and all that lived and grew:
The sparrows in the eaves remembered him
And chirrupped in the gables, while the dew
Was dark still, and the day below the rim.

He stood there, in the village of his life
Ere he won heaven, and the breath of cows
Came as a benediction, and the smell
Of rain-sweet copses, and, where cattle browse,
Long grass, and running water in the dell.

And his heart opened with the love he had
For the dear toil-worn dwelling-place of men;
To hear the sheep crop, see the glimmering grey
Lighten the waiting windows once again,
And garden roses opening to the day.

Not otherwise was Eden once—he thought—
And by God's blessing it may be anew:
And so put forth the power God had lent
And took away all labour, and he drew
Heaven to earth, till earth and heaven were blent.

Time ceased to be; and yet the sun and shade
Shifted to make new beauty with the hours,
And the ripe earth, unlaboured, gave her yields,
No pain there was, no age, and all the flowers
Unwitheringly lovely filled the fields.

And all day long the birds in ecstasy
Sang without shadow of hawk or thought of death,
And the saint happily went about the ways
Filling each home with plenty—his very breath
Was like a little thrilling note of praise.

When all was done he stepped back, childish-wise,
To see and love his handiwork, and then
Came a sharp pain, and pierced him through and through;
He had wrought lovingly for the days of men,
But the heart of men his love could not renew:

The weary heart, the ever-questioning,
The loving, lacking, lonely, incomplete
For ever longing to be merged in one
With something other than itself; to beat
To another's pulse; to be for ever done

With its sad weight of personality.
Then God leaned down to his poor saint, and said:
"Dear soul, would you make heaven upon the earth:
Nor know indeed My purpose in all birth,
Nor that My blessing is upon the dead?"




RUPERT BROOKE

April 1915

You that are gone into the dark
Of unknowing and unbeing;
You that have heard the song of the lark,
You that have seen the joy of the spring;
You have I seen, you have I known
—The word you have written, your pictured head—
And they say you are laid at Lemnos among the English dead.

Soul that is gone—is gone—
Whether into the dark,
Or into knowledge complete and the blinding light;
Soul that was swift and free,
Passionate, eager, bright,
Armed with a weapon for shams,
And set with wings for flight;
Soul that was questioning, restless, and all at odds with life,
Greedy for it, yet satiate, and sick with the shows of things
—And all laid down at Lemnos, the hunger, the love, the strife,
And the youthful grace of body, and the body's ministerings.

Darkness, darkness, or light!
You have leapt from the circle of sense,
And only your dust remains and the word you said:
"If I should die," ... and we name you among the dead.
Yet have I a hope at heart
That somewhere away, apart,
Knowledge is yours and joy of the act fulfilled
To still your fever of soul as your fever of blood is stilled;
So shall you soar and run
In water and wind and air,
With your old clean joy of the sun,
And your gladness in all things fair,
Untouched by mortality's sadness, simple, perfect, at one.




"COMFORT ME WITH APPLES, FOR I AM SICK OF LOVE"

Red lilies under the sun,
Red apples hanging above,
And red is the wine that is spilled
On your bare white feet, O Love.

The poppies sullenly glow
In the smouldering red from the West,
And black are the dregs of the wine,
O Love, on your bare, white breast.

Aie! aie! when the wild swan flies
Lonely and dark is the place
That the white wings lightened, and death
Will cover your glowing face.

O thief that is night, O thieves!
Cold years that devour us all;
The lilies blossom and wilt,
The apples ripen and fall,

The apples, the apples of Love!
—Lo, where we have spilled the wine,
This quenchless earth is agape,
O Love, for your body and mine.




OF ENGLAND

White is for purity, blue for heaven's grace,
Purple is for Emperors, sitting in their place,
Yellow is for happiness, rose for Love's embrace,
But green—oh green, the green of England—that's for Paradise!

From seashore to seashore races the green tide;
With the pricking green of hedges by the wet roadside
—Or ever March triumphant comes with great, glad stride—
There is green, there's green in England, and a tale of Paradise.

Then the hawthorns flush and tremble in their early wondrous green,
And the willows are resplendent in a green-and-golden sheen,
Like the golden tents of princes, Babylonish, Damascene,
Or enchanted silent fountains of a Persian Paradise.

There are beech and birch and elm-tree—evening-still or
            morning-tossed—
And the splendid generous chestnuts with their flame-like
            blooms embossed,
There are oak and ash and elder, till the very sun is lost
In the green, delicious gloaming that's the light of Paradise.

Deeper, wider, steadier this beauty ever grows,
And from field-side up to tree-top the endless colour flows,
Till road and house and wayside, in the first days of the rose,
Are fathoms deep in waves of green, submerged in Paradise.

Oh dim and lovely hollows of all the woods that be;
Oh sunlight on the uplands, like a calm, great sea;
I think indeed the souls of those from circumstance set free
Look down, look down on England, saying: "Ah, dear Paradise!"




QUESTION

What of this gift of Life?
Passionate, swift, and rife
With pleasure or pain in the hand of the hurrying hours?
Oh little moment of space,
Oh Death's averted face,
How shall we grasp, shall we grasp what still is ours?

Chill, chill on either hand
Eternities must stand,
And pants between them, passionate and brief,
The moment's self, to make
Or unmake, but to take
Just here, just now, before death turns the leaf.

Ah, if the leaf but turn,
And if the soul discern
Another message on another page!
But if death shuts the book?
We may not know nor look;
We are fenced in upon a narrow stage;

While, splendid and intense,
Quick-strung in every sense
Life burns in us, and earth lies all around—
Far blue of summer seas,
Young green of age-old trees—
Bound by the season, by the horizon bound.

Oh colour, sound, and light,
Oh wondrous day and night,
Pale dawns, and evenings' splendid stretch of gold;
Keen beauty like a spear,
Half pleasure and half fear,
Goes through us for the things we may not hold.

Hot blood, hot noons, hot youth—
When Life seems all the truth,
And Death a mumbled far old fairy-tale;
When just the splendid days
Suffice our eager gaze,
The wondrous present that will never fail.

Then one day, with a fierce
Clamour of heart, we pierce
The light and see the shadows all behind,
And then, and not till then,
By the brief graves of men
The utter loveliness of flowers we find.

So little stretch of days,
And earth, with all her ways
Lovely enough, I think, for Paradise;
And body, mind, and heart,
Each separate complex part,
Wondrously made, and never quite made twice.

What of this gift of Life?
Shall it be worn in strife?
Shall it be idly spent, or idly stored?
Each for himself must dare
If the answer is here—or there,
Here for regret—or there for hope, O Lord?




LEONARDO TO MONNA LISA

I wish you were a beaker of Venetian glass
That I might fill you with most precious wine
And drink it, breathless—lo! the moments pass
Of that subliminal communion.
I take you from my lips, and crush you—so!—
Into a thousand shining particles;
So, at the last, my passionate greed shall know
That you were wholly mine.

I wish you were a rare, stringed instrument
Beneath my hand, and from you I would wring
Such unimagined music, as was sent
Never before, along the quivering nerves;
Such strange, sharp discords, out of which I'd mould
Music more sweet than the spring nightingale's;
Then, ere the magic of the sound was old,
Would I not rend each string?

Possess you? Ah, not with the world's possession,
You still, strange creature; neither force nor will
Could make you serve a man's mere earthly passion.
I would dissolve you, in one blinding flash,
Into a drop of elemental dew,
And let you trickle down the barren rock
Into the black abyss, if so I knew
That you henceforth were powerless to mock
My spirit with your smile.




THE ETERNAL FLUX

Let us hold April back
One splendid hour
To bless the passionate earth
With golden shower
Of sunlight from the blue;
Oh April skies,
That earth yearns up to; blue has burned to gold,
Gold pales and dies
In delicate faint rose,
Oh flowing time, oh flux eternal. Hold
The hour back. The April hour goes.

Then, let it be of May,
When sound and sight
And all that's beauty manifest
Through all the day,
Of deep on deep with green,
Of light on light
Across the waves of blossom, when the white
Is lovelier than the rose, except the rose
Is loveliest of all;
When through the day the cuckoo calls unseen,
And at nightfall
The nightingale, whose music no man knows
The magic heart of, sitting in the dark
Sings still the world-old way;
When all of these,
Flowers and birds, and sunset and pale skies
Seem gathered up in scent,
And all of sound and sight
Dissolved, ethereal, not of ears and eyes
But only the soul-beauty of the brain
Flows, in such waves of perfume, over all
—Or like a song in colour, of such strain
As spirits finer than our own must hear
(The beautiful made clear);
Then, then, when it is May,
Surely our hand must touch eternity.
Day pales to night, stars pale upon the day,
And May's last blossoming hour flows away.

Not of June either, though the hanging skies
Make but a little span
'Twixt light and growing light;
And when through that short darkness palely flies
The silent great white moth
—A spirit lost in the night,
A soul, without will or way—;
When the arch of trees
Is duskily green, and close as a builded house
Where love with love might stay,
Guarded and still, from sight;
When the hay is sweet in the fields
And love is as sweet as hay;
When the life-impulse of the wonderful untamed earth
Has reached its fulness and height,
Is broad and steady and wide
As sweeps into splendid bays the flowing tide;
When God might look on the land,
When God might look on the sea,
And say: "For ever be
Perfect, completed, achieved,
As now at this moment you stand."
Neither in June shall we stay the eternal flow
Nor grasp the present with pitiful, mortal hand,
For sliding past like water the June hours go.




"LOVE IS THE ULTIMATE MEASURE OF THE SOUL"

Love is the ultimate measure of the soul;
Love is the biting acid, the sure test
To strip the naked gold, discard the rest
Of earthly stuffs; Love is the one thing whole
In a world of broken parts, for Love is all.

Love is creation; Love is the low call
Of deep to deep; Love is the force that shapes
The thing that it believes, and while there gapes
The black earth-pit, where the poor flesh must fall,
Love builds on hope, and buds eternal life.

Love is a victory unsoiled by strife;
Who is there that shall adequately name
All that Love is, this thing as swift as flame
And vast as heaven, yet in every life
Tamed to the narrow needs of little men?

From humble love, that makes the partridge hen
Brave for her chickens, to the Love that shakes
The world from Calvary, all love partakes
Of immortality; one cannot pen
Divinity in words; Love is divine.

The very essence of God does Love enshrine;
For let the heart, however sorely tried,
Open itself to loving, and the wide
Earth is a home; love-lacking must decline
Where black fears crowd across the starless dark.

For Love is light; the faith that will embark,
Unpiloted, upon uncharted seas
Is Love alone; the fiery leap to seize
The splendid distant aim, the invisible mark,
What else but Love's? Love is the thing that stands
Unchanged, on changing tides and shifting sands.




NOVEMBER 8

THE LITTLE SUMMER OF ALL SAINTS

The year stands still, the tearing winter winds
Hold off their claws a moment, that the trees
May keep the glory of their blended gold
A little minute; there's not so much breeze
As summer mornings hold.

Golden and still the hours; russet gold
The birch-leaves o'er the silver of the bark;
Pale gold the poplars, like a lady's hair,
And thunderous gold along the hollows dark
The sunlit brackens flare.




THE LOVERS

There are ghosts we walk with, lady of mine,
Arm in arm, and side by side,
Pallid ghosts, though the sun may shine,
Ghosts that are cold in the warmth of day,
And neither of us may fend them away,
But step by step they go with us, stride by stride.

There are doors in your heart that are shut to me,
And behind them dwellers I cannot know;
And my soul has windows that open wide
On a ghostly, memoried country-side,
That—lady of mine—you never will see,
Where your voice will never be heard, nor your footsteps go.

So we walk together, hand in hand,
While dark eyes peer at us, pale forms come,
And speak in my ear—or call your name
With a voice I hear not, for praise or blame,
And you walk alone with that ghostly band,
While I go by the side of you, pitying, powerless, dumb.




THE GENTLE HEART

What shall harm the gentle heart
In its purpose undefiled?
Even grief shall lose its smart
In some way becoming part
Of that nature, soothed and gentled,
As a sorrow to a child.

Through the blackness and the sin
Of the old world's wrongs and woes,
And through the greater dark within,
The gentle heart shall surely win,
As some bright angel, armed with mercy,
Swiftly on his errand goes.

All the body may have wrought,
All the energies of mind
That for its own purpose sought,
Make at length a little nought
Among the stars—the gentle heart
Death itself will leave behind.




A BALLAD FOR HERMAN

This is the ballad for Herman, the ballad of humble things,
The hedge-side thistles that flower, the small brown lark that sings,
And the stumbling flight of a beetle, and the dust
            on a butterfly's wings.
The snails are out in the sunshine after the morning rain,
And the wasps are whirring and buzzing round the mulberry tree again,
And the ants are busy of course, working with might and main.

While the crickets leap, and rustle, and play at being blades of grass,
And humble-bumble the bees go, lurching as they pass,
And the flies are stupidly walking up the window-glass.

The sun is bright on the hedges, on thistle and bramble and briar,
The columbine leaves are heart-shaped, and shine as bright as fire
—And oh! the smell of the bracken, that's straight as Salisbury spire!

Life of the woods, life of the rivers, life of the trees,
Life of the rich plain-grasses that seed to the morning breeze,
And the thymy mountain-grasses June makes loud with bees.

This does not age nor alter; the low sharp song of the reeds
As the evening wind goes over, and the fishing heron feeds
On the still and shallow waters, salt with the floating weeds.

This does not change nor vanish; the mating calls of the springs,
When April's green on the copses, and bright on the shining wings
Of birds going backwards and forwards, while the whole green
            forest sings.

All is our sister and brother, as once St. Francis said;
The little stones in the river, the bright sun overhead,
And newts, and the spawn of fishes, and the unnamed mighty dead.

This is the ballad for Herman. O friend, may good befall!
There is never a star so distant, there is never a creature small,
But living and knowing and loving in our brain we hold them all.




FRANCE

April 1915

Great ever, with the hope that seeks the stars;
The brain clear-cold, like ice; the soul like flame;
The spirit beating at the physical bars;
The reason guiding all—oh, there we name
France!

A country that can think, and thinking, acts;
A country that can act, and acting, dreams;
That neither bears the tyranny of facts,
Nor of its own dear hopes, nor of what seems,

But still, clear-visioned, treats with things that are;
Yet—seer, prophet, priest of life-to-be—
Leaps to the visionary days afar,
And all the splendour she will never see.

School of the spirit, chastening, yet a spur
For all that men aspire to: as of old
Athens held up the torch, and did incur
Persia, with her fierce armies manifold,

So France against the evil strikes and strives
For liberty, and we of island race,
—Humbled a little by our careless lives—
Glory to stand beside her in our place,

Glory that we are one in hope and aim
With her from whom in blood and agony
The second gift of human freedom came
Through Terror and the red Gethsemane.

On her fair, ravaged borders stand her guns,
She has thrown away the scabbards, bared the swords,
And, snatching laughter out of death, her sons
Challenge high Fate to show what life affords—
France!




ILGAR'S SONG

(From King Monmouth)

O love that dwells in the innermost heart of man
Secret and dark and still,
Like a bird in the core of a green mid-summer tree—
Height upon height and depth upon depth where never the eye can see
The brown bird, hidden and still.

O Love that is wild and eager, sun-lit and free
Like a seagull that turns in the sunlight above the sea;
Between the sea and the sky it flashes and turns,
And the sun on its wings is white,
While sharply and shrill by the headland the keen wind sings
Where the grass is salt and grey
With the beating winter spray,
And the seagull sweeps and soars on magnificent wings.

Love that is like a flame,
Held in the hollow hand,
So dear and precious a thing
As a light in a stranger land,
As a flickering candle to him who wanders by night.

Love that is wide as the dawn
To the eyes of night-bound men;
And the evil ghosts and the goblins it puts to flight,
And stealthy creatures of dark that rustle and creep,
And elfins and witches and all such devil's game
That cannot live in the light,
They squeak and gibber and cheep,
And vanish like shadows before the splendour of day.

Love that has wide, white wings like a flying swan
—Oh what a noble span,
From tip to tip they are more than the height of a man
And curved like the sails of a boat—
When over the evening river the wild swan flies
The curve of those wings is like the arch of the skies
Over the shielded earth.
Love is most like a bird,
For birds have least of the dust that gave them birth,
They soar and poise and float,
They wheel and swerve and skim,
And their wings are strong to the wind, and swift to the light,
And their voice is a promise of dawn while yet it is night,
And their song is a pæan of hope before it is spring,
And the song of the bird to his mate is lyrical love.

Love is secret and holy, a spiritual thing,
Dark and silent and still
In the heart of man, as a treasure is hid in a shrine.
Love is splendid and fierce, as the summer sun
Drenches the sea and the sky with its blaze and shine,
Till every pebble is hot to the touch of the hand,
And the air is a-shimmer with heat o'er the hazy land—
Yet Love is not any of these things, Love is of one
With the strange, half-guessed at, vast, creative plan
We cannot see with our eyes nor understand—
Yet is Love pitiful too, for Love is of man.




THE INN

I

Friendship's an inn the roads of life afford
—I'll speak to you in metaphor, my friend—
And there a tired man his way may wend,
And, coming in, sit down beside the board,
Out of the dust and glare, and boldly send
For drink and victuals; haply cross his knees,
And in the cool dark parlour take his ease,
And gossip of his journey and its end.

That's friendship; there is neither right of place
Nor landlord duties, just the short hour's stay
From the sun and weariness between those kind
And quiet walls; and when the road's to face
Stony and long again, we take our way
Keeping that respite gratefully in mind.




THE INN

II

We take our pack, and jog our way again
Towards the windy sunset and the night;
The inn is now behind us, out of sight,
Showing no welcome shine of windowpane,
But dark and silent standing by the way
As we go forward, seeing mile on mile
Sink out of sight—just for a little while
We rested, in the middle of the day.

Is there an end at last, and shall we reach,
By the faint glimmer of new-risen stars,
Our house at last, and find the heart-repose
Which is the ultimate desire of each
Poor traveller—ah! shall they drop the bars,
And the doors open? Dear my friend, who knows?




"TO-DAY I MISS YOU"

To-day I miss you ... "Only for to-day,
Some little matter of hours and nothing more."
That at least the worldly-wise folk say,
Who've never waited for the opening door,
The greeting look, the known step on the floor;
Who've never missed a loved one like a lover.

To-day I miss you. What to-morrow brings
Is the other side of all the stars, God knows!
Only to have you here, now evening swings
Its quiet shadow round the globe again,
And in our talk of old familiar things,
And in familiar gestures, turn of brain,
Looks, tone of voice, I may discern again
That union from which alone love grows.

We'd close the curtains;—while the world outside,
Noisily autumn, makes a sense of peace
Deeper within,—open the bookcase wide
And take a book out; then another book,
And then another.... "Here's a favourite, look!
We cannot pass him." ... Then from reading cease,
Gossip and laugh, with finger in the page,
And challenge thought with thought, and mind with mind
Each speaking freely, that we might increase
Some knowledge to which, singly, we were blind.

So goes the evening. Side by side we stand,
Dear friends and brothers, till, a sudden pause,
Or kindly, almost careless touch of hands,
Swings us to face each other, and we feel
Those deepest stirrings of the human heart
Man has no name for yet, those changeless laws
Of more than mating—that eternal part
Our body is aware of, and our brain,
Unchallenging with reason, must receive,
That sense of intimate wonder!—Now again,
The blinds are drawn; lamp, books, chairs, all retain
Familiar aspects, but, you absent, leave
The room all empty, empty all the day.




"HOW SMALL THE THREAD THAT HOLDS UP HAPPINESS"

How small the thread that holds up happiness;
But one frail life between the dark and me,
Your life, dear love—and here I seem to see
You whimsically smile, that I confess
The whole round world, with its vast energy,
Its summers, and its sunshine, and its aims,
Its splendid hopes, the faith that unquenched, flames
—All sunk into the compass of you and me.
Yes, you are right, the single leaves that fall
Mar not the summer; do I think one leaf
Denudes a forest?—We are nought at all.
Yet the bereaved small bird within the tree
May break its heart above its nest for grief
—And perhaps this must happen, love, to me.




"IN ALL THINGS GRACIOUS THERE IS A THOUGHT OF YOU"

In all things gracious there is a thought of you:
In the soft fall of April rain, the blue
Of April skies in the morning, the full moon
Of windless August nights, perfect and still,
When the white moonlight lies across the hill
Of new-cut stubble, where a little mist,
Flickering, rises. In the song of birds
My heart turns to you, emptied all of words
By loveliness, and in the poise and swing
Of flowering grasses, and in the lingering
Grave, spacious fall of evening on the earth,
When the wide, liquid spaces of the sky,
Above the dewy fields and darkening lanes,
And windless water lying quietly,
Yield up the daylight, until none remains.

I could endure—or so it seems to me—
Without your presence, a life of winter days,
Stark, grey Novembers stretching endlessly,
Where I, forgetting laughter and bright things,
Might set my face to duty; but the stir,
The loveliness, the poignancy of springs,
The growth, the rise, the universal press
Up to sensation—ah, I could not bear
To live an April through, but must take wings
Out of a world too fair for loneliness.




"THERE'S DUTY, FRIEND, TO JOG WITH ARM IN ARM"

There's duty, friend, to jog with arm in arm
Through these dark streets; there's kindliness indeed,
And there's the hope a little more to weed
Our own small patch of life which the tares harm;
There's patience for the folly of the earth;
There's pity for the poor who suffer wrong;
There's honour for the striving and the strong
—But ah, dear friend of mine, where is the mirth?
Where's the old jollity of everyday
That makes a holiday of common things
Because they all are shared by us aright,
The trivial daily work and happenings
Having a sort of fervour and delight,
And the sun rising, even, a different way?




"EVENING"

Beloved of my soul, the day is done;
The busy noises cease, the lights are low;
Gently the doors shut to behind each one
Seeking his sleep; the fading embers glow
On silent hearths; the silent ashes fall—
Ah, absent spirit, do you hear me call,
Me, sitting waiting by the fireside?

This is the hour of all the night and day,
—This is the hour when, work put aside,
And all the talking, whether grave or gay,
For pleasure or for profit, hushed and dumb,
We used to, in the days before you died,
Seek out each other's mind for rest, and say:
"Now am I home, and all is well with me;
To-day is gone, to-morrow is to come;
Here let us be."

Surely, for all the barriers of sense,
And the stark grossness of this flesh I wear,
For all the vacant distance of the skies
Between me here alone, and you, gone hence,
There must be some quick knowledge; I must hear
That dear familiar voice again, must see
Some semblance of you with my bodily eyes,
Now, now, when in the solitude I yearn
Towards your heart, my home; now when I turn
Humbly and searchingly towards that goal
That lies beyond the purchase of the world—
You again, you, dear comrade of my soul.




FINIS

Life, in its unimaginable heights,
When we may seize and apprehend the true
Soul essence, of one nature with the stars:
Rare moments when our senses are a mist
That the truth shines through:—oh, most strange and rare,
Such ecstasies as unimprisoned souls
Experience in that thin empyrean
Beyond the gross world; this we two have known
We two together. There are memories
Of such high happiness in a fence of pain
As martyrs in their fiery heart of death
Have blessed their God for; passion and holiness,
When all the body (sinew, bone, and brain)
Are like a harp, from which the spirit makes
Marvels of harmony; some sense too rare
To be called happiness, not to be named indeed
In human speech—this we have touched and known
Together, at some thrilling edge of time.

I fall away from it; the barriers close
About me; I descend from the clear heights
Into the plains and valleys of the world.
The traffic of the market-place is mine,
The heat and dust, the jostling and the noise,
The kindly challenge and the neighbour-talk,
All these may claim me, so that I forget
To lift my eyes and see the far-off peaks,
And the eternal splendour of the stars.

So be it; let the tide of men's affairs
Carry me back and forward; let the rub
Of greasy ha'pence passed from hand to hand,
In humble traffic of a bunch of herbs
Not pass me by; let me jog arm in arm,
Or cheek by jowl, the shady side o' the street,
With friends and neighbours, glad to know them there,
Imperfect, human, kind, and tolerant.

So may the years go. Yet, when the call comes,
And the world's colours fade before the eye
That turns for spiritual vision on itself;
When, from the four walls of the silent room,
The noises of the world fall back and fail
In that great silence which enrings the last
Ecstatic moment of experience,
Here on this earth—ah, then indeed I know
That I shall find you. All that lies behind
(The years of trivial experience)
Shall open and fall back from off my soul,
As falls the brown sheaf from the opening bud;
And in that poignant moment, that mere breath
Of temporal time, that aeon of the soul,
I shall reach out and know you, mix with you
As flame with flame, as ray with ray of light,
Be perfectly yourself, as you are me,
With all else fallen, gone, dispersed away
Save the pure drop of spiritual essence—Then
Let come what may, light or oblivion.




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