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Author: Francis Brett Young
Release Date: July 26, 2012 [EBook #40344]
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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK POEMS ***
Produced by Al Haines.
FRANCIS BRETT YOUNG
LONDON: 48 PALL MALL
W. COLLINS SONS & CO. LTD.
GLASGOW MELBOURNE AUCKLAND
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
THE YOUNG PHYSICIAN
THE CRESCENT MOON
THE IRON AGE
THE DARK TOWER
UNDERGROWTH (with E. Brett Young)
FIVE DEGREES SOUTH
ROBERT BRIDGES: A Critical Study
MARCHING ON TANGA
Remember thus our sweet conspiracy:
That I, having dreamed a lovely thing, with dull
Words marred it--and you gave it back to me
A thousand, thousand times more beautiful.
Page 26, line 17, for "Lybian" read "Libyan."
Page 46, line 9, for "lythe" read "lithe."
Page 70, line 13, for "tyrranous" read "tyrannous."
[Transcriber's note: the above errata have been applied to this etext. The word "Lybia" was also on page 32, and was corrected as above. Similarly, "tyrranous" was also on page 86, and was corrected.]
THE LEANING ELM
THE JOYOUS LOVER
AN OLD HOUSE
FIVE DEGREES SOUTH
ON A SUBALTERN KILLED IN ACTION
A FAREWELL TO AFRICA
THE HAWTHORN SPRAY
TO LYDIA LOPOKOVA (i)
TO LYDIA LOPOKOVA (ii)
TO LYDIA LOPOKOVA (iii)
SONG OF THE DARK AGES
ENGLAND, APRIL 1918
When the evening came my love said to me:Let us go into the garden now that the sky is cool,The garden of black hellebore and rosemary,Where wild woodruff spills in a milky pool.Low we passed in the twilight, for the wavering heatOf day had waned, and round that shaded plotOf secret beauty the thickets clustered sweet:Here is heaven, our hearts whispered, but our lips spake not.Between that old garden and seas of lazy foamGloomy and beautiful alleys of trees ariseWith spire of cypress and dreamy beechen dome,So dark that our enchanted sight knew nothing but the skiesVeiled with soft air, drench'd in the roses' muskOr the dusky, dark carnation's breath of clove;No stars burned in their deeps, but through the duskI saw my love's eyes, and they were brimmed with love.No star their secret ravished, no wasting moonMocked the sad transience of those eternal hours:Only the soft, unseeing heaven of June,The ghosts of great trees, and the sleeping flowers.For doves that crooned in the leafy noonday nowWere silent; the night-jar sought his secret covers,Nor even a mild sea-whisper moved a creaking bough--Was ever a silence deeper made for lovers?Was ever a moment meeter made for love?Beautiful are your closed lips beneath my kiss;And all your yielding sweetness beautiful--Oh, never in all the world was such a night as this!
If I had died, and never seen the dawnFor which I hardly hoped, lighting this lawnOf silvery grasses; if there had been no light,And last night merged into perpetual night;I doubt if I should ever have been contentTo have closed my eyes without some testamentTo the great benefits that marked my faringThrough the sweet world; for all my joy was sharingAnd lonely pleasures were few. Unto which endThree legacies I'll send,Three legacies, already half possess'd:One to a friend, of all good friends the best,Better than which is nothing; yet anotherUnto thy twin, dissimilar spirit, Brother;The third to you,Most beautiful, most true,Most perfect one, to whom they all are due.Quick, quick ... while there is time....O best of friends, I leave you one sublimeSummer, one fadeless summer. 'Twas begunEre Cotswold hawthorn tarnished in the sun,When hedges were fledged with green, and early swallowsSwift-darting, on curved wings, pillaged the fallows;When all our vale was dappled blossom and light,And oh, the scent of beanfields in the night!You shall remember that rich dust at evenWhich made old Evesham like a street in heaven,Gold-paved, and washed within a wave of goldenAir all her dreamy towers and gables olden.You shall rememberHow arms sun-blistered, hot palms crack'd with rowing,Clove the cool water of Avon, sweetly flowing;And how our bodies, beautifully white,Stretch'd to a long stroke lengthened in green light,And we, emerging, laughed in childish wise,And pressed the kissing water from our eyes.Ah, was our laughter childish, or were we wise?And then, crown of the day, a tired returningWith happy sunsets over Bredon burning,With music and with moonlight, and good ale,And no thought for the morrow.... Heavy phloxOur garden pathways bordered, and evening stocks,Those humble weeds, in sunlight withered and pale,With a night scent to match the nightingale,Gladdened with spicèd sweetness sweet night's shadows,Meeting the breath of hay from mowing meadows:As humble was our joy, and as intenseOur rapture. So, before I hurry hence,Yours be the memory.One night again,When we were men, and had striven, and known pain,By a dark canal debating, unresigned,On the blind fate that shadows humankind,On the blind sword that severs human love...Then did the hidden belfry from aboveOn troubled minds in benediction shedThe patience of the great anonymous deadWho reared those towers, those high cathedrals buildedIn solemn stone, and with clear fancy gildedA beauty beyond ours, trusting in God.Then dared we follow the dark way they trod,And bowing to the universal planTrust in the true and fiery spirit of Man.And you, my Brother,You know, as knows one other,How my spirit revisiteth a roomIn a high wing, beneath pine-trees, where gloomDwelleth, dispelled by resinous wood embers,Where, in half-darkness ... How the heart remembers...We talked of beauty, and those fiery thingsTo which the divine desirous spirit clings,In a wing'd rapture to that heaven flinging,Where beauty is an easy thing, and singingThe natural speech of man. Like kissing swordsOur wits clashed there; the brittle beauty of wordsBreaking, seemed to discover its secret heartAnd all the rapt elusiveness of Art.Now I have known sorrow, and now I singThat a lovely word is not an idle thing;For as with stars the cloth of night is spangled,With star-like words, most lovelily entangled,The woof of sombre thought is deckt.... Ah, brightAnd cold they glitter in the spirit's night!But neither distant nor dispassionate;For beauty is an armour against fate....I tell you, who have stood in the dark alone.Seeing the face that turneth all to stone,Medusa, blind with hate,While I was dying, Beauty sate with meNor tortured any longer; gracious was she;To her soft words I listened, and was contentTo die, nor sorry that my light was spent.So, Brother, if I come not home,Go to that little roomThat my spirit revisiteth, and there,Somewhere in the blue air, you shall discoverIf that you be a loverNor haughtily minded, all that once half-shapedThen fled us, and escaped:All that I found that day,Far, so far away.And you, my lovely one,What can I leave to you, who, you having left,Am utterly bereft?What in my store of visionary dowersIs not already yours?What silences, what hoursOf peace passing all understanding; daysMade lyric by your beauty and its praise;Years neither time can tarnish, nor death mar,Wherein you shined as steadfast as a starIn my bleak night, heedless of the cloud-wrackScudding in torn fleeces blackOf my dark moods, as those who rule the farStar-haunted pleasaunces of heaven are?So think but lightly of that afternoonWith white clouds climbing a blue sky in JuneWhen a boy worshipped under dreaming trees,Who touched your hand, and sought your eyes.... Ah, cease,Not these, not these...Nor yet those nights when icy Brathay thunderedUnder his bridges, and ghostly mountains wonderedAt the white blossoming of a Christmas roseMore stainless than their snows;Nor even of those placid days togetherMellow as early autumn's amber weatherWhen beech is ankleted with fire, and oldElms wear their livery of yellow gold,When orchards all are laden with increase,And the quiet earth hath fruited, and knows peaceOh, think not overmuch on those sweet yearsLest their last fruit be tears,--Your tears, beloved, that were my utmost pain,--But rather, dream againHow that a lover, half poet and half child,An eager spirit of fragile fancies wildCompact, adored the beauty and truth in you:To your own truth be true;And when, not mournfully, you turn this pageConsider still your starry heritage,Continue in your loveliness, a starTo gladden me from afarEven where there is no lightIn my last night.
This is the image of my last content:My soul shall be a little lonely lake,So hidden that no shadow of man may breakThe folding of its mountain battlement;Only the beautiful and innocentWhiteness of sea-born cloud drooping to shakeCool rain upon the reed-beds, or the wakeOf churn'd cloud in a howling wind's descent.For there shall be no terror in the nightWhen stars that I have loved are born in me,And cloudy darkness I will hold most fair;But this shall be the end of my delight:That you, my lovely one, may stoop and seeYour image in the mirrored beauty there.
These winter days on LettermoreThe brown west wind it sweeps the bay,And icy rain beats on the bareUnhomely fields that perish there:The stony fields of LettermoreThat drink the white Atlantic spray.And men who starve on Lettermore,Cursing the haggard, hungry surf,Will souse the autumn's bruisèd grainsTo light dark fires within their brainsAnd fight with stones on LettermoreOr sprawl beside the smoky turf.When spring blows over LettermoreTo bloom the ragged furze with gold,The lovely south wind's living breathIs laden with the smell of death:For fever breeds on LettermoreTo waste the eyes of young and old.A black van comes to Lettermore;The horses stumble on the stones,The drivers curse,--for it is hardTo cross the hills from OughterardAnd cart the sick from Lettermore:A stinking load of rags and bones.But you will go to LettermoreWhen white sea-trout are on the run,When purple glows between the rocksAbout Lord Dudley's fishing-boxAdown the road to Lettermore,And wide seas tarnish in the sun.And so you'll think of LettermoreAs a lost island of the blest:With peasant lovers in a blueDim dusk, with heather drench'd in dew,And the sweet peace of LettermoreRemote and dreaming in the West.
Once, I think, a finer fireTouched my lips, and then I sangHalf the songs of my desire:With their splendour the world rang.And their sweetness made me freeOf those starry ways wherebyPlanets make their minstrelsyIn echoing, unending sky.So, before that spell was broken,Song of the wind, surge of the sea,--Beautiful passionate things unspokenRose like a breaking wave in me:Rose like a wave with curled crestThat green sunlight splinters through...But the wave broke within my breast:And now I am a man like you.
Last night, last night, a vision of youSweetly troubled my waking dream:Beneath the clear Algerian blueYou stood with lifted eyes: the beamOf a winter sun beat on the crownOf a lemon-tree, whose delicate fruitLike pale lamps hung airily down;And in your gazing eyes a muteAnd lovely wonder.... Have I sungOf slender things and naught beside?You were so beautifully youngI must have kissed you or have died.
Adown our lane at EastertideHosts of dancing bluebells layIn pools of light: and 'Oh,' you cried,'Look, look at them: I think that theyAre bluer than the laughing sea,'And 'Look!' you cried, 'a piece of the skyHas fallen down for you and meTo gaze upon and love.' ... And I,Seeing in your eyes the dancing blueAnd in your heart the innocent birthOf a pure delight, I knew, I knewThat heaven had fallen upon earth.
THE LEANING ELM
Before my window, in days of winter hoarHuddled a mournful wood:Smooth pillars of beech, domed chestnut, sycamore,In stony sleep they stood:But you, unhappy elm, the angry westHad chosen from the rest,Flung broken on your brothers' branches bare,And left you leaning thereSo dead that when the breath of winter castWild snow upon the blast,The other living branches, downward bowed,Shook free their crystal shroudAnd shed upon your blackened trunk beneath,Their livery of death....On windless nights between the beechen barsI watched cold starsThrob whitely in the sky, and dreamilyWondered if any life lay locked in thee:If still the hidden sap secretly moved,As water in the icy winterbourneFloweth unheard;And half I pitied you your trance forlorn:You could not hear, I thought, the voice of any bird,The shadowy cries of bats in dim twilightOr cool voices of owls crying by night....Hunting by night under the hornèd moon:Yet half I envied you your wintry swoon,Till, on this morning mild, the sun, new-risenSteals from his misty prison;The frozen fallows glow, the black trees shakenIn a clear flood of sunlight vibrating awaken:And lo, your ravaged bole, beyond beliefSlenderly fledged anew with tender leafAs pale as those twin vanes that break at lastIn a tiny fan above the black beech-mastWhere no blade springeth greenBut pallid bells of the shy helleborine.What is this ecstasy that overwhelmsThe dreaming earth? See, the embrownèd elmsCrowding purple distances warm the depths of the wood;A new-born wind tosses their tassels brown,His white clouds dapple the down;Into a green flame bursting the hedgerows stand;Soon, with banners flying, Spring will walk the land....There is no day for thee, my soul, like this,No spring of lovely words. Nay, even the kissOf mortal love that maketh man divineThis light cannot outshine:Nay, even poets, they whose frail hands catchThe shadow of vanishing beauty, may not matchThis leafy ecstasy. Sweet words may cullSuch magical beauty as time may not destroy;But we, alas, are not more beautiful:We cannot flower in beauty as in joy.We sing, our musèd words are sped, and thenPoets are only menWho age, and toil, and sicken.... This maim'd treeMay stand in leaf when I have ceased to be.
THE JOYOUS LOVER
O, now that I am free as the airAnd fleet as clouds above,I will wander everywhereOver the ways I love.Lightly, lightly will I passNor scatter as I goA shadow on the blowing grassOr a footprint in the snow.All the wild things of the woodThat once were timid and shyThey shall not flee their solitudeFor fear, when I pass by;And beauty, beauty, the wide world over,Shall blush when I draw near:She knows her lover, the joyous lover,And greets him without fear.But if I come to the dark roomFrom which our love hath fledAnd bend above you in the gloomOr kneel beside your bed,Smile soft in your sleep, my beautiful one,For if you should say 'Nay'To the dream which visiteth you alone,My joy would wither away.
ODE WRITTEN AT WILTON HOUSE
Last night, amazed, I trod on holy groundBreathing an air that ancient poets knew,Where, in a valley compassed with sweet sound,Beneath a garden's alley'd shades of yew,With eager feet passèd that singer sweetWho Stella loved, whom bloody Zutphen slewIn the starred zenith of his knightly fame.There too a dark-stoled figure I did meet:Herbert, whose faith burned trueAnd steadfast as the altar candle's flame.Under the Wilton cedars, ponderingUpon the pains of Beauty and the wrongThat sealeth lovely lips, fated to sing,Before they reach the cadence of their song,I mused upon dead poets: mighty onesWho sang and suffered: briefly heard were theyAs Libyan nightingales weary of wingFleeing the temper of Saharan sunsTo gladden our moon'd May,And with the broken blossom vanishing.So to my eyes a sorrowful vision cameOf one whose name was writ in water: brightHis cheeks and eyes burned with a hectic flame;And one, alas! I saw whose passionate mightWas spent upon a fevered fen in Greece;One shade there was who, starving, choked with bread;One, a drown'd corpse, through stormy water slips;One in the numbing poppy-juice found peace;And one, a youth, lay deadWith powdered arsenic upon his lips.O bitter were the sorrow that could dullThe sombre music of slow eveningHere, where the old world is so beautifulThat even lesser lips are moved to singHow the wide heron sails into the lightBlack as the cedarn shadows on the lawnsOr stricken woodlands patient in decay,And river water murmurs through the nightUntil autumnal dawnsBurn in the glass of Nadder's watery way.Nay, these were they by whom the world was lost,To whom the world most richly gave: forlornBeauty they worshipp'd, counting not the costIf of their torment beauty might be born;And life, the splendid flower of their delight,Loving too eagerly, they broke, and spill'dThe perfume that the folded petals closeBefore its prime; yet their frail fingers whiteFrom that bruised bloom distill'dUttermost attar of the living rose.Wherefore, O shining ones, I will not mournYou, who have ravish'd beauty's secret waysBeneath death's impotent shadow, suffering scorn,Hatred, and desolation in her praise....Thus as I spoke their phantom faces smiled,As brooding night with heavy downward wingFell upon Wilton's elegiac stone,On the dark woodlands and the waters wildAnd every living thing--Leaving me there amazèd and alone.
Through Porton village, under the bridge,A clear bourne floweth, with grasses trailing,Wherein are shadows of white clouds sailing,And elms that shelter under the ridge.Through Porton village we passed one day,Marching the plain for mile on mile,And crossed the bridge in single file,Happily singing, and marched awayOver the bridge where the shallow races,Under a clear and frosty sky:And the winterbourne, as we marched by,Mirrored a thousand laughing faces.O, do we trouble you, Porton river,We who laughing passed, and afterFound a resting-place for laughter?Over here, where the poplars shiverBy stagnant waters, we lie rotten.On windless nights, in the lonely places,There, where the winter water races,O, Porton river, are we forgotten?Through Porton village, under the bridge,The clear bourne floweth with grasses trailing,Wherein are shadows of light cloud sailing,And elms that shelter under the ridge.The pale moon she comes and looks;Over the lonely spire she climbs;For there she is lovelier many timesThan in the little broken brooks.
AN OLD HOUSE
No one lives in the old house; long agoThe voices of men and women left it lonely.They shuttered the sightless windows in a row,Imprisoning empty darkness--darkness only.Beyond the garden-closes, with sudden thunderThe lumbering troop-train passing clanks and jangles;And I, a stranger, peer with careless wonderInto the thickets of the garden tangles.Yet, as I pass, a transient vision dawnsGhostly upon my pondering spirit's gloom,Of grey lavender bushes and weedy lawnsAnd a solitary cherry-tree in bloom....No one lives in the old house: year by yearThe plaster crumbles on the lonely walls:The apple falls in the lush grass; the pear,Pulpy with ripeness, on the pathway falls.Yet this the garden was, where, on spring nightsUnder the cherry-blossom, lovers plightedHave wondered at the moony billows white,Dreaming uncountable springs by love delighted;Whose ears have heard the blackbird's jolly whistle,The shadowy cries of bats in twilight flittingZigzag beneath the eaves; or, on the thistle,The twitter of autumn birds swinging and sitting;Whose eyes, on winter evenings, slow returningSaw on the frosted paths pale lamplight fallStreaming, or, on the hearth, red embers burning,And shadows of children playing in the hall.Where have they gone, lovers of another day?(No one lives in the old house; long agoThey shuttered the sightless windows....) Where are they,Whose eyes delighted in this moony snow?I cannot tell ... and little enough they care,Though April spray the cherry-boughs with light,And autumn pile her harvest unawareUnder the walls that echoed their delight.I cannot tell ... yet I am as those lovers;For me, who pass on my predestinate way,The prodigal blossom billows and recoversIn ghostly gardens a hundred miles away.Yet, in my heart, a melancholy raptureTells me that eyes, which now an iron hasteHurries to iron days, may here recaptureA vision of ancient loveliness gone to waste.
South of Guardafui with a dark tide flowingWe hailed two ships with tattered canvas bent to the monsoon,Hung betwixt the outer sea and pale surf showingWhere dead cities of Libya lay bleaching in the moon.'Oh whither be ye sailing with torn sails broken?''We sail, we sail for Sheba, at Suliman's behest,With carven silver phalli for the ebony maids of OphirFrom brown-skinned baharias of Arabia the Blest.''Oh whither be ye sailing, with your dark flag flying?''We sail, with creaking cedar, towards the Northern Star.The helmsman singeth wearily, and in our hold are lyingA hundred slaves in shackles from the marts of Zanzibar.''Oh whither be ye sailing...?''Alas, we sail no longer:Our hulls are wrack, our sails are dust, as any man might know.And why should you torment us? ... Your iron keels are strongerThan ghostly ships that sailed from Tyre a thousand years ago.'
Marching on Tanga, marching the parch'd plainOf wavering spear-grass past Pangani River,England came to me--me who had always ta'enBut never given before--England, the giver,In a vision of three poplar-trees that shiverOn still evenings of summer, after rain,By Slapton Ley, where reed-beds start and quiverWhen scarce a ripple moves the upland grain.Then I thanked God that now I had suffered pain,And, as the parch'd plain, thirst, and lain awakeShivering all night through till cold daybreak:In that I count these sufferings my gainAnd her acknowledgment. Nay, more, would fainSuffer as many more for her sweet sake.
FIVE DEGREES SOUTH
I love all waves and lovely water in motion,That wavering iris in comb of the blown spray:Iris of tumbled nautilus in the wake's commotion,Their spread sails dipped in a marmoreal wayUnquarried, wherein are greeny bubbles blowingPlumes of faint spray, cool in the deepAnd lucent seas, that pause not in their flowingTo lap the southern starlight while they sleep.These I have seen, these I have loved and known:I have seen Jupiter, that great star, swingingLike a ship's lantern, silent and aloneWithin his sea of sky, and heard the singingOf the south trade, that siren of the air,Who shivers the taut shrouds, and singeth there.
To-night I lay with fever in my veinsConsumed, tormented creature of fire and ice,And, weaving the enhavock'd brain's device,Dreamed that for evermore I must walk these plainsWhere sunlight slayeth life, and where no rainsAbated the fierce air, nor slaked its fire:So that death seemed the end of all desire,To ease the distracted body of its pains.And so I died, and from my eyes the glareFaded, nor had I further need of breath;But when I reached my hand to find you thereBeside me, I found nothing.... Lonely was death.And with a cry I wakened, but to hearThin wings of fever singing in my ear.
The beautiful AcaciaShe sighs in desert lands:Over the burning waterwaysOf Africa she sways and sways,Even where no air glidethIn cooling green she stands.The beautiful AcaciaShe hath a yellow dress:A slender trunk of lemon sheenGleameth through the tender green(Where the thorn hideth)Shielding her loveliness.The beautiful AcaciaDwelleth in deadly lands:Over the brooding waterwaysWhere death breedeth, she sways and sways,And no man long abidethIn valleys where she stands.
High on the tufted baobab-treeTo-night a rain-bird sang to meA simple song, of three notes only,That made the wilderness more lonely;For in my brain it echoed nearly,Old village church bells chiming clearly:The sweet cracked bells, just out of tune,Over the mowing grass in June--Over the mowing grass, and meadowsWhere the low sun casts long shadows.And cuckoos call in the twilightFrom elm to elm, in level flight.Now through the evening meadows moveSlow couples of young folk in love,Who pause at every crooked stileAnd kiss in the hawthorn's shade the while:Like pale moths the summer frocksHover between the beds of phlox,And old men, feeling it is late,Cease their gossip at the gate,Till deeper still the twilight grows,And night blossometh, like a roseFull of love and sweet perfume,Whose heart most tender stars illume.Here the red sun sank like lead,And the sky blackened overhead;Only the locust chirped at meFrom the shadowy baobab-tree.
When I lay wakeful yesternightMy fever's flame was a clear light,A taper, flaring in the wind,Whither, fluttering out of the dimNight, many dreams glimmered by.Like moths, out of the darkness, blind,Hurling at that taper's flame,From drinking honey of the night's flowersInto my circled light they came:So near I could see their soft colours,Grey of the dove, most soothely grey;But my heat singed their wings, and awayDarting into the dark again,They escaped me....Others floated downLike those vaned seeds that fallIn autumn from the sycamore's crownWhen no leaf trembleth nor branch is stirred,More silent in flight than any bird,Or bat's wings flitting in darkness, softAs lizards moving on a white wallThey came quietly from aloftDown through my circle of light, and soInto unlighted gloom below.But one dream, strong-winged, daringFlew beating at the heart of the flameTill I feared it would have put out my light,My thin taper, fitfully flaring,And that I should be left alone in the nightWith no more dreams for my delight.Can it be that from the deadEven their dreams, their dreams are fled?
Riding through Ruwu swamp, about sunrise,I saw the world awake; and as the rayTouched the tall grasses where they dream till day,Lo, the bright air alive with dragonflies,With brittle wings aquiver, and great eyesPiloting crimson bodies, slender and gay.I aimed at one, and struck it, and it layBroken and lifeless, with fast-fading dyes...Then my soul sickened with a sudden painAnd horror, at my own careless cruelty,That where all things are cruel I had slainA creature whose sweet life it is to fly:Like beasts that prey with bloody claw...Nay, theyMust slay to live, but what excuse had I?
On the edge of the wild-woodGrey doves fluttering:Grey doves of AstarteTo the woods at daybreakLazily utteringTheir murmured enchantment,Old as man's childhood;While she, pale divinityOf hidden evil,Silvers the regions chasteOf cold sky, and broodethOver forests primevalAnd all that thorny waste'sWooded infinity.'Lovely goddess of groves,'Cried I, 'what enchantedSinister recessesOf these lone shadesMay still be hauntedBy thy demon caresses,Thy unholy loves?'But clear day quellethHer dominion lonely,And the soft ring-dove,Murmuring, tellethThat dark sin onlyFrom man's lust springeth,In man's heart dwelleth.
I made a song in my love's likenessFrom colours of my quietude,From trees whose blossoms shine no lessThan butterflies in the wild-wood.I laid claim on all beautyUnder the sun to praise her wonder,Till the noise of war swept over me,Stopp'd my singing mouth with thunder.The angel of death hath swift wings,I heard him strip the huddled treesOverhead, as a hornet sings,And whip the grass about my knees.Down we crouched in the parchèd dust,Down beneath that deadly rain:Dead still I lay, as lie one mustWho hath a bullet in his brain.Dead they left me: but my soul, waking,Quietly laughed at their distressWho guessed not that I still was makingThat new song in my love's likeness.
Now the wind of the dawn sighs,Now red embers have burned white,Under the darkness faints and diesThe slow-beating heart of night.Into the darkness my eyes peerSeeing only faces steel'd,And level eyes that know not fear;Yet each heart is a battlefieldWhere phantom armies foin and feintAnd bloody victories are wonFrom the time when stars are faintTo the rising of the sun.With banners broken, and the rollOf drums, at dawn the phantoms fly:A man must commune with his soulWhen he marches out to die.O day of wrath and of desire!For each may know upon this dayWhether he be a thing of fireOr fettered to the traitor clay.Such is the hazard that is thrown:We know not how the dice may fall:All the secrets shall be knownOr else we shall not know at all.
ON A SUBALTERN KILLED IN ACTION
Into that dry and most desolate placeWith heavy gait they dragged the stretcher inAnd laid him on the bloody ground: the dinOf Maxim fire ceased not. I raised his head,And looked into his face,And saw that he was dead.Saw beneath matted curls the broken skinThat let the bullet in;And saw the limp, lithe limbs, the smiling mouth...(Ah, may we smile at deathAs bravely....) the curv'd lips that no more drouthShould blacken, and no sweetly stirring breathMildly displace.So I covered the calm faceAnd stripped the shirt from his firm breast, and there,A zinc identity disc, a bracelet of elephant hairI found.... Ah, God, how deep it stingsThis unendurable pity of small things!But more than this I saw,That dead stranger welcoming, more than the rawAnd brutal havoc of war.England I saw, the mother from whose sideHe came hither and died, she at whose hems he had play'd,In whose quiet womb his body and soul were made.That pale, estrangèd flesh that we bowed overHad breathed the scent in summer of white clover;Dreamed her cool fading nights, her twilights long,And days as careless as a blackbird's songHeard in the hush of eve, when midges' wingsMake a thin music, and the night-jar spins.(For it is summer, I thought, in England now....)And once those forward gazing eyes had seenHer lovely living green: that blackened browCool airs, from those blue hills moving, had fann'd--Breath of that holy landWhither my soul aspireth without despair:In the broken brain had many a lovely wordAwakened magical echoes of things heard,Telling of love and laughter and low voices,And tales in which the English heart rejoicesIn vanishing visions of childhood and its glories:Old-fashioned nursery rhymes and fairy stories:Words that only an English tongue could tell.And the firing died away; and the night fellOn our battle. Only in the sullen skyA prairie fire, with huge fantastic flameLeapt, lighting dark clouds charged with thunder.And my heart was sick with shameThat there, in death, he should lie,Crying: 'Oh, why am I alive, I wonder?'In a dream I saw war riding the land:Stark rode she, with bowed eyes, against the glareOf sack'd cities smouldering in the dark,A tired horse, lean, with outreaching head,And hid her face of dread....Yet, in my passion would I look on her,Crying, O hark,Thou pale one, whom now men say bearest the scytheOf God, that iron scythe forged by his thunderFor reaping of nations overripened, fashionedUpon the clanging anvil whose sparks, flyingIn a starry night, dying, fall hereunder....But she, she heeded not my cry impassionedNor turned her face of dread,Urging the tired horse, with outreaching head,O thou, cried I, who choosest for thy goingThese bloomy meadows of youth, these flowery waysWhereby no influence straysRuder than a cold wind blowing,Or beating needles of rain,Why must thou ride againRuthless among the pastures yet unripened,Crushing their beauty in thine iron trackDowntrodden, ravish'd in thy following flame,Parched and black?But she, she stayed not in her weary hasteNor turned her face; but fled:And where she passed the lands lay waste....And now I cannot tell whither she rideth:But tired, tired rides she.Yet know I well why her dread face she hideth:She is pale and faint to death. Yea, her day faileth,Nor all her blood, nor all her frenzy burning,Nor all her hate availeth:For she passeth out of sightInto that nightFrom which none, none returnethTo waste the meadows of youth,Nor vex thine eyelids, Routhe,O sorrowful sister, soother of our sorrow.And a hope within me springsThat fair will be the morrow,And that charred plain,Those flowery meadows, shall rejoice at lastIn a sweet, cleanFreshness, as when the greenGrass springeth, where the prairie fire hath passed.
All through that day of battle the broken soundOf shattering Maxim fire made mad the wood;So that the low trees shuddered where they stood,And echoes bellowed in the bush around:But when, at last the light of day was drowned,That madness ceased.... Ah, God, but it was good!There, in the reek of iodine and blood,I flung me down upon the thorny ground.So quiet was it, I might well have been lyingIn a room I love, where the ivy cluster shakesIts dew upon the lattice panes at even:Where rusty ivory scatters from the dyingJessamine blossom, and the musk-rose breaksHer dusky bloom beneath a summer heaven.
Not only for remembered loveliness,England, my mother, my own, we hold thee rareWho toil, and fight, and sicken beneath the glareOf brazen skies that smile on our duress,Making us crave thy cloudy state no lessThan the sweet clarity of thy rain-wash'd air,Meadows in moonlight cool, and every fairSlow-fading flower of thy summer dress:Not for thy flowers, but for the unfading crownOf sacrifice our happy brothers wove thee:The joyous ones who laid thy beauty downNor stayed to see it shamed. For these we love thee,For this (O love, O dread!) we hold thee moreDivinely fair to-day than heretofore.
A FAREWELL TO AFRICA
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Now once again, upon the pole-star's bearing,We plough these furrowed fields where no blade springeth;Again the busy trade in the halyards singethSun-whitened spindrift from the blown wave shearing;The uncomplaining sea suffers our faring;In a brazen glitter our little wake is lost,And the starry south rolls over until no ghostRemaineth of us and all our pitiful daring;For the sea beareth no trace of man's endeavour,His might enarmoured, his prosperous argosies,Soundless, within her unsounded caves, foreverShe broodeth, knowing neither war nor peace,And our grey cruisers holds in mind no moreThan the cedarn fleets that Sheba's treasure bore.
What is the worth of warIn a world that turneth, turnethAbout a tired starWhose flaming centre burnethNo longer than the spaceOf the spent atom's race:Where conquered lands, soon, soonLie waste as the pale moon?What is the worth of artIn a world that fast forgettethThose who have wrung its heartWith beauty that love begetteth,Whose faint flames vanish quiteIn that star-powdered nightWhere even the mighty onesShine only as far suns?And what is beauty worth,Sweet beauty, that persuadethOf her immortal birth,Then, as a flower, fadeth:Or love, whose tender yearsEnd with the mourner's tears,Die, when the mourner's breathIs quiet, at last, in death?Beauty and love are one,Even when fierce war clashes:Even when our fiery sunHath burnt itself to ashes,And the dead planets raceUnlighted through blind space,Beauty will still shine there:Wherefore, I worship her.
THE HAWTHORN SPRAY
I saw a thrush light on a hawthorn spray,One moment only, spilling creamy blossom,While the bough bent beneath her speckled bosom,Bent, and recovered, and she fluttered away.The branch was still; but, in my heart, a painThan the thorn'd spray more cruel, stabbed me, onlyRemembering days in a far land and lonelyWhen I had never hoped for summer again.
In bitter London's heart of stone,Under the lamplight's shielded glare.I saw a soldier's body thrownUnto the drabs that traffic therePacing the pavements with slow feet:Those old pavements whose blown dustThrottles the hot air of the street,And the darkness smells of lust.The chaste moon, with equal glance,Looked down on the mad world, astareAt those who conquered in sad FranceAnd those who perished in Leicester Square.And in her light his lips were pale:Lips that love had moulded well:Out of the jaws of PasschendaeleThey had sent him to this nether hell.I had no stone of scorn to fling,For I know not how the wrong began--But I had seen a hateful thingMasked in the dignity of man:And hate and sorrow and hopeless angerSwept my heart, as the winds that sweepAngrily through the leafless hangerWhen winter rises from the deep....* * * * *I would that war were what men dream:A crackling fire, a cleansing flame,That it might leap the space betweenAnd lap up London and its shame.
To LYDIA LOPOKOVA
O thou who comest to our wintry shadeGay and light-footed as the virgin Spring,Before whose shining feet the cherries flingTheir moony tribute, when the sloe is sprayedWith light, and all things musical are made:O thou who art Spring's daughter, who can bringBlossom, or song of bird, or anythingTo match the youth in which you stand arrayed?Not that rich garland Meleager twinedIn his sun-guarded glade above the blueThat flashes from the burning Tyrian seas:No, you are cooler, sweeter than the windThat wakes our woodlands; so I bring to youThese wind-blown blossoms of anemones.
Soft as a pale moth flitting in moonshineI saw thee flutter to the shadowy callThat beckons from the strings of Carneval,O frail and fragrant image of Columbine:So, when the spectre of the rose was thine,A flower wert thou, and last I saw thee fallIn Cleopatra's stormy bacchanalFlown with the red insurgence of the vine.O moth, O flower, O mænad, which art thou?Shadowy, beautiful, or leaping wildAs stormlight over savage Tartar skies?Such were my ancient questionings; but nowI know that you are nothing but a childWith a red flower's mouth and hazel eyes.
You are too swift for poetry, too fleetFor any musèd numbers to ensnare:Swifter than music dying on the airOr bloom upon rose-petals, fades the sweetVanishing magic of your flying feet,Your poisèd finger, and your shining hair:Words cannot tell how wonderful you were,Or how one gesture made a joy complete.And since you know my pen may never captureThe transient swift loveliness of you,Come, let us salve our sense of the world's lossRemembering, with a melancholy rapture,How many dancing-girls ... and poets too...Dream in the dust of Hecatompylos.
'Oh why,' my darling prayeth me, 'must you singFor ever of ghostly loves, phantasmal passion?Seeing that you never loved me after that fashionAnd the love I gave was not a phantom thing,But delight of eager lips and strong arms foldingThe beauty of yielding arms and of smooth shoulder,All fluent grace of which you were the moulder:And I.... Oh, I was happy for your holding.''Ah, do you not know, my dearest, have you not seenThe shadow that broodeth over things that perish:How age may mock sweet moments that have beenAnd death defile the beauty that we cherish?Wherefore, sweet spirit, I thank thee for thy giving:'Tis my spirit that embraceth thee dead or living.'
The robin on my lawn,He was the first to tellHow, in the frozen dawn,This miracle befell,Waking the meadows whiteWith hoar, the iron roadAgleam with splintered light,And ice where water flowed:Till, when the low sun drankThose milky mists that cloakHanger and hollied bank,The winter world awokeTo hear the feeble bleatOf lambs on downland farms:A blackbird whistled sweet;Old beeches moved their armsInto a mellow hazeAerial, newly-born:And I, alone, agaze,Stood waiting for the thornTo break in blossom whiteOr burst in a green flame...So, in a single night,Fair February came,Bidding my lips to singOr whisper their surprise,With all the joy of springAnd morning in her eyes.
SONG OF THE DARK AGES
We digged our trenches on the downBeside old barrows, and the wetWhite chalk we shovelled from below;It lay like drifts of thawing snowOn parados and parapet:Until a pick neither struck flintNor split the yielding chalky soil,But only calcined human bone:Poor relic of that Age of StoneWhose ossuary was our spoil.Home we marched singing in the rain,And all the while, beneath our song,I mused how many springs should waneAnd still our trenches scar the plain:The monument of an old wrong.But then, I thought, the fair green sodWill wholly cover that white stain,And soften, as it clothes the faceOf those old barrows, every traceOf violence to the patient plain.And careless people, passing by,Will speak of both in casual tone:Saying: 'You see the toil they made:The age of iron, pick, and spade,Here jostles with the Age of Stone.'Yet either from that happier raceWill merit but a passing glance;And they will leave us both alone:Poor savages who wrought in stone--Poor savages who fought in France.
Athwart the blackening bars of pines benighted,The sun, descending to the zones of denserCloud that o'erhung the long horizon, lightedUpon the crown of earth a flaming censerFrom which white clouds of incense, overflowing,Filled the chill clarity from whence the swallowsHad lately fled with wreathèd vapours, showingLike a fine bloom over the lonely fallows:Where, with the pungent breath of mist was blendedA faint aroma of pine-needles soddenBy autumn rains, and fainter still, ascendedBeneath high woods the scent of leaves downtrodden.It was a moment when the earth, that sickenedFor Spring, as lover when the beloved lingers,Lay breathless, while the distant goddess quickenedSome southern hill-side with her glowing fingers:And so, it seemed, the drowsy lands were shaken,Stirred in their sleep, and sighed, as though the painOf a strange dream had bidden them awakenTo frozen days and bitter nights again.
Why have you stolen my delightIn all the golden shows of SpringWhen every cherry-tree is whiteAnd in the limes the thrushes sing,O fickler than the April day,O brighter than the golden broom,O blyther than the thrushes' lay,O whiter than the cherry-bloom,O sweeter than all things that blow ...Why have you only left for meThe broom, the cherry's crown of snow,And thrushes in the linden-tree?
Last night the North flew at the throat of SpringWith spite to tear her greening banners down,Tossing the elm-tree's tender tassels brown,The virgin blossom of sloe burdeningWith colder snow; beneath his frosty stingPatient, the newly-wakened woods were bowedBy drownèd fields where stormy waters flowed:Yet, on the thorn, I heard a blackbird sing....'Too late, too late,' he sang, 'this wintry spite;For molten snow will feed the springing grass:The tide of life, it floweth with the year.'O England, England, thou that standest uprightAgainst the tide of death, the bad days pass:Know, by this miracle, that summer is near.
When, by a happier race, these leaves are turned,They'll wonder that such quiet themes engagedA soldier's mind when noisy wars were waged,And half the world in one red bonfire burned.'When that fierce age,' they'll say, 'went up in flameHe lived ... or died, seeing those bright deeds doneWhereby our sweet and settled peace was won,Yet offereth slender dreams, not deeds, to Fame.'Then say: 'Out of the heart the mouth speaketh,And mine was as the hearts of other menWhom those dark days impassioned; yet it seekethTo paint the sombre woes that held us then,No more than the cloud-rending levin's lightSeeks to illumine the sad skies of night.'
Whither, O, my sweet mistress, must I follow thee?For when I hear thy distant footfall nearing,And wait on thy appearing,Lo! my lips are silent: no words come to me.Once I waylaid thee in green forest covers,Hoping that spring might free my lips with gentle fingers;Alas! her presence lingersNo longer than on the plain the shadow of brown kestrel hovers.Through windless ways of the night my spirit followed after;--Cold and remote were they, and there, possessedBy a strange unworldly rest,Awaiting thy still voice heard only starry laughter.The pillared halls of sleep echoed my ghostly tread.Yet when their secret chambers I essayedMy spirit sank, dismayed,Waking in fear to find the new-born vision fled.Once indeed--but then my spirit bloomed in leafy rapture--I loved; and once I looked death in the eyes:So, suddenly made wise,Spoke of such beauty as I may never recapture....Whither, O, divine mistress, must I then follow thee?Is it only in love ... say, is it only in deathThat the spirit blossometh,And words that may match my vision shall come to me?
(To Thamar Karsavina)
Now that the hour has come, and under the lonelyDarkness I stumble at the doors of death,It is not hope, nor faithThat here my spirit sustaineth, but love only.In visions, in love: only there have I clutched at divinity:But the vision fadeth; yet love fades not: and for thisI would have you know that your kissWas more to me than all my hopes of infinity.Therein you made me divine ... you, who were moon and sun for me,You, for whose beauty I would have forsaken the splendour of the starsAnd my shadowy avatarsRenounced: for there is nothing in the world you have not done for me.So that when at length all sentient skill hath forsaken me,And the bright world beats vainly on my consciousness,Your beauty shineth no less:And even if I were dead I think your shadow would awaken me.
*** END OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK POEMS ***
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