The Human Tragedy ACT I

by Alfred Austin

Alfred Austin

Personages:
Olive- Godfrid-
Gilbert.
Protagonist: Love.
Place: England.
Time: June-November 1857
Love! all-creating Love, primordial Power,
By whom the Heavens, from whom the stars had birth,
Fountain and force of air, light, season, shower,
Growth, and the green apparel of the Earth,
Source of the seed and secret of the flower,
Parent of all our woe and all our worth,
Thine too the fervent tenderness that gives
Breath unto Song, whereby it, quickening, lives.
Therefore this earthy strain, wherein are blent
Peace and unrest, meetings and partings dire,
Joy that consumes and never can content,
Passion and pain, despondency, desire,
And hope that weaves its own pale cerëment,
Do Thou with heavenly harmony inspire;
So that it steal within the heart, and be
A cherished sadness, even like to Thee.
But not of these alone, of yearnings blind,
Swift raptures and slow penalties, I sing.
I must be lifted by a fiercer wind,
And whirled and wafted on a wider wing,
Still as Religion, Country, or Mankind,
Wakes in the shell and wails along the string.
For Faith, Hope, Charity, whereby we be
Noblest, enact The Human Tragedy.
Rude Winter, violating neutral plain
Of March, through April's territory sallied,
Scoured with his snowy plume its fair domain,
Then, down encamping, made his daring valid.
Nor till May, mustering all her gallant train
Of phalanxed spears Spring's cowering levies rallied,
Did the usurper from the realm of sleet
Fold his white tents, and shriek a wild retreat.
Then, all at once, the land laughed into bloom,
Feeling its alien fetters were undone;
Rushed into frolic ecstasies; the plume
The courtly lilac tosses i' the sun,
Laburnum tassels dripping faint perfume,
Hawthorn and chestnut, showed, not one by one,
But all in rival pomp and joint array,
Blent with green leaves as long delayed as they.
The dog-rose, simplest, sweetest of its kind,
Brocaded brake and hedgerow ere as yet,
In grassy hollow screened from sun and wind,
The primrose paled and perished. The violet
Closed not blue eyes, to early doom resigned,
Ere it beheld the clambering woodbine wet
With honey self-distilled, and knew that earth
Would, at its death, be sweet as at its birth.
And to its woodland grave with hasteful feet
Came the anemone, and o'er it flung,
In love but scarce in sorrow, such a sheet
Of pink-white petals as befits the young
Whose fair false hopes the kindly gods defeat:
While, following swift, the hyacinth upsprung
From the soft sod, and through the sylvan shells
Thrust his bold stalk, and shook his scented bells.
The cuckoo, babbling egotist, from tree
To tree as with short restless wing he flew,
Called his own name, doubling the word for glee:
The stockdove meditated, all day through,
Its one deep note of perched felicity;
And the sweet bird to one sad memory true,
Finding the day for its laments too brief,
Charmed listening night with its melodious grief.
No longer cowering by the fleecy screen
Of their warm dams or bleating at the ills
Of unkind life and norland tempests' spleen,
Huddled the helpless lambs,-but skipped like rills
Among the dykes and mounds of pastures green,
And orchards sunned by golden daffodils;
Frisked like young Loves, in ever-shifting ring,
Round the old boles, flushed with the wine of Spring.
A subtle glory crept from mead to mead,
Till they were burnished saffron to behold,
And, from their wintry byres and dark sheds freed,
The musing kine lay couched on cloth of gold.
Abetted by the Spring, the humblest weed
Wore its own coronal, and gaily bold
Waved jewelled sceptre. Stirred by some strange power,
The very walls seemed breaking into flower.
And all throughout the air there reigned a sense
Of deep smooth dream with odorous music laden,
Of life too conscious made and too intense
By sudden advent of excessive Aiden:
Bewilderment of beauty's affluence,
Such as delights, though dangerous, man and maiden.
And then it was, by Love's despotic grace,
Godfrid first gazed on Olive's form and face.
She was no goddess of majestic mould,
That draws the gaze and homage of the crowd,
Mere marble flesh, voluptuously cold,
Bait for the rich and chattel of the proud;
One of those splendid idols, gorged with gold,
And surfeited on flattery's scented cloud,
Within whose hollow bosom fashion dwells,
False priest, and thence emits its oracles.
She was an English maiden, unexiled
From that true Paradise, an English home,
Where fair Eve's fairer daughters, unbeguiled
By tree or subtle serpent, still may roam.
Evil and good she knew but as a child
Knoweth, when reading in some ancient tome
Of gruesome deeds, it sheddeth transient tears
For wrong it neither understands nor fears.
She had been cradled amid loveliest things,
And rocked to sweetest music. Scent of flowers,
Long dreamy lawns, and birds on happy wings,
Keeping their homes in never-rifled bowers,
Cool fountains filling with their murmurings
The sunny silence 'twixt the chiming hours,
Kind looks, and gentle voices,-these had made
The even world in which she lived and strayed.
Harsh word or cold she never heard nor spake,
But simple homage with frank smile repaid,
And they who served her, served her for the sake
Of being near so fair and kind a maid.
E'en in brute breasts her coming seemed to wake
A human instinct: loud the stables neighed,
Hearing her footfall; and the herds that fed,
Felt her afar, and trooped to greet her tread.
Until she rose it did not seem the dawn.
The shaggy deerhound none could yet decoy
From where he lay long-stretched upon the lawn,
When she came forth, bounded and bayed for joy,
Then followed on her gaze; the orphan fawn,
To every other voice and summons coy,
Came trotting through the dew at her command,
And laid its head beneath her lily hand.
Fancy, to find her likeness, earth and skies
Would vainly sweep; all paragons must fail.
For unto what would it compare her eyes?
Not unto violets; for violets pale.
Her hair to golden daylight? Daylight dies.
And, for her face, how would the rose avail
When the rose hangs its head and bends its stem?-
Compare fair things to her, not her to them.
Such, and so guarded by benignant stars,
Was Olive, when that unknown factor, Fate,
Who every earthly calculation mars,
Made Godfrid guest within her father's gate:
After May, marching with her shimmering cars,
Had driven Winter from the plains where late
He overawed the Spring and had unfurled
His hoary usurpation o'er the world.
Who says the Seasons change, nor haply knows
That to each change man's heart is still replying?
That sweet shy Spring whose colour comes and goes,
That Summer in a golden languor lying,
Half-stifled by the smell of the musk-rose,
That Autumn of her hectic beauty dying,
And even Winter blowing through his hands
To thaw his veins, rule us with unseen bands?
Had Godfrid first that peaceful threshold crossed
What time the robin pecks against the pane,
When dripping boughs beweep their beauty lost,
And furrowed fields lament the rifled grain,
Or e'en when curled by crisp October's frost,
The shivering leaves are blown aslant like rain,
He might have come and gone and left no trace
In Olive's heart, no shade on Olive's face.
Winter is ruled by male Divinities;
But Summer, gentle Summer, owns the sway
Of that coequal sex whose mild decrees
All understanding souls love and obey.
And so it happed that ere by tame degrees
Of trite acquaintance broadening day by day,
Which disenchant the sense, till all seems known,
Godfrid and Olive walked the woods alone.
And who amid June's world of fair and sweet,
Eglantined hedgerow, woodbine-scented air,
To guide his novel footsteps was so meet
As Olive, queen of all things sweet and fair?
Who knew so well the foxglove's cool retreat,
In what moist crevice hid the maidenhair,
Where piped the throstle loudest, or the sound
Of runnel rippled silveriest underground?
Distinguished she a flower, he plucked it straight;
And if she spied a rounded nest half hid
In forkëd spray, from which the fluttered mate
Had flown as they drew nigh, though still amid
Yet denser boughs its love-lord piped elate,
He, while she half abetted and half chid,
The curtain drew aside, for her to peep
Upon the warm close-nestled eggs, asleep.
Then, as she held her breath, and crosswise laid
An arrowy finger on a bow-shaped lip,
The leafy covering, careful, he remade,
Just as before, then soft away would slip.
When hark! the cuckoo called! Anew they stayed
Their steps, more deeply of the sound to sip,
And gazed at one another with mute ken,
Until it should repeat the note again;
And then walked on, still hearing in their heart
Echo on echo of that joyous strain,
Which hath a sense of moisture, and seems part
Of childlike April's laughter-rippled rain;
Which makes the soul to bud, the pulse to start,
The hackneyed heart youth's wonderland regain,
When, ere by passion parched, by grief turned sere,
Life gleams with smile or shimmers through a tear.
Then would a freshet runnel cross their track,
Low-purling to itself for secret bliss,
Now pattering onward, now half-turning back,
To give the smooth round pebbles one more kiss:
Here travelling straight as haste, there, with changed tack,
Meandering on in utter waywardness.
Now diving under tangled grass, and then
With frolic laugh bubbling to sight again.
Whereat they stopped afresh, for him to say:
``Shall we not hearken to its musings bland?
For Nature hath a gift of tongues, which they
Alone who heed the Spirit understand.
Sometimes I hope I am not wholly clay,
And you, meseems, are of the chosen band.''
Attentive then they drank its teachings clear,
Seeming to listen with the selfsame ear.
But what it spake, neither nor said nor asked,
But on a seat, under a blossoming thorn,
One bunch of whiteness, that had vainly tasked
The painter's hand and put his art to scorn,
Olive the guide, they sate them down and basked
In shaded sunshine of the mounting morn,
And knew, by silence dropped on bush and brake,
'Twas noon, when birds their wise siesta take.
And they grew silent too, till with a smile
He turned and said: ``Now, do not laugh nor scoff!
But will you graciously sit here awhile,
And let me stand a little farther off?''
He spoke so simply, so exempt from guile,
She, guileless, did his will. ``And, pray you, doff
That churlish hat, and leave your forehead bare,
So that the shadows fall upon your hair.
``Yes, yes, like that! Now, on my word, you make
A monstrous pretty picture, thorn and you!
Wherein we see full many a hanging flake
Of Winter living within Summer's hue.
How strange it seems the thorn should neither shake
Its snowy plumage down and o'er you strew
A white cold sheet, nor in the radiant glare
You shed should melt, leaving its branches bare!''
Then to the rustic seat beneath the thorn,
Which overhung them with its bleachëd hood,
Returning: ``They are right, though sophists scorn,
Who say that Beauty is the chiefest good.
For Truth still leaves its votaries forlorn,
And Virtue hides within a tangled wood,
Which, as one pushes on, yet denser grows.
Beauty alone hath wisdom and repose.''
``O no!'' she said, ``it is a little thing,
And to be strong and manful is the best:
Beauty is queen, but Valour still is king,
Mere consort she, but he the lord confessed.
Her wisdom and repose from this but spring,-
She waits his bidding; but his large unrest
Life's arduous height still climbs, nor ever stops,
Like the young sun shouldering the mountain tops.''
``Yours sounds the nobler doctrine,'' he replied,
``And fits you well, though mine saves honour too.
But words for ever of the mark fly wide,
And language makes that false which thought left true.''
``Then let us call wise silence to our side,''
With laughing lids she said, ``to find the clue
To that agreeing ground where creeds that jar
Upon the lips, the mind's twin-brothers are.''
``Nay, if you thus discourse, I would have you talk
Till the declining sun shall yield the sky
To the mild lustre of the milky walk.''
Whereat the laughter faded from her eye;
And, like two flowers upon a single stalk,
Fed by one hidden root, they secretly
Drank the same thoughts, same feelings, and same air,
And, without looking, knew each other there.
He was of open mien and virile guise,
In manhood fully blossomed, as are those,
Reared by the tarrying Northland's seasoning skies,
When their fifth lustre draweth just to close.
Of that hard-wooded stock time checks and tries,
Whose fibre slowly unto ripeness grows,
But, once matured, withstands the storms and drouth
That stunt the hastier saplings of the South.
Unto the ancient Faith his folk had clung,
When reason chimed with passion to unbind
The folds in which, while yet its limbs were young,
Fond nurse Authority had swathed mankind.
Withal 'twas whispered by the curious tongue
He had, himself, of late unserfed his mind,
But, out of courtesy, and since the goal
Uncertain seems, in peace possessed his soul.
To him was woman's loveliness the sum
Of heavenly intimations from earth's dome.
The smell of tasselled larch-woods, and the hum
Of happy bee bearing its honey home,
The cascade's plash, the breezes crisp that come
From unguessed lands on backs of bounding foam;
These, to his sense, but scattered fragments were
Of central beauty, perfected in Her.
And when his eyes the radiance did perceive
Of such, it moved him like a dewy star
That tingles on the high calm brow of eve,
It would be far too gross to wish less far;
And with whose peace we but aspire to weave
The thoughts and feelings which the deepest are
In the unfathomable soul, and do
Alone feed hope that we are heavenly too.
And now it was as though June ne'er before
Had filled her lap with roses; as though now
Did merle first sing and skylark rippling soar,
And wren and blackcap glance from bough to bough.
The daisy's frill a wondrous newness wore,
And childlike marvel puckered up their brow,
When from deep banks, with tangled tussocks heaped,
The roguish periwinkle, laughing, peeped.
When with staid mothers' milk and sunshine warmed,
The pasture's frisky innocents bucked up,
Flush from the ground, or, on smooth hillock swarmed,
With hornless fronts each other 'gan to tup,
That frolic sight their eyes as freshly charmed,
As though ne'er carved on many an antique cup,
Nor time on time, when men and Gods were young,
By the pastoral Muse of the sweet Sicilian sung.
But them, whom morning had together brought
And knit with links of Nature's subtle art,
By no third breath divided or distraught,
The eve unkindly worse than thrust apart;
Conjoining with them tongues, disowned, unsought,
Whose foreign accents jar the home-sick heart,
Making it inly fretful, and but yearn
The shy secluded hours would swift return.
And these returned, when on the hawthorn spray
The covert nightingale unceasing sang
Sweet trouble that but fitful broke by day,
And every copse with argute anguish rang.
The moon came up and took her trackless way,
Pale as when first she heard the love-bird's pang,
Pale with a sorrow of her own untold,-
Found it a voice, perchance were half consoled.
Then, with no other nigh them or between,
And over them the night's resplendent vault,
Olive and Godfrid in the dewy sheen
Stepped forth, unmindful of fair Eden's fault.
Beneath a flowering chestnut's moonlit screen,
At a white gateway leaning, made they halt,
By currents drawn of pleasurable pain
Onward to Love's immeasurable main.
But they were still among the fresh sweet rills
That feed Love's brackish ocean; and the call
Of nightingale to nightingale in trills
That lived upon each other, like a tall
And many-plashing fountain that refills
Its silvery jets with silvery jets that fall,
Seemed to speak all their thinking, and impart
What was yet inarticulate in their heart.
Thus in the leafy moonshine hushed they stood,
Their entranced souls surrendered to the night,
Deep drinking of unmoralisëd good
From the clear founts of beauty and delight.
And when some throat its wistful treble would
Prolong, it seemed, beyond even music's might,
They listened with eyes that met, till the slow strain
Quick quavered down the sharp descents of pain.
Thus steeped in luscious sadness, unexpressed
Save by joint silence, back they turned, alas!
Home from the shrubbery's many a tuneful nest,
By twinkling gravel skirting shimmering grass.
Then Olive, folded to her father's breast
An instant, like an image from a glass,
Vanished,-and all seemed blank: though Godfrid's host
With kindly converse filled the vacant post.
He could not vaunt, bequeathed to him from yore,
A knightly name, in sooth a dubious boast
Now when the knightly scutcheon glows no more,
And knightly honour stalks a nerveless ghost.
His sires had wrung from ransacked sea and shore
The guerdon modern glory covets most,
Wealth, with wealth's crowning symbol, once the spoil
Of faithful swords, a hold upon the soil.
Among his sylvan acres, loosed from care,
He led the free and philosophic life
Denied to those poor straws of fate, who share
The Court's mean pomp or Senate's frothy strife;
Constant at covert, Sessions, house of prayer,
To that true household god, a helpful wife,
Left gracious hearth and hospitable board,
In his own home adoring and adored.
For Olive's was a heart which back to love
Turns as a flower will turn to warmth and light;
And on the perch of home, even as a dove
Upon one bough, with never a thought of flight,
Heedless of all beyond it or above,
Will sit and coo from morning unto night,
So stayed contented, happy,-unaware
That earth held ought or larger or more fair.
But as there lies a deep and dewy cell
In the most open flower, which yields the sweet,
Stored in its virgin coy receptacle,
Neither to parent sun nor fostering heat,
But guards it close, till on the fragrant bell
Some child of air, with wandering wings and feet,
Settling to sip, down to its heart doth press,
And boldly rifles its last lusciousness;
So in the heart of most ingenuous maid
That ever nestled at a father's knee,
Hearkened a mother's precepts unafraid,
And slept unweaned from home felicity,
Dwells a dim nook not parents' feet invade,
No tongue may violate, no eye can see,
Till some strange wanderer, sent by Heaven, shall dive,
And suck the secret of that honeyed hive.
And thus within fair Olive's filial breast
There was another Olive, unallowed
To outer gaze, and by herself but guessed
Dimly, as by deep lake a fleecy cloud:
Olive that trembled, yet to none confessed
That she had trembled, when her lids were bowed
Over some poet's page which freshly told
The old, old story, that is never old.
But at no other than the rainbow tale
Which tearful fancy weaves, had Olive yet
Felt the pulse quicken and the cheek grow pale;
No voice had heard, to mesh her like a net,
No touch had known, to thrill her like a wail,
No face had seen, impossible to forget;
But only thought, when bent the page above,
How sweet, for others, it must be to love.
But when, that night, she, left alone with sleep,
Dimpled the pillow with her golden head,
Did stealthy dream o'er trustful slumber creep,
Now come, now gone, now clear, now vanishëd,
Of one whose words could thrill, whose voice could weep,
Whose silence more than others' language said,
Manlier than men, gentler than women are,
Bright as a sun, but quiet as a star.
And gentleness-in-strength wins those that are,
Not strong, but gentle only; and when dawn
With glittering prow burst o'er the Eastern bar,
And gossamer-veiled mead and dew-faced lawn
Seemed waves of rippling sunshine scanned afar,
The waking thoughts of Olive back were drawn
Unto sweet yesterday, with half-owned hope
To-day, afresh, to tread love's gradual slope.
But from that pleasant pathway fitful Fate,
Who bridles with delay the human heart
Only to speed it to the goal more straight,
All the long morn, with many a spurious start,
Withheld their fretful footsteps,-trifles, prate,
Which, themselves worthless, let prized time depart.
Nor till the dark elm shadows nigh had grown
Long as the trunks, roved they once more alone.
Then over silent sward, and underneath
Pendulous trees, and onward to the sweeter,
Path-thridden woods, whose arching branches wreathe
For the heart's communings a refuge meeter,
Where even the thoughtless winds forbear to breathe,
But the fleet hours pass pitilessly fleeter;
Or where, half-sadly warbling as it went,
Like a boy-poet's happy discontent,
Moss-bedded runnel anxious music made,
Eager for broader future; and along
The freër streamlet, till the rash cascade
Bounded adown the cataract, would-be strong;
Thence by the lake's mild margin that delayed
Its froward petulance, and by the song
Of river blithe with its enfranchisement,
Olive and Godfrid solitary went.
The world was all shut out, and Eden's gate
Upon its golden hinges back was rolled.
Death, deluge, tongues' confusion, sorrow, hate,
Seemed but a tale, to please sweet sadness told;
Such as some minstrel, welcomed by the great,
Strenuous would wring from simple harp of old,
Waking live echoes in the long-dead years,
And melting happy hearts to happier tears.
No such, no kindred thoughts, as yet perplexed
These two young souls, on moving to their fate.
Cheeks nearer drawn by some magnetic text,
Hand at a rural stile or churlish gate
Held out for courteous aid, but till the next
For more than courtesy retained, and prate
Which dipped into the inner life, were all
That proved them heritors of Adam's Fall.
But summer days, like happiest fairy story
That e'er of love and love's crowned longings breathed,
Sadden to close, and slowly-fading glory
Of dell, and glade, and runnel meadow-sheathed,
And breadth of bracken green round beeches hoary,
Dies, and to memory only is bequeathed;
And tight-linked hands, at parting's leaden knell,
Relax, and wave irresolute farewell.
And by the porch impatient horses paw,
And nearer sound admonitory feet.
Spurred by the desperate hour, released from awe
By sudden sense of parting, rashly meet,
But strangers hitherto, their lips, to draw
A draught of joy so novel, so complete,
They feel that, voided of the common air,
That kiss must linger, fixed for ever there!
A moment only: but such moments are
Beyond time's count, aye, or eternity's.
Closer the feet; upon the door ajar
Intrusive hand. From just-discovered bliss
Themselves they wrench asunder. Faint and far
O'er gravel drive, o'er harder highway, is
Prolonged the fragile link of sounding wheel.
Then, hush. Then twilight. Then Night's silent seal.
And swiftly borne along through winding lanes,
Belted by thickets in whose cloistered deeps
Nature's recluses sang late vesper strains,
Godfrid, like one who now half wakes half sleeps,
Dropping on dreamy consciousness the reins
Till o'er the will an opiate slumber creeps,
His soul surrendered to that mystic bliss
Which memory keeps from a departed kiss.
Since unfulfilled, with freshness still besprent,
Love's baptism of dew, love's tightest knot,
Of all love's rites the holiest sacrament:
A never full-ripe fruit, that cannot rot,
An unplucked flower which ne'er will shed its scent;
Perfect imperfect, nought can mar or mend,
A fair beginning, still uncursed by end.
And when the gloaming, faded from the sky,
Left dim the outlines of each winding lane,
He still was wandering where the sun rode high,
By glade and stream, grave wood and florid plain,
With one whose soul was stationed in her eye,
Fresh as June's grass, golden as Autumn's grain,
Whose voice was passion's undertone, whose mouth
Sweet as warm showers blown up from the soft South.
Nor till he marked the melancholy gleam
Of huddled homes, and with a shock of pain
Heard the Promethean monster's strident scream,
Vanished calm rapture's visionary reign.
Then, like to one who starts from a deep dream,
And but beholds the darkness, so in vain
He strove with fancy's eye once more to see,
Lying awake with black reality.
And as on roaring adamantine feet
Further and further ever was he whirled
From the closed gates of Eden's vanished seat,
Beneath dun domes in rolling vapour furled,
Or by white banks of moonlit meadowsweet,
From dreamland's height yet lower was he hurled,
Till, hemmed in between past and future years,
Turning, he stood, like quarry girt with spears.
``Can this be Love? Love no such question asks.
Love never yet was yoked with sluggish doubt;
And while tame Fancy in the sunshine basks,
And purrs and blinks, wild passion roams about,
Intent upon its predatory tasks.
Who questions if love's fire be in or out?
The moment 'tis alight, it shines so clear,
Nought then is seen but its own atmosphere.
``This is not love: 'tis fancy's newest born;
A bastard to be strangled in its crib;
A misbegotten harbinger of scorn,
Quick from the sight for ever to be hid.
Yet,-yet how fair, under the flaky thorn
She looked! how fresh, the vocal woods amid!
And when the nightingales sang fast and clear,
How more than fresh or fair! How close! How dear!
``Could hers be love, though mine but fancy were?
Are not maids caught in springes manhood breaks?
That which I doubt may be deep truth to her,
And she thirst more from draught that my thirst slakes.
Yet were I base as any garbage cur,
If I could sleep when such a bosom wakes,
Or could I call out love's name loud and clear,
Then let its echo die upon her ear.
``Love's name! Doth love thus readily reply?
And can her heart, chaste as yon dewy moon
That lo! once more comes gliding up the sky,
From mine have taken fire,-so soon, so soon!
From mine? Presumptuous thought! Why, what am I?
An instrument unused, so out of tune,
That, did I sound it, who would care to sing
To its discordant note and slackened string?
``Who cannot see it all? Assume the best:
Let self-love brood upon the fervid hope
That I could force the chamber of her breast;
'Twould swiftly swarm with foes with whom to cope,
I all unarmed, were madness manifest.
What are your means? Enough to buy a rope.
Buy it, before the world, indignant grown,
Dangles you from a gibbet of its own!
``So, better that that kiss should seal the past,
Than we should journey on from stage to stage
Of lengthening bliss to a bare goal at last,
And be but heart-sore for the pilgrimage!
Farewell, sweet lips! I will not break my fast,
Nor at your fount youth's selfish thirst assuage.
Forgive-forget-that one deep breathless draught:
You, the pure wave; 'twas I alone that quaffed.
``And you may go upon your maiden way,
Careless and free as never-stopping brook,
By which the drouthy hind, at close of day,
Halting, and laying on the ground his crook,
Lies prone and dips to drink its sparkling spray;
Whilst it, nor robbed nor soiled by what he took,
But laughs and trips along, elusive elf,
Singing its happy secret to itself.''
Thus with a sigh, such as will ofttimes heave
Pathetic fancy in a gentle breast,
Not, not those gasps of passionate pain that leave
No room in the heart for any wiser guest,
And hence with ear attentive to receive
The hints of reason, friend of what is best,
Spurning soft pleasure for right's harder sake,
Godfrid relinquished what he scarce could take.
``I send,'' he wrote, ``the book of Tuscan lays,
You said 'twould give you pleasure to possess,
In poor return for those two happy days
I owe to your abounding graciousness;
Such as a grateful bankrupt debtor pays,
Who cannot pay, but would his debt confess.
How I enjoyed them never can I tell:
To such as I, they come not twice. Farewell.''
``I thank you,'' she replied, ``for your kind note,
And for the Tuscan songs you send with it.
Already I know some of them by rote.
Others transcend my feeble woman's wit.
The best, I think, are those I heard you quote;
And once or twice I wished that you could sit
Beside me as I read them, and explain
The passages that puzzle my dull brain.
``You recognise a debt that is not due,
And readily could pay whate'er were owed.
You have a world of wealth amassed by few,
Which was on me too lavishly bestowed.
I did enjoy our strolls as much as you,
And there are walks beside the ones I showed,
That lovelier grow with the advancing year.
Be sure you always will be welcome here.''
He wrote again, still striving to combine
Homage to her rare winsomeness and worth
With hinted grief that he must needs resign
His dream, and own his servitude to earth;
Hoping that she would read between each line
He was uprooting fondness at its birth,
Only because he knew, if left to grow,
The flower would be but bane, the fruit but woe.
But there are hearts in whom love's subtle seeds
So promptly germinate, so swiftly spread,
That ere the careless hand which dropped them heeds,
'Tis all too late to tear them from the bed.
And Olive, wandering slow through woods and meads,
Haunted by one dear voice, one echoing tread,
Felt she could never the remembrance smother
Of that one kiss, excepting with another!
He was not near to give it. In its place
Came letters, loveless, lacking warmth and life,
Which, changing vague delight to keen disgrace,
Self setting with intenser self at strife,
Deepened the sense of that too close embrace,
Such as transforms to all but wedded wife
The bosom truly maiden; uncompleted,
Leaves a reproach behind, profoundly seated.
O purity of women who are pure!
To praise it is to soil it. Sudden pledge,
At moment when no surety can be sure,
Had she bestowed by treacherous parting's ledge.
Should that betrothal hasty not endure!
Would she were lying underneath the sedge
Strolled past with him, whom she, unkissed before,
Too much had given, should she give no more.
And stronger waxed within her trembling soul
This demon horror, till, whene'er she walked
By grassy undulation, tufted knoll,
Concealing hedgerow where the slender-stalked
Convolvulus peeped out, or past the bole
Of weathered ash where she had sate and talked
With him the afternoon away, it stepped
Close to her side, till, terrified, she wept.
And when lone night from its dark loosened tresses
Did o'er the earth invisible spices shake,
What time its subtle sister, slumber, presses
Consenting lids, would Olive, still awake,
Bent o'er his letters, with unstable guesses
At their fixed meaning, aggravate her ache,
Then lean out at her casement, with moist eyes
Raised to the stars, unanswering in the skies.
But when the hush was very deep, and o'er
The drowsy world the slumberous film had floated,
The trouble in her breast would rise and pour
Out melody, low, brief, and broken-throated,
As to sick babe a nurse of simple lore,
Or to itself a mind that strayed and doted.
But the wild notes nor nurse nor mind unstrung
Was like to know; and these the words she sung.
Will the sun never set?
Will the twilight never fade?
My heart is sick, my eyes are wet,
With the night and his step delayed.
Go, loitering light, from the west!
Sink, floating light, in the stream!
Fold, breeze, thy pinions, and rest!
Rest: sleep; and dream!
The twilight lingers still
I hate the hues on the hill;
I hate the sundown streak!
Oh! if I could but wreak
On crimson crag, on saffron peak,
My baffled will!
Come to me, silent as stars!
Come to me, soft as the dew!
Come as the light through my bars
When moons are new.
But come! come! come!
My own, my sweet, my true!
Oh! come!
I have flung the lattice wide,
That the tendrils of the vine
May guide your arms as they climb and glide
Nearer up to mine!
Come! come! come!
I cannot be mute, be dumb,
For I pine, I pine, I pine!
Hush! It is he! I heard
A footstep in the laurelled walk!
Alas! 'Twas but a dreaming bird
Chased by a phantom hawk!
I cannot await him longer.
Love, ruffled against delay,
A moment fiercer, stronger,
Beats,-flutters,-faints away!
Thus like a bird that ceaseth its sad flute
Because none answereth, so on the dumb night
Died the warm strain, and Olive too was mute.
Glistened the grass like tesselated light,
The dewdrops hung upon the bough like fruit;
And at the window, motionless and white,
All but her golden hair, she nursed her dole,
And let the silence sink into her soul.
O purity of women who are pure!
They know, and yet they know not. In their breast
A fearsome, restless secret they immure,
Which to themselves is never quite confessed,
But oft withal, as though they can endure
No longer Nature's promptings being repressed
Escapes in flood of tears, or tell-tale praise
Of amorous song and poet's burning lays.
They are like children playing on the beach
Of a mysterious ocean. Fascinated
By the strange terror it inspires, let preach
As mother instinct may, their steps elated
Will trespass where the faint foam-fringes reach.
Cometh, asudden, wave precipitated
By the dread sea they toy with: how they fly,
From earnest peril, with a feeble cry!
Olive had fled too late, and now her heart,
O'ertaken in its flight, was drenched with doubt.
Yes! yes! he loved her! What! he played a part,
When, as they watched the timid stars come out,
And the pale moon on her long journey start,
His voice had faltered? He but meant to flout
At love's confiding promptness, when he pressed
His lips to hers, her breast unto his breast?
Yet, if he did not love her! Did love weigh
Impulse and prudence in a dangling scale?
Did love, o'erawed by numbers, shirk the fray,
Or, when winds blew untoward, furl its sail?
Was love a sage? What did those letters say?
They breathed no strain of hope, no note of wail,
But in each pondered line there spake alone
Will's stately voice and wisdom's sovran tone.
Some six weeks later, Godfrid, who in vain
Had striven to lay the ghost of that dead time
Whose pleasure now had curdled into pain,
And whose reviewed delight seemed almost crime,
Striving to think that she would still retain,
For all their blight, the freshness of her prime,
Dogged by lame doubt, by self-reproach distressed,
Received a note by Olive's pen addressed.
He tore it open with a trembling hand,
And with a greedy eye its message read,
Written, it seemed, in haste, and quickly scanned.
``I write to tell you my last news, instead
Of leaving it to gossip's busy band.
I am engaged, and shortly shall be wed.
Congratulate me, won't you? All here send
Their best regards. I fear that I must end.''
``Deign to accept,'' he answered, ``from afar,
My fondest wishes for your future life.
May you be happy, as you gentle are,
And what you were as daughter, be as wife!
I pray in Heaven there move some vigilant star,
To ward from off you sorrow, loss, or strife,
And circle round you smoothly to the end.
Farewell! with homage from your grateful friend.''
O thou eternal secret, woman's heart!
Now, as when Eve was fooled, profoundly hid.
Man into life hath forced dead tongues to start,
Wrested dumb truths from stony pyramid,
Spanned the high hills, made of blank seas a chart,
And through the stars triumphant pathway thrid;
But woman's heart, the riddle still unread,
Confounds the living, and confutes the dead.
In that sad season of the bygone year,
When rise the mists and downward flows the sap,
And beggared Autumn, with a silent tear,
Empties her gold leaves into Winter's lap,
Another guest, lord in the hills severe
Whose harvest is the heather, and where flap
Crag-cradled kittiwakes round splintered foam,
Had crossed the porch of Olive's gentler home.
Him had her sire through prickly stubble led,
Marked for him coign of vantage on the track
Where towered the slow-flushed pheasant overhead,
And shown him, eager, where the twinkling pack,
Mute as though muzzled, work the gorsey bed,
Till gleeful throat to gleeful throat peals back,
Then sweep o'er rolling down and dipping vale,
Straight as trim barks that head a following gale.
Men praised his steady nerve, true hand, quick eye,
Tall granite frame, clean limbs, and mien robust;
Yet, softer critics, though they scarce knew why,
With colder voice his vaunted parts discussed.
``No, not the man to wake a woman's sigh:
Goodly, no doubt, brave, generous, helpful, just;
But lacking in the mien, the tones, that draw
The charmed heart onward by some subtle law.''
But every lip averred that Olive's grace
Bounded the horizon of Sir Gilbert's eye,
That, noon and eve, her side seemed still his place,
And he was vacant when she was not nigh.
Yet could they read no tremor in her face,
No flush of pride, no cautious dread descry,
No sudden glow of fondness chilled by fear,
To show she felt that Love was walking near.
At first she started at his name, as starts
A free-born colt when cunning bait is brought,
And broke away. But when with winsome arts
Her parents followed still, and still besought,
She, like the colt, when its wise dread departs,
Came to their beck, and nibbled, and was caught.
Then, still like it, which yields when o'er its head
The halter slips, she let herself be led.
So unto them at least it seemed, whose past
Had only skimmed the inland lakes of life,
Whose sails had still swung lightly round the mast,
Nor once been swelled and strained by winds of strife.
They little guessed what made her yield at last,
Or, when she promised to be Gilbert's wife,
She would have wed the wintry wind, or laid
Her head on pillow smoothed by sexton's spade.
He was a man of not uncommon worth
In this determined isle whose tongue we speak,
The only one he had been taught from birth,
Except a little Latin and less Greek.
England he deemed the navel of the earth,
And night and morning blessed the silver streak,
Holding the faith there lived beyond its waves
But papists, revolutionists, and slaves.
He knew the trick of every bird that flies,
Of every fish that swims, and could have told
When those would lie quite close, when these would rise,
How to entice the shy, outtire the bold.
He laughed to scorn the boast of sunny skies,
Of marble cities, orchards hung with gold,
Vowing one day's rough tramp through gloomy heather
Worth a whole year of stagnant Southern weather.
He felt no tremor when the evening star
In the moist west the vanished sun succeeds,
And in the heart the sense of things afar
Grows a religion deeper than all creeds.
How, in such moments, flesh and spirit jar,
And deepest joy still deeper anguish breeds,
He never owned, nor yearned for that vague goal
To which some god still goads the panting soul.
The contemplation, and the pangs profound,
That fain would plumb unfathomable seas
Of light, and colour, darkness, silence, sound,
Life's straining aches,-he nothing recked of these.
Brute-like, he walked with eyes upon the ground;
He heard no promise in Spring's dimpling breeze,
No buried hope in Autumn's curdling dirge,
Nor shared the secret of the wailful surge.
Yet do not scorn him, you whose finer strings
Move to the murmur of the faintest wind;
For oftentimes the soul in hidden springs
And subterranean currents dwells confined.
And haply should the loss of cherished things
Force for it sudden passage to the mind,
Its pent-up waters will outflow, and borrow
A tardy channel through the clefts of sorrow.
And even now he vaunted all that lends
An outward glamour to domestic state,
Birth, lands, position, multitude of friends
Among the splendid, privileged, and great.
And if these merits hardly make amends
For gaps confessed, add a most noble gait
And blameless life, he was, 't must be allowed,
A man of whom might any girl be proud.
And Olive was not slow to note and feel
His dumb desert and modesty sincere;
And if at times another voice would steal
Betwixt him and her only half-lent ear,
As on an adder straight one plants one's heel,
She trod its whispers down with foot of fear
Which breeds a cruel courage, even to dare
Trample the hapless thing it fain would spare.
At times her voice would falter, and her eye
Fill with the moisture of a causeless tear,
Or her frame tremble, as 'neath sunniest sky
Creeps a strange shiver over windless mere.
And ever and anon with sudden sigh
Checked she quick mirth, as flying cavalier
Reins in his steed an instant, and looks back,
And listens, is one following on his track.
So passed the weeks; summer no longer reigned,
And nearer moved the looked-for marriage morn;
Autumn came slowly through the yellow-grained,
Soft-whispering slopes, and took away the corn.
The harvest moon unto a sickle waned,
Hung o'er the golden harvest it had shorn,
High up in heaven, still brightly curved but idle.
The next would shine at full on Olive's bridal.
Musing on no such theme, but from the seat
Of hospitable laird in shaggy Perth
But just returned, to where deserted street,
Famed haunts of Splendour tenantless, and dearth
Of all that fills the void for urban feet,
Made London seem the loneliest place on earth,
Resolved at once to quit it for another,
Godfrid encountered Olive and her mother.
The shop whence they that moment had emerged,
Plainly bespoke their errand up to Town.
The colour to the maiden's temple surged;
To Godfrid's rose-but quick repressed,-a frown.
The kindly parent farewell visit urged.
``It was no distance. Would he not run down?
'Twould quiet be, but quieter anon;
For, three weeks more, and Olive would be gone.''
A heartier invitation ne'er was given.
Old fears were laid. Had Olive once to fight
Against her heart, she not in vain had striven,
And had not Godfrid long been lost to sight?
He, by he knew not what emotion driven,
But grown incautious in his own despite,
Gave to the honest pressure swift consent:
Yes, he would go; on Friday. And he went.
In the slant sunlight of the young October,
Dew-dashed lay meadow, upland, wood, and pool;
Mid-time delicious, when all hues are sober,
All sounds an undertone, all airs are cool:
When Nature seems awhile to pause and probe her,
Asking her heart if her eventful rule
Hath blest the earth she loveth, and to brace her
Against the wintry darksome days that face her.
Then, side by side, and unaccompanied,
But now for all their nearness more divided
Than if between them swayed an ocean's tide,
Forth through the wonted ways they slowly glided.
It seemed as if the summer life had died
In their hearts too, where once it had resided,
And Autumn had infused her solemn mood
In them, as in the sky, the mere, the wood.
And as nor pipe of bird, nor foliage fluttering,
On the air's quiet pensiveness intruded,
But only ever and anon the muttering
Of loosened leaf from branches scarce denuded;
So from their lips, once so profuse in uttering
All love-swayed sounds, at intervals exuded
Unwilling word,-a syllable,-a sigh,-
Stirred by no inspiration, dropped to die.
At length they halted where a lake, hemmed in
By wheeling bank, its liberty asserted,
Rushed for a gorge beyond with forceful din,
O'er boulder leaped, through moss-lipped crevice spirted,
Scattering its strength, but resolute to win.
Here Olive sate, with countenance averted,
Gazing adown the fall, while he surveyed
The springing cataract, the crouching maid.
Their silence now seemed natural. The lake
Was silent too, but from its bosom sent,
Not less for their than for its own sad sake,
This infant stream, whose vagrant babblement
Made speech for all; as in oppressive ache
Of those who, suffering, fain would hush lament,
A child's gay talk, irrelevant and quaint,
Acquits the air of silence and restraint.
Her head was turned away; her further cheek
Rested upon her hand; he could but see
The nearer tresses, rippling, soft, and sleek,
The outlines of her form's mild majesty,
Shoulders whose curve a Phidias well might seek
To leave in marble, had we such as he;
And just one small unconscious foot to hint
Of symmetry without excess or stint.
He scarce had time to knit his will and brace
His heart against the rush of tender feeling,
With which the sight of loveliness and grace,
In youth electric, sets the pulses reeling,
Before she turned, but quick again her face
Averted,-all too late! For he saw stealing
Down it those tears which silently betray
More than all tongues can speak, all words can say.
Omnipotence of tears in woman's eyes!
She threatens, and we flout the weak pretender:
Cold, and we beat her at her own disguise;
She trusts to scorn, with keener scorn we rend her.
She smiles on others, we disport a prize.
She still shall win. She weeps, and we surrender.
Artist! amend your craft. With shields nor spears
Mould me your Venus Victrix, but-in tears!
And Godfrid, who but now against delight
Had fought and won, succumbing to distress,
To Olive's side straight hastened at the sight,
And tried each tender tone, each near caress.
He called her by her name as brothers might,
Stroked her soft hand, smoothed every truant tress,
And, when the tear-shower gathered unto storm,
Curved his strong arm around her fragile form.
She leaned away, she hung athwart the ledge
Of the young torrent, and with quivering lips,
``Don't,'' she cried, ``don't! My pledge! my sacred pledge!''
But he, like one whose foothold slowly slips,
Once it hath passed the precipice's edge,
And with each struggle only deeper dips,
Felt all his purpose leaving him, and held
Her form more close the more her words repelled.
And lips that once have met in days gone by,
Meet easily again in days that are;
And kisses seem best answer to a sigh,
When silence were too cold and words would jar.
How, too, might she compassion's touch deny,
Now he was near who had so long been far,
Or more than feebly, fruitlessly withstand
Kindness which conquers surer than command?
And though the lips, since now no more forbidden,
At length from cheating sympathy desisted,
One hand, which hinted half the yearning hidden,
With daintier hand was feverishly twisted,
While one, at first withstood, at last unchidden,
Strayed o'er her cheek, and the warm curls that kissed it;
And thus, to love love's guile no more abhorrent,
Silent they sate, and watched the tumbling torrent.
And when the spell of silence was uncharmed,
``Let us go home,'' she said; ``'tis better so.''
But they who fight with love are soon disarmed,
And bare their breast in striking the first blow.
So, lulled by that same lure which late alarmed,
Over the stepping-stones, for weal or woe,
Hand-linked they went, their eyes upon the ground,
And finding even in silence too much sound.
There was an arbour woven all of leaves,
Woodbine, and briony, and clambering hop,
Wild clematis its roof, wild brier its eaves,
And living trunk of fluted elm its prop.
Its floor was such as thrifty autumn weaves
Of last year's moss and this year's faded crop
Of white wood-sorrel, and coy flowers that grow
In nooks where sun scarce comes and winds ne'er blow.
And some one of the branches had contrived,
In its unseen recess, a rustic bench,
Whence you could watch the lake's life, snugly hived:
How flashed a trout, how plopped a greedy tench,
Now skimmed a waterfowl, now dabchick dived,
Where came the kine their lazy thirst to quench,
Or swans, with feathers white as fluttering spray,
Like floating islands on the water lay.
And save the lake, its denizens, and the woods
That girt it round, there nothing was in sight:
Fair face of changeless water, tacking broods
'Mong tall reeds motionless;-such spot as might
Selected be by sandalled sisterhoods,
Who from the world have taken timid flight,
Craving to find from lustful fumes release,
And in chaste Nature's lap a pious peace.
And, trailing slow, still hand in hand, beside
The rushy brink, at length their footsteps came
Unto the arbour; which when Godfrid spied,
Halting and bending forward his tall frame,
To peer within, ``What a sweet nook!'' he cried.
``Who trained these branches was not much to blame.
Shall we not use their shade, and see, unseen,
The yellowing Autumn trench on Summer's green?''
Nothing there was he now could ask but she
Had yielded speechless and enslaved assent;
So like to one who bows to fate's decree,
Under the hospitable boughs she went,
Where, hands still joined and laid upon his knee,
They sate down in the leafy tenement,
Sighing to think, beyond this cloistered mere,
Lay a rude world of noise, and hate, and fear.
Nor when around her gently-curving frame,
Their palms disjoined, a gentle arm was curved,
More than soft-footed fawn that hath grown tame
Starts at a human voice, shrank she or swerved.
And when her face burst suddenly aflame,
His shoulder for a screening pillow served,
Whereon she leaned her sorrow-drooping head,
Passive as though it were her bier or bed:
And there remained. No word, no look, no sigh,
Her stillness stirred. She felt the hour bestowed
Bliss she were well content to take and die,
Would they but off her lift life's weary load.
She did not wish, she did not think, to lie
Nearer than this, but felt that pity owed
At least one brief indulgence unto woe,
Ere dear to-day changed to dead long-ago.
O purity of women who are pure!
Could men but fathom it! Longwhile she leaned,
Quiet as sleeping babe and as secure,
Upon the rugged pillow, where she gleaned
Glimpses of things unseen, but not less sure:
Till, feeling that she had too long been weaned
From fount that fed her fondness, she upraised
Her face, and full into his features gazed.
But when she saw, responsive to the look,
A sultry glow slow gathering in his eyes,
Presaging passion's flash, she could not brook
The thought that she should make less good and wise
Her new, her only idol, so betook
Her head again to its late paradise,
And said, with plaintive voice and still-born smile,
``Talk to me, Godfrid! talk, a little while.''
``Talk of what, Olive? Of sweet days gone by,
Or bitter, girded will is bound to face?''
``No, of yourself,'' she said, ``the theme that I
Could muse as time still ran his endless race.
Love, though an egotist, can deify
A vulgar fault, and drape the gross with grace.
You are myself, and I would hear of you:-
What you have done, and what you hope to do.''
``What have I done? What do I hope to do?
Just to sit patient, Olive, in the shade,
Till the old creeds re-form, or gospel new
Their thinned disintegrated ranks invade.
But hug the hideously false for true,
Because what, since deemed vital truth, was made
Our bosom's idol, in our arms lies dead!-
Better be Rachel, and not comforted.
``Dead, yes, stone-dead, though simulating life
In reflex action, lingering minds mistake.
But because now no more the dual strife,
Fought on this earth, holds a safe Heaven for stake,
Shall our sole weapons be the glutton's knife,
The banker's shovel, and the croupier's rake?
Because in doubt if soul the flesh survive,
Shall flesh be lord while soul is still alive?
``Look round! 'Tis lord, 'tis king, sole suzerain,
Bedizened fetish of the carnal crowd;
The oracle of joy, the god of gain,
Hope of the humble, comfort of the proud.
`Give us,' they cry, `fat peace, with piled-up wain,
Cover our daughters with a golden cloud,
Unto our sons dispense pomp, pleasure, ease!'-
-Better a couch under the forest trees!
``So I must wait, and mayhap wait in vain,
Till death the janitor shall give release;
For life may prove to me, poor feeble swain,
As sometimes to the strong, a bootless lease.
Meanwhile I will not hire my soul for gain,
Nor strut the scarlet popinjay of peace;
Cozen chawbacons, coax the civic crowd,
Proud to the humble, humble to the proud.
``If in my brain there glowed the poet's fire,
I then might try to rouse the sluggish time
By clanging all the octaves of the lyre.
Alas! for me such strains are too sublime,
Who pipe but lowly. I can but aspire
To bear in august Action's heat and grime
A private's part. Would that the hour had come!
Meanwhile my arm must rust, my voice keep dumb.''
He ceased. And then no sound was there to break
The Autumn's shimmering haze, which seemed to rest
Low on the woods, the woods upon the lake,
The lake, asleep, on brooding Nature's breast.
There was no wind nor wandering breath to shake
Even the long lithe water-reed's ripe crest:
The swans' white prows, glassed in the unstirred stream,
Kept turning on themselves in downy dream.
And as she gazed upon the placid mere,
The ripples of her woe too died away;
And from her lips came comfort, calm and clear,
Even as the lake which hushed before them lay.
For she descried a future, vineyards near,
That should redeem the desert of to-day:
A Promised Land, which, from its summit high,
Her love could show, not reach,-since it must die.
And then she pointed to a great Beyond,
Which he might conquer with a freër stride,
Because not fettered by too close a bond
With her dwarfed nature; withal, fortified
By knowing she would keep an outlook fond
Still on his steps, whatever might betide,
Even when some one worthier should have gained
The heart she feared she only had profaned.
A melancholy wonder filled his face.
His eyes were turned from her, and wandered out,
Not in the quest of Nature's varied grace,
Such as sometimes the spirit seeks without,
When vexed within, but blankly upon space,
As in a vision trancëd and devout.
At length in words significant and slow,
``Let us go home,'' he said. ``'Tis better so.''
So home their way they wended by the lake
Left among hushing woods, and past the fall
Whose swift untutored music shall forsake
Never their ears till death hath silenced all.
For time which heals, still leaves a cold numb ache,
Whose shootings ever and anon recall
The original sharp wound, and wring from pain
Fresh tribute to old joy's abandoned fane.
Long lay the shadows on the sleepy lawn
Afront the Hall, as from the covert ways
Issuing, their feet magnetically drawn
Sought the soft sward where they in summer days,
When their untroubled intercourse had dawn,
Exchanged inaugural looks of love and praise.
Now, all was ended. Praise and love were said;
And, cut off in his prime, young hope lay dead.
There was a marble basin, mid-sward placed,
Where falling fountain-sprays subduedly tinkled,
And, as they kept afalling, still retraced
The broken fragile rain-dome which they sprinkled.
Here, on its brim they sate, their loiterings paced,
Watching the water by the drops scarce wrinkled,
And seeing in its calm but hazy deep
Each other's face, as one sees face in sleep.
Once when he turned to hide recurring frown,
And dipped his hand into the imprisoned wave,
Hers plunged and seized on it as though 'twould drown,
Low-moaning in the tone of them that rave,
``Oh! if we could but drag each other down!''
But he, with soothing voice and aspect grave,
Said ``Upward, you mean, Olive! as, so far,
You have drawn me;-no siren, but a star!''
The muffled mist came trailing up the leas,
Hemmed in the landscape, front, and flank, and rear.
Huddled the leaves more closely, and the trees
Drew in their shadows stealthily, for fear.
Then, as the horizon faded by degrees,
More plainly plashed the fountain on their ear;
And in their hearts they louder seemed to hark
The drip of doom, more all around grew dark.
Dew-dashed again and silent, in the morn,
Lay the apparent woodlands; but not more
Silent and dew-dashed than the gaze forlorn
Of her who in her inmost being bore
A woe that humbled pride, that outbraved scorn.
The morning mounted, and the moments wore;
Moments no grief can hurry or delay,
Save when we scare them with our call to stay.
The tokens of departure met her eyes
And ears bewildered, and upon her rushed
As with the shock of uninformed surprise.
Her consciousness had been too wildly flushed
For her the sober truth to recognise
That he was really going; that lives crushed
Are nought to Fate, whose car indifferent drives
Betwixt exulting or o'er mangled lives.
Farewell! Farewell! She drew him to a nook,
Still bright with lingering flowers her winning ways
Had coaxed from summer when it went, and took
From out her breast something that caught the rays
Of broken sunlight, and with voice that shook,
Said: ``Take it and wear it in the after days!''
``Take it?'' he answered. ``Yes,-as I would take
A shell,-a kingdom,-for your gentle sake.''
Then to the porch returning, where awaited
Motionless equipage and champing bay,
Wonted adieux he made with voice that mated
Ill with the looks that always will betray.
Harshly the wheels upon the gravel grated,
Drew back a moment, and then rolled away,
Under the branches, through the farther gate,-
She gazing after, trothed and desolate.
``I send,'' wrote Godfrid, ``but a worthless song,
Yet one whose notes my feeling so express,
I nurse the hope it may, devoid of wrong
To any other, speak your own no less.
If so, we might perhaps be made more strong,
Nor quite so lonely in our loneliness,
If, keeping lines in which our thoughts are blended,
You sent a transcript with your name appended.''
Awhile seemed utter silence sole retort.
But just as tardy prudence 'gan to turn
And gibe temerity, came message short.
``They kept your letter from me. How I burn
(I have been angry: Heaven forgive me for 't!)
With shame to tell you what I only learn
This very eve. Well, I have had my way,
And send the verses, copied.'' These were they.
Accept it, Olive? Surely, yes;
This ring of emeralds, diamonds too:
As I would take,-no need to press,-
A leaf, a crown from you!
No rudest art, no brightest ore,
Could make its value less or more.
Gone is my strength. 'Twere useless quite
To tell you that it is not hard
To have one's paradise in sight,
Withal, to be debarred.
And yet the generous glimpse you gave
Was more than once I dared to crave.
Hard! very hard, sweet! but ordained.
We know 'tis God's own world, at worst.
And we have only partly drained,
And so still partly thirst;
While others parched remain, or seize
Fiercely the cup and drain the lees.
So let us strive to deem it well,
However now we stand aghast.
Earth, Heaven, not being parallel,
Perforce must meet at last.
And, in that disembodied clime,
A clasp more close may not be crime.
You loved me too well to deny:
I loved you far too well to ask.
Only a kiss, a gaze, a sigh,
A tear,-and then a mask.
We spared the fruit of Good-and-Ill;
We dwell within our Eden still.
O sunshine in profoundest gloom,
To know that on the earth there dwells,
Somewhere, unseen, one woman whom
No noblest thought excels;
And that by valour to resign,
I make her more than ever mine.
Too late, too late, I learn how sweet
'Twould be to reach a noble aim,
And then fling fondly at your feet
The fulness of my fame.
Now-now,-I scarce know which is best,
To strive, or lay me down and rest.
O winter in the sunless land!
O narrowed day! O darker night!
O loss of all that let me stand
A giant in the fight!
I dwindle: for I see, and sigh,
A mated bird is more than I.
God bless you, Olive! Even so
God bless your husband! He, if true
To his sweet trust, to me will grow
Only less dear than you.
But should he hurt his tender charge,
Why, hate is hot where love is large.
Yes-yes!-God bless your wedded lot!
My beautiful!-no-no-not mine!
I scarce know what is, what is not,
Only that I am thine;-
Thine, thine, come aught, come all amiss.
No time, no fate, can alter this!
Strange? Yes! the human heart is subtle strange,
And, even when most stoutly ruddered, drives,
Through winds that veer and over waves that change,
Unto some port, not that for which it strives.
Tides turn its track, storm-gusts extend its range,
The tempest strips it, and the lightning rives;
Till, poor black hull, it seems itself to aid
Each howling buffet, and each watery raid.
When unto Olive Godfrid bade farewell,
Carrying the faithful pledge of her distress,
Still from his side unable to dispel
The dogging memory of despair's caress,
And all of sweet sad sorrow that befell,
Down to the edge of parting's wretchedness,-
His steps he bent to where, 'mid lordly lands,
An empty, roofless monastery stands.
A river journeyeth past its ancient walls,
Whereon hoar ivy thrives and night-owls build.
Its only chant is now a waterfall's,
Which swells, and falls, and swells, as it is filled
With music from the hills. The cuckoo calls
Throughout moist May. When August woods are stilled
In sleepy sultriness, the stock-dove broods
Low to itself. The rest is solitude's.
But many a mile before the river sweeps,
With gentle curve, around the Abbey gray,
Straight through dense woods, in whose umbrageous deeps
A mystic muteness lurks, it keeps its way.
Now through a throttling gorge it gurgling leaps,
Now flows, slow, smooth, silent as those that pray,
'Twixt sylvan sanctuaries, whose green aisles slope
Up to bare moor, with the bare sky for cope.
And here it was, unwisely, Godfrid sought
Solace for joy which yesterday was wrecked,
But nothing found there, save the loss he brought.
For Nature is a mirror, to reflect
Man's many moods, faith, doubt, fear, fancy, aught
That may rejoice his spirit or deject,
And, as she back projects them, to infuse
Into their image her own lively hues.
Thus Olive, who seemed earthly fair when viewed
In her own lineaments, now she was glassed
In wood, and stream, and abbeyed solitude,
All known, all pictured loveliness surpassed.
Then, prompt Imagination's airy brood
Their immaterial textures wove and cast
Around the ethereal image, till his eye
And heart abode with unreality.
But Godfrid, who scanned first this perfect flower
With gaze of tranquil homage, could not now
Bring back the freshness of the faded hour.
In vain the passionate verse, the rhymëd vow!
This was but fancy's mist, the mere heat-shower
Which from imagination's sultry brow
Falls in quick rhythmic drops, to slowly clear
And leave behind a serene atmosphere.
But Olive, though she too might boast to have been
Nurtured in Arcady, was woman first
And last of all things. With an ear akin
To each sweet sound that ever was rehearsed,
By bird or bard, on lyre or mandolin,
Withal deep down within her heart she nursed
That passion for the actual and the real,
Which still remain the woman's true ideal.
So every line by molten passion coined
In the chill mould of Godfrid's hollow song,
She to her life's most cherished tokens joined,
And secret wore, lest they should suffer wrong
From vulgar gaze, or haply be purloined
By envious hand, and not be hers for long.
Each wailing strophe, warbled by fancy's throat,
With her indelible heart's-blood she re-wrote.
And when her parents fain had brought the ring
Back to her hand, and sent the rhymes away,
She, like a gentle fearful-hearted thing
Whom motherhood makes fierce, stood dumb at bay,
Prompt to rebut, and ready even to spring,
Should any seek to make her prize their prey.
And in her eyes so wild a look she wore,
And in her mien such force, that they forbore.
And as the time drew nigh for her to quit
For ever the familiar porch of home
For the vague land where unknown spectres flit,
She waxed as pale and restless as the foam
Frayed by sunk rocks whereon doomed vessels split.
From chamber unto chamber would she roam,
Vouchsafing broken answers now, now none,
And waiting for the setting of the sun.
But when the days of respite came to close,
And dawned through low dun clouds the bridal morn,
She smiled, but like to one who mocks at woes,
And laughed, but as they laugh who laugh for scorn.
They said she looked like a white shut-up rose
That haply burgeons in a time forlorn,
When she stood veiled, and that she walked the nave
As straight and cold as coffin goes to grave.
Then Autumn fired the woods, and crimson glowed
Fringed bole and feathered bough, and topmost spray,
Which, as fell in the shrivelled foliage, showed
Roofless and bare, that late shut out the day:
While hurrying Winter's drifting storm-showers flowed
From hissing heavens, and slowly died away
The colour from drenched Nature's face. And then?
Black trunks, and dirgeful winds, and dripping fen.
END OF ACT I





Last updated January 14, 2019