The May Night.

A poem by Emma Lazarus

Give me a kiss, my poet, take thy lyre;
The buds are bursting on the wild sweet-briar.
To-night the Spring is born - the breeze takes fire.
Expectant of the dawn behold the thrush,
Perched on the fresh branch of the first green bush;
Give me a kiss, my poet, take thy lyre.

How black it looks within the vale!
I thought a muffled form did sail
Above the tree-tops, through the air.
It seemed from yonder field to pass,
Its foot just grazed the tender grass;
A vision strange and fair it was.
It melts and is no longer there.

My poet, take thy lyre; upon the lawn
Night rocks the zephyr on her veiled, soft breast.
The rose, still virgin, holds herself withdrawn
From the winged, irised wasp with love possessed.
Hark, all is hushed. Now of thy sweetheart dream;
To-day the sunset, with a lingering beam,
Caressed the dusky-foliaged linden-grove.
All things shall bloom to-night; great Nature thrills,
Her couch with perfume, passion, sighs, she fills,
Like to the nuptial bed of youthful love.

Why throbs my heart so fast, so low?
What sets my seething blood aglow,
And fills my sense with vague affright?
Who raps upon my chamber-door?
My lamp's spent ray upon the floor,
Why does it dazzle me with light?
Great God! my limbs sink under me!
Who enters? who is calling? none!
The clock strikes - I am all alone -
ÊÊÊÊÊO solitude! O poverty!

My poet, take thy lyre. Youth's living wine
Ferments to-night within the veins divine.
My breast is troubled, stifling with desire,
The panting breeze has set my lips afire;
O listless child, behold me, I am fair!
Our first embrace dost thou so soon forget?
How pale thou wast, when my wing grazed thy hair.
Into mine arms thou fell'st, with eyelids wet!
Oh, in thy bitter grief, I solaced thee,
Dying of love, thy youthful strength outworn.
Now I shall die of hope - oh comfort me!
I need thy prayers to live until the morn.

Is it thy voice my spirit knows,
O darling Muse! And canst thou be
My own immortal one? my rose,
Sole pure and faithful heart where glows
A lingering spark of love for me?
Yes, it is thou, with tresses bright,
'T is thou, my sister and my bride.
I feel amidst the shadowy night,
From thy gold gown the rays of light
Within my heart's recesses glide.

My poet, take thy lyre. 'T is I, undying,
Who seeing thee to-night so sad and dumb,
Like to the mother-bird whose brood is crying,
From utmost heaven to weep with thee have come.
My friend, thou sufferest; a secret woe
Gnaws at thy life, thou sighest in the night.
Love visits thee, such love as mortals know,
Shadow of gladness, semblance of delight.
Rise, sing to God the thoughts that fill thy brain,
Thy buried pleasures and thy long-past pain.
Come, with a kiss, where unknown regions gleam,
Awake the mingling echoes of thy days,
Sing of thy folly, glory, joy and praise,
Be all an unpremeditated dream!
Let us invent a realm where one forgets,
Come, we are all alone, the world is ours.
Green Scotland tawny Italy offsets;
Lo, Greece my mother, with her honeyed flowers,
Argos and Pteleon with its shrines and groves,
Celestial Messa populous with doves;
And Pelion with his shaggy, changing brow,
Blue Titaresus, and the gulf of steel,
Whose waves that glass the floating swan, reveal
Snowy Camyre to Oloossone's snow.
Tell me what golden dreams shall charm our sleep,
Whence shall be drawn the tears that we shall weep?
This morning when thy lids were touched with light,
What pensive seraph, bending kindly near,
Dropped lilacs from his airy robe of white,
And whispered beams of love within thine ear?
Say, shall we sing of sadness, joy or hope?
Or bathe in blood the settled, steel-clad ranks?
See lovers mount the ladder's silken rope?
Or fleck the wind with coursers' foaming flanks?
Or shall we tell whose hand the lamps above,
In the celestial mansions, year by year,
Kindles with sacred oil of life and love?
With Tarquin shall we cry, "Come, night is here!"
Or shall we dive for pearls beneath the seas,
Or find the wild goats by the alpine trees?
Bid melancholy gaze upon the skies?
Follow the huntsman on the upland lawns?
The roe uplifts her tearful, suppliant eyes,
Her heath awaits her, and her suckling fawns;
He stoops, he slaughters her, he flings her heart
Still warm amidst his panting hounds apart.
Or shall we paint a maid with vermeil cheek,
Who, with her page behind, to vespers fares,
Beside her mother, dreamy-eyed and meek,
And on her half-oped lips forgets her prayers,
Trembles midst echoing columns, hearkening
To hear her bold knight's clanging spurs outring.
Or shall we bid the heroes of old France
Scale full equipped the battlemented wall,
And so revive the simple-strained romance
Their fame inspired our troubadours withal?
Or shall we clothe soft elegies in white?
Or bid the man of Waterloo recite
His story, and the crop mown by his art,
Or ere the herald of eternal night
On his green mound with fatal wing did smite
And cross his hands above his iron heart?
Or shall we gibbet on some satire here
The name thrice-bought of some pale pamphleteer,
Who, hunger-goaded, from his haunts obscure,
Dared, quivering with impotence and spite,
Insult the hope on Genius' brow of light,
And gnaw the wreath his breath had made impure?
The lyre! the lyre! I can be still no more.
Upon the breath of spring my pinions fly.
The air supports me - from the earth I soar,
Thou weepest - God has heard - the hour is nigh!

Dear sister, if thou ask but this,
From friendly lips a gentle kiss,
Or one soft tear from kindly eyes,
These will I gladly give to thee.
Our love remember tenderly,
If thou remountest to the skies.
No longer I of hope shall sing,
Of fame or joy, of love or art,
Alas, not even of suffering,
My lips are locked - I lean and cling,
To hear the whisper of my heart.

What! am I like the autumn breeze for you,
Which feeds on tears even to the very grave,
For whom all grief is but a drop of dew?
O poet, but one kiss - 't was I who gave.
The weed I fain would root from out this sod
Is thine own sloth - thy grief belongs to God.
Whatever sorrow thy young heart have found,
Open it well, this ever-sacred wound
Dealt by dark angels - give thy soul relief.
Naught makes us nobler than a noble grief.
Yet deem not, poet, though this pain have come,
That therefore, here below, thou mayst be dumb.
Best are the songs most desperate in their woe -
Immortal ones, which are pure sobs I know.
When the wave-weary pelican once more,
Midst evening-vapors, gains his nest of reeds,
His famished brood run forward on the shore
To see where high above the surge he speeds.
As though even now their prey they could destroy,
They hasten to their sire with screams of joy,
On swollen necks wagging their beaks, they cry;
He slowly wins at last a lofty rock,
Shelters beneath his drooping wing his flock,
And, a sad fisher, gazes on the sky.
Adown his open breast the blood flows there;
Vainly he searched the ocean's deepest part,
The sea was empty and the shore was bare,
And for all nourishment he brings his heart.
Sad, silent, on the stone, he gives his brood
His father-entrails and his father-blood,
Lulls with his love sublime his cruel pain,
And, watching on his breast the ruddy stain,
Swoons at the fatal banquet from excess
Of horror and voluptuous tenderness.
Sudden amidst the sacrifice divine,
Outworn with such protracted suffering,
He fears his flock may let him live and pine;
Then up he starts, expands his mighty wing,
Beating his heart, and with a savage cry
Bids a farewell of such funereal tone
That the scared seabirds from their rock-nests fly,
And the late traveller on the beach alone
Commends his soul to God - for death floats by.
Even such, O poet, is the poet's fate.
His life sustains the creatures of a day.
The banquets served upon his feasts of state
Are like the pelican's - sublime as they.
And when he tells the world of hopes betrayed,
Forgetfulness and grief, of love and hate,
His music does not make the heart dilate,
His eloquence is as an unsheathed blade,
Tracing a glittering circle in mid-air,
While blood drips from the edges keen and bare.

O Muse, insatiate soul, demand
No more than lies in human power.
Man writes no word upon the sand
Even at the furious whirlwind's hour.
There was a time when joyous youth
Forever fluttered at my mouth,
A merry, singing bird, just freed.
Strange martyrdom has since been mine,
Should I revive its slightest sign,
At the first note, my lyre and thine
Would snap asunder like a reed.

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