Arcadia Rediviva

A poem by James Russell Lowell

I, walking the familiar street,
While a crammed horse-car jingled through it,
Was lifted from my prosy feet
And in Arcadia ere I knew it.

Fresh sward for gravel soothed my tread,
And shepherd's pipes my ear delighted;
The riddle may be lightly read:
I met two lovers newly plighted.

They murmured by in happy care,
New plans for paradise devising,
Just as the moon, with pensive stare,
O'er Mistress Craigie's pines was rising.

Astarte, known nigh threescore years,
Me to no speechless rapture urges;
Them in Elysium she enspheres,
Queen, from of old, of thaumaturges.

The railings put forth bud and bloom,
The house-fronts all with myrtles twine them,
And light-winged Loves in every room
Make nests, and then with kisses line them.

O sweetness of untasted life!
O dream, its own supreme fulfillment!
O hours with all illusion rife,
As ere the heart divined what ill meant!

'Et ego', sighed I to myself,
And strove some vain regrets to bridle,
'Though now laid dusty on the shelf,
Was hero once of such an idyl!

'An idyl ever newly sweet,
Although since Adam's day recited,
Whose measures time them to Love's feet,
Whose sense is every ill requited.'

Maiden, if I may counsel, drain
Each drop of this enchanted season,
For even our honeymoons must wane,
Convicted of green cheese by Reason.

And none will seem so safe from change,
Nor in such skies benignant hover,
As this, beneath whose witchery strange
You tread on rose-leaves with your lover.

The glass unfilled all tastes can fit,
As round its brim Conjecture dances;
For not Mephisto's self hath wit
To draw such vintages as Fancy's.

When our pulse beats its minor key,
When play-time halves and school-time doubles,
Age fills the cup with serious tea,
Which once Dame Clicquot starred with bubbles.

'Fie, Mr. Graybeard! Is this wise?
Is this the moral of a poet,
Who, when the plant of Eden dies,
Is privileged once more to sow it!

'That herb of clay-disdaining root,
From stars secreting what it feeds on,
Is burnt-out passion's slag and soot
Fit soil to strew its dainty seeds on?

'Pray, why, if in Arcadia once,
Need one so soon forget the way there?
Or why, once there, be such a dunce
As not contentedly to stay there?'

Dear child, 'twas but a sorry jest,
And from my heart I hate the cynic
Who makes the Book of Life a nest
For comments staler than rabbinic.

If Love his simple spell but keep,
Life with ideal eyes to flatter,
The Grail itself were crockery cheap
To Every-day's communion-platter.

One Darby is to me well known,
Who, as the hearth between them blazes,
Sees the old moonlight shine on Joan,
And float her youthward in its hazes.

He rubs his spectacles, he stares,--
'Tis the same face that witched him early!
He gropes for his remaining hairs,--
Is this a fleece that feels so curly?

'Good heavens! but now 'twas winter gray,
And I of years had more than plenty;
The almanac's a fool! 'Tis May!
Hang family Bibles! I am twenty!

'Come, Joan, your arm; we'll walk the room--
The lane, I mean--do you remember?
How confident the roses bloom,
As if it ne'er could be December!

'Nor more it shall, while in your eyes
My heart its summer heat recovers,
And you, howe'er your mirror lies,
Find your old beauty in your lover's.'

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