I wonder can this be the world it was
At sunset? I remember the sky fell
Green as pale meadows, at the long street-ends,
But overhead the smoke-wrack hugged the roofs
As if to shut the city from God's eyes
Till dawn should quench the laughter and the lights.
Beneath the gas flare stolid faces passed,
Too dull for sin; old loosened lips set hard
To drain the stale lees from the cup of sense;
Or if a young face yearned from out the mist
Made by its own bright hair, the eyes were wan
With desolate fore-knowledge of the end.
My life lay waste about me: as I walked,
From the gross dark of unfrequented streets
The face of my own youth peered forth at me,
Struck white with pity at the thing I was;
And globed in ghostly fire, thrice-virginal,
With lifted face star-strong, went one who sang
Lost verses from my youth's gold canticle.
Out of the void dark came my face and hers
One vivid moment--then the street was there;
Bloat shapes and mean eyes blotted the sear dusk;
And in the curtained window of a house
Whence sin reeked on the night, a shameful head
Was silhouetted black as Satan's face
Against eternal fires. I stumbled on
Down the dark slope that reaches riverward,
Stretching blind hands to find the throat of God
And crush Him in his lies. The river lay
Coiled in its factory filth and few lean trees.
All was too hateful--I could not die there!
I whom the Spring had strained unto her breast,
Whose lips had felt the wet vague lips of dawn.
So under the thin willows' leprous shade
And through the tangled ranks of riverweed
I pushed--till lo, God heard me! I came forth
Where, 'neath the shoreless hush of region light,
Through a new world, undreamed of, undesired,
Beyond imagining of man's weary heart,
Far to the white marge of the wondering sea
This still plain widens, and this moon rains down
Insufferable ecstasy of peace.
My heart is man's heart, strong to bear this night's
Unspeakable affliction of mute love
That crazes lesser things. The rocks and clods
Dissemble, feign a busy intercourse;
The bushes deal in shadowy subterfuge,
Lurk dull, dart spiteful out, make heartless signs,
Utter awestricken purpose of no sense,--
But I walk quiet, crush aside the hands
Stretched furtively to drag me madmen's ways.
I know the thing they suffer, and the tricks
They must be at to help themselves endure.
I would not be too boastful; I am weak,
Too weak to put aside the utter ache
Of this lone splendor long enough to see
Whether the moon is still her white strange self
Or something whiter, stranger, even the face
Which by the changed face of my risen youth
Sang, globed in fire, her golden canticle.
I dare not look again; another gaze
Might drive me to the wavering coppice there,
Where bat-winged madness brushed me, the wild laugh
Of naked nature crashed across my blood.
So rank it was with earthy presences,
Faun-shapes in goatish dance, young witches' eyes
Slanting deep invitation, whinnying calls
Ambiguous, shocks and whirlwinds of wild mirth,--
They had undone me in the darkness there,
But that within me, smiting through my lids
Lowered to shut in the thick whirl of sense,
The dumb light ached and rummaged, and with out,
The soaring splendor summoned me aloud
To leave the low dank thickets of the flesh
Where man meets beast and makes his lair with him,
For spirit reaches of the strenuous vast,
Where stalwart stars reap grain to make the bread
God breaketh at his tables and is glad.
I came out in the moonlight cleansed and strong,
And gazed up at the lyric face to see
All sweetness tasted of in earthen cups
Ere it be dashed and spilled, all radiance flung
Beyond experience, every benison dream,
Treasured and mystically crescent there.
O, who will shield me from her? Who will place
A veil between me and the fierce in-throng
Of her inexorable benedicite?
See, I have loved her well and been with her!
Through tragic twilights when the stricken sea
Groveled with fear, or when she made her throne
In imminent cities built of gorgeous winds
And paved with lightnings; or when the sobering stars
Would lead her home 'mid wealth of plundered May
Along the violet slopes of evensong.
Of all the sights that starred the dreamy year,
For me one sight stood peerless and apart:
Bright rivers tacit; low hills prone and dumb;
Forests that hushed their tiniest voice to hear;
Skies for the unutterable advent robed
In purple like the opening iris buds;
And by some lone expectant pool, one tree
Whose gray boughs shivered with excess of awe,--
As with preluding gush of amber light,
And herald trumpets softly lifted through,
Across the palpitant horizon marge
Crocus-filleted came the singing moon.
Out of her changing lights I wove my youth
A place to dwell in, sweet and spiritual,
And all the bitter years of my exile
My heart has called afar off unto her.
Lo, after many days love finds its own!
The futile adorations, the waste tears,
The hymns that fluttered low in the false dawn,
She has uptreasured as a lover's gifts;
They are the mystic garment that she wears
Against the bridal, and the crocus flowers
She twined her brow with at the going forth;
They are the burden of the song she made
In coming through the quiet fields of space,
And breathe between her passion-parted lips
Calling me out along the flowering road
Which summers through the dimness of the sea.
Hark, where the deep feels round its thousand shores
To find remembered respite, and far drawn
Through weed-strewn shelves and crannies of the coast
The myriad silence yearns to myriad speech.
O sea that yearns a day, shall thy tongues be
So eloquent, and heart, shall all thy tongues
Be dumb to speak thy longing? Say I hold
Life as a broken jewel in my hand,
And fain would buy a little love with it
For comfort, say I fain would make it shine
Once in remembering eyes ere it be dust,--
Were life not worthy spent? Then what of this,
When all my spirit hungers to repay
The beauty that has drenched my soul with peace?
Once at a simple turning of the way
I met God walking; and although the dawn
Was large behind Him, and the morning stars
Circled and sang about his face as birds
About the fieldward morning cottager,
My coward heart said faintly, "Let us haste!
Day grows and it is far to market-town."
Once where I lay in darkness after fight,
Sore smitten, thrilled a little thread of song
Searching and searching at my muffled sense
Until it shook sweet pangs through all my blood,
And I beheld one globed in ghostly fire
Singing, star-strong, her golden canticle;
And her mouth sang, "The hosts of Hate roll past,
A dance of dust motes in the sliding sun;
Love's battle comes on the wide wings of storm,
From east to west one legion! Wilt thou strive?"
Then, since the splendor of her sword-bright gaze
Was heavy on me with yearning and with scorn
My sick heart muttered, "Yea, the little strife,
Yet see, the grievous wounds! I fain would sleep."
O heart, shalt thou not once be strong to go
Where all sweet throats are calling, once be brave
To slake with deed thy dumbness? Let us go
The path her singing face looms low to point,
Pendulous, blanched with longing, shedding flame
Of silver on the brown grope of the flood;
For all my spirit's soilure is put by
And all my body's soilure, lacking now
But the last lustral sacrament of death
To make me clean for those near-searching eyes
That question yonder whether all be well,
And pause a little ere they dare rejoice.
Question and be thou answered, passionate face!
For I am worthy, worthy now at last
After so long unworth; strong now at last
To give myself to beauty and be saved;
Now, being man, to give myself to thee,
As once the tumult of my boyish heart
Companioned thee with rapture through the world,
Forth from a land whereof no poet's lip
Made mention how the leas were lily-sprent,
Into a land God's eyes had looked not on
To love the tender bloom upon the hills.
To-morrow, when the fishers come at dawn
Upon that shell of me the sea has tossed
To land, as fit for earth to use again,
Men, meeting at the shops and corner streets,
Will speak a word of pity, glossing o'er
With altered accent, dubious sweep of hand,
Their virile, just contempt for one who failed.
But they can never cast my earnings up,
Who know so well my losses. Even you
Who in the mild light of the spirit walk
And hold yourselves acquainted with the truth,
Be not too swift to judge and cast me out!
You shall find other, nobler ways than mine
To work your soul's redemption,--glorious noons
Of battle 'neath the heaven-suspended sign,
And nightly refuge 'neath God's ægis-rim;
Increase of wisdom, and acquaintance held
With the heart's austerities; still governance,
And ripening of the blood in the weekday sun
To make the full-orbed consecrated fruit
At life's end for the Sabbath supper meet.
I shall not sit beside you at that feast,
For ere a seedling of my golden tree
Pushed off its petals to get room to grow,
I stripped the boughs to make an April gaud
And wreathe a spendthrift garland for my hair.
But mine is not the failure God deplores;
For I of old am beauty's votarist,
Long recreant, often foiled and led astray,
But resolute at last to seek her there
Where most she does abide, and crave with tears
That she assoil me of my blemishment.
Low looms her singing face to point the way,
Pendulous, blanched with longing, shedding flame
Of silver on the brown grope of the flood.
The stars are for me; the horizon wakes
Its pilgrim chanting; and the little sand
Grows musical of hope beneath my feet.
The waves that leap to meet my swimming breast
Gossip sweet secrets of the light-drenched way,
And when the deep throbs of the rising surge
Pulse upward with me, and a rain of wings
Blurs round the moon's pale place, she stoops to reach
Still welcome of bright hands across the wave,
And sings low, low, globed all in ghostly fire,
Lost verses from my youth's gold canticle.