The Casket Of Opals

A poem by George Parsons Lathrop


Deep, smoldering colors of the land and sea
Burn in these stones, that, by some mystery,
Wrap fire in sleep and never are consumed.
Scarlet of daybreak, sunset gleams half spent
In thick white cloud; pale moons that may have lent
Light to love's grieving; rose-illumined snows,
And veins of gold no mine depth ever gloomed;
All these, and green of thin-edged waves, are there.
I think a tide of feeling through them flows
With blush and pallor, as if some being of air, -
Some soul once human, - wandering, in the snare
Of passion had been caught, and henceforth doomed
In misty crystal here to lie entombed.

And so it is, indeed. Here prisoned sleep
The ardors and the moods and all the pain
That once within a man's heart throbbed. He gave
These opals to the woman whom he loved;
And now, like glinting sunbeams through the rain,
The rays of thought that through his spirit moved
Leap out from these mysterious forms again.

The colors of the jewels laugh and weep
As with his very voice. In them the wave
Of sorrow and joy that, with a changing sweep,
Bore him to misery or else made him blest
Still surges in melodious, wild unrest.
So when each gem in place I touch and take,
It murmurs what he thought or what he spake.


My heart is like an opal
Made to lie upon your breast
In dreams of ardor, clouded o'er
By endless joy's unrest.

And forever it shall haunt you
With its mystic, changing ray:
Its light shall live when we lie dead,
With hearts at the heart of day!


If, from a careless hold,
One gem of these should fall,
No power of art or gold
Its wholeness could recall:
The lustrous wonder dies
In gleams of irised rain,
As light fades out from the eyes
When a soul is crushed by pain.
Take heed that from your hold
My love you do not cast:
Dim, shattered, vapor-cold -
That day would be its last.



He won her love; and so this opal sings
With all its tints in maze, that seem to quake
And leap in light, as if its heart would break:

Gleam of the sea,
Translucent air,
Where every leaf alive with glee
Glows in the sun without shadow of grief -
You speak of spring,
When earth takes wing
And sunlight, sunlight is everywhere!
Radiant life,
Face so fair -
Crowned with the gracious glory of wife -
Your glance lights all this happy day,
Your tender glow
And murmurs low
Make miracle, miracle, everywhere.

Earth takes wing
With birds - do I care
Whether of sorrow or joy they sing?
No; for they make not my life nor destroy!
My soul awakes
At a smile that breaks
In sun; and sunlight is everywhere!


Then dawned a mood of musing thoughtfulness;
As if he doubted whether he could bless
Her wayward spirit, through each fickle hour,
With love's serenity of flawless power,
Or she remain a vision, as when first
She came to soothe his fancy all athirst.


We were alone: the perfumed night,
Moonlighted, like a flower
Grew round us and exhaled delight
To bless that one sweet hour.

You stood where, 'mid the white and gold,
The rose-fire through the gloom
Touched hair and cheek and garment's fold
With soft, ethereal bloom.

And when the vision seemed to swerve,
'T was but the flickering shine
That gave new grace, a lovelier curve,
To every dream-like line.

O perfect vision! Form and face
Of womanhood complete!
O rare ideal to embrace
And hold, from head to feet!

Could I so hold you ever - could
Your eye still catch the glow
Of mine - it were an endless good:
Together we should grow

One perfect picture of our love!...
Alas, the embers old
Fell, and the moonlight fell, above -
Dim, shattered, vapor-cold.


What ill befell these lovers? Shall I say?
What tragedy of petty care and sorrow?
Ye all know, who have lived and loved: if nay,
Then those will know who live and love tomorrow.
But here at least is what this opal said,
The fifth in number: and the next two bore
My fancy toward that dim world of the dead,
Where waiting spirits muse the past life o'er:


I dreamed my kisses on your hair
Turned into roses. Circling bloom
Crowned the loose-lifted tresses there.
"O Love," I cried, "forever
Dwell wreathed, and perfume-haunted
By my heart's deep honey-breath!"
But even as I bending looked, I saw
The roses were not; and, instead, there lay
Pale, feathered flakes and scentless
Ashes upon your hair!


The love I gave, the love I gave,
Wherewith I sought to win you -
Ah, long and close to you it clave
With life and soul and sinew!
My gentleness with scorn you cursed:
You knew not what I gave.
The strongest man may die of thirst:
My love is in its grave!


You say these jewels were accurst -
With evil omen fraught.
You should have known it from the first!
This was the truth they taught:

No treasured thing in heaven or earth
Holds potency more weird
Than our hearts hold, that throb from birth
With wavering flames insphered.

And when from me the gems you took,
On that strange April day,
My nature, too, I gave, that shook
With passion's fateful play.

The mingled fate my love should give
In these mute emblems shone,
That more intensely burn and live -
While I am turned to stone.


Listen now to what is said
By the eighth opal, flashing red
And pale, by turns, with every breath -
The voice of the lover after death.


I did not know before
That we dead could rise and walk;
That our voices, as of yore,
Would blend in gentle talk.

I did not know her eyes
Would so haunt mine after death,
Or that she could hear my sighs,
Low as the harp-string's breath.

But, ah, last night we met!
From our stilly trance we rose,
Thrilled with all the old regret -
The grieving that God knows.

She asked: "Am I forgiven?" -
"And dost thou forgive?" I said,
Ah! how long for joy we'd striven!
But now our hearts were dead.

Alas, for the lips I kissed
And the sweet hope, long ago!
On her grave chill hangs the mist;
On mine, white lies the snow.


Hearkening still, I hear this strain
From the ninth opal's varied vein:


In the mountains of Mexico,
Where the barren volcanoes throw
Their fierce peaks high to the sky,
With the strength of a tawny brute
That sees heaven but to defy,
And the soft, white hand of the snow
Touches and makes them mute, -

Firm in the clasp of the ground
The opal is found.
By the struggle of frost and fire
Created, yet caught in a spell
From which only human desire
Can free it, what passion profound
In its dim, sweet bosom may dwell!

So was it with us, I think,
Whose souls were formed on the brink
Of a crater, where rain and flame
Had mingled and crystallized.
One venturous day Love came;
Found us; and bound with a link
Of gold the jewels he prized.

The agonies old of the earth,
Its plenitude and its dearth,
The torrents of flame and of tears,
All these in our souls were inborn.
And we must endure through the years
The glory and burden of birth
That filled us with fire of the morn.

Let the diamond lie in its mine;
Let ruby and topaz shine;
The beryl sleep, and the emerald keep
Its sunned-leaf green! We know
The joy of sufferings deep
That blend with a love divine,
And the hidden warmth of the snow!


Colors that tremble and perish,
Atoms that follow the law,
You mirror the truth which we cherish,
You mirror the spirit we saw.
Glow of the daybreak tender,
Flushed with an opaline gleam,
And passionate sunset-splendor -
Ye both but embody a dream.
Visions of cloud-hidden glory
Breaking from sources of light
Mimic the mist of life's story.
Mingled of scarlet and white.
Sunset-clouds iridescent,
Opals, and mists of the day,
Are thrilled alike with the crescent
Delight of a deathless ray
Shot through the hesitant trouble
Of particles floating in space,
And touching each wandering bubble
With tints of a rainbowed grace.
So through the veil of emotion
Trembles the light of the truth;
And so may the light of devotion
Glorify life - age and youth.
Sufferings, - pangs that seem cruel, -
These are but atoms adrift:
The light streams through, and a jewel
Is formed for us, Heaven's own gift!

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