1908-1912 arranged chronologically on this page
"Life." Atlantic Monthly 102 (Oct. 1908): 501-04.
NAY, lift me to thy lips, Life, and once more
Pour the wild music through me --
I quivered in the reed-bed with my kind,
Rooted in Lethe-bank, when at the dawn
There came a groping shape of mystery
Moving among us, that with random stroke
Severed, and rapt me from my silent tribe,
Pierced, fashioned, lipped me, sounding for a voice,
Laughing on Lethe-bank -- and in my throat
I felt the wing-beat of the fledgeling notes,
The bubble of godlike laughter in my throat.
Such little songs she sang,
Pursing her lips to fit the tiny pipe,
They trickled from me like a slender spring
That strings frail wood-growths on its crystal thread,
Nor dreams of glassing cities, bearing ships.
She sang, and bore me through the April world
Matching the birds, doubling the insect-hum
In the meadows, under the low-moving airs,
And breathings of the scarce-articulate air
When it makes mouths of grasses -- but when the sky
Burst into storm, and took great trees for pipes,
She thrust me in her breast, and warm beneath
Her cloudy vesture, on her terrible heart,
I shook, and heard the battle.
But more oft,
Those early days, we moved in charmed woods,
Where once, at dusk, she piped against a faun,
And one warm dawn a tree became a nymph
Listening; and trembled; and Life laughed and passed.
And once we came to a great stream that bore
The stars upon its bosom like a sea,
And ships like stars; so to the sea we came.
One wild pang through me; then refrained her hand,
And whispered: "Hear -- " and into my frail flanks,
Into my bursting veins, the whole sea poured
Its spaces and its thunder; and I feared.
We came to cities, and Life piped on me
Low calls to dreaming girls,
In counting-house windows, through the chink of gold,
Flung cries that fired the captive brain of youth,
And made the heavy merchant at his desk
Curse us for a cracked hurdy-gurdy; Life
Mimicked the hurdy-gurdy, and we passed.
We climbed the slopes of solitude, and there
Life met a god, who challenged her and said:
"Thy pipe against my lyre!" But "Wait!" she laughed,
And in my live flank dug a finger-hole,
And wrung new music from it. Ah, the pain!
We climbed and climbed, and left the god behind.
We saw the earth spread vaster than the sea,
With infinite surge of mountains surfed with snow,
And a silence that was louder than the deep;
But on the utmost pinnacle Life again
Hid me, and I heard the terror in her hair.
Safe in new vales, I ached for the old pang,
And clamoured "Play me against a god again!"
"Poor Marsyas-mortal -- he shall bleed thee yet,"
She breathed and kissed me, stilling the dim need.
But evermore it woke, and stabbed my flank
With yearnings for new music and new pain.
"Another note against another god!"
I clamoured; and she answered: "Bide my time.
Of every heart-wound I will make a stop.
And drink thy life in music, pang by pang.
But first thou must yield the notes I stored in thee
At dawn beside the river. Take my lips."
She kissed me like a lover, but I wept,
Remembering that high song against the god,
And the old songs slept in me, and I was dumb.
We came to cavernous foul places, blind
With harpy-wings, and sulphurous with the glare
Of sinful furnaces -- where hunger toiled,
And pleasure gathered in a starveling prey,
And death fed delicately on young bones.
"Now sing!" cried Life, and set her lips to me.
"Here are gods also. Wilt thou pipe for Dis?"
My cry was drowned beneath the furnace roar,
Choked by the sulphur-fumes; and beast-lipped gods
Laughed down on me, and mouthed the flutes of hell.
"Now sing!" said Life, reissuing to the stars;
And wrung a new note from my wounded side.
So came we to clear spaces, and the sea.
And now I felt its volume in my heart,
And my heart waxed with it, and Life played on me
The song of the Infinite. "Now the stars," she said.
Then from the utmost pinnacle again
She poured me on the wild sidereal stream,
And I grew with her great breathings, till we swept
The interstellar spaces like new worlds
Loosed from the fiery ruin of a star.
Cold, cold we rested on black peaks again,
Under black skies, under a groping wind,
And life, grown old, hugged me to a numb breast,
Pressing numb lips against me. Suddenly
A blade of silver severed the black peaks
>From the black sky, and earth was born again,
Breathing and various, under a god's feet.
A god! A god! I felt the heart of Life
Leap under me, and my cold flanks shook again.
He bore no lyre, he rang no challenge out,
But Life warmed to him, warming me with her,
And as he neared I felt beneath her hands
The stab of a new wound that sucked my soul
Forth in a new song from my throbbing throat.
"His name -- his name?" I whispered, but she poured
The music faster, and I grew with it,
Became a part of it, while Life and I
Clung lip to lip, and I from her wrung song
As she from me, one song, one ecstasy,
In indistinguishable union blent,
Till she became the flute and I the player.
And lo! the song I played on her was more
Than any she had drawn from me; it held
The stars, the peaks, the cities, and the sea,
The faun's catch, the nymph's tremor, and the heart
Of dreaming girls, of toilers at the desk,
Apollo's challenge on the sunrise slope,
And the hiss of the night-gods mouthing flutes of hell --
All, to the dawn-wind's whisper in the reeds,
When Life first came, a shape of mystery,
Moving among us, and with random stroke
Severed, and rapt me from my silent tribe.
All this I wrung from her in that deep hour,
While Love stood murmuring: "Play the god, poor grass!"
Now, by that hour, I am a mate to thee
Forever, Life, however spent and clogged,
And tossed back useless to my native mud!
Yea, groping for new reeds to fashion thee
New instruments of anguish and delight,
Thy hand shall leap to me, thy broken reed,
Thine ear remember me, thy bosom thrill
With the old subjection, then when Love and I
Held thee, and fashioned thee, and made thee dance
Like a slave-girl to her pipers -- yea, thou yet
Shalt hear my call, and dropping all thy toys
Thou'lt lift me to thy lips, Life, and once more
Pour the wild music through me --
Souls." Scribner's Magazine 45 (Jan. 1909): 22-23.
A THIN moon faints in the sky o'erhead,
And dumb in the churchyard lie the dead.
Walk we not, Sweet, by garden ways,
Where the late rose hangs and the phlox delays,
But forth of the gate and down the road,
Past the church and the yews, to their dim abode.
For it's turn of the year and All Souls' night,
When the dead can hear and the dead have sight.
Fear not that sound like wind in the trees:
It is only their call that comes on the breeze;
Fear not the shudder that seems to pass:
It is only the tread of their feet on the grass;
Fear not the drip of the bough as you stoop:
It is only the touch of their hands that grope --
For the year's on the turn, and it's All Souls' night,
When the dead can yearn and the dead can smite.
And where should a man bring his sweet to woo
But here, where such hundreds were lovers too?
Where lie the dead lips that thirst to kiss,
The empty hands that their fellows miss,
Where the maid and her lover, from sere to green,
Sleep bed by bed, with the worm between?
For it's turn of the year and All Souls' night,
When the dead can hear and the dead have sight.
And now that they rise and walk in the cold,
Let us warm their blood and give youth to the old.
Let them see us and hear us, and say: "Ah, thus
In the prime of the year it went with us!"
Till their lips drawn close, and so long unkist,
Forget they are mist that mingles with mist!
For the year's on the turn, and it's All Souls' night,
When the dead can burn and the dead can smite.
Till they say, as they hear us -- poor dead, poor dead! --
"Just an hour of this, and our age-long bed --
Just a thrill of the old remembered pains
To kindle a flame in our frozen veins,
Just a touch, and a sight, and a floating apart,
As the chill of dawn strikes each phantom heart --
For it's turn of the year and All Souls' night,
When the dead can hear, and the dead have sight."
And where should the living feel alive
But here in this wan white humming hive,
As the moon wastes down, and the dawn turns cold,
And one by one they creep back to the fold?
And where should a man hold his mate and say:
"One more, one more, ere we go their way"?
For the year's on the turn, and it's All Souls' night,
When the living can learn by the churchyard light.
And how should we break faith who have seen
Those dead lips plight with the mist between,
And how forget, who have seen how soon
They lie thus chambered and cold to the moon?
How scorn, how hate, how strive, we too,
Who must do so soon as those others do?
For it's All Souls' night, and break of the day,
And behold, with the light the dead are away. . . .
"A Grave." Current Literature 46 (June 1909): 685.
the Hermit." Atlantic Monthly 104 (Dec. 1909): 844-48.
Vous qui nous jugez, savez-vous quel boivre nous avons bu sur la
Ogrin the Hermit in old age set forth
This tale to them that sought him in the extreme
Ancient grey wood where he and silence housed:
Long years ago, when yet my sight was keen,
My hearing knew the word of wind in bough,
And all the low fore-runners of the storm,
There reached me, where I sat beneath my thatch,
A crash as of tracked quarry in the brake,
And storm-flecked, fugitive, with straining breasts
And backward eyes and hands inseparable,
Tristan and Iseult, swooning at my feet,
Sought hiding from their hunters. Here they lay.
For pity of their great extremity,
Their sin abhorring, yet not them with it,
I nourished, hid, and suffered them to build
Their branched hut in sight of this grey cross,
That haply, falling on their guilty sleep,
Its shadow should part them like the blade of God,
And they should shudder at each other's eyes.
So dwelt they in this solitude with me,
And daily, Tristan forth upon the chase,
The tender Iseult sought my door and heard
The words of holiness. Abashed she heard,
Like one in wisdom nurtured from a child,
Yet in whose ears an alien language dwells
Of some far country whence the traveller brings
Magical treasure, and still images
Of gods forgotten, and the scent of groves
That sleep by painted rivers. As I have seen
Oft-times returning pilgrims with the spell
Of these lost lands upon their lids, she moved
Among familiar truths, accustomed sights,
As she to them were strange, not they to her.
And often, reasoning with her, have I felt
Some ancient lore was in her, dimly drawn
>From springs of life beyond the four-fold stream
That makes a silver pale to Paradise;
For she was calm as some forsaken god
Who knows not that his power is passed from him,
But sees with tranced eyes rich pilgrim-trains
In sands the desert blows about his feet.
Abhorring first, I heard her; yet her speech
Warred not with pity, or the contrite heart,
Or hatred of things evil: rather seemed
The utterance of some world where these are not,
And the heart lives in heathen innocence
With earth's innocuous creatures. For she said:
"Love is not, as the shallow adage goes,
A witch's filter, brewed to trick the blood.
The cup we drank of on the flying deck
Was the blue vault of air, the round world's lip,
Brimmed with life's hydromel, and pressed to ours
By myriad hands of wind and sun and sea.
For these are all the cup-bearers of youth,
That bend above it at the board of life,
Solicitous accomplices: there's not
A leaf on bough, a foam-flash on the wave,
So brief and glancing but it serves them too;
No scent the pale rose spends upon the night,
Nor sky-lark's rapture trusted to the blue,
But these, from the remotest tides of air
Brought in mysterious salvage, breathe and sing
In lovers' lips and eyes; and two that drink
Thus onely of the strange commingled cup
Of mortal fortune shall into their blood
Take magic gifts. Upon each others' hearts
They shall surprise the heart-beat of the world,
And feel a sense of life in things inert;
For as love's touch upon the yielded body
Is a diviner's wand, and where it falls
A hidden treasure trembles: so their eyes,
Falling upon the world of clod and brute,
And cold hearts plotting evil, shall discern
The inextinguishable flame of life
That girdles the remotest frame of things
With influences older than the stars."
So spake Iseult; and thus her passion found
Far-flying words, like birds against the sunset
That look on lands we see not. Yet I know
It was not any argument she found,
But that she was, the colour that life took
About her, that thus reasoned in her stead,
Making her like a lifted lantern borne
Through midnight thickets, where the flitting ray
Momently from inscrutable darkness draws
A myriad-veined branch, and its shy nest
Quivering with startled life: so moved Iseult.
And all about her this deep solitude
Stirred with responsive motions. Oft I knelt
In night-long vigil while the lovers slept
Under their outlawed thatch, and with long prayers
Sought to disarm the indignant heavens; but lo,
Thus kneeling in the intertidal hour
'Twixt dark and dawning, have mine eyes beheld
How the old gods that hide in these hoar woods,
And were to me but shapings of the air,
And flit and murmur of the breathing trees,
Or slant of moon on pools -- how these stole forth,
Grown living presences, yet not of bale,
But innocent-eyed as fawns that come to drink,
Thronging the threshold where the lovers lay,
In service of the great god housed within
Who hides in his breast, beneath his mighty plumes,
The purposes and penalties of life.
Or in yet deeper hours, when all was still,
And the hushed air bowed over them alone,
Such music of the heart as lovers hear,
When close as lips lean, lean the thoughts between --
When the cold world, no more a lonely orb
Circling the unimagined track of Time,
Is like a beating heart within their hands,
A numb bird that they warm, and feel its wings --
Such music have I heard; and through the prayers
Wherewith I sought to shackle their desires,
And bring them humbled to the feet of God,
Caught the loud quiring of the fruitful year,
The leap of springs, the throb of loosened earth,
And the sound of all the streams that seek the sea.
So fell it, that when pity moved their hearts,
And those high lovers, one unto the end,
Bowed to the sundering will, and each his way
Went through a world that could not make them twain,
Knowing that a great vision, passing by,
Had swept mine eye-lids with its fringe of fire,
I, with the wonder of it on my head,
And with the silence of it in my heart,
Forth to Tintagel went by secret ways,
A long lone journey; and from them that loose
Their spiced bales upon the wharves, and shake
Strange silks to the sun, or covertly unbosom
Rich hoard of pearls and amber, or let drip
Through swarthy fingers links of sinuous gold,
Chose their most delicate treasures. Though I knew
No touch more silken than this knotted gown,
My hands, grown tender with the sense of her,
Discerned the airiest tissues, light to cling
As shower-loosed petals, veils like meadow-smoke,
Fur soft as snow, amber like sun congealed,
Pearls pink as may-buds in an orb of dew;
And laden with these wonders, that to her
Were natural as the vesture of a flower,
Fared home to lay my booty at her feet.
And she, consenting, nor with useless words
Proving my purpose, robed herself therein
To meet her lawful lord; but while she thus
Prisoned the wandering glory of her hair,
Dimmed her bright breast with jewels, and subdued
Her light to those dull splendours, well she knew
The lord that I adorned her thus to meet
Was not Tintagel's shadowy King, but he,
That other lord beneath whose plumy feet
The currents of the seas of life run gold
As from eternal sunrise; well she knew
That when I laid my hands upon her head,
Saying, "Fare forth forgiven," the words I spoke
Were the breathings of his pity, who beholds
How, swept on his inexorable wings
Too far beyond the planetary fires
On the last coasts of darkness, plunged too deep
In light ineffable, the heart amazed
Swoons of its glory, and dropping back to earth
Craves the dim shelter of familiar sounds,
The rain on the roof, the noise of flocks that pass,
And the slow world waking to its daily round. . . .
And thus, as one who speeds a banished queen,
I set her on my mule, and hung about
With royal ornament she went her way;
For meet it was that this great Queen should pass
Crowned and forgiven from the face of Love.
Comrade." Atlantic Monthly 106 (Dec. 1910): 785-87.
WILD winged thing, O brought I know not whence
To beat your life out in my life's low cage;
You strange familiar, nearer than my flesh
Yet distant as a star, that were at first
A child with me a child, yet elfin-far,
And visibly of some unearthly breed;
Mirthfullest mate of all my mortal games,
Yet shedding on them some evasive gleam
Of Latmian loneliness -- O seven then
Expert to lift the latch of our low door
And profit by the hours when, dusked about
By human misintelligence, our first
Weak fledgling flights were safeliest essayed;
Divine accomplice of those perilous-sweet
Low moth-flights of the unadventured soul
Above the world's dim garden! -- now we sit,
After what stretch of years, what stretch of wings,
In the same cage together -- still as near
And still as strange!
Only I know at last
That we are fellows till the last night falls,
And that I shall not miss your comrade hands
Till they have closed my lids, and by them set
A taper that -- who knows! -- may yet shine through.
Sister, my comrade, I have ached for you,
Sometimes, to see you curb your pace to mine,
And bow your Maenad crest to the dull forms
Of human usage; I have loosed your hand
And whispered: 'Go! Since I am tethered here;'
And you have turned, and breathing for reply,
'I too am pinioned, as you too are free,'
Have caught me to such undreamed distances
As the last planets see, when they look forth,
To the sentinel pacings of the outmost stars --
Nor these alone,
Comrade, my sister, were your gifts. More oft
Has your impalpable wing-brush bared for me
The heart of wonder in familiar things,
Unroofed dull rooms, and hung above my head
The cloudy glimpses of a vernal moon,
Or all the autumn heaven ripe with stars.
And you have made a secret pact with Sleep,
And when she comes not, or her feet delay,
Toiled in low meadows of gray asphodel
Under a pale sky where no shadows fall,
Then, hooded like her, to my side you steal,
And the night grows like a great rumouring sea,
And you a boat, and I your passenger,
And the tide lifts us with an indrawn breath
Out, out upon the murmurs and the scents,
Through spray of splintered star-beams, or white rage
Of desperate moon-drawn waters -- on and on
To some blue ocean immarcescible
That ever like a slow-swung mirror rocks
The balanced breasts of sea-birds motionless.
Yet other nights, my sister, you have been
The storm, and I the leaf that fled on it
Terrifically down voids that never knew
The pity of creation -- or have felt
The immitigable anguish of a soul
Left last in a long-ruined world alone;
And then your touch has drawn me back to earth,
As in the night, upon an unknown road,
A scent of lilac breathing from the hedge
Bespeaks the hidden farm, the bedded cows,
And safety, and the sense of human kind . . .
And I have climbed with you by hidden ways
To meet the dews of morning, and have seen
The shy gods like retreating shadows fade,
Or on the thymy reaches have surprised
Old Chiron sleeping, and have waked him not . . .
Yet farther have I fared with you, and known
Love and his sacred tremors, and the rites
Of his most inward temple; and beyond
His temple lights, have seen the long gray waste
Where lonely thoughts, like creatures of the night,
Listen and wander where a city stood.
And creeping down by waterless defiles
Under an iron midnight, have I kept
My vigil in the waste till dawn began
To move among the ruins, and I saw
A sapling rooted in a fissured plinth,
And a wren's nest in the thunder-threatening hand
Of some old god of granite in the dust . . .
(Bodiam Castle, Sussex)." Scribner's Magazine 49 (Mar. 1911): 277-78. By
THOU couldst not look on me and live: so runs
The mortal legend -- thou that couldst not live
Nor look on me (so the divine decree)!
That sawst me in the cloud, the wave, the bough,
The clod commoved with April, and the shapes
Lurking 'twixt lid and eye-ball in the dark.
Mocked I thee not in every guise of life,
Hid in girls' eyes, a naiad in her well,
Wooed through their laughter, and like echo fled,
Luring thee down the primal silences
Where the heart hushes and the flesh is dumb?
Nay, was not I the tide that drew thee out
Relentlessly from the detaining shore,
Forth from the home-lights and the hailing voices,
Forth from the last faint headland's failing line,
Till I enveloped thee from verge to verge
And hid thee in the hollow of my being?
And still, because between us hung the veil,
The myriad-tinted veil of sense, thy feet
Refused their rest, thy hands the gifts of life,
Thy heart its losses, lest some lesser face
Should blur mine image in thine upturned soul
Ere death had stamped it there. This was thy thought.
The gods, they say, have all: not so!
This have they -- flocks on every hill, the blue
Spirals of incense and the amber drip
Of lucid honey-comb on sylvan shrines,
First-chosen weanlings, doves immaculate,
Twin-cooing in the osier-plaited cage,
And ivy-garlands glaucous with the dew:
Man's wealth, man's servitude, but not himself!
And so they pale, for lack of warmth they wane,
Freeze to the marble of their images,
And, pinnacled on man's subserviency,
Through the thick sacrificial haze discern
Unheeding lives and loves, as some cold peak
Through icy mists may enviously descry
Warm vales unzoned to the all-fruitful sun.
So they along an immortality
Of endless-vistaed homage strain their gaze,
If haply some rash votary, empty-urned,
But light of foot, with all-adventuring hand,
Break rank, fling past the people and the priest,
Up the last step, on to the inmost shrine,
And there, the sacred curtain in his clutch,
Drop dead of seeing -- while the others prayed!
Yea, this we wait for, this renews us, this
Incarnates us, pale people of your dreams,
Who are but what you make us, wood or stone,
Or cold chryselephantine hung with gems,
Or else the beating purpose of your life,
Your sword, your clay, the note your pipe pursues,
The face that haunts your pillow, or the light
Scarce visible over leagues of laboring sea!
O thus through use to reign again, to drink
The cup of peradventure to the lees,
For one dear instant disimmortalized
In giving immortality!
So dream the gods upon their listless thrones.
Yet sometimes, when the votary appears,
With death-affronting forehead and glad eyes,
Too young, they rather muse, too frail thou art,
And shall we rob some girl of saffron veil
And nuptial garland for so slight a thing?
And so to their incurious loves return.
Not so with thee; for some indeed there are
Who would behold the truth and then return
To pine among the semblances -- but I
Divined in thee the questing foot that never
Revisits the cold hearth of yesterday
Or calls achievement home. I from afar
Beheld thee fashioned for one hour's high use,
Nor meant to slake oblivion drop by drop.
Long, long hadst thou inhabited my dreams,
Surprising me as harts surprise a pool,
Stealing to drink at midnight; I divined
Thee rash to reach the heart of life, and lie
Bosom to bosom in occasion's arms,
And said: Because I love thee thou shalt die!
For immortality is not to range
Unlimited through vast Olympian days,
Or sit in dull dominion over time;
But this -- to drink fate's utmost at a draught,
Nor feel the wine grow stale upon the lip,
To scale the summit of some soaring moment,
Nor know the dulness of the long descent,
To snatch the crown of life and seal it up
Secure forever in the vaults of death!
And this was thine: to lose thyself in me,
Relive in my renewal, and become
The light of other lives, a quenchless torch
Passed on from hand to hand, till men are dust
And the last garland withers from my shrine.
Seed." Scribner's Magazine 51 (Mar. 1912): p284-91. BY EDITH WHARTON
In the vale of Elusis
Hail, goddess, from the midmost caverned vale
Of Samothracia, where with darksome rites
Unnameable, and sacrificial lambs,
Pale priests salute thy triple-headed form,
Borne hither by swift Hermes o'er the sea:
Hail, Hecate, what word soe'er thou bring
To me, undaughtered, of my vanished child.
Word have I, but no Samothracian wild
Last saw me, and mine aged footsteps pine
For the bleak vale, my dusky-pillared house,
And the cold murmur of incessant rites
Forever falling down mine altar-steps
Into black pools of fear . . . for I am come
Even now from that blue-cinctured westward isle,
Trinacria, where, till thou withheldst thy face,
Yearly three harvests yellowed to the sun,
And vines deep-laden yoked the heavier boughs --
Trinacria, that last saw Persephone.
Now, triune goddess, may the black ewe-lambs
Pour a red river down thine altar-steps,
Fruit, loaves and honey, at the cross-roads laid,
With each young moon by pious hands renewed,
Appease thee, and the Thracian vale resound
With awful homage to thine oracle!
What bring'st thou of Persephone, my child?
Thy daughter lives, yet never sees the sun.
Blind am I in her blindness. Tell no more.
Blind is she not, and yet beholds no light.
Dark as her doom is, are thy words to me.
When the wild chariot of the flying sea
Bore me to Etna, 'neath his silver slope
Herding their father's flocks three maids I found,
The daughters of the god whose golden house
Rears in the east its cloudy peristyle.
"Helios, our father," to my quest they cried,
"Was last to see Persephone on earth."
On earth? What nameless region holds her now?
Even as I put thy question to the three,
Etna became as one who knows a god,
And wondrously, across the waiting deep,
Wave after wave the golden portent bore,
Till Helios rose before us.
O, I need
Thy words as the parched valleys need my rain!
May the draught slake thee! Thus the god replied:
When the first suns of March with verdant flame
Relume the fig-trees in the crannied hills,
And the pale myrtle scents the rain-washed air --
Ere oleanders down the mountain stream
Pass the wild torch of summer, and my kine
Breathe of gold gorse and honey-laden sage;
Between the first white flowering of the bay
And the last almond's fading from the hill,
Along the fields of Enna came a maid
Who seemed among her mates to move alone,
As the full moon will mow the sky of stars,
And whom, by that transcendence, I divined
Of breed Olympian, and Demeter's child.
All-seeing god! So walks she in my dreams.
Persephone (so spake the god of day)
Ran here and there with footsteps that out-shone
The daffodils she gathered, while her maids,
Like shadows of herself by noon fore-shortened,
On every side her laughing task prolonged;
When suddenly the warm and trusted earth
Widened black jaws beneath them, and therefrom
Rose Aides, whom with averted head
Pale mortals worship, as the poplar turns,
Whitening, her fearful foliage from the gale.
Like thunder rolling up against the wind
He dusked the sky with midnight ere he came,
Whirling his cloak of subterraneous cloud
In awful coils about the fated maid,
Till nothing marked the place where she had stood
But her dropped flowers -- a garland on a grave.
Where is that grave? There will I lay me down,
And know no more the change of night to day.
Such is the cry that mortal mothers make;
But the sun rises, and their task goes on.
Yet happier they, that make an end at last.
Behold, along the Eleusinian vale
A god approaches, by his feathered tread
Arcadian Hermes. Wait upon his word.
I am a god. What do the gods avail?
Oft have I heard that cry -- but not the answer.
Demeter, from Olympus am I come,
By laurelled Tempe and Thessalian ways,
Charged with grave words of aegis-bearing Zeus.
( as if she has not heard him)
If there be any grief I have not borne,
Go, bring it here, and I will give it suck . . .
Thou art a god, and speakest mortal words?
Even the gods grow greater when they love.
It is the Life-giver who speaks by me.
I want no words but those my child shall speak.
His words are winged seeds that carry hope
To root and ripen in long-barren hearts.
Deeds, and not words, alone can quicken me.
His words are fruitfuller than deeds of men.
Why hast thou left Olympus, and thy kind?
Because my kind are they that walk the earth
For numbered days, and lay them down in graves.
My sisters are the miserable women
Who seek their children up and down the world,
Who feel a babe's hand at the faded breast,
And live upon the words of lips gone dumb.
Sorrow no footing on Olympus finds,
And the gods are gods because their hearts forget.
Why then, since thou hast cast thy lot with those
Who painfully endure vain days on earth,
Hast thou, harsh arbitress of fruit and flower,
Cut off the natural increase of the fields?
The baffled herds, tongues lolling, eyes agape,
Range wretchedly from sullen spring to spring,
A million sun-blades lacerate the ground,
And the shrunk fruits untimely drop, like tears
That Earth at her own desolation sheds.
These are the words Zeus bids me bring to thee.
To whom reply: No pasture longs for rain
As for Persephone I thirst and hunger.
Give me my child, and all the earth shall laugh
Like Rhodian rose-fields in the eye of June.
What if such might were mine? What if, indeed,
The exorable god, thy pledge confirmed,
Should yield thee back the daughter of thy tears?
Such might is thine?
Beyond Cithaeron, see
The footsteps of the rain upon the hills.
Tell me whence thy daughter must be led.
So much at least it shall be mine to do.
If ever urgency hath plumed thy heels,
By Psyttaleia and the outer isles
Westward still winging thine ethereal way,
Beyond the moon-swayed reaches of the deep,
And that unvestiged midnight that confines
The verge of being, succourable god,
Haste to the river by whose sunless brim
Dark Aides leads forth his languid flocks.
There shalt thou find Persephone enthroned.
Beside the ruler of the dead she sits,
And shares, unwilling, his long sovereignty.
Thence lead her to Demeter and these groves.
Round thy returning feet the earth shall laugh
As I, when of my body she was born!
Lo, thy last word is as a tardy shaft
Lost in his silver furrow. Ere thou speed
Its fellow, we shall see his face again
And not alone. The gods are justified.
Ah, how impetuous are the wings of joy!
Swift comes she, as impatient to be gone!
Swifter than yonder rain moves down the pass
I see the wonder run along the deep.
The light draws nearer. . . . Speak to me, my child!
I feel the first slow rain-drop on my hand . . .
She fades. Persephone comes, led by Hermes.
How sweet the hawthorn smells along the hedge . . .
And, mother, mother, sweeter are these tears.
Pale art thou, daughter, and upon thy brow
Sits an estranging darkness like a crown.
Look up, look up! Drink in the light's new wine.
Feelest thou not beneath thine alien feet
Earth's old endearment, O Persephone?
Dear is the earth's warm pressure under foot,
And dear, my mother, is thy hand in mine.
As one who, prisoned in some Asian wild,
After long days of cheated wandering
Climbing a sudden cliff, at last beholds
The boundless reassurance of the sea,
And on it one small sail that sets for home,
So look I on the daylight, and thine eyes.
Thy voice is paler than the lips it leaves.
Thou wilt not stay with me! I know my doom.
Ah, the sweet rain! The clouds compassionate!
Hide me, O mother, hide me from the day!
What are these words? It is my love thou fearest.
I fear the light. I fear the sound of life
That thunders in mine unaccustomed ears.
Here is no sound but the soft-falling rain.
Dost thou not hear the noise of birth and being,
The roar of sap in boughs impregnated,
And all the deafening rumour of the grass?
Love hear I, at his endless task of life.
The awful immortality of life!
The white path winding deathlessly to death!
Why didst thou call the rain from out her caves
To draw a dying earth back to the day?
Why fatten flocks for our dark feast, who sit
Beside the gate, and know where the path ends?
O pitiless gods -- that I am one of you!
They are not pitiless, since thou art here.
Who am I, that they give me, or withhold?
Think'st thou I am that same Persephone
They took from thee?
Within thine eyes I see
Some dreadful thing --
At first I deemed it so.
Loving thy doom, more dark thou mak'st it seem.
Love? What is love? This long time I've unlearned
Those old unquiet words. There where we sit,
By the sad river of the end, still are
The poplars, still the shaken hearts of men,
Or if they stir, it is as when in sleep
Dogs sob upon a phantom quarry's trail.
And ever through their listlessness there runs
The lust of some old anguish; never yet
Hath any asked for happiness: that gift
They fear too much! But they would sweat and strive,
And clear a field, or kill a man, or even
Wait on some long slow vengeance all their days.
Since I have sat upon the stone of sorrow,
Think'st thou I know not how the dead may feel?
But thou, look up; for thou shalt learn from me,
Under the sweet day, in the paths of men,
All the dear human offices that make
Their brief hour longer than the years of death.
Thou shalt behold me wake the sleeping seed,
And wing the flails upon the threshing-floor,
Among young men and maidens; or at dawn,
Under the low thatch, in the winnowing-creel,
Lay the new infant, seedling of some warm
Noon dalliance in the golden granary,
Who shall in turn rise, walk, and drive the plough,
And in the mortal furrow leave his seed.
Execrable offices are theirs and thine!
Mine only nurslings are the waxen-pale
Dead babes, so small that they are hard to tell
>From the little images their mothers lay
Beside them, that they may not sleep alone.
Yet other nurslings to those mothers come,
And live and love --
Thou hast not seen them meet,
Ghosts of dead babes and ghosts of tired men,
Or thou wouldst veil thy face, and curse the sun!
Thou wilt forget the things that thou hast seen.
More dreadful are the things thou hast to show.
Art thou so certain? Hard is it for men
To know a god, and it has come to me
That we, we also, may be blind to men.
O mother, thou hast spoken! But for me,
I, that have eaten of the seed of death,
And with my dead die daily, am become
Of their undying kindred, and no more
Can sit within the doorway of the gods
And laughing spin new souls along the years.
Daughter, speak low. Since I have walked with men
Olympus is a little hill, no more.
Stay with me on the dear and ample earth.
The kingdom of the dead is wider still,
And there I heal the wounds that thou hast made.
And yet I send thee beautiful ghosts and griefs!
Dispeopling earth, I leave thee none to rule.
O that, mine office ended, I might end!
Stand off from me. Thou knowest more than I,
Who am but the servant of some lonely will.
Perchance the same. But me it calls from hence.
On earth, on earth, thou wouldst have wounds to heal!
Free me. I hear the voices of my dead.
( after a long silence)
I hear the secret whisper of the wheat.