Artemis to Actaeon and Other Verse

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  • Part I -- 

  • LIFE 7
  • Part II -- 

  • GRIEF 47
  • Part III -- 

  • ORPHEUS 59
  • ALL SOULS 72
  • A GRAVE 81
  • NON DOLET! 83
  • USES 88
  • A MEETING 89
  • Page 59

    Part III




       Love will make men dare to die for their beloved. . . Of this Alcestis is a monument . . . for she was willing to lay down her life for her husband . . . and so noble did this appear to the gods that they granted her the privilege of returning to earth . . . but Orpheus, the son of OEagrus, they sent empty away. . . -- PLATO: The Symposium.

    ORPHEUS the Harper, coming to the gate
    Where the implacable dim warder sate,
    Besought for parley with a shade within,
    Dearer to him than life itself had been,
    Sweeter than sunlight on Illyrian sea,
    Or bloom of myrtle, or murmur of laden bee,
    Whom lately from his unconsenting breast
    The Fates, at some capricious blind behest,
    Intolerably had reft -- Eurydice,
    Dear to the sunlight as Illyrian sea,
    Sweet as the murmur of bees, or myrtle bloom --
    And uncompanioned led her to the tomb.

    There, solitary by the Stygian tide,
    Strayed her dear feet, the shadow of his own,
    Since, 'mid the desolate millions who have died,
    Each phantom walks its crowded path alone; 

    Page 60

    And there her head, that slept upon his breast,
    No more had such sweet harbour for its rest,
    Nor her swift ear from those disvoiced throats
    Could catch one echo of his living notes,
    And, dreaming nightly of her pallid doom,
    No solace had he of his own young bloom,
    But yearned to pour his blood into her veins
    And buy her back with unimagined pains.

    To whom the Shepherd of the Shadows said:
    "Yea, many thus would bargain for their dead;
    But when they hear my fatal gateway clang
    Life quivers in them with a last sweet pang.
    They see the smoke of home above the trees,
    The cordage whistles on the harbour breeze;
    The beaten path that wanders to the shore
    Grows dear because they shall not tread it more,
    The dog that drowsing on their threshold lies
    Looks at them with their childhood in his eyes,
    And in the sunset's melancholy fall
    They read a sunrise that shall give them all."

    "Not thus am I," the Harper smiled his scorn.
    "I see no path but those her feet have worn;
    My roof-tree is the shadow of her hair, 

    Page 61

    And the light breaking through her long despair
    The only sunrise that mine eyelids crave;
    For doubly dead without me in the grave
    Is she who, if my feet had gone before,
    Had found life dark as death's abhorred shore."

    The gate clanged on him, and he went his way
    Amid the alien millions, mute and grey,
    Swept like a cold mist down an unlit strand,
    Where nameless wreckage gluts the stealthy sand,
    Drift of the cockle-shells of hope and faith
    Wherein they foundered on the rock of death.

    So came he to the image that he sought
    (Less living than her semblance in his thought),
    Who, at the summons of his thrilling notes,
    Drew back to life as a drowned creature floats
    Back to the surface; yet no less is dead.
    And cold fear smote him till she spoke and said:
    "Art thou then come to lay thy lips on mine,
    And pour thy life's libation out like wine?
    Shall I, through thee, revisit earth again,
    Traverse the shining sea, the fruitful plain,
    Behold the house we dwelt in, lay my head
    Upon the happy pillows of our bed, 

    Page 62

    And feel in dreams the pressure of thine arms
    Kindle these pulses that no memory warms?
    Nay: give me for a space upon thy breast
    Death's shadowy substitute for rapture -- rest;
    Then join again the joyous living throng,
    And give me life, but give it in thy song;
    For only they that die themselves may give
    Life to the dead: and I would have thee live."

    Fear seized him closer than her arms; but he
    Answered: "Not so -- for thou shalt come with me!
    I sought thee not that we should part again,
    But that fresh joy should bud from the old pain;
    And the gods, if grudgingly their gifts they make,
    Yield all to them that without asking take."

    "The gods," she said, "(so runs life's ancient lore)
    Yield all man takes, but always claim their score.
    The iron wings of the Eumenides
    When heard far off seem but a summer breeze;
    But me thou'lt have alive on earth again
    Only by paying here my meed of pain.
    Then lay on my cold lips the tender ghost
    Of the dear kiss that used to warm them most,
    Take from my frozen hands thy hands of fire, 

    Page 63

    And of my heart-strings make thee a new lyre,
    That in thy music men may find my voice,
    And something of me still on earth rejoice."

    Shuddering he heard her, but with close-flung arm
    Swept her resisting through the ghostly swarm.
    "Swift, hide thee 'neath my cloak, that we may glide
    Past the dim warder as the gate swings wide."
    He whirled her with him, lighter than a leaf
    Unwittingly whirled onward by a brief
    Autumnal eddy; but when the fatal door
    Suddenly yielded him to life once more,
    And issuing to the all-consoling skies
    He turned to seek the sunlight in her eyes,
    He clutched at emptiness -- she was not there;
    And the dim warder answered to his prayer:
    "Only once have I seen the wonder wrought.
    But when Alcestis thus her master sought,
    Living she sought him not, nor dreamed that fate
    For any subterfuge would swing my gate.
    Loving, she gave herself to livid death,
    Joyous she bought his respite with her breath,
    Came, not embodied, but a tenuous shade,
    In whom her rapture a great radiance made.
    For never saw I ghost upon this shore 

    Page 64

    Shine with such living ecstasy before,
    Nor heard an exile from the light above
    Hail me with smiles: Thou art not Death but Love!

    "But when the gods, frustrated, this beheld,
    How, living still, among the dead she dwelled,
    Because she lived in him whose life she won,
    And her blood beat in his beneath the sun,
    They reasoned: 'When the bitter Stygian wave
    The sweetness of love's kisses cannot lave,
    When the pale flood of Lethe washes not
    From mortal mind one high immortal thought,
    Akin to us the earthly creature grows,
    Since nature suffers only what it knows.
    If she whom we to this grey desert banned
    Still dreams she treads with him the sunlit land
    That for his sake she left without a tear,
    Set wide the gates -- her being is not here.'

    "So ruled the gods; but thou, that sought'st to give
    Thy life for love, yet for thyself wouldst live.
    They know not for their kin; but back to earth
    Give, pitying, one that is of mortal birth."

    Humbled the Harper heard, and turned away,
    Mounting alone to the empoverished day; 

    Page 65

    Yet, as he left the Stygian shades behind,
    He heard the cordage on the harbour wind,
    Saw the blue smoke above the homestead trees,
    And in his hidden heart was glad of these.

    Page 66


    "canto" 1


    LEAGUERED in fire
    The wild black promontories of the coast extend
    Their savage silhouettes;
    The sun in universal carnage sets,
    And, halting higher,
    The motionless storm-clouds mass their sullen threats,
    Like an advancing mob in sword-points penned,
    That, balked, yet stands at bay.
    Mid-zenith hangs the fascinated day
    In wind-lustrated hollows crystalline,
    A wan Valkyrie whose wide pinions shine
    Across the ensanguined ruins of the fray,
    And in her hand swings high o'erhead,
    Above the waste of war,
    The silver torch-light of the evening star
    Wherewith to search the faces of the dead.

    Page 67

    "canto" 2


    Lagooned in gold,
    Seem not those jetty promontories rather
    The outposts of some ancient land forlorn,
    Uncomforted of morn,
    Where old oblivions gather,
    The melancholy unconsoling fold
    Of all things that go utterly to death
    And mix no more, no more
    With life's perpetually awakening breath?
    Shall Time not ferry me to such a shore,
    Over such sailless seas,
    To walk with hope's slain importunities
    In miserable marriage? Nay, shall not
    All things be there forgot,
    Save the sea's golden barrier and the black
    Close-crouching promontories?
    Dead to all shames, forgotten of all glories,
    Shall I not wander there, a shadow's shade,
    A spectre self-destroyed,
    So purged of all remembrance and sucked back
    Into the primal void,
    That should we on that shore phantasmal meet
    I should not know the coming of your feet?

    Page 68


    NOW the high holocaust of hours is done,
    And all the west empurpled with their death,
    How swift oblivion drinks the fallen sun,
    How little while the dusk remembereth!

    Though some there were, proud hours that marched in mail,
    And took the morning on auspicious crest,
    Crying to fortune "Back, for I prevail!" --
    Yet now they lie disfeatured with the rest;

    And some that stole so soft on destiny
    Methought they had surprised her to a smile;
    But these fled frozen when she turned to see,
    And moaned and muttered through my heart awhile.

    But now the day is emptied of them all,
    And night absorbs their life-blood at a draught;
    And so my life lies, as the gods let fall
    An empty cup from which their lips have quaffed.

    Page 69

    Yet see -- night is not . . . by translucent ways,
    Up the grey void of autumn afternoon
    Steals a mild crescent, charioted in haze,
    And all the air is merciful as June.

    The lake is a forgotten streak of day
    That trembles through the hemlocks' darkling bars,
    And still, my heart, still some divine delay
    Upon the threshold holds the earliest stars.

    O pale equivocal hour, whose suppliant feet
    Haunt the mute reaches of the sleeping wind,
    Art thou a watcher stealing to entreat
    Prayer and sepulture for thy fallen kind?

    Poor plaintive waif of a predestined race,
    Their ruin gapes for thee. Why linger here?
    Go hence in silence. Veil thine orphaned face,
    Lest I should look on it and call it dear.

    For if I love thee thou wilt sooner die;
    Some sudden ruin will plunge upon thy head,
    Midnight will fall from the revengeful sky
    And hurl thee down among thy shuddering dead.

    Page 70

    Avert thine eyes. Lapse softly from my sight,
    Call not my name, nor heed if thine I crave,
    So shalt thou sink through mitigated night
    And bathe thee in the all-effacing wave.

    But upward still thy perilous footsteps fare
    Along a high-hung heaven drenched in light,
    Dilating on a tide of crystal air
    That floods the dark hills to their utmost height.

    Strange hour, is this thy waning face that leans
    Out of mid-heaven and makes my soul its glass?
    What victory is imaged there? What means
    Thy tarrying smile? Oh, veil thy lips and pass.

    Nay . . . pause and let me name thee! For I see,
    O with what flooding ecstasy of light,
    Strange hour that wilt not loose thy hold on me,
    Thou'rt not day's latest, but the first of night!

    And after thee the gold-foot stars come thick,
    >From hand to hand they toss the flying fire,
    Till all the zenith with their dance is quick
    About the wheeling music of the Lyre.

    Page 71

    Dread hour that lead'st the immemorial round,
    With lifted torch revealing one by one
    The thronging splendours that the day held bound,
    And how each blue abyss enshrines its sun --

    Be thou the image of a thought that fares
    Forth from itself, and flings its ray ahead,
    Leaping the barriers of ephemeral cares,
    To where our lives are but the ages' tread,

    And let this year be, not the last of youth,
    But first -- like thee! -- of some new train of hours,
    If more remote from hope, yet nearer truth,
    And kin to the unpetitionable powers.

    Page 72


    "canto" 1


    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.

    "canto" 2


    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.

    Page 73

    "canto" 3


    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.

    "canto" 4


    And now 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.

    Page 74

    "canto" 5


    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,
    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."

    "canto" 6


    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.

    Page 75

    "canto" 7


    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, wee 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. . .

    Page 76


    ALL so grave and shining see they come
    From the blissful ranks of the forgiven,
    Though so distant wheels the nearest crystal dome,
    And the spheres are seven.

    Are you in such haste to come to earth,
    Shining ones, the Wonder on your brow,
    To the low poor places of your birth,
    And the day that must be darkness now?

    Does the heart still crave the spot it yearned on
    In the grey and mortal years,
    The pure flame the smoky hearth it burned on,
    The clear eye its tears?

    Was there, in the narrow range of living,
    After all the wider scope?
    In the old old rapture of forgiving,
    In the long long flight of hope?

    Page 77

    Come you, from free sweep across the spaces,
    To the irksome bounds of mortal law,
    From the all-embracing Vision, to some face's
    Look that never saw?

    Never we, imprisoned here, had sought you,
    Lured you with the ancient bait of pain,
    Down the silver current of the light-years brought you
    To the beaten round again --

    Is it you, perchance, who ache to strain us
    Dumbly to the dim transfigured breast,
    Or with tragic gesture would detain us
    From the age-long search for rest?

    Is the labour then more glorious than the laurel,
    The learning than the conquered thought?
    Is the meed of men the righteous quarrel,
    Not the justice wrought?

    Long ago we guessed it, faithful ghosts,
    Proudly chose the present for our scene,
    And sent out indomitable hosts
    Day by day to widen our demesne.

    Page 78

    Sit you by our hearth-stone, lone immortals,
    Share again the bitter wine of life!
    Well we know, beyond the peaceful portals
    There is nothing better than our strife,

    Nought more thrilling than the cry that calls us,
    Spent and stumbling, to the conflict vain,
    After each disaster that befalls us
    Nerves us for a sterner strain.

    And, when flood or foeman shakes the sleeper
    In his moment's lapse from pain,
    Bids us fold our tents, and flee our kin, and deeper
    Drive into the wilderness again.

    Page 79


    BEFORE the clepsydra had bound the days
    Man tethered Change to his fixed star, and said:
    "The elder races, that long since are dead,
    Marched by that light; it swerves not from its base
    Though all the worlds about it wax and fade."

    When Egypt saw it, fast in reeling spheres,
    Her Pyramids shaft-centred on its ray
    She reared and said: "Long as this star holds sway
    In uninvaded ether, shall the years
    Revere my monuments -- " and went her way.

    The Pyramids abide; but through the shaft
    That held the polar pivot, eye to eye,
    Look now -- blank nothingness! As though Change laughed
    At man's presumption and his puny craft,
    The star has slipped its leash and roams the sky.

    Yet could the immemorial piles be swung
    A skyey hair's-breadth from their rooted base,
    Back to the central anchorage of space,
    Ah, then again, as when the race was young,
    Should they behold the beacon of the race!

    Page 80

    Of old, men said: "The Truth is there: we rear
    Our faith full-centred on it. It was known
    Thus of the elders who foreran us here,
    Mapped out its circuit in the shifting sphere,
    And found it, 'mid mutation, fixed alone."

    Change laughs again, again the sky is cold,
    And down that fissure now no star-beam glides.
    Yet they whose sweep of vision grows not old
    Still at the central point of space behold
    Another pole-star: for the Truth abides.

    Page 81


    THOUGH life should come
    With all its marshalled honours, trump and drum,
    To proffer you the captaincy of some
    Resounding exploit, that shall fill
    Man's pulses with commemorative thrill,
    And be a banner to far battle days
    For truths unrisen upon untrod ways,
    What would your answer be,
    O heart once brave?
    Seek otherwhere; for me,
    I watch beside a grave.

    Though to some shining festival of thought
    The sages call you from steep citadel
    Of bastioned argument, whose rampart gained
    Yields the pure vision passionately sought,
    In dreams known well,
    But never yet in wakefulness attained,
    How should you answer to their summons, save:
    I watch beside a grave?

    Page 82

    Though Beauty, from her fane within the soul
    Of fire-tongued seers descending,
    Or from the dream-lit temples of the past
    With feet immortal wending,
    Illuminate grief's antre swart and vast
    With half-veiled face that promises the whole
    To him who holds her fast,
    What answer could you give?
    Sight of one face I crave,
    One only while I live;
    Woo elsewhere; for I watch beside a grave.

    Though love of the one heart that loves you best,
    A storm-tossed messenger,
    Should beat its wings for shelter in your breast,
    Where clung its last year's nest,
    The nest you built together and made fast
    Lest envious winds should stir,
    And winged each delicate thought to minister
    With sweetness far-amassed
    To the young dreams within --
    What answer could it win?
    The nest was whelmed in sorrow's rising wave,
    Nor could I reach one drowning dream to save;
    I watch beside a grave.

    Page 83


    AGE after age the fruit of knowledge falls
    To ashes on men's lips;
    Love fails, faith sickens, like a dying tree
    Life sheds its dreams that no new spring recalls;
    The longed-for ships
    Come empty home or founder on the deep,
    And eyes first lose their tears and then their sleep.

    So weary a world it lies, forlorn of day,
    And yet not wholly dark,
    Since evermore some soul that missed the mark
    Calls back to those agrope
    In the mad maze of hope,
    "Courage, my brothers -- I have found the way!"

    The day is lost? What then?
    What though the straggling rear-guard of the fight
    Be whelmed in fear and night,
    And the flying scouts proclaim
    That death has gripped the van --
    Ever the heart of man
    Cheers on the hearts of men!

    Page 84

    "It hurts not!" dying cried the Roman wife;
    And one by one
    The leaders in the strife
    Fall on the blade of failure and exclaim:
    "The day is won!"

    Page 85


    HUNTERS, where does Hope nest?
    Not in the half-oped breast,
    Nor the young rose,
    Nor April sunrise -- those
    With a quick wing she brushes,
    The wide world through,
    Greets with the throat of thrushes,
    Fades from as fast as dew.

    But, would you spy her sleeping,
    Cradled warm,
    Look in the breast of weeping,
    The tree stript by storm;
    But, would you bind her fast,
    Yours at last,
    Bed-mate and lover,
    Gain the last headland bare
    That the cold tides cover,
    There may you capture her, there,
    Where the sea gives to the ground
    Only the drift of the drowned.

    Page 86

    Yet, if she slips you, once found,
    Push to her uttermost lair
    In the low house of despair.
    There will she watch by your head,
    Sing to you till you be dead,
    Then, with your child in her breast,
    In another heart build a new nest.

    Page 87


    WHEN you and I, like all things kind or cruel,
    The garnered days and light evasive hours,
    Are gone again to be a part of flowers
    And tears and tides, in life's divine renewal,

    If some grey eve to certain eyes should wear
    A deeper radiance than mere light can give,
    Some silent page abruptly flush and live,
    May it not be that you and I are there?

    Page 88


    AH, from the niggard tree of Time
    How quickly fall the hours!
    It needs no touch of wind or rime
    To loose such facile flowers.

    Drift of the dead year's harvesting,
    They clog to-morrow's way,
    Yet serve to shelter growths of spring
    Beneath their warm decay,

    Or, blent by pious hands with rare
    Sweet savours of content,
    Surprise the soul's December air
    With June's forgotten scent.

    Page 89


    ON a sheer peak of joy we meet;
    Below us hums the abyss;
    Death either way allures our feet
    If we take one step amiss.

    One moment let us drink the blue
    Transcendent air together --
    Then down where the same old work's to do
    In the same dull daily weather.

    We may not wait . . . yet look below!
    How part? On this keen ridge
    But one may pass. They call you -- go!
    My life shall be your bridge.

    Page 90


        -- Vesalius, the great anatomist, studied at Louvain and Paris, and was called by Venice to the chair of surgery in the University of Padua. He was one of the first physiologists to dissect the human body, and his great work "The Structure of the Human Body" was an open attack on the physiology of Galen. The book excited such violent opposition, not only in the Church but in the University, that in a fit of discouragement he burned his remaining manuscripts and accepted the post of physician at the Court of Charles V., and afterward of his son, Philip II, of Spain. This closed his life of free enquiry, for the Inquisition forbade all scientific research, and the dissection of corpses was prohibited in Spain. Vesalius led for many years the life of the rich and successful court physician, but regrets for his past were never wholly extinguished, and in 1561 they were roused afresh by the reading of an anatomical treatise by Gabriel Fallopius, his successor in the chair at Padua. From that moment life in Spain became intolerable to Vesalius, and in 1563 he set out for the East. Tradition reports that this journey was a penance to which the Church condemned him for having opened the body of a woman before she was actually dead; but more probably Vesalius, sick of his long servitude, made the pilgrimage a pretext to escape from Spain.

       Fallopius had meanwhile died, and the Venetian Senate is said to have offered Vesalius his old chair; but on the way home from Jerusalem he was seized with illness, and died at Zante in 1564.