Peace hath an altar there. The sounding feet
Of thunder and the ’wildering wings of rain
Against fire-rifted summits flash and beat,
And through grey upper gorges swoop and strain;
But round that hallowed mountain-spring remain,
Year after year, the days of tender heat,
And gracious nights, whose lips with flowers are sweet,
And filtered lights, and lutes of soft refrain.
A still, bright pool. To men I may not tell
The secret that its heart of water knows,
The story of a loved and lost repose;
Yet this I say to cliff and close-leaved dell:
A fitful spirit haunts yon limpid well,
Whose likeness is the faithless face of Rose.
If Laura—lady of the flower-soft face—
Should light upon these verses, she may take
The tenderest line, and through its pulses trace
What man can suffer for a woman’s sake.
For in the nights that burn, the days that break,
A thin pale figure stands in Passion’s place,
And peace comes not, nor yet the perished grace
Of youth, to keep old faiths and fires awake.
Ah! marvellous maid. Life sobs, and sighing saith,
“She left me, fleeting like a fluttered dove;
But I would have a moment of her breath,
So I might taste the sweetest sense thereof,
And catch from blossoming, honeyed lips of love
Some faint, some fair, some dim, delicious death.”
By red-ripe mouth and brown, luxurious eyes
Of her I love, by all your sweetness shed
In far, fair days, on one whose memory flies
To faithless lights, and gracious speech gainsaid,
I pray you, when yon river-path I tread,
Make with the woodlands some soft compromise,
Lest they should vex me into fruitless sighs
With visions of a woman’s gleaming head!
For every green and golden-hearted thing
That gathers beauty in that shining place,
Beloved of beams and wooed by wind and wing,
Is rife with glimpses of her marvellous face;
And in the whispers of the lips of Spring
The music of her lute-like voice I trace.
What though his feet were shod with sharp, fierce flame,
And death and ruin were his daily squires,
The Scythian, helped by Heaven’s thunders, came:
The time was ripe for God’s avenging fires.
Lo! loose, lewd trulls, and lean, luxurious liars
Had brought the fair, fine face of Rome to shame,
And made her one with sins beyond a name—
That queenly daughter of imperial sires!
The blood of elders like the blood of sheep,
Was dashed across the circus. Once while din
And dust and lightnings, and a draggled heap
Of beast-slain men made lords with laughter leap,
Night fell, with rain. The earth, so sick of sin,
Had turned her face into the dark to weep.
Because a steadfast flame of clear intent
Gave force and beauty to full-actioned life;
Because his way was one of firm ascent,
Whose stepping-stones were hewn of change and strife;
Because as husband loveth noble wife
He loved fair Truth; because the thing he meant
To do, that thing he did, nor paused, nor bent
In face of poor and pale conclusions; yea!
Because of this, how fares the Leader dead?
What kind of mourners weep for him to-day?
What golden shroud is at his funeral spread?
Upon his brow what leaves of laurel, say?
About his breast is tied a sackcloth grey,
And knots of thorns deface his lordly head.
A handmaid to the genius of thy song
Is sweet, fair Scholarship. ’Tis she supplies
The fiery spirit of the passioned eyes
With subtle syllables, whose notes belong
To some chief source of perfect melodies;
And glancing through a laurelled, lordly throng
Of shining singers, lo! my vision flies
To William Shakespeare! He it is whose strong,
Full, flute-like music haunts thy stately verse.
A worthy Levite of his court thou art!
One sent among us to defeat the curse
That binds us to the Actual. Yea, thy part,
Oh, lute-voiced lover! is to lull the heart
Of love repelled, its darkness to disperse.
The Stanza of Childe Harold
Who framed the stanza of Childe Harold? He
It was who, halting on a stormy shore,
Knew well the lofty voice which evermore,
In grand distress, doth haunt the sleepless sea
With solemn sounds. And as each wave did roll
Till one came up, the mightiest of the whole,
To sweep and surge across the vacant lea,
Wild words were wedded to wild melody.
This poet must have had a speechless sense
Of some dead summer’s boundless affluence;
Else, whither can we trace the passioned lore
Of Beauty, steeping to the very core
His royal verse, and that rare light which lies
About it, like a sunset in the skies?
He knows the sweet vexation in the strife
Of Love with Time, this bard who fain would stray
To fairer place beyond the storms of life,
With astral faces near him day by day.
In deep-mossed dells the mellow waters flow
Which best he loves; for there the echoes, rife
With rich suggestions of his long ago,
Astarte, pass with thee! And, far away,
Dear southern seasons haunt the dreamy eye:
Spring, flower-zoned, and Summer, warbling low
In tasselled corn, alternate come and go,
While gypsy Autumn, splashed from heel to thigh
With vine-blood, treads the leaves; and, halting nigh,
Wild Winter bends across a beard of snow.
When lost Francesca sobbed her broken tale
Of love and sin and boundless agony,
While that wan spirit by her side did wail
And bite his lips for utter misery—
The grief which could not speak, nor hear, nor see—
So tender grew the superhuman face
Of one who listened, that a mighty trace
Of superhuman woe gave way, and pale
The sudden light up-struggled to its place;
While all his limbs began to faint and fail
With such excess of pity. But, behind,
The Roman Virgil stood—the calm, the wise—
With not a shadow in his regal eyes,
A stately type of all his stately kind.
Sometimes we feel so spent for want of rest,
We have no thought beyond. I know to-day,
When tired of bitter lips and dull delay
With faithless words, I cast mine eyes upon
The shadows of a distant mountain-crest,
And said “That hill must hide within its breast
Some secret glen secluded from the sun.
Oh, mother Nature! would that I could run
Outside to thee; and, like a wearied guest,
Half blind with lamps, and sick of feasting, lay
An aching head on thee. Then down the streams
The moon might swim, and I should feel her grace,
While soft winds blew the sorrows from my face,
So quiet in the fellowship of dreams.”
I cannot tell what change hath come to you
To vex your splendid hair. I only know
One grief. The passion left betwixt us two,
Like some forsaken watchfire, burneth low.
’Tis sad to turn and find it dying so,
Without a hope of resurrection! Yet,
O radiant face that found me tired and lone!
I shall not for the dear, dead past forget
The sweetest looks of all the summers gone.
Ah! time hath made familiar wild regret;
For now the leaves are white in last year’s bowers,
And now doth sob along the ruined leas
The homeless storm from saddened southern seas,
While March sits weeping over withered flowers.
The silvery dimness of a happy dream
I’ve known of late. Methought where Byron moans,
Like some wild gulf in melancholy zones,
I passed tear-blinded. Once a lurid gleam
Of stormy sunset loitered on the sea,
While, travelling troubled like a straitened stream,
The voice of Shelley died away from me.
Still sore at heart, I reached a lake-lit lea.
And then the green-mossed glades with many a grove,
Where lies the calm which Wordsworth used to love,
And, lastly, Locksley Hall, from whence did rise
A haunting song that blew and breathed and blew
With rare delights. ’Twas there I woke and knew
The sumptuous comfort left in drowsy eyes.