The Earthly Paradise

Text of The Earthly Pradise I, Autumn:

OCTOBER

127

   The Story of Accontius and Cydippe

134

   The Man Who Never Laughed Again

172

 

OCTOBER.

[127] O LOVE, turn from the unchanging sea, and gaze
Down these grey slopes upon the year grown old,
A-dying mid the autumn-scented haze,
That hangeth o’er the hollow in the wold,
Where the wind-bitten ancient elms infold
5

Grey church, long barn, orchard, and red-roofed stead,
Wrought in dead days for men a long while dead.

   Come down, O love; may not our hands still meet,
Since still we live to-day, forgetting June,
Forgetting May, deeming October sweet—
10

—O hearken, hearken! through the afternoon,
The grey tower sings a strange old tinkling tune!
Sweet, sweet, and sad, the toiling year's last breath,
Too satiate of life to strive with death.

   And we too—will it not be soft and kind,
15

That rest from life, from patience and from pain,
That rest from bliss we know not when we find,
That rest from Love which ne’er the end can gain?—
—Hark, how the tune swells, that erewhile did wane!
Look up, love!—ah, cling close and never move!
20

How can I have enough of life and love?

 

[128] OCTOBER drew our elders to a house,
That mid the tangled vines, and clamorous
Glad vintagers, stood calm, slim-pillared, white,
As though it fain would hide away from sight
The joy that through the sad lost autumn rung.
5

As hot the day was, as when summer hung,
With worn feet, on the last step of July,
Ashamed to cast its flowery raiment by:
Round the old men the white porch-pillars stood,
Gold-stained, as with the sun, streaked as with blood,
10

Blood of the earth, at least, and to and fro
Before them did the high-girt maidens go,
Eager, bright-eyed, and careless of tomorn;
And young men with them, nowise made forlorn
By love and autumn tide; and in nowise
15

Content to pray for love with hopeless eyes,
Close lips, and timid hands; rather, indeed,
Lest youth and life should fail them at their need,
At what light joyous semblance of him ran
Amidst the vines, ’twixt eyes of maid and man,
20

Wilfully blind they caught. But now at last,
As in the apple-gathering tide late past,
So would the elders do now; in a while,
He who should tell the tale, with a grave smile,
And eyes fixed on the fairest damsel there,
25

Began to say: "Ye blithe folk well might bear
To hearken to a sad tale, yet to-day
No heart I have to cast all hope away
From out my history: so be warned hereby,
Nor wait unto the end, deliciously
30

To nurse your pity; for the end is good
And peaceful, howso buffeting and rude
Winds, waves, and men were, ere the end was done."

   The sweet eyes that his eyes were set upon
Were hid by shamefast lids as he did speak,
35

[129] And redder colour burned on her fresh cheek,
And her lips smiled, as, with a half-sad sigh,
He ’gan to tell this lovesome history.

 

THE STORY OF ACCONTIUS AND CYDIPPE.

ARGUMENT.

[134] A CERTAIN man coming to Delos beheld a noble damsel there, and was smitten with the love of her, and made all things of no account but the winning of her, which at last he brought about in strange wise.

A CERTAIN island-man of old,
Well fashioned, young, and wise and bold,
Voyaged awhile in Greekish seas,
Till Delos of the Cyclades
His keel made, and ashore he went;
5

And, wandering with no fixed intent,
With others of the shipmen there,
They came into a garden fair,
Too sweet for sea-tossed men, I deem,
If they would scape the lovesome dream
10

That youth and May cast o’er the earth,
If they would keep their careless mirth
For hands of eld to deal withal.

So in that close did it befall
That ’neath the trees well wrought of May
15

These sat amidmost of the day
Not dry-lipped, and belike a-strain,
All gifts of that sweet time to gain,
[135] And yet not finding all enow
That at their feet the May did throw,
20

But longing, half-expecting still
Some new delight their cup to fill—
Yea, overfill, to make all strange
Their lazy joy with piercing change.
Therewith their youngest, even he
25

I told of first, all suddenly
’Gan sing a song that fitted well
The thoughts that each man's heart did tell
Unto itself, and as his throat
Moved with the music, did he note
30

Through half-shut eyes a company
Of white-armed maidens drawing nigh,
Well marshalled, as if there they went
Upon some serious work intent.

SONG.

FAIR is the night and fair the day,
35

Now April is forgot of May,
Now into June May falls away;
Fair day, fair night, O give me back
The tide that all fair things did lack
Except my love, except my sweet!
40

   Blow back, O wind! thou art not kind,
Though thou art sweet; thou hast no mind
Her hair about my sweet to wind;
O flowery sward, though thou art bright,
I praise thee not for thy delight,
45

Thou hast not kissed her silver feet.

   Thou know’st her not, O rustling tree,
What dost thou then to shadow me,
Whose shade her breast did never see?
O flowers, in vain ye bow adown!
50

Ye have not felt her odorous gown
Brush past your heads my lips to meet.

   [136] Flow on, great river—thou mayst deem
That far away, a summer stream,
Thou sawest her limbs amidst thee gleam,
55

And kissed her foot, and kissed her knee,
Yet get thee swift unto the sea!
With nought of true thou wilt me greet.

   And thou that men call by my name,
O helpless one, hast thou no shame
60

That thou must even look the same,
As while agone, as while agone,
When thou and she were left alone,
And hands, and lips, and tears did meet?

   Grow weak and pine, lie down to die,
65

O body in thy misery,,
Because short time and sweet goes by;

O foolish heart, how weak thou art!
Break, break, because thou needs must part
From thine own love, from thine own sweet!
 
70

   What was it that through half-shut eyes
Pierced to his heart, and made him rise
As one the July storm awakes
When through the dawn the thunder breaks?
What was it that the languor clove,
75

Wherewith unhurt he sang of love?
How was it that his eyes had caught
Her eyes alone of all; that nought
The others were but images,
While she, while she amidst of these
80

Not first or last—when she was gone,
Why must he feel so left alone?
An image in his heart there was
Of how amidst them one did pass
Kind-eyed and soft, and looked at him;
85

And now the world was waxen dim
About him, and of little worth,
Seemed all the wondrous things of earth,
[137] And fain would he be all alone,
To wonder why his mirth was gone;
90

To wonder why it seemed so strange
That in nought else was any change,
When his old life seemed passed away,
And joy in narrow compass lay,
He scarce knew where. With laugh and song
95

His fellows mocked the dim world's wrong,
Nor noted him as changed o’ermuch;
Or if their jests his mood did touch,
To his great wonder lightly they
By stammering word were turned away.
100

   Well, from the close they went at last,
And through the noble town they passed,
And saw the wonders wrought of old
Therein, and heard famed stories told
Of many a thing; and as a dream
105

Did all things to Accontius seem.
But when night's wings came o’er that place,
And men slept, piteous seemed his case
And wonderful, that therewithal
Night helped him not. From wall to wall
110

Night-long his weary eyes he turned,
Till in the east the daylight burned.
And then the pang he would not name,
Stung by the world's change, fiercer came
Across him, and in haste he rose,
115

Driven unto that flowery close
By restless longing, knowing not
What part therein his heart had got,
Nor why he thitherward must wend.

   [138] And now had night's last hope an end,
120

When to the garden-gate he came.
In grey light did the tulip flame
Over the sward made grey with dew,
And as unto the place he drew
Where yesterday he sang that song
125

The ousel-cock sang sweet and strong,
Though almost ere the sky grew grey
Had he begun to greet the day.
There now, as by some strong spell bound,
Accontius paced that spot of ground,
130

Restless, with wild thoughts in his head;
While round about the white-thorn shed
Sweet fragrance, and the lovely place,
Lonely of mankind, lacked no grace
That love for his own home would have.
135

Well sang the birds, the light wind drave
Through the fresh leaves, untouched as yet
By summer and its vain regret;
Well piped the wind, and as it swept
The garden through, no sweet thing slept,
140

Nor might the scent of blossoms hide
The fresh smell of the country side
It bore with it; and the green bay,
Whose breast it kissed so far away,
Spake sometimes yet amid the noise
145

Of rustling leaves and song-birds' voice.

   So there awhile our man did pace,
Still wondering at his piteous case
That, certes, not to anyone
Had happed before—awhile agone
150

So pleased to watch the world pass by
With all its changing imagery;
So hot to play his part therein,
From each day's death good life to win;
And now, with a great sigh, he saw
155

The yellow level sunbeams draw
Across the wet grass, as the sun
First smote the trees, and day begun
Smiled on the world, whose summer bliss
[139] In nowise seemed to better his.
160

Then, as he thought thereof, he said:
"Surely all wisdom is clean dead
Within me. Nought I lack that I,
By striving, may not come anigh
Among the things that men desire;
165

And why, then, like a burnt-out fire,
Is my life grown?" E’en as he spoke
A throstle-cock beside him broke
Into the sweetest of his song,
Yet with his sweet note seemed to wrong
170

The unknown trouble of that morn,
And made him feel yet more forlorn.
Then he cried out, "O fool, go forth!
The world is grown of no less worth
Than yester-morn it was; go then
175

And play thy part among brave men
As thou hadst will to do before
Thy feet first touched this charmed shore
Where all is changed." But now the bird
Flew from beside him, and he heard
180

A rustling nigh, although the breeze
Had died out mid the thick-leaved trees.
Therewith he raised his eyes and turned,
And a great fire within him burned,
And his heart stopped awhile, for there,
185

Against a flowering thorn-bush fair,
Hidden by tulips to the knee,
His heart's desire his eyes did see.
Clad was she e’en as is the dove,
Who makes the summer sad with love;
190

High-girded as one hastening
In swift search for some longed-for thing;
Her hair drawn by a silken band
From her white neck, and in her hand
A myrtle-spray. Panting she was
195

[140] As from the daisies of the grass
She raised her eyes, and looked around
Till the astonished eyes she found
That saw not aught but even her.

   There in a silence hard to bear,
200

Impossible to break, they stood,
With faces changed by love, and blood
So stirred, that many a year of life
Had been made eager with that strife
Of minutes; and so nigh she was
205

He saw the little blue veins pass
Over her heaving breast; and she
The trembling of his lips might see,
The rising tears within his eyes.

   Then standing there in mazed wise
210

He saw the black-heart tulips bow
Before her knees, as wavering now
A half-step unto him she made.
With a glad cry, though half afraid,
He stretched his arms out, and the twain,
215

E’en at the birth of love's great pain,
Each unto each-so nigh were grown,
That little lacked to make them one—
That little lacked but they should be
Wedded that hour; knee touching knee,
220

Cheek laid to cheek. So seldom fare
Love's tales, that men are wise to dare;
Rather, dull hours must pass away,
And heavy day succeed to day,
And much be changed by misery,
225

Ere two that love may draw anigh-
And so with these. What fear or shame
’Twixt longing heart and body came
’T were hard to tell—they lingered yet.
Well-nigh they deemed that they had met,
230

And that the worst was o’er; e’en then
There drew anigh the sound of men—
Loud laugh, harsh talk. With ill surprise ,
He saw fear change her lovesome eyes;
He knew her heart bethought it now
235

[141] Of other folk, and ills that grow
From overmuch of love; but he
Cried out amidst his agony,
Yet stood there helpless, and withal
A mist across his eyes did fall,
240

And all seemed lost indeed, as now
Slim tulip-stem and hawthorn-bough
Slipped rustling back into their place,
And all the glory of her face
Had left the world, at least awhile,
245

And once more all was base and vile.

   And yet, indeed, when that sharp pain
Was something dulled, and once again
Thought helped him, then to him it seemed
That she had dreamed as he had dreamed,
250

And, hoping not for any sight
Of love, had come made soft by night,
Made kind by longings unconfessed,
To give him good hope of the best.
Then pity came to help his love,
255

For now, indeed, he knew whereof
He sickened; pity came, and then
The fear of the rough sons of men,
Sore hate of things that needs must part
The loving heart from loving heart;
260

And at each turn it seemed as though
Fate some huge net round both did throw
To stay their feet and dim their sight
Till they were clutched by endless night;
And then he fain had torn his hair,
265

And cried aloud in his despair,
But stayed himself as still he thought
How even that should help him nought,
That helpless patience needs must be
His loathed fellow. Wearily
270

He got him then from out the place,
Made lovely by her scarce-seen face,
And knew that day what longing meant.

   But when the restless daylight went
From earth's face, through the weary night
275

[142] He lay again in just such plight
As on the last night he had lain;
But deemed that he would go again
At daylight to that place of flowers.
So passed the night through all its hours,
280

But ere the dawn came, weak and worn
He fell asleep, nor woke that morn
Till all the city was astir;
And waking must he think of her
Stolen to that place to find, to find him not—
285

Her parted lips, her face flushed hot,
Her panting breast and girt-up gown,
Her sleeve ill-fastened, fallen adown
From one white shoulder, her grey eyes
Fixed in their misery of surprise,
290

As nought they saw but birds and trees;
Her woeful lingering, as the breeze
Died ’neath the growing sun, and folk
Fresh silence of the morning broke;
And then, the death of hope confessed,
295

The quivering lip and heaving breast,
The burst of tears, the homeward way
Made hateful by joy past away,
The dreary day made dull and long
By hope deferred and gathering wrong.
300

All this for him!—and thinking thus
Their twinlife seemed so piteous
That all his manhood from him fled,
And cast adown upon the bed
He sobbed and wept full sore, until
305

When he of grief had had his fill
He ’gan to think that he might see
His love, and cure her misery
If she should be in that same place
At that same hour when first her face
310

Shone on him. So time wore away
Till on the world the high noon lay,
And then at the due place he stood,
Wondering amid his love-sick mood
Which blades of grass her foot had bent;
315

[143] And there, as to and fro he went,
A certain man who seemed to be
A fisher on the troubled sea,
An old man and a poor, came nigh
And greeted him and said: "Hereby
320

Thou doest well to stand, my son,
Since thy stay here will soon be done,
If of that ship of Crete thou be,
As well I deem. Here shalt thou see
Each day at noon a company
325

Of all our fairest maids draw nigh;
To such an one each day they go
As best can tell them how to do
In serving of the dreadful queen,
Whose servant long years bath she been,
330

And dwelleth by her chapel fair
Within this close; they shall be here,
E’en while I speak. Wot well, fair son,
Good need it is this should be done,
For whatso hasty word is said
335

That day unto the moon-crowned maid,
For such an oath is held, as though
The whole heart into it did go—
Behold, they come! A goodly sight
Shalt thou have seen, e’en if to-night
340

Thou diest!" Grew Accontius wan
As the sea-cliffs, for the old man
Now pointed to the gate, wherethrough
The company of maidens drew
Toward where they stood; Accontius,
345

With trembling lips, and piteous
Drawn brow, turned toward them, and afar
[144] Beheld her like the morning-star
Amid the weary stars of night.
Midmost the band went his delight,
350

Clad in a gown of blue, whereon
Were wrought fresh flowers, as newly won
From the May fields; with one hand she
Touched a fair fellow lovingly,
The other, hung adown, did hold
355

An ivory harp well strung with gold;
Gaily she went, nor seemed as though
One troublous thought her heart did know.
Accontius sickened as she came
Anigh him, and with heart aflame
360

For very rage of jealousy,
He heard her talking merrily
Unto her fellow—the first word
From those sweet lips he yet had heard,
Nor might he know what thing she said;
365

Yet presently she turned her head
And saw him, and her talk she stopped
E’en therewith, and her lips down dropped,
And trembling amid love and shame
Over her face a bright flush came;
370

Nathless without another look
She passed him by, whose whole frame shook
With passion as an aspen leaf.
But she being gone, all blind with grief,
He stood there long, and muttered: "Why
375

Would she not note my misery?
Had it been then so hard to turn
And show me that her heart did yearn
For something nigher like mine own?
O well content to leave me lone,
380

O well content to stand apart,
And nurse a pleasure in thine heart,
The joy of being so well beloved,
Still taking care thou art not moved
By aught like trouble!—yet beware,
385

For thou mayst fall for all thy care!"

   So from the place he turned away;
[145] Some secret spell he deemed there lay,
Some bar unseen athwart that grass,
O’er which his feet might never pass
390

Whatso his heart bade. Hour by hour
Passed of the day, and ever slower
They seemed to pass, and ever he
Thought of her last look wearily—
Now meant it that, now meant it this;
395

Now bliss, and now the death of bliss.
'But O, if once again,' he thought,
'Face unto face we might be brought,
Then doubt I not but I should read
What at her hands would be my meed,
400

And in such wise my life would guide;
Either the weary end to bide
E’en as I might, or strengthen me
To take the sweet felicity,
Casting by thought of fear or death—
405

But now when I must hold my breath,
Who knows how long, while scale mocks scale
With trembling joy, and trembling bale
O hard to bear! O hard to bear!'

   So spake he, knowing bitter fear
410

And hopeful longing's sharp distress,
But not the weight of hopelessness.

   And now there passed by three days more,
And to the flowery place that bore
The sharp and sweet of his desire
415

Each day he went, his heart afire
With foolish hope. Each day he saw
The band of damsels toward him draw,
And trembling said, "Now, now at last
Surely her white arms will be cast
420

About my neck before them all;
Or at the worst her eyes will call
My feet to follow. Can it be
That she can bear my misery,
When of my heart she surely knows?"
425

And every day midmost the close
They met, and on the first day she
[146] Did look upon him furtively
In loving wise; and through his heart
Love sent a pleasure-pointed dart—
430

A minute, and away she went,
And left him nowise more content
Than erst he had been. The next day
Needs must she flush and turn away
Before their eyes met, and he stood
435

When she was gone in wretched mood,
Faint with desire. The third hope came,
And then his hungry eyes, aflame
With longing wild, beheld her pass
As though amidst a dream she was;
440

Then e’en ere she had left the place
With his clenched hand he smote his face,
And void of everything but pain,
Through the thronged streets the sea did gain,
Not recking aught, and there at last
445

His body on the sand he cast,
Nigh the green waves, till in the end
Some thought the crushing cloud did rend,
And down the tears 'rushed from his eyes
For ruth of his own miseries;
450

And with the tears came thought again
To mingle with his formless pain
And hope withal—but yet more fear,
For he bethought him now that near
The time drew for his ship to sail.
455

Yet was the thought of some avail
To heal the unreason of his 'heart,
For now he needs must play a part
Wherein was something to be done,
If he would not be left alone
460

Life-long, with love unsatisfied.

   So now he rose, and looking wide
Along the edges of the bay,
Saw where his fellows’ tall ship lay
Anigh the haven, and a boat
465

’Twixt shore and ship-side did there float
With balanced oars; but on the shroud
[147] A shipman stood, and shouted loud
Unto the boat—words lost, in sooth,
But which no less the trembling youth
470

Deemed certainly of him must be
And where he was; then suddenly
He turned, though none pursued, and fled
Along the sands, nor turned his head
Till round a headland he did reach
475

A long cove with a sandy beach;
Then looking landward he saw where
A streamlet cleft the sea-cliffs bare,
Making a little valley green,
Beset with thorn-trees; and between
480

The yellow strand and cliff's grey brow
Was built a cottage white and low
Within a little close, upon
The green slope that the stream had won
From rock and sea; and thereby stood
485

A fisher, whose grey homespun hood
Covered white locks: so presently
Accontius to that man drew nigh,
Because he seemed the man to be
Who told of that fair company,
490

Deeming that more might there be learned
About the flame wherewith he burned.

   Withal he found it even so,
And that the old man him did know,
And greeted him, and fell to talk,
495

As such folk will of things that balk
The poor man's fortune, waves and winds,
And changing days and great men's minds;
And at the last it so befell
That this Accontius came to tell
500

A tale unto the man—how he
Was fain to ’scape the uneasy sea,
And those his fellows, and would give
Gold unto him, that he might live
In hiding there, till they had sailed.
505

Not strange it was if he prevailed
In few words, though the elder smiled
[148] As not all utterly beguiled,
Nor curious therewithal to know
Such things as he cared not to show.
510

   So there alone a while he dwelt,
And lonely there, all torment felt,
As still his longing grew and grew;
And ever as hot noontide drew
From dewy dawn and sunny morn,
515

He felt himself the most forlorn;
For then the best he pictured her:

   "Now the noon wind, the scent-bearer
Is busy midst her gown," he said,
"The fresh-plucked flowers about her head
520

Are drooping now with their desire;
The grass with unconsuming fire
Faints ’neath the pressure of her feet;
The honey-bees her lips would meet,
But fail for fear; the swift's bright eyes
525

Are eager round the mysteries
Of the fair hidden fragrant breast,
Where now alone may I know rest—
—Ah pity me, thou pityless!
Bless me who know’st not how to bless;
530

Fall from thy height, thou highest of all,
On me a very wretch to call!
Thou, to whom all things fate doth give,
Find without me thou canst not live!
Desire me, O thou world's desire,
535

Light thy pure heart at this base fire!
Save me, save me, thou knowest nought,
Of whom thou never hadst a thought!
O queen of all the world, stoop down,
Before my feet cast thou thy crown!
540

Speak to me, as I speak to thee!"

   He walked beside the summer sea
As thus he spake, at eventide;
[149] Across the waste of waters wide;
The dead sun's light a wonder cast,
545

That into grey night faded fast;
And ever as the shadows fell,
More formless grew the unbreaking swell
Far out to sea; more strange and white,
More vocal through the hushing night,
550

The narrow line of changing foam,
That ’twixt the sand and fishes’ home
Writhed, driven onward by the tide—
—So slowly by the ocean's side
He paced, till dreamy passion grew;
555

The soft wind o’er the sea that blew,
Dried the cold tears upon his face,
Kindly if sad seemed that lone place,
Yea, in a while it scarce seemed lone,
When now at last the white moon shone
560

Upon the sea, and showed that still
It quivered, though a moveless hill
A little while ago it seemed.

   So, turning homeward now, he dreamed
Of many a help and miracle,
565

That in the olden time befell
Unto love's servants; e’en when he
Had clomb the hill anigh the sea,
And reached the hut now litten bright,
Not utterly with food and light
570

And common talk his dream passed by.
Yea, and with all this, presently
’Gan tell the old man when it was
That the great feast should come to pass
Unto Diana: Yea, and then
575

He, among all the sons of men,
E’en of that very love must speak;
Then grew Accontius faint and weak,
And his mouth twitched, and tears began
[150] To pain his eyes; for the old man,
580

As one possessed, went on to tell
Of all the loveliness that well
Accontius wotted of, and now
For the first time he came to know
What name among her folk she had,
585

And, half in cruel pain, half glad,
He heard the old man say: "Indeed
This sweet Cydippe bath great need
Of one to save her life from woe,
Because or ere the brook shall flow
590

Narrow with August ’twixt its banks,
Her folk, to win Diana's thanks,
Shall make her hers, and she shall be
Honoured of all folk certainly,
But unwed, shrunk as time goes on
595

Into a sour-hearted crone."

   Accontius ’gan the room to pace
Ere he had done; with curious face
The old man gazed, but uttered nought;
Then in his heart Accontius thought,
600

"Ah when her image passeth by
Like a sweet breath, the blinded eye
Gains sight, the deaf man heareth well,
The dumb man lovesome tales can tell,
Hopes dead for long rise from their tombs,
605

The barren like a garden blooms;
And I alone—I sit and wait,
With deedless hands, on black-winged fate."

   And so, when men had done with day,
Sleepless upon his bed he lay,
610

[151] Striving to think if aught might move
Hard fate to give him his own love;
And thought of what would do belike,
And said, "Tomorrow will I strike
Before the iron groweth dull."
615

And so, with mind of strange things full,
Just at the dawn he fell asleep,
Yet as the shadows ’gan to creep
Up the long slope before the sun,
His blinking, troubled sleep was done;
620

And with a start he sat upright,
Now deeming that the glowing light
Was autumn's very sun, that all
Of ill had happed that could befall;
Yet fully waked up at the last,
625

From out the cottage-door he passed,
And saw how the old fisherman
His coble through the low surf ran
And shouted greeting from the sea;
Then ’neath an ancient apple-tree,
630

That on the little grassy slope
Stood speckled with the autumn's hope
He cast him down, and slept again;
And sleeping dreamed about his pain,
Yet in the same place seemed to be,
635

Beneath the ancient apple-tree.
So in his dream he heard a sound
Of singing fill the air around,
And yet saw nought; till in a while
The twinkling sea's uncounted smile
640

Was hidden by a rosy cloud,
That seemed some wondrous thing to shroud,
For in its midst a bright spot grew
Brighter and brighter, and still drew
Unto Accontius, till at last
645

A woman from amidst it passed,
And, wonderful in nakedness,
With rosy feet the grass did press,
[152] And drew anigh; he durst not move
Or speak, because the Queen of Love
650

He deemed he knew; she smiled on him,
And, even as his dream waxed dim,
Upon the tree-trunk gnarled and grey
A slim hand for a while did lay;
Then all waxed dark, and then once more
655

He lay there as he lay before,
But all burnt up the green-sward was,
And songless did the throstle pass
’Twixt dark green leaf and golden fruit,
And at the old tree's knotted root
660

The basket of the gatherer
Lay, as though autumn-tide were there.
Then in his dream he thought he strove
To speak that sweet name of his love
Late learned, but could not; for away
665

Sleep passed, and now in sooth he lay
Awake within the shadow sweet,
The sunlight creeping o’er his feet.

   Then he arose to think upon
The plans that he from night had won,
670

And still in each day found a flaw
That night's half-dreaming eyes ne’er saw,
And far away all good hope seemed,
And the strange dream he late had dreamed
Of no account he made, but thought
675

That it had come and gone for nought.

   And now the time went by till he
Knew that his keel had put to sea,
Yet after that a day or two
He waited, ere he dared to do
680

The thing he longed for most, and meet
His love within the garden sweet.
He saw her there, he saw a smile
The paleness of her face beguile
[153] Before she saw him; then his heart
685

With pity and remorse ’gan smart;
But when at last she turned her head,
And he beheld the bright flush spread
Over her face, and once again
The pallor come, ’twixt joy and pain
690

His heart was torn; he turned away,
Thinking: "Long time ere that worst day
That unto her a misery
Will be, yea even as unto me,
And many a thing ere then may fall,
695

Or peaceful death may end it all."

   The host that night his heart did bless
With praises of her loveliness
Once more, and said: "Fools men are
Who work themselves such bitter care
700

That they may live when they are dead;
Her mother's stern cold hardihead
Shall make this sweet but dead-alive;
For who in all the world shall strive
With such an oath as she shall make?"
705

   Accontius, for self-pity's sake,
Must steal forth to the night to cry
Some wordless prayer of agony;
And yet, when he was come again,
Of more of such-like speech was fain,
710

And needs must stammer forth some word,
That once more the old fisher stirred
To speech; who now began to tell
Tales of that oath as things known well,
To wise men from the days of old,
715

Of how a mere chance-word would hold
Some poor wretch as a life-long slave;
Nay, or the very wind that drave
Some garment's hem, some lock of hair
Against the dreadful altar there,
720

Had turned a whole sweet life to ill;
So heedfully must all fulfil
Their vows unto the dreadful maid.
Accontius heard the words he said
[154] As through a thin sleep fraught with dreams,
725

Yet afterward would fleeting gleams
Of what the old man said confuse
His weary heart, that ne’er was loose
A minute from the bonds of love,
And still of all, strange dreams he wove.
730

   So the time passed; a brooding life
That with his love might hold no strife
Accontius led; he did not spare
With torment vain his soul to tear
By meeting her in that same place:
735

No fickle hope now changed her face,
No hot desire therein did burn,
Rather it seemed her heart did yearn
With constant sorrow, and such love
As surely might the hard world move.
740

—Ah! shall it? Love shall go its ways,
And sometimes gather useless praise
From joyful hearts, when now at rest
The lover lies, but oftenest
To hate thereby the world is moved,
745

But oftenest the well-beloved
Shall pay the kiss back with a blow,
Shall smile to see the hot tears flow,
Shall answer with scarce-hidden scorn
The bitter words by anguish torn
750

From such a heart, as fain would rest
Silent until death brings the best.

   So drew the time on to the day
When all hope must be cast away;
Late summer now was come, and still
755

As heeding neither good or ill
Of living men, the stream ran down
The green slope to the sea-side brown,
Singing its changeless song; still there
Accontius dwelt ’twixt slope-side fair
760

And changing murmur of the sea.

   The night before all misery
Should be accomplished, red-eyed, wan,
He gave unto the ancient man
[155] What wealth he had, and bade farewell
765

In such a voice as tale doth tell
Unto the wise; then to his bed
He crept, and still his weary head
Tossed on the pillow, till the dawn
The fruitful mist from earth had drawn.
770

Once more with coming light he slept,
Once more from out his bed he leapt,
Thinking that he had slept too fast,
And that all hope was over-past;
And with that thought he knew indeed
775

How good is hope to man at need,
Yea, even the least ray thereof.
Then dizzy with the pain of love
He went from out the door, and stood
Silent within the fruitful rood.
780

Still was the sunny morn and fair,
A scented haze was in the air;
So soft it was, it seemed as spring
Had come once more her arms to fling
About the dying year, and kiss
785

The lost world into dreams of bliss.

   Now ’neath the tree he sank adown,
Parched was the sward thereby and brown,
Save where about the knotted root
A green place spread. The golden fruit
790

Hung on the boughs, lay on the ground;
The spring-born thrushes lurked around,
But sang not, yet the stream sang well,
And gentle tales the sea could tell.
Ere sunrise was the fisher gone,
795

And now his brown-sailed boat alone,
Some league or so from off the shore,
Moved slowly ’neath the sweeping oar.
So soothed by sights and sounds that day,
Sore weary, soon Accontius lay
800

In deep sleep as he erst had done,
And dreamed once more, nor yet had gone
E’en this time from that spot of ground;
And once more dreaming heard the sound
[156] Of unseen singers, and once more
805

A pink-tinged cloud spread thwart the shore,
And a vague memory touched him now
Amid his sleep; his knitted brow
’Gan to unfold, a happy smile
His long love-languor did beguile
810

As from the cloud the naked one
Came smiling forth—but not alone;
For now the image of his love,
Clad like the murmuring summer dove,
She held by the slim trembling hand,
815

And soon he deemed the twain did stand
Anigh his head. Round Venus’ feet
Outbroke the changing spring-flowers sweet
From the parched earth of autumn-tide;
The long locks round her naked side
820

The sea-wind drave; lily and rose,
Plucked from the heart of her own close,
Were girdle to her, and did cling,
Mixed with some marvellous golden thing,
About her neck and bosom white,
825

Sweeter than their short lived delight
And all the while, with eyes that bliss
Changed not, her doves brushed past to kiss
The marvel of her limbs; yet strange,
With loveliness that knows no change,
830

Fair beyond words as she might be,
So fell it by love's mystery
That open-mouthed Accontius lay
In that sweet dream, nor drew away
His eyes from his love's pitying eyes;
835

And at the last he strove to rise,
[157] And dreamed that touch of hand in hand
Made his heart faint; alas! the band
Of soft sleep, overstrained therewith,
Snapped short, and left him there to writhe
840

In helpless woe. Yet in a while
Strange thoughts anew did him beguile;
Well-nigh he dreamed again, and saw
The naked goddess toward him draw,
Until the sunshine touched his face
845

And stark awake in that same place
He sighed, and rose unto his knee,
And saw beneath the ancient tree,
Close by his hand, an apple lie,
Great, smooth, and golden. Dreamily
850

He turned it o’er, and in like mood
A long sharp thorn, as red as blood,
He took into his hand, and then,
In language of the Grecian men,
Slowly upon its side he wrote,
855

As one who thereof took no note,
Accontius will I wed to-day;
Then stealthily across the bay
He glanced, and trembling gat him down
With hurried steps unto the town,
860

Where for the high-tide folk were dight,
And all looked joyous there and bright,
As toward the fane their steps they bent.
And thither, too, Accontius went,
Scarce knowing if on earth or air
865

His feet were set; he coming there,
Gat nigh the altar standing-place,
And there with haggard eyes ’gan gaze
Upon the image of the maid
Whose wrath makes man and beast afraid.
870

   So in a while the rites began,
And many a warrior and great man
Served the hard-hearted one, until
Of everything she had her fill
That Gods desire; and, trembling now,
875

Accontius heard the curved horns blow
[158] That heralded the damsels’ band;
And scarce for faintness might he stand,
When now, the minstrels’ gowns of gold
Being past, he could withal behold
880

White raiment fluttering, and he saw
The fellows of his own love draw
Unto the altar; here and there
The mothers of those maidens fair
Went by them, proud belike, and fain
885

To note the honour they should gain.

   Now scarce with hungry eyes might he
Gaze on those fair folk steadily,
As one by one they passed by him;
His limbs shook, and his eyes did swim,
890

And if he heard the words they said,
As outstretched hand and humble head
Strengthened the trembling maiden's vow,
Nought of their meaning did he know—
—And still she came not—what was this?
895

Had the dull death of hope of bliss
Been her death too—ah, was she dead?
Or did she lie upon her bed,
With panting mouth and fixed bright eyes,
Waiting the new life's great surprise,
900

All longings past, amid the hush
Of life departing? A great rush
Of fearful pain stopped all his blood
As thus he thought; a while he stood
Blinded and tottering, then the air
905

A great change on it seemed to bear,
A heavenly scent; and fear was gone,
Hope but a name; as if alone
Mid images of men he was,—
Alone with her who now did pass
910

With fluttering hem and light footfall
The corner of the precinct wall.
Time passed, she drew nigh to the place,
Where he was standing, and her face
Turned to him, and her steadfast eyes
915

Met his, with no more of surprise
[159] Than if in words she had been told
That each the other should behold
E’en in such wise—Pale was she grown;
Her sweet breath, that an unheard moan
920

Seemed to her lover, scarce might win
Through her half-opened lips; most thin
The veil seemed ’twixt her mournful eyes,
And death's long-looked-for mysteries;
Frail were her blue-veined hands; her feet
925

The pink-tinged marble steps did meet
As though all will were gone from her.
There went a matron, tall and fair,
Noble to look on, by her side,
Like unto her, but for cold pride
930

And passing by of twenty years,
And all their putting back of tears;
Her mother, certes, and a glow
Of pleasure lit her stern face now
At what that day should see well done.
935

   But now, as the long train swept on,
There on the last step of the fane
She stood, so loved, so loved in vain;
Her mother fallen aback from her,
Yet eager the first word to hear
940

Of that her dreadful oath—so nigh
Were misery to misery,
That each might hear the other's breath;
That they this side of fair hope's death
Might yet have clung breast unto breast,
945

And snatched from life a little rest,
And snatched a little joy from pain.

   O weary hearts, shall all be vain,
Shall all be nought, this strife and love?
—Once more with slow foot did she move
950

Unto the last step, with no sound
Unto Accontius turning round,
Who spake not, but, as moved at last
By some kind God, the apple cast
Into her bosom's folds—once more
955

She stayed, while a great flush came o’er
[160] Her sweet face erst half-dead and wan;
Then went a sound from man to man
So fair she seemed, and some withal
Failed not to note the apple fall
960

Into her breast.= Now while with fear
And hope Accontius trembled there
And to her side her mother came,
She cast aside both fear and shame
From out her noble heart, and laid
965

Upon the altar of the maid
Her fair right hand, clasped firm around
The golden fruit, and with no sound
Her lips moved, and her eyes upraised
Upon the marble image gazed,
970

With such a fervour as if she
Would give the thing humanity
And love and pity—then a space
Unto her love she turned her face
All full of love, as if to say,
975

"So ends our trouble from to-day,
Either with happy life or death."

   Yet anxious still, with held-back breath,
He saw her mother come to her
With troubled eyes. "What hast thou there?"
980

He heard her say. "Is the vow made?
I heard no word that thou hast said?"

   Then through him did her sweet voice thrill:
"No word I spake for good or ill;
But this spake for me; so say ye
985

What oath in written words may be;
Although, indeed, I wrote them nought;
And in my heart had got no thought,
When first I came hereto this morn,
But here to swear myself forlorn
990

Of love and hope—because the days
Of life seemed but a weary maze,
Begun without leave asked of me,
Whose ending I might never see,
Or what came after them—but now
995

Backward my life I will not throw
[161] Into your deep-dug, spice-strewn grave,
But either all things will I save
This day, or make an end of all."

   Then silence on the place did fall;
1000

With frowning face, yet hand that shook,
The fated fruit her mother took
From out her hand, and pale she grew,
When the few written words she knew,
And what they meant; but speedily
1005

She brushed the holy altar by,
Unto the wondering priests to tell
What things there in their midst befell.

   There, in low words, they spoke awhile,
How they must deal with such a guile,
1010

Cast by the goddess of desire
Into the holy maiden's fire.
And to the priests it seemed withal,
That a full oath they needs must call
That writing on the altar laid:
1015

Then, wroth and fearful, some there bade
To seek a death for these to die,
If even so they might put by
The maid's dread anger; crueller
They grew as still they gathered fear,
1020

And shameful things the dusk fane heard,
As grey beard wagged against grey beard,
And fiercer grew the ancient eyes.

   But from the crowd, meanwhile, did rise
Great murmuring, for from man to man
1025

The rumour of the story ran,
I know not how; and therewithal
Some god-sent lovesome joy did fall
On all hearts there, until it seemed
That each one of his own soul dreamed,
1030

Beloved, and loving well; and when
Some cried out that the ancient men
[162] Had mind too slay the lovers there,
A fierce shout rent the autumn air:
"Nay, wed the twain; love willeth it!"
1035

But silent did the elders sit,
With death and fear on either hand,
Till one said, "Fear not, the whole land,
Not we, take back what they did give;
With many scarce can one man strive;
1040

Let be, themselves shall make amends."

   "Yea, let be," said the next; "all ends,
Despite the talk of mortal men,
Who deem themselves undying, when,
Urged by some unknown God's commands,
1045

They snatch at love with eager hands,
And gather death that grows thereby,
Yet swear that love shall never die—
Let be—in their own hearts they bear
The seeds of pangs to pierce and tear.
1050

What need, White-armed, to follow them,
With well-strung bow and fluttering hem,
Adown the tangle of life's wood?
Thou knowest what the fates deem good
For wretches that love overmuch—
1055

One mad desire for sight and touch;
One spot alone of all the earth
That seems to them of any worth;
One sound alone that they may bear
Amidst earth's joyful sounds to hear;
1060

And sight, and sound, and dwelling-place,
And soft caressing of one face,
Forbidden, and forbidden still,
Or granted e’en for greater ill,
But for a while, that they may be
1065

Sunk deeper into misery—
—Great things are granted unto those
That love not—far-off things brought close,
Things of great seeming brought to nought,
And miracles for them are wrought;
1070

All earth and heaven lie underneath
The hand of him who wastes not breath
[163] In striving for another's love,
In hoping one more heart to move.
—A light thing and a little thing,
1075

Ye deem it, that two hearts should cling
Each unto each, till two are one,
And neither now can be alone?
O fools, who know not all has sworn
That those shall ever be forlorn
1080

Who strive to bring this thing to pass—
So is it now, as so it was,
And so it shall be evermore,
Till the world's fashion is passed o’er."

   White-bearded was the ancient man
1085

Who spoke, with wrinkled face and wan;
But as unto the porch he turned
A red spot in his cheek there burned,
And his eyes glittered, for, behold! .
Close by the altar's horns of gold,
1090

There stood the weary ones at last,
Their arms about each other cast,
Twain no more now, they said—no more
What things soe’er fate had in store.
Careless of life, careless of death;
1095

Now, when each felt the other's breath
On lip and cheek, and many a word
By all the world beside unheard,
Or heard and little understood,
Each spake to each, and all seemed good;
1100

Yea, though amid the world's great wrong,
Their space of life should not be long;
O bitter sweet if they must die!
O sweet, too sweet, if time passed by;
If time made nought for them, should find
1105

Their arms in such wise intertwined
Years hence, with no change drawing near!

   Nor says the tale, nor might I hear,
That aught of evil on them fell.
Few folk there were but thought it well,
1110

When saffron-robed, fair-wreathed, loose-haired
Cydippe through the city fared
[164] Well won at last; when lingering shame
Somewhat upon the lovers came,
Now that all fear was quite bygone,
1115

And yet they were not all alone,
Because, from men the sun was fain
A little more of toil to gain
Awhile in prison of his light,
To hold aback the close-lipped night.
1120

 

[165] SILENCE a little when the tale was told,
Soon broken by the merry-voiced and bold
Among the youths, though some belike were fain
For more of silence yet, that their sweet pain
Might be made sweeter still by hope and thought
5

Amid the words of the old story caught—
Might be made keener by the pensive eyes
That half-confessed love made so kind and wise;
Yet these too, mid the others, went their way,
To get them through the short October day
10

’Twixt toil and toilsome love, e’en as they might;
If so, perchance, the kind and silent night
Might yet reward their reverent love with dreams
Less full of care. But round the must's red streams,
’Twixt the stripped vines the elders wandered slow,
15

And unto them, e’en as a soothing show
Was the hid longing, wild desire, blithe hope,
That seethed there on the tangled sun-worn slope
’Twixt noon and moonrise. Resolute were they
To let no pang of memory mar their day,
20

And long had fear, before the coming rest,
Been set aside. And so the changed west,
Forgotten of the sun, was grey with haze;
The moon was high and bright, when through the maze
Of draggled tendrils back at last they turned,
25

And red the lights within the fair house burned
Through the grey night; strained string, and measured voice
Of minstrels, mingled with the varying noise
Of those who through the deep-cut misty roads
Went slowly homeward now to their abodes.
30

A short space more of that short space was gone,
Wherein each deemed himself not quite alone.

 

[166] IN late October, when the failing year
But little pleasure more for men might bear,
They sat within the city's great guest-hall,
Nigh enow to the sea to hear the fall
Of the low haven-waves when night was still.
5

But on that day wild wind and rain did fill
The earth and sea with clamour, and the street
Held few who cared the driving scud to meet.
But inside, as a little world it was,
Peaceful amid the hubbub that did pass
10

Its strong walls in untiring waves of rage,
With the earth's intercourse wild war to wage.
Bright glowed the fires, and cheerier their light
Fell on the gold that made the fair place bright
Of roof and wall, for all the outside din.
15

Yet of the world's woe somewhat was within
The noble compass of its walls, for there
Were histories of great striving painted fair,
Striving with love and hate, with life and death,
With hope that lies, and fear that threateneth.
20

And so mid varied talk the day went by,
As such days will, not quite unhappily,
Not quite a burden, till the evening came
With lulling of the storm: and little blame
The dark had for the dull day's death, when now
25

The good things of the hall were set aglow
By the great tapers. Midmost of the board
Sat Rolf, the captain, who took up the word,
And said: "Fair fellows, a strange tale is this,
Heard and forgotten midst my childish bliss,
30

Little remembered midst the change and strife,
Come back again this latter end of life,
I know not why; yet as a picture done
For my delight, I see my father's son,
[167] My father with the white cloth on his knees,
35

Beaker in hand, amid the orange-trees
At Micklegarth, and the high-hatted man
Over against him, with his visage wan,
Black beard, bright eyes, and thin composed hands,
Telling this story of the fiery lands."
40

 

THE MAN WHO NEVER LAUGHED AGAIN.

ARGUMENT.

[172] A CERTAIN man, who from rich had become poor, having been taken by one of his former friends to a fair house, was shown strange things there, and dwelt there awhile among a company of doleful men; but these in the end dying, and he desiring above all things to know their story, so it happened that he at last learned it to his own cost.

A CITY was there nigh the Indian Sea,
As tells my tale, where folk for many an age
Had lived, perforce, such life as needs must be
Beneath the rule of priestly king and mage,
Bearing with patient hearts the summer's rage,
5

Yea, even bowing foolish heads in vain
Before the mighty sun, their life and bane.

   Now ere the hottest of the summer came,
While yet the rose shed perfume on the earth,
And still the grass was green despite the flame
10

Of that land's sun—while folk gave up to mirth
A little of their life, so little worth,
And the rich man forgot his fears awhile
Beneath the soft eve's still recurring smile—

   Mid those sweet days, when e’en the burning land
15

Knew somewhat of the green north's summer rest,
[173] A stately house within the town did stand,
When the fresh morn was failing from its best,
Though the street's pavement still the shadow blessed
From whispering trees, that rose, thick-leaved and tall,
20

Above the well-built marble bounding-wall.

   Each side the door therein rose-garlands hung,
And through the doorway you might see within
The glittering robes of minstrel-men that sung,
And resting dancing-girls in raiment thin,
25

Because the master there did now begin
Another day of ease and revelry,
To make it harder yet for him to die.

   And toward the door, perfumed and garlanded,
The guests passed, clad in wonderful attire,
30

And this and that one through the archway led
Some girl, made languid by the rosy fire
Of that fair time; with love and sweet desire
The air seemed filled, and how could such folk see
In any eyes unspoken misery?
35

   Yet ’gainst the marble wall, anigh the door,
A man leaned, gazing at the passers-by,
Who, young, was clad in wretched clothes and poor,
And whose pale face, grown thin with misery,
Told truthful stories of his end anigh,
40

For such a one was he as rich men fear,
Friendless and poor, nor taught hard toil to bear;

   And some in passing by that woeful man
A little time indeed their loud talk stayed
To gaze upon his haggard face and wan,
45

Some even, their hands upon their pouches laid,
But all passed on again, as if afraid
[174] That, e’en in giving thanks for unasked gift,
His dolorous voice their veil of joy would lift.

   He asked for nought, nor did his weary eyes
50

Meet theirs at all, until there came at last,
On a white mule, and clad in noble guise,
A lonely man, who by the poor wretch passed,
And, passing, on his face a side-glance cast,
Then o’er his shoulder eyed him, then drew rein
55

And turned about, and came to him again;

   And said, "Thou hast the face of one I knew,
Men called the Golden One, in such a town,
Because they deemed his wealth for ever grew,
E’en in such times as beats the richest down;
60

What stroke of hapless fate, then, hast thou known
That thou hast come to such a state as this,
To which the poorest peasant's would be bliss?"

   The other raised his eyes, and stared awhile
Into the speaker's face, as one who draws
65

His soul from dreams, then with a bitter smile
He said, "Firuz, thou askest of the cause
Of this my death? I knew not the world's laws,
But 'give today, and take tomorrow-morn,'
I needs must say, holding the wise in scorn.
70

   "For even as with gifts contempt I bought,
So knowledge buys disease, power loneliness,
And honour fear, and pleasure pains unsought,
And friendship anxious days of great distress,
And love the hate of what we used to bless—
75

Ah, I am wise, and wiser soon shall grow,
And know the most that wise dead men can know.

   [175] "What shall I say? thou knowest the old tale;
I gave, I spent, and then I asked in vain,
And when I fell, my hands could scarce avail
80

For any work; at last, worse woe to gain,
I fled from folk who knew my present pain
And ancient pleasure—’midst strange men I wait,
In this strange town, the last new jest of fate.

   "But since we talk of such-like merchandize,
85

What gift has bought for thee an equal curse?
Because, indeed, I deem by this thy guise
Thou hast not reached the bottom of thy purse;
Therefore, perchance, thy face seems something worse
Than mine, for I shall die, but thou must live,
90

More laughter yet unto the Gods to give?"

   Nor did he speak these words unwarranted,
For in the other's face those signs there were
That mark the soul wherein all hope is dead;
While, with the new-born image of despair
95

The first man played, and found life even there,
Changeless his old friend's face was grown, and he
Had no more eyes things new or strange to see.

   He said, "Then hast thou still a wish on earth;
Come now with me, if thou wouldst know my fate:
100

Thou yet mayst win again that time of mirth
When every day was as a flowery gate
Through which we passed to joy, importunate
To win us from the thought of yesterday,
In whatso pleasures it had passed away!"
105

   "Great things thou promisest," the other said,
"And yet indeed since I have feared to die,
Though well I know that I were better dead,
The life thou givest me I yet will try;
It will not be so long in passing by,
110

If it must be such life as thou hast shared—
Yet thanks to thee who thus for me hast cared."

   [176] "Friend," said he, "in thine hand thy life thou hast,
If thou hast told me all that grieveth thee,
And unto thee the past may well be past,
115

And days not wholly bad thou yet mayst see;
And if indeed thy first felicity
Thou winnest not, yet something shalt thou have
Thy soul from death, or loathed life, to save.

   "And for thy thanks, something I deem I owe
120

To our old friendship, could I mind it aught,
And well it is that I should pay it now
While yet I have a little wavering thought
Of things without me: neither have I brought
A poisoned life to give to thee today,
125

Or such a life as I have cast away."

   "Nay," said he, "let all be since I must live,
I will not think of how to play my part:
And now some food to me thou needs must give,
For wretched hunger gnaweth at my heart.
130

Take heed withal that old desires will start
Up to the light since first I heard thee speak,
Wretched as now I am, and pined and weak."

   Firuz thenceforward scarcely seemed to heed
What words he said, but as a man well taught
135

To do some dull task, set himself to lead
That man unto an hostel, where they brought
Food unto him, and raiment richly wrought;
Then he being mounted on a mule, the twain
Set out therefrom some new abode to gain.
140

NOW cheered by food, and hope at least of ease,
Perchance of something more, as on they went
Betwixt the thronged streets and the palaces,
No more did Bharam keep his head down bent,
Rather from right to left quick glances sent,
145

[177] And though his old complaints he murmured still,
He scarcely thought his life so lost and ill.

   But for his fellow, worse he seemed to be
Than e’en before, his thin face pinched and grey,
Seemed sunk yet deeper into misery,
150

Nor did he lift his eyes from off the way,
Nor heed what things his friend to him might say,
But plodded on till they were past the town,
When now the fiery sun was falling down.

   Then by the farms and fields they went, until
155

All tillage and smooth ways were left behind,
And half-way up a bare and rugged hill
They entered a rude forest close and blind,
And many a tale perforce seized Bharam's mind
Of lonely men by fiends bewildered,
160

So like his fellow looked to one long dead.

   But now, as careless what might hap to him,
He ’gan to sing of roses and delight
Some snatch, until the wood that had been dim,
E’en in broad day, grew black with coming night;
165

Then lower sank his song, and dropped outright,
When on his rein he felt his guide's hand fall,
And still they pierced that blackness like a wall.

   Thus on the little-beaten forest-soil
They went, with nought to see, and nought to hear
170

Except their mules’ unceasing, patient toil:
But full the darkness seemed of forms of fear,
And like long histories passed the minutes drear
To Bharam's o’erwrought mind expecting death,
And like a challenge seemed his lowest breath.
175

   [178] How long they went he knew not, but at last
Upon his face he felt a doubtful breeze,
Quickening his soul, and onward as they passed
A feeble glimmer showed betwixt the trees,
And his eyes, used to darkness, by degrees
180

Could dimly see his fellow, and the way
Whereon they rode to some unearthly day.

   Then as the boughs grew thinner overhead,
That glimmer widened into moonlit night,
And ’twixt the trees grown sparse their pathway led
185

Unto a wide bare plain, that ’neath that light
Against the black trunks showed all stark and white;
Then Bharam, more at ease thereat, began
His fellow's visage in that light to scan.

   No change was in his face, and if he knew
190

Who rode beside him, ’twas but as some hook
Within an engine knows what it must do,
His hand indeed from his friend's rein he took,
But never cast on him one slightest look;
Then, shuddering, Bharam ’gan to sing again
195

To make him turn, but spent his breath in vain.

   But when the trees were wholly past, afar
Across the plain they saw a watch-tower high,
That ’neath the moonlight, like an angry star,
Shone over a white palace, and thereby
200

Within white walls did black-treed gardens lie:
And Firuz smote his mule and hastened on
To where that distant sign of trouble shone.

   And as they went, thereon did Bharam stare,
Nor turned his eyes at all unto the plain,
205

Nor heeded when from out her form the hare
Started beneath the mule's feet, and in vain
The owl called from the wood, for he drew rein
Within a little while before the gate,
Casting his soul into the hands of fate.
210

   [179] Then Firuz blew the horn, nor waited long
Ere the gate, opened by a man scarce seen,
Gave entry to a garden, where the song
Of May's brown bird had hardly left the green
Sweet-blossomed tree-tops lonely, and between
215

The whispering glades the fountain leaped on high,
And the rose waited till morn came, to die.

   But when the first wave of that soft delight
Swept o’er the spendthrift's sense, he smiled and turned
Unto his guide throughout the wondrous night,
220

And while his heart with hope and wonder burned,
He said, "Indeed a fair thing have I learned
With thee for master; yet is this the end?
Will they not now bring forth the bride, O friend?"

   Drunk with the sweetness of that place he spoke,
225

And hoped to see the mask fall suddenly
From his friend's face, from whose thin lips there broke
A dreadful cry of helpless misery,
Scaring the birds from flowery bush and tree;
"O fool!" he said; "say such things in the day,
230

When noise and light take memory more away!"

   Bharam shrank back abashed, nor had a word
To say thereto, and ’twixt the trees they rode,
Noted of nothing but some wakeful bird,
Until they reached a fair and great abode
235

Whereon the red gold e’en in moonlight glowed.
There silently they lighted down before
Smooth marble stairs, and through the open door

   They entered a great, dimly-lighted hall;
Yet through the dimness well our man could see
240

How fair the hangings were that clad the wall,
And what a wealth of beast and flower and tree
Was spent wherever carving there might be,
And what a floor was ’neath his wearied feet,
Not made for men who call death rest and sweet.
245

   [180] Now he, though fain to linger and to ask
What was the manner of their living there,
And what thenceforth should be his proper task,
And who his fellows were, did nowise dare
To meet that cry again that seemed to bare
250

A wretched life of every softening veil—
A dreadful prelude to a dreadful tale.

   So silently whereas the other led
He followed, and through corridors they passed,
Dim lit, but worthy of a king new wed,
255

Till to a chamber did they come at last,
O’er which a little light a taper cast,
And showed a fair bed by the window-side;
Therewith at last turned round the dreary guide,

   And said, "O thou to whom night still is night
260

And day is day, bide here until the morn,
And take some little of that dear delight,
That we for many a long day have outworn.
Sleep, and forget awhile that thou wast born,
And on the morrow will I come to thee
265

To show thee what thy life with us must be."

   And with that word he went, and though at first
The other thought that he should never sleep
For wondering what had made that house accursed,
And sunk that seeming bliss in woe so deep,
270

Yet o’er his soul forgetfulness did creep,
And in a dreamless slumber long he lay,
Not knowing when the sun brought back the day.

   But in broad daylight of the following morn
He woke, and o’er him saw his fellow stand,
275

Who seemed, if it could be, yet more forlorn
Than when he last reached out to him his hand.
But now he said, "Come thou and see the band
Of folk that thou shalt dwell with, and the home
Whereto, fate leading thee, thou now hast come."
280

   [181] He rose without a word, and went with him
Who led the way through pillared passages,
Dainty with marble walls, made cool and dim
By the o’erhanging boughs of thick-leaved trees
That brushed against their windows in the breeze,
285

And still the work of one all seemed to be
Who had a mind to mock eternity.

   Too lovely seemed that place for any one
But youths and damsels, who, not growing old,
Should dwell there, knowing not the scorching sun,
290

Without a name for misery or cold,
Without a use for glittering steel or gold
Except adornment, and content withal,
Though change or passion there should ne’er befall.

   And still despite his fellow's woeful face,
295

And that sad cry that smote him yesternight,
The strange luxurious perfume of that place,
Where everything seemed wrought for mere delight,
Still made his heart beat, and his eyes wax bright
With delicate desires new-born again,
300

In that sweet rest from poverty and pain.

   And, looking through the windows there askance,
He yet had something like a hope to see
The garden blossom into feast and dance,
Or, turning round a corner suddenly,
305

Mid voices sweet, and perfumed gowns to be,
Bewildered by white limbs and glittering eyes,
Striving to learn love's inmost mysteries.

   But as they went, unto a door they came
That Firuz opened, showing a great hall
310

Whose walls with wealth of strange-wrought gold did flame
Through a cool twilight, for the light did fall
From windows in the dome high up and small,
And Bharam's lustful hope was quenched in fear,
As he, low moaning and faint sobs could hear.
315

   [182] He stopped and shut his eyes, oppressed with awe,
Thinking the rites of some sad god to see—
The secrets of some blood-stained hidden law—
But Firuz grasped his arm impatiently,
And drew him in. "O friend, look up!" said he,
320

"Nought dwelleth here but man's accursed race,
And thou art far the mightiest in this place."

   Then he, though trembling still, looked up, and there
Beheld six men clad even as his guide,
Who sat upon a bench of marble fair
325

Against the wall, and some their eyes must hide
When they met his, and some rose up and cried
Words inarticulate, then sank again
Into their places, as out-worn with pain.

   But one against the wall, with head back thrown,
330

Was leaning, and his eyes wide open stared,
And by his side his nerveless hands hung down,
Nor showed his face a glimmer of surprise,
Deaf was he to the wisest of the wise,
Speechless though open-mouthed; for there sat he,
335

Dead midst the living slaves of misery.

   Bharam stared at him, wondering, still in dread;
But no heed took his fellows of his case,
Till Firuz, with a side-glance at him, said,
“Why mourn ye more that yet another face
340

Must see our shame and sorrow in this place?
Do ye not know this worldly man is come
To lay the last one of us in his home?

   “And now in turn another soul is gone,
Get ready then to bear him forth straightway.
345

Be patient, for the heavy days crawl on!
But thou, O friend, I pray thee from this day
Help thou us helpless men, who cannot pray
Even to die; no long time will it be
Ere we shall leave this countless wealth to thee.
350

   [183] “Behold, a master, not a slave, we need,
For we, I say, have neither will to die
Nor yet to live, yet will we pay good heed
To thy commands, still doing patiently
Our daily tasks, as the dull time goes by;
355

Drive us like beasts, yea, slay us if thou wilt,
Nor will our souls impute to thee the guilt.

   "Yet ask us not to tell thee of our tale,
Why we are brought unto this sad estate,
Nor for the rest will any words avail
360

To make us flee from this lone house, where fate
With all its cruel sport will we await;
Lo, now thy task, O fellow, in return
A mighty kingdom's wealth thou soon shalt earn."

   Now as he spoke, a hard forgetfulness
365

Of his own lot, the rich man's cruel pride,
Smote Bharam's heart, he thought, "What dire distress
Could make me cast all hope of life aside?
Could aught but death my life and will divide:
Surely this mood of theirs will pass away
370

And these walls yet may see a merry day."

   So thought he, yet, beholding them again,
And seeing them so swallowed up with woe
That they scarce heeded him, a pang of pain
Like pleasure's death throughout his heart did go;
375

And therewithal a strong desire to know
The utmost of their tale possessed his mind
And made him scorn an easy life and blind.

   So midst his silence neither spoke they aught,
Firuz himself, as one, who having laid
380

His charge upon another, may take thought
Of l is own miseries, sat with head downweighed,
With tears that would not flow; then Bharam said,
[184] "Masters, I bid you rise and do your best
To give your fellow's body its due rest!"
385

   They rose up at his words and straight began,
As men who oft had had such things to do,
To dress the body of the just-dead man
For his last resting-place, then two and two
They bore it forth, passing the chambers through,
390

Where Bharam on that morn had hoped to see
Fair folk that had no name for misery.

   Then through the sunny pleasance slow they passed,
That sweet with flowers behind the palace lay,
Until they reached a thick, black wood at last,
395

Bounding the garden as the night bounds day,
And through a narrow path they took their way,
Less like to men than shadows in a dream,
Till the wood ended at a swift broad stream,

   Beneath the boughs dark green it ran, and deep,
400

Well-nigh awash with the wood's tangled grass,
But on the other side wall-like and steep,
Straight from the gurgling eddies, rose a mass
Of dark grey cliff; no man unhelped could pass;
But a low door e’en in the very base
405

Was set, above the water's hurrying race.

   Of iron seemed that door to Bharam's eyes,
Heavily wrought, and closely locked it seemed;
But as he stared thereon strange thoughts would rise
Within his heart, until he well-nigh deemed
410

That he in morning sleep of such things dreamed,
And dreamed that he had seen all this before,
Wood and deep river, cliff, and close-shut door.

   But in the stream, and close unto his feet,
A boat there lay, as though for wafting o’er
415

Whoso had will such doubtful things to meet
As that strange door might hide; and on the shore,
About the path, a rod of ground or more
[185] Was cleared of wood, in which space here and there
Low changing mounds told of dead men anear.
420

   So there that doleful company made stay,
And ’twixt the trees and swift stream hurrying by,
Their brother's body in the earth did lay.
Nor ever to the cliff would raise an eye,
But trembling, as with added agony,
425

Did their dull task as swiftly as they could,
Then went their way again amidst the wood.

 

NOW with these dreary folk must Bharam live
Henceforward, doing even as he would;
And many a joy the palace had to give
430

To such a man as e’en could find life good
So prisoned, and with nought to stir the blood,
And seeing still from weary day to day
These wretched mourners cast their lives away.

   Yet came deliverance; one by one they died,
435

E’en as new-come he saw that man die first,
And so were buried by the river-side.
And ever as he saw these men accurst
Vanish from life, he grew the more athirst
To know what evil deed had been their bane,
440

But still were all his prayers therefor in vain.

   His utmost will in all things else they did,
Serving as slaves if he demanded aught,
But in grim silence still their story hid;
Nor did he fare the better when he sought
445

In the fair parchments that scribes' hands had wrought
Within that house. Of many a tale they told;
But none the tale of that sad life did hold.

   Therefore in silence he consumed his days
Until a weary year had clean gone by
450

[186] Since first upon that palace he did gaze,
And all that doleful band had he seen die,
Except Firuz; and ever eagerly
Did Bharam watch him, lest he too should go,
And make an end of all he longed to know.
455

   At last a day came when the mourner said,
"Beneath the ground my woe thou soon shalt lay,
And all our foolish sorrow shall be dead;
Come then, I fain would show thee the straight way
Through which we came the night of that passed day
460

When first I brought thee here. This knowledge thine,
Guard thou this house, and use it as a mine;

   "While safe thou dwellest in some city fair,—
Hasten, for little strength is in me now!"
But Bharam thought, "Yet will he not lay bare
465

His story to me utterly, and show
What-thing it was that brought these men so low."
Yet said he nought, but from the house they went,
While painfully the mourner on him leant.

   So, the wood gained, by many glades they passed
470

That Firuz heeded not, though they were wide,
Until they reached a certain one at last,
Whereon he said, "Here did we come that tide;
I counsel thee no longer to abide
When I am dead, but mount my mule and go,
475

Nor doubt the beast the doubtful way shall know.

   "She too shall serve thee when thou com’st again,
With many men, and sumpter mules enow
To gather up the wealth we held in vain,—
Turn me, I would depart! fainter I grow!
480

And thou the road to happy life dost know.
Alas, my feet are heavy! nor can I
Go any further. Lay me down to die!"

   [187] Then ’gainst a tree-root Bharam laid his head,
Saying, "Fear not, thou hast been good to me,
485

And by the river-side, when thou art dead,
I will not fail to lay thee certainly!"
"Nay, nay," he said, “what matter—let it be!
I bring the dismal rite unto an end.
Hide my bones here, and toward thy city wend!
490

   “Better perchance that thou beholdest not
That place once more, our misery and bane!"
Then at that word did Bharam's heart wax hot;
He seemed at point his whole desire to gain.
He cried aloud, "Nay, surely all in vain
495

Thy secret hast thou hidden till this day,
Since to the mystic road thou showest the way!"

   "My will is weak," his friend said, "thine is strong;
Draw near, and I will tell thee all the tale,
If this my feeble voice will last so long.
500

Perchance my dying words may yet avail
To make thee wise. This pouch of golden scale,
Open thou it. The gold key hid therein
Opens the story of our foolish sin.

   "How thy face flushes, holding it! Just so,
505

As by that door I stood, did my face burn
That summer morning past so long ago.
Draw nigher still if thou the tale wouldst learn.
I scarce can speak now, and withal I yearn
To die at last, and leave the thing unsaid.
510

Raise thou me up, or I shall soon be dead!"

   His fellow raised him trembling, nor durst speak
Lest he should scare his feeble life away,
Then from his mouth came wailing words, and weak:
"Where art thou then, O loveliest one, to-day?
515

Beneath the odorous boughs that gladden May,
Laid in the thymy hollow of some hill,
Dost thou remember me a little still?

   [188] "Can kindness such as thine was, vanish quite
And be forgotten? Ah, if I forget,
520

Canst thou forget the love and fresh delight
That held thee then—my love that even yet
Midst other love must make thy sweet eyes wet,
At least sometimes, at least when heaven and earth
In some fair eve are grown too fair for mirth?
525

   "O joy departed, know’st thou how at first
I prayed in vain, and strove with hope to dull
My ravening hunger, mock my quenchless thirst?
And know’st thou not how when my life was full
Of nought but pain, I strove asleep to lull
530

My longing for the eyeless, hopeless rest,
Lest even yet strange chance should bring the best?

   "Farewell, farewell, beloved! I depart,
But hope, once dead, now liveth though I die,
Whispering of marvels to my fainting heart—
535

Perchance the memory of some written lie,
Perchance the music of the rest anigh;
I know not—but farewell, be no more sad!
For life and love that has been, I am glad."

   He ceased, and his friend, trembling, faintly said—
540

"Wilt thou not speak to me, what hast thou done?'
But even as he spoke, the mourner's head
Fell backward, and his troubled soul was gone;
And Bharam, in the forest left alone,
Durst scarcely move at first for very fear,
545

And longing for the tale he was to hear.

   [189] But in a while the body down he laid,
And swiftly gat him o’er the hot dry plain,
And through the garden, as a man afraid,
Went softly, and the golden porch did gain,
550

And from the wealth those men had held in vain,
Most precious things he did not spare to take
For his new life and joyous freedom's sake.

   So doing he came round unto the door
That led out to the passage through the wood,
555

Wherethrough the mourners erst their dead ones bore
Down to the river; but as there he stood
He felt a new fire kindling in his blood;
His sack he laid aside, and touched the key
That could unlock that dreadful history;
560

   And his friend's words, that loving tender voice
He sent forth ere he died, smote on his heart:
How could he leave those dead men and rejoice
With folk who in their story had no part?
Yea, as he lingered did the hot tears start
565

Into his eyes, he wept, and knew not why;
Some pleasure seemed within his grasp to lie,

   He could not grasp or name, and none the less
He muttered to himself, "I must be gone
Or I shall die in this fair wilderness,
570

That every minute seems to grow more lone;
Why do I stand here like a man of stone?"
And with that very word he moved indeed,
But took the path that toward the stream did lead.

   Quickly he walked with pale face downward bent,
575

As ’twixt the trembling tulip-beds he passed,
Until a horror seized him as he went,
And, turning toward the house, he ran full fast,
[190] Nor, till he reached it, one look backward cast;
And by the gathered treasure, left behind
580

Awhile ago, he stood confused, half blind.

   Then slowly did he lift the precious weight,
Yet lingered still. "Ah, must I go?" he said,
"Have I no heart to meet that unknown fate?
And must I lead the life that once I led,
585

Midst folk who will rejoice when I am dead;
Even as if they had not shared with me
The fear and longing of felicity?"

   "And yet indeed if I must live alone,
If fellowship is but an empty dream,
590

Is there not left a world that is mine own?
Am I not real, if all else doth but seem?
Yea, rather, with what wealth the world doth teem,
When we are once content from us to cast
The dreadful future and remorseful past."
595

   A little while he lingered yet, and then
As fearful what he might be tempted to,
He hurried on until he reached again
The outer door, and, sighing, passed therethrough,
But still made haste to do what he must do,
600

And found the mule and cast on her the sack,
And took his way to that lone forest-track.

   Mattock and spade with him too did he bear,
And dug a grave beneath the spreading tree
Whereby Firuz had died, and laid him there,
605

Thinking the while of all his misery,
And muttering still, "How could it hap to me?
Unless I died within a day or two
Surely some deed I soon should find to do."

   [191] But when the earth on him he ’gan to throw,
610

He said, "And shall I cast the key herein?
What need have I this woeful tale to know,
To vex me midst the fair life I shall win;
Why do I seek to probe my fellow's sin,
Who, living, saved my life from misery,
615

And dying, gave this fresh life unto me?"

   He kept the key, his words he answered not,
But smoothed the earth above the mourner's head,
Then mounting, turned away from that sad spot,
Feverish with hope and change, bewildered,
620

And ever more oppressed with growing dread,
As through the dark and silent wood he rode,
And drew the nigher unto man's abode.

   But when at last he met the broad sweet light
Upon the hill's brow where that wood had end,
625

And saw the open upland fresh and bright,
A thrill of joy that sight through him must send,
And with good heart he ’twixt the fields did wend,
And not so much of that sad house he thought
As of the wealthy life he thence had brought;
630

   So amidst thoughts of pleasant life and ease,
Seemed all things fair that eve; the peasant's door,
The mother with the child upon her knees
Sitting within upon the shaded floor;
While ’neath the trellised gourd some maid sung o’er
635

Her lover to the rude lute's trembling strings,
Her brown breast heaving ’neath the silver rings;

   The slender damsel coming from the well,
Smiling beneath the flashing brazen jar,
Her fellows left behind thereat, to tell
640

How weary of her smiles her lovers are;
While the small children round wage watery war
[192] Till the thin linen more transparent grows,
And ruddy brown the flesh beneath it glows;

   The trooper drinking at the homestead gate,
645

Telling wild lies about the sword and spear,
Unto the farmer striving to abate
The pedler's price; the village drawing near,
The smoke, that scenting the fresh eve, and clear,
Tells of the feast; the stithy's dying spark,
650

The barn's wealth dimly showing through the dark.

   How sweet was all! how easy it should be
Amid such life one's self-made woes to bear!
He felt as one who, waked up suddenly
To life's delight, knows not of grief or care.
655

How kind, how lovesome, all the people were!
Why should he think of aught but love and bliss
With many years of such-like life as this?

   Night came at last, and darker and more still
The world was, and the stars hung in the sky,
660

And as the road o’ertopped a sunburnt hill
He saw before him the great city lie,
The glimmering lights about grey towers and high,
Rising from gardens dark; the guarded wall,
The gleaming dykes, the great sea, bounding all.
665

   As one who at the trumpet's sound casts by
The tender thought of rest, of wife and child,
And fear of death for hope of victory,
So at that sight those sweet vague hopes and wild
Did he cast by, and in the darkness smiled
670

For pleasure of the beauty of the earth,
For foretaste of the coming days of mirth.

 

[193] SURELY if any man was blithe and glad
Within that city, when the morrow's sun
Beheld it, he at least the first place had,
675

And midst of glad folk was the happiest one—
So much to do, that was not e’en begun,
So much to hope for, that he could not see,
So much to win, so many things to be!

   Yea, so much, he could turn himself to nought
680

For many days, but wandering aimlessly
Wherever men together might be brought,
That he once more their daily life might see,
That to his new-born life new seemed to be,
And staving thought off, he awhile must shrink
685

From touching that sweet cup he had to drink.

   Yet when this mood was past by, what was this,
That in the draught he was about to drain,
That new victorious life, all seemed amiss?
If, thinking of the pleasure and the pain,
690

Men find in struggling life, he turned to gain
The godlike joy he hoped to find therein,
All turned to cloud, and nought seemed left to win.

   Love moved him not, yea, something in his heart
There was that made him shudder at its name;
695

He could not rouse himself to take his part
In ruling worlds and winning praise and blame;
And if vague hope of glory o’er him came,
Why should he cast himself against the spears
To make vain stories for the unpitying years?
700

   The thing that men call knowledge moved him not,
And if he thought of the world's varying face,
And changing manners, then his heart waxed hot
For thinking of his journey to that place,
And how ’twixt him and it was little space,
705

Then back to listlessness once more he turned,
Quenching the flame that in his sick heart burned.

   [194] What thing was left him now, but only this,
A life of aimless ease and luxury,
That he must strive to think the promised bliss,
710

Where hoping not for aught that was not nigh,
Midst vain pretence he should but have to die,
But every minute longing to confess
That this was nought but utter weariness.

   So to the foolish image of delight
715

That rich men worship, now he needs must cling
Despite himself, and pass by day and night
As friendless and unloved as any king;
Till he began to doubt of everything
Amidst that world of lies; till he began
720

To think of pain as very friend of man.

   So passed the time, and though he felt the chain
That round about his wasting life, was cast,
He still must think the labour all in vain
To strive to free himself while life should last,
725

And so, midst all, two weary years went past,
Nought done, save death a little brought anear,
The hard deliverance that he needs must fear.

   At last one dawn, when all the place was still,
He took that key, and e’en as one might gaze
730

Upon the record of some little ill
That happed in past days, now grown happy days,
He eyed it, sighing, ’neath the young sun's rays;
And silently he passed his palace through,
Nor told himself what deed he had to do.
735

   He reached the stable where his steeds were kept,
And ’midst the delicate-limbed beasts he found
The mule that o’er the forest grass had stepped,
Then, having on her back the saddle bound,
[195] Entered the house again, and, looking round
740

The darkened banquet-chamber, caught away
What simple food the nighest to him lay.

   Then, with the hand that rich men fawned upon,
The wicket he unlocked, and forth he led
His beast, and mounted when the street was won,
745

Wherein already folk for daily bread
Began to labour, who now turned the head
To whisper as the rich man passed them by
Betwixt the frails of fresh-plucked greenery.

   He passed the wall where Firuz first he saw,
750

The hostel where the dead man gave him food;
He passed the gate and ’gan at last to draw
Unto the country bordering on the wood,
And still he took no thought of bad or good,
Or named his journey, nay, if he had met
755

A face he knew, he might have turned back yet.

   But all the folk he saw were strange to him,
And, for all heed that unto them he gave,
Might have been nought; the reaper's bare brown limb,
The rich man's train with litter and armed slave,
760

The girl bare-footed in the stream's white wave—
Like empty shadows by his eyes they passed,
The world was narrowed to his heart at last.

   He reached the hill, which e’en in that strange mood
Seemed grown familiar to him, with no pain
765

He found the path that pierced the tangled wood,
And midst its dusk he gave his mule the reins
And in no long time reached the little plain,
And then indeed the world seemed left behind,
And no more now he felt confused and blind.
770

   He cried aloud to see the white house rise
O’er the green garden and the long white wall,
[196] Which erst the pale moon showed his wondering eyes,
But on the stillness strange his voice did fall,
For in the noon now woodland creatures all
775

Were resting ’neath the shadow of the trees,
Patient, unvexed by any memories.

   How should he rest, who might have come too late?
O’er the burnt plain he hurried, and laid hand
Upon the rusted handle of the gate,
780

Not touched since he himself thereby did stand,
The warm and scented air his visage fanned,
And on his head down rained the blossoms’ dust,
As back the heavy grass-choked door he thrust.

   But ere upon the path grown green with weed
785

'He set his foot, he paused a little while,
And of her gear his patient beast he freed,
And muttered, as he smiled a doubtful smile,
"Behold now if my troubles make me vile,
And I once more have will to herd with man,
790

Let me get back, then, even as I can."

   There ’neath the tangled boughs he went apace,
Remembering him awhile of that sad cry,
That erst had been his welcome to that place,
That showed him first it might be good to die,
795

When he but thought of new delights anigh;
Thereat he shuddered now, bethinking him
In what a sea he cast himself to swim.

   But his fate lay before him, on he went,
And through the gilded doors, now open wide,
800

He passed, and found the flowery hangings rent,
And past his feet did hissing serpents glide,
While from the hall wherein the mourners died
A grey wolf glared, and o’er his head the bat
Hung, and the paddock on the hearth-stone sat.
805

   [197] He loitered not amid those loathsome things,
That in the place which erst had been so fair,
Brought second death to fond imaginings
Of that sweet life, he once had hoped for there;
So with a troubled heart and full of care,
810

Though still with wild hopes stirring his hot blood,
He turned his face unto the dreary wood.

   No less the pleasance felt its evil day;
The trellis, that had shut the forest trees
From the fair flowers, all torn and broken lay,
815

Though still the lily's scent was on the breeze,
And the rose clasped the broken images
Of kings and priests, and those they once had loved,
And in the scented bush the brown bird moved.

   But with the choking weeds the tulip fought,
820

Paler and smaller than he had been erst
The wind-flowers round the well, fair feet once sought,
Were trodden down by feet of beasts athirst;
The well-trained apricot its bonds had burst;
The wild-cat in the cherry-tree anear
825

Eyed the brown lynx that waited for the deer.

   A little while upon the black wood's edge
Did Bharam eye the ruin mournfully,
Then turned and said, "I take it as a pledge
That I shall not come back again to die;
830

The mocking image of felicity
Awaited those poor souls that failed herein,
But I most surely death or life shall win."

   Thus saying, through the wood he ’gan to go,
And kindlier its black loneliness did seem
835

Than all the fairness ruin brought so low;
So with good heart he reached the swift full stream,
And there, as in an old unfinished dream,
He stood among the mourners' graves and saw
Past the small boat the eddies seaward draw.
840

   [198] Slowly, as one who thinks not of his deed,
He gat into the boat, and loosed from shore,
And ’gan to row the ready shallop freed
Unto the landing cut beneath the door,
And in a little minute stood before
845

Its rusty leaves with beating heart, and hand
His wavering troubled will could scarce command.

   But almost ere he willed it, was the key
Within the lock, and the great bolt sprang back,
The iron door swung open heavily,
850

And cold the wind rushed from a cavern black:
Then with one look upon the woodland track,
He stepped from out the fair light of the day,
Casting all hope of common life away.

   For at his back the heavy door swung to,
855

Before him was thick darkness palpable;
And as he struggled further on to go,
With dizzied head upon the ground he fell,
And if he lived on yet, he scarce could tell,
Amid the phantoms new born in that place
860

That past his eyes ’gan flit in endless race.

   Fair women changing into shapeless things,
His own sad face mirrored, he knew not how,
And heavy wingless birds, and beasts with wings,
Strange stars, huge swirling seas, whose ebb and flow
865

Now seemed too swift for thought, now dull and slow:
Such things emmeshed his dying troubled thought,
Until his soul to sightless sleep was brought.

   But when he woke to languid consciousness
Too well content he was therewith at first,
870

To ope his eyes, or seek what things might bless
His soul with rest from thought of good and worst,
[199] And still his faint incurious ease he nursed,
Till nigh him rang a bird's note sweet and clear,
And stirred in him the seeds of hope and fear.
875

   Withal the murmur of a quiet sea
He heard, and mingled sounds far off and sweet,
And o’er his head some rustling summer tree;
Slowly thereon he gat unto his feet,
And therewithal his sleep-dazed eyes did meet
880

The westering golden splendour of the sun,
For on that fair shore day was well-nigh done.

   Then from the flashing sea and gleaming sky
Unto the green earth did he turn him round,
And saw a fair land sloping lazily
885

Up to a ridge of green with grey rocks crowned,
And on those slopes did fruitful trees abound,
And, cleaving them, came downward from the hill
In many a tinkling fall a little rill.

   Now with his wakening senses, hunger too
890

Must needs awake, parched did his dry throat feel,
And hurrying, toward the little stream he drew,
And by a clear and sandy pool did kneel
And quenched his thirst, the while his hand did steal
Unto his wallet, where he thought to find
895

The bread he snatched from vain wealth left behind.

   But when within his hand he held that bread,
Mouldy and perished as with many days,
He wondered much that he had not been dead,
And fell to think with measureless amaze
900

By what unheard-of, unimagined ways
Unto that lonely land he had been brought;
Until, bewildered in the maze of thought

   That needs could lead nowhither, he arose
And from the fairest of those fruit-hung trees
905

The ripest and most luscious seeds he chose,
And staved his hunger off awhile with these;
[200] Then ’twixt their trunks got back to where the breeze
Blew cool from off the calm sea, thinking still
That thence his fate must come for good or ill.
910

   Thus, looking unto right and left, he passed
Over the green-sward, till he reached the strand,
And nought was ’twixt the sea and him at last,
Except a lessening belt of yellow sand.
There, looking seaward, he awhile did stand,
915

Until at last the great sun's nether rim,
Red with the sea-mist, in the sea ’gan swim.

   But ’gainst it now a spot did he behold,
Nor knew if he were dazzled with the light,
Till as the orb sank and the sea grew cold,
920

Greater that grew beneath the gathering night,
And when all red was gone, and clear and bright
The high moon was, beneath its light he saw
A ship unto him o’er the waters draw.

   Quickly his heart ’gan beat at sight of it,
925

But what that he could do could change his fate?
So calmly on the turf's edge did he sit
The coming of that unknown keel to wait,
That o’er the moonlit sea kept growing great,
Until at last the dashing oars he heard,
930

The creaking yard, the master's shouted word.

   Then as the black hull ’neath the moonlight lay,
In the long swell, bright against side and oar,
A little shallop therefrom took its way
Unto the low line of the breakers hoar,
935

And when its keel was firm upon the shore
Two women stepped out thence, and ’gan to go
To Bharam's place with gentle steps and slow.

   [201] Then he arose, and wondering what should be
The end hereof, stood gazing at them there,
940

And even in that doubtful light could see
That they were lovesome damsels young and fair;
And as he watched their garlanded loose hair
And dainty flutter of their rich array,
Full many a hope about his heart ’gan play.—
945

   Now they drew nigh, and one of them began
In a sweet voice these hopeful words to say,
"Fear not, but come with us, O happy man,
Nor with thy doubts or questions make delay;
For this soft night gets ready such a day,
950

As shall thy heart for feeble pining blame,
And call thy hot desire a languid shame."

   Therewith she turned again unto the sea,
As though she doubted not what he would do,
And Bharam followed after silently,
955

And went aboard the shallop with the two,
As one who dreams; and as the prow cleft through
The grey waves, sat beside them, pondering o’er
The days grown dim that led to that strange shore.

   None spake to him, the mariners toiled on,
960

Silent the damsels sat, hand joined to hand,
Until the black sides of the ship were won;
Then folk hauled up the boat, his feet did stand
On the wide deck, the master gave command,
Back went the oars, and o’er the waters wan,
965

Unto the west ’neath sail and oar she ran.

   All night they sailed, and when the dawn was nigh
And far astern the eastern sky grew bright,
A dark line seemed to cross the western sky
Afar and faint, and with the growing light
970

Another land began to heave in sight,
And when the lingering twilight was all done,
Grey cliffs they saw, made ruddy with the sun.

   [202] But when the shadow of their well-shaved mast
Had shortened that it no more touched the sea,
975

And well-nigh all the windy waste was past
That kept them from the land where they would be,
They turned about a ness, and ’neath their lee
A sandy-beached and green-banked haven lay,
For there a river cleft the mountains grey.
980

   Thither they steered with no delay, and then
Upon the green slopes Bharam could behold
The white tents and the spears of many men,
And on the o’erhanging height a castle old,
And up the bay a ship o’erlaid with gold,
985

With golden sails and fluttering banners bright,
And silken awnings ’gainst the hot sun dight.

   But underneath the tents, anigh that ship,
A space there was amidst of shadowing trees,
Well clad with turf down to the haven's lip;
990

And there, amongst the pasture of the bees,
Fanned by the long-drawn sweet-breathed ocean-breeze,
Well canopied, was set a wondrous throne,
Amidst whose cushions sat a maid alone.

   Crowned as a queen was she, and round her seat
995

Were damsels gathered, clad just in such guise
As those who on the sands did Bharam meet,
And stood beside him now, with lovesome eyes.
All this saw Bharam in no other wise
Than one might see a dream becoming true,
1000

Nor had he thought of what he next should do.

   Only those longings, vague and aimless erst,
Now quickened tenfold, found a cause and aim,
And on his soul a flood of light outburst,
That swallowed up in brightness of its flame
1005

Strange thoughts of death, and hopes without a name,
For now he knew that love had led him on,
Until—until, perchance, the end was won.

   [203] Unto that presence straight the shipmen steered,
And as the white foam from the oars did fly,
1010

And the black prow the daisied green-sward neared,
Uprose a song from that fair company,
Which those two damsels echoed murmuringly,
Bearing love-laden words unto his ears
On tender music, mother of sweet tears.
1015

SONG.

   O thou who drawest nigh across the sea,
O heart that seekest Love perpetually,
Nor know’st his name, come now at last to me!

   Come, thirst of love thy lips too long have borne,
Hunger of love thy heart hath long outworn,
1020

Speech hadst thou but to call thyself forlorn.

   The seeker finds now, the parched lips are led
To sweet full streams, the hungry heart is fed,
And song springs up from moans of sorrow dead
.

   Draw nigh, draw nigh, and tell me all thy tale;
1025

In words grown sweet since all the woe doth fail,
Show me wherewith thou didst thy woe bewail.

   Draw nigh, draw nigh, beloved! think of these
That stand around as well-wrought images,
Earless and eyeless as these trembling trees.
1030

   I think the sky calls living none but three:
The God that looketh thence and thee and me;
And He made us, but we made Love to be.

   Think not of time, then, for thou shalt not die,
How soon soever shall the world go by,
1035

And nought be left but God and thou and I.

   And yet, O love, why makes! thou delay,
Life comes not till thou comes, and the day
That knows no end may yet be cast away?

   [204] Such words the summer air swept past his ears,
1040

Such words the lovesome maidens murmured,
With unabashed soft eyes made wet with tears,
As though for them the world were really dead,
As though indeed those tender words they said
Each to her love, and each her fingers moved,
1045

As though she thought to meet the hands she loved.

   But Bharam heeded not their lonesomeness,
As through his heart there shot one bitter thought
Of those dead mourners and their dead distress
That his own feet to such a land had brought,
1050

But even ere the fear had come to nought,
The thought that made it, yea, all memory
Of what had been, had utterly passed by.

   But when the song was done, and on the strand
The bark's prow grated, and the maidens twain
1055

In low words bade him follow them aland,
Still, mid the certain hope of boundless gain,
About him clung the seeming-causeless pain
Of that past thought, that love had driven away,
The dreary teaching of a hopeless day.
1060

   And as unto the throne he drew anigh
He tried to say unto himself; "Alas!
Why am I full of such felicity?
How know I that for me the music was?
How know I yet what thing will come to pass?
1065

How know I that my heart can bear the best,
Vain foolish heart that knew but little rest?"

   A moment more and toward that golden ship
His face was turned, a hand was holding his;
His eyes with happy tears were wet, his lip
1070

Still thrilled with memory of a loving kiss,
His eager ears drank in melodious bliss
[205] Past words to tell of; joy was born at last,
Surely the bitterness of death was past.

   How can I give her image unto you,
1075

Clad in that raiment wonderful and fair?
What need? Be sure that love's eye pierceth through
What web soever hides the beauty there—
To tell her fairness? Measure forth the air,
And weigh the wind, and portion out the sun!
1080

This still is left, less easy to be done.

   Into the golden ship now passed the twain,
he maidens followed, and the soldiers moved
Their ordered ranks, the shoreward road to gain;
The minstrels played what tunes the best behoved,
1085

While in the stern the lover and beloved
Had nought to do but each on each to gaze,
Without a thought of past or coming days.

   Up stream the gold prow pointed, the long oars
Broke into curves of white the swirling green,
1090

On each side opened out the changing shores;
So lovely there were all things to be seen,
That in the golden age they might have been;
But rather had he gaze upon those eyes
Than see the whole world freed from miseries.
1095

   Sometimes she said, "And this, O love, is thine
As thou art mine. Look forth thy land to see!"
But he looked not, but rather would entwine
His fingers in her fingers amorously,
And answer, "Yea, and that one day shall be
1100

When thou shalt go upon the blossoms sweet,
And I must look thereon to see thy feet!"

   Now the stream narrowed, and the country girls
Thronged on the banks to see the Queen go by,
And cast fresh flowers upon the weedy swirls.
1105

"Look forth! they sing to our felicity!"
The Queen said, "And the city draweth nigh."
[206] "Nay, nay," said Bharam, "I will look on them
When they shall kneel to kiss thy garment's hem."

   Now far ahead, above dark banks of trees
1110

Could they behold the city's high white wall,
And, as they neared it, on the summer breeze
Was borne the tumult of the festival;
And when that sound on Bharam's ears did fall,
He cried, "Ah, will they lengthen out the day,
1115

E’en when kind night has drawn the sun away?"

   She sighed and said, "Nay now, be glad, O king,
That thou art coming to thy very own;
Nor one day shalt thou think it a small thing
That thou therein mayst wear the royal crown
1120

When somewhat weary thou at last art grown,
Through lapse of days, of this and this and this—
That something more is left thee than a kiss."

   He stared at her wide eyes as one who heard
Yet knew not what the words might signify,
1125

Then said, "And think’st thou I shall be afeard
To slay myself before our love goes by,
That changed by death, if we indeed can die,
Unwearied by this anxious, earthy frame,
I still may think of thee, and know no shame?"
1130

   She gazed upon his flushed face tenderly,
Reddening herself for love, but said not aught,
Only her bosom heaved with one soft sigh,
And some unravelled maze of troublous thought
Unbidden tears unto her sweet eyes brought;
1135

And he forgot that shade of bitterness
When such a look his yearning heart did bless.

   Thereat the silver trumpet's tuneful blare
Made music strange unto his lovesome dream,
For now before them lay the city fair,
1140

With high white bridges spanning the swift stream,
And bridge and shore with wealth of gold did gleam.
[207] From a great multitude shout followed shout,
And high in air the sound of bells leapt out.

   And then the shipmen furled the golden sail—
1145

Slowly the red oars o’er the stream did skim,
As ’twixt the houses the light wind ’gan fail,
Till by a palace on the river's brim,
Whose towering height made half the bells grow dim,
The golden ship was stayed, for they had come
1150

Unto the happy seeker's wondrous home.

   "Look up and wonder, well-beloved," she said,
As now they rose to go unto the shore,
"At what the men did for us who are dead,
And praise them for the depth of their past lore,
1155

And thank them though their life is long past o’er.
If they had known that all these things should be
How better had they wrought for thee and me?"

   Gravely she looked into his eager eyes,
That turned unto the house a little while,
1160

But took small heed of all the phantasies
Wherewith those men their trouble did beguile,
Though calmly did the vast front seem to smile,
From all its breadth of beauty looking down
Upon the tumult of the joyous town.
1165

   Again she sighed, but passed on silently,
And o’er the golden gangway went the twain
Unto the gold shade of the doorway high,
Treading on golden cloths, betwixt a lane
Of girls who each had been a kingdom's bane
1170

In toiling, troubled lands, where loveliness
In scanty measure longing men doth bless.

   One moment, and the threshold Bharam passed,
And that desire his heart was set upon
[208] Yet would not name, his heart hath won at last.
1175

Ah, if the end of all thereby were won!
For though, indeed, the noon-tide sun hath shone,
And all the clouds are scattered, who can say
What clouds shall curse the latter end of day?

 

THE days passed—growing sweeter as the year
1180

Declined through autumn into winter-tide;
Perchance, for though no day could be so dear
As that whereon he first had seen his bride,
Yet still no less did love with him abide,
Tempered with quiet days and restfulness;
1185

Desire fulfilled, renewed, his life did bless.

   And thereto now were added other joys,
Her gifts indeed, unmeet for him to scorn:
The judgment-seat, the tourney's glorious noise,
The council wherein were the wise laws born;
1190

Sweet tales of lovers vanquished and forlorn,
To make bliss greater when these lovers met,
Silent, alone, all troubles to forget—   

   All troubles to forget—the winter went,
Spring came, and love seemed worthier therewith weighed,
1195

The summer came, and brought no discontent,
Nor yet with autumn's fading did love fade,
And the cold winter love the warmer made.
—So Bharam said, when round his love he clung,
And lonely, still such words were on his tongue.
1200

   At last from this and that (it boots not now
To tell the why and wherefore of the thing),
Great war and strife with other lands did grow,
And weeping she around his neck must cling,
Bidding him look for such a welcoming
1205

[209] When he came back again, as should outdo
The day that made one heart and life of two.

   Nor did this fail: tried at all points was he,
He met the foe, and, beaten back with shame,
Snatched from victorious hands the victory,
1210

And, winner of a great and godlike name,
Sighing with love, back to his love he came,
Worthy of love and changed by love indeed,
And with most glorious love to be his meed.

   —Ah, changed by love—the fickle careless earth,
1215

The deeds of men, the troubles that they had,
That in first love he held of little worth,
Now like a well-told tale would make him glad,
And nought therein to him seemed lost or bad;
"And love," he said, "my joyous life doth bound,
1220

E’en as the sea some fair isle flows around."

   —"Love flows around"—alas, as time went on
Some strong career of striving would he stay,
And falter e’en at point of victory won,
And well-nigh cast the longed-for thing away:
1225

"Nay, let me think of love," then would he say,
"Ah, I have swerved from singleness of heart,
Let me return, nor in these things have part."

   "Let me return"—but, ah, what thing was this?
That in his love's arms he would feel the sting
1230

Of vain desire, and ne’er-accomplished bliss.
—At whiles, indeed—for he had strength to fling
All thought away, and to his love to cling.
—At least as yet, and still he seemed to be
O' Dowered with the depth of all felicity.
1235

   So passed the time, till he two years had been
Living that joyous life in that fair land,
When on a day there came to him the Queen,
And said: "Fair love, all folk bow ’neath the hand
Of this or that, and I, at the command
1240

[210] Of one whose will I dare not disobey,
Must leave thee lonely till the hundredth day.

   “Nay, now, forbear to ask me why I go!
Thou know’st all things are thine that I have got,
Nathless this one thing never shalt thou know,
1245

Unless the love grow cold that once was hot,
And thou art grown aweary of thy lot.
Ah, love, forgive me! for thy kiss is sweet,
As cool fresh streams to bruised and weary feet.

   “Yet one more word; the room where thou and
1250

Were left alone that day of all sweet days;
Enter it not, till that time is passed by
I told thee of, and many weary ways
My feet have worn, to meet thy loving gaze;
For surely as thy foot therein shall tread,
1255

Thou unto me, as I to thee, art dead.

   "And yet, for fear of base and prying folk,
Needs must thou bear about that chamber's key.
Ah, love, farewell! no hard or troublous yoke
Thou hast to bear, nor have I doubt of thee.
1260

For all the stream of tears that thou dost see,
They are love's offspring only, for my heart
Yet more than heretofore in thine has part."

   Thus did she go, and he so left behind,
Mourned for her and desired her very sore,
1265

Yet, with a pang, he felt that he was blind,
Despite of words, that yet there was a store
Of some undreamed-of and victorious lore
He might not touch—frowning he turned away,
And seemed a troubled, gloomy man that day.
1270

   Yet loyally for many days he dwelt
Within that house, or from his golden throne
Good justice to the thronging people dealt;
But when night came, and he was left alone,
Then all that splendour scarcely seemed his own;
1275

[211] And when he fell to thinking of his love,
He ’gan to wish that he his heart might prove.

   In agony he strove to cast from him
Fresh doubts of what she was, and all his tale
Rose up once more, now vague indeed and dim,
1280

Yet worse therefore perchance—if he should fail,
And in some half-remembered hell go wail
His happy lot, the days that might have been!
Was she his bane?—his life, his love, his queen.

   Then would he image forth her body fair,
1285

And limb by limb would set before his eyes
Her loveliness as he had seen it there;
Then cry, “Why think of these vain mysteries
When still ahead such happy life there lies?
And yet and yet, this that doth so outshine
1290

All other beauty, is it wholly mine?

   “How can it change, that throne of loveliness?
How can it change—but I grow old and die.
Perchance some other heart those eyes shall bless,
Some other head upon that bosom lie,
1295

When all that once I was is long gone by:
And now what memory through my mind has passed
Of men from some strange heaven of love outcast?

   "Who knows but in that chamber I may find
The clue unto this tangled, weary maze,
1300

And vision clear, whereas I now am blind,
And endless love instead of anxious days—
A glorious end to all these dark strange ways?
Perchance those words she did but say to me,
To try my heart—did she not give the key?"
1305

   So passed the days, and sometimes would he strive
To think of nothing but her dear return,
And midst of kingly deeds would think to live,
But then again full oft his heart would burn
The uttermost of all the thing to learn;
1310

[212] Love failed him not, but baneful jealousy
Had scaled his golden throne and sat thereby.

   Now he began to wander nigh the door,
And draw from out its place the golden key,
And curse the gift, and wish the days passed o’er,
1315

Till in his arms his love once more should be;
Yet still he dreaded what his eyes should see
In those familiar and beloved eyes,
Changed now perchance in some unlooked-for wise.

   At last a day came, on the morn of it
1320

Did he arise from haggard dreamful sleep,
And on the throne of justice did he sit,
In troublous outward things his soul to steep;
Then, armed, upon his war-horse did he leap,
And in the lists right eagerly did play,
1325

As one who every care hath cast away.

   Then came the evening banquet, and he sat
To watch the dancers’ gold-adorned feet,
And with his great men talked of this and that,
Then rose, with gold a minstrel-man to greet,
1330

Then listened to his pensive song and sweet
With serious eyes, and still in everything
He seemed an unrebuked and glorious king.

   But at the dead of night was he alone
Once more, once more within his wavering heart
1335

Strange thought against confused thought was thrown,
Nor knew he how real life from dreams to part,
All seemed to him a picture made by art,
Except the overwhelming strong desire
To know the end, that set his heart afire.
1340

   Dawn found him thus; then he arose from bed,
He kissed her picture hanging on the wall,
The linen things that veiled her goodlihead
From all but him, and still, like bitterest gall,
A thought rose up within him therewithal,
1345

[213] And strangely was his heart confused with fears
That checked the rise of tender, loving tears.

   He gat the golden key into his hand,
And once more had a glimmering memory
Of how just so he once before did stand,
1350

Ready another golden key to try;
Then murmured he, "Gat I not bliss thereby?
Unless all this is such a gleam of thought,
That to a man's mind sometimes will be brought.

   "Of how he lived before, he knows not where."
1355

So saying from the chamber did he pass,
And went a long way down a cloister fair,
And o’er a little pleasance of green grass,
Until anigh the very door he was
That hid that mystery from him; there he stayed,
1360

And in his hand the golden key he weighed.

   There stood he, trying hard to think thereof,
The better and the worse, how all would be
If he should do the deed, but thought would move
From this thing unto that confusedly,
1365

And neither past nor future could he see,
Nay scarce could say of what thing then he thought,
Such fever now the fierce desire had wrought.

   Not long he lingered, in the lock he set
The golden key, as one constrained thereto,
1370

And thrust the door back, and with scared eyes met
The lovely chamber that so well he knew,
And therein still was all in order due,
No deathlike image seared his wondering eyes,
No strange sound smote his ears with ill surprise.
1375

   He sighed, and smiled, as one would say, "Ah, why
Have I feared this, wherein was nought to fear,
Wrapping familiar things in mystery?"
And even therewithal did he draw near
I To well-remembered things his soul held dear,
1380

[214] Gazing at all those matters one by one,
That told of sweet things there in past days done.

   There in the grey light were the hangings fair,
No figure in them changed now any whit,
The marble floor half hid with carpets rare
1385

E’en as when first he saw her feet on it,
A grey moth's whirring wings indeed did flit
Across the fair bed's gleaming canopy,
But yet no other change had passed thereby.

   And by the bed upon the floor there lay
1390

Soft raiment of his love, as though that she
Had there unclad her, ere she went away.
He stopped and touched the fair things tenderly,
And love swept over him as some grey sea
Sweeps o’er the dry shells of a sandy bank,
1395

And with dry lips his own salt tears he drank.

   He rose within a while, and turned about
Unto the door, and said, "Three days it is
Before she comes to take away all doubt
And wrap my soul again in utter bliss;
1400

I will depart, that she may smile at this,
Giving the pity and forgiveness due
Unto a heart whose feebleness she knew.

   Therewith he turned to go, but even then,
Upon a little table nigh his hand,
1405

Beheld a cup the work of cunning men
For many a long year vanished from the land,
And up against it did a tablet stand;
Whereon were gleaming letters writ in gold;
Then breathlessly these things did he behold;
1410

   For never had his eyes beheld them erst,
And well he deemed the secret lay therein;
Trembling, he said, "This cup may quench my thirst,
Fair rest from this strange tablet may I win,
And if I sin she will forgive my sin;
1415

[215] Nay, rather since her word I disobey
In entering here, no heavier this will weigh."

   Withal he took the tablet, and he read;
“O thou who, venturing much, hast gained so much,
Drink of this cup, and be remembered
1420

When all are gone whose feet the green earth touch:
Dull is the labouring world, nor holdeth such
As think and yet are happy; then be bold,
And things unthought of shall thine eyes behold!

   "Yea, thou must drink, for if thou drinkest not
1425

Nor soundest all the depths of this hid thing
,
Think’st thou that these my words can be forgot,
How close soever thou to love mayst cling,
How much soever thou art still a king:
Drink then, and take what thou hast fairly won,
1430

For make no doubt that thine old life is done.
"

   He took the cup and round about the bowl
Beheld strange figures carved, strange letters writ,
But mid the hurrying tumult of his soul,
He of their meaning then could make no whit,
1435

Though afterwards their smallest lines would flit
Before his eyes, in times that came to him
When many a greater matter had grown dim.

   So with closed eyes he drank, and once again,
While on his quivering lip the sweet draught hung,
1440

Did he think dimly of those mourning men
And saw them winding the dark trees among,
And in his ears their doleful wailing rung;
His love and all the glories of his home
E’en in that minute shadows had become.
1445

   E’en in that minute, though at first indeed
In one quick flash of pain unbearable,
His love, his queen, made bare of any weed,
[216] Seemed standing there, as though some tale to tell
From opened lips; and then a dark veil fell
1450

O’er all things there, a chill and restless breeze
Seemed moaning through innumerable trees.

   Yet still he staggered onwards to the door
With arms outspread, as one who in dark night
Wanders through places he has known before;
1455

Wide open were his eyes that had no sight,
And with a feverish flush his cheeks were bright,
His lips moved, some unspoken words to say,
As, sinking down, across the door he lay.

 

WHAT strange confused dreams swept through his sleep!
1460

What fights he fought, nor knew with whom or why;
How piteously for nothing he must weep,
For what inane rewards he still must try
To pierce the inner earth or scale the sky!
What faces long forgot rose up to him!
1465

On what a sea of unrest did he swim!

   He woke, the wind blew cold upon his face,
The sound of swirling waters smote his ear,
Through the deep quiet of some lonely place;
Shuddering with horror at what might be near,
1470

He closed his dazzled eyes again for fear,
Ere they had seen aught but the light of day
And formless things against it, black and grey.

   Trembling awhile he lay, and scarcely knew
Why he was sick with fear, but when at last
1475

His wretched soul unto his body drew,
And somewhat he could think about the past,
As one might wake to hell, around he cast
A haggard glance, and saw before him there
A grey cliff rising high into the air
1480

   Across a deep swift river, and the door
[217] Shut fast against him, did he see therein,
Wherethrough with trembling steps he passed before
That happy life above all lives to win,
And round about him the sharp grass and thin,
1485

Covered low mounds that here and there arose,
For to his head his forerunners were close.

   Then with changed voice he moaned and to his feet
Slowly he gat, and ’twixt the tree-boles grey
He ’gan to go, and tender words and sweet
1490

Were in his ears, the promise of a day
When he should cast all troublous thoughts away.
He stopped, and turned his face unto the trees
To hearken to the moaning of the breeze;

   Because it seemed well-nigh articulate;
1495

He cried aloud, "Come back, come back to me!"
If yet the echo of the fearful gate
Had any sound to help his misery;
He shut his eyes, lest he perchance might be
Caught by some fearful dream within a dream,
1500

That he might wake up to his gold bed's gleam.

   Voiceless the wind was, the grey cliff was dumb,
His eyes could show him nought but that same place
Whereto in days of hope his feet had come;
He cast himself adown, and hid his face
1505

Within the grass, and heeding no disgrace,
Howled beastlike, till his voice grew hoarse and dim.
And little life indeed seemed left in him.

   Then in a while he rose and tottered on
Adown that path, scarce knowing what had been
1510

Or why his woe was such, until he won
To where had been of old the pleasance green,
Whose beauty, whose decay he erst had seen
That now indeed a tangled waste had grown,
Whose first estate scarce any man had known.
1515

   [218] Roofless above it then he saw the house,
Whose vanished loveliness his heart had filled
With fresh luxurious longings amorous,
And thitherward, though thus he scarcely willed,
His feet must stray to see the wild bird build
1520

Her nest within the chambers, once made bright,
To house the delicate givers of delight.

   And now the first rage of his grief being o’er,
Madness was past, though pain was greater still,
And he remembered well the days of yore,
1525

And how his great desire made all things ill,
And aye with restlessness his life did fill;
Too hard to bear that he must cast away
Honour and wealth, to reach e’en such a day.

   Now in the hall upon that bench of stone,
1530

Where erst the mourners used to sit, he sat,
Striving to think of all that he had done
Before his heart's unnamed desire he gat,
Striving to hope that still in this or that
He might take pleasure yet before he died,
1535

That the hard days a little joy might hide.

   He moaned to think that he had cast away
All hope of quiet life then when his hand
Was on the key ’neath that high cliff and grey,
And looking backward he awhile did stand-
1540

Needs must he deem him worse than that sad band
Who therein erst their wretched lives outwore,
However great the burden that they bore.

   For they, he said, had somewhat left of rest,
Since in that place indeed they could abide,
1545

But on his heart the weight of woe so pressed
That he his wretched head could never hide,
[219] But needs must wander forth until he died—
Ah God, more full of horror seemed that place,
Than the world's curious eyes upon his face.
1550

   For there he seemed to sleep that he might dream
The worst of dreams,—he seemed to be awake,
That through them all might pierce no hopeful gleam,
That he the fearful chain might never break;
And shameful images his eyes must make
1555

That shuddering he must call by his love's name,
And on his lips must gather words of shame.

   Midst this, I say, what will was left to him,
Still urged him unto men's abodes again,
So that he rose, and though his eyes were dim
1560

With misery, he crossed the sunburnt plain,
And as one walks in sleep, with little pain
He pierced the forest through, and came once more
Unto the hill that looked the uplands o’er.

   Fierce was the summer sun of that bright day,
1565

When on the upland road he set his feet,
And man and beast within the shadow lay
And rested, but no rest to him was sweet
That he could gain, and when the hot sun beat
Upon his head as from the wood he passed,
1570

Nought noted he that flame upon him cast.

   At end of day he reached the city gate,
And now no more he moaned, his eyes were dry;
Shut in his body's bonds, his soul would wait,
The utmost term of all its misery,
1575

Nor hope for any ease, nor pray to die.
Some poor abode within that city fair
He gat himself and passed the long days there.
But now and then men saw him on the quays,
Gazing on busy scenes he heeded nought,
1580

Or passing through the crowd on festal days,
Or in some net of merry children caught,
[220] And when they saw his dreamy eyes distraught,
His changeless face drawn with that hidden pain,
They said, "THE MAN WHO NE'ER SHALL LAUGH AGAIN."
1585

 

[221] AH, these, with life so done with now, might deem
That better is it resting in a dream,
Yea, e’en a dull dream, than with outstretched hand,
And wild eyes, face to face with life to stand,
No more the master now of anything,
5

Through striving of all things to be the king—
Than waking in a hard taskmaster's grasp
Because we strove the unsullied joy to clasp—
Than just to find our hearts the world, as we
Still thought we were and ever longed to be,
10

To find nought real except ourselves, and find
All care for all things scattered to the wind,
Scarce in our hearts the very pain alive.
Compelled to breathe indeed, compelled to strive,
Compelled to fear, yet not allowed to hope—
15

For e’en as men laid on a flowery slope
’Twixt inaccessible cliffs and unsailed sea,
Painless, and waiting for eternity
That will not harm, were these old men now grown.
The seed of unrest, that their hearts had sown,
20

Sprung up, and garnered, and consumed, had left
Nought that from out their treasure might be reft;
All .was a picture in these latter days,
That had been once, and they might sit and praise
The calm, wise heart that knoweth how to rest,
25

The man too kind to snatch out at the best,
Since he is part of all, each thing a part,
Beloved alike of his wide-loving heart.

   [222] Ah, how the night-wind raved, and wind and sea
Clashed wildly in their useless agony,
30

But dulled not or made weak the minstrel's song
That through the hall bemocked the lost year's wrong.

 

Page numbers are from The Earthly Paradise, edited Florence S. Boos, New York: Routledge, 2001. "October" appears in the 1870 edition, Part II, pages 160-273; in the 1890 edition, pages 229-258; and in the Kelmscott Press edition 1896-97, Vol. V, pages 139-241.

 

 

 


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