The Earthly Paradise

Text of The Earthly Pradise I, Winter:








[769] SO is a year passed of the quiet life,
That these old men from such mishap and strife,
Such springing up, and dying out of dreams
Had won at last. What further then? Meseems
Whate’er the tale may know of what befell

Their lives henceforth I would not have it tell;
Since each tale's ending needs must be the same:
And we men call it Death. Howe’er it came
To those, whose bitter hope hath made this book,
With other eyes, I think, they needs must look

On its real face, than when so long agone
They thought that every good thing would be won,
If they might win a refuge from it. Lo,
A long life gone, and nothing more they know,
Why they should live to have desire and foil,

And toil, that overcome, brings yet more toil,
Than that day of their vanished youth, when first
They saw Death clear, and deemed all life accurst
By that cold overshadowing threat,—the End.

   That night, when first they ’gan their way to wend,

And each dash in the moonlight of the sweep,
That broke the green bay's little-resting sleep,
Drew their stern further from the plague-cursed shore,
Did no cold doubt their gathering hope cross o’er
Of sweet rest fled from? Or that day of days,

When first the sun the veil of mist did raise,
And showed the new land real before them there,
Did no shame blot the victory over fear,
(Ah, short-lived victory!) that, whate’er might grow
And change, there changeless were they fettered now,

And with blind eyes must gaze upon the earth,
Forgetting every word that tells of birth,
And still be dead-alive, while all things else
Beat with the pulse that mid the struggle dwells?

   [770] Ah, doubt and shame they well might have indeed.

Cry out upon them, ye who have no need
Of life to right the blindness and the wrong!
Think scorn of these, ye, who are made so strong,
That with no good-night ye can loose the hand
That led you erst through love's sweet flowery land!

Laugh, ye whose eyes are piercing to behold
What makes the silver seas and skies of gold!
Pass by in hate, ye folk, who day by day
Win all desires that lie upon your way!

   Yet mid your joyous wisdom and content,

Methinks ye know not what those moments meant,
When ye, yet children, mid great pleasure stayed,
Wondering for why your hearts were so downweighed;
Or if ye ever loved, then, when her eyes
In happiest moments changed in sudden wise,

And nought ye knew what she was thinking of;
Yet, O belike, ye know not much of love,
Who know not that this meant the fearful threat,
The End, forgotten much, remembered yet
Now and again, that all perfection mocks.

   "And yet the door of many a tale unlocks,
Makes love itself," saith one, "with all its bliss."
—Ah, could I speak the word that in me is!—
I dare not, lest to cursing it should turn.
But hearken—if Death verily makes Love burn,

It is because we evermore should cry,
If we had words, that we might never die:
Words fail us: therefore, "O thou Death," we say,
"Thus do we work that thou mayst take away!
Look at this beauty of young children's mirth,

Soon to be swallowed by thy noiseless dearth!
Look at this faithful love that knows no end
Unless thy cold thrill through it thou shouldst send!
Look at this hand ripening to perfect skill
Unless the fated measure thou didst fill;

This eager knowledge that would stop for nought,
Unless thy net both chase and hunter caught!
—O Death! with deeds like these ’gainst thee we pray,
That thou, like those thou slewest, mayst pass away!"

   [771] And these folk—these poor tale-tellers, who strove

In their wild way the heart of Death to move,
E’en as we singers, and failed, e’en as we,—
Surely on their side I at least will be,
And deem that when at last, their fear worn out,
They fell asleep, all that old shame and doubt,

Shamed them not now, nor did they doubt it good,
That they in arms against that Death had stood.

   Ah me! all praise and blame, they heed it not
Cold are the yearning hearts that once were hot;
And all those images of love and pain,

Wrought as the year did wax, perfect, and wane,
If they were verily loving there alive,
No pleasure to their tale-tellers could give.
And thou, O tale of what these sleepers were,
Wish one good-night to them thou holdest dear,

Then die thyself, and let us go our ways,
And live awhile amid these latter days!



[772] HERE are we for the last time face to face,
Thou and I, Book, before I bid thee speed
Upon thy perilous journey to that place
For which I have done on thee pilgrim's weed,
Striving to get thee all things for thy need—

—I love thee, whatso time or men may say
Of the poor singer of an empty day.

   Good reason why I love thee, e’en if thou
Be mocked or clean forgot as time wears on;
For ever as thy fashioning did grow,

Kind word and praise because of thee I won
From those without whom were my world all gone,
My hope fallen dead, my singing cast away,
And I set soothly in an empty day.

   I love thee; yet this last time must it be

That thou must hold thy peace and I must speak,
Lest if thou babble I begin to see
Thy gear too thin, thy limbs and heart too weak,
To find the land thou goest forth to seek—
—Though what harm if thou die upon the way,

Thou idle singer of an empty day?

   But though this land desired thou never reach,
Yet folk who know it mayst thou meet or death;
Therefore a word unto thee would I teach
To answer these, who, noting thy weak breath,

Thy wandering eyes, thy heart of little faith,
May make thy fond desire a sport and play,
Mocking the singer of an empty day.

   That land's name, say’st thou? and the road thereto?
Nay, Book, thou mockest, saying thou know’st it not;

Surely no book of verse I ever knew
But ever was the heart within him hot
To gain the Land of Matters Unforgot—
—There, now we both laugh—as the whole world may,
At us poor singers of an empty day.

   [773] Nay, let it pass, and hearken! Hast thou heard
That therein I believe I have a friend,
Of whom for love I may not be afeard?
It is to him indeed I bid thee wend;
Yea, he perchance may meet thee ere thou end,

Dying so far off from the hedge of bay,
Thou idle singer of an empty day!

   Well, think of him, I bid thee, on the road,
And if it hap that midst of thy defeat,
Fainting beneath thy follies’ heavy load,

My Master, GEOFFRY CHAUCER, thou do meet,
Then shalt thou win a space of rest full sweet;

Then be thou bold, and speak the words I say,
The idle singer of an empty day!

   "O Master, O thou great of heart and tongue,

Thou well mayst ask me why I wander here,
In raiment rent of stories oft besung!
But of thy gentleness draw thou anear,
And then the heart of one who held thee dear
Mayst thou behold! So near as that I lay

Unto the singer of an empty day.

   "For this he ever said, who sent me forth
To seek a place amid thy company;
That howsoever little was my worth,
Yet was he worth e’en just so much as I;

He said that rhyme hath little skill to lie;
Nor feigned to cast his worser part away
In idle singing for an empty day.

   "I have beheld him tremble oft enough
At things he could not choose but trust to me,

Although he knew the world was wise and rough:
And never did he fail to let me see
His love, his folly and faithlessness, maybe;
[774] And still in turn I gave him voice to pray
Such prayers as cling about an empty day.

   "Thou, keen-eyed, reading me, mayst read him through,
For surely little is there left behind;

No power great deeds unnameable to do;
No knowledge for which words he may not find;
No love of things as vague as autumn wind—

—Earth of the earth lies hidden by my clay,
The idle singer of an empty day!

   "Children we twain are, saith he, late made wise
In love, but in all else most childish still,
And seeking still the pleasure of our eyes,

And what our ears with sweetest sounds may fill;
Not fearing Love, lest these things he should kill;
Howe’er his pain by pleasure doth he lay,
Making a strange tale of an empty day.

   "Death have we hated, knowing not what it meant;

Life have we loved, through green leaf and through sere,
Though still the less we knew of its intent:
The Earth and Heaven through countless year on year,
Slow changing, were to us but curtains fair,
Hung round about a little room, where play

Weeping and laughter of man's empty day.

   "O Master, if thine heart could love us yet,
Spite of things left undone, and wrongly done,
Some place in loving hearts then should we get,
For thou, sweet-souled, didst never stand alone,

But knew’st the joy and woe of many an one —
—By lovers dead, who live through thee, we pray,
Help thou us singers of an empty day!"

   Fearest thou, Book, what answer thou mayst gain
Lest he should scorn thee, and thereof thou die?

Nay, it shall not be.—Thou mayst toil in vain,
And never draw the House of Fame anigh;
Yet he and his shall know whereof we cry,
[775] Shall call it not ill done to strive to lay
The ghosts that crowd about life's empty day.

   Then let the others go! and if indeed
In some old garden thou and I have wrought,
And made fresh flowers spring up from hoarded seed,
And fragrance of old days and deeds have brought
Back to folk weary; all was not for nought.

—No little part it was for me to play—
The idle singer of an empty day





Page numbers are from The Earthly Paradise, edited Florence S. Boos, New York: Routledge, 2001. The "Epilogue" appears in the 1870 edition, Part III, pages 434-442; in the 1890 edition, pages 442-445; and in the Kelmscott Press edition 1896-97, Vol. VIII, pages 178-186.


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