Venturous boy and curious girl,
Glancing shyly through the roses,
Each at other’s conscious face,
While you tie your April posies,—
You are looking out for Love,
Having nothing else to do
While you wait for him to come,
Read what here is writ for you!
Ye, whose feet at last have found
Pathways lined with Passion Flowers,
And whose hearts are in revolt
At the shortness of the hours, —
See, as in a mirror here,
Much of what you think and do.
Lovers’ lives are all akin;
Therefore this is writ for you!
You, who know so well the taste
Of the bitter, after sweet;
And who time no more your steps
To the steps of other feet, —
Memory, not less sweet than sad,
Turns the page without ado;
You have time enough to read
What is written here for you!
My Past! my precious Past!
I take thee from thy grave:
I love thee at the last—
I that was slow to save.
How soon I let thee slip
From out my careless arms!
This uncaressing lip
Was strange to all thy charms.
But now I lift the leaves
From thy unchanging face
And with a heart that grieves
I take thee from thy place,
And hold thee, cold and dead,
To my sore-yearning breast:
Alas! with thee hath ﬂed
My little hoard of rest.
How beautiful wert thou!
And oh how blind was I!
How much I love thee now,
Although I let thee die!
If thou couldst live again,
And live again for me—
Thou whom my scorn hath slain—
I would not let thee be.
My Past! my precious Past!
How I betrayed my trust,
And left thee at the last
So meanly in the dust!
There thou no more shalt lie
Unwatched, disowned, apart:
Sweet Past! until I die
Thy new grave is my heart.
Ah, Love, before I knew thee,
What songs I sang of thee!
How low I knelt to woo thee
Beneath the myrtle tree!
How hotly did pursue thee
That would not look on me;
How madly pray unto thee,
Just once thy face to see.
Ah, Love, since I have known thee
Thou workest my eclipse!
In turn, for honor shown thee,
Thou pressest on my lips,
Lest I in pain disown thee,
Thy warning ﬁnger tips;
But the heart that doth bemoan thee
Is thy apocalypse!
There is a lonesome hamlet of the dead
Spread on a high ridge, up above a lake—
A quiet meadow-slope, unfrequented,
Where in the wind a thousand wild ﬂowers shake.
But most of all, the delicate gentian here,
Serenely blue as the sweet eyes of Hope,
Doth prosper in th’ untroubled atmosphere,
Where wide its fringèd eyelids love to ope.
You cannot set a foot upon the ground
On warm September noons, in this old croft,
But there some satiny blossom crushed is found,
Swift springing up to look again aloft.
Prized! sung of poets! sought for singly where
Adventurous feet may hardly dare to climb!
Here, scattered lavishly and without care,
In all the sweet luxuriance of their prime.
Ah! how the yellow-thighed, brown-coated bee
Dives prodigally into those blue deeps
Of glistening, odorless satin fair to see,
And soon forgetting wherefore, trancèd, sleeps!
And how the golden butterﬂies skim over,
And poise, all fondly, on these lifted lips,
Leaving the riches of the sweet red clover
For the blue gentians’ ﬁne and fairy tips!
Beautiful wildlings, proud, reﬁned and shy!
Mysteries ye are, have been, and yet shall be:
The secrets of your being in ye lie,
And no man yet hath found their hidden key.
Might we not laugh at our world’s vaunted lore,
For ever boasting, “This, and this, I know”?
Not all the science of its hard-won store
Can make one single fringèd gentian grow.
A brown-winged bird is singing
High up in the maple-tree;
Out loud, with a pretty bravery
To his sole self singeth he,
While the reddened leaves are falling
Fast down from the maple-tree.
A brown-haired girl is sitting
Now under the maple-tree;
In a voice like smitten silver
To her sole self plaineth she,
And her tears are falling, falling,
Like the leaves from the maple-tree.
The sunshine comes to kiss her
All under the maple-tree.
Her cheeks are like wood-roses;
She’s fair enough for three,
But she has no heart to listen
To the bird in the maple-tree.
For she has shamed her sweetheart
All under the maple-tree,
“And there is not one other
Who truly loveth me!
We shall sit no more together
Low under this maple-tree!”
He listens close behind her
All under the maple-tree.
He’s jealous of the sunshine,
He will not let her be;
On two the leaves are falling
Fast from the maple-tree.
She’s shy, but he is master
All under the maple-tree.
First tears, then smiles and kisses;
In sooth, ’tis ﬁne to see!
And her heart goes singing, singing,
With the bird in the maple-tree. (1871)
At ﬁrst I thought God would have let me
Bring thee the freshness of my day;
So, haply, having earlier met me,
I might have gladdened more thy way!
So would our lives have grown together,
Sharing in common every weather;
Ah! then I did not know that we must wait,—
And what impulsive songs I sung thee
With morning’s ﬂush upon my brow!
What kisses from my mouth I ﬂung thee, —
My lips are pale and pensive now!
Till said I, “Must I call forever?
And will he answer never, never?”
It was so hard to learn that I must wait, —
In the dark night my pride was broken;
I lay down mutely on my face,
And tears revealed what was not spoken, —
I found thee not in any place!
My soul was full of grievous wonder,
My heart-strings almost swelled asunder;
I thought that I could die, but could not wait, —
Then other hands were held out to me,
And others whispered, “I am he!”
And other lovers came to woo me;
And yet thy face I could not see.
Then said I, “I shall never meet him;
God wills that I should never greet him.”
And for a little I forgot to wait, —
But swift and bitter came repayment, —
The fruit hung withered on the tree, —
And I must come in spotted raiment,
A traitor to my heart and thee.
I am not worthy thy caressing,
For I have forfeited such blessing.
Canst thou forgive me that I could not wait, —
Thou wilt, — since I have found no ﬂavor
In all the gifts that others gave;
Their richness but provoked disfavor;
And if I die upon thy grave,
Know, that amid my faithless triﬂing
I had no power my heart for stiﬂing.
Let me yet prove to thee that I can wait, —
Ah ! let no comelier form inthrall thee
By reason of its rarer grace.
Canst thou not hear my spirit call thee?
Hast thou no visions of my face?
Doth never passionate want come o’er thee?
Lookest never wistfully before thee,
To where I stand within the vail and wait?
Then wait! (1870)
One kiss before we part!
But one, for love’s sweet sake!
To sweeten, for my heart,
The pain of this mistake.
Your hand is in my own,
But your head is turned away;
For the ﬁrst time and the last,
One little kiss, I pray!
Nay, though you love me not,
And stab me, saying “Friend!”
Nay, though I be forgot
Before a fortnight’s end
Still, let me kiss the lips
That traitors are to love.
What! nothing but your hand,
And that within its glove?
Because the Past was sweet,
Because you are so dear,
Because no more we meet
In any future year, —
Be kind, and make me glad,
Just for a moment’s space.
Think! I shall be so sad,
And never see your face!
One kiss before we part!
And so you nothing meant?
Though I be gone, your heart
Will keep its old content.
Nay, not your cheek, — your lips;
I claim them as my right —
Small guerdon for great love —
Before we say good night.
Ah! shy, uplooking eyes!
Not true, though blue and rare,
How dare you feign surprise
To know I hold you dear?
What coyness will not yield,
Yet boldness, sure, may take;
Well, then; if not for Love’s,
One kiss for Friendship’s sake!
One kiss before we part!
One little kiss, my dear!
One kiss—to help my heart
Its utter loss to bear.
One kiss—to check the tears
My manhood scarce can stay;
Or thus—I make it “Yes!”
While you are saying “Nay!” (1869)
As we two slowly walked that night,
Silence fell on us, as of fear;
I was afraid to face the light,
Lest you should see that I loved you, dear.
You drew my arm against your heart,
So close I could feel it beating near;
You were brave enough for a lover’s part,—
You were so sure that I loved you, dear.
Then you murmured a word or two,
And tenderly stooped, your listening ear;
For you thought that all that you had to do
Was to hear me say that I loved you, dear.
But, though your face was so close to mine
That you touched my cheek with your chestnut hair,
I wouldn’t my lips to yours resign;
And yet—I loved you,—I loved you, dear.
And all at once you were cold and pale,
Because you thought that I did not care;
I cried a little behind my veil,—
But that was because I loved you, dear.
And so you thought ’twas a drop of rain
That splashed your hand? But ’twas a tear;
For then you said you’d never again
Ask me to say that I loved you, dear.
Well! I will tell,—if you’ll listen now.
I thought of the words you said last year;
How we girls weren’t coy enough, and how
There were half a dozen that loved you, dear.
And I was afraid that you held me light,
And an imp at my shoulder said, “Beware!
He’s just in a wooing mood to-night.”
So I wouldn’t say that I loved you, dear.
Not though I thought you the Man of men,
Chiefest of heroes, brave and rare;
Not though I never shall love again
Any man as I loved you, dear.
I have suffered, and so have you;
And to-night, if you were but standing here,
I’d make you an answer straight and true,
If you’d ask again if I loved you, dear. (1870)
COULEUR DE ROSE
When he told me that he loved me,
’Twas the ﬂowery time of May;
I put roses in my ringlets,
And went singing all the day,
When he told me that he loved me
In the pleasant month of May.
Still he told me that he loved me
In the summer time of June,
When the roses blushed the redder,
And the birds were all in tune;
And I blushed, because he loved me,
Redder than the rose of June!
Yes, because I knew he loved me
I went singing with the birds.
All the day I listened to him,
In my dreams I heard his words;
Dreaming nightly that he loved me,
I was blither than the birds!
But I did not know I loved him
Till I found one summer day
That in telling how he loved me
He had wiled my heart away,—
Just by saying how he loved me
Through the long, bright summer day.
Still he told me that he loved me
When the roses, fading, fell,
And the birds had all forgotten
That sweet song I’d learned too well.
For I love him, and he loves me,
More than any words can tell.
HERS OR MINE?
My sweetheart’s eyes, they’re bonny and blue,
But he’s slow to wed who was swift to woo,
Am I less tender, or is he less true?
Down in the valley, a year ago,
He plucked me a lily as fresh as snow,
And he kissed me as never he’d let me go.
But the lily leaves fell out of my hair,
Or ever his hand had fastened it there,
And a brown bird twittered “Beware! beware!”
We stood together again to-day,
Just where he kissed into Yes my Nay,
He hung his head and had naught to say.
Mignon’s eyes have a sunny shine,
And Mignon’s cheeks are fresher than mine,
For I get paler because I pine.
The dove has forgotten his last-year’s nest,
And it’s his new love that he loves the best,
My heart lies like a stone in my breast. (1869)
I know that it was mine own hand that shut it
And locked it,—but I threw away the key,
And so the door can nevermore be opened
That stands so grimly betwixt you and me.
Though sometimes I have fancied that I heard you
Pleading and knocking on the other side,
I would not answer, for my heart was sullen,
And made so cruel by my wounded pride.
And there are hours when I have knelt beside it,
Anigh to death for just one word from you;
And you, in turn, were proud and would not answer
For anything that I could say or do.
And sometimes when I lie ’twixt sleep and waking,
I think the door swings back to let you in;
But when I spring to give you eager welcome,
I only meet the ghost of What has Been!
And often in my sleep my heart is asking,
“Where is the key? Alas! where is the key?”
I arise and vainly try to open
The closed door that is ’twixt you and me! (1871)
After singing, silence; after roses, thorns;
All the blackest midnights built o’er golden morns;
After ﬂowering, fading; bitter after sweet;
Yellow, withered stubble, after waving wheat.
After green, the dropping of the shrivelled leaf,
Like the sudden lopping of some dear belief;
After gurgling waters, dry, unsightly beds;
After exultation, lowly-hanging heads.
So I shrink and shiver at your proffered kiss,
Knowing pain must follow on the heel of bliss;
Knowing loss must ﬁnd me sleeping on your breast:
Leave me while you love me,—this is surely best!
Like a blushless ﬂower left upon its stem,
Sweetening the thickness of the forest’s hem;
Like a hidden fountain, never touched of lips;
Like an unknown ocean, never sailed by ships,—
Thus I shall be fairer to your untried thought,
Than if all my living into yours were wrought.
Hearts’ dreams are the sweetest in a lonely nest:
Leave me while you love me,—this is surely best! (1871)
Is this the end of all these years?
Must we be strangers now, we two?
Find you such sweetness in my tears,
That you should choose this thing to do?
That you should smite me unawares,
And hate me when you ﬁnd me true,—
Is this the fruit your loving bears?
I had not thought so ill of you!
Ah! looking deep into your eyes,
I thought to read you through and through!
Ah! listening to your stanch replies,
How conﬁdence and fealty grew!
Remembering ’tis your hand that tries
Our ancient compact to undo,
My blood is frozen with surprise—
I had not thought so ill of you!
Perhaps a prouder heart than mine
Might lift a face of brighter hue,
Perhaps a bitterer heart than mine
Might wish some evil fate to you,
Perhaps a harder heart than mine
By word or deed might make you rue;
But I shall leave you this one sign:
I had not thought so ill of you! (1872)
We have plighted troth forever,—
You and I!
We have sworn no fate shall sever,—
You and I!
Young and poor,—uncaring whether
Life bring storm or sunny weather,
So we only stand together,—
You and I!
We’ve no hoard of crested greatness,—
You and I!
Naught of Wealth’s nor Pride’s elateness,—
You and I!
Spirits ﬁtted for endeavor,
Toil our only worldly lever,
And, a faith that faileth never,—
You and I!
Prudent friends may frown upon us,—
You and I!
Say that loving has undone us,—
You and I!
Say ’tis little less than madness,
Thriftless marriages bring sadness;
But they cannot cloud our gladness,—
You and I!
O, we envy not another,—
You and I!
We’re the world unto each other,—
You and I!
Perfect love, that knows no measure,
This our only earthly treasure;
And we ask no other pleasure,—
You and I!
All the wide world is before us,—
You and I!
And a tender Father’s o’er us;—
You and I!
Hand in hand, uncaring whether
Life bring storm or sunny weather,
We will face its cares together,—
You and I! (1860)
Whenever I go to my window,
And look out into the street,—
Look out across the pavement
Crowded with hurrying feet,—
My eye travels up and over
The house-fronts, dingy and dull,
That break in upon my dreaming
Of the Land of the Beautiful!
Till it reaches another window,
Just across from my own,
Where a quiet and lonely woman
Sits all day, sewing alone;
And yet I have hardly seen her;
And here, from where I stand,
I only know she is sewing
By the motion of her hand!
Well, hers is an attic window,
So she sits close to the light;
And her hands are so near the casement
I can see they are frail and white;
With a ring on the third slim ﬁnger
Of the left,—so small and alert.
I think: “Is she weary of sewing?
Does she know the Song of the Shirt?”
And what has become of the lover
Who came and wooed and won?
I see no man sit by her,
When her day’s work’s over and done.
I think that she is a widow,
From the glimpse I get of her gown;
But she sits in the shade of the curtain,
With her amber braids bent down!
And I can’t get a good look at her
For all that I ever can do!
There’s only her pale, proud proﬁle,—
And I guess that her eyes are blue!
She never stands at the window,
To look down into the street,
Nor across at the opposite houses,
Or maybe our eyes would meet!
She has a pot of geranium
And mignonette on the sill,
And a cross is hung in one corner,—
Ah, hers is a cross to kill!
And to think I have never seen her,
Save here from where I stand;
But I’m sure if I ever meet her,
I shall know her by her hand!
I’d swear she’s not over twenty
From the way she turns her head;
And the cheek that is next the window
Is all of a delicate red;
And my glass has helped me discover
A ravishing little ear!
But her hand I think the most of,—
It’s her hand I hold so dear!
The hand that holds the needle
That goes in and out all day,
What wouldn’t I give to snatch it,
And ﬂing it far away,
That terrible tiny needle!
And take those two little hands;
And fold them one over the other,
And kiss her where she stands?
I’m a fool, but I cannot help it.
It cuts me right to the heart,
To think of the life she’s leading,
While mine is the pleasanter part;
Ah, dear little patient woman!
From the window where I stand,
I’ve learned to know and to love you
Only from watching your hand! (1869)
Get you gone, O Day, so dreary!
Creep into the arms of Night!
And these scenes of wasted beauty
Let the darkness seal from sight.
Falls the rain in dirge-like cadence;
Chants the wind a woful rhyme;
And such bitter, bitter memories
Haunt the sombre winter-time!
Vain! I cannot any longer
Put away the thoughts that rise;
I have battled long and bravely,—
I have worn a proud disguise.
But to-night my heart is weary,
And my courage ebbs away
With the tears that gush so hotly,—
Ah! I kept them back to-day.
And it makes me weak to listen
To the far-off river’s moan;
And my pain is always sharpest
When I ﬁnd myself alone.
Awful is this gulf of silence
Stretching ’twixt your life and mine;
Let me fell and die beside it,
Rather than live on and pine!
And I lift my soul in pleading,
O, so passionate and deep!
God! if I could only cross it,
On your neck to fall and weep!
And I kneel and send my moaning
Feebly to the farther shore,
Feeling that it will not reach you,—
Feeling you are mine no more!
Yet, O lost one! I forgive you
Those last, cruel, crushing words,—
I could kiss the hand that rudely
Struck my spirit’s quivering chords.
I forgive you all my anguish,
All these weary nights of woe,
And the bleakness of my Future,
All because—I love you so.
But I never, never wronged you,—
Never was in thought untrue;
All my holiest, highest heart-throbs,
And the inmost, were for you.
When they leave me cold and silent,
When this passionate pain is past,
You will know how much I loved you, —
Know me loyal to the last! (1860)
So, Walter, it seems you’re offended,—
I’ll own I’ve not acted quite right;
But is the occasion sufﬁcient
To stir up your wrath in its might?
If you hadn’t appeared so excited,
If you were not so easily teased,
I should never have gone off with Charlie,—
But you knew I would do as I pleased!
Great Mogul! am I your Sultana,
To come and to go at command?
How you could imagine I feared you
Is a thing that I don’t understand;
If you hadn’t assumed le dictateur
With such an imperial air,
I should never have thought of offending;
But your look,—it said, “Go if you dare!”
Shall I own that the mirth and the music
Of that night were all lost upon me?
Even Charlie’s low tones were unheeded,—
Ah! I thought of one dearer than he!
While you were resolving to cast me
Beyond the conﬁnes of your heart,
I sighed, in the midst of rejoicing,
That you in the scene had no part.
One kind look—my heart would have softened,
One whisper—my tears had burst forth!
But your words in their bitter upbraiding,—
Ah! they stiﬂed regret at its birth;
And my spirit, all tameless, rose proudly,
Indignation gave strength to each nerve:
I knew I was wrong, but, O, surely,
I’d done nothing such wrath to deserve.
Now, Walter, you know that I love you,
In spite of the notions you take;
And my poor heart is aching right sadly,
Yet I don’t think ’tis likely to break.
’Tis a pity, I’ll own,—and reads badly;
But I fear the material’s tough,—
I’m not going to die, mon cher Walter,
Because—you don’t love me enough!
You know you are perfectly killing!
Addie Bell is aware of it too;
She’s tender and timid and clinging,
And then—she is dying for you!
If you love her, I’m perfectly willing
To let her slip into my place;
I never had half so much sweetness,
Nor half so much languishing grace.
So, Walter, you’re welcome to dangle
Around that “dear amiable girl”;
You’re welcome to praise in my hearing
The tint and the twine of each curl;
You’re perfectly welcome to whisper
The sweetest of things—when I’m by.
I’m content if you ﬁnd your elysium
In the light of her pretty brown eye.
You can’t make me jealous, cher Walter!
There’s no use in trying that game;
You might die of spontaneous combustion,—
’Twould be hard to put me in a ﬂame!
So I think you had better consider.
Don’t be rash, but come back while you can;
For I think—and am I mistaken?—
That you are a sensible man.
My position at present is trying;
Poor Charlie but lives in my sight.
And that handsome, distinguished Lieutenant
Was very attentive last night!
And Addie told Lou, in a whisper,
She really preferred him to you.
Ah, Walter, he’s terribly handsome,
And his eyes are so tenderly blue!
So you see how the matter stands, Walter;
’Tisn’t Addie with whom you’ve to deal;
You can’t work on me by your triﬂing,—
I can cleverly hide what I feel;
So if you’re pretending, you’d better
Be wise, and come back while you can;
For I think—and am I mistaken?—
That you are a sensible man.
(Variations in the shape of a shower of tears.)
Come back if you love me, dear Walter;
I’m willing to own I was wrong!
I give up, for my spirit is broken,—
I’m missing you all the day long.
So, Walter, now, won’t you consider,
And decide to come back while you can?
For I think—and am I mistaken?—
That you are a sensible man. (1859)
I saw myself in the glass to-day,
And I said, as I loosened my hair,
“O that my face were a talisman,
And he could have it to wear!”
For there is nothing that I would not give
To fetter his restless heart;
And if his tenderness ever should fail
The glory from life would part.
I should not suffer so if I knew
That he missed me any to-night;
I wonder if ever he wants me now,—
I know that it isn’t right—
I know it is selﬁsh to murmur and doubt;
Is he careless or cold? O, never!
But they tell me that man forgets in an hour,
While woman remembers forever.
I love him! I love him with all my life!
And I give him its choicest things;
But he puts me into a gilded cage,
And cripples my budding wings!
I want to be all that a woman should be,
But he has the narrowest views;
I want to work, and he wants me to play;
And he tells me to do as I choose!
To do as I choose? I would choose to be
Not a child, to be petted and dressed,
But his friend,—on the terms of an equal trust:
Respected, as well as caressed.
He gives me a kiss, and he goes away,
And that horrible ofﬁce door
Shuts out the face and the voice and the hand
That charmed him a moment before!
And if he’s troubled or sad or wronged,
He tells me never a word:
He likens me unto a summer ﬂower,
Or a delicate singing-bird.
If he’d teach me, I know I could learn
To work with him, side by side;
And then I could hold my head up, high,
With a sterling womanly pride!
And so I am jealous of him I love;
O, jealous as jealous can be:
For his lordly aims and his growing plans
Keep him afar from me.
And I sit away by myself to-night,
Dropping the bitterest tears
That have moistened the cheeks that he left unkissed,
To whiten with cruel fears! (1863)
I knew I should ﬁnd the Daisy,
With her forehead so brave and white,
For the sun is her lover to comfort her,
And to keep her in beauty bright;
And she folds the last of his kisses
In the golden well of her cup,
Then fearless sleeps in the frosty ﬁelds
Till the morning wakes her up.
And the purple Pink o’ the mountain
Droppeth her velvet train
Where the stricken glory of forest leaves
Is shed in a scarlet rain;
And nods to the late red Clover,
And the stoical Immortelle;
And the timid buds of the Dewberry
Hide down in the sunny dell.
And I gathered the golden Aster
And the blossomy blades of grass;
Each bowing low, like a courtier,
To let his lady pass;
But the Violets!—O the Violets!—
I thought they were all asleep,
Each on her pillow of thistledown
In the pine wood dark and deep.
But they stood in hapless beauty
Under the sullen skies,
Each lamenting her mother, Spring,
With the sorrow of dewy eyes:
Five o’ them, April’s darlings,
On a bank of yellowed moss,
That long ago the south-wind
Had forgotten to blow across.
And I took these meek, sweet orphans,
Fair set ’neath emerald eaves;
But all for the love of the secret dear
That was hidden among their leaves.
Five little heads blue hooded,
Your message was all for me!
And ye were its ﬁttest carriers,
For all that ye were so wee! (October, 1869)
What if I saved from trampling feet
The drooping plumes of a wounded bird,
And tended its hurt with a gentle hand
Till its life new stirred?
What if it nestled against my cheek,
And tamed its shyness upon my breast,
Until I believed that it loved me more
Than its old-time nest?
And if some day, when I prized it most,
It should leave my hand with a sudden spring,
And cleave the blue of the summer sky
With a freshened wing,
And never pause at my pleading call,—
Never come back to my desolate breast,—
And forget I had saved its life, and forget
I had loved it best,—
Should I never open my arms again
To any helpless or suffering thing?
Never bind up the bruised heart
Nor the broken wing?
Better, a thousand times, to bear
A blow in place of an earned caress,
Than to turn aside into selﬁsh ways,
Or to pity less.
Better the long abiding pain
Of a wronged love, in its sufferance meek,
Then the hardened heart and the bitter tongue,
And the sullen cheek. (1869)
It was a dim, delicious night;
The earth, close wrapt in ermined white,
Lay languid, in the misty light.
The circling spheres were all in tune,
And, in their midst, the Empress Moon
Was brightening to her highest noon.
It was the night when Bethlehem’s star
Guided the sages from afar.
It was the night when shepherds heard
The reverent air by music stirred.
It was the night of old renown,
When wondering angel-eyes looked down,
To see Christ’s head, bare of its crown,
Within the manger laid!
* * * * *
There is a sound of thronging feet,—
What youthful crowds are in the street!
They go out from the stiﬂing town,
They seek the white and lonely down;
They walk in silence, till they ﬁnd
A spot where four roads straitly wind.
Where four roads meet, about a place
Made sacred by the Cross’s grace.
There, men and maids, in separate ﬁle,
Do range themselves, nor speak the while,
Nor break the charm, by gest’ or smile.
Till, sudden, breaks upon the air
A sound of singing, strong and clear,—
Thus chant the hardy Breton youths:
“What is new upon the earth?
What fresh wonder goeth forth,
That its ways are full of pilgrims
And its dwellings full of mirth?
“Sounds of gladness on the air!
Happy faces everywhere!
Tell us, O ye silent virgins!
Wherefore is the night so fair?”
Then, silver-soft, the girlish voices rise,
And with the sweetness of their meek replies
Upon the frosty air breed melodies:
“Lo! the sacred hour is near!
What was darkened now is clear.
Christ is coming! Raise your voices,—
Say Farewell to Doubt and Fear!”
Resounding through the darkness, then,
Peal the deep voices of the men,
Who raise the solemn song again:
“Why is all the world abroad,
Raising midnight prayers to God,
Till the censered air is heavy
With its supplicating load?”
Then clearer, purer, richer, rise
The hidden maidens’ sweet replies,
Like wonders out of mysteries:
“Lo! the Prince of Peace is born!
Lo! on high the star of morn!
And it shall not fade forever,
Nor its brilliancy be shorn.”
Then, in concord perfect, sweet,
Tones of youths and maidens meet;
And they gladly sing together,
This auspicious hour to greet:
“Sing to-night,—for Christ is born!
Lo! on high the star of morn!
And it shall not fade forever,
Nor its brilliancy be shorn.
“Sing! deliverance from our woes,
By the blood that overﬂows
And renews the Son of Adam,—
He no longer burdened goes.
“Sing! because it is His feast;
Join the Princes of the East,
Bring him gifts amid rejoicings,—
He will smile upon the least!
“Sing! while Christmas crowns ye weave;
On the Cross a garland leave.
Lo! the World’s one Virgin-Mother
Heals the hurt that came of Eve!” (1865)
Come away to the shade of the citron grove,
I hear the voice of the brooding dove,
Her soft throat swells as she tells her love
To her tender mate in the myrtle above,
And their tremulous pinions responsive move,
Ah! Love is sweet as the spring is sweet,
For me thou makest the spring complete,
The young wind bloweth unto thy feet
A drift of ﬂowers thy steps to meet,
And the wounded blossoms perfume the heat,
They are tokens for only a bride to wear,
Yet I would crown thee if I might dare,
Ah! shy and sweet and tender and rare,
Put away from thine eyes thy shining hair.
Nay, now, have I startled thee unaware?
My heart is lying across thy way,
As thou crushest the ﬂowers, wilt thou crush it,— say,
Or, sadder yet, wilt thou let it stay
Where it is lying, well away,
All on this pleasant morning in May?
My beautiful ﬂower of ﬂowers! No,
Thou wilt not scorn it nor crush it so,
One true little word before we go;
Close,—nestle close,—and whisper low,—
Low while the faint south breezes blow,
Thou’lt wear nothing but white when we are wed,
Thou’lt have orange-blossoms about thy head,
The maidens shall string them on silver thread;
On a rose-leaf carpet thou shalt tread,
While the bride-blush maketh thy beauty red,
Cara! Carina! (Sorrento, 1868)
“In Sleep’s still mansion dost thou lie encloistered,
Though Lily of my heart,
By the cool dream-waters, in the Hall of Shadows,
They sweetness hived apart?
Rare bud, unclose! shine out, my Star of Even!
We are waiting, all, for thee;
For the ﬂowers of Earth and the gentle eyes of Heaven
Are keeping watch with me !”
Her head is quiet on her maiden pillow,
Her sweet eyes in eclipse
But she thrills in sleep, through all her gentle members,
To her vermeil ﬁnger-tips.
“The wind of midnight prints its humid kisses
Upon my lifted brow,—
I pale with pleasure, faint with only thinking
Shouldst thou caress me—thou!
O pain of Love! desire, that smites with anguish,
And deep, delirious dole!
Stir in thy dainty nest, my bird! and listen
To the night-song of my soul!”
Her cheek gleams redder through the rich dark lattice
Of her deep hair’s unbound grace,—
There is a look of hearing far-off music
Upon her trancéd face.
“The Hours go reeling, drunken with aroma,—
I am spent with odorous pain;
The citron petals that my feet are crushing
Fall in a nectarous rain.
The priestess Night takes up her mystic censer
At Nature’s moonlit shrine;
My love consumes my life in costlier incense,
Beloved! to burn at thine!”
The dream-ﬂush rises to her nun-like forehead,
She is troubled in her sleep.
One slight hand stirs, as if it sought another
To nestle in its keep.
“The deep strong pulses of the earth are timing
To the heavings of the sea;
But the old concord of my life is jangled
For the sweet sake of thee!
I could spell out the stars’ mysterious meanings
By the light of thy dear eyes;
I could tell thee all that the ﬂowers and winds are plotting,
My Rose of Paradise!
“Thou dost embody the unwritten poem
Of this midsummer’s night,
O my Regina of the Perfect Presence!
My wonderful Delight!
Ah! to snow thee up in a shower of myrtle blossoms,
Heap violets on thy breast,—
And then, with kisses, part thy spicy covert,
To say, ‘I love thee best!’”
Her languid arms unconsciously are lifted
In that caressing way
In which a white dove rufﬂes its soft pinions
On a happy pairing-day.
“Shall I not move thee from thy cold, white silence
By the strange strength of pain?
I will conquer all the allied worlds to clasp thee,
If thou love me back again.
My life is heavy, with its sole, sweet secret,—
Behold! I cry to thee!
Rise from thine Eden-dreams, sweetheart! and listen—
Listen! and answer me!”
Like a pale, pink bud ﬂung on a moonlit snowdrift,
She sleeps in saintly white
But her listening heart is panged with helpless yearning,
While his sorrow sweetens night. (1868)
Is it true that the clear white beauty
Of the wonderful soul that shone
Through his face in a pallid splendor
Like the light from an astral zone,
Is clouded by disappointment
And darkened by grievous doubt?
Is it true that the light in the beautiful lamp
Is almost out?
Is it true that he hates the sunshine,
Keeping his face to the wall?
That his seeing is careless of any sight,
His hearing of any call?
That his quiet and feeble ﬁngers
On the coverlet lie along,
Like those of a man who has done with thought,
With sob and with song?
Then, God that art good, I pray thee,
Roll back a little for him
The burial-stone of the sepulchre,
Where lieth so cold and dim
She whom he longed for living,—
She whom he deplores as dead
Because she lies so starkly still
With bruised head.
Show him a little, I pray thee,
That she is only asleep.
So haply this wan, fond lover
Shall ﬁnd the heart to weep;—
Seeing that she, though wounded,
Shall amend her by and by,—
And, being thus shaken ’twixt joy and sorrow,
Shall forget to die! (1871)
A light is out in Italy,
A golden tongue of purest ﬂame.
We watched it burning, long and lone,
And every watcher knew its name,
And knew from whence its fervor came:
That one rare light of Italy,
Which put self-seeking souls to shame!
This light which burnt for Italy
Through all the blackness of her night,
She doubted, once upon a time,
Because it took away her sight.
She looked and said, “There is no light!”
It was thine eyes, poor Italy!
That knew not dark apart from bright.
This ﬂame which burnt for Italy,
It would not let her haters sleep.
They blew at it with angry breath,
And only fed its upward leap,
And only made it hot and deep.
Its burning showed us Italy,
And all the hopes she had in keep.
This light is out in Italy,
Her eyes shall seek for it in vain!
For her sweet sake it spent itself,
Too early ﬂickering to its wane,—
Too long blown over by her pain.
Bow down and weep, O Italy,
Thou canst not kindle it again! (1872)
O rare, sweet singer!
I’ve come by lone, untrodden ways
To linger near thy dust divine;
I have no polished words of praise
To laud those words of thine,—
Not “writ in water,” no, dear heart!
Be comforted, sweet poet soul!
If so be that thy spiritual part
Reseek its human’s goal.
O rare, sweet singer!
I’ve come to ﬁnd thee all alone.
The grass waves high above my head,
As here I crouch and kiss this stone,
And grieve that thou art dead.
Couldst thou not wait a little while,
And scorn the critic’s crabbed ﬂout,
And patient toil for Fortune’s smile,
And triumph over doubt?
O rare, sweet singer!
And didst thou doubt thyself, in truth,
Beneath the scourge of mocking words,
That wrench the poet’s heart like blows
Upon a cithern’s chords?
But no! I deem it rather was
That fatal languor of the soul
Which comes of love when given in vain,
And yet beyond control.
O rare, sweet singer!
So nobly made, so richly dowered,
Yet withered ere thy manhood’s prime,—
The almond-tree, leaf bare, but ﬂowered, *
Without a fruitage time!
Ah, ﬂame-like life! how soon it failed,
How soon the shell of pearl was broken!
Ah, silver tongue! that, dying, wailed,
Yet left its love unspoken!
O rare, sweet singer!
I’m glad they’ve left thee all alone;
For I have made this pilgrimage
Unto thy, lone memorial stone
Vague yearnings to assuage.
Ah, canst thou see these tears that fall?
Ah, canst thou hear this passionate sigh?
Thy sorrows all my thoughts inthrall,
I mourn thy destiny.
O rare, sweet singer!
And must I leave thee all alone
In this Italian solitude?
The breath of ﬂowers, the zephyr’s moan,
Would suit thy delicate mood.
My wishes half conjure a face
Of beauty, spiritual and frail,
Fit dweller of this charmed place,
To which I murmur, “Vale!” (Rome. May, 1865)
Men said unto a prince of story-tellers,
“Tell us another tale!”
And yet, beside the bells, stood phantom knellers,
And his voice was ﬁt to fail.
At ﬁrst he faltered, saying, “I am weary,
And the words are slow to come.
Across my ken ﬂit visions dim and eerie,
And ’tis sweet to keep at home!”
But the clamor rose, by many voices strengthened;
And one voice in his heart
Grew louder as the spring-tide shadows lengthened:
“Ah! ’tis dull to sit apart!
“Be prouder than to wait with ﬁngers folded,
Scared, looking out for death;
Drop not the habit which thy life hath moulded
But with thy lease of breath!”
He passed his hand across his heavy forehead,
And then across his eyes;
Before him rose a spectre, dim and horrid,
With terrible replies
“The name by which men name me, while they shiver,
It is Swiftly Certain Death.
Leave all thy latest arrows in their quiver,
Or ’gage to me thy breath!”
Ah me! this prince of worthy story-tellers
Stood sad beneath the sun;
For he could see where stood the phantom knellers—
But the story was begun!
Some said, “It is his story of all stories”;
And others: “Lo! He fails!
His later cannot match his earlier glories,—
He falters and he pales!”
But men pressed round him, eagerly, to listen;
And all else was forgot.
He coaxed the smile to shine, the tear to glisten;
And then—his voice was not!
The tale was but begun,—the web half woven,
The colors scarcely mixed,—
The cunning of his hand was not yet proven,—
His intent hardly ﬁxed.
For the dark comrade who walked with his walking
Laid lightly on his lip
A cold foreﬁnger,—and he ceased from talking—
Ah! still lips locked on the mysterious story!
Ah! hand that cannot hold
The pen by which he earned his meed of glory,—
He’s dead! and ’tis not told! (1870)
O love! so sweet at ﬁrst!
So bitter in the end!
Thou canst be ﬁercest foe,
As well as fairest friend.
Are these poor, withered leaves
The fruitage of thy May?
Thou that wert strong to save,
How art thou swift to slay!
Ay! thou art swift to slay,
Despite thy kiss and clasp,
Thy long, caressing look,
Thy subtle, thrilling grasp!
Ay! swifter far to slay
Than thou art strong to save,
And selﬁsh in thy need,
And cruel as the grave!
Yes! cruel as the grave,—
Go! go! and come no more!
But canst thou set my heart
Just where it was before?
Go! Go! and come no more!
Go! leave me with my tears,
The only gift of thine
That shall outlive the years.
Yet shall outlive the years
One other, cherished thing,
Slight as a vagrant plume
Shed from some passing wing: —
The memory of thy ﬁrst
Divine, half-timid kiss.
Go! I forgive thee all
In weeping over this! (1872)
Mine is the song of an empty nest,
Others will bring you braver songs;
But mine must utter my heart’s behest,
Though I sing it to heedless throngs.
My steps were over the blenchéd leaves
That had taken the frost’s untimely kiss,
Not long ago we’d carried the sheaves;
But the season was all amiss.
With hanging head and with loitering feet
Toward the open land I went,
Through places that summer had made so sweet
With a glamour but brieﬂy lent.
I trod upon something soft and dry,—
For my eyes were full on the ﬂaming west;
And just where the grass was thick and high
Was lying—an empty nest.
O, what visions of faded spring,
O, what memories of silenced song,
Of brooding breast and of glancing wing,
To an empty nest belong!
And the thought that suddenly came to me —
Close to the water, facing the west—
Was of some singing that used to be
In another forsaken nest.
There were two birds that began to sing
Low in the ﬁelds of yellow corn,
Not for the heed their song would bring,
But for love of the dewy morn.
Birds of one feather, and sister birds,
Crowded out of roof-tree nest,
Hatched within sound of lowing herds,
But ﬂying away from the west.
Birds of one feather fare best together;
Singing they built them another nest,
Sat in it and sang, in the worst of weather,
Each loving the other best.
But we who listened one morning knew
That only one bird was left to sing,—
They never had sung apart, the two,—
And we talked of a broken wing.
Now, should you chance to walk that way,
You would vainly listen for any song;
But what regrets for the vanished lay
To this empty nest belong!
Years she went to the world,
Lovely eyes and smiling face,
Dressed and scented, gemmed and curled—
Always queen by right of grace.
All the time there was a grave
’Neath the warm Italian sky,
By the Adriatic’s wave:
She alone, of all, knew why.
He whose dust lay lonely there,
Far from friends and native land.
Worked to win a name to wear
Till she let him kiss her hand.
Love and longing, pain and pride,
Passion ﬁrst, and coldness next:
When she went away he died,
Being frail, intense and vexed.
But the snow above her heart
Melted suddenly one day,
And, awakening with a start,
She wrote, “Oh, forgive, I pray,
“All my coldness, all my pride,
I, unwillingly, am true.
When my lips said ‘No!’ I lied:
I have never loved but you!”
Weeks she waited: then there came
Tardily from that far land
A brief letter to her name—
Not his signet nor his hand—
Just to say that he was dead:
His light went out suddenly.
Brokenly she bowed her head:
“All is said and done for me!”
Then remembering life, as ’twere
Just a burden at her feet,
Heavily she stooped her there,
Loathing what had been so sweet.
“And to-night there is a feast:
I am promised, I must go.
Might I see his grave at least!
But the world would scorn me so.
“Well, it may be that some day,
When I’m wrinkled, bent, and old,
When my hair is thin and gray,
None will think but I am cold.
“I may do then as I please,
Cross the sea and seek his grave,
Linger near at my ease—
I, that slew where I could save!”
Oh, she was so fair that night—
Soft ﬂushed cheeks and sweetest eyes,
Shoulders so divinely white
And a voice of low replies!
But the while she bent her head
In the waltz’s rapturous wave,
She was thinking, “He is dead!”
And “What ﬂowers grow on his grave?”
He takes her head between his hands;
He looks down straight into her eyes
As through the gates of longed-for lands
The pilgrim looks before he dies;
And sees what was before surmise
Take life, more beautiful than dreams,
Under the blue, untroubled skies,
Beside serenely-ﬂowing streams.
For him, that one full look redeems
The foregone raptures of past years—
Sweeter than ever to him seems
The face he looks upon through tears;
Fairer, though pale with pain and cares,
Striving to smile through all on him,
Till some quick thought darts unawares,
And anguish smites and makes it dim,
As if in some unheard-of whim
The sun should top the blushing east,
Then sink behind th’ horizon’s rim,
Like guest that ﬂies the waiting feast.
When that supreme, sweet moment ceased
Drear looked the day that lay before;
But they had glimpsed the sun at least,
And knew the light true loving wore.
We said, ‘‘But once!” and so we clung together,
And let the world slide from beneath our feet.
Then, as we ﬂoated upward in Love’s ether,
Did I clasp you, or did you hold me, Sweet?
Neither will ever know: only our Lord,
Who heard that terrible, low, smothered cry;
As twain that are one ﬂesh, beneath the sword,
Pray that, instead of severance, they may die!
“But once—but once, we will be glad!” you said;
And on your shoulder drooped my tired head;
And a great peace, descending, wrapped me round—
As soft as snow that drifts out sight and sound.
And now we know how Cleopatra’s pearl,
Flung in the wine-hot chalice, gladdened more
That low browed, velvet-skinned, delicious girl
Than if she’d kept it with her casket’s store.
We know now, and our proof of it is this:
Behind, before us, naught but loneliness—
Nothing but love’s sharp hunger and distress—
Yet, all redeemed for us by that one kiss;
That seal of Mine and Thine on each heart’s door,
Which like our great love, Sweet, for ever is!
Somewhere there are still waters ﬂecked with shadows,
With lone blue violets drooping o’er the brink;
And down to these slope green and dew-wet meadows,
And many a wild bird fearless comes to drink.
Somewhere—but, oh, I am so warm and weary!
How hard my heart beats, and my head throbs too!
Lying untended in this room so dreary,
Suffering and waking, all the long night through!
One hour ago a light wind lifted sweetly
The short brown shadowy curls that you have praised;
And then I slid away from pain completely,
And in my dreams it was your hand that raised
And put the hair from cheeks delight was ﬂushing;
So, hugging my false heaven, a space I slept.
But even in sleep I felt that I was blushing;
And so I woke; and when I woke I wept.
But while I slept we went away together
Down to the margin of that forest stream,
And all the freshness of the sweet June weather
Was crowded into my delightful dream.
If we could know! If we could know
Something of that which lies below
The foaming froth and bubble show
Of Man’s love fraught with Woman’s woe;
If we could know beforehand—we
Who launch upon that unknown sea—
Its fathomless uncertainty,
So swift to surge, so swift to ﬂee—
Should we thus haste to scatter wide
Our thoughts, our hopes, our aims, our pride—
The love that never can divide
Itself, nor slaken, though denied;
That, not like man’s, but still and strong,
Tender, yet framed to suffer long—
To suffer slight and suffer wrong—
And never but to One belong?
If we could know! If we could know!—
We women, we who love them so—
Should we have strength this way to go?
But I forget—God wills it so.
She sits at the window and snips and works,
And the sunlight shines on her shining head,
In the crooks and nooks of its tresses lurks
Or sometimes it kisses her face instead!
For I guess the sunlight thinks it has found
The light and the warmth of the Summer lost
In those billowy curls that toss unbound —
On the cheeks of the worker so engrossed!
A pile of the funniest odds and ends—
And snippity-snip, her scissors go!
She doesn’t care for her bosom friends
Cross-stitch is the mission of girls below
You ask if the fairies ever work,
And if they do, must they ﬁrst tie on
A thing like this, that would soften a Turk
Lace, and pufﬁngs, and tarleton?
All’s sweet and pretty! But sweeter yet
Is the thought at the bottom of all of this.
’Tis a work of Love upon which she’s set,
And the look in her eyes is like a kiss!
O! It is not often I dare to think
Of the one bright spot in my buried past,
Standing out in such bright relief
From the dimming shadows by memory cast.
Twenty years old to-day! Ah, well!
Ten have wrapped me in silence about,
Since this terrible canker upon me fell,
And the music of my life went out!
Ten long years and never a sound,
To startle the stillness out of my life!
Velvety mufﬂed, its wheels go round,
Noiseless forever, in joy or strife.
Once I thought my mother’s voice
Floated across the death-still blank,
And my heard was astir—but it died away—
Poor heart, how it ﬂuttered and hopeless sank!
Sometimes my little sister comes,
With a pitying look in her soft blue eyes,
Murmuring words that I cannot hear.
How she stirs the olden memories!
The wonder’s to see the tears that fall,
Like summer showers, upon her brow;
’Tis hard to think of what has been,
When life is so different for me now!
God of the silent! I cry at the door,
That the path is too straight for my feet to tread;
Yet I know whose footsteps have gone before.
Though the human is stubborn of heart and head.
O, let the blessings of patience come down,
To ease my passionate soul of its pain;
Let it shine on my brow like a martyr’s crown.
O, give the sunshine after the rain.
Ah, poor, pale face! Why will you come between me
And the bitter and heavy purpose of my heart?
Face, like the face of him who hath forgotten me,
You vex my soul, and I summon you to depart.
Let me alone, pale face, we are divided,
There’s an end of the loving betwixt him and me.
My heart can never excuse away his falseness—
I never will smile upon you—let me be!
You are not his face; albeit, you are so like him,
As he used to be, in the sweet time, long ago.
The same sad eyes, so large, and so full of loving;
And the mouth that kissed, and clung, and would not go!
The same pale face! Always to mine uplifted,
Till I, pitying, took its wanness betwixt my hands;
And out of my ﬁngers made for it a framing
Of tenderest white and ruddily-tinted bands.
I wonder, now, that you linger here to vex me.
’Twere a little thing that you should let me rest;
Since I know, pale face, that I am forgotten—forgotten!
And I am ashamed to say that it is not best.
Ah, poor, pale face! I know you now, for the mirage
Of my heavy misery, pluralling itself.
Sometimes the page, black-lettered, comes before us,
Though the book be closed and lying on the shelf.
His face—not as it is, but as I’d have it—
If I could look through the sibyl’s magic glass;
Into the quiet street in that grey old city,
And the door should open and I should see him pass!
Thou soft, delicious, royally sweet Summer!
These are thine own warm, dream-begetting skies,
That meet the curving summits of the ridges,
Half masked in greenery, that behind me rise.
I have a world beyond them, loved familiar—
But thanks, blue skies, gray rocks, and sheltering trees,
That shut it out and leave me on the hill slope
With no companions but the gentle breeze
And your own selves, thrice blessed! Sweet new ministerings
I ﬁnd in leaf and ﬂower and ﬂitting wing,
Until my wondering soul cries out in rapture,
“Can I believe life is so sweet a thing?”
So sweet that, O fair mother! faithful mother!
Kind Earth! I could lie hours pressed close to thee,
Happy as any child that gladly nestles
Against the dear maternal breast or knee;
Tracing the lichens on my rocky pillow,
Counting the bird-breasts that ﬂit overhead,
Bathing in breezy fragrances, fed with beauty
Drinking delight that never may be said!
Hard by my head the pale sweet-brier blossoms
Drop mimic snow upon the grass beneath;
Close at my feet its brighter wild-rose sister
Springs freshly red from out an emerald sheath.
And oh, the blue gleam of the distant water!
The white sails, sighted through the elms’ cool boughs!
Summer hath come into her perfect kingdom,
And sitteth throned within her splendid house!
To think that my eyes once could draw your eyes down for a moment,
From their lifting and straining up toward the opulent heights—
To think that my face was the face you liked best once to look on,
When fairer ones softened to pleading ’neath shimmering lights!
Regret you? Not I! I am glad that your proud heart disowned me,
The while it was lying so sullenly under my feet;
Since Love was to you but a snare and a pain, and you knew not
Its height and its depth, all unsounded, and soundless, and sweet.
Too dark was the shadow that fell from your face bending over me—
Too hot was the pant of your breath on the spring of my cheek!
I but dimly divined, yet I shrank from the warring of passions
So strong that they circled and shook me while leaving you weak.
Acknowledge! You knew not aright if you loved me or hated;
But you pushed me aside, since I hindered your seeing the heights.
They were but the cold, barren peaks up which selﬁsh souls clamber,
And for which they surrender the gardens of scented delights.
From where I am sitting I watch your lone steps going upward,
And to-night I am back in those nights that we knew at the start.
I think of your eyes dark with pain, full of thwarted caressings,
And suddenly, after these years, from my hold slips my heart!
But no matter! There’s too much between us—we cannot go back now.
I’m glad of it!—yes, I will say it right on to the end!—
I’m glad that my once sore-reluctant, tempestuous lover
Hasn’t leisure nor heart now to be my most leisurely friend!
My lover! Why, how you would ﬂing me the word back in fury!
Remembering you loved me at arms’ length, in spite of denial;
That the protests were double: each went from the struggle unconquered:
The hour of soft, silken compliance was not on our dial.
You were angry for loving me, all in despite of your reasoning—
I was angry because you were able to hold your love down;
And jealous—because in the scales of your logic you weighed me,
And slighted me for the dry hand of a sordid renown.
So I laughed at your loving—I laughed in the teeth of your passion;
And I made myself fair, but to stand in your light from sheer malice;
Delighting to hold up the brim to the lips that were thirsting,
While I scorned to let fall on their dryness one drop from the chalice!
Alas, for the lips that are strange to the sweetness of kisses—
The kisses we dream of, and cry for, and think on in dying!
Alas, for unspoken endearments that stiﬂe the breathing;
Since such in the depths of two hearts, never wedded, are lying!
You say, “It is best!” but I know that you catch your breath ﬁercely.
I say, “It is best!” but a sob struggles up from my bosom;
For out of a million of ﬂowers that our ﬁngers are free of,
The one that we care for the most is the never-plucked blossom.
Yet, O, my Unbroken, my strong one—too strong for my breaking!—
I am glad of the hours when we warred with each other and Love:
Though you never drew nearer than once when your hair swept my ﬁngers
And their touch ﬂushed your cheek as you bent at my side for my glove.
Never mind! I felt kisses that broke through the bitterest sayings.
Never mind! since caresses were hid under looks that were proud.
Shall we say there’s no moon when she leaves her dear earth in the shadow
And hides all her light in the breast of some opportune cloud?
Yet this germ of a love—could it ever have bourgeoned to fulness?—
For us could there ever have been a sereneness of bliss,
With the thorns overtopping our ﬂowers, turning fondness to soreness?
Ah, no! ’twas a thousand times better it ended like this!
And yet, if I went to you now in the stress of your toiling—
If we stood but one moment alone while I looked in your eyes—
What a melting of ice there would be! What a quickening of currents!
What thrills of despairing delight betwixt claspings and cries! (1875)
A dreary little room, high up,
Lonesome and bare and hard to reach.
Where I droop like some limp sea-weed
Great storms have ﬂung a-beach.
Outside, below, the glare and ﬂash
Of women brave in silk and gem;
I bless this door that shuts me from
The merciless light of them—
And hides from all the world the pale,
Discouraged, quivering, suppliant face,
That shows when I let slip the mask
My pride has held in place—
All through the day-long struggle sore,
Which I live over day by day—
This fruitless questing of the streets
That turns so many gray.
And I must hold my head so high,
And keep my heart close under lock,
And lightly meet repulse, defeat;
But then—I’m not a rock!
For every quiver of the lip,
Pushed back so stoutly in the sun,
My eyes pay double rain of tears
When the hard day is done.
I do not doubt my God because
He lets my heart be bruised so;
I do not love Him any less
Because this way I go.
For well I know He keeps somewhere
The deepest deeps of rest for me.
This straight, dark path shall lead to light,
Though how I can not see.
Only, when I have climbed these stairs,
To hide my wounds within this room,
So hard upon my lonely breast.
Presses its unshared, gloom—
God knows, if I should ope the door
Some night and ﬁnd One sitting here,
Divine with pity, sweet with love
That casteth out all fear;
’Twould matter not if that one were
Angel or human—I should see
Only the guest that God had sent
To soothe and succor me.
But He builds better; for He knows
That though, unseen by human eye,
I still am strong to wrestle here
With all my agony.
Yet one kind touch upon my cheek,
One tear dropped softly for my sake,
The dear relief of sheltering arms,
Would make my strained heart break.
Look where they sit together face to face—
Each is the other’s perfect complement;
Her bright looks lifted with impetuous grace
To his deep eyes of passionate intent.
Lovers, those two? Absurd! If you could hear
Her ﬂuent woman’s talk, his terse replies,
This seeming would not cheat your vigilant ear,
And you would swear that lover’s looks are lies.
They’re intellectual people; and their talk
Is of the last new thing in books or art.
In short, they’re doing “shop” before they walk
To Miss Flite’s lecture, quite ignoring “heart.”
How dared you think them lovers?
They behave Like model friends—sit in their proper places
You were but thinking of the sigh he gave,
And of the charméd look on these two faces?
No more to build on? Wait! A pinkish leaf
From the blush rose in her bosom ﬂutters down,
As if dislodged by some sharp throb of grief,
And settles on her simple robe of brown.
I think, despite of “shop,” there’s not an inch
Of all her dainty fashioning that his looks
Have not gone over; though be does not ﬂinch
At her keen bantering, and talks close of books!
And so, of course, his eyes have seen the fall
Of that pink waif, wrecked by her bosom’s swell;
He bends and picks it up and—that is all;
There is no story, nothing more to tell.
No more? But mark with what a reverent hand
He stirs her dress folds; how he lifts the leaf—
As if some tidy impulse, understand,
Came through their puzzling talk to his relief.
But when he thinks her looks are other where
He sudden lifts it to his craving lips;
Her eyes surprise him, and a color rare
Her forehead’s whiteness holds in warm eclipse.
I said there was no story: just two looks
Crossing each other. That was long ago.
Neither is married, both are deep in—books!
As is the fashion, Mind to Heart said, No!
I found my baby girl to-day
A sleep upon the ﬂoor,
The space around her little form
With playthings scattered o’er.
Her hands were nestled ’neath her chin,
And one still ﬁrmly held
A broken toy, whose novel charm
As yet was undispelled.
There lingered still about the mouth
And on the brow a trace
Of thought, half grieved and half perplexed,
As if the tiny face
Already had begun to learn
The look it was to wear
In years to come. I stooped to kiss
Away the mimic care,
And as I laid her, still asleep,
Within her nest-like bed,
And smoothed the cradle’s pillow for
The little weary head,
I thought how we of larger growth,
When tired of pains and joys,
With that same look, fall fast asleep
Amid our broken toys!
And then the Father, stooping, takes
The tired head to His breast,
And smooths the furrow from the brow,
And bears us to our rest.
From his head you were not taken,
Woman! to rule over him—
From your feet, she was not taken,
Man! to be your sport and whim.
From Man’s side came Woman’s being,
Simple sayings and—you laugh!
I infer that by this token
They should share things—Half and Half!
One is Strength—the other Beauty;
Separate units of the Whole;
Nature mates the hills with valleys,
Sets her meads where rivers roll,
And we know if all were Major
Notes, the scale were incomplete—
And your Minor, Sister Woman!
When unstrained, is perfect—sweet!
Woman! you have got the notion
That you ought to move the World—
(For that matter, you have moved it
Since Eve’s tresses ﬁrst were curled!)
Well, don’t set your arms akimbo,
Nor ﬁght phantoms with a fan—
Go to work and show your mettle,
But—don’t try to mimic Man!
Not a bit of shrewish bluster,
If you want to win his grace—
Not too much convention spouting
And no brazening of the face.
Low and gentle, ﬁrm and quiet,
Be your voice and be your act—
All defensive—not offensive,
Now’s the time to show your tact!
As for you—my sturdy brother—
You must help her all you can!
It was for that very purpose
God created you—A MAN!
By that single act of helping
Her to rise, you raise yourself.
Progress only lays the Dummies—
Not LIVE MEN—upon the shelf!
Wife and Husband! Sweetheart! Suitor!
And the love of friend for friend!
To the strengthening of such compacts,
Let your reformations tend!
Try to walk beside him, Woman!
Not behind—nor yet ahead!
Take her hand, oh Master Worker!
Lead her footsteps where you tread!
If ye be not wife and husband,
Nor yet lovers—oh be friends!
Turn not into separate pathways!
Live not unto separate ends!
Stand together! free and equal!
Side by side and hand in hand!
And the concord of your actions
Shall make glorious the land!
Self-reliance need not jangle
With the spirit of good will,
Nor of alternate dependence
Each upon the other still—
For I yet hold to this doctrine
As the Age’s guiding staff:
Man and Woman! you must share things
Sweet or bitter—Half and Half!
The snow had lain upon the ground
From gray November into March,
And lingering April hardly saw
The tardy tassels of the larch,
When sudden, like sweet eyes apart,
Looked down the soft skies of the spring,
And, guided by alluring signs,
Came late birds on impatient wing.
And when I found a shy white ﬂower—
The ﬁrst love of the amorous sun,
That from the cold clasp of the earth
The passion of his looks had won—
I said unto my brooding heart,
Which I had humored in its way,
“Give sorrow to the winds that blow:
Let’s out and have a holiday!”
My heart made answer unto me:
“Where are the faint white chestnut-blooms?
Where are the thickets of wild rose—
Dim paths that lead to odorous glooms ?”
“They are not yet. But listen, Heart!
I hear a red-breast robin call:
I see a golden glint of light
Where lately-loosened waters fall.”
I waited long, but no reply
Came from my strangely silent heart:
I left the open, sunlit mead,
And walked a little way apart,
Where gloomy pines their shadows cast,
And brown pine-needles made below
A sober covering for the place,
Where scarce another thing could grow.
And then I said unto my heart,
“Now, we are in the dark, I pray
What is it I must do for thee
That thou mayst make a holiday?
Was ever fresher blue above?
Was ever blither calm around?
The purple promise of the spring
Is writ in violets on the ground.
“Comes, blown across my face, the breath
Of apple-blossoms far away:
Hast thou no memories, my heart,
As sweet and beautiful as they?”
We had white lilacs in the spring,
And wide white roses all last June;
But what is lovelier in this world
Than snow-ﬂowers ’neath a silver moon?
There was no sad, slow, solemn change
From green to gray in last year’s fall;
Before the gay red leaves were gone
The pure snow came and covered all.
It took the tired, dismantled earth
In its kind arms, so heavenly soft,
And clothed in beauty every wood,
And every outstretched blighted croft.
And when I stood, an hour ago,
Entranced in our chance-opened door,
My glad soul fell on Nature’s neck,
And kissed her for the charms she wore!
For every hemlock gently drooped
’Neath its white crown in softened pride;
Each maple was a white-robed priest,
And every rosebush was a bride:
Wedded to winter this sweet way!
While white-cloaked asters round them stood
Like bridal maidens set to catch
The mantles of their maidenhood!
Ah! if my soul should be swept bare,
By ruthless winds of Life’s delight,
Still may I live through all to see
My spirit’s garden bloom in white!
Child! Such thou seemest to me that am more old
In sorrow than in years,
With that long pain that turns us bitter cold
Far worse than these hot tears.
Of thine that fall so fast upon my breast,
I know they ease thy grief.
I know they quiet and will bring thee rest,
Thou poor, wind-shaken leaf.
Ah, yes! thy storm will pass, thy skies will clear;
Thou smilest beneath my kiss;
Lift up the blue eyes cleansed by weeping clear
Of every thought amiss.
What seest thou, child, in these dry eyes of mine?
Grief that hath spent its tears—
Grief that its right to weeping must resign,
Not told by days but years.
Are these the eyes, sayest thou,
That are never seen to weep?
The veil falls from them. Knoweth thou not ere now
The stillest stream runs deep?
The bitterest is that weeping of the heart
That mounts not to the eyes;
In its lone chamber we sit down apart,
And no one hears our cries.
It comes to this with every deep true soul,
’Tis neither kill nor cure,
But a strong sorrow held in strong control
A girding to endure.
For no such soul lives in this troubled world
But, like Achilles’ heel,
Hath in the quick a shaft too truly hurled,
Flesh growing round the steel.
For at the last the heart grows round its pain,
And holds it with its life,
So used we are, we hope not for relief,
We know too much for strife.
And this is why I kiss thy dear wet eyes,
Nor think thy grief so great.
Child that thou art, at any fresh surprise,
Thy heart springs to the gate.
Pale Sorrow was my most familiar friend
In those ﬁrst days that are for some men glad;
Faithful as mine own shadows ’tis, and bend
The only constant lover that I had.
Till I grew used to her, and in her face
Could even smile, as plants in darkness thrive;
For even in pain I found some hidden grace
To keep the ﬁbres of my growth alive.
“At least,” I said, “thou wilt deceive not me,
Now thou hast loved me thus so well and long;
Since I am given to thee so utterly,
Thou never wilt betray and do me wrong ?”
Straightway she turned and made pretense to go,
Then came to me, bright garmented, like Joy,
Who seemed to clasp me in the overﬂow
Of honest love that knows no mean alloy.
And I, who thought that Sorrow far had ﬂed,
Hailed this new-comer, as she seemed to me;
And, glad as one new-risen from the dead,
I stretched my hands toward the fair To-be.
And then, oh, then! betwixt me and the sun
Came Sorrow’s shadow, like a curtain dark;
And so I knew my masque of Joy was done,
For on my brow was set the other’s mark.
“Alas!” I said; “If I had never known
That bright, brief semblance so much like to her,
I should not shrink now from the chilling tone
By which I know my ancient minister.”
What pain like that of a thrice-broken heart?
What tears like those that fall above lost hopes?
When, seeing our upward ladders fall apart,
We know that we have twisted sand for ropes.
“And oh,” I cried, borne down by grief and fear,
“What cure for this last, hardest pain—what cure?”
There came a voice, saying far away, yet near,
“Thou must not speak, thou only must endure.”
“God’s will be done!” I said; “I will be still;
Looking but graveward through the vistas dim;
’Tis but my ﬂesh this constant grief can kill,
And then I shall be liker unto Him!”
And as I spoke, rose up with serious grace,
One that was like two angels I had known;
Like joy and sorrow blended in one face,
But with a heavenly ﬁrmness all her own.
“I am true child,” she said; “and I am come
To take my place with thee for evermore;
Together we will walk unto my home;
It lies beyond, upon the further shore.”
Saying she took my worn-out hand in hers
Ne’er the willing prisoner to release.
“How call they thee among God’s worshipers ?”
She smiling led me on, and answered, “Peace.”
“We must have this! We must have that!”
Oh, lustful madness of the land!
Which leads to the dishonoring thought
And thrice dishonoring hand!
Lie soft, live well, have cates to eat,
Rare furnishings to please the eye!
For this proud names are smutched with shame,
The land’s creed made a lie!
Deaf ears and eyes that will not see—
Beckon and call and cry are vain;
Ye will stay shut till justice comes
In one full, ﬁery rain.
Ye will not heed the threatening skies,
The thunder’s muttering from afar;
Ye drive the goddess from the helm
And ﬂout your guiding star.
Ye only think to gain your way—
Crawl where the gold lies, plan your ease;
Ye trade the manhood from your lives
For ﬂimsy things like these!
Part with the clear, unfaltering eye,
Part with the mind that thinks aright,
Part with the spirit undismayed
That palters not with might!
These are the heritage of him
Who cares not where his head may lie,
Rather than have his pillow soft
With bribes and ﬂattery.
But oh! for those who buy and sell
Within the temple’s holy bound;
Barter the birthright of their race
For ease—on Freedom’s ground!
I walked to-day in my garden
That never fears the frost,
Where I never, like Bryant, the poet,
Mourn for the blossoms lost; *
And I thought of the bleak, bare meadows
And the leaﬂess woods of the North,
Where the heralds of the Storm King
Are girding and riding forth.
I walked where the calla lily,
Nymph-like, is holding up,
Out of her exquisite bower,
Her faultless, creamy cup;
Where the heliotrope, so fragrant,
Opens its purple eyes,
Modest, but frank and generous,
Forgetting to court disguise.
Where a thousand roses are smiling
Full in the face of the sun,
As perfect as if their blooming
Had only to-day begun;
And mignonette runs riot
In the kindly soil at their feet,
While the crowds of dainty marguerites
Whisper, how life is sweet!
Where the tall and sturdy geranium
Flames in the roadside hedge,
And hangs its scarlet blossoms
All over many a ledge;
Near the lemon verbena spicy,
That’s like California girls,
Who bare their cheeks to the sea breeze,
And let it rufﬂe their curls.
And I paused where that fragrant hostage
Of a royal golden dower—
Beloved of brides expectant—
The tropical orange ﬂower,
Revealed by its breath, delicious
As a maiden’s dream of love,
Hung, betrayed in its ambush,
As by its murmur, the dove;
By the palm tree, straight and stately,
As some dusky, Orient maid;
Where the humming bird was ﬂuttering,
Radiant and unafraid;
Well I knew he was seeking
For the jasmine’s honeyed lips,
Though he lingered where the nectar
Of the white crape myrtle drips.
They’re all, all here, the ﬂowers,
Brought from many a land;
And the treasured exotics, fearless,
With the woodland blossoms stand;
And they call to their far-off sisters
With one musical refrain:
“Come where there’s naught to make us
Shrivel or turn afraid;
Where the wind lilts, like a lover,
Through every ferny glade;
Where a hundred thousand wellsprings
Nourish our grateful roots;
Where a million fostering sunbeams
Warm our growing shoots.
“Come to the ﬂowers’ kindest
Refuge on all the earth,
Where the shy and timid violet
All the year looks forth.
For we nod upon the hilltop,
We smile upon the plain,
And while you hide from winter,
We’re laughing in the rain.”
Dear Friend Howard Glyndon:
The Hills of Santa Cruz is a lyric which would do honor to any magazine. Fine in conception and felicitous in expression, it will cling to the Santa Cruz mountain range forever. It will do for the little city by the sea what Bret Harte has done for San Francisco and Mrs. Mace has done for Los Angeles. It will give new interest to the surrounding scenery, and really add to its value in the eyes of the tourist and speculator.
Very truly thy friend,
JOHN G. WHITTIER
I’ve seen the far-off Apennines
Melt into dreamy skies;
I’ve seen the peaks the Switzers love
In snowy grandeur rise;
And many more, to which the world
Its praise cannot refuse—
But of them all, I love the best
The hills of Santa Cruz
Oh, how serenely glad they stand,
Beneath the morning sun!
Oh, how divinely fair they are
When morn to noon hath run!
How virginal their fastnesses,
Where no Bacchante woos
The kisses of the grapes that grow
On the hills of Santa Cruz!
And then, how beautiful they look
Just when the sun departs,
With benediction on their brows
And homesteads on their hearts!
O hills of Promise, Peace, and Joy!
No heart could well refuse
To own the charm of your delights,
Dear hills of Santa Cruz!
When the reluctant sun hath gone
And left ye lone and sweet,
What rapture then to trace the line
Where earth and heaven meet.
So low ye lie beneath the sky
We ne’er can you accuse
Of harshness or repellant pride,
Kind hills of Santa Cruz!
Ah! no; ye are forever dear
And restful to the eyes,
Tho’ ever changeful, yet each change
Is but a glad surprise.
’Twixt gentle skies and gentle seas,
Your outlines never lose
The tenderness that Eden knew,
Calm hills of Santa Cruz!
You stand before us like to those
Meek angels sent of God,
Who chanted blessings on the earth’s
Imbrued and guilty sod;
So ye, sweet ministers of hope,
In mind and heart infuse
Peace and good will on earth, O dear.
Dear hills of Santa Cruz!
And if I be the ﬁrst to lay
The laurels at your feet,
Why, then, my heart can only say
The task is passing sweet,—
For sure I am and sure we are
Wo ne’er your outlines lose,
There are no hills to match our own
Glad hills of Santa Cruz!
* Refers to Laura and George Sluter.
* John Greenleaf Whittier called this poem “a masterpiece.”
** During the excesses of the Paris Commune, 1871.
* The pilgrimage to Keats’s grave marked a nineteenth century poet as having reached the holy of holies. This act puts her in line with her American contemporaries.
* The tree known as the Flowering Almond, which bears beautiful pink ﬂowers before its leaves appear, but no fruit.
* This poem was written for Michael George Brennan.
* The ﬁrst verse of this poem contains the only literal descrtiption of the female orgasm in nineteenth-century women’s poetry.
* “The Death of the Flowers.”