Winter falls darkly on the woods,
and the blue boughs are washed with rain;
it will be long ere the springtime buds,
and the flowers come forth again.
But wraiths of the summer's lovely host
still linger in the woodland ways,
sorrowfully calling, ghost to ghost,
in the harsh sunless days.
A thin moon shivering in the leaves
that shroud the stream's soft chuckling mirth,
the while her watery shuttle weaves
a shy blue garment for the earth—
I know not any hour of sun
or shadow half so sweet as this,
when sleep and twilight tremble on
the waters like a drowsy kiss.
No crown of thorn
she bears for shield
like roses born
in sheltered field—
O Life, tread not
this gentle plot
of lilies down.
Some day she will
be old and wise
as Eve, yet still
may her brown eyes
and golden hair
be lovely yet,
still shining fair
through toil and fret.
O Life, tread soft
upon this heart
till pale winds waft
her soul apart,
and she be laid
where lovely eyes
must surely fade,
and heart be wise.
The sun has spread his shining wings
and moves upon his endless way:
he tells the passing of the day,
and mocks the breath of mortal things.
Across the desert of the sky
he trails his burning caravan:
page 198 he lights the dusty ways of man,
and whispers him that he must die.
His light is music in the leaves
all day, with sunbeams stretched for strings:
yet as he touches them he sings—
and wise men know the tale he weaves.
When Love and Life were children
Life said, "Let's go and play,"
and led his little sweetheart
to faery fields away.
He told her all his secrets—
unwisely, it befell,
for now he's old and foolish.
and doesn't see too well,
and Love's a cunning lady,
a wrinkled courtesan,
who knows more tricks and secrets
than any daft old man.
Mary sleeps in Heaven's bowers,
Heaven knows where Helen lies;
Dido is a noise of flowers
at dusk, in Paradise.
Lost is Caesar's laurelled brow
and Arthur's idle chivalrous lust;
beggar maids are beggars now
and love is turned to dust.
Queens and harlots and bright kings,
all are clothed in earth again—
brief unhallowed whisperings
on the tongues of men.
Where are dappled fields to show,
fields where crimson poppies blow?
Where are lilies undefiled,
purple violets growing wild?
Francis the ragged saint
(the man of birds and flowers),
Francis, the barefoot saint,
came with a sorrowful plaint:
"Consider the little lilies
that toil not, neither spin.
Oh, see how bare are the valleys!
They have been gathered in,
"gathered from vale and pasture
and garlanded for death.
O God! that the earth's spring vesture
be bound for a funeral wreath!
"See, on the coffin yonder
that lies in that drab black hearse,
they have heaped all the valleys' plunder.
A curse on those bones, a curse!
"And see, where the violets gathered
from banks of green and blue,
flowers that the old earth mothered,
are bound with the lilies too.
"Mourners and mutes are riven
with grief for the vulgar dead,
but the saints all weep in Heaven:
for the flowers their tears are shed.
"O God! that the flowers be tortured
to pageant men to the dust—
flowers that the old earth nurtured
all twisted, tied and trussed!
"But see! …they have laid his body
hard by yon field of corn,
and the poppies are gathered ready,
their lips all wreathed in scorn.
"God! like the stings of nettles,
like scorpions bound for whips,
are the smiles on the myriad petals
of those cruel crimson lips!"
There are no bumping buses
that busy to and fro,
no corporation tramways
in Paradise, I know.
But there is peace from clamour,
and rest from jars and dins,
and silence that is sweeter
than crying violins.
Oh, youth has thoughts a-plenty,
what matter if they're wrong?
For we who are but twenty,
we love not truth, but song.
And when we're old, and sodden
with creeds of bright deceit,
our songs will all be trodden
like dust about our feet.
What matter if the aged
imagine they have heard,
and keep the secret caged
like some sad singing-bird?
And what if those who're older
are wiser far than we?
For Wisdom, with a winding-sheet
is coming here to tea.
I have talked, often it seems,
on thymy cliffs with white-limbed Grecian lads,
and wandered arm in arm with the grey shades
of those old years, in dreams.
And often, it seems to me,
have I splashed in blue Ionian waves, or sat
listening to vague unreal philosophers chat
in marbled sanctity.
And, wearied of those dim shades
of wise men, stolen away and turned my steps
to find a more subtle wisdom on the lips
of laughing Grecian maids.
And once, by some shadowy sea
in the lands of sleep, I saw the Idalian rise
blossom-crowned from the foam, and dim were her eyes
with love's quiet ecstasy.
And the gallows-god has slipped
unremembered into the void as my soul has seen
the loveliness of the Grecian gods, and the queen
of pagan love, rose-lipped.
Oh, I shall pluck the wild rose sweet
that blooms here in the grass,
and tramp this way my wandering feet
must some day cease to pass.
For stars and wind and grass will fade
like the first wreath Helen wore,
and soon I'll crumble and be laid
where Beauty cries no more.
And some far day this magic gloom
will gild a city street,
and the rose of steel, black-petalled, bloom
where now the night is sweet.
Her eyes were full of unborn children,
beauty had withered in her face,
yet I saw shadowed there, most strangely,
shreds of some olden grace.
I saw the paint and the tawdry clothes,
the tired leer, the bedraggled hair:
yet as I gazed I thought I saw
two Marys standing there.
This is my dearest wish,
my smallest dream:
I would be cool as a fish
threading his stream
where lilies in pale clouds
under a tree that shrouds
the summer sky.
It seemed that Time had died,
and all the ghosts came wandering from the shades—
from Heaven's blue shining hills, from the dark glades
of unborn years, from Hell's rose-tinted tombs…
And by the poppied side
of a slow stream that lies with limbs soft-curled
in the green darkness of some intangible world
far beyond space, the living and the dead,
the fruits of unborn wombs,
all the souls of unknown fathomless ages
past and yet to be, were suddenly bound
into a moment's compass, trapped and caught,
(lovers and fools, voluptuaries and sages),
and with them all the things that they had sought
of loveliness and joy, were prisoned fast…
fair orchards, blossom-crowned,
all singing and all sound,
all love and laughter, touch and taste and scent,
and all things men had found,
had gathered, stored, and spent
in markets of the soul to buy delight;
the ocean and her moon, the myriad stars,
and the still-shining sun;
all things, unknown and known, all were made one
in one immortal moment, crowned with content,
timeless and immutable, wreathed with flowers
of brief far-gathered hours,
of mouldering centuries and unborn years…
For Time, the old grey Robber-God, lay dead,
with his unnumbered host
gathered about him, cold and quiet and still.
Age was a tavern-jest, and olden dread
long-buried; Change a half-remembered ghost
haunting a ruined town;
Eternity the shadow of thistledown
blowing upon a windy, timeless hill.
Where the water-lilies
are thick on the stream
the old wooden bridge
joins brim to brim,
and scattered leaves
discoloured and sodden
lie where the countless
footsteps have trodden.
There's moss and lichen,
russet and green,
on the falling timbers;
and thick in between
the time-worn edges
of plank and plank
leaf mould and fungus
moist and dank.
"Though my timbers creak
and my beams wax old,
and I've only leaves
to keep out the cold,
yet many a traveller
who passed my way
fares ill and colder
this winter's day."
Under the green curling world of leaves
sleek-bosomed Summer sprawls upon the grass,
dreaming of brazen noons and twinkling eves
and the bright pageant of the days that pass.
A little time she sleeps; then, waking, flies,
as Autumn, clutching a sheaf of scarlet dawns
and rainy dusks, comes tramping through the trees
and strews her blood-red leaves upon the lawns.
A little and the old hag Winter comes
page 205 holding her white fang'd pack on straining leash
in grim restraint.
Then suddenly the drums
roll out across the world, the trumpets flash,
and, loosed from the bonds of her gigantic birth,
Spring carves her flaming legend on the earth.
They lift their lovely heads and gaze,
wide-eyed and laughing, at the sun,
and all about my garden ways
they heap on grey autumnal days
their golden benison.
Not lonely, as the lily sways,
nor fragrant, like the leafy thyme,
but rising in a merry blaze
of yellow, like a bright-winged phrase
from some old lover's rhyme.
O sunflowers, ere cold winds undo
your beauty, and your flags are furled,
teach me the magic Midas knew,
that I may touch all grey things too
and make a golden world.
I heard the apple-trees cry:
Is it nothing, nothing to you,
all you that pass by,
that our fair young limbs should fade
and our beauty die?
Is it nothing to you who pass,
eyes sunk in the ground,
that our blossoms in summer grass
should drift, and be drowned?
We clothe the world like a bride
in the days of spring,
yet our blossoms have withered and died,
Soon will you come for the spoil
of our fruitfulness—
red apples that drink from the soil
and your eyes will no longer be turned
to the roadside dust,
for where blossoms flamed and were scorned
will be fruit, for your lust.
Though I have lost the light
I count it not a woe,
for through my starless night
flock dreams of long ago,
brave dreams of old delight,
lost, lovely things aglow,
that never shone so bright
in days I used to know.
I see the blaze of noon
upon the world once more
and sunlit flowers all strewn
upon her meadow-floor.
I see the earth again
wake from her slumbering;
and silver scars of rain
upon the skies of spring.
The colours of the earth
flow through my darkened brain,
and things of little worth
are now unbounded gain.
Such things I did not prize
when soul, not eye, was blind,
but now I have not eyes
they blossom in the mind.
The trees stand by the river
like ghosts of long-dead girls,
withered are the garlands
and all the curls;
gone is their coloured mesh
of loveliness; no leaf falls;
winter has scattered their flesh
and their pretty faces are skulls.
O men, why mourn ye the dead,
and seal them in quiet tomb?
Earth, the eternal mother, wears
no sorrow, sheds no tears
for the children of her womb:
fruit and berry and fallen leaf
moulder where they lie;
and if there comes a whisper of grief
and a thin music shaking
the brittle bones of the poplar tree,
it is no dirge of a mother's making
but only the wind's sigh.
The skies are wide and beautiful,
the stars are strong—
Orion, belted like a warrior,
magnificent and young,
and the shining Cross that shrives the southern ocean
all night long.
Here where the starlit seas of darkness,
wave on cresting wave,
break on the world, and the cold deep desolate night
foreshadows the grave,
sun and moon are blind, only the resolute stars
are strong to save.
O lord of the firmament, O warrior-god,
Orion, serene and bright,
lead me through the dark and across the years
till my soul's swift flight
shall end where the stars and the sun are gathered at last
in ultimate night.
Now evening shakes her wings
and the feathers of darkness
flutter upon the world
like finished songs.
And like music that is still
after soft playing
the dead sun's petals are lying
on the seaward hill
heaped in their rose-red riot
of dusky flames,
bright as the lonely dreams
of an old, mad poet.
The sea has brimmed the bay
to the sand's edge
along the windless beach;
the small craft lie
on her pearl breast asleep
like old ships' ghosts
long-drowned, with their ropes and masts
All the world's in the water,
see where it lies—
grey cliffs and trees, and skies
with the new-born gleaming stars
of heaven's meadows
lost in wet shadows
with silver planet-flowers,
and the white, bulging clouds
where the young moon shines
crossed by the wavering lines
of the ship's shrouds…
Now from the darkened sky
the last light has drained;
all the world is drowned
in the ancient sea.
"When shall we sleep?" cries the sea
to her lover, the land,
and she smoothes his brow
with her cool white fingers,
and strokes his hand.
"When shall we lie
with only the sough
of the wind in the bough
and the song of the wind on the foam,
earth-music and sea-music,
"When the ways of men be dust,
and the days of men be past,
and earth be free
of the feet of men,
and you, O my lover, the sea,
unburdened of all your ships …
then shall we take our rest
page 210 like lovers, breast to breast,
then shall we lie in peace,
dark lips on paler lips
quietly at the last,
and sleep again…"