Robert Hillyer.

The Five Books of Youth online

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Juliet Sutherland, Charles Franks and the Online Distributed Proofreading





Acknowledgments are due to the editors of THE NATION,
LIFE, and CONTEMPORARY VERSE, for permission to reprint
poems originally published by them.



I La Mare des Fees
II Prothalamion
III Montmartre
IV A Letter
V Esther Dancing
VI Hunters
VII A Wreck
VIII Grave Stones in a Front Yard
IX Vigil
X When the Door was Open
XI The Maker Rests
XII The Pilgrimage
XIII Epilogue
XIV Thermopylae


I Winds blowing over the white-capped bay
II Like children on a sunny shore
III Against my wall the summer weaves
IV Into the trembling air
V In gardens when the sun is set
VI Now the white dove has found her mate
VII When voices sink in twilight silences
VIII When noon is blazing on the town
IX The trees have never seemed so green
X The green canal is mottled with falling leaves
XI They who have gone down the hill are far away
XII Where two roads meet amid the wood
XIII The boy is late tonight binding his sheaves
XIV O lovely shepherd Corydon, how far
XV O little shepherd boy, what sobs are those
XVI The dull-eyed girl in bronze implores Apollo
XVII The winter night is hard as glass
XVIII Chords, tremendous chords
XIX I have known the lure of cities
XX We wove a fillet for thy head


I Now the sick earth revives, and in the sun
II The heavy bee burdened the golden clover
III Of days and nights under the living vine
IV You seek to hurt me, foolish child, and why?
V By these shall you remember
VI Two black deer uprise
VII When in the ultimate embrace
VIII Tonight it seems to be the same
IX If you should come tonight
X You are very far tonight
XI O lonely star moving in still abodes
XII A chalice singing deep with wine


I As dreamers through their dreams surmise
II The thinkers light their lamps in rows
III I pass my days in ghostly presences
IV Each mote that staggers down the sun
V He is a priest
VI Through hissing snow, through rain, through many hundred Mays
VII Gods dine on prayer and sacred song
VIII A smile will turn away green eyes
IX Two Kings there were, one Good, one Bad
X I see that Hermes unawares
XI Semiramis, the whore of Babylon
XII Bring hemlock, black as Cretan cheese
XIII Walking through the town last night
XIV The change of many tides has swung the flow
XV Piero di Cosimo
XVI I would know what cannot be known
XVII The yellow bird is singing by the pond


I Love dwelled with me with music on her lips
II Invoking not the worship of the crowd
III And yet think not that I desire to seal
IV With the young god who out of death creates
V O it was gay! the wilderness was floral
VI The snow is thawing on the hanging eaves
VII So ends the day with beauty in the west
VIII Across the evening calm I faintly hear
IX Calmer than mirrored waters after rain
X I stood like some worn image carved of stone
XI Through the deep night the leaves speak, tree to tree
XII I walked the hollow pavements of the town
XIII In tireless march I move from sphere to sphere
XIV A while you shared my path and solitude
XV There is a void that reason can not face
XVI The mirrors of all ages are the eyes
XVII We sat in silence till the twilight fell
XVIII He clung to me, his young face dark with woe



The leaves rain down upon the forest pond,
An elfin tarn green-shadowed in the fern;
Nine yews ensomber the wet bank, beyond
The autumn branches of the beeches burn
With yellow flame and red amid the green,
And patches of the darkening sky between.

This is an ancient country; in this wood
The Druids raised their sacrificial stones;
Here the vast timeless silences still brood
Though the cold wind's October monotones
Fan the enchanted senses with the dread
Of holiness long-past and beauty dead.

How far beyond this glade the day-world turns
Upon its pivot of reward and chance;
Farther than the first star that palely burns
Over the forest's meditative trance.
First star of evening, last star of day,
The one grows clear, the other dies away.

Will they come back who once beneath these trees
Invoked their long-forgotten gods with tears,
Who heard the sob of the same twilight breeze
Blow down the vistas of remembered years,
Beside the tarn's black waters where they stood
Close to their god, far from the multitude?

I watch, but they are long ago departed,
Far as the world of day, or as the star;
The forest loved her priests, and tranquil-hearted
They stole away in dim procession, far
Down the unechoing aisles, beyond recalling;
The moss grows on the stones, the leaves are falling.

In vain I listen for their hissing speech,
And seek white holy hands upon the air,
They told their worship to the yew and beech,
And left them with the secret, trembling there,
Nor shall they come at midnight nor at dawn;
The gods are dead; the votaries are gone.

A form floats toward me down the corridor
Of mighty trees, half-visioned through the haze,
And stands beside me on that empty shore;
So rest we there, and wonderingly gaze.
By the dead water, under the deep boughs,
My Love and I renew our ancient vows.



The faded turquoise of the sky
Darkens into ocean green
Flecked palely where the stars will rise.
A single bough between
The spacious colour and your half-closed eyes
Hangs out its hazy traceries.
Still, like a drowsy god you lie,
My fair unbidden guest,
Your white hands crossed beneath your head,
Your lips curved strangely mute with peace,
Your hair moved lightly by the breeze.
A glow is shed
Warm on your face from the last rays that push
From the dying sun into the green vault of the west.

This is your bridal night; the golden bush
Is heavy with the fruits that you will taste,
Full ripened in desire.
You who have hoarded youth, this is your hour of waste,
Your hour of squandering and drunkenness,
Of wine-dashed lips and generous caress,
Of brows thorn-crowned and bodies crucified, -
O bid me to the feast.

Tomorrow when the hills are washed with fire,
Your door ajar against the flashing East, -
O fling it wide.

PARIS, 1919


A rocky hill above the town,
Grey as the soul of silence,
Except where two white strutting domes
Stand aloof and frown
On the huddled homes
Of world-wept love and pain, -
They do not heed that tall disdain,
But sleep, grey, under the stars and the rain.

A woman, young, but old in love,
Carried her child across the square;
Her face was a dim drifting flame
To which her pyre of hair
Was a column of golden smoke.

Her eyes half told the secrets of
Gay sins that no regret defiled;
There her heart broke
In the little question between her eyes.
Hearing the trees in the square she smiled,
And sang to the child.

So passed by in the narrow street
That climbs the steep rock over the town,
Love and the west wind in the stars;
The wind and the sound of those lagging feet

Died like forgotten tears.
I waited till the stars went down,
And I wrote these lines on a cloud to greet
The dawn on the crystal stairs.

PARIS, 1919


Dear boy, what can this stranger mean to you,
Blown to your country by unbridled chance?
That he should drink the morn's first cup of dew
Fresh from the spring, and quicken that grave glance
Wherein as rising tides on hazy shores
Rise the new flames and colours of romance?

Ah, wise and young, the world shall use your youth
And fling you shorn of beauty to despair,
The sum of all that fascinating truth
That you have gleaned, hands tangled in brown hair,
Eyes straining into contemplative fires, -
This truth shall not seem truth when trees are bare.

The hunger of the soul, the watcher left
To brood the nearness of his own decay,
Dully remarking the slow shameless theft
Of the old holiness from day to day,
How youth grows tarnished, wisdom changes false, -
Till one bends near to steal your life away.

Yet who am I to turn aside the hand
Outstretched so friendly and so humbly proud,
Heaped up with beauty from the sunrise land
Of hearts adventurous and heads unbowed?
Only, look not at me with changing eyes
When we must separate amid the crowd.

TOURS, 1918


Speak not nor stir. Here music is alive,
Woven from those swift fingers, strong and light,
Marching across those singing hands, or shed
Slowly, like echoes down the muffled night,
Or beautifully translated, note by note,
Some fainter voice, rhapsodic and remote,
Or shaken out in melodies that dive
Clear into fathoms of profounder things,
Then suddenly again on rising wings,
Burst into sun and hover overhead.

Incarnate music flashing into form
Fled from the vineyards of melodious Greece,
Feet that have flown before the gathering storm
Or glanced in gardens of the Golden Fleece,
Face atune to all the songs that mass
Their gusts of passion on the sunlit grass,
Image of lyric hope and veiled despair,
Like them, thou shalt unutterably pass
Into the silence and the shadowed air.



A vase red-wrought in Athens long ago....
The hunter and his gay companion ride
Through the young fields of life; on every side
Frail and fantastic the tall lilies grow.
Her head thrown back, her eyes afraid and wide,
Flies like a phantom the grey spectral doe,
Her light feet scarcely bend the grass below,
Gloriously flying into eventide.

Ahead there lies the shadow, then the dark,
And safety in the thick forestial night,
But nearer still she hears the bloodhounds bark,
And horses panting in impetuous flight,
And hunters without pity for the slain,
Halloing shrilly over the windy plain.

Sombre become the skies, the winds of fall
Sing dangerously through the hissing grass;
Sunlight and clouds in slow procession pass
Over the tress, then comes an interval
Of utter calm, the air is a morass
Of humid breathlessness. A dreadful call
Rings suddenly from the onrushing squall,
And the storm closes in a whirling mass.

And still the doe eludes the raging hounds,
And still the youths press onward toward the woods,
Though the world shudders with diluvian sounds
And the rain streams in undulating floods.
Sharp lightning splits the sky; the doe is gone.
O follow! follow! if it be till dawn.

The hunted flees, the boyish hunters follow
Into the forest's dripping everglades,
The wind goes wailing through the swaying shades,
And violent rain gushes in every hollow.
The doe runs free, triumphantly evades
Those straining eyes; the ghastly shadows swallow
Her flying form; the frightened horses wallow
Deep in the mire. Then the last daylight fades.

O Youths, turn back! the year is getting late,
And autumn has no pity for the slain.
Twining like serpents, the lean arms of fate
Grope toward you through the blackness and the rain,
Then Death, and the obliterating snow....
A vase, red-wrought in Athens long ago.

Tours, 1918


Survivor of an unknown past,
On this wild shore cast
By the sad desolate tides;
In a warm harbour long ago
They waited you, and waited long,
And guessed and feared at last,
But could not know.
Now in a language strange the waves make song,
And the flood surges round your broken sides,
And the ebb leaves you to the burning sun.
But when the voyage of my life is done,
And my soul puts forth no more,
Then may I sleep
Beneath the fathoms of the tideless deep,
And not be cast deserted on some dark alien shore.

Cape Cod, 1916


Lest the swift world forget their names and pass
Unthinking, they have set this cold dead slate
Above their slumbers in the living grass
To warn all comers of impending fate;

Where friends made merry once at their behest,
Where young feet strolled about the shady lawn,
They welcome none but one unfailing guest,
And all the revellers but Death are gone.

Edgartown, 1916


This is the hour when all substantial foes
Are exorcised and taunt the soul no more;
Now thinner grows the veil between the shore
Of vaster worlds and our calm garden close.
Through the small exit of the open door
We pass, and seem to feel the eyes of those
We knew upon us; almost we suppose
The advent of the face we tremble for.

O that through this profound serenity
Might sound the answer to the heart's deep cry;
If all those gracious presences might see
That, though we hurt them once, they shall not die
Until we also wither, we who keep
Vigil on these sweet meadows where they sleep.

Pomfret, 1919


Lonely as music from afar,
Hung the new moon and one white star,
Above the poplars black and tall
That sentineled the garden wall;
Four black poplars beyond the wall,
Two on each side of the garden gate,
In silhouette against the wide
Pale sky of the late eventide.
Close was the garden and serene.
The leaning reeds in quiet state
About the pool, merged in the green
Of misty leaves and hanging vines.
The fireflies spun their silver lines
Across the deeper atmosphere,
And through the silence came the clear
Persistent tuning of the frogs
From dank recesses of the bogs.

Beyond the garden I could see
The glimmer of uncertain meadows,
Framed by the open doorway, wreathing
Sarabands of ghostly shadows,
Slowly turning, slowly breathing,
Largely and unhastily, -
But the garden held its breath.

Peace as profound as death, if death
Be visited by stealthy dreams;
A vagrant note from soundless themes
That ring the comet-paths of space,
Seemed vibrant in the windless air
That trembled with its presence there.
Out beyond the nameless place
Where neither fields nor clouds exist,
Grey from the background of the mist,
I saw three vague forms drawing near.
My sense recoiled acute with fear;
I could not stir. As from a cage
I watched that spectral dim cortege
Moving inexorable and slow
Against the ashen afterglow.
Now caught the moon their robes in white,
Now strode they sable through the night,
Across the grass they came and grew
Whiter, statelier, as they drew
Beneath the shadow of the wall;
Then one by one the three stepped through
The garden door, and stood a while
Beside the pool, their image spread
Sombre, and menacing, and tall.
Sombre as Priam's dreadful daughter,
Menacing as a murderer's smile,
Tall as the fingers of the dead,
Stood they beside the quiet water.

The moon went out in a golden blur,
And the small stars followed after her,
But when the fireflies cleft the air
I saw those three forms standing there,
Until the night cooled, and the trees
Shook in the strong hands of the breeze,
And then I heard their footsteps press
The muffled grass beyond the door,
And so went forth for ever more,
My three Fates to the wilderness.

Pomfret, 1919


I have worked too long and my hands are tired,
Said the maker;
From the earliest dawn unto deepest nightfall
Have I laboured.

From the earliest dawn before any spirit
Stirred from sleeping,
When no single note from the frozen forest
Wakened music,

Unto nightfall and the new moon rising
When the silence
From the valleys rose in a faint blue spiral,
Have I laboured.

I created dawn and the new moon rising
Out of silence;
I have worked too long and my hands are tired,
Said the maker.

I shall fold my hands; I shall rest till sunrise,
Said the maker;
In the shade of hills and the calm of starlight
Shall I slumber.

O my night is sweet with a distant music!
I shall hear
The responding waves and the wind's slight murmur
While I slumber.

O my night is fair with amazing colour!
I shall dream
Of the blue-white stars and the glimmering forest
While I slumber.

O my night is rich with unfolding flowers!
I shall breathe
All the scattered smells of the field and garden
While I slumber...

I will rise, O Night, I will make new beauty,
Said the maker,
I will make more songs, more stars, more flowers,
Said the Lord.

Cambridge, 1920


Beside a deep and mossy well
In the dark starless night I lay;
And dropping water like a bell,
Like a bell ringing far away,
Struck liquid notes in monotone, -
An echo of a distant bell
Tolling the knell of yesterday.
Deep down beneath the mossy ground
The liquid notes in monotone
Kept dropping, dropping endlessly,
And as I listened, over me
Crept like a mist a filmy spell;
My spirit's waving wings were bound,
And dreams came that were not my own.
Half-sleeping, half-awake, I heard
The drowsy chirp of a forest bird,
And the wind came up and the grasses stirred
And the curtaining woods that cluster round
That resonantly-echoing well
Shook all their leaves with silver sound
Like voices murmuring in a shell.
Was it the past that lived again
In that nocturnal murmuring,
Waking a hidden voice to sing
Deep in my heart of other times
Whose memory long entombed had lain
Covered with all the dust of the years?...
Falling in splashing tears
The wet notes drop in liquid chimes,
And the white fingers of the breeze
Gather a song from the melodious trees....

There is a hand whiter than pearl
That plucks a lute's monotonous strings;
O starlight phantom of a girl
What lyric soul around thee sings,
And what divine companionship
Taught that entwining music to thy fingers,
And that unearthly music to thy lips?
She pauses, and the echo lingers
Hovering like wings upon the air.
I see more clearly now, her hair
Ripples like a black water-fall
About the pallor of her face.
She sits beside a mossy well
Amid some dim marmoreal place,
Some fragrant Moorish hall
Set all about with arabesques of stone
And intricate mosaics of gem and shell.
She sings again, she plays a monotone,
Perpetual rhythm like a far-off bell,
And someone dances, in a dancing river
The white ecstatic limbs flutter and quiver
Against the shadow. In the odorous flowers
That grow about the well, still forms are lying,
A group of statues, an eternal throng,
Watching the dance and listening to the song;
So shall they lie, innumerable hours,
Silent and motionless for ever.
The wind comes up, the flowers shiver,
The dancer vanishes, the songs are dying;
Night sickens into day.
The wind comes up and blows the dust away....

Between two clouds a sullen flame
Expands, and lo, the crescent moon
Rides like a warrior through the sky.
Thus long ago the warning came
When midnight towns lay all in swoon,
That the great gods were coming nigh
To crush the rebellious earth.
Now beneath the crescent moon
No spirits stir, no wind makes mirth,
Only a rhythmic monotone
Of waters dropping in a well....

But who is this so broken with distress
That steals like mist into my loneliness?
Why art thou weeping there, disconsolate child?
Thy tears fall like the waters of a well,
And drip in silver notes upon the sands.
What is thy sorrow? Ah, what man can tell
The shapeless fancies that unwelcome dwell
Within thy brain, the spectres, dark and wild
That haunt the spirit of a child?
Mayhap thou weepest for the embattled lands,
The bloody ruin of decaying realms
That a war overwhelms
And buries deep in the dust of history?
He raises his wet eyes and looks at me,
His boyish face full of a yearning,
An ancient pain,
As of a ghost long dead who yearns to live again,
And answers, "In myself, thy thoughts returning
To other times shall slumber in the past,
And be a child again, and die at last
In the protecting arms of our great Mother
Who bore us both, O well-beloved brother.
Thou in thy sorry dreams, I in my childish grief,
Thy heart in tears, mine eyes amazed with tears,
Thy sorrow rich with the repining years,
My sorrow frail as childhood, and as brief."
Who art thou, haunting boy, nocturnal elf?
"I am the Dead; the Dead that was thyself."
Then falls a darkness on that starless shore.
Afar I hear the closing of a door....

I see on a sharp hill above the Styx,
The bruised Christ upon his crucifix,
And racked in anguish on his either side
Hang Buddha and Mohammed crucified.
Their heavy blood falls in a monotone
Like deep well-water dropping on a stone.
None moves, none breaks the silence; on those roods
Eternal suffering triumphant broods.
Prometheus from his cliff of wild unrest
Mocks them and draws the vulture to his breast.
Each year upon a darker Calvary
Are hung the pallid victims of the tree,
And none will watch with them, for none can see
As I once saw, unending agony,
Save where Prometheus from his dizzy place
Regards those sufferers with scornful face,
And his loud laughter rings through empty Space....

I can see nothing now, and only hear
Through the thick atmosphere
A deep perpetual well, that sad and slow,
Intones the knell of ages long ago,
And ages that no man can tell or know,
Whose shadows roll before them on the sky,
Black with forebodings of futurity.

Sweet sounds through midnight, liquid interlude,
Voice of the lonely souls that yearn and brood,
Voice of the unseen Life, the unsubdued,
What wonder that He draweth nigh to taste
Of your cool waters. Hail thou nameless One,
Fair stranger from a realm beyond the Sun,
Knowing that thou art God I do not fear, -
Speak to me, raise me from my life's long dream.
"The whole night through thou liest here
Beside the well that waters Lethe's stream,
And still thou dost not drink; O Man make haste;
Ere long the dawn will pour adown the waste,
And show thee, reft from the embrace of night,
The barren world, barren of revelry.
Happy art thou, O Man, happily free,
Who wilt never see
A thousand ages shed their life and light
As petals fall at eventide.
Thou shalt not see the radiant stars subside
Into the frozen ocean of the Vast,
Nor see thy world absorbed at last
Into a nothingness, an airless void,
Nor see the thoughts that Man has glorified
Swept from the world, and with the world destroyed.
This have I seen a thousand times repeated,
Unhappy as I am, unhappy God!
As many times as thou hast greeted
The rising sun against the broad
And tranquil clouds, so many times have I
Greeted the dawn of a new Universe,
And seen the molten stars rehearse
The lives and passions of the stars gone by.
When worlds are growing old, and there draw nigh
The shadows that shall cover them for ever,
(Shadows like these which doom your ancient sky)
Then to the well that feeds the sacred river
I come, and as the liquid music drips
Far in the ground, I plunge my lips
Deep in forgetfulness, and wash away
All the stains of the old griefs and joys,
That with His lips as smiling as a boy's,
God may rejoice in His created day."
He stoops and drinks; a moment the cool bell
Pauses its ringing in the well:
A mist flies up against the dawn; the young winds weep;
Is it too late? I too would drink, drink deep,
But weariness is on me and I sleep.

Cambridge, 1915


Dawn has come.
Faint hazes quiver with the faltering light;
Some airy skein draws in the shadows from
The broken forest where the war has passed,
The Forest Terrible, the grey despair,
The forest broken in the withering blight
Of the lean years, - the blight, the years, have passed,
Leaving a solitary watcher there,
Silence at last.

She watches by the dead,
Her deep white shadow overspreads their faces.
Here in the outland places,
She watches by the dead.

How many dawns have driven her afar
With the loosed thunder of tempestuous wrong!
Today she will remain.

Silence familiar to the morning star,
Standing, her finger to her lips,
Hushing the battle-cry, the victor's song,
Standing inviolate above the slain.

The fugitive sunlight slips
Over the fragment of a cloud,
And the sky opens wide,
Behold the dawn!

Where is the nightmare now? the angry-browed?
The lowering imminence - the bloody eyed?
Fled, as the threat of midnight, fled away,
Gone, after four dark timeless ages, gone.
Hail the day!

Silence, robed in the morning's golden fleece,
Folding the world's torn wings to stillness, giving
Peace to the dead, and to the living,

Tours, 1918


Men lied to them and so they went to die.
Some fell, unknowing that they were deceived,
And some escaped, and bitterly bereaved,

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Online LibraryRobert HillyerThe Five Books of Youth → online text (page 1 of 3)