The fruit that changed to the asp;
When the day-spring in darkness closes,
As the sunset fades from the hills,
With the fragrance of perish'd roses,
With the music of parch'd-up rills.
When the sands on the sea-shore nourish
Red clover and yellow corn;
When figs on the thistle flourish,
And grapes grow thick on the thorn;
When the dead branch, blighted and blasted,
Puts forth green leaves in the spring,
Then the dream that life has outlasted
Dead comfort to life may bring.
I have changed the soil and the season,
But whether skies freeze or flame,
The soil they flame on or freeze on
Is changed in little save name;
The loadstone points to the nor'ward,
The river runs to the sea;
And you would have me look forward,
And backward I fain would flee.
I remember the bright spring garlands,
The gold that spangled the green,
And the purple on fairy far lands,
And the white and the red bloom, seen
From the spot where we last lay dreaming
Together - yourself and I -
The soft grass beneath us gleaming,
Above us the great grave sky.
And we spoke thus: "Though we have trodden
Rough paths in our boyish years;
And some with our sweat are sodden,
And some are salt with our tears;
Though we stumble still, walking blindly,
Our paths shall be made all straight;
We are weak, but the heavens are kindly,
The skies are compassionate."
Is the clime of the old land younger,
Where the young dreams longer are nursed?
With the old insatiable hunger,
With the old unquenchable thirst,
Are you longing, as in the old years
We have longed so often in vain;
Fellow-toilers still, fellow-soldiers,
Though the seas have sundered us twain?
But the young dreams surely have faded!
Young dreams! - old dreams of young days -
Shall the new dream vex us as they did?
Or as things worth censure or praise?
Real toil is ours, real trouble,
Dim dreams of pleasure and pride;
Let the dreams disperse like a bubble,
So the toil like a dream subside.
Vain toil! men better and braver
Rose early and rested late,
Whose burdens than ours were graver,
And sterner than ours their hate.
What fair reward had Achilles?
What rest could Alcides win?
Vain toil!"Consider the lilies,
They toil not neither do spin."
Nor for mortal toiling nor spinning
Will the matters of mortals mend;
As it was so in the beginning,
It shall be so in the end.
The web that the weavers weave ill
Shall not be woven aright
Till the good is brought forth from evil,
As day is brought forth from night.
Vain dreams! for our fathers cherish'd
High hopes in the days that were;
And these men wonder'd and perish'd,
Nor better than these we fare;
And our due at last is their due,
They fought against odds and fell;
"En avant, les enfants perdus!"
We fight against odds as well.
The skies! Will the great skies care for
Our footsteps, straighten our path,
Or strengthen our weakness? Wherefore?
We have rather incurr'd their wrath;
When against the Captain of Hazor
The stars in their courses fought,
Did the skies shed merciful rays, or
With love was the sunshine fraught?
Can they favour man? Can they wrong man?
The unapproachable skies?
Though these gave strength to the strong man,
And wisdom gave to the wise;
When strength is turn'd to derision,
And wisdom brought to dismay,
Shall we wake from a troubled vision,
Or rest from a toilsome day?
Nay! I cannot tell. Peradventure
Our very toil is a dream,
And the works that we praise or censure,
It may be, they only seem.
If so, I would fain awaken,
Or sleep more soundly than so,
Or by dreamless sleep overtaken,
The dream I would fain forego.
For the great things of earth are small things,
The longest life is a span,
And there is an end to all things,
A season to every man,
Whose glory is dust and ashes,
Whose spirit is but a spark,
That out from the darkness flashes,
And flickers out in the dark.
We remember the pangs that wrung us
When some went down to the pit,
Who faded as leaves among us,
Who flitted as shadows flit;
What visions under the stone lie?
What dreams in the shroud sleep dwell?
For we saw the earth pit only,
And we heard only the knell.
We know not whether they slumber
Who waken on earth no more,
As the stars of the heights in number,
As sands on the deep sea-shore.
Shall stiffness bind them, and starkness
Enthral them, by field and flood,
Till "the sun shall be turn'd to darkness,
And the moon shall be turn'd to blood."
We know not! - worse may enthral men -
"The wages of sin are death";
And so death passed upon all men,
For sin was born with man's breath.
Then the labourer spent with sinning,
His hire with his life shall spend;
For it was so in the beginning,
And shall be so in the end.
There is life in the blacken'd ember
While a spark is smouldering yet;
In a dream e'en now I remember
That dream I had lief forget -
I had lief forget, I had e'en lief
That dream with THIS doubt should die -
"IF WE DID THESE THINGS IN THE GREEN LEAF,
WHAT SHALL BE DONE IN THE DRY?"
The Rhyme of Joyous Garde
Through the lattice rushes the south wind, dense
With fumes of the flowery frankincense
From hawthorn blossoming thickly;
And gold is shower'd on grass unshorn,
And poppy-fire on shuddering corn,
With May-dew flooded and flush'd with morn,
And scented with sweetness sickly.
The bloom and brilliance of summer days,
The buds that brighten, the fields that blaze,
The fruits that ripen and redden,
And all the gifts of a God-sent light
Are sadder things in my shameful sight
Than the blackest gloom of the bitterest night,
When the senses darken and deaden.
For the days recall what the nights efface,
Scenes of glory and seasons of grace,
For which there is no returning -
Else the days were even as the nights to me,
Now the axe is laid to the root of the tree,
And to-morrow the barren trunk may be
Cut down - cast forth for the burning.
Would God I had died the death that day
When the bishop blessed us before the fray
At the shrine of the Saviour's Mother;
We buckled the spur, we braced the belt,
Arthur and I - together we knelt,
And the grasp of his kingly hand I felt
As the grasp of an only brother.
The body and the blood of Christ we shared,
Knees bended and heads bow'd down and bared,
We listened throughout the praying.
Eftsoon the shock of the foe we bore,
Shoulder to shoulder on Severn's shore,
Till our hilts were glued to our hands with gore,
And our sinews slacken'd with slaying.
Was I far from Thy Kingdom, gracious Lord,
With a shattered casque and a shiver'd sword,
On the threshold of Mary's chapel?
Pardie! I had well-nigh won that crown
Which endureth more than a knight's renown,
When the pagan giant had got me down,
Sore spent in the deadly grapple.
May his craven spirit find little grace,
He was seal'd to Satan in any case,
Yet the loser had been the winner;
Had I waxed fainter or he less faint,
Then my soul was free from this loathsome taint,
I had died as a Christian knight - no saint
Perchance, yet a pardon'd sinner.
But I strove full grimly beneath his weight,
I clung to his poignard desperate,
I baffled the thrust that followed,
And writhing uppermost rose, to deal,
With bare three inches of broken steel,
One stroke - Ha! the headpiece crash'd piecemeal,
And the knave in his black blood wallow'd.
So I lived for worse - in fulness of time,
When peace for a season sway'd the clime,
And spears for a space were idle,
Trusted and chosen of all the court,
A favoured herald of fair report,
I travell'd eastward, and duly brought
A bride to a queenly bridal.
Pardie! 'twas a morning even as this
(The skies were warmer if aught, I wis,
Albeit the fields were duller;
Or it may be that the envious spring,
Abash'd at the sight of a fairer thing,
Wax'd somewhat sadder of colouring
Because of her faultless colour).
With her through the Lyonesse I rode,
Till the woods with the noontide fervour glow'd,
And there for a space we halted,
Where the intertwining branches made
Cool carpets of olive-tinted shade,
And the floors with fretwork of flame inlaid
From leafy lattices vaulted.
And scarf and mantle for her I spread,
And strewed them over the grassiest bed,
And under the greenest awning,
And loosen'd latch and buckle, and freed
From selle and housing the red roan steed,
And the jennet of swift Iberian breed,
That had carried us since the dawning.
The brown thrush sang through the briar and bower,
All flush'd or frosted with forest flower
In the warm sun's wanton glances;
And I grew deaf to the song bird - blind
To blossom that sweeten'd the sweet spring wind -
I saw her only - a girl reclined
In her girlhood's indolent trances.
And the song and the scent and sense wax'd weak,
The wild rose withered beside the cheek
She poised on her fingers slender;
The soft spun gold of her glittering hair
Ran rippling into a wondrous snare,
That flooded the round arm bright and bare,
And the shoulder's silvery splendour.
The deep dusk fires in those dreamy eyes,
Like seas clear-coloured in summer skies,
Were guiltless of future treason;
And I stood watching her, still and mute,
Yet the evil seed in my soul found root,
And the sad plant throve, and the sinful fruit
Grew ripe in the shameful season.
Let the sin be mine as the shame was hers,
In desolate days of departed years
She had leisure for shame and sorrow -
There was light repentance and brief remorse,
When I rode against Saxon foes or Norse,
With clang of harness and clatter of horse,
And little heed for the morrow.
And now she is dead, men tell me, and I,
In this living death must I linger and lie
Till my cup to the dregs is drunken?
I looked through the lattice worn and grim,
With eyelids darken'd and eyesight dim,
And weary body and wasted limb,
And sinew slacken'd and shrunken.
She is dead! Gone down to the burial-place,
Where the grave-dews cleave to her faultless face;
Where the grave-sods crumble around her;
And that bright burden of burnish'd gold,
That once on those waxen shoulders roll'd,
Will it spoil with the damps of the deadly mould?
Was it shorn when the church vows bound her?
Now I know full well that the fair spear shaft
Shall never gladden my hand, nor the haft
Of the good sword grow to my fingers;
Now the maddest fray, the merriest din,
Would fail to quicken this life-stream thin,
Yet the sleepy poison of that sweet sin
In the sluggish current still lingers.
Would God I had slept with the slain men, long
Or ever the heart conceived a wrong
That the innermost soul abhorred -
Or ever these lying lips were strained
To her lids, pearl-tinted and purple-vein'd,
Or ever those traitorous kisses stained
The snows of her spotless forehead.
Let me gather a little strength to think,
As one who reels on the outermost brink,
To the innermost gulf descending.
In that truce the longest and last of all,
In the summer nights of that festival -
Soft vesture of samite and silken pall -
The beginning came of the ending.
And one trod softly with sandal'd feet -
Ah! why are the stolen waters sweet? -
And one crept stealthily after;
I would I had taken him there and wrung
His knavish neck when the dark door swung,
Or torn by the roots his treacherous tongue,
And stifled his hateful laughter.
So the smouldering scandal blazed - but he,
My king, to the last put trust in me -
Aye, well was his trust requited!
Now priests may patter, and bells may toll,
He will need no masses to aid his soul;
When the angels open the judgment scroll,
His wrong will be tenfold righted.
Then dawn'd the day when the mail was donn'd,
And the steed for the strife caparison'd,
But not 'gainst the Norse invader.
Then was bloodshed - not by untoward chance,
As the blood that is drawn by the jouster's lance,
The fray in the castle of Melegrance,
The fight in the lists with Mador.
Then the guilt made manifest, then the siege,
When the true men rallying round the liege
Beleaguer'd his base betrayer;
Then the fruitless parleys, the pleadings vain,
And the hard-fought battles with brave Gawaine,
Twice worsted, and once so nearly slain,
I may well be counted his slayer.
Then the crime of Modred - a little sin
At the side of mine, though the knave was kin
To the king by the knave's hand stricken.
And the once-loved knight, was he there to save
That knightly king who that knighthood gave?
Ah, Christ! will he greet me as knight or knave
In the day when the dust shall quicken.
Had he lightly loved, had he trusted less,
I had sinn'd perchance with the sinfulness
That through prayer and penance is pardoned.
Oh, love most loyal! Oh, faith most sure!
In the purity of a soul so pure
I found my safeguard - I sinn'd secure,
Till my heart to the sin grew harden'd.
We were glad together in gladsome meads,
When they shook to the strokes of our snorting steeds;
We were joyful in joyous lustre
When it flush'd the coppice or fill'd the glade,
Where the horn of the Dane or the Saxon bray'd,
And we saw the heathen banner display'd,
And the heathen lances cluster.
Then a steel-shod rush and a steel-clad ring,
And a crash of the spear staves splintering,
And the billowy battle blended.
Riot of chargers, revel of blows,
And fierce, flush'd faces of fighting foes,
From croup to bridle, that reel'd and rose,
In a sparkle of sword-play splendid.
And the long, lithe sword in the hand became
As a leaping light, as a falling flame,
As a fire through the flax that hasted;
Slender, and shining, and beautiful,
How it shore through shivering casque and skull,
And never a stroke was void and null,
And never a thrust was wasted.
I have done for ever with all these things -
Deeds that were joyous to knights and kings,
In days that with songs were cherish'd.
The songs are ended, the deeds are done,
There shall none of them gladden me now, not one;
There is nothing good for me under the sun,
But to perish as these things perish'd.
Shall it profit me aught that the bishop seeks
My presence daily, and duly speaks
Soft words of comfort and kindness?
Shall it aught avail me?"Certes," he said,
"Though thy soul is darken'd, be not afraid -
God hateth nothing that He hath made -
His light shall disperse thy blindness."
I am not afraid for myself, although
I know I have had that light, and I know
The greater my condemnation.
When I well-nigh swoon'd in the deep-drawn bliss
Of that first long, sweet, slow, stolen kiss,
I would gladly have given, for less than this,
Myself, with my soul's salvation.
I would languish thus in some loathsome den,
As a thing of naught in the eyes of men,
In the mouths of men as a by-word,
Through years of pain, and when God saw fit,
Singing his praises my soul should flit
To the darkest depth of the nethermost pit,
If HERS could be wafted skyward.
Lord Christ! have patience a little while,
I have sinn'd because I am utterly vile,
Having light, loving darkness rather.
And I pray Thee deal with me as Thou wilt,
Yet the blood of Thy foes I have freely spilt,
And, moreover, mine is the greater guilt
In the sight of Thee and Thy Father.
That saint, Thy servant, was counted dear
Whose sword in the garden grazed the ear
Of Thine enemy, Lord Redeemer!
Not thus on the shattering visor jarr'd
In this hand the iron of the hilt cross-barr'd,
When the blade was swallow'd up to the guard
Through the teeth of the strong blasphemer.
If ever I smote as a man should smite,
If I struck one stroke that seem'd good in Thy sight,
By Thy loving mercy prevailing,
Lord! let her stand in the light of Thy face,
Cloth'd with Thy love and crown'd with Thy grace,
When I gnash my teeth in the terrible place
That is fill'd with weeping and wailing.
Shall I comfort my soul on account of this?
In the world to come, whatsoever it is,
There is no more earthly ill-doing -
For the dusty darkness shall slay desire,
And the chaff may burn with unquenchable fire,
But for green wild growth of thistle and briar
At least there is no renewing.
And this grievous burden of life shall change
In the dim hereafter, dreamy and strange,
And sorrows and joys diurnal.
And partial blessings and perishing ills
Shall fade in the praise, or the pang that fills
The glory of God's eternal hills,
Or the gloom of His gulf eternal.
Yet if all things change to the glory of One
Who for all ill-doers gave His Own sweet Son,
To His goodness so shall He change ill,
When the world as a wither'd leaf shall be,
And the sky like a shrivell'd scroll shall flee,
And souls shall be summon'd from land and sea,
At the blast of His bright archangel.
We severed in autumn early,
Ere the earth was torn by the plough;
The wheat and the oats and the barley
Are ripe for the harvest now.
We sunder'd one misty morning,
Ere the hills were dimm'd by the rain,
Through the flowers those hills adorning -
Thou comest not back again.
My heart is heavy and weary
With the weight of a weary soul;
The mid-day glare grows dreary,
And dreary the midnight scroll.
The corn-stalks sigh for the sickle,
'Neath the load of the golden grain;
I sigh for a mate more fickle -
Thou comest not back again.
The warm sun riseth and setteth,
The night bringeth moist'ning dew,
But the soul that longeth forgetteth
The warmth and the moisture, too;
In the hot sun rising and setting
There is naught save feverish pain;
There are tears in the night-dews wetting -
Thou comest not back again.
Thy voice in mine ear still mingles
With the voices of whisp'ring trees;
Thy kiss on my cheek still tingles
At each kiss of the summer breeze;
While dreams of the past are thronging
For substance of shades in vain,
I am waiting, watching, and longing -
Thou comest not back again.
Waiting and watching ever,
Longing and lingering yet,
Leaves rustle and corn-stalks quiver,
Winds murmur and waters fret;
No answer they bring, no greeting,
No speech save that sad refrain,
Nor voice, save an echo repeating -
He cometh not back again.
The Three Friends
(From the French)
The sword slew one in deadly strife;
One perish'd by the bowl;
The third lies self-slain by the knife;
For three the bells may toll -
I loved her better than my life,
And better than my soul.
Aye, father! hast thou come at last?
'Tis somewhat late to pray;
Life's crimson tides are ebbing fast,
They drain my soul away;
Mine eyes with film are overcast,
The lights are waning grey.
This curl from her bright head I shore,
And this her hands gave mine;
See, one is stained with purple gore,
And one with poison'd wine;
Give these to her when all is o'er -
How serpent-like they twine!
We three were brethren in arms,
And sworn companions we;
We held this motto, "Whoso harms
The one shall harm the three!"
Till, matchless for her subtle charms,
Beloved of each was she.
(These two were slain that I might kiss
Her sweet mouth. I did well;
I said, "There is no greater bliss
For those in heaven that dwell;"
I lost her; then I said, "There is
No fiercer pang in hell!")
We have upheld each other's rights,
Shared purse, and borrow'd blade;
Have stricken side by side in fights;
And side by side have prayed
In churches. We were Christian knights,
And she a Christian maid.
We met at sunrise, he and I,
My comrade - 'twas agreed
The steel our quarrel first should try,
The poison should succeed;
For two of three were doom'd to die,
And one was doom'd to bleed.
We buckled to the doubtful fray,
At first with some remorse;
But he who must be slain, or slay,
Soon strikes with vengeful force.
He fell; I left him where he lay,
Among the trampled gorse.
Did passion warp my heart and head
To madness? And, if so,
Can madness palliate bloodshed? -
It may be - I shall know
When God shall gather up the dead
From where the four winds blow.
We met at sunset, he and I -
My second comrade true;
Two cups with wine were brimming high,
And one was drugg'd - we knew
Not which, nor sought we to descry;
Our choice by lot we drew.
And there I sat with him to sup;
I heard him blithely speak
Of by-gone days - the fatal cup
Forgotten seem'd - his cheek
Was ruddy: father, raise me up,
My voice is waxing weak.
We drank; his lips turned livid white,
His cheeks grew leaden ash;
He reel'd - I heard his temples smite
The threshold with a crash!
And from his hand, in shivers bright,
I saw the goblet flash.
The morrow dawn'd with fragrance rare,
The May breeze, from the west,
Just fann'd the sleepy olives, where
She heard and I confess'd;
My hair entangled with her hair,
Her breast strained to my breast.
On the dread verge of endless gloom
My soul recalls that hour;
Skies languishing with balm of bloom,
And fields aflame with flower;
And slow caresses that consume,
And kisses that devour.
Ah! now with storm the day seems rife,
My dull ears catch the roll
Of thunder, and the far sea strife,
On beach and bar and shoal -
I loved her better than my life,
And better than my soul.
She fled! I cannot prove her guilt,
Nor would I an I could;
See, life for life is fairly spilt!
And blood is shed for blood;
Her white hands neither touched the hilt,
Nor yet the potion brew'd.
Aye! turn me from the sickly south,
Towards the gusty north;
The fruits of sin are dust and drouth,
The end of crime is wrath -
The lips that pressed her rose-like mouth
Are choked with blood-red froth.
Then dig the grave-pit deep and wide,
Three graves thrown into one,
And lay three corpses side by side,
And tell their tale to none;
But bring her back in all her pride
To see what she hath done.
A Song of Autumn
"Where shall we go for our garlands glad
At the falling of the year,
When the burnt-up banks are yellow and sad,
When the boughs are yellow and sere?
Where are the old ones that once we had,
And when are the new ones near?
What shall we do for our garlands glad
At the falling of the year?"
"Child! can I tell where the garlands go?
Can I say where the lost leaves veer
On the brown-burnt banks, when the wild winds blow,
When they drift through the dead-wood drear?
Girl! when the garlands of next year glow,
YOU may gather again, my dear -