Alfred Noyes.

Collected poems, Volume 1 online

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The wise men came to welcome him: a star stood o'er the gable;
And there they saw ^ King of Kings, no longer thronged with
angel wings,

But crooning like a little babe, and cradled in a stable.

And creeping through the music once again the fairy cry

Came freezing o'er the snowy towers to lead us on to Peterkin r
Once more the fairy bugles blew from lands beyond the sky,
And we all groped out together, dazed and blind, we knew not
why;



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164 THE FOREST OP WILD THYME

Out through the City's farther gates we went to look for
Peterkin;
Out, out into the dark Unknown, and heard the clamour die
Far, far away behind us as we trotted on to Peterkin.

Then once more along the rare

Forest-paths we groped our way:
Here the glow-worm's league-long glare
Turned the Wild Thyme night to day:
There we passed a sort of whale

Sixty feet in length or more.
But we knew it was a snail
Even when we heard it snore.

Often through the glamorous gloom

Almost on the top of us
We beheld a beetle loom

Like a hippopotamus;
Once or twice a spotted toad

Like a mountain wobbled by
With a rolling moon that glowed

Through i\e skin-fringe of its eye*

Once a caterpillar bowed

Down a leaf of Ygdrasil
like a sunset-coloured cloud

Sleeping on a quiet hill:
Once we came upon a moth

Fast asleep with outspread wings,
like a mighty tissued cloth

Woven for the feet of kings.

There above the woods in state

Many a temple dome that glows
Delicately like a great

Rainbow-coloured bubble rose:
Though they were but flowers on earthy

Oh, we dared not enter in;
For in that divine re-birth

Less than awe were more than sin.



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THE FOREST OF WILD THYME 165

Yet their m3r8tic anthems came

Sweetly to our listening ears;
And their burden was the same —

"No more sorrow, no more tearsi
Whither Peterkin has gone

You, assuredly, shall go:
When your wanderings are done,

All he knows you, too, shall knowl"

So we thought we'd onward roam

Till earth's Smallest Flower appeared.
With a less tremendous dome

Less divinely to be feared:
fhen, perchance, if we should dare

Timidly to enter in.
Might some kindly doorkeeper

Give us news of Peterkin.

At last we saw a crimson porch
Far away, like a dull red torch
Burning in the purple gloom;
And a great ocean of perfume
Rolled round us as we drew anear,
And then we strangely seemed to hear
The shadow of a mighty psalm,

A sound as if a golden sea
Of music swung in utter calm

Against the shores of Eternity;
And then we saw the mighty dome

Of some mysterious Temple tower
On high; and knew that we had come,

At last, to that sweet House of Grace

Which wise men find in every place—

The Temple of the Smallest Flower.

And there — alas — our fairy friends
Whispered, ''Here our kingdom ends:

You must enter in alone,
But your souls will surely show

Whither Peterkin is gone
And the road that you must go:



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166 THE FOREST OP WILD THYME

We, poor fairies, have no souls!

Hark, the warning hare-bell tolls;''
So "Good-bye, good-bye," they said,
"Dear little seekers-for-the-dead."
They vanished; ah, but as they went
We heard their voices softly blent
In some m5n9terious fairy song
That seemed to make us wise and strong;

For it was like the holy calm
That fills the bosomed rose with balm,
Or blessings that the twilight breathes
Where the honeysuckle wreathes
Between young lovers and the sky
As on banks of flowers they lie;
And with wings of rose and green
Laughing fairies pass unseen.
Singing their sweet lullaby, —

LuUa-lulla-lullabyl

LuUa-lulla-luUabyl
Ah, good-night, with lullaby I



Only a flower? Those carven walls,
Those cornices and coronals,
The splendid crimson porch, the thin
Strange sounds of singing from within —
Through the scented arch we stept.

Pushed back the soft petallic door,
And down the velvet aisles we crept;

Was it a Flower — ^no more?

For one of the voices that we heard,

A child's voice, clear as the voice of a bird^

Was it not? — nay, it could not be I

And a woman's voice that tenderly

Answered him in fond refrain.

And pierced our hearts with sweet sweet paini

As if dear Mary-mother hung

Above some little child, and suns.



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THE FOREST OF WILD THYME 167

Between the wavee of that golden sea
The cradle-8ong8 of Eternity;
And, while in her deep smile he basked.
Answered whatsoe'er he asked.



What 18 there hid in the heart of a rose,

Mother-minet
Ah, who knows, who knows, who knows?
A man thai died on a lonely hiU
May tell you, perhaps, but none other will,

Little child.



What does it take to make a rose,

Mother-minef
The God that died to make it knows
It takes the world* s eternal wars.
It takes the moon and aU the stars.
It takes the might of heaven and hell
And the everlasting Love as well,

Little child.



But there, in one great shrine apart
Within the Temple's holiest heart,
We came upon a blinding light.

Suddenly, and a burning throne
Of pinnacled glory, wild and white;

We could not see Who reigned thereou ;
For, all at once, as a wood-bird sings.
The aisles were full of great white wings
Row above mystic burning row;
And through the splendour and the glow
We saw four angels, great and sweet.
With outspread wings and folded feet.
Come gliding down from a heaven within

The golden heart of Paradise;

And in their hands, with laughmg eyes.
Lay little brother Peterkin.



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168 THE FOREST OP WILD THYME

And all axound the Temple of the Smallest of the flowers
The glory of the angels made a star for little Peterldn;
For all the Kings of Splendour and all the Heavenly Powers
Were gathered there together in the fairy forest bowers
With all their globed and radiant wings to make a star for
Peterkin,
The star that shone upon the East, a star that still is ours,
Whene'er we hang our stockings up, a star of wings for
Peterkin.

Then all,m one great flash, was gone —
A voice cried, " Hush, all's wdl I"

And we stood dreaming there alone,
In darkness. Who can tell

The mystic quiet that we felt.

As if the woods in worship knelt;
Far off we heard a beU

Tolling strange human folk to prayer

Through fields of simset-coloured air.

And then a voice, " Why, here they arel'J

And — as it seemed — ^wewoke;
The sweet old skies, great star by star

Upon oiu* vision broke;
Field over field of heavenly blue
Rose o'er us; then a voice we knew

Softly and gently spoke —
" See, they are sleeping by the side
Of that dear little one — ^who died."

PART V
THE HAPPY ENDING

We told dear father all our tale
That night before we went to bed,

And at the end his face grew pale.
And he bent over us and said

(Was it not strange?) he, too, was there,
A weary, weary watch to keep
Before the gates of the City of Sleep;

But, ere we came, he did not dare



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THE FOREST OP WILD THYME 169

Even to dream of entering in.

Or even to hope for Peterkin.
He was the poor blind man, he said,
And we — how low he bent his head!
Then he called mother near; and low
He whispered to us — "Prompt me now;
For I forget that song we heard,
But you remember every word."
Then memory came like a breaking mom.
And we breathed it to him — A child was bom!
And there he drew us to his breast
And softly murmured all the rest. —

The wise men came to greet him with their gifts of myrrh and
frankincense, —
Oold and myrrh and frankincense they brought to make him
mirth;
And would you know the way to win to little brother Peterkin,
My childhood's heart shaU guide you through the glories of the
earth.

Then he looked up and mother knelt
Beside us, oh, her eyes were bright;
Her arms were like a lovely belt

Ail round us as we said Good-night
To father: Jie was crying now.
But they were happy tears, somehow;
For there we saw dear mother lay
Her cheek against his cheek and say —
Hush, let me kiss those tears away.

DEDICATION

What can a wanderer bring

To little ones loved like yout
You have songs of your own to sing

Thai are far more steadfast and true^
Crumbs of pity for birds

That flit o'er your sun-swept lawn,
Songs that are dearer than all our words

With a love that is dear as the dawn.



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170 THE FOREST OF WILD THYME

What should a dreamer devise.

In the depths of his wayward wiU,
To deepen the gleam of your eyes

Who can dance with the Surirchild stiUt
Yet you glanced on his lonely way.

You cheered him in dream and deed,
And his heart is overflowing , overflowing to-day

With a love that — you never will need.

What can a pilgrim teach

To dwellers in fairy 4andf
Truth that excels all speech

You murmur and understand!
AU he can sing you he brings;

But — one thing more if he may.
One thing more that the King of Kings

WiU take from the child on the way.

Yet how can a child of the night

Brighten the light of the sunt
How can he add a delight

To the dances that never are done?
Ah, what if he struggles to turn

Once more to the sweet old skies
With praise and praise, from the fetters that bwrn^

To the God that brightened your eyest

Yes; he is weak, he will fail.

Yet, what if, in sorrows apart.
One thing, one should avail.

The cry of a grateful heart;
It has wings: they return through the night

To a sky where the light lives yet,
To the clouds that kneel on his mountainrheigbt

And the path that his feet forget.

What if he struggles and stiU

Fails and struggles againf
What if his broken wiU

Whispers the struggle is vaint



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FORTY SINGING SEAMEN 171

Once at least he has risen

Because he remembered your eyes;
Once they have brought to his earthly prison

The passion of Paradise,

Kind litde eyes thai I love^

Eyes forgetful of mine,
In a dream I am bending above

Your sleep, and you open and shine;
And I know as my own grow blind

With a lonely prayer for your sake,
He wiU hear — even me — liUle eyes that were kind,

God bless you, asleep or awake.



FORTY SINGING SEAMEN AND
OTHER POEMS



TO GARNSTT



FORTY SINGING SEAMEN

"In our lands be Beeres and Lyons of dyvers colours as ye redd,
grenc, black, and white. And in our land be also unicornes and
these Unicornes slee many Lyons. . . . Also there dare no
man make a lye in our lande, for if he dyde he sholde incontynent
be sleyn." — MeduEval Epistle, of Pope Prester John,



Across the seas of Woncferland to Mogadore we plodded.

Forty singing seamen in an old black barque,
And we landed in the twilight where a Polyphemus nodded
With his battered moon-eye winking red and yellow through
the dark I
For his eye was growing mellow.
Rich and ripe and red and yellow,
As was time, since old Ulysses made him bellow in the dark I
CAo.-— Since Ulysses bunged his eye up with a pine-torch in
the dark I



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172 FORTY SINGING SEAMEN

II

TTere they mountains in the gloaming or the giant's ugly
shoulders
Just beneath the rolling eyeball, with its bleared and vinous
glow,
Red and yellow o'er the purple of the pines among the boulders
And the shaggy horror brooding on the sullen slopes below.
Were they pines among the boulders
Or the hair upon his shoulders?
We were only simple seamen, so of course we didn't know.
Cho. — ^We were simple singing seamen, so of course we couldn't
Imow.



Ill

But we crossed a plain of poppies, and we came upon a foimtain

Not of water, but of jewels, like a spray of leaping fire;
And behind it, in an emerald glade, beneath a golden mountain
There stood a crystal palace, for a sailor to admire;
For a troop of ghosts came round us.
Which with leaves of bay they crowned us.
Then with grog they well nigh drowned us, to the depth of
our desire!
Cfu>. — ^And 'twas very friendly of them, as a sailor can admire I



IV

There was music all about us, we were growing quite forgetful
We were only singing seamen from the dirt of London-town,
Though the nectar that we swallowed seemed to vanish half
regretful
As if we wasn't good enough to take such vittles down.
When we saw a sudden figure,
Tall and black as any nigger.
Like the devil — only bigger-— drawing near us with a frown I
Cho. — ^Like the devil — ^but much bigger — and he wore a golden
crown I



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FORTY SINGING SEAMEN 173

V

And'' What's all this?" he growls at us I With dignity we
chaunted,
''Forty singing seamen, sir, as won't be put upon!"
"What? Englishmen?" he cries, "Well, if ye don't mind
being haunted.
Faith you're welcome to my palace; I'm the famous Prester
John!
WUl ye walk into my palace?
I don't bear 'ee any malice!
One and all ye shall be welcome in the halls of Prester
John I"
Cho, — So we walked into the palace and the halls of Prester
John I



VI

Now the door was one great diamond and the hall a hollow
ruby —
Big as Beachy Head, my lads, nay bigger by a half I
And I sees the mate wi' mouth agape, a-staring like a booby,
And the skipper close behind him, with his tongue out like a
calfl
Now the way to take it rightly
Was to walk along politely
Just as if you didn't notice — so I couldn't help but laugh I
Cfu>. — ^For they both forgot their manners and the crew was
bound tolaughl



VII

But he took us through his palace and, my lads, as I'm a sinner,

We walked into an opal like a simset-coloured cloud —
"My dining-room," he says, and, quick as light we saw a
dinner
Spread before us by the fingers of a hidden fairy crowd;
And the skipper, swaying gently
After dinner, murmurs faintly.



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174 FORTY SINGING SEAMEN

'*I looks to-wards you, Prester John, youVe done us Tery
proud I"
Cho. — ^And we drank his health with honours, for he done us
very proud I



VIII

Then he walks us to his garden where we sees a feathered
demon
Very splendid and important on a sort of spicy tree!
"That's the Phoenix," whispers Prester, "which all eddicated
seamen
Knows the only one existent, and he's waiting for to flee!
When his hundred years expire
Then he'll set hisself a-fire
And another from his ashes rise most beautiful to see!"
Cho. — With wings of rose and emerald most beautiful to seel



IX

Then he says, "In younder forest there's a little silver river,

And whosoever drinks of it, his youth shall never die!
The centuries go by, but Prester John endures for ever
With his music in the mountains and his magic on the sky I
While your hearts are growing colder,
While your world is growing older,
There's a magic in the distance, where the sea-line meets
the sky."
Cho. — ^It shall call to singing seamen till the fount o' song is
dry!



So we thought we'd up and seek it, but that forest fair defied

us, —

First a crimson leopard laughs at us most horrible to see,

Then a sea-green lion came and sniffed and licked his chops

and eyed us,

While a red and yellow unicorn was dancing round a tree!



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THE EMPIRE BUILDERS 176

We was trying to look thinner,
Which was hard, because our dinner
Must ha' made us very tempting to a cat o' high degree!
Cho. — Must ha' made us very tempting to the whole
menarjereel



XI

So we scuttled from that forest and across the poppy meadows
Where the awful shaggy horror brooded o'er us in the dark !
And we pushes out from shore again a-jumping at our shadows.
And pulls away most joyful to the old black barque!
And home again we plodded
While the Polyphemus nodded
With his battered moon-eye winking red and yellow through
the dark.
Cho. — Oh, the moon above the mountains, red and yellow
through the dark!

XII

Across the seas of Wonderland to London-town we blundered,

Forty singing seamen as was puzzled for to know
If the visions that we saw was caused by — ^here again we
pondered —
A tipple in a vision forty thousand years ago.
Could the grog we dreamt we swallowed
Make us dream of all that followed?
We were only simple seamen, so of course we didn't know!
Cho. — ^We were simple singing seamen, so of course we could
not know!



THE EMPIRE BUILDERS

Who are the Empire-builders? They
Whose desperate arrogance demands

A self-reflecting power to sway
A hundred little selfless lands?



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176 THE EMPIRE BUILDERS

Lord God of battles, ere we bow
To these and to their soulless lust,

Let fall Thy thimders on us now
And strike us equal to the dust.

Before the stars in heaven were made

Our great Commander led us forth;
And now the embattled lines are laid

To East, to West, to South, to North;
According as of old He planned

We take our station in the field.
Nor dare to dream we understand

The splendour of the swords we wield.

We know not what the Soul intends

That lives and moves behind our deeds;
We wheel and march to glorious ends

Beyond the common soldier's needs:
And some are raised to high rewards,

And some by regiments are hurled
To die upon the opposing swords

And sleep — ^forgotten by the world.

And not where navies chum the foam,

Nor called to fields of fierce emprize,
In many a country cottage-home

The Empire-buUder lives and dies:
Or through the roaring streets he goes

A lean and weary City slave,
The conqueror of a thousand foes

Who walks, unheeded, to his grave.

Leaders unknown of hopes forlorn

Go past us in the daily mart.
With many a shadowy crown of thorn

And many a kingly broken heart:
Though England's banner overhead

Ever the secret signal fiew,
We only see its Cross is red

As children see the skies are blue.



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NELSON'S YEAR 177

For all are Empire-builders here,

Whose hearts are true to heaven and home
And, year by slow revolving year,

Fulfil the duties as th^ come;
So simple seems the task, and yet

Many for this are crucified;
Ay, and their brother-men forget

The simple wounds in palm and side.



But he that to his home is true,

Where'er the tides of power may flow,
Has built a kingdom great and new

Which Time nor Fate shall overthrow
These are the Empire-builders, these

Annex where none shall say them nay
Beyond the world's uncharted seas

Beahns that can never pass away.



NELSON'S YEAR
(1905)



''Hasten the Kingdom, England!"
This year, a hundred years ago.
The world attended, breathless, on the gathering pomp of war,
While England and her deathless dead, with all their mighty
hearts aglow.
Swept onward like the dawn of doom to triumph at Trafalgar;
Then the world was hushed to wonder
As the cannon's dying thunder
Broke out again in muffled peals across the heaving sea,
And home the Victor came at last,
Home, home, with England's flag half-mast,
That never dipped to foe before, on Nelson's Victory.

(2



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178 NELSON'S YEAR

II

God gave this year to England;
And what He gives He takes again;
He ^ves us life. He gives us death: our victories have wings;
He gives us love and in its heart He hides the whole world's
heart of pain:
We gain by loss: impartially the eternal balance swings I
Ay; in the fire we cherish
Our thoughts and dreams may perish;
Yet shall it bum for England's sake triumphant as of old I
What sacrifice could gain for her
Our own shall still maintain for her,
And hold the gates of Freedom wide that take no keys of gold.



Ill

God gave this year to England; i

Her eyes are far too bright for tears |

Of sorrow; by her silent dead she kneels, too proud for pride; j

Their blood, their love, have bought her right to claim the i

new imperial years
In England's name for Freedom, in whose love her children
died;
In whose love, though hope may dwindle,
Love and brotherhood shall kindle
Between the striving nations as a choral song takes fire.
Till new hope, new faith, new wonder
Cleave the clouds of doubt asunder,
And speed the union of mankind in one divine desire.



IV

Hasten the Kingdom, England;
This year across the listening world
There came a sound of mingled tears where victory and defeat
Clasped hands; and Peace — among the dead — stood wist-
fully, with white wings furled.
Knowing the strife was idle; for the night and morning meet.



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NEMON'S YEAR 179

Yet there is no disiimon
In heaven's divine communion
As through the gates of twilight the harmonious monung
pours;
Ah, God speed that grander morrow
When the world's divinest sorrow
Shall show how Love stands knocking at the world's unopened
doors.



Hasten the Kingdom, England;
Look up across the narrow seas,
Across the great white nations to thy dark imperial throne
Where now three himdred million souls attend on thine
august decrees;
Ah, bow thine head in himibleness, the Kingdom b thine own:
Not for the pride or power
God gave thee this in dower;
But, now the West and East have met and wept their mortal
loss.
Now that their tears have spoken
And the long dumb spell b broken,
Is it nothing that thy banner bears the red eternal cross?



VI

Ayl Lift the flag of England;
And lo, that Eastern cross is there,
Veiled with a hundred meanings as our English eyes are veiled;
Yet to the grander dawn we move oblivious of the sign we
bear.
Oblivious of the heights we climb until the last be scaled;
Then with all the earth before us
And the great cross floating o'er us
We shall break the sword we forged of old, so weak we were
and blind;
While the inviolate heaven discloses
England's Rose of all the roses
Dawning wide and ever wider o'er the kingdom of mankind.



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180 IN TIME OP WAR

vn

Hasten the Eangdom, England;
For then all nations shall be one;
One as the ordered stars are one that sing upon their way,
One with the rhythmic glories of the swinging sea and
the rolling sun,
One with the flow of life and death, the tides of night and day ;
One with all dreams of beauty,
One with all laws of duty;
One with the weak and helpless while the one sky bums above;
Till eyes by tears made glorious
Look up at last victorious,
And lips that starved break open in one song of life and love.

VIII

Hasten the Kingdom, England;
And when the Spring returns again
Rekindle in our English hearts the universal Spring,
That we may wait in faith upon the former and the latter
rain,
Till all waste places burgeon and the wildernesses sing;
Pour the glory of thy pity
Through the dark and troubled city;
Pour the splendour of thy beauty over wood and meadow
fair;
May the God of battles guide thee
And the Christ-child walk beside thee
With a word of peace for England in the dawn of Nelson's
Year.



IN TIME OP WAR



To-night o'er Bagshot heath the purple heather
Rolls like dumb thimder to the splendid West;

And mighty ragged clouds are massed together
Above the scarred old common's broken breast;



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IN TIME OF WAR 181

And there are hints of blood between the boulders,
Red glints of fiercer blossom, bright and bold ;

And round the shaggy mounds and sullen shoulders
The gome repays the sun with savage gold.

And now, as in the West the light grows holy,

And all the hollows of the heath grow dim.
Far off, a sulky rumble rolls up slowly

Where guns at practice growl their evening hymn.

And here and there in bare clean yellow spaces
The print of horse-hoofs like an answering cry

Strikes strangely on the sense from lonely places
Where there is nought but empty heath and sky.

The print of warlike hoofs, where now no figure

Of horse or man along the sky's red rim
Breaks on the low horizon's rough black rigour

To make the gorgeous waste less wild and grim;

Strangely the hoof-prints strike, a Crusoe's wonder.
Framed with sharp furze amongst the footless feUsi

A menace and a mystery, rapt asunder,
As if the whole wide world contained nought else,—*

Nought but the grand despair of desolation
Between us and that wild, how far, how near.

Where, clothed with thunder, nation grapples nation.
And Slaughter grips the clay-cold hand of Fear.



II

And far above the purple heath the sunset stars awaken,
And ghostly hosts of cloud across the West begin to stream^

And all the low soft winds with muf9ed cannonades are
shaken.
And all the blood-red blossom draws aloof into a dream;



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182 IN TIME OF WAR

A dream — no more — and round the dream the clouds ve
curled together;
A dream of two great stormy hosts embattled m the sky;
For there against the low red heavens each sombre ridge of
heather
Up-heaves a hedge of bayonets around a battle-cry;


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Online LibraryAlfred NoyesCollected poems, Volume 1 → online text (page 10 of 26)