Edith Wharton.

Artemis to Actaeon, and Other Verses online

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“_Be friendly, pray, to these fancies of mine._”



NEWPORT, R. I., C. E. HAMMETT, JR., 1878.





(An Organ-stop.)

O soft, caressing sound, more sweet than scent
Of violets in woody hollows! Tone
As amorous as the ring-dove’s tender moan
Beneath the spreading forest’s leafy tent;
What mystery of earth or air hath lent
Thee that bewitching music, where the drone
Of Summer bees in dewy buds new blown
With trembling, fainting melody is blent?
What master did conceive thee, as the sound
Most fit to woo his lady from her rest,
What wakeful maiden in thy wooing found
The passion of her lover first exprest,
And from her silken pillows, beauty-crowned,
Stept forth and smiled on him who loved her best?

_November 10th, 1875._




It is the vesper hour, and in yon aisle
Where fainting incense clouds the heavy air
My lady’s kneeling at her evening prayer,
Alone and silently; for in a file
The choristers have passed, and left her there,
Where martyrs from the tinted windows stare,
And saints look downward with a holy smile
Upon her meek devotions, while the day
Fades slowly, and a tender amber light
From coloured panes about her head doth play -
Her veil falls like a shade, and ghostly white
Her clasped hands glimmer through the deepening gray;
So will she kneel, until from Heaven’s height
The Angels bend to hear their sister pray.

_November 11th, 1875._




“Be friendly, pray, with these fancies of mine.” BETTINE.

Could youth discrown thy head of its gray hair,
I could not love it as I love it now;
Could one grand line be smoothed from thy brow,
’Twould seem to me less stately and less fair.
O no, be as thou art! For thou dost wear
The signs of noble age that cannot bow
Thine intellect like thy form, and I who know
How each year that did visibly impair
Thy first fresh youth, left inwardly such grand
And gracious gifts, would rather have thee so -
Believe me, master, who erect doth stand
In soul and purpose, age cannot lay low
Till he receive, new from the Father’s hand
The youth he did but outwardly forego.

_April, 1876._


Spring Song.

“O primavera! Gioventù dell’ anno.”

The first warm buds that break their covers,
The first young twigs that burst in green,
The first blade that the sun discovers,
Starting the loosened earth between.

The pale soft sky, so clear and tender,
With little clouds that break and fly;
The crocus, earliest pretender
To the low breezes passing by;

The chirp and twitter of brown builders,
A couple in a tree, at least;
The watchful wisdom of the elders
For callow younglings in the nest;

The flush of branches with fair blossoms,
The deepening of the faint green boughs,
As leaf by leaf the crown grows fuller
That binds the young Spring’s rosy brows;

New promise every day of sweetness,
The next bright dawn is sure to bring;
Slow breaking into green completeness,
Fresh rapture of the early Spring!

_May, 1876._

Prophecies of Summer.

I found a wee leaf in the cleft
Where the half-melted ice had left
A sunny corner, moist and warm,
For it to bud, beyond all harm.
The wet, brown sod,
Long horned with ice, had slowly grown
So soft, the tender seedling blown
By Autumn winds, in earliest Spring
Sent through the sun-warmed covering,
Its little leaf to God.

I found it there, beneath a ledge,
The dawning Spring time’s fairest pledge,
And to my mind it dimly brought
The sudden, joyous, leafy thought
Of Summer-time.
I plucked it from the sheltered cleft
Which the more kindly ice had left.
Within my hand to drop and die,
But for its sweet suggestions, I
Revive it in a rhyme.




O Love, where are the hours fled,
The hours of our young delight?
Are they forever gone and dead,
Or only vanished out of sight?

O can it be that we shall live
To know once more the joys gone by,
To feel the old, deep love revive,
And smile again before we die?

Could I but fancy it might be,
Could I the past bring back again,
And for one moment, holding thee,
Forget the present and its pain!

O Love, those hours are past away
Beyond our longing and our sighs -
Perhaps the Angels, some bright day,
Will give them back in Paradise!

_August, 1876._



Not over roof and spire doth Heaven lie,
Star-sentinelled from our humanity,
Beyond the humble reach of every day.
And only near us when we weep or pray;
But rather in the household and the street,
Where loudest is the noise of hurrying feet,
Where hearts beat thickest, where our duties call,
Where watchers sit, where tears in silence fall.
We know not, or forget, there is no line
That marks our human off from our divine;
For all one household, all one family
In different chamberings labouring are we;
God leaves the doors between them open wide,
Knowing how life and death are close allied,
And though across the threshold, in the gloom,
We cannot see into that other room,
It may be that the dear ones watching there
Can hear our cry of passionate despair,
And wait unseen to lead us through the door
When twilight comes, and all our work is o’er.

_January, 1877._


“Maiden, Arise.”

She, whom through life her God forbade to hear
The voices of her nearest and most dear,
So that she dwelt, amid the hum and rush
Of cities, in a vast, eternal hush,
Yet heard the first low calling of the voice
That others had not heeded in the noise,
And rising, when it whispered “Come with me,”
Followed the form that others could not see,
Smiling, perchance, in death at last to hear
The voices of the Angels fill her ear,
While the great, silent void that closed her round
Was overflowed with rippled floods of sound,
And the dumb past in Alleluias drowned.

_March, 1877._



A Fragment.


It is the time when everything
Is flusht with presage of the Spring,
When every leaf and twig and bud
Feels new life rushing like a flood
Through greening veins and bursting tips;
When every hour a sunbeam slips
Across a sleepy flower’s mouth,
And wakes it, babbling of the South;
When birds are doubtful where or how
To hang their nests on trunk or bough,
And all that is in wood or croft
Beneath an influence balmy-soft
Towards the light begins to strive,
Feeling how good it is to live!


How beautiful thou standest there,
Thyself a prophet of the May!
The shining of thy golden hair
Would melt December’s snows away.
The roses on thy cheeks would woo
Forth envious blossoms from their sleeps.
And robins plume their breasts anew
To mock the crimson of thy lips.


But where would be the golden tresses,
With ribands bravely intertwined
And where the roses, that thy praises
Have opened like a Summer wind,
Wert thou, my love, my Knight, not here,
To make these empty beauties dear?
The Spring would never deck her train
In such a fair and winsome wise
Did she not seek by smiles to chain
The sun her royal lover’s eyes.



May Marian.


In our town there dwelt a maiden
Whom the folk called Marian;
In her narrow gabled casement
All day long she sat and span.

Till a gentleman came riding
Through our town one Summer day,
Spied May Marian at the casement,
Stole her silly heart away.

Then she up and left her spinning,
Laid aside her russet gown,
In a footboy’s cap and mantle
Followed him to London town.

There he led her to a mansion
Standing by the river side;
“In that mansion dwells the lady
Who is my betrothed bride;

“Gif thou’lt be her serving-maiden,
Thou shalt wear a braw red gown,
Follow her to mass on Sunday
Through the streets of London town;

“But if thou’lt not be her maiden,
Turn about and get thee home;
’Tis not meet that country wenches
Through the city here should roam.”

Not a word in answer spake she;
Weeping sore she turned away,
And alone she gat her homeward,
Travelling till the fall of day.

To our town she came at gloaming,
Softly tirled she at the door;
Whispered: “let me in, sweet mother,
I will wander never more.”

“I will turn me to my spinning,
I will don my russet gown;
Home is best for country lasses,
Men are false in London town.”

But the door was shut against her,
To her prayer came answer none.
All night long alone she wandered,
Wandered weeping through our town.

But at dawn she was aweary -
In the street she laid her down;
And they found her dead at sunrise
With her head upon a stone.


Ladies, listen to my ballad:
Maidens are too lightly won;
Home is best for country lasses,
Men are false in London town.





Who knows his opportunities? They come
Not trumpet-tongued from Heaven, but small and dumb,
Not beckoning from the future’s promised land,
But in the narrow present close at hand.
They walk beside us with unsounding feet,
And like those two that trode the Eastern street
And with their Saviour bartered thought for thought,
Our eyes are holden and we know them not.




“The Last Token.”

A. D. 107.

(She speaks.)

One minute more of life! Enough to snatch
This flower to my bosom, and to catch
The parting glance and signal overhead
From one who sits and waits to see me dead.
One minute more! Enough to let him see
How straight the message fell from him to me,
And how, his talisman upon my breast,
I’ll face the end as calmly as the rest. -
Th’ impassive wall of faces seems to break
And shew one face aquiver for my sake * * *
How different death seems, with a hand that throws
Across the pathway of my doom a rose,
How brief and paltry life, compared to this
O’ertoppling moment of supremest bliss! * * *
Farewell! I feel the lions’ hungry breath,
I meet your eyes * * * beloved, this is death.



Raffaelle to the Fornarina.

(Sitting to him for a Madonna.)

Knot up the filmy strands of golden hair
That veil your breast, yet leave its beauties bare;
In decent ripples backward let it flow,
Smooth-parted sideways from your placid brow.
Unclasp the clinging necklace from your throat,
And let this misty veil about you float,
As round the seraphs of my visions swim
Faint, roseate clouds to make their radiance dim
And bearable to dazzled human eyes,
Uplifted in a rapture of surprise.
Lay off your armlets now, and cover up
With dark blue folds that shoulder’s dimpled slope;
Let naught appear to woo the grosser sense,
But ruling calm, and sacred innocence;
Subdue the pointed twinkle of your eye
Into a level, large serenity,
(Now comes the test) and let your mouth awhile
Be pressed into a faint, ascetic smile,
A pure reflection of the inward thought,
A chastened glow from fires celestial caught.


Chriemhild of Burgundy.

A Fragment.

In all the land was not a maid
Could match her beauty white and red;
No decent veil she need to wear,
Deep-mantled in her royal hair,
Dun ripples, shot all through and through
With fiery gold; her eyes were blue
And clearer than a Summer wave
That murmurs in some sunless cave,
And over them her brow shone white,
Like the first low star that pricks the night,
And under them her mouth did redden,
Like ripe red clover, honey-laden;
But white as pear-bloom was her chin,
An elvish dimple played therein;
Her breast stirred softly up and down
Beneath the folding of her gown
As if a bird were prisoned there
That fluttered for the outer air,
And round and comely was each limb,
As doth a royal maid beseem.



Some Woman to Some Man.

We might have loved each other after all,
Have lived and learned together! Yet I doubt it;
You asked, I think, too great a sacrifice,
Or else, perhaps, I rate myself too dear.
Whichever way the difference lies between us,
Would common cares have helped to lessen it,
A common interest, and a common lot?
Who knows indeed? We choose our path, and then
Stand looking back and sighing at our choice,
And say: “Perhaps the other road had led
To fruitful valleys dozing in the sun.”
Perhaps - perhaps - but all things are perhaps,
And either way there lies a doubt, you know.
We’ve but one life to live, and fifty ways
To live it in, and little time to choose
The one in fifty that will suit us best,
And so the end is, that we part, and say:
“We might have loved each other after all!”




Lines on Chaucer.

No human pomp suggests his name,
No human pride builds up his fame,
But croft and meadow every where
His presence and his charm declare.

He was an echo of the woods,
A breath of vernal solitudes,
An annalist of brooks and birds,
Interpreter of sylvan words;

He worshipt nature where he trod
And still, through nature, worshipt God;
And spotless as the flower he praises
His name still blossoms with the daisies.


What We Shall Say Fifty Years Hence, OF OUR FANCY-DRESS QUADRILLE.

(Danced at Swanhurst, August 8th, 1878.)

Do you remember, long ago,
Our Fancy-dress Quadrille?
Though many a year is past since then
It makes me joyous still,
To think what fun we used to have
When we were young and gay
And danced upon the Swanhurst lawn,
That happy Summer day.

As Shepherd and as Shepherdess
We trod the graceful round,
In pinks and blues, with buckled shoes,
And crooks with ribands bound;
And as with joyous step we danced
We gaily sang in time
The foolish words and merry tune
Of some old Nursery rhyme.

But often through the singing broke
A burst of laughter gay,
So young were we, so glad and free,
That happy Summer day!
And hand in hand would linger long,
As through the dance we moved,
For some of us were lovers then,
And some of us were loved.

Ah, many a year is past since then,
And fled the merry throng,
And yet I hear, at times quite clear,
The echo of our song;
And though our days are Wintry now
I well remember still
The happy Summer day we danced
Our Fancy-dress Quadrille!




Nothing More.

’Twas the old, old story told again,
The story we all have heard;
A glimpse of brightness, parting and pain -
You know it word for word.

A stolen picture - a faded rose -
An evening hushed and bright;
A whisper - perhaps a kiss - who knows?
A handclasp, and “goodnight.”

The sum of what we call “first love,”
That dreamflower rare and white,
That puts its magic blossom forth
And dies in a single night.



June and December.

When our eyes grow dim and our hair turns grey
And we sit by the fire together,
’Twill seem strange to talk in a shivering way
Of our Summertime’s rosy weather;

When our eyes were bright, and our tresses smooth,
And the blood in our veins leapt red,
In the golden dawn of our long lost youth,
With the promise of life ahead.

Shall we talk with smiles or with sighs that day
Of the years that are dead and gone,
Of the cares and the joys that have passed away
Like dewdrops beneath the sun?

Nay, perchance we’ll see but the sunny side
Of the vision, in looking back,
And the trace of joys that are past may abide,
Where our sorrow have left no track;

And perhaps both the joys and the cares may seem
In the light of that later day,
Like the phantom shapes of some beautiful dream
That has long ago passed away.

But whate’er beside we may lose or hold
From the hoards of the golden past,
May the friends we loved in the days of old
To our hearts and thoughts cling fast,

And before the days come that are coming soon,
And whose motto is “I remember,”
God grant us one vision of love and June
To brighten our life’s December.

_October 7th, 1878._




A cold grey sea, a cold grey sky
And leafless swaying boughs,
A wind that wanders sadly by,
And moans about the house.

And in my lonely heart a cry
For days that went before;
For joys that fly, and hopes that die,
And the past that comes no more.



A Woman I Know.

For a look from her eyes, for a smile of her mouth
Any man might well give the best years of his youth;
For the touch of her hand, for the warmth of her kiss
Might well barter his chances of infinite bliss;

For her step is like sunlight that plays on the sea
And her bosom is snowy as snowy can be,
And her hair is a mantle inwoven with gold
Such as Queens might have worn in the legends of old;

And her chin oh so white, and her cheek oh so red,
They might well drive a man who should look at them mad;
But beneath the bright breast where her heart ought to be,
What is there? Why a trap to catch fools, sir, like me!

_October, 1878._




Daisies, does he love me?
Daisies, tell me true.
“Loves me * * * does not love me” * * *
That will never do!
Why, you know, you daisies,
Whatever you may say,
He stole that knot of riband
I wore the other day.

Daisies, one more trial;
Let your petals fall.
“Loves me * * * does not love me * * *
Loves me,” after all!
Thank you, darling daisies,
And if it ends that way
I’ll wear you in a garland
Upon my wedding day.





(On being asked for some verses.)

I love the silver dawn of night
That melts the dark away;
The ecstacy of pallid light
That bathes the ended day;

When leaf by leaf the slumbrous trees
Begin to talk anew;
And that sweet almoner, the breeze,
Fills every cup with dew;

When on the fevered brow of toil
Eve lays a soothing palm,
And whispers softly to the soul:
“This hour was made for calm.”



Notre Dame des Fleurs.

To F. S. W.

Rosy, and fair, and fragrant,
Your vassals, the flowers, come,
Bearing a welcome to us
From the heart of your sunlit home;
Delicate garlands, wreathing
With brightness these dreary hours;
Red lips and white lips, breathing
Of you, our Lady of Flowers!

Violets, blue as your eyes are
And roses, as soft as your cheek, -
Daphne, sweet as your words are, -
Primroses pallid and meek;
Feathery, waving fern-plumes,
And blossoms from Summer bowers,
Each one bearing a message
From you, our Lady of Flowers!

Giver of brightness and beauty,
And Queen of this fragrant throng,
How shall we thank you or praise you
But feebly in this poor song?
We, whom you crown with blossoms,
Whom richly your kindness dowers,
We must be silent and love you, -
Love you, our Lady of Flowers!

_November 25, 1878._



Translations from the German.



(“Mein Pferd geht langsam durch die nacht.”)

My steed goes slowly through the night;
The moon is half in shadow,
With clouds that steal across her light
Like lambs across a meadow.

A sudden stillness fills my heart,
With grief so lately movèd,
For in thy thoughts I have a part,
Tonight, my best belovèd.

In every whisper of the wind
Thy greeting I discover;
O may’st thou in the breezes find
The kisses of thy lover.




(“Schöne Lilie.”)

Spotless lily in the garden,
Fair and high on slender stem,
In the morning breeze thou wavest
Like a dainty silver flame.

How thy chalice opens upward
To admit the sunlight’s gleam!
Scarce unto the earth belonging,
Part of Heaven dost thou seem.

Ah, thou bearest greetings to me
From a being pure as thou,
Whom I called my spirit’s spirit,
Once with many a loving vow;

She who taught me to discover
Love that lurks in sorrow’s smart;
Now, if I but think upon her
Sudden stillness fills my heart.



There stands the ancient gabled house;
The rooms therein how well I know!
They’re still as once they were, when first
I loved there, long ago.

But, like the moon, times change, and hearts,
And strangers now the dwelling claim;
Another passion fills my breast;
Yet is the house the same.

Today I went there to the feast;
Some memory made my bosom stir,
I heeded not the song and jest,
I only thought of _her_, -

Of all that we had meant to be,
Of all my vanisht youthful years,
And of the love that filled her eyes, -
Till mine o’erflowed with tears.

And when I roused me from the thought,
Alas, how changed did all things seem!
As though that dream had been my life,
And all my life a dream.



Online LibraryEdith WhartonArtemis to Actaeon, and Other Verses → online text (page 1 of 2)