Jean Ingelow.

Poems by Jean Ingelow, In Two Volumes, Volume I online

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Like one who throws his arms up to the sky
And bows down suffering, hopeless of reply.

"At length, as if an everlasting Hand
Had taken hold upon her in her place,
And swiftly, like a golden grain of sand,
Through all the deep infinitudes of space
Was drawing her - God's truth as here I stand -
Backward and inward to itself; her face
Fast lessened, lessened, till it looked no more
Than smallest atom on a boundless shore.

"And she that was so fair, I saw her lie,
The smallest thing in God's great firmament,
Till night was lit the darkest, and on high
Her sisters glittered, though her light was spent;
I strained, to follow her, each aching eye,
So swiftly at her Maker's will she went;
I looked again - I looked - the star was gone,
And nothing marked in heaven where she had shone."

"Gone!" said the Poet, "and about to be
Forgotten: O, how sad a fate is hers!"
"How is it sad, my son?" all reverently
The old man answered; "though she ministers
No longer with her lamp to me and thee,
She has fulfilled her mission. God transfers
Or dims her ray; yet was she blest as bright,
For all her life was spent in giving light."

"Her mission she fulfilled assuredly,"
The Poet cried; "but, O unhappy star!
None praise and few will bear in memory
The name she went by. O, from far, from far
Comes down, methinks, her mournful voice to me,
Full of regrets that men so thankless are."
So said, he told that old Astronomer
All that the gazing crowd had said of her.

And he went on to speak in bitter wise,
As one who seems to tell another's fate,
But feels that nearer meaning underlies,
And points its sadness to his own estate:
"If such be the reward," he said with sighs,
"Envy to earn for love, for goodness hate -
If such be thy reward, hard case is thine!
It had been better for thee not to shine.

"If to reflect a light that is divine
Makes that which doth reflect it better seen,
And if to see is to contemn the shrine,
'Twere surely better it had never been:
It had been better for her NOT TO SHINE,
And for me NOT TO SING. Better, I ween,
For us to yield no more that radiance bright,
For them, to lack the light than scorn the light."

Strange words were those from Poet lips (said he);
And then he paused and sighed, and turned to look
Upon the lady's downcast eyes, and see
How fast the honey-bees in settling shook
Those apple blossoms on her from the tree:
He watched her busy lingers as they took
And slipped the knotted thread, and thought how much
He would have given that hand to hold - to touch.

At length, as suddenly become aware
Of this long pause, she lifted up her face,
And he withdrew his eyes - she looked so fair
And cold, he thought, in her unconscious grace.
"Ah! little dreams she of the restless care,"
He thought, "that makes my heart to throb apace:
Though we this morning part, the knowledge sends
No thrill to her calm pulse - we are but FRIENDS."

Ah! turret clock (he thought), I would thy hand
Were hid behind yon towering maple-trees!
Ah! tell-tale shadow, but one moment stand -
Dark shadow - fast advancing to my knees;
Ah! foolish heart (he thought), that vainly planned
By feigning gladness to arrive at ease;
Ah! painful hour, yet pain to think it ends;
I must remember that we are but friends.

And while the knotted thread moved to and fro,
In sweet regretful tones that lady said:
"It seemeth that the fame you would forego
The Poet whom you tell of coveted;
But I would fain, methinks, his story know.
And was he loved?" said she, "or was he wed?
And had he friends?" "One friend, perhaps," said he,
"But for the rest, I pray you let it be."

Ah! little bird (he thought), most patient bird,
Breasting thy speckled eggs the long day through,
By so much as my reason is preferred
Above thine instinct, I my work would do
Better than thou dost thine. Thou hast not stirred
This hour thy wing. Ah! russet bird, I sue
For a like patience to wear through these hours -
Bird on thy nest among the apple-flowers.

I will not speak - I will not speak to thee,
My star! and soon to be my lost, lost star.
The sweetest, first, that ever shone on me,
So high above me and beyond so far;
I can forego thee, but not bear to see
My love, like rising mist, thy lustre mar:
That were a base return for thy sweet light.
Shine, though I never more-shall see that thou art bright.

Never! 'Tis certain that no hope is - none!
No hope for me, and yet for thee no fear.
The hardest part of my hard task is done;
Thy calm assures me that I am not dear;
Though far and fast the rapid moments run,
Thy bosom heaveth not, thine eyes are clear;
Silent, perhaps a little sad at heart
She is. I am her friend, and I depart.

Silent she had been, but she raised her face;
"And will you end," said she, "this half-told tale?"
"Yes, it were best," he answered her. "The place
Where I left off was where he felt to fail
His courage, Madam, through the fancy base
That they who love, endure, or work, may rail
And cease - if all their love, the works they wrought,
And their endurance, men have set at nought."

"It had been better for me NOT to sing,"
My Poet said, "and for her NOT to shine;"
But him the old man answered, sorrowing,
"My son, did God who made her, the Divine
Lighter of suns, when down to yon bright ring
He cast her, like some gleaming almandine,
And set her in her place, begirt with rays,
Say unto her 'Give light,' or say 'Earn praise?'"

The Poet said, "He made her to give light."
"My son," the old man answered, "Blest are such;
A blessed lot is theirs; but if each night
Mankind had praised her radiance, inasmuch
As praise had never made it wax more bright,
And cannot now rekindle with its touch
Her lost effulgence, it is nought. I wot
That praise was not her blessing nor her lot."

"Ay," said the Poet, "I my words abjure,
And I repent me that I uttered them;
But by her light and by its forfeiture
She shall not pass without her requiem.
Though my name perish, yet shall hers endure;
Though I should be forgotten, she, lost gem,
Shall be remembered; though she sought not fame,
It shall be busy with her beauteous name.

"For I will raise in her bright memory,
Lost now on earth, a lasting monument,
And graven on it shall recorded be
That all her rays to light mankind were spent;
And I will sing albeit none heedeth me,
On her exemplar being still intent:
While in men's sight shall stand the record thus -
'So long as she did last she lighted us.'"

So said, he raised, according to his vow,
On the green grass where oft his townsfolk met,
Under the shadow of a leafy bough
That leaned toward a singing rivulet,
One pure white stone, whereon, like crown on brow,
The image of the vanished star was set;
And this was graven on the pure white stone
In golden letters - "WHILE SHE LIVED SHE SHONE."

Madam, I cannot give this story well -
My heart is beating to another chime;
My voice must needs a different cadence swell;
It is yon singing bird, which all the time
Wooeth his nested mate, that doth dispel
My thoughts. What, deem you, could a lover's rhyme
The sweetness of that passionate lay excel?
O soft, O low her voice - "I cannot tell."

(_He thinks_.)

The old man - ay, he spoke, he was not hard;
"She was his joy," he said, "his comforter,
But he would trust me. I was not debarred
Whate'er my heart approved to say to her."
Approved! O torn and tempted and ill-starred
And breaking heart, approve not nor demur;
It is the serpent that beguileth thee
With "God doth know" beneath this apple-tree.

Yea, God DOTH know, and only God doth know.
Have pity, God, my spirit groans to Thee!
I bear Thy curse primeval, and I go;
But heavier than on Adam falls on me
My tillage of the wilderness; for lo,
I leave behind the woman, and I see
As 'twere the gates of Eden closing o'er
To hide her from my sight for evermore.

(_He speaks_.)

I am a fool, with sudden start he cried,
To let the song-bird work me such unrest:
If I break off again, I pray you chide,
For morning neeteth, with my tale at best
Half told. That white stone, Madam, gleamed beside
The little rivulet, and all men pressed
To read the lost one's story traced thereon,
The golden legend - "While she lived she shone."

And, Madam, when the Poet heard them read,
And children spell the letters softly through,
It may be that he felt at heart some need,
Some craving to be thus remembered too;
It may be that he wondered if indeed
He must die wholly when he passed from view;
It may be, wished when death his eyes made dim,
That some kind hand would raise such stone for him.

But shortly, as there comes to most of us,
There came to him the need to quit his home:
To tell you why were simply hazardous.
What said I, Madam? - men were made to roam
My meaning is. It hath been always thus:
They are athirst for mountains and sea-foam;
Heirs of this world, what wonder if perchance
They long to see their grand inheritance?

He left his city, and went forth to teach
Mankind, his peers, the hidden harmony
That underlies God's discords, and to reach
And touch the master-string that like a sigh
Thrills in their souls, as if it would beseech
Some hand to sound it, and to satisfy
Its yearning for expression: but no word
Till poet touch it hath to make its music heard.

(_He thinks_.)

I know that God is good, though evil dwells
Among us, and doth all things holiest share;
That there is joy in heaven, while yet our knells
Sound for the souls which He has summoned there:
That painful love unsatisfied hath spells
Earned by its smart to soothe its fellows care:
But yet this atom cannot in the whole
Forget itself - it aches a separate soul.

(_He speaks._)

But, Madam, to my Poet I return.
With his sweet cadences of woven words
He made their rude untutored hearts to burn
And melt like gold refined. No brooding birds
Sing better of the love that doth sojourn
Hid in the nest of home, which softly girds
The beating heart of life; and, strait though it be,
Is straitness better than wide liberty.

He taught them, and they learned, but not the less
Remained unconscious whence that lore they drew,
But dreamed that of their native nobleness
Some lofty thoughts, that he had planted, grew;
His glorious maxims in a lowly dress
Like seed sown broadcast sprung in all men's view.
The sower, passing onward, was not known,
And all men reaped the harvest as their own.

It may be, Madam, that those ballads sweet,
Whose rhythmic words we sang but yesterday,
Which time and changes make not obsolete,
But (as a river blossoms bears away
That on it drop) take with them while they fleet -
It may be his they are, from him bear sway:
But who can tell, since work surviveth fame? -
The rhyme is left, but lost the Poet's name.

He worked, and bravely he fulfilled his trust -
So long he wandered sowing worthy seed,
Watering of wayside buds that were adust,
And touching for the common ear his reed -
So long to wear away the cankering rust
That dulls the gold of life - so long to plead
With sweetest music for all souls oppressed,
That he was old ere he had thought of rest.

Old and gray-headed, leaning on a staff,
To that great city of his birth he came,
And at its gates he paused with wondering laugh
To think how changed were all his thoughts of fame
Since first he carved the golden epitaph
To keep in memory a worthy name,
And thought forgetfulness had been its doom
But for a few bright letters on a tomb.

The old Astronomer had long since died;
The friends of youth were gone and far dispersed,
Strange were the domes that rose on every side;
Strange fountains on his wondering vision burst;
The men of yesterday their business plied;
No face was left that he had known at first;
And in the city gardens, lo, he sees
The saplings that he set are stately trees.

Upon the grass beneath their welcome shade,
Behold! he marks the fair white monument,
And on its face the golden words displayed,
For sixty years their lustre have not spent;
He sitteth by it and is not afraid,
But in its shadow he is well content;
And envies not, though bright their gleamings are,
The golden letters of the vanished star.

He gazeth up; exceeding bright appears
That golden legend to his aged eyes,
For they are dazzled till they fill with tears,
And his lost Youth doth like a vision rise;
She saith to him, "In all these toilsome years,
What hast thou won by work or enterprise?
What hast thou won to make amends to thee,
As thou didst swear to do, for loss of me?

"O man! O white-haired man!" the vision said
"Since we two sat beside this monument
Life's clearest hues are all evanishèd;
The golden wealth thou hadst of me is spent;
The wind hath swept thy flowers, their leaves are shed
The music is played out that with thee went."
"Peace, peace!" he cried, "I lost thee, but, in truth,
There are worse losses than the loss of youth."

He said not what those losses were - but I -
But I must leave them, for the time draws near.
Some lose not ONLY joy, but memory
Of how it felt: not love that was so dear
Lose only, but the steadfast certainty
That once they had it; doubt comes on, then fear,
And after that despondency. I wis
The Poet must have meant such loss as this.

But while he sat and pondered on his youth,
He said, "It did one deed that doth remain,
For it preserved the memory and the truth
Of her that now doth neither set nor wane,
But shine in all men's thought; nor sink forsooth,
And be forgotten like the summer rain.
O, it is good that man should not forget
Or benefits foregone or brightness set!"

He spoke and said, "My lot contented: me;
I am right glad for this her worthy fame;
That which was good and great I fain would see
Drawn with a halo round what rests - its name."
This while the Poet said, behold there came
A workman with his tools anear the tree,
And when he read the words he paused awhile
And pondered on them with a wondering smile.

And then he said, "I pray you, Sir, what mean
The golden letters of this monument?"
In wonder quoth the Poet, "Hast thou been
A dweller near at hand, and their intent
Hast neither heard by voice of fame, nor seen
The marble earlier?" "Ay," said he, and leant
Upon his spade to hear the tale, then sigh,
And say it was a marvel, and pass by.

Then said the Poet, "This is strange to me."
But as he mused, with trouble in his mind,
A band of maids approached him leisurely,
Like vessels sailing with a favoring wind;
And of their rosy lips requested he,
As one that for a doubt would solving find,
The tale, if tale there were, of that white stone,
And those fair letters - "While she lived she shone."

Then like a fleet that floats becalmed they stay.
"O, Sir," saith one, "this monument is old;
But we have heard our virtuous mothers say
That by their mothers thus the tale was told:
A Poet made it; journeying then away,
He left us; and though some the meaning hold
For other than the ancient one, yet we
Receive this legend for a certainty: -

"There was a lily once, most purely white,
Beneath the shadow of these boughs it grew;
Its starry blossom it unclosed by night,
And a young Poet loved its shape and hue.
He watched it nightly, 'twas so fair a sight,
Until a stormy wind arose and blew,
And when he came once more his flower to greet
Its fallen petals drifted to his feet.

"And for his beautiful white lily's sake,
That she might be remembered where her scent
Had been right sweet, he said that he would make
In her dear memory a monument:
For she was purer than a driven flake
Of snow, and in her grace most excellent;
The loveliest life that death did ever mar,
As beautiful to gaze on as a star."

"I thank you, maid," the Poet answered her.
"And I am glad that I have heard your tale."
With that they passed; and as an inlander,
Having heard breakers raging in a gale,
And falling down in thunder, will aver
That still, when far away in grassy vale,
He seems to hear those seething waters bound,
So in his ears the maiden's voice did sound.

He leaned his face upon his hand, and thought,
And thought, until a youth came by that way;
And once again of him the Poet sought
The story of the star. But, well-a-day!
He said, "The meaning with much doubt is fraught,
The sense thereof can no man surely say;
For still tradition sways the common ear,
That of a truth a star DID DISAPPEAR.

"But they who look beneath the outer shell
That wraps the 'kernel of the people's lore,'
Hold THAT for superstition; and they tell
That seven lovely sisters dwelt of yore
In this old city, where it so befell
That one a Poet loved; that, furthermore,
As stars above us she was pure and good,
And fairest of that beauteous sisterhood.

"So beautiful they were, those virgins seven,
That all men called them clustered stars in song,
Forgetful that the stars abide in heaven:
But woman bideth not beneath it long;
For O, alas! alas! one fated even
When stars their azure deeps began to throng,
That virgin's eyes of Poet loved waxed dim,
And all their lustrous shining waned to him.

"In summer dusk she drooped her head and sighed
Until what time the evening star went down,
And all the other stars did shining bide
Clear in the lustre of their old renown.
And then - the virgin laid her down and died:
Forgot her youth, forgot her beauty's crown,
Forgot the sisters whom she loved before,
And broke her Poet's heart for evermore."

"A mournful tale, in sooth," the lady saith:
"But did he truly grieve for evermore?"
"It may be you forget," he answereth,
"That this is but a fable at the core
O' the other fable." "Though it be but breath,"
She asketh, "was it true?" - then he, "This lore,
Since it is fable, either way may go;
Then, if it please you, think it might be so."

"Nay, but," she saith, "if I had told your tale,
The virgin should have lived his home to bless,
Or, must she die, I would have made to fail
His useless love." "I tell you not the less,"
He sighs, "because it was of no avail:
His heart the Poet would not dispossess
Thereof. But let us leave the fable now.
My Poet heard it with an aching brow."

And he made answer thus: "I thank thee, youth;
Strange is thy story to these aged ears,
But I bethink me thou hast told a truth
Under the guise of fable. If my tears,
Thou lost belovèd star, lost now, forsooth,
Indeed could bring thee back among thy peers,
So new thou should'st be deemed as newly seen,
For men forget that thou hast ever been.

"There was a morning when I longed for fame,
There was a noontide when I passed it by,
There is an evening when I think not shame
Its substance and its being to deny;
For if men bear in mind great deeds, the name
Of him that wrought them shall they leave to die;
Or if his name they shall have deathless writ,
They change the deeds that first ennobled it.

"O golden letters of this monument!
O words to celebrate a loved renown
Lost now or wrested! and to fancies lent,
Or on a fabled forehead set for crown,
For my departed star, I am content,
Though legends dim and years her memory drown:
For nought were fame to her, compared and set
By this great truth which ye make lustrous yet."

"Adieu!" the Poet said, "my vanished star,
Thy duty and thy happiness were one.
Work is heaven's best; its fame is sublunar:
The fame thou dost not need - the work is done.
For thee I am content that these things are;
More than content were I, my race being run,
Might it be true of me, though none thereon
Should muse regretful - 'While he lived he shone.'"

So said, the Poet rose and went his way,
And that same lot he proved whereof he spake.
Madam, my story is told out; the day
Draws out her shadows, time doth overtake
The morning. That which endeth call a lay,
Sung after pause - a motto in the break
Between two chapters of a tale not new,
Nor joyful - but a common tale. Adieu!

And that same God who made your face so fair,
And gave your woman's heart its tenderness,
So shield the blessing He implanted there,
That it may never turn to your distress,
And never cost you trouble or despair,
Nor granted leave the granter comfortless;
But like a river blest where'er it flows,
Be still receiving while it still bestows.

Adieu, he said, and paused, while she sat mute
In the soft shadow of the apple-tree;
The skylark's song rang like a joyous flute,
The brook went prattling past her restlessly:
She let their tongues be her tongue's substitute;
It was the wind that sighed, it was not she:
And what the lark, the brook, the wind, had said,
We cannot tell, for none interpreted.

Their counsels might be hard to reconcile,
They might not suit the moment or the spot.
She rose, and laid her work aside the while
Down in the sunshine of that grassy plot;
She looked upon him with an almost smile,
And held to him a hand that faltered not.
One moment - bird and brook went warbling on,
And the wind sighed again - and he was gone.

So quietly, as if she heard no more
Or skylark in the azure overhead,
Or water slipping past the cressy shore,
Or wind that rose in sighs, and sighing fled -
So quietly, until the alders hoar
Took him beneath them; till the downward spread
Of planes engulfed him in their leafy seas -
She stood beneath her rose-flushed apple-trees.

And then she stooped toward the mossy grass,
And gathered up her work and went her way;
Straight to that ancient turret she did pass,
And startle back some fawns that were at play.
She did not sigh, she never said "Alas!"
Although he was her friend: but still that day,
Where elm and hornbeam spread a towering dome,
She crossed the dells to her ancestral home.

And did she love him? - what if she did not?
Then home was still the home of happiest years
Nor thought was exiled to partake his lot,
Nor heart lost courage through forboding fears;
Nor echo did against her secret plot,
Nor music her betray to painful tears;
Nor life become a dream, and sunshine dim,
And riches poverty, because of him.

But did she love him? - what and if she did?
Love cannot cool the burning Austral sand,
Nor show the secret waters that lie hid
In arid valleys of that desert land.
Love has no spells can scorching winds forbid,
Or bring the help which tarries near to hand,
Or spread a cloud for curtaining faded eyes
That gaze up dying into alien skies.


I took a year out of my life and story -
A dead year, and said, "I will hew thee a tomb!
'All the kings of the nations lie in glory;'
Cased in cedar, and shut in a sacred gloom;
Swathed in linen, and precious unguents old;
Painted with cinnabar, and rich with gold.

"Silent they rest, in solemn salvatory,
Sealed from the moth and the owl and the flitter-mouse -
Each with his name on his brow.
'All the kings of the nations lie in glory,
Every one in his own house:'
Then why not thou?

"Year," I said, "thou shalt not lack
Bribes to bar thy coming back;
Doth old Egypt wear her best
In the chambers of her rest?
Doth she take to her last bed
Beaten gold, and glorious red?
Envy not! for thou wilt wear
In the dark a shroud as fair;
Golden with the sunny ray
Thou withdrawest from my day;
Wrought upon with colors fine,
Stolen from this life of mine;
Like the dusty Lybian kings,
Lie with two wide open wings
On thy breast, as if to say,
On these wings hope flew away;
And so housed, and thus adorned,
Not forgotten, but not scorned,
Let the dark for evermore
Close thee when I close the door;
And the dust for ages fall
In the creases of thy pall;
And no voice nor visit rude
Break thy sealèd solitude."

I took the year out of my life and story,
The dead year, and said, "I have hewed thee a tomb
'All the kings of the nations lie in glory,'
Cased in cedar, and shut in a sacred gloom;
But for the sword, and the sceptre, and diadem,
Sure thou didst reign like them."
So I laid her with those tyrants old and hoary,
According to my vow;
For I said, "The kings of the nations lie in glory,
And so shalt thou!"

"Rock," I said, "thy ribs are strong.
That I bring thee guard it long;
Hide the light from buried eyes -
Hide it, lest the dead arise."
"Year," I said, and turned away,

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Online LibraryJean IngelowPoems by Jean Ingelow, In Two Volumes, Volume I → online text (page 4 of 18)