Laurence Binyon.

Porphyrion and other poems online

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Online LibraryLaurence BinyonPorphyrion and other poems → online text (page 1 of 6)
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For the design on the co-ver oj
this 'volume I am indebted to
Mr. miliam Strang.— L. B.



porphyrion i

London Visions :

The Fire 63

Martha 66

The Dray ja

Eleoncra Dusc as Magda 75

Midsumnier Noon 77

The Paralytic 78

Songs of the World Unborn 7a

The Supper $■,

Various Poems :

The Renewal

February Morning


May Evening

Love Infinite

Over the Sea



Fears of Love

In the Firelight

The Elm

The Vision of Augustine and Monica

The Pine Woods of Grij6








2 I










A young tnan of Antioch^ flying from the ivorld, in that enthusiasm
for the ascetic life <which fascinated early Christendom, d-ivells some
years a hermit in the Syrian desert ; till, hy an apparition of magical
loveliness, his life is broken up, and his nature changed: returning to
the Tvorld, he embraces e-iiery 'vicissitude, hoping to find again the lost
-uision of that ideal beauty.

For the story on -which this poem is founded y see the notes at the end
of the book.



O FROM the dungeon of this flesh to break
At last, and to have peace, Porphyrion cried.
Inly tormented, as with pain he toiled
Before his dwelling in the Syrian noon :
The desert, idly echoing, answered him.
Had not the desert peace ? All empty stood
That region, the swept mansion of the wind.
Pillars of skiey rock encompassed it
Afar ; there was no voice, nor any sound
Of living creature, but from morn to eve
Silence abounding, that o'erflowed the air
And the waste sunshine, and on stone and herb
The tinge and odour of neglected time.

Yet into vacancy the troubled heart
Brings its own fullness : and Porphyrion found
The void a prison, and in the silence chains.

He in the unripe fervour of sweet youth
Hearing a prophet's cry, had fled from mirth
And revel to assuaging solitude.


He turned from soft entreaties, he unwound

The arms that would have stayed him, he denied

His friends, and cast the garland from his brow.

Pangs of diviner hunger urged him forth

Into the wild ; for ever there to lose

Love, hate, and wrath, and fleshly tyrannies,

And madness of desire: tumultuous life.

Full of sweet peril, thronged with rich alarms.

Dismayed his soul, too suddenly revealed :

And far into the wilderness, from face

And feet of men he fled, by memory fierce

Pursued ; till in the impenetrable hills

He deemed at last to have discovered peace.

Three years amid the wilderness he dwelt.

In solitary, pure aspiring turned

Toward the immortal Light, that all the stars

Outshines, and the frail shadow of our death

Consumes for ever, and sustains the sun.

The voiceless days in pious order flowed.

Calm as the o;lidin2; shadow of a cloud

On Lebanon ; morn followed after morn

Like the still comins: of a stream : his mind

Was habited in silence, like a robe.

Then gradually mutinous, quenched youth
Swelled up again within him, hard to tame.
For like that secret Asian wave, that drinks
The ever-running rivers, and holds all
In jealous wells ; so had the desert drunk
All his young thoughts, wishes, and idle tears.
Nor any sigh returned ; but in his breast


Sweet yearnings, and the thousand needs that live

Upon the touch of others, impulses

Quick as dim buds are to the rain and light,

Falterings, and leanings backward after joy,

And dewy flowerings in the heart, that make

Life fragrant, were all sealed and frozen up.

Now, at calm evening, the just-waving boughs

Of the lone tree began to trouble him :

Almost he had arisen, following swift

As after beckoning hands. Now every dawn

At once disrobed him of tranquillity :

Fever had taken him ; and he was wrought

Into perpetual strangeness, visited

By rumours and bright hauntings from the world.

And now the noon intolerable grew :

The very rock, hanging about him, seemed

To listen for his footfall, and the stream

Commented, whispering to the rushes. Ah,

The little lizard, blinking in the sun.

Was spying on his soul ! A terror ran

Into his veins, and he cried out aloud,

And heard his own voice ringing in the air,

A sound to start at, echoing fearfully.

He paced with fingers clenched, with knotted brow :

He cast himself upon the ground, to feel

His wild breast nearer the impassive earth.

So far away in peace, but all in vain !

And springing up he cast swift eyes around

Like a sore-hunted creature that must seek

A path to fly : alas, from his own thoughts


What outer wilderness shall harbour him ?

Then after many idle purposes,

And such vain wringing of the hands, as use

Men slowly overtaken by despair,

He sought in toil, last refuge, to forget :

And he began to labour at the plot

Before his rocky cell, digging the soil

With patience, and the sweat was on his brow.

All the lone day he toiled, until at last

He rested heavy on the spade, and bowed

His head upon his hands : a shadow lay

Beneath him, and deep silence all around.

The silence seized him. As a man who feels

Some eye upon him unperceived, he turned

His head in fear : and lo, a Httle sound

Among the reeds, like laughter, mocked at him.

And he discerned bright eyes in ambush hid

Beyond the bushes ; and he heard distinct

A song, borne to him with the clapping hands

Of banqueters ; an old song heard afresh.

That melted quivering in his heart, and woke

Delicious memory : all his senses hung

To listen when that voice sang to his soul :

Then, fearfully aware, he shuddered back ;

Yet could not shake the music from his ears.

He cast the spade down, with quick-beating heart,

And sought that voice, whence came it ; but the reeds

In the soft-running stream were motionless,

The bushes vacant, all the valley dumb :

And clear upon the yellowed region burned


Evening serene. Then his sore troubled heart
With a tumultuous surging in his breast
Heaved to the calm heaven in a bitter cry :
I have no strength, I have no refuge more.
Father, ere thou forsake me, send me peace !

Scarce had the sun into his furnace drau^n
The western hills, whose molten peaks shot far
Over the wide waste region fiery rays,
When swiftly Night descended with her stars :
And lo, upon this wrought, unhappy spirit
At last out of the darkness, raining mild
In precious dew upon the desert, peace
Incredibly descended with the night.
He stood immersed in the sweet falling hush.
Over him liquid gloom quivered with stars
Appearing endlessly, as each its place
Remembered, and in order tranquil shone.
Easily all his fever was allayed :
And as a traveller strained against a storm
That meets him, buffeting the mountain side,
Suddenly entering a deep hollow, finds
Magical ease over his nerves, and thinks
He never tasted stillness till that hour ;
So eager he surrendered and relaxed
His will, persuaded sweetly beyond hope.

Tranquil at last, his solitary cell
He entered, and a taper lit, that shed
Upon rude arches and deep-shadowed walls


A clearness, tempering all with gentle beam.
Then he, that with such anguish of desire
Had supplicated peace, now peace was come.
Of all forgetful save of his strange joy.
That dear guest in his bosom, entertained ;
From trouble and from the stealing steps of time
Sequestered ; housed within a blissful mood
Of contemplation, like a sacred shrine ;
And poured his soul out, into gratitude
Released : how long, there was no tongue to tell,
Nor was himself aware ; no warning voice
Admonished, and the great stars altered heaven
Unnoted, and the hours moved over him,
When on his ear and slowly into his soul
Deliciously distilling, stole a sigh.
O like the blossoming of peace it seemed,
Or like an odour heard j or as the air
Had mirrored his own yearning joy in speech,
A whisper wandering out of Paradise.
Porphyrion, Porphyrion ! Like a wind
Shaking a tree, that whisper shook his heart.
Keen to reality enkindled now
His inmost fibre was aware of all:
Vast night and the unpeopled wilderness
Around him silent ; in that solitude
Himself, and near to him a human sigh !

Immediately the faint voice called again :
Thou only in this perilous wilderness
Hast found a refuge ; ah, for pity's sake


Open ! It is a woman weak and lost

In this great darkness, that importunes thee.

Then with a beating heart, Porphyrion spoke.
O woman, I have made my soul a vow
To look upon a human face no more.

Yet in some corner might I rest my limbs
That are so weary with much wandering,
And thou be unhurt by the sight of me !

Sweet was the voice : doubting, he answered slow.
Thou troublest me. I know not who thou art
That com'st so strangely, and I fear thy voice.
What wouldst thou with me ? Enter : but my face
Seek not to meet.

Then he unclosed the door,
But turned aside, and knelt apart, and strove
Again to enter the sweet house of peace.
Yet his heart listened, as with hurried feet
The woman entered ; and he heard her sigh.
Like one that after peril breathes secure.
Now the more fixedly he prayed ; his will
Was fervent to be lost in holy calm,
So hardly new-recovered : but his ear
Yearned for each gentle human sound, the stir
Of garments, moving hand or heaving breast.
Amid his prayer he questioned, who is this
That wanders in this wilderness alone ?
And, as he thought, the faint voice came to him :


I hunger.

Then, as men do in a dream,
Obeying without will, he sought and found
Food from his store, and brought, and gave to her.
But as he gave, he touched her on the hand :
He looked at unawares, then turned away ;
And dared with venturing eyes to look again ;
And when he had looked, he could not look elsewhere.

what an unknown sweetness troubled him !
He gazed : and as wine blushes through a cup
Of water slowly, in sure-winding coils

Of crimson, the pale solitude of his soul

Was filled and flushed, and he was born anew.

Instantly he forgot all his despair

And anguished supplications after peace.

Not peace, but to be filled with this strange joy

He pined for, while that lovely miracle

His eyes possessed, nor wonder wanted more.

At last his breast heaved, and he found a voice.

Mystery, speak ! O once again refresh
My famished ear with thy sweet syllables !
Thou comest from the desert night, all bloom !

1 fear to look away, lest thou shouldst fade.
Art thou too moulded out of simple earth
As I, or only visitest my sight.
Deluding ? Ah, Delusion, breathe again
The music of thy voice into my soul !

As if a rose had sprung within his cell


And magically opened odorous leaves,
So felt he, as she raised her eyes on him
And spoke.

Hast thou forgotten then so soon ?
Hast thou not vowed never again to look
On face of woman or of man ? Remember
Ere it be lost, thy vow, thy treasured vow.
O turn away thy wonder-wounded eyes,
Call back thy rashly wandering looks, unsay
Thy words, and this frail image from thy breast
Lock harshly out ! Defend thy soul with prayers.
Nor hazard for a dream thy holy calm ;
Lest thou repent, and this joy shatter thee.

While thus she spoke, the stirring of her soul.

Even as a breeze is seen upon a pool.

Appeared upon her face. Like the pale flower

Of darkness, the sweet moon, that dazzles first

And then delights, unfolding more and more

Her beauty, shining full of histories

On the dark world, upon Porphyrion now

She shone ; and he was lifted into air

Such as immortals breathe, who dwell in light

Of memory beginningless, and hope

Endless, and joy old and forever fresh.

He heard, yet heard not, and still gazing, sighed :

Pour on, delicious Music, in my ears
Thy sweetness : for I parch, I am athirst.
Three years have I been vacant of all joy,


Have mocked my sense with famine, and the sound
Of wind and reed : but in thy voice is bliss.
How am I changed, since I have looked on thee !
Thou art not dream. Yet, if a vision only.
Tell me not yet, suffer me still to brim
My sight to overflowing, to rejoice
My heart to melting, even to despair.
Thou art not dream ! Yet tell me what thou art.
That in this desert venturest so deep ?

Seek not, she answered, what I am, nor whence
I come ; in destiny, perhaps, my hand
Was stretched toward thee, and my way prepared.
Only rejoice that thou didst not refuse
Help to the helpless, and hast succoured me.

As the awakened earth beholds the sun.
Her saviour, when his beam delivers her
From icy prison, and that annual fear
Of death, Porphyrion in his bosom felt
Pangs of recovered ecstasy, old thoughts
Made young, and sweet desires bursting his heart
Like the fresh bursting of a thousand leaves.
Uplifted into rapture he exclaimed :

O full of bliss, out of the empty world
That comest wondrous, I will ask no more.
Enough that thou art here, that I behold
Thy face, and in thee mirrored all the world
Created newly : Eyes, my oracles,
What days, what years of wonder ye foretell !


As in a dewdrop all the morning shines
I see in you time glorious, grief refreshed,
And Fate undone.

Seest thou only this ?
She said, and earnestly regarded him :
Art thou so eager after joy ? Yet think
In what a boundless wilderness of time
We wander brief! Art thou so swift to taste
Of thy mortality ? Yet I am come
To bring thee tidings out of every sea ;
Not pearls alone, but shipwrecks in the night
Unsuccoured, and disastrous luring fires,
And tossings infinite, and peril strange.
O wilt thou dare embark ? Dost thou not dread
This ocean, in whose murmur seems delight ?
Will even thy hunger drive thee through the waves
To bliss ? I look on thee, and see the joy
Rise up within thy bosom, and I fear.
So fragile is this sweetness, and so vast
The world : O venturous, glad voyager,
Be sure of all thy courage, for I see
Far ofF the cloud of sorrow, and bright spears,
And dirges, and joy changed from what it seemed.
Art thou still fervent, O impetuous one ?
Still hastest thou to fly tranquillity ?

But he on whom she looked with those deep eyes
Of bright compassion, answered undismayed:

Let me drink deep of this fountain of bliss !


Speak not of mortal fear, speak not of pain :
Thou painest, but with joy. Thou art all joy ;
And in the world 1 have no joy but thee.

that I had the wasted days once more
Since to this idle, barren wilderness

1 fled, in fear of the tumultuous world,
Enamoured of the silence : here I dreamed
In lonely prayer to satiate my soul.

But now, I want. Rain on my thirsty heart
Thy charm, and by so much as was my loss
By so much more enrich me. I have stript
My days, imprisoned wandering desires,
Made of my mind a jealous solitude.
Pruned overrunning thoughts, and rooted up
Delight and the vain weeds of memory,
Imagining far off to capture peace.
Blind fool ! But O no, let me rather praise
Foreseeing Fate, that kept so fast a watch
Over my bliss, and of my heart prepared
A wilderness to bloom with only thee !

Even now he would embrace her ; but awhile
She with delaving gesture stayed him still.
Wistfully doubting, and perusing well
His inmost gaze and his adoring heart.

As from bright water on some early morn.
Under a beautiful dim-branching tree,
A gleam floats up among the leaves, and sends
Light into darkness wavering : from the light


Of his enraptured face a radiance shone
Into the mystery of her eyes ; at last
To his warm being she resigned her soul.
She on his heart inscribed for evermore
Her look in that deep moment, and her love.
At unawares this trembled from her lips :

O joyful spirit, I too have need of thee !
And now he seemed to fold her in his arms,
And on the mouth to kiss her ; close to him.
Surely her swimming eyes were dim with love,
Her lips against him murmured tenderly.
And her cheek touched his own : yet even now,
Even as her bosom swelled within his arms,
As like the inmost richness of a rose
Wounding, the perfume of her soul breathed up
An insupportable joy into his brain,
Even now, alas ! faltering in ecstasy.
His arms were emptied ; back he sank ; despair
Drowned him ; upon his sense the darkness closed ;
And with a cry, lost in a cloud, he fell.



Slumber these desolated senses guard

With silence interposed and dimness kind;

While in tumultuous ebb joy and dismay

Murmur, re-gathering their surge afar.

Idle thou liest, Porphyrion, and o'erthrown

By violent bliss into a trance as deep :

Yet even in thy trance thou takest vov^^s,

Thou burnest with a dedicated fire,

And thou canst be no more what thou hast been.

A rebel, thou wert in strong bonds, who now

Art chosen and consenting : and prepared

Is all thy path, that no more leads to peace.

But to repining fever ; pain so dear,

It will not be assuaged. Awaiting thee

Is all that Love of the deep heart requires ;

The ecstasy, the loss, the hope, the want.

The prick of grief beneath the closed eyelid

Of him whom memory visits, but not rest j

The sweetness touched, for ever perishing

Out of the eager hands. Invisibly

Perhaps even now on thy unconscious cheek

Thy Guide is gazing, and to pity moved

He thy forgetful term gently extends.


At last from heavily unclouding sleep
Porphyrion stirs : dimly over his brain
Returns the noon, and opens wide his eyes.
Some moments by the veiling sense of use
Delayed in wonder, troubled he starts up.
Instantly he remembered ; and all changed
Appeared his cell, the silence and the light :
She, whom his heart had need of, was not there.
And eager from his dwelling he came forth,
If there were sign of her. But all was still.

Suspended over the forsaken land.
The sun stood motionless, and palsied Time,
Helpless to urge his congregated hours.
Leaned heavy on the mountain : the steep noon
Had all the cool shade into fire devoured.
Then quailed Porphyrion. Lost was his new joy,
An apparition frail as a bright flame
Seen in the sun : irrevocably lost
The old thoughts that so long had sheltered him.
The fear, that presaging the heavy world
Makes wail the newborn child, he now, a man.
Thrice competent to suffer, felt afresh,
To cruel truth re-born, a naked soul.
Now he had eyes to see and ears to hear.
And knew at last he was alone : the sky
Absorbed he saw, the earth with absent face.
The water murmuring only to the reeds.
Unconscious rock, and sun-contented sand.
And even as within him keener rose



Longing unloosed, so much the heavier grew
The intensity of solitude around.

Melancholy had planned her palace here.
Dead columns, to support the burning sky,
For living senses insupportable.
She made, and ample barrenness, wherein
To ponder of defeated spirits, quenched
Desire, o'ertaken hope, courage undone,
Implored oblivion, and reje6led joy :
Nor this alone, but idleness so vast
As even the stormiest enterprise becalmed,
Till it was trivial to advance one foot
Beyond the other ; rashness to provoke
An echo, where if ever man could laugh,
Laughter had seemed the end of vanity,
Were not a vanitv more vain in tears.
For from the blown dust to the extremest hills,
Audible silence, that sustained despair,
A ceilino- over all immovable.
Presided ; and the desert, nourishing
That silence, listened, jealous of a sound
Younger than her unageing solitude ;
The desert, that was old when earth was young.

Wailing into the silence, that rang back
A wounded cry, to the unhearkening ear
Of the austere ravines perhaps not strange.
The youth in that vain region stood, and cast
Hither and thither seeking, his sad eyes.


Out of the dreadful light to his dim cell
He fled for refuge. Here he had possessed
Joy, for a brief space, here She looked on him.
Here had her heart beat in her bosom close
Against his own. Her voice was in his ear ;
And suddenly his soul was quieted.

Surely the visitation of such spirits

Comes not of chance, he murmured, but of truth.

Surely this was the shadow of some light

That shines, the odour of some flower that blooms,

And far ofF mid the great world dwells in flesh

That blissful spirit, and bears a human name.

If she be far, yet have I all my days

For seeking, and no other joy on earth :

I will arise, and seek her through the world.

With this resolve impassioned and inspired.
His thoughts were bright, and his hot bosom calmed.
Sweet was it to behold that radiant goal.
Though far, and hazardous and wide the way.
The greatness of his quest found answer in him
Of greatness, and the thousand teasing cares
That swarm upon perplexity, flew off.
Gladly against his journey he prepared
His pilgrim's need, and laid him down and slept,
And ere the dawn with scrip and staff arose.

Now at his door, irrevocably free.

Before the unknown world, spread dim and vast,


He stood and pondered, gazing forth, which way

To follow, and what distant city or vale

Held his desire ; but pondering he was drawn

Forth by some secret impulse ; he obeyed,

Not doubting ; toward the places of his youth

He turned his face, toward the high mountain slopes

Of the dim west, and Antioch and the sea.

Up the long valley, by the glimmering stream

He went ; and over him the stars grew pale.

Cliffs upon either hand in darkness plunged

Built up a shadow ; but far off, in front,

Invaded by the first uncertain beam,

Mountain on mountain like a cloud arose.

He seemed ascending some old Titan stair,

That led up to the sky by great degrees,

In the vast dawn ; he journeyed eagerly.

Foot keeping pace with thought ; for his full heart

Tarried not, but was with its happy goal.

One face, one form, one vision, one desire.

Due onward over the unending hills
He held his way, and the warm morning sprang
Behind him, and a less impatient speed
Drove his feet onward. In the midday heat
He rested weary ; and relaxing thought.
Had leisure to perceive where he had come.

Burning beneath the solitary noon

All round him rose, rock upon rock o'erhung,

A fiery silence : undefended now


By clouding grief, nor in illusion armed,
He to the heavy lure all open lay
That from this mortal desolation breathed.
Out of his heart he sought to summon up
The vision, but it fled before his thought.
Only the hot blank everywhere opposed
His spirit, and the silent mountain wall.
Like one, on whom the fear of blindness comes.
For whom the sun begins to fall from heaven,
And the ground darkens, he rose up and fled.
Grasping his staff; and fearful now to pause
In that death-breathing region, onward ran.

Yet was not peril past. He had not come

Far, when his agitated eyes beheld,

Amid the uneven crumbling ground, a stone

Square-hewn and edgeways fallen ; and he knew

That he had come where men long since had been.

And as he lifted up his eyes, all round

Were massy granite pillars half o'erthrown.

Propping the air ; and yellow marble shone.

Dimly inscribed, fragments of maimed renown.

Over the ruined region he stole on.

Threading the interrupted clue of roads

That led all to oblivion, trenches choked

With weed, and old mounds heaped on idle gold.

And now Porphyrion paused, inhaling fast

Odours of buried fame : as in a dream,

All that remote dead city and her brisk streets,

Repeopled and for mountain battle armed.


He apprehended. The deep wave of time
Subsiding, had disclosed englutted wrecks,
Which now so long slept idle, that they seemed
To emulate the agelessness of earth ;
Did not the fondness of mortality-
Still haunt them, and a kind of youth forlorn,
As if the Desert their brief fable, man,
Indulging from austerest indolence.
Forbore a just disdain.

With beating pulses, and with running blood,
Alone on ashes perishably breathed.
As he who treads the uncertain lava fears
Each moment that his rash foot may awaken
Fire from beneath him, from that sepulchre
Of smouldering ages fearfully he fled.
And sometimes he looked backward, lest his feet
Startle a shadowy population up
In the deserted sunlight, faces stern
Of fleshless kings, to claim him for their own :
So frail appeared the heaving of his breath.
So brief his pace, so idle his desire.

At last beyond the scarred gray walls he came.

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Online LibraryLaurence BinyonPorphyrion and other poems → online text (page 1 of 6)