Laurence Binyon.

Porphyrion and other poems online

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And gladly found the savage rock once more
Beneath him, nor yet dared to rest or pause.
But onward pressed, over the winding sides
Of pathless valleys, where an echoing stream
Ran far below ; and ridges desolate
He climbed, and under precipices huge



PORPHYRION. 23

And down the infinite spread slopes made way.
The eagle steering in the upper winds,
As, balanced out of sight, his eye surveyed
From white Palmyra to Damascus, flushed
Among faint-shining streams, saw him afar
Journey a shadow never wearying
From hour to hour : until at last the hills
Less steep opposed him, toward the distant plains
Declining in great uplands dimly rolled.
Here were few stubborn trees, by sunset now
With sullen glory lighted rich, till night
Rose in the east, and hooded the bare world.

Porphyrion had ascended a last ridge
Of many, and his eyes gazed out afar
On boundless country darkening ; he lay down
At last, full weary : the keen foreign air
Filled his delighted nostril : and his heart
Was soothed. As on a troubled mere at night
Wind ceases, and the gentle evening brings
Beauty to that vext mirror, and all fresh
In perfect images the lost returns ;
Serenely in his bosom rose anew
The vision : somewhere in that distant world,
He mused, is she ; and there is all my joy.

But evening now before his gazing eyes
Receded dim, until the whole wide earth
Appeared a cloud. Then in the gloom a dread
Came whispering, and hope faltered in his breast :



24 PORPHYRION.

O if the great world be but fantasy-
Raised by the deep enchantment of desire,
And melt before my coming like a cloud!
Parleying with the ghost of fear, yet still
Cherishing his thought's treasure, he resigned
His senses to the huge and empty night,
When on the infinite horizon, lo !
Sending a herald clearness, upward stole
Tranquil and vast, over the world, the moon.

Delicately as when a sculptor charms

The ignorant clay to liberate his dream,

Out of the yielding dark with subtle ray

And imperceptible touch she moulded hill

And valley, beauteous undulation mild,

Inlaid with silver estuary and stream,

Until her solid world created shines

Before her, and the hearts of men with peace.

That is not theirs, disquiets : peopled now

Is her dominion ; she in far-off towns

Has lighted clear a long-awaited lamp

For many a lover, or set an end to toil.

Or terribly invokes the brazen lip

Of trumpets blown to Fate, where men besieged

For desperate sally buckle their bright arms.

All these, that the cheered wanderer on his height

In fancy sees, the lover's secret kiss.

The mirth-flushed faces thronging through the streets,

And ships upon the glimmering wave, and flowers

In sleeping gardens, and encounters fierce.



PORPHYRION. 25

And revellers with lifted cups, and men

In prison bowed, that move not for their chains,

And sacred faces of the newly dead ;

All with a mystery of gentle light

She visits, and in her deep charm includes.



26 PORPHYRION.



BOOK III.

Dawn in the ancient heavens over the earth
Shone up ; but in Porphyrion's bosom rose
A brighter dawn : the early ray that touched
His slumber, woke the new, unfathomed need,
Fallen from radiant night into his soul.
That thirsted still for beauty ; for that joy
Beyond possession, ever flying far
From our dim utterance, beauty causing tears.

He stretched his arms out to the golden sun.
His glorious kin, impetuously glad.
And with aerial morning journeyed on
O'er valley and o'er hill.

The second dawn
Found him far-travelled over pastoral lands.
Where from the shepherds' lonely huts a smoke
Went up, or some white shrine gleamed on a height.
Soon the dark ranging and unchanging pines
Yielded to ash and chestnut ; O how fair
Their perishable leaf! Porphyrion knew
That some great city neared him, and his pace
Grew eager, climbing a soft-crested hill
In expeftation ; yet all unprepared



PORPHYRION. 27

At last upon his eye the prospect broke,
Dawning serene, and endlessly unrolled.

There lay the city, there embodied hope

Rose to outmatch desire : he cried aloud.

Taken with joy so irresistible,

That he must seize a sapling by the stem

To uphold him, and in ardent silence gazed.

Solitary heaven, strown with vast white clouds,

Moved toward him over the abounding land ;

A land of showers, a land of quivering trees,

A land of youth, lovely and full of sap,

Upon whose border trembled the wide sea.

Young were the branches round him, in fresh leaf

Luminously shaded ; the arriving winds

Broke over him in soft aerial surge ;

For him the grass was glittering, the far cloud

Loosened her faltering tresses of dim rain,

And broad Orontes interrupted shone.

But mid that radiant amphitheatre

He saw but the far city : thither ran

His gaze, and rested on her, in a bloom

Of distant air apparelled, while his heart

Beat at the thought of what she held for him.

Bright Antioch ! From the endless ocean wave

Gliding the sunbeam broke upon her towers,

A moment gleaming white, then into shade

Withdrawn, until she seemed a thing of breath.

Created fair, from whose far roofs arose

Soft, like an exhalation, human joy.



28 PORPHYRION.

Clear as a pool to plunge in, seemed the world

This blissful morn, to him that thither gazed.

Wondering, until unconscious tears were wet

Upon his flushing cheek, while he sent forth

His eager thoughts flying to that sweet goal.

And conjuring wishes waved unknown delight

To come to him. Already in dream arrived.

Close to his ear the hum of those far streets

He hears ; already sees the busy crowd

Pass and repass, with laughter and with cries.

Meeting him, children hand in hand from school

Gleefully run, and old men, slow of step,

Approach ; the mason, pausing from his toil

Under the plank's cool shadow, looks at him.

Or, with a negligent wonder glancing down.

Beautiful faces ; O, perhaps the face

That to his fate he follows through the world.

That deepest hope, too dear to muse upon,

A moment filled him with a thrilling light :

And as a bird, alighting on a reed

Sprung straight and slender from a lonely stream,

Some idle morning, delicately sways

The mirrored stem, and sings for perfect joy ;

So musical, alighted young desire

Upon his heart, that trembled like the reed.

Down from that height, over delicious grass.
Amid the rocks, amid the trees, he sped.
The browsing sheep upstarted in the sun,
Scared by his coming ; he ran on, and tore



PORPHYRION. 29

A fresh leaf in his mouth, or sang aloud
Out of his happy heart; such keen delight
His eye was treasuring, that welcomed all
The variable blooms in the high grass,
Borage and mullein and the rust-red plume
Of sorrel, and the sprinkled daisies white.
Even the sap in the young bough he felt
Reach warmly up to the inviting sun.
As if his own blood by the spring renewed
Were theirs, and budding leaves within his breast.

At last, ere he perceived it, he was close
Upon the city walls : through shading boughs
Across a valley they rose populous
With crowding towers and roofs of distant hum.
Then in the midst of joy he was afraid.
So close to him the richness he desired
Dismayed his spirit, that to doubt and fear
Recoiling fell. Not yet will I go up,
He thought ; but when the dark comes, I will go.
Even as his purpose was relaxed, his limbs
To sudden heaviness surrendered : down
He laid him in sweet grass beside a pool.
Under a chestnut, opposite a grove
Of cypress ; and at once sleep fell on him :
Deep sleep, that into dark unfathomed wells
Plunges the spirit, and with ignorance lost
Acquaints, and inaccessible delight.
And unborn beauty.

But meanwhile the noon



30 PORPHYRION.

Had ripened and grown pale in the soft sky.

A gentle rain fell as the light declined ;

And, the drops ceasing, an unprisoned beam

Out of a cloud flowed trembling o'er the grove.

And ran beside long shadows of the stems.

And lighted the dark underleaves, and touched

The sleeper; suddenly his cheek was warm :

He stirred an arm, and unrelaxing, sighed ;

And now, through crimsoned eyelids, on his brain

The full sun burned ; to wonder he awoke.

Green over him, in mystery o'erhung.

Was dimness fluttered with a thousand rays ;

Unfathomable green ; that living roof

A single stem upbore, whose mighty swerve

Upward he followed, till it branched abroad

In heaven, and through the dark leaves shone remote.

Smooth-molten splendour, the broad evening cloud.

Porphyrion upon his elbow leaned

And hearkened, for the trembling air was hushed

By hundred birds, praising the peaceful light

Invisibly : a wet drop from the leaf

Spilled glittering on his hand. Then he reclined

Deep into joy, absolved out of himself,

The while the wind brought to him light attired

In fragrance, and the breathing stillness seemed

Music asleep, too lovely to be stirred.

As thus he drew into his pining heart

Such juices as make young the world, and feed

The veins of spring; as into one pure sense



PORPHYRION. 31

Embodied, he was hearkening blissfully,
A sound came to him wonderful, like pain,
With such a sweetness edged. It was a voice,
A happy voice : and toward it instantly
The fibre of his flesh yearningly turned.
Trembling as at a touch. Then he arose
Troubled : he looked, and in the grove beyond
That peaceful water, lo ! a little band
Of youths and maidens under distant trees
Departing : one looked backward ere she went ;
And his heart cried within his breast, awaked
Suddenly into blissful hope. Alas !
With flutter of fair robes and mingled, gay,
Faint laughter, down a bank out of his view
They were all taken. Pierced with sudden loss,
And kindled, like a wild, uncertain flame.
Into a hundred joyful, wavering fears.
He gazed upon the empty grove, the pool,
And the light brimming over on fresh grass
And lonely stems : but the bereaved bright scene
No more rejoiced him. Now, to aid his wish,
Swift night upon the fading west inclined :
And he stole forward through the cypress gloom
Toward Antioch. Halting on a neighbour brow.
Afar off he beheld that company
Even now under the dim gate entering in.
He followed, and at last the darkened street
Received him, wondering, back among his kind.

Was ever haven like the dream of it



32 PORPHYRION.

In peril ? or did ever feet attain

Their goal, but still a richer rose beyond ?

It was a festal night : gay multitudes

Came idly by, and no man noted him.

His seeking gaze, hither and thither drawn,

Roamed in a mirror of desires amazed,

And found, yet wanted more than it could find.

Beauty he felt around him brushing near,

And joy in others seen ; but all to him.

Without the vision that his soul required.

Was idle : solitary was his heart.

And full to breaking : yet, as wounds are dulled

To the frail sense, he knew not yet his grief.

For wonder clothed it ; through a veil he heard

And saw.

Thus wandering aimlessly he found
His feet upon a marble stair ; in face
A porch rose ; issuing was a festal sound,
That drew him onward out of the lone night.
Halting upon the threshold he gazed in.

Pillars in lovely parallel sustained
A roof of shadowed snow, enkindled warm
From torches pedestalled in order bright ;
Amid whose brilliance at a banquet sat.
Crowned with sweet garlands, revellers, and cups
Lifted in laughing, boisterous pledge, or gazed
Earnest in joy, on their proud paramours.
Pages, with noiseless tripping feet, had borne
The feast aside ; and now the brimming wine



PORPHYRION. 33

From frosted flagons blushed, and the spread board

Showed the soft cheek of apricot, or glory

Of orange burning from a dusk of leaves.

Cloven pomegranates, brimmed w^ith ruby cells.

Great melons, purpling to the frosty core,

And mountain strawberries. Beyond, less bright,

Was hung mysterious magnificence

Of tapestry, where, with ever-moving feet,

A golden Triumph followed banners waved

O'er captive arms, and slender trumpets blew

To herald a calm hero charioted.

Just when a music, melted from above.

Over the feasters flowed, and softly fixed

The listening gaze, and stilled the idle hand,

Porphyrion entered ; all those faces flushed,

Lights, flowers and laughter, and the trembling wine,

And hushing melody, and happy fume

Of the clear torches burning Indian balm.

Clouded his brain with sweetness, like a waft

Of perished youth returned ; those wonders held

His eyes, yet were as things he might not touch.

And, if he stretched his hand out, they would fade.

Then he remembered whom he sought. A pang
Disturbed him ; eager with bright eyes inspired.
Through those that would have stayed his feet, he stole
Nearer to bliss. They all regarded him
Astonished ; in their joyful throng he seemed
An apparition : darkly the long hair

D



34 PORPHYRION.

Hung on his shoulders, and his form was frail.
Some cried, then all were silent ; a strange want
Woke in their sated breasts, and wonder dread
Troubled them, whence had come and what required
This messenger unknown. But he passed on.
And in each woman's face with questioning gaze.
Dazzled by nearer splendour, looked, and sought.
Doubtful.

Already one, whose arm was laid
Around the shoulder of her paramour.
Stayed him, so deep into his heart she looked.
Biting her pearly necklace : in her robe
Was moonlight shivering over purple seas.
Encountering, their spirits parleyed : then
Unwillingly he drew his eyes away.
Another, clothed as in the fiery bloom
Of cloud at evening changing o'er the sun.
Backward reclining, under lids half-closed
Gazed, and a moment held him at her feet:
Until at last one turned and dazzled him,
Of whose attire he knew not, so her face
With sun-like glory drew him : he approached ;
And she, presiding beauteous and adored
Queen of that perfumed feast, beckoned him on.
Her bosom heaved; the music from her ears
Faded, and from her sated sense the glow
Of empty mirth : far lovelier were in him
Sorrow and youth and wonder and desire.
Forward she leaned, and showed a vacant place
By her, and he came near, and sat him down.



PORPHYRION. 35

Charm-stricken also, whispering, Art thou she ?
She said no word, but to his shining eyes
Answered, and of the red pomegranate fruit
Gave him to eat, and golden wine to drink,
And with pale honeyed roses crowned his hair.
All marvelled, and with murmur looked on him,
As, high exalted over realms of joy.
He sat in glory, and sweet incense breathed
Of that dominion, riches in a cloud
Descending, and before his feet prepared
The world in bloom, and in his eyes the dream
Of destiny excelled, and rushing thoughts
Radiant, and beauty by his side enthroned.



36 PORPHYRION.



BOOK IV.

Love, the sweet nourishing sun of human kind,

Who with unquenchable fire inhabitest

Worlds, that would fall into that happy death

Out of their course, were not their course so fixt ;

Who from the dark soil drawest up the plant.

And the sweet leaves out of the naked tree ;

Whose ardent air to taste and to enjoy

All flesh desire, even of bitter pangs

Enamoured, so that this intenser breath

They breathe, and one vi6lorious moment taste

Life perfect, over Fate and Time empowered ;

Leave him not desolate, Love, who to thy glory

Is dedicated, and for thee endures

To look upon the dreadful grave of joy,

Knowing the lost is lost ; comfort him now.

Thy votary, who by the pale sea-shore

In the young dawn paces uncomforted.

Ah, might not sweet embraces have assuaged

The fever which had burnt him, honeyed mouth

And the close girdle of voluptuous arms ?

Nor dimly fragrant hair have curtained him

From memory ? Alas, too new he came

From love, too recent from that ecstasy ;



PORPHYRION. 37

And memory mocked him under the cold stars,
With finished yet untasted pleasure sad.

Flying that fragrant lure, unhappy soul,
By the dark shore he paces : and his eyes
The dawn delights not, far off in the east
Discovering the sleeping world, and men
To all their tasks arousing, while she strews
Neglected roses on the unchanging hills.
And over the dim earth and wave unfolds
Beauty, but not the beauty he desires.
To her, to her, who in the desert touched
His spirit, and unsealed his eyes, and showed
Above a new earth a new sun, and brought
His steps forth to this perilous rich world,
Stirred with ineffable deep longing now
He turned ; ev'n to behold her from afar.
To touch the hem of her apparel, seemed
Sweeter ten thousandfold than absolute
Taste and possession of a lesser charm.

Where art thou ? cried he. Ah, dost thou behold
My desolation and not come to me ?
O ere my sick heart all delight refuse,
Return, appear ! Or say in what far land
Thou lingerest, that I may seek thee out
And find thee, without whom I have no peace
Nor joy, but wander aimless in a path
Barren and undetermined o'er the world.
Wilt not thou make thy voice upon the wind



38 PORPHYRION.

Float hither, or in dew thy secret breathe
To answer my entreaty ?

The still shore
Was echoless, unanswered that sad cry.
Warm on the wave the Syrian morning stole.
Out of suspended hazes the smooth sea
Swelled into brilliance, and subsiding hushed
The lonely shore with music : such a calm
As vexes the full heart, inviting it.
Flattered with sighing pause Porphyrion's ear.
The sea hungered his spirit ; he could not lift
His eyes from the arriving splendour calm
Of those broad waters, to their solemn chime
Setting his grief; and gradually vast
His longing opened to horizons wide
As the round ocean ; deep as the deep sea
His heart, and the unbounded earth his road.

That inward stream and dark necessity,
Which drives us onward in the way of Time,
Moved his uncertain hesitating soul
Into its old course, and his feet set firm
To tread their due path, seeking over earth
The Wonder that made idle all things else.
He raised his brow, inhaling the wide air ;
And the wind rose, and his resolve was set.

Broad on the morrow hoisting to the sun
Her sail, a ship out of the harbour stands
Bearing Porphyrion, fervent to renew



PORPHYRION. 39

His lonely pilgrimage 5 to fate his way
Committed, and to guiding beams of heaven ;
And careless whither bound, so the remote
Irradiated circle, ever fresh,
Glittering into infinity, lead on.

Soon the bright water and keen kiss of the air
His clouded courage cleared j uprising wind
Swelled the resisting sail, and the prow felt
The supple press of water, cleaving it ;
And the foam flashed and murmured j hope again
Rose tremulous to that music's buoyant note.
Day pursued day on the blue deep, and shores
Sprang up and faded : still his gaze was cast
Forward, and followed that undying dream.

Standing at last above a harbour strange,
Inland he bent, ever with questioning heart
Expectant ; and through wilderness and town
Journeyed all summer ; nor could autumn tame
That urging fire ; nor mid the gliding leaves
Of bare December could hope fall from him.

Ever a stranger roamed he, nor had thought
To seek a home ; for him this vast desire
Was home, that fed his spirit and sheltered him
From care and time and the perplexing world.
For not beside an earthly hearth he deemed
To find her moving whom he sought, though fair
With human limbs, and clothed in lovely flesh.



40 PORPHYRION.

Rather some visitation swift and strange
His soul awaited. When at evening's end
He rested and each fostered secret wish
Rose trembling ; when the dewy yellow moon
Slowly on cypress gardens poured her light,
And from the flowery gloom and whispering
Of leaves, a hundred odours had released,
Dimly he knew that she was wandering near,
A blissful presence, scarce beyond the marge
Of his veiled senses, in a world of beams.
Or journeying through the wild forest, he saw
Her passing robe pale mid the shadowy stems
A moment shine before his quickened steps
To leave him in the deep forsaken gloom
Pining with throbbing breast and desolate eyes ;
And once in the thronged market at hot noon
Heard his name spoken, and looked round on air.

So visited, so haunted, he was led
Onward through many a city of the plain
Till vaster grew the silence, and far off
The noise of men ; and he began to climb
Pastoral hills that into mountains rose
Skyward, with shelving ridges sloped between.
Long days apart.

And as he wound his way
Thither, from crested town to town, he heard
Rumours of war all round him, men in arms
Saw glittering in winding files, and waved
Banners, and trumpets blown. But all to him



PORPHYRION. 41

Was distant, borne from a far alien world
Where men in ignorant vain deeds embroiled
Lost the treasure of earth and all their soul.
Onward he kept his course, nor recked of them,
Riding the solitary forest ways.

And now again it was the time of birth,
When the young year arises in the woods
From sleep, and tender leaves, and the first flower.
Old thoughts were stirring in Porphyrion's breast.
And old desires, like old wounds, flowed anew.
It was that hour of hesitating spring
When with expanded buds and widened heaven
The heart swells into sadness, wanting joy
More ample, and unnumbered longings reach
Into a void, as tendrils into air.
O now as never seemed he to have need
Of his beloved, to be with her at last,
To see her and embrace her with his arms.
And in her bosom find perpetual peace.
Scarcely aware of the bright leaves around
His path, and heedless of his way, he rode
With bridle slack and forward absent eyes.
When piercing his deep dream a groaning cry
Smote on him ; he stayed still and from his horse
Dismounted, and the rough briar pushed aside.

Hard by the path, amid the trodden grass
And bloody brambles, lay a wounded man.
Friend, fetch me water, groaned he, for I die.



42 PORPHYRION.

The spring is near, and I have crawled thus far
But get no farther, struggle how I may.
Quickly Porphyrion ran to where the spring
Gushed bubbling, and fetched water, and came back.
The dying man drank deep, and having drunk
Half rose upon his arm, and eager asked :

How went the battle ? have we won or lost ?
I know not whether thou be friend or foe.
But quick, tell me ! I faint.

What sayest thou
Of battles ? said Porphyrion ; I know not
Of what thou speakest, and I fight for none.

Faintly the other with upbraiding eyes
Regarding him, made answer. Art thou young
And is the blood warm in thy body, and yet
Thou wanderest idle ? But perhaps thy hand
Knows not the sword, nor thou the ways of men ?

Then kindled at his heart Porphyrion spoke.

I have no need of fighting, yet my hand
Knows the sword, and my youth was trained in arms.

Take then this blade, and bind my armour on.
For over yonder hill I think even now
They fight ; there is our camp ; ah, bid them come
And bury Orophernes where he fell !

Even with the word he sank back and expired.
Youthful amid the soft green leaves of spring.



PORPHYRION. 43

That over his pale cheek and purple lips
Waved shadowing.

Nearer than his inmost thought
Was then the silence to Porphyrion's heart,
As heavily he rode, bearing the sword
For token, and the helmet on his brows.
He sought for his old thoughts and found them not.
Even as when the sudden thunder breaks
A brooding sky, and the air chills, and strange
The altered landscape shines in a cold light
And they that loitered hasten on, and oft
Shiver in the untimely falling eve,
So now on this irruption of the world
Followed a sadness, and his thoughts were changed
And yearning chilled. How idle seemed his hope,
How infinite his quest ! Before his mind
Life spread deserted, vacant as a mist.

So mournful rode he ; when beyond a hill,
Whose height, with hanging forest interposed.
Shut off the sun, he came into the light
Over against a valley broad that sloped
Before him j and at once burst on him full
All the glory of war and sounding arms.
He thought no more, but gazed and gazed again.

Dark in the middle of the plain beneath
An army moved against a city towered
Upon a distant eminence ; even now
From the gate issued troops, with others joined



44 PORPHYRION.

New-come to aid them, and together ranked
Stood to encounter stern the foes' assault.
These upon either wing had clouded horse
In squadrons, chafing like a river curbed
By the firm wind that meets it ; crest and hoof
Shone restless as the white wind-thwarted waves.

Lonely and loud a sudden trumpet blew ;
And fierce a score of brazen throats replied.
The sound redoubled in Porphyrion's soul
And forward drew him ; he remembered now
His errand. In that instant the ripe war
Broke like a tempest ; the great squadrons loosed
Shot forward glittering, like a splendid wave


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Online LibraryLaurence BinyonPorphyrion and other poems → online text (page 2 of 6)