Laurence Binyon.

Porphyrion and other poems online

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The radiance and the odour keen

Of jonquils, this sad woman's eyes

And her o'erclouded soul surprise.

But most the wine-red roses, deep

In sunshine lying, warm asleep.

Breathing perfume, drinking light

Into their inmost bosoms bright.

Seem fathomlessly to unfold

A treasure of more price than gold.

Martha, o'ercome by wonder new.

Into her heart the crimson drew ;

The colour burning on her cheek.

She stood, in strange emotion weak.

But she must buy. Her choice was made :

Red rose upon red rose she laid.

Lingering ; then hastened out, with eyes

Bright, and her hands about the prize.



MARTHA. 69

And quickened thought that nowhere aims.
Soon, pausing above glittering Thames,
She spreads the flowers upon her knees.
Vast, many-windowed palaces
Before her raised their scornful height
And haughtily struck back the light.
She scarcely marked them ; only bent
Her fond gaze on the flowers, intent
To bind them in gay bunches, drest
So to allure the spoiler best.
But now, as her caressing hand
Each odorous gay nosegay planned,
A new grief smote her to the heart:
Must she from her sweet treasure part ?
They seemed of her own blood. O no,
I cannot shame my roses so :
I will get bread some other way.
So she shut out all thought. The day
Was radiant ; and her soul, surprised
To beauty, and the unsurmised
Sweetness of life, itself reproved
That had so little felt and loved !
O now to love, if even a flower.
To taste the sweet sun for an hour,
Was better than the struggle vain.
The dull, unprofitable pain.
To find her useless body bread.
Stricken with grievous joy, she fled.

She fled, but soon her pace grew faint.



70 MARTHA.

She paused awhile, and easier went.
Often, in spirits wrought, despair.
Not less than joy, the end of care,
A lightness feigns : for all is done,
And certainty at last begun.
Martha, with impulse fresh recoiled
From empty years, forlorn and soiled,
Trembled to feel the radiant breeze
Blowing from unknown living seas,
And rising eager from long fast
Drank in the wine of life at last.
Now, as some lovely face went by.
She noted it with yearning eye ;
She joyed in the exultant course
Of horses, and their rushing force.

At last, long wandering, she drew near
Her home ; then fell on her a fear,
A shadow from the coming Hours.
By chance a hawker crying flowers
His barrow pushed along the street,
And the dull air with scent was sweet.
As on her threshold Martha stood,
A sudden thought surprised her blood.
Quickly she entered, and the stair
Ascended ; first with gentle care
Cooled her tired roses : then a box
Of little hoardings she unlocks,
And brings her silver to the door
And buys till she can buy no more.



MARTHA. 71

Laden she enters : the drear room

Glows strangely ; the transfigured gloom

Flows over, prodigal in bloom.

Her lonely supper now she spread ;

But with her eyes she banqueted.

Over the roofs in solemn flame

The strong beam of the sunset came,

And from the floor striking a glow

Burned back upon the wall ; and lo !

How deep, in double splendour dyed,
Blushed the red roses glorified !

When darkness dimmed them, Martha sighed.
Yet still about the room she went
Touching them, and the subtle scent
Wandered into her soul, and brought
All memories, yet stifled thought.
As in her bed she lay, the flowers
Haunted her through the midnight hours :
'Twixt her shut lids the colours crept ;
But wearied out, at last she slept.

Next morning she awoke in dread.
O mad, O sinful me ! she said.
What have I done ? how shall this end
For me ? Alas, I have no friend.
She strove to rise ; but in her brain
A drowsy magic worked like pain.
She sank back in a weak amaze
Upon the pillow : then her gaze
Fell on the roses ; she looked round.



72 MARTHA.

And in the spell again was bound.

The deep-hued blossoms standing by

With serious beauty awed her eye ;

Upward inscrutable they flamed :

Of that mean fear she was ashamed.

All day their fragrance in the sun

Possessed her spirit : one by one,

She pondered o'er them, dozing still

And waking half against her will.

Her body hungered, but her soul

Was feasting J gradually stole

The evening shadow on her bed.

She could no longer lift her head.

Deep on her brain the flowers had wrought ;

Now in the dim twilight her thought

Put trembling on a strange attire,

And blossomed in fantastic fire.

She stretched her hand out in the gloom :

It touched upon a Hving bloom.

Thither she turned ; the deep perfume

O'ercame her ; nearer and more near,

And now her joy is in her fear,

The lily hangs, the rose inclines.

With incense that her soul entwines,

Her inmost soul that dares not stir.

The gentle flowers have need of her.

Unpitying is their rich desire ;

Her breath, her being they require.

O she must yield ! She sinks far down,

Conquered, listless, happy, down



MARTHA. 73

Under wells of darkness, deep
Into labyrinths of sleep,
Perishing in sweetness dumb.
By the close enfolding bloom
To a sighing phantom kissed,
Like a water into mist
Melting, and extinguished quite
In unfathomed odorous night.

At last, the brief stars paling, dawn
Breathed from distant stream and lawn.
The earliest bird with chirrup low
Called his mates ; softly and slow
The flowers their languid petals part.
And open to the fragrant heart.
And now the first fresh beam returned.
Bright through the lily's edge it burned
And filled the purple rose with fire.
And brightened all their green attire,
And woke a shadow on the wall.

But Martha slept, nor stirred at all.



THE DRAY.



THE DRAY.

Dim through the darkened street

The Drav comes, rolling an uneven thunder

Of wheels and trampling feet;

The shaken windows stare in sleepy wonder.

Now through an open space,

Where loitering groups about the tavern's fume

Show many a sullen face

And brawling figure in the lighted gloom,

It moves, a shadowy force

Through miserv triumphant : flushed, on high,

Guiding his easy course,

A giant sits, with indolent soft eye.

He turns not, that dim crowd
Of listless forms beneath him to behold ;
Shawled women with head bowed
Flitting in hasty stealth, and children old :

Calm as some conqueror

Rode through old Rome, nor heeded at his heel,

Mid the proud spoils of war,

What woeful captives thronged his chariot wheel.



ELEONORA DUSE AS MAGDA. 75



ELEONORA DUSE AS MAGDA.

The theatre is still, and Duse speaks.

What charm possesses all,

And what a bloom let fall

On parted lips, and eyes, and flushing cheeks !

The flattering whisper and the trivial word

No longer heard,

The hearts of women listen, deeply stirred.

For now to each those quivering accents seem

A secret telling for her ear alone :

The child sits wondering in a world foreknown,

And the old nod their heads with springing tear,

Confirming true that adted dream.

And the soul of each to itself revealed

Feels to the voice a voice reply,

With a leaping wonder, a joy, a fear,

It is I, it is I !

But O what radiant mirror is this that dazzles me,

That my dead rapture holds,

That all my loss unfolds.

That sets my longings free.

My sighs renumbers, my old hope renews.

I have lived in a sleep, I have tasted alien bread,



76 ELEONORA DUSE AS MAGDA.

I have spoken the speech, and worn the robes of the

dead ;
I have buried my heart away, and none believed.
But now, speak on, and my bonds untie :
At last, it is 1, it is I !



MIDSUMMER NOON. 77



MIDSUMMER NOON.

At her window gazes over the elms
A girl ; she looks on the branching green ;
But her eyes possess unfathomed realms,
Her young hand holds her dreaming chin.

Drifted, the dazzling clouds ascend

In indolent order, vast and slow.

The great blue ; softly their shadows send

A clearness up from the wall below.

An old man houseless, leaning alone
By the tree-girt fountain, only heeds
The fall of the spray in the shine of the sun.
And nothing possessing, nothing needs.

The square is heavy with silent bloom ;
The tardy wheels uncertain creep.
Above, in a narrow sunlit room,
The widower watches his child asleep.



78 THE PARALYTIC.



THE PARALYTIC.

He stands where the young faces pass and throng ;

His blank eyes tremble in the noonday sun :
He sees all life, the lovelv and the strong,
Before him run.

Eager and swift, or grouped and loitering, they

Follow their dreams, on busy errands sped.
Planning delight and triumph ; but all day
He shakes his head.



SONGS OF THE WORLD UNBORN. 79



SONGS OF THE WORLD UNBORN.

Songs of the world unborn

Swelling within me, a shoot from the heart of Spring,

As I walk the ample and teeming street

This tranquil and misty morn,

What is it to me you sing ?

My body warm, my brain clear.
Unreasoning joy possesses my soul complete ;
The keen air mettles my blood.
And the pavement rings to my feet.

houses erect and vast, O steeples proud,
That soar serenely aloof.

Vistas of railing and roof,

Dim-seen in the delicate shroud of the frosty air,

You are built but of shadow and cloud,

1 will come with the wind and blow.

You shall melt, to be seen no longer, O phantoms fair.

Embattled city, trampler of dreams,

So long deluding, thou shalt delude no more;

The trembling heart thou haughtily spurnest,

But thou from a dream art sprung,

From a far-ofF vision of yore,

To a dream, to a dream returnest.



8o SONGS OF THE WORLD UNBORN

Time, the tarrier,

Time, the unshunnable.

Stealing with patient rivers the mountainous lands,

Or in turbulent fire upheaving,

Who shifts for ever the sands,

Who gently breaks the unbreakable barrier.

Year upon year into broadening silence w^eaving.

Time, O mighty and mightily peopled city.

Time is busy with thee.

Behold, the tall tower moulders in air,

The staunch beam crumbles to earth,

Pinnacles falter and fall,

And the immemorial wall

Melts, as a cloud is melted under the sun.

Nor these alone, but alas.

Things of diviner birth,

Glories of men and women strong and fair.

They too, alas, perpetually undone !

As the green apparition of leaves

Buds out in the smile of May ;

As the red leaf smoulders away,

That frozen Earth receives ;

In all thy happy, in all thy desolate places,

They spring, they glide.

Unnumbered blooming and fading faces !

O what shall abide ?

Aching desire, mutinous longing.

Love, the divine rebel, the challenge of all.

Faith, that the doubters doubted and wept her fall,



SONGS OF THE WORLD UNBORN. 8i

To an empty sepulchre thronging :

These, the sap of the earth,

Irresistibly sprung,

In the blood of heroes running sweet,

In the dream of the dreamers ever young.

Supplanting the solid and vast delusions,

Hearten the heart of the wronged to endure defeat,

The forward-gazing eyes of the old sustain,

Mighty in perishing youth, and in endless birth.

These remain.



THE SUPPER.

A PROLOGUE.



A rich youth in-vites a chance company of guests from the street —
a blind beggar, a sand^vich-mpn, a tramp, t-ivo ^women, and a thief
all fallen in the nxjorld: they are seated at supper in a sumptuous
room.



THE SUPPER.

Host.

Linger not, linger not, lift your glasses.

Mirth shall come, as misery passes.

Hark, how the mad wind blows his horn

And hunts the laggards in streets forlorn !

Hark, how fierce the winter rain

Beats and streams on the window pane !

Ill is it now for the houseless head,

And for him that makes on the ground his bed.

But we will forget in the warmth of the fire,

And be glad, and taste of our heart's desire.

Laugh old care and trouble down

And toils and sad remembrance drown !

All is yours ; all sorrow bury

To-night, and with me for an hour be merry.

Madge.
You are kind, sir.

Host.

O believe you not
That it makes my joy to cheer your lot ?
You see me, who have lived my days



86 THE SUPPER.

In riches, pleasure, friendship, praise.

I was not happy, I wanted more ;

To-day I have found what I missed before.

I have sought you and brought you from cold and rain ;

Now I will raise you out of your pain.

And you, old man, shall be young with me,

Brisk and glad as you used to be ;

And you, child, with your cheeks so white,

Shall feel fresh blood in your pulse to-night.

Linger not, linger not, eat your fill.

Drink and be merry.

All.
We will, we will !

Blind Roger.

Set the glass in my hand. I'm blind and old,
But still I shun to be left in the cold.

Host.

Is it hard at the first to remember the way
Of mirth, and be rid of the load of the day ?
O, be not afraid to laugh and to smile.

AVERILL.

Our lips, it may be, are slow awhile.
And our hearts unused to gaiety yet.
But let us forget.

Tony.
Ay, let us forget.



THE SUPPER. 87

Michael.

That 's easy, mates ; but that 's the least.
Now we're set to so rare a feast,
I'm ripe and ready for all gay cheer,
But the great wax lights, so soft and clear.
Abash me, and make my eyes afraid.

Host.

Wait but a moment, the dazzle will fade :
Soon to your eyes will the light be as bloom.
And your ears be filled with the peace of the room.
Were the wind but quiet, instead of the toil
And the traffic beneath, with its huge turmoil.
You'd fancy the lonely fields around.

Annie.
'Tis soft and calm, but I miss the sound.

AVERILL,

O, it is sweet for an hour to be lulled,
For an hour to be happy with senses dulled.

Tony.

Ah, ah, the silver, how it gleams !

I have seen such glitterings in my dreams.

Roger.

Long, long ago, when my eyes could see.
Such sweet odours used to be.



88 THE SUPPER.

Michael.
What a fruit is this to melt in the mouth !

Host.
I have a garden in the South.
It brings me summer warm in frost,
Glories fallen and odours lost.
I love fresh roses in the snow ;
I love them best when the leaves are low.

Annie.

What wonderful colours are these that burn
In the red flower blushing beneath the fern.

Madge
How cold are your hands, lass !

Host.

Come to the fire.
Come, let us heap the bright coal higher.
Now the sparks fly.

Michael,

The fire is good ;
The blessed red flames warm my blood.
Better this than the stars I saw
Shine last night, where I lay on the straw,
Through a chink in the roof of the mouldering shed.
Ha, ha ! I thought it a famous bed,
And slept like a prince in his palace till day.
When the cursing farmer drove me away.



THE SUPPER. 89

Tony.

Once I sat in as fine a room ;
The host was away, but we were at home ;
We drank his health in his own red wine.
'Twas midnight when we sat to dine :
We filled our bellies, and slept for a spin.
And softly we laughed as the dawn came in.

Michael.

Now we are merrier, now for a song.
O, for some music to bear it along.

Roger.

I once could sing my song with the best ;
I rolled my voice up out of my chest.
But the sap is dried in my bones : so you,
That have voice and blood and all things new,
Sing i with the burden we'll all come in.

Host.

Moisten your mouth then, ere you begin.

I pledge you, friends. Your health ! and yours

Michael.
May you be merry while breath endures.

Tony.
May you be merry, whatever befall.



90



Good luck!



THE SUPPER.

Annie.

Madge.
Good luck!



Host.

Good luck to you all !

Michael [singing].

Wander with me, wander with me :
Care to the devil, be free, be free !
Who but a fool would scrape and save,
To heap up a molehill and live in a grave ?

Roger [quavering].
Wander with me, wander with me !

Michael.

I saw the old landlord, the miser gray,

Gather his greedy rents to-day.

The old gray rat with fiery eyes.

He stamped with his stick and he snufFed for a prize.

Lord, how the starveling tenants shivered,

And into his ravening claws delivered.

Death pulls at his foot with a right good will ;

But he fleshes his teeth with a relish still.

What prayers and excuses! I laughed to hear.

I that owed nothing, had nothing to fear.



THE SUPPER. 91

Madge.

men are cruel ! I've seen them go
And turn folks houseless into the snow.

Michael [singing].

What rent pay I to the air and the sun ?
The days and the nights are mine, every one ;
When I've finished vi^ith one, there 's another begun.
Wander with me, wander with me,
Care to the devil, be fi-ee, be free!

All.
Wander with me, wander with me !

Michael.

Yes, I tell you, sir, I tell you, my friend,

1 drink your good luck, but be sure of the end.
You never can tell you won't come to the cold,
And the bed from under your body be sold.
You smile at your ease ; you pay no heed ;
You think to lay hands on all that you need.
And still you go piling your riches high ;

But where is the use of it all, say I ?

Host.

Well said, my friend : you've a heart in your breast ;
And a brave heart beating is worth all the rest.
Where is the use of it all ? 'Tis true :
But we walk in the way we're accustomed to.



92 THE SUPPER.

Michael.
He with his riches, he dares not believe me !
With banquets and couches he thinks to deceive me.
Give me a glass of the bright stuff there ;
And you, that sit so straight in your chair,
What are you thinking so sadly of, yonder,
You dreamer of dreams ? To be merry and vi^ander
Over the world, is it wiser, say,
Than to sit and grow fat and let life slip away,
Till your blood turns chill and your hair turns gray ?

AVERILL.

I think I have wandered the whole earth round,

An endless errand, nowhere bound.

I look straight, and nothing see

In the world, and no man looks on me.

What have I with men to do ?

I hear them laugh, as I pass them through

In the street ; I feel them stop and stare

At the boards that over my shoulder flare.

What matters my ragged and grimy coat.

My aching back, my parching throat ?

I am a beacon to laughter and leisure j

I point all day the path to pleasure ! [A pause.

Madge.
How strange we look in the mirror tall !
It casts a brightness about us all.
Here are we round a table set.
And until this night we had never met !



THE SUPPER. 93

Roger.

Your mirth soon flags. When I was young,
We'd have been merry the whole night long.

Michael.
Ay, mates, we're wasting our pleasure. Drink !
We came not here to be sad and to think.

Madge.
'Tis all day toiling that clouds the head.

Host.
What do you do for daily bread ?

Madge.

I sell my matches along the street.

I see the young with nimble feet,

The fair and the foolish, the feeble and old.

That crawl along in the mire and the cold ;

And the sound is always in my ears.

the long, long crowding, trampling years.
Since I was young and followed after

The lights, the faces, the glee, the laughter !
But now I watch them hurry and pass
As I see you all now, there in the glass.
Annie, so pale ? What ails you, lass ?

Annie.

1 am faint, I am tired ; but soon 'twill go —
On the pavement I never felt it so j

All is so strange here, I am afraid.



94 THE SUPPER.

Host.

Afraid ? What grief, my girl, has made
Such foolish fears come into your thought ?
We are all friends : and friends or not,
None should harm you within these doors.
Outside is the world that raves and roars.
But you, I marvel how you, so slight.
Endure alone so vast a fight.

Annie.
I know not how, but down in the street
'Tis not so heavy a task to meet.
A power beyond me bears me along,
The faint with the eager, the weak with the strong.
'Tis like an army with marching sound :
I march, and my feet forget the ground.
I have no thought, no wish, no fear ;
And the others are brave for me. But here,
I know not why, I long to rest ;
I have an aching in my breast.
O I am tired ! how sweet 'twould be
To yield, and to struggle no more, and be free !

Michael.

Courage, lass, hold up your head ;
Never give in till its time to be dead.

Host.

Nay, rest, if you will. Yet taste this wine,
The cordial juice of a golden vine.



THE SUPPER. 95

'Twill cheer your spirit, 'tis ripe and good,
And it goes like sunshine into the blood.

Madge.

Eat this fruit, too, that looks so rich,
So smooth and rosy. Is it a peach ?
'Tis soft as the cheek of a child, I swear.

Annie [absently].
As the cheek of a child ?

Michael.

Come, never despair —
But the sad man, what is he mumbling there ?

AVERILL.

To the lost, to the fresh.

To the sweet, to the vain,
Turn again. Time,

And bring; me ag-ain.

I feel it from far

Like the scent of a leaf;
I see and I hear ;

It is joy, it is grief.

What have we done

With our youth ? with the flowers,
With the breeze, with the sun.

With the dream that was ours ?



96 THE SUPPER.

Our thoughts that blossomed

Young and wet !
What have we drunken

Quite to forget ?

Where have we buried

Our dead delight ?
We could not endure it ;

It shone too bright.

O it comes over me
Keener than pain.
All is ye<- possible

Once, once again ! [J silence.

Annie [starting up].

What am I doing ?

Eating and drinking !

I strangle, I choke

With the pain of my thinking.

He wants me, he cries for me,

Somewhere, my boy,

My baby, my own one joy.

They said 'twas a sin to have borne him :

My sin was to desert him.

He that hung at my breast and trusted me,

How had I heart to hurt him ?

I must go, through the night, through the cold, through

the rain,
I must seek, I must toil, till I find him again.



THE SUPPER. 97

Host.



Stay, stay !



Madge.

O Annie, how can you bear
To tell your shame, where all can hear ?

Annie.

I wish that I were lying

In my love's arms again.

My body to him was precious

As now it is worthless and vain.

What matters to me what you say ? Let me go.

But you, O why did you wake my woe ?

I wanted not feasting, nor mirth, nor wine,

Nor the things that I know shall never be mine,

I wanted only to sleep and forget.

Host.
She's gone.

Madge.
The night's wild.



AVERILL.



Wild and wet



Tony.
Hark, how the wind in the chimney hums.



H



98 THE SUPPER.

AVERILL.

It beats and threatens like distant drums.

Host.

Come to the fire. Fill once more
Your glasses.

Michael.

It is not now as before.
The good drink tastes no longer well.

Madge,

I am full of fears that I cannot tell.
Why am I weak and lonely and old ?

Roger.

Where is it gone ? I seemed to behold
For a moment, but now, the blessed light.
Alas, again it is black, black night !

Tony.

I once was loved by a lass, I see
Her smile, I hear her calling to me.
Could I feel her kiss on my mouth again —

Roger.

could 1 see for a moment plain !

Michael.

1 had a friend, he was dearer than brother.



THE SUPPER. 99

I loved him as I loved none other.

I struck him in drink ; he left me for ever.

I shall grasp his hand again never, never !

AVERILL.

What have you done to us ? Why have you brought
All sad thoughts that ever we thought,
And this evil spell around us cast ?

Madge.
We were all merry a moment past.

Host.

What will you have, friends ? What shall I do
For your comfort ? What shall I give to you ?



My youth



AVERILL.

Roger.
My sight I

Tony.

My love !

Michael.

My friend !

Madge.
O make me sure of peace in the end.



100 THE SUPPER.

Host.

I gave you freely of all I had,

It is not my doing, you are not glad.

AVERILL.

We want.

Tony.
We hunger.

AVERILL.

Ah, once more
Let us hope, let us love, let us live.

Michael.

Restore
What we have lost, what you possess.
You that are stronger for our distress.
You that have wakened our hearts this day.

Host.
My friend, you know not what you say.

Roger [in a low voice"].
Why did he ask us hither to-night ?

Madge.
And question, too, of our evil plight ?

Tony.
Why did he drive us to be glad ?



THE SUPPER. loi

Roger.
To make us remember what once we had.

Madge.
Youth and happiness well forgot !

Tony.
To spy on our trouble.

Michael.

A devil's plot !
Damn the poison ! Drink no more !
I wish I had spilt my glass on the floor
Ere I made merry with him. His guest !
To watch us befooled, 'twas an excellent jest !

Roger.
I wish I could see his face.

Michael.

He stands,
Pale and angry, with twitching hands.
O his sport is spoiled ; he's vext to know
That we've found him out.

Madge.

Let us go, let us go.

Michael.

Ay, we've our pride, as well as he.

Come out to the street, in the street we are free.



102 THE SUPPER.

Tony.

Curse the light that dazzled our eyes !

Michael.
Curse the drink that taught us lies !

Madge.
Say no more, but let's begone.

Roger.
Curse the mocker that lured us on !

Michael.

May your pleasure perish, your grief increase.
Your heart dry up.

AvERiLL [breaking in'].

Peace, friends, peace.


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