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You could never have loved me?"
"Duke!"
"Never? oh, no!"
(He broke into a fierce, angry laugh, as he said)
"Yet, lady, you knew that I loved you: you led
My love on to lay to its heart, hour by hour,
All the pale, cruel, beautiful, passionless power
Shut up in that cold face of yours! was this well?
But enough! not on you would I vent the wild hell
Which has grown in my heart. Oh, that man! first and last
He tramples in triumph my life! he has cast
His shadow 'twixt me and the sun... let it pass!
My hate yet may find him!"
She murmur'd, "Alas!
These words, at least, spare me the pain of reply.
Enough, Duc de Luvois! farewell. I shall try
To forget every word I have heard, every sight
That has grieved and appall'd me in this wretched night
Which must witness our final farewell. May you, Duke,
Never know greater cause your own heart to rebuke
Than mine thus to wrong and afflict you have had!
Adieu!"
"Stay, Lucile, stay!"... he groaned, "I am mad,
Brutalized, blind with pain! I know not what I said.
I mean it not. But" (he moan'd, drooping his head)
"Forgive me! I - have I so wrong'd you, Lucile?
I... have I... forgive me, forgive me!"
"I feel
Only sad, very sad to the soul," she said, "far,
Far too sad for resentment."
"Yet stand as you are
One moment," he murmur'd. "I think, could I gaze
Thus awhile on your face, the old innocent days
Would come back upon me, and this scorching heart
Free itself in hot tears. Do not, do not depart
Thus, Lucile! stay one moment. I know why you shrink,
Why you shudder; I read in your face what you think.
Do not speak to me of it. And yet, if you will,
Whatever you say, my own lips shall be still.
I lied. And the truth, now, could justify nought.
There are battles, it may be, in which to have fought
Is more shameful than, simply, to fail. Yet, Lucile,
Had you help'd me to bear what you forced me to feel - "
"Could I help you," she murmur'd, "but what can I say
That your life will respond to?" "My life?" he sigh'd. "Nay,
My life hath brought forth only evil, and there
The wild wind hath planted the wild weed: yet ere
You exclaim, 'Fling the weed to the flames,' think again
Why the field is so barren. With all other men
First love, though it perish from life, only goes
Like the primrose that falls to make way for the rose.
For a man, at least most men, may love on through life:
Love in fame; love in knowledge; in work: earth is rife
With labor, and therefor, with love, for a man.
If one love fails, another succeeds, and the plan
Of man's life includes love in all objects! But I?
All such loves from my life through its whole destiny
Fate excluded. The love that I gave you, alas!
Was the sole love that life gave to me. Let that pass!
It perish'd, and all perish'd with it. Ambition?
Wealth left nothing to add to my social condition.
Fame? But fame in itself presupposes some great
Field wherein to pursue and attain it. The State?
I, to cringe to an upstart? The Camp? I, to draw
From its sheath the old sword of the Dukes of Luvois
To defend usurpation? Books, then? Science, Art?
But, alas! I was fashion'd for action: my heart,
Wither'd thing though it be, I should hardly compress
'Twixt the leaves of a treatise on Statics: life's stress
Needs scope, not contraction! what rests? to wear out
At some dark northern court an existence, no doubt,
In wretched and paltry intrigues for a cause
As hopeless as is my own life! By the laws
Of a fate I can neither control nor dispute,
I am what I am!"


VIII.


For a while she was mute.
Then she answer'd, "We are our own fates. Our own deeds
Are our doomsmen. Man's life was made not for men's creeds
But men's actions. And, Duc de Luvois, I might say
That all life attests, that 'the will makes the way.'
Is the land of our birth less the land of our birth,
Or its claim the less strong, or its cause the less worth
Our upholding, because the white lily no more
Is as sacred as all that it bloom'd for of yore?
Yet be that as it may be; I cannot perchance
Judge this matter. I am but a woman, and France
Has for me simpler duties. Large hope, though, Eugene
De Luvois, should be yours. There is purpose in pain,
Otherwise it were devilish. I trust in my soul
That the great master hand which sweeps over the whole
Of this deep harp of life, if at moments it stretch
To shrill tension some one wailing nerve, means to fetch
Its response the truest, most stringent, and smart,
Its pathos the purest, from out the wrung heart,
Whose faculties, flaccid it may be, if less
Sharply strung, sharply smitten, had fail'd to express
Just the one note the great final harmony needs.
And what best proves there's life in a heart? - that it bleeds?
Grant a cause to remove, grant an end to attain,
Grant both to be just, and what mercy in pain!
Cease the sin with the sorrow! See morning begin!
Pain must burn itself out if not fuel'd by sin.
There is hope in yon hill-tops, and love in yon light.
Let hate and despondency die with the night!"

He was moved by her words. As some poor wretch confined
In cells loud with meaningless laughter, whose mind
Wanders trackless amidst its own ruins, may hear
A voice heard long since, silenced many a year,
And now, 'mid mad ravings recaptured again,
Singing through the caged lattice a once well-known strain,
Which brings back his boyhood upon it, until
The mind's ruin'd crevices graciously fill
With music and memory, and, as it were,
The long-troubled spirit grows slowly aware
Of the mockery round it, and shrinks from each thing
It once sought, - the poor idiot who pass'd for a king,
Hard by, with his squalid straw crown, now confess'd
A madman more painfully mad than the rest. -
So the sound of her voice, as it there wander'd o'er
His echoing heart, seem'd in part to restore
The forces of thought: he recaptured the whole
Of his life by the light which, in passing, her soul
Reflected on his: he appear'd to awake
From a dream, and perceived he had dream'd a mistake:
His spirit was soften'd, yet troubled in him:
He felt his lips falter, his eyesight grow dim,
But he murmur'd...
"Lucile, not for me that sun's light
Which reveals - not restores - the wild havoc of night.
There are some creatures born for the night, not the day.
Broken-hearted the nightingale hides in the spray,
And the owl's moody mind in his own hollow tower
Dwells muffled. Be darkness henceforward my dower.
Light, be sure, in that darkness there dwells, by which eyes
Grown familiar with ruins may yet recognize
Enough desolation."


IX.


"The pride that claims here
On earth to itself (howsoever severe
To itself it may be) God's dread office and right
Of punishing sin, is a sin in heaven's sight,
And against heaven's service.
"Eugene de Luvois,
Leave the judgment to Him who alone knows the law.
Surely no man can be his own judge, least of all
His own doomsman."
Her words seem'd to fall
With a weight of tears in them.
He look'd up, and saw
That sad serene countenance, mournful as law
And tender as pity, bow'd o'er him: and heard
In some thicket the matinal chirp of a bird.


X.


"Vulgar natures alone suffer vainly.
"Eugene,"
She continued, "in life we have met once again,
And once more life parts us. Yon day-spring for me
Lifts the veil of a future in which it may be
We shall meet nevermore. Grant, oh grant to me yet
The belief that it is not in vain we have met!
I plead for the future. A new horoscope
I would cast: will you read it? I plead for a hope:
I plead for a memory; yours, yours alone,
To restore or to spare. Let the hope be your own,
Be the memory mine.
"Once of yore, when for man
Faith yet lived, ere this age of the sluggard began,
Men aroused to the knowledge of evil, fled far
From the fading rose-gardens of sense, to the war
With the Pagan, the cave in the desert, and sought
Not repose, but employment in action or thought,
Life's strong earnest, in all things! oh, think not of me,
But yourself! for I plead for your own destiny:
I plead for your life, with its duties undone,
With its claims unappeased, and its trophies unwon;
And in pleading for life's fair fulfilment, I plead
For all that you miss, and for all that you need."


XI.


Through the calm crystal air, faint and far, as she spoke,
A clear, chilly chime from a church-turret broke;
And the sound of her voice, with the sound of the bell,
On his ear, where he kneel'd, softly, soothingly fell.
All within him was wild and confused, as within
A chamber deserted in some roadside inn,
Where, passing, wild travellers paused, over-night,
To quaff and carouse; in each socket each light
Is extinct; crash'd the glasses, and scrawl'd is the wall
With wild ribald ballads; serenely o'er all,
For the first time perceived, where the dawn-light creeps faint
Through the wrecks of that orgy, the face of a saint,
Seen through some broken frame, appears noting meanwhile
The ruin all round with a sorrowful smile.
And he gazed round. The curtains of Darkness half drawn
Oped behind her; and pure as the pure light of dawn
She stood, bathed in morning, and seem'd to his eyes
From their sight to be melting away in the skies
That expanded around her.


XII.


There pass'd through his head
A fancy - a vision. That woman was dead
He had loved long ago - loved and lost! dead to him,
Dead to all the life left him; but there, in the dim
Dewy light of the dawn, stood a spirit; 'twas hers;
And he said to the soul of Lucile de Nevers:
"O soul to its sources departing away!
Pray for mine, if one soul for another may pray.
I to ask have no right, thou to give hast no power,
One hope to my heart. But in this parting hour
I name not my heart, and I speak not to thine.
Answer, soul of Lucile, to this dark soul of mine,
Does not soul owe to soul, what to heart heart denies,
Hope, when hope is salvation? Behold, in yon skies,
This wild night is passing away while I speak:
Lo, above us, the day-spring beginning to break!
Something wakens within me, and warms to the beam:
Is it hope that awakens? or do I but dream?
I know not. It may be, perchance, the first spark
Of a new light within me to solace the dark
Unto which I return; or perchance it may be
The last spark of fires half extinguish'd in me.
I know not. Thou goest thy way: I my own;
For good or for evil, I know not. Alone
This I know; we are parting. I wish'd to say more,
But no matter! 'twill pass. All between us is o'er.
Forget the wild words of to-night. 'Twas the pain
For long years hoarded up, that rush'd from me again.
I was unjust: forgive me. Spare now to reprove
Other words, other deeds. It was madness, not love,
That you thwarted this night. What is done is now done.
Death remains to avenge it, or life to atone.
I was madden'd, delirious! I saw you return
To him - not to me; and I felt my heart burn
With a fierce thirst for vengeance - and thus... let it pass!
Long thoughts these, and so brief the moments, alas!
Thou goest thy way, and I mine. I suppose
'Tis to meet nevermore. Is it not so? Who knows,
Or who heeds, where the exile from Paradise flies?
Or what altars of his in the desert may rise?
Is it not so, Lucile? Well, well! Thus then we part
Once again, soul from soul, as before heart from heart!"


XIII.


And again clearer far than the chime of a bell,
That voice on his sense softly, soothingly fell.
"Our two paths must part us, Eugene; for my own
Seems no more through that world in which henceforth alone
You must work out (as now I believe that you will)
The hope which you speak of. That work I shall still
(If I live) watch and welcome, and bless far away.
Doubt not this. But mistake not the thought, if I say
That the great moral combat between human life
And each human soul must be single. The strife
None can share, though by all its results may be known.
When the soul arms for battle, she goes forth alone.
I say not, indeed, we shall meet nevermore,
For I know not. But meet, as we have met of yore,
I know that we cannot. Perchance we may meet
By the death-bed, the tomb, in the crowd, in the street,
Or in solitude even, but never again
Shall we meet from henceforth as we have met, Eugene.
For we know not the way we are going, nor yet
Where our two ways may meet, or may cross. Life hath set
No landmarks before us. But this, this alone,
I will promise: whatever your path, or my own,
If, for once in the conflict before you, it chance
That the Dragon prevail, and with cleft shield, and lance
Lost or shatter'd, borne down by the stress of the war,
You falter and hesitate, if from afar
I, still watching (unknown to yourself, it may be)
O'er the conflict to which I conjure you, should see
That my presence could rescue, support you, or guide,
In the hour of that need I shall be at your side,
To warn, if you will, or incite, or control;
And again, once again, we shall meet, soul to soul!"


XIV.


The voice ceased.
He uplifted his eyes.
All alone
He stood on the bare edge of dawn. She was gone,
Like a star, when up bay after bay of the night,
Ripples in, wave on wave, the broad ocean of light.
And at once, in her place was the Sunrise! It rose
In its sumptuous splendor and solemn repose,
The supreme revelation of light. Domes of gold,
Realms of rose, in the Orient! and breathless, and bold,
While the great gates of heaven roll'd back one by one,
The bright herald angel stood stern in the sun!
Thrice holy Eospheros! Light's reign began
In the heaven, on the earth, in the heart of the man.
The dawn on the mountains! the dawn everywhere!
Light! silence! the fresh innovations of air!
O earth, and O ether! A butterfly breeze
Floated up, flutter'd down, and poised blithe on the trees.
Through the revelling woods, o'er the sharp-rippled stream,
Up the vale slow uncoiling itself out of dream,
Around the brown meadows, adown the hill-slope,
The spirits of morning were whispering, "HOPE!"


XV.


He uplifted his eyes. In the place where she stood
But a moment before, and where now roll'd the flood
Of the sunrise all golden, he seem'd to behold,
In the young light of sunrise, an image unfold
Of his own youth, - its ardors - its promise of fame -
Its ancestral ambition; and France by the name
Of his sires seem'd to call him. There, hover'd in light,
That image aloft, o'er the shapeless and bright
And Aurorean clouds, which themselves seem'd to be
Brilliant fragments of that golden world, wherein he
Had once dwelt, a native!
There, rooted and bound
To the earth, stood the man, gazing at it! Around
The rims of the sunrise it hover'd and shone
Transcendent, that type of a youth that was gone;
And he - as the body may yearn for the soul,
So he yearn'd to embody that image. His whole
Heart arose to regain it.
"And is it too late?"
No! for Time is a fiction, and limits not fate.
Thought alone is eternal. Time thralls it in vain.
For the thought that springs upward and yearns to regain
The true source of spirit, there IS no TOO LATE.
As the stream to its first mountain levels, elate
In the fountain arises, the spirit in him
Arose to that image. The image waned dim
Into heaven; and heavenward with it, to melt
As it melted, in day's broad expansion, he felt
With a thrill, sweet and strange, and intense - awed, amazed -
Something soar and ascend in his soul, as he gazed.




CANTO VI.


I.


Man is born on a battle-field. Round him, to rend
Or resist, the dread Powers he displaces attend,
By the cradle which Nature, amidst the stern shocks
That have shatter'd creation, and shapen it, rocks.
He leaps with a wail into being; and lo!
His own mother, fierce Nature herself, is his foe.
Her whirlwinds are roused into wrath o'er his head:
'Neath his feet roll her earthquakes: her solitudes spread
To daunt him: her forces dispute his command:
Her snows fall to freeze him: her suns burn to brand:
Her seas yawn to engulf him: her rocks rise to crush:
And the lion and leopard, allied, lurk to rush
On their startled invader.
In lone Malabar,
Where the infinite forest spreads breathless and far,
'Mid the cruel of eye and the stealthy of claw
(Striped and spotted destroyers!) he sees, pale with awe,
On the menacing edge of a fiery sky,
Grim Doorga, blue-limb'd and red-handed, go by,
And the first thing he worships is Terror.
Anon,
Still impell'd by necessity hungrily on,
He conquers the realms of his own self-reliance,
And the last cry of fear wakes the first of defiance.
From the serpent he crushes its poisonous soul;
Smitten down in his path see the dead lion roll!
On toward Heaven the son of Alcmena strides high on
The heads of the Hydra, the spoils of the lion:
And man, conquering terror, is worshipp'd by man.

A camp has the world been since first it began!
From his tents sweeps the roving Arabian; at peace,
A mere wandering shepherd that follows the fleece;
But, warring his way through a world's destinies,
Lo from Delhi, from Bagdadt, from Cordova, rise
Domes of empiry, dower'd with science and art,
Schools, libraries, forums, the palace, the mart!

New realms to man's soul have been conquer'd. But those
Forthwith they are peopled for man by new foes!
The stars keep their secrets, the earth hides her own,
And bold must the man be that braves the Unknown!
Not a truth has to art or to science been given,
But brows have ached for it, and souls toil'd and striven;
And many have striven, and many have fail'd,
And many died, slain by the truth they assail'd,
But when Man hath tamed Nature, asserted his place
And dominion, behold! he is brought face to face
With a new foe - himself!
Nor may man on his shield
Ever rest, for his foe is ever afield,
Danger ever at hand, till the armed Archangel
Sound o'er him the trump of earth's final evangel.


II.


Silence straightway, stern Muse, the soft cymbals of pleasure,
Be all bronzen these numbers, and martial the measure!
Breathe, sonorously breathe, o'er the spirit in me
One strain, sad and stern, of that deep Epopee
Which thou, from the fashionless cloud of far time,
Chantest lonely, when Victory, pale, and sublime
In the light of the aureole over her head,
Hears, and heeds not the wound in her heart fresh and red.
Blown wide by the blare of the clarion, unfold
The shrill clanging curtains of war!
And behold
A vision!
The antique Heraclean seats;
And the long Black Sea billow that once bore those fleets,
Which said to the winds, "Be ye, too, Genoese!"
And the red angry sands of the chafed Cheronese;
And the two foes of man, War and Winter, allied
Round the Armies of England and France, side by side
Enduring and dying (Gaul and Briton abreast!)
Where the towers of the North fret the skies of the East.


III.


Since that sunrise which rose through the calm linden stems
O'er Lucile and Eugene, in the garden of Ems,
Through twenty-five seasons encircling the sun,
This planet of ours on its pathway hath gone,
And the fates that I sing of have flowed with the fates
Of a world, in the red wake of war, round the gates
Of that doom'd and heroical city, in which
(Fire crowning the rampart, blood bathing the ditch!),
At bay, fights the Russian as some hunted bear,
Whom the huntsmen have hemm'd round at last in his lair.


IV.


A fang'd, arid plain, sapp'd with underground fire,
Soak'd with snow, torn with shot, mash'd to one gory mire!
There Fate's iron scale hangs in horrid suspense,
While those two famished ogres - the Siege, the Defence,
Face to face, through a vapor frore, dismal, and dun,
Glare, scenting the breath of each other.
The one
Double-bodied, two-headed - by separate ways
Winding, serpent-wise, nearer; the other, each day's
Sullen toil adding size to, - concentrated, solid,
Indefatigable - the brass-fronted, embodied,
And audible [Greek text omitted] gone sombrely forth
To the world from that Autocrat Will of the north!


V.


In the dawn of a moody October, a pale
Ghostly motionless vapor began to prevail
Over city and camp; like the garment of death
Which (is formed by) the face it conceals.
'Twas the breath
War, yet drowsily yawning, began to suspire;
Wherethrough, here and there, flash'd an eye of red fire,
And closed, from some rampart beginning to bellow
Hoarse challenge; replied to anon, through the yellow
And sulphurous twilight: till day reel'd and rock'd
And roar'd into dark. Then the midnight was mock'd
With fierce apparitions. Ring'd round by a rain
Of red fire, and of iron, the murtherous plain
Flared with fitful combustion; where fitfully fell
Afar off the fatal, disgorged scharpenelle,
And fired the horizon, and singed the coil'd gloom
With wings of swift flame round that City of Doom.


VI.


So the day - so the night! So by night, so by day,
With stern patient pathos, while time wears away,
In the trench flooded through, in the wind where it wails,
In the snow where it falls, in the fire where it hails
Shot and shell - link by link, out of hardship and pain,
Toil, sickness, endurance, is forged the bronze chain
Of those terrible siege-lines!
No change to that toil
Save the mine's sudden leap from the treacherous soil.
Save the midnight attack, save the groans of the maim'd,
And Death's daily obolus due, whether claim'd
By man or by nature.


VII.


Time passes. The dumb,
Bitter, snow-bound, and sullen November is come.
And its snows have been bathed in the blood of the brave;
And many a young heart has glutted the grave:
And on Inkerman yet the wild bramble is gory,
And those bleak heights henceforth shall be famous in story.


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Online LibraryOwen MeredithLucile → online text (page 15 of 18)