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Owen Meredith.

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I have burn'd out within me the fuel of life.
Wherefore lingers the flame? Rest is sweet after strife.
I would sleep for a while. I am weary.
"My friend,
I had meant in these lines to regather, and send
To our old home, my life's scatter'd links. But 'tis vain!
Each attempt seems to shatter the chaplet again;
Only fit now for fingers like mine to run o'er,
Who return, a recluse, to those cloisters of yore
Whence too far I have wander'd.
"How many long years
Does it seem to me now since the quick, scorching tears,
While I wrote to you, splash'd out a girl's premature
Moans of pain at what women in silence endure!
To your eyes, friend of mine, and to your eyes alone,
That now long-faded page of my life hath been shown
Which recorded my heart's birth, and death, as you know,
Many years since, - how many!
"A few months ago
I seem'd reading it backward, that page! Why explain
Whence or how? The old dream of my life rose again.
The old superstition! the idol of old!
It is over. The leaf trodden down in the mould
Is not to the forest more lost than to me
That emotion. I bury it here by the sea
Which will bear me anon far away from the shore
Of a land which my footsteps will visit no more.
And a heart's requiescat I write on that grave.
Hark! the sigh of the wind, and the sound of the wave,
Seem like voices of spirits that whisper me home!
I come, O you whispering voices, I come!
My friend, ask me nothing.
"Receive me alone
As a Santon receives to his dwelling of stone
In silence some pilgrim the midnight may bring:
It may be an angel that, weary of wing,
Hath paused in his flight from some city of doom,
Or only a wayfarer stray'd in the gloom.
This only I know: that in Europe at least
Lives the craft or the power that must master our East.
Wherefore strive where the gods must themselves yield at last?
Both they and their altars pass by with the Past.
The gods of the household Time thrust from the shelf;
And I seem as unreal and weird to myself
As those idols of old.
"Other times, other men,
Other men, other passions!
"So be it! yet again
I turned to my birthplace, the birthplace of morn,
And the light of those lands where the great sun is born!
Spread your arms, O my friend! on your breast let me feel
The repose which hath fled from my own.
"Your LUCILE."




PART II.




CANTO I.


I.


Hail, Muse! But each Muse by this time has, I know,
Been used up, and Apollo has bent his own bow
All too long; so I leave unassaulted the portal
Of Olympus, and only invoke here a mortal.

Hail, Murray! - not Lindley, - but Murray and Son.
Hail, omniscient, beneficent, great Two-in-One!
In Albermarle Street may thy temple long stand!
Long enlighten'd and led by thine erudite hand,
May each novice in science nomadic unravel
Statistical mazes of modernized travel!
May each inn-keeper knave long thy judgment revere,
And the postboys of Europe regard thee with fear;
While they feel, in the silence of baffled extortion,
That knowledge is power! Long, long, like that portion
Of the national soil which the Greek exile took
In his baggage wherever he went, may thy book
Cheer each poor British pilgrim, who trusts to thy wit
Not to pay through his nose just for following it!
May'st thou long, O instructor! preside o'er his way,
And teach him alike what to praise and to pay!
Thee, pursuing this pathway of song, once again
I invoke, lest, unskill'd, I should wander in vain.
To my call be propitious, nor, churlish, refuse
Thy great accents to lend to the lips of my Muse;
For I sing of the Naiads who dwell 'mid the stems
Of the green linden-trees by the waters of Ems.
Yes! thy spirit descends upon mine, O John Murray!
And I start - with thy book - for the Baths in a hurry.


II.


"At Coblentz a bridge of boats crosses the Rhine;
And from thence the road, winding by Ehrenbreitstein,
Passes over the frontier of Nassua.
("N. B.
No custom-house here since the Zollverein." See
Murray, paragraph 30.)
"The route, at each turn,
Here the lover of nature allows to discern,
In varying prospect, a rich wooded dale:
The vine and acacia-tree mostly prevail
In the foliage observable here: and, moreover,
The soil is carbonic. The road, under cover
Of the grape-clad and mountainous upland that hems
Round this beautiful spot, brings the traveller to - "EMS.
A Schnellpost from Frankfort arrives every day.
At the Kurhaus (the old Ducal mansion) you pay
Eight florins for lodgings. A Restaurateur
Is attach'd to the place; but most travellers prefer
(Including, indeed, many persons of note)
To dine at the usual-priced table d'hote.
Through the town runs the Lahn, the steep green banks of which
Two rows of white picturesque houses enrich;
And between the high road and the river is laid
Out a sort of a garden, call'd 'THE Promenade.'
Female visitors here, who may make up their mind
To ascend to the top of these mountains, will find
On the banks of the stream, saddled all the day long,
Troops of donkeys - sure-footed - proverbially strong;"
And the traveller at Ems may remark, as he passes,
Here, as elsewhere, the women run after the asses.


III.


'Mid the world's weary denizens bound for these springs
In the month when the merle on the maple-bough sings,
Pursued to the place from dissimilar paths
By a similar sickness, there came to the Baths
Four sufferers - each stricken deep through the heart,
Or the head, by the self-same invisible dart
Of the arrow that flieth unheard in the noon,
From the sickness that walketh unseen in the moon,
Through this great lazaretto of life, wherein each
Infects with his own sores the next within reach.
First of these were a young English husband and wife,
Grown weary ere half through the journey of life.
O Nature, say where, thou gray mother of earth,
Is the strength of thy youth? that thy womb brings to birth
Only old men to-day! On the winds, as of old,
Thy voice in its accent is joyous and bold;
Thy forests are green as of yore; and thine oceans
Yet move in the might of their ancient emotions:
But man - thy last birth and thy best - is no more
Life's free lord, that look'd up to the starlight of yore,
With the faith on the brow, and the fire in the eyes,
The firm foot on the earth, the high heart in the skies;
But a gray-headed infant, defrauded of youth,
Born too late or too early.
The lady, in truth,
Was young, fair, and gentle; and never was given
To more heavenly eyes the pure azure of heaven.
Never yet did the sun touch to ripples of gold
Tresses brighter than those which her soft hand unroll'd
From her noble and innocent brow, when she rose,
An Aurora, at dawn, from her balmy repose,
And into the mirror the bloom and the blush
Of her beauty broke, glowing; like light in a gush
From the sunrise in summer.
Love, roaming, shall meet
But rarely a nature more sound or more sweet -
Eyes brighter - brows whiter - a figure more fair -
Or lovelier lengths of more radiant hair -
Than thine, Lady Alfred! And here I aver
(May those that have seen thee declare if I err)
That not all the oysters in Britain contain
A pearl pure as thou art.
Let some one explain, -
Who may know more than I of the intimate life
Of the pearl with the oyster, - why yet in his wife,
In despite of her beauty - and most when he felt
His soul to the sense of her loveliness melt -
Lord Alfred miss'd something he sought for: indeed,
The more that he miss'd it the greater the need;
Till it seem'd to himself he could willingly spare
All the charms that he found for the one charm not there.


IV.


For the blessings Life lends us, it strictly demands
The worth of their full usufruct at our hands.
And the value of all things exists, not indeed
In themselves, but man's use of them, feeding man's need.
Alfred Vargrave, in wedding with beauty and youth,
Had embraced both Ambition and Wealth. Yet in truth
Unfulfill'd the ambition, and sterile the wealth
(In a life paralyzed by a moral ill-health),
Had remain'd, while the beauty and youth, unredeem'd
From a vague disappointment at all things, but seem'd
Day by day to reproach him in silence for all
That lost youth in himself they had fail'd to recall.
No career had he follow'd, no object obtain'd
In the world by those worldly advantages gain'd
From nuptials beyond which once seem'd to appear,
Lit by love, the broad path of a brilliant career.
All that glitter'd and gleam'd through the moonlight of youth
With a glory so fair, now that manhood in truth
Grasp'd and gather'd it, seem'd like that false fairy gold
Which leaves in the hand only moss, leaves, and mould!


V.


Fairy gold! moss and leaves! and the young Fairy Bride?
Lived there yet fairy-lands in the face at his side?
Say, O friend, if at evening thou ever hast watch'd
Some pale and impalpable vapor, detach'd
From the dim and disconsolate earth, rise and fall
O'er the light of a sweet serene star, until all
The chill'd splendor reluctantly waned in the deep
Of its own native heaven? Even so seem'd to creep
O'er that fair and ethereal face, day by day,
While the radiant vermeil, subsiding away,
Hid its light in the heart, the faint gradual veil
Of a sadness unconscious.
The lady grew pale
As silent her lord grew: and both, as they eyed
Each the other askance, turn'd, and secretly sigh'd.
Ah, wise friend, what avails all experience can give?
True, we know what life is - but, alas! do we live?
The grammar of life we have gotten by heart,
But life's self we have made a dead language - an art,
Not a voice. Could we speak it, but once, as 'twas spoken
When the silence of passion the first time was broken!
Cuvier knew the world better than Adam, no doubt;
But the last man, at best, was but learned about
What the first, without learning, ENJOYED. What art thou
To the man of to-day, O Leviathan, now?
A science. What wert thou to him that from ocean
First beheld thee appear? A surprise, - an emotion!
When life leaps in the veins, when it beats in the heart,
When it thrills as it fills every animate part,
Where lurks it? how works it?... We scarcely detect it.
But life goes: the heart dies: haste, O leech, and dissect it!
This accursed aesthetical, ethical age
Hath so finger'd life's hornbook, so blurr'd every page,
That the old glad romance, the gay chivalrous story
With its fables of faery, its legends of glory,
Is turn'd to a tedious instruction, not new
To the children that read it insipidly through.
We know too much of Love ere we love. We can trace
Nothing new, unexpected, or strange in his face
When we see it at last. 'Tis the same little Cupid,
With the same dimpled cheek, and the smile almost stupid,
We have seen in our pictures, and stuck on our shelves,
And copied a hundred times over, ourselves,
And wherever we turn, and whatever we do,
Still, that horrible sense of the deja connu!


VI.


Perchance 'twas the fault of the life that they led;
Perchance 'twas the fault of the novels they read;
Perchance 'twas a fault in themselves; I am bound not
To say: this I know - that these two creatures found not
In each other some sign they expected to find
Of a something unnamed in the heart or the mind;
And, missing it, each felt a right to complain
Of a sadness which each found no word to explain.
Whatever it was, the world noticed not it
In the light-hearted beauty, the light-hearted wit.
Still, as once with the actors in Greece, 'tis the case,
Each must speak to the crowd with a mask on his face.
Praise follow'd Matilda wherever she went,
She was flatter'd. Can flattery purchase content?
Yes. While to its voice for a moment she listen'd,
The young cheek still bloom'd and the soft eyes still glisten'd;
And her lord, when, like one of those light vivid things
That glide down the gauzes of summer with wings
Of rapturous radiance, unconscious she moved
Through that buzz of inferior creatures, which proved
Her beauty, their envy, one moment forgot,
'Mid the many charms there, the one charm that was not:
And when o'er her beauty enraptured he bow'd,
(As they turn'd to each other, each flush'd from the crowd,)
And murmur'd those praises which yet seem'd more dear
Than the praises of others had grown to her ear,
She, too, ceased awhile her own fate to regret:
"Yes!... he loves me," she sigh'd; "this is love, then - and YET!"


VII.


Ah, that YET! fatal word! 'tis the moral of all
Thought and felt, seen or done, in this world since the Fall!
It stands at the end of each sentence we learn;
It flits in the vista of all we discern;
It leads us, forever and ever, away
To find in to-morrow what flies with to-day.
'Twas the same little fatal and mystical word
That now, like a mirage, led my lady and lord
To the waters of Ems from the waters of Marah;
Drooping Pilgrims in Fashion's blank, arid Sahara!


VIII.


At the same time, pursued by a spell much the same,
To these waters two other worn pilgrims there came:
One a man, one a woman: just now, at the latter,
As the Reader I mean by and by to look at her
And judge for himself, I will not even glance.


IX.


Of the self-crown'd young kings of the Fashion in France
Whose resplendent regalia so dazzled the sight,
Whose horse was so perfect, whose boots were so bright,
Who so hail'd in the salon, so mark'd in the Bois,
Who so welcomed by all, as Eugene de Luvois?
Of all the smooth-brow'd premature debauchees
In that town of all towns, where Debauchery sees
On the forehead of youth her mark everywhere graven, -
In Paris I mean, - where the streets are all paven
By those two fiends whom Milton saw bridging the way
From Hell to this planet, - who, haughty and gay,
The free rebel of life, bound or led by no law,
Walk'd that causeway as bold as Eugene de Luvois?
Yes! he march'd through the great masquerade, loud of tongue,
Bold of brow: but the motley he mask'd in, it hung
So loose, trail'd so wide, and appear'd to impede
So strangely at times the vex'd effort at speed,
That a keen eye might guess it was made - not for him,
But some brawler more stalwart of stature and limb.
That it irk'd him, in truth, you at times could divine,
For when low was the music, and spilt was the wine,
He would clutch at the garment, as though it oppress'd
And stifled some impulse that choked in his breast.


X.


What! he,... the light sport of his frivolous ease!
Was he, too, a prey to a mortal disease?
My friend, hear a parable: ponder it well:
For a moral there is in the tale that I tell.
One evening I sat in the Palais Royal,
And there, while I laugh'd at Grassot and Arnal,
My eye fell on the face of a man at my side;
Every time that he laugh'd I observed that he sigh'd,
As though vex'd to be pleased. I remark'd that he sat
Ill at ease on his seat, and kept twirling his hat
In his hand, with a look of unquiet abstraction.
I inquired the cause of his dissatisfaction.
"Sir," he said, "if what vexes me here you would know,
Learn that, passing this way some few half-hours ago,
I walk'd into the Francais, to look at Rachel.
(Sir, that woman in Phedre is a miracle!) - Well,
I ask'd for a box: they were occupied all:
For a seat in the balcony: all taken! a stall:
Taken too: the whole house was as full as could be, -
Not a hole for a rat! I had just time to see
The lady I love tete-a-tete with a friend
In a box out of reach at the opposite end:
Then the crowd push'd me out. What was left me to do?
I tried for the tragedy... que voulez-vous?
Every place for the tragedy book'd!... mon ami.
The farce was close by:... at the farce me voici.
The piece is a new one: and Grassot plays well:
There is drollery, too, in that fellow Ravel:
And Hyacinth's nose is superb:... yet I meant
My evening elsewhere, and not thus to have spent.
Fate orders these things by her will, not by ours!
Sir, mankind is the sport of invisible powers."

I once met the Duc de Luvois for a moment;
And I mark'd, when his features I fix'd in my comment,
O'er those features the same vague disquietude stray
I had seen on the face of my friend at the play;
And I thought that he too, very probably, spent
His evenings not wholly as first he had meant.


XI.


O source of the holiest joys we inherit,
O Sorrow, thou solemn, invisible spirit!
Ill fares it with man when, through life's desert sand,
Grown impatient too soon for the long-promised land,
He turns from the worship of thee, as thou art,
An expressless and imageless truth in the heart,
And takes of the jewels of Egypt, the pelf
And the gold of the Godless, to make to himself
A gaudy, idolatrous image of thee,
And then bows to the sound of the cymbal the knee.
The sorrows we make to ourselves are false gods:
Like the prophets of Baal, our bosoms with rods
We may smite, we may gash at our hearts till they bleed,
But these idols are blind, deaf, and dumb to our need.
The land is athirst, and cries out!... 'tis in vain;
The great blessing of Heaven descends not in rain.


XII.


It was night; and the lamps were beginning to gleam
Through the long linden-trees, folded each in his dream,
From that building which looks like a temple... and is
The Temple of - Health? Nay, but enter! I wis
That never the rosy-hued deity knew
One votary out of that sallow-cheek'd crew
Of Courlanders, Wallacs, Greeks, affable Russians,
Explosive Parisians, potato-faced Prussians;
Jews - Hamburghers chiefly; - pure patriots, - Suabians; -
"Cappadocians and Elamites, Cretes and Arabians,
And the dwellers in Pontus"... My muse will not weary
More lines with the list of them... cur fremuere?
What is it they murmur, and mutter, and hum?
Into what Pandemonium is Pentecost come?
Oh, what is the name of the god at whose fane
Every nation is mix'd in so motley a train?
What weird Kabala lies on those tables outspread?
To what oracle turns with attention each head?
What holds these pale worshippers each so devout,
And what are those hierophants busied about?


XIII.


Here passes, repasses, and flits to and fro,
And rolls without ceasing the great Yes and No:
Round this altar alternate the weird Passions dance,
And the God worshipp'd here is the old God of Chance.
Through the wide-open doors of the distant saloon
Flute, hautboy, and fiddle are squeaking in tune;
And an indistinct music forever is roll'd,
That mixes and chimes with the chink of the gold,
From a vision, that flits in a luminous haze,
Of figures forever eluding the gaze;
It fleets through the doorway, it gleams on the glass,
And the weird words pursue it - Rouge, Impair, et Passe!
Like a sound borne in sleep through such dreams as encumber
With haggard emotions the wild wicked slumber
Of some witch when she seeks, through a nightmare, to grab at
The hot hoof of the fiend, on her way to the Sabbat.


XIV.


The Duc de Luvois and Lord Alfred had met
Some few evenings ago (for the season as yet
Was but young) in this selfsame Pavilion of Chance.
The idler from England, the idler from France,
Shook hands, each, of course, with much cordial pleasure:
An acquaintance at Ems is to most men a treasure,
And they both were too well-bred in aught to betray
One discourteous remembrance of things pass'd away.
'Twas a sight that was pleasant, indeed, to be seen,
These friends exchange greetings; - the men who had been
Foes so nearly in days that were past.
This, no doubt,
Is why, on the night I am speaking about,
My Lord Alfred sat down by himself at roulette,
Without one suspicion his bosom to fret,
Although he had left, with his pleasant French friend,
Matilda, half vex'd, at the room's farthest end.


XV.


Lord Alfred his combat with Fortune began
With a few modest thalers - away they all ran -
The reserve follow'd fast in the rear. As his purse
Grew lighter his spirits grew sensibly worse.
One needs not a Bacon to find a cause for it:
'Tis an old law in physics - Natura abhorret
Vacuum - and my lord, as he watch'd his last crown
Tumble into the bank, turn'd away with a frown
Which the brows of Napoleon himself might have deck'd
On that day of all days when an empire was wreck'd
On thy plain, Waterloo, and he witness'd the last
Of his favorite Guard cut to pieces, aghast!
Just then Alfred felt, he could scarcely tell why,
Within him the sudden strange sense that some eye
Had long been intently regarding him there, -
That some gaze was upon him too searching to bear.
He rose and look'd up. Was it fact? Was it fable?
Was it dream? Was it waking? Across the green table,
That face, with its features so fatally known -
Those eyes, whose deep gaze answer'd strangely his own
What was it? Some ghost from its grave come again?
Some cheat of a feverish, fanciful brain?
Or was it herself with those deep eyes of hers,
And that face unforgotten? - Lucile de Nevers!


XVI.


Ah, well that pale woman a phantom might seem,
Who appear'd to herself but the dream of a dream!
'Neath those features so calm, that fair forehead so hush'd,
That pale cheek forever by passion unflush'd,
There yawn'd an insatiate void, and there heaved
A tumult of restless regrets unrelieved.
The brief noon of beauty was passing away,
And the chill of the twilight fell, silent and gray,
O'er that deep, self-perceived isolation of soul.
And now, as all around her the dim evening stole,
With its weird desolations, she inwardly grieved
For the want of that tender assurance received
From the warmth of a whisper, the glance of an eye,
Which should say, or should look, "Fear thou naught, - I am by!"
And thus, through that lonely and self-fix'd existence,
Crept a vague sense of silence, and horror, and distance:
A strange sort of faint-footed fear, - like a mouse
That comes out, when 'tis dark, in some old ducal house
Long deserted, where no one the creature can scare,
And the forms on the arras are all that move there.

In Rome, - in the Forum, - there open'd one night
A gulf. All the augurs turn'd pale at the sight.
In this omen the anger of Heaven they read.
Men consulted the gods: then the oracle said: -


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Online LibraryOwen MeredithLucile → online text (page 9 of 18)