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Robert Louis Stevenson, an Elegy; and Other Poems online

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ROBERT

LOUIS

STEVENSON


AN ELEGY


AND OTHER POEMS MAINLY PERSONAL

BY
RICHARD LE GALLIENNE


MDCCCXCV


TO
MY DEAR MOTHER AND FATHER
THESE POEMS ARE LOVINGLY
DEDICATED



CONTENTS

ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON: AN ELEGY
AN ODE TO SPRING
TREE-WORSHIP
A BALLAD OF LONDON
PARIS DAY BY DAY: A FAMILIAR EPISTLE
ALFRED TENNYSON
PROFESSOR MINTO
ON MR. GLADSTONE'S RETIREMENT
OMAR KHAYYAM
THE SECOND CRUCIFIXION
AN IMPRESSION
NATURAL RELIGION
FAITH REBORN
HESPERIDES
JENNY DEAD
MY BOOKS
MAMMON
ART
TO A POET
A NEW YEAR LETTER
SNATCH
MY MAIDEN VOTE
THE ANIMALCULE ON MAN
COME, MY CELIA
TIME'S MONOTONE


COR CORDIUM

O GOLDEN DAY! O SILVER NIGHT!
LOVE'S EXCHANGE
TO A SIMPLE HOUSEWIFE
LOVE'S WISDOM
HOME
LOVE'S LANDMARKS
IF, AFTER ALL...!
SPIRIT OF SADNESS
AN INSCRIPTION
SONG



ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

AN ELEGY

High on his Patmos of the Southern Seas
Our northern dreamer sleeps,
Strange stars above him, and above his grave
Strange leaves and wings their tropic splendours wave,
While, far beneath, mile after shimmering mile,
The great Pacific, with its faery deeps,
Smiles all day long its silken secret smile.

Son of a race nomadic, finding still
Its home in regions furthest from its home,
Ranging untired the borders of the world,
And resting but to roam;
Loved of his land, and making all his boast
The birthright of the blood from which he came,
Heir to those lights that guard the Scottish coast,
And caring only for a filial fame;
Proud, if a poet, he was Scotsman most,
And bore a Scottish name.

Death, that long sought our poet, finds at last,
Death, that pursued him over land and sea:
Not his the flight of fear, the heart aghast
With stony dread of immortality,
He fled 'not cowardly';
Fled, as some captain, in whose shaping hand
Lie the momentous fortunes of his land,
Sheds not vainglorious blood upon the field,
Death! why at last he finds his treasure isle,
And he the pirate of its hidden hoard;
Life! 'twas the ship he sailed to seek it in,
And Death is but the pilot come aboard,
Methinks I see him smile a boy's glad smile
On maddened winds and waters, reefs unknown,
As thunders in the sail the dread typhoon,
And in the surf the shuddering timbers groan;
Horror ahead, and Death beside the wheel:
Then - spreading stillness of the broad lagoon,
And lap of waters round the resting keel.

Strange Isle of Voices! must we ask in vain,
In vain beseech and win no answering word,
Save mocking echoes of our lonely pain
From lonely hill and bird?
Island beneath whose unrelenting coast,
As though it never in the sun had been,
The whole world's treasure lieth sunk and lost,
Unsunned, unseen.
For, either sunk beyond the diver's skill,
There, fathoms deep, our gold is all arust,
Or in that island it is hoarded still.
Yea, some have said, within thy dreadful wall
There is a folk that know not death at all,
The loved we lost, the lost we love, are there.
Will no kind voice make answer to our cry,
Give to our aching hearts some little trust,
Show how 'tis good to live, but best to die?
Some voice that knows
Whither the dead man goes:
We hear his music from the other side,
Maybe a little tapping on the door,
A something called, a something sighed -
No more.
O for some voice to valiantly declare
The best news true!
Then, Happy Island of the Happy Dead,
How gladly would we spread
Impatient sail for you!

O vanished loveliness of flowers and faces,
Treasure of hair, and great immortal eyes,
Are there for these no safe and secret places?
And is it true that beauty never dies?
Soldiers and saints, haughty and lovely names,
Women who set the whole wide world in flames,
Poets who sang their passion to the skies,
And lovers wild and wise:
Fought they and prayed for some poor flitting gleam,
Was all they loved and worshipped but a dream?
Is Love a lie and fame indeed a breath,
And is there no sure thing in life - but death?
Or may it be, within that guarded shore,
He meets Her now whom I shall meet no more
Till kind Death fold me 'neath his shadowy wing:
She whom within my heart I softly tell
That he is dead whom once we loved so well,
He, the immortal master whom I sing.

Immortal! yea, dare we the word again,
If aught remaineth of our mortal day,
That which is written - shall it not remain?
That which is sung, is it not built for aye?
Faces must fade, for all their golden looks,
Unless some poet them eternalise,
Make live those golden looks in golden books;
Death, soon or late, will quench the brightest eyes -
'Tis only what is written never dies.
Yea, memories that guard like sacred gold
Some sainted face, they also must grow old,
Pass and forget, and think - or darest thou not! -
On all the beauty that is quite forgot.

Strange craft of words, strange magic of the pen,
Whereby the dead still talk with living men;
Whereby a sentence, in its trivial scope,
May centre all we love and all we hope;
And in a couplet, like a rosebud furled,
Lie all the wistful wonder of the world.

Old are the stars, and yet they still endure,
Old are the flowers, yet never fail the spring:
Why is the song that is so old so new,
Known and yet strange each sweet small shape and hue?
How may a poet thus for ever sing,
Thus build his climbing music sweet and sure,
As builds in stars and flowers the Eternal mind?
Ah, Poet, that is yours to seek and find!
Yea, yours that magisterial skill whereby
God put all Heaven in a woman's eye,
Nature's own mighty and mysterious art
That knows to pack the whole within the part:
The shell that hums the music of the sea,
The little word big with Eternity,
The cosmic rhythm in microcosmic things -
One song the lark and one the planet sings,
One kind heart beating warm in bird and tree -
To hear it beat, who knew so well as he?

Virgil of prose! far distant is the day
When at the mention of your heartfelt name
Shall shake the head, and men, oblivious, say:
'We know him not, this master, nor his fame.'
Not for so swift forgetfulness you wrought,
Day upon day, with rapt fastidious pen,
Turning, like precious stones, with anxious thought,
This word and that again and yet again,
Seeking to match its meaning with the world;
Nor to the morning stars gave ears attent,
That you, indeed, might ever dare to be
With other praise than immortality
Unworthily content.

Not while a boy still whistles on the earth,
Not while a single human heart beats true,
Not while Love lasts, and Honour, and the Brave,
Has earth a grave,
O well-beloved, for you!




AN ODE TO SPRING

(TO GRANT AND NELLIE ALLEN)

Is it the Spring?
Or are the birds all wrong
That play on flute and viol,
A thousand strong,
In minstrel galleries
Of the long deep wood,
Epiphanies
Of bloom and bud.

Grave minstrels those,
Of deep responsive chant;
But see how yonder goes,
Dew-drunk, with giddy slant,
Yon Shelley-lark,
And hark!
Him on the giddy brink
Of pearly heaven
His fairy anvil clink.

Or watch, in fancy,
How the brimming note
Falls, like a string of pearls,
From out his heavenly throat;
Or like a fountain
In Hesperides,
Raining its silver rain,
In gleam and chime,
On backs of ivory girls -
Twice happy rhyme!

Ah, none of these
May make it plain,
No image we may seek
Shall match the magic of his gurgling beak.

And many a silly thing
That hops and cheeps,
And perks his tiny tail,
And sideway peeps,
And flitters little wing,
Seems in his consequential way
To tell of Spring.

The river warbles soft and runs
With fuller curve and sleeker line,
Though on the winter-blackened hedge
Twigs of unbudding iron shine,
And trampled still the river sedge.

And O the Sun!
I have no friend so generous as this Sun
That comes to meet me with his big warm hands.
And O the Sky!
There is no maid, how true,
Is half so chaste
As the pure kiss of greening willow wands
Against the intense pale blue
Of this sweet boundless overarching waste.

And see! - dear Heaven, but it is the Spring! -
See yonder, yonder, by the river there,
Long glittering pearly fingers flash
Upon the warm bright air:
Why, 'tis the heavenly palm,
The Christian tree,
Whose budding is a psalm
Of natural piety:
Soft silver notches up the smooth green stem -
Ah, Spring must follow them,
It is the Spring!

O Spirit of Spring,
Whose strange instinctive art
Makes the bird sing,
And brings the bud again;
O in my heart
Take up thy heavenly reign,
And from its deeps
Draw out the hidden flower,
And where it sleeps,
Throughout the winter long,
O sweet mysterious power
Awake the slothful song!

_February_ 7, 1893.




TREE-WORSHIP

(TO JOHN LANE)

Vast and mysterious brother, ere was yet of me
So much as men may poise upon a needle's end,
Still shook with laughter all this monstrous might of thee,
And still with haughty crest it called the morning friend.

Thy latticed column jetted up the bright blue air,
Tall as a mast it was, and stronger than a tower;
Three hundred winters had beheld thee mighty there,
Before my little life had lived one little hour.

With rocky foot stern-set like iron in the land,
With leafy rustling crest the morning sows with pearls,
Huge as a minster, half in heaven men saw thee stand,
Thy rugged girth the waists of fifty Eastern girls.

Knotted and warted, slabbed and armoured like the hide
Of tropic elephant; unstormable and steep
As some grim fortress with a princess-pearl inside,
Where savage guardian faces beard the bastioned keep:

So hard a rind, old tree, shielding so soft a heart -
A woman's heart of tender little nestling leaves;
Nor rind so hard but that a touch so soft can part,
And Spring's first baby-bud an easy passage cleaves.

I picture thee within with dainty satin sides,
Where all the long day through the sleeping dryad dreams,
But when the moon bends low and taps thee thrice she glides,
Knowing the fairy knock, to bask within her beams.

And all the long night through, for him with eyes and ears,
She sways within thine arms and sings a fairy tune,
Till, startled with the dawn, she softly disappears,
And sleeps and dreams again until the rising moon.

But with the peep of day great bands of heavenly birds
Fill all thy branchy chambers with a thousand flutes,
And with the torrid noon stroll up the weary herds,
To seek thy friendly shade and doze about thy roots -

Till with the setting sun they turn them once more home;
And, ere the moon dawns, for a brief enchanted space,
Weary with million miles, the sore-spent star-beams come,
And moths and bats hold witches' sabbath in the place.

And then I picture thee some bloodstained Holyrood,
Dread haunted palace of the bat and owl, whence steal,
Shrouded all day, lost murdered spirits of the wood,
And fright young happy nests with homeless hoot and squeal.

Then, maybe, dangling from thy gloomy gallows boughs,
A human corpse swings, mournful, rattling bones and chains -
His eighteenth century flesh hath fattened nineteenth century cows -
Ghastly Aeolian harp fingered of winds and rains.

Poor Rizpah comes to reap each newly-fallen bone
That once thrilled soft, a little limb, within her womb;
And mark yon alchemist, with zodiac-spangled zone,
Wrenching the mandrake root that fattens in the gloom.

So rounds thy day, from maiden morn to haunted night,
From larks and sunlit dreams to owl and gibbering ghost;
A catacomb of dark, a maze of living light,
To the wide sea of air a green and welcome coast.

I seek a god, old tree: accept my worship, thou!
All other gods have failed me always in my need;
I hang my votive song beneath thy temple bough,
Unto thy strength I cry - Old monster, be my creed!

Give me to clasp this earth with feeding roots like thine,
To mount yon heaven with such star-aspiring head,
Fill full with sap and buds this shrunken life of mine,
And from my boughs oh! might such stalwart sons be shed.

With loving cheek pressed close against thy horny breast,
I hear the roar of sap mounting within thy veins;
Tingling with buds, thy great hands open towards the west,
To catch the sweetheart winds that bring the sister rains.

O winds that blow from out the fruitful mouth of God,
O rains that softly fall from His all-loving eyes,
You that bring buds to trees and daisies to the sod -
O God's best Angel of the Spring, in me arise.




A BALLAD OF LONDON

(TO H. W. MASSINSHAM)

Ah, London! London! our delight,
Great flower that opens but at night,
Great City of the Midnight Sun,
Whose day begins when day is done.

Lamp after lamp against the sky
Opens a sudden beaming eye,
Leaping alight on either hand,
The iron lilies of the Strand.

Like dragonflies, the hansoms hover,
With jewelled eyes, to catch the lover;
The streets are full of lights and loves,
Soft gowns, and flutter of soiled doves.

The human moths about the light
Dash and cling close in dazed delight,
And burn and laugh, the world and wife,
For this is London, this is life!

Upon thy petals butterflies,
But at thy root, some say, there lies
A world of weeping trodden things,
Poor worms that have not eyes or wings.

From out corruption of their woe
Springs this bright flower that charms us so,
Men die and rot deep out of sight
To keep this jungle-flower bright.

Paris and London, World-Flowers twain
Wherewith the World-Tree blooms again,
Since Time hath gathered Babylon,
And withered Rome still withers on.

Sidon and Tyre were such as ye,
How bright they shone upon the Tree!
But Time hath gathered, both are gone,
And no man sails to Babylon.

Ah, London! London! our delight,
For thee, too, the eternal night,
And Circe Paris hath no charm
To stay Time's unrelenting arm.

Time and his moths shall eat up all.
Your chiming towers proud and tall
He shall most utterly abase,
And set a desert in their place.




PARIS DAY BY DAY: A FAMILIAR EPISTLE

(TO MRS. HENRY HARLAND[1])

Paris, half Angel, half Grisette,
I would that I were with thee yet,
Where the long boulevard at even
Stretches its starry lamps to heaven,
And whispers from a thousand trees
Vague hints of the Hesperides.

Once more, once more, my heart, to sit
With Aline's smile and Harry's wit,
To sit and sip the cloudy green,
With dreamy hints of speech between;

Or, may be, flashing all intent
At call of some stern argument,
When the New Woman fain would be,
Like the Old Male, her husband, free.
The prose-man takes his mighty lyre
And talks like music set on fire!

The while the merry crowd slips by
Glittering and glancing to the eye,
All happy lovers on their way
To make a golden end of day -
Ah! Café truly called _La Paix_!

Or at the _pension_ I would be
With Transatlantic maidens three,
The same, I vow, who once of old
Guarded with song the trees of gold.

O Lady, lady, _Vis-à-Vis_,
When shall I cease to think of thee,
On whose fair head the Golden Fleece
Too soon, too soon, returns to Greece -
Oh, why to Athens e'er depart?
Come back, come back, and bring my heart!

And she whose gentle silver grace,
So wise of speech and kind of face,
Whose every wise and witty word
Fell shy, half blushing to be heard.

Last, but ah! surely not least dear,
That blithe and buxom buccaneer,
Th' avenging goddess of her sex,
Born the base soul of man to vex,
And wring from him those tears and sighs
Tortured from woman's heart and eyes.
Ah! fury, fascinating, fair -
When shall I cease to think of _her_!

Paris, half Angel, half Grisette,
I would that I were with thee yet,
But London waits me, like a wife, -
London, the love of my whole life.

Tell her not, Paris, mercy me!
How I have flirted, dear, with thee.

[1] By kind permission of the Editor of _The Yellow Book_.




ALFRED TENNYSON

(WESTMINSTER, OCTOBER 12, 1892)

Great man of song, whose glorious laurelled head
Within the lap of death sleeps well at last,
Down the dark road, seeking the deathless dead,
Thy faithful, fearless, shining soul hath passed.

Fame blows his silver trumpet o'er thy sleep,
And Love stands broken by thy lonely lyre;
So pure the fire God gave this clay to keep,
The clay must still seem holy for the fire.

Poor dupes of sense, we deem the close-shut eye,
So faithful servant of his golden tongue,
Still holds the hoarded lights of earth and sky,
We deem the mouth still full of sleeping song.

We mourn as though the great good song he gave
Passed with the singer's own informing breath:
Ah, golden book, for thee there is no grave,
Thine is a rhyme that shall not taste of death.

Great wife of his great heart - 'tis yours to mourn,
Son well-beloved, 'tis yours, who loved him so:
But we! - hath death one perfect page out-torn
From the great song whereby alone we know

The splendid spirit imperiously shy, -
Husband to you and father - we afar
Hail poet of God, and name as one should cry:
'Yonder a king, and yonder lo! a star!'

So great his song we deem a little while
That Song itself with his great voice hath fled,
So grand the toga-sweep of his great style,
So vast the theme on which his song was fed.

One sings a flower, and one a face, and one
Screens from the world a corner choice and small,
Each toy its little laureate hath, but none
Sings of the whole: yea, only he sang all.

Poor little bards, so shameless in your care
To snatch the mighty laurel from his head,
Have you no fear, dwarfs in the giant's chair,
How men shall laugh, remembering the dead?

Great is advertisement! 'tis almost fate,
But, little mushroom-men, of puff-ball fame,
Ah, do you dream to be mistaken great
And to be really great are just the same?

Ah, fools! he was a laureate ere one leaf
Of the great crown had whispered on his brows;
Fame shrilled his song, Love carolled it, and Grief
Blessed it with tears within her lonely house.

Fame loved him well, because he loved not Fame,
But Peace and Love, all other things before,
A man was he ere yet he was a name,
His song was much because his love was more.




PROFESSOR MINTO

Nature, that makes Professors all day long,
And, filling idle souls with idle song,
Turns out small Poets every other minute,
Made earth for men - but seldom puts men in it.

Ah, Minto, thou of that minority
Wert man of men - we had deep need of thee!
Had Heaven a deeper? Did the heavenly Chair
Of Earthly Love wait empty for thee there?

_March_ 1, 1893.




ON MR. GLADSTONE'S RETIREMENT

The world grows Lilliput, the great men go;
If greatness be, it wears no outer sign;
No more the signet of the mighty line
Stamps the great brow for all the world to know.
Shrunken the mould of manhood is, and lo!
Fragments and fractions of the old divine,
Men pert of brain, planned on a mean design,
Dapper and undistinguished - such we grow.

No more the leonine heroic head,
The ruling arm, great heart, and kingly eye;
No more th' alchemic tongue that turned poor themes
Of statecraft into golden-glowing dreams;
No more a man for man to deify:
Laurel no more - the heroic age is dead.




OMAR KHAYYÁM

(TO THE OMAR KHAYYÁM CLUB)

Great Omar, here to-night we drain a bowl
Unto thy long-since transmigrated soul,
Ours all unworthy in thy place to sit,
Ours still to read in life's enchanted scroll.

For us like thee a little hour to stay,
For us like thee a little hour of play,
A little hour for wine and love and song,
And we too turn the glass and take our way.

So many years your tomb the roses strew,
Yet not one penny wiser we than you,
The doubts that wearied you are with us still,
And, Heaven be thanked! your wine is with us too.

For, have the years a better message brought
To match the simple wisdom that you taught:
Love, wine and verse, and just a little bread -
For these to live and count the rest as nought?

Therefore, Great Omar, here our homage deep
We drain to thee, though all too fast asleep
In Death's intoxication art thou sunk
To know the solemn revels that we keep.

Oh, had we, best-loved Poet, but the power
From our own lives to pluck one golden hour,
And give it unto thee in thy great need,
How would we welcome thee to this bright bower!

O life that is so warm, 'twas Omar's too;
O wine that is so red, he drank of you:
Yet life and wine must all be put away,
And we go sleep with Omar - yea, 'tis true.

And when in some great city yet to be
The sacred wine is spilt for you and me,
To those great fames that we have yet to build,
We'll know as little of it all as he.




THE SECOND CRUCIFIXION

Loud mockers in the roaring street
Say Christ is crucified again:
Twice pierced His gospel-bringing feet,
Twice broken His great heart in vain.

I hear, and to myself I smile,
For Christ talks with me all the while.

No angel now to roll the stone
From off His unawaking sleep,
In vain shall Mary watch alone,
In vain the soldiers vigil keep.

Yet while they deem my Lord is dead
My eyes are on His shining head.

Ah! never more shall Mary hear
That voice exceeding sweet and low
Within the garden calling clear:
Her Lord is gone, and she must go.

Yet all the while my Lord I meet
In every London lane and street.

Poor Lazarus shall wait in vain,
And Bartimaeus still go blind;
The healing hem shall ne'er again
Be touched by suffering humankind.

Yet all the while I see them rest,
The poor and outcast, in His breast.

No more unto the stubborn heart
With gentle knocking shall He plead,
No more the mystic pity start,
For Christ twice dead is dead indeed.

So in the street I hear men say,
Yet Christ is with me all the day.




AN IMPRESSION

The floating call of the cuckoo,
Soft little globes of bosom-shaped sound,
Came and went at the window;
And, out in the great green world,
Those maidens each morn the flowers
Opened their white little bodices wide to the sun:
And the man sighed - sighed - in his sleep,
And the woman smiled.

Then a lark staggered singing by
Up his shining ladder of dew,
And the airs of dawn walked softly about the room,
Filling the morning sky with the scent of the woman's hair,
And giving, in sweet exchange, its hawthorn and daisy breath:
And the man awoke with a sob -
But the woman dreamed.




NATURAL RELIGION

Up through the mystic deeps of sunny air
I cried to God - 'O Father, art Thou there?'
Sudden the answer, like a flute, I heard:
It was an angel, though it seemed a bird.




FAITH REBORN

'The old gods pass,' the cry goes round;
'Lo! how their temples strew the ground';
Nor mark we where, on new-fledged wings,
Faith, like the phoenix, soars and sings.




HESPERIDES

Men say - beyond the western seas
The happy isles no longer glow,
No sailor sights Hesperides,
All that was long ago.

No longer in a glittering morn
Their misty meadows flicker nigh,
No singing with the spray is borne,
All that is long gone by.

To-day upon the golden beach
No gold-haired guardian maidens stand,
No apples ripen out of reach,
And none are mad to land.

The merchant-men, 'tis they say so,
That trade across the western seas,
In hurried transit to and fro,
About Hesperides.

But, Reader, not as these thou art,
So, loose thy shallop from its hold,
And, trusting to the ancient chart,
Thou 'It make them as of old.




JENNY DEAD

Like a flower in the frost
Sweet Jenny lies,
With her frail hands calmly crossed,
And close-shut eyes.

Bring a candle, for the room
Is dark and cold,
Antechamber of the tomb -
O grief untold!

Like a snowdrift is her bed,
Dinted the snow,
Faint frozen lines from foot to head, -
She lies below.

Turn from off her shrouded face
The frigid sheet....
Death hath doubled all her grace -
O Jenny, sweet!




MY BOOKS

What are my books? - My friends, my loves,
My church, my tavern, and my only wealth;
My garden: yea, my flowers, my bees, my doves;
My only doctors - and my only health.




MAMMON

(FOR MR, G. F. WATTS'S PICTURE)

Mammon is this, of murder and of gold,
To-day, to-morrow, and ever from of old,
Th' Almighty God, and King of every land.
Man 'neath his foot, and woman 'neath his hand,
Kneel prostrate: he, 'tis meant to symbolise,
Steals our strong men and our sweet women buys.

O! rather grind me down into the dust
Than choose me for the vessel of thy lust.




ART

Art is a gipsy,
Fickle as fair,
Good to kiss and flirt with,


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