S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

The mother and other poems online

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B ^ bis MDfi







Copyright, 1S92,
By S. weir MITCHELL.

All rights reserved.

The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass., U.S.A.
Electrotyped and Printed by H. O. Houghton & Ca



The Mother



The Roman Campagna "^

The Protestant Cemetery at Rome . . • 23

x> .... 26

My Lady of the Roses '^

The Quaker Lady ^

The Wreck of the Emmelinb 38


Venice to Italy


The Decay of Venice 47

Pisa: The Duomo ^

The Vestal's Dream 4"

Lincoln ""

The Lost Philopena °l

St. Christopher ^^

Dreamland '^

Evening by the Sea
Idleness .


A Graveyard ""

Loss ^1



Come in 62

Good-Night 63

The Risikg Tide 64

Verses 65


" I will incline mine ear to the parable, and show my dark
speech upon the harp."

Cheistmas ! Christmas ! merry Christmas I

rang the bells. O God of grace !
In the stillness of the death-room motionless I

kept my plaee,
While beneath my eyes a wanness came upon

the little face,
And an empty smile that stung me, as the pallor

grew apace.
Then, as if from some far distance, spake a

voice : " The child is dead."
" Dead ? " I cried. " Is God not good ? What

thing accursed is that you said ? "
Swift I searched their eyes of pity, swaying,

bowed, and all my soul.
Shrunken as a hand had crushed it, crumpled

like a useless scroll
Read and done with, passed from sorrows : only

with me lingered yet


Some dim sense of easeful comfort in the glad

leave to forget.
But again life's scattered fragments, memories

of joy and woe,
Tremulously came to oneness, as a storm-torn

lake may grow
Quiet, winning back its pictures, when the wild

winds cease to blow.
As if called for God's great audit came a vision

of my years,
Broken gleams of youth and girlhood, all the

woman's love and tears.
Marveling, myself I saw as one another sees,

and smiled.
Crooning o'er my baby dolls, — part a mother,

part a child ;
Then, half sorry, ceased to wonder why I left

my silent brood.
Till the lessoning years went by me, and the in-
stinct, love-renewed,
Stirred again life's stronger fibre, and were

mine these living things ;
Bone of my bone ! flesh of my flesh ! Who on

earth a title brings
Flawless as this mother-title, free from aught of

mortal stain,


Innocent and pure possession, double-born of

joy and pain ?
Oh, what wonder these covdd help me, set me

laughing, though I sobbed
As they drew my very heart out, and the laden

breasts were robbed !
Tender buds of changef id pleasure came as come

the buds of May,
Trivial, wondrous, unexpected, blossoming from

day to day.
Ah! the clutch of tendril-fingers, that with

nature's cunning knew
So to coil in sturdy grapple round the stem

from which they grew.
Shall a man this joy discover ? How the heart-
wine to the brain
Rushed with shock of bliss when, startled, first

I won this simple gain !
How I mocked those seeking fingers, eager for

their earliest toy,
TeUing none my new-found treasure ! Miser of

the mother's joy.
Quick I caught the first faint ripple, answering

me with lip and eyes.
As I stooped with mirthful purpose, keen to
capture fresh replies ;


Oh, the pretty wonder of it, when was born the

art to smile,
Or the new, gay trick of laughter filled my eyes

with tears the wliile, —
Helpful tears, love's final language, when the

lips no more can say,
Tears, like kindly prophets, warning of another,

darker day.
Thus my vision lost its gladness, and I stood on

life's dim strand.
Watching where a little love-bark drifted slowly

from the land ;
For again the bells seemed ringing Christmas

o'er the snow of dawn,
And my dreaming memory hurt me with a hot

face, gray and drawn.
And with small hands locked in anguish. Ah !

those days of helpless pain !
Mine the mother's wrathful sorrow. Ah! my

child, hadst thou been Cain,
Father of the primal murder, black with every

hideous thought.
Cruel were the retribution ; for, alas ! what

good is wrought
When the very torture ruins all the fine machine

of thought ?


So with reeling brain I questioned, while the

fevered cheek grew white,
And at last I seemed to pass with him, released,

to outer night.
Seraph voices whispered round me. " God," they

said, " hath set o\xv task, —
Thou to question, we to answer : fear not ; ask

what thou wouldst ask."
Wildly beat my heart. Thought only, regnant,

held its sober pace.
Whilst, a winged mind, I wandered in the bleak

domain of space.
Then I sought and saw untroubled all the mys-
tery of time.
Where beneath me rolled the earth-star in its

first chaotic slime.
As bewildering ages passing with their cychc

changes came,
Heaving land and 'whelming waters, ice and

fierce volcanic flame.
Sway and shock of tireless atoms, pulsing with

the throb of force.
Whilst the planet, rent and shaken, fled upon

its mighty course.
Last, with calm of wonder hushed, I saw amid
the surging strife


Rise the first faint stir of being and the tardy

morn of life, —
Life in countless generations. Speechless, mer-
cilessly dumb,
Swept by ravage of disaster, tribe on tribe in

silence come,
Till the yearning sense found voices, and on

hill, and shore, and plain.
Dreary from the battling myriads rose the birth-
right wail of pain.
God of pity ! Son of sorrows ! Wherefore

should a will unseen
Launch on years of needless anguish this great

agonized machine ?
Was Himself who willed this torment but a

slave to law self-made ?
Or had some mad angel-demon here, unchecked

and undismayed.
Leave to make of earth a Job ; imtil the cruel

game was played
Free to whirl the spinning earth-toy where his

despot forces wrought,
While he watched each sense grow keener as

the lifted creature bought
With the love-gift added sorrow, and there came

to man's estate


Will, the helpless, thought, the bootless, all the

deathward war with fate ?
Had this lord of trampled millions joy or grief,

when first the mind,
Awful prize of contests endless, rose its giant

foes to bind ;
When his puppet tamed the forces that had

helped its birth to breed.
And with growth of wisdom master, trained

them to its growing need ;
Last, upon the monster turning, on the serpent

form of Pain,
Cried, " Bring forth no more in anguish ; " with

the arrows of the brain
Smote this brute thing that no use had save to

teach him to refrain
When earth's baser instincts tempted, and the

better thought was vain ?
Then my soul one harshly answered, " Thou

hast seen the whole of earth.
All its boundless years of misery, yea, its glad-
ness and its mirth.
Yet thou hast a life created ! Hadst thou not

a choice ? Why cast
Purity to life's mad chances, where defeat is sure

at last ? "


Low I moaned, " My tortured baby," and a

gentler voice replied,
"One alone thy soul can answer, — this, this

only, is denied.
Yet take counsel of thy sadness. Should God

give thy will a star
Freighted with eternal pleasure, free from agony

and war,
Wouldst thou wish it ? Think ! Time is not

for the souls who roam in space.
Speak ! Thy will shall have its way. Be

mother of one joyous race.
Choose ! Yon time-worn world beneath thee

thou shalt people free from guilt.
There nor pain nor death shall ruin, never there

shall blood be spilt."
Then I trembled, hesitating, for I saw its beauty

Saw a Christ-like world of beings where no

beast by beast was torn,
Where the morrows bred no sorrows, and the

gentle knew not scorn.
" Yet," I said, " if life have meaning, and man

must be, what shall lift
These but born for joy's inaction, these who

crave no added gift ?


Let the world you bid me people hui-1 forever

through the gloom,
Tenantless, a blasted record of some huge fu-
nereal doom,
Sad with unremembered slaughter, but a cold
and lonely tomb."

Deep and deeper grew the stillness, and I knew

how vain my quest.
Not by God's supremest angel is that awful se-
cret guessed.
Yet with duU reiteration, like the pendulum's

dead throb,
Beat my heart ; a moaning infant, aU my body

seemed to sob.
And a voice like to my baby's caUed to me

across the night
As the darkness fell asunder, and I saw a waU

of light
Barred with crucificial shadows, whence a weary

wind did blow
Shuddering. I felt it pass me heavy with its

freight of woe.
Said a voice, - Behold God's dearest ; also these

no answer know.


These be they who paid in sorrow for the right

to bid thee hear.
Had their lives in ease been cradled, had they

never knoA^vn a tear,
Feebly had their psalms of warning fallen upon

the listening ear.
God the sun is God the shadow ; and where

pain is, God is near.
Take again thy life and use it with a sweetened

sense of fear ;
God is Father ! God is Mother ! Regent of a

growing soul,
Free art thou to grant mere pleasure, free to

teach it uncontrol.
Time is childhood ! larger manhood bides be-
yond life's simset hour.
Where far other foes are waiting ; and with ever

gladder power.
Still the lord of awful choice, O striving crear-

ture of the sod,
Thou shalt learn that imperfection is the noblest

gift of God !
For they mock his ample purpose who but

dream, beyond the sky,


Of a heaven where will may slumber, and the

trained decision die
In the competence of answer found in death's

immense reply."

Then my vision passed, and weeping, lo ! I woke,

of death bereft ;
At my breast the baby brother, yonder there

the dead I left.
For my heart two worlds divided : his, my lost

one's ; his, who pressed
Closer, waking all the mother, as he drew the

aching breast.
While twain spirits, joy and sorrow, hovered

o'er my plundered nest.
Newport, October, 1891.


Thus, lying among the roses in the garden of the Great Inn,
sang Attar El Din of things yet to be, when the Angels of
Affirmation and Denial should struggle for the soul of him

" I MoONKiR, the angel, am come

To count of his good deeds the sum,

For this mortal, death-stricken and dumb."

" I Nekkeer, the clerk of ill thought,
Am here to dispute what hath wrought
This maker of song, come to naught.

" Let us call from the valleys of gloom,
From the night graves of sleep and the tomb.
The wretched he lured to their doom."

Said Moonkir, the angel of light,

" Life is made of the day and the night ;

Let us summon the souls he set right."



Then, parting the dark tents of sleep,
Or stirred from their earth-couches deep.
Came souls that were glad or did weep.

Spake a Voice :

" I sat beside the cistern on the sand,
When this man's song did take me in its hand,
And hurled me helpless, as a sling the stone
That knows not will or pity of its own.
Within my heart was seed of murder sown.
So once I struck, — yea, twice, when he did

" Ay, that was the song," said a voice,

" Which I heard as I lay

'Gainst my camel's broad flanks.

Thinking how to repay

The death-debt, ere night fled away.

And I rose as he sang, to rejoice

With a blessing of thanks,

For the song took my slack wiU and me

As a strong man might lustily throw

The power of hand and of knee

To string up to purpose a bow.

Quick I stole through the dark, but was stayed.


Just to hear how, with every-day phrase,
Such as useth a child or a maid,
From praise of decision to praise
Of the quiet of evening, he fell,
As a brook groweth still on the plain
To picture how come through the grain
The women with jars to the well.
Near I drew o'er the sands cool and gray
With my knife in my teeth, swift to slay.
Hot and wet felt my hand as I crept ;
Blank-eyed 'neath my eyes the man lay ;
This other had struck where he slept."

Then Moonkir, who treasures good deeds,

To mark how the total exceeds.

Said, " He soweth of millet and weeds

" Who casts forth a song in the night,
As a pigeon is flung for its flight,
He knoweth not where 't will alight.

" Lo, Allah a wind doth command,
And the caravan dies in the sand.
And the good ship is sped to the land."


Spake a Voice :

" I lay among the idle on the grass,
And saw before me come and go, alas !
This evil rhymer. And he sang how God
Is but the cruel user of the rod.
And how the wine cup better is than prayer ;
Whereon I cursed, and counseled with despair.
And drank with him, and left my field untilled :
So all my house with want and woe was filled."

Spake a Voice :

" And I, that took no heed of things divine.

And ever loved to loiter with the wine.

Was stii'red to think, and straightway sobered

And in the folded stillness of my tent
Struggled with Allah, and at morning fair
Beheld this poet like the rest in prayer."

Cried he whose proportion of sin
These angels considered within,
Cried the soul of this Attar El Din,

" O weigher of goodness and light,
O stern clerk of evil and night.
Between the slow comings and flight


" Of the sun and the day-death there lies,
Ere sleep shall have cloaked a man's eyes,
Ere the red dawn shall bid him arise,

" An hour when the prayer seed is strown ;

Man tilleth or letteth alone,

For the ground where it falls is his own,

" Behold at even-time within my tent

I wailed in song because a death-shaft, sent

From Azrael's bow, had laid again in dust

My eldest born ; I sang because I must.

For hate, love, joy, or grief, like Allah's birds,

I have but song, and man's dull use of words

Fills not the thirsty cup of my desire

To hurt my brothers with the scorch of fire

That burns within. Yea, they must share my

Love with me, hate, with me be desolate ;
And so I drew my bowstring to the eye.
And shot my shafts, I cared not where or why,
If but the men indifferent, who lay
Beneath the palm-trees at the fall of day,
I could make see with me the dead boy's look
That swayed me like the bent reeds of the brook.


" But one who heard, and through long stress

of grief
Wrestled with agony of loss in vain,
Into the desert went, and made full brief
A clearance with the creditor called Pain,
And by a sword thrust gave his heart relief.

« One whose dry eyes were as the summer sand
Wept as I sang, and said, ' I understand.'

" And one who loved did also comprehend,
Because I sang how, to life's bitter end,
The death-fear sweetens love ; and went his way
With deepened love to where the dark-eyed

Spake a Voice :

" My father's foe, a dying man,

Thirst-stricken by the brookside lay ;

Its prattle mocked him as it ran

So near, and yet so far away.

The cold, quick waters soothed my feet,

Hot from the long day's desert heat ;

I drank deep draughts, and deep delight

Of sated vengeance. Life grew sweet


Because the great breast heaved and groaned,

The red eyes yearned, the black lips moaned.

Because my foe should die ere night.

Then, as a rich man scatters alms,

A careless singer 'neath the palms,

With lapse and laughter, and pauses long.

Merrily squandered the gold of song.

Just a babble of simple childish chants :

How they dig little wells with the small brown

hand ;
How they watch the caravan march of the ants,
And build tall mosques with the shifting sand.
And are mighty sheiks of a corner of land.

" Ah ! the rush, and the joy of the singing.
Swept peace o'er my hate, and was sweet
As the freshness the waters were bringing
Was cool to my desert-baked feet.

" Thereon I raised mine enemy, and gave
The cold clear water of the wave ;
And when he blessed me I did give again.
And had strange fear my bounty were but vain ;
When, as I bent, he smote me through the breast.
And that is all ! Great Allah knows the rest."'


Said Nekkeer, the clerk of man's wrong,
" Great Solomon's self might be long
In judging this mad son of song."

Cried the poet, " Shall two men agree ?
Thou mighty collector of sin.
Be advised, come with me to the Inn ;
There are friends who shall witness for me.
Great-beUied, respectable, stanch,
One arm set a-crook on the haunch,
They will pour the red wine of advice ;
And behold, ye shaU know in a trice
How hopeless of wisdom to weigh
The song words a poet may say."

Said Nekkeer, the clerk of ill thought,
"Ah! where shall decision be sought?
Let us quit the crazed maker of verse,
A confuser of good and of worse."

" But first," quoth this Attar El Din,
" I am dry ; leave my soul at the Inn."
Newport, October, 1891.


How gentle here is Nature's mood ! She lays
A woman-hand upon the troubled heart,
Bidding the world away and time depart,
While the brief minutes swoon to endless days
Filled full of sad, inconstant thoughtfulness.

Behold 't is eventide. Dun cattle stand

Drowsed in the misted grasses. From the

hollows deep.
Dim veils, adrift, o'er arch and tower sweep,
Casting a dreary doubt along the land,
Weighting the twilight with some vague dis-

Transient and subtle, not to thought more near
Than spirit is to flesh, about me rise
Dim memories, long lost to love's sad eyes ;

Now are they wandering shadows, strange and

That from their natal substance far have strayed.



The witches of the mind possess the time,

And cry, " Behold thy dead ! " They come,

they pass ;
We yearn to give them feature, face. Alas !

Love hath no morn for memory's failing prime ;

What once was sweet with truth is but a shade.

The ghosts of nameless sorrow, joy, despair.
Emotions that have no remembered source.
Love-waifs from other worlds, hope, fear, re-
Born of some vision's crime, wail through the air,
Crying, We were and are not, — that is all.

Yet sweet the indecisive evening hour

That hath of earth the least. Unreal as

Dreamed within dreams, and ever further,
The sound of human toil, while grass and flower
Bend where the mercy of the dew doth fall.

Strange mysteries of expectation wait

Above the grave-mounds of the storied space.
Where, buried, lie a nation's strength and


And the sad joys of Rome's imperious state
That perished of its insolent excess.

A dull, gray shroud o'er this vast burial rests,
Is deathly still, or seems to rise and fall,
As on a dear one, dead, the moveless pall

Doth cheat the heart with stir of her white

Mocking the troubled hour with worse distress.

A deathful languor holds the twilight mist,
Unearthly colors drape the Alban hills,
A dull malaria the spirit fills ;
Death and decay all beauty here have kissed,
Pledging the land to sorrowing loveliness.
Rome, May, 1891.


" Here lies one whose name was writ in water."

Fair little city of the pilgrim dead,

Dear are thy marble streets, thy rosy lanes:

Easy it seems and natural here to die,

And death a mother, who with tender care

Doth lay to sleep her ailing little ones.

Old are these graves, and they who, mournfully,

Saw dust to dust return, themselves are

mourned ;
Yet, in green cloisters of the cypress shade,
FuU-choired chants the fearless nightmgale

Ancestral songs learned when the world was

Sing on, sing ever in thy breezy homes ;

Toss earthward from the white acacia bloom

The mingled joy of fragrance and of song ;

Sing in the pure security of bliss.

1 Inscription placed on his tomb, at Keats's request.


These dead concern thee not, nor thee the fear

That is the shadow of our earthly loves.

And me thou canst not comfort ; tender hearts

Inherit here the anguish of the doubt

Writ on this gravestone. He, at last, I trust,

Serenity of confident attainment knows.

The night falls, and the darkened verdure starred

With pallid roses shuts the world away.

Sad wandering soids of song, frail ghosts of

That voiceless died, the massing shadows haunt,
Troubling the heart with unfulfilled delight.
The moon is listening in the vault of heaven,
And, like the airy march of mighty wings.
The rhythmic throb of stately cadences
Intkralls the ear with some high-measured

Where ecstasies of passion-nurtured words
For great thoughts find a home, and fill the

With echoes of divinely purposed hopes
That wore on earth the death-pall of despair.
Night darkens round me. Never more in life
May I, companioned by the friendly dead,
Walk in this sacred fellowship again ;


Therefore, thou silent singer 'neath the grass,
Sing to me still those sweeter songs unsung,
" Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone,"
Caressing thought with wonderments of phrase
Such as thy springtide rapture knew to win.
Ay, sing to me thy unborn summer songs.
And the ripe autumn lays that might have been ;
Strong wine of fruit mature, whose flowers alone
we know.
R0M£, May, 1891.


Ripe hours there be that do anticipate
The heritage of death, and bid us see,
As from the vantage of eternity,

The shadow-symbols of historic fate.

As o'er some Alpine simmiit's lonely steep,
Blinding and terrible with spears of light,
Hurling the snows from many a shaken height.

The storm-clad spirits of the mountain sweep, —

Thus, in the solitude where broodeth thought,
Torn from rent chasms of the soimdless past,
Go by me, as if borne upon the blast.

The awful forms which time and man have

Swift through the gloom each mournful chariot
Dim shapes of empire urge the flying steeds,



Featured with man's irrevocable deeds,
Robed with the changeful passions of men's

Ethereal visions pass serene in prayer,
Their eyes aglow with sacrificial light ;
Phantoms of creeds long dead, their garments

Drip red with blood of torture and despair.

In such an hour my spirit did behold

A woman wonderful. Unnumbered years
Left in her eyes the beauty born of tears,

And full they were of fatal stories old.

The trophies of her immemorial reign

The shadowy great of eld beside her bore ;
A broidery of ancient song she wore.

And the glad muses held her regal train.

Still hath she kingdom o'er the souls of men ;

Dear is she always in her less estate.

The sad, the gay, the thoughtful, on her wait.
Praising her evermore with tongue and pen.


Stately her ways and sweet, and all her own ;
As one who has forgotten time she lives,
Loves, loses, lures anew, and ever gives, —

She who all misery and all joy hath known.

If thou wouldst see her, as the twilight fails.
Go forth along the ancient street of tombs.
And when the purple shade divinely glooms

High o'er the Alban hills, and night prevails,

If then she is not with thee while the ligfht
Glows over roof and column, tower and dome.
And the dead stir beneath thy feet, and Rome

Lies in the solemn keeping of the night, —

If then she be not thine, not thine the lot
Of those some angel rescues for an hour
From earth's mean limitations, granting power

To see as man may see when time is not.

Rome, May, 1891.


At Venice, while the twilight hour
Yet lit a gray-waUed garden space,
I saw a woman fair of face

Pass, as in thought, from flower to flower.
The roses, haply, something said.
For here and there she bent her head,

TiU, startled from their hidden nest

In the covert of her breast.

Blushes rose, like fluttered birds.
At those naughty rosy words.

One need not wise as Portia be

To guess love held her heart in fee.
Prudently a full-blown rose
For her confidence she chose :

Whispering, she took its breath.

And, for what its fragrance saith.
Smiling knelt, and kissed it twice ;
Caught it, held it, kissed it thrice.

Ah ! her kiss the rose had killed ;
Wrecked, in tender disarray



On the ground its petals lay,

All its autumn fate fulfilled.
Swiftly from her paling face
Fell the rosy flush apace.

Had her kiss recalled a bliss

Life for evermore should miss ?
Had there been a fatal hour
When false lips had hurt the flower

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Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) MitchellThe mother and other poems → online text (page 1 of 3)