Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 5/By the Rosanna

To F. M.

Stanzer Thal, Tyrol.

The old grey Alp has caught the cloud,
And the torrent river sings aloud;
The glacier-green Rosanna sings
An organ song of its upper springs.
Foaming under the tiers of pine,
I see it dash down the dark ravine,
And it tumbles the rocks in boisterous play,
With an earnest will to find its way.
Sharp it throws out an emerald shoulder,
And, thundering ever of the mountain,
Slaps in sport some giant boulder,
And tops it in a silver fountain.

A chain of foam from end to end.
And a solitude so deep, my friend,
You may forget that man abides
Beyond the great mute mountain-sides.
Yet to me, in this high-walled solitude
Of river and rock and forest rude,
The roaring voice through the long white chain,
Is the voice of the world of bubble and brain.

I find it where I sought it least;
I sought the mountain and the beast,
The young thin air that knits the nerves,
The chamois ledge, the snowy curves;
Earth in her whiteness looking bold
To Heaven for ever as of old.

And lo, if I translate the sound
Now thundering in my ears around,

Tis London rushing down a hill:
Life, or London; which you will!

And men with brain who follow the bubble,
And hosts without, who hurry and eddy,
And still press on: joy, passion, and trouble!
Necessity’s instinct; true, though unsteady.

Yea, letting alone the roar and the strife,
This On-on-on is so like life!
Here’s devil take the hindmost, too;
And an amorous wave has a beauty in view;
And lips of others are kissing the rocks:
Here’s chasing of bubbles, and wooing of blocks.
And through the resonant monotone
I catch wild laughter mix’d with shrieks;
And a wretched creature’s stifled moan,
Whom Time, the terrible usurer, tweaks.

And yonder a little boy bellows the Topic;
The picture of yesterday clean for a penny:
Done with a pen so microscopic
That we all see ourselves in the face of the many.

Business, Business, seems the word,
In this unvarying On-on-on!
The volume coming, the volume gone,
Shoots, glancing at Beauty, undeterr’d:
As in the torrent of cabs we both
Have glanced, borne forward, willing or loth.

Is it enough to profane your mood,
Arcadian dreamer, who think it sad
If a breath of the world on your haunts intrude,
Though in London you’re hunting the bubble like mad?

For you are one who raise the Nymph
Wherever Nature sits alone;
Who pitch your delight in a region of lymph,
Rejoiced that its arms evade your own.

I see you lying here, and wistfully
Watching the dim shape, tender and fresh;
Your Season-Beauty faithless, or kiss’d fully,
You’re just a little tired of flesh.

She dances, and gleams, now under the wave,
Now on a fern-branch, or fox-glove bell;
Thro’ a wreath of the bramble she eyes me grave;
She has a secret she will not tell.

But if I follow her more and more,
If I hold her sacred to each lone spot,
She’ll tell me—what I knew before;
For the secret is, that she can’t be caught!

She lives, I swear! We join hands there.
But what’s her use? Can you declare?
If she serves no purpose, she must take wing:
Art stamps her for an ugly thing.

Will she fly with the old gods, or join with the new?
Is she made of the stuff for a thorough alliance?
Or, standing alone, does she dare to go thro’
The ordeal of a scrutiny of Science?

What say you, if, in this retreat,
While she poises tiptoe on yon granite slab, man,
I introduce her, shy and sweet,
To a short-neck’d, many-caped, London cabman?

You gasp!—she totters! And is it too much?
Mayn’t he take off his hat to her? hope for a touch?
Get one kind curtsey of aërial grace
For his most liberal grimace?

It would do him a world of good, poor devil!
And Science makes equal on this level:
Remember that!—and his friend, the popular
Mr. Professor, learned and jocular,
Were he to inspect her and call her a foam-bow,
I very much fear it would prove a home-blow.
We couldn’t save her!—she’d vanish, fly;
Tho’ she’s more than that, as we know right well;
But who shall expound to a hard cold eye,
The infinite impalpable?

A Queen on sufferance must not act
My Lady Scornful:—thus presuming,
If Sentiment won’t wed with Fact,
Poor Sentiment soon needs perfuming.
Let her curtsey with becoming tact
To cabman caped and poet blooming!—

No, I wouldn’t mix Porter with Montepulciano!
I ask you merely, without demanding,
To give a poor beggar his buon’ mano:
Make my meaning large with your understanding!

The cicada sits spinning his wheel on the tree;
The little green lizard slips over the stone
Like water: the waters flash, and the cone
Drops at my feet. Say, how shall it be?
Your Nymph is on trial. Will she own
Her parentage Humanity?
Of her essence these things but form a part;
Her heart comes out of the human heart.

Tremendous thought, which I scarce dare blab, man!
The soul she yet lacks—the illumination
Immortal!—it strikes me like inspiration,
She must get her that soul by wedding the cabman!

Don’t ask me why:—when Instinct speaks,
Old Mother Reason is not at home.
But how gladly would dance the days and the weeks!
And the sky, what a mirth-embracing dome!
If round sweet Poesy’s waist were curl’d
The arm of him who drives the world!

Could she claim a higher conquest, she?
And a different presence his would be!
I see him lifting his double chin
On his three-fold comforter, sniffing and smirking,
And showing us all that the man within
Has had his ideas of her secretly lurking.

Confess that the sight were as fine—ay, as fair!
As if from a fire-ball in mid-air
She glow’d before you woman, spreading
With hands the hair her foot was treading!

Twere an effort for Nature both ways, and which
The mightier I can’t aver:
If we screw ourselves up to a certain pitch,
She meets us—that I know of her.

She is ready to meet the grim cabman half-way!
Now! and where better than here, where, with thunder
Of waters, she might bathe his clay,
And enter him by the gate of wonder?

It takes him doubtless long to peel,
Who wears at least a dozen capes:
Yet if but once she makes him feel,
The Man comes of his multiform shapes.

To make him feel, friend, is not easy.
I once did nourish that ambition:
But there he goes, purple, and greasy, and wheezy,
And waits a greater and truer magician!

Hark to the wild Rosanna cheering!
Never droops she, while changing clime
At every leap, the levels nearing:
Faith in ourselves is faith in Time!

And faith in Nature keeps the force
We have in us for daily wear.
Come from thy keen Alps down, and, hoarse,
Tell to the valleys the tale I bear,
O River!

O River!    Now, my friend, adieu!
In contrast, and in likeness, you
Have risen before me from the tide,
Whose channel is narrow, whose noise is wide;
Whose rage is that of your native seas;
Buzzing of battle like myriad bees,
Which you have heard on the Euxine shore
Sounding in earnest. Here have I placed
The delicate spirit with which you adore
Dame Nature in lone haunts embraced.
Have I frighted it, frail thing, aghast?
I have shown it the way to live and last!

How often will those long links of foam
Cry to me in my English home,
To nerve me, whenever I hear them bellow,
Like the smack of the hand of a gallant fellow!

I give them my meaning here, and they
Will give me theirs when far away.
And the snowy points, and the ash-pale peaks,
Will bring a trembling to my cheeks,
The leap of the white-fleck’d, clear light, green—
Sudden the length of its course be seen,
As, swift it launches an emerald shoulder,
And, thundering ever of the mountain,
Slaps in sport some giant boulder,
And tops it in a silver fountain.

George Meredith.