Poems, now first collected/Ariel

New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, pages 199–206





Wert thou on earth to-day, immortal one,
How wouldst thou, in the starlight of thine eld,
The likeness of that morntide look upon
Which men beheld?
How might it move thee, imaged in time's glass,
As when the tomb has kept
Unchanged the face of one who slept
Too soon, yet moulders not, though seasons come and pass?

Has Death a wont to stay the soul no less?
And art thou still what Shelley was erewhile,—
A feeling born of music's restlessness—
A child's swift smile
Between its sobs—a wandering mist that rose
At dawn—a cloud that hung
The Euganéan hills among;
Thy voice, a wind-harp's strain in some enchanted close?

Thyself the wild west wind, O boy divine,
Thou fain wouldst be,—the spirit which in its breath
Wooes yet the seaward ilex and the pine
That wept thy death?
Or art thou still the incarnate child of song
Who gazed, as if astray
From some uncharted stellar way,
With eyes of wonder at our world of grief and wrong?

Yet thou wast Nature's prodigal; the last
Unto whose lips her beauteous mouth she bent
An instant, ere thy kinsmen, fading fast,
Their lorn way went.
What though the faun and oread had fled?
A tenantry thine own,
Peopling their leafy coverts lone,
With thee still dwelt as when sweet Fancy was not dead;

Not dead as now, when we the visionless,
In nature's alchemy more woeful wise,
Say that no thought of us her depths possess,—
No love, her skies.
Not ours to parley with the whispering June,
The genii of the wood,
The shapes that lurk in solitude,
The cloud, the mounting lark, the wan and waning moon.

For thee the last time Hellas tipped her hills
With beauty; India breathed her midnight moan,
Her sigh, her ecstasy of passion's thrills,
To thee alone.
Such rapture thine, and the supremer gift
Which can the minstrel raise,
Above the myrtle and the bays,
To watch the sea of pain whereon our galleys drift.

Therefrom arose with thee that lyric cry,
Sad cadence of the disillusioned soul
That asks of heaven and earth its destiny,—
Or joy or dole.
Wild requiem of the heart whose vibratings,
With laughter fraught, and tears,
Beat through the century's dying years
While for one more dark round the old Earth plumes her wings.

No answer came to thee; from ether fell
No voice, no radiant beam; and in thy youth
How were it else, when still the oracle
Withholds its truth?
We sit in judgment,—we, above thy page
Judge thee and such as thee,
Pale heralds, sped too soon to see
The marvels of our late yet unanointed age!

The slaves of air and light obeyed afar
Thy summons, Ariel; their elf-horns wound
Strange notes which all uncapturable are
Of broken sound.
That music thou alone couldst rightly hear
(O rare impressionist!)
And mimic. Therefore still we list
To its ethereal fall in this thy cyclic year.

Be then the poet's poet still! for none
Of them whose minstrelsy the stars have blessed
Has from expression's wonderland so won
The unexpressed,—
So wrought the charm of its elusive note
On us, who yearn in vain
To mock the pæan and the plain
Of tides that rise and fall with sweet mysterious rote.

Was it not well that the prophetic few,
So long inheritors of that high verse,
Dwelt in the mount alone, and haply knew
What stars rehearse?
But now with foolish cry the multitude
Awards at last the throne,
And claims thy cloudland for its own
With voices all untuned to thy melodious mood.

What joy it was to haunt some antique shade
Lone as thine echo, and to wreak my youth
Upon thy song,—to feel the throbs which made
Thy bliss, thy ruth,—
And thrill I knew not why, and dare to feel
Myself an heir unknown
To lands the poet treads alone
Ere to his soul the gods their presence quite reveal!

Even then, like thee, I vowed to dedicate
My powers to beauty; ay, but thou didst keep
The vow, whilst I knew not the afterweight
That poets weep,
The burthen under which one needs must bow,
The rude years envying
My voice the notes it fain would sing
For men belike to hear, as still they hear thee now.

Oh, the swift wind, the unrelenting sea!
They loved thee, yet they lured thee unaware
To be their spoil, lest alien skies to thee
Should seem more fair;
They had their will of thee, yet aye forlorn
Mourned the lithe soul's escape,
And gave the strand thy mortal shape
To be resolved in flame whereof its life was born.

Afloat on tropic waves, I yield once more
In age that heart of youth unto thy spell.
The century wanes: thy voice thrills as of yore
When first it fell.
Would that I too, so had I sung a lay
The least upborne of thine,
Had shared thy pain! Not so divine
Our light, as faith to chant the far auroral day.

On the Caribbean Sea
(Revisited 1892)