The roamer and other poems/The Roamer/Book I


Book I

Harken, O outcast Race, to man outcast,
Into the desert driven in his youth
To lead, though mortal, the eternal life!
Once more know him, the child of earth gone forth,
In whom the spirit wakens uncontrolled,
Insatiate hope, unconquerable will!
Now over-seas he bears the human fates;
He opens mighty lands; he lieth down
In the waste places. Harken to his voice,
In this world's wilderness his living cry,
The soul of man, heard now in this new verse!
In me he is the passion perilous;
In me he is the truth all-nourishing;
In me he is the never-silent song,
In new lands rising. Watch, O Heavenly Truth!
Though past the pillars of Atlantic seas
Another earth I travel and new stars
In this great continent that yokes the poles,
Yet not from thee removed, o'er lake and plain

And all along the many-coasted land

I lift the lone notes of my native song,
And thee implore, and thy immortal strength
Which turns the breath of man to adamant;
Now, as when first prophet and sibyl sang
Empire, and tribes gone forth, and rising fates,
And with dominion thou didst equal move,
Watch where far down the world a later race,
Rimmed round about with vast discovery,
Founds milder power, and shapes of sweet, new speech
The syllables of slow-divulging time;
Here raise aloft the world's great hope anew,
Proclaiming man, who lives in all men's lives,
What is endures, what shall be brings! O send
Omnipotently forth thy word where now
He sows the western edges of the world
With wisdom and delight and love's increase,
Till earth shall lift one harvest from one field,
Reaped by one race that shall one Father own,
Eat at one table, sleep beside one hearth,
Confederate in blessèd unities,
One law, one faith, and one prosperity,
One labor looking to one end divine:
So fair a star hangs in our western skies.
Wherefore I also toil. Hear now, who will,
How first, how last, I knew man's soul in me
A greater soul, and in my mortal self
Divined the Roamer; speed, O vital verse,
And first the passion of thy boyhood tell,
And with thy youngest idyls smooth the way!
With idyls life, with idyls song begins.
Ah, then my years expected the sweet bud,
And still put forth no flower, beside the sea.
Ah, then my tender years expected light,
And saw no ray; only the wild reed mine,
And heaven-hunger, such as boyhood knows,
In me begun, forecasting some fair shape—
Frail as the visionary form that comes
On sleeping eyes, but love sleeps not in them
And with desire draws holy souls from heaven,—
Or so I dreamed; and mute the wild reed slept,
But not my heart of boyhood, swift in love;
And unto me that shape of dream was dear,
And dear the dream of music in my hand.
Then as from shadowy pines, before light comes,
A solitary wood-note bursts too soon—
Some bird hath waked, and feels his darkened wings—
Low in the hollow of the sea-blown wood
I set my fingers to the unknown stops,
And blew; and fresh as over quiet fields
Rises the burden of the bough and briar,
New music, wild and sweet, blown through the world,
So rose my idyl; all the valley-side
Was hushed, and clinging to my lips the reed
Felt the first tremor of immortal breath;
And like an angel singing in his birth,
Aloft the lone and mounting melody
Moved, darkling, to the bosom of the dawn.
Then was I 'ware of him I loved unseen,
An image and an unapparent form,
A little way, a little way, before.
Out of the valley, up the slopes I sprang
Toward heaven's reach; but him I could not see,
Whom my heart hungered after, following,
Till, from far heights, the pale and streaming East
Forth from its bosom gave the golden flood
To the bare rock of beauty; down the pass
The shadows rolled away; and pine and cliff
Dropped lustre, and the smooth mist, like a floor,
Sea-deep spread round me, lifted o'er the world.
Then first, beside me, islanded in dawn,
A form of tender mould and boyish grace,
I saw him, like my shadow, stand and gaze
Upon the dense and mountainous world that lay
Like sun-struck dragons couched immutable,
Vast broods of earth-might round about us drawn;
And straight I heard the challenge of old fame,
And in my bosom leaped the maiden heart,
And he, beside me, like my spirit shone.
Then oft between the pine-ridge and the sea
I saw him, guarded round with solitude,
In meditation lost and deeds of dream,
The poet's frailty, nursing his sweet age
On great achievement that eternal rings,
And fame to be; what was, heroic done—
Man's graven record, or the poet's breath—
He was the doer in his fantasy;
And what yet waits its passage to the stars,
In the dark underworld and womb of time,
For which a race in pain doth weary heaven,
Smiling he stood in that unrisen morn
And lined it with his glory; so he burned
In that long passion of my youth begun,
From him beginning—dark the issue is—
And what was hope in him, in me was fate.
So sweet in memory shines his fair young face,
That still to see youth's sweetness gives me pain,
Remembering all that heaven had fixed for him
To do and suffer, though at first he seemed
Not to inhabit here, or wear our earth;
He stood apart, nor knew I all he was,
Until my years were equal with love's hour
And life dissolved the mortal barrier
That from the spirit parteth every man.
Yet not with gentleness that most endears
We grew together; never morn nor eve
He gave himself all trembling to my arms,
Nor any precious seal set on my lips,
Nor used our way; he saw another world;
More than the wrath of God I feared his eyes.
Yet mildly reigned his beauty in my breast,
And more made fine my senses to discern
His heavenly portion in my frame of earth;
Until, as one who in some friend's true heart
Trembles to find the image of himself
Made pure and perfect in those thoughts of love,
Awe came upon me seeing in his face
The lineaments of my own all sweetly changed
To that ideal I hope to wear in heaven.
So with his passion blending more and more,
As the dark earth when sinks the starry West,
Mortal I moved to meet eternal light;
And, moving, dreamed how that young soul should be
The flaming of a torch across the years,
And through the world the rising of a star.
Ay me! but what avails to nurse the soul,
And will the better world, that heaven delays?
When hath it come? Soon gathered round his heart—
O, too familiar to this clouded breast—
Immortal dread, awe of the alien powers
In this dark sphere,—these vague infinities
Of matter round the solitude of mind
With menace, this dull crush of monstrous force
Crumbling the dense compàct, this far-strown world,
Abysmal being without mete or bound,
With endless shadows roved; whence thought, alarmed,
Strains in its orbit and its casing frame,
Ranges the vast, and calls from star to star,
With question of this cold eternity.
O striving Stress, O everlasting Might,
In every atom spawning energy
And cradling life in every blowing germ,
Storm of the world, swift drift and surge of time
That lifts the swimmer to the rushing flood
One moment's space, and thrusts him down to hell,
And rolls the next aloft, while, age on age,
Millions of men innumerably spread,
Faces along the illimitable wave,
Float up, and look, and sink,—O star-cold Space,
When hast thou answered, unto whom, or where!
O, sudden sprang in him the formless fear,
And swift the dark assault began to mount,
Motions of sorrow, instincts of despair!
Before my boyhood done, such darkness came—
Night in the soul; and heaviest on him,
Who most was born to be the child of trust,
Heaviest on him and earliest, sank the stroke.
Then, O, too early chosen, his tender heart
Broke into voice and mingled tears and vows.
He stares into the waste; nought else he sees;
Base if he go not, if he go then rash,
Yet must he go; for such a soul He made
Who made him man, and set him yet a child
Among his enemies exposed and left,
And gave his naked bosom to the sword,
His heart unfortified to sure defeat,
And his pure spirit to the bond of sin;
For high designs stern counsel; not with men
Who wheel with day and night, and think 'tis fate,
His journey lies; O, sent not seldom here,
Too mortal is he born whom God doth choose!
Ah, yet must fall on him the heavier change,
Which who knows not, his soul hath never known
The wandering sea that moans and mourns in man
The melancholy load and charge of song,
Voices rebellions, dismal wailing loss
The pæan of the long betrayal flung
Up from the sounding flood to sun and stars—
And souls like waves move there, each with its cry—
The sea of life; he felt from world-wide woe,
Vague breaking upon vague, the life-song rise,
Blind music, wandering o'er the face of things,
Heard in his heart, and heard creation through.
But when the treason was, that worked so sore,
And in himself he knew the doom begun,
And felt the blood of man, is dark to me;
Only he made him friends with night and storm,
The sad woods roved, and paced the passionate shore,
And ever on the desert's border hung,
Disturbed, distressful, watched by rising stars.
Deep in his breast the iron entered in,
Savage and sudden, thrust and stroke unseen,
And life went ebbing from his every wound.
Then by the stream that girds the world he sat,
Looking on night, and felt within him fear
Rise like a mist that blotteth out the stars.
Dark was the mind, the heart within was dark,
And all his soul was sunk in memory.
What then he was he knows whose heavy head
The passionless stupor of despair bows down
In solitary places that he loved!
So mute among the moveless stones he sat,
And hid his face within the sea's gray robe,
And heard obscure the roaring of the deep;
Till in the East the red and ragged moon
Across the hollow waters and the night
Struck on his eyes and he once more was man.
O, sharp the eternal pain began to gnaw!
Hoarse the incessant trampling of the surf
Beat up the wind; athwart the western stars,
Crag-like, hung storm, and all its heights were fire;
And midway of the waste, 'twixt tossing seas
And those dark pastures of the roving flame,
No life but his,—and his a life bereft,
Brooding, and tranced, and full of fantasy.
The black marsh and the mounded sand stood still;
Old willows whispered near; the beach-grass sighed,
In the low moonshine rustling its thin blades,
And ceased; and Nature's loneliness was there
That fills the desert where God talks with man.
Scarce was the soul reseated on her throne;
Still near the dark relapse he suffered doubt;
Still did he seem to seek remembered light,
With mortal senses wakened, seemed to hear
Some far-off rally of great souls in death
From fields of heroes fallen; and his gaze,
Loaded with all divine expectancy,
Was fastened as a spirit's where he saw
Those thunder-brows of storm; o'er him they loomed
Like mountains fanged, upon some desperate coast,
Whereto the sailor drifts with asking looks
And superstition; and upon him came
That strangeness round the heart that poets know,
And in the swift arrest of sleepless hope
Straightway he trembled; on that chain unloosed
The lightning burst in white and washing seas,
Pale-coursing floods; and, cloven with bolts oblique,
The vaporous summits swam in fiery air,
Chasm and cliff dividing; pass in pass,
Gulf after gulf, deep-trenched, interminable,
With caverned vale on vale, the vast defile
Leapt up night's core; and like a man who shakes
With hope of what he fears, he saw, far off,
The darkness, gathering up from the wide world
In his forecasting heart, take awful shape
Upon the burning glare; terrific gloom
Stood on the mountains, black with dragon-coils,—
The vision that he dreamed, the hope he dared,
Since from the angelic flight of innocent years
There stooped and touched his lips such rosy flame
That God's might in him cannot ever die.
O, how he kindled at the very foe
Made instant visible! the fabled place,
Whose horror crests the lone eternal steep,
The goal of lost adventure, goal and grave!
There, by the slope, and worming o'er the edge,
The narrow track of noble peril ran;
And, thinly springing, many a lonely sheaf
Of beamy blades and starry-dipping points
Flashed back the battle of the dying world.
He saw—he sprang—he heard the challenge peal,
Caught like the mighty blast of Roland dead
Far-blown from standards of the fallen Christ;
And light o'erllowed within him, light long sought,
From the old sources gushing, light divine,
Whose piercing revelation nought obstructs,
Created or imagined or devised,
The masks of mimicry or vestures true,
Earth's massy mould or the dark breast of man.
As one whose fixed soul settles to its hate,
A moment on the world's dismay he looked,
And felt the strength within him knit and lock;
Then slow a myriad glooms expanding swung—
Far off they knew their prey—and, vulture-like,
Their grim and soundless welcome fell on him.
Darkness, and blasts that made the willows white,
Blinded his spirit; moaning were the woods
With tempest, and the heavy-folded storm
Lifted its head and breathed against the stars.
Out o'er the sea he marked the moon grown bright;
On isle and headland and the long gray beach—
His home when home was his—once more he gazed;
How many sweet delights in one look died!
And slanting fell the silver-shafted rain,
Mist on the waters, smoke upon the sand,
And now the loud winds mingled with the sea;
But he was westward gone, his heart in heaven.
So was he driven forth and out from men.
Then I the shadow seemed, and he the one
Who truly lived; and since it so was ruled,
And in my bosom lodges all his woe,
I build the Song, unheard except by me,
That rises in his heart; and with his voice,
Whose common words dropped singing from his lips,
My own will echo. Wherefore, yet once more,
O Muse severe, who hast in heavenly charge
My footsteps lest I fall, not without hope
Before the altar of thy ancient fire
With olden usage, holy reverence,
I come, and lay the ever-youthful verse,
His music, and invoke the Heavenly Mind:
Even Thee, who, when this whirling world began
Didst loose the music of ten thousand spheres
In one full voice that sang, and ever sings,
Glory to God: with notes below that strain—
From Thy great harmony how far removed!—
The wrath of life I sing, the spirit's woe,
Our realm of ruin; and him I go to meet,
The wrestling angel who doth wield this world
With mighty question in the soul of man
Till God shall arbitrate that argument,
Now dark and doubtful; doubtful not, nor dark,
When to the littleness of mortal act
His wisdom the eternal issue joins.
O, harken! we are young; we cry for light,
Youth's cry; but wisdom is an ancient thing.
O, raise me fallen, and restore me lost,
That I, adventuring the great defeat,
May in the courts of heaven at last unhelm,
And in Christ's treasury repose my sword!
Now the ninth year declining showed a pass
Deep sunk, whose black and monstrous horns transfixed
The element serene; far from that shade
Roved the cold moon, and showed the savage steep,
Whose secret heights, untraveled by man's eye,
Only the majesty of heaven stayed
With bounds, and to the wild Sierra's snows
Their starry limit set; here was he come.
So far his soul had wandered from its youth,
So long endured in pain the stroke without,
The change within; and ever at his heart
Gnawed the slow death; if thou requirest more,
Thy own breast ask, nor search another's wounds.
Years rose and set, but he was shelterless—
A man unknown save to the heavenly powers;
Alone he was, except in memory,
And lost, but that the visionary sense,
His guiding birthright, visited the dark
And drew him where the Will Divine would lead;
Through woe, and want, and wastes of all neglect,
Remorseless realms, the tracts of base distress,
The wilds of thought, the deserts of desire;
And oft behind he came who dwelleth there,
The Whisperer of the wildernesses lost,
O, winning was his voice, and wise his craft,
His early harmonies not all forgot,
That once the hymns of heaven had paused to hear;
The fluting of bird-throated winds of morn,
The sighing reed of memory at eve,
Hope in the soul and in the heart regret;
In loveliest things deepest his deep disguise.
The gentle heart he sang, its own delight,
Virtue, the conscious nobleness of life,
Knowledge, man's earthly immortality;
And on the god's own lyre, divinely hymned,
Joy, beauty, truth, and love, and noble fame
Sprang ever, and the feigning Muses danced,
And, with the song consenting, Nature moved.
And oft the Roamer slipped, and oft he fell
With rose-snared feet, and night came on the plain;
But duly would the evening star come forth,
Making a third where he with memory sat
Keeping o'er beauty dead eternal watch,
And, shining, lift his dry eyes from the ground,
And lull the venom feeding at his heart;
Such virtue did it draw from other days;
And with its orb his lids sank down in sleep,
The soul within him slumbering, and dear light
From eyes that cannot mourn fell on his breast,
And under morning stars he urged his way;
And roaming sang; but not the song of prime,—
A music of the darkened fields of night,
Earth-sorrow, and the wandering cries of night:

"O still expectant band of singing youth,
Who from the rose of dawn steal prophecy
And holy hope, and chanting triumph go,
Filling the morning air with sacred names!
O fortunate if in your faith ye die,
While yet the sun-flush leaps from mount to mount,
And glory's purpose dreams upon your brows!
O, one with them, me too desire has raised
To fly beyond the sensual reach of man
And break the bounds of earth's prosperity!
When hath their virtue shrunk to Nature's will?
And what their profit—do they grow and thrive?
In every land they lay them down to die.
Woe to the remnant of the noble band!
The most are dead who that dear music built—
Their hymns shall be a nation's memory.
The few ride on, their lips too firm for song;
On many a lonely field they find how hard
The bright rebellion is that showed so fair
'Gainst this world’s wrong; now, taught within, they learn
What might it takes to wield a heavenly sword!"

He could not stay the spirit's wandering cries,
The music of the breaking heart of man,
Made hoarse by passion now, with grief grown stern:

"Is God then weary? has the flaming sphere,
Belted with burning noons and starred with night,
Paused in its revolution in the deep?
And that young spirit that there stands imprisoned,
Throned in the sapphire of crystàlline light,
Or in the starry concave of deep sleep
Reposes, till new dawn with rose-flushed dreams
Kisses his eyelids wide—shall he be stricken,
Creation's precious jewel, heart and eye
Of all that is—disrealmed and headlong cast,
And, prone in whirling fate and unplumbed night,
Fall with a world unhinged? because His will,
Who works in awful secrecy of change,
Conceives, creates, but knows not to preserve?
The Hand that fused the obscure elements
And cast the mould of Nature—does it tire?
When hath He called thy shoulder to the wheel?
When hath He sought thy door? or sued to thee
For thy alliance? strength or counsel craved?
O insolent! thinking to help thy God!"

He sang no more, but silent was his heart;
Nor music knew, save, as one hears in sleep
The wild wind sighing in an outer world,
He heard around him earth's old cradle-song
Of wood and wave, life's grieving undertones;
Or the deep chord of color, or lyric form,
Motionless charm, with sudden piercing pain
Made his blood wild; and if at times there woke
Rapture of heart and ecstasy of soul,
They were the spirit's intense agony;
And earth more beautiful, and love more sweet,
Were unto him increase of loneliness
The long, long years. O, wherefore should he sing!
Many the lands he saw, the seas he ploughed,
Seeking to find, wherever man had been,
The ways of beauty and the face of love;
But evil things he found,—evermore saw
How human wisdom like a suppliant bowed,
How human love, sad-eyed, did lift her prayer;
He could not slay the pity at his heart
To gladden in himself; he could not still
The noble strife of thought to gain his peace.
So struck the world's life in his single breast,
And set his nature with itself at war,
That half he was knew not the other half,
But, each to other, heart and mind, moved false,
Though to itself each true, as conscience bade;
Such discord ruled; oft to himself he seemed
Some unbelieving knower of things true,
Some loveless lover of things beautiful,
Some godless worshipper of things divine;
And beauty without joy, truth without faith,
All holy sanctities made soulless things,
Contrary currents, spun a whirl wherein
Sank action, passion, meditation down
Lost in himself; then, as the poets tell
Of that first strangeness of the world to sense
In early boyhood when the swooning earth
Drifts off unreal, and hard they grip the ground,
Before his eyes all fixed, corporeal things
Melted to vision, his habitual world;
And all experience to his hand was clay,
The stuff of life, wherein his moulding thought
Mysterious moved, and fashioned, like a god's,—
The poet's art-instinctive in his life,
Not for the world, but his own natural breath
Whereby he greatened and grew into man,
True man and whole, at one with this dark frame,
By penetration mastering the sphere
In secret study, and at one with man,
Merging with men by love and sympathy
And old imaginations fusing might
Confederating man in human fate.
Now on he bore unto the place of dread,
Youth gone and manhood come; soon should his soul
Encounter fate; slowly those mountains rose,
And morning turned to night upon their slopes,
And in their shadow now the Roamer moved,
And nothing else but that great vision saw
Of earth or heaven or any human face.
Up soared aloft the lone eternal steep;
He knew the Range that borders on the night—
To North and South its summits blocked the sky,
Before in silence stood its awful front;
And, irresistible, the terror fell,
And, irrepressible, the longing broke,—
Terror that seizes on the spirit spent,
Longing that swells within the homeless heart,
To yield the soul's adventure and the search,
To kiss our mother-earth, and so to end;
And o'er the long years trembling came the song
From that fair valley where his joy began,
And bird-like beat against his prison bars:

"The new grass springs, and red the willow glows;
O'er fallen showers, sweet-breathed, the rainbow smiles,
And sunset floods the fields; as in a lake
Reflected lies the bow along the grass
Rain-beaded, and is brighter in the grass
It lies on; in the black loam gleams the plough;
And all the land is freshened with the rain.
Now twilight falls, star-clear; the flowers shut;
The hills shine low—O, wilt thou never come?
The woods oblivious, venerable, dim,
Loved by the winds, and loved by quiet stars,
Listen for thee as for the feet of spring,
And 'O sweet truant' cry and cry in vain;
'The singing birds are come, but not thy voice;'
And to the sea they send their fragrant breath—
'Roams now the Child in thy dear charge' they call;
And voiceless is the beach, and echo flown;
And Ocean's self, whose benedictions move
Still blessèd in thy blood, sets in to shore,
And landward calls the wandering waves with him;
But One no more he shepherds whom he loved.
O, thou ungrateful, why dost thou delay?
Too far into the West thy roaming is!
Too long upon thy ocean-cherished eyes,
Brown, bleak, and bare, withers the wind-blown waste;
No fresh-turned field, no glade of violets there,
Nor far gleams of the emerald winter-wheat,
Nor drifts of orchard-blossoms on the hills,
Nor garden-plot, nor tree, nor lilac-spray!
Now homeward through the moonlight-darkened fields
The lover goes; the fire-flies flash; but he
Sees one sweet face that held the rosy West"—

As one who thinks of her he may not love,
And feels his eyes o'erbrim with wasted light,
He sighed, and, sighing, kept the herbless way.
Beneath the gorge a stronger music rose,
And swept a noble anger from the strings,
The chord of glory smote,—loud rang the song:

"Ah far behind, ah far behind thee rise
The towered cities where the people toil,
Builders of life, as their dead fathers were;
And, as their fathers, still they seek the man
Heroic, framed for action, loving Christ;
The laurel withers while the tribune waits;
He fears, nor guesses how his thought shall burst,
The hope that gathers in ten thousand hearts,
The sun-like deed that blesses half the World!
Weak is his single might, but strong is man's,
And giant-like bears up from age to age
The starry load. O, let the burden fall!
Weep, O lost people, for the Leader lost,
Into the desert gone, the forfeiter!
His heart shall dry, his dead soul drags him down;
The plague shall prosper him who hath forgot
The cords of birth, of country, and of kind,
The bonds unforced and mystery of love,
The heaven-conjoinèd league, the state to be!
Friendless he goes, nor gives his brother aid;
Tribeless, his ancient heritage betrayed;
Alone, he is belittled to himself!
O, heavily fate's scorn shall fall on him;
Far in the waste upon his track prowls death;
Unmourned he drops; unburied shall he lie;
The wild beast's portion and the vulture's perch;
The outcast, whitening in the passing winds;
The fool, erased from human memory!"

"All ye remembered years, upbear me now!"
The Roamer cried, descending down the dark;
And he was shut in that tremendous pass
Whose exit lay on sky-hung capes unknown,
On seas of death perchance; for well he knew
The frailty that the wasting years had wrought,
And his stern need, O, not of youth's green strength
Undisciplined, but that all-secret proof
Which from defeat its perfect temper takes,—
The wisdom of how much the weak can dare;
And he had learned in what close mail he goes,
How steadfast, who doth own his ruin just,
But dares despair not of the deeds to be.
The hollow track fell downward through the gulch,
By dropping eaves and cones of shadow swept;
And straightway to a sinking gulf it came,
Tortuous and vague, with glimpses of the moon
Seaming the rock far on; sheer from the pit
The wall adverse, one bulging precipice,
With random ledges ribbed of pine and fir,
Struck heaven, and eclipsed the highest stars;
Upon the hither side the fissure hugged
The scaling way, and from its hungry gloom,
That felt the beam of light in his young eyes,
The blind deep seemed to heave its wandering arms.
Upon the brink profound his cold hand clung,
Now, past the jut, pursued the crumbled shelf,
And won beyond, where cliffs retreating rolled
A vast moraine, steep-furrowed by old floods—
Far-reaching swells, like billowy seas aslant,
Where many a rocky bed poured headlong down;
And higher up the swaying slopes he rose,
And further to the rent the rough slide fell,
O'er which the loose stones clattered, heard no more.
The winds dropped down; black clouds like bars shot o'er;
And, opposite, the pine-sheathed mountain moaned.
On many a mortal death he set his foot;
Not these he feared; he feared the heart within;
Treason and guile he feared, and silent arms.
Then stooped the foe, no more as when he shone
Upon the front and promise of this world
The morning star; nor when in gloom he came,
Not less majestic than the eternal force
And regnancy of Nature; dark with peril,
And to the death engaged, his war drew on,
Winding like thought within the doubtful brain,
Warping imagination to his will,
Transforming to his semblance every sense;
And in the spirit, ere the mortal throe,
Failure foreseen, and scorn to be betrayed,
The yearning of the long impetuous years
To loathing turned, the dying flame of hope
Leaping in anger at the long deceit;
And utterance indistinguishable arose,
That sometimes on the waking sense alarmed
Strikes undetermined whether thought or sound;
From crag and cleft "this air-built goal" it shot,
Doubtful, and fled upon the vagrant gust;
"Courage," it shrieked, and leaped in the abyss;
"The hounds of vengeance on his track are hot,
Therefore he hastes," it struck the rock behind.
The lonely steep grew spectral to his gaze;
He seemed to see them spring from cirque and cairn,
Who perished here at last,—some, trembling things,
Dropped from the talons of the heavenly bird,
Conscience, whose quarry is the gentle heart;
Some, blown by folly or haled on by crime;
Some, led by lights that seemed earth's morning stars,
Spirits of joyful trust, whom most he loved,
Forerunners of his hope; all darkly there,
Risen from the storm-bared rock where they had sunk,
With presages of woe, sad warning, stood;
And still the apprehensive heart of man,
That will not all obey, brooded within.
And long the Mocker warred, whom all men know,
To make illusion of his lonely trust,
And ill foreboding of his broken life,
And dark suggestion of the woe within;
Now he unrolled dead time's monotony,
The jester's scroll inscribed with golden tales
Of noble spirits in their ecstasy
Destroyed; and now he showed the peopled lands,
The world of men, the pity and the woe,
Shame, penury, crime, folly, and ill desire,
The faiths that were, and last the pallid Christ,
And gray despair re-settling on the world;
Till on that slope, as from the visioned mount,
The Roamer saw the kingdoms of this world,
O, not for glorious conquest, but despair,—
Craven and conqueror leveled in contempt,
Him foolishest who most would save the world!
The moon dropped down behind the shouldering rocks;
The gauntlet narrowed on; the cliffs closed in,
Age-shattered spurs compact of rocky spires,
Slim monoliths and boulder-pilèd towers,
Fantastic masonry—earth's nakedness—
Dark colored veins of purple porphyry,
Volcanic thrusts, dull spots of hematite,
Chaotic sediment; there, as he stood,
He held the skull of Nature in his hand
Musing, and curiously turned it o'er;
And versed he was to read what there is found—
For some is known, and some is darkly guessed—
The cosmic tale that vaunts its ignorance,
No chaos, no catastrophe, no more
But definite order in indefinite time,
Events, successions, processes, fixed change.
He touched the gray grooves of the icy flood,
The delicate print of tropic fern and flower,
Strange petrifactions of the forest; saw,
So were his eyes anointed with their lore,
The bones of mammoth bedded in the clay,
Reptilian birds, the horse's five-fold hoof,
The buried drift of antenatal earth,
Transparent ruin; backward spun the orb,
Whirled through the seethe and steam of fusing fire,
Metallic vapors of the molten globe,
The planetary star, the comet mist,
The sun-belt meteoric-fleece and flame;
And finer than all vision probed his thought,
Bared Nature's pulse, told the electric throb
Like his own blood, beats of ethereal force,
Laying his linger on the element.
Then, startled, he remembered what man is,
Hidden in this dark corner of chilled space,
His history with all its circumstance,
Races, religions, policies, archives
Of scriptured wisdom, monumental war,
The passing of a grain of that gray sand
That measures Nature's period,—a drop
That falls within the glacier's blue crevasse,
While the slow frozen motion creeps along
Through ages, and the sun expires in frost.
Death-cold he turned; the leaping trail abrupt
Sharp to the right struck up the mountain's face;
By matted vines he hung above the fall;
By jag, and cranny, and rock-withered root,
From doubtful hold to dangerous footing passed;
Nor less did Fraud mount with him unperceived.
At last upon the topmost naked ridge,
Between the great seam and the hanging bank,
He sank for rest, feeling his strength at ebb.
The lower pass beneath him lay unrolled,
A tangled murk of rock and awful shade,
Most like an inlet thrusting gloomy reefs
Up from the sunken vale,—his world that was,
And through its stony heart the black gash drawn.
So far his feet had pierced into the night,
Such labors done had stamped out all return,
Such grim despair had cut him from his kind;
And in the narrow onward what should lie
More than the bare couch of a lonely grave,
Where never one of men should find the place?
Then leaped the arrow in the open wound:
"Go, if thou wilt, O following with the stars
That rose with thy creation—unbeloved,
Inglorious, though love and fame without
None finds the wholesome uses of his life;
He who forsaketh all, him all forsake—
And this thou feelest; now go mix with those
Who in the creature the Creator slight—
So in themselves abject is God disprized!"
And silence fell—far off the dark voice ceased.
Then desperately he rose,—"Something remains;
There is a failure worse than all defeat—
Not to attempt; yet there endureth strength
To fail with,—so to mix with those bright names,
My lovers lost who beckoned me afar,
Dust with their dust commingled, soul with soul!"
So sad a courage seldom wins its way;
And ever as he went his thoughts moved back,
And knowledge, gathered in the wasted years,
Poured its dark flood upon his flagging mind,—
Of heartlessness fixed at the core of things;
Of one blind Will that is the Universe,
Illusion made in man's intelligence,
Pain in his heart, and life its striving woe;
Of instinct never swerving from the line;
Reason, the instrument of all mistake,
And appetite, the passion multiforrn;
And from these two, that couple in each deed,
The birth is pain, and still increase of pain,
Though oft in joy disguised, but quickly found.
O, only he of men is fortunate,
Who on the seas of slumber dreamless lies,
Thrice happy if he drift unwakeful on,
Nor ever into any harbor come!
Shimmers the Sphere within the mind alone,
Hung on the breathing poles of thy dense life
Only revolves,—thyself, thou art the Lie!
Then live no more, but with the bullet league,
Thrust with the dagger, bruise the herb of death—
And perish; instant, at the very stroke,
The sparkle of the globe like dew exhales,
And vanishes; as, when the sun goes down,
Night in the twilight clouds the purple deep,
Ungirds the robing flame, and heaven is dark!
More sad, more deep, with darker currents flowed
His moods in bitter channels; doctrines old
As is the heart, with ancient sorrow hoar,—
Of guilt once acted no remorse annuls,
No penance stays its injury to men,
And no forgiveness cleanses from the soul;
Incorporate with the world it works till doom;
Still memory points and names the brutal stroke,
Or self-inflicted, or another's wound;
And closer shuts the strong-knit frame of things—
The clearest vision so with error blurred,
The strongest will so palsied with defect,
That evil still must come, and woe to him
By whom it cometh, those on whom it falls!
O prison of souls lost, abandoned, dead,
Time cannot crumble! and the captives there
Lay the base courses, and themselves immure.
Deep sink thy founding piers; thy mighty girth
Doth man encompass; thou shalt reach to heaven!
Life after life, race after dying race,
Mine thy dark quarry, hew the living block,
Lift the long work, a generation's toil—
Strong art thou built, O thou Eternal Stone!
As one who lies submerged in shallow sleep,
Whose thoughts interminably stream along,
No choice, no purpose, no volition his,
He drifted masterless, no respite given,
No lovely thing to steal him from himself;
And round his heart while weaker grew his strength,
Some strangling evil clutched, and seemed to rise,
A shuddering coil, and breathed upon his brain.
So like a man who sees not, on he went,
Stumbling to death; and low he heard him sing
Who of the heart's voice makes his falsest lie:

"Of all the Immortals kind was only He
Who on the fringes of the eye hung sleep,
And with death's stolen dew made sweet the lips!
O thou who darest to tread the Eternal Wild,
On heavenly pity leaning, hurt to death,
See, every herb and flower of ruth is here.

Or wilt thou suffer long, and bleed away?
Strict is the recompense—one lonely grave,
Spread on the rock or flower-strown in the vale.

Or dost thou think, on that dim verge arrived
Where sits the Eternal Hunger, thou wilt glut
With thy poor morsel life the famined void?

Aha! the breasts of life are sweet to suck
When to the innocent mouth they give the milk;
But thou—thy innocency is forgot!

I am the way unto the place of loss;
The Death indeed I am; and mine the art,
Mine, only mine, to still the Serpent's fangs."

Bitter, and hoarse and short with struggling will,
The cry broke from him in his misery:
"Sleeps then—man am I—sleeps because I die,
Sleeps in man's heart the writhing worm of hell?
Had I sought peace, peace long ago were found.
O cruel guile! O pitiless! to make
The sorrow of the soul thy instrument,
And ruin with what saves, if aught!" He turned
Into the dark beneath the great stone brows;
"O fertile Falsehood! fool, to think him known
Who draws his cordon round the mount of time
And singly doth beleaguer the whole world
That there sits perched! races and states opposed,
And God's alliance! yet each poor soul doth press
As it were all his war! drop not thy fence,
Nor think thyself secure though angels guard;
Keep watch with all thy gates; within be stern!"
Once more he taught his spirit to endure
The rugged track; o'er crevice and high ravine
Great huddled peaks and ridges bulked in air,—
Rivers of ice, vast copes of ageless frost,
With glittering bergs and thin crevasses hoar,
The waste eternal winter; loft on loft,
The rolling snow-field whitened the great skies;
Now nigh to heaven he rose and prospects broad,
Out of the silent valleys drifting death,
On great plateaus that should command the world;
And ever where the far horizons flung
Round him with mightier folds the starry robe,
He read the man-myth on the shining hem,—
Iràn, Chaldæa, Egypt,—and more late,
Divinely springing from the Olympian mount,
The torch-race of the ever-dying gods,
Orb after orb of throneless deity;
And spectral o'er him broke in that frore air
The burnt-out hopes, and ghosts of prophecy,
That once from holy hearts rose charioted,
And in the zenith hung their mighty faiths,—
Visions of old, by every mastering race,
Set in the blazing zodiac of time;
The fiery pillar that brought Israel forth
Rose like an exhalation; flaming stood
The Cross that went before imperial Rome;
Pale swam the moon of Islam dropping blood;
And out they flickered, brief as shooting stars;
Then dark the slow recovery of his sight,
Weary of all that never ceasing death,
Saw Lethe roll against a purple dawn,
Weird as by breadths of watery gloom far North
The sun at midnight sheds unearthly morn;
Saw still Avilion on the unoared lake,
Dim, dusky, fragile, like a flower of night
Half-open to the white and slumbrous moon;—
"Peace, if not hope; death, if not life; calm death
That of the grave keeps but tranquillity,"
He murmured—snatches of remembered prayer;
"Not mine, no longer mine, no more," he mused;
"O, for Thy service build Thy Strength in me
To do Thy will unknown!" he pressed his heart,
And, patient, climbed against the barren skies,
And, fain to see, saw not; "nay, not the sight,"
He sighed, "the very truth, man's miracle,—
Not in the heaven of heavens, eternal built,
The city shining down the fadeless stars,
Where no night is, nor ever falls a tear,
Hope cannot die, and memory is not pain,
And there no partings are, but love is all."
The summit of the pass could not be far.
With bold, strong curves the ice-ribbed floor pierced on;
Loud fell his footstep; sudden opposite
The mountain broke, one headlong precipice,
Upon the western stars; and, crest on crest,
The pale ledge, like a billow of the night
On shores unknown, bore him upon his fate;
Almost he hoped—was there indeed an end?
Low in the sunken West the red moon flared;
A savage land rolled on the vacant air;
The sloping, vast, dead wilderness—'twas all.
There ran the swift descent straight to the waste.
O, evil was his case! down, down he went;
Little he thought save that his grave lay there.
Now had he borne his body to the death—
The passion spent, the corpse at last would fall.
And many a sign came whispering of the end;
All helplessly he felt the loosening life
Waver from sense and flutter from his will;
And, as o'er dying men comes fantasy
Of their own selves beside them waiting lone,
A phantom seemed to reach, with motions dark,
For pity and comfort in its solitude;
But he neglectful walked, remembering all
The passion and the loyalty of years.
The peaks sprang up behind; woods arched him in,
Umnindful, and on swards of grass, he came,
Nor knew he moved, and death was in his limbs.
Ah, yet once more, out of the dark obscure
Earth's wheel of torture heaved his soul aloft,
And Nature rallied for her last farewell.
Then was he 'ware of strange lights in the North—
Pale silver gleams on banks of emerald shone
Changeful, and now a drifting rose, and now
A thousand shadowy rainbows wavering;
And lone thereunder, laid by pine trees hoar,
He saw a youth, and broken in his hand
A reed of nature set with golden stops.
He drew more near where on the brown he lay,
And knelt, and took his head between his hands,
And parted the fair hair from off his brows.
Upon his own dead face he seemed to look.
He could no more. He sank to earth. "Would God
Might press the sponge of death upon my lips,"
He murmured; and again by that far sea
He seemed to sit, again he died to light,
And on the burning darkness came the gloom,
Terrifically near, his soul's eclipse,
And in his ears faint rang the dying blast
Of Roland dead with all his chivalry;
Then Roland's dark breath seemed with his to mix,
Head laid to head, the heroic kiss of death;
"Non sono traditore," low he sighed;
And ere night sucked him downward, in that dusk,
Even as the flown soul to the body seems,
Borne on the drifting dark the past went by
Crying, and on its forehead was a star.