The roamer and other poems/The Roamer/Book III


Book III

"O Sleep, the kindest helper of the soul,
Who, when night comes, dost draw more nigh than night,
And when thou goest, bringest back the day!
O first, sweet silence 'twixt the solemn prayers
Of eve and morn, how many peaceful hours
My hands in thine were folded, when a child!
And thou wast dearer with each heavy year,
And tenderer for the sorrow come, more soft
My head didst pillow, gavest my soul release!"
So rose the Roamer's morning orison;
And never more refreshed from thee he turned
To greet the golden East in summers gone,
Than when, dim Sleep, thou gavest his spirit back
To the dark border; trembling he awoke,
And dews of gratitude o'erflowed his eyes
For Sleep, the helper—kindest helper, thou!
Thou bearest half the weight of all men's lives;
The load thy hand unloosens at the end;
Not without thee was that far journey made.
But on, O loitering Song, nor, all too fond,
Gaze on the key, when thou shouldst ope the door!
The realms through which thou goest no pæan love.
Let none misdoubt, nor this strong record weigh
O'erlightly! little heart have I to feign:
The hand writes only what the eye beheld.
Here, too, was salutation; song was here,
Breathed from a pipe by one beneath a pine,
So fair the Roamer never heard the notes,
Nor knew what happy pause his presence filled.
"Welcome!" he heard, "not to eternal things!
No longer the divine encounter hope!
Here learn thou yet art mortal in the mind!"
"Mortal in all," he answered, "still heaven's ray
Strikes through the precious oriel of the eye
Upon my spirit." Risen, long gazed at him
That one whose impulse the wise reason checked.
"Is god-sprung vigor in thy bones infused
That melt not in this air? thou seemest man,
Still beautiful to each fine nerve of sense,
As thou wouldst be, wert thou and I alive."
"Mortal I am," returned he; "still undoomed,
My brief years yet await their manly deeds;
Across the spectral moor I come to you."
As 't were his soul's command, he bent his gaze
Who first had spoken. "Hath mortality
So long a leash? and doth thy spirit of sense
Pluck its gross nurture from this crystal air?"
"Across hell's moor, thou sayest?" a second spoke.
"O soul of daring! art thou—" cried a third,
But on his sentence broke the other's will:
"Thou livest?" and to his lips some question sprang,
And died; "but earth remembers not my name
That, to the light ascending, clouds o'ertook;
Whate'er I was, more I shall never be."
Then he, the poet, though denied the bays:
"Not unaccompanied by signs of grace
Thou comest; o'er the fiery heath, whose gloom
Washes the northward, where last night we kept
The morning watch, a solitary star,
Some heavenly exile, slipped from God's white hosts,
Moved beautiful, as in its element,
Where never blessèd light was seen before.
Heaven send us good of that bright augury!"
Crimson and amber lapped the horizon's edge
Like a low sea, whence rose the dawn, dark blue
Brightening with light; and, like a shallow cup,
Immeasurably broad with rolling moor,
Slated with mist, the lowlands fell away.
Morn laced the South with mountains vaporous,
Translucent films and shining levels far,
With spots of cloud and belted fog midway,
Masking a land of valleys. Still the sun
Filled the vast scene with beauty ere he rose;
Then lifted he his head majestical
Above the rose-bloom wave and amber glow,
And poured his glory on the outstretched world.
As 't were a group of hunters that the dawn
Islands in undiscovered solitudes,
Who look amazed on unknown loveliness,
Canyon, or cataract, or virgin lake,
The embosomed jewel of a continent,
There stood the little company enthralled,
Lost in their vision, in the spreading light
Suddenly captive, silently ensphered,
Oblivious, fascinated, eye-entranced;
Nor longer hung they on the Roamer's breath;
Some instinct urged them; swift they broke apart;
Alone he stood, nor saw their vagrant forms,
Coursing the gleams of morning far away.
He seemed to hail a new creation there,
And from himself projected half he saw—
Thoughts of the heart and colors of the mind—
And spiritualized it. O, high miracle!
Nor all unknown unto his boyhood dawns,
When bobolinks seemed listening as they sang
Their matin song, tumbling the liquid notes
Exultant, and to harken after them;
So had he harkened his first melodies;
And as the morning, imaged in the lake,
Gave back the mirrored mountain, hung aloft,
Lovelier than nature, so had his young world
Exhaled a secret beauty folded there,
That from himself took its deep mystery:
But now his eyes beheld a greater morn.
There was an eminence not far removed,
Whence he could view more nigh that pleasant soil,
Whose charms lay broadcast to his roving glance.
Straight on he wound by brook and blossoming green,
And oft his gaze, on the wide prospect borne
To some horizon bound or skyey mount,
A lonely mystery, lingering stood fixed;
Or from blown ridges of the upland caught
Firm lines, or flooding color from the fields;
And as the broad rings from a pebble thrown
Move o'er still waters and lead on the eye,
So from the fair point where his sight reposed,
By momentary beauty stayed awhile,
The loveliness of earth spread ever on,
O'erflowing and embracing all he saw;
Till, on that mount arrived, the world's blue round
Encircled him with old familiar things,
One sky, one earth, one sweet majestic whole,—
Color and light and shade, figure and size,
In due proportion and perspective true;
For choice creative, mingling with the sense,
Taught his rich eye, by habit in it grown,
To look on nature, and to add the stamp
And earthly impress of the gazing soul;
So ever in the world another world
Rose fairer, by a mightier order moved;
Nature, instinctive, owned the sovereign mind,
That bound all things in its own motion fast,
Unconscious, as the dreamer fills his dream.
The heavenly faculty within him wrought,
And as from chaos drew the lovely scenes,
And hung them in the porches of the dawn.
Such power of evocation oft he used,
His birthright, in far other days than these,
And other lands, where yet on rock and bough
The robe of autumn casts its fiery edge,
Ruddying the pine-grown amphitheatre,
And in the ample distance fade away
Masses of golden woodland o'er the fields;
Or where, long hours, the misty, climbing spring
Wreathes lake and forest, thicket and point and isle,
Yellowing and reddening, and the tender green
Loops hill to hill, and with the sudden bloom
Of warm May days the horizon dapples round.
O memory-haunted eyes, that learned the light
On springtime pastures of his youth, when first,
Sweet in his blood, the bud of boyhood broke
Wide-open to the dalliance of the morn!
But here no change of season met his view,
Nor hint of birth or death; eternal seemed
The summer air, the landscape, and the sky,
And beauty without alteration found.
Before him a wide river-bottom lay,
Smooth as a floor, where clumps of elm and oak
Opened obscure and nameless solitudes,
Bathing in dawn; in undiscovered lands
Sweep such vast floods amid the fragrant wild,
And wander many a forest-mantled league
Unlooked on, till the lost explorer come,
Tracking his hopes. There plunged the Roamer down
In that far country, sunken in the West;
And all along the steep precipitous
The mobile scene made pictures as he went,
That borrowed nothing from the poet's eye;
The landscape recomposed at every step
With change kaleidoscopic, ever new,
And crag, and pass, and vistas opening heaven
Cast dreaming beauty in that air divine,
Like shadows in the stream of being flung.
So high above the fair Salernian gulf,
O'er little Positano, breaks the cliff,
A thousand pictures in enchanted skies;
Warm glows the morn, far heavenward climbs the eye,
And the sea leaves its azure borders bare.
Thus through great loveliness, hour after hour,
The Roamer dropped unto the shining plain.
Nor less in beauty rose the further world,
Nor more ceased he to gaze; for everywhere
The seeing of his eyes was magical.
A land of faëry! there the mutable
Eternal seemed, though, every moment changed,
It lapsed, and came again, the world divine.
The lights of Turner, Constable, Corot
Imparadised the earthly tabernacle
Of mortal beauty; and whatever tinct
In later times discloses marvellous
The revelation of the eye, whose beam
Worships devout in nature's sanctuary
Of light, flung forth the garment of the world,—
Color divine, the prime of heavenly things,
Robe of the infinite, ethereal weave,
Ageless with spacious tissues, dawn and dark.
How many memories hung upon his eyes!
How many raptures, native to his heart,
Reincarnations of our glorious dust,
Loaded his sight! tall peak and brooding sky
Peopled his mind with long since vanished shapes
Of classic woe and mythic mystery,
That spoke the tongues of unrecorded time,—
Antique religion, dark with human fate.
What lands, what ages there stretched out the world!
One tract was full of echoes of the dead,
Thick with deep valleys of tranquillity
After life's labor done, and dim with hills,
Where the pine whispered to the whispering plane,
And shepherd unto shepherd loved and sang.
All the selectest moments of his life
Seemed there upgathered in their visible form.
Ay me! how far it rolled, that golden haze!
Here Fontainebleau opened its woodlands warm;
There Brittany chanted its pastorals;
Lone oleanders in the gullies flamed;
Now every blossom starred the summer grass,
And now the wild path through the wild shrub ran;
And, as the long striped grasses of the sea
Breathe odors on the pure and saline air
Sweet-scented, fragrance roused him, rich and keen,
Where rounded masses of exotic bloom
Rivalled in vain the morning flowers of song.
"O rose, in which Hafiz had lodged the world!"
He murmured, 'mid caresses of his hand;
"And thou, white lily," cried he, "fit to sleep
In Mary's bosom!—what garden-close is this?"
He marvelled; and started back, as at his face
Seen in a pool, so instant came the Shade,
And instant spoke, with challenge courteous:
"Who art thou in this solitude supreme,
That wearest on thy cheek the rose of youth
And in thy eyes so sweet a violet?"
"A pilgrim come I, seeking heavenly things,"
The Roamer said. "On earth thy answer find!"
And with the motion of his lifted arm
He seemed to comprehend the beauteous whole;
More than with words the gesture gave reply;
Sternly he spoke, albeit with accents pure,
And long perused the Roamer, silent found.
"Earth be thy answer! only from earthly things
Created is this fleeting paradise,
The abode of the delaying souls of men
A little while, the spirit's after-glow,
Ere all descend into the starless dark.
As moons and comets die, so sinks a Race,
After its blaze of glory quite extinct,
To wander lampless the creative void.
How fair it stood, our Race! not that, I mean,
Which from the gates of Eden issued curst,
But that which dreamt, in sad and lonely hearts
Of lovelier Edens than their earthly fields,
And brought the mortal seed to heavenly flower.
O mystic Might! that from the soul puts forth
Its blossom, lighting heaven, till it shall close
Far off and fallen in the unforeseeing deep!
Wonderful, Earth, from thy dark soil it comes,
Flower of the spirit, in highest heaven up-borne,
Supreme of things, far-shining, the Ideal!
Clothed on with beauty of the world below,
That from the mortal senses takes its form
And radiance,—not alone the outer frame
Of eye and ear and touch, material things,
But all that loveliness within the soul,
The holy burden of its great ideas,
The splendor of its passions unto death,
Wrapping the world in little spiritual flames,—
How mounts the Dream! up! up!—born of the dust!—
Brighter than lifted once on glory's height
The Sacred Way, that loudest oft proclaimed
Earth's victor, thronged with captives and with spoils,
Where consul-captains of great Rome enthroned
Drew their long triumphs to the Capitol!
They on their shoulders bore the mighty world:
But here, the soaring soul on outstretched wings
Bears up the precious burden of all hope
Through dim and starry deeps, the charge of heaven.
How wan it grows, and waxes gray with time!
Beauty and glory die, and love hath end;
Mary and Magdalen are made one dust;
And all things turn to phantoms, fade, and cease.
Only a little while those glories stand
That rose unto eternal memory.
Great kings, dead emperors, in trance and dream,
Augustan shapes, grave, beautiful, divine,
Each in his shroud of empire as he lived,
Revisit my old eyes, that see no more
Immortal things!" Reëntering in himself,
He vanished, and the breast of the Unknown
Received him unto his eternal place.
A voice rang out, far-distant: "Where are they,
Whose names sound vaguely on this hollow air,
The fiery Intercessors, once proclaimed?
I served them; for they sent me in my youth
Visions that lit the sunlight; the thin dawn
Was thronged with angels bearing trophied palms
Toward a great light, far rising in the East;
All flowers breathed incense round me up to heaven;
The thoughts of men passed o'er me, shining flights;
And many a nation then grew great of soul,
Whose names, heard in my brain, bred mighty forms,
Like tall angelic spirits of the spheres
On balanced planets rushing, fiery orbs;
Athene, Rome, Albion, America
Whirled forward, kindling time. How should man fail?
And ever from the deep sprang destiny,
And to fresh ages gave another morn.
I served because I believed,—a single man
Among the phantom nations. Long I believed;
For when I brooded once the wrack of time,
A fire arose within my living bones,
And rapt me, prophet-wise, out of that flesh
Which yet engarbs my thought, models my words,
Into the thoughtless, wordless infinite,
Where truth abides; great radiance entered in
The temple of my being, that shook and flamed
With silent thunders of another world,
Heard in the soul,—and, heard, they died away;
And often, gazing on a fragile flower,
Or little acts of mute, unconscious love,
Or listening to dim stories of old wars,
I grew aware of some transcendent sphere,
Of which these were the brief, decaying forms;
And, grown a man, seized in the mystic sweep
Of that which comes and goes without a name,
Up to the heaven of heavens was I caught,
Whirled like a leaf, and dropped, a withered thing.
Those musings, insights, transports,—whence were they?
That made the pulses of my beating blood
Voices of the unknown Ineffable,
And dipped my eyes in prophecy and gleam
Of what the Intercessors half disclose,—
Poet and sculptor, painter, sage, musician,
The wisdom-lovers, heaven-dreamers all?
They, and their progeny, like leaves decay.
Where is the resurrection, O dry bones?
Answer, ye valleys of the sepulchre!"
The solitary echo paused afar.
Nigh, from a clump of laurel, rose a voice:
"Would I had known thee in the world below,
Athenian," the Roamer heard one say;
And, looking, saw comrade with comrade couched
Companionable, in friendly converse linked.
The hyacinthine locks clung round a head
Apollo might have loved, so like a flower
The fair face gave itself unto the light.
The beauty of twenty centuries yet shone,
Immortal youth, upon his form divine,
And in his eyes a joyful radiance showed
The dawning of the soul. "O beautiful,
Incarnating the forces of the world
That house in thee a moment, and the house
Grows radiant with the presence of the gods
That shine therefrom," tender and resonant,
The elder voice began, "whence came this mould
To be thy image, and envelop thee,
Imageless beauty, given unto love
Within the heart, and known unto thyself
A shadow in time's stream,—no more?" A smile
Played on the lips of the immortal youth:
"Such came I, body and spirit, from the gods,
The blossom of the will divine, that breaks
To blossom in the heavens and earth and seas,
The glow of life, and mystic hearts of men."
"As comes the rose upon the swaying stalk,
So hast thou budded on life's wind-swayed reed,
Making it fair," the rising voice began
To wing the golden words, "for from the soul
Only flows beauty forth upon the world.
The soul creates its world; and blest art thou
Who thus dost realize thyself in life,
Making thee beautiful." Slow spake the youth:
"Such am I, as when first I looked upon
My image in my heart; and, though I change,
Such shall I be, I know, at the last day."
"Alone and single in thy loveliness
Thou art forever," answered that pure voice,
Which spoke o'erawed with higher mystery,
Solemn, deep-breathed, profound: "the spirit shares
The eternity of beauty seated there
In the soul's essence, there its realm and throne;
Yet hath the soul full many an earthly change.
With worship and desire its life begins,
With love and adoration for the good
That most releases it in power and joy,
And most absorbs its joy and power released.
Fore-seen, fore-felt, fore-known in the ideal,
Beauty, wherewith it shall itself be clothed
And grow incarnate, maddens the young soul,
As if the unhewn statue in the block
Should passion for itself; the poet so,
Until he be disburdened of his song,
Is with prophetic inspiration mad;
And as the sculptor frees the marble god,
And poets' fancies people oft the air,
The soul embodies mortally, and knows,
In passions, tastes, and appetites achieved,
Its form and image, seen in this dim sphere.
This builds it outwardly its mortal shell,
Experience, its stamp and other self,
Making apparent what its nature is.
Here, in experience, as in clay, it works,
Assuming form, itself the masterpiece
Emerging beautiful for love's delight;
And ever, more incarnating the fair,
So grows it dear, and cherished by the gods:
But first must heavenly beauty bathe its eyes."
"Hard is experience," the youth replied,
"That works with fate and chance; other to me
The revelation was that cleansed my sight,—
Imagination's world; there elder men
Made their emotions and ideas a voice
Of aspiration and accomplishment
Unto mankind; oft on their lips I hung,
Lifting my eyes to the fair sight they saw,
Painted, or carven, or visionary sung,—
Infinite forms in one eternal found;
And oft themselves ensouled what seemed most fair.
So with sweet passion for the master's face
Did my own soul put on immortal form,
Clothed with that ray, and grew in fond desire
Of inward purity and outward grace,
Patterned upon the heroes and the gods;
For, in that plastic world of art and thought,
Easy the growth is of immortal souls."
"Imagination hath a higher truth
Than scant reality," the voice returned;
"Experience it concentrates and refines,
Frees it from time, and shapes creation's stuff
In likeness of the mind's ideal world;
Thence hath our sight its visionary ray
Wherein the painter and the sculptor see,
The poet dreams, the lover lives forlorn;
Thence music feeds on harmonies divine;
Beauty the soul creates it hath from thence,
And, in creating, takes that beauty's form;
That world, once seen, the soul puts beauty forth,
Bloom after bloom, and men who look on it
Enamored are and like unto it grow;
Then speeds the heart of youth to the most fair,
What fascinates it most, most imitates;
Such passion most maketh it beautiful.
So soul takes form of beauty it beholds
And images; yet far more oft 't is seen
In mortal raiment of divine desire;
Its heavenly thirst increases without end;
Unslaked its passion, wonderful it glows,
And fills its earthly sphere with unknown light:
Then shines apparent the eternal part
In the soul's nature, homesick for the fair,
And ever fairer as it turneth home:
So grows the soul to mortals manifest."
"Love is the great creator"; the reply
Came with the heart's voice in it, musical
With rich, unspent emotions, deep with youth;
"Let others paint the lily and the rose,
Let others carve the mortal and the god,
Let others pour celestial harmonies,
So may Love give me to be pure within,
And wear on earth his heavenly form!" He ceased,
And as with silver trumpets rang the wood,
A blare of music, and the laurel leaves
Rustled, and silence made the sound more sweet.
Ere to the Roamer's lips had sprung the voice
That rose within his heart, the tense scene broke,
As fades weird magic at the spoken word;
Only, far South, a glimmering water shone;
A wind woke moaning overhead; a pine,
Framing the offing, cried aloud. He saw
The glimmering water, heard the pine's great cry,
As if they were but portions of himself,—
So passion wrought, ebbing from ear and eye,
Body and soul, discharging the rapt mood.
"Great nature's frame!" he murmured low, "O Thou,
The awful emanation of the mind,
The base and apex of creative power,
So vast, so trackless, so impenetrable!
A cyclone, whirling in the wilderness!
A water-spout on the untravelled sea!
Eddy of mortal dust! O infinite Sphere,
How far thou stretchest, illimitable dream!
Path of the Light! mould of the earthly soul!
The Phantom of all Immanence! Unknown!"
His shining face seemed listening to the vague
He searched with restless eyes; a surf of cloud
Broke on the distant highlands, glittering spurs,
Whose foothills, rounding up in wooded knolls,
Arose to meet him coming, from afar.
Ridges of broken country lay between,
Outcropping limestone over meadowy gulfs,
Green laps of summer; lakes like gems were set,
And many a vaporous glen, far palisade,
Led the eye captive through the violet haze,
Where the great river wandered down the west;
But he turned southward toward that watery sheen.
Young was the heart that looked on the fair world;
Young was the foot that bent down flower and fern
Across the valley; many a faëry ring
He trod in the still forest, unespied;
And many a caverned gnome, deep underground,
Heard his faint footfall, and the elfin bands,
Hidden by bush and covert, listened nigh.
So, fancy-bound and beauty-thralled, he roved
New pastures, not like those, severe and pure,
Where first he swept the pine-bough by, and saw
The sea, aye echoing eternity.
Other this soil, rich with the rose-leaf mould
Of beauty dead, breathed forth mortality.
Death choked the vital air, as on he went,
The death of beauty; here, pink-petalled, fell
The boy-loved arethusa, golden-tongued,
In the black swamp-land, moccasins by the pine;
And every flower bade memory farewell.
Oft he deplored the blue hepatica,
The earliest darling of the wood, the hills
Long since deflowered, whereon the laden bloom
Of mountain-laurel crowned his summers up
With sorrow, and the faces of old springs
Hung o'er the last year's brown and withered leaves.
O young and tender heart that saw the earth
Grown sad with beauty gone,—"Ay! this long time!"
He swept the sighing words from youthful lips:
"The grave spans all things with a little space!
Shut in the rose are summer's obsequies!
Death links with death!" and higher rose his strain:
"All things decay and vanish, changing form,
The infinite variable. The rainbow's arch
Is baseless, and the azure firmament,
Drifted with snowy mountains, range on range,
Shuts, as the lily; all that's in the world
Hath but its moment of infinity,
And no continuance anywhere is found
Save in the One, the Formless, undiscerned.
Hath heaven heard Him, in what skies He dwells?
A million orbs divide the region up;
A million beauties multiply on earth;
A million joys traffic in all men's hearts.
Seek ye in multitudes the Infinite One?
Seek ye in mortal bloom the Heavenly Rose?
Seek ye in endless nothingness the Whole?
Innumerable annihilation gnaws,
And infinite division, multiplied,
Unbinds the universe. Look you, how swift
The flood of waters sweeps Niagara's fall!
The hanging mass pours its eternal curve;
It sinks in billowing drifts of radiant spray,
And each drop shares the rainbow, rising up;
And the deep, fallen river chafes along,
And never more repairs its majesty.
Even so dissolves the godless universe."
And ever, speaking, he in thought beheld
Proteus, the god, sweet Adon's garden saw,
And all the mystery of life and death,
Nature's hard miracle. "The seasons change:
'T is birth,—'t is death,—'t is resurrection,—aye
The infinite cycle on itself returns
And pauses not. Thy moment live!" He ceased
And brightly leaped the fountain of his blood
Recurrent; joy revisited his eyes,
And beauty on his senses stole anew,
Not now ideal, the pattern of the gods,
But earthly, with the dyes and stains of time.
A deeper bloom, a more mysterious glow
Burned in the hollows of the wilderness
In whose rich glooms he sank; in that wide land
A loftier melancholy ruled,—it lay
So beautiful, so desolate, so alone,
Like a deserted paradise, grown wild.
Noon-weirdness came out of the mounded hills;
A glamour lay on the dim roll of plains,
Whose far horizons he should never cross;
And endless seemed the reaches of the waste,
Calling him ever to its unknown heart
Afar; and on his soul prophetic fell
The shadow of a yonder world, not ours,
Where man is not, nor any human thought,
Nor norm of truth or beauty or delight,
But the great globe, untenanted of mind,
Pure nature, rolls in the ethereal void;
And deeper glowed the dye in the dark rose,
And more fantastic now the orchid sprawled
Its errant beauty, and on wandering thoughts
Came drifting images, follies, grotesques,
Hallucinations; them he could not match
With truth more ancient than the heavens and earth,
The truth of reason; as from dreams he woke
To see, drawn nigh, the glimmering water lift
Horizons vague, arms of an inland sea
By brimming marshes; and a cypress grove,
Along the hither edge of that full flood,
Cast on it glooms indissolubly deep.
"Here might some dragon deity have dwelt,
And woe inhabited the wood," he mused.
Hard underfoot the bare and blanching soil
Grew skeletonized with ribbed and naked rock.
Black in the sun, the creeping shadow fell
Upon him, entering the sepulchral grove;
Its huge, columnar stems, flame-like, rose up,
Lifting a pointed gloom in burning skies,
And buried him amid an antique wood
Of mossy trunks and massive growth; above,
Heaven's broken spaces glimpsed; below, 't was night,
And in the heart thereof vast avenues
Opened their hoar, impenetrable ways;
Whereat he paused and pondered. The thick air
Seemed thronged with unseen beings; obscure shapes
Pressed on him in the dusk, unearthly things,
Ghastly, fantastic, elongate, macabre;
Spectral they moved, like monsters in sea-depths,
Eye-witchcraft; dim his eerie sight beheld,
Midmost a stagnant pool that barred his way,
A fringe of rushes round a phantom isle;
Silence engirt it, and a dreadful calm.
Afar he heard the inland waters beat
The desert strand,—a fall, and then a roar
Of grinding pebbles under the hoarse wave;
And on him swept the mystery of his birth,
That fused his being with the visible scene,
And made his senses voices of the soul.
There, standing on the edges of the world,
He seemed to hear the ceaseless surge of thought
Breaking on nature, and himself was drawn
In the dark undertow down unknown deeps,
And aye in him the climbing thought again
Made up the steeps of life in breaking waves,—
And, like an echo, there a spirit stood:
"O fallen star of morning beautiful,—
But sad thy beauty,"—the deep voice began—
"Why comest thou, breath of the living flesh,
From the lost lands of unfulfilled desire
Into the waste and turmoil of this death?
Not of our race, thee other gods protect."
A fire-tongued crescent blazed upon his brow,
Emerging from the darkness; in his hand
A serpent wand, tipped with a pine-tree cone,
Proclaimed him Bacchanal; like bronze he shone,
The form and feature of an antique land,
Ionian Asia, rich in old decay.
"Other my gods," the Roamer said, "'t is true;
But not my heart. What place of woe is this?"
"Thy full brows show thee a creator born;
But here is discreation. Avaunt!" he cried;
"Fly the mad region! fly the woeful strand,
Where beauty dies a thousand deaths in vain!
For vain the death is of immortal things,
Though ceaseless is their dying in the world."
The Roamer marked the intellectual face,
Heavy with thought and passion. "Nay," he said,
"I pray thee to unfold this mystic death."
Quick was the answer, as from one in haste,
Touching the main of wisdom's wide discourse,
As if profound in nature's element:
"Formless is death; but life is infinite form,
And beauty is the charm upon it spread,
As on the flower of youth its golden bloom.
Instinctive passion for the beautiful
Is the soul's character; at sight inflamed
With swift desire itself itself endues
In the fair forms through which its nakedness
Finds an incarnate nature, and fulfills
Its heavenly vigor, shines, and triumphs most;
So, form by form, it mounts eternal life.
Let passion fail, and that keen sight be lost,
Soon with defect comes dissolution on,
Progressive ugliness and foul decay;
Depraved, deformed, disorganized, and dull,
One with its form disintegrate, it sinks
And vanishes, withdrawn into the deep
That inexhaustibly pours forth fair forms.
Hence, ere they come!" He pointed with his wand
Where streamed a troop of Mænads through the wood,
Tumultuous breasts, with torches and with cries,
And with his gesture made the Roamer dark,
While yet remote the leopard-skins went by,
Mottled like shadows of deep forest dells,
And the hoar wood with dying frenzies rang:
"Woe to Adonis! Dionysus, woe!"
He raised the pine-cone, as a wine-cup up,
At the dread name; unseen, they echoed on,—
"Woe to the singer, Orpheus!" mystic calls.
"Thy way is lost; there is no harbor here.
To each his fate! I read thy brow." The eyes
Of the dark spirit, wells of wonder, burned.
"Keep thou the heights! Follow the water-course,—
Thy guide the furthest peak!" Abrupt, he turned,
And waited no response, but instant went;
Yet oft his face, reverted, backward shone,
With the rapt look that owns a master race
Suddenly seen, miraculous, divine.
But the warned Roamer fled the haunted ground,
And, lifting up his eyes, he saw, above,
The lonely peak in heaven, and knew the sign.
After brief interval he found the place,
A valley, folded in the mounded hills,
Frequent with fall and chasm, gorge and height.
Eastward, the mass of shadow, lengthening, fell;
And, darkening, hill by hill gave up its crown.
"An hour, ere sunset, yet is mine," he said.
The waterfall came down in snowy sheets,
Foaming from shelf to shelf of bowery green,
A dropping river; thrice it laced the air,
Filled the loud vale, and misted flower and leaf
Of the rich verdure on its emerald sides.
He crossed the channel upon fallen stones;
Up through the blossomy depths he made his way
Amid the noise of waters and the charm
Of the still landscape in eve's parting hour;
And twice he rested; twice in calm repose
The storm of waters held him round enisled
With the sweet peace of beauty, isolate
From all the world beside—O blessèd grace!
And now he rose on the third crag. Far west,
O'er lofty plains the sun yet poured his light,
And, a blue cone, the lonely mountain towered.
"New lands!" the Roamer sighed; but ere the breath
Had left his lips, he saw a figure stand
As one who waits beside the way: "Faint not!
Remember from how far thou camest!" The words
Fell like a benediction, angel-winged.
Compact of sweet affections was the voice,
That soothed the air; hushed was the atmosphere;
Tranquil all things waited day's golden close.
Again the figure spoke: "Far I, too, came
To greet thee on the road of mystery
Thou followest, even from yon shining mount,
The font and origin of all pure sight.
There is the head of this rich-dropping stream,
Which seeks the under-world; in that high air
Shadow and substance roll a common flood,
One in the other, and the wave so clear
That only by the image is it seen.
Not light itself hath such lucidity.
In such a stream Narcissus saw of yore
The image of himself,—which was the world
All subtly changed into the beautiful
Shape that gazed on him from his young heart's depth.
So mortals see, in the dim dusk of earth—
Shadow that is, but substance that shall be—
The infinite beauty of the world diverse
Grow one and integral in fairest forms;
But if the sight clouds o'er, and evil thoughts
Mar and distort those images of grace,
They perish, soul and image, as thou sawest
In the dark wood of warped, degenerate things,
Returning to the uncreated deep.
But, let the soul retain its native ray,
Which is the master-spirit of the eye,
It penetrates the beauteous shows of things
(Such is its nature) to the infinite
That round embosoms it." "Glimpses of this
My first years knew," the Roamer thoughtful, said,
And ocean memories drifted through his mind;
"I do remember me of my dim birth
Beside a pine-hung shore; now mythic lands
Hold less of mystery than that low coast
Where first, a boy, I counted the ninth wave,
And saw it through the emerald swell and gleam,
Make to the beach, and comb, and fall, and shoot
Up to my feet its bright, smooth-sliding foam,
While the long wave resounded down the sands,
And the blown spray bedewed me: whence my heart,
Like a sea-shell, hath in it sounding seas,
Echoing forever. There my childhood grew
With pure attachments bound, spontaneous joys,
To the sea's being; all the wave endues
With light and color shared my boyhood blood,
And made itself the framework of my thoughts
And channel of my feelings; and, ofttimes,
Awe came upon me, unintelligible,
In presence of the simple things of earth,
The dawn, the breeze, the stars, beside the sea.
In the long years of that sea-shepherding
There was one hour I nevermore forgot.
I stood amid the radiance of the noon,
Flooded with beauty; the bright, heavenly curve
Domed the blue deep, and from light's centre poured
On me the benediction of the seas
I had so loved; its winds, its blowing tides,
Voices mysterious, touch and sight divine,
The crests of sunset flung far down the west,
The rosy shallop of the breaking dawn
Breasting the island-breakers, dark a-gleam,—
Uncounted aspects, mingling all their grace,—
Ensphered me; and the gray sea, golden-tongued,
Upgathering invisible mystery,
Flashed through me, wave on wave, its effluence,
Unseen, unknown, unsensed, ineffable;
And all my being with bright passion shook.
Such moments, like the heavenly messenger,
Announce a birth divine; they cannot die;
And never after faded that pure ray.
It crept on human faces, forms of youth,
The smile of woman, hero, saint, and child,
And lit my youth from many a great design
Of mighty artists, where the risen soul,
Above the tomb as on a pedestal
Seated immortal, waited heaven's ascent;
Or crosses, on Judæan mounts relieved,
Led up the eye; or golden clouds enthroned
Virgin and martyr,—Italy enskied
Above her long-lined hills; but most it shone,
Where marble forms immovable of gods
Stayed the one moment of eternity
That ever is, and flashed through time and tide
The radiant presence of a greater world
Of timeless beauty, omnipresent thought,
The element of immortality,
Wherein the universe is lightly borne.
Then came a greater wonder. The ideal
Shone on me from the living forms of men
More than from paint, or clay, or gleaming stone,
Or the fair shapes that light the brooding mind.
I met them in the highways of the world,
Maiden and youth and child, hero and saint,
Sweetened by duty, crowned by sacrifice,
And most that glory rested on the poor;—
The changeless type more easily discerned,
Made flesh. So love had taught my mortal eyes."
The sun had sunk, and left a winter light,
Pure emerald, lucid in the delicate deep,
Transparent, crystalline, save where the peak
Clothed the pale North with an outstretching glow,
And the far East was barred with crimson flakes.
"More than the object doth the eye avail,
If but the sight be pure," that fair guest spoke,
And more his gentle smile left unexpressed;
"With such a light is every mortal born,
As well thou provest in thy wanderings;
And if he follow the all-heavenly ray,
He shall behold, though far, the Mount Divine,
The Mount of Vision, where my dwelling is,
The place of the Transfiguration old.
Lift up thy eyes, and see! lo, I am he,
The angel of the Intercessors called,
And in my charge all things of beauty are.
Swift must my going be out of thy sight,
Brief my farewell." He nigh the Roamer drew,
And touched his flesh, and raised his eyelids up
With hands, whose tender stroke was burning fire.
The mountain-cone was swathed in sunset flame,
As with a mantle; opalescent gleamed
The dying skies; one white and tremulous star
From light emerging, pale with quivering points,
Hung faint upon the orange edge of night,
Whereon the angel gazed; lovely in him,
The form of beauty full incarnate glowed,
The bloom of all desire: instant he passed.
"O, is the beauty of the evening star
The path of thy departure, spirit fair?"—
The Roamer spoke with syllables unheard.
Horizon-low, the heavenly planet shone,
And sank; far off the sweet light died away.
Night fell, the visionary peak went out;
About the Roamer a great darkness drew;
Lonely, he turned to his dim hostel, sleep,
And laid his head upon the dreamer's stone.