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The Premium Complete Collection of Edith Wharton
Detailed Biography of Edith Wharton
Artemis to Actaeon and Other Verses
Madame de Treymes
Tales of Men and Ghosts
The Age of Innocence
The Custom of the Country
The Descent of Man & Other Stories
The Early Short Fiction of Edith Wharton, Part 1
The Early Short Fiction of Edith Wharton, Part 2
The Fruit of the Tree
The Glimpses of the Moon
The Greater Inclination
The Hermit And The Wild Woman
The House of Mirth
The Long Run
The Triumph Of Night
The Valley Of Decision
Edith Wharton was born Edith Newbold Jones on January 24, 1862 in New York City. Her parents, George and Lucretia Jones, had roots in aristocracy dating back three centuries. As a daughter of society, Edith was expected to learn the mannerisms and rituals that were appropriate to her social class. She would later rebel against this role when she became a celebrated author. Rather than the limited scope of her schoolwork, Wharton based her books on research she did in her her father's library and lessons she learned from her governesses at home and in Europe.
In 1885, Edith married Teddy Wharton, who was twelve years older than her and hailed from a similar social background. They lived a relatively comfortable life with homes in New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Slowly, Wharton grew dissatisfied with her limited role of wife and society matron, compounded by Teddy's inability to match her wit and creative spirit. Her restlessness and anxiety likely contributed to her depression. She was treated throughout the 1890s and her condition prevented her from publishing her work until she was 36. By 1908, Wharton had begun an affair with Morton Fullerton, a journalist for the London Times living in Paris. She recorded all the details of their deeply intellectual and passionate relationship in her personal diaries. She eventually divorced Teddy Wharton in 1913.
Between 1900 and 1938, Wharton wrote over 40 books, both novels and short stories. Widespread public recognition of Wharton's talent began after the House of Mirth was published in 1905. The fictional novel was based on an in-depth exploration of American society. After that, Wharton became increasingly prolific. Ethan Frome was published in 1911 and in 1921, she won the Pulitzer Prize for The Age of Innocence, which many scholars and critics consider to be her best work.
Wharton's life changed when World War I began. She traveled extensively by motorcar through Europe, opening schools and hostels for refugees in northern France and Belgium. She also wrote reports for American publications, supporting American involvement in the war. After the war, Wharton only returned to the United States once in her lifetime (to accept her Pulitzer prize).
Throughout her life, Wharton frequently held salon, hosting gatherings where the most gifted intellectuals of her time could share thoughts and discuss ideas. Teddy Roosevelt, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway were all Wharton's guests at one time or another. Besides these salons, Wharton's friendship with Henry James had an immense influence on her work. Wharton continued writing voraciously until her death at age 75 in France. She is buried in the American Cemetery at Versailles.
ARTEMIS TO ACTAEON
AND OTHER VERSE
BY EDITH WHARTON
ARTEMIS TO ACTAEONLIFEVESALIUS IN ZANTEMARGARET OF CORTONAA TORCHBEARER
THE MORTAL LEASEEXPERIENCEGRIEFCHARTRESTWO BACKGROUNDSTHE TOMB OF ILARIA GIUNIGITHE ONE GRIEFTHE EUMENIDES
ORPHEUSAN AUTUMN SUNSETMOONRISE OVER TYRINGHAMALL SOULSALL SAINTSTHE OLD POLE STARA GRAVENON DOLET!A HUNTING-SONGSURVIVALUSESA MEETING
ARTEMIS TO ACTAEON
THOU couldst not look on me and live: so runsThe mortal legend--thou that couldst not live Nor look on me (so the divine decree)! That saw'st me in the cloud, the wave, the bough, The clod commoved with April, and the shapes Lurking 'twixt lid and eye-ball in the dark. Mocked I thee not in every guise of life, Hid in girls' eyes, a naiad in her well, Wooed through their laughter, and like echo fled, Luring thee down the primal silences Where the heart hushes and the flesh is dumb? Nay, was not I the tide that drew thee out Relentlessly from the detaining shore, Forth from the home-lights and the hailing voices, Forth from the last faint headland's failing line, Till I enveloped thee from verge to verge And hid thee in the hollow of my being? And still, because between us hung the veil, The myriad-tinted veil of sense, thy feet Refused their rest, thy hands the gifts of life, Thy heart its losses, lest some lesser face Should blur mine image in thine upturned soul Ere death had stamped it there. This was thy thought. And mine?
The gods, they say, have all: not so! This have they--flocks on every hill, the blue Spirals of incense and the amber drip Of lucid honey-comb on sylvan shrines, First-chosen weanlings, doves immaculate, Twin-cooing in the osier-plaited cage, And ivy-garlands glaucous with the dew: Man's wealth, man's servitude, but not himself! And so they pale, for lack of warmth they wane, Freeze to the marble of their images, And, pinnacled on man's subserviency, Through the thick sacrificial haze discern Unheeding lives and loves, as some cold peak Through icy mists may enviously descry Warm vales unzoned to the all-fruitful sun. So they along an immortality Of endless-envistaed homage strain their gaze, If haply some rash votary, empty-urned, But light of foot, with all-adventuring hand, Break rank, fling past the people and the priest, Up the last step, on to the inmost shrine, And there, the sacred curtain in his clutch, Drop dead of seeing--while the others prayed! Yes, this we wait for, this renews us, this Incarnates us, pale people of your dreams, Who are but what you make us, wood or stone, Or cold chryselephantine hung with gems, Or else the beating purpose of your life, Your sword, your clay, the note your pipe pursues, The face that haunts your pillow, or the light Scarce visible over leagues of labouring sea!O thus through use to reign again, to drinkThe cup of peradventure to the lees,For one dear instant disimmortalisedIn giving immortality! So dream the gods upon their listless thrones. Yet sometimes, when the votary appears, With death-affronting forehead and glad eyes,Too young_, they rather muse, _too frail thou art,And shall we rob some girl of saffron veilAnd nuptial garland for so slight a thing? And so to their incurious loves return.
Not so with thee; for some indeed there are Who would behold the truth and then return To pine among the semblances--but I Divined in thee the questing foot that never Revisits the cold hearth of yesterday Or calls achievement home. I from afar Beheld thee fashioned for one hour's high use, Nor meant to slake oblivion drop by drop. Long, long hadst thou inhabited my dreams, Surprising me as harts surprise a pool, Stealing to drink at midnight; I divined Thee rash to reach the heart of life, and lie Bosom to bosom in occasion's arms. And said: Because I love thee thou shalt die!
For immortality is not to range Unlimited through vast Olympian days, Or sit in dull dominion over time; But this--to drink fate's utmost at a draught, Nor feel the wine grow stale upon the lip, To scale the summit of some soaring moment, Nor know the dulness of the long descent, To snatch the crown of life and seal it up Secure forever in the vaults of death!
And this was thine: to lose thyself in me, Relive in my renewal, and become The light of other lives, a quenchless torch Passed on from hand to hand, till men are dust And the last garland withers from my shrine.
NAY, lift me to thy lips, Life, and once morePour the wild music through me--
I quivered in the reed-bed with my kind, Rooted in Lethe-bank, when at the dawn There came a groping shape of mystery Moving among us, that with random stroke Severed, and rapt me from my silent tribe, Pierced, fashioned, lipped me, sounding for a voice, Laughing on Lethe-bank--and in my throat I felt the wing-beat of the fledgeling notes, The bubble of godlike laughter in my throat.
Such little songs she sang, Pursing her lips to fit the tiny pipe, They trickled from me like a slender spring That strings frail wood-growths on its crystal thread, Nor dreams of glassing cities, bearing ships. She sang, and bore me through the April world Matching the birds, doubling the insect-hum In the meadows, under the low-moving airs, And breathings of the scarce-articulate air When it makes mouths of grasses--but when the sky Burst into storm, and took great trees for pipes, She thrust me in her breast, and warm beneath Her cloudy vesture, on her terrible heart, I shook, and heard the battle.
But more oft, Those early days, we moved in charmed woods, Where once, at dusk, she piped against a faun, And one warm dawn a tree became a nymph Listening; and trembled; and Life laughed and passed. And once we came to a great stream that bore The stars upon its bosom like a sea, And ships like stars; so to the sea we came. And there she raised me to her lips, and sent One swift pang through me; then refrained her hand, And whispered: "Hear--" and into my frail flanks, Into my bursting veins, the whole sea poured Its spaces and its thunder; and I feared.
We came to cities, and Life piped on me Low calls to dreaming girls, In counting-house windows, through the chink of gold, Flung cries that fired the captive brain of youth, And made the heavy merchant at his desk Curse us for a cracked hurdy-gurdy; Life Mimicked the hurdy-gurdy, and we passed.
We climbed the slopes of solitude, and there Life met a god, who challenged her and said: "Thy pipe against my lyre!" But "Wait!" she laughed, And in my live flank dug a finger-hole, And wrung new music from it. Ah, the pain!
We climbed and climbed, and left the god behind. We saw the earth spread vaster than the sea, With infinite surge of mountains surfed with snow, And a silence that was louder than the deep; But on the utmost pinnacle Life again Hid me, and I heard the terror in her hair.
Safe in new vales, I ached for the old pang, And clamoured "Play me against a god again!" "Poor Marsyas-mortal--he shall bleed thee yet," She breathed and kissed me, stilling the dim need. But evermore it woke, and stabbed my flankWith yearnings for new music and new pain. "Another note against another god!" I clamoured; and she answered: "Bide my time. Of every heart-wound I will make a stop, And drink thy life in music, pang by pang, But first thou must yield the notes I stored in thee At dawn beside the river. Take my lips."
She kissed me like a lover, but I wept, Remembering that high song against the god, And the old songs slept in me, and I was dumb.
We came to cavernous foul places, blind With harpy-wings, and sulphurous with the glare Of sinful furnaces--where hunger toiled, And pleasure gathered in a starveling prey, And death fed delicately on young bones.
"Now sing!" cried Life, and set her lips to me. "Here are gods also. Wilt thou pipe for Dis?" My cry was drowned beneath the furnace roar, Choked by the sulphur-fumes; and beast-lipped gods Laughed down on me, and mouthed the flutes of hell.
"Now sing!" said Life, reissuing to the stars; And wrung a new note from my wounded side.
So came we to clear spaces, and the sea. And now I felt its volume in my heart, And my heart waxed with it, and Life played on me The song of the Infinite. "Now the stars," she said.
Then from the utmost pinnacle again She poured me on the wild sidereal stream, And I grew with her great breathings, till we swept The interstellar spaces like new worlds Loosed from the fiery ruin of a star.
Cold, cold we rested on black peaks again, Under black skies, under a groping wind; And Life, grown old, hugged me to a numb breast, Pressing numb lips against me. Suddenly A blade of silver severed the black peaks From the black sky, and earth was born again, Breathing and various, under a god's feet. A god! A god! I felt the heart of Life Leap under me, and my cold flanks shook again. He bore no lyre, he rang no challenge out, But Life warmed to him, warming me with her, And as he neared I felt beneath her hands The stab of a new wound that sucked my soul Forth in a new song from my throbbing throat.
"His name--his name?" I whispered, but she shed The music faster, and I grew with it, Became a part of it, while Life and I Clung lip to lip, and I from her wrung song As she from me, one song, one ecstasy, In indistinguishable union blent, Till she became the flute and I the player. And lo! the song I played on her was more Than any she had drawn from me; it held The stars, the peaks, the cities, and the sea, The faun's catch, the nymph's tremor, and the heart Of dreaming girls, of toilers at the desk, Apollo's challenge on the sunrise slope, And the hiss of the night-gods mouthing flutes of hell-- All, to the dawn-wind's whisper in the reeds, When Life first came, a shape of mystery, Moving among us, and with random stroke Severed, and rapt me from my silent tribe. All this I wrung from her in that deep hour, While Love stood murmuring: "Play the god, poor grass!"
Now, by that hour, I am a mate to thee Forever, Life, however spent and clogged, And tossed back useless to my native mud! Yea, groping for new reeds to fashion thee New instruments of anguish and delight, Thy hand shall leap to me, thy broken reed, Thine ear remember me, thy bosom thrill With the old subjection, then when Love and I Held thee, and fashioned thee, and made thee dance Like a slave-girl to her pipers--yea, thou yet Shalt hear my call, and dropping all thy toys Thou'lt lift me to thy lips, Life, and once more Pour the wild music through me--
VESALIUS IN ZANTE (See note at end)
SET wide the window. Let me drink the day. I loved light ever, light in eye and brain-- No tapers mirrored in long palace floors, Nor dedicated depths of silent aisles, But just the common dusty wind-blown day That roofs earth's millions.
O, too long I walked In that thrice-sifted air that princes breathe, Nor felt the heaven-wide jostling of the winds And all the ancient outlawry of earth! Now let me breathe and see.
This pilgrimageThey call a penance--let them call it that! I set my face to the East to shrive my soulOf mortal sin? So be it. If my blade Once questioned living flesh, if once I tore The pages of the Book in opening it, See what the torn page yielded ere the light Had paled its buried characters--and judge!
The girl they brought me, pinioned hand and foot In catalepsy--say I should have known That trance had not yet darkened into death, And held my scalpel. Well, suppose I knew? Sum up the facts--her life against her death.Her life? The scum upon the pools of pleasure Breeds such by thousands. And her death? Perchance The obolus to appease the ferrying Shade, And waft her into immortality. Think what she purchased with that one heart-flutterThat whispered its deep secret to my blade! For, just because her bosom fluttered still, It told me more than many rifled graves; Because I spoke too soon, she answered me, Her vain life ripened to this bud of death As the whole plant is forced into one flower, All her blank past a scroll on which God wrote His word of healing--so that the poor flesh, Which spread death living, died to purchase life!
Ah, no! The sin I sinned was mine, not theirs. Not that they sent me forth to wash away-- None of their tariffed frailties, but a deed So far beyond their grasp of good or ill That, set to weigh it in the Church's balance, Scarce would they know which scale to cast it in. But I, I know. I sinned against my will, Myself, my soul--the God within the breast: Can any penance wash such sacrilege?
When I was young in Venice, years ago, I walked the hospice with a Spanish monk, A solitary cloistered in high thoughts, The great Loyola, whom I reckoned then A mere refurbisher of faded creeds, Expert to edge anew the arms of faith, As who should say, a Galenist, resolved To hold the walls of dogma against fact, Experience, insight, his own self, if need be! Ah, how I pitied him, mine own eyes set Straight in the level beams of Truth, who gropedIn error's old deserted catacombs And lit his tapers upon empty graves! Ay, but he held his own, the monk--more man Than any laurelled cripple of the wars, Charles's spent shafts; for what he willed he willed, As those do that forerun the wheels of fate, Not take their dust--that force the virgin hours, Hew life into the likeness of themselves And wrest the stars from their concurrences. So firm his mould; but mine the ductile soulThat wears the livery of circumstance And hangs obsequious on its suzerain's eye. For who rules now? The twilight-flitting monk, Or I, that took the morning like an Alp? He held his own, I let mine slip from me, The birthright that no sovereign can restore; And so ironic Time beholds us now Master and slave--he lord of half the earth, I ousted from my narrow heritage.
For there's the sting! My kingdom knows me not. Reach me that folio--my usurper's title! Fallopius reigning, vice--nay, not so: Successor, not usurper. I am dead. My throne stood empty; he was heir to it. Ay, but who hewed his kingdom from the waste, Cleared, inch by inch, the acres for his sowing, Won back for man that ancient fief o' the Church, His body? Who flung Galen from his seat, And founded the great dynasty of truth In error's central kingdom?
Ask men that, And see their answer: just a wondering stare To learn things were not always as they are-- The very fight forgotten with the fighter; Already grows the moss upon my grave! Ay, and so meet--hold fast to that, Vesalius. They only, who re-conquer day by day The inch of ground they camped on over-night, Have right of foothold on this crowded earth. I left mine own; he seized it; with it went My name, my fame, my very self, it seems, Till I am but the symbol of a man, The sign-board creaking o'er an empty inn. He names me--true! Oh, give the door its dueI entered by. Only, I pray you, note,Had door been none, a shoulder-thrust of mineHad breached the crazy wall"--he seems to say. So meet--and yet a word of thanks, of praise, Of recognition that the clue was found, Seized, followed, clung to, by some hand now dust-- Had this obscured his quartering of my shield?
How the one weakness stirs again! I thought I had done with that old thirst for gratitudeThat lured me to the desert years ago. I did my work--and was not that enough? No; but because the idlers sneered and shrugged, The envious whispered, the traducers lied, And friendship doubted where it should have cheered I flung aside the unfinished task, sought praise Outside my soul's esteem, and learned too late That victory, like God's kingdom, is within. (Nay, let the folio rest upon my knee. I do not feel its weight.) Ingratitude? The hurrying traveller does not ask the name Of him who points him on his way; and this Fallopius sits in the mid-heart of me, Because he keeps his eye upon the goal, Cuts a straight furrow to the end in view, Cares not who oped the fountain by the way, But drinks to draw fresh courage for his journey. That was the lesson that Ignatius taught-- The one I might have learned from him, but would not-- That we are but stray atoms on the wind, A dancing transiency of summer eves, Till we become one with our purpose, merged In that vast effort of the race which makes Mortality immortal.
"He that losethHis life shall find it": so the Scripture runs. But I so hugged the fleeting self in me, So loved the lovely perishable hours, So kissed myself to death upon their lips, That on one pyre we perished in the end-- A grimmer bonfire than the Church e'er lit! Yet all was well--or seemed so--till I heard That younger voice, an echo of my own, And, like a wanderer turning to his home, Who finds another on the hearth, and learns, Half-dazed, that other is his actual self In name and claim, as the whole parish swears, So strangely, suddenly, stood dispossessed Of that same self I had sold all to keep, A baffled ghost that none would see or hear!"Vesalius? Who's Vesalius? This FallopiusIt is who dragged the Galen-idol down,Who rent the veil of flesh and forced a wayInto the secret fortalice of life"-- Yet it was I that bore the brunt of it!
Well, better so! Better awake and live My last brief moment as the man I was, Than lapse from life's long lethargy to death Without one conscious interval. At least I repossess my past, am once again No courtier med'cining the whims of kings In muffled palace-chambers, but the free Friendless Vesalius, with his back to the wall And all the world against him. O, for that Best gift of all, Fallopius, take my thanks-- That, and much more. At first, when Padua wrote: "Master, Fallopius dead, resume again The chair even he could not completely fill, And see what usury age shall take of youth In honours forfeited"--why, just at first, I was quite simply credulously glad To think the old life stood ajar for me, Like a fond woman's unforgetting heart. But now that death waylays me--now I know This isle is the circumference of my days, And I shall die here in a little while-- So also best, Fallopius!
For I see The gods may give anew, but not restore; And though I think that, in my chair again, I might have argued my supplanters wrong In this or that--this Cesalpinus, say, With all his hot-foot blundering in the dark, Fabricius, with his over-cautious clutch On Galen (systole and diastole Of Truth's mysterious heart!)--yet, other ways, It may be that this dying serves the cause. For Truth stays not to build her monument For this or that co-operating hand, But props it with her servants' failures--nay, Cements its courses with their blood and brains, A living substance that shall clinch her walls Against the assaults of time. Already, see, Her scaffold rises on my hidden toil, I but the accepted premiss whence must spring The airy structure of her argument; Nor could the bricks it rests on serve to build The crowning finials. I abide her law: A different substance for a different end-- Content to know I hold the building up; Though men, agape at dome and pinnacles, Guess not, the whole must crumble like a dream But for that buried labour underneath. Yet, Padua, I had still my word to say!Let others say it!--Ah, but will they guess Just the one word--? Nay, Truth is many-tongued. What one man failed to speak, another findsAnother word for. May not all converge In some vast utterance, of which you and I, Fallopius, were but halting syllables? So knowledge come, no matter how it comes! No matter whence the light falls, so it fall! Truth's way, not mine--that I, whose service failedIn action, yet may make amends in praise. Fabricius, Cesalpinus, say your word, Not yours, or mine, but Truth's, as you receive it! You miss a point I saw? See others, then! Misread my meaning? Yet expound your own! Obscure one space I cleared? The sky is wide, And you may yet uncover other stars. For thus I read the meaning of this end: There are two ways of spreading light: to be The candle or the mirror that reflects it. I let my wick burn out--there yet remainsTo spread an answering surface to the flame That others kindle.
Turn me in my bed. The window darkens as the hours swing round; But yonder, look, the other casement glows! Let me face westward as my sun goes down.
MARGARET OF CORTONA
FRA PAOLO, since they say the end is near, And you of all men have the gentlest eyes, Most like our father Francis; since you know How I have toiled and prayed and scourged and striven, Mothered the orphan, waked beside the sick, Gone empty that mine enemy might eat, Given bread for stones in famine years, and channelled With vigilant knees the pavement of this cell, Till I constrained the Christ upon the wall To bend His thorn-crowned Head in mute forgiveness . . . Three times He bowed it . . . (but the whole stands writ, Sealed with the Bishop's signet, as you know), Once for each person of the Blessed Three-- A miracle that the whole town attests, The very babes thrust forward for my blessing, And either parish plotting for my bones-- Since this you know: sit near and bear with me.
I have lain here, these many empty days I thought to pack with Credos and Hail Marys So close that not a fear should force the door-- But still, between the blessed syllables That taper up like blazing angel heads, Praise over praise, to the Unutterable, Strange questions clutch me, thrusting fiery arms, As though, athwart the close-meshed litanies, My dead should pluck at me from hell, with eyes Alive in their obliterated faces! . . . I have tried the saints' names and our blessed Mother's Fra Paolo, I have tried them o'er and o'er, And like a blade bent backward at first thrust They yield and fail me--and the questions stay. And so I thought, into some human heart, Pure, and yet foot-worn with the tread of sin, If only I might creep for sanctuary, It might be that those eyes would let me rest. . .
Fra Paolo, listen. How should I forgetThe day I saw him first? (You know the one.) I had been laughing in the market-place With others like me, I the youngest there, Jostling about a pack of mountebanks Like flies on carrion (I the youngest there!), Till darkness fell; and while the other girls Turned this way, that way, as perdition beckoned, I, wondering what the night would bring, half hoping:If not, this once, a child's sleep in my garret,At least enough to buy that two-pronged coralThe others covet 'gainst the evil eye,Since, after all, one sees that I'm the youngest-- So, muttering my litany to hell (The only prayer I knew that was not Latin), Felt on my arm a touch as kind as yours, And heard a voice as kind as yours say "Come." I turned and went; and from that day I neverLooked on the face of any other man. So much is known; so much effaced; the sin Cast like a plague-struck body to the sea, Deep, deep into the unfathomable pardon-- (The Head bowed thrice, as the whole town attests). What more, then? To what purpose? Bear with me!--
It seems that he, a stranger in the place, First noted me that afternoon and wondered:How grew so white a bud in such black slime,And why not mine the hand to pluck it out? Why, so Christ deals with souls, you cry--what then? Not so! Not so! When Christ, the heavenly gardener, Plucks flowers for Paradise (do I not know?), He snaps the stem above the root, and presses The ransomed soul between two convent walls, A lifeless blossom in the Book of Life. But when my lover gathered me, he lifted Stem, root and all--ay, and the clinging mud-- And set me on his sill to spread and bloom After the common way, take sun and rain, And make a patch of brightness for the street, Though raised above rough fingers--so you make A weed a flower, and others, passing, think: "Next ditch I cross, I'll lift a root from it, And dress my window" . . . and the blessing spreads. Well, so I grew, with every root and tendril Grappling the secret anchorage of his love, And so we loved each other till he died. . . .
Ah, that black night he left me, that dead dawn I found him lying in the woods, alive To gasp my name out and his life-blood with it, As though the murderer's knife had probed for me In his hacked breast and found me in each wound. . . Well, it was there Christ came to me, you know, And led me home--just as that other led me._(Just as that other?_ Father, bear with me!) My lover's death, they tell me, saved my soul, And I have lived to be a light to men. And gather sinners to the knees of grace. All this, you say, the Bishop's signet covers. But stay! Suppose my lover had not died? (At last my question! Father, help me face it.) I say: Suppose my lover had not died-- Think you I ever would have left him living, Even to be Christ's blessed Margaret? --We lived in sin? Why, to the sin I died to That other was as Paradise, when God Walks there at eventide, the air pure gold, And angels treading all the grass to flowers! He was my Christ--he led me out of hell-- He died to save me (so your casuists say!)-- Could Christ do more? Your Christ out-pity mine? Why, yours but let the sinner bathe His feet; Mine raised her to the level of his heart. . . And then Christ's way is saving, as man's wayIs squandering--and the devil take the shards! But this man kept for sacramental use The cup that once had slaked a passing thirst; This man declared: "The same clay serves to model A devil or a saint; the scribe may stain The same fair parchment with obscenities, Or gild with benedictions; nay," he cried, "Because a satyr feasted in this wood, And fouled the grasses with carousing foot, Shall not a hermit build his chapel here And cleanse the echoes with his litanies? The sodden grasses spring again--why notThe trampled soul? Is man less mercifulThan nature, good more fugitive than grass?" And so--if, after all, he had not died, And suddenly that door should know his hand, And with that voice as kind as yours he said: "Come, Margaret, forth into the sun again, Back to the life we fashioned with our hands Out of old sins and follies, fragments scorned Of more ambitious builders, yet by Love, The patient architect, so shaped and fitted That not a crevice let the winter in--" Think you my bones would not arise and walk, This bruised body (as once the bruised soul) Turn from the wonders of the seventh heaven As from the antics of the market-place? If this could be (as I so oft have dreamed), I, who have known both loves, divine and human, Think you I would not leave this Christ for that?
--I rave, you say? You start from me, Fra Paolo? Go, then; your going leaves me not alone. I marvel, rather, that I feared the question, Since, now I name it, it draws near to me With such dear reassurance in its eyes, And takes your place beside me. . .
Nay, I tell you, Fra Paolo, I have cried on all the saints-- If this be devil's prompting, let them drown it In Alleluias! Yet not one replies. And, for the Christ there--is He silent too?Your Christ? Poor father; you that have but one, And that one silent--how I pity you! He will not answer? Will not help you castThe devil out? But hangs there on the wall, Blind wood and bone--?
How if _I_ call on Him-- I, whom He talks with, as the town attests? If ever prayer hath ravished me so high That its wings failed and dropped me in Thy breast, Christ, I adjure Thee! By that naked hour Of innermost commixture, when my soul Contained Thee as the paten holds the host, Judge Thou alone between this priest and me; Nay, rather, Lord, between my past and present, Thy Margaret and that other's--whose she is By right of salvage--and whose call should follow!Thine? Silent still.--Or his, who stooped to her, And drew her to Thee by the bands of love? Not Thine? Then his?
Ah, Christ--the thorn-crowned Head Bends . . . bends again . . . down on your knees,
Fra Paolo! If his, then Thine!
Kneel, priest, for this is heaven. . .
GREAT cities rise and have their fall; the brassThat held their glories moulders in its turn. Hard granite rots like an uprooted weed, And ever on the palimpsest of earth Impatient Time rubs out the word he writ. But one thing makes the years its pedestal, Springs from the ashes of its pyre, and claps A skyward wing above its epitaph-- The will of man willing immortal things.
The ages are but baubles hung upon The thread of some strong lives--and one slight wrist May lift a century above the dust; For Time, The Sisyphean load of little lives, Becomes the globe and sceptre of the great. But who are these that, linking hand in hand, Transmit across the twilight waste of years The flying brightness of a kindled hour? Not always, nor alone, the lives that search How they may snatch a glory out of heaven Or add a height to Babel; oftener they That in the still fulfilment of each day's Pacific order hold great deeds in leash, That in the sober sheath of tranquil tasks Hide the attempered blade of high emprise, And leap like lightning to the clap of fate.
So greatly gave he, nurturing 'gainst the call Of one rare moment all the daily store Of joy distilled from the acquitted task, And that deliberate rashness which bespeaks The pondered action passed into the blood; So swift to harden purpose into deed That, with the wind of ruin in his hair, Soul sprang full-statured from the broken flesh, And at one stroke he lived the whole of life, Poured all in one libation to the truth, A brimming flood whose drops shall overflow On deserts of the soul long beaten down By the brute hoof of habit, till they spring In manifold upheaval to the sun.
Call here no high artificer to raise His wordy monument--such lives as these Make death a dull misnomer and its pomp An empty vesture. Let resounding lives Re-echo splendidly through high-piled vaults And make the grave their spokesman--such as he Are as the hidden streams that, underground, Sweeten the pastures for the grazing kine, Or as spring airs that bring through prison bars The scent of freedom; or a light that burns Immutably across the shaken seas, Forevermore by nameless hands renewed, Where else were darkness and a glutted shore.
THE MORTAL LEASE
BECAUSE the currents of our love are poured Through the slow welter of the primal flood From some blind source of monster-haunted mud, And flung together by random forces stored Ere the vast void with rushing worlds was scored-- Because we know ourselves but the dim scud Tossed from their heedless keels, the sea-blown bud That wastes and scatters ere the wave has roared--
Because we have this knowledge in our veins, Shall we deny the journey's gathered lore-- The great refusals and the long disdains, The stubborn questing for a phantom shore, The sleepless hopes and memorable pains, And all mortality's immortal gains?
Because our kiss is as the moon to draw The mounting waters of that red-lit sea That circles brain with sense, and bids us be The playthings of an elemental law, Shall we forego the deeper touch of awe On love's extremest pinnacle, where we, Winging the vistas of infinity, Gigantic on the mist our shadows saw?
Shall kinship with the dim first-moving clod Not draw the folded pinion from the soul, And shall we not, by spirals vision-trod, Reach upward to some still-retreating goal, As earth, escaping from the night's control, Drinks at the founts of morning like a god?
All, all is sweet in that commingled draught Mysterious, that life pours for lovers' thirst, And I would meet your passion as the first Wild woodland woman met her captor's craft, Or as the Greek whose fearless beauty laughed And doffed her raiment by the Attic flood; But in the streams of my belated blood Flow all the warring potions love has quaffed.
How can I be to you the nymph who danced Smooth by Ilissus as the plane-tree's bole, Or how the Nereid whose drenched lashes glanced Like sea-flowers through the summer sea's long roll-- I that have also been the nun entranced Who night-long held her Bridegroom in her soul?
"Sad Immortality is dead," you say, "And all her grey brood banished from the soul; Life, like the earth, is now a rounded whole, The orb of man's dominion. Live to-day." And every sense in me leapt to obey, Seeing the routed phantoms backward roll; But from their waning throng a whisper stole, And touched the morning splendour with decay.
"Sad Immortality is dead; and weThe funeral train that bear her to her grave. Yet hath she left a two-faced progeny In hearts of men, and some will always see The skull beneath the wreath, yet always crave In every kiss the folded kiss to be."
Yet for one rounded moment I will be No more to you than what my lips may give, And in the circle of your kisses live As in some island of a storm-blown sea, Where the cold surges of infinity Upon the outward reefs unheeded grieve, And the loud murmur of our blood shall weave Primeval silences round you and me.
If in that moment we are all we areWe live enough. Let this for all requite. Do I not know, some winged things from far Are borne along illimitable nightTo dance their lives out in a single flight Between the moonrise and the setting star?
The Moment came, with sacramental cup Lifted--and all the vault of life grew brightWith tides of incommensurable light-- But tremblingly I turned and covered up My face before the wonder. Down the slope I heard her feet in irretrievable flight, And when I looked again, my stricken sight Saw night and rain in a dead world agrope.
Now walks her ghost beside me, whispering With lips derisive: "Thou that wouldst forego-- What god assured thee that the cup I bring Globes not in every drop the cosmic show, All that the insatiate heart of man can wring From life's long vintage?--Now thou shalt not know."
Shall I not know? I, that could always catch The sunrise in one beam along the wall, The nests of June in April's mating call, And ruinous autumn in the wind's first snatch At summer's green impenetrable thatch-- That always knew far off the secret fall Of a god's feet across the city's brawl, The touch of silent fingers on my latch?
Not thou, vain Moment! Something more than thou Shall write the score of what mine eyes have wept, The touch of kisses that have missed my brow, The murmur of wings that brushed me while I slept, And some mute angel in the breast even now Measures my loss by all that I have kept.
Strive we no more. Some hearts are like the bright Tree-chequered spaces, flecked with sun and shade, Where gathered in old days the youth and maid To woo, and weave their dances: with the night They cease their flutings, and the next day's light Finds the smooth green unconscious of their tread, And ready its velvet pliancies to spread Under fresh feet, till these in turn take flight.
But other hearts a long long road doth span, From some far region of old works and wars, And the weary armies of the thoughts of man Have trampled it, and furrowed it with scars, And sometimes, husht, a sacred caravan Moves over it alone, beneath the stars.
LIKE Crusoe with the bootless gold we standUpon the desert verge of death, and say: "What shall avail the woes of yesterday To buy to-morrow's wisdom, in the land Whose currency is strange unto our hand? In life's small market they had served to paySome late-found rapture, could we but delay Till Time hath matched our means to our demand."
But otherwise Fate wills it, for, behold, Our gathered strength of individual pain, When Time's long alchemy hath made it gold, Dies with us--hoarded all these years in vain, Since those that might be heir to it the mould Renew, and coin themselves new griefs again.
O Death, we come full-handed to thy gate, Rich with strange burden of the mingled years, Gains and renunciations, mirth and tears, And love's oblivion, and remembering hate. Nor know we what compulsion laid such freightUpon our souls--and shall our hopes and fears Buy nothing of thee, Death? Behold our wares, And sell us the one joy for which we wait. Had we lived longer, life had such for sale, With the last coin of sorrow purchased cheap, But now we stand before thy shadowy pale, And all our longings lie within thy keep-- Death, can it be the years shall naught avail?
"Not so," Death answered, "they shall purchase sleep."
ON immemorial altitudes august Grief holds her high dominion. Bold the feetThat climb unblenching to that stern retreat Whence, looking down, man knows himself but dust. There lie the mightiest passions, earthward thrust Beneath her regnant footstool, and there meet Pale ghosts of buried longings that were sweet, With many an abdicated "shall" and "must."
For there she rules omnipotent, whose will Compels a mute acceptance of her chart; Who holds the world, and lo! it cannot fill Her mighty hand; who will be served apart With uncommunicable rites, and still Surrender of the undivided heart.
She holds the world within her mighty hand, And lo! it is a toy for babes to toss, And all its shining imagery but dross, To those that in her awful presence stand; As sun-confronting eagles o'er the land That lies below, they send their gaze across The common intervals of gain and loss, And hope's infinitude without a strand.
But he who, on that lonely eminence, Watches too long the whirling of the spheres Through dim eternities, descending thence The voices of his kind no longer hears, And, blinded by the spectacle immense, Journeys alone through all the after years.
IMMENSE, august, like some Titanic bloom, The mighty choir unfolds its lithic core, Petalled with panes of azure, gules and or, Splendidly lambent in the Gothic gloom, And stamened with keen flamelets that illume The pale high-altar. On the prayer-worn floor, By worshippers innumerous thronged of yore, A few brown crones, familiars of the tomb, The stranded driftwood of Faith's ebbing sea-- For these alone the finials fret the skies, The topmost bosses shake their blossoms free, While from the triple portals, with grave eyes, Tranquil, and fixed upon eternity, The cloud of witnesses still testifies.
The crimson panes like blood-drops stigmatiseThe western floor. The aisles are mute and cold. A rigid fetich in her robe of gold, The Virgin of the Pillar, with blank eyes, Enthroned beneath her votive canopies, Gathers a meagre remnant to her fold. The rest is solitude; the church, grown old, Stands stark and grey beneath the burning skies. Well-nigh again its mighty framework grows To be a part of nature's self, withdrawn From hot humanity's impatient woes; The floor is ridged like some rude mountain lawn, And in the east one giant window shows The roseate coldness of an Alp at dawn.
LA VIERGE AU DONATEUR
HERE by the ample river's argent sweep, Bosomed in tilth and vintage to her walls, A tower-crowned Cybele in armoured sleep The city lies, fat plenty in her halls, With calm parochial spires that hold in fee The friendly gables clustered at their base, And, equipoised o'er tower and market-place, The Gothic minister's winged immensity; And in that narrow burgh, with equal mood, Two placid hearts, to all life's good resigned, Might, from the altar to the lych-gate, find Long years of peace and dreamless plenitude.
Yon strange blue city crowns a scarped steep No mortal foot hath bloodlessly essayed: Dreams and illusions beacon from its keep. But at the gate an Angel bares his blade; And tales are told of those who thought to gain At dawn its ramparts; but when evening fell Far off they saw each fading pinnacle Lit with wild lightnings from the heaven of pain; Yet there two souls, whom life's perversities Had mocked with want in plenty, tears in mirth, Might meet in dreams, ungarmented of earth, And drain Joy's awful chalice to the lees.
THE TOMB OF ILARIA GIUNIGI
ILARIA, thou that wert so fair and dear That death would fain disown thee, grief made wise With prophecy thy husband's widowed eyes, And bade him call the master's art to rear Thy perfect image on the sculptured bier, With dreaming lids, hands laid in peaceful guise Beneath the breast that seems to fall and rise, And lips that at love's call should answer "Here!"
First-born of the Renascence, when thy soul Cast the sweet robing of the flesh aside, Into these lovelier marble limbs it stole, Regenerate in art's sunrise clear and wide, As saints who, having kept faith's raiment whole, Change it above for garments glorified.
THE ONE GRIEF
ONE grief there is, the helpmeet of my heart, That shall not from me till my days be sped, That walks beside me in sunshine and in shade, And hath in all my fortunes equal part. At first I feared it, and would often start Aghast to find it bending o'er my bed, Till usage slowly dulled the edge of dread, And one cold night I cried: How warm thou art!
Since then we two have travelled hand in hand, And, lo, my grief has been interpreter For me in many a fierce and alien land Whose speech young Joy had failed to understand, Plucking me tribute of red gold and myrrh From desolate whirlings of the desert sand.
THINK you we slept within the Delphic bower, What time our victim sought Apollo's grace? Nay, drawn into ourselves, in that deep placeWhere good and evil meet, we bode our hour. For not inexorable is our power. And we are hunted of the prey we chase, Soonest gain ground on them that flee apace, And draw temerity from hearts that cower.
Shuddering we gather in the house of ruth, And on the fearful turn a face of fear, But they to whom the ways of doom are clear Not vainly named us the Eumenides. Our feet are faithful in the paths of truth, And in the constant heart we house at peace.
_Love will make men dare to die for their beloved. . . Of this Alcestis is a monument . . . for she was willing to lay down her life for her husband . . . and so noble did this appear to the gods that they granted her the privilege of returning to earth . . . but Orpheus, the son of OEagrus, they sent empty away. . ._
--PLATO: The Symposium.
ORPHEUS the Harper, coming to the gate Where the implacable dim warder sate, Besought for parley with a shade within, Dearer to him than life itself had been, Sweeter than sunlight on Illyrian sea, Or bloom of myrtle, or murmur of laden bee, Whom lately from his unconsenting breast The Fates, at some capricious blind behest, Intolerably had reft--Eurydice, Dear to the sunlight as Illyrian sea, Sweet as the murmur of bees, or myrtle bloom-- And uncompanioned led her to the tomb.
There, solitary by the Stygian tide, Strayed her dear feet, the shadow of his own, Since, 'mid the desolate millions who have died, Each phantom walks its crowded path alone; And there her head, that slept upon his breast, No more had such sweet harbour for its rest, Nor her swift ear from those disvoiced throats Could catch one echo of his living notes, And, dreaming nightly of her pallid doom, No solace had he of his own young bloom, But yearned to pour his blood into her veins And buy her back with unimagined pains.
To whom the Shepherd of the Shadows said: "Yea, many thus would bargain for their dead; But when they hear my fatal gateway clang Life quivers in them with a last sweet pang. They see the smoke of home above the trees, The cordage whistles on the harbour breeze; The beaten path that wanders to the shore Grows dear because they shall not tread it more, The dog that drowsing on their threshold lies Looks at them with their childhood in his eyes, And in the sunset's melancholy fall They read a sunrise that shall give them all."
"Not thus am I," the Harper smiled his scorn. "I see no path but those her feet have worn; My roof-tree is the shadow of her hair, And the light breaking through her long despair The only sunrise that mine eyelids crave; For doubly dead without me in the grave Is she who, if my feet had gone before, Had found life dark as death's abhorred shore."
The gate clanged on him, and he went his way Amid the alien millions, mute and grey, Swept like a cold mist down an unlit strand, Where nameless wreckage gluts the stealthy sand, Drift of the cockle-shells of hope and faith Wherein they foundered on the rock of death.
So came he to the image that he sought (Less living than her semblance in his thought), Who, at the summons of his thrilling notes, Drew back to life as a drowned creature floats Back to the surface; yet no less is dead. And cold fear smote him till she spoke and said: "Art thou then come to lay thy lips on mine, And pour thy life's libation out like wine? Shall I, through thee, revisit earth again, Traverse the shining sea, the fruitful plain, Behold the house we dwelt in, lay my head Upon the happy pillows of our bed, And feel in dreams the pressure of thine arms Kindle these pulses that no memory warms? Nay: give me for a space upon thy breast Death's shadowy substitute for rapture--rest; Then join again the joyous living throng, And give me life, but give it in thy song; For only they that die themselves may give Life to the dead: and I would have thee live."
Fear seized him closer than her arms; but heAnswered: "Not so--for thou shalt come with me! I sought thee not that we should part again, But that fresh joy should bud from the old pain; And the gods, if grudgingly their gifts they make, Yield all to them that without asking take."
"The gods," she said, "(so runs life's ancient lore) Yield all man takes, but always claim their score. The iron wings of the Eumenides When heard far off seem but a summer breeze; But me thou'lt have alive on earth again Only by paying here my meed of pain. Then lay on my cold lips the tender ghost Of the dear kiss that used to warm them most, Take from my frozen hands thy hands of fire, And of my heart-strings make thee a new lyre, That in thy music men may find my voice, And something of me still on earth rejoice."
Shuddering he heard her, but with close-flung armSwept her resisting through the ghostly swarm. "Swift, hide thee 'neath my cloak, that we may glidePast the dim warder as the gate swings wide." He whirled her with him, lighter than a leaf Unwittingly whirled onward by a brief Autumnal eddy; but when the fatal door Suddenly yielded him to life once more, And issuing to the all-consoling skies He turned to seek the sunlight in her eyes, He clutched at emptiness--she was not there; And the dim warder answered to his prayer: "Only once have I seen the wonder wrought. But when Alcestis thus her master sought, Living she sought him not, nor dreamed that fate For any subterfuge would swing my gate. Loving, she gave herself to livid death, Joyous she bought his respite with her breath, Came, not embodied, but a tenuous shade, In whom her rapture a great radiance made. For never saw I ghost upon this shore Shine with such living ecstasy before, Nor heard an exile from the light above Hail me with smiles: Thou art not Death but Love!
"But when the gods, frustrated, this beheld, How, living still, among the dead she dwelled, Because she lived in him whose life she won, And her blood beat in his beneath the sun, They reasoned: 'When the bitter Stygian wave The sweetness of love's kisses cannot lave, When the pale flood of Lethe washes not From mortal mind one high immortal thought, Akin to us the earthly creature grows, Since nature suffers only what it knows. If she whom we to this grey desert banned Still dreams she treads with him the sunlit land That for his sake she left without a tear, Set wide the gates--her being is not here.'
"So ruled the gods; but thou, that sought'st to give Thy life for love, yet for thyself wouldst live. They know not for their kin; but back to earth Give, pitying, one that is of mortal birth."
Humbled the Harper heard, and turned away, Mounting alone to the empoverished day; Yet, as he left the Stygian shades behind, He heard the cordage on the harbour wind, Saw the blue smoke above the homestead trees, And in his hidden heart was glad of these.
AN AUTUMN SUNSET
LEAGUERED in fire The wild black promontories of the coast extend Their savage silhouettes; The sun in universal carnage sets, And, halting higher, The motionless storm-clouds mass their sullen threats, Like an advancing mob in sword-points penned, That, balked, yet stands at bay. Mid-zenith hangs the fascinated day In wind-lustrated hollows crystalline, A wan Valkyrie whose wide pinions shine Across the ensanguined ruins of the fray, And in her hand swings high o'erhead, Above the waste of war, The silver torch-light of the evening star Wherewith to search the faces of the dead.
Lagooned in gold, Seem not those jetty promontories rather The outposts of some ancient land forlorn, Uncomforted of morn, Where old oblivions gather, The melancholy unconsoling fold Of all things that go utterly to death And mix no more, no more With life's perpetually awakening breath? Shall Time not ferry me to such a shore, Over such sailless seas, To walk with hope's slain importunities In miserable marriage? Nay, shall not All things be there forgot, Save the sea's golden barrier and the black Close-crouching promontories? Dead to all shames, forgotten of all glories, Shall I not wander there, a shadow's shade, A spectre self-destroyed, So purged of all remembrance and sucked back Into the primal void, That should we on that shore phantasmal meet I should not know the coming of your feet?
MOONRISE OVER TYRINGHAM
NOW the high holocaust of hours is done, And all the west empurpled with their death, How swift oblivion drinks the fallen sun, How little while the dusk remembereth!
Though some there were, proud hours that marched in mail, And took the morning on auspicious crest, Crying to fortune "Back, for I prevail!"-- Yet now they lie disfeatured with the rest;
And some that stole so soft on destiny Methought they had surprised her to a smile; But these fled frozen when she turned to see, And moaned and muttered through my heart awhile.
But now the day is emptied of them all, And night absorbs their life-blood at a draught; And so my life lies, as the gods let fall An empty cup from which their lips have quaffed.
Yet see--night is not . . . by translucent ways, Up the grey void of autumn afternoon Steals a mild crescent, charioted in haze, And all the air is merciful as June.
The lake is a forgotten streak of day That trembles through the hemlocks' darkling bars, And still, my heart, still some divine delay Upon the threshold holds the earliest stars.
O pale equivocal hour, whose suppliant feet Haunt the mute reaches of the sleeping wind, Art thou a watcher stealing to entreat Prayer and sepulture for thy fallen kind?
Poor plaintive waif of a predestined race, Their ruin gapes for thee. Why linger here? Go hence in silence. Veil thine orphaned face, Lest I should look on it and call it dear.
For if I love thee thou wilt sooner die; Some sudden ruin will plunge upon thy head, Midnight will fall from the revengeful sky And hurl thee down among thy shuddering dead.
Avert thine eyes. Lapse softly from my sight, Call not my name, nor heed if thine I crave, So shalt thou sink through mitigated night And bathe thee in the all-effacing wave.
But upward still thy perilous footsteps fare Along a high-hung heaven drenched in light, Dilating on a tide of crystal air That floods the dark hills to their utmost height.
Strange hour, is this thy waning face that leans Out of mid-heaven and makes my soul its glass? What victory is imaged there? What means Thy tarrying smile? Oh, veil thy lips and pass.
Nay . . . pause and let me name thee! For I see, O with what flooding ecstasy of light, Strange hour that wilt not loose thy hold on me, Thou'rt not day's latest, but the first of night!
And after thee the gold-foot stars come thick, From hand to hand they toss the flying fire, Till all the zenith with their dance is quick About the wheeling music of the Lyre.
Dread hour that lead'st the immemorial round, With lifted torch revealing one by one The thronging splendours that the day held bound, And how each blue abyss enshrines its sun--
Be thou the image of a thought that fares Forth from itself, and flings its ray ahead, Leaping the barriers of ephemeral cares, To where our lives are but the ages' tread,
And let this year be, not the last of youth, But first--like thee!--of some new train of hours, If more remote from hope, yet nearer truth, And kin to the unpetitionable powers.
A THIN moon faints in the sky o'erhead, And dumb in the churchyard lie the dead. Walk we not, Sweet, by garden ways, Where the late rose hangs and the phlox delays, But forth of the gate and down the road, Past the church and the yews, to their dim abode. For it's turn of the year and All Souls' night, When the dead can hear and the dead have sight.
Fear not that sound like wind in the trees: It is only their call that comes on the breeze; Fear not the shudder that seems to pass: It is only the tread of their feet on the grass; Fear not the drip of the bough as you stoop: It is only the touch of their hands that grope-- For the year's on the turn and it's All Souls' night, When the dead can yearn and the dead can smite.
And where should a man bring his sweet to wooBut here, where such hundreds were lovers too? Where lie the dead lips that thirst to kiss, The empty hands that their fellows miss, Where the maid and her lover, from sere to green, Sleep bed by bed, with the worm between? For it's turn of the year and All Souls' night, When the dead can hear and the dead have sight.
And now they rise and walk in the cold, Let us warm their blood and give youth to the old. Let them see us and hear us, and say: "Ah, thusIn the prime of the year it went with us!"