Selected Poems of Oscar Wilde

 

By

 

Oscar Wilde

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


It is thought that a selection from Oscar Wilde's early verses may be of interest to a large public at present familiar only with the always popular BALLAD OF READING GAOL, also included in this volume.  The poems were first collected by their author when he was twenty-sex years old, and though never, until recently, well received by the critics, have survived the test of NINE editions. Readers will be able to make for themselves the obvious and striking contrasts between these first and last phases of Oscar Wilde's literary activity.  The intervening period was devoted almost entirely to dramas, prose, fiction, essays, and criticism.

 

Robert Ross

Reform Club,

April 5, 1911

 

 

 


CONTENTS:

 

NOTE. 4

The Ballad Of Reading Gaol 5

THE BALLAD OF READING GAOL. 22

Ave Imperatrix. 33

To My Wife - With A Copy Of My Poems. 37

Magdalen Walks. 38

Theocritus - A Villanelle. 39

Greece. 40

Portia. 41

Fabien Dei Franchi 42

Phedre. 43

Sonnet On Hearing The Dies Irae Sung In The Sistine Chapel 44

Ave Maria Gratia Plena. 45

Libertatis Sacra Fames. 46

Roses And Rue. 47

From 'The Garden Of Eros' 49

The Harlot's House. 52

From 'The Burden Of Itys' 54

Flower of Love. 57

Footnotes: 59

 

 

 

 


NOTE

 

At the end of the complete text will be found a shorter version based on the original draft of the poem.  This is included for the benefit of reciters and their audiences who have found the entire poem too long for declamation.  I have tried to obviate a difficulty, without officiously exercising the ungrateful prerogatives of a literary executor, by falling back on a text which represents the author's first scheme for a poem - never intended of course for recitation.

 

Robert Ross

 

 

 


The Ballad Of Reading Gaol

 

In memoriam of C. T. W.

Sometimes trooper of

The Royal Horse Guards

Obiit H.M. Prison

Reading, Berkshire

July 7th, 1896

 

 

I

 

He did not wear his scarlet coat,

For blood and wine are red,

And blood and wine were on his hands

When they found him with the dead,

The poor dead woman whom he loved,

And murdered in her bed.

 

He walked amongst the Trial Men

In a suit of shabby grey;

A cricket cap was on his head,

And his step seemed light and gay;

But I never saw a man who looked

So wistfully at the day.

 

I never saw a man who looked

With such a wistful eye

Upon that little tent of blue

Which prisoners call the sky,

And at every drifting cloud that went

With sails of silver by.

 

I walked, with other souls in pain,

Within another ring,

And was wondering if the man had done

A great or little thing,

When a voice behind me whispered low,

'THAT FELLOW'S GOT TO SWING.'

 

Dear Christ! the very prison walls

Suddenly seemed to reel,

And the sky above my head became

Like a casque of scorching steel;

And, though I was a soul in pain,

My pain I could not feel.

 

I only knew what hunted thought

Quickened his step, and why

He looked upon the garish day

With such a wistful eye;

The man had killed the thing he loved,

And so he had to die.

 

Yet each man kills the thing he loves,

By each let this be heard,

Some do it with a bitter look,

Some with a flattering word,

The coward does it with a kiss,

The brave man with a sword!

 

Some kill their love when they are young,

And some when they are old;

Some strangle with the hands of Lust,

Some with the hands of Gold:

The kindest use a knife, because

The dead so soon grow cold.

 

Some love too little, some too long,

Some sell, and others buy;

Some do the deed with many tears,

And some without a sigh:

For each man kills the thing he loves,

Yet each man does not die.

 

He does not die a death of shame

On a day of dark disgrace,

Nor have a noose about his neck,

Nor a cloth upon his face,

Nor drop feet foremost through the floor

Into an empty space.

 

 

He does not sit with silent men

Who watch him night and day;

Who watch him when he tries to weep,

And when he tries to pray;

Who watch him lest himself should rob

The prison of its prey.

 

He does not wake at dawn to see

Dread figures throng his room,

The shivering Chaplain robed in white,

The Sheriff stern with gloom,

And the Governor all in shiny black,

With the yellow face of Doom.

 

He does not rise in piteous haste

To put on convict-clothes,

While some coarse-mouthed Doctor gloats,

and notes

Each new and nerve-twitched pose,

Fingering a watch whose little ticks

Are like horrible hammer-blows.

 

He does not know that sickening thirst

That sands one's throat, before

The hangman with his gardener's gloves

Slips through the padded door,

And binds one with three leathern thongs,

That the throat may thirst no more.

 

He does not bend his head to hear

The Burial Office read,

Nor, while the terror of his soul

Tells him he is not dead,

Cross his own coffin, as he moves

Into the hideous shed.

 

He does not stare upon the air

Through a little roof of glass:

He does not pray with lips of clay

For his agony to pass;

Nor feel upon his shuddering cheek

The kiss of Caiaphas.

 

 

II

 

Six weeks our guardsman walked the yard,

In the suit of shabby grey:

His cricket cap was on his head,

And his step seemed light and gay,

But I never saw a man who looked

So wistfully at the day.

 

I never saw a man who looked

With such a wistful eye

Upon that little tent of blue

Which prisoners call the sky,

And at every wandering cloud that trailed

Its ravelled fleeces by.

 

He did not wring his hands, as do

Those witless men who dare

To try to rear the changeling Hope

In the cave of black Despair:

He only looked upon the sun,

And drank the morning air.

 

He did not wring his hands nor weep,

Nor did he peek or pine,

But he drank the air as though it held

Some healthful anodyne;

With open mouth he drank the sun

As though it had been wine!

 

And I and all the souls in pain,

Who tramped the other ring,

Forgot if we ourselves had done

A great or little thing,

And watched with gaze of dull amaze

The man who had to swing.

 

And strange it was to see him pass

With a step so light and gay,

And strange it was to see him look

So wistfully at the day,

And strange it was to think that he

Had such a debt to pay.

 

For oak and elm have pleasant leaves

That in the springtime shoot:

But grim to see is the gallows-tree,

With its adder-bitten root,

And, green or dry, a man must die

Before it bears its fruit!

 

The loftiest place is that seat of grace

For which all worldlings try:

But who would stand in hempen band

Upon a scaffold high,

And through a murderer's collar take

His last look at the sky?

 

It is sweet to dance to violins

When Love and Life are fair:

To dance to flutes, to dance to lutes

Is delicate and rare:

But it is not sweet with nimble feet

To dance upon the air!

 

So with curious eyes and sick surmise

We watched him day by day,

And wondered if each one of us

Would end the self-same way,

For none can tell to what red Hell

His sightless soul may stray.

 

At last the dead man walked no more

Amongst the Trial Men,

And I knew that he was standing up

In the black dock's dreadful pen,

And that never would I see his face

In God's sweet world again.

 

Like two doomed ships that pass in storm

We had crossed each other's way:

But we made no sign, we said no word,

We had no word to say;

For we did not meet in the holy night,

But in the shameful day.

 

A prison wall was round us both,

Two outcast men we were:

The world had thrust us from its heart,

And God from out His care:

And the iron gin that waits for Sin

Had caught us in its snare.

 

 

III

 

In Debtors' Yard the stones are hard,

And the dripping wall is high,

So it was there he took the air

Beneath the leaden sky,

And by each side a Warder walked,

For fear the man might die.

 

Or else he sat with those who watched

His anguish night and day;

Who watched him when he rose to weep,

And when he crouched to pray;

Who watched him lest himself should rob

Their scaffold of its prey.

 

The Governor was strong upon

The Regulations Act:

The Doctor said that Death was but

A scientific fact:

And twice a day the Chaplain called,

And left a little tract.

 

And twice a day he smoked his pipe,

And drank his quart of beer:

His soul was resolute, and held

No hiding-place for fear;

He often said that he was glad

The hangman's hands were near.

 

But why he said so strange a thing

No Warder dared to ask:

For he to whom a watcher's doom

Is given as his task,

Must set a lock upon his lips,

And make his face a mask.

 

Or else he might be moved, and try

To comfort or console:

And what should Human Pity do

Pent up in Murderers' Hole?

What word of grace in such a place

Could help a brother's soul?

 

 

With slouch and swing around the ring

We trod the Fools' Parade!

We did not care:  we knew we were

The Devil's Own Brigade:

And shaven head and feet of lead

Make a merry masquerade.

 

We tore the tarry rope to shreds

With blunt and bleeding nails;

We rubbed the doors, and scrubbed the floors,

And cleaned the shining rails:

And, rank by rank, we soaped the plank,

And clattered with the pails.

 

We sewed the sacks, we broke the stones,

We turned the dusty drill:

We banged the tins, and bawled the hymns,

And sweated on the mill:

But in the heart of every man

Terror was lying still.

 

So still it lay that every day

Crawled like a weed-clogged wave:

And we forgot the bitter lot

That waits for fool and knave,

Till once, as we tramped in from work,

We passed an open grave.

 

With yawning mouth the yellow hole

Gaped for a living thing;

The very mud cried out for blood

To the thirsty asphalte ring:

And we knew that ere one dawn grew fair

Some prisoner had to swing.

 

Right in we went, with soul intent

On Death and Dread and Doom:

The hangman, with his little bag,

Went shuffling through the gloom:

And each man trembled as he crept

Into his numbered tomb.

 

That night the empty corridors

Were full of forms of Fear,

And up and down the iron town

Stole feet we could not hear,

And through the bars that hide the stars

White faces seemed to peer.

 

He lay as one who lies and dreams

In a pleasant meadow-land,

The watchers watched him as he slept,

And could not understand

How one could sleep so sweet a sleep

With a hangman close at hand.

 

But there is no sleep when men must weep

Who never yet have wept:

So we - the fool, the fraud, the knave -

That endless vigil kept,

And through each brain on hands of pain

Another's terror crept.

 

Alas! it is a fearful thing

To feel another's guilt!

For, right within, the sword of Sin

Pierced to its poisoned hilt,

And as molten lead were the tears we shed

For the blood we had not spilt.

 

The Warders with their shoes of felt

Crept by each padlocked door,

And peeped and saw, with eyes of awe,

Grey figures on the floor,

And wondered why men knelt to pray

Who never prayed before.

 

All through the night we knelt and prayed,

Mad mourners of a corse!

The troubled plumes of midnight were

The plumes upon a hearse:

And bitter wine upon a sponge

Was the savour of Remorse.

 

 

The grey cock crew, the red cock crew,

But never came the day:

And crooked shapes of Terror crouched,

In the corners where we lay:

And each evil sprite that walks by night

Before us seemed to play.

 

They glided past, they glided fast,

Like travellers through a mist:

They mocked the moon in a rigadoon

Of delicate turn and twist,

And with formal pace and loathsome grace

The phantoms kept their tryst.

 

With mop and mow, we saw them go,

Slim shadows hand in hand:

About, about, in ghostly rout

They trod a saraband:

And the damned grotesques made arabesques,

Like the wind upon the sand!

 

With the pirouettes of marionettes,

They tripped on pointed tread:

But with flutes of Fear they filled the ear,

As their grisly masque they led,

And loud they sang, and long they sang,

For they sang to wake the dead.

 

'Oho!' they cried, 'The world is wide,

But fettered limbs go lame!

And once, or twice, to throw the dice

Is a gentlemanly game,

But he does not win who plays with Sin

In the secret House of Shame.'

 

No things of air these antics were,

That frolicked with such glee:

To men whose lives were held in gyves,

And whose feet might not go free,

Ah! wounds of Christ! they were living things,

Most terrible to see.

 

Around, around, they waltzed and wound;

Some wheeled in smirking pairs;

With the mincing step of a demirep

Some sidled up the stairs:

And with subtle sneer, and fawning leer,

Each helped us at our prayers.

 

The morning wind began to moan,

But still the night went on:

Through its giant loom the web of gloom

Crept till each thread was spun:

And, as we prayed, we grew afraid

Of the Justice of the Sun.

 

The moaning wind went wandering round

The weeping prison-wall:

Till like a wheel of turning steel

We felt the minutes crawl:

O moaning wind! what had we done

To have such a seneschal?

 

At last I saw the shadowed bars,

Like a lattice wrought in lead,

Move right across the whitewashed wall

That faced my three-plank bed,

And I knew that somewhere in the world

God's dreadful dawn was red.

 

At six o'clock we cleaned our cells,

At seven all was still,

But the sough and swing of a mighty wing

The prison seemed to fill,

For the Lord of Death with icy breath

Had entered in to kill.

 

He did not pass in purple pomp,

Nor ride a moon-white steed.

Three yards of cord and a sliding board

Are all the gallows' need:

So with rope of shame the Herald came

To do the secret deed.

 

We were as men who through a fen

Of filthy darkness grope:

We did not dare to breathe a prayer,

Or to give our anguish scope:

Something was dead in each of us,

And what was dead was Hope.

 

For Man's grim Justice goes its way,

And will not swerve aside:

It slays the weak, it slays the strong,

It has a deadly stride:

With iron heel it slays the strong,

The monstrous parricide!

 

We waited for the stroke of eight:

Each tongue was thick with thirst:

For the stroke of eight is the stroke of Fate

That makes a man accursed,

And Fate will use a running noose

For the best man and the worst.

 

We had no other thing to do,

Save to wait for the sign to come:

So, like things of stone in a valley lone,

Quiet we sat and dumb:

But each man's heart beat thick and quick,

Like a madman on a drum!

 

With sudden shock the prison-clock

Smote on the shivering air,

And from all the gaol rose up a wail

Of impotent despair,

Like the sound that frightened marshes hear

From some leper in his lair.

 

And as one sees most fearful things

In the crystal of a dream,

We saw the greasy hempen rope

Hooked to the blackened beam,

And heard the prayer the hangman's snare

Strangled into a scream.

 

And all the woe that moved him so

That he gave that bitter cry,

And the wild regrets, and the bloody sweats,

None knew so well as I:

For he who lives more lives than one

More deaths than one must die.

 

 

IV

 

There is no chapel on the day

On which they hang a man:

The Chaplain's heart is far too sick,

Or his face is far too wan,

Or there is that written in his eyes

Which none should look upon.

 

So they kept us close till nigh on noon,

And then they rang the bell,

And the Warders with their jingling keys

Opened each listening cell,

And down the iron stair we tramped,

Each from his separate Hell.

 

Out into God's sweet air we went,

But not in wonted way,

For this man's face was white with fear,

And that man's face was grey,

And I never saw sad men who looked

So wistfully at the day.

 

I never saw sad men who looked

With such a wistful eye

Upon that little tent of blue

We prisoners called the sky,

And at every careless cloud that passed

In happy freedom by.

 

But there were those amongst us all

Who walked with downcast head,

And knew that, had each got his due,

They should have died instead:

He had but killed a thing that lived,

Whilst they had killed the dead.

 

For he who sins a second time

Wakes a dead soul to pain,

And draws it from its spotted shroud,

And makes it bleed again,

And makes it bleed great gouts of blood,

And makes it bleed in vain!

 

Like ape or clown, in monstrous garb

With crooked arrows starred,

Silently we went round and round

The slippery asphalte yard;

Silently we went round and round,

And no man spoke a word.

 

Silently we went round and round,

And through each hollow mind

The Memory of dreadful things

Rushed like a dreadful wind,

And Horror stalked before each man,

And Terror crept behind.

 

The Warders strutted up and down,

And kept their herd of brutes,

Their uniforms were spick and span,

And they wore their Sunday suits,

But we knew the work they had been at,

By the quicklime on their boots.

 

For where a grave had opened wide,

There was no grave at all:

Only a stretch of mud and sand

By the hideous prison-wall,

And a little heap of burning lime,

That the man should have his pall.

 

For he has a pall, this wretched man,

Such as few men can claim:

Deep down below a prison-yard,

Naked for greater shame,

He lies, with fetters on each foot,

Wrapt in a sheet of flame!

 

And all the while the burning lime

Eats flesh and bone away,

It eats the brittle bone by night,

And the soft flesh by day,

It eats the flesh and bone by turns,

But it eats the heart alway.

 

For three long years they will not sow

Or root or seedling there:

For three long years the unblessed spot

Will sterile be and bare,

And look upon the wondering sky

With unreproachful stare.

 

They think a murderer's heart would taint

Each simple seed they sow.

It is not true!  God's kindly earth

Is kindlier than men know,

And the red rose would but blow more red,

The white rose whiter blow.

 

Out of his mouth a red, red rose!

Out of his heart a white!

For who can say by what strange way,

Christ brings His will to light,

Since the barren staff the pilgrim bore

Bloomed in the great Pope's sight?

 

But neither milk-white rose nor red

May bloom in prison-air;

The shard, the pebble, and the flint,

Are what they give us there:

For flowers have been known to heal

A common man's despair.

 

So never will wine-red rose or white,

Petal by petal, fall

On that stretch of mud and sand that lies

By the hideous prison-wall,

To tell the men who tramp the yard

That God's Son died for all.

 

Yet though the hideous prison-wall

Still hems him round and round,

And a spirit may not walk by night

That is with fetters bound,

And a spirit may but weep that lies

In such unholy ground,

 

He is at peace - this wretched man -

At peace, or will be soon:

There is no thing to make him mad,

Nor does Terror walk at noon,

For the lampless Earth in which he lies

Has neither Sun nor Moon.

 

They hanged him as a beast is hanged:

They did not even toll

A requiem that might have brought

Rest to his startled soul,

But hurriedly they took him out,

And hid him in a hole.

 

They stripped him of his canvas clothes,

And gave him to the flies:

They mocked the swollen purple throat,

And the stark and staring eyes:

And with laughter loud they heaped the shroud

In which their convict lies.

 

The Chaplain would not kneel to pray

By his dishonoured grave:

Nor mark it with that blessed Cross

That Christ for sinners gave,

Because the man was one of those

Whom Christ came down to save.

 

Yet all is well; he has but passed

To Life's appointed bourne:

And alien tears will fill for him

Pity's long-broken urn,

For his mourners will be outcast men,

And outcasts always mourn

 

 

V

 

I know not whether Laws be right,

Or whether Laws be wrong;

All that we know who lie in gaol

Is that the wall is strong;

And that each day is like a year,

A year whose days are long.

 

But this I know, that every Law

That men have made for Man,

Since first Man took his brother's life,

And the sad world began,

But straws the wheat and saves the chaff

With a most evil fan.

 

This too I know - and wise it were

If each could know the same -

That every prison that men build

Is built with bricks of shame,

And bound with bars lest Christ should see

How men their brothers maim.

 

With bars they blur the gracious moon,

And blind the goodly sun:

And they do well to hide their Hell,

For in it things are done

That Son of God nor son of Man

Ever should look upon!

 

The vilest deeds like poison weeds,

Bloom well in prison-air;

It is only what is good in Man

That wastes and withers there:

Pale Anguish keeps the heavy gate,

And the Warder is Despair.

 

For they starve the little frightened child

Till it weeps both night and day:

And they scourge the weak, and flog the fool,

And gibe the old and grey,

And some grow mad, and all grow bad,

And none a word may say.

 

Each narrow cell in which we dwell

Is a foul and dark latrine,

And the fetid breath of living Death

Chokes up each grated screen,

And all, but Lust, is turned to dust

In Humanity's machine.

 

The brackish water that we drink

Creeps with a loathsome slime,

And the bitter bread they weigh in scales

Is full of chalk and lime,

And Sleep will not lie down, but walks

Wild-eyed, and cries to Time.

 

But though lean Hunger and green Thirst

Like asp with adder fight,

We have little care of prison fare,

For what chills and kills outright

Is that every stone one lifts by day

Becomes one's heart by night.

 

With midnight always in one's heart,

And twilight in one's cell,

We turn the crank, or tear the rope,

Each in his separate Hell,

And the silence is more awful far

Than the sound of a brazen bell.

 

And never a human voice comes near

To speak a gentle word:

And the eye that watches through the door

Is pitiless and hard:

And by all forgot, we rot and rot,

With soul and body marred.

 

And thus we rust Life's iron chain

Degraded and alone:

And some men curse, and some men weep,

And some men make no moan:

But God's eternal Laws are kind

And break the heart of stone.

 

And every human heart that breaks,

In prison-cell or yard,

Is as that broken box that gave

Its treasure to the Lord,

And filled the unclean leper's house

With the scent of costliest nard.

 

Ah! happy they whose hearts can break

And peace of pardon win!

How else may man make straight his plan

And cleanse his soul from Sin?

How else but through a broken heart

May Lord Christ enter in?

 

And he of the swollen purple throat,

And the stark and staring eyes,

Waits for the holy hands that took

The Thief to Paradise;

And a broken and a contrite heart

The Lord will not despise.

 

The man in red who reads the Law

Gave him three weeks of life,

Three little weeks in which to heal

His soul of his soul's strife,

And cleanse from every blot of blood

The hand that held the knife.

 

And with tears of blood he cleansed the hand,

The hand that held the steel:

For only blood can wipe out blood,

And only tears can heal:

And the crimson stain that was of Cain

Became Christ's snow-white seal.

 

 

VI

 

In Reading gaol by Reading town

There is a pit of shame,

And in it lies a wretched man

Eaten by teeth of flame,

In a burning winding-sheet he lies,

And his grave has got no name.

 

And there, till Christ call forth the dead,

In silence let him lie:

No need to waste the foolish tear,

Or heave the windy sigh:

The man had killed the thing he loved,

And so he had to die.

 

And all men kill the thing they love,

By all let this be heard,

Some do it with a bitter look,

Some with a flattering word,

The coward does it with a kiss,

The brave man with a sword!

 

 

 

THE BALLAD OF READING GAOL

 

[A version based on the original draft of the poem]

 

I

 

He did not wear his scarlet coat,

For blood and wine are red,

And blood and wine were on his hands

When they found him with the dead,

The poor dead woman whom he loved,

And murdered in her bed.

 

He walked amongst the Trial Men

In a suit of shabby grey;

A cricket cap was on his head,

And his step seemed light and gay;

But I never saw a man who looked

So wistfully at the day.

 

I never saw a man who looked

With such a wistful eye

Upon that little tent of blue

Which prisoners call the sky,

And at every drifting cloud that went

With sails of silver by.

 

I walked, with other souls in pain,

Within another ring,

And was wondering if the man had done

A great or little thing,

When a voice behind me whispered low,

'THAT FELLOW'S GOT TO SWING.'

 

Dear Christ! the very prison walls

Suddenly seemed to reel,

And the sky above my head became

Like a casque of scorching steel;

And, though I was a soul in pain,

My pain I could not feel.

 

I only knew what hunted thought

Quickened his step, and why

He looked upon the garish day

With such a wistful eye;

The man had killed the thing he loved,

And so he had to die.

 

Yet each man kills the thing he loves,

By each let this be heard,

Some do it with a bitter look,

Some with a flattering word,

The coward does it with a kiss,

The brave man with a sword!

 

Some kill their love when they are young,

And some when they are old;

Some strangle with the hands of Lust,

Some with the hands of Gold:

The kindest use a knife, because

The dead so soon grow cold.

 

Some love too little, some too long,

Some sell, and others buy;

Some do the deed with many tears,

And some without a sigh:

For each man kills the thing he loves,

Yet each man does not die.

 

He does not die a death of shame

On a day of dark disgrace,

Nor have a noose about his neck,

Nor a cloth upon his face,

Nor drop feet foremost through the floor

Into an empty space.

 

He does not wake at dawn to see

Dread figures throng his room,

The shivering Chaplain robed in white,

The Sheriff stern with gloom,

And the Governor all in shiny black,

With the yellow face of Doom.

 

He does not rise in piteous haste

To put on convict-clothes,

While some coarse-mouthed Doctor gloats,

and notes

Each new and nerve-twitched pose,

Fingering a watch whose little ticks

Are like horrible hammer-blows.

 

He does not know that sickening thirst

That sands one's throat, before

The hangman with his gardener's gloves

Slips through the padded door,

And binds one with three leathern thongs,

That the throat may thirst no more.

 

He does not bend his head to hear

The Burial Office read,

Nor, while the terror of his soul

Tells him he is not dead,

Cross his own coffin, as he moves

Into the hideous shed.

 

He does not stare upon the air

Through a little roof of glass:

He does not pray with lips of clay

For his agony to pass;

Nor feel upon his shuddering cheek

The kiss of Caiaphas.

 

 

II

 

Six weeks our guardsman walked the yard,

In the suit of shabby grey:

His cricket cap was on his head,

And his step seemed light and gay,

But I never saw a man who looked

So wistfully at the day.

 

He did not wring his hands nor weep,

Nor did he peek or pine,

But he drank the air as though it held

Some healthful anodyne;

With open mouth he drank the sun

As though it had been wine!

 

And I and all the souls in pain,

Who tramped the other ring,

Forgot if we ourselves had done

A great or little thing,

And watched with gaze of dull amaze

The man who had to swing.

 

So with curious eyes and sick surmise

We watched him day by day,

And wondered if each one of us

Would end the self-same way,

For none can tell to what red Hell

His sightless soul may stray.

 

At last the dead man walked no more

Amongst the Trial Men,

And I knew that he was standing up

In the black dock's dreadful pen,

And that never would I see his face

In God's sweet world again.

 

Like two doomed ships that pass in storm

We had crossed each other's way:

But we made no sign, we said no word,

We had no word to say;

For we did not meet in the holy night,

But in the shameful day.

 

A prison wall was round us both,

Two outcast men we were:

The world had thrust us from its heart,

And God from out His care:

And the iron gin that waits for Sin

Had caught us in its snare.

 

 

III

 

In Debtors' Yard the stones are hard,

And the dripping wall is high,

So it was there he took the air

Beneath the leaden sky,

And by each side a Warder walked,

For fear the man might die.

 

Or else he sat with those who watched

His anguish night and day;

Who watched him when he rose to weep,

And when he crouched to pray;

Who watched him lest himself should rob

Their scaffold of its prey.

 

And twice a day he smoked his pipe,

And drank his quart of beer:

His soul was resolute, and held

No hiding-place for fear;

He often said that he was glad

The hangman's hands were near.

 

But why he said so strange a thing

No Warder dared to ask:

For he to whom a watcher's doom

Is given as his task,

Must set a lock upon his lips,

And make his face a mask.

 

With slouch and swing around the ring

We trod the Fools' Parade!

We did not care:  we knew we were

The Devil's Own Brigade:

And shaven head and feet of lead

Make a merry masquerade.

 

We tore the tarry rope to shreds

With blunt and bleeding nails;

We rubbed the doors, and scrubbed the floors,

And cleaned the shining rails:

And, rank by rank, we soaped the plank,

And clattered with the pails.

 

We sewed the sacks, we broke the stones,

We turned the dusty drill:

We banged the tins, and bawled the hymns,

And sweated on the mill:

But in the heart of every man

Terror was lying still.

 

So still it lay that every day

Crawled like a weed-clogged wave:

And we forgot the bitter lot

That waits for fool and knave,

Till once, as we tramped in from work,

We passed an open grave.

 

Right in we went, with soul intent

On Death and Dread and Doom:

The hangman, with his little bag,

Went shuffling through the gloom:

And each man trembled as he crept

Into his numbered tomb.

 

That night the empty corridors

Were full of forms of Fear,

And up and down the iron town

Stole feet we could not hear,

And through the bars that hide the stars

White faces seemed to peer.

 

But there is no sleep when men must weep

Who never yet have wept:

So we - the fool, the fraud, the knave -

That endless vigil kept,

And through each brain on hands of pain

Another's terror crept.

 

Alas! it is a fearful thing

To feel another's guilt!

For, right within, the sword of Sin

Pierced to its poisoned hilt,

And as molten lead were the tears we shed

For the blood we had not spilt.

 

The Warders with their shoes of felt

Crept by each padlocked door,

And peeped and saw, with eyes of awe,

Grey figures on the floor,

And wondered why men knelt to pray

Who never prayed before.

 

The morning wind began to moan,

But still the night went on:

Through its giant loom the web of gloom

Crept till each thread was spun:

And, as we prayed, we grew afraid

Of the Justice of the Sun.

 

At last I saw the shadowed bars,

Like a lattice wrought in lead,

Move right across the whitewashed wall

That faced my three-plank bed,

And I knew that somewhere in the world

God's dreadful dawn was red.

 

At six o'clock we cleaned our cells,

At seven all was still,

But the sough and swing of a mighty wing

The prison seemed to fill,

For the Lord of Death with icy breath

Had entered in to kill.

 

He did not pass in purple pomp,

Nor ride a moon-white steed.

Three yards of cord and a sliding board

Are all the gallows' need:

So with rope of shame the Herald came

To do the secret deed.

 

We waited for the stroke of eight:

Each tongue was thick with thirst:

For the stroke of eight is the stroke of Fate

That makes a man accursed,

And Fate will use a running noose

For the best man and the worst.

 

We had no other thing to do,

Save to wait for the sign to come:

So, like things of stone in a valley lone,

Quiet we sat and dumb:

But each man's heart beat thick and quick,

Like a madman on a drum!

 

With sudden shock the prison-clock

Smote on the shivering air,

And from all the gaol rose up a wail

Of impotent despair,

Like the sound that frightened marshes hear

From some leper in his lair.

 

And as one sees most fearful things

In the crystal of a dream,

We saw the greasy hempen rope

Hooked to the blackened beam,

And heard the prayer the hangman's snare

Strangled into a scream.

 

And all the woe that moved him so

That he gave that bitter cry,

And the wild regrets, and the bloody sweats,

None knew so well as I:

For he who lives more lives than one

More deaths than one must die.

 

 

IV

 

There is no chapel on the day

On which they hang a man:

The Chaplain's heart is far too sick,

Or his face is far too wan,

Or there is that written in his eyes

Which none should look upon.

 

So they kept us close till nigh on noon,

And then they rang the bell,

And the Warders with their jingling keys

Opened each listening cell,

And down the iron stair we tramped,

Each from his separate Hell.

 

Out into God's sweet air we went,

But not in wonted way,

For this man's face was white with fear,

And that man's face was grey,

And I never saw sad men who looked

So wistfully at the day.

 

I never saw sad men who looked

With such a wistful eye

Upon that little tent of blue

We prisoners called the sky,

And at every careless cloud that passed

In happy freedom by.

 

But there were those amongst us all

Who walked with downcast head,

And knew that, had each got his due,

They should have died instead:

He had but killed a thing that lived,

Whilst they had killed the dead.

 

For he who sins a second time

Wakes a dead soul to pain,

And draws it from its spotted shroud,

And makes it bleed again,

And makes it bleed great gouts of blood,

And makes it bleed in vain!

 

Like ape or clown, in monstrous garb

With crooked arrows starred,

Silently we went round and round

The slippery asphalte yard;

Silently we went round and round,

And no man spoke a word.

 

Silently we went round and round,

And through each hollow mind

The Memory of dreadful things

Rushed like a dreadful wind,

And Horror stalked before each man,

And Terror crept behind.

 

The Warders strutted up and down,

And kept their herd of brutes,

Their uniforms were spick and span,

And they wore their Sunday suits,

But we knew the work they had been at,

By the quicklime on their boots.

 

For where a grave had opened wide,

There was no grave at all:

Only a stretch of mud and sand

By the hideous prison-wall,

And a little heap of burning lime,

That the man should have his pall.

 

For he has a pall, this wretched man,

Such as few men can claim:

Deep down below a prison-yard,

Naked for greater shame,

He lies, with fetters on each foot,

Wrapt in a sheet of flame!

 

For three long years they will not sow

Or root or seedling there:

For three long years the unblessed spot

Will sterile be and bare,

And look upon the wondering sky

With unreproachful stare.

 

They think a murderer's heart would taint

Each simple seed they sow.

It is not true!  God's kindly earth

Is kindlier than men know,

And the red rose would but blow more red,

The white rose whiter blow.

 

Out of his mouth a red, red rose!

Out of his heart a white!

For who can say by what strange way,

Christ brings His will to light,

Since the barren staff the pilgrim bore

Bloomed in the great Pope's sight?

 

But neither milk-white rose nor red

May bloom in prison-air;

The shard, the pebble, and the flint,

Are what they give us there:

For flowers have been known to heal

A common man's despair.

 

So never will wine-red rose or white,

Petal by petal, fall

On that stretch of mud and sand that lies

By the hideous prison-wall,

To tell the men who tramp the yard

That God's Son died for all.

 

He is at peace - this wretched man -

At peace, or will be soon:

There is no thing to make him mad,

Nor does Terror walk at noon,

For the lampless Earth in which he lies

Has neither Sun nor Moon.

 

The Chaplain would not kneel to pray

By his dishonoured grave:

Nor mark it with that blessed Cross

That Christ for sinners gave,

Because the man was one of those

Whom Christ came down to save.

 

Yet all is well; he has but passed

To Life's appointed bourne:

And alien tears will fill for him

Pity's long-broken urn,

For his mourners will be outcast men,

And outcasts always mourn.

 

 

 


Ave Imperatrix

 

Set in this stormy Northern sea,

Queen of these restless fields of tide,

England! what shall men say of thee,

Before whose feet the worlds divide?

 

The earth, a brittle globe of glass,

Lies in the hollow of thy hand,

And through its heart of crystal pass,

Like shadows through a twilight land,

 

The spears of crimson-suited war,

The long white-crested waves of fight,

And all the deadly fires which are

The torches of the lords of Night.

 

The yellow leopards, strained and lean,

The treacherous Russian knows so well,

With gaping blackened jaws are seen

Leap through the hail of screaming shell.

 

The strong sea-lion of England's wars

Hath left his sapphire cave of sea,

To battle with the storm that mars

The stars of England's chivalry.

 

The brazen-throated clarion blows

Across the Pathan's reedy fen,

And the high steeps of Indian snows

Shake to the tread of armed men.

 

And many an Afghan chief, who lies

Beneath his cool pomegranate-trees,

Clutches his sword in fierce surmise

When on the mountain-side he sees

 

The fleet-foot Marri scout, who comes

To tell how he hath heard afar

The measured roll of English drums

Beat at the gates of Kandahar.

 

For southern wind and east wind meet

Where, girt and crowned by sword and fire,

England with bare and bloody feet

Climbs the steep road of wide empire.

 

O lonely Himalayan height,

Grey pillar of the Indian sky,

Where saw'st thou last in clanging flight

Our winged dogs of Victory?

 

The almond-groves of Samarcand,

Bokhara, where red lilies blow,

And Oxus, by whose yellow sand

The grave white-turbaned merchants go:

 

And on from thence to Ispahan,

The gilded garden of the sun,

Whence the long dusty caravan

Brings cedar wood and vermilion;

 

And that dread city of Cabool

Set at the mountain's scarped feet,

Whose marble tanks are ever full

With water for the noonday heat:

 

Where through the narrow straight Bazaar

A little maid Circassian

Is led, a present from the Czar

Unto some old and bearded Khan, -

 

Here have our wild war-eagles flown,

And flapped wide wings in fiery fight;

But the sad dove, that sits alone

In England - she hath no delight.

 

In vain the laughing girl will lean

To greet her love with love-lit eyes:

Down in some treacherous black ravine,

Clutching his flag, the dead boy lies.

 

And many a moon and sun will see

The lingering wistful children wait

To climb upon their father's knee;

And in each house made desolate

 

Pale women who have lost their lord

Will kiss the relics of the slain -

Some tarnished epaulette - some sword -

Poor toys to soothe such anguished pain.

 

For not in quiet English fields

Are these, our brothers, lain to rest,

Where we might deck their broken shields

With all the flowers the dead love best.

 

For some are by the Delhi walls,

And many in the Afghan land,

And many where the Ganges falls

Through seven mouths of shifting sand.

 

And some in Russian waters lie,

And others in the seas which are

The portals to the East, or by

The wind-swept heights of Trafalgar.

 

O wandering graves!  O restless sleep!

O silence of the sunless day!

O still ravine!  O stormy deep!

Give up your prey!  Give up your prey!

 

And thou whose wounds are never healed,

Whose weary race is never won,

O Cromwell's England! must thou yield

For every inch of ground a son?

 

Go! crown with thorns thy gold-crowned head,

Change thy glad song to song of pain;

Wind and wild wave have got thy dead,

And will not yield them back again.

 

Wave and wild wind and foreign shore

Possess the flower of English land -

Lips that thy lips shall kiss no more,

Hands that shall never clasp thy hand.

 

What profit now that we have bound

The whole round world with nets of gold,

If hidden in our heart is found

The care that groweth never old?

 

What profit that our galleys ride,

Pine-forest-like, on every main?

Ruin and wreck are at our side,

Grim warders of the House of Pain.

 

Where are the brave, the strong, the fleet?

Where is our English chivalry?

Wild grasses are their burial-sheet,

And sobbing waves their threnody.

 

O loved ones lying far away,

What word of love can dead lips send!

O wasted dust!  O senseless clay!

Is this the end! is this the end!

 

Peace, peace! we wrong the noble dead

To vex their solemn slumber so;

Though childless, and with thorn-crowned head,

Up the steep road must England go,

 

Yet when this fiery web is spun,

Her watchmen shall descry from far

The young Republic like a sun

Rise from these crimson seas of war.

 

 

 


To My Wife - With A Copy Of My Poems

 

I can write no stately proem

As a prelude to my lay;

From a poet to a poem

I would dare to say.

 

For if of these fallen petals

One to you seem fair,

Love will waft it till it settles

On your hair.

 

And when wind and winter harden

All the loveless land,

It will whisper of the garden,

You will understand.

 

 

 


Magdalen Walks

 

[After gaining the Berkeley Gold Medal for Greek at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1874, Oscar Wilde proceeded to Oxford, where he obtained a demyship at Magdalen College.  He is the only real poet on the books of that institution.]

 

 

The little white clouds are racing over the sky,

And the fields are strewn with the gold of the flower of March,

The daffodil breaks under foot, and the tasselled larch

Sways and swings as the thrush goes hurrying by.

 

A delicate odour is borne on the wings of the morning breeze,

The odour of deep wet grass, and of brown new-furrowed earth,

The birds are singing for joy of the Spring's glad birth,

Hopping from branch to branch on the rocking trees.

 

And all the woods are alive with the murmur and sound of Spring,

And the rose-bud breaks into pink on the climbing briar,

And the crocus-bed is a quivering moon of fire

Girdled round with the belt of an amethyst ring.

 

And the plane to the pine-tree is whispering some tale of love

Till it rustles with laughter and tosses its mantle of green,

And the gloom of the wych-elm's hollow is lit with the iris sheen

Of the burnished rainbow throat and the silver breast of a dove.

 

See! the lark starts up from his bed in the meadow there,

Breaking the gossamer threads and the nets of dew,

And flashing adown the river, a flame of blue!

The kingfisher flies like an arrow, and wounds the air.

 

 

 


Theocritus - A Villanelle

 

O singer of Persephone!

In the dim meadows desolate

Dost thou remember Sicily?

 

Still through the ivy flits the bee

Where Amaryllis lies in state;

O Singer of Persephone!

 

Simaetha calls on Hecate

And hears the wild dogs at the gate;

Dost thou remember Sicily?

 

Still by the light and laughing sea

Poor Polypheme bemoans his fate;

O Singer of Persephone!

 

And still in boyish rivalry

Young Daphnis challenges his mate;

Dost thou remember Sicily?

 

Slim Lacon keeps a goat for thee,

For thee the jocund shepherds wait;

O Singer of Persephone!

Dost thou remember Sicily?

 

 

 


Greece

 

The sea was sapphire coloured, and the sky

Burned like a heated opal through the air;

We hoisted sail; the wind was blowing fair

For the blue lands that to the eastward lie.

From the steep prow I marked with quickening eye

Zakynthos, every olive grove and creek,

Ithaca's cliff, Lycaon's snowy peak,

And all the flower-strewn hills of Arcady.

The flapping of the sail against the mast,

The ripple of the water on the side,

The ripple of girls' laughter at the stern,

The only sounds:- when 'gan the West to burn,

And a red sun upon the seas to ride,

I stood upon the soil of Greece at last!

 

KATAKOLO.

 

 

 


Portia

 

(To Ellen Terry.  Written at the Lyceum Theatre)

 

I marvel not Bassanio was so bold

To peril all he had upon the lead,

Or that proud Aragon bent low his head

Or that Morocco's fiery heart grew cold:

For in that gorgeous dress of beaten gold

Which is more golden than the golden sun

No woman Veronese looked upon

Was half so fair as thou whom I behold.

Yet fairer when with wisdom as your shield

The sober-suited lawyer's gown you donned,

And would not let the laws of Venice yield

Antonio's heart to that accursed Jew -

O Portia! take my heart:  it is thy due:

I think I will not quarrel with the Bond.

 

 

 


Fabien Dei Franchi

 

(To my Friend Henry Irving)

 

The silent room, the heavy creeping shade,

The dead that travel fast, the opening door,

The murdered brother rising through the floor,

The ghost's white fingers on thy shoulders laid,

And then the lonely duel in the glade,

The broken swords, the stifled scream, the gore,

Thy grand revengeful eyes when all is o'er, -

These things are well enough, - but thou wert made

For more august creation! frenzied Lear

Should at thy bidding wander on the heath

With the shrill fool to mock him, Romeo

For thee should lure his love, and desperate fear

Pluck Richard's recreant dagger from its sheath -

Thou trumpet set for Shakespeare's lips to blow!

 

 

 


Phedre

 

(To Sarah Bernhardt)

 

How vain and dull this common world must seem

To such a One as thou, who should'st have talked

At Florence with Mirandola, or walked

Through the cool olives of the Academe:

Thou should'st have gathered reeds from a green stream

For Goat-foot Pan's shrill piping, and have played

With the white girls in that Phaeacian glade

Where grave Odysseus wakened from his dream.

 

Ah! surely once some urn of Attic clay

Held thy wan dust, and thou hast come again

Back to this common world so dull and vain,

For thou wert weary of the sunless day,

The heavy fields of scentless asphodel,

The loveless lips with which men kiss in Hell.

 

 

 


Sonnet On Hearing The Dies Irae Sung In The Sistine Chapel

 

Nay, Lord, not thus! white lilies in the spring,

Sad olive-groves, or silver-breasted dove,

Teach me more clearly of Thy life and love

Than terrors of red flame and thundering.

The hillside vines dear memories of Thee bring:

A bird at evening flying to its nest

Tells me of One who had no place of rest:

I think it is of Thee the sparrows sing.

Come rather on some autumn afternoon,

When red and brown are burnished on the leaves,

And the fields echo to the gleaner's song,

Come when the splendid fulness of the moon

Looks down upon the rows of golden sheaves,

And reap Thy harvest:  we have waited long.

 

 

 


Ave Maria Gratia Plena

 

Was this His coming!  I had hoped to see

A scene of wondrous glory, as was told

Of some great God who in a rain of gold

Broke open bars and fell on Danae:

Or a dread vision as when Semele

Sickening for love and unappeased desire

Prayed to see God's clear body, and the fire

Caught her brown limbs and slew her utterly:

With such glad dreams I sought this holy place,

And now with wondering eyes and heart I stand

Before this supreme mystery of Love:

Some kneeling girl with passionless pale face,

An angel with a lily in his hand,

And over both the white wings of a Dove.

 

FLORENCE.

 

 

 


Libertatis Sacra Fames

 

Albeit nurtured in democracy,

And liking best that state republican

Where every man is Kinglike and no man

Is crowned above his fellows, yet I see,

Spite of this modern fret for Liberty,

Better the rule of One, whom all obey,

Than to let clamorous demagogues betray

Our freedom with the kiss of anarchy.

Wherefore I love them not whose hands profane

Plant the red flag upon the piled-up street

For no right cause, beneath whose ignorant reign

Arts, Culture, Reverence, Honour, all things fade,

Save Treason and the dagger of her trade,

Or Murder with his silent bloody feet.

 

 

 


Roses And Rue

 

(To L. L.)

 

Could we dig up this long-buried treasure,

Were it worth the pleasure,

We never could learn love's song,

We are parted too long.

 

Could the passionate past that is fled

Call back its dead,

Could we live it all over again,

Were it worth the pain!

 

I remember we used to meet

By an ivied seat,

And you warbled each pretty word

With the air of a bird;

 

And your voice had a quaver in it,

Just like a linnet,

And shook, as the blackbird's throat

With its last big note;

 

And your eyes, they were green and grey

Like an April day,

But lit into amethyst

When I stooped and kissed;

 

And your mouth, it would never smile

For a long, long while,

Then it rippled all over with laughter

Five minutes after.

 

You were always afraid of a shower,

Just like a flower:

I remember you started and ran

When the rain began.

 

I remember I never could catch you,

For no one could match you,

You had wonderful, luminous, fleet,

Little wings to your feet.

 

I remember your hair - did I tie it?

For it always ran riot -

Like a tangled sunbeam of gold:

These things are old.

 

I remember so well the room,

And the lilac bloom

That beat at the dripping pane

In the warm June rain;

 

And the colour of your gown,

It was amber-brown,

And two yellow satin bows

From your shoulders rose.

 

And the handkerchief of French lace

Which you held to your face -

Had a small tear left a stain?

Or was it the rain?

 

On your hand as it waved adieu

There were veins of blue;

In your voice as it said good-bye

Was a petulant cry,

 

'You have only wasted your life.'

(Ah, that was the knife!)

When I rushed through the garden gate

It was all too late.

 

Could we live it over again,

Were it worth the pain,

Could the passionate past that is fled

Call back its dead!

 

Well, if my heart must break,

Dear love, for your sake,

It will break in music, I know,

Poets' hearts break so.

 

But strange that I was not told

That the brain can hold

In a tiny ivory cell

God's heaven and hell.


From 'The Garden Of Eros'

 

[In this poem the author laments the growth of materialism in the nineteenth century.  He hails Keats and Shelley and some of the poets and artists who were his contemporaries, although his seniors, as the torch-bearers of the intellectual life.  Among these are Swinburne, William Morris, Rossetti, and Brune-Jones.]

 

Nay, when Keats died the Muses still had left

One silver voice to sing his threnody, {1}

But ah! too soon of it we were bereft

When on that riven night and stormy sea

Panthea claimed her singer as her own,

And slew the mouth that praised her; since which time we walk

alone,

 

Save for that fiery heart, that morning star {2}

Of re-arisen England, whose clear eye

Saw from our tottering throne and waste of war

The grand Greek limbs of young Democracy

Rise mightily like Hesperus and bring

The great Republic! him at least thy love hath taught to sing,

 

And he hath been with thee at Thessaly,

And seen white Atalanta fleet of foot

In passionless and fierce virginity

Hunting the tusked boar, his honied lute

Hath pierced the cavern of the hollow hill,

And Venus laughs to know one knee will bow before her still.

 

And he hath kissed the lips of Proserpine,

And sung the Galilaean's requiem,

That wounded forehead dashed with blood and wine

He hath discrowned, the Ancient Gods in him

Have found their last, most ardent worshipper,

And the new Sign grows grey and dim before its conqueror.

 

Spirit of Beauty! tarry with us still,

It is not quenched the torch of poesy,

The star that shook above the Eastern hill

Holds unassailed its argent armoury

From all the gathering gloom and fretful fight -

O tarry with us still! for through the long and common night,

 

Morris, our sweet and simple Chaucer's child,

Dear heritor of Spenser's tuneful reed,

With soft and sylvan pipe has oft beguiled

The weary soul of man in troublous need,

And from the far and flowerless fields of ice

Has brought fair flowers to make an earthly paradise.

 

We know them all, Gudrun the strong men's bride,

Aslaug and Olafson we know them all,

How giant Grettir fought and Sigurd died,

And what enchantment held the king in thrall

When lonely Brynhild wrestled with the powers

That war against all passion, ah! how oft through summer hours,

 

Long listless summer hours when the noon

Being enamoured of a damask rose

Forgets to journey westward, till the moon

The pale usurper of its tribute grows

From a thin sickle to a silver shield

And chides its loitering car - how oft, in some cool grassy field

 

Far from the cricket-ground and noisy eight,

At Bagley, where the rustling bluebells come

Almost before the blackbird finds a mate

And overstay the swallow, and the hum

Of many murmuring bees flits through the leaves,

Have I lain poring on the dreamy tales his fancy weaves,

 

And through their unreal woes and mimic pain

Wept for myself, and so was purified,

And in their simple mirth grew glad again;

For as I sailed upon that pictured tide

The strength and splendour of the storm was mine

Without the storm's red ruin, for the singer is divine;

 

 

The little laugh of water falling down

Is not so musical, the clammy gold

Close hoarded in the tiny waxen town

Has less of sweetness in it, and the old

Half-withered reeds that waved in Arcady

Touched by his lips break forth again to fresher harmony.

 

Spirit of Beauty, tarry yet awhile!

Although the cheating merchants of the mart

With iron roads profane our lovely isle,

And break on whirling wheels the limbs of Art,

Ay! though the crowded factories beget

The blindworm Ignorance that slays the soul, O tarry yet!

 

For One at least there is, - He bears his name

From Dante and the seraph Gabriel, {3} -

Whose double laurels burn with deathless flame

To light thine altar; He {4} too loves thee well,

Who saw old Merlin lured in Vivien's snare,

And the white feet of angels coming down the golden stair,

 

Loves thee so well, that all the World for him

A gorgeous-coloured vestiture must wear,

And Sorrow take a purple diadem,

Or else be no more Sorrow, and Despair

Gild its own thorns, and Pain, like Adon, be

Even in anguish beautiful; - such is the empery

 

Which Painters hold, and such the heritage

This gentle solemn Spirit doth possess,

Being a better mirror of his age

In all his pity, love, and weariness,

Than those who can but copy common things,

And leave the Soul unpainted with its mighty questionings.

 

But they are few, and all romance has flown,

And men can prophesy about the sun,

And lecture on his arrows - how, alone,

Through a waste void the soulless atoms run,

How from each tree its weeping nymph has fled,

And that no more 'mid English reeds a Naiad shows her head.

 

 

 


The Harlot's House

 

We caught the tread of dancing feet,

We loitered down the moonlit street,

And stopped beneath the harlot's house.

 

Inside, above the din and fray,

We heard the loud musicians play

The 'Treues Liebes Herz' of Strauss.

 

Like strange mechanical grotesques,

Making fantastic arabesques,

The shadows raced across the blind.

 

We watched the ghostly dancers spin

To sound of horn and violin,

Like black leaves wheeling in the wind.

 

Like wire-pulled automatons,

Slim silhouetted skeletons

Went sidling through the slow quadrille,

 

Then took each other by the hand,

And danced a stately saraband;

Their laughter echoed thin and shrill.

 

Sometimes a clockwork puppet pressed

A phantom lover to her breast,

Sometimes they seemed to try to sing.

 

Sometimes a horrible marionette

Came out, and smoked its cigarette

Upon the steps like a live thing.

 

Then, turning to my love, I said,

'The dead are dancing with the dead,

The dust is whirling with the dust.'

 

But she - she heard the violin,

And left my side, and entered in:

Love passed into the house of lust.

 

Then suddenly the tune went false,

The dancers wearied of the waltz,

The shadows ceased to wheel and whirl.

 

And down the long and silent street,

The dawn, with silver-sandalled feet,

Crept like a frightened girl.

 

 

 


From 'The Burden Of Itys'

 

This English Thames is holier far than Rome,

Those harebells like a sudden flush of sea

Breaking across the woodland, with the foam

Of meadow-sweet and white anemone

To fleck their blue waves, - God is likelier there

Than hidden in that crystal-hearted star the pale monks bear!

 

Those violet-gleaming butterflies that take

Yon creamy lily for their pavilion

Are monsignores, and where the rushes shake

A lazy pike lies basking in the sun,

His eyes half shut, - he is some mitred old

Bishop in PARTIBUS! look at those gaudy scales all green and gold.

 

The wind the restless prisoner of the trees

Does well for Palaestrina, one would say

The mighty master's hands were on the keys

Of the Maria organ, which they play

When early on some sapphire Easter morn

In a high litter red as blood or sin the Pope is borne

 

From his dark House out to the Balcony

Above the bronze gates and the crowded square,

Whose very fountains seem for ecstasy

To toss their silver lances in the air,

And stretching out weak hands to East and West

In vain sends peace to peaceless lands, to restless nations rest.

 

Is not yon lingering orange after-glow

That stays to vex the moon more fair than all

Rome's lordliest pageants! strange, a year ago

I knelt before some crimson Cardinal

Who bare the Host across the Esquiline,

And now - those common poppies in the wheat seem twice as fine.

 

The blue-green beanfields yonder, tremulous

With the last shower, sweeter perfume bring

Through this cool evening than the odorous

Flame-jewelled censers the young deacons swing,

When the grey priest unlocks the curtained shrine,

And makes God's body from the common fruit of corn and vine.

 

Poor Fra Giovanni bawling at the Mass

Were out of tune now, for a small brown bird

Sings overhead, and through the long cool grass

I see that throbbing throat which once I heard

On starlit hills of flower-starred Arcady,

Once where the white and crescent sand of Salamis meets sea.

 

Sweet is the swallow twittering on the eaves

At daybreak, when the mower whets his scythe,

And stock-doves murmur, and the milkmaid leaves

Her little lonely bed, and carols blithe

To see the heavy-lowing cattle wait

Stretching their huge and dripping mouths across the farmyard gate.

 

And sweet the hops upon the Kentish leas,

And sweet the wind that lifts the new-mown hay,

And sweet the fretful swarms of grumbling bees

That round and round the linden blossoms play;

And sweet the heifer breathing in the stall,

And the green bursting figs that hang upon the red-brick wall,

 

And sweet to hear the cuckoo mock the spring

While the last violet loiters by the well,

And sweet to hear the shepherd Daphnis sing

The song of Linus through a sunny dell

Of warm Arcadia where the corn is gold

And the slight lithe-limbed reapers dance about the wattled fold.

 

* * * * *

 

It was a dream, the glade is tenantless,

No soft Ionian laughter moves the air,

The Thames creeps on in sluggish leadenness,

And from the copse left desolate and bare

Fled is young Bacchus with his revelry,

Yet still from Nuneham wood there comes that thrilling melody

 

So sad, that one might think a human heart

Brake in each separate note, a quality

Which music sometimes has, being the Art

Which is most nigh to tears and memory;

Poor mourning Philomel, what dost thou fear?

Thy sister doth not haunt these fields, Pandion is not here,

 

Here is no cruel Lord with murderous blade,

No woven web of bloody heraldries,

But mossy dells for roving comrades made,

Warm valleys where the tired student lies

With half-shut book, and many a winding walk

Where rustic lovers stray at eve in happy simple talk.

 

The harmless rabbit gambols with its young

Across the trampled towing-path, where late

A troop of laughing boys in jostling throng

Cheered with their noisy cries the racing eight;

The gossamer, with ravelled silver threads,

Works at its little loom, and from the dusky red-eaved sheds

 

Of the lone Farm a flickering light shines out

Where the swinked shepherd drives his bleating flock

Back to their wattled sheep-cotes, a faint shout

Comes from some Oxford boat at Sandford lock,

And starts the moor-hen from the sedgy rill,

And the dim lengthening shadows flit like swallows up the hill.

 

The heron passes homeward to the mere,

The blue mist creeps among the shivering trees,

Gold world by world the silent stars appear,

And like a blossom blown before the breeze

A white moon drifts across the shimmering sky,

Mute arbitress of all thy sad, thy rapturous threnody.

 

She does not heed thee, wherefore should she heed,

She knows Endymion is not far away;

'Tis I, 'tis I, whose soul is as the reed

Which has no message of its own to play,

So pipes another's bidding, it is I,

Drifting with every wind on the wide sea of misery.

 

Ah! the brown bird has ceased:  one exquisite trill

About the sombre woodland seems to cling

Dying in music, else the air is still,

So still that one might hear the bat's small wing

Wander and wheel above the pines, or tell

Each tiny dew-drop dripping from the bluebell's brimming cell.

 

And far away across the lengthening wold,

Across the willowy flats and thickets brown,

Magdalen's tall tower tipped with tremulous gold

Marks the long High Street of the little town,

And warns me to return; I must not wait,

Hark ! 't is the curfew booming from the bell at Christ Church

gate.


Flower of Love

 

Sweet, I blame you not, for mine the fault

was, had I not been made of common clay

I had climbed the higher heights unclimbed

yet, seen the fuller air, the larger day.

 

From the wildness of my wasted passion I had

struck a better, clearer song,

Lit some lighter light of freer freedom, battled

with some Hydra-headed wrong.

 

Had my lips been smitten into music by the

kisses that but made them bleed,

You had walked with Bice and the angels on

that verdant and enamelled mead.

 

I had trod the road which Dante treading saw

the suns of seven circles shine,

Ay! perchance had seen the heavens opening,

as they opened to the Florentine.

 

And the mighty nations would have crowned

me, who am crownless now and without name,

And some orient dawn had found me kneeling

on the threshold of the House of Fame.

 

I had sat within that marble circle where the

oldest bard is as the young,

And the pipe is ever dropping honey, and the

lyre's strings are ever strung.

 

Keats had lifted up his hymeneal curls from out

the poppy-seeded wine,

With ambrosial mouth had kissed my forehead,

clasped the hand of noble love in mine.

 

And at springtide, when the apple-blossoms

brush the burnished bosom of the dove,

Two young lovers lying in an orchard would

have read the story of our love;

 

Would have read the legend of my passion,

known the bitter secret of my heart,

Kissed as we have kissed, but never parted as

we two are fated now to part.

 

For the crimson flower of our life is eaten by

the cankerworm of truth,

And no hand can gather up the fallen withered

petals of the rose of youth.

 

Yet I am not sorry that I loved you - ah!

what else had I a boy to do, -

For the hungry teeth of time devour, and the

silent-footed years pursue.

 

Rudderless, we drift athwart a tempest, and

when once the storm of youth is past,

Without lyre, without lute or chorus, Death

the silent pilot comes at last.

 

And within the grave there is no pleasure,

for the blindworm battens on the root,

And Desire shudders into ashes, and the tree

of Passion bears no fruit.

 

Ah! what else had I to do but love you?

God's own mother was less dear to me,

And less dear the Cytheraean rising like an

argent lily from the sea.

 

I have made my choice, have lived my

poems, and, though youth is gone in wasted days,

I have found the lover's crown of myrtle better

than the poet's crown of bays.

 

 

 


Footnotes:

 

{1}  Shelley

{2}  Swinburne

{3}  Rossetti

{4}  Burne-Jones

 

 

 

 

THE END