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Dante Gabriel Rossetti

POEMS
FOLLOWERS
6

Of Adam’s first wife, Lilith, it is told
    ('The witch he loved before the gift of Eve,)
    That, ere the snake’s, her sweet tongue could deceive,
And her enchanted hair was the first gold.
And still she sits, young while the earth is old,
    And, subtly of herself contemplative,
    Draws men to watch the bright web she can weave,
Till heart and body and life are in its hold.

The rose and poppy are her flowers; for where
    Is he not found, O Lilith, whom shed scent
And soft—shed kisses and soft sleep shall snare?
    Lo! as that youth’s eyes burned at thine, so went
    Thy spell through him, and left his straight neck bent
And round his heart one strangling golden hair.

When do I see thee most, beloved one?
When in the light the spirits of mine eyes
Before thy face, their altar, solemnize
The worship of that Love through thee made known?
Or when in the dusk hours, (we two alone,)
Close-kissed and eloquent of still replies
Thy twilight-hidden glimmering visage lies,
And my soul only sees thy soul its own?
O love, my love! if I no more should see
Thyself, nor on the earth the shadow of thee,
Nor image of thine eyes in any spring,—
How then should sound upon Life’s darkening slope
The ground-whirl of the perished leaves of Hope,
The wind of Death’s imperishable wing?

The wind flapp’d loose, the wind was still,
Shaken out dead from tree and hill:
I had walk’d on at the wind’s will,—
I sat now, for the wind was still.

Between my knees my forehead was,—
My lips, drawn in, said not Alas!
My hair was over in the grass,
My naked ears heard the day pass.

My eyes, wide open, had the run
Of some ten weeds to fix upon;
Among those few, out of the sun,
The woodspurge flower’d, three cups in one.

From perfect grief there need not be
Wisdom or even memory:
One thing then learnt remains to me,—
The woodspurge has a cup of three.

So now the changed year’s turning wheel returns
And as a girl sails balanced in the wind,
And now before and now again behind
Stoops as it swoops, with cheek that laughs and burns,—
So Spring comes merry towards me now, but earns
No answering smile from me, whose life is twin’d
With the dead boughs that winter still must bind,
And whom to—day the Spring no more concerns.

Behold, this crocus is a withering flame;
This snowdrop, snow; this apple—blossom’s part
To breed the fruit that breeds the serpent’s art.
Nay, for these Spring—flowers, turn thy face from them,
Nor gaze till on the year’s last lily—stem
The white cup shrivels round the golden heart.

I have been here before,
                But when or how I cannot tell:
         I know the grass beyond the door,
                The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.

         You have been mine before,—
                How long ago I may not know:
         But just when at that swallow’s soar
                Your neck turn’d so,
Some veil did fall,—I knew it all of yore.

         Has this been thus before?
                And shall not thus time’s eddying flight
         Still with our lives our love restore
                In death’s despite,
And day and night yield one delight once more?

7

A PIPPO Pipistrello
Farfalla la fanciulla:
“O vedi quanto è bello
Ridendo in questa culla!
E noi l’abbiamo fatto,
Noi due insiem d’ un tratto,
E senza noi fia nulla.”

Silesian shepherd, blesed be
The sequel of that history
That I have read with heart elate,
Entwining it with my own fate;
So dear to me the visions seem
That thou, oh child unknown, didst dream—
In earliest days on mountain wild:—
How dreadful spirits sternly smiled,
And prophecied thy future days,
And pointed out untrodden ways,
And gave thee weapons strong & good,
As the wierd lady of the Wood
To young St. George. Must I compare
With those dove winged guardians fair
Who to the little English maid
In crowded streets brief visits paid;
For in the year that gave me birth
Didst thou appear upon this earth:
And we have wandered far & wide
Seeking for truth on every side.
Sweet dreadful spirits strengthed thee
Into a noble destiny
Sweet smiling angels sang to me
Strains full of love and mystery.
Yet know I not what I should do
In worship of the good & true.
Oh! gentle shepherd, dost thou wear
Meek flowers on thy waving hair,
And dost thou pipe a simple song,
And love thy flock the whole day long?
Or, stately shepherd, comest thou
With flaming signs around thy brow
And God’s commandment in thy hand?
And dost thou read & understand?
Deliverer—for the good & true
Within one day what shall we do?
How shall we build the mystic shrine?
What symbols shall be thine & mine?
Tell, modern priest, what robes should be
Emblems of richest charty?
What consecrations may there be,
What hope, what faith, what mystery?
And wilt thou walk thy people thro’,
And sprinkle us with heavenly dew?
And shall we from the sacred door
Go forth & search the parish o’er,
And mark what evil there is done,
And give some remedy, each one?
A cup of water, if no more.
As thou hast purified before,
With graceful step & action bland,
Shall we, with schemes of duty planned
By wisest hearts, walk daily thro’
With serious step devout & true.
Our spirits may in deepest rest
Sleep softly on the Savior’s breast.
Permit it not, dear Lord, that we
Should ever fall from loving thee.
Countless I trust the spirits be
Who rest upon thee lovingly.
The holy Mary, beauteous light,
Who gazes on her face aright?
I think the world has yet to turn
Their looks toward her eyes, & learn.
There may they read of things unknown,
And make rare wonders all their own.
Canst thou within that house of gold,
Oh! shepherd, thy poor lambkins fold?

Could you not drink her gaze like wine?
Yet though its splendour swoon
Into the silence languidly
As a tune into a tune,
Those eyes unravel the coiled night
And know the stars at noon.
The gold that’s heaped beside her hand,
In truth rich prize it were;
And rich the dreams that wreathe her brows
With magic stillness there;
And he were rich who should unwind
That woven golden hair.
Around her, where she sits, the dance
Now breathes its eager heat;
And not more lightly or more true
Fall there the dancers’ feet
Than fall her cards on the bright board
As 'twere a heart that beat.
Her fingers let them softly through,
Smooth polished silent things;
And each one as it falls reflects
In swift light—shadowings,
Blood—red and purple, green and blue,
The great eyes of her rings.
Whom plays she with? With thee, who lov’st
Those gems upon her hand;
With me, who search her secret brows;
With all men, bless’d or bann’d.
We play together, she and we,
Within a vain strange land:
A land without any order,—
Day even as night, (one saith,)—
Where who lieth down ariseth not
Nor the sleeper awakeneth;
A land of darkness as darkness itself
And of the shadow of death.
What be her cards, you ask? Even these:—
The heart, that doth but crave
More, having fed; the diamond,
Skilled to make base seem brave;
The club, for smiting in the dark;
The spade, to dig a grave.
And do you ask what game she plays?
With me ‘tis lost or won;
With thee it is playing still; with him
It is not well begun;
But ’tis a game she plays with all
Beneath the sway o’ the sun.
Thou seest the card that falls,—she knows
The card that followeth:
Her game in thy tongue is called Life,
As ebbs thy daily breath:
When she shall speak, thou’lt learn her tongue
And know she calls it Death.

Your hands lie open in the long fresh grass,—
The finger—points look through like rosy blooms:
Your eyes smile peace. The pasture gleams and glooms
‘Neath billowing skies that scatter and amass.
All round our nest, far as the eye can pass,
Are golden kingcup—fields with silver edge
Where the cow—parsley skirts the hawthorn—hedge.
’Tis visible silence, still as the hour—glass.
Deep in the sun—searched growths the dragon—fly
Hangs like a blue thread loosened from the sky:—
So this wing’d hour is dropt to us from above.
Oh! clasp we to our hearts, for deathless dower,
This close—companioned inarticulate hour
When twofold silence was the song of love.

The blessed damozel leaned out
    From the gold bar of Heaven;
Her eyes were deeper than the depth
    Of waters stilled at even;
She had three lilies in her hand,
    And the stars in her hair were seven.

Her robe, ungirt from clasp to hem,
    No wrought flowers did adorn,
But a white rose of Mary’s gift,
    For service meetly worn;
Her hair that lay along her back
    Was yellow like ripe corn.

Herseemed she scarce had been a day
    One of God’s choristers;
The wonder was not yet quite gone
    From that still look of hers;
Albeit, to them she left, her day
    Had counted as ten years.

(To one, it is ten years of years.
    ... Yet now, and in this place,
Surely she leaned o’er me—her hair
    Fell all about my face....
Nothing: the autumn—fall of leaves.
    The whole year sets apace.)

It was the rampart of God’s house
    That she was standing on;
By God built over the sheer depth
    The which is Space begun;
So high, that looking downward thence
    She scarce could see the sun.

It lies in Heaven, across the flood
    Of ether, as a bridge.
Beneath, the tides of day and night
    With flame and darkness ridge
The void, as low as where this earth
    Spins like a fretful midge.

Around her, lovers, newly met
    'Mid deathless love’s acclaims,
Spoke evermore among themselves
    Their heart—remembered names;
And the souls mounting up to God
    Went by her like thin flames.

And still she bowed herself and stooped
    Out of the circling charm;
Until her bosom must have made
    The bar she leaned on warm,
And the lilies lay as if asleep
    Along her bended arm.

From the fixed place of Heaven she saw
    Time like a pulse shake fierce
Through all the worlds. Her gaze still strove
    Within the gulf to pierce
Its path; and now she spoke as when
    The stars sang in their spheres.

The sun was gone now; the curled moon
    Was like a little feather
Fluttering far down the gulf; and now
    She spoke through the still weather.
Her voice was like the voice the stars
    Had when they sang together.

(Ah sweet! Even now, in that bird’s song,
    Strove not her accents there,
Fain to be hearkened? When those bells
    Possessed the mid—day air,
Strove not her steps to reach my side
    Down all the echoing stair?)

“I wish that he were come to me,
    For he will come,” she said.
“Have I not prayed in Heaven? —on earth,
    Lord, Lord, has he not pray’d?
Are not two prayers a perfect strength?
    And shall I feel afraid?

”When round his head the aureole clings,
    And he is clothed in white,
I’ll take his hand and go with him
    To the deep wells of light;
As unto a stream we will step down,
    And bathe there in God’s sight.

“We two will stand beside that shrine,
    Occult, withheld, untrod,
Whose lamps are stirred continually
    With prayer sent up to God;
And see our old prayers, granted, melt
    Each like a little cloud.

”We two will lie i’ the shadow of
    That living mystic tree
Within whose secret grove the Dove
    Is sometimes felt to be,
While every leaf that His plumes touch
    Saith His Name audibly.

“And I myself will teach to him,
    I myself, lying so,
The songs I sing here; which his voice
    Shall pause in, hushed and slow,
And find some knowledge at each pause,
    Or some new thing to know.”

(Alas! we two, we two, thou say’st!
    Yea, one wast thou with me
That once of old. But shall God lift
    To endless unity.
The soul whose likeness with thy soul
    Was but its love for thee?)

“We two,” she said, “will seek the groves
    Where the lady Mary is,
With her five handmaidens, whose names
    Are five sweet symphonies,
Cecily, Gertrude, Magdalen,
    Margaret and Rosalys.

”Circlewise sit they, with bound locks
    And foreheads garlanded;
Into the fine cloth white like flame
    Weaving the golden thread,
To fashion the birth—robes for them
    Who are just born, being dead.

“He shall fear, haply, and be dumb;
    Then will I lay my cheek
To his, and tell about our love,
    Not once abashed or weak:
And the dear Mother will approve
    My pride, and let me speak.

”Herself shall bring us, hand in hand,
    To Him round whom all souls
Kneel, the clear—ranged unnumbered heads
    Bowed with their aureoles:
And angels meeting us shall sing
    To their citherns and citoles.

“There will I ask of Christ the Lord
    Thus much for him and me:—
Only to live as once on earth
    With Love, —only to be,
As then awhile, for ever now
    Together, I and he.”

She gazed and listened and then said,
    Less sad of speech than mild,—
“All this is when he comes.” She ceased.
    The light thrilled towards her, fill’d
With angels in strong level flight.
    Her eyes prayed, and she smil’d.

(I saw her smile.) But soon their path
    Was vague in distant spheres:
And then she cast her arms along
    The golden barriers,
And laid her face between her hands,
    And wept. (I heard her tears.)

In whomsoe’er, since Poesy began,
A Poet most of all men we may scan,
Burns of all poets is the most a Man.

'When that dead face, bowered in the furthest years,
Which once was all the life years held for thee,
Can now scarce bid the tides of memory
Cast on thy soul a little spray of tears,—
How canst thou gaze into these eyes of hers
Whom now thy heart delights in, and not see
Within each orb Love’s philtred euphrasy
Make them of buried troth remembrancers?”
“Nay, pitiful Love, nay, loving Pity! Well
Thou knowest that in these twain I have confess’d
Two very voices of thy summoning bell.
Nay, Master, shall not Death make manifest
In these the culminant changes which approve
The love—moon that must light my soul to Love?”