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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.

From child to youth; from youth to arduous man;
         From lethargy to fever of the heart;
         From faithful life to dream—dower’d days apart;
From trust to doubt; from doubt to brink of ban;—
Thus much of change in one swift cycle ran
         Till now. Alas, the soul!—how soon must she
         Accept her primal immortality,—
The flesh resume its dust whence it began?

O Lord of work and peace! O Lord of life!
         O Lord, the awful Lord of will! though late,
         Even yet renew this soul with duteous breath:
That when the peace is garner’d in from strife,
         The work retriev’d, the will regenerate,
         This soul may see thy face, O Lord of death!

I
To—day Death seems to me an infant child
Which her worn mother Life upon my knee
Has set to grow my friend and play with me;
If haply so my heart might be beguil’d
To find no terrors in a face so mild,—
If haply so my weary heart might be
Unto the newborn milky eyes of thee,
O Death, before resentment reconcil’d.
How long, O Death? And shall thy feet depart
Still a young child’s with mine, or wilt thou stand
Fullgrown the helpful daughter of my heart,
What time with thee indeed I reach the strand
Of the pale wave which knows thee what thou art,
And drink it in the hollow of thy hand?
II
And thou, O Life, the lady of all bliss,
With whom, when our first heart beat full and fast,
I wandered till the haunts of men were pass’d,
And in fair places found all bowers amiss
Till only woods and waves might hear our kiss,
While to the winds all thought of Death we cast:—
Ah, Life! and must I have from thee at last
No smile to greet me and no babe but this?
Lo! Love, the child once ours; and Song, whose hair
Blew like a flame and blossomed like a wreath;
And Art, whose eyes were worlds by God found fair:
These o’er the book of Nature mixed their breath
With neck—twined arms, as oft we watched them there:
And did these die that thou mightst bear me Death?

Like labour-laden moonclouds faint to flee
         From winds that sweep the winter—bitten wold,—
         Like multiform circumfluence manifold
Of night’s flood-tide,—like terrors that agree
Of hoarse-tongued fire and inarticulate sea,—
         Even such, within some glass dimm’d by our breath,
         Our hearts discern wild images of Death,
Shadows and shoals that edge eternity.

Howbeit athwart Death’s imminent shade doth soar
         One Power, than flow of stream or flight of dove
         Sweeter to glide around, to brood above.
Tell me, my heart,—what angel—greeted door
Or threshold of wing—winnow’d threshing—floor
         Hath guest fire-fledg’d as thine, whose lord is Love?

By none but me can the tale be told,
The butcher of Rouen, poor Berold.
(Lands are swayed by a King on a throne.)
'Twas a royal train put forth to sea,
Yet the tale can be told by none but me.
(The sea hath no King but God alone.)
King Henry held it as life’s whole gain
That after his death his son should reign.
`Twas so in my youth I heard men say,
And my old age calls it back to—day.
King Henry of England’s realm was he,
And Henry Duke of Normandy.
The times had changed when on either coast
“Clerkly Harry” was all his boast.
Of ruthless strokes full many an one
He had struck to crown himself and his son;
And his elder brother’s eyes were gone.
And when to the chase his court would crowd,
The poor flung ploughshares on his road,
And shrieked: “Our cry is from King to God!”
But all the chiefs of the English land
Had knelt and kissed the Prince’s hand.
And next with his son he sailed to France
To claim the Norman allegiance:
And every baron in Normandy
Had taken the oath of fealty.
'Twas sworn and sealed, and the day had come
When the King and the Prince might journey home:
For Christmas cheer is to home hearts dear,
And Christmas now was drawing near.
Stout Fitz—Stephen came to the King,—
A pilot famous in seafaring;
And he held to the King, in all men’s sight,
A mark of gold for his tribute’s right.
“Liege Lord! my father guided the ship
From whose boat your father’s foot did slip
When he caught the English soil in his grip,
“And cried: ‘By this clasp I claim command
O’er every rood of English land!’
“He was borne to the realm you rule o’er now
In that ship with the archer carved at her prow:
“And thither I’ll bear, an it be my due,
Your father’s son and his grandson too.
“The famed White Ship is mine in the bay;
From Harfleur’s harbour she sails to—day,
“With masts fair—pennoned as Norman spears
And with fifty well—tried mariners.”
Quoth the King: “My ships are chosen each one,
But I’ll not say nay to Stephen’s son.
“My son and daughter and fellowship
Shall cross the water in the White Ship.”
The King set sail with the eve’s south wind,
And soon he left that coast behind.
The Prince and all his, a princely show,
Remained in the good White Ship to go.
With noble knights and with ladies fair,
With courtiers and sailors gathered there,
Three hundred living souls we were:
And I Berold was the meanest hind
In all that train to the Prince assign’d.
The Prince was a lawless shameless youth;
From his father’s loins he sprang without ruth:
Eighteen years till then he had seen,
And the devil’s dues in him were eighteen.
And now he cried: “Bring wine from below;
Let the sailors revel ere yet they row:
“Our speed shall o’ertake my father’s flight
Though we sail from the harbour at midnight.”
The rowers made good cheer without check;
The lords and ladies obeyed his beck;
The night was light, and they danced on the deck.
But at midnight’s stroke they cleared the bay,
And the White Ship furrowed the water—way.
The sails were set, and the oars kept tune
To the double flight of the ship and the moon:
Swifter and swifter the White Ship sped
Till she flew as the spirit flies from the dead:
As white as a lily glimmered she
Like a ship’s fair ghost upon the sea.
And the Prince cried, “Friends, 'tis the hour to sing!
Is a songbird’s course so swift on the wing?”
And under the winter stars’ still throng,
From brown throats, white throats, merry and strong,
The knights and the ladies raised a song.
A song,—nay, a shriek that rent the sky,
That leaped o’er the deep!—the grievous cry
Of three hundred living that now must die.
An instant shriek that sprang to the shock
As the ship’s keel felt the sunken rock.
'Tis said that afar—a shrill strange sigh—
The King’s ships heard it and knew not why.
Pale Fitz—Stephen stood by the helm
'Mid all those folk that the waves must whelm.
A great King’s heir for the waves to whelm,
And the helpless pilot pale at the helm!
The ship was eager and sucked athirst,
By the stealthy stab of the sharp reef pierc’d:
And like the moil round a sinking cup
The waters against her crowded up.
A moment the pilot’s senses spin,—
The next he snatched the Prince 'mid the din,
Cut the boat loose, and the youth leaped in.
A few friends leaped with him, standing near.
“Row! the sea’s smooth and the night is clear!”
“What! none to be saved but these and I?”
“Row, row as you’d live! All here must die!”
Out of the churn of the choking ship,
Which the gulf grapples and the waves strip,
They struck with the strained oars’ flash and dip.
'Twas then o’er the splitting bulwarks’ brim
The Prince’s sister screamed to him.
He gazed aloft, still rowing apace,
And through the whirled surf he knew her face.
To the toppling decks clave one and all
As a fly cleaves to a chamber—wall.
I Berold was clinging anear;
I prayed for myself and quaked with fear,
But I saw his eyes as he looked at her.
He knew her face and he heard her cry,
And he said, “Put back! she must not die!”
And back with the current’s force they reel
Like a leaf that’s drawn to a water—wheel.
'Neath the ship’s travail they scarce might float,
But he rose and stood in the rocking boat.
Low the poor ship leaned on the tide:
O’er the naked keel as she best might slide,
The sister toiled to the brother’s side.
He reached an oar to her from below,
And stiffened his arms to clutch her so.
But now from the ship some spied the boat,
And “Saved!” was the cry from many a throat.
And down to the boat they leaped and fell:
It turned as a bucket turns in a well,
And nothing was there but the surge and swell.
The Prince that was and the King to come,
There in an instant gone to his doom,
Despite of all England’s bended knee
And maugre the Norman fealty!
He was a Prince of lust and pride;
He showed no grace till the hour he died.
When he should be King, he oft would vow,
He’d yoke the peasant to his own plough.
O’er him the ships score their furrows now.
God only knows where his soul did wake,
But I saw him die for his sister’s sake.
By none but me can the tale be told,
The butcher of Rouen, poor Berold.
(Lands are swayed by a King on a throne.)
'Twas a royal train put forth to sea,
Yet the tale can be told by none but me.
(The sea hath no King but God alone.)
And now the end came o’er the waters’ womb
Like the last great Day that’s yet to come.
With prayers in vain and curses in vain,
The White Ship sundered on the mid—main:
And what were men and what was a ship
Were toys and splinters in the sea’s grip.
I Berold was down in the sea;
And passing strange though the thing may be,
Of dreams then known I remember me.
Blithe is the shout on Harfleur’s strand
When morning lights the sails to land:
And blithe is Honfleur’s echoing gloam
When mothers call the children home:
And high do the bells of Rouen beat
When the Body of Christ goes down the street.
These things and the like were heard and shown
In a moment’s trance ‘neath the sea alone;
And when I rose, ’twas the sea did seem,
And not these things, to be all a dream.
The ship was gone and the crowd was gone,
And the deep shuddered and the moon shone,
And in a strait grasp my arms did span
The mainyard rent from the mast where it ran;
And on it with me was another man.
Where lands were none 'neath the dim sea—sky,
We told our names, that man and I.
“O I am Godefroy de l’Aigle hight,
And son I am to a belted knight.”
“And I am Berold the butcher’s son
Who slays the beasts in Rouen town.”
Then cried we upon God’s name, as we
Did drift on the bitter winter sea.
But lo! a third man rose o’er the wave,
And we said, “Thank God! us three may He save!”
He clutched to the yard with panting stare,
And we looked and knew Fitz—Stephen there.
He clung, and “What of the Prince?” quoth he.
“Lost, lost!” we cried. He cried, “Woe on me!”
And loosed his hold and sank through the sea.
And soul with soul again in that space
We two were together face to face:
And each knew each, as the moments sped,
Less for one living than for one dead:
And every still star overhead
Seemed an eye that knew we were but dead.
And the hours passed; till the noble’s son
Sighed, “God be thy help! my strength’s foredone!
“O farewell, friend, for I can no more!”
“Christ take thee!” I moaned; and his life was o’er.
Three hundred souls were all lost but one,
And I drifted over the sea alone.
At last the morning rose on the sea
Like an angel’s wing that beat tow’rds me.
Sore numbed I was in my sheepskin coat;
Half dead I hung, and might nothing note,
Till I woke sun—warmed in a fisher—boat.
The sun was high o’er the eastern brim
As I praised God and gave thanks to Him.
That day I told my tale to a priest,
Who charged me, till the shrift were releas’d,
That I should keep it in mine own breast.
And with the priest I thence did fare
To King Henry’s court at Winchester.
We spoke with the King’s high chamberlain,
And he wept and mourned again and again,
As if his own son had been slain:
And round us ever there crowded fast
Great men with faces all aghast:
And who so bold that might tell the thing
Which now they knew to their lord the King?
Much woe I learnt in their communing.
The King had watched with a heart sore stirred
For two whole days, and this was the third:
And still to all his court would he say,
“What keeps my son so long away?”
And they said: “The ports lie far and wide
That skirt the swell of the English tide;
“And England’s cliffs are not more white
Than her women are, and scarce so light
Her skies as their eyes are blue and bright;
“And in some port that he reached from France
The Prince has lingered for his pleasaùnce.”
But once the King asked: “What distant cry
Was that we heard 'twixt the sea and sky?”
And one said: “With suchlike shouts, pardie!
Do the fishers fling their nets at sea.”
And one: “Who knows not the shrieking quest
When the sea—mew misses its young from the nest?”
'Twas thus till now they had soothed his dread,
Albeit they knew not what they said:
But who should speak to—day of the thing
That all knew there except the King?
Then pondering much they found a way,
And met round the King’s high seat that day:
And the King sat with a heart sore stirred,
And seldom he spoke and seldom heard.
‘Twas then through the hall the King was ’ware
Of a little boy with golden hair,
As bright as the golden poppy is
That the beach breeds for the surf to kiss:
Yet pale his cheek as the thorn in Spring,
And his garb black like the raven’s wing.
Nothing heard but his foot through the hall,
For now the lords were silent all.
And the King wondered, and said, “Alack!
Who sends me a fair boy dressed in black?
“Why, sweet heart, do you pace through the hall
As though my court were a funeral?”
Then lowly knelt the child at the dais,
And looked up weeping in the King’s face.
“O wherefore black, O King, ye may say,
For white is the hue of death to—day.
“Your son and all his fellowship
Lie low in the sea with the White Ship.”
King Henry fell as a man struck dead;
And speechless still he stared from his bed
When to him next day my rede I read.
There’s many an hour must needs beguile
A King’s high heart that he should smile,—
Full many a lordly hour, full fain
Of his realm’s rule and pride of his reign:—
But this King never smiled again.
By none but me can the tale be told,
The butcher of Rouen, poor Berold.
(Lands are swayed by a King on a throne.)
'Twas a royal train put forth to sea,
Yet the tale can be told by none but me.
(The sea hath no King but God alone.)

Is it this sky’s vast vault or ocean’s sound
That is Life’s self and draws my life from me,
And by instinct ineffable decree
Holds my breath quailing on the bitter bound?
Nay, is it Life or Death, thus thunder—crown’d,
That 'mid the tide of all emergency
Now notes my separate wave, and to what sea
Its difficult eddies labour in the ground?
Oh! what is this that knows the road I came,
The flame turned cloud, the cloud returned to flame,
The lifted shifted steeps and all the way?—
That draws round me at last this wind—warm space,
And in regenerate rapture turns my face
Upon the devious coverts of dismay?

“Who rules these lands?” the Pilgrim said.
“Stranger, Queen Blanchelys.”
“And who has thus harried them?” he said.
“It was Duke Luke did this:
God’s ban be his!”
The Pilgrim said: “Where is your house?
I’ll rest there, with your will.”
“You’ve but to climb these blackened boughs
And you’ll see it over the hill,
For it burns still.”
“Which road, to seek your Queen?” said he.
“Nay, nay, but with some wound
You’ll fly back hither, it may be,
And by your blood i’ the ground
My place be found.”
“Friend, stay in peace. God keep your head,
And mine, where I will go;
For He is here and there,” he said.
He passed the hill—side, slow.
And stood below.
The Queen sat idle by her loom;
She heard the arras stir,
And looked up sadly: through the room
The sweetness sickened her
Of musk and myrrh.
Her women, standing two and two,
In silence combed the fleece.
The Pilgrim said, “Peace be with you,
Lady;” and bent his knees.
She answered, “Peace.”
Her eyes were like the wave within;
Like water—reed the poise
Of her soft body, dainty thin;
And like the water’s noise
Her plaintive voice.
For him, the stream had never well’d
In desert tracts malign
So sweet; nor had he ever felt
So faint in the sunshine
Of Palestine.
Right so, he knew that he saw weep
Each night through every dream
The Queen’s own face, confused in sleep
With visages supreme
Not known to him.
“Lady,” he said, “your lands lie burnt
And waste: to meet your foe
All fear: this I have seen and learnt.
Say that it shall be so,
And I will go.”
She gazed at him. “Your cause is just,
For I have heard the same,”
He said: “God’s strength shall be my trust.
Fall it to good or grame,
'Tis in His name.”
“Sir, you are thanked. My cause is dead.
Why should you toil to break
A grave, and fall therein?” she said.
He did not pause but spake:
“For my vow’s sake.”
“Can such vows be, Sir—to God’s ear,
Not to God’s will?” “My vow
Remains: God heard me there as here,”
He said with reverent brow,
“Both then and now.”
They gazed together, he and she,
The minute while he spoke;
And when he ceased, she suddenly
Looked round upon her folk
As though she woke.
“Fight, Sir,” she said; “my prayers in pain
Shall be your fellowship.”
He whispered one among her train,—
“To—morrow bid her keep
This staff and scrip.”
She sent him a sharp sword, whose belt
About his body there
As sweet as her own arms he felt.
He kissed its blade, all bare,
Instead of her.
She sent him a green banner wrought
With one white lily stem,
To bind his lance with when he fought.
He writ upon the same
And kissed her name.
She sent him a white shield, whereon
She bade that he should trace
His will. He blent fair hues that shone,
And in a golden space
He kissed her face.
Born of the day that died, that eve
Now dying sank to rest;
As he, in likewise taking leave,
Once with a heaving breast
Looked to the west.
And there the sunset skies unseal’d,
Like lands he never knew,
Beyond to—morrow’s battle—field
Lay open out of view
To ride into.
Next day till dark the women pray’d:
Nor any might know there
How the fight went: the Queen has bade
That there do come to her
No messenger.
The Queen is pale, her maidens ail;
And to the organ—tones
They sing but faintly, who sang well
The matin—orisons,
The lauds and nones.
Lo, Father, is thine ear inclin’d,
And hath thine angel pass’d?
For these thy watchers now are blind
With vigil, and at last
Dizzy with fast.
Weak now to them the voice o’ the priest
As any trance affords;
And when each anthem failed and ceas’d,
It seemed that the last chords
Still sang the words.
“Oh what is the light that shines so red?
'Tis long since the sun set;”
Quoth the youngest to the eldest maid:
“'Twas dim but now, and yet
The light is great.”
Quoth the other: “'Tis our sight is dazed
That we see flame i’ the air.”
But the Queen held her brows and gazed,
And said, “It is the glare
Of torches there.”
“Oh what are the sounds that rise and spread?
All day it was so still;”
Quoth the youngest to the eldest maid:
“Unto the furthest hill
The air they fill.”
Quoth the other: “'Tis our sense is blurr’d
With all the chants gone by.”
But the Queen held her breath and heard,
And said, “It is the cry
Of Victory.”
The first of all the rout was sound,
The next were dust and flame,
And then the horses shook the ground:
And in the thick of them
A still band came.
“Oh what do ye bring out of the fight,
Thus hid beneath these boughs?”
“Thy conquering guest returns to—night,
And yet shall not carouse,
Queen, in thy house.”
“Uncover ye his face,” she said.
“O changed in little space!”
She cried, “O pale that was so red!
O God, O God of grace!
Cover his face.”
His sword was broken in his hand
Where he had kissed the blade.
“O soft steel that could not withstand!
O my hard heart unstayed,
That prayed and prayed!”
His bloodied banner crossed his mouth
Where he had kissed her name.
“O east, and west, and north, and south,
Fair flew my web, for shame,
To guide Death’s aim!”
The tints were shredded from his shield
Where he had kissed her face.
“Oh, of all gifts that I could yield,
Death only keeps its place,
My gift and grace!”
Then stepped a damsel to her side,
And spoke, and needs must weep:
“For his sake, lady, if he died,
He prayed of thee to keep
This staff and scrip.”
That night they hung above her bed,
Till morning wet with tears.
Year after year above her head
Her bed his token wears,
Five years, ten years.
That night the passion of her grief
Shook them as there they hung.
Each year the wind that shed the leaf
Shook them and in its tongue
A message flung.
And once she woke with a clear mind
That letters writ to calm
Her soul lay in the scrip; to find
Only a torpid balm
And dust of palm.
They shook far off with palace sport
When joust and dance were rife;
And the hunt shook them from the court;
For hers, in peace or strife,
Was a Queen’s life.
A Queen’s death now: as now they shake
To gusts in chapel dim,—
Hung where she sleeps, not seen to wake,
(Carved lovely white and slim),
With them by him.
Stand up to—day, still armed, with her,
Good knight, before His brow
Who then as now was here and there,
Who had in mind thy vow
Then even as now.
The lists are set in Heaven to—day,
The bright pavilions shine;
Fair hangs thy shield, and none gainsay;
The trumpets sound in sign
That she is thine.
Not tithed with days’ and years’ decease
He pays thy wage He owed,
But with imperishable peace
Here in His own abode
Thy jealous God.

This word had Merlin said from of old:—
That out of the Oak Tree Shade
In the day of France’s direst dule,
God’s hand should send a Maid.
And where Domremy, by Burgundy,
Sits crowned with its oakenshaw,
Even there Joan d’Arc, the Maid of God’s Ark,
The light of the day first saw.

Where spirits go, what man may know?
Yet this may of man be said:—
That, when Time is o’er and all hath sufficed,
Shall the world’s chief Christ—fire rise to Christ
From the ashes of Joan the Maid.

The mother will not turn, who thinks she hears
Her nursling’s speech first grow articulate;
But breathless with averted eyes elate
She sits, with open lips and open ears,
That it may call her twice. 'Mid doubts and fears
Thus oft my soul has hearkened; till the song,
A central moan for days, at length found tongue,
And the sweet music welled and the sweet tears.
But now, whatever while the soul is fain
To list that wonted murmur, as it were
The speech—bound sea—shell’s low importunate strain,—
No breath of song, thy voice alone is there,
O bitterly beloved! and all her gain
Is but the pang of unpermitted prayer.

In our Museum galleries
To—day I lingered o’er the prize
Dead Greece vouchsafes to living eyes,—
Her Art for ever in fresh wise
From hour to hour rejoicing me.
Sighing I turned at last to win
Once more the London dirt and din;
And as I made the swing—door spin
And issued, they were hoisting in
A wingèd beast from Nineveh.
A human face the creature wore,
And hoofs behind and hoofs before,
And flanks with dark runes fretted o’er.
‘Twas bull, ’twas mitred Minotaur,
A dead disbowelled mystery:
The mummy of a buried faith
Stark from the charnel without scathe,
Its wings stood for the light to bathe,—
Such fossil cerements as might swathe
The very corpse of Nineveh.
The print of its first rush—wrapping,
Wound ere it dried, still ribbed the thing.
What song did the brown maidens sing,
From purple mouths alternating,
When that was woven languidly?
What vows, what rites, what prayers preferr’d,
What songs has the strange image heard?
In what blind vigil stood interr’d
For ages, till an English word
Broke silence first at Nineveh?
Oh when upon each sculptured court,
Where even the wind might not resort,—
O’er which Time passed, of like import
With the wild Arab boys at sport,—
A living face looked in to see:—
Oh seemed it not—the spell once broke—
As though the carven warriors woke,
As though the shaft the string forsook,
The cymbals clashed, the chariots shook,
And there was life in Nineveh?
On London stones our sun anew
The beast’s recovered shadow threw.
(No shade that plague of darkness knew,
No light, no shade, while older grew
By ages the old earth and sea.)
Lo thou! could all thy priests have shown
Such proof to make thy godhead known?
From their dead Past thou liv’st alone;
And still thy shadow is thine own,
Even as of yore in Nineveh.
That day whereof we keep record,
When near thy city—gates the Lord
Sheltered His Jonah with a gourd,
This sun, (I said) here present, pour’d
Even thus this shadow that I see.
This shadow has been shed the same
From sun and moon,—from lamps which came
For prayer,—from fifteen days of flame,
The last, while smouldered to a name
Sardanapalus’ Nineveh.
Within thy shadow, haply, once
Sennacherib has knelt, whose sons
Smote him between the altar—stones:
Or pale Semiramis her zones
Of gold, her incense brought to thee,
In love for grace, in war for aid: . . .
Ay, and who else? . . . till 'neath thy shade
Within his trenches newly made
Last year the Christian knelt and pray’d—
Not to thy strength—in Nineveh.
Now, thou poor god, within this hall
Where the blank windows blind the wall
From pedestal to pedestal,
The kind of light shall on thee fall
Which London takes the day to be:
While school—foundations in the act
Of holiday, three files compact,
Shall learn to view thee as a fact
Connected with that zealous tract:
“ROME,—Babylon and Nineveh.”
Deemed they of this, those worshippers,
When, in some mythic chain of verse
Which man shall not again rehearse,
The faces of thy ministers
Yearned pale with bitter ecstasy?
Greece, Egypt, Rome,—did any god
Before whose feet men knelt unshod
Deem that in this unblest abode
Another scarce more unknown god
Should house with him, from Nineveh?
Ah! in what quarries lay the stone
From which this pillared pile has grown,
Unto man’s need how long unknown,
Since those thy temples, court and cone,
Rose far in desert history?
Ah! what is here that does not lie
All strange to thine awakened eye?
Ah! what is here can testify
(Save that dumb presence of the sky)
Unto thy day and Nineveh?
Why, of those mummies in the room
Above, there might indeed have come
One out of Egypt to thy home,
An alien. Nay, but were not some
Of these thine own “antiquity”?
And now,—they and their gods and thou
All relics here together,—now
Whose profit? whether bull or cow,
Isis or Ibis, who or how,
Whether of Thebes or Nineveh?
The consecrated metals found,
And ivory tablets, underground,
Winged teraphim and creatures crown’d.
When air and daylight filled the mound,
Fell into dust immediately.
And even as these, the images
Of awe and worship,—even as these,—
So, smitten with the sun’s increase,
Her glory mouldered and did cease
From immemorial Nineveh.
The day her builders made their halt,
Those cities of the lake of salt
Stood firmly 'stablished without fault,
Made proud with pillars of basalt,
With sardonyx and porphyry.
The day that Jonah bore abroad
To Nineveh the voice of God,
A brackish lake lay in his road,
Where erst Pride fixed her sure abode,
As then in royal Nineveh.
The day when he, Pride’s lord and Man’s,
Showed all the kingdoms at a glance
To Him before whose countenance
The years recede, the years advance,
And said, Fall down and worship me:—
'Mid all the pomp beneath that look,
Then stirred there, haply, some rebuke,
Where to the wind the Salt Pools shook,
And in those tracts, of life forsook,
That knew thee not, O Nineveh!
Delicate harlot! On thy throne
Thou with a world beneath thee prone
In state for ages sat’st alone;
And needs were years and lustres flown
Ere strength of man could vanquish thee:
Whom even thy victor foes must bring,
Still royal, among maids that sing
As with doves’ voices, taboring
Upon their breasts, unto the King,—
A kingly conquest, Nineveh!
. . . Here woke my thought. The wind’s slow sway
Had waxed; and like the human play
Of scorn that smiling spreads away,
The sunshine shivered off the day:
The callous wind, it seemed to me,
Swept up the shadow from the ground:
And pale as whom the Fates astound,
The god forlorn stood winged and crown’d:
Within I knew the cry lay bound
Of the dumb soul of Nineveh.
And as I turned, my sense half shut
Still saw the crowds of kerb and rut
Go past as marshalled to the strut
Of ranks in gypsum quaintly cut.
It seemed in one same pageantry
They followed forms which had been erst;
To pass, till on my sight should burst
That future of the best or worst
When some may question which was first,
Of London or of Nineveh.
For as that Bull—god once did stand
And watched the burial—clouds of sand,
Till these at last without a hand
Rose o’er his eyes, another land,
And blinded him with destiny:—
So may he stand again; till now,
In ships of unknown sail and prow,
Some tribe of the Australian plough
Bear him afar,—a relic now
Of London, not of Nineveh!
Or it may chance indeed that when
Man’s age is hoary among men,—
His centuries threescore and ten,—
His furthest childhood shall seem then
More clear than later times may be:
Who, finding in this desert place
This form, shall hold us for some race
That walked not in Christ’s lowly ways,
But bowed its pride and vowed its praise
Unto the God of Nineveh.
The smile rose first,—anon drew nigh
The thought: . . . Those heavy wings spread high,
So sure of flight, which do not fly;
That set gaze never on the sky;
Those scriptured flanks it cannot see;
Its crown, a brow—contracting load;
Its planted feet which trust the sod: . . .
(So grew the image as I trod
O Nineveh, was this thy God,—
Thine also, mighty Nineveh?

Not in thy body is thy life at all
But in this lady’s lips and hands and eyes;
Through these she yields thee life that vivifies
What else were sorrow’s servant and death’s thrall.
Look on thyself without her, and recall
The waste remembrance and forlorn surmise
That liv’d but in a dead—drawn breath of sighs
O’er vanish’d hours and hours eventual.

Even so much life hath the poor tress of hair
Which, stor’d apart, is all love hath to show
For heart—beats and for fire—heats long ago;
Even so much life endures unknown, even where,
'Mid change the changeless night environeth,
Lies all that golden hair undimm’d in death.

OH how the family affections combat
Within this heart, and each hour flings a bomb at
My burning soul! Neither from owl nor from bat
Can peace be gained until I clasp my wombat.