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Oscar wilde

Oscar Wilde

POEMS
FOLLOWERS
37

Tread lightly, she is near
Under the snow,
Speak gently, she can hear
The daisies grow.

All her bright golden hair
Tarnished with rust,
She that was young and fair
Fallen to dust.

Lily-like, white as snow,
She hardly knew
She was a woman, so
Sweetly she grew.

Coffin-board, heavy stone,
Lie on her breast,
I vex my heart alone,
She is at rest.

Peace, peace, she cannot hear
Lyre or sonnet,
All my life’s buried here,
Heap earth upon it.

3

From his childhood he had been as one filled with the perfect
knowledge of God, and even while he was yet but a lad many of the
saints, as well as certain holy women who dwelt in the free city of
his birth, had been stirred to much wonder by the grave wisdom of
his answers.

And when his parents had given him the robe and the ring of manhood
he kissed them, and left them and went out into the world, that he
might speak to the world about God. For there were at that time
many in the world who either knew not God at all, or had but an
incomplete knowledge of Him, or worshipped the false gods who dwell
in groves and have no care of their worshippers.

And he set his face to the sun and journeyed, walking without
sandals, as he had seen the saints walk, and carrying at his girdle
a leathern wallet and a little water—bottle of burnt clay.

And as he walked along the highway he was full of the joy that
comes from the perfect knowledge of God, and he sang praises unto
God without ceasing; and after a time he reached a strange land in
which there were many cities.

And he passed through eleven cities. And some of these cities were
in valleys, and others were by the banks of great rivers, and
others were set on hills. And in each city he found a disciple who
loved him and followed him, and a great multitude also of people
followed him from each city, and the knowledge of God spread in the
whole land, and many of the rulers were converted, and the priests
of the temples in which there were idols found that half of their
gain was gone, and when they beat upon their drums at noon none, or
but a few, came with peacocks and with offerings of flesh as had
been the custom of the land before his coming.

Yet the more the people followed him, and the greater the number of
his disciples, the greater became his sorrow. And he knew not why
his sorrow was so great. For he spake ever about God, and out of
the fulness of that perfect knowledge of God which God had Himself
given to him.

And one evening he passed out of the eleventh city, which was a
city of Armenia, and his disciples and a great crowd of people
followed after him; and he went up on to a mountain and sat down on
a rock that was on the mountain, and his disciples stood round him,
and the multitude knelt in the valley.

And he bowed his head on his hands and wept, and said to his Soul,
‘Why is it that I am full of sorrow and fear, and that each of my
disciples is an enemy that walks in the noonday?’ And his Soul
answered him and said, ‘God filled thee with the perfect knowledge
of Himself, and thou hast given this knowledge away to others. The
pearl of great price thou hast divided, and the vesture without
seam thou hast parted asunder. He who giveth away wisdom robbeth
himself. He is as one who giveth his treasure to a robber. Is not
God wiser than thou art? Who art thou to give away the secret that
God hath told thee? I was rich once, and thou hast made me poor.
Once I saw God, and now thou hast hidden Him from me.’

And he wept again, for he knew that his Soul spake truth to him,
and that he had given to others the perfect knowledge of God, and
that he was as one clinging to the skirts of God, and that his
faith was leaving him by reason of the number of those who believed
in him.

And he said to himself, ‘I will talk no more about God. He who
giveth away wisdom robbeth himself.’

And after the space of some hours his disciples came near him and
bowed themselves to the ground and said, ‘Master, talk to us about
God, for thou hast the perfect knowledge of God, and no man save
thee hath this knowledge.’

And he answered them and said, ‘I will talk to you about all other
things that are in heaven and on earth, but about God I will not
talk to you. Neither now, nor at any time, will I talk to you
about God.’

And they were wroth with him and said to him, ‘Thou hast led us
into the desert that we might hearken to thee. Wilt thou send us
away hungry, and the great multitude that thou hast made to follow
thee?’

And he answered them and said, ‘I will not talk to you about God.’

And the multitude murmured against him and said to him, ‘Thou hast
led us into the desert, and hast given us no food to eat. Talk to
us about God and it will suffice us.’

But he answered them not a word. For he knew that if he spake to
them about God he would give away his treasure.

And his disciples went away sadly, and the multitude of people
returned to their own homes. And many died on the way.

And when he was alone he rose up and set his face to the moon, and
journeyed for seven moons, speaking to no man nor making any
answer. And when the seventh moon had waned he reached that desert
which is the desert of the Great River. And having found a cavern
in which a Centaur had once dwelt, he took it for his place of
dwelling, and made himself a mat of reeds on which to lie, and
became a hermit. And every hour the Hermit praised God that He had
suffered him to keep some knowledge of Him and of His wonderful
greatness.

Now, one evening, as the Hermit was seated before the cavern in
which he had made his place of dwelling, he beheld a young man of
evil and beautiful face who passed by in mean apparel and with
empty hands. Every evening with empty hands the young man passed
by, and every morning he returned with his hands full of purple and
pearls. For he was a Robber and robbed the caravans of the
merchants.

And the Hermit looked at him and pitied him. But he spake not a
word. For he knew that he who speaks a word loses his faith.

And one morning, as the young man returned with his hands full of
purple and pearls, he stopped and frowned and stamped his foot upon
the sand, and said to the Hermit: ‘Why do you look at me ever in
this manner as I pass by? What is it that I see in your eyes? For
no man has looked at me before in this manner. And the thing is a
thorn and a trouble to me.’

And the Hermit answered him and said, ‘What you see in my eyes is
pity. Pity is what looks out at you from my eyes.’

And the young man laughed with scorn, and cried to the Hermit in a
bitter voice, and said to him, ‘I have purple and pearls in my
hands, and you have but a mat of reeds on which to lie. What pity
should you have for me? And for what reason have you this pity?’

‘I have pity for you,’ said the Hermit, ‘because you have no
knowledge of God.’

‘Is this knowledge of God a precious thing?’ asked the young man,
and he came close to the mouth of the cavern.

‘It is more precious than all the purple and the pearls of the
world,’ answered the Hermit.

‘And have you got it?’ said the young Robber, and he came closer
still.

‘Once, indeed,’ answered the Hermit, ‘I possessed the perfect
knowledge of God. But in my foolishness I parted with it, and
divided it amongst others. Yet even now is such knowledge as
remains to me more precious than purple or pearls.’

And when the young Robber heard this he threw away the purple and
the pearls that he was bearing in his hands, and drawing a sharp
sword of curved steel he said to the Hermit, ‘Give me, forthwith
this knowledge of God that you possess, or I will surely slay you.
Wherefore should I not slay him who has a treasure greater than my
treasure?’

And the Hermit spread out his arms and said, ‘Were it not better
for me to go unto the uttermost courts of God and praise Him, than
to live in the world and have no knowledge of Him? Slay me if that
be your desire. But I will not give away my knowledge of God.’

And the young Robber knelt down and besought him, but the Hermit
would not talk to him about God, nor give him his Treasure, and the
young Robber rose up and said to the Hermit, 'Be it as you will.
As for myself, I will go to the City of the Seven Sins, that is but
three days’ journey from this place, and for my purple they will
give me pleasure, and for my pearls they will sell me joy.' And he
took up the purple and the pearls and went swiftly away.

And the Hermit cried out and followed him and besought him. For
the space of three days he followed the young Robber on the road
and entreated him to return, nor to enter into the City of the
Seven Sins.

And ever and anon the young Robber looked back at the Hermit and
called to him, and said, ‘Will you give me this knowledge of God
which is more precious than purple and pearls? If you will give me
that, I will not enter the city.’

And ever did the Hermit answer, ‘All things that I have I will give
thee, save that one thing only. For that thing it is not lawful
for me to give away.’

And in the twilight of the third day they came nigh to the great
scarlet gates of the City of the Seven Sins. And from the city
there came the sound of much laughter.

And the young Robber laughed in answer, and sought to knock at the
gate. And as he did so the Hermit ran forward and caught him by
the skirts of his raiment, and said to him: ‘Stretch forth your
hands, and set your arms around my neck, and put your ear close to
my lips, and I will give you what remains to me of the knowledge of
God.’ And the young Robber stopped.

And when the Hermit had given away his knowledge of God, he fell
upon the ground and wept, and a great darkness hid from him the
city and the young Robber, so that he saw them no more.

And as he lay there weeping he was ware of One who was standing
beside him; and He who was standing beside him had feet of brass
and hair like fine wool. And He raised the Hermit up, and said to
him: ‘Before this time thou hadst the perfect knowledge of God.
Now thou shalt have the perfect love of God. Wherefore art thou
weeping?’ And he kissed him.

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 gray;
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 the guardsman walked the yard,
      In the suit of shabby gray:
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.

For 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 spring—time shoot:
But grim to see is the gallows—tree,
      With its alder—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 Murderer’s 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,
      Gray 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 gray 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 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 the 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 gray,
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 glow 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 gray,
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.

2

I have no store
Of gryphon—guarded gold;
Now, as before,
Bare is the shepherd’s fold.
Rubies nor pearls
Have I to gem thy throat;
Yet woodland girls
Have loved the shepherd’s note.

Then pluck a reed
And bid me sing to thee,
For I would feed
Thine ears with melody,
Who art more fair
Than fairest fleur—de—lys,
More sweet and rare
Than sweetest ambergris.

What dost thou fear?
Young Hyacinth is slain,
Pan is not here,
And will not come again.
No horned Faun
Treads down the yellow leas,
No God at dawn
Steals through the olive trees.

Hylas is dead,
Nor will he e’er divine
Those little red
Rose—petalled lips of thine.
On the high hill
No ivory dryads play,
Silver and still
Sinks the sad autumn day.

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 the 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.

1

I STOOD by the unvintageable sea
Till the wet waves drenched face and hair with spray,
The long red fires of the dying day
Burned in the west; the wind piped drearily;
And to the land the clamorous gulls did flee:
‘Alas!’ I cried, ‘my life is full of pain,
And who can garner fruit or golden grain,
From these waste fields which travail ceaselessly!’
My nets gaped wide with many a break and flaw
Nathless I threw them as my final cast
Into the sea, and waited for the end.
When lo! a sudden glory! and I saw
The argent splendour of white limbs ascend,
And in that joy forgot my tortured past.

The western wind is blowing fair
Across the dark Ægean sea,
And at the secret marble stair
My Tyrian galley waits for thee.
Come down! the purple sail is spread,
The watchman sleeps within the town,
O leave thy lily-flowered bed,
O Lady mine come down, come down!

She will not come, I know her well,
Of lover’s vows she hath no care,
And little good a man can tell
Of one so cruel and so fair.
True love is but a woman’s toy,
They never know the lover’s pain,
And I who loved as loves a boy
Must love in vain, must love in vain.

O noble pilot tell me true
Is that the sheen of golden hair?
Or is it but the tangled dew
That binds the passion-flowers there?
Good sailor come and tell me now
Is that my Lady’s lily hand?
Or is it but the gleaming prow,
Or is it but the silver sand?

No! no! ‘tis not the tangled dew,
’Tis not the silver-fretted sand,
It is my own dear Lady true
With golden hair and lily hand!
O noble pilot steer for Troy,
Good sailor ply the labouring oar,
This is the Queen of life and joy
Whom we must bear from Grecian shore!

The waning sky grows faint and blue,
It wants an hour still of day,
Aboard! aboard! my gallant crew,
O Lady mine away! away!
O noble pilot steer for Troy,
Good sailor ply the labouring oar,
O loved as only loves a boy!
O loved for ever evermore!

AS one who poring on a Grecian urn
Scans the fair shapes some Attic hand hath made,
God with slim goddess, goodly man with maid,
And for their beauty’s sake is loth to turn
And face the obvious day, must I not yearn
For many a secret moon of indolent bliss,
When in the midmost shrine of Artemis
I see thee standing, antique—limbed, and stern?

And yet—methinks I’d rather see thee play
That serpent of old Nile, whose witchery
Made Emperors drunken,—come, great Egypt, shake
Our stage with all thy mimic pageants! Nay,
I am grown sick of unreal passions, make
The world thine Actium, me thine Antony!

The silver trumpets rang across the Dome:
The people knelt upon the ground with awe:
And borne upon the necks of men I saw,
Like some great God, the Holy Lord of Rome.
Priest—like, he wore a robe more white than foam,
And, king—like, swathed himself in royal red,
Three crowns of gold rose high upon his head:
In splendor and in light the Pope passed home.
My heart stole back across wide wastes of years
To One who wandered by a lonely sea,
And sought in vain for any place of rest:
“Foxes have holes, and every bird its nest,
I, only I, must wander wearily,
And bruise My feet, and drink wine salt with tears.”

WITHIN this restless, hurried, modern world
We took our hearts’ full pleasure—You and I,
And now the white sails of our ship are furled,
And spent the lading of our argosy.

Wherefore my cheeks before their time are wan,
For very weeping is my gladness fled,
Sorrow hath paled my lip’s vermilion,
And Ruin draws the curtains of my bed.

But all this crowded life has been to thee
No more than lyre, or lute, or subtle spell
Of viols, or the music of the sea
That sleeps, a mimic echo, in the shell.

An omnibus across the bridge
Crawls like a yellow butterfly,
And, here and therem a passer—by
Shows like a little restless midge.

Big barges full of yellow hay
Are moored against the shadowy wharf,
And, like a yellow silken scarf,
The thick fog hangs along the quay.

The yellow leaves begin to fade
And flutter from the temple elms,
And at my feet the pale green Thames
Lies like a rod of rippled jade.

To my friend George Fleming author of 'The Nile Novel’ and
'Mirage’)

I.

A year ago I breathed the Italian air,—
And yet, methinks this northern Spring is fair,–
These fields made golden with the flower of March,
The throstle singing on the feathered larch,
The cawing rooks, the wood—doves fluttering by,
The little clouds that race across the sky;
And fair the violet’s gentle drooping head,
The primrose, pale for love uncomforted,
The rose that burgeons on the climbing briar,
The crocus—bed, (that seems a moon of fire
Round—girdled with a purple marriage—ring);
And all the flowers of our English Spring,
Fond snowdrops, and the bright—starred daffodil.
Up starts the lark beside the murmuring mill,
And breaks the gossamer—threads of early dew;
And down the river, like a flame of blue,
Keen as an arrow flies the water—king,
While the brown linnets in the greenwood sing.
A year ago!– it seems a little time
Since last I saw that lordly southern clime,
Where flower and fruit to purple radiance blow,
And like bright lamps the fabled apples glow.
Full Spring it was– and by rich flowering vines,
Dark olive—groves and noble forest—pines,
I rode at will; the moist glad air was sweet,
The white road rang beneath my horse’s feet,
And musing on Ravenna’s ancient name,
I watched the day till, marked with wounds of flame,
The turquoise sky to burnished gold was turned.

O how my heart with boyish passion burned,
When far away across the sedge and mere
I saw that Holy City rising clear,
Crowned with her crown of towers! —On and on
I galloped, racing with the setting sun,
And ere the crimson after—glow was passed,
I stood within Ravenna’s walls at last!

II.

How strangely still! no sound of life or joy
Startles the air; no laughing shepherd—boy
Pipes on his reed, nor ever through the day
Comes the glad sound of children at their play:
O sad, and sweet, and silent! surely here
A man might dwell apart from troublous fear,
Watching the tide of seasons as they flow
From amorous Spring to Winter’s rain and snow,
And have no thought of sorrow; —here, indeed,
Are Lethe’s waters, and that fatal weed
Which makes a man forget his fatherland.

Ay! amid lotus—meadows dost thou stand,
Like Proserpine, with poppy—laden head,
Guarding the holy ashes of the dead.
For though thy brood of warrior sons hath ceased,
Thy noble dead are with thee! —they at least
Are faithful to thine honour:—guard them well,
O childless city! for a mighty spell,
To wake men’s hearts to dreams of things sublime,
Are the lone tombs where rest the Great of Time.

III.

Yon lonely pillar, rising on the plain,
Marks where the bravest knight of France was slain, —
The Prince of chivalry, the Lord of war,
Gaston de Foix: for some untimely star
Led him against thy city, and he fell,
As falls some forest—lion fighting well.
Taken from life while life and love were new,
He lies beneath God’s seamless veil of blue;
Tall lance—like reeds wave sadly o’er his head,
And oleanders bloom to deeper red,
Where his bright youth flowed crimson on the ground.

Look farther north unto that broken mound, —
There, prisoned now within a lordly tomb
Raised by a daughter’s hand, in lonely gloom,
Huge—limbed Theodoric, the Gothic king,
Sleeps after all his weary conquering.
Time hath not spared his ruin, —wind and rain
Have broken down his stronghold; and again
We see that Death is mighty lord of all,
And king and clown to ashen dust must fall

Mighty indeed THEIR glory! yet to me
Barbaric king, or knight of chivalry,
Or the great queen herself, were poor and vain,
Beside the grave where Dante rests from pain.
His gilded shrine lies open to the air;
And cunning sculptor’s hands have carven there
The calm white brow, as calm as earliest morn,
The eyes that flashed with passionate love and scorn,
The lips that sang of Heaven and of Hell,
The almond—face which Giotto drew so well,
The weary face of Dante; —to this day,
Here in his place of resting, far away
From Arno’s yellow waters, rushing down
Through the wide bridges of that fairy town,
Where the tall tower of Giotto seems to rise
A marble lily under sapphire skies!

Alas! my Dante! thou hast known the pain
Of meaner lives, —the exile’s galling chain,
How steep the stairs within kings’ houses are,
And all the petty miseries which mar
Man’s nobler nature with the sense of wrong.
Yet this dull world is grateful for thy song;
Our nations do thee homage, —even she,
That cruel queen of vine—clad Tuscany,
Who bound with crown of thorns thy living brow,
Hath decked thine empty tomb with laurels now,
And begs in vain the ashes of her son.

O mightiest exile! all thy grief is done:
Thy soul walks now beside thy Beatrice;
Ravenna guards thine ashes: sleep in peace.

IV.

How lone this palace is; how grey the walls!
No minstrel now wakes echoes in these halls.
The broken chain lies rusting on the door,
And noisome weeds have split the marble floor:
Here lurks the snake, and here the lizards run
By the stone lions blinking in the sun.
Byron dwelt here in love and revelry
For two long years —a second Anthony,
Who of the world another Actium made!
Yet suffered not his royal soul to fade,
Or lyre to break, or lance to grow less keen,
'Neath any wiles of an Egyptian queen.
For from the East there came a mighty cry,
And Greece stood up to fight for Liberty,
And called him from Ravenna: never knight
Rode forth more nobly to wild scenes of fight!
None fell more bravely on ensanguined field,
Borne like a Spartan back upon his shield!
O Hellas! Hellas! in thine hour of pride,
Thy day of might, remember him who died
To wrest from off thy limbs the trammelling chain:
O Salamis! O lone Plataean plain!
O tossing waves of wild Euboean sea!
O wind—swept heights of lone Thermopylae!
He loved you well —ay, not alone in word,
Who freely gave to thee his lyre and sword,
Like AEschylos at well—fought Marathon:

And England, too, shall glory in her son,
Her warrior—poet, first in song and fight.
No longer now shall Slander’s venomed spite
Crawl like a snake across his perfect name,
Or mar the lordly scutcheon of his fame.

For as the olive—garland of the race,
Which lights with joy each eager runner’s face,
As the red cross which saveth men in war,
As a flame—bearded beacon seen from far
By mariners upon a storm—tossed sea, —
Such was his love for Greece and Liberty!

Byron, thy crowns are ever fresh and green:
Red leaves of rose from Sapphic Mitylene
Shall bind thy brows; the myrtle blooms for thee,
In hidden glades by lonely Castaly;
The laurels wait thy coming: all are thine,
And round thy head one perfect wreath will twine.

V.

The pine—tops rocked before the evening breeze
With the hoarse murmur of the wintry seas,
And the tall stems were streaked with amber bright; —
I wandered through the wood in wild delight,
Some startled bird, with fluttering wings and fleet,
Made snow of all the blossoms; at my feet,
Like silver crowns, the pale narcissi lay,
And small birds sang on every twining spray.
O waving trees, O forest liberty!
Within your haunts at least a man is free,
And half forgets the weary world of strife:
The blood flows hotter, and a sense of life
Wakes i’ the quickening veins, while once again
The woods are filled with gods we fancied slain.
Long time I watched, and surely hoped to see
Some goat—foot Pan make merry minstrelsy
Amid the reeds! some startled Dryad—maid
In girlish flight! or lurking in the glade,
The soft brown limbs, the wanton treacherous face
Of woodland god! Queen Dian in the chase,
White—limbed and terrible, with look of pride,
And leash of boar—hounds leaping at her side!
Or Hylas mirrored in the perfect stream.

O idle heart! O fond Hellenic dream!
Ere long, with melancholy rise and swell,
The evening chimes, the convent’s vesper bell,
Struck on mine ears amid the amorous flowers.
Alas! alas! these sweet and honied hours
Had whelmed my heart like some encroaching sea,
And drowned all thoughts of black Gethsemane.

VI.

O lone Ravenna! many a tale is told
Of thy great glories in the days of old:
Two thousand years have passed since thou didst see
Caesar ride forth to royal victory.
Mighty thy name when Rome’s lean eagles flew
From Britain’s isles to far Euphrates blue;
And of the peoples thou wast noble queen,
Till in thy streets the Goth and Hun were seen.
Discrowned by man, deserted by the sea,
Thou sleepest, rocked in lonely misery!
No longer now upon thy swelling tide,
Pine—forest—like, thy myriad galleys ride!
For where the brass—beaked ships were wont to float,
The weary shepherd pipes his mournful note;
And the white sheep are free to come and go
Where Adria’s purple waters used to flow.

O fair! O sad! O Queen uncomforted!
In ruined loveliness thou liest dead,
Alone of all thy sisters; for at last
Italia’s royal warrior hath passed
Rome’s lordliest entrance, and hath worn his crown
In the high temples of the Eternal Town!
The Palatine hath welcomed back her king,
And with his name the seven mountains ring!

And Naples hath outlived her dream of pain,
And mocks her tyrant! Venice lives again,
New risen from the waters! and the cry
Of Light and Truth, of Love and Liberty,
Is heard in lordly Genoa, and where
The marble spires of Milan wound the air,
Rings from the Alps to the Sicilian shore,
And Dante’s dream is now a dream no more.

But thou, Ravenna, better loved than all,
Thy ruined palaces are but a pall
That hides thy fallen greatness! and thy name
Burns like a grey and flickering candle—flame
Beneath the noonday splendour of the sun
Of new Italia! for the night is done,
The night of dark oppression, and the day
Hath dawned in passionate splendour: far away
The Austrian hounds are hunted from the land,
Beyond those ice—crowned citadels which stand
Girdling the plain of royal Lombardy,
From the far West unto the Eastern sea.

I know, indeed, that sons of thine have died
In Lissa’s waters, by the mountain—side
Of Aspromonte, on Novara’s plain, —
Nor have thy children died for thee in vain:
And yet, methinks, thou hast not drunk this wine
From grapes new—crushed of Liberty divine,
Thou hast not followed that immortal Star
Which leads the people forth to deeds of war.
Weary of life, thou liest in silent sleep,
As one who marks the lengthening shadows creep,
Careless of all the hurrying hours that run,
Mourning some day of glory, for the sun
Of Freedom hath not shewn to thee his face,
And thou hast caught no flambeau in the race.

Yet wake not from thy slumbers, —rest thee well,
Amidst thy fields of amber asphodel,
Thy lily—sprinkled meadows, —rest thee there,
To mock all human greatness: who would dare
To vent the paltry sorrows of his life
Before thy ruins, or to praise the strife
Of kings’ ambition, and the barren pride
Of warring nations! wert not thou the Bride
Of the wild Lord of Adria’s stormy sea!
The Queen of double Empires! and to thee
Were not the nations given as thy prey!
And now —thy gates lie open night and day,
The grass grows green on every tower and hall,
The ghastly fig hath cleft thy bastioned wall;
And where thy mailed warriors stood at rest
The midnight owl hath made her secret nest.
O fallen! fallen! from thy high estate,
O city trammelled in the toils of Fate,
Doth nought remain of all thy glorious days,
But a dull shield, a crown of withered bays!

Yet who beneath this night of wars and fears,
From tranquil tower can watch the coming years;
Who can foretell what joys the day shall bring,
Or why before the dawn the linnets sing?
Thou, even thou, mayst wake, as wakes the rose
To crimson splendour from its grave of snows;
As the rich corn—fields rise to red and gold
From these brown lands, now stiff with Winter’s cold;
As from the storm—rack comes a perfect star!

O much—loved city! I have wandered far
From the wave—circled islands of my home;
Have seen the gloomy mystery of the Dome
Rise slowly from the drear Campagna’s way,
Clothed in the royal purple of the day:
I from the city of the violet crown
Have watched the sun by Corinth’s hill go down,
And marked the 'myriad laughter’ of the sea
From starlit hills of flower—starred Arcady;
Yet back to thee returns my perfect love,
As to its forest—nest the evening dove.

O poet’s city! one who scarce has seen
Some twenty summers cast their doublets green
For Autumn’s livery, would seek in vain
To wake his lyre to sing a louder strain,
Or tell thy days of glory; —poor indeed
Is the low murmur of the shepherd’s reed,
Where the loud clarion’s blast should shake the sky,
And flame across the heavens! and to try
Such lofty themes were folly: yet I know
That never felt my heart a nobler glow
Than when I woke the silence of thy street
With clamorous trampling of my horse’s feet,
And saw the city which now I try to sing,
After long days of weary travelling.

VII.

Adieu, Ravenna! but a year ago,
I stood and watched the crimson sunset glow
From the lone chapel on thy marshy plain:
The sky was as a shield that caught the stain
Of blood and battle from the dying sun,
And in the west the circling clouds had spun
A royal robe, which some great God might wear,
While into ocean—seas of purple air
Sank the gold galley of the Lord of Light.

Yet here the gentle stillness of the night
Brings back the swelling tide of memory,
And wakes again my passionate love for thee:
Now is the Spring of Love, yet soon will come
On meadow and tree the Summer’s lordly bloom;
And soon the grass with brighter flowers will blow,
And send up lilies for some boy to mow.
Then before long the Summer’s conqueror,
Rich Autumn—time, the season’s usurer,
Will lend his hoarded gold to all the trees,
And see it scattered by the spendthrift breeze;
And after that the Winter cold and drear.
So runs the perfect cycle of the year.
And so from youth to manhood do we go,
And fall to weary days and locks of snow.
Love only knows no winter; never dies:
Nor cares for frowning storms or leaden skies
And mine for thee shall never pass away,
Though my weak lips may falter in my lay.

Adieu! Adieu! yon silent evening star,
The night’s ambassador, doth gleam afar,
And bid the shepherd bring his flocks to fold.
Perchance before our inland seas of gold
Are garnered by the reapers into sheaves,
Perchance before I see the Autumn leaves,
I may behold thy city; and lay down
Low at thy feet the poet’s laurel crown.

Adieu! Adieu! yon silver lamp, the moon,
Which turns our midnight into perfect noon,
Doth surely light thy towers, guarding well
Where Dante sleeps, where Byron loved to dwell.