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Bad Dreams

I

 
Last night I saw you in my sleep:
   And how your charm of face was changed!
I asked, “Some love, some faith you keep?”
   You answered, “Faith gone, love estranged.”
Whereat I woke—a twofold bliss:
   Waking was one, but next there came
This other: “Though I felt, for this,
   My heart break, I loved on the same.”
 

II

 
You in the flesh and here—
   Your very self! Now, wait!
One word! May I hope or fear?
   Must I speak in love or hate?
Stay while I ruminate!
The fact and each circumstance
   Dare you disown? Not you!
That vast dome, that huge dance,
   And the gloom which overgrew
A—possibly festive crew!
 
For why should men dance at all—
   Why women—a crowd of both—
Unless they are gay? Strange ball—
   Hands and feet plighting troth,
Yet partners enforced and loth!
 
Of who danced there, no shape
   Did I recognize: thwart, perverse,
Each grasped each, past escape
   In a whirl or weary or worse:
Man’s sneer met woman’s curse,
 
While he and she toiled as if
   Their guardian set galley-slaves
To supple chained limbs grown stiff:
   Unmanacled trulls and knaves—
The lash for who misbehaves!
 
And a gloom was, all the while,
   Deeper and deeper yet
O’ergrowing the rank and file
   Of that army of haters—set
To mimic love’s fever-fret.
 
By the wall-side close I crept.
   Avoiding the livid maze.
And, safely so far, outstepped
   On a chamber—a chapel, says
My memory or betrays—
 
Closet-like, kept aloof
   From unseemly witnessing
What sport made floor and roof
   Of the Devil’s palace ring
While his Damned amused their king.
 
Ay, for a low lamp burned,
   And a silence lay about
What I, in the midst, discerned
   Though dimly till, past doubt,
’Twas a sort of throne stood out—
 
High seat with steps, at least:
   And the topmost step was filled
By—whom? What vestured priest?
   A stranger to me,—his guild,
His cult, unreconciled
 
To my knowledge how guild and cult
   Are clothed in this world of ours:
I pondered, but no result
   Came to—unless that Giaours
So worship the Lower Powers.
 
When suddenly who entered?
   Who knelt—did you guess I saw?
Who—raising that face were centred
   Allegiance to love and law
So lately—off-casting awe,
 
Down-treading reserve, away
   Thrusting respect . . . but mine
Stands firm—firm still shall stay!
   Ask Satan! for I decline
To tell—what I saw, in fine!
 
Yet here in the flesh you come—
   Your same self, form and face,—
In the eyes, mirth still at home!
   On the lips, that commonplace
Perfection of honest grace!
 
Yet your errand is—needs must be—
   To palliate—well, explain,
Expurgate in some degree
   Your soul of its ugly stain.
Oh, you—the good in grain—
 
How was it your white took tinge?
   “A mere dream”—never object!
Sleep leaves a door on hinge
   Whence soul, ere our flesh suspect,
Is off and away: detect
 
Her vagaries when loose, who can!
   Be she pranksome, be she prude,
Disguise with the day began:
   With the night—ah, what ensued
From draughts of a drink hell-brewed?
 
Then She: “What a queer wild dream!
   And perhaps the best fun is—
Myself had its fellow—I seem
   Scarce awake from yet. ’Twas this—
Shall I tell you? First, a kiss!
 
“For the fault was just your own,—
   ’Tis myself expect apology:
You warned me to let alone
   (Since our studies were mere philology)
That ticklish (you said) Anthology.
 
“So I dreamed that I passed exam
   Till a question posed me sore:
‘Who translated this epigram
   By—an author we best ignore?’
And I answered, ‘Hannah More’!”
 

III

 
This was my dream: I saw a Forest
   Old as the earth, no track nor trace
Of unmade man. Thou, Soul, explorest—
   Though in a trembling rapture—space
Immeasurable! Shrubs, turned trees,
Trees that touch heaven, support its frieze
Studded with sun and moon and star:
While—oh, the enormous growths that bar
Mine eye from penetrating past
   Their tangled twins where lurks—nay, lives
Royally lone, some brute-type cast
   I’ the rough, time cancels, man forgives.
On, Soul! I saw a lucid City
   Of architectural device
Every way perfect. Pause for pity,
   Lightning! nor leave a cicatrice
On those bright marbles, dome and spire,
Structures palatial,—streets which mire
Dares not defile, paved all too fine
For human footstep’s smirch, not thine—
Proud solitary traverser,
   My Soul, of silent lengths of way—
With what ecstatic dread, aver,
   Lest life start sanctioned by thy stay!
All, but the last sight was the hideous!
   A City, yes,—a Forest, true,—
But each devouring each. Perfidious
   Snake-plants had strangled what I knew
Was a pavilion once: each oak
Held on his horns some spoil he broke
By surreptitiously beneath
Upthrusting: pavements, as with teeth,
Griped huge weed widening crack and split
   In squares and circles stone-work erst.
Oh, Nature—good! Oh, Art—no whit
Less worthy! Both in one—accurst!
 

IV

 
It happened thus: my slab, though new,
   Was getting weather-stained,—beside,
Herbage, balm, peppermint, o’ergrew
   Letter and letter: till you tried
Somewhat, the Name was scarce descried.
That strong stern man my lover came:
  —Was he my lover? Call him, pray,
My life’s cold critic bent on blame
   Of all poor I could do or say
To make me worth his love one day—
 
One far day when, by diligent
   And dutiful amending faults,
Foibles, all weaknesses which went
   To challenge and excuse assaults
Of culture wronged by taste that halts—
 
Discrepancies should mar no plan
   Symmetric of the qualities
Claiming respect from—say—a man
   That’s strong and stem. “Once more he pries
Into me with those critic eyes!”
 
No question! so—“Conclude, condemn
   Each failure my poor self avows!
Leave to its fate all you contemn!
   There’s Solomon’s selected spouse:
Earth needs must hold such maids—choose them!”
 
Why, he was weeping! Surely gone
   Sternness and strength: with eyes to ground
And voice a broken monotone—
   “Only be as you were! Abound
In foibles, faults,—laugh, robed and crowned
 
“As Folly’s veriest queen,—care I
   One feather-fluff? Look pity, Love,
On prostrate me—your foot shall try
   This forehead’s use—mount thence above,
And reach what Heaven you dignify!”
 
Now, what could bring such change about?
   The thought perplexed: till, following
His gaze upon the ground,—why, out
   Came all the secret! So, a thing
Thus simple has deposed my king!
 
For, spite of weeds that strove to spoil
   Plain reading on the lettered slab,
My name was clear enough—no soil
   Effaced the date when one chance stab
Of scorn . . . if only ghosts might blab!
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