By Thomas Bailey Aldrich
(1836 - 1907)
 
 
An Ode
 
On the Unveiling of the Shaw Memorial on Boston Common, May Thirty-first, 1897
 
 
I

    NOT with slow, funereal sound
    Come we to this sacred ground;
Not with wailing fife and solemn muffled drum,
    Bringing a cypress wreath
      To lay, with bended knee,
    On the cold brows of Death—
      Not so, dear God, we come,
    But with the trumpets’ blare
And shot-torn battle-banners flung to air,
        As for a victory!
 
Hark to the measured tread of martial feet,
The music and the murmurs of the street!
    No bugle breathes this day
    Disaster and retreat!—
    Hark, how the iron lips
    Of the great battle-ships
Salute the City from her azure Bay!
 
II

Time was—time was, ah, unforgotten years!—
We paid our hero tribute of our tears.
        But now let go
All sounds and signs and formulas of woe:
  ’T is Life, not Death, we celebrate;
  To Life, not Death, we dedicate
This storied bronze, whereon is wrought
The lithe immortal figure of our thought,
  To show forever to men’s eyes,
  Our children’s children’s children’s eyes,
        How once he stood
        In that heroic mood,
    He and his dusky braves
    So fain of glorious graves!—
    One instant stood, and then
Drave through that cloud of purple steel and flame,
Which wrapt him, held him, gave him not again,
But in its trampled ashes left to Fame
        An everlasting name!
 
III

      That was indeed to live—
      At one bold swoop to wrest
      From darkling death the best
      That death to life can give.
      He fell as Roland fell
      That day at Roncevaux,
With foot upon the ramparts of the foe!
      A pæan, not a knell,
      For heroes dying so!
      No need for sorrow here,
      No room for sigh or tear,
Save such rich tears as happy eyelids know.
      See where he rides, our Knight!
      Within his eyes the light
Of battle, and youth’s gold about his brow;
Our Paladin, our Soldier of the Cross,
      Not weighing gain with loss—
      World-loser, that won all
      Obeying duty’s call!
      Not his, at peril’s frown,
      A pulse of quicker beat;
      Not his to hesitate
      And parley hold with Fate,
      But proudly to fling down
      His gauntlet at her feet.
O soul of loyal valor and white truth,
      Here, by this iron gate,
Thy serried ranks about thee as of yore,
      Stand thou for evermore
      In thy undying youth!
 
    The tender heart, the eagle eye!
      Oh, unto him belong
      The homages of Song;
      Our praises and the praise
      Of coming days
      To him belong—
To him, to him, the dead that shall not die!
 
 
A Petition
 
 
TO spring belongs the violet, and the blown
Spice of the roses let the summer own.
Grant me this favor, Muse—all else withhold—
That I may not write verse when I am old.
 
And yet I pray you, Muse, delay the time!
Be not too ready to deny me rhyme;
And when the hour strikes, as it must, dear Muse,
I beg you very gently break the news.
 
 
Appreciation
 
 
TO the sea-shell’s spiral round
’T is your heart that brings the sound:
The soft sea-murmurs that you hear
Within, are captured from your ear.
 
You do poets and their song
A grievous wrong,
If your own soul does not bring
To their high imagining
As much beauty as they sing.
 
 
A Shadow of the Night
 
 
CLOSE on the edge of a midsummer dawn
In troubled dreams I went from land to land,
Each seven-colored like the rainbow’s arc,
Regions where never fancy’s foot had trod
Till then; yet all the strangeness seemed not strange,
At which I wondered, reasoning in my dream
With two-fold sense, well knowing that I slept.
At last I came to this our cloud-hung earth,
And somewhere by the seashore was a grave,
A woman’s grave, new-made, and heaped with flowers;
And near it stood an ancient holy man
That fain would comfort me, who sorrowed not
For this unknown dead woman at my feet.
But I, because his sacred office held
My reverence, listened; and ’t was thus he spake:
“When next thou comest thou shalt find her still
In all the rare perfection that she was.
Thou shalt have gentle greeting of thy love!
Her eyelids will have turned to violets,
Her bosom to white lilies, and her breath
To roses. What is lovely never dies,
But passes into other loveliness,
Star-dust, or sea-foam, flower, or wingëd air.
If this befalls our poor unworthy flesh,
Think thee what destiny awaits the soul!
What glorious vesture it shall wear at last!”
While yet he spoke, seashore and grave and priest
Vanished, and faintly from a neighboring spire
Fell five slow solemn strokes upon my ear.
Then I awoke with a keen pain at heart,
A sense of swift unutterable loss,
And through the darkness reached my hand to touch
Her cheek, soft pillowed on one restful palm—
To be quite sure!
 
 
Guilielmus Rex
 
 
THE FOLK who lived in Shakespeare’s day
And saw that gentle figure pass
By London Bridge, his frequent way—
They little knew what man he was.
 
The pointed beard, the courteous mien,
The equal port to high and low,
All this they saw or might have seen—
But not the light behind the brow!
 
The doublet ’s modest gray or brown,
The slender sword-hilt’s plain device,
What sign had these for prince or clown?
Few turned, or none, to scan him twice.
 
Yet ’t was the king of England’s kings!
The rest with all their pomps and trains
Are mouldered, half-remembered things—
’T is he alone that lives and reigns!
 
 
Heredity
 
 
A SOLDIER of the Cromwell stamp,
With sword and psalm-book by his side,
At home alike in church and camp:
Austere he lived, and smileless died.
 
But she, a creature soft and fine—
From Spain, some say, some say from France;
Within her veins leapt blood like wine—
She led her Roundhead lord a dance!
 
In Grantham church they lie asleep;
Just where, the verger may not know.
Strange that two hundred years should keep
The old ancestral fires aglow!
 
In me these two have met again;
To each my nature owes a part:
To one, the cool and reasoning brain;
To one, the quick, unreasoning heart.
 
 
Identity
 
 
SOMEWHERE—in desolate wind-swept space—
  In Twilight-land—in No-man’s-land—
Two hurrying Shapes met face to face,
  And bade each other stand.
 
“And who are you?” cried one a-gape,
  Shuddering in the gloaming light.
“I know not,” said the second Shape,
  “I only died last night!”
 
 
Memory
 
 
MY mind lets go a thousand things,
Like dates of wars and deaths of kings,
And yet recalls the very hour—
’T was noon by yonder village tower,
And on the last blue noon in May—
The wind came briskly up this way,
Crisping the brook beside the road;
Then, pausing here, set down its load
Of pine-scents, and shook listlessly
Two petals from that wild-rose tree.
 
 
Palabras Cariñosas
 
 
GOOD-NIGHT! I have to say good-night
To such a host of peerless things!
Good-night unto the slender hand
All queenly with its weight of rings;
Good-night to fond, uplifted eyes,
Good-night to chestnut braids of hair,
Good-night unto the perfect mouth,
And all the sweetness nestled there—
  The snowy hand detains me, then
  I ’ll have to say Good-night again!
 
But there will come a time, my love,
When, if I read our stars aright,
I shall not linger by this porch
With my farewells. Till then, good-night!
You wish the time were now? And I.
You do not blush to wish it so?
You would have blushed yourself to death
To own so much a year ago—
  What, both these snowy hands! ah, then
  I ’ll have to say Good-night again!
 
 
Prescience
 
 
THE NEW moon hung in the sky,
  The sun was low in the west,
And my betrothed and I
  In the churchyard paused to rest—
    Happy maiden and lover,
    Dreaming the old dream over:
The light winds wandered by,
  And robins chirped from the nest.
 
And, lo! in the meadow-sweet
  Was the grave of a little child,
With a crumbling stone at the feet,
  And the ivy running wild—
    Tangled ivy and clover
    Folding it over and over:
Close to my sweetheart’s feet
  Was the little mound up-piled.
 
Stricken with nameless fears,
  She shrank and clung to me,
And her eyes were filled with tears
  For a sorrow I did not see:
    Lightly the winds were blowing,
    Softly her tears were flowing—
Tears for the unknown years
  And a sorrow that was to be!
 
 
Quatrains
 
 
MASKS

BLACK Tragedy lets slip her grim disguise
And shows you laughing lips and roguish eyes;
But when, unmasked, gay Comedy appears,
How wan her cheeks are, and what heavy tears!
 
MEMORIES

TWO things there are with Memory will abide,
Whatever else befall, while life flows by:
That soft cold hand-touch at the altar side;
The thrill that shook you at your child’s first cry.
 
CIRCUMSTANCE

    LINKED to a clod, harassed, and sad
With sordid cares, she knew not life was sweet
Who should have moved in marble halls, and had
    Kings and crown-princes at her feet.
 
ON READING ——

GREAT thoughts in crude, unshapely verse set forth
Lose half their preciousness, and ever must.
Unless the diamond with its own rich dust
Be cut and polished, it seems little worth.
 
QUITS

IF my best wines mislike thy taste,
And my best service win thy frown,
Then tarry not, I bid thee haste;
There ’s many another Inn in town.
 
 
Sargent’s Portrait of Edwin Booth at “The Players”
 
 
THAT face which no man ever saw
And from his memory banished quite,
With eyes in which are Hamlet ’s awe
And Cardinal Richelieu’s subtle light
Looks from this frame. A master’s hand
Has set the master-player here,
In the fair temple that he planned
Not for himself. To us most dear
This image of him! “It was thus
He looked; such pallor touched his cheek;
With that same grace he greeted us—
Nay, ’t is the man, could it but speak!”
Sad words that shall be said some day—
Far fall the day! O cruel Time,
Whose breath sweeps mortal things away,
Spare long this image of his prime,
That others standing in the place
Where, save as ghosts, we come no more,
May know what sweet majestic face
The gentle Prince of Players wore!
 
 
Sonnets
 
 
ENAMOURED ARCHITECT OF AIRY RHYME

ENAMOURED architect of airy rhyme,
Build as thou wilt; heed not what each man says:
Good souls, but innocent of dreamers’ ways,
Will come, and marvel why thou wastest time;
Others, beholding how thy turrets climb
’Twixt theirs and heaven, will hate thee all thy days;
But most beware of those who come to praise.
O Wondersmith, O worker in sublime
And heaven-sent dreams, let art be all in all;
Build as thou wilt, unspoiled by praise or blame,
Build as thou wilt, and as thy light is given:
Then, if at last the airy structure fall,
Dissolve, and vanish—take thyself no shame.
They fail, and they alone, who have not striven.
 
REMINISCENCE

THOUGH I am native to this frozen zone
That half the twelvemonth torpid lies, or dead;
Though the cold azure arching overhead
And the Atlantic’s never-ending moan
Are mine by heritage, I must have known
Life otherwhere in epochs long since fled;
For in my veins some Orient blood is red,
And through my thought are lotus blossoms blown.
I do remember … it was just at dusk,
Near a walled garden at the river’s turn
(A thousand summers seem but yesterday!),
A Nubian girl, more sweet than Khoorja musk,
Came to the water-tank to fill her urn,
And, with the urn, she bore my heart away!
 
OUTWARD BOUND

I LEAVE behind me the elm-shadowed square
And carven portals of the silent street,
And wander on with listless, vagrant feet
Through seaward-leading alleys, till the air
Smells of the sea, and straightway then the care
Slips from my heart, and life once more is sweet.
At the lane’s ending lie the white-winged fleet.
O restless Fancy, whither wouldst thou fare?
Here are brave pinions that shall take thee far—
Gaunt hulks of Norway; ships of red Ceylon;
Slim-masted lovers of the blue Azores!
’T is but an instant hence to Zanzibar,
Or to the regions of the Midnight Sun;
Ionian isles are thine, and all the fairy shores!
 
ANDROMEDA

THE SMOOTH-WORN coin and threadbare classic phrase
Of Grecian myths that did beguile my youth,
Beguile me not as in the olden days:
I think more grief and beauty dwell with truth.
Andromeda, in fetters by the sea,
Star-pale with anguish till young Perseus came,
Less moves me with her suffering than she,
The slim girl figure fettered to dark shame,
That nightly haunts the park, there, like a shade,
Trailing her wretchedness from street to street.
See where she passes—neither wife nor maid;
How all mere fiction crumbles at her feet!
Here is woe’s self, and not the mask of woe:
A legend’s shadow shall not move you so!
 
THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY

FOREVER am I conscious, moving here,
That should I step a little space aside
I pass the boundary of some glorified
Invisible domain—it lies so near!
Yet nothing know we of that dim frontier
Which each must cross, whatever fate betide,
To reach the heavenly cities where abide
(Thus Sorrow whispers) those that were most dear,
Now all transfigured in celestial light!
Shall we indeed behold them, thine and mine,
Whose going hence made black the noonday sun?—
Strange is it that across the narrow night
They fling us not some token, or make sign
That all beyond is not Oblivion.
 
SLEEP

WHEN to soft sleep we give ourselves away,
And in a dream as in a fairy bark
Drift on and on through the enchanted dark
To purple daybreak—little thought we pay
To that sweet bitter world we know by day.
We are clean quit of it, as is a lark
So high in heaven no human eye can mark
The thin swift pinion cleaving through the gray.
Till we awake ill fate can do no ill,
The resting heart shall not take up again
The heavy load that yet must make it bleed;
For this brief space the loud world’s voice is still,
No faintest echo of it brings us pain.
How will it be when we shall sleep indeed?
 
 
Tennyson
 
 
SHAKESPEARE and Milton—what third blazoned name
  Shall lips of after-ages link to these?
  His who, beside the wild encircling sea
Was England’s voice, her voice with one acclaim,
For threescore years; whose word of praise was fame,
  Whose scorn gave pause to man’s iniquities.
 
What strain was his in that Crimean war?
  A bugle-call in battle; a low breath,
  Plaintive and sweet, above the fields of death!
So year by year the music rolled afar,
From Euxine wastes to flowery Kandahar,
  Bearing the laurel or the cypress wreath.
 
Others shall have their little space of time,
  Their proper niche and bust, then fade away
  Into the darkness, poets of a day;
But thou, O builder of enduring rhyme,
Thou shalt not pass! Thy fame in every clime
  On earth shall live where Saxon speech has sway.
 
Waft me this verse across the winter sea,
  Through light and dark, through mist and blinding sleet,
  O winter winds, and lay it at his feet;
Though the poor gift betray my poverty,
At his feet lay it: it may chance that he
  Will find no gift, where reverence is, unmeet.
 
 
Thalia
 
A Middle-Aged Lyrical Poet Is Supposed to Be Taking Leave of the Muse of Comedy
 
 
I SAY it under the rose—
  Oh, thanks!—yes, under the laurel,
We part lovers, not foes;
  We are not going to quarrel.
 
We have too long been friends
  On foot and in gilded coaches,
Now that the whole thing ends,
  To spoil our kiss with reproaches.
 
I leave you; my soul is wrung;
  I pause, look back from the portal—
Ah, I no more am young,
  And you, child, you are immortal!
 
Mine is the glacier’s way,
  Yours is the blossom’s weather—
When were December and May
  Known to be happy together?
 
Before my kisses grow tame,
  Before my moodiness grieve you,
While yet my heart is flame,
  And I all lover, I leave you.
 
So, in the coming time,
  When you count the rich years over,
Think of me in my prime,
  And not as a white-haired lover,
 
Fretful, pierced with regret,
  The wraith of a dead Desire,
Thrumming a cracked spinet
  By a slowly dying fire.
 
When, at last, I am cold—
  Years hence, if the gods so will it—
Say, “He was true as gold,”
  And wear a rose in your fillet!
 
Others, tender as I,
  Will come and sue for caresses,
Woo you, win you, and die—
  Mind you, a rose in your tresses!
 
Some Melpomene woo,
  Some hold Clio the nearest;
You, sweet Comedy,—you
  Were ever sweetest and dearest!
 
Nay, it is time to go.
  When writing your tragic sister
Say to that child of woe
  How sorry I was I missed her.
 
Really, I cannot stay,
  Though “parting is such sweet sorrow” …
Perhaps I will, on my way
  Down-town, look in to-morrow!
 
 
To Hafiz
 
 
THOUGH gifts like thine the fates gave not to me,
One thing, O Hafiz, we both hold in fee—
Nay, it holds us; for when the June wind blows
We both are slaves and lovers to the rose.
In vain the pale Circassian lily shows
Her face at her green lattice, and in vain
The violet beckons, with unveilëd face—
The bosom’s white, the lip’s light purple stain,
These touch our liking, yet no passion stir.
But when the rose comes, Hafiz—in that place
Where she stands smiling, we kneel down to her!
 
 
Unguarded Gates
 
 
WIDE open and unguarded stand our gates,
Named of the four winds, North, South, East, and West;
Portals that lead to an enchanted land
Of cities, forests, fields of living gold,
Vast prairies, lordly summits touched with snow,
Majestic rivers sweeping proudly past
The Arab’s date-palm and the Norseman’s pine—
A realm wherein are fruits of every zone,
Airs of all climes, for, lo! throughout the year
The red rose blossoms somewhere—a rich land,
A later Eden planted in the wilds,
With not an inch of earth within its bound
But if a slave’s foot press it sets him free.
Here, it is written, Toil shall have its wage,
And Honor honor, and the humblest man
Stand level with the highest in the law.
Of such a land have men in dungeons dreamed,
And with the vision brightening in their eyes
Gone smiling to the fagot and the sword.
 
  Wide open and unguarded stand our gates,
And through them presses a wild motley throng—
Men from the Volga and the Tartar steppes,
Featureless figures of the Hoang-Ho,
Malayan, Scythian, Teuton, Kelt, and Slav,
Flying the Old World’s poverty and scorn;
These bringing with them unknown gods and rites,—
Those, tiger passions, here to stretch their claws.
In street and alley what strange tongues are loud,
Accents of menace alien to our air,
Voices that once the Tower of Babel knew!
 
  O Liberty, white Goddess! is it well
To leave the gates unguarded? On thy breast
Fold Sorrow’s children, soothe the hurts of fate,
Lift the down-trodden, but with hand of steel
Stay those who to thy sacred portals come
To waste the gifts of freedom. Have a care
Lest from thy brow the clustered stars be torn
And trampled in the dust. For so of old
The thronging Goth and Vandal trampled Rome,
And where the temples of the Cæsars stood
The lean wolf unmolested made her lair.
 
 
When the Sultan Goes to Ispahan
 
 
  WHEN the Sultan Shah-Zaman
Goes to the city Ispahan,
Even before he gets so far
As the place where the clustered palm-trees are,
At the last of the thirty palace-gates,
The flower of the harem, Rose-in-Bloom,
Orders a feast in his favorite room—
Glittering squares of colored ice,
Sweetened with syrop, tinctured with spice,
Creams, and cordials, and sugared dates,
Syrian apples, Othmanee quinces,
Limes, and citrons, and apricots,
And wines that are known to Eastern princes;
And Nubian slaves, with smoking pots
Of spicëd meats and costliest fish
And all that the curious palate could wish,
Pass in and out of the cedarn doors;
Scattered over mosaic floors
Are anemones, myrtles, and violets,
And a musical fountain throws its jets
Of a hundred colors into the air.
The dusk Sultana loosens her hair,
And stains with the henna-plant the tips
Of her pointed nails, and bites her lips
Till they bloom again; but, alas, that rose
Not for the Sultan buds and blows,
Not for the Sultan Shah-Zaman
When he goes to the city Ispahan.
 
  Then at a wave of her sunny hand
The dancing-girls of Samarcand
Glide in like shapes from fairy-land,
Making a sudden mist in air
Of fleecy veils and floating hair
And white arms lifted. Orient blood
Runs in their veins, shines in their eyes.
And there, in this Eastern Paradise,
Filled with the breath of sandal-wood,
And Khoten musk, and aloes and myrrh,
Sits Rose-in-Bloom on a silk divan,
Sipping the wines of Astrakhan;
And her Arab lover sits with her.
That ’s when the Sultan Shah-Zaman
Goes to the city Ispahan.
 
  Now, when I see an extra light,
Flaming, flickering on the night
From my neighbor’s casement opposite,
I know as well as I know to pray,
I know as well as a tongue can say,
That the innocent Sultan Shah-Zaman
Has gone to the city Ispahan.
 
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