Early Poems

(This section of the 1923 edition drew most of its contents from Alice Meynell's three earliest published volumes, Preludes (1875), Poems (1893), and Other Poems (1895). Alice's sister, Mimi Thompson (later Lady Elizabeth Butler) provided illustrations for the 1875 edition. While the 1923 edition changes the order of these earliest poems, and omits several, I have interpolated the original 1875 illustrations adjacent to the poems they originally accompanied. To view these images, please click the thumbnails.)

In Early Spring To the Beloved
An Unmarked Festival In Autumn
Parted "Soeur Monique"
Regrets The Visiting Sea
After a Parting Builders of Ruins
Sonnets: Thoughts in Separation
The Garden Your Own Fair Youth
The Young Neophyte Spring on the Alban Hills
In February A Shattered Lute
Renouncement To a Daisy
San Lorenzo's Mother The Lover Urges the Better Thrift
Cradle-Song at Twilight Song of the Night at Daybreak
A Letter from a Girl to her own Old Age Advent Meditation
A Poet's Fancies: The Love of Narcissus
To Any Poet To One Poem in a Silent Time
The Moon to the Sun The Spring to the Summer
The Day to the Night A Poet of One Mood
A Song of Derivations Singers to Come

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O spring, I know thee! Seek for sweet surprise 
    In the young children's eyes. 
But I have learnt the years, and know the yet 
    Leaf-folded violet. 
Mine ear, awake to silence, can foretell 
    The cuckoo's fitful bell. 
I wander in a grey time that encloses 
    June and the wild hedge-roses. 
A year's procession of the flowers doth pass 
    My feet, along the grass. 
And all you wild birds silent yet, I know 
    The notes that stir you so, 
Your songs yet half devised in the dim dear 
     Beginnings of the year. 
In these young days you meditate your part; 
    I have it all by heart.

I know the secrets of the seeds of flowers Hidden and warm with showers, And how, in kindling Spring, the cuckoo shall Alter his interval. But not a flower or song I ponder is My own, but memory's. I shall be silent in those days desired Before a world inspired. O all brown birds, compose your old song-phrases, Earth, thy familiar daisies!

A poet mused upon the dusky height, Between two stars towards night, His purpose in his heart. I watched, a space, The meaning of his face: There was the secret, fled from earth and skies, Hid in his grey young eyes. My heart and all the Summer wait his choice, And wonder for his voice. Who shall foretell his songs, and who aspire But to divine his lyre? Sweet earth, we know thy dimmest mysteries, But he is lord of his.

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Oh, not more subtly silence strays 
  Amongst the winds, between the voices, 
Mingling alike with pensive lays, 
  And with the music that rejoices, 
Than thou art present in my days.

My silence, life returns to thee In all the pauses of her breath. Hush back to rest the melody That out of thee awakeneth; And thou, wake ever, wake for me!

Thou art like silence all unvexed, Though wild words part my soul from thee. Thou art like silence unperplexed, A secret and a mystery Between one footfall and the next.

Most dear pause in a mellow lay! Thou art inwoven with every air. With thee the wildest tempests play, And snatches of thee everywhere Make little heavens throughout a day.

Darkness and solitude shine, for me. For life's fair outward part are rife The silver noises; let them be. It is the very soul of life Listens for thee, listens for thee.

O pause between the sobs of cares; O thought within all thought that is; Trance between laughters unawares: Thou art the shape of melodies, And thou the ecstasy of prayers!

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There's a feast, undated, yet 
  Both our true lives hold it fast,-- 
Even the day when first we met. 
  What a great day came and passed, 
  --Unknown then, but known at last.

And we met: You knew not me, Mistress of your joys and fears; Held my hand that held the key Of the treasure of your years, Of the fountain of your tears.

For you knew not it was I, And I knew not it was you. We have learnt, as days went by. But a flower struck root and grew Underground, and no one knew.

Day of days! Unmarked it rose, In whose hours we were to meet; And forgotten passed. Who knows, Was earth cold or sunny, Sweet, At the coming of your feet?

One mere day, we thought; the measure Of such days the year fulfils. Now, how dearly would we treasure Something from its fields, its rills, And its memorable hills.

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The leaves are many under my feet, 
  And drift one way. 
Their scent of death is weary and sweet. 
  A flight of them is in the grey 
Where sky and forest meet.

The low winds moan for dead sweet years; The birds sing all for pain, Of a common thing, to weary ears,-- Only a summer's fate of rain, And a woman's fate of tears.

I walk to love and life alone Over these mournful places, Across the summer overthrown, The dead joys of these silent faces, To claim my own.

I know his heart has beat to bright Sweet loves gone by; I know the leaves that die to-night Once budded to the sky; And I shall die from his delight.

O leaves, so quietly ending now, You heard the cuckoos sing. And I will grow upon my bough If only for a Spring, And fall when the rain is on my brow.

O tell me, tell me ere you die, Is it worth the pain? You bloomed so fair, you waved so high; Now that the sad days wane, Are you repenting where you lie?

I lie amongst you, and I kiss Your fragrance mouldering. O dead delights, is it such bliss, That tuneful Spring? Is love so sweet, that comes to this?

Kiss me again as I kiss you; Kiss me again, For all your tuneful nights of dew, In this your time of rain, For all your kisses when Spring was new.

You will not, broken hearts; let be. I pass across your death To a golden summer you shall not see, And in your dying breath There is no benison for me.

There is an autumn yet to wane, There are leaves yet to fall, Which, when I kiss, may kiss again, And, pitied, pity me all for all, And love me in mist and rain.

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Farewell to one now silenced quite, 
Sent out of hearing, out of sight,-- 
  My friend of friends, whom I shall miss. 
  He is not banished, though, for this,-- 
Nor he, nor sadness, nor delight.

Though I shall talk with him no more, A low voice sounds upon the shore. He must not watch my resting-place, But who shall drive a mournful face From the sad winds about my door?

I shall not hear his voice complain, But who shall stop the patient rain? His tears must not disturb my heart, But who shall change the years, and part The world from every thought of pain?

Although my life is left so dim, The morning crowns the mountain-rim; Joy is not gone from summer skies, Nor innocence from children's eyes, And all these things are part of him.

He is not banished, for the showers Yet wake this green warm earth of ours. How can the summer but be sweet? I shall not have him at my feet, And yet my feet are on the flowers.

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A Rondeau by Couperin

Quiet form of silent nun, 
What has given you to my inward eyes? 
What has marked you, unknown one, 
In the throngs of centuries 
That mine ears do listen through? 
This old master's melody 
That expresses you; 
This admired simplicity, 
Tender, with a serious wit; 
And two words, the name of it, 
    ``Soeur Monique.''

And if sad the music is, It is sad with mysteries Of a small immortal thing That the passing ages sing,-- Simple music making mirth Of the dying and the birth Of the people of the earth.

No, not sad; we are beguiled, Sad with living as we are; Ours the sorrow, outpouring Sad self on a selfless thing, As our eyes and hearts are mild With our sympathy for Spring, With a pity sweet and wild For the innocent and far, With our sadness in a star, Or our sadness in a child.

But two words, and this sweet air. Soeur Monique, Had he more, who set you there? Was his music-dream of you Of some perfect nun he knew, Or of some ideal, as true?

And I see you where you stand With your life held in your hand As a rosary of days. And your thoughts in calm arrays, And your innocent prayers are told On your rosary of days. And the young days and the old With their quiet prayers did meet When the chaplet was complete.

Did it vex you, the surmise Of this wind of words, this storm of cries, Though you kept the silence so In the storms of long ago, And you keep it, like a star? --Of the evils triumphing, Strong, for all your perfect conquering, Silenced conqueror that you are?

And I wonder at your peace, I wonder. Would it trouble you to know, Tender soul, the world and sin By your calm feet trodden under Long ago, Living now, mighty to win? And your feet are vanished like the snow.

Vanished; but the poet, he In whose dream your face appears, He who ranges unknown years With your music in his heart, Speaks to you familiarly Where you keep apart, And invents you as you were. And your picture, O my nun! Is a strangely easy one, For the holy weed you wear, For your hidden eyes and hidden hair, And in picturing you I may Scarcely go astray. O the vague reality,

The mysterious certainty! O strange truth of these my guesses In the wide thought-wildernesses! --Truth of one divined of many flowers; Of one raindrop in the showers Of the long ago swift rain; Of one tear of many tears In some world-renownèd pain; Of one daisy 'mid the centuries of sun; Of a little living nun In the garden of the years.

Yes, I am not far astray; But I guess you as might one Pausing when young March is grey, In a violet-peopled day; All his thoughts go out to places that he knew, To his child-home in the sun, To the fields of his regret, To one place i' the innocent March air, By one olive, and invent The familiar form and scent Safely; a white violet Certainly is there.

Soeur Monique, remember me. 'Tis not in the past alone I am picturing you to be; But my little friend, my own, In my moment, pray for me. For another dream is mine, And another dream is true, Sweeter even, Of the little ones that shine Lost within the light divine,-- Of some meekest flower, or you, In the fields of heaven.

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As, when the seaward ebbing tide doth pour 
  Out by the low sand spaces, 
The parting waves slip back to clasp the shore 
  With lingering embraces,--

So in the tide of life that carries me From where thy true heart dwells, Waves of my thoughts and memories turn to thee With lessening farewells;

Waving of hands; dreams, when the day forgets; A care half lost in cares; The saddest of my verses; dim regrets; Thy name among my prayers.

I would the day might come, so waited for, So patiently besought, When I, returning, should fill up once more Thy desolated thought;

And fill thy loneliness that lies apart In still, persistent pain. Shall I content thee, O thou broken heart, As the tide comes again,

And brims the little sea-shore lakes, and sets Seaweeds afloat, and fills The silent pools, rivers and rivulets Among the inland hills?

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As the inhastening tide doth roll, 
Home from the deep, along the whole 
  Wide shining strand, and floods the caves, 
  --Your love comes filling with happy waves 
The open sea-shore of my soul.

But inland from the seaward spaces, None knows, not even you, the places Brimmed, at your coming, out of sight, --The little solitudes of delight This tide constrains in dim embraces.

You see the happy shore, wave-rimmed, But know not of the quiet dimmed Rivers your coming floods and fills, The little pools 'mid happier hills, My silent rivulets, over-brimmed.

What! I have secrets from you? Yes. But, visiting Sea, your love doth press And reach in further than you know, And fills all these; and, when you go, There's loneliness in loneliness.

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Farewell has long been said; I have foregone thee; 
  I never name thee even. 
But how shall I learn virtues and yet shun thee? 
  For thou art so near Heaven 
That Heavenward meditations pause upon thee.

Thou dost beset the path to every shrine; My trembling thoughts discern Thy goodness in the good for which I pine; And, if I turn from but one sin, I turn Unto a smile of thine.

How shall I thrust thee apart Since all my growth tends to thee night and day-- To thee faith, hope, and art? Swift are the currents setting all one way; They draw my life, my life, out of my heart.

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We build with strength the deep tower wall 
  That shall be shattered thus and thus. 
And fair and great are court and hall, 
  But how fair--this is not for us, 
Who know the lack that lurks in all.

We know, we know how all too bright The hues are that our painting wears, And how the marble gleams too white;-- We speak in unknown tongues, the years Interpret everything aright,

And crown with weeds our pride of towers, And warm our marble through with sun, And break our pavements through with flowers, With an Amen when all is done, Knowing these perfect things of ours.

O days, we ponder, left alone, Like children in their lonely hour, And in our secrets keep your own, As seeds the colour of the flower. To-day they are not all unknown,

The stars that 'twixt the rise and fall, Like relic-seers, shall one by one Stand musing o'er our empty hall; And setting moons shall brood upon The frescoes of our inward wall.

And when some midsummer shall be, Hither will come some little one (Dusty with bloom of flowers is he), Sit on a ruin i' the late long sun, And think, one foot upon his knee.

And where they wrought, these lives of ours, So many-worded, many-souled, A North-west wind will take the towers, And dark with colour, sunny and cold, Will range alone among the flowers.

And here or there, at our desire, The little clamorous owl shall sit Through her still time; and we aspire To make a law (and know not it) Unto the life of a wild briar.

Our purpose is distinct and dear, Though from our open eyes 'tis hidden. Thou, Time to come, shalt make it clear, Undoing our work; we are children chidden With pity and smiles of many a year.

Who shall allot the praise, and guess What part is yours and what is ours?-- O years that certainly will bless Our flowers with fruits, our seeds with flowers, With ruin all our perfectness.

Be patient, Time, of our delays, Too happy hopes, and wasted fears, Our faithful ways, our wilful ways; Solace our labours, O our seers The seasons, and our bards the days;

And make our pause and silence brim With the shrill children's play, and sweets Of those pathetic flowers and dim, Of those eternal flowers my Keats Dying felt growing over him!

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We never meet; yet we meet day by day 
  Upon those hills of life, dim and immense-- 
  The good we love, and sleep, our innocence. 
O hills of life, high hills! And, higher than they,

Our guardian spirits meet at prayer and play. Beyond pain, joy, and hope, and long suspense, Above the summits of our souls, far hence, An angel meets an angel on the way.

Beyond all good I ever believed of thee Or thou of me, these always love and live. And though I fail of thy ideal of me,

My angel falls not short. They greet each other. Who knows, they may exchange the kiss we give, Thou to thy crucifix, I to my mother.

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My heart shall be thy garden. Come, my own, 
  Into thy garden; thine be happy hours 
  Among my fairest thoughts, my tallest flowers, 
From root to crowning petal thine alone.

Thine is the place from where the seeds are sown Up to the sky enclosed, with all its showers. But ah, the birds, the birds! Who shall build bowers To keep these thine? O friend, the birds have flown.

For as these come and go, and quit our pine To follow the sweet season, or, new-comers, Sing one song only from our alder-trees,

My heart has thoughts, which, though thine eyes hold mine, Flit to the silent world and other summers, With wings that dip beyond the silver seas.

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Your own fair youth, you care so little for it-- 
  Smiling towards Heaven, you would not stay the advances 
  Of time and change upon your happiest fancies. 
I keep your golden hour, and will restore it.

If ever, in time to come, you would explore it-- Your old self, whose thoughts went like last year's pansies, Look unto me; no mirror keeps its glances; In my unfailing praises now I store it.

To guard all joys of yours from Time's estranging, I shall be then a treasury where your gay, Happy, and pensive past unaltered is.

I shall be then a garden charmed from changing, In which your June has never passed away. Walk there awhile among my memories.

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Who knows what days I answer for to-day? 
  Giving the bud I give the flower. I bow 
  This yet unfaded and a faded brow; 
Bending these knees and feeble knees, I pray.

Thoughts yet unripe in me I bend one way, Give one repose to pain I know not now, One check to joy that comes, I guess not how. I dedicate my fields when Spring is grey.

O rash! (I smile) to pledge my hidden wheat. I fold to-day at altars far apart Hands trembling with what toils? In their retreat

I seal my love to-be, my folded art. I light the tapers at my head and feet, And lay the crucifix on this silent heart.

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O'er the Campagna it is dim warm weather; 
  The Spring comes with a full heart silently, 
  And many thoughts; a faint flash of the sea 
Divides two mists; straight falls the falling feather.

With wild Spring meanings hill and plain together Grow pale, or just flush with a dust of flowers. Rome in the ages, dimmed with all her towers, Floats in the midst, a little cloud at tether.

I fain would put my hands about thy face, Thou with thy thoughts, who art another Spring, And draw thee to me like a mournful child.

Thou lookest on me from another place; I touch not this day's secret, nor the thing That in the silence makes thy soft eyes wild.

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Rich meanings of the prophet-Spring adorn, 
  Unseen, this colourless sky of folded showers, 
  And folded winds; no blossom in the bowers; 
A poet's face asleep in this grey morn.

Now in the midst of the old world forlorn A mystic child is set in these still hours. I keep this time, even before the flowers, Sacred to all the young and the unborn:

To all the miles and miles of unsprung wheat, And to the Spring waiting beyond the portal, And to the future of my own young art,

And, among all these things, to you, my sweet, My friend, to your calm face and the immortal Child tarrying all your life-time in your heart.

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I touched the heart that loved me as a player 
  Touches a lyre. Content with my poor skill, 
  No touch save mine knew my beloved (and still 
I thought at times: Is there no sweet lost air

Old loves could wake in him, I cannot share?). O he alone, alone could so fulfil My thoughts in sound to the measure of my will. He is gone, and silence takes me unaware.

The songs I knew not he resumes, set free From my constraining love, alas for me! His part in our tune goes with him; my part

Is locked in me for ever; I stand as mute As one with vigorous music in his heart Whose fingers stray upon a shattered lute.

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I must not think of thee; and, tired yet strong, 
  I shun the thought that lurks in all delight-- 
  The thought of thee--and in the blue Heaven's height, 
And in the sweetest passage of a song.

O just beyond the fairest thoughts that throng This breast, the thought of thee waits, hidden yet bright; But it must never, never come in sight; I must stop short of thee the whole day long.

But when sleep comes to close each difficult day, When night gives pause to the long watch I keep, And all my bonds I needs must loose apart,

Must doff my will as raiment laid away,-- With the first dream that comes with the first sleep I run, I run, I am gathered to thy heart.

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Slight as thou art, thou art enough to hide 
  Like all created things, secrets from me, 
  And stand a barrier to eternity. 
And I, how can I praise thee well and wide

From where I dwell--upon the hither side? Thou little veil for so great mystery, When shall I penetrate all things and thee, And then look back? For this I must abide,

Till thou shalt grow and fold and be unfurled Literally between me and the world. Then I shall drink from in beneath a spring,

And from a poet's side shall read his book. O daisy mine, what will it be to look From God's side even of such a simple thing?

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I had not seen my son's dear face 
(He chose the cloister by God's grace) 
  Since it had come to full flower-time. 
  I hardly guessed at its perfect prime, 
That folded flower of his dear face.

Mine eyes were veiled by mists of tears When on a day in many years One of his Order came. I thrilled, Facing, I thought, that face fulfilled. I doubted, for my mists of tears.

His blessing be with me for ever! My hope and doubt were hard to sever. --That altered face, those holy weeds. I filled his wallet and kissed his beads, And lost his echoing feet for ever.

If to my son my alms were given I know not, and I wait for Heaven. He did not plead for child of mine, But for another Child divine, And unto Him it was surely given.

There is One alone who cannot change; Dreams are we, shadows, visions strange; And all I give is given to One. I might mistake my dearest son, But never the Son who cannot change.

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My Fair, no beauty of thine will last 
  Save in my love's eternity. 
  Thy smiles, that light thee fitfully, 
Are lost for ever--their moment past-- 
  Except the few thou givest to me.

Thy sweet words vanish day by day, As all breath of mortality; Thy laughter, done, must cease to be, And all thy dear tones pass away, Except the few that sing to me.

Hide then within my heart, O hide All thou art loth should go from thee. Be kinder to thyself and me. My cupful from this river's tide Shall never reach the long sad sea.

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The child not yet is lulled to rest. 
  Too young a nurse, the slender Night 
So laxly holds him to her breast 
  That throbs with flight.

He plays with her, and will not sleep. For other playfellows she sighs; An unmaternal fondness keep Her alien eyes.

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All my stars forsake me. 
And the dawn-winds shake me. 
Where shall I betake me?

Whither shall I run Till the set of sun, Till the day be done?

To the mountain-mine, To the boughs o' the pine, To the blind man's eyne,

To a brow that is Bowed upon the knees, Sick with memories?

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Listen, and when thy hand this paper presses, 
O time-worn woman, think of her who blesses 
What thy thin fingers touch, with her caresses.

O mother, for the weight of years that break thee! O daughter, for slow time must yet awake thee, And from the changes of my heart must make thee!

O fainting traveller, morn is grey in heaven. Dost thou remember how the clouds were driven? And are they calm about the fall of even?

Pause near the ending of thy long migration, For this one sudden hour of desolation Appeals to one hour of thy meditation.

Suffer, O silent one, that I remind thee Of the great hills that stormed the sky behind thee, Of the wild winds of power that have resigned thee.

Know that the mournful plain where thou must wander Is but a grey and silent world, but ponder The misty mountains of the morning yonder.

Listen:--the mountain winds with rain were fretting, And sudden gleams the mountain-tops besetting. I cannot let thee fade to death, forgetting.

What part of this wild heart of mine I know not Will follow with thee where the great winds blow not, And where the young flowers of the mountain grow not.

Yet let my letter with thy lost thoughts in it Tell what the way was when thou didst begin it, And win with thee the goal when thou shalt win it.

Oh, in some hour of thine thy thoughts shall guide thee. Suddenly, though time, darkness, silence, hide thee, This wind from thy lost country flits beside thee,--

Telling thee: all thy memories moved the maiden, With thy regrets was morning over-shaden, With sorrow, thou hast left, her life was laden.

But whither shall my thoughts turn to pursue thee? Life changes, and the years and days renew thee. Oh, Nature brings my straying heart unto thee.

Her winds will join us, with their constant kisses Upon the evening as the morning tresses, Her summers breathe the same unchanging blisses.

And we, so altered in our shifting phases, Track one another 'mid the many mazes By the eternal child-breath of the daisies.

I have not writ this letter of divining To make a glory of thy silent pining, A triumph of thy mute and strange declining.

Only one youth, and the bright life was shrouded. Only one morning, and the day was clouded. And one old age with all regrets is crowded.

O hush, O hush! Thy tears my words are steeping. O hush, hush, hush! So full, the fount of weeping? Poor eyes, so quickly moved, so near to sleeping?

Pardon the girl; such strange desires beset her. Poor woman, lay aside the mournful letter That breaks thy heart; the one who wrote, forget her:

The one who now thy faded features guesses, With filial fingers thy grey hair caresses, With morning tears thy mournful twilight blesses.

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Rorate coeli desuper, et nubes pluant Justum
Aperiatur terra, et germinet Salvatorem.

No sudden thing of glory and fear 
Was the Lord's coming; but the dear 
 Slow Nature's days followed each other 
  To form the Saviour from His Mother 
--One of the children of the year.

The earth, the rain, received the trust, --The sun and dews, to frame the Just. He drew His daily life from these, According to His own decrees Who makes man from the fertile dust.

Sweet summer and the winter wild, These brought him forth, the Undefiled. The happy Springs renewed again His daily bread, the growing grain, The food and raiment of the Child.

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Like him who met his own eyes in the river, 
  The poet trembles at his own long gaze 
  That meets him through the changing nights and days 
From out great Nature; all her waters quiver 
With his fair image facing him for ever; 
  The music that he listens to betrays 
  His own heart to his ears; by trackless ways 
His wild thoughts tend to him in long endeavour.

His dreams are far among the silent hills; His vague voice calls him from the darkened plain With winds at night; strange recognition thrills His lonely heart with piercing love and pain; He knows again his mirth in mountain rills, His weary tears that touch him with the rain.

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Thou who singest through the earth 
All the earth's wild creatures fly thee; 
Everywhere thou marrest mirth,-- 
  Dumbly they defy thee; 
There is something they deny thee.

Pines thy fallen nature ever For the unfallen Nature sweet. But she shuns thy long endeavour, Though her flowers and wheat Throng and press thy pausing feet.

Though thou tame a bird to love thee, Press thy face to grass and flowers, All these things reserve above thee Secrets in the bowers, Secrets in the sun and showers.

Sing thy sorrow, sing thy gladness, In thy songs must wind and tree Bear the fictions of thy sadness, Thy humanity. For their truth is not for thee.

Wait, and many a secret nest, Many a hoarded winter-store Will be hidden on thy breast. Things thou longest for Will not fear or shun thee more.

Thou shalt intimately lie In the roots of flowers that thrust Upwards from thee to the sky, With no more distrust When they blossom from thy dust.

Silent labours of the rain Shall be near thee, reconciled; Little lives of leaves and grain, All things shy and wild, Tell thee secrets, quiet child.

Earth, set free from thy fair fancies And the art thou shalt resign, Will bring forth her rue and pansies Unto more divine Thoughts than any thoughts of thine.

Nought will fear thee, humbled creature. There will lie thy mortal burden Pressed unto the heart of Nature, Songless in a garden, With a long embrace of pardon.

Then the truth all creatures tell, And His will Whom thou entreatest Shall absorb thee; there shall dwell Silence, the completest Of thy poems, last and sweetest.

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Who looked for thee, thou little song of mine? 
  This winter of a silent poet's heart 
  Is suddenly sweet with thee. But what thou art, 
Mid-winter flower, I would I could divine.

Art thou a last one, orphan of thy line? Did the dead summer's last warmth foster thee? Or is Spring folded up unguessed in me, And stirring out of sight,--and thou the sign?

Where shall I look--backwards or to the morrow For others of thy fragrance, secret child? Who knows if last things or if first things claim thee?

--Whether thou be the last smile of my sorrow, Or else a joy too sweet, a joy too wild. How, my December violet, shall I name thee?

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The Poet sings to ber Poet

As the full moon shining there 
To the sun that lighteth her 
Am I unto thee for ever, 
O my secret glory-giver! 
O my light, I am dark but fair, 
    Black but fair.

Shine, Earth loves thee! And then shine And be loved through thoughts of mine. All thy secrets that I treasure I translate them at my pleasure. I am crowned with glory of thine. Thine, not thine.

I make pensive thy delight, And thy strong gold silver-white. Though all beauty of mine thou makest, Yet to earth which thou forsakest I have made thee fair all night, Day all night.

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The Poet sings to her Poet

O poet of the time to be, 
My conqueror, I began for thee. 
  Enter into thy poet's pain, 
  And take the riches of the rain, 
And make the perfect year for me.

Thou unto whom my lyre shall fall, Whene'er thou comest, hear my call. O keep the promise of my lays, Take thou the parable of my days; I trust thee with the aim of all.

And if thy thoughts unfold from me, Know that I too have hints of thee, Dim hopes that come across my mind In the rare days of warmer wind, And tones of summer in the sea.

And I have set thy paths, I guide Thy blossoms on the wild hillside. And I, thy bygone poet, share The flowers that throng thy feet where'er I led thy feet before I died.

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The Poet sings to his Poet

From dawn to dusk, and from dusk to dawn, 
  We two are sundered always, Sweet. 
A few stars shake o'er the rocky lawn 
  And the cold sea-shore when we meet. 
  The twilight comes with thy shadowy feet.

We are not day and night, my Fair, But one. It is an hour of hours. And thoughts that are not otherwhere Are thought here 'mid the blown sea-flowers, This meeting and this dusk of ours.

Delight has taken Pain to her heart, And there is dusk and stars for these. O linger, linger! They would not part; And the wild wind comes from over-seas, With a new song to the olive trees.

And when we meet by the sounding pine Sleep draws near to his dreamless brother. And when thy sweet eyes answer mine, Peace nestles close to her mournful mother, And Hope and Weariness kiss each other.

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A poet of one mood in all my lays, 
  Ranging all life to sing one only love, 
  Like a west wind across the world I move, 
Sweeping my harp of floods mine own wild ways.

The countries change, but not the west-wind days Which are my songs. My soft skies shine above, And on all seas the colours of a dove, And on all fields a flash of silver greys.

I make the whole world answer to my art And sweet monotonous meanings. In your ears I change not ever, bearing, for my part, One thought that is the treasure of my years-- A small cloud full of rain upon my heart And in mine arms, clasped, like a child in tears.

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I come from nothing; but from where 
Come the undying thoughts I bear? 
  Down, through long links of death and birth, 
  From the past poets of the earth, 
My immortality is there.

I am like the blossom of an hour. But long, long vanished sun and shower A woke my breath i' the young world's air; I track the past back everywhere Through seed and flower and seed and flower.

Or I am like a stream that flows Full of the cold springs that arose In morning lands, in distant hills; And down the plain my channel fills With melting of forgotten snows.

Voices, I have not heard, possessed My own fresh songs; my thoughts are blessed With relics of the far unknown. And mixed with memories not my own The sweet streams throng into my breast.

Before this life began to be, The happy songs that wake in me Woke long ago and far apart. Heavily on this little heart Presses this immortality.

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No new delights to our desire 
  The singers of the past can yield. 
  I lift mine eyes to hill and field, 
And see in them your yet dumb lyre, 
  Poets unborn and unrevealed.

Singers to come, what thoughts will start To song? What words of yours be sent Through man's soul, and with earth be blent? These worlds of nature and the heart Await you like an instrument.

Who knows what musical flocks of words Upon these pine-tree tops will light, And crown these towers in circling flight, And cross these seas like summer birds, And give a voice to the day and night?

Something of you already is ours; Some mystic part of you belongs To us whose dreams your future throngs, Who look on hills, and trees, and flowers, Which will mean so much in your songs.

I wonder, like the maid who found, And knelt to lift, the lyre supreme Of Orpheus from the Thracian stream. She dreams on its sealed past profound; On a deep future sealed I dream.

She bears it in her wanderings Within her arms, and has not pressed Her unskilled fingers but her breast Upon those silent sacred strings; I, too, clasp mystic strings at rest.

For I, i' the world of lands and seas, The sky of wind and rain and fire, And in man's world of long desire-- In all that is yet dumb in these-- Have found a more mysterious lyre.

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If I should quit thee, sacrifice, forswear, 
  To what, my art, shall I give thee in keeping? 
  To the long winds of heaven? Shall these come sweeping 
My songs forgone against my face and hair?

Or shall the mountain streams my lost joys bear, My past poetic pain in rain be weeping? No, I shall live a poet waking, sleeping, And I shall die a poet unaware.

From me, my art, thou canst not pass away; And I, a singer though I cease to sing, Shall own thee without joy in thee or woe.

Through my indifferent words of every day, Scattered and all unlinked the rhymes shall ring, And make my poem; and I shall not know.

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(Two of the poems that originally appeared in the 1875 Preludes but were omitted from the 1923 Collected Poems were accompanied by Elizabeth Thompson's original illustrations.)

A Tryst That Failed
Sonnet: At a Poet's Grave


In Early Spring
The epigraph to this poem in the 1875 edition of Preludes, which did not appear in later editions, read: "L'ocean connu, l'ame reste a sonder. VICTOR HUGO." This epigraph helps make sense of the illustration which initially appeared as the frontispiece to the volume, which depicts a pastoral, flute-playing young man looking pensive while the sun sets over the ocean behind him.


To the Beloved
The epigraph in the 1875 edition for "To the Beloved" read:
"A qui j'ai dit: 'Toujours!' et qui m'a dit: 'Partout!' VICTOR HUGO." (To whom I said, 'always!' and who said to me, 'everywhere!')


An Unmarked Festival
The 1875 edition provided the following epigraph for this poem: "Benedetto sia'l giorno e'l mese e l'anno. PETRARCA." (Blessed be the day and the month and the year. Petrarch.)


In Autumn
In the 1875 edition, this poem was followed by two epigraphs:

"In ramo piu non puo foglia tenersi." LORENZO DE'MEDICI. (On the branch there are no more leaves remaining.)
"Alors, je te plaindrai, pauvre ame." VICTOR HUGO. (Well, I will pity you, poor soul.)

In the 1875 edition this poem was followed by the epigraph: "Come vedi, ancor non m'abbandona. DANTE." (As you see, he has still not abandoned me.)


The original epigraph read: "Amor, che a nullo amato amar perdona. DANTE." (Love, which forgives no beloved for loving.)


After a Parting
This poem and the famous "Renouncement" sonnet were both inspired by Alice Meynell's separation from Father Augustus Dignam (b.1833), the young priest who had received her into the Catholic Church, and to whom she was passionately attached.


Thoughts in Separation
In the 1875 edition this poem was followed by the epigraph:

"Plus loin que nos douleurs,
Plus loin que nos murmures." VICTOR HUGO.

The Garden
The original epigraph read "Questo ne' patti nostri, Amor, non era. LORENZO DE'MEDICI." (This, Love, was not in our pact.)
This sonnet was printed in the Pall Mall Gazette in 1876 as part of a review of the 1875 volume entitled Preludes. A young journalist named Wilfrid Meynell read it and said to his friend Father Lockhart, "that is the only woman I should want to marry." He married the then Alice Thompson one year later.


The Young Neophyte
This sonnet was written upon Meynell's conversion to Catholicism on July 20, 1868, and printed on her memorial card. Her commitment to the Roman Catholic Church was a serious one. Many years later she wrote to her daughter Olivia, "I saw when I was very young that a guide in morals was even more necessary than a guide in faith. It was for this I joined the Church. Other Christian societies may legislate, but the Church administers legislation. Thus she is practically indispensable. I may say that I hold the administration of morals to be of such vital importance that for its sake I accepted, and now accept, dogma in matters of faith -- to the last letter" (c.1917).


Spring on the Alban Hills
The original epigraph to this poem read: "Silent with expectation. SHELLEY."
Scene of much of Alice Meynell's childhood, the Italian countryside held for the poet both fascination and affectionate memories.


"Renouncement" is Alice Meynell's most famous poem, called by Dante Gabriel Rossetti one of the three best sonnets ever written by a woman. The inspiration for the poem came from Meynell's passionate but hopeless love for the priest who received her into the Catholic church. They corresponded for two years but after he was transferred to Boulogne in 1870 the letters stopped. A fragment of her personal writings from this time has survived:
"I am parted from thee without any hope of earthly reunion. But only by this obedience, this abnegation, can I keep a clinging, distant, endless hold of thee. I cannot altogether lose thee when I have the strength to renounce thee. But if I committed the sin of claiming thee, then indeed my loss of thee would be eternal and irrevocable. Thou, innocent, saintly and pure, if I fled to thine open arms I should be parted for ever from thee, thou opposite of sins. And a kiss would divide us as neither lands nor seas can ever do."


San Lorenzo's Mother
In the 1875 edition this poem had the slightly longer title, "San Lorenzo Giustiniani's Mother," and was followed by this epigraph: "And we the shadows of the dream. SHELLEY."


Song of the Night at Daybreak
In the 1875 edition, this poem was followed by the epigraph: "Night hovers all day in the boughs. EMERSON."


Letter from a Girl to her own Old Age
The original epigraph read: "Lete vedrai. DANTE." (You will see Lethe.)
Ruskin called this poem "perfectly heavenly."
Alice Meynell herself said of this poem that "its idea was good, the working-out was poor."


To One Poem in a Silent Time
The epigraph that appeared in the 1875 edition read, "De quel nom te nommer? VICTOR HUGO." ("By what name do you call yourself?")


The Spring to the Summer
The epigraph to this poem in the 1875 edition read:

        "I miei desiri
Che ti menavano. DANTE."
(My desires, which led you.)