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“Shalt with thy life-blood pay the debt of both,”
Ah! happy pair! if aught my verse avail,
A DREAM OF FAIR WOMEN
READ, before my eyelids dropped their shade,
“The Legend of Good Women,” long ago Sung by the morning star of song, who made
His music heard below;
Dan Chaucer, the first warbler, whose sweet breath
Preluded those melodious bursts that fill The spacious times of great Elizabeth
With sounds that echo still.
And, for a while, the knowledge of his art
Held me above the subject, as strong gales Hold swollen clouds from raining, tho' my heart,
Brimful of those wild tales,
Charged both mine eyes with tears. In every land
I saw, wherever light illumineth,
The downward slope to death.
Those far-renowned brides of ancient song
Peopled the hollow dark, like burning stars, And I heard sounds of insult, shame, and wrong,
And trumpets blown for wars;
And clattering flints battered with clanging hoofs;
And I saw crowds in columned sanctuaries, And forms that passed at windows and on roofs Of marble palaces;
Corpses across the threshold, heroes tall
Dislodging pinnacle and parapet Upon the tortoise creeping to the wall, Letude ! anest
testudo Lances in ambush set;
And high shrine-doors burst thro' with heated blasts
That run before the fluttering tongues of fire; White surf wind-scattered over sails and masts,
And ever climbing higher;
Squadrons and squares of men in brazen plates,
Scaffolds, still sheets of water, divers woes, Ranges of glimmering vaults with iron grates,
And hushed seraglios.
So shape chased shape as swift as, when to land
Bluster the winds and tides the self-same way, Crisp foam-flakes scud along the level sand,
Torn from the fringe of spray.
I started once, or seemed to start in pain,
Resolved on noble things, and strove to speak, As when a great thought strikes along the brain
And flushes all the cheek.
And once my arm was lifted to hew down
A cavalier from off his saddle-bow, That bore a lady from a leaguered town;
And then, I know not how,
All those sharp fancies, by down-lapsing thought
Streamed onward, lost their edges, and did creep Rolled on each other, rounded, smoothed, and brought
Into the gulfs of sleep.
At last methought that I had wandered far
In an old wood; fresh-washed in coolest dew The maiden splendors of the morning star
Shook in the steadfast blue.
Enormous elm-tree boles did stoop and lean
Upon the dusky brushwood underneath
New from its silken sheath.
The dim red Morn had died, her journey done,
And with dead lips smiled at the twilight plain, Half-fallen across the threshold of the sun,
Never to rise again.
There was no motion in the dumb dead air,
any song of bird or sound of rill; Gross darkness of the inner sepulcher
Is not so deadly still
As that wide forest. Growths of jasmine turned
Their humid arms festooning tree to tree, And at the root thro’ lush green grasses burned
The red anemone.
I knew the flowers, I knew the leaves, I knew
The tearful glimmer of the languid dawn
Leading from lawn to lawn.
The smell of violets, hidden in the green,
Poured back into my empty soul and frame The times when I remember to have been
Joyful and free from blame.
And from within me a clear undertone
Thrilled thro’mine ears in that unblissful clime, “Pass freely thro'; the wood is all thine own
Until the end of time.”
At length I saw a lady within call,
Stiller than chiseled marble, standing there;
And most divinely fair.
Her loveliness with shame and with surprise
Froze my swift speech; she turning on my face
Spoke slowly in her place:
“I had great beauty; ask thou not my name:
No one can be more wise than destiny.
I brought calamity.”
“No marvel, sovereign lady: in fair field
Myself for such a face had boldly died,”
To one that stood beside:
But she, with sick and scornful looks averse,
To her full height her stately stature draws:
This woman was the cause.
“I was cut off from hope in that sad place
Which men called Aulis in those iron years:
I, blinded with my tears,