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Title: Selected Poems of Oscar Wilde
       including The Ballad of Reading Gaol


Author: Oscar Wilde

Editor: Robert Ross

Release Date: September 27, 2014  [eBook #1141]
[This file was first posted on November 21, 1997]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)


***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK SELECTED POEMS OF OSCAR WILDE***

Transcribed from the 1911 Methuen & Co. edition by David Price, email [email protected]

SELECTED POEMS
OF OSCAR WILDE

INCLUDING

THE BALLAD OF
READING GAOL

 

METHUEN & CO. LTD.
36 ESSEX STREET W.C.
LONDON

 

This Volume was First Published

August 17th,

1911

Second Edition

August

1911

Third Edition

September

1911

 

The Ballad of Reading Goalwas first published by Leonard Smithers, February 13th, 1898Second Edition, February, 1898Third Edition, March 1898Fourth Edition, March 1898Fifth Edition, March 1898Sixth Edition, 1898Seventh Edition, 1899Eighth and Cheaper Edition (1s. net).  Methuen & Co., Ltd., August 1910Ninth Edition, September 1910.  ‘The Ballad of Reading Goalwas published anonymously under the signature of C. 3. 3The author’s name first appeared on the title-page of the Seventh EditionIt was included in the Collected Edition of the author’s Poems published by Messrs. Methuen in 1908 and 1909.

 

Wilde’s Poems were first published in volume form in 1881, and were reprinted four times before the end of 1882A new edition with additional poems, including Ravenna, The Sphinx, and The Ballad of Reading Gaol, was first published (limited issues on hand-made paper and Japanese vellum) by Methuen & Co. in March 1908A further edition (making the seventh) with some omissions from the issue of 1908, but including two new poems, was published in September 1909Eighth Edition, November 1909Ninth Edition, December 1909.

p. vPREFACE

It is thought that a selection from Oscar Wilde’s early verses may be of interest to a large public at present familiar only with the always popular Ballad of Reading Gaol, also included in this volume.  The poems were first collected by their author when he was twenty-sex years old, and though never, until recently, well received by the critics, have survived the test of NINE editions.  Readers will be able to make for themselves the obvious and striking contrasts p. vibetween these first and last phases of Oscar Wilde’s literary activity.  The intervening period was devoted almost entirely to dramas, prose, fiction, essays, and criticism.

ROBERT ROSS

Reform Club,
      April 5, 1911.

CONTENTS

 

PAGE

Preface

v

The Ballad of Reading Gaol (Complete Version)

1

The Ballad of Reading Gaol (Shorter Version)

61

Ave Imperatrix

89

To My Wife (with a copy of my poems)

100

Magdalen Walks

102

Theocritus—a Villanelle

106

Sonnets

 

Greece

108

 

Portia (to Ellen Terry)

110

 

Fabien Dei Franchi (to Henry Irving)

112

 

Phèdre (to Sarah Bernhardt)

114

 

p. viiiOn Hearing The Dies Iræ Sung In The Sistine Chapel

116

 

Ave Maria Gratia Plena

118

 

Libertatis Sacra Fames

120

 

Roses and Rue

122

 

From ‘The Garden of Eros’

128

 

The Harlot’s House

140

 

From ‘The Burden of Itys’

144

 

Flower of Love

158

p. ixNOTE

At the end of the complete text will be found a shorter version based on the original draft of the poem.  This is included for the benefit of reciters and their audiences who have found the entire poem too long for declamation.  I have tried to obviate a difficulty, without officiously exercising the ungrateful prerogatives of a literary executor, by falling back on a text which represents the author’s first scheme for a poem—never intended of course for recitation.

ROBERT ROSS

 

IN MEMORIAM
C. T. W.
Sometimes trooper of
The Royal Horse Guards
Obiit H.M. Prison
Reading, Berkshire
July 7th, 1896

p. 1THE BALLAD OF READING GAOL

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.

p. 2He walked amongst the Trial Men
   In a suit of shabby grey;
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.

p. 3I 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.

p. 4I 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!

p. 5Some 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.

p. 6He 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.

p. 7He 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.

p. 8He 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.

p. 9He 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.

p. 10II

Six weeks our guardsman walked the yard,
   In the suit of shabby grey:
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.

p. 11I 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.

p. 12He 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.

p. 13And 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 springtime shoot:
But grim to see is the gallows-tree,
   With its adder-bitten root,
And, green or dry, a man must die
   Before it bears its fruit!

p. 14The 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!

p. 15So 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.

p. 16Like 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.

p. 17III

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.

p. 18Or 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.

p. 19And 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.

p. 20Or else he might be moved, and try
   To comfort or console:
And what should Human Pity do
   Pent up in Murderers’ 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.

p. 21We 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.

p. 22So 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.

p. 23Right 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.

p. 24He 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.

p. 25Alas! 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,
   Grey figures on the floor,
And wondered why men knelt to pray
   Who never prayed before.

p. 26All 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 grey 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.

p. 27They 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 the damned grotesques made arabesques,
   Like the wind upon the sand!

p. 28With 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.’

p. 29No 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.

p. 30The 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?

p. 31At 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.

p. 32He 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.

p. 33For 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.

p. 34We 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 that frightened marshes hear
   From some leper in his lair.

p. 35And 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.

p. 36IV

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.

p. 37So 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 grey,
And I never saw sad men who looked
   So wistfully at the day.

p. 38I 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.

p. 39For 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.

p. 40Silently 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.

p. 41For 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!

p. 42And 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.

p. 43They 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 blow 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?

p. 44But 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.

p. 45Yet 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.

p. 46They 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.

p. 47The 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

p. 48V

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.

p. 49But 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.

p. 50With 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.

p. 51For 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 grey,
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.

p. 52The 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.

p. 53With 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.

p. 54And 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.

p. 55Ah! 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.

p. 56The 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.

p. 57VI

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.

p. 58And 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!

p. 59APPENDIXp. 61THE BALLAD OF READING GAOL

A VERSION BASED ON THE ORIGINAL DRAFT OF THE POEM

p. 63I

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 grey;
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.

p. 64I 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.

p. 65I 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.

p. 66Some 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 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.

p. 67He 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.

p. 68He 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.

p. 69II

Six weeks our guardsman walked the yard,
   In the suit of shabby grey:
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.

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!

p. 70And 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.

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.

p. 71Like 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.

p. 72III

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.

p. 73And 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.

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.

p. 74We 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.

p. 75Right 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.

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.

p. 76Alas! 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,
   Grey figures on the floor,
And wondered why men knelt to pray
   Who never prayed before.

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.

p. 77At 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.

p. 78We 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 that frightened marshes hear
   From some leper in his lair.

p. 79And 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.

p. 80IV

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.

p. 81Out 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 grey,
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.

p. 82For 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.

p. 83The 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!

p. 84For 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 blow 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?

p. 85But 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.

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.

p. 86The 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.

p. 87POEMSp. 89AVE IMPERATRIX

Set in this stormy Northern sea,
   Queen of these restless fields of tide,
England! what shall men say of thee,
   Before whose feet the worlds divide?

The earth, a brittle globe of glass,
   Lies in the hollow of thy hand,
And through its heart of crystal pass,
   Like shadows through a twilight land,

p. 90The spears of crimson-suited war,
   The long white-crested waves of fight,
And all the deadly fires which are
   The torches of the lords of Night.

The yellow leopards, strained and lean,
   The treacherous Russian knows so well,
With gaping blackened jaws are seen
   Leap through the hail of screaming shell.

The strong sea-lion of England’s wars
   Hath left his sapphire cave of sea,
To battle with the storm that mars
   The stars of England’s chivalry.

p. 91The brazen-throated clarion blows
   Across the Pathan’s reedy fen,
And the high steeps of Indian snows
   Shake to the tread of armèd men.

And many an Afghan chief, who lies
   Beneath his cool pomegranate-trees,
Clutches his sword in fierce surmise
   When on the mountain-side he sees

The fleet-foot Marri scout, who comes
   To tell how he hath heard afar
The measured roll of English drums
   Beat at the gates of Kandahar.

p. 92For southern wind and east wind meet
   Where, girt and crowned by sword and fire,
England with bare and bloody feet
   Climbs the steep road of wide empire.

O lonely Himalayan height,
   Grey pillar of the Indian sky,
Where saw’st thou last in clanging flight
   Our wingèd dogs of Victory?

The almond-groves of Samarcand,
   Bokhara, where red lilies blow,
And Oxus, by whose yellow sand
   The grave white-turbaned merchants go:

p. 93And on from thence to Ispahan,
   The gilded garden of the sun,
Whence the long dusty caravan
   Brings cedar wood and vermilion;

And that dread city of Cabool
   Set at the mountain’s scarpèd feet,
Whose marble tanks are ever full
   With water for the noonday heat:

Where through the narrow straight Bazaar
   A little maid Circassian
Is led, a present from the Czar
   Unto some old and bearded Khan,—

p. 94Here have our wild war-eagles flown,
   And flapped wide wings in fiery fight;
But the sad dove, that sits alone
   In England—she hath no delight.

In vain the laughing girl will lean
   To greet her love with love-lit eyes:
Down in some treacherous black ravine,
   Clutching his flag, the dead boy lies.

And many a moon and sun will see
   The lingering wistful children wait
To climb upon their father’s knee;
   And in each house made desolate

p. 95Pale women who have lost their lord
   Will kiss the relics of the slain—
Some tarnished epaulette—some sword—
   Poor toys to soothe such anguished pain.

For not in quiet English fields
   Are these, our brothers, lain to rest,
Where we might deck their broken shields
   With all the flowers the dead love best.

For some are by the Delhi walls,
   And many in the Afghan land,
And many where the Ganges falls
   Through seven mouths of shifting sand.

p. 96And some in Russian waters lie,
   And others in the seas which are
The portals to the East, or by
   The wind-swept heights of Trafalgar.

O wandering graves!  O restless sleep!
   O silence of the sunless day!
O still ravine!  O stormy deep!
   Give up your prey!  Give up your prey!

And thou whose wounds are never healed,
   Whose weary race is never won,
O Cromwell’s England! must thou yield
   For every inch of ground a son?

p. 97Go! crown with thorns thy gold-crowned head,
   Change thy glad song to song of pain;
Wind and wild wave have got thy dead,
   And will not yield them back again.

Wave and wild wind and foreign shore
   Possess the flower of English land—
Lips that thy lips shall kiss no more,
   Hands that shall never clasp thy hand.

What profit now that we have bound
   The whole round world with nets of gold,
If hidden in our heart is found
   The care that groweth never old?

p. 98What profit that our galleys ride,
   Pine-forest-like, on every main?
Ruin and wreck are at our side,
   Grim warders of the House of Pain.

Where are the brave, the strong, the fleet?
   Where is our English chivalry?
Wild grasses are their burial-sheet,
   And sobbing waves their threnody.

O loved ones lying far away,
   What word of love can dead lips send!
O wasted dust!  O senseless clay!
   Is this the end! is this the end!

p. 99Peace, peace! we wrong the noble dead
   To vex their solemn slumber so;
Though childless, and with thorn-crowned head,
   Up the steep road must England go,

Yet when this fiery web is spun,
   Her watchmen shall descry from far
The young Republic like a sun
   Rise from these crimson seas of war.

p. 100TO MY WIFE
WITH A COPY OF MY POEMS

I can write no stately proem
   As a prelude to my lay;
From a poet to a poem
   I would dare to say.

For if of these fallen petals
   One to you seem fair,
Love will waft it till it settles
   On your hair.

p. 101And when wind and winter harden
   All the loveless land,
It will whisper of the garden,
   You will understand.

p. 102MAGDALEN WALKS

[After gaining the Berkeley Gold Medal for Greek at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1874, Oscar Wilde proceeded to Oxford, where he obtained a demyship at Magdalen CollegeHe is the only real poet on the books of that institution.]

The little white clouds are racing over the sky,
   And the fields are strewn with the gold of the flower of March,
   The daffodil breaks under foot, and the tasselled larch
Sways and swings as the thrush goes hurrying by.

p. 103A delicate odour is borne on the wings of the morning breeze,
   The odour of deep wet grass, and of brown new-furrowed earth,
   The birds are singing for joy of the Spring’s glad birth,
Hopping from branch to branch on the rocking trees.

And all the woods are alive with the murmur and sound of Spring,
   And the rose-bud breaks into pink on the climbing briar,
   p. 104And the crocus-bed is a quivering moon of fire
Girdled round with the belt of an amethyst ring.

And the plane to the pine-tree is whispering some tale of love
   Till it rustles with laughter and tosses its mantle of green,
   And the gloom of the wych-elm’s hollow is lit with the iris sheen
Of the burnished rainbow throat and the silver breast of a dove.

p. 105See! the lark starts up from his bed in the meadow there,
   Breaking the gossamer threads and the nets of dew,
   And flashing adown the river, a flame of blue!
The kingfisher flies like an arrow, and wounds the air.

p. 106THEOCRITUS
A VILLANELLE

O singer of Persephone!
   In the dim meadows desolate
Dost thou remember Sicily?

Still through the ivy flits the bee
   Where Amaryllis lies in state;
O Singer of Persephone!

Simætha calls on Hecate
   And hears the wild dogs at the gate;
Dost thou remember Sicily?

p. 107Still by the light and laughing sea
   Poor Polypheme bemoans his fate;
O Singer of Persephone!

And still in boyish rivalry
   Young Daphnis challenges his mate;
Dost thou remember Sicily?

Slim Lacon keeps a goat for thee,
   For thee the jocund shepherds wait;
O Singer of Persephone!
Dost thou remember Sicily?

p. 108GREECE

The sea was sapphire coloured, and the sky
Burned like a heated opal through the air;
   We hoisted sail; the wind was blowing fair
For the blue lands that to the eastward lie.
From the steep prow I marked with quickening eye
   Zakynthos, every olive grove and creek,
   Ithaca’s cliff, Lycaon’s snowy peak,
p. 109And all the flower-strewn hills of Arcady.
The flapping of the sail against the mast,
   The ripple of the water on the side,
   The ripple of girls’ laughter at the stern,
The only sounds:—when ’gan the West to burn,
   And a red sun upon the seas to ride,
   I stood upon the soil of Greece at last!

Katakolo.

p. 110PORTIA
TO ELLEN TERRY

(Written at the Lyceum Theatre)

I marvel not Bassanio was so bold
   To peril all he had upon the lead,
   Or that proud Aragon bent low his head
Or that Morocco’s fiery heart grew cold:
For in that gorgeous dress of beaten gold
   Which is more golden than the golden sun
   No woman Veronesé looked upon
Was half so fair as thou whom I behold.
p. 111Yet fairer when with wisdom as your shield
   The sober-suited lawyer’s gown you donned,
And would not let the laws of Venice yield
   Antonio’s heart to that accursèd Jew—
   O Portia! take my heart: it is thy due:
I think I will not quarrel with the Bond.

p. 112FABIEN DEI FRANCHI
TO MY FRIEND HENRY IRVING

The silent room, the heavy creeping shade,
   The dead that travel fast, the opening door,
   The murdered brother rising through the floor,
The ghost’s white fingers on thy shoulders laid,
And then the lonely duel in the glade,
   p. 113The broken swords, the stifled scream, the gore,
   Thy grand revengeful eyes when all is o’er,—
These things are well enough,—but thou wert made
   For more august creation! frenzied Lear
   Should at thy bidding wander on the heath
   With the shrill fool to mock him, Romeo
For thee should lure his love, and desperate fear
Pluck Richard’s recreant dagger from its sheath—
   Thou trumpet set for Shakespeare’s lips to blow!

p. 114PHÈDRE
TO SARAH BERNHARDT

How vain and dull this common world must seem
   To such a One as thou, who should’st have talked
At Florence with Mirandola, or walked
Through the cool olives of the Academe:
Thou should’st have gathered reeds from a green stream
   For Goat-foot Pan’s shrill piping, and have played
   p. 115With the white girls in that Phæacian glade
Where grave Odysseus wakened from his dream.

Ah! surely once some urn of Attic clay
   Held thy wan dust, and thou hast come again
   Back to this common world so dull and vain,
For thou wert weary of the sunless day,
   The heavy fields of scentless asphodel,
   The loveless lips with which men kiss in Hell.

p. 116SONNET

ON HEARING THE DIES IRÆ SUNG IN THE SISTINE CHAPEL

Nay, Lord, not thus! white lilies in the spring,
Sad olive-groves, or silver-breasted dove,
   Teach me more clearly of Thy life and love
Than terrors of red flame and thundering.
The hillside vines dear memories of Thee bring:
   A bird at evening flying to its nest
   Tells me of One who had no place of rest:
I think it is of Thee the sparrows sing.
p. 117Come rather on some autumn afternoon,
   When red and brown are burnished on the leaves,
And the fields echo to the gleaner’s song,
Come when the splendid fulness of the moon
   Looks down upon the rows of golden sheaves,
   And reap Thy harvest: we have waited long.

p. 118AVE MARIA GRATIA PLENA

Was this His coming!  I had hoped to see
   A scene of wondrous glory, as was told
   Of some great God who in a rain of gold
Broke open bars and fell on Danae:
Or a dread vision as when Semele
   Sickening for love and unappeased desire
   Prayed to see God’s clear body, and the fire
p. 119Caught her brown limbs and slew her utterly:
With such glad dreams I sought this holy place,
   And now with wondering eyes and heart I stand
   Before this supreme mystery of Love:
Some kneeling girl with passionless pale face,
   An angel with a lily in his hand,
   And over both the white wings of a Dove.

Florence.

p. 120LIBERTATIS SACRA FAMES

Albeit nurtured in democracy,
   And liking best that state republican
   Where every man is Kinglike and no man
Is crowned above his fellows, yet I see,
Spite of this modern fret for Liberty,
   Better the rule of One, whom all obey,
   Than to let clamorous demagogues betray
Our freedom with the kiss of anarchy.
p. 121Wherefore I love them not whose hands profane
   Plant the red flag upon the piled-up street
   For no right cause, beneath whose ignorant reign
Arts, Culture, Reverence, Honour, all things fade,
   Save Treason and the dagger of her trade,
   Or Murder with his silent bloody feet.

p. 122ROSES AND RUE

(To L. L.)

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!

p. 123I 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;

p. 124And 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.

p. 125I 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 your shoulders rose.

p. 126And 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.

p. 127Could 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.

p. 128FROM ‘THE GARDEN OF EROS’

[In this poem the author laments the growth of materialism in the nineteenth centuryHe hails Keats and Shelley and some of the poets and artists who were his contemporaries, although his seniors, as the torch-bearers of the intellectual lifeAmong these are Swinburne, William Morris, Rossetti, and Brune-Jones.]

Nay, when Keats died the Muses still had left
   One silver voice to sing his threnody, [128]
But ah! too soon of it we were bereft
   When on that riven night and stormy sea
p. 129Panthea claimed her singer as her own,
And slew the mouth that praised her; since which time we walk alone,

Save for that fiery heart, that morning star [129]
   Of re-arisen England, whose clear eye
Saw from our tottering throne and waste of war
   The grand Greek limbs of young Democracy
Rise mightily like Hesperus and bring
The great Republic! him at least thy love hath taught to sing,

p. 130And he hath been with thee at Thessaly,
   And seen white Atalanta fleet of foot
In passionless and fierce virginity
   Hunting the tuskèd boar, his honied lute
Hath pierced the cavern of the hollow hill,
And Venus laughs to know one knee will bow before her still.

And he hath kissed the lips of Proserpine,
   And sung the Galilæan’s requiem,
That wounded forehead dashed with blood and wine
   He hath discrowned, the Ancient Gods in him
p. 131Have found their last, most ardent worshipper,
And the new Sign grows grey and dim before its conqueror.

Spirit of Beauty! tarry with us still,
   It is not quenched the torch of poesy,
The star that shook above the Eastern hill
   Holds unassailed its argent armoury
From all the gathering gloom and fretful fight—
O tarry with us still! for through the long and common night,

p. 132Morris, our sweet and simple Chaucer’s child,
   Dear heritor of Spenser’s tuneful reed,
With soft and sylvan pipe has oft beguiled
   The weary soul of man in troublous need,
And from the far and flowerless fields of ice
Has brought fair flowers to make an earthly paradise.

We know them all, Gudrun the strong men’s bride,
   Aslaug and Olafson we know them all,
How giant Grettir fought and Sigurd died,
   And what enchantment held the king in thrall
p. 133When lonely Brynhild wrestled with the powers
That war against all passion, ah! how oft through summer hours,

Long listless summer hours when the noon
   Being enamoured of a damask rose
Forgets to journey westward, till the moon
   The pale usurper of its tribute grows
From a thin sickle to a silver shield
And chides its loitering car—how oft, in some cool grassy field

p. 134Far from the cricket-ground and noisy eight,
   At Bagley, where the rustling bluebells come
Almost before the blackbird finds a mate
   And overstay the swallow, and the hum
Of many murmuring bees flits through the leaves,
Have I lain poring on the dreamy tales his fancy weaves,

And through their unreal woes and mimic pain
   Wept for myself, and so was purified,
And in their simple mirth grew glad again;
   For as I sailed upon that pictured tide
p. 135The strength and splendour of the storm was mine
Without the storm’s red ruin, for the singer is divine;

The little laugh of water falling down
   Is not so musical, the clammy gold
Close hoarded in the tiny waxen town
   Has less of sweetness in it, and the old
Half-withered reeds that waved in Arcady
Touched by his lips break forth again to fresher harmony.

p. 136Spirit of Beauty, tarry yet awhile!
   Although the cheating merchants of the mart
With iron roads profane our lovely isle,
   And break on whirling wheels the limbs of Art,
Ay! though the crowded factories beget
The blindworm Ignorance that slays the soul, O tarry yet!

For One at least there is,—He bears his name
   From Dante and the seraph Gabriel,—[136]
Whose double laurels burn with deathless flame
   p. 137To light thine altar; He [137] too loves thee well,
Who saw old Merlin lured in Vivien’s snare,
And the white feet of angels coming down the golden stair,

Loves thee so well, that all the World for him
   A gorgeous-coloured vestiture must wear,
And Sorrow take a purple diadem,
   Or else be no more Sorrow, and Despair
Gild its own thorns, and Pain, like Adon, be
Even in anguish beautiful;—such is the empery

p. 138Which Painters hold, and such the heritage
   This gentle solemn Spirit doth possess,
Being a better mirror of his age
   In all his pity, love, and weariness,
Than those who can but copy common things,
And leave the Soul unpainted with its mighty questionings.

But they are few, and all romance has flown,
   And men can prophesy about the sun,
And lecture on his arrows—how, alone,
   Through a waste void the soulless atoms run,
p. 139How from each tree its weeping nymph has fled,
And that no more ’mid English reeds a Naiad shows her head.

p. 140THE HARLOT’S HOUSE

We caught the tread of dancing feet,
We loitered down the moonlit street,
And stopped beneath the harlot’s house.

Inside, above the din and fray,
We heard the loud musicians play
The ‘Treues Liebes Herz’ of Strauss.

Like strange mechanical grotesques,
Making fantastic arabesques,
The shadows raced across the blind.

p. 141We watched the ghostly dancers spin
To sound of horn and violin,
Like black leaves wheeling in the wind.

Like wire-pulled automatons,
Slim silhouetted skeletons
Went sidling through the slow quadrille,

Then took each other by the hand,
And danced a stately saraband;
Their laughter echoed thin and shrill.

Sometimes a clockwork puppet pressed
A phantom lover to her breast,
Sometimes they seemed to try to sing.

p. 142Sometimes a horrible marionette
Came out, and smoked its cigarette
Upon the steps like a live thing.

Then, turning to my love, I said,
‘The dead are dancing with the dead,
The dust is whirling with the dust.’

But she—she heard the violin,
And left my side, and entered in:
Love passed into the house of lust.

Then suddenly the tune went false,
The dancers wearied of the waltz,
The shadows ceased to wheel and whirl.

p. 143And down the long and silent street,
The dawn, with silver-sandalled feet,
Crept like a frightened girl.

p. 144FROM ‘THE BURDEN OF ITYS’

This English Thames is holier far than Rome,
   Those harebells like a sudden flush of sea
Breaking across the woodland, with the foam
   Of meadow-sweet and white anemone
To fleck their blue waves,—God is likelier there
Than hidden in that crystal-hearted star the pale monks bear!

p. 145Those violet-gleaming butterflies that take
   Yon creamy lily for their pavilion
Are monsignores, and where the rushes shake
   A lazy pike lies basking in the sun,
His eyes half shut,—he is some mitred old
Bishop in partibus! look at those gaudy scales all green and gold.

The wind the restless prisoner of the trees
   Does well for Palæstrina, one would say
The mighty master’s hands were on the keys
   Of the Maria organ, which they play
p. 146When early on some sapphire Easter morn
In a high litter red as blood or sin the Pope is borne

From his dark House out to the Balcony
   Above the bronze gates and the crowded square,
Whose very fountains seem for ecstasy
   To toss their silver lances in the air,
And stretching out weak hands to East and West
In vain sends peace to peaceless lands, to restless nations rest.

p. 147Is not yon lingering orange after-glow
   That stays to vex the moon more fair than all
Rome’s lordliest pageants! strange, a year ago
   I knelt before some crimson Cardinal
Who bare the Host across the Esquiline,
And now—those common poppies in the wheat seem twice as fine.

The blue-green beanfields yonder, tremulous
   With the last shower, sweeter perfume bring
p. 148Through this cool evening than the odorous
   Flame-jewelled censers the young deacons swing,
When the grey priest unlocks the curtained shrine,
And makes God’s body from the common fruit of corn and vine.

Poor Fra Giovanni bawling at the Mass
   Were out of tune now, for a small brown bird
Sings overhead, and through the long cool grass
   I see that throbbing throat which once I heard
p. 149On starlit hills of flower-starred Arcady,
Once where the white and crescent sand of Salamis meets sea.

Sweet is the swallow twittering on the eaves
   At daybreak, when the mower whets his scythe,
And stock-doves murmur, and the milkmaid leaves
   Her little lonely bed, and carols blithe
To see the heavy-lowing cattle wait
Stretching their huge and dripping mouths across the farmyard gate.

p. 150And sweet the hops upon the Kentish leas,
   And sweet the wind that lifts the new-mown hay,
And sweet the fretful swarms of grumbling bees
   That round and round the linden blossoms play;
And sweet the heifer breathing in the stall,
And the green bursting figs that hang upon the red-brick wall,

And sweet to hear the cuckoo mock the spring
   While the last violet loiters by the well,
p. 151And sweet to hear the shepherd Daphnis sing
   The song of Linus through a sunny dell
Of warm Arcadia where the corn is gold
And the slight lithe-limbed reapers dance about the wattled fold.

* * * * *

It was a dream, the glade is tenantless,
   No soft Ionian laughter moves the air,
The Thames creeps on in sluggish leadenness,
   And from the copse left desolate and bare
Fled is young Bacchus with his revelry,
Yet still from Nuneham wood there comes that thrilling melody

p. 152So sad, that one might think a human heart
   Brake in each separate note, a quality
Which music sometimes has, being the Art
   Which is most nigh to tears and memory;
Poor mourning Philomel, what dost thou fear?
Thy sister doth not haunt these fields, Pandion is not here,

Here is no cruel Lord with murderous blade,
   No woven web of bloody heraldries,
But mossy dells for roving comrades made,
   Warm valleys where the tired student lies
p. 153With half-shut book, and many a winding walk
Where rustic lovers stray at eve in happy simple talk.

The harmless rabbit gambols with its young
   Across the trampled towing-path, where late
A troop of laughing boys in jostling throng
   Cheered with their noisy cries the racing eight;
The gossamer, with ravelled silver threads,
Works at its little loom, and from the dusky red-eaved sheds

p. 154Of the lone Farm a flickering light shines out
   Where the swinked shepherd drives his bleating flock
Back to their wattled sheep-cotes, a faint shout
   Comes from some Oxford boat at Sandford lock,
And starts the moor-hen from the sedgy rill,
And the dim lengthening shadows flit like swallows up the hill.

The heron passes homeward to the mere,
   The blue mist creeps among the shivering trees,
p. 155Gold world by world the silent stars appear,
   And like a blossom blown before the breeze
A white moon drifts across the shimmering sky,
Mute arbitress of all thy sad, thy rapturous threnody.

She does not heed thee, wherefore should she heed,
   She knows Endymion is not far away;
’Tis I, ’tis I, whose soul is as the reed
   Which has no message of its own to play,
p. 156So pipes another’s bidding, it is I,
Drifting with every wind on the wide sea of misery.

Ah! the brown bird has ceased: one exquisite trill
   About the sombre woodland seems to cling
Dying in music, else the air is still,
   So still that one might hear the bat’s small wing
Wander and wheel above the pines, or tell
Each tiny dew-drop dripping from the bluebell’s brimming cell.

p. 157And far away across the lengthening wold,
   Across the willowy flats and thickets brown,
Magdalen’s tall tower tipped with tremulous gold
   Marks the long High Street of the little town,
And warns me to return; I must not wait,
Hark! ’t is the curfew booming from the bell at Christ Church gate.

p. 158FLOWER OF LOVE

Sweet, I blame you not, for mine the fault
was, had I not been made of common clay
I had climbed the higher heights unclimbed
yet, seen the fuller air, the larger day.

From the wildness of my wasted passion I had
struck a better, clearer song,
Lit some lighter light of freer freedom, battled
with some Hydra-headed wrong.

p. 159Had my lips been smitten into music by the
kisses that but made them bleed,
You had walked with Bice and the angels on
that verdant and enamelled mead.

I had trod the road which Dante treading saw
the suns of seven circles shine,
Ay! perchance had seen the heavens opening,
as they opened to the Florentine.

And the mighty nations would have crowned
me, who am crownless now and without name,
p. 160And some orient dawn had found me kneeling
on the threshold of the House of Fame.

I had sat within that marble circle where the
oldest bard is as the young,
And the pipe is ever dropping honey, and the
lyre’s strings are ever strung.

Keats had lifted up his hymeneal curls from out
the poppy-seeded wine,
With ambrosial mouth had kissed my forehead,
clasped the hand of noble love in mine.

p. 161And at springtide, when the apple-blossoms
brush the burnished bosom of the dove,
Two young lovers lying in an orchard would
have read the story of our love;

Would have read the legend of my passion,
known the bitter secret of my heart,
Kissed as we have kissed, but never parted as
we two are fated now to part.

For the crimson flower of our life is eaten by
the cankerworm of truth,
And no hand can gather up the fallen withered
petals of the rose of youth.

p. 162Yet I am not sorry that I loved you—ah!
what else had I a boy to do,—
For the hungry teeth of time devour, and the
silent-footed years pursue.

Rudderless, we drift athwart a tempest, and
when once the storm of youth is past,
Without lyre, without lute or chorus, Death
the silent pilot comes at last.

And within the grave there is no pleasure,
for the blindworm battens on the root,
And Desire shudders into ashes, and the tree
of Passion bears no fruit.

p. 163Ah! what else had I to do but love you?
God’s own mother was less dear to me,
And less dear the Cytheræan rising like an
argent lily from the sea.

I have made my choice, have lived my
poems, and, though youth is gone in wasted days,
I have found the lover’s crown of myrtle better
than the poet’s crown of bays.

FOOTNOTES

[128]  Shelley.

[129]  Swinburne.

[136]  Rossetti.

[137]  Burne-Jones.

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