Hello everyone! Last day of October, how about some poetry? Again? Yes, again, but this time with some gothic themes to it. Here are three to read…
(Newdigate prize poem recited in the Sheldonian Theatre Oxford June 26th, 1878.
To my friend George Fleming author of 'The Nile Novel' and 'Mirage') I.
A year ago I breathed the Italian air, - And yet, methinks this northern Spring is fair,- These fields made golden with the flower of March, The throstle singing on the feathered larch, The cawing rooks, the wood-doves fluttering by, The little clouds that race across the sky; And fair the violet's gentle drooping head, The primrose, pale for love uncomforted, The rose that burgeons on the climbing briar, The crocus-bed, (that seems a moon of fire Round-girdled with a purple marriage-ring); And all the flowers of our English Spring, Fond snowdrops, and the bright-starred daffodil.
Up starts the lark beside the murmuring mill, And breaks the gossamer-threads of early dew; And down the river, like a flame of blue, Keen as an arrow flies the water-king, While the brown linnets in the greenwood sing.
A year ago! - it seems a little time Since last I saw that lordly southern clime, Where flower and fruit to purple radiance blow, And like bright lamps the fabled apples glow.
Full Spring it was - and by rich flowering vines, Dark olive-groves and noble forest-pines, I rode at will; the moist glad air was sweet, The white road rang beneath my horse's feet, And musing on Ravenna's ancient name, I watched the day till, marked with wounds of flame, The turquoise sky to burnished gold was turned.
O how my heart with boyish passion burned, When far away across the sedge and mere I saw that Holy City rising clear, Crowned with her crown of towers! - On and on I galloped, racing with the setting sun, And ere the crimson after-glow was passed, I stood within Ravenna's walls at last! II.
How strangely still! no sound of life or joy Startles the air; no laughing shepherd-boy Pipes on his reed, nor ever through the day Comes the glad sound of children at their play: O sad, and sweet, and silent! surely here A man might dwell apart from troublous fear, Watching the tide of seasons as they flow From amorous Spring to Winter's rain and snow, And have no thought of sorrow; - here, indeed, Are Lethe's waters, and that fatal weed Which makes a man forget his fatherland.
Ay! amid lotus-meadows dost thou stand, Like Proserpine, with poppy-laden head, Guarding the holy ashes of the dead.
For though thy brood of warrior sons hath ceased, Thy noble dead are with thee! - they at least Are faithful to thine honour:- guard them well, O childless city! for a mighty spell, To wake men's hearts to dreams of things sublime, Are the lone tombs where rest the Great of Time.
Yon lonely pillar, rising on the plain, Marks where the bravest knight of France was slain, - The Prince of chivalry, the Lord of war, Gaston de Foix: for some untimely star Led him against thy city, and he fell, As falls some forest-lion fighting well.
Taken from life while life and love were new, He lies beneath God's seamless veil of blue; Tall lance-like reeds wave sadly o'er his head, And oleanders bloom to deeper red, Where his bright youth flowed crimson on the ground.
Look farther north unto that broken mound, - There, prisoned now within a lordly tomb Raised by a daughter's hand, in lonely gloom, Huge-limbed Theodoric, the Gothic king, Sleeps after all his weary conquering.
Time hath not spared his ruin, - wind and rain Have broken down his stronghold; and again We see that Death is mighty lord of all, And king and clown to ashen dust must fall Mighty indeed THEIR glory! yet to me Barbaric king, or knight of chivalry, Or the great queen herself, were poor and vain, Beside the grave where Dante rests from pain.
His gilded shrine lies open to the air; And cunning sculptor's hands have carven there The calm white brow, as calm as earliest morn, The eyes that flashed with passionate love and scorn, The lips that sang of Heaven and of Hell, The almond-face which Giotto drew so well, The weary face of Dante; - to this day, Here in his place of resting, far away From Arno's yellow waters, rushing down Through the wide bridges of that fairy town, Where the tall tower of Giotto seems to rise A marble lily under sapphire skies! Alas! my Dante! thou hast known the pain Of meaner lives, - the exile's galling chain, How steep the stairs within kings' houses are, And all the petty miseries which mar Man's nobler nature with the sense of wrong.
Yet this dull world is grateful for thy song; Our nations do thee homage, - even she, That cruel queen of vine-clad Tuscany, Who bound with crown of thorns thy living brow, Hath decked thine empty tomb with laurels now, And begs in vain the ashes of her son.
O mightiest exile! all thy grief is done: Thy soul walks now beside thy Beatrice; Ravenna guards thine ashes: sleep in peace.
How lone this palace is; how grey the walls! No minstrel now wakes echoes in these halls.
The broken chain lies rusting on the door, And noisome weeds have split the marble floor: Here lurks the snake, and here the lizards run By the stone lions blinking in the sun.
Byron dwelt here in love and revelry For two long years - a second Anthony, Who of the world another Actium made! Yet suffered not his royal soul to fade, Or lyre to break, or lance to grow less keen, 'Neath any wiles of an Egyptian queen.
For from the East there came a mighty cry, And Greece stood up to fight for Liberty, And called him from Ravenna: never knight Rode forth more nobly to wild scenes of fight! None fell more bravely on ensanguined field, Borne like a Spartan back upon his shield! O Hellas! Hellas! in thine hour of pride, Thy day of might, remember him who died To wrest from off thy limbs the trammelling chain: O Salamis! O lone Plataean plain! O tossing waves of wild Euboean sea! O wind-swept heights of lone Thermopylae! He loved you well - ay, not alone in word, Who freely gave to thee his lyre and sword, Like AEschylos at well-fought Marathon: And England, too, shall glory in her son, Her warrior-poet, first in song and fight.
No longer now shall Slander's venomed spite Crawl like a snake across his perfect name, Or mar the lordly scutcheon of his fame.
For as the olive-garland of the race, Which lights with joy each eager runner's face, As the red cross which saveth men in war, As a flame-bearded beacon seen from far By mariners upon a storm-tossed sea, - Such was his love for Greece and Liberty! Byron, thy crowns are ever fresh and green: Red leaves of rose from Sapphic Mitylene Shall bind thy brows; the myrtle blooms for thee, In hidden glades by lonely Castaly; The laurels wait thy coming: all are thine, And round thy head one perfect wreath will twine.
The pine-tops rocked before the evening breeze With the hoarse murmur of the wintry seas, And the tall stems were streaked with amber bright; - I wandered through the wood in wild delight, Some startled bird, with fluttering wings and fleet, Made snow of all the blossoms; at my feet, Like silver crowns, the pale narcissi lay, And small birds sang on every twining spray.
O waving trees, O forest liberty! Within your haunts at least a man is free, And half forgets the weary world of strife: The blood flows hotter, and a sense of life Wakes i' the quickening veins, while once again The woods are filled with gods we fancied slain.
Long time I watched, and surely hoped to see Some goat-foot Pan make merry minstrelsy Amid the reeds! some startled Dryad-maid In girlish flight! or lurking in the glade, The soft brown limbs, the wanton treacherous face Of woodland god! Queen Dian in the chase, White-limbed and terrible, with look of pride, And leash of boar-hounds leaping at her side! Or Hylas mirrored in the perfect stream.
O idle heart! O fond Hellenic dream! Ere long, with melancholy rise and swell, The evening chimes, the convent's vesper bell, Struck on mine ears amid the amorous flowers.
Alas! alas! these sweet and honied hours Had whelmed my heart like some encroaching sea, And drowned all thoughts of black Gethsemane.
O lone Ravenna! many a tale is told Of thy great glories in the days of old: Two thousand years have passed since thou didst see Caesar ride forth to royal victory.
Mighty thy name when Rome's lean eagles flew From Britain's isles to far Euphrates blue; And of the peoples thou wast noble queen, Till in thy streets the Goth and Hun were seen.
Discrowned by man, deserted by the sea, Thou sleepest, rocked in lonely misery! No longer now upon thy swelling tide, Pine-forest-like, thy myriad galleys ride! For where the brass-beaked ships were wont to float, The weary shepherd pipes his mournful note; And the white sheep are free to come and go Where Adria's purple waters used to flow.
O fair! O sad! O Queen uncomforted! In ruined loveliness thou liest dead, Alone of all thy sisters; for at last Italia's royal warrior hath passed Rome's lordliest entrance, and hath worn his crown In the high temples of the Eternal Town! The Palatine hath welcomed back her king, And with his name the seven mountains ring! And Naples hath outlived her dream of pain, And mocks her tyrant! Venice lives again, New risen from the waters! and the cry Of Light and Truth, of Love and Liberty, Is heard in lordly Genoa, and where The marble spires of Milan wound the air, Rings from the Alps to the Sicilian shore, And Dante's dream is now a dream no more.
But thou, Ravenna, better loved than all, Thy ruined palaces are but a pall That hides thy fallen greatness! and thy name Burns like a grey and flickering candle-flame Beneath the noonday splendour of the sun Of new Italia! for the night is done, The night of dark oppression, and the day Hath dawned in passionate splendour: far away The Austrian hounds are hunted from the land, Beyond those ice-crowned citadels which stand Girdling the plain of royal Lombardy, From the far West unto the Eastern sea.
I know, indeed, that sons of thine have died In Lissa's waters, by the mountain-side Of Aspromonte, on Novara's plain, - Nor have thy children died for thee in vain: And yet, methinks, thou hast not drunk this wine From grapes new-crushed of Liberty divine, Thou hast not followed that immortal Star Which leads the people forth to deeds of war.
Weary of life, thou liest in silent sleep, As one who marks the lengthening shadows creep, Careless of all the hurrying hours that run, Mourning some day of glory, for the sun Of Freedom hath not shewn to thee his face, And thou hast caught no flambeau in the race.
Yet wake not from thy slumbers, - rest thee well, Amidst thy fields of amber asphodel, Thy lily-sprinkled meadows, - rest thee there, To mock all human greatness: who would dare To vent the paltry sorrows of his life Before thy ruins, or to praise the strife Of kings' ambition, and the barren pride Of warring nations! wert not thou the Bride Of the wild Lord of Adria's stormy sea! The Queen of double Empires! and to thee Were not the nations given as thy prey! And now - thy gates lie open night and day, The grass grows green on every tower and hall, The ghastly fig hath cleft thy bastioned wall; And where thy mailed warriors stood at rest The midnight owl hath made her secret nest.
O fallen! fallen! from thy high estate, O city trammelled in the toils of Fate, Doth nought remain of all thy glorious days, But a dull shield, a crown of withered bays! Yet who beneath this night of wars and fears, From tranquil tower can watch the coming years; Who can foretell what joys the day shall bring, Or why before the dawn the linnets sing? Thou, even thou, mayst wake, as wakes the rose To crimson splendour from its grave of snows; As the rich corn-fields rise to red and gold From these brown lands, now stiff with Winter's cold; As from the storm-rack comes a perfect star! O much-loved city! I have wandered far From the wave-circled islands of my home; Have seen the gloomy mystery of the Dome Rise slowly from the drear Campagna's way, Clothed in the royal purple of the day: I from the city of the violet crown Have watched the sun by Corinth's hill go down, And marked the 'myriad laughter' of the sea From starlit hills of flower-starred Arcady; Yet back to thee returns my perfect love, As to its forest-nest the evening dove.
O poet's city! one who scarce has seen Some twenty summers cast their doublets green For Autumn's livery, would seek in vain To wake his lyre to sing a louder strain, Or tell thy days of glory; - poor indeed Is the low murmur of the shepherd's reed, Where the loud clarion's blast should shake the sky, And flame across the heavens! and to try Such lofty themes were folly: yet I know That never felt my heart a nobler glow Than when I woke the silence of thy street With clamorous trampling of my horse's feet, And saw the city which now I try to sing, After long days of weary travelling.
Adieu, Ravenna! but a year ago, I stood and watched the crimson sunset glow From the lone chapel on thy marshy plain: The sky was as a shield that caught the stain Of blood and battle from the dying sun, And in the west the circling clouds had spun A royal robe, which some great God might wear, While into ocean-seas of purple air Sank the gold galley of the Lord of Light.
Yet here the gentle stillness of the night Brings back the swelling tide of memory, And wakes again my passionate love for thee: Now is the Spring of Love, yet soon will come On meadow and tree the Summer's lordly bloom; And soon the grass with brighter flowers will blow, And send up lilies for some boy to mow.
Then before long the Summer's conqueror, Rich Autumn-time, the season's usurer, Will lend his hoarded gold to all the trees, And see it scattered by the spendthrift breeze; And after that the Winter cold and drear.
So runs the perfect cycle of the year.
And so from youth to manhood do we go, And fall to weary days and locks of snow.
Love only knows no winter; never dies: Nor cares for frowning storms or leaden skies And mine for thee shall never pass away, Though my weak lips may falter in my lay.
Adieu! Adieu! yon silent evening star, The night's ambassador, doth gleam afar, And bid the shepherd bring his flocks to fold.
Perchance before our inland seas of gold Are garnered by the reapers into sheaves, Perchance before I see the Autumn leaves, I may behold thy city; and lay down Low at thy feet the poet's laurel crown.
Adieu! Adieu! yon silver lamp, the moon, Which turns our midnight into perfect noon, Doth surely light thy towers, guarding well Where Dante sleeps, where Byron loved to dwell.
The Princess (prologue)
Sir Walter Vivian all a summer's day Gave his broad lawns until the set of sun Up to the people: thither flocked at noon His tenants, wife and child, and thither half The neighbouring borough with their Institute Of which he was the patron.
I was there From college, visiting the son,--the son A Walter too,--with others of our set, Five others: we were seven at Vivian-place.
And me that morning Walter showed the house, Greek, set with busts: from vases in the hall Flowers of all heavens, and lovelier than their names, Grew side by side; and on the pavement lay Carved stones of the Abbey-ruin in the park, Huge Ammonites, and the first bones of Time; And on the tables every clime and age Jumbled together; celts and calumets, Claymore and snowshoe, toys in lava, fans Of sandal, amber, ancient rosaries, Laborious orient ivory sphere in sphere, The cursed Malayan crease, and battle-clubs From the isles of palm: and higher on the walls, Betwixt the monstrous horns of elk and deer, His own forefathers' arms and armour hung.
And 'this' he said 'was Hugh's at Agincourt; And that was old Sir Ralph's at Ascalon: A good knight he! we keep a chronicle With all about him'--which he brought, and I Dived in a hoard of tales that dealt with knights, Half-legend, half-historic, counts and kings Who laid about them at their wills and died; And mixt with these, a lady, one that armed Her own fair head, and sallying through the gate, Had beat her foes with slaughter from her walls.
'O miracle of women,' said the book, 'O noble heart who, being strait-besieged By this wild king to force her to his wish, Nor bent, nor broke, nor shunned a soldier's death, But now when all was lost or seemed as lost-- Her stature more than mortal in the burst Of sunrise, her arm lifted, eyes on fire-- Brake with a blast of trumpets from the gate, And, falling on them like a thunderbolt, She trampled some beneath her horses' heels, And some were whelmed with missiles of the wall, And some were pushed with lances from the rock, And part were drowned within the whirling brook: O miracle of noble womanhood!' So sang the gallant glorious chronicle; And, I all rapt in this, 'Come out,' he said, 'To the Abbey: there is Aunt Elizabeth And sister Lilia with the rest.
' We went (I kept the book and had my finger in it) Down through the park: strange was the sight to me; For all the sloping pasture murmured, sown With happy faces and with holiday.
There moved the multitude, a thousand heads: The patient leaders of their Institute Taught them with facts.
One reared a font of stone And drew, from butts of water on the slope, The fountain of the moment, playing, now A twisted snake, and now a rain of pearls, Or steep-up spout whereon the gilded ball Danced like a wisp: and somewhat lower down A man with knobs and wires and vials fired A cannon: Echo answered in her sleep From hollow fields: and here were telescopes For azure views; and there a group of girls In circle waited, whom the electric shock Dislinked with shrieks and laughter: round the lake A little clock-work steamer paddling plied And shook the lilies: perched about the knolls A dozen angry models jetted steam: A petty railway ran: a fire-balloon Rose gem-like up before the dusky groves And dropt a fairy parachute and past: And there through twenty posts of telegraph They flashed a saucy message to and fro Between the mimic stations; so that sport Went hand in hand with Science; otherwhere Pure sport; a herd of boys with clamour bowled And stumped the wicket; babies rolled about Like tumbled fruit in grass; and men and maids Arranged a country dance, and flew through light And shadow, while the twangling violin Struck up with Soldier-laddie, and overhead The broad ambrosial aisles of lofty lime Made noise with bees and breeze from end to end.
Strange was the sight and smacking of the time; And long we gazed, but satiated at length Came to the ruins.
High-arched and ivy-claspt, Of finest Gothic lighter than a fire, Through one wide chasm of time and frost they gave The park, the crowd, the house; but all within The sward was trim as any garden lawn: And here we lit on Aunt Elizabeth, And Lilia with the rest, and lady friends From neighbour seats: and there was Ralph himself, A broken statue propt against the wall, As gay as any.
Lilia, wild with sport, Half child half woman as she was, had wound A scarf of orange round the stony helm, And robed the shoulders in a rosy silk, That made the old warrior from his ivied nook Glow like a sunbeam: near his tomb a feast Shone, silver-set; about it lay the guests, And there we joined them: then the maiden Aunt Took this fair day for text, and from it preached An universal culture for the crowd, And all things great; but we, unworthier, told Of college: he had climbed across the spikes, And he had squeezed himself betwixt the bars, And he had breathed the Proctor's dogs; and one Discussed his tutor, rough to common men, But honeying at the whisper of a lord; And one the Master, as a rogue in grain Veneered with sanctimonious theory.
But while they talked, above their heads I saw The feudal warrior lady-clad; which brought My book to mind: and opening this I read Of old Sir Ralph a page or two that rang With tilt and tourney; then the tale of her That drove her foes with slaughter from her walls, And much I praised her nobleness, and 'Where,' Asked Walter, patting Lilia's head (she lay Beside him) 'lives there such a woman now?' Quick answered Lilia 'There are thousands now Such women, but convention beats them down: It is but bringing up; no more than that: You men have done it: how I hate you all! Ah, were I something great! I wish I were Some might poetess, I would shame you then, That love to keep us children! O I wish That I were some great princess, I would build Far off from men a college like a man's, And I would teach them all that men are taught; We are twice as quick!' And here she shook aside The hand that played the patron with her curls.
And one said smiling 'Pretty were the sight If our old halls could change their sex, and flaunt With prudes for proctors, dowagers for deans, And sweet girl-graduates in their golden hair.
I think they should not wear our rusty gowns, But move as rich as Emperor-moths, or Ralph Who shines so in the corner; yet I fear, If there were many Lilias in the brood, However deep you might embower the nest, Some boy would spy it.
' At this upon the sward She tapt her tiny silken-sandaled foot: 'That's your light way; but I would make it death For any male thing but to peep at us.
' Petulant she spoke, and at herself she laughed; A rosebud set with little wilful thorns, And sweet as English air could make her, she: But Walter hailed a score of names upon her, And 'petty Ogress', and 'ungrateful Puss', And swore he longed at college, only longed, All else was well, for she-society.
They boated and they cricketed; they talked At wine, in clubs, of art, of politics; They lost their weeks; they vext the souls of deans; They rode; they betted; made a hundred friends, And caught the blossom of the flying terms, But missed the mignonette of Vivian-place, The little hearth-flower Lilia.
Thus he spoke, Part banter, part affection.
'True,' she said, 'We doubt not that.
O yes, you missed us much.
I'll stake my ruby ring upon it you did.
' She held it out; and as a parrot turns Up through gilt wires a crafty loving eye, And takes a lady's finger with all care, And bites it for true heart and not for harm, So he with Lilia's.
Daintily she shrieked And wrung it.
'Doubt my word again!' he said.
'Come, listen! here is proof that you were missed: We seven stayed at Christmas up to read; And there we took one tutor as to read: The hard-grained Muses of the cube and square Were out of season: never man, I think, So mouldered in a sinecure as he: For while our cloisters echoed frosty feet, And our long walks were stript as bare as brooms, We did but talk you over, pledge you all In wassail; often, like as many girls-- Sick for the hollies and the yews of home-- As many little trifling Lilias--played Charades and riddles as at Christmas here, And ~what's my thought~ and ~when~ and ~where~ and ~how~, As here at Christmas.
' She remembered that: A pleasant game, she thought: she liked it more Than magic music, forfeits, all the rest.
But these--what kind of tales did men tell men, She wondered, by themselves? A half-disdain Perched on the pouted blossom of her lips: And Walter nodded at me; '~He~ began, The rest would follow, each in turn; and so We forged a sevenfold story.
Kind? what kind? Chimeras, crotchets, Christmas solecisms, Seven-headed monsters only made to kill Time by the fire in winter.
' 'Kill him now, The tyrant! kill him in the summer too,' Said Lilia; 'Why not now?' the maiden Aunt.
'Why not a summer's as a winter's tale? A tale for summer as befits the time, And something it should be to suit the place, Heroic, for a hero lies beneath, Grave, solemn!' Walter warped his mouth at this To something so mock-solemn, that I laughed And Lilia woke with sudden-thrilling mirth An echo like a ghostly woodpecker, Hid in the ruins; till the maiden Aunt (A little sense of wrong had touched her face With colour) turned to me with 'As you will; Heroic if you will, or what you will, Or be yourself you hero if you will.
' 'Take Lilia, then, for heroine' clamoured he, 'And make her some great Princess, six feet high, Grand, epic, homicidal; and be you The Prince to win her!' 'Then follow me, the Prince,' I answered, 'each be hero in his turn! Seven and yet one, like shadows in a dream.
-- Heroic seems our Princess as required-- But something made to suit with Time and place, A Gothic ruin and a Grecian house, A talk of college and of ladies' rights, A feudal knight in silken masquerade, And, yonder, shrieks and strange experiments For which the good Sir Ralph had burnt them all-- This ~were~ a medley! we should have him back Who told the "Winter's tale" to do it for us.
No matter: we will say whatever comes.
And let the ladies sing us, if they will, From time to time, some ballad or a song To give us breathing-space.
' So I began, And the rest followed: and the women sang Between the rougher voices of the men, Like linnets in the pauses of the wind: And here I give the story and the songs.
THE DANCE OF DEATH
THE warder looks down at the mid hour of night, On the tombs that lie scatter'd below: The moon fills the place with her silvery light, And the churchyard like day seems to glow.
When see! first one grave, then another opes wide, And women and men stepping forth are descried, In cerements snow-white and trailing.
In haste for the sport soon their ankles they twitch, And whirl round in dances so gay; The young and the old, and the poor, and the rich, But the cerements stand in their way; And as modesty cannot avail them aught here, They shake themselves all, and the shrouds soon appear Scatter'd over the tombs in confusion.
Now waggles the leg, and now wriggles the thigh, As the troop with strange gestures advance, And a rattle and clatter anon rises high, As of one beating time to the dance.
The sight to the warder seems wondrously queer, When the villainous Tempter speaks thus in his ear: "Seize one of the shrouds that lie yonder!" Quick as thought it was done! and for safety he fled Behind the church-door with all speed; The moon still continues her clear light to shed On the dance that they fearfully lead.
But the dancers at length disappear one by one, And their shrouds, ere they vanish, they carefully don, And under the turf all is quiet.
But one of them stumbles and shuffles there still, And gropes at the graves in despair; Yet 'tis by no comrade he's treated so ill The shroud he soon scents in the air.
So he rattles the door--for the warder 'tis well That 'tis bless'd, and so able the foe to repel, All cover'd with crosses in metal.
The shroud he must have, and no rest will allow, There remains for reflection no time; On the ornaments Gothic the wight seizes now, And from point on to point hastes to climb.
Alas for the warder! his doom is decreed! Like a long-legged spider, with ne'er-changing speed, Advances the dreaded pursuer.
The warder he quakes, and the warder turns pale, The shroud to restore fain had sought; When the end,--now can nothing to save him avail,-- In a tooth formed of iron is caught.
With vanishing lustre the moon's race is run, When the bell thunders loudly a powerful One, And the skeleton fails, crush'd to atoms.
I hope you enjoyed these poems as much as I did!
Image source: wallpaper cave