Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, A SUMMER EVENING'S TALE, by LETITIA ELIZABETH LANDON



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A SUMMER EVENING'S TALE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Come, let thy careless sail float on the wind
Last Line: To darkness, and to silence, and the grave!
Alternate Author Name(s): L. E. L.; Maclean, Letitia


COME, let thy careless sail float on the wind;
Come, lean by me, and let thy little boat
Follow like thee its will; come, lean by me.
Freighted with roses which the west has flung,
Over its waters on the vessel glides,
Save where the shadowy boughts shut out the sky,
And make a lovely darkness, while the wind
Stirs the sad music of their plaining leaves.
The sky grows paler, as it burnt away
Its crimson passion; and the falling dew
Seems like the tears that follow such an hour.
I'll tell thee, love, a tale, -- just such a tale
As you once said my lips could breathe so well;
Speaking as poetry should speak of love,
And asking from the depths of mine own heart
The truth that touches, and by what I feel
For thee, believe what others' feelings are.
There, leave the sail, and look with earnest eyes;
Seem not as if the worldly element
In which thou mov'st were of thy nature part,
But yield thee to the influence of those thoughts
That haunt thy solitude; -- ah, but for those
I never could have lov'd thee; I, who now
Live only in my othe life with thee;
Out on our being's falsehood! -- studied, cold,
Are we not like that actor of old time,
Who wore his mask so long, his features took
Its likeness? -- thus we feign we do not feel,
Until our feelings are forgotten things,
Their nature warp'd in one base selfishness;
And generous impulses, and lofty thoughts,
Are counted folly, or are not believed:
And he who doubts or mocks at excellence
(Good that refines our nature, and subdues),
Is riveted to earth by sevenfold chains.
Oh, never had the poet's lute a hope,
An aim so glorious as it now may have,
In this our social state, where petty cares
And mercenary interests only look
Upon the present's littleness, and shrink
From the bold future, and the stately past, --
Where the smooth surface of society
Is polish'd by deceit, and the warm heart
With all its kind affections' early flow,
Flung back upon itself, forgets to beat,
At least for others: -- 'tis the poet's gift
To melt these frozen waters into tears,
By sympathy with sorrows not our own,
By wakening memory with those mournful notes,
Whose music is the thoughts of early years,
When truth was on the lip, and feelings wore
The sweetness and the freshness of their morn.
Young poet, if thy dreams have not such hope
To purify, refine, exalt, subdue,
To touch the selfish, and to shame the vain
Out of themselves, by gentle mournfulness,
Or chords that rouse some aim of enterprise,
Lofty and pure, and meant for general good;
If thou hast not some power that may direct
The mind from the mean round of daily life,
Waking affections that might else have slept,
Or high resolves, the petrified before,
Or rousing in that mind a finer sense
Of inward and external loveliness,
Making imagination serve as guide
To all of heaven that yet remains on earth, --
Thine is a useless lute: break it and die.
Love mine, I know my weakness, and I know
How far I fall short of the glorious goal
I purpose to myself; yet if one line
Has stolen from the eye unconscious tears,
Recall'd one lover to fidelity
Which is the holiness of love, or bade
One maiden sicken at cold vanity,
When dreaming o'er affection's tenderness,
The deep, the true, the honour'd of my song, --
If but one worldly soil has been effaced,
That song has not been utterly in vain.
All true deep feeling purifies the heart.
Am I not better by my love for you?
At least, I am less selfish; I would give
My life to buy happiness: -- Hush, hush!
I must not let you know how much I love, --
So to my tale. -- 'Twas on an eve like this,
When purple shadows floated round, and light,
Crimson and passionate, o'er the statues fell,
Like life, for that fair gallery was fill'd
With statues, each one an eternity
Of thought and beauty: there were lovely shapes
And noble ones; some which the poet's song
Had touch'd with its own immortality;
Others whose glory flung o'er history's page
Imperishable lustre. There she stood,
Forsaken ARIADNE; round her brow
Wreathed the glad vine-leaves; but it wore a shade
Of early wretchedness, that which once flung
May never be effaced: and near her leant
ENDYMION, and his spiritual beauty wore
The likeness of divinity; for love
Doth elevant to itself, and she who watch'd
Over his sleeping face, upon it left
The brightness of herself. Around the walls
Hung pictures, some which gave the summer all
Summer can wish, a more eternal bloom;
And others in some young and lovely face
Embodied dreams into reality.
There hung a portrait of ST. ROSALIE,
She who renounced the world in youth, and made
Her heart an altar but for heavenly hopes --
Thrice blessed in such sacrifice. Alas!
The weakness, yet the strength, of earthly ties!
Who hath not in the weariness of life
Wish'd for the wings of morning or the dove,
To bear them heavenward, and have wish'd in vain?
For wishes are effectual but by will,
And that too much is impotent and void
In frail humanity; and time steals by
Sinful and wavering, and unredeem'd.
Bent by a casement, whence her eye could dwell
Or on the countenance of that sweet saint,
Or the fair valley, where the river wound
Like to a fairy thing, now light, now shade,
Which the eye watches in its wandering,
A maiden pass'd each summer eve away.
Life's closing colour was upon her cheek,
Crimson as that which marks the closing day:
And her large eyes, the radiant and the clear,
Wore all the ethereal beauty of that heaven
Where she was hastening. Still her rosebud mouth
Wore the voluptuous sweetness of a spring
Haunted by fragrance and by melody.
Her hair was gather'd in a silken net,
As if its luxury of auburn curls
Oppress'd the feverish temples all too much;
For you might see the azure pulses beat
In the clear forehead painfully; and oft
Would her small hands be press'd upon her brow,
As if to still its throbbing. Days pass'd by,
And thus beside that casement would she spend
The summer evenings. Well she knew her doom,
And sought to linger with such loveliness:
Surely it soothed her passage to the grave.
One gazed upon her, till his very life
Was dedicate to that idolatry
With which young Love makes offering of itself.
In the vast world he only saw her face.
The morning blush was lighted up by hope, --
The hope of meeting her; the noontide hours
Were counted for her sake; in the soft wind,
When it had pass'd o'er early flowers, he caught
The odour of her sigh; upon the rose
He only saw the colour of her cheek.
He watch'd the midnight stars until they wore
Her beauty's likeness -- love's astrology.
His was the gifted eye, which grace still touch'd
As if with second nature; and his dreams,
His childish dreams, were lit by hues from heaven --
Those which make genius. Now his visions wore
A grace more actual, and one worshipp'd face
Inspir'd the youthful sculptor, till like life
His spirit warm'd the marble. Who shall say
The love of genius is a common thing,
Such as the many feel -- half selfishness,
Half vanity? -- for genius is divine,
And, like a god, doth turn its dwelling-place
Into a temple; and the heart redeem'd
By its fine influence is immortal shrine
For love's divinity. In common homes
He dies, as he was born, in nothingness;
But love, inspiring genius, makes the world
Its glorious witness; hence the poet's page
Wakens its haunting sympathy of pain;
And hence the painter with a touch creates
Feelings imperishable. 'Twas from that hour
CANOVA took his inspiration: love
Made him the sculptor of all loveliness:
The overflowing of a soul imbued
By most ideal grace, the memory
Which lingers round first passion's sepulchre.
-- Why do I say first love? -- there is no second.
Who asks in the same year a second growth
Of spring leaves from the tree, corn from the field?
They are exhausted. Thus 'tis with the heart: --
'Tis not so rich in feeling or in hope
To bear that one be crush'd, the other faded,
Yet find them ready to put forth again.
It does not always last; man's temper is
Often forgetful, fickle, and throws down
The temple he can never build again;
But when it does last, and that asks for much, --
A fix'd yet passionate spirit, and a mind
Master of its resolves, -- when that love lasts,
It is in noblest natures. After-years
Tell how CANOVA felt the influence.
They never spoke: she look'd too spiritual,
Too pure, for human passion; and her face
Seem'd hallow'd by the heaven it was so near.
And days pass'd on: -- it was an eve in June --
How ever could it be so fair a one? --
And she came not: hue after hue forsook
The clouds, like Hope, which died with them, and night
Came all too soon and shadowy. He rose,
And wander'd through the city, o'er which hung
The darkness of his thoughts. At length a strain
Of ominous music wail'd along the streets:
It was the mournful chanting for the dead;
And the long tapers flung upon the air
A wild red light, and show'd the funeral train:
Wreaths -- O what mockeries! -- hung from the bier;
And there, pale, beautiful, as if in sleep,
Her dark hair braided graceful with white flowers,
She lay, -- his own beloved one!
No more, no more! -- love, turn thy boat to land,
I am so sorrowful at my own words.
Affection is an awful thing! -- Alas!
We give our destiny from our own hands,
And trust to those most frail of all frail things,
The chances of humanity.
-- The wind hath a deep sound, more stern than sweet;
And the dark sky is clouded; tremulous,
A few far stars -- how pale they look to-night! --
Touch the still waters with a fitful light.
There is strange sympathy between all things,
Though in the hurrying weariness of life
We do not pause to note it: the glad day,
Like a young king surrounded by the pomp
Of gold and purple, sinks but to the shade
Of the black night: -- the chronicle I told
Began with hope, fair skies, and lovely shapes,
And ended in despair. Even thus our life
In these has likeness; with its many joys,
Its fears, its eagerness, its varying page,
Mark'd with its thousand colours, only tends
To darkness, and to silence, and the grave!





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