Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, A HISTORY OF THE LYRE, by LETITIA ELIZABETH LANDON

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A HISTORY OF THE LYRE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Sketches indeed, from that most passionate page
Last Line: That fed upon itself!
Alternate Author Name(s): L. E. L.; Maclean, Letitia

Sketches indeed, from that most passionate page,
A woman's heart, of feelings, thoughts, that make
The atmosphere in which her spirit moves;
But, like all other earthly elements,
O'ercast with clouds, now dark, now touch'd with light,
With rainbows, sunshine, showers, moonlight, stars,
Chasing each other's change. I fain would trace
Its brightness and its blackness; and these lines
Are consecrate to annals such as those,
That count the pulses of the beating heart.

'TIS strange how much is mark'd on memory,
In which we may have interest, but no part;
How circumstance will bring together links
In destinies the most dissimilar.
This face, whose rudely-pencill'd sketch you hold,
Recalls to me a host of pleasant thoughts,
And some more serious. -- This is EULALIE,
Once the delight of Rome for that fine skill
With which she woke the lute when answering
With its sweet echoes her melodious words.
She had the rich perfection of that gift,
Her Italy's own ready song, which seems
The poetry caught from a thousand flowers;
The diamond sunshine, and the lulling air,
So pure, yet full of perfume; fountains tuned
Like natural lutes, from whispering green leaves
The low peculiar murmur of the pines:
From pictur'd saints, that look their native heaven --
Statues whose grace is a familiar thing;
The ruin'd shrine of mournful loveliness;
The stately church, awfully beautiful;
Their climate, and their language, whose least word
Is melody -- these overfill the heart
Till, fountain-like, the lips o'erflow with song,
And music is to them an element.
-- I saw EULALIE: all was in the scene
Graceful association, slight surprise,
That are so much in youth. It was in June,
Night, but such night as only is not day, --
For moonlight, even when most clear, is sad:
We cannot but contrast its still repose
With the unceasing turmoil in ourselves.
-- We stood beside a cypress, whose green spire
Rose like a funeral column o'er the dead.
Near was a fallen palace, -- stain'd and grey
The marble show'd amid the tender leaves
Of ivy but just shooting; yet there stood
Pillars unbroken, two or three vast halls,
Entire enough to cast a deep black shade;
And a few statues, beautiful but cold, --
White shadows, pale and motionless, that seem'd
To mock the change in which they had no part, --
Fit images of the dead. Pensive enough,
Whatever aspect desolation wears;
But this, the wrecking work of yesterday,
Hath somewhat still more touching; here we trace
The waste of man too much. When years have past
Over the fallen arch, the ruin'd hall,
It seems but course of time, the one great doom,
Whose influence is alike upon us all;
The grey tints soften, and the ivy wreath
And wild flowers breathe life's freshness round: but here
We stand before decay; scarce have the walls
Lost music left by human step and voice
The lonely hearth, the household desolate,
Some noble race gone to the dust in blood;
Man shames of his own deeds, and there we gaze,
Watching the progress not of time, but death.
-- Low music floated on the midnight wind,
A mournful murmur, such as opes the heart
With memory's key, recalling other times,
And gone-by hopes and feelings, till they have
An echo sorrowful, but very sweet.
"Hush!" said my comrade, -- "it is EULALIE;
Now you may gaze upon the loneliness
Which is her inspiration." Soft we pass'd
Behind a fragment of the shadowy wall.
-- I never saw more perfect loveliness.
It ask'd, it had no aid from dress: her robe
Was white, and simply gather'd in such folds
As suit a statue: neck and arms were bare;
The black hair was unbound, and like a veil
Hung even to her feet; she held a lute,
And, as she pac'd the ancient gallery, wak'd
A few wild chords, and murmur'd low sweet words,
But scarcely audible, as if she thought
Rather than spoke: -- the night, the solitude,
Fill'd the young Pythoness with poetry.
-- Her eyes were like the moonlight, clear and soft,
That shadowy brightness which is born of tears,
And rais'd towards the sky, as if they sought
Companionship with their own heaven; her cheek, --
Emotion made it colourless, that pure
And delicate white which speaks so much of thought,
Yet flushes in a moment into rose;
And tears like pearls lay on it, those which come
When the heart wants a language; but she pass'd,
And left the place to me a haunted shrine,
Hallow'd by genius in its holiest mood.
-- At Count ZARIN'S palazzo the next night
We were to meet, and expectation wore
Itself with fancies, -- all of them were vain.
I could not image aught so wholly chang'd.
Her robe was Indian red, and work'd with gold,
And gold the queen-like girdle round her waist.
Her hair was gather'd up in grape-like curls;
An emerald wreath, shaped into vine leaves, made
Its graceful coronal. Leant on a couch
The centre of a group, whose converse light
Made a fit element, in which her wit
Flash'd like the lightning: -- on her cheek the rose
Burnt like a festal lamp; the sunniest smiles
Wander'd upon her face. -- I only knew
EULALIA by her touching voice again.
-- They had been praying her to wake the lute:
She would not, wayward in her mood that night;
When some one bade her mark a little sketch
I brought from England of my father's hall;
Himself was outlined leaning by an oak,
A greyhound at his feet. "And is this dog
Your father's sole companion?" -- with these words
She touch'd the strings: -- that melancholy song, --
I never may forget its sweet reproach.
-- She ask'd me how I had the heart to leave
The old man in his age; she told how lorn
Is solitude; she spoke of the young heart
Left in its loneliness, where it had known
No kindness but from strangers, forced to be
Wayfarer in this bleak and bitter world,
And looking to the grave as to a home.
-- The numbers died in tears, but no one sought
To stay her as she pass'd with veiled face
From the hush'd hall. -- One gently whisper'd me,
EULALIA is an orphan!
Yet still our meetings were 'mid festival,
Night after night. It was both sad and strange,
To see that fine mind waste itself away,
Too like some noble stream, which, unconfined,
Makes fertile its rich banks, and glads the face
Of nature round; but not so when its wave
Is lost in artificial waterfalls,
And sparkling eddies; or coop'd up to make
The useless fountain of a palace hall.
-- One day I spoke of this; her eager soul
Was in its most unearthly element.
We had been speaking of the immortal dead.
The light flash'd in her eyes. "'Tis this which makes
The best assurance of our promised heaven:
This triumph intellect has over death, --
Our words yet live on others' lips; our thoughts
Actuate others. Can that man be dead
Whose spiritual influence is upon his kind?
He lives in glory; and such speaking dust
Has more of life than half its breathing moulds.
Welcome a grave with memories such as these,
Making the sunshine of our moral world!"
"This proud reward you see, and yet can leave:
Your songs sink on the ear, and there they die,
A flower's sweetness, but a flower's life.
An evening's homage is your only fame;
'Tis vanity, EULALIA." -- Mournfully
She shook the raven tresses from her brow,
As if she felt their darkness omen-like.
"Speak not of this to me, nor bid me think;
It is such pain to dwell upon myself;
And know how different I am from all
I once dream'd I could be. Fame! stirring fame
I work no longer miracles for thee.
I am as one who sought at early dawn
To climb with fiery speed some lofty hill:
His feet are strong in eagerness and youth,
His limbs are braced by the fresh morning air,
And all seems possible: -- this cannot last.
The way grows steeper, obstacles arise,
And unkind thwartings from companions near.
The height is truer measured, having traced
Part of its heavy length! his sweet hopes droop.
Like prison'd birds that know their cage has bars,
The body wearies, and the mind is worn, --
That worst of lassitude: -- hot noon comes on;
There is no freshness in the sultry air,
There is no rest upon the toilsome road;
There is the summit, which he may not reach,
And round him are a thousand obstacles.
"I am a woman: -- Tell me not of fame.
The eagle's wing may sweep the stormy path,
And fling back arrows, where the dove would die.
Look on those flowers near yon acacia tree, --
The lily of the valley, -- mark how pure
The snowy blossoms, -- and how soft a breath
Is almost hidden by the large dark leaves.
Not only have those delicate flowers a gift
Of sweetness and of beauty, but the root, --
A healing power dwells there; fragrant and fair,
But dwelling still in some beloved shade.
Is not this woman's emblem? -- she whose smile
Should only make the loveliness of home --
Who seeks support and shelter from man's heart,
And pays it with affection quiet, deep, --
And in his sickness -- sorrow -- with an aid
He did not deem is aught so fragile dwelt.
Alas! this has not been my destiny.
Again I'll borrow Summer's eloquence.
Yon Eastern tulip, -- that is emblem mine;
Ay! it has radiant colours, -- every leaf
Is as a gem from its own country's mines.
'Tis redolent with sunshine; but with noon
It has begun to wither: -- look within,
It has a wasted bloom, a burning heart;
It has dwelt too much in the open day,
And so have I; and both must droop and die!
I did not choose my gift: -- too soon my heart,
Watch-like, had pointed to a later hour
Than time had reach'd: and as my years pass'd on,
Shadows and floating visions grew to thoughts,
And thoughts found words, the passionate words of song,
And all to me was poetry. The face,
Whose radiance glided past me in the dance,
A woke a thousand fantasies to make
Some history of her passing smile or sigh.
The flowers were full of song: -- upon the rose
I read the crimson annals of true love;
The violet flung me back on old romance;
All was association with some link
Whose fine electric throb was in the mind.
I paid my price for this, -- 'twas happiness.
My wings have melted in their eager flight,
And gleams of heaven have only made me feel
Its distance from our earth more forcibly.
My feelings grow less fresh, my thoughts less kind;
My youth has been too lonely, too much left
To struggle for itself; and this world is
A northern clime, where ev'ry thing is chill'd.
I speak of my own feelings, -- I can judge
Of others but by outward show, and that
Is falser than the actor's studied part.
We dress our words and looks in borrow'd robes:
The mind is as the face, -- for who goes forth
In public walks without a veil at least?
'Tis this constraint makes half life's misery.
'Tis a false rule: we do too much regard
Others' opinions, but neglect their feelings;
Thrice happy if such order were revers'd.
Oh why do we make sorrow for ourselves,
And, not content with the great wretchedness
Which is our native heritage, -- those ills
We have no mastery over, -- sickness, toil,
Death, and the natural grief which comrades death, --
Are not all these enough, that we must add
Mutual and moral torment, and inflict
Ingenious tortures we must first contrive?
I am distrustful, -- I have been deceived
And disappointed, -- I have hoped in vain.
I am vain, -- praise is opium, and the lip
Cannot resist the fascinating draught,
Though knowing its excitement is a fraud, --
Delirious, -- a mockery of fame.
I may not image the deep solitude
In which my spirit dwells. My days are past
Among the cold, the careless, and the false.
What part have I in them, or they in me?
Yet I would be belov'd; I would be kind;
I would share others' sorrows, others' joys;
I would fence in a happiness with friends.
I cannot do this: -- is the fault mine own?
Can I love those who but repay my love
With half caprice, half flattery; or trust,
When I have full internal consciousness
They are deceiving me? I may be kind,
And meet with kindness, yet be lonely still;
For gratitude is not companionship. --
We have proud words that speak of intellect;
We talk of mind that magnifies the world,
And makes it glorious: much of this is true, --
All time attests the miracles of man:
The very elements whose nature seems
To mock dominion, yet have worn his yoke.
His way has been upon the pathless sea;
The earth's dark bosom search'd; bodiless air
Works as his servant; and from his own mind
What rich stores he has won, -- the sage, the bard,
The painter; -- these have made their nature proud.
And yet how life goes on, its great outline
How noble and ennobling! -- but within
How mean, how poor, how pitiful, how mix'd
With base alloy; how Disappointment tracks
The steps of Hope; how Envy dogs success;
How every victor's crown is lined with thorns,
And worn 'mid scoffs! Trace the young poet's fate:
Fresh from his solitude, the child of dreams,
His heart upon his lips, -- he seeks the world,
To find him fame and fortune, as if life
Were like a fairy tale. His song has led
The way before him; flatteries fill his ear,
His presence courted, and his words are caught;
And he seems happy in so many friends.
What marvel if he somewhat overrate
His talents and his state? These scenes soon change.
The vain, who sought to mix their name with his;
The curious, who but live for some new sight;
The idle, -- all these have been gratified,
And now neglect stings even more than scorn.
Envy has spoken, felt more bitterly,
For that it was not dream'd of; worldliness
Has crept upon his spirit unaware;
Vanity craves for its accustom'd food;
He has turn'd sceptic to the truth which made
His feelings poetry; and discontent
Hangs heavily on the lute, which wakes no more
Its early music: -- social life is fill'd
With doubts and vain aspirings; solitude,
When the imagination is dethroned,
Is turn'd to weariness. What can he do
But hang his lute on some lone tree, and die?
"Methinks we must have known some former state
More glorious than our present, and the heart
Is haunted with dim memories, shadows left
By past magnificence; and hence we pine
With vain aspirings, hopes that fill the eyes
With bitter tears for their own vanity.
Remembrance makes the poet: 'tis the past
Lingering within him, with a keener sense
Than is upon the thoughts of common men
Of what has been, that fills the actual world
With unreal likenesses of lovely shapes,
That were and are not; and the fairer they,
The more their contrast with existing things;
The more his power, the greater is his grief.
-- Are we then fallen from some noble star,
Whose consciousness is an unknown curse,
And we feel capable of happiness
Only to know it is not of our sphere?
"I have sung passionate songs of beating hearts;
Perhaps it had been better they had drawn
Their inspiration from an inward source.
Had I known even an unhappy love,
It would have flung an interest round life
Mine never knew. This is an empty wish;
Our feelings are not fires to light at will
Our nature's fine and subtle mysteries;
We may control them, but may not create,
And Love less than its fellows. I have fed
Perhaps too much upon the lotos fruits
Imagination yields, -- fruits which unfit
The palate for the more substantial food
Of our own land -- reality. I made
My heart too like a temple for a home;
My thoughts were birds of paradise, that breathed
The airs of heaven, but died on touching earth.
-- The knight, whose deeds were stainless as his crest,
Who made my name his watchword in the field;
The poet, with immortal words, whose heart
I shared with beauty; or the patriot,
Whose eloquence is power, who made my smile
His recompense amid the toil which shaped
A nation's destiny: these, such as these,
The glorified -- the passionate -- the brave, --
In these I might have found the head and heart
I could have worshipp'd. Where are such as these?
-- Not 'mid gay cavaliers, who make the dance
Pleasant with graceful flatteries; whose words
A passing moment might light up my cheek,
But haunted not my solitude. The fault
Has been my own; perhaps I ask'd too much: --
Yet let me say, what firmly I believe,
Love can be -- ay, and is. I held that Love
Which chooseth from a thousand only one,
To be the object of that tenderness
Natural to every heart; which can resign
Its own best happiness for one dear sake:
Can bear with absence; hath no part in Hope, --
For Hope is somewhat selfish, Love is not, --
And doth prefer another to itself.
Unchangeable and generous, what like Love,
Can melt away the dross of worldliness;
Can elevate, refine, and make the heart
Of that pure gold which is the fitting shrine
For fire as sacred as e'er came from Heaven?
No more of this: -- one word may read my heart,
And that one word is utter weariness!
Yet sometimes I look round with vain regret,
And think I will restring my lute, and nerve
My woman's hand for nobler enterprise;
But the day never comes. Alas! we make
A ladder of our thoughts, where angels step,
But sleep ourselves at the foot: our high resolves
Look down upon our slumbering acts."
I soon left Italy: it is well worth
A year of wandering, were it but to feel
How much our England does outweigh the world.
A clear cold April morning was it, when I first
Rode up the avenue of ancient oaks,
A hundred years upon each stately head.
The park was bright with sunshine, and the deer
Went bounding by; freshness was on the wind,
Till every nerve was braced; and once the air
Came with Arabian sweetness on its wing, --
It was the earliest growth of violets.
A fairy foot had left its trace beside, --
Ah, EMILY had nurs'd my favourite flowers.
Nearer I came, I heard familiar sounds, --
They are the heart's best music; saw the blaze
Through the wide windows of the dear old hall.
One moment more, my eager footsteps stood
Within my father's home, beside his hearth.
-- Three times those early violets had fill'd
Their urns with April dew, when the chang'd cheek
Of EMILY wore signs of young decay.
The rose was too inconstant, and the light
Too clear in those blue eyes; but southern skies
Might nurse a flower too delicate to bear
The winds of March unless in Italy.
I need not tell thee how the soothing air
Brought tranquil bloom that fed not on itself
To EMILY'S sweet face; but soon again
We talk'd of winter by our own wood fire,
With cheerful words, that had no tears to hide.
-- We pass'd through Rome on our return, and there
Sought out EULALIA. Graceful as her wont
Her welcome to my bride; but oh, so chang'd!
Her cheek was colourless as snow; she wore
The beauty of a statue, or a spirit
With large and radiant eyes: -- her thrilling voice
Had lost its power, but still its sweetness kept.
One night, while seated in her favourite hall,
The silken curtains all flung back for air,
She mark'd my EMILY, whose idle gaze
Was fix'd on that fair garden. "Will you come
And wander in the moonlight? -- our soft dew
Will wash no colour from thine island cheek."
She led the way by many a bed, whose hues
Vied with the rainbow, -- through sweet-scented groves
Golden with oranges: at length the path
Grew shadowy with darker, older trees,
And led us to a little lonely spot.
There were no blossoming shrubs, but sweeping pines
Guarded the solitude; and laurel boughs
Made fitting mirrors for the lovely moon,
With their bright shining leaves; the ivy lay
And trail'd upon the ground; and in the midst
A large old cypress stood, beneath whose shade
There was a sculptured form; the feet were placed
Upon a finely-carved rose wreath; the arms
Were raised to Heaven, as if to clasp the stars;
EULALIA leant beside; 'twas hard to say
Which was the actual marble: when she spoke,
You started, scarce it seem'd a human sound;
But the eyes' lustre told life linger'd still;
And now the moonlight seem'd to fill their depths.
"You see," she said, "my cemetery here: --
Here, only here, shall be my quiet grave.
Yon statue is my emblem: see, its grasp
Is rais'd to heaven, forgetful that the while
Its step has crush'd the fairest of earth's flowers
With its neglect." ----
Her prophecy was sooth:
No change of leaf had that green valley known.
When EULALIE lay there in her last sleep.

Peace to the weary and the beating heart,
That fed upon itself!

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