Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, A MODERN IDYLL, by LEWIS MORRIS (1833-1907)



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A MODERN IDYLL, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Crowning the sapphire of our southern sea
Last Line: The priceless jewel of undying love.


CROWNING the sapphire of our Southern sea
The white cliffs gleam. Above, the dark pines rise
From purple heather. The clear autumn sky
Bears white winged cloudlets, drifting leisurely
Across the azure. A caressing breeze
Breathes upon sea and sky, and wakes the deep
To rippling laughter. All is calm and peace.
Calm the clear evening of untroubled lives,
As if no trumpet-blast of woe and pain
Might wake their slumbering depths and wreck their peace;
And calm the aspect of the smiling sea,
As if no tempest ever lashed the surge
To thunder in the ocean caves, nor dashed
Strong ships to ruin, nor sowed the rocky walls
With undistinguished corpses of the dead.

Here on a golden August eve of old
Two score of years ago, on that calm sea,
Churning the slumbering waters into foam,
A long black hull, trailing a cloud of smoke,
Throbbed swiftly to the West. 'Twas time of war,
And this a troopship from the neighbouring port
Laden with youthful lives, for whom swift Fate
Had come to change the frivolous daily round
Of strenuous idleness, the sloth, the rust
Of long ignoble peace for the wild joy
Of battle, the tame fields of common flowers
For the red rose of perilous enterprise
Which wounds the hand that grasps it. The great ship
Sped with its thousand hopes, its diverse fates
Of fame and golden ease, of death and pain,
The white thread with the black, the enchanted skein
Which weaves the mystic vesture of our lives.

There in a high cliff-garden, mute, alone,
A young girl sat, her head upon her hand;
Her fair hair hid her brow, her cheek was pale.
Shyly, she waved her handkerchief, then flushed,
Marking an answering signal from the deck,
"Farewell, dear heart, farewell." Then the ship passed,
But still she watched. At last the western cape
Shut out the view, and then she dropped her eyes,
Sobbing; and on the unbounded ocean plains
And on the high-set downs and misty leas,
And painted glories of the autumnal flowers,
Smooth laurel and the feathery tamarisk,
The swift gloom fell, and left her weeping there.

Then when the twilight fell, and a cool breeze
Breathed from the sea, shivering, but not with cold,
She rose, a tall young figure, lithe and slim,
Crowned with the crown of youth, and health and grace
And innocence; and to the new-lit house
She stole, and softly up the noiseless stair
Sped to her maiden chamber; knelt awhile
In speechless prayer, then bathing her sad eyes
To hide the tell-tale tears, in virgin white,
Lit by one blushing rose, descended slow
To where the din, confused, of eager talk
Burst from the opened door; and, scarce perceived,
Passed like a breathing statue, and feigned to smile
And seemed to share the polished trivial themes
Of books and pictures, plays and politics;
And, always smiling, listened; till the talk
Turned to the war and its quick coming ills,
And, since none knew her secret, all the fears
Of trouble, the strong forces of the foe,
The dread of coming pestilence, the strength
Of the great fortress, all the miseries
Of frozen winter on the unsheltered heights --
A hundred presages of ill. At last
One, turning to her, marked her ashy face,
Pale lips, and closing eyes, as, faint and white,
She sank upon her chair. Soon with forced smiles
And slow-reviving pulse, she rose and went,
Vowing 'twas nothing but the heat, the glare
Of the long cloudless day, and, scorning aid,
Swept slowly to her room, and there within
The locked door swooned, and fell prone on her bed,
And lay long time unconscious; then again
Revived, but from her mother's soothing hand
And kiss and tender words of comfort shrank,
Locking her fateful secret in her heart.

Sweet Amy Howard, opening like a rose
In youth's enchanted air, to the gay town
Came forty Mays ago, and there she took,
The darling of an old patrician home,
Whatever innocent pleasure might await
The happy young. The Court's high pageantries
Opened swift doors to her. The snowy plumes
Crowning the girlish head, the glittering gems,
The flowers, the costly robes, the stately trains;
Tragedy's cleansing tears: the singer's voice
Thrilling the stately throng, the streets aglow
With gliding lights, the whirling dances sweet
Fainting with dawn, the brief hushed hours of rest,
And happy dreams; the ambling cavalcade
Through the brisk morn beneath the scented limes;
The vernal harvest of the fictive hand
On canvas or in stone; the clustering blooms
In thronged marquees; the martial melodies,
Rising and falling 'mid the courtly crowd
On smooth pleached lawns; the flower-hung barges, moored
On the cool stream to watch the flashing oars
Through sweet June days; the sheen of straining limbs
Flashing like lightning by; the rippling flow
Of youthful laughter, when the rich and fair
Met with each joyous day; -- all these were hers
One summer long ago. And then the dream
Faded in grosser day, and that clear sky
Was veiled with cloud, and on that youthful life
There passed the first grey shadow of the Unknown.
For that strong primal passion which inspired
Man's voice when Time was young -- in the old East,
Beneath the desert stars, old Greece, old Rome,
As now in populous cities, North and South,
In all the countryside, by hill and dale,
In this grey teeming London of our love, --
Had swept her chords of life and played on them
The old mysterious music, blinding sweet,
Which takes young hearts; the melody of Pan
Which floods the listening soul, and leaves it deaf
Thenceforth to lower tones. This taking her,
Silenced the strains of mirth, and turned the girl
To woman, though the face and form were young --
A woman knowing care.

But he to whom she gave her girlish heart
Was worthy of her -- a young soldier bold,
Careless and pleasure-loving, yet untouched
By grosser sense; the scion of a house
High born, yet unennobled as the use
Of rural England is, whereon the load
Of long-inherited burdens bears so hard,
That while the eldest born alone is set
In lifelong ease, the rest the happier lot
Of Labour takes, and by the sword, the pen,
Or ventures of the mart, they gain with toil
What the wise law denies them. So it came
That this young soldier, knowing well what need
Constrained him, to his father's counsels sage,
That he should only mate with hoarded gold
(Since not as yet he knew the power of love),
Consented, and among the joyous throng
Fluttered long time a careless butterfly,
Yet lighted on no bloom. Till one blest night
Of summer, 'mid the flower-decked dance, he saw,
Herself the fairest flower, a girlish form,
Lithe, clad in virgin white, with eyes of blue,
Sweep by him, and their glances met, and then
No longer might his careless fancy roam
To others, nor the maiden keep her troth
Unplighted more, so strong an influence
Bound each to each, its name, Requited Love.

So through the flying summer days and nights
They met and grew together, till their souls,
Fused in one common essence, lived no more
Their separate lives; with vows unuttered yet,
Deep graven on their hearts, but since the lack
Of riches vexed them, never by the lips
A word of love was spoken, yet no less
Their troth was plighted by a thousand signs
And hidden bonds. Amid the careless crowd
Careless they moved, nor might the Argus eyes
Of women trace their secret, yet they knew
Themselves fast bound, though seeming to be free.

Then one day on those happy fateful days,
Careless no longer, rose a sudden storm
Out of the distant East, the trump of war
Breaking the age-long peace. A thousand homes
In happy rural England heard the sound,
And shivered for the dear ones of their love --
Sons, brothers, lovers. All the light-some thoughts
Of the old joyous life vanished and gone;
Fled were the careless hours, the music mute,
The feasts, the dances done. But ere it came
The soldier's ardent heart broke forth in words
Which spoke his love. What answer could she make,
Who knew it long ago? Her heart was his,
And had been from the first. So these young lives
Were plighted each to each, and 'mid the chill
Of parting and impending trouble glowed
With that fine inner light which doth illume
Those happier souls which 'mid life's gathered clouds
Find their long missing and divided selves
And grow complete. What was to them the gloom
Of swift descending night which hid the East,
The crash of nations, hurled together and wrecked
In deadly fight? Amid the storm, the frown
Of that embattled sky, one little ray,
One little golden glory of the heavens,
The secret knowledge of their mutual love,
Crowned them with halcyon calm, like that which lies
Deep in the heart of the vexed hurricane.

So the swift days fled on. Dark and more dark
The storm-cloud lowered; louder and yet more loud
The thunder roll of war.
At last it came,
The voice of Fate, and he who heard with joy
The order that he longed for, which should bring
The chance of Fame and, higher, dearer far,
The voice of Duty, calling him to spend
His life for England, took a bold resolve
And told his dear. He dared not face as yet
His father's baffled hopes, which looked for gold
To build the shattered fortunes of his house,
Nor leave his love unplighted, for whose hand
A score of suitors pleaded. So at last
He prayed his love, if only ere they went,
They should be wed in secret. Long the maid
Doubted, for though she lived her life alone,
She would not wed another, and her heart
Abhorred concealment. Last, in trustfulness
And pure, ungrudging love, she put aside
Her maiden fears, and then one morn they stole
To some near church, and there, with none of kin
As witness of the rite, half blind with tears,
Yet all in love, she heard the priest pronounce
The solemn words which bound their lives in one;
And at the porch, parting with one long kiss,
They went their ways, and all was as before
To outward eyes, though a deep sense of change
Had passed upon their lives, transmuting all --
The young man, graver from his doubled life;
The wedded maid, a bride, but not a wife.
Nor met they more. She to her father's house
Went by the Southern sea; he presently
Whither his duty called him, till that eve
When his stout ship passed to the West, and left,
On that high cliff, his maiden wife alone.

II.

The swift days fled, the earlier autumn waned
To later, when the harvest fields grew bare
And the year past its prime. On that young heart
Fell an autumnal sadness, brooding deep
Upon her day and night. Her cheek grew pale,
While, shrinking from the careless joys which once
Allured, in silent musings she would spend
Her recluse days. Only her mother's voice
She loved, and she who marked her day by day
Fading, grew anxious for her, questioning
What thing had been, if haply she might find
Some solace for her pain. But not a word
Her shy soul dared to speak; for day by day
She scanned the journals, but no news would come
Save vague reports alone. At last they told
How, sudden from the City of the Turk,
The great Armada sailed, and then the news
How, after forty years of peace, once more
Climbing the volleying hillsides from the vines,
Our England's columns charged the guns and drove
The enemy in flight. Her heart stood still,
Reading the fateful list of those who fell
Wounded or slain. But the reviving hope,
The vivid glow of undefeated youth
Flushed her pale cheek; for not 'mid these sad lists
Found she the one dear name, but ranged with theirs
Whom for sheer daring with the coveted Cross
The General rewarded. He had borne
The colours up the hill, braving the fire
Of half a hundred guns, when others fell,
'Scaping without a wound. 'Twas he whose hand
Shot the tall Russian dead, whose lifted sword
Had cut the Ensign down. 'Twas he who nursed
The wounded lad to life. Then her fond heart,
A little chilled by bloodshed, flushed with pride
For him who was her husband, and that night
The old fire lit her cheek, her eyes, and gave
New spirit to her voice, till as of yore
She seemed again the bright and joyous girl
Who in high summer, scarce three months ago,
Lit the old home with innocent mirth and song
Uncaring, and her mother's heart was glad.

But when the days grew short, and the spent year
Was dying fast, came news of dull delays
And how the tide of war, leaving the plains
And hard-won heights, broke in a surge of blood
Round the beleaguered fortress. Then, when now
The thick fogs hid the sea and blurred the land
In dull November, came the fateful tale
Of furious storms, driving to wreck the ships
Laden with food and shelter, stubborn fight
Fought through the mist, each man for his own hand,
"The soldiers' battle," and her heart stood still,
Fearing the voice of Fate. But though once more,
Amid the dreadful sum of blood and death,
Came news that he was safe, the gathering sum
Of daily growing miseries, want and cold,
Disease and hunger, vexed her, till the girl
Could bear no more suspense, nor anxious care,
Nor longer sit in idle luxury,
While he perhaps lay dying, calling for her
To soothe his pain. This thought, recurring still,
Tormented her long time; till at the last,
When every journal told its harrowing tale
Of suffering, she took a stern resolve:
She bared to those she loved her secret grief,
And prayed consent to go where she might gain
To tend her husband. Not her father's voice
Of prudent counsel, nor her mother's love,
Nor any maiden dread of war and pain
Or danger moved her. When they bade her dream
No longer of her madness, she locked fast
Her purpose in her breast. And one sad morn,
Before the loitering dawn she stole away,
Leaving with tears her childhood's cherished home,
The parents of her love, her girlish friends,
White bed and dainty room, her books, her flowers --
All things that made life sweet; passed to the town,
Taking her little store of gems and gold,
And setting on her pillow a brief note:
"Forgive me, mother. Duty bids me go.
My place is with my husband. He has need
Of tender care, and I will seek him out
If he still lives. Fear not for me; I go
Hoping to join the noble new-formed band
Of ministering women. If my skill
Is wanting now, yet I may gain in time
To help him or his comrades, whom sad Fate
Condemns to pain. Fear not, 'tis better so;
I should go mad to sit at home and think
That we should meet no more. But now I know,
So sure a presage occupies my mind,
That he shall owe to me returning life
And health; no more I know, nor seek to know,
But so I gain to save him, all is well."

So ere the wintry day began to close
In dreary twilight, to the gloomy town --
Not the gay town of summer past and gone,
But dark with choking mists -- she passed, and there
Besought the gracious women who went forth
To that new work of mercy, strange to them,
Familiar now, if only she might share
Their blessed task, and with the strength of love
Grown eloquent, prevailed, and to the ship
Which soon should sail betook her. Not the tears
Of those she loved, who came in haste and strove
To bend her purpose, moved her. So at last,
Down the rude wintry channel, tossed the ship,
Passing the pines, the heather, withered now;
Passing the well-known cliffs, the towers of home
And that high garden where, three brief months since,
She sat a girl pining in luxury,
And watched the strong ship fading in the West
That bore her life away. The strong god Love
Had nerved the girlish heart and braced her soul
To high resolve, so that the wintry wave,
The weary days of storm and stress and gloom,
The strangers' faces round, affrighted not.
Till, passing through the lion-guarded gates
Into the Middle Sea, and by the blue
Sicilian straits, and many a classic shore
And fairy islet of the purple deep,
She felt her heart beat faster as she saw,
Crowning the Golden Horn the minarets
Of Stamboul, knowing well her love had passed
The self-same way before, and wondering much
If there he lay wounded in some fierce fight
Longing for her, or if indeed he lived
Unwounded still, or mouldering, perchance,
Upon the frozen, bleak Crimean plain,
Dead of disease or cold or suffering, dead
In battle slain, a bullet through his heart.

Now when the ship cast anchor, and gave forth,
Thronging the narrow, ill-paved city streets,
That band of pitiful women, her first thought
Was of her love; and when they gained at last
The palace where the sick and wounded pined,
Brought from the front by sea, shyly she asked
If he were with the rest. But when she learned
He had no hurt indeed, but on the field
Was marked for higher rank, with thankful heart
She wrote to tell him what had been, and prayed
Forgiveness, and, if haply it might be,
That she might come to him, or if indeed
That might not be, she in the hospital
Would live content, amid the duteous throng
Of English nurses; only this she prayed
That he would send one little word of love,
And she would ask no more, only to hear
That he was well.
But when her husband knew
All that had been, and that his maiden bride,
That careless, delicate child, so lately won,
Toiled uncompanioned 'mid the thousand woes
Of ruthless war, his heart, so light before,
Grew heavy in him, knowing not what fate
Might yet befall. Yet since he loved her well.
A passionate longing filled the young man's heart
To embrace his dear, and be with her and smooth
The hardships which she faced for him -- ay, though
Through sickness and through wounds; and so he wrote
A letter in his tent, when the day's tale
Of labour and of danger now was done;
A letter full of love: how he was well,
Unwounded, happy; yet would give his health
And scatheless limbs, if only he might feel,
Paying the price of sickness or of wounds,
The touch of her soft hand, and see her stoop
To kiss him as he lay.
But as he closed
The letter, through the night above, the shrill
Scream of a hurtling shell, then a loud crash.
Nor knew he more, and the new-written page
Fell from his hand, torn, crushed, and blurred with blood.

III.

Then for that yearning, unrewarded heart
There came the weary days of endless toil;
The unaccustomed cares, the sleepless nights,
Of scarce-snatched slumbers ending ere the dawn;
The sordid offices; the delicate hands,
Dressing the festering wounds; the cries and groans
Worse than the battle's, the coarse sights which shocked
The maiden's innocent eyes, the maniac shouts
Of some poor fevered brain, the blasphemies
Of desperate sufferers, the surgeon's knife,
The blood, the shrieks of pain, till came at last
Deep stillness, and the tortured figure lay
Shrouded with folded hands, until they came
Quickly and bore him forth, and on his bed
Was laid another. All her tender heart
Bled for the unsuspected miseries
Of human life; her innocent eyes o'er-flowed
For daily, nightly woes, yet not the less
She bore to give what aid of soothing hand
And kindly word her girlish want of skill
Might lend the wounded. Were they not like him,
Soldiers with none to tend them, love or wife?
How could she better show the love she bore
To him who was her life than tending those
Who were his comrades? So she steeled her heart
To sights and sounds of misery, put aside
Her maidenly disgust, and toiled to assuage
The hopeless sum of woe. One fair-haired lad
In helpless pain, and wandering in dreams,
Muttered the name she loved, and when he woke
Was tireless in his praise. Thenceforth she seemed
To have a friend again, and eager heard
How brave he was and tender; how he bore
The stripling out of fire, and came for him
When the fierce fight was done; and how the foe
Was stubborn, and the struggle hard, and since
The wounded might not bear the bitter cold
Of those unsheltered heights, the transports brought
Their load of helpless suffering week by week
To those warm palace halls. She hearing all,
Seemed to grow nearer to her love, and share
His daily fortunes; and she tended well
The grateful youth with daily, nightly care,
Wrote shyly to his mother and his love,
And learnt how thin the fence which rank and gold
Set between man and man, and how the bond
That binds the highborn, binds the lowly too
In precious kinship.
But no answering word
Came from her dear, and heavier every day
The load of anxious doubt, unexorcised,
Pressed on her, as her cheek grew pale, and all
The weight of hopeless service bore on her
Too heavy for her strength. The menial tasks,
Light while Hope gilded Duty, seemed to grow
Heavier with every day that failed to bring
News of her love; but she toiled bravely on
Amid those dreadful sights and sounds, nor sought
To shrink from them. But when the great ships passed
Beneath the windows with their piteous freight
Of wounded, who a few brief months before
Sailed full of life and hope, her anxious mind,
Not knowing what to hope, whether 'twere best
He came with them, that she might nurse him back
To life and health, or else, unhurt, alone
(If haply still he breathed this earthly air),
And far removed from her, should wait the fall
Of the great fortress and the crowning fight,
When Death should claim his thousands. But no news
Came, nor amid those close thronged halls of pain,
Perplexed 'twixt joy and grief, she saw his face.

Then one day when her soul was sick with fear,
A letter from the Camp! writ by a hand
She knew not. As she opened it there fell
From the enclosing page a fragment, torn
And stained with blood, in that familiar hand
She loved so well. Her heart stood still to mark
Those crimson stains, and yet it seemed to say
That all was well with him, her love, her dear,
Her husband. Every stained and blotted word,
With Love's swift divination, she devoured,
Yet could not understand. At last she turned
To his who sent those dear, torn, blotted lines,
And learnt the truth. "He found his comrade lie
Bleeding upon the ground, and by him lay
Amid the ruins of their shattered home
The fragments that he sent. 'Twas weeks ago,
And he had hovered long 'twixt life and death,
Tended by comrades, and too weak till then
To join the rest who left those frozen fields
For the warm city. But now his many wounds,
Which were not deep, nor maiming face or limb,
Were mending slowly, and he hoped to sail
When next the mournful harvest of the war
Left the bleak snow-clad heights." She, reading this,
Dissolved in love and grateful that her dear
Was spared to her, felt a new spring of life
Course through her. Then she told the youth she nursed,
Within whose youthful veins Life's refluent tide
Glowed once again; and on the crowded quay
As the ship glided in they stood, and there
She, in her sombre habit like a nun,
Found him she sought; and he with a wan smile
And feeble grasp greeted her, and they kissed,
And then his tired eyes closed.
But oh, how weak
He seemed, how ashy grey his cheek, how thin
The accents of his voice, which were so deep
And manly! As she looked, the rising tears
Blotted her sight -- tears half of happiness
And half of pity. To the hospital
They passed, and she, fired with a newborn hope,
Spent happy days and nights beside his bed,
Drawing him back to life, and when at last
The ebbing tide returned, and he grew strong
And stronger day by day, there was no soul
In all those crowded halls so blithe as hers
Who was his wife.
Then one day when her cares
Were well nigh ended, from the house of pain
They went together to a pleasant home
By the Sweet Waters. Flowers of early spring
Lit the dry, rustling woods where autumn leaves
Lay scattered thickly still, and through the boughs
Blue river-reaches, flecked with glancing sails,
Smiled on them. There they gained in the new joy
Of bursting life to lose the sordid stains
Of pain and woe. Each sunny day that passed
Brought its own store of strength for him who late
Lay bleeding, and he blest the loving care
Of his dear nurse.
Amid that vernal air
She tended him, and a sweet time of peace
And tender love dawned for those sore-tried lives --
A little time, too brief! For as his strength
Grew greater, and no more the solidier lay
Prostrate upon his bed, but once again
With slow-paced footsteps, leaning on her arm,
Wandered along the banks of the blue stream --
Two wedded lovers, weaving fairy tales
Of what the years should bring -- his loving eyes
Woke suddenly one day, and marked how frail
His girl-wife showed, how thin the pallid cheek,
How deep the hectic rose, how bright the eyes,
And with a bitter pang his conscious mind
Knew what should be. For every day that passed
Weak and more weak, despite her happiness
And recompense of love, she showed, and soon,
When now he walked again in nascent strength,
No longer on her arm he leant for aid,
But she on his, and presently he went
Alone, while she, reclining, in the sun
Hoarding her fast-decreasing sum of strength,
Lay still as death, greeting him with a smile.

So the swift weeks passed onwards equably,
Brief happy weeks, the one reprieved from death,
The other doomed to die. The air grew soft
With fuller Spring. Again the trees grew green,
The bursting woods, the fields a maze of flowers;
Soft breezes fanned the stream, and the pale cheek
Of her whose young life toils and cares and fears
And sleepless vigils 'mid polluted air
Had sapped; for whom her happiness had come
Too late to save, only in time to make
The end more bitter. Ere the swift Spring passed
To summer, the hidden fever in her blood,
Which long had smouldered, broke in open flame
And burned that fragile house of life, and left
But half-cold ashes, till the appointed hour,
After brief days of suffering, when her Love,
Requiting well her tender care, and strong
In body though weak in heart, heard her lips say:
"Dear, it is hard to part. But I have been
Happier to find the rugged thorny path
Of Duty hidden in flowers, than when I knew
The old smooth ways of ease. Lay me at rest
Here among English graves in this blest place
Where I have learnt to live. Ask for my fault
Forgiveness of my mother and my sire,
Whom I have disobeyed, and bid them think
Tenderly of their daughter. When the war
Is ended, and you pass again the cliffs
Of England, and the garden 'midst the pines
Where once -- was it years since, or yesterday? --
I watched you go, taking my heart, my youth,
My life with you, say a brief prayer for me,
Your maiden-wife. Then if you will, forget;
Or if you will, remember."
Then she breathed
Her last within his arms, and he with tears,
And one last kiss of parting, closed her eyes.

They laid her in the place she would, amidst
The Christian dead. Upon the hills the tall
Black cypress-spires mark where the maiden lies,
And from the minarets the Muezzin calls
To prayer, where yet the resonant peals shall sound
For Christian worship, when the accursed hordes
Of lust and murder which to-day defile
The garden of the earth are driven in shame
Back to their native wastes. A thousand names
Of English dead, each in its scanty plot
Of alien earth, lie round her, where she waits,
Poor faithful child, the peal that calls to life!

IV.

But when the last sad offices were done
The soldier sought to lay the ghost of grief
Through Duty. To the Camp once more he bent
His willing feet. The comrades whom he left
And Fortune spared, welcomed the grave sad man,
Who from his new and secret sorrow turned
To the old task, and careless, facing Death,
Bore a charmed life. Day after day he fought
Amid the van, unscathed, nor seemed to heed
Whatever Fate might send, and with him went,
Following in every perilous enterprise,
The fair-haired lad whom from that earlier fight
He bore to safety, and his girl-wife nursed,
Dying herself, to life.
Then by degrees
The perils of each day, the abounding life,
The glow, the glory of successful war
Worked their sure work. Slowly he put from him
The load of blank regret, and seemed again --
A little graver than of old maybe --
A soldier as before. His comrades' voice
Acclaimed his selfless daring, yet he seemed
More pitiful than before. His hand would spare
The weakling; oft in act to shoot or strike
He dropped his arm, his Love's imploring eyes
Seeming to turn on him, fulfilled his soul
With ruth and pity. Slow the weary war
Dragged to its end; closer and closer crept
The encircling lines; a scorpion ringed with fire
The Fortress stung. Then came the fierce assault
When thousands fell, but he was scatheless still
Even as at first. And last the fateful morn
When amid thundering shocks, fort after fort
By its defenders' suicidal hands
Leapt to the skies, and, amid smoke and flame,
The strong fleet, trapped within the harbour, sank
Or flared in ruin, and the Power of Ill,
Which throws to-day its shield above the Turk,
Stepped between him and righteous doom; and she,
Our blindfold England, fought and did prevail
For a mistaken end, where victory
Was deadlier than defeat. In those dark days,
Yet glorious too, that strenuous stricken soul,
Unquestioning, did well his soldier's work,
And when Peace came, though all but duty seemed
Lost in that early grave, was crowned with rank
And honour and fame, a leader among men.

But when they left those blood-stained heights and set
Their faces homewards, one brief week he gained
To tarry with his love. The turf was green
Already on her grave, and summer flowers
Lighted it. There he set a marble cross
Above her, with her name, and the scant sum
Of her brief earthly years. Even as he gazed
The Past came back to him, the sad, sweet Past,
A little dimmed already by long months
Of daily fateful war. And then he went,
Wearing one pure white rose upon his breast,
Plucked from her resting-place, to join the throng
Of comrades homeward-bound. The great ship passed
From sea to sea, leaving the windless South
With its deep purples, for the long grey roll
Of the Atlantic surge; green orange groves
And vine-hung slopes, for heather and thymy downs
In England. Last, one day his watching eyes
Knew once again the well-remembered cliff
Crowned with dark pines, and on its seaward edge
A garden bright with flowers; and all the past
Blossomed anew within him as he saw,
Unchanged, the high-built turrets of her home,
Who filled his heart. Almost his straining eyes
Seemed once again to mark a white-robed form
Wave her farewell. But ah! her long farewell
Was months ago, and they had parted since
Who now should meet no more! And then his thought
Turned to his plighted word. He did not kneel,
But, standing, breathed a silent thanksgiving,
That loving her, he had been loved again,
And, as she asked of him, such prayer as comes
For those we love and lose -- a wordless hope
That it is well with them where'er the Unknown
Holds them within His boundless waste of worlds,
And when this pilgrimage of life is done
That those who loved on earth may love in heaven.

And then the salutary toil which brings
An antidote to grief, the daily growth
Of Life's broad tree, driving its roots deep down
In homely earth, lifting its crest to heaven,
With fruit and blossom crowned -- no fragile flower,
But with a thousand thick-leaved branches strong
For rest or shelter -- o'er that sore-tried soul
Spread its protecting shade; and honour of men
And tranquil wedded years, and childish hands,
And once again, hard-fought, successful war
In the far East, and waning years absorbed
In homely leisure, 'mid the cherished fields
Of long-fled youth; -- obscured that precious dream
And half-remembered grave, and that young life
Given for his own. But in the wakeful night
Before the dawn, or when his children sit
Around his board, or in the joyous dance
At Yuletide, when another Amy whirls,
White-robed like her of yore, and smiles on him,
Her grandsire, -- to the old man's dreaming thought
Scenes which those young lives knew not rise again
Before his yearning eyes: -- that dear, dead Past,
That girlish form waving a fond farewell,
That tender, loving care, that early grave,
Fill once again his eyes, thin as a dream,
Not all unhappy; and the Present wanes,
Lost in the glamour of the vanished Past.

Thin as a dream! But what is all our life
But dreamlike -- nay, a dream? And yet 'tis well
To have dreamt it. One day, waking with the Dawn
In some strange sphere, where Time nor Change disturbs,
Nor dust nor noise of Life, but still and bright,
The vanished Beauty of the Past revives;
The long-drowned silent Music wakes again
In that ethereal calm; our souls shall take,
Clear as of old, the pageant of their lives
On the old earth; unfading memories
Of joy and pain, sorrow and sacrifice,
Precious and unforgotten; all the store
Of shining thoughts and deeds, pure gems undimmed
Of the old treasure-house, and best of all
To deck the enfranchised Soul to meet her King,
The priceless jewel of undying Love.





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