Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, FOUND AND LOST, by WALTER CHALMERS SMITH



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FOUND AND LOST, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: I knew him the moment he came
Last Line: As we lay by the slow spanish brook.


I knew him the moment he came
Past the screen by the folding door,
Though I could not remember his name,
Or where I had seen him before:
And me, too, he knew at a glance,
For a light kindled up in his eye
When I stept a short step in advance,
And greeted him as he passed by.

Yet it was not a notable face; --
Just what you may meet any day
At the hunt or the ball or the race,
Or the club or a country-seat;
Somewhat ruddy, high-featured, and full,
With well-chiselled nostrils and chin,
Eye blue, like a clear crystal pool,
And the hair on his temples was thin.

A forgettable face in this land,
Where so many are cast in its mould,
Nothing striking about it, or grand,
Only handsome and manly and cold.
I was over with Soult, and had seen
'The Duke' and 'Sir Peel' and the rest,
At the time when they crowned their young Queen,
Yet this was the face I knew best.

Each feature stood clear in my mind,
And how in his moods it would look,
When troubled or fretful or kind,
Or chastened by pain and rebuke.
'Twas strange how familiar I seemed
With the trick of that face and its truth:
Was he some one of whom I had dreamed?
Or perhaps an old friend of my youth?

But where had I seen him? and when?
And his name, too, what could it be?
I had mixed in the world among men,
I had travelled by land and by sea;
Could I hope, in the vanishing throng
Of memories fast growing dim,
To pick out this one man, among
The crowd, and identify him?

You have felt how a name or a word
At the tip of your tongue shall appear,
And you know it so well, 'tis absurd
That you cannot lay hold of it clear;
So I seemed to be still on the nick
Of finding out who he could be,
When lo! by some cozening trick
He was gone, like that lost word from me.

As I gazed after him, too, I caught
A look 'twas not hard to divine;
It was plain that the very same thought
Was brooding in his head as mine.
For he knit his brows hard as he cast
A swift, searching glance now and then
At the face he had known in the past --
But where had he seen it, and when?

Then he whispered to Soult, and I knew
That my general told him my name;
But my name did not give him the clue
That he wished, and he still looked the same.
I did as he did, too, and heard
His name from the man at the door;
But it was just a strange foreign word,
And I never had heard it before.

So we stood there apart in the throng,
A wonder and puzzle to each,
Nor heeded the harp or the song,
Or the hiss of their sibilant speech,
Though he chatted with Soult of the wars,
While I waited on, silent of course --
He was a milord, and had stars,
And I but a captain of Horse.

But he tired of this puzzling, and soon
Had put it quite out of his head;
For I marked him keep time to a tune,
And laugh when a good thing was said.
These Islanders are not like us;
Quite patient of mystery they;
But a secret that fascinates thus
We must search, till we clear it away.

I could not, then, rid me of it,
But brooded in silence apart,
Nor laughed at their humour and wit,
Nor praised what they showed of their Art.
They thought me a churl, no doubt,
For my answers were not to the point;
And I thought they were talking about
Merest nothings, and all out of joint.

Not once did he cross me again,
I am sure, for a week and a day;
But still in the sun and the rain,
In the season of work and of play,
He haunted me all day and night,
And this way and that way I went,
Ever groping about for the light,
Like a hound that is seeking the scent.

I searched out my memories all,
Went over the Past like a book,
Page by page, even dared to recall
Things that covered my soul with rebuke --
Whom I'd gambled with, drank with, or fought,
Who were rivals in old love affairs,
Who was owing me money, or ought
To be paid what I owed, unawares.

Strange things by that search were revealed,
Old stories not good to recall,
Things that Fate, too, for ever had sealed,
Wrongs that could not be righted at all.
Who shall ope all his cupboards, and find
Nothing there to repent or regret,
No scraps of old writing that blind
With tears the dim eyes that they wet?

Yet 'twas good for me so to review
My former life, scene after scene;
It gave me some thoughts that were new,
And revived better thoughts that had been.
It shamed me no less, here and there,
And it set me to putting things right;
But on this one perplexing affair
It shed not a glimmer of light.

Not a drop of his blood had I shed,
Not a livre was he in my debt,
Not a card with him e'er had I played,
Nor as rivals in love had we met.
I was baffled, and threw myself down
On the close-shaven grass of the Park,
And heard the far hum of the town,
And the clear even-song of the lark.

Then all of a sudden, when I
With long, fruitless searching was spent,
Half-minded no longer to try,
Lo! one unconnected event,
Which, neither before nor behind,
Had linked itself on to my thought,
Broke clear as a star on my mind,
And I knew I had found what I sought.

One moment the curtain concealed
Every hint of the scene and the play;
Then Phew! all the stage was revealed
In the blaze of a bright summer day;
And I knew that I had him at last,
Knew, without any doubt, it was he --
That face, in the far away Past,
That lay so long staring at me.

We had had a brisk skirmish one day
Of outposts, when Soult was in Spain,
And wounded and bleeding I lay,
Thinking ne'er to do battle again;
And the vultures were soaring up high,
And the lean dogs were creeping about,
And the grey-hooded crow, hopping nigh,
Kept watch for the life to ebb out.

I lay on the bank of a stream,
A brooklet some yard or two wide,
That whispered to me like a dream
As it slowly lapsed on by my side --
A dream of our beautiful France,
With its white orchard bloom and its grain,
And the vintages gay in Provence,
I was never to look on again.

And right on the opposite bank
A handsome young English face
Kept gazing at me with a blank,
Vague look from his red resting-place.
'He is plainly dying,' I said,
'But gallant and stout for his years'
For close by his side, and stark dead,
Lay one of our brave cuirassiers.

So hour after hour there we lay,
And looked at each other across
The brook that went trickling away,
Slowly licking our blood from the moss;
Now we heard the loud bugle-calls clear,
Then the noise of the fighting grew weak,
And the lean dogs came snarling up near,
And the hooded crow whetted his beak.

And all those long hours I perused
His features there, line upon line,
Half-conscious and dim and confused,
As he, too, lay reading at mine;
I scanned him again and again,
He was the one thing I could see,
And he printed himself on my brain,
Till he seemed like a portion of me.
If closed my eyes, still he was there
As plain as he had been before;
If I lifted my eyelids to stare,
He was lying there dabbled in gore.
'He is plainly dying,' I thought,
'And better for me he were dead,
Those pain-stricken features will not
Be e'er blotted out of my head.'

And never a word could we speak;
I was lying half-choked with my blood,
Slow-gasping and fainting and weak,
And grasping a handful of mud;
While he from the opposite brink
Looked across, as if looking his last;
And oh for some water to drink
From the brook that went rippling past!

Then there fell, as it were, a great mist
On my eyes, and I saw him no more,
Nor thought of him even, nor wist
Was he living or dead, till the door
Of the guest-hall opened, and he
Strode stately into the room,
And that face flashed out upon me,
Like a face from the shades of the tomb.

Now it all came back, and I rushed
To his club to remind him again
Of the day when our life-blood had gushed,
And mixed in the brooklet in Spain:
But I found he had gone, as they said
Was his way, whither nobody knew,
Perhaps, where the icebergs are bred,
Perhaps, to Japan or Peru.

A traveller, restless and bold,
He would turn now his wandering feet
To seas that were frozen with cold,
Now to plains that were blasted with heat:
He knew the Red man of the West,
Had rid with the wild Bedaween,
And oft been the African's guest,
Where the spoor of the lion was seen.

Yet would he come back, they averred,
And take his old seat by the fire,
As if nothing meanwhile had occurred
To make foolish people admire.
But I never have seen him again!
And oh to know what it could mean,
That printing of him on my brain
Who was only once more to be seen.

We are tricked by illusory light,
Are we mocked by realities too?
Is our life but a dream of the night
Whose facts have no purpose in view?
So strangely my path he had crossed!
So strongly my mind had impressed!
If he must like a shadow be lost,
Why passed he not light as the rest?

You paint a likeness with care,
Yet smudge it all out the next day,
For you feel that the soul was not there,
And the soul is the man, as you say:
But what if your picture were all
You had hoped e'er to make it, and then
You turned the face back to the wall,
Which was touching the spirits of men?

Do you grudge them the joy they have found?
Do you mean but to mock and to spite?
Why sow the quick seed in the ground
But to trample it next out of sight?
God or Nature, that shapes each event,
Does He labour to quicken desire,
Just to disappoint hopes He has sent,
Just to quench His own fresh-kindled fire?

It is dark to me, dark as the night
That moonless and starless moves on,
With only such glimmer of light,
As to show the clouds brooding thereon.
And I never shall see him again,
Or know what was meant by the look
That was printed so deep on my brain,
As we lay by the slow Spanish brook.





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