Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, AN ODE TO BEAUTY, by HERBERT TRENCH



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AN ODE TO BEAUTY, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Beauty, thou secret lamp, awake!
Last Line: "and dare the grave!"
Subject(s): Beauty


I

BEAUTY, thou secret lamp, awake!
Tremble into sound!
Burn in me now, as thou didst break
Those glooms profound
When with laughter of Olympians we
Marched to a song,
Vagabonds young, vagabonds free,
Up the mountains long.
Our road over roots of Apennine
Wound up, star-proof,
For the thick-enwoven forest pine
Made it a roof
Trebled for the foot-weary wight --
The knapsack-bowed --
By shade of precipices, night
And brooding cloud.
Came a yellow diligence flashing down
Cheerily jingling,
Rocking from side to side, and soon
With the valleys mingling;
And we overtook a team up-hill
Some woodman's load,
Struggling though halted, breasting still
The invisible road.
Long after, his whip's crack and cry
And axle's plaint
Followed us up the forests high,
Submerged and faint.

II

We sang no more; each aching sense
Craved silence, caring
But to climb on, on -- forgetful whence
Or whither faring.
Cold sweat dript from us as we marched,
Grim fancies smote,
Imprisoned grew the spirit -- parched
The stifled throat.
O for a breath up the ravines
To rift and rend
This muffling web of branchy screens
That never end!
Dullness, even melancholy, stole
From friend to friend
As we left the dark high-road where whole
Forests impend
And took the path up the cliff's face,
Brushwood and stones,
Clambering up from base to base
On the Earth's bones. . . .
So hour by hour, until the escape.
At last -- look back!
Low in the gorge 'twixt cape and cape
Battalion'd, black,
Creeps radiance: a flush aureoles
You crag! It bridges
Veiled chasms -- floods the expectant souls
Of somber ridges. . . .
Hail to thee, Moon! Sudden she surged,
Far out and sheer
Over vague plains immense, and purged
Our spirits clear,
Bathed our dust-heavy eyes with awe
And scope untold --
All sleeping Italy we saw
Fold beyond fold. . . .
Far down we saw one cloudlet curl
Glimmering and frail,
Opal and green and blue and pearl
Swam on its veil;
And about us rocky pastures spoke
In herds of bells
And we saw the waterfalls like smoke
Blown from the fells
And aloft the fading arch of all
The stars, whose pouring
Maketh no thunder in its fall
Nor any roaring.

III

And then, ah then! while in the bliss
That yet is fear
Ranging with thee the great abyss,
O lovely Sphere,
Did I remember, by some wand
Invoked from sleep,
Another lamp, rising beyond
Another deep. . . .
How I, a wandering lute of verse,
When grapes grew heavy
Had lodged in France with vintagers
In a tavern leafy,
And in a vine-dark corridor
Of that rude inn
Had glimpse through a half-open door
Of an arm within,
A woman's arm -- bare, simple, pure,
Holding a light
Shielded (herself the while obscure)
In exquisite
Fingers translucent as a grape
Bird-wings or wine
Enshading in soft blood-hued shape
The candle-shine. . . .
A poise, a ray, a moment's gleam,
But, when they went
Against the wall as in a dream
Witless I leant,
Knowing by that divine contour
Of warmth and bloom
Some thought immortal lit that poor
Rough-paven room.
Some eddy of the Infinite
Force on its way
Had caught that arm and molded it
In mood of play;
That curve was of the primal Will
Whose gesture high
Waved forth the choir of planets, still
In ecstasy;
And the rhythm of its dreamed lines
Shall still flood on
Through souls beyond to-day's confines
When we are gone,
Shall bear to the unborn without name
The inurned light
Secret as life, signal as flame,
And in that flight --
Vaster than Moon's o'er Apennine's
Sepulchral doors
When from the breathless gap of pines
Golden she soars --
To the tranced rock, deep-sunken, dumb,
Shall murmur, shall smile,
"Glorious the dance of passions! Come
To life awhile!
I, Beauty, traveling heaven on the hoar
Faint-phosphor'd wave
Of Being, charge ye to explore
And dare the grave!"





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