James Russell Lowell Poems >>
Heartsease And Rue: Friendship

I.AGASSIZ Come Dicesti _egli ebbe?_ non viv' egli ancora? Non fiere gli occhi suoi lo dolce lome?

I

The electric nerve, whose instantaneous thrill
Makes next-door gossips of the antipodes,
Confutes poor Hope's last fallacy of ease,--
The distance that divided her from ill:
Earth sentient seems again as when of old
    The horny foot of Pan
Stamped, and the conscious horror ran
Beneath men's feet through all her fibres cold:
Space's blue walls are mined; we feel the throe
From underground of our night-mantled foe:     
    The flame-winged feet
Of Trade's new Mercury, that dry-shod run
Through briny abysses dreamless of the sun,
    Are mercilessly fleet,
  And at a bound annihilate
Ocean's prerogative of short reprieve;
    Surely ill news might wait,
And man be patient of delay to grieve:
    Letters have sympathies
  And tell-tale faces that reveal,        
  To senses finer than the eyes.
Their errand's purport ere we break the seal;
They wind a sorrow round with circumstance
To stay its feet, nor all unwarned displace
The veil that darkened from our sidelong glance
    The inexorable face:
  But now Fate stuns as with a mace;
The savage of the skies, that men have caught
  And some scant use of language taught,
    Tells only what he must,--        
The steel-cold fact in one laconic thrust.

ii.

So thought I, as, with vague, mechanic eyes,
I scanned the festering news we half despise
    Yet scramble for no less,
And read of public scandal, private fraud,
Crime flaunting scot-free while the mob applaud,
Office made vile to bribe unworthiness,
  And all the unwholesome mess
The Land of Honest Abraham serves of late
  To teach the Old World how to wait,      
    When suddenly,
As happens if the brain, from overweight
    Of blood, infect the eye,
Three tiny words grew lurid as I read,
And reeled commingling: _Agassiz is dead_.
As when, beneath the street's familiar jar,
An earthquake's alien omen rumbles far,
Men listen and forebode, I hung my head,
  And strove the present to recall,
As if the blow that stunned were yet to fall.  

iii.

  Uprooted is our mountain oak,
That promised long security of shade
And brooding-place for many a winged thought;
 Not by Time's softly cadenced stroke
With pauses of relenting pity stayed,
But ere a root seemed sapt, a bough decayed,
From sudden ambush by the whirlwind caught
And in his broad maturity betrayed!

iv.

Well might I, as of old, appeal to you,
  O mountains, woods, and streams,  
To help us mourn him, for ye loved him too;
  But simpler moods befit our modern themes,
And no less perfect birth of nature can,
Though they yearn tow'rd him, sympathize with man.
Save as dumb fellow-prisoners through a wall;
  Answer ye rather to my call,
Strong poets of a more unconscious day,
When Nature spake nor sought nice reasons why,
Too much for softer arts forgotten since
That teach our forthright tongue to lisp and mince,  
And drown in music the heart's bitter cry!
Lead me some steps in your directer way,
Teach me those words that strike a solid root
    Within the ears of men;
Ye chiefly, virile both to think and feel,
Deep-chested Chapman and firm-footed Ben,
For he was masculine from head to heel.
Nay, let himself stand undiminished by
With those clear parts of him that will not die.
Himself from out the recent dark I claim  
To hear, and, if I flatter him, to blame;
To show himself, as still I seem to see,
A mortal, built upon the antique plan,
Brimful of lusty blood as ever ran,
And taking life as simply as a tree!
To claim my foiled good-by let him appear,
Large-limbed and human as I saw him near,
Loosed from the stiffening uniform of fame:
And let me treat him largely; I should fear,
(If with too prying lens I chanced to err,  
Mistaking catalogue for character,)
His wise forefinger raised in smiling blame.
Nor would I scant him with judicial breath
And turn mere critic in an epitaph;
I choose the wheat, incurious of the chaff
That swells fame living, chokes it after death,
And would but memorize the shining half
Of his large nature that was turned to me:
Fain had I joined with those that honored him
With eyes that darkened because his were dim,  
And now been silent: but it might not be.


II

i.

In some the genius is a thing apart,
  A pillared hermit of the brain,
Hoarding with incommunicable art
    Its intellectual gain;
  Man's web of circumstance and fate
  They from their perch of self observe,
Indifferent as the figures on a slate
  Are to the planet's sun-swung curve
  Whose bright returns they calculate;  
  Their nice adjustment, part to part,
Were shaken from its serviceable mood
By unpremeditated stirs of heart
  Or jar of human neighborhood:
Some find their natural selves, and only then,
In furloughs of divine escape from men,
And when, by that brief ecstasy left bare,
  Driven by some instinct of desire,
They wander worldward, 'tis to blink and stare,
Like wild things of the wood about a fire,  
Dazed by the social glow they cannot share;
  His nature brooked no lonely lair,
But basked and bourgeoned in co-partnery,
Companionship, and open-windowed glee:
    He knew, for he had tried,
  Those speculative heights that lure
The unpractised foot, impatient of a guide,
  Tow'rd ether too attenuately pure
For sweet unconscious breath, though dear to pride,
  But better loved the foothold sure  
Of paths that wind by old abodes of men
Who hope at last the churchyard's peace secure,
And follow time-worn rules, that them suffice,
Learned from their sires, traditionally wise,
Careful of honest custom's how and when;
His mind, too brave to look on Truth askance,
No more those habitudes of faith could share,
But, tinged with sweetness of the old Swiss manse,
Lingered around them still and fain would spare.
Patient to spy a sullen egg for weeks,  
The enigma of creation to surprise,
His truer instinct sought the life that speaks
Without a mystery from kindly eyes;
In no self-spun cocoon of prudence wound,
He by the touch of men was best inspired,
And caught his native greatness at rebound
From generosities itself had fired;
Then how the heat through every fibre ran,
Felt in the gathering presence of the man,
While the apt word and gesture came unbid!  
Virtues and faults it to one metal wrought,
  Fined all his blood to thought,
And ran the molten man in all he said or did.
All Tully's rules and all Quintilian's too
He by the light of listening faces knew,
And his rapt audience all unconscious lent
Their own roused force to make him eloquent;
Persuasion fondled in his look and tone;
Our speech (with strangers prudish) he could bring
To find new charm in accents not her own;  
Her coy constraints and icy hindrances
Melted upon his lips to natural ease,
As a brook's fetters swell the dance of spring.
Nor yet all sweetness: not in vain he wore,
Nor in the sheath of ceremony, controlled
By velvet courtesy or caution cold,
That sword of honest anger prized of old,
    But, with two-handed wrath,
If baseness or pretension crossed his path,
  Struck once nor needed to strike more.  

ii.

  His magic was not far to seek.--
He was so human! Whether strong or weak,
Far from his kind he neither sank nor soared,
But sate an equal guest at every board:
No beggar ever felt him condescend,
No prince presume; for still himself he bare
At manhood's simple level, and where'er
He met a stranger, there he left a friend.
How large an aspect! nobly un-severe,
With freshness round him of Olympian cheer,  
Like visits of those earthly gods he came;
His look, wherever its good-fortune fell,
Doubled the feast without a miracle,
And on the hearthstone danced a happier flame;
Philemon's crabbed vintage grew benign;
Amphitryon's gold-juice humanized to wine.


III

i.

   The garrulous memories
Gather again from all their far-flown nooks,
Singly at first, and then by twos and threes,
Then in a throng innumerable, as the rooks  
   Thicken their twilight files
Tow'rd Tintern's gray repose of roofless aisles:
Once more I see him at the table's head
When Saturday her monthly banquet spread
   To scholars, poets, wits,
All choice, some famous, loving things, not names,
And so without a twinge at others' fames;
Such company as wisest moods befits,
Yet with no pedant blindness to the worth
  Of undeliberate mirth,  

Natures benignly mixed of air and earth,
Now with the stars and now with equal zest
Tracing the eccentric orbit of a jest.

ii.

I see in vision the warm-lighted hall,
The living and the dead I see again,
And but my chair is empty; 'mid them all
'Tis I that seem the dead: they all remain
Immortal, changeless creatures of the brain:
Wellnigh I doubt which world is real most,
Of sense or spirit to the truly sane;  
In this abstraction it were light to deem
Myself the figment of some stronger dream;
They are the real things, and I the ghost
That glide unhindered through the solid door,
Vainly for recognition seek from chair to chair,
And strive to speak and am but futile air,
As truly most of us are little more.

iii.

Him most I see whom we most dearly miss,
    The latest parted thence,
His features poised in genial armistice  
And armed neutrality of self-defence
Beneath the forehead's walled preeminence,
While Tyro, plucking facts with careless reach,
Settles off-hand our human how and whence;
The long-trained veteran scarcely wincing hears
The infallible strategy of volunteers
Making through Nature's walls its easy breach,
And seems to learn where he alone could teach.
Ample and ruddy, the board's end he fills
As he our fireside were, our light and heat,  
Centre where minds diverse and various skills
Find their warm nook and stretch unhampered feet;
I see the firm benignity of face,
Wide-smiling champaign, without tameness sweet,
The mass Teutonic toned to Gallic grace,
The eyes whose sunshine runs before the lips
While Holmes's rockets, curve their long ellipse,
  And burst in seeds of fire that burst again
    To drop in scintillating rain.

iv.

 There too the face half-rustic, half-divine,  
 Self-poised, sagacious, freaked with humor fine,
 Of him who taught us not to mow and mope
 About our fancied selves, but seek our scope
In Nature's world and Man's, nor fade to hollow trope,
Content with our New World and timely bold
To challenge the o'ermastery of the Old;
Listening with eyes averse I see him sit
Pricked with the cider of the Judge's wit
(Ripe-hearted homebrew, fresh and fresh again),
While the wise nose's firm-built aquiline  
   Curves sharper to restrain
The merriment whose most unruly moods
Pass not the dumb laugh learned in listening woods
   Of silence-shedding pine:
Hard by is he whose art's consoling spell
Hath given both worlds a whiff of asphodel,
His look still vernal 'mid the wintry ring
Of petals that remember, not foretell,
The paler primrose of a second spring.

v.

And more there are: but other forms arise  
And seen as clear, albeit with dimmer eyes:
First he from sympathy still held apart
By shrinking over-eagerness of heart,
Cloud charged with searching fire, whose shadow's sweep
Heightened mean things with sense of brooding ill,
And steeped in doom familiar field and hill,--
New England's poet, soul reserved and deep,
November nature with a name of May,
Whom high o'er Concord plains we laid to sleep,
While the orchards mocked us in their white array  
And building robins wondered at our tears,
Snatched in his prime, the shape august
That should have stood unbent 'neath fourscore years,
The noble head, the eyes of furtive trust,
   All gone to speechless dust.
   And he our passing guest,
Shy nature, too, and stung with life's unrest,
Whom we too briefly had but could not hold,
Who brought ripe Oxford's culture to our board,
   The Past's incalculable hoard,  
Mellowed by scutcheoned panes in cloisters old,
Seclusions ivy-hushed, and pavements sweet
With immemorial lisp of musing feet;
Young head time-tonsured smoother than a friar's,
Boy face, but grave with answerless desires,
Poet in all that poets have of best,
But foiled with riddles dark and cloudy aims,
   Who now hath found sure rest,
Not by still Isis or historic Thames,
Nor by the Charles he tried to love with me,  
But, not misplaced, by Arno's hallowed brim,
Nor scorned by Santa Croce's neighboring fames,
 Haply not mindless, wheresoe'er he be,
Of violets that to-day I scattered over him,
   He, too, is there,
After the good centurion fitly named,
Whom learning dulled not, nor convention tamed,
Shaking with burly mirth his hyacinthine hair,
Our hearty Grecian of Homeric ways,
Still found the surer friend where least he hoped the praise.

vi.

 Yea truly, as the sallowing years  
Fall from us faster, like frost-loosened leaves
Pushed by the misty touch of shortening days,
 And that unwakened winter nears,
'Tis the void chair our surest guest receives,
'Tis lips long cold that give the warmest kiss,
'Tis the lost voice comes oftenest to our ears;
We count our rosary by the beads we miss:
 To me, at least, it seemeth so,
An exile in the land once found divine,  
 While my starved fire burns low,
And homeless winds at the loose casement whine
Shrill ditties of the snow-roofed Apennine.


IV

i.

Now forth into the darkness all are gone,
But memory, still unsated, follows on,
Retracing step by step our homeward walk,
With many a laugh among our serious talk,
Across the bridge where, on the dimpling tide,
The long red streamers from the windows glide,
   Or the dim western moon
Rocks her skiff's image on the broad lagoon,  
And Boston shows a soft Venetian side
In that Arcadian light when roof and tree,
Hard prose by daylight, dream in Italy;
Or haply in the sky's cold chambers wide
Shivered the winter stars, while all below,
As if an end were come of human ill,
The world was wrapt in innocence of snow
And the cast-iron bay was blind and still;
These were our poetry; in him perhaps  
Science had barred the gate that lets in dream,
And he would rather count the perch and bream
Than with the current's idle fancy lapse;
And yet he had the poet's open eye
That takes a frank delight in all it sees,
Nor was earth voiceless, nor the mystic sky,
To him the life-long friend of fields and trees:
Then came the prose of the suburban street,
Its silence deepened by our echoing feet,
And converse such as rambling hazard finds;  
Then he who many cities knew and many minds,
And men once world-noised, now mere Ossian forms
Of misty memory, bade them live anew
As when they shared earth's manifold delight,
In shape, in gait, in voice, in gesture true,
And, with an accent heightening as he warms,
Would stop forgetful of the shortening night,
Drop my confining arm, and pour profuse
Much worldly wisdom kept for others' use,
Not for his own, for he was rash and free,  
His purse or knowledge all men's, like the sea.
Still can I hear his voice's shrilling might
(With pauses broken, while the fitful spark
He blew more hotly rounded on the dark
To hint his features with a Rembrandt light)
Call Oken back, or Humboldt, or Lamarck,
Or Cuvier's taller shade, and many more
Whom he had seen, or knew from others' sight,
And make them men to me as ne'er before:
Not seldom, as the undeadened fibre stirred  
Of noble friendships knit beyond the sea,
German or French thrust by the lagging word,
For a good leash of mother-tongues had he.
At last, arrived at where our paths divide,
'Good night!' and, ere the distance grew too wide,
'Good night!' again; and now with cheated ear
I half hear his who mine shall never hear.

ii.

 Sometimes it seemed as if New England air
 For his large lungs too parsimonious were,
 As if those empty rooms of dogma drear  
 Where the ghost shivers of a faith austere
  Counting the horns o'er of the Beast,
Still scaring those whose faith to it is least,
 As if those snaps o' th' moral atmosphere
 That sharpen all the needles of the East,
  Had been to him like death,
 Accustomed to draw Europe's freer breath
   In a more stable element;
 Nay, even our landscape, half the year morose,
 Our practical horizon, grimly pent,  
 Our air, sincere of ceremonious haze,
 Forcing hard outlines mercilessly close,
 Our social monotone of level days,
  Might make our best seem banishment;
   But it was nothing so;
  Haply this instinct might divine,
 Beneath our drift of puritanic snow,
  The marvel sensitive and fine
 Of sanguinaria over-rash to blow
 And trust its shyness to an air malign;  
 Well might he prize truth's warranty and pledge
 In the grim outcrop of our granite edge,
 Or Hebrew fervor flashing forth at need
 In the gaunt sons of Calvin's iron breed,
 As prompt to give as skilled to win and keep;
 But, though such intuitions might not cheer,
 Yet life was good to him, and, there or here,
With that sufficing joy, the day was never cheap;
 Thereto his mind was its own ample sphere,
 And, like those buildings great that through the year  
 Carry one temperature, his nature large
 Made its own climate, nor could any marge
 Traced by convention stay him from his bent:
 He had a habitude of mountain air;
 He brought wide outlook where he went,
  And could on sunny uplands dwell
 Of prospect sweeter than the pastures fair
  High-hung of viny Neufchatel;
   Nor, surely, did he miss
   Some pale, imaginary bliss
Of earlier sights whose inner landscape still was Swiss.  


V

i.

 I cannot think he wished so soon to die
 With all his senses full of eager heat,
 And rosy years that stood expectant by
 To buckle the winged sandals on their feet,
 He that was friends with Earth, and all her sweet
 Took with both hands unsparingly:
 Truly this life is precious to the root,
 And good the feel of grass beneath the foot;
 To lie in buttercups and clover-bloom,  
  Tenants in common with the bees,
 And watch the white clouds drift through gulfs of trees,
 Is better than long waiting in the tomb;
 Only once more to feel the coming spring
 As the birds feel it, when it bids them sing,
  Only once more to see the moon
 Through leaf-fringed abbey-arches of the elms
  Curve her mild sickle in the West
 Sweet with the breath of haycocks, were a boon
 Worth any promise of soothsayer realms  
 Or casual hope of being elsewhere blest;
  To take December by the beard
 And crush the creaking snow with springy foot,
 While overhead the North's dumb streamers shoot,
 Till Winter fawn upon the cheek endeared,
  Then the long evening-ends
  Lingered by cosy chimney-nooks,
 With high companionship of books
  Or slippered talk of friends
  And sweet habitual looks,
Is better than to stop the ears with dust:  
Too soon the spectre comes to say, 'Thou must!'

ii.

 When toil-crooked hands are crost upon the breast,
  They comfort us with sense of rest;
 They must be glad to lie forever still;
  Their work is ended with their day;
Another fills their room; 't is the World's ancient way,
  Whether for good or ill;
 But the deft spinners of the brain,
 Who love each added day and find it gain,  
  Them overtakes the doom
 To snap the half-grown flower upon the loom
 (Trophy that was to be of life long pain),
 The thread no other skill can ever knit again.
  'Twas so with him, for he was glad to live,
 'Twas doubly so, for he left work begun;
 Could not this eagerness of Fate forgive
  Till all the allotted flax were spun?
 It matters not; for, go at night or noon,
 A friend, whene'er he dies, has died too soon,  
 And, once we hear the hopeless _He is dead,_
 So far as flesh hath knowledge, all is said.


VI

i.

 I seem to see the black procession go:
 That crawling prose of death too well I know,
 The vulgar paraphrase of glorious woe;
 I see it wind through that unsightly grove,
 Once beautiful, but long defaced
 With granite permanence of cockney taste
 And all those grim disfigurements we love:
 There, then, we leave him: Him? such costly waste  
 Nature rebels at: and it is not true
Of those most precious parts of him we knew:
 Could we be conscious but as dreamers be,
 'Twere sweet to leave this shifting life of tents
 Sunk in the changeless calm of Deity;
 Nay, to be mingled with the elements,
 The fellow-servants of creative powers,
 Partaker in the solemn year's events,
 To share the work of busy-fingered hours,
 To be night's silent almoner of dew,  
 To rise again in plants and breathe and grow,
 To stream as tides the ocean caverns through,
 Or with the rapture of great winds to blow
 About earth's shaken coignes, were not a fate
  To leave us all-disconsolate;
Even endless slumber in the sweetening sod
  Of charitable earth
 That takes out all our mortal stains,
And makes us cleanlier neighbors of the clod,
  Methinks were better worth
Than the poor fruit of most men's wakeful pains,  
  The heart's insatiable ache:
  But such was not his faith,
 Nor mine: it may be he had trod
Outside the plain old path of _God thus spake_,
  But God to him was very God
  And not a visionary wraith
 Skulking in murky corners of the mind,
  And he was sure to be
Somehow, somewhere, imperishable as He,  
Not with His essence mystically combined,
As some high spirits long, but whole and free,
 A perfected and conscious Agassiz.
And such I figure him: the wise of old
Welcome and own him of their peaceful fold,
 Not truly with the guild enrolled
 Of him who seeking inward guessed
 Diviner riddles than the rest,
 And groping in the darks of thought
 Touched the Great Hand and knew it not;    
 Rather he shares the daily light,
 From reason's charier fountains won,
Of his great chief, the slow-paced Stagyrite,
And Cuvier clasps once more his long-lost son.

ii.

The shape erect is prone: forever stilled
The winning tongue; the forehead's high-piled heap,
A cairn which every science helped to build,
Unvalued will its golden secrets keep:
He knows at last if Life or Death be best:
Wherever he be flown, whatever vest       
The being hath put on which lately here
So many-friended was, so full of cheer
To make men feel the Seeker's noble zest,
We have not lost him all; he is not gone
To the dumb herd of them that wholly die;
The beauty of his better self lives on
In minds he touched with fire, in many an eye
He trained to Truth's exact severity;
He was a Teacher: why be grieved for him
Whose living word still stimulates the air?   
In endless file shall loving scholars come
The glow of his transmitted touch to share,
And trace his features with an eye less dim
Than ours whose sense familiar wont makes dumb.