Alexander Anderson Poems >>
In Tempe

I was a shepherd in the Tempean vale,
 I heard Apollo play,
And send sweet music, like a lover's tale,
 Throughout the golden day.


I, too, not wishing to remain as mute,
 In happy fits essay'd
To finger with rude touch the piping lute;
 I touch'd it, but I made


Discordant music, jarring the nice ear
 Of dryad, nymph and faun,
Who, coming from their woodland haunts to hear,
 Back to their covert ran.


And now and then above me a white cloud
 Would open, and display
Some idle god therein, who laugh'd aloud,
 Then slowly moved away.


But ever as Apollo touch'd his lyre,
 Within me there upsprung
A longing for high music—a desire
 For something to be sung.


And this faint, sweet desire was sure to come
 In pauses, when aside
He flung his lyre to listen to the hum
 Of summer life. I tried


In such still intervals what mine would do,
 In simple wishfulness
To hear soft piping; all the discord grew
 Within it less and less.


And playing on, I smiled to hear its tone
 Coming so soft and sweet;
At times, too, when I thought myself alone
 I smiled in self-conceit.


But when I laid my lute aside to dream,
 Half seen before the eye
Sweet rural things, as bright as some stray beam,
 Would gently wander by.


Or lay themselves beside my feet in rest,
 Looking up with sweet eyes,
Whose light shot languor through my idle breast,
 Like sunbeams from the skies.


Above my head the green and tremulous leaf
 Ran music through my dreams,
Which brought no shadow, or stray touch of grief.
 Close by my feet the streams


Scarce stirr'd the pebbles. All was one great trust:
 The quick hours softly flew,
Flinging from golden spotted wings light dust
 That fell as soft as dew


On half-shut eyelids making-dreams upstart,
 Till the delighted eye
Reel'd in the sense of its creative art,
 As stars reel in the sky.


Sometimes a goddess, hid in veils of light,
 Came downward from a cloud,
Shedding around her such a wild delight,
 I almost spoke aloud.


Then, half unveiling, she would show a limb
 White as the statue's snow,
And one ripe breast, at which my soul would swim,
 And all the pulses glow.


But when she bent her head till its red bud
 Lay crush'd against my cheek,
My spirit reel'd in fire throughout my blood,
 And rashly I would speak.


Then the dream faded; others came, in which
 I sat in high abodes,
With Hebe and her nectar within reach,
 And all the mighty gods.


I breath'd within the shadow of their light,
 Having no human care;
But bathing in continual delight
 With the Immortals there.


Wild passion-gusts were mine, I could not shun
 In that Olympian clime,
But met them with those throbs that melt and run
 Through Swinburne's sensuous rhyme.


For through that cloudless day a tinge of fire
 Ran, touching everything,
Making quick tongues that craved for sweet desire
 And all its nourishing.


Such were my visions in the Tempean vale,
 As day and night I lay
Hearing Apollo send a plaintive wail
 Of melody alway.


I heard the wild world's din afar, nor cared
 To hear its stirring sound;
Dreaming not that its labour must be shared
 Through all its reach and bound.


But idly sat, and ate the lotus leaf,
 Losing the nobler touch
Of that which makes us count one aim the chief,
 Which makes the rest a crutch.


But lo! a sudden voice came, as is heard
 The far, faint thunder's roar,
Crying—"O thou whose soul is never stirr'd
 To take the upward soar


With mankind, ever striving to work on,
 Spurr'd on by needs and wants,
Not listening, half asleep, to some stray tone
 For which the weak heart pants:


If thou hast aught in common with thy kind,
 Come from this idle mood,
And stand with willing heart and steadfast mind,
 As the brave worker should.


Hearest thou not the great world's mighty cry—
 'Lo, here is work for men!'
The deep, reverberating years reply,
 And answer back again."


With this voice ever ringing in my ear,
 I flung my lute away;
Came forth, and stood, half given up to fear,
 In all the open day.


I saw my fellows, brown'd and rough with toil,
 Work with all good in view;
And pushing onward with continuous moil
 To what is grand and true.


So, rising from my idle life, I took
 Tools that are fit for men,
And wrought and sung with brow inclined to brook
 No idle dream again.


And working on, new strength grew up in me,
 Such as when some new hope
Sends light into the heart, and we can see
 Clouds clearing from the scope.


This strength, too, led me on to other things
 That brought a clearer view;
I drank from the full source of purer springs,
 And framed myself anew.


I saw a better meaning, like sweet light
 Resting upon the earth,
Which led me with sure footstep to the right,
 With the old life a dearth


Within me, giving place to the high mind,
 Like mist to the sun's beam;
While Tempe and its vale lies far behind,
 Like an unfinish'd dream.