_Heat lightning flickers in one cloud,
As in a flow’r a firefly;
Some rain-drops, that the rose-bush bowed,
Jar through the leaves and dimly lie;
Among the trees, now low, now loud,
The whispering breezes sigh.
The place is lone; the night is hushed;
Upon the path a rose lies crushed._
_Musing he strolls among the quiet lanes by farm and field._
Now rests the season in forgetfulness,
Careless in beauty of maturity;
The ripened roses ’round brown temples, she
Fulfils completion in a dreamy guess.
Now Time grants night the more and day the less;
The gray decides; and brown
Dim golds and drabs in dulling green express
Themselves and redden as the year goes down.
Sadder the fields where, thrusting hoary high
Their tasseled heads, the Lear-like corn-stocks die,
And, Falstaff-like, buff-bellied pumpkins lie.–
Deeper to tenderness,
Sadder the blue of hills that lounge along
The lonesome west; sadder the song
Of the wild red-bird in the leafage yellow.–
Deeper and dreamier, ay!
Than woods or waters, leans the languid sky
Above lone orchards where the cider-press
Drips and the russets mellow.
Nature grows liberal: from the beechen leaves
The beech-nuts’ burs their little pockets thrust,
Bulged with the copper of the nuts that rust;
Above the grass the spendthrift spider weaves
A web of silver for which Dawn designs
Thrice twenty rows of pearls; beneath the oak,
That rolls old roots in many gnarly lines,–
The polished acorns, from their saucers broke,
Strew wildwood agates.–On sonorous pines
The far wind organs, but the forest near
Is silent; and the blue-white smoke
Of burning brush, beyond that field of hay,
Hangs like a pillar in the atmosphere;
But now it shakes–it breaks; and all the vines
And tree-tops tremble;–see! the wind is here!
Billowing and boisterous; and the smiling day
Rejoices with its clamor. Earth and sky
Resound with glory of its majesty,
Impetuous splendor of its rushing by.–
But on those heights the forest yet is still,
Expectant of its coming. Far away
Each anxious tree upon each waiting hill
Tingles anticipation, as in gray
Surmise of rapture. Now the first gusts play,
Like little laughs, about their rippling spines;
And now the wildwood, one exultant sway,
Shouts–and the light at each tumultuous pause,
The light that glooms and shines,
Seems hands in wild applause.
How glows that garden! though the white mists keep
The vagabonding flowers reminded of
Decay that comes to slay in open love,
When the full moon hangs cold and night is deep;
Unheeding still, their happy colors leap
And laugh encircled of the scythe of death,–
Like lovely children he prepares to reap,–
Staying his blade a breath
To mark their beauty ere, with one last sweep,
He lays them dead and turns away to weep.–
Let me admire,–
Ere yet the sickle of the coming cold
Has mown them down,–their beauties manifold:–
How like to spurts of fire
That scarlet salvia lifts its blooms, which heap
Yon space of sunlight. And, as sparkles creep
Through charring parchment, up that window’s screen
The cypress dots with crimson all its green,
The haunt of many bees.
And, showering down cascaded lattices,
That nightshade bleeds with berries; drops of blood,
In clusters hanging ‘mid the blue monk’s-hood.
There in the garden old
The bright-hued clumps of zinnias unfold
Their formal flowers; and the marigold
Lifts its pinched shred of orange sunset caught
And elfed in petals. The nasturtium,
All pungent leaved and bitter of perfume,
Hangs up its goblin bonnet, fairy bought
From Gnomeland. There, predominant, red,
And arrogant the dahlia lifts its head,
Beside the balsam’s rosy horns of honey,
Within the murmuring, sunny
Dry wildness of the weedy flower bed;
Where crickets and the weed-bugs, noon and night,
Sing dirges for the flowers that soon will die,
For flowers already dead.–
I seem to hear the passing Summer sigh;
A voice, that seems to weep,
“Too soon, too soon the Beautiful passes by!”–
If I perchance might peep
Beneath those leaves of podded hollyhocks,
That the bland wind with odorous whispers rocks,
I might behold her,–white
And weary,–Summer, ‘mid her flowers asleep,
Her drowsy flowers asleep,
The withered poppies knotted in her locks.
_He is reminded of another day with her._
The hips were reddening on this rose,
Those haws were hung with fire,
That day we went this way that goes
Up hills of bough and brier.
This hooked thorn caught her gown and seemed
Imploring her to linger;
Upon her hair a sun-ray streamed
Like some baptizing finger.
This false-foxglove, so golden now
With yellow blooms like bangles,
Was fading then. But yonder bough,–
The sumach’s plume entangles,–
Was like an Indian’s painted face;
And, like a squaw, attended
That bush, in vague vermilion grace
With beads of berries splendid.
And here we turned to mount that hill,
Down which the wild brook tumbles;
And, like to-day, that day was still,
And soft winds swayed the umbles
Of these wild carrots lawny gray;
And there, deep-dappled o’er us,
An orchard stretched; and in our way
Dropped ripened fruit before us.
A muffled thud the pippin fell,
And at our feet rolled dusty;
A hornet clinging to its bell,
The pear lay bruised and rusty.
The smell of pulpy peach and plum,
From which the juice oozed yellow,
Around which bees made sleepy hum,
Filled warm the air and mellow.
And then we came where, many hued,
The wet wild-morning-glory
Hung its balloons in shadows dewed
For dawning’s offertory.
With bush and bramble, far away,
Beneath us stretched the valley,
Cleft of one creek, as clear as day,
That bickered musically.
The brown, the bronze, the green, the red
Of weed and brier ran riot
To walls of woods, whose vistas led
To shadowy nooks of quiet.
Long waves of feathering golden-rod
Ran through the gray in patches;
As in a cloud the gold of God
Burns, that the sunset catches.
And there, above the blue hills, rolled,
Like some vast conflagration,
The sunset, flaming rose and gold,
We watched in exultation.
Then turning homeward, she and I
Went in love’s sweet derangement–
How different now seem earth and sky,
Since this undreamed estrangement!
_He enters the woods. He sits down despondently._
Here where the day is dimmest,
And silence company,
Some might find sympathy
For loss, or grief the grimmest,
In each great-hearted tree–
Here where the day is dimmest–
But, ah, there’s none for me!
In leaves might find communion,
Returning sigh for sigh,
For love the heavens deny;
The love that yearns for union,
Yet parts and knows not why.–
In leaves might find communion–
But, ah, not I, not I!
My eyes with tears are aching.–
Why has she written me?
And will no longer see?–
My heart with grief is breaking,
With grief that this should be–
My eyes with tears are aching–
Why has she written me?
_He proceeds in the direction of a stream._
Better is death than sleep,
Better for tired eyes.–
Why do we weep and weep
When near us the solace lies?
There in that stream, that, deep,–
Reflecting woods and skies,–
Could comfort all our sighs.
The mystery of things,
Of dreams, philosophies,
‘Round which the mortal clings,
_That_ can unriddle these.–
What is’t the water sings?
What is’t it promises?–
End to all miseries!
_He seats himself on a rock and gazes steadily into the stream._
And here alone I sit and it is so!–
O vales and hills! O valley lands and knobs!
What cure have you for woe?
None that my heart may know!–
The wearying sameness!–yet this thing is so!–
This thing is so, and still the waters flow,
The leaves drop slowly down; the daylight throbs
With sun and wind, and yet this thing is so!–
Here, at this culvert’s mouth,
The shadowy water, flowing towards the south,
Seems deepest, stagnant-stayed.–
What is there yonder that makes me afraid?–
Of my own self afraid?–what is’t below?
What power draws me to the striate stream?
What evil or what dream?–
Me, dropping pebbles in the quiet wave,
That echoes, strange as music in a cave,
Hollow and thin; vibrating in the shade
Like sound of tears–the shadow of some woe,
An ailing phantom that will not be laid,
Since this is so, since this sad thing is so.
There, in the water, how the lank green grass
Mats its rank blades, each blade a crooked kris,
Making a marsh; ‘mid which the currents miss
Their rock-born melodies.
But there, and there one sees
The wide-belled mallow, as within a glass,
Long-pistiled, leaning o’er
The root-contorted shore,
As if its own pink image it would kiss.
And there the tangled wild-potato vine
Lifts conical blossoms, each a cup of wine,
As pale as moonlight is.
And there tall gipsy lilies, all a-sway,
Their savage, coppery faces, fierce of hue,
Dull purple-streaked, bend in inverted view.–
And where the stream around those rushes creeps,
The dragon-fly, in endless error, keeps
Sewing the pale gold gown of day
With tangled stitches of a burning blue:
Its brilliant body seems a needle fine,
A thread of azure ray.
But here below me where my pensive shade
Looks up at me, the stale stream stagnant lies,
Deep, dark, but clear and silent; save the hiss
Of bursting bubbles in the spawny ooze.–
All flowers here refuse
To grow or blossom; beauties, too, are few,
That haunt its depths: no glittering minnows braid
Its languid crystal; and no gravels strew
With colored orbs its bottom. Half afraid
I shrink from my own eyes
There in its cairngorm skies–
I know not why, and yet it seems ’tis this:–
I know not what–but where the kildees wade
Slim in the foamy scum,
From that direction hither doth it come,
And makes my heart afraid.
Nearer it draws to where those low rocks ail,
Warm rocks on which some water-snake hath clomb
To bask its spotted body, coiling numb.–
At first it seemed a prism on the grail,
A bubble’s prism yonder; then a trail,
An angled sparkle in a shadow, swayed
Frog-like through deeps, to crouch a flaccid, pale,
Squat bulk below…. Reflected trees and skies,
And breeze-blown clouds that lounge at sunny loss,
Seem in its stolid eyes,
Deep down–the dim disguise
Of something ghoulish there, whose features fail,
Then come again in rhythmic waviness,
With arms like tentacles that seem to press
Up towards me. Limbs that writhe, and fade,
And clench–tough limbs, that twist and cross
Through flabby hair like smoky moss.
How horrible to see this thing at night!
Or when the sunset slants its brimstone light
Above the water! when, in phantom flight,
The will-o’-the-wisps, perhaps, above it reel.
Then haply would it rise, a rotting green,
Up, up, and gather me with arms of steel,
Soft steel, and drag me where the wave is white,
Beneath that boulder there, that plants a keel
Against the ripple there, a shoulder lean.–
No! no! I must away before ’tis night!
Before the fire-flies dot
The dusk with sulphur blurrings bright!
Before upon yon height
The white wild-carrots vanish from the sight;
And boneset blossoms, tossing there in clusters,
Fade to a ridge, a streak of ghostly lustres.
And in yon sunlit spot,
That cedar tree is not!–
But a huge cap instead, that, half-asleep,
Some giant dropped while driving home his sheep.
And ‘mid those fallow browns
And russet grays, the fragrant peak
Of yonder timothy stack,
Is not a stack, but something hideous, black,
That threatens and, grotesquely demon, frowns.
I must away from here.–
Already dusk draws near.
The owlet’s dolorous hoot
Sounds quavering as a gnome’s wild flute;
The toad, within the wet,
Begins to tune its goblin flageolet.
The slow sun sinks behind
Those hills; and like a withered cheek,
Distorted there, the spectral moon’s defined
Above those trees; above that mass of vines
That, like a wrecked appentice, roofs those pines.–
Oh, I am faint and weak.–
I must away, away,
Before the close of day!–
Already at my back
I feel the woods grow black;
And sense the evening wind,
Guttural and gaunt and blind,
Snarling behind me like a were-wolf pack.–
When will it cease to pierce,
This anguish dull and fierce,
At heart and soul? when will it let me go?–
At last, with footsteps slow,
With half averted cheek,
I’ve reached this woodland creek,
Far from that place of fear;
And still I seem to hear
A dripping footstep near;
A gurgling voice dim glimmering at my ear.
I try to fly!–I can not!–yes, and no!–
What horror holds me!–God! that obscene, slow,
Sure mastering chimera there
Has yet some horrible feeler round my neck,
Or in my scattered hair!–
Off! off! thou devil’s coil!–
The waters, thrashing, boil–
Once more I’m free! once more I’m free!
Glad of that firefly fleck,
That, like a lamp of golden fairy oil,
Lights me the way I flee.–
No more I stare, magnetic-fixed; nor reck,
Nor little care to foil
The madness there! the murder there! that slips
Back to its lair of slime, that seeps and drips,
That sought in vain to fasten on my lips.
_Taking a letter from his pocket, he hurries away._
What can it mean for me? What have I done to her?
I, in our season of love as a sun to her:
She, all its heaven of silvery, numberful
Stars and its moon shining golden and slumberful;
Who on my life, that was thorny and lowery,
Gazed–and made beautiful; smiled–and made flowery.
She, to my heart and my soul a divinity!
She, who–I dreamed!–seemed my spirit’s affinity!–
What have I done to her? what have I done?
What can she mean by this?–what have I said to her!
I, who have idolized, worshipped, and pled to her;
Sung for her, laughed for her, sorrowed and sighed for her;
Lived for her only; would gladly have died for her!
See!–she has written me thus! she has written me….
Sooner would dagger or serpent had smitten me!–
Would you had shriveled ere ever you’d read of it,
Eyes, that are wide to the bitterest dread of it!–
What have I said to her? what have I said?
What shall I make of it? I who am trembling,
Dreading to lose her.–A moth, the dissembling
Flame of the candle attracts with its guttering,
Flattering on till its body lies fluttering,
Scorched in the summer night.–Foolish, importunate,
Why did’st thou leave the cool flowers, unfortunate!–
Such has she been to me making me such to her,
Slaying me, saying I never was much to her!–
What shall I make of it? what can I make?
Love, in thy everglades, moaning and motionless,
Look, I have fallen; the evil is potionless.
I,–with no thought but the heav’n that did lock us in,–
Set naked feet ‘mid the cottonmouth, moccasin,
Under the roses, the Cherokee, eyeing me.–
I,–in the sky with the egrets that, flying me,
Loosened like blooms from magnolias, rose slenderly,
White and pale pink; where the mocking-bird tenderly
Sang, making vistas of mosses melodious;–
Wandered unheeding my steps in the odious
Ooze and the venom. I followed the wiry
Violet curve of thy star falling fiery–
So was I lost in night! thus am undone!
Have I not told to her–living alone for her–
Purposed unfoldments of deeds I had sown for her
Here in the soil of my soul? their variety
Endless–and ever she answered with piety.
See! it has come to this–all the tale’s suavity
At the ninth chapter grows wretched to gravity;
Cruel as death all our beautiful history–
Close it!–the finis is more than a mystery.–
Yes, I will go to her; yes, I will speak.
_After the last meeting; the day following._
I seem to see her still; to see
That dim blue room. Her perfume comes
From lavender folds draped dreamily–
One blossom of brocaded blooms–
Some stuff of orient looms.
I seem to hear her speak; and back
Where lies the sun on books and piles
Of porcelain and bric-a-brac,
A tall clock ticks above the tiles,
Where Love’s framed profile smiles.
I hear her say, “Ah, had I known!–
I suffer too for what has been–
For what must be.”–A wild ache shone
In her sad eyes that seemed to lean
On something far, unseen.
And as in sleep my own self seems
Outside my suffering self.–I flush
‘Twixt facts and undetermined dreams,
And wait as silent as that hush
Of lilac light and plush.
Smiling, but suffering, I feel,
Beneath that face, so sweet and sad,
In those pale temples, thoughts like steel
Pierce burningly.–I had gone mad
Had I once deemed her glad.–
Unconsciously, with eyes that yearn
To look beyond the present far
For some faint future hope, I turn–
Above her garden, day’s fierce star,
Vermilion at the window bar,
Sank sullenly–like love’s own sun–
An omen of our future life.–
And then the memory of one
Rich day she’d said she’d be my wife
Set heart and brain at strife.
Again amid the heavy hues,
Soft crimson, seal, and satiny gold
Of flowers there, I stood ‘mid dews
With her; deep in her garden old,
While sunset fires uprolled.
And now…. It can not be! and yet
To feel ’tis so!–In heart and brain
To know ’tis so!–while warm and wet
I seem to smell those scents again,
Verbena-scents and rain.
I turn, in hope she’ll bid me stay.
Again her cameo beauty mark
Set in that smile.–She turns away.
No word of love! not even a spark
Of hope to cheer the dark!
That sepia sketch–conceive it so–
A jaunty head with mouth and eyes
Tragic beneath a rose-chapeau,
Silk-masked, unmasking–it denies
The look we half surmise,
We know is there. ‘Tis thus we read
The true beneath the false; perceive
The smile that hides the ache.–Indeed!
Whose soul unmasks?… Not mine!–I grieve,–
Oh God!–but laugh and leave….
_He walks aimlessly on._
Beyond those twisted apple-trees,
That partly hide the old brick-barn,
Its tattered arms and tattered knees
A scare-crow tosses to the breeze
Among the shocks of corn.
My heart is gray as is the day,
In which the rain-wind drearily
Makes all the sounding branches sway,
And in the hollows far away
The dry leaves rustle wearily.
And soon we’ll hear the far wild-geese
Honk in frost-bitten heavens under
Arcturus; when my walks must cease,
And by the fireside’s log-heaped peace
I’ll sit and nod and ponder.–
When every fall of this loud creek
Is architectured ice; and hinted
Brown acres of yon corn stretch bleak,
White-sculptured with the snows, that streak
The hillsides bitter-tinted,
I’ll sit and dream of that glad morn
We went down ways where blooms were blowing;
That dusk we strolled through flower and thorn,
By tasseled meads of cane and corn,
To where the stream was flowing.
Again I’ll oar our boat among
The lily-pads that dot the river;
And reach her hat the grape-vine long
Strikes in the stream; we’ll sing that song,
And then…. I’ll wake and shiver.
Why is it that my mind reverts
To that sweet past? while full of parting
The present is; so full of hurts
And heartache, that what it asserts
Adds only to the smarting.
How often shall I sit and think
Of that sweet past! through lowered lashes
What-might-have-been trace link by link;
Then watch it gradually sink
And crumble into ashes.
Outside I’ll hear the sad wind weep
Like some lone spirit, grieved, forsaken;
Then shuddering to bed shall creep
And lie awake, or haply sleep
A sleep by visions shaken.
Dreams of the past that paint and draw
The present in a hue that’s wanting;
A scare-crow thing of sticks and straw,–
Like that just now I, passing, saw,–
Its empty tatters flaunting.
_He compares the present day with a past one._
The sun a splintered splendor was
In trees, whose waving branches blurred
Its disc, that day we went together,
‘Mid wild-bee hum and whirring buzz
Of insects, through the fields that purred
With Summer in the perfect weather.
So sweet it was to look and lean
To her young face and feel the light
Of eyes that met my own unsaddened!
Her laugh, that left lips more serene;
Her speech, that blossomed like the white
Life-everlasting there and gladdened.
Maturing Summer! you were fraught
With more of beauty then than now
Parades the pageant of September:
Where what-is-now contrasts in thought
With what-was-once, that bloom and bough
Can only help me to remember.
_He pauses before a deserted house by the roadside._
Through iron-weeds and roses
And ancient beech and oak,
Old porches it discloses
Above the weeds and roses,
The drizzling raindrops soak.
Neglected walks a-tangle
With dodder-strangled grass;
And every mildewed angle
Heaped with dead leaves that spangle
The paths that round it pass.
The creatures there that bury
And hide within its rooms,
And spidered closets–very
Dim with gray webs–will hurry
Out when the twilight glooms.
Owls roost in room and basement;
Bats haunt its hearth and porch,
And through some paneless casement
Flit, in the moon’s enlacement,
Or firefly’s twinkling torch.
There is a sense of frost here,
And gusts that sigh away.–
What was it that was lost here?
Long, long ago was lost here?–
Can anybody say?
My foot perhaps would startle
Some bird that mopes within;
Some owl above its portal,
That stares upon the mortal
As on a thing of sin.
The rutty road winds by it
This side the dusty toll.–
Why do I stop to eye it?
My heart can not deny it–
The house is like my soul.
_He proceeds on his way._
I bear a burden–look not therein!
Naught will you find but sorrow and sin;
Sorrow and sin that wend with me
Wherever I go. And misery,
A gaunt companion, a wretched bride,
Goes always with me, side by side.
Sick of myself and all the Earth,
I ask my soul now–is life worth
The little pleasure that we gain
For all our sorrow and our pain?
The love, to which we gave our best,
That turns a mockery and a jest?
_Among the twilight fields._
The things we love, the loveliest things we cherish,
Pass from us soonest, vanish utterly.
Dust are our deeds, and dust our dreams that perish
Ere we can say _they be_!
I have loved man and learned we are not brothers–
Within myself, perhaps, may lie the cause;–
Then set one woman high above all others,
And found her full of flaws.
Made unseen stars my keblahs of devotion;
Aspired to knowledge and remained a clod:
With heart and soul, led on by blind emotion,
The way to failure trod.
Chance, say, or fate that works through good and evil;
Or destiny, that nothing may retard,
That to some end, above life’s empty level,
Perhaps withholds reward.
(Madison Julius Cawein)
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Based on Keywords: half-asleep, compares, mallow, gnarly, angled, pulpy, cameo, tentacles, tasseled, dulling, purred