Nathaniel Parker Willis Poems >>
The Tri-Portrait

'Twas a rich night in June. The air was all
  Fragrance and balm, and the wet leaves were stirred
  By the soft fingers of the southern wind,
  And caught the light capriciously, like wings
  Haunting the greenwood with a silvery sheen.
  The stars might not be numbered, and the moon
  Exceeding beautiful, went up in heaven,
  And took her place in silence, and a hush,
  Like the deep Sabbath of the night, came down
  And rested upon nature. I was out
  With three sweet sisters wandering, and my thoughts
  Took color of the moonlight, and of them,
  And I was calm and happy. Their deep tones,
  Low in the stillness, and by that soft air
  Melted to reediness, bore out, like song,
  The language of high feelings, and I felt
  How excellent is woman when she gives
  To the fine pulses of her spirit way.
  One was a noble being, with a brow
  Ample and pure, and on it her black hair
  Was parted, like a raven's wing on snow.
  Her tone was low and sweet, and in her smile
  You read intense affections. Her moist eye
  Had a most rare benignity; her mouth,
  Bland and unshadowed sweetness; and her face
  Was full of that mild dignity that gives
  A holiness to woman. She was one
  Whose virtues blossom daily, and pour out
  A fragrance upon all who in her path
  Have a blest fellowship. I longed to be
  Her brother, that her hand might lie upon
  My forehead, and her gentle voice allay
  The fever that is at my heart sometimes.

  There was a second sister who might witch
  An angel from his hymn. I cannot tell
  The secret of her beauty. It is more
  Than her slight penciled lip, and her arch eye
  Laughing beneath its lashes, as if life
  Were nothing but a merry mask; 'tis more
  Than motion, though she moveth like a fay;
  Or music, though her voice is like a reed
  Blown by a low south wind; or cunning grace,
  Though all she does is beautiful; or thought,
  Or fancy, or a delicate sense, though mind
  Is her best gift, and poetry her world,
  And she will see strange beauty in a flower
  As by a subtle vision. I care not
  To know how she bewitches; 'tis enough
  For me that I can listen to her voice
  And dream rare dreams of music, or converse
  Upon unwrit philosophy, till I
  Am wildered beneath thoughts I cannot bound
  And the red lip that breathes them.
                 On my arm
  Leaned an unshadowed girl, who scarcely yet
  Had numbered fourteen summers. I know not
  How I shall draw her picture--the young heart
  Has such a restlessness of change, and each
  Of its wild moods so lovely! I can see
  Her figure in its rounded beauty now,
  With her half-flying step, her clustering hair
  Bathing a neck like Hebe's, and her face
  By a glad heart made radiant. She was full
  Of the romance of girlhood. The fair world
  Was like an unmarred Eden to her eye,
  And every sound was music, and the tint
  Of every cloud a silent poetry.
  Light to thy path, bright creature! I would charm
  Thy being if I could, that it should be
  Ever as now thou dreamest, and flow on
  Thus innocent and beautiful to heaven!
  We walked beneath the full and mellow moon
  Till the late stars had risen. It was not
  In silence, though we did not seem to break
  The hush with our low voices; but our thoughts
  Stirred deeply at their sources; and when night
  Divided us, I slumbered with a peace
  Floating about my heart, which only comes
  From high communion. I shall never see
  That silver moon again without a crowd
  Of gentle memories, and a silent prayer,
  That when the night of life shall oversteal
  Your sky, ye lovely sisters! there may be
  A light as beautiful to lead you on.