New Poems

Page 23



NOR judge me light, tho' light at times I seem, And lightly in the stress of fortune bear The innumerable flaws of changeful care - Nor judge me light for this, nor rashly deem (Office forbid to mortals, kept supreme And separate the prerogative of God!) That seaman idle who is borne abroad To the far haven by the favouring stream. Not he alone that to contrarious seas Opposes, all night long, the unwearied oar, Not he alone, by high success endeared, Shall reach the Port; but, winged, with some light breeze Shall they, with upright keels, pass in before Whom easy Taste, the golden pilot, steered.


So shall this book wax like unto a well, Fairy with mirrored flowers about the brim, Or like some tarn that wailing curlews skim, Glassing the sallow uplands or brown fell; And so, as men go down into a dell (Weary with noon) to find relief and shade, When on the uneasy sick-bed we are laid, We shall go down into thy book, and tell The leaves, once blank, to build again for us Old summer dead and ruined, and the time Of later autumn with the corn in stook. So shalt thou stint the meagre winter thus Of his projected triumph, and the rime Shall melt before the sunshine in thy book.


I have a hoard of treasure in my breast; The grange of memory steams against the door, Full of my bygone lifetime's garnered store - Old pleasures crowned with sorrow for a zest, Old sorrow grown a joy, old penance blest, Chastened remembrance of the sins of yore That, like a new evangel, more and more Supports our halting will toward the best. Ah! what to us the barren after years May bring of joy or sorrow, who can tell? O, knowing not, who cares? It may be well That we shall find old pleasures and old fears, And our remembered childhood seen thro' tears, The best of Heaven and the worst of Hell.


As starts the absent dreamer when a train, Suddenly disengulphed below his feet, Roars forth into the sunlight, to its seat My soul was shaken with immediate pain Intolerable as the scanty breath Of that one word blew utterly away The fragile mist of fair deceit that lay O'er the bleak years that severed me from death. Yes, at the sight I quailed; but, not unwise Or not, O God, without some nervous thread Of that best valour, Patience, bowed my head, And with firm bosom and most steadfast eyes, Strong in all high resolve, prepared to tread The unlovely path that leads me toward the skies.


Not undelightful, friend, our rustic ease To grateful hearts; for by especial hap, Deep nested in the hill's enormous lap, With its own ring of walls and grove of trees, Sits, in deep shelter, our small cottage - nor Far-off is seen, rose carpeted and hung With clematis, the quarry whence she sprung, O mater pulchra filia pulchrior, Whither in early spring, unharnessed folk, We join the pairing swallows, glad to stay Where, loosened in the hills, remote, unseen, From its tall trees, it breathes a slender smoke To heaven, and in the noon of sultry day Stands, coolly buried, to the neck in green.


As in the hostel by the bridge I sate, Nailed with indifference fondly deemed complete, And (O strange chance, more sorrowful than sweet) The counterfeit of her that was my fate, Dressed in like vesture, graceful and sedate, Went quietly up the vacant village street, The still small sound of her most dainty feet Shook, like a trumpet blast, my soul's estate. Instant revolt ran riot through my brain, And all night long, thereafter, hour by hour, The pageant of dead love before my eyes Went proudly; and old hopes, broke loose again From the restraint of wisely temperate power, With ineffectual ardour sought to rise.


The strong man's hand, the snow-cool head of age, The certain-footed sympathies of youth - These, and that lofty passion after truth, Hunger unsatisfied in priest or sage Or the great men of former years, he needs That not unworthily would dare to sing (Hard task!) black care's inevitable ring Settling with years upon the heart that feeds Incessantly on glory. Year by year The narrowing toil grows closer round his feet; With disenchanting touch rude-handed time The unlovely web discloses, and strange fear Leads him at last to eld's inclement seat, The bitter north of life - a frozen clime.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

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