The Four Bridges

written by

« Reload image

I love this gray old church, the low, long nave,
  The ivied chancel and the slender spire;
No less its shadow on each heaving grave,
  With growing osier bound, or living brier;
I love those yew-tree trunks, where stand arrayed
So many deep-cut names of youth and maid.

A simple custom this—­I love it well—­
  A carved betrothal and a pledge of truth;
How many an eve, their linkèd names to spell,
  Beneath the yew-trees sat our village youth!
When work was over, and the new-cut hay
Sent wafts of balm from meadows where it lay.

Ah! many an eve, while I was yet a boy,
  Some village hind has beckoned me aside,
And sought mine aid, with shy and awkward joy,
  To carve the letters of his rustic bride,
And make them clear to read as graven stone,
Deep in the yew-tree’s trunk beside his own.

For none could carve like me, and here they stand.
  Fathers and mothers of this present race:
And underscored by some less practised hand,
  That fain the story of its line would trace,
With children’s names, and number, and the day
When any called to God have passed away.

I look upon them, and I turn aside,
  As oft when carving them I did erewhile;
And there I see those wooden bridges wide
  That cross the marshy hollow; there the stile
In reeds embedded, and the swelling down,
And the white road towards the distant town.

But those old bridges claim another look.
  Our brattling river tumbles through the one;
The second spans a shallow, weedy brook;
  Beneath the others, and beneath the sun,
Lie two long stilly pools, and on their breasts
Picture their wooden piles, encased in swallows’ nests.

And round about them grows a fringe of reeds,
  And then a floating crown of lily-flowers,
And yet within small silver-budded weeds;
  But each clear centre evermore embowers
A deeper sky, where, stooping, you may see
The little minnows darting restlessly.

My heart is bitter, lilies, at your sweet;
  Why did the dewdrop fringe your chalices?
Why in your beauty are you thus complete,
  You silver ships—­you floating palaces?
O! if need be, you must allure man’s eye,
  Yet wherefore blossom here?  O why?  O why?

O!  O! the world is wide, you lily flowers,
  It hath warm forests, cleft by stilly pools,
Where every night bathe crowds of stars; and bowers
  Of spicery hang over.  Sweet air cools
And shakes the lilies among those stars that lie:
Why are not ye content to reign there?  Why?

That chain of bridges, it were hard to tell
  How it is linked with all my early joy.
There was a little foot that I loved well,
  It danced across them when I was a boy;
There was a careless voice that used to sing;
There was a child, a sweet and happy thing.

Oft through that matted wood of oak and birch
  She came from yonder house upon the hill;
She crossed the wooden bridges to the church,
  And watched, with village girls, my boasted skill:
But loved to watch the floating lilies best,
Or linger, peering in a swallow’s nest;

Linger and linger, with her wistful eyes
  Drawn to the lily-buds that lay so white
And soft on crimson water; for the skies
  Would crimson, and the little cloudlets bright
Would all be flung among the flowers sheer down,
To flush the spaces of their clustering crown.

Till the green rushes—­O, so glossy green—­
  The rushes, they would whisper, rustle, shake;
And forth on floating gauze, no jewelled queen
  So rich, the green-eyed dragon-flies would break,
And hover on the flowers—­aërial things,
With little rainbows flickering on their wings.

Ah! my heart dear! the polished pools lie still,
  Like lanes of water reddened by the west,
Till, swooping down from yon o’erhanging hill,
  The bold marsh harrier wets her tawny breast;
We scared her oft in childhood from her prey,
And the old eager thoughts rise fresh as yesterday.

To yonder copse by moonlight I did go,
  In luxury of mischief, half afraid,
To steal the great owl’s brood, her downy snow,
  Her screaming imps to seize, the while she preyed
With yellow, cruel eyes, whose radiant glare,
Fell with their mother rage, I might not dare.

Panting I lay till her great fanning wings
  Troubled the dreams of rock-doves, slumbering nigh,
And she and her fierce mate, like evil things,
  Skimmed the dusk fields; then rising, with a cry
Of fear, joy, triumph, darted on my prey.
  And tore it from the nest and fled away.

But afterward, belated in the wood,
  I saw her moping on the rifled tree,
And my heart smote me for her, while I stood
  Awakened from my careless reverie;
So white she looked, with moonlight round her shed.
So motherlike she drooped and hung her head.

O that mine eyes would cheat me!  I behold
  The godwits running by the water edge,
Tim mossy bridges mirrored as of old;
  The little curlews creeping from the sedge,
But not the little foot so gayly light
O that mine eyes would cheat me, that I might!—­

Would cheat me!  I behold the gable ends—­
  Those purple pigeons clustering on the cote;
The lane with maples overhung, that bends
  Toward her dwelling; the dry grassy moat,
Thick mullions, diamond-latticed, mossed and gray,
And walls bunked up with laurel and with bay.

And up behind them yellow fields of corn,
  And still ascending countless firry spires,
Dry slopes of hills uncultured, bare, forlorn,
  And green in rocky clefts with whins and briers;
Then rich cloud masses dyed the violet’s hue,
With orange sunbeams dropping swiftly through.

Ay, I behold all this full easily;
  My soul is jealous of my happier eyes.
And manhood envies youth.  Ah, strange to see,
  By looking merely, orange-flooded skies;
Nay, any dew-drop that may near me shine:
But never more the face of Eglantine!

She was my one companion, being herself
  The jewel and adornment of my days,
My life’s completeness.  O, a smiling elf,
  That I do but disparage with my praise—­
My playmate; and I loved her dearly and long,
And she loved me, as the tender love the strong.

Ay, but she grew, till on a time there came
  A sudden restless yearning to my heart;
And as we went a-nesting, all for shame
  And shyness, I did hold my peace, and start;
Content departed, comfort shut me out,
And there was nothing left to talk about.

She had but sixteen years, and as for me,
  Four added made my life.  This pretty bird,
This fairy bird that I had cherished—­she,
  Content, had sung, while I, contented, heard.
The song had ceased; the bird, with nature’s art,
Had brought a thorn and set it in my heart.

The restless birth of love my soul opprest,
  I longed and wrestled for a tranquil day,
And warred with that disquiet in my breast
  As one who knows there is a better way;
But, turned against myself, I still in vain
Looked for the ancient calm to come again.

My tired soul could to itself confess
  That she deserved a wiser love than mine;
To love more truly were to love her less,
  And for this truth I still awoke to pine;
I had a dim belief that it would be
A better thing for her, a blessed thing for me.

Good hast Thou made them—­comforters right sweet;
  Good hast Thou made the world, to mankind lent;
Good are Thy dropping clouds that feed the wheat;
  Good are Thy stars above the firmament.
Take to Thee, take, Thy worship, Thy renown;
The good which Thou hast made doth wear Thy crown.

For, O my God, Thy creatures are so frail,
  Thy bountiful creation is so fair.
That, drawn before us like the temple veil,
  It hides the Holy Place from thought and care,
Giving man’s eyes instead its sweeping fold,
Rich as with cherub wings and apples wrought of gold.

Purple and blue and scarlet—­shimmering bells
  And rare pomegranates on its broidered rim,
Glorious with chain and fretwork that the swell
  Of incense shakes to music dreamy and dim,
Till on a day comes loss, that God makes gain,
And death and darkness rend the veil in twain.

Ah, sweetest! my beloved! each outward thing
  Recalls my youth, and is instinct with thee;
Brown wood-owls in the dusk, with noiseless wing,
  Float from yon hanger to their haunted tree,
And hoot full softly.  Listening, I regain
A flashing thought of thee with their remembered strain.

I will not pine—­it is the careless brook.
  These amber sunbeams slanting down the vale;
It is the long tree-shadows, with their look
  Of natural peace, that make my heart to fail:
The peace of nature—­No, I will not pine—­
But O the contrast ’twixt her face and mine!

And still I changed—­I was a boy no more;
  My heart was large enough to hold my kind,
And all the world.  As hath been oft before
  With youth, I sought, but I could never find
Work hard enough to quiet my self-strife,
And use the strength of action-craving life.

She, too, was changed:  her bountiful sweet eyes
  Looked out full lovingly on all the world.
O tender as the deeps in yonder skies
  Their beaming! but her rosebud lips were curled
With the soft dimple of a musing smile,
Which kept my gaze, but held me mute the while.

A cast of bees, a slowly moving wain,
  The scent of bean-flowers wafted up a dell,
Blue pigeons wheeling over fields of grain,
  Or bleat of folded lamb, would please her well;
Or cooing of the early coted dove;—­
She sauntering mused of these; I, following, mused of love.

With her two lips, that one the other pressed
  So poutingly with such a tranquil air,
With her two eyes, that on my own would rest
  So dream-like, she denied my silent prayer,
Fronted unuttered words and said them nay,
And smiled down love till it had nought to say.

The words that through mine eyes would clearly shine
  Hovered and hovered on my lips in vain;
If after pause I said but “Eglantine,”
  She raised to me her quiet eyelids twain,
And looked me this reply—­look calm, yet bland—­
“I shall not know, I will not understand.”

Yet she did know my story—­knew my life
  Was wrought to hers with bindings many and strong
That I, like Israel, served for a wife,
  And for the love I bare her thought not long,
But only a few days, full quickly told,
My seven years’ service strict as his of old.

I must be brief:  the twilight shadows grow,
  And steal the rose-bloom genial summer sheds,
And scented wafts of wind that come and go
  Have lifted dew from honeyed clover-heads;
The seven stars shine out above the mill,
The dark delightsome woods lie veiled and still.

Hush! hush! the nightingale begins to sing,
  And stops, as ill-contented with her note;
Then breaks from out the bush with hurried wing.
  Restless and passionate.  She tunes her throat,
Laments awhile in wavering trills, and then
Floods with a stream of sweetness all the glen.

The seven stars upon the nearest pool
  Lie trembling down betwixt the lily leaves,
And move like glowworms; wafting breezes cool
  Come down along the water, and it heaves
And bubbles in the sedge; while deep and wide
The dim night settles on the country side.

I know this scene by heart.  O! once before
  I saw the seven stars float to and fro,
And stayed my hurried footsteps by the shore
  To mark the starry picture spread below:
Its silence made the tumult in my breast
More audible; its peace revealed my own unrest.

I paused, then hurried on; my heart beat quick;
  I crossed the bridges, reached the steep ascent,
And climbed through matted fern and hazels thick;
  Then darkling through the close green maples went
And saw—­there felt love’s keenest pangs begin—­
An oriel window lighted from within—­

I saw—­and felt that they were scarcely cares
  Which I had known before; I drew more near,
And O! methought how sore it frets and wears
  The soul to part with that it holds so dear;
Tis hard two woven tendrils to untwine,
And I was come to part with Eglantine.

For life was bitter through those words repressed,
  And youth was burdened with unspoken vows;
Love unrequited brooded in my breast,
  And shrank, at glance, from the beloved brows:
And three long months, heart-sick, my foot withdrawn,
I had not sought her side by rivulet, copse, or lawn—­

Not sought her side, yet busy thought no less
  Still followed in her wake, though far behind;
And I, being parted from her loveliness,
  Looked at the picture of her in my mind:
I lived alone, I walked with soul oppressed,
And ever sighed for her, and sighed for rest.

Then I had risen to struggle with my heart.
And said—­“O heart! the world is fresh and fair,
And I am young; but this thy restless smart
  Changes to bitterness the morning air:
I will, I must, these weary fetters break—­
I will be free, if only for her sake.

“O let me trouble her no more with sighs!
  Heart-healing comes by distance, and with time:
Then let me wander, and enrich mine eyes
  With the green forests of a softer clime,
Or list by night at sea the wind’s low stave
And long monotonous rockings of the wave.

“Through open solitudes, unbounded meads,
  Where, wading on breast-high in yellow bloom,
Untamed of man, the shy white lama feeds—­
  There would I journey and forget my doom;
Or far, O far as sunrise I would see
The level prairie stretch away from me!

“Or I would sail upon the tropic seas,
  Where fathom long the blood-red dulses grow,
Droop from the rock and waver in the breeze,
  Lashing the tide to foam; while calm below
The muddy mandrakes throng those waters warm,
And purple, gold, and green, the living blossoms swarm.”

So of my father I did win consent,
  With importunities repeated long,
To make that duty which had been my bent,
  To dig with strangers alien tombs among,
And bound to them through desert leagues to pace.
Or track up rivers to their starting-place.

For this I had done battle and had won,
  But not alone to tread Arabian sands,
Measure the shadows of a southern sun,
  Or dig out gods in the old Egyptian lands;
But for the dream wherewith I thought to cope—­
The grief of love unmated with love’s hope.

And now I would set reason in array,
  Methought, and fight for freedom manfully,
Till by long absence there would come a day
  When this my love would not be pain to me;
But if I knew my rosebud fair and blest
I should not pine to wear it on my breast.

The days fled on; another week should fling
  A foreign shadow on my lengthening way;
Another week, yet nearness did not bring
  A braver heart that hard farewell to say.
I let the last day wane, the dusk begin,
Ere I had sought that window lighted from within.

Sinking and sinking, O my heart! my heart!
  Will absence heal thee whom its shade doth rend?
I reached the little gate, and soft within
  The oriel fell her shadow.  She did lend
Her loveliness to me, and let me share
The listless sweetness of those features fair.

Among thick laurels in the gathering gloom,
  Heavy for this our parting, I did stand;
Beside her mother in the lighted room,
  She sitting leaned her cheek upon her hand
And as she read, her sweet voice floating through
The open casement seemed to mourn me an adieu.

Youth! youth! how buoyant are thy hopes! they turn,
  Like marigolds, toward the sunny side.
My hopes were buried in a funeral urn,
  And they sprung up like plants and spread them wide;
Though I had schooled and reasoned them away,
They gathered smiling near and prayed a holiday.

Ah, sweetest voice! how pensive were its tones,
  And how regretful its unconscious pause!
“Is it for me her heart this sadness owns,
  And is our parting of to-night the cause?
Ah, would it might be so!” I thought, and stood
Listening entranced among the underwood.

I thought it would be something worth the pain
  Of parting, to look once in those deep eyes,
And take from them an answering look again:
  “When eastern palms,” I thought, “about me rise,
If I might carve our names upon the rind,
Betrothed, I would not mourn, though leaving thee behind.”

I can be patient, faithful, and most fond
  To unacknowledged love; I can be true
To this sweet thraldom, this unequal bond,
  This yoke of mine that reaches not to you:
O, how much more could costly parting buy—­
If not a pledge, one kiss, or, failing that, a sigh!

I listened, and she ceased to read; she turned
  Her face towards the laurels where I stood:
Her mother spoke—­O wonder! hardly learned;
  She said, “There is a rustling in the wood;
Ah, child! if one draw near to bid farewell,
Let not thine eyes an unsought secret tell.

“My daughter, there is nothing held so dear
  As love, if only it be hard to win.
The roses that in yonder hedge appear
  Outdo our garden-buds which bloom within;
But since the hand may pluck them every day,
Unmarked they bud, bloom, drop, and drift away.

“My daughter, my beloved, be not you
  Like those same roses.”  O bewildering word!
My heart stood still, a mist obscured my view:
  It cleared; still silence.  No denial stirred
The lips beloved; but straight, as one opprest,
She, kneeling, dropped her face upon her mother’s breast.

This said, “My daughter, sorrow comes to all;
  Our life is checked with shadows manifold:
But woman has this more—­she may not call
  Her sorrow by its name.  Yet love not told,
And only born of absence and by thought,
With thought and absence may return to nought.”

And my belovèd lifted up her face,
  And moved her lips as if about to speak;
She dropped her lashes with a girlish grace,
  And the rich damask mantled in her cheek:
I stood awaiting till she should deny
Her love, or with sweet laughter put it by.

But, closer nestling to her mother’s heart,
  She, blushing, said no word to break my trance,
For I was breathless; and, with lips apart,
  Felt my breast pant and all my pulses dance,
And strove to move, but could not for the weight
Of unbelieving joy, so sudden and so great,

Because she loved me.  With a mighty sigh
  Breaking away, I left her on her knees,
And blest the laurel bower, the darkened sky,
  The sultry night of August.  Through the trees,
Giddy with gladness, to the porch I went,
And hardly found the way for joyful wonderment.

Yet, when I entered, saw her mother sit
  With both hands cherishing the graceful head,
Smoothing the clustered hair, and parting it
  From the fair brow; she, rising, only said,
In the accustomed tone, the accustomed word,
The careless greeting that I always heard;

And she resumed her merry, mocking smile,
  Though tear-drops on the glistening lashes hung.
O woman! thou wert fashioned to beguile:
  So have all sages said, all poets sung.
She spoke of favoring winds and waiting ships,
With smiles of gratulation on her lips!

And then she looked and faltered:  I had grown
  So suddenly in life and soul a man:
She moved her lips, but could not find a tone
  To set her mocking music to; began
One struggle for dominion, raised her eyes,
And straight withdrew them, bashful through surprise

The color over cheek and bosom flushed;
  I might have heard the beating of her heart,
But that mine own beat louder; when she blushed,
  The hand within mine own I felt to start,
But would not change my pitiless decree
To strive with her for might and mastery.

She looked again, as one that, half afraid,
  Would fain be certain of a doubtful thing;
Or one beseeching “Do not me upbraid!”
  And then she trembled like the fluttering
Of timid little birds, and silent stood,
No smile wherewith to mock my hardihood.

She turned, and to an open casement moved
  With girlish shyness, mute beneath my gaze.
And I on downcast lashes unreproved
  Could look as long as pleased me; while, the rays
Of moonlight round her, she her fair head bent,
In modest silence to my words attent.

How fast the giddy whirling moments flew!
  The moon had set; I heard the midnight chime,
Hope is more brave than fear, and joy than dread.
  And I could wait unmoved the parting time.
It came; for, by a sudden impulse drawn,
She, risen, stepped out upon the dusky lawn.

A little waxen taper in her hand,
  Her feet upon the dry and dewless grass,
She looked like one of the celestial band,
  Only that on her cheeks did dawn and pass
Most human blushes; while, the soft light thrown
On vesture pure and white, she seemed yet fairer grown.

Her mother, looking out toward her, sighed,
  Then gave her hand in token of farewell.
And with her warning eyes, that seemed to chide,
  Scarce suffered that I sought her child to tell
The story of my life, whose every line
No other burden bore than—­Eglantine.

Black thunder-clouds were rising up behind,
  The waxen taper burned full steadily;
It seemed as if dark midnight had a mind
  To hear what lovers say, and her decree
Had passed for silence, while she, dropped to ground
With raiment floating wide, drank in the sound.

O happiness! thou dost not leave a trace
  So well defined as sorrow.  Amber light,
Shed like a glory on her angel face,
  I can remember fully, and the sight
Of her fair forehead and her shining eyes,
And lips that smiled in sweet and girlish wise.

I can remember how the taper played
  Over her small hands and her vesture white;
How it struck up into the trees, and laid
  Upon their under leaves unwonted light;
And when she held it low, how far it spread
O’er velvet pansies slumbering on their bed.

I can remember that we spoke full low,
  That neither doubted of the other’s truth;
And that with footsteps slower and more slow,
  Hands folded close for love, eyes wet for ruth:
Beneath the trees, by that clear taper’s flame,
We wandered till the gate of parting came.

But I forget the parting words she said,
  So much they thrilled the all-attentive soul;
For one short moment human heart and head
  May bear such bliss—­its present is the whole:
I had that present, till in whispers fell
With parting gesture her subdued farewell.

Farewell! she said, in act to turn away,
  But stood a moment yet to dry her tears,
And suffered my enfolding arm to stay
  The time of her departure.  O ye years
That intervene betwixt that day and this!
You all received your hue from that keen pain and bliss.

O mingled pain and bliss!  O pain to break
  At once from happiness so lately found,
And four long years to feel for her sweet sake
  The incompleteness of all sight and sound!
But bliss to cross once more the foaming brine—­
O bliss to come again and make her mine!

I cannot—­O, I cannot more recall!
  But I will soothe my troubled thoughts to rest
With musing over journeyings wide, and all
  Observance of this active-humored west,
And swarming cities steeped in eastern day,
With swarthy tribes in gold and striped array.

I turn away from these, and straight there will succeed
  (Shifting and changing at the restless will),
Imbedded in some deep Circassian mead,
  White wagon-tilts, and flocks that eat their fill
Unseen above, while comely shepherds pass,
And scarcely show their heads above the grass.

—­The red Sahara in an angry glow,
  With amber fogs, across its hollows trailed
Long strings of camels, gloomy-eyed and slow,
  And women on their necks, from gazers veiled,
And sun-swart guides who toil across the sand
To groves of date-trees on the watered land.

Again—­the brown sails of an Arab boat,
  Flapping by night upon a glassy sea,
Whereon the moon and planets seem to float,
  More bright of hue than they were wont to be,
While shooting-stars rain down with crackling sound,
And, thick as swarming locusts, drop to ground.

Or far into the heat among the sands
  The gembok nations, snuffing up the wind,
Drawn by the scent of water—­and the bands
  Of tawny-bearded lions pacing, blind
With the sun-dazzle in their midst, opprest
With prey, and spiritless for lack of rest!

What more?  Old Lebanon, the frosty-browed,
  Setting his feet among oil-olive trees,
Heaving his bare brown shoulder through a cloud;
And after, grassy Carmel, purple seas,
Flattering his dreams and echoing in his rocks,
Soft as the bleating of his thousand flocks.

Enough:  how vain this thinking to beguile,
  With recollected scenes, an aching breast!
Did not I, journeying, muse on her the while?
  Ah, yes! for every landscape comes impressed—­
Ay, written on, as by an iron pen—­
With the same thought I nursed about her then.

Therefore let memory turn again to home;
  Feel, as of old, the joy of drawing near;
Watch the green breakers and the wind-tossed foam,
  And see the land-fog break, dissolve, and clear;
Then think a skylark’s voice far sweeter sound
Than ever thrilled but over English ground;

And walk, glad, even to tears, among the wheat,
  Not doubting this to be the first of lands;
And, while in foreign words this murmuring, meet
  Some little village school-girls (with their hands
Full of forget-me-nots), who, greeting me,
I count their English talk delightsome melody;

And seat me on a bank, and draw them near,
  That I may feast myself with hearing it,
Till shortly they forget their bashful fear,
  Push back their flaxen curls, and round me sit—­
Tell me their names, their daily tasks, and show
Where wild wood-strawberries in the copses grow.

So passed the day in this delightful land:
  My heart was thankful for the English tongue—­
For English sky with feathery cloudlets spanned—­
  For English hedge with glistening dewdrops hung.
I journeyed, and at glowing eventide
Stopped at a rustic inn by the wayside.

That night I slumbered sweetly, being right glad
  To miss the flapping of the shrouds; but lo!
A quiet dream of beings twain I had,
  Behind the curtain talking soft and low:
Methought I did not heed their utterance fine,
Till one of them said, softly, “Eglantine.”

I started up awake, ’twas silence all:
  My own fond heart had shaped that utterance clear:
And “Ah!” methought, “how sweetly did it fall,
  Though but in dream, upon the listening ear!
How sweet from other lips the name well known—­
That name, so many a year heard only from mine own!”

I thought awhile, then slumber came to me,
  And tangled all my fancy in her maze,
And I was drifting on a raft at sea.
  The near all ocean, and the far all haze;
Through the while polished water sharks did glide,
And up in heaven I saw no stars to guide.

“Have mercy, God!” but lo! my raft uprose;
  Drip, drip, I heard the water splash from it;
My raft had wings, and as the petrel goes,
  It skimmed the sea, then brooding seemed to sit
The milk-white mirror, till, with sudden spring,
She flew straight upward like a living thing.

But strange!—­I went not also in that flight,
  For I was entering at a cavern’s mouth;
Trees grew within, and screaming birds of night
  Sat on them, hiding from the torrid south.
On, on I went, while gleaming in the dark
Those trees with blanched leaves stood pale and stark.

The trees had flower-buds, nourished in deep night,
  And suddenly, as I went farther in,
They opened, and they shot out lambent light;
  Then all at once arose a railing din
That frighted me:  “It is the ghosts,” I said,
And they are railing for their darkness fled.

“I hope they will not look me in the face;
  It frighteth me to hear their laughter loud;”
I saw them troop before with jaunty pace,
  And one would shake off dust that soiled her shroud:
But now, O joy unhoped! to calm my dread,
Some moonlight filtered through a cleft o’erhead.

I climbed the lofty trees—­the blanchèd trees—­
  The cleft was wide enough to let me through;
I clambered out and felt the balmy breeze,
  And stepped on churchyard grasses wet with dew.
O happy chance!  O fortune to admire!
I stood beside my own loved village spire.

And as I gazed upon the yew-tree’s trunk,
  Lo, far-off music—­music in the night!
So sweet and tender as it swelled and sunk;
  It charmed me till I wept with keen delight,
And in my dream, methought as it drew near
The very clouds in heaven stooped low to hear.

Beat high, beat low, wild heart so deeply stirred,
  For high as heaven runs up the piercing strain;
The restless music fluttering like a bird
  Bemoaned herself, and dropped to earth again,
Heaping up sweetness till I was afraid
That I should die of grief when it did fade.

And it DID fade; but while with eager ear
  I drank its last long echo dying away,
I was aware of footsteps that drew near,
  And round the ivied chancel seemed to stray:
O soft above the hallowed place they trod—­
Soft as the fall of foot that is not shod!

I turned—­’twas even so—­yes, Eglantine!
  For at the first I had divined the same;
I saw the moon on her shut eyelids shine,
  And said, “She is asleep:”  still on she came;
Then, on her dimpled feet, I saw it gleam,
And thought—­“I know that this is but a dream.”

My darling!  O my darling! not the less
  My dream went on because I knew it such;
She came towards me in her loveliness—­
  A thing too pure, methought, for mortal touch;
The rippling gold did on her bosom meet,
The long white robe descended to her feet.

The fringèd lids dropped low, as sleep-oppressed;
  Her dreamy smile was very fair to see,
And her two hands were folded to her breast,
  With somewhat held between them heedfully.
O fast asleep! and yet methought she knew
And felt my nearness those shut eyelids through.

She sighed:  my tears ran down for tenderness—­
  And have I drawn thee to me in my sleep?
Is it for me thou wanderest shelterless,
  Wetting thy steps in dewy grasses deep?
“O if this be!” I said—­“yet speak to me;
I blame my very dream for cruelty.”

Then from her stainless bosom she did take
  Two beauteous lily flowers that lay therein,
And with slow-moving lips a gesture make,
  As one that some forgotten words doth win:
“They floated on the pool,” methought she said,
And water trickled from each lily’s head.

It dropped upon her feet—­I saw it gleam
  Along the ripples of her yellow hair.
And stood apart, for only in a dream
  She would have come, methought, to meet me there.
She spoke again—­“Ah fair! ah fresh they shine!
And there are many left, and these are mine.”

I answered her with flattering accents meet—­
  “Love, they are whitest lilies e’er were blown.”
“And sayest thou so?” she sighed in murmurs sweet;
  “I have nought else to give thee now, mine own!
For it is night.  Then take them, love!” said she:
“They have been costly flowers to thee—­and me.”

While thus she said I took them from her hand,
  And, overcome with love and nearness, woke;
And overcome with ruth that she should stand
  Barefooted in the grass; that, when she spoke,
Her mystic words should take so sweet a tone,
And of all names her lips should choose “My own”

I rose, I journeyed, neared my home, and soon
  Beheld the spire peer out above the hill.
It was a sunny harvest afternoon.
  When by the churchyard wicket, standing still,
I cast my eager eyes abroad to know
If change had touched the scenes of long ago.

I looked across the hollow; sunbeams shone
  Upon the old house with the gable ends:
“Save that the laurel trees are taller grown,
  No change,” methought, “to its gray wall extends
What clear bright beams on yonder lattice shine!
There did I sometime talk with Eglantine.”

There standing with my very goal in sight,
  Over my haste did sudden quiet steal;
I thought to dally with my own delight,
  Nor rush on headlong to my garnered weal,
But taste the sweetness of a short delay,
And for a little moment hold the bliss at bay.

The church was open; it perchance might be
  That there to offer thanks I might essay,
Or rather, as I think, that I might see
  The place where Eglantine was wont to pray.
But so it was; I crossed that portal wide,
And felt my riot joy to calm subside.

The low depending curtains, gently swayed,
  Cast over arch and roof a crimson glow;
But, ne’ertheless, all silence and all shade
  It seemed, save only for the rippling flow
Of their long foldings, when the sunset air
Sighed through the casements of the house of prayer.

I found her place, the ancient oaken stall,
  Where in her childhood I had seen her sit,
Most saint-like and most tranquil there of all,
  Folding her hands, as if a dreaming fit—­
A heavenly vision had before her strayed
Of the Eternal Child in lowly manger laid.

I saw her prayer-book laid upon the seat,
  And took it in my hand, and felt more near
in fancy to her, finding it most sweet
  To think how very oft, low kneeling there,
In her devout thoughts she had let me share,
And set my graceless name in her pure prayer.

My eyes were dazzled with delightful tears—­
  In sooth they were the last I ever shed;
For with them fell the cherished dreams of years.
  I looked, and on the wall above my head,
Over her seat, there was a tablet placed,
With one word only on the marble traced.—­

Ah well!  I would not overstate that woe,
  For I have had some blessings, little care;
But since the falling of that heavy blow,
  God’s earth has never seemed to me so fair;
Nor any of his creatures so divine,
Nor sleep so sweet;—­the word was—­EGLANTINE.

© Jean Ingelow