Rossetti Archive Textual Transcription
Document Title: Poems. (Privately Printed.): First Trial Book (partial), Princeton/Troxell (copy 2)
Author: Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Date of publication: 1869 October 3
Printer: Strangeways and Walden
full Rossetti Archive record for this transcribed document is available.
Note: Pages missing from proofs.
- The lost days of my life until to-day,
- What were they, could I see them on the street
- Lie as they fell? Would they be ears of wheat
- Sown once for food but trodden into clay?
- Or golden coins squandered and still to pay?
- Or drops of blood dabbling the guilty feet?
- Or such spilt water as in dreams must cheat
- The throats of men in Hell, who thirst alway?
- I do not see them here; but after death
10 God knows I know the faces I shall see,
- Each one a murdered self, with low last breath.
- ‘I am thyself,—what hast thou done to
- ‘And I—and I—thyself,’ (lo! each one
- ‘And thou thyself to all eternity!’
- When first that horse, within whose populous womb
- The birth was Death, o'ershadowed Troy with fate,
- Her elders, dubious of its Grecian freight,
- Brought Helen there to sing the songs of home:
- She whispered, ‘Friends, I am alone; come, come!’
- Then, crouched within, Ulysses waxed afraid,
- And on his comrades' quivering mouths he laid
- His hands, and held them till the voice was dumb.
- The same was he who, lashed to his own mast,
10 There where the sea-flowers screen the charnel-caves,
- Beside the sirens' singing island pass'd,
- Till sweetness failed along the inveterate waves. . . .
- Say, soul,—are songs of Death no heaven to thee,
- Nor shames her lip the cheek of Victory?
- There came an image in Life's retinue
- That had Love's wings and bore his gonfalon:
- Fair was the web, and nobly wrought thereon,
- O soul-sequestered face, thy form and hue!
- Bewildering sounds, such as Spring wakens to,
- Shook in its folds; and through my heart its power
- Sped trackless as the immemorable hour
- When birth's dark portal groaned and all was new.
- But a veiled woman followed, and she caught
10 The banner round its staff, to furl and cling,—
- Then plucked a feather from the bearer's wing,
- And held it to his lips that stirred it not,
- And said to me, ‘Behold, there is no breath:
- I and this Love are one, and I am Death.’
- I sat with Love upon a woodside well,
- Leaning across the water, I and he;
- Nor ever did he speak nor looked at me,
- But touched his lute wherein was audible
- The certain secret thing he had to tell:
- Only our mirrored eyes met silently
- In the low wave; and that sound came to be
- The passionate voice I knew; and my tears fell.
- And at their fall, his eyes beneath grew hers;
10And with his foot and with his wing-feathers
- He swept the spring that watered my heart's drouth.
- Then the dark ripples spread to waving hair,
- And as I stooped, her own lips rising there
- Bubbled with brimming kisses at my mouth.
- And now Love sang: but his was such a song,
- So meshed with half-remembrance hard to free,
- As souls disused in death's sterility
- May sing when the new birthday tarries long.
- And I was made aware of a dumb throng
- That stood aloof, one form by every tree,
- All mournful forms, for each was I or she,
- The shades of those our days that had no tongue.
- They looked on us, and knew us and were known;
10 While fast together, alive from the abyss,
- Clung the soul-wrung implacable close kiss;
- And pity of self through all made broken moan
- Which said, ‘For once, for once, for once alone!’
- And still Love sang, and what he sang was this:—
- ‘O ye, all ye that walk in Willowwood,
- That walk with hollow faces burning white;
- What fathom-depth of soul-struck widowhood,
- What long, what longer hours, one lifelong night,
- Ere ye again, who so in vain have wooed
- Your last hope lost, who so in vain invite
- Your lips to that their unforgotten food,
- Ere ye, ere ye again shall see the light!
- Alas! the bitter banks in Willowwood,
10 With tear-spurge wan, with blood-wort burning red:
- Alas! if ever such a pillow could
- Steep deep the soul in sleep till she were dead,—
- Better all life forget her than this thing,
- That Willowwood should hold her wandering!’
- So sang he: and as meeting rose and rose
- Together cling through the wind's wellaway
- Nor change at once, yet near the end of day
- The leaves drop loosened where the heart-stain glows,—
- So when the song died did the kiss unclose;
- And her face fell back drowned, and was as grey
- As its grey eyes; and if it ever may
- Meet mine again I know not if Love knows.
- Only I know that I leaned low and drank
10A long draught from the water where she sank,
- Her breath and all her tears and all her soul:
- And as I drank I know I felt Love's face
- Pressed on my neck with moan of pity and grace,
- Till both our heads were in his aureole.
- The hour which might have been yet might not be,
- Which man's and woman's heart conceived and bore
- Yet whereof life was barren,—on what shore
- Bides it the breaking of Time's weary sea?
- Bondchild of all consummate joys set free,
- It somewhere sighs and serves, and mute before
- The house of Love, hears through the echoing door
- His hours elect in choral consonancy.
- But lo! what wedded souls now hand in hand
10Together tread at last the immortal strand
- With eyes where burning memory lights love home?
- Lo! how the little outcast hour has turned
- And leaped to them and in their faces yearned:—
- ‘I am your child: O parents, ye have come!’
- Mother, is this the darkness of the end,
- The Shadow of Death? and is that outer sea
- Infinite imminent Eternity?
- And does the death-pang by man's seed sustain'd
- In Time's each instant cause thy face to bend
- Its silent prayer upon the Son, while he
- Blesses the dead with his hand silently
- To his long day which hours no more offend?
- Mother of grace, the pass is difficult,
10 Keen as these rocks, and the bewildered souls
- Throng it like echoes, blindly shuddering through.
- Thy name, O Lord, each spirit's voice extols,
- Whose peace abides in the dark avenue
- Amid the bitterness of things occult.
- Here meet together the prefiguring day
- And day prefigured. ‘Eating, thou shalt stand,
- Feet shod, loins girt, thy road-staff in thine hand,
- With blood-stained door and lintel,’—did God say
- By Moses' mouth in ages passed away.
- And now, where this poor household doth comprise
- At Paschal-Feast two kindred families,—
- Lo! the slain lamb confronts the Lamb to slay.
- The pyre is piled. What agony's crown attained,
10 What shadow of death the Boy's fair brow subdues
- Who holds that blood wherewith the porch is stained
- By Zachary the priest? John binds the shoes
- He deemed himself not worthy to unloose;
- And Mary culls the bitter herbs ordained.
Transcribed Footnote (page 167):
* The scene is in the house-porch, where Christ holds a bowl of
blood from which
Zacharias is sprinkling the posts and lintel.
Joseph has brought the lamb and Elizabeth
lights the pyre. The
shoes which John fastens and the bitter herbs which Mary is
ing form part of the ritual.
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