Rossetti Archive Textual Transcription
Document Title: Ballads and Sonnets (1881), proof Signature R (Delaware Museum, third revise,
uncut proof sheets)
Author: Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Date of publication: 1881 May 18 (circa)
Publisher: F. S. Ellis
Printer: Chiswick Press, C. Whittingham and Co.
full Rossetti Archive record for this transcribed document is available.
Manuscript Addition: 4d
Editorial Description: Printer's proof number added in upper left.
- Is it this sky's vast vault or ocean's sound
- That is Life's self and draws my life from me,
- And by instinct ineffable decree
- Holds my breath quailing on the bitter bound?
- Nay, is it Life or Death, thus thunder-crown'd,
- That 'mid the tide of all emergency
- Now notes my separate wave, and to what sea
- Its difficult eddies labour in the ground?
- Oh! what is this that knows the road I came,
10The flame turned cloud, the cloud returned to flame,
- The lifted shifted steeps and all the way?—
- That draws round me at last this wind-warm space,
- And in regenerate rapture turns my face
- Upon the devious coverts of dismay?
- As the child knows not if his mother's face
- Be fair; nor of his elders yet can deem
- What each most is; but as of hill or stream
- At dawn, all glimmering life surrounds his place:
- Who yet, tow'rd noon of his half-weary race,
- Pausing awhile beneath the high sun-beam
- And gazing steadily back,—as through a dream,
- In things long past new features now can trace:—
- Even so the thought that is at length fullgrown
10 Turns back to note the sun-smit paths, all grey
- And marvellous once, where first it walked alone;
- And haply doubts, amid the unblenching day,
- Which most or least impelled its onward way,—
- Those unknown things or these things overknown.
- What place so strange,—though unrevealèd
- With unimaginable fires arise
- At the earth's end,—what passion of surprise
- Like frost-bound fire-girt scenes of long ago?
- Lo! this is none but I this hour; and lo!
- This is the very place which to mine eyes
- Those mortal hours in vain immortalize,
- 'Mid hurrying crowds, with what alone I know.
- City, of thine a single simple door,
10 By some new Power reduplicate, must be
- Even yet my life-porch in eternity,
- Even with one presence filled, as once of yore:
- Or mocking winds whirl round a chaff-strown floor
- Thee and thy years and these my words and me.
- I said: “Nay, pluck not,—let the first fruit
- Even as thou sayest, it is sweet and red,
- But let it ripen still. The tree's bent head
- Sees in the stream its own fecundity
- And bides the day of fulness. Shall not we
- At the sun's hour that day possess the shade,
- And claim our fruit before its ripeness fade,
- And eat it from the branch and praise the tree?”
- I say: “Alas! our fruit hath wooed the sun
10 Too long,—'tis fallen and floats adown the stream.
- Lo, the last clusters! Pluck them every one,
- And let us sup with summer; ere the gleam
- Of autumn set the year's pent sorrow free,
- And the woods wail like echoes from the sea.”
- Once more the changed year's turning wheel
- And as a girl sails balanced in the wind,
- And now before and now again behind
- Stoops as it swoops, with cheek that laughs and
- So Spring comes merry towards me here, but earns
- No answering smile from me, whose life is twin'd
- With the dead boughs that winter still must bind,
- And whom to-day the Spring no more concerns.
- Behold, this crocus is a withering flame;
10 This snowdrop, snow; this apple-blossom's part
- To breed the fruit that breeds the serpent's art.
- Nay, for these Spring-flowers, turn thy face from
- Nor stay till on the year's last lily-stem
- The white cup shrivels round the golden heart.
- Sweet stream-fed glen, why say “farewell” to
- Who far'st so well and find'st for ever smooth
- The brow of Time where man may read no ruth?
- Nay, do thou rather say “farewell” to me,
- Who now fare forth in bitterer fantasy
- Than erst was mine where other shade might soothe
- By other streams, what while in fragrant youth
- The bliss of being sad made melancholy.
- And yet, farewell! For better shalt thou fare
10 When children bathe sweet faces in thy flow
- And happy lovers blend sweet shadows there
- In hours to come, than when an hour ago
- Thine echoes had but one man's sighs to bear
- And thy trees whispered what he feared to
- What is the sorriest thing that enters Hell?
- None of the sins,—but this and that fair deed
- Which a soul's sin at length could supersede.
- These yet are virgins, whom death's timely knell
- Might once have sainted; whom the fiends compel
- Together now, in snake-bound shuddering sheaves
- Of anguish, while the pit's pollution leaves
- Their refuse maidenhood abominable.
- Night sucks them down, the tribute of the pit,
10 Whose names, half entered in the book of Life,
- Were God's desire at noon. And as their hair
- And eyes sink last, the Torturer deigns no whit
- To gaze, but, yearning, waits his destined wife,
- The Sin still blithe on earth that sent them
- 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 undying throats of Hell, athirst 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 me?”
- “And I—and I—thyself,” (lo! each one saith,)
- “And thou thyself to all eternity!”
- When first that horse, within whose populous
- 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
- Beside the sirens' singing island pass'd,
- Till sweetness failed along the inveterate
- Say, soul,—are songs of Death no heaven to thee,
- Nor shames her lip the cheek of Victory?
- That lamp thou fill'st in Eros' name
- O Hero, shall the Sestian augurs take
- To-morrow, and for drowned Leander's sake
- To Anteros its fireless lip shall plight.
- Aye, waft the unspoken vow: yet dawn's first light
- On ebbing storm and life twice ebb'd must break;
- While 'neath no sunrise, by the Avernian Lake,
- Lo where Love walks, Death's pallid neophyte.
- That lamp within Anteros' shadowy shrine
10 Shall stand unlit (for so the gods decree)
- Till some one man the happy issue see
- Of a life's love, and bid its flame to shine:
- Which still may rest unfir'd; for, theirs or thine,
- O brother, what brought love to them or thee?
Transcribed Footnote (page 250):
1 After the deaths of Leander and of Hero, the
lamp was dedicated to Anteros, with the edict that no
should light it unless his love had proved fortunate.
- Ye who have passed Death's haggard hills;
- Whom trees that knew your sires shall
- And still stand silent:—is it all a show,—
- A wisp that laughs upon the wall?—decree
- Of some inexorable supremacy
- Which ever, as man strains his blind surmise
- From depth to ominous depth, looks past his eyes,
- Sphinx-faced with unabashèd augury?
- Nay, rather question the Earth's self. Invoke
10 The storm-felled forest-trees moss-grown to-day
- Whose roots are hillocks where the children play;
- Or ask the silver sapling 'neath what yoke
- Those stars, his spray-crown's clustering
- shall wage
- Their journey still when his boughs
Note: The word “SONNET” is missing from the title on this page.
- Get thee behind me. Even as, heavy-curled,
- Stooping against the wind, a charioteer
- Is snatched from out his chariot by the hair,
- So shall Time be; and as the void car, hurled
- Abroad by reinless steeds, even so the world:
- Yea, even as chariot-dust upon the air,
- It shall be sought and not found anywhere.
- Get thee behind me, Satan. Oft unfurled,
- Thy perilous wings can beat and break like lath
10 Much mightiness of men to win thee praise.
- Leave these weak feet to tread in narrow ways.
- Thou still, upon the broad vine-sheltered path,
- Mayst wait the turning of the phials of wrath
- For certain years, for certain months and
- As when two men have loved a woman well,
- Each hating each, through Love's and
- Since not for either this stark marriage-sheet
- And the long pauses of this wedding-bell;
- Yet o'er her grave the night and day dispel
- At last their feud forlorn, with cold and heat;
- Nor other than dear friends to death may fleet
- The two lives left that most of her can tell:—
- So separate hopes, which in a soul had wooed
10 The one same Peace, strove with each other long,
- And Peace before their faces perished since:
- So through that soul, in restless brotherhood,
- They roam together now, and wind among
- Its bye-streets, knocking at the dusty inns.
- Beholding youth and hope in mockery
- From life; and mocking pulses that remain
- When the soul's death of bodily death is fain;
- Honour unknown, and honour known unsought;
- And penury's sedulous self-torturing thought
- On gold, whose master therewith buys his bane;
- And longed-for woman longing all in vain
- For lonely man with love's desire distraught;
- And wealth, and strength, and power, and plea-
10 Given unto bodies of whose souls men say,
- None poor and weak, slavish and foul, as
- Beholding these things, I behold no less
- The blushing morn and blushing eve confess
- The shame that loads the intolerable day.
- As some true chief of men, bowed down
- Of life's disastrous eld, on blossoming youth
- May gaze, and murmur with self-pity and ruth,—
- “Might I thy fruitless treasure but possess,
- Such blessing of mine all coming years should
- Then sends one sigh forth to the unknown goal,
- And bitterly feels breathe against his soul
- The hour swift-winged of nearer nothingness:”
- Even so the World's grey Soul to the green World
10 Perchance one hour must cry: “Woe's
- Inveteracy of ill portends the doom,—
- Whose heart's old fire in shadow of shame is furl'd:
- While thou even as of yore art journeying,
- All soulless now, yet merry with the
- Great Michael Angelo, with age grown bleak
- And uttermost labours, having once o'ersaid
- All grievous memories on his long life shed,
- This worst regret to one true heart could speak:—
- That when, with sorrowing love and reverence meek,
- He stooped o'er sweet Colonna's dying bed,
- His Muse and dominant Lady, spirit-wed,—
- Her hand he kissed, but not her brow or cheek.
- O Buonarruoti,—good at Art's fire-wheels
10 To urge her chariot!—even thus the Soul,
- Touching at length some sorely-chastened goal,
- Earns oftenest but a little: her appeals
- Were deep and mute,—lowly her claim. Let be:
- What holds for her Death's garner? And for
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