Rossetti Archive Textual Transcription

Document Title: Ballads and Sonnets (1881), proof Signature R (Delaware Museum, final proof)
Author: Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Date of publication: 1881 May 27
Publisher: F. S. Ellis
Printer: Chiswick Press, C. Whittingham and Co.
Issue: 5

The full Rossetti Archive record for this transcribed document is available.

Image of page 241 page: 241
Sig. R
Manuscript Addition: 5
Editorial Description: Printer's proof number added in upper left.
Manuscript Addition: [Charles Whittingham's printer date stamp, 27 May 81]

  • 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?
Image of page 242 page: 242

  • 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.
Image of page 243 page: 243

  • What place so strange,—though unrevealèd snow
  • 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.
Image of page 244 page: 244

  • I said: “Nay, pluck not,—let the first fruit be:
  • 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.”
Image of page 245 page: 245

  • Once more the changed year's turning wheel returns:
  • 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
  • burns,—
  • 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
  • them,
  • Nor stay till on the year's last lily-stem
  • The white cup shrivels round the golden heart.
Image of page 246 page: 246

  • Sweet stream-fed glen, why say “farewell” to thee
  • 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 know.
Image of page 247 page: 247

  • 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
  • there.
Image of page 248 page: 248

  • 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!”
Image of page 249 page: 249

  • 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?
Image of page 250 page: 250

  • That lamp thou fill'st in Eros' name to-night,
  • 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 signal-

lamp was dedicated to Anteros, with the edict that no man

should light it unless his love had proved fortunate.

Image of page 251 page: 251

  • Ye who have passed Death's haggard hills; and ye
  • Whom trees that knew your sires shall cease to
  • know
  • 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 gems,
  • shall wage
  • Their journey still when his boughs shrink with
  • age.
Image of page 252 page: 252

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 days.
Image of page 253 page: 253

  • As when two men have loved a woman well,
  • Each hating each, through Love's and Death's
  • deceit;
  • 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.
Image of page 254 page: 254

  • Beholding youth and hope in mockery caught
  • 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-
  • santness,
  • 10 Given unto bodies of whose souls men say,
  • None poor and weak, slavish and foul, as they:—
  • Beholding these things, I behold no less
  • The blushing morn and blushing eve confess
  • The shame that loads the intolerable day.
Image of page 255 page: 255
  • As some true chief of men, bowed down with stress
  • 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
  • bless;”—
  • 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 me, for
  • whom
  • 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 Spring!”
Image of page 256 page: 256

  • Great Michelangelo, 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 thee?
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