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by Bliss Carman |

If Death be Good

 (Sappho LXXIV)
If death be good,
Why do the gods not die?
If life be ill,
Why do the gods still live?
If love be naught,
Why do the gods still love?
If love be all,
What should men do but love?


by Bliss Carman |

I Loved Thee Atthis in the Long Ago

 (Sappho XXIII)
I loved thee, Atthis, in the long ago,
When the great oleanders were in flower
In the broad herded meadows full of sun.
And we would often at the fall of dusk Wander together by the silver stream, When the soft grass-heads were all wet with dew And purple-misted in the fading light.
And joy I knew and sorrow at thy voice, And the superb magnificence of love,— The loneliness that saddens solitude, And the sweet speech that makes it durable,— The bitter longing and the keen desire, The sweet companionship through quiet days In the slow ample beauty of the world, And the unutterable glad release Within the temple of the holy night.
O Atthis, how I loved thee long ago In that fair perished summer by the sea!


by Bliss Carman |

Earth Voices

 I
I heard the spring wind whisper
Above the brushwood fire,
"The world is made forever
Of transport and desire.
"I am the breath of being, The primal urge of things; I am the whirl of star dust, I am the lift of wings.
"I am the splendid impulse That comes before the thought, The joy and exaltation Wherein the life is caught.
"Across the sleeping furrows I call the buried seed, And blade and bud and blossom Awaken at my need.
"Within the dying ashes I blow the sacred spark, And make the hearts of lovers To leap against the dark.
"II I heard the spring light whisper Above the dancing stream, "The world is made forever In likeness of a dream.
"I am the law of planets, I am the guide of man; The evening and the morning Are fashioned to my plan.
"I tint the dawn with crimson, I tinge the sea with blue; My track is in the desert, My trail is in the dew.
"I paint the hills with color, And in my magic dome I light the star of evening To steer the traveller home.
"Within the house of being, I feed the lamp of truth With tales of ancient wisdom And prophecies of youth.
"III I heard the spring rain murmur Above the roadside flower, "The world is made forever In melody and power.
"I keep the rhythmic measure That marks the steps of time, And all my toil is fashioned To symmetry and rhyme.
"I plow the untilled upland, I ripe the seeding grass, And fill the leafy forest With music as I pass.
"I hew the raw, rough granite To loveliness of line, And when my work is finished, Behold, it is divine! "I am the master-builder In whom the ages trust.
I lift the lost perfection To blossom from the dust.
"IV Then Earth to them made answer, As with a slow refrain Born of the blended voices Of wind and sun and rain, "This is the law of being That links the threefold chain: The life we give to beauty Returns to us again.
"


by Bliss Carman |

By the Aurelian Wall

 In Memory of John Keats
By the Aurelian Wall,
Where the long shadows of the centuries fall
From Caius Cestius' tomb,
A weary mortal seeking rest found room
For quiet burial,
Leaving among his friends
A book of lyrics.
Such untold amends A traveller might make In a strange country, bidden to partake Before he farther wends; Who slyly should bestow The foreign reed-flute they had seen him blow And finger cunningly, On one of the dark children standing by, Then lift his cloak and go.
The years pass.
And the child Thoughtful beyond his fellows, grave and mild, Treasures the rough-made toy, Until one day he blows it for clear joy, And wakes the music wild.
His fondness makes it seem A thing first fashioned in delirious dream, Some god had cut and tried, And filled with yearning passion, and cast aside On some far woodland stream,-- After long years to be Found by the stranger and brought over sea, A marvel and delight To ease the noon and pierce the dark blue night, For children such as he.
He learns the silver strain Wherewith the ghostly houses of gray rain And lonely valleys ring, When the untroubled whitethroats make the spring A world without a stain; Then on his river reed, With strange and unsuspected notes that plead Of their own wild accord For utterances no bird's throat could afford, Lifts it to human need.
His comrades leave their play, When calling and compelling far away By river-slope and hill, He pipes their wayward footsteps where he will, All the long lovely day.
Even his elders come.
"Surely the child is elvish," murmur some, And shake the knowing head; "Give us the good old simple things instead, Our fathers used to hum.
" Others at open door Smile when they hear what they have hearkened for These many summers now, Believing they should live to learn somehow Things never known before.
But he can only tell How the flute's whisper lures him with a spell, Yet always just eludes The lost perfection over which he broods; And how he loves it well.
Till all the country-side, Familiar with his piping far and wide, Has taken for its own That weird enchantment down the evening blown,-- Its glory and its pride.
And so his splendid name, Who left the book of lyrics and small fame Among his fellows then, Spreads through the world like autumn--who knows when?-- Till all the hillsides flame.
Grand Pré and Margaree Hear it upbruited from the unresting sea; And the small Gaspereau, Whose yellow leaves repeat it, seems to know A new felicity.
Even the shadows tall, Walking at sundown through the plain, recall A mound the grasses keep, Where once a mortal came and found long sleep By the Aurelian Wall.


by Bliss Carman |

Behind the Arras

 I like the old house tolerably well, 
Where I must dwell 
Like a familiar gnome; 
And yet I never shall feel quite at home.
I love to roam.
Day after day I loiter and explore From door to door; So many treasures lure The curious mind.
What histories obscure They must immure! I hardly know which room I care for best; This fronting west, With the strange hills in view, Where the great sun goes,—where I may go too, When my lease is through,— Or this one for the morning and the east, Where a man may feast His eyes on looming sails, And be the first to catch their foreign hails Or spy their bales Then the pale summer twilights towards the pole! It thrills my soul With wonder and delight, When gold-green shadows walk the world at night, So still, so bright.
There at the window many a time of year, Strange faces peer, Solemn though not unkind, Their wits in search of something left behind Time out of mind; As if they once had lived here, and stole back To the window crack For a peep which seems to say, "Good fortune, brother, in your house of clay!" And then, "Good day!" I hear their footsteps on the gravel walk, Their scraps of talk, And hurrying after, reach Only the crazy sea-drone of the beach In endless speech.
And often when the autumn noons are still, By swale and hill I see their gipsy signs, Trespassing somewhere on my border lines; With what designs? I forth afoot; but when I reach the place, Hardly a trace, Save the soft purple haze Of smouldering camp-fires, any hint betrays Who went these ways.
Or tatters of pale aster blue, descried By the roadside, Reveal whither they fled; Or the swamp maples, here and there a shred Of Indian red.
But most of all, the marvellous tapestry Engrosses me, Where such strange things are rife, Fancies of beasts and flowers, and love and strife, Woven to the life; Degraded shapes and splendid seraph forms, And teeming swarms Of creatures gauzy dim That cloud the dusk, and painted fish that swim, At the weaver's whim; And wonderful birds that wheel and hang in the air; And beings with hair, And moving eyes in the face, And white bone teeth and hideous grins, who race From place to place; They build great temples to their John-a-nod, And fume and plod To deck themselves with gold, And paint themselves like chattels to be sold, Then turn to mould.
Sometimes they seem almost as real as I; I hear them sigh; I see them bow with grief, Or dance for joy like any aspen leaf; But that is brief.
They have mad wars and phantom marriages; Nor seem to guess There are dimensions still, Beyond thought's reach, though not beyond love's will, For soul to fill.
And some I call my friends, and make believe Their spirits grieve, Brood, and rejoice with mine; I talk to them in phrases quaint and fine Over the wine; I tell them all my secrets; touch their hands; One understands Perhaps.
How hard he tries To speak! And yet those glorious mild eyes, His best replies! I even have my cronies, one or two, My cherished few.
But ah, they do not stay! For the sun fades them and they pass away, As I grow gray.
Yet while they last how actual they seem! Their faces beam; I give them all their names, Bertram and Gilbert, Louis, Frank and James, Each with his aims; One thinks he is a poet, and writes verse His friends rehearse; Another is full of law; A third sees pictures which his hand can draw Without a flaw.
Strangest of all, they never rest.
Day long They shift and throng, Moved by invisible will, Like a great breath which puffs across my sill, And then is still; It shakes my lovely manikins on the wall; Squall after squall, Gust upon crowding gust, It sweeps them willy nilly like blown dust With glory or lust.
It is the world-ghost, the time-spirit, come None knows wherefrom, The viewless draughty tide And wash of being.
I hear it yaw and glide, And then subside, Along these ghostly corridors and halls Like faint footfalls; The hangings stir in the air; And when I start and challenge, "Who goes there?" It answers, "Where?" The wail and sob and moan of the sea's dirge, Its plangor and surge; The awful biting sough Of drifted snows along some arctic bluff, That veer and luff, And have the vacant boding human cry, As they go by;— Is it a banished soul Dredging the dark like a distracted mole Under a knoll? Like some invisible henchman old and gray, Day after day I hear it come and go, With stealthy swift unmeaning to and fro, Muttering low, Ceaseless and daft and terrible and blind, Like a lost mind.
I often chill with fear When I bethink me, What if it should peer At my shoulder here! Perchance he drives the merry-go-round whose track Is the zodiac; His name is No-man's-friend; And his gabbling parrot-talk has neither trend, Beginning, nor end.
A prince of madness too, I'd cry, "A rat!" And lunge thereat,— Let out at one swift thrust The cunning arch-delusion of the dust I so mistrust, But that I fear I should disclose a face Wearing the trace Of my own human guise, Piteous, unharmful, loving, sad, and wise With the speaking eyes.
I would the house were rid of his grim pranks, Moaning from banks Of pine trees in the moon, Startling the silence like a demoniac loon At dead of noon.
Or whispering his fool-talk to the leaves About my eaves.
And yet how can I know 'T is not a happy Ariel masking so In mocking woe? Then with a little broken laugh I say, Snatching away The curtain where he grinned (My feverish sight thought) like a sin unsinned, "Only the wind!" Yet often too he steals so softly by.
With half a sigh, I deem he must be mild, Fair as a woman, gentle as a child, And forest wild.
Passing the door where an old wind-harp swings, With its five strings, Contrived long years ago By my first predecessor bent to show His handcraft so, He lay his fingers on the aeolian wire, As a core of fire Is laid upon the blast To kindle and glow and fill the purple vast Of dark at last.
Weird wise, and low, piercing and keen and glad, Or dim and sad As a forgotten strain Born when the broken legions of the rain Swept through the plain— He plays, like some dread veiled mysteriarch, Lighting the dark, Bidding the spring grow warm, The gendering merge and loosing of spirit in form, Peace out of storm.
For music is the sacrament of love; He broods above The virgin silence, till She yields for rapture shuddering, yearning still To his sweet will.
I hear him sing, "Your harp is like a mesh, Woven of flesh And spread within the shoal Of life, where runs the tide-race of the soul In my control.
"Though my wild way may ruin what it bends, It makes amends To the frail downy clocks, Telling their seed a secret that unlocks The granite rocks.
"The womb of silence to the crave of sound Is heaven unfound, Till I, to soothe and slake Being's most utter and imperious ache, Bid rhythm awake.
"If with such agonies of bliss, my kin, I enter in Your prison house of sense, With what a joyous freed intelligence I shall go hence.
" I need no more to guess the weaver's name, Nor ask his aim, Who hung each hall and room With swarthy-tinged vermilion upon gloom; I know that loom.
Give me a little space and time enough, From ravelings rough I could revive, reweave, A fabric of beauty art might well believe Were past retrieve.
O men and women in that rich design, Sleep-soft, sun-fine, Dew-tenuous and free, A tone of the infinite wind-themes of the sea, Borne in to me, Reveals how you were woven to the might Of shadow and light.
You are the dream of One Who loves to haunt and yet appears to shun My door in the sun; As the white roving sea tern fleck and skim The morning's rim; Or the dark thrushes clear Their flutes of music leisurely and sheer, Then hush to hear.
I know him when the last red brands of day Smoulder away, And when the vernal showers Bring back the heart to all my valley flowers In the soft hours.
O hand of mine and brain of mine, be yours, While time endures, To acquiesce and learn! For what we best may dare and drudge and yearn, Let soul discern.
So, fellows, we shall reach the gusty gate, Early or late, And part without remorse, A cadence dying down unto its source In music's course; You to the perfect rhythms of flowers and birds, Colors and words, The heart-beats of the earth, To be remoulded always of one worth From birth to birth; I to the broken rhythm of thought and man, The sweep and span Of memory and hope About the orbit where they still must grope For wider scope, To be through thousand springs restored, renewed, With love imbrued, With increments of will Made strong, perceiving unattainment still From each new skill.
Always the flawless beauty, always the chord Of the Overword, Dominant, pleading, sure, No truth too small to save and make endure.
No good too poor! And since no mortal can at last disdain That sweet refrain, But lets go strife and care, Borne like a strain of bird notes on the air, The wind knows where; Some quiet April evening soft and strange, When comes the change No spirit can deplore, I shall be one with all I was before, In death once more.


by Bliss Carman |

A Song before Sailing

 Wind of the dead men's feet,
Blow down the empty street
Of this old city by the sea
With news for me!
Blow me beyond the grime
And pestilence of time!
I am too sick at heart to war
With failure any more.
Thy chill is in my bones; The moonlight on the stones Is pale, and palpable, and cold; I am as one grown old.
I call from room to room Through the deserted gloom; The echoes are all words I know, Lost in some long ago.
I prowl from door to door, And find no comrade more.
The wolfish fear that children feel Is snuffing at my heel.
I hear the hollow sound Of a great ship coming round, The thunder of tackle and the tread Of sailors overhead.
That stormy-blown hulloo Has orders for me, too.
I see thee, hand at mouth, and hark, My captain of the dark.
O wind of the great East, By whom we are released From this strange dusty port to sail Beyond our fellows' hail, Under the stars that keep The entry of the deep, Thy somber voice brings up the sea's Forgotten melodies; And I have no more need Of bread, or wine, or creed, Bound for the colonies of time Beyond the farthest prime.
Wind of the dead men's feet, Blow through the empty street; The last adventurer am I, Then, world, goodby!


by Bliss Carman |

A Creature Catechism

 I
Soul, what art thou in the tribes of the sea?


LORD, said a flying fish, 
Below the foundations of storm 
We feel the primal wish 
Of the earth take form.
Through the dim green water-fire We see the red sun loom, And the quake of a new desire Takes hold on us down in the gloom.
No more can the filmy drift Nor draughty currents buoy Our whim to its bent, nor lift Our heart to the height of its joy.
When sheering down to the Line Come polar tides from the North, Thy silver folk of the brine Must glimmer and forth.
Down in the crumbling mill Grinding eternally, We are the type of thy will To the tribes of the sea.
II Soul, what art thou in the tribes of the air Lord, said a butterfly, Out of a creeping thing, For days in the dust put by, The spread of a wing Emerges with pulvil of gold On a tissue of green and blue, And there is thy purpose of old Unspoiled and fashioned anew.
Ephemera, ravellings of sky And shreds of the Northern light, We age in a heart-beat and die Under the eaves of night.
What if the small breath quail, Or cease at a touch of the frost? Not a tremor of joy shall fail, Nor a pulse be lost.
This fluttering life, never still, Survives to oblivion’s despair.
We are the type of thy will To the tribes of the air.
III Soul, what art thou in the tribes of the field? Lord, said a maple seed, Though well we are wrapped and bound, We are the first to give heed, When thy bugles give sound.
We banner thy House of the Hills With green and vermilion and gold, When the floor of April thrills With the myriad stir of the mould, And her hosts for migration prepare.
We too have the veined twin-wings, Vans for the journey of air.
With the urge of a thousand springs Pent for a germ in our side, We perish of joy, being dumb, That our race may be and abide For aeons to come.
When rivulet answers to rill In snow-blue valleys unsealed, We are the type of thy will To the tribes of the field.
IV Soul, what art thou in the tribes of the ground? Lord, when the time is ripe, Said a frog through the quiet rain, We take up the silver pipe For the pageant again.
When the melting wind of the South Is over meadow and pond, We draw the breath of thy mouth, Reviving the ancient bond.
Then must we fife and declare The unquenchable joy of earth,— Testify hearts still dare, Signalize beauty’s worth.
Then must we rouse and blow On the magic reed once more, Till the glad earth-children know Not a thing to deplore.
When rises the marshy trill To the soft spring night’s profound, We are the type of thy will To the tribes of the ground.
V Soul, what art thou in the tribes of the earth? Lord, said an artist born, We leave the city behind For the hills of open morn, For fear of our kind.
Our brother they nailed to a tree For sedition; they bully and curse All those whom love makes free.
Yet the very winds disperse Rapture of birds and brooks, Colours of sea and cloud,— Beauty not learned of books, Truth that is never loud.
We model our joy into clay, Or help it with line and hue, Or hark for its breath in stray Wild chords and new.
For to-morrow can only fulfil Dreams which to-day have birth; We are the type of thy will To the tribes of the earth.


by Bliss Carman |

The Heart of Night

 When all the stars are sown 
Across the night-blue space, 
With the immense unknown, 
In silence face to face.
We stand in speechless awe While Beauty marches by, And wonder at the Law Which wears such majesty.
How small a thing is man In all that world-sown vast, That he should hope or plan Or dream his dream could last! O doubter of the light, Confused by fear and wrong, Lean on the heart of night And let love make thee strong! The Good that is the True Is clothed with Beauty still.
Lo, in their tent of blue, The stars above the hill!


by Bliss Carman |

Lord of my Hearts Elation

 Lord of my heart's elation,
Spirit of things unseen,
Be thou my aspiration
Consuming and serene!
Bear up, bear out, bear onward
This mortal soul alone,
To selfhood or oblivion,
Incredibly thine own,—
As the foamheads are loosened
And blown along the sea,
Or sink and merge forever
In that which bids them be.
I, too, must climb in wonder, Uplift at thy command,— Be one with my frail fellows Beneath the wind's strong hand, A fleet and shadowy column Of dust or mountain rain, To walk the earth a moment And be dissolved again.
Be thou my exaltation Or fortitude of mien, Lord of the world's elation, Thou breath of things unseen!


by Bliss Carman |

A Sea Child

 The lover of child Marjory 
Had one white hour of life brim full; 
Now the old nurse, the rocking sea, 
Hath him to lull.
The daughter of child Marjory Hath in her veins, to beat and run, The glad indomitable sea, The strong white sun.