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Written by Amy Levy | Create an image from this poem

A Minor Poet

 "What should such fellows as I do,
Crawling between earth and heaven?"

Here is the phial; here I turn the key
Sharp in the lock.
Click!--there's no doubt it turned.
This is the third time; there is luck in threes-- Queen Luck, that rules the world, befriend me now And freely I'll forgive you many wrongs! Just as the draught began to work, first time, Tom Leigh, my friend (as friends go in the world), Burst in, and drew the phial from my hand, (Ah, Tom! ah, Tom! that was a sorry turn!) And lectured me a lecture, all compact Of neatest, newest phrases, freshly culled From works of newest culture: "common good ;" "The world's great harmonies;""must be content With knowing God works all things for the best, And Nature never stumbles.
" Then again, "The common good," and still, "the common, good;" And what a small thing was our joy or grief When weigh'd with that of thousands.
Gentle Tom, But you might wag your philosophic tongue From morn till eve, and still the thing's the same: I am myself, as each man is himself-- Feels his own pain, joys his own joy, and loves With his own love, no other's.
Friend, the world Is but one man; one man is but the world.
And I am I, and you are Tom, that bleeds When needles prick your flesh (mark, yours, not mine).
I must confess it; I can feel the pulse A-beating at my heart, yet never knew The throb of cosmic pulses.
I lament The death of youth's ideal in my heart; And, to be honest, never yet rejoiced In the world's progress--scarce, indeed, discerned; (For still it seems that God's a Sisyphus With the world for stone).
You shake your head.
I'm base, Ignoble? Who is noble--you or I? I was not once thus? Ah, my friend, we are As the Fates make us.
This time is the third; The second time the flask fell from my hand, Its drowsy juices spilt upon the board; And there my face fell flat, and all the life Crept from my limbs, and hand and foot were bound With mighty chains, subtle, intangible; While still the mind held to its wonted use, Or rather grew intense and keen with dread, An awful dread--I thought I was in Hell.
In Hell, in Hell ! Was ever Hell conceived By mortal brain, by brain Divine devised, Darker, more fraught with torment, than the world For such as I? A creature maimed and marr'd From very birth.
A blot, a blur, a note All out of tune in this world's instrument.
A base thing, yet not knowing to fulfil Base functions.
A high thing, yet all unmeet For work that's high.
A dweller on the earth, Yet not content to dig with other men Because of certain sudden sights and sounds (Bars of broke music; furtive, fleeting glimpse Of angel faces 'thwart the grating seen) Perceived in Heaven.
Yet when I approach To catch the sound's completeness, to absorb The faces' full perfection, Heaven's gate, Which then had stood ajar, sudden falls to, And I, a-shiver in the dark and cold, Scarce hear afar the mocking tones of men: "He would not dig, forsooth ; but he must strive For higher fruits than what our tillage yields; Behold what comes, my brothers, of vain pride!" Why play with figures? trifle prettily With this my grief which very simply's said, "There is no place for me in all the world"? The world's a rock, and I will beat no more A breast of flesh and blood against a rock.
A stride across the planks for old time's sake.
Ah, bare, small room that I have sorrowed in; Ay, and on sunny days, haply, rejoiced; We know some things together, you and I! Hold there, you rangèd row of books ! In vain You beckon from your shelf.
You've stood my friends Where all things else were foes; yet now I'll turn My back upon you, even as the world Turns it on me.
And yet--farewell, farewell! You, lofty Shakespere, with the tattered leaves And fathomless great heart, your binding's bruised Yet did I love you less? Goethe, farewell; Farewell, triumphant smile and tragic eyes, And pitiless world-wisdom! For all men These two.
And 'tis farewell with you, my friends, More dear because more near: Theokritus; Heine that stings and smiles; Prometheus' bard; (I've grown too coarse for Shelley latterly:) And one wild singer of to-day, whose song Is all aflame with passionate bard's blood Lash'd into foam by pain and the world's wrong.
At least, he has a voice to cry his pain; For him, no silent writhing in the dark, No muttering of mute lips, no straining out Of a weak throat a-choke with pent-up sound, A-throb with pent-up passion.
Ah, my sun! That's you, then, at the window, looking in To beam farewell on one who's loved you long And very truly.
Up, you creaking thing, You squinting, cobwebbed casement! So, at last, I can drink in the sunlight.
How it falls.
Across that endless sea of London roofs, Weaving such golden wonders on the grey, That almost, for the moment, we forget The world of woe beneath them.
Underneath, For all the sunset glory, Pain is king.
Yet, the sun's there, and very sweet withal; And I'll not grumble that it's only sun, But open wide my lips--thus--drink it in; Turn up my face to the sweet evening sky (What royal wealth of scarlet on the blue So tender toned, you'd almost think it green) And stretch my hands out--so--to grasp it tight.
Ha, ha! 'tis sweet awhile to cheat the Fates, And be as happy as another man.
The sun works in my veins like wine, like wine! 'Tis a fair world: if dark, indeed, with woe, Yet having hope and hint of such a joy, That a man, winning, well might turn aside, Careless of Heaven .
O enough; I turn From the sun's light, or haply I shall hope.
I have hoped enough; I would not hope again: 'Tis hope that is most cruel.
Tom, my friend, You very sorry philosophic fool; 'Tis you, I think, that bid me be resign'd, Trust, and be thankful.
Out on you! Resign'd? I'm not resign'd, not patient, not school'd in To take my starveling's portion and pretend I'm grateful for it.
I want all, all, all; I've appetite for all.
I want the best: Love, beauty, sunlight, nameless joy of life.
There's too much patience in the world, I think.
We have grown base with crooking of the knee.
Mankind--say--God has bidden to a feast; The board is spread, and groans with cates and drinks; In troop the guests; each man with appetite Keen-whetted with expectance.
In they troop, Struggle for seats, jostle and push and seize.
What's this? what's this? There are not seats for all! Some men must stand without the gates; and some Must linger by the table, ill-supplied With broken meats.
One man gets meat for two, The while another hungers.
If I stand Without the portals, seeing others eat Where I had thought to satiate the pangs Of mine own hunger; shall I then come forth When all is done, and drink my Lord's good health In my Lord's water? Shall I not rather turn And curse him, curse him for a niggard host? O, I have hungered, hungered, through the years, Till appetite grows craving, then disease; I am starved, wither'd, shrivelled.
Peace, O peace! This rage is idle; what avails to curse The nameless forces, the vast silences That work in all things.
This time is the third, I wrought before in heat, stung mad with pain, Blind, scarcely understanding; now I know What thing I do.
There was a woman once; Deep eyes she had, white hands, a subtle smile, Soft speaking tones: she did not break my heart, Yet haply had her heart been otherwise Mine had not now been broken.
Yet, who knows? My life was jarring discord from the first: Tho' here and there brief hints of melody, Of melody unutterable, clove the air.
From this bleak world, into the heart of night, The dim, deep bosom of the universe, I cast myself.
I only crave for rest; Too heavy is the load.
I fling it down.
We knocked and knocked; at last, burst in the door, And found him as you know--the outstretched arms Propping the hidden face.
The sun had set, And all the place was dim with lurking shade.
There was no written word to say farewell, Or make more clear the deed.
I search'd and search'd; The room held little: just a row of books Much scrawl'd and noted; sketches on the wall, Done rough in charcoal; the old instrument (A violin, no Stradivarius) He played so ill on; in the table drawer Large schemes of undone work.
Poems half-writ; Wild drafts of symphonies; big plans of fugues; Some scraps of writing in a woman's hand: No more--the scattered pages of a tale, A sorry tale that no man cared to read.
Alas, my friend, I lov'd him well, tho' he Held me a cold and stagnant-blooded fool, Because I am content to watch, and wait With a calm mind the issue of all things.
Certain it is my blood's no turbid stream; Yet, for all that, haply I understood More than he ever deem'd; nor held so light The poet in him.
Nay, I sometimes doubt If they have not, indeed, the better part-- These poets, who get drunk with sun, and weep Because the night or a woman's face is fair.
Meantime there is much talk about my friend.
The women say, of course, he died for love; The men, for lack of gold, or cavilling Of carping critics.
I, Tom Leigh, his friend I have no word at all to say of this.
Nay, I had deem'd him more philosopher; For did he think by this one paltry deed To cut the knot of circumstance, and snap The chain which binds all being?

Written by Amy Levy | Create an image from this poem

Oh Is It Love?

 O is it Love or is it Fame,
This thing for which I sigh?
Or has it then no earthly name
For men to call it by?

I know not what can ease my pains,
Nor what it is I wish;
The passion at my heart-strings strains
Like a tiger in a leash.
Written by Amy Levy | Create an image from this poem


 The lion remembers the forest,
The lion in chains;
To the bird that is captive a vision
Of woodland remains.
One strains with his strength at the fetter, In impotent rage; One flutters in flights of a moment, And beats at the cage.
If the lion were loosed from the fetter, To wander again; He would seek the wide silence and shadow Of his jungle in vain.
He would rage in his fury, destroying; Let him rage, let him roam! Shall he traverse the pitiless mountain, Or swim through the foam? If they opened the cage and the casement, And the bird flew away; He would come back at evening, heartbroken, A captive for aye.
Would come if his kindred had spared him, Free birds from afar-- There was wrought what is stronger than iron In fetter and bar.
I cannot remember my country, The land whence I came; Whence they brought me and chained me and made me Nor wild thing nor tame.
This only I know of my country, This only repeat :-- It was free as the forest, and sweeter Than woodland retreat.
When the chain shall at last be broken, The window set wide; And I step in the largeness and freedom Of sunlight outside ; Shall I wander in vain for my country? Shall I seek and not find? Shall I cry for the bars that encage me The fetters that bind?
Written by Amy Levy | Create an image from this poem

Run to Death

 A True Incident of Pre-Revolutionary French History.
Now the lovely autumn morning breathes its freshness in earth's face, In the crowned castle courtyard the blithe horn proclaims the chase; And the ladies on the terrace smile adieux with rosy lips To the huntsmen disappearing down the cedar-shaded groves, Wafting delicate aromas from their scented finger tips, And the gallants wave in answer, with their gold-embroidered gloves.
On they rode, past bush and bramble, on they rode, past elm and oak; And the hounds, with anxious nostril, sniffed the heather-scented air, Till at last, within his stirrups, up Lord Gaston rose, and spoke-- He, the boldest and the bravest of the wealthy nobles there : 'Friends,' quoth he, 'the time hangs heavy, for it is not as we thought, And these woods, tho' fair and shady, will afford, I fear, no sport.
Shall we hence, then, worthy kinsmen, and desert the hunter's track For the chateau, where the wine cup and the dice cup tempt us back?' 'Ay,' the nobles shout in chorus ; 'Ay,' the powder'd lacquey cries; Then they stop with eager movement, reining in quite suddenly; Peering down with half contemptuous, half with wonder-opened eyes At a 'something' which is crawling, with slow step, from tree to tree.
Is't some shadow phantom ghastly ? No, a woman and a child, Swarthy woman, with the 'gipsy' written clear upon her face; Gazing round her with her wide eyes dark, and shadow-fringed, and wild, With the cowed suspicious glances of a persecuted race.
Then they all, with unasked question, in each other's faces peer, For a common thought has struck them, one their lips dare scarcely say,-- Till Lord Gaston cries, impatient, 'Why regret the stately deer When such sport as yonder offers? quick ! unleash the dogs--away!' Then they breath'd a shout of cheering, grey-haired man and stripling boy, And the gipsy, roused to terror, stayed her step, and turned her head-- Saw the faces of those huntsmen, lit with keenest cruel joy-- Sent a cry of grief to Heaven, closer clasped her child, and fled! * * * * * * * O ye nobles of the palace! O ye gallant-hearted lords! Who would stoop for Leila's kerchief, or for Clementina's gloves, Who would rise up all indignant, with your shining sheathless swords, At the breathing of dishonour to your languid lady loves! O, I tell you, daring nobles, with your beauty-loving stare, Who ne'er long the coy coquetting of the courtly dames withstood, Tho' a woman be the lowest, and the basest, and least fair, In your manliness forget not to respect her womanhood, And thou, gipsy, that hast often the pursuer fled before, That hast felt ere this the shadow of dark death upon thy brow, That hast hid among the mountains, that hast roamed the forest o'er, Bred to hiding, watching, fleeing, may thy speed avail thee now! * * * * * * * Still she flees, and ever fiercer tear the hungry hounds behind, Still she flees, and ever faster follow there the huntsmen on, Still she flees, her black hair streaming in a fury to the wind, Still she flees, tho' all the glimmer of a happy hope is gone.
'Eh? what? baffled by a woman! Ah, sapristi! she can run! Should she 'scape us, it would crown us with dishonour and disgrace; It is time' (Lord Gaston shouted) 'such a paltry chase were done!' And the fleeter grew her footsteps, so the hotter grew the chase-- Ha! at last! the dogs are on her! will she struggle ere she dies? See! she holds her child above her, all forgetful of her pain, While a hundred thousand curses shoot out darkly from her eyes, And a hundred thousand glances of the bitterest disdain.
Ha! the dogs are pressing closer! they have flung her to the ground; Yet her proud lips never open with the dying sinner's cry-- Till at last, unto the Heavens, just two fearful shrieks resound, When the soul is all forgotten in the body's agony! Let them rest there, child and mother, in the shadow of the oak, On the tender mother-bosom of that earth from which they came.
As they slow rode back those huntsmen neither laughed, nor sang, nor spoke, Hap, there lurked unowned within them throbbings of a secret shame.
But before the flow'ry terrace, where the ladies smiling sat, With their graceful nothings trifling all the weary time away, Low Lord Gaston bowed, and raising high his richly 'broider'd hat, 'Fairest ladies, give us welcome! 'Twas a famous hunt to-day.
Written by Amy Levy | Create an image from this poem

The Lost Friend

 The people take the thing of course,
They marvel not to see
This strange, unnatural divorce
Betwixt delight and me.
I know the face of sorrow, and I know Her voice with all its varied cadences; Which way she turns and treads; how at her ease Things fit her dreary largess to bestow.
Where sorrow long abides, some be that grow To hold her dear, but I am not of these; Joy is my friend, not sorrow; by strange seas, In some far land we wandered, long ago.
O faith, long tried, that knows no faltering! O vanished treasure of her hands and face!-- Beloved--to whose memory I cling, Unmoved within my heart she holds her place.
And never shall I hail that other "friend," Who yet shall dog my footsteps to the end.

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The End of the Day

 To B.
Dead-tired, dog-tired, as the vivid day Fails and slackens and fades away.
-- The sky that was so blue before With sudden clouds is shrouded o'er.
Swiftly, stilly the mists uprise, Till blurred and grey the landscape lies.
* * * * * * * All day we have plied the oar; all day Eager and keen have said our say On life and death, on love and art, On good or ill at Nature's heart.
Now, grown so tired, we scarce can lift The lazy oars, but onward drift.
And the silence is only stirred Here and there by a broken word.
* * * * * * * O, sweeter far than strain and stress Is the slow, creeping weariness.
And better far than thought I find The drowsy blankness of the mind.
More than all joys of soul or sense Is this divine indifference; Where grief a shadow grows to be, And peace a possibility.
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In September

 The sky is silver-grey; the long
Slow waves caress the shore.
-- On such a day as this I have been glad, Who shall be glad no more.
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 If I were a woman of old,
What prayers I would pray for you, dear;
My pitiful tribute behold--
Not a prayer, but a tear.
The pitiless order of things, Whose laws we may change not nor break, Alone I could face it--it wrings My heart for your sake.
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Ballade of a Special Edition

 He comes; I hear him up the street--
Bird of ill omen, flapping wide
The pinion of a printed sheet,
His hoarse note scares the eventide.
Of slaughter, theft, and suicide He is the herald and the friend; Now he vociferates with pride-- A double murder in Mile End! A hanging to his soul is sweet; His gloating fancy's fain to bide Where human-freighted vessels meet, And misdirected trains collide.
With Shocking Accidents supplied, He tramps the town from end to end.
How often have we heard it cried-- A double murder in Mile End.
War loves he; victory or defeat, So there be loss on either side.
His tale of horrors incomplete, Imagination's aid is tried.
Since no distinguished man has died, And since the Fates, relenting, send No great catastrophe, he's spied This double murder in Mile End.
Fiend, get thee gone! no more repeat Those sounds which do mine ears offend.
It is apocryphal, you cheat, Your double murder in Mile End.
Written by Amy Levy | Create an image from this poem

At a Dinner Party

 With fruit and flowers the board is deckt,
The wine and laughter flow;
I'll not complain--could one expect
So dull a world to know?

You look across the fruit and flowers,
My glance your glances find.
-- It is our secret, only ours, Since all the world is blind.