Verse > William Wordsworth > Complete Poetical Works
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ON THE POWER OF SOUND

                                   I

          THY functions are ethereal,
          As if within thee dwelt a glancing mind,
          Organ of vision! And a Spirit aerial
          Informs the cell of Hearing, dark and blind;
          Intricate labyrinth, more dread for thought
          To enter than oracular cave;
          Strict passage, through which sighs are brought,
          And whispers for the heart, their slave;
          And shrieks, that revel in abuse
          Of shivering flesh; and warbled air,
          Whose piercing sweetness can unloose
          The chains of frenzy, or entice a smile
          Into the ambush of despair;
          Hosannas pealing down the long-drawn aisle,
          And requiems answered by the pulse that beats
          Devoutly, in life's last retreats!

                                   II

          The headlong streams and fountains
          Serve Thee, invisible Spirit, with untired powers;
          Cheering the wakeful tent on Syrian mountains,
          They lull perchance ten thousand thousand flowers.
          'That' roar, the prowling lion's 'Here I am',
          How fearful to the desert wide!
          That bleat, how tender! of the dam
          Calling a straggler to her side.
          Shout, cuckoo!--let the vernal soul
          Go with thee to the frozen zone;
          Toll from thy loftiest perch, lone bell-bird, toll!
          At the still hour to Mercy dear,
          Mercy from her twilight throne
          Listening to nun's faint throb of holy fear,
          To sailor's prayer breathed from a darkening sea,
          Or widow's cottage-lullaby.

                                  III

          Ye Voices, and ye Shadows
          And Images of voice--to hound and horn
          From rocky steep and rock-bestudded meadows
          Flung back, and; in the sky's blue caves, reborn--
          On with your pastime! till the church-tower bells
          A greeting give of measured glee;
          And milder echoes from their cells
          Repeat the bridal symphony.
          Then, or far earlier, let us rove
          Where mists are breaking up or gone,
          And from aloft look down into a cove
          Besprinkled with a careless quire,
          Happy milk-maids, one by one
          Scattering a ditty each to her desire,
          A liquid concert matchless by nice Art,
          A stream as if from one full heart.

                                   IV

          Blest be the song that brightens
          The blind man's gloom, exalts the veteran's mirth;
          Unscorned the peasant's whistling breath, that lightens
          His duteous toil of furrowing the green earth.
          For the tired slave, Song lifts the languid oar,
          And bids it aptly fall, with chime
          That beautifies the fairest shore,
          And mitigates the harshest clime.
          Yon pilgrims see--in lagging file
          They move; but soon the appointed way
          A choral 'Ave Marie' shall beguile,
          And to their hope the distant shrine
          Glisten with a livelier ray:
          Nor friendless he, the prisoner of the mine,
          Who from the well-spring of his own clear breast
          Can draw, and sing his griefs to rest.

                                   V

          When civic renovation
          Dawns on a kingdom, and for needful haste
          Best eloquence avails not, Inspiration
          Mounts with a tune, that travels like a blast
          Piping through cave and battlemented tower;
          Then starts the sluggard, pleased to meet
          That voice of Freedom, in its power
          Of promises, shrill, wild, and sweet!
          Who, from a martial 'pageant', spreads
          Incitements of a battle-day,
          Thrilling the unweaponed crowd with plumeless heads?--
          Even She whose Lydian airs inspire
          Peaceful striving, gentle play
          Of timid hope and innocent desire
          Shot from the dancing Graces, as they move
          Fanned by the plausive wings of Love.

                                   VI

          How oft along thy mazes,
          Regent of sound, have dangerous Passions trod!
          O Thou, through whom the temple rings with praises,
          And blackening clouds in thunder speak of God,
          Betray not by the cozenage of sense
          Thy votaries, wooingly resigned
          To a voluptuous influence
          That taints the purer, better, mind;
          But lead sick Fancy to a harp
          That hath in noble tasks been tried;
          And, if the virtuous feel a pang too sharp,
          Soothe it into patience,--stay
          The uplifted arm of Suicide;
          And let some mood of thine in firm array
          Knit every thought the impending issue needs,
          Ere martyr burns, or patriot bleeds!

                                  VII

          As Conscience, to the centre
          Of being, smites with irresistible pain
          So shall a solemn cadence, if it enter
          The mouldy vaults of the dull idiot's brain,
          Transmute him to a wretch from quiet hurled--
          Convulsed as by a jarring din;
          And then aghast, as at the world
          Of reason partially let in
          By concords winding with a sway
          Terrible for sense and soul!
          Or, awed he weeps, struggling to quell dismay.
          Point not these mysteries to an Art
          Lodged above the starry pole;
          Pure modulations flowing from the heart
          Of divine Love, where Wisdom, Beauty, Truth
          With Order dwell, in endless youth?

                                  VIII

          Oblivion may not cover
          All treasures hoarded by the miser, Time.
          Orphean Insight! truth's undaunted lover,
          To the first leagues of tutored passion climb,
          When Music deigned within this grosser sphere
          Her subtle essence to enfold,
          And voice and shell drew forth a tear
          Softer than Nature's self could mould.
          Yet 'strenuous' was the infant Age:
          Art, daring because souls could feel,
          Stirred nowhere but an urgent equipage
          Of rapt imagination sped her march
          Through the realms of woe and weal:
          Hell to the lyre bowed low; the upper arch
          Rejoiced that clamorous spell and magic verse
          Her wan disasters could disperse.

                                   IX

          The GIFT to king Amphion
          That walled a city with its melody
          Was for belief no dream:--thy skill, Arion!
          Could humanise the creatures of the sea,
          Where men were monsters. A last grace he craves,
          Leave for one chant;--the dulcet sound
          Steals from the deck o'er willing waves,
          And listening dolphins gather round.
          Self-cast, as with a desperate course,
          'Mid that strange audience, he bestrides
          A proud One docile as a managed horse;
          And singing, while the accordant hand
          Sweeps his harp, the Master rides;
          So shall he touch at length a friendly strand,
          And he, with his preserver, shine star-bright
          In memory, through silent night.

                                   X

          The pipe of Pan, to shepherds
          Couched in the shadow of Maenalian pines,
          Was passing sweet; the eyeballs of the leopards,
          That in high triumph drew the Lord of vines,
          How did they sparkle to the cymbal's clang!
          While Fauns and Satyrs beat the ground
          In cadence,--and Silenus swang
          This way and that, with wild-flowers crowned.
          To life, to 'life' give back thine ear:
          Ye who are longing to be rid
          Of fable, though to truth subservient, hear
          The little sprinkling of cold earth that fell
          Echoed from the coffin-lid;
          The convict's summons in the steeple's knell;
          "The vain distress-gun," from a leeward shore,
          Repeated--heard, and heard no more!

                                   XI

          For terror, joy, or pity,
          Vast is the compass and the swell of notes:
          From the babe's first cry to voice of regal city,
          Rolling a solemn sea-like bass, that floats
          Far as the woodlands--with the trill to blend
          Of that shy songstress, whose love-tale
          Might tempt an angel to descend,
          While hovering o'er the moonlight vale.
          Ye wandering Utterances, has earth no scheme,
          No scale of moral music--to unite
          Powers that survive but in the faintest dream
          Of memory?--O that ye might stoop to bear
          Chains, such precious chains of sight
          As laboured minstrelsies through ages wear!
          O for a balance fit the truth to tell
          Of the Unsubstantial, pondered well!

                                  XII

          By one pervading spirit
          Of tones and numbers all things are controlled,
          As sages taught, where faith was found to merit
          Initiation in that mystery old.
          The heavens, whose aspect makes our minds as still
          As they themselves appear to be,
          Innumerable voices fill
          With everlasting harmony;
          The towering headlands, crowned with mist,
          Their feet among the billows, know
          That Ocean is a mighty harmonist;
          Thy pinions, universal Air,
          Ever waving to and fro,
          Are delegates of harmony, and bear
          Strains that support the Seasons in their round;
          Stern Winter loves a dirge-like sound.

                                  XIII

          Break forth into thanksgiving,
          Ye banded instruments of wind and chords
          Unite, to magnify the Ever-living,
          Your inarticulate notes with the voice of words!
          Nor hushed be service from the lowing mead,
          Nor mute the forest hum of noon;
          Thou too be heard, lone eagle! freed
          From snowy peak and cloud, attune
          Thy hungry barkings to the hymn
          Of joy, that from her utmost walls
          The six-days' Work, by flaming Seraphim
          Transmits to Heaven! As Deep to Deep
          Shouting through one valley calls,
          All worlds, all natures, mood and measure keep
          For praise and ceaseless gratulation, poured
          Into the ear of God, their Lord!

                                   XIV

          A Voice to Light gave Being;
          To Time, and Man, his earth-born chronicler;
          A Voice shall finish doubt and dim foreseeing,
          And sweep away life's visionary stir;
          The trumpet (we, intoxicate with pride,
          Arm at its blast for deadly wars)
          To archangelic lips applied,
          The grave shall open, quench the stars.
          O Silence! are Man's noisy years
          No more than moments of thy life?
          Is Harmony, blest queen of smiles and tears,
          With her smooth tones and discords just,
          Tempered into rapturous strife,
          Thy destined bond-slave? No! though earth be dust
          And vanish, though the heavens dissolve, her stay
          Is in the WORD, that shall not pass away.
                                                              1828.


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