Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > An American Anthology, 1787–1900
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CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  An American Anthology, 1787–1900.  1900.
 
969. Sonnets
 
By Lloyd Mifflin
 
 
I
THE SOVEREIGNS

THEY who create rob death of half its stings;
They, from the dim inane and vague opaque
Of nothingness, build with their thought, and make
Enduring entities and beauteous things;
They are the Poets—they give airy wings        5
To shapes marmorean; or they overtake
The Ideal with the brush, or, soaring, wake
Far in the rolling clouds their glorious strings.
The Poet is the only potentate;
His sceptre reaches o’er remotest zones;        10
His thought remembered and his golden tones
Shall, in the ears of nations uncreate,
Roll on for ages and reverberate
When Kings are dust beside forgotten thrones.
 
MILTON

HIS feet were shod with music and had wings
        15
Like Hermes: far upon the peaks of song
His sandals sounded silverly along;
The dull world blossomed into beauteous things
Where’er he trod; and Heliconian springs
Gushed from the rocks he touched; round him a throng        20
Of fair invisibles, seraphic, strong,
Struck Orphean murmurs out of golden strings;
But he, spreading keen pinions for a white
Immensity of radiance and of peace,
Up-looming to the Empyrean infinite,        25
Far through ethereal fields, and zenith seas,
High, with strong wing-beats and with eagle ease,
Soared in a solitude of glorious light!
 
II
THE SHIP

I LAY on Delos of the Cyclades
At evening, on a cape of golden land;        30
The blind Bard’s book was open in my hand,
There where the Cyclops makes the Odyssey’s
Calm pages tremble as Odysseus flees.
Then, stately, like a mirage o’er the sand,
A phantom ship across the sunset strand        35
Rose out of dreams and clave the purple seas;
Straight on that city’s bastions did she run—
Whose toppling turrets on their donjons hold
Bells that to mortal ears have never tolled—
Then drifted down the gateways of the sun        40
With fading pennon and with gonfalon,
And cast her anchors in the pools of gold.
 
TO AN OLD VENETIAN WINE-GLASS

DAUGHTER of Venice, fairer than the moon!
From thy dark casement leaning, half divine,
And to the lutes of love that low repine        45
Across the midnight of the hushed lagoon
Listening with languor in a dreamful swoon—
On such a night as this thou didst entwine
Thy lily fingers round this glass of wine,
And clasped thy climbing lover—none too soon!        50
Thy lover left, but ere he left thy room
From this he drank, his warm lips at the brim;
Thou kissed it as he vanished in the gloom;
That kiss, because of thy true love for him—
Long, long ago, when thou wast in thy bloom,—        55
Hath left it ever rosy round the rim!
 
III
THESEUS AND ARIADNE

  Thes.  Nay, I have loved thee!
  Ari.        Thou hast loved, didst say?
  Thes.  I loved thee well at Crete.
  Ari.        Lov’st me no more?        60
  Thes.  Ah! who can hold the wave upon the shore?
  Ari.  Thou, if thou wouldst; and, oh! is that the way
Thou speak’st to me, who gave thee, on that day,
My flower of life?
  Thes.        My ship is ready—sail and oar!…        65
  Ari.  Did I not save thee from the Minotaur,—
And wilt thou leave me?
  Thes.        Who can make love stay? …
Wax is my heart and takes full easily
The last print on ’t. Past love is past recall.        70
Adieu!… Love has the helm—he guides, not we …
  Ari.  Beloved Traitor! May thy black sail pall
Deep in the brine, thee, and thy maidens all!…
Ye gods! he leaves me and my babe to be!
 
IV
TO THE MILKWEED

NONE call thee flower!… I will not so malign
        75
The satin softness of thy plumëd seed,
Nor so profane thee as to call thee weed,
Thou tuft of ermine down, fit to entwine
About a queen; or, fitter still, to line
The nest of birds of strange exotic breed.        80
The orient cunning, and the somnolent speed
Of looms of dusky Ind weave not so fine
A gossamer … Ah me! could he who sings,
On such adventurous and aërial wings
Far over lands and undiscovered seas        85
Waft the dark seeds of his imaginings,
That, flowering, men might say, Lo! look on these
Wild Weeds of Song—not all ungracious things!
 
TO A MAPLE SEED

ART thou some wingëd Sprite, that, fluttering round,
Exhausted on the grass at last doth lie,        90
Or wayward Fay? Ah, weakling, by and by
Thyself shalt grow a giant, strong and sound,
When, like Antaeus, thou dost touch the ground.
O happy Seed! it is not thine to die;
Thy wings bestow thine immortality,        95
And thou canst bridge the deep and dark profound.
I hear the ecstatic song the wild bird flings,
In future summers, from thy leafy head!
What hopes! what fears! what rapturous sufferings!
What burning words of love will there be said!        100
What sobs—what tears! what passionate whisperings!
Under thy boughs, when I, alas! am dead.
 
V
SESOSTRIS

SOLE Lord of Lords and very King of Kings,
He sits within the desert, carved in stone;
Inscrutable, colossal, and alone,        105
And ancienter than memory of things.
Graved on his front the sacred beetle clings;
Disdain sits on his lips; and in a frown
Scorn lives upon his forehead for a crown.
The affrighted ostrich dare not dust her wings        110
Anear this Presence. The long caravan’s
Dazed camels stop, and mute the Bedouins stare.
This symbol of past power more than man’s
Presages doom. Kings look—and Kings despair:
Their sceptres tremble in their jewelled hands,        115
And dark thrones totter in the baleful air!
 
THE DOORS

AS through the Void we went I heard his plumes
Strike on the darkness. It was passing sweet
To hold his hand and feel that thin air beat
Against our pinions as we winged those glooms        120
Of Ebon, through which Atropos still dooms
Each soul to pass. Then presently our feet
Found footing on a ledge of dark retreat,
And opposite appeared two doors of tombs
Seen by the star upon the angel’s head        125
That made dim twilight; there I caught my breath:
“Why pause we here?” The angel answering said,
“The journey ends. These are the Doors of Death;
Lo, now they open, inward, for the dead.”
And then a Voice,—“Who next that entereth?”        130
 
THE FLIGHT

UPON a cloud among the stars we stood.
The angel raised his hand and looked and said,
“Which world, of all yon starry myriad,
Shall we make wing to?” The still solitude
Became a harp whereon his voice and mood        135
Made spheral music round his haloed head.
I spake—for then I had not long been dead—
“Let me look round upon the vasts, and brood
A moment on these orbs ere I decide …
What is yon lower star that beauteous shines        140
And with soft splendor now incarnadines
Our wings?—There would I go and there abide.”
He smiled as one who some child’s thought divines:
“That is the world where yesternight you died.”
 
FIAT LUX

THEN that dread angel near the awful throne,
        145
Leaving the seraphs ranged in flaming tiers,
Winged his dark way through those unpinioned spheres,
And on the void’s black beetling edge, alone,
Stood with raised wings, and listened for the tone
Of God’s command to reach his eager ears,        150
While Chaos wavered, for she felt her years
Unsceptred now in that convulsive zone.
Night trembled. And, as one hath oft beheld
A lamp lit in a vase light up its gloom,
So God’s voice lighted him, from heel to plume:        155
Let there be Light, It said, and Darkness, quelled,
Shrunk noiseless backward in her monstrous womb
Through vasts unwinnowed by the wings of eld!
 

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