Verse > Anthologies > Alfred H. Miles, ed. > Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century
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Alfred H. Miles, ed.  Women Poets of the Nineteenth Century.  1907.
 
The Legend of Jubal (1869) (A Selection)
By George Eliot (Mary Ann Cross) (1819–1880)
 
THUS glorying as a god beneficent,
Forth from his solitary joy he went
To bless mankind. It was at evening,
When shadows lengthen from each westward thing,
When imminence of change makes sense more fine        5
And light seems holier in its grand decline.
The fruit-trees wore their studded coronal,
Earth and her children were at festival,
Glowing as with one heart and one consent—
Thought, love, trees, rocks, in sweet warm radiance blent.        10
 
The tribe of Cain was resting on the ground,
The various ages wreathed in one broad round.
Here lay, while children peeped o’er his huge thighs,
The sinewy man embrowned by centuries;
Here the broad-bosomed mother of the strong        15
Looked, like Demeter, placid o’er the throng
Of young lithe forms whose rest was movement too—
Tricks, prattle, nods, and laughs that lightly flew.
And swayings as of flower-beds where Love blew.
For all had feasted well upon the flesh        20
Of juicy fruits, on nuts, and honey fresh,
And now their wine was health-bred merriment,
Which through the generations circling went,
Leaving none sad, for even father Cain
Smiled as a Titan might, despising pain.        25
Jabal sat climbed on by a playful ring
Of children, lambs and whelps, whose gambolling,
With tiny hoofs, paws, hands, and dimpled feet,
Made barks, bleats, laughs, in pretty hubbub meet.
But Tubal’s hammer rang from far away        30
Tubal alone would keep no holiday,
His furnace must not slack for any feast,
For of all hardship work he counted least;
He scorned all rest but sleep, where every dream
Made his repose more potent action seem.        35
 
Yet with health’s nectar some strange thirst was blent,
The fateful growth, the unnamed discontent,
The inward shaping toward some unborn power,
Some deeper-breathing act, the being’s flower.
After all gestures, words, and speech of eyes,        40
The soul had more to tell, and broke in sighs.
Then from the east, with glory on his head
Such as low-slanting beams on corn-waves spread,
Came Jubal with his lyre: there ’mid the throng,
Where the blank space was, poured a solemn song,        45
Touching his lyre to full harmonic throb
And measured pulse, with cadences that sob,
Exult and cry, and search the inmost deep
Where the dark sources of new passion sleep.
Joy took the air, and took each breathing soul,        50
Embracing them in one entrancèd whole,
Yet thrilled each varying frame to various ends,
As Spring new-waking through the creature sends
Or rage or tenderness; more plenteous life
Here breeding dread, and there a fiercer strife.        55
He who had lived through twice three centuries,
Whose months monotonous, like trees on trees
In hoary forests, stretched a backward maze,
Dreamed himself dimly through the travelled days
Till in clear light he paused, and felt the sun        60
That warmed him when he was a little one;
Felt that true heaven, the recovered past,
The dear small Known amid the Unknown vast,
And in that heaven wept. But younger limbs
Thrilled toward the future, that bright land which swims        65
In western glory, isles and streams and bays,
Where hidden pleasures float in golden haze.
And in all these the rhythmic influence,
Sweetly o’ercharging the delighted sense,
Flowed out in movements, little waves that spread        70
Enlarging, till in tidal union led
The youths and maidens both alike long-tressed,
By grace-inspiring melody possessed,
Rose in slow dance, with beauteous floating swerve
Of limbs and hair, and many a melting curve        75
Of ringèd feet swayed by each close-linked palm:
Then Jubal poured more rapture in his psalm,
The dance fired music, music fired the dance,
The glow diffusive lit each countenance,
Till all the gazing elders rose and stood        80
With glad yet awful shock of that mysterious good.
 
Even Tubal caught the sound, and wondering came,
Urging his sooty bulk like smoke-wrapt flame
Till he could see his brother with the lyre,
The work for which he lent his furnace-fire        85
And diligent hammer, witting nought of this—
This power in metal shape which made strange bliss,
Entering within him like a dream full-fraught
With new creations finished in a thought.
 
The sun had sunk, but music still was there,        90
And when this ceased, still triumph filled the air:
It seemed the stars were shining with delight
And that no night was ever like this night.
All clung with praise to Jubal: some besought
That he would teach them his new skill; some caught,        95
Swiftly as smiles are caught in looks that meet,
The tone’s melodic change and rhythmic beat:
’Twas easy following where invention trod—
All eyes can see when light flows out from God.
 
And thus did Jubal to his race reveal        100
Music their larger soul, where woe and weal
Filling the resonant chords, the song, the dance
Moved with a wider-wingèd utterance.
Now many a lyre was fashioned, many a song
Raised echoes new, old echoes to prolong,        105
Till things of Jubal’s making were so rife,
“Hearing myself,” he said, “hems in my life,
And I will get me to some far-off land,
Where higher mountains under heaven stand
And touch the blue at rising of the stars,        110
Whose song they hear where no rough mingling mars
The great clear voices. Such lands there must be,
Where varying forms make varying symphony—
Where other thunders roll amid the hills,
Some mightier wind a mightier forest fills        115
With other strains through other-shapen boughs;
Where bees and birds and beasts that hunt or browse
Will teach me songs I know not. Listening there,
My life shall grow like trees both tall and fair
That rise and spread and bloom toward fuller fruit each year.”        120
 
He took a raft, and travelled with the stream
Southward for many a league, till he might deem
He saw at last the pillars of the sky,
Beholding mountains whose white majesty
Rushed through him as new awe, and made new song        125
That swept with fuller wave the chords along,
Weighting his voice with deep religious chime,
The iteration of slow chant sublime.
It was the region long inhabited
By all the race of Seth; and Jubal said:        130
“Here have I found my thirsty soul’s desire,
Eastward the hills touch heaven, and evening’s fire
Flames through deep waters; I will take my rest,
And feed anew from my great mother’s breast,
The sky-clasped Earth, whose voices nurture me        135
As the flowers’ sweetness doth the honey-bee.”
He lingered wandering for many an age,
And, sowing music, made high heritage
For generations far beyond the Flood—
For the poor late-begotten human brood        140
Bom to life’s weary brevity and perilous good.
 
And ever as he travelled he would climb
The farthest mountain, yet the heavenly chime,
The mighty tolling of the far-off spheres
Beating their pathway, never touched his ears.        145
But wheresoe’er he rose the heavens rose,
And the far-gazing mountain could disclose
Nought but a wider earth; until one height
Showed him the ocean stretched in liquid light
And he could hear its multitudinous roar,        150
Its plunge and hiss upon the pebbled shore:
Then Jubal silent sat, and touched his lyre no more.
 
He thought, “The world is great, but I am weak,
And where the sky bends is no solid peak
To give me footing, but instead, this main—        155
Myriads of maddened horses thundering o’er the plain.
 
“New voices come to me where’er I roam,
My heart too widens with its widening home:
But song grows weaker, and the heart must break
For lack of voice, or fingers that can wake        160
The lyre’s full answer; nay, its chords were all
Too few to meet the growing spirit’s call.
The former songs seem little, yet no more
Can soul, hand, voice, with interchanging lore
Tell what the earth is saying unto me:        165
The secret is too great, I hear confusedly.
 
“No farther will I travel: once again
My brethren I will see, and that fair plain
Where I and Song were born. There fresh-voiced youth
Will pour my strains with all the early truth        170
Which now abides not in my voice and hands,
But only in the soul, the will that stands
Helpless to move. My tribe remembering
Will cry ‘’Tis he!’ and run to greet me, welcoming.”
 
The way was weary. Many a date-palm grew,        175
And shook out clustered gold against the blue,
While Jubal, guided by the steadfast spheres,
Sought the dear home of those first eager years,
When, with fresh vision fed, the fuller will
Took living outward shape in pliant skill;        180
For still he hoped to find the former things,
And the warm gladness recognition brings.
His footsteps erred among the mazy woods
And long illusive sameness of the floods,
Winding and wandering. Through far regions, strange        185
With Gentile homes and faces, did he range,
And left his music in their memory,
And left at last, when nought besides would free
His homeward steps from clinging hands and cries,
The ancient lyre. And now in ignorant eyes        190
No sign remained of Jubal, Lamech’s son,
That mortal frame wherein was first begun
The immortal life of song. His withered brow
Pressed over eyes that held no lightning now,
His locks streamed whiteness on the hurrying air,        195
The unresting soul had worn itself quite bare
Of beauteous token, as the outworn might
Of oaks slow dying, gaunt in summer’s light.
His full deep voice toward thinnest treble ran:
He was the rune-writ story of a man.        200
 
And so at last he neared the well-known land,
Could see the hills in ancient order stand
With friendly faces whose familiar gaze
Looked through the sunshine of his childish days;
Knew the deep-shadowed folds of hanging woods,        205
And seemed to see the self-same insect broods
Whirling and quivering o’er the flowers—to hear
The self-same cuckoo making distance near.
Yea, the dear Earth, with mother’s constancy,
Met and embraced him, and said, “Thou art he!        210
This was thy cradle, here my breast was thine,
Where feeding, thou didst all thy life entwine
With my sky-wedded life in heritage divine.”
 
But wending ever through the watered plain,
Firm not to rest save in the home of Cain,        215
He saw dread Change, with dubious face and cold
That never kept a welcome for the old,
Like some strange heir upon the hearth, arise
Saying “This home is mine.” He thought his eyes
Mocked all deep memories, as things new made,        220
Usurping sense, make old things shrink and fade
And seem ashamed to meet the staring day.
His memory saw a small foot-trodden way,
His eyes a broad far-stretching paven road
Bordered with many a tomb and fair abode;        225
The little city that once nestled low
As buzzing groups about some central glow,
Spread like a murmuring crowd o’er plain and steep,
Or monster huge in heavy-breathing sleep.
His heart grew faint, and tremblingly he sank        230
Close by the wayside on a weed-grown bank,
Not far from where a new-raised temple stood,
Sky-roofed, and fragrant with wrought cedar wood.
The morning sun was high; his rays fell hot
On this hap-chosen, dusty, common spot,        235
On the dry-withered grass and withered man:
That wondrous frame where melody began
Lay as a tomb defaced that no eye cared to scan.
 
But while he sank far music reached his ear.
He listened until wonder silenced fear        240
And gladness wonder; for the broadening stream
Of sound advancing was his early dream,
Brought like fulfilment of forgotten prayer;
As if his soul, breathed out upon the air,
Had held the invisible seeds of harmony        245
Quick with the various strains of life to be.
He listened: the sweet mingled difference
With charm alternate took the meeting sense;
Then bursting like some shield-broad lily red,
Sudden and near the trumpet’s notes out-spread,        250
And soon his eyes could see the metal flower,
Shining upturned, out on the morning pour
Its incense audible; could see a train
From out the street slow-winding on the plain
With lyres and cymbals, flutes and psalteries,        255
While men, youths, maids, in concert sang to these
With various throat, or in succession poured,
Or in full volume mingled. But one word
Ruled each recurrent rise and answering fall,
As when the multitudes adoring call        260
On some great name divine, their common soul,
The common need, love, joy, that knits them in one whole.
 
The word was “Jubal!”… “Jubal” filled the air
And seemed to ride aloft, a spirit there,
Creator of the quire, the full-fraught strain        265
That grateful rolled itself to him again.
The aged man adust upon the bank—
Whom no eye saw—at first with rapture drank
The bliss of music, then, with swelling heart,
Felt, this was his own being’s greater part,        270
The universal joy once born in him.
But when the train, with living face and limb
And vocal breath, came nearer and more near,
The longing grew that they should hold him dear;
Him, Lamech’s son, whom all their fathers knew,        275
The breathing Jubal—him, to whom their love was due.
All was forgotten but the burning need
To claim his fuller self, to claim the deed
That lived away from him, and grew apart,
While he as from a tomb, with lonely heart,        280
Warmed by no meeting glance, no hand that pressed,
Lay chill amid the life his life had blessed.
What though his song should spread from man’s small race
Out through the myriad worlds that people space,
And make the heavens one joy-diffusing quire?—        285
Still ’mid that vast would throb the keen desire
Of this poor aged flesh, this eventide,
This twilight soon in darkness to subside,
This little pulse of self that, having glowed
Through thrice three centuries, and divinely strowed        290
The light of music through the vague of sound,
Ached with its smallness still in good that had no bound.
For no eye saw him, while with loving pride
Each voice with each in praise of Jubal vied.
Must he in conscious trance, dumb, helpless lie        295
While all that ardent kindred passed him by?
His flesh cried out to live with living men
And join that soul which to the inward ken
Of all the hymning train was present there.
Strong passion’s daring sees not aught to dare:        300
The frost-locked starkness of his frame low-bent,
His voice’s penury of tones long spent,
He felt not; all his being leaped in flame
To meet his kindred as they onward came
Slackening and wheeling toward the temple’s face:        305
He rushed before them to the glittering space,
And, with a strength that was but strong desire,
Cried, “I am Jubal, I!… I made the lyre!”
 
The tones amid a lake of silence fell
Broken and strained, as if a feeble bell        310
Had tuneless pealed the triumph of a land
To listening crowds in expectation spanned.
Sudden came showers of laughter on that lake;
They spread along the train from front to wake
In one great storm of merriment, while he        315
Shrank doubting whether he could Jubal be,
And not a dream of Jubal, whose rich vein
Of passionate music came with that dream-pain
Wherein the sense slips off from each loved thing
And all appearance is mere vanishing.        320
But ere the laughter died from out the rear,
Anger in front saw profanation near;
Jubal was but a name in each man’s faith
For glorious power untouched by that slow death
Which creeps with creeping time; this too, the spot,        325
And this the day, it must be crime to blot,
Even with scoffing at a madman’s lie:
Jubal was not a name to wed with mockery.
 
Two rushed upon him: two, the most devout
In honour of great Jubal, thrust him out,        330
And beat him with their flutes. ’Twas little need;
He strove not, cried not, but with tottering speed,
As if the scorn and howls were driving wind
That urged his body, serving so the mind
Which could but shrink and yearn, he sought the screen        335
Of thorny thickets, and there fell unseen.
The immortal name of Jubal filled the sky,
While Jubal lonely laid him down to die.
He said within his soul, “This is the end:
O’er all the earth to where the heavens bend        340
And hem men’s travel, I have breathed my soul:
I lie here now the remnant of that whole,
The embers of a life, a lonely pain;
As far-off rivers to my thirst were vain,
So of my mighty years nought comes to me again.        345
 
“Is the day sinking? Softest coolness springs
From something round me: dewy shadowy wings
Enclose me all around—no, not above—
Is moonlight there? I see a face of love,
Fair as sweet music when my heart was strong:        350
Yea—art thou come again to me, great Song?”
 
The face bent over him like silver night
In long-remembered summers; that calm light
Of days which shine in firmaments of thought,
That past unchangeable, from change still wrought.        355
And gentlest tones were with the vision blent:
He knew not if that gaze the music sent.
Or music that calm gaze: to hear, to see,
Was but one undivided ecstasy:
The raptured senses melted into one,        360
And parting life a moment’s freedom won
From in and outer, as a little child
Sits on a bank and sees blue heavens mild
Down in the water, and forgets its limbs,
And knoweth nought save the blue heaven that swims.        365
 
  “Jubal,” the face said, “I am thy loved Past,
The soul that makes thee one from first to last.
I am the angel of thy life and death,
Thy outbreathed being drawing its last breath.
Am I not thine alone, a dear dead bride        370
Who blest thy lot above all men’s beside?
Thy bride whom thou wouldst never change, nor take
Any bride living, for that dead one’s sake?
Was I not all thy yearning and delight,
Thy chosen search, thy senses’ beauteous Right,        375
Which still had been the hunger of thy frame
In central heaven, hadst thou been still the same?
Wouldst thou have asked aught else from any god—
Whether with gleaming feet on earth he trod
Or thundered through the skies—aught else for share        380
Of mortal good, than in thy soul to bear
The growth of song, and feel the sweet unrest
Of the world’s spring-tide in thy conscious breast?
No, thou hadst grasped thy lot with all its pain,
Nor loosed it any painless lot to gain        385
Where music’s voice was silent; for thy fate
Was human music’s self incorporate:
Thy senses’ keenness and thy passionate strife
Were flesh of her flesh and her womb of life.
And greatly hast thou lived, for not alone        390
With hidden raptures were her secrets shown,
Buried within thee, as the purple light
Of gems may sleep in solitary night;
But thy expanding joy was still to give,
And with the generous air in song to live,        395
Feeding the wave of ever-widening bliss
Where fellowship means equal perfectness.
And on the mountains in thy wandering
Thy feet were beautiful as blossomed spring,
That turns the leafless wood to love’s glad home,        400
For with thy coming Melody was come.
This was thy lot, to feel, create, bestow,
And that immeasurable life to know
From which the fleshly self falls shrivelled, dead,
A seed primeval that has forests bred.        405
It is the glory of the heritage
Thy life has left, that makes thy outcast age:
Thy limbs shall lie dark, tombless on this sod,
Because thou shinest in man’s soul, a god,
Who found and gave new passion and new joy        410
That nought but Earth’s destruction can destroy
Thy gifts to give was thine of men alone:
’Twas but in giving that thou couldst atone
For too much wealth amid their poverty.”—
 
The words seemed melting into symphony,        415
The wings upbore him, and the gazing song
Was floating him the heavenly space along,
Where mighty harmonies all gently fell
Through veiling vastness, like the far-off bell,
Till, ever onward through the choral blue,        420
He heard more faintly and more faintly knew,
Quitting mortality, a quenched sun-wave,
The All-creating Presence for his grave.
 
 
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