Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
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Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
 
Swinburne, an Elegy
By Arthur Davison Ficke
 
I
THE AUTUMN dusk, not yearly but eternal,
Is haunted by thy voice.
Who turns his way far from the valleys vernal
And by dark choice
Disturbs those heights which from the low-lying land        5
Rise sheerly toward the heavens, with thee may stand
And hear thy thunders down the mountains strown.
But none save him who shares thy prophet-sight
Shall thence behold what cosmic dawning-light
Met thy soul’s own.        10
 
II
    Master of music! unmelodious singing
Must build thy praises now.
Master of vision! vainly come we, bringing
Words to endow
Thy silence,—where, beyond our clouded powers,        15
The sun-shot glory of resplendent hours
Invests thee of the Dionysiac flame.
Yet undissuaded come we, here to make
Not thine enrichment but our own who wake
Thy echoing fame.        20
 
III
    Not o’er thy dust we brood,—we who have never
Looked in thy living eyes.
Nor wintry blossom shall we come to sever
Where thy grave lies.
Let witlings dream, with shallow pride elate,        25
That they approach the presence of the great
When at the spot of birth or death they stand.
But hearts in whom thy heart lives, though they be
By oceans sundered, walk the night with thee
In alien land.        30
 
IV
    For them, grief speaks not with the tidings spoken
That thou art of the dead.
No lamp extinguished when the bowl is broken,
No music fled
When the lute crumbles, art thou nor shalt be;        35
But as a great wave, lifted on the sea,
Surges triumphant toward the sleeping shore,
Thou fallest, in splendor of irradiant rain,
To sweep resurgent all the ocean plain
Forevermore.        40
 
V
    The seas of earth with flood tides filled thy bosom;
The sea-winds to thy voice
Lent power; the Grecian with the English blossom
Twined, to rejoice
Upon thy brow in chaplets of new bloom;        45
And over thee the Celtic mists of doom
Hovered to give their magics to thy hand;
And past the moon, where Music dwells alone,
She woke, and loved, and left her starry zone
At thy command.        50
 
VI
    For thee spake Beauty from the shadowy waters;
For thee Earth garlanded
With loveliness and light her mortal daughters;
Toward thee was sped
The arrow of swift longing, keen delight,        55
Wonder that pierces, cruel needs that smite,
Madness and melody and hope and tears.
And these with lights and loveliness illume
Thy pages, where rich Summer’s faint perfume
Outlasts the years.        60
 
VII
    Outlasts, too well! For of the hearts that know thee
Few know or dare to stand
On thy keen chilling heights; but where below thee
Thy lavish hand
Has scattered brilliant jewels of summer song        65
And flowers of passionate speech, there grope the throng
Crying—“Behold! this bauble, this is he!”
And of their love or hate, the foolish wars
Echo up faintly where amid lone stars
Thy soul may be.        70
 
VIII
    But some, who find in thee a word exceeding
Even thy power of speech—
To whom each song,—like an oak-leaf crimson, bleeding,
Fallen,—can teach
Tidings of that high forest whence it came        75
Where the wooded mountain-slope in one vast flame
Burns as the Autumn kindles on its quest—
These rapt diviners gather close to thee:—
Whom now the Winter holds in dateless fee
Sealèd of rest.        80
 
IX
    Strings never touched before,—strange accents chanting,—
Strange quivering lambent words,—
A far exalted hope serene or panting
Mastering the chords,—
A sweetness fierce and tragic,—these were thine,        85
O singing lover of dark Proserpine!
O spirit who lit the Maenad hills with song!
O Augur bearing aloft thy torch divine,
Whose flickering lights bewilder as they shine
Down on the throng.        90
 
X
    Not thy deep glooms, but thine exceeding glory
Maketh men blind to thee.
For them thou hast no evening fireside story.
But to be free—
But to arise, spurning all bonds that fold        95
The spirit of man in fetters forged of old—
This was the mighty trend of thy desire;
Shattering the Gods, teaching the heart to mould
No longer idols, but aloft to hold
The soul’s own fire.        100
 
XI
    Yea, thou didst burst the final gates of capture;
And thy strong heart has passed
From youth, half-blinded by its golden rapture,
Into the vast
Desolate bleakness of life’s iron spaces;        105
And there found solace, not in faiths, or faces,
Or aught that must endure Time’s harsh control.
In the wilderness, alone, when skies were cloven,
Thou hast thy garment and thy refuge woven
From thine own soul.        110
 
XII
    The faiths and forms of yesteryear are waning,
Dropping, like leaves.
Through the wood sweeps a great wind of complaining
As Time bereaves
Pitiful hearts of all that they thought holy.        115
The icy stars look down on melancholy
Shelterless creatures of a pillaged day:
A day of disillusionment and terror,
A day that yields no solace for the error
It takes away.        120
 
XIII
    Thee with no solace, but with bolder passion
The bitter day endowed.
As battling seas from the frail swimmer fashion
At last the proud
Indomitable master of their tides,        125
Who with exultant power splendidly rides
The terrible summit of each whelming wave,—
So didst thou reap, from fields of wreckage, gain;
Harvesting the wild fruit of the bitter main,
Strength that shall save.        130
 
XIV
    Here where old barks upon new headlands shatter,
And worlds seem torn apart,
Amid the creeds now vain to shield or flatter
The mortal heart,
Where the wild welter of strange knowledge won        135
From grave and engine and the chemic sun
Subdues the age to faith in dust and gold:
The bardic laurel thou hast dowered with youth,
In living witness of the spirit’s truth,
Like prophets old.        140
 
XV
    Thee shall the future time with joy inherit.
Hast thou not sung and said:
“Save its own light, none leads the mortal spirit,
None ever led”?
Time shall bring many, even as thy steps have trod,        145
Where the soul speaks authentically of God,
Sustained by glories strange and strong and new.
Yet these most Orphic mysteries of thy heart
Only to kindred can thy speech impart;
And they are few.        150
 
XVI
    Few men shall love thee, whom fierce powers have lifted
High beyond meed of praise.
But as some bark whose seeking sail has drifted
Through storm of days,
We hail thee, bearing back thy golden flowers        155
Gathered beyond the Western Isles, in bowers
That had not seen, till thine, a vessel’s wake.
And looking on thee from our land-built towers
Know that such sea-dawn never can be ours
As thou sawest break.        160
 
XVII
    Now sailest thou dim-lighted, lonelier water.
By shores of bitter seas
Low is thy speech with Ceres’ ghostly daughter,
Whose twined lilies
Are not more pale than thou, O bard most sweet,        165
Most bitter;—for whose brow sedge-crowns were mete
And crowns of splendid holly green and red;
Who passest from the dust of careless feet
To lands where sunrise thou hast sought shall greet
Thy holy head.        170
 
XVIII
    Thou hast followed after him whose hopes were greatest,—
That meteor-soul divine;
Near whom divine we hail thee: thou the latest
Of that bright line
Of flame-lipped masters of the spell of song,        175
Enduring in succession proud and long,
The banner-bearers in triumphant wars:
Latest; and first of that bright line to be,
For whom thou also, flame-lipped, spirit-free,
Art of the stars.        180
 
 
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