Verse > Anthologies > > Arthur Quiller-Couch, ed. > The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse
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Arthur Quiller-Couch, comp.  The Oxford Book of Victorian Verse.  1922.
 
Melampus
By George Meredith (1828–1909)
 
WITH love exceeding a simple love of the things
  That glide in grasses and rubble of woody wreck;
Or change their perch on a beat of quivering wings
  From branch to branch, only restful to pipe and peck;
Or, bristled, curl at a touch their snouts in a ball;        5
  Or cast their web between bramble and thorny hook;
The good physician Melampus, loving them all,
  Among them walk’d, as a scholar who reads a book.
 
For him the woods were a home and gave him the key
  Of knowledge, thirst for their treasures in herbs and flowers.        10
The secrets held by the creatures nearer than we
  To earth he sought, and the link of their life with ours:
And where alike we are, unlike where, and the vein’d
  Division, vein’d parallel, of a blood that flows
In them, in us, from the source by man unattain’d        15
  Save marks he well what the mystical woods disclose.
 
And this he deem’d might be boon of love to a breast
  Embracing tenderly each little motive shape,
The prone, the flitting, who seek their food whither best
  Their wits direct, whither best from their foes escape:        20
For closer drawn to our mother’s natural milk,
  As babes they learn where her motherly help is great:
They know the juice for the honey, juice for the silk,
  And, need they medical antidotes, find them straight.
 
Of earth and sun they are wise, they nourish their broods        25
  Weave, build, hive, burrow and battle, take joy and pain
Like swimmers varying billows: never in woods
  Runs white insanity fleeing itself: all sane
The woods revolve: as the tree its shadowing limns
  To some resemblance in motion, the rooted life        30
Restrains disorder: you hear the primitive hymns
  Of earth in woods issue wild of the web of strife.
 
Now sleeping once on a day of marvellous fire
  A brood of snakes he had cherish’d in grave regret
That death his people had dealt their dam and their sire,        35
  Through savage dread of them, crept to his neck, and set
Their tongues to lick him: the swift affectionate tongue
  Of each ran licking the slumberer: then his ears
A fork’d red tongue tickled shrewdly: sudden upsprung,
  He heard a voice piping: Aye, for he has no fears!        40
 
A bird said that, in the notes of birds, and the speech
  Of men, it seem’d: and another renew’d: He moves
To learn and not to pursue, he gathers to teach;
  He feeds his young as do we, and as we love loves.
No fears have I of a man who goes with his head        45
  To earth, chance looking aloft at us, kind of hand:
I feel to him as to earth of whom we are fed;
  I pipe him much for his good could he understand.
 
Melampus touch’d at his ears, laid finger on wrist:
  He was not dreaming, he sensibly felt and heard.        50
Above, through leaves, where the tree-twigs thick intertwist,
  He spied the birds and the bill of the speaking bird.
His cushion mosses in shades of various green,
  The lump’d, the antler’d, he press’d, while the sunny snake
Slipp’d under: draughts he had drunk of clear Hippocrene,        55
  It seem’d, and sat with a gift of the Gods awake.
 
Divinely thrill’d was the man, exultingly full,
  As quick well-waters that come of the heart of earth,
Ere yet they dart in a brook are one bubble-pool
  To light and sound, wedding both at the leap of birth.        60
The soul of light vivid shone, a stream within stream;
  The soul of sound from a musical shell outflew;
Where others hear but a hum and see but a beam,
  The tongue and eye of the fountain of life he knew.
 
He knew the Hours: they were round him, laden with seed        65
  Of hours bestrewn upon vapour, and one by one
They wing’d as ripen’d in fruit the burden decreed
  For each to scatter; they flush’d like the buds in sun,
Bequeathing seed to successive similar rings,
  Their sisters, bearers to men of what men have earn’d:        70
He knew them, talk’d with the yet unredden’d; the stings,
  The sweets, they warm’d at their bosoms divined, discern’d.
 
Not unsolicited, sought by diligent feet,
  By riddling fingers expanded, oft watch’d in growth
With brooding deep as the noon-ray’s quickening wheat,        75
  Ere touch’d, the pendulous flower of the plants of sloth,
The plants of rigidness, answer’d question and squeeze,
  Revealing wherefore it bloom’d uninviting, bent,
Yet making harmony breathe of life and disease,
  The deeper chord of a wonderful instrument.        80
 
So pass’d he luminous-eyed for earth and the fates
  We arm to bruise or caress us; his ears were charged
With tones of love in a whirl of voluble hates,
  With music wrought of distraction his heart enlarged.
Celestial-shining, though mortal, singer, though mute,        85
  He drew the Master of harmonies, voiced or still’d,
To seek him; heard at the silent medicine-root
  A song, beheld in fulfilment the unfulfill’d.
 
Him Phoebus, lending to darkness colour and form
  Of light’s excess, many lessons and counsels gave;        90
Show’d Wisdom lord of the human intricate swarm,
  And whence prophetic it looks on the hives that rave,
And how acquired, of the zeal of love to acquire,
  And where it stands, in the centre of life a sphere;
And Measure, mood of the lyre, the rapturous lyre,        95
  He said was Wisdom, and struck him the notes to hear.
 
Sweet, sweet: ’t was glory of vision, honey, the breeze
  In heat, the run of the river on root and stone,
All senses joined, as the sister Pierides
  Are one, uplifting their chorus, the Nine, his own.        100
In stately order, evolved of sound into sight,
  From sight to sound intershifting, the man descried
The growths of earth, his adored, like day out of night,
  Ascend in song, seeing nature and song allied.
 
And there vitality, there, there solely in song,        105
  Resides, where earth and her uses to men, their needs,
Their forceful cravings, the theme are: there is it strong,
  The Master said: and the studious eye that reads,
(Yea, even as earth to the crown of Gods on the mount),
  In links divine with the lyrical tongue is bound.        110
Pursue thy craft: it is music drawn of a fount
  To spring perennial; well-spring is common ground.
 
Melampus dwelt among men: physician and sage,
  He served them, loving them, healing them; sick or maim’d
Or them that frenzied in some delirious rage        115
  Outran the measure, his juice of the woods reclaim’d.
He play’d on men, as his master, Phoebus, on strings
  Melodious: as the God did he drive and check,
Through love exceeding a simple love of the things
  That glide in grasses and rubble of woody wreck.        120
 
 
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