Verse > Anthologies > T. H. Ward, ed. > The English Poets > Vol. IV. Wordsworth to Rossetti
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Thomas Humphry Ward, ed.  The English Poets.  1880–1918.
Vol. IV. The Nineteenth Century: Wordsworth to Rossetti
 
Love’s Nocturn
By Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882)
 
MASTER of the murmuring courts
  Where the shapes of sleep convene!—
Lo! my spirit here exhorts
  All the powers of thy demesne
  For their aid to woo my queen.        5
            What reports
  Yield thy jealous courts unseen?
 
Vaporous unaccountable,
  Dreamland lies forlorn of light,
Hollow like a breathing shell.        10
  Ah! that from all dreams I might
  Choose one dream and guide its flight!
            I know well
  What her sleep should tell to-night.
 
There the dreams are multitudes:        15
  Some whose buoyance waits not sleep,
Deep within the August woods;
  Some that hum while rest may steep
  Weary labour laid a-heap;
            Interludes,        20
  Some, of grievous moods that weep.
 
Poets’ fancies all are there:
  There the elf-girls flood with wings
Valleys full of plaintive air;
  There breathe perfumes; there in rings        25
  Whirl the foam-bewildered springs;
            Siren there
  Winds her dizzy hair and sings.
 
Thence the one dream mutually
  Dreamed in bridal unison,        30
Less than waking ecstasy;
  Half-formed visions that make moan
  In the house of birth alone;
            And what we
  At death’s wicket see, unknown.        35
 
But for mine own sleep, it lies
  In one gracious form’s control,
Fair with honourable eyes,
  Lamps of an auspicious soul:
  O their glance is loftiest dole,        40
            Sweet and wise,
  Wherein Love descries his goal.
 
Reft of her, my dreams are all
  Clammy trance that fears the sky:
Changing footpaths shift and fall;        45
  From polluted coverts nigh,
  Miserable phantoms sigh;
            Quakes the pall,
  And the funeral goes by.
 
Master, is it soothly said        50
  That, as echoes of man’s speech
Far in secret clefts are made,
  So do all men’s bodies reach
  Shadows o’er thy sunken beach,—
            Shape or shade        55
  In those halls pourtrayed of each?
 
Ah! might I, by thy good grace
  Groping in the windy stair,
(Darkness and the breath of space
  Like loud waters everywhere,)        60
  Meeting mine own image there
            Face to face,
  Send it from that place to her!
 
Nay, not I; but oh! do thou,
  Master, from thy shadowkind        65
Call my body’s phantom now:
  Bid it bear its face declin’d
  Till its flight her slumbers find,
            And her brow
  Feel its presence bow like wind.        70
 
Where in groves the gracile Spring
  Trembles, with mute orison
Confidently strengthening,
  Water’s voice and wind’s as one
  Shed an echo in the sun.        75
            Soft as Spring
  Master, bid it sing and moan.
 
Song shall tell how glad and strong
  Is the night she soothes alway;
Moan shall grieve with that parched tongue        80
  Of the brazen hours of day:
  Sounds as of the springtide they,
            Moan and song,
  While the chill months long for May.
 
Not the prayers which with all leave        85
  The world’s fluent woes prefer,—
Not the praise the world doth give,
  Dulcet fulsome whisperer;—
  Let it yield my love to her,
            And achieve        90
  Strength that shall not grieve or err.
 
Wheresoe’er my dreams befall,
  Both at night-watch (let it say,)
And where round the sundial
  The reluctant hours of day,        95
  Heartless, hopeless of their way,
            Rest and call;—
  There her glance doth fall and stay.
 
Suddenly her face is there:
  So do mounting vapours wreathe        100
Subtle-scented transports where
  The black firwood sets its teeth.
  Part the boughs and look beneath,—
            Lilies share
  Secret waters there, and breathe.        105
 
Master, bid my shadow bend
  Whispering thus till birth of light,
Lest new shapes that sleep may send
  Scatter all its work to flight;—
  Master, master of the night,        110
            Bid it spend
  Speech, song, prayer, and end aright.
 
Yet, ah me! if at her head
  There another phantom lean
Murmuring o’er the fragrant bed,—        115
  Ah! and if my spirit’s queen
  Smile those alien words between,—
            Ah! poor shade!
  Shall it strive, or fade unseen?
 
How should love’s own messenger        120
  Strive with love and be love’s foe?
Master, nay! If thus, in her,
  Sleep a wedded heart should show,—
  Silent let mine image go,
            Its old share        125
  Of thy sunken air to know.
 
Like a vapour wan and mute,
  Like a flame, so let it pass;
One low sigh across her lute,
  One dull breath against her glass;        130
  And to my sad soul, alas!
            One salute
  Cold as when death’s foot shall pass.
 
Then, too, let all hopes of mine,
  All vain hopes by night and day,        135
Slowly at thy summoning sign
  Rise up pallid and obey.
  Dreams, if this is thus, were they:—
            Be they thine,
  And to dreamland pine away.        140
 
Yet from old time, life, not death,
  Master, in thy rule is rife:
Lo! through thee, with mingling breath,
  Adam woke beside his wife.
  O Love bring me so, for strife,        145
            Force and faith,
  Bring me so not death but life!
 
Yea, to Love himself is pour’d
  This frail song of hope and fear.
Thou art Love, of one accord        150
  With kind Sleep to bring her near,
Still-eyed, deep-eyed, ah how dear!
            Master, Lord,
In her name implor’d, O hear!
 
 
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