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   English Poetry III: From Tennyson to Whitman.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
811. How Love Looked for Hell
 
Sidney Lanier (1842–1881)
 
 
TO heal his heart of long-time pain
One day Prince Love for to travel was fain
    With Ministers Mind and Sense.
‘Now what to thee most strange may be?’
Quoth Mind and Sense. ‘All things above,        5
One curious thing I first would see—
    Hell,’ quoth Love.
 
Then Mind rode in and Sense rode out:
They searched the ways of man about.
    First frightfully groaneth Sense.        10
‘’Tis here, ’tis here,’ and spurreth in fear
To the top of the hill that hangeth above
And plucketh the Prince: ‘Come, come, ’tis here—’
    ‘Where?’ quoth Love—
 
‘Not far, not far,’ said shivering Sense        15
As they rode on. ‘A short way hence,
    —But seventy paces hence:
Look, King, dost see where suddenly
This road doth dip from the height above?
Cold blew a mouldy wind by me’        20
    (‘Cold?’ quoth Love)
 
‘As I rode down, and the River was black,
And yon-side, lo! an endless wrack
    And rabble of souls,’ sighed Sense,
‘Their eyes upturned and begged and burned        25
In brimstone lakes, and a Hand above
Beat back the hands that upward yearned—’
    ‘Nay!’ quoth Love—
 
‘Yea, yea, sweet Prince; thyself shalt see,
Wilt thou but down this slope with me;        30
    ’Tis palpable,’ whispered Sense.
At the foot of the hill a living rill
Shone, and the lilies shone white above;
‘But now ’twas black, ’twas a river, this rill,’
    (‘Black?’ quoth Love)        35
 
‘Ay, black, but lo! the lilies grow,
And yon-side where was woe, was woe,—
    Where the rabble of souls,’ cried Sense,
‘Did shrivel and turn and beg and burn,
Thrust back in the brimstone from above—        40
Is banked of violet, rose, and fern:’
    ‘How?’ quoth Love:
 
‘For lakes of pain, yon pleasant plain
Of woods and grass and yellow grain
    Doth ravish the soul and sense:        45
And never a sigh beneath the sky,
And folk that smile and gaze above—’
‘But saw’st thou here, with thine own eye,
    Hell?’ quoth Love.
 
‘I saw true hell with mine own eye,        50
True hell, or light hath told a lie,
    True, verily,’ quoth stout Sense.
Then Love rode round and searched the ground,
The caves below, the hills above;
‘But I cannot find where thou hast found        55
    Hell,’ quoth Love.
 
There, while they stood in a green wood
And marvelled still on Ill and Good,
    Came suddenly Minister Mind.
‘In the heart of sin doth hell begin:        60
’Tis not below, ’tis not above,
It lieth within, it lieth within:’
    (‘Where?’ quoth Love)
 
‘I saw a man sit by a corse;
Hell’s in the murderer’s breast: remorse!        65
    Thus clamored his mind to his mind:
Not fleshly dole is the sinner’s goal,
Hell’s not below, nor yet above,
’Tis fixed in the ever-damned soul—’
    ‘Fixed?’ quoth Love—        70
 
‘Fixed: follow me, would’st thou but see:
He weepeth under yon willow tree,
    Fast chained to his corse,’ quoth Mind.
Full soon they passed, for they rode fast,
Where the piteous willow bent above.        75
‘Now shall I see at last, at last,
    Hell,’ quoth Love.
 
There when they came Mind suffered shame:
‘These be the same and not the same,’
    A-wondering whispered Mind.        80
Lo, face by face two spirits pace
Where the blissful willow waves above:
One saith: ‘Do me a friendly grace—’
    (‘Grace!’ quoth Love)
 
‘Read me two Dreams that linger long,        85
Dim as returns of old-time song
    That flicker about the mind.
I dreamed (how deep in mortal sleep!)
I struck thee dead, then stood above,
With tears that none but dreamers weep;’        90
    ‘Dreams,’ quoth Love;
 
‘In dreams, again, I plucked a flower
That clung with pain and stung with power,
    Yea, nettled me, body and mind.’
‘’Twas the nettle of sin, ’twas medicine;        95
No need nor seed of it here Above;
In dreams of hate true loves begin.’
    ‘True,’ quoth Love.
 
‘Now strange,’ quoth Sense, and ‘Strange,’ quoth Mind,
‘We saw it, and yet ’tis hard to find,        100
    —But we saw it,’ quoth Sense and Mind.
Stretched on the ground, beautiful-crowned
Of the piteous willow that wreathed above,
‘But I cannot find where ye have found
    Hell,’ quoth Love.        105
 

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