Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895
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CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895.  1895.
 
From “Festus”
 
Philip James Bailey (b. 1816)
 
 
YOUTH, LOVE, AND DEATH

  Lucifer. AND we might trust these youths and maidens fair,
The world was made for nothing but love, love.
Now I think it was made most to be burn’d.
  Festus. The night is glooming on us. It is the hour
When lovers will speak lowly, for the sake        5
Of being nigh each other; and when love
Shoots up the eye, like morning on the east,
Making amends for the long northern night
They pass’d, ere either knew the other lov’d;
The hour of hearts! Say gray-beards what they please,        10
The heart of age is like an emptied wine-cup;
Its life lies in a heel-tap: how can age judge?
’T were a waste of time of ask how they wasted theirs;
But while the blood is bright, breath sweet, skin smooth,
And limbs all made to minister delight;        15
Ere yet we have shed our locks, like trees their leaves,
And we stand staring bare into the air;
He is a fool who is not for love and beauty.
It is I, the young, to the young speak. I am of them,
And always shall be. What are years to me?        20
You traitor years, that fang the hands ye have lick’d,
Vicelike; henceforth your venom-sacs are gone.
I have conquer’d. Ye shall perish: yea, shall fall
Like birdlets beaten by some resistless storm
’Gainst a dead wall, dead. I pity ye, that such        25
Mean things should have rais’d in man or hope or fear;
Those Titans of the heart that fight at heaven,
And sleep, by fits, on fire, whose slightest stir’s
An earthquake. I am bound and bless’d to youth.
None but the brave and beautiful can love.        30
Oh give me to the young, the fair, the free,
The brave, who would breast a rushing, burning world
Which came between him and his heart’s delight.
Mad must I be, and what’s the world? Like mad
For itself. And I to myself am all things, too.        35
If my heart thunder’d would the world rock? Well,
Then let the mad world fight its shadow down.
Soon there may be nor sun nor world nor shadow.
But thou, my blood, my bright red running soul,
Rejoice thou like a river in thy rapids.        40
Rejoice, thou wilt never pale with age, nor thin;
But in thy full dark beauty, vein by vein
Serpent-wise, me encircling, shalt to the end
Throb, bubble, sparkle, laugh, and leap along.
Make merry, heart, while the holidays shall last.        45
Better than daily dwine, break sharp with life;
Like a stag, sunstruck, top thy bounds and die.
Heart, I could tear thee out, thou fool, thou fool,
And strip thee into shreds upon the wind.
What have I done that thou shouldst maze me thus?        50
  Lucifer. Let us away; we have had enough of hearts.
  Festus. Oh for the young heart like a fountain playing,
Flinging its bright fresh feelings up to the skies
It loves and strives to reach; strives, loves in vain.
It is of earth, and never meant for heaven,        55
Let us love both and die. The sphinx-like heart
Loathes life the moment that life’s riddle is read.
The knot of our existence solv’d, all things
Loose-ended lie, and useless. Life is had,
And lo! we sigh, and say, can this be all?        60
It is not what we thought; it is very well,
But we want something more. There is but death.
And when we have said and seen, done, had, enjoy’d
And suffer’d, maybe, all we have wish’d or fear’d,
From fame to ruin, and from love to loathing,        65
There can come but one more change—try it—death.
Oh! it is great to feel that nought of earth,
Hope, love, nor dread, nor care for what’s to come,
Can check the royal lavishment of life;
But, like a streamer strown upon the wind,        70
We fling our souls to fate and to the future.
For to die young is youth’s divinest gift;
To pass from one world fresh into another,
Ere change hath lost the charm of soft regret,
And feel the immortal impulse from within        75
Which makes the coming life cry alway, on!
And follow it while strong, is heaven’s last mercy.
There is a fire-fly in the south, but shines
When on the wing. So is’t with mind. When once
We rest, we darken. On! saith God to the soul,        80
As unto the earth for ever. On it goes,
A rejoicing native of the infinite,
As is a bird, of air; an orb, of heaven.
 
THE POET

  Festus. THANKS, thanks! With the Muse is always love and light,
And self-sworn loyalty to truth. For know,        85
Poets are all who love, who feel, great truths,
And tell them: and the truth of truths is love.
There was a time—oh, I remember well!
When, like a sea-shell with its sea-born strain,
My soul aye rang with music of the lyre,        90
And my heart shed its lore as leaves their dew—
A honey dew, and throve on what it shed.
All things I lov’d; but song I lov’d in chief.
Imagination is the air of mind,
Judgment its earth and memory its main,        95
Passion its fire. I was at home in heaven.
Swiftlike, I liv’d above; once touching earth,
The meanest thing might master me: long wings
But baffled. Still and still I harp’d on song.
Oh! to create within the mind is bliss,        100
And shaping forth the lofty thought, or lovely,
We seek not, need not heaven: and when the thought,
Cloudy and shapeless, first forms on the mind,
Slow darkening into some gigantic make,
How the heart shakes with pride and fear, as heaven        105
Quakes under its own thunder; or as might,
Of old, the mortal mother of a god,
When first she saw him lessening up the skies.
And I began the toil divine of verse,
Which, like a burning bush, doth guest a god.        110
But this was only wing-flapping—not flight;
The pawing of the courser ere he win;
Till by degrees, from wrestling with my soul,
I gather’d strength to keep the fleet thoughts fast,
And made them bless me. Yes, there was a time        115
When tomes of ancient song held eye and heart;
Were the sole lore I reck’d of: the great bards
Of Greece, of Rome, and mine own master land,
And they who in the holy book are deathless;
Men who have vulgariz’d sublimity,        120
And bought up truth for the nations; held it whole;
Men who have forged gods—utter’d—made them pass:
Sons of the sons of God, who in olden days
Did leave their passionless heaven for earth and woman,
Brought an immortal to a mortal breast,        125
And, rainbowlike the sweet earth clasping, left
A bright precipitate of soul, which lives
Ever, and through the lines of sullen men,
The dump array of ages, speaks for all;
Flashing by fits, like fire from an enemy’s front;        130
Whose thoughts, like bars of sunshine in shut rooms,
Mid gloom, all glory, win the world to light;
Who make their very follies like their souls,
And like the young moon with a ragged edge,
Still in their imperfection beautiful;        135
Whose weaknesses are lovely as their strengths,
Like the white nebulous matter between stars,
Which, if not light, at least is likest light;
Men whom be build our love round like an arch
Of triumph, as they pass us on their way        140
To glory, and to immortality;
Men whose great thoughts possess us like a passion,
Through every limb and the whole heart; whose words
Haunt us, as eagles haunt the mountain air;
Whose thoughts command all coming times and minds,        145
As from a tower, a warden—fix themselves
Deep in the heart as meteor stones in earth,
Dropp’d from some higher sphere: the words of gods,
And fragments of the undeem’d tongues of heaven;
Men who walk up to fame as to a friend,        150
Or their own house, which from the wrongful heir
They have wrested, from the world’s hard hand and gripe;
Men who, like death, all bone but all unarm’d,
Have ta’en the giant world by the throat, and thrown him,
And made him swear to maintain their name and fame        155
At peril of his life; who shed great thoughts
As easily as an oak looseneth its golden leaves
In a kindly largesse to the soil it grew on;
Whose names are ever on the world’s broad tongue,
Like sound upon the falling of a force;        160
Whose words, if wing’d, are with angels’ wings;
Who play upon the heart as on a harp,
And make our eyes bright as we speak of them;
Whose hearts have a look southwards, and are open
To the whole noon of nature; these I have wak’d,        165
And wept o’er, night by night; oft pondering thus:
Homer is gone: and where is Jove? and where
The rival cities seven? His song outlives
Time, tower, and god—all that then was, save heaven.
 
HELEN’S SONG

THE ROSE is weeping for her love,
        170
    The nightingale;
And he is flying fast above,
    To her he will not fail.
Already golden eve appears;
    He wings his way along;        175
Ah! look, he comes to kiss her tears,
    And soothe her with his song.
 
The moon in pearly light may steep
    The still blue air;
The rose hath ceas’d to droop and weep,        180
    For lo! her love is there;
He sings to her, and o’er the trees
    She hears his sweet notes swim;
The world may weary; she but sees
    Her love, and hears but him.        185
 
LUCIFER AND ELISSA

  Elissa.        Nigh one year ago,
I WATCH’D that large bright star, much where ’t is now:
Time hath not touch’d its everlasting lightning,
Nor dimm’d the glorious glances of its eye;
Nor passion clouded it, nor any star
Eclips’d; it is the leader still of heaven.        190
And I who lov’d it then can love it now;
But am not what I was, in one degree.
Calm star! who was it nam’d thee Lucifer,
From him who drew the third of heaven down with him?
Oh! it was but the tradition of thy beauty!        195
For if the sun hath one part, and the moon one,
Thou hast the third part of the host of heaven—
Which is its power—which power is but its beauty!
  Lucifer. It was no tradition, lady, but of truth!
  Elissa. I thought we parted last to meet no more.        200
  Lucifer. It was so, lady; but it is not so.
  Elissa. Am I to leave, or thou, then?
  Lucifer.        Neither, yet.
  Elissa. And who art thou that I should fear and serve?
  Lucifer. I am the morning and the evening star,        205
The star thou lovedst; thy lover too; as once
I told thee incredulous; star and spirit I am;
A power, an ill which doth outbalance being.
Behold life’s tyrant evil, peer of good,
The great infortune of the universe.        210
Am I not more than mortal in my form?
Millions of years have circled round my brow,
Like worlds upon their centres,—still I live,
And age but presses with a halo’s weight.
This single arm hath dash’d the light of heaven;        215
This one hand dragg’d the angels from their thrones:—
Am I not worthy to have lov’d thee, lady?
Thou mortal model of all heavenliness!
Yet all these spoils have I abandon’d, cower’d
My powers, my course becalm’d, and stoop’d from the high        220
Destruction of the skies for thee, and him
Who loving thee is with thee lost, both lost.
Thou hast but serv’d the purpose of the fiend;
Art but the gilded vessel of selfish sin
Whose poison hath drunken made a soul to death:        225
Thou, useless now. I come to bid thee die.
  Elissa. Wicked, impure, tormentor of the world,
I knew thee not. Yet doubt not thou it was
Who darkenedst for a moment with base aim
God to evade, and shun in this world, man,        230
Love’s heart; with selfish end alone redeeming
Me from the evil, the death-fright. Take, nathless,
One human soul’s forgiveness, such the sum
Of thanks I feel for heaven’s great grace that thou
From the overflowings of love’s cup mayst quench        235
Thy breast’s broad burning desert, and fertilize
Aught may be in it, that boasts one root of good.
  Lucifer. It is doubtless sad to feel one day our last.
  Elissa. I knew, forewarn’d, I was dying. God is good.
The heavens grow darker as they purer grow,        240
And both, as we approach them; so near death
The soul grows darker and diviner hourly.
Could I love less, I should be happier now.
But always ’t is to that mad extreme, death
Alone appears the fitting end to bliss        245
Like that my spirit presseth for.
  Lucifer.        Thy death
Gentle shall be as e’er hath been thy life.
I ’ll hurt thee not, for once upon this breast,
Fell, like a snowflake on a fever’d lip,        250
Thy love. Thy soul shall, dreamlike, pass from thee.
One instant, and thou wakest in heaven for aye.
  Elissa. Lost, say’st thou in one breath, and sav’d in heaven.
I ever thought thee to be more than mortal,
And since thus mighty, grant me—and thou mayst        255
This one, this only boon, as friend to friend—
Bring him I love, one moment ere I die;
Life, love, all his.…
  Lucifer.        Cease!
As a wind-flaw, darting from some rifted cloud,        260
Seizes upon a water-patch mid main,
And into white wrath worries it, so my mind
This petty controversy distracts. He comes,
I say, but never shalt thou view him, living.
  Elissa. But I will, will see him, and while I am alive.        265
I hear him. He is come.
  Lucifer.        The ends of things
Are urgent. Still, to this mortuary deed
Reluctant, fix I death’s black seal. He ’s here!
  Elissa. I hear him; he is come; it is he; it is he!        270
  Lucifer. Die graciously, as ever thou hast liv’d;
Die, thou shalt never look upon him again.
  Elissa. My love! haste, Festus! I am dying.
  Lucifer.        Dead!
As ocean racing fast and fierce to reach        275
Some headland, ere the moon with maddening ray
Forestall him, and rebellious tides excite
To vain strife, nor of the innocent skiff that thwarts
His path, aught heeds, but with dispiteous foam
Wrecks deathful, I, made hasty by time’s end        280
Impending, thus fill up fate’s tragic form.
A word could kill her. See, she hath gone to heaven.
 

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