Verse > Anthologies > Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. > A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895
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Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. (1833–1908).  A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895.  1895.
 
From “He Heard Her Sing”
 
James Thomson (1834–82)
 
 
AND thus all-expectant abiding I waited not long for soon
A boat came gliding and gliding out in the light of the moon,
Gliding with muffled oars, slowly, a thin dark line,
Round from the shadowing shores into the silver shine
Of the clear moon westering now, and still drew on and on,        5
While the water before its prow breaking and glistering shone,
Slowly in silence strange; and the rower row’d till it lay
Afloat within easy range deep in the curve of the bay;
And besides the rower were two: a Woman, who sat in the stern,
And Her by her fame I knew, one of those fames that burn,        10
Startling and kindling the world, one whose likeness we everywhere see;
And a man reclining half-curl’d with an indolent grace at her knee,
The Signor, lord of her choice; and he lightly touch’d a guitar;—
A guitar for that glorious voice! Illumine the sun with a star!
She sat superb and erect, stately, all-happy, serene,        15
Her right hand toying uncheck’d with the hair of that page of a Queen;
With her head and her throat and her bust like the bust and the throat and the head
Of Her who has long been dust, of her who shall never be dead,
Preserv’d by the potent art made trebly potent by love,
While the transient ages depart from under the heavens above,—        20
Preserv’d in the color and line on the canvas fulgently flung
By Him the Artist divine who triumph’d and vanish’d so young:
Surely there rarely hath been a lot more to be envied in life
Than thy lot, O Fornarina, whom Raphael’s heart took to wife.
 
There was silence yet for a time save the tinkling capricious and quaint,        25
Then She lifted her voice sublime, no longer tender and faint,
Pathetic and tremulous, no! but firm as a column it rose,
Rising solemn and slow with a full rich swell to the close,
Firm as a marble column soaring with noble pride
In a triumph of rapture solemn to some Hero deified;        30
In a rapture of exultation made calm by its stress intense,
In a triumph of consecration and a jubilation immense.
And the Voice flow’d on and on, and ever it swell’d as it pour’d,
Till the stars that throbb’d as they shone seem’d throbbing with it in accord;
Till the moon herself in my dream, still Empress of all the night,        35
Was only that voice supreme translated into pure light:
And I lost all sense of the earth though I still had sense of the sea;
And I saw the stupendous girth of a tree like the Norse World-Tree;
And its branches fill’d all the sky, and the deep sea water’d its root,
And the clouds were its leaves on high and the stars were its silver fruit;        40
Yet the stars were the notes of the singing and the moon was the voice of the song,
Through the vault of the firmament ringing and swelling resistlessly strong;
And the whole vast night was a shell for that music of manifold might,
And was strain’d by the stress of the swell of the music yet vaster than night.
And I saw as a crystal fountain whose shaft was a column of light        45
More high than the loftiest mountain ascend the abyss of the night;
And its spray fill’d all the sky, and the clouds were the clouds of its spray,
Which glitter’d in star-points on high and fill’d with pure silver the bay;
And ever in rising and falling it sang as it rose and it fell,
And the heavens with their pure azure walling all puls’d with the pulse of its swell,        50
For the stars were the notes of the singing and the moon was the voice of the song
Through the vault of the firmament ringing and swelling ineffably strong;
And the whole vast night was a shell for that music of manifold might,
And was strain’d by the stress of the swell of the music yet vaster than night:
And the fountain in swelling and soaring and filling beneath and above,        55
Grew flush’d with red fire in outpouring, transmuting great power into love,
Great power with a greater love flushing, immense and intense and supreme,
As if all the World’s heart-blood outgushing ensanguin’d the trance of my dream;
And the waves of its blood seem’d to dash on the shore of the sky to the cope
With the stress of the fire of a passion and yearning of limitless scope,        60
Vast fire of a passion and yearning, keen torture of rapture intense,
A most unendurable burning consuming the soul with the sense:—
“Love, love only, forever love with its torture of bliss;
All the world’s glories can never equal two souls in one kiss:
Love, and ever love wholly; love in all time and all space;        65
Life is consummate then solely in the death of a burning embrace.”
 

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