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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Sonnets from ‘The House of Life’
By Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882)
 
Introductory Sonnet

A SONNET is a moment’s monument,—
  Memorial from the Soul’s eternity
  To one dead deathless hour. Look that it be,
Whether for lustral rite or dire portent,
Of its own arduous fullness reverent:        5
  Carve it in ivory or in ebony,
  As Day or Night may rule; and let Time see
Its flowering crest impearled and orient.
 
A Sonnet is a coin: its face reveals
  The soul,—its converse, to what Power ’tis due:        10
Whether for tribute to the august appeals
  Of Life, or dower in Love’s high retinue,
It serve; or, ’mid the dark wharf’s cavernous breath,
In Charon’s palm it pay the toll to Death.
 
Lovesight

WHEN do I see thee most, beloved one?
        15
  When in the light the spirits of mine eyes
  Before thy face, their altar, solemnize
The worship of that Love through thee made known?
Or when in the dusk hours (we two alone),
  Close-kissed and eloquent of still replies        20
  Thy twilight hidden glimmering visage lies,
And my soul only sees thy soul its own?
 
O love, my love! if I no more should see
Thyself, nor on the earth the shadow of thee,
  Nor image of thine eyes in any spring,—        25
How then should sound upon Life’s darkening slope
The ground-whirl of the perished leaves of Hope,
  The wind of Death’s imperishable wing?
 
Known in Vain

AS two whose love, first foolish, widening scope,
  Knows suddenly, to music high and soft,        30
  The Holy of Holies; who because they scoffed
Are now amazed with shame, nor dare to cope
With the whole truth aloud, lest heaven should ope:
  Yet, at their meetings, laugh not as they laughed
  In speech; nor speak, at length: but sitting oft        35
Together, within hopeless sight of hope,
For hours are silent;—so it happeneth
  When Work and Will awake too late, to gaze
After their life sailed by, and hold their breath.
  Ah! who shall dare to search through what sad maze        40
  Thenceforth their incommunicable ways
Follow the desultory feet of Death?
 
The Hill Summit

THIS feast-day of the sun, his altar there
  In the broad west has blazed for vesper-song;
  And I have loitered in the vale too long,        45
And gaze now a belated worshiper.
Yet may I not forget that I was ’ware,
  So journeying, of his face at intervals
  Transfigured where the fringed horizon falls,—
A fiery bush with coruscating hair.        50
 
And now that I have climbed and won this height,
  I must tread downward through the sloping shade
And travel the bewildered tracks till night.
  Yet for this hour I still may here be stayed,
  And see the gold air and the silver fade        55
And the last bird fly into the last light.
 
The Choice

I
EAT thou and drink: to-morrow thou shalt die.
  Surely the earth, that’s wise being very old,
  Needs not our help. Then loose me, love, and hold
Thy sultry hair up from my face; that I        60
May pour for thee this golden wine, brim-high,
  Till round the glass thy fingers glow like gold.
  We’ll drown all hours: thy song, while hours are tolled,
Shall leap, as fountains veil the changing sky.
 
Now kiss, and think that there are really those,        65
  My own high-bosomed beauty, who increase
    Vain gold, vain lore, and yet might choose our way!
    Through many years they toil: then on a day
  They die not,—for their life was death,—but cease;
And round their narrow lips the mold falls close.        70
 
II
WATCH thou and fear: to-morrow thou shalt die.
  Or art thou sure thou shalt have time for death?
  Is not the day which God’s word promiseth
To come man knows not when? In yonder sky,
Now while we speak, the sun speeds forth: can I        75
  Or thou assure him of his goal? God’s breath
  Even at this moment haply quickeneth
The air to a flame; till spirits, always nigh
Though screened and hid, shall walk the daylight here.
  And dost thou prate of all that man shall do?        80
    Canst thou, who hast but plagues, presume to be
    Glad in his gladness that comes after thee?
  Will his strength slay thy worm in Hell? Go to:
Cover thy countenance, and watch, and fear.
 
III
THINK thou and act: to-morrow thou shalt die.
        85
  Outstretched in the sun’s warmth upon the shore,
  Thou say’st:—“Man’s measured path is all gone o’er:
Up, all his years, steeply, with strain and sigh,
Man clomb until he touched the truth; and I,
  Even I, am he whom it was destined for.”        90
  How should this be? Art thou then so much more
Than they who sowed, that thou shouldst reap thereby?
 
Nay, come up hither. From this wave-washed mound
  Unto the furthest flood-brim look with me;
Then reach on with thy thought till it be drowned.        95
  Miles and miles distant though the last line be,
And though thy soul sail leagues and leagues beyond,—
  Still, leagues beyond those leagues, there is more sea.
 
Lost Days

THE LOST days of my life until to-day,
  What were they, could I see them on the street        100
  Lie as they fell? Would they be ears of wheat
Sown once for food but trodden into clay?
Or golden coins squandered and still to pay?
  Or drops of blood dabbling the guilty feet?
  Or such spilt water as in dreams must cheat        105
The undying throats of Hell, athirst alway?
 
I do not see them here; but after death
  God knows I know the faces I shall see,
Each one a murdered self, with low last breath.
  “I am thyself,—what hast thou done to me?”        110
“And I—and I—thyself” (lo! each one saith),
  “And thou thyself to all eternity!”
 
A Superscription

LOOK in my face; my name is Might-have-been;
  I am also called No-more, Too-late, Farewell;
  Unto thine ear I hold the dead-sea shell        115
Cast up thy Life’s foam-fretted feet between;
Unto thine eyes the glass where that is seen
  Which had Life’s form and Love’s, but by my spell
  Is now a shaken shadow intolerable,
Of ultimate things unuttered the frail screen,        120
Mark me, how still I am! But should there dart
  One moment through thy soul the soft surprise
  Of that winged Peace which lulls the breath of sighs,—
Then shalt thou see me smile, and turn apart
Thy visage to mine ambush at thy heart,        125
  Sleepless with cold commemorative eyes.
 
 
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