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Alfred Noyes

(16 September 1880 – 25 June 1958 / Wolverhamton)

A New Madrigal To An Old Melody


(It is supposed that Shadow-of-a-Leaf uses the word 'clear' in a
more ancient sense of 'beautiful.')


As along a dark pine-bough, in slender white mystery
The moon lay to listen, above the thick fern,
In a deep dreaming wood that is older than history
I heard a lad sing, and I stilled me to learn;
So rarely he lilted his long-forgot litany,--
_Fall, April; fall, April, in dew on our dearth!
Bring balm, and bring poppy, bring deep sleepy dittany
For Marian, our clear May, so long laid in earth._

Then I drew back the branches. I saw him that chanted it.
I saw his fool's bauble. I knew his old grief.
I knew that old greenwood and the shadow that haunted it,--
My fool, my lost jester, my _Shadow-of-a-Leaf_!
And 'why,' I said, 'why, all this while, have you left me so
Luckless in melody, lonely in mirth?'
'Oh, why,' he sang, 'why has this world then bereft me so
Soon of my Marian, so long laid in earth?

'In the years that are gone,' he said, 'love was more fortunate.
Grief was our minstrel of things that endure.
Now, ashes and dust and this world grow importunate.
Time has no sorrow that time cannot cure.
Once, we could lose, and the loss was worth cherishing.
Now, we may win, but, O, where is the worth?
Memory and true love,' he whispered, 'are perishing,
With Marian, our clear May, so long laid in earth.'

'Ah, no!' I said, 'no! Since we grieve for our grief again,
Touch the old strings! Let us try the old stave!
And memory may wake, like my _Shadow-of-a-Leaf_ again,
Singing of hope, in the dark, by a grave.'
So we sang it together--that long-forgot litany:--
_Fall, April; fall, April; bring new grief to birth.
Bring wild herb of grace, and bring deep healing dittany,
For Marian, our clear May, so long laid in earth._

Submitted: Tuesday, April 06, 2010

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