Felicia Dorothea Hemans

(25 September 1793 – 16 May 1835 / Liverpool, England)

A Spirit's Return


……..'This is to be a mortal,
And seek the things beyond mortality!' ~ Manfred.


Thy voice prevails - dear friend, my gentle friend!
This long-shut heart for thee shall be unsealed,
And though thy soft eye mournfully will bend
Over the troubled stream, yet once revealed
Shall its freed waters flow; then rocks must close
For evermore, above their dark repose.

Come while the gorgeous mysteries of the sky
Fused in the crimson sea of sunset lie;
Come to the woods, where all strange wandering sound
Is mingled into harmony profound;
Where the leaves thrill with spirit, while the wind
Fills with a viewless being, unconfined,
The trembling reeds and fountains - our own dwell,
With its green dimness and AEolian breath,
Shall suit the unveiling of dark records well -
Hear me in tenderness and silent faith!

Thou knewest me not in life's fresh vernal morn -
I would thou hadst! - for then my heart on thine
Had poured a worthier love; now, all o'erworn
By its deep thirst for something too divine,
It hath but fitful music to bestow,
Echoes of harp-strings broken long ago.

Yet even in youth companionless I stood,
As a lone forest-bird 'midst ocean's foam;
For me the silver cords of brotherhood
Were early loosed; the voice from my home
Passed one by one, and melody and mirth
Left me a dreamer by a silent hearth.

But, with the fulness of a heart that burned
For the deep sympathies of mind, I turned
From that unanswering spot, and fondly sought
In all wild scenes with thrilling murmurs fraught,
In every still small voice and sound of power,
And flute-note of the wind through cave and bower
A perilous delight! - for then first woke
My life's lone passion, the mysterious quest
Of secret knowledge; and each tone that broke
From the wood-arches or the fountain's breast,
Making my quick soul vibrate as a lyre,
But ministered to that strange inborn fire.

'Midst the bright silence of the mountain dells,
In noontide hours or golden summer-eves,
My thoughts have burst forth as a gale that swells
Into a rushing blast, and from the leaves
Shakes out response. O thou rich world unseen!
Thou curtained realm of spirits! - thus my cry
Hath troubled air and silence - dost thou lie
Spread all around, yet by some filmy screen
Shut from us ever? The resounding woods,
Do their depths teem with marvels? - and the floods,
And the pure fountains, leading secret veins
Of quenchless melody through rock and hill,
Have they bright dwellers? - are their lone domains
Peopled with beauty, which may never still

Our
weary thirst of soul? Cold, weak and cold,
Is earth's vain language, piercing not one fold
Of our deep being! Oh, for gifts more high!
For a seer's glance to rend mortality!
For a charmed rod, to call from each dark shrine
The oracles divine!

I woke from those high fantasies, to know
My kindred with the earth - I woke to love:
O gentle friend! to love in doubt and woe,
Shutting the heart the worshipped name above,
Is to love deeply - and
my
spirit's dower
Was a sad gift, a melancholy power
Of so adoring - with a buried care,
And with the o'erflowing of a voiceless prayer,
And with a deepening dream that day by day,
In the still shadow of the lonely sway,
Folded me closer, till the world held nought
Save the
one
being to my centred thought.
There was no music but his voice to hear;
No joy but such as with
his
step drew near:
Light was but where he looked - life where he moved:
Silently, fervently, thus, thus I loved.
Oh! but such love is fearful! - and I knew
Its gathering doom: the soul's prophetic sight
Even then unfolded in my breast, and threw
O'er all things round a full, strong, vivid light,
Too sorrowfully clear! - an under-tone
Was given to Nature's harp, for me alone
Whispering of grief. Of grief? - be strong, awake!
Hath not thy love been victory, O my soul?
Hath not its conflict won a voice to shake
Death's fastness? - a magic to control
Worlds far removed? - from o'er the grave to thee
Love hath made answer; and
thy
tale should be
Sung like a lay of triumph! Now return,
And take thy treasure from its bosomed urn,
And lift it once to light!

In fear, in pain,
I said I loved - but yet a heavenly strain
Of sweetness floated down the tearful stream,
A joy flashed through the trouble of my dream!
I knew myself beloved! - we breathed no vow,
No mingling visions might our fate allow,
As unto happy hearts; but still and deep,
Like a rich jewel gleaming in a grave,
Like golden sand in some dark river's wave,
So did my soul that costly knowledge keep
So jealousy! - a thing o'er which to shed,
When stars alone beheld the drooping head,
Lone tears! yet ofttimes burdened with the excess
Of our strange nature's quivering happiness.

But, oh! sweet friend! we dream not of love's might
Till death has robed with soft and solemn light
The image we enshrine! - Before
that
hour,
We have but glimpses of the o'ermastering power
Within us laid! -
then
doth the spirit-flame
With sword-like lightning rend its mortal frame;
The wings of that which pants to follow fast
Shake their clay-bars, as with a prisoned blast-
The sea is in our souls!

He died, -
he
died
On whom my lone devotedness was cast!
I might not keep one vigil by his side,

I
, whose wrung heart watched with him to the last!
I might not once his fainting head sustain,
Nor bathe his parched lips in the hour of pain,
Nor say to him 'Farewell!' He passed away -
Oh! had
my
love been there, its conquering sway
Had won him back from death! - but thus removed,
Borne o'er the abyss no sounding-line hath proved,
Joined with the unknown, the viewless - he became
Unto my thoughts another, yet the same -
Changed - hallowed - glorified! - and his low grave
Seemed a bright mournful altar - mine, all mine: -
Brother and friend soon left me
that
sole shrine,
The birthright of the faithful! -
their
world's wave
Soon swept them from its brink. Oh! deem thou not
That on the sad and consecrated spot
My soul grew weak! I tell thee that a power
There kindled heart and lip - a fiery shower
My words were made - a might was given to prayer,
And a strong grasp to passionate despair,
And a dread triumph! Knowest thou what I sought?
For what high boon my struggling spirit wrought?
- Communion with the dead! - I sent a cry
Through the veiled empires of eternity,
A voice to cleave them! By the mournful truth,
By the lost promise of my blighted youth,
By the strong chain a mighty love can bind
On the beloved, the spell of mind o'er mind;
By words, which in themselves are magic high,
Armed and inspired, and winged with agony;
By tears, which comfort not, but burn, and seem
To bear the heart's blood in their passion-stream;
I summoned, I adjured - with quickened sense,
With the keen vigil of a life intense,
I watched, an answer from the winds to wring,
I listened, if perchance the stream might bring
Token from worlds afar: I taught
one
sound
Unto a thousand echoes - one profound
Imploring accent to the tomb, the sky -
One prayer to-night - 'Awake, appear, reply!'
Hast thou been told that from the viewless bourne,
The dark way never hath allowed return?
That all, which tears can move, with life is fled -
That earthly love is powerless on the dead?
Believe it not! - there is a large lone star
Now burning o'er yon western hill afar,
And under its clear light there lies a spot
Which well might utter forth - Believe it not!

I sat beneath that planet - I had wept
My woe to stillness, every night-wind slept;
A hush was on the hills; the very streams
Went by like clouds, or noiseless founts in dreams
And the dark tree o'ershadowing me that hour,
Stood motionless, even as the grey church-tower
Whereon I gazed unconsciously: - there came
A low sound, like the tremor of a flame,
Or like the light quick shiver of a wing,
Flitting through twilight woods, across the air;
And I looked up! Oh! for strong words to bring
Conviction o'er thy thought! Before me there,
He, the departed, stood! Ay, face to face,
So near, and yet how far! His form his mien,
Gave to remembrance back each burning trace
Within: - Yet something awfully serene,
Pure, sculpture-like, on the pale brow, that wore
Of the once beating heart no token more;
And stillness on the lip - and o'er the hair
A gleam, that trembled through the breathless air;
And an unfathomed calm, that seemed to lie
In the gave sweetness of the illumined eye;
Told of the gulfs between our being set,
And, as that unsheathed spirit-glance I met,
Made my soul faint: - with
fear?
Oh!
not
with fear
With the sick feeling that in
his
far sphere

My
love could be as nothing! But he spoke -
How shall I tell thee of the startling thrill
In that low voice, whose breezy tones could fill
My bosom's infinite? O friend! I woke

Then
first to heavenly life! Soft, solemn, clear
Breathed the mysterious accents on mine ear,
Yet strangely seem'd as if the while they rose
From depths of distance, o'er the wide repose
Of slumbering waters wafted, or the dells
Of mountains, hollow with sweet echo-cells;
But, as they murmured on, the mortal chill
Passed from me, like a mist before the morn,
And, to that glorious intercourse upborne
By slow degrees, a calm, divinely still,
Possessed my frame: I sought that lighted eye -
From its intense and searching purity
I drank in
soul!
- I questioned of the dead -
Of the hushed, starry shores their footsteps tread,
And I was answered. If remembrance there,
With dreamy whispers fill the immortal air;
If thought, here piled from many a jewel-heap,
Be treasure in that pensive land to keep;
If love, o'ersweeping change, and blight, and blast,
Find
there
the music of his home at last;
I asked, and I was answered. Full and high
Was that communion with eternity,
Too rich for aught so fleeting! Like a knell
Swept o'er my sense its closing words, 'Farewell,
On earth we meet no more!' And all was gone -
The pale bright settled brow - the thrilling tone,
The still and shining eye! and never more
May twilight gloom or midnight hush restore
That radiant guest! One full-fraught hour of heaven
To earthly passion's wild implorings given,
Was made my own - the ethereal fire hath shivered
The fragile censer in whose mould it quivered,
Brightly, consumingly! What now is left?
A faded world, of glory's hues bereft -
A void, a chain! I dwell 'midst throngs, apart,
In the cold silence of the stranger's heart;
A fixed, immortal shadow stands between
My spirit and life's fast-receding scene;
A gift hath severed me from human ties,
A power is gone from all earth's melodies,
Which never may return: their chords are broken,
The music of another land hath spoken -
No after-sound is sweet! This weary thirst!
And I have heard celestial fountains burst! -
What
here
shall quench it?

Dost thou not rejoice,
When the spring sends forth an awakening voice
Through the young woods? Thou dost! And in that birth
Of early leaves, and flowers, and songs of mirth,
Thousands, like thee, find gladness! Couldst thou know
How every breeze then summons
me
to go!
How all the light of love and beauty shed
By those rich hours, but wooes me to the dead!
The
only
beautiful that change no more -
The only loved! - the dwellings on the shore
Of spring fulfilled! The dead! -
whom
call we so?
They that breathe purer air, that feel, that know
Things wrapt from us! Away! - within me pent,
That which is barred from its own element
Still droops or struggles! But the day
will
come -
Over the deep the free bird finds its home,
And the stream lingers 'midst the rocks, yet greets
The sea at last; and the winged flower-seed meets
A soil to rest in: shall not
I
, too, be,
My spirit-love! upborne to dwell with thee?
Yes! by the power whose conquering anguish stirred
The tomb, whose cry beyond the stars was heard,
Whose agony of triumph won thee back
Through the dim pass no mortal step may track,
Yet shall we meet! - that glimpse of joy divine
Proved thee for ever and for ever mine!

Submitted: Thursday, April 08, 2010

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