Jean Ingelow

(17 March 1820 - 20 July 1897 / Boston, Lincolnshire)

Contrasted Songs: A Lily And The Lute - Poem by Jean Ingelow

(Song of the uncommunicated Ideal.)

I.
I opened the eyes of my soul.
And behold,
A white river-lily: a lily awake, and aware,—­
For she set her face upward,—­aware how in scarlet and gold
A long wrinkled cloud, left behind of the wandering air,
Lay over with fold upon fold,
With fold upon fold.

And the blushing sweet shame of the cloud made her also ashamed,
The white river-lily, that suddenly knew she was fair;
And over the far-away mountains that no man hath named,
And that no foot hath trod,
Flung down out of heavenly places, there fell, as it were,
A rose-bloom, a token of love, that should make them endure,
Withdrawn in snow silence forever, who keep themselves pure,
And look up to God.
Then I said, “In rosy air,
Cradled on thy reaches fair,
While the blushing early ray
Whitens into perfect day,
River-lily, sweetest known,
Art thou set for me alone?
Nay, but I will bear thee far,
Where yon clustering steeples are,
And the bells ring out o’erhead,
And the stated prayers are said;
And the busy farmers pace,
Trading in the market-place;
And the country lasses sit,
By their butter, praising it;
And the latest news is told,
While the fruit and cream are sold;
And the friendly gossips greet,
Up and down the sunny street.
For,” I said, “I have not met,
White one, any folk as yet
Who would send no blessing up,
Looking on a face like thine;
For thou art as Joseph’s cup,
And by thee might they divine.

“Nay! but thou a spirit art;
Men shall take thee in the mart
For the ghost of their best thought,
Raised at noon, and near them brought;
Or the prayer they made last night,
Set before them all in white.”

And I put out my rash hand,
For I thought to draw to land
The white lily. Was it fit
Such a blossom should expand,
Fair enough for a world’s wonder,
And no mortal gather it?
No. I strove, and it went under,
And I drew, but it went down;
And the waterweeds’ long tresses,
And the overlapping cresses,
Sullied its admired crown.
Then along the river strand,
Trailing, wrecked, it came to land,
Of its beauty half despoiled,
And its snowy pureness soiled:
O! I took it in my hand,—­
You will never see it now,
White and golden as it grew:
No, I cannot show it you,
Nor the cheerful town endow
With the freshness of its brow.

If a royal painter, great
With the colors dedicate
To a dove’s neck, a sea-bight,
And the flickering over white
Mountain summits far away,—­
One content to give his mind
To the enrichment of mankind,
And the laying up of light
In men’s houses,—­on that day,
Could have passed in kingly mood,
Would he ever have endued
Canvas with the peerless thing,
In the grace that it did bring,
And the light that o’er it flowed,
With the pureness that it showed,
And the pureness that it meant?
Could he skill to make it seen
As he saw? For this, I ween,
He were likewise impotent.

II.
I opened the doors of my heart.
And behold,
There was music within and a song,
And echoes did feed on the sweetness, repeating it long.
I opened the doors of my heart: and behold,
There was music that played itself out in aeolian notes;
Then was heard, as a far-away bell at long intervals tolled,
That murmurs and floats,
And presently dieth, forgotten of forest and wold,
And comes in all passion again, and a tremblement soft,
That maketh the listener full oft
To whisper, “Ah! would I might hear it for ever and aye,
When I toil in the heat of the day,
When I walk in the cold.”

I opened the door of my heart. And behold,
There was music within, and a song.
But while I was hearkening, lo, blackness without, thick and strong,
Came up and came over, and all that sweet fluting was drowned,
I could hear it no more;
For the welkin was moaning, the waters were stirred on the shore,
And trees in the dark all around
Were shaken. It thundered. “Hark, hark! there is thunder to-night!
The sullen long wave rears her head, and comes down with a will;
The awful white tongues are let loose, and the stars are all dead;—­
There is thunder! it thunders! and ladders of light
Run up. There is thunder!” I said,
“Loud thunder! it thunders! and up in the dark overhead,
A down-pouring cloud, (there is thunder!) a down-pouring cloud
Hails out her fierce message, and quivers the deep in its bed,
And cowers the earth held at bay; and they mutter aloud,
And pause with an ominous tremble, till, great in their rage,
The heavens and earth come together, and meet with a crash;
And the fight is so fell as if Time had come down with the flash,
And the story of life was all read,
And the Giver had turned the last page.

“Now their bar the pent water-floods lash,
And the forest trees give out their language austere with great age;
And there flieth o’er moor and o’er hill,
And there heaveth at intervals wide,
The long sob of nature’s great passion as loath to subside,
Until quiet dropp down on the tide,
And mad Echo had moaned herself still.”

Lo! or ever I was ’ware,
In the silence of the air,
Through my heart’s wide-open door,
Music floated forth once more,
Floated to the world’s dark rim,
And looked over with a hymn;
Then came home with flutings fine,
And discoursed in tones divine
Of a certain grief of mine;
And went downward and went in,
Glimpses of my soul to win,
And discovered such a deep
That I could not choose but weep,
For it lay, a land-locked sea,
Fathomless and dim to me.

O, the song! it came and went,
Went and came.
I have not learned
Half the lore whereto it yearned,
Half the magic that it meant.
Water booming in a cave;
Or the swell of some long wave,
Setting in from unrevealed
Countries; or a foreign tongue,
Sweetly talked and deftly sung,
While the meaning is half sealed;
May be like it. You have heard
Also;—­can you find a word
For the naming of such song?
No; a name would do it wrong.
You have heard it in the night,
In the dropping rain’s despite,
In the midnight darkness deep,
When the children were asleep,
And the wife,—­no, let that be;
SHE asleep! She knows right well
What the song to you and me,
While we breathe, can never tell;
She hath heard its faultless flow,
Where the roots of music grow.

While I listened, like young birds,
Hints were fluttering; almost words,—­
Leaned and leaned, and nearer came;—­
Everything had changed its name.

Sorrow was a ship, I found,
Wrecked with them that in her are,
On an island richer far
Than the port where they were bound.
Fear was but the awful boom
Of the old great bell of doom,
Tolling, far from earthly air,
For all worlds to go to prayer.
Pain, that to us mortal clings,
But the pushing of our wings,
That we have no use for yet,
And the uprooting of our feet
From the soil where they are set,
And the land we reckon sweet.
Love in growth, the grand deceit
Whereby men the perfect greet;
Love in wane, the blessing sent
To be (howsoe’er it went)
Never more with earth content.
O, full sweet, and O, full high,
Ran that music up the sky;
But I cannot sing it you,
More than I can make you view,
With my paintings labial,
Sitting up in awful row,
White old men majestical,
Mountains, in their gowns of snow,
Ghosts of kings; as my two eyes,
Looking over speckled skies,
See them now. About their knees,
Half in haze, there stands at ease
A great army of green hills,
Some bareheaded; and, behold,
Small green mosses creep on some.
Those be mighty forests old;
And white avalanches come
Through yon rents, where now distils
Sheeny silver, pouring down
To a tune of old renown,
Cutting narrow pathways through
Gentian belts of airy blue,
To a zone where starwort blows,
And long reaches of the rose.

So, that haze all left behind,
Down the chestnut forests wind,
Past yon jagged spires, where yet
Foot of man was never set;
Past a castle yawning wide,
With a great breach in its side,
To a nest-like valley, where,
Like a sparrow’s egg in hue,
Lie two lakes, and teach the true
Color of the sea-maid’s hair.

What beside? The world beside!
Drawing down and down, to greet
Cottage clusters at our feet,—­
Every scent of summer tide,—­
Flowery pastures all aglow
(Men and women mowing go
Up and down them): also soft
Floating of the film aloft,
Fluttering of the leaves alow.
Is this told? It is not told.
Where’s the danger? where’s the cold
Slippery danger up the steep?
Where yon shadow fallen asleep?
Chirping bird and tumbling spray,
Light, work, laughter, scent of hay,
Peace, and echo, where are they?

Ah, they sleep, sleep all untold;
Memory must their grace enfold
Silently; and that high song
Of the heart, it doth belong
To the hearers. Not a whit,
Though a chief musician heard,
Could he make a tune for it.

Though a bird of sweetest throat,
And some lute full clear of note,
Could have tried it,—­O, the lute
For that wondrous song were mute,
And the bird would do her part,
Falter, fail, and break her heart,—­
Break her heart, and furl her wings,
On those unexpressive strings.


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Poem Submitted: Monday, May 14, 2012



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