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Alice Cary

(1820-1871 / USA)


In the May woods alone - yet not alone,
For unsubstantial beings near me tread -
At times I hear them piteously moan,
Haply a plaint for the o'ergifted dead,
That, to the perfectness of stature grown,
Had filled for aye the vacant heart of time
With dulcet rhythms, and cadences unknown,
In all the sweetest melody of rhyme.

And yet alone, for not a human heart
Stirs with tumultuous throbbings the deep hush;
Almost I hear the blue air fall apart
From the delirious warble of the thrush -
A wave of lovely sound, untouched of art,
Going through air - 'a disembodied joy:'
But in between each blissful stop and start,
(Belike such sweet food else our hearts would cloy,)

From the thick woods there comes into the vale
A long and very melancholy cry,
As of a spirit in that saddest bale -
Clinging to sin yet longing for the sky.
Across the hill-tops crowned with verdure pale,
A gnarled oak stands above the neighboring trees,
Rocking itself asleep upon the gale -
The proudest billow of the woodland seas.

A thin dun cloud above the sunken sun
Holds the first star of evening's endless train,
Clasped from the world's profaneness, like a nun
Within the shelter of the convent pane.
Did the delicious light of such a one
Fleck his dark pathway with its shimmering fire,
Whose fingers, till life's little day was done,
Clung like charmed kisses to his wondrous lyre?

I've read, in some chance fragment of old song,
A tale to muse of in this lovely light,
About a maiden, flying from deep wrong
Into the chilly darkness of the night,
Upon whose milk-white bosom, cold and long,
Beat the rough tempest; but a waiting arm
Was reaching toward her, and, in hope grown strong,
Fled she along the woods and through the storm.

But how had he or heart or hope to sing
Of Madeline or Porphyro the brave,
While the thin fingers of wan suffering
Were pressing down his eyelids to the grave?
How could he to the shrine of genius bring
The constant spirit with the bended knee,
Ruffling the horrent blackness of Death's wing
With the clear echoes of eternity?

Hark! was it but the wind that swept along,
Shivering the hawthorn hedges, white with flowers?
The swan-like music of the dying song
Seems swimming on the current of the hours.
If Fancy cheats me thus, she does no wrong -
For mists of glory o'er my heart are blown,
And shapes of beauty round about me throng,
When of that muséd rhyme I catch the tone.

Tell me, ye sobbing winds what sign ye made,
Making the year with dismal pity rife,
When the all-levelling and remorseless shade
Closed o'er the lovely summer of his life:
Did the sad hyacinths by the fountains fade,
And tear-drops touch the eyelids of the morn,
And Muses, empty-armed, the gods upbraid,
When that great sorrow to the world was born?

Ere Fame's wild trumpet to the world had thrown
The echo of his lyre, or fortune bless'd
Pausing where 'men but hear each other groan,
He felt the daisies growing on his breast.'
Then sunk as fair a star as ever shone
Along the gray and melancholy air;
And from Parnassus' hoary front, o'erstrown
With plants immortal, moaned infirm Despair.

Weave, closely weave, your vermeil boughs to-night:
Fresh-budding red woods - hide the crooked moon
Soft-shining through the sunset, slim and bright
As in some golden millet field at noon,
Might shine a mower's scythe. Too much of light
Rains through the boughs, too much is in the sky,
To sort with singing of untimely blight,
And mourning all of Genius that can die.

Submitted: Friday, April 11, 2014

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