Treasure Island

William Michael Rossetti

(1829-1919 / England)

To The Castle Ramparts


The Castle is erect on the hill's top,
To moulder there all day and night: it stands
With the long shadow lying at its foot.
That is a weary height which you must climb
Before you reach it; and a dizziness
Turns in your eyes when you look down from it,
So standing clearly up into the sky.

I rose one day, having a mind to see it.
'Twas on a clear Spring morning, and a blackbird
Awoke me with his warbling near my window:
My dream had fashioned this into a song
That some one with grey eyes was singing me,
And which had drawn me so into myself
That all the other shapes of sleep were gone:
And then, at last, it woke me, as I said.
The sun shone fully in on me; and brisk
Cool airs, that had been cold but for his warmth,
Blow thro' the open casement, and sweet smells
Of flowers with the dew yet fresh upon them,--
Rose-buds, and showery lilacs, and what stayed
Of April wallflowers.

I set early forth,
Wishing to reach the Castle when the heat
Should weigh upon it, vertical at noon.
My path lay thro' green open fields at first,
With now and then trees rising statelily
Out of the grass; and afterwards came lanes
Closed in by hedges smelling of the may,
And overshadowed by the meeting trees.
So I walked on with none but pleasant thoughts;
The Spring was in me, not alone around me,
And smiles came rippling o'er my lips for nothing.
I reached at length,--issuing from a lane
Which wound so that it seemed about to end
Always, yet ended not for a long while,--
A space of ground thick grassed and level to
The overhanging sky and the strong sun:
Before me the brown sultry hill stood out,
Peaked by its rooted Castle, like a part
Of its own self. I laid me in the grass,
Turning from it, and looking on the sky,
And listening to the humming in the air
That hums when no sound is; because I chose
To gaze on that which I had left, not that
Which I had yet to see. As one who strives
After some knowledge known not till he sought,
Whose soul acquaints him that his step by step
Has led him to a few steps next the end,
Which he foresees already, waits a little
Before he passes onward, gathering
Together in his thoughts what he has done.

Rising after a while, the ascent began.
Broken and bare the soil was; and thin grass,
Dry and scarce green, was scattered here and there
In tufts: and, toiling up, my knees almost
Reaching my chin, one hand upon my knee,
Or grasping sometimes at the earth, I went,
With eyes fixed on the next step to be taken,
Not glancing right or left; till, at the end,
I stood straight up, and the tower stood straight up
Before my face. One tower, and nothing more;
For all the rest has gone this way and that,
And is not anywhere, saving a few
Fragments that lie about, some on the top,
Some fallen half down on either side the hill,
Uncared for, well nigh grown into the ground.
The tower is grey, and brown, and black, with green
Patches of mildew and of ivy woven
Over the sightless loopholes and the sides:
And from the ivy deaf-coiled spiders dangle,
Or scurry to catch food; and their fine webs
Touch at your face wherever you may pass.
The sun's light scorched upon it; and a fry
Of insects in one spot quivered for ever,
Out and in, in and out, with glancing wings
That caught the light, and buzzings here and there;
That little life which swarms about large death;
No one too many or too few, but each
Ordained, and being each in its own place.
The ancient door, cut deep into the wall,
And cramped with iron rusty now and rotten,
Was open half: and, when I strove to move it
That I might have free passage inwards, stood
Unmoved and creaking with old uselessness:
So, pushing it, I entered, while the dust
Was shaken down upon me from all sides.
The narrow stairs, lighted by scanty streaks
That poured in thro' the loopholes pierced high up,
Wound with the winding tower, until I gained,
Delivered from the closeness and the damp
And the dim air, the outer battlements.

There opposite, the tower's black turret-girth
Suppressed the multiplied steep chasm of fathoms,
So that immediately the fields far down
Lay to their heaving distance for the eyes,
Satisfied with one gaze unconsciously,
To pass to glory of heaven, and to know light.
Here was no need of thinking:--merely sense
Was found sufficient: the wind made me free,
Breathed, and returned by me in a hard breath:
And what at first seemed silence, being roused
By callings of the cuckoo from far off,
Resolved itself into a sound of trees
That swayed, and into chirps reciprocal
On each side, and revolving drone of flies.

Then, stepping to the brink, and looking sheer
To where the slope ceased in the level stretch
Of country, I sat down to lay my head
Backwards into a single ivy-bush
Complex of leaf. I lay there till the wind
Blew to me, from a church seen miles away,
Half the hour's chimes.

Great clouds were arched abroad
Like angels' wings; returning beneath which,
I lingered homewards. All their forms had merged
And loosened when my walk was ended; and,
While yet I saw the sun a perfect disc,
There was the moon beginning in the sky.

Submitted: Friday, October 08, 2010

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