William Watson

(1858-1935 / England)

Epigrams - Poem by William Watson

'Tis human fortune's happiest height to be
A spirit melodious, lucid, poised, and whole;
Second in order of felicity
I hold it, to have walk'd with such a soul.

* * * * *

The statue--Buonarroti said--doth wait,
Thrall'd in the block, for me to emancipate.
The poem--saith the poet--wanders free
Till I betray it to captivity.

* * * * *

To keep in sight Perfection, and adore
The vision, is the artist's best delight;
His bitterest pang, that he can ne'er do more
Than keep her long'd-for loveliness in sight.

* * * * *

If Nature be a phantasm, as thou say'st,
A splendid fiction and prodigious dream,
To reach the real and true I'll make no haste,
More than content with worlds that only seem.

* * * * *

The Poet gathers fruit from every tree,
Yea, grapes from thorns and figs from thistles he.
Pluck'd by his hand, the basest weed that grows
Towers to a lily, reddens to a rose.

* * * * *

Brook, from whose bridge the wandering idler peers
To watch thy small fish dart or cool floor shine,
I would that bridge whose arches all are years
Spann'd not a less transparent wave than thine!

* * * * *

To Art we go as to a well, athirst,
And see our shadow 'gainst its mimic skies,
But in its depth must plunge and be immersed
To clasp the naiad Truth where low she lies.

* * * * *

In youth the artist voweth lover's vows
To Art, in manhood maketh her his spouse.
Well if her charms yet hold for him such joy
As when he craved some boon and she was coy!

* * * * *

Immured in sense, with fivefold bonds confined,
Rest we content if whispers from the stars
In waftings of the incalculable wind
Come blown at midnight through our prison-bars.

* * * * *

Love, like a bird, hath perch'd upon a spray
For thee and me to hearken what he sings.
Contented, he forgets to fly away;
But hush!... remind not Eros of his wings.

* * * * *

Think not thy wisdom can illume away
The ancient tanglement of night and day.
Enough, to acknowledge both, and both revere:
They see not clearliest who see all things clear.

* * * * *

In mid whirl of the dance of Time ye start,
Start at the cold touch of Eternity,
And cast your cloaks about you, and depart:
The minstrels pause not in their minstrelsy.

* * * * *

The beasts in field are glad, and have not wit
To know why leapt their hearts when springtime shone.
Man looks at his own bliss, considers it,
Weighs it with curious fingers; and 'tis gone.

* * * * *

Momentous to himself as I to me
Hath each man been that ever woman bore;
Once, in a lightning-flash of sympathy,
I _felt_ this truth, an instant, and no more.

* * * * *

The gods man makes he breaks; proclaims them each
Immortal, and himself outlives them all:
But whom he set not up he cannot reach
To shake His cloud-dark sun-bright pedestal.

* * * * *

The children romp within the graveyard's pale;
The lark sings o'er a madhouse, or a gaol;--
Such nice antitheses of perfect poise
Chance in her curious rhetoric employs.

* * * * *

Our lithe thoughts gambol close to God's abyss,
Children whose home is by the precipice.
Fear not thy little ones shall o'er it fall:
Solid, though viewless, is the girdling wall.

* * * * *

Lives there whom pain hath evermore pass'd by
And Sorrow shunn'd with an averted eye?
Him do thou pity, him above the rest,
Him of all hapless mortals most unbless'd.

* * * * *

Say what thou wilt, the young are happy never.
Give me bless'd Age, beyond the fire and fever,--
Past the delight that shatters, hope that stings,
And eager flutt'ring of life's ignorant wings.

* * * * *

Onward the chariot of the Untarrying moves;
Nor day divulges him nor night conceals;
Thou hear'st the echo of unreturning hooves
And thunder of irrevocable wheels.

* * * * *

A deft musician does the breeze become
Whenever an Æolian harp it finds:
Hornpipe and hurdygurdy both are dumb
Unto the most musicianly of winds.

* * * * *

I follow Beauty; of her train am I:
Beauty whose voice is earth and sea and air;
Who serveth, and her hands for all things ply;
Who reigneth, and her throne is everywhere.

* * * * *

Toiling and yearning, 'tis man's doom to see
No perfect creature fashion'd of his hands.
Insulted by a flower's immaculacy,
And mock'd at by the flawless stars he stands.

* * * * *

For metaphors of man we search the skies,
And find our allegory in all the air.
We gaze on Nature with Narcissus-eyes,
Enamour'd of our shadow everywhere.

* * * * *

One music maketh its occult abode
In all things scatter'd from great Beauty's hand;
And evermore the deepest words of God
Are yet the easiest to understand.

* * * * *

Enough of mournful melodies, my lute!
Be henceforth joyous, or be henceforth mute.
Song's breath is wasted when it does but fan
The smouldering infelicity of man.

* * * * *

I pluck'd this flower, O brighter flower, for thee,
There where the river dies into the sea.
To kiss it the wild west wind hath made free:
Kiss it thyself and give it back to me.

* * * * *

To be as this old elm full loth were I,
That shakes in the autumn storm its palsied head.
Hewn by the weird last woodman let me lie
Ere the path rustle with my foliage shed.

* * * * *

Ah, vain, thrice vain in the end, thy hate and rage,
And the shrill tempest of thy clamorous page.
True poets but transcendent lovers be,
And one great love-confession poesy.

* * * * *

His rhymes the poet flings at all men's feet,
And whoso will may trample on his rhymes.
Should Time let die a song that's true and sweet,
The singer's loss were more than match'd by Time's.

* * * * *

On Longfellow's Death

No puissant singer he, whose silence grieves
To-day the great West's tender heart and strong;
No singer vast of voice: yet one who leaves
His native air the sweeter for his song.

* * * * *

Byron The Voluptuary

Too avid of earth's bliss, he was of those
Whom Delight flies because they give her chase.
Only the odour of her wild hair blows
Back in their faces hungering for her face.

* * * * *

Antony At Actium

He holds a dubious balance:--yet _that_ scale,
Whose freight the world is, surely shall prevail?
No; Cleopatra droppeth into _this_
One counterpoising orient sultry kiss.

* * * * *

Art

The thousand painful steps at last are trod,
At last the temple's difficult door we win;
But perfect on his pedestal, the god
Freezes us hopeless when we enter in.

* * * * *

Keats

He dwelt with the bright gods of elder time,
On earth and in their cloudy haunts above.
He loved them: and in recompense sublime,
The gods, alas! gave him their fatal love.

* * * * *

After Reading 'Tamburlaine The Great'

Your Marlowe's page I close, my Shakspere's ope.
How welcome--after gong and cymbal's din--
The continuity, the long slow slope
And vast curves of the gradual violin!

* * * * *

Shelley And Harriet Westbrook

A star look'd down from heaven and loved a flower
Grown in earth's garden--loved it for an hour:

Let eyes that trace his orbit in the spheres
Refuse not, to a ruin'd rosebud, tears.

* * * * *

The Play Of 'King Lear'

Here Love the slain with Love the slayer lies;
Deep drown'd are both in the same sunless pool.
Up from its depths that mirror thundering skies
Bubbles the wan mirth of the mirthless Fool.

* * * *

To A Poet

Time, the extortioner, from richest beauty
Takes heavy toll and wrings rapacious duty.
Austere of feature if thou carve thy rhyme,
Perchance 'twill pay the lesser tax to Time.

* * * * *

The Year's Minstrelsy

Spring, the low prelude of a lordlier song:
Summer, a music without hint of death:
Autumn, a cadence lingeringly long:
Winter, a pause;--the Minstrel-Year takes breath.

* * * * *

The Ruined Abbey

Flower fondled, clasp'd in ivy's close caress,
It seems allied with Nature, yet apart:--
Of wood's and wave's insensate loveliness
The glad, sad, tranquil, passionate, human heart.

* * * * *

Michelangelo's 'Moses'

The captain's might, and mystery of the seer--
Remoteness of Jehovah's colloquist,
Nearness of man's heaven-advocate--are here:
Alone Mount Nebo's harsh foreshadow is miss'd.

* * * * *

The Alps

Adieu, white brows of Europe! sovereign brows,
That wear the sunset for a golden tiar.
With me in memory shall your phantoms house
For ever, whiter than yourselves, and higher.

* * * * *

The Cathedral Spire

It soars like hearts of hapless men who dare
To sue for gifts the gods refuse to allot;
Who climb for ever toward they know not where,
Baffled for ever by they know not what.

* * * * *

An Epitaph

His friends he loved. His fellest earthly foes--
Cats--I believe he did but feign to hate.
My hand will miss the insinuated nose,
Mine eyes the tail that wagg'd contempt at Fate.

* * * * *

The Metropolitan Underground Railway

Here were a goodly place wherein to die;--
Grown latterly to sudden change averse,
All violent contrasts fain avoid would I
On passing from this world into a worse.

* * * * *

To A Seabird

Fain would I have thee barter fates with me,--
Lone loiterer where the shells like jewels be,
Hung on the fringe and frayed hem of the sea.
But no,--'twere cruel, wild-wing'd Bliss! to thee.

* * * * *

On Dürer's _Melencolia_

What holds her fixed far eyes nor lets them range?
Not the strange sea, strange earth, or heav'n more strange;
But her own phantom dwarfing these great three,
More strange than all, more old than heav'n, earth, sea.

* * * * *

Tantalus

He wooes for ever, with foil'd lips of drouth,
The wave that wearies not to mock his mouth.
'Tis Lethe's; they alone that tide have quaff'd
Who never thirsted for the oblivious draught.

* * * * *

A Maiden's Epitaph

She dwelt among us till the flowers, 'tis said,
Grew jealous of her: with precipitate feet,
As loth to wrong them unawares, she fled.
Earth is less fragrant now, and heaven more sweet.


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Poem Submitted: Saturday, April 10, 2010

Poem Edited: Saturday, May 7, 2011


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