Albert Pike

(1809-1891 / USA)

Fantasma - Poem by Albert Pike

I sit, unconscious of all things around,
And look into my soul. Within it far
There is an image, dim and indistinct.
Of something that hath been,—I know not which,
A dream or a reality. In vain
I strive to force it assume a visible shape,
And be condensed to thought and memory.
At times I catch a glimpse of it, behind
The clouds and shadows weltering in the chasm
Of the deep soul; and when I seem to grasp
The half-embodied echo of the dream,
When it hath almost grown an audible sound,
Then it retreats, seeking the inner caverns.
And undisturbed recesses of the mind,—
Recesses yet unpeopled by quick Thought,
Or Conscience, Hope, Love, Fear or Memory;—
And there it hides. Now, while I separate
Myself yet more from my external life,
And look within, I see the floating thoughts,
Quiver amid the chaos of the soul;
And slowly they assume a more distinct
And palpable appearance. One by one,
Dimly, like shadows upon ocean waves,
For a brief moment they are memory.
I see a boy, reading at deep, dead night:
The lamp illuminate's his pallid face,
Through the thin hand which shades his deep black eyes,
Half-bedded in the clustering, damp, dark hair.
He closes up the book, and rising takes
A step or two;—and now I hear him speak
Unto himself, in low and murmuring tones:
'The fountain is unsealed. This ancient rhyme
Has shown my heart to me, and waked the tide
Of poetry that slept within the soul.
Now do I know my fate. The latent love,
At length revealed, of wild and burning song,
Will make me wretched. Never, until now,
Knew I the wish and bent of my own mind;
And now I look into it as a new
And inexhaustible treasure. Burning words,
Wild feelings, broken hopes, await me now.
If I win fame, ever unsatisfied,
If not, life's spring and summer gone in vain.
Ah! what a woe were gift of prophecy,
And foresight of the future! What one soul,
Knowing what waits it, could exist, and bear
The agonies that knowledge would create?
And yet, ah me! this gift of Pandora
Must be received, and Destiny have its way;
Though the heart, shivering all its idols, sit
Lonely and desolate and comfortless
In a great desert, peopled only with
Gray-headed hopes, and memories of joys
Dead long ago, and buried many years:
Though in its desolation the sad soul
Be like a house deserted, with the doors
And windows open to the winter wind,
The lamps extinct, cold moonlight shining in,
Through shattered casements and wind-shivered blinds,
With haggard eye. So, Destiny, have thy way!'—
I see him hide his face within his hands:—
Was it to weep? It might be. He was young,
And tears fall freely in the spring of life.
In after years the brain becomes more dry,
The springs of the heart sink deeper, or, perhaps,
Choked up and more obstructed. He was young,
And had not known the bent of his own mind,
Until the mighty spells of COLERIDGE woke
Its faculties, as did the wondrous staff
Of God's own Prophet the sealed desert-rock.
He felt his fate: he knew that to a mind
Enthusiastic, wayward, shy as his,
Poetry would shape out an ideal world,
Living in which, he would become unfit
For this, our every-day and human life,
Unfit to struggle and to jostle with
The busy, selfish world; among the crowd,
Earning the pittance of a livelihood.
He did not know how, in new scenes, and lands
Remote in the west, even such a soul, compelled
To measure itself with others, and to wage
Industrious battle against circumstance,
Grows stout and strong, with energetic strength
And self-relying vigor, as the hands
Grow larger and robuster with long toil.
He knew not this and wept. It was not strange.

That shadow vanishes; and like a man,
That on the shore of a great weltering sea
Stands gazing dreamily across its waves,
To the distant indistinctiness, I behold
Another shadow gathering in the chamber,
Where dwell old dreams and antenatal echoes:
And now its images, like thoughts, take shape.
I see the boy sit in a crowded room:
His eyes have still that melancholy look,
His cheek and brow are pale; his wasted form
Tells of long hours of study, and of lamps
Burned beyond midnight. Bright eyes smile upon him,
That might make summer in a wintry heart;
Transparent cheeks are flushed, when his sad voice
Murmurs soft words, soft as of one at night
Holding communion with himself; for Praise
Has fed his eager spirit with her rain
Of dangerous sweetness. Songs of wild and stern
And energetic import, or low, sweet
.Ӕolic tones, have in a few months gained
A name for the enthusiastic boy.
He, with the same intense and constant look
With which the eye looks inward on the soul,
And with a deep expression of devotion,
Gazes intensely on a single face.
She knows not of his love; yet cautiously
Steals looks at him, and seems to him more cold,
Because she loves him. For he has not told
His love, even when from his tumultuous heart
Passion has overflowed, and he has uttered
His feelings to the world. This rapturous one
He has kept hidden in his inmost soul,
Like a delicious and yet poisonous dew.
For only when the passions have by time
Lost some intensity, and grown more calm,
They shape themselves, in rhyme and measured verse.
After a time it is a sad relief,
To weigh and ponder sorrow every way,
To view it in all lights, and thus to weave
Passion and sadness into poetry.
I lose the shadow. Will its place be filled?
Dark, darker yet grows the chaotic vast.
And now it seems a sea, with clouds above
That purple its dark waters, where they stretch
Far off towards unknown continents of mist,
Looming mysteriously along its edge,
On the grim surface of that dead sea moves
The half-embodied spirit of a dream,
Like an unshapen dread upon the soul,
A heavy fear, which has no visible cause.
When will the dream rise upward from the chasm,
And be revealed? Oh, when? I cannot yet
Express it to myself. The darkness now
Quivers like clouds by sudden lightning shaken;
And now more clearly I behold the dream:
I see the youth stand in a crowded street;
The shade of manhood is upon his lip,
His thin form has grown thinner, his dark eye
Speaks of a sharper and more urgent pain;
No muscle quivers in his stern, pale face,
His brow contracts not, though its swelling veins
Throb strongly under the transparent skin.
With downcast eyes immovably he leans
Against a pillar of a haughty house,
Holding no converse with the crowd, that flows
With steady current past him; but his eyes
Look inward, pitying his wounded soul.
Another shadow rises. Ah, it is
The lady of his love! I see her pass
Close by the youth; and as she passes him,
He, by the sympathy that doth connect
His soul with hers, raises his sad, dark eyes.
They meet his idol's look. His pallid face
Is flushed with pain, his slight frame shaken with
A quick, sharp agony, great beads of sweat
Start on his forehead, and his thin pale lips,
As if they strove to speak to a spirit, parting,
Utter a stifled, incoherent sound.
One mute, sad gesture is his last farewell.
The frost of poverty has frozen his hopes,
Withering their rainbow wings, as northern snows
Wither the Arabian jasmine's delicate blooms.
Weary of fruitless toil, he leaves his home,
To seek in other climes a fairer fate,
Which he will yet accomplish; for his soul
Will every day by adversity gain strength
To do with vigor his appointed task.
He leaves his home; henceforth, at least for a time,
To wander like a withered, fallen leaf,
Borne idly by the currents of the air,
Or tossing unregarded on the waves;
Himself a wave of the universal ocean,
Bearing a star within its heart of love.
Gone like the spirit of an echo! Gone
Into the deep recesses of the soul!
But still the lamp of one white, glittering star
Lights up the dim abyss of memory.
Another shadow rises, under which
The wild, chaotic darkness waits, to whelm
It like the other dreams. I see a desert,
And thereupon our youth, now grown a man.
Great changes have been wrought upon his soul:
His sorrows still are there; but kindly now,
Like ancient friends, they people his strong heart.
Like shadows round the roots of sturdy trees,
Feeding them with an influence of love,
They have fed his soul, and made its pulses calm.
He has communed with nature, in her moods
Of stern and silent grandeur, and of sweet
And still content, of calm and frantic storm,
Among the peaks of mighty mountains, and
Upon the plains these Titans ever guard,
Like sleepless and untiring sentinels.
Alone with Nature, he has there communed
Most intimately with his soul, and traced
Its deep thought-fountains to their hidden source.
He is prepared to battle with the world,
And force his upward way through the wild surge
That swelters over him, and through the drift
That floats and eddies on the tossing tide.
Now stout of soul, and strong to dare and do,
He is prepared to hew himself a path
To fame and fortune; a firm-hearted man,
A full-grown energetic man; and now
No longer an enthusiastic boy,
Bending to every rough blast from the sky:
A lover still of all the beautiful,
And more than all, of one sweet pitying face
That comes to him in dreams, and even by day
Looks in his eyes and loves him more and more.
This is his nature.

I lose the dream. Again the purple clouds
Throng from the void, and fill the darkened soul.
The glittering star of memory fades away:
The echoes ring no longer on the sea
Of dreams and dead realities.

And lay to heart, ye young and ardent souls,
This lesson of a wayward, passionate youth,
Whom, almost ruined by the faithless tide
Of his own morbid feelings, solitude
And loneliness and labor have preserved!
Repine not, if ye have been born to toil
With poverty, and grieve for shattered hopes!
Gird up yourselves, and like good men and true,
Do manfully whatever is to do!
Front storm and tempest boldly, march straight on
In your determined path, and from the world
You shall force fame and fortune, and find new
And faithful friends to fill the places of the old.
Bright eyes and warm hearts everywhere are found;
And while life lasts 'tis folly to despair,
Work then! work steadily on! Reward will come at last.

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Poem Submitted: Monday, February 24, 2014

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