Robert Laurence Binyon
Porphyrion - Poem by Robert Laurence Binyon
``O from the dungeon of this flesh to break
At last, and to have peace,'' Porphyrion cried,
Inly tormented, as with pain he toiled
Before his dwelling in the Syrian noon:
The desert, idly echoing, answered him.
Had not the desert peace? All empty stood
That region, the swept mansion of the wind.
Pillars of skyey rock encompassed it
Afar; there was no voice, nor any sound
Of living creature, but from morn to eve
Silence abounding, that o'erflowed the air
And the waste sunshine, and on stone and herb
The tinge and odour of neglected time.
Yet into vacancy the troubled heart
Brings its own fullness: and Porphyrion found
The void a prison, and in the silence chains.
He in the unripe fervour of sweet youth
Hearing a prophet's cry, had fled from mirth
And revel to assuaging solitude.
He turned from soft entreaties, he unwound
The arms that would have stayed him, he denied
His friends, and cast the garland from his brow.
Pangs of diviner hunger urged him forth
Into the wild; for ever there to lose
Love, hate and wrath, and fleshly tyrannies,
And madness of desire: tumultuous life,
Full of sweet peril, thronged with rich alarms,
Dismayed his soul, too suddenly revealed:
And far into the wilderness, from face
And feet of men he fled, by memory fierce
Pursued; till in the impenetrable hills
He deemed at last to have discovered peace.
Three years amid the wilderness he dwelt,
In solitary, pure aspiring turned
Toward the immortal Light, that all the stars
Outshines, and the frail shadow of our death
Consumes for ever, and sustains the sun.
The voiceless days in pious order flowed,
Calm as the gliding shadow of a cloud
On Lebanon; morn followed after morn
Like the still coming of a stream: his mind
Was habited in silence, like a robe.
Then gradually mutinous, quenched youth
Swelled up again within him, hard to tame.
For like that secret Asian wave, that drinks
The ever--running rivers, and holds all
In jealous wells; so had the desert drunk
All his young thoughts, wishes, and idle tears,
Nor any sigh returned; but in his breast
Sweet yearnings, and the thousand needs that live
Upon the touch of others, impulses
Quick as dim buds are to the rain and light,
Falterings, and leanings backward after joy,
And dewy flowerings in the heart, that make
Life fragrant, were all sealed and frozen up.
Now, at calm evening, the just--waving boughs
Of the lone tree began to trouble him:
Almost he had arisen, following swift
As after beckoning hands. Now every dawn
At once disrobed him of tranquillity:
Fever had taken him; and he was wrought
Into perpetual strangeness, visited
By rumours and bright hauntings from the world.
And now the noon intolerable grew:
The very rock, hanging about him, seemed
To listen for his footfall, and the stream
Commented, whispering to the rushes. Ah,
The little lizard, blinking in the sun,
Was spying on his soul! A terror ran
Into his veins, and he cried out aloud,
And heard his own voice ringing in the air,
A sound to start at, echoing fearfully.
He paced with fingers clenched, with knotted brow:
He cast himself upon the ground, to feel
His wild breast nearer the impassive earth,
So far away in peace, but all in vain!
And springing up he cast swift eyes around
Like a sore--hunted creature that must seek
A path to fly: alas, from his own thoughts
What outer wilderness shall harbour him?
Then after many idle purposes,
And such vain wringing of the hands, as use
Men slowly overtaken by despair,
He sought in toil, last refuge, to forget:
And he began to labour at the plot
Before his rocky cell, digging the soil
With patience, and the sweat was on his brow.
All the lone day he toiled, until at last
He rested heavy on the spade, and bowed
His head upon his hands: a shadow lay
Beneath him, and deep silence all around.
The silence seized him. As a man who feels
Some eye upon him unperceived, he turned
His head in fear: and lo, a little sound
Among the reeds, like laughter, mocked at him.
And he discerned bright eyes in ambush hid
Beyond the bushes; and he heard distinct
A song, borne to him with the clapping hands
Of banqueters; an old song heard afresh,
That melted quivering in his heart, and woke
Delicious memory: all his senses hung
To listen when that voice sang to his soul:
Then, fearfully aware, he shuddered back;
Yet could not shake the music from his ears.
He cast the spade down, with quick--beating heart,
And sought that voice, whence came it; but the reeds
In the soft--running stream were motionless,
The bushes vacant, all the valley dumb:
And clear upon the yellowed region burned
Evening serene. Then his sore troubled heart
With a tumultuous surging in his breast
Heaved to the calm heaven in a bitter cry:
``I have no strength, I have no refuge more.
Father, ere thou forsake me, send me peace!''
Scarce had the sun into his furnace drawn
The western hills, whose molten peaks shot far
Over the wide waste region fiery rays,
When swiftly Night descended with her stars:
And lo, upon this wrought, unhappy spirit
At last out of the darkness, raining mild
In precious dew upon the desert, peace
Incredibly descended with the night.
He stood immersed in the sweet falling hush.
Over him liquid gloom quivered with stars
Appearing endlessly, as each its place
Remembered, and in order tranquil shone.
Easily all his fever was allayed:
And as a traveller strained against a storm
That meets him, buffeting the mountain side,
Suddenly entering a deep hollow, finds
Magical ease over his nerves, and thinks
He never tasted stillness till that hour;
So eager he surrendered and relaxed
His will, persuaded sweetly beyond hope.
Tranquil at last, his solitary cell
He entered, and a taper lit, that shed
Upon rude arches and deep--shadowed walls
A clearness, tempering all with gentle beam.
Then he, that with such anguish of desire
Had supplicated peace, now peace was come,
Of all forgetful save of his strange joy,
That dear guest in his bosom entertained;
From trouble and from the stealing steps of time
Sequestered; housed within a blissful mood
Of contemplation, like a sacred shrine;
And poured his soul out, into gratitude
Released: how long, there was no tongue to tell,
Nor was himself aware; no warning voice
Admonished, and the great stars altered heaven
Unnoted, and the hours moved over him,
When on his ear and slowly into his soul
Deliciously distilling, stole a sigh.
O like the blossoming of peace it seemed,
Or like an odour heard; or as the air
Had mirrored his own yearning joy in speech,
A whisper wandering out of Paradise.
``Porphyrion, Porphyrion!'' Like a wind
Shaking a tree, that whisper shook his heart.
Keen to reality enkindled now
His inmost fibre was aware of all:
Vast night and the unpeopled wilderness
Around him silent; in that solitude
Himself, and near to him a human sigh!
Immediately the faint voice called again:
'Thou only in this perilous wilderness
Hast found a refuge; ah, for pity's sake
Open! It is a woman weak and lost
In this great darkness, that importunes thee.''
Then with a beating heart, Porphyrion spoke.
``O woman, I have made my soul a vow
To look upon a human face no more.''
'Yet in some corner might I rest my limbs
That are so weary with much wandering,
And thou be unhurt by the sight of me!''
Sweet was the voice: doubting, he answered slow.
'Thou troublest me. I know not who thou art
That com'st so strangely, and I fear thy voice.
What wouldst thou with me? Enter: but my face
Seek not to meet.'' Then he unclosed the door,
But turned aside, and knelt apart, and strove
Again to enter the sweet house of peace.
Yet his heart listened, as with hurried feet
The woman entered; and he heard her sigh,
Like one that after peril breathes secure.
Now the more fixedly he prayed; his will
Was fervent to be lost in holy calm,
So hardly new--recovered: but his ear
Yearned for each gentle human sound, the stir
Of garments, moving hand or heaving breast.
Amid his prayer he questioned, who is this
That wanders in this wilderness alone?
And, as he thought, the faint voice came to him:
'I hunger.'' Then, as men do in a dream,
Obeying without will, he sought and found
Food from his store, and brought, and gave to her.
But as he gave, he touched her on the hand:
He looked at unawares, then turned away;
And dared with venturing eyes to look again;
And when he had looked, he could not look elsewhere.
O what an unknown sweetness troubled him!
He gazed: and as wine blushes through a cup
Of water slowly, in sure--winding coils
Of crimson, the pale solitude of his soul
Was filled and flushed, and he was born anew.
Instantly he forgot all his despair
And anguished supplications after peace.
Not peace, but to be filled with this strange joy
He pined for, while that lovely miracle
His eyes possessed, nor wonder wanted more.
At last his breast heaved, and he found a voice.
``Mystery, speak! O once again refresh
My famished ear with thy sweet syllables!
Thou comest from the desert night, all bloom!
I fear to look away, lest thou shouldst fade.
Art thou too moulded out of simple earth
As I, or only visitest my sight,
Deluding? Ah, Delusion, breathe again
The music of thy voice into my soul!''
As if a rose had sprung within his cell
And magically opened odorous leaves,
So felt he, as she raised her eyes on him
And spoke. 'Hast thou forgotten then so soon?
Hast thou not vowed never again to look
On face of woman or of man? Remember
Ere it be lost, thy vow, thy treasured vow.
O turn away thy wonder--wounded eyes,
Call back thy rashly wandering looks, unsay
Thy words, and this frail image from thy breast
Lock harshly out! Defend thy soul with prayers,
Nor hazard for a dream thy holy calm;
Lest thou repent, and this joy shatter thee.''
While thus she spoke, the stirring of her soul,
Even as a breeze is seen upon a pool,
Appeared upon her face. Like the pale flower
Of darkness, the sweet moon, that dazzles first
And then delights, unfolding more and more
Her beauty, shining full of histories
On the dark world, upon Porphyrion now
She shone; and he was lifted into air
Such as immortals breathe, who dwell in light
Of memory beginningless, and hope
Endless, and joy old and forever fresh.
He heard, yet heard not, and still gazing, sighed:
``Pour on, delicious Music, in my ears
Thy sweetness: for I parch, I am athirst.
Three years have I been vacant of all joy,
Have mocked my sense with famine, and the sound
Of wind and reed: but in thy voice is bliss.
How am I changed, since I have looked on thee!
Thou art not dream. Yet, if a vision only,
Tell me not yet, suffer me still to brim
My sight to overflowing, to rejoice
My heart to melting, even to despair.
Thou art not dream! Yet tell me what thou art,
That in this desert venturest so deep?''
'Seek not,'' she answered, 'what I am, nor whence
I come; in destiny, perhaps, my hand
Was stretched toward thee, and my way prepared.
Only rejoice that thou didst not refuse
Help to the helpless, and hast succoured me.''
As the awakened earth beholds the sun,
Her saviour, when his beam delivers her
From icy prison, and that annual fear
Of death, Porphyrion in his bosom felt
Pangs of recovered ecstasy, old thoughts
Made young, and sweet desires bursting his heart
Like the fresh bursting of a thousand leaves.
Uplifted into rapture he exclaimed:
``O full of bliss, out of the empty world
That comest wondrous, I will ask no more.
Enough that thou art here, that I behold
Thy face, and in thee mirrored all the world
Created newly: Eyes, my oracles,
What days, what years of wonder ye foretell!
As in a dewdrop all the morning shines
I see in you time glorious, grief refreshed,
And Fate undone.'' 'Seest thou only this?''
She said, and earnestly regarded him:
'Art thou so eager after joy? Yet think
In what a boundless wilderness of time
We wander brief! Art thou so swift to taste
Of thy mortality? Yet I am come
To bring thee tidings out of every sea;
Not pearls alone, but shipwrecks in the night
Unsuccoured, and disastrous luring fires,
And tossings infinite, and peril strange.
O wilt thou dare embark? Dost thou not dread
This ocean, in whose murmur seems delight?
Will even thy hunger drive thee through the waves
To bliss? I look on thee, and see the joy
Rise up within thy bosom, and I fear.
So fragile is this sweetness, and so vast
The world: O venturous, glad voyager,
Be sure of all thy courage, for I see
Far off the cloud of sorrow, and bright spears,
And dirges, and joy changed from what it seemed.
Art thou still fervent, O impetuous one?
Still hastest thou to fly tranquillity?''
But he on whom she looked with those deep eyes
Of bright compassion, answered undismayed:
``Let me drink deep of this fountain of bliss!
Speak not of mortal fear, speak not of pain:
Thou painest, but with joy. Thou art all joy;
And in the world I have no joy but thee.
O that I had the wasted days once more
Since to this idle, barren wilderness
I fled, in fear of the tumultuous world,
Enamoured of the silence: here I dreamed
In lonely prayer to satiate my soul.
But now, I want. Rain on my thirsty heart
Thy charm, and by so much as was my loss
By so much more enrich me. I have stript
My days, imprisoned wandering desires,
Made of my mind a jealous solitude,
Pruned overrunning thoughts, and rooted up
Delight and the vain weeds of memory,
Imagining far off to capture peace.
Blind fool! But O no, let me rather praise
Foreseeing Fate, that kept so fast a watch
Over my bliss, and of my heart prepared
A wilderness to bloom with only thee!''
Even now he would embrace her; but awhile
She with delaying gesture stayed him still,
Wistfully doubting, and perusing well
His inmost gaze and his adoring heart.
As from bright water on some early morn,
Under a beautiful dim--branching tree,
A gleam floats up among the leaves, and sends
Light into darkness wavering: from the light
Of his enraptured face a radiance shone
Into the mystery of her eyes; at last
To his warm being she resigned her soul.
She on his heart inscribed for evermore
Her look in that deep moment, and her love.
At unawares this trembled from her lips:
``O joyful spirit, I too have need of thee!''
And now he seemed to fold her in his arms,
And on the mouth to kiss her; close to him,
Surely her swimming eyes were dim with love,
Her lips against him murmured tenderly,
And her cheek touched his own: yet even now,
Even as her bosom swelled within his arms,
As like the inmost richness of a rose
Wounding, the perfume of her soul breathed up
An insupportable joy into his brain,
Even now, alas! faltering in ecstasy,
His arms were emptied; back he sank; despair
Drowned him; upon his sense the darkness closed;
And with a cry, lost in a cloud, he fell.
Slumber these desolated senses guard
With silence interposed and dimness kind;
While in tumultuous ebb joy and dismay
Murmur, re--gathering their surge afar.
Idle thou liest, Porphyrion, and o'erthrown
By violent bliss into a trance as deep:
Yet even in thy trance thou takest vows,
Thou burnest with a dedicated fire,
And thou canst be no more what thou hast been.
A rebel, thou wert in strong bonds, who now
Art chosen and consenting: and prepared
Is all thy path, that no more leads to peace,
But to repining fever; pain so dear,
It will not be assuaged. Awaiting thee
Is all that Love of the deep heart requires;
The ecstasy, the loss, the hope, the want,
The prick of grief beneath the closed eyelid
Of him whom memory visits, but not rest;
The sweetness touched, for ever perishing
Out of the eager hands. Invisibly
Perhaps even now on thy unconscious cheek
Thy Guide is gazing, and to pity moved
He thy forgetful term gently extends.
At last from heavily unclouding sleep
Porphyrion stirs: dimly over his brain
Returns the noon, and opens wide his eyes.
Some moments by the veiling sense of use
Delayed in wonder, troubled he starts up.
Instantly he remembered; and all changed
Appeared his cell, the silence and the light:
She, whom his heart had need of, was not there.
And eager from his dwelling he came forth,
If there were sign of her. But all was still.
Suspended over the forsaken land,
The sun stood motionless, and palsied Time,
Helpless to urge his congregated hours,
Leaned heavy on the mountain: the steep noon
Had all the cool shade into fire devoured.
Then quailed Porphyrion. Lost was his new joy,
An apparition frail as a bright flame
Seen in the sun: irrevocably lost
The old thoughts that so long had sheltered him.
The fear, that presaging the heavy world
Makes wail the newborn child, he now, a man,
Thrice competent to suffer, felt afresh,
To cruel truth re--born, a naked soul.
Now he had eyes to see and ears to hear,
And knew at last he was alone: the sky
Absorbed he saw, the earth with absent face,
The water murmuring only to the reeds,
Unconscious rock, and sun--contented sand.
And even as within him keener rose
Longing unloosed, so much the heavier grew
The intensity of solitude around.
Melancholy had planned her palace here.
Dead columns, to support the burning sky,
For living senses insupportable,
She made, and ample barrenness, wherein
To ponder of defeated spirits, quenched
Desire, o'ertaken hope, courage undone,
Implored oblivion, and rejected joy:
Nor this alone, but idleness so vast
As even the stormiest enterprise becalmed,
Till it was trivial to advance one foot
Beyond the other; rashness to provoke
An echo, where if ever man could laugh,
Laughter had seemed the end of vanity,
Were not a vanity more vain in tears.
For from the blown dust to the extremest hills,
Audible silence, that sustained despair,
A ceiling over all immovable,
Presided; and the desert, nourishing
That silence, listened, jealous of a sound
Younger than her unageing solitude;
The desert, that was old when earth was young.
Wailing into the silence, that rang back
A wounded cry, to the unhearkening ear
Of the austere ravines perhaps not strange,
The youth in that vain region stood, and cast
Hither and thither seeking, his sad eyes.
Out of the dreadful light to his dim cell
He fled for refuge. Here he had possessed
Joy, for a brief space, here She looked on him,
Here had her heart beat in her bosom close
Against his own. Her voice was in his ear;
And suddenly his soul was quieted.
Surely the visitation of such spirits
Comes not of chance, he murmured, but of truth.
Surely this was the shadow of some light
That shines, the odour of some flower that blooms,
And far off mid the great world dwells in flesh
That blissful spirit, and bears a human name.
If she be far, yet have I all my days
For seeking, and no other joy on earth:
I will arise, and seek her through the world.
With this resolve impassioned and inspired,
His thoughts were bright, and his hot bosom calmed.
Sweet was it to behold that radiant goal,
Though far, and hazardous and wide the way.
The greatness of his quest found answer in him
Of greatness, and the thousand teasing cares
That swarm upon perplexity, flew off.
Gladly against his journey he prepared
His pilgrim's need, and laid him down and slept,
And ere the dawn with scrip and staff arose.
Now at his door, irrevocably free,
Before the unknown world, spread dim and vast,
He stood and pondered, gazing forth, which way
To follow, and what distant city or vale
Held his desire; but pondering he was drawn
Forth by some secret impulse; he obeyed,
Not doubting; toward the places of his youth
He turned his face, toward the high mountain slopes
Of the dim west, and Antioch and the sea.
Up the long valley, by the glimmering stream
He went; and over him the stars grew pale.
Cliffs upon either hand in darkness plunged
Built up a shadow; but far off, in front,
Invaded by the first uncertain beam,
Mountain on mountain like a cloud arose.
He seemed ascending some old Titan stair,
That led up to the sky by great degrees,
In the vast dawn; he journeyed eagerly,
Foot keeping pace with thought; for his full heart
Tarried not, but was with its happy goal,
One face, one form, one vision, one desire.
Due onward over the unending hills
He held his way, and the warm morning sprang
Behind him, and a less impatient speed
Drove his feet onward. In the midday heat
He rested weary; and relaxing thought,
Had leisure to perceive where he had come.
Burning beneath the solitary noon
All round him rose, rock upon rock o'erhung,
A fiery silence: undefended now
By clouding grief, nor in illusion armed,
He to the heavy lure all open lay
That from this mortal desolation breathed.
Out of his heart he sought to summon up
The vision, but it fled before his thought.
Only the hot blank everywhere opposed
His spirit, and the silent mountain wall.
Like one, on whom the fear of blindness comes,
For whom the sun begins to fall from heaven,
And the ground darkens, he rose up and fled,
Grasping his staff; and fearful now to pause
In that death--breathing region, onward ran.
Yet was not peril past. He had not come
Far, when his agitated eyes beheld,
Amid the uneven crumbling ground, a stone
Square--hewn and edgeways fallen; and he knew
That he had come where men long since had been.
And as he lifted up his eyes, all round
Were massy granite pillars half o'erthrown,
Propping the air; and yellow marble shone,
Dimly inscribed, fragments of maimed renown.
Over the ruined region he stole on,
Threading the interrupted clue of roads
That led all to oblivion, trenches choked
With weed, and old mounds heaped on idle gold.
And now Porphyrion paused, inhaling fast
Odours of buried fame: as in a dream,
All that remote dead city and her brisk streets,
Repeopled and for mountain battle armed,
He apprehended. The deep wave of time
Subsiding, had disclosed englutted wrecks,
Which now so long slept idle, that they seemed
To emulate the agelessness of earth;
Did not the fondness of mortality
Still haunt them, and a kind of youth forlorn,
As if the Desert their brief fable, man,
Indulging from austerest indolence,
Forbore a just disdain. Porphyrion,
With beating pulses, and with running blood,
Alone on ashes perishably breathed.
As he who treads the uncertain lava fears
Each moment that his rash foot may awaken
Fire from beneath him, from that sepulchre
Of smouldering ages fearfully he fled.
And sometimes he looked backward, lest his feet
Startle a shadowy population up
In the deserted sunlight, faces stern
Of fleshless kings, to claim him for their own:
So frail appeared the heaving of his breath,
So brief his pace, so idle his desire.
At last beyond the scarred gray walls he came,
And gladly found the savage rock once more
Beneath him, nor yet dared to rest or pause,
But onward pressed, over the winding sides
Of pathless valleys, where an echoing stream
Ran far below; and ridges desolate
He climbed, and under precipices huge
And down the infinite spread slopes made way.
The eagle steering in the upper winds,
As, balanced out of sight, his eye surveyed
From white Palmyra to Damascus, flushed
Among faint--shining streams, saw him afar
Journey, a shadow never wearying
From hour to hour: until at last the hills
Less steep opposed him, toward the distant plains
Declining in great uplands dimly rolled.
Here were few stubborn trees, by sunset now
With sullen glory lighted rich, till night
Rose in the east, and hooded the bare world.
Porphyrion had ascended a last ridge
Of many, and his eyes gazed out afar
On boundless country darkening; he lay down
At last, full weary: the keen foreign air
Filled his delighted nostril: and his heart
Was soothed. As on a troubled mere at night
Wind ceases, and the gentle evening brings
Beauty to that vext mirror, and all fresh
In perfect images the lost returns;
Serenely in his bosom rose anew
The vision: somewhere in that distant world,
He mused, is she; and there is all my joy.
But evening now before his gazing eyes
Receded dim, until the whole wide earth
Appeared a cloud. Then in the gloom a dread
Came whispering, and hope faltered in his breast:
``O if the great world be but fantasy
Raised by the deep enchantment of desire,
And melt before my coming like a cloud!''
Parleying with the ghost of fear, yet still
Cherishing his thought's treasure, he resigned
His senses to the huge and empty night,
When on the infinite horizon, lo!
Sending a herald clearness, upward stole
Tranquil and vast, over the world, the moon.
Delicately as when a sculptor charms
The ignorant clay to liberate his dream,
Out of the yielding dark with subtle ray
And imperceptible touch she moulded hill
And valley, beauteous undulation mild,
Inlaid with silver estuary and stream,
Until her solid world created shines
Before her, and the hearts of men with peace,
That is not theirs, disquiets: peopled now
Is her dominion; she in far--off towns
Has lighted clear a long--awaited lamp
For many a lover, or set an end to toil,
Or terribly invokes the brazen lip
Of trumpets blown to Fate, where men besieged
For desperate sally buckle their bright arms.
All these, that the cheered wanderer on his height
In fancy sees, the lover's secret kiss,
The mirth--flushed faces thronging through the streets,
And ships upon the glimmering wave, and flowers
In sleeping gardens, and encounters fierce,
And revellers with lifted cups, and men
In prison bowed, that move not for their chains,
And sacred faces of the newly dead;
All with a mystery of gentle light
She visits, and in her deep charm includes.
Dawn in the ancient heavens over the earth
Shone up; but in Porphyrion's bosom rose
A brighter dawn: the early ray that touched
His slumber, woke the new, unfathomed need,
Fallen from radiant night into his soul,
That thirsted still for beauty; for that joy
Beyond possession, ever flying far
From our dim utterance, beauty causing tears.
He stretched his arms out to the golden sun,
His glorious kin, impetuously glad,
And with aërial morning journeyed on
O'er valley and o'er hill. The second dawn
Found him far--travelled over pastoral lands,
Where from the shepherds' lonely huts a smoke
Went up, or some white shrine gleamed on a height.
Soon the dark ranging and unchanging pines
Yielded to ash and chestnut; O how fair
Their perishable leaf! Porphyrion knew
That some great city neared him, and his pace
Grew eager, climbing a soft--crested hill
In expectation; yet all unprepared
At last upon his eye the prospect broke,
Dawning serene, and endlessly unrolled.
There lay the city, there embodied hope
Rose to outmatch desire: he cried aloud,
Taken with joy so irresistible,
That he must seize a sapling by the stem
To uphold him, and in ardent silence gazed.
Solitary heaven, strown with vast white clouds,
Moved toward him over the abounding land;
A land of showers, a land of quivering trees,
A land of youth, lovely and full of sap,
Upon whose border trembled the wide sea.
Young were the branches round him, in fresh leaf
Luminously shaded; the arriving winds
Broke over him in soft aërial surge;
For him the grass was glittering, the far cloud
Loosened her faltering tresses of dim rain,
And broad Orontes interrupted shone.
But mid that radiant amphitheatre
He saw but the far city: thither ran
His gaze, and rested on her, in a bloom
Of distant air apparelled, while his heart
Beat at the thought of what she held for him.
Bright Antioch! From the endless ocean wave
Gliding the sunbeam broke upon her towers,
A moment gleaming white, then into shade
Withdrawn, until she seemed a thing of breath,
Created fair, from whose far roofs arose
Soft, like an exhalation, human joy.
Clear as a pool to plunge in, seemed the world
This blissful morn, to him that thither gazed,
Wondering, until unconscious tears were wet
Upon his flushing cheek, while he sent forth
His eager thoughts flying to that sweet goal,
And conjuring wishes waved unknown delight
To come to him. Already in dream arrived,
Close to his ear the hum of those far streets
He hears; already sees the busy crowd
Pass and repass, with laughter and with cries.
Meeting him, children hand in hand from school
Gleefully run, and old men, slow of step,
Approach; the mason, pausing from his toil
Under the plank's cool shadow, looks at him,
Or, with a negligent wonder glancing down,
Beautiful faces; oh, perhaps the face
That to his fate he follows through the world.
That deepest hope, too dear to muse upon,
A moment filled him with a thrilling light:
And as a bird, alighting on a reed
Sprung straight and slender from a lonely stream,
Some idle morning, delicately sways
The mirrored stem, and sings for perfect joy;
So musical, alighted young desire
Upon his heart, that trembled like the reed.
Down from that height, over delicious grass,
Amid the rocks, amid the trees, he sped.
The browsing sheep upstarted in the sun,
Scared by his coming; he ran on, and tore
A fresh leaf in his mouth, or sang aloud
Out of his happy heart; such keen delight
His eye was treasuring, that welcomed all
The variable blooms in the high grass,
Borage and mullein and the rust--red plume
Of sorrel, and the sprinkled daisies white.
Even the sap in the young bough he felt
Reach warmly up to the inviting sun,
As if his own blood by the spring renewed
Were theirs, and budding leaves within his breast.
At last, ere he perceived it, he was close
Upon the city walls: through shading boughs
Across a valley they rose populous
With crowding towers and roofs of distant hum.
Then in the midst of joy he was afraid.
So close to him the richness he desired
Dismayed his spirit, that to doubt and fear
Recoiling fell. Not yet will I go up,
He thought; but when the dark comes, I will go.
Even as his purpose was relaxed, his limbs
To sudden heaviness surrendered: down
He laid him in sweet grass beside a pool,
Under a chestnut, opposite a grove
Of cypress; and at once sleep fell on him:
Deep sleep, that into dark unfathomed wells
Plunges the spirit, and with ignorance lost
Acquaints, and inaccessible delight,
And unborn beauty. But meanwhile the noon
Had ripened and grown pale in the soft sky.
A gentle rain fell as the light declined;
And, the drops ceasing, an unprisoned beam
Out of a cloud flowed trembling o'er the grove,
And ran beside long shadows of the stems,
And lighted the dark underleaves, and touched
The sleeper: suddenly his cheek was warm:
He stirred an arm, and unrelaxing, sighed;
And now, through crimsoned eyelids, on his brain
The full sun burned; to wonder he awoke.
Green over him, in mystery o'erhung,
Was dimness fluttered with a thousand rays;
Unfathomable green; that living roof
A single stem upbore, whose mighty swerve
Upward he followed, till it branched abroad
In heaven, and through the dark leaves shone remote,
Smooth--molten splendour, the broad evening cloud.
Porphyrion upon his elbow leaned
And hearkened, for the trembling air was hushed
By hundred birds, praising the peaceful light
Invisibly: a wet drop from the leaf
Spilled glittering on his hand. Then he reclined
Deep into joy, absolved out of himself,
The while the wind brought to him light attired
In fragrance, and the breathing stillness seemed
Music asleep, too lovely to be stirred.
As thus he drew into his pining heart
Such juices as make young the world, and feed
The veins of spring; as into one pure sense
Embodied, he was hearkening blissfully,
A sound came to him wonderful, like pain,
With such a sweetness edged. It was a voice,
A happy voice: and toward it instantly
The fibre of his flesh yearningly turned,
Trembling as at a touch. Then he arose
Troubled: he looked, and in the grove beyond
That peaceful water, lo! a little band
Of youths and maidens under distant trees
Departing: one looked backward ere she went;
And his heart cried within his breast, awaked
Suddenly into blissful hope. Alas!
With flutter of fair robes and mingled, gay,
Faint laughter, down a bank out of his view
They were all taken. Pierced with sudden loss,
And kindled, like a wild, uncertain flame,
Into a hundred joyful, wavering fears,
He gazed upon the empty grove, the pool,
And the light brimming over on fresh grass
And lonely stems: but the bereaved bright scene
No more rejoiced him. Now, to aid his wish,
Swift night upon the fading west inclined:
And he stole forward through the cypress gloom
Toward Antioch. Halting on a neighbour brow,
Afar off he beheld that company
Even now under the dim gate entering in.
He followed, and at last the darkened street
Received him, wondering, back among his kind.
Was ever haven like the dream of it
In peril? or did ever feet attain
Their goal, but still a richer rose beyond?
It was a festal night: gay multitudes
Came idly by, and no man noted him.
His seeking gaze, hither and thither drawn,
Roamed in a mirror of desires amazed,
And found, yet wanted more than it could find.
Beauty he felt around him brushing near,
And joy in others seen; but all to him,
Without the vision that his soul required,
Was idle: solitary was his heart,
And full to breaking: yet, as wounds are dulled
To the frail sense, he knew not yet his grief,
For wonder clothed it; through a veil he heard
And saw. Thus wandering aimlessly he found
His feet upon a marble stair; in face
A porch rose; issuing was a festal sound,
That drew him onward out of the lone night.
Halting upon the threshold he gazed in.
Pillars in lovely parallel sustained
A roof of shadowed snow, enkindled warm
From torches pedestalled in order bright;
Amid whose brilliance at a banquet sat,
Crowned with sweet garlands, revellers, and cups
Lifted in laughing, boisterous pledge, or gazed
Earnest in joy, on their proud paramours.
Pages, with noiseless tripping feet, had borne
The feast aside; and now the brimming wine
From frosted flagons blushed, and the spread board
Showed the soft cheek of apricot, or glory
Of orange burning from a dusk of leaves,
Cloven pomegranates, brimmed with ruby cells,
Great melons, purpling to the frosty core,
And mountain strawberries. Beyond, less bright,
Was hung mysterious magnificence
Of tapestry, where, with ever--moving feet,
A golden Triumph followed banners waved
O'er captive arms, and slender trumpets blew
To herald a calm hero charioted.
Just when a music, melted from above,
Over the feasters flowed, and softly fixed
The listening gaze, and stilled the idle hand,
Porphyrion entered; all those faces flushed,
Lights, flowers and laughter, and the trembling wine,
And hushing melody, and happy fume
Of the clear torches burning Indian balm,
Clouded his brain with sweetness, like a waft
Of perished youth returned; those wonders held
His eyes, yet were as things he might not touch,
And, if he stretched his hand out, they would fade.
Then he remembered whom he sought. A pang
Disturbed him; eager with bright eyes inspired,
Through those that would have stayed his feet, he stole
Nearer to bliss. They all regarded him
Astonished; in their joyful throng he seemed
An apparition: darkly the long hair
Hung on his shoulders, and his form was frail.
Some cried, then all were silent; a strange want
Woke in their sated breasts, and wonder dread
Troubled them, whence had come and what required
This messenger unknown. But he passed on,
And in each woman's face with questioning gaze,
Dazzled by nearer splendour, looked, and sought,
Doubtful. Already one, whose arm was laid
Around the shoulder of her paramour,
Stayed him, so deep into his heart she looked,
Biting her pearly necklace: in her robe
Was moonlight shivering over purple seas.
Encountering, their spirits parleyed: then
Unwillingly he drew his eyes away.
Another, clothed as in the fiery bloom
Of cloud at evening changing o'er the sun,
Backward reclining, under lids half--closed
Gazed, and a moment held him at her feet:
Until at last one turned and dazzled him,
Of whose attire he knew not, so her face
With sun--like glory drew him: he approached;
And she, presiding beauteous and adored
Queen of that perfumed feast, beckoned him on.
Her bosom heaved; the music from her ears
Faded, and from her sated sense the glow
Of empty mirth: far lovelier were in him
Sorrow and youth and wonder and desire.
Forward she leaned, and showed a vacant place
By her, and he came near, and sat him down,
Charm--stricken also, whispering, Art thou she?
She said no word, but to his shining eyes
Answered, and of the red pomegranate fruit
Gave him to eat, and golden wine to drink,
And with pale honeyed roses crowned his hair.
All marvelled, and with murmur looked on him,
As, high exalted over realms of joy,
He sat in glory, and sweet incense breathed
Of that dominion, riches in a cloud
Descending, and before his feet prepared
The world in bloom, and in his eyes the dream
Of destiny excelled, and rushing thoughts
Radiant, and beauty by his side enthroned.
Love, the sweet nourishing sun of human kind,
Who with unquenchable fire inhabitest
Worlds, that would fall into that happy death
Out of their course, were not their course so fixt;
Who from the dark soil drawest up the plant,
And the sweet leaves out of the naked tree;
Whose ardent air to taste and to enjoy
All flesh desire, even of bitter pangs
Enamoured, so that this intenser breath
They breathe, and one victorious moment taste
Life perfect, over Fate and Time empowered;
Leave him not desolate, Love, who to thy glory
Is dedicated, and for thee endures
To look upon the dreadful grave of joy,
Knowing the lost is lost; comfort him now,
Thy votary, who by the pale sea--shore
In the young dawn paces uncomforted.
Ah, might not sweet embraces have assuaged
The fever which had burnt him, honeyed mouth
And the close girdle of voluptuous arms?
Nor dimly fragrant hair have curtained him
From memory? Alas, too new he came
From love, too recent from that ecstasy;
And memory mocked him under the cold stars,
With finished yet untasted pleasure sad.
Flying that fragrant lure, unhappy soul,
By the dark shore he paces: and his eyes
The dawn delights not, far off in the east
Discovering the sleeping world, and men
To all their tasks arousing, while she strews
Neglected roses on the unchanging hills,
And over the dim earth and wave unfolds
Beauty, but not the beauty he desires.
To her, to her, who in the desert touched
His spirit, and unsealed his eyes, and showed
Above a new earth a new sun, and brought
His steps forth to this perilous rich world,
Stirred with ineffable deep longing now
He turned; ev'n to behold her from afar,
To touch the hem of her apparel, seemed
Sweeter ten thousandfold than absolute
Taste and possession of a lesser charm.
``Where art thou?'' cried he. ``Ah, dost thou behold
My desolation and not come to me?
O ere my sick heart all delight refuse,
Return, appear! Or say in what far land
Thou lingerest, that I may seek thee out
And find thee, without whom I have no peace
Nor joy, but wander aimless in a path
Barren and undetermined o'er the world.
Wilt not thou make thy voice upon the wind
Float hither, or in dew thy secret breathe
To answer my entreaty?'' The still shore
Was echoless, unanswered that sad cry.
Warm on the wave the Syrian morning stole.
Out of suspended hazes the smooth sea
Swelled into brilliance, and subsiding hushed
The lonely shore with music: such a calm
As vexes the full heart, inviting it,
Flattered with sighing pause Porphyrion's ear.
The sea hungered his spirit; he could not lift
His eyes from the arriving splendour calm
Of those broad waters, to their solemn chime
Setting his grief; and gradually vast
His longing opened to horizons wide
As the round ocean; deep as the deep sea
His heart, and the unbounded earth his road.
That inward stream and dark necessity,
Which drives us onward in the way of Time,
Moved his uncertain hesitating soul
Into its old course, and his feet set firm
To tread their due path, seeking over earth
The Wonder that made idle all things else.
He raised his brow, inhaling the wide air;
And the wind rose, and his resolve was set.
Broad on the morrow hoisting to the sun
Her sail, a ship out of the harbour stands
Bearing Porphyrion, fervent to renew
His lonely pilgrimage; to fate his way
Committed, and to guiding beams of heaven;
And careless whither bound, so the remote
Irradiated circle, ever fresh,
Glittering into infinity, lead on.
Soon the bright water and keen kiss of the air
His clouded courage cleared; uprising wind
Swelled the resisting sail, and the prow felt
The supple press of water, cleaving it;
And the foam flashed and murmured; hope again
Rose tremulous to that music's buoyant note.
Day pursued day on the blue deep, and shores
Sprang up and faded: still his gaze was cast
Forward, and followed that undying dream.
Standing at last above a harbour strange,
Inland he bent, ever with questioning heart
Expectant; and through wilderness and town
Journeyed all summer; nor could autumn tame
That urging fire; nor mid the gliding leaves
Of bare December could hope fall from him.
Ever a stranger roamed he, nor had thought
To seek a home; for him this vast desire
Was home, that fed his spirit and sheltered him
From care and time and the perplexing world.
For not beside an earthly hearth he deemed
To find her moving whom he sought, though fair
With human limbs, and clothed in lovely flesh.
Rather some visitation swift and strange
His soul awaited. When at evening's end
He rested and each fostered secret wish
Rose trembling; when the dewy yellow moon
Slowly on cypress gardens poured her light,
And from the flowery gloom and whispering
Of leaves, a hundred odours had released,
Dimly he knew that she was wandering near,
A blissful presence, scarce beyond the marge
Of his veiled senses, in a world of beams.
Or journeying through the wild forest, he saw
Her passing robe pale mid the shadowy stems
A moment shine before his quickened steps
To leave him in the deep forsaken gloom
Pining with throbbing breast and desolate eyes;
And once in the thronged market at hot noon
Heard his name spoken, and looked round on air.
So visited, so haunted, he was led
Onward through many a city of the plain
Till vaster grew the silence, and far off
The noise of men; and he began to climb
Pastoral hills that into mountains rose
Skyward, with shelving ridges sloped between,
Long days apart. And as he wound his way
Thither, from crested town to town, he heard
Rumours of war all round him, men in arms
Saw glittering in winding files, and waved
Banners, and trumpets blown. But all to him
Was distant, borne from a far alien world
Where men in ignorant vain deeds embroiled
Lost the treasure of earth and all their soul.
Onward he kept his course, nor recked of them,
Riding the solitary forest ways.
And now again it was the time of birth,
When the young year arises in the woods
From sleep, and tender leaves, and the first flower.
Old thoughts were stirring in Porphyrion's breast,
And old desires, like old wounds, flowed anew.
It was that hour of hesitating spring
When with expanded buds and widened heaven
The heart swells into sadness, wanting joy
More ample, and unnumbered longings reach
Into a void, as tendrils into air.
O now as never seemed he to have need
Of his beloved, to be with her at last,
To see her and embrace her with his arms,
And in her bosom find perpetual peace.
Scarcely aware of the bright leaves around
His path, and heedless of his way, he rode
With bridle slack and forward absent eyes,
When piercing his deep dream a groaning cry
Smote on him; he stayed still and from his horse
Dismounted, and the rough briar pushed aside.
Hard by the path, amid the trodden grass
And bloody brambles, lay a wounded man.
``Friend, fetch me water,'' groaned he, ``for I die.
The spring is near, and I have crawled thus far
But get no farther, struggle how I may.''
Quickly Porphyrion ran to where the spring
Gushed bubbling, and fetched water, and came back.
The dying man drank deep, and having drunk
Half rose upon his arm, and eager asked:
``How went the battle? have we won or lost?
I know not whether thou be friend or foe,
But quick, tell me! I faint.'' ``What sayest thou
Of battles?'' said Porphyrion; ``I know not
Of what thou speakest, and I fight for none.''
Faintly the other with upbraiding eyes
Regarding him, made answer. ``Art thou young
And is the blood warm in thy body, and yet
Thou wanderest idle? But perhaps thy hand
Knows not the sword, nor thou the ways of men?''
Then kindled at his heart Porphyrion spoke.
``I have no need of fighting, yet my hand
Knows the sword, and my youth was trained in arms.''
``Take then this blade, and bind my armour on.
For over yonder hill I think even now
They fight; there is our camp; ah, bid them come
And bury Orophernes where he fell!''
Even with the word he sank back and expired,
Youthful amid the soft green leaves of spring,
That over his pale cheek and purple lips
Waved shadowing. Nearer than his inmost thought
Was then the silence to Porphyrion's heart,
As heavily he rode, bearing the sword
For token, and the helmet on his brows.
He sought for his old thoughts and found them not.
Even as when the sudden thunder breaks
A brooding sky, and the air chills, and strange
The altered landscape shines in a cold light,
And they that loitered hasten on, and oft
Shiver in the untimely falling eve,
So now on this irruption of the world
Followed a sadness, and his thoughts were changed
And yearning chilled. How idle seemed his hope,
How infinite his quest! Before his mind
Life spread deserted, vacant as a mist.
So mournful rode he; when beyond a hill,
Whose height, with hanging forest interposed,
Shut off the sun, he came into the light
Over against a valley broad that sloped
Before him; and at once burst on him full
All the glory of war and sounding arms.
He thought no more, but gazed and gazed again.
Dark in the middle of the plain beneath
An army moved against a city towered
Upon a distant eminence: even now
From the gate issued troops, with others joined
New--come to aid them, and together ranked
Stood to encounter stern the foes' assault.
These upon either wing had clouded horse
In squadrons, chafing like a river curbed
By the firm wind that meets it; crest and hoof
Shone restless as the white wind--thwarted waves.
Lonely and loud a sudden trumpet blew;
And fierce a score of brazen throats replied.
The sound redoubled in Porphyrion's soul
And forward drew him; he remembered now
His errand. In that instant the ripe war
Broke like a tempest; the great squadrons loosed
Shot forward glittering, like a splendid wave
That rises out of shapeless gloom, a form
Massy with dancing crest, threatening and huge,
And effortlessly irresistible
Bursts on the black rocks turbulently abroad,
Falling, and roaring, and re--echoing far.
So rushed that ordered fury of steeds and spears
Under an arch of arrows hailing dark
Against the stubborn foe: they from the slope
Swept onward opposite with clang as fierce:
Afar, pale women from the wall looked down.
Porphyrion saw: he was a spirit changed.
He hearkened not to memory, hope or fear,
But cast them from him violently, and swift
To fuse in this fierce impulse all regret,
To woo annihilation, or to plunge
At least in fiery action his unused
Vain life, and in that burning furnace melt
The idle vessel and re--mould it new,
Spurred his horse on into the very midst,
And loud the streaming battle swallowed him.
Just on that instant when the meeting shock
Tumultuously clashed, and cries were mixt
With glitter of blades whirled like spirted spray,
He came: and as the thundering ranks recoiled,
They saw him, solitary, flushed and young,
A radiant ghost in the dead hero's arms.
Amazement smote them; in that pause he rode
Forward; and shouting Orophernes' name
Jubilant the swayed host came after him.
Iron on iron gnashed: Porphyrion smote
Unwearied; the bright peril stilled his brain,
The terrible joy inspired him: by his side
Vaunting, young men over their ready graves
Were rushing glorious: many as they rushed
Drank violent draughts of darkness unawares,
And swiftly fell; but he uninjured fought.
Easily as men conquer in a dream
He passed through splintered spears, opposing shields
And shouting faces, and wild cries, and blood;
Till now a hedge of battle bristling sprang
All round him, and no way appeared, and dark
This way and that the rocking weight of war
Swung heavy, shields and lances interclasped.
He in his heart felt hungrier the flame
Burning for desolation, and he flushed,
Sanguine of death; the sudden starting blood
Inflamed him, drunk as with a mighty wine.
And on an instant terror from the air
Upon the foemen fell; from heart to heart
As in mysterious mirrors flashed; afar
Triumphing cries rose all at once, and death
Shone dazzling in their eyes, and they were lost.
Then on them rushed the victors glorying.
Shaken abroad the battle fiercely flowed,
Wild--scattering sudden as quicksilver stream
Spilled in a thousand drops; the electric air
Pulsed with the vehemence of strong bodies hurled
In mad pursuit, till yielding or in flight
Or fallen, the defeated armies ran
Broken, and on the wall the women wailed.
Then to their camp the victors came, and all
Followed Porphyrion wondering, and acclaimed
His triumph: he in an exultant dream
Still moved, and had no thought, but from the lips
Of bearded captains, as around their fires
That night they told of old heroic deeds,
Heard his own praise, and feasted, and afar
Drank, like an ocean wind, the air of fame.
Meanwhile in the surrendered city, night
Went heavy, not in feasting nor in sleep.
Proud in submission were those stubborn hearts,
And nursed through darkness thoughts of far revenge,
Mixt with the glory of their courage vain.
And now as the first beam revisited
Their sorrow, and to each his neighbour's face
Disclosed, they stood at leisure to perceive
How grimly famine on their limbs had wrought,
And on their wasted cheeks and temples worn;
And from their eyes shone desolated fire,
Inflexible resolve unstrung in the end.
They saw the sentinels with haughty pace
Trample the thresholds of their homes, and watched
In melancholy indolence all day
Soldiers upon their errands come and go.
At evening afar off a bugle blew,
Sounding humiliation and despair
To them, but triumph to their conquering foes,
Who now in bright magnificence arrayed
Their hosts to enter the dejected walls.
Feigning indifference, each man to his door
Came forth; beneath the battlemented arch
Too soon detested ensign and proud plume
They saw; the broad flag streaming to the air
Fresh flowered purples, like a summer field,
The trumpets blown, the thousand upright spears
Shining, and drums and ordered trampling feet.
But in the van of these battalions stern
All wondered to behold a single youth,
Riding unhelmeted with ardent mien,
And all about him casting his bright eyes.
Up through the thronged street triumphing he rode.
But as he passed, his radiant look, that seemed
From some far glory to have taken light,
Shining among dark faces, suffered change.
Nothing on either side but hate or woe,
Defiant or averted, sullen youth
And wasted age, all misery, smote his gaze.
As the sun's splendour leaves a mountain peak
Sinking into the west, and ashy pale
Leaves it, the sadder from that former glow,
So from Porphyrion's face the glory ebbed,
His eye grew dim, and pain altered his brow.
At last that conquering army, with the night,
Possessed the city; and a hum arose
Like busy noise of settling bees; and fires,
Kindled, shed broad into the gloom a blaze;
And there were sounds of feasting and loud mirth,
And riot late, until by slow degrees
Returned darkness and silence, and all slept.
Only Porphyrion slept not: on his bed,
Turning from lamentable thoughts in vain,
He lay. But in that stillest hour, when first
Stars fade, and mist arises, and air chills,
Quite wearied out with toil and war within,
Slumber at length fell on him; but not peace.
Scarce had he wandered in the ways of sleep
Some moments, when before his feet appeared,
Solemn and in the bright attire of dreams,
She whom his waking soul so many days,
So many months, had followed still in vain,
His dearest unattainable desire.
But now she looked into his face, and saw
His grief, and met him with reproachful eyes.
``What dost thou here, Porphyrion?'' Her grave voice
Was musical with sorrow. ``Faintest thou
In seeking me, thy joy, tired of the way
Because the hour is not yet come to find?
Dost thou forget what in thy desert cell
I warned thee to be perilous on thy path,
Luring of loud distraction, and delay,
The vastness of the world and thy frail heart?
Seek on, faint not, prove all things till thou find;
And still take comfort; where thou art, I am.''
Her voice, that trembled in the dreamer's soul
From some celestial distance, like a breeze,
Ended: the brightness went, and he awoke.
And lo, the placid colours of the dawn
Were stealing in: he rose, and came without.
Ah, now, sweet vision, O my perfect light,
I come to thee, my love, my only truth!
It was not I, but some false clouding self
That fell bewildered in this erring way;
Or an oblivion rose from underground
To blind me; but this place of grief and blood
I leave, to follow thee for evermore.
Full of this fervent prayer, through the dim street
He went: the stillness hearkened at his heels.
Now as he passed, in chilly waftings fresh
He scented the far morning: the blue night
Thinned, and all pale things were disclosed; and now
Even in his earnest pace he could not choose
But pause a moment; for all round he saw
Faces and forms lying in shadowy sleep
Within dark porches, and by sheltering walls,
And under giant temple--colonnades,
Utterly wearied. Some in armour lay
Dewy, with forehead upturned to the dawn;
And some against a pillar leaned, with hands
Open and head thrown back; an ancient pair
With fingers clasping slumbered, by whose side
A bearded warrior moved in his dark dream
Exclaiming fiercely; and a mother pressed
Her baby closer, even in her sleep.
He gazed upon them by a charm detained.
For heavy over all their slumber weighed;
And if one lifted voice or arm, it was
As plants that in deep water idly stir
And then are still: so these, bodies entranced,
Lay under soft oblivion deeply drowned.
But, as they slept, the light stole over them
By pale degrees, and each unconscious soul
Yielded his secret: with the hues of dawn
Into that calm of faces floated up
Out of their living and profound abyss
What thoughts, what dreams, what terrors, what dumb wails!
What gleams of ever--burning funeral fires
On haunted deserts where delight had been!
Glories, and dying memories, and desires!
What sighs, that like a piercing odour rose
From the long pain of love, what beauty strange
Of joy, and sweetness unreleased, and strength
Fatally strong to bear immortal woe,
And anguish darkly sepulchred in peace.
Porphyrion gazed, and as he gazed, he wept.
For he beheld how in those spirits frail,
Slept also passions mightier than themselves,
Waiting to rend and toss them; tiger thoughts,
Ecstasies, hungers, and disastrous loves,
Violent as storms that sleep under the wave,
Vast longings cruelly in flesh confined,
And wrecking winds of madness and of doom.
He trembled; yet as knowledge, even of things
Terrible, hath power to calm and to sustain,
His soul endured that truth, and to its depth
Feared not to plunge. Now he began to love,
And to be sorrowful with a new sorrow.
``What have I done,'' he sighed, ``what have I lost,
My brothers, that I have no part in you?
Yet am I of your flesh and you of mine.
Sleep for this hour hath separated you
From one another, but from me for ever.
O that I could delay with you, and bear
Your lot! or with enchanting wand have power
To raise you out of slumber into peace!
To be entwined and rooted in that life
Which brings you want of one another, pain
Borne not alone, and all that human joy,
How sweet it were to me! O you of whom,
When you awaken, others will have need,
I envy you those trusting eyes, and hands
Put forth for help: I envy all your grief.
But I am all made of untimeless.
Necessity drives on my soul to pass
Another way; my errand is not here.
Farewell, farewell, O happy, troubled hearts!''
As a blind man who feels around him move
The blest, who see, and fancies them embraced
Or feasting in each other's joyous eyes;
With such deep envy often he turned back,
Even as he went, to those unconscious forms
That slumbered. But his spirit urged him on,
With kindled heart and quickened feet: and now
He neared the shadow of the city gate,
And saw the mountains rise beyond, far off.
With longing he drew in the freshened air.
But even at that moment he perceived,
Standing before a doorway in the dawn,
A solitary woman, motionless
As cloud at evening piled in the pale east
After retreating thunder: like the ash
Of a spent flame her cheek, and in her eyes
Deep--gazing, a great anguish lay becalmed.
Coldly she looked on him, and calmly spoke
In marble accent: ``Enter and behold
What thou hast done!'' He would have passed due on,
Following his way resolved, but like a charm
Beautiful sorrow in this grave regard
Drew him aside. He entered and beheld.
Upon a bed, unstirring and supine,
Lay an old man, so old that the live breath
Seemed rather hovering over him, than warm
Within his placid limbs; yet had he strapped
Ancient armour upon him, and unused
A heavy sword lay by him on the ground.
Dim was the room: a table in the midst
Stood empty; in the whole house all was bare.
Now when Porphyrion entered, and with him
The woman, the old man nothing perceived:
But at the sound a boy, that by the wall
Was leaning, opened wide his painful eyes.
Porphyrion with accusing heart beheld.
Then to the woman turning, of their story
He questioned: quietly she answered him.
``We were four souls under a happy roof
Until your armies came. Then was our need
More cruel every day. When first our meat
Grew scarce, we sat with feigning eyes and each
The other shunned. I know not who thou art,
But if thou takest pity upon pain,
I pray that no necessity bring thee
Hunger more dear than love. With me it was
So that I dared not look upon my child
Lest I should grudge him eat. To my old father,
Whom age makes helpless as a child, my breast
As to a child I gave: and I have stood
Under the trees and cursed them that so slow
They budded for our want: the buds we tore
Ere they could grow to leaf. So passed our days.
But worse the nights were, when sleep would not come
For hunger, and the dreadful morn seemed sweet.
And if thou wonder that I weep not now
Recounting them, it is that I have borne
What carries beyond grief.'' She in her tale
Spoke nothing of her husband: he lay cold
Without the city fallen; but as now
She ended, the returning thought of him
Absented her sad eyes. And suddenly
Her heart, of a strange tenderness aware,
Out of its heavy frost was melted: then
She bowed her head, and she let forth her tears.
You that have known that bitter wound, of all
The bitterest, since no courage brings it balm,
When silent all the misery of the world
Knocks at your door and you have empty hands,
You know what dart entered Porphyrion's breast,
As he beheld and heard. But now the boy
Turning with restless body and parched lip
Sighed, ``Give me water! I am so thirsty, mother,
I cannot fetch the breath into my throat.''
Porphyrion filled a cup and gave to him.
Deeply he drank, closing his eyes, as bliss
Were in the cold fresh drops: unwillingly
His fingers from the cup relaxed; and now
The mother spoke. ``Yesterday on the walls
One of your arrows smote him, and the wound
Torments him. If thou wilt, make water warm,
I pray thee, and bind up his cruel hurt
Afresh; for my hand trembles, I am weak.''
So he made water warm, and washed the wound
With careful tender hands, and ointment soft
Laid on, and in sweet linen bound it up.
Comforted then the boy put round his neck
One arm, and sighing thanks, as a child will,
With faltering hand caressed him. That fond touch
Porphyrion endured not. Are men born
So apt to misery, thought he, that even this
Is worthy thanks? Yet his wrought heart attained
Even in such slender spending of its love
A little ease. Now, said he, I must go,
I must not longer tarry: for she calls,
Whom I am vowed to follow and to find.
But when he looked upon those three, they seemed
To need him in their helplessness; the child
Divining, mutely prayed him: he resolved
For that day to remain and then to go.
So all that day he tended them and went
Abroad into the town, and brought them food,
Bartering his share of spoil for meat and bread,
And freshest fruit, and delicatest wine;
Nor marked he as he went the frowning eyes
Of the stern soldiers, how they stood and watched
Murmuring together, sullen and askance.
As in a slumbering great city, snow
With gentle foot comes muffling empty ways,
Corners and alleys, and to the tardy dawn
Faint the murmur of toil ascends, and dumb
The wheels roll, and the many feet go hushed,
So on his mind lay sorrow: hum of arms
And voices, all were soft to him and strange.
Day passed, and evening fell, and in that house
All slept; and once again he would renew
His journey; but once more his heart perplexed
Smote him, to leave them so: They have no friend,
He said, and who will tend them, if not I?
The next day he abode, and with fond care
Ministered to their need, and still the next
Found him delaying and his own dim pain
Solacing sweetly; for the old man now
By faint degrees returned to healthful warmth,
And grave with open eyes serenely looked
In a mild wonder on this unknown friend:
The mother, taxed no longer to endure
Even to her utmost strength, permitted calm
To her worn spirit, and her wasted limbs
Resigned into a happy weariness;
And the child's hurt began to be appeased.
On the fourth morn Porphyrion arose,
And saw them all still laid in peaceful sleep.
Now, said he, will I go upon my quest,
Less troubled: they have need of me no more.
He turned to go, but in the early light
Still looked upon them, and his heart was full;
And softly he unbarred the door, and seemed
Within his soul to see the whole great world
Await his coming, and its wounded breast
Disclose, and all life radiantly unroll
Her riches, opening to an endless end.
Filled with the power of that impassioned thought,
Into the silence of the morning sun
He came; and on a sudden was aware
Of men about the entrance thronged; they set
Their bright spears forward, and his path opposed.
Astonished, he looked on them, and perceived
The faces of those warriors he had brought
Thither exulting, and in victory led;
Yet on their faces he beheld his doom.
He stood in that great moment greatly calm,
Proudly confronting them, and cried aloud:
``What murmur you against me? I for you
Fought, and you triumphed. Have I asked of one
A single boon? Soldiers, will you take arms
Against your captain? Men, will you dare to strike
A man unarmed? You answer not a word!
Put up your swords; for now I will pass on
To my own work, and as I came will go.''
There was a stillness as he ceased, and none
Answered, but none gave way. As when in heaven
Clouds curdle, and the heavy thunder holds
All things in stupor hushed, they stood constrained,
Menacing and mistrustful; and their hearts
Grew cruel: the uncomprehended light,
That in Porphyrion shone and flushed his brow
With radiance, like the bright ambassador
Come from an unknown power, tormented them;
And dark enchanting terror drove them on.
Then one by stealth an arrow to his bow
Fitted, and strung, and drew it, and the shaft
Beside Porphyrion in the lintel stuck
Quivering: and at once they fiercely cried.
Like the loud drop that loosens the pent storm,
That loosened arrow drew tempestuous hail
From every bow: they lusted after blood,
And put far from them pity: and he fell
Before them. Yet astonished and dismayed,
Those sacrificers saw the victim smile
Triumphing and incredulous of death,
Even in anguish: pang upon fresh pang
Rekindled the lost light, the perished bloom
Of memory, and he was lifted far
In exaltation above death; he drank
Wine at the banquet, and the stormy thrill
Of battle caught him, and he knew again
The dart of love and the sweet wound of grief
In one transfigured instant, that illumed
And pierced him, as the arrows pierced his side.
Then, mingling all those bright beams into one
Full glory, dawned upon his dying sense
She whom his feet followed through all the world
Out of the waste, and over perilous paths,
Dearer than breath and lovelier than desire.
Like the first kiss of love recovered new
Was the undreamed--of joy, that he in death
With the last ecstasy of living found,
Tasted and touched, as she embraced his soul.
Then the world perished: stretching forth his arms,
Into the unknown vastness eagerly
He went, and like a bridegroom to his bride.
Comments about Porphyrion by Robert Laurence Binyon
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