Wilfrid Scawen Blunt
The Wanderer’s Return - Poem by Wilfrid Scawen Blunt
An old heart's mourning is a hideous thing,
And weeds upon an aged weeper cling
Like night upon a grave. The city there,
Gaunt as a woman who has once been fair,
Lay black with winter, and the silent rain
Fell thro' the heavens darkly, like a stain
Upon her face. The dusky houses rose,
Unlovely shapes laid naked on the ooze,
Grimed with long sooty tears. The night fell down,
And gathered all the highways in its frown.
This was my home. I saw men pass and pass
Nor stop to look into a neighbour's face.
I dared not look in their's because my eyes
Were faint and travel--jarred and would not rise
From the dull earth, and hunger made them dim,
The hunger of a seven years' angry dream
Of love and peace and home unsatisfied.
And now my heart thus grievously denied
Rose, like a caged bird in the nesting time
Who beats against the bars that prison him,
In all its greenness of youth's wounds and pain
And would not cease till these should bleed again.
For I had gone a hunter through the world,
And set my tent in every land, and hurled
My spears at life because my joys were dead;
And many a fair field of the Earth was red
Where I had passed, and many a wind might tell
Of stricken souls that to my arrows fell.
I would not stop to listen to their cries
But went my way and thought that I was wise.
A wanderer's life, whether his lone chase be man
Or only those poor outlaws under ban
The creatures of the field his hand destroys
Through rage of wantonness or need of noise,
Is the fierce solace of its anger given
To a hurt soul which dares not turn to Heaven.
With me it was a vengeance of love lost,
A refuge proved for passions tempest--tossed,
An unguent for despairs that could not kill.
I wandered in the desert and the hill
Seeking dry places, and behold my grief
Fled with my footprints and I found relief.
And it had happened to me, as befalls
Men bred in cities who have left their walls
For gain or pleasure, that the wilderness
Grew lastly wearisome. I loved it less.
And once a desperate chase had led me on
To an unknown land when daylight was near done,
And I sat weary by my slaughtered prey
And watched the cranes which northward fled away
Rank upon rank into the depths of air,
And still the horizon lifeless vast and bare
Stretched wide around, and like a vault of dread
The arch of heaven hemmed me overhead,
And the great eye of the dead beast was set
Upon my own. I felt my cheek was wet.
Oh surely then, for all man's heart be hard,
Though he have taken Nature by the beard
And lived alone as to the manner born,
And though his limbs be strung with toil, and worn
To all Earth's dangers, yet at such a time
His coward soul will overmaster him,
Saying ``Beware, thou child of Earth, even now
Look at the world how wide it is and thou
How small! And thou hast dared to be alone.''
And lo, the last long flight of cranes was gone,
And darkness with its folding pity crept
Over the plain. I hid my face and wept,
Till sleep fell on me. But, when dawn was come,
I turned my steps to what had been my home.
The palace gardens! I had fled aside
From the gaunt streets in easement of my pride
After the lamps were lit, for to my brain
The tumult and the passers--by were pain:
The gardens where in those far summer times
A boy I came to watch the pantomimes
Among a laughing crowd of white--capped bonnes
And red--cheeked children and loud country clowns,
Or where, along the wall in graver sense
And screened from winds in their petite Provence,
With the first chestnut blossoms old men sat
And cheered their melancholy souls with chat,
Thawing like frozen apples in the sun!
The old men and the children all were gone.
The leaves, their canopy, lay torn and dead
And crushed in spongy heaps beneath my tread.
The fountains recreant to their laughter lay
Murk pools of silence shrouded from the day,
As though no doves had ever at their brink
Stooped in full June to plume themselves and drink.
Only the trees stood, witness of the past.
Sad trees, I greeted them. I held them fast
Like a friend's hands. They were as changed and bare
As my own life, but calm in the despair
Of their long winter's martyrdom, and I
A very child in my philosophy!
Till I remembered that no Spring would come
To mock the winter of my own long doom
With any merriment. And ``Trees'' I cried,
``Your hearts within are all too greenly dyed
To match with mine.'' I let their branches go
And sat upon a bench to feed my woe
With memories long hidden out of mind,
But which trooped back that night and rode the wind.
These wooden benches, what sad ghosts of pleasures
Had used them nightly crouching o'er their treasures,
My own long murdered joys, since there we sat
Blind in our love and insolent to Fate!
Each one a witness proved of our lost vows,
Our prayers, our protests, all our souls' carouse;
Each one inscribed through the unheeding years
With letters of a name I wrote in tears.
'Twas here I saw her first, a pure sweet woman
Fair as a goddess but with smile all human,
Her children at her knees who went and came
At each new wayward impulse of their game,
And she reproving with her quiet eyes
Veiling the mirth they could not all disguise.
The echo of her voice with its mute thrill
Lived in these glades and stirred my pulses still,
Though I had lived to hear it in what tone
Of passionate grief and souls' disunion.
She stood, a broken lily, by that tree,
Sunlight and shade for ever changingly
Chequering the robe she wore of virgin white,
When first I touched the goal of my delight
Her woman's hand and hid it in my hands.
Here shone the glory of her countenance
Nobler for tears when weakness for a space
Held full dominion in that heaven her face
And she confessed herself of grief divine
And love grown young, a vintage of new wine,
And I was crowned her king. O silent trees,
You heard it and you know how to the lees
We drained the cup of life and found it good,
Gathering love's manna for our daily food,
In scorn of the vain rest. You heard and knew
What the world only guessed where all was true.
And have you dreamed on in your quiet grove
While seven years were built against our love!
'Twas on this bench I sat that day of June
Thinking of death a whole sweet afternoon,
Till I was sick of sorrow and my tongue
Weary of its long silence (I was young
And the birds sang so loud); and when the night
Came as it now came, and the lamps grew bright
In the long street, lit like a diamond chain,
I rose and said: ``I will not bear the pain.
What is my pride worth that for it this smart
Should harrow up the green things of my heart
For twelve importunate hours in such a sort?
And pleasure is so sweet and life so short.''
And as a martyr, who long time has lain
Frozen in a dungeon, sees amid his pain,
When he has fasted on for many days,
Bright visions of hot feasts and hearths ablaze
With welcome, and who sells his gloomy creed,
And is overcome of pleasure, so my need
Conquered my pride; and I arose and went
Striding, with smiles at my new found intent,
Down these same gravel alleys to the gate
And so beyond, like one inebriate,
Thinking the while of the brave baths and food
Set for the renegade, until I stood
Once more before her door I had forsworn.
I did not stop to question thoughts forlorn,
But knocked as I had knocked a thousand times.
St. Roch's was ringing its last evening chimes,
And I still thought about the martyr's dream.
I saw the light within the threshold gleam
Which opened to me, and the voice I knew
Said in all sweetness, as the door swung to,
``Come. We are just in time. How fortunate
You too like me have happened to be late.''
I swear I said no word of the sad plans
I had plotted on this bench of ignorance.
There have been kings called happy, but not one
As I that night. Ah God! to be alone,
Alone, and never more to hear her voice
Calling me back, blest martyr, to my joys!
I sat there grieving in the cold and rain
Until my heart had half forgot its pain,
And when I rose I scarce could guide my feet,
They were so numb, to the unlovely street.
And yet need was my steps should bear me on
To some mad corner of that Babylon;
And I must feed the gnawings of my soul
With broken meat. ``The seven years may roll,''
I said, ``and men may change and she be dead,
Yet the house stands, God knows how tenanted.''
I leaned my head against the colonnade
Which skirts the square. I think I had not prayed
Through all those years, but now I said a prayer,
And hope in spite of reason seemed to wear
Green buds upon its branches. Who shall know
If 'twas a vision sent me in my woe
To prove the power of prayer? But, when I turned
And looked across the square, the candles burned
In the old upper windows, and, before,
A shadow crossed the curtain, and the door
Opened towards me, and a voice there cried
``Come. You are just in time.'' I put out wide
My arms into the darkness, and I fell.
When I awoke, 'twas as one passed from Hell
Who fears and feels no longer. I was tired.
I scarcely cared to know when I inquired
After the house. The girl who held the glass
To my lips (a flower--girl it seemed she was)
Told me that house and square alike were gone
Swept by new boulevards to oblivion.
Why should I grieve? The new was worth the old.
I listened to the story as 'twas told,
And lingered with her all the evening there
Because she pitied me and she was fair,
And held me with her hand upon the latch.
``Seven years,'' I said, ``it is a long night's watch
For any soul alone upon life's way,
And mine is weary at the break of day.''
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