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GEORGE MEREDITH

1828-1909

783                                    From ‘Love in the Valley

UNDER yonder beech-tree single on the green-sward,
  Couch’d with her arms behind her golden head,
Knees and tresses folded to slip and ripple idly,
  Lies my young love sleeping in the shade.
Had I the heart to slide an arm beneath her,
  Press her parting lips as her waist I gather slow,
Waking in amazement she could not but embrace me:
  Then would she hold me and never let me go?
Shy as the squirrel and wayward as the swallow,
  Swift as the swallow along the river’s light
Circleting the surface to meet his mirror’d winglets,
  Fleeter she seems in her stay than in her flight.
Shy as the squirrel that leaps among the pine-tops,
  Wayward as the swallow overhead at set of sun,
She whom I love is hard to catch and conquer,
  Hard, but O the glory of the winning were she won!
When her mother tends her before the laughing mirror,
  Tying up her laces, looping up her hair,
Often she thinks, were this wild thing wedded,
  More love should I have, and much less care.
When her mother tends her before the lighted mirror,
  Loosening her laces, combing down her curls,
Often she thinks, were this wild thing wedded,
  I should miss but one for many boys and girls.
Heartless she is as the shadow in the meadows
  Flying to the hills on a blue and breezy noon.
No, she is athirst and drinking up her wonder:
  Earth to her is young as the slip of t’e new moon.
Deals she an unkindness, ’tis but her rapid measure,
  Even as in a dance; and her smile can heal no less:
Like the swinging May-cloud that pelts the flowers with hailstones
  Off a sunny border, she was made to bruise and bless.
Lovely are the curves of the white owl sweeping
  Wavy in the dusk lit by one large star.
Lone on the fir-branch, his rattle-note unvaried,
  Brooding o’er the gloom, spins the brown evejar.
Darker grows the valley, more and more forgetting:
  So were it with me if forgetting could be will’d.
Tell the grassy hollow that holds the bubbling well-spring,
  Tell it to forget the source that keeps it fill’d.
Stepping down the hill with her fair companions,
  Arm in arm, all against the raying West,
Boldly she sings, to the merry tune she marches,
  Brave is her shape, and sweeter unpossess’d.
Sweeter, for she is what my heart first awaking
  Whisper’d the world was; morning light is she.
Love that so desires would fain keep her changeless;
  Fain would fling the net, and fain have her free.

Happy happy time, when the white star hovers
  Low over dim fields fresh with bloomy dew,
Near the face of dawn, that draws athwart the darkness,
  Threading it with colour, like yewberries the yew.
Thicker crowd the shades as the grave East deepens
  Glowing, and with crimson a long cloud swells.
Maiden still the morn is; and strange she is, and secret;
  Strange her eyes; her cheeks are cold as cold sea-shells.

Mother of the dews, dark eye-lash’d twilight,
  Low-lidded twilight, o’er the valley’s brim,
Rounding on thy breast sings the dew-delighted skylark,
  Clear as though the dewdrops had their voice in him.
Hidden where the rose-flush drinks the rayless planet,
  Fountain-full he pours the spraying fountain-showers.
Let me hear her laughter, I would have her ever
  Cool as dew in twilight, the lark above the flowers.

All the girls are out with their baskets for the primrose;
  Up lanes, woods through, they troop in joyful bands.
My sweet leads: she knows not why, but now she loiters,
  Eyes the bent anemones, and hangs her hands.
Such a look will tell that the violets are peeping,
  Coming the rose: and unaware a cry
Springs in her bosom for odours and for colour,
  Covert and the nightingale; she knows not why.
Hither she comes; she comes to me; she lingers,
  Deepens her brown eyebrows, while in new surprise
High rise the lashes in wonder of a stranger;
  Yet am I the light and living of her eyes.
Something friends have told her fills her heart to brimming,
  Nets her in her blushes, and wounds her, and tames.—
Sure of her haven, O like a dove alighting,
  Arms up, she dropp’d: our souls were in our names.
Could I find a place to be alone with heaven,
  I would speak my heart out: heaven is my need.
Every woodland tree is flushing like the dogwood,
  Flashing like the whitebeam, swaying like the reed.
Flushing like the dogwood crimson in October;
  Streaming like the flag-reed South-West blown;
Flashing as in gusts the sudden-lighted whitebeam:
  All seem to know what is for heaven alone.

784                                      Phbus with Admetus

WHEN by Zeus relenting the mandate was revoked,
  Sentencing to exile the bright Sun-God,
Mindful were the ploughmen of who the steer had yoked,
  Who: and what a track show’d the upturn’d sod!
Mindful were the shepherds, as now the noon severe
  Bent a burning eyebrow to brown evetide,
How the rustic flute drew the silver to the sphere,
  Sister of his own, till her rays fell wide.
     God! of whom music
     And song and blood are pure,
     The day is never darken’d
     That had thee here obscure.
Chirping none, the scarlet cicalas crouch’d in ranks:
  Slack the thistle-head piled its down-silk gray:
Scarce the stony lizard suck’d hollows in his flanks:
  Thick on spots of umbrage our drowsed flocks lay.
Sudden bow’d the chestnuts beneath a wind unheard,
  Lengthen’d ran the grasses, the sky grew slate:
Then amid a swift flight of wing’d seed white as curd,
  Clear of limb a Youth smote the master’s gate.
     God! of whom music
     And song and blood are pure,
     The day is never darken’d
     That had thee here obscure.
Water, first of singers, o’er rocky mount and mead,
  First of earthly singers, the sun-loved rill,
Sang of him, and flooded the ripples on the reed,
  Seeking whom to waken and what ear fill.
Water, sweetest soother to kiss a wound and cool,
  Sweetest and divinest, the sky-born brook,
Chuckled, with a whimper, and made a mirror-pool
  Round the guest we welcomed, the strange hand shook.
     God! of whom music
     And song and blood are pure,
     The day is never darken’d
     That had thee here obscure.
Many swarms of wild bees descended on our fields:
  Stately stood the wheatstalk with head bent high:
Big of heart we labour’d at storing mighty yields,
  Wool and corn, and clusters to make men cry!
Hand-like rush’d the vintage; we strung the bellied skins
  Plump, and at the sealing the Youth’s voice rose:
Maidens clung in circle, on little fists their chins;
  Gentle beasties through push’d a cold long nose.
     God! of whom music
     And song and blood are pure,
     The day is never darken’d
     That had thee here obscure.
Foot to fire in snowtime we trimm’d the slender shaft:
  Often down the pit spied the lean wolf’s teeth
Grin against his will, trapp’d by masterstrokes of craft;
  Helpless in his froth-wrath as green logs seethe!
Safe the tender lambs tugg’d the teats, and winter sped
  Whirl’d before the crocus, the year’s new gold.
Hung the hooky beak up aloft, the arrowhead
  Redden’d through his feathers for our dear fold.
     God! of whom music
     And song and blood are pure,
     The day is never darken’d
     That had thee here obscure.
Tales we drank of giants at war with Gods above:
  Rocks were they to look on, and earth climb’d air!
Tales of search for simples, and those who sought of love
  Ease because the creature was all too fair.
Pleasant ran our thinking that, while our work was good,
  Sure as fruits for sweat would the praise come fast.
He that wrestled stoutest and tamed the billow-brood
  Danced in rings with girls, like a sail-flapp’d mast.
     God! of whom music
     And song and blood are pure,
     The day is never darken’d
     That had thee here obscure.
Lo, the herb of healing, when once the herb is known,
Shines in shady woods bright as new-sprung flame,
Ere the string was tighten’d we heard the mellow tone,
After he had taught how the sweet sounds came.
Stretch’d about his feet, labour done, ’twas as you see
Red pomegranates tumble and burst hard rind.
So began contention to give delight and be
Excellent in things aim’d to make life kind.
     God! of whom music
     And song and blood are pure,
     The day is never darken’d
     That day thee here obscure.
You with shelly horns, rams! and, promontory goats,
  You whose browsing breads dip in coldest dew!
Bulls, that walk the pastures in kingly-flashing coats!
  Laurel, ivy, vine, wreath’d for feasts not few!
You that build the shade-roof, and you that court the rays,
  You that leap besprinkling the rock stream-rent:
He has been our fellow, the morning of our days;
  Us he chose for housemates, and this way went.
     God! of whom music
     And song and blood are pure,
     The day is never darken’d
     That had thee here obscure.

785                                            Love’s Grave

MARK where the pressing wind shoots javelin-like,
Its skeleton shadow on the broad-back’d wave!
Here is a fitting spot to dig Love’s grave;
Here where the ponderous breakers plunge and strike,
And dart their hissing tongues high up the sand:
In hearing of the ocean, and in sight
Of those ribb’d wind-streaks running into white.
If I the death of Love had deeply plann’d,
I never could have made it half so sure,
As by the unblest kisses which upbraid
The full-waked sense; or failing that, degrade;
’Tis morning: but no morning can restore
What we have forfeited. I see no sin:
The wrong is mix’d. In tragic life, God wot,
No villain need be! Passions spin the plot:
We are betray’d by what is false within.

786                                        Lucifer in Starlight

ON a starr’d night Prince Lucifer uprose.
  Tired of his dark dominion swung the fiend
 Above the rolling ball in cloud part screen’d,
Where sinners hugg’d their spectre of repose.
Poor prey to his hot fit of pride were those.
  And now upon his western wing he lean’d,
  Now his huge bulk o’er Afric’s sands careen’d,
Now the black planet shadow’d Arctic snows.
Soaring through wider zones that prick’d his scars
  With memory of the old revolt from Awe,
He reach’d a middle height, and at the stars,
Which are the brain of heaven, he look’d, and sank.
Around the ancient track march’d, rank on rank,
  The army of unalterable law.

787                                                Dirge in Woods

A WIND sways the pines,
And below
Not a breath of wild air;
Still as the mosses that glow
On the flooring and over the lines
Of the roots here and there.

The pine-tree drops its dead;
They are quiet, as under the sea.
Overhead, overhead
Rushes life in a race,
As the clouds the clouds chase;
      And we go,
And we drop like the fruits of the tree,
      Even we,
      Even so.

 

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