A city clerk, but gently born and bred ;1
His wife, an unknown artist’s orphan child—2
One babe was theirs, a Margaret, three years old :3
They, thinking that her clear germander eye4
Droopt in the giant-factoried city-gloom,5
Came, with a month’s leave given them, to the sea :6
For which his gains were dock’d, however small :7
His gains were small, and hard his work ; besides,8
Their slender household fortunes (for the man9
Had risk’d his little) like the little thrift,10
Trembled in perilous places o’er a deep :11
And oft, when sitting all alone, his face12
Would darken, as he cursed his credulousness,13
And that one unctuous mouth which lured him, rogue,14
To buy wild shares in some Peruvian mine.15
Now seaward-bound for health they gain’d a coast,16
All sand and cliff and deep-inrunning cave,17
At close of day ; slept, woke, and went the next,18
The Sabbath, pious variers from the church,19
To chapel ; where a heated pulpiteer,20
Not preaching simple Christ to simple men,21
Announced the coming doom, and fulminated22
Against the scarlet woman and her creed :23
For sideways up he swung his arms, and shriek’d24
Thus, thus with violence,’ ev’n as if he held25
The Apocalyptic millstone, and himself26
Were that great Angel ; ‘ Thus with violence27
Shall Babylon be cast into the sea ;28
Then comes the close.’ The gentle-hearted wife29
Sat shuddering at the ruin of a world ;30
He at his own : but when the wordy storm31
Had ended, forth they moved and paced the sand,32
Ran in and out the long sea-framing caves,33
Drank the large air, and saw, but scarce believed34
(The sootflake of so many a summer still35
Clung to their fancies) that they saw, the sea.36
So now on sand they walk’d, and now on cliff,37
Lingering about the thymy promontories,38
Until the sails were darken’d in the west39
And rosed in the east : then homeward and to bed :40
Where she, who kept a tender Christian hope41
Haunting a holy text, and still to that42
Returning, as the bird returns, at night,43
Let not the sun go down upon your wrath,’44
Said, ‘ Love, forgive him :’ but he did not speak ;45
And silenced by that silence lay the wife,46
Remembering our dear Lord who died for all,47
And musing on the little lives of men,48
And how they mar this little by their feuds.49
But while the two were sleeping, a full tide50
Rose with ground-swell, which, on the foremost rocks51
Touching, upjetted in spirits of wild sea-smoke,52
And scaled in sheets of wasteful foam, and fell53
In vast sea-cataracts—ever and anon54
Dead claps of thunder from within the cliffs55
Heard thro’ the living roar. At this the babe,56
Their Margaret cradled near them, wail’d and woke57
The mother, and the father suddenly cried,58
A wreck, a wreck !’ then turn’d, and groaning said,59
Forgive !  How many will say, “ forgive,” and find60
A sort of absolution in the sound61
To hate a little longer ! No ; the sin62
That neither God nor man can well forgive,63
Hypocrisy, I saw it in him at once.64
It is not true that second thoughts are best,65
But first, and third, which are a riper first ;66
Too ripe, too late ! they come too late for use.67
Ah love, there surely lives in man and beast68
Something divine to warn them of their foes :69
And such a sense, when first I lighted on him,70
Said, “ trust him not ;” but after, when I came71
To know him more, I lost it, knew him less ;72
Fought with what seem’d my own uncharity ;73
Sat at his table ; drank his costly wines ;74
Made more and more allowance for his talk ;75
Went further, fool! and trusted him with all,76
All my poor scrapings from a dozen years77
Of dust and deskwork : there is no such mine,78
None ; but a gulf of ruin, swallowing gold,79
Not making. Ruin’d ! ruin’d ! the sea roars80
Ruin : a fearful night !’81
Not fearful ; fair,82
Said the good wife, ‘ if every star in heaven83
Can make it fair : you do but hear the tide.84
Had you ill dreams ?’85
O yes,’ he said, ‘ I dream’d86
Of such a tide swelling toward the land,87
And I from out the boundless outer deep88
Swept with it to the shore, and enter’d one89
Of those dark caves that run beneath the cliffs.90
I thought the motion of the boundless deep91
Bore through the cave, and I was heaved upon it92
In darkness : then I saw one lovely star93
Larger and larger. “ What a world,” I thought,94
To live in !” but in moving on I found95
Only the landward exit of the cave,96
Bright with the sun upon the stream beyond :97
And near the light a giant woman sat,98
All over earthy, like a piece of earth,99
A pickaxe in her hand: then out I slipt100
Into a land all sun and blossom, trees101
As high as heaven, and every bird that sings :102
And here the night-light flickering in my eyes103
Awoke me.’104
That was then your dream,’ she said,105
Not sad, but sweet.’106
So sweet, I lay,’ said he,107
And mused upon it, drifting up the stream108
In fancy, till I slept again, and pieced109
The broken vision ; for I dream’d that still110
The motion of the great deep bore me on,111
And that the woman walk’d upon the brink :112
I wonder’d at her strength, and ask’d her of it :113
It came,” she said, “ by working in the mines :”114
O then to ask her of my shares, I thought ;115
And ask’d ; but not a word ; she shook her head.116
And then the motion of the current ceas’d,117
And there was rolling thunder ; and we reach’d118
A mountain, like a wall of burs and thorns ;119
But she with her strong feet up the steep hill120
Trod out a path : I follow’d ; and at top121
She pointed seaward : there a fleet of glass,122
That seem’d a fleet of jewels under me,123
Sailing along before a gloomy cloud124
That not one moment ceased to thunder, past125
In sunshine : right across its track there lay,126
Down in the water, a long reef of gold,127
Or what seem’d gold : and I was glad at first128
To think that in our often-ransack’d world129
Still so much gold was left ; and then I fear’d130
Lest that gay navy there should splinter on it,131
And fearing waved my arm to warn them off ;132
An idle signal, for the brittle fleet133
(I thought I could have died to save it) near’d,134
Touch’ a clink’d, and clash’d, and vanish’d, and I woke,135
I heard the clash so clearly. Now I see136
My dream was Life ; the woman honest Work ;137
And my poor venture but a fleet of glass138
Wreck’d on a reef of visionary gold.’139
Nay,’ said the kindly wife to comfort him,140
You raised your arm, you tumbled down and broke141
The glass with little Margaret’s medicine in it ;142
And, breaking that, you made and broke your dream :143
A trifle makes a dream, a trifle breaks.’144
No trifle’ groan’d the husband ; ‘ yesterday145
I met him suddenly in the street, and ask’d146
That which I ask’d the woman in my dream.147
Like her, he shook his head.  “ Show me the books !”148
He dodged me with a long and loose account.149
The books, the books !” but he, he could not wait,150
Bound on a matter he of life and death :151
When the great Books (see Daniel seven, the tenth)152
Were open’d, I should find he meant me well ;153
And then began to bloat himself, and ooze154
All over with the fat affectionate smile155
That makes the widow lean.  My dearest friend,156
Have faith, have faith !  We live by faith,” said he ;157
And all things work together for the good158
Of those”—it makes me sick to quote him—last159
Gript my hand hard, and with God-bless-you went.160
I stood like one that had received a blow :161
I found a hard friend in his loose accounts,162
A loose one in the hard grip of his hand,163
A curse in his God-bless-you : then my eyes164
Pursued him down the street, and far away,165
Among the honest shoulders of the crowd,166
Read rascal in the motions of his back,167
And scoundrel in’ the supple-sliding knee.’168
Was he so bound, poor soul ?’ said the good wife ;169
So are we all : but do not call him, love,170
Before you prove him, rogue, and proved, forgive.171
His gain is loss ; for he that wrongs his friend172
Wrongs himself more, and ever bears about173
A silent court of justice in his breast,174
Himself the judge and jury, and himself175
The prisoner at the bar, ever condemn’d :176
And that drags down his life : then comes what comes177
Hereafter : and he meant, he said he meant,178
Perhaps he meant, or partly meant, you well.179
With all his conscience and one eye askew ’—180
Love, let me quote these lines, that you may learn181
A man is likewise counsel for himself,182
Too often, in that silent court of yours—183
With all his conscience and one eye askew,184
So false, he partly took himself for true ;185
Whose pious talk, when most his heart was dry,186
Made wet the crafty crowsfoot round his eye ;187
Who, never naming God except for gain,188
So never took that useful name in, vain ;189
Nor deeds of gift, but gifts of grace he forged,190
And snakelike slimed his victim ere he gorged ;191
And oft at Bible meetings, o’er the rest192
Arising, did his holy oily best,193
Dropping the too rough H in Hell and Heaven,194
To spread the word by which himself had thriven.”195
How like you this old satire ?’196
Nay,’ she said,197
I loathe it : he had never kindly heart,198
Nor ever cared to better his own kind,199
Who first wrote satire, with no pity in it.200
But will you hear my dream, for I had one201
That altogether went to music ? still,202
It awed me. Well—I dream’d that round the north203
A light, a belt of luminous vapour, lay,204
And ever in it a low musical note205
Swell’d up and died ; and, as it swell’d, a ridge206
Of breaker came from out the belt, and still207
Grew with the growing note, and when the note208
Had reach’d a thunderous fullness, on these cliffs209
Broke, mixt with awful light (the same as that210
Which lived within the belt) by which I saw211
That all these lines of cliffs were cliffs no more,212
But huge cathedral fronts of every age,213
Grave, florid, stern, as far as eye could see,214
One after one : and then the great ridge drew,215
Lessening to the lessening music, back,216
And past into the belt and swell’d again217
To music : ever when it broke I saw218
The statues, saint, or king, or founder fall ;219
Then from the gaps of ruin which it left220
Came men and women in dark clusters round,221
Some crying, “ Set them up ! they shall not fall !”222
And others “ Let them lie, for they have fall’n.”223
And still they strove and wrangled : and I grieved224
In my strange dream, I knew not why, to find225
Their wildest wailings never out of tune226
With that sweet note ; and ever when their shrieks227
Ran highest up the gamut, that great wave228
Returning, tho’ none mark’d it, on the crowd229
Broke, mix’d with awful light, and show’d their eyes230
Glaring, and passionate looks, and swept away231
The men of flesh and blood, and men of stone,232
To the waste deeps together : and I fixt233
My wistful eyes on two fair images,234
Both crown’d with stars and high among the stars,—235
The Virgin Mother standing with her child236
High up on one of those dark minster-fronts—237
Till she began to totter, and the child238
Clung to the mother, and sent out a cry239
Which mix’d with little Margaret’s, and I woke,240
And my dream awed me :— well—but what are dreams ?241
Yours came but from the breaking of a glass,242
And mine but from the crying of a child.’243
Child ?  No !’ said he, but this tide’s roar, and his,244
Our Boanerges with his threats of doom,245
And lound-lung’d Antibabylonianisms246
(Altho’ I grant but little music there)247
Went both to make your dream : but were there such248
A music, harmonizing our wild cries,249
Sphere-music such as that you dream’d about,250
Why, that would make our Passions far too like251
The discords dear to the musician. No—252
One shriek of hate would jar all the hymns of heaven :253
True Devils with no ear, they howl in tune254
With nothing but the Devil !’255
True” indeed !256
One of our town, but later by an hour257
Here than ourselves, spoke with me on the shore ;258
While you were running down the sands, and made259
The dimpled flounce of the sea-furbelow flap,260
Good man, to please the child ; she brought strange news.261
I would not tell you then to spoil your day.262
But he, at whom you rail so much, is dead.’263
Dead ? who is dead ?’264
The man your eye pursued.265
A little after you had parted with him,266
He suddenly dropt dead of heart-disease.’267
Dead ? he ? of heart-disease ? what heart had he268
To die of ? dead !’269
Ah, dearest, if there be270
A devil in man, there is an angel too,271
And if he did that wrong you charge him with,272
His angel broke his heart. But your rough voice273
(You spoke so loud) has roused the child again.274
Sleep, little birdie, sleep ! will she not sleep275
Without her “ little birdie ?” well then, sleep,276
And I will sing you “ birdie.” ’277
Saying this,278
The woman half turn’d round from him she loved,279
Left him one hand, and reaching through the night280
Her other, found (for it was close beside)281
And half embraced the basket cradle-head282
With one soft arm, which, like the pliant bough283
That moving moves the nest and nestling, sway’d284
The cradle, while she sang this baby song.285
What does little birdie say286
In her nest at peep of day ?287
Let me fly, says little birdie,288
Mother, let me fly away.289
Birdie, rest a little longer,290
Till the little wings are stronger.291
So she rests a little longer,292
Then she flies away.293
What does little baby say,294
In her bed at peep of day ?295
Baby says, like little birdie,296
Let me rise and fly away.297
Baby, sleep a little longer,298
Till the little limbs are stronger.299
If she sleeps a little longer,300
Baby too shall fly away.301
She sleeps : let us too, let all evil, sleep.302
He also sleeps—another sleep than ours.303
He can do no more wrong : forgive him, dear,304
And I shall sleep the sounder !’305
Then the man,306
His deeds yet live, the worst is yet to come.307
Yet let your sleep for this one night be sound :308
I do forgive him !’309
Thanks, my love,’ she said,310
Your own will be the sweeter,’ and they slept.311